With just four games remaining to be played by every side, the relegation picture in the I-League is clearer now. The battle is now between Oscar Bruzon's Mumbai FC and Derrick Pereira-led Churchill Brothers from Goa as new entrants Chennai City FC and Minerva Punjab are safe from being demoted. Pune-based DSK Shivajians are also exempt from relegation on account of a three-year insulation afforded to them when they joined the league.
The Yellows and Blues are now under the reins of new coach Oscar Bruzon. The Spaniard takes over the seat of Santosh Kashyap who paid the ultimate price for a streak of 12 winless games. The former Mumbai City FC assistant manager has left no stone unturned to revamp the squad. Since his arrival in the city, the 39-year-old has made sure the Mumbaikars are actively involved in training.
The Mumbai team played three noteworthy practice games during the international break - against Mumbai FC reserves, Premier India Football Academy (PIFA) FC and FC Pune City U-18. In the match against their own reserve team, Bruzon threw in a side which had Hitesh Sharma in the centre of the park. The 19-year-old was in sublime form as he teamed up with Nikhil Kadam, supporting lone striker Victorino Fernandes upfront. Pratesh Shirodkar and Densill Theobald were in good touch as well. Siam Hangal played for the reserves but the Manipuri was the most impressive player for the reserves.
Mumbai FC then enjoyed a goal fest against PIFA in their next practice fixture. Baljit Sahni, Anderson Raimundo, Victorino Fernandes and Djelaludin Sharityar were among the goal scorers in the 7-1 thrashing of the second division I-League side. Interestingly, the duo of Clyde and Nikhil did very well on the right wing in the latter half of the game. Epecially Kadam, who delivered a stand-out performance which showcased his pace throughout the game.
In their practice match against the Indian Super League outfit Pune City's junior side, the hosts emerged victorious as they registered two goals. A noteworthy talk of this result was Karan Sawhney's position. The young forward was pushed into the midfield and he switched between attacking and defensive roles very well from the middle of the park.
Bruzon has made several changes in the skeleton framed by Kashyap as the Vigo-born manager changed the position of certain players to receive better results. Afghan defender Djelaludin was deployed as a centre defensive midfielder, which was different from his usual position of a centre-back. Also, captain Theobald was made to operate in the heart of the midfield.
Also, it was seen that Bruzon was very vocal with his players and often guided them from the sidelines. The manager encouraged the players to communicate amongst themselves too, all of which was never seen during the Kashyap reign.
As for Churchill Brothers, Derrick and company took part in just one practice match as the team couldn't find opponents to play against. The Red Machine played Dempo SC at the Nagao Football Ground and they got the better of second division outfit. The result was a 3-0 victory for The Reds but defender Rowilson Rodrigues fell prey to an injury. The centre-back suffered a cut on his foot and is likely to be out for two weeks.
Churchill now have four games in hand with two on home soil and two away from Goa. The side has performed better since the arrival of Derrick Pereira. He has led them to three consecutive victories against DSK Shivajians, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
The Konkan side has 16 points from 14 fixtures whereas the team from the commercial capital has 10 points from 14 fixtures.
Churchill are in high spirits and Oscar's arrival at Mumbai has boosted the morale at their camp, too. It will be intriguing to see the battle between the two as each fight for their place in the league for the future. A win for Churchill will very nearly guarentee them safety from relegation whereas a win for the hosts will give them hope of pulling off a miraculous escape. In case of a draw, it will be Mumbai who will be the worse off with the games in the coming weeks assuming bigger significance.