Coached by Jorge Costa and Sergio Lobera respectively, Mumbai and Goa arrive at the play-off battle after being separated by just four points in the league stage. Both teams were hard to shake off defensively in the league and hold the joint second-best record after conceding just 20 goals each in their 18 clashes.
However, the manner in which both teams have built up that strong defence could not be more contrasting. While Lobera’s Goa have adopted the ‘attack is the best form of defence’ philosophy, Costa’s Mumbai have taken a more pragmatic approach.
Goa have blown away the opposition on several occasions for the second year running under Lobera with the Gaurs once again ending up the highest-scoring side. With an average of two goals scored per game (36 in 18), Goa have been the most free-flowing team on display this season and have managed to outscore league leaders Bengaluru FC by seven goals.
While there has been a notable improvement in Goa’s defence in the ongoing campaign, Lobera has stuck to the principles and philosophy that made his side such a fearsome prospect in the 2017-18. Forged from the Barcelona school of thought, Lobera’s possession-based approach with quick inter-changes and clever running has once again been a success in the ISL with teams finding it hard to cope with Goa’s formidable offence.
While Goa’s defence starts from their attack, the opposite is also true. With the technically sound Carlos Pena shifted to a centre-back role, Goa have been able to initiate attacks from their defence. Attack-minded full-backs have been key to Lobera’s setup with Mandar Rao Desai and Seriton Fernandes flourishing in their roles.
Put simply, Goa are a side that love to dominate the ball and play on the front foot. With all the players across the pitch very comfortable with the ball at their feet, Goa have been extremely fluent with their football and pleasing to watch on the eye.
Mumbai, on the other hand, have rode on Costa’s pragmatism and Modou Sougou’s prolific campaign to achieve their second-ever play-off qualification. While the side might not be as technically gifted as Goa’s, they have played to their strengths and reaped maximum reward.
Unlike Goa who love to take the game to the opposition from the moment the whistle blows, Mumbai have picked their moments to attack and have been lethal to that effect. Costa has instilled plenty of industry and endeavour among the players and his side have been one of the best in the league when it comes to closing down.
Hard in the tackle and tireless in their running, it is no surprise that Mumbai have been one of the most defensively resolute sides in the league. While Lucian Goian has been a rock in the centre of the defence, Costa’s compatriot Paulo Machado has been an excellent addition to the midfield.
Up front, Arnold Sissoko and Rafael Bastos have been workhorses on both flanks while Sougou has applied the finishing touches to many of Mumbai’s excellent counter-attacks.
While Mumbai might not be as swashbuckling as Goa, they have shown the capability to turn on the style on occasions as evidenced by their 6-1 thrashing of Kerala Blasters. However, it is their doggedness and ability to thrive on the counter that has been their major calling card over the course of the season.
It is this pragmatic approach which saw Mumbai end Bengaluru’s dominant run in the ISL and hand Carles Cuadrat’s men their first defeat.
The Islanders and Costa will most certainly have to raise their game by some notches on Saturday given the manner by which they were dispatched by Goa in the two league stage clashes. But, as their win over Bengaluru has shown, their approach can work wonders on its given day and Lobera’s Goa will need to be wary of that.