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Mumbai City refocuses on domestic supremacy in clash with Bengaluru FC

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Bengaluru, Dec 7 (IANS) After battling out for weeks in the Continental competition, Mumbai City FC return to the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 action after over a month as they gear up to face Bengaluru FC at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Friday.

The Islanders will have to deal with the departure of Head Coach Des Buckingham as he decided to take over the reins at his boyhood club Oxford United FC last month.

The incumbent League Winners, identified as Buckingham’s Blue Army, had completely bought into the British tactician’s ideas, philosophy, and playing style in the last two years.

He propelled them to great success, being at the helm for the longest duration at the Club, becoming the fastest to get to 100+ goals in the league, and also the youngest Head Coach ever to win the League Shield.

Replacing someone of that calibre appears to be a tough task, with assistant coach Anthony Fernandes and Hiyoshi Miyazawa carrying out the duties on an interim basis for the time being.

However, the Islanders have to reclaim their domestic supremacy at the moment, after losing all six of their AFC Champions League group stage matches.

With no other commitments midway, they can bring back the focus completely on the ISL, where they currently hold the fifth spot in the standings after garnering 11 points from five games.

They are eight points behind the top-placed FC Goa (19), who have also played two additional games (7). However, having had a good start to the season, Mumbai City FC would know that they cannot be dropping points early on in their pursuit of defending the shield.

Intrigue over the new head coach aside, the team has to pull off their duties flawlessly on the field and the Blues will be waiting to pounce upon this moment of uncertainty in the Mumbai City FC camp.

The Simon Grayson-coached Bengaluru FC have drawn their last three league fixtures, and never before has the club been on a longer streak of draws in the ISL.

Bengaluru FC have some impeccable attacking talent in their ranks, and it was prevalent in the way they came back to get level 3-3 with Punjab FC last week.

However, they have won only once in their previous four fixtures against the Islanders, and it is a record they would be trying to set straight in the coming contest.

They suffered due to multiple long-range efforts by the opposition in the previous game, and it is something that their midfield might look to fix in the game.

They will be wary of giving away too much space to the Mumbai City FC midfielders, given that the Islanders have multiple ways of dissecting the Bengaluru FC backline.

At the same time, they will hope to replicate the offensive dynamism they displayed in the last game so that an end-to-end action unfolds at the Kanteerava.

On the other hand, Mumbai City FC have lost just once in their last 13 away games in the ISL, which was incidentally against Bengaluru FC during this very fixture in the league. They have emerged as one of the tougher teams to take on, and their tackle success rate of 60% testifies to the same.

Rest assured, Bengaluru FC will not be handing a free pass to the Islanders in the middle of the park. Mumbai City FC build passing triangles at the centre, and their wingers play a critical role in stretching the opposition’s backline and delivering precise passes into the box for Jorge Pereyra Diaz.

This game is essential for them in a way to assert that they are not bogged down by the sense of unpredictability prevailing at the top of their team.

Buckingham is gone, but he has almost automated his side to play football his way, and they are well equipped to do so consistently unless someone with a distinctly different set of ideas replaces him.

Their defensive line needs some bolstering, given that they haven’t kept an ISL clean sheet in their last 12 games, the last such one being in January this year in the 4-0 victory over NorthEast United FC. Will the Islanders bring the curtains down to that unfortunate run on Friday?

--IANS

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