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City United: Football Brings Together Mumbai, Manchester and New York. In Defeat

The City Football Group had a Saturday to forget. Three teams in their global portfolio of clubs fell -- Mumbai City FC lost to North East United FC in the Indian Super League, Manchester City went down to Tottenham Hotspur and New York City FC lost their MLS playoff match against Orlando City SC.
Kwesi Appiah of Northeast United FC scores against Mumbai City FC

Kwesi Appiah celebrates after scoring from the spot for Northeast United FC in their Indian Super League (ISL) match against Mumbai City FC in Goa (Pic: ISL, Twitter).

November 21, 2020. Mark the date. It’s when something rare happened in football across the globe — an all conquering monster suffered huge on all fronts at the same time. It was like watching a reversal of Pacific Rim, where instead of the Kaijus coordinating and kicking Jaeger, it was the underdogs who came together to kick the corporation. 

But also... stay calm. Fuel prices haven’t risen drastically. Cars are still selling. A new day has dawned. The sun has risen as usual. The City Football Group (CFG) have suffered on Saturday but remarkably, a Sunday has gone on. 

Also Read | Safety Concerns Shroud IFA Shield With Organisers & Clubs Unclear About Covid-19 Protocols

The results kicked off in Goa, with Mumbai City going down to Northeast United FC (NEUFC) -- for the first time in 14 attempts in the Indian Super League (ISL) Then the broadcast switched to Manchester where the team in light blue (Mumbai having learnt nothing from Kerala wearing  yellow for their opener) went down to Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League. Then, over in the US of A, Orlando pulled a rabbit out of the hat in the MLS playoffs, going down nine men but winning the game on penalties against New York City FC. Football, as Sir Alex elegantly said, is bloody hell. 

Here’s a sentence you may not read too often. Of the three CFG teams that played Saturday, Mumbai looked the best. They could’ve won the game at a canter, it wasn’t for a daft foul in the first half. 

There are obviously going to be opposing views to Ahmed Jahouh’s red card (there were in almost every WhatsApp group one is part of) and so it’s good to plant yourself on the erring side of caution and say that the red was perhaps for stupidity than the foul itself. 

It would be inaccurate to say the latest NEUFC side immediately capitalised because the incident was followed immediately by halftime. But perhaps emboldened by being numerically at an advantage, they did come out harder in the second half, and to Mumbai’s chagrin (and yet another decision that can be debated for ages, but perhaps really shouldn’t be) won a penalty in the 49th minute to make the angle of the hill just that much steeper to climb. 

At which point you’d imagine the oil money would push in, shake the rust off those turbo charged, kandy coloured Lobera powered engines would really kick on. Sadly not. 

There is a statistic here too. The three City Group teams lodged 12 shots on target yesterday. Mumbai City had zero. 

So why were they the best? Because there is little to expect from them? Their ‘desire’ and ‘effort’ must be appreciated? None of the above. It is simply because they actually held the ball better, passed it with vigour and displayed exactly the same things Kerala did a day before them. Passing and possession does not win matches. It wins you scribes. 

They looked the prettier team and they will get better. They played against a side that defended a result with a man more on the pitch and did so admirably. Now with their creative force suspended, Mumbai will also need to get some new plans in. Cue Lobera tunes. 

Also Read | Indian Football Paradoxes Converge in a Goan Bubble

"I told the players that we have two options -- complain that we have a lot of problems, which is true (or) the best way is not to complain and try to adapt quickly; to see this situation as a challenge and solve the problems as a family.” 

Mumbai coach Sergio Lobera said that prior to the game when talking about the challenges presented by Covid-19. He may repeat them for a new context. In fact, it is best he prints and puts the words up at their base. There may be more pain ahead. The tiny evidence available suggests that. 

The two games so far have played to a pattern. The team with the possession has lost. The bosses may believe what they want but defensive football is in the ISL’s DNA (Ask Antonio Habas, the ATK Mohun Bagan coach). For players who haven’t taken to the pitch for competitive play in months, it makes the most sense in a way. Smash and grab is smart football. Result oriented. And in the opening days expect more of this. Coaches need to get their clubs to believe. Players need the coaches to believe. Method takes a long time to settle in. 

Disclaimer: If you are making predictions and doing analysis based on one game of the season it’s best not to read this (although you have got pretty far). This is a safe space. We share but don’t really compare. The season is young. Settle down. Indian Football (at the very least the ISL) is back.

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