ISL: Sergio ‘Lobera Ball’ on display as Mumbai City continue to dominate Bengaluru

The expectations were sky-high when Sergio Lobera took over from Jorge Costa as the head coach of Mumbai City ahead of the 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) season.

It wasn’t like any other managerial change. It was a transition to an expensive new philosophy that had proved to be a success in Indian football. It was also a statement of intent from the City Football Group-owned (CFG) club.

The Islanders lost their season opener against NorthEast United but Lobera’s team managed to bounce back in style. They are currently on an eight-match unbeaten run and sit atop the ISL table at the end of matchday nine.

But there were a few questions about Lobera’s Islanders that remained unanswered. But on Tuesday, they outclassed Bengaluru to a 3-1 win in a manner that served a strong reminder to all doubters about the ability of the team to perform in big fixtures.

The ease with which the Islanders cruised to a win against Bengaluru was impressive. While Bengaluru are usually a tough opponent for any team to face, Mumbai City have had the upper hand in the fixtures between the two teams in the last two seasons. The Blues are winless against the Islanders in the last two seasons and Lobera has kept that tradition alive.

Carles Cuadrat’s team is also known to be very good with set-pieces but Mumbai nullified that threat quite easily. Two out of the three goals Mumbai scored came from set-pieces, which is concerning for the Bengaluru boss and pleasing for Lobera whose gameplan was executed to perfection by his players.

Mumbai City Mourtada Fall

Lobera brought quite a few players with him from FC Goa and while they have all slotted into the setup seamlessly, what is even more remarkable is the improvement the other Indian players have made in the nine games so far. Left-winger Bipin Singh is one of the many players who have benefitted from Lobera’s arrival and the 25-year-old once again impressed with a fine display against the Blues that included a goal.

Mourtada Fall took advantage of Bengaluru’s poor defending during a corner-kick to open the scoring. Mandar Rao Dessai delivered a ‘cross-of-the-season’ contender to assist Bipin’s first goal of the season, minutes later. Mumbai were 2-0 ahead in less than 15 minutes.

After the referee thought that a terrific tackle by Fall on Silva inside the box deserved to be punished, the otherwise ineffective Sunil Chhetri gave his team a glimmer of hope from the spot. However, substitute Bartholomew Ogbeche headed the ball towards Gurpreet Sandhu from a corner and the goalkeeper failed to hold onto the ball and conceded the third goal of the night.

Not only did Mumbai make Bengaluru’s attacking prowess look non-existent, but they also kept knocking on the doors of the defence and threatened to score every time they pushed forward, especially in the first half. The changes to the Bengaluru squad in terms of player departures, short pre-season and adaptability have affected their rhythm.

As for Lobera, the drop in intensity after the break in the last few matches would be a concern as he would want the contest to be put to bed. But from the start they have made, it looks like Mumbai City are in for a fantastic ride.