Mumbai, March 7: League Shield Winners Mumbai City FC face a tough challenge as they take on in-form Bengaluru FC in the first leg of their Hero Indian Super League (ISL) semi-final fixture at the Mumbai Football Arena on Tuesday.
The League Shield Winners concluded the league stage with two back-to-back defeats, including one against Bengaluru FC, and will look to end the visitors’ nine-game winning streak to carry an advantage to the second leg on Sunday.
Following a two-week break since the end of their league stage, Mumbai will be especially keen on beating the Blues who stopped them from attaining a perfect, unbeaten record ahead of the playoffs by becoming the first team to beat them this season. Bengaluru comes into the semi-final with a 9-match winning streak.
In the final game of the league season, Mumbai suffered another defeat and their first one on home soil when they went down against East Bengal. Head coach Des Buckingham had fielded a second-string side against the Torch Bearers but will revert to his strongest lineup - including talisman Greg Stewart who had injury concerns for a few weeks - for the first leg of the semi-final.
“I see it [two-legged semi-final] as two individual games. You have to plan for the 90 minutes that you are about to face knowing the outcome could influence the second part, but there is no point in looking at the second part till we are done with the first,” said Buckingham. “We will approach this game as we have approached all games this season. We have had two weeks to plan, prepare, rest, and recover and everybody is in a good space,” he added.
Earlier this season at the Mumbai Football Arena, the hosts nabbed a commanding 4-0 win. Bengaluru FC will have that in mind, despite the more recent result and momentum - given Mumbai’s 16-day break since their last fixture - being in their favour. Head coach Simon Grayson will likely field an unchanged XI, relying on the pace of Roy Krishna and Siva Narayanan on the counters.
“To be the first team to beat them after such an unbelievable season was a real highlight for us,” said Grayson.
“We have done well against them, but previous games will count for nothing. In these two-legged games, it’s all about who handles the pressure better. It will be about who gets the breaks, who gets a little bit of luck, and who plays well,” he added.
Including the two league fixtures this season, the two sides have met 12 times in the Hero ISL. Mumbai have won six times, while Bengaluru have emerged victorious on five occasions. The only draw in this fixture came in 2018, which could suggest another fast-paced game is on the cards.