If you have a thing for touchline theatrics, no fixture in domestic football can be as enjoyable as the one between Mumbai City FC and Kerala Blasters, with animated avatars of Jorge Costa and Eelco Schattorie hollering out instructions. Throw in referee Ajit Meetei into the mix and it becomes an entertainment in itself.
The standard of the game in Indian leagues, however, can rarely match up.
A cagey affair between two mid-table sides got livelier as the game wore on, but there was not enough for any of them to take home the full three points. Kerala dominated the possession, Mumbai pulled off the better counter-attacks, but at the end it was the lack of creativity from both parties that left them hungry for more.
Mumbai tried a new defensive partnership, with Souvik Chakrabarti's place at the right back taken by Sarthak Golui, while Mato Grgic paired up with Pratik Chowdhury in central defence. Similar to the last few games, the fullbacks didn't have the permission to venture forward as the home side tried to keep the defense compact and depend on their midfield trio to initiate quick counter-attacks.
But as has been the case often this year, all three parts of the team looked disjointed from each other, with Kerala enjoying long durations of sustained pressure inside the Mumbai territory.
Even though Schattorie's men dominated the proceedings, they couldn't create clear-cut chances. Messi's individual brilliance came to the fore when he tried an acrobatic bicycle-kick, which had to be kept away by a diving Amrinder.
After the half-hour mark, with Sahal's effect waning, Mumbai got more balls in the midfield and created a few chances of the their own. In the second half, the game opened up a lot more with both team exploiting the defensive frailties of the opponent.
Amrinder Singh, playing his 50th match for the team, had another forgettable outing and failed to keep out a ball from the near post despite making solid contact. At the other end, Rehenesh had to play the role of a sweeper behind the defence a couple of times but can be partially blamed for a half-hearted save that gave Mumbai the chance to equalize within two minutes of conceding.
With both teams now without a win for six matches each, there were enough signals about what is going wrong for them.
Costa has decided to shift last season's talisman Modou Sougou to the right wing to accommodate a more static Amine Chermiti up top, but it's clearly hurting them.
"If you ask me, I would be frank to say I like to play as center-forward," the Senegalese didn't mince his words when talking to Goal after the match. "But I have played as a right winger before also and as a professional, I am ready to play anywhere," he added.
The coach also seems to have picked up the signal, as Sougou was given the chance to play upfront for the last 20 odd minutes. It remains to be seen how he handles the defensive set-up now that Mato is back.
For Schattorie, it is more about getting the goals. Prashanth's labour, Sahal's guile and Cidonha's composure are not yielding tangible results. Sahal had to be substituted early in the second half, not before he showed some flair against his India teammates Raynier and Rowllin.
"It's easy to do skill moves against them because I notice closely during national team sessions how they defend,' he told Goal later with a hearty smile. But that doesn't paper over the doubts about his status of already being a match-winner.
Kerala's full-backs also left large amount of greenery behind them while being caught out of possession higher up the pitch, which was exploited well by Larbi and Sougou as the game grew older.
With time running out, both coaches must find out quick fixes rather than deep philosophical changes that they envisage. With green shoots still proving elusive, a make-do strategy might work better before reinforcements arrive in the January transfer window.
"We are winning more points away than at home. There are a lot of draws in the league this time and if we can get a few wins, the scene can improve drastically," Sougou said.
Messi, whose broken English sounds almost musical, claimed better times are on their way.
"After a difficult moment, we get a good moment," he said in a tone of almost convincing himself Mumbai, boosted by the recent acquisition by Manchester City, would hope it comes true for them as well.
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