Margao: Not even a week has passed since Marcus Rashford slotted in a late penalty for Manchester United against Paris Saint-Germain to complete the unlikeliest of turnarounds in footballing history. The Red Devils became the first side to win a Champions League tie after losing 2-0 at home and PSG became the first side (one assumes) to be at the wrong end of comeback wins for the second time in three seasons. The first instance being Barcelona's incredible 6-1 win at the Camp Nou in 2017.
United and Barcelona's wins have become instant football classics, not just because of the incredible comeback, but also because the odds were stacked heavily against them. However, both victories would pale in comparison should Mumbai City FC beat the heavily favoured FC Goa in the second leg of their Indian Super League semi-final. Especially after Goa thumped Mumbai 5-1 in the first leg of the semi-final.
Mumbai coach Jorge Costa, who after the first leg had come out and said that he does not believe in miracles and conceded the semi-final to Goa, struck a slightly positive note ahead of the second leg.
"In football and in life, we can never say never but the reality is that it is very difficult to change this result. To be honest, yes, we have a small chance to change this result. If you want me to say that I'm (Mumbai City FC) here to attack and score six-to-seven goals to change the result, I will try to do this. I have been in football for 30 years and seen things in football that no one would believe, but normally it is very difficult to change the result from the first leg," said Costa in the pre-match press conference.
Indeed in the history of the ISL, only twice in the past four seasons has a team won a semi-final tie after losing the first leg. In 2015, Goa beat Delhi Dynamos 3-1 on aggregate after losing the first leg 1-0. On Monday, Bengaluru FC won 4-2 on aggregate despite losing 2-1 to NorthEast United FC in the first leg.
Should Mumbai complete an unlikely comeback, they need to score five goals without reply against a Goa side which has been in formidable form at home. Sergio Lobera's side has scored 25 goals and conceded only seven in their nine home matches this season. Goa have also never conceded more than two goals this season at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. The only match they lost at home was a 2-1 defeat to eventual table-toppers Bengaluru.
In the three matches they have played so far against Goa, Mumbai have let in 12 goals whilst only scoring once. Their record against Goa is strange given that they have been one of the best attacking and defensive sides this season. The only other side against which Mumbai have had a tough time and failed to win this season were Jamshedpur FC.
Like with Goa under Lobera, Jamshedpur under Spaniard Cesar Ferrando rely on possession-based football. Costa likes to set up his team to sit back and hit teams on the counter. That they top the list in most goals scored on the counter (11), shows how effective that strategy has been.
However, Jamshedpur and Goa have found it much easier against the Islanders' style of play. With their distinct Spanish one-touch passing style, both teams have been able to patiently build their play and unlock the solid Mumbai defensive wall. So what can Mumbai do differently in the second leg?
In the first leg, Costa tweaked his tactics a bit to press Goa higher up the pitch to try and force errors in dangerous positions. That tactic worked well in the first half as Mumbai took the lead through Rafael Bastos. Despite going 2-1 down through individual errors, Mumbai kept on with their high-pressing tactic and nearly got back to level terms only for Goa keeper Naveen Kumar to deny them on multiple occasions with some fine saves. What Mumbai lacked was Goa's killer instinct in front of goal. The Gaurs had 10 attempts which led to five goals. In contrast, Mumbai could only score once from their eight shots on goal.
Mumbai need to keep up with their pressing game and need to be more clinical in front of goal. Modou Sougou was kept quiet all night by Mourtada Fall in the first leg but he needs to step up in a big way to inspire his side to make an improbable comeback.
However, the biggest challenge for Mumbai would be to recover psychologically. Costa's men were left shell-shocked after Goa scored their third and fourth goals in quick succession on Saturday. They abandoned their pressing game and became sloppier. This is where Costa would need to work the hardest. Inspiring a team, which has let in 12 goals against the same opposition, to recover and score four or more goals in a stadium where they lost 5-0 will be difficult, to say the least.
"It's not easy to recover after losing 5-1. We played one of our best first-halves and were losing 2-1 at half-time. It's not easy what to say to the players after losing 5-1," Costa said.
The Portuguese manager, though believes that he is up against improbable odds, said that he and his players owe it to the club and the fans to go out and give it a shot. Even if they end up being thumped once again by Goa, at least the Mumbai faithful can take comfort in the fact that their team went down all guns blazing.