ISL: Mumbai face NorthEast United as top-four race heats up

(Eds: Dropping names in paras 10 and 16) Mumbai, Jan 30 (PTI) Mumbai City FC will be eyeing a win when they take on laggards NorthEast United FC in an Indian Super League game here on Friday, even as the race for the top four slots gets closer.

Mumbai has not won the coveted championship so far and hence would be more than eager to be in the top four first and stay in the hunt for their first title.

The hosts have four games to go in the league stage and more importantly three are to be played in front of the home crowd at the Mumbai Football Arena.

Mumbai, placed fifth with 20 points, had a topsy-turvy campaign so far.

They have won five of the 14 games, while drawing five and losing four.

A win would help them bag three points and more importantly push them up on the points table.

So when the Jorge Costa-managed team take field, that would be the only thing on their mind.

For Mumbai, their highest goal scorer in the season Tunisian Amine Chermiti (five goals from 13 matches), will have to put up another spirited show and so would Modou Sougou, who had a lackluster season by his standards having netted only thrice from 11 games.

If Sougou plays to his potential and fires on all cylinders, he can single-handedly win the game for the home side, as he has done it in the past.

Apart from Sougou and Chermiti, Mumbai have forwards like Pranjal Bhumij, who can be quite a handful for the rival defence.

Injured Paulo Machado is out for the entire season, but their other midfielders Raynier Fernandes, Diego Carlos, Rowlin Borges and Bipin Singh, who have a goal each this season, have done well and they would be more than eager to add to their tally and support the likes of Sougou and Chermiti.

Another important cog in Mumbai's midfield is Mohammed Larbi, who has two goals to his name this season and his role will also be crucial.

Mumbai coach Jorge Costa said his side will give their best.

'I can change one or two players in the team, but not my system. I don't know what will happen at the end of the season, but I know we are trying and working hard. All points lost at this stage are difficult to recover, but we will give our best to win the game,' Costa said.

Mumbai's goal-scoring ability is never a concern, but their defence is definitely one.

With Pratik Chaudhari suspended for the game on Friday, as he has four yellow cards and Souvik Chakrabarti having moved to Hyderabad FC, the Mumbai line-up will be manned by Mato Grgic, Subhasish Bose and Sarthak Golui.

They will have to pull up their socks and put up an improved show.

Mumbai custodian Amrinder Singh has 36 saves from 14 matches and would be hoping for another clean-sheet on Friday.

Meanwhile, its a problem of plenty for NorthEast, which is languishing in ninth spot with just 11 points from 12 games.

The team is on a run of eight matches without a win.

NorthEast United custodian Subhasish Roy has 45 saves from 11 matches, the maximum this season and if the Mumbai strikers are to be kept at bay, he would play a decisive role.

Their star signining Asamoah Gyan spent considerable amount of time on the sidelines before being ruled out for the season.

Federico Gallego hasn't yet hit his peak form since his return from the injury he suffered in the play-offs last season.

New signing Andy Keogh and Simon Lundevall are yet to acclimatise and gel with the rest of their teammates.

Grappling with these issues, NorthEast United will have to pose a tough challenge to tame Mumbai in their own backyard. PTI NRB AP ARU ARU ARU