Fortress Salt Lake: The Key to Mohun Bagan’s ISL Dominance under Habas

Mohun Bagan players with fans at Saltlake Stadium
Mohun Bagan players with fans at Saltlake Stadium (PC: MBSG/X)

A Treble will be on the cards for Mohun Bagan Super Giant (MBSG) when they take on Mumbai City FC on Saturday in the ISL final. But what makes Mohun Bagan favourites going into this summit clash is their fortress, the Salt Lake Stadium. The Green-and-Maroon brigade have earned the right to play the final at their home ground as they finished above MCFC in the league phase.

This time, Mumbai also know what kind of hostile atmosphere awaits them. In the last league game against Mumbai, Mohun Bagan had to win to clinch the League Shield, and 61,000 fans were there, cheering for the home side as they won the game 2-1. On Saturday, another packed house is expected, but this time, Mumbai will be more prepared.

At the start of the season, however, results were not going in favour of the home side. Last season, when Mohun Bagan lifted the trophy, their record at the home venue was the main reason. They gathered the joint-highest number of points (21) in 10 home games while collecting only 13 points from 10 away games. But while Juan Ferrando was able to lift the trophy as coach, the sheer dominance fans expected from the team at Salt Lake never came to pass when the title defence began.

Mohun Bagan fans in Saltlake Stadium
Mohun Bagan fans in Saltlake Stadium (PC: Swapnil Mukherjee)
Record in League phase
Record in League phase (Source: Snehasis Mukherjee)

After winning the first two games, they drew one and lost two back-to-back matches in front of the home crowd. As a result, Ferrando was sacked and Antonio Lopez Habas came back. Under Habas and his assistant, Manuel Cascallana, Mohun Bagan played another six matches on home turf. They won four and drew one, while losing the other against Chennaiyin FC.

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Mohun Bagan Players celebrating their Shield win in Saltlake Stadium
Mohun Bagan Players celebrating their Shield win in Saltlake Stadium (PC: Swapnil Mukherjee)

The main difference was in the number of goals they scored. Under Ferrando, despite having a trio of Jason Cummings, Dimitri Petratos, and Armando Sadiku, only seven goals were scored. But Habas’ counter-attacking game helped MBSG to score 15 goals in the last six home games while conceding eight. In every ISL match so far at home since Habas’ arrival, they have scored a minimum of two goals. All three attackers improved their personal stats under the Spaniard. Ferrando’s gameplay was premised on a more creative, attacking style, while Habas has focussed on a compact defence and counter-attacking approach. MBSG turned out to be the second-highest scoring team in home games this season (22).

Attackers' stats in Home and Away both
Attackers’ stats in Home and Away both (Source: Snehasis Mukherjee)

They even defeated East Bengal, their arch-rivals, in the reverse derby fixture at the same venue. In the semi-final second leg, they prevailed in another must-win clash against Odisha FC (2-0, Agg 3-2) and this time, there were 62,000 fans to back them. Mohun Bagan will look to continue that dream run at home, knowing that a win will put them into the history books as Treble winners.

Also Read: ISL 2023-24 Final: Mumbai City FC can go all out against Mohun Bagan with nothing to lose: Sanjay Sen