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

Sanjay Sen and Anotonio Lopez Habas
Sanjay Sen and Anotonio Lopez Habas (PC: X/ISL)

The stage is set for the final of the ISL 2023-24 season, between Mohun Bagan Super Giant and Mumbai City FC at the Yuvabharati Krirangan on Saturday, May 4, 2024. The Mariners will be eyeing a hat-trick of trophy wins this season, having won the Durand Cup and ISL Shield while The Islanders will seek revenge having lost to the same opponents in what was effectively a shield decider. The Green-and-Maroon brigade have a 2-1 record in the previous three meetings between the two sides this season.

The last time the two sides (Mohun Bagan Super Giant was known as ATK Mohun Bagan then) met in the final, in the 2020-21 season, Antonio Lopez Habas’s team suffered a 1-2 loss against Sergio Lobera’s Mumbai City. Sanjay Sen, who was the assistant coach for ATK Mohun Bagan then, feels the loss in the 2020-21 final will surely motivate Habas.

“At the back of his (Antonio Habas) mind, he will be thinking of setting the record straight against Mumbai City,” said Sanjay Sen in an exclusive chat with RevSportz.

According to Sen, the return of Habas as coach midway through this season has worked wonders for MBSG. Reflecting on that 2020-21 campaign, Sen said, “We played badly in the semifinal and flopped as a team. In the final, we took the lead but conceded two goals. Arindam [Bhattacharya, the goalkeeper] made a silly mistake and a back-header from Tiri went into the net. We lost 1-2 to Mumbai City FC. But since then, both teams have seen a lot of changes. Sergio Lobera has been replaced by Petr Kratky and he has done a tremendous job so far. The loss in that 2020-21 final against the same opponent will haunt Habas and his boys, and that might well act as a motivation.”

Habas, the veteran Spaniard, has won two ISL titles including the inaugural season with Atletico de Kolkata, making him the most successful head coach in the league. “He (Habas) is one guy who will hardly show you emotion on the field,” said Sen who has observed him at close quarters. “Inside, he is a completely different person. He has a good sense of humour. During the pandemic, he used to stay in a different hotel and used to come only for training and match days. But ahead of the final in Goa, the entire team stayed in the same hotel, and he (Habas) spent plenty of time with us during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He always has the control of the players, knows when and where to pull the ropes.”

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Sen, who coached Mohun Bagan to its maiden I-League title, felt the biggest challenge for Habas would be to ensure there was no complacency in his side.

“Complacency can creep in and there lies the biggest challenge for Habas,” said Sen. “There is a psychological battle as well away from the action on the field. This is the last match of the season. Mumbai City will be playing in front of 60,000 Bagan fans and that can motivate them as they have nothing to lose. But the way Mohun Bagan have performed this season so far will give them a slight edge.”

On being asked about the strengths of two teams, Sen said, “Both teams have played as cohesive units. If you ask me, Mohun Bagan’s biggest positive this season has been to score any moment in the game. Their scoring percentage is the highest and they scored the highest number of goals. They have got the players to deliver. If you look at the last match, Sahal [Abdul Samad] came on around the 72nd minute and scored. Remember, he was coming off an injury.

“Mohun Bagan has several scorers this season. Forget about [Jason] Cummings, [Armando] Sadiku (who will miss the final as he is suspended) and [Dimi] Petratos, the likes of Sahal, Manvir [Singh] and Liston [Colaco] have all scored in important matches and that will be a key factor.”

“If you consider Mumbai City FC, it is the Indian players that have made the difference,” added Sen. “Lallianzuala Chhangte and Vikram Pratap Singh have been consistent throughout the season. Chhangte has been in brilliant form as he scored twice in last match. Tiri will also have a point to prove against his former team.

Petr Kratky
Petr Kratky (PC: ISL/X)

“You must give credit to Petr Kratky. Mumbai was down by two goals in the semifinal against FC Goa. He took all the foreigners out, except one. They played with 10 Indian players and won the match. That shows the confidence he has in his players. Rahul Bheke and Apuia also have been brilliant.”

In the last game between the two sides, Mumbai City FC missed the services of Thaer Krouma. In Saturday’s final, The Islanders will not have Yoell van Nieff.

“He (van Nieff) controls the game from midfield,” said Sen. “He bridges the gap between attack and midfield. For me, it will be a huge blow for Mumbai City FC in the final.”

Commenting about what will decide the final, the experienced coach said, “The mentality of the players. Playing in front of a huge crowd will be crucial. Whoever handles the pressure well will have the last laugh.

As for a prediction, Sen predictably leant the way of his former side. “Mumbai City FC has nothing to lose,” he said. “But given the way Mohun Bagan have performed this season so far, I will keep them slightly ahead. If you ask me percentage-wise, it will be 51 percent in favour of the home side.”

Also Read: Cancer warrior Bapi Majhi to 84-year-old Shanti Chakraborty – The tale of two Mohun Bagan super-fans