Iker Guarrotxena’s strike brings Mumbai City back on track

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In the second fixture of Matchday 15 of the 2023-24 Indian Super League season, Mumbai City defeated East Bengal by a 1-0 margin in Kolkata’s Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan with Iker Guarrotxena scoring the only goal of the match.

Given that his team lost 2-3 in the last match against NorthEast United, East Bengal head coach Carles Cuadrat made plenty of changes to his team. Edwin Sydney Vanspaul, Gursimrat Singh Gill, Mandar Rao Dessai, Souvik Chakraborty, VP Suhair, and Felicio Brown were all handed starts. Mohamad Rakip, Lalchungnunga, Sayan Banerjee, Jose Antonio Pardo, Nandhakumar Sekar, and Cleiton Silva had to vacate their places in the starting XI.

On the other hand, Mumbai City head coach Petr Kratky also tweaked his starting XI after a 3-2 loss against Jamshedpur. Thaer Krouma, Akash Mishra, Jayesh Rane, and Guarrotxena played from the start, with Mehtab Singh, Valpuia, Yoell van Nieff, and Ayush Chhikara getting the axe.

The Islanders dominated the game from the start and had their first chance in just the fifth minute when a cross from Vikram Pratap Singh found Guarrotxena. However, the Spaniard’s attempt was saved by Prabhsukhan Gill under the East Bengal goal.

A much better chance came in the 13th minute when Lallianzuala Chhangte floated in the ball from a corner. Tiri made a completely unmarked run from the far post but he could not keep his attempt on target.

The next opportunity fell to Kratky’s team in the 17th minute, with Chhangte and Guarrotxena pulling the strings once again. Chesting down a lobbed ball played from the right flank, the Athletic Bilbao academy graduate went for the acrobatics and tried a scorpion kick, but it did not have the sting needed to bulge the back of the net.

But the continuous onslaught finally paid off in the 24th minute, when Guarrotxena managed to get on the scoresheet at the third time of asking. Receiving a pass from Mishra down the left flank, Alberto Noguera floated a cross for Guarrotxena inside the box. Although the 31-year-old’s first touch was not great, he managed to somehow turn his body and slot the ball past both Mandar and Prabhsukhan, making the scoreline 1-0 for Mumbai City.

The scoreline could easily have been 2-0 just three minutes later when Mishra delivered a peach of a cross from the left wing, which found Rane unmarked inside the box. But the former Bengaluru player could not add to the team’s tally.

The Islanders had 11 attempts in this game

It was all about the dominance of Mumbai City in the first half, as East Bengal barely managed to get a look in. In the 38th minute, Kratky’s team got another chance, and it was the same man again. A cross from Apuia Ralte found Guarrotxena, but his header was not on target.

The only East Bengal chance in the first half came in the 41st minute when a cross floated in by Souvik after a cross found Hijazi Maher inside the box. But having been partly at fault for the opponent’s goal, the Jordanian central defender could not redeem himself.

The second half started pretty much how the first half did, except that Mumbai City did not go gung-ho in attack. The first chance of the half came just before the hour mark when a ball from Chhangte reached Guarrotxena inside the box, but the latter dragged his shot wide.

The next few minutes were about East Bengal throwing a few punches in the air, but none of those resulted in a goal. In the 84th minute, Vishnu PV nutmegged Rahul Bheke down the left flank before playing a grounded cross for a teammate, but it was intercepted by Tiri. 

However, the ball eventually landed at the feet of Nandhakumar who laid it off for Victor Vazquez, but the Torchbearers’ latest winter transfer window recruit could not score his debut goal in this competition.

Against the run of play, the Islanders had a glorious chance of scoring the insurance goal in the 90th minute. A ball played from the deep by Tiri saw Chhangte giving his former teammate, Mandar, a run for all his worth. The winger did manage to beat the left-back before pulling the trigger, but Prabhsukhan was equal to the task.

Though the game was pretty much in Mumbai City’s grasp, they had a heart-in-mouth moment in the 97th minute. Trying to clear a Naorem Mahesh cross, Phurba Lachenpa made an absolute meal of it and ended up directing it to an East Bengal player, but he was fortunate that his mistake went unpunished.With this win, Mumbai City climbed to the fourth place in the league standings with 25 points from 13 games. They will now take on Bengaluru on Sunday while East Bengal, who remains 10th with 12 points from 13 games, will face Hyderabad on Saturday.