Rahul Bheke and Mumbai City beat Goa to set date for ISL final against Mohun Bagan

Rahul Bheke and Mumbai City beat

Manolo Marquez stood there watching into the distance as his team crashed out of the 2023-24 Indian Super League with a 2-5 defeat on aggregate. The ISL’s master tactician, who had taken very bad teams to big results in knockout football, had been betrayed. Petr Kratky, the beneficiary of an Indian whirlwind a few days earlier, had his team in full form on the night for a 2-0 win and contributed to their 3-2 win in Goa.

It is easy to forget now that Mumbai had suddenly acquired a reputation for collapsing under the pressure of knockout football, with Des Buckingham performing brilliantly in the league stage but losing to Bengaluru FC on penalties last year. Their AFC Champions League campaign didn’t help matters, neither did quarter-final defeats to Mohun Bagan in the Durand Cup and semi-final defeats to Odisha FC in the Super Cup.

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After the miracle at Fatorda last Wednesday, the pressure was still on – a solitary goal lead isn’t much, especially in the ISL. Just ask Odisha. Goa had completely dominated that first game and Marquez had a warning word: “They were celebrating too much… let’s see what happens in Mumbai.” What happened in Mumbai was a masterclass in the second phase. Kratky’s men didn’t care at all for Goa and punched the counter hard, leaving Goa in a tizzy.

An enforced change in Mumbai’s backline due to the injury to Akash Mishra led to Mehtab Singh being moved to the left-back role, which was more suited to his left-sided nature, with Ther Krouma moving to the center along with Tiri and Rahul Bheke. Left in the -back role. Right-back role. The result was that Goa finished the game with one shot on target, an xG of 0.38 and only 20% accurate crosses.

Bheke, in particular, was a great player in defense – he competed against the player many managers named as the best player in the league – Noah Sadoui. Bheke’s strengths are getting out from behind and with his positional understanding, but a very different quality will be required here. So a one-on-one battle against one of the toughest wingers in the league this season has the potential to unsettle the Mumbai captain.

After 79 minutes, Noua Sadaoui was beaten by Marquez, this was the fewest number of passes completed by a Goan outfielder starting the game, six dribble attempts of which none were successful, only one of ten duels won, And zero chances were created. This is a player who is second only to Dimi Petratos in goals + assists this season (16, 1 behind Petratos), and he was shown to be positively pedestrian by Bheke.

The Moroccans were not offered any inches. Not that Bheke didn’t twist like Noah (as many did throughout the season), but what he did do was not twist himself into a knot: Goa’s attack in the 73rd minute was the most perfect of their entire game. It was a subtle form. Noah went to the left, Bheke went to the left, the Moroccan turned to the right and Bheke went behind him, and went back to the left where most defenders would be left with a twisted ankle, but Bheke came back to block the attempt on the cross. Went. A quiet fist-pump in itself, as Sadoui had no further questions to ask.

Such was Bheke’s confidence that night that he went even further, taking one touch of a long ball sky high, which turned into a smooth first-time pass to Lalianzuala Chhangte, who could not convert the move. Mumbai were completely defensive for an hour after the start of the game, so it was only fitting that Bheke was responsible for their opener.

A corner was deflected into the far post – Goa had their best defender, Odei Onindia, on to Bheke, who was clearly aware of his strengths from set-pieces, but it had little effect. On this night, the Mumbai captain will not lose any duel. He got his head on the ball and fired a downward header that went off the line, but that was okay, as Jorge Pereira Diaz was ready to play his role as poacher, steering the ball home and giving Mumbai a 1-0 lead. Defeated by -0. Took the lead on the night in the 69th minute.

The goal deflated Goa, they needed two goals to force extra time and did not look capable of scoring a single goal. Márquez announced the changes, later admitting that he had made a mistake with the lineup and took full responsibility for the defeat. The changes meant that Goa started to move forward, as Kratky expected them to, and he had the right players to attack them on the counter-attack.

Exactly the same scenario played out in the 83rd minute, Vikram Pratap Singh measured a perfect through ball to Lallianzuala Changte from the left wing and Mumbai’s best attacker slowed down the clock, before rounding the Goa keeper and tapping the ball into the goal. Tricked Udanta Singh and Dheeraj Singh.


This decided the contest, and even the eight minutes of injury time added by the referee meant nothing – only that Bheke had been dribbled by Bryson Fernandes for the first time in the game. Maybe that’s what Marquez was thinking about in the end – what if Bryson started What if Saadaoui had played centrally instead of the ineffective Carlos Martínez?

These are exactly the same questions Mumbai often pondered under Buckingham, but they seem to be getting better answers through Kratky. Salt Lake, Facing Antonio Habas’ Mohun Bagan on May 4 is a big question, but if Bheke and Changte deliver similar performances, Mumbai might have the answer to how to beat Bagan.

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