Sergio Lobera has found a way to make it work…
Back in December, when Mumbai City were held by a 10-man Jamshedpur, the conclusion was that Adam Le Fondre and Bartholomew Ogbeche could not play together in Sergio Lobera’s team.
The comment made sense. The Nigerian striker, who had become the all-time top scorer at Kerala Blasters and joined the Islanders in the summer, looked rusty and was at fault for missing several key chances in a game that Mumbai could and should have won.
For a while, it looked like the former PSG forward would have to be an onlooker as his team stormed to a title. However, not only has Ogbeche managed to turn his season around but Lobera has also managed to fit the two strikers together in his starting lineup if the game demands such an attack.
Ogbeche scored two goals in the first six matches this season. But since the turn of the year, he has netted six goals and now has a total of eight goals and two assists in eight starts. In four out of his eight starts, he was paired with Le Fondre in the lineup.
It initially looked like playing the two strikers together would remain an unsolved problem for Lobera in his first season with the City Football Group-owned club. However, the biggest indication that Lobera found a solution to the striker conundrum came in the final game of the league stage, in arguably Mumbai’s biggest game of the season yet.
The Islanders clinched a 2-0 win which included an Ogbeche goal against ATK Mohun Bagan and clinched the League Winners Shield and a spot in the AFC Champions League group stage.
“They (Ogbeche and Le Fondre) can play together. But every game is different, the context is different. They are very good players with good experience,” Lobera had said after his team defeated Odisha 6-1 in their penultimate fixture of the league stage.
Ogbeche and Le Fondre being able to gel in the same starting lineup is something that bodes well for the team ahead of the playoffs against Lobera’s former employers FC Goa. And Ogbeche, with his performances in 2021, has certainly made the decision extremely difficult. Both Ogbeche (8 goals, two assists) and Le Fondre (11 goals, 1 assist) have similar goal contributions for Mumbai City this season.
When the two strikers are paired upfront, it’s observed that they usually make space for the other thanks to their intelligent runs. More importantly, Le Fondre is not averse to playing in a slightly withdrawn role behind Ogbeche and assume the playmaking duties every now and then. That versatility is also one of the reasons why the two have been able to play together.
“Do I feel that I should have played more? I always want to play every game but we have one boss which is the coach, and he has to make decisions. So if I haven’t played more, it’s not because I haven’t done well,” Ogbeche had said before their final game of the season.
Lobera has a decision to make, one that could play an important role in the big game against the Gaurs.