ISL 2020-21: Welcome back to Lobera ball, ISL

Ahmed Jahouh leaps onto his manager Sergio Lobera as Mumbai City celebrate Adam Le Fondre's second goal vs SC East Bengal. Faheem Hussain / Sportzpics for ISL

Mumbai City scored three goals. They made 472 passes at an accuracy of 82%. They had nearly 60% of the possession. They absolutely dominated the ball. But it was a moment where they didn't touch it at all that defined their game.

It came just a few minutes after they had taken the lead, with East Bengal pushing hard for an equaliser. The ball was pin-balling around dangerously at the edge of the Mumbai box and, with red-and-gold shirts surrounding him, it bounced right in front of Ahmed Jahouh.

Normal holding midfielders playing for normal football coaches would have looked to thump a header clear, or meet it first time and hoick it upfield. But this isn't a normal holding midfielder and he doesn't play for a normal football coach. Completely aware of where he was, where the ball was headed, where his opponents are, he let the ball bounce and ducked.


ISL fixtures | Scores | Table | Stats | Transfers | Season preview

It took everybody by surprise. With the players converging on him, the movement threw them off and the ball fell comfortably to Rowllin Borges behind him, who suddenly found himself in acres of space. It was a moment of audacious genius that let everyone on the field know who was boss. 'I am Ahmed Jahouh, and this is my kingdom'. As the late great Diego Maradona would have put it, Jahouh had vaccinated East Bengal, and he had done it at the edge of his own box, without even touching the ball. As power moves go, this was right up there.

The first goal had already served notice that Sergio Lobera had come back to town -- a stunning Borges crossfield, Hugo Boumous running at and ruining two defenders, Adam Le Fondre touching it in from two yards -- but it was in that moment of Jahouh magic that all doubt evaporated.

Jahouh was more directly involved in the two other goals. A sublime through ball released the excellent Boumous, who won the penalty that Le Fondre comfortably converted. A cheeky outside-of-the-boot freekick allowed Boumous to then set up Hernan Santana for the third.

As with any proper Lobera performance, the score could have been anything. Mohammad Rakip was lucky to escape a red card in the tenth minute after raking his studs down the side of Narayan Das' knee with a wild lunge. Jahouh was luckier still not to concede a goal after trying another one of his brilliant-if-it-comes-off-stupid-if-it-doesn't moves inside his own box.

Amrinder Singh made a couple of superb saves and saw a couple more good chances sail harmlessly over his crossbar. There was panic in the Mumbai box the few times East Bengal got the ball in there. Mourtada Fall lounged around a fair bit, and was probably lucky to escape harsher punishment for a two-footed, studs-up challenge on Jacques Maghoma.

They rode their luck through the game. But the match ended 3-0 because of just how they did it.

Moving forward, they were rapid, incisive, and overwhelmed their opponents with sheer numbers. Wavelengths matched and decisions excited. In a season that is just starting to warm up, one that has been dominated (so far) by caution and tentative attacking play, this was a statement performance.

- Indian Super League: Stream LIVE on ESPN+ (U.S. only)

With Lobera, the whole "I want my players to have fun, to express themselves, to be themselves, to take risks" thing isn't some PR-friendly shtick. It is a life motto. That seemingly nothing moment where Jahouh decided he could duck his head at the edge of his own box crystallised it. Now, they could lose the next game 3-0, or win it 5-2, but one thing is for sure... welcome back to Lobera ball, ISL.