Criticism revolving around Nicolas Anelka’s style of play has often focused on his lacklustre on-field temperament. It was the same mentality that was on display during the first half against Kerala Blasters at the DY Patil Stadium – his debut at home. A freekick awarded to Mumbai City FC 28 metres from the goal in the 43rd minute had the 35-year-old step up for the set piece.
A miniscule run-up reflected his infamous dull demeanour. But the immaculate finish lived up to the fan-following. Anelka had put his team into the lead, the only goal of the game. The breakthrough came towards the end of first half. In the second, Anelka was running tirelessly. Aerial duels were actively contested — more often than not —he would win them.
Runs in and out of the box opened up the Kerala defence on numerous occasions. A glimpse of the pace he has long kept under wraps was also on display. The striker also took the liberty to venture into his own half to help out his defence. Once there, a threatening counter-attack was frequently initiated. Subsequently, even while Kerala had possession of the ball, a defender visibly stayed within the Frenchman’s vicinity in an attempt to curb any breakaway.
His first ISL goal marked a revival of the Anelka of old. The bland appearance was replaced by a willing personality, a treat for the audience. Chants of ‘Mumbai’ were soon replaced by cries ‘Anelka.’
Perhaps his only fault on the day was his falling victim to the off-side trap. For as much as he hassled and harried the defenders in the yellow-strip, the veteran striker often incited the assistant referee to raise his flag. Yet on the two occasions where he out-foxed the defenders, it was custodian Sandip Nandy who kept him at bay. Both attempts were one-on-ones and, for someone of Anelka’s class, he should have had a hat-trick by the end of the game.
Other than the goal, the forward’s conversion resembled the other attackers on the team. Clear cut chances on goal weren’t taken. Predominantly, Subash Singh’s 74th strike over the crossbar was one even team manager Peter Reid claims was begging to be scored. “I’d have loved for him to put that chance away. The move itself deserved the goal,” said Reid after the game.