The match between Mumbai City FC and ATK Mohun Bagan on Sunday feels more like a final than the actual ISL title decider which is set to come later in March.
When the two teams meet at the Fatorda stadium, the stakes couldn't be bigger. The winner of the match will win the ISL shield, and more importantly, it will secure AFC Champions League football next season. Winning the play-offs and the ISL Cup would secure AFC Cup play-off spot but that can only be perceived as a secondary objective for two teams with sky high ambitions.
With City Group having bought stakes in the Mumbai outfit and invested heavily in the squad, they expect nothing short of winning everything on offer.
As for ATK Mohun Bagan, the merger between ATK and Mohun Bagan prior to the season was a marriage of success and legacy that is expected to keep dominating Indian football for years to come.
Mumbai coach Sergio Lobera made it clear that this match was not like just another league game.
"The first leg (against Bagan) was another game where we got the three points but tomorrow is a final," said Lobera.
For Mumbai, it is a must-win game as Bagan enjoy a three-point lead and even a draw is enough for the Mariners. They have also been in red-hot form with a six-match unbeaten run where they've won five straight games before their dramatic draw against Hyderabad FC in the last round.
The fact that the winning team will be playing in the group games of the champions league for the first time in their history is also added motivation for Antonio Habas' men.
"It's a historic moment if we qualify. But we have to play in this game like another match and we will play for three points. We have to concentrate because we play a rival that is very difficult in attack," said Habas.
When the last time these two teams met, Mumbai ran out 1-0 winners thanks to a Bartholomew Ogbeche strike. At that stage in the league, the Islanders were cruising and were leading the table.
After a recent slump towards the end of the league phase which saw the Kolkata outfit overtake them, the momentum has shifted.
Lobera still believes his side can win the match by playing their attractive brand of football. ""For us, it's important to be loyal to our style of play and show passion in some moments during the game because it's not easy to find spaces and have a lot of chances against them," said Lobera while making it clear that they won't compromise on their philosophy.
The ISL has not witnessed such a photo-finish in the league stage till date and it will be a clash of two heavyweights who have lit up the league this year.