Before the start of the current Indian Super League season began, the most realistic prediction would've been Bengaluru FC taking on FC Goa in the final. It made sense because ahead of the season, Goa managed to retain the services of two of their biggest assets, head coach Sergio Lobera and Ferran Corominas, their star striker. Bengaluru, meanwhile, lost their manager Albert Roca, but instead of hiring a new coach, the management went with Roca's assistant Carles Cuadrat. Apart from the talented Indian lot like Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Rahul Bheke, Bengaluru retained the quality in their foreign ranks — Miku, Dimas Delgado and Erik Paartalu — all three of whom were set to represent the club for the second consecutive season.
After five and half months of Season 5, the league has reached its climax where Cuadrat's Bengaluru will face Lobera's Goa in the final at the Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday. It may not come as a surprise to many, but the prospect of the two best sides in the league, who have never tasted success in an ISL final, fighting for the elusive title, certainly raises the excitement quotient. The neutrals couldn't have asked for a better game in the final and both sets of fans will know that the title victory will be the one to cherish for long because it came against the best.
(The match, to be played at 7.30 pm, will be shown live on Star Sports 1, Star Sports 2, Star Sports 3, Star Sports 1 Hindi, Star Sports 1 Hindi HD, Star Sports 1 HD, Star Sports 2 HD and Star Sports 1 Tamil. Hotstar and Jio TV will also stream the match)
At the end of the league stage, Bengaluru and Goa finished with 34 points with 10 victories, four draws and four defeats. Goa had the better goal-difference, but Bengaluru topped the league courtesy of their two victories over Lobera's side. Going into the final, it looks like Bengaluru have a slight edge over their opponents. The better head-to-head record in the season will give Bengaluru a psychological advantage, but Cuadrat would know that Goa's attack and defence have better numbers when compared to Bengaluru.
After losing the first leg of the semi-final against NorthEast United FC 1-2, Bengaluru, in their den, produced a remarkable comeback, beating Eelco Schattorie's team 3-0 to make it to the final. To be honest, despite winning the first leg, the odds were always against a depleted NorthEast United to beat their opponents at the Kanteerava Stadium. Bengaluru's relentless energy proved to be too much for NorthEast as they caved under pressure. It's Bengaluru's ability to find some sort of revival when chips are down makes them truly exceptional.
Personnel wise, the biggest positive for Bengaluru going into the final is the form of Miku. The Venezuelan striker missed quite a few matches this season due to an injury, but the goal against NorthEast United in the second-leg showed why the striker is one of most lethal attackers in Indian football. Before the goal, Miku came close thrice to break the deadlock. He could've had a hat-trick before the half-time. Bengaluru's midfield has been consistently putting up good show through the season with Dimas Delgado and Xisco Hernandez being the key players. Delgado has been playing a vital role when it comes to creativeness, while Xisco's tenacity and work rate have been outstanding throughout the season. Xisco has five assists to his name this season while Delgado's tally stands at four.
Considering Goa's penchant to start the game on an attacking note, Bengaluru should look for counter-attacking opportunities. Udanta's pace becomes an important aspect here, while Chhetri and Miku, the more prolific goal-scorers in the team, should do well with their finishing skills. An early goal will put pressure on Goa and Lobera's side does not chase a game well. Nishu Kumar has also showed his prowess as a left-back this season and his crosses will also add to the attacking potency of Bengaluru.
Unlike Bengaluru, Goa suffered a 0-1 defeat in the second of their semi-final tie against Mumbai City FC. But what sealed their spot in the final was their 5-1 victory in the first leg at the Mumbai Football Arena. The venue has been a happy hunting ground for Goa. In their earlier league match at the same stadium, Goa scored twice to overcome Mumbai City FC's challenge. However, as Lobera himself said in the pre-match press conference, competing in the final is a completely different story as past results doesn't matter at all.
Last season, Lobera's attacking brand of football caught many teams by surprise and they ended up qualifying for the playoffs. But the biggest problem with the team was their defence, which leaked way too many goals. At the start of this season, there was a focus on Goa's defence and how Lobera would change things to improve at the back. Credit must go to the coach that he stuck with his style and did not tinker much. One valuable addition has been signing of Mourtada Fall as centre-back. The Senegalese defender has proved his worth with solid defensive work.
"In the beginning of the season, we set ourselves the goal of improving our defence and as a coach I’m happy because we have succeeded. We have the most clean sheets and the whole team is responsible for this change," Lobera said when asked about his team's improved defence.
The strength of the Goa team is their goal-scoring ability and that's what Lobera would seek right from the kick-off. Early goals will make a big impact in the final, so Goa will look cause early damage to Bengaluru. Corominas is the highest goal-scorer in the league, so once again the burden of scoring will be on him. Midfielder Edu Bedia has also played an influential role in Goa's run up to the final. Apart from creating chances, Bedia has notched up as many as seven goals this season.
The midfield battle is the key because both the teams have a proven goal-scorer up front. Once given a good chance in front of the goal, both Corominas and Miku will hardly let their teams down. Goa's Ahmed Jahouh and Lenny Rodrigues will have to put in a good shift in terms of tackles and breaking down of Bengaluru's midfield play, and especially silence the likes of Xisco and Delgado.
Bengaluru lost in the final last year, while Goa suffered against Chennaiyin in the 2015 season. Both teams have unfinished business to take care of in the final. Since their inception six years ago, Bengaluru have already won two I-League titles apart from triumphs in the Federation Cup and Super Cup. They would look to end their ISL trophy duck this time around and make a statement that they're the best club in Indian football.
Meanwhile, Goa have been one of the most consistent sides since their journey in the Indian Super League began. By bringing in Lobera to the club, Goa managed to carve an identity for themselves in the league. They would aim to go one step further on Sunday, proving that the club with the most attractive style of play are deserving winners of the league.
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Updated Date: Mar 17, 2019 12:22:44 IST