Sergio Lobera deserves appreciation for what he did with FC Goa in his very first year with the club. The former Barcelona youth coach managed to stamp a style of football with which Goa played, and to be fair, the club succeeded at many levels, even if they did not end up winning the trophy. Lobera's team scored the most number of goals in the league last season – 42, while their star striker Ferran Corominas netted 18 goals – maximum by any player last season. Ultimately, defence proved to be club's Achilles' heel, as the team lost their playoff ties against Chennaiyin FC, failing to make it to the final. This year, with Lobera continuing, Corominas playing again and reinforcements in the defence, it's fair to say that FC Goa are heavy favourites for the title.
Apart from imparting a certain philosophy to his team last season, what Lobera also did really well is ensuring that he has the right kind of players for his attacking brand of football. With Corominas, he also signed Manuel Lanzarote, with the Spanish midfielder proving his worth by scoring 13 goals assisting six times in the league. Lanzarote has now moved on to ATK, citing differences with Lobera, and his role will now be played by another Spanish midfielder Miguel Palanca. It's not easy to fill a void left by Lanzarote, but by buying Palanca, Goa at least purchased a quality replacement.
The 30-year-old Palanca has the experience of playing and performing at various levels in Spanish football, which also includes Real Madrid. Going by Lobera's preference of a possession based football, influenced heavily by the Spanish way of playing, Palanca should not take much time to adjust in his new team. It's also the key for Goa and Lobera has to make sure he's settled and running by the time things kick off in the new league.
It's pretty much evident from last season that Lobera loves to attack from the wings. This time also, he will rely on Palanca and Mandar Rao Dessai to do bulk of the job. Mandar enjoyed a good season with the club last time around and he will look to maintain same kind of form. Lobera signed winger Jackichand Singh from Kerala Blasters to add more depth to the squad while he will also depend on Indian talents like Brandon Fernandes and Lenny Rodrigues to make an impact. Foreign midfielders Ahmed Jahouh, Edu Bedia and Hugo Boumous have all played for Goa under Lobera last season, so there's sense of familiarity to the team. Apart from Lanzarote, the Goa's midfield core is the same and that's where they have a big advantage when compared to other teams in the league.
Lobera's strict adherence to his brand of footballing philosophy resulted in exposing weak areas in the team. FC Goa's defence was a major concern last season and that ultimately led to team not making it to the final. They conceded as many as 28 goals last season. For a club having ambitions of winning the title, giving away so many goals is criminal. This season, Lobera made significant changes to the defence, bringing in the likes of Mourtada Fall from Senegal and Mexico’s Carlos Pena. By signing foreign defenders, Lobera, once again, showed that he trusts foreigners to do the job in important areas rather than buying Indian players.
Another aspect that proved to be problematic for Goa last season was goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani's form. Even before the start of last season, Kattimani's presence between the sticks didn't infuse much confidence, and as the season progressed, he didn't do enough to change his reputation. Goa did not have a good enough No 2 goalkeeper and it did prove costly in the long run. This time, Goa signed former Bengaluru FC No 2 goalkeeper Lalthuammawia Ralte. Despite signing Ralte, it appears as if Kattimani will be the club's first choice goalkeeper, but the Goan will now feel the pressure of competition. The problem with Ralte is he was the No 2 for Bengaluru behind Gurpreet Singh Sandhu so he doesn't have many games to his name. Goalkeeping is still an area which will concern Lobera and he would hope that this will not haunt him in the course of the new season.
A lot, though, will be riding on Corominas' goal-scoring abilities. The Spanish forward took the league by storm last season, playing a major role in club making it to the playoffs. It's a job-well-done from Lobera and the management in terms of convincing Corominas to stick with the club. Despite being 35, Corominas doesn't lack quick runs to beat the defenders and his finishing abilities were second to none in his first season with the club. A decline in form or even an injury to Corominas will give major headaches to Lobera because they don't have the bench strength to replace him.
FC Goa have been one of the consistent sides since the inception of the Indian Super League. They have qualified for the playoffs for three times in four years, reaching the final once. As stated earlier, the management did well by retaining the services of the manager and few key players, ensuring that there's a continuity to the project Lobera started last season. In the last edition of the league, Lobera's penchant for an attractive, eye-pleasing football came at a cost of a weak defence, but now with improvements made in those areas, it's time for Goa to bring home the elusive trophy.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Sep 27, 2018 22:16:48 IST