ISL 2019-20, FC Goa Preview: Sergio Lobera's side retain best players to emerge as genuine title contenders ahead of season
If FC Goa can find a way to sheathe the double-edged sword that is their attack with a dash of pragmatism in defence, there's more than enough reason to believe that this time around, it could finally be their year
If you were to imagine last year's Indian Super League teams as cocktails from the menu of a hipster Sobo gastropub, Bengaluru FC would probably have been a sensible Old Fashioned, a timeless drink whose simplicity is its defining feature. A little further down the table, the likes of Mumbai City FC and Northeast United were approximations of the Long Island Ice Tea, in the sense that they were more than just a sum of their parts. At the very bottom, Chennaiyin FC had a season more reminiscent of a cranberry breezer, a drink as repugnant as it is ineffective.
However, perhaps nothing describes the unrivalled entertainment that FC Goa's kamikaze football provided as well as the Jagerbomb, the preferred drink of adrenaline-fuelled college kids around the world, a beverage that deals out euphoric highs, oft followed by soul-crushing lows. To elaborate upon this already stretched analogy, Sergio Lobera's Goa side have concocted a perfect blend of attacking football and slightly reckless defense in recent years, a combination that readily lends itself to excitement, but rarely results in success, as was witnessed last season.
Scoring at a very healthy rate of 2 goals per game, Goa qualified for the playoffs by a comfortable margin at the end of the league stage, and continued their amazing form in front of goal in the semi-finals by thrashing Mumbai City FC 5-1 in the first leg. That win was followed by a 1-0 defeat in the return fixture, but they were still touted by many as favourites to win the title, despite being up against Bengaluru FC.
Suffice it to say, the Goa that turned up in the final was a far cry from the team we'd grown accustomed to in the league. The usual lethality of their attack never quite seemed to materialise, while the flaws in their defense seemed more pronounced, especially when they succumbed to defeat after conceding from a set-piece in extra time. However, while their loss was heart-breaking, especially since they'd already been there once before, it proved that they have all the right tools at their disposal. They just needed to be more sensible with how they use them.
Heading into this season, Goa have a lot of factors working in their favour. Lobera is now entering his third season at the helm of the Gaurs, which by today's managerial standards is a rarity, especially considering the fact that they've had two close misses during his spell at the club. The Spaniard has been backed to the hilt by the club's administration, and through his belief in free-flowing attacking football, he has endeared himself in the eyes of Goa's fervent support.
Lobera's squad also has a feeling of stability to it this season, since Goa have been quite sedentary in the off-season, making minimal changes to their squad with no marquee signings to speak of. Instead of splurging, they have chosen to focus their attention on retaining their best players, successfully thwarting all solicitation from rival clubs hoping to hijack their best talent. Whatever little money they have spent has gone towards the purchase of players with potential, like Aiban Dohling and Seiminlen Doungel, who could in time, with adequate coaching, become vital cogs in the Goa setup.
Looking at the lack of transfer activity from Goa, the logical conclusion is that their style of play will be more-or-less the same as it was last season, but as they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Ferran Corominas, who has been banging in goals non-stop for the last two years, will lead Goa from the front-lines, while the industrious duo of Edu Bedia and Hugo Boumous will be tasked with creating opportunities for the Spanish striker. Jackichand Singh and Brandon Fernandes, both of whom were instrumental in Goa's run to the final last season, will further supplement this lethal attack with their breakneck pace and intelligent movement.
On the defensive side, Ahmed Jahouh is an excellent central midfielder, who is capable of acting as a screen in front of the defense when Goa lose the ball. The Moroccan is also technically sound and can dictate the pace of a football match with his pin-point passing, making him a very important member of the squad. Sitting directly behind Jahouh is the centre-back pairing of Carlos Pena and Mourtada Fall, a partnership based on no-nonsense defending. While their passing ability is a bit circumspect at best, they give Goa a measure of security when committing to attacks.
Mandar Rao Dessai and Seriton Fernandes will likely reprise their roles as swashbuckling full-backs, but Saviour Gama's performances in the left-back spot during the final matches of the previous season could see him sneak into the starting XI. Naveen Kumar is the most likely option between the sticks for Goa, but there is a considerable degree of hype surrounding the young Mohammad Nawaz, so expect to see him feature a couple of times over the course of the season.
With two final and two semi-finals appearances over the course of five seasons, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that Goa have been consistently the most entertaining team in the history of the Indian Super League, brief though that history may be. If they can find a way to sheathe the double-edged sword that is their attack with a dash of pragmatism in defence, there's more than enough reason to believe that this time around, it could finally be their year.
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