ISL 2018 | Have most sides got FC Goa totally wrong

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ISL

ISL 2018 | Have most sides got FC Goa totally wrong

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Subhayan Dutta

11/26/2018

The detailed Spanish elements in the ISL were introduced by FC Goa and no matter how effective Bengaluru FC and how flamboyant Jamshedpur FC seem at times, the way Sergio Lobera’s men play would make one sit up and watch in delight. But, who exactly has kept them ticking is still complicated.

Many would attribute Pep Guardiola’s success with Barcelona to Lionel Messi. The Tiki Taka football that the former Barca player had introduced at the club, no matter how seemingly invincible, was decrypted by many and if not for Lionel Messi, the side would have had half the laurels they won in that era. If brought a faint parallel with FC Goa, who had also brought a storm to ISL with their free flowing football, they too had a few names they heavily rely upon like Ferran Corominas, Manuel Lanzarote, and Edu Bedia.

Following their terrific last season where an unknown Sergio Lobera took the side to the playoffs, the Gaurs have become synonymous with Spanish striker Ferran Corominas. Debuting in ISL last season, Corominas went on to score a whopping 18 goals leaving behind the likes of Miku and Sunil Chhetri with relative ease. Although they could only make it to the playoffs, many have been dead sure Lobera would go all the way this time.

But, every empire falls and so did the magnificent Barcelona. With Xavi Hernandez retiring, Andres Iniesta’s skills waning, and Neymar leaving Barcelona, the decline was evident and the rot was finally realized last season when they lost to AS Roma in the Champions League. Barcelona had failed to successfully replace their core few and their European dominance has for the last few years have been non-existent. Hence, when FC Goa decided to let go of Manuel Lanzarote prior to the season after he tallied 13 goals last season, FC Goa fans were obviously paranoid. The idea of revamping the closely knit forward line that had blasted way almost every ISL side last season didn’t look like good.

To further disappoint the fans, Goa didn’t go for a like for like replacement for the playmaker either, opting instead for a more proactive Jackichand Singh on the flanks. And the public belief was further strengthened when Goa failed to outscore NorthEast United FC in their season opener, hinting other sides that Lobera had lost it. Under new coach Eelco Schattorie, the Highlanders weren’t among the strongest title contenders then and failing to beat them didn’t bode well for the Gaurs. But, what looked like the franchise’s failure to get timely reinforcements was just a strategy by Lobera played close to his chest.

However, Goa still had Corominas keeping the score sheet ticking and they returned to their free scoring self from the second match itself. Goals win you games and the Spaniard gained prominence riding on the deafening echo of Fatorda that stated Goa was now a one-man team. Hence, when he was shown a red card in the bitter clash with FC Pune City, the Gaurs lost all hopes. Corominas was leading the golden boot race with six goals then and without him, Goa came across as a side who could string together a lot of passes with no end product.

Everyone was banking on Bedia to inspire a Coro-less side then, but Goa went down 1-4 against Jamshedpur FC at the JRD Tata Complex pronouncing that it was a bad idea. Corominas came back in the next match against Delhi Dynamos to everyone’s excitement and Josep Gombau, like many others, made the mistake of assuming Coro as their biggest threat. Delhi marked him closely and was even successful in keeping Goa at the bay for the 50 minutes before eventually succumbing to a 3-2 defeat.

Goa’s lynchpin has neither been Coro, nor Bedia. The fountain of their creation comes from a player who sits way deeper, far from public eye mostly because he hardly comes up with the goal or the assists. He is Ahmed Jahouh and so far evidently, only Bengaluru FC’s Carles Cuadrat and Jamshedpur FC’s Cesar Ferrando have decoded it. Coincidentally, those are the only two matches that Goa have lost in the season so far.

A closer look at their wins against FC Pune City (4-2) and Mumbai City FC (5-0), would show us what huge a blunder Pradyum Reddy and Jorge Costa had done. Against Mumbai, Jahouh was allowed to have 89 touches and 77 passes and more importantly with 73% passing accuracy. The 73% is quite significant here, given the fact that the Moroccan international is categorically instructed to find widemen Jackichand Singh and Hugo Boumous every time he gets a tinge of space with the ball at his feet. 

Not many players in ISL have the incredible passing range of Jahouh that allows the wingers to stick to their positions, even when the opponent is attacking, safe in the knowledge that they would get the ball in the perfect place where they would have just have to run behind the defence. Against Pune, Jahouh was allowed a freakish 125 touches and 111 passes. He had 88% passing accuracy here and one could only imagine the damage he could inflict with it. He got just one assist amidst Goa’s 4-2 win and was still adjudged the Hero of the match.

Against Delhi too that Goa won 3-2, Coro was surely brindled up top but Pritam Kotal and company had left Jahouh to roam around freely. Consequently, he was again the Hero of the match with the most crucial assist of the game to Bedia that was the winner. Barring the match against Kerala Blasters, Jahouh has played all the 90 minutes of every game and the main reason most have underestimated his ability has been because he has zero goals and three assists in Goa’s 22 ISL goals so far.

But, it won’t escape the eye of a master strategist as was seen against JFC and BFC. While against JFC, Jahouh didn’t have Coro to give shape to his vision, it should also be noticed that he was allowed to give less than 70 passes. This gets clearer against Bengaluru, where Cuadrat was without Miku and Erik Partaalu and winning in Goa was a very difficult proposition. But, he had got the tactics right with first Dimas Delgado, and after he was red carded, and then Xisco Fernandez allowing Jahouh no breathing space.

Jahouh could give only 50 passes out of the 73 touches that he managed and with Nishu Kumar and Rahul Bheke marking Jacki and Boumous closely, the long balls mostly ended in throws. Barcelona might have brought in Ivan Rakitic and Philippe Coutinho to replace Xavi and Iniesta in their midfield, but they are not the reasons the side is still winning the La Liga. Their lynchpin is Sergio Busquets and we would be waiting with baited breathe how and with whom would the Spanish side replace their 30-year-old when he decides to call it quits.

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