ISL Tactical Analysis | NorthEast negates Goa's high press to keep them at bay

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ISL Tactical Analysis | NorthEast negates Goa's high press to keep them at bay

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Subhayan Dutta


Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium Guwahati saw a spectacle on Monday as their home side took on the prolific FC Goa team from last season, which ended up being a tactical showoff between two beautiful footballing minds. However, it was debuting ISL manager Eelco Schattorie, who has won the first round.

NorthEast keep the central spine congested to dry Goa’s chances 

There was no doubt that the visitors were the favourites coming into this match leaving NorthEast United FC’s new coach Eelco Schattorie with a lot to prove. FC Goa had scored as many as 42 goals last season, the most in the league, and it was a known fact that Sergio Lobera’s strength lied in outscoring his opponents. The Spanish style of play that Lobera has implemented in Goa includes holding the ball well and passing quickly to the nearest free player, and Schattorie knew he couldn’t counter the buildup. It would have required him to commit more players to press thereby leaving the opponent to explore the spaces down the middle which had Ferran Corominas waiting at the end and finish almost every single time.

 NorthEast defenders notice Goa winger but rush back to take their position in centre. 

Hence, NorthEast decided to leave FC Goa with only one source of attack – the flanks. It also explained NorthEast’s complacent looking slow buildup because it allowed the central midfielders the players to fall back faster during a counterattack as they had little ground to cover. In congesting the midfield and defence, FC Goa players found their wide players to be unmarked more often and kept pushing the ball outwards– something NorthEast wanted. In between the two wingers and full-backs – Jackichand Singh, Mandar Rao Desai, Carlos Pena and Seriton Fernandes, Goa pumped in as many as 16 crosses into the box failing to find Coro 15 times. Not known for his physicality Coro was left in no man’s land as the dominating Rowlin Borges, Mato Grgic, Mislav Komorski, and Reagan Singh kept on clearing crosses throughout the 90 minutes. The one goal that eventually went in from a cross was Rehenesh’s failure to clear the ball. Jacki and Mandar were both overworked consequently, and the former was even taken off on the stretcher.

Goa find NorthEast's triangular bubble difficult to burst 

It had taken the hosts as less as the first 15 minutes to figure out that their defensive strategy was intact with Goa struggling to find their mojo, which prompted their next step – the offense. Speaking in an interview just before the ISL started, Schattorie had stated that he was well aware of the limited resources available with him calling the players at his disposal as “no Mini Cooper or Ferrari”, but he also believed that big names didn’t matter in football. Assistant coach to Avram Grant previously, Schattorie had also stated that Taj Mahal wasn’t built in day hinting that NEUFC would take its time to grow, and if one would look at the slow buildup of the NEUFC players, his idea pretty much resonates in it.

In the first half, Goa was pressing tremendously with the idea that the higher up the field they could get the ball, the lesser passing moves they would have to make before getting an eventual attempt at the target. This had been their tactics last season as well and Schattorie knew exactly how to counter it. The hosts didn’t take a gung-ho attempt like their opponent, but a more subtle strategy that needed more training ground practice. NorthEast would keep the ball as much as possible with two players wandering around their teammate with the ball. Goa’s attempt at pressing saw the three creating a wall as they kept the ball moving up. Their buildup looked like a triangular bubble moving up through the flanks with the opponent unable to pierce it. How much Schattorie stressed upon it was reflected when even goalkeeper Rehnesh was seen showing enough composure on the ball to go round Coro and pass it to one of his defenders. The slower pace of the buildup meant, the players didn’t run out of steam as well.

FC Goa’s erratic pressing cost them a win

Despite scoring so many goals in the league the primary reason for Goa’s downfall last season was an extremely leaky defence. They had conceded as many as 28 goals, which was the most in the top four, and while one would think that Lobera had gone out of his way to address the issue, Goa’s opening game showed they had merely changed the enforcers with the motif pretty much the same. Goa play like a clumsier version of Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp in previous seasons, where the side could press high with all the right kind of players available in the squad, but the defence was equally susceptible to the ultra-attacking game play - so much so that Bournemouth could come back to score three goals and win the match after trailing 3-1.

 In the first half, Goa players didn't give breathing space to their opponent and marked very closely.  
 Second Half: The NorthEast players are given sufficient time and space to move and find a pass.

Goa had started the match with their usual high pressing making it difficult for the NEUFC players, who could hardly keep the ball at feet. However, if last season was anything to go by, Schattorie knew that the intensity would slow down massively as the match progressed. And it is exactly what happened. Coming out into the second half with a 2-1 lead, Lobera’s players suddenly looked lethargic. Running out of steam was one big reason but if the manager’s only approach is to suffocate his opponent with high pressing, his players’ fitness should be at the peak most of the 90 minutes. Another huge flaw in the kind of pressing of Goa has been overpopulating their zonal marking leaving man players totally unmarked, making life easier for the opponent.

 © Goa's zonal marking involving four players going for one leaving many other free to run. 

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