ISL 2019 | I’ve been more physically conditioned this season, reveals Ahmed Jahouh

ISL 2019 | I’ve been more physically conditioned this season, reveals Ahmed Jahouh

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FC Goa lynchpin Ahmed Jahouh has revealed that he had to train a lot to get physically conditioned for the Indian Super League style of play, which has seen him contributing in the attack more this season. The Moroccan also Bengaluru as the ISL team he thinks could win the title apart from Goa.

If acting without effort defines excellence, then the 30-year-old FC Goa midfielder might just have been that this season. Not having many goals and assists to show, the player mightn’t bask in the accolades that a top scorer or a provider does, but the deep-lying midfielder is definitely the most important piece of Sergio Lobera’s puzzle.

Arriving from Moroccan first-tier side FUS Rabat in 2017, Jahouh was just another recruit for a newly appointed Lobera before his team took the league by storm. However, with Manuel Lanzarote and Ferran Corominas getting directly involved in 31 goals the midfielder never really came to the fore, something that has changed this time.

Coming to a whole different continent, where the weather and the physical playing style do take its toll on one, Jahouh needed time to adjust. A closer look at him last season would show that he had to work a lot to get the job done compared to this season, where his role hasn’t changed much but he has been far more effortless. Starting a game with similar responsibilities as last season Jahouh has got three assists to his name, taking 31 shots at the target. Last season though, alongside his two assists, Jahouh could manage only 14 shots.

While he still leads the table for the most number of touches (1628) and passes (1357) and contributes significantly in interceptions as well (31), it is the way he has upgraded his offensive attributes that has hogged the limelight. And the midfielder reveals that training has helped him a lot to get acquainted to the rigours of the league.

“I have realized that this season I have been going a little forward from time to time and I think it is because of my physical training too. I have been more physically conditioned this season, which hasn’t been the case last time. I don’t get tired going forward now, which didn’t allow me to leave the midfield last season,” said Jahouh in an interview with Sportscafe.

Broadly divided into two types – barbarian (holding midfielder) and pivot (deep-lying playmaker) – the role of every central defensive midfielder falls in them. While the first one would be your quintessential Roy Keane or Micheal Essien, the second one reflects the likes of Pep Guardiola or a Sergio Busquets. An offensive minded Lobera would have hardly asked for the former kind and couldn’t have gotten a better player than Jahouh for his side. 

Though the player still maintains his consistency of five bookings from last season, his long balls from the centre-half’s position and incisive through balls onto the flanks from the half-way line have mesmerized one and all this season. While I was expecting names like Andrea Pirlo or a Michael Carrick when I asked about his favourite midfielder, he did surprise me.

“I have liked Steven Gerrard. And it has nothing to do with things like similar playing styles or so. I never played in Europe or any big club as such. In the current generation, I really don’t associate myself with anyone as such. Maybe because, I’m crazy about my game,” said a chuckling Jahouh.

Despite having a prolific last season, Lobera was criticized for his uber-attacking approach that had led to them conceding 28 goals. They were the highest conceding side amongst the top four sides and the fourth highest in the league. It required them to get in the likes of Mourtada Fall, Lenny Rodrigues, and Carlos Pena this time to shore up their defence, and it did work as Goa ended their league stage conceding only 20 goals - the second lowest after NorthEast United (18).

However, for all the defensive reinforcements, Goa’s style of play has hardly changed as they still go for the kill with every move regardless of the score line. Consequently, most of the high margin wins this season in the league belong to the Gaurs – 5-0 against Mumbai City FC, 5-1 against NorthEast United, and 3-0 against ATK and Kerala Blasters. The approach has also resulted in some humiliating defeats for them as well, like the 4-1 defeat to Jamshedpur FC, and more recently, 3-0 drubbing against Bengaluru FC despite have a one-man advantage.

Despite these results, Jahouh believes that Goa hava prioritized their defence for a good defensive performance is what guarantees a good offensive display most of the time. “If we defend very well, we score too many goals up front as well. When the defence is good, the striker feels comfortable as well. They don’t have any pressure making it easier for them.”

“But, if someone scores against us, it becomes difficult for us because then we to commit a lot of players forward. But, if you keep a clean sheet we obviously feel better,” he added. 

Goa had to part ways with two important players from last season, nLanzarote and Pronay Halder, and they have replaced them quite brilliantly. While Edu Bedia was known to adapt to the playmaking role seamlessly, it was Jahouh’s would-be midfield partner that was a concern. And Lenny Rodrigues coming from Bengaluru FC have replaced it beautifully.

With Jahouh taking on the creative role in the middle of the park, Lenny was left mostly to do the dirty work. And the 31-year-old has been at his disciplined best in it. “He is a good player, who is good physically, runs too much and has a really good technique and is confidence as well,” said Jahouh.

No team in ISL this season has managed to do a double on the Gaurs except Bengaluru FC. The Blues had seen a red card on both the occasions and came out as the victor regardless. While it is a psychological block or just perfect countering tactics is still not known, but Lobera hasn’t really cracked the code of one of the potential finalists. And when asked Jahouh who he thought could win the title if not Goa, his answer wasn’t any different.

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