BY NISANTH V EASWAR Follow @Niktheblue94 on Twitter
With just over a week to go to kick-off for the fourth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL), Goal continues to cast an eye on the strengths and weaknesses of the 10 squads up for contention.
Up next are the runners-up of the second edition, FC Goa, who are coming in to the new season after a disastrous run in 2016 which saw them end up with the wooden spoon.
After legendary Brazilian coach Zico was shown the door last season, Spaniard Sergio Lobera will be in-charge of the Gaurs for the upcoming edition.
Having picked up some exciting Indian talent in the form of Pronay Halder, Narayan Das and Brandon Fernandes in the players draft, Goa have shored up their overseas department after roping in the likes of Ferran Corominas, Manuel Lanzarote and Bruno Pinheiro.
Goa have also done well to retain goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani and winger Mandar Rao Dessai from the previous edition to ensue some sense of continuity in the squad.
Goalkeepers: Laxmikant Kattimani, Bruno Colaco and Naveen Kumar.
Defenders: Amey Ranawade, Bruno Pinheiro, Chinglensana Singh, Jovel Martins, Mohamed Ali, Narayan Das, Seriton Fernandes and Sergio Marin.
Midfielders: Ahmed Jahouh, Anthony D’Souza, Brandon Fernandes, Edu Bedia, Mandar Rao, Manuel Arana, Manuel Lanzarote, Mohammad Yasir, Pratesh Shirodkar and Pronay Halder.
Forwards: Adrian Colunga, Ferran Corominas, Liston Colaco and Manvir Singh
Having started his footballing education at La Masia, Spanish winger cum attacking midfielder Manuel Lanzarote is already proving to be an astute buy for Lobera. Having plied his trade in the Spanish leagues for the majority of his career, the Catalonian bring with him a potent goal threat.
Having scored 11 goals 52 appearances for Real Zaragoza in the Spanish Segunda Division last year, Lanzarote is primed to make an instant impact in the ISL.
His compatriot Ferran Corominas also brings with him a similar wealth of experience in the Spanish leagues having graduated from Espanyol’s academy. The 34-year-old forward has already caught the eye with his promising displays in Goa’s pre-season friendlies. A prolific goal-scorer, the Spaniard has also represented his country at the U17, U18 & U19 levels.
With Lobera as coach, Spain has ruled the roost in Goa’s overseas recruitment strategy and another compatriot in Manuel Arana provides the club with a solid option in midfield.
Like his fellow Spaniards, Arana has spent most of his playing days back home before moving to Brisbane Roar FC in Australia for 2016-17. Another attacking outlet with an eye for goal, much is expected from the 32-year-old in the ISL.
With an array of technically sound attackers in the squad, Goa have the ability to showcase free-flowing football on a regular basis.
Three Indian goalkeepers vie for the No.1 slot for FC Goa with local boy Laxmikant emerging as the clear favourite after observing the trends in the pre-season friendlies.
While Kattimani has previous experience in the ISL with Goa, Bruno Colaco and Naveen Kumar, who made a couple of blunders with Churchill Brothers in I-League last season, remain largely untested at the highest levels and as such the final line of defence remains a concern for Lobero.
In defence, youngster Seriton Fernandes remains the front-runner for the right-back slot though he was primarily used on the wings in his last stint with Churchill Brothers.
It remains to be seen whether Portuguese player Bruno Pinheiro is deployed at centre-back along with 20-year-old Chinglensana Singh or in midfield. Lobera might have to opt for the Portuguese in defence with the inexperience of Chinglensana and Seriton exposing Goa’s soft underbelly.
With a wealth of ball-playing midfielders at his disposal, Lobera has a problem of aplenty on his hands. After spending a fair amount to draft in defensive midfielder Pronay Halder, the Spaniard will struggle to find a place for the Indian in the starting XI with the likes of Ahmed Jadouh and Pinheiro both providing options in the same role.
While Mandar and fellow youngster Liston Colaco provide exciting options on the right-wing, the former's lack of first-team action and the latter's inexperience might leave Goa somewhat vulnerable on the flank.
While a plethora of technically skilled attackers provides the potential of exciting and penetrating football, Goa's lack of physicality might come to bite them back once the league gets going.
Brought for a sum of 15 lakhs from fellow Goan side Salgaocar, promising winger Liston Colaco has a lot of the locals already excited about his massive potential.
The local boy can play up-front as a striker or on the right-wing and will be looking to make use of the upcoming season as his break-through year in Indian football.
Up front, young striker Manvir Singh is also an exciting talent to look forward to. The 22-year-old has impressed many with his enterprising performances during the AFC U23 qualifiers earlier this year with the India U23 team. With two exciting young players, the Virat Kohli owned outfit will be mindful of their promise hope they progress to realise their potential.
The Danger Man
If Goa’s pre-season matches are anything to go by, everything in attack will flow through their star Spanish attacker Manuel Lanzarote. The 33-year-old has an abundance of technical ability on the ball along with a sharp eye for the killer pass. Also able to find the back of the next at regular intervals, Lanzarote could be the engine that drives Goa’s attacking play in the fourth edition of the ISL.
Having built a side littered with plenty of Goan and Indian talent interspersed with a collection of technically gifted Spaniards, FC Goa are looking good heading into the four-month-long extravaganza.
A repeat of last season’s horror showing looks unlikely as the Gaurs look stacked in almost every department. Lobera will be keen to improve the team's performance and hope to make it into the knockout stages.