Sergio Lobera’s men have arguably been the team to watch during the league stage with their silky-smooth brand of attacking football and would have been the clear favourites for the final, had they been facing any team not named Bengaluru.
To win their maiden ISL title, Goa will need to overcome a barrier they have been unable to surmount all season, i.e., to beat Bengaluru.
On the two occasions that the Gaurs have come up against the Blues in the league this season, they have ended up on the losing side. In the first fixture at home in the Fatorda stadium, both teams were reduced to 10 men before Bengaluru secured a 2-1 win.
In the reverse fixture at Bengaluru, it was the home side that were reduced to 10 men but still prevailed 3-0 in emphatic fashion despite playing the entire second half with a man less.
“I think certain instances in the match against Bengaluru FC made us overconfident. The first half was very tight. Both teams created chances. They were down to 10 men and I think that made us overconfident,” Lobera had stated after the 3-0 defeat in Bengaluru.
While overconfidence was certainly an issue for Goa in the second-half, they were time and time again also exposed on the counter-attack by Bengaluru. Lobera’s philosophy always hinged on playing the match on the front foot with the fullbacks bombing forward but that strategy has not worked against the Blues who have brilliantly exploited the spaces vacated by the advancing Seriton Fernandes and Mandar Rao Dessai.
Bengaluru’s pressing and closing down of spaces in both the games has worked wonders for Cuadrat’s men with Goa’s prolific attack being devoid of the opportunity to carve out clear-cut goalscoring chances. The Gaurs have scored as many as 33 times from open play this season, the most by any side. However, in both clashes against Bengaluru, their attackers have not found the time and space to create the desired impact.
Bengaluru have seemingly figured out their strategy to nullify Goa’s attack and expose their defence on the counter-attack. It is now up to the Gaurs to learn their lessons from the two defeats and devise a formula to counter Bengaluru’s approach.
Perhaps a more balanced approach from Lobera instead of going with an all-out attack will be the way to go in the final. Instead of being too eager to score and get the first goal, Goa will need to have patience. They will need to be wary of a Bengaluru counter-attack and should instead choose their moments to attack carefully.
With Ferran Corominas and Edu Bedia firing on all cylinders, Goa have the ability to conjure a moment of magic out of nothing. If they can get their defensive organisation spot on during the final, there is no reason that Goa can't overcome the Bengaluru challenge because their attack will come good more often than not.
Predictable Lobera has played into Bengaluru’s hands so far in the two previous clashes between the two sides. It is time now for Goa to mix up their approach and surprise Cuadrat’s men.