In more ways than one, the top of the table clash between Bengaluru FC and FC Goa was a battle between two peas in a pod. Both teams were guided to a second successive play-offs by Catalan managers who honed their trade in Barcelona.
Both teams started off in a 4-2-3-1 that morphed into a 4-4-2 while defending. For Bengaluru, Udanta Singh and Luisma Villa tucked themselves into the midfield line when Goa were in possession and Xisco Hernandez advanced to the second-striker’s role and to press the Goan back-line. For the visitors, it was Brandon Fernandez and Jackichand Singh who would adopt a cautious, defensive role when out of possession.
Although there were signs that either defences would crack eventually, both teams showed enough resistance to go into the break with the score-line reading 0-0. Though Goa saw more of the ball, it was a case both teams feeling each other out.
The first half did not go well for the eventual winners Bengaluru. Rino Anto had problems getting his positioning right and the fact that Brandon Fernandes was stretching the field on that side of the pitch did not help him.
Goa were clearly winning the midfield battle, thanks to yet another inspirational performance from Ahmed Jahouh. The Moroccan was omnipresent, snuffing Bengaluru’s quick breaks and aiding Goa in attack.
42 minutes on the clock and the turning point arrived – Bengaluru’s Nishu Kumar was sent off after a second yellow card for abusing the referee.
After the break, the hosts decided to employ a 4-4-1 with Miku being the lone man upfront. It was the hosts found the breakthrough in the 50th minute after Juanan Gonzalez netted a flick from Miku that followed a cross from Xisco. The entire dynamics of the game then underwent a chaotic turn.
Desperate for a goal, the visitors adopted a more direct approach and were mainly let down by their finishing and bad luck. Goa missed a close-range chance, an open goal and saw two of their shots hit the frame of the goal.
Meanwhile, the hosts adopted a more conservative and counter-attacking approach. The fact that they were a goal up, man down and had the pace of Miku and Udanta upfront made it an obvious switch to make.
For Bengaluru, it all seemed to work. Miku had one of his best games ever. The Venezuelan was crucial in holding up the play and providing that killer punch in the final third.
The absence of Erik Paartalu meant that Dimas had to play a deeper role and the creative load on Xisco increased. But he responded well to this and exploited Goa’s high-line with some terrific lobbed balls up-front.
Eventually, it was the finishing that separated the two teams. One team was overconfident with the man advantage and the other team had Miku.