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ISL 2018-19: Investing in top goalkeepers is crucial

1:55 PM SGT 13/2/19
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu Bengaluru FC FC Goa ISL 4 2017/2018
Teams in the top four have their goalkeepers to thank for the successful season so far ...

The Indian Super League (ISL) is reaching the climax phase, with a little less than a quarter of the games to go. Bengaluru FC have one foot in the play-offs and FC Goa and Mumbai City FC are favourites to get there too.

Two of those teams – Bengaluru and Mumbai – have their goalkeepers to thank for. In a way, Goa too ought to credit their goalkeepers (Mohammed Nawaz and Naveen Kumar) for the three clean-sheets in the last three games, which steadied the ship after a short hiccup at the end of November and in early December. This brings us to a proposition – investing in goalkeepers should be a priority in the ISL.

The league leaders Bengaluru have not been the dominating force that they were last season and it’s fair to say that Gurpreet Singh Sandhu deserves credit for fetching them points in most of the games. The ability to win or tie games when a team is second best is a welcome trait for any potential champion and Sandhu offer Bengaluru the edge here.

Bengaluru have not had the best of restarts after the Asian Cup, managing to gather merely four points in as many games. If not for Sandhu’s heroics, it could have been just two or even one point in the same number of games. The custodian came clutch against Kerala Blasters and NorthEast United – two games where Bengaluru were not at their convincing best.

Amrinder Singh is another keeper who has stood out and provided more legs to the argument of why goalkeepers need to be invested upon. Ever since their forgettable 5-0 loss against Goa, Mumbai have been extremely solid at the back, supported by safe hands between the posts.

Delhi Dynamos have had a season to forget, but they are the only team to field a foreign player between the posts. Albino Gomes is a fine keeper on his day, but Spaniard Francisco Dorronsoro is preferred over him. This reduces a slot for a foreigner on the field but Josep Gombau is clear with his decision. Looking back at how the Spaniard converted a few potential defeats into draws and a few potential thrashings into respectable defeats, one can see where Gombau’s decision comes from.

It’s very common for teams to field technically superior foreigners in more attacking positions, as ultimately every team is after scoring as many goals as possible. Hence the foreigners’ quota of five players is usually used up upfront and in attacking midfield. Some teams do have one or rarely two foreigners in the backline, but the general idea is to position the superior players in goal-scoring positions.

The number of top-tier Indian defenders is limited and naturally, a shortage of quality in the backline becomes prevalent. This further fuels the need for investing in a top custodian who can win the team points even when they are second best.