As FC Goa head coach Juan Ferrando gears up for the start of the 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) season, there is bound the shadow cast by the achievements of former coach Sergio Lobera over his team.
Ahmed Jahouh, Hugo Boumous, Mourtada Fall and Mandar Rao Dessai followed Lobera to Mumbai City FC besides the exits of regular starters such as Jackichand Singh (Jamshedpur FC) and record-breaking striker Ferran Corominas (Atletico Beleares). Meanwhile, Fall's defensive pairing in Carlos Pena decided to hang up his boots.
Add to it, the Gaurs have been handed a couple of tough fixtures right at the beginning, with their task cut out against a nemesis in Bengaluru FC (Goa have suffered five losses and a draw in the last six matches against the Blues) in the opener before an interesting reunion against Mumbai City next.
Although Ferrando wouldn't necessarily be perturbed about the games in store, getting the team in sync with his tactical elements given the number of new entrants including five new foreigners will be the Spaniard tactician's first major hurdle.
The new foreign signings come in the form of defenders Ivan Gonzalez and James Donachie, midfielders Alberto Noguera and Jorge Ortiz, and forward Igor Angulo - all of whom have impressive curricula vitae (CV).
One glance of the statistics from last season shows how Goa dominated the leagues stages and that they were heavily dependent on the players who made an exit in the summer. In the attacking department, out of the 51 goals, 35 of them were scored by Corominas (14), Boumous (11), Jackichand (5) and Fall (5).
Of course, the team's style plays a role behind those strikes. But there are significant contributors who are no longer a part of the team - former players Jahouh (1,636), Pena (1,295) and Fall (1,202) were among the top seven in the league when it comes to touches. The same goes for passes, with the club recording the best numbers among all teams and where again you see the names of Jahouh (1,279), Pena (1,053) and Fall (836) pop up in the top 10 players in that respect.
"We are working a lot on the tactical part followed by physical conditioning. We have to try to find the best system. Tactically, it is important to know how to respond to what happens during the course of a game. Of course, set -pieces are very important. Our focus is to find out what happens with the ball and without the ball and in other situations as well," Ferrando recently stated.
Other than foreigners, Ferrando also has a lot of youngsters infused in the first-team squad after the likes of Saviour Gama and Princeton Rebello announced themselves on the big stage last season. The pre-season friendlies have already seen new signings such as Sanson Pereira, Makan Chothe and Phrangki Buam already featuring during the pre-season friendlies.
"I'm not thinking about the new or inexperienced played. I am trying to find the best first XI. If a player understands the tactical part, he is good to play. It is very important to prepare a plan B with the medical staff because I don't know if all the players will be ready for every game," the 39-year-old coach said about the fixtures coming thick and fast.
Indian players such as Ishan Pandita, Redeem Tlang and Alexander Romario Jesuraj returning from his loan stint from Mohun Bagan also provide depth to the squad.
However, the most important factor may always remain that fluidity the side showcased under Lobera. Given that only one foreigner - Edu Bedia - has been retained from the regular season winning combination, it will be interesting to see whether the club will be able to retain that fluidity. It must be noted that the likes of Jahouh, Boumous and Coro took control of the side's game play last season.
Relying on the experience of campaigners such as Brandon Fernandes, Seriton Fernandes and Lenny Rodrigues will also prove pivotal for the Goans, also looking for continuity in the good form of the likes of Mohammad Nawaz in goal besides requiring someone like Mohamed Ali to step up his game.