FC Goa has climbed to the top of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) ladder but whether they manage to stay there remains to be seen as they take on Bengaluru FC in an engrossing ‘top of the table’ clash at the Sree Kanteerava stadium on Thursday.
Goa have a chance to go three points clear of Bengaluru at the top, if they manage a win on Thursday. But more than that, the driving factor for Sergio Lobera and team will be a desire to ensure their momentum does not stall with just two rounds to go before the play-offs.
The Gaurs are high on confidence after a six-game unbeaten run in which they haven’t conceded a goal in the last five. Given the troubles Goa have had with their defensive organisation earlier in the season, this augurs well for Lobera.
In fact, Goa have the best attacking record so far this season (35 goals scored) and the joint-best defensive record (17 goals allowed). The likes of Mourtada Fall and Carlos Pena have been key in Goa’s defensive improvement.
“It is good that we have improved defensively. It was one of the goals before the season started and I am happy about that. I think every time you improve defensively, you look at defenders or goalkeeper. But I think we have improved defensively as a whole. Therefore, I am happy with the way we are working defensively and also in a collective way,” said Lobera.
Goa have the aura of a well-oiled outfit that is firing collectively. They will fancy their chances against Bengaluru FC who are not in the best of forms. Their rivals, Bengaluru, secured just one win from their last five matches and qualified for the play-offs largely to their brilliant run of form in the initial part of the season. They have now lost momentum and the top spot in the league.
Coach Carles Cuadrat has largely opted to rest his key players and rotate the squad ahead of the play-offs and that has seen the team struggle to find rhythm post the winter break. With a free-flowing Goa coming to town, Cuadrat’s priority will be to get back to winning ways and start gathering momentum with the play-offs very close. Bengaluru will also hope that Miku finds his scoring boots soon, given that the Venezuelan is yet to score after coming back from injury.
“Miku is having a sort of pre-season. He is trying to be fit again and you can see that his numbers and performance aren’t at the level that it was before the injury. But we have time. We hope he can be back to that level in the next two weeks,” said Cuadrat.
Captain Sunil Chhetri should start the game against Goa after coming off the bench to score a goal in their 3-2 defeat to Delhi Dynamos. Luisma should get a look in for this match. But the Blues will have to deal with a menacing Goan attack without defender Albert Serran who is suspended.
This is one keen battle that nobody will want to miss. Apart from the top spot, there is also the small matter of taking the psychological advantage into the fast-approaching play-offs.
BENGALURU FC: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GK), Rino Anto, Rahul Bheke, Juanan, Nishu Kumar, Harmanjot Khabra, Dimas Delgado, Udanta Singh, Xisco Hernandez, Sunil Chhetri (C), Miku.
FC GOA: Naveen Kumar, Seriton Fernandes, Mourtada Fall, Carlos Pena, Mandar Rao Dessai (c), Ahmed Jahouh, Lenny Rodrigues, Jackichand Singh, Edu Bedia, Brandon Fernandes, Ferran Corominas