The Gaurs scored 27 out of their 50 goals at home last season.

Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) is conducting the forthcoming edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) in a bio-secure bubble in Goa. Matches are set to be organized behind closed doors. These two factors will restrict several outfits from availing the much-coveted home advantage in the league. Clubs will be stuck in a rather peculiar situation, as the players’ off-the-field movements will be restricted. They will have to adapt to different training grounds and the general conduct of the contingents will be hampered in the 3-4 month-long campaign. This leads one to wonder, whether FC Goa can make use of any benefit of the ISL taking place in the coastal state?

For starters, the Gaurs will be training at the Panchayat Ground at Salvador do Mundo. The club have entered into a partnership with the panchayat to utilize their facilities. The league had initially figured out 12 grounds across the state for the purpose and asked the clubs to make their choices. However, Goa’s training venue was not included in the ISL’s official list. Therefore, it is fair to say that the club have made good use of their local resources to identify a training ground that suits their demands and preferences.

On the other hand, players often face the complications of acclimatizing to new surroundings during a campaign. They have to make numerous visits to different states and the constant flights take a toll on the individuals’ physical well-being. Fortunately, Goa have a host of local players such as Brandon Fernandes, Lenny Rodrigues, Seriton Fernandes, Saviour Gama, Sanson Pereira among others in their ranks. Playing the entire season in their native state is bound to suit their liking and will perhaps put them in a better spot to deliver the desired performances on the field.

However, when one refers to home advantage in a football game, the focus is often on the energy and enthusiasm that the fans induce from the stands. One of the most vibrant, lively and intimidating atmospheres in an ISL match was created at the Fatorda Stadium last season. FC Goa have one of the most active and dedicated fan bases in the league, which obviously benefits the team on the field. The Gaurs emerged victorious in seven out of their nine home matches during the league stage, which was the highest when compared to every other side in the competition. They also nearly completed a fantastic comeback in the second leg of the semi-final tie against Chennaiyin FC.

Their outings in Goa suggest that the team always took their performances a notch higher in familiar surroundinfs. The Gaurs scored 27 out of their 50 goals in the season at Fatorda. They played at home on six out of the 10 times that they scored three or more goals in a game. Moreover, they were defensively sturdier and rather dominant when operating in familiar conditions. Goa conceded 29 goals during the course of the campaign and only 10 of them had come at the venue in the coastal state.

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Former Kerala Blasters head coach Eelco Schattorie has an interesting theory about the defensive records of teams taking a hit when matches are played behind closed doors. Speaking to Khel Now, Schattorie mentioned, “Playing without crowds, the results that are occurring seem to have been influenced by it. This is not a waterproof science. But, I do know as a coach, when you play friendly games, there is no atmosphere, no ambience and that influences games. You see strange results. The best examples would the 8-2, 7-1, even the last game of Jose Mourinho for Tottenham Hotspur against West Ham United…they were 3-0 up with complete control and suddenly the game completely changes.”

The Dutch tactician added, “That has to do with certain focus. There are moments in a game when a team loses focus and is not going the right way, many times the crowds start to push you after the second or the third mistake, you wake up then and now that part is not there. So, I am 100% sure that without the crowd, there’s both good and bad influence. It’s an interesting phenomenon and it’s something that should be studied over different leagues, to see which teams have the best capability to deal with it.”

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Though this proposition appears ambiguous currently, it does carry some substance if an experienced coach like Schattorie believes in it. In that case, FC Goa will find themselves in a situation like that of every other team. The factor of home advantage is more about optimizing the aura that the supporters of a team create from the sidelines. In the audience’s absence, it will arguably be all about playing in a professional manner in known surroundings for the Gaurs.

On the other hand, the club have a completely new foreign contingent at their disposal, barring Edu Bedia. With the entry of ATK Mohun Bagan and SC East Bengal in this edition of the ISL, Goa’s overseas stars would have had to deal with the daunting spirit that the fans of these two iconic clubs create during their respective sides’ matches. It could perhaps have had an effect on the team’s performances, but the international players are now exempt from adapting to any such situation. Their first season in India will be as convenient as possible in this aspect of the game, as they will face the two most testing sides in Indian football in favourable circumstances.

In summary, FC Goa will encounter challenges like every other club in the league this time around. Though the league will be played in their home state, the absence of supporters levels the playing field for all teams in the competition. Barring a few obvious advantages, they will sail in the same ship as the other 10 outfits in the ISL.  

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