News Article

Tactical Preview: Flexible Bengaluru meet goal-friendly Goa in neutrals' dream ISL finale

Written by: Ajay A K


The game to be played at the Mumbai Football Arena will feature a number of fascinating duels between players on both sides.

Mumbai gears up for what looks likely to be the most entertaining clash in Indian football this season. Sergio Lobera’s FC Goa take on Carles Cuadrat’s Bengaluru in a thrilling encounter to determine which side gets the ISL 2018-19 title.

Bengaluru arrive at Mumbai after having finished the league in first place and then seeing off NorthEast United FC in the semifinals. It is the former I-League side’ second final in two years and the Blues will be looking to push themselves to prevent a result similar to their last campaign.

The Gaurs finished second in the league, level on points with Bengaluru but with a poor head-to-head record. They saw off Mumbai City in the semifinals comfortably, thanks to a brilliant performance in the first leg. The Gaurs have already trumped last season’s semifinal finish and will be aiming for the title which slipped from their hands in the second season.

It will be a battle of tactical ideas between both Spaniards

Bengaluru FC

Carles Cuadrat’s Blues might look similar to Albert Roca’s side from last year, but the system utilized is very different. Several key features stand out from this ‘new-look’ Bengaluru, with major aspects being adaptability, attitude, and versatility.

Bengaluru usually line-up in a 4-2-3-1 set-up with a double pivot in midfield consisting of Alejandro Barrera (brought in for the injured Erik Paartalu) and Harmanjot Khabra. The former plays the role of the ball-player, which shifts to Dimas when he plays as the defensive midfielder.

Although Bengaluru do utilize the ball for stretches during the game, possession has never been their weapon this year. They have also looked comfortable defending in numbers, putting bodies behind the ball and breaking free using Udanta’s pace to hit opponents in the counter.

This lack of a well-defined system makes the Blues very dangerous this time around. Cuadrat’s men have shown their ability to morph and change according to the situation that appears during the game and their adaptability has been a vital cog in attack. Even against FC Goa, the Blues dominated possession in the away match but failed to hold on to the ball for long periods during the home game. Both the matches ending up in victory just depicts how well-drilled the side is. The side has won eight out of their 18 league fixtures with just a goal-difference of one which indicates their adaptable nature which allows them to comfortably defend.

Versatility also plays a big influence in Carles’ Bengaluru side. Players like Rahul Bheke, Harmanjot Khabra, and Dimas Delgado have played multiple positions for the Spaniard. Even Chhetri and Udanta have looked comfortable playing wide and centrally on either side of Miku, as seen in the tie against NorthEast. This gives the manager the freedom to modify his squad in the middle of the match, especially when the result does not look favourable.

Such modifications usually cause counter problems in terms of positioning but the players’ versatility acts as a deterrent to this. This coupled with their never-give-up attitude has allowed Bengaluru to score several late winners and equalizing goals during the league campaign. The Blues have scored 16 goals in the last thirty minutes in 20 fixtures.

FC Goa

The Gaurs have been a highly offensive-oriented team ever since Sergio Lobera took up the role at the helm. The Spaniard’s preferred system is a 4-2-3-1 with a central lone striker who drops in, to build-up play. The creative fulcrum lies within the three in the middle, the load equally shared by Brandon Fernandes, Jackichand Singh, and Edu Bedia. One key aspect of these three is the ease in which they bring about positional fluidity. With Edu Bedia dropping to the defensive midfield at times to aid in the build-up, the load offensively falls on the two Indian wingers who move in and out seamlessly exploiting the spaces in the middle. They switch flanks constantly and Brandon’s expertise in set-pieces and Jacki’s beautiful crossing has given Goa more weapons to utilize.

The defensive midfield’s double pivot has been a revitalizing change from last year. Lenny Rodrigues’ quick adapting to the Goan way of playing has allowed Lobera to play Edu Bedia up the pitch. The Goan lad has also taken the ball retention load off Jahouh and along with the Moroccan and Edu, aid in the build-up of play from the back. The trio rank fourth, first and second in terms of passes completed in the league.

The back four has finally been stabilized, with Carlos Pena and Mourtada Fall cementing their spots in the center, aided by Mandar Rao Desai and Seriton as full-backs. While the full-backs do aid in the build-up by providing outlets that are wide, they also have another huge role offensively. Mandar and Seriton have been known to exploit the width offered when the wingers cut in and when allowed freedom offensively; they use the space to deliver crosses.

In Naveen Kumar, Lobera has the near-perfect solution to the goalkeeping problem in his system. The former Salgaocar man’s shot-stopping has been excellent and his ball distribution is a vital cog in the side’s ball distribution and recycling.

Defensively, FC Goa show a tendency to switch between a 4-5-1 and a 4-4-2, with the choice depending on the opposition. Their rigid high press allows the ball to be won more easily and the physicality in the center, due to Mourtada Fall and Carlos Pena allow them to deal with long balls easily. The Senegalese center-back is usually tasked with keeping the opposition’s most physical player in check.

Jahouh and Lenny prevent any forays through the center of the park. Both of them have had exceptional seasons with Jahouh first in tackles and sixth in interceptions in the league while Lenny is eighth in the league in both the categories. Jackichand and Brandon drop and help in defense especially when the opposition shows a high tendency to use the width more than the spaces in the middle. 

Key battles

Miku Vs Mourtada Fall

It will be a battle of wits between the two foreign players

It will be a physical battle in the Blues attacking side. NorthEast managed to limit Miku’s influence through Janelier Rivas, Lobera too will be looking to eradicate Miku’s involvement and he will task Senegalese center-back Mourtada Fall with it.

The Gaur defender put in two phenomenal performances against Mumbai in both the legs to win the Hero of the Match twice, while the Venezuelan’s opener in the second leg earned his side the win and eventually gave him the Hero of the Match title. It would be an interesting battle. One that could decide the tie.


Ahmed Jahouh Vs Dimas Delgado

When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, it’s hard to pick out a winner. When these two sides lock horns, the onus will be on their midfield heroes to push the team forward.  Dimas has been exceptional for Bengaluru. The Spaniard has played as both Attacking Midfielder and Defensive midfielder for the Blues and has excelled in both the roles. As a CAM, Dimas, let’s loose his creativity forming the link between the midfield and strike line.

As a defensive minded midfielder, the former Recreativo player gets involved in the build-up dropping deep to provide an outlet. Against Goa, he will be against another supremely dominant midfielder in Jahouh. The defensive-minded kingpin already leads the league in passes and tackles made. He is a vital component in the Gaur’s attack and defense and has been entrusted with the reins of the team by Lobera. Both the teams’ attack flows through their midfield and it will be interesting to see which player amongst the two comes out on top.

Seriton Fernandes Vs Sunil Chhetri

Seriton will need to put his best display against India's talisman

Bengaluru’s away game against Goa ended with a win for the Blues. Brandon Fernandes scored the equalizer after Rahul Bheke had given the traveling side the lead. But Sunil Chhetri had the last laugh when he got past Seriton to head home the winner.

When his side faces Bengaluru, Seriton must exorcize his past demons and put in his best effort to stop the Indian skipper. Goa’s right side has looked culpable especially against Mumbai in the semi-final. Both the Islanders’ goals came due to Seriton’s poor positioning and the full-back will be looking to make amends with a solid performance in the final against one of the best Indian players.

Published: Sat Mar 16, 2019 12:52 PM IST


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