Three months ago, FC Goa, much like last season were flying away at the top of the league. This was after they hammered a listless Mumbai City outfit at home 5-0.
For new manager Jorge Costa, there were problems aplenty. His midfield was nothing less than functional while his attack, predictable, one-dimensional and importantly, firing blanks in front of goal.
If years gone by are any indication, momentum is everything in the Indian Super League. It was expected that Goa would be jostling for the top spot in the table with Bengaluru FC. But somehow, the script has changed by the time the two teams meet in the return fixture at the Andheri Sports Complex on Friday.
Through a positive approach and a settled lineup, it is Mumbai who have become the team to beat.
Goa, meanwhile, went on an indifferent run of form and just about have their heads above water in the top-four race. Ahmed Jouhah, Goa’s midfield general, is not perturbed. “Yes, there is a bit of pressure going into the contest,” the Moroccan told Scroll.in on the eve of Goa’s match at the Mumbai arena.
“But it’s normal. I love big matches and this is a chance for us [to bring back momentum].”
The 30-year-old lamented Goa’s recent patchy run and said it had a lot to do with the forwards not converting their chances. “If you see the last game [A goalless draw against Jamshedpur], we had at least five or six chances to score but somehow couldn’t convert them.”
Coach Sergio Lobera’s possession-based system worked wonders in the league last time around, where Goa emerged as the top-scorers at the end of the tournament. The trend has continued this year too: The Gaurs have found the back of the net six times more than Mumbai, and seven more than Bengaluru.
“Our philosophy has remained the same,” Jouhah adds. “We start from the back, play short passes and try to open up the opposition defence.”
Jouhah’s towering presence in the middle of the park is important to the Goan attack as Coro’s goals. A shake-up to the team in attack and midfield have produced mixed results this year. There were occasions when local boy Mandar Rao Desai was seen in a full-back role, a position where he was not comfortable. Hugo Boumous and Brandon Fernandes have taken time to fill the big shoes of Manuel Lanzarote, who left for ATK.
As for Coro, he has continued from where he left but Goa’s aforementioned erratic run coincided with the Spaniard being suspended or going on a goal scoring drought by his lofty standards. Costa may have observed the play revolving around Coro too.
Jouhah, though, says the criticism is normal. “Yes, he scores a lot of goals and is very experienced so naturally, it is easy for people to say that Goa is too reliant on Coro. But, we have plenty of ammunition going forward.”
Irrespective of what Goa’s lineup is, they are certainly not facing the same Mumbai outfit that were taken to the cleaners at the Fatorda Stadium. The home side have a new-found bite and steel. Importantly, they are able to pounce on the chances that come their way. Goa, in the same vein, can’t be written off. A win on Friday would see them leapfrog Jamshedpur FC to third place. A high-voltage clash awaits us.