ISL Final, Bengaluru FC v FC Goa: Carlos Pena's change in playing position reason behind Goa's defensive record
A team which could keep just 2 clean sheets last season has managed to maintain eight, the joint highest in the ISL with NorthEast United.
Goa coach Sergio Lobera realised that his attackers could play freely if his defence was able to hold a high line and stay its ground.
Initially, Lobera tried pairing Mourtada Fall with Chinglensana Singh and then Mohamed Ali.
But Goa continued to concede and Lobera finally experimented with Carlos Pena, shifting the left-back to the central defence.
While it took a couple of games for the two to get their coordination right, the result eventually gave Goa some hope.
In January and February, Goa were able to maintain five consecutive clean sheets, which was eventually snapped by Bengaluru FC in the league stage.
But it's actually their improved defensive performance which could give them the edge in the Bengaluru FC v FC Goa ISL Final at the Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday.
"Well, it was not difficult for me to shift from the left-back position to the central defence," Pena, 35, who moved to the ISL from La Liga Segunda Division, said. "I have played many games in the central position even in the first division in La Liga in Spain. I am used to playing in all the positions so it was easy."
Pena, one among the Spanish trio also comprising Edu Bedia and Ferran Corominas, added that Lobera has united the team together and helped improve the defence.
"I think it's not me and the defenders alone who are responsible for this improvement," Pena said. "We are doing our job well and I think the team has improved. All the players are pressing well. We are working as a team and working together. It's because of this that we are here."
Lobera too concurred. At the ISL Pre-Final Press Conference, Lobera stressed that he has imbibed the mentality in the players that each one of them has to defend and not the defenders alone.
"When you concede, you look at the goalkeeper and pin the blame on him. Similarly, if you score a goal, all the credit goes to the goalscorer. But this improvement has been full and it involves each and every player. I am not looking at individual players alone but each of them has done his job," Lobera said about his team's defensive display.
With this solid unit, Goa have been able to continue their possession-based attacking brand of football. And against Bengaluru, the Gaurs are backing their strengths and going for the kill.
"Well, I think our style is attacking football, no? Anything and everybody thinks about Goa thinks about attacking. And I prefer that.
"So I think we have to be loyal to our style, attack and play the same way as our style and it will be successful.
"The ISL Final will be a tough game for both teams, you know. They have won their 2 previous games against us but I think they are not worried about the past.
"It will be difficult for both. They finished the season on top but this will be a new game," Pena added.