A Bengaluru FC vs FC Goa final was written in the stars. Coached by two former FC Barcelona men and manned by familiar faces, the teams have played some of the best football India has seen.
While most coaches here instruct players to “chip the ball to strikers’ chest and take it from there,” Sergio Lobera and Carles Cuadrat encouraged their team to keep the ball and play out from the back.
Second-placed Goa comfortably saw Mumbai City FC off 5-2 over two legs to reach the final while table-toppers Bengaluru overcame a scare from NorthEast United FC to claim a final ticket.
Bengaluru defeated Goa both home and away, scoring five goals. However, on Sunday evening, Goa will be the favourites.
Read on to know why!
#3 The culmination of the Sergio Lobera project
In his debut season at FC Goa, Spanish coach Sergio Lobera took them to a semi-finals finish as they lost 4-1 over two legs to eventual champions Chennaiyin FC in 2017-18.
While they outscored every team (42 goals), their defence left a lot to be desired. In fact, they had the worst defensive record of the top six clubs (28 goals) and conceded one goal more than bottom club NorthEast United FC.
This season, however, the Spanish coach has shored up the defence while ensuring they remain the best attacking unit.
Conceding just 20 goals over 18 games, they finished the season with the second best defensive record. Additionally, they collected 34 points from 18 outings, as opposed to their last season’s haul of 30.
Losing two games fewer than last season, they have also bettered their last season’s third-place finish by one position.
Bengaluru FC, meanwhile, despite finishing atop the standings, haven’t been as good as their 2017-18 selves.
All the improvements and Bengaluru’s “fall” allude to Goa’s boasting better chances than the two-time I-League winners.
#2 The Ahmed Jahouh effect
Ferran Corominas has retained his Golden Boot. Goalkeepers Naveen Kumar and Mohammad Nawaz have had four clean sheets apiece.
Equally influential but largely underrated has been Ahmed Jahouh.
Standing at 6ft 1in, he has been an imposing presence in the middle of the park, alongside local midfielder Lenny Rodrigues.
Having proven adept at dispossessing opposition midfielders — he has registered most tackles (113) — the 30-year-old has also proven impeccable at connecting defence with attacks. He has made more passes than any other player (1394), with attackers Brandon Fernandes, Edu Bedia, Hugo Boumous, and Jackichand Singh often initiating quick attacks after receiving the ball from him.
In addition, he plays a crucial role in maintaining a balance between attack and defence.
The battle between Dimas Delgado and Alex Barrera and Lenny Rodrigues and the Moroccan midfielder could very well decide the outcome of the final.
The FC Goa fans will be hoping he turns up like he always does in Mumbai.
#1 Team understandings and distinct core
FC Goa bucked the trend of signing random players upon the arrival of Sergio Lobera.
The former FC Barcelona youth coach has brought with him players he’s previously coached Morocco giants Moghreb Tetouan. Ahmed Jahouh and Hugo Boumous came along with him while Mourtada Fall and Zaid Krouch joined him a year later.
“Last year, when I started, I had only one player in the team who played with me before. But I think the team picked up the concepts quite quickly,” the Spaniard told The Times of India earlier this season. “This year, having had the base, the new players adapted to the idea a lot faster.”
Besides the foreign recruits, Goa boast top-class local talents Mandar Rao Dessai, Brandon Fernandes, Seriton Fernandes, and Lenny Rodrigues.
They have gelled superbly with the foreigners, both on the pitch and off it.
Edu Bedia often spots Mandar Rao’s overlapping runs down the flanks and the Boumous-Brandon partnership oozes chemistry.
Ferran Corominas has developed a telepathic understanding with the midfielders.
The chemistry they’ve formed makes Goa clear-cut favourites to win their maiden ISL title.