THE OPENING HALF on a Sunday evening at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai when the home side lined up against FC Goa is very much history. Goa on that occasion hit 4th gear and sped past them in an opening 3 goal blitz. It was all what Goa was hyped up to be in playing beautiful and adventurous football. Those opening 45 minutes was that of a beautiful symphony orchestrated by its conductor Lobera. While Gregory coaching his side for the first time, re tooled his side on the fly and as a result his team is yet to concede in 135 minutes played between these 2 sides.
As a local correspondent, I have highlighted and elaborated expansively on FC Goa, so it would be a good time to break mold to throw more light on its opponent in a key 1st semi-final tie.
To put it into perspective what Goa is up against; Chennaiyan has turned into a well-rounded and solid team with defensive emphasis placed across the whole board. So you will see Chennai looking to press even through its offensive players with a priority to curtail the opposition in to making forays in its final third area.
Each zone has its leader and personality whether its Sereno and Alves at the back with Ganesh slotting in as extra insurance cover, Raphael in the center of the park or Rafi pressing from advanced positions. Therefore it’s no coincidence that its lead to standout stats such as most tackles won standing at impressive 222 which then plays a crucial part in maintaining 7 clean sheets. Another factor that’s important in today’s game in Goa is that out of those 7 clean sheets, 4 were achieved on away games which entails they travel well.
The obvious advantage Chennaiyan enjoys over Goa is height, physical and aerial prowess. They have had 9 headed goals and successful in wining 2nd balls on set pieces. So expect them to hit Goa with crosses on every opportunity. Key player in this has been Mihelic who in my opionion with the outbound transfer of Garcia from Bengaluru is now easily the best dead ball specialist in the League.
Initially having Nelson, Chennai had that cutting edge to its attacks in the final third but with the addition of Ex Valencia player Gavilan, they have taken it up a notch. Gavilan is very similar to Goa’s Boumous who likes to make direct attacking runs in the box or cutting in from the right onto his favored left foot. Chennai have looked threatening from the right wing in recent run of games and Narayan Das will need help from Mandar to drop back as and when it’s required. Miss out on that than its game over as Chennai will punish Goa.
So Goa to start will need to control the midfield or risk being dominated in the middle of the park. As I feel they give away a lot in terms of physicality and height. Pronay’s emergence in last 2 games in a way tackles that risk but question is whether he will be in the right frame of mind after stories of him joining ATK came out in the media? Same for Das as he’s been linked with a move away from Goa. Will they perform to their full ability or avoid going full tilt in order not to risk possible injury and not get signed? Other than that, Goa needs to make sure they don’t concede unnecessary fouls in dangerous position close to their box as I have already highlighted Mihelic’s dead ball skills and the strength of Rafeal/Jeje/Gavilan/Sereno on set pieces.
Chennai will allow Goa to pass the ball between their backline but will surely pounce once they advance to the center, so they need to ensure the movements and passing is swift or else they will lose possession and get exposed on the counter.
In their last encounter, Goa didn’t attack Calderon’s side much. Hugo will need to link with Mandar to find openings and get him to run behind Calderon. As much as Calderon is a respected veteran but I feel he could be a possible weak link for Goa to try to target.
This is one of those games that if Goa get out of the gates early and play on the front foot then they can bag the game by scoring the first goal with the home crowd on adrenalin. But if Goa try to play safe and tactical chess with Chennai than they invite the risk of Chennai overpowering them over the course of the game. My heart will always say Goa but unless Lobera goes for quick knockout punch then it risks a lot getting drawn in to a slugfest over 180 minutes where Chennai will surely muscle them out.
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