For brilliant but wasteful FC Goa, time is running out for a semi-final push

Before the 2021-2022 season of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) began, there was palpable optimism among the FC Goa ranks. Not just because they had made a pretty decent fist of Juan Ferrando’s inaugural campaign in charge, but also because they had enjoyed an enterprising pre-season – a spell where they won the Durand Cup and flexed the young talent at their disposal.

Thus, when the Gaurs huffed and puffed at the start of the 2021-22 term, it took plenty by surprise. FC Goa weren’t just conceding an alarming rate of goals. They were also finding ways to dominate possession without scoring much, meaning that troubles existed at both ends of the pitch. That, coupled with Ferrando’s mid-season departure hinted that the wheels might have been coming off.

From that perspective alone, the Gaurs have done incredibly well to keep themselves afloat in the current edition of the Hero ISL. As things stand, they sit ninth, which for a club of their stature, isn’t impressive. But with the rest of the Hero ISL pack refusing to pull clear, FC Goa are only five points adrift of Mumbai City FC, who occupy the fourth spot.

So, if the Gaurs were to stitch together a remarkable run between now and the end of the campaign, they might still find themselves in the hunt for a top-four place. That, though, is where the paradox lies because, well, they seem very close to being a title challenger but also seem a distance apart from catapulting themselves into the semi-final slots.

Prima facie, the urge might be to term their defensive deficiencies as the sole cause of concern and label it the primary factor for their slump. There is plenty of truth to it too. But on closer inspection, it is their offensive play that has let them down. Not because they knew they were entering the season with a relatively inexperienced defensive line, but also because their attackers are capable of so much more.

In their most recent game against SC East Bengal, FC Goa were brave enough to not include a foreign centre-back. While Ivan Gonzalez was unavailable, the Gaurs could’ve easily thrown Dylan Fox into the mix, hoping that their youthful Indian contingent would produce the goods at the other end.

But they didn’t. They unleashed their entire repertoire of overseas foreign attacking talent. Edu Bedia orchestrated play in midfield, Alberto Noguera pulled the strings in the attacking third, with Airan Cabrera and Jorge Ortiz longing to provide the cutting edge the Gaurs have lacked this season.

For all their efforts, though, they only managed a solitary goal – a goal that was fashioned by Noguera’s off-the-ball running and Ortiz’s vision.

Apart from that, they found themselves in promising positions on quite a few occasions. However, they either dwelled on the ball too long or tried to play the perfect pass. In simpler words, they almost always picked the wrong option.

They also created 14 chances. Yet, only had one goal to show for their efforts, illustrating that they are probably lacking a clinical striker capable of capitalizing on even half-chances, let alone the truckload of opportunities the Gaurs are creating.

This, by the way, is a recurring theme. In the fixture that preceded the SC East Bengal game (against NorthEast United FC), they carved open 15 chances and scored one goal. Noguera has also created 34 chances by himself, which at the moment, is only bettered by Jamshedpur FC’s Greg Stewart (42). 

The counter-argument to that could be that they will eventually turn a corner, provided the sheer volume of chances doesn’t plummet. However, when placing that into perspective alongside the rest of the season, it becomes clear that they just haven’t been scoring enough.

As far as statistics are concerned, they currently lead the table when it comes to shots on goal (184 in 12 matches) and touches (7696 in 12 games). They also have the second-most crosses across the Hero ISL (170 in 12 fixtures).

But when considering the line is usually led by Devendra Murgaonkar and Ortiz – fleet-footed players who aren’t dominating in the air, it highlights how FC Goa are probably reaching desperation point and are clutching at straws. That they have only the eighth-best tally when it comes to scoring goals, despite their statistical dominance, isn’t helpful either.

Having said that, the Gaurs should be given a slight benefit of doubt, considering the problems they’ve had to overcome. Not many Hero ISL outfits have to undergo a transitionary phase in the middle of the season and not many have been as ravaged by Covid-19 as FC Goa have been.  

Yet, this is an unforgiving league, meaning that while the neutral would want FC Goa to hurtle over these obstacles and qualify for the semi-finals, it isn’t a notion that will be entertained by rival teams – teams that are waiting to pounce on every error the Gaurs commit.

FC Goa still have quality in their ranks, make no mistake about it. The likes of Bedia, Noguera and Ortiz would arguably walk into most teams in the Hero ISL. It’s just that things haven’t clicked as expected so far and time, rather unfortunately for the Gaurs, isn’t a luxury they have between now and the end of the season.

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