ISL: Goa will need to unlock Kerala’s defence

In the matches thus far Kerala Blasters has scored only two goals but defensively, with the formidable centre-back pairing of Aaron Hughes and Cedric Hengbert, it has been miserly, conceding just three.

For the home side FC Goa, the absence of Leo Moura, its stand-out performer last year, has resulted in a blunting of its creative edge.   -  H. Vibhu

Following a tough start to their respective Indian Super League campaigns, the fortunes of FC Goa and Kerala Blasters are seemingly on an upward curve. The Blasters lost the first two matches but has picked up five points from the next three. Goa lost the first three and has since recorded a draw and a win.

On Monday, when the two meet at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda here, the thing of utmost importance for either club will be to prove that the recent uptick in form is anything but a false dawn.

“It will be an open game,” said the Blasters manager Steve Coppell on the eve of the match. “I don’t think either team is frightened of losing. We will do our best to attack. I know Goa will. They are at home. It’s their responsibility to try and take the game to us.”

In the matches thus far though, Coppell’s side has been the exact opposite. In five matches, it has scored only two goals. But defensively, with the formidable centre-back pairing of Aaron Hughes and Cedric Hengbert, it has been miserly, conceding just three.

And Goa coach Zico said as much. “I don’t expect it to be quite an open game,” the Brazilian legend said. “I do know a bit about Kerala's philosophy. They play a very defensive game and mark well. As both teams will need points, may be you can see something different.”

For the home side, the absence of Leo Moura, its stand-out performer last year, has had a huge effect. The Brazilian’s club back home, Santa Cruz Futebol Clube, refused to release him for the ISL as it was fighting relegation and for Goa it has resulted in a blunting of its creative edge.

“It’s very tough because he was sharing the playmaker’s role with Spaniard Joffre,” Zico said. “Now everything is on Joffre and he is overburdened.”

Yet, the situation Goa finds itself in isn’t alien. Even in the first season, it was winless in the first four games before a miraculous turnaround ensured a spot in the last four. Zico will want nothing short of a repeat performance.

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