ISL 2018: Old rivals jockey for position ahead of crucial tie

ATK and FC Goa face off in a pivotal clash for both teams at Salt Lake Stadium.

FC Goa is the team which has scored the most goals so far this season, 22.   -  PTI

It will be a case of differing stimulus when representatives of the two power-centres of Indian football – ATK and FC Goa – renew their rivalry here at the Salt Lake Stadium on Wednesday. If one has to go by the remark of Goa’s Spanish coach Sergio Lobera, then the difference lies in the status of the two teams in the current league standings. Goa is currently second with 16 points from eight matches. The host is sixth with 11 points.

“I think ATK is a team that is obliged to win the game and for us it will more about the excitement of winning it,” Sergio Lobera, the FC Goa head coach said setting the trend for what could be a high intensity duel. “We are up against a side that has built a team picking up the best international and Indian players available to regain the title. Without keeping that in mind we will try to get one past them. They are a direct rival for us and we want to keep a gap between us and them,” the Spanish coach known for his offensive style of play added.

The tenor of the contest will be determined on how visitor aligns its offensive against the defensive orientation of the host, which is under the charge of astute Englishman Steve Coppell. The former Manchester United great said that Goa is a formidable opponent but is also vulnerable on certain counts. “When you play Goa you have to be alive, because they are quite inventive. It is also a fact that they have lost a couple of games and there is a blueprint to beat them. They can be pleasing on the eye going forward but they can also be vulnerable.” Coppell said referring to FC Goa losing at home 1-2 against Bengaluru FC in its previous outing.

Lobera tried to put in the perspective the apparent superiority of his side saying, “I think every team is where they deserve to be right now. Ultimately what happens on the pitch is the merit of what you do through the season. For us, we are taking a game at a time and that is why it is very important for us to win the game.” Lobera said. The visitor can take heart from the fact that it will be getting its playmaker Edu Bedia back from injury while losing the other, Hugo Boumous, to suspension.

The visitor, which is atop the scoring chart with 22 goals, is the best attacking side at the moment with forward Ferran Corominas leading the charge (with eight goals). The Spaniard’s form is the key to Lobera’s offensive scheme. Coppell sought to dispel the treat by looking to cut the supply-line to the opposition forward. “He is a good player but he does not play himself. He needs someone to load the bullets for him. I think the best play to stop him is to stop the source of his supplies. I think that is the challenge for anyone playing against Goa.”

The host is also struggling in an attacking sense having lost Nigerian forward Kalu Uche and then his replacement Uruguayan Emiliano Alfaro to injuries. The new replacement, Australian Eli Babalj, is yet to be tested. The Spaniard, Manuel Lanzarote, whom ATK snatched from FC Goa is yet to shine for his new side. Coppell will be hoping that the Indians in his roster step up the performance to stop Goa from stealing a march.

“If you look at many teams, the foreigners are very dominant. Most of the sides have important foreigners in the spine of the team. It is an ongoing process for many Indian players. I feel there are some exceptional foreigners in the league. Rubbing shoulders with them helps to improve. I feel there is still time for the Indian players to grab a hold of this tournament and show what they’re capable off,” Coppell said about the Indian players while hoping the ones in his side make the improvement.