The stage is set for a new champion to emerge. The Indian Super League 2018-19 will witness a “battle of equals” when Bengaluru FC locks horns with FC Goa in the title clash at the Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday.
There's a lot in common between the two finalists – both finished with the same number of points in the league stage, both have the exact same number of wins, losses and draws, and both are in their second ISL final. Interestingly, both teams lost to Chennaiyin FC in their respective finals. Another factor that unites the two clubs is that they are both marshalled by Spanish coaches who are gunning for their first ISL title.
Despite the numerous similarities, there's one major difference – their style of play. While Sergio Lobera's FC Goa focusses on possession and a wing-dominated attacking game, Carles Cuadrat has adopted a fairly easy-on-the-eye approach that is majorly constructed in midfield.
That Bengaluru FC cruised to comfortable wins against FC Goa in both their league encounters this season makes it a seeming favourite, but Cuadrat feels statistics matter little when it comes to a final.
“I don't see our team as being favourites. There are a lot of factors involved in finals, and both these teams have arrived with very similar numbers. I don't think the previous games or the results should give us confidence because this is a final and it is a completely different situation,” the Spaniard said in the pre-match conference.
The 50-year-old continued that both teams had no dearth in talent: “I think both teams are favourites for this title because both teams have quality players and play good football. Both teams have a lot of quality in midfield."
"The battle will be about possession and about how dangerous the top strikers, that both teams have, can be. They have (Ferran) Corominas, we have Miku. They have Brandon (Fernandes) and Jackichand (Singh), we have Sunil (Chhetri) and Miku. It's going to be an exciting clash.”
Bengaluru hasn't been as prolific in front of goal as compared to last season, scoring 29 goals — five fewer than last season. The side has often left it late, with the second leg semifinal tie against NorthEast United FC a prime case.
Cuadrat looks to amend that come Sunday: “I am aware that we haven't been scoring goals too early, but I can assure you that the plan is to score in the first minute.” Incidentally, Bengaluru has lost only one game all season after opening the scoring.
Bengaluru's hold over Goa
Lobera is still smarting from the losses to Bengaluru but feels those results will cease to matter going into the final. “Whatever happened in the past stays in the past. The final will be a completely different game. It is true that Bengaluru won both games against us and you can say they are the favourites. However, we have come here with the intention of winning the final,” he said.
He added that there will be multiple individual battles that could potentially decide the game, but there are other factors to be considered too. “There sure will be a lot of individual battles to look out for. But tomorrow who will take the trophy is the team which is best on the pitch. I think tomorrow's (Sunday's) tactics will be important. But there will be other factors like motivational, psychological factors that will (also) come into play. It depends on how players can take these factors in (their) stride,” he said.
Both Lobera's and Cuadrat's careers were shaped during their time at Barcelona, but Lobera feels the two sides play altering styles of football. “I don't agree when people say Bengaluru and Goa play a similar style of football. Both coaches have come from Barcelona. We (Goa) always try to play attacking football with ball possession. That's what I have been focussing during my time in FC Goa,” he said.
With their different styles of football, the two Spanish coaches at the helm will accordingly chart out a winning formula and deploy their forces in the pursuit of a maiden ISL title. While Lobera will hope ISL's leading goal-getter Ferran Corominas can break his duck against Bengaluru, Cuadrat would want Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to hold fort between the sticks and steer his side to a much-awaited title.
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