After five months of action, it all boils down to this - Bengaluru FC vs. FC Goa at the Kanteerava Stadium on a Thursday night to decide who gets the top spot in the league. Well, at least potentially.
Arguably the two best sides in the competition, the 21st of February will witness the two teams come up against each other with each both sides tied and points and only goal difference putting Goa on ahead of their opponents.
Both teams have had their fair share of ups and down but their sinusoidal curves seem to now meet at a point where very little separate the teams. A win for Goa will not only give them three points but also secure the top spot going into the playoffs.
The challenge ahead
Whilst both clubs sit at the top of the table with nothing to separate them but goal difference, in terms of recent form they couldn’t be further apart. FC Goa is currently on a six-game unbeaten streak of which four have been wins. Mostly known for their fair in moving forward, the Gaurs have found form at the back with a league record-equalling five straight clean sheets to boast.
The visitors have in fact not conceded a goal in their last 478 minutes of action in ISL. This comes hand in hand with a league leading 35 goals to their credit from their 16 games.
On the other hand, Bengaluru seem to be struggling to get things together of late. Even though qualification to the semis are guaranteed, they will look to set the record straight after failing to win any of their last three games. They have in fact won only one of their last five games with losses to Mumbai, Delhi and lowly Chennaiyin to account for.
However, as iterated by Sergio Lobera in the pre-match press conference, the Gaurs will come across a side that have more often than not been considered as the benchmark in this competition and belies current form.
The Gaffer’s call
With qualification having being sealed by both teams, the game gives them an opportunity to tinker with the squad and have a more long-term look (someone might also say a more relaxed approach) heading into the final stretch of the competition.
Sergio Lobera, however, stated that the team will have nothing in mind other than all three points heading into the game. “We will approach this game with as much enthusiasm as we have headed into other games. Three points and finishing first on the league table is all what we are looking at,” quipped the gaffer. “I am aware that no team that has finished first on the league table has ever gone on to win the trophy but that is something I am not worried about.”
The Gaurs head into the game at the back of two consecutive 3-0 wins against ATK and Kerala Blasters. With Lobera having stated time and again that he would rather win 5-2 than 1-0, many have been wandering whether he would be more pragmatic in his approach as head into the fag end of the season.
Addressing the query, Lobera stated, “Surely, I would rather win 3-0 rather 5-2 because the former result brings with it a clean sheet – something which acts as a morale booster. But I will never sacrifice that for a 6-2 result.”
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