14:30 GMT, Thursday 15th February, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Goa, India), Sab TV UK
This is the first of the two back-to-back top draw fixtures for this week, as FC Goa host the Marina Machans in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. The Gaurs crash-landed to another defeat last week, this time against Bengaluru FC.
They now have one point in three fixtures and are slowly sliding down the rabbit hole as they remain in the 6th position, four points adrift of the fourth-placed Chennaiyin FC.
A win against the Marina Machans will take them within striking distance of a playoff spot, with a game in hand. Another loss, though, will extend the difference with the fourth-placed side to five points.
John Gregory’s team hasn’t had the best of the fixtures in the last few weeks, managing only four points from their last three fixtures.
They sit a point adrift of Jamshedpur with a game in hand and will want to make the most of their game against Goa to consolidate their playoff spot.
This will be their first match this week, with the next one coming up on Sunday against Jamshedpur FC.
Last Time Out
Bengaluru FC 2-0 FC Goa (Indian Super League)
It’s ironic that, in a game between two top attacking teams, it was the side with the better-organised defence that took home the three points.
Injured Brandon Fernandes was left out of the matchday squad with hot prospect Manvir Singh playing in the number nine role and Ferran Corominas dropping behind him to the number 10 position.
The Gaurs had a total of six shots on goal against Bengaluru's ten and, despite enjoying the better half of the possession, their ability to move forward fluidly was greatly hampered by Bengaluru's midfield screening.
Additionally, the fact that Corominas was dropped to the hole behind the striker meant the partnership that broke through the toughest defences could not be fully utilised since Manvir lacked the same understanding with the rest of the forwards.
Edu Garcia took the lead in the 35th minute with a lobbed header into the left-hand corner, while Dimas Delgado doubled the lead in the 82nd minute as Goa’s defence failed to stop Toni Doval from penetrating the penalty area.
Goa’s best chance came a few minutes later as Manuel Lanzarote went one-to-one with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, but his shot was comfortably parried away by the keeper.
Delhi Dynamos FC 1-1 Chennaiyin FC (Indian Super League)
Chennaiyin have slowly become one of the best teams for set pieces, alongside FC Pune City, in the Indian Super League.
Despite the difference in their current position in the league table, this was an evenly matched battle ending with a fair result as the two sides shared the points.
Gregory Nelson and Francisco Fernandes made darting runs down the side as they attempted to break through the Dynamos defence. The first half ended with limited chances as, despite the efforts, no solid shots on the goal emerged.
In the 59th minute, Matias Mirabaje was brought down inside the box, causing the referee to point to the spot. Kalu Uche converted his second consecutive penalty in two matches, giving Delhi the lead.
However, it would take the visitors over 20 more minutes, until they drew even through Mailson Alves’s header in the 81st minute.
FC Goa Lineup
Naveen Kumar started in goal while Brandon Fernandes missed the match due to injury. Sergio Lobera is likely to retain the same lineup as has been his practice unless forced by injury.
Chennaiyin FC Lineup
Last time out, Augusto started in place of Rene Mihelic but was ultimately substituted while Keenan Almeida started in place of the suspended Henrique Sereno.
Mihelic should see himself start again, against FC Goa, while Sereno should be returning to the starting lineup. The rest of the team lineup will remain constant.
Key Battle: Manuel Lanzarote (FC Goa) vs Rene Mihelic (Chennaiyin FC)
Lanzarote is one of the most influential players on the field for the Gaurs, bagging eight goals and five assists in his 13 appearances this season.
The Spaniard is equally adept at playing on the flanks as well as through the middle and remains the danger man for the Gaurs behind leading goal-scorer Ferran Corominas.
His ability to find gaps in defences has helped Goa unlock almost every team they have faced this season and his understanding with Mandar Rao Desai and Corominas make them one of the most feared attacks in the league.
His counterpart in the match against the Super Machans will be the Slovenia international, Rene Mihelic.
Mihelic was featured in the number ten role behind Jeje Lalpekhlua as well as in the double pivot beside Dhanpal Ganesh.
In his ten appearances, the former Nacional player has created three goals for this teammates while himself finding the back of the net once.
Chennaiyin’s goal-scoring luck running out
As the season draws to a close, each match carries vital points for the Super Machans to seal their playoff spot.
However, considering some of the fixtures will have no more than two days gap and their lack of attacking options, Chennaiyin might suffer from a goal drought.
While continuous fixtures might lead to fatigue and injury, lack of depth up front might come back to haunt Gregory’s team. They have been mightily dependent on Lalpekhlua this season, with the Manipuri forward being the only member who has scored from than two goals in the blue shirt.
Jeje has failed to find the net in his last two outings, with his last goal coming in the match against ATK, but purely due to a defensive mistake by the keeper.
FC Goa’s defence might cost them the season
Goa’s defensive fragility has been widely noted but the Gaurs have done little to address the concerns.
In a tightly contested league as the ISL, it becomes imperative to keep clean sheets, since a single point can be the difference between a team playing or missing the playoffs.
They have already lost vital points this season due to defensive errors, which has seen the team drop out of the top four and now Goa finds itself under pressure to win all the remaining matches, considering three of the five matches are against top four teams, who are much better defensively.
Prediction: FC Goa 0-1 Chennaiyin FC
Without Brandon Fernandes, Corominas has had to drop out of the number nine role and unless he returns up front, Goa’s chance of breaking defences are severely limited.
They might have won the first leg with a 3-2 margin, but a leaky defence might undo all their hard work till now.