14:30 GMT, Sunday 4th February, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Goa, India), Sab TV UK
Marred by refereeing decisions, FC Goa crashed to their second defeat in four games and has now been toppled from the top four, for the first time this season. On Sunday, they host Avram Grant’s NorthEast United in a bid to return to glory.
Strangely, it was the reverse fixture where Grant debuted in the dugout for the Highlanders, beating the Gaurs 2-1.
Since then, they have lost two and won once, but their quality of attack has improved. In the last four matches, the Highlanders have scored six goals, which is four more than what they had scored in the previous seven outings.
Sergio Lobera’s men were undone by the referee after Seriton Fernandes was sent off. This resulted in Mumbai putting more men in advanced positions, which ultimately won them the match.
Fernandes will be suspended for the match against the Guwahati-outfit, but Lobera will be intent on getting back to winning ways.
Last Time Out
FC Goa 3-4 Mumbai City FC (Indian Super League)
The Gaurs started the match in their usual fashion, linking seamlessly and creating solid chances within seconds.
Beautiful link-up play between Manuel Lanzarote, Ferran Corominas and Mandar Rao Desai, saw Corominas notch up his goals tally and give the home side the lead.
However, the crowd was silenced within a couple minutes as Thiago Santos’s screamer from outside the box took a deflection off Everton Santos and landed in the goal, flat-footing Amrinder Singh.
The Gaurs jumped back into action soon enough, determined to carry a lead into half-time as Lanzarote tapped in Desai’s deft pass, which left the goal open. However, Seriton Fernandes’s tackle on Everton Santos saw him receive a second yellow card and ultimately being sent off.
It brought the shackles off Mumbai, as despite Goa’s dominance in the attack, they outnumbered the home team in attack. Mohamed Ali was forced to bring down Everton Santos, but the foul took place inside the box, landing Mumbai a penalty. Achille Emana converted the spot-kick bringing the visitors back to level terms.
Despite Corominas’s 78th-minute solo effort that dinked the ball over Amrinder Singh, Mumbai punched into two more goals through Thiago Santos and Balwant Singh in the 71st and 86th minute respectively, took the visitors through to safety.
Bengaluru 2-1 NorthEast United FC (Indian Super League)
An early chance for the Highlanders went wasted as Seminlen Doungel failed to connect on Danilo Cezario’s pass. However, with action coming thick and fast, Bengaluru defender Juanan scored from an Edu Garcia set-piece as the visitors failed to mark their targets.
Doungel continued his top form the last season and even forced a diving save from Sandhu in his full extension. He did come good, eventually, securing a penalty after Garcia went down in the home team's box and inadvertently handled the ball.
Marcinho calmly put the resulting spot kick past Sandhu and brought the visitors to level terms. However, the stasis would be broken within the next five minutes, as Sunil Chhetri put in a fine finish on Harmanjot Khabra's inch-perfect ball into the box.
The visitors failed to get back in the game after that and the home side retained their lead, ultimately taking all three points.
FC Goa Lineup
Seriton Fernandes will miss out due to suspension and Bruno Pinheiro looks likely to come back into the team. The rest of the outfit can be expected to be the same from the last match.
NorthEast United Lineup
NorthEast United have been playing well since Grant’s arrival and, with no injuries in the squad, they look set to start the same lineup.
Key Battle: Ferran Corominas (FC Goa) vs Sambinha (NorthEast United)
Corominas is well on this way to raking up the highest goal tally in a single season in ISL history.
John Stiven Mendoza’s 13 goals in 16 games in the 2015 season had been the highest till date, but the Spaniard is already on 12 goals with plenty of games left to play.
The Espanyol target man is extremely dangerous inside the box and links up well with Mandar Rao Desai and Manuel Lanzarote equally well. He will be the danger man for NorthEast and they will need their centre-backs in best possible form.
Since Corominas has the tendency to play slightly down the right, it’s likely that the former Sporting CP defender, Sambinha will be responsible for keeping him quiet.
The Guinea-Bissau international has the highest number of interceptions (10) behind Rowllin Borges (16) and Nirmal Chhetri (11) and it similarly effective in tackles, notching up 18 tackles in nine matches.
His position, however, has been a problem, which might see him lose out to Corominas.
Goa’s defence costing them points
The defence has been a problem area for the Gaurs since the start of the season. Despite retaining the likes of Bruno Pinheiro, Laxmikant Kattimani and re-signing Narayan Das, they haven’t been able to build a solid defence. Mohamed Ali has been good in patches, while Pinheiro lacks the command to organise a defence.
Additionally, Kattimani, who was once in the top three best goalkeepers in the league, has been sub-par this season letting in an astounding 21 goals. Only the bottom-placed Delhi Dynamos (29) have shipped more goals this season.
Backup keeper Naveen Kumar is yet to be tested and should be given a day between the posts, while Sergio Juste has been an effective replacement for Pinheiro. But will they be able to take Goa all the way to the promised land?
NorthEast’s away form
Despite their buoyant performances off late, they haven’t been able to consistent bang in the goals.
While Seminlen Doungel almost single-handedly dismantled Chennaiyin FC at home, he hardly put in a shot against Bengaluru, aside from a long-range effort.
NorthEast’s away form has never been great and given the way they started this season, there’s even lesser reason to believe that is going to change anytime soon.
Grant may have injected some confidence in the squad, but the team is still a group of misfits, with holes in the striker, centre-back and goalkeeper positions to say the least.
To bring all those issues and then be saddled with the pressure of performing in front of a hostile crowd is even more difficult. They have lost, all their away matches this season and it would be nice to see if Grant can reverse that pattern.
Prediction: FC Goa 2-0 NorthEast United
The Gaurs will be unstoppable at home unless they face another incident like Seriton Fernandes’s on Sunday.
The Highlanders have been miserable away from home and, against an opponent like Goa, it could be even tougher.