FC Goa will have scores to settle with Chennaiyin FC after being knocked out during the playoffs last season. The semi-final battle was enthralling and more of the same is expected when the teams meet in their second Indian Super League clash at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Saturday.
FC Goa were beaten 1-4 on aggregate in the knockout stage by Chennaiyin, who went all the way to win the coveted trophy last season.
This heartbreak came after an impressive league season that saw the Gaurs earn third place, scoring a league-high 42 goals. However, Sergio Lobera's side had also conceded 28 goals, one more than the bottom-placed NorthEast United.
Defence is still Lobera's biggest concern. A 2-2 draw against NorthEast United in Guwahati showcased the team's strengths and weaknesses. While the defence shipped two goals, last season's Golden Boot winner Ferran Corominas notched a brace.
"As a coach, there are some aspects we must work on, defence wise. But we play attacking football and we look forward to playing that," said Lobera.
Goalkeeping has been an issue for Goa. Lalthuammawia Ralte was roped in for the current season but the coach placed his trust in youngster Mohammed Nawaz. The teenager was responsible for NorthEast's first goal after he handled the ball outside the box. It remains to be seen if he keeps his place in the side.
The return of midfielder Edu Bedia will be a welcome boost for Goa but they will continue to miss the services of Brandon Fernandes, who remains suspended.
Lobera will be mindful of the fact that his team will be taking on a defensively strong outfit in Chennaiyin.
"Chennaiyin FC still have three foreigners at the back which is similar to last season. The names might have changed but, I think, Chennaiyin is a strong squad and defensively they will be very solid."
The defending champions were narrowly beaten by Bengaluru FC in a tight affair in Bengaluru the other night this season and will look to bounce back with a win at home.
Coach John Gregory professed how happy he was with the way his team played in Bengaluru but did implore his charges to improve their efficiency in front of goal.
"We took huge positives from that (Bengaluru) game. We dominated the ball. But we need to use it a bit better in the final third. You have to take chances and opportunities that come our way. We need to continue what we are doing and do it better," he said.
Gregory's balanced style of play was a difficult puzzle to solve for Lobera's gung-ho football in four matches between the two teams last season and the Englishman will be hoping that it stays the same. Chennaiyin were beaten only once by FC Goa in four games last season.
"Goa, if they get half a chance, they are always likely to score. We have to be very aware of Coro who scored twice the other day. We have to ensure we are switched on defensively," he reasoned.
Chennaiyin are expected to soak up the pressure and hit the vulnerable Goan defence on the counter. FC Goa will be hoping to convert their possession-based dominance into early goals. This should make for a fascinating battle.