XtraTime Web Desk: The gaffers Sergio Lobera and John Gregory have come across as coaches of different philosophies. Lobera, the Spaniard of few words and straight talk, is unwavering in the type of football he wants his team to play. Gregory, on the flip side, speaks at length with a touch of dry wit and is more adaptable in his approach with respect to the personnel at his disposal.
Both men came to these shores around the same time two years back and have enjoyed varying degrees of success in the Indian Super League. Lobera’s FC Goa has enthralled the watching audience with its free-flowing football, scoring goals at will but has come up short twice – a semifinal finish and most recently a loss in the final. Gregory’s well-drilled Chennaiyin FC upset the odds by winning the ISL title last season before collapsing to a last-place finish this year.
The two coaches have another opportunity to better the fate of their respective clubs when they meet in the final of the Super Cup at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Saturday.
Despite Chennaiyin’s woes in the league, Lobera sensed that the opponent’s ‘feelings’ from the title-winning season are tangible in its cup run – unbeaten in six matches.
There have been doubts surrounding Goa’s ability to translate its attacking philosophy into trophies but Lobera does not see it that way. “It will be nice to end the season with a trophy. But as a coach, the most important thing I take is the respect and admiration from the fans and the credit which my players get for the football which they play; that’s the best trophy we can get,” said Lobera.
While Gregory lauded Lobera’s efforts during his time in Indian football, he was also pleased with the turnaround his team has staged in the last month. The Englishman was aware the job isn’t done yet and conceded that Goa was the overwhelming favourite heading into the final.
Chennaiyin overcame Mumbai City FC, NorthEast United FC and ATK – teams to which it lost twice in the ISL, in the knockout stages of the Super Cup. The team will need another monumental effort to topple the Gaurs, who also did the double over them.
After the success against ATK, Gregory might stick to the 4-2-3-1 formation with two defensively minded midfielders to try and disturb the rhythm in Goa’s play. However, he will have to do so without the suspended Chris Herd. In his absence, Germanpreet Singh may get a look in alongside Dhanpal Ganesh, who is ready for a third start in six days according to the manager.
Dhanpal’s return from injury offers a more balanced look to Chennaiyin with the team conceding just once in over 540 minutes of football.
Midfielder Anirudh Thapa, who has two goals and as many assists in the tournament, has struck form. Chennaiyin coach will be hoping the individual brilliance of Thapa, Raphael Augusto and Gregory Nelson can combine to come good against Goa against the run of play.
Lobera was happy to have his captain Edu Bedia back from suspension but is keen to focus on the collective effort of his men and managing their ‘feelings’ better this time around.
Lobera pointed out that his semifinal opponent Chennai City FC plays a more offensive style than Chennaiyin, which will likely play with two blocks of four off the ball.
Bedia, a straight swap for Hugo Boumous in the number eight role, will be crucial for Goa with his passing through Chennaiyin’s defensive lines to find the forwards Ferran Corominas, Brandon Fernandes and Zaidkrouch. Jackichand Singh’s pace will offer Goa a threat in making the runs in behind Chennaiyin’s defence and counter-attacks.
Goa and Chennaiyin have had some memorable encounters in their brief history in the ISL, notably the thrilling ISL final in 2015. Saturday’s show-piece event could very well be on those lines with Goa’s skillful attackers seeking a way past Chennaiyin’s stubborn defence.