FC Goa’s solid start to the season suffered a slight hiccup last week when they went down to Kerala Blasters, but Carlos Pena and his men will look to put that behind them when they lock horns with ATK Mohun Bagan FC at the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda on Sunday.
Currently at fifth in the standings with nine points, a win will take the Gaurs to third place, behind the two unbeaten sides in the league so far – Hyderabad FC and Mumbai City FC. The motivation for the Mariners will be similar. ATK Mohun Bagan currently find themselves in fourth spot with 10 points with a chance to do the same as the Gaurs.
FC Goa will be hoping that their second sojourn at their home in Fatorda will be as fruitful as their first when they romped home to a 3-0 win over Jamshedpur. And with the help of 15 odd thousand Gaurs’ faithful in the stands backing the Men in Orange, one can certainly have the license to dream.
Head Coach Carlos Pena lauded the spirit of his players ahead of the match against ATKMB.
“My boys have been brave as they faced different kinds of challenges so far this season. We faced a few setbacks in the form of injuries etc. but we do not like to use them as excuses,” he said in the pre-match press conference on Saturday.
“We will continue this. Focus is important as well. ATK Mohun Bagan are a team that attacks and capitalises on opponents’ errors well. We must hence be careful not to make mistakes.
“On their day, FC Goa are a team that can beat anyone in the league. We proved this during each of our wins so far. The losses (against Hyderabad FC and Blasters) taught us a few lessons. To add to this, the fans will be backing from the stands. Overall, I hope to see a good game,” the tactician added.
The 38-year-old will also reunite with the likes of Liston Colaco, Manvir Singh, Lenny Rodrigues and Hugo Boumous of the Mariners, with whom he shared a dressing room at FC Goa over two years ago.
“Well, this is football, sometimes we change paths and part ways. We respect each other off the pitch but on it, they’re opponents now and our focus is on the match,” Pena concluded.
One blemish that FC Goa would look to remove on Sunday would be the fact that they have never beaten ATK Mohun Bagan. Formed in 2020 by the merger of erstwhile-ATK FC and Mohun Bagan, the Kolkata-based outfit have won thrice in the four matches they have come against the Gaurs, while the remainder ended in a draw.
The Mariners are led by former Goa head coach Juan Ferrando, and boast four ex-Gaurs in Liston Colaco, Manvir Singh, Lenny Rodrigues and Hugo Boumous. That said, the familiarity with how the Men in Orange play might also give them a tactical advantage.
Both teams have similarities in playing style as well, which is largely down to the fact that both teams have Spanish coaches at the helm.
FC Goa and ATK Mohun Bagan both prefer to play with the ball and use a lot of passes to facilitate build-up play. While the Gaurs boast of the stronger midfield, the Mariners have better power in the wings of the two teams.
Having conceded just five goals so far this season, the Men in Orange would count on their defensive ability to counter the challenge of ATKMB’s attack, which are among the best in the league. Goa’s attacking department is no less potent by any means, boasting of some big names in Alvaro Vazquez, Iker Guarrotxena, Noah Sadaoui and Brandon Fernandes.