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Tactical Preview: Chennai City FC & FC Goa: What’s the Difference?

Chennai City FC vs FC Goa
Sergio Lobera and Akbar Nawas
Photo Credit: Hero Super Cup Media
Chennai City FC vs FC Goa

The Hero Super Cup might be in the press for all the wrong reasons, but, what little football we have seen so far has been magnificent. That trend is set to continue when ISL finalists FC Goa take on I-League Champions Chennai City FC in what could be the best game of the domestic Indian football season.

Both teams are known for playing a possession based system and lead their respective leagues in that metric. While Goa sit comfortably atop the ISL for passes per game (526), Chennai City (485) are barely ahead of East Bengal (482) & Shillong Lajong (475).

In fact, if you look at average length of passes made, Chennai City sit mid table in the I-League which indicates that they’re not a pure short passing team, as I shall show later in the article. Goa, on the other hand, play much shorter passes than the rest of the ISL – their average pass length is 1.5 meters shorter than the next closest.

Ahead of the big semi-final between the two sides, I thought it would be fun to see how the two teams like to play and look to highlight some important differences.

The Formations

FC Goa line up in a standard 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 formation with the Lenny Rodrigues, and the man for whom time stands still, Ahmed Jahouh, in the double pivot. Edu Bedia, Brandon Fernandes and Jackichand Singh are usually the 3 behind the Player of the League, and Top Goalscorer for the last two seasons, Coro.

Chennai City also use the same formation but go with a workman-like double pivot of Charles and Regin behind the mercurial Sandro Rodriguez. Edwin Sydney, along with Roberto Eslava, is their key play-maker in defence; he starts at RB with Ajith on the left. Alex Romario Jesuraj starts up front alongside Pedro Manzi and Nestor Gordillo.

Build-Up Play

In build-up the key difference is that Goa play out through Ahmed Jahouh in the middle, while Chennai City try to find Edwin Vanspaul on the right side.

In build up Goa are a carbon copy of the traditional FC Barcelona system. Ahmed Jahouh drops in between the centre-backs, who split, and the fullbacks push up creating a 3-4-2-1(diamond) with the CMs in between the lines and ready to receive the ball. This allows the Goan players to quickly identify where the superiority is and play the ball in that direction.

Chennai City FC vs FC Goa

By pulling a Jahouh deep and pushing the fullbacks up, Goa leave opposing defenders with a choice to make – should I press or should I stay? If they press, like a Mumbai City defender is doing to Lenny, it leaves gaps and Mandar is open to receive and progress. If they stay in their positions, the Goan midfield can receive and move play up the field.

CCFC also try to create a 3 at the back situation in the build-up phase but they choose a more Dutch/German way to do it. Since they were forced to play most of the season without Charles and Regin, Edwin Sydney Vanspaul, the Philip Lahm of India, dropped in on the right side of the CBs and became the key man in progression. It’s either him, or Roberto Eslava, that brings the ball into midfield and tries to find a team-mate in the final third.

At goal kicks, they usually start with just the 2 CBs and a DM in front forming a triangle, but flatten out and get the ball to Edwin within 2 or 3 passes.

Chennai City FC vs FC Goa
Edwin Sydney Vanspaul fills in as an inverted full-back and allows Chennai City to play around the opposition. The DM (red circle) is used as decoy to drag defenders away.

Midfield Rotation

In midfield, Goa’s main goal is to progress the ball centrally and vertically while Chennai try to attack through one side of the pitch before switching play to the other side.

Once the ball is played into midfield, Sergio Lobera’s side rely on short passing and midfield rotation to keep possession and patiently move up the field. Edu Bedia, Hugo Boumous, Brandon and Jacki are asked to receive the ball in tight areas, identify gaps in the opposition defence and either attack the space or pass the ball to a team-mate that can.

Sometimes, Goa can run into trouble in this phase as all their players are better with the game in front of them, leading to the team lacking runners behind the defensive line.

Coro, as he mentioned on reddit.com/r/IndianFootball, likes to receive between the midfield and defensive lines, where it easy for defenders to crowd him out and win the ball back. Edu Bedia and Brandon like to have the game in front of them, and often the onus is on poor, old Jacki to make the runs behind. To be fair to him, he has done a good job in that role with 4 goals and 3 assists in the league this season.

While Goa are usually trying to progress the ball vertically and find men between the lines, Chennai City try to spread the pitch horizontally. They attract players to one side of the pitch and look to isolate their attackers against a defender to leverage their individual quality.

Chennai City FC vs FC Goa
Nestor holds his positions while Manzi and Sandro are required to help progress the ball.

By having Eslava and Edwin do the build-up job, CCFC can pull defences to one side of the pitch. Meanwhile, Nestor and Romario maintain their positions high and wide and are always options for the switch of play. When this happens, they are usually one on one with a fullback and in a great position to create for Manzi.

Organising Chaos

FC Goa’s preferred method of goal scoring is to create an overload and move the ball wide before playing it across the face of goal. CCFC are heavily dependent on the individual brilliance of their foreigners.

Once FC Goa manage to find a man between the lines who is in space and can turn, that is when everybody in the team lights up. The wide players, Jacki and Brandon are asked to get high, or, if possible, a full back is asked to join on the overlap while the likes of Hugo, Edu and Coro are asked to attack the box.

In past seasons, even the double pivot were given permission to go but one of the reasons for their defensive improvement this year is asking Lenny Rodrigues to just sit and do the grunt work alongside and for Jahouh.

Almost every time FC Goa score a team goal, their final third movements are a variation of the below image.

Chennai City FC vs FC Goa

For Akbar Nawaz’s men, Romario and Nestor staying high and wide allows them to regularly take a full back on, to devastating effect. CBs have learnt this and usually come out to help their team-mate but this is when Pedro Manzi is at his best.

Manzi has some sort of intuition on where to be and when to be there and his first goal in the away game against NEROCA is just proof of this ability.

Chennai City FC vs FC Goa
Nestor isolates his opponent and the CB is forced to come out and help and Manzi who has made a move to the far post bends his run to get to the ball.

His amazing ability to manipulate defenders creates chances for him but also makes space for the likes of Nestor and Sandro to shoot. There’s no other striker in Indian football with the range of skills he provides.

Coro vs Manzi is very similar to the Messi vs Ronaldo debate. One player is a highly technical, cerebral player that can pass, shoot & dribble but needs a particular set-up around him to truly shine. The other is a complete footballer that can do everything to a very high level and would score goals even if played with 10 complete nobodies.

In Conclusion

Key traits of each side are,

  1. Goa play out through CBs and DMs in the central areas and then move it wide in attack
  2. Goa’s plan A is to progress vertically. This is usually via passes into the feet of Brandon, Edu, Boumous but Goa can also play deep in their own half to suck out opponents and then try to hit them with a long ball from Jahouh to Jacki or Coro.
  3. Coro makes false 9 movements to unsettle CBs, meanwhile the fullbacks try to overlap and advanced midfielders make runs to get in the box for a tap in
  1. CCFC opponents don’t try to come out of their half so they aim to play out through the wings and then into the centre.
  2. Once the ball is in midfield, the goal is to stretch play horizontally with Romario and Nestor staying wide while Sandro, Eslava and Edwin rotate possession
  3. Quick movement by Pedro Manzi to throw off/attract defenders, while Sandro and Nestor try to make space shoot or pick him out.
  4. Only one target in the box

If you thought I was end this article without giving you the odds for the game, you were wrong, weren’t you? Tight game on the cards…

CCFC win = 44.5%

Draw = 12.11%

FC Goa win = 43.49%

All stats from Instat. Got feedback? Find me on Twitter, @SgtSaltnPeppa

For more tactical analysis on all things Indian Football, look up Grey Area Analytics.

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