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In Excess of xA: An Analysis of FC Goa’s 2019-20 season

FC Goa are the 2019-20 League Winners
Source: ISL Media

Introduction

Every time FC Goa score a goal, it seems as if they simply waltz the ball into the net. Somehow, there is always an orange shirt in the right place, at the right time. But, scoring over a 100 league goals in a span of three years is far from being “lucky.” Only a well-oiled and efficient system can make such a difficult task look like a piece of cake. So how exactly did Goa’s attack work in their league winning 2019-20 season?

To understand what expected assists and xA heat maps are, click here for a quick explainer

Read on…

FC Goa in Attack


FC Goa 2019-20 Expected Assists xA Individual Heat Map
The more xA generation a zone sees, the redder it gets.
This shows which zone a team tries to play its final ball from.

Before we dive into their zonal tactics, we must address certain fundamentals of their attack. The emphasis was always on space. The key was to find a player in the box with enough space to drive it home. This could be achieved in numerous ways. We will explore these methods as we jump between nuances.

Let us begin with their renowned left-wing. For starters, we can see that it is a shade lighter than the right-wing. This means that fewer key passes came in from the left than from the right. Why?

This is because the gaffer Sergio Lobera used it as a preliminary step to create space. The principle he used here was over-loading. The fullback Mandar bombed forward while Brandon drifted in and occupied the left half-space. Hugo Boumous was given freedom to go wide and attack gaps in the opposition’s defence. By putting three men around one zone, he forced the opposition to commit numbers on the left. This opened up spaces centrally or on the right which Coro or the winger Jackichand Singh could exploit.

The players were instructed to cross from the left only if there was a clear goal-scoring opportunity. Else, the plan was to switch the ball quickly to Jackichand or Coro who would then have space to assist or at times, score.

Consequentially, a large chunk of Goa’s chances came from the hole. Apart from overloading the left, Goa were able to control important central spaces too. Boumous, Brandon and Coro flourished in between the lines and ran rings around the defenders.

If defenders did decide to charge in, they would leave gaps behind which players like Jackichand could exploit. If they held their line, they would relinquish space and allow players like Boumous and Coro to run with the ball and shoot. Ideally, putting in a defensive midfielder as a screen would help in such situations, but the individual quality and co-ordination within the Gaurs was almost always unbeatable.

The right wing was used in a completely different manner as opposed to the left. Unlike Brandon (the left-winger), Jackichand’s responsibility was to stay wide. He would stretch out defences and regularly deliver crosses. He shot 1.74 times p90 while Brandon shot 1.28 times p90. Jackichand also attempted far fewer passes than Brandon. This shows that he played a more direct role, and his efforts were focused on finishing and providing the final pass.


FC Goa 2019-20 Expected Assists xA League Average Heat Map
If a zone is on the blue colour grid, it sees lower creation than the league average.
Conversely, an orange zone sees more creation than the league average.
The more orange we see in the team’s preferred areas, the better.

Here we can see exactly why FC Goa is called the best attacking team in India. They are outright over-performers when it comes to chance creation in the final third. Even their midfield is a hub of production thanks to Ahmed Jahouh’s flawless passing.

As mentioned earlier, Jackichand Singh was adept at stretching out defences on the right. He also made intelligent runs into the space between the opposition left-back and centre-back. Due to this, we can see a brown square on the right hand side of the goal-post. The beauty of this area (also known as the half-space) was that it gave him two options – to cut it back to a player waiting in the box, or to take a shot. He flourished in this role and racked up five goals and three assists over the course of the season.

The space outside the box shows a good excess as well which is no surprise. FC Goa had practiced their player rotations to perfection, and the men executing them were the Hero of the League and the league’s all-time top goal scorer. Through tactical nous and individual brilliance, the Gaurs were able to bulldoze through almost any opponent that came their way.

A slight orange patch deep in left midfield is indicative of Brandon’s involvement. He played an essential role in ball progression. He would often drop deep if opposition defences were tight and offered little space. From here, he could deliver cross-field balls and play them directly behind the defence. Mandar played a more attacking role as well which translated into to him providing long balls from that area every now and then.

The sliver of orange within Goa’s own box shows the centre-back Carlos Peña’s and Jahouh’s eye for a pass. If the midfield was clogged up by the opposition, they would play long balls directly to their forwards. This also gave them the ability to transition from defence to attack instantly and hit teams on the counter.

With such a multi-faceted and talented offense, there is absolutely no doubt about why their team is synonymous with free-flowing, attacking football.

FC Goa in Defence


FC Goa 2019-20 Expected Assists xA Against Individual Heat Map
The more xA a zone concedes, the redder it is.
This shows which areas the opposition decided to pick out while playing FC Goa.

Stylistically and statistically, teams that attack more tend to concede a fair amount of chances. Since they go up more often, they lose possession more often. On top of that, they commit more men ahead, so it becomes easier to hit them on the break. But, considering the fact that Goa attack centrally, why do they concede chances on the wings? Shouldn’t the turnovers be central as well?

The reason for this is their counter-press. Immediately after Goa lose the ball, their players hound out the opposition. Not only does this help them win the ball back in a dangerous area, but it also puts in a good number of bodies in the middle. This makes central progression difficult, and as a result the opposition turns to the wings.

Another reason is that during build up, Goa push their full-backs high up the pitch (especially Mandar). This leaves wide spaces open – spaces opponents can easily counter in. The fact that Mandar Rao Dessai isn’t a natural defender gives teams an incentive to exploit Goa’s left flank.


FC Goa 2019-20 Expected Assists xA Against League Average Heat Map
In this case, the bluer the better as the team concedes lesser xA than the league average in those zones.
A tendency towards red is a sign of danger as the team is defending poorly in that area.
Conc Rat (Conceding Ratio) = xA conceded by league in zone – xA conceded by team in zone.

Now that we know from where Goa usually concede, let us see how well they defend in these areas.

As seen earlier, the midfield is well-controlled. Lenny Rodrigues and Ahmed Jahouh formed a robust partnership and provided balance to their otherwise top-heavy play. Brandon and Boumous also tracked back to recover the ball, therefore making it difficult for the opponents to give out key passes from central areas.

On the wings, they conceded more than the league average. Surprisingly, the right is more porous than the left. This could be down to Jackichand Singh’s poor defending. For all his firepower on the other side of the pitch, Jacki struggled with covering passing lanes and winning the ball back. This often isolated Seriton, and made it easier for opposing attackers to play the ball into the box.

To counter-act this, Lobera deployed Mourtada Fall as a right sided center-back. His ability to cover ground and make last-ditch tackles proved to be very useful. He played as a stopper, while Carlos Peña covered for him in case he made a mistake. This can be seen in Fall’s defensive numbers as he attempted almost twice as many defensive challenges as Peña. He also won 72% of his defensive challenges which just goes to show how important he was in the back-line.

Fall and Pena’s elite defending guarded Goa and as a result, they conceded fewer chances inside the box. With help from Lenny and Jahouh, they were able to make a firm wall right outside their penalty area.

On the left though, we can see that the left half-space near the goal and midfield are a tinge orange. This is down to Mandar being caught out during counters. Though his team-mates covered for him often, there was still a hole in the left-back position which was easy to take advantage of. The orange spot near the goal could be because Mandar is not a natural defender. He would find it relatively difficult to track a winger making a run behind him, and as a result they conceded more from that square.

Conclusion

Overall, Goa were far better at defending than they were in Lobera’s first season. Better recruitment and familiarity with the system helped them settle. In terms of attack, they went from strength to strength. They ended up as top scorers in the league with 46 goals in 18 games and failed to score only in two fixtures.

The new season coming up in November and scheduled to be held in Goa sees the Gaurs poised for change. With Sergio Lobera leaving the club and a number of key players departing, Goa have signed promising Indian players in Phrangki Buam, Makan Winkle Chothe and Devendra Murgaonkar among others. The foreign core signed for the upcoming season comprises of A-League defender James Donachie, Spanish winger Jorge Ortiz Mendoza, forward Igor Angulo, former Atlético Madrid attacking midfielder Alberto Noguera and Spanish defender Iván González.

A new head coach has also arrived at the shores of Goa in Juan Ferrando whose first challenge would be to mesh together a relatively new team. The 39-year-old Spaniard also has to sustain FC Goa’s ethos of attacking, entertaining play – And he has to do all this while defending their league title and chasing that elusive ISL Championship!

Have feedback or want to talk tactics? Reach out to me on Twitter – @KeepItRowllin

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