PANAJI: Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season has turned out to be another forgettable season for FC Goa as the Gaurs failed to reach the playoffs in two consecutive seasons for the first time in their Hero ISL history.
The former Hero ISL Shield winners have bettered the numbers as compared to the previous season. Carlos Pena’s FC Goa accumulated 27 points and finished this season in the seventh position against the ninth-placed finish with 19 points last season. However, for a successful club like FC Goa who have a record number of six playoff entries, this season has been an underwhelming one.
The club entered the 2022-23 season with a new head coach in Carlos Pena and an altogether new foreign contingent, barring their midfield stalwart Edu Bedia. Being a former FC Goa player, the Spaniard has managed to effectively implement the philosophy of the club but hasn’t bore fruition yet.
Pl: 20; W: 8; D: 3; L: 9; GF: 36; GA: 35; Pts: 27
FC Goa started the season on a high note, away from home. The Gaurs won three of their first four matches, including two away matches against East Bengal FC and Chennaiyin FC, which put them on the top for the first two Matchweeks.
After the first two wins, the side failed to capitalize their head start and won just two of their next six matches. Similarly, the club failed to replicate their first two away game results in the subsequent fixtures. In fact, the Gaurs were ineffective to get a win in the last eight away matches, including the must-win final away fixture against Bengaluru FC.
The Gaurs’ lopsided season witnessed two back-to-back wins on three occasions but failed to utilize that momentum on all three occasions. With respect to head-to-head records, FC Goa did a double only against East Bengal FC and failed to win a single point against playoffs’ teams Mumbai City FC, Hyderabad FC, and finalists Bengaluru FC.
Even with this inconsistency, FC Goa failed to exploit advantageous situations as they lost their sole chance of qualifying for the playoffs qualification with the defeat to Bengaluru FC. The poor form towards the business end of the season haunted them as they lost three out of the last four matches in the league stage including the last one in Bengaluru.
FC Goa have made their name as a club known to play free-flowing attacking football. With the arrival of Pena, the side has progressed in their possession-based attacking football albeit with some variations. The Gaurs have scored 36 goals this season, the joint-second highest in the league. This goal tally is also the highest in their last two Hero ISL seasons.
Another positive is the fine form of their Hero ISL debutants like Noah Sadaoui, Iker Guarrotxena, Ayush Dev Chhetri. Guarrotxena has scored 11 goals this season, the highest by any FCG player this season. Sadaoui, on the other hand, has the second-highest goal contributions (18) across the clubs in this season. Chhetri has been a revelation for the Gaurs, proving his mettle as a midfielder with his defensive attributes thereby making an appearance in each and every single match for the Gaurs.
One major disadvantage of FC Goa this season was their inability to fight back. The Gaurs failed to win a single match after conceding first. These stats combined with their porous defense affected their qualification for the playoffs as they ended up conceding 35 goals, fourth highest in the league.
Their highly-anticipated signing, Alvaro Vazquez, had a poor season to his own lofty benchmark. Vazquez registered four goal contributions – one goal and three assists in 17 matches compared to his eight goals and two assists last season. The Spaniard also lost his position in the starting XI and failed to create an impact from the bench, one of the many reasons for not staging a comeback even once this season.
Best player: Noah Sadaoui
There is a fine connection between FC Goa and Moroccan origin players. From Hugo Boumous to Ahmed Jahouh, these players have landed on the shores of Goa and have since flourished. Noah Sadaoui, like his predecessors, made an impact straight away. The 29-year-old was a livewire down the left flank. Sadaoui scored nine goals – second highest in the FC Goa camp, and also provided nine assists – highest by any FC Goa player. Earning several plaudits from fans and pundits alike, Erik Paartalu heaped praise on the Moroccan, “Well, forget FC Goa, this is FC Noah, everything going through this man.” That was the impact the Moroccan had on the club this season.
Best Young player: Ayush Dev Chhetri
Ayush Dev Chhetri has been a bright spark in the Carlos Pena-led side for multiple reasons. With the veteran queue of Brandon Fernandes, Edu Bedia, and youngster Brison Fernandes ahead of him in the midfield, the debutant was expected to get a few minutes of playing time. However, the 19-year-old played all 20 matches and clocked 1257 minutes for the Gaurs, the highest by any U-20 age category player in the league.
The midfielder registered 22 interceptions, just three behind veteran Edu Bedia. The Hero ISL debutant adapted well within the FC Goa set up and gained high praise from the head coach. “He’s a smart player with good decision-making skills and he understands the game well. Of course, he has a lot of things to improve, but luckily he has time and he has passion,” Pena said.
What do they need for next season?
Attacking-wise, Pena has reaped reward in the foreign signings of Noah Sadaoui and Iker Guarrotxena, who have arguably been one of the best signings of the season. The head coach has to find a way to regain the lost form of forward Alvaro Vazquez, who could be a vital element for the next season. In addition to the foreign players, the Indian contingent needs to contribute more in the attack, with only six Indian players having a part in the goalscoring process, contributing to just 12 out of the 36 goals.
On the defensive front, the Gaurs need to crack a formula for their defensive woes. Fortifying the backline would be the foremost issue Pena needs to tackle and turn their defensive weakness into a strength to challenge for the honours. The 2019-20 Hero ISL Shield winners were just three points short of a top-six spot this season but the Gaurs’ ambitions won’t be just to enter playoffs but to fight for silverware. In order to materialize that, the club needs to stick with players who have performed well this season and go again with the experience they gained in the last two seasons.