The Marina Machans will play their first qualifying match on the 6th of March away from home to Sri Lankan side Colombo FC.
The reigning Indian Super League champions have endured a tumultuous league campaign, as they finished at the bottom of the league table. As the winners of the 2017-2018 campaign, the side from South India will be the first ISL team to take part in the AFC Cup Qualifiers.
Chennaiyin FC will play their first qualifying match on the 6th of March away from home. Head coach John Gregory had previously stated that his side’s objective for the second half of the season was to salvage as much pride as they could in the league and to put up a good show in the AFC Cup.
The upcoming set of qualifiers is John Gregory’s last shot at redemption as Chennaiyin FC head coach
However, this is far easier said than done, given all the issues that Chennaiyin have found in their side ever since the start of the current campaign. The first and most notable weakness in the team is their midfield, that has undergone immense chopping and changing almost every game.
The absence of Dhanpal Ganesh in the heart of the Marina Machans’ midfield has been exploited by the other teams in the league, as Chennaiyin have shown a particularly soft centre. Ganesh’s calmness was not replaced, as Gregory tried several combinations including playing Inigo Calderon in the hole.
As their Asian Cup Qualifiers near, the Marina Machans are yet to find a stable midfield upon which they can rely. The 20-year-old Anirudh Thapa has been in and out of the team and is yet to build on the flashes of brilliance he has shown.
Unfortunately, it is not just the South Indians’ midfield that has suffered from the loss of a player. The defence has also suffered from the loss of Henrique Sereno and more recently Calderon, who terminated his contract with the club. The pair would have been instrumental in the club’s inaugural season in a cup competition with their experience and defensive knowhow.
The Marina Machans have conceded a whopping 32 goals this season and scored just sixteen. Carlos Salom and Andrea Orlandi were brought into the side to add a little creative spark to the attack. Gregory pinned all his striking hopes on Jeje Lalpekhlua, who scored his first ISL goal in 332 days against Bengaluru FC.
Anirudh Thapa hasn’t been able to keep up his level of consistency this season
This is hardly the return that is to be expected of one of India’s premier goalscoring talents and will definitely not suffice against Asia’s top sides.
There does not seem to be any way that Chennaiyin can put together a strong run in the competition given their recent form. Gregory has choked in his second campaign after his stellar first and Chennaiyin will most likely pay dearly for their naivety in the transfer market.