The newcomers will fly the flag for the state of Tamil Nadu…

Pre-season performance

City’s preparation ahead of their first season in the I-League was cut short thanks to the All India Football Federation withholding a decision on their participation until the final few weeks. However, they managed to play Tamil Nadu’s Santosh Trophy team on New Year’s Eve, with the match ending 2-2 at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Although the result hardly sounds promising, the 90 minutes of action against Tamil Nadu should have helped the players gel on the pitch.

The Coach

Many eyebrows were raised when City announced the signing of Robin Charles Raja as the manager. However, given his experience in the Chennai Football League and his familiarity with the local contingent, they might not have brought in an upgrade. Having won the local league twice with Chennai Customs and Hindustan Eagles, he has written himself into Chennai’s football folklore, and his first season as an I-League coach presents him the opportunity to achieve cult status

Can Robin Charles Raja thrive on the national stage.
With Australian Andrew Oakley – a popular name in Chennai football – being his understudy, the manager will hope to achieve big in what can potentially be the last I-League campaign.

Transfer Dealings

City’s owner Rohit Ramesh promised opportunities for local talent shortly after City’s participation in the I-League was confirmed. Going by City’s transfer activity, the management has definitely delivered. They have had little time to assemble a team mighty enough to compete in I-League, but they have managed to build a decent team.

Transfers in: Tamil Nadu-born players Soosairaj Michael, Michael Regin and Antony Beautin have been retained whilst Tamil-speaking players in Kabir Thaufiq and Sunil Kumar have been brought down on loan from Bengaluru club South United. Tamil Nadu-born Indian Super League players in Dhanpal Ganesh and Dharmaraj Ravanan have been signed on loan from Chennaiyin and Pune City, respectively, with the latter being handed the captain’s armband.

In addition, Zakeer Mundampara and Karanjit Singh will play for City after a fruitless season with the Marina Machans. Striker Malsawmfela has joined on loan from I-League 2 outfit Chanmari.

Brazilians Marcos Tank and Charles are the only two foreign signings at the time of writing, with the players joining the club from GDSC Alvarenga. With the former coming through SC Corinthians’ academy and the latter graduating at Fluminense, City’s fans have pinned their hopes on them.

At the time of writing, they have announced only 12 players, with two spots for foreigners still unoccupied. With their first game around the corner there is still remains much ambiguity about Chennai’s squad.

Formation and Tactics

Karanjit will guard the net whilst Thaufiq learns the trade under his wing. Ravanan is easily one of the first names in the City’s line-up, being the team’s captain. However, only Kumar is capable of being his partner in defense as City have confirmed only two defensive signings so far. The two Brazilians will form the frontline along with Malsawmfela whilst Ganesh and Mundampara will likely form the double pivot. Unless City bring in bigger names, right winger Beautin and midfielders Michael and Regin will all claim their place in the starting eleven.

Given the players City manager has at his disposal, he will likely deploy a highly defensive game plan. However, with the club promising a signing spree on December 24, the formation and tactics may change drastically.

Man to Watch: Malsawmfela

Malsawmfela the Man to Watch for Chennai. ( Picture via ) 
Malsawmfela went one goal short of being crowned Mizoram Premier League’s top-scorer last season. However, he still ran away with the division’s Best Forward and Best Player awards, playing for champions Chanmari. Despite Chanmari qualifying for I-League 2 themselves, City have managed to snatch him to boost their frontline. The onus will be on Malsawmfela to guide the team to a respectable finish in India’s premier footballing tournament.
Season Target
Given their preparations, on paper, City will look to avoid a humiliation in their I-League debut season. However, thanks to the players playing professional football together at some point, team chemistry will likely not be as bad as a team assembled in less than a month should be. They will likely not be the punching bags of the season in the event of the players giving their hundred percent on every matchday.

Much of their short-term future will rely on their first game, against Minerva Punjab as the Chandigarh-based club are also I-League newbies. Vanquishing fellow newbies at home will serve as a psychological boost in a season they are expected to flounder by many.