The team from Punjab could look to spoil the party on Saturday as the latter attempt to win and thereby have a shot at the I-league title.
It has been a season full of suspense and it boils down to Judgement Day in the I-League when Churchill Brothers will take on RoundGlass Punjab in what is a must-win game for the former. While Churchill still have an outside chance to win the title, it was a self-inflicted situation that they have created. The Red Machines were running away from the rest of the teams in the regular season. However, their form faced a major drop during the playoffs, as they could only manage to win against Real Kashmir at the start of the month.
Fernando Santiago Varela’s men have looked like a completely different side in the playoffs, with the players losing shape in defence and midfielders giving the ball away cheaply. However, the former I-League champions need to find their mojo one last time, as they face RoundGlass Punjab in a must-win encounter. While the fate of winning the Championship is not in their hands, they can still go out strong and end the season with a win.
3. A better defensive display
In the first 10 matches of the regular season, Churchill Brothers conceded only six goals mainly due to a very compact defence led by Lebanese defender Hamza Kheir. However, in the last four matches of the championship phase, they have already conceded nine goals. The defenders have not been at their best, as they have conceded some cheap goals, mainly due to unforced errors in the final third. Kheir’s absence in the matches against Gokulam Kerala and Mohammedan Sporting saw the Red Machines concede seven goals in total.
Players such as Suresh Meetei, Mamit Vanlalduatsanga and others have played exceptionally for the majority of the season and with their Lebanese leader back at the heart of the defence, Churchill Brothers should fare a lot better defensively, as they look to close the season on a high. The defence in the previous matches looked very unorganized as Varela was forced to try out different players to fit in the combination.
The Churchill defenders will have their task cut out against RoundGlass Punjab, with Baba Diawara leading the line along with players like Chencho Gyeltshen and Ashish Jha. The Warriors have a very potent attacking unit and they won’t make life easy for the Goan outfit.
2. Marksman Majcen to score goals for fun
The Slovenian marksman has been a great recruit for the Red Machines, as he has been in red-hot form in his first season in India. Luka Majcen is a typical striker who waits for his opportunities patiently inside the penalty area and has the knack of being at the right place at the right time. His ability to hold the play up and involve others such as Clayvin Zuniga and Bryce Miranda has been the mantra to success for Varela’s men.
Majcen’s last-minute winner against Chennai City, where he headed the ball in and earned two crucial points for the Red Machines, was the sign of a top striker with exceptional grit to score goals. The 31-year old has mustered 10 goals along with two assists and he will look to increase that tally when they go up against RG Punjab.
1. Winning the midfield battle
In such do-or-die matches the midfield battle becomes very crucial, as both teams try to control the middle of the park and pull the strings for their respective forwards. Even in the reverse fixture, where the Red Machines edged past Curtis Fleming’s men, midfielders like Bazie Armand, Richard Costa and Clencio Pinto had great outings, as they controlled proceedings throughout that match. During their unbeaten run this season, Churchill Brothers’ midfield played a vital role and they will have to replicate that form against RG Punjab.
Fernando Varela should come up with plans to contain the likes of Joseba Beitia, Sanju Pradhan and others, as they will look to command possession and control the tempo of the game. Armand’s role will be crucial, as he will have to guard the back four and also keep Beitia in-check, as the Spaniard is the creative nucleus for Fleming’s men. Pinto’s role will also be crucial, as he will look to provide that extra man in attack and allow Zuniga the freedom to move around the final third and produce some of his defence-splitting passes.