The two-time champions will be looking to right the wrongs of last season’s disappointing performance.
Chennaiyin FC have been one of the most successful teams in the ISL since its inception. In the ensuing seven seasons, the Marina Machans have made it to the playoffs on four occasions, reached the final thrice and won the title twice.
Over the last four seasons, the performances and results have been quite topsy-turvy for the club. But, the new season gives them another opportunity to rekindle their glories of the past and once again give a good account of themselves in the league.
So ahead of the new season, let’s take a look at the team profile for Chennaiyin FC for the 2021-22 season of the Indian Super League:
Last Season’s Performance: Eighth
Chennaiyin FC endured a chastening spell and were way off the mark last season. Long-term injuries to players also didn’t help their cause, as the Csaba Laszlo-led outfit plummeted down the standings and missed out on the playoffs.
They are the second-highest scoring team in the competition’s history, but scored the least amount of goals last season. Their troubles in finishing moves were there for all to see. A lack of creativity and inconsistency in the frontline saw them score only 17 goals in 20 games, worse than the three teams below them.
The team won only three games and drew a record-breaking 11 times last season. Csaba Laszlo’s safety-first approach curtailed the Marina Machans’ attacking talents, as they bowed out of the race for the playoffs in quick time.
The squad has a new look with plenty of changes in personnel. Under new head coach Bozidar Bandovic, the club have been preparing in Goa since 26th September.
The club played their first friendly in Goa against Bengaluru FC, winning 3-2 against the 2018-19 champions. Chennaiyin lost their two ensuing friendlies against Odisha FC and Kerala Blasters by identical 1-2 scorelines. They play another friendly match against FC Goa on Friday, November 12.
This season, Chennaiyin FC started their pre-season training on 26 September and have been training in Goa for the better part of the past six weeks. Head coach Bozidar Bandovic also mentioned that an eight-week pre-season campaign would be ideal for the team to gel and prepare well, considering the changes within the squad.
Chennaiyin also made good moves to extend the contracts of Rafael Crivellaro, Rahim Ali, Reagan Singh and versatile right-back Edwin Sydney Vanspaul till 2023.
Chennaiyin FC appointed Bozidar Bandovic as the new head coach for the club on 10 July 2021. The man from Montenegro signed a one-year deal to take up his ninth managerial job.
Bandovic has managed teams like Olympiacos in Greece, where he also worked as the club’s assistant coach and technical director. He had the most successful phase of his managerial career in his stints with Thai club Buriram United.
Across two spells with the Thai club, Bandovic won two league titles and the Thailand Champions Cup in 2019. He also took Buriram United to the Round of 16 stage in the AFC Champions League. Therefore, he brings the experience of having coached in both the UEFA Champions League (with Olympiacos) and the AFC Champions League.
Chennaiyin’s FC coaching staff under Bozidar Bandovic will feature the following:
Assistant Coaches: Bojan Ofenbeher (Foreign) and Sabir Pasha (Indian)
Goalkeeping Coach: Milorad Nikolic
Reserve and Academy Coach: Santosh Kashyap
Head Physio: Rajiv Kumar Singh
Team Manager: Arihant Jain
Chief Scout: Pratham Basu (also Chief Technical Officer)
The off-season was a very interesting phase for Chennaiyin FC. They nearly revamped their foreign contingent and brought in a good mix of Indian players. Some players like Rahim Ali and Edwin Sydney also extended their contracts. One key loss that would be felt badly in the 2021-22 season would be that of Deepak Tangri, who has joined ATK Mohun Bagan.
Chennaiyin FC have signed five new foreign players to fill in their foreigners’ quota. The players signed include midfielders Ariel Borysiuk and Vladimir Koman, forwards Mirlan Murzaev and Lukasz Gikiewicz, as well as Serbian defender Slavko Damjanovic. Therefore, the foreign players will add strength and experience across all departments for the club.
Chennaiyin also added a good mix of Indian players to their ranks. They’ve added experienced players in Narayan Das and Debjit Majumder from SC East Bengal as well as Salam Ranjan Singh and Jobby Justin from ATK Mohun Bagan. They also added Deepak Devrani, who starred in Gokulam Kerala’s I-League winning campaign last season.
One of the promising young players signed by Chennaiyin FC is Ninthoi Meetei, who featured 24 times for NorthEast United in the ISL and won the “Best Player” award in the 2019 U-18 SAFF Championship. Chennaiyin also signed Syed Suhail Pasha, the son of assistant coach Syed Sabir Pasha from Chennai City.
The two-time champions rounded off their transfer window by signing goalkeeper Devansh Dabas (from Lonestar Kashmir) as well as midfielders Melroy Melwin Assisi, Subhadip Majhi and Johnson Joseph Matthews from Hyderia FC, Kalighat FC (from the Calcutta Football League) and Bank of India respectively.
The club bid adieu to a few important players from last season and before. All players were either released or left on free transfers to other clubs.
Apart from captain Rafael Crivellaro, the club released all foreign players including Eli Sabia and Enes Sipovic, who have since gone on to sign for Jamshedpur FC and Kerala Blasters respectively.
The club also lost promising youngster Deepak Tangri to ATK Mohun Bagan. His sale would’ve particularly hurt the Marina Machans, as he was one of the few bright spots in Chennaiyin FC’s campaign last term. He also starred in India’s U-23 Asian Cup Qualifying campaign. Another longstanding player, who bid adieu to the club was Thoi Singh. Thoi left Chennaiyin after a five-season stint with the Marina Machans. He left for Real Kashmir, having been part of both title-winning squads.
Other Indian players who left the club were Lalchhuanmawia (to RoundGlass Punjab), Abhijit Sarkar, Karanjit Singh and Sinivasan Pandiyan (all free agents).
Goalkeepers: Vishal Kaith, Debjit Majumder, Devansh Dabas, Samik Mitra.
Defenders: Balaji Ganesan, Davinder Singh, Deepak Devrani, Slavko Damjanovic, Narayan Das, Salam Ranjan Singh, Reagan Singh, Edwin Vanspaul, Jerry Lalrinzuala.
Midfielders: Anirudh Thapa, Vladimir Koman, Ariel Borysiuk, Rafael Crivellaro, Subhadip Majhi, Germanpreet Singh, Melroy Assisi, Aman Chetri, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Ninthoi Meetei.
Forwards: Jobby Justin, Rahim Ali, Mirlan Murzaev, Lukasz Giekiewicz, Johnson Mathews, Suhail Pasha.
Bozidar Bandovic prefers to play the 4-2-3-1 formation. The formation is also quite conducive to his possession-based style of play. Bandovic’s style focuses on possession football, with a look to keep his formation flexible. He focuses on keeping a more compact style of play in his teams.
Therefore, under him, Chennaiyin could look more robust in attack. This will be important considering the club’s troubles with goalscoring last season. The possession-based style means that Chennaiyin FC would need to be more proactive on the ball.
Ariel Borysiuk will add depth in defensive midfield. The onus will be on his experience to manage the entire gameplay, as his combination with Crivellaro and Thapa would be crucial to how Chennaiyin advance with the ball. Crivellaro, Thapa and Chhangte will focus on the attacking and creative part. Polish forward Lukasz Gikiewicz is expected to be the first-choice striker.
While this formation wouldn’t change a lot from the primary one, it will help add width to Chennaiyin FC’s gameplay. An extra player can be added in defence, with Narayan Das dropping as the third centre-back while Edwin Vanspaul becomes the attacking right wing-back. Chhangte or the other midfield player can be withdrawn for a strike partner in Rahim Ali.
With the extra defender, the wing-backs would be encouraged to run further ahead adding to the attacking output. This will help Chennaiyin to increase the width if required, creating attacking overloads and pegging opposition defences back. But, for this formation to work, the wing-backs Jerry Lalrinzuala and Edwin Vanspaul will need to be quick and proactive in attack while also adding to the defensive numbers.
This formation will also add a further striker, while helping Chennaiyin maintain possession or compactness in defence. The game will revolve around Rafael Crivellaro, who will be the sole creative outlet in this setup. The only caveat could be that Chennaiyin could use this formation in counter-attacks.
- Enviable squad depth
- Strong and experienced core of Indian players
- Midfield options
- Plenty of creative options in Crivellaro, Chhangte, Thapa and Borysiuk
- Defence is still a concern, as Chennaiyin have conceded two goals each in all of their three pre-season games so far
- Goalscoring concerns
Key Players to Watch
The 25-year old goalkeeper has been an important part of Chennaiyin FC’s setup since joining them in 2019. Kaith has featured in 40 games for the club, keeping 10 clean-sheets. His 64% save percentage ranks him up with the best goalkeepers in the league.
Chennaiyin conceded only 23 goals in the league last season and it was down to the superlative work of the goalkeeper. Therefore, he will be once again called upon to deliver between the sticks for the club.
Rahim Ali is in his third season with the Marina Machans. For all his potential, he has only scored two goals in 22 appearances for the club. However, Ali comes into the side in good form from his experience being part of the Indian team for the SAFF Championship.
He was also a part of the U-23 team in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers. Ali sparkled with a goal and assist. He even scored the winning penalty in India’s 4-2 penalty shootout win against the Kyrgyz Republic. Therefore, the 21-year old comes in good form and will be looking to continue that for his club.
For Chennaiyin FC, who faced goalscoring problems last season, Rahim Ali’s form augurs well. If he gets going, then with Jobby Justin and Mirlan Murzaev on the bench, Chennaiyin will really fancy their chances of making a playoffs run and even further.
Rafael Crivellaro is without doubt the heartbeat of the team. He will once again lead the side out this season. He missed the second half of last season through injury and Chennaiyin lost their creative spark without him.
Crivellaro once again has quality options around him in midfield and attack. He can also double up as a strike partner or play just behind as a second striker. Therefore, the Brazilian will once again look to hit the heights he reached in the 2019-20 season.
One of the lynchpins of Gokulam Kerala’s I-League title win last season, Deepak Devrani brings experience and solidity to the Chennaiyin backline. He will make his debut in the ISL and therefore, he will be looking to carry the good form from the previous season into this one.
Devrani can play on either side of central defence and his versatility will be pivotal to Chennaiyin FC. It remains to be seen how quickly he can combine with Slavko Damjanovic, as the combination will be critical to the club’s defensive fortunes this season.
What to Expect
Chennaiyin FC are always expected to be among the top teams in the league. Their two title wins are a testament to this fact. After an underwhelming season last time around, the onus is on Bozidar Bandovic to get this team to play cohesively.
The first part of the job would be to start on a prolific winning note. Csaba Laszlo’s slow approach curtailed Chennaiyin FC’s attacking strengths. But, this season, with the way they’ve started in pre-season, the attacking potential of this team is evident. It remains to be seen if they can continue that through the season.
The minimal expectation would be to first qualify for the playoffs. Chennaiyin have one of the best Indian contingents in the competition and will look to these players to lead the charge. The team have a good core of youth and experience, as mentioned by coach Bandovic. Therefore, they will be among the favourites to make the playoffs going by their squad depth and their potential.
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