The Marina Machans embark on their fourth campaign this season and will be looking to regain the title they won in 2015.
Last Season’s Performance
Collecting seven points in the first four games, Chennaiyin FC looked set to qualify for the play offs for the third season in a row, but a solitary win in the subsequent 10 games meant they finished seventh. The heroics of Jerry Lalrinzuala and Raphael Augusto couldn’t ensure consistency, as the Marina Machans failed to replace Elano Blumer and Stiven Mendoza during the transfer window. Plus, coach Marco Materazzi didn’t utilize the tools he had at his disposal properly, as he strangely overplayed underwhelming Dudu Omagbemi and Davide Succi while overlooking Jeje Lalpekhlua, Maurizio Peluso and Jayesh Rane.
Chennaiyin’s pre-season preparations saw them be stationed at Hua Hin in Thailand, a humble location when compared to their last season’s training base, Perugia, Italy. Besides training there, the club took on three Thai Premier League sides though they managed to win just a single game. The opening games saw them lose 2-0 and 3-1 to Air Force Central and Thai Port.
Their only win came against Bangkok United, with Augusto, Lalpekhlua and Jude Nworuh all finding the back of the net to secure a 3-0 win. Their only friendly game in India thus far saw them emerge 1-0 victors against Aizawl on 5th November, with Mohamed Rafi Modambillath making the scoresheet. Even though their results have been underwhelming, the training sessions and the friendly games ought to have helped the team mesh and become familiar with John Gregory’s philosophy.
The new Chennaiyin manager will seek a winning start
A strictly no-nonsense coach, Gregory’s style will be similar to his predecessor’s, as he’s also been known to never tolerate sloppy displays and he made his approach clear during his first press conference in India when he claimed to expect utmost professionalism and commitment from his personnel.
His time at Aston Villa, where he did his best managerial work, highlights his ability to motivate and raise the players’ confidence and, on the back of a lacklustre season, his presence can prove crucial. With stints with Israeli and Kazakhstan clubs, he ought to be aware of the playing conditions in Asia. His latest managerial stint saw him be in Crawley Town’s technical area before he left the game to work on his health.
Ins: The Chennai club has brought in players with ISL experience such as Henrique Sereno, Jaime Gavilan and Mailson Alves, capable talents with top-class European football education in Jude Ikechukwu Nworuh and Gregory Nelson and proven stars such as Inigo Calderon and Rene Mihelic. Key players such as Karanjit Singh, Dhanpal Ganesh, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Raphael Augusto have been retained.
Outs: As is often the case in the ISL, a whole host of players have left the club, but none’s absence will be felt as much as Bernard Mendy’s, for the Frenchman has been a cornerstone since the inception of the club. Other notable absentees are Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Hans Mulder, John Arne Riise, Manuele Blasi, Jayesh Rane and Nallappan Mohanraj.
Formation and Tactics
How Chennaiyin FC could lineup this season
Tactically solid, the Chennaiyin manager knows when he shall make changes to approach or formation. His transforming the Villains to a successful 4-4-2 team that won UEFA Intertoto Cup, reached FA Cup finals and finished sixth in Premiership from a 3-5-2 side that his predecessor Brian Little had concocted bears testimony to his tactical acumen. With Chennaiyin boasting a diverse high-quality squad, the England manager can surely experiment an array of formations if his first-choice formation doesn’t bear the desired fruit.
His sides have largely played defensive football, and the current Chennaiyin side will likely be no different. Chennaiyin’s likely change from a predominantly 4-3-3 set-up to a 3-5-2 one ought to be smooth.
One of the key strengths is the overwhelming support Chennaiyin will receive. The extent B-Stand Blues and Supermachans, two of the most raucous fan groups in India, go to cheer the side on will surely aid their title charge, with the positive energy they’ll be creating at Marina Arena certain to serve as a huge boost. Additionally, the quality of the players the former ISL champions have retained will ensure they perform superbly – or better than they did last season, at the very least – with the help of the new signings, who, on paper, look better than the washed-up departees.
Chennaiyin is a near-perfect team, and finding weaknesses before the start of the season will essentially be nitpicking. However, the manager may prove the team’s Achilles’ heel. Despite the English gaffer’s stellar resume, his managerial career has been on a steady decline since his departure from Aston Villa. He’s fallen from cup finals in Europe to relegation battles in Israeli Premier League and Kazakhstan Premier League. The witty 63-year-old will look to salvage his career by guiding Chennaiyin to a play-off finish.
Another setback can be the absence of leaders in their side; with the club’s three captains – Bernard Mendy, Hans Mulder and Mehrajuddin Wadoo – from the previous season no longer with the team; they may now have to identify leaders. Inigo Calderon, a 35-year-old defender, captained the side during friendlies, but it remains to be seen if he can fill Mendy’s gigantic shoes.
Top 3 Players To Watch
Jerry Lalrinzuala: Although Chennaiyin endured their worst campaign last season, it helped them unearth a rare talent in Jerry Lalrinzuala. The AIFF Elite Academy product wooed the onlookers with his pace, attacking ability and technical prowess, and the nascent season will hand him the opportunity to prove his breakthrough season was not a fluke.
Raphael Augusto: An all-around midfielder, he was the – only – source of magic in the team last season. He’s earned a huge fan following in Chennai, as he creates the loudest cheers during Chennaiyin’s home games. With better strikers ahead of him this season, he’ll definitely make the team of the season, which he narrowly missed out on, last season.
Jeje Lalpekhlua: The Indian top-scorer in ISL, he was unfairly underused last season. He’ll look to extend his lead over the chasing pack, including Sunil Chhetri, Romeo Fernandes and Arata Izumi. In the likely event of earning the gaffer’s trust, he’ll again be one of the top five goal-scorers this season.
Chennaiyin FC’s schedule this season
What to Expect
Unlike the previous seasons, Chennaiyin now lack star power but, given the signings they’ve made, it’s evident that they have gone past the phase that saw them signing Premier League has-beens such as Mikael Silvestre and Eric Djemba-Djemba only to draw attention. The team now possesses everything a football team requires: experience, youth, pace, strength, technical ability, desire and local representation. The current side definitely doesn’t look good enough to walk away with the title but, with a good system, commitment from everyone involved and a bit of luck, they can take the title back to Chennai.