The Marina Machans already know how to beat the Blues in their own den having done it earlier this season.
Indian Super League finals couldn’t get any bigger. Former I-League winners, Bengaluru Football Club, take on former ISL winners, Chennaiyin Football Club in a south Indian derby. Plus, with either city being at war with each other on so many – less-than-serious – fronts, this tie has what it takes to excite even the neutrals like no other tie could. Perhaps, one of these teams going up against Kerala Blasters must have generated similar fanfare, but the Kochi-based side have nothing but dust in their trophy cabinet, which ought to make such a match-up somewhat less exciting than Bengaluru vs. Chennai.
While Chennai supporters – both Supermachans and B-Stand Blues – will start flocking to Bengaluru in a few hours with their banners, Performax Chennai shirts and of course, their vocal chords, they might not have predicted their team to be where they’re now after seeing their first-half performance at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in the season curtain raiser against Football Club Goa. With John Gregory, who’s only into his first season in India, deploying a three-man backline with Raphael Augusto and Inigo Calderon in central midfield then, Chennai looked a headless chicken, as they conceded three in the first half. The tactical shift in the second half saw them reduce the deficit to a solitary goal, and their second-half performance has set the tempo for their season thus far, with their conceding just 17 goals in 19 games since.
While Bengaluru playing superb football is fathomable – as they’ve been playing together under the same manager for a while now – how Chennai play their English manager’s brand of football superbly is a testament to his managerial prowess. It’s all the more surprising when you consider the fact that they’d been playing a more Italian style of football under Marco Materazzi for three years when he was brought on.
From defenders to Attackers, Chennaiyin have scorers from every department
Chennai retaining their core team and bringing back some of their former players have played a major role in the team meshing the way they’ve done, undoubtedly, and that’s only helped the former Aston Villa manager build arguably the most formidable defensive unit in India with what he had at his disposal, With local hero Dhanapal Ganesh and Bikramjit Singh forming an impermeable layer in front of Inigo Calderon, Mailson Alves, Henrique Sereno and Jerry Lalrinzuala, their first-choice backline, they’ve been rather solid at the back. Karanjit Singh has also rose to the occasion whenever he’s needed to, with his heroics against Manuel Lanzarote, Ferran Corominas and Mandar Rao Dessai in Chennai’s second-leg playoffs game an excellent case in point.
However, his side haven’t simply sat back the entirety of the majority of their games, as they’ve scored when it’s mattered the most, often via set pieces. You know the players have got a hold of the coach’s vision, when a team can maintain a pattern, which in Chennai’s case is keeping clean sheets and scoring from set pieces. On Saturday evening at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, while Raphael Augusto and co. do have the tools to create the Bengaluru defence a lot of problems from open play, they’ll particularly be dangerous from corner-kicks and free-kicks. Bengaluru, who have had the best defensive record thus far, have had a taste of Chennai’s lethality in such situations before, as they saw DG17 leap above every Bengaluru head to head home Chennai’s winner in their 2-1 win in Bengaluru,
What makes Chennai’s journey to the finals all the more beautiful is their developing a family-like vibe in the team. “We live together, under one roof,” told the Chennai manager with his voice full of contentment. “We see each other throughout the day at the hotel. We see each other during training, obviously. We travel together. That togetherness we’ve got has helped us build trust. I’ve never known a group like this before, a group that manages themselves and takes care of each other. We have a family atmosphere here.” The fact that the team have gelled so quickly on the pitch and off it shows why they find themselves preparing for their second finals in five seasons.
That said, the coach seems quite self-aware, as he even admitted that Sergio Lobera’s Goa were the technically superior side on Tuesday night. With the common consensus being that Bengaluru are the most technically gifted side in the league, he needs his side to be at their tactical best. Much to his delight, his players pick up his instructions quickly, he revealed in a press conference after his side’s 3-0 win against Goa.
Should they be their 100 percent in Bengaluru, they’ll find themselves ruining Bengaluru’s fairtytale ISL debut. They did have their number in their league game there, so they definitely know what they must to do on Saturday night to become the joint-most successful club with ATK.