The Marina Machans are looking like a balanced side ahead of the league.

Chennaiyin FC come into the 2020-21 season of the Indian Super League with a very balanced and strong squad. The two-time champions and last season’s runners-up had to contend with a lot of cleaning up after their miraculous run to the final and have worked judiciously to bolster their ranks.

Chennaiyin have been training and staying in their bio-bubble in Goa, like all the other teams in the league due to the restrictions imposed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the squad have completed their mandatory quarantine and been put through their paces rigorously by new head coach Csaba Laszlo.

The Marina Machans have shed the old skin for the new, including a new set of foreign players and head coach. So, they would need their squad to gel in quickly. Ahead of the new campaign, we take a look at five players who will hold the key to Chennaiyin’s sustained success this season.

5. Edwin Vanspaul

Vanspaul was one of the most impressive Chennaiyin FC player last season

One of the most consistent performers for the Marina Machans last season, Vanspaul will be even more critical to their fortunes this term. The 2019-20 season saw the Neyveli-born lad start out of position last as a right wing-back, despite which he performed admirably, particularly after the arrival of Owen Coyle.

This season could see the possibility of him returning to his preferred midfield role. That would mean that with his pace and skill, he could prove to be a handful for defenders. Vanspaul averaged 4.5 tackles and 2.4 interceptions/game last season, which speaks volumes of his defensive capabilities as well.

He would be the talismanic presence that head coach Laszlo would require in his team. Vanspaul would be looking to perform well to fulfill his potential and also push harder for a place in the national team.

4. Eli Sabia

Eli Sabia has been a defensive pillar for the Marina Machans

One of the two foreign players to have been retained by Chennaiyin FC, Eli Sabia will be expected to lead the side after seeing his partner Lucian Goian depart the club.

The Brazilian centre-back played every minute of every game he featured in. In 19 games last season, Sabia scored and assisted once. along with impressive numbers in defence. He notched up close to three tackles and 2.1 interceptions/game.

Apart from his defensive solidity, Sabia also has the capability to marshal his troops and play out from the back. Last season his passing accuracy read 81.96%, while aggregating 27 passes/game. His passing helped Chennaiyin play out from the back and also freed up the midfield to unleash on the counter-attack.

Along with new defensive recruit Enes Sipovic, the duo make a solid pair at the back and will be tasked with keeping oncoming attackers at bay. The onus will lie with the Brazilian defender to shepherd his troops in his fourth season with the club.

3. Memo Moura

Moura was brought from Jamshedpur FC ahead of the ISL 2020-21 season

Although, it is still early, the signing of Memo Moura would certainly rank among the top buys this season. A player of outstanding durability and valuable ISL experience, the 32-year old is sure to further bolster an already strong Chennaiyin midfield.

The Brazilian played all but 46 minutes of action last season, notching up a goal and an assist. He also posted figures of 3.5 tackles and 2.3 interceptions/game, along with a passing accuracy rate of 85.38%.

But, most importantly, Memo offers the opportunity for other midfielders to freely express themselves. This could mean that he could be the key that unlocks the attacking potential of the team and offers the turn in possession that they would need against high-pressing sides.

2. Anirudh Thapa

Watch: All goals and assists by Anirudh Thapa in ISL 2019-20

The midfield metronome in Chennaiyin’s gameplay, Thapa will be the fulcrum on which the entire team’s gameplay rests. Thapa is now in his fourth season with his first professional club and has become the heart of the team. Despite being only 22, the onus of leading the midfield of the two-time champions would be on him. His performances will also be viewed with keen interest, none more so than by Laszlo, who named the player among his favourites in his first interview with Khel Now.

He was awarded the AIFF Emerging Player of the Year last season for the second time, which shows his growing stature in Indian football. Thapa scored once and assisted six times last campaign, while also making three tackles and 2.7 interceptions/game.

This season though, he would be expected to take a more advanced role in midfield and will be tasked with igniting the attack for Chennaiyin. This in-turn could bring the best out of him and help add to the team’s attacking strengths.

ALSO READ: Indian Super League 2020-21 Team Profile: Chennaiyin FC

1. Rafael Crivellaro

Watch: All goals and assists by Rafael Crivellaro in ISL 2019-20

Arguably, Chennaiyin’s best player last season, Crivellaro dazzled in his role in attacking midfield. The Brazilian playmaker took to his first season in the ISL like a duck to water and mesmerized defenders with his wide array of skills and tricks. The fact that he along with Sabia were the only foreign players to be retained by the club is evidence of his importance to the cause of the Marina Machans.

Crivellaro also proved to be the creative focal point of Chennaiyin’s attack with incisive passes and miserly dribbling. The 31-year old ended the season as the club’s second-highest goalscorer and as the second-highest assist provider in the league.

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