The coach stressed the importance of results and a winning start ahead of their first game

Chennaiyin FC start their Indian Super League (ISL) 2021-22 campaign against Hyderabad FC on Tuesday. The two-time champions will look to improve on their disappointing eighth-placed finish last season. With a longer pre-season and a handful of games, the squad looks in decent shape before their opening game at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim. Ahead of their first game, head coach Bozidar Bandovic and captain Anirudh Thapa addressed the media.

The duo talked at length about their preparations for the season and their respective expectations, individually and collectively:

Team’s readiness ahead of opening bow

Chennaiyin FC will face a stern test against the Nizams who did the double over them last season. Therefore, the team have been preparing meticulously over the pre-season under the watchful eye of head coach Bandovic.

When asked about his team’s state ahead of their big opener, the coach stated, “At the start when I saw the players, if you ask me whether I was happy, no I wasn’t. But, it could’ve been due to them not playing for long and also quarantine. The players are now at a level where we are ready to play. This will surely improve in the next period, but I’m happy till this moment about what we did, as a group, not only physically and tactically but also in terms of the communication between us.”

An important part of the pre-season, especially in the ISL, has been how well players have gotten together. When asked about the same, skipper Anirudh Thapa replied, “I wasn’t there in the first few weeks, but when I came in, the team was doing really well. We had a few games as well. We tried what the coach mentioned us to do and we are improving in that. The players have been doing a good job.”

Challenges ahead of new season

The 2021-22 ISL season follows the trend from the previous campaign with strict bio-bubble and quarantine rules. Therefore, the players have been playing and going through their rigours in a closeted environment.

Particularly with Chennaiyin FC, there has been the challenge with new players coming in. Thus, the team have needed time for them to finish their quarantine formalities and then regroup with the side, something that they’ve been afforded with the seven-week long pre-season.

Getting the team to gel and regroup was a major challenge identified by coach Bozidar Bandovic. He stated, “The challenge for me and the club was to bring these new players in a very short period. We have brought in many new players and this is a challenge to make the new players play together. To make a new team and a good group was a challenge because the new players needed time to adapt to what we have done in these last weeks.”

Bandovic reassuringly added, “In football, nobody wants to wait, everybody wants immediate results. So, that is my job as a coach and the players to get results, get a good start. This will be a challenge, as it would’ve been easier had we gotten the players from last season and changed like 3-4 players. But, this is a new year, it is a new process and it is a new start for me and the players. We are ready for this and we can handle this for sure.”

Thapa on captaincy

Anirudh Thapa will write a new chapter in his association with Chennaiyin FC when he leads his team out on Tuesday. Captaining the two-time champions could be a daunting prospect for the young midfielder. But, the talismanic 23-year old sounded upbeat about receiving the responsibility.

When asked about the additional responsibility, Thapa replied, “Of course, every player will guide each other, not only me. That is how we will improve, helping each other and guiding them, on and off the field. I’ll try and do the same, whether it’s a young player or any other player. So will they, they will guide me if I am doing something wrong.”

Injury concerns

Bozidar Bandovic ruled out Chennaiyin FC’s midfield duo of Rafael Crivellaro and Germanpreet Singh from playing in their season opener. The Montenegrin stated that both players will miss out due to respective injuries.

The case of Rafael Crivellaro remains a concern. “Rafa (Crivellaro) has pain. He tried (to return to training) this week after one month to join the team. But, he walked away from practice and couldn’t train. The medical staff are monitoring him to find the problem. We will be informed tomorrow or the day after by the medical staff about him. It is important because he is an important player for us and he did some good work for the first two weeks,” he replied.

Bandovic though mentioned that German will be fit and available for Chennaiyin’s second game of the season. He will miss out on the Hyderabad game due to a minor niggle.

Goals & expectations from season

As two-time champions of the ISL, hopes will be riding high on the Marina Machans to hit the ground running. But, Bandovic gave an honest and diplomatic view of his expectations from the team this season. When asked about the same, the former Olympiacos assistant coach demanded a sedate and patient approach.

“In my career as a coach, I always want to take it game-by-game. So, for us, the most important thing is the first game tomorrow and then we can think about the next game. Of course, this club sets the targets by themselves because it’s normal when you come to a team that have been champions, it’s always high targets. So, we will try to go game-by-game and try to be in the top four.

“Of course, there are so many good teams out there. There are coaches who have worked in this league for many years, so we will see where we can reach. I believe we will be better, how much we will be matters in these games. But, we need to see how we can improve and how we can be stronger and better,” Bozidar Bandovic added.

Coach Bandovic on Indian players

Head coach Bandovic had words of praise and motivation for the club’s Indian players to show the way to the rest. He replied, “I believe they can do more and they can improve because they have the quality and the space to improve. The players are examples for the younger players because they are great characters (referring to Thapa and other experienced Indian players).

“The way they train, how they handle things, for the younger players they are examples. So, when these young players grow up, they can be national players as well and they have good players to learn from. This is important for a team. We have some fine young players and what these players are doing is a good thing. They will be happy learning from players (like Thapa) and I’m here to help them get to the next level,” Bozidar Bandovic positively added.

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