The Chennai City talisman scored a hat-trick against Gokulam Kerala on Friday evening. 

Chennai City FC came from behind to pip Gokulam Kerala 3-2 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Coimbatore on Friday to move three points clear at the top of the I-League. A hat-trick from Pedro Manzi enabled them to shut out Gokulam, who had lodged their own mini-comeback through goals from Mudde Musa and Joel Sunday in the first half. However, red cards to both Arjun Jayaraj and Srinivasan Pandiyan turned the game around and allowed Chennai to win. Here are our talking points from the match:

5. Is this the most competitive Southern Derby currently in Indian football?

Chennai City and Gokulam have churned up a healthy rivalry in their short years playing together in the I-League. They produced yet another classic in Coimbatore on Friday, with the players giving their absolute best to entertain the fans. It was a game of drama, excitement and everything needed to thrill a neutral. Gokulam came back from a goal down to go ahead in the first half, before Chennai rallied back to win the game in the second.

It also had its heated moments, involving two red cards for a scuffle. With unlimited chances, it was another end-to-end battle like the teams produced earlier in the season when Chennai also won 2-3. The two teams proved their derby isn’t just one in name, but infact more competitive than many ISL southern derbies right now.

4. Have Gokulam Kerala exposed Chennai City’s aerial weakness?

Heading into the game with no wins in their last five games, Bino George and Gokulam Kerala knew they were in for a tough fight. Following a late resurgence in the 3-2 loss to Aizawl, Gokulam seemed to have inherited new-found confidence. While Chennai’s defence has been solid throughout the season, George found one tiny weakness and decided to capitalize on it. Gokulam constantly kept on moving through their right and smashing in crosses into the penalty area.

This caused problems for Chennai, who struggled to clear them. Chennai’s poor set-piece defending allowed Gokulam to score the equalizer, while Shem Eugene’s blatant handball while trying to deal with a cross resulted in the penalty. George’s plan to exploit Chennai City’s defenders’ aerial vulnerability worked and could be an area the league leaders’ opponents focus on going ahead.

3. Is Pedro Manzi destined to win the I-League Golden Boot?

Pedro Manzi has picked up form lately and after a blistering start to his season, he’s scored four goals in two. After a sublime hat-trick to demolish Shillong Lajong last week, Manzi was on song again in the Southern Derby. He looked dangerous from the getgo, despite being tightly marked by the physical Gokulam Kerala. However, nobody marked him as he tucked in a scuffed finish to open the scoring.

Manzi then did one better by scoring a thunderous header to equalize and pounced on a goalkeeping error to score his third hat-trick of the season! He’s now again the top scorer of the I-league with 10 goals. With Willis Plaza hot on his heels, he’ll look to continue this inspired form to guide his side to the I-League title and himself to the Golden Boot.


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2. Did Arjun Jayaraj’s sending off seal Gokulam’s fate?

A moment of madness plagued what was turning out to be an otherwise extremely competitive half of football between Chennai City and Gokulam. Towards the end of the first half, substitute Srinivasan Pandiyan tried to take the ball off Arjun Jayaraj a bit roughly. This sparked Jayaraj to lose his temper, lashing out at Pandiyan, who also retaliated and both got sent off as a result.

The sending off turned to be worse off for Gokulam Kerala, who lost a pivotal creative outlet and defensive cover. Jayraj was not only creating chances, but also helping them gain some control of the game. His departure made them and lose a defensive body in the second half, allowing Chennai to come back and win the game.

1. Did Chennai City show the stuff of champions with an inspired comeback?

Even Chennai City didn’t seem to expect the tough fight which Gokulam gave them on Friday. Coming in on the back of disappointing losses, Chennai probably thought they’d stroll past them. However, after Manzi gave them the lead, Gokulam went up the gears. They rallied back to score two through set-pieces, rattling the league leaders in their own den.

However, after the red card in the first half, Chennai gained confidence despite going down to 10 men. They played some good football in the second half, making it seem like they’d gained an extra man rather than losing one. Thanks to some brilliance from captain Manzi, Chennai pulled off a comeback Manchester United would be proud of. This was the sort of statement champions usually make in this part of the season.