Ahead of the 2016 Indian Super League season, Khel Now profiles each of the eight participants of the tournament. In this edition, our Chennaiyin Football Club writer Praveen R. Paramasivam takes you through the Super Machans’ title defending campaign…
Last season’s performance: Champions
After failing to reach the 2014 Indian Super League finals despite topping the table in the league phase in the inaugural season, the Machans retaliated perfectly as they lifted the title in 2015, edging past the side who had eliminated them in the previous edition’s semi-finals in Kerala Blasters. They had to see off Atletico de Kolkata in the semi-final last season after finishing third despite a rather poor start to their campaign.
The 2015 Final saw them come from behind to belt FC Goa 3-2, courtesy of two stoppage time goals, with Stiven Mendoza scoring the all-important goal at Fatorda Stadium in Goa. Their title win, thus, made them one of the most consistent outfits in the competition.
Chennaiyin managed to retain Marco Materazzi , who, despite his lack of top-level managerial experience, has been able to deliver regularly. Of all the transfer dealings the Mahendra Singh Dhoni co-owned club have pulled off this season, keeping hold of their former defender is ostensibly the best piece of business.
The 43-year-old gaffer brings a wealth of experience with him having won the World Cup, UEFA Champions League, Serie A, and numerous other titles during his playing career. In addition to his experience in Europe, his knowledge and familiarity of the ISL makes him the ideal manager for the defending champions.
Having worked with most of the staff and players for two seasons now, he has established a good working relationship with everyone associated with the club. Chennaiyin winger Jayesh Rane, whom the Italian branded as the Indian Neymar, confirmed the claim. “Marco is a great coach. He understands all the players and motivates everyone all the time,” said the 23-year-old former India youth international.
Transfers in: Liverpool legend and former Delhi Dynamos defender John Arne Riise has been confirmed as the marquee player for the club. Unlike most marquee players in the tournament, the one-time Champions League winner will likely be heavily involved, with the player having “found the motivation again to work hard” after terminating his contract with hometown club Aalesunds FK in June.
Eyeing at building team chemistry, the Marina Arena club have retained seven Indian players from the previous edition. Karanjit Singh, Dhanachandra Singh, Abhishek Das, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, , Thoi Singh, Harmanjot Khabra , Jayesh Rane, and Jeje Lalpekhlua will all wear the blue strip again this season.
They have also been able to retain last season’s title winners in Pawan Kumar , Raphael Augusto , Eder Monteiro, Manuele Blasi and Zakeer Mundampara to further the team chemistry. Bernard Mendy, who has been a mainstay in the Chennaiyin starting eleven, will also be a part of the roster.
Besides retaining several talismen they have secured the services of Baljit Sahni (former Kolkata striker), Hans Mulder (ex-Delhi Dynamos midfielder), Siam Hanghal (two-time I-League winner with Bengaluru FC), and Dudu Macpherlin Omagbemi (former FC Pune City and FC Goa centre-forwards) who already have ample experience on Indian soil.
Italian strikers Davide Succi and Maurizio Peluso, former Sao Paulo central defender Eli Sabia, and Jamaican international goalkeeper Duwayne Kerr have all been added to the roster. In other news, youngsters Uttam Rai and Daniel Lalhlimpuia have earned developmental contracts with the club.
Transfers Out: Chennaiyin have seen many players such as Bruno Pelissari depart the club thanks to the obscure structure of the league. However, the most significant departures are Elano Blumer, who will likely never return to Indian football after going through a bittersweet 2015 ISL Final and last season’s Golden Boot winner Mendoza, who earned a move to New York City in light of his ISL heroics.
Formation and Tactics
Chennaiyin will espouse a 3-5-2 or a 5-3-2 setup that makes the best use of their personnel. In the first instance, if Kerr starts between the sticks the team will shape up with Eder Fernandes as the centre-back franked by Riise and Mendy who will get up and down the flanks. When the full-backs join in the attack, Dhanachandra Singh and Harmanjot Khabra will be expected to tuck in at the back. The trio of Manuele Blasi, Thoi Singh and Jayesh Rane will provide the supply for Jeje and Succi upfront.
In an alteration of the shape Karanjit will likely step in between the sticks with Riise and Mendy dropping alongside Fernandes at centre-back. Dhanachandra and Khabra will than operate as wing-backs entrusted with providing the width from the flanks. The front five will remain the same except for Thoi Singh who will be replaced by Hans Mulder.
Man to watch: Jayesh Rane
The Mumbai-born winger has managed only 12 appearances for Chennaiyin in two seasons, but he may proceed to garner more minutes this season having impressed his Italian coach – he lauded the 23-year-old for his hard work and European attitude – during his second season at the club.
After assisting the title-winning goal against Blasters last season, he will look to create more assists – and score – in order to not just help Chennaiyin successfully defend their title but also catch the eye of Indian national team boss Stephen Constantine as he is still awaiting his international debut.
“Last year our only target was to be crowned champions and we achieved that by showing immense quality and character. This year the goal is again very simple and that is we want to keep the ISL trophy in Chennai,” said the Chennaiyin manager Materazzi
Given the prowess of the players Chennaiyin have signed, keeping the title in Tamil Nadu is not completely impossible. However, with every team as mighty as the other, the ISL has proved a rather unpredictable league. So, Materazzi’s men will will have to work hard to keep hold of their crown.
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Last season’s champions were expansive at home while they were solid on the road. Scoring 19 and conceding only 9 they certainly made the most of home advantage turning Chennai into a fortress. In contrast, they were efficient on the road scoring only 10 and shipping 8.
Editorial by Khel Now Correspondent from Chennai Praveen Paramasivan.