The ace midfielder proved to be a game-changer for the Marina Machans last season.

Chennaiyin FC roared to the Indian Super League title last season beating newcomers Bengaluru FC in the final. However, the infamous “season after syndrome” in the ISL seems to have claimed its latest victim in the Marina Machans, who lie ninth in the table after losing their opening two games.

Chennaiyin have maintained a settled starting XI from last season with the exception of one very important piece of the puzzle, Dhanpal Ganesh. The midfielder was the only homegrown player in most of the Chennai side’s starting XIs and was quite likely their most important player.

Ganesh is not the kind of player who is going to steal the spotlight with his goalscoring exploits or his dazzling skills. Instead, for a majority of last campaign, when John Gregory, the Chennaiyn manager, realized what an asset he had on his hands, Ganesh sat in front of a hugely-experienced back four and allowed the likes of Raphael Augusto to venture forward with the confidence that he was covered defensively.

Much like Sergio Busquets, N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic are crucial to their side’s performances in this respect, Ganesh provided a quick, powerful and decisive mind in midfield that was invaluable to Chennai’s title run. So, it came as quite a blow to Gregory and the Marina Machans when the news broke that the 27-year-old would be missing out on the early part of the season due to a knee injury.

When the Englishman was brought into the Chennaiyi fold, to replace the departing Marco Matterazi, he emphasized that he would focus on shoring up the defence, which would bear fruit in the form of more results. He was true to his word and the inclusion of Ganesh was a masterstroke by the tactician.

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The Men in Blue conceded only 19 goal throughout the 2017-2018 season in a display of discipline and aggression in equal measure at the back. However, this season, the South Indian side have conceded four goals in their opening two games and managed to find the back of the net only once.

This points to a lack of creativity by the midfielders as well as the absence of defensive stability. The likes of Augusto and Gregory Nelson have often been pegged back, in attempts to add an extra body to the defence. Had Ganesh been in the side, the duo would have been given the licence to roam further forward.

Issac Vanmalsawma was brought into the starting lineup to replace Ganesh and has so far failed to live up to the standards set by his predecessor. Against FC Goa, Chennaiyin were pitted against what is arguably the league’s most potent attack and their lack of defensive confidence was there for all to see. Where the Marina Machans thrived last season, they were punished just a few months hence.

Prior to the start of the season, John Gregory stated that Chennaiyin would not change the style of their play in the Tamilian’s absence which may have been the wrong call. As it stands, the team will need to be stronger in midfield and adding an extra central midfielder to the mix could be the answer.

Chennaiyin now have a tough road ahead of them with little room for error, if they are to get into the top four and qualify for the playoffs. They will be hoping that their Tamilian talisman is back, fit and firing as soon as possible.