The defending champions have been marred by difficulties upfront since the start of the season.
Two months in and the Indian Super League has given its share of surprises for this year. Currently, in its fifth season, the league has seen late twists in tales, unexpected outcomes and unpredictable slumps. What stands out the most in the 2018-19 campaign is the stunning fall of defending champions Chennaiyin FC. The Marina Machans won the title by beating favourites Bengaluru FC in a tightly-contested affair in the final, but ever since the beginning of the term, they have looked weak and overworked. Head coach John Gregory has looked clueless on the sidelines while his side have been brushed aside on several occasions.
Chennaiyin have conceded more goals so far than they did in the whole of last season
It is not hard to see where the problem is for Chennaiyin this season. Gregory’s defence was a thing of beauty last season, letting in only 19 goals in 18 matches in the league phase. This season, however, the Marina Machans have conceded 21 goals in the 11 matches played so far and also have the joint worst record in the league tied with FC Pune City. The glaring holes in the rearguard draw attention away from their other big problem – their toothless attack.
Chennaiyin have scored 12 goals this season, the fifth highest in the league. Although, the figure looks good enough on paper, it fails to depict the difficulties the side have faced in attack. The outfit from Tamil Nadu have had eight goalscorers this season and only one of those eight have scored two or more. A notable exclusion from this list is the usually dependable Jeje Lalpekhlua.
Lalpekhlua is yet to find the back of the net this season
The “Mizo Sniper” was Chennaiyin’s top scorer last season and has scored 22 goals over the first four ISL campaigns. However, this season, the Indian international is yet to find the net despite getting more than 532 minutes of playing time. The striker has had only seven shots in 10 matches and has only managed 16 touches/game and 13.1 passes/game. But, the drop in Jeje’s efficiency is not the sole reason behind Chennaiyin’s suffering.
Compared to last season, the side have been more efficient with their passing, making 470.73 passes/game which is 50 more than last season. They are ranked second in that category in the league only behind Sergio Lobera’s FC Goa. They are also managing to create shots with more frequency compared to last term. There is a remarkable increase in this area from 9.76 shots every game to a whopping 12.91 shots per game this season. All signs point to an increased offensive output compared to last campaign. Then what exactly is going wrong with Gregory’s offensive setup?
The answer is pretty simple: the efficiency. Despite having at least more than three shots per game compared to last season, the Chennaiyin attack has failed to keep them on target. In the 2017-18 campaign, the Marina Machans had 4.81 shots on target per game, which meant that close to 50% of their shots had the tendency to trouble the opposition’s goalkeeper. This season, even though they have had more shots every game, the two-time champions have lesser shots on target compared to their title-winning term. The number has fallen down to 4.09 shots on target/game and the shot accuracy has gone down to a concerning 31.68%.
Lalpekhlua and Co. have failed to capitalize on the openings created by their domination on the ball and it has hurt Chennaiyin badly. Even the goal conversion rate has dipped from last season. The defending champions have only converted 26.67% of their shots on target this season compared to 30.7% last term.
Last season, Gregory’s side had failed to score in only two matches. Despite, only 11 matches being played, Chennaiyin have gone goalless in five matches. Moreover, five of their twelve goals this season have come from set-pieces, with the attack failing to make good of their opportunities from open play.
It is evident that Chennaiyin’s defence has been woeful this season, but they are not the only reason behind the Marina Machans’ fall from the top. The attack has been uninspiring and if Gregory stays he will need to push them to be more clinical and capitalize on their chances in front of goal. It might be too late for a playoff push, but if they want to finish the season strongly, the Marina Machans will need their attack to show their desire and clinical edge in the remaining matches.