Chennaiyin FC finally managed to get their first win of the 2016 Indian Super League season after a 2-0 win at home against FC Goa on Thursday night. In what was a match-up between last year's finalists, first-half goals from Hans Mulder and captain for the evening Mehrajuddin Wadoo ensured the three points for the home side, giving the defending champions a much-needed boost.
Dutchman Mulder opened the scoring with his superbly placed shot from just outside the box in the 15th minute which beat Goa keeper Laxmikant Kattimani to give his side the lead. It was Mulder's second goal of the tournament, in what turned out to be a very good overall performance from the midfielder, his best game so far in the tournament.
Along with Mulder, Raphael Augusto and Baljit Sahni also had very good games and together the trio were key in Chennaiyin’s first victory of the season.
Blasi’s addition plugs gap
Chennaiyin coach Marco Materazzi made four changes from the side that started the previous game against the Delhi Dynamos. The change though was not just in personnel, but also in the formation. After having gone with a 4-4-2 in the previous two games, Materazzi went with a 4-1-4-1 essentially with Manuele Blasi sitting ahead of the defence as a screener.
Davide Succi played as the lone striker meaning India’s Jeje Lalpekhlua was consigned to the bench. Eli Sabia partnered John Arne Riise in central defence, replacing club captain Bernard Mendy with the Frenchman having looked very uncertain in the opening two games.
Previously, Mulder and Augusto had played in a two-man central midfield, tasked with the responsibility of getting back to cover in defence as well as try and kickstart attacks. The opposition though had in the two games managed to overpower them quite easily, leaving them with too much ground to cover and cut off from the forward line.
This had put a lot of pressure as a result on Chennaiyin’s defence. Nowhere else was it more illustrated than in the Delhi game, where huge empty pockets of space were visible as the midfield duo were run ragged by Delhi’s attacking unit leaving Mendy, Riise and the rest of Chennaiyin’s defence heavily exposed.
Thursday night against Goa, with Blasi covering the defence, we saw Augusto and Mulder venture further forward to be more involved in the attacking third and the move paid off. Baljit Sahni, Chennaiyin’s most consistent player over the three games, also found this move helpful as he now had support venturing forward down the right flank as opposed to toiling away all alone.
Mulder, Sahni and Augusto excel
Mulder and Augusto playing further forward provided Jayesh Rane and Sahni out wide with support. It also meant the full-backs, Wadoo and Jerry Lalrinzuala weren't forced to overlap as much, providing more defensive cover when possession was lost.
Mulder had 60 passes with the one goal, Augusto had 54 passes with the one assist (for Mulder's goal) and Sahni had 50 passes with an assist as well (for Wadoo’s). Only Blasi (61) had more passes than Mulder, but those came in a defensive role. Wadoo (55 passes, one goal) was the only other player to rank in the same bracket.
Sahni and Augusto were especially impactful, pressing the Goa defence when not in possession, something that wasn't seen much in the previous two games. Sahni continues to impress as he's given it his all in every game since his move from Atletico de Kolkata.
The advanced positioning of Mulder and Augusto also helped Chennaiyin in effecting threatening counter-attacks, though they couldn't quite finish any of them on the night.
Succi’s hard work not in vain
Up front Davide Succi as the lone striker put in a gruelling, spirit-laden shift, running the channels and challenging for headers to try and get knockdowns.
He may not feature too much in the highlights, but his efforts paid off because Mulder and Augusto were always close by to get to a lot of those knockdowns. Succi was also effective in holding the ball up whenever the team cleared their lines and looked to counter, waiting to bring Sahni, Mulder and Augusto into the game.
When not in possession, Rane and Sahni would tuck inside to make it a four across the middle screen (with Mulder and Augusto) making it difficult for Goa to catch them out defensively. Even on the few occasions that Goa got into threatening positions, Chennaiyin had enough bodies back to deal with the danger. Mulder especially was there at the right place to make a couple of last-ditch tackles during the game.
Chennaiyin have seven days before their next game, away to NorthEast United in Guwahati on October 20th. The week-long break will provide much-needed recovery time after what was a physically exhausting game. Materazzi mentioned afterwards that for the next game, it will be important to pick the best first eleven, considering form, fitness, opposition et al.
They will need to as well since the Blues of Chennai have never beaten The Highlanders yet over the course of two seasons. However, Thursday night they beat Goa at home for the first time (the away side had won every time in clashes between these two sides, including last year's final which was played in Goa). And Materazzi's tactical tweak was instrumental in that, helping him get the best out of Mulder and Augusto, in turn raising the overall level of the entire team.
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