ISL 2019/20: How can Chennaiyin FC bounce back after a disastrous season?
Chennaiyin FC head coach John Gregory, has witnessed his tenure plagued with two extremes within twelve months. The Blues were the Indian Super League champions in the 2017/18 season but were poles apart the following season. 2018/19 saw them pick up nine points, a record-low tally throughout a season for an ISL side. They also had a nightmare in the AFC Cup after getting knocked out in the group stage.
It was not an adventitious fiasco owing down to their failure to retain their hub in the defense and midfield department. The two-time champions lost the services of defender and skipper Henrique Sereno and Bikramjit Singh after a memorable triumph in Bengaluru.
To pile on more misery, a calamitous injury to Dhanpal Ganesh wrecked the team. The local hero spent nearly a year on the sidelines after an ACL tear, ruling him out for most parts of the last campaign. Besides the trio, the bit-part roles played by set-piece specialist Rene Mihelic and Jaime Gavilan were pivotal to their success. The Slovenian and Spaniard's absence were also part of the several reasons for their collapse.
It was entirely puzzling to witness the Marina Machans business in the transfer market. They had an opportunity to rope in supremely talented players but their failure to vitalise the squad entangled John Gregory's admirable work during his second season at the club.
Andrea Orlandi and Tondonba Singh just couldn't keep the ball rolling, while Eli Sabia, who is spending his second spell at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, was arguably their best player and has been rightly kept possession of. The number of incomings and outgoings paints the failure picture.
Inadequate results in the domestic and continental tournaments connoted the necessity to reinforce the squad to fight shy of failure after the club handed out a contract extension.
Yet again, it was a perplexing move to award a new deal for John Gregory. The Englishman cannot have complaints about the squad after getting infinite backing from the board in the transfer market. Although the Blues failed to retain Inigo Calderon, Raphael Augusto and Mailson Alves, the incomings were to the fans' liking and they are expected to hit the ground running from day one at the club.
Chennaiyin FC have added exciting players to their squad, signing local and foreign players, who have ISL experience beforehand. Lucian Goian, Lallianzuala Chhangte, and Vishal Kaith can all play a major role for them. Edwin Sydney is the other huge local signing for the club. Andre Schembri, Masih Saighani, Rafael Crivellaro, Dragos Firtulescu, and Nerijus Valskis are the foreigners to join the outfit based out of Tamil Nadu.
Some of the above-mentioned names are intriguing but the return of Dhanpal Ganesh will be critical to John Gregory's system. The Englishman was heavily dependent on the Indian midfielder during their 2017-18 title-winning season.
The landscape remains the same; Ganesh will sit in the heart of the midfield along with the Afghan Masih Saighani. Anirudh Thapa will be rewarded with an attacking role to showcase his abilities in the final third. This will lend a helping hand to the defensive department as the midfield trio has an abundance of energy to cut down the leakage of goals.
It was evidential that Masih is regarded as a defensive midfielder by John Gregory, with Eli Sabia and Lucian Goian playing as centre-backs. The duo has defensive solidity in their game but Gregory concentrates more on scoring through set-pieces. Sabia and Goian are two twoering defenders who can thrive in this system and create trouble for their opponents.
Edwin Sydney and Jerry Lalrinzuala will occupy either of the defensive flanks in the starting line-up. The Indian pair has the perfect balance in the defensive and offensive part of their game. They will have to link with wingers Chhangte and Firtulescu. These two are anticipated to keep defenders engaged with their pace and prowess by picking out delicate deliveries.
Since only five foreigners are allowed to take part, John Gregory will have to make up his mind on the roles of Nerijus Valskis and Andre Schembri. The latter has started pre-season games over the former but it remains to be seen as the battle for the striking spot heats up. Jeje Lalpekhua, who is currently in the rehabilitation process after rupturing his knee, could mark his comeback during second part of this season.
The Chennaiyin coach has players who are a good fit for his 4-2-3-1 formation. If the former Aston Villa manager gets his tactics right, the team looks more than able to charge for the league title because of the talent available.
The major pitfall of a severe revamp is the urgency to take right calls by deploying the strongest starting eleven from day one. As momentum is the key, coach John Gregory will be desiring to make a good start and set a positive tone in the early parts of the season.
On-paper, the squad looks set to break into the top four. Perhaps, it will be the least expectation among the fanbase after an exciting summer transfer window. The best they could ask for, is a title, undoubtedly.