ISL 2016: Chennaiyin's strong physical play contains NorthEast United
When Chennaiyin FC arrived in Guwahati for their one of the toughest away test, Coach Marco Materazzi had a definite plan in his mind. It was on the same day, exactly a year ago that he saw his team being beaten 2-0 on the very same ground after a very heated match. Since then, Chennai’s quest for victory against the Highlanders just intensified.
Even in the pre-match conference, no-nonsense Materazzi made it very clear that if his team played well, they can surely beat the home side.
Chennaiyin started the match with three changes in their starting XI. Surprisingly marquee player John Arne Riise made way for Bernard Mendy, who sat out against Goa. Jayesh Rane was dropped while Maurizio Peluso and Siam Hanghal were given a start.
As for NorthEast United FC, it was just one change with Nirmal Chettri making his comeback after suspension while Reagan Singh sat out.
NorthEast, almost playing with the same combination and formation this time around faced a very different game. With the average height of Chennaiyin defenders being way taller than the home team‘s forward line, NorthEast United found it extremely difficult to penetrate into the opposition box.
Chennai’s physical game
From what it seems, Materazzi soaked his players into his philosophy of playing a physical game as even the slim and lanky Siam Hanghal pressed very hard. It was a particularly rough game with a surprisingly lenient referee.
Three foreign players from Chennai evidently made their mark in the game. Frenchmen Bernard Mendy stood like a rock in front of the goal and buffered the Alfaro and Velez attack. Things became far easier for him when Nicolas Velez was pulled off in the 38th minute due on an injury scare. The remaining part of the first half then saw a toothless attack of NorthEast as Chennaiyin gave them no space or chance to enter the box. Mendy’s tackles were unbeatable and because of his height, Alfaro could not win at air battle.
However, if Nelo Vingada is to be believed, it was Alfaro’s fatigue that restricted him from performing upfront, not Mendy’s physical game. Yes, he agreed that the Chennaiyin defender was quick, but had Alfaro been fresh, he would be beaten him well.
In the midfield, it was Brazilian Raphael Augusto who did quite some damage for NorthEast. In Materazzi’s words, a very naturally physical player, Augusto dismantled NorthEast’s defence single-handedly. The otherwise in shape backline was disoriented as everyone bundled up to tackle the Brazilian. This gave forward Davide Succi and Maurizio Peluso a lot of time and space to enter the box and attack. Many a time, the NorthEast defenders kept the post open as they missed their markers to contain Augusto’s play.
North East players playing against NorthEast United
Also, two Chennai players should be specially mentioned, 18-year-old Jerry Lalrinzusala and Siam Hanghal. Both the Indians showed brilliant gameplay and adhered to Materazzi’s plan very well. Hanghal, who was given his first start of the season, was the crucial assist provider, as Davide Succi ended his 18-month goal drought with a spectacular goal.
Playing in his familiar ground, the ex-NorthEast United player Hanghal was also crucial in countering the pace and attack of Holicharan Narzary, a job very well done.
With a distinct playing pattern, it was very evident that Chennaiyin physically dominated the entire game over NorthEast. Eli Sabia Filho, Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Mendy, all of the three had a comparatively stronger and taller built over the NorthEast players, and they used it very well.
Better luck next time NorthEast
As for NorthEast, it was relatively a lacklustre performance. Towards the later part of the second half, the team did pick up very well, winning three back to back corners in the 74th minute. But it was all too late for the home side.
After Velez pulled out, Nelo Vingada substituted midfielder Wellington Priori to counter the physical play of the opposition. The effectiveness of the change wasn’t very evident only until the last few moments, but Priori’s lack of precision in the finishing did hurt the home team. Later, Nelo made two attacking substitutions. He played Sumit Passi and new signing Robert Cullen. The Portuguese made every possible attempt to sharpen his attack, but it just wasn’t his day.
The defence, on the other hand, was again handled by the team’s marquee signing Didier Zokora. The vastly experienced Ivory Coast midfielder, who is exploring his new role as a centre-back once again proved his wit as he solely tried containing a lot of attacks. So, whenever Augusto attacked, Zokora did not tackle him, he instead brought his backline into shape. This gave no space to the Chennai forward line and forced Augusto to change his plan.
Yes, there were a few fumbling moments for the highest capped Ivory Coast player, but he was also visibly very tired. NorthEast was playing their sixth match in a span of 20 days and Nelo Vingada hasn’t rotated his players that much.
As for Chennai, it was one of their toughest tests as playing in front of 32,844 NorthEast supporters isn’t an easy task. But they take away a valuable 3 points to bring their title defense on track.
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