ISL 2017/18: "It's a demanding schedule, but my players are ready," says Chennaiyin coach John Gregory
Chennaiyin FC will be playing their third game in the span of eight days in the Indian Super League when they host Jamshedpur FC in Chennai on Sunday evening. The two teams are separated by just two points, as they currently sit third and fourth respectively on the table. And the fixture presents a chance for both to cement their places in the upcoming playoffs.
For Chennaiyin, they have had matches coming thick and fast of late, facing teams playing contrasting styles. Speaking to the media ahead of the game, their coach John Gregory felt that while they have made some slight adjustments, the game plan from them stays pretty much the same.
"We don't really change too much and our formation tends to usually be the same," said Gregory. "We literally play with one striker in Jeje and two wide men. So nothing really changes in terms of who we play. Some of the personnel we change."
He went on to add: "These teams all kind of present different sorts of problems. You just have to be aware of the kind of opposition you're going to face."
Chennaiyin are coming off an important win away from home at FC Goa on Thursday night. Gregory felt that his side's performance in that game was on the money.
"The other night against Goa, we knew it was going to be extremely difficult to get the ball from them. They build very slowly and deliberately from the back and they are a very talented passing football team. And we knew that if we went into their half to try and get the ball, they could pass their way around us. We made slight adjustments tactically when not in possession going into that game. Tactically I thought my players got it spot on," a pleased Gregory explained.
"It was an absolutely crucial game which we ended up winning and we kept a clean sheet which we haven't done in a while. So from that point of view we were really delighted with everything," noted Gregory.
Talking about their opponents Sunday in Jamshedpur, Gregory had much praise for them.
"Jamshedpur, they're a slightly different team, in that they have players who give incredible effort. Steve (Coppell) and Wally (Downes) between them have gotten unbelievable performances out of their team," he said.
Chennaiyin will be without two of their starting XI players on Sunday - Dhanapal Ganesh and Gregory Nelson - both picked up automatic suspensions after collecting their eighth and fourth yellow cards of the campaign respectively against Goa. Ganesh was booked for shoving Goa's Manuel Lanzarote in the chest with both hands inside the first 10 minutes.
In response to whether Ganesh needed to rein himself in a little more, Gregory said: "Well, I don't want to really stop the way he performs. He's been very good for us this season and the way he goes about his job, he does draw attention to himself because he's wholehearted. He's never afraid to tackle, he gets involved in central midfield, does all the things you'd want from one of your midfielders."
He did admit though that he needed to avoid a repeat of what happened against Goa: "There have been times possibly, like with the yellow card against Goa the other night where it was needless. In that situation, he just had to turn around and walk away. So that particular incident was senseless. And he needs to learn quickly not to pick up silly yellow cards like that."
"I think as he progresses and gains more and more experience, he will understand the value he has to this team," Gregory added.
Chennaiyin have racked up more yellow cards than any other team in the competition though and have had to deal with key players missing out due to suspension. Their coach, however, denied that discipline was an issue for his side.
"I don't think there's any discipline problem whatsoever. 95 percent of our yellow cards have probably come from rash tackles," Gregory quipped. "If you look at the bookings we've got, it's generally been for a tackle, some kind of contact. The booking, like the one Ganesh got the other night, I don't think we've got many. We're just a very competitive side. Our points tally will show you that we compete all over the pitch. So we do pick up a few yellows from time to time, but I don't think there's a problem."
The win against Goa was Chennaiyin's eighth of the season, but they haven't been able to muster up any sort of momentum like they did earlier in the season as they've failed to put together successive wins for quite some time now. Gregory, however, defended his team's recent showings.
"We went to Delhi the other night which has been a tricky away fixture for one or two teams this season and we've come away with a point. To be perfectly honest with you, I was delighted to have gotten something from the match," exclaimed the Englishman.
Despite the gruelling recent schedule, Gregory mentioned that there are no fitness concerns for the game.
"The whole squad's in good shape, everyone's available. Bikram came back against Goa after being on the sidelines for some time. He had a very good game for us. You've seen the period of games we've had starting with Bengaluru on the 6th. In nine days we've played three matches. It's been an incredibly tough schedule, but I think my players have shown the determination, the resolve and the fitness level."
The two suspensions according to him is a chance for the players who've been sitting out: "With two guys missing out, it's a chance for two others. I'm sure they won't let the team down," he said to close the session.