ISL 2017: Chennaiyin FC banking on strong defensive record ahead of semi-final against FC Goa
The second semi-final of the ISL 2017-18 will take place tonight as FC Goa will take on Chennayin FC at the Fatorda Stadium. The fixture will once again see the top attacking team in the ISL take on the top defensive team.
Chennayin has kept seven clean sheets in the ISL which is joint highest with Jamshedpur FC while FC Goa has scored 42 goals which is the highest in the competition. The teams have some history which includes the nerve-wracking 5-4 game at the Fatorda in 2016, that infamous final that saw Chennai lift the ISL title at FC Goa's home stadium and recently the 1-0 game that saw Chennai take all 3 points the last time the two sides met at the Fatorda.
Speaking to media, Chennayin FC's Head Coach, John Gregory said ''It wasn’t an accident that we finished second in the league and it certainly wasn’t an accident that we won away from home against Pune, Jamshedpur, Bangalore but we also lost to teams like Northeast. Yes, we do have good results against the other teams in the Top 4.
"We seem to get up for the big games this season, when we came here a few weeks ago we managed to get the result we wanted. We deserved and earned the right to be in the position that we are in today and we are ready! A lot of players have been resting as I have given them the opportunity to rest since we played Kerala on the 23rd of Feb and they are all fired up and ready to go.''
On being asked what he felt regarding his team being apparent favourites for tomorrow's game, Gregory said, '' Who said we were favourites? I think all 4 teams are level going into this one and one game has been played already so that game is still at stake. We are a team, every team that we played against this season, we've have had to work hard to get the result and now we all start from scratch. FC GOA is an outstanding team and there was a lot of pressure on them they had to come from behind, I think they were in 6th at one point or something and yeah, to fight and get back into the Top 4, shows their quality.''
With the away goal rule coming back into play in this season's semi-finals, the Chennai coach admitted that he was a fan of the away goal rule and stressed on how important it is to score in today's crunch fixture. He said, ''Yeah, I'm a fan of the away goal rule. During my playing days, all we had was a coin toss at the end of the game to decide who goes through, so this is way better. Even Bengaluru struggled to score which is unusual, but now if Pune scored a goal in Bangalore then the whole tie would be thrown into chaos because a draw would be enough to go through, otherwise, Bengaluru would have to score 2.
"So yeah, it's important to keep a clean sheet but, in Goa's case. But if you manage to score an away goal it will be a huge advantage. We need to score tomorrow night and we've had our best performances on the road, so we are hoping we can have another one tomorrow''
Besides keeping the most number of clean sheets in the ISL, Chennayin FC has also kept the second most number of clean sheets away from home and have done so in their last game vs FC Goa at the Fatorda. The last time John Gregory's team visited Goa he stressed a lot on how his defence had been a rock for the team and its something they use to their advantage.
The coach once again expressed how he would continue to use his experienced defensive unit as an advantage saying ''We had a little bit of luck towards the end of the match when goa put us under a lot of pressure (the last time the two sides met) but the 3 foreign boys have been consistent and they have performed really well in a lot of matches. We have basically molded our team around our rock solid defense.
"Whenever the defence has made a couple of mistakes there's always been Karanjit to sweep up and cover, he's had a great season too and of course young Jerry has been superb as a fullback, playing with our 3 foreign boys has really helped him adapt and build a style, he's had a really good season too and has progressed well.''
Another point that Coach Gregory will be focusing on is how his team plays as a unit and puts in a collective effort for every game this season. Chennayin FC has 12 different goal scorers in this season's edition of the ISL, which is the most by any team.
However, 70% of their goals have been scored by Coro and Lanzarote. The duo has together scored 30 goals and assisted 11 and hence often come under question of being very dependent on their star performers.
Gregory spoke on the matter saying ''Yeah I think if you look at goal scorers we've got many goal scorers I think 12 of them and they have all contributed at some point of the season. Sure, we don't have outstanding goal scorers like Lanza and Coro, even though Lanza plays as a midfielder he strikes the ball really well. They're both very clinical and score many time this season. But our guys get the job done too, we got players who when you need to score usually someone or the other stands up and delivers''
''We are stronger defensively and we will use that to our advantage we also did keep a clean sheet the last time we visited here. We finished the regular season in 2nd position and we are hard to beat because we are a good team but had we had the clinical or goal scorers like FC Goa then we would have probably won the league in December or so,'' joked Gregory.