ISL 2017: National team camps disrupted Chennaiyin FC's pre-season plans, claims coach
Season 2 champions Chennaiyin FC, get their campaign underway in ISL 2017 on Sunday evening, when they host old rivals FC Goa at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Chennai. Chennaiyin, in fact, beat Goa in the memorable final two years ago, to lift the trophy, when the two sides had a rather heated encounter, at the Fatorda Stadium, in Goa.
However, the scene this time has drastically changed with both Marco Materazzi and Zico, the two, longest-tenured, coaches in ISL no longer leading their respective sides.
John Gregory is at the helm of affairs at Chennaiyin FC for this season and the Englishman looked ready for his team's campaign to get underway as he spoke to media ahead of the game.
"I'm just looking forward to getting started. I got excited watching the opening ceremony yesterday and obviously the game after. It wasn't a great game, but the outcome was a great result for us. We're only one point behind the leaders," Gregory said with a touch of humour.
He also said that barring one player, he has the whole of his squad available for the opener on Sunday.
"We're in pretty good shape to be fair. We've got all 25 players in our squad. Germanpreet, who's come back from the national team, picked up a bit of a knock though, while on national duty. He might not make the game tomorrow, but we anticipate he'll be fit for the game on Thursday. Other than that everyone else is in good condition," said the Englishman.
Gregory though expressed concern with the Indian national team players' workload and about the importance of keeping them in good condition.
"Unfortunately, for three weeks we lost our international players, the boys that have been away with their national teams. That has disrupted some of our plans. Some of the guys, like Jeje, have not been able to play because of national duty. So we've not always had a full squad," he said.
"It'll be very intriguing to see because the India boys who've returned, they've been training and playing at a very high intensity while the others have not. We will have to monitor Jeje, Jerry, Germanpreet and Thapa because they've been playing continually for a long time and have had literally no rest whatsoever. These boys have played plenty in the last 3 months while the others haven't. Fortunately, the international teams don't play until next March, which is a blessing," added Gregory.
Speaking about their opponents tomorrow, Gregory called his opposite number Sergio Lobera "a nice guy" and went on to say that his side has a fair idea of what to expect in their contest with Goa.
"Obviously I've met Sergio. He's got his ideas on how he wants his team to play. So we can expect them to play in a very Spanish style, keeping possession of the football and wanting to press in our half of the pitch. We have a rough idea of what exactly will be their starting lineup," said the Chennaiyin coach.
Chennaiyin's lead striker Jeje Lalpekhlua was also present with his coach. The Mizo man, being, one of the five players retained by the club. The India forward too sounded upbeat about the upcoming season.
"This year I think we have the team to win the trophy. I feel our squad is very strong compared to the last three years. I think it's the best we have had," said Jeje.
When asked if the drawn-out nature of the tournament this season, he said that it would only help him and the other players immensely.
"Yes, I think it's very important for sure. For the players and for the coaches also. When you get time for recovery and preparing for the next game, it will help the league and players. I hope it will help all the players play better," Jeje added.
After three years under Materazzi, Jeje has a new voice now in the dugout to listen to and when asked about what he's learned new, Jeje was quick to talk about pressing.
"Compared to Marco, yes it's a bit different. I have to now press very high as a striker. I need to work harder there where I need to from the start run and press for the ball," Jeje replied.
Chennaiyin FC had done miseraby last season, finishing second from bottom in the league. This, right after they won the ISL in 2015. They will be looking to start afresh this season, ass they go looking for their second ISL title.