In November 2019, Chennaiyin FC languished in the bottom trenches of the ISL, with no palpable light at the end of the gloomy tunnel they found themselves in. To put things into perspective, John Gregory, the head coach then, cut an extremely desolate figure and one that seemed resigned to his and of course, the Marina Machans’ fate.
Yet, akin to one of those rare footballing fairy tales, Chennaiyin FC, courtesy the arrival of a certain Owen Coyle, turned things around spectacularly to stitch together a run worthy of the champions of yesteryear. And, rather remarkably, they navigated their way into the semi-final of the competition, despite being written off for large swathes of the campaign.
Thus, several opined that the Marina Machans, armed with an extraordinary amount of momentum, had morphed into the outfit that each side would’ve wanted to avoid in the knock-out phases.
However, those notions have slightly fallen on deaf ears over the past few hours, considering Chennaiyin FC are slated to clash swords against a team that is perhaps one of the most well-oiled units the league has ever seen.
FC Goa, still seething from their loss to Bengaluru FC in the 2018-19 summit clash, began the term like a team possessed. The Gaurs kept scoring for fun and though they looked a bit shaky defensively on occasions, they frequently boasted enough attacking pedigree to offset it.
Consequently, the two-legged contest has morphed into one where there are subplots aplenty, none more so than the question mark over Clifford Miranda’s ability to hold his own tactically against an experienced manager of the ilk of Owen Coyle.
Hence, with the first-leg just a couple of days away, the time seems ripe to indulge in a bit of analysis and delve deeper into what modus operandi both sides might prefer, considering the strengths and weakness possessed by each outfit.
Chennaiyin FC vs FC Goa: Tactical Preview
For much of Coyle’s stint, the Marina Machans have showcased a proclivity to attack and do so at pace, meaning that the likes of Lallianzuala Chhangte and Rafael Crivellaro have thrived. Additionally, Nerijus Valskis has held the ball up well, thereby according his midfielders the requisite time to haul themselves higher up the pitch and swarm the opposition half.
More impressively though, in their away fixtures against ATK and Mumbai City FC, Chennaiyin FC displayed another facet to their game, one where they were also content to sit deep and wait for the opposition to over-commit men before hitting them with the proverbial sucker punch.
Against FC Goa too, one reckons that Chennaiyin FC might want to sit back and invite the Gaurs onto them, although that might not be something most teams might prefer. However, while that might seem madness prima facie, there is a hint of method to it too.
FC Goa, for all their irresistible attacking verve, have somehow been immensely susceptible to letting games slip after the break. In fact, they allowed Kerala Blasters, Odisha FC, Mumbai City FC and of course, the Marina Machans a route back into the game.
Thus, Coyle’s troops might look to congest the midfield and hope to rid Brandon Fernandes and Hugo Boumous of space in the centre of the park, thereby blunting the Gaurs’ attacking potency.
Subsequently, that could prompt Goa to foray further forward and leave the back door open, which would eventually help Chennaiyin dent the Gaurs. Moreover, the longer the away side are kept quiet, the more impatient they would get, which could help the Marina Machans exploit Goa’s tendency to ship goals in the second half.
Clifford, on the other hand, would want his charges to impose their passing identity on the encounter from the outset and pin the hosts back immediately. For the above to materialize, Ahmed Jahouh and Lenny Rodrigues would be pivotal, considering the pair’s ability to control the tempo of the match and break through the opposition’s pressing lines.
Besides, Boumous would hope to get goal side of Anirudh Thapa and Edwin Vanspaul as often as possible. Consequently, that would allow the Gaurs to directly attack the Marina Machans’ rear-guard and perhaps capitalize on their slight lack of pace.
However, Goa’s most vital attacking threat could down the left flank, where Mandar Rao Dessai could play a crucial role.
Over the entirety of the season, the left-back has marauded forward and has been involved in the Gaurs’ offensive movements. In fact, his propensity to play high up the pitch has enabled Boumous and Brandon to venture in-field and create tons of chances for Ferran Corominas.
Furthermore, Dinliana, at this juncture, arguably represents Chennaiyin’s weakest defensive line, thereby prompting Goa to target his wing and use that as a potential source for creating openings.
Having said that though, the contest could still boil down to how certain individuals match up against each other, something that usually proves the decisive tilting scale in such clutch clashes.
Chennaiyin FC vs FC Goa: Key Battles
Anirudh Thapa vs Hugo Boumous
The pair has distinguished itself throughout the 2019-20 term and has embodied their respective teams’ approach to the tee. While Thapa has grown in stature under Coyle, Boumous has gone from strength to strength and has stamped his authority on an already effervescent Goa outfit.
Thus, on Saturday, the midfielders could be up against them in what promises to be an enthralling individual contest. Though Thapa might primarily be tasked with containing the mercurial Frenchman, he could also have his attacking moments, wherein he could free himself of Boumous’ clutches and ensure a situation of numerical superiority in the middle third.
Unsurprisingly, it is a clash that could end up shaping the outcome of the match.
Lucian Goian vs Ferran Corominas
Akin to the past couple of seasons, Coro has maintained his scoring standards, meaning that the Gaurs have not struggled for a consistent supply for goals. However, at the Marina Arena, his task could be cut out against Lucian Goian, a defender who enters the game on the back of a stunning performance against Mumbai City FC.
The Romanian centre-back might look to control the Spaniard by using his physicality whereas the latter would hope to utilize his spatial awareness and speed to get the better of him.
If Goian manages to keep Coro quiet, Chennaiyin FC might fancy their chances of establishing a first-leg lead. However, if the above were to not come to fruition, one reckons that the Gaurs might just prove to be a little too hot to handle for the Marina Machans.
Rafael Crivellaro vs Ahmed Jahouh
After a slightly patchy beginning to the season, Crivellaro found his groove and has now established himself as one of Chennaiyin’s paramount attacking cogs.
The Brazilian’s ability to glide between the lines and carve open defences has allowed Valskis to fire on all cylinders whereas Crivellaro’s goal-scoring attributes have also come to the fore in tight and cagey encounters.
Jahouh, meanwhile, has been colossal in midfield and has formed the ideal shield in front of the back four. Additionally, he has orchestrated the Gaurs’ attacking play and has often been the source of their flowing offensive manoeuvres.
Thus, Crivellaro versus Jahouh could have significant bearing on the result, especially considering the role the former plays in Chennaiyin’s press.
And, though one might not want to predict the outcome of this particular contest, one can expect fireworks on Saturday as two midfield behemoths cross paths.Published 26 Feb 2020, 14:27 IST