Two-time champions Chennaiyin FC go into the sixth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) looking to put behind them last year's disappointing campaign.
Chennaiyin, who finished last in the 10-team league in 2018-19, have left nothing to chance this year as their acquisitions for the upcoming season have been exciting. Despite the disastrous campaign, the franchise’s management has retained the coach and some of the prominent players from last season. However, the performance of their new foreign signings will be key to their title aspirations.
With a perfect mix of experienced players and young talent, 'Super Machans' believe that they can redeem themselves this year. For the upcoming edition of the glitzy league which kickstarts on October 20, they have secured the services of nine new players that include six foreigners.
Chennaiyin have a midfield packed with some extremely talented foreign recruits. Brazilian Rafael Crivellaro will dictate the flow of the game in the middle in the company of Romanian Dragos Firtulescu. They have also signed former Afghanistan international Masih Saighani, who can be used as a central defensive midfielder or a central defender.
The presence of young Indian talents such as Dhanpal Ganesh, Thoi Singh, Anirudh Thapa, Germanpreet Singh, and Lallianzuala Chhangte will give them the much needed steel and balance at the centre of the pitch.
Riding on foreign power
The team’s defence flaunts some familiar names, both Indian and foreign. Brazilian centre-back Eli Sabia will be entrusted with the task of marshaling the backline. He is expected to form a solid partnership with Romanian Lucian Goian, who spent three seasons at Mumbai City FC.
The Indians in their defence are Jerry Lalrinzuala, Edwin Vanspaul, Tondonba Singh, Laldinliana Renthlei, Zohmingliana Ralte, Hendry Antonay, Reamsochung Aimol, and Deepak Tangri.
The highlight of Chennaiyin’s well-balanced attack is the presence of two Indian stars - Jeje Lalpekhlua, who captains the side, and Rahim Ali. However, the team will heavily depend on Lithuanian international Nerijus Valskis and Maltese striker Andre Schembri Nobrega to take them forward in the grueling five-month-long league.
Karanjit Singh, who manned the goalpost in the last edition, will be the first-choice keeper. Chennaiyin have also signed former FC Pune City custodian Vishal Kaith, and former Jamshedpur FC goalkeeper Sanjiban Ghosh.
The age factor
Despite changing their core team of players, Chennaiyin appear to be well equipped to clinch their third ISL title. However, as most of these players do not have much experience playing together, the challenge for the coach would be to build a cohesive team. The average age of the players is also a concern for them. Among the established players, only Jeje Lalpekhlua is below 30.
John Gregory has previously managed several EPL teams such as Portsmouth, Aston Villa, and Queens Park Rangers. A former England international, he was a constant fixture in midfield for the likes of Northampton Town and Queens Park Rangers. The 65-year-old, who has won six caps for England, started his coaching career at Portsmouth about 25 years ago. He last managed Crawley Town before stepping down in 2014.
Stars to watch
The 30-year-old Brazilian attacking midfielder Crivellaro joined Chenniayin after a two-year spell at Portuguese top-tier side CD Feirense. He also has had spells at Ajman Club (UAE), Wisla Krakow (Poland), FC Arouca (Portugal) and Iranian outfit Sepahan. The enterprising midfielder was a key member of the Arouca side that competed in the UEFA Europa League in the 2016-17 season.
The 36-year-old Romanian centre-back has played over 50 matches for Mumbai City over three seasons. Before joining the ISL, he spent most of his career playing for different clubs in his country, followed by stints in China and Australia. He has also appeared in 12 matches for the Romanian U-21 team. A towering figure, Goian was an integral part of the Mumbai City team that reached the ISL play-offs twice in 2016 and 2018-19.
Currently, Jeje is the second highest Indian goal-scorer in the ISL. Considered to be one of the best in the business in the country, the diminutive striker from Mizoram is more of a poacher and focuses on being in the right place at the right time. The two-time champions will be pinning their hopes on the 28-year-old prolific striker to steer their title aspirations.