With an Eye on History, Chennaiyin FC Look to be Consistent During Demanding Season
In the short history of the Indian Super League, the title defense has generally not been a nice story for the defending champions, more so for the two-time winners Chennaiyin FC, who finished second from bottom the year after winning the title in dramatic fashion in Goa against FC Goa.
Chennaiyin FC. (Image: Chennaiyin FC/Twitter)
In the short history of the Indian Super League, the title defense has generally not been a nice story for the defending champions, more so for the two-time winners Chennaiyin FC, who finished second from bottom the year after winning the title in dramatic fashion in Goa against FC Goa. Similarly, the second title came via a lot of intense and heated on-field battles, and defending the crown to create history is the agenda for Chennaiyin FC.
Coach John Gregory insists that it is his foremost aim and believes his side, which has seen some changes in personnel, are perfectly geared up to pick up from where they left off last season. Actually, they have no choice as the opening fixture pits them against Bengaluru FC in a rematch of the final last season.
“I am back here for another season, because I believe this team has the potential to become the first team to retain the ISL title. We have to go out there and do it with more consistency,” says Gregory.
“When teams will play us, they will bring more than 120% to the table as they have extra motivation given they are playing the champions.”
Chennaiyin come into this season have retained a huge chunk of their title winning squad. Whilst former captain Henrique Sereno has left the club, Mailson Alves will be expected to lead the defense alongside Inigo Calderon, new recruit El Sabia and Jerry. An injury to one of the most important cogs in the midfield Dhanapal Ganesh, means younger players like Anirudh Thapa along with Germanpreet Singh will have their task cut out.
“Anirudh Thapa was very impressive last season, but he has to forget the past. This will be a big year for him and he has to be consistent and realise his potential. Both he and Germanpreet are very mature and talented players.”
Ahead of the youngsters, one expects to see the familiar faces in Jeje, Raphael Agusto and Gregory Nelson, who will hope to terrorise opposition defenses. Chennaiyin scored 31 goals last season and averaged a goal and half every game, whilst in defense, they kept a total of eight clean sheets and conceded 19 goals in the league stages.
“Like the last season, we have to play as a team and right from Jeje we will look to defend from the front whenever needed. I feel we are well-stocked in all areas of the pitch, with the ones waiting in the wings quite hungry to impress. They have to work hard for it and earn it,” Gregory noted.
For the Chennai side, the season will see them involved in more games than previous times, as they make their continental debut in the AFC Cup. This puts pressure on Gregory and his backroom staff to keep everyone fit and firing so that squad rotation and the bench strength is not a worry.
“The AFC Cup debut is big moment for the club and shows the progress it has made in such short time. Our first objective will be to make it to the group stages and the players we have are more than capable and are an inspired lot who want to keep the flag flying high.
“Everyone is really excited about the AFC Cup.”
Whilst not much has changed in terms of the key players and the on-field driving forces for the team, Gregory, who likes change has turned things around behind the scenes. Paul Groves, former colleague at Crawley Town and Kevin Hitchcock, the goal keeping coach have been roped in as Gregory looks for fresher ideas and keep complacency more than a mile away as they target unchartered territory in the short history of the competition.
The defending champions begin their campaign against Bengaluru FC in Bangalore on September 30, a day after the opening match which will see fellow two-time champions ATK take on Kerala Blasters in Kolkata.
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