I-League: Chennai City a win away from history

Chennai City FC will make history by claiming its maiden I-League title if it can get past Minerva Punjab FC on Saturday.

Chennai City FC

Eyes on the prize: Chennai City FC players attend a training session on the eve of their I-League clash against Minerva Punjab FC. A win will guarantee the side the I-League title.   -  M. Periasamy

When Chennai City FC kicked off the I-League with a win on the opening day of the season, it would have been difficult to foresee the club topping the points table for a grand total of 129 days.

Chennai City FC vs Minerva Punjab FC - LIVE!

Gokulam Kerala FC vs East Bengal - LIVE!

For over 18 weeks, the club has repeatedly defied predictions and now earns itself the tag of 'favourite' for the crown. On Saturday, Akbar Nawas' men would certainly want to conjure the magic on the final day of the season against Minerva Punjab and go on to bag their maiden I-League championship.

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For Chennai City, which is on 40 points, a victory at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Coimbatore will see the side lift the title in front of its own fans. The red-hot away form of the chasing East Bengal, which trails by a point and plays Gokulam Kerala in Kozhikode concurrently, could possibly play on the minds of the host.

Chennai City's impressive form at home will, however, hold it in good stead ahead of thefixture. The side has picked up 23 points from a possible 27 in nine matches while scoring a remarkable 26 goals in Coimbatore.

While playing down the home advantage, coach Nawas also stressed that he and his players are not bothered about the outcome of East Bengal’s game. “I tell my players that we have (the fate of the title) in our hands. East Bengal will beat Gokulam. 100 per cent! So why worry about the match? So now we can focus on our game,” he said. 

Spanish striker Pedro Manzi, who is the division's top-scorer with 20 goals, in tandem with compatriot Sandro Rodriguez (nine goals) will hold the key for Chennai City on the day. Attacking midfielder Nestor Gordillo (eight goals) will miss the game through suspension. Pre-match training indicated that striker Jozef Kaplan will slot into the starting XI.

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Nawas acknowledged the talk of pressure surrounding the title race. “Pressure is here. I won’t lie about it by asking my players to go out and enjoy the game,” he said.

Last season's champion Minerva has endured a poor defence of its championship and currently languishes in the 10th position. Despite escaping relegation, Minerva coach Sachin Badadhe insisted that his team was not here to be bystanders to Chennai City’s procession to the title. “Definitely, we are going for three points. The pressure is on Chennai City and not on us. We are going to go for it (the win),” he said.


Chennai City has struggled to play its natural attacking game against the physically superior sides this season —Real Kashmir and Churchill Brothers — but Badadhe said his team would not be adopting a similar strategy on Saturday. 

A championship win for Chennai City would mean Nawas would have achieved in his first year in what was supposed to be a three-year process. “Whatever happens tomorrow, it’s still a process. But we want the end result to be in our favour. We need to find a way to influence the process," said Nawas.

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