Indian Super League: Spirited Chennaiyin FC looks to get past Odisha FC challenge

Chennaiyin FC, buoyed by its first victory of the Indian Super League (ISL 2019) season, will be keen to ride the momentum when it hosts Odisha FC on Thursday.

Chennaiyin FC players engage in a training session ahead of their Indian Super League (ISL 2019) clash against Hyderabad FC.   -  ISL MEDIA

The last-gasp win over Hyderabad FC on Monday had the Chennaiyin FC supporters buzzing at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here, something coach John Gregory said he hadn’t experienced since the playoff win over FC Goa in the title-winning season in 2018.

Buoyed by the first victory and goals of the ongoing Indian Super League (ISL)season, Chennaiyin FC will be keen to ride the momentum when it hosts Odisha FC on Thursday.

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Gregory observed, “There has been more coverage on the local media and on social media with huge amounts of tweets.” Following the win, the Englishman, too, took to Twitter after a brief period of absence during a winless streak for the club.

“I hope the players can understand what this means to so many people connected with our club and want to do this exactly the same again tomorrow night,” Gregory said at the pre-match conference on Wednesday.

Playing at home for the second time in three days, Chennaiyin will want to make its familiar surroundings count against an Odisha outfit which has been on the road since the start of the season.

 

In effect, Josep Gombau’s men have played five successive away matches, including the game against ATK in Pune, considering its home ground in Bhubaneswar is undergoing a reconstruction process.

“We are feeling that we are always playing away. Our home stadium isn’t ready. It’s difficult to always play away matches. I expect an equal game against Chennaiyin. I hope we can score an early goal tomorrow,” said the Spanish coach.

One way of making itself at ‘home’ will be if Odisha gets an early goal, which would allow it to settle in defence and use the pace on the wings — in the form of Nandhakumar Sekar, Jerry Mwhminthanga, Narayan Das and Shubham Sarangi — to sting Chennaiyin on the break.

Odisha FC will look for its second win of the Indian Super League (ISL 2019) season when it takes on Chennaiyin FC on Thursday.   -  ISL MEDIA

 

The home side will be mindful of Odisha’s threat and would be wary of asking its fullbacks – Edwin Vanspaul and Tondonba Singh – to push high up the pitch.

At the other end of the pitch, Gregory has continued to back his strikers, Nerijus Vaskis and Andre Schembri, who opened their accounts on Monday.

Seeking the right combination upfront

The possibility of Valskis and Schembri starting together looks appealing again – their pairing was ineffective in the 0-3 defeat to Bengaluru FC – but Gregory said he is still working out the right permutation to get the best out of them.

“We played the last 15 minutes [against Hyderabad FC] without any caution and in chase of that [first] goal. Certainly, we looked more threatening when Andre came on [in the 82nd minute]. It worked for us the other night,” said Gregory.

Chennaiyin FC's Andre Schembri celebrates after giving his side the lead against Hyderabad FC in the Indian Super League (ISL 2019) on Monday.   -  R. Ragu

 

In the 0-0 draw against ATK, Odisha opted to bring in experienced foreign centre-back Diawandou Diagne to deal with two strikers Roy Krishna and David Williams. But, Chennaiyin's preferred option of playing a solitary striker might allow Gombau to play an Indian centre-back and allow the return of creative midfielder Xisco Hernandez into the starting XI.

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Former Chennaiyin player Bikramjit Singh could add bite in the midfield to go with the flair of Marcos Tebar in the 4-2-3-1 formation.

Chennaiyin will be without Dhanpal Ganesh, who remains injured after suffering a knock in training during the international break. Ganesh’s replacement Masih Saighani didn’t have much trouble against Hyderabad but will face a livelier test in providing cover to his back-four. His presence in midfield will allow Rafael Crivellaro and Anirudh Thapa flourish further up the pitch.

The win on Monday has alerted the mood in Chennaiyin camp with Gregory talking up hopes of a play-off Cfinish. And to achieve that, it requires nothing short of a victory on Thursday.

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