Chennaiyin look for revenge against NEUFC

North East are enjoying an upswing in fortunes. They secured a crucial 1-0 victory over Atletico de Kolkata on November 7. Cesar Farias’ men had also got the better of Marco’s men in the reverse fixture late last month.

With key Indian players unavailable because of their national team commitments, Chennaiyin FC coach Marco Materazzi will need to come up with a fair level of tinkering against NEUFC.   -  ISL/ SPORTZPICS

The reverse fixture between Chennaiyin and NEUFC late last month was a fiery affair and the referee had to dish out ten yellow cards and a red card.   -  ISL/ SPORTZPICS

Match 35 of the ISL at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai is going to be an interesting affair. Both Chennaiyin and NorthEast United have collected 10 points from eight matches so far this season. Their recent form, though, are at the two ends of a spectrum.

The hosts, who slumped to a 2-0 defeat to FC Goa, at home, in their previous encounter, have racked up only four points from the last four games. With key Indian players unavailable because of their national team commitments, coach Marco Materazzi will need to come up with a fair level of tinkering. The form of Fikru is another added concern for the coach.

NorthEast, on the other hand, are enjoying an upswing in fortunes. They secured a crucial 1-0 victory over Atletico de Kolkata on November 7. Cesar Farias’ men had also got the better of Marco’s men in the reverse fixture late last month. The clash in Guwahati was a fiery affair and the referee had to dish out ten yellow cards and a red card, in an attempt to keep things under control. Both teams were later fined for misconduct.

The visitors too will have their absentees – players away on national duty. The team, however, will be buoyed by the form of defensive rock Andre Bikey, which has been one of the biggest reasons behind the resurgence of the Guwahati-based team.

Farias confident

“All the teams have equal chance to qualify for the play-offs. We started the tournament with away games, but we have quite a few home games left. So we are confident,” Farias said.

Despite beating Chennaiyin in the home leg, Farias is still wary of the home team’s quality. “Chennaiyin are a great team like very other team in this league. Yes, some players do stand out (Mendoza and Elano) more than others, but we are aware of them as a whole. They are a very organised team, clear on the idea of the football they want to play,” he said.

On the crucial victory over defending champions ATK, Farais said: “The attention level of players was very high in that game, which was the key to the victory. But that is the past and we are now focussed on Wednesday’s match. The most important game always is the next one.”

The Venezuelan coach made it clear that his team won’t employ a five-man defence like FC Goa, who beat Chennaiyin in the previous encounter. “Goa and NorthEast are two different teams. We are going to play according to our strengths,” he said.

Weather problem

Incessant rain in the southern city over the past few days kept the two teams largely indoors, affording them very little time for practice.

“The rain is a problem. It is a problem for both the teams. But we have had four days of recovery, so it is up to the players to make the best of it,” said Chennaiyin coach Marco Materazzi. The Italian confirmed Jayesh Rane’s unavailability because of an ankle injury sustained in the previous game.

Very few points separate the teams in the points table and Materazzi, well aware of it, knows that every match, going forward, is a must-win game.

“Every match is crucial because we weren’t very consistent in the opening stages of the tournament. It is now time for us to show our quality as a team and qualify for the play-offs,” he added.

While acknowledging the defensive solidity of NEUFC, Materazzi is pinning his hopes on Elano and Stiven Mendoza to break the opposition’s resolve. “We all know what Elano and Mendoza are capable of when they are in the mood. They can trouble any defence in the league, but we know NorthEast is a very compact team,” he said

Reiterating his immediate goal of making it to the play-offs, the Italian World Cup winner said: “We are very close to sealing the play-off (berth). We deserve to be in the final four and if we don’t qualify, it will be a huge disappointment for the team; especially for me.”

With the tournament reaching the business end of the league stage, expect some post-Diwali fireworks from this game.

Emergency signing

Chennaiyin FC also signed goalkeeper Pawan Kumar for the match as an emergency replacement for their regular keeper Karanjit Singh, who has been called up for the Indian side.

Chennaiyin FC’s third goalkeeper, Nidhin Lal, has suffered an injury and has been ruled out for the match. ISL regulations make it mandatory for each club to have three goalkeepers in their squad, of which a minimum of two goalkeepers are required to be fit for any given match.

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