Chennaiyin FC’s exploits in the inaugural Indian Super League flew in the face of everything perceived as rational in modern-day football. They didn’t have a home for long, their pre-season and practice facilities were non-existent and the members themselves were assembled only at the eleventh hour. Yet, they topped the table and eventually finished a semifinalist.
A year on, much of the first season team has been retained – in fact garnished to make it even more attractive – and a pre-season added. In combination with the performance history, it established an increased level of optimism in their players and raised expectations of achieving something even better amongst their fans.
Two matches into the second season, this weight seems to have pressured Chennaiyin. The side, saddled with the favourites’ tag, have lost their opening two games against defending champion Atletico de Kolkata and Delhi Dynamos.
“No panic button at the moment,” said the Chennai franchise’s assistant coach Vivek Nagul, on the eve of the match against FC Goa at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda here on Sunday. “But yes, we are disappointed that we lost two in a row. We want to assure [the fans] that we will come back with a bang.”
In fairness, the team did play well in patches in the first two games. Whilst individual errors proved costly against Atletico, a converted penalty was all that separated them from the Dynamos. Goa’s head coach and Brazilian legend Zico conceded as much, albeit, with slight exaggeration. “Chennaiyin could have won both their matches,” he said. “In the first, they dominated but got punished for individual mistakes.”
High on manager Marco Materazzi’s agenda will likely be the plan to plug the hole at the back. In 2014, his outfit conceded a league-high 24 goals and this time the defence has already cracked four times. Two penalties have also been given away.
The way Dynamos’ Florent Malouda and Gustavo dos Santos tormented the Chennaiyin’s defenders at times, can tell Goa a thing or two. In Romeo Fernandes it has a winger capable of stretching the opposition defenders especially if Bernard Mendy, with his flailing legs, takes the field.
For Goa, even as experienced striker Victor Simoes continues to sit out, midfielder Bikramjit Singh is in contention for a start and could replace Denson Devdas, who was ineffective against Atletico. Ethiopian striker Fikru Teferra has recovered fully for Chennaiyin, though Bruno Pelissari’s 20-minute cameo on Thursday against Dynamos might earn him a bigger role.
All of last season, Materazzi’s wards slipped just twice away. This time around they have already lost once and going into what is their second of four consecutive away games, it’s imperative for the Italian that all his tinkering towards finding the right combination bears fruit.