Chennaiyin vs NorthEast - A humdinger on the cards

The last time both the teams locked horns in the Indian Super League, they played out an entertaining 3-3 draw in Chennai, with a goal from NorthEast United in the dying moments of the game. 

Chennaiyin FC FC GOA

Chennaiyin FC is smarting from a defeat in its first game against FC Goa. It will hope to reverse its fortunes against NorthEast United on Thursday.   -  M. Vedhan

 

After a false start to its Indian Super League (ISL) campaign, Chennaiyin FC would be itching to gather its first points on the board when it hosts NorthEast United FC in its second game in the glitzy league at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Thursday. More importantly, it would be a litmus test for Chennaiyin FC's coach John Gregory to get his tactics right after a debacle in the opener against FC Goa.

While Chennaiyin FC lost its first match to FC Goa 2-3, NorthEast United FC locked horns with debutant Jamshedpur FC for a goalless draw in its first encounter. The last time both the teams locked horns, they played out an entertaining 3-3 draw in Chennai, with a goal from NorthEast United in the dying moments of the game. 

For the record, NorthEast has never lost in Chennai and Gregory said records are meant to be broken. “Records are there to be broken and stats come up all the time. Jeje has scored most goals against Pune and we have that game coming up. NorthEast might not have lost here but eventually it has to happen,” he said. 

Chennaiyin has huge gaps to plug. While Gregory started with a 5-3-2 formation, he had to revert to an attacking 3-4-3 post the break. A five-man defence couldn't stop a goal spree in the first half as they were caught off-guard many a time. The midfield too didn't have a good day in office as they couldn't deny Goa from enjoying a greater ball possession. The strikers in Jeje Lalpekhlua and Baoringdao Bodo too have a job on hand and must be more clinical in their finishing too, a trait that was lacking in the first game. The Manipuri striker, in fact, remains Chennaiyin's main goal source. 

On what to expect from NorthEast United, Gregory said, “We saw their game in the first game and they have some weaknesses but they had big strengths also. They are a good side and we need to be aware of their set pieces.” 

The Chennai team can take heart from the fact that a better second half against FC Goa almost overturned the goal deficit. The introduction of winger Gregory Nelson and Bikramjit Singh added solidity to the midfield and the home team was on rampage mode. This should act as a shot-in-the-arm for Gregory and the coach must trust his instincts and play to the team's strengths, especially in home matches. 

On what tactics Gregory was going to change, he said: “We'll have to wait and see but I certainly wasn't happy with the formation the other night. We looked a balanced team in the second half. We continued with three central defenders who were quiet in the second half. We created a lot of chances with that shape (change in formation).”

An interesting fact that Gregory's men can take advantage of is, NorthEast United has only won four matches on the road in the ISL so far. Joao De Deus’ men dished out an exemplary performance in the first match but lacked venom in the final third. NorthEast dictated the proceedings, had a good share of ball possession and also created ample chances. In short, the forward line must make use of the half chances, if the Highlanders need to put a few past the Chennai defenders. 

Seminlen Doungel would be itching to get his name on the scoresheet. The striker combined well with Lalrindika Ralte and Robert Lalthlamuana upfront and if he can get past the Chennaiyin defence, he could be a difference between the two teams, as the young striker would be desperate to prove a point after a poor domestic season. 

With Lalrindika Ralte and Rowllin Borges, who is arguably one of the best defensive midfielders in India, NorthEast has a stable midfield. It would be an interesting battle between Nelson-Bikramjit and Ralte-Rowllin that could form the crux of the action at the Marina Arena. 

Deus said he was aware of Chennaiyin’s strength and acknowledged that the home team would be in a different shape against it. “I had a chance to watch the Chennaiyin-Goa game. Their defenders created a high pressure with the assistance of two midfielders and the fullbacks. I like the concept and it was just the first match, where they made mistakes in conceding goals. They will improve a lot despite a defeat in the first game. They pressed high and created some counter-attacks. We are wary of them,” he added. 

With both teams itching to register a win under their belt, Thursday promises to dish out a humdinger.