Languishing at the bottom of the points table with no wins to boast, Chennaiyin FC heads into its third home match of the Indian Super League 2019-20 season on Monday.
After a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Bengaluru FC, Chennaiyin gears up for Hyderabad FC -- a team that has had a similar fortune as the Chennai outfit, and sits just one spot above it in the league table.
For a side that has only one point from four games, the international break would be expected to help its coach regroup the team. But for coach John Gregory, such was not the case. “It is not always a good time when you have a break because you take so long to recover from a defeat. It lingers for many days and for a coach, it lingers even longer,” he said at the pre-match conference on Sunday.
Gregory, however, added that he would like his team to repeat the performance from its previous two home matches. Against Mumbai City and ATK at the Marina Arena, Chennaiyin had 14 shots and 16 shots on target, respectively, though it failed to find the net. “We have had a long time to think about the last match and also for the Hyderabad match. If we put in the performance (like we did) against Mumbai and ATK, we have a much better chance to take six points (from our two upcoming home games),” he said.
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For defender Lucian Goian -- who made the switch from Mumbai this year -- Chennaiyin’s sub-par start to the season is not an unfamiliar situation. Last year, Mumbai had one win from its first four games and had leaked six goals.
“It was a similar situation where our confidence was down but after that, we started winning and further qualified for the playoffs. I am sure we can do this at Chennaiyin too,” he said. “We have the quality here but we are just missing the goals -- which is a pressure on all of us and not just the people in front (the strikers).”
Indeed, Chennaiyin has been poor up top with its strikers misfiring. Forwards Andre Schembri and Nerijus Valskis both had no shots on target in the clash against Bengaluru, while Rafael Crivellaro couldn’t create an impact from the middle. Jeje Lalpekhlua’s absence in the attack has so far hurt Gregory and Co. but the Indian international is still recovering from his knee injury and can be expected to “at least make the bench” by December.
Chennaiyin, though, will be happy with its midfielders Lallianzuala Chhangte and Anirudh Thapa returning from national camp with no injuries, although neither were unused in India's results.
Hyderabad will be without Adil Khan, who has been sidelined owing to an injury he suffered during the break. Nonetheless, coach Phil Brown was rather “relaxed” as he said the team was heading in the right direction despite just a win in four games.
“Now the best part for me as a coach is that there is competition amongst players to be in the starting line-up as all of them are fit,” he said. “ We know what we are doing and what are the targets.”
“We certainly defended well in the last two games and only a lapse of concentration and a poor referees decision cost us the last match against NorthEast United FC,” Brown said. “But, we are in the right direction now, heading towards the positive end of the game which is more important for me.”
The clash between Chennaiyin and Hyderabad will be a battle between the two most underwhelming sides so far but the visiting side on Monday could be the stronger of two teams given its two foreigners, namely Marko Stankovic and Marcelinho, are proven figures in the league and can outplay Chennaiyin’s sub-par foreign attackers.
The onus thus will be on Hyderabad to pick full points against Gregory’s side, which is sinking with each coming game. A loss on Monday for Chennaiyin will raise further questions for Gregory, who has been rumoured for an exit. “Football will never surprise you. Who knows?” he said as he tried to answer about his managerial future.
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