ISL: Defending champion faces tough Mumbai test

Defending champion Chennaiyin FC faces table-topping Mumbai City FC in a crucial clash at the Andheri Sports Complex in Mumbai.

Chennaiyin FC and Mumbai City FC in action during the corresponding fixture in Chennai.   -  SPORTZPICS

Chennaiyin FC has arrived at the turning point in ISL 2016, where pulling off a draw from the jaws of defeat, like it did against Atletico de Kolkata in the previous game, is not enough to be in the running for a play-off berth. Three points from every game matters from now on and away games remain the stumbling block for the visitor (one win in five away ties).

The biggest defeats inflicted on Chennaiyin were triggered by attacking outfits like Delhi Dynamos FC (lost 1-4) and Kerala Blasters FC (lost 1-3). Mumbai City FC, its next opponent, is the second most prolific team in the league.

Marco Materazzi, head coach in the visitor's camp, felt luck was a key factor missing in the dugout. “May be we need a little bit of luck. We are still confident of making the play-offs. In every game we showed attitude and spirit, except against Delhi Dynamos.” The Italian World Cup winner is right and is viewing the fightbacks in positive light. Victories have been fewer (three) than draws (five).

Chennaiyin come armed with the firepower to rattle any rival defence, including MCFC. Three goals each from Indian striker Jeje Lalpekhlua and Italian David Succi is evidence of their quality in front of goal, and contributing their bit to the cause with opportunistic goals are Bernard Mendy and Hans Mulder, who have two each.

The Chennaiyin defence looks unsettled, an area likely to get exposed by the variety in the Mumbai City strikefore. Diego Forlan, Matias Defederico, Sony Norde and Sunil Chhetri are dangerous on the ball.

But perhaps the most effective weapon at Mumbai's disposal is also the canniest. Brazilian Otacillo 'Cafu' Alves got emotional celebrating his first ISL 2016 goal in nine appearances, and his skills on the ball along with his movement will fetch him many more. The 20-year-old attacking midfielder is under-utilized by coach Alexandre Guimaraes, maybe to retain the surprise element for the play-offs.

Replying to a query about the next opponent, Guimaraes noted “They are champions and champions always like to fight till the end. We saw the way Chennaiyin played against ATK, they are tough and still on course.”

The experienced Costa Rican is trying to be level-headed amidst the excitement in the table topper's camp. The blue shirts have won five matches and approach the 12th match with intensity. The MCFC coach said, “To achieve the first goal is to qualify for the playoffs. We have to get more points, 19 are not enough.”

Guimaraes has a full-strength squad to choose from, unlike Materazzi who is forced to deal with injury to match-winner Lalpekhlua.

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