Lallianzuala Chhangte - Goals, misses and everything in between

While Chhangte is ambidextrous, has pace to burn and is an important attacking outlet, he also tends to outrun and lose control in promising positions.

Lallianzuala Chhangte celebrates after scoring against Kerala Blasters in Kochi.   -  ISL SPORTZPICS

Lallianzuala Chhangte has been one of the inform attackers in the Indian Super League with four goals in the last six matches, including a last-minute equaliser against NorthEast United on Tuesday. Although the Chennaiyin FC winger is flying at the moment, it has been a season of two halves for Chhangte.

On one November evening at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the atmosphere was petering into a sombre one with both Chennaiyin FC and Odisha FC locked at 0-0. Chennaiyin was in the stale stretch of the John Gregory era, whose last season began with just two goals in the first five matches and was ninth on the points table. Rafael Crivellaro feeds the ball into space for Lallianzuala Chhangte, who fails to make the best use of the position into a good goal-scoring position for his team.

“F***ing, Chhangte!!” bellowed Gregory into the night sky of Periyamet.

If you were watching from the stands or in your home, you may have shared Gregory’s anguish.

Blessed with talent

This is not to suggest Chhangte is bad at football. Gregory knew what he was getting in the 22-year-old. In fact, he wanted to bring the youngster to Chennai the previous season but conceded he would have cost plenty in paying a transfer fee to Delhi Dynamos. Instead, the club managed to sign him on a free in August last year. Chhangte had finished the 2018-19 season with five goals, only behind Bengaluru FC’s Sunil Chhetri among the Indian goal-scorers.

He can raze across the turf at pace (he recorded a top speed of 39.63 kph against Hyderabad FC), make runs in behind the defences for an attacking outlet and has the ability to shoot with either foot. Although at times, he has so much pace to burn that he tends to outrun when running with the ball and loses control in promising positions.

Chhangte can be one of the most exciting and the most frustrating footballer to watch in the space of a few seconds. The forward possesses plenty of raw qualities and, in all this is, it is easy to forget that he is just 22.

Rejuvinated under Coyle

Owen Coyle, a former striker, who took over as the coach, recognises the attributes Chhangte brings to the fore which his attacking partners Nerijus Valskis, Rafael Crivellaro and Andre Schembri lack.

Coyle has repeatedly stated that spurning chances isn't much of a concern as opposed to lacking creativity upfront. “I have told him that I don’t want him to be worried about mistakes. I would rather he try something creative than worry,” he said.

RELATED | ISL: From Gregory to Coyle, Chennaiyin's tale of two halves

After he had scored his first goal of the season in December, Chhangte admitted that his profligate showing had weighed on his mind. “Yes, we weren’t doing so well at the start of the season. But, we are doing well and my confidence is up and I hope to add more goals. My coaches are helping me make wiser decisions,” he said on the eve of Chennaiyin’s 3-4 defeat to FC Goa.

Coyle, sitting next to him, jumped in to add, “The thing that is most difficult in football, is to penetrate defences, and he does that naturally. Looking at that, I thought if we could just help in the final part by passing on information...it’s up to him to deliver. His attitude, desire and drive to training are terrific."

Talent meets form

Since the Scotsman's arrival, Chennaiyin has been one of the in-form attacking teams in the league with the front four of Chhangte, Valskis, Crivellaro and Schembri scoring 26 goals between them. The Mizoram-born footballer has helped himself to five goals in the 12 matches since.

The first of that came in the middle of a controversial encounter against Kerala Blasters at home. When play restarted after five minutes due to a refereeing error, Chhangte was the recipient of a through ball in the Blasters box from a sequence of a six-pass move. He received the ball on the run with his left foot to bring it down before slotting it into the bottom of the net for his first goal of the season.

In the away game in Kochi, he scored twice in a relentless counter-attacking display from Chennaiyin.

While he will squander a simple chance (like the one at ATK), he will make up for it by arrowing in a last-minute equaliser, like he did against NorthEast United to keep Chennaiyin's eight-game unbeaten streak intact.

Having missed key chances in the earlier meetings against FC Goa, Chhangte will be raring to set the record straight on Saturday.

  Dugout videos