Chennaiyin FC surprised many and went against most pre-season predictions by making it to the playoffs of the Indian Super League (ISL) this season.
The Blues came into this season on the back of the worst performance by any team in the tournament’s history. It finished rock bottom last campaign by securing the fewest points (9), least number of wins (2) and most defeats (13) in a season.
And the club also looked on course for another embarrassing finish until the management rolled the dice and replaced John Gregory with Owen Coyle. Since then, the transformation has been remarkable.
Tale of two managers
Under Gregory, Chennaiyin won once in six games, was bottom of the table and looked far from a cohesive side.
In the 12 games under Coyle, it picked up 24 points — from 7 wins and 3 draws — and sealed its place in the top four with a game in hand.
The team played “with an element of risk”, as Coyle put it, and with its attacking potential unlocked, it blew most teams out of the park.
After scoring just four in six games (0.24 goals per game) under Gregory, Chennaiyin found the back of the net 28 times in 12 games (2.34 goals per game) under Coyle.
With away goals rule being introduced in the playoffs this season, Coyle will be hoping his defence stays tight as there are still issues to deal with at the back.
It still concedes goals at a similar rate (1.67 per game under Gregory and 1.34 under Coyle) and will need to do better against an explosive FC Goa side that has scored the most goals in a season (46) in the competition’s history.
Player to watch out for: Nerijus Valskis
Valskis has been central to the team’s revival and has what it takes to hurt Goa. He has 13 goals this season, three places and two goals behind top scorer Bartholomew Ogbeche.
He is only the second striker in the Chennaiyin’s history to score more than 10 goals in a season — Stiven Mendoza scored 13 goals in 2015.
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The Lithuanian was a yellow card away from suspension and thus rested in the final league stage game against NorthEast United. While that stopped him from adding to his tally, he should be fresh and raring to go against the Gaurs.
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