ISL: Rejuvenated Chennaiyin braces for relentless Goa in first leg of playoff

After sealing a playoff berth following a remarkable turnaround, a rejuvenated Chennaiyin FC will face the relentless FC Goa in the first leg of the playoffs.

FC Goa, Chennaiyin FC

At home, Chennaiyin has a formidable record in the playoffs. In three games, it has scored nine goals (the most of all teams) and conceded just once. Goa, on the other hand, is one of only two teams (the other being Mumbai City FC) to have won on the road in the playoffs.   -  ISL Sportzpics

Chennaiyin FC made a remarkable climb up the table this Indian Super League (ISL) season, picking up an incredible 20 points from 24 available in the last eight games, and the side now finds itself in the playoffs.

In the first leg at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Saturday, it hosts league-topper FC Goa, a familiar opponent in the business end of the tournament. In both its title-winning seasons, Chennaiyin has gone past the Gaurs – in the final in 2015 and the semifinals in 2017-18.

However, Blues head coach Owen Coyle and Goa’s interim coach Clifford Miranda both stressed on the irrelevance of previous encounters.

Related | Lallianzuala Chhangte - Goals, misses and everything in between

“If we go about history, we have lost (in the ISL final) against Chennai. And we played and won twice against Chennai (in the league stage) this season,” Clifford said at the pre-game presser. “But those will not have any bearings. It is a brand new game, it’s the semifinal and it’s about these two legs.”

At home, Chennaiyin has a formidable record in the playoffs. In three games, it has scored nine goals (the most of all teams) and conceded just once. Goa, on the other hand, is one of only two teams (the other being Mumbai City FC) to have won on the road in the playoffs.

Fairytale season

100

Chennaiyin FC had a turnaround since the appointment of Owen Coyle.   -  ISL Sportzpics



A lot has been written about Coyle and the transformation under him. From taking over a team that was bottom of the table and looked bereft of ideas, he turned it into a dynamic side that’s made every team stand up and take notice.

So much so that Miranda accepted that Chennaiyin was the one team he did not want to face in the playoffs.

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

“Chennai is the most difficult team (to play), in my opinion. It is the most improved team in the league,” he said. “Us (Goa), ATK and Bengaluru FC, we were always in the running for a top-four finish. They are a dangerous team, a team that is unbeaten in eight games,” Miranda said.

Coyle, however, sees this as just another game and wants his team to look at it that way too. “I stressed to my group to play the game and not think of the occasion. I have experienced playoffs, both as a player and as a coach.”

“But nothing will be decided tomorrow. Both teams can win home and away,” Coyle added.

Bumpy ride to the top

100

Goa has taken part in the playoffs more times than any other side (four) but hasn’t been able to go the distance.   -  ISL Sportzpics



Every season, Goa starts as the overwhelming favourite to make the playoffs – if not win the title. It started this season with a bang, outplaying Chennaiyin at home in its opening game but then won just once in the next five matches.

Then, under Sergio Lobera’s stewardship, it bounced back to win its next four games to rise to the top of the table.

Locked in a battle with ATK and Bengaluru FC for the top spot – which now guarantees qualification to the group stage of the AFC Champions League – it lost to both teams away and conceded the top spot.

There was drama off the pitch at the same time. Despite Goa regaining the top spot with wins against Kerala Blasters and Odisha FC, the club took a massive gamble in relieving Lobera of his duties with three games left in the league stage.

Also read | ISL: Free-scoring Goa aims to go the distance

On the pitch, it stuck to its attacking brand of football – scoring 14 goals and conceding just thrice.

And Miranda promised that his side will not adjust its style for the occasion. “We respect Chennaiyin a lot. They have quality players, but we are confident in our chances. We will play our natural game, we will not move away from that.”

Goa has taken part in the playoffs more times than any other side (four) but hasn’t been able to go the distance.

With a morale-boosting AFC Champions League spot secured, Goa will be looking to take its first step towards its maiden ISL title beginning with the game on Saturday.

Support Sportstar


Dear Reader,

Support our journalism — where text and pictures intermingle so seamlessly — and help us scale up your experience as the world changes around us. Your contribution is vital to our brand of uninfluenced, boots-on-the-ground reportage that’s worth your while. Clickbait sensationalism is not for us, but editorial independence is — we owe it to you.

  Dugout videos