Chennaiyin FC risks falling into the same rut of last season’s troubles, where it finished last on the points table, as it prepares to host a rampant ATK at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in the Indian Super League (ISL).
With its next fixture a long 10 days away, a win on Wednesday is paramount for John Gregory’s men, who are yet to get themselves on the scoresheet and have just a point so far.
In the draw against Mumbai City FC on Sunday, Chennaiyin was wasteful up front. It was also opened up at the back in the second part of the opening half where it could have been three goals down in the space of seven minutes.
If you missed the previous game between Jamshedpur FC and Hyderabad FC, check out our review of the game on our ISL special podcast - The Full Time show
Chennaiyin head coach Gregory felt his foreign midfielders underestimated the tempo of the game in the country, which in turn led them to lose control during that period.
“One or two of my players had a difficult introduction [to ISL],” said the Englishman. “This is something I have spoken to my players. My creators -- Anirudh Thapa, Rafael Crivellaro, Lallianzuala Chhantge, Dragos Firtulescu -- must stay in the game at all times. But they drifted out of the game at times. We need to be switched on early...ATK start well in games.”
ATK’s pace at which it has harried the opposition and carried out attacks has been a standout feature in its opening two fixtures. Strikers Roy Krishna and David Williams, who tallied 30 goals between them at Wellington Phoenix in the A-League last season, appear frightening in Antonio Habas’ 3-5-2 system. Williams scored twice and set up Krishna for his maiden ISL goal in the 5-0 drubbing of Hyderabad FC last week.
Michael Soosairaj was threatening on the left-hand side in the game after being deployed in a new role of a left wing-back. On the right, Prabir Das offers a further outlet to ATK’s firepower. Chennaiyin’s attackers will be tasked with creating opportunities where they can isolate ATK’s back three and unsettle them.
The central midfield battle between Chennaiyin's Thapa-Dhanpal Ganesh and ATK's Jayesh Rane-Carl McHugh will be another key facet which could determine the game's outcome. The deepest-lying midfielders will need to provide cover to the backline and help retain possession.
Returning to the city for the first time in three years, ATK head coach Habas expects Chennaiyin to be competitive despite the change in personnel. “It’s just a statistic [goalless in two matches] which is not important for me. The 90 minutes are important. Two matches are never similar. With this mentality, we have to face Chennaiyin,” said the Spaniard.
Any result other than a win on Wednesday may leave Chennaiyin reflecting hard over a long period in a strange ISL calendar. “A 10-day break might suit us depending on tomorrow's result,” said Gregory.
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