ISL: Old foes Chennaiyin FC and FC Goa resume rivalries

Old foes Chennaiyin FC and FC Goa resume their rivalry on Sunday at the Marina Arena and the home side has the upper hand going into the tie with four wins to Goa's three in the seven games the two teams have played so far.

Chennaiyin FC's star striker, Jeje Lalpekhlua, in training ahead of Sunday's clash against FC Goa.   -  M. Vedhan

"The past is past." That was FC Goa coach Sergio Lobera Rodriguez's take on the previous hostilities between the two sides ahead of his side's encounter against Chennaiyin FC on Sunday. 

The head-to-head record suggests the home side has the upper hand with four wins to Goa's three in the seven games they have played so far. The last time the two teams met, Goa ran out 5-4 winners in a thriller at home, but Chennaiyin FC had the edge in the home game, winning 2-0 courtesy goals from Hans Mulder and Mehrajuddin Wadoo; neither of whom are part of the squad this season.

READ: Will it be merrymaking at Marina Arena?

In fact, both teams start afresh as Chennaiyin FC and FC Goa have made sweeping changes to personnel, with new managers bringing in a new style of play. 

Englishman John Gregory insists Chennaiyin FC will look to keep the ball on the floor even as he made it a point to strengthen the backline. CFC conceded 25 goals last season as it finished a lowly seventh and Gregory expects all the players to contribute to defensive duty.

Star striker Jeje Lalpekhlua confirmed that philosophy. "The difference between him (John Gregory) and Marco (Materazzi) is that we press a lot higher up the field. I will have to work harder, run more and press for the ball in the opponent's half."

Gregory sounded cautious ahead of his bow in front of the home fans. "You are expected to win home games... but yeah, we will take a pragmatic approach on Sunday. It is a long season, you have 18 games to play. We want to start well, obviously for the fans as well, but yeah we just have to focus on Sunday's game," he said.

"For the last three weeks, we lost some of our international players to national duty so that has disrupted some of our plans. Germanpreet Singh has come back (from national duty) with a bit of a knock, so he might not start the game," Gregory added.

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Gregory also hinted at Jeje's exclusion from the starting XI, possibly still recovering from India's AFC Asian Cup Qualifier game against Myanmar that took place on November 15.

Meanwhile, the opposition dugout is clearer of its objective. "Never in a game where three points are available will I be satisfied with one point. Because that would suggest a lack of faith in myself, in the team," quipped Lobera.

Sergio Lobera Rodriguez, who worked with Barcelona youth teams for 10 years from 1997, is an unsurprising proponent of the famed tiki-taka style. However, he refused to get into the debate about his philosophy.

"Every team I've managed, this is the first question I get asked. I am no Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique, or Valverde, neither do I have Iniesta, Messi or Suarez at my disposal. We will employ a style of play which we feel is best for our objectives. Apart from that, I believe if a footballer enjoys playing the game, he performs at his best," he said.

ALSO READ: "This is the best Chennaiyin side," says Jeje

The Spaniard played down the intense history the two teams share. "You can't compare two teams, which have two new coaches and sets of players based on previous encounters. I am just focused on Sunday's match and looking forward to a good game."

While both teams don't have an entire squad to choose from -- Goa will have to do without Spanish striker Adrian Colunga Perez -- Sunday's match at the Marina Arena promises to be a riveting affair between two styles of play that propagate keeping the ball on the turf.

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