Wounded Chennaiyin return to home base

After four consecutive away matches, a wounded Chennaiyin FC return to home base to take on FC Pune City on Saturday at the Nehru Stadium in Chennai. The long trip included two wins and two losses, one of the defeats (2-0) to the bottom-placed NorthEast United FC last Tuesday. Having only six points so far this season, it is paramount the home team grabs all three come Saturday.

Chennaiyin FC players during their training session on the eve of their Indian Super League (ISL) football match against Pune, at Jawaharalal Nehru Stadium, in Chennai.   -  M. Vedhan

After four consecutive away matches, a wounded Chennaiyin FC return to home base to take on FC Pune City on Saturday at the Nehru Stadium in Chennai. The long trip included two wins and two losses, one of the defeats (2-0) to the bottom-placed NorthEast United FC last Tuesday. Having only six points so far this season, it is paramount the home team grabs all three come Saturday.

Chennaiyin FC assistant coach Vivek Nagun, in an interaction with the media at the team hotel here, said: “It is not ideal to have only six points from five games so far. But the players have recovered from the long trip and are now ready for the game. We have studied our opponents and we are prepared.”

Defensive rock Bernard Mendy, whose form has been mixed so far, is confident he and the team will bounce back. “The team didn’t play well in the first game, and I was responsible for conceding the penalty and Postiga’s (ATK) goal. But ever since the game we have come back aggressively, showing good intensity. The Pune game is important as we are playing at home and we need the three points. We will show everyone how good a team we are.”

Mendy has had to spearhead the defence with different partners in Mailson and Potenza. “Potenza is the more experienced of the two while Mailson is younger and stronger. We do need to improve on the communication though.”

Nagun confirmed the whole squad, which has gone through a fair share of rotation, was available for selection with the exception of midfielder Khabra, who saw red in the defeat to NEUFC. “He (Khabra) should have kept his cool in the previous game. Whatever happened against NEUFC happened in the heat of the game. But it is natural for a footballer to sometimes disagree with the referee’s decisions, which was the case in the last game.”

Chennaiyin has so far conceded four penalties in the five games and Nagun isn’t too worried by the stat. “In football such things happen! The team plays to win and the players throw their bodies to protect the goal. The defenders and midfielders work really hard so we are a bit unlucky in this regard.”

Out of the eight goals scored so far Elano and Mendoza have been involved in seven, hinting at the team’s reliance on the duo. “When we signed these players, we knew they would have a big impact on the team. But we also have had good attempts from the others. Players like Jayesh Rane and Jeje Lalpekhlua are doing well, and Bruno Pelissari and Manuele Blasi have taken shots from distance. So we have others contributing as well,” said Nagun.

One of the best players from last season, Ethiopian striker Fikru’s dip in form has been a cause of concern. “Yes, the coaches think it’s time he started scoring goals. But he isn’t far off; he almost found the net against NorthEast. Had he scored, it would have done a world of good to his confidence. And the player realises he has the quality to score, he will show his ability soon,” stated Nagun.

Pune City FC, on the other hand, are sitting pretty in second with nine points and are only a point off the top with tomorrow’s game in hand. The team has played all their games this season (four matches so far) in their own backyard and face their first away test on Saturday.

“I am not too sure that there is a massive advantage of ‘home’ and ‘away’ in this league. The advantage is gained in the amount of time you’ve got to recover in between games,” feels head coach David Platt, who was an assistant manager with Manchester City.

With the Indian national players returning from international duty for Pune, David Platt has more players to choose from. “It helps as it is a very intense league with a lot of travelling, the heat and the games. There is very little respite so utilising the whole squad is very important for me.”

On his assessment on Saturday’s opponents, Platt said: “They have players who can make a difference on the pitch and a manager with prior experience in the ISL, so we are aware of their strengths. And they were league toppers last year. So we will be treating them with the respect they deserve.”

Platt had special praise for right back Dharmaraj Ravanan, who hails from Tamil Nadu. “He has been exceptional ever since I came into the club. He is a player the club retained last year. He could fill in at left back, he’s already played centre half… he’s a player who is very useful for us. He has good speed, good defensive abilities and the thing that has impressed me about him is that he is very calm and assured on the ball. We are very pleased with him.”