Super Cup 2019: Confident Chennaiyin FC takes on ATK in semis

After a disastrous Indian Super League (ISL) campaign, Chennaiyin has put together a string of positive results in the AFC Cup and the Super Cup, which has lifted the mood in the camp.

John Gregory head coach of Chennaiyin FC along with players during a practice session. (File Photo)   -  M. Vedhan

A buoyed Chennaiyin FC, which is on a five-match unbeaten run, is eager to take the field against ATK in the semifinals of the Super Cup at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Wednesday.

After a disastrous Indian Super League (ISL) campaign, Chennaiyin has put together a string of positive results in the AFC Cup and the Super Cup, which has lifted the mood in the camp.

Coach John Gregory said, “The buzz has come back which was there 12 months back (when Chennaiyin was crowned ISL champion). In team meetings, during supper and in each training session, the atmosphere is better now."

Although Chennaiyin has lost twice against ATK this season, Gregory is confident that his players are up for the task. “Our players firmly believe there is a lot to play for. We have often spoken about the opportunity to progress into another final,” said the Englishman.

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Both Chennaiyin and ATK like to play in a narrow 4-2-3-1 formation with a tendency to defend in numbers when out of possession.

The burden of creating goal-scoring chances and attacks fall on the attacking players, who will look to isolate the defenders before showcasing their individual quality. Both teams also possess a threat from set-piece plays.

Lanzarote's threat

With a pair of goals and assists, Manuel Lanzarote of ATK has been one of the stand out attacking midfielders during the tournament.

His movement across the pitch and the ability to pick out passes through the lines is crucial for Steve Coppell’s men to find width in a compact system. The former FC Goa midfielder also has a sublime left foot from which he can score goals out of nothing.

“You can't man-mark him (Lanzarote) out of the game because he has so many qualities. He can play in any part of the field. There is a lot of ways to play against him. We managed to keep him relatively quiet when we played four times against Goa,” said Gregory.

Coppell dismissed suggestions that this will be a contest between ATK’s attack, which has scored seven goals in two matches, against Chennaiyin’s defence, having conceded just once in the last five.

“It's not going to be that kind of a game. The statistics might show that. Only after 10-15 minutes, will you get a measure of how the game will be played out. They are a dangerous side,” said Coppell.

Balwant's resurgence

The former Manchester City manager identified Raphael Augusto’s influence in midfield for the Chennayin in possession and rued the loss of defensive midfielder Pronay Halder, who is suspended for the game.

ATK striker Balwant Singh has put the ball in the back of the net on four occasions, including a sublime hat-trick against Delhi Dynamos. Coppell was guilty of pushing the former Chennaiyin player to the wide positions during the ISL season, where he scored just once in 15 matches.

“He has been terrific in training after we came back from the ISL season. I blame myself for his form this season. I played him on the left and right but not as often as a No. 9. We had other options in the position. Because he gets goals, I put him out wide. You can see how much he relishes playing the no. 9 role,” said Coppell.

In a battle of attritional play, it could boil down to which team makes the least mistakes and grabs its chances.