Chennaiyin FC: All set to defend the crown

John Gregory’s teams are built on resolute defensive displays with the players buying into his philosophy of defending from the front.

Anirudh Thapa is a busy midfielder with a wide passing range.   -  ISL/SPORTZPICS

After the high of the ISL final in March, Chennaiyin FC was quick off the blocks in the preparation for its title defence. The club announced the following day that manager John Gregory would remain at the helm. The management was also quick to tie down the services of Mailson Alves and Gregory Nelson two days after their impressive performances against Bengaluru FC.

With the retention of Inigo Calderon in July, Chennaiyin has managed to hold together its core international members from last season with the exception of former skipper Henrique Sereno. In the absence of Sereno, Gregory has turned to centre back Alves to lead the side.

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Gregory’s teams were built on resolute defensive displays with the players buying into his philosophy of defending from the front. The Englishman infused a good mix of youth and experience as Chennaiyin harried teams all over the park. The average age of this season’s squad is a year older (27) from last season’s 26.

The manager has also plumped for young Indian players — the highly-rated 21-year-old midfielder Isaac Vanmalsawma, and defenders Tondonba Singh (23) and Laldinliana Renthlei (19) — during the transfer window. Isaac caught the eye, albeit briefly, with his performances for FC Pune City in his debut ISL campaign.

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New signing Andrea Orlandi from Italy will take over the creative role in the middle of the park alongside Brazilian Raphael Augusto, who is into his fourth season with the club.

The defensive cover is added in the form of the experienced Zohmingliana Ralte and Eli Sabia, who has returned to the club for a second spell.

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Srinivasan Pandiyan, 22, will be making a big step up after signing from I-League side Chennai City FC. After last season’s success story of local boy Dhanapal Ganesh, it will be interesting to see if the Thanjavur-born Pandiyan can strike a chord with the supporters at the Marina Arena.

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Jeje Lalpekhlua, who found goals hard to come by in a lone striker role, will have competition from Carlos Salom. The Argentine-born Palestinian fills the Asian overseas player quota as Chennaiyin embarks on its maiden AFC Cup journey.

Gregory will have his hands full juggling his squad between the two competitions and keeping his ideas fresh as the other teams will get wise to his modus operandi.

Player to watch out for

After a breakthrough season with both club and country, Anirudh Thapa will be expected to continue his development. The diminutive midfielder possesses a wide passing range and his terrier-like work-rate is a constant source of frustration for opposition players. He should, however, improve his passing accuracy. It was only 65% in 2017-18.

 

The Squad

Goalkeepers: Karanjit Singh, Sanjiban Ghosh and Nikhil Bernard.

Defenders: Mailson Alves, Eli Sabia, Inigo Calderon, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Tondonba Singh, Laldinliana Renthlei and Zohmingliana Ralte.

Midfielders: Raphael Augusto, Bedashwor Singh, Gregory Nelson, Isaac Vanmalsawma, Andrea Orlandi, Thoi Singh, Francisco Fernandes, Dhanapal Ganesh, Srinivasan Pandiyan, Anirudh Thapa and Germanpreet Singh.

Forwards: Carlos Salom, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Mohammed Rafi.

 

John Gregory, coach

“All the other teams will have extra motivation when they play us, knowing they are playing the champions. Which means we’ll have to be at our absolute best. I would like to think that most Indian players that I had last season have gone on to improve in some aspect or the other since last season. I would like to have a similar impact on each of them this season as well.”