Chennaiyin vs Goa: A contest between defence and attack

The last time the two sides clashed in Chennai the home side cruised to a 3-0 win and soared into the final, which again it went on to win.

Chennaiyin FC players during a practice session in Chennai on Friday.   -  B. Velankanni Raj

It will be a classic affair of defence versus attack when Chennaiyin FC hosts FC Goa in its opening home fixture of the fifth edition of the Indian Super League on Saturday. The last time the two sides clashed here was in the previous season's play-off stage, when the home side cruised to a 3-0 and soared into the final, which it went on to win.

While that win could serve as a boost to Chennaiyin, the side hasn't got its title defence off to a great start, having lost 1-0 Bengaluru last week. Goa, on the other hand, claimed a hard-fought 2-2 draw against NorthEast United to claim its first point. 

Chennaiyin coach John Gregory is well aware of the attacking threat posed by the visiting side, which netted a stunning 43 goals last season. “If they (FC Goa) get half a chance, they are likely to score. (Ferran) Corominas literally got two chances last week and took them both. We have to be very aware of his ability in front of goal and make sure we are defensively switched on like we were for the two play-offs games last year,” he said on the eve of the contest. 

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Gregory's defence looked a little rusty in their previous tie and committed a few errors, which went unpunished. The Englishman felt there were a couple of creases to iron out. “We made some errors last season too, like the first leg playoff against Goa, but we got away with it. That's football for you. Miku took a great strike from a long way out last week but the ball could've gone anywhere. He could have hit the corner flag but it went straight into the top corner and was the only goal of the game. We have to limit the chances we give away in a match,” he noted.  

Chennaiyin's attack also failed to fire against Bengaluru, with star striker Jeje Lalpekhlua missing two chances in the first half. “My faith in Jeje is unwavering. He was quiet for a period of five games last season but he delivered when we needed him. We have to create opportunities for him, better than last week. There won't be any knee-jerk reactions from me. We have to stay composed focussed,” said Gregory.

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FC Goa coach Sergio Lobera conceded that his side had to tweak his defence but maintained that the boys will continue to play their attacking brand of football. “I think our style of football is what makes us strong. We have built a squad which is made to play our (attacking) style of football. We have some aspects to work on defensively but our style of football is attacking and that what we're going to play,” he said. 

The Spaniard added that the departure of center-back Sereno Henriques, who led Chennaiyin to the title last season, wouldn't weaken its defence. “If you look at Chennaiyin's starting 11 last match, three out of their four defenders were foreigners. Chennaiyin coach (Gregory) looks to have a defensive balance. Regardless of the names, Chennaiyin is a strong team and will defensively be as strong as last season,” he noted. 

"We're facing the current champions of the tournament. They are good in defence and attack but I'm very confident of my team. We began with a win (here) last season and hope we can repeat it," he concluded.