ISL 2018-19: Struggling Chennaiyin FC faces ATK challenge

Suffering with poor form, defending champion Chennaiyin FC is looking for a turnaround.

Lacklustre campaign: Chennaiyin FC has six defeats from nine contests so far.   -  R. Ravindran (File Photo)

In most scenarios, a contest between two ex-title holders would invoke excitement. However, Chennaiyin FC’s poor form has made the lead-up to the occasion — a clash against ATK on Sunday — more sombre.

With one win and six defeats from nine matches, Chennaiyin FC, the defending champion, is currently placed eighth in the points table. ATK’s own form is patchy, but it is reasonably well-placed at this stage and goes into the fixture with a chance to move up to fifth on the table, displacing Mumbai City FC.

Defensively stout

Teams coached by Steve Coppell haven’t always been the most dynamic in attack, but they are defensively stout. ATK’s defensive record so far — second best, with just eight goals conceded — illustrates this quality. And amid a struggle to score goals — in the absence of Kalu Uche and his replacement Emiliano Alfaro, the injured forwards — the team’s ability to keep clean sheets is keeping it in the hunt for a place in the top four.

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Everton Santos, who led the line in the last two fixtures, has failed to inspire the team with goals. Manuel Lanzarote, the former FC Goa forward, may start up front against Chennaiyin, with Santos slotting into midfield in a possible 4-2-3-1 formation for ATK. The back four of Aiborlang Khongjee, John Johnson, Andre Bikey-Amougou, and Ricky Lallawmawma has been constant for ATK, and is likely to remain the same against Chennaiyin. Pronay Halder will miss this fixture after accumulating four yellow cards.

‘Critical’ games

Coppell underlined the importance of the contest. He said, “For every team, the games before the break and Christmas are critical. Because you need to be in a good position at Christmas to be able to attack the final six games of the season, to cement your place or be in the top four; that’s what it’s all about.”

Everton Santos (centre) has failed to inspire the team with goals, and is likely to be slot into the midfield. Pranoy Halder (right) will miss the contest after accumulating four yellow cards. Photo: AP

 

For John Gregory, team selection is unlikely to be straightforward, three evenings after he made five changes to his starting line-up against Kerala Blasters.

‘Uncharacteristic defensive mistakes’

The 0-0 draw against Kerala Blasters at home was not the desired result for a team languishing eighth on the table, but it was only Chennaiyin’s second clean sheet of the season. For a team struggling at both ends of the pitch, keeping clean sheets is one way to revive a season that is at the halfway point. Facing ATK, which is averaging less than a goal per match, may not be ominous for Chennaiyin, which will hope to spark a revival with a win on Sunday.

Commenting on the lacklustre season so far, coach John Gregory said, “For us, we have made bad, uncharacteristic defensive mistakes, which have cost us points this season. Players who were defensively solid last season have made defensive errors that have cost us matches, cost us points. We’ve sat down and looked at games and think ‘we should have had eight, nine or ten more points than we have’.”

  • Key Stats
  • The 16 goals that Chennaiyin has conceded is the second-highest this season; only ninth-placed FC Pune City has conceded more (21).
  • ATK has scored the joint-lowest number of goals (7) with Mumbai City FC and Delhi Dynamos.
  • In the four previous seasons, ATK has done the league double over Chennaiyin once (in 2015).