It hasn’t been the most memorable of seasons for Chennaiyin FC so far. After 17 games, the Marina Machans sit eighth in the table, 6 points off the top 4 spots while having played a few games more. Assistant Coach Sabir Pasha has now been handed the reigns of the club after Bozidar Bandovic departed, following the 5-0 drubbing at the hands of FC Goa.
Pasha’s first game in charge was against Odisha, where his boys drew 2-2. Ahead of the game against Jamshedpur FC, star striker Nerijus Valskis and the Interim Head Coach faced the media.
“The boys showed immense character in the last game. It is not easy to concede five goals in a game, then go down by two in the next match, and yet make a comeback. This is something we were lacking and now we need to carry it forward. Our next game is another tough game and it comes within just three days – it is hard, but we will put up a good fight.”, Pasha opined.
The interim manager changed the formation from what had become the norm at Chennaiyin under Bozidar Bandovic, from a 3-man backline to a 4-man defense. The side looked more fluid in transitions and the likes of Rahim Ali and Ninthoi Meetei looked more comfortable with the ball.
Speaking about the tweak in the system and what went wrong under Bandovic, the 49-year old stated, “It was about the quality of our players. Bosko (Bozidar Bandovic) had a point in what he was doing. He was concerned about our defense, thinking that we needed that formation to defend properly. However, at one point the team has to push up and can’t afford to sit deep. In the current formation, we feel better and are playing to the strengths of our players.”
“The players could’ve improved and played better with what the earlier coach wanted, but he needed more time. However, we do not have a lot of time here. So, it’s always better to keep the players where they are comfortable, go with the flow, and things will fall in line.”
“Everybody has to understand that he was a good coach. The club brought him in because he has produced results before. He didn’t want to change his system because of the same reason. However, the only thing that he lacked was putting the players in their comfortable positions. Like Nerka, who needs more crosses to finish the chances. We saw in the last game, there was a cross, and Nerka was there. Playing to our strengths is what we are targeting and this is how we aim to go forward.”
Nerijus Valskis joined the club in the winter window from fellow ISL outfit Jamshedpur FC. The Lithuanian has previously won the golden boot in Chennaiyin’s blue but has had a suboptimal effect this time, scoring his first goal in his eighth appearance for the Machans this season.
Here’s what he had to stay on the departure of Bozidar Bandovic – “For me, I have no problem in playing in different formations. The problem was that we would defend all the time, I felt like I was a midfielder and not a striker. This is why I had no chance to score in the first seven games. It was a bad time for all of us – especially the strikers.”
Valskis is adored by all Chennaiyin fans in India and across the globe – his partnership with former club captain Raphael Crivellaro had pulled the side to the 2019/20 Final, the last that the two-time champions had played. Speaking about his future, the 34-year old asserted, “We have not spoken about any extensions. My contract is till the end of the season and I am doing my job. I had told them that I am very happy here and don’t want to join any other team. I am comfortable here.”
With just 3 games to go in the league, Chennaiyin FC will look to finish on a high in what has been a forgettable season for the club.
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