Chennaiyin FC are gearing up to make amends for their dismal performance in the last season. The club has rejuvenated the squad with high profile foreign signings and a head coach with a credible track record in Asia.
The Super Machans finished in a lowly 8th position last season. Much of their poor showing was attributed to the lack of efficiency in attack. With just 17 goals in 20 matches, Chennaiyin FC was the least scoring team averaging less than a goal per game. The two-time champions will go into the new season with high hopes. The makeover of the squad’s core and the staff suggests that Chennai have better chances of making it through to the semifinals than last time.
There also exists an interesting sequence of finishes by the club which often gets fans optimistic : after a poor season, Chennai finishes high in the next.
A fresh team coupled with a new-look coaching staff have high generated high expectations even before the start of the season. Head coach Bozidar Bandovic comes with a reputable track record in Asia with Buriram United of Thailand. The stats and achievements of the team under him speak volumes about his quality.
Assessment of Chennaiyin FC’s transfer window
Safe to say, Chennaiyin FC’s signing spree in the summer transfer window came as a pleasant surprise for the fans. While they signed five new foreigners, retaining Rafael Crivellaro is one of the biggest takeaways from the window. Emphasis was also given to bring in some experienced Indian players to strengthen the defence, something that most of the clubs are focusing on after the advent of the four foreigner rule.
The signings are sensible as they will no longer be dependent on young, inexperienced players as the first choice. This will add depth to the squad and more competition for places.
Reinforcements have been brought in for the area where they were affected the most: offence. As many as four offensive-minded foreigners out of the six have been brought in, while a good Indian backup has been signed in Jobby Justin.
The midfield looks decent with Polish midfielder Ariel Borysiuk donning the number 6 role.
Chennai have also put a foot wrong a few times in this window, letting go of key players like Deepak Tangri and Eli Sabia.
Vishal Kaith is once again the favorite to start at goal. But this time around, he will need to be consistent as there are quality backup goalkeepers which will increase the competition for a place in the starting lineup.
Vishal has evolved into one of the best goalkeepers in India currently. He was the second choice to Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in the recent victorious SAFF Cup campaign. Chennaiyin FC will need him to peak at the right time and maintain his consistency which could prove to be a game-changer many a time.
Former Mohun Bagan and East Bengal goalkeeper Debjit Majumder brings in much-needed experience and quality. A very strong backup to Vishal Kaith, Debjit adds depth to the team along with former Indian Arrows goalkeeper Samik Mitra.
The defence is where Chennaiyin have invested a lot in domestic signings to form a solid Indian core. Experienced players with national team exposure along with other players in their prime make up a competitive defence.
28-year-old Montenegrin Slavko Damjanovic is bound to start every game with an Indian centre-back to pair him. Deepak Devrani and Salam Ranjan Singh will fight for that spot.
The full back department seems to have been sorted out for Chennai. Reagan Singh and Edwin Vanspaul will aim to start at right-back, while there is a similar situation on the left with Narayan Das and Jerry Lalrinzuala. As if this wasn’t enough, reliable backups are present in Davinder Singh and RYFC academy graduate Balaji Ganesan.
Bozidar Bandovic’s major tactics will emphasize the midfield. A 3-5-2 or a 4-5-1 will be the expected formation depending on the needs of the match.
Ariel Borysiuk, the first-ever Polish midfielder to sign for an ISL club will be the anchor of the team. A defensive midfielder with plenty of valuable experience in Europe and the Polish national team, he will look to start afresh after a below-average season in Poland. He is likely to pair with Anirudh Thapa in the holding midfield position.
There is an adequate amount of backup in the holding midfield with Germanpreet Singh and Dhanpal Ganesh looking to consolidate themselves with more game time. Edwin is also equally adept at midfield and can be used if necessary.
Youngster Ningthoingamba Meitei is a good addition to the team, as Chennaiyin has been lacking in technically adept Indian wingers.
After a season to forget, this could turn out to be a successful campaign for Lalianzuala Chhangte. With good midfielders to connect with and a fresh morale-boosting atmosphere in the squad, it could do wonders in bringing back the Mizo winger into form.
There is no dearth of options in the attacking side of midfield with as many as 3 foreigners who could fit into that role. Rafael Crivellaro would be looking to show his influence after an injury prevented him from playing a large part of the 2020/21 season.
Former Serie A midfielder Vladimir Koman would be crucial especially in the middle of the season when the team needs to rotate the squad. There is also an option of playing Kyrgyz winger Mirlan Murzaev in the attacking midfield. But Murzaev is more efficient when played at the wings. He will be expected to make cameo appearances similar to Fathkullov in the last season.
However, Murzaev is likely to do better than the Tajik winger as the team’s style of play favours the 31 year old Kyrgyz international. A healthy competition for places and versatility of the midfielders provides coach Bandovic with various combinations of lineups.
A deficit in the goals department last time around has prompted Chennai to sign more offensive players. A reliable out-and-out striker has been signed in Polish Lukasz Gikiewicz. The 34-year-old comes with a wide range of experience playing in Poland and Asia. He is known for his aerial prowess something which Chennai lacked last season.
Jobby Justin provides the much-needed Indian backup in the forward line, which can come in handy when the coach wishes to go with an extra foreigner in the middle.
Rahim Ali, who could feature on the right side can also be used in the centre or to provide support for another centre forward. After a decent outing with India U23 in the AFC U23 Asian Cup Qualifiers, Rahim Ali looks likely to start but not necessarily as the main striker. This season could also witness the coming of age of young striker Aman Chhetri, who had played with the reserves in the past few years.
How the team could line up
In spite of having many fresh faces, Chennaiyin FC have been able to retain Rafael Crivellaro who is one of the best-attacking midfielders in the league. The team has also roped in many domestic talents which make up a good Indian core. This will come in handy throughout the season to experiment with the team. The coach Bozidar Bandovic is no newcomer to the Asian circuit, having won laurels in his time in Thailand.
The signing of goalkeeper Debjit Majumder brings in heated competition for the position and will be a reliable backup for Vishal Kaith. The one place where Chennai faltered the most last time was in the attack. They have addressed the issue by signing four attack-minded foreigners. We can expect plenty of goal-scoring opportunities to be created.
Though there is experience at the back, the lack of another foreign defender is a cause for concern especially when there is an injury to Slavko Damjanovic. The stability of an all-Indian centre-back pair is doubtful as they have very little ISL experience.
Undoubtedly, the fresh faces in the squad including the foreigners would take time to adapt. Chennaiyin can be undone by relatively stable teams at the start of the season.
Probable finish in the league table
There is no doubt that Chennaiyin will manage a higher finish than last season. With the firepower they have, a good understanding within the team can make them the dark horses of this season. In their pre-season friendly against Bengaluru FC, Chennaiyin won 3-2 which will be a morale booster to start the league.
If everything goes well, Chennaiyin FC can reach the top four. From there, anything can happen. There are match-winners in the squad who may not assure consistency, but they can win crucial points to make the difference.
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