ISL 2018-19 | Squad Analysis of Chennaiyin FC for season five

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ISL 2018-19 | Squad Analysis of Chennaiyin FC for season five

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Subhayan Dutta


Chennaiyin FC were one of the few teams to show consistency last season as John Gregory became the first Englishman to win the ISL title. However, no ISL club has successfully defended their title in the history of the league and it will be a tough for the Marina Machans to replicate that feat.

To be honest, Chennaiyin were far from being the favourites last season, especially after the vibrant manner in which Bengaluru, Pune City, and Goa started the league - scoring goals galore. Second-placed Chennai had scored only 24 goals last season, which was 11 lesser than the first placed Bengaluru, 18 lesser than third-placed Goa, 6 lesser than FC Pune City, an even eight lesser than Delhi Dynamos, who finished last. Hence, with the team retaining most of their players from last season, we don’t expect a huge change in approach this season. 


Chennaiyin had one fixed custodian under the bar last season – Karanjit Singh- who conceded just 21 goals in 20 appearances and it made the biggest difference for them. Hence, the club sticking with him made every sense. To back him up, Gregory has also brought in Sanjiban Ghosh, who has played in three ISL clubs and Nikhil Bernard from I-League side Gokhulam Kerala FC, who would most likely play the third fiddle.

Chennaiyin have brought the most number of players to bolster their defence and being the third lowest goal conceding team last season, Gregory will only try to better that record. While his main job would still be carried out by the three defence generals – Mailson, Henrique Sereno, and Inigo Calderon - the Machans have also roped in the vastly experienced Eli Sabia. The 30-year-old Brazilian centre-half has played in as many as nine leagues in his career so far, including Serie A, and could be a huge backup for both Mailson and Henrique. Zohmingliana Ralte, who has previously played for Pune FC, NorthEast United FC and Bengaluru FC before, also provides the assurance of stepping into the void whenever called for.

With Jerry Lalrinzuala already establishing his position on left defensive flank last time, the likes of Tondonba Singh and Laldinliana Renthlei, who are versatile at the back, could inject the required pace on the flanks. Gregory has been one of the few managers who has worked the Indian players really well and Lalrinzuala’s rise is an example of that. He has almost always fielded a four-man defence last season with Lalrinzuala and Calderon taking the flanks, and Mailson and Sereno sitting centrally at the back. They are expected to continue doing so.


The triangular midfield of Gregory’s beloved 4-2-3-1 setup mostly had three men plying their trade – Raphael Augusto, Dhanpal Ganesh, and Bikramjit Singh. With Bikramjit Singh now gone, we expect the young Anirudh Thapa to get a more regular place especially after his recent exploits in international colours. Ganesh is also sitting out with a knee injury and the incoming Andrea Orlandi could replace him perfectly. The Spanish midfielder has played in Championship clubs like Blackpool, Brighton, and Swansea City and could provide both the structure and physicality needed in ISL.

In the wide forward positions, Gregory has the likes of Gregory Nelson and Francis Fernandes. And now with Issac Vanmalsawma joining from FC Pune City, Chennai’s attack looks more than complete. Last season, Chennaiyin were the side with the third most number of crosses last season with 270 attempts. However, with Delhi Dynamos and NorthEast United being the first two, it is established now that flank play isn’t something ISL adores and Gregory would have to find a way to be more effective from crosses.


In Jeje Lalpekhlua, Chennaiyin have a prominent centre-forward, who scored 9 goals in 20 games. Gregory’s style of play doesn’t really leave too many opportunities for his strikers to take and the Indian has had a great going by that measure. However, the former Aston Villa manager has brought in Palestine’s Carlos Salom to provide Jeje backup.

Mohammed Rafi has been a constant presence on the bench but Salom’s inclusion would change the equation. Gregory could be tempted to use a 4-3-3, a 4-4-2, or even a 4-4-1-1 with Salom up front now and we could see more goals this time.

Strengths and Weaknesses

They say goals win you matches and defence wins you titles. Chennaiyin followed this philosophy to the letter in their run to the title last season, but while a compact defence would be his strength again this season, his tactics, if repeated, might not fare well. No team has been able to defend the title in consecutive seasons so far, and an identical style could bring trouble as Kerala Blasters found out last time. 

The weakness for Chennai would be their attack. For a side, who prefers flank play on the counter, Chennaiyin FC could manage only 24 goals in total despite their players crossing 270 times. Although Salom would be a welcome addition to the side, Gregory would run out of ideas if the opponents find a way to outscore his side.

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