John Gregory will be facing a litmus test when he takes his side to the Fatourda on October 23 to play last season’s runner-up FC Goa. However, while the Englishman would be judged from the minute one of the new season, he has arsenal up his sleeves that could fetch the club their lost glory.
Reappointing a manager after he led the side to their worst finish in the tournament’s history would seem like a bizarre decision to many, but Chennaiyin FC have really done the unthinkable by giving John Gregory one more season. The Englishman had got almost everything wrong last time with none of his players clicking and the squad seeing massive upheavals recurrently. However, things started to click during the end of the season and light was seen at the end of the tunnel as the Marina Machans went all the way to final of Super Cup.
While it was enough to create the impression that the two-time champions had got their mojo back, the departure of Raphael Augusto would surely raise concerns on the fans’ part.
Valskis’ signing could be termed as a gamble in every sense if he is brought in keeping an eye to upgrade Marina Machans’ attack from last season. With both Jeje Lalpekhlua and Carlos Salom flopping terribly last time, John Gregory had to fall on Thoi Singh to score goals, and while the wide forward did contribute at times, it was clearly not enough for Chennai to compete.
This season, the Englishman is going to try with another set of players to repeat his heroics of 2017-18 and Vlaskis would have to play a crucial role in it. The 32-year-old Lithuanian international’s only impressive stint came in A Lyga, where he spent seven seasons playing across four clubs, scoring a mammoth 58 goals and providing 19 assists.
A well-built forward with an affinity to score from the centre-forward position, Valskis would be seen more as a wall for his wingers who would bounce passes off him before attempting on target – something CFC’s strikers failed to do last season.
Masih Saighani and Lucian Goian
Gregory had seen his side shipping in a shameful 32 goals last season, which was a primary factor in them getting dismantled from the throne of the defending champions. With Mailson Alves having a hot and cold affair with the manager - which was also a mini-comeback for the Brazilian - Chennaiyin were a mess at the back and needed immediate attention.
And Gregory did exactly that getting in two central defenders Masih Saighani and Lucian Goian to assist an already established Eli Sabia. In Goian, Gregory would be having a veteran enforcer, who already has spent three seasons in ISL and was a part of a defence-heavy Mumbai City FC side. A leader by nature, Goian would more than address CFC’s defensive concerns with his ability to command the backline.
Saighani would be playing as more of a second fiddle to Sabia and Saighani in the backline with the Super Machans also seeing the Afghani player pushing up to the defensive midfield from time to time. With a towering figure at over six feet, Saighani would be handy in seeing off aerial threats and his previous stint with Aizawl FC also makes him an experienced player in Indian football.
With Lallianzuala Chhangte already impressing one and all with his unparalleled pace on the left wing with Delhi Dynamos last season, one would wonder what Dragoș Firțulescu brings to the table. The 30-year-old Romanian won’t be having the pace to run up and down the flanks relentlessly, and neither does his resume boast of a prolific goal-scoring record.
However, if Gregory has learnt anything from last season, it is that he couldn’t rely on any particular player for a particular role. To top that, the amount of football Chhangte has played since breaking into the scene could easily see the youngster falling victim to burnout. Firțulescu, although not a very impactful wide forward, could strike a balance.
Finally, the biggest name in CFC’s incoming list and the one who would have thousands of expectations on his shoulder of filling the shoes of his namesake, Rafael Crivellaro, would be the lynchpin to Gregory’s machinery this time. Leaving Raphael Augusto was a mammoth decision by the club as it not only puts their upcoming season in danger but also risks the crowd retention at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
Having played in the Portuguese first and second-tier and proving his worth at that level, Rafael would be the main creator for Chennaiyin FC for the 2019-20 season. A number 10 who would also drift to the left wing as and when required, the Brazilian has shown his attributes in providing through balls, crosses, and taking dangerous long shots.
With the likes of Anirudh Thapa and Dhanpal Ganesh alongside him to make his job easier, Chennai easily have one of the most complete midfields in the league and would be difficult to break down. And with Thoi and Chhangte waiting on the flanks, Chennaiyin would be looking at a more direct play that would prevent them from relying solely on the forwards’ form.
Chennaiyin’s case last season has been quite curious to begin with. John Gregory seemed to have got almost everything right in terms of tactics but the players never looked up for the task, which points at a lack of motivation. The Englishman was reported to have been at loggerheads with Mailson Alves while Jeje was also dropped unceremoniously after few matches, when he was struggling to score goals. However, the side looks to have attended all the voids in the transfer window so far, and with them getting their mojo back somehow, everything hints at a more successful season for Gregory this time.
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