Chennaiyin had a horrendous time of it last season. They averaged 0.5 points a game and ended at the bottom of the pile. No ISL club had ever done worse. And they experienced all of this as defending champions. It was some comedown from that magical night at the Kanteerava in 2017 when they upset Bengaluru FC on their home patch to secure a second title.
They seem to be making a habit of this. The season after they won the league for the first time, they came in second from bottom, just one point above wooden-spooners FC Goa. That performance was enough to lose Marco Materazzi his job as manager but the present incumbent, John Gregory, has held on to his position.
The Marina Machans have to consider the last campaign as a bad dream and move forward. They had retained most of their title winning squad but almost every single player underperformed. A normally reliable back four leaked goals galore and their over-reliance on Jeje Lalpekhlua at the other end was brutally exposed. C.K. Vineeth and Halicharan Narzary were added to the squad mid-season to try and shuffle up the pack, but to no avail. The numbers were down on just about every parameter but the lack of intensity would have been the most troubling aspect of their performances for the manager.
Gregory goes into his third season at the helm having discarded all the overseas players, save one. Eli Sabiá escaped the cull and will keep his place in the heart of defence. Lucian Goian joins from Mumbai and while the thirty-six year old is getting on in years, he is an astute signing for a squad who could do with his leadership on the pitch.
The loss of Raphael Augusto will be felt a lot. The Brazilian midfielder has been one of the standout performers in the ISL over the years and his replacement, Rafael Crivellaro has his work cut out for him. André Schembri and Nerijus Valskis will be tasked with scoring the goals that were sorely lacking from the forwards. Afghan midfielder, Masih Saighani and Romanian winger, Dragos Firtulescu complete the foreign contingent.
The Indian core has remained the same with Lallianzuala Chhangte a welcome addition from Odisha FC. The Mizo winger is a regular with the national squad these days and he will be a regular source of threat on the left flank. Thoi Singh was the surprise top scorer for the side last season contributing four goals, a quarter of the team’s goals. He will continue to provide width on the right wing while hoping that his forwards do not fail him this time around. Dhanpal Ganesh was sorely missed last season in central midfield following a knee injury and Gregory will be thrilled to have him back. Anirudh Thapa is one of the young leading lights in Indian football and this could be the season for him to stamp his authority on the league.
With as many as twelve players offloaded from the previous campaign, one expects Chennaiyin to come back strongly this year. They will have learnt their lessons and will be keen to get out of the blocks quickly, something they failed to do last season. If they hit their stride, they are a very difficult side to stop. Three playoff appearances attest to that.
It is usually boom or bust for the Machans. The smart money would be on it being the former this season.