Having clinched the Indian Super League trophy for the second time in 2017-’18, it was a season to forget for Chennaiyin FC last year. Securing just 9 points from 18 matches, they finished at the bottom of the table, losing 13 games.
Experienced players failed to replicate their heroics from their title-winning season and injuries to a few big names further dented their hopes of making the playoffs. It only got worse for them, as they were dumped out during the group stages of the AFC Cup while losing the Super Cup final to FC Goa.
However, with a new-look squad at the fore and a strengthened defense, the two-time winners will aim to bounce back as John Gregory enters his third season at the club.
What’s changed for 2019-’20
Arrivals: Andre Schembri, Rafael Schuler Crivellaro, Masih Saighani, Lucian Goian, Nerijus Valskis, Edwin Sydney Vanspaul, Dragos - Petrut Firtulescu.
Departures: Raphael Augusto, Mohammad Rafi, Chris Herd, Francis Fernandes, Mailson, CK Vineeth, Halicharan Narzary
Ahead of the new season, the Marina Machans have revamped their defense and have been wise while investing in Indian players during the summer transfer window.
To address their defensive woes, they have roped in former Mumbai City FC captain Lucian Goian and Afghanistan centre-back Masih Saighani. Right-back Edwin Vanspaul joins the team having won the I-League with Chennai City while India international Lallianzuala Chhangte is also notable addition to the squad.
However, Schembri, the Maltese striker who has scored in the Europa League is the pick of the lot.
Chennaiyin looks a well-balanced unit after a busy summer but what stands out is their defence. They have made up for Mailson’s departure with the acquisition of Goian, arguably one of the best centre-backs in the league in the last few seasons. Furthermore, the return of defensive midfielder Dhanpal Ganesh should come as a huge boost for the backline, whose presence was sorely missed last season.
Though they have bolstered their defense, there are still doubts about their forward line. Jeje Lalpekhlua, still recovering from a knee injury, has been on a decline in the past one year while Valskis failed to hit the ground running in his debut season. Schembri comes with a big reputation but only time will tell whether he will a perfect fit for Gregory’s system.
Coach report: John Gregory
The management has handed Gregory a year-long contract extension, showing they still have faith in the Englishman. He led the club to the title in his first year and although they were not up to the mark in the following season, he knows what his players are capable of doing and has a good understanding of the league.
The Chennaiyin FC boss had bemoaned the lack of ruthlessness in their campaign last term, along with admitting his side were complacent.
“Maybe we didn’t work as hard as we had done in season four. We just freshened up everything. Maybe we were not ruthless in season 5, which hurt our performances,” Gregory said.
Player to watch out for: Lallianzuala Chhangte
The winger returns to India having had two trials with Norwegian club Viking FC but will hope to begin a new chapter with Chennaiyin on a bright note. Also an integral part of the Indian team under coach Igor Stimac, the Mizoram player has the ability to single-handedly win games when in full flow. Chhangte scored five goals and provided one assist last season for Delhi Dynamos, who renamed the team to Odisha FC, despite their struggles last term, showcasing the difference he can make.
Goalkeepers: Karanjit Singh, Vishal Kaith, Sanjiban Ghosh.
Defenders: Ngasepam Tondonba Singh, Masih Saighani, Lucian Goian, Eli Sabia Filho, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Deepak Tangri, Chongompipa Reamsochung Aimol, Zohmingliana Ralte, Laldinliana R, Hendry Antonay.
Midfielders: Lallianzuala Chhangte, Edwin Sydney Vanspaul, Dragos - Petrut Firtulescu, Khangenbam Thoi Singh, Anirudh Thapa, Dhanapal Ganesh, Germanpreet Singh, Rafael Schuler Crivellaro.
Forward: Nerijus Valskis, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Rahim Ali, Andre Schembri.