Unlike the previous season where they witnessed a stunning turnaround and finished runners-up, there was no miracle this time around in the Indian Super League for Chennaiyin FC. Their season ended in disappointment as they failed to reach the semi-finals. Statistically, this was the second worse season for the club having only collected a point per game.

Their tally this campaign is only better than their haul in the 2018-’19 season when they managed only 0.5 points per game and finished last.

Points per game (Chennaiyin FC)

Season Points per game
2020-'21 1.00
2019-'20 1.61
2018-'19 0.50
2017-'18 1.78
2016 1.07
2015 1.57
2014 1.64

But if you go by the eye test, Chennaiyin have been much better in matches and to an extent have been unlucky not to get more out of the season.

“I know the fans are disappointed because we were not able to make the top four and that was our target. I think we played enjoyable football but we were unlucky. Hopefully, the next season, you [the fans] are with us and we can have a better run, especially if you are in the stadium,” coach Csaba Laszlo said after the team’s last game against Kerala Blasters that ended in a draw.

Chennaiyin drew 11 out of their 20 matches, the most so far by any team in a single season. In a majority of those games, the Blues enjoyed more chances than their opponents and if not for their misfiring strikers, the story of their season would have been a lot different.

Laszlo’s men have the third-most shots in the ISL this season but are the league’s second-lowest scorers. They have needed 15 shots per goal scored, which is the poorest accuracy among all teams (statistics as of February 21, 2020).

Conversion rate of ISL teams (2020-'21)

Team Shots per goal scored*
Chennaiyin FC 15
Kerala Blasters 11.7
Jamshedpur FC 11.11
Odisha FC 10.83
SC East Bengal 10.18
Bengaluru FC 9.16
Hyderabad FC 9.04
FC Goa 8.64
NorthEast United 8.33
ATK Mohun Bagan 8.26
Mumbai City FC 7.84
*As of February 21, 2020

The poor attacking numbers for Chennaiyin are largely due to the failure of their attacking foreign signings to make a mark in the ISL. Having lost Nerijus Valskis to Jamshedpur FC (he was the golden boot winner in the league last season), the replacements failed to adjust. None of Isma, Jakub Sylvestr and Fatkhullo Fatkhulloev managed to score more than five goals.

Chennaiyin were heavily reliant on their Indian contingent who were with the club for a few seasons to lend some stability to the team but injuries to key players like Anirudh Thapa did not help.

The team’s chief creative force, Rafael Crivellaro, played only seven games due to injury, further hurting their prospects in front of goal.

Chennaiyin FC's top scorers

Player name Number of goals League rank*
Isma 4 18
Lallianzuala Chhangte 4 22
Anirudh Thapa 2 35
Rahim Ali 2 39
Jakub Sylvestr 2 52
*As of February 21, 2020

Chennaiyin FC's top assist makers

Player name Number of Assists League rank*
Jakub Sylvestr 3 21
Edwin Vanspaul 2 25
Rafael Crivellaro 1 42
Isma 1 71
Reagan Singh 1 81
As of February 21, 2020

Looking ahead

Chennaiyin will need to go to the market to refresh their foreign contingent once again although their Indian players are definitely worth keeping faith in. Chhangte ended the season strongly and young players like him will only get better with experience.

The Super Machans have had a topsy-turvy ride in the ISL so far and know well how to bounce back from poor campaigns. Csaba Laszlo’s position will be evaluated and although the results don’t make a strong case for him, there were enough positives in their football to afford him a second chance. Chennaiyin are known to give their coaches time and may opt to stick with Laszlo who has been refreshingly honest in the assessment of his team.

But getting the foreign contingent right will be a priority for Chennaiyin in the off-season irrespective of who is in charge. Given the quality of strikers and attacking players they have had on their roster in the past (before Valskis, remember Elano and Stiven Mendoza?), 2020-’21 was an unqualified disappointment.

For a team that has seen more highs than lows in their brief history, the 2020-’21 ISL season will be one they would want to forget but also a campaign where they’ll have learnt a lot about team building. A season like no other, was marked by fine margins, but the important step is now to find answers to a few big questions facing them.