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Chennai eye reclaiming title with good blend of proven and raw talent

09 November 2017ISL Media Team

The Hero Indian Super League (ISL) has seen two clubs lift the coveted title in its brief three-year-history. Chennaiyin FC were crowned champions in 2015, seeing off then defending champions, ATK, en-route to title glory.

Chennai have had two memorable seasons and a faltering one last year. The first season saw them top the table in the league phase, thereby comfortably qualifying for the semi-finals. They then staged a heroic comeback in the semi-final against Kerala Blasters at home, only to be edged out in extra time. Comebacks continued the following year after a woeful start to the campaign that saw them languish at the bottom of the league half way through the season.

Only a staggering run in the latter half of the 2015 season, in which they won their final four league matches propelled them to the semis, where they eliminated ATK. In keeping with the nature of their campaign, two dramatic injury-time goals against FC Goa in final then helped them seal the title. Last year though, there was no such fairytale story as they showed poor form and finished second from bottom.

The first two seasons saw Elano Blumer and Stiven Mendoza play instrumental roles in the fortunes of the club with Mizo Sniper Jeje Lalpekhlua in support. Lalpekhlua is the only player from the trio still with Chennai ahead of the new season in which he’ll be expected to shoulder more responsibility than ever before alongside a new-look side.

Defence

The south-Indian outfit have put together a tight defensive unit for the coming season. The tactically-astute Portuguese Henrique Sereno makes the switch from defending champions ATK to the 2015 champions. Strong and cautious, Sereno has proven himself as a tenacious player and can be expected to be at the heart of Chennai’s defence, partnered with another Hero ISL winning defender Mailson Alves. The Brazilian will be returning to Chennai from NorthEast United FC after lifting the trophy with the southerners in 2015. Inigo Calderon, who has amassed around 200 appearances for English club Brighton and Hove Albion will want to make the right-back slot his own. The experienced 35-year-old Spaniard is also known to get his fair share of goals. The left-back position will mostly likely be up for grabs with the experienced Dhanachandra Singh and the talented Jerry Lalrinzuala – last season’s Emerging Player – both in the ranks. Sanjay Blamuchu is another option in defence with his versatility across the back-four being his biggest strength.

Midfield

Chennaiyin FC can be expected to field a compact midfield unit that’ll feature multiple creative options. Raphael Augusto was part of the title-winning Chennaiyin squad and last season, the Brazilian popped up with four assists. Chennai have also roped in Rene Mihelic, who has successfully plied his trade for Slovenian giants Maribor in the past. He is a proven scorer and will be hoping to play an integral role this season. Spaniard Jaime Gavilan, who represented ATK in Chennai’s title-winning season, will also beef up their options in the middle of the park. Dutch winger Gregory Nelson has played for the likes of CSKA Sofia and is known for his flair on the flanks. Thoi Singh will be a familiar face for the Super Machans from years gone by, while Bikramjit Singh will be a new domestic talent in the squad, eager to make an impression. Two highly rated youngsters Germanpreet Singh and Anirudh Thapa are also part of what looks like a strong midfield on paper.

Attack

Jeje has been a part of Chennai’s attack from the inaugural season and has scored 13 goals, while also providing six assists, making him the most effective domestic talent in front of goal in league history. An integral part of the national team, the 2016 AIFF Player of the Year will have to shoulder the bulk of the scoring responsibilities this season. Joining him up front will be the experienced 28-year-old Nigerian Jude Nworuh. The forward has scored across Denmark, Israel and Finland, and will want to be a threat in attack. Also part of the attacking unit is 35-year-old former Kerala Blasters hitman Mohammed Rafi, who has scored important goals in the ISL in the past, including the one in the final last year against ATK.

The coach

While world-cup winning player Marco Materazzi was at the helm for three seasons, there has been a managerial change for the upcoming one. Englishman John Gregory was an Aston Villa player as well as manager of the highly successful team of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Besides managing a host of other English clubs, John Gregory has had stints in Israel. A highly-rated manager, he will look to lead the club back to glory in the new season.

Player to watch out for

Jeje Lalpekhlua has been a proven goal-scorer for club and country alike by finding the back of the net with unerring regularity. A clinical finisher, he is also strong and can shield the ball from defenders to bring his teammates into the game.

Pre-season form

Chennaiyin took to Thailand for their pre-season training and despite a jittery start, ended it on a high. Unsurprisingly, the ‘Sniper’ always fired!

Chennaiyin have built an exciting squad with immense depth in all departments courtesy of both tried and tested players as well as exciting new prospects. The upcoming season will, undoubtedly, test their credentials of title contenders with their frontline most likely to be under the scanner.

They begin their Hero ISL 2017-18 campaign against FC Goa at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai on November 19.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Karanjit Singh, Pawan Kumar, Shahin Lal Meloli

Defenders: Dhanachandra Singh, Fulganco Cardozo, Henrique Fonseca Sereno, Inigo Calderon, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Keenan Almeida, Mailson Alves, Sanjay Balmuchu

Midfielders: Anirudh Thapa, Bikramjit Singh, Dhanpal Ganesh, Francisco Fernandes, Germanpreet Singh, Gregory Nelson, Jaime Gavilan, Raphael Augusto, Rene Mihelic, Thoi Singh Khangembam

Forwards: Boaringdao Bodo, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Jude Nworuh, Mohammed Rafi Madambillath

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