If you look at the attacking prowess of teams in the semi-finals of Hero Indian Super League, Chennaiyin FC wouldn’t scare anyone. The Super Machans have scored just 24 goals during the league phase, a far cry from the goals scored by FC Goa (42), Bengaluru FC (35) and even FC Pune City (30).
But teams still in contention for the ISL title have more than just a reason to fear Chennaiyin FC. For a start, they have had goalscorers from all over the pitch. In fact, 11 different players have scored for them this season, an achievement no other team can boost off.
Unlike teams like FC Goa who depend overwhelmingly on the Spanish combination of Ferran Corominas and Manuel Lanzarote – who have scored 30 goals – or Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfaro at Pune City or Miku and Chhetri at Bengaluru FC, Chennaiyin FC have shown during the league stage that they have had players rising to the occasion every time the team needed.
“We have goals coming from all around the team. When the attackers have not been able to get the goals, players from other parts of the pitch have contributed,” said Jeje ahead of the crucial semi-final game against FC Goa.
“We have had (Henrique) Sereno headed in the winner against Pune and Dhanpal (Ganesh) did the same against BFC. Inigo (Calderon) and Mailson (Alves) has also chipped in. Similarly Raphael Augusto, Rene Mihelic, Mohammed Rafi, Gregory Nelcon, Francis Fernandes and Anirudha Thapa have also added their names to the long list of scorers for the club,” explained the Mizoram striker, who himself has scored seven goals till now for the club.
One of the prime reason of an all round performance by Chennaiyin FC is the strong fitness and mental strength, which can give them an edge over the rivals. Whenever they have gone behind, there has been a response from the team which underlines a belief in their own ability to score goals against any opposition. “When Raphael got injured, Rene came in and performed. When Sereno was suspended, Dhanachandra (Singh) stepped in. The bench strength is good this season,” says Jeje.
Chennayin have been shut out only in two games this season – a 1-0 loss to Mumbai City away and a goalless draw away to Kerala Blasters.
“We’ve got a fantastic medical department. My head of sports science Niall Clark keeps everybody fit. I’ve even had problems choosing players for the bench. It’s a testament to the way we look after our players with games coming thick and fast,” said Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory, who has already used 24 of his 25 registered players. Only third goalkeeper Shahin Lal Meloli has not debuted for Chennaiyin this season.
“We monitor their bodies and everything always. We know what condition our players are in. When we had the opportunity to rest them, we did that,” he added.
Interestingly, Chennaiyin have scored a fair chunk of their goals in the final 15 minutes. Eleven of their 24 goals have come after 75 minutes which highlights the fact that Gregory’s outfit is one of the fittest in the league.
Going into the semi-final against rivals FC Goa, Gregory will be confident. He knows that he has a team that can maintain energy levels for the entire 90 minutes and have goalscorers all over the pitch.