25 Mar Chennaiyin FC 2017-18 Indian Super League Review
It was around 66th minute in the Kanteerava and our emotions were at the peak, people taking their shirt off in joy, people who were strangers 5 months ago embracing each other as Raphael Augusto had passed the ball in the bottom of Gurpreet Sandhu’s goal giving Chennai a 3-1 lead over Bengaluru in the ISL finals. It has been a week since we won the ISL and the joy of winning the title at Bengaluru hasn’t sunk yet. But 5 months ago when we were 3-0 down at the first half in our first game of the season against FC Goa I was sitting down in the disappointment never did I imagine then that we will go on to win the title.
Before the start of the season none of the media or the experts listed us amongst the favourites to win the title. Gregory’s arrival raised a few eyebrows considering the fact that the manager hadn’t really tasted success in his last few outings. But Gregory proved each and every doubter wrong as the season progressed.
The team didn’t really depend on individual talents to win us games, our success was a complete team effort and that’s something which makes this season special to us.
John Gregory was the architect of Chennaiyin’s title winning season. In the first game of our season he had set up Chennai in a 3-4-3 playing several players out of their natural position Dhanachandra Singh a full back playing as a center back, Inigo Calderon playing as a Central Midfielder and Thoi Singh as a wing back. Gregory realised his mistake and during the 2nd half Gregory made 2 changes he brought Bikramjit for Dhana and Gregory Nelson for Rene Mihelic switching to a 4-2-3-1 formation and the tides changed, Chennai scored 2 goals and were close to securing a draw and was the turning point of our season.
Some of Gregory’s decisions were masterstrokes. He used the Indian players especially the likes of Francis, Bikramjit and Dhanpal Ganesh to their strengths rather than asking them to do things which they aren’t good at. His system was emphasised on work rate and defensive stability and brought out the best in the team.
His man management and game management skills were perfect especially in the play-offs were everything he did was perfect. Gregory had also used the modern day technological development to the fullest, He stated in his press conference that Video Analysis and sports science played an integral role in this season’s success.
He made some great decisions using Nelson and Francis as inverted wingers and Raphael Augusto who used to play as a defensive midfielder into a false no 10 were masterstrokes. Nelson and Francis were made to switch wings when we are in need of goal and this move payed of several times especially against FC Pune City at home when Nelson scored a goal to win us the game from the right wing.
The best thing about John Gregory was he wasn’t stubborn and evolved as the season progressed. Our side had a weakness against high pressing while defending in our own half which was very evident in 3-1 loss against BFC at home and several other games later on in the season. He completely nullified this by making Raphael Augusto play more deeper and making Francis and Nelson to get into positions were they can start a counter, this can be evidently seen in the 3rd goal against BFC in the finals where Raphael gets the ball much deeper in the second half and sets up a counter with an amazing ball to Gregory Nelson.
Gregory’s decision of hiring Mark Lillis, Tony Warner and other backroom staff were also amazing moves.
The System and Players
Gregory used a 4-2-3-1 formation and mostly stuck to the same starting 11
Karanjit was ever reliable guarding the posts. He had a shaky start to season against FC Goa but was amazing as the season went on. He saved 2 penalties and kept 7 cleensheets. He had a great game against FC Goa in the 2nd leg of the semi-finals making excellent saves. A lot of credit to his performance must go to Tony Warner our goalkeeping coach.
Our defence was solid throughout the season and each and every player was excellent at their own ways. The defence was set up in an aggressive way which can be highlighted from our 2nd leg performance against FC Goa despite 3 of our back 4 being on yellow we were aggressive when it came to defending.
Inigo Calderon was one of the signings of the season in ISL. Many during the start of the season thought that should be benched for a foreign attacker , As the season went on he proved them all wrong, signing him should be one of master strokes of John Gregory. He scored some crucial goals set up attacks, was an amazing defensively and turned into a fan favourite as the season progressed.
Our Central defensive partnership of Mailson and Sereno is by far the best in the league, not only were they great defenders but also provided threat in the set pieces scoring 5 goals and winning us Crucial games. Mailson for me was robbed of several individual accolades, he was amazing and bailed us out at many occasions throughout the league.
Jerry had an amazing season, he never looked out of sorts in the defence despite being the only Indian defender in the back 4. It has been a long time since we have seen an Indian player at 19 being established at the top level and having made over 50 professional appearances. His performance against FCPC away was one of the highlights of the season were he completely shut Marcelinho down.
The central Midfield partnership if Local boy Dhanpal Ganesh and Bikramjit was crucial to our success this season. Both were aggressive lads who never backed down from going into challenges and did all the dirty work in the midfield. Bikramjit utilized his low self of gravity to the fullest he was crucial in making tackles and setting up counter attacks. Dhanpal Ganesh established himself as the best CDM in the country with his amazing performance hrought the season and was a very big threat in set pieces, who’ll forget his goal against Bengaluru late in the second half which has to be one of our best moments this season.
Anirudh Thapa to chipped in with great performances every game. He was a kind of compulsory sub every game and provided a great attacking threat going forward late in the game. His finishing was excellent especially the goal in the semi-finals against FC Goa were he scored through the legs of Seriton Fernandez and Kattimani.
Playing Raphael Augusto as an attacking midfielder is probably the biggest master stroke of John Gregory. His position can be described as a false no 10 starting elsewhere n intention of arriving in the no 10 position. Raphael was used as a defensive midfielder in the center of a 3 man midfield by Materazzi in his 4-3-2-1 formation in his last 2 seasons at Chennaiyin FC. Gregory’s tactics payed of with Raphael being crucial to most of Chennai’s attacks. He was also integral in breaking the opposition’s pressing and setting up crucial counter attacks.
Francis Fernandez has probably been our most underrate player this season. Gregory used Francis to his strengths and brought the best out of him. He had incredible work rate and defensive contribution this season and ends up creating a lot of space to our other players with his pace during the attacks.
Gregory Nelson had a slow start to the season but was amazing as the season went on. He was our biggest threat in the counters and was unlucky not to score more goals this season hitting the post on multiple occasions. He was architect of our play-off success recording 5 assist and being involved in 6 of our 7 play-off goals especially our 3rd goal in the final where he bullied Chhetri to set up Jeje through on goal.
JEJE had a good, different and a difficult season. It was probably the first time in his career were he had been asked to play as a typical centre forward and he ended up scoring 9 goals and a couple of assists. He did struggle at times and had a rough patch of not scoring in 7 games but he followed that with an amazing performances in the play-offs scoring 2 goals and setting up another. JEJE is certainly expected to grow as a player in this system in the upcoming seasons.
The likes of Rene, Gavilan, Rafi, Jude, Thoi, Germanpreet, Dhana and Keenan also contributed with crucial performances. Rene made 4 assists and scored 2 goals, while Rafi to chipped in with 2 crucial goals during the season.
Likes of Nelson, Mailson have signed contract extensions while Raphael Augusto who has a multi-year deal are the only foreigners retained for the next season. There has been speculation about Henrique Sereno and Inigo Calderon’s career and rumours of them retiring making the rounds. The likes of Dhanachandra Singh and Keenan Almeida have already signed for other clubs with the likes of Thoi Singh and others expected to follow their footsteps expecting more play time.
With the AFC Cup around the corner in the next season signing a quality Asian player will also be a crucial task for the management. The AFC Cup will also be a test of our bench strength and we can expect to see a lot of young players in action next year. I expect the management to come on top again next season and give us another good season to cherish.