Chennaiyin FC season review: A continuation of the past and a foundation for the future
In what might be another disappointing Hero Indian Super League (ISL) season for Chennaiyin FC, the side has shown moments of brilliance in phases which gives glimpses of hope for the fans for a better future. There is more than one reason to believe that the hope given by Hero ISL 2022-23 is actually real and not a mirage.
Three seasons passed, three coaches changed, but the club remained stuck to the eighth position yet again. Unlike the last two seasons which went for a lost cause, this season could be a solid foundation for a better future. The number of goals scored, the number of wins registered, the number of points gained have been the highest in the last three seasons, exhibiting a glimmer of hope.
The two-time Hero ISL champions underwent a huge revamp ahead of the 2022-23 season with German head coach Thomas Brdaric at the helm. Except captain Anirudh Thapa, all other prominent Indian players were changed ahead of the season. The Marina Machans also placed a complete overhaul in the foreign contingent, having changed all six foreign players.
PL: 20 W: 7 D: 6 L: 7 GF: 36 GA: 37 Pts: 27
Chennaiyin FC started the season with a win against ATK Mohun Bagan and a draw against Bengaluru FC, thus collecting four points from the first two games. The Marina Machans then lost to FC Goa, before getting a win against East Bengal FC. This pattern of inconsistency was followed throughout the season.
The fact that the side's worst home defeat (2-6 vs Mumbai City FC) and the best away victory (7-3 vs NorthEast United FC) in their Hero ISL history happened within a month summed up their inconsistency.
In the mid-season they went on a eight-match winless streak which cost them the playoffs spot dearly, including three draws at home. Speaking about draws, the Marina Machans played out six draws this season, the most by any team in the league. They also lost 11 points from the winning position, the joint-most in the league.
Despite such a poor run, Chennaiyin FC finished the season on a good note as they registered three consecutive wins against East Bengal FC, FC Goa, and NorthEast United FC in their last three matches, a feat they didn't achieve in the last two seasons.
2️⃣8️⃣ Days.— Chennaiyin F.C. (@ChennaiyinFC) March 2, 2023
We fell just short of a playoff spot but nonetheless February was a month to remember 💙#AllInForChennaiyin pic.twitter.com/HWQN3QQg9D
Chennaiyin FC are known for their free flowing football since the inception. The club has scored 235 goals so far in the Hero ISL, the third highest in the league. But in the last two years, the Marina Machans deviated from that game style and struggled to find the net. This season under Brdaric, they rejuvenated their philosophy and scored 36 goals, which is the second joint-highest in this season and their highest ever goal tally in the Hero ISL history.
With Brdaric stating the club being in a process, the silver lining of that process is the composition of core they are developing, which is young and dynamic. The likes of Samik Mitra, Vincy Baretto, Jiteshwor Singh, Sajal Bag, Ninthoinganba Meetei, and Rahim Ali who got regular game time under Brdaric, all come under U-23 age category players. With the experience they've got this season, the fans can expect a matured and balanced performance in the years to come.
The Marina Machans haven't found a formula to their leaky defense, a problem that still persists for another season. Failing to create a solid backline, the side were unable to crack into the top six. The team conceded 37 goals, the third-highest in the league. The side started with two foreign defenders in the starting XI and conceded 1.85 goals per match. With no clearcut solution for a secure backline, the side tried five different players in center-back position, three in goalkeeping position, three in right-backs, and two in left-backs, showing the instability in the backline.
Injuries are part and parcel of the game but the side has struggled to assemble a fully-fit squad for two seasons in a row. Barring a few games in the mid-season, Brdaric didn't get the opportunity to put all six foreign players in the Matchday squad. The best player in the camp, El Khayati had clocked just 572 minutes this season, the least among players who have 10+ goal contributions. Striker Kwame Karikari, who netted four goals and one assist, played only 528 minutes.
Best player: Abdenasser El Khayati
Abdenasser El Khayati made a massive impact to the Marina Machans this season. The midfielder played just 12 matches but scored nine goals, the highest by any CFC player. The Moroccan also has five assists to his name, the joint highest in CFC colors this season.
El khayati also boasts of a unique stat, having a goal contribution every 40.85 mins, the most by any player in the league. The 34-year-old also became the first player in the Hero ISL history to have five goal contributions in a single match, El Khayati achieved this feat by scoring a hat-trick and providing two assists in their away game against NorthEast United FC.
Best young player: Jiteshwor Singh
Jiteshwor Singh burst into the top division after a successful Hero I-league campaign, where he was awarded as the best emerging player of the season 2021-22. The Hero ISL debutant clocked 996 minutes across 16 matches this season, the highest by any U-23 player in the Marina Machans camp.
The Manipur-born player fits the role of a box-to-box midfielder assigned by Brdaric. Singh registered 19 successful tackles and 22 interceptions to his name, the third-highest by an Indian player in the CFC camp. The defensive midfielder also created 11 chances and also has an assist to his name in his debut season.
What do they need to for next season?
The two-time Hero ISL champions need reinforcements in a couple of positions on the field. The club lacks a proper right-back. Ajith Kumar, Mohammad Rafique, and Edwin Sydney Vanspaul have all been tried and tested in the right-back position, but they haven't been effective.
The new foreign signings in Vafa Hakhamaneshi and Fallou Diagne have blown hot and cold with respect to their porous backline. The injury concerns of Karikari, El Khayati, and Peter Sliskovic haven't helped in their attacking department, hence the maintaing the fitness of players will be a key aspect for the next season.
As Brdaric quoted, 'Rome wasn't built in one day', by retaining the core and adding the required reinforcements, the fans can hope that 'Rome' will be built sooner rather than later.