Chennaiyin FC had been stuck in the lower half of the table for an extended period. The two-time Indian Super League (ISL) Cup winners had to settle for an eighth-place finish for three successive seasons from 2020-2023. Determined to reclaim their position among the league's elite, the club reacted promptly by re-appointing Owen Coyle at the helm of the coaching seat. The Scotsman embraced the challenge, weathered initial setbacks, and ultimately brought out the best in his players, instilling a winning mentality within the squad. This transformation resulted in a late surge up the table, culminating in qualification for the ISL Playoffs after a three-year absence.

However, their journey met an abrupt end in the one-legged knockout fixture, where they succumbed to FC Goa.

Record

Pl: 22; W: 8; L: 11; D: 3; Pts: 27; GF: 26; GA: 36 

Chennaiyin FC’s season was a full rollercoaster ride. The Marina Machans endured a difficult start to the season, losing their opening three matches. Their first win of the league came in an away victory against Hyderabad FC, followed by a thumping 5-1 win over Punjab FC. However, the good run didn’t last long for Coyle’s men as they faced another challenging phase, managing just one victory and three draws in their next seven fixtures.

The scene didn’t really change after the mid-season break as they resumed their journey in February with a defeat to Bengaluru FC. The Marina Machans tasted victory after three games in the following fixture at home against Kerala Blasters FC. But the tide didn’t really turn as they succumbed to defeats in the next two matches again.

However, the upturn in fortunes was astronomical in the next five matches for Chennaiyin FC. It started with a last-minute victory against Odisha FC, followed by a shocking defeat to an all-Indian Hyderabad FC side, and then surged up with three back-to-back comeback victories, ensuring their qualification for the playoffs.

Positives

Coyle’s initial challenge was to bring out the best in his players. Although the Scotsman took considerable time to familiarise himself with the squad, he eventually succeeded. He instilled a winning mentality and cultivated a never-say-die attitude within the team, as demonstrated in their victories over formidable opponents such as Mohun Bagan Super Giant and Odisha FC.

Another positive aspect was their proficiency in set-piece situations. With players like Rafael Crivellaro leading the charge, they consistently created goal-scoring opportunities from set-piece moves. Additionally, the aerial threat posed by players like Ryan Edwards and Jordan Murray further strengthened their prowess in dead-ball situations.

Negatives

Despite boasting a stalwart like Ryan Edwards in defence, Chennaiyin FC encountered significant struggles at the back. While custodian Debjit Majumder delivered some heroic performances, mitigating the situation and securing crucial points, defensive woes persisted for the team. They conceded a staggering 234 chances during the league stages and let in 36 goals during the same period – both figures ranking second-highest in the league.

Best Player

Connor Shields

While the season saw impressive displays from players like Rafael Crivellaro and Ryan Edwards, it was Connor Shields who truly distinguished himself, owing to his remarkable versatility.

Initially positioned as a striker, Shields demonstrated his clinical finishing, netting three goals. Subsequently deployed on the wings, his speed and crossing abilities were utilized by the coach before he was tasked with playing in the double pivot role. Towards the end of the season, Shields also performed as a box-to-box midfielder. Shields excelled wherever he was placed by his coach, also contributing two assists to his name.

Best Young Player

Bikash Yumnam

Coyle had previously showcased his knack for nurturing young talents, a trait he continued to demonstrate during his second tenure with Chennaiyin FC. Yumnam emerged as one such talent who thrived under the Scotsman this season.

Making his debut in the ISL, the defender appeared in 20 league matches, amassing 1,392 minutes of playing time. While primarily positioned as a centre-back, Yumnam also featured as a right-back when needed. Displaying his defensive prowess, he recorded 15 interceptions and 42 recoveries, highlighting his versatility and skill.

What do they need next season? 

Having spent a full season with the squad, Coyle has gained valuable insights into what requires refinement. The Marina Machans are poised to take a significant stride forward in the upcoming season – setting their sights on challenging the league's elite and reclaiming their former glory.

Chennaiyin FC have already secured the contract extension of captain Ryan Edwards and substantial changes in defence to address their persistent issues. Additionally, reinforcements in midfield and attack would benefit the team, with Coyle likely to prioritise players who align closely with his philosophy and his team's dynamics.