Road to semi-finals: After mission impossible, Chennaiyin out to achieve record

Although the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20 kick-started in late October, Chennaiyin FC’s campaign found substance only after Owen Coyle’s arrival some two months later. The Chennai-based club had endured a difficult time prior to that, winning just once in six games and going without finding the net in four of those. Coyle changed that, helping the club not just collect points but do it with an attractive brand of football. Their aim will now be to kick on further and win a record third Hero ISL title. Before that though, let’s look back and summarize their campaign so far.

Form over the season:

The Marina Machans were in all sorts of trouble at the start of the campaign, as they lost three of their opening four fixtures and failed to find the back of the net even once in these four outings. The statistic was especially worrying given the calibre of players the club had signed in the summer transfer window. Nerijus Valskis, Andre Schembri, Lucian Goian and Lallianzuala Chhangte are more than capable of winning games on their own, but for some reason, neither of them could step up in the initial weeks.

Soon though, Chennaiyin got their first win as they beat Hyderabad FC 2-1 at home in the last week of November. However, it was almost back to square one in the next match, with the home side being held to a point by Odisha FC. The match proved to be the end of the then-head coach, John Gregory’s time at the club, thus paving the way for Coyle’s arrival.

In his very first game in charge, the 53-year-old demonstrated his vibrant philosophy with Chennaiyin slightly luck to win just a point away to Jamshedpur FC. A smashing 3-1 victory over Kerala Blasters FC followed that, marking the start of the club’s stunning revival in Hero ISL 2019-20.

Although Chennaiyin failed to collect three points in either of their subsequent matches, Coyle remained calm and persisted with his thrilling attacking philosophy. The rewards arrived soon after, with the Marina Machans going on a season-defining eight-match unbeaten run which included six wins. Valskis and playmaker Rafael Crivellaro formed the cornerstone of this run, and will again shoulder most of Chennaiyin’s attacking responsibilities in the knockout phase.

Key Players:

Nerijus Valskis

In just his first season with the club, the Lithuanian has had a tremendous impact on not just his team but the entire league as well. The forward’s appetite for goals, his work rate and sensational link-up ability has been a sight to watch, with youngsters especially benefiting from his knowledge of the game. The 32-year-old has scored a massive 13 goals and provided five assists so far, and will be keen to add to it in the knockout stages.

Rafael Crivellaro

Like Valskis, the forward didn’t have the greatest start to his Hero ISL career. That changed when Coyle took over, with Crivellaro playing the free role behind the striker in the new system. The responsibility perfectly suited his abilities, and helped power Chennaiyin towards the upper end of the table. The 31-year-old has scored seven goals and provided six assists so far this season.

Edwin Vanspaul

Preferred by both Coyle and his predecessor Gregory, Vanspaul has been outstanding this term. The 27-year-old’s versatility has helped him seamlessly transition from one position to another, and he is now a key member of Coyle’s midfield setup. Having played 17 matches so far, Vanspaul has accounted for over 500 passes, 71 tackles, 66 clearances and 39 interceptions thus far.

Semi-final fixtures:

1st Leg: Chennaiyin FC vs FC Goa

Date: February 29, 2020

Venue: Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai

2nd Leg: FC Goa vs Chennaiyin FC

Date: March 7, 2020

Venue: Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Goa

Check the full fixtures list here.

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