Chennaiyin FC will undertake a trip to the national capital, for their faceoff against Punjab FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium to round off the tenth matchweek of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 on December 18, Monday.

The Marina Machans sneaked into the top-six with a convincing 2-0 win over Bengaluru FC at home in their previous game. Penalties in either halves by Rafael Crivellaro and Jordan Murray did the job for them, but head coach Owen Coyle must be pleased with the clean sheet that they kept, after leaking an average of two goals per game in their opening nine fixtures.

Coyle knows the drill of what it takes to create a champion side. He is well aware of his strengths that rest in a creative and ruthless frontline. He knows that the backline needs some fixing and that a better sense of game management must prevail for them to stop giving away their leads. There are certain oppositions against whom they can maximise their positives, and Punjab FC is arguably one of them.

The Staikos Vergetis-coached side will be expecting a response after a crushing 5-1 loss to the Marina Machans in their previous fixture earlier this season. Punjab FC had gone toe to toe with Kerala Blasters FC last week, with only a spot-kick by Dimitrios Diamantakos turning out to be the difference between the two sides at the end of the game.

Vergetis is someone who has propelled them to great success, including securing the promotion to the top-tier. A victory has deserted them in the ISL still, but the tactician will be keen to ensure that they do not repeat the same mistakes that had made them succumb to the aforementioned heavy loss against Chennaiyin FC.

What’s at stake?

Chennaiyin FC

For Chennaiyin FC, here is a chance to make it two wins in a row and get into some sort of positive momentum as the competition for the first six spots in the table intensifies. Interestingly, they are unbeaten in their last three away games, with the only time they have gone in a longer stretch of such matches being that of five encounters once each in 2018 and 2020. Not too long ago they were lingering in the lower half of the table, but some occasional good results has slightly turned the fortunes in their favour.

The key is to reinforce this form and build on the same as much as possible. Coyle has a distinctive philosophy and his rich resume speaks volumes of the dividends that it can pay off if followed properly. The likes of Crivellaro, Murray, and Connor Shields add serious pace, precision, and power to their attack. When operating in tandem, they can rip apart defences and mount the problems for the opposition.

Punjab FC haven’t exactly been sturdy at the back, conceding 17 goals in 10 matches. They will present opportunities for Chennaiyin FC to pounce upon, or Crivellaro will be central to creating chances that can cause issues to the home side. Either ways, it will be a game where Coyle can count on his forwards to give rise to a goal-fest, if need be.

Watch highlights of their previous match here:

Punjab FC

After 10 games, the search for first ISL victory continues to bother Punjab FC. They have gotten within touching distance of the win many a times, from an inspirational outing at the home of Mumbai City FC to a 3-3 draw against Bengaluru FC at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium. However, they have not been able to sustain a phase of promising form for a sustainable period of time.

Punjab FC have encountered issues in asserting their authority over the proceedings too, maintaining only a 43.7% possession rate across this season, which is the least amongst all teams. They have been allowing opponents easy passage inside their box, giving away 15 goals from within the 18-yard area that is the highest as compared to all teams.

They can begin seeing more success when they start getting on the ball more, exploring further avenues of breaking deadlocks, outnumbering the opposition inside their own box, all in all, being more enterprising in their offensive endeavours.  On certain occasions, they have shown the valour to take the game to the opposition, pegging them back in their own backyard like the aforementioned two matches. Punjab FC should look to embrace that approach more often to get their desired outcomes from these matches.

Watch highlights of their previous match here:

Key Players

Krishnananda Singh (Punjab FC)

Krishnananda Singh has scored and assisted once in nine matches this season. Numbers might not suggest so, but he has been one of the liveliest presences in the frontline for Punjab FC. From cutting into the box, interlinking with fellow players, getting to goal-scoring positions during set-pieces, taking shots at the goalkeeper with firm attempts at goal, he has been doing it all to emerge as one of the promising domestic performers for the team in their maiden ISL campaign.

He has undertaken a concentrated approach upfront, rarely contributing in the build-up, averaging only 10 passes per game. However, an impressive sense of game-awareness means that it always looks like he will do the unthinkable upfront. He averages 54.4 minutes on field per game that he has played in this campaign, and maybe Vergetis can consider giving him more playing time for Krishnananda to give a clear example of what he is capable of pulling off on a regular basis.

Rafael Crivellaro (Chennaiyin FC)

The Brazilian playmaker scored the first and earned the second penalty in the win against Bengaluru FC. He has scored thrice and assisted five times in 10 games, resulting in a goal contribution every 101.37 minutes this season.

Crivellaro dictates gameplay, consistently exploring chances to get through the opposition’s defensive unit. Crivellaro is the player with the second-best differential between expected assists (2.49) and actual assists delivered (five) in the ongoing Indian Super League season (+2.51 xA value), after Mohun Bagan Super Giant midfielder Sahal Abdul Samad (+2.81 xA).

He creates 2.1 goal-scoring chances per match, and the 34-year-old has been delivering such outputs and rising up to the occasion every single time. He has been attempting 29 passes in every match too, being the bridge between the centre of the park and the attacking line for Chennaiyin FC. Whether he comes up with the goods in this game as well remains to be seen.

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Played – 1

Punjab FC – 0

Chennaiyin FC – 1

Draws – 0

Trivia: No team has conceded more fouls in the current ISL season than Chennaiyin FC (145).

Team Talk

“These are the kind of situations that can happen in football many times. We have had such situations many times previously but professional players need to adapt to these schedules. As coaches, we also have to schedule our training accordingly so that we have our players ready for the game. We have to adapt and we have done what we need to do,” Punjab FC head coach Staikos Vergetis remarked about the quick turnaround between their two matches.

“It was nice to get that victory (in the last game against Punjab FC). But they will count for absolutely nothing in the preparation for the game to come. Punjab FC have shown that they are really organised with what they have. We know that they are a good side,” Chennaiyin FC head coach Owen Coyle said, asking his team to not read too much into their win against Punjab FC in their previous faceoff.

ISL Fantasy

Rafael Crivellaro (7.6cr)

Three goals and five assists this season so far

Jordan Murray (7.7cr)

Three goals and two assists in eight appearances

Juan Mera (8cr)

One goal and a couple of assists in nine matches in ISL 2023-24

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Where to Watch

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