Reigning champions Chennaiyin FC´s title-defence is on the verge of an extraordinary collapse halfway into the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) season.
No club has been able to retain their ISL title since the start, but no team has given up on their dream so early in the league. Chennaiyin, languishing eighth on the table with just five points from nine games, face a do-or-die battle as ATK roll into the South Indian city of Chennai on Sunday.
John Gregory´s team have been disappointing in all areas of the game so far. They are yet to win at home this season, and if they fail to break that run on Sunday, they might as well kiss goodbye to the league.
“It is going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of patience. We need to have more confidence in ourselves. Against Kerala, you could see it in the body language of the players, they know they played really well. As a player whenever you come off the field, you know if you have played well, you don´t need telling,” said Gregory.
The defence has generally been error-prone for Chennaiyin and when they have done well there, the attack has misfired. The midfield has also lacked solidity which has forced Gregory to try Inigo Calderon as a central midfielder on occasions.
But what would worry the Englishman is the failure of the team to capitalise on their chances. In their last game on Thursday against Kerala Blasters, the team had several chances to put the game to bed but did not take them.
“Playing against Steve´s (Coppell) teams is always tough. We had two matches against them last year and three goals in two games. One of those was a penalty. They are tough to play against, certainly, since Andre Bikey has come back into the team, they got even stronger defensively. They are really a tough team to break down," said Gregory.
Steve Coppell´s ATK are one of the meanest teams at the back. They have only leaked in eight goals and are the only team this season to have not conceded a goal against the prolific FC Goa.
Andre Bikey and John Johnson at the back have been phenomenal as their experience has been vital. The bad news for ATK is that Pronay Halder would miss the tie due to suspension.
What would concern Coppell is that his team hasn´t scored a goal since the international break.
“We need to score more goals to win more games and get more points. One thing I would say is that we lost two very strong centre forwards in Kalu Uche and Emiliano Alfaro. Alfaro didn´t even kick a ball for us. That´s bound to leave a bit of a gap. But we are working hard with the players we have to score more and convert the chances,” said Coppell.
“For every team, the matches before the break is critical. You need to be in a good position before the Christmas break to be in a position to attack the last six games and be in a top-four spot. That´s what every team will be looking to do.”
This weekend, both Gregory and Coppell would hope that their teams can find their scoring boots, else they risk being left out.
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