Entertainment from the Only Two ISL Champions: Chennaiyin FC 0 – 0 ATK Review

Chennaiyin FC and ATK play out another ISL Classic

When teams with pedigree come together, you’ve got to expect something good. It doesn’t always end up in fireworks though. Sometimes, that something good is just a very technical and tactical chess game. Other times, that something good is good ol’ fashioned punch counter-punch. When ATK visited Chennaiyin FC yesterday, it was neither. It was both!

The start of the game was quite unconventional. You just don’t expect ATK to come to Chennaiyin while propping up the table. You expect the two-time ISL winner to come to the only other ISL winner with both teams near the top. Chennaiyin had read the script, ATK were forgetting their lines.

The Hope and the Desperation

Chennaiyin were playing for the top spot in the table while ATK were just playing to feel like they’re worth something. When you’re a team from the debatably “football capital” of the country, you can’t kick heels while sitting at the bottom of the table. You can’t just embarrass those fanatics like that. With such depression, none of them will eat fish and then we’ll be left with a stinky West Bengal owing to all the rotting fish.

Heck, we may see an ecological imbalance in East India because of this. What happens when there are too many fish in the water? Are there any marine biologists amongst you guys that can answer that question?

Seriously though, there were lots of signs that this game would be good.

  1. Both teams had the same formation.
  2. Both teams have a rich rivalry.
  3. ATK had Robbie Keane on the bench. They had dropped Jussi Jaaskelainen to the bench to keep a foreign attacking position (Kuqi started) open for Keane.
  4. Chennaiyin had chosen to start Jaime Gavilan who is more attacking than Raphael Augusto.
  5. Chennaiyin were at home. ATK had to attack because of the pressure on them (no goal from open play).

Both Teams Focused Heavily on Left Flank – First Half

There were a lot more similarities too. For example, left flank was the go-to area for both teams. I think they had identified right backs as the weak links. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for either. It was more visible in the case of Chennaiyin, though.

Chennaiyin kept going to the left flank to bring their most creative player Gregory Nelson into the game. The idea was perfect but the problem with it was that Nelson was phoning in his performance. He simply wasn’t interested ad didn’t look up for the game at all. He gave away possession multiple times through misplaced passes or poor dribbles.

On top of this, Chennaiyin were not passing the ball quickly enough. The passes were too slow which gave ATK time to set themselves up. At one time, Chennaiyin won the ball behind the half way line and they could’ve launched a counter attack that could’ve ended with a 4 or even 5 against 3. They failed to do so because they decided to pass slowly instead.

The entire first half was wasted like this. The most lively player in the first half was ATK’s Bipin Singh. He was all over the attacking third. He was on the left flank against Inigo Calderon, on the right against Jerry Lalrinzuala, and even in the centre against Henrique Sereno and Mailson Goncalves. Unfortunately, along with his sharp turns and dribbles, he also performed many miraculous dives and complaints.

The entire first half devolved into a scrappy affair. At its best, it was a technical midfield battle of a game. Both teams kept failing with their final ball into the strikers.

The Mizo Sniper Breaks the Cease Fire Agreement

The first 15 minutes of the second half went by like the previous 45 minutes. The only interesting bit was that we finally got to see Robbie Keane. Incidentally, he looked fit enough. But, it wasn’t the Irish Sunil Shetty (two gun celebration, get it?) who broke the deadlock, it was our Mizo Sniper.

The goal was very similar to what Chennaiyin had scored at Pune. It was a corner from Jaime Gavilan (against his former team, btw) that was taken short because Calderon came forward for it. The ball was returned to Gavilan who placed his cross immaculately onto the head of Sereno. Sereno, though, could only find the inside of the post. The ball rebounded straight to Jeje Lalpekhlua in the middle of the goal. All he had to do was perform a Japanese konichiwa (welcoming bow) and the ball went in.

That goal had excellence all over for Chennaiyin. The decision from Calderon to comes for a short one showed experience. Gavilan’s cross showed his primary strength (set pieces). Sereno’s header showed his set piece positional play and Jeje’s goal showed his strikers’ instinct and reflexes.

After that goal, John Gregory tried to do what he had done at Pune – shore things up with substitutions. It didn’t work. Instead, it disrupted his team’s cohesion because Zequinha scored a goal that could’ve been prevented. It was classic pinball in the box with the ATK target man Kuqi involved. The ball finally fell to Zequinha who, in one motion, controlled and dispatched it into the far bottom corner.

It was after this goal that Karanjit Singh came to the fore. He will not be praised by the media for it but his save against Kuqi, while one on one, stood out for me more than Jeje’s two goals. He came forward when Kuqi was sent through and didn’t dive to blog his little dink. It was what you expect keepers to do and he did it very well to save Chennaiyin’s bacon. Also, why do we say, “save their bacon”? Does Kevin Bacon get in a lot of danger often?

After Kevin Bacon died, Chennaiyin got lucky when Calderon’s tame hit got deflected into the ATK goal. Jeje got the assist for this goal when he sidled the ball into Calderon’s path just on the edge of the box. Chennaiyin took the lead in the 84th minute but ATK weren’t gonna sit on their collective arses counting the trophies they’ve won in the past. They’re fighters.

They came at Chennaiyin again and levelled things up again through Kuqi. Kuqi was sent through just like he was sent through earlier. This time it was inside the box and the culprit was Calderon because he played him onside. Kuqi hit and Karanjit saved again! Unfortunately, the ball went back to Kuqi who was emphatic with his roof destroying shot.

By the end of it, this game was very similar to how I used to play chess as a kid. It used to be 300 on my boards with ALL OUT WAR! It isn’t all that different to how people drive here in Delhi. It is also very similar to what happens when someone tells me Arsenal sucks or Sachin doesn’t know how to play. Other similar instances I can recall are taking away my food, taking away my toilette paper, and taking away my glass of single malt. No one messes with the Single Malt. Capisce?

By the end, Chennaiyin just got lucky and it could’ve easily been ATK with the win. It was a cross from Calderon that Debjit Majumdar decided to gift to Jeje. He parried it in the same way that girls throw a 5 Kg dumbbell – weakly. The ball rolled to Jeje who tapped it in with composure.

I’m going back to my single malt. This post was late, I know, but life has a tendency to intervene when you’re doing something great. It’s not that different to how my dog scratches my door when I’m enjoying the can (NOT EMRE CAN) at 5 AM in the morning.