Atletico De Kolkata vs. Chennaiyin FC Review

The Clash of the Champions ends in an eventful and exciting draw

I’m very curious about a particular statistic about the Indian Super League. Of all the goals scored in the three ISL seasons, I want to know if the vast majority of them were scored in second halves. It’s easy enough to do. All one needs to do is check the scores in all the matches. I am much too lazy to bother. Are any of you interested in doing this? If you watched Atletico De Kolkata vs. Chennaiyin FC, then you know why I want to know.

This match ended in a 2 – 2 draw between the 2014 and 2015 champions. It should ideally have been a home victory but I think the change in stadiums for Kolkata caused some disconnect for its fans. They were mostly quiet throughout the match. Even when Atletico De Kolkata took the lead in the game, I didn’t notice any marked difference from the crowd w.r.t. to noise. Atletico De Kolkata were playing at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium, as opposed to the Salt Lake Stadium which is being prepped for the Under17 World Cup.

Chennaiyin FC took full advantage of the apathy from the Atletico De Kolkata fans by bullying their players around. It was a nostalgic match for me, albeit in reverse. I remember Atletico bullying people and being overly physical in 2014. This time it was Chennaiyin being overly physical and Atletico players on the receiving end. It is to both teams’ merit that they managed to get a draw from the match because both of them had leads at different moments of time.

In terms of players, Sameehg Doutie stood out for me, finishing the game with one goal and one assist. Keep an eye on this kid, he can be good if he chooses to eat some protein and lift some weights.

Team News for Atletico De Kolkata and Chennaiyin FC

ATK Stadium

The team news for this one is interesting from the perspective of personnel as well as formation. Atletico de Kolkata chose a flexible formation i.e. 4411 or 442 with Iain Hume operating in the hole behind Helder Postiga. Postiga had a smashing start to the last season but his great start was brought to a gut wrenching halt by injury. He would be looking to avoid the same this time out – the injury not the goals, in case you were confused.

Jose Francisco Molina made an interesting decision by going with the Indian Debjit Majumdar instead of the Spanish Dani Mallo. This could be because of the ISL rule requirement of having at least five Indian players in the team. If Molina had gone with Mallo, he would’ve had to put an Indian in the midfield. It was probably a strategic decision. I’m inclined to trust Molina in his choice of goalkeeper simply because he was a keeper when he used to play. ATK were also without Pablo Gallardo and Ofentse Nato but put Sameehg Doutie (someone I wanted to see very much) into the middle. I was also excited about the combination of Hume and Postiga

I felt that Chennaiyin FC went with a defensive formation. Their formation looked like a 433/451 to me and it was understandable from Marco Materazzi. You see, Chennaiyin neither have Mendoza nor Elano – both of whom were their attacking lynchpins in the last two seasons. Duwayne Kerr was debuting for Chennaiyin. In central defence, Chennaiyin had two pillars of excellence in the form of Bernard Mendy and John Arne Riise. The question was who will start in the centre. My money was on David Succi with Jeje Lalpekhlua and Jayesh Rane on the wings.

Chennaiyin Penetrate More; Atletico De Kolkata Have Crisper Passes

atletico-de-kolkata-vs-chennaiyin-fc-ftThe first half began with Chennaiyin FC in the ascendancy. Their dominance was largely due to Atletico De Kolkata’s defensive strategy of high press. The problem for ATK was that Chennaiyin managed to play through their high press.

The issue was that Atletico De Kolkata weren’t pressing as a team. Their front line i.e. Hume and co was pushing but their defensive minded players weren’t pushing. Thus, Chennaiyin players were getting some joy with longer passes.

During this domination, Chennaiyin had the first and the best chance of the half to score. It came from a free kick that was taken by Hans Mulder. Mulder laid the ball off from the direct free kick to his left for a Riise wallop. The ball deflected off the wall, smacked against the underside of the crossbar, and bounced out.

The initial periods of the first half was typified by two things – the fact that Hume doesn’t age and the fact that Baljit Sahni likes to dive and con the referee. I’m sure that you can tell that I don’t condone the latter and respect the former.

Atletico De Kolkata, for some reason, didn’t produce as many chances as they should’ve despite the fact that their passing was crisper than Chennaiyin’s. This was probably because they didn’t use width enough even though their wing-play was really effective. By the latter part of the first half, the game devolved (or evolved depending upon your inclinations) into a midfield battle. Atletico De Kolkata’s best chance also came from a wickedly whipped free kick taken by Javier Lara Grande. It was a shot cum cross that gave Kerr some trouble.

Atletico De Kolkata Open Scoring

atletico-sameehg-doutieThe second half began with a glaring mistake from Bernard Mendy as he fell over while trying to stop Postiga. The mistake went unpunished, though, because Riise mopped up.

Riise’s free kick continued to cause trouble for Atletico De Kolkata as Debjit Majumdar was forced to flap away an acute in swinging free kick. The free kick was promptly followed by counter attack from Atletico where Lara was set up by Hume only for the latter to deliver a tame shot directly at Kerr.

Just when everyone started thinking that this would be a dead, dull, and dreary 0 – 0 draw, Doutie popped up with a goal. Postiga ran with the ball to the left of the centre circle, drew all the defenders and spread a lofted ball to the right at the feet of the onrushing Doutie. Doutie’s first touch to take the ball down was butter on a pan.

The beauty of the first touch allowed him the time to take a second and set the ball up for a nice one on one with the keeper. The one on one was a result of the left back, Nalappan Mohanraj, tucking in for the missing centre back. The real culprit for the goal, however, was Jayesh Rane who failed to support his left back. Needless to say, Doutie finished with aplomb at 59 minutes. Atletico De Kolkata 1 – 0 Chennaiyin FC

Chennaiyin Equalise; Promptly Take the Lead

Chennaiyin Jayesh RaneAtletico De Kolkata’s lead didn’t last for long, though. Chennaiyin FC equalised via the earlier culprit Jayesh Rane at 66 minutes. Rane made up for his mistake by breaking the offside trap and catching a scuffed shot from Jeje Lalpekhlua. Even though he was facing the keeper, there was still a lot to do. He did all that was required by controlling the ball and dinking it over the onrushing Majumdar. Atletico De Kolkata 1 – 1 Chennaiyin FC

Chennaiyin upped the ante four minutes later by taking the lead through a speculative shot that deflected into the net. Hans Mulder took the shot from well out. It didn’t even have enough power on it but it still deflected off Jose Luis Espinosa Arroyo or “Titi”, wrong-footed Majumdar and sneaked inside the post. Atletico De Kolkata 1 – 2 Chennaiyin FC

Atletico De Kolkata Get Loads of Chances; Convert One

atletico-iain-humeGoing a goal down, lit up a fire in Atletico players’ you know where. They fashioned a chance for Postiga only for their marquee player to direct his free header straight at Kerr from a Doutie free kick. Postiga’s chance was followed by a chance for Hume. Hume was found on the far post by a cross but he could only flash his shot on the wrong side of the far post.

Hume even got a second chance. This time it was an absolutely free header from the same position. He was so free that he got confused by it. He neither shot at the goal nor set up his partner in crime, Postiga. His cushioned header was too close to Kerr.

Dudu, who had come on earlier, was the one to get a clear cut chance next. He met a cross from the left flank at point blank range only to loop his shot over. It was a position from where it would’ve been easier to score. That miss would prove to be very costly for Chennaiyin as Atletico De Kolkata would equalise through a Hume penalty. The penalty was won by Doutie as he was bundled over in the box on 84 minutes by Jerry L’Rinzuala. Hume converted the penalty by putting it into the keeper’s right hand bottom corner. Atletico De Kolkata 2 – 2 Chennaiyin FC

Chennaiyin FC vs. FC Pune City Review

Chennaiyin FC vs. FC Pune City

Chennaiyin FC Take Advantage of Lacklustre FC Pune City

Well, well, well… what a result yesterday! By beating two of the semi-finalists of the last season, didn’t Northeast United announce themselves into the 2015 season? Could the results against Chennaiyin FC and Atletico Kolkata show that their team is finally clicking? Could they go on a fantasy run? We’ll know later of course because today is about Chennaiyin FC and FC Pune City.

FC Pune City, the away team today, is doing fairly well in the Indian Super League 2015 season especially if you compare it to their last year’s performance. Chennaiyin FC, the home team, of course, is not having a swell time in the 2015 ISL season.

Will the fact that Chennaiyin FC is playing at home after four games lead to a win for them or will Jackichand Singh continue showcasing his skills and tormenting defenders?

Team News for Chennaiyin FC & FC Pune City

Chennaiyin FC - Alessandro PotenzaThis one will be an interesting battle. Both teams have a lot to play for. A win for FC Pune City will put them on top of the table. In fact, even a draw will propel them above FC Goa on the table. For Chennaiyin FC, this game is important because a win in it will bring them back into contention amongst the big guns.

Chennaiyin FC have been having a stop start season and are finding it tough to capture any kind of consistency. Chennaiyin lost their last game against the Highlanders and Marco Materazzi reacted to that dismal performance by ringing in the changes.

He fixed his error from last team selection by bringing back Elano Blumer and Stiven Mendoza into the starting line-up at the cost of Fikru and Jeje Lalpekhlua. He also chose to rest Alessandro Potenza which I feel might be a huge mistake. Bruno Pelissari and Harmanjot Khabra were also given the hook for Thoi Singh and Raphael Augusto. Possibly, the most interesting change was the removal of Apoula Edel for Karanjit Singh.

FC Pune City’s team remains almost unchanged with the exception of the injured Lenny Rodriguez who would sit this one out for Manish Maithani. Jackichand Singh, Tuncay Sanli, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Didier Zokora, and Nicky Shorey getting a chance to continue their good form.

I have to say I have enjoyed how FC Pune City have been playing. They, I feel, have had a lot of variation in their attack and none of their strategies have been negative at all. They attack and they defend with class which is something that I’ve come to appreciate.

Chennaiyin FC, on the other hand, are an enigma. I think they’re an enigma to themselves as well to a point where they seem confused at times on the pitch. So, my prediction for this game is for FC Pune City to win by two goals to the 1 of Chennaiyin FC.

Chennaiyin FC Start With More Drive

FC Pune City - Steve Simonsen

FC Pune City – Steve Simonsen
Credit: Vipin Pawar / ISL/ SPORTZPICS

The home team started the game on the front foot with Elano and Mendoza showing their almost telepathic understanding. Their interchange allowed Mendoza to get a shot off from outside the box. It wasn’t a bad effort but Steve Simonsen was more than a match for it. He not only saved it but held it too.

This action was followed by a bad decision from Manuele Blasi who came in late on Zokora and received a yellow card. My instant reaction was that that yellow card may cause Chennaiyin FC problems later.

In the sixth minute Simonsen saved his team when a short back pass from Gouramangi Singh was chased down by Elano. Fortunately, before the Brazilian could pull the trigger, Simonsen dived in and got the ball with his knee. It looked as if Chennaiyin FC wanted it more.

Chennaiyin FC Get a Great Chance

Chennaiyin FC - Elano BlumerThe 19th minute brought the most existing goal mouth action of the game. The cross came in from Chennaiyin FC’s left flank. It was plucked out of thin air by Elano who tried to poke it past Simonsen. However, the keeper was up to the task and parried the shot. The ball then fell to another Chennaiyin player who could only poke it wide of the post under pressure from the Pune defence.

The game, I felt, was being affected by a poor pitch. While the commentators were claiming that the pitch was watered, it didn’t look like it. There was something wrong with it because the ball was holding up on it. The passes were running short, the ball was wobbling while rolling, and the pitch was essentially looking woeful and very thick.

Chennaiyin FC Take an Overdue Lead

Chennaiyin FC - Bernard Mendy

Chennaiyin FC – Bernard Mendy
Credit: Pal Pillai/ ISL/ SPORTZPICS

The 28th minute saw another save from Simonsen. It was innocuous ball from Chennaiyin FC’s Mailson Alves from deep in his half. In fact, it was a clearance from the defender. The ball ended up dropping for Mendoza and freed him from the clutches of Pune defenders. He ran at the keeper but Simonsen again saved the shot.

Chennaiyin FC’s domination, however, bore fruit in the 34th minute. The goal was scored by Bernard Mendy from a long throw in. The ball dropped into the middle of the penalty box, Mendy ghosted in front of his marker and nodded the ball into the net. Despite the form of Simonsen, the English keeper couldn’t have done anything there. Chennaiyin FC 1 – 0 FC Pune City

Near the end of the half, Ravanan struck the ball goal wards when the ball fell for him from a Jackichand blocked shot. However, Singh stretched out a big hand and used his strong wrists to deflect the ball off the target. It was a brilliant save which kept Chennaiyin FC in the lead.

Chennaiyin FC Double the Lead in Second Half

Chennaiyin FC - Stiven Mendoza

Chennaiyin FC – Stiven Mendoza
Credit: Vipin Pawar / ISL/ SPORTZPICS

In the second half, Mendoza doubled Chennaiyin FC’s lead on the back of poor play from FC Pune City. Pune lost the ball deep in their half to Elano who produced a wonderful slide rule pass for Mendoza behind the defence. Mendoza got free, rounded the keeper, and passed the ball into the net. Chennaiyin FC 2 – 0 FC Pune City

My prediction be damned. This match looked like it could turn into a rout for Chennaiyin FC.

After that goal Chennaiyin FC settled deep into their half. They were pressing and pushing FC Pune City well and every time they would get the ball they would try to launch a counterattack with pace and pinpoint passing.

FC Pune City Pull One Back

FC Pune City - Kalu UcheThe next notable moment in the game was the entry of Fikru and the exit of Mendoza.

However, that moment was nothing compared to FC Pune pulling one goal back. FC Pune City won a freekick on the right flank.

The freekick was taken by Dharmaraj Ravanan. The cross dropped on the head of Kalu Uche, who had earlier come on for Yendrick Ruiz earlier.

Uche’s header was saved by Singh but it dropped to Lyngdoh who made a hash of his swivel shot. Still, he knocked the ball to Uche again who made no mistake and slotted it in. Chennaiyin FC 2 – 1 FC Pune City

FC Pune Try to Level the Game

FC Pune City - Adrian MutuChennaiyin FC could’ve restored their two goal lead when Fikru got free behind the defence. He ran, received a lofted ball, and tried to slide it under the keeper but Simonsen again showed his class and stopped it.

FC Pune City could’ve gone level too when Jackichand Singh crossed the ball from their left flank. The cross was excellent and dropped onto the head of Adrian Mutu. Mutu’s header just missed the goal through deflection with the keeper floundering. Mutu got a header off from the resulting corner but again put the ball wide.

That would be the last significant chance for FC Pune City. Try as they might, they would not breakthrough or get another chance to do so.

Tactical Analysis: First Impressions + Projections

There wasn’t anything wrong with how the two managers setup tactically – even in the case of FC Pune City. The game was lost on the pitch simply because certain players played better than other players.

When FC Pune went behind first, they were still in the game but they didn’t play like that. For some reason, the first goal rattled FC Pune City enough to start giving the ball away at the drop of a hat. Still, they could’ve still turned it around if they had applied themselves.

The game was lost, however, when FC Pune City went down by two goals early in the second half. After that, they had to really push for their goals. More importantly, Chennaiyin FC were astute enough to know that they can sit back and use their pace to counter.

I think the pitch also affected FC Pune City’s game because their game depends on either quick passing or close control dribbling skills. A pitch where the ball holds up or wobbles isn’t ideal for FC Pune City. At the same time, it can be said that FC Pune City should know how to play in all conditions.

More importantly, they shouldn’t be waiting for the last 15 minutes to wake up and start playing. They shouldn’t be taking 75 minutes to get used to the pitch. So, well played Chennaiyin FC!

Chennaiyin FC vs. Atletico De Kolkata Review: CFC Degrades While ATK Upgrades

Chennaiyin FC vs. Atletico De Kolkata

Ok, let’s get the immaterial out of the way – the opening ceremony. Utter waste of time except the fact that it allowed us to see how much bigger the Indian Super League 2015 season is than the 2014 season. The opening ceremony was essentially the who’s who of the Indian celebrity circuit. This is all I’m willing to say of an event that I believe doesn’t deserve to turn into a tradition. But us commentators don’t matter because sponsors have to get their few minutes of fame.

Team News for Chennaiyin FC & Atletico De Kolkata

As for the game, there isn’t much backstory involved. Materazzi’s selection didn’t inspire me before the match much. The reason was that he chose Fikru and Jeje as his strike force. They were just too defensive.

I liked Atletico De Kolkata’s formation much more. Displaying an embarrassment of attacking riches, Habas the Henchman had Baljit Sahni, Iain Hume, and Helder Postiga in his line-up together. My early prediction was a win for ATK with CFC biting the dust, despite what the Star Sports experts said.

The Game Kicks Off With an Indian Twist

Chennaiyin FC - ElanoThe first chance fell to Jeje who had a free header from an Elano corner but he skewed it wide.

The corner, itself, was won by Elano’s dribbling skills. After that we had a reminder that the game was being played in India – a three legged dog decided to take a stroll on the Chennaiyin FC pitch.

What an embarrassment that was. Harmanjot Khabra received an unfair yellow card when the ball hit his arm.

He was obliviously jumping in the wall trying to block a freekick. Who won that freekick? Why, the pesky Hume of course.

Chennaiyin FC’s main weapon was, don’t be surprised, Elano. Elano looked incredibly sharp, fresh, and fit. He popped up all over the place to receive and release the ball in the likeliest of situations. It was obvious that Materazzi had given Elano a complete free role with no defensive responsibilities.

It was also clear that Atletico De Kolkata was struggling to keep a tab on Elano. Essentially, when a player floats like Elano was doing, the manager of the opposition needs to assign someone to manmark him because zonal systems don’t work in such situations.

Atletico De Kolkata Take the Lead Through a Double Agent

Chennaiyin FC - EdelThe first goal came in the 13th minute on the back of Edel’s howler. It was a simple enough floated freekick from ATK’s right side.

The ball should have been caught easily by Edel but he ran into his own player Mailson, fell on his bum, and dropped the ball right into the path of Helder Postiga.

He won’t get an easier goal than that all through the current season. Chennaiyin FC 0 – 1 Atletico De Kolkata

That was an appalling start for Edel who, if you remember, used to play for Atletico De Kolkata last year. Controversy theorists, would you please stand up and be counted with your creativity. Jokes apart though, that was a poor first goal of ISL2.

Fikru Can’t Score But He Does Contribute Nonetheless

Chennaiyin FC - FikruAfter that Fikru showed exactly why I don’t rate him much. He had an open shot created by Elano but he fluffed his lines and dragged his shot wide because he wanted to bang it in as opposed to placing it in. Fikru repeated the anti-skill a little while later in the 22nd minute. Granted, he was facing two defenders but he could’ve at least got a shot off.

Chennaiyin FC came back into the game on the stroke of the 31st minute. Chennaiyin FC were constantly winning freekicks for Elano to exploit, as is their way.

This one paid off. Elano dropped a wonderful ball over the head of Atletico’s left back with Fikru ghosting in behind him. The header was won by Fikru but deflected by the keeper. The ball bobbled to Jeje Lalpekhlua who made no mistakes. Chennaiyin FC 1 – 1 Atletico De Kolkata

In the 29th minute, Baljit Sahni received his customary yellow card by going too strong against an opponent. He could’ve never won that ball but he decided to jump against the wall. Sahni has a tendency to draw yellow cards left, right, and centre so it’s no surprise that he got one in his very first game.

Lara Announces His Presence With Some Delicious Skills in the Second Half

Atletico De Kolkata - Javier Lara GrandeDuring the half time, Marco Materazzi decided to bring on Bernard Mendy for Mailson. I can only assume that it was because of some form of injury. That was a forced substation, not a tactical one, although it could’ve been because Mendy does offer some attacking potential.

For a good 7 to 8 minutes nothing much happened in the game.

Maybe all the players were still having their tea! There were a couple beautiful moves between 52nd and 54th minutes led by Javier Lara Grande.

One was a nice give and go combined with beautiful step overs while the other was a gorgeous reverse pass. If Lara keeps that up, he could really make the Indian Super League 2015 entertaining.

In the 60th minute, Lara came to the fore again with a wonderful freekick. I am going to declare that this man will be very good this season. His freekick was left footed and came from the right side. It clipped the post with the keeper beaten.

John Stiven Mendoza Valencia came on in the 63rd minute. I was waiting for him to be thrown on. In fact, according to me, the game and Chennaiyin FC’s play specifically was screaming out for someone with the skills of Mendoza.

I liked how Chennaiyin FC were pressing the ball. It was calculated and careful, but still effective. They were pressing while simultaneously covering the possible passing lanes but it didn’t make a difference in the overall scheme of things.

Helder Postiga Shows Up Second Time

Atletico De Kolkata - Helder PostigaHelder Postiga made his second appearance in the game by stealing a headed back pass by Mendy.

The pass was short, Postiga stole in, took the ball wide, and finished low through the keeper’s legs. Two silly goals from Chennaiyin FC and score was Chennaiyin FC 1 – 2 Atletico De Kolkata.

In the process of swivelling and scoring, Postiga seemed to have injured himself.

Injuries caused by swivel type shots can be problematic. Postiga seemed to have been grabbing his hamstring.

This could be a long layoff for him which would create considerable problems for Atletico De Kolkata in the next few matches. Postiga was taken off for Valmiro Lopes Rocha (Valdo).

Valdo Puts The Game Beyond Reach

Atletico De Kolkata - Valmiro Lopes RochaValdo would put the match beyond Chennaiyin FC in the 76th minute with a header. A sumptuous cross came in from the left after a lovely bit of skill from Hume. The cross was met by Valdo on the stretch over the defender. He put the ball into the far corner to take the game beyond Chennaiyin FC. Remember, Valdo is a product of Real Madrid’s youth academy. Chennaiyin FC 1 – 3 Atletico De Kolkata.

Atletico De Kolkata received a penalty in the 78th minute because of Mendy’s deliberate handball in the box. Lara took the penalty and put the ball hard to Edel’s lower right, but the keeper made amends for his earlier mistake by saving it. The resulting corner didn’t amount to much.

Chennaiyin pushed on trying to claw their way back. Mendoza shot from the left to the lower right only for the keeper to save it. Materazzi, after that little bit, went all out by introducing Balwant Singh for, here’s a mouthful, Lalhmangaihsanga Ralte (Sena Ralte). This was followed by an ATK substitution where Sushil Kumar Singh came on for Baljit Sahni.

Referee Gets His 30 Seconds Of Fame

In the 88th minute, the referee went mad and gave a silly handball in favour of Chennaiyin FC. The ball didn’t even hit the defender, Arnab Mondal’s, hand. The referee needs to take a dip in his western commode if his judgement is going to be this flawed. The resulting penalty was converted well by Elano. Chennaiyin FC 2 – 3 Atletico De Kolkata.

That goal gave Chennaiyin FC an impetus because they really gave it their all in the last couple of minutes and the stoppage time.

Tactical Analysis:  First Impressions + Projections

Alright! That game deserved to be the opener for ISL2. A 3 – 2 scoreline deserves to be the opener for any league. I believe the game was won and lost on the whiteboard in the lockers under the bleachers.

Habas the Henchman is an experienced manager. He is so experienced that he has coached international games. Materazzi, on the other hand, is a great former player who is only into his second season. And, you know what, it showed.

Materazzi chose to respect his opponents too much. For some reason, he went with the diamond formation with Elano at the head of the midfield. Elano will never defend. In his bid to really utilise Elano, Materazzi forgot about controlling the midfield. He essentially had a midfield of three players. There was a serious lack of balance in Chennaiyin FC’s team sheet. I think the team would’ve been better served with a five man midfield as opposed to a three man midfield.

On top of this, Materazzi all but gifted the wings to his opponents by not picking wingers in his own team. In fact, I think all three goals came because of the wings being empty. The first was a freekick on the wing which may not have occurred if there was a winger in addition to a wingback. The second was a back pass which may not have been needed if there was someone on the wings to receive it. The third goal was a direct cross from the wings.

I liked how Atletico De Kolkata set out for this game. They had two defensive midfielders, one attacking midfielder, and two wingers with a single striker. On top of this, the front three attacking midfielders were interchanging well too. ATK had a five man midfield which is why they won this game.

Not only did I like Atletico De Kolkata in this game but I like what I see in general. I think ATK will continue to dominate the league. For Chennaiyin FC, my projection is that their Indian Super League 2015 season won’t be as good as their 2014 season was. Of course, a lot can change in the future but I don’t see many changes occurring with Chennaiyin FC.

Marvellous Innovation From Chennaiyin Fails to Pay Dividends

Bernard Mendy, Chennaiyin

Wow! What a match that was! I am still catching my breath and trying to calm down my palpitations. This was a game that reminded me of the 2012 UEFA Champions League when Arsenal almost pulled off a wonderful comeback against Bayern Munich.

I remember that Arsenal had lost 3 – 1 at home against Munich. They went back to Munich and were one goal short of eliminating Bayern Munich.

If Chennaiyin had managed to pull off this wonderful comeback I would’ve cited Liverpool’s great comeback in UEFA Champions League final of 2005 when they came back into the game from being 3 goals down.

Strange Strategies Make Sense in Practice

Bernard Mendy, Chennaiyin

Bernard Mendy, Chennaiyin

This was sheer entertainment and it began even before the first ball was kicked with the way that the teams were set up.

For example, the way that Chennaiyin set up was very interesting. They chose to play 8 defensive minded players again.

I would’ve thought that they would’ve chosen to play Bruno Pelissari and Elano both along with Jean-Eudes Maurice and Jeje Lalpekhlua.

If anything, they went even more defensive than their last game. They took out, yes took out, Elano and Balwant Singh. For them, they brought in Gouramangi Singh and Marco Materazzi. I found that extremely confounding up until I saw them on the pitch.

They had Bernard Mendy in the right forward position and Materazzi in the left central midfield position. Harmanjot Khabra, who started the last game in right back, was playing right central midfield.

This showed me that Chennaiyin were trying to use their size advantage. As a result I expected to see lots of crosses and freekicks being thrown in. I was proven right within a few minutes of the first half when Chennaiyin kept lobbing ball to Mendy and Materazzi.

Kerala Blasters, on the other hand, only brought in Sandesh Jhingan for Nirmal Chettri. I don’t think Kerala Blasters had any idea what Chennaiyin would throw at them.

Chennaiyin Started Like Hyperactive Demons on the Pitch

Marco Materazzi, Chennaiyin FC

Marco Materazzi, Chennaiyin FC

Of the two teams, Chennaiyin started much more brightly. In fact, they were so eager that the kick-off had to be done again due to infringement into the centre circle by one of the Chennaiyin players.

Chennaiyin attacked throughout and created the first great chance in the 12th minute. A cross came in from Chennaiyin’s left flank.

It was flicked on by Materazzi and a Chennaiyin player on the far post (I think it was Maurice) hit a venomous shot which the keeper got a hand to. The ball bobbled on the line before it was cleared.

The game was extremely intense. Chennaiyin players were trying to rile up all the Kerala Blasters’ players. Materazzi, I believe, raised his hand to Victor Herrero Forcada’s (Pulga) neck and followed it by condescendingly slapping Colin Falvey’s face.

In the 19th minute, Materazzi set up Jeje who tried the lower right corner but scuffed his shot. It still required the Kerala Blasters keeper, Sandip Nandy to stretch like a rubber band to save it.

A Sending Off Decides Kerala Blasters’ Strategy for the Rest of the Match

Jamie McAllister, Kerala Blasters FC

Jamie McAllister, Kerala Blasters FC

Kerala Blasters managed to create a chance of their own in the 25th minute via Iain Hume. Hume and Michael Chopra combined and the former used a little bit of his skill to get free in the box.

Unfortunately for him, Shilton Paul was off his line to block the shot. Shilton Paul, by the way, was brought on in place of Gennaro Bracigliano.

The situation got worse for Kerala Blasters a little later when Jamie McAllister was given his second yellow card for a rugby tackle.

His first yellow had come in 6 minutes for, get this, time wasting. That sending off made the match even more interesting.

Chennaiyin Complete Their First Labour

Mikael Silvestre, Chennaiyin FC

Mikael Silvestre, Chennaiyin FC

Chennaiyin had a very good call for penalty when Gurwinder Singh pushed Maurice. Instead, the referee gave Kerala Blasters a freekick for the following incident involving high boot.

In the 42nd minute, Chennaiyin completed their first labour. They won a freekick on the left flank.

Surprisingly, Materazzi took the freekick and delivered an Elanoesque ball into the 6 yard box. Mikael Silvestre ran across his defender and headed the first goal. Chennaiyin FC 1 – 0 Kerala Blasters FC

Kerala Blasters Shoot Themselves in the Foot Then Chennaiyin Do the Same

Sandesh Jhingan, Kerala Blasters FC

Sandesh Jhingan, Kerala Blasters FC

Whatever Kerala Blasters discussed during the half time break, it came to naught because they gave away a penalty within 3 minutes of the second half.

Jhingan used Maurice for climbing practice and brought him down in the process.

The referee blew the whistle and Materazzi stepped up. He stroked the penalty home but the referee decided that it had to be retaken because of Maurice’s encroachment into the box.

Materazzi’s second effort flew wide by inches. The score remained the same.

The Calm before the Storm!

Sandip Nandy, Kerala Blasters FC

Sandip Nandy, Kerala Blasters FC

In the 57th minute, Chennaiyin brought on Elano when Nesta had to hobble off due to a faulty hamstring.

Moreover, after the 60th minute, there was a bit of a lull in the game as Kerala Blasters started wasting time by feigning injury. The game became broken and Chennaiyin couldn’t create any momentum.

I think fatigue also came into play because the players looked tired too. In the 75th minute, Kerala Blasters pressed the big red button with 12 letters on it – S.E.L.F. D.E.S.T.R.U.C.T.

A hopeful ball was put into the Kerala Blaster box which Jhingan decided to chest to his keeper. The keeper, probably because of nerves, decided to come for the ball which Jhingan had chested. He was caught in no man’s land and the ball trickled over the line. Chennaiyin FC 2 – 0 Kerala Blasters FC

It’s important to add that the mistake, in my mind, was from Nandy as opposed to Jhingan. That ball was in no way the keeper’s. Besides, Nandy was nursing a hamstring injury and limping all over the place. What was he doing running out of his box?

Chennaiyin Make Everything Even!

Jeje Lalpekhlua, Chennaiyin FC

Jeje Lalpekhlua, Chennaiyin FC

Now, Chennaiyin only needed one more goal and I wanted them to get it because I wanted 30 minutes extra of this wonderful game.

Pelissari got a chance to level the aggregate score in the 85th minute when he broke through the Kerala Blasters defence into the box. His shot, though, ended up going wide.

It wouldn’t matter because on the stroke of 90 minutes Chennaiyin got their third goal by cheating.

Mendy drove towards the touchline in the 18 yard box and looped a glorious cross towards the far post. Jeje was there to hand the ball into the net. Chennaiyin FC 3 – 0 Kerala Blasters FC

I like the fact that this meant 30 minutes more but I didn’t like the fact that it came from cheating. Now, I’m not criticising Jeje because I’ve never been in the kind of situation he was in. For all I know, he handed the ball into the net reflexively.

I’m just ruing the fact that it took something like this for Chennaiyin to equalise on aggregate. I wish the goal was clean.

Chennaiyin now had their tails up in the air. Elano decided to test Kerala Blaster’s third choice keeper with what must’ve been a 35 yarder and another 30 yarder. Luis Barreto could barely keep the first one out while the second one flew over the crossbar.

Same Number of Goals and Now Same Number of Players

When the extra time started, one thing would’ve been clear to anyone watching the match. The match was now Chennaiyin’s to lose because they had the better players on the pitch. In fact, their players were fitter too. They almost showed it in the 100th minute when Elano took a corner and Materazzi almost scored with his head.

In the 104th minute, the game turned on its head. The referee decided to give Materazzi his second yellow card in less than 5 minutes for what was an innocuous challenge. The first yellow card was fair but the second one was plain daft.

It was the wrong call from the referee just like Jeje’s goal was the wrong call. However, what it did was that it made the game 10 vs. 10. With all the remonstrations, angry words, criticisms, and questions from globally established football stars, this was trial by fire for the ref.

Kerala Blasters Pull a Rabbit Out Of the Hat

Stephen Pearson, Kerala Blasters FC

Stephen Pearson, Kerala Blasters FC

The game was well spread with only 20 players on the pitch. Moreover, the fatigue made everyone slow so there were lots of gaps everywhere.

I said the match was Chennaiyin’s to lose and lose it they did with only 3 minutes to go. They allowed Stephen Pearson to score a goal from the middle of the 18 yard box with his left foot.

Granted, he got a lucky roll of the ball but his finish was good. I didn’t think Chennaiyin would have it in them to come back from this. Chennaiyin FC 3 – 1 Kerala Blasters FC.

For the last few minutes, Kerala Blasters would hold out and instead of either of the teams, the match would be counted legendary. This was special folks, I hope you saw it.

If you didn’t, I hope you read this. Even if you do, I hope you do it again! For now, your breathless friendly neighbourhood football buddy bids you adieu.

Preview: The Four Labours of Chennaiyin

Chennaiyin's Best Laid Plans

You know how most myths have roots in real life events? And, the way that religious scriptures often tend to give similar messages and advices? Well’ I’ve always pondered on that aspect.

My logic says that when it comes to similarity in mythical and fantastical stories, there actually must’ve been someone or some people who did those acts. People of those times, from different cultures, saw those acts as extraordinary and decided to turn them into stories.

Of course, the missile like arrows of Mahabharata, the lightning wielding gods of ancient Greece, and any other over the top achievements are most probably exaggerations. Ok, most like exaggerations. Fine, fine, exaggerations.

A Chance to Be Legends for Chennaiyin

Chennaiyin FC today come up against one such moment. They can do something that will be turned into myths and legends in the newly born civilisation that is the Indian Super League.

They can become legends in their own regard by doing something that’s never been done in Indian football*. They can overcome a 3 goal deficit and become the most talked about team in the league.

FC Goa’s tremendous run won’t matter, Atletico De Kolkata’s “home of Indian football” won’t matter, Kerala Blasters’ super home support won’t matter, and even Northeast United’s David against Goliaths won’t matter.

The Four Labours of Chennaiyin

Hercules Lion

Hercules and the Lion

They can essentially become heroes in the Hero Indian Super League. However, what they face isn’t all that easy. Otherwise, why would it cause them to be immortalised.

One of my favourite mythical stories was the 12 labours of Hercules. Not from the 2014 movie that was crap*.

Chennaiyin task is herculean, won’t you agree? They are 3 goals down and have 90 minutes to score 3. After this, they’ll have 30 minutes split into 2 to score one more.

Failing that, they will have to out penalty Kerala Blasters. If David James is in goal then that, in itself, will be a mini herculean labour. Alternatively, they could just score 4 goals and not concede any.

Thus, my analogy of the four labours of Chennaiyin. I am calling each goal a labour because Kerala Blasters are a very good defensive team. You can call keeping a clean sheet as another labour if you want but I chose not to.

Eleven Companions + 3 Enforcements!

Doctor Who Companions

A Pleasant Deviation

Even the demi god Hercules couldn’t do his tasks by his lonesome. He needed companions and helpers. Chennaiyin are a fellowship of 11 companions and are allowed 3 enforcements.

If you’re thinking of the 11th Doctor Who, I must applaud you! You can see Elano as Hercules with 10 companions and 3 enforcements too.

The point I’m trying to make is that Chennaiyin can’t rely on Elano to bail them out of this mess like he has the potential to do.

If he does it then well and good but they should approach the match expecting him not to because he still only returning from his injury.

In fact, in the previous match, you could see how unfit Elano was. He wasn’t as active as he can be and was even taken off early. On the bench he had an icepack on his leg.

Kerala Blasters the Unlikely Source of Inspiration

Mendoza, Chennaiyin

Mendoza, Chennaiyin

The last game was a surprise to not only me but the whole country. Kerala Blasters weren’t expected to play the way that they did. They’ve been the least prolific team in the whole league i.e. they have scored the least number of goals.

The way they played at home should be a blueprint for Chennaiyin. Granted, they can’t have exactly the same strategy but Marco Materazzi can try to instil the same kind of attitude in his players at least.

Ideally, Chennaiyin would want to ensure that they don’t concede a goal till 20-30 minutes and score by the end of the first half. This should put pressure on Kerala Blasters.

Early first half should bring in another goal and then the game will be really on. That’s the ideal situation but it rarely ever happens that way in football. The biggest problem for Chennaiyin is pace which is to say that they don’t have any.

They’re sorely missing Stiven Mendoza’s pace and trickery but I doubt they have anyone on their books who can come in and replicate the same kind of influence at the drop of a hat.

Kerala Blasters Just Have To Avoid a Collapse

Kerala Blasters Win

Kerala Blasters Win – © PTI

After changing their style of play in the last game, Kerala Blasters can now go back to what they’ve been doing so well this season.

They have to get back to shutting up shop even if it means not being able to score.

Defensively, they’ve been the strongest in the league and they have to continue that. If they can get David James back between the sticks then their chances will improve.

There is a lot of wriggle room for Kerala Blasters too. They can actually afford to concede two goals and still make it through but they won’t want to get to that stage. They’d want to keep a clean sheet and hopefully nick one goal on the counter.

Chennaiyin Should Reverse Tactics from Previous Match

Chennaiyin's Best Laid Plans

Chennaiyin’s Best Laid Plans

All of the above basically adds to the simple fact that this task that Chennaiyin have set themselves is extremely difficult and almost impossible.

To summarise, they need to score 3 goals in 90 minutes against a side that only conceded a total of 11 in the last 15 matches! That’s an average of less than one goal in a game.

So, how will Chennaiyin approach the task? They will need to make their tactics more attacking. In the last game, they set up to be uber defensive but it didn’t work out for them.

They had Alessandro Nesta, Mikael Silvestre, Bernard Mendy, Harmanjot Khabra, and Dhanachandra Singh at the back along with Denson Devadas and Eric Djemba-Djemba in midfield. That’s 7 defensive minded outfield players. If you include the keeper then that means that Chennaiyin were playing with only 3 attacking players out of 11.

Oh, how it backfired for them. The best laid plans of men and mice often go awry eh? Chennaiyin will have to cope with plans going awry and should even expect it this time.

They need to do a reverse of that set up in today’s game. I would like to see the back 5 to remain same but the defensive midfielders to be removed for Bruno Pelissari and Bojan Djordjic.

It would also be worth considering replacing Jeje Lalpekhlua with either Jean-Eudes Maurice or even Jayesh Rane because Jeje has been off his game for some time now.

So, there you go, that’s what Chennaiyin need to do to turn things around, in my humble opinion. I don’t really have any inside source so for all I know Materazzi will go with 9 defenders. Somehow, I doubt that though.

*I accept that I’m not savvy with the history of Indian football so if I’m erring with this juxtaposition kindly chalk it up to poetic licence.

**The 2014 movie is utter tosh by the way. I advise against watching it.