Defending champion Chennaiyin FC is potentially facing its worst-ever crisis and it could soon be too late if it doesn’t fix the defensive lapses.
Its title-winning campaign last season in the Indian Super League (ISL) was primarily built on defensive solidity. John Gregory’s team presented a watertight defence which conceded only 19 goals in 18 games during the league stage. It then went on to quell the challenge of attacking teams like FC Goa and Bengaluru FC in the play-offs and landed its second ISL title.
It has had its worst possible start to a season this time around. Thursday’s 3-4 loss to NorthEast United means that CFC has lost all three of its opening games in the ongoing season. The team has conceded eight goals in the three fixtures.
The English coach was at pains to explain that such lackadaisical defending was not something he expected from his team. “Without any question, we started very well (against NorthEast United), played very good football with a lot of energy and it was one-way traffic. We were good value for our two-goal lead. We gifted a goal but got back to 3-1 up. Then we gifted two more goals,” he lamented. “Our defensive displays in the last 12 months have been our strong points. We always played well defensively. On Thursday, we gifted four goals literally. Not the sort of thing I would expect from my team.”
While a stable backline was a feature of CFC’s campaign last season, Gregory has been forced to shuffle his defence after its underwhelming displays. Inigo Calderon was deployed in midfield against NEUFC and Francisco Fernandes, a winger by trade, played as the right-back. But the move back-fired as Bartholomew Ogbeche’s hat-trick inspired NEUFC to a famous win.
The former Aston Villa boss pointed out that the defensive errors have undermined his team’s offensive displays. “For us to score three goals and not get anything is soul destroying. Our offensive players will be disappointed. They did their bit. I need to address our defence,” he stated. After losing three games in a row, CFC has matched its worst-ever losing streak which dates back to November 2015. Incidentally, it won the title that season. Gregory desperately needs to inspire his side to turn its fortunes around quickly or it will see its names in the record books for the wrong reasons. “Football is like this. It can kick you in the teeth. We have a game in Delhi in a few more days. My first job is to pick it (team) up, dust it up and go for the next games.”