Coyle’s side meets defending champion Bengaluru FC at the Nehru Stadium
On a purple patch, Chennaiyin will stroll out of the tunnel at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here for one last time in the league stage to run into defending champion Bengaluru on Sunday.
Having been behind the eight ball after the initial phase of ISL 6 courtesy of its sixes and sevens play, CFC has remarkably escaped from the foot of the points table.
The Monday morning quarter-backs have remained quiet in recent weeks as Owen Coyle-coached Chennaiyin has been a perfect 10. The two-time title-winner (21 points from 14 games), currently on a four-match winning run, is five points behind Mumbai City FC (26 points from 16 games), which occupies the last qualifying spot for the play-offs.
If CFC is to close down the gap, its ‘Fantastic Four’ cast of Nerijus Valskis (12 goals), Rafael Crivellaro (6 goals), Andre Schembri (4 goals) and Lallianzuala Chhangte (4 goals) will have to continue with its class act. Striker Valskis has been a real poacher since Gameweek 5, making merry in front of goal.
Yet, the Lithuanian international, and creator-in-chief Crivellaro will have their task cut out against man mountains Albert Serran and Juanan, the central defenders who have been tough to bypass.
“To win, we need to play well offensively. But there will be individual battles all around,” said Chennaiyin head coach Coyle, whose side thrashed Kerala Blasters FC 6-3 last week.
The Scotsman has been a huge fan of naming an unchanged eleven, but will be forced to make an alteration on the matchday. Central midfielder Anirudh Thapa is suspended for the crucial tie, having collected four bookings across games. Germanpreet Singh is expected to return to the line-up and join forces with Edwin Sydney Vanspaul in the middle of the park.
The backline, led by skipper Lucian Goian, looked a bit casual in the previous contest against Kerala. A similar showing on Sunday could prove to be fatal as Bengaluru is deadly at set-pieces. “We know we have to do well defensively. BFC is a threat on such situations. Its deliveries are good and it has physical players. It is a challenge we would like to come out on top,” added the former Burnley gaffer.
In a three-horse race which also involves FC Goa and ATK, Bengaluru (28 points from 15 games) is vying for the top spot in the standings that guarantees a direct entry into the AFC Champions League group stage next season. To help its cause, its defence has been the meanest in the league, shipping in only nine goals so far.
The side, managed by Spaniard Carles Cuadrat, is also not short of attacking arsenal with captain Sunil Chhetri and Deshorn Brown in good form. However, Bengaluru will continue to miss Raphael Augusto due to an injury, which has kept him out for quite some time. After long service, the Brazilian had made the switch from CFC in the off-season.