Coming into the seventh edition in Goa on the back of a runner-up finish in ISL 2019-20, Chennaiyin was quick off the blocks under Csaba Laszlo, who occupied the spot vacated by Scotsman Owen Coyle. After the first game in which CFC opened its account with a three-pointer, many believed that the new man at the helm had the blueprint for success in Indian football.
But surprisingly, the club’s campaign started to go downhill as the season progressed, with the initial euphoria eventually turning into bitter disappointment. The odd season curse, as the ardent fans would call it, continued since Chennaiyin bowed out of ISL 7 with a below par tally of 20 points from as many league matches.
Hardly in the reckoning to qualify for the play-offs at any stage, CFC ended its ISL 2020-21 engagement with just three wins, a record 11 draws and six losses as well as a nine-game winless streak. And, it wouldn’t be harsh to say that the ‘Marina Machans’ created its own downfall on the pitch. Chennaiyin was rarely outplayed in the first-round matches, but failed to find a way to convert stalemates into victories. While being in the ascendancy in majority of the fixtures where it shared the spoils, CFC lacked the cutting edge and paid the hefty price for it.
Its profligacy in front of goal only added fuel to the fire, with the south Indian club unable to break down opposition defences in as many as 10 clashes. Chennaiyin, which badly missed a poacher in the final third of the park, managed just 17 goals despite creating a flurry of chances throughout the tournament proper.
The season-ending injury to skipper Rafael Crivellaro and the prolonged absence of Thapa piled more misery on CFC that never had a stable first eleven. Head coach Laszlo did try a number of combinations, but could never arrive at a set of players who would automatically select themselves in the starting line-up.
Laszlo’s defensive and untimely substitutions also raised a few eyebrows as his boys were asked to operate in unfamiliar positions on certain occasions. However, there were some sparks in the dark. Youngsters Rahim Ali and Deepak Tangri had a breakout season in the CFC blue, having played bit part roles in the previous edition.
Overall, it was a campaign to forget for Chennaiyin, which will have to go back to the drawing board to make its customary comeback in ISL Season 8.