A game between Chennaiyin FC and Atletico de Kolkata never fails to deliver entertainment value. And on Sunday, when the two sides clashed in the second match of Indian Super League (ISL) 2016, one expected another goalfest on the cards.
The signs were promising as early as the sixth minute itself, when Hans Mulder sent Baljit Sahni through, only for Robert Lalthlamuana to chop him down. The marker was laid. On the other end, Bernard Mendy was at his harrying best, sticking to Helder Postiga throughout the game. This fixture is soon becoming the battle of the heavyweights of the ISL.
Mendy sticking to Postiga was clearly part of a plan, a plan that ultimately proved to be Chennaiyin's downfall. Mendy is a great tackler and can really get on the nerves of his quarry. But if his tackling fails, he leaves Chennaiyin's defence exposed. For the first goal, he decided to wait and commit at tackling Postiga near the halfway line rather than fall back (with enough time) when the latter was running at him. Nallapan Mohanraj was drawn out of position, leaving Sameegh Doutie to claim a deserved goal.
Mohanraj deserves flak for ball watching and for forgetting his man; the left back position in the absence of Dhanachandra Singh has goen terribly wrong. Mohanraj was clearly out of his depth against Kolkata, losing possession cheaply in the 14th minute, only for Mendy to save him the blushes with a brave block. Early in the second half, he again had no clue as to where Doutie was, letting Atletico break free down the right. When the goal finally came, it was no surprise it was through the right.
Jayesh Rane played more like a wide forward in a 4-3-3 formation rather than a winger in 4-4-2. He was constantly looking to cut in at every possible opportunity. This led to a beautiful break by Chennaiyin just before half time, but Jayesh's final pass was found wanting. After it finally bore fruit in the form of Chennaiyin's equaliser, Jayesh's defensive work took a hit.
Last season, Jayesh's work rate down the left, coupled with his defensive responsibility, provided great balance to Chennaiyin. But on Sunday, that was found lacking and Marco Materazzi will surely have a word on this with his goalscorer. All said though, Jayesh's goal was brilliant — a smart run, good control and a neat finish and his pass to pick out Dudu Omagbemi, open in front of goal, was exquisite.
In the run-up to the match, Firstpost had written about the need to keep Raphael Augusto in check. But Chennaiyin's personnel on the day made sure that Raphael Augusto stayed deep and kept quiet throughout. It was Hans Mulder who took the role of playmaker and was literally all over the midfield. His persistence finally paid off when his shot from outside the box took a deflection on its way to the goal, sending the Atletico goalkeeper the wrong way.
Marco Materazzi, for all his tactical acumen, has some great faith in Indian players. But he does tinker with his side at just the the wrong time, when the need of the hour is to consolidate. Introducing Jerry Lalrinzuala could have been avoided with barely ten minutes left on the clock. If he wanted to shore up the defence, the fullback could have been introduced as a winger. But bringing on a youngster to protect a lead against possibly one of the toughest opponents borders on naivety.
And sure enough, Sameegh Doutie smartly pulled one over the youngster to earn a penalty and thus the equaliser for Atletico. All in all, what should have been a lucky win for Chennaiyin FC turned out to be a deserved draw.