A changed team with a new approach, Chennaiyin FC secured their first win in six matches in the third season of the Indian Super League (ISL), when they pipped FC Pune City 2-0 at the Marina Arena on Tuesday. That the win came without conceding against the best away team so far was even more special.
A team playing to its strengths
Chennaiyin FC, this season, have experimented with a variety of wide men pumping in balls at the centre in the hope of something coming out of them. But this never let Raphael Augusto, arguably their best player, show his full repertoire of skills.
Against FC Pune City on Tuesday, Chennaiyin were set up much narrower with Manuele Blasi shielding the defence and Hans Mulder and Zakeer Mundampara playing slightly ahead of him. This allowed Augusto to play with complete freedom. The effect of that seemed to rub on the team as well and there were some slick passing on show.
The signs that it would be Chennaiyin's night were evident as early in the match as the eighth minute as Jeje Lalpekhlua and David Succi combined with Augusto in a nice interplay that broke down with the offside flag against Succi. In the 24th minute, Succi had a chance to set up Jeje, but was a touch selfish, going for a shot himself. His shot, however, was poor and it only delayed the first goal for Chennaiyin. With the absence of wingers, the fullbacks tried their luck with some crosses, but most were overhit.
When the goal finally came at the stroke of half time, it was the result of a splendid team effort. Augusto threaded through a pass for Mulder, who did well to find Jerry Lalrinzuala under pressure. Jerry's ball from the left was cushioned by Succi, and it looped neatly for the alert Jeje to head in at point blank range.
Chennaiyin have in the recent past been guilty of not killing games and letting the opposition sneak into the contest (against Atletico de Kolkata away, FC Pune City away, Mumbai City FC at home and in the last match against Kerala Blasters away). But on Tuesday, there were no worries as a slick one-two between Augusto and Jeje produced a cross for Succi to head into the corner of the net. Edel Bete's hands could only graze the ball on its way into the goal. Game over in 50 minutes.
A direct approach clearly suits Chennaiyin much better
This also allows Jeje and Succi, the team's two best forwards, to start together. And most importantly, this lets Augusto to stamp his authority on the match. Chennaiyin FC fans will hope this change in approach is permanent.
Solid defensive set-up
With Mundampara and Blasi barely crossing the halfway line, the Chennaiyin defence was well-shielded. So far, only one among Mulder or Augusto would venture forward at a time. This new central midfield pairing surely lent the team a solid base to attack from.
Eder Monteiro, who started his first match this season replacing Eli Sabia in central defence, put in a solid shift, staking his claim for more game time. Karanjit Singh, back in the team for his fourth clean sheet, was authoritative and did well on the couple of occasions his goalkeeping prowess was tested.
The defence, on the whole, led by captain Bernard Mendy kept the visitors at bay with assurance. With only two shots on target conceded, the Chennaiyin defence redeemed itself, earning a well-deserved clean sheet after conceding seven goals in two matches.
Chennaiyin manager Marco Materazzi must be pleased with the performance of his team. He, in fact, could substitute his best players on the day to give them a breather ahead of an all-important clash against Atletico de Kolkata on 20 November. The well-deserved victory has come at the right time for the defending champions as they have put their campaign back on track as we approach the business end of the tournament.