This was a performance of a table-topping side. The scoreline was even more suggestive of Delhi Dynamos’ dominance than the last time it played Chennaiyin (when it won 3-1). But the latest performance had a different quality to it. It was not about catching Chennaiyin on the counter and blitzing the opposition with pace. Rather, the display had a calm and controlled feel to it. Occasionally, the grip was loosened. But for the most part, Dynamos kept a tight leash on the encounter which finished 4-1 in its favour.
And it showed. Chennaiyin was the second best team throughout. Dynamos controlled possession and outsmarted the visiting side with a panache that only confident, in-form sides can demonstrate. Never did the win seem in doubt; such was the manner in which Gianluca Zambrotta’s charges went about their task.
If anything did not go to plan, it was the loss of Sana Singh and Richard Gadze to injuries. Zambrotta had picked an unchanged starting eleven. It was a decision that made eminent sense, such was the Dynamos’s dominance in their 2-0 win over Kerala Blasters last Friday.
But Sana had to go off in the third minute itself. In the second half, Richard Gadze hurt his ankle after a bad fall. The diagnosis on both remains unclear. After three wins on the bounce, the fitness of the two injured players will be Zambrotta’s biggest worry. As Dynamos finds itself as the undisputed best side in the competition, the concern does not seem to be relatively high. But the duo forms a part of the Italian’s best eleven. Of course, there will be rotations in the coming days and weeks. As Dynamos come near the business end of the tournament, the coaching staff will seek to ensure that the side is well-prepared for the crucial battles.
The star of the 4-1 win at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Wednesday night was Florent Malouda. On the birthday of Dynamos’ first marquee player Alessandro Del Piero — marked by a banner in the east stand — the Frenchman broke his scoring duck after 24 appearances in the ISL. There was more. Dynamos’ current marquee player was involved in his side’s other goals as well.
The first strike by the host saw Malouda pick Siam Hanghal’s pocket to dispossess the midfielder and he sprinted towards the goal. A shot from 20 yards was parried into the path of Gadze who slotted the rebound home. Malouda was also responsible for Dynamos’ third goal as he held the ball up before setting Kean Lewis up for a fine finish inside the box. It was the Frenchman’s composure for the third goal that set him apart. He dictated how much time he wanted to rest on the ball before releasing it to Lewis.
Malouda, of course, had his own goals to celebrate. The first one was a cleverly placed finish from outside the box after Gadze had teed him up for the shot. The left-footed strike treated the ball with a deftness which could soften the blow for the opposition. His second goal was a well-controlled header from a corner. It was a joyous display like no other by Malouda in the Dynamos jersey, something he acknowledged later.
But for a while, like the first game against Chennaiyin, there was a scare. Bernard Mendy ran nearly 60 yards and dribbled past Dynamos’ players to pull a goal back in the first half when the score stood at 2-0. It was a crucial reminder of the dangers that complacency can breed, as Zambrotta noted in his post-match comments.
“Chennaiyin is a good team and today was also difficult for us, so we don’t have to forget that and they also have good quality, and last year they won the ISL. So, it is important to realise that yes we have won, but it was just one match.”
One match at a time has been the Italian manager’s mantra all along. But with 16 points from nine matches now, two more wins in the next five should be good enough for Dynamos to seal their playoff spot. In the past two seasons of the ISL, 19 and 22 points have ensured a place in the semifinals. Dynamos must know their minimum target looks eminently achievable at the moment.
But before longer-term concerns take hold, there are immediate issues to consider for Florent Malouda. “We showed how we can be very dangerous…We are building the confidence regarding how we play step-by-step, and we want more for us as we want to achieve more. Don’t forget we are playing (Atletico de) Kolkata next. We have not forgotten how we lost against them and if you have got the experience you have got to use it, and we have got to stay humble,” said the Frenchman after the latest win.
Indeed, feet on the ground should be the guiding lesson for Dynamos’ players. Such is the level of their performance at the moment, the wave of optimism is riding high. Chennaiyin’s assistant coach Sabir Pasha admitted that his team had been rightly prepared for both of its matches against Dynamos and yet it ended up losing them convincingly. The markers have been laid down.
But up next, at home, will be Atletico de Kolkata on Sunday. Atletico is the only side in this competition to have defeated the Dynamos. As Malouda remarked, the result has not been forgotten. Another three points will go a long way to whet Zambrotta and his team’s appetite.