Seeing Marcelinho, or Marcelo Leite Pereira as his full name goes, run rings around Chennaiyin's left-back N Mohanraj, one was reminded of the benefits that an inverting winger or forward can bring to a football pitch. Delhi Dynamos bossed their opening Indian Super League (ISL) 2016 match, to win 3-1 away from home, and there were many positives to take from it. But nothing drove the point home better than the frequent angled runs behind the defence made by Marcelinho, and to a lesser extent, Kean Lewis.
Delhi manager Gianluca Zambrotta needs to be commended for getting his tactical strategy spot-on. The way Dynamos exploited the lack of pace and composure in the Chennaiyin back four was particularly impressive. Richard Gadze especially deserves credit for his intelligent movement. By constantly dropping deep, he drew Bernard Mendy and John Arne Riise away from goal. This created space at the back and none of the defenders had the pace to match Dynamos' wide attackers.
This was particularly obvious in Delhi's second goal. Less than a couple of minutes after Chennaiyin had equalised, there was a swift exchange of passes from the visiting side. The move ended in Marcelinho springing behind the defence and finishing with aplomb. Goalkeeper Duwayne Kerr, who had an iffy performance overall, was uncertainly placed in the centre of the box and was easily beaten. In that neat, successful move, Dynamos were able to highlight the host's glaring weakness.
The first-half produced many such moments. Marcelinho was heavily involved in Dynamos' offensive thrusts; such was his knack of finding the right amount of space. Mohanraj, in particular, found himself targeted on his weaker foot by the left-footed Marcelinho. Running at pace, the Brazilian was able to outdo his marker on most occasions. By cutting on to his stronger side, Marcelinho was able to create room for shooting opportunities; Mohanraj was left debating which way to go.
Kean Lewis, on the other wing, was also a beneficiary of the system employed by Dynamos. The Mohun Bagan player, who was offered a trial by Leicester City as a 14-year-old, could have put the game to bed in the first half itself if not for his profligate finishing. But Lewis caught the eye for his energetic contribution to Dynamos' play. The 24-year-old eventually helped his team kill the match off, when he produced a delightful cross for substitute Badara Badji to head home in the 85th minute.
However, Lewis' impact was not on the same level as Marcelinho's, who finished with a brace. His first goal was a coolly taken penalty. It was indeed a bit of a surprise that the Brazilian even started the match. Marquee player Florent Malouda and Marcelinho's compatriot Bruno Pelissari were left on the bench, despite being seen as key players for Dynamos this season. While Malouda did come on later, and his absence was likely down to lack of match fitness, Pelissari may struggle to break into the side after this impressive result. Goals were identified as a possible issue for Dynamos, but if the openly attacking approach is a fair indicator, Zambrotta may have an answer to that. Pelissari's contribution may not be required.
But, of course, this was only the first game of the season. In a competition as hectic as the ISL, a manager needs to exploit all that he has at his disposal. Pelissari may yet come into the side and cement his place, but it's unlikely that Zambrotta will immediately tinker with a starting XI that brought him impressive results. For all Chennaiyin's flaws, Dynamos produced a largely polished performance on Thursday. Marcos Tebar was another influential presence in the middle third of the pitch, expertly knitting the side's moves.
It is the defence that may slightly worry Zambrotta. Although Dynamos were compact without the ball, the groin injury picked by Anas Edathodika means that the side might be without its first-choice defender for a while. Lalchhawnkima stepped in and performed admirably, but it remains to be seen whether he can be trusted in the longer run. It was also a bit odd that Souvik Chakraborthy was fielded at left-back. Although his natural position is as a holding midfielder, Souvik is likely to be used in the back this season. However, if he's going to be a trusted option, more work needs to be done. He was clearly at fault for Chennaiyin's equaliser, and he played Dudu Omagbemi on.
Despite the odd cause for worry, however, Dynamos have much to be pleased about. Going into the season it was tough to gather what to expect from Zambrotta's side. But at a venue that saw a 4-0 thrashing for Dynamos the last time they visited, this was a welcome start to the campaign. The Italian will now hope to build momentum when his team plays Kerala Blasters away on Sunday. Marcelinho, Gadze and Kean Lewis, the young attacking trio, could prove crucial once again.