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Indian Super League 2018/19 Preview: Following insipid pre-season, Chennaiyin FC eye second-straight title

Defending ISL champions Chennaiyin FC get their 2018/19 season underway away at Bengaluru FC in a repeat of last year's final.

Written by Karan Prashant Saxena | New Delhi |
Updated: September 28, 2018 3:13:27 pm
Indian Super League Chennaiyin FC defeated Bengaluru FC to win the title last season. (Source: PTI/File)

“When Sir Alex (Ferguson) won his first Championship, back in the ’90s, all he wanted to do was go and win it again the following season. And he did it 13 times. He won the championship 13 times. Now, that is the true sign of a champion – you don’t just win it once, you go back, defend the title, and win it the following year,” Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory said in an interview to ESPN last week. With the Indian Super League set to begin, the Englishman is looking to instill a similar mindset in his squad.

The Blues pulled off perhaps the biggest upset in ISL history last season in the final – by defeating the favourites Bengaluru FC 2-1 to lift their second trophy. Coming into the fifth season, the club has only one goal in mind- to become the first club to successfully defend the title.

“Really, I’ve just tried to instill into my squad this season that real champions don’t just win it once, they go back to win it the following year and the year after that and the year after that and it really is more of a mental thing than a physical thing,” Gregory told ESPN.

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But despite his desires, the troubles have started for the franchise even before the season has begun.

TROUBLES ON THE HORIZON

The pre-season for Chennaiyin FC did not go as per plan. They travelled to Malaysia and went on to lose all four games against Felda United, Malaysia U-19s, Terengganu FC and Malaysian Indian Football Association. To add to the woes, they also played out a 0-0 draw against I-League club Indian Arrows last week.

The club also lost out on arguably their best player from the previous season, center-back Henrique Sereno, who made 18 appearances. The departure of midfielder Rene Mihelic and forward Bikramjit Singh may also prove to be a set back in the new season. There have also been some drastic changes in Gregory’s backroom staff. Paul Groves has replaced Mark Lillis as the new assistant coach while Kevin Hitchcock will take charge of goalkeeping coach duties in place of Tony Warner.

“They have different ideas about coaching methods and training and I always think it is invigorating. Like I’ve said before, you can eat lobster every day of the week and you eventually get bored with it. Change is always good,” Gregory expressed his views on the changes.

NEW SQUAD MEMBERS

To fill up space left by Sereno, the club brought in Eli Sabia. Along with him, the Marina Machans’ side has also acquired the services of Spanish attacking midfielder Andre Orlandi and Palestinian forward Carlos Salom, who will be expected to lead the charge along with Indian international Jeje Lalpekhua. After a sensational season for I-League club Chennai City FC, Sinivasan Pandiyan has also signed in for the two-time ISL Champions.

“There are a lot of good midfielders in our team. Coach (John Gregory) has shown his confidence in me and given me some technical know on how to play in the ISL. So I am looking forward to play in the ISL,” the 22-year-old told Goal India on his arrival to the ISL franchise.

Chennaiyin have also invested in North-Eastern players, with Shillong Lajong-groomed winger Isaac Vanmalsawma, and defenders Tondonba Singh and Laldinliana Renthlei making their way to the club. Nikhil Bernard has been signed as the backup goalkeeper by the defending Champions.

Chennaiyin FC are known to not sign any big names, and they have remained true to the principle this season as well. But the lack of fire up the line may cause them trouble this year, and hamper their chances of retaining the title.

Chennaiyin FC Squad:

Goalkeeper: Karanjit Singh, Sanjiban Ghosh, Nikhil Bernard

Defenders: Mailson Alves, Eli Sabia, Inigo Calderon, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Tondonba Singh, Laldinliana Renthlei, Zohmingliana Ralte, Hendry Antonay

Midfielders: Raphael Augusto, Gregory Nelson, Andrea Orlandi, Francisco Fernandes, Thoi Singh, Anirudh Thapa, Germanpreet Singh, Sinivasan Pandiyan, Isaac Vanmalsawma, Bedashwor Singh, Zonunmawia

Forwards: Jeje Lalpekhlua, Mohammed Rafi, Carlos Antonio Salom

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