Bengaluru, November 7: Chennaiyin FC, the Indian Super League champions of 2015, will look to repeat their success in the forthcoming ISL season, which kicks off on November 17 in Kochi.
Chennai, co-owned by cricket superstar MS Dhoni, Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan and Asian Paints promoter Vita Dani, have been toiling hard in their pre-season friendlies. They have already played four matches in Thailand and India.
The side, coached by John Gregory after the departure of Italian World Cup winner Marco Materazzi, initially trained in Chennai for 10 days before leaving for Thailand on October 11. The 2015 ISL champions played three friendly matches in Thailand over three weeks and returned to India on November 2.
In Thailand, they lost 0-2 in their first match against recently-promoted Thai Premier League side Air Force Central FC. The second friendly too ended in a 1-3 loss to Port FC, another Thai PL side. However, in the third match, they registered an impressive 3-0 victory over Thai Premier League's Bangkok United FC. After returning to India, they played a club friendly against reigning I-League champions Aizawl FC, and were victorious 1-0.
Under Materazzi, Chennai, nicknamed The Super Machans, won the title once and reached the semi-final on one more occasion. Materazzi decided to step down ahead of the campaign, which made the Chennaiyin FC team management to go for another high profile coach in Gregory, a former Aston Villa and Queens Park Rangers manager.
Along with Gregory, they also signed former Liverpool keeper Tony Warner as their goalkeeping coach for the 2017-18 campaign. They added two assistant coaches, Mark Lillis and Syed Sabir Pasha, with Niall Clark coming in as their sports scientist.
As far as the team composition is concerned, Chennaiyin FC chose to retain their core group, unlike most of the other ISL franchises. They retained five players ahead of the ISL draft, only second to Bengaluru FC's six.
Jeje Lalpekhlua, their star striker since the inaugural edition in 2014, will sport the colours of blue again. Brazilian midfielder Raphael Augusto, who has been one of the best central midfielders in the competition in recent years, was also retained. The club also showed faith in promising 19-year-old Jerry Lalrinzuala, goalkeeper Karanjit Singh and youngster Anirudh Thapa before the draft.
In the draft, the club chose to opt for its former players. It was no surprise that they grabbed Thoi Singh, Dhanpal Ganesh and Dhanachandra Singh in a move that strengthened their core group.
Apart from these three, the club also has other promising Indian names. Mohammed Rafi, the goalscorer in the final of the previous edition for Kerala Blasters, will provide variety up front. Bikramjit Singh will support the midfield while another India international, Fulganco Cardozo, is expected to man the defence.
Apart from some homegrown players, the club decided to bring fresh foreign faces this year and signed seven new names. The Marina Machans signed two former ATK players, Jaime Gavilan and Henrique Sereno, and re-signed defender Mailson Alves, who was part of the 2015 title-winning campaign.
Chennai will play their first game on November 19 against FC Goa at the Marina Arena (Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium). It will be interesting to see whether they can replicate the same form under the new high-profile management in the tournament.
Goalkeepers: Karanjit Singh, Pawan Kumar, Shahin Lal Meloli.
Defenders: Dhanachandra Singh, Fulganco Cardozo, Henrique Sereno (Portugal), Inigo Calderon (Spain), Jerry Lalrinzuala, Keenan Almeida, Mailson Alves (Brazil), Sanjay Balmuchu.
Midfielders: Anirudh Thapa, Bikramjit Singh, Dhanapal Ganesh, Francisco Fernandes, Germanpreet Singh, Jaime Gavilan (Spain), Raphael Augusto (Brazil), Rene Mihelic (Slovenia), Thoi Singh.
Forwards: Gregory Nelson (Netherlands), Jeje Lalpekhlua, Jude Nworuh (Nigeria), Mohammed Rafi, Baoringdao Bodo.
vs Air Force Central FC 0-2 Loss (Oct 19)
vs Thai Port FC 1-3 Loss (October 25)
vs Bangkok United FC 3-0 Win (October 28)
vs Aizawl FC 1-0 Win (November 5)