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ISL 2020-21 Team Preview: Can Csaba Laszlo lead Chennaiyin FC to third title?

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Best Finish: ISL Champions (2015, 2017-18), Runners-up (2019-20)

Other Trophies: Runners-up in Indian Super Cup 2019

Manager: Csaba Laszlo

After losing the ISL final to ATK FC last time, two-time champions Chennaiyin FC will be looking to claim their third title when they kick off the 2020-21 Indian Super League season next month under their new manager Csaba Laszlo.

Laszlo takes over the reins from John Gregory who served as the head coach of the club for two seasons. The 56-year-old has managed different clubs in reputed European leagues like the Scottish Premier League and the Belgian Pro League, and he has even served as the head coach of the Uganda national team. 

Uganda jumped from 181 to 91 in the FIFA rankings during Laszlo's two-year stint between 2006 and 2008. That's why he was given the nickname 'The Miracle Man' by the African press. Chennaiyin FC's situation isn't that bad though. They have been one of the better clubs in the ISL over the years. But what Laszlo brings to the club is the experience of managing top European clubs and international teams, and Chennaiyin will benefit from that a lot.

How did Chennaiyin FC fare in the last ISL season?

Chennaiyin FC looked down and out of the competition in the first half of the league last year. But they made a miraculous comeback in the second half to enter the playoffs at the fourth spot. They ended the league stage with 29 points to their name, just three points clear off Mumbai City FC who finished fifth. Later, they went on to beat FC Goa in the semifinals and thus made their way to the grand finale. But their hopes of the third ISL title got shattered when they lost by a 3-1 margin to ATK in the final.

As a team, they scored 32 goals (third-most among all teams) and conceded just 26 (fourth-least among all teams) in the 2019-20 ISL season. These are great numbers but a deeper analysis reveals that two men -- Nerijus Valskis and Rafael Crivellaro -- accounted for almost 69% of the total goals they scored. Now, they have lost Valskis to Jamshedpur FC and the team will be crying out for contributions from their other players in the upcoming season.

How is the squad shaping up for this season?

The team had struggled largely in defence in the first half of the previous season and that's why Laszlo has bolstered the squad with the acquisition of two pacey fullbacks -- Reagan Singh and Lalchhuanmawia from NorthEast United FC and Odisha FC respectively. 

The departure of Valskis has also left a big void in Chennaiyin's offensive lines. He was instrumental to their success last season. But three equally good forwards have penned down a deal to play for Chennaiyin this season. While they have brought Isma and Jakub Sylvestr on free transfers from Hapoel Haifa (Israel's top tier club) and Matsumoto Yama (Japan's second-tier club), the services of Fatkhulo Fatkhulloev were secured for a reported fee of ₹2.50m from Khujand (Tajikistan's top tier football club). 

All three of them are proven goalscorers and they can be lethal to opposition defences with someone like Rafael Crivellaro pulling the strings from the midfield. Crivellaro had flourished in the playmaking role for Chennaiyin last season. He not only helped his team with eight assists but scored seven goals himself as well.

Expectations from the 2020-21 season

This might be Laszlo's first season in the ISL but expectations will be quite high from him considering the resources that are available to him. He has some of the most talented Indian players like Jerry Lalrinzuala, Reagan Singh, Dhanpal Ganesh, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Anirudh Thapa in his squad. 

On the other hand, the quality of overseas forwards and midfielders available in Crivellaro, Fatkhulloev and others is tremendous as well. He has a leader of their defensive lines in their latest acquisition of Enes Sipovich from the Qatar League too. That means he has a well-rounded squad to his expense and reaching the playoffs looks like a must with such great assets available. 

Chennaiyin FC Squad

Goalkeepers: V Kaith, S Mitra, K Singh, B Revanth

Defenders: A Nawab, B Ganesan, E Sabia, E Sipovic, J Lalrunzuala, Lalchhuanmawia, R Singh, E Vanspaul, 

Midfielders: Memo, G Singh, D Ganesh, D Tangri, A Thapa, S Pandiyan, Rafael Crivellaro, A Sarkar 

Forwards: L Chhangte, F Fatkhulloev, T Singh, Remi, Isma, J Sylvestr, A Chetri, Rahim Ali

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Samuel Kubani

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