Chennaiyin FC finished their final league stage game with a 2-2 draw at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium against NorthEast United to finish fourth in the Indian Super League table. But late in November, when they were languishing in the bottom of the table, having lost four and drawn one of their opening six games, even the most staunch fan wouldn't have hoped for this finish. Chennaiyin FC had won the league twice since its inception in 2014, but John Gregory's team looked like they are under some kind of a black spell at the beginning of the current season.
They started the season with a three-goal drubbing at hands of FC Goa, and went on to concede seven in just four games and coach John Gregory had no solution to any of the questions. The management had to take a call and in came the former Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers coach Owen Coyle.
Suddenly, a movie-like plot unfolded and Chennaiyin showed a champion-like mentality to bounce back in form. The fresh attitude that Coyle brought in the team was palpable. In a press conference after taking over, Cowel said " Ideally any coach will want a pre-season. But when you inherit a squad, you have to quickly ascertain what’s at hand. Looking at the squad, I think there are some very good players here. Our job is to try and get them to the maximum level." This was the confidence that was lacking in the team and results soon started to follow.
One may wonder what was it that actually brought the change? Chennaiyin never looked strong defensively in the league even after the appointment of Coyle, they have conceded 16 goals in 12 matches. They have conceded six red cards in the league and three of them in the last four games. The number of goals conceded by the Chennai based franchise has also gobbled up; 26 goals in the campaign. So, defensively, they had a season they would like to forget very very soon if not immediately.
But the improvement was in the attack. Lead by Lithuanian forward Nerijus Valskis, Chennaiyin started to win games sheerly based on attack. Valskis contributed with 13 goals and five assists and his streak was supported by Rafael Crivellaro with six goals and five assists. From two goals in the first five games, Chennaiyin went on the score 29 goals in the last 13.
However, Coyle did not change the system that Gregory had been using and he stuck to the 4-2-3-1 with a double pivot for most of the matches. But what did the trick was the attitude. While under Gregory, the team was too afraid and over-calculating up front, trying to help the defence, Coyle realised very soon that the defence cannot be improved and the only way they can perform is by scoring goals. And this was the masterstroke. He concentrated on building the attack more and the result shows.
While one can criticise that the 53-year-old did not impact the team the way one would've liked as the defence performed poorly throughout the season, but he was honest enough to accept that it was not his plan, to begin with, "Looking at the squad, I think there are some very good players here. Our job is to try and get them to the maximum level."
It is to be seen how he handles the transfer market and whether he brings in reinforcements to buff-up the defence for the next season, but if his attack goes on to perform like this, no one is actually complaining, not the fans at least.
Feature image courtesy: Twitter / @IndSuperLeague