Chennai: At the start of ISL season 5, Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory had said that there were some statistics in the league he wanted to put to rest. One which he was very keen on was that no team had successfully defended the title since the league’s inception in 2014.
If one were to go by the start of the season, ahead of the international break, Chennaiyin seem nowhere close to defending their title. They lost to Bengaluru FC 0-1 before getting thrashed 3-1 by FC Goa at home. One stat that would cause Gregory some worry would be the failure of his team to score in open play. The only goal in the two matches resulted from a corner-kick.
In the first two matches, Gregory substituted one of his foreign defenders in the second-half to bring on the Palestinian forward Carlos Salmon whose role was to provide the much-needed cutting edge up front. With defence being the bedrock of Chennaiyin’s success last season, Gregory would have to make a tough choice against NorthEast United on Thursday. If he starts with Salom, he would have to sacrifice a foreigner elsewhere because the playing XI must comprise six Indians. Chennaiyin fans would be hoping that the back line, which has three foreigners, remains undisturbed.
In a drought eerily similar to last season, striker Jeje Lapekhlua is yet to find his rhythm. He has zero shots on target and only 27 passes and 35 touches to his name in the 158 minutes he has played so far. One wouldn’t be surprised if the striker from Mizoram does not take the field on Thursday.
NorthEast United, on the other hand, are on four points from two matches and will be riding high on confidence as they beat former champions ATK away from home in their previous match.
The last time the Highlanders were in Chennai, the scenario wasn't any different Chennaiyin were recovering from a 3-2 drubbing from Goa but came back strongly to win three matches on the trot. Gregory would be praying for something similar.