Third season of Indian Super League is about to kick off on Saturday, 1st October and the defending champions Chennaiyin FC will commence their campaign next day in an arduous away fixture over season one champions Atletico De Kolkata who are raring to reconquer the silverware.
Chennaiyin have been a top performer under legendary centre-back Marco Materazzi who led them to semifinal in the inaugural campaign and inspired them to lift the title from an awkward situation defeating Zico’s FC Goa.
Materazzi will be without Elano and Stiven Mendoza, two of his star performers in past two campaigns. However, they have retained Frenchman Bernard Mendy and roped in former Liverpool left-back John Arne Riise who has previous experience with Delhi Dynamos in ISL 2015. Dutch midfielder Hans Mulder, too, joined the champions from the Delhi based franchise after being influential for two previous campaigns.
Midfield duo Manuele Blasi and Raphael Augusto have been retained along with Brazilian centre-back Eder, whereas, Davide Succi and Maurizio Peluso have been brought in to bolster their attack in absence of Mendoza. Dudu Omagbemi, a highly successful name in Indian football circuit, have joined the Super Machans from FC Goa and Jamaican international Duwayne Kerr has been signed to replace custodian Apoula Edel Bete who won the tournament in both the previous occasions. Moreover, Brazilian centre-back Eli Sabia ( who formerly played for Santos FC) has been roped in to strengthen the backline.
Among the Indians, they have retained majority of their men, most importantly Jeje Lalpekhlua who enhanced his quality under the guidance of Materazzi and became one of the most consistent performers for Indian national football team. Versatile veteran Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Harmonjot Khabra along with Zakeer Mundampara, Dhanpal Ganesh, Thoi Singh in midfield, Abhishek Das, Dhanachandra Singh as full-backs, goalkeepers Karanjit Singh, Pawan Kumar and forward Jayesh Rane all have been retained. Also, they have signed defender Nallappan Mohanraj and forward Baljit Sahni from Atletico De Kolkata and central midfielder Siam Hanghal who previously played for North East United FC. Winger duo Daniel Lalhlimpuia and Uttam Rai, two of India’s brightest young prospects, have been brought in to increase the depth of the lineup.
The defending champions have a number of exciting local lads along with some exceptional foreign recruits. Mostly, they have been playing together for past two seasons under Materazzi who understands their strengths and limitations very well. They arguably have the best defensive back-line of the tournament (with Mendy and Riise) along with a very experienced midfield. If Jeje can reproduce his form of last season, Chennaiyin are capable of winning back to back titles.
They will miss the services of skipper Elano and current New York City forward Stiven Mendoza who netted 13 goals last season. Succi is an experienced professional, but will find it hard to replace the Colombian. Although Chennaiyin have a highly experienced and quality back-line, the absence of goalkeeper Edel Bete will definitely weaken their defense.
Where They Can Finish:
Chennaiyin might lack the impact of last season due to the absence of their key architects. However, in presence of Marco Materazzi, Chennaiyin are expected to fight for a place in top four, though they have a tough task ahead in order to defend their title.