The holders and two-time champion are capable of winning back-to-back titles, but can they manage to juggle between the league and AFC Cup?
Chennaiyin has retained the Indian core of their team from last season. Youngsters Anirudh Thapa, Germanpreet Singh, and Jerry Lalrinzuala impressed during their title run last year. They also added Sinivasan Pandiyan in midfield – the local lad who made his way up from the lower leagues to be recognized as a player for the Chennai team.
However, the loss of Dhanpal Ganesh to injury is a big blow for the team. Ganesh will miss the first half of the season.
While the backline will be led by skipper Mailson Alves, alongside Spaniard Iñigo Calderón, the frontline attack of Chennaiyin looks a bit thin. Jeje Lalpekhlua remains the main striker, while Mohammed Rafi and Baoringdao Bodo are his backups. They have also signed Palestinian striker Carlos Salom on loan to assist Jeje in goalscoring duties.
However, the departure of defender Henrique Sereno, midfielder Rene Mihelic, and forward Bikramjit Singh may also prove to be a set back in the new season.
John Gregory led Chennaiyin to their second ISL title last season. The Englishman is one of the two coaches who retained his role as a coach from last season.
The former England midfielder has had coaching stints in Israel and Kazakhstan before taking up the job at Chennaiyin. His best years as a coach were in England for clubs like Aston Villa, Queens Park Rangers, and more recently, Crawley Town.
Players to watch
Jeje Lalpekhlua: Known as “The Mizo Sniper” to Indian fans, the nippy striker has a knack of scoring crucial goals for his teams. Among the highest paid Indian footballers, Jeje scored nine goals in 2017/18 and helped the Marina Machans lift the championship.
Andrea Orlandi: The versatile player will provide Gregory options in midfield or in the left wing. The former Swansea player also played at Brighton & Hove Albion and Blackpool, before plying his trade in Cyprus and Italy.
The opening match for Chennaiyin is a blockbuster. On Sep. 30 They return to the venue where they lifted the trophy last season, against the very opposition they beat: Bengaluru.
The first home match is against Goa on the Oct. 6, followed by another home match against NorthEast United on Oct. 18.
Two away fixtures in a space of 3 days against Delhi Dynamos (Oct. 23) and ATK (Oct. 26) will test the strength of the bench. They host Mumbai City on Nov. 3 before traveling to Pune City three days later.
After a 19-day break, Chennaiyin will face 4 opponents within a span of 12 days. Jamshedpur (A) on Nov. 25, Kerala (H) on Nov. 29, ATK (H) on Dec. 2, and Mumbai City (A) on Dec.6.
Despite their indifferent preseason match results, the Chennai franchise is among the favorites to win the title. However, there is the distraction of the AFC Cup, a tournament which the team has not had any experience in.
The additional matches could provide Gregory a challenge to manage the fitness of his best players for the league and the cup run.
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