Would Bozidar Bandovic bring back the lost glory for Chennaiyin?
Chennaiyin has been one of the most successful clubs in the history of the Indian Super League. However, the two-time ISL champions finished in the eighth position last season, which has forced the management to make some harsh, yet very necessary decisions.
The Chennai-based team roped in a new manager in Montenegrin head coach Bozidar Bandovic. There have also been radical changes to their roster as Chennaiyin will play with an almost new set of foreigners this season. Rafael Crivellaro, who was exceptional for the Marina Machans last season, is the only foreigner to have survived the clearout.
A look at last season’s performance
Chennaiyin had a forgetful 2019-20 season under the tutelage of the then manager, Csaba Laszlo. They might have had an attractive, free-flowing style of play, but none of their forwards was clinical enough to convert chances which brought about their ultimate failure.
The Marina Machans finished the campaign with only 20 points, winning only three games whilst drawing 11 matches and losing six contests.
Crivellaro & Co. started the campaign with a win over Jamshedpur and then got a resilient draw against Kerala Blasters. But things went south for the team from Southern India, since their first loss in the third match against Bengaluru. They found some rhythm by beating Goa but were far too inconsistent to build on that crucial win. Their third and last win came against Odisha, as Laszlo’s boys spent an entire month and a half without a victory.
New Signings for ISL 2021-22
Bandovic has made wholesale changes to the roster, especially in the foreign contingent. He has brought in some experienced players who have the credentials to succeed in India and help the team restore its lost glory. Hungarian midfielder Vladimir Koman will bring in creativity in the middle of the park, providing Crivellaro with the support he lacked last season.
Polish duo of striker Lukasz Gikiewicz and midfielder Ariel Borysiuk should be among the first names in the starting XI. Gikiewicz will look to spearhead the attack with Borysiuk strengthening Chennaiyin’s frail midfield. The 30-year-old midfielder has played for his national team, besides also featuring in Bundesliga.
The Montenegrin tactician has also acquired the services of Serbian central defender Slavko Damjanovic and Kyrgyz winger Mirlan Murzaev. Damjanovic is known for his gigantic frame and will look to lead the team from the back whereas Murzaev is a box of tricks known for creating chances aplenty from the flanks.
As for the Indian signings, the Marina Machans have signed forward Jobby Justin and goalkeeper Debjit Majumder from the two Kolkata giants, ATK Mohun Bagan and East Bengal respectively. Justin will be hoping to get some game time, which ATK Mohun Bagan did not provide him, whilst Majumder will provide serious competition in goal to Vishal Kaith.
Seasoned players like Deepak Devrani, Narayan Das, and Salam Ranjan Singh will add more experience and quality to Chennaiyin’s defense. Amidst all the big names, keep an eye on Ninthoi Meetei, the 20-year-old clinical forward from Imphal.
Predicted Starting Lineup
Vishal Kaith, Reagan Singh, Salam Ranjan Singh, Slavko Damjanovic, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Ariel Borisyuk, Anirudh Thapa, Rahim Ali, Rafael Crivellaro, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Łukasz Gikiewicz
The Marina Machans have a well-balanced roster with plenty of domestic and foreign match-winners. They boast of experienced Indian players Anirudh Thapa and Salam Ranjan Singh, while the likes of Ali, Meetei, Aman Chetri, and Suhail Pasha will bring in exuberance and panache.
Among foreigners, Crivellaro has been a metronome for Chennaiyin. He was monumental under Owen Coyle when they reached the ISL finals. Even in the nightmarish last season, he was the team’s only shining star and Captain Crivellaro along with the club’s Indian core is Chennaiyin’s biggest strength.
Chennaiyin’s Achilles heel has been their inconsistency on either end of the pitch. They struggled to score last season, netting only 17 goals. Hence, Bandovic would want Polish marksman Gikiewicz to hit the ground running. The 34-year-old striker might have played for teams all over the globe, but he still might take time to acclimatize to the Indian conditions.
All eyes will be on Justin and Ali as well in the forward ranks. The former hardly got a chance to play for ATK Mohun Bagan after suffering a season-ending injury whilst the latter’s potential is under no doubt but his goalscoring record in the ISL is underwhelming.
The two-time champions will look to regain their lost form. Bandovic’s primary aim will be to take his team to the playoffs. Given the squad they have assembled for ISL 2021-22, the Marina Machans are likely to be there or thereabouts in the top four race but can fall apart if the new overseas signings fail to click together in the unfamiliar Indian conditions.