Of all the Indian Super League (ISL) teams that have stepped onto the field so far this season, Chennaiyin looked the fittest and readiest to play a high-intensity game of football on Tuesday.
The Marina Machans, coached by Csaba Laszlo, won their first game of the season 2-1 against Jamshedpur who are managed by former Chennaiyin coach Owen Coyle.
It wasn’t a perfect game from the two-time ISL champions but overall, the energy levels on display were the best by a team in the seventh season of ISL up until Tuesday (with only East Bengal left to play their first match of the season).
For a change, it was an end-to-end start to the game that neutrals would have thoroughly enjoyed. Anirudh Thapa, who is Chennaiyin’s vice-captain this season, sent the ball into the net within seconds from kick-off.
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The midfielder timed his run into the box to perfection as Isma Goncalves drilled a low cross into the box from the right flank. Thapa’s right foot met the ball and sent it first-time past TP Rehenesh who stood no chance.
The scorer and the provider were the two standout players for Laszlo’s team. Thapa is making a name for himself as one of the best midfielders India has produced recently and this season will play a part in cementing the tag of India‘s best midfielder.
Thapa was active in the centre throughout the match and helped keep Chennaiyin ticking whenever the team’s tempo threatened to slow down. This was crucial in keeping the Jamshedpur attack, led by former Chennaiyin striker and last season’s Golden Boot winner Nerijus Valskis, at bay.
Isma Goncalves, the striker Laszlo brought in to replace Valskis, was equally impressive. He seemed to really fit in the team’s style and the strategy in the attacking third looks tailor-made for the skillset that Isma has. He is tall, strong on the ball, makes intelligent runs in and around the box and is always a nuisance for the opponents.
Goncalves had multiple chances to score on Tuesday, some of them created all by himself, but he will hope to be more efficient in the games to come.
For Jamshedpur, the damage was done by half-hour mark and they never seemed to really get to grips with the pace of the game in the second half. They also had chances to score which they didn’t take – and the Chennaiyin defence did a good job of keeping Valskis isolated and out of the danger zone.
Valskis’s header off Jackichand’s delightful cross into the box in the 37th minute was Jamshedpur’s first shot on target in that half and it turned out to the only clear-cut chances they would have in the game apart from the error from Vishal Kaith which almost gifted Jamshedpur an equaliser. Overall, Jamshedpur could only produce two shots on target, compared to Chennaiyin’s six.
Peter Hartley was forced off the field due to an injury after Chennaiyin went 2-0 up. His replacement, Narendar impressed with his substitute appearance and made multiple crucial interceptions and blocks to keep Chennaiyin in check – a positive for Owen Coyle who will be hoping that his team can turn it around quickly. However, his injury towards the end might be an issue.