BY ASHWIN MURALIDHARAN Follow @AshwinMNair10 on Twitter
As the count to the fourth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) ticks down, Goal analyses the strengths and weaknesses of each of the ten clubs participating this time around.
Next in line are Chennaiyin FC, the 2015 champions who had a forgettable campaign last time around.
The Supermachans are the only team to have won the ISL apart from defending champions ATK when they downed FC Goa in the final of the 2015 edition. However, their title defence in 2016 spluttered and never took off, leaving them rooted to the seventh position in the table.
It was no surprise that they parted ways with manager Marco Materazzi soon after, who had been in charge ever since the inception of the club in 2014.
In came former Aston Villa manager John Gregory - with his English philosophy set to be a marked departure from the Italian influence at the club for three years.
This is how their squad looks like for ISL 4:
Goalkeepers: Karanjit Singh, Shahinlal Meloly, Pawan Kumar
Defenders: Henrique Sereno (c), Inigo Calderon, Mailson Alves, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Dhanachandra Singh, Fulganco Cardozo, Sanjay Balmuchu, Keenan Almeida
Midfielders: Raphael Augusto, Jaime Gavilan, Rene Mihelic, Thoi Singh, Bikramjit Singh, Dhanpal Ganesh, Germanpreet Singh, Francis Fernandes, Anirudh Thapa
Forwards: Gregory Nelson, Jude Nworuh, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Mohammed Rafi, Baoringdao Bodo
One of the foremost positive feature of Chennaiyin's squad this season is the fact that their foreign acquisitions in defence and midfield are all proven, strong performers. In defence, Mailson Alves and Henrique Sereno are proven customers in the ISL. While Mailson Alves was a part of Chennaiyin FC squad which won the championship in 2015 before turning out for NorthEast United FC last season, Henrique Sereno was an integral part of the ATK defence which won the title last season. In fact, Sereno scored the equaliser for ATK in the final.
They have also recruited former Brighton & Hove Albion right-back Inigo Calderon. The Spaniard, after six seasons at Brighton, played regularly in Cyprus last season and would not be rusty in India.
Chennaiyin also have decent options at full-back positions with Dhanachandra Singh, Keenan Almeida, Jerry Lalrinzuala and Fulganco Cardozo at Gregory's disposal.
In midfield, Brazilian midfielder Raphael Augusto and Spaniard Jaime Gavilan are two impressive signings, having performed brilliantly for Chennaiyin and ATK respectively in the previous seasons.
But more importantly, they have a balanced midfield with Raphael Augusto a box-to-box midfielder while Jaime Gavilan and Rene Mihelic providing creativity from the centre of the park. Indian options Dhanpal Ganesh, Bikramjit Singh, Thoi Singh and Germanpreet Singh all have been playing regularly in the recently concluded I-League season and will offer Gregory multiple options.
Chennaiyin also have a very promising bunch of youngsters in the team, with Jerry Lalrinzuala, Anirudh Thapa and Germanpreet Singh all earmarked for success.
A very noticeable thing about Chennaiyin FC's attack is the lack of physicality and presence in the box. While Jeje Lalpekhlua is a clever operator in the box, he is not really known for his aerial presence and physicality. Nigerian recruit Jude Nworuh, standing at 5'7", is also not a huge presence inside the box. Moreover, the 28-year-old has not really played much of first-team football in the previous two seasons.
While Mohammed Rafi is good in the air, the 35-year-old's prowess is on the wane and has not played competitive football after last season's ISL with Kerala Blasters.
Chennaiyin FC's goalkeeping contingent does not really inspire confidence with Karanjit Singh set to be the numero uno between the sticks. The Punjabi custodian made some high-profile errors last season in the ISL. Though he was better during the subsequent I-League campaign with Chennai City FC, Karanjit still has to prove his worth at this level.
His backups Shahinlal Meloly and Pawan Kumar also have not really had a lot of first-team action of late.
Though Chennaiyin have dependable centre-back in Mailson Alves and Henrique Sereno, their backups leave a lot to be desired. Apart from Sanjay Balmuchu, Gregory does not have much reserve options in central defence. Dhanachandra Singh, who is a versatile option, is returning from a long-term injury as well.
As far as opportunities for young players go, midfielder Anirudh Thapa is a name which is making waves in the country right now. The 19-year-old is highly rated and has caught the eye with his performances whenever given an opportunity. He has represented India throughout various age groups and has a senior cap to his name. After making a senior appearance for Chennaiyin FC last season, Thapa did very well to feature regularly for Minerva Punjab in the 2016-17 I-League season.
Another player who looks set to make an impact this time around is 21-year-old central midfielder Germanpreet Singh. The Gurdaspur-born lad has seen his stock rise spectacularly this year. He was a regular in the Minerva Punjab midfield last season in the I-League and was impressive in the AFC U23 Championship qualifiers earlier this year for India U23.
Those performances saw him being called up by Stephen Constantine to the senior national team. Now, he will be hopeful of continuing his development under the tutelage of John Gregory.
The Danger Man
Though Nigerian forward Jude Nworuh is extremely quick, Slovenian attacking midfielder Rene Mihelic will be Chennaiyin's key attacking threat this season. The 29-year-old is expected to play the number ten role for the team and create chances for the forwards.
Mihelic, a Maribor youth product, is brilliant at linking up play and is a setpiece expert, offering John Gregory a reliable option to make the most of all the free-kicks and corners that come their way.
Overall, Chennaiyin FC have a strong spine of seasoned foreign acquisitions and promising Indian names. The Supermachans will be a tough team to beat. However, their lack of variety in attack could be a detrimental factor when it comes to going all the way. But John Gregory will be hopeful of enjoying a much better season that what Chennaiyin went through last season.