ISL 2017-18: John Gregory - For me, the season starts tomorrow

Chennaiyin FC manager John Gregory thinks that the most important stage of the league starts with their match against Bengaluru FC...

The top two sides in Indian Super League (ISL), Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin FC lock horns on Tuesday at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai. 

The first leg of this South Indian derby saw a lot of friction between the two sides on the pitch. Chennaiyin won the clash 2-1 at the Kanteerava Stadium but the drama unfolded after the final whistle when the two captains Henrique Sereno and Sunil Chhetri were involved in a serious altercation.

Revenge will be on their mind when Bengaluru FC travel to their neighbouring state to take on John Gregory's side. Chennaiyin are four points behind the league leaders with a game less played.

Ahead of this crucial encounter, John Gregory said, "For me, the season starts tomorrow. This is where you find out how good you are. We’ve been jostling so far. When the race actually starts, you are in a slightly better position. We are ready for a start. We have six more matches but as you know, if you’re in a better position now, you have an advantage.

"In that respect, the race starts tomorrow night and we’ve got 5 matches in 17 days. We are in the second position in the grid but we need to keep playing well. This period will determine our final position.

"Kerala lost games earlier but they have proven that if you put together a good run at this stage, you can reach the playoffs. What has happened so far doesn’t mean a great deal. If you can put together three wins now, you can reach the semifinals."

A good thing about this Chennaiyin side is that they are not dependent upon their main striker Jeje Lalpekhlua for the goals in every game, who is the second highest Indian goal scorer in the league with seven goals right after Bengaluru skipper Sunil Chhetri. 

On his team not being over-dependent on Jeje, the British coach said, "Even though Jeje scored seven goals, he did not start one of those games. It’s a testament to his ability that he has scored that much. Everyone has chipped in with goals. So it is great that everyone has the responsibility to score. They will also try and defend together. There is no huge onus on one person. It could become a burden if we expect Jeje to score all the goals. I’m delighted that everybody has contributed this season."

Chennaiyin played their last match almost two weeks back against ATK in Kolkata compared to Bengaluru who are having a compact schedule with AFC Cup and ISL matches.

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On asked if getting such a long rest period puts them in an advantageous position, Gregory said, "We’ve never complained about the schedule. Everybody has the same problem. All teams have had a large number of games in a short space of time. We should have played BFC on 31st which would have been easier. I don’t think it has been a problem. We just try to move on and not give extra thought about it."

He continued, "Sometimes, it is great to play every three-four days. After the NorthEast defeat, we played ATK within 3-4 days and we won. So we could erase the negative feeling. So, a longer rest period doesn’t really put you at an advantage. BFC have been getting positive results and they will want to get back out there on the field. All my team is fit. We are very confident."

On asked if this will be an emotionally-charged match for the fans given that the first leg encounter was extremely volatile, the Chennaiyin gaffer said, "The fans contribute to the atmosphere. We took a lot of our fans in the reverse fixture. That kind of inspires a derby atmosphere. There were a few incidents which got a bit out of hand. But everything is fine now. Everyone is passionate about their own team. That is football. I hope the players show the same kind of passion we showed earlier in this fixture."