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NorthEast United v Chennaiyin

ISL 2018-19: John Gregory suggests Chennaiyin FC might play just four foreigners

2:02 am AEDT 26/1/19
John Gregory Chennaiyin FC ATK ISL 2018-19
The Chennaiyin boss also has the AFC Cup in sights as he prepares his side for the last phase of the Indian Super League ...

Chennaiyin FC resume their Indian Super League (ISL) campaign on the road as they take on NorthEast United FC on Saturday.

The defending champions have no realistic chance of entering the top four and coach John Gregory has accepted the team’s fate.

However, the coach believes that there is a lot to play for and the team will try to win all the remaining games in a bid to boost confidence ahead of the AFC Cup group stages.

“It’s (break) been a great time for everybody connected with our team to reassess where we are, where we want to be and how we are going to get there. It has also enabled us to bring in a couple of new players and our focus is still very much on the ISL.”

“We want to win all our remaining six games and put some points on the board. We want to gain as much momentum as we can as we enter the AFC cup in March. We will have two games to play in the first two weeks of March. Then there’s the Super Cup, which will follow the ISL. We still have a lot to play for and we want to gain some respect,” Gregory said.

The Englishman felt that while there is no pressure of a top-four race for his players, the incentives will be different for them for the remainder of a campaign. 

“Possibly. Twelve months ago, we came here for a league game when we were on top of the league. But we didn’t perform well and lost 3-1. We were under more pressure then to maintain a play-off position. Now the players have a bit more chance to relax, knowing that we are not going to get into the play-offs. So, the pressure is not there.

“But there are other things. But with 90 per cent of my players going out of contract in the summer, they will be playing for contracts. So there is still the pressure to perform. We are going into the AFC Cup with the first game on the 6th of March and I want all my players to be involved in that tournament. I want them to try and win that tournament and the Super Cup,” the Englishman exclaimed.

The bane of elimination in the ISL comes with the boon of freedom to rotate. Gregory admitted he might try getting past the next set of fixtures with only four foreigners, as required in the AFC Cup.

“It could be that we will experiment with just four foreigners in the rest of the ISL. We got in two boys from Kerala, who are domestic players. So, there are not adding to the foreigner quota. It’s a no brainer for me, considering their quality.”

“They are ready-made as they are already adapted to the conditions and the league. So, I don’t have an issue with not playing with too many foreigners. By the time AFC comes, we would have enough experience of playing with more domestic players and less foreigners.”

Forward Jeje Lalpekhlua ended his 10-month goalscoring drought by netting one against Thailand in the Asian Cup and Gregory is hoping that the floodgates finally open for the Mizo Sniper.

“I’m very happy that he scored a goal (in the Asian Cup). I think that it’s great for him too. He scored the fourth goal that night and that confirmed that India were winning the game. (Anirudh) Thapa scored in the same match and were delighted with how our players did in the tournament.”

“We were disappointed with the third match and how we conceded a penalty in the ending moments of the game. But as for Jeje, let’s hope that he keeps adding more goals.”

The Chennai boss praised NorthEast United for the season they are having and mentioned that he is expecting a big game with a huge crowd on Saturday.

“They know everything about the ISL. Halicharan (Narzary) has played here, so he knows how it’s like. NorthEast have been the surprise team this season. I think we were expecting Jamshedpur to be challenging as they were last season. And certainly, Goa and Bengaluru – you would be expecting them to challenge as well.

“But NorthEast have started out well, but December was not a great month for them. They concede five against Goa in their final match. We are hoping that their luck doesn’t continue. They brought in new players into the league and they have been a breath of fresh air to the club and the league. I have been impressed with some of them.

“There’s a euphoria surrounding them and they are playing some beautiful football. Also, the crowd is coming back, it was almost empty when we played them last season as things were not so great. Obviously, we are expecting a big crowd tomorrow night,” Gregory concluded.