As the Indian national team gets ready to embark on a voyage to China, head coach Stephen Constantine will be hoping that the strikers in the squad can quickly rediscover their scoring boots.
Skipper Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua will be expected to lead the lines for the Blues in China but both forwards come into the clash on the back of a scratchy start to their respective campaigns with their Indian Super League (ISL) sides.
While Chhetri has managed to bag a goal in the two appearances he has made for Bengaluru FC, his overall gameplay has not been up to the mark. Jeje has been woefully off-colour for defending champions Chennaiyin FC.
Chhetri was largely kept quiet against Chennayin FC. Against Jamshedpur FC also, he fluffed his lines a fair few times before scoring a good header. The India captain has made a sluggish start to the season.
The title defence by John Gregory’s men has got off to a poor start with two back-to-back defeats greeting the champions from last season. What has compounded Chennaiyin’s woes is a misfiring Jeje with the Mizoram forward guilty of wasting some gilt-edged chances in the Bengaluru FC match, especially.
In the first-half itself, defensive lapses from Carles Cuadrat’s men would provide the 27-year-old with two excellent opportunities but indecisiveness and poor touches meant that both the chances were squandered.
Gregory has alluded that a lack of service from the midfield as one of the reasons for Jeje’s poor form but the striker’s hold up play has not been up to the mark either in this lean patch of form.
The Punjab-born forward is yet to find his scoring boots in Kolkata with the team’s struggles from last season showing no signs of stopping yet despite the appointment of Steve Coppell. That he has been shunted on the wing in the Englishman’s system at ATK has not helped Balwant’s cause either.
Everton Santos has been the preferred option up top so far for Coppell with playing on the wings being the only available role for Balwant currently.
While Sunil, Jeje and Balwant’s indifferent form will be worrying for Constantine given how the players have become mainstays in recent times, the remaining striker-contingent does not inspire much confidence either.
Although Manvir Singh had an excellent individual campaign in India’s runner-up finish in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship in Bangladesh, he has found game time hard to come by with his ISL outfit FC Goa.
The 22-year-old has played a total of 22 minutes exactly over the course of two matches with Ferran Corominas continuing his excellent form from last season.
A lack of minutes has also hindered Farukh Choudhary’s campaign with Jamshedpur FC with the 21-year-old yet to make an appearance under Cesar Ferrando. Sumeet Passi did get to play the entirety of the 90 minutes in Jamshedpur’s opener against Mumbai City but was guilty of missing an open chance in the side’s 2-0 win.
The 24-year-old was relegated to the bench in Jamshedpur’s clash against Bengaluru FC and was not called upon at any moment despite Ferrando’s men chasing the game for large parts of the second half.
All of this has left the Indian team with realistically no striker in form, although Chhetri is the only one with a goal to his name this season.
International football can sometimes bring out the best from out-of-form players too and India along with Constantine will be hoping that is the case when the Blue Tigers line up against Team Dragon at the Suzouh Olympics Sports stadium at Beijing on October 13.