It is a known fact that in I-League, the team with better quality foreigners have a higher probability of landing the championship. More often than not, it is the overseas contingent which turn out to be the difference-maker at critical junctures throughout the league campaign. When Minerva Punjab bagged the title in the 2017-18 season, they had Bhutanese sensation Chencho Gyeltshen who turned out to be their most valuable player with four goals and seven assists to his name. Even their championship-winning goal was scored by an overseas player in William Opoku against Churchill Brothers on the last matchday.
This season, Chennai City are leading the pack with seven points from three matches and the credit goes to their Spanish players, namely Pedro Manzi, Nestor J Gordillo and Sandro Rodriguez. Manzi has proven himself to be a clinical striker as he has already found the net on four occasions in three matches which includes a hat-trick in his very first game against the Indian Arrows.
His movement inside the box makes him extremely difficult to mark because of his intelligent positioning. During his goal against Gokulam he kept lurking behind Daniel Addo and when Gordillo played a through ball from the left, he was perfectly positioned to have a crack at goal.
It seems that Manzi has set-up a telepathic understanding with his fellow countryman Gordillo. In the Indian Arrows game, the Spanish duo tormented the backline of the Blue colts with their incisive passing. Gordillo produced a peach of a through ball to set up Manzi and the striker once again made his movement behind Anwar Ali to get to the ball and slot it into the net.
Gordillo's excellent vision was on full display as he ripped apart the Arrows' defence with his terrific passing ability. Even Arrows' coach Floyd Pinto was impressed with the foreign contingent at Chennai City FC. "Obviously, the quality of the foreigners in Chennai City is great. The difference between us and them were their foreigners. We played with intensity throughout the 90 minutes. They won all the 50-50 balls though. The through passes that they put were of very high quality and any defence would have struggled."
Against Churchill Brothers, their partnership was once again in full blossom and this time it was Manzi who produced the assist while Gordillo did the rest. Gordillo's left-footed finish in the far post showed that he also possesses the capability to score goals which would be a welcome relief for coach Akbar Nawas after Manzi had to be substituted with a muscle injury against Gokulam.
The 30-year-old striker not only gets into good positions but attracts more defenders towards him which allows the other players in his team freedom in the opposition goalmouth. Pravitto Raju got his debut I-League goal in similar circumstances as two Churchill defenders were busy marking Manzi near the first post while Raju remained unmarked at the centre.
If Manzi and Gordillo are terrorising opposition defence then it is Sandro Rodriguez who is playing the role of a silent assassin in midfield with his exceptional ability to break up attack and spray the passes. He is the perfect anchor for Chennai City who lies deep and ensures that his two compatriots have the license to roam in the attacking third. Gordillo and Sandro move up and down in tandem which further complicates the matter for opponents. He was the primary architect behind Chennai's second goal against Churchill as his movement and first touch completely took out Nenad Novakovic out of the equation, allowing him to get a clear sight at goal.
It is still early days in the competition but the way Chennai have started their campaign riding on the performances of their foreign contingent it would not be surprising if they end up challenging for the top spots.