Chennaiyin FC, after their latest reverse (2-1 against ATK in Kolkata on Friday), are winless in five games (six if you count their Super Cup defeat to NEROCA FC) with four of them defeats. That is not how John Gregory would have envisaged the start of his title defence.
The Marina Machans look to have fallen into a rut which, in the punishing schedule of the Indian Super League (ISL), can be hard to recover from.
Strangely, there is no lack of effort from the players but defensive mix-ups and poor finishing have negated that.
One of the hallmarks of Chennaiyin FC last season was their resolute defence. Although they did concede against FC Goa, NorthEast United and Bengaluru FC, for the rest of the matches they put up a solid performance.
However, silly mistakes at the back coupled with individual errors have been their undoing. Mailson Alves looks a shadow of himself while Eli Sabia hasn't done any better. He allowed John Johnson to get ahead of him to head the ball home.
Yes, they do not have a proper defensive midfielder like Dhanpal Ganesh to protect the back four, but the defenders themselves have been error-prone. Plus they also do not have Inigo Calderon playing as a right back which only added to their attacking threat.
Chennaiyin FC’s goalscoring troubles continued in Kolkata as well. Carlos Salom and co. were guilty of squandering chances galore against Delhi Dynamos which cost them a win there.
Against ATK, it was pretty much the same case. After going 2-0 up, ATK went into a defensive shell and Chennaiyin were able to create several chances for themselves. Though Salom managed to pull one goal back with an instinctive header off Francisco Fernando’s cross, that was about it for the Palestinian striker in the game. He would go on to miss several chances as Chennaiyin came up short in their search for a first win.
Salom, for all his industry and energy up front, has shown poor ball control. His finishing has been way off the mark, evident from the host of golden opportunities he has spurned so far.
ATK, on the other hand, after a lacklustre start to the season seem to be imbibing Steve Coppell's philosophy. Their defensive organisation has improved and the return of Kalu Uche has added to their threat. Manuel Lanzarote also had a good game against Chennaiyin FC and the Spaniard's touch and set-piece deliveries were top-notch.
He seems to be getting back to his best and that bodes well for Coppell.
But like the Englishman said, a run of 3-4 wins on the trot can be very important in the ISL. For all Chennaiyin's troubles so far, if they can win four matches on the trot from this position, the table will paint itself a vastly different picture for them.