The Marina Machans have had a wonderful season under English coach John Gregory who has instilled a sense of belief into the squad. They finished seventh on the table last season and the climb back up the table has been impressive.
Chennaiyin never looked like they were in serious trouble of losing out on a semi-final spot. They had their blips here and there but the team projected a united front and kept fighting till the end to make it to the final stage.
Jeje Lalpekhlua recently broke his seven-game goalscoring drought in their last game. Raphael Augusto has defenders doubling in on him whenever he gets the ball. Karanjit Singh has been in supreme form in between the sticks and he has a solid backline in front of him to put his faith in. What we have also seen at Chennaiyin is that the Indian midfield contingent has come into the limelight for excellent reasons, one feat that is unmatched when compared to other teams in the league.
Bikramjit Singh and Dhanpal Ganesh have played 14 and 16 games respectively this season. And youngsters Anirudh Thapa and Germanpreet impressed (15 and 7 matches respectively) whenever they replaced Gregory's first-choice selections. In Thapa, the Machans have one of the best young midfielders in the country.
The heart of the midfield is where the biggest games are decided. Against FC Goa in the first leg of the semi-final, it was Thapa who turned up with a crucial equaliser (and away goal) for Chennaiyin.
In the return leg, Bikramjit was the silent assassin in midfield who carried out Gregory's gameplan in midfield. The effervescent attacking players of FC Goa quickly ran out of options to find space in a midfield where Dhanpal and Bikramjit had set up camp.
Ganesh's header that made it 2-0 against Goa was crucial. It piled the pressure upon an otherwise goal-happy Gaurs attack. 0-2 down and Thapa's away goal left Goa with a mountain to climb in the second-leg. This has been Chennaiyin's trump card throughout the season. They recruited good Indian midfielders and put them together to form a solid partnership that other teams have found it difficult to break down. They're truly adept and form the link between the talented attack and the stern defence.
Teams follow different strategies while building a team and Chennaiyin have followed theirs to perfection. No other ISL club can boast such a good Indian midfield contingent and that has acted as Chennaiyin's trump card this season. It has helped John Gregory find the right balance.
The best Indian midfield in the league that shut down FC Goa will now test their mettle against Erik Paartalu and Dimas Delgado in the final. If that doesn't get you excited, then what will?