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Football ISL: Chennaiyin eye upsurge as Goa look to consolidate top spot

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Vishal Kaith Goalkeeper of Chennaiyin FC during match 35 of the Indian Super League ( ISL ) between Jamshedpur FC and Chennaiyin FC held at the JRD Tata Sports Complex, Jamshedpur, India on the 9th December 2019. Photo by: Saikat Das / SPORTZPICS for ISL

Chennai: Chennaiyin FC’s mini-revival of sorts will be put to test when Indian Super League table-toppers FC Goa travel to the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium here on Thursday.

The Marina Machans have been in good form of late and are unbeaten in the last four games (two draws and two wins). The recent revival of form, spearheaded by new coach Owen Coyle, has seen them overcome a disastrous start to the season where they managed to get only a point from the first four matches.

The team are currently placed eighth on the table but a win over FC Goa can propel them to the sixth spot. However, it will not be an easy task.

“We face a fantastic team. FC Goa are at the top of the table on merit. For me, they are the best team in the country, the table doesn’t lie. They have more points than anyone because they have quality. We respect them but do not fear them,” said Coyle.

FC Goa are also in good form and are top of the table with 18 points from nine matches. They are also on a three-match winning run, with the last game against Odisha ending 3-0 in their favour. The Gaurs will see this as an opportunity to consolidate their position in the top-four.

Coyle will want his star forward Nerijus Valskis to continue his purple patch. The Lithuanian forward has scored five goals in the last four games and is third on the goalscoring charts. In fact, he has contributed 62.5% of Chennaiyin’s goal, indicating the home team’s reliance on their lead striker. However, much will also depend on Lallianzuala Chhangte who opened his tally for the season in their previous match against Kerala Blasters.

His pace and ability to penetrate defences will come of use for Coyle’s side who will be expected to defend stoutly against a possession-hungry Goa side. Chhangte will be a useful outlet during counter-attacks.

“We have shown if we could perform as we did vs Kerala Blasters, then we can pick up points. Tomorrow, it will be two attacking teams trying to win the game. Looking forward to the game and we believe we can win the game,” expressed Coyle.

Chennaiyin will need to improve their set-piece record as well. They have struggled with dead-ball situations, both offensively and defensively, this season. They have scored just 1 goal from set-pieces and conceded 4 goals from set-pieces out of 12 goals (30%).

Goa, on the other hand, have been much more efficient with set-pieces. Sergio Lobera’s team has conceded just one goal from set-pieces while Mourtada Fall and Carlos Pena provide attacking threat as well during such situations.

Goa’s attack will pose plenty of problems for the Chennaiyin defence as well. Ferran Corominas, since coming back from injury, has been in good goalscoring form and has tallied six goals already. Brandon Fernandes and Hugo Boumous will look to provide ample service to Coro but one thing Lobera would like to see is his team improve their conversion rate.

“I said after the match (against Odisha) that we need to improve on our mistakes and we are working to try to improve and be 100% for the next game,” said Lobera.

“I think, with the new coach (Owen Coyle) in Chennaiyin, it’s possible to see some changes. Chennaiyin play with more intensity and a good balance of offensive and defensive. It’s not an easy match for sure,” he added.

Chennaiyin’s defence which will miss Eli Sabia (suspended) will have a tough job on their hands. Moreover, FC Goa have an envious record in Chennai. The Gaurs have won four out of 5 matches they played at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium during the league stages.

The home side will also need to banish the memories of a crushing 3-0 defeat Goa handed out to them on the opening match of this season as well.

HSB

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