Last year was a season to remember for Chennaiyin, not only did they go all the way to win their second ISL title, but they did so while recording a total of nine wins, a new club record. But they did not do it in blowout fashion.
The season didn’t start too good with a 3-2 loss to Goa on the opening day, but then they won three on the bounce. A loss to Mumbai was next before another five unbeaten games followed. That meant they were top of the table after 10 of the 18 rounds. In the final eight games of the season, Chennaiyin only lost twice, while they won three and drew three.
The wins were close fought battles and only one win the entire season was by more than one goal. That was the second round win over NorthEast. The two losses suffered in the final eight games were both 3-1 losses as NorthEast got their revenge and Bengaluru won what turned out to be the six-point-game for the top of the table after the regular season.
That meant they finished second place in the league standings and a playoff semi-final matchup with the team that defeated them on the opening day, Goa. The first leg ended in a 1-1 draw which gave Chennaiyin a good starting point for the second leg at their home stadium, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. In the second leg, they took that starting point and built on it, smashing Goa 3-0 and securing a spot in the final against Bengaluru.
Bengaluru took the lead after only nine minutes but three unanswered goals from Chennaiyin gave them a lead Bengaluru couldn’t claw back. Miku gave Bengaluru a consolation goal in added time, but Chennaiyin were crowned champions.
The club’s manager John Gregory had his first season with Chennaiyin last season and built on the legacy left by Marco Materazzi. The Italian guided the Marina Machans to a semi-final in the first season in 2014. The following season they took their first ISL title, but the third season in the club’s history proved more difficult.
A decent start with only one loss in the first seven games was thrown away in the second half with four losses in the final seven matches. Too many draws instead of wins also contributed to a seventh-place finish, in the eight-team league, only one point ahead of last-placed Goa.
As for the players, we’ll touch more on them later, ex Brighton player Inigo Calderon is back for another year, so is former Swansea and Blackpool man Andrea Orlandi. Joining them are the three Brazilians Eli Sabia, Raphael Augusto and captain Mailson Alves. Finally the two last foreigners are Dutchman Gregory Nelson and Palestinian Carlos Zulema, on loan from Bangkok United.