Chennaiyin’s poor start in the ISL and an early resignation of their league winning Coach John Gregory loomed large uncertainty to qualify for the play-offs. However, the appointment of Owen Coyle brought positive changes in the club and team’s performances. They sat right below the sixth-placed Jamshedpur and reduced the gap to just one point before playing against them.

A win would not only give them three points but also give substantial hope to qualify and turnaround their season.

In this tactical analysis, we will look at Chennaiyin’s game plan and strategies for what could potentially been the most important game of their season. The following analysis will focus on Coyle’s tactics for the game.


After the 2-0 win against NorthEast United, the Scottish manager named an unchanged line-up. Vishal Kaith played between the sticks with Laldiniliana Renthlei, Eli Sabia, Lucian Goian and Jerry Lalrinzuala playing in front of him. A double pivot comprising of Edwin Vanspaul and Anirudh Thapa started in centre.

Andre Schembri played on the right-wing and Lallianzuala Chhangte played on the left-wing. Lithuanian Nerijus Valskis led the line and Rafael Crivellaro played behind him as a number 10. Thoi Singh came in for Schembri to provide more defensive cover in the second half. Dragos Firtulescu and Masih Saighani replaced Crivellaro and Chhangte respectively.

Antonio Iriondo made two changes from the 3-2 win against Kerala Blasters. They played in a 4-4-2 in this game. Subrata Pal kept his spot in goal. Narender Gahlot replaced injured Tiri in defence; Memo, Joyner Lourenco and Bikash Jairu joined him at the back. Amarjit Singh and Aitor Monroy played in the central midfield with Noé Acosta and Farukh Choudhary on the flanks.

Atlético Madrid loanee David Castel replaced Sumeet Passi for this game. He joined erstwhile La Liga player David Grande upfront. C.K Vineeth was introduced at half-time in place of Grande as a tactical switch. Amarjit Singh paved way for Issac Vanmalsawma late in the game.

Chennaiyin in possession 

  • Build-up

Chennaiyin took the quick route to get the ball in the opposition half by tasking Kaith to deliver long goal-kicks. They were directed into the area at the end of the middle third and the start of the final third. Valskis stayed higher up on the field to keep the opposition backline deep. He ocasionally rushed in the middle third bringing along his marker to flick the header for his supporting attackers.

As a result, Chhangte, Crivellaro and Schembri would found themselves in a 3v3 situation. Valskis’ late runs from behind often surprised Jamshedpur’s Monroy and Kiyam who contested for the headers. Kaith found his best partner in Valskis as he played 12 of his 21 passes to him.

In the meantime, Lalrinzuala joined the centre-midfielders Thapa and Vanspaul to form a midfield-three. This acted as a cover to win second balls and to react quickly in case of loss of possession. On the other hand, the right-back Renthlei tucked inside close to the two centre-backs Sabiá and Goian to make the back-three. This provoked an offensive change of shape, turning into a 3-3-1-3 during the build-up.

  • Creating chances

Crivellaro’s vision and creativity made him the provenance of attack for Chennaiyin. He was given complete positional and creative freedom. As a result, he obtained a free role in the offence. The wingers Chhangte and Schembri converged and formed the front three with Valskis when in possession.

The full-backs Renthlei and Lalrinzuala offered minimum support in going forward. Therefore, Crivellaro took the complete liberty to drift into the flanks from the centre between the full-backs and the wingers to receive the ball. He also switched positions with Valskis from time to time.

Due to this and his aptness to find pockets of spaces made him a free-man on the field. The Brazilian was at the end of 43 passes (most by any player of Chennaiyin). He attempted 13 dribbles and four through passes (again most for by any player from Chennaiyin) which ensures the team’s strategy.

To turn all these efforts into something fruitful, the rest three attackers had a big role. Chennaiyin created their major chances from the centre and therefore it was important for the attackers to get away from their markers. The most common attribute amongst the three was blindside runs.

As Crivellaro carried the ball further, the front three ensured getting behind the defenders. Their quick and timely movement made it difficult for Jamshedpur defenders to keep their eyes on both, the player and the ball. These runs were met by through balls at the end to create goal-scoring opportunities.

The above picture shows Schembri’s movement to get behind the defender to make it difficult for him to track his run and watch the ball at the same time. While Crivellaro picks the right opportunity to play the through ball as the defender turns his attention to Schembri.

Chennaiyin out of possession (defending)

  • Against opposition’s build-up

Jamshedpur played in a 4-4-2 when in possession. Therefore Chennaiyin’s back four were occupied and there was no free defender. Which is why they defended in a mid-block to maintain numerical superiority with Thapa and Vanspaul staying close to the backline.

At this time, Crivellaro and Valskis stayed close to the opposition pivots. They allowed Pal to play short passes to his centre-backs. The short pass to the centre-back was the sign to take the line higher as to block any further movement. Thapa and Vanspaul moved closer to the pivots marking them tight to disallow forward passes. This freed up Crivellaro to press the centre-backs when they played lateral passes in order to force the movement-wide.

Eventually, the wingers pressed the full-backs when they received the ball to compel a backward pass. A backward pass to Pal would again release Thapa or Vanspaul from their marking duty and allowed them to go back to support the backline in events of a long pass.

The simple system of blocking forward passes, pressing lateral passes and forcing backward passes was very effective. Things changed in the second half as they established a 2-0 lead and the Men of Steel made certain positional tweaks. Chennaiyin was passive in their pressing and acquired a defensive approach to the game at that time.

  • In their own half

Chennaiyin matched Jamshedpur’s 4-4-2 comfortably while defending in their own half. Being aware of Jamshedpur’s preference to build from the left and Castel’s movement in those areas, Chennaiyin restricted their right-back Renthlei’s forward movement. This is why we saw Lalrinzuala push higher up in build-up while Renthlei tucked inside.

Renthlei won eight of his 11 defensive duels and Lalrinzuala won nine of his 10 defensive duels. Jamshedpur’s front four liked to get narrow near the penalty box which inadvertently helped Chennaiyin to defend compactly. The back four marshalled the defence strongly using ball-oriented marking and pressing. Goian was a dominating force with nine clearances and six successful interceptions; he also won four of his six aerial duels.

Thapa and Vanspaul took turns to press the opposition centre-midfielder (mostly the player on the ball) while the other guarded in front of the backline. Monroy and Kiyam’s lack of movement made their job easier. However, the second half brought some joy to the red miners with a few tactical changes. 1) The wingers started hugging the touchline to support the full-backs instead of drifting inside 2) Castel and substitute striker Vineeth pinned the centre-backs in the centre to create space in half-spaces and 3) Inside runs from Monroy/Kiyam or the full-backs Lourenco/Jairu to exploit the half-space.

Due to these changes, Chennaiyin faced some problems in defending. They conceded their only goal from a situation created by this tactical play. Thapa and Vanspaul couldn’t always keep up with the deep runs and had to face the consequences.


  • Defence to attack

Marina Machans were at their best in transitions. It was down to two players (Thapa and Crivellaro) which makes them so dangerous. Thapa played relatively deeper than Vanspaul and therefore he could collect quick passes from the defenders. He was always aware of his team-mates’ positions because he quickly checked his shoulder before receiving the ball. As a result, he could play one-touch passes to his forwards, mainly to Crivellaro. Thapa played 14 passes to Crivellaro which shows how important this connection was to the team.

This connection goes further to Valskis who was the target of 10 passes from his creative midfielder. Crivellaro’s ability to find channels to receive the pass and then progress it forms a complete transitional route for Chennaiyin. Their direct approach resulted in two goals from transitions. The first one came from Thapa’s inch-perfect through ball to Valskis. While the other was a result of a rebound from the attacking transition.

  • Attack to defence

Thapa was very important in this match. As much as he contributed in offence with his visionary passing, he did equally good in defence. Their defensive transition prioritised on establishing stability in the defensive line and then putting pressure to delay. Both the centre-midfielders executed this simultaneously. Vanspaul was the first man of confrontation. He applied pressure on the ball carrier to force lateral passes if not backward.

On the other hand, Thapa was keen to get back to help his defenders in case of a direct/forward pass to ensure stability and organisation. This was specifically in the situation when full-backs were caught higher up the pitch. Vanspaul contested in 14 defensive duels (most in his team) and won eight of them. If the attacker breached the first confrontation then Thapa’s pace was handy in judging the direction of the first pass, tracking the runner and recovering the possession. He made 14 recoveries and intercepted nine passes (best in both for his team).


  • Offensive

Despite winning only a few set-pieces in the game, Chennaiyin did substantial damage from it. Their corner routine exploited Jamshedpur’s idea of defending set-pieces. Chennaiyin had five players in the box and Crivellaro was on corner duty. Jamshedpur players employed man to man marking outside the six-yard box and tracked each player’s movement.

Schembri stood next to the goalkeeper and appeared nothing more than a blocker who would impede the goalkeeper’s movement. Therefore he was ignored by the Jamshedpur defenders. However, all the Chennaiyin players made a move towards the front post once the ball was played. Due to which all the markers followed them and left immense space behind. Lack of zonal marking and no back post cover allowed Schembri to drift backwards for a free header. Unfortunately, he failed to score from an open header.

A similar opportunity occurred in the 41st minute of the game. This time Schembri had a marker in the same position. Yet, Schembri was smoothly allowed to make the exact same movement and to ultimately score this time. Jamshedpur’s sheer negligence in corners came with a heavy price. However, this move deserved nothing less than a goal.

  • Defensive

Chennaiyin were well aware of the threat Iriondo’s side possessed from set-pieces. Jamshedpur scored their 31% of the gaols from set-pieces. They were cautioned about the short corners and had two players outside the box to stop them. They employed zonal marking in the six-yard box with three players and one player marked the near post. Also, four players were stationed outside to keep an eye on the runners. They used all of their eleven players to safeguard their goal. All in all, they conceded six corners and six free-kicks but managed to defend them well.


The match reflected upon Chennaiyin’s confidence under Owen Coyle and their belief to achieve a spot in the top four. Their transitional play showed their true strengths of attack and shed light on their qualitative superiority. Jamshedpur’s tactical changes in the second half to use half-spaces for deep runs from midfield did create numerous problems for Chennaiyin. However, the team was in a comfortable position to clinch the win.

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