The I-League debutants from Chennai faced the Reds from Shillong in the tenth round of fixtures at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai. The home side had taken all their points at home this season and there was a mini upsurge in form after current head coach V.Soundrarajan took over two games back. Having taken four points from the two games he had managed, ChennaiCity FC were looking to add on to their points table and move up the table towards safety. Shillong Lajong have been impressive under Thangboi Singto this season and have been enjoying a good spell of form. Their away form though was a cause for concern and this ensured that the match had a keen sense of intrigue as to how the match would pan out.
Line Ups: Chennai City FC: (4-4-1-1) 1.Karanjit Singh; 5.Debabrata Roy 4.Anyichie Echezona 13.Dharamaraj Ravanan 14.Abhishek Das; 8.Edwin Vanspaul 15.Denson Devadas 17.Dhanapal Ganesh 33.Nandhakumar; 18.Amiri ;7.Charles de Souza
Shillong Lajong FC: (4-2-3-1) 1.Vishal Kaith; 3.Tamang 5.Samuel Shadap 6>Chinglensana Singh 23. Pritam Kumar Singh; 26.Yuto Kinowaki 13.Issac; 29. Bipin Singh 9.Samuel 19. Redeem Tlang; 10.Dicka
Chennai City’s strong start to the match:
Lining up in their 4-4-1-1(4-4-2) formation that they have played under V.Soundrarajan, Chennai City looked to use their two forwards Charles and Amiri to inflict the damage on their opponents. Amiri enjoyed a free role in this system and he was seen drifting to the flanks often and link up with the wide players. Amiri’s off the ball movement meant that the Shillong players were reluctant to follow him and leave gaps in their defensive lines. This ensured that Chennai could overload the flanks and advance down either side. The Chennai City full backs were especially crucial in this with Abhishek, the right back, contributing extensively to the build-up play.
The reason for the dominance from Chennai in the first half hour of the game was partly down to the disorganised set up from Shillong who did not seem to anticipate the strong start form Chennai. Starting out in a 4-2-3-1, Shillong looked to be aggressive, especially during goal kicks from the back, when they were almost playing like a 4-2-4 where their attacking midfielder and wingers moved up to occupy the Chennai defenders. This however did not work as the second balls were mostly won by the Chennai players as they were compact in two lines of four. The Chennai wingers deserve praise for their discipline in both the attacking and defensive phases of the game as both Nandhakumar and Edwin Vanspaul were crucial to the width they provided to stretch the Shillong team.
One factor that Chennai could have exploited when they attacked was the way Shillong’s defense were unable to react proactively to the movement of the shadow striker(Amiri) combined with the positioning of the Chennai wide players. With Charles occupying the two center backs, the aShillong right back moved in a man oriented fashion to cover Edwin leaving a space in the defense. This however was not sufficiently exploited. There were attacks down the flanks though, with effective build up play as Denson and Ganesh dictated the play completely spreading the play brilliantly. By not covering the Chennai players in the first phase of build-up play, Shillong were left very exposed down both the middle and in the flanks.
Disoriented high press from Shillong:
The reason for Chennai being able to build up easily was the disoriented pressing from Shillong who left themselves exposed by not being able to cover distances properly. By always having a free man in the initial phase of build-up, Chennai could build their way around and create a fair number of chances. Looking to use the pace of Charles and Amiri, Chennai played a lot of balls down the channels and stretched the Shillong defense. Their profligacy in front of goal and poor decision making in the final third meant that Chennai could muster only a few half chances and not get the goal that could have set the tone for the rest of the match.
The high press started off in a 4-2-4 fashion and sometimes even five players moved forward to press the first six of Chennai with Kinowaki staying back in the center of the pitch. However, staggered positioning of Denson and Dhanapal Ganesh and their spacing with respect to one another meant that Chennai could use the midfielders to send the ball out to the flanks, where there was minimal pressure on the ball carrier. This is where the movement of the wingers and the full backs from Chennai came into play as they could overload a side and release the ball quickly.
Shift in momentum and balance of the game:
Shillong though, bravely saw off the first half hour of the game and started gaining a foothold in the game as Thangboi Singto made a substitution in the 28th minute by bringing in Fabio Pena in place of U-22 player Samuel Lalmuanpia. This coincided with the revival of Shillong as they started playing with a bit more vigour. Kinowaki started dictating the tempo and Shillong played swift passes and advanced towards the box. The first goal scored by Pena ten minutes before half time however deflated Chennai City. They were the better side until then but Shillong scoring through a set piece gained a foothold before going into half time.
The second half was a complete difference to what took place in the first half as Shillong were firmly in command as they created a number of chances. The drop in the energy levels from the Chennai City FC players was visible as they were second to all the second balls. Increasingly, the defensive line kept falling back and this meant that the forwards were almost cut off of their supply entirely. Shillong kept increasing in stature with Kinowaki dropping deep to facilitate play. Chennai’s negligence in closing him down ultimately proved to be fatal as his long passes from the left side to the free man in the right was a regular occurrence. With Pena’s introducrtion, Shillong could occupy the two Chennai City center backs with Dicka and Pena. Too much man orientation by the Chennai defenders meant that simple dropping movements facilitated gaps in the defense and overloads on the flanks. A second goal from a peach of a free kick by Issac killed off any sort of momentum in the Chennai side as they struggled to muster any sort of momentum. Tank’s introduction did little to change the balance of play as Chennai became increasingly ragged in their transitions as Shillong picked them apart with intricate build up play. Four unanswered goals put the match to rest before Amiri pulled a consolation goal back for the home side from a tap in. The match was well over by then.
The result leaves Chennai still on 8 points and firmly down the table. Shillong though can aspire for a top four finish and consolidate on their first away win of the season. As head coach Soundrarajan said in the post-match conference, Chennai City would be ruing their shambolic defending of set pieces that proved to be their undoing along with profligate finishing. Shillong though put in a great second half performance and absolutely dominated the match and came out deserved winners.