14:30 GMT, Tuesday 6th February, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Chennai, India), Sab TV UK
This Tuesday sees the first and the second-ranked teams in the Indian Super League taking on each other as Chennaiyin returns to action against Bengaluru FC after a prolonged rest.
The Blues overcame ATK in their last match, putting in a scrappy display but gathering the three points nonetheless.
They have now extended the points gap between Chennaiyin to four points and a win over them will put Albert Roca’s team at the doorstep of qualification for their first season in ISL.
The Super Machans last played against ATK on 25th January and after over 10 days of rest, they now return to action.
John Gregory’s team has done well and is one of the few teams in the ISL relying on an Indian striker instead of a foreigner.
Their direct style of play has earned them plaudits and will see them clash against Bengaluru’s possession-based playing style.
Last Time Out
ATK 1-2 Chennaiyin FC (Indian Super League)
John Gregory’s team renewed their rivalry with the reigning champions and the intensity showed in the team’s effort.
Chennaiyin offered a more organised display than did ATK who suffered two major blows with Ryan Taylor and Zequinha both coming off due to injury.
The first half saw a couple of good opportunities for the visitors as Anirudh Thapa took an early chance with a volley but Debjit Majumder put up a block to deny the youngster.
ATK took the lead in the 44th minute with a header from Martin Paterson on a Jayesh Rane cross.
The second half, however, had a different story to tell with Mailson Alves finding his first goal of the ISL from a header to Thapa’s corner kick, bringing the Super Machans back to level terms. Majumder got a hand on the shot but could not control it enough to stop it from going into the back of the net.
The home side was largely pegged back, with the exception of a few attempts which ended before causing any threat to Karanjit Singh.
In the 64th minute, Inigo Calderon’s cross into the box was deflected by Jayesh Rane’s block but Majumder’s ill-fated attempt to collect it, saw it bounce to Jeje, who sent it between the posts, collecting his first against ATK in ISL.
ATK 0-2 Bengaluru FC (Indian Super League)
Bengaluru looked scrappy against ATK but didn't have much to worry as Jordi Montel starting things off by gifting the visitors the lead with an own goal from Udanta Singh's cross intended for Sunil Chhetri.
Rahul Bheke put in a brilliant save to deny Jayesh Rane from scoring his first for ATK, as the home side continued to press high in search of an equaliser.
Bengaluru seemed out of sorts as ATK pushed up high looking to stun the visitors. The home side created more chances in the second half than the Blues but Rahul Bheke put up another impressive display to keep out the marauding champions.
However, Bheke was ultimately sent off for sloppy tackles after he got his first yellow for a tackle on Keegan Pereira.
Ultimately, ATK were caught blind-sided as Erik Paartalu picked out Miku, who ran past Jordi Montel to seal the game with a calm finish past Majumder.
Chennaiyin FC Lineup
Anirudh Thapa and Dhanpal Ganesh have become formidable in the double pivot role as John Gregory look set to name an unchanged side.
Bengaluru FC Lineup
Rahul Bheke will be out serving a suspension for his red card and Harmanjot Khabra might replace him in the right back position. The rest of the team look likely to be unchanged.
Key Battle: Mailson Alves (Chennaiyin FC) vs Miku (Bengaluru FC)
Mailson Alves has been a key figure in the Chennaiyin defence since signing for the club in 2015. He did play for NorthEast United for one season but signed back with Chennaiyin in the season after.
The Brazilian’s ability to anticipate attacks, put in clean tackles as well as offer support up to the field, makes him a prime candidate for Gregory's brand of attacking the football.
He will be responsible for marking Miku and ensuring that the Venezuelan does not go past him, which could otherwise spell doom for the home side.
Miku has been in fine form in his debut ISL season, scoring 10 goals in 13 appearances for the Blues.
After a nervy start to life in India, the Venezuela international has now regularly featured for the Blues as a number nine, offering pace, trickery and finishing ability.
Chennaiyin’s lack of attacking options could hurt them
The Marina Machans are the only ISL team to be relying on an Indian forward and have not opted to sign a foreign striker.
Despite Jeje’s success in the blue shirt, he cannot single-handedly win them a match. Their 19 goals in 12 matches have been scored by 10 players, with nine of them scoring two or less while Jeje has seven to his name.
While the strange distribution in goal-scoring can be a cause of comfort for a manager, considering that almost the entire starting 11 is contributing towards a goal, it should also be remembered, that only one of them is a regular goal-scorer.
Chennaiyin’s attack was put under pressure only once in their home game against ATK where they outscored the visitors 3-2, but recurrence of such against teams like Bengaluru, Pune or Goa are slim.
Bengaluru can go silent against counter-attacking team
While Roca’s style of play demands the team to press for the ball when without possession and pass swiftly to get the ball to the target man in as few passes as possible, they are not so adept at handling the intensity of a counter-attacking style.
That’s why whenever teams have chosen to sit back and defend while waiting for a chance to break at a rapid pace on the counter, Bengaluru have suffered.
Gregory used this strategy in their last match against Bengaluru, which saw his team win with a 2-1 scoreline.
It would not be much of a surprise if he resorts to the same strategy considering the Blues weakness against it, displayed with a 2-0 loss to the Delhi Dynamos as well.
Prediction: Chennaiyin FC 2-1 Bengaluru FC
The Blues are playing their second away match in three days whilst the Marina Machans have had plenty of time to prepare and rest during their 10-day break.
In addition, the home side has already won against Bengaluru and so they seem poised to take a repeat of the same result.