12:00 GMT, Sunday 18th February, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Chennai, India), Sab TV UK
The Marina Machans take the field for the second time this week, after visiting Goa on Thursday. They’ll be hosting Steve Coppell’s Jamshedpur FC, who have struck a rich vein of form of late on the back of their defensive prowess.
John Gregory’s team’s form has suffered off-late, picking up only ten points from a possible 18 but the win over FC Goa in the last match should prove as a confidence-booster as they look to seal their playoff place with one more win.
Jamshedpur FC has pulled off a fantastic run and credit to Steve Coppell for taking a debutant team to near-qualification. If they do make the playoffs, it would be nothing less than a coup considering how they started the season.
Their consistency in defence and FC Goa’s sudden drop of form has helped them script a story to the playoffs. However, they need to win every match from now onwards if they are to seal a place or else remain dependent on how other team’s fixtures turn out.
Last Time Out
FC Goa 0-1 Chennaiyin FC (Indian Super League)
The Gaurs seemed off their natural game as Chennaiyin started the game with an attacking brand of play in mind.
Dominating major portions of the first half, Chennaiyin troubled Goa keeper Naveen Kumar on multiple occasions as the Goan defence failed to clear Marina Machans’ advances.
Inigo Calderon, Gregory Nelson and Jeje Lalpekhlua combined well to push Goa deep into their half as they erected attack after attack.
Despite the efforts, they couldn’t finish their chances in the first half but ultimately got their break-through from Inigo Calderon’s tap-in as Narayan Das failed to clear his line.
Goa bounced on the counter pushing Chennaiyin back for the rest of the half but, after some close-calls and interjection by lady luck, they managed to emerge unscathed with only a single goal lead.
Jamshedpur FC 1-0 NorthEast United (Indian Super League)
The Men of Steel's defence has been their calling card this season and that is exactly what has won them the match.
Wellington Priori's magical overhead kick broke the deadlock but it was Tiri, Andre Bikey and Subrata Pal combined effort that helped them keep out Marcinho, Seminlen Doungel and Maic Sema long-range effort.
The home side did not see much of the ball in the first half as the Highlanders persisted in their attack. But despite their persistence, their link-up needed much work which allowed Tiri and Co. to disrupt their rhythm and send the ball flying into the stands, anytime there was any threat to the goal.
Six minutes into the second half, Izu Azuka's long-throw into the penalty box, saw Prior chest the ball to control it, before strike it with an overhead kick which sent the ball flying into the side netting of the goal.
NorthEast pushed to equalise but Jamshedpur put down the brakes to close down any gaps and would attack only on counters.
Chennaiyin FC Lineup
Bikramjit Singh featured in the starting lineup after a long-time and his impact in breaking down opposition attacks while creating chances for Chennaiyin forwards was apparent.
Jamshedpur FC Lineup
While Coppell started Priori in a holding midfielder role, with Ashim Biswas starting in the number ten position, but after a goalless half, he brought on Mehtab Hossain (replacing Biswas) to partner Memo in the midfield while freeing up Priori to take a more advanced position.
Key Battle: Henrique Sereno (Chennaiyin FC) vs Wellington Priori (Jamshedpur FC)
Sereno honed his centre-half skills as Real Valladolid, FC Porto and FC Koln and, after a successful stint with ATK, his move to Chennaiyin FC has seen the Super Machans strengthen their defensive quarters with a strong defensive pillar.
Sereno made the most number of interceptions for his team, disrupting attacks 21 times in 13 appearances for the Super Machans.
Gregory’s playing style ensures that his centre-backs are ball-playing defenders and can build from the back.
Well over six foot tall, he will go toe-to-toe against Wellington Priori. His physical style of play will bear well for him given Priori’s physical presence in the box and offer protection for keeper Karanjit Singh.
Priori has been one of the best January signings in the ISL. Coppell brought him in when his options in the centre of the pitch were limited, but his attacking tendencies have seen Coppell take off the shackles by pitching Mehtab Hossain or Andre Bikey beside Memo.
The Brazilian has one assist and two goals to his name in six appearances and his ability to float around the box and provide key-assists will come in good use for the Men of Steel.
Battle for the playoff spots
It’s a battle between the third-placed Chennaiyin FC who displaced Jamshedpur and pushed them down to the fourth spot.
While a four-point gap between fifth-placed Kerala Blaster gives Coppell’s team a bit of cushion, it would be childish to take chances at this stage of the season with only three gameweeks left in the league season.
They will need to fight for every point, if they make the playoffs, especially when the second, third and fourth placed teams are only separated by one and two points respectively.
It’s the same reason Chennaiyin won’t be taking any chances against their visitors from the industrial city and, while they have been lucky in front of the goal, it’s purely down to the number of bodies they put up the pitch.
Jeje has now scored only once in the last five fixtures and that too came from the goalkeeper’s mistake.
Prediction: Chennaiyin FC 1-0 Jamshedpur FC
It’s a tough one to call, considering both clubs have solid defences but Chennaiyin’s attack is more expansive giving them more goal-scoring avenues.