The 2023-24 Indian Super League (ISL) season holds promise for Chennaiyin FC as the ‘Marina Machans’ embark on another era under the leadership of Owen Coyle.
The past three seasons have fallen short of their usual standards for the two-time ISL Cup winners, who have finished in 8th place for the third consecutive season. The last time Chennaiyin FC made it to the playoffs was in the 2019-20 season when Owen Coyle was at the helm.
Despite displaying glimpses of their strength last season, the ‘Marina Machans’ couldn’t build on it. Their performance in the offensive third was commendable, but injuries to their star players at crucial junctures of the season were one of the main reasons for their downfall.
Now, with the Scotsman back in the hot seat, everyone at Chennaiyin FC hopes to turn last season’s optimism into success and replicate their past achievements this season.
Coyle is well-acquainted with the surroundings, but he will undoubtedly need time once again to nurture the diverse array of talent at Chennaiyin FC.
Chennaiyin FC has always been a frontrunner for the ISL Cup since the league’s inception in 2014. Led by their Brazilian stalwart Elano Blumer in the upfront, the ‘Marina Machans’ finished at the top of the league table in the inaugural season of the ISL. However, they narrowly lost to Kerala Blasters FC by a scoreline of 3-4 in the two-legged semi-final.
Next season, the Marina Machans maintained their stronghold and secured third place in the league, eventually winning the ISL Cup by defeating FC Goa in a thrilling final. They clinched their second ISL Cup in the 2017-18 season.
However, in the following season, they performed poorly and finished at the bottom of the table. During the 2019-20 season, they struggled in the bottom half until they appointed Owen Coyle as the head coach. The Coyle era transformed Chennaiyin FC from being near the bottom of the table to a 4th-place finish and secured qualification for the playoffs. The Scotsman then guided them to the ISL final for the third time, where they faced defeat against ATK FC.
After Coyle’s departure, Chennaiyin FC struggled to establish team cohesion. Despite making changes in the coaching staff, they couldn’t display their true potential and consistently found themselves in the eighth position for three consecutive seasons.
Now, in Coyle’s second spell with the club, they aim to secure a spot among the top six teams competing for the trophy in the knockout stage of the competition.
Chennaiyin FC, much like their previous season, will feature six new foreign players. Notably, familiar ISL faces Rafael Crivellaro and Jordan Murray are part of the squad and have prior experience working with Owen Coyle.
The departure of Anirudh Thapa is a significant loss for the team, but they’ve brought in Ayush Adhikari to fill the void left by his absence. Chennaiyin FC is yet to announce their final two foreign player signings.
In midfield, the Marina Machans have bolstered their ranks with promising young talents like Thanglalsoun Gangte, Irfan Yadwad, and Bijay Chhetri, among others. Coyle has a penchant for grooming and nurturing young players, and he’s back at his former club with unfinished business, aiming to take them a step further this time.
Chennaiyin FC showcased their attacking prowess in the recently concluded Durand Cup, notching three wins in the group stage before succumbing to FC Goa in the quarter-finals. They are keen on addressing areas in need of improvement and are determined to return even stronger in the ISL.
INs: Thanglalsoun Gangte, Sarthak Golui, Cristian Battocchio, Rafael Crivellaro, Connor Shields, Jordan Murray, Farukh Chowdhary, Irfan Yadwad, Prateek Kumar Singh, Sachu Siby, Ankit Mukherjee, Bijay Chhetri, Ayush Adhikari.
OUTs: Narayan Das, Mohammad Sajid Dhot, Gurmukh Singh, Prasanth K, Anirudh Thapa, Jockson Dhas, Monotosh Chakladar, Edwin Vanspaul, Abdenasser El Khayati, Petar Sliskovic, Kwame Karikari, Julius Duker, Vafa Hakhamaneshi, Fallou Diagne
Murray embarked on his ISL journey with Kerala Blasters FC during the 2020-21 season, and the Australian forward swiftly made a name for himself in his new environment. Murray netted seven goals in 19 appearances for the Blasters, earning the title of their top goalscorer that season.
In the subsequent season, Murray moved to Jamshedpur FC, where he played under the guidance of Owen Coyle. Once again, he had a positive impact, primarily coming off the bench and scoring four goals, contributing significantly to Jamshedpur FC’s ISL League-winning campaign.
Now, after a season-long hiatus, Murray is making his ISL return, and expectations are high for him to continue his goal-scoring exploits with his new team.
Battocchio could serve as the driving force behind this team. His forward runs, relentless work ethic and knack for finding precise passes are set to play a pivotal role for Chennaiyin FC, as we’ve already witnessed in the Durand Cup.
The 31-year-old is recognized for creating opportunities from deep positions and brings precision and control to his team’s midfield, aiding in strategic ball circulation and maintaining possession.
Battocchio boasts a career that includes stints with clubs in Italy and France, as well as appearances in the UEFA Europa League.
Having made his way from Kerala Blasters FC, Adhikari is highly likely to start in the middle of the park alongside Battocchio, potentially becoming a regular fixture at the club to fill the void left by Anirudh Thapa’s absence.
This talented midfielder progressed through the ranks of Kerala Blasters FC’s reserve side before a loan spell with Indian Arrows. Following an impressive showing in the I-League, Adhikari had his breakthrough season with Kerala Blasters FC in the ISL during the 2021-22 season.
Renowned for his versatility, work rate, and ability to disrupt opposition play, Adhikari could indeed emerge as a vital player for Coyle’s side in the league.
Chennaiyin FC are set to begin their campaign with their first two matches on the road, facing Odisha FC and NorthEast United FC, before squaring off against the ISL Cup champions, Mohun Bagan Super Giant, on October 7.
The ‘Marina Machans’ will wrap up the first half of the season with an away game against the ISL League winners, Mumbai City FC, scheduled for December 28, just before the mid-season break.