CHENNAI: You’d expect a lot more to be at stake in a match between Chennaiyin FC and ATK. ATK were champions in the first and third editions, Chennaiyin in the other two. Yet the JN Stadium on Sunday will witness a game between a thoroughly unspectacular team grinding out the results and their opponents trying to lend a semblance of respectability to a domestic season that is all but over.
For Chennaiyin, the only thing worse than their defence has been attack. One would expect the second-leakiest defence in the league to be Chennaiyin’s main woe, but their attackers have been the definition of dire all season. The numbers that Jeje Lalpekhlua, Mohammed Rafi and Carlos Salom have thrown up are so bad, they almost seem made up. They have scored one goal between them — Salom in the reverse fixture against ATK. According to stats compiled by the league, they have a collective 22 shots, just three on target. Chennaiyin’s defenders have had as many shots on target all season and scored more.
All that has left Chennaiyin’s title defence over before it even began. To reach the magic number of 30, so often touted as the minimum number of points to qualify for the knockout stages, Chennaiyin will have to win all matches, starting on Sunday. For a team that has managed to win only one so far, that task appears impossible. “We need to have more confidence in ourselves,” said coach John Gregory.
ATK are placed sixth and still in with a good shout of making the top four. But the way they have gone about that task could not have been more characteristic of their manager Steve Coppell. No team — not even Chennaiyin — have scored lesser goals, with bottom-placed Delhi and Mumbai City having the same number. Their defence, though, has been solid in recent weeks. They have not let in a goal in the last three games.