I-League defending champions Chennai City FC are on the verge of making history when they become the first-ever team from Tamil Nadu to take part in the AFC Champions League in Ahmedabad on Tuesday. Up against one of the most successful clubs from Bahrain, Al Riffa Football Club, the Chennai unit will need to overturn their dismal run of late if they have any hopes of ending with points.
Recent form worries Chennai
Chennai, who claimed the I-League last year, have been struggling in 2019-20. Their campaign in the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup had back-to-back defeats, and even in the I-League, Chennai have acquired only eight points from six matches.
Al Riffa, on the other hand, got off to a shaky start in the Bahraini Premier League with two hard-fought losses, but have managed to steady the ship since, going unbeaten in their last five games with four wins across the King's Cup and the Bahraini League.
Al Riffa, thus, walk into the game on the back of some good form. They have with them a dangerous attacking unit led by Alhassane Keita and Kamil Al Aswad, while the defence has risen up to the challenge as well. In contrast, Chennai are clearly weakened after the departure of Pedro Manzi, who signed a Rs 1 Crore deal with a Japanese Tier 2 club. Though the team have inked a deal with FC Basel Under-19 star Jan Uzangu, he will be unavailable for the game on Tuesday.
Fito will once again be the key for Chennai, while the midfield, featuring Katsumi Yusa, Syed Pasha, Sri Ram, Jockson and P Raju, too have stepped up after an inconsistent start. Chennai's biggest worry, however, will be their defence. They have conceded a goal in every game that they have played since December 1, 2019, and have conceded 6 goals in their last three games. In all these three matches, Chennai were up by at least two goals or more and ended up giving two goals in the games, even dropping points in one match.
Hence, even if Chennai end up getting a goal, the question arises if their defence is compact enough to stall any attempts by the rivals.
There is no doubt that Al Riffa will start the game as clear favourites. Chennai not only have form against them but do not have a history in their favour either, with the only Indian club to register a win in the AFC Champions League being Mohun Bagan. However, there is no denying the fact, that even if Chennai City FC end up on the wrong side of the result, they will gain invaluable experience, from where they can go on to achieve greater goals.
The winner of the game will take on Iranian club Shahr Khodro on January 21.