Updated: May 13, 2018
Reigning ISL champions, Chennaiyin FC were dumped out of the Super Cup in the Round of 16 by Aizawl FC after a penalty shootout. The teams played out 120 minutes of some of the driest football this country has seen before Mohammed Rafi missed his penalty, allowing Lalmuan Kima to seal the game with a wonderful Panenka.
The main tactical talking point was the appreciation of "half-spaces" shown by the Aizawl players. They were drilled well and had players playing in positions that they were comfortable in. Teams that can play passes through defensive lines into players that occupy the triangular space, "half-space", in between the central defender, defensive mids and full-backs will always have an advantage.
Here is a video about Pep Guardiola teaching his players to do exactly what Aizawl did yesterday. Defenders and midfielders need to win the ball and look forwards. A forward, needs to receive the ball in such a way that he can turn and run at his man. This is exactly what Saighani and Ionescu demonstrate for the first goal.
Chennaiyin came back to it late in the game courtesy of a tap in from Mailson Alves after a howler from Aizawl goalkeeper, Debnath. With the game going to extra time and players tiring, the second Aizawl goal came from a similar situation. The chief cause for this goal is Mailson leaving his position. The important thing to be noticed is once again the position of Dodoz and Ionescu who are not playing with their backs to goal – a mistake Chennai make all too often.
Agressive running, pressing and positioning of the Aizawl front 3 should have been the difference but as good as the front 3 were, the defense must be blamed for letting this game go to penalties.
Another note on Chennaiyin's team selection yesterday, Without Mihelic and Augusto, it was up to Thapa and Gavilan to create yesterday. Gavilan is not a final third player and gets attracted to the ball too often. With Thapa also playing deep, it meant that Chennaiyin had no control in their attacking half, as can be seen in the next two images.
In the next picture, it is important to note why Chennaiyin always push the ball out towards Francis and Nelson. Their #10s aren't really #10s and drop off to get on the ball. This leaves the striker isolated up top.
Even in this picture, it's Thapa who looks like the only one interested in getting into that zone. Thapa also shows a willingness to play the ball into a forward and run beyond him, a rarity in the Indian game. Alright, Thapa isn't exactly a finished footballer but I would question why John Gregory chose to play him behind Gavilan and not the other way around.
Another question I'd like to ask is, reigning champions, 1-0 down, struggling to create and you take off an exciting ball player for a holding midfield player? No offense to Bikramjt, he's great for keeping clean sheets, but when the team needs goals he should not be your go to man.
Aizawl will buzzing after the win as they move into the quarterfinals. Their defense isn't as strong as it seemed yesterday and a more confident team will pick them off. A little bravery and an extra midfield player could make all the difference to Aizawl in the next rounds.