Chennaiyin FC manager Owen Coyle has stated that the his team have been as good as Indian Super League (ISL) table-toppers FC Goa over the last 12 games in the league, ahead of their crunch play-off first leg fixture on Saturday.
Goa scored a whopping 46 goals and finished top of the table with 39 points while Chennaiyin finished fourth with 29 points, scoring 32 goals in the process. However, 28 of those goals came in the 12 games that Coyle was in charge and Chennaiyin managed to eke out 24 points in that period as well. That miraculous run of form saw Chennaiyin storm into the play-offs after being written off by many.
In that period, Coyle felt his team have been as good as their semifinal opponents.
"Having got here (play-offs), we want to see it through. But we are playing against a quality side with good coaches. But we have shown that we can go toe-to-toe with any team," he said.
"Consistently over the 18 games, Goa are the best team and their position in the table shows that. But over the last 12 games, we have matched them I would think. the semifinal gives us an opportunity to play the best teams and tomorrow is such an opportunity," he added.
Chennaiyin lost both league matches against FC Goa (3-0 away from home and 3-4 at home), shipping seven goals in the process. However, the manager was unperturbed and pointed out that the results in those matches have no significance at this point. He also highlighted how his defence has changed after the 3-4 loss at home.
"The previous two games have no significance. I’ve never lost twice to Goa. I’ve played them just once. In that team, Jerry (Lalrinzuala) and Laldinliana (Renthlei) were not there. Eli (Sabia) was suspended. We are a changed team now. Also, we gifted Goa a few of the goals. What happened in the earlier games has no relevance.
"We play with a positive mindset. That’s what we continue to do. It will be an entertaining game. The away goals might come into play. But I don’t think both our sides will change our style of play. The best team will go through to the final."
While Goa are no doubt a very attack-minded side, Chennaiyin have shown that they are as good in attack with their recent goalscoring exploits. Both sets of teams have brilliant forwards - Ferran Corominas and Hugo Boumous for Goa while Nerijus Valskis and Rafael Crivellaro for Chennaiyin. Coyle admitted that the performance of both defences might have a huge bearing in such a tie.
"Both defences will have a huge part to play. When you look at it. Both forward lines, the attacking midfielders and the central midfielders are fantastic players. The forwards are at the top of their game, they can win games in an instant. That puts a huge onus on how we defend.
"It will be a fascinating contest. Both teams operate with two foreign centre-backs. Both of us have good fullbacks. For me, Dinlinana and Jerry have been very good. But yes, the defenders have to stand up and count against the attacking players," he reasoned.
Coyle also appealed to his players not to think a lot about the game and allow the nerves to settle in.
"There will be nerves and tension in this game. We shouldn’t think about it too much. You have to remember to play the game and not think about other stuff.
"We will try to gain an advantage tomorrow (Saturday) but because of the nature of the teams and the way they play, I don’t think the result will be decided on Saturday," stated Coyle.
The former Bolton Wanderers boss also revealed that Andre Schembri faces a late fitness testahead of the game while the participation of winger Dragos Firtulescu is in doubt after he picked up an injury earlier.