ISL 2022-23: Four home matches will be crucial, says skipper Anirudh Thapa as Chennaiyin face ATKMB

Chennaiyin FC skipper Anirudh Thapa on Friday expressed the team’s desire to claim full points in their remaining four home games in the quest to secure a playoffs berth in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23.

Currently placed eighth on the standings with 16 points, Chennaiyin are just four points behind sixth-placed FC Goa. The team will be playing four of their remaining seven matches in front of their home fans, with the first one scheduled on Saturday against ATK Mohun Bagan at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai.

“It’s important to be at the Top-6. I think those [four matches at home] will be crucial because if we grab all the points at home, then it will be a plus point for us. Playing away against Goa and Bengaluru will be difficult because they are also in the race, and they won’t let it go,” the team skipper Anirudh Thapa told the media during the pre-match press conference.

Chennaiyin have dominated their opponents in their recent games, including draws against Jamshedpur and Hyderabad in their last two matches, but haven’t managed to pocket all three points. With the focus on the next game, Thapa said his side will look to score more and defend better rather than just playing well or keeping the ball.

The star of the season Abdenasser El Khayati, who has seven goals to his name from as many matches, has returned from the injury earlier this week, but head coach Thomas Brdaric informed that the Dutchman will require more time to regain match fitness. He further heaped praises on Thapa, saying the 25-year-old Indian could play El Khayati’s role.

“We have to look for some replacement for him [El Khayati], and one player who can replace him in another position is Anirudh Thapa. He is a box-to-box player with other abilities like Nasser and has almost played a little more above his position,” Brdaric said.

Adding to the coach, Thapa reflected on his new role: “When I started playing, I played as No. 8. I have played in different positions but not for a long time. This is my first time playing as No. 10 for a complete season. I’m learning a lot about how to handle that position and how I can help the team. I feel I can deliver more in terms of goals and assists. Hopefully, I will prove myself in the coming matches.”

Meanwhile, fourth-placed ATK Mohun Bagan have travelled to Chennai on the back of a loss against Mumbai City at home. Although Chennaiyin beat Mariners in their first meeting of the season, Brdaric feels Juan Ferrando’s men will pose a challenge for the home team.

“I’m not happy with the results [in the last few games]. Some people appreciate our game and style, but it’s not enough for me. I’m here to fight for titles.

“We try to go maximum against all the opponents we face. Tomorrow is a big challenge. Fernando is a young and ambitious coach. They have some qualities, and we have analysed them. They will try to beat us. In the first match, we have already shown that we can implement some very important things,” Brdaric concluded.

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