The Stallions from the cultural capital of Maharashtra look set to aim for a top four finish and erase their streak of repeated disappointing seasons till now.
Last Season’s Performance
The Pune franchise failed to live up to their expectations of reaching the top four yet again for the third season in a row, finishing sixth, which actually equals their best finish in the Indian Super League (ISL) till now. Former Barcelona and Chelsea player Eidur Gudjohnsen had to return to Iceland due to an injury he suffered in pre-season training. They had also hired inaugural ISL winning coach Jose Antonio Habas as head coach but eventually, he parted ways with the team after a disappointing season.
The Stallions conducted their pre-season training sessions in Pune itself, unlike other teams who tested their game in foreign countries. It was an impressive pre-season with the thrashing of DSK Shivajians U-18 3-0, followed by a 5-0 victory over Chanmari, before facing East Bengal and eventually winning 2-1, with a 4-1 win against Mohun Bagan being the latest pre-season friendly game in the build-up to the season.
Ex Serbian centre-back and New FC Pune City head coach Ranko Popovic has had a good amount of Asian football experience before entering the ISL. He was the head coach of various J-League teams, including FC Tokyo and Cerezo Osaka. He also led his teams to the AFC Champions League knockout rounds. He is famous for producing excellent first team players capable of getting selected to play for clubs in major European leagues. After working for a year in Spain; and after a year’s experience in Thailand, he finally stepped into Indian football replacing Habas at the helm of the Pune based club.
Ins: There have been some major signings right from the players to club ambassadors. The ISL 2016 golden boot winner and ex Delhi Dynamos forward Marcelinho has joined the Pune team providing a massive boost to their attack. Moreover, the defensive line has been bolstered by the likes of ex-La Liga player Rafael Gomez and Serbian Damir Grgic.
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The presence of these two centre-backs should be enough to take care of the opponent forwards easily. Moreover, the franchise has shown some real signs of intent by signing some world class attacking players, Diego Carlos being one of them. The pacy winger has all that it takes to terrorise defenders on his flank. Emiliano Alfaro has joined the Stallions as well, joining the already powerful attack and midfield. FC Pune City have got a good mix of experienced players plus talented players in this transfer market.
Outs: Since The ISL draft provided opportunities to almost all the Indian senior and junior players to take part in the tournament, many players opted to ply their trade elsewhere. Goalkeeper Vishal Kaith and midfielder Jonathan Lucca were retained by the franchise but players like Eugeneson Lyngdoh, goalkeeper Edel Bete, Arata Izumi, Narayan Das, Arindam Bhattacharya left the team.
Formation and Tactics
How FCPC could lineup this season
Popovic will look to use his experience of coaching major Asian clubs. Therefore he can utilise his attacking options effectively and also play the game from the back. In this case, a 4-3-3 flat or a dynamic 4-4-2 formation with Marcelinho and Alfaro upfront looks possible. This can be sufficient enough to take on any opposition in the ISL.
Their key strength this year is their depth in attack. Marcelinho, Alfaro and Diego Carlos are all capable to lead the line along with players like Kean Lewis ready to dominate in the opposition’s box. This can solve their goalscoring issues and might lead to a top-four finish this season.
FCPC fixtures this season
The goalkeeper. An inexperienced Vishal Kaith will have to be very alert and active as far as organising defence from the back is concerned. His inexperience might cost Pune some goals but Coach Popovic would prefer scoring more goals than the opponent so as to win games, a similar philosophy which is used by current Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.
Top 3 Players To Watch
Kean Lewis: The Mumbai born player is capable of ruining any opponent’s defensive plans and can score stunners from close range. With a considerable amount of I-League experience, we can surely expect him to be the game changer whenever he is on the pitch.
Marcos Tebar: Marcos Tebar is a Spanish midfielder and has graduated from the Real Madrid academy. His experience of playing with Los Blancos can be extremely crucial when it comes to high-pressure situations. Expect this guy to assist many goals as a super sub or even score some stunners.
Marcelinho Leite: He has already proved his worth by winning the golden boot last season. This season we will come to know whether Delhi Dynamos were wrong to sell him, which might be the case come March 2018.
What To Expect
Plenty of comprehensive wins, plenty of goals coming in, with some world class stunners coming from nowhere. Also, with this revitalised set of players and after a major squad overhaul, expect them to fire all cylinders and stay in the top four. A top four is a realistic expectation given their campaigns so far. They have had immense firepower in the previous editions but could not yield results at all. This season we might see Pune in the top four which is the usual expectation from fans. Only thing is that this expectation might be fulfilled this year.