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Popovic looks for balance, James ready to run the gauntlet

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The Stallions have won back to back games at home while the visitors must win all their games to remain in the hunt for the playoffs.

FC Pune City host Kerala Blasters FC in Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18 at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex Stadium in Pune on Friday. The Stallions are on a good run of form having won both their previous matches and a third home win on the trot against last year’s finalists will take them to the summit of the league table. Ranko Popovic, Pune’s head coach addressed the media prior to the match, and he spoke about the importance of striking a balance in attack and defence.

“Look, I think topping is very good, but I said from the beginning, if you want to have success, you must be ready to play defensive and offensive at the same time,” the Serbian explained. “If we find a balance between the two, we will be a good team. And we are trying to be good; we are still not as good as we want to be, but we are on the way to that. And this is what we want; to be one good, strong, solid team that plays without oscillations.”

While he admitted at not liking a change in his team structure, Popovic did mention that there were a few injury concerns that might force him to do the same. “You must always play and try to find some good solution in different games,” he remarked. “When you have this situation, it is a great challenge. But I don’t like it because I like to repeat the team, and I like to give the guys a bit of continuity. Unfortunately, there are some problems that does not allow some players to enjoy the game tomorrow.”

Emiliano Alfaro has played in each and every match so far for his team, and when asked about whether the Uruguayan needed rest, the 50-year-old replied, “If it is necessary to rest Alfaro, I will. But I don’t feel this. If he comes to me and tells me that he wants to have rest, it’s fine. But if you see the games, if I want to change Alfaro before the end of a match, he is not happy. And this is good. I want everyone to be like this and have this mentality to play 90 minutes.”

Before concluding, Pune’s head coach acknowledged the strength of his opponents, insisting that the Stallions will have their work cut. “It will be a very difficult match,” Popovic inferred. “Because we know what Kerala is like. It is a traditionally good club. And especially, now at this moment, there are some fresh players. They have a new challenge, and the motivation is big for them. Of course, you would never know what you can expect in any game. But for me, I think it depends on how we are. If we are good, it will be easy for us. We have to dedicate 100 percent of our work to all the things.”


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Kerala Blasters FC travel to the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex Stadium in Pune on Friday to take on FC Pune City in Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18. Last year’s finalists are in a situation where they really cannot afford any slip-ups, and they will have some momentum with them seeing that they beat Delhi Dynamos FC in their last encounter. Prior to the crucial match against the Stallions, Kerala’s head coach David James addressed the media and began by highlighting the importance of the win against the Lions.

“The defeat to Goa was tough,” he stated. “It left us in a position where we quite literally have to win six games in a row. So, Delhi had to be a win. A tough performance in the sense that we lost a player only 10 minutes before the bus departed, and we had to make some changes. But the team’s form itself was very, very good.”

Regarding the performance, James added, “We found we had some talent in the young players as well. The confidence of the players leading up to the game was good. It was a confident performance and put us one step closer to achieving six wins.”

The standout player in that match was youngster Deependra Negi, who came on as a substitute to score with his first touch in Hero ISL and James lauded his performance. “The Delhi game was interesting with young Deependra Negi coming in and doing something,” the Englishman remarked. “I was not surprised by his performance but was surprised that he played so well straight away.”

When asked about bringing in players in the transfer window, the former Liverpool custodian replied, “One of the things you do as a head coach is not stifle the opportunities of your players. Bringing in players can be done, but it does not mean it is the right thing for the club. It was not Deependra alone. There were other performances in there as well which were so encouraging that it kind of changes your mindset on how you got to approach the remaining five games.”

The 47-year-old also shared some good news on the injury front. “I think I am in the best position as head coach with regards to selection options,” James revealed. “There are some knocks which happen of course. But, we had a lot of people on the training field too. It’s a headache in one sense because you have then got to really think about who you have to pick. There is going to be a lot of thoughts on who starts and who is going to be on the bench tomorrow because we have got a lot of options.”

Published: Fri Feb 02, 2018 12:39 AM IST

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