With the ISL Show already on the road it’s time to cap off our out Season Preview’ series with a look at the team from the west FC Pune City…
Last season’s performance
After finishing in 6th and 7th positions over the first two seasons of the Indian Super League (ISL) respectively, FC Pune City can be forgiven for deciding to overhaul their squad and management team for a third season running. This time though, they have decided to rope in a more solid and reliable line up, both on the side lines and on the pitch.
It is quite interesting that despite a complete squad overhaul both on and off the pitch, the Punekars battled familiar foes, finishing with almost identical results on the table. Having finished at 6th in the table in the inaugural edition with 16 points and 4 wins, FC Pune City finished 7th in the table with 15 points and 4 wins the second time running. Even the problems on the pitch remained somewhat similar, with terrible away form, a lacklustre defence and injuries plaguing the side throughout.
Pune go into the new campaign with a completely different foreign line up and coaching staff. Antonio Lopez Habas, who was the Atletico Kolkata coach for the past two seasons, will now be heading the side from Pune, having won the ISL with them in his first season and leading them to the semis last year, his experience, not just in the ISL will be vital to the side’s chances. Habas has adopted a pass and move style of play, something he has attained from his time in Spain. While not in possession, he likes his players to press from the front, disrupting the flow of possession for the opposition. Indian football veteran Renedy Singh, who recently earned his AFC B-level coaching license, will be assisting the Spaniard through the season.
Transfers In: In terms of the personnel on the pitch, the Pune side hit a snag a week before the ISL, when both marquee player Eidur Gudjohnsen and centre-back Andre Bikey were effectively ruled out for the entire season through injury.
Gudjohnsen was forced to return home to recuperate. For the Stallions, luck with injuries has never been a friend.
On Saturday, 1 October, Pune announced Mohamed Sissoko, the former Juventus and Liverpool midfielder as their replacement marquee player, making him the youngest marquee player at the ISL at the tournament.
The central midfielder is good with the ball at his feet but it is his ball winning ability which sets him apart from the rest. A glance at the rest of the squad and one can see that they have added wisely, picking up some reliable talent from within the ISL itself.
They have brought in two-time winner Apoula Edel Bete in goal, NorthEast United’s midfield controller Bruno Arias, Pune fan favourite Arata Izumi and wingers Francis Fernandes and Sanju Pradhan.
Eduardo Ferreira is the only foreign option in defence for the team in Orange and Purple. The midfield will continue to have Eugenson Lyngdoh in the middle, but his availability for the entirety of the season is a doubt owing to Bengaluru FC’s progress in the AFC Cup.
Although, the additions of Arias, Pitu and Jesus Tato will add solidity to the midfield. In the attacking positions in midfield, Arata, Gustavo Obermann, Jonathan Lucca, Sanju Pradhan and Francis Fernandes will all be vying for starting spots. For now, either Anibal Zurdo or Momar N’Doye could start up front for the Stallions.
Transfers Out: The FCPC squad has seen a massive overhaul and a key player to be missing is Fanai Lalrempuia who has moved closer to home with NorthEast United FC.
Formation and Tactics
The style of play adopted by Antonio Habas, as has already been mentioned should be a fluent passing game. Habas likes his sides playing along the ground and creating slick chances around the final third. FC Pune City could be lining up in a 4-4-1-1, a formation the Spaniard has adopted regularly in the past and will look to implement it at Pune too. His Atletico De Kolkata side in the first season, often lined up with Luis Garcia playing just in behind Fikru, the big man up front. In pre-season, the former Bolivia coach has played Jonathan Lucca just in behind the Anibal Zurdo.
Talking about pre-season, the Pune side travelled to Spain for a month long training and fitness camp. They were able to win all their games in Spain.The camp acted as a chance for the multiple Spaniards in the side to spend some time in their home country before the league and more importantly becomes a chance for the Indian players to train in world class facilities.
After coming back to India, the ISL team concluded a deal with Pune FC, with the former I-League club to get access to its facilities and even homegrown players. The side, co-owned by Hrithik Roshan have also set up a state of the art training facility at Pirangut, near Pune.
Despite missing some of his star players, including Lyngdoh for parts of the pre-season, Habas was able to get a good understanding of his side and the challenges that lie ahead for him.
Player to Watch: Momar N’Doye
Above and beyond the known names in the side, the surprise player of the tournament for Pune could turn out to be Momar N’Doye. The 24-year-old Senegalese forward has lightning pace, great strength and a fierce strike in him. N’Doye had been with Atletico Madrid’s B team since the age of 15, playing for them in the Segunda Division until 2015. He even managed to make a handful of appearances for the senior side. Last season, the forward was at Spanish third division side Muro CF. Now, more so than ever with Gudjohnsen out injured, N’Doye might just be the man to step up and get the goals.
FC Pune City will hope that they have finally learnt from the mistakes made in the past and with a bit of luck can challenge for the title this season. Although, their realistic goal should first be to finish in the top four and qualify for the play-offs; something they have failed to achieve so far. With Antonio Habas at the helm, FC Pune City can be counted as one of the teams to watch out for in the upcoming season.
Editorial by Khel Now Correspondent from Pune Miqdad Haider.