The Men of Steel had a slow start to the season but are right in behind the Stallions as we get to its business end.

FC Pune City host Jamshedpur FC in their Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18 tie at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Pune on Wednesday. The Stallions come into this game on the back of a 3-0 win over defending champions ATK and could jump to the top of the table with a win on Wednesday.

The tie will also see head coach Ranko Popovic return to the touchline after serving a four-match ban. “It was so much worse,” said Popovic expressing his disappointment on missing the games. “The coach has to be close to the field. But these kinds of things happen, and some things happen to bring something better.”

Popovic, who was addressing the media on the eve of the tie, would have hoped to return to a much fitter setup as a handful of Pune players are carrying a few niggles. But the Serbian assured that he will not resort to rotating the squad unless it’s necessary.

“If we make some rotation, we have some personal problems,” Popovic said. “I think the guys are prepared to play in continuity. I’m not for rotation unless it is necessary. We will see until tomorrow. Some players have small problems. Whoever will be in better shape will play.”

However, he the head coach confirmed that Ashique Kuruniyan will miss the Wednesday tie to an injury. “Aashique will not be ready for tomorrow,” revealed Popovic. “We must be careful because this is the third time in this short season that he is out, and this boy has some problem with his muscle. He’s young, he’s very strong but also he didn’t have a good base before we started to do this.”

Against a disciplined unit in Jamshedpur, Pune will have to bring their best to the table if they are to get anything out of the tie. And Popovic sounded optimistic of his side’s chances on Wednesday. “Jamshedpur play the same style every game,” he stated.

“The only thing that has changed is that they score the goals. Very compact, very disciplined team. It’s very difficult to play against them. What we will do is we will try to take the lead against them, to bring them in our return.”

Their previous tie also saw Pune’s winter signings Marko Stankovic and Manuel Jesus make their Hero ISL debut. And the head coach was satisfied with what he saw against ATK.

“I hope they bring what we expected,” he said. “Both of them are very experienced players, they have played lot of important games. This is something that our boys need, especially the Indian boys. They play in international competitions.”

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Speaking to the media during the pre-match press conference on Tuesday (January 23), Jamshedpur’s head coach Steve Coppell acknowledged the opponent’s strength and said that his side will to do their best to deal with them. “They’ve (FC Pune City) got some very strong players in Marcelinho, (Emiliano) Alfaro, Diego (Carlos), (Jonatan) Lucca. They very good players. We have to do our best to deal with them,” the Englishman said.

“Pune obviously are a very good side. You look at the table after 11 games, it’s no accident where the teams are. It’s still open for a lot of teams to make the top four. We are on in the pack as far as that is concerned.”

Coppell’s teams are known to be defensively strong and it has been no different with Jamshedpur. Having conceded just nine goals in their 11 games so far, Jamshedpur has been one of the top defensive unit’s in the league so far. And the Englishman said he was proud to have introduced this style of play into the league. “We try to play attacking football as much as we can,” explained the 62-year-old.

“We try to hurt teams and if that means not having the lion share of the ball and we have to counter-attack quickly, so be it. It’s not a playing design that we encourage. I think a lot of the teams prefer a lot more possession. There are different styles, different nationalities of coaches, it adds to the ISL, not everyone plays the same. It’s great to see.”

Jamshedpur’s new signing Welligton Priori has taken little time to settle in and was the Hero of the Match in their encounter against Dynamos in the previous game week. He and Memo were influential in their win over Dynamos. And Coppell wasn’t hesitant in praising the pair. “Obviously he’s (Priori) a big strong boy,” he stated.

“He’s Brazilian, he links up well with Memo, and helped Trindade (Goncalves) score the winning goal against Delhi (Dynamos). It’s a nice little combination to have. The three Brazilians understand each other in the footballing sense as well. He brings a link in between those players.”

If Jamshedpur end up beating the Stallions on Wednesday, they would go level on points with them on the league table, but Coppell refused to look much into it. “It (a win) will be great,” he said.

“Maybe Pune’s style is better suited away from home. They have the best player in the ISL in the form of Marcelinho, and he was the best player last season as well. He has the goals, the creation, so you know he’s a factor other teams don’t have. You have to try and deal with him. The fact that we’re only three points behind them, I’m absolutely delighted.”