The Stallions have put together a strong team and will be looking to replicate last season’s performance this term. 

After an impressive season last time around, FC Pune City have made some interesting signings in the summer. While they parted ways with last term’s head coach Ranko Popovic and his successor Marcos Paqueta in the matter of a few days, the Stallions have appointed former Delhi Dynamos gaffer Miguel Angel Portugal and will look to challenge for the title yet again. The western Indian outfit have never won the Indian Super League (ISL) in their history, but with a formidable squad gathered in the summer, fans will be eager to see how they perform in the league this season.

In the following article we will discuss Pune City and their chances of replicating their last season’s performance this term as well as taking a look at their squad, strengths and weaknesses.

Last Season’s Performance

Although, they had to face disappointment in the playoffs and the Super Cup, Pune City’s overall performance last season was quite spectacular. Former manager Popovic led the team to a top-four finish for the first time since the inception of the ISL. Brazilian forward Marcelinho was undoubtedly the player of the season for the club, while Adil Khan, Jonatan Lucca and Gurtej Singh also impressed with their outstanding displays.

However, they were defeated by Bengaluru FC in the playoffs and went ashtray in the title race.

Pre-Season

For yet another season, Pune made the decision to stay in India for their pre-season training. The Stallions participated in the second edition of the AWES Cup, which took place in Goa. However, their very first fixture in the Cup saw them lose 2-0 to Salgaocar FC. In the following match though, they made a comeback by playing out a thrilling 3-3 draw against FC Goa’s development squad. It was a positive performance by the Stallions as new signing Matt Mills scored a goal on his debut for the club.

Their final game of the Cup saw them lose 1-3 to Dempo SC. Now, the team are looking forward to their opening fixture of the ISL against Delhi Dynamos.

Meanwhile, they concluded their pre-season with a 3-2 win over I-League outfit Gokulam Kerala on 18th September.

The Coach

Miguel Angel Portugal has been appointed as the head coach of FC Pune City for this season

Pune finally seem to have found their man for the managerial position to replace Popovic. The hunt for a new head coach finally ended for the Stallions as former Delhi Dynamos coach Miguel Angel Portugal took the reigns of the club. The 62-year-old Spanish tactician had a horrid time with the Dynamos last season, as the capital-based side went only downhill and finished in the bottom half of the table.

Transfer Dealings

Ins: The Pune-based outfit are looking to replicate their performance from last season as they have brought in heavy reinforcements for the upcoming campaign. The Stallions were allowed to retain some of their key players such as their skipper and talisman Marcelinho, Emiliano Alfaro– their top scorer from last season, Brazilian winger Diego Carlos and Austrian midfielder Marko Stankovic.

Apart from these, they have also signed former Southampton, Manchester City and Leicester City defender Matt Mills, the highest goalscorer in the history of the ISL,  Iain Hume and former Celta Vigo player Jonathan Vila in midfield. As a replacement for the departed Marcos Tebar, Pune have signed NorthEast United’s Uruguayan defender Martin Diaz.

The club has also roped in domestic players such as Robin Singh. With several key prospects putting pen to paper, Pune City have had a busy, yet fruitful transfer window. Following is the list of all the players that were signed by the club:

Matt Mills (Barnsley FC), Martin Diaz (Northeast United), Keenan Almeida (Chennaiyin FC), Jonathan Vila (Recreativo Huelva), Iain Hume (Kerala Blasters), Alwyn George (Bengaluru FC), Shankar Sampingiraj (ATK), Nikhil Poojary (East Bengal), Gabriel Fernandes (East Bengal), Robin Singh (ATK).

Outs: There quite a few departures from the club as well. The Stallions lost Tebar to Delhi, whereas Spanish defender Rafa Lopez returned to his home country to play for Segunda Division side Rayo Majadahonda. Another foreigner Lucca left for Portuguese side Belenenses. Amongst the domestic players to depart, Kean Lewis and Sebastian Thangmuansang were the key prospects who left for Bengaluru FC and NEROCA FC respectively.

Formation & Tactics

The Stallions’ new head coach Miguel Angel Portugal believes in the traditional Spanish style of football, with swift play and simple passing. With a number of foreign players, whom the club have retained for the upcoming season, Portugal is blessed with several options in the midfield and attack.

FC Pune City predicted lineup in ISL Season 5

Taking into consideration the manager’s playing style, a flat 4-3-3 formation would make sense. Alfaro, Marcelinho, Diego Carlos, Robin Singh and Ashique Kuruniyan provide a variety of options to the coach upfront. The retained Stankovic will keep his place in the heart of the midfield, alongside the experienced Vila, whereas Adil Khan-who impressed with his performances last season, will play more of a defensive role. With Gurtej Singh and new arrival Mills at the centre of the defense, Portugal is most likely to pick young sensations  Sahil Panwar and Sarthak Golui on the defensive flanks. 22-year-old Vishal Kaith will also continue to start between the sticks. This formula should work well with the 62-year-old’s philosophy.

FC Pune City’s alternate predicted lineup in ISL Season 5

However, a 4-3-1-2 formation could also prove fruitful for the manager. In this shape, Portugal may choose to play Marcelinho in a deeper role as a creative midfielder, behind two forwards Alfaro and either of Diego Carlos or Robin Singh, until the return of the ailing Hume. In the midfield, either of Rohit Kumar or Nikhil Poojary might have a role to play alongside Stankovic and Vila.

This explains that Portugal might have to try out different combinations with the squad until one of them works out perfectly and begins to deliver results on a consistent basis.


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Strengths

The Stallions have arguably the best attacking options amongst their other counterparts in the league. Skipper Marcelinho and Alfaro will continue to lead the attack for the upcoming season, while Iain Hume will be a massive attacking option once he recovers fully from a knee injury which has kept him from playing since February. Until then, Robin Singh and Kuruniyan will come handy for coach Portugal. The solid attack and a commanding midfield will make the Stallions a team to watch this season.

Weaknesses

Despite a strong attack, Pune City’s defense seems like a stopgap setup. Thel ack of strong defensive options will be a big concern for Portugal. However, the signing of an experienced player in Mills and the rise of Gurtej Singh in the heart of the back four will provide some light of hope to the 62-year-old.

Fixtures

Players To Watch

Adil Khan

The 30 year-old Goan defensive midfielder has previously played for several top clubs in India such as Sporting Goa, Mohun Bagan, Delhi Dynamos and Churchill Brothers and thus, comes with a lot of experience. Having appeared 18 times last season, Khan also scored four goals and came into the limelight with his consistent solid performances. He established himself as a regular starter under former coach Popovic.

For the upcoming season, Portugal is most likely to pick the player in the starting lineup alongside Stankovic. Khan will look forward to building on his good form from the last campaign and earning laurels for himself and his team.

Jonathan Vila

Vila was signed by Pune City for the upcoming season of the ISL with a view to bringing in an experienced midfielder, who could run the engine of the team from the middle of the park. A lot is expected from the former Celta Vigo and Recreativo midfielder as he is most likely to feature consistenty in the starting lineup for the Stallions.

The ageing Spanish international, will instil a lot of confidence in the team and help the players bring their best game into play.

Sahil Panwar

Teenager Sahil Panwar rose through the ranks from his days at Pune FC and later at Pune City and has earned his place in the first-team of the latter. At 18, Panwar featured in the U-20 India squad and also captained his side at the SAFF U-18 Championship in 2017.

The Dehradun-born youngster has definite talent and was spotted by the Pune-based club back in 2014, when he played for his college in the Subroto Cup. The promising young defender made his debut last season against Chennaiyin FC. Since then, he has gone on to feature 11 times for the Stallions as Popovic saw immense potential in the boy.

Tickets

The tickets for FC Pune City’s games have not gone online yet.

What To Expect

Pune City look set to carry their last season’s positives and establish their dominance in the league this term. With the arrival of Portugal as their new head coach along with the likes of Hume, Carlos, Vila and Mills as their key signings, the Stallions are expected to take the club to new heights. A top four finish is the least the fans can expect.