With a win and two defeats the Stallions have failed to impress at the start of the new campaign.
FC Pune City without doubt have not had the brightest of starts to the new Indian Super League season. Despite winning a crucial away game in Goa, only their second ever away win, the team has lost both their home games by a margin of one goal to nil. The first of the two defeats came to state rivals Mumbai City FC, with the second one being against NorthEast United FC.
Yet, what will be more concerning for the management and fans alike, will be the performances throughout the three games. Pune have been lethargic in possession, lacklustre at the back and clueless in attack.
On first glance, a lot of their problems seem to hold a common link. Tactics, personnel and management all have played a part, so let’s analyse their performance so far.
Tactics and Personnel
Whether it has been the tactics which haven’t worked for the players or the players who haven’t implemented the tactics correctly remains unclear. Pune’s previous game against the Highlanders was an epitome of their shortcomings so far.
Against NorthEast, the side currently led by Miguel Martinez started with three at the back with Francis Fernandes and Ralte operating as wing-backs. Upfront, Jesus Tato was to play alongside Anibal Zurdo. Momo Sissoko, Jonatan Lucca and Lenny Rodrigues joined them in midfield.
Pune lost a great option in attack when they lost their original marquee signing Eidur Gudjohnsen. A player supposed to be their leader on the field, now required to be replaced in a hurry. So far, Pune’s answer has been starting Tato and Zurdo upfront. On Wednesday, Zurdo failed to get a shot away while Tato kept falling back in midfield in an attempt to try and get more of the ball. What Pune were missing, though was a player willing to run in behind the defence. Zurdo could not get the service he craved and Tato was himself unable to break through the solid defensive unit of the visitors.
Pune recently signed a replacement in Malian striker Dramane Traore. The big man upfront has so far been restricted to cameos where he has managed to prove a danger to the opposition with his strength and height.
It has been aptly said that too many cooks spoil the broth. It was a similar case that troubled Pune at the Balewadi Sports Complex, as they flooded their midfield with personnel unsure of their role in the side. While Lucca has turned out to be a bright spark for the home team, the rest seem happy to sit back and look for the simple pass. With Jesus Tato also falling back on numerous occasions, Pune’s midfield often saw as many as seven players in the opposition half but without a player in the box or a willing runner in behind the defence.
As the stats proved, Pune maintained possession for great stretches of the game, even before the sending off of NorthEast right-back Nirmal Chettri. What they lacked was penetration, to go with any sense of urgency. The players laboured along, almost expecting the chances to pop up out of nothing. Even the substitutions of Arata Izumi and Sanju Pradhan failed to truly spark life into the Pune attack. The team, as a whole seemed bereft of ideas. The plethora of midfielders resorted to aimless crosses and hopeful punts, but without much luck. To be fair, they had very little to aim for in the box, with only Zurdo available.
The defence, despite conceding a goal a game, has been relatively solid for the most part. Although, deficiencies at the back also came to the fore from time to time against the team owned by John Abraham. Though the backline was affected by the loss of centre-back Eduardo Ferreira when they conceded the goal, the ease at which NorthEast were able to counter should worry Pune. When not in possession, the visitors looked the more proactive side throughout, even with 10 men. Pune meanwhile allowed the NorthEasterners time and space on the ball, as highlighted by the many runs by both Nico Velez and Katsumi Yusa.
The goal came when midfielder Romaric N’Dri ran through an open midfield and found Velez, who shrugged Sissoko aside with ease. Velez was somehow able to wriggle onto Katsumi. The Japanese midfielder’s attempt was blocked but only till Alfaro, who tucked in the finish neatly.
Pune, will now, of course miss Eduardo Ferreira for their next game, owing to the red card. He was the only foreigner in the backline and his experience will be missed.
FC Pune City can improve in every area of the pitch, something that the management at the club is very well aware of. Even on the sidelines, the loss of Antonio Habas has certainly been felt. The Spaniard is a real presence down on the touchline. So far, he’s been forced to find a seat in the stands.
Leadership was a quality that the Stallions sorely missed, despite changing personnel entirely over the past two seasons. Pune would’ve hoped for Habas to come and take the bull by the horns, but his ban has meant familiar foes have come to haunt the team again. His replacement for the time being, Miguel Martinez has been unable to have a similar grasp of control over proceedings. Even on the pitch, there does not seem to be a player one can pick out and look for, in crunch situations. There is no one player that everyone can turn to, when Pune find themselves a goal down with minutes left.
In short, FC Pune City, despite having only played three games, have produced numerous glaring mistakes, while showing only a handful of positives. The fact is, Pune need to realise what their strongest starting XI is. They have now replaced their two injured players, and know the squad they have to work with. Therefore, a solution in personnel and tactics combined is required. With games in the ISL coming thick and fast, they’ll need to quick solutions if they are to avoid another season of woe.
Editorial by Khel Now Correspondent from Pune Miqdad Haider.