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Deadly attack force, creative midfield and balanced defence to carry forth Pune’s title charge

07 November 2017ISL Media Team
Deadly attack force, creative midfield and balanced defence to carry forth Pune’s title charge

FC Pune City head into their fourth Hero Indian Super League (ISL) campaign still in search of a maiden semis appearance. The past three seasons has seen their rather underwhelming performances account for a couple of sixth-place finishes and a seventh-place finish. This despite a decent crop of players at their disposal, particularly, during the second season when they had an attacking trident of Adrian Mutu, Tuncay Sanli and Kalu Uche. Last season, their go-to striker was Anibal Rodriuez, who netted on five occasions. Mohammed Sissoko anchored the midfield while the defence was marshaled by the robust Eduardo Ferreira as the club stumbled to a sixth-place finish. None of these players will be featuring in the upcoming season, however.

Deadly attack force, creative midfield and balanced defence to carry forth Pune’s title charge

The Stallions have been busy during the run-up to the fourth season. Besides making a few key acquisitions, they have also hit the ground running in their pre-season friendlies.

Defence

Pune have roped in three foreign players to safeguard their backline. Spaniard Rafael Lopez Gomes has played most of his life in Spain, mainly at La Liga outfit Getafe. Though normally deployed as a centre-back, the versatile player has also operated in the left-back role to perfection. A six-year stint at the club where he amassed more than a century of appearances makes the 32-year-old one of the most experienced foreign recruits in the side. Another experienced campaigner is Croatian Damir Grgic, who has previously represented German side Malchower SV. The lanky centre-back will inject physicality into the Stallions’ defence, which hasn’t always functioned cohesively in the past. Joining them is 24-year-old Brazilian Diego Carlos Santos Silva, who has been signed from Ligue 1 club Nantes. With youth and experience, Carlos will hope to add balance to Pune’s defence.

As far as domestic buys go, former Bengaluru FC left-back Lalchhuanmawia Fanai has been roped in. The 28-year-old from Mizoram was a regular with the Blues and is always keen on providing extra width on the flanks with his burst of pace. The Stallions also have another young talent who has shown great versatility in the past. Sarthak Golui has played in centre-back as well as right-back previously and will have his chance to shine in what looks like an impressive backline on paper.

Deadly attack force, creative midfield and balanced defence to carry forth Pune’s title charge

Midfield

Pune boast a lot of depth in midfield with Spaniard Marcos Tebar opting to make the switch from last season’s free-scorers Delhi Dynamos FC. Having notched up three assists last season, ISL is tested grounds for Tebar. That, in fact, is even more so for Brazilian Jonatan Lucca, who bagged five assists of his own last season. The Maharashtra-outfit have also added the experience of 33-year-old Argentine Robertino Pugliara, who is an attacking midfielder by trade and will take the workload off Tebar and Lucca. Two former ATK players in Jewel Raja Shaikh, who is a proven contributor from the middle of the park and Baljit Sahni, who has also played for Chennaiyin following two years at the Kolkata-based team, further bolsters their midfield.

Deadly attack force, creative midfield and balanced defence to carry forth Pune’s title charge

Attack

Pune’s main strength, undoubtedly, will be their attack force. To begin with, they have acquired Hero ISL 2016’s top scorer as well as NorthEast United’s top scorer from last season. The former, Brazilian Marcelinho, scored at will for Delhi Dynamos the previous year, and having settled comfortably on Indian shores will be looking to bully opposition defences once again. It will be interesting to see his partnership with fellow striker Emilano Alfaro, who displayed stunning form for the Highlanders with his five goals, which almost dragged them to an elusive semi-finals berth. If the two develop a strong understanding, it will be bad news for the rest of the ISL clubs’ defences. Add to that, Marcelinho’s former Delhi teammate Kean Lewis also making the switch to Pune and you can see why Punekars can be optimistic about their chances this year. The flamboyant winger established himself as a game changer with his goals and assists last season.

Deadly attack force, creative midfield and balanced defence to carry forth Pune’s title charge

The coach

The upcoming season has seen Pune acquire the services of Serbian Ranko Popovic. The 50-year-old former centre-back has coached across Japan, Spain and Thailand and will bring a wealth of experience having won silverware on Asian shores in the past.

Player to watch out for

Last year’s golden-boot winner Marcelinho will be hungry to add to his ISL goal tally. The ease with which he made his way past opposition defences was exciting to watch for neutrals, hypnotic for fans and put fear in the heart of opponents.

Pre-season form

Pune’s run of form has been impressive in pre-season. After a thumping win over Mizoram-based club Chanmari FC, the Stallions beat both Kolkata giants from the I-League in quick succession. Alfaro is in red-hot form, having scored in all the fixtures.

While FC Pune City have the required firepower to land a serious title-charge, the fact that history has not been kind to them will be on the back of their minds. The coming season looks promising though, and with proven hitmen in the club, it will be a surprise if the Stallions are unable to break the qualification to semis hoodoo.

Deadly attack force, creative midfield and balanced defence to carry forth Pune’s title charge

FC Pune City begin their campaign against Delhi Dynamos FC at the Shri Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Pune on November 22.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Anuj Kumar, Kamaljit Singh,Vishal Kaith

Defenders: Damir Grgic, Gurtej Singh, Harpreet Singh Sahota, Lalchhuanmawia Fanai, Pawan Kumar, Rafael Lopez Gomez, Sarthak Golui, Wayne Vaz

Midfielders: Adil Ahmed Khan, Isaac Vanmalsawma Chhakchhuak, Jewel Raja Shaikh, Jonatan Lucca, Marcos Tebar, Robertino Pugliara, Rohit Kumar

Forwards: Ajay Singh, Baljit Singh Sahni, Diego Carlos de Oliveira, Emiliano Alfaro, Kean Francis Lewis, Marcelo Leite Pereira, Muhammed Ashique Kuruniyan

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