FC Pune City reached the playoffs for the first time in 2017/18. With a strong core and promising young talents, they look like a strong team on paper. But can they adapt to their new coach in time?
FC Pune City can boast of possessing one of the best attacks in the ISL – at least on paper. They have added Iain Hume, Robin Singh, and Nikhil Poojari to the existing quartet of Marcelinho, Emiliano Alfaro, Ashique Kuruniyan, and Diego Carlos.
However, their Achilles heel remains on the defensive side. Rafa Lopez has left the club and Pune have signed former Bolton Wanderers and Nottingham Forrest player Matt Mills as a replacement. They also signed Martin Diaz from NorthEast United as a cover on the defensive side of the game. The midfield looks set with the likes of Marko Stankovic, Adil Khan, Shankar Sampingiraj, and Jonathan Vila among their ranks.
However, the preseason games against I-League teams have produced mixed results.
Last year, Miguel Ángel Portugal took on the job with Delhi Dynamos. The team played a possession-based style of play. After a slow start, his side played a free-flowing football and scored 27 goals in the process. Albeit, with the worst defensive record.
He has to start all over again with FC Pune City. However, he has a better squad to work with – at least on paper.
Portugal managed teams in Spain, Bolivia, Brazil, and Algeria before making his way to India. The Spaniard will hope for a better showing in his second outing.
Players to watch
Jonathan Vila: A defensive midfielder who likes to sit in front of the back four and possesses the ability to build attacks from the back.
A youth player with Spanish team Celta de Vigo, he made his La Liga debut in 2006 made over a hundred appearances with the club. He joined Beitar Jerusalem FC on loan in 2014 before returning to Spain to join Real Oviedo in the third tier before moving to Recreativo de Huelva.
Matt Mills: A journeyman in the English game, Mills represented teams like Leicester City, Nottingham Forest, and Bolton Wanderers. The defender will bring his vast experience to a side that needs some steel in their defence.
FC Pune City starts their campaign on the road at Delhi on Oct. 3. After a 16-day break, they face three opponents in 10 days: the Maha-Derby against Mumbai City (A) on Oct. 19, Bengaluru FC (H) on Oct. 22, and FC Goa on Oct. 28.
Two home games against their southern opposition against Kerala on Nov. 2 and Chennaiyin on Nov. 6 is followed by an away game at ATK on Nov 10.
After a short break, three more matches are to be held within 10 days against Jamshedpur (H) on Nov. 21, NorthEast United (H) on Nov. 27, and Bengaluru FC (A) on Nov. 30.
The reverse fixtures continue with an away trip at Kerala on Dec. 7 and a home game against FC Goa on Dec. 11.
On paper, FC Pune City has a balanced side with a strong core and promising young talents capable of reaching the playoffs again. However, they need to adapt to a new style of play under Portugal to make that a reality.