Injury-hit Blasters starts post-Meulensteen era with Pune test

Rene Meulensteen quit as coach of Kerala Blasters on Tuesday and his absence will hurt the Blasters more than Pune, which crushed NorthEast United 5-0 in its last match with coach Ranko Popovic watching from the stands.

The Pune strikers are in good form with Marcelinho (pictured) scoring a hat-trick against NorthEast United in the last match. The Blasters’ defence will have its task cut out on Thursday.   -  AP

Kerala Blasters and FC Pune City find themselves in similar territory when they meet in the Hero ISL match at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium on Thursday. Both teams are without their respective head coaches but the similarity ends there.

Rene Meulensteen quit as coach of Kerala Blasters on Tuesday and his absence will hurt the Blasters more than Pune, which crushed NorthEast United 5-0 in its last match with coach Ranko Popovic watching from the stands.

Rene Meulensteen's departure couldn't have come at a worse time for the beleaguered Kerala Blasters, which is struggling to make an impact this season. The loss to Bengaluru on New Year’s eve was the proverbial last straw that broke the camel's back for Rene Meulensteen.

On paper, Pune, which has a good away record and with back-to-back wins against Goa and NorthEast United, starts as the favourite against Kerala Blasters The absence of a genuine holding midfielder along with errors in defence has compounded Blasters’ problems this season. The injuries to key players Berbatov, Rino Anto, Wes Brown and C.K. Vineeth haven’t help the team either. Rino and Vineeth are still injured and will not play against Pune City while Berbatov is also a doubtful starter for Thursday’s match.

Thangboi Singto, the Blasters’ assistant coach who is in charge of the team, said it was time for the players to step up and the team will stick to the same strategy it has followed so far this season.

“In terms of our planning we have to do what we have been doing. But what is most important is to score and not to concede. They are all professional players and they know how it works. So far now the most important thing is tomorrow’s game and get the right result for the fans,” said Singto.

FC Pune City’s assistant coach Vladica Grujic ruled out any complacency on part of his team and said his team was keen to continue its impressive away record.”Every game is difficult. Maybe they are not in good shape at the moment. But we are not bothered about what has happened in the rival camp and we know how good they are.

“I expect them to play a lot of long ball. But we will have to concentrate on our game and not take anything lightly. We are coming here to win,” the 55-year-old said.

Pune strikers Marcelinho and Emiliao Alfarao are in good form with latter scoring a hat-trick against NorthEast United in the last match. The Blasters’ defence will have its task cut out on Thursday.