ISL: Chennai hosts Pune in battle for top spot

Chennaiyin is currently second on the table with 17 points from nin games, while Pune is at its heels a mere point below. FC Goa is trailing close and is third only on goal difference.

The home side will be looking to bolster its defence at the death and break its jinx at the Marina Arena, where it has succumbed to late goals and managed only draws in the last two games.   -  M. Vedhan

 

Saturday will witness a fierce battle between Chennaiyin FC and FC Pune City for the top spot on the Indian Super League table at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

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Chennaiyin is currently second on the table with 17 points from nine games, while Pune is at its heels a mere point below. FC Goa is trailing close and is third only on goal difference.

Both teams come into the tie having dropped points in their previous games; Chennaiyin drew 2-2 with Delhi Dynamos while Pune played out a 1-1 draw against Kerala Blasters. The two teams have another common factor; neither will have its head coach in the dugout as they face suspensions.

‘Lack of focus’

The home side will be looking to bolster its defence at the death and break its jinx at the Marina Arena, where it has succumbed to late goals and managed only draws in the last two games.

"It hurt us. Like I've said previously, it was just a lack of focus. We have to play as a team in those last minutes and we haven't done that. The players have understood that and it won't happen in the matches to come," assured Chennaiyin's assistant coach, Sabir Pasha.

Pune's attack has been rampant this season and has scored an impressive 18 goals, enjoying a healthy goal difference of 8.

"On paper, Pune is the best attacking side and have a very good forward line. They will come hard at us. However, we are lucky to have captain Henrique Sereno back. It will be a good contest," remarked Pasha. "We are also an attacking side and are equally strong but I feel our strength is our defence," he added.

Marcelinho ruled out

To add the blow of having its coach suspended, Pune will also be without ace striker Marcelinho, who is serving a one-match suspension after accumulating four bookings.

The Brazilian has been instrumental in Pune's success so far this season and has netted six goals and delivered four assists.

"Marcelo is one of the best players in the league and we will miss him tomorrow but I know our team has quality. If a team cannot play without one player then it's not a team. He is an important player but we know that our team is a collective group and we will play our best," said Pune's assistant coach Vladica Grujic.

Emiliano Alfaro, who has been in fine form with five goals to his name so far, will lead the attack. Grujic revealed that Brazilian forward Diego Carlos, who is coming back from an injury, is pipped to take Marcelinho's spot.

Pune will be looking to break a jinx of its own; the side has never defeated Chennaiyin in all of its encounters over the last four seasons. Grujic rubbished the fact that this could be a mental block for his side. "This is a new team and we have no mental block. It is just statistic and we look forward to changing it tomorrow," he said.

When asked if the side will find it easy to adapt to the local conditions, given that the team is here after playing in Kerala last week, the assistant coach quipped, “The weather is similar but the performance will not be the same.”

With three points and a spot on the top up for grabs, Saturday promises to be a thrilling clash.