ISL: Kerala looks to exploit Pune’s imbalance

Pune is dreaming of the possibility to make the playoffs for the first time ever, and has the momentum with two wins out of two and a healthy return of just one defeat in its last six games.

Kerala Blasters will now face the daunting task of beating high-flying FC Pune City at Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex Stadium, Pune.   -  H. Vibhu

David James' return to Kerala Blasters FC saw a three-match unbeaten run at the start, but that was punctured by back-to-back defeats before his side recovered to get all three points against Delhi Dynamos in the Hero Indian Super League.

It has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for the Englishman and his team's fans as they look to overhaul a two-point gap to the top four. The only issue is that the Kerala Blasters has played more games than any of the teams in contention for a place in the semifinal and will now face the daunting task of beating high-flying FC Pune City at Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex Stadium, Pune, on Friday. 

Pune is itself dreaming of the possibility to make the playoffs for the first time ever, and has the momentum with two wins out of two and a healthy return of just one defeat in its last six games.

Ranko Popovic's side is dangerous on the counter, lethal on the finish and has the second-best defence in the league with just 12 goals conceded.

"The defeat to FC Goa was tough and left us in a position where we had to win six games in a row so the Delhi win was very important. Confidence in the players was good and it put us one step ahead in the quest to win the remaining games," said James.

Asked what he thought of Pune goalkeeper Vishal Kaith, who has kept four cleansheets in nine appearances, making 21 saves in the process, the former England international said, "Kaith is a talented young man and there are some things which he is very good at and there are some things about him that we will look to take advantage of tomorrow."

He also said that star signing Dimitar Berbatov "looked fantastic in training" and did not respond to questions over other transfer targets.  Pune City can go top of the table provisionally if it beats Kerala Blasters. The free-scoring side has Marcelo Pereira and Emiliano Alfaro in good form and it will be hard to stop them.

Popovic however, while happy, is not completely satisfied with his side and demanded more. "It's good if people are talking (about our performances) but I have always maintained that we need to balance both attack and defence to do well. So yes, we are on a good way, but we are not yet good - we are trying.

"In football, you have to repeat week after week that what is behind us is nice - but it's about the future now," he said.

Popovic also admitted that he doesn't like making many changes to his side. Alfaro has played all 12 games so far and the head-coach said that he will only rest him if it is necessary for the player to rest. So far, that hasn't happened, so Popovic will continue fielding him.

However, he said that there were some niggles and he may be forced to rotate his squad. Kerala Blasters will hope that these changes work in its favour as it embarks on yet another tough fixture.

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