Pune start as favourites against local rivals Mumbai

The purple-and-orange striped jerseys glow with the confidence of hard-earned achievement and consistent attacking displays. They head into Friday’s clash against their local rivals who look unsettled, trying to put the exit of assistant coach Oscar Bruzon and key playmaker Andre Moritz out of their minds.

Tuncay Sanli was on the scoresheet in FC Pune City's 3-1 win over Mumbai City FC in the corresponding fixture on the opening day of the ISL 2015.   -  THE HINDU

David Platt and FC Pune City have moved on beyond opening match anxiety at home against Mumbai City FC. Nine games later in the ISL 2015, the purple-and-orange striped jerseys glow with the confidence of hard-earned achievement and consistent attacking displays in home matches.

FCPC have done enough (four wins, two draws, three losses) to drive home the message that their squad is the side to beat for teams aiming to finish in the top four. The Englishman has the mandate to rotate players the way he wants.

The visitors will head into Friday’s clash against their local rivals who look unsettled, trying to put the exit of assistant coach Oscar Bruzon and key playmaker Andre Moritz out of their minds. Both had questions for Platt’s counterpart, head coach Nicolas Anelka, over tactics and selection, so had to head for the exit.

The FCPC coach is a firm believer in mix-and-match, switching players and formations, even after losing away to Kerala Blasters earlier in the league. “I said after the game (against Blasters) that I was hasty in making decisions when playing the match. It had nothing to do with the rotation policy. We have a group of players from which I pick a team to win a football match.”

Match-winner Tuncay Sanli has been used as substitute while Indian internationals Jackichand Singh and Eugeneson Lyngdoh have made the most of playing time with sharpness, goals and creativity.

Asked to sum up his team’s showing so far, the FCPC coach said: “Every team has gone through a patch where they haven't been at their best. There are no favourites, so others’ expectations have no consequence for me. Our last few games haven't seen the right results, but by and large the only game we didn't perform for any part of the 90 minutes was Kerala Blasters away.”

Platt expects sixth placed Mumbai City to go all-out. “It's a difficult game for us, away from home against a team that is there or thereabouts (about top four finish) so we will have to be disciplined in our play and confident to get the result.”

Lyngdoh, Pritam Kotal and Bikash Jairu have not come with the squad, due to national duty for World Cup qualifiers. The Englishman’s rotation policy ensures that there is no shortage of replacements, like the ISL opener against the same opponent without Lyngdoh, Kotal and Jackichand.

Anelka needs to show the way

Mumbai City FC need a big push to move up from sixth position into reckoning for a knockout place. Anelka’s presence in the dugout attracts cheers from the stands, but an inspiring performance on the turf from the creator in him is overdue. “You can expect to see more of me in the ISL’s second part. I think I’ll need more minutes on the pitch to be fitter.”

He wore the coach’s hat as Sunil Chhetri and Sony Norde took North-East United FC 5-1 in front of adoring fans. The next game saw his team nosedive against a rampaging Iain Hume and Atletico de Kolkata, losing 1-5. Anelka was on the pitch 90 minutes, so were Chhetri and Norde but could not turn things around.

MCFC’s wayward ways are on the coach’s mind. “Our team is unpredictable. We can be very good on our day, but also very poor. I hope we’ll see the very good face against Pune,” quipped the French ace, whose presence against ATK led to a subdued show by the midfielders.

The home team is struggling with injury problems; Gabriel Fernandes is recovering from strained muscle. Sunil Chhetri, Subrata Paul and Lalchhuanmawia Fanai are expected to return from international duty and be available for selection. Attacking midfielder Brandon Fernandes is being nursed back to form and played as substitute in the away tie against Delhi Dynamos FC.

Rated highly by the head coach, the time has come for him to take off, like the fireworks going off on the sidelines, in a must-win match for MCFC.