Preview: Third-placed Pune City will aim to clinch a victory over Kerala Blasters at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex Stadium here on Friday to move to the top spot in the ongoing Indian Super League (ISL) season.
The hosts are placed third with 22 points, with Bengaluru (24) and Chennaiyin (23) leading the title race after featuring in 12 matches each.
Kerala, on the other hand are placed seventh with 17 points in their kitty.
However, David James' return to the side 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 the Delhi Dynamos.
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 will be that the Kerala Blasters have played more games than any of the teams in contention for a place in the semi-final and will now face the daunting task of beating high-flying FC Pune City.
Pune are themselves dreaming of the possibility to make the playoffs for the first time ever, and have the momentum with two wins out of two and a healthy return of just one defeat in their last six games.
Ranko Popovic's side are dangerous on the counter, lethal on the finish and have 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.
James was asked what he thought of Pune goalkeeper Vishal Kaith, who has kept four cleansheets in nine appearances, making 21 saves in the process.
"He's 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 (Friday)," said the former England international.
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 they beat Kerala Blasters. The free-scoring side have 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 their favour as they embark on yet another tough fixture.
With inputs from IANS
Published Date: Feb 02, 2018 20:05 PM | Updated Date: Feb 02, 2018 22:41 PM