The third game of the ISL 2016 will see FC Pune City host Mumbai City FC at the Balewadi Stadium on 3 October, in what has been billed as the Maharashtra Derby.
“A derby is always a special game. It’s our first match and we should take it on a game-by-game basis. We should be able to perform up to our mark,” FC Pune City player Arata Izumi said, ahead of the first ISL games for both teams in the 2016 edition.
Both teams were poor performers last year with FC Pune City coming seventh and Mumbai City FC mustering a sixth-place finish. Therefore it was no surprise that both teams were rejigged and a new blueprint was laid down for ISL 2016.
Pune have made plenty of changes, including hiring Atletico de Kolkata's former coach Antonio Habas. But the AIFF has banned the Spaniard for four games after his show of aggressive behavior against Chennaiyin FC in the second leg of the semis last year.
When asked if not having their coach on the sidelines would be a major miss, FC Pune City assistant manager Miguel said, “We had a long, long pre-season in Spain. The objective was to get the right combination and players. This is a different franchise with more than 80 percent of the players being new. We gelled in our pre-season camp in Spain and last week we were making our game plan and combinations. We know the coach will not be there and the players will have to do everything without him on the bench and we are working and planning to do that.”
The assistant manager’s words made it clear that FC Pune City have been preparing as a new look team, aiming to improve on the past.
“Yes, we are ready. That is what we have been working towards for the past eight weeks. We played eight practice games, and won all in Spain and in India. We are ready. We have changed the franchise – new team, new players. Our objective was to build a squad and now we have a competitive team to win games.”
But Pune were dealt a heavy blow, weeks prior to the start of ISL 2016, when Andre Bikey and Eidur Gudjohnsen were ruled out of the tournament.
When asked about the impact of both not being available for the tournament, Izumi said, “Well of course, both are great personalities but they are with us, even if they aren’t. Every game we take it as a team. And of course we have Miguel and everything is going to be fine.”
New marquee signing Moussa Sissoko arrived on 2 October according to Miguel and was ready to play. But considering the short nature of the signing and virtually no practice, it seems unlikely that the ex-Liverpool player would get any game time.
On the other hand, Mumbai City FC are relaxed in their approach and will be looking primarily at Diego Forlan and Jackichand Singh to provide attacking impetus.
“For now, we have practiced in Dubai. Whenever there is a mistake, Diego tells us. He doesn’t talk much but he lets us know when we are doing something wrong,” Jackichand Singh said about new marquee signing Diego Forlan.
Both FC Pune City assistant manager Miguel and Mumbai City FC coach Alexandre Guimaraes called the pitch ‘wonderful’. The Balewadi stadium was being hit by torrential rains for the past two days, so routine checks were conducted to see if the pitch was in good condition.
“I just took a look and it looks wonderful. Unfortunately we haven’t had the chance to come early but the pitch looks good,” remarked the Costa Rican manager of Mumbai
Mumbai City’s main threat comes from Diego Forlan. When asked about the same, Miguel said, "We will play against Mumbai City FC, not Diego Forlan. You know how Forlan is – one of the biggest players in the world. We play against Diego Forlan and we plan our game to beat Mumbai City, not Diego Forlan."
While both teams have looked to build a squad, on paper it seems that Mumbai have the Forlan advantage that has the potential to change the outcome of the game.
Tactically speaking, Mumbai and Pune have both enjoyed great pre-seasons. While Mumbai have won twice and drawn twice, Pune have garnered more game time and thus may be a tad bit fitter than the Mumbaikars. Pune also boast of a great home record, which was noted by Guimaraes in the pre-match press conference.
“We know that Pune is strong at home. We have to play our game and play tough. We have to play exactly like we have prepared. This is a team like us that has made too many changes. Everybody wants points from the first game and we both want the same things,” declared Guimaraes.
He also spoke about the importance of building a team and said, “Since day one, we have had to build a totally new team. That ways there is no difference in local and foreigners in terms of understanding what I want. We have a good mix and local players they understand what I want so I have no complaints”
The two-time Costa Rica World Cup team coach was also quick to praise the Indian local players.
“I can say that they really surprised me about their desire, discipline and their commitment to being in this team, to do better and to help achieve our goal which is to perform better than last season. The local guys mix well with the foreigners so I’m very happy with them,” said Guimaraes.
Japanese born Indian player Arata Izumi also talked about how ‘tactical discipline’ would be key in their approach to taking on Mumbai in the Maharashtra Derby.
Meanwhile, it will be a homecoming of sorts for Manipur-born Indian international Jackichand. A player for FC Pune City last year, Jacki now plies his trade for Mumbai’s ISL team and when asked about this change, said, “First of all, this is our first match and it’s always important. We will try to win. It was good with Pune last year but such is the life of a player. So wherever I stay, I plan to give a 100 percent to that team.”
It is clear that both teams have prepared the best they can with the circumstances surrounding them. But eventually, the winner could be decided in the first 10-15 minutes itself, as Jackichand had said in an exclusive interview with Firstpost.