ISL 2016's second Maharashtra derby is a stark reminder of the gulf between the two clubs on display. While Mumbai City FC are a point behind league leaders Delhi Dynamos and are well placed to progress to the play-offs, FC Pune City languish in seventh spot with nine points.
And yet, the last two seasons for Mumbai City FC were so different. They finished sixth and seventh in the earlier editions of the ISL and were not considered a top team going into the 2016 version. But nine games later, the difference in the fortunes between these two teams could not be more different.
While Pune haven’t done much to move out of their perpetual place at the bottom of the league, Mumbai is now effectively a team capable of going through all the way. Their last match, in particular, was reminiscent of a team that was dealing in wins and looking like eventual champions.
And as if this wasn’t enough, the re-introduction of four Bengaluru FC players to the squad bolsters the already ominous looking Mumbaikars and virtually guarantees their play-off spot. And its not just any Bengaluru FC player they get – the likes of Sunil Chettri, Lalchhuanmawia Fanai, Amrinder Singh and Udanta Singh are more than just squad players and will be welcomed with open arms by coach Alexandre Guimaraes.
“The new players practised yesterday. No one said they’re tired. They are very glad to be here and want to play. It is up to me to decide who will play but they’re hungry,” said an optimistic Guimaraes
When asked if the players would be given some game time in the game, Guimaraes said, ''Fanai is in recovery, so except him all of them felt well and none of them are facing any problems. They are glad to be here and they want to play. So it’s up to me to decide who gets to play tomorrow. They really want to be a part of the team and they are very glad to be a part of this season.''
And what a time for the quartet to be back. FC Pune City visit Mumbai for a repeat of the Maharashtra derby – this time at the Andheri Sports Complex.
This will be Guimaraes’s second Maharashtra derby – his first one ending in a 1-0 victory. But he refused to be treated as the favorite for a win and said, “You never know what is going to happen in a derby. We are prepared to play the right game and try to win. The other team has changed their approach a little bit, and know they cannot lose.”
Meanwhile, FC Pune City boss Antonio Habas admitted that while the derby will be difficult, the team is ready to give it their best shot.
''We know the derby is huge. Mumbai beat us in Pune. We will try to beat them tomorrow. We know it’s difficult but we will try,'' he said in the pre-match press conference.
A point of note in this season of the ISL has been the lack of high scoring games. Barring Delhi, who drew against Mumbai 3-3 and then beat defending champs Chennaiyin FC 4-1, no team has managed to score a lot of goals.
''Except Delhi Dynamos, the other teams have had 1-0 or 2-1 results or very short goal difference. Only one team, Delhi is playing well and scoring. I think all the teams are having the same problem. We will try to improve but it’s a very competitive league and it’s tough for the strikers to score,'' explained Habas at the pre-match press conference ahead of the Mumbai game.
While Mumbai go into the Maharashtra derby with a replenished squad, Pune will have to deal with two injuries. Coach Antonio Habas revealed, ''Only two players are injured currently - Arata and Pitu. Apart from them, no one else.''
To be fair to Pune, the point difference between them and second placed Mumbai is only six. This means that they will see this game as a golden opportunity to take some valuable points off a top team and rise up the rankings in the hopes of a play-off spot. But it is easier said than done. Mumbai are strong in every aspect of their squad and the one thing that they were lacking – depth – has now been bolstered by the return of their Bengaluru FC players. An exciting Maharashtra derby on the cards to say the least.