Antonio Lopez Habas’ FC Pune City struggled to put up much of a fight against similarly lacking opponents Mumbai City FC as they fell to a 1-0 loss at home. The first Maharashtra derby of the season was far from an entertaining affair, as both the teams failed to exert any kind of sustained pressure and it was a piece of individual brilliance from Matias Defederico that proved to be the difference in the end.
FC Pune City headed into the new season having been severely depleted in attack after Eidur Gudjohnsen’s injury, and their Achilles heel was laid bare at the Balewadi Stadium as they failed to test Mumbai City FC’s goalkeeper Roberto Volpato meaningfully over the course of the 90 minutes.
Following are a few takeaways from a disappointing opening loss for Pune City.
Poor build-up play won’t take Pune City far
With Habas not manning the touchline owing to his three-game ban, FC Pune City looked bereft of ideas whenever they had the ball inside their own half. Long diagonal balls into wide areas in the final third were the theme of the game, and with no touchline-hugging wingers in the Stallions’ ranks, it was an exercise in giving the ball away from the home side.
Goalkeeper Edel Bete punted the ball long during goal-kicks which summed up the very basic nature of how Pune wanted to play, and it was only after the half-time break that they had an outlet for those long pings from the back. With the cohesive nature of most teams’ defence, playing the old-school ‘positions of maximum opportunity’ football is not enough to break disciplined back lines.
Forward Momar Ndoye came on in the second half and immediately added another dimension to FC Pune City’s attack. The 24-year-old took on opponents and created openings for his side but he lacked end product, which should be excusable since it was his first game in Indian conditions.
Restrained approach from full-backs hurts Pune’s attack
With their offensive prowess already diminished, it was surprising to see the Orange-Purples attacking without their two full-backs, Narayan Das and Rahul Bheke. Bheke was one of the best right-backs last season in an attacking sense, and one deep run in the opening minutes aside, the 25-year-old barely bombed up his flank.
As much as it was frustrating to watch the home side give the ball away by passing it long, it wasn’t a pleasant sight to see both Das and Bheke not carrying the ball into the opposition final third from wide areas. They either floated an early ball into the channel for the ball-side wide player to run to or switched the play to the opposite flank.
It was surprising to see the Stallions not maximising their attacking potential by using the width that full-backs provide. Mumbai City FC offered them a reminder of what they missed throughout the game when the scored the winner. Their right-back Aiborlang Khongjee’s early cross set up the goal, and showed how a full-back can stretch the play by being more attack-minded.
Set-pieces need to improve for the Stallions
For all the talk about set-pieces playing an important role in creating solid goal scoring chances, FC Pune City put in some of their poorest set-piece efforts against the Mumbaikars. They had seven corners in the game, and failed to put even one of them beyond the first man at the near post. Their free-kicks weren’t better either, and Jonatan Lucca and Bruno Arias must sort their set-pieces out on the training pitch before their trip to Goa on Saturday.
A few bright spots
Not much should be read into an opening day 1-0 loss and Pune had quite a few good things which, should they build on them, could make a difference as the tournament progresses.
Their centre-back duo of Eduardo and Gouramangi Singh looked assured and barely let Mumbai get a chance. Partnerships at the heart of defence need time to build and the way both Pune’s centre-backs showed authority and command should make even the worst cynic optimistic.
Jesus Tato ploughed a lone furrow up front most of the game but his hold-up play and fine touches allowed the Stallions to progress upfield following those long balls from the back. His finishing left a lot to be desired, but his work-rate and attitude were good, and more of the same will be expected of the Spaniard.
Lenny Rodrigues moved around in midfield without imposing himself; he cut a frustrating figure with his poor touches and wayward passes but PC Pune City’s marquee signing Mohmed Sissoko is exactly the man you’d want to replace Lenny with. With an Indian attacker coming in, Sissoko could slot into the base of Pune City’s midfield and offer the much-needed stability in build-up phases. Also, Eugeneson Lyngdoh is only just over a fortnight away from returning to the FC Pune City fold which will offer more options to Habas and co.