ISL 2018 | Could changing priorities be key to FC Pune City’s self-discovery

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ISL 2018 | Could changing priorities be key to FC Pune City’s self-discovery

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Subhayan Dutta


With contention for title hardly an option now and Pune’s season nothing more than a lost cause, it would be the perfect time for Pradyum Reddy to get his priorities right. Pune play five games before ISL goes into a long break and it would be upon them to earn some of their credibility back.

The third phase of the Indian Super League (ISL) will interestingly resume with a clash of contrasting forms – FC Pune City vs Jamshedpur City. While FC Pune City are yet to win a single match in the league after seven games, their opponents, Jamshedpur are yet to lose any under Cesar Ferrando’s new brand of positive football.

Though both the last season debutants - Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC - have remained unbeaten in the season so far, the Men of Steel should be credited more for the feat for their tenacity to do it over more matches and with consistency. Apart from that, their authoritative 4-1 victory over league leaders FC Goa has also given everyone a reminder of what they are capable of when done right.

However, while JFC are sorted, with their problems more a matter of time than analytical, it is FC Pune City who have surprised all with their terrible form. Not getting a win in their first three matches had led to the sack of Miguel Angel Portugal, but a change in management has only managed to bring bits and pieces of optimism so far, over the priceless three points.

Fast-track to four more matches into their campaign since the sack, and all Pune fans could boast would be occasional fight and pressure on the high-flying sides. While the return of Iain Hume from injury is widely believed to be a huge boost for the franchises and encouraging for the fans as well, Pune didn’t have problems up top to begin with. They have scored six goals in seven matches with Emiliano Alfaro missing two penalties which, if added, would have tallied it to eight goals and consequently, one more than third-placed Mumbai City. 

Conceding 16 goals has been a huge blow and the return of Hume would hardly solve it. Now, exactly what would solve their problem, which so far looks more tactical than mental and moral, is still a mystery but not experimenting with the squad like chemicals could be a fair start. Pune have used four different setups in seven matches and despite having the firepower in their squad to pull off all the four formations, they have failed in every single occasion.

While the exact reason for Angel Portugal’s sack isn’t known, a guess that it was far from the administration’s differences with his tactics wouldn’t be completely wrong, for Pradyum Reddy hasn’t done anything differently since then. With the likes of Alfaro, Marcelinho, Ashique Kuruniyan, Robin Singh, and Nikhil Poojari up top, and Matt Mills, Sarthak Golui, Gurtej Singh, and Lalchhuanmawia at the back, one cannot doubt the categorical prowess of the side in different parts of the field. But, Pune have failed to channelize them through the midfield, although they cannot be accused of not trying.

While Portugal was seen deploying a one-man midfield against Delhi Dynamos, two-man midfield against Mumbai City FC, and a four-man midfield against Bengaluru FC, Reddy has also used a one-man and two-man midfield setups in his next four matches in charge. Apart from this mayhem in the middle of the park, the franchise has used as many as five different players in the position expecting positive results.

The players are Martin Diaz, Alwyn George, Marko Stankovic, Adil Khan, and Jonathan Vila. With numerous combinations feasible in them, Pune have enough players to dictate any match against any opponent and comprehensively. But, they have still managed to mess it up and it could be largely be attributed to the side’s penchant for immediate success. While they have got the trick of keeping one specialist midfielder in the midst right in Jonathan Vila, the Spaniard has unfortunately found his partners mostly getting reshuffled into various positions and sometimes he himself playing in an advanced position like the one against Kerala Blasters, where has hardly effective.

Now, with a realistic chance of contending for the title all but over, Pune could actually give the much-needed time to the likes of Vila, George, and Khan in the midfield and have patience. With the management finally looking to settle on Reddy and trusting his vision, it is time the manager did the same for his players. Against a free-flowing Jamshedpur FC, Pune would need players to hold the ball under pressure and close down spaces, something Khan and Vila are perfectly capable of. With Alfaro now gone and Hume and Stankovic returning from their injuries, Pune could start the third phase, not with the aim of winning but exploring themselves.

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