The first Maharashtra derby of the season pits two teams at opposite spectrum of the league table...
It’s that time of the year when the I-League fans across the Maratha heartland are treated to the Maharashtra derby - a duel between the Red Lizards of Pune FC and the Yellow and Black of Mumbai FC. Followers across the two cities will be digging in to support their teams, both of whom have a lot surfing on the result of this match, although at contrasting ends of the league table.
Round Thirteen of the football calendar will decide if Pune FC can continue their dash at the summit of the table and keep the chasing pack at arm’s length or if a much rejuvenated Mumbai FC, based on their showing in the last league game against East Bengal, can scupper the former's excellent home record and begin their own ascent away from the drop zone. With all to play for, fans and viewers across the country and not just Maharashtra could be witnessing a special spectacle.
The home team, Pune FC, are unbeaten at the Balewadi Sports Complex and upending them will be Khalid Jamil’s biggest priority. The team that finished as runners-up in the 2012-13 season of the I-League might just have eloped out of their continuous winning streak as the form table shows, with them having drawn all three of their games in the last month, but this side still has a lot of venom left in them.
Mustapha Riga, who is still settling into the squad, will look to let his hair down and punish a slightly slack Mumbai FC defense, while Nikhil Kadam will hope that he can dispose the chances he gets.
What will particularly encourage Mike Snoei is the central defensive pairing of Calum Angus and Anas Edathodika. The two have gelled like a house on fire and penetrating them seems a task befitting on the beguiling of strikers. On home soil, they have been unbeaten and only conceded once in their five matches.
What ticks Pune FC though is Douhou Pierre, who Snoei will hope continues his marvellous run of form that his seen many a coach praise his eye for a pass. However, the Pune FC attack is wearing thin, with only Mustapha Riga a recognized striker followed by inexperience in Haokip, many will hope the midfielders and wingers step up with the goals.
“I am looking forward to the derby against Mumbai FC. It will be a tough match and we will have to work hard against them.
“Mumbai FC is now a better side with the addition of the new players and we saw the way they dominated the opponents. But we will be playing according to our plan," Pune FC coach Mike Snoei.
No injury worries blight the preparation of Pune FC, with them expected to field the same squad that got a draw against United SC.
Mumbai FC, meanwhile, are undergoing a mini revolution of sorts within the season. Having successfully added a quartet of IMG-Reliance’s talent amongst their squad, their squad looks far more refreshed than it might otherwise have given their recent spate of troubles. Standing out in particular is the venerable Yusif Yakubu, who managed to tease the Mumbai faithful with a bucket load of tricks and spins and pace that left the East Bengal defense utterly confounded. He will have the same look at the Pune FC backline and many will expect him to tear them apart, unlike the previous duo of Orok Essien and Hashmatullah Barikzai.
But if Yakubu is expected to spear the attack then they will miss the ever-present effusive talent of Sanjdar Ahmadi, who could miss the game after he was taken to hospital after the last game, complaining of cramps. It will be interesting to see if Khalid Jamil will wait on his fitness, given the fixtures that follow and their subsequent importance.
Another blow for the Mumbai FC coach is the loss of Ahmad Hatifie, who collected a red for an elbow on Ryuji Seouka and will be suspended for the game.
Pune FC have a psychological advantage given they have recently been awarded two extra points by the League’s disciplinary committee for the game against Salgaocar that they drew, following discrepancies in the Greens’ squad registration procedures.
Thus with all to play for, one can only expect a fireworks display in Pune. Win and Pune FC go top, while a loss or draw will give their rivals hope of catching them, leaving only themselves to blame for blowing a valuable lead. Mumbai FC on the same note, need this win to carry them onwards up the table where they originally planned to finish. A loss means, the looming threat of relegation will get even larger. These teams have met 8 time in total in the past with Pune FC coming out on top four of those times with Mumbai FC with just a solitary win.
Now is not the time to ponder, now is the time to go the distance.
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