Blasters face tough Pune testJanuary 4, 2018
Kerala Blasters and FC Pune City will be without their respective head coaches when they meet in the Hero ISL at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium here on Thursday. While Rene Meulensteen quit as the Blasters’ coach on Tuesday, his counterpart Ranko Popovic still continues to serve his suspension. But the similarity ends there.
Meulensteen’s absence will hurt Blasters more than Pune which crushed NorthEast United 5-0 in its last match with Popovic watching from the stands.
Meulensteen’s departure couldn’t have come at a worse time for the beleaguered Blasters who are struggling to make an impact this season. The loss to Bengaluru on New Year’s eve was the proverbial last straw for Meulensteen.
Pune, which has a good away record and with back-to-back wins against Goa and NorthEast United, starts as the favourite. For KB, the absence of a genuine holding midfielder along with errors in defence have compounded its problems.
Injuries to key players — Dimitar Berbatov, Rino Anto, Wes Brown and C.K. Vineeth — haven’t helped the cause either. Rino and Vineeth are still injured and will not play against Pune while Berbatov is also a doubtful starter for Thursday’s match. Thangboi Singto, the Blasters’ assistant coach who is in charge of the team, said it was time for the players to step up and that the team will stick to the same strategy it has followed this season.
“In terms of our planning we have to do what we have been doing. But what is most important is to score and not to concede. They are all professional players and they know how it works. So far now the most important thing is tomorrow’s game and get a right result for the fans,” said Singto.
FCPC’s assistant coach Vladica Grujic ruled out any complacency and said his team was keen to continue its impressive away record. “Every game is difficult. Maybe they are not in good shape at the moment. But we are not bothered about what has happened in the rival camp and we know how good they are. I expect them to play a lot of long balls. But we will have to concentrate on our game and not take anything lightly. We are coming here to win,” the 55-year-old said.
Pune strikers Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfaro are in good form with the former scoring a hat-trick against NEUFC in the last match. The Blasters’ defence has its task cut out on Thursday.