Pune: Ranko Popovic has installed his team, FC Pune City, as the favourites to grab all three points against Bengaluru FC in their Indian Super League (ISL) match at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex Stadium here on Thursday. This despite the team losing two of its three home games this season.
Both teams, ranked in the top half for now, have nine points each and will look to solidify their position at the top when they meet on Thursday.
“Bengaluru FC is a wonderful team. They are very strong with good individual players. They have an advantage too since they started a little bit early and had more (competitive) matches. But when we are playing at home, we should be the favourites. We have a job to do,” Popovic said during the pre-match media interaction on Wednesday.
Pune City are in a buoyant mood after putting it across Jamshedpur FC in the previous game. The coach was pleased that they not just breached the Jamshedpur defence for the first time in five matches, but they also managed to keep a clean sheet for the first time.
“I think the last match we lost at home (against Chennaiyin FC) was more accidental. We played well. I try to be realistic always. What is good is that we are looking better and better. We play a strong team. It’s one big test for us. We are more comfortable, more organised. Our problem is that we always have some last-minute problems with injuries and illnesses. We cannot field the same XI,” said Popovic, who will be forced to change his winning combination after defender Lalchhuanmawia Fanai picked up a red card in the previous game.
The coach, however, will be able to select from Gani Ahmed Nigam and Sahil Panwar, the two players who have been promoted from the reserves.
His counterpart, Albert Roca, said he does not pay too much attention to talks that his team are the favourites in ISL. Instead, he pointed to their strong opponents, particularly their strike pair of Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfaro.
“We have studied Alfaro and Marcelinho a lot. We have seen a lot of videos on how to stop them. They are good players. We are ready for that. But we have had a short time to prepare for this game. At the end, an error can cost a lot. We are aware how difficult it is to stop these kind of players,” said the Bengaluru FC coach.
“We expect a tough game. They are at the same level. It’s going to be difficult. Pune has enough experience in their players, also coach, to put us in trouble. That’s what we expect,” he said.