NorthEast United travel to the Maratha heartlands on Wednesday, 12th October, seeking a return to winning ways and register their first win on Pune soil, after a narrow defeat to Mumbai City FC, in their last Indian Super League (ISL) fixture.
The task will not be easy however, as FC Pune City, fresh from a 2-1 win over FC Goa at Fatorda, await their arrival with their Pata's at the ready and whirling their saffron swallowtail flags with gusto. The match will be contested at the Shree Chhatrapati Balewadi Sports Complex, Pune.
Antonio Habas and Miguel will be pleased in their positions of authority, considering they delivered the Stallions' first win on the road, in the ISL, for over a year. Having garnered just two points away from home all season last year, the Wadhwan Group co-owned franchise have already bettered their record and now will focus on getting their home record back on track after the opening round defeat, in the Maharashtra Derby.
The Spanish management are expected to maintain the same starting eleven versus the Highlanders, as they did against the Gaurs, although a few changes may be expected. Expect a 4-1-4-1 mirroring a 4-3-3.
Goalkeeper Apoula Edel Bete seemed to struggle with an injury concerning the knee at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. He may be advised to sit this game out, despite putting in a good performance between the sticks for the team.
Gouramangi Singh started on the left side of defense and was chief architect of FC Goa's equalizing goal, having underestimated the flight of the ball. He may be replaced by Augustin Fernandes, with the in-form Eduardo Ferreira, who built on his solid start to the campaign expected to retain his place. Rahul Bheke and Narayan Das, the latter being a second-half substitute in the Konkan state encounter, will start in the full-back positions. Dharmaraj Ravanan, who began the last tie as a central defender, may retain his place.
Jonatan Lucca is already proving to be a shrewd snatch for the Orange and Purples, with him turning provider for both goals. Expect him to start in an advanced central midfield position. All eyes will be focused on marquee Mohammed Sissoko, who will make his bow in front of home support for the first time.
He played the deepest of the midfielders last time around, as he prevented a majority of FC Goa's attacks. Using his immense strength to bring the ball out of defense and set up the Punekars attacks. Expect him to reprise the same role in this encounter. Pitu should be in line to make his first start for the franchise in the central three.
Anibal Zurdo looked off pace at the helm of attack, though as a targetman he serves the purpose. He should retain his spot, with Jesus Tato occupying the right flank as he showed against FC Goa. Momar Ndoye, the scorer of FC Pune City's winner will have been praised by the staff of FC Pune City. He should be in-line to replace another goalscorer on the left, Arata Izumi. Though Izumi was at the right palce at the right time to complete an impressive Pune offense, the midfielder will be rested for the game considering, Habas, will need him for the fixtures ahead.
Nelo Vingada will have had plenty of food for thought after his team's fall to Mumbai City FC. Expect a familiar starting line-up from the Portuguese gaffer, who fielded a 4-2-3-1 in the last game.
One of John Abraham's franhcise's biiggest concerns is their profligacy in front of goal, considering the chances their attacking midfielders create. They are also troubled by the lack of cover down the left and right flank, with opposiiton playmakers having a field-day.
Subrata Paul will start in goal for the Whites, returning to his stomping ground in the I-League with the DSK Shivajians. The tie also marks a return to the Balewadi stadium for Didier Zokora, who earned the love fo the Orange Army with his stint in the IT capital of Maharashtra, last season.
Rowllin Borges will encamp in central midfield ,while the triumverate of Nicolas Velez, Katsumi Yusa and Halicharan Narzary should start.
A pleasant October sunset will grace the area around the stadium in Pune, though it is upto the warriors on the night to decide who enjoys it most. Expect Pune City to head in with the advantage, though with two wins under their belt, NorthEast's ability of ginding out a result shouldn't be completely ignored.
A win for Pune will shoot them into the top three, and they could usurp NorthEast United, who currently sit second in the table having played one game more than the chasing pack. The visitors have never won away in Pune, having endured two losses. In four games between the duo, the team representing the seven sisters has attained just one win, while Pune has two.
Kick-off is at 7 PM IST.