Chennai, January 12: FC Pune City got four points from their last two matches while coach Ranko Popovic was serving a four-match ban.
However the visitors will now have to overcome the absence of not just their coach at the touchline but also their talisman Marcelinho for a crucial Hero Indian Super League (ISL) encounter against Chennaiyin FC at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Saturday (January 13).
The Brazilian is Pune City's leading goal scorer with six strikes, including a hat-trick, and has four assists to boot. He will, however, remain suspended for the next clash after accumulating four bookings. He has missed a match before - against Bengaluru FC - when he was not fully fit and was left on the bench, and it showed as Bengaluru FC walked away with full points.
"Marcelinho is one of the best player in the league. We'll miss him surely but I know our team has quality. If a team can't play without one player, it's no team. We know his importance, he is a strong player but we know how (good) is our team," Pune City Assistant Coach Vladica Grujic said during the pre-match media interaction.
With 16 points from nine matches, Pune City are placed third, just below Chennaiyin FC who have an extra point. This puts them in a good position to push for a play-off place, though the assistant coach warned that they still have plenty to do.
"We've achieved nothing yet because you can be first, fourth or last. Now, it's time to try to win points to come as close as possible to first four. This is our aim to come in the first four teams," he said.
Chennaiyin FC are among the more impressive teams in this edition of ISL and are second only to Bengaluru FC. The home team, however, must shake off the absence of their coach John Gregory, who curiously also remains suspended, just like their rivals.
"Both of them are really good coaches and they are working here for the betterment of the game. I hope to see both of them back in the dugout soon," said Grujic.
Gregory's absence should not impact Chennaiyin FC on the field and they should be encouraged with the return of their captain Henrique Soreno who completed serving a one-match suspension of his own while Jeje Lalpekhlua is the man in form.
"We know Pune is strong in attack. They look threatening. We know they are a good attacking side and will come hard at us. We are lucky that our best player, captain (Soreno) is behind. It will be a good contest," said Assistant Coach Syed Sabir Pasha.
Chennaiyin FC have conceded goals at the death in their last two matches at home against Delhi Dynamos (2-2) and Kerala Blasters (1-1). That has cost them dearly and Pasha called for focus till the final whistle.
"It hurts us, hurts the players. It's just lack of focus. We've to play as a team in those last moments. Players also understand I think. It will not happen in the matches to come," assures Pasha.
(Source: ISL Media)
Kick-off is at 8pm
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