Sunday will bring a healthy dose of fireworks to the Indian football, as the ‘Maha Derby’, traditionally held between old foes Mumbai FC and Pune FC, will flare up with both teams seeking to further their cause amongst the top four of the I-League. The home team’s record against archrivals Pune FC is dismal to say the least as they have won just once against the Red Lizards in their last five meetings. The away team meanwhile, are recovering from a dip in form and will aim to disband all uncertainties as the top of the table awaits, if they record a consecutive derby win.
Mumbai FC, fondly called the Blue and Yellow, have turned the tide and are finally beginning to reign in the top teams after a run that saw them pick-up three wins on the trot. The team sit firmly in sixth, four points behind third placed Pune FC and Khalid Jamil, the coach of the Mumbaikars, will no doubt be licking his lips at this prospect.
He does have a minor issue to deal with, as the suspension of Brazilian hitman Josimar will probably force him to rejig their formation upfront. They will also be missing the services of Jayesh Rane who has been called into the India Under-23 squad. Nidhinlal, Mumbai FC’s custodian, has been in fine form and will certainly retain his spot as the line-up won’t see any significant changes. Allan Dias has been a vital addition at the left back position as Taisuke Matsugae and Mohammed Rafi have been impervious at their respective positions and Jamil will no doubt hope they keep their form going ahead of this vital encounter.
"Josimar is our main striker and will be missed. These kinds of situations arise and we have to take it in our stride. During the break we tried out our reserve strikers and either Milagres Gonsalves or Cletus Paul will replace Josimar. I am sure they will deliver against Pune, who have good quality foreign and Indian players," said Jamil.
The former India international Jamil will know his team can extend their unbeaten streak not just at home but overall in the league and he’ll be desperate for his team to put their streak of bad luck against their cherished rivals in the rear view mirror as three points will be on offer.
It’s into this encounter that coach Karim Bencherifa leads his Red Lizards, with impetuous set on snatching pole position in the I-League table. Anthony D’Souza’s season ending injury will plague Bencherifa’s thoughts though the Moroccan has claimed that he is integrating the U-19 players in to the main squad with positive results.
"Mumbai FC plays with a style as per their strength and they really get the best out of it. That’s why it is not an easy team to play against," he noted.
On the team news front, Pune FC will be missing a host of players. While first choice keeper Amrinder Singh, midfielder Nikhil Kadam and striker Thongkhosiem Haokip are at the Under-23 national camp in Goa, winger Anthony D’Souza misses out after suffering an ankle injury on senior national duty and will be joined on the sidelines by playmaker Ryuji Sueoka.
Sunday will provide Mumbai FC the opportune moment to add a modicum of sparkle to their dismal record against Pune, while being cautious of the fact that the Reds from Pune are the ones who are capable of pulling a rabbit out of the hat on their day. Bencherifa will on the other hand have a raw and hungry squad set-up for exploiting the Mumbai weaknesses he may have noted.
It’ll be noteworthy to see the contrasting style of play have their desired effects as Mumbai’s physical and all-out tactics will be countered by Pune’s smooth and efficient passing nurtured extempore. Fireworks await as kick-off is expected from the Cooperage at 7 PM IST.