Imbalanced Pune pay for poor start
How the season panned out
Before the 2016 season began, FC Pune City were expected to be one of the dark horses for the championship. At worst, it was expected that they would correct the anomaly of never having qualified for the playoffs in the first season, a surprise given they have always had a balanced squad heading into the league.
This year, they were expected to do especially well with Antonio Habas in charge. Habas' campaign was thrown into a little bit of turmoil even before a ball was kicked, as designated marquee Eidur Gudjohnsen and Cameroon-born defender Andre Bikey both had to withdraw from the tournament through injuries in pre-season. Habas was unable to join the team for the first four games, carrying over a suspension from the previous season with Atletico de Kolkata.
Pune began with a home defeat to Mumbai City FC, and then went on to beat FC Goa in an exciting away win. They then went on a five-match winless streak, before picking themselves up with successive wins against Kolkata and then away to Mumbai.
They revived their playoff hopes with a pulsating 4-3 win over Delhi Dynamos, but then lost successive matches away to NorthEast United and Kerala Blasters, teams that were directly competing with them for a spot in the last four, before rounding off the season with a 0-0 draw against Kolkata.
Pune were organised well defensively, but suffered from an imbalance in their squad, as the absence of goal-poachers to support top scorer Anibal Zurdo might suggest. Habas also showed very little faith in Eugeneson Lyngdoh, who returned from Bengaluru FC duty to score the winner against Mumbai City FC, but saw just 170 minutes of action when his team still had six matches to play.
They were a tad unlucky as well, losing three matches at home and all by 1-0 margins.
Mohamed Sissoko was drafted in as the Pune marquee at the last minute, and was named as Gudjohnsen's replacement at such a late hour that he missed the team's first match of the season, a crucial Maharashtra derby against Mumbai at home.
The Malian would then fit seamlessly into the Pune side, and played virtually every minute of every game since then. With two goals to add to his industry in the centre of midfield, Sissoko did everything that could possibly be asked of a marquee player, throwing himself enthusiastically into both attack and defence.
Most disappointing player
Pune's biggest problem in the 2016 season was finding goals, and they often turned to Dramane Traore for the same. Operating as a lone striker in several matches, Traore was often guilty of straying into off-side positions and rarely managed shots on target in the games where he started. It was an unexpectedly poor output for someone who won the golden boot with Polis DRM in the Malaysian Super League last year, for whom he scored 19 league goals.
Most memorable match
A major problem for Pune this year was their poor home form, a direct contrast to the 2015 season when they were unbeaten in all but one of their games at the Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex under David Platt.
The only team to have beaten them last year, Delhi, seemed on course for an encore with Kean Lewis scoring a landmark 400th ISL goal to give the visitors the lead going into half-time. Pune struck back with three quick goals within 18 minutes of the restart, two coming from Anibal and one from Sissoko. Delhi were able to score two late goals, sandwiched between a good finish from Lenny Rodrigues, as Pune ran out 4-3 winners in one of the highest-scoring games in ISL history.
5/10. Hard to fault Pune City on intent right through the season, but they paid the price for an indifferent start and lack of incisiveness in attack. One could have some sympathy for the narrow margins of defeat -- Chennaiyin were the only team to beat them by a margin of two goals - but Habas was unable to identify his best eleven right up to the last match.