Bengaluru FC head coach Gerard Zaragoza feels the fierce competition for the final playoff spot is good for the Indian Super League (ISL) as the Blues prepare to face East Bengal FC at the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata on Sunday. 

Bengaluru FC are eighth in the table and face a virtual knockout match against East Bengal FC in the race for the playoffs that also includes Chennaiyin FC and NorthEast United FC. 

The Spaniard who took over the Blues' reigns from Simon Grayson mid-season felt it was a positive development for Indian football.

“It's important that all teams fight for something,” Zaragoza said during the pre-match press conference. 

“Since I arrived in December, I know that five playoff spots are already booked. To fight six teams at the time for one position is not easy. We have done well and so have the other teams and that's good for the competition,” he added. 

Bengaluru FC are dependent on other results to have a chance to qualify for the playoffs but with the other teams yet to play each other, the Blues could sneak into the playoffs if they win their remaining games. 

“The mood is positive. We are training in very good conditions. For it's like a playoff game. If we win, we continue, if we lose, our chances are probably over. But we are ready and that's most important,” Zaragoza said. 

“The plan is to attack and score goals. The plan is to try to keep another clean sheet. Also, we need to be proactive and take the three points home,” he added. 

Failure to win in Kolkata means that the former ISL Cup winners will go the entire season without an away victory. Zaragoza feels that’s a motivating factor for his team that always wants to win irrespective of the situation. 

“Sometimes in football these kinds of things happen and you don't know exactly why. In three out of the five away games that we played under me, we were leading and also controlling the game. But small details matter. We don't want to finish this season without a win away from home and this will be our objective on Sunday,” he said. 

“The players are too competitive. They want to win not just to be in the playoffs. I have never seen them scared. I can see that they want to win. I can see it in their eyes. I expect on Sunday that my warriors will go on the pitch and win the game,” he added. 

The Blues have kept five clean sheets this season and four of those have come under Zaragoza and have conceded just ten goals in as many ISL matches under the Spaniard. Speaking about the improvement in defence, Zaragoza credited the entire team. 

“We are working to be together. Just the defensive line or Gurpreet Singh Sandhu isn't the only one important,” he said. 

“We try to attack all together. For the strikers, it's also important to control the game when we don't have the ball, protect the goalkeeper and concede fewer shots,” he added. 

The East Bengal FC match will also pit Zaragoza against Carles Cuadrat under whom he was assistant at Bengaluru FC when they won the ISL Cup in 2018-19. The Spaniard spoke glowingly of his compatriot but suggested that emotions will take a back seat on Sunday. 

“The relationship is perfect. We are friends. Football is not everything in life. We are friends before we are coaches. We push each other. I wish he wins all the matches that he can but never against us,” he said. 

“Of course, I will fight a lot with him because I want the three points. After the game, for sure, I will give him a big hug. But during the game, I love Bengaluru FC more than him,” he added. 

Matter of time before we end up on the stage we want to be: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu

Bengaluru FC goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu accompanied coach Zaragoza at the pre-match press conference and reiterated the coach’s desire to change their away form this season in their final game on the road. 

“We see this game as an opportunity as we haven't done well in away games. We hope to finish this away game on a high,” Gurpreet said during the pre-match press conference. 

“It's like a final and we need to treat it as one. If we want to take the next step in the league, we need to win away from home,” he added. 

Sandhu hailed the impact the Spaniard has made on the team since joining the team and explained how things have changed for the good. 

“The difference that we have felt is that the boys have become more aggressive in their approach, not just to win possession but also to get back in their positions after losing the ball and affect the play in whichever way possible,” he said. 

“That was something that we missed in the first half of the season and after working with the head coach for numerous trainings, the boys have a better understanding of the game and we are becoming better after every game we play. So, it's a matter of time before we end up on the stage that we want to be at,” he concluded.