Cuadrat: ‘Defending title’ not our focus, being competitive is

Bengaluru FC will begin their Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) title defence with a home tie against NorthEast United FC at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Monday. The last time the two sides met at the same venue was in the second leg of the semi-finals last season, with the Blues emerging 3-0 victors on the night before eventually going on to seal the crown. Sunil Chhetri and Co. will be eyeing a similar sort of result when they step onto the field for their first match of the 2019-20 term.

Ahead of the fixture, head coach, Carles Cuadrat and new signings, Raphael Augusto, Ashique Kuruniyan and Eugeneson Lyngdoh attended the pre-match press conference. Cuadrat was the first to speak, sharing his thoughts about the new roadmap for Indian football proposing the Hero ISL be named at the top league in the country. He said, “I’m very glad because, in my opinion, the Hero ISL is adding more quality and raising the standards. It is making the players more competitive. All the national team players are coming from the Hero ISL. A new era is coming. I think the Hero ISL is doing a great job to improve football in this country. It is something that is going to be good for football in India."

The Spaniard, then, dismissed the idea of ‘defending the title' and said that the focus will solely be on being competitive in the coming season. "I think ‘defending the title’ is an English expression. We don’t do such things in Spain. It’s just one more team competing to get the trophy."

"I never tell my players to defend the title. I always tell them that you have to be competitive, we have to try to reach the semis. Once you are in the semis, you may have a bad game and get knocked out, it happens. So, it’s not our job to defend the title. We are not thinking about that. We are thinking about being competitive, and trying to reach the semis," he added.

When asked his opinion about the Highlanders squad and how exactly they could trouble his side, Cuadrat said, "NorthEast are a completely different team now. They also have a different head coach. I am expecting a lot of competition because all the teams will start with focus and will be anxious and eager. I think it is going to be a tough game for us. I hope that the supporters in the Kanteerva will help us, and I hope that we can start with a nice game for them. We are working on that. It is very difficult to make a prediction when you have never seen the other team play. So, we have no idea what NorthEast are going to offer against us."

Talking about the club's pre-season, 50-year-old said, “Pre-season is to try things out, to work on different aspects that you want to work in the season. Also, to try new players to get them settled. For us, we do a lot of different drills, we try to work on the physical conditioning, and at the same time, work on getting the team ready for the competition,” he said.

One of the new players, Augusto, meanwhile, addressed his move to the Blues from rivals Chennaiyin and said, “It was an interesting challenge (moving to Bengaluru) for me at this moment of my career. I was achieving great things with Chennaiyin but always paid attention to Bengaluru because of the style of play and the players they had. I am really optimistic about this new step in my career and I want to leave my mark at Bengaluru FC."

On how he has been acclimatising with the team, Ashique said, “It’s been an exciting few months adapting to a new system and new players and I'm really looking forward to Monday. I can't wait to meet the fans.”

This season will also mark the return of Eugeneson Lyngdoh - a former fan-favourite at Bengaluru, who was with ATK for the last two seasons. The veteran midfielder, who missed significant chunks of the last few seasons due to injuries, revealed that he has been working hard and will look to challenge for a starting spot in the team. "It’s been a tough road back, gaining full fitness. Playing alongside good midfielders like Raphael, Dimas (Delgado) and Erik (Paartalu) will be great. Each of them has their own attributes, and I have my own attributes. We are all trying to give the best we can give. It’s a tough selection for the coach, which I think is good. Every day, I keep learning. My motivation is to play and be available for selection," Eugeneson stated.

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