East Bengal FC head coach Carles Cuadrat is gearing up for a tough challenge as his team is poised to face Jamshedpur FC in Matchweek 16 of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 season at the JRD Tata Sports Complex in Jamshedpur on Thursday.

The Red and Gold Brigade are currently vying for a playoff spot, having accumulated 15 points from 14 games. Meanwhile, Jamshedpur FC occupy the seventh place, one place above East Bengal FC, with 17 points from two 16 matches.

Cuadrat’s men secured their first win since the restart of the league season against Hyderabad FC. However, leading up to that victory, the Kolkata-based side dropped eight points, with a draw against Mohun Bagan SG and consecutive defeats against NorthEast United FC and Mumbai City FC following their Kalinga Super Cup 2024 success last month.

The head coach acknowledged that it has been a challenging period for his team but maintains belief that they have been playing good football.

“We know that all games are going to be difficult. They (Jamshedpur FC) are a very difficult team to play at this moment. They have a high intensity in the way they play the game, and it's going to be very demanding from our players,” stated Cuadrat in the pre-match press conference.

He added, “But as far as I think, we have been getting nice games of football when we have been playing against them, so I am expecting the same. Some nice football and a lot of nice moments during the game.”

The two teams last clashed in the Super Cup semi-final, where the Men of Steel endured a 2-0 loss against East Bengal FC, with Hijazi Maher and Javier Siverio (now in Jamshedpur FC) finding the back of the net. However, since then, the Khalid Jamil-coached team has maintained an unbeaten record, securing two remarkable victories against Mumbai City FC and Punjab FC.

The Spanish tactician acknowledged the upcoming fixture as a challenge.

He said, “It is a challenge. We know that they are fighting for the playoffs like we are fighting, and we know that we are the last team that have beaten Jamshedpur FC.”

“It's going to be difficult. But we will try to repeat the victory,” Cuadrat added. 

With Jose Antonio Pardo suffering from a long-term injury sustained during their 3-2 loss against NorthEast United FC, East Bengal FC wasted no time in securing his replacement, bringing in Serbian defender Aleksandar Pantic.

On being asked about his availability for their fixture against Jamshedpur FC, Cuadrat replied, “Yes.”

The Red and Gold Brigade have never won two consecutive games in the ISL. With this challenge in mind, the 55-year-old expects his team to fight for this important victory.

We know that all the games now are very important, so we will work for that. We also know that it has never happened before in East Bengal FC history in the Indian Super League that the team has been winning two games in a row. It never happened. So we know that it's a challenge, but I see the players are very focused and they know the work that we are doing and I think that they will fight for the victory,” he shared.

Youngster Sayan Banerjee was given his chance in the senior team during the Super Cup, where he showcased his spark and played a crucial role in helping his team lift their first trophy in 12 years. As a result, he has earned a place in the ISL squad as well.

Happy with how Banerjee and the other younger players are performing, Caudrat stated, “I'm very happy with their improvement. But of course, we have to support them because it's not easy. And we are in the middle of the action and things can happen.”

He continued, “You have to see the situation and you have to protect the young players because they don't have the maturity to understand a lot of things that happen in a football game and in the football industry in general. So just to finish, he (Sayan Banerjee) is doing a very good job and supporting him a lot.”

The latest signing Pantic accompanied Cuadrat to the press conference. The Serbian centre-back could make his debut for the Red and Gold Brigade against Jamshedpur FC. 

Sharing his thoughts on the probable debut, Pantic said, “I had some difficult trips, but it's okay. I'm already here. Two, or three days, and everyone has come with me here to be ready for the game. And, I speak a lot with the coach, with the players, and I think I have prepared myself for tomorrow, and I hope it will be okay.”

The defender, who has plied his trade across several clubs in Europe, is ready for a new challenge in the ISL.

“It's something new for me, a new challenge and experience,” stated Pantic.

Looking forward to helping his team build something better, the 31-year-old added, “I think that is a very good solution for me to come here, to present myself, to help. And I hope we can make something together.”

Cuadrat concluded the press conference by reassuring the fans that he is taking the final stage of the ISL 2023-24 season very seriously and is aware of the importance of each game.

“Every game is a final (for us). You have to fight for the bonus. That's clear,” he wrapped up.