Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic stated his team need to find a way to pick up results as they face Bengaluru FC in a playoff knockout match in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, in Bengaluru, on Friday.

Having finished fifth in the Hero ISL standings, the Blasters will square of against fourth-placed Bengaluru FC, with a semi-final spot at stake. The winner will go on to face league shield winners Mumbai City FC in a two-legged semi-final. 

The Yellow Army are coming into this fixture after three straight defeats while Bengaluru FC are on a eight-game winning streak, a club record. Vukomanovic will look to turn the tide for the Blasters around by having a gameplan that would help them overcome the Blues in their own own backyard. The KBFC head coach emphasised the importance of playing with a clear plan against the Blues, with an without the ball.

“You always have two things in mind when you are about to play any game; the thing we will do when we have the ball in our possession and when we do not have control of the ball. So, the way we attack and defend in those moments will matter against Bengaluru FC. In the last game against the same opponents, we had a lot of possession, but we lost the game, so it does not mean a lot at the end, and we need to find a way to get the results in knockout games,” Vukomanovic said during the official pre-match press conference.

Bengaluru FC have been unbeaten in 2023 with eight wins in eight games while scoring 19 goals, a run that helped them qualify for the playoffs. The Blasters will have their task cut out, having never beaten Bengaluru FC in their previous four meetings at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, losing three games while drawing one. However, Vukomanovic mentioned he has full faith in his players and believes they can come out with a good result.

“Many teams in the league have had winning runs like the one for Bengaluru FC, every team has momentum once in a season when you are doing well. Anything is possible in the Hero ISL, football is a beautiful game, and we have full belief and faith in the team to get the result. We will do everything to get the qualification. It does not matter what form a team is in because when it comes to the playoffs, it is about one game,” he said.

Kerala Blasters FC are known for identifying and grooming local talent, providing youngsters a chance to platform to grown and develop alongside the experienced players. The Blasters know the importance of having good depth in the squad and a talented pool of young players. Vukomanovic reflected on how significant the young players have been throughout the season for his team.

“When you speak about young players and they become senior players who play for the first team, the chance to play big games helps you grow into the game. When you are a quality player, it does not matter if you are playing in the playoffs or the final, we believe in the ability they possess, so it is up to them to make a mark and start their career. They need to have the knowledge of working hard and becoming an important part of the squad. We are happy with the progress of many young players who are getting the chance. In football, age does not matter when you have the quality, that is how we look at our squad,” Vukomanovic stated.

Kerala Blasters FC went down to Bengaluru FC by a goal during their league clash in February. Roy Krishna's goal proved to be the difference between the two sides in that fixture. Vukomanovic cautioned his players to be more concentrated and perform at the top of their game. 

“We want the players to be more concentrated, not to commit individual mistakes while being focused in the vital moments. We want to attack and defend with discipline, these moments are going to be important, and it will be a tough game where both teams will be careful enough to win the duels. I always say that hopefully the better team wins,” he commented.

Kerala Blasters FC captain Jessel Carneiro accompanied Vukomanovic in the pre-match press conference ahead of the big game against Bengaluru FC.

The left-back has experienced the rivalry and understands the importance of the game against the Blues. He has been an ever-present player in the starting eleven for Vukomanovic, having featured 18 times for the Blasters so far this season. Carneiro expects a tough game against the Blues and also warned his team to work on their defense when they take on the Blues.

“Every time I go on the pitch, I know that we have to do the job that the coach has given us, and it is also important for me to defend first and then go to help the players in attack. Everybody knows how to react at the moment; they are focused for the match on Friday,” Caneiro stated.

“We need to show the fighting spirit along with the quality and our ability on the pitch. The club knows about the rivalry, and from personal experience, I want the players to be smart and careful while playing these kinds of games,” he concluded.