Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic expects a tough challenge when they host Hyderabad FC in Matchweek 7 of the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Saturday.

The Blasters are in fine form, especially at home, where they’re unbeaten so far this season with three wins and a draw. They’re sitting second in the league standings and would be eager to carry on the momentum to reach the top of the table. On the other hand, Hyderabad FC are struggling in the bottom half of the table with only three draws from their opening six matches.

However, Vukomanovic doesn’t want to take their opponents lightly, especially considering the trouble and challenges that Hyderabad FC have posed to them in the past couple of seasons. He believes his side needs to be at their best and fully concentrate on their game plan to secure three points from this match.

"In the previous two years, (Hyderabad FC) were one of the most difficult opponents for us and games against them were always the toughest. They are a very good team. They’ve very good individuals. Also, they were our opponent in the finals two years ago. So actually, it doesn't matter now seeing the standings, where we are, where they are, doesn't say anything. In this league, anything's possible,” Vukomanovic said in the pre-match press conference.

"If we plan to get those points (against Hyderabad FC), we must be on top of our possibilities. We need to play at 100%, be aware of their strengths, and concentrate fully to secure the points,” he added.

Kerala Blasters FC will have more defensive strength going into the match with Milos Drincic and Prabir Das returning after serving their three-match suspensions. Additionally, Croatian centre-back Marko Leskovic will also be available after a long absence due to injury.

Vukomanovic is extremely pleased to have these players back for the match, especially having two of his foreign centre-backs available together. He thinks it is a luxury problem to decide who to include in the first XI.

“Well, we are very happy to see that everyone is now available, especially when it comes to, you know, the defensive line, which is a crucial part of our team. It's like the concrete part of any project. Now, with three players coming back—speaking about (Milos) Drincic, Lesko, and Prabir Das—all of them are available for us. It's a bit of a luxury problem deciding who to put in the starting 11,” Vukomanovic averred.

However, Kerala Blasters FC will be without their Greek forward, Dimitri Diamantakos, who received his marching orders against East Bengal FC. His second yellow card was shown for pulling off his shirt during the celebration.

“Dimi had two really stupid yellow cards. So he will have to pay for team building and a nice dinner for everybody. That's his punishment. But anyway, I understand as well, he was very happy and pleased at that moment because not long ago, his first son was born, and it was dedicated to him. But in the moment, he did that when he saw my face on the bench, he realized immediately, and of course, he apologized,” he said.

Vukomanovic reiterated that the current standings of the teams will not have much impact on the match. He further emphasized focusing on their own game plan.

“If you start thinking how your opponent will feel or if you start thinking about maybe the situation your opponent is now in, then you are in trouble. So we have to be focused on the things that we want to do. And of course, face the opponent at the momentum where we are both, but they're a good team," the Serbian commented.

Japanese footballer Daisuke Sakai joined Vukomanovic in the pre-match press conference. The 26-year-old has showcased an impressive performance for the Blasters with his skilful link-up play and movement in and around the box.

Sakai has already scored one goal and provided an assist, and he is keen to build on his contributions in the upcoming matches.

Reflecting on his performance thus far, he mentioned, “Yes, I’m happy (with my performance). But I want to score more goals and provide more assists to (help) my team."