Need to have a different mentality to play in the Hero ISL: BFC’s Simon Grayson

Bengaluru FC head coach Simon Grayson is pleased with the way his team has performed so far in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23, but believes his side are still finding the right balance between being defensively solid and being more creative. The Blues take on Odisha FC in matchweek 4 of the Hero ISL at the Kalinga Stadium, in Bhubaneswar, on Thursday.

Grayson's side have accumulated four points from three games so far this season. The Blues opened their campaign with a win against NorthEast United FC. They were held by Chennaiyin FC in their next game and then went down to Hyderabad FC.

Grayson, who attended the pre-match press conference alongside Bengaluru FC goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, spoke about his side’s performances this season, his views on Odisha FC, and much more.

Here are the excerpts from Grayson’s press conference:

What is your assessment of the way the team has performed so far?

I think we are doing okay, but okay isn't going to be good enough in the long term to reach where we want to get to. When we looked at the preseason games and training sessions, we were really pleased where we're going but it's a different competition in the league. You've got stronger teams, you've got tempo, you've got the crowds in. From my perspective, when you look at the overall picture, I think defensively we look really solid. We've limited the three teams (we have faced) to very few opportunities, even against Hyderabad FC on Saturday night. We didn’t have many saves to make. The shots from outside the box were going over. So that was pleasing.

Where we need to improve is probably possession of the ball and creating more chances. And that's a learning curve. It's a learning curve for me. I'm still in the early stages of learning about the Hero ISL, about my players, and different environments. As I mentioned before, it's different playing in the Durand Cup compared to the Hero ISL. You have to have a different mentality. I'm still learning about many things. Hopefully, I'll keep improving. I'll learn from previous games, and we can then get the right balance between being defensively very strong, and being more creative with more chances, more shots on target because that's how I want to play. We've got players in the team that can do that, but I think overall we probably have not got the balance right at what we're doing at this moment in time.

Any update on Roy Krishna’s availability?

I'll give you a secret, he will be available for Thursday. We have suffered over the last few weeks due to injuries. And again, there'll be some players that won't be available. But some will be and Roy too. He missed the game on the weekend, but will be available. As I said, we've had key players that have been missing. Prince (Ibara) has been missing our pre-season and missed most of this season so far. He is a big player for us. And again, he's been affected by an injury that is still not quite right. Some of the players won’t be available and it is hard for the players to come into the squad and perform as well.

You have mentioned about keeping possession of the ball and creating more chances. How important is Javi Hernandez in that aspect?

The reason why Javi didn't start the season was because he missed probably three to four weeks of preseason and he only trained going into the game against NorthEast United FC and probably for four or five days with the team. It was far too much of a risk. He missed so much game time that we couldn't afford to play him. You saw him come off the bench (against NorthEast United FC and Chennaiyin FC) and then start against Hyderabad. Javi is one of them players that can affect the game in many different ways, and the more time that he's in the team, I think he will be a better player. But the first three games have been out of my control because his fitness hasn't been great in terms of the injury that he picked up in the Durand Cup.

You’re facing Odisha FC, a side you faced in the Durand Cup. How different is the challenge this time and what are you expecting from them?

All the games in the Durand Cup were there for us all to see. Fitness levels, different formations is a way of getting to know about opposition, But really, I've learned more about Odisha FC in the last two to three games that they have played this season. So I've learned more from that, because the Durand Cup was a pre-season tournament, but this is where it matters, as I mentioned. We picked up a lot of things and one thing that we picked up from the Durand Cup is that they are a good team. They've got some good players. The coach has transformed them and from last year, they have some threats. But again, we are very respectful of them. What we need to do is make sure that we limit them to few opportunities. But like any team, they'll have some weaknesses that we need to exploit with the players that we have in our team.

How do you look at the away games that BFC have played so far?

It's not easy. Even though the flights have only been what 45-60 minutes long and going to Odisha is going to be a lot longer but it's never easy. Because before you know it, you've sort of played one game, you're doing a recovery session, you're on a flight home, you have the next day either in training or you're off. And then to do a couple of days training and get back on a flight, it's been a bit like Groundhog Day. But it's never easy. We'd love to have another home game in this period because of being back here with our own supporters after the first win of the season. But you got to deal with it and we move on. And once we get this out there, then we come back for a week in Bengaluru when we play against East Bengal FC. But we can't wait to get back here, but we want to go and win regardless if we are playing at home or away. That's been our mentality of what we need to try and do. Going back to the game against Hyderabad FC, we were in the game for large parts and we could have taken a point on Saturday away from home against one of the best teams in the league.

What have you made of Sivasakthi’s performances so far?

I think it typifies a young player. They do some good things, and then he does some things that he still needs to improve on. He was an unknown player going into the Durand Cup and all of a sudden, the focus came on to him and he's done well in the game against NorthEast United FC. So there have been glimpses in all the games where he could have scored goals. He's like any forward you have to improve your all-round game. You can't just be reliant on scoring goals, or running using your pace. You want to make sure that you can link-up play and add other qualities to your game. If you do that, and you've got a natural goal-scoring ability, and with the pace that he's got, he could be a top striker. But he's still got to work hard and we'll be working with him to help him improve. That's part of our job to develop all the players.

Here are the excerpts from Gurpreet’s press conference:

What do you make of your performance so far this season and what are the areas that you can improve on?

I think it's been pretty good so far. If you look at the number of goals that we've conceded it's been good. We've been solid defensively and it's all thanks to the four or five players in front of me who have been putting their body on the line and trying to prevent shots at goal which makes my life easier. So I think it has been good. Obviously, I could do much, much better when you see the last game in that moment that I had (when Hyderabad FC scored). But other than that, I have been very happy with myself and my team's performance defensively and hopefully we can continue this and have consistency for the whole season.

You have played in different formations. With BFC playing three at the back and Sandesh coming in, what is the combination like between you and the defensive line?

Very good. Having Sandesh in the backline, it has been very helpful. We've played maybe 40-50 games together and to have him there, it's much easier for me to pass my advice or some communication in the game. He can do that when he has to communicate with the people in front. So it's been a good balance having communication with him and also sorting everyone out. Especially when we had Roshan and Prabir, who is an experienced player as well. They know how I operate. We will talk and I will tell them what to do rather than myself having a shot to save. So it's important to have that balance which I’m grateful for.

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