Playoffs is still our target: Chennaiyin FC head coach Thomas Brdaric
Chennaiyin FC head coach Thomas Brdaric is hopeful of his side making an entry into the playoffs as his side takes on southern rivals Kerala Blasters FC in Matchweek 19 of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Kochi, on Tuesday.
When the two teams last met in Kochi, in the 2019-20 campaign, Chennaiyin FC came out as winners in a 6-3 high scoring match, but this time, tides have changed. Except Anirudh Thapa and Edwin Sydney Vanspaul, all the other players will be having their first outing in Kochi, where the Blasters have had a decent record this season.
With the support of the home fans, the Blasters have won six out of the eight matches they have played so far. Brdaric is looking forward to play against the Yellow Army but cautioned that they had to work hard to get their desired result.
"I'm very excited to play tomorrow in this stadium. Ivan (Vukomanović) already told me that it's something special, that I can't address the player or give them instructions during the game (due to the atmosphere and noise) so, I have to work in really good detail before the game. We should enjoy the atmosphere on one hand and also work hard to make good decisions," Brdaric said in the pre-match press conference.
Chennaiyin FC are currently in the eighth position with just 18 points and are on a seven-match winless streak, with their last win coming against NorthEast United FC in December. The Marina Machans have a slim chance to qualify for the playoffs but it is still a long shot. The German couldn't believe their position on the table but was confident of making the playoffs.
"Sometimes, I can't believe we're in eighth place with the football we're playing in terms of our style, creating chances, scoring, etc. Tuesday's game is another challenge, another opponent. In the upcoming four games, we will try our best to reach that sixth place and playoffs is still our target," he said.
Brdaric and Vukomanović have played against each other as players in the 2000-01 season of the Bundesliga, where the two represented Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Koln, respectively. As head coaches, the two met each other in Chennai in the reverse fixture for the first time in the Hero ISL and shared the spoils. Brdaric talked about his bond with his Kerala Blasters FC counterpart but reiterated his stance of being fully focused on Tuesday's game.
"I'm looking forward to the atmosphere in Kochi on Tuesday. We (Brdaric and Vukomanović) are friends and try to support each other but in those 90 minutes we forget that we are friends and try to beat each other and catch three points," he said.
"It is a special atmosphere to play but we have to switch off the surroundings and be focused on our job. It's also my task to give that setting to players to just be focused on the field and concentrate on our matchplan, to use the atmosphere to our advantage to get the three points," he added.
Abdenasser El Khayati has been one of the standout players for the Marina Machans this season. The midfielder returned from an injury and started the game against Odisha FC, scoring a vital equalizer that earned them a 2-2 draw. El Khayati has played just 437 minutes so far but has eight goals and four assists to his name. Pivotal to his plans, Brdaric explained the 34-year-old's role in the team.
"We need him (El Khayati) as a head, to guide all the players. He is a very important player. We need him in all games. I'm looking forward to that. He is healthy and he can help the team and he's very motivated all the time. I will be proud to have those players in our team and he will help us to push our targets," Brdaric commented.
The two-time Hero ISL champions had forgettable outings in the last two seasons, having collected just 20 points in each season and missing out on the semi-final spots. With a win against Kerala Blasters FC, the Marina Machans can surpass their previous points tally of the last two seasons. Brdaric laid emphasis on how the team is in a rebuilding phase, with the focus on creating a new future for the club.
"We are always motivated because we're a team that's trying to learn this season and to be strong together for the future. We have to keep going. We are building a new CFC for the future, and of course, it's painful, but we have to be mentally very strong, and we're working on that. We will try to inflict a defeat on Kerala Blasters FC and that's why we are here," he concluded.