Mumbai City FC's head coach, Des Buckingham, is eagerly anticipating their next match at the Mumbai Football Arena, where they will host the newly-promoted Punjab FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) on Thursday.

The defending ISL League winners, Mumbai City FC, have made an impressive start to the 2023-24 ISL season and remain unbeaten after Matchweek 5. They have secured two wins and two draws, placing them among the three teams yet to taste defeat, alongside Mohun Bagan Super Giant and FC Goa.

On the other hand, Punjab FC, recently promoted from the I-League to the ISL, have encountered a challenging start to their ISL journey. Out of their five matches, they've managed two draws but suffered three defeats, still in search of their first victory in the current campaign. They will be determined to pull off an upset against Mumbai City FC and secure their first points of the season.

Assessing Punjab FC's early-season performance, Buckingham believes that it typically takes four or five matches for a team to find their strongest starting lineup and settle into the season. He acknowledged that Punjab FC won't make it easy for Mumbai City FC and anticipates a tough match.

“They've got some good players; they've got a very clear way that they want to try and play, and we need to be ready for that,” Buckingham stated in the pre-match press conference.

In their previous match against Hyderabad FC, Mumbai City FC were poised to secure three points but conceded a late goal in injury time. Buckingham expressed that his players are motivated to prove a point after dropping points in the match, despite putting on a determined performance.

Regarding their preparations for the upcoming clash with Punjab FC, Buckingham emphasised the importance of thorough preparation, both from the players and the coaching staff. 

Buckingham said: “We ask our players to try and prepare as well as they can for the games, and as a staff group, we try and do as much as we can to prepare our teams as well as we can and where we can. It's good to get around and see that, but more to try and prepare as well as we can for what we will face tomorrow (Thursday).”

“We don't know what team we'll face, what team they'll field, or how they'll play, but the one thing that, again, I always talk about is making sure that we are ready. We certainly are. We have everybody fit and available again after a very short turnaround. And I know the players are very eager to get back on the pitch at home, especially after playing for 90 minutes (against Hyderabad FC) with 10 men,” he further added.

Buckingham was pleased with how his players stuck to the game plan against Hyderabad FC despite early setbacks, losing their goalkeeper Phurba Lachenpa to a red card and Abdenasser El Khayati to injury within the first 18 minutes of the match. He commended his team's commitment to their established tactics and solid foundations, even in challenging situations, and their ability to maintain control and structure throughout the game.

“We had two setbacks in the first 15 (minutes, losing Lachenpa and El Khayati), and we spoke about the solid foundations that we have and the players have really bought into and built on over the last two years. And when you have that, when you do get those setbacks, the key thing is that we stick to what we know. And that was so evident in that game, and it was so important because it's a game that, for 90 minutes, we've played with ten men,” he added.

“And again, I said afterward, I can't commend the players enough for the work rate they put in, not only to make sure that we come away from that game with a result, but the way they went about, what they did. It was very controlled, very structured,” he concluded.

Defender Mehtab Singh, who hails from Punjab and has been a regular starter under Buckingham since 2020, accompanied the coach to the press conference. He emphasised the strong bond he shares with Buckingham, having spent over two years with him, and his responsibility as a player to guide and support his teammates while executing the head coach's tactics.

“I spent a good two and a half years with my coach and have a good bond with him,” he said.

"I feel no problem sharing anything with him, and he also addresses our problems very well. After spending four seasons with Mumbai City FC, now it’s my responsibility as a senior player to guide other players, to give my 100% in every match, and to stay focused. Also, I want to execute the coach’s tactics and perform according to his instructions,” he added.

In the upcoming match against Punjab FC, Mumbai City FC will be without Phurba Lachenpa, who is suspended, but they will welcome back defender Rostyn Griffiths after serving a one-game suspension.