Want to be a team that is tough to beat: Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic

ATK Mohun Bagan may have lost their opening game of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season, but Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic feels that result won’t affect the Mariners when the two sides clash at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Sunday.

The Tuskers began their campaign with a resounding win against East Bengal FC and will be hoping to do more the same once again in Kochi, against a side that they have not managed to beat in their Hero ISL history. The Serbian called for his team to be on top of their game against the visitors and was well aware of the threat they possessed.

Read: ATK Mohun Bagan face the Kerala Blasters challenge amidst the sold out sea of yellow

Vukomanovic, who attended the pre-match press conference alongside Harmanjot Khabra, spoke about the upcoming challenge against ATKMB, the foreign players in the team, and a lot more.

Here are the excerpts from Vukomanovic's press conference:

Was it a deliberate thought to use Ivan Kaliuzhnyi as a super-sub against East Bengal FC?

Not only him, we witnessed this last year about it since I arrived in India in the Hero ISL. Many times we witness that foreign players come to India thinking that it can be easy playing in the Hero ISL. With Ivan who just arrived, we wanted to take it step by step, and help him adapt to a new environment, a new community, a new system, a new team and new teammates. This is the gradual process that you take step by step and in that first game, we decided that he will be starting from the bench. He is still young and has great qualities to turn the game, to change the rhythm, to help other players play better. So we were happy to have him on the bench and he showed the quality he possesses with those two goals. We are happy with his performance and we hope that he can continue like that in the future.

Will you continue to use Ivan as a super-sub in the upcoming games?

I don't see anybody who is guaranteed a place in the starting eleven or as super sub. The good thing for us is that everybody is available, everybody is in a good shape and everybody is ready to participate. You always take into consideration many details against who you are playing, if you're playing home or away, and what your approach will be. So these kinds of things are there for us to decide. Of course, they will all participate and they're all available. So we will see to fix something nice.

How do you view the challenge against ATK Mohun Bagan and how different will it be from the one against East Bengal FC?

It will be different in many ways. There will be many differences because again, we are playing at home. We are always concerned about how we need to play and the things we want to show and achieve on the pitch. We are playing against one of the best teams in the league. Speaking budget-wise and the amount of national team players in their side, they have some quality players on individual basis and on the collective side, they're a stronger unit.

If you want to achieve something positive against this kind of team, you have to be on top of your game. You have to be ready to defend, you have to be very crucial and clinical in attacking moments. So all these factors must fit when you play these kinds of games in order to achieve positive results. We are aware that we are facing one of the biggest title contenders this Hero ISL season because they're always going for that. We know who we are and we are playing again at home. We will try to do something good with our force on Sunday.

Are you satisfied with the performance of Dimitrios Diamantakos and Apostolos Giannou?

We are very satisfied with all the foreign players who have arrived this season. They all fit perfectly well with their profiles. Again, many foreign players when they arrived, they needed to adapt. They needed to explore and feel everything what's happening around them. You have to adapt and accept your team, your teammates, the way we work here, the way we live here, the community, the environment. And then, step by step you fit into that big puzzle. Were very happy with the way they played against East Bengal FC. They contributed to the last victory. It was not easy for anybody.

Speaking about players who were with us last season, many of them experienced playing on this pitch for the very first time in their life - (Adrian) Luna, (Marko) Leskovic, and the domestic players too. Hormipam (Ruivah) and (Prabhsukhan Singh) Gill, these players played on this ground for the very first time due to Covid, it's been a while that we have been playing without fans.

It was kind of searching for each other in the first period of the first half. The moment you get used to your home ground and atmosphere, things can become better. And it counts for both domestic and foreign players. Absolutely, we are happy with our new foreign players. They are good human beings. That's the thing we want to have in our team (first), and later on, you can fit into system and you can improve. Let's hope that they will take it step by step and they will show why they are here.

Defensively, how much work needs to be done in the upcoming game?

Against ATK Mohun Bagan, we will have a lot of work, defensively. If you speak about tactics, if you speak about any third of the pitch, we will have to know how to defend at any moment. If it's set-pieces or if it's in a lower block. Football is a never-ending job and a never-ending story. Every time you want to correct and improve things. Then again, depending if you're playing against stronger or weaker opponents.

We must never be casual. We must never be relaxed because we know if we are good enough defensively, concentrated and focused, we can be a team that is tough to beat. That's what we want to look like. On a daily basis we are practising things, we are repeating certain things with regards to how we want to stay on the pitch, how we want to defend, which parts of the pitch we want to dominate. We cannot say by percentage, but we have to be aware and defensively very strong in order to get a positive result.

Are there any injury concerns for your side?

Not for the moment. Everybody is available. Our young player Ayush (Adhikari), had a slight discomfort a couple of days ago, but the scans revealed nothing serious. If he is about to miss the game, we will check with the medical staff but overall, nothing serious. We don't have any serious injuries so far.

You may have seen ATK Mohun Bagan's performance against Chennaiyin FC. How do you rate them as an opponent?

We have to go back and talk about last season. There were many teams last season who started on an excellent note and there were a couple of them. They were being praised all around, yet they didn't end up in the playoffs. We were the team who did not start in a good way. We achieved our first victory in the fourth game against Odisha FC, yet we arrived at the finals. The beauty of this league is that these first couple of games does not give you any guarantee that you will have a good season whatsoever. The big teams are always the most dangerous when they are wounded and when they are not in a good rhythm. So these (ATK Mohun Bagan) players are still good players. Even though they lost the last game or in the Durand Cup or in the AFC (Cup), it doesn't matter. They have a good coach and they have qualities to beat anybody they want. This is the beauty of this league that anybody can beat anybody which is why the Hero ISL is nice. I think that this defeat won't affect them a lot. They know why they're coming to Kochi and they know what they want to do. So we have to be aware of that and we have to be prepared.

Here are the excerpts from Khabra's press conference:

It's a crucial match against ATK Mohun Bagan. What are your expectations?

It's the same as the way we started against East Bengal FC. The most important is that we have won our opening match, especially at home, so the coach has told us to be relaxed. It's always difficult to perform the same way (every game), the mentality has to be there, and the attitude has to be right. We were a bit unfocused towards the end (against East Bengal FC) as we conceded at the last moment. As a defender you know when you have not kept a clean sheet, you have lost somewhere due to your concentration and we need to be more careful. They (ATK Mohun Bagan) have a good team and they have strong players, so we have to come up with the right mentality as we have started from the last game.

You will be up against Ashique Kuruniyan. Do you have any specific plans for him?

We don't need to make things more complicated as we are facing ATK Mohun Bagan. As a player these kinds of things are not important. The most important thing is that you have to do the job for the team and fulfil the responsibility the coach has given us to do. Hopefully, I will keep doing that and against whoever is going to play. Ashique is a good player. We have been together in our former club (Bengaluru FC), but it is a game against ATK Mohun Bagan and hopefully, I will give my best.

All tickets are sold out for the game against ATK Mohun Bagan. What do you expect from the fans?

As players, we are very blessed. We have got great fans and a community. It's easy for any youngster to get motivated. Even if you're not very well prepared, they make you prepare for the game from what I have experienced the first time in the stadium as a KBFC player. There's no word to express the way they chant. It makes us give more than 100% and that is very important. Everybody has to be focused and keep things very simple.

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