Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic acknowledges that his team is about to face one of the league's best teams as they take on Odisha FC in Matchweek 13 of the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Friday.

Despite failing to qualify for the Kalinga Super Cup knockout stages, Vukomanovic's side is eager to resume the second half of the ISL from where they left off before the break. The Blasters secured 26 points in 12 matches, positioning them in the second spot, just one point behind league leaders FC Goa.

Vukomanovic encourages his players to demonstrate their determination in the remaining league games to secure their position at the top of the table.

“After January, the long break, we are returning to the ISL. In the ten remaining matches, we have to be strong and powerful if we want to compete and stay high at the table,” Vukomanovic said in the pre-match press conference.

The Serbian head coach commends Odisha FC for their consistent performance, acknowledging that the Kalinga Warriors stand among the best teams in the league.

He also discusses their Super Cup campaign, where they were eliminated in the group stage.

“Knowing the fact that we are facing one of the best teams in the league, who is in very good shape and well-balanced, it’s the only team I’d say in the last period who were playing with consistency with the full squad,” he opined.

“Kalinga Super Cup was not meant for us at a time when we were missing many players due to injury and some players going to the national team,” Vukomanovic added.

Kerala Blasters FC have recalled Justine Emmanuel from loan to replace injured Kwame Peprah, while Lithuanian national team captain Fedor Cernych has joined the Blasters as a replacement for the injured Adrian Luna.

Vukomanovic shared insights into his latest recruits and discussed their potential inclusion in the upcoming matches for the Blasters.

“Justine Emmanuel knows us, and he was with us during the pre-season. He arrived in the summer and was with us in Dubai as well. Then he went on loan to Gokulam Kerala FC to get some playing time. Now he’s back because, for us, it was the easiest way to replace injured Kwamie Peprah. He just arrived last week and is getting in shape. We did some tests to see that everything was right with him. It’s about the process of how we implement him in our game,” he said.

“We signed Fedor Cernych at the start of the transfer window, who also arrived last week. He’s a great professional and the captain of one European national team. He’s a quality player, a great personality, and a hard-working player. Of course, it’s not easy for European players to come to India and adapt to everything. Every day he is getting better, and he will get playing time in the coming days,” he continued.

Vukomanovic also confirmed that defensive midfielder Jeakson Singh could feature in the game. Singh had been sidelined since October due to a shoulder injury and also missed out on the AFC Asian Cup.

“Jeakson is with the team,” he mentioned.

“He missed the Asian Cup because of his shoulder injury that happened in October. He is ready for the game, and we might see him in tomorrow’s game,” Vukomanovic added.

Danish Farooq accompanied his head coach to the press conference and expressed hope that his team would perform well in their next game against Odisha FC. He emphasized the significance of each match in the context of the ISL League Shield.

“This game is very important. But not only this game, every game that is left to play is very important for us regarding the league shield,” he said.

“We have to play as a team and fight for every game. This game is very important as this will be the first game after the gap, so I hope we’ll play well in this match,” Farooq concluded.