NorthEast United FC head coach Vincenzo Annese called on his team to improve their away record as the Highlanders gear up to face Kerala Blasters FC in the latest fixture of Hero Indian Super League (ISL) at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Kochi, on Sunday.

NorthEast United FC return to action after a break of 10 days following a 4-0 defeat to Mumbai City FC away from home. The Highlanders will be desperate to claim their first away victory of the season.

Kerala Blasters FC won convincingly with a scoreline of 3-0 in the reverse fixture and Annese's men will aim to deny the opportunity to the Blasters to do the double over them. Annese shed light on how Kerala Blasters FC is a strong opponent, but urged his players to give their best from the first to the last minute.

"The mood is always positive for the new game because we've had enough time to rest and prepare for the game. We know the way they play, and we will change something for sure because Kerala Blasters FC is a team that's always amongst the top teams and a very competitive team. It's always hard to play them, especially at their home. We have prepared very well. We respect one of the most important clubs in India and they have the best support in the country. We try to think positively and we will change a few things as we have a new player in our midfield (Joseba Beitia). We hope we can perform better away from home. We will try to play our style from the first minute to the final whistle," Annese said in the official pre-match press conference.

The Highlanders have looked like a different team under the Annese, claiming the first victory and first points of the season under the Italian. Annese expressed his opinions on how he feels about the change in the club since his arrival and ending the league on a high.

"We are thinking about Kerala Blasters FC at the moment because it's going to be a tough fixture. Step-by-step we have other games and for sure, I would like to get the maximum points in the rest of the five matches because if you perform better than you can get a chance next season to be with the team. I love to enjoy here. I think I've made a positive change and I hope I can do better with the team. I learn game by game because I'm the first to criticise myself and I know that I can do better," Annese added.

NorthEast United FC would be without their captain and talisman, Wilmar Jordan Gil after the Colombian was sent off against Mumbai City FC in the last league fixture. Annese mentioned how the absence of Gil is going to hurt the team and how he expects other players to step up in his absence.

"It's going to be hard. It was hard in the second half against Mumbai City FC without him (Wilmar Gil). It's about psychology, without our captain it's going to be for us but we don't have any excuses. We have other players like Rochharzela and Romain (Philippoteaux) and I hope our Indian and foreign players coordinate well. I would love to perform better in our away games as we've been good in our home games. The games against FC Goa, Bengaluru FC and ATK Mohun Bagan were an example that we are a team now, but we need to start performing in away matches and improve. It starts with the mentality," he stated.

Win against Kerala Blasters FC will be a good motivation for the team: Bhattacharja 

Head coach Annese was accompanied by goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya in the pre-match press conference. The veteran goalkeeper has made five appearances in the league this season and talked about how a positive result can provide a motivation boost for the team.

"Obviously it's never easy when your captain is missing a very important game. Luckily for us, we got 10 days to prepare and we have prepared really well. We have (Joseba) Beitia who has played in the Hero I-League, who knows the league (Hero ISL) very well, he's been in India for a long time. I think Beitia is there to help us and obviously, it's a motivation for us that we are playing in Kerala against such a huge crowd. If we can pull off a good result then it'll be a good motivation for our team going forward so we're looking forward to it," Bhattacharya stated.

The NorthEast United FC goalkeeper hasn't managed to earn a place in the starting eleven under Annese, but his experience and know-how of the Hero ISL would help the young goalkeepers in the squad. Bhattacharja extended his belief in the team and highlighted how the mood of the team has changed and the players are feeling positive.

"Obviously, of course, we can because the mood has changed, the players are feeling positive and we know how good it feels when you win a game. As we've done against ATK Mohun Bagan in Kolkata, so we're looking forward to doing that in Kerala. It's not going to be an easy game but we've prepared very well. If we can do our things right and play tactically how the coach has asked us to, I think we can pull off a good result and it's going to be one of the biggest wins of the season," Bhattacharya concluded.