The Kerala Blasters head coach maintains that he has a squad of 25-26 players who all are ready to contribute when asked to.

Ivan Vukomanovic’s Kerala Blasters will look to maintain their impressive form in the Indian Super League (ISL) when they face league leaders Hyderabad FC in a repeat of last season’s ISL final on Saturday, 19 November. The Blasters have won their last two games, including a thrilling win over FC Goa.

Vukomoavic’s plans for the Hyderabad FC game

Ivan Vukomanovic is impressed with his team’s improvement and spoke about how his side aims to defeat the Nawabs after the Goa win. He said: “We were saying before the Goa game that every game in this league is different, every opponent is different. Speaking about the last game, we knew we’ll face a team with the best in possession. They liked to play that kind of style and we wanted to find options to play against them. We wanted to know how to close down their players, and how to close down the players they use the most. We felt that kind of approach can help us win, which happened.

“It was the first time in six years that Kerala Blasters managed to beat Goa, so everyone was really thrilled about that. In tomorrow’s game, we’re facing one of the best in the league. The team and the club are working with consistency in the last three years, with the same coach and kind of approach from the last year. We played them twice in the league phase, we won and lost once and then lost the final on penalties. I expect a physical and tough game with many duels. In this league, anything is possible so tomorrow’s game will be nothing like that. It’ll be a battle between two teams who want to fight and get points to get higher up the table. We want to be ready for anything,” he added.

Settled starting XI after recent wins?

When asked if Ivan Vukomanovic feels he has a settled starting XI now after tinkering with his team all through the campaign, the gaffer said: “I’ll always say that we have a great group of 25-26 players. As a coach that makes me happy because everyone can play. So it doesn’t really hurt if someone is missing a game, as we have others who can fill in seamlessly and do the job. That was the case last year and that is how we train as well, to ensure that whatever happens the boys on the bench can jump in and do the job. We start our season with one idea, but the competition evolves and there are many different games to deal with.

“It doesn’t mean that one player who isn’t starting now is completely out of the way. Of course, we count on everyone and they are here for a reason. As a coach, it makes me happy that whoever we put in will do the job with their 100%. That is the biggest strength of our team. We know we’ll have to fight for every point in this league, and we have enough players who can fill in for anybody, and that is our strength,” he further claimed.

Same plan from Goa match to be used against Hyderabad FC?

Kerala benefitted from sitting back against Goa and troubling them on the break in their last game. Speaking on if his side has similar plans to deal with Hyderabad’s threat, Ivan Vukomanovic said: “Last week I said that if you put any team in this league against Goa, that team will have difficulties. Goa have been mastering their style of football for many years. Our next opponent is a different team with a different mentality and character so the approach must be different. We don’t know if the same approach from the Goa game can be profitable against them.

“Last year, we played with a high-pressing style against Hyderabad and managed to win. In the other game, we didn’t have a fully fit squad and we lost that one, even though we got many chances. In the final, it was a different game with different stakes in it. We explored many different things against Hyderabad last year. Now it’s again different because we’re playing in front of fans in a home and away format. Last year, it was awful without fans because it felt like you are playing in a closed room or something.

“Now it’s different, so we’ll see on Saturday our approach. It depends on how the opponent will allow you to play the game. They are a strong team, they’ve started well and if we want to win against them, we need to be perfect. We need to be perfect on the offensive part, perfect defensively – because they can force you to defend in a low block and trouble with high pressing. Anything is possible, but we need to ensure we have no regret in the game and after the game, we’ll see,” he stated.

Rahul KP’s form for Kerala Blasters

Ivan Vukomanovic also opened up on his role in the improvement of Rahul KP’s form, with the youngster playing really well in the last few games. He said: “Well, I just tell my players to go outside and win (laughs). Speaking about Rahul, he’s someone who missed almost the entirety of the season last year. He was out for three months and we got him back towards the end of the campaign. This season, he’s hungry to show something more and is hungry to succeed. He’s a young guy with the full potential that he wants to explore. When you work with these kinds of boys, you want to let them improve and push on exceeding certain limits.

“Rahul has extra motivation in front of the fans, you don’t even have to motivate players like him. I’m speaking about him, about Sahal or any other local boy from Kerala. For them, it’s a dread coming true. That’s why you want to give everything on the pitch. For me, they’ve adapted well to the new faces of the team. We have a great atmosphere,  these boys laugh together and fight together – which makes me very happy. I want to see them working hard, trying to become better because these players want to be at the top of the league and be a part of the national team as well,” he stated.

Thoughts on Diamantakos’ resurgence

Dimitrios Diamantakos has scored in the last two Kerala Blasters game after having a difficult start to the season. When asked about his thoughts on the striker, Ivan Vukomanovic said: “Awful (laughs). I must admit that I know Dimitri, not personally, but as a player, I know him for more than five years. I remember seeing him play in Greece for Olympiacos. I remember him playing in Germany because I follow the European market closely. When we had the opportunity to get him at Kerala Blasters, we were convinced by the fact that we want to have him.

“We knew that missing some part of pre-season because he arrived in the second part of pre-season in Dubai, and we knew the beginning of the ISL will be difficult for him and Adrian (Luna). But you need to be patient because these boys, they work so hard to get back on the level they want to be at. When you change the environment and the country, the weather climate, there are many things which are new and you need time to adapt. Then when you get into a comfort zone, you’ll start expressing the best qualities you have. We knew it would be the case, not only with Dimitri but also with some other boys. So far we’re happy to have him. He’s a quality player, a great human being and is adding something extra to our team. We’re happy to have him,” he added.

Reaction to fan pitch invasion in FC Goa win

Some unfortunate scenes happened at the end of Kerala’s win over FC Goa, as some fans invaded the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium’s pitch. When asked about his thoughts on that, the coach Ivan Vukomanovic said: “I think in any stadium in the world, you have to organize and manage things well to avoid stupid and ugly things. The fans are coming to the pitch. I saw there were young boys in there and I can understand them wanting to meet their idols, I’m speaking of Sahal, Dimitri and everyone else. I have nothing against us. Because even when they were with us, even after the adrenaline of the win, there was nothing dangerous that happened. When you speak about the organization, what can happen in the stands is something that is managed by the club.

“There are some ugly contacts that can happen in the stands. I can remember in Germany, a father goes to a game wearing the jersey of one club and dresses his son in the jersey of another club. These kinds of things you take from a sporting side, a match is almost a holiday when it happens. I like to see people smiling and having a nice time, not for any ugly things to happen. The organization of the matches have to be done so that there is no problem for the home fans and the opposition fans too. It has to be organized so that no issues happen,” he finished with.

Dimitrios Diamantakos comments

Kerala Blasters striker Dimitrios Diamantakos also accompanied his coach to the pre-match press conference. When asked about how he rates the quality of the ISL, he said:  “The level here is so high. I didn’t expect that. You listen a lot about Indian football and the level isn’t good. But the level is high, they have a good mix of Indian and foreign players. There are good teams and we played strong quality games. I didn’t expect the level to be this high.”

He also opened up on the changes made to his style from how he played in Europe, stating: “The most difference is about reacting to the situations. The tempo of the games here is slower than in Europe. The reactions are a bit faster. Here the climate also makes it more difficult.”

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