The tactician isn’t ready to take NorthEast United lightly.

ATK Mohun Bagan are hopeful of getting back to winning ways in the Indian Super League (ISL 2022-23) when they face a lowly NorthEast United side on Saturday. Juan Ferrando’s side need maximum points to inch closer to current leaders Mumbai City and keep their hopes of an AFC Champions League (ACL) spot alive.

Ferrando expecting tough challenge against weary NorthEast United

Juan Ferrando is aware of NorthEast losing their first 10 games, but is not taking them lightly after a change in head coach. Speaking in his pre-match press conference, he said: “It’s an important match because I know the situation of NorthEast but in this moment, it’s not so easy because we play away and they changed coaches two weeks ago and that has given them a second wind in terms of motivation and their approach to the game.

He added, “I think it’ll be different (from the last game) to be ready, because our approach will be to hold this as a second leg and get three points. In this moment, the last matches of 2022 are very important and it’ll be necessary to concentrate on the actions and control the transitions. It’ll be difficult because it’s not important to think about NorthEast’s form, but to control our team and our emotions as well as do the best.”

Expecting better ATKMB in second half of ISL

The Spaniard is also gunning for his side to do even better in the second half of the league in order to push for that ACL spot. He said: “Every match is totally different. For us, it’s always the same – to get three points. Sometimes it’s difficult because our condition is not in the best of situations because of injuries and yellow cards. It’s difficult to prepare the training and the line-up. But our mentality is to get the three points in the next match.

“It’s the start of the second leg of this league and it’s necessary to get three points because Mumbai, Hyderabad and maybe Odisha are ready to continue in the same way. Hopefully, our players can recover well for these last 10 games and we need to work in the same way for more success,” he opined.

Possible targets for rest of the season

When asked about his satisfaction with his side’s position after 10 matches and his end-of-season targets, Ferrando explained: “No, that’s never the case. For me, all the matches are important. Then of course, the target at the end of the season will be to be at the top. But now that we’re in third, fourth or fifth isn’t important for me. We are thinking about getting three points against NorthEast and then preparing for the FC Goa game after that.

“For me, it’s important to look into the situation of my team, how to prepare them for the games, look into yellow card situations and for situations where everyone can play in different positions to adapt to different styles. The last 3-4 weeks have been difficult for us and the team has shown character. That’s good because the players want to do the best and that’s most important for me,” he added.

NEUFC tie one to help improve ATKMB’s goal difference?

Addressing questions on if his side will look to improve their goal difference in a game like this, the ATKMB coach said: “It’s not necessary to think about NorthEast having no points. But they’ve now changed the coach and are starting the second leg with a fresh mind. The players are motivated and we’re playing away. I think the players of NorthEast will want to show more character and different points. Because if you finish the season with zero points, you’ll have problems in being at the club next season. So, I think they’ll try do the best and get the three points. It won’t be an easy match. Of course, if you watch the Chennaiyin match, you think it’ll be easy. But my point of view is not to be relaxed.

“We need to be fully concentrated on every detail, because it’s important to get three points. If you think it’s an easy match, in football you know what will happen in the end. You’ll have problems in the end. In this moment, in the ISL there are no easy matches. Maybe if your opponent is relaxed or are playing with nine players or with injuries, then it’s easy. But in this moment, we have respect for them. They want to do the best and are dangerous,” he opined.

Ferrando pleased with ATKMB squad’s character despite lacking foreign players

Despite not being able to field most of the foreign players for the last few games, Juan Ferrando is happy that his side has shown character to keep working and grinding out results.

He said: “We played with five foreign players against Bengaluru. We had three foreigners in the last few games because in the last few weeks Hugo Boumous had problems with his shoulder and Brendan (Hamill) was suspended. It’s difficult, but this is why I have trust in this team to be in the top two. In the difficult moments, the players rally together to do the best. I’m happy with them.

“It’s necessary in football to find the solutions to problems. But I’m not just thinking about foreign players. The team is working in the same way and the same level. Of course, the opponents have more confidence when you have less foreigners, but this is part of football and you must find solutions,” he added.

Approach against NEUFC

When asked if his side’s approach against a weak side like NorthEast United will be different to that against Odisha FC – where the Mariners barely posed attacking threat – Ferrando explained: “All the matches, we approach at the same level. We have the same respect for NorthEast as we have for Mumbai. It’s always about playing attacking football and trying to control the free spaces.

He added, “In the last match against Odisha, we played with eight players on the field. Fardin (Ali Molla) had problems, Carl McHugh had problems with his shoulder. We had a lot of problems and played with eight outfielders. It’s not possible to play with eight players.

“But this is part of football and we’re not giving any excuses. It’s part of football to prepare the team when you only have nine players and rest are injured. Of course, we try to play attacking football, but it’s difficult when a player has problems in his groin or hamstring to tell them about playing 90 minutes with an all-out attack style and be volatile in the transitions. In all the matches, the plan is the same. We respect all the opponents.

“For me, the most important thing is that the recovery of the players is getting better with each day. Three players are out for the season. But then, the new transfers will join with us next month and then it’ll be easy in training and in the preparation for the matches. Then the performance of the team will get much better,” he added.

Ferrando confirms new foreigner incoming

Finally, Ferrando confirmed that ATKMB are close to confirming the signing of another foreign player that will arrive alongside Slavko Damjanovic in January. He said: “We are also close to officially announcing the signing of another player with Slavko Damjanovic. When he’ll sign the contract, we’ll announce it. It’s a good player we’re signing. He’s not Spanish.”

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