The Kolkata outfit are the only team to have lost to Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League’s fifth edition.
Nelo Vingada will begin his stint at the helm of Kerala Blasters FC with a tie against two-time Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) champions, ATK at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi. The Blasters’ wretched first phase leaves them with little chances of making the playoffs considering a hefty 11-point gap that separates them from the final playoff place.
Nelo Vingada (Kerala Blasters)
Tending to his pre-match duties a day prior to the clash, the Portuguese spoke of his admiration for the Blasters squad which he felt, should be higher up the table. He said, “One year ago, I did not know much about Kerala. Now, I know more but for sure, not enough. It will never be enough. But now I have every information. Regarding also the feedback I received from the staff, were important. So, the conclusion is that the level of the team, the level of the players is not as results are showing. We have to understand why the team lost few games in the last minutes.”
The Blasters were on the wrong end of a 6-1 thrashing by Mumbai City FC in their final Hero ISL match before the start of the winter break. On being asked about whether his players were still haunted by that result, the 65-year-old said, “The next game is always the most important and difficult. We cannot forget the past. But now is a new time. So, I want happiness with the fans and players. So, tomorrow my intention is to be honest. The most important part will be the way our players send a message.”
Adding his thoughts on the ATK match, a confident Vingada said, “All my concentration, all my work has been on our team. I respect ATK. I respect every team. I believe that tomorrow if the players can be how they are, if they prove that they are ready to play, and the most important, it is not enough to play well. We have to be great fighters. We have to show to this team and the fans how much they want to win. Tomorrow if each player can give more extra 10 per cent than they can give, it will make a difference. I hope they understand my message. I believe we can build a team that can show the real Kerala Blasters.”
CK Vinneth and Halicharan Narzary moved away from the Blasters on loan to make Vingada’s work even tougher. However, the Portuguese was far from concerned regarding his club’s transfer plans, stating instead that he is focused only on ATK. “It’s not a time to think about bringing in new players because we have an important game tomorrow. And as I said, it’s the most important and most difficult game tomorrow. So, I have to try the best connection in the team. I believe the quality is there. The players are the most important part. I’m trying to find the best solution to the team,” he added.
Steve Coppell (ATK)
Coppell refused to resonate complacency, instead regarding the Blasters’ appointment of a new coach as something to be wary of. He said, “It’s difficult because we have our own agenda. I’m focused only on ATK and what we need to do in the final six games. My point of view is: they are a team that have a new coach. It’s inevitable that the players will try to impress the new coach. That’s all I look at. All I’m interested in is they are a team that’s very good and have a new coach, and they’ll be looking to impress him. We know we have to be our best to get something from the game. So, that’s my only focus.”
Coppell went on to share his opinion on the winter break. “The good thing about the break is that it is the same for everybody. Undoubtedly, this final phase of the season, the teams that come out of the box quickly will get most advantage. Again, we’ve been talking about it, we’ve been training specifically to try and start quickly, start well. That is the challenge we have set ourselves. Every team at this stage will want to finish these six games optimistically, looking forward to also the next season. I don’t think we are any different from anybody else,” he added.
ATK have been very determined in the on-going winter break, bringing in the likes of Pritam Kotal and Edu Garcia to help them in their search for a playoff place. Coppell sounded hopeful on the impact the new signings would have. “Well we brought in some good players. Edu Garcia is a quality player. These players can only enhance our squad going forward. I just hope that they make a real impact. And it’s not just their impact. Its about the impact they have on the group because its important that the group responds,” said the Englishman.
The former champions’ record with injuries has been questionable over the past couple of years. This season hasn’t been any different leading to speculation about the training sessions conducted by Coppell. Rebuffing those claims with conviction, Coppell suggested that these things were inevitable in football. “In my first two years in the Hero ISL, I hardly had any injuries. We’ve had some injuries this year. It’s inevitable in this full-contact sport that you are going to get injuries. I don’t think it has anything to do with training. If anything, it’s just that it swings around sometimes and will happen,” he said.
CK Vinneth and Halicharan Narzary moved away from the Blasters on loan. Zakeer Mundampara has been suspended for six months and will miss the rest of the season.
Edu Garcia and Pritam Kotal are both in contention to make their debut for ATK. Kalu Uche’s still not fit, but Coppell doesn’t have any other injury worries.
Did You Know?
- Kerala Blasters are on a win-less run of 11 matches, their worst run in the history of the Hero ISL.
- ATK have won 3 matches at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium, Kochi. No visiting side has registered more victories at this venue in the Hero ISL.
- Kerala Blasters have scored 5 goals at home, only ATK (4) have scored fewer goals at home this season.
Dheeraj, Lalruatthara, Jhingan, Lakic-Pesic, Kali, Krcmarevic, Doungel, Sahal, Pekuson, Prasanth, Poplatnik.
Arindam, Kotal, Johnson, Bikey, Ricky, Halder, Gerson, Garcia, Lanzarote, Rane, Balwant.
The match will take place on Friday at 7:30 PM at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi. On television, the match will be live on Star Sports. Meanwhile, it will also be streamed on Hotstar and Jio TV.