The Kerala Blasters boss also praised the Marina Machans’ gameplay against Jamshedpur FC.

After coming into the 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) with a lot of promise, Kerala Blasters are yet to find their first win in the competition after two games. While they lost the league opener against ATK Mohun Bagan last week, NorthEast United held them to a draw in their second game on Thursday. Up next, the Yellow Army will face Chennaiyin FC on Sunday – and a day earlier, coach Kibu Vicuna and midfielder Rohit Kumar spoke to the media regarding the upcoming match.

Kibu Vicuna began by addressing one of the most important concerns of the Blasters fans – the injuries of Sahal Abdul Samad and Rahul KP. “They [Rahul and Sahal] are training with the team. Both of them are close to getting into the matchday squad, and after today’s training, we will see if they are ready to play tomorrow,” the coach said. 

He further clarified that the rotations in the squad are not just ‘experiments’, as he selects his final line-up based on several factors including their opponents and how his players fare on the training grounds before the game.

“We have many different options in the team, and we train everyone, and try to use the best combination in every match. The most important attributes for selection include their pre-season training results, the hunger they show to take part in the game, and the set of strategies that we follow which may vary with each opponent. That’s also the reason why we made some changes in the second game – and as for tomorrow’s match, we’ll see what happens.”

Watch: Kibu Vicuna speaks in the pre-match press conference

The 48-year-old also commented on Kerala Blasters’ performances in the ISL so far. “It’s true that we haven’t created as many chances as we wanted, despite having greater ball possession in both our matches so far. Against NorthEast United, we were the better team in the first half while in the second half, there was no loss of creativity – we just lost ball possession and didn’t play well,” he said, before adding, “We know that we have to improve in every aspect of the game, and we’re in the process of doing exactly that.”

“Our defence – particularly Costa [Nhamoinesu] and [Bakary] Kone – I have no doubt on their quality. In football, you need connection between players and that happens through training. We are working on building that connection in defence,” Kibu Vicuna stressed.

“After last match, we talked about what we had to do to improve. It’s true that we have just one point from two matches. But it’s also true that we did a lot of stuff well in both our matches so far – we maintained possession, we had a distinct style and had a proper control over the games for a longer time. Hence, we really have identified some positives and we will certainly improve on them,” he shared.

The Spaniard was asked about the relatively-shorter pre-season and its possible effect on the team’s performances, when he replied, “Yes, it was a shorter pre-season than usual. Normally, teams would have trained more and they would have gotten more time to know themselves. But it cannot be used as an excuse, as all teams are facing this problem equally. As I’ve already said, we are looking to play friendly matches with the other teams and we think it is very important for our players to get themselves match-ready.”

The ISL schedule this season is also relatively tighter, with the Yellow Army playing two matches within a space of just three games. Kibu Vicuna, however, dismissed the effects of the league scheduling as he said, “This is how the league is being scheduled, there is not much that we can do about it. I believe that it is equally difficult for the other teams as well, so the brilliance lies in overcoming these issues.”

In their opening match against Jamshedpur FC, Chennaiyin FC looked very solid and fit, as they attacked right from the off and eventually won as well. With the Blasters facing them next, the tactician was not ready to undermine his opponents. “Chennaiyin FC played brilliantly against Jamshedpur. Their attacking game was solid, and they have a great set of players in Isma [Goncalves] and [Lallianzuala] Chhangte. They were the runners-up last season, and are a very good team this season as well,” he opined.

Midfielder Rohit Kumar, who had accompanied Kibu Vicuna to the press-conference, also answered a few questions to the press.

“As a player, I like to take up new opportunities and challenges – and Kerala Blasters gave me a good opportunity. I’ve always wanted to play for them, so here I am,” he began, by speaking about the circumstances that led to his signing with the Kochi-outfit. “The atmosphere at the club is nice. The people of Kerala are also very nice, and I received a warm welcome from them when I joined. As a team, we are fully focused on improving each day, and I, with the rest of my teammates, hope to have a good season this time.” 

Speaking about his own individual performance in the ISL so far and on the competition within the team, he said, “It’s very important that I keep improving with each game. I am never satisfied with my own performances as I always feel that there is still a scope for improvement. The competition [among KBFC midfielders] is good and healthy. We keep pushing each other and that, I think, helps the team as well. Where there is healthy competition between players, there is a healthy team as well.”

“The two main things we learned from our matches so far, is that results truly matter and that no match is over till the end of 90 minutes. So, we need to work hard till the final whistle, and never judge the outcome of the game early,” the midfielder explained, when requested to speak on what he felt were the major takeaways from the team’s campaign so far.

Rohit Kumar also revealed that the absence of the fans in the stadiums had a very pronounced effect on the team.“We are definitely missing our fans, especially with the KBFC fanbase being one of the best in India easily. Fans always motivate us to go the extra distance, and their absence here has admittedly caused a difference. Hopefully things get back to normal next season, so that we can play in front of our 12th man [the fans] once again,” he signed off.

For more updates, follow Khel Now on Twitter and join our community on Telegram.