The Spaniard spoke about his team’s approach for the upcoming game against the Highlanders.

After a narrow 0-1 loss to ATK Mohun Bagan in their opening Indian Super League (ISL) fixture on November 20, Kerala Blasters would surely be looking to return to winning ways, as they take on NorthEast United in their second match at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim, Goa on Thursday evening. Kerala Blasters boss Kibu Vicuna and midfielder Lalthathanga Khawlhring spoke to the press regarding the much-awaited game.

“They (NorthEast United) played very well against Mumbai City FC. They were a very organized team for the most part, although they dropped off a little bit at times. They also created many chances and so for sure they are going to be a very tough challenge for us,” Vicuna began by commenting on Kerala Blasters’ opponents and their current form. Upon being asked about Gerard Nus’ comment on how NorthEast United are ‘clearly not the favourites’ against them, he replied, “It’s XI Vs XI. In football, the budget is more for the comments of the media and the supporters. It is about passion, performances, tactics, emotions.”

Speaking about the differences between the conditions available last year with those of this season, the 48-year-old said, “It’s true that we have a better set of Indian and foreign players, but we are still in the process of establishing ourselves. I think that with time, we are going to be better. We are going to play better and we are going to be stronger.”

He then shed light on the status of Rahul KP and Nishu Kumar’s fitness. He asserted that both players are very important for the club and that they will return to the team, when both of them are 100% fit. “Nishu’s training with the team already and he feels much better than last week. We will try our best to incorporate him into the first-team against NEUFC.”

Kibu Vicuna also explained in detail the club’s plans to play friendly matches throughout the season. “The friendlies that we are playing in parallel are very important. Right when we first arrived in Goa ahead of the ISL, I told our Sporting Director Karolis Skinkys that we need to play friendly matches to improve our levels. I told him that it would be great if we can play friendlies against the same team that we played against in the official competition one day earlier.”

WATCH: Kibu Vicuna’s pre-match press conference Vs NorthEast United

Having now plied his trade in both the I-League and ISL, the Blasters coach was all praise for the latter and revealed that the ISL did have better facilities. He also observed that the level of coaching, gameplay and standard of players were also higher in the elite Indian league. However, the former Mohun Bagan tactician was also quick to clarify that this did not mean the I-League was inferior to ISL. “Both I-League and ISL are important for Indian football,” he stated.

Following the first match against ATK Mohun Bagan, one player that largely disappointed fans and pundits alike was Sahal Abdul Samad, who couldn’t perform at his usual high standards against the Green and Maroons. Kibu Vicuna, however, dismissed critics’ comments on the player, as he stressed that the 23-year-old remains an important player for the Blasters.

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“He is an important player. We have to create a good environment for him. It is only the first match. I think he did some good things, he had two chances, he was close. We are happy with him,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lalthathanga Khawlhring or Puitea as he is popularly known, was asked about his first impression of Kerala Blasters and his playing time. “I am really happy to be able to play for the Blasters. We have plenty of experienced players in the team – not just the foreigners but also the Indians. I hope to learn from them and improve. About game time, I believe everyone will get time when they deserve it. For me, it’s the same and when I get the chance, I hope to impress just as I’ve done previously,” he replied.

Puitea also shed light on the struggles that players faced while entering the ISL bio-bubble in Goa. “Before entering the bubble, we trained alone in our respective homes and isolated ourselves to avoid risks. I then had to board two flights from Mizoram to reach Goa.”

“Upon our arrival in Goa, we again had to isolate ourselves for many days before entering the training venues. Altogether, it was tough, but 2020 has been a very difficult year for everyone, not just myself and my team,” he added further.

One area in which KBFC excelled against ATK Mohun Bagan was in terms of possession, with the side maintaining over 60% of the ball. But, that did not mean much for them, as they failed to create chances and score goals, causing them to lose the game ultimately. Speaking about it, Kibu Vicuna said, “Maintaining possession was one area where we did well. I surely think we can improve from this and expand our control over other key aspects as well. Creating chances is key to winning matches and we have certainly been working on it.”

“In football, you have to prepare for every result. It’s true that we did not win against ATKMB, but that should not mean much as the league has been balanced so far. We have analyzed NorthEast United’s performance in their game against Mumbai City and we hope to give them a good challenge tomorrow,” the Kerala Blasters boss concluded.

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