The Spaniard addressed the media ahead of his side’s clash against the Highlanders.

Mumbai City FC will face NorthEast United FC at the GMC Stadium in the Indian Super League on Saturday. The Islanders will look to extend their unbeaten streak to 13 games against the only team that has defeated them this season. Full-back Amey Ranawade joined head coach Sergio Lobera to address the media personnel ahead of the game. Lobera opened up on a host of issues, right from his team’s earlier loss to the Highlanders to the commendable spirit and attitude shown by his squad players. Here are the excerpts from the pre-match press conference.

Better-equipped to tackle the NEUFC challenge in the second leg?

The Highlanders had pulled off an upset of sorts by defeating a star-studded Mumbai City FC lineup 1-0 in their opening encounter. Back then, Sergio Lobera had emphasized on the opposition’s strategy to deprive the Islanders of spaces on the field. Mumbai apparently struggled to overcome that challenge and were defeated at the very start of the campaign. This time around, the head coach is wary of NorthEast’s transformed style of play after Gerard Nus’ dismissal.

“I am not worried about the loss in the first game, because this is past and does not affect the future. My concerns about tomorrow’s game are that NorthEast improved a lot in the last two games with new coach, their philosophy and their style of play has changed a lot. They are playing very good attacking football and are comfortable with the ball and keep the possession,” Lobera said. He added, “We need to be ready about this. But then, we improved obviously from the first match of the competition with a very short pre-season. But, NorthEast also (improved). It’s going to be a very good game. I think it’s not easy now to play against NorthEast. We need to work 100% if we want to win the game.”

Player suspension concerns?

Rowllin Borges is set to miss this match for having collected four yellow cards this season. Similarly, players like Amey Ranawade, Ahmed Jahouh and Hugo Boumous are on the brink of suspension too, having been booked thrice each. The tournament is on the verge of entering its business end and Mumbai have a slight concern to address on this front. However, Sergio Lobera clarified that their focus should be to gain three points and not rely on the squad depth to deal with such scenarios.

“Our focus is only in the next game. It’s not possible to think, ‘Now it’s possible to give four yellow cards because in the next game you can rest and it’s better.’ No. We need three points in every game. Every match is very important for us. It’s the most important period of the season. We need to try to manage as better as possible this situation. It’s not easy obviously. Mandar (Rao Dessai), Hernan a lot of players were suspended. Now we are in the same situation with four players,” the Spaniard claimed.

He further stated, “But, we need to play thinking to get three points and it’s not possible thinking to avoid the cards. Me as a coach, it’s my job, if one player is injured, try to manage the situation as better as possible. I have a very good squad with very good players and only missing one player in one game is not an excuse for me.”

How to address the lack of game-time for other key squad players?

Domestic players like Sarthak Golui and Sourav Das regularly featured for Mumbai City FC last season. However, the two of them have barely played any games this time around with other new acquisitions to the setup. Sergio Lobera detailed in length about the whole scenario, implying that there are always going to be players who miss out due to the sheer strength of the setup. However, he heaped praise on these individuals’ professionalism and overall attitude.

“This is one situation and another situation is that Vignesh (Dakshinamurthy) and Bipin (Singh), they were not playing last season and are now playing. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to take decisions because I have very good players. Sarthak, Sourav, Bidyananda (Singh), (Mohammed) Asif, a lot of players are not playing, because we have 27 players in the squad. If we want to win the league, we need the full squad. I am very happy with these players because it’s not easy to accept this role. It’s very hard. They are working 100% everyday on the pitch. Off the pitch, they are part of the family; everyday smiling,” he explained.

The tactician added, “I think it’s very important for me as a coach to have a very good and strong group, not only the team. This is possible only when the professionalism of these players is 100%. Their attitude is 100%. I have players in new situations and they need to accept these roles. It’s not only about Sarthak. (Bartholomew) Ogbeche, it was the same situation during some part of the season. Sometimes the group is broken due to the attitude of some players who are not playing is not good, maybe there are problems in the group. We are a family. I am very happy, very delighted to work with these persons, not only these players,” concluded Sergio Lobera.

Amey Ranawade on becoming a regular starter

Mohamad Rakip started the season for Mumbai City FC at the right-back slot. However, Ranawade replaced him and has become a regular in that position. Pondering upon that process, the 22-year-old said, “Initially I had joined the team late. I had come late from the second division. Then, I joined the team late for the pre-season. So I had been quarantined and missed a lot of pre-season matches. After that, I took a little bit of time to settle in. But then once I got my chance, I made sure I gave my best and male the best of the opportunity.”

Areas to improve on

The full-back also emphasized on certain areas that he is looking to develop as a player. Drawing examples from the last game, Ranawade told, “There is a lot of room of improvement. I need to improve a lot in my attacking. In the last game, you must have seen like I missed a pass in the last moment. I could have made a better pass and Adam (le Fondre) could have scored easily. There are a lot of things in defence too. I can improve a lot at the individual level, but I think we could improve a lot on the team basis as well.”