The Spaniard spoke about his team’s preparations ahead of the clash against East Bengal on Tuesday.

Mumbai City FC are looking to steady their ship under Sergio Lobera, after having under-performed in their first two matches of the Indian Super League (ISL) season. The Islanders quite clearly need some time to adapt to the Spanish tactician’s style and have not able to produce the scintillating football his teams are normally expected to.

But, with the last-gasp win over FC Goa in their previous game, Mumbai City will be heading into their game against SC East Bengal with momentum on their side. The Red and Gold Brigade, meanwhile, had a bitter debut in the ISL after losing to arch-rivals ATK Mohun Bagan, but Sergio Lobera is still expecting a difficult battle on Tuesday.

He said, “They are new in the league, but they have very experienced players. It’s going to be a difficult game because they’re a very good team defensively. We need to work very well to win the game.”

When asked about how Mumbai City are preparing for the game, he said, “Our plan is the same as always. Our focus is to try and improve our level and try to learn about all our mistakes in the last two games. Nothing changes about what I want as a coach. I want to dominate the game. 

“I want to have possession of the ball and I want to create a lot of chances for us. But, it won’t be easy because they are a very organized side. Without the ball, they play with five defensive players. It won’t be easy to find spaces. We need to be smart to take advantages on transitions – be it from defence to attack or from attack to defence.”

It will definitely be an interesting battle between two sides who both love to show off their possession-based style. When asked about whether this clash of similar styles could affect his side, Sergio Lobera said: “I think EB had a very equal game against ATK Mohun Bagan. We have to stick to our style of play and be loyal to our ideas.

“Our focus is to improve with each passing game. Tomorrow, it’s an opportunity for us to improve our style of play. I don’t want to change nothing about our possession-based style, but we need to improve. This style is how we are looking to win and this is the way how we are at our strongest,” he added.

After an underwhelming start to the season, the Spaniard knows that his side are far from their best and insisted that they’ll need some time to adapt to his philosophy. He explained, “It’s not easy to build a new team. It takes time to build a new team and implement a new idea. We need time. We had a very short pre-season like every team before the first league game.

“We only had three sessions of training with the full squad before the first game. Of course, it’s not an excuse, but we need to improve and win games all the time. We are trying to implement the new style of play into our game as much as possible,” he added.

Sergio Lobera has definitely tinkered with his side quite a lot in his first few games, playing Adam le Fondre down the wings in the first game and upfront against FC Goa. When asked about whether he’ll make more changes to his lineup going forward, he said, “I think there are two different situations. One is about the formation and another about the style of play. Maybe we can play with both Le Fondre and (Bartholomew) Ogbeche, but can’t change our style of play. The formation isn’t the most important for me.

“The most important for me is the style of play, which is non-negotiable. Sometimes, I can play both of them and sometimes that is just not possible. I’m very happy with the performances of both players because of how well they can play upfront,” he added.

Lobera also shrugged off claims about the quality of refereeing in the ISL so far this season. “We need to help the referees. Their job is as difficult as the players or the coaches. It’s not the best way to criticize the referee. I have respect for them. They make mistakes like I make mistakes and the players make mistakes. It’s not good to try to find mistakes in the referees all the time and use that as an excuse. I can improve the level of my players and I don’t need to waste time on criticizing the referee.”

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Finally, the Spaniard was also asked about Mandar Rao Dessai’s role in the side and why he transitioned him into a left-back. He answered, “I feel Mandar can play in both positions. In the last game, he played as a left-back and after that he played as a left winger. At Goa, I felt we needed the profile of offensive full-backs, who needed to make good decisions in attacking positions. I feel Mandar is a very good player in this position and he can even play in the national team in this position. I’m happy with Mandar’s performances as a left-back or a left winger when the team needs him.”

“He’s a very good player. He’s a very experimental player. It’s not easy to complete 100 games in ISL. I think he can help us a lot in his position because, Subhasish (Bose) left the club and we needed someone to fill into that position. I felt Mandar is the best for us because he can help us on and off the pitch. So, I’m very happy that he decided to join us,” he added.

Mandar will also incidentally be completing 100 games in ISL, becoming the first Indian player to do so! When asked about this, the 28-year-old said, “I think it’s very important for a player to play as many games as possible. The next game will be my 100th in the ISL. I’m very proud of this. I dedicate this to the players I’ve played with and the coaches who have helped me play in this league.”

“It’s very important for a player to achieve this, especially with so many players playing in the ISL. I transitioned from a left winger to a left full-back when coach Sergio Lobera told me I could do better in that position. We did this together and now I’m playing as a left full-back,” he added.

Moreover, when asked about how the transition has been at Mumbai City after spending so many years playing for FC Goa, Mandar said, “I feel like the same here. Here everyone is like my family. They treat me like their own. It’s not easy for any player to play in a new team. But, here I’m with the same people and almost with the same players, mostly along with the coaching staff who helped me grow as a player.”

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