The Spaniard sounded confident ahead of his side’s season opener.

Head coach Sergio Lobera and goalkeeper Amrinder Singh addressed the media in Mumbai City FC’s first pre-match press conference of the Indian Super League (ISL) season. The Islanders are set to face NorthEast United FC on November 21 and will be eager to bag three points to begin the campaign on a positive note. Both Lobera and Singh acknowledged the challenges that come with playing the competition, amidst the restrictions due to COVID-19 and the bio-secure bubble.

“Mostly, I have seen that all the players in the bio-bubble are working in a very professional way so far. They are following all the rules of the league. Our team is following the guidelines given by the officials and the doctors very well. I’m very happy that all the players are abiding by the rules very well,” Singh, the team’s most-capped player said.

The custodian added, “We can work a lot personally, as we have a lot of time in the bubble. All players know what they need to work on. If you take that positively, you can work on aspects of the game that would help you in the future. So, one can spend their time very well by doing good things with a positive mindset.”

Meanwhile, Sergio Lobera refrained from commenting on Mourtada Fall’s curious absence from the pre-season training pictures. There is some conjecture regarding the Senegalese defender’s availability for the match against the Highlanders. However, the tactician did comment on the benefit of having multiple former FC Goa players in his squad. Given the relatively short pre-season, the Spaniard believes that players who he has coached before can enable him to implement his philosophy a bit more conveniently.

“Obviously, when you have players who have played with you before and we need to implement a newer style of play, it’s easier. Because these players can help me understand their teammates, our style of play and our idea better. But, they are only four players and I have 20 players, so it’s not easy to implement a newer style of play in a short time. We are working in this way and hopefully it’s possible to play in our style of play…improving, winning is the best way and hopefully we can do that in a short time,” the tactician said. (sic.)

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Sergio Lobera also spoke on the importance of sticking together as a team in these testing times. “In these special circumstances, it is not only about the best team, it’s about the best group,” he mentioned. From the outset, he has voiced concerns over the current times, but also made it clear that it could not be used as an excuse for poor performances. Today too, the head coach reasserted that stance.

He explained, “I told my players, we have two options – to complain and think that we have a lot of problems because that’s true. But, the best way is to not complain, try to adapt quickly and to see this situation as a challenge. This is the best way. I think this season it’s possible that a lot of things could happen. We need to adapt quickly in this situation. We need to improve our levels, our performances; we need to follow the rules.”

For the coming season, ISL teams will be allowed to use five substitutions during the course of the game. The head coach was asked whether this provision will stimulate sides to adopt a more defensive role after taking the lead early on in the match. Lobera believes that it could be a possibility, but his utmost aim is to ensure that he implements his ideas and style of play properly.

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“I think we need to play in our style. There are some circumstances in which it is possible to try to adapt and think in this (defensive) role. In the last seasons (with FC Goa), we have played attacking football and I believe in this kind of football, in this style of play. I don’t want anything to put off the focus to play in this idea. I think the most important thing is that my players believe in this. We are working in this way,” the 43-year-old opened up.

NorthEast United FC had to briefly stop their training sessions recently, as a couple of individuals in the camp had tested positive for COVID-19. As Mumbai will play their first game against them, the head coach was probed about whether the situation in the opposition’s contingent will have a negative mental impact on his players. Lobera said that every team has to deal with some or the other problem, but that cannot deter the side’s performances on the field.

“It’s not only about tactically, physically, technically, it’s also about the mentality of my players. But, NorthEast maybe, they have some problems, but all teams have had problems. It’s not necessary that it’s been every day. We need to solve our problems internally and have to work without all excuses. I think this situation with NorthEast will not necessarily affect my players mentally,” Sergio Lobera reflected on the situation.

He added, “I don’t want that confidence, because they have problems, we have problems, every team has problems. It’s a very difficult pre-season. Maybe, for some teams it was only possible to work with the full squad 2-3 days before the competition’s first game. But, as I told you before, no excuses. We need to try and compete well in the first game of the competition and hopefully everything goes well.”

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