Harmanjot Khabra said that he’s up to the challenge of playing against his former club.

Bengaluru FC will host Kerala Blasters in Indian Super League (ISL) at the GMC Athletic Stadium on Sunday. While Bengaluru will look to bounce back to winning ways after suffering a defeat against Odisha FC, Kerala Blasters will be in search of their first win of the season. A day earlier, Kerala Blasters’ head coach Ivan Vukomanovic and defender Harmanjot Khabra met with the press to discuss the upcoming game.

On their approach of fixing their mistakes

Kerala Blasters had a poor outing in their opening fixture of the ISL. The Kochi-based team suffered defensively as ATK Mohun Bagan scored four past them. Afterwards, they managed to keep a clean-sheet against NorthEast United. Ivan Vukomanovic revealed that he believes that his players are absorbing his instructions well.

“When you start the competition, and when you start the official games, there are many things that occur during the games. And you’ve to be able to adapt and improve during those moments. We saw in the first game that we were committing so many mistakes that resulted in a loss,” he began.

“And in the second game, we tried to solve those problems and to not repeat them. We wanted to have more stability in our defence line. That’s what we did too. So this is kind of a process that you’ve to continue. I’m very happy with the boys. They are absorbing everything that we are teaching,” the 44-year-old added.

On playing a high defensive line

Even though Kerala didn’t concede against NorthEast, they were caught up in difficult situations often. Playing a high defensive line comes with its fair share of pros and cons and Ivan believes it is normal for a team to struggle at times while playing in that way.

“When you play high up the pitch, even when you play against the teams from the lower divisions, it will open the space behind your back. Because when you are staying up, there is a lot of space behind your back. This kind of thing occur not only in our games but in every game of the ISL,” he explained. 

“Even if you see the games of the highest levels, this kind of thing occur. So we are working on how we stay when we don’t have the ball and when we have the ball. You have to deal with different situations during one game. So I’m not worried about those things,” the Serbian-Belgian tactician continued.

On Kerala Blasters’ struggle in scoring goals

Kerala Blasters had multiple opportunities of scoring against NorthEast United. They could have won the three points, had their forwards been more clinical. However, the southerners’ boss is not frustrated about what happened and believes training more on such situations can help his forwards.

“No, because these things happen. The only thing we do is we talk to those players that they have to be concentrating more on goals. In the tough games, these things happen maybe once. During the training sessions, you repeat those things 10 times, maybe 20 times. We are working on them. I’m not frustrated. I firmly believe these guys are improving, and I think they are going to get even better,” he quipped.

On Blasters’ cautious approach

After letting ATK Mohun Bagan score four past them, Kerala started the NorthEast game with a very cautious approach. They wanted a clean sheet to get back some confidence. Harmanjot Khabra believes being cautious was the right way to go ahead against the Highlanders.

“In the first game, we had already conceded in the first minute. It puts the team under pressure. You are very cautious defensively. We try to keep clean sheets. We have a quality front-four. It was more possible for us to score goals. We had our chances,” he opined.

On facing Bengaluru FC

Ivan Vukomanovic sees the eagerly awaited fixture against Bengaluru FC as just another game. He wants his team to focus and not lose sight of what they want to achieve. He believes the rivalry is not going to affect their approach.

“It’s a football game. Of course, some games have more spicy things in it, which is the case now. But actually, for us coaches and players, it is just a football game. So our approach is the same. We have to be fully concentrated and focus on the things we want to achieve on the pitch,” he commented.

On the changes in the starting lineup

The teams play a game every three days. It can affect the players physically, and hence rotations in the lineups are necessary. 

“We still have a training today afternoon to organise everything and to see. Yesterday was a day after the game, and we had a recovery session. We have to see the medical status of all the players before the training and after the training. And we will know more about it later today after the training. And then tonight, we will make a decision,” Vukomanovic revealed.

“I think our fitness level is quite good. You know it’s true that we will not have the same amount of days [as in Durand Cup] to recover, but I don’t like to use these things as an excuse. The football players have to know that it is a professional job. They have to recover and do everything possible. We, as the coaching staff and the medical staff together, are doing everything possible to recover the team to be ready for the game,” he added.

Khabra’s point of view for the game

Harmanjot Khabra has previously been part of the fixture, while playing for Bengaluru FC. He will now have the opportunity to play and see how it is to feature in the game as a Kerala Blasters player. However, he did not want to create a special hype around the match and about him being part of the Yellow Army.

“I have experienced this match in the past. But I was on the other side that time. This time I think I’m very fortunate that I’m representing Kerala Blasters. But let’s not make it so complicated. I don’t want to make any kind of big hype or talk big. The important thing is that we had a match two days ago, and this is another kind of challenge for us. We have to go and get the three points from them.

“They have a good team. But we also have our coach with plans, and we have to stick to those,” he added.

On the importance of defending set-pieces

Bengaluru FC are one of the best teams in the league at scoring from set-pieces. The Serbian tactician understands that and has his team prepared to defend them.

“For every game, you prepare on the basis of many aspects. If we speak about the previous seasons of the ISL, you see that many goals of Bengaluru FC came from the set pieces. So the other teams work hard on that case and so do we. We want to focus and not concede those goals,” he pointed out.

On Jeakson Singh’s performance

The 20-year-old Indian midfielder started as a holding midfielder in both of Kerala Blasters’ games so far. Ivan Vukomanovic has been impressed with the youngster’s quality – but believes that Singh still has a lot to improve.

“Speaking about Jeakson [Singh], he is a quality player with a lot of potential. He is a young player who has to improve a lot. There is a huge progression margin in front of him,” the Kerala Blasters head coach concluded.

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