The KBFC head coach also revealed that they have not trained for a few days.

Kerala Blasters, led by Ivan Vukomanovic, will have their eyes on consolidating their lead at the top of the table when they take on bruised Mumbai City FC in a clash of titans in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2021-22 at the Tilak Maidan Stadium on Sunday.

Kerala are on a dream run at the moment, remaining unbeaten in 10 of their 11 games so far and sitting pretty at the top of the heap. Vukomanovic’s charges have looked the best team so far in the tournament with their attacking arsenal steamrolling opponents. In Mumbai City, they have a team that are on a five-game winless run. The fall started with Mumbai City’s 3-0 loss to Kerala Blasters earlier in the season. The Islanders’ longest winless streak happened in the 2015 season when they went on a 7-game run without a win.

Ahead of the clash, both teams’ head coaches – Vukomanovic and Des Buckingham – spoke in the pre-match press conference held on Saturday.

Kerala Blasters coach Ivan Vukomanovic

The lack of training

Ivan Vukomanovic: Well, it’s obviously not easy, seeing the circumstances not just for our club but so far I think nine clubs are in lockdown. Nobody is talking about football anymore because everyone is concerned. We have families here. So I just hope everybody stays safe. I have confidence in the ISL people. They have things under control. But of course it’s not easy.

Managing expectations

Ivan Vukomanovic: You know as professional players, from my personal experience, I managed to win several titles. The moment you start to get relaxed and announce big words as a team then everything crumbles. Because as a team you have to stay focused and concentrated. You have to continue in the positive mindset. We know the league is competitive, so nobody will give us anything. So we have to fight.

Changes in MCFC setup after their last encounter

Ivan Vukomanovic: We were pleased with the way we played that game and achieved three points. Since then we have been trying to modify our approach and style according to the situation. For tomorrow’s game, I can’t say anything. We didn’t prepare for the game and we’re not sure if the match will be played.

Should the match be postponed?

Ivan Vukomanovic: I would like for us to continue to play. But this situation is worldwide, not just inside our bubble. I have confidence in ISL people. They will sort out everything like it has to be. Of course for footballers it’s not easy. When you don’t train, the risk of injury goes up. From a human being perspective, knowing that you can infect other people is a feeling that doesn’t give you confidence to play a match. We are grateful to federation people for taking care of us.

Mumbai City coach Des Buckingham

Preparations to take on KBFC

Des Buckingham: I am looking at where we are right now, we sit third on the table and we sit three points behind Kerala, so nine games to go. it’s not about where you are right now, it’s where you finish and we’re in a strong position to make sure that we put ourselves in a position now to go on and finish strong and it’s important that we go on to do that. So, that’s the way we look at things here.

Defensive woes

Des Buckingham: Yes, it’s an area where we certainly want to improve. We can’t go through the next nine games conceding the goals that we have, we know that. But it’s also the same starting eleven that were keeping clean sheets at the start of the season. You know, we’ve kept three clean sheets in 11 games and didn’t concede those (many) goals in the first six or seven rounds. I’m convinced there’s only a brief time away from turning around.

Bench strength

Des Buckingham: Yes, the last game we made changes because of the short turnaround between games. You know, I think in this league we’ve just had some six or seven-day breaks, whereas the last game we only had two days in between. So, I think it’s important that you try and put the freshest team on the field that is still going to be able to perform the way that we all want to and that’s what we tried to do.

But that didn’t quite happen for us. So, we made those changes at halftime, and I thought we were a little bit more balanced in the second half. And we started to go back to showing the energy and quality of football that we wanted to show from the start of the season and that’s something we’ve reflected upon this week. 

Rectifying the mistakes from previous matches

Des Buckingham: I think it’s an exciting challenge, you know, which is about not getting carried away with the results. I know the comments made about how well we play when we win games, and I’ve seen quick reactions when we don’t win games. So, it’s important, as I go back to what I said at the start, we don’t get carried away whether we win or lose.

We’ve played some good football in the eleven games and have put ourselves in a strong position leading into the second half of the season. We sit three points behind Kerala, and we play Kerala, so it’s an exciting opportunity to draw level with them and kick on.

But it’s very much about making sure over the next nine games that we’re consistent in both performances and picking up results, to make sure that come the end of the season, we put ourselves in the position that we all want. 

Thoughts on KBFC

Des Buckingham: I really enjoyed watching Kerala. I think they’re fantastically coached by Ivan [Vukomanovic] and they’ve got some exciting players. I mentioned Adrian Luna in my last press conference leading into them, I’ve been really impressed watching them.

You know, we played Chennaiyin who hadn’t been beaten, we played Jamshedpur who hadn’t been beaten when we played them, so it’s an exciting opportunity to take these unbeaten teams on and to go on and win the game. It’s an exciting opportunity for us to get back on track as well.

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