The Blasters have won only twice in the last 10 games against the Islanders.

In a virtual quarter-final match, Kerala Blasters and Mumbai City FC clash with eyes on the coveted playoffs spot. Des Buckingham’s side are on fourth currently and a point clear of Kerala Blasters with two games remaining. But Ivan Vukomanovic’s side will be confident heading into this crucial fixture having thrashed the defending champions 3-0 when they last met earlier this season.

Ahead of the match, head coach Ivan Vukomanovic and Des Buckingham spoke to the media and shared their thoughts.

Kerala Blasters coach Ivan Vukomanovic

How are you motivating the players ahead of a virtual knockout match?

Ivan Vukomanovic: Of course, it is a nice fixture. We’re speaking about these moments a long time ago, But, you know, as a football player, when you start playing football, you dream about and work hard for these kinds of games. So the game on Wednesday is big, it doesn’t matter if you are a senior player or a young player.

Of course, this is a nice experience and a nice opportunity to play a good game. So that’s it. It’s a good game, against a good opponent and that’s everything you wish for as a football player. That’s really a thing to dream about, to go on the pitch and play good teams and try to achieve something nice. That’s the beauty of football. So we have our preparation, it doesn’t change a lot, compared to other games.

The match will be between one of the highest-scoring sides and a side with the best defence. Will you go all-out or score early and protect that lead?

Ivan Vukomanovic: The game is one of the final games in this competition. Of course, there will be high stakes. There will be stages when you want to press and stages when you need to defend. So of course our style and the way we play, we like to have possession. We have to press high, we like to keep clean sheets.

So I think for Wednesday’s game, both the teams will consider having all those elements because, it’s not like it was in November or December because which was a different period, many things have changed since then.

So on Wednesday, I think they will try to attack. We’ll try to attack. They will have to defend, we’ll have to defend. I think that the game, we’ll see all elements of football where both teams are fighting for points, because both coaches want to get the points. So, it will be an open fight and it will be like an exhausting fight till the last moment. That’s what I’m expecting from Wednesday’s game.

Three KBFC players are one card away from a supension. How do you proect them at this crucial stage?

Ivan Vukomanovic: Well, you know, these boys, they know the responsibility while on the pitch and playing these kinds of games, you never know during a football game when you are in the duels, when you tackle.

You never know sometimes when you are in a duel, full of adrenaline and your reaction on the pitch. It can get you yellow cards and also lead you to suspension, but that’s a part of football. So they are now at that limit (three yellow cards), so I hope that tomorrow they will not get a yellow card in a stupid way.

Mumbai City Coach Des Buckingham

Approach against resurgent Kerala Blasters

Des Buckingham: We just keep concentrating on ourselves. I’ve said I’m not too interested in the other results and how other teams play. It’s more important that we look at ourselves and make sure that we continue our run of form. We started this season extremely well. I spoke about finishing the season as well as we can. We can move into this last game with four wins out of the last five. 

We’ve kept two consecutive clean-sheets. We’ve started to show some real good signs of how we want to play, with and without the ball. So, the focus will be on us. We must really make sure that we continue the same approach we’ve had. That helped us start the season well and that puts us in a strong position to finish the season.  

Importance of match 

Des Buckingham: Yes, I can understand why people would look at it like that. But, it’s not an approach that we’re taking. We’ve spoken all season about being consistent in how we approach every game. That’s something that has put us in a position we’re in, which is a good one going into the final two games.

So, it’s important that we don’t change anything in terms of how we approach this game. We just must focus on making sure that we play the way that we want and we play as well as we can. 

Keeping back-to-back clean-sheets

Des Buckingham: Yes, I think the last few games; take the last five in particular, with the exception of the Jamshedpur one. You know, it was an area during that seven-game spell where we conceded quite a few. So, in the last five games, it’s been very pleasing to see how well the backline did.

It’s not just the backline and the goalkeeper, it’s the work-rate and standard of the whole team to sort that side of the game out. It’s important that tomorrow we continue to do that whilst also going back to ensure that we play the type of football we want with the ball and some exciting football to watch from the sidelines.

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