This will be the teams’ 15th meeting in the Indian Super League.

Kerala Blasters will lock horns with NorthEast United in their respective second games of the season. Both teams, though, started off their campaign with losses. While Ivan Vukomanovic’s side fell short to ATK Mohun Bagan in the opener, the Highlanders too did so against Bengaluru FC. Nonetheless, they’ll be looking forward to their first win on Thursday, when they take each other on at the Fatorda Stadium.

Ahead of this exciting clash, Kerala Blasters‘ head coach Ivan Vukomanovic and midfielder Adrian Luna spoke at the pre-match press conference — wherein they addressed a variety of questions; ranging from the previous game to future possibilities for the season:

Competition in ISL

Coach Ivan Vukomanovic answered a question on the competition in the ISL — having tasted his first experience against ATK Mohun Bagan.

“Well, the toughness that we faced was something that we expected. Our opponents were organized. I think we played a good game. We controlled most of the game. The goals we scored were very well played (done). I think after seeing that kind of game and the mistakes after which we conceded goals, we have to try to avoid those things at those moments. If we avoid them and control them better, I think we can proceed further on with our playing style — by having more control and grip over the game,” he began.

“That’s the way I want to play and that’s the way I think about football because I like to attack. Then, the destiny of attack changes along with of course (being able to) control the game and avoiding these moments where we concede easy goals. So, we have to work on these kinds of things and I hope we’ll be better in the next game. For the next game, we’ll try to play a good and well-organized one — one which we can control, create nice chances and scoring opportunities. We shall see tomorrow,” he added.

Style of play against NEUFC

Elaborating the same — tactics aspect; this time with regards to the Highlanders, the Serbian stated, “Like I said, I like to attack. The way of football (is like this) — there are movements where you have to attack and moments when you have to defend. You can come out with a gameplan or a strategy. But, you never know how the game will evolve and how the game will start.

“So, if we speak about approach to the last game, conceding an early goal after an offside, it changed the sight of the game. And of course, when you’re 1-0 down after two minutes, you have to play more offensive because you’ve to equalize. So, (for) tomorrow, we don’t know. But as I said, I like controlling the game and having the ball in possession. We want to play good football. So whoever we face tomorrow and in the next period, we want to play attacking football (against them).” Thereby, addressing questions on KBFC’s style of play as seen from the first game.

Mood in camp

Further, Ivan Vukomanovic was asked about the feeling in the KBFC camp and if there would be any major changes in the squad — considering the opening-day loss to the Mariners.

To this, he replied, “Well, it doesn’t change a lot because we have our goals in sight. We have our objective and we’ll continue working hard for the things we want. Again, we played quite a good game and started building things up the way we wanted them to. I think we were a competitive side. The only thing that barred us was conceding those easy goals after our mistakes. I think we’ve to avoid those mistakes in the next period.”

Regarding defensive concerns

The 44-year-old then spoke about defensive concerns with respect to the new four foreigners’ rule. He expressed, “The good thing is that everyone’s available now, except Rahul (KP) who is out injured. Due to the regulations, we’ll have to find the recipe for tomorrow. We have all of them available. And of course, they and everybody know the situation.” referring to his side’s defensive line and the availability of foreigners as well as Indians.

“We are very pleased with the improvement of some young boys. They still need time and space to improve even more and in the future, they’ll get chances and minutes to play — because they have to start somewhere and sometime. So, we’ll see today’s training. (For now), we’re happy we have all of them available,” he added.

Adapting to Indian football

After this, Adrian Luna was asked about his adaptation to Indian football. In other words why and how despite good build-up in the last game, the same couldn’t be reflected on the scoreline.

For this, the Uruguayan opined, “Yes. Of course (we are still adapting to each other). We had three months of pre-season, but that isn’t enough to know all your teammates. It’s a good time to work, but you have to know how a player (behaves and moves).”

Continuing the same, Vukomanovic said, “When you see the complexity of teams, you need a certain period of playing and training together. That takes a couple of months. Even if you take teams at any other level; ISL or anywhere else, they need time to play and get to know each other. Not only on the pitch but off it (as well). Through that, you create a great bond and a good team. And in every moment of the game, you know how the other teammates behave — their running, movements, (and so on.) and that’s how big teams are created;” he said referring to the short pre-season as mentioned similarly by most other coaches.

Balancing midfield

Next, when asked about KBFC’s midfield and the observed isolation between some players (Jeakson Singh as mentioned in the question), particularly during counter-attacks, Ivan Vukomanovic responded, “No, I think in the last game we were more dominant. We had that grip on the game. You have to know that when you play high up the pitch and press your opponent, or try to play offensively, it means there will be space — which you’ll have to deal with counterattacks. This is how it goes. We saw that in the previous games as well; not only ours but others.’

Adrian Luna’s positional preferences

Once again, Luna was then asked about his positional preference in midfield — considering the versatility and number of options available for this side this time around. He responded, “I want to play always. If I have to choose a position, (then it is) behind the striker, of course. You have more freedom there than in the front. But, if I’ve to play even as a goalkeeper for the team, I have no problem.”

On Bijoy Varghese’s selection

Coming back to Vukomanovic, the tactician was asked about his selection of Bijoy Varghese over an experienced player in Abdul Hakku.

Jokingly, he initially responded, “I selected Bijoy because he told me that he wanted to play.” After this, however, coming to the actual reason, he stated, “It’s true that he’s never played on that particular level. But, you know, those boys have to start sometime. This is how all players start their careers. Everyone starts somewhere and we as a coaching staff have the confidence.

“I think he (Bijoy) played a good game, except for some moments, which is normal for a boy (youngster). Sometimes, you have to commit these mistakes and that way you learn. So, we are fully confident about him and all the other players. If you think there were players with more confidence, then it’s (finally) the choice of the coaching staff. As a coach, I want to improve and develop these players, so that tomorrow both Kerala Blasters and the national team can profit out of that and select good players.”

On having two foreigners in defence

Further, head coach Ivan Vukomanovic was asked if he would go with two foreign centre-backs for the next game. To this, he answered, “We’ll see. We have training sessions today and we’ll see how it goes. But yes, now we have the luxury of all six foreigners being available.”

On difference between ATKMB and NEUFC

“I think it’ll be even harder because every game is different. Every game is hard by itself. It depends on how you start and how you approach the game. We’d like to be more focused on ourselves and control the game. We’ll try to make it easier for ourselves, but it can go the opposite way as well, like it did in the previous game against ATK Mohun Bagan. So every game will be difficult in its own way and we’ll try to make the best of it,” Vukomanovic replied when asked if it would be easier to face NorthEast United when compared to ATK Mohun Bagan.

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