The Spaniard revealed that Tiri continues to remain unavailable for the Mariners.

ATK Mohun Bagan face their first ‘big test’ of the Indian Super League (ISL) season, when they face arch-rivals SC East Bengal on Saturday. The Kolkata Derby still remains the biggest game of the Indian football calendar and has a lot of emotions riding on the result. The Mariners’ head coach Antonio Habas spoke to the media ahead of the match:

Thoughts on East Bengal

His team might’ve started the season in a better way than East Bengal, but Habas is sympathetic with the situation for Manolo Diaz’s side. He said, “I don’t know the proportions of East Bengal for the derby. But, the idea is that East Bengal is a very good team. They’re undergoing a transitional period, having change in players and coach. The coach needs at least one year to assess the project. But, in the ISL, everything needs to be immediate – there’s no patience. The more importance is the final result.

“For us, this is a very important match. This is very important to the city. Even though there are no supporters, the players know the importance of the match,” he added.

Antonio Habas was asked about whether he has any special plans to limit East Bengal’s threat in the big game and explained, “It’s the same plan as every match. We don’t have the idea to play every game as the same. Maybe other coaches prefer other things. But, in my opinion, we have to adapt according to the situation. We have players injured, we have players with yellow cards. The necessity is to adapt according to the opponent. We’ll have to nullify the threat that is created by the opponents.”

When asked about plans to keep East Bengal stars Daniel Chima and Antonio Peresovic quiet, he answered: “The plan is to stop the whole team, not individuals. No individual marking, no man-to-man or anything like that.”

Attacking superiority over East Bengal & secret for derby success

The Spanish coach got frustrated at questions about his team’s apparent attacking superiority to East Bengal and quipped back, “I’d really like for you to ask me about Pritam (Kotal), Amrinder (Singh), Carl (McHugh), Tiri and Prabir (Das). Because the team isn’t made of 3-4 players. Our attacking players are quality, important players, but I have to respect the remaining players in the squad.”

The Mariners did the league double over their arch-rivals last season. When asked about the secret for success in the derby, Habas stated, “History never repeats itself. But, our idea is to win the match. We have 100% respect for the opponent, because the coach and the players are very good. We can’t say much about the derby before the game. Our players have to do their talking on the pitch. Talking before this does no good for me.”

The debate over ATKMB’s lack of possession

ATKMB only enjoyed 35% possession in the 4-2 win over Kerala Blasters. When asked about whether he wants his side to dominate possession against East Bengal, Antonio Habas said, “Well, it doesn’t mean that if we dominate the majority of the possession, we’ll win the match. Sometimes, it’s impossible. Because the statistics show some different things, be it in the ISL, La Liga or Bundesliga.

“The idea is that when the opponent is on their side of the pitch, you have to keep possession and base it around possession attack. But, when the opponents leave space, I have to get into the space. I don’t understand why everyone thinks I’ll play every game the same. Because the situation is different, the opponent is different and conditions are different. So, I don’t understand that.”

Changes for next game & team news

Giving an update on defender Tiri, who missed the last game with an injury, Habas revealed, “He is still recovering from his injury. He’ll maybe need a few more days to prepare for games. No other injuries after that.”

In rather uncharacteristic fashion, Habas admitted that he could make some changes to his lineup against East Bengal because of Carl McHugh and Deepak Tangri being booked in the last game. He said, “I’m thinking about that possibility. Because I don’t want to overuse my players.”

Need for improvement in games & final thoughts

Antonio Habas has demanded better from his players after conceding sloppy goals against Kerala Blasters, as he explained, “I think we have to be more ambitious going forward. In the last match, in the second half, maybe we were very comfortable with the score. We have to maintain utmost intensity all through the 90 minutes against East Bengal.”

The Spaniard assessed Joni Kauko’s ISL debut and stated, “He’s adapting to the system really well. He’s a fantastic player with physical prowess. He’s an experienced player and technically very good too. He’s 100% confident in his possibilities. I think he can produce good football for us.”

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