Mumbai City FC will face Bengaluru FC tomorrow in the Durand Cup final. Ahead of the game, the Islanders’ Head Coach Des Buckingham attended the pre-match press conference. Below are the excerpts from his interaction with the media representatives ahead of the big game tomorrow.
It’s been more than a month in the pre-season and the ISL season begins in three weeks’ time. So can the fans expect the team to be in full swing in the Durand Cup final tomorrow?
“I think we got ourselves to the best position we could from the time that we had available to us. Earlier on we said that we wanted to prepare ourselves as well as we could firstly for the Durand Cup and secondly for the ISL. We spent three weeks of it in Dubai and reported back a little bit earlier to make sure we can have a good pre-season.
“And then we’ve obviously had to manage our group and squad through the six games that we’ve had till now to get to the Final. And I think this 7th game will be another wonderful opportunity for us to try and get better again and firstly try and secondly get some success and win a trophy. That will, of course, that game to try and put us in a good position to start the season in three weeks’ time.”
What are your thoughts on the player’s performance so far? And what kind of a final are you expecting tomorrow?
“I’ve been really happy with all of our players. I think we’ve used every single member of our squad throughout the whole six games. And that was important to us for a whole host of reasons, whether it was to manage potential injuries or Fitness levels, whether it’s to avoid suspensions or it was also to make sure we’ve got minutes into all of the players to continue trying to develop and build our game style to prepare us for the next game as well as for the start of our season.
“So I’ve been very impressed with the way the players have got about their work on and off of the field. And I am expecting the game to be an exciting one. You know, we have set up in a way that we want to play and I speak about it being an exciting brand of football which is an attack-based and possession-based game. We have normally shown that with the number of goals we have scored in this tournament already. But I know that when you look at the opposition and they’ve also had a very good run into the competition and they’ve got some wonderful players. So I am expecting it to be a very exciting and very good final for everyone involved.”
Mourtada Fall played his first game in the competition against Mohammedan SC. Do you think that he has been the missing link in the back line? And will you be having a similar game plan against Bengaluru FC?
“We obviously lost Rahul Bheke early in the tournament against ATK Mohun Bagan. So I’ve spoken about the role that Roston Griffiths has played in our backline whilst Moutada has been away. And of course, we’ve welcomed Sanjeev. That’s a new signing for us whilst also managing to get some game time for Amey, Mandar, and Vignesh.”
“So whilst getting minutes into them and trying to get some consistency across our backline. Mourtada arrived a little bit later than the others. We needed to first make sure he was fit and able which he certainly is and was. And then it was about introducing him into the game rather than starting him and that’s kind of what we did in the quarter-finals and the reaction also clearly the work that he’s been doing in the offseason anyway.
“We were confident that if we started him he’d be able to play 90 and maybe 120 should we need him against Mohammedan SC. So whether or not he was the missing link, I’m not sure but it’s a pleasure to welcome him back. He certainly brings strength to everyone here and the fans know that he does bring firstly to the backline and also to our group.”
Is starting the season with silverware your topmost priority or to avoid further injuries?
“I think when we came into this tournament we wanted to pay this competition the respect it deserves by being the oldest competition in India and Asia as I’ve said before. I think the way we’ve tried to prepare ourselves for this tournament personally and certainly the teams that we’ve put out in each of the games regardless of who we’ve played have shown that. So I think we’ve put ourselves in the best position we can to try and achieve. We wanted to play seven games and we’ve now got to the 7th and of course, everyone that makes the final wants to try and win the final, so yes.
“We’ll be doing what we can to put ourselves in the best position to do that but again we’ve shown already we’ve had injuries throughout the group stages but we’ve got a squad depth that has been tested. But the way the players have managed and the way we’ve managed to rotate the team again. That might be important tomorrow. Whether that’s how we start or whether as the game plays out. So probably a combination of those two. And it’s never just two, it’s maybe six or seven other things that you’re trying to manage at the same time.”
Views on Lachenpa’s performance and what has gone on behind the scenes that he has improved so much?
“We’ve got three good goalkeepers at the club and I think Navas and Phurba had a very good, healthy relationship and competition between each other last season, and that culminated in some wonderful performances in the AFC Champions League from both of them. And then we brought in Bhaskar Roy, who brings in with him a wealth of experience being a little bit older as well. He hasn’t had an opportunity yet, but that will come, I’m sure. But what they do is, as a free, they really push and challenge each other to grow and improve.
“And with Ramos on the goalkeeper coach as well, you see how well they work together and push each other. And Phurba has grabbed the opportunity when it’s come. You’ve played well in the tournament so far. I think he made some important saves in the past two games at important times. And that’s what you look for sometimes in your goalkeepers. And it’s important that regardless, whoever starts tomorrow, they have the opportunity to show what they can do.”
How confident are you about stopping Sunil Chhetri and Roy Krishna in tomorrow’s game?
“I think if we focus all of your attention on one or two players, it would be a little bit naive because they have some very good players around those two who are, of course, very good in their own right. And they have got a good coach in Simon Grayson, who’s new and obviously brought some new ideas to what they want to do. So, as Fall has already said, we have a way that we do things with the ball and without. We’re aware of the strengths that they have. We played against both of these players last season and Fall has played against them for a couple of seasons now.
“I have previously worked with Roy Krishna in Wellington for three years at the Wellington Phoenix, so I know Roy very well. But to answer your question, we’ll prepare the same way we would for any other team. And it’s largely about what we do and how we do it with and without the ball, whilst also making sure we’re aware of any potential strengths that they do have in especially those two players.”
Any injuries or suspension concerns ahead of tomorrow’s game?
“No, suspensions. From what I’m told, there are no suspensions that carry through into the final, which is a bit surprising, but that’s the rule. So no suspensions for us and no injuries. We have the same squad that we had in the last two games available to us fully fit, and now it’s just important that we pick the right team to start the game and then we manage the squad during the game to make sure we can put the best account of ourselves forward throughout the whole period.”
Assessment of Lallianzuala Chhangte’s Performance?
“We brought Chhangte to the club in January of last season, and we’ve done that because We have a way that we want to play and within that, we have player profiles that we try to target. If we haven’t got it at the club he would try and target players who we feel will be able to play that role. And when we looked at the work he did in Chennai, the way he could hold the ball up front and could link up. He has now started to show what he could really do. Now we felt that we could add a really important component to our final third game.
“The one message that we’ve certainly given to him this year is that we now know what he can do because he’s shown that not just in the I sell but the ACL as well. But now it’s about that final third. About the end product. And in his case, that’s seen goals assist in creating goalscoring moments. And just to say he’s, he’s obviously a form right now. It’s been wonderful to watch the confidence that he’s showing with the ball in that final third. Now, he’s added that layer, but it’s important that he continues to do that. Not just in the final, but he takes that now into the season.”
Mumbai City FC will be facing the most impressive strikers in this tournament tomorrow, Are there any special plans in mind for them?
“Nothing has changed. I think we respect them all but always we work in the same way to take care of ourselves. Defending our backline is most important. So any strikers we face in the match, we always do the same job, keeping the clean sheet is our main goal. We will try to do our best and give a good fight against them and try to win most of the balls. We won’t make it easy for them to play how they want.”
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