A place and a point separate Mumbai City FC (31 points from 18 matches) and Kerala Blasters FC (30 points from 19 matches) in the ISL charts going into a game which is the penultimate one of their respective league stage campaigns. Both Mumbai City FC and Kerala Blasters were victorious in the respective previous games. The Islanders defeated FC Goa by a 2-0 scoreline, while the Blasters’ won 3-0 against Chennaiyin FC in the Southern derby.
The equation is simple. A win for Mumbai City FC would guarantee them a place in the semi-finals. A win for Kerala Blasters FC though would keep it all open. It would put Ivan Vukomanovic’s side in the driver’s seat to claim a semi-final spot ahead of Mumbai City FC, but the Islanders won’t be out of it and would have a chance to sneak in on the last day if other results go their way.
Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham addressed the media in the pre-match press conference ahead of their game against Kerala Blasters on Wednesday, 2nd February at the Tilak Maidan Stadium in Vasco, Goa. Below are the excerpts of gaffer Des from the media interaction.
With Kerala Blasters FC winning their last game 3-0, Des spoke on how he will be approaching the game against the Blasters.
“We just keep concentrating on ourselves. As I said, I’m not too interested in other teams’ 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 come into this game with four wins out of the last five, we’ve got two consecutive clean sheets and we started to show some really good signs of how we want to play with the ball as well as without the ball. We must make sure that we continue the same approach that we’ve had at the start of the season, one that has put us in a strong position to finish the season.”
The upcoming match will be like a virtual quarter-final. Des spoke on how he sees the confidence of the defenders after two consecutive clean sheets.
“Yes, I can understand why people are looking at it like that. But it’s not an approach we’re taking. We’ve spoken all season about being consistent in how we approach each game and that’s something that has put us in this position that we’re in. We won’t approach this game any different than how we have approached the last 18 games. Make sure we stick to our game plan. If we do that, we’ve shown that in the last four or five games, regardless of the teams we come up against, we’re capable of coming away with results.”
“So, it’s important that we don’t change anything in terms of how we approach this game, and we certainly haven’t done so, in terms of on the field or off of it, we must just focus on making sure we play the way that we want, and we’ll play as well as we can. In the last five games, it’s been very pleasing to see how well not just the backline and the goalkeeper but also the work rate and the understanding of the whole team has been to sort that side of the game out. It’s important that we continue to do that on Wednesday and play some exciting football to watch from the sidelines.”
Mumbai City FC were tactically outclassed by Kerala Blasters FC in the last game between them. Des spoke on if there will be a different approach on Wednesday.
“No, if you go back to the Kerala game, it wasn’t a tactically outclassed game. They scored early and scored another just after half-time, we lost Fall (Mourtada) later in the game and then there was a penalty given. So, we were 3-0 down and it stayed at 3-0, so I felt there was a little bit of false indication for the rest of the game.
“But that was a long time ago, it would be a totally different game this time around. We’ve mostly developed what we want, and players are a lot clearer on what we want to do with or without the ball now. So, the last game is irrelevant for me, it’s important that we make sure we continue on the road that we’ve certainly shown over the last five or six games and we stick to that. It’ll be a very good game.”
Des gave his assessment of the strengths of opponent Kerala Blasters FC.
“Yes, I’ve enjoyed watching Kerala all season, except for the last game that we played against them. You know, they’ve got a fantastic coach who’s coached them extremely well all season. There are some very good players that we’re aware of, but we have our own way of doing things. We have our own playing style, we have good players ourselves and it’s an exciting game regardless of the context of two games to go. The build-up to this game that people are looking forward to.
“I’m really looking forward to it because I think what you have here is two incredibly good teams who will go out to win the game, who will try and play exciting football. So, it’s important from my side that I try and prepare our team as best as we can.”
Mehtab Singh has been a revelation in the Mumbai City defence ever since he broke through the starting XI. Des evaluated Mehtab’s performance and contribution to the team so far.
“I think he’s a wonderful example of a young Indian player who has been very patient over the past three or four years, and certainly since the time that I’ve got here. He has worked extremely hard to position himself very well, and when his opportunity came, he was able to take it. And what I’ve been really pleased with is, before he got his chance to start, the way how keen he was to, and is still, to continue developing his game, how eager he is to learn, and how quickly he can take that information on and show it on the field. He’s got some good natural ability. Having somebody like Mourtada Fall will only help enhance his game.
“There are areas to his game that we want and need to continue developing as a young 23-year-old, but he’s been an excellent example for young Indian players. That if you work hard, you will get your opportunity and if you’ve done what he has certainly done that, not only will you get your opportunity, but when you get it, you’ll come in, if you perform, you stay in. That’s been the reason that he stayed at center-back because of his consistent performances in that space and I’m pleased with him. But it’s important now that he continues to do that because there are other players in the squad that are hungry to get their positions back.”
Des spoke about the performances of Bipin Singh and Lallianzuala Chhangte in the recent matches. He also spoke about their importance in the team’s success.
“We have player profiles here at the club and the player profiles for those positions, on the left-hand side and the right-hand side. The two mentioned players fit those profiles extremely well, you know, quick, skillful, intelligent and they create opportunities and chances both for themselves and for others in the final third. Then we’ve also got the luxury of Vikram (Singh), who for me, is a wonderful young player at 19-years-old, who when he’s had his opportunities have impacted the game and he really complements the other two and the team and gives us a different way of going.
“So, to have those three players in those two positions out wide, they fit the style of football we want, they fit the player profiles that we’re looking for at this club, and as a result of that, they do create opportunities for others. They have been a large reason as to how we go about our attacking, so, I’m very happy with those two and the others as well.”
Des spoke about if Mauricio can break into the Mumbai City FC starting lineup ahead of Angulo.
“Igor is our leading goalscorer and he’s a large reason as to why we are in the position we’re in. Although he’s not massively involved throughout the 90 minutes, when he does turn up inside the box, it doesn’t take too much. I’m very happy with the way that Igor has been playing and the way he has contributed to our team in that space.
“The reason we brought Diego in was to add to some firepower to that front line. He hasn’t played since December 29 and hence taking some time to get himself up to speed. We feel that he’s pretty much there now. So it’s always good to have a healthy competition. If Igor isn’t scoring, we know we can bring Diego. So whether we play one or play the other or whether there’s an opportunity to play them together, it just gives us different ways of playing.”
Des spoke about the team’s recent performances as the Islanders kept consecutive clean sheets.
“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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