ATK Mohun Bagan begins their AFC Cup 2022 campaign against Group D opponents and fellow India side Gokulam Kerala on Wednesday. Expectations are high for Juan Ferrando’s men with an expensive squad and ‘favourites’ tag on paper. Apart from Gokulam Kerala, the Mariners will also play Bangladesh giants Bashundhara Kings and Maldivian champions Maziya S&RC in Group D.
Ahead of their opening fixture on Wednesday against Gokulam Kerala FC at the Salt Lake Stadium, coach Juan Ferrando shared his thoughts on the tournament and the upcoming games in the pre-match press conference. Below are the excerpts of the Spanish gaffer from the media interaction.
On the mood in the ATK Mohun Bagan camp ahead of tomorrow’s match
“For us, it’s a pleasure to be here in the group stage. We will be playing against three outstanding teams, who were champions (in their respective leagues). The team is happy to be here and we will do our very best.”
On the team news and injuries
“More or less everybody is ready and fit for the game. (Michael) Soosairaj has some problems with his groin. The rest of the players are ready. But we have to wait till the last minute since we have a training session this evening.”
On the foreign players who will be registered for tomorrow’s matchday squad
“I can’t disclose that. I have time until tomorrow morning. Playing against Gokulam Kerala isn’t the same as playing against Basundhara Kings. I will have different plans. We may field Roy, we may use Williams as a number nine. I’ll decide tomorrow morning who’s the best to help the team.”
On Roy Krishna’s availability
“Roy Krishna is here with the team and he has also been working with us in the training. We will see tomorrow about his situation and then decide on if he will play against Gokulam Kerala or not.”
On if ATK Mohun Bagan can be termed as the favourites
“We’re happy with the expectations. But we are not favourites. All the other three teams are champions (in their respective leagues) but we are not. We ended the league stage in the third position (ISL). Maybe everyone is thinking of us to be favourites since we are a big name (popular) and have a very good squad with top quality players. In front of all the teams, exist three games. The game is played between 22 players and in the same weather. For me, it’s not a pressure.”
On Sandesh Jhingan’s availability
“I’m happy with the players. It is difficult to be ready and deliver high performances. It is the same in Europe as well. Sandesh has some problems. He is much better now. Sandesh is working with the team for the last two weeks. He played in the last friendly. Sometimes depending on the place of the injury, the treatment varies. The player has to just exercise. Sandesh is now taking part in the training sessions and working with the team.”
On if there will be a change in the style of play for the group stage matches
“It’s very important for all the players to understand our concepts, our way. Of course, we want to win. When we decide to win, it is necessary to choose away. For us, it is possession-based attacking football. Maybe it is not the best.”
“In football, you can play in different styles. If Joni Kauko is not available, we play Abhishek. If it is not possible to play Abhishek, we can play Hugo. Subhasish can be used as a number 8 or a left-back. Except for Amrinder and Subrata who are the keepers, the rest of the players are ready to play in various positions.”
If being out of action for nearly a month is a disadvantage
ATK Mohun Bagan haven’t played an official match in nearly a month’s time. A few days back they played a friendly against the Indian national team. When asked if this will act as a disadvantage, Ferrando opined on it.
“Every game is different. The tactics and plans are important. Regarding my team, the players trust in our plan, they trust in themselves and in the team. This is very important because we’ll be playing against the best teams. International competitions are different. When you are in the championship, there are 20-25 or 30 games. Here there are only three games. The atmosphere is the dressing room and the emotions are important – it’s more of psychology than tactical.”
On if the confidence of last season’s performances will prevail in the group stage
ATK Mohun Bagan fared well in the playoffs. The Mariners won two matches and had drawn the other in course of their qualification to the Knockout Stages. When asked if the confidence will prevail during the group stage this season also, this is what coach Juan Ferrando had to say on it.
“The situation here was difficult because when you are inside a new club, the style is different. It was hard to win. But I am happy because I can work with the team. I am happy due to the facilities prevalent for the training seasons. Sometimes, there are a few problems – personal ones as well.
“Some injuries were also there at the beginning, but now I am very happy because I can work with the team and the players are working hard. The players now more or less understand my style. But we need time because, in football, we can improve every day.”
Thoughts on the opponents Gokulam Kerala FC
“Gokulam Kerala’s season was fantastic. They lost only one game. Their plan is very clear. They are good in defense, attack, and during the transitions. It’s very important to be ready for ninety minutes. In front of the opponents, they show high performance. Most importantly, they work like a team.”
“When they (Gokulam Kerala FC) are attacking, they know very well where are the space and the perfect moment to attack in every space. The team is compact as well. When I saw their games in the I-League and even the last game here. I like this team because their plan works well for the entire team. Sometimes it happens that the time for attack and press is not the same for all the teams. They know the best moments to attack and defend.”
About the preparations for the AFC Cup campaign
ATK Mohun Bagan enjoyed some training time after their playoff fixtures. The Mariners even played two friendly matches against the Bengal Santosh Trophy team and the Indian National Team. Juan Ferrando spoke on the preparations of the team so far.
“The preparation was good, of course. In the end, the most important day is tomorrow. I hope the players enjoy the game because at the end of such an international competition is that they enjoy it. If the players are enjoying, the supporters will also enjoy the match. Gokulam Kerala have delivered high performance in the I-League. In our case, we had three weeks to prepare for the group stage fixtures. Overall, I am happy with the players’ performance.”
On the player rotations for the tight scheduled group stage games
Since ATK Mohun Bagan will have to play three games in a span of six days, they’ll need to rotate the squad accordingly. Juan Ferrando spoke about that issue.
“All the four teams have the same problem – we have a game, recovery session, a training session. It is very important that the players fully recovered before the match. Also, our target is to know who is the best performer for the next match.”
“We don’t know yet after the Gokulam Kerala match which player will be tired. It is important after 48 hours to decide who is in the best performance. It is the problem for all the coaches of all the teams. In the case of foreign players, it’s important to decide who can help. Regarding the local players, it’s very important they get time for recovery because we have three games in quick succession.”
On the home ground advantage
Since all the Group D fixtures will be played at Kolkata, ATK Mohun Bagan will likely have a more immense fan backing than any other team in the group. The tactician shed light on the topic.
“To play at the home stadium is an amazing feeling because the supporters are close to the team. Yes, this is an advantage. But we shouldn’t forget that it is eleven players on the pitch versus another eleven. We have a lot of respect for the other three teams in the group. They were the champions in their respective leagues. But also we are working hard to make it to the next round.”
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