It is a sort of homecoming for East Bengal head coach Khalid Jamil when his team takes on Aizawl FC at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, on Tuesday. Jamil knows the North-Eastern club well after his successful stint there last season but Paulo Meneses does not agree that it would give their rivals an upper hand on the pitch.
"Every team knows how each team plays, the strengths and weaknesses of the rivals. So I don't think East Bengal have an advantage on that front. We are having an advantage as we are playing at home," said the Portuguese coach.
The 39-year old believes that his team has the best local talent who also went on to comment on the Mizo players of the Red and Golds.
"In my opinion, we have the best local talent of all teams in I-League. The best Mizo players play all over the country and East Bengal have the two best Mizo players. If I were a Mizo player of East Bengal, I would motivate myself to play better against my home team. It's natural and it is a positive for them."
"If we concentrate on one player then we can forget their other key players. If they mark Andrei (Ionescu), we have other good players who will create problems for them. The coach cannot prepare a game keeping in mind only one player. It is a collective game and not just about one player," said Meneses when asked about any special plans for opponent striker Willis Plaza.
Meneses stressed that his boys will go for all the three points and dismissed any possibility of playing defensive football against East Bengal.
"Our team will never play defensive even if it is East Bengal or Mohun Bagan. Yeah, sometimes you have to defend when you don't have the ball. We are the champions so we will play accordingly," said a confident Meneses.
The last time these two sides met, Aizawl held the Red and Golds to a 2-2 draw at the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata. Meneses pointed out the key differences in circumstances from that game ahead of Tuesday's fixture.
"In the previous encounter, we had a normal pre-season and did not get time to prepare differently for I-League. We played against them in between Mizoram Premier League semi-finals, so it was different back then. Our team has improved a lot since then. We have got our best players back for this leg. Andrei is back. We have better co-ordination amongst us as these players know each other better now. Three points are at stake. I believe we can get a win as we are playing at home," reasoned Meneses.
The former SC Braga scout does not think that fatigue will be a problem for his team.
"We know that a team who has got seven days to recover will be in a better position than a team which has got two-three days. But nobody is tired before these kinds of games. I asked some of my players if they are tired, they said they are ready to go. In the course of the game, fatigue can take over but that is normal. We have in a similar position in the Mizoram Premier League, but we won that match. We cannot complain, but can only compete and win the three points," said Meneses.
The head coach was accompanied by Andrei Ionescu who preferred to shrug off any individual battle with former Aizawl marquee player Mahmoud Al-Amna.
"No. I don't have any pressure. I will do my best on the pitch and what was there in last season remains in the past. We take game by game, and I don't compare myself with any player. Amna is a good player and I wish him all the luck," concluded the Romanian.