INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: ALEXANDER BLESSIN
This week, our coach Alexander Blessin sits down for an extensive interview. We talked to him about the defeat against Union and we look ahead to the coming weeks and to January, transfer month.
How do you look back now - five days later - on the game against Union? Is the shock already digested?
"It was a night where everything was against us. We only had five minutes of hope that we could possibly come back. At the 2-1 and then the 2-2 which unfortunately was disallowed for offside. We played a strong team and we just have to accept that they were better. Union has so much speed and their changeover moments are excellent. It's a team that works well together. Of course I slept badly for a few nights, but now it's digested. We shouldn't compare ourselves with a team like Union at the moment. We should now look at our own game and focus on the teams we can beat. A team like Union is above our level at the moment, simple."
Could the international break have anything to do with this loss?
"Indeed, it didn't play in our favour. When four key players are away for ten days, it's difficult to prepare for a match. Fortes and Rocha had to go to Cape Verde for example. They cover a huge distance, which can't be good for their legs. The players who play in Europe - Bätzner and Jäkel - will suffer less, although I had the feeling that none of the players who returned from international break 100% was fit. I don't want to look for excuses, but it's not good for our structure. We already have a tight core, and if four players don't train as well ...
We have also barely been able to play with the same defensive line due to different circumstances. It's important that we find a solid structure in our defence and that they get used to each other."
You say the defense is out of sync. But isn't there a problem with communication?
"Yes, the communication can be much better, look at the goals we swallow against Union, that's because of a lack of communication. The fact remains that we play with a different defence every time. That is a determining factor why our communication is so messed up. Some players are sometimes so focused on their individual performance that they forget to communicate clearly with their teammates. I do see improvement though. This week, we're training a lot on communication."
Speaking of communication, it's also quieter on the field than last season.
"With Jack Hendry you had a very verbal figure on the pitch at the time and a real leader. Especially in a stadium without an audience, that stood out. Also players like Andrew Hjulsager and Kevin Vandendriessche sometimes opened their mouths, even in the dressing room. But anyway, there's no point in talking about those players, the ones that are there now need to take responsibility. The quieter guys need to step up and talk more, it's important that everyone communicates with each other. That's the basis. When every player takes a bit more responsibility, then we can be off."
Is there any point in being really angry with the players?
"There's no point in starting to scream now. I try to turn my anger into analyzing the match. The first day after the match, everyone got their individual analysis and we told them what could be better on a personal level. Tuesday they normally had a day off, but we replaced that with another video session. We certainly don't need to train harder - the training intensity is fine - but some of them might need to focus more on the football and thinking about solutions. That's the only way we can get out of this."
I saw the players laughing today at training. So they've already dealt with it?
"At training I feel like they don't think about it that much. It's about how they react next game, that's the most important thing. Every player deals with a loss differently. One laughs it off, the other doesn't. We're going through a difficult period and we have to get out of it together."
What's the difference from last season?
"Everyone keeps comparing with last season, which is not illogical, but not always easy. Of course we said goodbye to a number of star players, but it's up to us to start a new story together. Last season wasn't always great either. Our November month was dramatic too. Then we recovered. It's not like everything is going bad this season. Our ball recuperations are not bad. The problem is that we're making the wrong runs and making little use of our depth. We also lose the ball too quickly in dangerous places. This is not about quality, but about concentration. The easiest passes, sometimes don't arrive. Every game you have to stay super focused or things will go wrong."
Do you feel there is progression in the group?
"In the away game against OH Leuven I had that feeling. There was a good organisation and the pressing was okay. Unfortunately we lost that game with the smallest difference. Then came the international break and the tough loss against Union."
Is it a difficult task to get the team back on track?
"Fortunately, I do have experience with this. Last season we also lost four games in a row. But it's my job to take charge of the team and make sure we win games again. I stay positive and radiate that to the group as well. Only that way we can get back on track."
The coming weeks there are many matches in a short period of time, just before the winter break, how do you look ahead?
"Hopefully we can start with a point against Antwerp. We will have to tackle every game with full focus. The next few weeks will go by quickly. We'll have to win games, that's clear. Teams like Beerschot and Cercle Brugge are not playing bad football at the moment. We are lucky to have seventeen points anyway, because things can suddenly go fast, especially when you lose four games in a row."
If you pick up a point in Antwerp, you could be off for a series.
"That's true. Antwerp is a strong team with a lot of individual quality, but they also have a European game in the legs. We have to show we are ready and will do everything we can to go home with a point or maybe three. We want to make it difficult for them."
You also have some players who are injured. How is their rehabilitation going?
"The rehabilitation of Tanghe is going well. Normally he will train again with the group from Monday, but Antwerp is still too early. McGeehan will probably be able to play again in mid-December. Normally that was a bit earlier, but during his revalidation he struggled with some overload, which is not illogical. If he is fit, he can give some extra body to the midfield. We'll have to wait a bit more for Indy Boonen and Manuel Osifo.
With Kyle Duncan you do have a first reinforcement for January.
"Kyle is a player who grew up with the Red Bull philosophy, which means he has to fit into our system. He's quick and defends well up front so that's good. On top of that, he's fit and immediately employable, which is not unimportant. The players we recruit in January will have to be up and running straight away, because there are only nine games left to us then. There will be reinforcements, but the main thing is to get the points before the winter break. Hopefully starting Sunday against Antwerp.