How Hyderabad FC and Chennaiyin FC have traversed contrasting trajectories since their season opener

A couple of months ago, when Chennaiyin FC and Hyderabad FC clashed in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL), countless fans watched the game with excitement. This match, by the way, was the first time both teams were playing in the 2021-22 edition of the Hero ISL, and was expected to provide evidence on how both teams were shaping up.  

Throughout that encounter, Hyderabad FC pushed and probed for an opening. They fashioned a few good chances too but saw Bartholomew Ogbeche uncharacteristically spurn them. The Marina Machans, though, were content to soak up pressure and hit Manuel Marquez’s men on the break.

One such occurrence led to the penalty that Vladimir Koman slotted home, meaning that many were impressed by the steadfastness Chennaiyin FC had showcased, while being equally surprised by the lack of cutting edge existing in the Hyderabad FC ranks.

Since then, however, both teams couldn’t have traversed contrasting trajectories.

As things stand, that game against the Marina Machans remains only one of two matches where Hyderabad FC haven’t scored. Throughout this particular sequence, Marquez’s troops have found ways to make the net bulge. Quite often, Ogbeche has been their guardian angel, whereas at other times, the likes of Edu Garcia and Joel Chianese have also stepped out.

Their Indian complement hasn’t scored as many goals as they would’ve ideally liked but has been integral to their style, which even against stingy defences, has refreshingly remained non-negotiable.

For those with a statistical inclination, Hyderabad FC’s tally of 20 goals is second only to Mumbai City FC in 2021-22 (tied with ATK Mohun Bagan too). And, rather unsurprisingly, 9 of those have been scored by Ogbeche.   

Chennaiyin FC, on the other hand, have conceded 12 goals in 10 games, despite their emphasis on defensive organization. Eight of those have been shipped in their last four fixtures. Of those eight, seven were let in during a two-game span (against Bengaluru FC and Kerala Blasters FC), hinting that the Marina Machans are finding it tough to keep things tight at the back.

The more worrying aspect, though, is that they have simply not been able to find their feet up front. A massive part of their gameplan revolves around keeping clean sheets, which in a competitive league like the Hero ISL, is a good place to start.

The flip side, however, begins surfacing if the clean sheets aren’t kept and the goals at the other end dry up – something that has been happening to the Marina Machans lately.

Interestingly enough, all of Chennaiyin FC’s victories this season (against Hyderabad FC, Jamshedpur FC, NorthEast United FC and Odisha FC) have come via a one-goal margin.

They’ve kept a clean sheet in two of those (Hyderabad FC and Jamshedpur FC) but have only scored two goals each in the remaining two fixtures, indicating that the scoring problems, which plagued their campaign last time out, hasn’t really gone away.

To their credit, they’ve moved early in the transfer market and recently acquired Nerijus Valskis – a striker who usually guarantees goals. But he still seems to be feeling the injury that he was nursing when at Jamshedpur FC. He could still rock up and score a hat-trick against Hyderabad FC but his lack of match-sharpness is a problem the Marina Machans could’ve done without.

Thus, it is fair to say that Chennaiyin FC, who were cast as one of the toughest nuts to crack in the Hero ISL, especially after their victory against Hyderabad FC, find themselves needing a little more offensively. Earlier in the season, when pitted against Marquez’s charges, they found it in patches but as the days have ticked along, it has become a bit of a quandary.

In contrast, Hyderabad FC, who suffered a chastening defeat at the hands of the Marina Machans, seem in fine fettle at the half-way stage. Back then, the wind was sucked out of their sails, considering they were dubbed one of the favourites for the ISL title. Now, they know that such aberrations are commonplace in the league. More tellingly, though, they believe that they can turn things around when they get going.

Having said that, they will still have to be at their best against Chennaiyin FC, especially considering Ogbeche’s absence (due to suspension) and the fact that the Marina Machans will, in all likelihood, set up in a low defensive block. Their wingers and full-backs, who usually dominate games, might also not get as much space – much like it happened at the start of both clubs’ campaigns.  

Back then, Hyderabad FC couldn’t do much to change perceptions of them lacking a cutting edge. Now, they have a chance to show how far they’ve come. For the Marina Machans, this is more about wanting to prove they’ve not fallen away completely and that their method, which depends on a lot of aspects falling into place, is still practical and of course, pragmatic enough.

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