Marquez and Hyderabad FC impress one and all with huge improvement

Hyderabad FC may not have qualified for the semis in Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2020-21 but they can be proud of what was a solid campaign in just their second season in the top-flight of Indian football. After a baptism by fire in their debut Hero ISL campaign that saw them finish bottom of standings, Hyderabad FC surprised quite a few in their second season as they finished fifth in the standings and only narrowly missed out on a semis spot after failing to beat FC Goa in the penultimate game of the league stage.

A lot of credit for Hyderabad FC’s performances in Hero ISL 2020-21 must go to head coach Manuel Marquez. The Spanish head coach was roped in as a replacement for Albert Roca and Marquez certainly had a galvanizing effect on the squad.

Marquez’s first job at the Telangana-based outfit was to sort out their defence which was leaky in their debut season during which they failed to keep even a single clean sheet. Hyderabad FC, in fact, had the worst defence in Hero ISL 2019-20 and conceded 39 times – more than any other team in the league.

So, when they began their 2020-21 campaign with a 1-0 win over Odisha FC, Marquez had already achieved something that the club had never managed to do before – a clean sheet in Hero ISL besides the three points. Their next match saw them register another shut-out as it became evident that Hyderabad FC in Hero ISL 2020-21 were going to be a completely different proposition from the side that had competed in the previous campaign.

The fact that they would be a hard side to beat was further accentuated as they started the season with a five-match unbeaten run from which they claimed nine points. Another unique and refreshing aspect during this run was Marquez’s use of Indian talent. Injuries and a lack of fitness meant that Hyderabad FC didn’t have many fit foreigners to start the season with. However, instead of throwing his toys out of the pram, Marquez embraced the situation and opted to put his faith in young domestic talents.

It was a decision that would prove to be a great hit for the rest of the season as Indian players mostly became the catalyst and driving force behind their bid for a semis berth. At one point in the season, Hyderabad FC opted to continually field more than the stipulated six on-field Indian players; such was Marquez’s faith in them and rightly so given that they seldom let the Spaniard down by giving it their all on the pitch.

The performances of their domestic players weren’t going unnoticed either. National team coach Igor Stimac even mentioned how he loved watching Hyderabad FC play. Stimac’s recent 27-member squad for upcoming friendlies against Oman and the UAE is further proof of just how well Marquez did to get the best out of his domestic talents.

Hyderabad FC have more players than any other Hero ISL team in Stimac’s squad for the friendlies. The likes of Akash Mishra, Chinglensana Singh, Mohammed Yasir, Halicharan Narzary, Hitesh Sharma and Liston Colaco have all made the cut with Asish Rai missing out due to an injury. All the abovementioned players shined at some point or another during Hero ISL 2020-21 but pinning the team’s success entirely on them would be a tad unfair to their foreign contingent.

Lest we forget, their foreign players also played their part in making it a successful season for the club and that wouldn’t have been possible with the right mix of young domestic talents and experienced foreign players. Aridane Santana ended the season as their top-scorer with 10 goals and formed a strong attack trident with Joel Chianese and Fran Sandaza.

Sandaza and Chianese’s four and three goals respectively played a big part in their late semis bid, while Joao Victor became their midfield lynchpin and Odei Onaindia was their leader at the back. However, it was the collective effort of the entire squad with Marquez at the helm that made them such a fascinating team to watch. After going the first five games unbeaten, they stumbled slightly and lost three games in a row but Marquez’s men regrouped afterwards to go on a 12-match unbeaten run right till the end of the league stage.

Their superb run meant that they lost just three games all season – fewer than both champions Mumbai City FC and runners-up ATK Mohun Bagan. That said, their 11 draws – joint most in the league – is what held them back from making the semis. Marquez though will know that his players have done well and can do much better in future. The Spaniard has already been rewarded with a contract extension at Hyderabad FC, making it interesting to see if he can help the club continue their upward trajectory under his guidance in his second season with the club.

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