ATK Mohun Bagan have momentum but we're tough to beat: Hyderabad FC's Manolo Marquez
Hyderabad FC head coach Manolo Marquez was pleased to see his side reach the semi-final stage for the second consecutive season but expects a tight match as Hyderabad FC host ATK Mohun Bagan in the first leg of of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 semi-final in the GMC Balayogi Stadium in Hyderabad on Thursday.
Marquez’s side made it to the semi-final with a second place finish in the Hero ISL points table with 42 points from 20 games, which is their highest point tally in the history of the league. They recorded 13 wins and conceded just 16 goals throughout the league phase. They also equalled the record for the joint most clean sheets (10) in a league phase of a Hero ISL season
The head coach now is keen to go all the way and win the Hero ISL again.
“Every team that has reached the semi-final will try to reach the final, and we play the semi-final like we did last season. Let's see if we get to qualify for the final of the Hero ISL the same as last season,” Marquez said in the official pre-match press conference.
The semi-final fixture featuring Hyderabad FC and ATK Mohun Bagan is the replica of the last year's semi-final where Marquez’ side came out as the winner. Hyderabad FC are seeking a repeat of that performance.
“Last season, we had a very good campaign and had the chance to win the Shield. We had a bit of bad luck, but then we went on to win the Hero ISL title. We were clinical back then, and we will look to replicate the same style this season to reach the final. Anything can happen in the knockout rounds. ATK Mohun Bagan are in a better momentum than when they played against us in Hyderabad but we are a very good team as well, and we are a very difficult team to beat” the Spaniard said.
Defensively, Hyderabad FC and ATK Mohun Bagan are the best teams in the league as they conceded just 16 and 17 goals respectively in the 2022-23 season. This was reflected in the identical 1-0 wins both sides enjoyed over the other at their respective home grounds in the league phase. Hugo Boumous gave the Mariners the victory in Kolkata whereas Bartholomew Ogbeche's late winner sealed the deal for Marquez's team in Hyderabad. The HFC head coach expects a similar game in the semi-final.
"Theoretically it seems like that (low scoring match), even if you see the knockout games in the last few days, it was a tight game and we and ATKMB are the teams who conceded very few goals in the league stage. But football is (unpredictable) so it may be a game with four or five goals. But theoretically not too many goals would be in the game," Marquez commented.
Hyderabad FC have lost just two games at home and with the unwavering support of their fans, the team has secured 17 points in Hyderabad. With the city set to witness a semi-final game for the first time in Hero ISL history, Marquez is expecting a packed stadium on Thursday and expressed his gratitude for the fans who have turned up throughout the season.
"I would like the stadium to be full. I know that is very difficult because people who know the game said that after recovering from Covid, there are less people in the stadiums. But in this kind of (semi-final) game, it has to be practically full and I always repeat the same that we are very grateful to the people who are coming to the stadium. If we want that football to grow in this city, Hyderabad FC need to continue with this line and try to always arrive at the top level and to fight for the titles," he concluded.
Spanish midfielder Borja Herrera accompanied Marquez in the pre-match press conference. He has been an influential figure this season for Hyderabad FC. Enjoying his first stint in India, Herrera narrated his experience so far with the club and the players.
"My experience is very good. I am very comfortable here in the team and in the city. In the club. Our team is like a family. You can see that on and off the pitch and training ground. Players are amazing. All are together and we are a very good team," he added.
Herrera scored the all-important winner against Kerala Blasters FC in their last league-stage match and has started both the matches against ATK Mohun Bagan in the league stage. When these two sides met in Hyderabad last time, he assisted Ogbeche for his winner. The 30-year-old is expecting a tough battle on Thursday and wants his team to be focussed all the time.
"They (ATKMB) are a very, very good team with very good players. We played against them twice and both the matches were very tough for both the teams. In the knockout stage for example you can lose the knockout in just 10 minutes, so we need to be focused throughout the game," he concluded.