Chennaiyin FC will look to consolidate their place at the top in Group D of the Hero Super Cup 2023 as they take on Churchill Brothers FC at the Payyanad Stadium, in Manjeri, Kerala on Saturday.

Chennaiyin FC began their campaign with a thumping 4-2 win over NorthEast United FC. The Marina Machans currently lead their group thanks to a superior goal difference, level on points with second-placed Mumbai City FC. Meanwhile, Chennaiyin FC’s opponents Churchill Brothers began their campaign with a 1-2 defeat to the Islanders, conceding the winning goal in injury time in a game where they had taken the lead.

Chennaiyin FC head coach Thomas Brdaric was pleased with the way his side performed against NorthEast United FC and backed them to do the same against Churchill Brothers.

“Most important is the victory because to progress in this tournament, you need points and have to score,” Brdaric said in the pre-match press conference.

“It was the first match and nobody knew where we stood but now, we are more experienced and I’m convinced that we can carry on with the same efforts like the first match,” Brdaric added.

A defeat for Churchill Brothers FC will put an end to their Hero Super Cup campaign. The Hero I-League side will be under pressure to put up a good result, having suffered a defeat in their opening game. However, Brdaric emphasised the importance of playing to their strengths and defending well.

“They (Churchill Brothers FC) have some good players. They have some abilities that we need to understand closely and not let them execute (their plans) by doing good work in defence. We have to be strict on that,” Brdaric further said.

“It’s also important to play to our strengths. We have to understand that we need to defend better. We have to play our game. We want to win and make a difference, that’s our focus,” he concluded.

Upbeat Mumbai City FC square off against NorthEast United FC

Mumbai City FC will aim to boost their chances of qualifying for the Hero Super Cup 2023 semi-finals as they take on NorthEast United FC at the Payyanad Stadium, in Manjeri, Kerala later on Saturday.

Mumbai City FC came into the Hero Super Cup after a near flawless Hero ISL campaign, winning the League Winners’ Shield and narrowly bowing out in the semifinals. The Islanders came into the 2023 edition of the cup competition with an all-Indian squad and squared off against Hero I-League side Churchill Brothers in the opening game of Group D. The Goan side went a goal up early on in the game but the Islanders’ fighting spirit came through as Des Buckingham’s side came back to win 2-1 courtesy of a thumping header from Mehtab Singh in the first half and an injury time penalty from Lallianzuala Chhangte.

After the hard-fought win against Churchill Brothers, the Islanders’ head coach Des Buckingham was pleased with what he saw. “I thought that we started off very well and we created numerous chances - I thought we had a penalty that wasn't given in the first half. You have to get off to a good start, especially in tournament football. We played with a very young, all-Indian team. To not only get the win, but also the manner in which we did it, is very pleasing. We stuck true to how we like to play and it took until the last minute to get the winner, but that's what this group is all about.”

Mumbai City FC, who have taken an all-Indian squad to the Hero Super Cup, are using the tournament to further the development of the domestic talent at the club. Speaking on how the relatively young squad approached the game against Churchill Brothers, Buckingham added, “New players were coming into the starting line up, new relationships were being formed and it took a little bit of time for those players to get on the same wavelength and that that's always the case. But once they did, we created many chances, certainly in the first half. On any given day, we would have scored three or four more. So, I was very happy with how the team played.”

The Highlanders, who had a contrasting league campaign and finished bottom of the table in the Hero ISL, arrived into the Super Cup under new leadership. Vincenzo Annesse, who was relieved from his role at NorthEast United at the end of the ISL campaign, was replaced by assistant coach Floyd Pinto in the hot seat. They began their Hero Super Cup campaign on the wrong side of a high scoring tie against Chennaiyin FC, losing out 4-2.

Having beaten the Highlanders twice during the Hero ISL regular season, Des Buckingham spoke on the preparations his side has put in to face NorthEast United in the Super Cup. “The league season is finished. There's been some changes at NorthEast United. We've obviously made some changes in our squad in terms of the way that we've approached this tournament, wanting to give real developmental opportunities to Indian players and get minutes into them. We'll do everything to position ourselves as well as we can to put in our best performance and hopefully we come away with the desired result from the game.”

The 38-year-old Englishman was in the stands during the Highlanders’ first game of the Super Cup against Chennaiyin and he said, “They are approaching the game slightly differently than what they did in the league. They will do it because they have a new coach. We obviously see that, but you can't draw too much off of that because it's one game. After four or five games, I think, you start to see trends of what they might be trying to do. So we won't get too caught up in what we think they might do. We'll just prepare ourselves as well as we can to make sure that we can do what we need to do.”

Buckingham concluded by talking about what he feels has helped him develop the players part of the Islanders’ squad over the last 18 months. He said, “They're very well supported here at Mumbai City. The environment the club has created for them to work in is a very positive one. We give them a lot of encouragement to try and play a certain way. Yes, we went down by one goal in the last game through one mistake but the pleasing thing was we know that if we stick true to what we do, whether it takes us 30 minutes to get the equaliser or the 92nd minute to find the winner, the performance will often deliver a result for us and all the players know that.”