Mumbai City FC will face a tricky test against Hero I-League side Churchill Brothers in their opening game of the Hero Super Cup 2023 which will be played at the Payyanad Stadium in Manjeri, Kerala, on Tuesday.

The Islanders come into this match with an assertive victory against Jamshedpur FC that secured them a berth in the 2023-24 AFC Champions League, adding to their already successful season where they secured the League Shield in just 18 games remaining unbeaten. Mumbai City FC will be hoping to continue their impressive form and kickstart their Hero Super Cup campaign with a win.

The Islanders have had a fantastic season under the guidance of their head coach, Des Buckingham. They finished the league stage with a record-breaking 46 points and have been consistent throughout the season, showcasing their attacking prowess with a all-time Hero ISL record of 54 goals.

On the other hand, Churchill Brothers FC have also had a promising season last year, finishing 6th in the Hero I-League. They secured their Hero Super Cup berth following an impressive 6-0 victory against Real Kashmir.

Ahead of the tournament opener for both teams, head coach Des Buckingham in the pre-match press conference shared his thoughts on the preparation ahead of the game, “We're preparing this team the same way that we have prepared for every Hero ISL game and the Champions League qualifier game that we've had before. We know Churchill Brothers have had some change, certainly since the league season finished for them. They've obviously played that qualifying game, which we were able to watch and get a feel for what they may do against us.

But as always, we'll be as prepared as we think we can be for that game, for what they may throw our way. But the same is as the rest of the season - it's going to be making sure that we're as prepared as we can be in terms of having control of what we have to offer, which is to continue playing a very attacking and exciting brand of football and giving these players a real good platform to go and showcase what they're capable of doing, whether it be against a very strong I league team or against the two Hero ISL teams which will follow."

The Islanders will travel to the Hero Super Cup with an all-Indian squad, a move that Des Buckingham believes will go a long way in the development of Mumbai City's domestic contingent. “It will be different for us because the foreign players do make a difference. But I've spoken about trying to build this club, certainly in the last two years, by having and developing Indian players and we want the best for the players here. The team that we have, we still have the likes of Phurba in goal. We still have Vignesh and Mandar at left back. We have Rahul Bheke and Mehtab Singh in defence. We have the likes of Vinit, Rowllin and Apuia in midfield. We still have Chhangte, Bipin and Vikram and then you add in the likes of young Ayush and a couple of others in there with Hardik and Sanjiv Stalin. All these players were big impact players for us all season, so I do think we have a great squad.”

On the tremendous success that the Islanders have had throughout their season, the Englishman said, “This is the fourth country I am coaching in and I've coached in many different leagues, but the important thing for me is that as long as everyone's clear on what it is we're all trying to do and everyone understands how they fit in what we want to do and how they can contribute, and then how we can try and be as supportive as we can and create a positive environment that allows those players to go out and really try and showcase what they can. This approach has shown some real good results and we certainly will try to retain it.”

Des Buckingham further stated that the Super Cup is not only a great breeding ground for Indian talent, but will also serve as great preparation ahead of the AFC Champions League, especially for our domestic players. “It gives players opportunities to show what they can do because you can train as much as you want, but the opportunity to compete and compete against your peers in any competition, whether it's in India or outside, that's really where you're tested and that's the one thing I'm really looking forward to seeing. As far as the Super Cup goes, more opportunities are always good for a team to understand themselves, and test their depth and performance in differing circumstances."

Chennaiyin FC kickstart Hero Super Cup campaign against NorthEast United FC 

Chennaiyin FC will be aiming to seal an AFC Cup qualifying spot with a strong show at the Hero Super Cup 2023 as they kick off their campaign against NorthEast United FC at the Payyanad Stadium in Manjeri, Kerala on Tuesday.

This year’s Hero Super Cup offers its champion an opportunity to take aim at a spot in the AFC Cup group stage as the winner will take on Hero I-League champion Gokulam Kerala FC in a qualifying match, scheduled on April 29.

It will be a great chance for Thomas Brdaric’s men, who finished eighth in the recently concluded Hero ISL, to not only end the season on a high but also secure their place in the Asian football’s second-tier club competition.

“It’s an opportunity for an AFC Cup spot. First of all, we have to beat teams in the group stage. There are pretty good teams in the group. The approach will be different every game,” Brdaric said in the pre-tournament press conference on Monday.

The Marina Machans will be banking on their top players like Nasser El Khayati, who scored nine goals in the 2022-23 Hero ISL campaign, and skipper Anirudh Thapa in the midfield to lead them there.

“I am excited to see what progress we can make as a team in the Super Cup and it is a nice challenge. But actually, we have a chance to go on these journeys and can show others how much we can improve. Just like any other team, we also have issues to be solved. But as I said it is a great opportunity for us and we are going to make maximum effort for that,” Brdaric added.

The Hero Super Cup has returned after four years and Chennaiyin had finished as runners-up when the season-ending tournament took place last time in 2019.

Besides El Khayati, five other foreign players — strikers Petar Sliskovic and Kwame Karikari, midfielder Julius Duker, defenders Fallou Diagne and Vafa Hakhamaneshi — are also included in the Chennaiyin squad.

Marina Machans are facing a rather familiar opponent in NEUFC. Both the sides are part of the Hero ISL and have faced each other on numerous occasions. Chennaiyin, however, hold a slight edge in the head-to-head analysis with eight wins from 19 meetings between these two teams across all competitions so far. NEUFC, on the other hand, have won six while the remaining five matches ended in draws.

Chennaiyin will face Churchill Brothers on April 15 before taking on Mumbai City FC in their final Group D match on April 19. Chennaiyin are scheduled to play all three group matches in Manjeri.