Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham has fired a quiet warning at Hyderabad FC suggesting that it is harder to play as defending champions than as challengers as teams try harder to beat you.

Mumbai City FC failed in their title defence as they finished fifth in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2021-22 season and couldn’t make the cut to the semi-finals.

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The Islanders take on last year’s champions Hyderabad FC at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Pune on Sunday in what is expected to be a titanic clash between two of this year’s prime contenders for the title.

Buckingham and captain Mourtada Fall addressed the media ahead of the match.

Here are the excerpts from Buckingham’s press conference:

How do you sum up your performance in the Durand Cup and what does it mean for the new Hero ISL season?

Buckingham: I had spoken before the Durand Cup that we are going to pick up from where we left off in the AFC Champions League. I felt we had a very good campaign. I was very happy we made the final (in the Durand Cup) and we had a very good group stage in a very tough group. But our aim was to not just get out of the group but have seven games because if we had seven games, it would really prepare us for the Hero ISL. Although we didn't quite win the cup, those seven games helped us really prepare well.

This season you will be able to play in front of fans in Mumbai and we expect some fans to travel here to Hyderabad. How does it feel to play in front of them and how much does it boost the team?

Buckingham: If anyone has seen the opening match on Friday, players want to play in stadiums that are full whether they are your fans or the other team's fans. You can see the excitement when there are attacking moves or goals and that translates into the tempo of the game. The players have a high excitement level on the field. I think that is something which has been missed because of the bio-bubble in the last two years.

In terms of our fans, we have a very dedicated set of fans. We had two of them travel to Saudi Arabia for the AFC Champions League. We are a lot closer to home now and we are looking forward to seeing as many of our fans on Sunday.

You have a lot of young players in the team that have done well for you. Will you keep adding new young players to the side or stick with the experienced players in the group?

Buckingham: We are about the team rather than individuals. My job is to try and set the directions for how we play, what we do on the field, and what we do off the field and we then try to make sure that the players and the staff pull in the same direction.

We have got very good experienced players, both foreign and Indian players. Then we have a very young core group of our Indian players. The average age is 23 but they are surrounded by some very good players. Whether it's development or trying to be successful by getting good results if we can get that combination right week in and week out, we will put ourselves in a very strong position come the end of the season.

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What is your take on Hyderabad FC who are defending champions and does playing your first game against such a high-quality side weigh you down?

Buckingham: They are the reigning champions and we had that experience last year and we certainly found out how much teams wanted to try and beat us. That doesn't necessarily make a big difference to how we approach our game but we have done as much as we can to prepare for our first game whether it's again Hyderabad FC or anybody else as well as we can. We can only control what we have. I think it will be a very good game. They have a very good coach and consistency the same way we have by retaining the coach and a large group of their playing base. I am expecting a very good game on Sunday and one which we are very much prepared for.

Here are the excerpts from the Mourtada Fall press conference:

What are the goals that you have set out for the team and yourself?

Fall: First is to start the season well which is the most important thing. The season is very long. We have 20-25 games to reach the final. So if we start well, it helps you to get confidence for the next games. We are ready for that, we work very hard. The Durand Cup helped us to prepare

This is a longer season compared to last season, so how important is it to start really well?

Fall: It's very important to start well. But that's not enough. Last season we started well and then we didn't perform. So, it's important to keep the level because it's a short season and if you lose form, there is no time to regain it. So we must start well and then make sure we carry that form

What is your take on Hyderabad FC?

Fall: Hyderabad FC are a good team. they were champions last year but also we are a good team with good players. Last season was tough. Everyone played at 200% against us. We have that experience. We are ready. This is a new season and we need to try again and do our best.