Hyderabad FC head coach Manolo Marquez believes the real strength of his team is the unity within the group and not the individual players that he has. Hyderabad FC, unbeaten in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season and currently top of the table, face Jamshedpur FC at the JRD Tata Sports Complex, Jamshedpur, in their next challenge, on Wednesday.

The defending Hero ISL champions boast of some quality players, who have performed brilliantly this season. Halicharan Nazary, Bart Ogbeche and captain Joao Victor are currently the joint-top scorers for HFC this season with two goals each, while midfielder Mohammad Yasir has had three goal contributions, including two assists. HFC have also been solid at the back, conceding just thrice in five games while recording four clean sheets.

Hyderabad FC head coach Marquez, who attended the pre-match press conference alongside midfielder Joel Chianese, was of the view that the real strength of his team is his squad. The Spaniard also spoke about Jamshedpur FC, playing in front of opposition fans, and more.

Here are the excerpts from Marquez:

It’s a clash between the Shield winners and the Hero ISL title winners from last season. How do you look at this game?

Every season is different. One big difference is the continuity in our team. I know Jamshedpur FC have a lot of players who were part of their squad from last season. But when you change the coach, it’s not easy. Owen Coyle had a clear style and in some moments (this season) Jamshedpur FC are still adapting (to the new coach’s methods). In some moments, they have played very well and not that well in some moments. These things happen when a coach arrives at a new club. But all of us know that it will be a very tough game. Let’s see what happens on Wednesday.

Bart Ogbeche, Mohammad Yasir and Halicharan Narzary have been playing very well. What do you think of their performances?

We are talking about two of the best Indian players and (one of) the top goalscorers in all the seasons in the Hero ISL. We are not only focused on these three players. We have Joel, we have Javier Siverio, Borja Herrera and many other young players who have a good future. Halicharan is not part of the national team, but has made more than 30 appearances for India. Yasir is one player who is in the squad list under Igor Stimac. It’s not about attack or defence, the strength of our team is the group. On and off the pitch. We are a difficult team to beat, but we know that if we are not focused, we can lose games.

Do you think there will be more added pressure on the team playing in front of the opposition fans?

The crowd support has been fantastic. To play football for two years without fans in the empty stadium was very hard. If you ask the coaches and the players, all of us prefer to play with crowds. Including the opposition crowd. I expect there will be a good atmosphere on Wednesday. We know after their defeat against (FC Goa), the character of the players Jamshedpur FC have. For sure, it will be a tough game. After the last game (against FC Goa), they will want to show how they can play in front of their fans.

Any injury concerns for your side?

Rohit Danu is not available. Apart from that, everyone is.

Which team do you think is the strongest in the league?

This is my third season here in India. In the beginning of my first season here, more or less everyone knew that Mumbai City FC or ATK Mohun Bagan would be the top two teams. But last season, during the final stages of the league, even Odisha FC and Chennaiyin FC had chances to qualify in their last-two three games. This season, if you ask me who the favourites are, I would say ATK Mohun Bagan because they can sign whoever they want. Two of our players are with them. In the season before, they signed Liston Colaco and now, Asish Rai, two of our main players. But Chennaiyin FC have beaten them. Mumbai City FC and FC Goa are also strong, but we are still in matchweek six. Odisha FC are also playing good football. We are another team who will fight for the top six, but it’s still too early in the season and every game is tough.

HFC finished at the bottom in their inaugural Hero ISL season, but since your arrival, the club has been soaring high. What changes have you made to take the club from the bottom of the table to making them champions of India in just a short time?

When I arrived in India, from the first training session I found a group that was focused on listening, learning and everything was good. The relationship between the foreing and Indian players was, and is fantastic. When the coach and the club are in the same direction, you can surpass even the bad moments.

Here are the excerpts from Chianese:

HFC have managed to retain the majority of their core from last season. How important is it to bring back players who have played an important role for the team?

It’s one of our strengths. Keeping the group together over two-three seasons. Which in the past, and it happens regularly in the Hero ISL, a lot of teams change their players every season looking for better players. But the importance of keeping the group together, working on the same structure, same formation, understanding your role and what the coach wants from you is very important. What we’ve seen is that it has taken some Indian players a bit of time to learn what the coach wants from them and understand their role.

So keeping the group together allows them to improve every day in training and we have seen that in the last three seasons. We just keep improving. We’re on top of the table now, but we still have a lot of work to do and be where the coach wants us to be. We can look at it as a positive that we are in a good position, but we still have a lot of work to do and improve. But the group is in a very happy place at the moment and it shows on and off the pitch.