We are a very difficult team to beat: Hyderabad FC head coach Manolo Marquez
Hyderabad FC head coach Manolo Marquez acknowledged the threat possessed by Mumbai City FC but remained confident of his team's abilities as his side takes on the table toppers in Matchweek 18 of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 at the Mumbai Football Arena on Saturday.
The Islanders have been unstoppable this season and are on a 16-match unbeaten run. With their win over Jamshedpur FC in the previous game, the side became the first team to have an 11-game winning streak in the history of the Hero ISL.
Seven points shy of their fellow opponents with a game in hand, Hyderabad FC have a huge opportunity to close in on their League Shield rivals. Marquez considered this clash as just another game but appreciated the Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham for his capability to improve the quality of his players.
"Its another normal week. We know that we play against the best team in the competition, with a great coach and a great person. I have a very good relationship with him. For me, he is a very good coach, because he improved the level of the players. Of course, they have better players, especially better foreigners and when you have better foreigners, the level of Indian players also increases and they are full of confidence at this moment," Marquez said in the pre-match press conference.
Buckingham's men have scored 47 goals so far this season, the highest by any team in the league stage of the Hero ISL. They also have 12 different goalscorers in their team. On the other hand, Hyderabad FC have scored 30 goals, the joint-second highest in the league. The Spaniard acknowledged his opponent's goalscoring prowess but remained adamant on his team's robustness and backed them to come through on Saturday.
"They scored four goals against Kerala Blasters FC in 20 minutes and against NorthEast United FC as well. They scored six goals against Chennaiyin FC. You can concede goals, this is football but the problem is if you concede the second goal immediately, then it (becomes) very difficult. So if you concede goals, you have to keep playing," he said.
"They have a great team with a great coach and great players, but I repeat that we are a very, very difficult team to beat. We are the one team that lost less than 10 games in three years. It is fantastic for our team (to have this stat)," he added.
The reverse fixture between the two was their first fixture of the season. Being touted as one of the most anticipated games, the game ended in an entertaining 3-3 goalfest in Pune. Since then, both teams took a different path in 17 Matchweeks and now meet again as the top two teams. The Spaniard analysed the opponent team after their first game and felt that they have come a long way and have managed to be on the top level.
"We are playing both the games as away fixtures right, as we played the reverse fixture in Pune, not in Hyderabad. We played a good game that day. It was the first game where we didn't know exactly the level of the teams. But at this moment, we could check, during such games, the level of the teams. They are ambitious with 11 consecutive wins. They have the best foreigners in the league. Many would say Greg Stewart but for me (Rostyn) Griffiths is the best foreigner in the competition," he said.
"They are a very complete team, not too many injuries and with the City Football Group, you can recover the players fast. If you see this season, all the teams have some injuries but Mumbai City FC practically played with the same team and same players on the bench. This means either they have very good luck or they train very well. We are playing against a very good team. But, I'm sure that we will have our options in this game," he added.
Injuries to several key personnel including club captain and midfielder Joao Victor, first-choice goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani, defender Chinglensana Singh dampened their performances midway through the season. However, the 54-year-old reiterated his praise towards his players and his team for coming out on top despite being stacked against the odds.
"In the future, you will see what these players are doing now is not easy. Being always on top is extremely difficult. As I said before, these guys deserve a monument in Hyderabad. This is true, it is very difficult because we play against very big teams," he commented.
"I recognize that we have a good team. Of course we are not stupid. We have a very good team. But always fighting on top is very difficult but the thing is we will always be a very difficult team to beat and I think that we will have our options against Mumbai City FC as well," he concluded.
Lalbiakhlua Jongte, the 20-year-old goalkeeper accompanied head coach Manolo Marquez in the pre-match press conference ahead of their clash against Mumbai City FC. The Mizoram-born player who is yet to make his Hero ISL debut believes his team is capable of getting past their opponents.
"I think it is a very important game because Mumbai City FC is having a really great season and I believe that we can win against any team in Hero ISL," he said.
Jongte was signed by Hyderabad FC in the 2020-21 season. Once the veteran Laxmikant Kattimani was injured, Gurmeet Singh acted as the first-choice goalkeeper. The young player shared his experience with his fellow goalkeeper Gurmeet Singh.
"We train very hard every day and now we push each other to perform at our best and. We have been together for two seasons and we have improved a lot in these two seasons," he concluded.