ISL 2020-21, Hyderabad FC Preview: New-look Nizams hope to bury ghosts of dismal debut season
Hyderabad FC got off to a disappointing start in the Indian Super League with a dismal 10th-place finish in their debut season, but will hope to bounce back with new coach Manuel Marquez and a host of new signings.
Hyderabad FC began their Indian Super League (ISL) journey with a lot of hope after joining the league as the replacement for Pune City FC, the franchise that ended its journey on a controversial note in 2019 after five seasons which included a semi-final appearance in 2017-18.
Despite retaining several key members from the Pune locker room, and even their head coach Phil Brown, the newest members of the ISL family didn't quite get off to the kind of start that they would have hoped for. It was almost as if they inherited Pune's inconsistency along with their players and backroom staff.
They kicked their campaign off with a 0-5 defeat at the hands of ATK followed by a 1-3 loss against Jamshedpur FC. The Nizams briefly showed promise in their 2-1 victory over Kerala Blasters in their first home fixture of the season, but that was to be their only time they collected all three points on offer until their very final match of the season against NorthEast United. With 12 defeats from 18 games and a grand total of 10 points in their kitty, Hyderabad had been extended quite the rough welcome by the other teams in the competition.
Coach Brown, who had stints at various English clubs including Bolton Wanderers and Hull City, was handed the sack more than a month before their final game, and the side was managed by two separate caretaker bosses for the remainder of the season.
Albert Roca, who was appointed the head coach right after Brown's exit, was supposed to take charge in the 2020-21 season, but parted ways with the club after getting an offer to join Ronald Koeman's support staff at Barcelona — an offer that most in their right mind wouldn't turn down — paving way for the club's appointment of former UD Las Palmas manager Manuel 'Manolo' Marquez as the boss as they hoped to put the forgettable debut season behind and focus on the team's revival in the upcoming season.
— Hyderabad FC (@HydFCOfficial) November 17, 2020
The team enters the competition with six foreigners, deciding against filling the quota of seven like most others did, but the players they've picked sure are worth their salt.
It's their attack that has ultimately benefited the most from their acquisition of overseas talent this season, with three of the six foreigners being forwards, lending the Nizams a lot of stability in that department. It surely gives them hope of scoring a lot more than the meagre 21 goals that they managed from 18 matches last season.
Players like Aridane Santana, who scored nine goals and two assists in a fruitful run for Odisha FC last season, along with Joel Chianese — with 14 goals from 87 appearances for A-league side Perth Glory — will be the main Hyderabad players to watch out for on the front line.
Also expected to play a key role with his experience is 33-year-old Indian goalkeeper Subrata Paul. The Kolkata native, who holds the league record for most clean sheets (26 from 85 appearances) had won the Golden Glove Award at the end of the 2017-18 season with then debutants Jamshedpur FC, and had a decent run with the side last season with two clean sheets.
The defence could be singled out as the biggest culprit in their dismal campaign last year as the side ended up conceding 39 goals — the worst among all teams by a mile — and finish with a goal deficit of 18.
And this season, as talented as the players might be at the backline, it's the lack of experience that could ultimately hurt the team's chances and make Pal's job as a shot-stopper all the more difficult.
A lot will depend on 30-year-old Spanish central defender Odei Onaindia, who's mainly represented lower-division clubs back home, and how he inspires and shapes the youngsters — all Indian recruits — around him as they look to halt the opposition's charge.
And while he mainly plays at the middle, the versatile Indian midfielder Adil Khan is someone who can be counted on to shift towards the backline as a centre back when needed, giving the team some flexibility on that front.
Coach Marquez has his task cut ahead as he looks to put the past season's performance out of his players' heads and pump them up for a revival of sorts. And his team's certainly showing some promising signs on that front as their display in the pre-season games, which included a 4-2 win over ISL heavyweights FC Goa, would suggest.
While they will certainly look to carry the momentum of that win forward into their league games, Hyderabad certainly have a mountain to climb when it comes to silencing their critics and proving they can compete against the very best and aim for the playoffs, even if the competition's got a lot hotter this year with the entry of Indian football powerhouses Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
"For me, the mentality will be one of the keys. If the team is prepared mentally, we’ll have a good season for sure," Marquez was quoted as saying in an interview on Goal in the build-up to the seventh season, highlighting what will be the most important factor to their success in the coming months.
Goalkeepers: Lalbiakhlua Jongte, Laxmikant Kattimani, Manas Dubey, Subrata Paul.
Defenders: Akash Mishra, Asish Rai, Chinglensana Singh, Dimple Bhagat, Kynsailang Khongsit, Nikhil Prabhu, Odei Onaindia, Sahil Panwar.
Midfielders: Abhishek Halder, Adil Khan, Sahil Tavora, Halicharan Narzary, Hitesh Sharma, Joao Victor, Laldanmawia Ralte, Lluis Sastre, Mark Zothanpuia, Mohammed Yasir, Nikhil Poojary, Souvik Chakrabarti, Sweden Fernandes.
Forwards: Aridane Santana, Fran Sandaza, Ishan Dey, Joel Chianese, Lalawmpuia, Liston Colaco, Rohit Danu.
Head Coach: Manuel Marquez.
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