Hyderabad host Kerala Blasters in must-win game

Panaji: A massive clash awaits Hyderabad FC as they take on Kerala Blasters in a must-win game, at the Tilak Maidan in Vasco, on Tuesday, in Round 18 of the Indian Super League. Manolo Marquez’s men, who claimed a vital point in injury-time against East Bengal three days back, will be eager to get the three points against Kibu Vicuna’s Blasters.

The recent results have seen Hyderabad (24 pts) drop to 5th in the standings, but a win in this game will take them back to third and put pressure on NorthEast United (3rd, 26 pts) and FC Goa (4th, 24 pts) who currently occupy the two remaining slots for the play-offs, after Mumbai City and ATK Mohun Bagan sealed qualification. Meanwhile, anything less than a win in this game will all but end the Blasters’ chances of qualification, making this crunch tie for both teams.

“It is nice that we have not lost in nine games. But there have been too many draws in this time, not just for us, but in the championship. The team that can win games has an advantage. So surely, we need to win tomorrow to continue our good run,” said Manolo Marquez, speaking about the need of a result against the Blasters.

Earlier in the season, Kerala’s first victory in the league campaign came against Hyderabad FC in a 2-0 victory in Bambolim. But ever since, Vicuna’s men have won just two games, with no wins in their last five.

They are fresh from a 2-2 draw against Odisha, with goals from the in-form Jordan Murray and Gary Hooper, both of who will be danger men for Hyderabad. Murray also scored in the first leg between the two sides late in December.

The likes of Rahul KP, Costa Nhamoinesu, Vicente Gomez, Sahal Abdul Samad and Juande have also been consistent in the last few games and will hope to put in a strong performance on Tuesday.

“Kerala are one of the teams that deserve to higher in the league table and I think they have been unlucky in a few games. I am sure tomorrow is going to be a difficult game. They play good football and I like to watch them. So, I am hoping for a good game,” said Manolo.

Hyderabad FC saw Aridane Santana score late against East Bengal, to win a point for his side, to stand as the top goalscorer for the club. Manolo’s men are now unbeaten in their last nine games, keeping clean sheets in three of their last five outings.

A settled backline that is marshalled well by Joao Victor and Lluis Sastre in the midfield has been the key to HFC’s run this season. But the likes of Joel Chianese, Aridane, Fran Sandaza and Halicharan Narzary have all been effective in front of goal and will need to be at their best in this crunch clash.

‘We want to stick to our style of play, like for every game. That is what has made our season a decent one so far and we don’t want to change too many things, for just this game,” said Manolo.

“My players have played really well this season and I have confidence on them for the rest of the games as well. We will try our best to qualify, in the remaining games of the season,” he added.

Manolo Marquez revealed that he has a fully fit squad to choose from ahead of this game. Mohammad Yasir will be the only player missing for this game, as he will serve his suspension for the Red Card he saw late in the game against the Red and Gold Bridge.

KBFC are one of the very few teams to score more than a goal against HFC and one of the three teams to beat them this season. But Hyderabad need more than a point to strengthen their chances of top-4 qualification and this could make this game an interesting one, even for the neutral.

“With just three games left, it is really difficult to change too many things in training. Yes, we need to win as many games as we can to qualify to the top-4. It is not going to be easy, but I am sure my players will fight till the very end,” added Manolo.

The game kicks off at 7:30 pm on Tuesday and will be telecasted live on the Star Sports Network with live streaming on Disney+ Hotstar and JioTV.