Hyderabad FC finished last in the ISL a couple of years ago – in the season of their inception. The following season they brought in Manolo Marquez after newly appointed former BFC coach Albert Roca moved to FC Barcelona as part of Ronald Koeman’s staff.
Since then, the team has seen an upward tick in their fortunes with a few hiccups here and there. Last season (2020-21), they came agonisingly close to qualifying for the playoffs – missing the spot by just two points.
Ahead of the recently concluded 2021-22 season, they picked from where they left. They brought in experienced players like Bart Ogbeche, Edu Garcia and later on Khassa Camara to bolster their squad. Importantly, the team retained most of the young Indian stars who had flourished under Manolo. The coach put his faith in youngsters like Akash Mishra, Ashish Rai and Hitesh Sharma to name a few and they played a crucial role in both the seasons.
Hyderabad FC played in a (4-2-3-1) 71% of the time and 4-4-2 in a couple of matches, the most recent of which was in the semi-final against ATK Mohun Bagan.
Laxmikant Kattimani retained his position for a number of matches towards the end and played a total of 2220 minutes, the second highest in the team. The back four was almost constant – the centre-back positions were manned by Juanan and Sana Singh while the fullback positions were occupied by Akash Mishra and Ashish Rai.
Sana Singh and Akash Mishra were the first names in every lineup and have seen plenty of game time. On occasions when Ashish was unavailable, Nim Dorjee slotted into his position. In the absence of Juanan, either Joao Victor or Khassa Camara would play as a makeshift centre-back.
In the build-up phase, 4-2-4 was the most common shape. Either Joao or Souvik would drop to provide passing options. But the most common method opted for ball progression was via long balls by CBs or straight from goal kicks. This can be seen in the numbers as well.
1. Sana Singh 7.58 per 90, 52% accuracy
2. Juanan 6.85 per 90, 55% accuracy
3. Kattimani 5.62 per 90, 78% accuracy
Hyderabad FC did not press aggressively high up the pitch, but instead preferred to stay tight and win the ball in midfield. They allowed the opposition to have a higher share of the possession. HFC averaged 281.7 passes per match which sees them third from the bottom in terms of passes per 90. The league average was 314.4 passes per 90. The team averaged 8.7 passes per defensive action (PPDA) as compared to the league average of 8.08; they stand sixth in terms of pressing.
The picture below illustrates their press, Chianese pressing the ball carrying centre-back and also blocking the passing lane to the other CB. Ogbeche is on his way to cover the DM and Nikhil Poojary is marking the fullback. Joao Victor is standing in front of the second pivot of the opposition, and thus the team almost completely blocks all ‘easy’ passing lanes. The defender has to attempt a hopeful long ball or play it back to the keeper or in the worst-case scenario give away the ball to the opposition in a dangerous area.
Often, the first press would be bypassed via the wings since HFC would become compact without possession. On bypassing the first line, the wide players would track back and then the formation would shift to a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1 with two banks of four operating close to each other.
While defending set-pieces, they use a combination of Man and Zone-oriented marking. Ogbeche and Siverio guard the six-yard box whereas the other defenders mark the attackers making it difficult for them to get a clean contact on the ball and in turn reducing their opportunities.
Attack to Defence Transitions
On defensive transitions, Hyderabad FC were quite vulnerable, especially against opponents with pace. This was seen in all the matches versus ATK Mohun Bagan (under Juan). On transitions, Liston’s pace was difficult to deal with and most of ATKMB’s goals came via counterattacks. HFC though did really well against all the other ISL teams in defending counters. The team in most of their matches had a mid to high line – the last man would be somewhere between the halfway line and the edge of the 18-yard box.
The picture below shows the average positioning of HFC players versus Mumbai City FC.
During attacks, HFC did not commit both the fullbacks forward; when the left fullback pushes up, the right fullback tucks in to form a three-man defence.
Since Juanan and Sana are not the quickest CBs, they had to hold their line very well and force the opponents to stray into offside positions. Juanan was the orchestrator in this tactic, he would be the one instructing the backline to either step up or hold. But in a few instances, when Juanan stepped up, the backline did not react quickly and this led to space being created behind Juanan which was exploited repeatedly; although in most cases, the recovery tackles covered up for the damage.
HFC did not concede a lot of goals on transitions mostly because of their wide players who tracked back to help out in defence. The regular fullbacks Akash Mishra and Ashish Rai made a lot of recovery tackles in both halves (70% in their own half and 30% in the opposition half).
Besides that, the wingers made their job easier on transitions. Rohit Danu, Aniket Jadhav and Nikhil Poorjary were amongst the hardest working players in the league. They made half of the recoveries in their half and the rest in the opposition half.
Hyderabad FC scored a bulk of their goals via set pieces. This could be one of the reasons why they massively over-performed on their xG tally since set pieces are not high xG chances. Hyderabad FC seemed to have a set-piece routine for almost every team and tried various tactics to break down the opposition defence.
One of them was the short corner. The corner taker would play a one-two pass with the nearest player which would then force the opposition to step up in order to execute an offside trap. This routine was particularly used to disrupt and capitalise when the opposition had many numbers in the box.
The picture below explains the routine. Chianese plays a short pass to Akash Mishra who lays him off for a cross. The defenders face the ball and have their backs against the goal which makes it difficult to defend incoming crosses. On the other hand, the attackers are ready for the ball to be played in and try to score. This was one of the five goals Hyderabad scored against NorthEast United.
Let’s look at another set-piece routine that worked out well for HFC. Here, three players would crowd the goalkeeper. In doing so, the opposition defenders had to track back towards the goal line leading to a lot of bodies around the keeper. In situations like these, the deliveries are aimed right in the centre of the six-yard box inviting the keeper to come to claim it.
The keeper can either grab it or punch it and the latter seems the go-to option for most. If the clearance is weak, the two players outside the 18-yard box can have a shot at goal. Alternatively, if the keeper spills it, then the players could try and find the back of the net.
HFC scored the highest amount of goals in the league stage, 43 goals in 20 matches almost averaging 2 goals per match. In terms of expected goals, they created chances worth 33 goals, but thanks to Ogbeche’s brilliant form and unbelievable finishing, the team outscored their xG by a huge margin.
Hyderabad FC changed tactics depending on the opposition. For goal kicks, the team did not look to build out from the back; instead, Kattimani would look for Ogbeche/Siverio in the centre or target the wide wingers who hug the touchlines.
On goal-kicks, the team would become compact – one of the far side wingers tucks in almost as a central midfielder; in the snapshot below, Nikhil Poojary drifts in as a CM. Along with him Joao and Souvik position themselves to win the second ball and also stop opposition counters. And another point to note is that Hyderabad FC almost always aims for the half-spaces on goal-kicks.
Playing 4-2-3-1, when the ball is launched towards the mid circle, the striker comes up to receive it and at the same time pulls a defender with him. This creates space for the central attacking mid to run into. The striker’s job was to try to flick it onto his path; this tactic was used repeatedly by HFC.
Siverio and Ogbcehe had the team’s highest aerial duels attempted with Siverio at 13.98 and Ogbeche at 9.47. In fact, both of them rank the highest in the league for the total number of aerial duels.
The picture below illustrates the above point – Bart Ogbeche contesting for the ball and Chianese already on his way for the flick on.
Bart Ogbeche, Javier Siverio, and Joel Chianese were the top 3 attackers for Hyderabad FC this season (have not considered Edu since he couldn’t complete his tenure). Between them, Bart and Javier are pretty similar to each other in terms of goal-scoring capabilities. The differentiating factor was the number of long passes received. While Bart received 1.26 long passes per 90, Javier received nearly twice the amount at 2.29 per 90.
As can be seen from the above graph, Javier is more of a target man as compared to the other two. When paired with Chianese, Javi had a higher share of aerial duels and similarly, when paired with Ogbeche, he had a bigger role in contesting for long balls.
Another strategy for Manolo Marquez’s team was using width. Wing play was one of the vital strengths of Hyderabad FC and the players thrived in 1-on-1 situations. They were able to deliver crosses and the stats are far better than the league average.
HFC completed 16.5 crosses per 90 with approximately 36% accuracy meaning one cross out of three was accurate. The league average was 12 crosses per 90 with 29.6% accuracy. Furthermore, HFC had the least number of through passes played in the league. The proof is in the pudding – HFC preferred to go around the defence rather than through it.
The key players in this area were M. Yasir, Akash Mishra, Asish Rai and Nikhil Poojary. Aniket Jadhav did have chances, but still has a long way to go in terms of quality. The above-mentioned players racked up 11 assists with an expected assists tally of 9.87.
All in all, it was a great tournament for Hyderabad FC. At one point they looked clear of winning the shield as well, but couldn’t see it through. Nevertheless, the ISL title is a big prize in their kitty and a due reward for their relentlessness on the field.
Kudos to Manolo Marquez who brought in youngsters and had faith in them, and now the team is reaping the benefits. All in all, Indian football needs coaches like him to help improve standards of Indian players.