ISL 2020-21 preview: Third place in sight, Hyderabad, NEUFC target maintaining momentum

ISL 2021: At present, both have accumulated 22 points after 15 games with fourth-placed Hyderabad just above NEUFC, thanks to a better goal difference.

Under Khalid Jamil, NEUFC has been unbeaten in its last four matches with three wins.   -  ISL/Sportzpics

Last season, Hyderabad and NorthEast United finished at the bottom of the Indian Super League (ISL) table. But the two struggling teams have turned around things in style in the current campaign, and are still in contention to qualify for the playoffs.

At present, both have accumulated 22 points after 15 games with fourth-placed Hyderabad just above its opponent, thanks to a better goal difference. And as it prepares to face each other at the Tilak Maidan Stadium on Sunday, a win for either side could propel them to third.

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While the Nizams have been unbeaten in their last 7 matches, NEUFC has turned its campaign around and boosted its playoff chances, remaining unbeaten in its last 5 games.

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Interim coach Khalid Jamil has made NEUFC the team to beat since taking charge in January, leading it to three wins and a draw. While the Highlanders haven't kept a clean sheet in nine games now, their attack has been their main strength, having scored 21 goals – the second-highest tally in the league alongside FC Goa.

And its recent run of results hasn't gone unnoticed by Hyderabad coach Manuel Marquez. "The work of Khalid is very good because it's not easy to win against ATK (Mohun Bagan), Jamshedpur (and Mumbai City) and the other day when you are twice down against Goa to equalise the game (2-2)," he said. "I think the most important thing is that Khalid gives the players confidence. They play with a good organisation in defence and have very good players in attack. Of course, we will have options to win the game if we play to our style."

Hyderabad FC has been unbeaten since the turn of the year. - ISL/Sportzpics

 

To increase its chances of winning, HFC will have to keep a tight leash on midfielder Federico Gallego, who has been key to NEUFC's attack. The Uruguayan has scored four goals and contributed as many assists besides creating the most chances for his side. However, Khalid believes its recent progress has been down to the team effort.

"It is not about the individuals," he said. "Everyone is working hard, the players are doing their job and are enjoying. Even the staff, everyone is working together. This is the main secret (to our success)."

NEUFC will be without right-back Ashutosh Mehta and central midfielder Khassa Camara, who will be suspended after picking up four yellow cards each.

But one aspect Khalid will be aware of is NEUFC's tendency to concede in the second half, having shipped 60 per cent of its goals during that period. Furthermore, HFC has netted 15 of its 20 goals after the break.

"Hyderabad is a good team and they prepare very well," Khalid said. "Our preparation will always be the same but tomorrow's match will be crucial."

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