Defending champions Hyderabad FC will go head-to-head with ATK Mohun Bagan in the first leg of the second semi-final of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season at the GMC Balayogi Athletic Stadium, in Hyderabad on Thursday.
The reverse leg will be held at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on March 13. The rivalry between the two sides has been intense this season, with both sides winning their respective home games by a 1-0 margin. So, it goes without saying that the semi-final across two legs will lead to another high-intensity affair between two of the best teams in Indian Football.
It has been quite a remarkable season so far for Hyderabad FC who finished second in the final league standings with 42 points from 20 games, their highest-ever points tally in a single ISL season. Manolo Marquez’s side goes into this tie with a 1-0 win over Kerala Blasters FC and they will be aiming for another final – as the club’s high standards demand nothing less.
ATK Mohun Bagan have not had the best of starts this season but have certainly lifted themselves to the occasion when it has mattered the most. The Mariners cruised past Odisha FC 2-0 in the second knockout fixture and made it to the semi-finals for a third season running. Juan Ferrando’s men go into this encounter on a three-game winning streak.
Ahead of what promises to be an exciting battle, here are the three key individual battles that could determine the outcome of the first leg of this enticing semi-final clash.
Odei Onaindia vs Dimitri Petratos
If there are two players who exemplify the current form of each side – it is Odei Onaindia and Dimitri Petratos.
Petratos has hit the ground running for the Mariners since his arrival in the summer. The former Aussie international has been clinical in attack and his goal contributions have proven to be pivotal for his side this season. Petratos has scored ten goals and registered seven assists in 20 appearances so far but it is the way he has adapted to Ferrando’s style of play that marks him out as a player to be reckoned with. The 30-year-old is extremely flexible with his manager’s plans and now it is almost impossible to imagine the starting XI without him.
But the attacker faces a much more robust challenge in the form of Odei Onaindia, who is the backbone of HFC defence. Manolo Marquez’s side has been quite solid defensively, keeping ten clean sheets and conceding just 16 goals in the league phase.
The Spanish defender is a no-nonsense, dynamic player who marshals a near-unbreakable defence. His imposing marking skills, ability to make clutch challenges and confidence is very hard to break down. Odei must be defensively alert if he intends to frustrate ATKMB’s attack in the final third.
Bartholomew Ogbeche vs Carl McHugh
The battle between Bartholomew Ogbeche and Carl McHugh could be the most enticing one. Both love to run the show for their respective teams, but they need to work their socks off to come out on top.
With ten goals and two assists, the Nigerian forward has set the pace in the league and he will be, undoubtedly, Hyderabad FC’s biggest hope to overcome a tricky test against ATK Mohun Bagan. Given his impressive run of form and experience, Ogbeche is most likely to lead the Hyderabad FC attack in this tie and this implies that defensive midfielder McHugh will have his work cut out.
More than Ogbeche’s deadly finishing and aerial prowess, it’s the attacker’s link-up play that could worry McHugh.
The Irish midfielder could drop between the centre-backs to create numerical superiority in the backline. He is often tasked with defending a huge amount of space and it is anticipated that will be asked to do the same against HFC’s no.
10 Ogbeche. McHugh’s passing is a footnote to his defensive work. His hard-working nature, crunching challenges, unpredictable passing, and experience make him one to watch.
Hitesh Sharma vs Hugo Boumous
The tie between Hyderabad FC and ATK Mohun Bagan is likely to be decided by fine margins. The real battle over the two-legged semi-final, which could determine the outcome of this encounter, is likely to be settled in the middle of the park. Both teams boast quality midfielders who are capable of turning things in their team’s favour.
The most prominent battle in midfield ought to be between Hitesh Sharma and Hugo Boumous. Both played significant roles in helping their sides get to the semi-finals.
Arguably one of the best midfielders in the ISL, Boumous’s presence in the ATKMB midfield has been immense for their attack. The French midfielder has netted five goals and registered four assists in 17 appearances this season. But what makes him a nightmare for any side are his vision, creativity, and ability to split the defence with pinpoint passes while also generating threats as a goal-scorer.
Sharma, however, won’t back down in this battle. The 25-year-old has been remarkable in midfield this season and has played a significant role for Hyderabad FC in the absence of skipper Joao Victor. Though Hitesh has one goal and one assists to his name this campaign keeping Boumous under wraps will remain his primary job in this tie.