Defending champions Hyderabad FC will lock horns with ATK Mohun Bagan in the Indian Super League semi-final at the G.M.C. Balayogi Athletic Stadium on Thursday. This pivotal encounter will feature the clash of the two best defences in the league this season, and will also be the second time these two teams meet at this juncture in as many seasons.

The first leg of the semi-final will be in Hyderabad FC’s backyard, as it was last season. Manolo Marquez’s men have lost only two out of ten games at home this season and, overall, had the best defensive record in the league with only 16 goals conceded in 20 games.

In their last game, Borja Herrera scored the only goal of the match against the Kerala Blasters. The Spaniard has been a significant figure in the Hyderabad FC midfield. Up front, Bartholomew Ogbeche is the club’s leading goal scorer this season, with ten goals to his name.

“Every team that has reached the semi-final will try to reach the final. We are playing the same semi-final that we played last season, so let’s see if we can also repeat the outcome of last season and advance,” said Marquez. “The expectation of all four teams in the semis will be the same. All four teams have the ability to win the trophy,” he added.

ATK Mohun Bagan have played an extra game after the conclusion of the league phase as they eliminated Odisha FC in the new knockout stage of the ISL playoffs this season. The win extended the Mariners’ winning run to three games, and capped off a crucial spike in form after they were in danger of falling out of the top four briefly. They scored two goals in each of those three games, also keeping a clean sheet in two.

ATKMB will be hoping to change the outcome of this fixture this time around, but their away form has been a matter of concern. The Mariners finished third on the table, but on the road, they won only three out of ten games, scoring ten goals and conceding nine in the process.

On the flip side, Juan Ferrando’s men have the second-best defensive record in the league this season - conceding just one more goal than Hyderabad FC. They are, however, far behind Hyderabad FC’s attacking numbers, and will be without the injured Ashique Kuruniyan for this fixture.

“We are not focusing on their [Hyderabad FC’s] individual players. We are focusing on them as a team because that is football. Ogbeche is a very good player and a proven goalscorer. But on the pitch, it is eleven versus eleven and our focus will never be on one player,” said Ferrando. “The team has reached the semi-final and that is not because of just one player. The entire squad has contributed to it,” he added.

When the two sides met in the semi-finals last season, Hyderabad FC won with an aggregate score of 3-2 thanks to a 3-1 result at home in the first leg.