With just two matches remaining in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 season, Odisha FC find themselves at a critical juncture. They were the first team to secure a playoff spot this season and are currently among the four teams contending for the League Shield alongside league leaders Mumbai City FC, Mohun Bagan Super Giant, and FC Goa.

Under the leadership of head coach Sergio Lobera, who took the reins of the club during the summer, Odisha FC have enjoyed a memorable season. Lobera's leadership has seen the team exceed expectations across various competitions. 

They reached the knockout stages of the AFC Cup and narrowly missed out on winning the Kalinga Super Cup final, all while securing a playoff berth in the ISL. Historically, Odisha FC have never been in contention for the Shield at this stage of the season, marking a significant achievement under Lobera's guidance.

Lobera boasts an impressive resume in the ISL, having won two trophies, including one ISL Cups and a Shield. However, both these triumphs occurred during his tenure with Mumbai City FC in the 2020-21 season where he became the first coach to win two trophies in a single season. To date, no ISL head coach has matched that feat.

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As Odisha FC clash swords with Mumbai City FC on Monday, Lobera finds himself facing his former club, with the Islanders standing in the way of his title aspirations.

As Lobera spoke to the media in Mumbai on the eve of the game, the Spaniard expressed that the upcoming match held a special place in his heart.

“It's a special situation for me because I won everything here (in Mumbai) in only one year. I didn't have the opportunity to meet the supporters, the fans, to play in the stadium (Mumbai Football Arena because it was a difficult period living in a (Covid) bubble (during the 2020-21 season). It is a special game with personal feelings,” Lobera said in the pre-match presser.

Will home advantage work in Mumbai City FC’s favour? 

Setting aside emotions, the upcoming match holds significant implications for Lobera and Odisha FC. Anything less than a victory would extinguish their hopes of pursuing the Shield. Meanwhile, a win would not only narrow the gap with Mumbai City FC by two points but also draw them level on points with Mohun Bagan Super Giant.

However, overcoming Mumbai City FC at the Mumbai Football Arena won't be a walk in the park. The Arena has proven to be a formidable fortress for opposition teams, with Mumbai City FC capitalising on their home advantage. Accumulating 21 points from home games this season, they have secured six wins and three draws, already matching their points tally at home from the previous season. With just one defeat at home, against Jamshedpur FC, their defensive solidity has been a cornerstone of their success, conceding more than one goal in a home match only once in their last 18 games.

Similar to Mumbai City FC, Odisha FC have displayed commendable performances at their home ground, the Kalinga Stadium. Being unbeaten in all their home games this season — a new feat in the club’s history — they've amassed 27 points, the highest home points tally in the league. This strong home record has been instrumental in keeping them in contention for the Shield.

Despite their prowess at home, Odisha FC have also shown remarkable improvement on their recent away trips. Winning three and drawing three of their last seven away fixtures, with only one defeat, they've demonstrated resilience on the road. 

Mirroring Mumbai City FC, their defence has been pivotal, keeping clean sheets in five of their last seven away games and conceding just four goals in the process. This marks a stark contrast from their initial struggles away from home, where they conceded four goals in their opening two away games. 

As Mumbai City FC's stellar home record collides with Odisha FC's recent away form, it sets the stage for a captivating encounter.

“We are fighting for everything. To be honest, I feel if we win the remaining two games, we can finish top of the table. This is my feeling, and we need to fight for this,” expressed Lobera. 

Lobera's illustrious coaching career saw him clinch the league double with Mumbai City FC in a remarkable single season. Now, at the helm of Odisha FC, he is on track to replicate this feat if his team can secure victories in their remaining two matches, coupled with other results going their way. 

In this emotionally charged encounter against his former club in Mumbai, the outcome could profoundly shape Lobera's legacy with Odisha FC as they continue in their pursuit of silverware.