Kerala Blasters FC and Odisha FC face off at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Kochi on Monday, knowing there is precious little separating them on the points table. 

The reward on offer for the winner, if there is any, at the end of the evening is significant. Three points would lift either side into the third spot on the table and just five points behind leaders Mumbai City FC. 

Thus, it is no surprise that Kerala Blasters FC assistant head coach Ishfaq Ahmed has called this match against Odisha FC one of the most important games for the team this season. 

Three points on Monday could be the difference between how the two teams finish the league phase of the season. The winner could be in the mix for the League Shield, while the losing side might be forced to look over their shoulder and fight to preserve their place in the top six. 

Often games with such high stakes tend to be cagey, but as this Hero ISL season has shown, teams prefer to go for it rather than play safe. But in a matchup where there is little separating the two teams, it’s one of the key players on either side that could decide the contest and more often than not, that player is the one that plays in the centre-forward position. 

The ability to exploit tight spaces and the composure to find the back of the net is what separates them from the rest, and games like these get the best out of these elite marksmen. 

In Dimitri Diamantakos and Diego Mauricio, Kerala Blasters FC and Odisha FC have two proven goal scorers who have delivered for their teams in such crunch moments. 

As the two gear up to do the job for their respective teams on Monday, it is key to analyse how these two strikers go about their business in their respective teams. 

“They are both very similar types of players. They are both physically good sizes for a number nine. But I feel Diamantakos plays the number nine role better than Mauricio. The Brazilian seems a bigger threat for Odisha FC when he plays in a different role, either coming in off the line as a number 11 or a number 7 or while playing as a number 10 behind Pedro Martin,” states former Hyderabad FC head coach Phil Brown. 

Josep Gombau has used Mauricio in a slightly less traditional role to use his menacing presence in other areas of the pitch. It has impacted his numbers in front of goal as he has scored just three goals compared to Diamantakos’ five this season, but his presence in his slightly flexible role has helped his teammates thrive. 

Nandhakumar Sekar has scored four goals this season, while Jerry Mawihmingthanga and Pedro Martin have scored three apiece. The Brazilian edges ahead of his opposite number in terms of assists as he has three to his name as compared to Diamantakos’ two. 

Mauricio likes to engage with defenders using his physical strength allowing the others around him more space to operate into. 

“Mauricio is slightly more physical. He likes to hustle the defenders rather than use that movement off the ball. So he creates that menace inside the box. He can also pick up pieces inside the box and score from close range,” notes Hero ISL commentator Mark Tompkins. 

Diamantakos is more mobile as a forward, and it suits the more technical players around him who can pick a pass and find him. 

“I think Diamantakos has a definitive role in a Kerala Blasters FC team with a front four who are almost cast in stone. I think for a striker, it is very important to know the players around him. I think he is playing with a lot of confidence because his movement is clever and in dangerous areas, and Kerala Blasters FC strike force can reward it with accurate passes in these areas,” says Brown. 

Another aspect that makes Diamantakos tick for Kerala Blasters FC is his work rate, which helps with Ivan Vukomanovic’s willingness to press the opponent. 

“He is a team player. He works tirelessly across that front line, and I think this is where he is slightly different from Diego Mauricio,” says Tompkins. 

“And as a defender, you’d hate someone like that and also someone whose movement off the ball is excellent,” he adds. 

Odisha FC haven’t scored in their last two matches, and Gombau expressed concern about it in the pre-match press conference. Mauricio’s part becomes crucial against a Kerala Blasters FC side that has improved defensively as the season has progressed. Gombau would be looking at his ace predator to deliver the goods on Monday as they bid to improve on their away record, which doesn’t inspire much confidence. 

As for Diamantakos, the stage is set for him to take over and shine in front of the yellow sea in Kochi. 

The occasion around the match feels right for either of these top strikers, or both of them, to come to the party and lay down a marker of their class.