Odisha FC returns to Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 action with the faceoff against Hyderabad FC at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on December 17, Sunday. The Juggernauts defeated the Basundhara Kings FC in their previous game by 1-0 to make it to the knockouts of the AFC Cup, and the Sergio Lobera-coached side will be eager to carry the impressive form from that competition into the ISL, where they are unbeaten with a couple of draws and wins each in their last four games.

The team did take their own sweet time to find their rhythm and form under Lobera, but they have been on a roll ever since, running over opponents with the trademark style and blueprint that the Spaniard symbolises.

They will be regretting letting go off all three points in the previous game at the home of the Mohun Bagan Super Giant (MBSG), after taking a two-goal lead, thanks to a brace by Ahmed Jahouh before Armando Sadiku struck back with twin goals to ensure that the teams settled for a point each from the encounter.

Up against them is a Hyderabad FC side still searching for their opening win of the season. They drew 1-1 against NorthEast United FC in the previous game, and that was preceded by losses to Kerala Blasters FC and the Mariners. Much like Jamshedpur FC, Hyderabad FC have not lost games by big margins. However, their lack of precision and efficiency going forward has cost them many points. They will have to elevate their performance levels across all parameters by a significant measure to give a toe-to-toe contest to an in-form Odisha FC unit in the latter’s backyard.

What’s at stake?

Odisha FC

Odisha FC are six points off league leaders FC Goa, who are at 20 points from eight games, with both the teams having played an equal number of matches. Their success on the continental side aside, Lobera will be eyeing inching closer to the Gaurs to mount a serious challenge for the domestic titles too.

It is something that the Spaniard has excelled at in the past, winning the Super Cup with FC Goa, nearly leading them to the League Winners Shield in 2019-20 before being relieved of duties just before they could lift the honours, and then finally finishing the honours by doing the domestic double with Mumbai City FC in 2020-21. However, in those cases, his teams were sniffing the top of the table right from the offset of the campaign.

Here, they are placed fifth after eight games and though the gap between them and the Gaurs can be bridged, it is still a task that requires them to avoid any further slip-ups. There are certain games that a team can simply not afford to drop points from at such junctures of the season, and this encounter against the struggling Hyderabad FC is one of them.

Defensive solidity is a hallmark of any Lobera-coached side, yet the nine goals that they have leaked in the second half of their games this campaign suggests that the team needs to do some work to hold on to the leads that they are garnering. Fixing this issue can result in them delivering more consistent results in the top-tier too.

Watch the Highlights from OFC’s last match here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iPuxXBVYes&t=59s

Hyderabad FC

With four draws and five losses, Hyderabad FC have kicked off this transitional season on an unfortunate note. However, 13 games are a long enough time to spark a turnaround, and hence Thangboi Singto should continue to encourage his players to keep taking positive steps to help them take steady moves higher up the table.

Firstly, a win can get the side going, reinvigorate their spirits, and motivate them to put in better outings on a game-to-game basis. When things appear to be complicated, the easiest way to unravel them is to simplify the process and focus on ticking the small boxes. Not looking too far ahead, Hyderabad FC should try and identify the loopholes in the Odisha FC system and redirect their energies in exploiting that to the best of their abilities.

One of them is the tendency of the Juggernauts to lose control of the game after getting a foot forward, and hence Singto can perhaps look at some impactful Super Subs to do the job for him. He needs to ensure that his team does not take their foot off the pedal especially in the last 30 minutes, with their creative players like Mohammad Yasir and Joe Knowles potentially finding different ways of getting through the Odisha FC defensive unit.

Watch the Highlights from HFC’s last match here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ST-IFKAXYo&t=4s

Key Players

Amey Ranawade (Odisha FC)

The fullback has been an influential addition to the Odisha FC roster this season. His career had taken great leaps when Lobera preferred him  to do the right-back duties for the Islanders in the 2020-21 campaign. Having brought him to Bhubaneswar, the coach has handed him appearances in all of their ISL games and the player has repaid that faith with some tremendous outputs on both the defensive and offensive fronts.

He averages two interceptions, three tackles, and 1.3 clearances per game, along with an average of 28 passes with 78% accuracy. Ranawade has chipped in with a goal and an assist each and creates a goal-scoring opportunity every two games. His tenacity at the back coupled with a sense of unpredictability upfront makes him a prospect to watch out for in this fixture.

Mohammad Yasir (Hyderabad FC)

The attacking midfielder possesses all the answers to the goal-scoring woes of Hyderabad FC. The lack of ruthlessness of their forwards has perhaps starved him of showing up greater numbers in his assists tally in this campaign. Mohammad Yasir is someone who has great feet, eye for a decisive pass, and also a knack of coming up with the goods in front of the goal whenever required. He can set the tempo of the proceedings with a series of passing sequences with other teammates that can beat the opposition in the middle of the park.

He knows the right moments to take the ball forward, whether it comes through piercing the backline with through balls or progressive passes towards the fullbacks and wingers on the flanks. His first touch helps him bring down and control long balls from the defensive line and a powerful shot tends to always keep the opposition switched on whenever he takes over the ball in promising positions. All these facets should be enough for Hyderabad FC to produce better results on the attacking side of the game.

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Head-to-Head

Played – 8

Odisha FC – 3

Hyderabad FC – 4

Draw – 1

Trivia: With four points in nine matches, this is Hyderabad FC’s lowest ever tally at this juncture in any ISL season.

Team Talk

“I am happy because the game's working really well, and I am very proud of my players. They are very good professionals, they are improving every day,” Odisha FC head coach Sergio Lobera remarked ahead of the game.

“I give a big salute to the players and to the staff. On the training pitch, everyone has been giving their best in terms of what we want to do as a team, in terms of preparation, in terms of what we have to achieve in going forward, because lingering in the last position of the league is not at all what you want,” Hyderabad FC head coach Thangboi Singto said.

ISL Fantasy

Amey Ranawade (4.3cr)

Impressive aforementioned figures in the current ISL campaign

Ahmed Jahouh (7.5cr)

Averages 34.5 forward passes this season, the highest amongst all players

Mohammad Yasir (7.1cr)

One goal and an assist each in nine games in ISL 2023-24

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Where to Watch

Fans across the country can catch the action in English, Hindi, Bengali, and Malayalam. Fans can watch the action on linear channels like Sports18 Khel (Hindi), Sports18 1 SD & HD (English), Sports18 3 SD (English, Hindi, Malayalam and Bengali), VH1 SD & HD (English), Surya Movies (Malayalam) & DD Bangla (Bengali). In addition to this, as part of FSDL’s partnership with OneFootball, ISL live streams and highlights of all matches of the upcoming 2023-24 season will be delivered across more than 190 countries.