Odisha FC and Kerala Blasters FC will face each other in the first match of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 playoffs at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on April 19, Friday, at 7:30 pm IST. Both these teams are heading into the knockouts with identical forms, losing thrice along with drawing and winning once each in their previous five games.

The Kalinga Warriors finished fourth in the points table with 39 points, whereas Kerala Blasters FC ended up fifth with 33 points. This one-legged playoff fixture is important for both teams, with a win here taking them straight into the ISL semi-finals, where the top-two sides, i.e. Mumbai City FC and Mohun Bagan Super Giant await them. Both Sergio Lobera and Ivan Vukomanovic are seasoned tacticians, and they will be edging to set their teams up perfectly for the crucial 90 minutes lying ahead of them.

What’s at stake?

Odisha FC

Odisha FC have emerged victorious only twice in their last seven games against Kerala Blasters FC, winning by 2-1 in their latest meeting. This is set to be the first game between the two sides in the playoffs history. However, the Lobera-coached team has lost both of their games coming into this match. They have in fact conceded multiple goals in both these encounters. The last time they were defeated more times on a bounce was three matches in February 2021.

Odisha FC players strung together 258 sequences of 10+ open play passes in the current season, the most by any side during the league stage in competition history, surpassing a previous high of 239 by FC Goa in 2018-19. Interestingly, both these teams were helmed by Lobera, reflecting that the Spaniard is able to make his players buy into his strategy seamlessly over a reasonable period. The Kalinga Warriors will want to adopt some of his lethal winning mentality as well to overcome the challenge fronted by the Yellow Army.

Kerala Blasters FC

Kerala Blasters FC do not boast of the best of records against Odisha FC, having never won an away fixture against the Kalinga Warriors. In fact, they have faced losses in each of their last two visits to the Kalinga Stadium too. Vukomanovic will want to take a look at his backline ahead of this match though, given that Kerala Blasters FC have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last 10 games in the ISL, which is their longest such streak in the ISL.

It could very well be a match whose outcome would be determined by either free-kicks or corners. Kerala Blasters FC have conceded 39% of their goals from set-pieces this season, whereas Odisha FC have netted 12 times from such situations. With the presence of Diego Mauricio and Roy Krishna looming large over the visitors, the Kerala Blasters FC backline will have to come up with unique ways to stop the striking duo in their tracks tomorrow.

Key Player to Watch Out

Amey Ranawade (Odisha FC)

Amey Ranawade is the Indian player with the best differential between expected assists (1.93) and actual assists provided (6) in the current campaign (+4.07 xA value) and second best overall behind Madih Talal (+5.27 xA value). He has made eight blocks, won 12 aerial duels, emerged victorious in 35 tackles, in addition to making 33 passes per game at 85% accuracy. He has made 27 clearances and 88 recoveries too, scoring once and bagging six assists until now. His industriousness on both ends of the pitch will be vital for Odisha FC in this match.

Milos Drincic (Kerala Blasters FC)

Milos Drincic has become an instrumental member of the Kerala Blasters FC backline this season. Across 18 appearances, he has won 14 tackles, made 19 interceptions, 13 blocks, along with emerging victorious in 30 duels and 63 aerial duels. He has also made 64 recoveries and netted twice. Drincic has averaged 41 passes per game at 79% accuracy, recording 76 clearances until now. Given that Kerala Blasters FC are facing troubles at back, it would help them if Drincic manages to be at the top of his game and proceedings in the coming clash.

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Played – 22

Kerala Blasters FC – 9

Odisha FC – 6

Draws 7           

Trivia: Odisha FC’s Isak Vanlalruatfela has recorded 17 shot ending carries in the ongoing Indian Super League season, the highest such tally by any Indian player in the competition.

Team Talk

“If I were to analyse the whole season so far today, I’m very happy. We competed well against the strongest teams in India. We made it to the final of the Super Cup and though we lost it, we fought till the end,” Odisha FC head coach Sergio Lobera said in the pre-match press conference.

“During the season we had to completely change the squad due to issues such as surgeries to key players and other uncontrollable factors. But after the season the mentality is completely different in the knockouts, as you don’t have to plan for the long term here,” Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic said prior to the game.

ISL Fantasy

Milos Drncic (3.6cr)

Has picked 53 ISL fantasy points this season

Daisuke Sakai (3.5cr)

Has garnered 51 ISL fantasy points in 2023-24

Amey Ranawade (4.2cr)

Has been selected by 28% of the ISL fantasy users in their teams

If not registered already, fans can participate in the overall league or club-based leagues based on their preferences. Create private leagues, inviting friends and fellow football aficionados to compete. Prizes include a Sony PlayStation ®️ ️5 gaming console, EA Sports FC 24, signed club merchandise, and a Gift Card worth INR 20,000, which will be awarded to 100 winners at the end of the season. Sign up at: https://fantasy.indiansuperleague.com/

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 HD (English), Sports18 3 SD (English, Hindi, Malayalam and Bengali), VH1 SD & HD (English), Surya Movies (Malayalam), News 18 Kerala (Malayalam – select matches) & DD Bangla (Bengali). Fans can also catch the action streaming Live for free on JioCinema, the home of Indian football. 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.