East Bengal FC will look to extend their unbeaten streak when they host the high-flying Odisha FC at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on December 22, Friday, in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24. The Red & Gold Brigade have drawn thrice and won once in their previous four ISL encounters, which includes their biggest-ever victory in league history, i.e. a 5-0 outcome against NorthEast United FC. However, since then, they have played successive goalless draws against Punjab FC and Mumbai City FC, and will be eager to regain their scoring touch in their home turf against the Juggernauts.

Some positive outings in the first half of the campaign has seen East Bengal FC sniffing around the top-six spots in the points table. These are encouraging signs for a team that was languishing in the lower half of the standings lately, and the influence of Carles Cuadrat and his men in the same has been critical.

They have been impressive going forward, in the presence of a lethal striker in Cleiton Silva and quick, fleet-footed wingers in Naorem Mahesh Singh and Nandhakumar Sekar. Their midfield has players like Borja Herrera and Saul Crespo who can spring a surprise with their eye for an assist from advanced positions, and Cuadrat will be giving it his all to ensure that they hold this streak of unbeaten results dear to them after the game against Sergio Lobera & Co.

Odisha FC comes into this match after a convincing 3-0 victory against Hyderabad FC away from home. They simply swept aside the Thangboi Singto-coached side as a brace by Roy Krishna supported by a goal by Mourtada Fall ensured that they were on top of the proceedings from the get go. In addition to being fifth in the ISL points table, Odisha FC have also made it to the AFC Cup knockouts and that speaks volumes of how well this side has come together after a slightly shaky start under a relatively new squad designed by their Spaniard head coach.

What’s at stake?

East Bengal FC

The East Bengal FC team is taking baby steps towards getting to a position from where the playoffs qualification could become easier for them. They are in the seventh position right now, but the sixth-placed Chennaiyin FC have three more points (12) than them after playing two additional games (11). An inspired outing against an in-form Odisha FC unit can help them bridge the gap between them and the higher-ranked sides in the standings, and also reinvigorate the spirit of the squad as the league break nears.

The team will be keen to make the most of the home advantage too, and somehow find ways to get past the Odisha FC backline marshalled by the centre-back duo of Mourtada Fall and Carlos Delgado. East Bengal FC have the calibre within the roster to spring a surprise.

They can draw immense confidence from taking a point away from the home of the Islanders, given that the Mumbai City managed to beat the highly-fancied Mohun Bagan Super Giant at the same venue in their following match. Defensive solidity aside, Cuadrat’s men will have to be wary of not squandering any glaring goal-scoring chances coming their way. They have benefitted with Mahesh and Nandha chipping in with timely strikes to add to Silva’s contributions upfront, and a collective performance by the three of them can uplift their performance to different levels.

Odisha FC

Lobera is accustomed to building title-winning champion units that are relentless in their pursuit of success. On that note, his tenure with Odisha FC in the ISL didn’t begin as flawlessly as he would have liked, with the team dropping 10 points in their first nine games. However, gradually, they are coming onto their own, with all the elements of a Lobera-coached side unfolding lately.

Fall being lethal from set-pieces, Ahmed Jahouh locking in consistent creative performances, and two forwards in Diego Mauricio and Roy Krishna delivering tangible outputs game after game – all of these have been hallmarks and prevalent in victorious units he has given shape to in India previously. Experience is essential and a key ingredient in his teams, and Odisha FC seem to have plenty of it, which he has blended beautifully with the youthful exuberance of Amey Ranawade, Jerry Mawihmingthanga, amongst others.

The Kalinga Warriors are on an eight-game unbeaten run at the moment, with their last defeat in any competition coming in October against the Kerala Blasters FC. Can Lobera and his men stretch this further to ensure no hiccups before the international break?

Key Players

Hijazi Maher (East Bengal FC)

The 26-year-old Jordanian centre-back has been an incredible addition to the East Bengal FC roster, with the player helping them keep three clean sheets in his five appearances in the league. Maher has been helping them build attacks from the back, averaging 30 passes per 90 minutes at an accuracy of 77% and the team has conceded only twice across the 405 minutes that he has been on the field.

Maher has made three interceptions, five blocks, and seven tackles, but it is his 27 clearances, which boils down to one clearance every 15 minutes, that stands out. It reflects his tendency to keep things tidy at the back, in addition to often hovering around the opposition’s box during set-pieces seeking goal-scoring chances. Odisha FC have a wealth of attacking riches in their ranks, with Krishna, Mauricio, Fall, Jerry, Jahouh, all being capable of finding the back of the net. Maher’s navigation of the same will be interesting to observe in this clash.

Lalthathanga Khawlhring (Odisha FC)

Lalthathanga Khawlring has constantly featured in the Odisha FC midfield in this season. It often happens that the performance of players goes under the radar due to the spectacle that their other prominent teammates put up. Lalthathanga, commonly known as Puitea, is one such player. He has a goal and an assist to his name in nine ISL appearances this season. He has created seven goal-scoring opportunities, made eight interceptions, earned 10 fouls, and averages 39 passes per game.

His passing accuracy of 85% is laudable, and is the link connecting the Odisha FC defence to their frontline. He receives passes from the defenders, works his way around the opposition’s box, constantly getting into pockets of spaces to build the tempo of the game. His contribution in helping the team dictate the flow and speed of the proceedings must not go unnoticed, but a number he might want to improve upon is in that of goal contributions. Whether he comes out of the shadows of Ahmed Jahouh and Lenny Rodrigues to produce a distinctly impactful performance in the coming game remains to be seen.

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Played – 6

Odisha FC – 5

East Bengal FC – 1

Draws – 0

Trivia: Mourtada Fall is the highest goal-scoring (20) defender in ISL history.

Team Talk

“We know that Odisha FC are a dangerous team in set-pieces. We have been working on trying to defend well in set-pieces. We have been a good team in defending them, not in scoring, but I hope that the plan for tomorrow works in that aspect of the game,” East Bengal FC head coach Carles Cuadrat said in the pre-match press conference. 

“I am very happy. The team is working well. We are in a good moment both in the AFC Cup and in the ISL. We have played a lot of games in this stadium lately. We have good memories here. Maybe in the last one against Mohun Bagan Super Giant was difficult because we lost points after two games, but we are ready – we know it’s a different game,” Odisha FC head coach Sergio Lobera remarked.

ISL Fantasy

Amey Ranawade (4.5cr)

Bagged an assist in the game against Odisha FC

Mourtada Fall (5.4cr)

Three goals in five games in ISL 2023-24

Cleiton Silva (7.5cr)

Five goals so far this season

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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.