Preview: Top spot at stake as Odisha FC host Kerala Blasters FC
Kerala Blasters FC face an away test against Odisha FC, with both teams eyeing the top spot.
Odisha FC will host Kerala Blasters FC in an exciting clash set to bring the audience to the edge of their seats at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24. The current ISL season has thrown up many narratives, and one of the most remarkable of them has been the return of Sergio Lobera at the helm of the Kalinga Warriors. After successful stints at FC Goa and Mumbai City FC, the Spaniard didn’t shy away from undertaking a new challenge altogether at a club that seemed to have been perennially stuck in the middle of the table for the last few seasons.
Lobera not only brought a winning mentality to the club, but also propelled their success at the continental level, helping them qualify to the knockouts of the AFC Cup. Right now, the team is third in the standings, just two points behind the top-placed Kerala Blasters FC. A victory in this fixture will help them pip the Ivan Vukomanovic-coached side in the standings, whereas a positive result for the Kochi-based outfit will help them build distance with one of their nearest competitors.
Kerala Blasters FC, on the other hand, have the impeccable advantage of entering the halfway mark of the campaign at the top spot. Powered by dynamic forwards and a sturdy defence, they produced impressive performances often riding on the support that they garner at home. This will be a different challenge though. Odisha FC must have started the season a bit inconsistently, but they have only grown in confidence as the campaign has progressed. Taking them on at home will be no easy challenge, and with FC Goa and Lobera’s men sniffing around the first place, Kerala Blasters FC cannot afford slip-ups at this stage either.
What’s at stake?
Regardless of the good that has been done so far, Lobera fell short of catching hold of his first silverware with Odisha FC by losing the Kalinga Super Cup final to East Bengal FC at home. He was eager to make amends to that with a strong finish in the points table here, and the journey for the same starts with locking horns against one of the most profound teams of the league.
They will be keen to make the most of the home advantage too; having won their last four games in the stadium in the ISL, and three points in this encounter will see them create a record of this sort in the competition's history. Furthermore, they are slowly working towards making this a bastion of theirs in the league, having been unbeaten in all seven ISL fixtures they have played in at the Kalinga Stadium under Lobera.
There are multiple ways in which one can decipher Lobera’s philosophy, but a strong start to the game is one of the foundations of the same. Odisha FC have scored 11 goals in the first 15 minutes of their ISL games in this campaign, which is the most amongst all sides. They will be aiming another such initiation to the match against the league leaders, with a hope to push them on the backfoot right from the offset.
Kerala Blasters FC
For starters, it is safe to say that Kerala Blasters FC have no issues finding their scoring boots against Odisha FC. They have found the back of the net eight consecutive times against the Juggernauts, which is their longest such active streak against any side in ISL over the past 9 seasons. Their attacking contingent can take a hit with the absence of Adrian Luna and Kwame Peprah due to injuries. However, Dimitrios Diamantakos has therefore risen to the challenge and ensured that they do not face any concerns on the offensive front. Diamantakos has recorded the best differential between expected goals (3.3) and actuals goals scored (seven) in the ongoing Indian Super League season (+3.7 xG value). He has also recorded nine goal contributions this term, the most by any player in the competition (seven goals and two assists). It will perhaps be a battle between the dynamism upfront presented by the Juggernauts against the defensive solidity of the Kerala Blasters FC. All these factors blend together to give rise to a game of numerous ups and downs, and the team that manages to hold their own until the end will walk away with the bragging rights.
Lalthathanga Khawlhring (Odisha FC)
The midfielder has been a remarkable presence in the centre of the park for the Juggernauts. Puitea chips tremendously in both halves of the field. His tenacious defensive inputs add a shield that guards the Odisha FC’s defensive unit. At the same time, he interlinks the backline beautifully with their efficient forwards, notching a goal and an assist each in 917 minutes across 11 appearances this season. He has recorded an 85% passing accuracy, created eight goal-scoring opportunities, made an average of 44 passes per game and also intercepted 12 times. Lobera has a history of improving the domestic players at his disposal tremendously in each club that he has worked with in the ISL. Puitea is one of the evident examples of the same in this campaign.
Danish Farooq (Kerala Blasters FC)
Danish Farooq has been one of the standout stars for Kerala Blasters FC in ISL 2023-24. He is a vital member of their midfield four, playing the ball to the flanks. He is not really a creative passer as such, but is excellent at spotting goal-scoring opportunities and making the most of them that he can at the given moment. For instance, he has often been deployed as a decoy midfield runner, coming in to attack set pieces through his headers with the deliveries coming into the flank. Farooq has netted twice and assisted once in 11 games, creating five goal-scoring chances. He has made 12 interceptions and made five goal-scoring opportunities. He might have to keep close tabs on his bookings, having been shown five yellow cards already. Kerala Blasters FC cannot miss him at crucial junctures in the second half of the season.
Played – 22
Odisha FC – 8
Kerala Blasters FC – 7
Draws – 7
Trivia: Roy Krishan (49) is only one strike away from completing 50 goals in ISL history.
“The final loss was painful. We missed an opportunity to win a trophy in front of our supporters. It wasn’t easy. It was very painful, but this is a part of football. If I had to see my players after the final, I couldn’t ask for more,” Odisha FC head coach Sergio Lobera reacted to playing their first game after the Super Cup final defeat to East Bengal FC.
“Knowing the fact that we are facing one of the best teams in the league, who is in a very good shape, well-balanced, it’s the only team I’d say in the last period who were playing with consistency with the full squad. Super Cup was not meant for us at a time when we were missing many players due to injury and some players going to the national team,” Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic said in the pre-match press conference.
Sachin Suresh (3.8cr)
Has made several crucial saves throughout this season
Dimitrios Diamantakos (8.3cr)
Scored seven goals in ISL 2023-24 so far
Amey Ranawade (4.5cr)
Consistent contributions on both ends of the pitch
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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 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). 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.