Punjab FC will look to ride on the highs of their maiden Indian Super League (ISL) victory last week as they prepare to host Odisha FC on December 26, Tuesday, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi to commence the 12th matchweek of the season. After a 10-match-long barren run seeking their inaugural win, the ISL debutants fuelled the fire with a Madih Talal inspired winner to secure the victory against Chennaiyin FC last week.

To go into the season break with two wins in two games will be incredible for the team, and they will be hoping to get the desired outcome considering that the Juggernauts come into this match after a rather unexpected goalless draw against East Bengal FC. It has been a middling campaign for Punjab FC so far. Starting off afresh in the top-tier was never going to be easy, but five draws in 11 games suggest that they have matched their more fancied oppositions many times over the last few months.

Their defensive solidity, coupled with Talal’s sharp creativity and goal-scoring instinct propelled their success against the Marina Machans, and Punjab FC will be eager to hold tight to those strengths against Sergio Lobera’s men.

Odisha FC are fifth in the table and a draw against the Red & Gold Brigade must have raised some questions within the camp given that they would have backed themselves to take three points from that fixture. Dropping points just deepens them in the mid-table muddle and the Juggernauts should aim to get above these setbacks and contend for the top spot in the second half of the campaign. The last match should be taken as an aberration for Odisha FC, who managed to shoot on target only once in the Salt Lake Stadium.

What’s at stake?

Punjab FC

Punjab FC will be gearing up nicely for their first-ever ISL encounter against Odisha FC, but a deterring record must be troubling them, which is the fact that they haven’t won in their maiden encounter against any team this season. Even their victory against Chennaiyin FC came during their second faceoff against the Owen Coyle-coached team. It is likely that they might be better off taking learning from each opposition, given that every side might be an unknown commodity for them at the moment. They can arguably work on stitching together more sustainable attacking patterns in the final third, though.

Punjab FC have taken 47% of their shots from outside of the box in this campaign, which is the highest amongst all teams. Though it speaks highly of the individual brilliance and confidence amongst their players, a team naturally enhances their goal-scoring chances when they start testing the opposition’s goalkeeper from nearer or inside the box. Talal’s winner in the previous game testified that, as he blazed into the box and fired one past Debjit Majumder on the near post to get his side the three points. Will this be an insight that Punjab FC intends to work upon in this match? Let’s wait and watch.

Odisha FC

Odisha FC have kept four clean sheets in their last five games, including a couple in the last two games on a bounce. Never before in the ISL have the Juggernauts not conceded a goal in three consecutive matches. However, a disciplined defensive unit is the base or the foundation upon which the success of any Lobera-coached side is built. The centre-back duo of Mourtada Fall and Carlos Delgado has been at the top of the game throughout, with the former chipping in with crucial goals, helping them maximise set-piece situations from time to time.

The midfield has blended creativity with a sense of solidity that ensures that both the objectives are fulfilled, whereas the frontline headed by the experienced duo of Roy Krishna and Diego Mauricio instil significant confidence amongst the players. To cap it all off, they have a seasoned goalkeeper in Amrinder Singh, who has become the custodian to keep the most clean sheets (42) in ISL history. Despite the strength of their offensive unit, Odisha FC did not really fire from all cylinders in the match against East Bengal FC. Such minor slip ups can be costly for their overall ambitions for the season, and hence Lobera should be looking to get his men back on track from the forthcoming fixture onwards.

Key Players

Madih Talal (Punjab FC)

It’s difficult to look beyond the 26-year-old French attacking midfielder after he single-handedly pioneered Punjab FC to victory in the previous match. Madih Talal was the star of the show against Chennaiyin FC, and he will have to be the star of many such shows moving forward for his team to see similar successes in the second half of the season. In 11 appearances, Talal has one goal and two assists to his name. He has created 19 goal-scoring opportunities, taking 23 shots, and earning a total of 34 fouls so far.

His interlinking with Luka Majcen and Juan Mera can induce incredible creativity and sharpness in Punjab FC’s offensive endeavours. More than anything, Talal is gifted enough to take on the opposition and produce a magical moment in an individual capacity against the flow of events. Such unpredictability is often helpful, provided Punjab FC can still hope by resting on his shoulders even if they are pegged back by Odisha FC in certain phases of the upcoming game.

Amrinder Singh (Odisha FC)

Amrinder Singh has arguably rediscovered his best form under Lobera – the manager under whom he captained Mumbai City FC to the historic domestic league double in ISL 2020-21. His reflexes have been sharp, and his distribution has been accurate, allowing Odisha FC to build attacking moves in different ways. He has the ability to launch a long ball to target forwards like Krishna and Mauricio upfront, ensuring that the Juggernauts can take a more direct route to the goal whenever required too. One of Punjab FC’s biggest strengths is to test the opposition from distance, and Amrinder is well adept at thwarting them, having made 11 saves against shots from outside the box in the current ISL season, the most by any goalkeeper to have maintained a 100% save rate against such shots in 2023-24.

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This is the first fixture in the ISL between the two sides.

Trivia: Odisha FC midfielder Ahmed Jahouh has made the most successful long passes (104) by any player in ISL 2023-24.

Team Talk

“We are completely focused on today. About the game, I think they (Punjab FC) are playing well; they are trying to play good football. I like the team very much. Obviously, it’s their first season and the competition in the ISL is very difficult. But they have shown progress and the last win must have given them motivation for this game,” Odisha FC head coach Sergio Lobera said in the pre-match press conference.

“We are very happy that we won our first match in the ISL. But, we have made many mistakes in the past when we played well, were winning, but could not register the win. So, we should be more conscious about our upcoming matches, and also plan accordingly to give a good performance tomorrow,” Punjab FC assistant coach Sankarlal Chakraborty said prior to the game.

ISL Fantasy

Juan Mera (7.8cr)

One goal and two assists in ISL 2023-24

Madih Talal (5.5cr)

Scored the winner against Chennaiyin FC

Amrinder Singh (4.2cr)

Five clean sheets in 10 appearances 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.