ISL 2023-24: Top spot at stake as red-hot Odisha FC take on Kerala Blasters

February 1, 2024
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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

Bhubaneswar, Feb 1 (IANS) 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 the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 here on Thursday.

The current ISL season has thrown up many narratives, and one of the most remarkable of them has been the return of Sergio Lobera to the helm of the Juggernauts. 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 for the knockouts of the AFC Cup. Currently, 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.

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 for 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 in 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 for another such initiation to the match against the league leaders, with a hope to push them on the backfoot right from the offset.

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 actual 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.

–IANS

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