The Yellow Army are yet to register their maiden win against the Juggernauts.

Kerala Blasters will face Odisha FC in their next game of the Indian Super League (ISL) on Sunday, December 5. Both teams have one thing in common – they are looking to right the wrongs of a forgetful 2020-21 season, where they finished at the 10th and 11th positions on the standings respectively. However, both teams have had contrasting campaigns since the new season began.

While Kerala Blasters are winless in three matches, Odisha FC are on a two-game winning streak. While the Juggernauts have scored nine times in two matches, the Yellow Army have found the back of the nets only thrice in as many games. Led by Ivan Vukomanovic, the Blasters will be keen to register their first win of the season on Sunday. On the other hand, Kiko Ramirez and his side will also be vying for a win but with a different objective in mind – to extend their perfect start to the season.

Stakes

Kerala Blasters

As mentioned, Kerala Blasters are yet to register their first victory of the season, having completed three games. They began their campaign with a 2-4 loss to ATK Mohun Bagan in the league opener. This has been followed by a goalless draw against NorthEast United and a 1-1 draw against Bengaluru FC. In hindsight, Kerala Blasters could’ve won both those games, had it not been for poor finishing (against NorthEast) and an overall uncharacteristic display (against Bengaluru).

Vukomanovic may or may not be rueing those missed opportunities to register his first-ever win in the league. Regardless, he seems to have managed to improve the team’s defence by a notch, which is a positive aspect of their campaign so far.

Odisha FC have shown how strong their attack is, in their past two matches and once again, they might prove to be a handful for Kerala’s defence. On the other hand, Odisha’s backline have not been particularly fantastic either, and if the likes of Alvaro Vazquez, Adrian Luna, Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Chencho Gyeltshen rise to the occasion, the Blasters could pose a major threat to the Juggernauts’ victory streak.

Odisha FC

Following the humiliating 11th-placed finish in the previous season, a total revamp took place at Odisha FC. The entire foreign contingent was replaced, and new staff also arrived. The 3-1 win over Bengaluru FC and the 6-4 victory against SC East Bengal prove that the Juggernauts have managed to get a few things right in the off season, if not all.

Aridai Cabrera and Javi Hernandez have performed exceedingly well in attack. Hector Rodas has been a defensive colossus for them and has also chipped in at the other end with a couple of goals. They have proved that if the opposition can score four, they can score more in return and win. In fact, it was SC East Bengal who opened the scoring on Tuesday, before Odisha FC turned it into a goalfeast.

On Sunday, Odisha’s attack will become their most important asset once again. If the likes of Cabrera, Javi and Jonathas de Jesus along with Isak Vanlalruatfela, Jerry Mawihmingthanga and others can trouble the Blasters’ defence, victory is most likely theirs. There are, however, a few issues that have to be ironed out in the Juggernauts’ defence. East Bengal almost brought back the scoreboard to level terms at one point, after being 2-5 down. Their sloppiness in defence ultimately let them down – another team like Kerala Blasters would not make the same mistake.

A win would propel Odisha FC to nine points – and even the top of the table if Mumbai City lose to Bengaluru FC on Saturday. If that would not serve as enough inspiration for Ramirez and his boys, what else will?

Team News

For Kerala Blasters, Rahul KP remains unavailable for selection. The youngster sustained a groin injury while playing against ATK Mohun Bagan in their campaign opener. In Odisha FC’s case, head coach Kiko Ramirez will have his full squad to pick his starting XI, as there are no injury issues as of the time of writing.

Head-to-Head

Since Odisha FC came into existence in the 2019-20 season, they have played four games against Kerala Blasters. Three of those matches ended as draws. The Juggernauts won 4-2 when they faced the Yellow Army last season – on January 7, 2021. The Blasters are hence yet to win against Odisha FC. A total of 18 goals have been scored in the four games between both sides.

If one takes the erstwhile-Delhi Dynamos into account, Kerala have the better record, with five wins in 12 games. The Dynamos won three times and remaining four matches ended as draws.

Probable Lineups

Kerala Blasters (4-4-2): Albino Gomes (GK); Harmanjot Khabra, Marko Leskovic, Enes Sipovic, Jessel Carneiro (C); Vincy Barretto, Jeakson Singh, Ayush Adhikari, Sahal Abdul Samad; Adrian Luna, Alvaro Vazquez.

Odisha FC (4-2-3-1): Kamaljit Singh (GK); Hendry Antonay, Victor Mongil, Hector Rodas, Lalruatthara; Vinit Rai (C), Thoiba Singh; Jerry Mawihmingthanga, Javier Hernandez, Nandhakumar Sekar; Jonathas de Jesus.

Man to Watch

Adrian Luna (Kerala Blasters)

Adrian Luna
Luna has been Kerala Blasters’ best player by distance (Courtesy: ISL Media)

Luna has been the Blasters’ best performer so far in ISL 2021-22. He has attempted the most passes and made the most goal-scoring chances among all the Kerala Blasters players this season. The Uruguayan’s impact was mostly visible in their matches against ATK Mohun Bagan and NorthEast United – he registered the assist for Diaz’ goal against the Mariners and could’ve gotten another assist against the Highlanders, had Diaz found the target in what was a very easy chance.

On Sunday, he is likely to be at the heart of the Yellow Army’s attacking runs once again. The 29-year-old’s passing vision, off-the-ball runs and the ability to position himself at the right spaces all mean that he is not a one-trick pony. Odisha FC should be wary of the threat that the former Melbourne City star poses.

Javi Hernandez (Odisha FC)

Javi Hernandez
Hernandez is the joint highest scorer (3 goals) and assists maker (2) in ISL 2021-22 (Courtesy: ISL Media)

The Spaniard has been in the form of his life ever since he moved to Odisha FC. Given the beating that his former side ATK Mohun Bagan recently suffered against Mumbai City, they would surely be regretting the decision to let him go. In two games, the Spaniard has found the back of the net thrice.

However, it was not Javi’s goal-scoring alone that created a problem for Bengaluru FC and SC East Bengal. The 32-year old has also been one of Odisha’s most creative players. The two assists that he has registered till now in this season are more than enough evidence. Kerala Blasters have one primary assignment – keep him silent or suffer a delayed wait for their first win of the season.

Did You Know?

  • The 4-4 draw between Kerala Blasters and Odisha FC in the 2019-20 season is the highest-scoring drawn game in ISL’s history.
  • Kerala Blasters last won an ISL match on January 20, 2021 (2-1 against Bengaluru FC). They are now on a 11-game winless streak in the league.
  • Odisha FC’s tally of 44 goals conceded in the 2020-21 season is the worst by any team in the league’s history.

Telecast

The match between Kerala Blasters and Odisha FC will be held at the Tilak Maidan Stadium in Vasco, Goa on Sunday, December 5. The kick-off is set for 7:30 pm IST. The match will be telecast LIVE on the Star Sports Network and is available for streaming LIVE in the Disney+Hotstar platform and the JioTV app.

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