The league debutants missed out on the playoffs last season.
The Indian Super League season 2019-20 was a roller-coaster ride for the newly-formed Odisha FC. Under Josep Gombau, the club had a crooked start, but managed to return to the winning track in the middle of the campaign. However, they failed to qualify for the playoffs. Odisha ended the season in sixth position, with 25 points, just four short of the fourth position. The club managed to score 28 goals at a rate of 1.56 per match, meanwhile conceded 31.
At the start of the season, the management trusted Gombau and gave him full authority to sign players who matched his philosophy. It was evident in the gameplay and post-match media interactions that he was confident of the roster and it did come true when they miraculously almost leapfrogged from the bottom half to playoffs qualification.
Losing striker Aridane Santana to injury could have derailed them, but loan signing Manuel Onwu, turned his debut season in the ISL on its head becoming one of the stories of the term. But, It was not enough. Keeping the performance of the last season in mind, we asses where Odisha FC must improve to have a better season next time around.
Throughout the season, Gombau was seen struggling to find a safe pair of hands. Though the forward line was able to score frequently, conceding too many goals seemed the obvious reason that ruined the campaign. Francisco Dorronsoro started in 10 games and made 21 saves. He was able to keep only three clean-sheets. The second option for the Spaniard was Arshdeep Singh, who started eight games, saved 33 shots and conceded 14.
The club must look for options like Shilton Paul from Mohun Bagan. The 31-year-old Indian shot-stopper was also part of the squad that bagged the I-League last season. As Kolkata giants ATK and Mohun Bagan are set to merge, he might lose his contract and be available for Odisha FC.
4. Left Back
The club was seen relying heavily on Narayan Das, while Lalchhuanmawia Fanai hardly got a chance. Keeping in mind that 20 of the 31 goals conceded were built-up from the left, OFC must consider a major upgrade in this position. Das tends to get outpaced by opposition strikers and Fanai is definitely not a good enough deputy.
Some possible options for this position could be Abhishek Ambekar from East Bengal and Gurjinder Kumar from Mohun Bagan.
Odisha FC had plenty of options in this position. These included Amit Tudu, Md. Sajid Dhot, Carlos Delgado and Gourav Bora. But, except for Delgado and Bora, the other two completely failed to showcase their talents. In the middle of the season, when the club was on the winning track, defensive misunderstandings between Delgado and others were evident. For the next campaign, Delgado should be a constant but the club should consider signing a different partner for him. Although Thoiba Singh has joined the club but he is only 17.
2. Left Wing
Nandhakumar Sekar seemed to be the only option for Gombau’s side in this position. He started 15 times and was able to offer only two assists. He took 22 shots, of which only three were on target and not a single one could beat the goalkeeper. The other options for this position were Daniel Lalhlimpuia and Romeo Fernandes, who performed no better.
Odisha have to improve their left flank in order to tackle the scoring deficit. While Nandhakumar has been given a contract extension for three years, the club must still look for a potent playmaker.
UEFA Europa League experience holder Marcelinho from Hyderabad can be a good option.
You must be wondering, what’s the need for a striker, while having Onwu and Santana? Let us remind you, they were on loan from Bengaluru and Cultural Leonesa respectively. Amidst injuries and the global coronavirus pandemic, there are few chances of Santana coming back to Bhubaneswar. On the other hand, Onwu is already 32. So, the juggernauts must look for a long-term solution.
Semboi Haokip from Bengaluru can be a good addition. Though he started only once last season, but Cuadrat used him as a substitute 13 times in the league. The 27-year-old striker holds a deal till 2021 at the Kanteerava Stadium. But, due to a lack of regular playing time at BFC, he might agree if Odisha offer a deal. With amazing pace and dribbling, he can lead OFC’s attack.