ISL: Kerala Blasters on the edge, desperate for survival
Kochi: Kerala Blasters FC will look to arrest their slide when they play host to Odisha FC on Friday evening at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium here in a round four fixture of the Indian Super League (ISL).
After the glorious victory against their arch rivals ATK on the opening night of the season, the Kochi-based team has lost their way and have suffered back-to-back defeats against Mumbai City and Hyderabad FC. The onus will be on coach Eelco Schattorie to come up with a robust plan to ensure the team returns to winning ways on home soil.
Memories from last season, where Kerala went on a 14-game winless run after their win over ATK in the opening match is still fresh in their minds. Schattorie's team cannot afford a repeat and badly need a win.
Meanwhile, Odisha FC's form graph has been in stark contrast to that of Kerala Blasters. After starting with two defeats, Odisha thumped Mumbai City 4-2 in their previous match and come into this game on a high.
They will look to build on that performance by trying to best an injury-riddled Kerala Blasters. The likes of Mario Arques and Gianni Zuiverloon are unlikely to be fit while Sandesh Jhingan was ruled out for the season earlier.
"We should have won our last game mentally. The other team (Hyderabad) had only three foreigners. We had good chances. I had a revision of our three games - we had 43 crosses but how many (were) effective is another question. Our wingers are not stable and in midfield, we miss a key player. We lost Zuiverloon in defence in the last game. At this moment, it is all about surviving," expressed Schattorie.
But what would concern Kerala is that they haven't been able to create many goal-scoring opportunities for star striker Bartholomew Ogbeche, with the likes of Sahal Abdul Samad still adapting to coach Schattorie's style of play.
"In a system which has passing football, it takes a bit of time. Sahal made a mistake last game also but we did not lose because of him. I discussed it with Sahal himself. I am very happy with the player," insisted the Dutchman.
Odisha would have few issues in that department, however. Xisco Hernandez has been brilliant as a playmaker for Josep Gombau's side and his partnership with Aridane Santana and Jerry Mawihmingthanga looks promising. Add the pace of Nandhakumar Sekar to the mix and the Kerala Blasters defence could be in for a testing night.
"Last season, we missed a lot of chances. This year, we played three and scored six goals - that is the second-best after three games. We have a lot of young talent in India. We come here with a strong mentality and are completely convinced that we can get three points," said a confident Gombau.
Odisha's defence has not been water-tight either and are yet to keep a clean sheet, conceding six goals in three games. They also tend to leak in goals in the final 10 minutes, having done so in all their games so far. Could Blasters be able to exploit this weakness and arrest the repeat of last season? A win for either of the club would be a crucial psychological factor before heading into the international football break.