NorthEast United will have the opportunity to overtake Bengaluru FC in the points table if they beat bottom-placed Odisha FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) tonight. The Kalinga Warriors have just one point from six games and have lost four on the trot. Gerard Nus’ side will therefore be coming into the match as favourites as they try to exorcise the demons from last match’s disappointing defeat against Jamshedpur FC. Here are the key aspects that will determine the winner of tonight’s match.
The availability of Federico Gallego
Gallego has been on the sidelines due to injury and has featured in just three matches so far. He made a late substitute appearance against Jamshedpur and seems to be on his way back to the first team. NorthEast have not won in three matches now and they failed to score in two of those. While they have been solid in defence for the most part, thanks largely to their back line and Khassa Camara, their attack tends to lack creativity from central areas. Therefore, it is important that the Uruguayan gets up to speed as soon as possible so as to provide his team with that creative spark in midfield.
Odisha’s defensive discipline
Stuart Baxter’s side have, in his own words, been the ‘architects of their own downfall’. They have conceded three penalties till now, all of which were converted. They have also given away silly goals from set-piece situations and just before water breaks as well as the full time whistle that hasn’t helped their cause. While their misfiring attack has less than three shots on average in each match, their defence has let in a goal in every match so far. Steven Taylor and company have to sit down and figure out how to improve their defensive focus because defence forms the base of a successful team and at the moment, all their defenders look jaded and not up for it.
Scoring the all-important first goal
Both these teams like to sit back and absorb pressure and hit the opposition on a break. Odisha is ninth on the passing charts (326) and demonstrated their counter-attacking ability well in their 2-2 draw against Jamshedpur a couple of weeks ago. However, that was against 10 men and they haven’t really shown that spark since. Even then, they are just ahead of NorthEast who are on tenth in terms of the total number of passes (294). This indicates how efficient NorthEast have been when they have had the ball in promising areas. All of this makes the first goal tonight extremely important because the other side will then have to open up which may lead to an exciting and end-to-end contest.
NorthEast’s Indian youngsters
In Ninthoi Meetei, Rochharzela, Lalengmawia, Provat Lakra and Gurmeet Singh, NorthEast United have a bunch of exciting Indian youngsters who have taken this season’s ISL by storm. All of them have featured extensively this term and in the absence of senior pros like Federico Gallego and Luis Machado, have carried their responsibilities to the T. Now, with the injured foreigners coming back, it will be interesting to see how Nus uses them, especially the midfielders. It’s a problem of plenty and one which the head coach will be happy to have as he looks to shift gears and get some wins under his belt.