KOCHI: A Boxing Day encounter pits Kerala Blasters FC against Odisha FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Monday.
Blasters will be looking to even things out this time around, as Odisha FC came back from a goal down to take all three points in the reverse fixture earlier this season.
Following ATK Mohun Bagan's loss to NorthEast United FC on Saturday, an outright result for either of these teams would put them in third place - the two teams are currently tied on points in fifth and sixth, as per an ISL press release.
Since the end of October, Blasters have played six games, won five of them, and drawn just one. That draw came last week against Chennaiyin FC.
Sahal Abdul Samad scored his third goal of the season against the Marina Machans before they fought back and both sides had to settle for a point. The midfielder now has five goal contributions in ten games.
Ahead of him, in the striker's role, Dimitrios Diamantakos has scored five goals in ten games so far and is just two goals behind the league's leading goalscorer Abdenasser El Khayati. Adrian Luna had an impressive outing in the last game and also has five goal contributions to his name.
"I think it is one of the most important matches of the season because both sides are level on points. We have been playing good football lately, and so have they," said assistant coach Ishfaq Ahmed.
"We respect them and their coach, but it's a match on home soil for us. The support of fans and the home ground advantage tips the scales in our favour," he added.
Odisha FC were gaining fine momentum before their short winning run was ended by FC Goa two weeks ago, and then they were held to the ISL's first goalless draw of the season by ATK Mohun Bagan. The Juggernauts have failed to score in consecutive games for the first time this season.
After scoring four goals in nine games, Nandhakumar Sekar is the club's leading goal scorer this season. The winger served his suspension during the last game and will be available against Blasters.
Josep Gombau will again have to decide if he wants to start Diego Mauricio or Pedro Martin up front. "It is a very good game to play against a very good side in Kerala [Blasters]. At this point, we are equal on points and playing away in a nice environment," said Gomabau.
"Every single player and coach wants to be involved in a game like this. Also, it is on the day after Christmas and I think getting a good result will be the best present for all our fans and families," he added.
Including the dramatic reverse fixture earlier this year, the two sides have played 19 times in the ISL. Both sides have won six games each, while seven games have ended in draws. The Juggernauts have never beaten the Blasters in their own backyard.