Chennai (Tamil Nadu) [India], February 2 (ANI): Odisha FC will be looking to propel themselves back into the playoff spots as they visit the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai to face Chennaiyin FC, who are also looking to close the gap to sixth place in the Indian Super League (ISL) on Thursday.
The Juggernauts have a game in hand over Bengaluru FC, who are only ahead of them on goal difference. The Marina Machans, meanwhile, are five points off sixth place with a game in hand.
Thomas Brdaric's men will have to put their six-game winless streak to bed if they intend to keep their playoff hopes alive. Last week, Chennaiyin FC suffered a 3-1 defeat against Bengaluru FC, which saw the Blues overtake Odisha FC in a playoff race that is intensifying as the ISL enters its final month of the league stage.
The Marina Machans' record at home this season has been a matter of concern as they have only won once in seven games. The club's top scorer, Petar Sliskovic, has failed to score in two back-to-back ISL games for the first time since November 2022.
Talisman Abdenasser El Khayati came on as a substitute for the final ten minutes against Bengaluru FC last week, confirming the Dutchman's return from a lengthy injury layoff. Brdaric will likely make a couple of changes to include El Khayati in the starting lineup in the next game. (Club statistics)
"We had a pre-match meeting with the players and tried to show them opportunities for the final five games. If everything goes according to our plan, we can add 15 points to our tally in these games," said Brdaric. "We started from a point where it was really tough to build something. Now we have gained a lot of experience. It's time for that experience to reward us with points and I'm confident that we can implement what we need to," he added.
Odisha FC's return to ISL action after a break was an unhappy one after they suffered a 2-0 loss in Kolkata against ATK Mohun Bagan last week.
Josep Gombau's men have lost four out of their last five games and have lost footing after being comfortably in the playoff zone as FC Goa and Bengaluru FC, their direct rivals, have ramped up their performances.
The club's top two goal-getters, Diego Mauricio and Nandhakumar Sekar, were on target when these two sides set up a dramatic five-goal thriller in Bhubaneswar earlier this season. While Mauricio has scored five goals in the last five games, Sekar has netted just a solitary goal in the last five.
Raynier Fernandes has been instrumental in the Juggernauts' midfield this season. The midfielder suffered an injury last week and was substituted in the 20th minute. Gombau will be eager to have Raynier back to full fitness as the season enters a crucial phase.
"We have to be competitive and have a strong mentality. Now we have reached an all-or-nothing moment in the season. We have five games to go and our focus is on consistency to be in the top six," said Gombau. "They [Chennaiyin FC] are also fighting for a playoff spot. For them, this game is all-or-nothing. It will be a very equal and difficult game," he added as quoted by the ISL website.
The two sides have met seven times in the ISL, with both sides winning two games each. (ANI)