Kolkata, March 4: Playoff regulars ATK Mohun Bagan will be up against first-time qualifiers Odisha FC in the second game of the new knockout stage in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan on Saturday.
This is the Mariners’ third season in the Hero ISL, and they have qualified for the playoffs each time. For the Juggernauts, this is new territory and they will also need a first-ever win against ATKMB to secure a semi-final spot.
Odisha's recent form was on the uptick until last Matchday when they went down to Jamshedpur. Before the loss, the Juggernauts were unbeaten in four games, drawing two and winning the other two. One of those wins came in Guwahati against NorthEast United , which was a milestone in that it ended a five-game winless run away from home.
That shaky away form will still be a concern for head coach Josep Gombau. Odisha had the ninth-best away record in the league stage after winning just three out of ten games on the road. The Juggernauts will rely on their star striker Diego Mauricio to turn things around. The Brazilian has scored 12 goals this season and has his eyes set on the Golden Boot.
“It is an important game because, in the knockout stage, only a win will bring us to the next level. We are ready and well-prepared for this encounter. All players are fit and available for this match which is very good news,” said Gombau “Every game is different. We faced them [MB] twice in the league, drawing one and losing the other. Now it is time to win,” he added.
There were hurdles in the playoff qualification race for MB until the very end this season, but a vital recovery handed the Mariners the home advantage for the upcoming fixture. In the last five games of the season, MB won only two games, but those wins handed the Mariners a third-placed finish.
Both victories came in the final two fixtures of the league after Juan Ferrando’s men went three games without a win for the first time this season. Morale will be high from both of those wins, with one of them coming against Kerala Blasters, and in a high-intensity Kolkata Derby game that kept their perfect record intact. Dimitri Petratos has scored nine goals and assisted seven so far, and will be eager to add to his tally against Odisha )
“Our plan is the same. Of course, this is a different type of match, but we will continue with the same plan we had in place all season. It is not necessary to change because sometimes too many changes are bad for the team,” said Ferrando. “We only have to work on the details, and that will be important because Odisha this season have been good at many things,” he added.
In six previous Hero ISL encounters, Odisha have never beaten Mohun Bagan. The Mariners have won three, while the other three have ended in draws.