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Hyderabad FC, Odisha FC face off amidst contrasting stakes on the line

A lot more than just three points will be at stake when Odisha FC and Hyderabad FC lock horns in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) at the Kalinga Stadium on Friday. The Juggernauts need a win to propel themselves back into the final playoff spot, while Mumbai City FC could be crowned league champions on Saturday with a win if Hyderabad FC drop points in Odisha.

A series of poor results for Odisha FC, coupled with the resurgence of Bengaluru FC, has seen the two clubs swap places on the table with just three games to go. Separated by a solitary point, the Juggernauts cannot reclaim sixth place with a draw because of their inferior goal difference.

Last week, Odisha FC’s winless streak was extended to four games after a 1-1 draw against FC Goa. The Juggernauts have lost two and drawn two of their last four games. However, Josep Gombau’s men have been strong at home, losing just one out of eight Hero ISL games this season and will look to use that to their advantage.

Diego Mauricio took his season’s goal tally into double figures last week, but the real concern will be in defence for Odisha FC. The Juggernauts will be without the suspended duo of Sahil Panwar and Narender Gahlot.

“We have three games to go and every game is like a final. We did not have a long time to prepare for this game because we played last Monday, but I think the team is ready,” said Gombau. “Tomorrow we will try to put in a good performance because we want to be in the top six and it is important to get a good result for that to happen,” he added.

Hyderabad FC find themselves seven points behind league leaders Mumbai City FC. The defending champions have a game in hand, but if they falter against Odisha FC, the Islanders will need a win against FC Goa on Saturday to clinch the 2022-23 Hero ISL Shield with two league games to go.

Riding on the back of an unbeaten streak of eight games, Hyderabad FC will arrive in Odisha with the same mentality they always possess. The only absentee through suspension will be left-back Akash Mishra.

Last week, Manolo Marquez’s men became the only side in the Hero ISL this season that remained unbeaten against Mumbai City FC in both league fixtures. Hyderabad FC were trailing till the 65th minute before Hitesh Sharma netted the equaliser.

“We always have the same preparations in place for every game. We know they [Odisha FC] are fighting for playoff qualification,” said Marquez. “When they play at home, they are a strong team. Most of their points this season have come at the Kalinga Stadium, so we are expecting a tough game,” he added

These two teams have clashed on seven previous occasions in the Hero ISL. Hyderabad FC have won four times, while Odisha FC have two wins. The defending champions have not lost against the Juggernauts in the previous five meetings.