Odisha FC features one of the most diverse squads in this season of the Indian Super League (ISL 2020-21). The Bhubaneswar-based side has the oldest coach in the league in 67-year-old Stuart Baxter along with the youngest line-up!
Following a sixth-place finish last season, Odisha FC has undergone a major overhaul this time around. The defence, which conceded 31 goals (fourth-most in the league last season), has been fortified by the arrivals of Newcastle legend Steven Taylor and Australia’s Jacob Tratt, while the attack boasts a fresh new look with Brazilian duo Marcelinho and Diego Mauricio leading from the front.
Odisha FC, earlier known as Delhi Dynamos, has failed to make it past the group stage over the last three seasons. However, with some strong reinforcements in key positions and a veteran coach, the Kalinga Warriors could turn the tide in Goa – where the ISL 2020-21 season is being played – in their favour.
With ISL hero Marcelinho as its trump card, Odisha’s strength this season will be its attack. The Brazilian is the league’s third-most successful striker with 31 goals in 63 games and is an asset to any team given his fantastic work rate and ability to dish out assists with ease – he has 18 assists, the most in the ISL.
Odisha also retained Manuel Onwu, who was on loan from Bengaluru FC, on a one-year deal. The Spanish striker was in fantastic form last term, scoring seven goals in 10 games. He will face competition from the newly signed Brazilian striker Mauricio, who had played alongside Ronaldinho at Flamengo in 2011.
Odisha FC will have an additional attacking option in 23-year-old Daniel Lalhlimpuia, who played in all 16 games last campaign.
The club’s weakness is its goalkeeping department, which has looked a tad weak since Francisco Dorronsoro’s departure. Arshdeep Singh, who conceded 14 goals and kept one clean sheet in nine games, has been retained, while the club has roped in Ravi Kumar and Kamaljit Singh from Mumbai City FC and Hyderabad FC, respectively.
Ravi, 27, has played only four games in two seasons, while Kamaljit, 24, featured in 12 last season.
The club’s youth-oriented approach, however, could also be a weakness. While the coach can bank on the youngsters to inject pace and fresh ideas on the pitch, their lack of experience could affect the team’s fortunes in clutch moments.
Stuart Baxter has been coaching for 35 years. The oldest player in his squad is team captain Taylor at 34 years of age. Let that sink in.
Baxter comes to the ISL with a wealth of experience, having led the senior national teams of South Africa and Finland. He was also at the helm of the England under-19 team from 2002-04. The Englishman, a former midfielder, has a very young side at his disposal – a team he can mould in whatever way he deems fit.
Having guided South Africa past Mohamed Salah’s Egypt in the pre-quarterfinals of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and won the Premier Soccer League with Kaizer Chiefs twice, he certainly knows how to build a champion team. The 67-year-old has penned a two-year deal with Odisha, indicating he’s in for the long run and is here to take the club to the playoffs.
Odisha FC captain Steven Taylor is one of the biggest names in the ISL this season. The towering defender knows a thing or two about commitment and dedication – he let go of an opportunity to play for the England national team to instead help his boyhood club Newcastle United gain promotion to the Premier League, which the club achieved in 2009-10.
When asked if he would do things differently if given another chance, Taylor said he would simply “do it all again.”
One of only three players aged over 30 in the squad, Taylor will line up in a young Odisha FC defence that features six players below 23. The Englishman will play a key role in mentoring the promising youngsters in his team, including Shubham Sarangi and Gaurav Bora. In his last assignment, Taylor captained Wellington Phoenix to a third-place finish in the A-League.
Odisha FC has brought in seasoned players for all key roles. Taylor, who spent 13 years with Newcastle, will team up with Australian centre-back Jacob Tratt, who won the A-League with Sydney FC in 2018-19, to form the heart of the defence. South Africa’s Cole Alexander, the sole foreign signing in the midfield, is well-known to the coach, having played under him in his national team.
Odisha’s three-pronged attack featuring Marcelinho, Mauricio and Onwu looks lethal at the very least. Mauricio, making his ISL debut, will be hungry to make his mark.
Best new signing
Marcelinho, who won the Golden Boot in his ISL debut season with Delhi Dynamos in 2016, is a proven match-winner. He registered 14 goals and 11 assists during his two seasons with the now-defunct FC Pune City before joining Hyderabad FC last season.
While the club suffered an embarrassing 2019-20 campaign, managing only two wins in 18 games, Marcelinho was one of the few sources of joy as he scored seven goals – one-third of the team’s season tally of 21.
Having played four seasons in the ISL and averaging more than seven goals a campaign, the Brazilian striker is Odisha’s prize catch this season.
Best possible formation
Baxter is likely to use a 4-4-2 formation given the squad at his disposal. Although he has favoured a 4-2-3-1 approach in his previous teams, the fact that he has an attack-heavy side might see him switch things up.
Taylor and Tratt will form the backline along with Sarangi and either Bora or Mohammad Dhot. Alexander, Nandhakumar Sekar, Vinit Rai and Jerry Mawihmingthana could complete the four-man midfield, while Marcelinho and Onwu could play as strikers.
However, with only five foreigners allowed on the pitch at a time, Baxter has the option of playing Marcelinho in the midfield instead of Alexander while fielding Mauricio as a striker alongside Onwu.
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