After a forgettable run in the fifth season of the Indian Super League (ISL) under the name of Delhi Dynamos, new franchisees Odisha FC were provided with a tough task to rebuild at a different home.
Due to slow progress in preparing the Kalinga Stadium to host official football games, the Juggernauts were forced to play their initial home games at the Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune. After a slow start to the season, Odisha picked up three wins in three games at the Kalinga Stadium to barge into the top-four.
Josep Gombau had reiterated several times last season suggesting that the process will take time to come to fruition and the defeats are not a fair reflection of their game. This season, he has the wins to show for.
Odisha’s recruitment of Spanish duo Aridane Santana and Xisco Hernandez has also proved to be a masterstroke so far. Santana has been involved in nine of the 17 goals they have scored and the former Bengaluru FC midfielder has contributed seven, scoring five times and providing two assists.
Goal-scoring numbers aside, this duo has been crucial to Odisha’s resurgence this season. Unlike a typical marksman, Aridane likes to drop deep, play his role in the build-up and create chances with Xisco advancing forward.
He has impressed with a very good work-rate and has helped in defence whenever needed. The 32-year-old has provided 36 clearances in 12 games this season. Other top marksmen in the league, namely Ferran Corominas (0), Nerijus Valskis (4) and Roy Krishna (6) are rarely burdened defensively. Only Bartholomew Ogbeche (18) comes relatively close.
On an average day, Odisha like to keep the ball for a longer time than their opposition. This makes the above statistic seem even more impressive.
Aridane’s work-rate has also given free reins to his countryman Xisco in midfield. The 30-year-old now plays higher on the pitch and is allowed to execute his creativity with more freedom than during his time at Bengaluru.
Unlike last year when he scored one goal in 20 games, Xisco has also been a direct threat on goal this season. This has a lot to do with the incredible chemistry he has developed with Jerry Mawihmingthanga and Nandhakumar Sekar.
Odisha still have a long way to go before they get to play in the play-offs. But if they are to see such a day, they will need Aridane and Xisco to continue their incredible form.