It seems we spend a lot of time here on Regista focusing on the bottom of the table, but with us coming towards the business end of the season, we should redress that a little. Thus, here is a brief preview of the games involving the top teams in J1 this weekend. And by top, I mean top teams in the second stage.
Urawa Reds (1st) vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Urawa are second stage leaders heading into the weekend, but they’ve had a difficult time against good teams recently, having lost against Vissel Kobe & Kawasaki Frontale. Hiroshima are the reigning champions, but it looks like they might miss out on the Championship series this year. You can bet though, that Hajime Moriyasu will be plotting to put one over the large ex-Sanfrecce contingent at Saitama Stadium. This is a very real potential banana skin for Reds, and it isn’t as though we haven’t seem them slip up in the run-in before, is it?
Gamba Osaka (2nd) vs FC Tokyo
Last year’s runners up Gamba Osaka are in sizzling form having won six of their last seven games (the only blip being a defeat against local rivals Vissel Kobe). Kenta Hasegawa’s men have a tough run-in with games coming against Urawa, F.Marinos & Kawasaki all to come, so it is imperative that they take care of business against a middling FC Tokyo side with nothing really to play for. A win for the home side would set up a blockbuster showdown (hyperbole alert!!) with Urawa Reds next weekend.
Kawasaki Frontale (3rd) vs Yokohama F.Marinos (4th)
A Kanagawa derby? Why not? These are always good affairs, especially more so when there is a lot riding on it. A win for the visitors would push them above their rivals, and F.Marinos have only been beaten once in the second stage. Erick Mombaerts men are workmanlike, and Kawasaki’s team is laden with attacking flair – with J.League man-of-the-moment Yu Kobayashi (eight goals in twelve second stage games) leading the charge. Style vs substance. Flair vs organization. Third vs fourth – there’s a lot on the line at Todoroki on Sunday.
Avispa Fukuoka vs Vissel Kobe (5th)
Nelsinho’s Vissel Kobe, spearheaded by Brazilian sharpshooters Leandro & Pedro Junior come into this clash with relegation (almost) certainties Fukuoka in fine form after taking 13 points from their last possible 15. This feels almost too easy to predict; Leandro & Pedro Junior should have more than enough about them to steamroller the Avispa backline. But things are rarely ever this simple in the J.League and Avispa, fresh off a morale boosting win at Shonan Bellmare last week, might be in the mood to spring a surprise.
Kashiwa Reysol (6th) vs Ventforet Kofu
Reysol’s home-grown band of merry men have had a good few weeks, beating Kashima at Hitachidai and spanking Kawasaki Frontale 5-2 away from home – a most impressive performance. Kashiwa’s run-in is quite favourable, starting with this encounter against a dull, defensive Ventforet Kofu side, and if they beat Kofu, they can rightly go into their final stretch – which includes games against Avispa Fukuoka and Shonan Bellmare – with hope that they can mount a serious second stage title challenge. They are lead by the outstanding Brazilian pair of Cristiano (seven goals, six assists) and Diego Oliveira (eleven goals, four assists). Despite their bright yellow attire, Kashiwa are serious dark horses – write them off at your peril.