Back by popular demand, @JTalkPod gives us the lowdown on the weekend’s J1 action, which, somewhat excitingly, starts on Friday night this week…..
Four teams lead the way with a perfect two wins from two after J1 Matchday 2, but with Kashima, Urawa and Gamba Osaka all getting their campaigns rolling with first wins last weekend, the prospective mini-breakaway I spoke of in last week’s preview failed to materialize. Gamba were particularly impressive in rolling Kashiwa away on Sunday, a key result to put their ACL meltdown the previous Wednesday at home against Jeju United in their rear-view mirror.
Trying a slightly different approach this week, focusing on a game of the week with tighter previews of the other games, let us know which format you prefer more in the comments or on twitter @jleagueregista @JTalkPod.
Game of the Week:
Kashima Antlers v Yokohama F.Marinos: Kashima Stadium, Friday 7pm
Antlers got their first points of the season on the board away at Kofu last Saturday, but they were indebted to new goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-Tae, whose stoppage time penalty save from Wilson’s tame spot kick ensured they returned home with three rather than one. Fellow newcomer Leo Silva got the only goal of the game to open his league account for the club, but despite the ‘cavalry’ (Mu Kanazaki, Shoma Doi, Yasushi Endo) returning to the XI as predicted, the game was far more even than we would have expected on paper – Antlers dominated the shot count (10 to 2) but possession was just about dead even – an indication, if more was needed after the ACL loss to Muangthong, that the defending champions are still a long way from hitting their stride.
That’s perfectly understandable of course, as they had a far shorter preseason that almost all of the other teams in J1 following their exploits in the Club World Cup and then the Emperor’s Cup in December (& New Year’s Day), with the Super Cup and ACL opener coming before J1 Matchday 1, and Masatada Ishii having to prepare his troops minus the departed Gaku Shibasaki, and while needing to bed in Kwoun, Leo Silva and Pedro Junior. Obviously these are the problems (extra games; taking part in big tournaments) big clubs like Antlers want to have, but if they are slightly off their best on Friday night (the J.League scheduling computer allowing them an extra day to prepare for Brisbane’s visit in the ACL next Tuesday) it’s likely they’ll be punished by this season’s (yes, I know it’s too early) free-scoring surprise packet.
Yokohama followed up their opening day triumph against Urawa at Nissan Stadium with a to-be-expected 3-0 cruise over Sapporo on Saturday night at Mitsuzawa, and now they go on the road for the first time this season in a fixture that could hardly be more inconvenient for their supporters (Kashima is in Kanto, yes, but away on a Friday night is a nightmare due to well-documented access problems fans have in getting to Kashima Stadium, not to mention work commitments for most). That aside though, their side will arrive cock-a-hoop, top of the league on goal difference and with their new foreign attacking players getting right into the J1 swing of things. Kayke who? David Babunski and Hugo Vieira both netted for the second straight game, Babunski in particular catching the eye again with another superb first-time strike, arcing home the opener across the ‘keeper with the outside of his left boot after allowing Manabu Saito’s dinked pass to run across him two minutes into the second half. Saito followed up his two assists against Reds with another pair against Consadole, winning the ball back and racing clear seven minutes later, Cayman Togashi (who had gone agonizingly close to scoring five minutes before the break) tapping in after the captain’s low drive was saved by Gu Sung Yun.
The fluidity of Yokohama’s build-up play has been one of the eye-catching aspects of their first two performances, evidenced by central midfielder Jun Amano overlapping down the left before supplying a pinpoint cross for Vieira (who had only been on the pitch for three minutes) to steer home the third through Gu’s legs and ice the game 17 minutes from time. Amano and Takuya Kida will certainly have their hands full up against Leo Silva and either Ryota Nagaki or Mitsuo Ogasawara on Friday night, but if they can hold their own in the centre of the park, the burgeoning link between Saito and Babunski, coupled with the precocious Togashi, will give Antlers all they can handle.
A terrific test of both where Kashima stand in terms of getting their season going, and how seriously we can take Yokohama as a potential top four contender.
Kawasaki Frontale v Kashiwa Reysol: Todoroki Stadium, Friday 7pm
In another game switched to Friday (Kawasaki have a daunting trip to Guangzhou Evergrande in the ACL next Tuesday night) Frontale entertain Reysol, with both sides coming off disappointing Matchday 2 results last Sunday. The hosts got a second goal of the season from new captain Yu Kobayashi to open the scoring early on at home against Tosu, but couldn’t find another way through after Yoshiki Takahashi’s terrific volleyed equalizer 11 minutes before half time. Kashiwa, meanwhile, failed to build on their impressive 3-1 win away to Tosu on the opening day, succumbing to the hypnotic powers of Shun Nagasawa and losing at home to Gamba Osaka by the same scoreline.
Frontale could be forgiven for having one eye on their crunch ACL clash, but they should be able to create enough chances to trouble the Reysol defence, a lot depends on if the real Reysol stand up, and can go toe-to-toe with them.
Urawa Reds v Ventforet Kofu: Saitama Stadium, Friday 7.30pm
Reds aren’t in ACL action ‘til next Wednesday night (away at Shanghai SIPG), but also have an extra day of prep time, and will look to carry on the good vibes from their 3-1 cruise over Cerezo Osaka last Saturday in their second straight home game, with hard-luck Ventforet their visitors. Kofu could (should?) have four points on the board after two games, but Yasuyuki Konno’s stoppage time header in the opener denied them victory against Gamba on the opening day, then, as mentioned above, they failed to claim a point at the death at home against Kashima last Saturday when Wilson’s penalty was saved, leaving them with just one.
So again Tatsuma Yoshida has to pick his side up after late heartache, but Urawa won’t be feeling any pity for them, though Mischa Petrovic has some interesting (though enviable) decisions to make in selection. With the extra day to prepare for the ACL, will he go full strength up front (Yuki Muto, Shinzo Koroki & Rafael Silva – their three goalscorers against Cerezo) against Kofu, or rest one or two of them, bringing in Tadanari Lee and/or Zlatan Ljubijankic, to keep his powder dry for what should a spectacular clash against Oscar, Elkeson and Hulk next midweek?
Consadole Sapporo v Cerezo Osaka: Sapporo Dome, Saturday 3pm
In the first battle of promoted clubs in 2017, Sapporo host Cerezo, with Consadole victorious 1-0 in the corresponding fixture in J2 last season when Junichi Inamoto (remember him?) hauled himself off the bench and scored the winner in the 82nd minute, his only goal of an injury-ruined campaign. That counts for jot this year of course, but how Sapporo would love to repeat the dose this time around in their home opener, after beginning the season with a pair of games – both losses in which they failed to score – on the road, at Sendai and Yokohama.
Cerezo might be able to welcome back Hiroshi Kiyotake for his second bow with the club after he resumed training last midweek but was not included in the squad that lost to Urawa, and his return will hopefully begin the bring the best out of a potent-looking attack on paper that has drawn two blanks so far – defender Matej Jonjic has their only league goal through two games.
Omiya Ardija v Jubilo Iwata: Nack 5 Stadium, Saturday 3pm
Two of the three teams yet to score this season (Sapporo is the other) meet at the Nack 5, Omiya returning home after losing at FC Tokyo, their second straight 2-0 reverse, and Iwata traveling after dropping their home opener 0-1 to Sendai, remarkably failing to net despite wheeling out their revolutionary 2-7-1 formation for the second game in a row (only joking, but that’s how it looks on the official website’s match report: http://www.jleague.jp/en/match/j1/2017/030405/live/ yep, 2-7-1!).
Not expecting fireworks, but after facing Kawasaki and Tokyo in the first two rounds the Ardija defence should be in for a more comfortable afternoon, and if they can break the ice (a return for Genki Omae would help in that regard) one goal should be enough.
Sagan Tosu v Sanfrecce Hiroshima: Best Amenity Stadium, Saturday 3pm
Wait, didn’t I say these would be tighter this week? Yes, yes I did. Well I should be able to manage it here. Tosu earned a very credible point at Kawasaki on Sunday, but Hiroshima disappointed for the second straight week, losing 1-0 at home to Shimizu to leave them with just a point from two home games to begin the season. Sanfrecce did the double over Sagan in 2016, but with both sides looking for their first win and still plugging holes left by departed players (Kim Min Woo for Tosu, Peter Utaka for Hiroshima), expect a cagey encounter.
Albirex Niigata v Shimizu S-Pulse: Big Swan Stadium, Saturday 3.30pm
Tatsuya Tanaka has rolled back the clock, coming off the bench in both games to score both of Niigata’s goals thus far (two shots, two goals, can’t ask for more than that!), but the Albirex defence switched off seconds after his equalizer on Saturday at Kobe, allowing Vissel to reclaim a lead they would hold despite late visiting pressure. Now Niigata return to the Big Swan for their home opener, with Shimizu arriving buoyant after Chong Tese’s penalty early in the second half was all they needed to claim a huge first three points of the season at Hiroshima.
Most observers expect these two to struggle, but after last Saturday S-Pulse can play with slightly more freedom, and that could be key against an Albirex side who’ll be under more pressure, desperate for a first win following two credible performances to start the season.
Vegalta Sendai v Vissel Kobe: Yurtec Stadium, Saturday 4pm
Something has to give when two of the four teams with perfect records meet at the Yurtec Stadium – Vegalta returned home from Iwata with three points last Saturday thanks to Hiroaki Okuno’s second half winner; Vissel got another goal from a defender (Hirofumi Watanabe), and their winner from a substitute holding midfielder (Hideto Takahashi) to edge them past Niigata at home in Matchday 2. Minus the injured Leandro (and the departed Pedro Junior, of course), Kobe’s attack is still finding its feet, and after two straight clean sheets to open the season the Sendai back-line should go in with confidence that they can make it three from three.
Gamba Osaka v FC Tokyo: Suita City Stadium, Saturday 7pm
As mentioned in the intro Gamba claimed a vital first league win of the season at Kashiwa last Sunday, and now return to Suita City Stadium with confidence restored for the visit of Tokyo, who themselves will be buzzing after two wins to begin the new campaign, in the process putting an end to two lengthy streaks (they had not won at Kashima in 10 years before winning the opener; and stopped Omiya’s run of 1-0 away wins at Ajinomoto Stadium at five last Saturday).
That said though, hopefully Tokyo aren’t getting too carried away, as in complete contrast to Kofu, they could easily have just a point through two games were it not for a huge save from new ‘keeper Akihiro Hayashi in each game – from Pedro Junior at 0-0 in the Kashima game; and Dragan Mrdja’s header late on at 1-0 up against Omiya. The corresponding fixture last season ended 3-3, you’d think Tokyo would take a point again, but Gamba won’t be settling as they look for a first home league win, ahead of the visit of Jiangsu in the ACL next Wednesday.