A brief look ahead at the upcoming action in J1
Vegalta Sendai vs Cerezo Osaka (6pm, Yurtec Stadium, Sendai)
After losing at home to a university team in midweek, Vegalta probably aren’t too enthused at the sight of Cerezo Osaka’s Sakura pink machine rolling into Tohoku. Cerezo are currently second in J1, and have only lost once in the last thirteen (although they were fortunate to escape last weekend’s game with Shimizu S-Pulse with a point). Cerezo have pace and directness in abundance, something that Sendai failed to deal with in midweek against Tsukuba University. Vegalta will look to top scorer Crislan to spark them but one wonders how much damage the defeat against the students has done to them.
Prediction: Vegalta 1-3 Cerezo
Yokohama F.Marinos vs Vissel Kobe (6pm, Nissan Stadium, Yokohama)
An attractive looking matchup between two teams who have been on opposite recent trajectories.
F.Marinos are cruising at the moment, taking 13 points from the last possible 15 meaning they are coming into this game in fine fettle. Manabu Saito is continuing to grow into his role as captain, and despite missing the impressive David Babunski (away on international duty), Hugo Vieira has started to round into form. Add in the explosive, if inconsistent, Martinus and it has the makings of a good attacking unit.
Kobe were the same at the beginning of the year, but have started to fall away recently. Two wins from the last nine isn’t the kind of form Vissel should be producing, and it could get worse before it gets better. But it could get a lot better with the imminent arrival of German icon Lukas Podolski, but until then the burden of goalscoring remains on Kazuma Watanabe (three goals so far in 2017).
Both of these teams are pretty shy in front of goal – Yokohama have scored 18 league goals, Vissel 17 – so it would surprise no-one if this was a cagey affair.
Prediction: F.Marinos 1-0 Vissel Kobe
Shimizu S-Pulse vs Ventforet Kofu (6pm, AIA Stadium Nihondaira, Shimizu)
The “Mount Fuji derby” (if there is such a thing – I might have just made it up) is, whisper it, between two teams that find themselves looking down rather than up. S-Pulse, despite their attacking talent, have just one win in the last twelve league outings, while Kofu – off the back of their shock loss at home to JFL side Vanraure Hachinohe in midweek – have won just one of their last ten, and have only scored more than one goal in a game once this year.
Shimizu got away with resting star attackers Chong Tese, Mitchell Duke & Tiago Alves in midweek as their replacements helped S-Pulse glide by Giravanz Kitakyushu 4-1, but I would expect at least two of those to come back into the team – probably Chong & Alves.
For Kofu, Dudu is suspended , leaving their striker resources even more bare than usual. Kofu will look to keep it very tight and try to steal one on the counter attack but I fear that S-Pulse will have too much firepower for them in the form of the rested Chong Tese & Tiago Alves. Mt. Fuji bragging rights will belong to S-Pulse.
Prediction: S-Pulse 2-1 Kofu
Jubilo Iwata vs FC Tokyo (6pm, Yamaha Stadium, Iwata)
The Tokyo natives are restless after a run of one win in the last five and an Emperor’s Cup exit to J3 side Nagano on Wednesday night and so the Gasmen really need a positive result from their trip to Iwata. The trouble for Tokyo is that they’re running into Iwata a couple of very impressive league wins (a 3-0 win against Gamba, and a 4-2 win at Urawa) and look to have turned the corner after a very indifferent run of form of their own. Both clubs went to penalties on Wednesday night, so neither team can claim the other has any sort of physical advantage, although Jubilo won their shoot-out against Honda FC.
Expect a lot of returning players for both sides on Sunday. Tokyo will likely recall a host of first teamers including Yoshito Okubo, Akihiro Hayashi, Masato Morishige & Yoichiro Takahagi amongst others. Jubilo will probably end up recalling a lot of their big hitters too; Shunsuke Nakamura, Kengo Kawamata, & Adailton will probably all feature after various stages of rest in the midweek game. Sneakily a candidate for game of the weekend, I’m going to predict a high scoring affair.
Prediction: Jubilo 2-2 FC Tokyo
Kashima Antlers vs Albirex Niigata (6:30pm, Kashima Stadium)
On the face of it, this looks like it should be an easy home win. Niigata are really struggling under new manager Wagner Lopes, and are coming off a midweek extra time nailbiter where they eventually triumphed over regional league side Banditonce Kakogawa, not to mention their demoralizing home defeat against Omiya last weekend. Niigata look like a team that is waiting for relegation.
Antlers on the other hand are humming along nicely after the shock firing of Masatada Ishii. Antlers have had two convincing victories in their last two league games, scoring three in both games, and it isn’t a stretch to see them doing the same against Albirex on Sunday evening.
Prediction: Kashima 4-1 Niigata
Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Omiya Ardija (6:30pm, Edion Stadium, Hiroshima)
If you’d have mentioned this as a relegation battle at the beginning of the season, a lot of people would have given you quizzical looks, after all, these are the teams that finished 5th (Omiya) and 6th (Hiroshima) last year. But this year, things are different. Omiya have already fired one manager, and Hiroshima’s era-building coach Hajime Moriyasu is under pressure now as both teams find themselves in the relegation zone.
Sanfrecce squeezed through their Emperor’s Cup tie with Kagoshima United on Wednesday – a performance that won’t have allayed any fears in their camp. Masato Kudo netted a brace, but has so far been underwhelming for his new club, while Brazilian imports Anderson Lopes and Felipe Garcia haven’t really settled into the groove of J.League life.
Omiya on the other hand are coming off two morale boosting victories (2-1 at Niigata in league action, and 3-0 against Tonan Maebashi in the EC) and will look to continue that good form at Edion Stadium. Ataru Esaka turned in a captain’s performance at Niigata and despite Yusuke Segawa & Dragan Mrdja both playing in the midweek win, expect Esaka to be the focal point of Omiya’s forward play.
I think it’ll be a tight one, but I feel that this is a game that Sanfrecce must come out and front up in. I think they might just nick it. If they don’t, and they end up losing, they’ll be in some serious trouble.
Prediction: Hiroshima 1-0 Omiya
Kashiwa Reysol vs Consadole Sapporo (7pm, Hitachidai, Kashiwa)
While Sapporo rested a number of starters for their Emperor’s Cup game against Iwaki in midweek, the 2-5 defeat against the Fukushima regional side was inexcusable. Expect a full strength side for their trip to the league leaders, and a much improved performance. However, it probably won’t be enough to dent Kashiwa’s dominant recent form – they’ve won eight of the last nine league games. Expect starters like goalkeeper Kosuke Nakamura, midfielder Junya Ito and others to step back into the side after being rested in midweek, and expect another Reysol league win.
Prediction: Kashiwa 2-0 Sapporo
Gamba Osaka vs Kawasaki Frontale (7pm, Suita Stadium, Osaka)
A game that could please the neutral, this matchup is a bellwether for Gamba’s title ambitions. Despite not really playing all that well Gamba find themselves in a very good position to make a run at the J.League top spot, and they look set to get stronger with the addition of Korean forward Hwang Ui-jo and the departure of Patric.
But more pressingly, Shu Kurata has been in excellent form form for Gamba this season, popping up with important goals and some sterling all round play. Stopping him will go a long way to stifling Gamba, so I’m interested to see the battle between Kurata and Kawasaki Frontale’s holding midfielder Eduardo Neto. Neto has been really good as a screen in front of Frontale’s vastly improved defence this year and he’ll have a key role on Sunday evening.
Frontale have won four of their last five, and they can count ex-Gamba midfielder Hiroyuki Abe as one of their form players. The versatile attacking midfielder has scored five goals this year in J.League action this year, and his interchangability (have I just made that word up?) with Yu Kobayashi gives opposition defences plenty to think about – especially when it is someone of the caliber of Kengo Nakamura providing the ammunition.
I’m really looking forward to this game, but struggling to pick a winner.
Prediction Gamba 1-1 Kawasaki
Sagan Tosu vs Urawa Reds (7pm, Best Amenity Stadium, Tosu)
An interesting game in Tosu where Urawa will look to get their league campaign back in track after a run of just one win in their last six (and that was against Niigata. Urawa also had a nervy time against J3 side Grulla Morioka in the Emperor’s Cup in midweek, but back up forwards Zlatan & Ado Onaiwu eventually saw them home. A fifth defeat in seven would leave Urawa’s J.League hopes hanging by a thread and would deepen the suspicion on Mihailo Petrovic’s prospects at the club.
Expect Petrovic to recall some or all of the forwards he rested in midweek; they would be Shinzo Koroki, Yuki Muto, Rafael Silva & Tadanari Lee. Also likely to be back are midfielder Yosuke Kashiwagi, defenders Tomoaki Makino & Ryota Moriwaki & goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa. Nishikawa in particular will have benefitted from having Wednesday night off after having arguably the worst game of his Reds career last weekend in the 2-4 defeat by Jubilo Iwata.
Tosu had a relatively straight-forward win in the Emperor’s Cup (3-0 against Matsue City) although unlike a lot of clubs they didn’t rest their usual starters – ‘keeper Shuichi Gonda & star forward Yohei Toyoda both played their full roles in the win and Tosu must hope that the exertions of a midweek game don’t take their toll.
Prediction: Sagan Tosu 2-3 Urawa Reds