So here we are with a new column, that we’ll try to extend until the end of the season. Every weekend I’ll try to watch two games, one from J1 and one from J2. Maybe sometimes there will be space for J3 in the int’l breaks, but those two will be our main topic. “The Regista Diaries” reviews two games we watched throughout last weekend, so let’s start!
Cerezo Osaka v. Avispa Fukuoka 2-2
After losing in Yokohama to Marinos, Cerezo Osaka were ready to embrace their home fans by hosting Avispa Fukuoka. The guests had just clinched a nice point away in Osaka, drawing against Gamba. The hosts are still waiting for some news about their ACL route, but they had to face several absences in this game.
In their starting eleven, we didn’t find Seko and Sakamoto, both absent from today’s squad. In their places, Shindo and Nishikawa were confirmed in the offensive 4-4-2. Meanwhile, the guests couldn’t count on Yamagishi, Sugimoto and Shigehiro, so Hasebe picked Kitajima and Yoshioka on the flanks, while Tanabe started alongside captain Mae. This time, Kanamori was placed alongside Bruno Mendes.
The episode that changed the game happened in the 13th minute: a tough slide by Takaaki Shichi ended its run on Okuno’s knee. After two minutes of review, the referee opted for the red card, pushing Hasebe to field Yuzawa in place of Kitajima. Despite a one man-advantage on the field, Cerezo struggled to find the goal: the absence of Sakamoto probably took away some unpredictability to the home side’s attack.
Despite his immense talent, Jun Nishikawa didn’t create huge problems and that’s why Culpi decided to sub in Motohiko Nakajima in his place. Nevertheless, Avispa found the net in the 67th minute with a wonderful curly attempt by Masakazu Yoshioka. Two minutes and the substitute Nakajima immediately impacted the game with a screamer from 30 meters away.
Another substitute, Mutsuki Kato, appeared to have closed the game in favor of Cerezo with a smart finish on a marvelous assist by Maruhashi. It didn’t matter, though, because the Spanish striker, Juanma, headed the assist by Salomonsson in the 87th minute to rescue a point. The final assault by Cerezo produced a solid save by Murakami, but the guests clinched another solid point in Osaka.
This could go down as one of the best games of the season. In a certain way, the match showed strengths and weaknesses of both clubs. Cerezo struggled for over an hour to find the goal and the absence of Sakamoto is seemingly impacting the dynamics more than forecasted. Luckily for Cerezo, their depth in the offensive department should be enough to survive this absence.
What about Avispa instead? Well, our props go to Shigetoshi Hasebe, who’s doing a top job in giving this club some defensive solidity even in J1: snatching a point in Osaka playing almost the entire game with one man down is an absolute miracle. Given the structured identity, Fukuoka seem one or two players away from a sure salvation. It’s gonna be a struggle, but they might retain their J1 status at the end of the year.
Montedio Yamagata v. Albirex Niigata 0-2
In a Northern derby, the situations couldn’t be more diverse than now: Albirex Niigata came to this game with the lead of the table (alongside FC Ryukyu), while Montedio Yamagata were struggling in finding their pace on the pitch, losing some strange matches (against Fagiano Okayama or at the finish line to Tochigi SC). These performances resulted in seeing them in 19th place.
The biggest absence for head coach Kiyotaka Ishimaru was Vinicius Araujo, who wasn’t listed in the squad for today’s game. The promotion of Víctor Ibáñez between the posts came recently, so we might need time to witness some improvements. Yuki Horigome and Lulinha were missing as well, so Masamichi Hayashi earned his first start in J2 to play up front with Shuto Minami.
Different challenge for Albirex, who won five games in a row before drawing last week away in Sagamihara. All confirmed to feature in this derby, with the trio of Homma, Romero and Takagi behind the lone striker, Suzuki. Same choice as always also in goal, where Koto Abe definitely overcame both Kazuki Fujita and Ryosuke Kojima as the starting goalkeeper.
The first half didn’t give us too many emotions. Surely the guests looked more comfortable in their system, but the home side had two decent chances for a goal. The problem? Albirex have a tight defense: in this game, we didn’t count how many shots were blocked by the back four. Moreover, the absence of Vinicius showed how Yamagata are missing a real alternative to their no. 9.
In the second half, the game went Niigata’s way due to two mistakes in Yamagata’s build-up play: first Hiroki Noda misjudged his control on the ball, opening the way to Shion Homma and a comfortable assist to a lone Yoshiaki Takagi, then the same Homma found the net with a huge help of Víctor, who smashed the ball to his own net on a slow cross without any real danger.
In all of this, Yamagata struggled to find their way to the net: Romero had to perform a line clearance on a header by captain Takumi Yamada, while Albirex almost scored their third goal of the day with substitute Kaito Taniguchi and especially Takahiro Ko, on whose header the Spanish keeper deflected onto corner.
The derby confirmed the supremacy of Albirex Niigata, who now look like a solid contender for the direct promotion, since other sides are struggling, while the squad coached by Albert Puig is strolling to the top. On the other side, it’s maybe early to concern about Montedio Yamagata, but Kiyotaka Ishimaru has to find alternatives to his Plan A, since the absence of Vinicius seemed a burden too heavy to lift for the rest of the season (unless the Summer will bring other options).
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