High-flying Urawa Red Diamonds, unbeaten in the league since Matchday One, travel to the NACK5 Stadium for the Saitama Derby in search of the three points which would allow then to join Vegalta Sendai at the top of the table for at least thirty minutes. After suffering the opening day’s defeat to Sanfrecce Hiroshima, the Reds have been in impressive form, dispatching reigning champions Kashiwa Reysol at home and impressing with a controlled 2-0 victory over Vissel Kobe on Matchday Six. Furthermore, opponents Omiya Ardija are struggling, their poor home form in particular underlined by having found the net just oncem and coughing up five in reply. The Squirrels will not be given any sympathy by a Reds side which under manager Mihailo Petrović looks to be capable of finishing in the division’s upper reaches after last year’s Željko Petrović-led debacle.
With Yahiro Kazama’s appointment as Kawasaki Frontale manager imminent according to press reports, a trip to Hokkaido to face winless Consadole Sapporo could prove a fillip to both the new boss and their unpredictable league form, a fine draw away to Urawa Red Diamonds on Matchday Five succeeded by letting a two goal advantage slip in last week’s 3-2 defeat at the Osaka Expo ’70 stadium. Consa’s exciting performances earlier in the season have diminished, thanks in no small part to a succession of injuries to key players, and an enfeebled forward line will encounter even greater difficulty than usual owing to Qurino’s suspension following his 39th minute dismissal in Consa’s 2-1 defeat in mid-week.
Vissel Kobe host a very erratic Kashiwa Reysol side at the Home’s Stadium, last season’s title winners having taken just seven points from six league games and sitting at the bottom of Group H in the AFC Champions League. The Sun Kings’ cause is not helped by the unavailability of 2011 J.League Player of the Year Leandro Domingues, suspended after picking up two yellow cards in the last ten minutes of the 3-2 loss to Vegalta Sendai while attempting to find their third equaliser. Moreover, Reysol’s exertions on the road have borne little fruit, just two goals and three points to show for their efforts, and the loss of their leading scorer is almost certain to have a detrimental effect on the team’s performance. Kobe, however, are equally inconsistent, sitting two places and one point lower in J1, and they will need to open in stronger fashion than in the 2011 fixture if they are to take a positive result from this match.
The third and fourth-placed teams do battle as Sanfrecce welcome Nagoya Grampus to the Hiroshima Big Arch. Both teams hold a 100% record at their respective stadiums, and as Sanfre hold home advantage they will be confident of victory in an arena where attacking play allied to a strong defence has seen them emerge with victories over both Urawa Red Diamonds and Gamba Osaka, scoring seven in total and conceding just the solitary goal. While Grampus continue to be without last season’s J.League Top Scorer Joshua Kennedy, who remains on the sidelines while dealing with lower back pain, Keiji Tamada, Kensuke Nagai and Mu Kanazaki have netted twice each in the league, and hence the Nagoya Giants have a range of very able players to deputise in the Australian’s absence.
Matchday Six’s unexpected first win of the season versus FC Tokyo at the Ajinmoto Stadium likely provided Kashima Antlers manager Jorginho with a stay of execution, but the pressure is still on the Brazilian to further improve a team which lies seventeenth in the division on only four points. The Antlers face a stern test at the Kashima Soccer Stadium against a Cerezo Osaka side who are undefeated away and yet to concede on the road, but it remains to be seen whether the inevitable departure to Germany of Cerezo midfield factory product Hiroshi Kiyotake will have any effect on their form. Cerezo will hope to provide a response to last week’s disappointing defeat to Albirex Niigata, and they have the perfect opportunity against an opposition that has registered only a single goal at home.
Saga Prefecture provides the backdrop for the match between Sagan and Albirex Niigata. Albi currently languish in thirteenth place in the table, and if there were any suggestion that Sagan’s more advanced position belied their team’s respective abilities, one need only look at Sagan’s home form for affirmation that they are an outfit deserving of respect, ten points in four matches marking an auspicious start under Jung-Hwan Yoon’s management. With an away record which shows a scant return of of two goals, Albirex may well experience difficulties against a confident team with four successive league clean sheets to its name at the Tosu Stadium.
Jubilo Iwata go in search of their third consecutive home success in J1 as Yokohama F-Marinos pay a visit to the Yamaha Stadium. Jubilo’s unbeaten start to the season ended on Matchday Six with a painful 3-2 loss in the Shizuoka Derby, and they will be aiming to quickly get back into winning ways against the division’s other side without a victory. The Marinos’ limp attack, depleted further through an injury to Manabu Saito, will likely cause few problems to a defence which has given up a lone goal in the 2012 league season.
Sunday’s game features a Gamba Osaka side showing signs of improvement under new manager Masanobu Matsunami, but still lacking in balance. Wednesday’s AFC Champions League loss to Bunyodkor in Tashkent has imperilled Gamba’s hopes of progressing in the competition, but the number of goalscoring opportunities created was a positive omen for the Suita outfit. The opposition, which comes in the form of Shimizu S-Pulse, could not be better matched, Gamba’s home form showing one win and two losses and S-Pa holding the same record on their travels. If Gamba are to hold out any reasonable prospect of success, however, Matsunami must look to remedy a poorly protected defence which has let slip fourteen goals already.
I will be live-blogging the match between league laders Vegalta Sendai and FC Tokyo, and you can read the preview of that tie here.
|Consadole Sapporo||vs||Kawasaki Frontale|
|Jubilo Iwata||vs||Yokohama F-Marinos|
|Vissel Kobe||vs||Kashiwa Reysol|
|Sanfrecce Hiroshima||vs||Nagoya Grampus|
|Kashima Antlers||vs||Cerezo Osaka|
|Sagan Tosu||vs||Albirex Niigata|
|Omiya Ardija||vs||Urawa Red Diamonds|
|Vegalta Sendai||vs||FC Tokyo|
J.League Division 1, 22 April
|Gamba Osaka||vs||Shimizu S-Pulse|
J.League Division 2, 22 April
|Mito HollyHock||vs||Thespa Kusatsu|
|Tochigi SC||vs||FC Gifu|
|Ventforet Kofu||vs||FC Machida Zelvia|
|Ehime FC||vs||Roasso Kumamoto|
|Giravanz Kitakyushu||vs||Montedio Yamagata|
|Yokohama FC||vs||Kyoto Sanga|
|Tokyo Verdy||vs||Shonan Bellmare|
|Matsumoto Yamaga||vs||JEF United Chiba|
|Kataller Toyama||vs||Oita Trinita|
|Fagiano Okayama||vs||Gainare Tottori|
|Tokushima Vortis||vs||Avispa Fukuoka|