J.League Division 1: Matchday Eight Preview and Fixtures

(Rafinha scores a 57th minute header for Gamba Osaka, the only goal in the 3 September 2011 J.League Division 1 fixture with Kashima Antlers. Gamba travel to the Kashima Soccer Stadium on Matchday Eight aiming for a repeat of the league double over the Antlers in last season’s campaign)

Just one goal separates seventh- and eight-placed teams Shimizu S-Pulse and FC Tokyo, and S-Pa travel to the Ajinomoto Stadium looking to return to winning ways after their 3-1 defeat to Gamba on Matchday Seven. Until the setback at the Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium, the Shizuoka Prefecture outfit had strung together three consecutive victories, including an impressive 3-2 Shizuoka Derby performance against Jubilo Iwata on 14 April. The aim is for a positive result against an FC Tokyo side who, while impressing in both the AFC Champions League and on their travels domestically, have only taken three points from a possible nine at their home ground in Division 1, but with S-Pa equally poor away from the Nihondaira Stadium, winning once while losing on three occasions, mastery of defences conceding at an average of more than once per game at home and away respectively will likely prove the critical factor in deciding the outcome of this match.

Nagoya Grampus will hope to put some pressure on league leaders Vegalta Sendai in Saturday’s other early kick-off, and have the opportunity to close the gap between first and second to two points at least temporarily, when they welcome Urawa Red Diamonds to the Mizuho Athletic Stadium. Unbeaten in all competitions since 17 March, Grampus would be alone in second place on sixteen points had Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Ryota Moriwaki not scored a thunderous 94th minute equaliser last weekend. The Reds, meanwhile, slipped to their second defeat in J1 in the 2-0 Saitama Derby loss, putting a dent in the excellent form they had shown since the opening day’s reversal against Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Urawa have not fared especially well in their previous J.League visits to Nagoya, with a single victory in the past five years to show for their efforts, but this should prove one of the most evenly contested ties of the weekend.

To have any hope of retaining the J.League crown they won in such exciting fashion in 2011, Kashiwa Reysol must start accumulating points having taken just seven from seven fixtures to date. Their inexplicable collapse in form has also been in evidence in the AFC Champions League, an early exit from the competition looming, and they meet a Sagan Tosu side high in confidence and at this early stage of the season proving capable of matching most sides in Division 1. The Sun Kings may look to Sagan’s failure to collect any points away from the Tosu Stadium as a sign of a false position in the league, but Sagan were only defeated by both second- and third-placed Jubilo Iwata and Nagoya Grampus by the odd goal. Furthermore, although Tosu’s performances have largely been built on the basis of a solid defence rather than a strong attacking capability, Nelsinho will surely look to find a way of strengthening a back line which has continued to ship goals at an alarming rate to take a precious three points.

Mid-table Kawasaki Frontale are the epitome of inconsistency in J1, winning and losing three matches while scoring and conceding eight goals, and nowhere was this inconsistency more unambiguously expressed than in Matchday Seven’s 3-2 win at the Sapporo Dome, which followed an equally tumultuous 3-2 defeat to Gamba Osaka a week earlier. Consadole were cruising after a commanding first-half performance, taking a 2-0 lead into the second period, but a sustained fightback and an 88th minute goal from Koji Yamase allowed the Kanagawa Prefecture side to emerge triumphant. Frontale host Sanfrecce Hiroshima at the Todoroki Athletics Stadium, and while fourth-placed Sanfre have not been as prolific as they may wish away from the Big Arch, an excellent defensive record means Frontale may find it difficult to add to the single goal they have scored at their home venue in 2012.

The 3-2 comeback upset against Cerezo Osaka may have eased the pressure on manager Jorginho a little, but Kashima Antlers are still only two points away from the relegation places, and for a club used to regular success in the J.League, only repeated victories will ensure the Brazilian continues to avoid the axe. Gamba Osaka travel to the Kashima Soccer Stadium on the back of two consecutive J1 victories, including last week’s 3-1 win over Shimizu S-Pulse in which the Gamba defence was not breached until the 93rd minute. While the Suita club are yet to record a clean sheet in 2012 in any competition, it was the first time this year where an organised and structured team had been on display, and Masanobu Matsunami will be confident of building on this result on Matchday Eight.

Seven games and one point makes difficult reading for Consadole Sapporo manager Nobuhiro Ishizaki, the impressive opening day’s draw against Jubilo Iwata and some sparkling attacking football giving way to a side which already looks in danger of an immediate return to J.League Division 2. Last week’s heartbreaking defeat to Kawasaki Frontale masked a number of deficiencies, not the least of which is a defence which has given up six goals in three games away from home. A trip to Saitama awaits for a contest with Omiya Ardija, whose impressive 2-0 defeat of Urawa Red Diamonds was their first at the NACK5 this season, but has also been the stage for a 1-1 draw with Nagoya Grampus, and the home side will be confident of picking up three valuable points from this fixture.

Yokohama F-Marinos are also still without a victory in Division 1, the 1-0 reversal at Jubilo Iwata the latest manifestation of a team which continually fails to put away the chances it creates, but which otherwise has conceded fewer goals than the average in the league. Vissel Kobe journey to the Nissan Stadium, and there will be few better occasions for the Marinos to make their openings count against a team which holds the unwanted record of the most goals conceded away from home in J1 to date.

Click the link for the preview of Albirex Niigata versus Vegalta Sendai, the fixture I’ll be live-blogging from 07:00 BST/15:00 JST, with kick-off scheduled for 08:00 BST/16:00 JST. I hope you can join me to discover whether Vegalta can retain their 100% away record, and following Shonan Bellmare’s surprise 2-1 defeat at home to Mito HollyHock, remain the only unbeaten side in the J.League across both divisions.

The final game of Matchday Eight sees Cerezo Osaka play Jubilo Iwata at the Kincho Stadium. Cerezo have been maddeningly unpredictable in 2012, no more so than in letting slip a 2-0 half-time lead away to Kashima Antlers on Matchday Seven. Jubilo have been defeated just once so far this season, and their attacking flair was again on display in the 1-0 win over Yokohama F-Marinos, Hiroki Yamada’s goal notable not just for individual excellence but superlative build-up play from Kosuke Yamamoto. Cerezo’s relatively tight defence will need all its powers of concentration to repel one of the division’s most inventive attacking units to emerge with any points.

J.League Division 1, 28 April

FC Tokyo vs Shimizu S-Pulse
Nagoya Grampus vs Urawa Red Diamonds
Kashiwa Reysol vs Sagan Tosu
Kawasaki Frontale vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka
Omiya Ardija vs Consadole Sapporo
Yokohama F-Marinos vs Vissel Kobe
Albirex Niigata vs Vegalta Sendai
Cerezo Osaka vs Jubilo Iwata
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