J.League Division 1: Matchday Fifteen Preview and Fixtures

Gamba Osaka travel to the Sapporo Dome for what could prove a critical contest in what is quickly becoming a fight to avoid relegation for the first time in their history. The Suita side, who have only finished outside the top three in J.League Division 1 on one occasion since the change to a standard league championship format in 2005, have already lost more matches at this stage of the 2012 campaign than in four of their past seven full seasons, and manager Masanobu Matsunami is yet to steady a defence which has yielded nineteen goals in their past nine matches, garnering only one clean sheet in that time. Yet to win away from The Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium, Matsunami will be hoping to take all three points against the division’s bottom side, Consadole currently eleven points away from even relative safety and wielding the J.League’s worst defence in an injury-blighted year.

Ranko Popović was angered by his side’s jaded performance in their loss against Yokohama F-Marinos on Matchday Fourteen, and is expecting a much improved display at the Ajinomoto Stadium as FC Tokyo host Cerezo Osaka. The Serbian coach, who said post-match that there was not a single positive to take from the game, believes the players are in the debt of Gas supporters which must be repaid with interest. Depending upon the outcome of results elsewhere in the league, victory could see FC Tokyo climb as high as third place with a game still to play, and they face a Cerezo team struggling for goals with striker Kempes allegedly on the verge of a early return to Brazil. The 29-year old, loaned out to four separate clubs since 2009 by Portuguesa, has found the net just three times in fourteen starts and has come to be defined more by a litany of missed chances than as a reliable striker. The visitors, however, can point to the best defence of any team on the road in the J.League as an indication that victory is unlikely to obtained easily.

Losses for both Sagan Tosu and Jubilo Iwata last Saturday mean Shimizu S-Pulse now boast the only undefeated record at home across J.League Divisions One and Two, which will be put to the test on Matchday 15 when Sagan visit the Outsourcing Stadium Nihondaira. Fourteen points from eighteen suggests a side in excellent form in front of their home fans, but S-Pa’s last two matches in Shizuoka have both resulted in draws, and Tosu continue to prove thorny opposition for many teams on their travels, FC Tokyo’s stunning comeback their only defeat away from Saga Prefecture since the beginning of May.

Kashiwa Reysol’s run of four consecutive victories has seen them move into tenth place in the table, and a further three points against guests Kashima Antlers could grant them sixth position with a game in lieu. The Antlers, so accomplished in front of goal at the Kashima Soccer Stadium, have endured wildly contrasting fortunes on their travels having not scored in five of their seven away matches to date, and could well struggle against a Sun Kings team for whom Leandro Domingues is once more showing the kind of form that saw him receive the 2011 J.League Player of the Year award.

New manager Zdenko Verdenik looked on as Omiya Ardija lost 4-2 to Kashiwa Reysol last week, and the Squirrels face the daunting prospect of a trip to the Hiroshima Big Arch and a meeting with second-placed Sanfrecce. The J.League’s topscorer Hisato Sato has already equalled his total for the 2011 season having assumed the main striking responsibilities from Tadanari Lee, and with Naoki Ishihara also finding the net at a rate of just under one goal every two games, rookie manager Hajime Moriyasu’s potent attack is likely to be too strong for an Ardija side that has netted just five times beyond the confines of the NACK5 Stadium.

Sanfrecce will spend a minimum of thirty minutes at the top of Division 1 should they complete victory over Ardija, as league leaders Vegalta Sendai begin their match against third-placed Urawa Red Diamonds half an hour later at the Saitama Stadium. The two clubs could not be separated in both 2010 and 2011 in this fixture, and another tight battle is anticipated, the Reds one of five teams to have scored less than ten goals at home at this stage of the season.

An exciting game should be in store at the Todoroki Athlectics Stadium, where Kawasaki Frontale take on Yokohama F-Marinos. Frontale have won six of their last eight matches, sitting behind Urawa Red Diamonds on goal difference, and Marinos have been in equally scintillating form in recent weeks, unbeaten since 21 April and winning
five of seven in that time. Yahiro Kazama will be aware that his charges have been unstable at home, however, conceding neary two goals per game at the Todoroki, a failing Manabu Saito and Hiroyuki Taniguchi will inevitably look to exploit.

Jubilo Iwata have scored in every game since firing an opening day blank against Consadole Sapporo, and they will be aiming to continue their run versus Nagoya Grampus at the Mizuho Athletic Stadium. Grampus’s last victory at home was in April, a 100% record tarnished by a loss to Urawa Red Diamonds and subsequently followed by two further defeats, limiting their progress in the league and keeping Dragan Stojkovic’s side out of the top ten. Jubilo, meanwhile, slipped to a surprise home defeat to Vissel Kobe and dropped to fifth place, but remain only five points off the top of the table, and with 25 goals shared between five players provide attacking options unmatched by any other team in the division.

In the final match of this round, two of the league’s most recent managerial recruits come face-to-face at the HOME’S Stadium Kobe, Masaaki Yanagishita bringing Albirex Niigata to meet Akira Nishino’s Vissel. Yanagishita kicked off his tenure in the best possible manner with victory over Shimizu S-Pulse, while Nishino led his team to an improbable win at the Yamaha Stadium, ending Jubilo’s unbeaten home record and becoming the first team this year to put three past the Shizuoka Prefecture side at their home ground. A further three points for Albi could lift them out of the relegation places, but they lack a regular goalscorer, reflected in only four goals scored on the road with Bruno Lopes a particular disappointment, and they may well lapse again as Nishino steadily improves Vissel’s displays.

23 June
Kick-off (JST) Home vs Away Venue
14:00 Consadole Sapporo vs Gamba Osaka Sapporo Dome
18:00 FC Tokyo vs Cerezo Osaka Ajinomoto Stadium
18:00 Shimizu S-Pulse vs Sagan Tosu Outsourcing Stadium Nihondaira
18:30 Kashiwa Reysol vs Kashima Antlers Hitachi Kashiwa Soccer Stadium
18:30 Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Omiya Ardija Hiroshima Big Arch
19:00 Urawa Red Diamonds vs Vegalta Sendai Saitama Stadium 2002
19:00 Kawasaki Frontale vs Yokohama F-Marinos Todoroki Athletics Stadium
19:00 Nagoya Grampus vs Jubilo Iwata Mizuho Athletic Stadium
19:00 Vissel Kobe vs Albirex Niigata HOME’S Stadium Kobe

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