Urawa Red Diamonds take their eight game unbeaten streak to Niigata in search of a result against an Albirex team whose plummeting attendance figures are just one of Masaaki Yanagishita’s worries. Having netted a meager four goals at the Tohoku Denryoku Big Swan Stadium, underlining why home supporters have only been treated to one win in eight matches, Albi lie in sixteenth place, but their past three matches provide hopeful signs as they took maximum points against Shimizu S-Pulse and Consadole Sapporo and battled to a draw with Kashima Antlers. The Reds are likely to prove too strong, however, Mihailo Petrović leading his team to third place in the table during a period in which he presided over one of only two shut-outs for Vegalta Sendai in the 2012 campaign to date.
Sagan Tosu’s outstanding defence has been practically impregnable at the Best Amenity Stadium, three goals in nine home fixtures the solid foundation for five wins and three draws in Saga Prefecture. FC Tokyo are the visitors on Matchday Eighteen, the two sides previously meeting in Round Twelve in one of the most memorable J.League games of the season so far. The Gas overturned a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 at the Ajinomoto Stadium, as Kasuma Watanabe scored a hat-trick within thirteen minutes to deny Tosu’s first away victory of the season, Tosu subsequently going on to inflict similar punishment on Gamba Osaka just five days later. Aware that a win could see his team climb as high as third position on Saturday evening, manager Ranko Popović will nonetheless recognise that within his side’s five wins in eight outside Tokyo were three victories against teams residing in the bottom four, and only one against a team in the top half of the table. Eight goals in eight matches is a return that requires improving in the second period of this season when they come to face higher quality teams if he is to sustain a challenge for a top four finish.
Another excellent home record will come under close scrutiny on Saturday, this time at the Outsourcing Stadium Nihondaira as S-Pulse host Kashiwa Reysol. The Sun Kings have taken 18 of their 27 points beyond the confines of the Hitachidai, winning five straight on the road, with their last away defeat coming on 21 April against Vissel Kobe. S-Pa, meanwhile, boast a defence bettered only by that of Sagan Tosu at their respective home stadia, a key factor in maintaining their unbeaten status in Shimizu. The teams are separated by two points and two places, Reysol in seventh keen to continue their rise up the table after a faltering start to the season, and S-Pulse seeking the three points which could lift them into the Asian Champions League places.
Jubilo Iwata will perhaps be the team most confident of victory in this round of fixtures as Consadole Sapporo journey to the Yamaha Stadium. No team has claimed more points in front of their home support than the Shizuoka side, while Consa, whose eight defeats in eight matches outside Hokkaido have come at a cost of nearly three goals per game, continue merely to suggest that they have accepted both their fate and their likely status as the worst team to ever feature in Division 1.
Kawasaki Frontale have the best points per game return away from home in J.League Division 1, and face one of their toughest challenges in sustaining that record as they travel to the Hiroshima Big Arch to face Sanfrecce. Interestingly, Sanfrecce and Frontale have taken seventeen points from their home and away fixtures respectively, and while Hajime Moriyasu’s side last suffered a home defeat on 12 May, Frontale’s sole loss away from the Todoroki Athletics Stadium came precisely three months ago. With no win for the home side in this fixture since 2005, a tight encounter is expected, Frontale having conceded an average of just one goal per game away from home, Sanfrecce similarly tight in front of their home supporters.
Gamba Osaka face some of their most important fixtures of what has become a catastrophic 2012 season in the coming weeks, travelling to Vissel for the Kansai derby before hosting fellow strugglers Omiya Ardija and Cerezo Osaka at the Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium in consecutive matches. Manager Masanobu Matsunami, whose return as a manager has now dipped to less than a point per match since his appointment, will try to change both his and his player’s fortunes as Yokohama F-Marinos arrive at the Banpaku. Given his inability thus far to rectify problems in defence, Matsunami may find a positive in Marinos having only scored three goals in their last six matches, but they have been equally resolute in defence, recording four clean sheets and conceding just two in the same period.
One of the weekend’s most intriguing ties sees league leaders Vegalta Sendai face Nagoya Grampus at the Toyota Stadium, whose rise to fourth in the table has been overseen by Dragan Stojković on the back of ten points from four matches, including last week’s fine 2-1 victory at the Hitachi Kashiwa Soccer Stadium. The two teams met in the reverse fixture only six rounds ago, Grampus the victims of a clinical 4-0 defeat in which they were made to pay for both their profligacy and defensive failings. Grampus have let slip five goals in their five most recent contests, and eight in eight in all league matches in Nagoya, and are unlikely to be quite so generous to a team who have just the one win to their name in this fixture since the J.League began.
Kashima Antlers travel to the Nagai Stadium for a tie with Cerezo Osaka where the outcome could be as positive as move into the top half of the table, or as worrying as being just three points above the relegation places. Cerezo, however, will likely be adding the name of Kim Bo-Kyung to the list of midfielders they have lost to foreign clubs in recent years, a move to English Championship team Cardiff City predicted to be formalised when the South Korea Under-23 midfielder arrives in London next week. Should the transfer be completed, Kim will follow Hiroshi Kiyotake out of Osaka at a time a relegation fight is looming, a fight for which they are now even less adequately equipped.
In the short period of time in which he has been in charge at the HOME’s Stadium, Vissel Kobe manager Akira Nishino has seen some promising results and performances, three wins in five league matches meaning twelfth place could realistically become eighth with victory at the NACK5 Stadium. They face an Omiya Ardija team who have proven remarkably inconsistent in recent weeks, holding free-scoring Sanfrecce to a goalless draw at the Big Arch on Matchday Fifteen and downing S-Pulse seven days later, results sandwiched between defeats to both Kashiwa Reysol and Kashima Antlers.
|18:00||Shimizu S-Pulse||vs||Kashiwa Reysol||Outsourcing Stadium Nihondaira|
|19:00||Omiya Ardija||vs||Vissel Kobe||NACK5 Stadium|
|19:00||Albirex Niigata||vs||Urawa Red Diamonds||Tohoku Denryoku Big Swan Stadium|
|19:00||Jubilo Iwata||vs||Consadole Sapporo||Yamaha Stadium|
|19:00||Nagoya Grampus||vs||Vegalta Sendai||Toyota Stadium|
|19:00||Gamba Osaka||vs||Yokohama F-Marinos||Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium|
|19:00||Cerezo Osaka||vs||Kashima Antlers||Nagai Stadium|
|19:00||Sanfrecce Hiroshima||vs||Kawasaki Frontale||Hiroshima Big Arch|
|19:00||Sagan Tosu||vs||FC Tokyo||Best Amenity Stadium|