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.
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.
Consadole Sapporo, whose ominous lack of form is predicted to result in a final tally of between ten and eleven points at the completion of the 2012 campaign, and subsequently end in their relegation by Matchday 27 should there be no improvement, have no respite from their battle against the drop as they travel to the Yurtec Stadium to meet league leaders Vegalta Sendai in Saturday’s early kick-off. Consa have failed to take a single point outside Hokkaido in Division 1, and their predicament is likely to worsen significantly as they take the poorest defence in the league to the home of a Vegalta side that has netted fifteen times in six matches.
(In a fan video, Jungo Fujimoto sets Nagoya Grampus on their way with a 24th minute free-kick against Cerezo Osaka, a match they would go on to win 3-1 on Matchday Thirty-One of the 2011 season. Cerezo have won just once in Nagoya in a decade, and they visit Grampus in the 2012 campaign on Friday)
In the final round of matches before the national team takes to the stage with three consecutive 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification matches in June, the first sees Sagan Tosu, smarting from Kazuma Watanabe’s thirteen minute hat-trick which denied them their first away victory of the season, travelling to the Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium to take on a Gamba Osaka side without a win in a month, and wallowing in sixteenth position in the table.
The Suita side’s change in manager from Jose Carlos Serrao to Masanobu Matsunami has paid few dividends in absolute terms thus far, with an average of little more than one point per game in the J.League and four defeats in the AFC Champions League, but the playing style is a significant improvement and marks a return to the “football with movement” club President Kikuo Kanamori was so eager to see. Three points for Gamba won’t allow them to steer clear of the relegation places, but holding a game in hand they will be able to put pressure on Kashima Antlers, Cerezo Osaka and Kashiwa Reysol above them if they can take all three points. Join me from 10:30 on Friday 25 May when I’ll be live-blogging all the action.
Friday’s second game has Nagoya Grampus welcoming Cerezo Osaka to the Yamaha Stadium. After such a promising start to the season, Cerezo have fallen away of late, taking a single point from their last four J.League matches, and are set to lose star midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake from 1 July when he completes his transfer to Bundesliga club 1. FC Nuremberg. Now a mere five points above sixteenth place, this has proven a particularly uncomfortable fixture for Cerezo, a single win in their fateful 2005 season accounting for the only points they have taken in a decade.
Grampus, meanwhile, will want to put the 4-0 defeat at the hands of Vegalta Sendai behind them, an impressive first period denuded by an inability to finish chances and eventually overcome by a supremely clinical Vegalta side. Three points would allow Grampus to climb as high as seventh in the table with a game still to play.
On Saturday Consadole will be hoping that the Sapporo Atsubetsu Park Stadium provides them with some good fortune, the scene of their only league victory in 2012 on Matchday Nine, but the odds are stacked against them as second-placed Sanfrecce Hiroshima make the trip to Hokkaido. While six sides possess better defensive records than Hajime Moriyasu’s collective, only two have netted on more occasions and a Consa team which has conceded a staggering 25 goals in twelve matches suggests there will be little resistance to the visitors.
Vegalta Sendai journey south down the coast to Kanagawa Prefecture and a meeting with Kawasaki Frontale. The league leaders remain unbeaten on the road, but Frontale are seemingly rejuvenated under new manager Yahiro Kazama, winning three of four matches in May and consequently rising to seventh in the table. What may count against Frontale is their worrying capacity to ship goals at the Todoroki Athletics Stadium, conceding eleven in six matches at home, against a team who have proven ruthless in exploting the slightest weakness in an opposition’s defence.
After their setback on Matchday Twelve against Urawa Red Diamonds, Shimizu S-Pulse take on Yokohama F-Marinos in a fascinating match-up at the Outsourcing Stadium Nihondaira. After slow beginnings under Yasuhiro Higuchi and amid growing rumours that he was likely to be sacked, Marinos are now unbeaten since 21 April, taking thirteen points from a possible fifteen in that time. While neither side has been prolific in front of goal, S-Pulse and Marinos scoring fifteen and fourteen times respectively, S-Pa’s home form comprises a large part of why they currently sit in third place, ten goals, no losses and thirteen points making the Nihondaira one of the more intimidating stadiums for an away team in the J.League.
The division’s top scorers host Omiya Ardija at the Yamaha Stadium, and if the Squirrels are to see any increase on their sole victory away from the NACK5 Stadium they will need to tighten up a defence which has allowed an average of two goals per game, to counter Masaaki Yanagishita’s men, who have four wins from five in Shizuoka. Jubilo Iwata boast multiple attacking threats, Hiroki Yamada, Ryoichi Maeda and Kosuke Yamamoto all counting in the division’s ten highest goalscorers, while South Korean central defender Cho Byung-Kuk, signed from Vegalta Sendai at the end of the 2011 season, has chipped in with three goals in twelve appearances.
My second live blog of Matchday Thirteen has Vissel Kobe playing Kashima Antlers at the HOME’S Stadium. Vissel are the J.League’s current model of inconsistency, three wins counterbalanced by three defeats in Kobe. The Antlers have struggled for any form outside the confines of the Kashima Soccer Stadium, fifteen goals in their last four matches in Kashima separated by a failure to score at all away from home, and reflected by just one victory on their journeys around Japan. Join me at Football Japan from 08:30 BST/16:30 JST for team news and full coverage.
Albirex Niigata, rudderless in seventeenth position and in search of a permanent managerial appointment after Hisashi Kurosaki resigned on Matchday Twelve, travel to the Hitachi Kashiwa Soccer Stadium in the hope that temporary boss Nobuhiro Ueno can galvanise a squad which has won twice all season. A crumb of comfort for Albi is that the Sun Kings have only won once in front of their home support, and manager Nelsinho continues to prove incapable of coaxing any reliability from his talented but surprisingly fragile players.
Saturday’s final encounter is at the Ajinomoto Stadium, and the pick of the weekend’s fixtures gives FC Tokyo and Urawa Red Diamonds the chance to burnish their J.League title and AFC Champions League qualification credentials. The two teams are separated only by goal difference on 21 points, though the Gas do have a game in hand owing to their ongoing Champions League participation. Victory for either side could take them into second place in the league at the end of Matchday Thirteen.
|J.League 1, 25 May|
|19:00||Gamba Osaka||vs||Sagan Tosu||Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium|
|19:30||Nagoya Grampus||vs||Cerezo Osaka||Toyota Stadium|
|J.League 1, 26 May|
|14:00||Consadole Sapporo||vs||Sanfrecce Hiroshima||Sapporo Atsubetsu Park Stadium|
|14:00||Kawasaki Frontale||vs||Vegalta Sendai||Todoroki Athletics Stadium|
|14:00||Shimizu S-Pulse||vs||Yokohama F-Marinos||Outsourcing Stadium Nihondaira|
|16:00||Jubilo Iwata||vs||Omiya Ardija||Yamaha Stadium|
|17:00||Vissel Kobe||vs||Kashima Antlers||HOME’S Stadium Kobe|
|18:30||Kashiwa Reysol||vs||Albirex Niigata||Hitachi Kashiwa Soccer Stadium|
|19:00||FC Tokyo||vs||Urawa Red Diamonds||Ajinomoto Stadium|
|J.League 2, 26 May|
|13:00||Kyoto Sanga||vs||Giravanz Kitakyushu||Nishikyogoku Athletic Stadium|
|J.League 2, 27 May|
|13:00||Thespa Kusatsu||vs||Matsumoto Yamaga||Shoda Shoyu Stadium Gunma|
|13:00||Gainare Tottori||vs||Yokohama FC||Tottori Bank Bird Stadium|
|13:00||Avispa Fukuoka||vs||Fagiano Okayama||Level-5 Stadium|
|13:00||Oita Trinita||vs||JEF United Chiba||Oita Bank Stadium|
|16:00||Tochigi SC||vs||Tokyo Verdy||Tochigi Green Stadium|
|16:00||FC Machida Zelvia||vs||Mito HollyHock||Machida Athletic Stadium|
|16:00||Shonan Bellmare||vs||Tokushima Vortis||Shonan BMW Stadium Hiratsuka|
|16:00||Roasso Kumamoto||vs||Montedio Yamagata||KKWing Stadium|
|16:00||FC Gifu||vs||Ventforet Kofu||
(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
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.
J.League Division 1, 22 April
J.League Division 2, 22 April
(FC Tokyo fall to a surprising 2-1 home defeat to Kashima Antlers on Matchday Six. The Gas travel to the Yurtec Stadium in a challenging tie against league leaders Vegalta, but will be full of confidence after an excellent mid-week performance in the AFC Champions League)
League leaders Vegalta Sendai host fifth place FC Tokyo at the Yurtec Stadium on Saturday 21 April in what is sure to be a fascinating clash. FC Tokyo will visit Sendai on the back of a superb 3-0 AFC Champions League victory against Beijing Guoan, which took the Gas to the brink of qualification for the Round of 16. FC Tokyo will be relatively fresh for the weekend’s game, manager Ranko Popović having rested several regular starters for some youthful players in a team with an average age of just over 24. Undefeated Vegalta, meanwhile, have no reason to fear any side and particularly not at the Yurtec, where they average more than two goals per game in J.League Division 1 and but have conceded less than one across all competitions. With Vegalta spending six years in Division 2 until their promotion and championship winning season of 2009, and FC Tokyo’s relegation a year later, history tells us little of how the sides match up, Vegalta’s 3-2 win in the 2010 J1 campaign one of very few games played between the two teams in recent years. Join me from 10:30 BST/18:30 JST for team and squad news, with kick-off scheduled for 11:00 BST/19:00 JST.