J. League Round 17 Preview

J. League Round 17 Preview

By Anthony D

With almost half the season played, the league is still incredibly tight with only four points separating 3rd and 12th place.

Vegalta Sendai still sit at the top of the table

Sendai still remain on top, though having only one win in their last four games haven’t been able to extend their lead. Conversely however, a spate of draws in recent weeks has meant that teams below them haven’t been able to take advantage of Vegalta’s slowing of momentum. The league leaders travel to Kobe and find Vissel under Akira Nishino putting on performances that might have them live up to their pre-season dark horse tag.

At the bottom end of the table, Gamba and Albirex are still 5 points away from safety and whilst the 2008 ACL champions have signed former striker Leandro back on loan from the Middle East, it is their defence that is the main concern after conceding six last week and surrendering leads to Tosu and Urawa recently.

Preferred keeper Atsushi Kimura is out injured, bringing the less reliable Yosuke Fujigaya back into the starting squad and regular centre back Sota Nakazawa broke his leg at training this week. On paper the team from Osaka have a tough task when they travel to the capital to face FC Tokyo in somewhat of a grudge match after the high-profile defection to Gamba from the Gasmen in the off-season of Yasuyuki Konno.

The home team themselves have some form woes and a long injury list of their own to contend with having lost three of their last four games. Albirex Niigata have the chance to pull clear of Gamba with a win over the last placed Sapporo this round, who are already doomed to relegation.

Resurgent Kashiwa Reysol, with 7 wins and a draw in their last 8 games host the inconsistent Nagoya, who have of late been riding on the goal scoring of Kensuke Nagai, now 2nd in the goal-scorers tally with 8 for the season. Kashiwa slammed 6 in past Gamba Osaka last week and whilst Tulio Tanaka and company should provide greater resistance, Grampus will have to be near their best to stop the run of the Sun Kings.

Urawa will have a tough game at home against J1 debutants Sagan Tosu, who have surprised all and sundry with their performance in the top flight to date.

For the home side Yosuke Kashiwagi is in fine form and instrumental in their attack, whilst Kota Mizunuma is the danger man for the visitors as they rely on an organised and strong defence and then seek to break on the counter. Though with the Reds not adverse to dropping midfielders back to reinforce their back three, one suspects we’re not in for a goal-fest at Saitama Stadium this weekend.

Shimizu S-Pulse, who have lost their mojo in front of goal in recent times welcome the unconvincing Kawasaki Frontale, who were lucky to get a draw at home 2 weeks ago in the Kanagawa Derby and then lost to Sagan Tosu in stoppage time last week.

S-Pa will need to put one or two in the back of the net to arrest their gradual slide down the table, whilst Frontale need to do more than rely upon the talents of Kengo Nakamura if they want to consolidate their spot in the top 8.

Yokohama are in need of a win

Yokohama F-Marinos are another team that needs to translate good form into goals as they play host to Cerezo Osaka at Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium. The home team has conceded the least goals of any team in the league, and has put in dominant performances against FC Tokyo and Kawasaki in recent weeks but hasn’t been able to score more than a single goal, if any at all, since defeating Hiroshima 3-1 in mid-May.

Cerezo have lost star midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake to Germany and desperately need to find some consistency if they are to stave off a relegation battle in the coming months.

Omiya Ardija visit Kashima Antlers having also farewelled a player this week as Brazilian striker Raphael returns home to play for Botafogo. Having beaten S-Pulse at the death last week and drawn against 2nd place Hiroshima the week before, the Orange side of Saitama is steadying somewhat under the reigns of new manager Zdendko Verdanik.

The faith shown in Kashima’s manager Jorginho seems to be being rewarded, with the young Antler’s squad slowly climbing away from the bottom three, though both teams will keen on three points to give them a bit more breathing space from the relegation battle below.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima played out a two-all draw against top-of-the-table Sendai last week in what was hailed as a possible game of the season contender, and this round host 3rd-placed Jubilo Iwata at the Big Arch Stadium.

Jubilo turned around from two consecutive losses to comprehensively defeat FC Tokyo last week and a good win could see them ahead of Hiroshima, while Sanfrecce could top the table if they can get the three points and Sendai stumble.

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