Thursday, August 26, 2010

J.League Preview - Round 21

At the end of every season you often look back at a particular weekend as a decisive point in the Championship race.

For the J.League, this could very well be one of those weekends.

Having just passed the half way mark of the season, it may be a little early to be making such claims, but with most of the top teams taking on each other, the results this weekend could be critical.

And the biggest winners could well be the current league leaders, Nagoya Grampus.

Having only lost one of their past eight games, a 4-0 loss to Kawasaki, since the J.League resumed after the World Cup, Nagoya have bolted to the top of the table and sit five points clear of three teams (Cerezo Osaka, Kashima Antlers and Shimizu S-Pulse) who all sit on 36 points.

This weekend Nagoya avoid the Battle Royal at the top of the table, hosting bottom placed Kyoto Sanga FC.

Kyoto have lost all but one of their eight games since the World Cup and haven’t won since Round 4 all the way back on the 27th March when they took all three points with a 3-2 win away to Jubilo Iwata.

With the leagues leading goal scorer in Josh Kennedy, it’s hard to see anything but a rout happening in this game, especially when you consider Kyoto have conceded 16 goals in their last eight games.

In arguably the biggest game of the weekend, fierce rivals Urawa Reds and Kashima Antlers will lock horns (no pun intended) at the Saitama Stadium. Despite struggling for form for most of the season, Urawa is still considered one of the big clubs in the J.League, not least because of their passionate fans who always turn out in large numbers.

Kashima, who may not share the same profile, have something much more important – trophies. They are consistently at the top of the table year in year out and have won the past three J.League titles.

They have, however, hit a bit of a rough patch in the last month and have not recorded a win since the end of July. They will be hoping key men Marquinhos and Shinzo Koroki can begin to find their form from the last few years. If Marquinhos does get on the scoresheet, he will celebrate his 100th J.League goal in just 207 games.

Another crucial match will see one-time league leaders Shimizu S-Pulse, who currently sit fourth, take on fifth place Kawasaki Frontale. Both clubs will be looking to bounce back from disappointing losses last week.

Dane Frode Johnsen and Shinji Okazaki, who ironically scored against Denmark for Japan at the World Cup, will lead the line for Shimizu who, with 40 goals, are the leagues leading scorers.

The final game of the Battle Royal will see Yokohama F.Marinos host Albirex Niigata in a mouthwatering clash at Nissan Stadium. Yokohama sits in eighth spot, just a few points behind the chasing pack, but consistency has been their biggest issue this year. Big wins have been followed up by disappointing losses.

Just a few weeks ago they knocked off Shimizu S-Pulse, but followed it up with a disappointing loss to Montedio Yamagata. It is these games that they would be expected to win that might ultimately prove their downfall this year.

After the off-season signing of Japanese legend Shunsuke Nakamura, big things were expected of Yokohama this season, many thinking they could challenge for their first title since they went back-to-back in 2003 and 2004. But it hasn’t turned out that way.

However, if they get the three points here they would be equal on points with Albirex, who currently sit in sixth and depending on other results this weekend could sit just two or three points from the top three and a potential Asian Champions League place.

Albirex will come into the game with momentum, however, having knocked over two of their rivals in the last two weeks. Firstly, they recorded a resounding 4-1 win over Shimizu and followed it up with a 2-1 win over Kawasaki last weekend.

Those results, coupled with a strong run of form over the last 6 weeks, have seen them rise from the relegation zone, where they sat after going without a win in their first eight games, to a genuine contender for an ACL spot.

In other action this weekend Cerezo Osaka, who have surprised many by currently sitting second, take on Omiya Ardija, Vegalta Sendai take on Shonan Bellmare in an important relegation battle, Vissel Kobe host FC Tokyo, whilst Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Montedio Yamagata take on each other in a mid-table clash.

Rounding out the weekend are the dark horses in all the discussions about Championships and ACL places – Gamba Osaka. They currently sit in seventh, equal on points with Yokohama and this weekend host Jubilo Iwata. Much like Yokohama consistency has been their biggest problem, but a win would put them right in the mix for an ACL spot.

With so many important clashes, this weekend could well decide many teams’ fate. But with 13 games to go after this and knowing the topsy-turvy nature of the J.League anything could, and probably will, happen.

For those with Setanta, their feature match this weekend is, unfortunately, Vissel Kobe vs FC Tokyo, which will be shown on delay at 9:15am on Sunday morning.

Dasher’s Predictions:

Urawa 1-1 Kashima
Cerezo Osaka 2-1 Omiya Ardija
Vegalta Sendai 1-0 Shonan Bellmare
Nagoya 4-0 Kyoto Sanga
Vissel Kobe 0-0 FC Tokyo
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0-1 Montedio Yamagata
Yokohama F.Marinos 0-2 Albirex Niigata
Gamba Osaka 2-0 Jubilo Iwata
Shimizu S-Pulse 1-1 Kawasaki Frontale

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Dasher, save for the predictions! ;)

    It is looking like a key round, though as you said there is still a long way to go. But potentially gaps could open up and confidence going into the final third of the season could be dented for some teams.

    I'll be at Nissan Stadium trying to help the F.Marinos over the line though!