|Nagoya celebrate a goal in the Super Cup last weekend|
Photo: J.League Photos
It seems like only yesterday that Nagoya Grampus were being crowned J.League champions for the first time, but this weekend sees the kick off of another campaign, with the defending champions eyeing back-to-back titles.
Nagoya open their title defence at home, well one of their two homes, when they host Yokohama F.Marinos at Toyota Stadium on Saturday.
Dragan Stojkovic, hailed by Arsene Wenger as the man to replace him in the hot seat at Arsenal, has made minimal changes to the squad that ran away with the title last year.
The key addition to the squad is that of midfielder Jungo Fujimoto, who has moved across from Shimizu S-Pulse.
Yokohama F.Marinos has had a mixed pre-season, with plenty of changes to the roster which has resulted in a less-than-convincing pre-season campaign.
The pressure is right on F.Marinos this year, with Manager Kazushi Kimura eyeing nothing less than their first title since 2004.
At home you’d fancy
to get their Championship defence off to the best possible start. Nagoya
Arguably the highlight of the weekend is the Osaka Derby between rivals Gamba and Cerezo.
Cerezo stunned most last season when they managed to stay in or around the top three all year, eventually taking third spot and an Asian Champions League birth.
Their debut in that competition wasn’t the most convincing performance, a scrappy 2-1 win over Arema
at home. Indonesia
One player who will be looking to impress more than most will be Brazilian Adriano, who has made the twitch from the pink side of town to the blue side. Cerezo’s top scorer last season with 14 goals will be hoping to continue that form for Gamba this season and has the opportunity first up to deliver a dagger in the heart of all Cerezo fans who adored him last season.
He has been replaced by Rodrigo Pimpão, a 23-year old striker on loan from Vasco da Gama. He will take time to adjust to the J.League, so we might not see his best for a few weeks.
are looking strong. Osaka
An undefeated pre-season and a 5-1 thumping of a hapless Melbourne Victory in their opening Asian Champions League fixture has them primed for the new season.
Along with Adriano, Gamba has also bought in Kim Seung-yong from K-League side Jeonbuk Motors and he appears to have settled well, but in a number of good performances in the pre-season.
Given the form of Gamba Osaka during pre-season you cannot go past them getting the edge over their city rivals in this one.
Finally, there is much intrigue surrounding Shimizu S-Pulse this season. The Shizuoka-based club shot out of the blocks last season before fading badly.
There has been changes aplenty over the off-season with 15 players moving on, including strike duo Frode Johnsen and Shinji Okazaki.
They are big shoes to fill, with
scoring 13 goals last season. That job falls to the experienced Naohiro Takahara who was signed from Suwon Bluewings, and new Australian singing Alex Brosque who finally signed after a dispute between Okazaki and his A-League side, Sydney FC. Shimizu
To go with all of that, a new coach was bought in with Afshin Ghotbi taking the reigns in 2011.
They face newly promoted Kashiwa Reysol first up, who stole Akihiro Hyodo off
over the off-season which will add some extra spice to the affair. Shimizu
It’s a game I expect
Shimizu will want to win and despite all the changes, I think they’ll edge in a closely fought contest. Kashiwa
Other games this weekend include (my predictions in bold):
Ventforet Kofu vs Jubilo Iwata
Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Vegalta Sendai
Avispa Fukuoka vs Albirex Niigata
Kawasaki Frontale vs Montedio Yamagata
Vissel Kobe vs Urawa Reds
Kashima Antlers vs Omiya Ardija