J2 Matchday 1
Three months have passed since that dreadful day in Kyoto, and FC Tokyo start out on the nine month-long journey back to J1 (hopefully, surely?) with a home game against original J2'ers Tosu. As I mentioned in Nine Months of ......, our first ever game in J2 was home to Tosu, and so it goes that the schedule-makers decided to have us start our second stint in J2 the same way. Along with Ehime hosting Sapporo, and five J1 games, we will raise the curtain on the J.League season, kicking off tomorrow at 2pm. As is my wont, I'll divide this preview into two sections:
You know all about the new faces, outlined here and again here, but only two of them, and only four of my Best XI from the second of those posts, 'New Faces, New Tactics?' are likely to start the opener, with fitness and conditioning problems keeping some key names sidelined, while Takuji Yonemoto is of course suspended.
Again putting my frankly dreadful Paint skills to work, here's how I expect we'll line up:
Oh yes, another Paint doozy for you there. This is the same XI that started last Sunday at Kusatsu, so I'll punt on Okuma starting with those players. We have history (albeit with Jofuku) of keeping things the same from the end of the preseason to the first game: last season the same XI that started our final friendly against Shonan kept their spots for the win over Yokohama.
Starting from the back, Hitoshi Shiota will start in goal after Shuichi Gonda's attempt to return quicker than expected from a dislocated finger came up short, while in the back four we should see Takumi Abe make his league debut for FC Tokyo at left back following several encouraging displays in the preseason, capped off by his assist for Sota Hirayama's equalizer last Sunday. The question going forward is can Abe keep his spot ahead of Hokuto Nakamura and Kenta Mukuhara? I hope so but will wait until I see him in action before pondering that too deeply. Elsewhere in defence there will be no surprises, with new club captain Yasuyuki Konno and Masato Morishige our centre-halves and Yuhei Tokunaga at right back.
In central midfield you can be sure that Roberto will feature from the start, as Yonemoto serves his one-game ban, while I expect Naotake Hanyu to operate slightly further forward in Yohei Kajiyama's absence. Roswell really struggled to impose himself on games at the beginning of last season when Casual was out injured, (might've had a lot to do with being paired with the out-of-position Tokunaga) but as fate would have it he's got another chance, as Casual is missing again, and Roberto should prove a much more adept partner than Tok. On the flanks I'm presuming we'll see Yohei Otake and Tatsuya Yazawa, and as I said in Episode 2 of Gas Talk these two really need to impress, as on the surface it looks like they're just keeping those spots warm for Naohiro Ishikawa and Pedro Junior. Yazawa, in particular, has a great chance to make an instant impact, and he'll be pleased to be starting his first game at his new club.
Up front it disgusts me to have to type Tatsuya's name in the line-up, but since Roberto "The Salad" Cesar might not be ready to start and Takamatsu is not in the frame at all, he'll have to start the game. As far as The Salad is concerned, it looked as though Okuma was trying to round him into shape last weekend, as he played the first half against Waseda University on Saturday (scoring the first goal and setting up Sotan Tanabe for the second) and then came off the bench for the last 34 minutes against Kusatsu on Sunday, but we might have to settle for seeing him for half an hour or so tomorrow. Sota Hirayama will definitely start, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the big man links up with The Salad when the latter gets on.
As the game progresses, it will be very interesting to see how Okuma uses his substitutions, and in particular who he brings on for Hanyu (because we know he's not playing the full game), personally I'm hoping one of Pedro Junior and Ishikawa is fit enough to make the bench and I'd like to see whichever one of them that is come on for Roswell with Otake shifting into the middle.
In Episode 2 of Gas Talk I mentioned the two Tosu players we'd need to look out for, striker Yohei Toyoda and winger Kim Min Woo, but I didn't realise at the time that Kim had missed the last nine games of last season, and is still not back in full training this year after illness. His absence is a shame, but means that one of the main supply lines to Toyoda is gone, and youngsters like Naoyuki Fujita and Jun Yanagisawa will have to play a more creative role. Fujita had a decent first season, scoring four times and laying on four assists, so he's one to keep your eye on tomorrow.
Tosu, like us, played two games last weekend, and for them the one on Saturday against Okinawan JFL'ers FC Ryukyu was the main event. Toyoda proved how much of a threat he was as he scored the first two goals in a 3-0 win, with young striker Ryunosuke Noda bagging the third after coming off the bench.
They lined-up 4-5-1 as follows: Takuya Muro; Keita Isozaki, Kosuke Kitani, Nobuhisa Urata, Terukazu Tanaka; Takahiro Kuniyoshi, Kenichiro Meta, Ryota Hayasaka, Yanagisawa, Fujita; Toyoda. No household names in there, but you'd expect a similar formation from them tomorrow as they try to follow the blueprint established by bottom-half J1 clubs last season: How to Play Against FC Tokyo Away. Sit fairly deep, cut off space in the defensive final third and force us to pass through them, while looking to hit us on the break.
Whatever tactics they employ, even with our many absentees, we should have enough quality to break them down (although we thought that about a dozen times last year and were wrong each time). The forecast is for sunny weather tomorrow, and hopefully the crowd will be close to 20,000, even though the away end will be less populated than we're accustomed to. Tokyo to get our J2 campaign off to a winning start?
It says here: Home Win