* Not actually a shop

Friday, April 22, 2011

Chiba v FC Tokyo: Preview

J2 Matchday 2

### I know the J.League is calling this Week/Matchday 8 in J2, as it was on the original fixture list, but as it's the second game of the season, I'm going with Matchday 2. I've edited 2011 Week 1 & (what was to be) 2 posts to reflect this new "Matchday" convention. ###

The wait is almost over. Six weeks after large parts of north-eastern Japan were devastated by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11 - and the J.League subsequently went into an enforced recess - league play resumes tomorrow, and FC Tokyo are back in action on Sunday with a visit to Chiba. Our boys have been kept busy during the lay-off, playing a total of nine practice games or charity matches, rounded off by yesterday's 4-1 win over Meiji University at Kodaira.

Chiba are definite promotion candidates, and as you may remember I had them at number 2 in my Preseason J2 Power Rankings, so, on paper, this looks as stiff a test as we'll have all season. We've had some players return to fitness (Yohei Kajiyama, Daiki Takamatsu), and others join the first-team squad (Jade North, Kento Hashimoto), but it appears we will be without some key names (Naohiro Ishikawa, Pedro Junior, Roberto) for this weekend at least (as well as long-term absentee Sota Hirayama, of course), meaning our squad depth will be tested somewhat. Here's what I think we have to look forward to...

I generally like to be a bit controversial with my team selections, but I don't think there are that many questions about who will play and where this Sunday to be honest. Here's how I think we'll line up - what do you think of the new look?! The days of using Paint are over! All hail this11.com (but unfortunately I couldn't give Gonda a yellow shirt)! Those of you paying attention will have noticed it's the same XI that started against Kofu last Saturday, and handed the Yamanashi side their arses on a plate.

football formations
There's no doubt whatsoever about the 'keeper and back four, and even though I've often banged on about us being a 4-4-2 team first-and-foremost, until both Roberto Cesar and Pedro Jr are at full fitness (although The Salad does appear to be very close) I believe we can get away with 4-5-1 (or 4-2-3-1, whatever you want to call it), with Takamatsu leading the line.

In central midfield in this formation Casual and Naotake Hanyu can roam fairly freely (even though I expect Roswell to play a 'holding' role as well to some extent) knowing that Yone will anchor the middle of the park, and this is the one area where I think we'll have an advantage, as the hosts are 4-4-2 and play two holding midfielders, meaning whichever one of Casual and Roswell is in the more advanced role should be able to see a lot of the ball and hopefully use it effectively. When they have the ball, the extra body should help prevent them passing through us, while the Tatsuyas will be needed to track back and help the fullbacks put pressure on their wingers.

On the flanks Yazawa and Tatsuya Suzuki pick themselves while we await the returns of Ishikawa and Pedro Junior, and to be fair both of them deserve their spots after doing well and getting amongst the goals in the practice/charity games. Yes, that was me (kind of) being complementary to Tatsuya Suzuki. Don't get used to it!

Takamatsu proved he was ready to start with an excellent performance in the Kofu practice game, and his return softens the blow of losing Hirayama to a degree, while I expect we'll see The Salad come on for at least half an hour depending on the situation in the game. Just for arguments sake I'll have a shot at predicting the bench too: Shiota; North, Mukuhara; Takahashi (as central midfield cover), Hokuto, Otake; The Salad, although Kazumasa Uesato played yesterday after not featuring at all over the weekend, so he might be included instead of either North or Takahashi.

A founding member of the J.League in 1993, Chiba plummeted out of the top flight for the first time in their history in 2009, finishing rock-bottom. That was despite the best efforts of their "inspirational" striker Seiichiro Maki, who was filmed crying after losses more times than he scored goals during their fateful season. The two-time Nabisco Cup champions then found life in the second tier a little harder than they might've expected, finishing fourth, eight points behind the third promoted team, Fukuoka.

Determined to regain their top flight status, they went out and made a big splash (in more ways than one) in the transfer market, signing the world's tallest outfield player, Norwegian giant Tor Hogne Aarøy, along with two players from their new Dutch manager Dwight Lodeweges' former team, FC Edmonton*: Canadian winger Matt Lam and Dutch holding midfielder Sander van Gessel.

Dealing with Aarøy will be the major issue for our defenders - at 204cm he's well over 20cm taller than both Konno and Morishige - but as we saw in the Kofu practice game last Saturday when we negated Mike Havenaar (a relative midget at 194cm!), pressure on their wingers will be the key to keeping the behemoth in check. Yuhei Tokunaga and Takumi Abe will need to play Yonekura and Lam tight to prevent them getting decent crosses into the box, and as I mentioned earlier, the Tatsuyas will need to do some work in our half of the pitch as well.

On Matchday 1 Chiba visited Kitakyushu and strolled to a 3-0 win, with big Aarøy netting the third after earlier strikes from Masaki Fukai and Koki Yonekura. They lined up thusly: Okamoto; Sakamoto, Takeuchi, R. Aoki, Yamaguchi; Sato, Van Gessel, Yonekura, Lam; Fukai, Aarøy. And last Saturday they rounded off their preparations in similar style to us, thumping a J1 team, a result that left me with mixed emotions: always glad to see Kawasaki get beat (4-1, with 2 goals from backup striker Kota Aoki), but a bit worried about Chiba turning in that sort of performance.

This is an especially tough game to predict. We clearly have the personnel to win, and as we all know we had a far better record away from Aji Sta last season than at home, but I expect Chiba will end up going up with us, and the way we handle Aarøy will go a long way towards deciding the result.
There should be goals in this, but I'm settling on a.... DRAW.

*Lodeweges was the inaugural manager of FC Edmonton, but left before their first-ever competitive game.


  1. Away win. Come back football, come back life.


  2. Hi Ben,
    How you doing these days? Ive put a link to your blog on mine (Tokyo Nerdy 1969). If you could suffer a Verdy link on your page I`d be most grateful!!
    PS I used to manage Bullys Balls in LMS a good few years back. Good times!

  3. Bloody hell Nick,
    Didn't realise that was you over there! Fancy a bevvy before the derby?
    Link done.
    Catchya soon!

  4. Sounds good, if you send your email address to my blog, Ill drop you a line. Nick
    ps Rob and Andy are still around and should be coming along too.

  5. Mate,
    I fear being inundated with emails from hoards of deranged Verdy fans if I post on your blog, so I've added my email to my profile in the right column!