J2 Matchday 7
After another tumultuous week, FC Tokyo return to Aji Sta this Sunday to face our whipping boys from J1 last season, Shonan. We did the double over them in 2010, winning 3-1 at Hiratsuka and then 3-0 at Kokuritsu, but they visit this weekend in perhaps the most challenging time in our club's history. Already rocked by long-term injuries to key men Sota Hirayama and Takuji Yonemoto, we found out this week that their direct replacements, Daiki Takamatsu and Roberto, will each miss three to four months with a leg fracture and a knee injury, respectively.
This comes on top of rumours of possible home end protest/unrest/boycotts before, during and/or after the game (or staying away entirely in the case of a boycott!), which should make for an interesting atmosphere, and an interesting crowd number to boot. Whether the protests (if they happen) will be directed especially at the manager, the front office or the players themselves is unclear (to me anyway), as is the form they'll take, but from a personal point of view whatever happens is far too little, too late.
The centre-mid triangle I'm proposing possibly lacks steel, and it would be up to Uesato to do almost all of the dirty work, with Casual having his usual licence to roam. On the flanks I'm going with the Tatsuya combo of Suzuki and Yazawa, with Naohiro Ishikawa (Remember him?! Of course you do!) a chance to make the bench as he returns to fitness, and Nao could produce as the sort of impact substitute that @purely_belter suggested Otake could be.
My bench would be: Shiota, North, Mukuhara, Takahashi, Hanyu, Ishikawa & Tanabe; no strikers there obviously, and there's been some suggestions from supporters on twitter that Masato Morishige could go up front if the situation calls for it late in the game.
After their inevitable relegation in 2010 (they didn't win a game after Matchday 13, and spent the final 24 weeks of the season in the bottom three), Yasuharu Sorimachi stayed on as manager, and his big task in the offseason was fixing the defence, which allowed an astonishing 82 goals in 34 games - 22 more than second-worst Kyoto, and exactly twice as many as we conceded. So far, that hard work seems to be paying off, as they have the joint-best defence (with Kumamoto) through six games, having allowed only two goals.
Part of that may have to do with the way they've been setting up this season, as they've changed from their usual 4-4-2 to 4-5-1 in both away games they've played, and worryingly for us, they did not concede in either game, keeping clean sheets at Sapporo and Mito. That could indicate they'll follow the blueprint, and who could blame them after we haven't been able to figure it out for the best part of 14 months, but I'd hope that in this clash between two of the biggest clubs in the division, they'll come to play some football and not just to stifle us.
Last Sunday they beat Tosu 1-0 at home for their first win since Matchday 2, and while I could give you their XI (4-4-2) from that game, it would appear to be more beneficial to list their team from their last away game, in Matchday 10, when they drew 0-0 with Mito. That was: (4-5-1) Nishibe; Kamata, Oi, Endo, Ishigami; Adiel, Han Kook Young, Nagaki, Kikuchi, Sakamoto; Sasaki. The 'keeper and back four are basically all new faces (the fullback, Endo, played six games for them last season), with Nishibe, Oi and Ishigami all coming across from J1 clubs in the offseason.
Also of interest in their squad, our former 'keeper (though he never played a league game for us) Nobuyuki Abe has been their sub 'keeper in every game since the resumption, and we might see some of striker Yuki Maki off the bench, he's the brother of legendary Chiba crier Seiichiro Maki.
Despite our numerous problems, and my fears Shonan will follow the blueprint well enough to come away with a point, I believe that sooner or later things will begin clicking for us, The Salad will start scoring and we'll produce a performance that will justify the excellent support that the Tokyo Kop, and all the Aji Sta faithful, continue to give.
Call it blind faith, whatever you like, but I'm predicting....Home Win.