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Friday, June 10, 2011

Kumamoto v FC Tokyo: Sunday 7pm

J2 Matchday 10 Preview

We've basically reached the quarter-of-the-way-through point of the 2011 J2 season, and to say things haven't gone as FC Tokyo fans had expected up to now would be the understatement of the (admittedly young) millenium. Whenever we thought we were taking a step forward, and that we were starting to justify our 'Prohibitive favourites for promotion' tag, such as after the wins over Tosu, Toyama & Kyoto, we've always seemed to take a step or two back: the first two of those wins were followed by losses, to Chiba and Kusatsu, and the Kyoto win was followed by last Sunday's draw with Ehime FC at Komazawa.

Sooner or later, if we can't manage to string a few wins together, we'll have to start panicking, BUT, while the league position (9th) looks bad, its ONLY Matchday 10, we're ONLY four points off the promotion places, and there have been recent signs, though admittedly not many in the Ehime game, off us finding our attacking rhythm.

With all that said, we (the generic 'we' - I'm not going) embark on our longest away trip of the season on Sunday, making our first ever visit to Kumamoto. The Kyushu side are three points and three places above us in the table, and along with Shonan, have proven the hardest team to beat so far this season (one loss each).

football formationsThere isn't a lot of mystery as to the XI we'll start with here, as Yasuyuki Konno will return at centre half in place of Jade North, Hokuto Nakamura has seemingly cemented his position at left back, and Naohiro Ishikawa won't be ready to start despite getting 26 minutes into his legs last Sunday.

The way we play has got to improve over the Ehime game, and to that end a lot rests on the shoulders of Kajiyama, Hanyu and Roberto Cesar.

Casual had possibly his worst game of the season so far at Komazawa (though thats saying something as he's had a few 'mares up to now), coughing up the ball on several occasions, being caught in possession on several others, and failing completely to build on the excellent performance he had at Kyoto, while Roswell, playing in the 'hole,' looked like he'd fallen into one as he was anonymous for 90 minutes, and The Salad was forced deep to look for the ball and never looked like threatening.

The fact that Roswell and The Salad had a grand total of zero shots between them last Sunday tells you all you need to know about how poor we were at linking midfield to attack, with our goal coming via a mishit/chipped cross from Hideto Takahashi and a brilliant volleyed finish from Sotan Tanabe.

In the space of three games Tanabe has become an extremely important player for us, however whether he's suited long-term to playing on the flank is debatable, and personally, once Ishikawa is fit enough to start (hopefully next weekend when we host Tokushima), I hope Mr. Okuma has the cojones to move Sotan into the hole behind The Salad and start Yohei Otake (left) and Nao (right) on their natural wings... but thats something to consider for next week's preview: provided Nao gets through however much time he gets off the bench on Sunday, of course.

As I mentioned in the intro, they're three spots above us in the table and have lost only once, and on top of that they're currently on a six-game unbeaten run, that has included wins over Sapporo and Yokohama FC, and four draws.

Last Saturday they fought back from a goal down to draw 1-1 at Toyama, where their goal was scored by substitute 'defender' Shosuke Katayama (Who wears No. 7! Defenders shouldn't wear 7!). Their XI on that day was (4-4-2): Minami; Ichimura, Hiroi, Yano, Harada; Edmilson, Nejime, Yoshii, Fabio; Taketomi & Nagasawa, but for what its worth, ElGolazo is predicting Katayama will start left mid in place of Yoshii, and first year player Hayato Nakama will take Taketomi's place up front.

Hiroi and Nagasawa are on loan from J1 Shimizu, and have been influential at their respective ends of the pitch - Hiroi has started every game except the first and contributed at the heart of the league's second-best defence (five goals allowed in nine games), and Nagasawa is their leading scorer with three goals, having started all nine games - while the Brazilian points of their midfield diamond, the holding midfielder Edmilson and the Kaka look-alike attacking midfielder Fabio, are two more to watch out for.

Coincidentally, they were also sixth after Matchday 9 in 2010, and they held steady in the top half all year before finishing their third season in J2 in 7th, a frankly brilliant improvement from 14th the year before. A lot of that can be put down to a much-improved defence that has clearly continued this season and makes them genuine promotion candidates.

The travelling Tokyo Kop will enjoy the spacious confines of their 32,000-seater KK Wing Stadium, and I commend all who make the trip down, because its going to be brutal getting back from a 9pm Sunday finish for work on Monday morning!

This promises to be a real tough one for The Gasmen and its especially hard to predict with any confidence. With their defence being so stingy, it might take another moment of Tanabe or Cesar brilliance to unlock them, but even if we do score, will we be able to stop them doing the same?
I'm obviously hoping we win, but it looks to me like another....Draw.

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