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Friday, September 2, 2011

FC Tokyo v Tochigi: Sunday 6pm

J2 Matchday 23 Preview

Having lost consecutive games for the first time this season, FC Tokyo travel up to Kumagaya in Saitama on Sunday to host the team that handed us the first of those defeats, Tochigi SC. This game was originally fixtured for Matchday 4, which is why its coming so close to our unsuccessful trip to Tochigi.

With our run of four-of-five away now over, this game starts a stretch of four-of-five at home for The Gasmen.

There's one huge out for us this week, as captain, best player, best player in the club's history Yasuyuki Konno is away with the Japan national team for World Cup qualifiers against North Korea (tonight in Saitama) and Uzbekistan (Tuesday in Tashkent), while Shuichi Gonda was also called up as the third 'keeper, somewhat remarkably as he hasn't played for us since Matchday 10.

We'll welcome back Tatsuya Yazawa from suspension, but whether he'll get straight back into the XI is up for debate...so I'll debate the midfield and who comes in for Konno...with myself. Starting off with what I'd like us to do...

How I'd like us to set up:
IN: North, Ishikawa
OUT: Konno, Tatsuya
Firstly, the defence. The last time Konno was away on national team duty (for Ehime FC at Komazawa in Matchday 9) his spot was taken by Jade North, whose performance was one of the few highlights in a generally lackluster Gasmen display that day (Sotan Tanabe's goal was another, obviously). North did an excellent job on Ehime striker Josimar, cutting him out of the game completely, and if called upon would relish the task of taking on Ricardo Lobo and Sabia.

Further up the pitch its time for Naohiro Ishikawa to come into the XI. He's been nursed along by the club and coaching staff, and fair enough too as the injuries he's suffered in the past two years have clearly taken their toll, but sooner or later he's going to have to be tested from the start, and I believe this is the game to do it in.

Tatsuya Suzuki has to make way (HE'S NOT A STRIKER, MR. OKUMA!), and Yazawa will have to make do with a spot on the bench.

Alright then, thats how I would set us up, and I believe this XI works as it causes as little disruption as possible to the defence - with a straight swap of North in for Konno - and adds a more damaging threat on the wing with Ishikawa, knowing that we have three of Yazawa, Daisuke Sakata, Genki Nagasato and Tatsuya to come on to change things up in the second half. As well as those four on the bench I'd have Satoshi Tokizawa, Kenta Mukuhara and Kazumasa Uesato making up the 18.

Truth be told, if it was really up to me I'd have Tanabe play in the hole and bring Yazawa back in for Hanyu, but I know thats an impossibility, so lets move on to...What I think Mr. Okuma WILL do...

What I think Big Bear will do:
IN: Mukuhara, Yazawa
OUT: Konno, Tatsuya
Unfortunately for my old mate Jade, all signs point to Yuhei Tokunaga sliding over from fullback to cover for Konno, with Mukuhara coming into the side to play at right back. In the past month Mukuhara has replaced a starting centre half (either Konno or Tomokazu Nagira) three times in practice games, with Tokunaga moving into the centre on all three occasions.

While it could be argued that this was done just to keep Mukuhara's 'feet wet' and give him time with the rest of the first choice defence, the fact that the same thing hasn't happened at all with Takumi Abe on the left would suggest the manager's eyes were on this game and that particular change as far back as Chuo University's visit to Kodaira on the 4th of August.

Will Ishikawa start? I believe that the manager will probably again play it safe with our No.18 and bring Yazawa straight back in instead, although if he does decide to go with Nao there's a possibility that Tanabe could be axed. Still, as I've said on many ocassions before its impossible to get inside Big Bear's head, and I'm an idiot for trying.

They've already moved up from third to second without kicking a ball this week, as Tokushima's 2-0 loss at Kusatsu on Wednesday night saw the Shikoku side's goal difference slip below Tochigi's.

Last weekend they lost a lead in second half stoppage time when Ehime netted a dramatic equalizer to settle a cracking game 2-2. Worryingly for us Ricardo Lobo bagged both their goals so their strikeforce is well and truly in form with Sabia obviously netting the weekend before against us.

They were unchanged from the win over us to the Ehime game, and probably will be again here too, which means Kota Mizunuma will be their main threat off the bench.

The neutral ground (are you impressed, I haven't complained about it up to here?!) obviously means we have no 'home' advantage (that was the most obvious thing ever written), and they'll certainly have no fear about playing us, so I'm hoping for an open game in which we'll be able to pass it around, push the fullbacks on and create openings for Lucas, Hanyu and the wingers.

Revenge for two weeks ago?
Well, I'm tempted to go for a draw but, yeah, why not....Home Win.

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