The New Boys - Part 1 (on Kazuma Watanabe & Aria Hasegawa)
The New Boys - Part 2 (on Hiroki Kawano & Kosuke Ota)
With less than a week remaining until FC Tokyo kick off the new J.League season against Kashiwa in the Super Cup, lets have a look back at all the Gasmen goings-on in the past week or so. With our Miyazaki camp wrapping up last Friday and the club having played four friendlies in the last week, I'll also attempt to delve into the complicated mind of Mr. Popovic and look for clues as to how we'll line up at Kokuritsu on Saturday, and also in Brisbane three days later.
First to some bittersweet news...
Sayonara to The Salad
With The Salad now out of the picture our striking puzzle is slightly less complicated, and his departure should provide a boost for Kentaro Shigematsu and Yohei Hayashi, who have now moved up a peg each in the pecking order and should be afforded more opportunities to at least make the bench on a regular basis.
FC Tokyo 2-2 Kawasaki (3x45 mins)
On February 19th we took on Kawasaki in Miyazaki in what shaped as a good barometer of our early progress under the new manager, and emerged with a share of the spoils with goals coming from Hiroki Kawano (23rd min) and Tatsuya Yazawa (59th).
Team News - We started with a very strong XI, and it looked almost like the one I'd take to Kokuritsu:
Tokunaga Kaga Morishige Mukuhara
Kawano Hasegawa Kajiyama Ishikawa
The partnership of Aria and Kajiyama in central midfield is an intriguing one, but I'm not sure we could get away with it against the bigger clubs as Casual needs someone to do the heavy lifting alongside him, and while Hasegawa's versatility is an asset, I'm not sure he's the ball-winner we'll need against your Gamba's and Nagoya's.
FC Tokyo 3-2 FC Seoul (3x45 mins)
On the 21st our second friendly of the preseason against K-League opposition ended with a better result than the first, a 3-2 win with Kenta Mukuhara (17th min), Yazawa (37th) and Shigematsu (81st) all netting.
Team News - Masato Morishige recovered from the clattering he took at the hands of Kawasaki to start this game just two days later, but slightly worrying for me was the name alongside him at centre half:
Mukuhara Tokunaga Morishige Ota
Hanyu Takahashi Kajiyama Yazawa
Yet again a manager is messing about with Tokunaga out of position? OK, Jofuku was somewhat forced into playing him in centre mid due to a lack of depth after Takuji Yonemoto went down in '09, but then Okuma played him there the start of last year too before also using him at centre half when Jade North was raring to play, and now Mr. Popovic is doing the same? We have one of the best two or three two-way full backs in the competition and I just don't see the sense in playing him in the centre when Kaga is perfectly capable of doing the job next to our next captain, Morishige.
Elsewhere, Hasegawa's versatility was again on show when he played the first 75 minutes in the hole behind his old Yokohama comrade, Kazuma Watanabe.
FC Tokyo 2-1 Kitakyushu (3x45 mins)
Our old J2 chums shuttle-bused it over to Miyazaki for this game on the 23rd that was most notable for our goalscorers: Yohei Otake curling home a gem in the 67th minute for his first goal back at the club, and Lucas continuing his strong preseason form with his 3rd friendly goal in the 100th minute.
Team News - There were very few clues to take away from this game as we started with only three of what I consider our first choice XI, and four of the Under 18s saw time on the pitch over the 135 minutes:
Hokuto Kaga Maruyama Tanabe
Kawano Shimoda Hashimoto Otake
Perhaps the most interesting/puzzling thing from this win was the continued use of Sotan Tanabe at left back, he played the first 82 minutes in defence, after playing the final 45 minute period against FC Seoul there.
FC Tokyo 2-2 Shonan (4x45 mins)
Back at Kodaira, this 180-minute marathon ended in a draw, but our goals (from Lucas, again, and Hideto Takahashi) came in the latter 90 minutes when we played something closer to our first team, after Shonan led 2-0 against a more experimental XI in the opening two 'quarters.'
Team News - This game was notable for Jang Hyun Soo's preseason debut, and he played the first 90 as part of that 'second string.' I'll give you the XIs that started the first and third quarters to demonstrate the contrast:
Hokuto Jang Maruyama Tanabe
Kawano Shimoda Hashimoto Otake
Mukuhara Kaga Morishige Ota
Hanyu Hasegawa Kajiyama Yazawa
I'd have Shuichi Gonda (who played the final 45 here), Tokunaga (at right back!), Kawano, and possibly Hirayama over Watanabe in my best XI, along with Naohiro Ishikawa (who played the final 35 minutes after his substitute appearance for Japan against Iceland the night before) instead of Yazawa of course, but we're unlikely to see my ideal team right from the start as several position battles are still to be settled (Mukuhara v Ota for left back being a perfect example).
Four friendlies, seven different goalscorers, countless combinations and a few head-scratching moves. But what can we take away from it all? From the amount of time they've played together I expect we'll see Hasegawa and Kajiyama as our first choice central midfield pairing for now (with Takahashi as the third wheel), and all signs point to Watanabe and Lucas as the preferred strikeforce. Elsewhere the two wing spots are up for grabs, and a first choice back four is yet to emerge, though it will certainly include Morishige and Tokunaga.
We have clearly assembled a deep squad (with the manager keen to give everyone opportunities in the preseason) that should allow us to be competitive on two fronts, at least for as long as we remain in the ACL. But while our depth is plain to see, the most intriguing thing from this point on will be to what extent Mr. Popovic will be the anti-Okuma - rotating players in and out - especially when we play Saturday - Tuesday/Wednesday - Saturday. With that in mind, later in the week I'll post my predicted XIs for the Kashiwa and Brisbane games.
Five days to go! Up the Gas!