Having been made to work hard down to our lack of a finishing touch, we came away from Kyushu last time out with a 1-0 victory and now head on the road once more to K’s Denki Stadium in Mito to take on the perennial mid-table side Mito HollyHock, with a local kick-off time of 18:00. Having amassed 5 straight victories confidence should be at its highest and another 3 points is what will be expected for our lads once more.
The hosts come into this game off the back of a hard-fought 0-0 draw with Tokyo Verdy, who have the best defence in the league but simply find it hard to score goals. Mito could only muster 2 shots on target throughout the match and were dominated possession-wise but they held on for the point. That made their away form 3-3-3 in terms of wins, draws and defeats and this now matches their home form.
Yet it is the home form that we want to look at the most given that this game is held at Mito’s home stadium. They got off to a bad start at home this season, picking up just 4 points from 9 in what were winnable games against Gunma and Ehime in particular, but they did beat Toyama. They then suffered at the hands of Matsumoto Yamaga but then bounced back with a smash-and-grab 2-0 victory over JEF United. This was followed by 2 draws against Yokohama and Nagasaki, then an expected 4-1 win over FC Gifu. Their last home game came against Vissel Kobe who ran out 2-0 winners in what was a very open performance by the home side and they left masses of space for the visitors to get in at ease. If they have not learnt from their mistakes in that game, then I would be very surprised but very happy.
Looking at the head-to-head form between Mito and Gamba is very interesting. There have been 3 meetings in total with all of them being at Banpaku in the Emperor’s Cup. The first tie was in 2001 when Gamba won 5-0 with Takahiro Futagawa being one of the goal scorers that day. The next meeting did not come until 2011 with Mito winning 3-2 at Banpaku in extra-time with current players T. Suzuki and Ozawa getting on the score sheet. We did not have to wait long to inflict revenge as we again met in the 3rd round of the cup last season, with Leandro netting the only goal as we went on to make it to the final.
Looking at the teams’ conditions now as we can start speculating on the starting XIs. As defenders Hiroki Kato and Ryo Shinzato are the only players being slated not to make it for the match, Mito will probably stick with a very similar starting line-up for this match. They played a 4-4-2 formation away to Verdy last week and being at home, I would expect them to have a go whilst still being cautious at the back. You can see that starting line-up from the Verdy match up to your right.
They will be hoping that Leandro is not able to make it after he broke/fractured his left hand. He was wearing a bandage last weekend against Giravanz and had to be substituted at half-time for Shota Kawanishi. The Brazilian has been training since Tuesday but Kenta Hasegawa is being careful with Leandro’s injury. You would expect that he will not start on Saturday, so the question is who would take over his spot? We all know Shoki Hirai is a natural goal scorer but he lacks the work ethic that Hasegawa likes in his teams, plus the pair do not seem to get on very well. You would have to assume that Kawanishi will get his first start of the season and that he will give 100%, like he did against Giravanz. Other than that, I would expect the team to stay the same. We might just see Keisuke Iwashita back on the bench after he participated in a training match last Sunday but we do not want him to rush back.
As for my player to watch, if I knew that Leandro was definitely out and I knew who would replace him, I would get you to keep your eye on them. As the situation is all in the air at the moment, I have gone for Daiki Niwa as my player to watch instead. To be honest, he has been very strong in his last 2 starts and has impressed me with his no-nonsense attitude in defence and he has cut out the erratic nature of his performances. Also, he has been commanding other players at the back and is clearly enjoying his role next to young Nishino. I hope that he can continue in this golden patch of form and prove me and all the other doubters that he can step-in well for Konno and Iwashita, and maybe even take their starting spot from them. Keep up the good work, Daiki!
In terms of what I expect the result to be, I think a 2-0 away win will be on the cards for us. With or without Leandro, we should definitely have enough to take down this midfield outfit with no problems at all. Of course, it all depends on if they go for it or whether they sit back and counter-attack but we have shown the quality to get through teams like this, albeit eventually, and if we can take our chances better than last weekend, I think Mito are going to have a tough day at the office. I would expect them to make some decent chances though and we must be wary of their attacking force, particularly on the counter, and they have shown that they can give the better teams in the league a run for their money. But with 5 wins in a row and us seemingly enjoying our football, I have (and so should you) full confidence that we can come away from Mito with all 3 points.
Photo taken from f.image.geki.jp. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.