We return to Banpaku for the first time since the 1st of the month and having won the last 6 games in a row, 3 without conceding, spirits will be high for this 18:00 kick-off time against Fagiano Okayama, who have slipped up considerably in these last few games but are the drew-specialists in the league and definitely cannot be taken lightly. With the news that Leandro and Ienaga will not be staying beyond the next game against Tokushima Vortis, us fans will be hoping that they can both end with a bang as a farewell present.
Fagiano come into this game having not won in their past 4 games, split equally between 2 draws and 2 defeats. In that time, they have managed just 3 goals and have conceded 5, failing to score in 2 of those games. Last weekend saw one of those draws come in the form of Avispa Fukuoka and despite winning a penalty in the final few minutes, the hosts missed it twice as it had to be retaken, even though they changed the kick taker. You can see their starting eleven from that match to the side.
Fagiano finished in 8th place last season on 65 points, 6 points off a play-off position. This was a massive leapt from 13th in 2011, 17th in 2010 and last place in 2009, in what was their first season as a J.League club. They have risen steadily since their inclusion to the division and are now once of the biggest threats that J2 has to offer.
Their season so far has been a very strange one to say the least. They started with 4 draws, then they won 3 matches, followed by 2 draws, a win, a draw and then their first defeat of the season against Tochigi SC. They somehow managed to bounce back against Montedio Yamagata 4-3 despite being dominated but then they drew to Tottori and picked up a win against Tokushima Vortis. Their defeat to Roasso Kumamoto at home was their first for 10 months and they seem to be struggling a little at the moment. They have slipped out of the top 6 and are caught between regaining 6th place or falling into the depths of mid-table obscurity, starting this weekend in 7th place.
In the form of Tomoyuki Arata they do have a goal scorer though as the 27 year old who was snapped up from JEF United during the winter and has netted 8 goals this season from 16 starts with 19 appearances in total. Not bad for Fagiano but in these last 4 games he has not scored and the team has suffered because of it. The visitors this weekend have not lost when he has scored so they will be pinning their hopes on that fact once more.
Focussing on Gamba now, we know of course that Endo and Konno are still playing for Japan in Brazil. As mentioned last weekend, Keisuke Iwashita has been joining in the training matches and it would not be a surprise if he does make the bench – I would have the same feeling if he does not make the bench. Keep an eye out on that one. Of course, Akihiro Sato is still in light training, if anything at all, and will therefore not make it but with Leandro leaving soon, he might just get his chance when he returns to full fitness, and boy will I love that! News on Ienaga’s head injury has not come so I would expect him to retain his spot despite Paulinho having a great game last weekend. I would like to see Okazaki back in for Myojin and who knows what Hasegawa will decide! Therefore, I have given you my desired team to the side.
As for Fagiano, they have midfielders Tadokoro and Sawaguchi reportedly unavailable, as is striker Kamijo. Tadokoro did start Fagiano’s match last weekend against Avispa Fukuoka, playing the full 90 minutes and with search results pulling up nothing about an injury on the official Fagiano Okayama site, one can only presume that he picked up a slight niggle in training and he might just miss this weekend’s match. The visitors did not start top scorer Arata last weekend but if they are to bag a goal or 2 this weekend, then they really need to play him to stand a chance.
With the team being a rather consistent entity (excluding all those forced changes), it is quite difficult to pick a player to watch for this weekend as I have run out of players to highlight. Yet I think that Yosuke Fujigaya will be my man to watch on Saturday. He has been absolutely solid this season and has been a commanding figure in goal which has had a massive impact on the defence in front of him. He has picked up 3 clean sheets in a row and has not been troubled in goal for some time now. When he has been called upon, he has risen to every challenge and I would expect that with him in such great form we will be secure at the back. I cannot praise the man enough and if he can continue going on like this then I am sure everyone will forget 2012 ever happened for him. He is confident in his own abilities and so am I! Great stuff Yosuke, keep it up!
We are doing enough in games at the moment to win matches without being prolific in front of goal whilst being professional at the back to limit the opposition to just half-half-chances at best. With Fagiano having a tough time at the moment, I can only see a 2-0 home win to our boys in black and blue. I am sure that they will give us a hard match and I expect nothing less but right now, we are on opposite ends of the form scale and with Leandro and Ienaga hopefully wanting to make the fans happy before they depart, I am sure they will go at it 100%. Our defence is resolute and at home we look back to our best and teams just do not know how to play us right now. We have the upper hand in quality and execution of plays and Fagiano will do well to take a point back to Okayama. I have full confidence of taking 3 points, I really do!
Photo taken from f.image.geki.jp. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.