After a two week break from league action which was filled in with a 5-0 win over FC Imabari in the Emperor’s Cup last Sunday, we return to our championship chase as we take on mid-table Mito HollyHock at Banpaku with a kick-off time of 18:00 local time. We will be looking to complete the double over the Ibaraki Prefecture side.
We come into this match having lost our last league game 2-1 to V-Varen Nagasaki. This defeat meant that we lost our unbeaten home record which started on the 25th July 2012 after a 3-1 defeat to Kashiwa Reysol in the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup. The last league defeat at home was on the 14th July 2012 after a 90th minute winner by Manabu Saito was the difference between us and Yokohama F.Marinos. It was good whilst it lasted but the defensive performance was terrible and we deserved to lose.
Skipping Mito’s Emperor’s Cup win over Ehime FC on penalties after a 1-1 draw last weekend, we can see they have lost their last 2 matches to play-off rivals Consadole Sapporo 3-1 and Montedio Yamagata 2-1. Those two defeats, added to a 0-0 draw with Avispa Fukuoka, have seriously dented the team’s hopes of reaching the play-offs as they now sit 7 points behind Kyoto Sanga in 6th place and find themselves in 12th place.
The first meeting between us and Mito this season came on the 15th June when we came away from Ibaraki Prefecture with all 3 points thanks to the final goal by Leandro for Gamba and the first ever goal in Kenya Okazaki’s professional career which allowed us to take a rather comfortable 2-0 win against the 10 men as Takayuki Suzuki was sent-off for violent conduct against Niwa just before full time.
If we look at our potential team selection, then I do not think much will change from the defeat to V-Varen Nagasaki if truth be told. The only change I can really see happening is Kenya Okazaki dropping to the bench in place of either Takahiro Futagawa or Paulinho. Given that the former was excellent in the Emperor’s Cup match and did a fine job against Nagasaki when coming off the bench, I would dare say he will get the nod over Paulinho. Kotaro Omori has slowed down recently but I would rather see him given more chances to impress than not. Akira Kaji and Yasuyuki Konno have been the weak links in defence recently and I hope for an improvement by the two of them, especially the latter who, along with Yasuhito Endo, comes back from national duty. Shu Kurata will play in the training match on Monday and should be back next month. Excellent.
Mito will supposedly be without defender Kim and midfielders Yuto Suzuki and long-term injured Hiroki Kato as well as goalkeeper Nao Iwadate. Their last 6 away games have seen them win 3 and lose 3 as well as keeping 2 clean sheets. Their away form is up and down but you would expect them to come with their standard 3-4-3 formation with 2 defensive midfielders and two supporting strikers. They have practically their first choice team available and their predicted eleven is to the side. Whether they come and have a go or wait for the counter attack, only time will tell, but they do not look like a team who will be patient. They just lack that extra quality that could get them into the top 6.
My man to watch this weekend is Akira Kaji. He has had a difficult time recently in defence with mistakes against JEF United, Tokyo Verdy, Yokohama FC and V-Varen Nagasaki. We all loved it when he was back in the starting eleven last season as we looked much more assured and I think he needs to get back to that level again. He has been targeted by other teams and has allowed the opposition to get at him a lot more than Fujiharu does, but I know he can make amends for that and return to that consistent level. I hope this weekend can be the start of that recovery.
Photo taken from f.image.geki.jp. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.