Albirex Niigata become the first team to host us on our return to J1 after pipping us to the post to avoid relegation in 2012 with a final day win over Consadole Sapporo. The Big Swan will be buzzing for the new season having done superbly in 2013 and this game will be nothing but difficult for us. The kick-off time is 13:00 JST.
Albirex won their first game of the 2014 season, defeating our next opponents Vegalta Sendai 2-1 on the road, nicking the winning goal in the 89th minute. We of course deservedly lost 1-0 at home to Urawa Reds and will be looking to bounce back quickly.
The last meetings between the sides came in the 2012 season, both games ending in 1-1 draws. The previous 1-1 draw was the special anniversary match for Banpaku on 15th September, where Keisuke Iwashita conceded a penalty in the final minute to give Albirex a decisive point in the race to avoid the drop after Leandro had opened the scoring for us.
Injuries have been present this week but notably for the two national team players, Endo and Konno. Whilst Konno was more to do with illness and therefore not getting any time for Japan in their 4-2 win over New Zealand, Endo got 45 minutes under his belt and he will be fit to play. Konno should also make the starting eleven.
I would hope that Niwa and Futagawa drop out of the team for Nishino and Omori, but only the latter seems likely but Omori deserves to start after his 45 minute display against the Reds last weekend. People have been calling for Endo to drop backing into holding midfield in place of Uchida so that Lins or the like can come in so that we can control the midfield more, but that would be a vote of no confidence to Uchida who is still finding his feet at this level and will grow as long as he is given time. We need to be patient. Hiroyuki Abe has been training this week and he might make the bench.
There really is no point tinkering with the team too much after just one game.
On another note, Yuto Uchida has been released to join the J3 Japan U-22 National Team for the weekend’s game against FC Ryukyu and he will therefore not be available. I think this is a good chance for him to get some competitive football under his belt and wish him good luck with that.
And a special shout out to Masaaki Higashiguchi who returns to Niigata for the first time following his transfer to us from the club. I stated that he definitely does not want to lose so I am sure he will put in a top performance for us again this week. It will be a tough day for him personally but hopefully a great one professionally.
What we should be looking for this weekend is that the team takes control of the game more and has a greater threat going forward. We never really tested Urawa last weekend and looked hopeless at times, so we should be looking to take the game but the scruff of the neck and make a fast start. Controlling the midfield will be the most vital part and so Konno and Uchida will be the ones to watch this weekend. Thinking positively and go forward with confidence. That is what we need to do.