It is hard to think of an Ardija match this season that has been less eagerly awaited than Sunday's Emperor's Cup tie with Yokohama FC. Even with the prospect of another match-up with Urawa Reds to tempt the winners, not surprisingly, all the attention amongst Squirrels supporters remains on the team's desperate attempts to stay in J1. Therefore fans are concentrating instead on the following weekend's Oita Trinita match, with even the subsequent fixture against Ventforet Kofu attracting more attention than this - it has to be said, if somewhat shamefacedly - unwanted distraction.
A further reason why the Cup game is of so little interest to supporters, as well as the simple bad luck that the two teams have played each other so recently, is that the JFA have seen fit to stage the match neither in Omiya nor Yokohama, but in distant Toyama prefecture. Indeed, this follows on from the same stage of the competition last year, when Omiya played JFL side YKK AP even further away in Akita, a tie that attracted a crowd of just 2074. That day, Ardija claimed a narrow 2-1 win thanks to a late Manabu Wakabayashi goal, but while Sunday's result will clearly be of at least passing interest, Squirrels supporters will be especially keen to see the line-up selected by coach Satoru Sakuma.
One alternative is that Sakuma may adopt the policy of fielding a weakened side in order to avoid injury to key players such as Daigo Kobayashi and Denis Marques ahead of the vital matches with Oita and Kofu. Given that the team's central defensive lynchpin Leandro is set to miss those two games through suspension, Ardija's coach may take the opportunity to experiment against Yokohama by giving match practice to a new-look back-four, who will in turn be better prepared to play in the league games.
Leandro has missed four J1 encounters during the course of the season, with Omiya taking just a single point from that quartet of matches. At the end of March, a defence of Takuro Nishimura, Yosuke Kataoka, Daisuke Tomita and Yasuhiro Hato conceded two goals late on in the first half at home to Shimizu S-Pulse. Hato and Tomita then partnered young right back Terukazu Tanaka and ex-skipper Seiichiro Okuno in a 1-0 defeat at JEF United.
In Sakuma's first match as boss in August, Ardija did well to force a 2-2 draw at S-Pulse, but a combination of Tanaka, Kataoka, Tomita and Hato were unable to keep out Cho Jae Jin and Fernandinho. A week later, the same four players were part of an Omiya side lucky to get away with only a 2-1 defeat by Kashima Antlers, so it therefore seems reasonable to assume that a strong back line will be chosen to take on Yokohama, if only as part of the preparation for Leandro's absence.