Omiya Ardija's summer schedule of six J1 matches continues on Saturday evening with an away fixture at Vissel Kobe, which must surely be regarded as a further opportunity for the Squirrels to climb yet higher up the rankings. Last weekend's 2-0 defeat of a lacklustre Tokyo Verdy saw Ardija reach seventh place - a mere four points off the leaders, in what is proving to be a particularly close-fought championship.
In contrast, Kobe have tumbled to sixteenth and are without a win in six league games, although it should be acknowledged that even so they are still only six points behind Yasuhiro Higuchi's team. Former Squirrel Leandro has returned to the Vissel starting line-up after missing eight matches through injury and will no doubt be eager to add to his tally of three goals this year against the club that at the end of 2005 adjudged him to be not good enough for J1 football.
But while the Leandro / Yoshito Okubo partnership will doubtless cause some problems for the Omiya defence, orange fans will be hoping for a first glimpse of their shock new signing Klemen Lavric, the giant striker snapped up from Bundesliga side MSV Duisburg to replace departed youngster Pedro Junior. The league season in Germany finished in mid-May and so it is possible that Lavric's match fitness may be lacking, but given that the club have seemingly made attempts stretching back over the past year to buy a big, aggressive European-style centre forward, it will be fascinating to see the impact that the Slovenian international has on Ardija's front line.
Certainly he gives further options to coach Higuchi, who has had to rely to a great extent on the trickery of Pedro and Denis Marques and the speed of Kota Yoshihara when it comes to goal-getting. That said, the quality of ball into the box will have to improve if Omiya are to get the best out of Lavric, as the delivery of set pieces from the likes of Daigo Kobayashi and Chikara Fujimoto (not to mention overlapping right back Yosuke Murayama) has been one of the least impressive aspects of the Squirrels' play during 2008.