Omiya Ardija have been completing preparations for J1's Sunday clash at Kawasaki Frontale not at the club's regular haunt at Shiki City, but at Akiba Forest, where the focus has been upon combatting Kawasaki's three-man Yoshinobu Minowa, Shuhei Terada and Hiroki Ito defensive system. In the main training game, Chikara Fujimoto, Daigo Kobayashi, Naoto Sakurai and Kota Yoshihara created a stack of chances and will be approaching the kick-off full of confidence after an excellent preparation.
However, a key point of interest as far as Squirrels fans are concerned is that loan signing Gral has been picking up his participating in training after he joined the club on 3rd April - and it is now thought that he is in contention for a place in the team against Oita Trinita next weekend, a week or ten days earlier than had been forecast.
The former Jubilo Iwata's physical condition has been the focus of attention so far, but in recent days he has been working more with his new team-mates and the ball and a major practice game has been pencilled in for Monday 17th in order to gauge his progress - and the fact that it's with Saul Martinez that Gral has been making good connections and developing an understanding on the pitch potentially adds another valuable string to Ardija's attacking bow.
But against Kawasaki Frontale, the defence will surely be key. With Juninho and Kazuki Ganaha in their squad, Frontale have two of the J-League's current top scorers and indeed as a team have notched up four more goals so far this season than any other J1 side. Despite this fact, however, their home record is not particularly impressive, having managed 2-2 draws against FC Tokyo and JEF United in the last two home games.
Given that Kawasaki have such a potent attacking threat, however, the Squirrels back line will have to be at their best - and as well as the attacking options, their training sessions in recent days have worked on further clarification of responsibilities at set pieces and on a high-pressure game in the defensive midfield roles. It's here that former Kokushikan University student Yosuke Kataoka has been particularly impressive for Omiya, since coming into the team in the 1-0 win over Shimizu S-Pulse.
"If I play against Frontale, it'll be my job to break up that connection between Kengo Nakamura and Juninho - Nakamura's always looking to play that ball that will open up a defence and put Juninho through on goal," remarked Kataoka. "Against Marinos, I did okay and got in some good passes to attacking positions myself. I'm just feeling more confident about my game and about my role in front of the back four now, seeing as I did most of my pre-season training as a central defender."
Fans will remember his contribution against Urawa Reds in the Emperor's Cup semi-final at the end of last year and will also be aware that Kataoka's rapid development as a member of the first team squad is paying dividends on a number of different fronts. Always a strong and physically tough defender, it has become clear that Kataoka has a powerful shot and is improving the attacking elements of his game in leaps and bounds. "I'm coming on a lot this season," he commented, "and am trying to work on the attack - but my priority is the defensive issues and competition for places there is very hard. I'm just aiming to make sure I get in the team."