Squirrels Aim To Get Off The Mark - S-Pulse Preview
It's back to the real business of earning J-League points for Omiya Ardija on Saturday, with the visit to Komaba of Shimizu S-Pulse. And after the extremely welcome respite of a couple of Nabisco Cup group matches, a glance at the J1 table confirms the urgency for Robert Verbeek and his players of picking up their first league win of the season. For after three games, only the goal-free Ventforet Kofu have a poorer record than Ardija down at the bottom of the division.
But Kofu, like Omiya and indeed fellow strugglers JEF United, managed in their Nabisco Cup matches to pull off a pair of victories, meaning that all three teams can return to the day job reinvigorated and with a much-needed confidence boost. This of course increases the chances that the Squirrels will come out of the weekend in last place if they fail to pick up maximum points against S-Pulse.
Salles talks things over with Haruki Nishimura
So what are the issues facing coach Verbeek ahead of such an important fixture? Of most concern to Squirrels fans will be the fitness of Daigo Kobayashi, who after a poor start to the season seemed to have hit form against Yokohama F Marinos - where he notched the winning goal, with a good header from a Yasuhiro Hato cross - only to pick up an injury in the 2-1 win over Kashiwa Reysol.
The club have played their cards close to their chest as regards Daigo's condition and as such it is not clear whether he will be in a state to play on Saturday. In his absence, perhaps the most likely option would be for Ardija to adopt a straightforward 4-4-2 formation, with either Manabu Wakabayashi or Hiroshi Morita starting alongside Kota Yoshihara. But given that there is a question mark over the status and place in the pecking order of chunky incoming forward / attacking midfield player Salles, it is also conceivable that Verbeek may choose to gamble and select a pacier Yoshihara and Enilton partnership.
Elsewhere, Masato Saito for the Cup games came in for Naoya Saeki to occupy one of the holding central midfield roles but has since succumbed to injury, while the assumption must be that Daisuke Tomita will - in the absence of Leandro and Seiichiro Okuno - continue to partner Yosuke Kataoka in the heart of the defence. But whatever team Verbeek selects to take on S-Pulse, following two good wins against Marinos and Kashiwa they have every reason to approach Saturday's match in a positive mood.
In action against Yokohama F Marinos, it’s Akinori Nishizawa
Shimizu have, like Ardija, started 2007 in somewhat patchy form, beating Vissel Kobe and JEF in their opening league games before suffering two consecutive defeats to Reysol in J1 and the Nabisco Cup. Last weekend, a line-up weakened by suspension managed a 2-2 draw with Marinos, midfield starlet Jungo Fujimoto even making a substitute appearance the day after turning out for Japan in the friendly against Peru.
But an uneven start is perhaps not good enough for a team considered by some commentators as being in with a chance of a top three J-League place this year. Marquinhos may have departed, but Korean star Cho Jae Jin has been joined up front by the subjects of two of the more intriguing transfer deals of the close season, in Cerezo Osaka legend Akinori Nishizawa and Gamba's Fernandinho.
With the visitors offering a decent amount of attacking threat, it will be up to Omiya to get in among a back four marshalled by big Kazumichi Takagi and his young sidekick Keisuke Iwashita. Kota Yoshihara may be hungry for goals at the moment, but he needs effective and committed support from Chikara Fujimoto and Hayato Hashimoto in midfield if the Squirrels are to begin the climb up the J1 rankings.