After the explosion of activity surrounding Omiya Ardija in the last few days, it's now almost time to get back to the real business. Amidst the shock of the departure of coach Robert Verbeek and the immediate installation of Satoru Sakuma as his successor, Saturday's clash at Shimizu S-Pulse has been lurking in the background of the main drama with a glint in its eye that suggests that the unwary and ill-prepared should watch out.
Rarely has a Squirrels league match had so much riding on it; but at the same time, rarely has it been less straightforward to offer up anything even approaching an informed pre-match comment. For while the game provides Ardija fans waiting with some considerable trepidation for their first glimpse of what they can expect from a Sakuma team - and thereby the likelihood of their being able to watch J1 football in 2008 - any consideration of the team line-up and formation can never amount to anything more than sheer guesswork.
Given the circumstances of the game, the opponents on Saturday are almost irrelevant, although the assumption must be that S-Pulse will surely win comfortable against a side in such disarray. So, concentrating instead firmly on Omiya and indications as to what Sakuma is likely to do now that he is, for the very first time in his life, in charge of a senior football team, it becomes necessary to scour the press for any tiny clue. Which all in all is rather unrewarding work, when the players have worked with their new boss for such a short period. At the same time, observers have reported a more determined and focused attitude among the players in training as they knuckle down and get to grips with the job in hand.
There have been suggestions that the incoming coach will favour a more attacking approach than did Verbeek and, bearing in mind the length of Sakuma's involvement with the club, it would be surprise if he did not opt for a "traditional" Omiya 4-4-2 formation. Kota Yoshihara has also indicated that he already feels that he as a front player has more freedom now than he did under Verbeek and the most obvious partnership amongst the available forwards is surely Yoshihara to be paired up with new signing Denis Marques. That said, for some reason GGOA has a mysterious feeling that Naoto Sakurai may make a first showing of the year after apparently recovering from the latest in a long line of injuries.
As Omiya Fan has commented on these pages, a midfield quartet of something like Daigo Kobayashi, Chikara Fujimoto, Yoshiyuki Kobayashi and Masato Saito is easy enough to imagine. But if Sakuma genuinely wants to play more positive football, one way to achieve this might be to slot Daigo into the middle as a central playmaker alongside either his namesake Yoshiyuki or Saito. This would in turn free up a slot for an additional attacking wide player - either Hayato Hashimoto or Yusuke Shimada.
With no word to suggest that the broken bone in goalkeeper Hiroki Aratani's arm is healing more quickly than had been first predicted - he is expected back in the team only at the end of this month - the inexperienced Koji Ezumi will almost certainly appear between the sticks. This leaves the Leandro-less defence, potentially featuring Daisuke Tomita with either Yosuke Kataoka or experienced ex-skipper Seiichiro Okuno in the middle.
Takashi Hirano is with Denis Marques the other new signing and as such it would be something of a surprise if the former Yokohama F Marinos man did not make any kind of showing on the left of the back four. Takuro Nishimura, Yasuhiro Hato or the more youthful option of Terukazu Tanaka will vie for the right-back role. But will Sakuma opt for a version of the familiar, or will he seek to wipe the slate clean and offer the opportunity of a first-team spot to all the members of his squad? Until kick-off on Saturday, the truth is that no-one really knows.