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Attack and Defence – Vissel Kobe vs. Urawa Red Diamonds

Friday 31st March 2017
After a week's break for the international games, the J.League is back four round five – and no game is bigger than the meeting between the league's best attack and the division's best defence in a game which could have real repercussions on the whole title picture.

Vissel have certainly been performing better than what most people expected. Whilst they did finish seventh last year, few would have forecasted their incredible change of fortunes. Nelsinho Baptista has been sublime in the transfer market. He's introduced three players already: Tanaka, Otsuki and Omori – all of which play a part in the squad despite being with them for a relatively short time. He's managed to facilitate the best from what he previously had and introduce more quality. It's also worth mentioning he's negotiated a contract with Lukas Podolski; who join Vissel after he's finished the European season with Galatasaray.

The club knows their style of play, plenty of build-up play – relatively few clear-cut chances, but a resolute backline. So far it's bared a lot of fruit for the team, having won all four league games (the only club to do so) and conceded just a singular goal – giving them the best defensive record in the competition. The best defence in the league will however up against it, as they greet Urawa Reds: who hold the best attacking record in the whole division.
Highlights from Urawa's game before the break, a 4-1 win against Ventforet.

Urawa Red Diamonds have been a real exciting team to watch this season, their games have seen to be a real magnet for goals. Across eight games (in all competitions), there's been an average of 4.6 goals in every game they are involved in. In their four league games, they've scored ten goals – the highest throughout the Japanese top tier. Rafael da Siva has been prolific since joining from Albirex; and slotted right into place with the attacking line-up with Shinzo Koroki, Tadanari Lee and Yuki Muto. Whilst it's still early in the season, the Brazilian is the top goal scorer with five in four games. That included his brace on the opening day of the season.

For many this will be the real acid test for Vissel Kobe; testing their aptitude to challenge for the title. Their opposition this weekend are the first real title challenging and aspiring club; which will really examine whether the club from the Hyōgo prefecture can go places this season. There's actually no better team to evaluate Vissel. In almost exactly three years the teams have met nine times and they've sparsely got the better of the Saitama team. The win back in March 2014 and August 2016 were the only victories. Two stalemates; and then five Urawa victories. That includes their last meeting in the cup where the Diamonds hit four past them in a comprehensive win. The only way they'll the top spot this weekend is if they lose the game and other sides win and succeed their goal difference. Staying unbeaten will ensure they keep the top spot.
Footage from Kobe's last game, a resolute 1-0 win.

Should Urawa win, it'll be a further vindication of their footballing prowess: and how good a side they are. Statistically, the best side last campaign, head coach Mihailo Petrović will see this league title as overdue having played so well all last season – but going relatively unrewarded: this year they can right those wrongs and played with a bit between their teeth. Gung-ho, attractive attacking play with a devil may care approach to defensive play; having chalk and cheese records in both. They do have the best attack; but also one of the poorest defensive capabilities in the competition. After all, conceding six goals in four games isn't great.  This approach has seen them win two, draw one and lose one – leaving them with seven points: in the sixth position. This early in the season, alarm bells won't be ringing – but they certainly won't want to lose and gift Vissel Kobe another three points.

The game sits on a busy Saturday for the J.League, kicking off at 8 am in the morning (UK time) and is available to stream on Bet365. A must watch for any Japanese football fan.
Warren Smith

Yokohama F•Marinos supporter. Seen it all in the J.League, relegation fights and being crowned champions. Play five-a-side, pretty good too. Once scored an overhead kick.

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