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J.League Second Stage, Match Day Five Preview

Thursday 21st July 2016
The dust has just about settled on last weekend's enthralling end-to-end games, although the table hasn't shifted much as only three of the nine games produced winners, the six others ended in stalemate. Yokohama FM now tops the table thanks to their last minute equaliser against Sanfrecce Hiroshima albeit only by the virtue of goals scored.

Kashima Antlers vs. Urawa Red Diamonds



This game could well be the tie of the round, featuring Japan's most successful team in the Kashima Antlers and Urawa Red Diamonds who are on a seven-game unbeaten streak.

Kashima Antlers have won the J.League title a record-setting seven times. The Antlers were victorious in the first stage of this season by topping the table with an impressive twelve wins out of seventeen. In the second stage, Atsutaka Nakamura has been very impressive, scoring three goals in his last three appearances for the team. Despite having already qualified for the J.League 2016 Championship stage by virtue of winning the first stage, the team will want to limit other title rivals success, paving an easier route for them to lift the overall title.

Urawa Red Diamonds have been in the title picture for the last two seasons, finishing second in 2014 and third in 2015. At present, the Mitsubishi-owned team are on course to qualify for the championship stage as they third in the overall table.

Confidence will be high at the Urawa Red Diamonds camp, although when closer inspecting the unbeaten run, it could just be a case of smoke mirrors. The seven-game unbeaten streak came off the back off losing three games in a row, all of which were against other title challenging teams. Their current run of form, with the greatest respect, is against lower-placed teams who Urawa with their history should be beating anyway.
This game should be very tightly contested and could go a long way to deciding the overall shape of the final table. As it stands both teams will be qualifying for the championship stage at the end of the season as they are placed second and third in the overall table. The winner of this game will take more than three points, but an invaluable psychological advantage over their opponent should they meet again the championship stage.

Kashiwa Reysol vs. Gamba Osaka



Kashiwa Reysol, have started where they left off in the first stage. Seemingly mid-table, they've lost one, drawn one and won two albeit by very narrow margins. Whilst not yet consigned to a mid-table position, they certainly have a long way to go if they want to reach the heights of their championship winning season five years ago.

Last year's overall runners-up, Gamba Osaka, are still fourth in the league after consecutive 0-0 draws. The team is still unbeaten in the second stage will want to continue this form to mount a serious title challenge. A win here could see them break into the top three in the second stage table; chasing the illustrious top spot which would automatically guarantee them a place in the championship stage.

On paper, there's only one winner in the bigger team, in the better league position, but taking a closer look at the head to head record between the two teams suggests a very different case. Gamba Osaka has only defeated Kashiwa Reysol once in the last seven encounters. In fact, the last time that Gamba Osaka won at the Hitachi stadium was back in 2009. Kenta Hasegawa may consider Kashiwa Reysol to be his side's bogey team which they continually struggle against.

Kawasaki Frontale  vs.  F.C. Tokyo



Kawasaki Frontale finished in second place in the first stage, just one point behind the Kashima Antlers.

Whilst only four games have been played in the second stage so far, the Fujitsu owned club are well on track to qualify via the overall table standings and potentially top the table. They do however have stern opposition this stage against Urawa and Yokohama. Kawasaki Frontale is currently in the midst of a fifteen game unbeaten run (somewhat dwarfing the aforementioned run by Urawa). Yu Kobayashi has been glorious in front of goal in the second stage; his five goals in four games have seen him become the top goal scorer in the current stage.

F.C. Tokyo does not a have a rich collection of trophies or accolades in their seventeen-year history; the way this season is going, it's not going to change in the immediate future.

The team have one of the worst goal scoring records in the league and seem to suffer from confidence.  This is seen in their inability to see out games, Tokyo fans have seen their team winning positions only to throw the game away completely too many times this season. Most notably where they took a 2-0 lead against Urawa Red Diamonds at halftime but managed to crumble away as they lost the game 3-2. F.C. Tokyo has even looked fragile when they've won this season, their last ten victories have all been won by a single goal.
Kawasaki Frontale should be considered massive favourites for this game considering the gulf in quality betwixt the two teams and contemporary form. The unbeaten run should continue here.

Yokohama FM vs. Júbilo Iwata



Yokohama FM is on a crest of a wave, Sho Ito's eighty-eighth-minute goal against Sanfrecce Hiroshima catapulted the Marinos to the top of the J.League tree.

Considering the team finished a lowly eleventh place  in  the first stage, fans are in dream-world with this second stage start and hope it will last. The squad have managed to create a real team spirit, reflected in their vast amount of different goal scorers, in their last few games essentially.

Júbilo Iwata historically is a title-winning club having enjoyed a spell of dominance in the late 90s. Yet in recent times have only a cup win, to show in their contemporary trophy cabinet. Despite having a passionate fanbase which follows the club home and away with real numbers, they've fallen below expectations. Jay Bothroyd has scored the club's only two goals in the second stage so far. Hiroshi Nanami may have to consider more attacking options to support the former England forward.

The home team has a lot more form coming into the game, having won three and drawn their last game. Júbilo Iwata doesn't have a single win in the second stage, having lost their opening game and going on to draw their last three straight games.

Iwata head to the Nissan stadium knowing that they haven't won a game there since 2008. This could be a real mental block for the players who want to turn their season around. The unlikely league leaders should see them off convincingly.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs. Vissel Kobe



Sanfrecce Hiroshima has left their supporters terribly frustrated this season so far.

High expectations have been set after their recent successes including winning the league title last season. The purple-clad team won their first game of the second stage decisively against Iwata, but since they have fell well below par. Losing at home to Kashima Antlers, and then drawing games to Kashiwa Reysol and Yokohama FM despite leading those games. Whilst there is still time for the team to turn their season around, they need to do it soon.
Occupying the ninth place in the overall table is, Vissel Kobe, which comes from the Hyōgo Prefecture. The team have a mixed bag of results thus far in the second stage: two wins, a draw and a loss have seen the team land into sixth place.

The team have been firing on all cylinders since the start of the second stage, having scored multiple goals in every game. Due to the table standings, a win here for Vissel Kobe in addition to favourable results elsewhere could propel the team into the second stage title picture.

Despite the teams being three places apart, there are only two points separating them. Should Sanfrecce Hiroshima win here in front of their home fans, they will leapfrog Vissel Kobe in the second stage table. It's going to be another down-to-the-wire game, both teams have a knack for scoring goals, but Sanfrecce Hiroshima really can't hold on to a winning position.

The league's top goal scorer with fourteen goals, Peter Utaka is overdue a goal for Sanfrecce having not scored in his last three appearances. Vissel Kobe's Brazilian striker, Leandro, is right behind Utaka on twelve goals.

Elsewhere in the league , Sagan Tosu makes the excursion to the ‘Level-5' stadium for a game against bottom of the league Avispa Fukuoka, a win for the away team would put them in serious title contention here. There's a game which will have major implications on the relegation zone as Nagoya Grampus and Ventforet Kofu, play each other. Both vying for three points in help them avoid the drop to the second division. Velgalta Sendai host Shonan Bellmare in a mid-table meeting, whilst Albirex Niigata visit Omiya Ardija.
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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