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J.League Second Stage, matchday seven preview

Friday 5th August 2016
It's almost the weekend again and that's right, another round of J.League action is upon us. Kawasaki Frontale and Urawa Red Diamonds lead the pack with Sagan Tosu just behind. Things are also heating up at the bottom of the league as plenty of teams find themselves fending off relegation threats.

Urawa Red Diamonds vs. Shonan Bellmare



There's an awe of symmetry with this game as second-top team welcome the second from bottom team to the Saitama 2002 stadium. The home team are challenging for this year's title whether as poles apart are Shonan Bellmare who find themselves in a relegation dogfight.

Urawa Red Diamonds are continuing their impressive run this season and find themselves second in both the overall and second stage tables. Goals from Tadanari Lee have paved the way for recent wins, considering he's scored three goals in the last two games. They will, however, be without Wataru Endo and Shinzo Koroki as they are both representing Japan in the Olympics, the latter had made excellent contributions to the team's goal tally.
Shonan Bellmare fans had expected for more this season, last season they managed to stay in the J1 division and extend their stay past one season a first since 1999. Although the team this campaign has seemingly defaulted back to their usual ways as they find themselves in seventeenth place and in the relegation zone. The team have been very weak at the back, in the second stage alone they've conceded eleven goals in just seven goals, the joint worst in the league. Although last time out, things began to look ever-so-slightly better for Shonan Bellmare. They were 3-0 down against Kawasaki Frontale but managed to salvage two goals back in the second half. Managing to score two goals against the team who are top of the league when seemingly all hope was lost will boost morale and give hope to players and fans that they can take something out of their next game.

The two teams have only played each other eight times before this weekend's game and Urawa Red Diamonds have a very favourable record against their opposition, having won seven of the games and drawing the other game. This leaves Shonan Bellmare with a major psychological hurdle to navigate, not the type that assists with a relegation battle. Urawa Red Diamonds will see this as an ample opportunity to keep up with Kawasaki.

Gamba Osaka vs. Sagan Tosu



Gamba Osaka enters this game off the back of an important win against Sanfrecce Hiroshima which has allowed them to take control of their season again. The team now sit in a sixth place where after an inconsistent start to the second stage, can rebuild and look to challenge for the championship stage. The squad's inconsistency has failed to produce any stand-out players so far but also rings out a team unity whilst the team struggles for form.

Sagan Tosu has been one of the surprise packages of the second stage, but with four wins, two draws and no losses in the stage they've undoubtedly earned their third place position. The team could even take the top spot by the end of the round should they win and other results go their way. Quite the coup for a team that have only been in the top division since 2012. The team boast an impressive goal tally in the second stage too, having netted eleven so far. They have a plethora of goal scorers as their last four goals have come from different players.

Whilst Sagan Tosu is arguably the favourites based on form and league standing, Gamba Osaka doesn't tend to lose at the Suita City stadium and will look to build upon their win last week. Could go down to the wire, but the home team to triumph. That said Sagan Tosu did win the last game the teams played against each other back in June.

Kawasaki Frontale vs. Ventforet Kofu



Despite a nervy finish in their last game, Kawasaki Frontale's unbeaten streak has continued to seventeen games. First in the overall table, first in the second stage table it's fair to say the team have been on a crest of a wave as they chase down their first ever top-flight J.League title. The whole team have been fantastic, but should a spotlight have to be lit, it would illuminate Yū Kobayashi. The striker has scored seven goals in his last six games, in addition to his first stage goals he's the third top goalscorer having found the back of the net twelve times. One place above him in the overall table is his teammate Yoshito Ōkubo, who might not be as scoring as much recently has still scored thirteen goals in the season, massively contributing to Kawasaki Frontale's position.

News broke on Thursday that the Brazilian striker, Davi, has re-joined Ventforet Kofu. The South-American is well travelled throughout Asian having played in Qatar, China and Japan. He was very successful with the club during his last stint back in 2012, where he scored thirty-two goals in just thirty-eight appearances.  Whilst this appointment will sharpen their attacking options, the problems really sit at the back. The team have conceded ten goals in the first six games of the second stage, which should be ringing alarm bells for manager Satoru Sakuma.

This game will be interesting for the potential second debut of Davi, but Kawasaki Frontale should have too much for mid-table Ventforet Kofu here, especially when you consider their two forward players have twenty-five goals between them. History is also on the side of the home team as they've won the last three games in this fixture, in the process putting ten goals past the Kofu defence.

Kashima Antlers vs. Velgalta Sendai



The first stage winners, Kashima Antlers, as a result of their success have already qualified for the Championship stage. Since earning that right the team may have come over slightly lackadaisical as their second stage performances have been very inconsistent. This erratic stint has left the team searching for a run of form. They've lost back to back games for the first time in eighteen months and will want to lift their fortunes before entering the Championship stage. Last time out they succumbed to 1-0 away loss to Sagan Tosu.
Velgata Sendai has recently found their form after an initially losing their first three games in the second stage. They are unbeaten in three and largely have Brazilian striker, Wilson, to thank for that. He's scored three goals in his last three games as he looks to avoid a relegation battle this season.

There's only one place separating the teams in the second stage table, Kashima Antlers are in ninth position but have low confidence due to their lack of contemporary form. Below them, occupying tenth place Velgalta Sendai are jubilant having overcome their five-game losing streak. It'll be a tight affair which may not yield a winner but probably end in stalemate.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs. Nagoya Grampus



Sanfrecce Hiroshima last weekend continued to frustrate their fan-base by losing 1-0 to Gamba Osaka in a very tightly contested game. The 2015 champions have got to start winning games in a consistent fashion to emulate their previous successes. Participating in the championship stage is the bare minimum expectations for fans, at present, it looks like the team will fail to do that. Peter Utaka, the Nigerian striker has been superb in front of goal and his supporting players have been decent as well – just not all the time. They've not been able to unlock the sterner defences, i.e. Gamba Osaka and Kashima Antlers. Whether as the backline has been generally upsetting throughout the whole second stage. Getting caught out of position too many times and not being able to see out games for the duration. It's fair to say it's now or never for Sanfrecce Hiroshima, they are nine points behind Kashima Antlers in the overall table, the team they must surpass to make into the top three and qualify for the Championship stage.
Nagoya Grampus are in depths of a relegation battle, in seventeenth place and it's easy to see why. The team have not won a league game since May. The team also find it very hard to score against opposition. After all, they have only scored one goal throughout their last five games and even that was in a 3-1 defeat. Whilst there's still time for the team to turn their fortunes around, they've done little to show they will do.

Both teams will be under enormous pressure of different types, some fans demanding silverware and the others just wanting their team to stay in the top tier. Sanfrecce Hiroshima's quality should shine through, especially at home. In fact, Sanfrecce should see this as a perfect opportunity to kick-start their season and get back to winning ways.

Elsewhere in the league, Albirex Niigata welcome mid-table Vissel Kobe as they try to distance themselves from the relegation threatened teams. There's a match between two of the second stages most interesting teams as Kashiwa Reysol host Yokohama FM. Both of which could break into the top spots should they win here. F.C. Tokyo will be without several key players including Ishikawa and Hashimoto (both injured) when they welcome Júbilo Iwata to the Ajinomoto Stadium. The bottom-placed team in the overall table, Avispa Fukuoka plays Omiya Ardija as they try to salvage something from their season.
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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