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The unusual parallels between Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Leicester City

Saturday 3rd December 2016
At first glance, there might not seem to be anything in common with the J.League champions and the unlikely winners of the Premier League; Leicester City. Although, upon further inspection, the clubs are scarily alike.

You can't even get a direct flight from the East Midlands airport to Japan. That doesn't stop the straight comparisons between both clubs. One of the first similarities between the two sides is that they are currently still the defending champions in their respective leagues. Sanfrecce Hiroshima won the J.League title back in 2015; whereas Leicester City won the Premier League last season against all the odds.
Footage from the 2012 J.League Championship ceremony where Sanfrecce Hiroshima lifted the title.

The manner in which both teams went about defending their crown(s) also provides a similar theme. The J.League 2015 champions did not qualify for their season's playoff – after a largely disappointing campaign. The Foxes, whilst not mathematically out of title contention - they've not started in the same manner they did last season and many pundits have already written them off to defend the title. (Although these are the same pundits who said they were 5000/ 1 to win the Premier League last season).

Given that both teams are seemingly out of their respective league seasons, it's a fair comment to say that both teams are concentrating on other tournaments. Sanfrecce is through to the quarter-finals of the Emperor's Cup and needs to win the trophy to return to Asian Champions League next season. It's a very similar story for Leicester City: they've already qualified for the round of sixteen in the UEFA Champions League, but also would need to win the whole tournament to return to it next year.

The teams also have concerns in attacking personnel; especially with their two iconic strikers – both of which have uncertain futures. Peter Utaka is the only loan at Sanfrecce Hiroshima and could return to S-Pulse. He's been exceptional for Sanfrecce, becoming the league's top scorer. The concern is that he would be irreplaceable and the teams would find it hard to find another striker to come in and do the same job as effectively as he has done over the last season.  Jamie Vardy whilst not out of contract until 2020, has looked a ghost of his former self. Claudio Ranieri has gone as far as to drop one of last year's top scorers to the bench. It's a fair comment to say that at the age of 29 and a milestone birthday next month – Vardy's longevity has taken a dent in the last few months. Peter Utaka to Leicester maybe?
To make matters worse, both teams have lost key players this season. The Foxes sale of N'Golo Kante to Chelsea was one of the biggest transfers of the summer window. Whilst the Frenchman's absence can't just be the only reason for the team's decline, he did play a large part of their success. Their J.League counterparts also lost one of their best players: Takuma Asano. The young Japanese player was a major part of the champions setup, scoring, assisting and being one of the most energetic players on the pitch. His performances were so good it sparked the interest of Arsene Wenger who signed the player for Arsenal. Unfortunately, he was unable to gain a UK work permit and was sent out on loan to 2. Bundesliga side, VFB Stuttgart. Neither side was enthralled to lose such marquee players.
In all, there are some freakish common themes between both sets of champions. Their desperation to win the respective cup competitions, their uncertain striking options and of course their outgoing transfers which hindered their title defences.
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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