Saturday, 20 February 2010

2010 J1 Previews, pt 2

Kawasaki Frontale

Last season 2nd J1

Frontale are a team facing a season with a whole lot of distractions. Back once again in the ACL and with star striker Chong Tese - aka the Wayne Rooney of North Korea - carrying his country's World Cup hopes on his shoulders, it seems as if there's a lot that could go wrong for a club desperate to pick up a first-ever J-League title. They're going to have to do it with a new coach, Tsutomu Takahata returning to the seat that is hot after Takashi Sekizuka stood down due to his failure to pick up any silverware in 2009.

Predict-o-tron Top eight

Vissel Kobe

Last season 14th J1

The Maroons - previously the Black and Whites - are one of those teams who don't seem to be able to keep a firm grasp on a J1 place. They just don't seem to be able to fight their way out of the bottom third; I can't think of, er, any other teams like that just at the moment. Anyway, Kobe have brought in unpredictable Popo from Kashiwa Reysol and portly Edmilson from Oita Trinita, while it'll be interesting to see if J2 goal machine Ken Tokura will be able to get some playing time after joining from Thespa Kusatsu.

Predict-o-tron Mid-table

Kyoto Sanga

Last season 12th J1

Confirmed as one of Japan's dullest teams in 2009, Sanga have lost Lee Jung Soo to Kashima Antlers, while star midfielder Yuto Sato raised eyebrows by returning to relegated JEF United. Having released veteran Sidiclei into the bargain, Kyoto have concentrated over the winter on boosting their midfield - but it's still not clear who's going to get the goals that might see them scrape a top-half finish. Maybe chunky Brazilian Diego will turn it on a bit and thereby win over the fans to coach Hisashi Kato.

Predict-o-tron Bottom third

Yokohama F Marinos

Last season 10th J1

One of the squads perhaps most affected by the impact of the recession upon Japanese corporations. With some supporters fearing the worst, the Sailors arguably overachieved in 2009, ending up tenth off the back of a decent defensive record and the thank-God-for-that arrival on the scene of goalscoring rookie Kazuma Watanabe. Currently Marinos seem to be in negotiations with Espanol over the possible return to Japan of Shunsuke Nakamura, but their signings in the close season have been pretty feeble.

Predict-o-tron Hard to see any improvement. Maybe not relegated, but below halfway.

Nagoya Grampus

Last season 9th J1

Club legend Dragan Stojkovic is preparing to lead Nagoya into a third season as coach and it's fair to say that his results to date have mostly been a major letdown. A trip to the 2009 Emperor's Cup final ended in defeat to Gamba Osaka, thus failing to mask a disastrous ninth-place J1 finish. This year Stojkovic can have no complaints about the level of backing given to him, as Marcus Tulio Tanaka arrives from Urawa Reds, Mu Kanazaki from Oita Trinita and Mitsuru Chiyotanda from Albirex Niigata.

Predict-o-tron Top five

Albirex Niigata

Last season 8th J1

The Swans started 2009 extremely well, young striker Pedro Junior scoring the goals that fired them up to the edge of the title race. But his mid-season departure signalled a downturn in Albirex's fortunes that may not have bottomed out: coach Jun Suzuki has left after four years and it's a first top job for replacement Hisashi Kurosaki, who is having to work with a squad that has lost at least four guaranteed first-teamers. A spell of injury to midfield star Marcio Richardes could spell disaster for Niigata.

Predict-o-tron I'll say it: potential relegation candidates



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