Sunday, 26 June 2011

Kobe Preview

We begin this preview of Sunday's match against Vissel Kobe, dear reader, with two simple sets of numbers:

Played: 7
Won: 4
Drawn: 3
Lost: 0
Goals For: 11
Goals Against: 7
Points: 15

Played: 5
Won: 0
Drawn: 2
Lost: 3
Goals For: 3
Goals Against: 12
Points: 2

Those of you possessed of a keenly inquisitive spirit may be wondering what these numbers represent. In which case, wonder no more: the first set indicates Omiya Ardija's results achieved in J1 matches played away from NACK5 Stadium. The second conveys the same level of statistical detail in relation to the Squirrels' home league fixtures. To summarise key points that the data reveals:

1. Omiya haven't lost away
2. Omiya haven't, for God's sake, won at home

When just about your best home result is a 0-0 draw with Albirex Niigata, it's clear that you're struggling mightily in front of your own fans. The team's defensive record at NACK5 in particular is woeful, and it's fortunate that Wednesday night's opponents Jubilo Iwata were able to exploit Omiya's weakness in that area of the pitch only once. How they did so nevertheless provides an object lesson in why teams like Shimizu S-Pulse and Kawasaki Frontale have in recent weeks met with such success against Ardija.

With Kim Yong Gwon still on international duty, Jun Suzuki fielded Shusuke Tsubouchi in the middle alongside Yuki Fukaya, and Kazuhiro Murakami on the left-hand side. Inside the first minute, Jubilo forward Hidetaka Kanazon outmuscled and then outran the cover on the Ardija left and when his cross came in, Fukaya was out of position and too slow to stop Ryoichi Maeda from scoring. In other words, a team with aggression and speed around the penalty area should easily be able to create chances against this Omiya defence. Combine Murakami with Chikara Fujimoto and as Kanazon demonstrated that left-hand side of the Squirrels line-up starts to look especially sluggish.

Not that things were all bad against Jubilo, of course. Murakami himself crashed in a spectacular long-range equaliser, substitute Jun Kanakubo's free kick squeezed past veteran keeper Yoshi Kawaguchi for a late, late winner - and in between there were occasions when young midfielder Takuya Aoki seemed to revel in his new status as a goal threat. Having got off the mark with two against Nagoya Grampus last weekend Aoki came close to adding to his tally on a couple of occasions, not least when he hit the post with Kawaguchi well beaten. Having been dropped from the U22 national team, it's ironic that Aoki has grasped so enthusiastically the chance to play a more attacking role that has fallen to him due to Keigo Higashi being away with, well, the U22 national team.

The fragile Squirrels defence were able to keep a clean sheet in the April game against Vissel mainly due to an eye-poppingly poor display in front of goal from Yoshito Okubo and colleagues. Since then, Kobe have enjoyed an outstanding May only to slump down the table this month, and a defeat to lowly Montedio Yamagata and a home draw against J2-bound Avispa Fukuoka would suggest that Masahiro Wada's side are not on the best of form. The fact that they haven't scored in three matches also seems to indicate that Okubo hasn't properly cracked the tricky business of goal-scoring. If that continues and the Squirrels can keep it tight at the back, come the end of Sunday evening Omiya could actually have won a home game. Here's hoping.



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