Friday, 12 August 2011

S-Pulse Preview

Shimizu S-Pulse were indirectly - hell, let's call it directly - responsible for me getting as wet as I have ever in my life been, outside of a bath. Agent Orange and I were pictured on television after Omiya's 4-1 defeat at NACK5 in May, sodden and sullen as a consequence of an afternoon spent sitting in the absolute pissing rain. We had just watched Naohiro Takahara bossing the game and scoring twice for S-Pulse, the Squirrels' defence collapsing in the second half and, capping a performance that had contributed absolutely nothing to the team, Lee Chun Soo getting himself needlessly, idiotically sent off. Even Rafael's injury time consolation goal for Omiya was rubbish. And I was wet. Oh so very, very wet.

So it is with quite some sense of anticipation that I've been looking forward to Saturday's return fixture at Nihondaira. The Ardija team is in a different place now and in some senses the drubbing handed out by Takahara and co. was the top of a slippery slope down which Jun Suzuki's defence has since tumbled. The last few matches have seen a shaky back line give away chance after chance and it is only in the away game at Vegalta Sendai that the opposition were so lacking in confidence and focus that they failed to take advantage.

Suzuki for his part is simply running through the various options of central defender pairings and there is no sense that the Squirrels coach has a clear idea about what works and what does not. Yosuke Kataoka thus finds himself back in the team having been discarded at the end of 2010 by a disastrously bad Kyoto Sanga and Kim Young Gwon - stretchered off during South Korea's midweek international in Sapporo - has over the course of the season so far found it difficult to fit into the Ardija team. Meanwhile last year's main duo of Yuki Fukaya and Shusaku Tsubouchi may not have looked as solid this time around, but their record is still comparatively impressive.

Whoever is selected looks set to have to contend with Naohiro Takahara's return to an S-Pulse side coming off the back of an extraordinary run of three straight 4-0 defeats. With the instability of both defences tomorrow's encounter is difficult to predict, although the first half against Sendai last week did give cause for Omiya optimism. The early goal from Rafael was excellent and debutant Rodrigo Pimpao put in an energetic display topped off by a neat finish to put the Squirrels 2-0 up. A repeat of that tomorrow would be, well, unbelievably miraculous, although personally I'd be happy just to stay dry.



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