J1 League: FC Tokyo host in-form Sanfrecce Hiroshima in blockbuster weekend clash
J1 League leaders FC Tokyo are back in action this weekend as they host 3-time champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima at Ajinomoto Stadium on Saturday evening. Both teams played midweek in the Emperor's Cup with Tokyo losing 1-0 to J2 side Ventforet Kofu, while Sanfrecce avoided an upset by coming from behind to beat Zweigen Kanazawa 2-1.
The home team will be looking to return to winning ways and preserve (if not add to) their 7 point lead at the summit of Japan’s top flight. Meanwhile, the visitors need a victory to keep their title hopes alive. They currently sit in 5th place on 36 points, 12 behind the leaders.
This is FC Tokyo’s last match at their home stadium before a strenuous run of 8 away matches due to the disruption caused by the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The deadly striking partnership of Diego Oliveira and Kensuke Nagai is likely to remain intact for this game, with summer signing Hirotaka Mita playing as the right-sided attacker. Captain Keigo Higashi will assume his usual role on the left wing with Yojiro Takahagi and Kento Hashimoto occupying the midfield.
The capital city club have been masters of the counter-attacking system so far this season. A large portion of their goals have come from long passes from the defense after a break down in the opposition's attack. Nagai’s lightning-quick speed has allowed him to sprint up the field, largely unopposed, while Oliveira runs into space.
Other instances have seen Oliveira receive the ball in the middle of the park and charge at goal with the opposing defenders in hot pursuit. This creates space for any late arrivers into the penalty area who have only the keeper to beat should the Brazilian be able to thread a decent through ball.
Tokyo may struggle against their opponents this weekend though as they play an equally cautious game. Typically, Sanfrecce do not commit many men forward and allow opponents to bring the game to them.
Of late, they have favored a 3-4-2-1 formation with frontman Douglas Vieira serving as the focal point of their attacks. The Brazilian striker has 5 league goals under his belt this season.
Former Tokyo manager, and incumbent Hiroshima coach, Hiroshi Jofuku implements a regimented defensive set up, with all the players quickly shifting back into their respective positions when possession is lost.
They are unbeaten in their past 8 league games, including a dramatic 3-2 win over current champions Kawasaki Frontale, and have been able to see games out without conceding critical goals.
On the face of things, this fixture has all the signs of a stalemate, with a single goal either way likely to prove decisive.
FC Tokyo might switch up their approach in an attempt to play the ball out from the back and/or utilize their wing-backs to launch attacks from the wide areas. New signing Hirotaka Mita has the ability to cut inside and play clinical through balls for his strikers and this could be the key to a Tokyo victory this weekend.