J1 League: High-flying FC Tokyo take on reeling Vissel Kobe in bid to extend lead at the top
Life without Takefusa Kubo begins now for the club from the Japanese capital as FC Tokyo take on Vissel Kobe on Saturday evening at a sold-out Ajinomoto Stadium.
While there will be many fans making their way to Ajinomoto to feast their eyes on former Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta, who might not even feature in the match, the core of the Tokyo support is likely to have more interest in how manager Kenta Hasegawa responds to losing his key man.
For the visitors, there is an air of intrigue surrounding new manager Thorsten Fink and his approach to the Japanese game. At his former clubs, he has been known to favour an attacking style, which may play into the hands of Tokyo, who are specialists in counter-attacking football.
Tokyo captain Keigo Higashi should assume his usual place on the left wing, with Na Sangho likely to step in for Copa America-bound Takefusa on the right.
Na has shown in the past that he has the ability to both create and finish chances and seems to be the most deserving replacement for Kubo. However, Hasegawa's intentions are not known yet and we may see a different attacking shape for Tokyo on Saturday.
Yojiro Takahagi and National Team star Kento Hashimoto will play in the center of the park, with the former acting as a playmaker and the latter functioning in a more defensive role.
Sei Muroya and Ryoya Ogawa will fill their respective wing-back roles and will link up with the wide midfielders in attack for the home side.
For Kobe, the recent appointment of Thorsten Fink makes this fixture difficult to prepare for. More so considering the fact that Lukas Podolski and Iniesta are likely to be absent from the team sheet. Sergi Semper and Dankler are also suspended for this fixture.
The biggest threat for the visitors will come from World Cup winner David Villa, Brazilian forward Wellington and former Tokyo midfielder Hirotaka Mita. Rising star Kyogo Furuhashi is back from the U20 World Cup and may make an appearance.
Given Tokyo's record at home against Kobe and the absence of some of their star players, you would be forgiven for thinking this should be a walk in the park for the table-toppers. Ultimately, it will all boil down to the way in which Fink sets his side up on the night.