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J1 League Match Preview: FC Tokyo host old rivals Urawa Reds in front of sell-out crowd

ANALYST
Preview
Modified 21 Dec 2019, 01:10 IST

FC Tokyo fans in jubilation
FC Tokyo fans in jubilation

After faltering to struggling Shonan Bellmare last weekend, FC Tokyo look to keep their title hopes alive when they host old rivals Urawa Reds on Saturday in front of a sell-out crowd at Ajinomoto Stadium.

Yokohama F Marinos now lead the pack on 64 points with Tokyo in hot pursuit with 63. Should the Gasmen win this weekend, the stage will be set for a blockbuster title-deciding closing match.

Kenta Hasegawa’s men returned home from their gruelling run of 8 straight away games only to come short against relegation battling Shonan in a lacklustre 1-1 draw.

Tokyo now find themselves in a must-win situation in this weekend’s coming fixture against Asian Champions League finalists Urawa.

Current leaders Yokohama play Kawasaki Frontale in the Kanagawa Classico this weekend. Should Yokohama win and Tokyo lose then J League shield will be awarded to the Kanagawa based club there and then.

A draw for Tokyo is also unfavourable. Should Marinos win then the capital city club would find themselves 3 points behind the leaders heading into the final game. Yokohama boast a significantly greater goal difference which is unlikely to be overturned.

In the latter stages of the season, FC Tokyo have struggled in creating goal-scoring chances. They predominantly rely on counter-attacking moves when defensive lines are fragmented.

Speedster Kensuke Nagai is often used as the battering ram that surges forward and converts defence to attack in an instant. Brazilian striker Diego Oliveira is often the focal point of such attacks and has tallied 14 goals so far this season.

This system has now stagnated with many teams opting to sit deep and pack out the defence. Tokyo are seemingly unable to offer a plan B and struggle to break down defences with incisive passing.

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Since the departure of Takefusa Kubo to Real Madrid, they are also without an attacker skilful enough to beat players with the ball at his feet.

These limitations were all too evident in their last match against a robust and industrious Shonan. Tokyo were unable to pose any real threat and were forced to launch attacks down the flanks.

The decision by Head Coach Kenta Hasegawa to bench mid-season signing Hirotaka Mita has bemused fans of the capital city club. Many feel he is the most creative player the team has and should be filling the Takefusa Kubo shaped hole that has hindered the club for a half a season.

Urawa Reds, on the other hand, also find themselves in a do-or-die situation. Slipping into the relegation play-off spot remains a very real possibility should they fail to win one of their last two games.

They come off the back of a disappointing AFC Champions League final loss to Al Hilal last Sunday. The players and fans alike will be surely looking to wash away the sour taste and return to winning ways against their local rivals.

Despite their continental success, their league campaign has been dire this season. Urawa Reds have spent the majority of the year languishing around the drop zone and the future of incumbent Head Coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki remains unclear after a season of contrasting results.

Veteran striker Shinzo Koroki has been a prime source of goals for Reds, tallying 12 so far this season. Other than this they too have struggled to produce goals and the fluid attacking brand of football installed by former Head Coach Mihailo Petrovic has run stale.

That said, Reds boast a better head to head record between the two sides. They have not lost to Tokyo since September 2013. Given the critical stage in the season for both sides, pressure and nerves are bound to set in. This is anyone’s game at this point.

Published 28 Nov 2019, 17:04 IST
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