J1 League: Relegation-threatened Shonan Bellmare face touch test against leaders FC Tokyo
The team from the Japanese capital are set to make their homecoming after a grueling run of eight straight away games when they host Shonan Bellmare this weekend. A win for FC Tokyo will preserve their lead at the top of the J1 League by at least one point, depending on the outcome of chasers Yokohama F Marinos’ game with struggling Yamaga Matsumoto.
In contrasting fashion Shonan are fighting for survival in the top flight and are currently occupying the relegation play-off spot. A win for the Kanagawa based club will go a long way towards securing safety but will still see them trailing by one point in the best-case scenario.
Fans of FC Tokyo are likely to be satisfied with their team’s overall performance across all eight away games. They tallied a total of 14 points from four wins, two draws and two losses.
Kenta Hasegawa’s men are now three games away from winning their first-ever league title. They are pursued by Yokohama F Marinos and Kashima Antlers who trail by only one and three points, respectively.
Returning from international duty, Sei Muroya, Kenta Hashimoto and speedy striker Kensuke Nagai are all set to start for the Gasmen this weekend. Hasegawa is likely to field an unchanged squad from that which edged past bottom place Jubilo Iwata two weeks ago.
Nagai will be partnered with Brazilian talisman Diego Olivera, the team’s top scorer this season. The duo have proved to be a formidable striking partnership this season accounting for the majority Tokyo’s goals between them.
The mid-season addition of Hirotaka Mita from Vissel Kobe has also provided an injection of creativity into a side that largely relies on counter attacking opportunities.
The return fixture of this match played out as a somewhat comfortable 3-2 win for Tokyo. Bellmare have suffered a dire run of results since former Manager Cho Kwi-Jea resigned amid claims of power harassment.
They have lost their past six games and are looking set to drop down to J2 with the promotion/relegation play-off being their only hope of survival.
That said, all too often complacency is the downfall of highflying teams expecting an easy victory against teams battling relegation.