18 September 2014 16:36
J.League leaders Urawa Reds and Kawasaki Frontale face differing challenges as a high-stakes Osaka derby unfolds this weekend.
Second-placed Kawasaki will attempt to end Tokyo’s 11-game unbeaten league run, while Urawa are out to avoid suffering defeat by Kashiwa Resyol for a fourth game in succession.
The top two both, nonetheless, have reason for optimism heading into Round 24 of 34.
Urawa, chasing a first domestic trophy since 2006, have scored four goals in each of their last three J.League games and will unleash striker Tadanari Lee on his former club.
“We may have got another big win but it wasn’t easy,” said Urawa coach Mihailo Petrovic following the 4-1 win over Shimizu S-Pulse last time out.
“We must avoid complacency. I’ve seen a lot we can improve on and there’s a long way to go.”
Meanwhile Kawasaki, largely thanks to the invention of Brazilian playmaker Renatinho and prolificacy of forward Yu Kobayashi, have scored nine goals in their last two home league outings.
Sagan Tosu and Kashima Antlers, the only other two sides with realistic title hopes, have home assignments they will expect to pass in the form of fifth-bottom Vegalta Sendai and mid-table Yokohama F. Marinos.
The Osaka derby pits together sides at opposite ends of the table. In-form Gamba, in fifth, are just four points adrift of the final AFC Champions League qualification place, while Cerezo are in the relegation zone.
Cerezo have nevertheless, with high-profile overseas signings Diego Forlan and Cacau on the bench and injured respectively, won three consecutive games in all competitions.
The last two league fixtures between the two clubs have finished 2-2.
If Cerezo win, Ventforet Kofu, Vegalta Sendai or Shimizu S-Pulse could find themselves in the drop zone.
Ventforet Kofu are away to fellow strugglers Nagoya Grampus and Shimizu are at sixth-placed Vissel Kobe.
Finally, the bottom two will collide in Naruto. Hiroki Shibuya, in his first game in charge of Omiya Ardija, masterminded an upset of Kashima that ended their 10-match winless league run.
Omiya will now strive to take another step towards a relegation escape at rock-bottom Tokushima Vortis.