Japan: J-League betting tips: Omiya Ardija- Vissel Kobe / Consadole Sapporo- FC Tokyo
Vissel Kobe have taken a lot of headlines in the last month with the (now confirmed) signing of Lukas Podolski who will join on June 1st after the completion of the Turkish season. That need not worry us for now, but highlights the ambition of the home side, something we have discussed many times in the last 20-24 months or so, I picked up on their potential early in 2015, shortly after uncompromising head coach Nelsinho joined and those notes are reproduced at the foot of this email (edit: see March 10th email) to provide some background information . They have strengthened in the off season and made no secret last year about their desire to and belief that they could win titles and when they clicked they were close to unstoppable. They came on very strong in Stage 2 last season ending up second only to Urawa and they scored 28 goals in 10 straight home games, including beating FC Tokyo, Urawa and Frontale by a combined 9-2. 12 months ago tomorrow they beat Albirex 6-3 here and whilst we might not see a repeat of that emphatic win, I expect them to build on last week's away victory at Shimizu and ride the Podolski momentum to three points against a Niigata side , who have finished one place above the drop zone in each of the last two seasons and who will have survival as their (sole ? ) target again.
Albirex have lost Leo Silva, Rafael Silva, Bruno Cortez, Michael Fitzgerald and Ken Matsubara, a lot of talent and goals from a team who had little of either !The Silva's had 16 goals and 4 assists between them last season, a contribution to more than half Niigata's goals. The visitors will be pleased with an opening day point at Sanfrecce, but the Hiroshima side look very much in transition and they could even struggle this season and I would not give that result too much added value at this stage.
Kobe were worthy 2-1 winners, despite Albirex being better than expected , Vissel will score a lot of goals this season and attack with great pace and will add to their tally of 6 wins in 10 road starts, where they can use that on the break. Vegalta lost to 5 of the 6 "name" teams last season and were run ragged in the one they won, if Vissel have ambitions to break into that elite group (and they do !), this is the type of game they have to be looking to win.
Omiya Ardija had a hugely impressive return to the top flight last season finishing a club-record fifth, they had completed ten seasons previously in JL1 between 2005-14 and finished 12th-16th in each ! That is a very narrow band and it is hard to think of them as anything other than relegation battlers despite such a fine 2016, when much went their way, they overachieved as both a team and individually, with Akihiro Ienaga scoring 11 goals, which was twice his previous best top flight tally and Ataru Esaka who, after only one season at JL2 level, stepped up to score 8 from midfield. They need something similar to repeat last year's heroics and I do not see where it is going to come from !
Ienaga has moved to Kawasaki Frontale and there were already signs in Stage 2 last season, that teams were handling Esaka better. Midfielders Tomonobu Yokoyama (Consadole) and Jin Izumisawa (Gamba) have also left and it feels like the team which had such a great two seasons has broken up and lost it's heartbeat. Ienaga missed seven stage 2 games last season through which Omiya were 1-4-2, posting a 7-2-1 record when he played, they lost 2-0 at home to Frontale last week and for now, I have to view them as considerably weaker and a team I do not want to side with until some of the newcomers step up and/or they prove otherwise.
FCT had a disappointing 2016, but were much better than that, ended the campiagn with four wins and off season business, including the signings of all-time J. League top scorer Yoshito Okubo from Kawasaki Frontale and Kensuke Nagai who scored 7 and had 4 assists from out wide in a relegated Nagoya Grampus team, plus an opening day win away to champions Kashima Antlers has created great excitement in the capital and it doesn't take much ! FCT-Nagoya last season was the most fun I have had at a non Brentford game, probably ever ! The hosts really appear to be really going for it and added Peter Utaka (joint top JL1 scorer last season) from Sanfrecce Hiroshima on a season long loan this week, he, Okubo and Nagai scored 41 goals between them in 2016, which is two more than FCT managed as a squad ! We will be talking about them plenty this season, but today is more "anti" Omiya, hosts have a poor home h2h record in this series , but I feel they offer value today.
They have subsequently lost 3-0 at a VERY good Gamba side (that was perhaps a reality check) and won twice at home in league and cup, by a combined 9-0 ! In the most recent of those, a 3-0 defeat of Kawasaki Frontale ,there was so much to take from the performance, not just the result. FCT created a lot of chances and Peter Utaka and Yoshito Okubo both scored their first goal for the club, Utaka made his debut in the 62nd minute off the bench, but still had time to score and assist for the third ! That is what you call an impact sub !
Okubo was facing his former club and where he topped the J. League’s scoring charts for three straight years before joining Tokyo in the offseason. There was huge pressure on him and 37,000 made their way to the Ajinomoto Stadium to watch and erupted when he scored in injury time, he had been influential prior to that and could have scored 2-3 goals. Afterwards he said: Everyone was asking when I would score my first goal but that just makes you nervous,I knew it would come but you’re still on edge until it does." But then I scored and I’m glad I could do it in front of the fans."
He has scored four goals in April in each of the last two seasons, plus a couple of assists and now the floodgates should open. Ukata also likes this month and the cheery sight of Sakura which will raise anyone's spirit and he scored five last April, after he had a goal and assist ( sound familiar) in his last outing of March immediately before the international break !
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