Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Episode 117 - 2014 J1 Matchday 26

A complete look at last Saturday's J1 matchday with Steve Barme and Alan Gibson.

Steve joins me first to discuss the results for teams embroiled in the #RelegationDogfight (to 28:15), before Alan and I run through the rest of the games from Matchday 26. I finish off the episode with a brief look at J2 and J3.



Stream this episode on the player above, or download the mp3 by clicking on the J-Talk logo on the left.
This episode is also available on iTunes (old feed, Artist name: Ben).

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Episode 116 - 2014 J1 Matchdays 24 & 25

This week's podcast is an absolute belter, and features Thomas Birch, Angus MacLeod and Jon Steele.

In our J1 section Thomas fills us in on what's been going right at Gamba Osaka (to 30:50), before Angus and I assess the situations at the top and bottom of the top flight with nine games left in the season (to 58:35).

Then Jon pops on to celebrate Shonan, who clinched promotion back to J1 on Tuesday.



Stream this episode on the player above, or download the mp3 by clicking on the J-Talk logo on the left.
This episode is also available on iTunes.

Friday, September 19, 2014

J1 - The Run-In

Just eleven games remain in the 2014 J1 season, and while I don't know, and you don't either, how the race for the title, the battle for the ACL spots and the #RelegationDogfight will finish up, this post is intended as an overview of how the fixtures for the contenders at the top and the battlers at the bottom look on paper, with a focus on the games both sets of teams have left against others with plenty to play for.

Last season I put together a similar post with 10 games left, but this time I've gone into more detail, giving you the matchday (MD) numbers of games against the top five and bottom seven - where you'll notice a tremendous chance for Urawa to make some hay, a season-defining three game stretch for Gamba Osaka, and tortuous runs for Cerezo Osaka and Sendai - and also each team's record against those particular clubs


So the teams from 6th (Kobe) down to 11th (Niigata) are not included for now, but that could change in future updates depending on either positive or negative results - at the same stage of last season Kawasaki were 8th, eight points adrift of the third and final ACL spot, but zipped up to 3rd on the last day of the season. Let's start at the top then...



The Race For The Title & ACL Spots


As things stand I believe the top four will battle it out for the title, but Gamba are a huge chance to carry on their outstanding post-World Cup form and leapfrog at least two of them and grab an ACL berth. There are some massive games coming up, with Tosu, Kashima and Gamba playing all of the other members of the top five in the run-in, but a lot could come down to how these teams handle potential banana skins against those scrapping for their lives in the bottom half.

1. Urawa 47 points (GD +20)

Last 11 – Home 5, Away 6 In 2014: Home W 8 D 3 L 1, Away W 6 D 2 L 3
Record v other top five teams: W 2 D 1 L 2
Games left v top five: MD30 Kashima A, MD32-33 Gamba H, Tosu A
Record v bottom seven: W 7 D 2 L 0
Games left v bottom seven: MD26-29 Cerezo A, Tokushima H, Sendai A, Kofu H, MD34 Nagoya H

Reds boast the best defence (19 GA) and home record in the league, and in this typically unpredictable J1 season they've also been the best (on a points per game basis) at taking care of business against the strugglers, which makes their run of four straight against dogfighters from Matchdays 26 - 29 look extremely appetizing for their supporters. The three they have left against those in the top five will obviously be key, but considering the buffer they have and the likelihood that the rest of the top four will be taking points off each other, they might be OK regardless. Their long trophy drought could (no, should!) finally end.   

2. Kawasaki 43pts (+15)

Last 11 – H 5, A 6 Home W 8 D 2 L 2, Away W 5 D 2 L 4
Record v other top five teams: W 4 D 0 L 1
Games left v top five: MD28-29 Gamba A, Tosu H, MD32 Kashima A
Record v bottom seven: W 7 D 2 L 1
Games left v bottom seven: MD25-26 Omiya A, Sendai H, MD30-31 Kofu A, Shimizu H

Frontale are the 2nd highest scorers (43 GF) in the division and have the joint best points return since the World Cup break (though they've played one game more than Gamba), though like last year, they might have left their run too late, barring a Reds implosion. Can't afford any more slip-ups away from Todoroki, as they have just the 7th-best road record. Kawasaki have been almost as good as Urawa against the strugglers, but to stay in touch with Reds they're going to have to win both of their clashes with fellow top five sides in Matchdays 28 and 29, as the leaders will very likely pick up six points from their two games in the same rounds. 

3. Tosu 41pts (+11)

Last 11 – H 6, A 5 Home W 5 D 2 L 4, Away W 8 D 0 L 4
Record v other top five teams: W 2 D 0 L 2
Games left v top five: MD26 Gamba A, MD29 Kawasaki A, MD33-34 Urawa H, Kashima A
Record v bottom seven: W 8 D 2 L 1
Games left v bottom seven: MD24 Sendai H, MD28 Cerezo H, MD32 Tokushima A

Sagan were top after Matchday 18, but just one win in their last five has seen them slip six points adrift, and their long-predicted (by some) slide away from contention looks like it's underway. Tosu can still boast the 2nd best defence (20 GA) and best away record in the league, but their ultimate undoing could be up front - they're the lowest scorers in the top seven (31 GF). Unless they can turn things around sharpish, it's hard to see them being in the hunt for the title, and perhaps even an ACL spot, by the time they finish against Reds and Antlers.  

4. Kashima 40pts (+16)

Last 11 – H 6, A 5 Home W 5 D 2 L 4, Away W 7 D 2 L 3
Record v other top five teams: W 2 D 1 L 1
Games left v top five: MD27 Gamba H, MD30 Urawa H, MD32 Kawasaki H, MD34 Tosu H
Record v bottom seven: W 7 D 1 L 3
Games left v bottom seven: MD25-26 Sendai A, Tokushima A, MD33 Cerezo A

Antlers are the league’s highest scorers (44 GF), but have only themselves to blame for slipping seven points off the pace after surrendering leads in two of the four draws in their recent unbeaten run, and then failing to go on with the job after equalizing in last week's shock loss at Omiya. Having all of the other members of the top five at home should be advantageous, and they'll certainly have no fear in the big games, but you'd think they'd need to win all of them to stand a chance of a first league title since 2009. 

5. Gamba Osaka 37pts (+14)

Last 11 – H 6, A 5 Home W 6 D 1 L 4, Away W 5 D 3 L 4
Record v other top five teams: W 0 D 0 L 4
Games left v top five: MD26-28 Tosu H, Kashima A, Kawasaki H, MD32 Urawa A
Record v bottom seven: W 6 D 3 L 1
Games left v bottom seven: MD24-25 Cerezo H, Shimizu A, MD31 Sendai H, MD34 Tokushima A

Gamba have the best record in the league since we resumed after the World Cup, taking 22 points from 27 available (Kawasaki also have 22 but have played a game more) and have looked damn good doing it, too. Might they be timing their run perfectly to snatch an ACL spot, as Frontale did on the last day of last season? I wouldn't put it past them in the form they're in. You might have concerns about their 'Record v other top five teams' (above), but that's actually misleading, as all four losses came in the first nine matchdays, after which Gamba sat 14th. How they fare in that massive three game stretch in Matchdays 26 - 28 will determine where they end up.

Yes, Kobe are just a point behind Gamba, with an identical points haul in the last five games (10 from 15 available), and FC Tokyo and Kashiwa are a further point back, with Tokyo on an 11 game unbeaten run in the league and Reysol just having had a five game stretch without a defeat snapped last Saturday, but I don’t believe any of those three are capable of going on an extended winning run to push for an ACL spot, let alone the title.


The Relegation Dogfight


I encourage you to check out Steve Barme's always-excellent Viva Relegationistan! columns on Japanfooty.com for more in-depth analysis on the battle to avoid the drop - Steve is a grizzled veteran of several great escapes by his beloved Omiya and has a far greater feel for how things will shake out at the foot of the table - but here's the same look at things for the bottom seven:

12. Nagoya 27 points (GD -5)

Last 11 – Home 5, Away 6 In 2014: Home W 1 D 4 L 7, Away W 6 D 2 L 3
Record v top five: W 2 D 1 L 6
Games left v top five: MD34 Urawa A
Record v other bottom seven teams: W 1 D 2 L 3
Games left v bottom seven: MD24-25 Kofu H, Cerezo A, MD29-30 Sendai H, Tokushima A, MD32-33 Shimizu A, Omiya H

Ordinarily you'd say it was a disadvantage to have more away games remaining than home, but Grampus have been atrocious at both Toyota and Mizuho (2nd worst home record - only Tokushima's is worse), while they've accrued 20 of their 27 points on the road and have the joint-3rd best away record in the league. Nagoya are in the best form of these teams (four unbeaten), and if they can scratch out a home win against Kofu and overcome Cerezo (the only other team with games against all other battlers) in their next two you'd say that would earn them an exemption from featuring in future updates of this column. 

13. Shimizu 25pts (-12)

Last 11 – H 6, A 5 Home record W 4 D 1 L 6, Away record W 3 D 3 L 6
Record v top five: W 0 D 2 L 6
Games left v top five: MD25 Gamba H, MD31 Kawasaki A
Record v other bottom seven teams: W 6 D 0 L 2
Games left v bottom seven: MD26-27 Omiya A, Cerezo H, MD32 Nagoya H, MD34 Kofu H

S-Pulse sat sixth after Matchday 9 (two points off top spot) - having just wrapped up a perfect April - before the wheels fell off and since then they've won just two of their last 14. As with Gamba's record v the top five, Shimizu's excellent record v the bottom seven is misleading but in reverse: their first five wins, all against current fellow scrappers, came in those first nine games. Their poor goal difference is all down to a lack of firepower after the World Cup break (GF 10 GA 22), and they desperately need points in the two dogfights that loom to make that less of an issue.

14. Sendai 25pts (-14)

Last 11 – H 6, A 5 Home record W 3 D 5 L 3, Away record W 3 D 2 L 7
Record v top five: W 0 D 2 L 3
Games left v top five: MD24-26 Tosu A, Kashima H, Kawasaki A, MD28 Urawa H, MD31 Gamba A
Record v other bottom seven teams: W 3 D 4 L 2
Games left v bottom seven: MD29 Nagoya A, MD32-33 Cerezo H, Tokushima H

Vegalta have the toughest-looking run-in on paper of the battlers, with games against each of the top five remaining and three of them away which doesn't bode well - they've scored the fewest goals on their travels of any team in the division (five in 12 games). Very few positives to hang your hat on for Sendai supporters in recent weeks, though they did take five points from nine in three straight games against fellow strugglers in Matchdays 18 - 20, and they'll need at least that many from their three remaining dogfights you'd think to stay in with a strong chance of surviving. 

15. Kofu 24pts (-8)

Last 11 – H 5, A 6 Home record W 4 D 5 L 3, Away record W 1 D 4 L 6
Record v top five: W 1 D 2 L 5
Games left v top five: MD29-30 Urawa A, Kawasaki H
Record v other bottom seven teams: W 2 D 4 L 2
Games left v bottom seven: MD24 Nagoya A, MD27 Omiya H, MD31 Cerezo A, MD34 Shimizu A

Ventforet have the worst away record in the league - yes, even worse than Tokushima's - and six games away from the Chugin (including three of their four against fellow relegation battlers) in the last 11 doesn't look good on paper. Some would say they've been the worst team to watch for large stretches of the campaign (their 18 goals in 23 games is the second worst return in the league) as they've appeared to try to bore opponents into submission at times, but their defence has been stoic pretty much throughout, and they've conceded fewer goals than five top half teams. Will their goal difference give them the edge over one (or two) of Shimizu, Sendai and Omiya?

16. Cerezo Osaka 23pts (-1)

Last 11 – H 5, A 6 Home record W 2 D 5 L 5, Away record W 3 D 3 L 5
Record v top five: W 1 D 1 L 4
Games left v top five: MD24 Gamba A, MD26 Urawa H, MD28 Tosu A, MD33 Kashima H
Record v other bottom seven teams: W 3 D 2 L 1
Games left v bottom seven: MD25 Nagoya H, MD27 Shimizu A, MD29 Tokushima H, MD31-32 Kofu H, Sendai A, MD34 Omiya A

What a train wreck of a season it's been for Cerezo. In the top three early doors, when we were all just waiting for Forlan & Kakitani to click before they ran away with the league, to no wins since the start of May (until last Saturday) as they have sat in the bottom three after five of the past six matchdays. While the losses piled up they were never getting smashed though (until the derby on Saturday?!), having lost only once by more than the odd goal - 2-0 to FC Tokyo all the way back in Matchday 8. Their (relatively) good goal difference could stand them in good stead then, but ten of their final 11 are against teams with plenty to play for, including all six fellow dogfighters.

17. Omiya 19pts (-17)

Last 11 – H 6, A 5 Home record W 2 D 2 L 7, Away record W 2 D 5 L 5
Record v top five: W 2 D 2 L 5
Games left v top five: MD25 Kawasaki H
Record v other bottom seven teams: W 1 D 2 L 4
Games left v bottom seven: MD24 Tokushima A, MD26-27 Shimizu H, Kofu A, MD33-34 Nagoya A, Cerezo H

The Squirrels have the worst record in the league since the World Cup break (6 pts from 27 available), and, tellingly, the worst record of the seven teams at the bottom in head-to-head games. Two years ago they were in exactly the same situation with 11 games to go, sitting 17th, but just a point from safety rather than the gap of five they face now. Back then they proceeded to go unbeaten until the end of the season (and 10 games into the next!), eventually securing their safety with a game to spare. Five #RelegationDogfights remain on their fixture list so it's in their hands (they absolutely must beat Tokushima on Saturday, surely). Will their survival (and they will survive, won't they? They always do.) come down to the final two matchdays? Yes, probably.

18. Tokushima 12pts (-38)

Last 11 – H 6, A 5 Home record W 0 D 2 L 9, Away record W 3 D 1 L 8
Record v top five: W 0 D 0 L 6
Games left v top five: MD26-27 Kashima H, Urawa A, MD 32 Tosu H, MD34 Gamba H
Record v other bottom seven teams: W 2 D 2 L 4
Games left v bottom seven: MD24 Omiya H, MD29-30 Cerezo A, Nagoya H, MD33 Sendai A

Vortis are as good as gone. We've known that basically since the start of the season, but they need 3 pts to avoid the worst points return in a J1 single stage season (2012 Sapporo & 2013 Oita both 14 pts), and wouldn't it be wonderful if they could win one in front of their home fans before they return to J2?


And there you have it. No predictions from me at this stage, but that is the lie of the land and what lies ahead as the 2014 J1 season looks set to go down to the wire on three fronts. Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Episode 115 - 2014 J1 Matchday 23

An 11 minute solo round-up of the J.League week. J1 Matchday 23 and the next two rounds of fixtures to around 8 minutes in, before J2, J3 and Emperor's Cup updates.



Stream this episode on the player above, or download the mp3 by clicking on the J-Talk logo on the left.
This episode is also available on iTunes (old feed, Artist Name: Ben).

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Episode 114 - Japan, Marco P. & The Cups

Alan Gibson from JSoccer Magazine and JSoccer.com joins me to discuss Japan's two friendlies in the past week, and other happenings in the domestic game.

Japan v Uruguay and Venezuela to 27.30 (after Alan briefs us on what's in the new issue of JSoccer Magazine - there's a link for more info on the left), then Pezzaiuoli out at Cerezo, Nabisco Cup quarter finals wrap and Emperor's Cup info to 51.40.

I finish the episode with a check on J2 and J3.



Stream this episode on the player above, or download the mp3 by clicking on the J-Talk logo on the left.
This episode is also available on iTunes (old feed, Artist name: Ben).

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Episode 113 - Kagawa, Japan & J.League

This week's podcast is expertly presented by guest co-hosts Stuart Smith and Angus MacLeod, in four parts:

Part 1 (to 17:45)- Bananagate, Kagawa back to Dortmund, Aguirre's first Japan squad
Part 2 (to 37:30)- Full review of J1 Matchday 22 and preview of Nabisco Cup quarters
Part 3 (to 72:20)- Full review of J2 Matchday 29
Part 4 (to end)- J3 Wrap, J2 and J3 fixtures.



Stream on the player above, or download the mp3 by clicking on the J-Talk logo on the left.
This episode is also available on iTunes (old feed, artist name: Ben)