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2020 J1 Preview Part 2… teams 10-18

Here it is, the 2nd part of my 2020 JLeague special featuring the teams I think will finish 10th-18th…enjoy

This may be the only non Gamba specific article I do this year, but I thought I’d run down all 18 J1 teams and make some predictions for the year ahead. Teams are in order of where I think they’ll finish this year. In part 2 it’s the teams I think will place 10th-18th.

*The Key Players I’ve selected for each team are not necessarily the best players, more the ones whose good performances or lack of will influence their team the most.

Here we go…

10. Urawa Red Diamonds (14th)
Director: Tsuyoshi Otsuki (2nd / 1st full)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Leonardo (Niigata) / Ado Onaiwu (YFM)
Key Player: Leonardo
Lowdown: From the outside looking in I’m not really sure what’s going on at the Saitama Stadium. Last year saw them reach the ACL final but also perform horribly in J1, yet they’ve kept faith in director Tsuyoshi Otsuki and the ageing squad who limped to 14th in 2019. Leonardo from Niigata and Thomas Deng from Melbourne Victory were the only major signings this off-season, albeit they both look to be smart buys. However, bizarrely they let Ado Onaiwu (who was on loan at Oita last season) join Yokohama F.Marinos, and also made a failed bid for Shonan’s Daiki Sugioka despite already having Yamanaka, Sekine and Ugajin in his position. Things seem disjointed at one of Japan’s largest clubs and if Martinus’ social media posts are to be believed, the mood in the camp isn’t great either.
Predicted Starting XI:
Nishikawa
Hashioka-Iwanami-Makino-Yamanaka
Nagasawa-Ewerton-Aoki-Sekine
Koroki-Leonardo

11. Oita Trinita (9th)
Director: Tomohiro Katanosaka (5th)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Naoki Nomura (Tokushima) / Ado Onaiwu (Urawa/YFM)
Key Player: Kazuki Kozuka
Lowdown: Last year’s surprise package have managed to keep the majority of their squad together which bodes well for the coming season. Goalkeeper Takagi and centre-backs, Iwata, Suzuki and Misao formed a solid base in 2019 and all have been retained for this season. The midfield is also still intact and like the defence, has been bolstered by good yet unspectacular signings. Further forward, keeping Kazuki Kozuka despite interest from elsewhere is a real coup, while new addition Naoki Nomura was excellent for Tokushima Vortis in J2 in 2019. Also, Kei Chinen (Kawasaki – loan) seems like a decent replacement for the now departed Ado Onaiwu.
Predicted Starting XI:
Takagi
Iwata-Suzuki-Misao
Matsumoto-Kobayashi-Hasegawa-Tanaka
Nomura-Kozuka
Chinen

12. Nagoya Grampus (13th)
Director: Massimo Ficcadenti (2nd / 1st full)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Sho Inagaki (Hiroshima) / Ryuji Izumi (Kashima)
Key Player: Jo
Lowdown: Nagoya seem to be the JEF United of J1, they always recruit players from decent clubs and on paper the team looks strong, however, somewhere along the way things seem to go wrong. The arrival of Massimo Ficcadenti towards the end of last season brought about a major change in their style and the off-season has given him more time to implement it. After starting 2019 well (including their customary 3-2 win away to Gamba), they fell apart horribly and were basically saved by other teams being worse than them rather than their own good play. J1 names, Sho Inagaki (Hiroshima), Hiroyuki Abe (Kawasaki) and Ryogo Yamasaki (Shonan) have all come in, while Mateus (Marinos) and Yuki Soma (Kashima) return from loan spells that reflect the club’s recent muddled thinking and strategy. What formation will they play? Will Jo rediscover his scoring touch? Will Ficcadenti come good? So many questions I don’t have an answer to.
Predicted Starting XI:
Langerak
Miyahara-Nakatani-Maruyama-Yoshida
Yonemoto-Inagaki
Matheus-Abe-Soma
Maeda

13. Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo (10th)
Director: Mihailo Petrovic (3rd)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Shunta Tanaka (Osaka Taiiku Univ.) / none
Key Player: Chanathip
Lowdown: I’ll be honest, I don’t actually think they’ll finish this low, rather I just struggled to see them getting out of last year’s end-of-season slump and was more positive about other teams who’ve freshened things up a bit more. I’m a big fan of stability, but, just two senior signings, one from the Brazilian lower leagues, and a new backup ‘keeper doesn’t convince me they’ll improve this year. More realistically they’ll probably end up around 10th again. Other than forward Douglas Oliveira (on loan from Luverdense – no, I’ve never heard of them either), and Thai stopper Kawin Thamsatchanan (on loan from Belgians OH Leuven), the only “new faces” are university graduates, Kaneko, Takamine and Shunta Tanaka who were already at the club last year on designated special player contracts. It’ll be interesting to see how Tanaka, in particular, does as he plays in an area that needed upgrading and he is unique having already been involved with the full Japanese international squad prior to making his JLeague debut. They have an excellent coach and some really good players, but I’m concerned things have gone a touch stale and they have a worrying tendency to completely fall apart in games (see the 5-0 loss at Panasonic Stadium last autumn).
Predicted Starting XI:
Gu
Shindo-Miyazawa-Fukumori
Lucas-Arano-Fukai-Suga
Suzuki-Chanathip
Jay

14. Vegalta Sendai (11th)
Director: Takashi Kiyama (new)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Isaac Cuenca (Tosu) / Katsuya Nagato (Kashima)
Key Player: Isaac Cuenca
Lowdown: 11th place last year was an excellent performance in my books given that they also finished in that spot 12 months previously with, what appeared to be, a much more talented squad. In replacing Susumu Watanabe (in charge since 2014) have they just had their Charlton/Alan Curbishley, West Brom/Steve Clarke moment? On the surface they’ve recruited well in the off-season, Isaac Cuenca (Tosu), Shuhei Akasaki (Kawasaki – 2019 loan to Nagoya) and the Portuguese forward Alexandre Guedes (Vitoria S.C. – loan) look to have given them more bite in attack. Defensively, left-back Katsuya Nagato took his 10 assists (from 38 team goals scored in 2019) to Kashima with Brazilian, Para taking his place. Kyohei Yoshino (Hiroshima) also looks a solid addition, but can the new boys collectively bring the creativity needed to replace Nagato’s freakish assist ratio?
*Injuries to, Isaac Cuenca, Shun Nagasawa and Alexandre Guedes, made me put them down a couple of spots from where I originally thought they’d end up.
Predicted Starting XI:
Slowik
Hachisuka-Simao-Hiraoka-Para
Michibuchi-Yoshino-Matsushita-Sekiguchi
Akasaki-Germain

15. Shonan Bellmare (16th)
Director: Bin Ukishima (2nd, 1st full)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Hidetoshi Miyuki (Yamaguchi) / Daiki Sugioka (Kashima)
Key Player: Tarik Elyounoussi
Lowdown: Anyone who predicted Shonan would end up in the bottom 3 last year got the right result but for the wrong reasons. The Cho Kwi-jae power harassment scandal could, and Tokushima might argue, should have sent them down. It remains to be seen how Bin Ukishima does in charge over the course of an entire season, but there were signs of small improvement towards the tail end of 2019. Promising youngsters Matsuda, Saito, Suzuki and Kaneko are still there, however, as seems to be the case every year, there have been a host of changes in playing personnel in the off season with Sugioka, Yamane and Yamasaki the most noteworthy departures. New arrivals number in the double digits, Norwegian international forward Tarik Elyounoussi from AIK Solna being the most intriguing, and young, on-loan goalkeeper Kosei Tani the most interesting from a Gamba perspective. However, doubts persist over whether this year’s crop are as strong as their predecessors (no such doubts over their kits which are absolute beauties).
Predicted Starting XI:
Tomii
Oiwa-Saka-Ohno
Kobayashi-Saito-Miyuki-Suzuki
Matsuda-Yamada
Elyounoussi

16. Shimizu S-Pulse (12th)
Director: Peter Cklamovski (new)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Teerasil (Muangthong Utd.) / Douglas (Kobe)
Key Player: Kenta Nishizawa
Lowdown: Ange Postecoglou’s former assistant at Marinos, Peter Cklamovski, has made the move to Shimizu and it promises to be a fascinating appointment. I’m looking forward to see how quickly he can get his message across, remembering how Ange had to take Marinos backwards before he could take a giant leap in the right direction. Cklamovski has been massively hamstrung by the sale of leading scorer Douglas to Kobe. Yusuke Goto has come in from Oita, while Thai-forward Teerasil is back in Japan having joined from Muangthong United, but, can they plus Junior Dutra replicate Douglas’ scoring feats?. Kenta Nishizawa remains the great hope down the left wing while efforts have definitely been made to shore up last year’s porous defence with Brazilian goalkeeper Neto Volpi coming in along with his compatriot Valdo, a centre half, as well as Makoto Okazaki (FC Tokyo – loan) and Takashi Kanai (Nagoya – on loan to Tosu in 2019).
Predicted Starting XI:
Neto Volpi
Elsinho-Okazaki-Hwang-Kanai
Renato Augusto-Kawai-Takeuchi
Kaneko-Junior Dutra-Nishizawa

17. Yokohama FC (J2 2nd)
Director: Takahiro Shimotaira (2nd, 1st full)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Takaaki Shichi (Mito) / Kengo Kitazume (Kashiwa)
Key Player: Yusuke Matsuo
Lowdown: Preparing for their 2nd ever season in the top flight, and first since 2007, Yokohama FC continue to make headlines due to their ageing legends in the shape of Kazuyoshi ‘King Kazu’ Miura and Shunsuke Nakamura. However, it is the young crop of attacking talent that observers should focus on. Koki Saito, Katsuhiro Nakayama and Yusuke Matsuo will no doubt keep Japanese and foreign scouts busy throughout the year. For Gamba supporters, it’ll be interesting to see how on-loan forward Kazunari Ichimi does after an excellent season with Kyoto last year. Overall, I feel Yokohama FC have too many veterans and promising youngsters but not enough players at the peak of their powers to ultimately survive at the end of a long, hard campaign.
Predicted Starting XI:
Rokutan
Maguinho-Inoha-Jong-a-Pin-Shichi
Tashiro-Tezuka
Nakayama-Koki Saito-Matsuo
Minagawa

18. Sagan Tosu (15th)
Director: Kim Myung-hwi (2nd, 1st full)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Tomoya Koyamatsu (Kyoto) / Isaac Cuenca (Sendai)
Key Player: Mu Kanazaki
Lowdown: I’ve had Tosu penned to go down for a few seasons now, will this finally be the year they slip through the trapdoor? Only a last minute goal for Matsumoto against Shonan in round 34 saved them from the relegation playoff in 2019 and looking down the squad lists for this year I don’t see a weaker group of players elsewhere. I think most expected Isaac Cuenca to leave, but few would have thought Sendai would be his destination, that must be a bit of a slap in the face. Elsewhere, 3 of last season’s back 4, Mitsumaru, Kanai and Yuji Takahashi have gone and I don’t believe their replacements have the same quality. Takuya Koyamatsu has joined from Kyoto to replace Cuenca and while I like him, he faces an uphill battle in this team. Ex-Gamba player Yuto Uchida has also made the move from Tokushima and it’ll be good to see him get a run at left-back. Look out also for young forward Daichi Hayashi who turns pro this year after netting on his senior debut away to Cerezo last Obon while still a league designated special player.
Predicted Starting XI:
Takaoka
Kobayashi-H.Takahashi-Miya-Uchida
An-Harakawa-Matsuoka-Koyamatsu
Kanazaki-R.Lopez

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