Are the current top two going to be there for the rest of the season?
Quite probably. It has taken only 10 games for this situation to arise, but both teams have an abundance of attacking talent that is too much for most teams. Most people, myself included, had Gamba running away with the league instead of Kobe but the fact remains that the majority of people expected both the Kansai teams to be the top two. Gamba have just recently started to click and are starting to stamp their authority on teams from the off, with Sho Kurata being particularly impressive. Vissel have been inspired by Popo (when he isn’t being sent off for reckless challenges) and Mazinho and can get goals from all positions. It would take a brave man or woman to bet against these two teams occupying the the promotion spots come November.
Are we going to see another ‘mini-league’ at the bottom of the table?
Putting on my biased FC Gifu hat, I hope so. Gifu currently sit bottom but despite their horrific start, they are only one point behind Thespa Kusatsu Gunma and within striking distance of Roasso Kumamoto. Thespa have lost their last 5 games and look a woeful team, while it is a little bit difficult to judge Roasso because of the sheer number of injuries to important players of theirs. When they have a full compliment they have the tools to stay clear of the bottom two but it just shows how threadbare their squad is. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that teams like Giravnaz Kitakyushu & Gainare Tottori will get dragged in. Get that #relegationdogfight hashtag ready.
What is the deal with Kyoto Sanga?
If only there was an easy answer to this question. They have the talent to be right at the cutting edge of this division (see their 4-1 win against Vissel Kobe) but they are also capable of pulling out mind-bogglingly stupid results (see their 2-1 home defeat against Tokushima Vortis). Up front they are loaded. Kazuki Hara, Takumi Miyayoshi, Yuya Kubo and Kazushi Mitsuhira represent a very potent attacking threat. It is at the back where concentration lapses have hurt them. Exhibit A is Vortis’ second goal against them, absolutely shocking defending. Summer signing Daiki Tamori & Kudo have to play well in their holding midfield roles and help protect the defence if Kyoto’s attacking plan is to work fully. If they can cut the mistakes out, they are a match for anyone on their day, and maybe….just maybe….they can catch their Kansai rivals at the top of the table.
How has Marijan Pusnik turned around the fortunes of Avispa Fukuoka?
For starters, he has made them more organized than the ramshackle unit they were at the end of last season. They brought in ‘keeper Mizutani from Kyoto and while he isn’t a top class custodian, he has brought authority to the defence. It is worth noting that Avispa are unbeaten when Mizutani has started. Also, the signing of Jun Kanakubo on loan from Omiya Ardija has given them a little bit of class that has been lacking in the middle of the park. Hisashi Jogo, one of my favourite players in the division, has been utilized well, often playing off the main striker and whether that striker is the experienced Sakata or the young Ishizu it means that Fukuoka always have a threat. They are a way away from being mentioned in promotion talk, but the fact that they have bounced back after last season’s woeful finish is testament to the mentality that their Slovenian coach has brought in.
Are V-Varen Nagasaki genuine play-off contenders?
No, not really. Their start has been stunning, no doubt riding the wave of euphoria that comes with winning the JFL and starting life in J.League proper. They have done well to take advantage of this positivity but they were also savvy in the off-season when picking people to come in and help them for their debut campaign. Koichi Sato scored goals for Gifu, Sai Kanakubo has been a revelation in midfield and Kohei Yamada is like a throwback to the days of old fashioned wingers. Shouma Mizunaga & Kenta Furube have made the step up from the JFL look easy. Having said all this I expect them to hit the wall sometime soon, mainly because that is what usually happens to promoted sides, once their new-ness has worn off and teams figure out how to play against them, but they have the pieces to finish comfortably in mid-table.