J.League Preview: Urawa out to respond, Kashima face test
Urawa lost at Cerezo Osaka last weekend to enable Kashima to cut their lead to four points, but the reaction of the Reds' players has left goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa convinced they have what it takes to lift the club’s first J.League trophy since 2006.
"At the end of the game, there wasn't one player moping about," said the Japan international, who set a J.League record of seven successive clean sheets earlier this season.
"Some teams can let a setback affect them, they can fall apart, but everyone here is saying positive things and looking ahead, and that's definitely a good thing. We're focused on [Tokushima]."
Tokushima have lost five matches in succession, conceding 16 and failing to score in the process. They are 14 points adrift of safety.
Midfielders Shoma Doi and Yasushi Endo have been central to Kashima winning three on the bounce, but coach Toninho Cerezo has urged his side, who have a challenging October, to take one game at a time.
"To win the title is something that every team aims for, and to get close is a good thing," said the former Brazil midfielder. "But right now we must concentrate on Gamba. It's too early to say today that we can win the title."
Gamba have posted five straight victories to sprint into fourth and within seven points of the summit – a run indebted to the strike tandem of Takashi Usami, a 22-year-old who spent time on loan at Bayern Munich, and Brazilian sharpshooter Patric.
"It doesn’t always come off," Patric said of his partnership with Usami. "But when it does we’re unplayable."
Gamba did nevertheless lose 5-0 on their last visit to Kashima.
Third-placed Kawasaki Frontale will look to Yoshito Okubo for goals at mid-table Albirex Niigata.
A title challenge may be beyond Sagan Tosu and Tokyo, but they still have designs on a top-three finish and the AFC Champions League qualification prize it offers.
Sagan are at home to Yokohama F Marinos, who have little to play for, while Tokyo attempt to extend their impressive 14-game undefeated run at relegation-threatened Vegalta Sendai.
Tokyo have posted back-to-back 4-0 victories, with Edu and Yoshinori Muto netting three times apiece in those.
Former Germany striker Cacau has helped Cerezo vacate the drop zone since returning to the starting XI.
Next up for Cerezo is a visit to the team who have taken their place in the bottom three, Shimizu S-Pulse.
Elsewhere, Vissel Kobe and Kashiwa Reysol are at home to Nagoya Grampus and Sanfrecce Hiroshima respectively in mid-table match-ups.
In the weekend's remaining fixture, Ventforet Kofu host Omiya Ardija.