Archive for June 29th, 2022


Sanfrecce shooting sharp

It’s been a while since Sanfrecce Hiroshima were at their trophy-winning peak under Hajime Moriyasu, but Michael Skibbe’s reign has started brightly and he has the Purple Archers looking lean and sharp heading into the second half of the 2022 J1 campaign… (日本語版)

Sanfrecce Hiroshima got off to a slow start this season, drawing their first two games with Shinya Sakoi in charge as Michael Skibbe saw his arrival in the country delayed by covid entry complications.

The German then needed a little time to find his feet after successfully clearing immigration, with his first three matches in the dugout producing another draw (1-1 v. Vissel Kobe) and defeats to FC Tokyo (2-1) and Kawasaki Frontale (2-0).

Since then the team has lost just once in the league, however (2-1 at home to fellow surprise packages Kashiwa Reysol), clicking impressively into gear and sitting seven points behind leaders Yokohama F. Marinos with Wednesday’s game against Gamba Osaka in hand.

A key to Sanfrecce’s impressive form has undoubtedly been Skibbe’s selection consistency, with the starting line-up barely altering from game to game as they have gradually refined their style built upon a solid three-man defence and energetic, proactive approach from the front.

The back three of Tsukasa Shiotani, Hayato Araki, and Sho Sasaki is well-drilled, disciplined, and physical, and they more than matched a robust Avispa Fukuoka in that department during the 3-1 win at the weekend, with Sasaki and Shiotani in particular going toe-to-toe with Juanma and not being intimidated by the Spaniard’s gung-ho approach.

Nassim Ben Khalifa and then Douglas Vieira were equally as willing to butt heads at the other end of the pitch, with the former riling the home team’s back three up expertly in the first half before the latter replaced him for the second period and struck twice to become Sanfrecce’s match-winner for the second game in a row after his late strike against Cerezo Osaka in Round 17.

The Brazilian’s decisive goal in this game was put on a plate for him by Gakuto Notsuda, who has quietly re-established himself as a key player for Sanfrecce after a few years during which it looked like he may never quite achieve the potential he showed when emerging as a highly-rated youngster in the middle of the previous decade.

After performing in fits and starts for his hometown club Notsuda was sent for spells on loan at Albirex Niigata (2016), Shimizu S-Pulse (2017), and Vegalta Sendai (2017 and 2018) as he looked to spark fully into life, but with things still not igniting back at Edion Stadium in 2019 and 2020 he was shipped out again to Ventforet Kofu last year.

It looked like that may be it for his chances in purple, but despite only finding the net twice in J2 he missed just one game all season in Yamanashi and returned to Sanfrecce reinvigorated at the start of this campaign, since when he has asserted himself as a key lieutenant for Skibbe.

His controlled performances in the middle of the park have been supplemented with decisive actions in each of the team’s last three games, with goals in the wins over Nagoya Grampus and Cerezo Osaka, and as well as the assist for Douglas Vieira’s first goal against Avispa it was also Notsuda’s dogged pressing that enabled Sanfrecce to open the scoring in the 28th minute at Best Denki Stadium after he won possession from Hiroyuki Mae before Ben Khalifa teed up Makoto Mitsuta to drill home.

The fact a goal was never in doubt once the ball was rolled into Mitsuta’s path says everything about how much of an impact the 22-year-old has made in a sensational debut season, and if he continues to play with such confidence, verve, and ruthlessness in the final third then it surely won’t be long before European clubs come calling. It is still early days, but his impact so far is reminiscent of Yoshinori Muto at FC Tokyo in 2015 and Kaoru Mitoma at Kawasaki Frontale in 2020.

Knowing they have such talent in the final third obviously gives Sanfrecce encouragement to force the issue and look to make things happen in games. They certainly started crisply and on the front foot against Avispa, moving the ball forward slickly and at pace and pressing aggressively from the front to keep Fukuoka on the back foot, and the consistency in Skibbe’s team selection means the players share a clear understanding of each other’s movements and intentions when in possession.

Even after getting caught out for Avispa’s equaliser Hiroshima remained calm and stuck to their task, and it is clear the players have a real unity of purpose and have bought fully into the way Skibbe wants them to play.

“It’s a fantastic achievement and I have given the payers tomorrow off – I think they deserve that after today’s performance,” the manager said of his team’s fourth consecutive league victory.

“Our next opponent Gamba Osaka has a game tomorrow, so we will relax and watch their match in order to make sure we are fully prepared.”

That doesn’t bode well for a Gamba side that hasn’t adjusted quite so well to their first year under new management, and Tomohiro Katanosaka’s men will need to be at their very best if they are to avoid becoming the latest side to be struck down by the Purple Archers.

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June 2022