ACL analysis: how Sydney FC can succeed in Saitama

​Sydney FC could exploit the Urawa Red Diamonds on the counter attack which will suit the Sky Blues’ game plan on Wednesday night, Goal Japan’s Chief Editor Takashi Sugiyama says.

Despite still being in pre-season for the 2016 J.League, Urawa Red Diamonds should have a settled line-up when they host the Hyundai A-League club on Wednesday evening at the impressive Saitama Stadium. 

Coach Mihailo Petrovic has been in charge at Urawa since 2012, while the club that finished third last season have not made too many changes to their squad since the 2015 campaign ended.

Urawa Red Diamonds’ ‘respect’ for Sydney FC

But according to Sugiyama, Sydney could exploit the Reds on the counter attack. 

The Big Issue

Petrovic’s penchant for the high press and aggressive football has been questioned during Urawa’s pre-season training camp, with some in Japan’s media claiming the Reds’ defence is too fragile.

But Petrovic remains resolute.

Urawa Red Diamonds

“The coach has no intention to change their style,” Sugiyama told Goal Australia.

“So they have tried to make their pressing better. They always want to play aggressive football.”

Another concern for the Saitama Stadium-based club is their reputation for being bridesmaids in Japan.

Urawa haven’t won a league title since 2006, although they were crowned champions of 2015’s first stage as the J.League went back to a split-season competition last year.

The Reds also lost the Emperor’s Cup final to Gamba Osaka, so perhaps Sydney can exploit an element of nervousness when the pressure increases on Wednesday.

The Danger Man

Urawa only have two foreign players in their squad in Slovenian pair Zlatan Ljubijankic and Branko Ilic.

Zlatan Ljubijankic of Urawa Red Diamonds competes for the ball with Yang Sang-Min of Suwon Samsung in the ACL.

Petrovic has generally relied upon a strong core of Japanese players, and Yosuke Kashiwagi is Sugiyama’s pick for the Reds’ best player.

The 28-year-old central midfielder scored five goals last season and set up another eight.

“He provides good passes,” Sugiyama said. “His left foot could be dangerous in set-pieces.”

 The number 10 has played over 200 league games for Urawa after joining from Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2010 but has only made five appearances for Japan’s national team.

Why could Urawa win?

Sugiyama reckons the J.League club should settle back into competitive football pretty quickly due to retaining a similar squad from last year.

Petrovic’s two major recruits since 2015 are defenders Ilic – signed from Astana – and Wataru Endo, who was tracked by a number of J.League clubs before leaving Shonan Bellmare for Urawa.

“They kept the same players as last year. Their coach has not changed either,” Sugiyama said.”The players understand how to play under Petrovic.”

Urawa boss Mihailo Petrovic.

Speaking about Endo, Sugiyama added: “He can bring stability to the team.”

Why could Urawa lose?

Petrovic’s side were the second-highest scorers in the J.League last season with 69 goals across the two phases – four behind champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

But Urawa conceded 40 goals across 34 games, to end the season with only the fifth-best defence.

“Their offence is good but sometimes their defence is fragile,” Sugiyama said.

“That is why they couldn’t win the J.League last year.”

The additions of Ilic and Endo should strengthen Urawa’s defensive set-up but Sydney’s preference to sit back and counterattack could make the Reds the ideal opponent for Graham Arnold’s men.