2018 season begins tomorrow for Cerezo Osaka when they play the Fuji Xerox Super Cup against J.League champions Kawasaki Frontale. After winning the Emperor’s Cup on New Year’s Day, the players had only a short holiday and went back to training on January 15. They held training camps in Thailand and Miyazaki and played 4 training matches in total.

Overall, Cerezo’s preseason activity and performance were apparently good, as one writer said that, compared to Yokohama F. Marinos whose training camp site was just 3-minute away from Cerezo’s, he felt they “will do it this year too” on Soccer Digest Web. The reasons behind his prediction include Cerezo’s success in having the players stay at the club and acquiring competitive players.

 

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Cerezo signed 10 new players including youngsters and experienced ones during the window.

GK: Takumi Nagaishi (Fukuoka University)
DF: Eiichi Katayama (Fagiano Okayama)
MF: Atomu Tanaka (HJK Helsinki), Chaowat (Bangkok Glass, loan), Naoya Uozato (Kwansei Gakuin University)
FW: Toshiyuki Takagi (Urawa Reds), Yang Dong-Hyun (Pohang Steelers), Mizuki Ando (NIAS High School), Motohiko Nakajima (Cerezo Osaka U-18), Hiroto Yamada (Cerezo Osaka U-18)

These signings give Cerezo more options they can take during a game and increase competition in the team. For example, Yang Dong-Hyun may threaten Sugimoto’s established place and wide midfielders like Kiyotake need to prove themselves better than Takagi and Atomu to keep having their regular spots. As they have more games than last year, players who fail to convince Yoon will also have opportunities to change the manager’s mind later on.

You may get an impression that there are many (or too many?) attackers in the incoming players list, but that’s exactly what the manager intended. I mean Yoon wanted and acquired more attacking players, who have different strengths from existing players, to strengthen their offense. For example, Takagi can dribble into the box himself and that’s his distinct skill Yoon expects from him.

One of surprising news during the preseason was that Ricardo Santos, now registered just as Ricardo, stayed at the club. That he would leave at the end of the last season was arguably a common understanding, especially after Cerezo acquired Yang, but he desired to stay and keep playing in Japan, at Cerezo Osaka, despite receiving an offer (or offers) from other club, according to El Golazo writer Hisashi Oda. I think this might suggest that Cerezo’ s transfer activity wasn’t so successful, but anyway, I want him to show that he can do well this season (but unfortunately he has to be outside of the pitch for 3 months due to a broken hand).

Among new players who just started their professional career, Mizuki Ando is a player to watch. He had been taught by famous coach Tadatoshi Komine who helped numerous players, including Kazuya Yamamura and Yoshito Okubo, become professional, and deemed as one of the best strikers in his generation. Although he will first play at the U-23 team, I expect him to soon establish his place there and get a ticket to play for the first team. Needless to say, I also have high hopes for other young forwards such as Rei Yonezawa, and Nakajima and Yamada who were promoted from the academy.

Meanwhile, Cerezo didn’t reinforce their defense during the preseason. Although Eiichi Katayama, firstly announced as a forward but likely to play as a fullback, may be able to play at several defensive positions, they might need more signings in defensive midfield and defense. In both positions, regular players are pretty good (Yamaguchi and Souza, Jonjic and Kimoto or Yamashita respectively) but the team may need more serious competitors within the squad. Having said that, signing a player who can create a serous competition but accept being on the bench must be very difficult, I suppose.

 

Fixtures

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This year, Cerezo have to compete for 4 titles: J1 League, Levain Cup, Emperor’s Cup, and AFC Champions League. Playing the international competition is very tough, so that’s why they signed many players this winter. Soon after playing the Fuji Xerox Super Cup tomorrow, they travel to South Korea to play the ACL group stage match against Jeju United on February 14. They have another ACL match against Guangzhou Evergrande one week later, and then the J1 League opener against Yokohama F. Marinos takes place on February 25. So hard from the beginning.

Looking at the fixtures in April, the players have to play 8 games, namely 2 games a week. That 5 out of 8 games take place in Osaka, including Suita, may be a “blessing in disguise.” 2018 is the World Cup year and there are no games to be played from late May to mid July, but still it’s very hard for the players.

What do Cerezo aim for this season? Club president Minoru Tamada mentioned 2 season goals in a press conference: to finish the season in the third place or higher, which means to get qualified for the ACL, and to challenge for all of 4 titles. After winning 2 cup titles last year, I believe many supporters wish for the league victory this year. Captain Hotaru Yamaguchi agrees with it, saying “personally I want to win the league” on Web Sportiva.

But we should not also forget this: As Tamada also said in the press conference, Cerezo have a bad habit which must be overcome this season – A tendency to play a bad season in the next year they spend a good one. Let’s remember what happened in 2014, the next year they finished the season in the third place. First and foremost, they need to break this bad habit this year.