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Monday, 4 May 2009

Pixie and Grampus Maturing into Championship Contenders

After a hesitant start to the season, Nagoya have now climbed up to third in the table. Despite a grueling schedule, that has seen them play four ACL games in addition to nine league games over the last eight and a half weeks (and two more games over the next six days).

There are two main reasons for this success. The first is the continuing improvement in manager Dragan (Pixie) Stojkovic. Our opponents were able to counter the predictable 4-4-2 formation that was employed exclusively over the opening few games. A quick adjustment to adopt a 3-5-2 formation during games, or from the start in some games, has seen he team regain the initiative. In addition to being less predictable, these switched in formation have allowed the team to utilize Akira Takeuchi (one of the successes from last year) effectively. So, even though the team has been without two important players for the last few games; Keiji Tamada for the last four, and Magnum for the last three, the team has three wins and draw from those games.

The other factor in the team's rise up the league table, and unbeaten run in the ACL, is its increased control of possession in games. This was particularly evident against the Newcastle Jets and against Sanga. Although they tried to keep possession in some of the early games, they did not do so very effectively. That has changed, and means that they have been able look comfortable without have to expend too much energy. Although this has led to some less than exciting performances, with two of it most influential players out injured, that is unavoidable. It will put the team in shape when Tamada and Magnum return. Just as teams in Europe benefit from playing in the Champions League and other European competitions, so J.League teams seem to be learning from their experience in the much more grueling (in terms of travel) ACL. The four teams atop the league table all have ACL experience.

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