Yoichiro Kakitani and Hotaru Yamaguchi are known as Yoon Jung-Hwan's team's key players but two others could have equally important parts to play
Cerezo Osaka’s pre-season began on January 12. They kicked off training at their home facilities in Maishima, Osaka before the first day of a training camp in Bangkok, Thailand on January 18. There, they are undergoing two training sessions a day and on January, the last day of the camp, they will play a friendly match against Bangkok Glass FC for this year’s Singha Yanmar Cup. That will be the first opportunity to preview manager Yoon Jung-Hwan’s structure for the team this season, and the players’ battle to impress him could be intense.
The coach has already dropped hints of a 4-4-2 formation during mini games in Maishima. If that is the case, the biggest talking point will be which players will be preferred for the roles of centre forward and withdrawn striker.
Four players are in contention to be the centre forward: the captain Yoichiro Kakitani as well as Kenyu Sugimoto, who scored 14 goals last season to help them to promotion, Ryuji Sawakami, who established his starting place towards the end of the campaign, and Ricardo Santos, who didn’t make much of an impression despite being a foreign import.
There is a little concern about Kakitani’s condition after almost half a year on the sidelines with an ankle injury but expectations are high for Sugimoto, who will definitely be prominent up front for the team this season.
Yoon’s strategy at Sagan Tosu of using Yohei Toyoda, a tall striker, as the focal point of the attack worked well. And Sugimoto is not only tall but his technique is even better; he is also speedy and more versatile, as evidenced by his previous use as a full-back. Sugimoto is a very flexible player and, if he can develop his heading and strength to Toyoda’s level, could become one of the top forwards in the J-League.
A good relationship with the withdrawn striker will be vital, as Sugimoto needs to be provided with the right service. Last season, players like Shohei Kiyohara, Kunimitsu Sekiguchi and Noriyuki Sakemoto filled this role, but we should also watch out for Kota Mizunuma, the newcomer to Cerezo. He arrived, along with Yoon, from Sagan Tosu and understands Yoon’s system much better than anyone else.
“Cerezo has many good players who came from their academy,” Mizunuma said. “By getting a player from outside like me, if I can be a positive factor to the team to make the next step up, it would be my pleasure.”
There are high expectations for Cerezo’s two star players, Kakitani and Hotaru Yamaguchi, but this season the club’s success may depend just as much on Sugimoto and Mizunuma who are putting up a strong challenge to take over the key positions in the team. They are two performers to watch out for.