Frankfurt – Two of Japan's top contenders for a creative midfield berth at next summer's FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil can expect to face off in the Bundesliga when Eintracht Frankfurt play host to 1. FC Nürnberg on Matchday 9: Takashi Inui and Hiroshi Kiyotake.
Reshuffle at Frankfurt
Inui, one of the stars of Frankfurt’s 2012/13 campaign, has had a somewhat quieter beginning to the current campaign as the club juggle domestic and European football. Kiyotake has also found life more difficult this season in a struggling Nürnberg side, and both will be looking to inspire their team to a welcome three points in the Commerzbank Arena.
Inui has made five league starts in 2012/13 and, while yet to score or directly lay on a goal himself, is showing signs of getting back to the kind of form that propelled him into the limelight over the course of the previous campaign, when newly-promoted Frankfurt took the Bundesliga by storm, winning their first four games and eventually finishing sixth.
He has for the most part been deployed further out on the left so far in the current campaign, a position he made his own last season. The summer arrival of Tranquillo Barnetta has expanded coach Armin Veh's options on the flanks, but may also have disrupted Inui’s rhythm somewhat. After eight games last year, the 25-year-old signed from VfL Bochum in July 2012, had three goals and three assists; this year he is yet to register in either column.
Nürnberg in disarray
After a slow start, the Eagles are finding their feet in 2013/14 after a four-game unbeaten streak, but the same cannot be said of their opponents this weekend. Nürnberg will take to the pitch at the Commerzbank Arena under caretaker coach Roger Prinzen, given a shotgun promotion from the Under-23s after Der Club parted company with head coach Michael Wiesinger in the wake of the 5-0 home loss to Hamburger SV on Matchday 8.
That marked the low point of a terrible start to the season, in which the Franconians, although fairly competitive - drawing five of their eight games to date - have not managed a single victory, scoring just nine goals. Their usually reliable defence even looked all at sea against HSV, with experienced players Per Nilsson and Raphael Schäfer succumbing to costly errors.
A virtually automatic first-team pick, as he has been since his arrival from J-League side Cerezo Osaka, 23-year-old Kiyotake has been doing his part for the cause, chipping in with stunning goals against Werder Bremen on Matchday 7 and Hertha Berlin, and he has also teed up 34 scoring chances all-told for his colleagues. However, those have only resulted in one direct assist, a somewhat meagre return in comparison with his final tally of eleven in 2012/13.
That said, his team's form so far has hardly been conducive to expansive attacking football and should the hoped-for improvement kick-in, the ambitious and increasingly coveted Kiyotake seems certain to have a defining part in the process. Ably supported now in midfield by experienced compatriot and national team captain Makoto Hasebe, Kiyotake is eager to help Nürnberg start turning the corner against Frankfurt this weekend. Inui, naturally enough, will have other ideas.
Take another look at Kiyotake's awesome free-kick against Hertha on Matchday 2, courtesy of the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: