The 2020 season of Meiji Yasuda J1 League was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic shortly after the opening day, on February 21. More than four months later, it is finally time to restart. The first matches will show how each team make use of the break and how their season will shape up.
Defending champions Yokohama F.Marinos, who were defeated by Gamba Osaka in the opening match, will meet Urawa Reds away. Expectations are high for Ado Onaiwu and the other attackers. Meanwhile, Urawa, who have beaten Shonan Bellmare 3-2 in the opener, put their faith in new striker Leonardo, who is expected to play an important role this week as well.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima, who currently sit at the top of the table after beating Kashima Antlers 3-0, will travel to face Vissel Kobe. While young players such as Tsukasa Morisaki showed continued improvement following a breakthrough season last year, new attackers Douglas Vieira and Leandro Pereira also impressed positively. As their defense led by Keisuke Osako is very solid, winning two in a row seems like a realistic goal. Their opponents, Vissel Kobe, drew with Yokohama FC in February. Thanks to Andrés Iniesta, they were creating a fair amount of chances, but as they scored only once, clearly it is the quality of finishing needs to be improved. The team’s first scorer of the season Kyogo Furuhashi, joined by Douglas (who faces his former club) could be key players.
Newly promoted Kashiwa Reysol host FC Tokyo after comfortably beating Consadole Sapporo on the opening day. While the four goals against Sapporo proved that their attacking trio of Olunga, Ataru Esaka and Cristiano is one the most powerful combo in the league, Nelsinho might need to improve the defensive package, that conceded two goals late in the game. FC Tokyo also has three points from topping Shimizu S-Pulse 3-1. Brazilian trio Diego Oliveria, Adailton and Leandro all scored, and their performance could directly influence the outcome of this match as well.
Another promoted side, Yokohama FC, await Consadole Sapporo at home. They showed focused defense against powerful Vissel Kobe on the last match-day and snatched a precious 1-1 draw away. To seize the first win of the season, it is essential that both youngsters, such as Itsuki Seko, and veterans, such as Shunsuke Nakamura, display a top performance. Sapporo started the season with a defeat against Kashiwa Reysol. Although they need to work on their defense which conceded four, they created many chances toward the end of the game. They are counting on their attack-minded football to try to get the first three points.
The Osaka derby between Gamba Osaka and Cerezo Osaka is one of the most interesting matches of the week. Gamba topped defending champions Yokohama F.Marinos by smartly taking advantage of their weakness. Meanwhile, Cerezo also have won the first game, beating Oita 1-0. Last season’s best defense in the league will try to keep a clean sheet for the second match in a row. Beyond their rivalry, it could be a big game for Gamba’s Yasuhito Endo. If he makes an appearance, we will witness a historic moment of him breaking the J1 appearance record with 632 matches.
Shimizu S-Pulse will host Nagoya Grampus. Although they lost to FC Tokyo in February, Peter Cklamovski’s new style of football could be seen and new signing Teerasil Dangda was in a fine form. The visiting team drew 1-1 with Vegalta Sendai, but overall left a positive impression, with new attacker Hiroyuki Abe scoring a goal. Strikers, such as like Ryogo Yamasaki, need to step up to replace Jô who left the club during the break.
Oita Trinita will face Sagan Tosu at home. In the opening match, they could not beat Cerezo’s defense and lost 1-0. Since they had more shots than the opponents, the quality of finishing could be important. New signing Kei Chinen might be able to solve that problem. Tosu picked up a point away from home thanks to a goalless draw with Kawasaki. The team plays well-organized football under manager Kim Myung-hwi. While young players like Fuchi Honda and Daiki Matsuoka are developing quickly, the veteran duo of Ryang Yong-gi and Yohei Toyoda brings a positive mentality to the team.
Kawasaki Frontale, who want to win back the title this season, will meet Kashima Antlers at home. As poor finishing led to a draw versus Tosu and Yu Kobayashi is unavailable due to injury, strong performance from Leandro Damião might be needed for the first three points of the season. Kashima lost 3-0 to Hiroshima. The break was a good opportunity to improve the team because the squad went through a drastic makeover under new manager Zago this year. The work of the experienced manager is a key for their comeback.
Shonan Bellmare welcome Vegalta Sendai to their home stadium. Although they lost to Urawa, their tireless performance suggested a comeback of the “Shonan Style” football. With new signings Naoki Ishihara and Akito Fukuta already working well with the rest of the team, we can expect another aggressive display. Sendai drew 1-1 with Nagoya. Their star players Simão Mate is injured, and Takuma Nishimura who returned to the club during the break will lead their attack.