Albirex Niigata season preview: J2 champions ready for top flight fight

Albirex Niigata season preview: J2 champions ready for top flight fight

Albirex Niigata’s 14-year stint in J1 came to an end in 2017, but they are back after five years in the second division wilderness. What are Albi bringing to the top flight?

Last season

Ever since being relegated to J2, Albirex slowly climbed the table of the league year-by-year and it culminated in a spectacular 2022 campaign. They were nothing short of brilliant, leading the second division in goals scored and goals conceded as they claimed the title.

Goal for 2023

Albirex Niigata have chosen to mostly bring back last season’s team and rely on the talent that got them into J1. That’s not a bad bet considering how wildly successful they were in 2022 and it is illustrative of a club that is trying to build for the long-term instead of chasing an immediate splash. That means the goal is obviously to stay out of the bottom and book another season in J1, but do so with the core they are bringing with them to continue the build.

What to watch for

This squad's success in 2022 was in how well they worked as a team. Nobody hit double digits in goals, but three players scored nine goals, while Ryotaro Ito had 11 assists in a perfect role that highlighted how good the team was from back to front. They obviously defended excellently as well and conceded well below a goal per game as all 11 players played a selfless, two-way style.

The question now will be whether that translates to J1. Albirex are betting that teamwork and cohesion are the way forward, rather than trying to integrate new pieces on the fly in a more competitive league. Considering how good they were a year ago, there’s plenty of reason to think that it will be successful.

With plenty of experienced talent in the team — from Socceroos midfielder Thomas Deng to former Gamba Osaka product Takahiro Ko — this is a recently-promoted side but one that should not shy away from the challenges of the next level.