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At the Halfway Point: Club-by-club check-ins after 17 matchweeks

Mon, 20 Jun 2022 - 21:00 JST
At the Halfway Point: Club-by-club check-ins after 17 matchweeks

The 2022 Meiji Yasuda J1 League season has reached its halfway point, with 17 matchweeks in the books and 17 still yet to be played.

How has each club fared so far and what do they have to do in the second half of the season?

Yokohama F·Marinos

The Tricolor find themselves top of the Meiji Yasuda J1 League table midway through the campaign and to get there they’ve had to make significant changes from last season.

After losing co-Top Scorer Daizen Maeda to Celtic, manager Kevin Muscat has done a splendid job reimagining the team’s attack, which has 32 goals already and seven players contributing multiple tallies.

Marinos are a dynamic team, a handful for any defense, and arrive at Matchweek 18 with the wind of three consecutive wins filling their sails.

While they sit only a point above their nearest title challengers in Kashima and Kawasaki, they have already beaten both this season in dominant fashion.

Kashima Antlers

The most successful team in J.League history is chasing a ninth title, and there’s plenty of reason to believe they can add that historic piece of silverware to their trophy case.

Ayase Ueda has established himself as the best striker in the league this season and the attack only figures to get better once Ryotaro Araki returns to the team.

Yuma Suzuki has been a major double threat, topping the league in assists and adding six goals to the Antlers cause, but the defense has had its shaky moments. Improving there will be key for Kashima to see out another title challenge.

Kawasaki Frontale

After so much success for Toru Oniki’s men, and so many talents departing to Europe, Frontale were bound to have an adjustment at some point.

This year has been challenging on both ends of the pitch. It’s been a slow start to the season for MVP striker Leandro Damião and new recruit Chanathip Songkrasin, and the team has had particularly rough performances in defense, including at home against Cerezo Osaka (1-4) and Shonan Bellmare (0-4).

Nevertheless, a side that’s won four of the last five titles is still just a point off first and that’s a testament to just how good they’ve been when everything clicks.

A fit Jesiel back in the team will be a massive lift for the backline and more reps with a new-look strikeforce should see them only get better.

A disappointing AFC Champions League departure in the group stage could perhaps be a benefit as well, as Frontale now have a single-minded focus on domestic football and a drive to finish the season on top of J1 once again.

Kashiwa Reysol

The big surprise of the season’s first half is Kashiwa, who were fighting relegation in 2021 but have been nothing short of spectacular this year. They’re only four points off the top thanks to a defense that has allowed the third-fewest goals in the league and whenever the back line is beat, Kenta Matsumoto has been well up to the task in goal.

Reysol’s attack has held up their end of the bargain too, with young star Mao Hosoya and Matheus Sávio playing brilliantly. If the two of them can continue to play like one of the best combinations in the league, there’s no reason Reysol cannot fight it out at the top.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

The Viola looked like the midtable team they were a year ago, but 13 points from their last five matches have propelled them all the way up to fifth place.

Michael Skibbe’s new system looks formidable, with the defense the second-best in the league and Hyato Araki emerging as one of the best defenders in J1 in the center of the Hiroshima backline.

Sanfrecce hoped to move into the top half of the table this season and they now look on track for just that. The question now is how high can they go? With their fabulous defense, they’re one reliable scorer away from being a team nobody wants to face.

Cerezo Osaka

The first order of business for the Sakura each season is being the best in their own city, and Cerezo have shown themselves to be that so far. Their attack has been dangerous despite there not being a standout goalscorer in the team; seven different players have scored multiple goals this season.

A huge statement win at Kawasaki shows that if Cerezo can continue to consistently get production from all over the pitch, they can realistically target a run at even higher aims, like a return to continental competition.

F.C.Tokyo

It’s been an up-and-down season for the capital club, who one minute seem to be on a five-match unbeaten streak and the next have a forgettable outing like a 5-1 loss in Fukuoka.

New manager Albert Puig has instilled a laudable style of play — one that is both disciplined and attractive — and their defense has been their saving grace, much like some of the teams just above them in the table.

They will need more in the final third going forward, though, with injuries and form concerns limiting their ceiling. A healthy Leandro back in the team could go some way to adding some complexity to an attack that seems all too straightforward to stop at times.

Sagan Tosu

Sagan have managed the manager change to Kenta Kawai well enough and remain a very difficult team to beat.

Their trademark defense is still good — albeit not as good as it was last season with Eduardo marshaling the backline — and the attack has picked up the slack and performed well.

No team in J1 has lost fewer matches than Tosu, but no team has drawn more than them either and they need to turn some of those into wins to climb the table.

Kyoto Sanga

It’s been an excellent return to the top flight for Kyoto. Like any other newly promoted team, the first priority is to stay up and Sanga have been well clear of the drop zone from the start of the season.

Much of that is owed to Peter Utaka, who has scored eight goals — a mark good for second-most in the league.

As long as he’s fit, Sanga will seemingly always be a dangerous, clinical side, but they’d benefit from giving the 38-year-old striker some help. Only two other Sanga players have scored multiple goals this season.

Nagoya Grampus

It’s been a shaky first half of the season for Nagoya and the transition to Kenta Hasegawa has come with mixed results.

The new boss hasn’t maintained the excellent defense of years past under Massimo Ficcadenti and their 14 goals scored are second-fewest in the league.

There’s room for improvement on both ends as Hasegawa implements his system, but they’ve also shown some impressive mettle against top teams and have been stellar in the J.League YBC Levain Cup.

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Consadole started the season with an astounding six straight draws, displaying their ability to manage close games, including against opposition like Yokohama F·Marinos.

Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to use that ability as often as they’d like because their defense has struggled mightily since then.

They’ve conceded 31 goals, five more than the next leakiest club, and despite playing some admirable attacking stuff as always, they will need to sort out the backline to ensure things do not slip out of hand.

Avispa Fukuoka

Despite sitting next to them in the table, Avipsa are practically on the opposite end of the spectrum from Consadole, with the league’s best defense keeping them competitive despite a league-worst attack.

Shigetoshi Hasebe’s team is extraordinarily well organized and work together as one with incredible cohesion without the ball.

The question is if they can do the same with the ball and where the goals will come from in this team. Lukian was signed in the winter to be the go-to goalscorer, but he’s tallied twice so far.

If he gets going, Avispa could fly well into the top half of the table, but they’re also only three points clear of the drop zone. If they continue to struggle to score, and the defense takes a hit, they could find themselves in trouble.

Urawa Reds

There have been much better seasons for Urawa, who recently snapped a nine-match winless streak — though it was one that contained an astonishing eight draws.

The good news for the Reds is that they rarely look outgunned in a game, have a defense that concedes less than a goal per match, and have a squad with tons of individual talent.

The bad news is that they only have three wins through the first half of the season and are just two points from the drop.

One would expect last season’s J1 Manager of the Year Ricardo Rodríguez and the Reds will rebound over the next 17 games, but particularly as AFC Champions League commitments come back into view it will be a stretch with little margin for error.

Júbilo Iwata

It’s difficult to make the leap to the top flight, but Júbilo have demonstrated a capacity to remain back in the division they’ve won three times.

They’re not in the relegation zone and have played well against some of the league’s best teams, but the 26 goals they’ve conceded is the second-most in J1.

Goalkeeper Ryuki Miura has also made the second-most saves in the league (51) which indicates things could have been much worse — something Júbilo cannot afford if they want to stay up.

Gamba Osaka

It’s been a disappointing season for Gamba, whose rebuilding effort under Tomohiro Katanosaka will take some time.

This team is clearly still searching for its identity on both sides of the pitch but it’s been an especially disappointing return from Gamba’s strikers, who are not among the team’s highest scorers (three for midfielders Kosuke Onose and Dawhan, who missed all of February and March).

The Nerazzurri are currently facing a three-match losing streak but they’ve also had some solid performances this year, including a 2-2 draw with defending champions Frontale.

To see more of that, the team will need to get behind Katanosaka’s philosophy, get their strikers involved in front of goal, and perhaps play more matches not impacted by a red card (four of their 17 have been).

Shimizu S-Pulse

The promotion of Júbilo this season restarted the Shizuoka Derby and S-Pulse walked away winners, much to the delight of their orange-clad fans.

Unfortunately, that was the high point of the S-Pulse season so far as they’ve found themselves fighting to stay away from the bottom for the fourth year running.

S-Pulse have done a pretty good job up front, scoring enough to keep them up if the defense were reliable but the backline has not been thus far.

Shuichi Gonda is one of the best goalkeepers in the league and has a J1-leading 59 saves already; if the defense can tighten up enough to give him a breather, Thiago Santana and the attack will ensure Shimizu spend another season in the top flight.

Shonan Bellmare

Bellmare are on their fifth straight year of battling to stay away from the bottom so a relegation fight is nothing new. Their standing isn’t necessarily reflective of their recent play, though, which has been a delight to watch.

Shonan have scored eight of their 15 goals in the last four matches, which include wins against Vissel Kobe and F.C.Tokyo at home, as well as a shocking 4-0 win in Kawasaki against the defending champions.

Things seem to be clicking but now it’s crucial to keep the run going and to diversify their attacking output. Shuto Machino has been nothing short of superb with seven goals and Daiki Sugioka’s four assists are tied for second in J1.

If they can bring more energy into the attack, as they have in the most recent stretch of wins, Bellmare have to feel confident about spending a sixth straight season in J1.

Vissel Kobe

There is no getting around it: It has been a shocking year in Kobe, especially for a team that had their best-ever league campaign in 2021 when they finished third.

Vissel only have two wins through 17 matches and just three players with multiple goals, with Yoshinori Muto leading the team with three and Andrés Iniesta right behind him with two. There simply has not been enough support in attack, while the defense has proven shaky, landing them bottom of the table at the halfway point.

The good news for Vissel is the squad is unquestionably strong and there have been some good performances since Miguel Ángel Lotina took over, including a 4-1 win against Consadole.

Given the reins after the Ushi’s poor start, Lotina must now strive to find consistency from a side that is still mostly the same from the end of 2021 and played well in the group stage of the AFC Champions League in the spring.

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