The MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE Best XI has been chosen and, just like last season, it’s led by Kawasaki Frontale players. The back-to-back champions put seven players on the team of the season, while the legendary Andrés Iniesta’s excellent play for Vissel Kobe also landed him on the squad.
Mitchell Langerak is the Best XI goalkeeper, having put together another great season for Nagoya Grampus. The man between the posts broke his own record for clean sheets in the early part of the season and was the key to Grampus’ second-best goals allowed mark.
The defense is made up entirely of Frontale players. Frontale captain Shogo Taniguchi was the rock of his club’s back line, while Miki Yamane and Jesiel were equally responsible for Frontale’s league-best rearguard. All three were on the Best XI a year ago and are back again after another season of terrific play.
Iniesta leads the way in the midfield after he led Vissel’s run to a club-record third place with a sparkling second half of the season. One he returned from the hamstring injury that kept him out to start the campaign, the Spaniard was the key to the Kobe midfield, dictating tempo and creating chances with his unmatched passing ability. His brightest moment came on October 2 against Urawa Reds, when he had two goals and an assist as he dominated in all aspects to win 5-1 and stamp Vissel’s third place credentials.
Joining Iniesta in the midfield are Frontale’s Akihiro Ienaga and Yasuto Wakizaka. Ienaga was on the Best XI in 2018 and again last season, so him being back among the league’s best this year is typical for one of the best all-around players in Japan. Wakizaka played more this season than ever before and rewarded Frontale for their faith, adding some bite to the midfield while maintaining his cool possession play.
Rounding out the Best XI midfield is Sho Inagaki, whose eight goals and two assists were crucial to Nagoya this season. More importantly, Inagaki was a reliable positional force and a strong tackler, playing a key role in his team’s ever-reliable defense.
Leandro Damião’s 23 goals and eight assists earned him league MVP and co-Top Scorer honors so he was always going to make the Best XI. Arguably nobody was as responsible for Frontale’s title than the Brazilian, but he did get lots of help from Reo Hatate. His five goals and two assists only scratch the surface of his contribution, as he led the Frontale press that helped them have the league’s best defensive record and create chances for the deadly attack.
Daizen Maeda tied Leandro Damião with 23 goals and shared Top Scorer honors as he led Yokohama F·Marinos to second place. Even after Ado Onaiwu was transferred in the summer, Maeda did not miss a beat and, as a result, neither did Marinos. He was spectacular, establishing himself as one of the league’s top goalscorers.