J1 Match of the Week: First place Vissel resume title chase against feisty Kashima

J1 Match of the Week: First place Vissel resume title chase against feisty Kashima

The Meiji Yasuda J1 League is back from its two-week break and that means Vissel Kobe’s title chase is back on. The Ushi sit four points clear atop the table with five matches to play and the first-ever championship in club history within their grasp.

Vissel’s push for the crown will not be easy, though, and certainly not this week. That’s because a very good Kashima Antlers side is on tap and they have a lot to play for of their own, making Saturday’s clash at 2 pm JST must-watch on the J.League International YouTube channel.

The key to Vissel’s phenomenal season has been their two stars up front. Yuya Osako is the league’s leading goal scorer with 20 goals and is the likely front-runner for J1 MVP honors. He’s been aided by Yoshinori Muto, whose nine assists rank second in the league and has added nine goals to boot.

With Osako and Muto up front, the Ushi are a constant threat that most every team in the league has proven unable to stop, but they have not lifted Vissel alone. The Ushi have conceded the second fewest goals in J1, giving them the type of excellence on both ends of the pitch that is necessary to capture the J1 crown.

Kashima are as well suited to slowing down Osako and Muto as any team in the league, though. Ikuma Sekigawa has emerged as arguably the best young defender in Japan and he gives the team the type of top notch athleticism and physicality to round out a defense smart and organized enough to turn back a top notch attack like Vissel’s.

Antlers aren’t challenging for the title like Vissel, but they have stakes of their own. They’re in fourth place and eyeing a climb that would earn them a spot in next season’s AFC Champions League, giving them every reason to match the Ushi’s intensity.

Will Vissel continue their march towards the first title in club history? Or will Kashima throw a wrench in the fight and aid their own battle for a trip to the Asian championship?

Find out when they meet on Saturday, live on the J.League International YouTube channel.