Vissel Kobe reclaimed the top spot in the Meiji Yasuda J1 League table last time out, putting themselves in pole position as they chase the very first title in club history. Then, the international break gave them two weeks to sit on the summit unchallenged, but now the league is back and the Ushi have to protect their place against Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Saturday at 7 pm JST in a match streamed live on the J.League International YouTube channel.
The Ushi know how difficult it will be to get past Sanfrecce after the battle they had when the two sides met earlier this season. Vissel won, 2-0, but it took an own goal and a 90th minute capper as the Viola fought them for every ball and had their own chances to come out on top.
Sanfrecce have proven themselves to be a very good team this season and they would be fighting for the top places if it wasn’t for a mid-summer swoon, but they have taken 10 points from their last four matches and appear to be back in form. That is going to make things extremely difficult on a Vissel team that needs full points.
With just two points separating the Ushi from second place Yokohama F·Marinos, they cannot afford to give away a single point. It’s going to be a fight straight to the end, but Vissel should be up to the challenge.
Yuya Osako may be this season’s J1 MVP, having scored 17 goals to pace the league and also proven himself as an assist threat in the final third. His spectacular campaign has paced Vissel and played the biggest role in them sitting atop the league, but he hasn’t done it alone.
Yoshinori Muto is the creative force for the Ushi, with nine assists to rank second in the league. His ability to pop up anywhere on the pitch creates massive problems for opposing defenses and, alongside Osako, defenses have proven completely incapable of keeping the Vissel in check.
Now, Vissel have added another star too in 2010 World Cup champion Juan Mata, who could make his debut this weekend.
With that cadre of match-winners, Vissel into their final eight games of the season with pressure on their shoulders, but glory on the horizon. A title would be a long-awaited pinnacle for Vissel, but there is still work to do and Sanfrecce would love nothing more than to trip them up.
Will the Ushi move a step closer to their first-ever crown? Or will Sanfrecce prove that, at their best, they are as good as anybody in J1? Tune in to the J.League International YouTube channel on Saturday and find out.