Yokohama F·Marinos have spent much of the season in either first or second place, locked with Vissel Kobe in a vicious battle for the title, but there are other teams who have injured the ring. Kashima Antlers leads a trio of teams tied on points and now within striking distance of the top, setting the stage for a massive battle when second place Marinos visit third place Kashima on Sunday at 3 pm JST in a match that will be streamed live on the J.League International YouTube channel.
Marinos have stumbled in recent weeks, failing to win their last three. That dropped them out of first place and they now sit a point back of Vissel. A further five points behind them is Kashima, Urawa Reds and Nagoya Grampus, rounding out the teams who are within two wins of the top spot.
The hope for the Tricolor is they would be able to use a midweek win in AFC Champions League play to break out of their rut and gear up for a sprint to the title, but that didn’t go as planned. Marinos lost to South Korea’s Incheon United, 4-2, as their defense faltered in Asia like it has domestically. They’ve conceded seven times in their current three-match league winless streak, cueing their recent struggles.
The good news is that the Marinos attack is still deadly, led by Anderson Lopes. They do not need their defense to be perfect, merely pretty good, and they can get back in the win column.
Scoring on Kashima is no easy task, though. Ikuma Sekigawa continues to impress, establishing himself as one of the best young Japanese defenders and with a sturdy back line, Antlers have made their climb up to the table.
Add a front line led by the rejuvenated Yuma Suzuki, who has scored 12 goals, and the league’s leading assist man, Yuta Higuchi, and it’s no wonder Kashima find themselves in the upper reaches of the table.
If Antlers are going to win the title, though, they must defeat Marinos. Meanwhile, the Tricolor will be looking to end their skid and keep pace with Vissel.
Which team will make a big move in their title chase? Find out this weekend live on the J.League International YouTube channel.