Kashima Antlers are the most successful club in J.LEAGUE history. Their eight titles are double the next closest team and Antlers are one of only two clubs to play in every top flight season since the launch of the J.LEAGUE. While Kashima have not won the title since 2016, an improved showing last season has them aiming for a return to glory in 2022.
Kashima finished third last season, moving up one spot from the season before, but their improvement was bigger than just one place in the table. They scored more goals than they had in 2020 and went from conceding the eighth fewest in the league to the fourth fewest. They were better in all phases of play and one of the best teams in the league by the numbers.
Yuma Suzuki is back at Kashima after a stint at Sint-Truidense VV in Belgium, giving Antlers one of the top signings of the winter. Kim Min-tae adds proven quality to help in the center of defense, while Hayato Nakama and Yuta Higuchi are in to shore up the midfield.
Léo Silva went off to Nagoya Grampus, Ryota Nagaki departed for Shonan Bellmare, Tomoya Inukai headed to Urawa Reds, and Katsuya Nagato joined Yokohama F·Marinos.
The biggest loss, however, is likely to be Koki Machida, as the defensive anchor has joined Belgian league leaders Royale Union Saint-Gilloise.
Goal for 2022
When you have the history of Kashima, the goal is always to finish the season on top and that will be the case again in 2022. New manager René Weiler has a strong global reputation and if he can continue the progress that Antlers made last season then a title is very much in play. The analytics showed Kashima were one of the more unlucky teams in the league last season so continued growth and a few more bounces their way could put Antlers in contention for their ninth J.LEAGUE title.
What to watch for
Most eyes will be on Ryotaro Araki and Ayase Ueda, the Antlers’ dynamic duo who have broken onto the scene in recent years and look poised to make the leap into the elite ranks of J.LEAGUE attacking names.
Alongside them, Suzuki has the chance to be the biggest signing of the winter. He had a good stint in the Belgian league, scoring 17 goals two seasons ago, and he’s proven himself to be a terrific J.LEAGUE player. His play at Kashima in his first stint was magical, with league, Emperor’s Cup, J.LEAGUE Cup, Super Cup, and AFC Champions League titles. His play in the 2018 continental championship run was especially spectacular, with Suzuki claiming tournament MVP honors.
Now, Suzuki is back at Kashima Soccer Stadium, entering the peak of his career at 25 years old, and eager to show that he can lead the Antlers back to the summit. This could be a special season for Suzuki — and, if it is, a special season for Kashima.