Meiji Yasuda J1 League started on February 21st. However due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the league had to be suspended for about four months. It restarted on July 4th and has now reached Match-day 7.
In recent rounds, Kawasaki Frontale picked up pace, and seem to be the most serious candidate to claim back the title. Despite a disappointing opening game, in which they drew with Sagan Tosu, they now nailed six consecutive victories after the restart. Their three-top system is working well and produces an astonishing offensive brand of football. In fact, Frontale have already scored 20 goals in seven games, and from Match-day 3, they have found the net three or more times for five games in a row. Moreover, they also boost good defensive stability, and it is hard to see what could stop them now.
Gamba Osaka as well re in high spirits. After the suspension, they sputtered a little in their early games, but from Match-day 4 on, they have obtained four consecutive victories. Gamba are a tough team to face, and now their star striker Takashi Usami is finding his best form. The next opponents are Kawasaki, in a game that can tell the fans a lot about these two teams.
Nagoya Grampus also have been in top condition. Their last game against Sanfrecce Hiroshima was postponed, as some members of the team and staff were confirmed positive at a COVID-19 test. However, they have remained unbeaten with four wins and two draws in six games. Under the leadership of manager Massimo Ficcadenti, they already mastered strong defensive organization and have kept a clean sheets in their last three games. The fact that new players such as Hiroyuki Abe and others immediately fit into the team’s mechanisms also contributed to their convincing performance.
On the other hand, Yokohama F.Marinos, the champions of the past season, are having a difficult time. Having lost in the opening match against Gamba Osaka, they did not show many signs of improvement even after league’s restart. F.Marinos seem capable to find their way to the net, but compare to their previous, winning season, their defense concedes more. If their problems at the back can’t be solved, it is hard to imagine them as competitors for a second title in a row.
The powerhouse of Japanese football, Kashima Antlers, are in an even more complicated situation. New manager Zago is aiming to implement a new style, but the team seemingly struggled to metabolize his instructions, and started the season with four losses in a row. They seized their first victory against Yokohama F.Marions on Match-day 5, but again failed to obtained points in the two following games and now sit at the bottom of the table with Shimizu S-Pulse. Although, their offensive game has gradually improved, they still concede easily. New signed players haven’t showed their full potential so far, and Antlers may need more time to fulfill their potential.
Another three struggling teams are Shimizu S-pulse, which also have changed play-style, and are taking a long time to achieve results; Sagan Tosu, who seem to lack scoring ability; and Shonan Bellmare, another club with defensive problems.
Kashiwa Reysol returned to J1 this season, and defeated Consadole Sapporo in the opening game, then went on to lose three consecutive games after the suspension. Despite that unfortunate period, they returned to form and now seized three consecutive wins since Match-day 5. They scored 18 goals which is the second best offensive record in the league. Their Kenyan striker Olunga has been a crucial player has been, and he is at the moment the top scorer of the league, with 8 goals, including a hat-trick he bagged in the last match against Vegalta Sendai. Hayato Nakama and other new players have proved their abilities to the full, and the team performed consistently well despite the tight schedule.
Finally, Yokohama FC, who returned to J1 after 13 years, seized the first victory against Kashiwa in Match-day 3 and seemed in good condition in the early stages of the season. But from Match-day 5 on, they failed to claim points for three consecutive games. They can control possession, but still struggle to find their way to the goal. However, they feature many talented young players such as Koki Saito who can be the key to the reversal fortunes for the newly-promoted team.