Kawasaki Frontale have won the last two Meiji Yasuda J1 League titles and four of the last five, but their chances of winning yet another championship may be hinge on this weekend’s clash against Yokohama F·Marinos.
The Tricolor are top of the league and have opened up an eight-point lead on second-place Kashima Antlers. Maybe more shockingly, they lead Frontale by 11 points. The champions have two matches in hand on Marinos, so there are opportunities left to make up the gap, but the biggest will come on Sunday at Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium.
The key for Frontale will be finding a way to limit the potent Marinos attack. Anderson Lopes has returned to the Tricolor team and Léo Ceará kept his red hot form going earlier this week with a goal in J.League YBC Levain Cup action, making the top attack in Japan all the more formidable.
If any team could contend with them, one would ordinarily expect it to be Frontale. While they’ve had phenomenal attackers leading the way in their title seasons, the real key to their success was a defense that was always one of the league’s best. That hasn't always been the case this year, especially with 2020 and 2021 Best Eleven selection Jesiel out of the team.
The Brazilian central defender returned last weekend in a difficult 3-1 loss to Urawa, but there will be a renewed sense of optimism in the Frontale rearguard with the arrival of captain Shogo Taniguchi's longtime partner.
Together, they have helped cement Frontale as the defining club of this era of the J.League and a dominant force over the past five years under manager Toru Oniki. But they have a major challenge this season in Marinos and their reign is in jeopardy.
Will they beat the odds once again and take down the league's current top team? Or will Marinos make a statement in their march to bring another title back to Yokohama? We’ll find out on Sunday in a J1 heavyweight fight.