Match of the Week: Iwamasa, Yamaguchi renew old rivalry as Antlers clash with Bellmare

Match of the Week: Iwamasa, Yamaguchi renew old rivalry as Antlers clash with Bellmare

Kashima Antlers made a shocking change two weeks ago, replacing their manager in the middle of a title chase. Out went René Weiler and in came Daiki Iwamasa.

After one game, the returns look good.

Antlers made the change after going winless in their last five under Weiler, keeping just one clean sheet and struggling to score goals without the Europe-bound Ayase Ueda. In Iwamasa’s first game at the helm, Kashima defeated Avispa Fukuoka, 2-0, and leapt back up to second place as they aim to capture their first Meiji Yasuda J1 League title since 2016.

This week, Iwamasa will lead Kashima onto the road for the first time, heading to Hiratsuka for a clash with Shonan Bellmare where a familiar figure awaits him.

Iwamasa and Shonan boss Satoshi Yamaguchi played against each other in the J.League for more than a decade with each winning the top flight crown and several cups as players. Iwamasa was a constant at Kashima, helping lead them to sustained greatness, while Yamaguchi shone for Gamba as one of Antlers’ biggest rivals for silverware.

Iwamasa and Yamaguchi have followed similar paths to the dugout too. The duo got tapped for similar managerial debuts, with Yamaguchi being made boss as a mid-season replacement when he took over Shonan last September and Iwamasa getting thrust to the top of the Kashima chain this month.

Yamaguchi has done a terrific job in Hiratsuka, leading Shonan away from relegation last season — his primary objective when hired — and guiding his club out of the drop zone following a difficult start to 2022, while developing a budding superstar in Shuto Machino.

Iwamasa has one win from one match, with a debut that may as well have been scripted for the solidity he brought to the defense while freeing the attack. Now, he will be tasked with maintaining that form away from home in the middle of a title race.

Kashima have a chance to cut their deficit to Yokohama F·Marinos to only two points with a win in Hiratsuka. Iwamasa, already a Kashima legend from his playing days, can add another chapter to his legend in Ibaraki. But he’ll have to do it against an old foe who has proven himself as a boss in Yamaguchi.

Will Kashima keep their momentum going under Iwamasa and push on in their title chase? Or will Yamaguchi get one over on his fellow new boss and push Shonan further from the relegation zone? We’ll find out in another massive Meiji Yasuda J1 League clash!