Kawasaki Frontale have dominated this era of the Meiji Yasuda J1 League. They have won four of the last six titles and have added a second place finish, two Fujifilm Super Cups, an Emperor’s Cup and a J.League YBC Levain Cup crown in that span.
Before Frontale came to define J1, though, Kashima Antlers stood atop the league. They remain the only team to claim the championship in three straight years and their eight titles are three more than any other team in the J.League’s 30-year history.
On Saturday, the modern kings of the J.League will meet the historical giants when Frontale and Antlers clash at Kashima Soccer Stadium.
Frontale come into the match in need of a win, having lost to Yokohama F·Marinos last week in a meeting of last season’s two top teams. They were undone by sloppy play at the back, both on the ball and defending.
While Frontale’s championship teams were known for thrilling attacking players who led unstoppable attacks, they were backstopped by defenses that were nearly flawless and always ranked among the best in the league. Shoring things up at the back has to be a priority for Toru Oniki, who is still trying to figure out life after Shogo Taniguchi departed in the winter and now won’t have Jesiel in Kashima after a red card in the opener.
Antlers aren’t worried about much about a convincing 2-0 victory away to Kyoto Sanga. Not only did they walk away with three points, but they did so with confidence-inducing unspectacular play. Nobody had the game of his life or did anything extraordinary - they were simply a good team that confidently handled their business. It felt entirely replicable.
Kashima have not won the league in the last six seasons and if they fail to lift the trophy in 2023, it will match the longest drought in club history, but they believe this could be the year they win title number nine.
A win over Frontale would make a statement that Kashima are ready to challenge for the title this year.
For Frontale, this is about showing that they aren’t going anywhere. That they are coming for the crown once again and the opening weekend was a single loss that is already in the rearview mirror.
Will Kashima signal their intent to make a run at the top like the years of old? Or will Frontale bat down the challengers and reassert that this is still their era of dominance in J1?
Watch live on Saturday at 3 pm JST live on the J.League International YouTube channel and find out!