Yokohama F·Marinos were tipped as favorites to win the 2023 Meiji Yasuda J1 League, which isn’t surprising considering they were the defending champions, but the question is who would challenge them for the crown.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima were a popular choice to chase down the Tricolor, but the start of their season hasn’t gone according to plan. They played to a scoreless draw with Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in their opener and fell to newly-promoted Albirex Niigata last week, leaving them with just one point from two matches.
Now, the Viola try to turn things around with a trip to Yokohama for a battle with Marinos.
It’s a tall task for Sanfrecce considering both Marinos’ accomplishments and form. After taking home the title in 2022, all they’ve done this year is take down Kawasaki Frontale and Urawa Reds to kick off the campaign.
The favorites for the title have given nobody reason to think otherwise early on, with Anderson Lopes leading a dangerous attack and Powell Obinna Obi stepping in capably in goal. Despite some winter outgoings, Kevin Muscat appears to have a team that can win a second consecutive title.
While that might be intimidating, it also presents the Viola with a terrific opportunity. Beat Marinos in Yokohama and they not only pick up three critical points, but make a statement that they are in fact ready to make a run at the top.
Getting more from the attack will be crucial for Sanfrecce, who needed 169 minutes to score their first goal of the season. With Makoto Mitsuta and Nassim Ben Khalifa in tow, there’s more than enough talent to get flying at the front.
Will the Viola find the back of the net and get back into challenging for the title, or will the Marinos machine keep humming?
Find out this weekend when you tune in to watch live on the J.League International YouTube channel.