This is a tale of two teams who never thought they would be battling against relegation this season, much less against each other.
But this weekend sees star-studded Vissel Kobe and historic J.League giants Gamba Osaka go toe-to-toe in a scrap for survival.
Vissel have found a good run of form, taking results in three of their last four matches to go from bottom of the table to 16th place and the verge of safety. But right above them is Gamba Osaka, who have also taken points from three of their last four and are clear of the drop by a single point over the Ushi.
This Sunday's clash sees both teams coming in with a great deal of momentum and the outcome may just decide which team stays in the top flight.
Gamba’s turnaround of late has been on the back of an improved defense that has kept clean sheets in three of their last four matches. Playing four at the back has settled the defense and given it some stability, allowing them to shut down opposing attacks. And when they have been beaten, Masaaki Higashiguchi has been there to make some massive saves.
Vissel never had a singular problem like Gamba’s defense was theirs early in the season. They’ve flashed a good attack only to go quiet. They’ve put together strings of good defensive performances and then conceded in bunches. The midfield could control some games and spend others chasing. Consistency was the issue.
Consistency has not been a problem of late, though. The managerial change that landed Takayuki Yoshida in charge helped bring some stability to the team and they’ve been able to put together better runs of results despite constant changes in personnel.
Vissel hold the advantage of a match in hand over Gamba and the chance to move out of the relegation zone with a win, but the Nerazzuri have the point advantage, and they can put themselves further out of the Ushi’s reach on Sunday.
Who will take control of the fight to avoid the drop? We’ll find out at NOEVIR Stadium Kobe!