Vissel Kobe and Urawa Reds were two of the best teams in the Meiji Yasuda J1 League last season. Both qualified for the AFC Champions League and, earlier this year, they advanced out of their groups in the continental championship. As ever, though, Japanese football is full of surprises — and top of the list this season is seeing Vissel bottom of the J1 table and Urawa only two points clear of the drop zone.
That current state of affairs makes this weekend’s clash between the two sides absolutely massive, with three huge points on offer that could be the difference between survival and relegation by season's end.
It is especially important for Vissel to perform well on Sunday; not only are they six points from safety, but this match is at Noevir Stadium Kobe — a house they have failed to turn into a home over the last few months.
There have been signs of improvement under new manager Miguel Ángel Lotina but the Ushi are still lacking in attacking production. Yoshinori Muto leads the team with three goals and Andrés Iniesta is tops in assists with three for a team that's only found the net 15 times in 17 games, with 8 of those coming in their two wins.
Their opponents this weekend, Urawa, also need more help in the attack. Kasper Junker is working his way back from injury and leads the team with four goals, but the team's second highest scorer is center back Alexander Scholz. More is needed from the frontline and supporting midfielders, especially Ataru Esaka who has not matched his production from 2021.
Vissel and Urawa have shown they have squads capable of greatness but their very rough opening half to the season is far from an aberration at this point. Both teams need to showcase a big shift in how they play, and that starts with their match on Sunday.
Who will get the all-important three points and begin the road back to excellence? We'll find out on Matchweek 18!