Vissel Kobe are in search of their first top-four finish in club history, while Kashima Antlers are trying to return to that rarified air for the fifth time in six seasons after missing out last year. And on Sunday, when they meet at Noevir Stadium Kobe, that all-important top-four spot will be on the line.
Vissel are on the outside looking in right now, sitting in fifth place in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE, but that’s just on goal difference because they, Kashima Antlers and Sagan Tosu are all level on points, occupying spots three through five.
This weekend will be a battle of prolific attacks; Kashima rank third and Vissel fourth in goals this season, but they’ve done it in very different ways. Kashima have gotten goals from all over the pitch, with Ryotaro Araki leading the team with eight, Ayase Ueda netting six and Tomoya Inukai scoring five of his own. It’s been very much a collective effort.
Vissel, meanwhile, were very dependent on Kyogo Furuhashi. It was a wise and wildly successful approach, as Furuhashi was top of the league with 15 goals and paced one of the league’s most dangerous attacks. But Furuhashi has been sold to Scotland’s Celtic FC, so the question now is whether Vissel can maintain their nose for goal without him.
The front lines could determine this match and, with it, who has a leg up on that place in the top four of the table. Is this where Kashima’s multi-pronged approach is king, or did Furuhashi simply lead a dangerous Vissel attack that can generate just as much thrust without their talisman?
We’ll find out this weekend in Kobe, and see who is standing in the top four of the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE.