Only the top trio of teams in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE are guaranteed places in next season’s AFC Champions League and that means this weekend’s matchup between third-place Vissel Kobe and fourth-place Nagoya Grampus is one of the most important of the season.

Nagoya went further than any other Japanese club in this season’s AFC Champions League, reaching the quarter-finals, but they are in a fight to return to the competition next year. Three points back of Vissel and in need a victory to draw level on points, they will aim to stick to the script that has given them success against Vissel already twice this season - defend well and hit on the counter.

In two meetings this year, Nagoya have conceded possession to Vissel, but limited their shots to ones from distance. Then, with the Ushi committed forward, they have hit them on the counter and found a single goal to win, 1-0. It was the blueprint for Grampus to win back in March and again in Emperor’s Cup play two months ago.

Vissel have reason to believe their third contest against Nagoya can be different, though. They’ve played better of late than they have at any point in the season, keeping up their dangerous attack, but pairing it with an increasingly stingy defense. While they were vulnerable to the counterattack for much of the season, that hasn’t been the case lately as Andrés Iniesta and the rest of the midfield have better controlled the match with and without the ball.

Whether Nagoya can find success on the counter attack, or whether they have to open up more and give Vissel opportunities of their own could be what determines this match. And this match could determine who takes on the rest of Asia next season. Who will prevail? Find out this weekend in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE!