Match to Watch, Matchweek 2: Frontale try to bounce back against high-flying Kashima

Match to Watch, Matchweek 2: Frontale try to bounce back against high-flying Kashima

How many teams are in this season’s title race?

Defending champions Kawasaki Frontale are still surely in the mix despite being soundly beaten by Yokohama F·Marinos on Wednesday. So are the Tricolor, who made a statement with their win over Frontale.

How about Kashima Antlers? They fancy themselves title challengers and after Marinos made their case as a contender by beating Frontale, now the Antlers have the same opportunity as they welcome the champions to Kashima Soccer Stadium this weekend.

Kashima started the season brilliantly, beating Gamba Osaka, 3-1, behind a Ayase Ueda brace and typically excellent play from Ryotaro Araki. They looked like the Antlers team that finished last season with the third most goals in the league and a defense that ranked in the top quarter - explosive, dangerous and still sturdy. Simply put, they looked like they could win a title.

While it’s easy to look for title contenders after a single Frontale loss, it is also only one loss. The boys from Kawasaki have won four of the last five titles and are not going to simply fade away because they lost to a good Marinos team four days after the season kicked off. This remains an excellent team that will be looking to bounce back with all three points.

It’s easy to look at Ueda’s bright start to the season and Araki’s rising stardom and see Kashima as the league’s emerging attacking force, but Frontale feature last season’s joint Top Scorer Leandro Damião, the cunning Akihiro Ienaga, and new addition Chanathip Songkrasin to name only a few pieces. Coupled with Frontale’s league-leading defense last season and it would be unwise to write off the defending champions.

The early part of the season will set the terms of the title race and Marinos have already made their mark. On Saturday, we could see Kashima put themselves squarely in the mix too as Frontale’s credentials for a “three-peat” are tested.