Match to Watch: Muscat's Marinos face difficult challenge against Nagoya

Match to Watch: Muscat's Marinos face difficult challenge against Nagoya

At the beginning of the season, many pegged Nagoya Grampus to challenge Kawasaki Frontale for the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE title, and for a couple months it looked like they would be on the champions’ heels. But Grampus fell off the pace in the middle of the summer and while they were backsliding, Kevin Muscat’s Yokohama F·Marinos were surging.

Now, as the season heads into the stretch run, it’s Marinos who are challenging for the league crown. They sit just one point behind Frontale and have the champions in Yokohama on the final day of the season, setting up the possibility of a de facto title match as a culmination of a major turnaround for Marinos.

Muscat took over the Tricolor in the summer, carrying out the same vision from fellow Aussie Ange Postecoglou that had Marinos clicking on all cylinders and punishing teams with a ruthless attack. Following the departure of Postecoglou to Celtic and fearsome forward Ado Onaiwu to Toulouse, Muscat has leaned heavily on other options to energize a supercharged strikeforce.

Daizen Maeda has thrived throughout the season, leading J1 with 15 goals, but the main change in attack has been the elevated play of Brazilians Léo Ceará and Marcos Júnior in more prominent roles. Léo Ceará captured Konami Monthly MVP for August with his spectacular contributions and is now tied for fifth on the league’s goalscoring ladder, while his compatriot is right on his heels.

While Muscat has continued to elevate the Marinos attack in an impressive way, he has perhaps more importantly kept the defense solid. A year after conceding 1.73 goals per game, Marinos are allowing under a goal per contest and are among the league’s best rearguards.

This weekend, though, Marinos face the best defense in the league, and the team that many expected to be in their place in second at this point - Nagoya Grampus. While Grampus are not challenging for the title, they remain an incredibly difficult side to break down, sitting fourth in the table and carrying the flag for J.League as the lone Japanese team remaining in the AFC Champions League quarterfinals.

This weekend is nothing less than a match-up of heavyweights, with Yokohama headed to the Toyota Stadium to fight for a title. Can Muscat’s energetic attack shine against Nagoya’s determined defense? Or will Mitchell Langerak and his backline propel Grampus to a result? We’ll find out this week in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE!