The focus of this season’s race for the Meiji Yasuda J1 League title has been on Vissel Kobe and Yokohama F·Marinos. Vissel were the top team for months and Marinos are the defending champions who have been in the top two since May, while they both now sit joint top of the table, so it’s no surprise that they have monopolized the spotlight.
The title fight does not end with those two teams, though. Lurking just below the Ushi and Tricolor are Nagoya Grampus, who are a mere two points back of the league leaders and could take over the top spot with a win over Urawa Reds on Friday at 7:30 pm JST.
Nagoya’s push for the title has been driven by their typically excellent defense, which has allowed just 20 goals all season.
Mitchell Langerak remains one of the best goalkeepers in the league and the three-man back line in front of him has been terrific. They’re able to eliminate space from opposing attacks and frustrate even the best of opposing forwards.
With a defense as good as Nagoya’s, they do not need an explosive attack. Reliable and timely is more than enough, and that’s exactly what they’ve gotten.
Nagoya have only been shut out once in their last 10 matches, continuously knocking in a goal or two each game, which is all they need. However things will be tougher for them this week as Kasper Junker sits out per the terms of his loan from Urawa. That leaves Nagoya without their leading frontman, whose 11 goals this season ranks third in J1.
For all the deserved accolades of Nagoya’s defense, Urawa’s is even better. The 19 goals they’ve given up this season is the best mark in the league thanks to the phenomenal Alexander Scholz and Marius Høibraten in the center of the defense, and that duo won’t have to contend with Junker this week.
With two excellent defenses, this clash figures to be low scoring and make every moment of the utmost importance. Any brilliant move, mistake or fortunate bounce can decide the match and make a big impact in the title race.
Will Nagoya creep ever closer to their first title since 2010? Or will Urawa’s defense reign supreme and aid the Reds’ push for an AFC Champions League place?
Tune in live on the J.League International YouTube channel and find out!