Shonan Bellmare season preview: How high can Machino lead Bellmare?

Shonan Bellmare season preview: How high can Machino lead Bellmare?

Shonan Bellmare are set to embark on their sixth straight season in the Meiji Yasuda J1 League, equalling their longest stretch in the top flight. What does 2023 have in store for Bellmare?

Last season

Things did not start great for the club, who spent the first 18 matchdays in the bottom three, but Shuto Machino’s breakout campaign led a climb up the table and to safety. The forward scored 13 goals, second-most in J1, and the team went unbeaten in their final seven matches to finish the season red hot, while Machino parlayed his excellent campaign into a spot on Japan’s World Cup squad.

Goal for 2023

Bellmare finished 13th and won the J.League YBC Levain Cup right after being uprooted to J1 in 2018, but have not reached those heights since and were only spared relegation in 2020 by the decision not to drop any teams down a division. Despite their recent struggles, there’s reason to believe the team can climb back to where they were in 2018.

Machino is a bonafide star and they have plenty of continuity from 2022, when their strong finish showed what they were capable of. Equaling the 13th place finish from 2018 is very much in play.

What to watch for

Bellmare lost Kosei Tani to Gamba Osaka, who declined to extend his loan, but Song Bum-keun has been brought in to replace him and Shonan should not miss a beat with the South Korean in goal. That sets them up to be sturdy at the back and give Machino the chance to lead them up the table.

The question for Machino is how much better he can be. He already proved he can be among the best players in the league, but could he add another five or six goals to his tally? It’s certainly within the realm of possibility with such awesome talent, but he should also draw the attention of European clubs so whether he finishes the season in Hiratsuka could prove central to Bellmare’s prospects.