Three things to know: Matchweek 1

Three things to know: Matchweek 1

Who takes the early title lead?

Last season’s title race came down to the final day, with Yokohama F·Marinos edging out Kawasaki Frontale by a mere two points.

This season, the campaign kicks off with the two teams meeting on Friday Night J.League and the three points on offer could turn out to be the difference in the title race, if last season is anything to go off of.

While it is early, don’t overlook the importance of Anderson Lopes scoring a late winner to give Marinos a win, or Akihiro Ienaga snagging three points for Frontale. The title race kicks off in a major way on Day 1 this season.

Albirex Niigata and Yokohama FC make their J1 returns

Albirex Niigata won the Meiji Yasuda J2 League last season, while Yokohama FC finished in second, and now both are into the top flight.

Albi make their return to J1 with a trip to Cerezo Osaka, where they will face a stern test. The Sakura are an excellent team that harbors dreams of making a title push, so it will be difficult for Albi to snag a result at Yodoko Sakura Stadium, but if they can then it will be a spectacular start to a season that Niigatans have been looking forward to since their relegation in 2017.

Yokohama FC get to celebrate their rise back to the first division with a home match as Nagoya Grampus visit NHK Spring Mitsuzawa Football Stadium. The Fulie faithful will be in full voice as they hope to see a ferocious attack just like last season, when they led J2 in goals.

New bosses at Urawa and Gamba

Two teams have new managers for 2023, with Urawa Reds bringing in Maciej Skorza to replace Ricardo Rodriguez and Gamba Osaka tapping Dani Poyatos to lead the club after Hiroshi Matsuda stepped aside.

Skorza has a massive job, not only in taking over a club with a rich history, but one with a lot on tap this season. The Reds hope to climb the table and compete with the top teams in the league, while also having the AFC Champions League final awaiting them in a couple months.

A trip to F.C.Tokyo awaits them in Matchweek 1 and it will be our first look at Skorza’s Urawa. Considering how much is at stake for the Reds in 2023, it will be worth watching how the adjustment to the new Polish boss goes.

Gamba have not reached the same heights as Urawa of late, but after barely escaping relegation a year ago, the Nerazzurri need Poyatos to hit the ground running this season. The Spaniard has experience in Japan, having previously managed Tokushima Vortis, and we’ll get an idea of how his Gamba side will look when they play at Kashiwa Reysol this weekend.