We're back for another matchweek in the 2022 Meiji Yasuda J1 League. Here's what to keep an eye on...
Welcome back, AFC Champions League clubs
Four Meiji Yasuda J1 League clubs have been absent from the competition for the last few weeks due to playing in the AFC Champions League group stage, but they return to domestic action this weekend.
Three teams - Yokohama F·Marinos, Urawa Reds and Vissel Kobe - were successful and booked their spots in the knockout stages, while defending J1 champions Kawasaki Frontale fell at the first set of hurdles in their bid for continental glory.
Frontale can immediately put that bitter feeling out of their mind with a title race to attend to — one that also includes Marinos as a real threat for top honors. Urawa and Vissel, by contrast, find themselves surprisingly down at the bottom of the table and have some climbing to do.
Can the Reds and the Ushi carry their Champions League form into league play? Will Frontale and Marinos close the gap at the top of the table? We'll get our first indication in Matchweek 12.
The title race at full tilt
Speaking of the top of the table, let's talk Kashima Antlers. While the Champions League participants were away, Kashima used their games in hand to emphatically take over the summit.
Frontale now return to Japan in second place — only five points back and with a game in hand, but second nevertheless.
Just two points behind Kawasaki sit Marinos, who clearly have title ambitions and the well-rounded depth to pose a serious challenge. Also floating in the mix are the likes of Kashiwa Reysol and even F.C.Tokyo, who have demonstrated they can compete with the division's elite and won't shy away from a fight.
It's clear this season may offer up a real championship scrap and things are already heating up.
Can anyone stop Avispa?
Did we say "heating up"?
Don't look now but one of the hottest teams in the league is Avispa Fukuoka. They're unbeaten in their last three with a couple of wins and they did it against quality teams too, upending Kyoto Sanga F.C. and F.C.Tokyo for their victories. Now in the top half of the table, Fukuoka can start dreaming about where they go from here.
Avispa should be excited, not only because they are winning, but because there’s reason to believe this is sustainable. They’ve defended excellently all season and no team has conceded fewer goals than the Hachi.
That steely backline is finally getting the help it deserves up top, with an attack clicking on all cylinders after putting five past Tokyo in midweek action.
Two of those goals came from Lukian, who was signed in the winter to kick the attack into another gear but hadn’t scored for his new team until last game. Now that the Brazilian is starting to find the net, the Wasps could be ready to pair a dangerous attack with their fabulous defense — if they can regularly get that kind of output.