Can the contenders find their defensive steel?
Kawasaki Frontale were stunned on Wednesday, losing to Shonan Bellmare, 4-0.
The style of the drubbing was nothing short of shocking, with the defending champions conceding four times over 11 minutes, as they were battered at home by a club in the relegation zone.
The other title contender, Kashima Antlers, also had a defensive performance to forget, conceding a 90+7' goal to drop points in a 4-4 draw with Sagan Tosu. The rearguard letdown was especially deflating after the Antlers scored two of their own in stoppage time to overturn a deficit in stunning fashion.
Matchweek 15 was defined by teams scoring goals in bunches across the Meiji Yasuda J1 League and the top teams conceding in big moments. Will we see that trend continue in Matchweek 16?
Machino leading Shonan’s rise
If you looked at Shonan Bellmare’s standing, you wouldn’t think they were a team on the rise. They’re still second from the bottom of the table, but they have won their last two and have results in three of their last four contests. That includes the unlikely dismantling of defending champions Kawasaki Frontale on Wednesday.
22-year-old Shuto Machino has been the key to Bellmare’s turnaround, with four goals in their last two games. The forward has six of the team’s 13 goals on the season and is crucial to their push to stay in the top flight.
Bellmare may be second from the bottom, but they are level on points with 16th place Shimizu S-Pulse and the only team in the bottom half to win last matchday. If you believe in momentum, believe in Bellmare when they host Cerezo Osaka this weekend.
Success in AFC Champions League, struggles in the league
Vissel Kobe and Urawa Reds are into the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League but they are both struggling mightily to find a win in Japan.
Vissel remain rooted to the bottom of the table, with only one victory in their opening 15 matches. This weekend is a chance to secure a much-needed three points as Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo come to town, limping to Kobe after a 6-1 drubbing at the feet of Kashiwa Reysol in the midweek matchweek.
Elsewhere, Urawa finally broke their improbable seven-match draw streak, but did so with a 2-0 loss to Cerezo on Wednesday. That leaves the Saitama side in 15th, a point away from the drop zone, and winless in eight — a run that dates back to March.
It doesn't get easier for them this weekend when they head to Fukuoka, where Avispa last took on Yokohama F·Marinos and shut them out with a 1-0 win.
The domestic pressure is on for both of these two clubs in continental competition and Matchweek 16 figures to be a crucial test in their bid to right their respective ships.