Three Things to Watch: Matchweek 23

Three Things to Watch: Matchweek 23

Marinos and Antlers square off

First place Yokohama F·Marinos take on second place Kashima Antlers on Saturday. They are not only the two best teams in the league, but also the two highest scoring teams.

In an alternate reality, this massive clash would also feature the league’s top two goalscorers, but while Marinos will lean on Léo Ceará, Kashima will not have Ayase Ueda at their disposal after the striker was sold to Cercle Brugge in Belgium earlier this month.

In the aftermath of that move, Kashima have been trying to find the right combination up top to replace Ueda. Yuma Suzuki has been spectacular this season, leading the league with eight assists to go with seven goals, but who will join him and will they be able to keep the attack flying? Everaldo, fresh off scoring a Puskas Award candidate, could be the answer, as could Shoma Doi.

Whatever the Antlers forward partnership looks like, the strikeforce will have to be at their absolute best to match Léo Ceará, who has eight goals and three assists in his last six games.

In this hotly-anticipated match between title rivals, the difference may well be whose supercharged attack has a bigger day in Yokohama.

Samurai Blue stars carrying momentum

The Meiji Yasuda J1 League was not in action last weekend, which put the spotlight on the national team in the EAFF E-1 Football Championship. The Samurai Blue soaked it up, capturing the East Asian title for the second time ever in dramatic fashion.

Now, with the Japan stars returning to their clubs, we’ll see who takes the form and confidence built en route to their championship into J1 action.

Yuki Soma was named tournament MVP and Nagoya Grampus will surely love to see him in that sparkling form when they head to Sapporo. Shuto Machino shared the Golden Boot with Soma and Shonan Bellmare will be happy to see the budding star’s form carry over in Iwata. Shogo Taniguchi took home Best Defender honors and Kawasaki Frontale will need him in that top form as they try to take three points against Urawa to continue their title chase.

Who is helped and hurt by the time off?

It took months, but Vissel Kobe finally found the top form expected of last season’s third place finisher. They took 10 of an available 12 points from their last four matches, catapulting them out of the bottom of the table and into 15th place. They were the hottest team in J1, but then the league’s week off came. Now, as they return to action with a visit from Kashiwa Reysol, we’ll see if they can keep the momentum going through the break.

Júbilo Iwata were in the opposite position, having lost four in a row and falling to last place. The week off was welcomed at Yamaha Stadium, allowing the team to take a breath, reset, and hope to get back to the fine form they showed early in the season as a newly promoted club.

Everyone knows there’s quality in the Júbilo team. It’s simply a matter of bringing it out again and they’ll get a chance to get back to their winning ways when Shonan Bellmare come to Iwata.