Three Things to Watch: Matchweek 29

Three Things to Watch: Matchweek 29

Who will be Marinos’ top challenger for the crown?

Yokohama F·Marinos are the top team in the Meiji Yasuda J1 League, riding a midweek win back to the top of the table, but the Tricolor do not have much breathing room. Sanfrecce Hiroshima are only two points back and Kawasaki Frontale a point behind the Viola.

So, who will be the top challenger to Marinos? We may find out this weekend when Sanfrecce and Frontale clash in Kawasaki.

The Viola are the league’s in-form team, having won five straight matches. Another win this weekend against Frontale would be a massive statement and put the pressure on Marinos to take care of business with Avispa Fukuoka in Yokohama or lose their place atop the table.

Frontale have the experience of four titles in the last five years and have two matches in hand on Sanfrecce - as do Marinos - and they will need to lean on what they’ve learned in the recent past to topple the Viola. If they can do that, Marinos will not just be trying to hold on for the title, but trying to hold off the dominant team of this era with another championship in their sights.

Who wants to be Top Scorer?

When Ayase Ueda left Kashima Antlers for Belgium’s Cercle Brugge in July, it threw the Top Scorer race wide open. The league leader in goals had left and there were several quality strikers ready to capitalize.

The two months that have followed have not matched expectations for those players, though. While the league as a whole has hardly been short on goals, none of the top goal scorers have found their top form.

We're now in September and still nobody has surpassed Ueda's 10 goals, with Yokohama F·Marinos’ Léo Ceará and Shimizu S-Pulse’s Thiago Santana level with 10 of their own.

Will either Brazilian pull away with the Golden Boot? Will the five players on their heels with nine goals play a part? Or the five on eight tallies?

It’s a wide open race for Top Scorer and whoever gets hot down the stretch is likely going to take the award!

Can Cerezo bloom again?

Cerezo Osaka climbed up the table with terrific summer form, but they’ve slumped to losses in their last two and their chances of making next season’s AFC Champions League look to be slipping away.

The Sakura’s excellent play that placed them among the best teams in the league was driven by their defense. Akio Kogiku had them well-organized and gritty in the back, but that has fallen away as we near the fall, with Cerezo conceding five goals in their recent two losses.

Now sixth in the table, a full eight points off of third place, the Osaka side desperately need a turnaround and to make the most of their two matches in hand against much of the pack. Their chances of returning to continental competition are not gone, but it will take a turn in form, especially at the back, and that has to begin Saturday against Sagan Tosu.

Outside of the league, Cerezo also have a J.League YBC Levain Cup semi-final looming against red-hot Urawa Reds. If they can get hot again at the right time, a first trophy since 2017 could be theirs. Let's see how they get on.