Another exciting matchweek in the Meiji Yasuda J1 League is here! We've got plenty of interesting storylines to break down — from the title race to the relegation battle — so let's get started.
Frontale and Antlers battle to stay in title race
Kawasaki Frontale and Kashima Antlers have put on plenty of dramatic clashes over the years and this weekend's could be yet another classic.
Frontale are now just five points behind first-place Yokohama F·Marinos and have a game in hand on the league leaders. Just in front of Kawasaki are Kashima, but while the Antlers are only four points behind the league leaders, they have played two more matches. That makes this weekend effectively a must-win for both sides, who are aiming to put together a late-season run to challenge for another title.
It has been brutal as of late for Kashima, who have kept just one clean sheet in their last five games — a stretch that has seen them drop some crucial points and part ways with their manager. Meanwhile, Frontale have won their last two and are rediscovering their attacking might through Marcinho; the Brazilian's hat trick in last week’s win has him up to eight goals on the campaign.
While Frontale have the momentum and home-field advantage heading into this one, it's been a streaky season for both teams and anything is possible. One thing is for sure: Whoever drops points in this one will have virtually no margin for error from here on out.
Last week saw a pair of hat-trick heroes take centerstage, with Nassim Ben Khalifa and Marcinho notching hat tricks to lead Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Frontale, respectively, to massive wins that pushed on both teams’ title dreams.
As the season's home stretch comes into view, those types of attacking performances become all the more meaningful in the league table but they also can have a big impact on the Top Scorer race.
With eight active J.League players within two goals of the Golden Boot currently, there's yet another reason to keep an eye on who is banging in the goals this weekend. Who do you think will take home Top Scorer honors this season?
Sanga in need of a win
Kyoto Sanga were darlings at the start of the season. The ageless wonder Peter Utaka was leading the league in goals and the team had gone from relegation underdogs to a solid top-half side.
Things haven’t gone as well of late for Sanga, with their last win coming all the way back on July 2. That slide has dropped them to 14th in the table, only two points clear of the relegation zone.
Sanga travel to Shizuoka this weekend for a meeting with Shimizu S-Pulse in a crucial match for their survival, against a team that has had the opposite luck recently.
S-Pulse had previously found themselves deep in the relegation fight, but a four-match unbeaten run has seen them climb to 11th and earn some breathing room. While they are the in-form team, momentum can just as easily swing back the other way this weekend.
With margins so tight between midtable and the drop zone one, this one is a real six-pointer in the battle for survival.