A new season of Meiji Yasuda J1 League football is upon us!
The best teams in all of Japan will battle for the crown of the country’s top team, not to mention AFC Champions League places, city or prefecture bragging rights and, for an unfortunate few, the right to just stay in the top flight.
Here is one thing you definitely want to keep an eye on:
Will it be a two-team title race again?
Yokohama F·Marinos won the title in 2022 with a spectacular campaign that saw them overcome a slow start with a blistering run of form in the spring and summer to take over first place. From there, they never relinquished their plate atop the table, but it was not easy for the Tricolor.
Kawasaki Frontale, chasing an unprecedented fifth title in six seasons, stayed on Marinos’ heels all the way to the final day of the season, when the Tricolor had to win or see Frontale leap them for the crown.
It was a fabulous title race and, while Marinos were victorious, it really emphasized the dominance of two clubs over the rest of the league stretching back years.
After all, Kawasaki Frontale have won four of the last six titles and not only did Marinos win it in 2022, but they also claimed the trophy in 2019, making the two clubs the only to top the league since 2017.
Is it time for another club to break Marinos and Frontale’s stranglehold of J1?
Sanfrecce Hiroshima finished in third last season and bring back a talented team that Michael Skibbe gets the most out of so they’re a potential title contender.
Kashima Antlers were right on their heels and, with a more stable manager situation and some added health, a ninth J1 title could be in the cards.
Even further down last season's table, Cerezo Osaka returns most of their successful team from a season ago and added Léo Ceará, Jordy Croux, Capixaba and club icon Shinji Kagawa, putting them in a great position for 2023, while Nagoya Grampus retain a defense that has them in contention with just a little more attacking verve.
Marinos and Frontale have dominated J1 for years, but there might be an interloper or two in the title race this season.
Four more things to watch for in 2023: