Kawasaki Frontale have been the kings of the Meiji Yasuda J1 League in recent years, but Yokohama F·Marinos are nipping at their heels after winning the title in 2022. They have won the league twice in the last four years and, if they can take it home again in 2023, the throne may very well sit in Yokohama.
There was a fair amount of change in Yokohama coming into last season so you’ll forgive Marinos for winning just one of their first five matches. Once they sorted things out, they were unstoppable.
A stretch from April 10 to July 6 saw the Tricolor win 11 of 13 matches, thrusting them into first place. They never relinquished their spot atop the table, despite a push from Frontale that saw the title fight come down to the last day of the season. Marinos were simply too good, led by J.League Player of the Year Tomoki Iwata and the Brazilian duo of Anderson Lopes and Léo Ceará, who scored 11 goals apiece to pace the team.
Goal for 2023
Win it all again.
When you’re the defending champions, the only goal for the season is to win the title again and that is exactly the case for Marinos. They want a third championship in five years and there’s no reason they can’t do it.
If anything, Marinos may reach even higher and dream of adding a domestic cup to go along with another league crown. Oh, and taking care of group stage play in the AFC Champions League to set up a knockout stage run in 2024 would be nice too.
When you’re on top, you can dream of a lot.
What to watch for
Marinos have to deal with the same issue that all of the J.League’s best sides have - teams come for your best players.
Iwata parlayed his Player of the Year campaign into a move to Celtic FC in the Scottish Premiership and, instead of finding another star to take his place, Marinos opted for replacement by committee with several additions like Takumi Kamijima and Takuto Kimura.
Marinos also sent Léo Ceará to Cerezo Osaka so their co-leading scorer is out the door, while Yohei Takaoka is expected to complete a move away too.
How will the Tricolor deal with these absences? Well, in addition to Kamijimia and Kimura, Kenta Inoue has been added so Kevin Muscat will not lack for quality players and his rotation-heavy approach makes depth as important as star power.
It’s not as if Marinos are lacking in star power either, with the Brazilian duo of Anderson Lopes and Élber still in in the squad, not to mention Kota Mizunuma and Takuma Nishimura had one of the best seasons in the league a year ago.
Marinos may have lost some crucial players, but they are hardly short on talent and a title defense is very much on.