This weekend marks the return of the J1 League - after a mid-season break.
During this time Japan’s national side were seriously underwhelming at the Confederations Cup, that being said however, they were in the tougher of the two groups having to face Brazil, Italy and Mexico.
The only highlight of the tournament was the 4-3 defeat with Italy, with Shinji Kagawa scoring the pick of Japan’s goals. It demonstrated that Japan do have the ability to mix it with the tougher European sides.
On to the return of the J League and current league leaders Omiya Ardija will be looking to continue their run of fine form and are really gunning for the title. The squirrels face Sagan Tosu, who placed 15th prior to the break.
Ardija will be hoping that the break hasn’t interfered with the good form of MilIvoje Novakovic and co. The incumbents of second place Urawa Red Diamonds will want to close the gap on Omiya as quickly as possible, and will look to start that with an away game in Kofu. The Reds are experienced enough to know how to win this league and are well positioned to return to the summit if Omiya do slip up. Yokohama F Marinos, who begun the season with a bang, had mixed results towards the end of the first half of the campaign.
They are still right in there though, sitting in third behind the Reds on goal difference. Shunsuke Nakamura will be hoping that he can captain the side to at the very least an AFC Champions League spot. They face Oita Trinita in what should be a relative walk over. However, Oita could turn up as a total different entity following the mid-season break, and may show a complete change of fight.
Staying with the bottom, Jubilo Iwata, will be looking to Ryoichi Maeda to lead them up the table. The striker who was part of the Japanese national side in Brazil will be looked at as Jubilo’s main source of goals, and he will have been disappointed with a return of two from 13 games so far this season. A tough game against Cerezo Osaka awaits them.
Cerezo are still in the mix for a Champions League spot, and will look to continue their rise up the table this coming weekend. Current Champions Sanfreece Hiroshima are just three points off second and third place, but one would think they are too far behind to be considered title contenders this year. Hisato Sato has been in good form in the goal scoring charts again though. An away trip to Tokyo looms though and the inhabitants of the Ajinomoto stadium, FC Tokyo, are the type of team that one week will look like the best team in the league, whilst the week later they look distinctly average.
Runners up Vegalta Sendai are un-recognizable from the side that finished as runners-up last term. A poor league season and a poor AFC Champions League campaign has been the name of the game for Vegalta, manager will be hoping for vast improvements when they re-start against relegation candidates Shonan Bellmare.
Kashima Antlers still hold faint hopes of an end of season title charge, however unlikely it does seem now. One thing is for certain though, their statue alone demands that they are in the AFC Champions League and that is the minimum requirement of them as of current. Faced with a tie away to Kawasaki Frontale, who has been on a decent run before the break, expect this one to be full of goals. With the Champions League not due to start for another month and a half, Kashiwa Reysol can fully concentrate their football on the league for now.
Reysol are the only club still unbeaten in the Champions League and face Al Shabab of Saudi Arabia. All they will be thinking about is their next game and that is away to Albirex Niigata, and the chance to gain three points. Last but not least, Nagoya Grampus face Shimizu S-Pulse in the Toyota Stadium.
For Japan based Arsenal and Manchester United fans, both clubs will be playing friendlies against J1 sides. Arsenal will face Nagoya Grampus, who manager Arsene Wenger used to coach, and Urawa Reds. Manchester United will face Cerezo Osaka; it will be a nice return for former Cerezo player Shinji Kagawa. United then go on to face Yokohama F Marinos where they will come up against old foe Nakamura who has scored against them for Celtic in the past.
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