23:54 Apr 29th 2021 J1 Matchweek 12 Viewer’s Guide: The "Top 2" clash ... again!

J1 Matchweek 6 Recap: Top teams pick up wins heading into international break

The MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE is back in action for Matchweek 12. Let's break down some of the action on the horizon!

Match to Watch

The top two teams in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE meet … again!

Kawasaki Frontale and Nagoya Grampus just met at Toyota Stadium, with an early blitz by Frontale leading them to a dominant 4-0 victory. And now the two sides meet again, this time in Kawasaki, where the champions have not lost since November of last year.

With Nagoya now trailing Frontale by six points, they desperately need to get a result in this return fixture if they want to keep their title hopes alive. It’s still early in the season, but falling behind by nine points to a team like Frontale might be a death knell.

The key for Grampus will be sorting out their defense. Frontale scored more goals in the one match than Grampus had conceded all season to that point, as they found acres of space on the wings to hit in pinpoint crosses and terrorized the Nagoya back line with late runners from midfield. Massimo Ficcadenti’s defenses are always terrific, but they were exposed by Frontale. How will they respond and adjust?

If Frontale’s attack keeps humming the way it has, with not even the vaunted Nagoya defense able to slow them down, they could start running away with the league now. Don’t forget, this is a team that set almost every J1 LEAGUE record just a year ago, and they could be even better this season.

Player to Watch

Nagoya’s success early in the season was due in large part to Sho Inagaki. The midfielder’s terrific play earned him Konami J1 LEAGUE MVP for February and March, a deserving honor for a player whose work in defense helped his team put forth the best defense in Japan, while also playing a key role in fueling the attack.

Against Frontale, Inagaki was largely shut down. The entire Nagoya defense was exposed and Inagaki was left trying to chase down multiple runners from the midfield, unsurprisingly with little success. The pressure Frontale put on Nagoya meant the men in red couldn’t play much in transition when they got the ball, and they pressed Inagaki so he couldn’t spark the Nagoya counter.

If Grampus are going to turn things around when they head to Kawasaki, they are going to need Inagaki to be one of the best players on the pitch. That’s going to mean sorting out the defense so he can be a ball winner, but also him being more aggressive in finding the ball and releasing it quickly to start the counterattack. If he can do that, and Nagoya can find their footing in transition, they have the chance to upset the champions.

Storyline to Watch

The attention of late has rightly been at the top of the table. With the league’s two best teams playing twice in a week, all eyes are going to be on them. But while Frontale and Nagoya battle, Yokohama F·Marinos are slowly climbing up the table and now find themselves in 4th. This despite having only played 10 matches, two or three fewer than the teams in front of them.

Marinos were hammered by Frontale in the season’s opening week, but that is the last time Marinos have lost in any competition. They have been absolutely sublime ever since, powered by an attack led by Daizen Maeda and his eight goals, but one that gets contributions from all over. No team has really been able to stop Marinos from getting the ball forward and creating chances from their many runners into the box, while their defense has held up too. Marinos give up fewer than a goal per match—a record that will have manager Ange Postecoglou pleased after the challenges of 2020.

So, while Frontale and Nagoya get all the headlines, keep an eye on Marinos. They take on a good F.C.Tokyo team this weekend and, if form is any indicator, are in line for more points as they continue to dispatch anyone they come up against.

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