Just a couple weeks into the new MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE season and already the picture of the competition is getting clearer. Unsurprisingly, the defending champions Kawasaki Frontale look excellent and are the odds on favorite to top the league, while Nagoya Grampus look like the top challengers. Sagan Tosu are off to a great start, though, and maybe they are poised to break into the top four. Meanwhile, both of the newly promoted sides are looking up to the task of the top flight.
What will we be looking for in Matchweek 3?
Match to Watch
Kawasaki Frontale are the top scoring team, with 10 goals from three games, but if you want to see a match filled with goals on both ends, not to mention late thrills, you could hardly do better than Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo.
Sanfrecce have played to a pair of draws this season, both of which included last minute equalizers. In their opener, Sanfrecce capitulated with a last gasp goal against 10-man Vegalta Sendai. Their solution in Matchweek 2 was to build themselves a two-goal lead, but that also evaporated as Yokohama F·Marinos came rampaging back for a 3-3 draw.
Meanwhile, Consadole showed just how terrifying their attack can be when they scored five in their first match of the season. The full team performance was a treat, as forwards and midfielders interchanged beautifully. They scored from deep possession, on quick counterattacks and with high pressing. It was a masterclass in varied, inventive attacking prowess as Anderson Lopes and Chanathip Songkrasin led the way.
Both of these teams can do major damage with the ball and have the ability to score in bunches, or even concede at the worst of times. That’s a perfect setup for a thrilling match, and that’s what we could get in Hiroshima.
Player to Watch
It’s only been three matches, but Yoshito Okubo already has four goals to his name. The 38-year-old has been sensational since joining from Tokyo Verdy in the winter and Cerezo Osaka has needed each of his goals. Cerezo’s defense has not been at its best, with six goals in behind them already this season, so the attack has had to shine bright to keep them afloat and Okubo has risen to the occasion.
Cerezo is welcoming Shimizu S-Pulse and their high flying attack to Nagai Stadium this week, so odds are the Sakura will have to pour in goals if they want to take three points. That will put pressure on Okubo to keep banging in goals, but if the last few weeks are any indication, he will do just that.
Storyline to Watch
It’s far too early in the season to get caught up in the relegation battle, but turn your eyes to the bottom of the table and you see Yokohama FC, Kashima Antlers and Shonan Bellmare
Yokohama FC has really struggled all over the pitch. They’ve only managed two goals, but have conceded seven - the most in the league. The possession game hasn’t quite been there either. Certainly Yokohama FC are going to improve, and a match against Urawa Reds could give them a chance to set things right.
Kashima Antlers’ place towards the bottom isn’t entirely fair. They’ve only played one match so far due to a postponed contest against Gamba Osaka, but it is still unusual to see them anywhere but challenging the top of the table. Their opening match wasn’t great as their defense fell apart late and let Shimizu S-Pulse to score three to overturn a Kashima lead. With fresh legs after the weekend off and a chance to notch their first points of the season, expect them to come out flying with another points-less side Shonan Bellmare visiting.
Shonan Bellmare have actually defended pretty well, but the attack hasn’t clicked yet. Going away to a well-rested team isn’t usually ideal for turning things around, but if they can find an early goal, that might just be the spark they need.