Match to Watch
What happens when one of the league’s hottest teams meets one of the league’s coldest? We’ll find out this weekend when Yokohama F·Marinos visit Vegalta Sendai.
Marinos haven’t lost since the season’s opening weekend, vaulting up the table despite playing fewer matches than anyone else in the top dozen. Daizen Maeda has led the way with six goals, but it’s been the defense that has really unlocked their potential. Marinos have now gone a month without conceding multiple goals in a match.
Things haven’t been so great for Vegalta. A draw to start the season remains their lone point, but things have gotten a bit better of late. The defense has shown signs of life, limiting opponents to just one or two goals in the last four matches after a rough stretch of crooked numbers, but they’ve scored just one goal total in that span.
While this may appear to be a mismatch based on form, it could be a tight match. Vegalta have more talent than their record shows and every expectation is that they find another gear soon. But what makes this one so interesting is what it could say about the winner’s trajectory. Will Marinos jump into the top four and maybe even start stalking Kawasaki Frontale for the top spot, or will Vegalta turn their season around and get out of the drop zone?
Player to Watch
Gamba Osaka’s return from a month-long COVID pause has gone relatively well. They’ve notched points in both matches, showing good organization and structure as they try to get up to the fitness and cohesion that teams which have played five more matches than them this season. But those two matches back have featured zero goals as their goal scoring has failed to match their strong defense.
That is where Patric comes in. The forward is going to be depended upon to be a big source of attacking play this season and has been relatively quiet in the last two matches. That’s hardly a criticism - as mentioned, everyone at Gamba is facing an uphill battle right now to catch up to the rest of the league. But the goals are going to have to start coming.
Keep an eye on Patric. When he finds his form and starts leading the Gamba attack, that is when Gamba will start racking up points. This is last season’s double runners up so you know Gamba are going to be good. It’s just a matter of time, and Patric is a big key to when that time is.
Storyline to Watch
Early in the season, the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE turned almost entirely on goals. Teams were banging them in as matches often rolled up four or five goals. But as the campaign has gone on, back lines have gelled and teams have gotten better, the matches have gotten more cagey. They are not quite as high scoring.
Now, when teams score early, those goals can really determine games. Defenses are making those early tallies hold up. That was on full display last matchweek when every match with a goal was won by the team that scored first.
The matches now are less shootout and more a battle for that first goal. That makes every minute, from the kickoff, so important. So who will score first?