J1 League 2019 Season Preview

J1 League 2019 Season Preview

J1 League 2019 Season Preview

J1 League 2019 Season Preview

The J-League is mostly overlooked league by football fans around the world, who prefer European football or soccer, whichever way you want to call it. But when it comes to football, the European leagues are not the be-all and end-all. While it’s true Europe is the home to some of the strongest leagues in the world, which is undoubtedly true especially with European national teams domination in the international events in recent years. But we must not forget there are other leagues in the world. Some may argue the “top” leagues are the only ones worth watching, but the truth is far from that. With numerous other football leagues, each with its own personality, atmosphere, fans and style that differentiates it from all others, you are truly missing out on the whole experience if you haven’t yet given a chance to other leagues.

One of the most interesting and intriguing leagues apart from the top European football leagues is, in my opinion, the Japanese J-League. It might come off as a surprise for many, that Japan has a long history in football. From amateur leagues which produced some great talents, to the inaugural season of the J-League which was made official in 1992, it was a long and successful road for Japanese football which has a bright future ahead of it. While it all started with only 10 clubs, the number of clubs in the J1 league slowly increased to 18, which is the number we see competing today. As a part of their 100-year plan, Japan hopes to have 100 professional football teams by the year 2092, and they are doing a good job, going in the right direction at full speed to achieve that. From continuously promoting teams to the higher divisions of football to huge financial investments, Japan has come a long way since 1992. While I won’t go into much detail about how has football in Japan grown in recent years and what is the future of this sport in the “land of the rising sun”, the 100-year plan was mentioned solely to prove how enthusiastic Japan is about football and how much resources and time they put into it.

What makes J-League interesting is the fact that it’s highly competitive. Out of all the teams we watch in the league, almost all have been relegated to the 2nd division at one point and climbed back on top. In addition, since 1992 we have seen a total of 9 different winners of the J1 League. Each year, before we step into a new season, there is never a clear favorite to win the league. Which on one side makes it difficult for bettors to perform well with their predictions, and on the other side makes the league that much more exciting for a spectator. It’s no surprise some of the European football stars decide to join Japanese League instead of MLS or Turkish league. Iniesta, Villa, Torres and Podolski are only a few names that joined the J-League. I could go on and talk about how great the culture is, how electric atmosphere is or how great support from fans the clubs receive is but the only way for you to understand it is to be there, see it, feel it and experience it. As we cross out the days on our calendar and slowly approach the 2nd half of February we get closer and closer to crossing out the 22nd day of the month. For some, it will be a usual Friday, for others, it will represent the day the J1 League starts. With days running out, I can already feel the excitement in the air. However, with excitement, there is also the other side that comes with it. It’s the dubiousness of how will the team you wholeheartedly support perform in the upcoming season. Will they finish top 3 or will other teams outperform them, thus pushing them down the leaderboards? While I don’t own a crystal globe to answer this question, I have prepared a J1 League 2019 Season preview, in which we will check the teams who will compete in the 27th edition of J1 league, their performance last season, the changes they went through since last season, and of course our humble prediction on how we believe the teams will perform in the upcoming season. You can check out all the current transfers here: LINK

With no specific order in which we will present the teams, let’s start with Cerezo Osaka.

 


 

Cerezo Osaka

Founded in 1957, Cerezo Osaka got promoted into the J1 League in 1995 after they won the JFL championship in 1994. The same year, Cerezo Osaka also lost against Bellmare Hiratsuka in the Emperor’s Cup, which they eventually won in 2017. This was also the same year Cerezo Osaka were crowned the J League Cup winners for the first time in their history.

 

2018 Season: 7th; 13-11-10; 39:38

Looking at their last season, Cerezo Osaka were a disappointment. Finishing 7th is not bad per se, however after an impressive 2017 season, when Cerezo Osaka won 2 cups, you can’t help but expect a bit more from them the next year. If I needed to describe their performance last year it was simply mediocre. The biggest issue with the team was the fact that their key players failed to perform up to par in matches that mattered. In addition, Cerezo Osaka had some chemistry issues which did not help with their performances. With 39 goals scored and 38 conceded, they were not nearly as dangerous as the season before, in fact, they scored 3rd least goals in the league.

 

Expectations for the 2019 season

Their goal scoring problem is now (most likely) gone with Sugimoto out of the club. As his replacement, Osaka brought in Ken Tokura, former H.C. Sapporo player, where he scored 72 goals and added 17 assists in 182 games played. Ken Tokura, in my opinion, is a great replacement and a much more valuable player compared to Sugimoto. While Tokura is 32 years old, I don’t believe the age will stop him for a couple more years. As for Yamaguchi replacement, Cerezo Osaka brought in Leandro Desabato, the Argentinian midfielder who has played in Casco da Gama in the previous season. In conclusion, Cerezo Osaka seems better compared to last season. If everything falls into place, we just might be looking at a great season for this team. In the end, it will all come down to how well the new players perform and how well they fit into the squad. If that happens, I believe they can get close to the top 3 finish. In the worst-case scenario, Cerezo Osaka will most likely finish at around the same spot as last season.

 


 

Gamba Osaka

Founded in 1980, Gamba Osaka has been a part of J1 league since 1992. In their long history, Gamba Osaka has only once been relegated into J2 league, which was back in 2013. Surprisingly enough the next year they got back into J1 league in 2014 finished 1st, won the J League Cup and Emperor’s Cup. In total, Gamba Osaka finished 1st in the league 3 times, won the J League Cup 2 times (3 times runners-up), won the Emperor’s Cup 4 times (2 times runners-up) and finished 3rd in FIFA CWC in 2008.

 

2018 Season: 9th; 14-6-14; 41:46

After great seasons from 2014-2016, Gamba Osaka have had 2 poor seasons in 2017 and 2018. In 2017 they finished 10th. Last season they finished slightly better at 9th, still with a poor record of 14-6-14. Despite a poor finish, Gamba Osaka did perform admirably in the 2nd part of the season, however, it did not help much in the greater scheme of things. The results they have put up in the last 2 seasons are far from what their supporters want and expect from a team that was among the top 3 for 8 straight years.

 

Expectations for the 2019 season

We did not see many changes in the Gamba Osaka squad during the transfer window. The only changes regarding new players are 2 new defenders; Kim and Aoyama, who will help with the problem in the backline, which conceded 46 goals last season. In fact, their defence has not been good since… well since Gamba Osaka were good. As for their offence, it’s where it needs to be. While they have not scored a lot of goals last season, it has something to do with poor defence. With an improved defence, strong offence and an established coach in Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, Gamba Osaka look strong going into the next season. The only concern I have with them is their midfield. As of now, they rely on Konno and Endo who are both in their late 30s (36 and 39 years of age). If Gamba had brought in a good midfielder to replace at least one of those two they would surely be a top 3 team in my opinion. With their current midfield options and a strong team in other aspects, I believe Gamba Osaka will end in the upper part of the league. As mentioned, top 3 is not likely, however, a 6th or 5th spot finish would not surprise me.

 


 

Jubilo Iwata

Established in 1972, Júbilo Iwata started their journey in the J1 league in 1994. They have played in the J1 until 2013 when they got demoted into J2, where Júbilo Iwata spent 2 seasons until they returned to J1 in 2016. In the history of the club, Júbilo Iwata has finished 1st in J1 league 3 times (3 times runners-up), won the J League Cup twice (3 times runners-up), won the Emperor’s Cup once (once runners-up) and won the Asian Club Championship in 1999 (2 times runners-up).

 

2018 Season: 16th; 10-11-13; 35:48

Since Jubilo Iwata returned to J1 league, they have had their ups and downs. the 2016 season was as expected mediocre at best, 2017 season was great and last season was disastrous. A 16th spot finish saw Jubilo Iwata “fight for survival” against Tokyo Verdy, which they ultimately won. As a reward, they get to try their luck once more in the J1 league, in hopes to repeat the 2017 season. While we talk about how bad Jubilo Iwata was last season, it is true the injuries set them back a lot.

 

Expectations for the 2019 season:

I don’t believe they will be surprisingly good this season either. While it’s true injuries affected Jubilo Iwata performances last season, they are still not even close to being a top 5 team. Hiroshi Nanami will have a hard task keeping this boat afloat in 2019, especially due to the fact Iwata made a total of 3 new signings, only three. And while 3 transfers can mean a lot, it really doesn’t in this case. Out of 3 new signings, there are none that I am excited about. Without any star players and squad depth, Jubilo Iwata is most likely up for another hard season which just might see them in the relegation zone once more. If, however, Adailton and Nakamura stay healthy, they could finish above the relegation, otherwise, it’s another “fight for survival”.

 


 

H.C. Sapporo

One of the oldest teams in the J1 league, Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo or in short H.C. Sapporo have first appeared in the J1 League in 1998 but got relegated back to J2 next season. In their history, H.C. Sapporo has played 14 seasons in J2 and 7 in J1 and has never won any silverware. Their best finish was 4th spot last season. The 2019/20 season will mark the 3rd consecutive year we will see H.C. Sapporo compete at the highest tier.

 

Season 2018: 4th; 15-10-9; 48:48

Looking at their last season, H.C. Sapporo had a great season. They have finished 4th overall which was the best result in the club’s history. While it had a bitter taste to it, as they missed the top 3 by a single point, it was still a historic result. In addition, they have got to the 4th round of Emperor’s Cup and group stages of J League Cup. A lot of their success goes to their coach Mihailo Petrovic, who took a team that barely got out of J2 after 4 years and took them to the 4th spot in J1. H.C. Sapporo were arguably one of the most disciplined teams in the previous season and I can’t wait to see what they bring to the table this season.

 

Expectations for the 2019 season

Even a season that would come close to the last one would be a success. But can they do it? While they kept most of their core which brought them to the 4th place, I have some doubts about them repeating their impressive record. The departure of Tokura and Miyoshi means H.C. Sapporo lost 2 key players. On the bright side, they have also brought in some decent reinforcements. Despite the fact they have managed to replace the departures I am dumbfounded by their lack of reinforcements in the back. With 48 goals conceded last season, a stronger defence is something I expected them to work on. In conclusion, I can see them finishing in the upper mid-table, somewhere around the 6th place if the defence can hold on. While they had a really good season behind them I another 4th spot finish is most likely out of the question.

 


 

Kashima Antlers

Established in 1947, Kashima Antlers are considered one of the best teams in the J1 league and rightfully so. In their history, Kashima Antlers have not yet been relegated into J2, which translates into 26 straight years in the first tier of Japan league. In the course of those 26 years, Kashima Antlers finished 1st in the league 8 times, won 7 J League Cups (3 times runners-up), won the Emperor’s Cup 5 times (2 times runners-up), got to the finals of FIFA CWC in 2016 and won the AFC Championship in 2018.

 

Season 2018: 3rd; 16-8-10; 50:39

If I needed to describe Kashima Antlers in one word it would be; consistent. In the past few years, Antlers proved to be among the most consistent teams in the league, as they are always considered a candidate for the top 3 finish. Maybe there were 3 seasons when they failed to be a real threat to the top spots in the league, but in 26 years that is negligible. Last season we saw Kashima Antlers finishing 3rd, which was a good result. Add the title of ACL, which was the first time they won it and you’ve got a recipe for a great season for Kashima Antlers. The only thing a quick peek at the leaderboards shows is the fact they were 13 points behind the league winners Kawasaki Frontale, which is quite a lot.

 

Expectations for the 2019 season

We will be looking at a completely different backline in 2019 season after the departure of Shoji, Nishi and the arrival of Bueno. Nonetheless, Kashima Antlers are still strong in all other aspects. Strong attack, which scored 50 goals (3rd most in the league) last season and an exceptional midfield which helped the attackers with their job. Apart from some signings, Kashima Antlers will come into the next season with mostly the same core as the one which won the AFC last season and finished 3rd in the J1 League. All in all, Kashima Antlers did not really make any big changes to their squad, I guess they went by the rule “Don’t fix it if it’s not broken”. What I expect from Antlers this season is another fight for top spots. A 1st spot finish is unlikely but possible, but then again, a 5th spot finish is just as unlikely… but possible.

 


 

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Established in 1938, Sanfrecce Hiroshima has been a part of J1 league since 1993. In their time competing in the league, they have dropped to the J2 league twice (2003 and 2008), however, they got back into J1 league in a single year. In the history of the club, Sanfrecce Hiroshima has finished 1st in the league 4 times, reached the finals of J League Cup twice, finished runner-ups in the Emperor’s Cup 5 times and finished 3rd in FIFA CWC in 2015.

 

Season 2018: 2nd; 17-6-11; 47:35

After settling for a 15th place in 2017, the 2nd spot finish last season was a huge improvement for Sanfrecce Hiroshima and maybe a sign of good things to come. It’s still a mystery to me how did Sanfrecce Hiroshima manage to finish so high up the leaderboards. While they did have a strong attacking line, most notably Patric, who scored 20 goals in 33 games, Sanfrecce Hiroshima did not seem a team to finish in the top 3, heck, I would even be sceptical about a top 6 finish if you asked me before the 2018 season started. Nonetheless, Sanfrecce Hiroshima played exceptionally well this season, going against all odds and finished 2nd in the league. As for their J League Cup and Emperor’s Cup campaigns, Sanfrecce Hiroshima were knocked out of J League Cup in the group stage, while they managed to get to the Round of 16 in the Emperor’s Cup.

 

Expectations for the 2019 season:

Still chasing their first silverware, Sanfrecce Hiroshima will hope 2019 will be their year. As they step into the next season, they have not traded away any important players so the core is more or less the same. While their striker Thai has left, he has been replaced by 2 new forwards; Minagawa who arrived from Roasso Kumamoto and Douglas who arrived from Tokyo Verdy, where he scored 14 goals last season. In addition, Sanfrecce Hiroshima strengthened their defence with 3 new defensive players. If I go on and predict where I see Sanfrecce Hiroshima finishing the 2019 season, I would be impressed if they manage to repeat their last season, which I don’t believe they will. Nonetheless, an upper table finish is possible for Sanfrecce Hiroshima, who impressed us all last season and still has a good enough squad to upset some top teams in the league.

 


 

Kawasaki Frontale

Established in 1955 as Fujitsu SC and later renamed into Kawasaki Frontale in 1997, they have just missed being a part of J1 league at its inception. Soon after Kawasaki Frontale gained independence from Fujitsu, they have been promoted into J1 league in 2000. Apart from the relegation back to the J2 league in 2001-04, Kawasaki Frontale have been a part of the J1 league ever since 2005. In their history, Kawasaki Frontale has been one of the most consistent teams in the league and established themselves as a powerhouse last season after they won the 2nd J League title in a row.

 

Season 2018: 1st; 21-6-7; 57:27

Champions of the J1 League, Kawasaki Frontale have ended the season a class above their opponents. With 69 points gathered throughout the 34 games, they have finished an impressive 12 points above the 2nd placed Sanfrecce Hiroshima and 13 points above the 3rd placed Kashima Antlers. As for other achievements, Kawasaki Frontale got to the quarter-finals of AFC Champions League and Emperor’s Cup and J League Cup. Their goals scored and conceded alone show the superiority of Kawasaki Frontale last season. 57 goals scored is 1 more than 2nd most efficient offensive team Shimizu S-Pulse, while 27 goals conceded is 7 less than FC Tokyo and Sagan Tosu who had conceded only 34 goals.

 

Expectations for the 2019 season

Coming into the next season, Kawasaki Frontale have added a strong forward in their squad; Leonardo Damiao, who proved to be a potent attacker while playing in Brazil. With an already strong attack, which scored 57 goals last season, we can only imagine how strong Kawasaki Frontale will be in 2019. On the other side, Kawasaki Frontale and Elsinho decided to part their ways, as he moved to Shimizu S-Pulse. While this departure is the only one which might affect the team, I believe Kawasaki Frontale have got players to replace him in the defensive end. As for what we expect from Kawasaki Frontale in 2019, they will have to combine league and ACL matches, which might slow them down a bit, but not too much. The only thing I am a bit concerned is their defence and how will it perform without Elsinho. As said, I believe they will do fine, but then again, he was a key player at the back. All things considered, I expect them to compete for the top 3 finish as they did in the last 2 seasons.

 


 

Urawa Red Diamonds

Established in 1950, Urawa Red Diamonds first appeared in the J1 league in 1993. As an interesting fact, Urawa Red Diamonds got their name from 3 diamonds in their logo which represents their owner; Mitsubishi. Looking at Urawa achievements in the history of competing in J1, they have finished 1st in the league only once (2006), but managed finished 2nd in 6 seasons. In addition, Urawa won the J League Cup twice (4 times runners-up), won the Emperor’s Cup 3 times (once runners-ups), won the AFC twice and finished 3rd in FIFA CWC in 2007.

 

Season 2018: 5th; 14-9-11; 51:39

After a 7th spot finish in the league in 2017 season, Urawa Red Diamonds managed to finish 5th last season in addition to winning the Emperor’s Cup after defeating Vegalta Sendai (1:0) in the finals. This was their 3rd Emperor’s Cup and the first one after 12 years. Despite a high finish, I had expected Urawa to be among top 3, for 2 reasons: they did not have to compete in the in the ACL in addition to having an improved defence going into 2018 season. While they did improve defensively and conceded only 39 goals while scoring an impressive 51, Urawa Red DIamonds still failed to finish in the top 3, missing the top 3 by 4 points. That was the 2nd season in a row when Urawa failed to finish top 3, however, with the Emperor’s Cup, they will still get to compete in the AFC. All things considered, I am a bit confused about how a team that is among the richest in the league and has star players in their squad fails to finish higher. They are not bad per se, but they seemingly choke at some point in the season.

 

Expectations for the 2019 season

Despite somewhat underwhelming performances in the league, Urawa are improving, which is clearly seen in their 2 recent cups. Still, they don’t seem to be able to go the full distance in the league, which just might change sooner or later. Heading into the next season, Urawa have further strengthened their defence with new additions Yamanaka and Daisuke Suzuki, who are both excellent players. Despite losing Wataru Endo to Sint-Truiden I believe Urawa are set in the defence. Moving up the field, Urawa Reds are looking good in the midfield. Despite some good options they have added Ewerton just to have more options when rotating the squad. Their potent attack has added another player (Sugimoto), which I believe won’t be a part of the regular rotation, however, it’s nice to see some more options in the attack as well. All in all, Urawa Reds are a complete team, with no obvious weak points. I believe they have got the squad to go all the way and win the league this season. The only concern about Urawa is that they don’t seem to have a team but rather strong individuals. If the coach can make the team work as a single unit, I see no reason why they shouldn’t be considered a favourite to finish 1st in 2019.

 


 

FC Tokyo

Founded in 1935 as Tokyo Gas and later renamed into FC Tokyo (in 1999), this Japanese team has been a part of the J1 league since 2000, when they got promoted from J2. In their 20 years long history of competing in the J1 and J2 league, FC Tokyo has been demoted twice; in 1999 and 2001, however, managed to get back into the top tier of the competition in a single year. As for their achievements, FC Tokyo has won the J League Cup twice (2004 and 2009) as well as Emperor’s Cup in 2011 while they played in the J2 league.

 

Season 2018: 6th; 14-8-12; 39:34

Finishing last season 6 points short of reaching the top 3, FC Tokyo has, in my opinion, failed to achieve what was expected of them. As a team that receives a lot of attention and are even considered among the best teams in the league, the 6th spot just won’t do it. I look at Tokyo FC as an underachiever when it comes to their results, they are capable of much more, but in the end, they don’t get there. On the bright side, 2018 was a huge improvement from their 2017 season when they finished 13th.

 

Expectations for the 2019 season

No major signings mean no major changes for Tokyo FC this season. All in all, they have got a good team, but some fresh legs in the midfield would do wonders for them. Tokyo has got a good defence and strikers, but due to poor midfield they cannot utilize their strikers to full potential and put up better numbers. In conclusion, Tokyo has a good defence and a good manager, but this is not enough for them to compete for a top 3 spot. While their striker Diego Oliveira proved he can score goals, the midfield is not capable of feeding him the ball frequently enough. Solely due to their strong defence, I believe Tokyo FC can finish in the upper part of the league, however anything more than 5th is unlikely.

 


 

Shimizu S-Pulse

One of the youngest teams in the league, Shimizu S-Pulse was founded in 1991 and had been a part of J1 league since its inaugural season. Since 1993, Shimizu S-Pulse have only once been relegated to J2 league (2016) where they stayed for only a season until they eventually returned to J1 league where they remained for the following years. Since 1992 Shimizu S-Pulse won the J League cup once (4 times runners-up), won the Emperor’s Cup once (4 times runners-up) and won the CWC in 2000 as well as finished 3rd the next year. Their best finish in the league was 2nd place in 1999.

 

Season 2018: 8th; 14-7-13; 56:48

Last season we saw a huge improvement from 2017 season when they finished 14th, as Shimizu S-Pulse managed to finish 8th, 7 points behind the top 3 and only 2 points behind the top 5. With an 8th spot finish, Shimizu S-Pulse surpassed all my expectations. Personally, I thought this club would finish in the bottom part of the league, but how wrong was I. Their attack proved to be the 2nd most effective in the league, scoring 56 goals, which is only 1 less than Kawasaki Frontale. What is interesting in Shimizu S-Pulse offence they do not have a “star striker” who can score 20+ goals per season, instead, they had 3 attackers who scored 10, 11 and 13 goals. In conclusion, it was the best season Shimizu S-Pulse has had in the last 8 years and possibly a sign of a successful future.

 

Expectations for the 2019 season

With one of the best attacks in the league, we can expect a lot of goals from this side next season as well. Not only have they got a powerful duo in Douglas and Kitagawa, but also a solid back-up in Chong Tese. Despite having a strong attack and decent midfield, the defence is where they lacked quality last season, but with the new arrivals of Elsinho and Wanderson, Shimizu S-Pulse defence looks better. Still not at the level they would have hoped, but better. With new arrivals and a great manager, Jan Jönsson, Shimizu S-Pulse looks more than ready for the next season. I still don’t believe they will compete for top spots, solely due to their defence, however, I also do not believe they will be anywhere near the relegation zone either.

 


 

Vissel Kobe

Established in 1966, Vissel Kobe first appeared in the J1 league in 1997. Since then, Kobe were demoted to J2 leaguer twice (2006 and 2013), however, managed to get back to the top tier within 1 season. As for their achievements, Vissel Kobe best finish in the league was the 7th spot in 2016. In 22 years of competing, Kobe has not yet won a silverware.

 

Season 2018: 10th; 12-9-13; 45:52

Last season, Vissel Kobe were mediocre at most, which resulted in them finishing mid-table, at the 10th spot. With only 45 points, they were only 4 points clear of the relegation zone and 11 points short of reaching the top 3. Towards the end of the 2018 season, Vissel Kobe were among the top 5, which gave them hope to finish higher, however bad results in the last 8 rounds saw them dropping to the 10th spot. If we draw the line, Kobe were disappointing last season, as I expected more of them, especially with the star players they have and all the money they spent on them. Also, their drop of form, which saw them falling from 5th spot down to 10th in the final rounds was not the end of the season they hoped for.

 

Expectations for the 2019 season

With Iniesta in their squad and newly added David Villa from MLS, Vissel Kobe are expected to prove their worth this season. David Villa has been a strong striker in MLS and Australia where he played in the last 4 seasons and while J League is considered of a higher quality, there are a lot of expectations from Villa to produce goals. The only thing I am a bit concerned is his age, however, he has proven us he still has power in his legs despite his 37 years. In addition to David Villa, Vissel Kobe also strengthened their defence with Dankler, Nishi and Hatsuse. Alongside all the new players, Vissel Kobe also added a new manager, Juan Manuel Lillo. With all the money spent, you could expect a high finish from this side. At the end of the day, they have got some star players, who are old and way past their prime, but still capable of producing decent results. The potential is there, the question is how will Kobe utilize it.

 


 

Vegalta Sendai

Among the younger teams in the J1 league, established in 1988 the Vegalta Sendai have first appeared in the J1 league in 2002, where they stayed until 2004 when they got demoted into J2 once again. After 6 long years competing in the 2nd division, Vegalta Sendai returned back to 1st tier of Japanese football where they remained up until now. In their history, the best finish was 2nd place in 2012, however, Vegalta Sendai have not been performing as well in the years that followed, finishing 11th or lower since 2013.

 

Season 2018: 11th; 13-6-15; 44:54

The 2018 season started well for this side, as they managed to remain in the top 3 until the 8th round when Vegalta Sendai eventually started falling down the leaderboards. Prior to the start of the season, Vegalta Sendai were seeming without any goalscorers, and while that was somewhat true, their main problem was defence, which conceded 54 goals. While Vegalta Sendai did not perform as well as they would have hoped, their finish was still higher than it was expected from them. Before the start of the 2018 season, I thought of them as a possible relegation zone team, which is not far from the truth, as they missed by only 4 points. Overall, the team is consistent, finishing in the 11th-14th place for the past 6 years. What I like about them is that they are capable of upsetting some stronger teams due to their teamwork and team spirit, sadly they lack money which would bring in a star player(s) means they will most likely finish in the bottom half of the season once more.

 

Expectations for the 2019 season

As mentioned, Vegalta Sendai lacks good players, which is somewhat their fault as they seem to sell all good players instead of keeping them and build a team around them. Last season they managed to escape the relegation zone due to a phenomenal performance from their striker Takumi Nishimura, but he as well was sold to CSKA Moscow at the end of August. In addition, they have lost 4 more players; Okuno, Notsuda, Nakano and Itakura. Vegalta Sendai did manage to bring in replacement, but I am a bit sceptical if the new arrivals are as good as the players that left the team. If we draw a conclusion, Vegalta Sendai does not look too good this season, in fact, they seem much weaker than last season. I expected them to finish in the relegation zone last season, but they managed to escape it. This season I expect nothing more than the relegation zone once again. While I hope they surprise me and finish as high as they did last year, or even higher, Vegalta Sendai simply do not look strong enough for that to happen.

 


 

Yokohama F. Marinos

Established in 1972 as Nissan Motors F.C., and later renamed into Yokohama F. Marinos after the Yokohama Marinos and Yokohama Flűgels merged in 1999. The team is one of the most successful J-league clubs in the history of the competition. In their history, Yokohama F. Marinos have finished 1st in the league 3 times (3 times runners-up), won the J League Championship once (once runners-up), won the Emperor’s Cup twice (one-time runners-up) and won the Asian Winners’ Cup twice.

 

Season 2018: 12th; 12-5-17; 56:56

Before the season started, Yokohama F. Marinos were expected to finish as high as in 2017, when they were 5th, however with the departure of Martinus and Saito, that was not going to happen as their midfield was not as strong as it was a year prior. As the 2018 season went by, it was clear it was not only the creativity that was missing in the Yokohama F. Marinos but it was also their defence that suffered. While they managed to score 56 goals (2nd most in the league), Yokohama F. Marinos also conceded 56, which was among the 2nd most in the league. If we draw a line, their poor defence was the sole reason for the poor finish, while the attack was doing a superb job.

 

Expectations for the 2019 season

The defence was a clear issue last season, and while we expected Yokohama F. Marinos to do something in that department, it does not seem like they did enough. Since the Nakazawa retired and Yamanaka left for Urawa, Marinos brought in Theeraton, Dusan and Thiago Martins. Who are not bad, however, I am sceptical if they are on the level Nakazawa and Yamanaka were. In the midfield, Yokohama F. Marinos welcome the new addition, Miyoshi, who has proven his worth in Consadole Sapporo last season and is expected to do the same with Marinos. The team also replaced Ito and Hugo Vieira up front with Marcos Junior and Edigar Junio both from Brazil. Yokohama F. Marinos performance in 2019 is hard to predict. Their defence is in my opinion still lacking, while the new additions in the attack are hard to evaluate. If the defence can perform up to par and concede fewer goals than last season, Yokohama F. Marinos can finish higher up, otherwise, we will be looking at yet another bottom table finish.

 


 

Shonan Bellmare

Established in 1968, the Shonan Bellmare first appeared in the J1 League in 1994, when they won the Emperor’s Cup. They remained in the J1 League until 1999, when Shonan Bellmare got demoted to the 2nd tier. In their history, the Shonan Bellmare got demoted to the J2 league 4 times and returned back to the J1 league 4 times. As for the next season, it will be their 12th season competing in the highest tier of Japanese football. In the history of the club, Shonan Bellmare won the Emperor’s Cup once (1994), won the Asian Winners’ Cup once and won the J League once.

 

Season 2018: 13th; 10-11-13; 38:43

After a great season in J2 in 2017, Shonan Bellmare were hovering around the bottom of the league in J1. From the 2nd spot finish in J2 league to barely making it out of J1 league, Shonan Bellmare were seemingly not prepared well enough to compete at the top level. To be fair we did not expect much from this side. Yes, they have made some new signings before the season start, but in the end, it was not enough to compete for the top spots. With only 41 points, Shonan Bellmare were among 5 teams who were all tied with Jubilo Iwata at 16th spot in the league. In the end, it was the goal difference which saved 4 out of the 5 teams from relegation. One of them being Shonan Bellmare.

 

Expectations for the 2019 season

There have been a lot of arrivals and mostly departures in Shonan Bellmare before the next season. This might seem worrying, but most of those players were not regulars, so it should not affect the team too much. The only 2 players out of all the departures that saw any regular time were Takayama and Ishikawa. Nonetheless, they were replaced by decent players. In the defence, Shonan Bellmare brought in 2 new defenders, which should make Shonan Bellmare defence stronger. Heading into the next season, Shonan seems to be stronger, but I do not expect much from them, mostly due to their poor offence. Bottom of the league is the most likely where they will end up, however, I believe Shonan Bellmare will manage to avoid relegation.

 


 

Sagan Tosu

Founded in 1997, Sagan Tosu is the youngest team in the J1 league. They first appeared in the J1 league in 2012, after spending 13 seasons in J2. Ever since 2012, Sagan Tosu have managed to stay in the top tier of Japan football, with their worst performance being the 14th spot last season and their best result being the 5th spot finish in 2012 and 2014. As for silverware, Sagan Tosu has not wone one yet.

 

Season 2018: 14th; 10-11-13; 29:34

I’m surprised Sagan Tosu was not relegated last season. Despite high ambitions and a lot of money spent, seemingly nothing worked for them. With only 29 goals scored in 34 games, they have established themselves as the worst offensive team in the league by a mile. The “2nd worst offensive team” were Jubilo Iwata who still scored 6 goals more. If we go looking for a reason for their poor offence, it was mostly due to their coach Ficcacenti, who approached games highly defensively. That approach might be suitable for some teams, but Sagan Tosu is not one of them, which was clearly seen when he got replaced by Lluís Carreras and Sagan Tosu started performing better. While Sagan Tosu failed to produce goals, they at least managed to protect their net decently well with only 34 goals conceded.

 

Expectations for the 2019 season

The new coach proved to be the right addition for this team. As soon as he arrived at the team, the results improved, however it was so late into the season, the most he could do is help Sagan Tosu escape the relegation zone, which they ultimately did. Going into the next season, Sagan Tosu added 2 more defensive players to their already impressive defence. As for the other side of the field, Sagan Tosu biggest issue last season was scoring goals. 29 goals in 34 games is just terrible, however as mentioned their former coach had something to do with it. With players like Torress, newly added Cuenca and Ibarbo, who has missed last season due to injuries, Sagan Tosu has the potential to be deadly in the attack. With all the improvements and the return of Ibarbo as well as the addition of former Barcelona player at the wing, I am sure Sagan Tosu will end the season higher than they did last season. A 10th spot finish is the least I expect of them.

 


 

Nagoya Grampus

Established in 1939 as Toyota Motors SC and later renamed into Nagoya Grampus in 1992, this team has been a part of J1 league since 1993. In 2017 they played in J2 after finishing 2016 season 16th in J1 league. Apart from 1 season in the 2nd tier, Nagoya Grampus has played in J1 for its entire history. During the time in J1 league, Nagoya Grampus finished 1st in the league once (one time runners-up), won the Emperor’s Cup two times (one time runners-up) and finished as runners-up in the Asian Winners Cup in 1997.

 

Season 2018: 15th; 12-5-17; 52:59

After returning to the J1 league, the first season with the “big boys” was though as expected. While Nagoya Grampus had an exceptionally strong attack which produced 3rd most goals in the league (52), they were extremely bad in the defensive end, where they conceded a total of 59 goals, which is tied with V-Varen Nagasaki as the most goals conceded in the 2018 season. The whole 2018 season for Nagoya Grampus can be described as a struggle to stay afloat. Only a few rounds into the J1 league, they were already in the relegation zone, where they remained until the last round. However, they managed to climb out of it in the dying moments of the league and finished 15th.

 

Expectations for the 2019 season

There was one issue with this squad last season and it should not come off as a surprise it was their defence. Nagoya Grampus seems to have taken notice of it and brought in some reinforcements in the backline. With newly added Yoshida and Chiba at the back, they should look stronger this season. Another noteworthy addition is without a doubt Yonemoto in the midfield. With an improved defence and a potent attack which showed their firepower last season, Nagoya Grampus look ready for the 2019 season. While I’m still a bit skeptical of how good their defence really is, I do see them finishing higher than last season.

 


 

Matsumoto Yamaga

Established in 1965, Matsumoto Yamaga is a team that has spent most of its history in J3 and J2 league, but just recently got promoted into J1 league, where they will compete in 2019 season. Matsumoto Yamaga have climbed from the 3rd tier to J2 in 2011, where they remained for 3 years until they got to the J1 league. Due to poor performances in the first tier of J-League, Matsumoto Yamaga were demoted back to J2 in 2 short years. But with great performances last season, Matsumoto Yamaga are back among the “big boys” in hopes to perform better than the last time we saw them competing in the J1.

Season 2018: 1st; 21-14-7; 54:34 (J2 League)

Matsumoto Yamaga have had an impressive season behind them, finishing as the Champions of the J2 league with a 21-14-7 and +20 goal difference. A lot of their success is due to the impressive defence, which conceded the least goals among all the teams in J2, the result of which is only 7 games lost in 42 played.

Expectations for the 2019 season

We have seen a lot of transfers that happened in the team. Most notably both Takahashi and Tsukagawa left the club, which left a huge hole in midfield, which was later filled with Iwama and Ishihara. In addition to the changes in midfield, Matsumoto Yamaga have brought in Leandro Pereira from Club Brugge, who should prove to be a huge asset in the attack. After a poor performance in J1 league (2015), Matsumoto Yamaga seems better prepared this time. Despite the new players and a strong defence, which has proven its worth last season, Matsumoto Yamaga is still not at the level to compete against top teams in J1 League. Nonetheless, they have enough quality in their team to finish above the relegation zone. If their additions prove themselves, I would not be surprised if the finish mid-table, however, this is a long shot.

 


 

Oita Trinita

Established in 1994, Oita Trinita started their road in the J2 league in 1999, where they remained until 2003 which was the year Oita Trinita first appeared in the J1 league. After 6 years in J1, they got demoted back to J2 where they remained until 2012, when they once again tested their strength in J1, but finished last, thus getting demoted for the 2nd time. In 2016, Oita Trinita even appeared in J3, however easily finished 1st and got back to J2. The 2019 season will be their 3rd attempt to show other teams and the world that they belong in the top tier of J-League. In the history of the club, Oita Trinita won only 1 silverware; the J League Cup in 2008, only a year before getting demoted to J2.

 

Season 2018: 2nd; 23-7-12; 76:51 (J2 League)

51 goals conceded in one season do not mean much if you can score 76. That’s a motto Oita Trinita seemed to approach last season, as they conceded 8th most goals in the league but scored the most goals among all other teams. From a 76:51 record it seems like Oita Trinita does not play with any players in the back, but rather puts all of them in the attacking line. All jokes aside, 76 goals is impressive, and arguably the only reason they got promoted after 5 long years.

 

Expectations for the 2019 season

Oita Trinita are coming into this season with 9 new players, in hopes, this will be enough to keep them in the league. With an addition of 2 defenders; Misao and Shoji, Oita Trinita hopes to reduce the number of goals they will concede this season. But despite 2 new players at the back, I am not exactly sure how Oita Trinita will perform. At the end of the day, they are playing against the best team in Japan after conceding 51 goals in J2. Surprisingly enough, Oita Trinita added another scorer up front as well. Onaiwu, who has played at Reno Yamaguchi last season where he managed to score 22 goals is considered a huge addition to Oita attack. I will gladly follow Oita Trinita, who in my opinion have got a team that is capable of upsetting some of J1 teams with their potent attack. While I don’t believe Oita Trinita will end up in the relegation zone this season, they won’t finish far from it, especially with their defence.