J.League Preview: Tricky test for Sanfrecce
Thanks to a late collapse from long-time league leaders Yokohama F. Marinos last season, Sanfrecce won their final two games to claim a second successive J.League crown.
Kawasaki Frontale won each of their last four matches last term, securing a third-placed finish and ending just three points behind the champions.
Sanfrecce picked up a slender but valuable 1-0 win at Cerezo Osaka in their opening match of the new season last weekend, with Tsukasa Shiotani's 71st-minute strike enough to secure three points.
Frontale, meanwhile, slumped to a disappointing and surprising 2-2 home draw with newly-promoted Vissel Kobe. Ryo Matsumura netted in the 90th minute to seal a commendable point for the visitors.
Like Sanfrecce, Marinos got off to a winning start by comfortably dispatching Omiya Ardija 2-0 and up next is a trip to Shimizu S-Pulse.
Recent history will not provide much inspiration for Shimizu, who have only beaten Marinos in one of their last eight meetings in all competitions, while the corresponding fixture in the league last season ended in a 5-0 away win, with Marquinhos – now at Vissel – netting a hat-trick.
Sagan Tosu have enjoyed a huge change in fortunes since losing to Marinos back in August. That 2-1 defeat was the last in a run of 11 losses from 16 J.League matches and since then they have only failed to win five of their 15 domestic fixtures.
Tokushima Vortis were brought back to earth with a bump following promotion to the J.League as Sagan Tosu ran out 5-0 winners last Saturday. Urawa Reds host Sagan this weekend hoping to contain their attacking threat.
Two of the promoted sides – Tokushima and Vissel – face home games against Cerezo and Kashiwa Reysol, respectively.
Gamba Osaka are the third new side and they head to Albirex Niigata, who triumphed 2-1 at Vegalta Sendai in the opening round of games.
In the capital, Tokyo host Ventforet Kofu as both look to pick up their first wins, while Kashima Antlers welcome Sendai and Nagoya Grampus head to Omiya Ardija.