Can Kawasaki retain the J-League for a third successive time?
newsonjapan.com -- May 14
In November 2018, Kawasaki were crowned champions of the J-League for the second season running despite losing 2-1 to Cerezo Osaka. Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s last-gasp home defeat to Vegalta Sendai was enough to seal the title for Kawasaki with two games to spare.

For much of the season it seemed unlikely that Kawasaki would be successful in their title defence with Hiroshima leading the table by 9 points at the midway point of the season. Hiroshima’s collapse has been credited as the reason behind Kawasaki’s successful title defence, but according to the J-League odds at William Hill, Kawasaki are firm favourites to recreate their success this season.

But who are the other runners and riders in the 2019 J-League season?

Cerezo Osaka

There’s no doubt that the 2018 season was a massive disappointment for Osaka, but fans can go into the new season with more than the usual pre-season optimism. In the 2017 season Osaka romped to cup success in two different competitions, but in the following season were hamstrung by goal scoring difficulties.

A 7th place finish in the J-League last time out screams mid-table mediocrity, but that finish was actually impressive when you consider the team’s troubles in front of goal. Osaka scored just 39 goals in 38 games – the third lowest figure in the league.

Profligate striker Kenyu Sugimoto has been shown the door after his disappointing season and has moved on to Urawa Red Diamonds. In his place Osaka have brought in ageing striker Ken Tokura.

What Tokura lacks in youth he certainly makes up for in terms of nous and prowess. At his previous club Sapporo, Tokura contributed just short of 100 goals to his team in 182 games. He will be flanked by creative Argentinian Leandro Desabato who has joined the club from Vasco da Gama.

If these signings improve Osaka’s goal threat, the club should be aiming for a minimum top three finish. With a bit of luck and continued improvements, Osaka could well end the season as champions.


(New signing Leandro Desabato plies his trade as a defensive midfielder but still has the ability to craft opportunities from deep.)

H.C. Sapporo

The past decade hasn’t been particularly kind to Sapporo. As one of the biggest and oldest clubs in Japan it was disheartening to see Sapporo languishing in J2 for such a long time. Last season they finished fourth, just outside of the top three which still represented a phenomenal campaign.

Much of their success has been credited to manager Mihailo Petrovic who won the J-League Manager of the Year award last season. The Serbian enjoyed a fairly unspectacular playing career before moving into management, where he is developing a solid reputation.

His sides are renowned for organisation, determination and solidity. Last season they had an impressive defensive record and over the close season have brought in a number of attacking reinforcements.

As mentioned above, they have lost Ken Tokura who has moved to Cerezo Osaka but they will still be confident of going one better than last season. With less cup competitions to focus on that the other title contenders Sapporo could be the surprise package of the 2019 season.


(Ken Tokura will undoubtedly be a big loss for Sapporo but fans will be hoping his replacements can fill his sizeable shoes.)

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Those involved with Hiroshima will still be scratching their heads about the 2018 season when they somehow conspired to throw away a commanding lead in the league. Objectively though, their season was still a great success, finishing as runners-up was a massive improvement on the 2017 season when they finished 15th.

Their swashbuckling style of football captivated the neutrals last season with Brazlian forward Patric taking all the plaudits as he scored 20 times in the league. Patric’s loan move from Salgueiro has now been made permanent and the hopes of the club will firmly rest on his shoulders.

Fellow country man Douglas has been brought in to bolster the squad’s attacking options along with 3 new defensive recruits. Sanfrecce clearly lacked the mental solidity to go the distance last season and the club’s chiefs will be hoping the close season transfers will help to improve the squad’s mentality.

Finishing second could prove to be a poisoned chalice for the club this season however, as they will be battling for success on even more fronts. If you were to ask a Hiroshima fan to describe a successful 2019 season they would probably cite a cup run and a top three finish as the height of their expectations.

Kawasaki Frontale

Toru Oniki is the man charged with delivering Kawasaki’s first ever J-league treble, something that would undoubtedly make them one of the best teams to have played in the tournament. Last season they took advantage of Hiroshima’s collapse to finish the season 12 points clear of second and 13 points above third.

Goal scoring was no problem for Kawasaki last term as they struck 57 times in the league but that hasn’t stopped them from improving their front line. Leandro Damiao has been brought in from Brazilian club Santos and brings with him an impressive pedigree.

The 29-year-old striker has represented his country of birth 17 times, scoring on 3 occasions and boasts an impressive record in front of goal in the Brazilian leagues. At the other end of the pitch Kawasaki were equally impressive, conceding just 27 goals, the fewest in the league by 7 goals.

The only glimmer of hope for Kawasaki’s rivals is their ambition of success in other competitions. Last season Kawasaki made it to the quarter-final stage of the Emperor’s Cup, J-League Cup and the AFC Champions League.

The hierarchy at Kawasaki know just how much success in the AFC Champions League would mean to the club. With eyes focused firmly on that could another team claim the J-League? Perhaps, but it seems unlikely.

News source: newsonjapan.com
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