A look at the J League in 2020

The major East Asian leagues start back up again shortly, this indicates it is the perfect time to look forward to the upcoming season. While also taking a look at the best players who we should look out for in 2020, in this write up then I will start with the J League. 

Title challenge 

The J League for many this is the best league in East Asia and maybe the best in the region. It is full of talent and has produced many players who have gone on to play at the highest level.

This is observed with Shinji Kagawa starting with Cerezo Osaka and going on to play for Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United. Then just in January, we saw Takumi Minamino previously of Cerezo Osaka move to Liverpool.

Returning to the present day and the other club from Osaka, Gamba Osaka  with a history of producing young talent too as they will be trying to improve on their seventh-place finish last timeout. The raw talent looks to continue too as last season they lost Ryotaro Meshino to Manchester City as the youngster then went onto spending this season on loan in Scotland with struggling Heart of Midlothian.
Minamino in his Osaka days

As a team always looking to improve with young talent they are one to look out for at the top end of the table. They additionally have a good defence especially with the new signing from Toulouse in Gen Shōji as the 27-year-old even has caps for Japan and has played at a World Cup.

Although any talk of a title challenge would be misguided but a top-four finish and a good run in the cup could be on. Their neighbours Cerezo Osaka are also one to look out for and they could pick up a top-six place again in 2020.

Then if Gamba Osaka have no chance of lifting the J League title who does? I guess the best place to start is with the current champions Yokohama F Marinos. They, of course, have a good chance although with question marks over the City Group that run them following the Man City ban this could be a worry for the club.

Assuming this will not alter the side however in 2020 they are real title contenders. They have already started the season by winning in the Champions League away with a positive display against the Korean champions Jeonbuk Motors.

Some talent to look out for in this side are the attacking presence of Marcus Junior and Keita Endo as the 22-year-old is looking to break into the Japan national side too after making his debut in the EAFF-Championship back in December.

At the back, the club often have a rock in the form of Thai defender Theeratorn Boonmatan, and under the Australian coach Angelos Postecoglou, they only look to be moving forward.

The usual pair of Kashima Antlers and Kawasaki Frontale who have ten J League titles between them am sure will have good seasons. There is too the J League runners-up from last season FC Tokyo who will try to improve on second place.

On their preseason form and the Champions League match Ulsan they seem a more attacking outfit this season and that could help them. As last season after losing Takefusa Kubo to Real Madrid they struggled to get back to their early-season form.

This resulted in them sitting back in matches and being for many pundits far too defensive. A stat to back this up is that despite being top for much of the season in the 14 matches from August onwards they won just six and scored only sixteen times.

Another side to look out for who are also making their Champions League debut this season is Vissel Kobe. This is a side that struggled for much of last season but ended the season off very well.

It was ended in style in fact as they won the Emperor's Cup defeating Kashima Antlers 2-0 on the day David Villa retired from football. They are additionally a side who have had media attention worldwide as they are linked to Barcelona and last season had Iniesta, Podolski and Villa in their side with the latter two having now left the club.
Iniesta after the Emperor's Cup win

To the present day then they started the season with a 5-1 win in the Champions League and look like aside to keep an eye out for. The players to keep an eye on is still Iniesta of course but at the back, they have a good defence with Vermaelen and American Osaki as their centre-back pairing.

Who will get the goals this season will be interesting to discover but after a fairly quiet season in 2019 Keijiro Ogawa the Japanese winger made an early case for being able to contribute to this with a hat-trick last week. Furthermore, they have signed Brazilian Douglas from Shimizu S-Pulse who scored 14 last season although at 32-years-old he is not a player for the future.

The other end of the table 

Away from the Champions League and the title challengers to the bottom end are who could go down. First, there is Kashiwa Reysol who are back in the J League 1 after a season absence and I think they will be safe.

They won the J League 2 in some style last season as they ended the league with a 13-1 victory over Kyoto Sanga. The man who scored eight that day Michael Olunga will be excited to see if he can show what he can do in the Japanese top flight.

After all, he came in during the relegation season and am sure this will be a better season all round for the Kashiwa side. Meanwhile, Yokohama FC the side who came up with them I think will also stay up but maybe not impress as much.

Yokohama does have a very experienced side with some ageing legs but maybe that experience will help them this season. This is a side after all that has the oldest player in world football in Kazuyoshi Miura.

He is not the only one in the side who you could be excused for thinking should be at home with the slippers on. As in goals they have the 40-year-old Yuta Minami and 38-year-old defender Daisuke Matsui. Along with this, they have the former Celtic man who is now over 40 in Shunsuke Nakamura.

Having just mentioned two sides unlucky to go down here I will put my neck on the line and say I think it will be Sagan Tosu and Vegalta Sendai to finish in the bottom two.

First, to Sagan Tosu the side who last season wherein the spotlight as they had the Spanish striker Fernando Torres. Everything about his inclusion in the early part of the season was what the problem was with the club.
Fernando Torres during the better times

After his retirement following a 6-1 loss in August to Vissel Kobe, the side did improve and managed to end the season in fifteenth place but in truth, they stayed up thanks to swapping places with Matsumoto Yamaga who did not win in their last six matches of the season. 

In what is, in general, a fairly strong league I think they will struggle to stay up again and for my part, they will be playing J League 2 football in 2021. 

Then to Vegalta Senda who I would have money on joining them, they finished mid-table last year but I feel this year will be tougher. After a poor season the side have made big changes and this you could argue could work but for me, the changes will not help and they'll struggle to stay up but we shall see.

That is that then from the preview on the J League please do let us know what you think, will we have egg on our face at the end of the season as Sagan Tosu parade the J League 1 trophy.

J League Prediction 2020

Postion Team
1 Yokohama F. Marinos
2 Kashima Antlers
3 FC Tokyo
4 Vissel Kobe
5 Gamba Osaka
6 Kawasaki Frontale
7 Urawa Reds
8 Cerezo Osaka
9 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
10 Consadole Sapporo
11 Kashiwa Reysol
12 Shimizu S-Pulse
13 Shonan Bellmare
14 Oita Trinita
15 Yokohama FC
16 Nagoya Grampus
17 Vegalta Sendai
18 Sagan Tosu

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