J League comparison to football in the UK

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The J League may return earlier than most leagues and the fact this is on UK television we thought we would compare the sides to a top-flight team in England or Scotland. Then if you don't know much about the league maybe this could help you pick a team. The idea for this came from the guys at K League United who recorded a podcast comparing K League clubs to ones in Europe. 

Sanfrecce Hiroshima - Chelsea

It is week one in the J League but we will go through the sides in the order they sit in the 18 team league currently. That will mean we'll start with Sanfrecce Hiroshima who won their opening match of the season 3-0 at home to Kashima Antlers.

In Japan, football history does not date back in the same way it does in the UK so we will compare history based on the last 15 years or so. Then with this in mind, my comparison for Sanfrecce Hiroshima is Chelsea.

The thinking behind this move is that despite having a recent history of winning trophies they have dropped off in the last couple of years. This as seen them win three titles in the last ten years but they have also sunk to as low as fifteenth in 2017.

In fact, the inconsistencies in this side make it very hard to call on how they will do each season a bit like with Chelsea in the last few years. Chelsea, of course, have some good young players at present so who is the Mason Mount or Billy Gilmour of this Hiroshima side?

They might not have a player that will go and win the Ballon d'Or like Billy Gilmour but Hiroya Matsumoto the 19-year-old midfielder may have a bright future in the game. He played the final few minutes on the opening week of the season and made as many as four appearances for the club last season.

The player has represented Japan at youth level and as won prizes at that level and could be starting to show his potential to make it in the game.

Meanwhile, in fellow 19-year-old Shunki Higashi like Mason Mount, they may already have a young player ready to play top-flight football.

Kashiwa Reysol - Leicester City

Kashiwa Reysol is an interesting side who have spent two years outside of the J1 in the last ten years. As well as this they've also won a J1 title and have reached the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League in this time.

As they're a team that went from J2 champions in 2010 to J1 champions in 2011 I think the only comparison that would be fair to compare them to would be Leicester City who won the English league in 2016 against all the odds.

Since that win, they have added a J League Cup and Emperor's Cup trophy to the cabinet. While they have been relegated to the J2 also, the league they won in some style last season.

Right now like Leicester when the season does resume they are expected to challenge for the top four but very few think they could go as far as to win the title.

Meanwhile, their Jamie Vardy is a Kenyan in the form of Michael Ogada a striker that scored eight goals on the final day of last season in a 13-1 win. To be clear this was a freak result and don't expect to see score lines like this when you tune in to watch them.

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FC Tokyo - Aberdeen 

FC Tokyo the side that came so close to lifting the J League title last season but in the end fell just short. Unlike Aberdeen, they have never won a league title in the top league but looking at the last ten years like the side from the north of Scotland they have come close.

The club from the Japanese capital similar to Aberdeen have a great support as they averaged attendances last season of over 30,000. Just like Aberdeen they have only won one trophy in the last ten seasons too, this was seen when they won the Emperor's Cup in 2011 while also winning promotion back to the J1.

This season both sides are expected to finish in the top half of the table and qualify for continental competition but many feel it is unlikely they will win the J League title after losing their best chance last season.

Urawa Reds - Manchester United

They both play in red but that is not where the similarities end, as in recent years they have won league titles and finished well below where they expect to be. 

The Reds haven't won a J League title since 2006 but since then they have won two Asian Champions Leagues, one J League Cup and one Emperor's Cup. Similar to the Manchester side they have had success in the last ten years but not to the extent they would hope. 

Despite their 14th place finish last season a lot more is expected of them this season and the top-six place seems to be the realistic aim after a rebuilding job after last season. They look to have a side that could be worth watching this year and with Leonardo, they have a real goal threat. 

The 22-year-old Brazilian last season scored 36 goals in 38 matches for J2 side Albirex Niigata.

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Gamba Osaka - Arsenal 

Gamba Osaka just like Arsenal have a history of being a big club in their country but in recent years have struggled to challenge for titles. They did win a title in 2014 but since then finished as low as 10th in the league which shows they are not consistently are the top. 

As with Arsenal and their domestic success in Cup competitions, Gamba have also won the J League Cup and Emperor's Cup in recent times. If you go back further you will see they won an Asian Champions League in 2008 but since reaching the semifinal in 2015 they have not troubled the knockout stages of the tournament. 

Despite the inconsistency as with Arsenal, fans look to be attending matches as last season saw the J1 side average crowds of 27,708 at the Panasonic Stadium. 

Cerezo Osaka - Hibernian  

Of all the sides in the J League top flight, Cerezo Osaka is the one I would compare to my club Hibernian. The last ten years has seen both sides play in the second tier in their country but the two clubs have the potential to challenge at the top end of the table. 

Just as Hibernian in Scotland Cerezo have not won a league title in the leagues current form but have won domestic trophies. In the case of Hibernian, this was seen with them lifting the Scottish Cup in 2016 while in 2017 the Osaka club won both the  J.League Cup and Emperor's Cup.

Both sides have a history of bringing through young talent seen with Cerezo Osaka graduate Takumi Minamino now playing with Liverpool. Meanwhile, John McGinn a player sold by Hibernian is performing with Aston Villa in the same league. 

They have a fan base which is very similar too as last season both sides averaged crowds of around 20,000. 

Nagoya Grampus - Crystal Palace  

The Crystal Palace of Japanese football Nagoya Grampus with both sides having played all but one season outside the top flight in the last ten seasons. Although with title spread out in Japan Grampus actually won the J League title as recently as 2010.

Since then their league places have varied from 16th and relegation in 2016 to runners up in 2011. Coincidentally last season saw the J League side finished 13th while Palace finished 14th in a 20 team league compared to the 18 teams J League. 

In terms of managers, the Italian Massimo Ficcadenti at 52-year-olds looks a youth compared with 72-year-old Roy Hodgson.

Vegalta Sendai - Newcastle United  

The Newcastle United of Japan Vegalta Sendai, I hope that our own Mark Henderson is not offended by the comparison. This is a side that has spent time in J2 but in recent years has been mid-table or at worse a lower half of the table side.

Just like Newcastle United Vegalta have played in continental competition but in recent times it has been more about avoiding the drop than challenging the top half of the table. They have also never won a domestic trophy in their 32-year history. 

Although in 2012 they finished just seven points behind the champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima as that season saw them come, runners-up. The club does have a major positive going for them too against their English counterparts and that is they are not run by a crazed man who owns a chain of Sports Shops. 

Vissel Kobe - Manchester City  

The new money bags of Japan Vissel Kobe could only be the Manchester City of the J League. Although the new money at the club is very new and up till this season were a mid-table J1 side.

The money for the club came when Rakuten Inc bought the team from the Crimson Group. It took time for this money to drip down into success but in the last couple of seasons, we have seen Andrés Iniesta, David Villa, Lukas Podolski and Thomas Vermaelen all play for the side.

Then on New Years Day 2020, we saw the side win their piece of silverware as they won the Emperor's Cup beating Kashima Antlers 2-0 in front of a crowd of 57,597. The game itself was not a joy to watch but did see the start of history being made for the side from the lovely city of Kobe.

Yokohama FC - Everton 

Yokohama FC the side with the oldest player in world football in 53-year-old Kazuyoshi Miura is the Everton of Japan. In fact, their oldest players is five years the junior to Everton former player and now assistant manager Duncan Ferguson, so go on big Dunc get those boots back on.

Unlike Everton, Yokohama FC have spent many years in the second tier of football in their country but like Everton, they play second fiddle in their city to a much stronger side. In this case, in Japans second city Yokohama the main team is Yokohama F. Marinos who are not only current champions but one of the favourites to lift the J1 title if the league resumes.

In terms of Yokohama FC, they're a side mixed with youth and experience from former Celtic man Nakamura to Kazunari Ichimi the young 22-year-old upfront. They're a side that will be inconsistent this season but can be entertaining to watch with passionate fans.

Kawasaki Frontale - Tottenham 

The Tottenham of Japan Kawasaki Frontale, I admit I had a bit of fun with this one as they were a hard team to find a comparison to. I have called them the Spurs of Japan as they have a solid side that's had success but previous to this found it hard to break the clubs at the very top. 

Unlike their London counterparts who can not win the league, they have won two titles in the last three seasons but last season saw them finish the league in fourth place. 

Their record in the Champions League is not much to write home about as they have never passed the Quarter-finals stage. This season they will not compete in this year's Champions League too as you need to finish in the top three or win the Emperor's Cup to qualify. 

Much like their London friends, I expect this season will see some success but I can not see them challenging for the title. Their own Harry Kane is 32-year-old Yū Kobayashi who has been with the club his whole career and managed 13 goals last season. 

Sagan Tosu - Hamilton 

The Hamilton of Japan has got to be Sagan Tosu as both sides love to avoid relegation by the skin of their teeth. Both sides are also in the top flight in their countries after spending many years outside of it.

They have both had good runs in the league too but 2020 looked for both sides like it might finally be the end for them in the top league before COVID-19 hit meaning there be no relegation this year in J1.

Last season saw Tosu avoid relegation by the narrowest of margins missing out on the relegation play-off on goal difference. To rub salt into the wounds to they had the least helpful looking Fernando Torres you could dream of finding.

The Spaniard time in Japan ended in the fashion his career had been going in his last few seasons in embarrassment as he played the full 90 minutes as his side lost 6-1 to Vissel Kobe.

Shonan Bellmare - Watford 

Shonan Bellmare is a J League side that have yo-yoed between the J2 and J1 in the last ten years, last season they only survived after a relegation play-off. The play-off with J2 side Tokushima Vortis ended in a 1-1 draw but as the J1 side, this was enough to stay in the league with no extra time or penalties being played. 

Previous to this in 2018 they won their first piece of silverware in the modern Japan football era when they won the J League Cup defeating Yokohama F. Marinos in the final. 

As mentioned before with no relegation we can say with certainty they will not be relegated this season but like Watford I expect a lower half of the table finish. They might also not have a Troy Deeney up top but their new striker from Swedish side AIK is the Norweignan Tarik Elyounoussi and he could be worth a watch. 

Yokohama F. Marinos - Liverpool 

The Liverpool of Japan Yokohama F. Marinos the side that towards the end of last season looked unstoppable as they overtook FC Tokyo for the title. This season before the whole season was thrown into turmoil they looked to be the favourites to regain that title. 

On the pitch they play attacking fun to watch football and can be a joy to watch even if it is a bit frustrating for the opposition. The negative for many people about this side though is City Football Group, the holding company of Manchester City hold a 19.95% stake in the club and through the establishment of a Japan-based subsidiary may seek to eventually own a controlling stake in the club.

The club is one of only two clubs in Japan to have played in every J1 season that there has been since 1993. 

Looking out for players in this side a left-field one to keep an eye on is the Thai defender Theeratorn Boonmatan. Much is made of the passion for football in South-East Asia but not many players making it from the region outside of those league with Boonmatan being an exception.

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Oita Trinita - Norwich City 

A J1 side that returned to the top flight after a five-year absence last year and like Norwich, they may struggle in the league although of course they'll not be relegated. They did finish a very respectful ninth last season in the J1 so maybe could be a surprise. 

If you go back to the early 2000s you can see Oita glory days when they finished as high as fourth in the league and won the J League Cup in 2008. That season saw an average home crowd of over 20,000 showing the support for the side. 

To the present day their most likely Teemu Pukki to score the goals could be on loan from Kashima Antlers forward Kei Chinen.

Consadole Sapporo - Wolves

Consadole Sapporo the side many in the UK will know as they have an English international upfront in Jay Bothroyd. In fact, the English man once played for Wolves although he revealed this week that this was the worse time of his career.

Then back to the present day, this side is not full of Portuguese talent but after many years outside of the top flight, they look a real threat near the top end of the table.

Although last season faded out with a tenth place finish the season did include an 8-0 away win over Shimizu S-Pulse though a match with saw the aforementioned Bothroyd score a hat trick and then afterwards he defended the standard of the league on social media.

The side also plays in the amazing Sapporo Dome, the stadium that hosted the first indoor World Cup match and saw David Beckham score a winner against Argentina. 

Shimizu S-Pulse - Southampton 

Shimizu S-Pulse for this analogy is the Southampton of the J1 as they look settled in the league and despite scares look to be secure in the league. Last season the side had a very respectful season ending it in 8th place which was their highest league finish since 2010. 

This season they have brought in the Thai attacker Teerasil Dangda who was once on the books of Manchester City. It will be interesting to see how he does as we said earlier on Theeratorn Boonmatan there is a real lack of South-East Asian talent playing out of the region. 

The side this season have now lost their main goal threat from last year in  Brazilian Douglas and although he has been replaced am not sure they will able to finish in the top half of the table. 

Kashima Antlers - Celtic 

The Antlers are the most successful side in Japan hence why I am calling them the Celtic of the country. Although in recent years there's form has not been as good so right now they are more the Celtic of the 90s than of present days.

Kashima Antlers have eight J1 titles with the last coming in 2016 which coincidentally was the last year in which Celtic failed to win all the trophies in Scotland. I expect this season they will come close to the title if the season begins but I feel they might fall just short.

The season before the suspension did not start well though for them as they lost out in the Champions League playoff to Melbourne Victory and where defeated on the opening day of the season by Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

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