With nine rounds of the J-League season remaining the title is Urawa’s to lose. The Reds have a six point buffer and a cosy run over the next four rounds, which should see them open up an unassailable lead by round 29.
Over the next four rounds Urawa travel to the abominable Cerezo, before hosting Tokushima (last place), then heading to Sendai (14th) and once again returning home for Kofu (13th). If Urawa are worthy of the title they’ll take the full 12 points from these fixtures. This year the Reds have shored up their defence and now brag the stingiest back-line in the J-League, with just 20 goals conceded from 25 matches. A far cry from 2013 when they leaked 56 goals over the 34 rounds.
Meanwhile, nearest rivals Kawasaki Frontale have some tough fixtures soon, with in form Gamba Osaka in the 28th round and stuttering Sagan Tosu in the 29th round. Even with striker Yoshito Okubo in fine form it’s hard to see Frontale remaining within six points (as they currently are) over the next four rounds. Kawasaki also have a difficult away trip to Niigata to deal with in the 27th round, though Niigata is currently boasting 1 win from their last 6 outings.
It’s certainly mathematically possible for any of the J-League’s top five teams to walk off with the title, but if Urawa extend their lead over the next four rounds, we can surely cast off Sagan Tosu who’ve won just two from seven since sacking their Korean manager. In fact you can cast them off now, and forget about the Champions League if you’re a Tosu fan.
Meanwhile, it will take just three more rounds to determine if Gamba Osaka is officially out of the title race. This week they face Sagan Tosu, then head to Kashima (3rd) before hosting Kawasaki (2nd). It’s do or die time for Gamba, and they’ll need to take a minimum of 7 points from the above fixtures before eying off Urawa four matches later in round 32. For Gamba to win they’ll also need Urawa to ‘crash and burn’ in spectacular fashion.
|NOTE: Predicted tallies provided up to round 29. You do the rest. Sagan Tosu not calculated as they have no chance.|
Though my prediction is that the Reds will go on to win the league, there have been plenty of examples of J-league leaders falling in the shadows of the post. Just last year it was Yokohama F Marinos who unforgivably surrendered a 5 point lead with 2 matches to play, while the Reds themselves blew it in 2007 after holding an 8 point lead with 4 rounds to play. And it was way back in July on the J-Talk Podcast that J-League pundit Alan Gibson began his ‘fantastical forecasting’ that Gamba Osaka could still win the title. Gamba are now 9 wins from 11 since the mid season break in June/July.
The only thing that doesn’t surprise in the J-League is the tightness of the competition.