The 2020 Meiji Yasuda J1 League title was awarded before the spine-tingling blow of winter in December. After displaying an impeccable performance throughout, Kawasaki Frontale claimed their third J1 title with four matches to go.
Despite the recent hiccups, Kawasaki thumped second-place Gamba Osaka on a five-goal haul with Akihiro Ienaga scoring a hattrick. They were not just the league winner but also the quickest outfit to lift the trophy with the most points in the league’s history. While being the most feared artilleries this season with 79 goals in 30 matches, they were also the hardest to break, with their congealed defence only conceding 25 goals thus far – the lowest in the league. The good mix of players was essential to their success too. With experienced players such as Ienaga and Yu Kobayashi supporting the side, youngsters in Kaoru Mitoma blew impetus. The full-depth of the squad allowed manager Toru Oniki to ‘rotate like Sir Alex Ferguson’ without dropping any quality.
Even as the new champions have been announced, the contention for next year’s AFC Champions League (ACL) spots are far from over. Second place Gamba Osaka had a fantastic run in both September and October, but not in November as they only collected eight points out of a possible 18. A spot below, Nagoya Grampus chase Gamba closely with just three points short. However, scoring was an issue with Nagoya as they failed to net on three out of five occasions in November.
As Nagoya struggle to find the net, Kashima Antlers have closed the gap to just a point with Grampus after collecting ten points in November. The forwards in Ayase Ueda and Everaldo Stum have been superlative as they eye on the top three finish with two fixtures left on the calendar. Meanwhile, Cerezo Osaka picked themselves by winning two games after losing two. Despite currently sitting fifth on the ladder, the greater number of games yet to be played than their contestants award them with an advantage. The four teams from second to fifth will pit for the two remaining ACL spots.
The team undefeated in November were Sanfrecce Hiroshima. With two wins and four draws, Hiroshima collected ten points in November. However, they would rue over some of their drawn matches for they could have been a possible three points, propelling them on the ladder. In meantime, the impact of COVID-19 was harshly felt for Kashiwa Reysol as they were forced to cease their activities – two league games and the Levain Cup final delayed – due to a surge in positive cases. Their return which was marred by defeat to Sagan Tosu raised concerns over their fitness but began to groove once they met Kashima on the next match-day. December will especially be hectic for the halted side with six matches remaining on the calendar. It’s crunch time for the 2013 J.League Cup winner to hone themselves ahead of the Levain Cup final in January.
The counters of the low rankers were again obvious in November. Tosu, Shonan Bellmare, and Vegalta Sendai each won two matches and Shimizu S-Pulse were predominant, winning three matches.
For Shimizu, the managerial change from Peter Cklamovski to Hiroaki Hiraoka blew them a fresh start. They scored three goals in each of the three wins and the improved attacking display was the main reason for their spur. Although they stand 17th on the league, it intrigues one to see where they sit at the end of the season.