J1 League 2019: Why outsiders Kashima Antlers will overcome the odds
As the climax of the J League 2019 season approaches, the majority of media attention has focused on ywo likely horses running neck and neck on the home straight to victory.
Yokohama F Marinos leapfrogged season long leaders FC Tokyo to the top spot after the capital city club faltered to struggling Shonan Bellmare last weekend.
Marinos now sit on 64 points with Tokyo breathing down their necks on 63. The stage is seemingly set for a closing day decider when the two sides meet on December 7th.
With the majority of J League fans enthralled by the prospect of an end of season showdown, few are considering the chances of 3rd place Kashima Antlers on 60 points.
The points on the board suggest that the chances of the 7-time league winners claiming an eighth title are too remote to be taken seriously.
However, head to head records and the eventual outcomes of previous seasons offers an argument to the contrary.
This weekend, Yokohama face off against current champions and on form Kawasaki Frontale in the Kanagawa Derby. Marinos have not won a single game in the past five meetings between the two sides.
Chasers FC Tokyo are also up against the odds as they host Asian Champions League finalists Urawa Reds. In similar fashion, the Gasmen have not beaten Reds since September 2013, 12 league matches ago.
Antlers meanwhile host Andres Iniesta's Vissel Kobe. As of late they have an impressive head to head record that includes a 5-0 away victory back in September 2018.
The likely standings at the conclusion of matchday 33 will see the current two leaders remain within a point of each other and Antlers will be back in the mix with a home win over Vissel, likely to be trailing the leaders by one or two points themselves.
Heading into the final matchday, and penultimate match-up between the current forerunners, the head to head record between the current top two favors Antlers even more.
Incumbent Head Coach Ange Postecoglou has lost every league match against Tokyo he has played since taking over at Marinos in January 2018.
A Tokyo victory, or perhaps a stalemate draw, may well be on the cards. This is largely due to the attacking and open style play of Marinos suiting Tokyo`s preferred counter style all too well.
The outcome here would could see Tokyo leapfrog Marinos and sit nicely on 66 points, the maximum amount Kashima can achieve given they are currently 60 with two games to play.
However, Kashima boast a stronger goal difference with +25 to Tokyo’s +20. Should Kashima go on to win their final game against Nagoya Grampus then they would, in all probability, pip Tokyo to the post and finish the season in 1st place with a stronger goal difference.
A rough simulation of how things might look at the conclusion of matchday 34 could be; first Kashima Antlers 66, second FC Tokyo 66, third Yokohama F Marinos 65.
At this point in the season stats may have little relevance given the influence of nerves and the mental pressure each team is likely to feel.
That said, Antlers are seven-time J League winners and many of the players who won the 2018 Asian Champions League are still with the squad. They have also played in several FIFA Club World Cups including the edition that saw them reach the final and take Real Madrid to extra time.
For many Yokohama fans the memory of letting slip the 2013 league title at the last stretch is still raw while in Tokyo’s case this is the first time they have been within a real chance of claiming their first league win.
Therefore, it can be said that the experience and mental fortitude is with Antlers who have been in, and succeeded in, similar circumstances before.