The J League 2020 season kicks off on Friday evening when Shonan Bellmare host 2019 AFC Champions League finalists Urawa Reds at Shonan BMW Hiratsuka Stadium.
Both sides were drawn into a relegation battle at the tail end of the 2019 season, with Bellmare surviving via a promotion/relegation play-off win against J2 side Tokushima Vortis.
Despite an excellent showing in the continental competition, the Reds’ league form was notably lagging with manager Tsuyoshi Otsuki under pressure to deliver this season.
Urawa put in a dominant performance in the Levain Cup at the weekend, beating Vegalta Sendai 5-2 with new signing Leonardo netting twice.
Shonan were severely impacted by the mid-season departure of long-term manager Cho Kwi-jae amid claims of power harassment from the coaching staff.
The Kanagawa prefecture based side also started their League Cup campaign with a win, beating Oita Trinita 1-0.
The fixture serves as the J League’s marquee opening match, played at the isolated time of 19:00 Friday evening. The rest of matchday 1 will be played on Saturday and Sunday.
Key Talking Points: Shonan Bellmare
- Shonan are likely to set up in a 3-4-2-1 with new signing and former Norwegian international Tarik spearheading the attack.
- Bellmare boast the better head to head record of recent times. They have won 2 and drawn 1 of their last 3 league meetings with Reds.
- With regular players such as defender Takuya Okamoto and midfielder Mitsuki Saito looking doubtful with injury, Shonan are looking at a largely unsettled starting eleven on Friday.
Key Talking Points: Urawa Reds
- Urawa will line up in the same 4-4-2 formation that proved effective against Sendai in the cup last weekend.
- New arrival Leonardo looks set to partner with Kenyu Sugimoto up front, with veteran striker Shinzo Koroki looking doubtful with injury.
- Reds have further injury concerns with Yuki Muto ruled out and experienced defender Tomoaki Makino likely to start on the bench.