Football column

Which team in the J-League is going to make the leap this season?

J-League 2022Which teams are likely to make a leap forward

The content includes my personal subjectivity.
This is just a forecast, so please consider it as a reference.
(This is the content as of January 8, 2022)

We are now about a month away from the start of the 2022 J-League season. In this article, we have selected teams that are expected to make a great leap forward, although we do not know if they will win the championship. We’ve also included key players and points of concern, so please take a look.

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What teams are expected to make a big leap next season?

The following four teams are expected to make a big leap forward in the 2022 season.

  • FC Tokyo
  • Vissel Kobe
  • Cerezo Osaka
  • Nagoya Grampus

FC Tokyo


The first is FC Tokyo, which is in ninth place this season, down a bit from sixth place last season. FC Tokyo is in 9th place this season, down a bit from 6th place last season, mainly due to the rut of the Kenta Hasegawa regime.

The reason why I have listed FC Tokyo as one of my predictions for next season is because of their coaching change. Alber, a Spanish tactician, has been in charge of FC Tokyo since 2020, having worked as a scout and academy coach at Barcelona and as a coach at New York City in the United States. With Niigata, he pushed the team to 6th place in 2021, although they missed out on promotion. Frontale and Marinos have proven that tactical coaches can make great strides when they match the team. Therefore, expectations are high for FC Tokyo as well.

In the words of the president of FC Tokyo, “We will be on par with the top J1 teams in terms of business scale,” and “FC Tokyo will compete for the top spots and always be the center of the soccer conversation. These words will convey the management’s seriousness about FC Tokyo. Aggressive reinforcements will lead the team to higher positions.

FC Tokyo’s key players

The key man is coach Alberto, who I mentioned above. His tactics are characterized by positional play. Positional play is a way of creating an advantage on the pitch by correcting the positioning of players. For example, by changing positions and creating a numerical advantage, you can create an unmarked teammate. This gives them an advantage over their opponents. For this reason, Alber has a style of connecting from the last line in attack.

Since FC Tokyo was a defensive team, this part of the game may be easy to adapt to.

Alber also has a 13-game unbeaten streak with Niigata since the start of the season. If he can instill the above style into the team, we can expect FC Tokyo to make great strides.

Concerns about FC Tokyo

The main concern for FC Tokyo is the penetration of tactics. This is an unavoidable problem with a new coach and a tactical team. If they can form a team quickly, they have a great chance of making a breakthrough. However, if they are unable to form a team, they may drop down the rankings.

Also, during his time at Niigata, Coach Alber had a tendency to start off well but stall at the end of the game. This was due to the fact that the opposing team studied him and got stuck. It will be interesting to see how he overcomes this problem.

Vissel Kobe


The second is Vissel Kobe. Kobe has already made great strides, finishing third last season, and is expected to finish higher this season as well.

The first reason is the low number of goals conceded. Kobe scored 36 goals last season, which was the fifth lowest in the league, and if you apply that number to the 2020 season, it would be the third lowest in the league.

In fact, the number of goals conceded in the 2020 season was 59. The fact that we have scored so few goals is a testament to the success of our defensive team building. Teams like Nagoya and Frontale with the lowest number of goals conceded have a sense of stability. Last season, the team with the fewest goals conceded was Frontale, which won the championship. Therefore, if they can maintain their low goal-against average this season, they can be expected to finish in the top rank.

Another reason is the familiarity of the new players from last season. Last season, Osako and Muto joined the team in the summer. Muto was active right from the start, but Osako got better gradually. He will have to get used to the J-League in the next six months, and if he can get used to the team by participating in the camp, he will be able to play a more active role. Muto, in particular, scored 5 goals and had 7 assists in 14 games last season. If he explodes further, he will surely contribute to the team’s advancement to the top.

Key players for Vissel Kobe

Kobe’s key man for next season is newcomer Ogihara. Ogihara is a volleyball player and has a reputation for handling passes. Without Iniesta and Sampere, there were many situations in which Kobe could not pass the ball well this season. Our control in the midfield was weakened, and we were often attacked by the opponent. Therefore, the team will be stronger if he can play a substitute role.

The other player is Tomoki Kobayashi, a center back. Kobe’s main CB, Vermaelen, left the club at the end of last season. It’s hard to find a replacement for the current Belgian national team player, but Kobayashi is expected to take his place. He was also a starter last season when Vermaelen was out of the team. He is still a young player at 21, but he has characteristics in the build-up and against other players. He is still young at 21 years old, but he has the ability to build up and play against others. He could win the battle for the position with newcomer Makino and become a mainstay of the team.

Concerns about Vissel Kobe

One of the concerns for Kobe is the ACL. Kobe will be playing in the ACL this season because they finished third in the league, and one of the concerns with playing in the ACL is the tight schedule and the resulting fatigue and injuries. In 2020, Kobe played in the ACL again and finished 14th in the league. Therefore, the impact of the ACL will be unavoidable. It is hoped that we will be able to further strengthen our player base with future reinforcements.

The other thing is countermeasures from the opponent. Kobe finished 3rd last season, a good result. However, it is soccer that when you achieve good results, you are subject to countermeasures. It will be interesting to see how they overcome the countermeasures this season, now that Kobe’s fighting style is known under Miura.

Cerezo Osaka


The third is Cerezo Osaka. Last season, they were sluggish due to a change of coach before the season, and finished in 12th place, just one step away from the fight for residency. There are two reasons why I expect Cerezo to improve their ranking from last season.

As of the beginning of January, they have acquired Yamanaka, a left-back from Urawa Reds, Kamimon, a FW from Fasiano Okayama, and Maikuma, a right-back from V Pharen Nagasaki. Kamimon and Maikuma, in particular, are J2 standouts that any of the J1 teams would be happy to acquire.

Cerezo has two J2 reinforcements in Sakamoto, who came from Yamagata and played for the Japanese national team, and Kato, who came from Tsegen Kanazawa and scored 7 goals. Also, Urawa, who won the Emperor’s Cup last season, made great progress by reinforcing players from J2. If they can do the same, we can expect Cerezo to make great progress.

Another reason is that we can start again as an organized team. Last season, under the Crupi regime, there were no tactics, and the team was lawless. But with the change of coach, the team was able to reorganize and rebuild itself. In 2020, the team finished fourth in the league, and at one point, they were even in contention for the championship. In 2020, they finished fourth in the league and were even in contention for the championship at one point, so if they can get back to that level, they may be able to advance to the top.

Key players of Cerezo Osaka

Kiyotake and Inui are the key players for Cerezo this season.

Kiyotake was essential to Cerezo’s progress in 2020 as mentioned above. He is a high performer and has scored a career high 8 goals as well as making chances. He had a poor season last year, but it will be important for the team to see if Kiyotake can shine again this season.

Inui joined the team in the summer of 2021, but he has already made a difference in the team. With their absolute mainstay Sakamoto moving to Belgium, a player who can make a difference is invaluable to the team. Inui will start the season with an injury that has been surgically cured, and his performance will be expected.

The high performance of the two former national team players will be the key to their success.

Concerns for Cerezo Osaka

The difference between advancing to the top of the table and dropping to the lower-middle of the table is the skill of the coach and the reinforcement of the FW.

Cerezo will be under the direction of coach Kogiku next season. Kogiku was promoted from coach to manager in the middle of this season. Although he has experience as a substitute coach, he has only just become an official coach. We are still in the early stages of building the team from the ground up.

And the piece that Cerezo lacks is a big FW. We have players who are good with their feet and can go through the back, but we don’t have a FW who can be their partner. We also have side-backs with good crossing ability, but without a big FW, they will be a waste of time. Bruno Mendes, a good all-round player, has been added to the squad, but we will need a more distinctive player in the post.

Nagoya Grampus


The fourth is Nagoya Grampus. Last season, they finished the league in 6th place, despite the ACL.

The reason for predicting Nagoya’s breakthrough is that this is the first year of the Kenta Hasegawa system. The reason for my prediction is that this is the first year of the Kenta Hasegawa regime.

In his third year, he won the Levein Cup, and this time, like his time in FC Tokyo, he is taking over from Massimo Ficcadenti. Both coaches are similar in terms of defensive tactics, which will make it easier to build a team.

Nagoya Grampus finished in 6th place last season, so if they can combine that with Hasegawa’s start, they could very well make a breakthrough.

Key players for Nagoya Grampus

Nagoya’s key players are expected to be Yoichiro Kakitani and newcomer Nobufuku Sakai.

Kakitani is the creative force of the team. The key to Nagoya’s success will be how he can create chances in a defensive team. Manager Hasegawa is good at defending well and attacking quickly, so he will be expected to be active on the counter.

It will also be important for newcomer Sakai to show his ability. He scored 8 goals for Tosu last season. With Maeda moving to the Netherlands and Schwarzog facing doping problems, Nagoya has some concerns about its FW. Therefore, Sakai’s success is a must.

Concerns about Nagoya Grampus

Nagoya’s concern is the exodus of players. As mentioned above, Maeda, the main FW player from last season, has moved on. We don’t know what will happen to Schwirzok this season because of his doping problem. Schwirzok, in particular, is the team’s leading scorer with 7 goals in 14 games last season.

Other players who have contributed to the team such as defender Kim Min Tae, Kimoto, and volleyball player Yonemoto have also moved on. In addition to the aforementioned Sakai, Sento of MF and Thiago of DF, it is necessary to pay attention to how the new players can fill in the gaps.


How was it? These are the four teams that are expected to take off next season. When you watch the J-League, please pay attention to the four teams mentioned above.


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