J-League News May 2013
What makes a great league?
What makes a great league? It's a subjective question depending on your personal tastes. Some will say it’s a league with the best teams and best players. Others will place a higher importance on a level and even competition.
Where you sit probably depends on which team you support, especially in Europe where increasingly the leagues are being dominated by the same teams year after year after year.
Since 2005, when the J.League went to a single season format, there have been six different winners across the eight seasons, with only the mighty Kashima Antlers side of 2007-09 winning the title more than once.
In that same period in England there have been just three different champions (Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City), and it’s hard to see anyone other than those three clubs challenging for the title in the coming years. The likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool are all fighting for the final Champions League qualifying positions.
In Spain it is even worse, with just two clubs (no prizes for guessing who) having a duopoly on the league. Italy’s Serie A has also seen just three winners (Inter Milan, AC Milan, Juventus). Germany’s Bundesliga fares the best out of the major leagues with four different winners (Bayern Munich, VfL Wolfsburg. VfB Stuttgart and Borussia Dortmund).
If you don’t support one of the top clubs, what hopes do you have going into a season? Is going in to a season hoping for a mid-table finish really what football has come to?
Another comparative measure between the leagues is to compare how many different teams have finished in the top three in that same period (2005 to current). Again, the J.League comes out on top.
J.League – 9 (Gamba Osaka, Urawa Reds, Kashima Antlers, Kawasaki Frontale, Nagoya Grampus, Cerezo Osaka, Kashiwa Reysol, Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Vegalta Sendai)
EPL – 5 (Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool)
Serie A – 7 (Inter Milan, Roma, AC Milan, Lazio, Juventus, Napoli, Udinese)
La Liga – 5 (Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia, Seville, Villareal)
Bundesliga – 8 (Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Schalke, Wolfsburg, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen)
It’s no surprise that the Bundesliga, rated by most pundits as the most even of the big leagues in Europe, comes in second behind the J.League.
While some may argue otherwise, this is a big strength of the J.League. Every fan at every club goes into the season knowing that their club is a realistic chance of achieving success. Take last year for example, when many expected newly promoted Sagan Tosu to be one of, if not the worst performing club in the league and to drop straight back down to J2.
Not only did they stay up, they did so in some style, coming within a whisker of finishing in the top three and clinching an AFC Champions League berth. What a story that would have been.
Or the season before (2011) when newly promoted Kashiwa Reysol swept all before them to actually win the league. In what other league in the world could a newly promoted team realistically win the title the following year?
And that brings us to this season where, after 10 games and to the surprise of almost everyone, Omiya Ardija lead the way, six points clear of second placed Yokohama F.Marinos.
It has been quite a turnaround for the Saitama-based club. After a 3-1 loss at home to Vegalta Sendai in Round 23 last season, they sat in second last position on the table with just six wins to their name. They looked destined for the drop to J2.
Ten games into his stint as Omiya coach, Slovenian Zdenko Verdenik had overseen just two wins. What has transpired since has been remarkable. In the 21 games they have won 13 and drawn eight, and are currently on a J1 record run of 21 games undefeated. They hauled themselves up to 13th last season and this season have started from where they left off last season.
Scoring goals has not been a strong point in recent years, with the Squirrels failing to score over 40 goals in each of their last three seasons. In Slovenian strike pairing Milivoje NovakoviÄ and Zlatan LjubijankiÄ they have a strike force that can cause serious problems for opposition defences. With 19 goals in ten games, including eight to NovakoviÄ and LjubijankiÄ, they are well on track to smash the 40-goal barrier this season.
At the other end their defence has also improved markedly. In five of their ten games this season they’ve kept a clean sheet and they have conceded just six goals, the best record in the J.League.
If goals win matches and defences win championships, then Omiya might just have the right combination this year.
Regardless, their form highlights what is possible in a league where every team enters the season with optimism and hope.
Give me that over the foregone conclusions in Europe any day!
Copyright: Paul Williams & Soccerphile.com
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