East Asia Japan

OPINION: Reacting to 2020 J.League 1 Predictions

Football Tribe Asia’s Krishna Sadhana reflects on the predictions that he made for the recently-concluded 2020 J.League 1 season. Before the start of the 2020 J1 season, Krishna made three prediction articles of the season and now with the dust settled and Kawasaki Frontale being crowned champions, it’s time to compare Krishna’s predictions with the real life results – how did he get on? Did he get most of his predictions right? Or did Krishna messed up his predictions?

Before the start of the 2020 J.League 1 season, I took the liberty of predicting how the league would pan out after 34 round of matches. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused lots of changes in the league – the abolishment of relegation and an expansion to 20 teams for the 2021 season being some of them – but looking back to my predictions and comparing them to the final table for the 2020 season, I guess I had a mixed bag of results in terms of predicting the J1. So, without further ado, let’s review!


I predicted Yokohama FC to finish rock bottom of the league and…we just started and I’ve already screwed up massively. Yokohama FC did not implode like they did back in 2007 and they wrapped up the 2020 season in 15th place – their highest position ever. Sure, Yokohama FC has a plethora of aging stars – Kazuyoshi Miura, Shunsuke Nakamura, Daisuke Matsui – but it was the young brigade who powered the Kanagawa Prefecture-based side’s season. 19-year old Koki Saito was the standout performer for Takahiro Shimotaira’s men in 2020 and his performances were rewarded with a move to Belgian second-tier side Lommel SK, owned by the City Football Group. A step-up indeed.

I messed up yet again for my prediction for 17th – yes Sagan Tosu was veering towards a cliff during pre-season and they even came close to going out of business altogether during the first suspension of the league brought on by COVID-19. But somehow – after becoming the first J.League club to suspend their activities temporarily due to the pandemic – the Kyushu-based side soldiered on, got themselves some results, and ended the season in a comfortable 13th place. No big names, no massive wage gobblers, just pure spirit. They did get a decent goalkeeper in Park Iru-gyu, but other than that Sagan lacked the star names that they used to have. And this kind of sensibility could play into their advantage – with the lack of stars dragging down the team with their wage demands and ego, Tosu could focus more towards the future, a proper rebuild. Keep this up and we should see Tosu hanging around the J1 much longer.

Another massive blunder comes up and it’s Nagoya Grampus, who I predicted to finish 16th but managed to defy my expectations to finish a lofty 3rd in the final league table. I predicted Nagoya to fall into the relegation play-off down to their recent struggles after being promoted back into the J1 in 2018, where they spent two consecutive years in the bottom half of the table. Fair play to Massimo Ficcadenti, who played an instrumental role in stabilizing Nagoya’s ship in 2019 before going on to work his mojo and give his side their first AFC Champions League appearance in 8 years. Definitely one of the biggest achievers of the 2020 J.League 1 season.

I predicted Shonan Bellmare to finish in 15th place and even though I messed up yet again, I won’t be too disappointed as my prediction wasn’t too far off. They had been on a downwards slide since former head coach Cho Kwi-jea was implicated in a power harassment scandal and his replacement Bin Ukishima wasn’t able to stop the rot. Tarik Elyounoussi, whom I championed as Shonan’s key player, failed to live up to his reputation and Shonan ended the season as wooden spoon holders. They won’t survive once relegation comes into play again in 2021, will they?

Vegalta Sendai is another side whose prediction I messed up but I’m not that surprised that they’ve finished lower than my prediction. The team from Miyagi Prefecture was dogged with serious financial issues throughout the 2020 season that saw infuriated fans protest against their owners. On field-wise they embarked on a 17-match winless run and they failed to win a single game at their very own Yurtec Stadium, with attendances there dwindling steadily as more and more people became apathetic towards them. They finished second-bottom, were lucky to have avoided the drop thanks to the abolishment of relegation, but I think, like Shonan, that they will succumb to the drop in 2021. That is, if they even have money for 2021.

During my prediction for the 2020 season, I asked a question – will Peter Cklamovski make a successful transition from assistant coach to head coach or will he do a Paul Clement and fail spectacularly? Unfortunately for the Australian, the latter was the answer. Shimizu S-Pulse‘s Cklamovski experiment pines on how much that the Australian has learned from his former mentor Ange Postecoglou at Yokohama F. Marinos, and unfortunately that experiment backfired spectacularly and Cklamovski was out of the door in November. Hiroaki Hiraoka steadied the ship somewhat but Shimizu still finished the season in 16th place, three shy of my prediction of 13th. Though, with Miguel Angel Lotina coming into the IAI Stadium Nihondaira, something tells me that the Shizuoka Prefecture-based side might bounce back from this.

My local club Oita Trinita was one of the closest predictions that I had coming into reality – they finished 11th in real life, 12th in my table. I predicted them to struggle, they did. I predicted them to overcome second season syndrome, they did. I predicted Naoki Nomura as a solid acquisition for Oita, he lived up to his billing. Tomohiro Katanosaka’s constant presence at the club has worked wonders for the Turtles, just like how Sean Dyche’s presence for Burnley has turned them into a proper mid-table side. I’m guessing more of the same for 2021, Oita won’t challenge the big boys but they should be safe from the drop.


I predicted Urawa Red Diamonds to finish 11th…they ended up 10th so close enough. Yes they’ve improved from a disastrous 14th placed finish in 2019, but they did struggle – winning only 5 home games all season. Though Leonardo kept his shooting boots from Albirex Niigata to finish the season with 11 goals for Tsuyoshi Otsuki’s men, so good on them. I guess Urawa will be finishing mid-table for the next few years, ey?

From a close enough prediction to one of the worst prediction that I made throughout the 24 years of being alive. Gamba Osaka. Runners-up of the 2020 season. I did say back in my predictions that “I might be wrong and these might horribly backfire on me come the end of the season” and yes my prediction for Gamba did backfire horribly on me. Gamba post-Kenta Hasegawa are mad as badgers, without a doubt. They went from a side going into free-fall before bouncing back to finish mid-table in 2018, to being anonymous in 2019, to being the closest title challengers to the almighty Kawasaki Frontale in 2020. Fair play to Gamba, I predicted them to finish 10th and they ended up getting silver for their efforts.

Kashiwa Reysol had an excellent 2020 season. I predicted them to finish in the top half of the table and they duly did so, finishing 7th – two place above my predicted 9th place. I was right about Michael Olunga and Cristiano combining together into a deadly unit, but I did not expect Olunga to utterly cakewalk the league and grab both the Golden Boot and the MVP award for 2020. The almighty Frontale has won plaudits left, right, and centre for the way that they’ve won the 2020 J1 title, however Olunga deservedly became a highlighted outlier from that absolute unit. Shame that Reysol had to lose him to Al-Duhail of Qatar, though. But yeah, 7th in the league and runners-up of the J.League Cup, not a bad season at all.

If there’s a word to describe how Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo performed in the 2020 season, it’s “inconsistent.” I predicted a solid 8th place finish for the Northerners, they finished 12th in real life. Musashi Suzuki left Consadole for Belgium, so that’s probably why they’re not as potent as they were in 2019. Consadole had a pretty up-and-down season, embarking on a 6-match winless run and conceding 6 goals in one match at one point, but in the end they managed to finish mid-table. And they did became the only team to beat Frontale at the Todoroki in their championship-winning season so there’s that.

Another close enough prediction that I had is Sanfrecce Hiroshima. I predicted them to finish 7th and they ended up finishing 8th, but they did enjoy quite a decent season. They didn’t threatened the big boys too much but they performed well enough to avoid the bottom half of the table. A number of decent wins at home and on the road and the boys from Hiroshima should be content with another top half finish.

Kashima Antlers scared the bejeezus out of me. They had one of the worst starts ever imaginable for a football team – it took them 5 Matchweeks to win a game and score a competitive goal, but once Antonio Carlos Zago’s men got their act together, they’re unstoppable. Everaldo ended up banging 18 goals for the Antlers, a decent return considering his slow start. Sure they fail to win the J.League Cup like my prediction, but they did finish 4th, two spots above my prediction of 6th. I predicted a solid top-half finish for Kashima once they got used to Zago’s tactics and they duly delivered.


Yet another close enough prediction of mine, Cerezo Osaka finished 4th in real life after I had predicted them to finish 5th. The men in pink had a strong season underneath Lotina and were challenging Kawasaki for the title for good portions of the season, before two consecutive heavy defeats at the hands of Yokohama F. Marinos and Urawa Red Diamonds condemned them to 4th, where they stayed until the end of the season. Their efforts were rewarded with a ticket to the AFC Champions League play-offs, however Lotina will no longer be with Cerezo as he moved on to take up the reins at Shimizu. Levir Culpi is the man entrusted to guide Cerezo in 2021 and it’s interesting to see where the men in pink would go underneath the Brazilian in his fourth stint at the club.

During the buildup towards the 2020 season, I predicted that Kawasaki Frontale would have a good shout in the 2020 title race. That came true…but I did not see Kawasaki utterly treating the J1 as their personal chew toy and cakewalking their way into the league title. Toru Oniki’s men wrapped up their third J1 title with four matches to spare – the quickest anyone has done within the J1’s current 34-match format – and they also earned 83 points en route to the title, a record tally of points for the J1’s 34-match format. Oh, and there’s also the 2020 Emperor’s Cup being thrown into Kawasaki’s trophy cabinet as an added measure on how dominant the men from Kanagawa Prefecture has been throughout the year. During the 2020 season, Oniki had blended experience in the likes of Kengo Nakamura, Akihiro Ienaga and Yu Kobayashi with youth in the likes of Kaoru Mitoma, Reo Hatate, and Ao Tanaka to superb results. Mitoma, in particular, had a debut season to remember as he carried Kawasaki to the title alongside the experienced Kobayashi with 13 goals to his name. Kengo may have retired at the end of the 2020 season but in Mitoma, Kawasaki has the perfect candidate to step in as his heir, but they will have the added challenge of fending off the vultures of Europe who will undoubtedly circle above the Todoroki Athletics Stadium for Mitoma’s signature.

FC Tokyo may had a disappointing season to their lofty standards – I predicted them to finish 3rd but they ended up finishing 6th – however they did win themselves some silverware in the form of the 2020 J.League Cup so they shouldn’t be too disappointed in themselves. Yes consistency may have eluded the Gasmen in 2020 however Kenta Hasegawa managed to win his first silverware as FC Tokyo head coach and I think FC Tokyo could build upon that. Both Sei Muroya and Kento Hashimoto has left the Gasmen for Europe and considering their key roles for the FC Tokyo squad, Hasegawa’s priority would be to bring in adequate replacements should he wish for his team to challenge the big boys once again.

2020 marked another year that Vissel Kobe has massively disappointed me since I’ve regularly backed them to do great things especially with Andres Iniesta at the club. But building upon an Emperor’s Cup title in 2019 with a 14th placed finish in 2020 is probably the biggest slap in the face that the men from Hyogo Prefecture has ever given to me. I predicted them to be runners-up for 2020 and this is how they repay my faith in them? I’m starting to think that this team’s biggest problem isn’t their lack of star power or a competent head coach – it’s their chemistry. With a star-studded squad you expect many different egos clashing against one another that could potentially disrupt team chemistry, and I’m fearing that’s what’s going on with Vissel right now as no matter who’s the head coach, this team couldn’t put out a string of consistent performances that a unit of their quality is expected to churn out. But hey, they almost became champions of Asia in 2020, so there’s that, but that doesn’t mitigate the fact that Vissel are the J1’s biggest disappointments in 2020 (in my opinion).

Last but not least we have Yokohama F. Marinos who I predicted would defend their title but ended up finishing 9th. Disappointing, sure, but not as much as Vissel did to me. Once again inconsistencies are the culprit behind Yokohama’s capitulation, with every team in the league seemingly knowing how to halt Ange Postecoglou’s attacking brand of football. It is true that Yokohama retained a good portion of their title-winning squad from 2019 and even added a couple new quality signings in Ado Onaiwu and Kota Mizunuma, however they could not keep up with their rivals who improved themselves a lot in many aspects. It has been a torrid season for Yokohama, though I’m quite optimistic that they’ll bounce back from this and would flirt with the upper echelons of the J1 once again.

Remember when I said that Yokohama could be establishing a brand new footballing dynasty in Japan? Well, signs indicate that it’s Kawasaki who are establishing themselves into a dominant force within the J1, with Yokohama’s 2019 title win…a mere fluke.