The new season of J.League Fantasy begins on the 17th of February. How about creating a fantasy team? This preview with the best picks and predicted lineups will help.


みなさん、こんにちは!(Hello, everyone!)

Platform Foontasy invites you to a new fantasy adventure that starts on February 17th, next Friday. It’s the start date of the new season of Japanese top-flight football, also known as J.League. Kawasaki Frontale will try to reclaim the title they had for two years before it was taken away from them by Yokohama F. Marinos. Iniesta and his Vissel Kobe are going to bounce back from last season’s 13th-place finish. Yoichi Isagi will fight to not let his dream of winning the World Cup and becoming the all-time top goalscorer of Japan NT die in Blue Lock (oh, sorry, that’s from a manga).

To make following all the action more interesting, we launched a J.League fantasy tournament, that’s totally different from what you are used to playing.

How our game works, you can read in this article. Here I’m previewing the new season of J.League Fantasy.

Let’s go!


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J.League Fantasy Best Picks

 

Premiums

Takuma Nishimura (Yokohama F. Marinos, MID 10.00) — This CAM will have more chances of starting up top after the departure of one of the strikers.

Léo Ceará (Cerezo Osaka, FW 9.00) — That “one of the strikers” in J.League Fantasy is him. Now he doesn’t need to fight for a starting spot. He averaged a goal every 120 minutes last year.

 

Upper middle class

Tomoki Hayakawa (Kashima Antlers, GK 8.00) — 23-year-old goalkeeper, who established himself as a starter in the last five gameweeks of the 2022 season, is a slightly valuable pick because his price in J.League Fantasy is based mostly on his predecessor’s, Kwoun Sun-tae, performances, whose shot-stopping numbers weren’t good.

Taisei Miyashiro (Kawasaki Frontale, FW 7.75) — Leandro Damião is out injured until mid-March and that means that a striker who made 8G+3A in 17.5 full games for mid-table side Sagan Tosu has four matches to show what he’s got in J.League Fantasy.

 

Lower middle class

Matej Jonjic (Cerezo Osaka, DEF 6.50) — If you think his team can better their defensive record (9 clean sheets, 3rd worst in the league) then a Croatian is a valuable pick for you. We give one fantasy point per six clearances in J.League Fantasy and Jonjic is in 3rd place by frequency of this statistic (5 clearances per 90).

Ryosuke Kojima (Albirex Niigata, GK 6.50) — Genius.

 

Low price

Kento Tachibanada (Kawasaki Frontale, MID 5.25) — In the final part of the season his position was switched from an anchor to box-to-box midfielder and he should continue playing there.

Katsuya Iwatake (Yokohama FC, DEF 5.00) — The most central player in the back three. The more they will get attacked, the more clearances he’ll make, and it will get him points in J.League Fantasy. If less, then more chances of securing a clean sheet.


J.League Expected Lineups

But first, let me show you a couple of infographics.

The first data viz shows how teams fared in defence.

The second one shows how busy goalkeepers were with making saves.

One more thing: A reminder that during GW1 in J.League Fantasy, you will have an unlimited number of post-deadline transfers, you will need them, because there will be a lot of surprises. After the end of J.League Fantasy GW1, you will have an unlimited number of free transfers to set up a team for GW2 and on.

And now to expected XIs! Teams are sorted by league finish from lowest to highest.


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Yokohama FC

Notable departures: Issaka (RWB, end of Kawasaki Frontale loan), Kamekawa (CB/LB, Avispa Fukuoka)

Notable arrivals: Lara (CDM, Vasco da Gama), Caprini (RW, Londrina), 10 more new players to fill the bench, and no new RWB to replace Issaka

The club from the port city was founded in late 1998 by fans of Yokohama Flügels who weren’t happy with their merger with city rivals Yokohama Marinos, thus becoming the first club in Japan functioning in the socio model. Their first season in the top flight happened in 2007 but they were relegated straight away. The next entry occurred in 2019 and the team lasted for two seasons. But a year later Yokohama FC are back again. And now they have more chances of survival given their transfer campaign and the fact that only one team goes down to J2 this season.


Albirex Niigata

Notable departures: none

Notable arrivals: Arai (RB/LB, Tokushima Vortis), Ota (LW/RW, Machida Zelvia)

The team name is made by combining the star Albireo of the constellation Cygnus (the Swan, the symbol of the club) and the Latin word Rex meaning ‘king’. This club’s first season in J.League started in 2003, being there for 14 years never finishing above 6th place. It took them five years to get back to the top division again.

Albirex Niigata is a very possession-oriented team. According to CIES Football Observatory, they made the 2nd highest number of touches per game in the world last season, behind only Manchester City.

Apart from style, Niigata and Man City have one more thing in common. Managers rotate their starting line-ups a lot. Niigata head coach Rikizo Matsuhashi named an unchanged XI only once. Only goalkeeper Ryosuke Kojima wasn’t rotated (because he is a genius). With the acquisition of Naoto Arai, who could play RB and LB, Matsuhashi Roulette will be even more ruthless. The only defender who I think will play regularly is Australian international Thomas Deng. Even though a rotated player coming off the bench for a 1-pointer will not be in your final XI in most cases, better to avoid most of Albirex Niigata’s picks.

Yoshiaki Takagi suffered an ACL injury in mid-September, so I didn’t include him in the expected starting XI, otherwise, he would be rotated with Ryotaro Ito who I should note was never omitted from matchday squads last season.


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Kyoto Sanga

Notable departures: Kamifukumoto (GK, Kawasaki Frontale), Ogiwara (LB, end of Urawa Reds loan), Taketomi (RW, 18-placed J2 team Ventforet Kofu, who will play in Asian Champions League as Emperor’s Cup winners)

Notable arrivals: Hahn (GK, Göteborg), Yuto Misao (CB, Oita Trinita), Hirato (LW, Machida Zelvia), Patric (FW, Gamba Osaka)

«Sanga» comes from the Sanskrit «sangha», a term meaning «group» or «club».

The oldest club among all three divisions of J.League. The previous season for them was their 100th in history and 1st in J.League after 11 years of absence. They were 9th by the end of the 1st half of the year, with striker Peter Utaka scoring eight goals. But since then both the team and the Nigerian suffered a slump in form. Utaka stopped being a starting member (that’s why I didn’t list him in notable departures; he, as Taketomi, joined Ventforet Kofu) and Kyoto got just 16 points from the remaining 17 games, finishing 16th. Without the heroics of goalkeeper Kamifukumoto, they would be relegated directly, rather than playing a promotion/relegation play-off match with J2 side Roasso Kumamoto. Fortunately for Sanga, the game ended 1-1 and they stayed up (rules require the J2 team to win after 90 minutes to get promoted, but now it’s cancelled after a recent reform).

Goalkeeper Warner Hahn has arrived in Japan only recently, so he may not start the first game.

GPR means goal-prevented rate — expected goals against (xGA) divided by actual goals against. GPR > 1 means that a GK prevented more goals than an average GK would if he was in a real GK’s place.


Gamba Osaka

Notable departures: Shoji (CB, Kashima Antlers), Patric (ST, Kyoto Sanga)

Notable arrivals: Handa (RB, Montedio Yamagata), Lavi (CDM, Maccabi Haifa), Jebali (ST/CAM, Odense)

«Gamba» comes from the Italian word «gamba» meaning «leg» and the Japanese «ganbaru» (頑張る), meaning «to do your best» or «to stand firm».

Since 2014, the Nerazzurri have won one Championship title, three domestic cups and qualified for Asian Champions League four times. After the 2nd place finish in 2020, they fell to 13th the following season, partly because they had a decent number of matches postponed due to COVID-19 issues. Prior to the 2022 seasons, Gamba appointed Tomohiro Katanosaka as their new head coach to implement the style that got Oita Trinita promoted from J3 to J1. But he failed to do so and was sacked after 24 league leagues leaving the team in 17th place. Club signed head coach Hiroshi Matsuda until the end of the season with a mission to avoid relegation. And the mission was completed, getting 15 points from the remaining 10 games. The current manager now is Dani Poyatos, formerly from Tokushima Vortis, who will try to set possession football.

Like at Kyoto Sanga, top performances by their keepers saved them from relegation.

In Higashiguchi vs Tani’s battle for the GK spot, I’m leaning for the former, because he’s more experienced, better with his feet, and showed better shot-stopping numbers last season. Speaking of passing ability, the most confident with his feet is surprisingly 3rd goalkeeper Jun Ichimori, whose share of long passes last year is 32%, compared to Higashiguchi’s 38% and Tani’s 41%.


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Avispa Fukuoka

Notable departures: Shichi (LB, Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Croux (RW, Cerezo Osaka), Delgado (ST, V-Varen Nagasaki)

Notable arrivals: Kamekawa (CB/RB/LB, Yokohama FC), Ideguchi (CM, on loan from Celtic), Konno (RW, FC Tokyo)

«Avispa» is a Spanish word for «wasp», an insect that symbolizes teamwork.

It’s their third year in a row in J.League. After their best-ever league finish in 8th place in 2021, they suffered a second-season syndrome and dropped to 14th the following year.

Their usual formation is 4-4-2, but with a lack of good left winger, their optimal formation now is 3-4-3 which was used ninr times last season.

I would’ve put John Mary as a starting center-forward, but looks like he’s about to join the Turkish side Rizespor.


Vissel Kobe

Notable departures: Iikura (GK, Free agent), Yuki Kobayashi (CB, Celtic), Yuki Kobayashi [yes, there is another one] (CM/CAM, Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo)

Notable arrivals: Jean Patric (RW/LW, Cerezo Osaka)

«Vissel» is the combination of the words «victory» and «vessel», referring to the city’s port history.

The most headline-breaking club in recent years never finished above 8th place before 2021 when they clinched the 3rd position. Before the start of the 2022 season, there was a belief they could finally challenge for the title. But instead, we saw them in a relegation dogfight. Their starting plan was so fragile loss of one of the key players ruins it all. Sergi Samper ruptured his ACL in mid-March and four days later manager Atsuhiro Miura was sacked leaving them in 17th place after seven games, two more than most of the teams. Two failed appointments of Spanish managers later, in late June they hired Takayuki Yoshida for a 3rd time. He set more direct football and earned 29 points from 16 games, only Kawasaki Frontale (32) and Yokohama F. Marinos (31) got more during that time. I would say they could fight for high places again if their transfer campaign wasn’t so unconvincing. Will not be elaborating on that.

Sergi Samper is a big doubt for GW1

Without Iniesta starting I think it’ll be 4-3-3.


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Shonan Bellmare

Notable departures: Tani (GK, end of Gamba Osaka loan), Segawa (LW/ST, Kawasaki Frontale)

Notable arrivals: Song Bum-keun (GK, Jeonbuk Hyundai), Onose (RM/RWB, Gamba Osaka), Yamashita (ST, on loan from FC Tokyo)

«Bellmare» is a portmanteau of the Italian words «bello» and «mare», meaning «beautiful sea».

In the last three seasons before 2022, they fought for relegation until the last matchday (except the 2021 season with no one going down). However last year they managed to eliminate the threat a bit earlier.


Sagan Tosu

Notable departures: Diego (LB/CB, Kashiwa Reysol), Kei Koizumi (CM, FC Tokyo), Miyashiro (ST, end of Kawasaki Frontale loan)

Notable arrivals: Yamazaki (CB, Montedio Yamagata), Kawahara (CDM, Roasso Kumamoto), Togashi (ST, Vegalta Sendai)

Sagan is a coined word with a couple of meanings behind it. One of its homophones is sandstone (砂岩, sagan) in Japanese. This symbolizes many small elements uniting to form one formidable object, for example as a metaphor for a team. Also, Sagan Tosu can be interpreted as “Tosu of Saga (Prefecture)” (佐賀ん鳥栖, Saga-n Tosu) in the area’s dialect.

Sagaon Tosu are the team with the lowest wage bill in the league. Yet they still manage to finish in mid-table. Will the bubble burst this time?


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Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Notable departures: Takamine (CDM/LCB, Kashiwa Reysol), Koroki (ST, end of Urawa Reds loan)

Notable arrivals: Gu Sung-yun (starting Sapporo GK in 2015-2019 returns to the club after completing military service in South Korea), Baba (CB/CDM, Tokyo Verdy), Yuki Kobayashi (CM, Vissel Kobe)

The club name «Consadole» is made from consado, a reverse of the Japanese word Dosanko (道産子, meaning «people of Hokkaido») and the Spanish expression «Ole».

They are a mid-table team that can lose 0-5 to a random team then win 4-3 against title challengers. Their first six games of the season ended in a draw. Wildly inconsistent team.

Defensive midfielder Yoshiaki Komai suffered an ACL injury (Yoshiaki seems like a jinxed name) in early October, so I didn’t include him in the predicted XI.


Urawa Red Diamonds

Notable departures: Matsuo (LW/ST, loaned out to Westerloo), Junker (ST, loaned out to Nagoya Grampus)

Notable arrivals: Höibraten (CB, FK Bodø/Glimt)

The club from the city of Saitama have the most fanatical supporters in Japan. Reds won a league title only once in 2006, but they conquered Asian Champions League twice in 2007 and 2017, the only team in Japan that managed to do so.

14th in 2019, 10th in 2020 and 6th in 2021. Fans expected from manager Ricardo Rodriguez that progress would not stop. But he didn’t manage to take Urawa to the next level. The inability to unlock defences consistently resulted in 9th place with the league-highest 15 draws. Yet somehow Reds reached the Asian Champions League final that will take place on 29 April and 6 May. However, it will be without Rodriguez who was replaced by Maciej Skorża from Poland.


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Nagoya Grampus

Nagoya Grampus

Notable departures: Silva (CDM, Free Agent), Soma (RW/LW/LWB, loaned out to Casa Pia)

Notable arrivals: Riku Yamada (CDM, Ventforet Kofu), Izumi (played everywhere except GK, Kashima Antlers), Junker (ST, on loan from Urawa Red Diamonds)

For the most part of J.League history, they were either mid-table or a relegation-battling team. But in 2020 they finished 3rd and in 2021 ended up in 5th. However, the club and manager at the time Massimo Ficcadenti couldn’t agree on a contract extension and he was replaced by Kenta Hasegawa who didn’t fare well at FC Tokyo who finished 9th. Even though Nagoya showed the joint-best defensive record (35 goals conceded), they scored just 30 and they ended up 8th, partly because they didn’t have a normal centre-forward. But with the loan signing of Kasper Junker goalscoring problem must be solved.


Kashiwa Reysol

Notable departures: Yuji Takahashi (CB, Shimizu S-Pulse), Kamijima (CB, Yokohama F. Marinos), Ominami (CB/RB, Kawasaki Frontale), Dodi (CM, Santos)

Notable arrivals: Tatsuta (CB, Shimizu S-Pulse), Diego (CB/LB, Sagan Tosu), Takamine (CDM/LCB, Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo), Sento (CM, Nagoya Grampus), Kota Yamada (CAM, Montedio Yamagata), Grot (ST, Viborg)

The most memorable event in this club’s history was in 2011, when in their first season after promotion they won a title becoming the first team in Japan to do so. After that the gold-and-black finished mostly in mid-table.

The first two-thirds of the last season were really great for the team. After 24 games they were 2nd in the table, six points behind the top spot. But since then they failed to win a single game and fell to 7th.

Before the 2022 season, no one expected that coach Nelsinho will set up his team in 3-5-2. In case he switches formation again, I decided to field them in 4-2-3-1.


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FC Tokyo

Notable departures: None

Notable arrivals: Tokumoto (LB, Fagiano Okayama), Kei Koizumi (CM, Sagan Tosu), Nakagawa (RW, Yokohama F. Marinos), Perotti (ST, on loan from Chapecoense)

Zero J.League titles is not what you expect from a club from the most populous metropolitan area in the world. The closest they were to the championship was in 2019 finishing 2nd, six points behind Yokohama F. Marinos.

The last season may be called a transitional period to implement style based on ball control. To do this, they hired Spanish manager Albert Puig, who laid the basis for the Albirex Niigata promotion campaign. Their average possession percentage went up from 45.8% in 2021 to 55.4%, behind only Kawasaki Frontale and Yokohama F. Marinos. Let’s see how it goes next.

I’m seeing other previewers putting Kei Koizumi as the midfield anchor. But considering that he runs over 12 km per game, I think he could also be put as box-to-box.


Cerezo Osaka

Notable departures: none

Notable arrivals: Croux (RW, Avispa Fukuoka), Shinji Kagawa (CAM, Sint-Truidense), Ceará (ST, Yokohama F. Marinos)

«Cerezo» is «Cherry blossom» in Spanish, the flower of the city of Osaka.

The current era of this football team started in the 2017 season, first after promotion, which turned out to be their best season in history. 3rd placed finish and a domestic cup double. After that, they didn’t finish below 7th place until 2021, when they fell to a mediocre 12th place.

Start of the 2022 was rather scrappy, 9th after 10 games, but since then they won eight and lost two of the next 14 matches, and were 3rd after GW24. But eventually, they fell to 5th after winning just two of the remaining 10 games.

They also reached the J.League cup final but they lost in dramatic fashion to Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-2 after conceding goals in the 92nd and 97th minutes.

Monday UPD: Club announced that Hiroshi Kiyotake has injured his hamtring. They didn’t reveal the recovery timescale, but by words of Kiyotake himself, he’s out for long, so it looks like it’s Grade Three hamstring injury. His back-up Capixaba entered the country only recently and it could be Tameda starting in GW1.


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Kashima Antlers

Notable departures: Kento Misao (CB/CDM, Santa Clara)

Notable arrivals: Naomichi Ueda (CB, Nimes), Shoji (CB, Gamba Osaka), Fujii (RM, Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Chinen (ST, Kawasaki Frontale)

It’s hard to believe but a city with a population of 67,000 people has the most successful club in J.League history. Antlers won eight league titles, more than any other team. But the last one came in 2016, and after that, they finished between 2nd and 5th places.

After GW18 they were 2nd, three points behind the top spot. But selling the league topscorer at the time Ayase Ueda turned out to be a shot in the foot. Since then they won just three and drew nine times in the remaining 16 games, luckily finishing 4th because Cerezo Osaka, FC Tokyo, and Kashiwa Reysol also slumped in form.

Gen Shoji is injured and based on his recovery timescale he could be fit for GW2 of J.League Fantasy.


Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Notable departures: Fujii (RWB, Kashima Antlers)

Notable arrivals: Shichi (LB, Avispa Fukuoka)

«Sanfrecce» is a portmanteau of the Japanese word for three, «San» and the Italian word «frecce», which means «arrows».

It will be the 15th consecutive season in J.League for Sanfrecce. During that time they won three league titles the last of which came in 2015. After mid-table finishes in 2020 and 2021 club hired a German manager Michael Skibbe. Without reinforcing the squad much he turned Sanfrecce into a machine that reached the finals of both national cups (winning one of them) and ended 3rd in the table.


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Kawasaki Frontale

Notable departures: Taniguchi (CB, Al-Rayyan)

Notable arrivals: Kamifukumoto (GK, Kyoto Sanga), Ominami (CB/RB, Kashiwa Reysol)

«Frontale» is Italian for «front», signifying the desire to play with ambition and fearlessness.

After getting promoted for the 2005 J.League season, they were slowly moving to the top, becoming league runners-up four times along the way, before finally winning the title in 2017. That marked the start of the golden era. From 2018 to 2021 they became champions on three occasions and won two domestic cups.

But 2022 was a season to forget. Asian Champions League elimination in the group stage, early exits at cup competitions. Injuries and sub-optimal form of players hindered them from winning 3rd championship in a row.

To the surprise of many, I’m predicting Kamifukumoto to be the first-choice goalkeeper. Last season he condeded 31 goals from 37.07 xG (1.20 goals prevented rate), compared to Jung Sung-Ryong’s 36 from 27.66 (0.77 goals prevented rate, the worst among goalkeepers who played a considerable amount of minutes).

Injured: Damião (until mid-March), Kobayashi (until mid to late Match)

Doubtful: Ienaga (since Kawasaki open this season you could know whether he is in XI before the deadline that is set at the kick-off of the first game of the GW)


Yokohama F. Marinos

Notable departures: Iwata (CB/CDM, loaned out to Celtic), Takaoka? (GK, about to join Vancouver Whitecaps)

Notable arrivals: Iikura (GK, free agent, formerly Vissel Kobe), Kamijima (CB, Kashiwa Reysol)

«Marinos» means «sailors» in Spanish. The letter «F» was added after the merger of Yokohama Marinos and Yokohama Flügels in 1999.

The longest-serving team in the top flight of Japanese football, having played at the top level since 1982. Holder of five J.League titles (1995, 2003, 2004, 2019, 2022).

Before the start of last season, the chances of them challenging Kawasaki Frontale for the title weren’t big. Squad was a bit reshuffled at the time. But Australian manager Kevin Muscat did a great job turning Marinos into a dominant force. Even though the endgame was a bit nervy. Prior to GW33, they lost two games in a row, and their lead over Kawasaki Frontale shortened from eight to two points.

Muscat rotated starting XIs quite often in the first part of the season, so I’m not ruling out that he could do it again.

Goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka should soon sign for MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps. Marinos quickly signed free agent Hiroki Iikura. To decide, who I should put as a starting GK, him or Obinna, your previewer did the unthinkable: he watched football. To be more precise, the Japanese Super Cup. In that game, it was Obinna between the posts and he performed confidently unlike the five games in the 2021 season in which he made two errors that led to a goal. So I think Obinna will begin this season as the first-choice keeper.

Both right-backs are injured: Ryuta Koike (until mid-March) and Ken Matsubara (no info on timescale). In Super Cup, it was Kamijima in this position.

完 (The End)

Create team

The GW1 deadline of J.League Fantasy is on Friday, February 17th, 10:00 GMT, with the kick-off of the first fixture, Kawasaki Frontale v Yokohama F. Marinos, don’t miss it!

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You can find additional J.League Fantasy resources for the 23/24 season here.

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Mjo
Mjo
1 year ago

Hi, Thank you for your work !
(the table for Gamba Osaka is not the good one 😉 )

Jordi
Jordi
8 months ago

Hey, Jun Ichimori seems to be the GK for Yokohama F. Marinos right now. You think it stays that way?

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