Kashima Antlers On Course For Back-To-Back Titles
Kashima Antlers are on course to reclaim their J-League Championship crown by holding a healthy lead with two months left in the campaign.
The club won the title last season for the eighth time in their history. Masatada Ishii guided his side into the playoff system in third place, finishing well off the pace of number one seed Urawa Red Diamonds.
However, they secured their place in the Championship game by defeating two seed Kawasaki Frontale through Mu Kanazaki's strike. In the first leg of the title contest, they slipped to a 1-0 defeat to the Red Diamonds on home soil.
Ishii's men had to pull off a major feat to win the crown for the first time in seven years, and they achieved just that despite falling behind to an early goal. Kanazaki scored a brace to deliver the Antlers the crown on away goals.
Despite guiding the club to the crown and the Club World Cup, where the Antlers gave Real Madrid a real scare, Ishii was sacked after his side's poor start to the term. Go Oiwa replaced him in the dugout and has got Kashima back on track and on course for their ninth J-League title.
Therefore, it's well worth tracking their odds for the Championship in the sports betting with William Hill; the site currently favors the Antlers for the title. The rules of the competition have changed this season, meaning that the Antlers need only finish in top spot come the end of the term to clinch the crown.
Oiwa's side are currently top of the table at the time of writing, holding a six-point lead over their nearest rivals.
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The club have won 18 out of their 25 matches and are well on their way to securing back-to-back Championships for the first time since winning three on the bounce between 2007 and 2009.
Kanazaki's form has been crucial to their success this term, with the midfielder continuing to lead the way for his team. The 28-year-old notched 13 strikes in 2016 but has already come close to beating his tally with 11 goals in his 23 appearances in the current campaign.
The Antlers have not been prolific in front of goal this term, scoring just 40 goals in their 25 matches. For a team topping the table, it's unusual for the total to be so low, making their current achievement more impressive.
Brazilians Pedro Junior and Leandro have been excellent in their first seasons in the club, contributing seven and nine strikes respectively. Between Kanazaki and the two Brazilians, there is more than enough quality to drive the Antlers over the line in the final third.
Kashima's form at the other end of the pitch has been outstanding. They've kept 12 clean sheets in their 25 matches this season, conceding just 23 goals. Only Yokohama F. Marinos have a better defensive record in the league, highlighting the quality of the performances of Gen Shoji, Shuto Yamatomo, Naomichi Uda and Daigo Nishi.
The quartet have formed an almost impregnable unit at the back for Oiwa's side and will be the foundation in their push for the crown towards the end of the campaign.