Can the floundering Kashima Antlers stop the rot against Kawasaki Frontale?

Kashima Antlers v Kawasaki Frontale, J-League, October 7, 2009

Kashima Antlers 17/20; Draw 9/4; Kawasaki Frontale 13/5

With just seven rounds of fixtures remaining it’s squeaky-bum time in the J-League. And the former league leaders Kashima, now holding second-place after being leapfrogged by Shimizu S-Pulse, are going kamikaze.

That the provincial S-Pulse should currently find themselves on top of the standings in Japan is of itself not to biggest talking point in the division. Rather, after looking on-course for a simple waltz over the finishing line several week’s back when Kashima held a whopping ten point lead at the top of the table, the Antlers have since dramatically imploded.

Four straight defeats in matches that Kashima were expected to win, including back-to-back home defeats to Nagoya and Niigata in the last two rounds of matches, while their nearest challengers began clawing back the gap on the Ibaraki side, and suddenly the J-League is poised for a photo-finish.

One of Kashima’s biggest troubles all year has been a lack of goals throughout the team. Having only scored 37 goals in 27 matches so far, with stalwart 33-year-old striker Marquinhos having bagged ten of the goals, in recent matches when the Brazilian’s goals have run dry, no other Antler has been able to step up to help share the load. (Kashima are 2/1 to score in both halves.)

By contrast, Kashima’s biggest asset this season has been their miserly defence which has conceded only 26 goals this season – the lowest amount in the division. In recent weeks though Kashima’s defence have been throwing away goals (as keeper Hitoshi Sogahata demonstrated against Nagoya two weeks back), and they’ll be looking for a much tighter ship against Kawasaki on Wednesday.

Kawasaki, who dumped their next opponents out the domestic cup 3-0 just a few weeks ago, also arrive to the match in patchy form. Currently holding fourth-spot, just four points behind the league leaders, Kawasaki remain firmly in the title mix-up despite having lost to the Urawa Reds, Gamba Osaka and Nagoya in three of their last five matches.

Far more cosmopolitan, Kawasaki’s foreign imports make up the backbone of their attack.

Still going strong after over half a decade in Japan, 32-year-old Brazilian forward Juninho has so far chipped in with 11 goals in 26 games this campaign. Fellow Samba Boy Vitor Junior, who arrived from Santos last summer, has also scored three times in 13 matches from midfield, while South Korean striker Jong Tae-Se has netted eight times to help spread the goals around the team. (Kawasaki are 7/2 to score in both halves.)

With the Japanese Cup final still to play in a couple of weeks time, Kawasaki have the potential to claim an amazing domestic double this season. Win at troubled Kashima, and the dream will slowly start to become an attainable reality.

101predicts: Kashima Antlers 2 – Kawasaki Frontale 1 (7/1)

Kashima Antlers 17/20; Draw 9/4; Kawasaki Frontale 13/5

Full match odds here.