Chelsea face a Japanese club for the first time today when we meet J.League champions Kawasaki Frontale at the International Stadium in Yokohama.
Ahead of the game, which kicks off at 7pm local time and is officially titled the MEIJI YASUDA J.LEAGUE WORLD CHALLENGE 2019, we take a look at our opponents who have won back-to-back domestic league titles.
If you're in the UK and Ireland you can watch the friendly live on this website and the Fifth Stand App (kick-off 11am UK time) - find out more here.
The club was formed as Fujitsu Soccer Club in 1955 and they competed as an amateur side in the Japan Soccer League until 1997 when they changed their name and turned professional as they became founder members of the J.League’s new second division.Promoted as J2 champions in 1999, they were immediately relegated the following year but went up again as champions in 2004 and have remained a top-flight club ever since for 15 consecutive seasons.
Frontale were runners-up in 2006, 2008 and 2009 and third in 2013 and 2016, but they finally shook off their bridesmaid’s tag in 2017 when they claimed their first J.League championship in dramatic fashion. Trailing leaders Kashima Antlers by two points going into their final game, the Kawasaki club took the title on goal difference after they trounced Omiya Ardija 5-0 and Kashima could only draw 0-0 with Jubilo Iwata.Defending their title last year, they were involved in a tight race with Sanfrecce Hiroshima for much of the campaign but pulled away down the stretch to retain the championship by a 12-point margin.In attention to their domestic tournaments, Frontale have also taken part in the AFC Champions League on seven occasions, reaching the quarter-finals in 2007, 2009 and 2017.
Season so far
Seeking to become the second club after Kashima Antlers to win three consecutive J.League titles, Frontale made a slow start, drawing their first three games before losing 1-0 at home to Gamba Osaka in their fourth match in mid-March.However, it is the only league defeat they have suffered so far this season and they stretched their unbeaten run to 14 games with a 3-0 away victory over leaders FC Tokyo last Sunday which moved them up to third in the table, four points off top spot with a game in hand.However, they have not done so well on the continental stage, failing to get past the group stage of the AFC Champions League after finishing third in their group behind South Korean side Ulsan Hyundai and Chinese champions Shanghai SIPG, the current club of former Chelsea midfielder Oscar.
Toru Oniki joined Frontale as a midfielder in 2000 and he became a coach in the club’s academy after his retirement in 2006 at the age of 32, gradually rising through the ranks of their coaching system and taking charge of the first team before the start of the 2017 season.Despite his lack of managerial experience at the top level of Japanese football, the 45-year-old has successfully turned the perennial underachievers into back-to-back champions in his first two seasons in the job, putting together a formidable team which has won 51 and lost only 12 of their last 86 league matches.
Club captain Yu Kobayashi was reported to have reached a career milestone last Sunday when he opened the scoring in the 3-0 win over FC Tokyo with the 100th goal of his career. The 31-year-old striker, who has been with Frontale since 2010, was the J.League’s most valuable player and top scorer with 23 goals in 2017 when he helped steer the club to their first league title.
The most experienced figure in the side is veteran playmaker Kengo Nakamura, who made his professional debut for Frontale in 2003, when they were still in the second division, and has gone on to play over 600 games for them over 17 seasons. The former Japan international has been named in the J.League’s Best 11 on eight occasions and became the oldest player to win the Japanese Footballer of the Year award at the age of 36 in 2016.
Former South Korea international goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong joined Frontale in 2016 and has been a key part of the recent success of the team, which conceded only 27 goals when they won the title last year, and has allowed only 11 in 18 matches so far this season. The 1.9-metre custodian also helped his country win the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics, saving a penalty by Aaron Ramsey in the quarter-finals as they eliminated Great Britain.
Of the club’s three Brazilian imports, the most prominent is striker Leandro Damaio, who helped Internacional win the Copa Libertadores in 2010 and was in the Brazil side which took the silver medal in the 2012 Olympics, when he emerged as the tournament’s top scorer with six goals.