In a week’s time, Vissel Kobe will return to continental action and resume their bid to win the AFC Champions League. First up is a Round of 16 tie against compatriots Yokohama F. Marinos on Aug. 18 and, with the subsequent two knockout-round stages in the East Zone to be completed by the following seven days, it will not be long before they know if they are headed for next February’s final.

Vying for continental glory is exactly the position Vissel are expected to be for all the star power they boast, headlined by Spanish legend Andres Iniesta and fellow ex-Barcelona men Bojan Krkic and Sergi Samper, as well as a whole host of Japan internationals who all boast European experience such as Yuya Osako, Yoshinori Muto, Hotaru Yamaguchi and Gotoku Sakai. What is less expected — and in fact, a huge shock — is that, with ten games remaining in their domestic J1 League season, Vissel find themselves rock bottom of the table.

In 24 games already played, Vissel have managed just five wins while suffering a competition-high 13 losses. An 11-game winless start to the 2022 J1 League season — which included seven defeats — has left Vissel Kobe at genuine risk of an unthinkable relegation from Japanese football’s top flight. Masashi Hara/Getty Images

It is impossible to say whether it is more condemning that an attack featuring Osako, Muto and Bojan while being supplied by Iniesta and Yamaguchi has only managed 21 goals, or that a seasoned defence marshalled by experienced campaigners like Sakai and Tomoaki Makino has conceded 32. (For comparison, top-of-the-table Marinos lead the way in goals scored with 51, while Avispa Fukuoka — in just their second year back in the top flight — have the best defensive record of just 20 goals conceded.)

Vissel’s domestic woes have already cost both Atsuhiro Miura and Miguel Angel Lotina their jobs — the latter lasting less than two month — with the club now searching for a third permanent manager of the campaign.