Seven weeks ago, David Villa's first J. League goal in front of an enthusiastic home crowd led even the most cynical of observers to wonder whether this could be the year that perennial underperformer Vissel Kobe would finally put together a campaign worthy of its arsenal of European talent.

Life, as they say, comes at you fast.

Missing from Saturday's game against Urawa Reds at Saitama Stadium — in addition to the injured Villa and former Barcelona star Andres Iniesta, whose absence was more of a mystery — was Juan Manuel Lillo, the Spanish manager having parted with the club by mutual consent after the team's embarrassing 4-2 loss to Sanfrecce Hiroshima.