Gamba Osaka (9th) vs Vegalta Sendai (11th)
2019 Meiji Yasuda J1 League Round 32
23 November 2019 at 15:00 JST
Panasonic Stadium Suita
J1 returns after the final international break of the season with a clash between Gamba Osaka and Vegalta Sendai, two teams locked on 38 points in mid-table. Gamba currently lie 2 places above Sendai due to a superior goal difference and have accumulated their points total through 9 wins and 11 draws whereas Sendai have won 11 times and drawn 5. With only 3 rounds of games left, both teams will feel like their J1 status is almost secure for next season and any points taken from this game should guarantee safety. After this match, Gamba play Matsumoto Yamaga at home the following week and then AFC Champions League finalists Urawa Red Diamonds in the final round. Vegalta, on the other hand, face tricky fixtures, at home to Oita Trinita in round 33, before finishing away to Sanfrecce Hiroshima on December 7th.
Vegalta come to Osaka on Saturday with the worst away record in the league this year, just 3 wins and 1 draw from 15 matches, however, they have won 2 of their last 3 games on the road, overcoming struggling Nagoya Grampus 2-0 as well as a surprisingly comfortable 3-1 win at Sapporo back in September. Gamba haven’t been defeated in the league at Panasonic Stadium Suita since Urawa left with all 3 points back on April 14th and have won 5 and drawn 6 of their following 11 home fixtures.
Sendai won the reverse encounter between the sides on April 28th, as goals in injury time at the end of the first and second half by Katsuya Nagato and former Gamba man Shun Nagasawa respectively saw them overturn Kim Young-gwon’s early effort. This was an identical outcome to the match played between the two in 2018 when Kazuma Watanabe fired Gamba ahead only for two second half goals to swing things in the direction of the home side. This is a lesson that doesn’t seem to have been learned from by Gamba this year as they’ve only converted half-time leads into victories on two occasions (out of 6 attempts) and indeed when they’ve trailed at the break in 2019 they’re yet to come back to gain all 3 points (2 draws and 7 defeats).
Golden Week 2018 was the last time these two sides played a league match in Osaka with Levir Culpi’s struggling outfit earning a 1-0 victory over a Sendai team which on paper looked much stronger than this year’s crop, featuring as it did the likes of Ko Itakura, Hiroaki Okuno, Gakuto Notsuda and Takuma Nishimura, all now departed. Shu Kurata’s 62nd minute finish was all that separated them and although the talismanic Gamba number 10 is unlikely to take any part in this game due to a cheekbone fracture, the men in blue and black will be looking for a similar outcome against a Sendai side which has definitely punched above it’s weight this season following the departures of the aforementioned players.
Gamba had Kim Young-gwon, Genta Miura and Yosuke Ideguchi away on international duty, but welcome all three back into a squad which is now only missing Shu Kurata through injury. Miyamoto usually likes to make a couple of small changes following a defeat, so I feel we could see the return of Yuya Fukuda down the left side in place of Hiroki Fujiharu. Other options for small tweaks could be bringing Ryu Takao back in for Shunya Suganuma at centre-back or perhaps changing the dynamic up-front with Kazuma Watanabe or Patric coming in to partner Takashi Usami and thus providing a big target for crosses or long balls.
Most of Sendai’s best performances in recent weeks have come with them operating the 4-4-2 system, although they have used 3-4-2-1 quite extensively in the recent past. I’m working on the basis that they’ll go 4-4-2 for this one. Polish ‘keeper Jakub Slowik, who joined the club as a mid-season replacement for the now departed Japanese international Daniel Schmidt will be between the sticks. Veteran centre-back Yasuhiro Hiraoka, who will make his 300th J1 appearance in this match, is likely to be partnered by versatile Mozambique international Simao Mate with Koji Hachisuka at right-back and assist-king Katsuya Nagato (9 assists, 2 goals in 27 J1 games in 2019) on the left. Club legend Shingo Tomita will anchor the midfield alongside Yoshiki Matsushita, an acquisition from Vissel Kobe last winter. Another winter 2018-19 signing, Ryohei Michibuchi (Ventforet Kofu) usually plays on the right-wing and in-form ex-Urawa and Cerezo winger Kunimutsu Sekiguchi is enjoying an Indian Summer in his career down the left (4 goals and 1 assist in 20 J1 games). Up front, 192cm former Gamba star Shun Nagasawa will likely be partnered by wily Brazilian Ramon Lopes, both forwards have found the net 6 times in the league this year and are currently Sendai’s top scorers. As noted earlier Simao Mate is able to play in more than one position, if he moves into central-midfield it could open the door for another former Gamba player, Kim Jung-ya, to come into their defence. Powerful forward Ryo Germain, ex-FC Tokyo attacker Takuma Abe and the vastly experienced Naoki Ishihara are likely to provide attacking re-inforcement from the bench.
Gamba haven’t lost at home in the league for 7 months and Vegalta are owners of the worst away record this season, but J1 is rarely that predictable. A draw for both teams would most probably make them mathematically safe from relegation, so I believe we will see a tight, tactical scuffle that Gamba will ultimately edge through a Takashi Usami strike which will take him to within one goal of Ademilson and Kurata at the top of the Gamba goalscoring charts.
As an aside, because of Labour Thanksgiving Day, this will be my 4th home game of the season. The results of the previous three are; 0-1 vs Urawa (Gamba’s last home league defeat), and 1-1 against Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Jubilo Iwata at either end of the Obon vacation. Goals scored by the opposition are Ewerton (Urawa) 87’, Leandro Pereira (Hiroshima) 90+2’ and Masato Nakayama (Iwata) 90+5’….so I guess what we can take from this is never give up Sendai….a 97th minute equaliser this time, anyone?
Predicted Gamba Line-up:
GK 1 Masaaki Higashiguchi (33 years old)
CB 13 Shunya Suganuma (29)
CB 5 Genta Miura (C) (24)
CB 19 Kim Young-gwon (29)
RWB 8 Kosuke Onose (26)
LWB 34 Yuya Fukuda (20)
DM 7 Yasuhito Endo (39)
CM 15 Yosuke Ideguchi (23)
CM 21 Shinya Yajima (25)
CF 33 Ademilson (25)
CF 33 Takashi Usami (27)
Subs: 23 Mizuki Hayashi (GK/23), 27 Ryu Takao (CB/RWB/23), 4 Hiroki Fujiharu (LWB/30), 11 David Concha (RW/LW/AM/23), 14 Markel Susaeta (RW/LW/AM/31), 18 Patric (CF/31), 39 Kazuma Watanabe (CF/33)
Gamba Osaka (9th) vs Vegalta Sendai (11th)