Urawa Red Diamonds (13th) vs Gamba Osaka (9th)
2019 Meiji Yasuda J1 League Round 34
7 December 2019 at 14:00 JST
Saitama Stadium 2002
J1 draws to a close for 2019 this Saturday as fierce rivals Gamba Osaka and Urawa Red Diamonds go head to head in an attempt by both clubs to finish off extremely disappointing league campaigns with a win. Gamba could end up anywhere from 7th to 10th in the final standings depending on the result of this and other matches while 2019 Asian Champions League runners-up Urawa are only safe from the promotion/relegation place by virtue of the fact that 2 teams lower than them, Shimizu and Tosu, play each other in the final round of fixtures so cannot both overhaul their total of 37 points.
Gamba come into this encounter in much better domestic form than their opponents with last Saturday’s rout of now relegated Matsumoto Yamaga their 5th win in the last 8 league games. However, their away form has been more patchy with only 4 wins and 17 points coming from 16 matches to date, the 6th worst record in J1. Urawa held title-chasing FC Tokyo to a 1-1 draw at Ajinomoto Stadium in their previous game, but that was their 5th league match in a row without a win, their last 3 points coming on October 10th with a 2-1 victory over Shimizu S-Pulse in Saitama. Since then they’ve been defeated at home 1-0 by Oita and 2-0 by Kawasaki and in total they’ve only managed to take the 3 points on 4 occasions at Saitama Stadium 2002 this season, the 3rd worst record in the league, ahead of only already relegated Iwata and Matsumoto. Goalscoring has also been an issue all season, they’ve found the back of the net on just 32 occasions in 33 games so far, again this tally is only worsened by Iwata (28 goals) and Matsumoto (20). Top scorer Shinzo Koroki has struck 12 times in 31 J1 appearances this year (37.5% of their goals).
Urawa won the reverse fixture between the two back in April with Ewerton’s late drive enough to separate the sides in a rather dull clash which saw Hiroki Fujiharu go off injured following an accidental collision with Reds defender Ryota Moriwaki. It was also Gamba’s 5th defeat in their opening 7 games of 2019 and one of the last occasions on which they used the 4-4-2 formation. Last year, a rampant Gamba saw off Reds at Saitama Stadium 2002 though wonder-strikes from Kosukue Onose and Hwang Ui-jo either side of a Shinzo Koroki equaliser before Ademilson sealed the 3-1 win in the 69th minute, the 7th of Gamba’s epic 9 game winning streak. Last season’s encounter at Panasonic Stadium Suita was again a tepid affair, ending up 0-0. The previous 5 Urawa vs Gamba clashes in Saitama are even with 2 wins apiece (Urawa 2015, 2016), Gamba (2014, 2018) and 1 draw (2017). The most memorable of those from a Gamba perspective would definitely be the 2-0 victory in round 32 of the 2014 season as late strikes from Akihiro Sato and Patric saw the men in blue and black overtake their title rivals in the race for the J1 crown which of course they went onto lift following a 3-1 home victory over Kobe and a nervy 0-0 draw away to Tokushima. Victory for Urawa in this year’s match would see them become only the second team, after Yokohama F.Marinos, to defeat Gamba both home and away. Gamba in turn have taken 6 points from each of Matsumoto, Shonan and Shimizu.
Being the final fixture of a long and arduous season could be a factor in this game, especially for Urawa who, in goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa, have the J1 player with the most club appearances in total in 2019 (50 – 32 J1, 13 ACL, 2 Emperor’s Cup, 2 Jleague Cup and 1 Japanese Super Cup), his team-mates Tomoaki Makino and Shinzo Koroki (both 48 games) as well as attacking-midfielder Kazuki Nagasawa (43) and centre-back, Takuya Iwanami (40) are all in desperate need of a well-earned rest this winter. By contrast, Gamba top-scorer and assist provider Ademilson has played the most games for the club in 2019 (42 in all competitions – though only 32 have been starts), Masaaki Higashiguchi (41) and Genta Miura (40) are just behind. Interestingly, assuming midfield maestro Yasuhito takes the field just one month shy of his 40th birthday, it will be his 28th J1 game of the season (34th in all competitions), but will mark the first time since 2008 that he’s played less than 30 league games in one calendar year, an incredible feat of staying power.
Gamba only have Takashi Usami as a doubt with a head knock but his prognosis is good so they are likely to see out the season with the same starting members as in the victories at home to Sendai and Matsumoto. My prediction of Shu Kurata coming into the line-up at the expense of either Endo or Yajima last week didn’t come to fruition but it remains an option for Director Tsuneyasu Miyamoto. This type of derby match doesn’t really lend itself to sentiment, but I guess depending on the match situation, it’s possible we may be able to get an insight into the future of certain players such as Patric (rumoured to be staying permanently) or Kazuma Watanabe who may be playing their last game for the club this weekend. Ademilson (rumoured to be signing a new contract despite interest from Urawa) scored his 9th goal and got his 7th assist of 2019 against Matsumoto and should he find the back of the net in this game, it’d be the first time he has reached double figures in J1 with this being his 5th season playing in Japanese football.
Urawa play in a 3-4-2-1 formation, although they have rotated their personnel quite heavily this year as a result of their extended Champions League participation and more recently due to poor league performances, this makes predicting their starting line-up a thankless task, but I’ll do my best. Former Japanese international Shusaku Nishikawa will be between the sticks for his 51st club appearance of the season. The back three will almost definitely have Nishikawa’s former Hiroshima team-mate, Tomoaki Makino in there and he’ll likely be flanked by last winter’s recruit from Kashiwa Reysol, Daisuke Suzuki and 25 year-old former Kobe centre-back, Takuya Iwanami. Other options include, the Brazilian Mauricio, who was imperious in the 1-0 win in Suita in April or Ryota Moriwaki, another member of the Sanfrecce old-boys network, who actually played at right wing-back against FC Tokyo and will leave Reds after 7 years with the club this off-season. 182 cm tall Daiki Hashioka plays right wing-back more regularly and may come in again for this clash, he was the focal point for Urawa’s tactic of playing long, high balls out to the wing with the aim of getting flick ons to the attackers in Osaka earlier this year, a strategy that brought no success at all, I wonder if it’ll be used this time round. The left wing-back slot is one of the most hotly contested in the Reds squad, last week it was filled by Ryohei Yamanaka, another Japanese international, who joined from Yokohama F.Marinos last winter, he is also the team’s top assist provider in J1 this year (with 4, it was also his long range drive which was only parried by FC Tokyo ‘keeper Akihiro Hayashi into the path of Martinus for the opening goal last week), Takahiro Sekine, who returned to Saitama from an unsuccessful spell in Germany this summer, has played there more frequently in recent games and veteran Tomoya Ugajin, a one-club man who’s been with Reds since 2009 is another option. Both Sekine and Ugajin are capable of playing down the right if required.
Going forward, the central midfield berths are likely to be occupied by on-loan Brazilian, Ewerton, scorer of the winner in Suita and former Omiya holding midfielder, Takuya Aoki with vastly experienced ex-Leicester City star, Yuki Abe likely to provide back up from the bench. Club legend and scorer of at least 10 goals in the previous 7 J1 campaigns, Shinzo Koroki will lead the attack and against FC Tokyo he was supported by club captain and another of the ex-Sanfrecce brigade, Yosuke Kashiwagi, who has missed large chunks of this year through injury and former Marinos man Martinus, the man who put Reds ahead last week but who has largely failed to reproduce the form of his Yokohama days where he gave Gamba several torrid afternoons. Again there are many options in these areas; Kazuki Nagasawa has played 29 J1 games this year (3 goals, 2 assists), there is also Yuki Muto, whose partnership with Koroki has proven so fruitful over the years, but, his return of 1 goal and 3 assists in 23 J1 games this campaign is basically a metaphor for Urawa’s entire season. Another Brazilian, Fabricio missed the first half of the year through injury and has never really regained his 2018 form since returning, while things just haven’t happened all season for 187cm target man and former Cerezo player Kenyu Sugimoto.
A really tough one to predict as neither side has much other than pride to play for in this one. Urawa’s poor home form and inability to score versus Gamba’s wastefulness in front of goal and aversion to winning on the road, which side will prevail? I had this game nailed down from a few weeks back as one in which only one side would have anything riding on it and naturally we could expect that side to pick up the points, but results have conspired to leave this essentially as meaningless a match as any between these two great rivals could be. I was leaning towards a 1-0 Reds win until I did the maths and worked out that there was no chance of them going down, so now I’m going to say it’ll be a rather tame 0-0 draw, similar in fashion to the final match of Kenta Hasegawa’s reign in 2017 when FC Tokyo vs Gamba finished scoreless.
Predicted Gamba Line-up:
GK 1 Masaaki Higashiguchi (33 years old/33 J1 apps / 0 goals / 1 assist)
CB 13 Shunya Suganuma (29/14/0/1)
CB 5 Genta Miura (C) (24/30/1/0)
CB 19 Kim Young-gwon (29/31/1/1)
RWB 8 Kosuke Onose (26/29/7/4)
LWB 4 Hiroki Fujiharu (31/16/2/3)
DM 21 Shinya Yajima (25/26/1/4)
CM 15 Yosuke Ideguchi (23/12/2/0)
CM 8 Shu Kurata (31/30/7/1)
CF 33 Ademilson (25/31/9/7)
CF 33 Takashi Usami (27/13/6/1)
Subs: 23 Mizuki Hayashi (GK/23/0/0/0), 27 Ryu Takao (CB/RWB/23/18/0/0), 34 Yuya Fukuda (RWB/LWB/20/16/0/0) 7 Yasuhito Endo (CM/39/27/1/5), 14 Markel Susaeta (RW/LW/AM/31/5/0/0), 18 Patric (CF/31/11/2/1), 39 Kazuma Watanabe (CF/33/18/3/0)
Urawa Red Diamonds (13th) vs Gamba Osaka (9th)