Yokohama F.Marinos vs Gamba Osaka
2020 Meiji Yasuda J1 League Round 1
23 February 2020 at 14:00 JST
J1 returns for the 2020 season and Gamba face the toughest test possible first up, a trip to face the defending champions Yokohama F.Marinos at Nissan Stadium. Although it is the first league clash for both sides this year, it will in fact be Yokohama’s 4th competitive game of the year and Gamba’s 2nd.
Marinos lost out to Vissel Kobe in one of the most bizarre penalty shootouts of all time where 9 spot kicks were missed in a row in the Japanese Super Cup, but have also recorded impressive results in the Asian Champions League, upsetting Korean Champions and Continental powerhouse, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 away before demolishing Australian champions Sydney FC 4-0 at home on Wednesday night.
Gamba commenced 2020 with a disappointing 1-0 home defeat to newly promoted Kashiwa Reysol in the JLeague Cup. It was a game of two halves for the men in blue and black, Michael Olunga’s first half goal gave Kashiwa a deserved lead, but Gamba enjoyed almost total domination in the second half, with Kashiwa’s Korean international goalkeeper, Kim Seung-gyu, in inspired form to help them return to Chiba with the 3 points.
Yokohama F.Marinos were the only team to do the double over Gamba in J1 last year, winning 3-2 in Suita on the opening day and following that up with a 3-1 victory at the Mitsuzawa Stadium in late August. However, prior to that defeat, Gamba hadn’t lost in their 4 previous visits to Japan’s second largest city, winning once in 2017 (through a Ritsu Doan goal) and sharing the spoils in 2015, 2016 and 2018.
Opening days are a bit of sore point for Gamba, they haven’t won first up since 2011 when they saw off city rivals Cerezo 2-1 at the old Expo Memorial Stadium. Adriano opened the scoring for Gamba midway through the second half, before Shu Kurata (bizarrely allowed to play whilst being on loan from Gamba) equalised only for Yasuhito Endo to net the winner 3 minutes later.
Head to head, these sides have played 58 matches in J1 with Yokohama F.Marinos holding by far the superior record, winning 30 times compared with Gamba’s 17, while there have been 11 draws. Marinos have also outscored Gamba by 97 goals to 80.
In 2019, en-route to their 4th J1 title, and first since 2004, Marinos were the league’s top scorers, scoring at an average of exactly 2 goals per game (68 in 34). They also had the league’s 2 top individual marksmen in Marcos Junior and Teruhito Nakagawa who bagged 15 goals apiece. 2019 J1 MVP Nakagawa also finished 2nd to Vegalta Sendai’s Katsuya Nagato in the assist charts, helping himself to 9 in 33 appearances. For Gamba, ex-Marinos forward, Ademilson was the leading scorer and assist maker, bagging 10 and 8 respectively, though returning hero Takashi Usami had a strong run in the 2nd half of the year, scoring 7 goals in 14 games including 6 in the final 7 matches. At the back, both sides kept 11 clean sheets, but Marinos overall defensive record was much better, conceding 38 times compared with Gamba’s 48.
Gamba are unlikely to make many changes to the side which started against Kashiwa last Sunday. New signing from Toulouse, Gen Shoji, probably won’t be risked, having only played once since last summer due to injury. Ademilson, Ryu Takao and winter signing from Sagan Tosu, Yuji Ono, also missed last week’s encounter and are rated as doubtful for this one. Ademilson, judging by his Instagram pictures, at least, seems to have returned to training and could feature from the bench. The experiment of playing Kosuke Onose up top alongside Usami didn’t really bear fruit last week, but I think Miyamoto will persist with it some more. The alternative option is to send Onose back to his regular position on the right wing, drop Yuya Fukuda, who had a tough assignment last time out against Kashiwa’s Taiyo Koga, to the bench and bring in either Kazuma Watanabe or Patric to partner Usami in attack.
Marinos coach Ange Postecoglou had the luxury of fielding the same lineup consistently last year with centre-backs, Hatanaka and Thiago Martins, midfielders Takuya Kida and Marcos Junior as well as right-winger Teruhito Nakagawa all playing at least 33 league matches. This year in order to balance Champions League and J1 commitments, he may be forced to rotate more and to that end he has brought in a number of players in an attempt to add depth to what was already a pretty decent squad. Ado Onaiwu netted 10 times for Oita, on loan from Urawa last season and was surprisingly allowed to leave for Kanagawa in the off-season, he, along with former Cerezo wide-man Kota Mizanuma, who himself scored 7 times in 31 J1 matches in 2019, are the main reinforcements. Goalkeeper Yuji Kajikawa and attacking midfielder Ryuji Sugimoto (both Tokushima), centre-back Norimichi Yamamoto (Zweigen Kanazawa), full-back Takayuki Mae (Renofa Yamaguchi) and winger Keiya Sento (Kyoto Sanga) all arrived from J2 sides this winter and may initially have to bide their time before breaking into this star-studded line-up.
I’m going to assume that Marinos will aim to kick off their league season with a bang and name their strongest starting XI in this game. They play with a very attacking 4-3-3 formation. Park Il-gyu, unavailable for the ACL due to the stricter limitations on foreign players, will start in goal. Ahead of him will be a back 4 consisting of right-back Ken Matsubara, now in his 4th season with the club, a centre-half pairing of Thiago Martins and Japanese international Shinnosuke Hatanaka, with Thailand’s Theerathon Bunmathan, a scorer in Marinos 3-1 over Gamba last year, playing down the left. Club captain and youth team product Takuya Kida will sit in front of the defence alongside ex-Cerezo anchor man Takahiro Ogihara. Ahead of those two is where things start to get really interesting. Marcos Junior will roam in the centre of the field, flanked by Teruhito Nakagawa down the right and another Brazilian, Erik, down the left. Erik scored 8 times in 12 league games following his mid-season loan move from Botafogo in 2019. New capture Ado Onaiwu is likely to play up top. There is plenty of attacking depth up front for Marinos with yet another Brazilian, Edigar Junio (11 goals in 16 games before injury ruled him out last year) competing with Onaiwu for a starting berth while another youth product, Keita Endo, is capable of playing on the left wing.
* Captain Genta Miura will play his 100th J1 match for Gamba if selected on Sunday,
* Yasuhito Endo will equal Seigo Narazaki’s record of most J1 appearances (631) if he plays in this match.
*A goal for Shu Kurata would see him reach 50 J1 strikes (at present he has 39 for Gamba and 10 while on loan at Cerezo in 2011).
*Marinos captain Takuya Kida is the current player with the most J1 appearances for the club, playing 131 times since his debut in 2014.
*New Marinos recruit Kota Mizanuma is the club’s leading J1 appearance maker and goal scorer if appearances for any club is taken into consideration. He’s played 252 matches and scored 32 times (He made 29 appearances for the club in his previous spell with them from 2007-2010).
Gamba don’t do opening day wins, so in some respects this match is heaven sent as they would be second favourites for it at any time of the season. In this regard, I’m more interested in the performance rather than the result. If we can compete with Marinos in a way we were unable to do so in 2019, I would accept a narrow defeat provided it was backed up with 3 points at home to Sendai in Week 2. With that in mind I’ll go for a 2-1 victory to the home side in what I expect to be quite an open game with multiple chances for both teams.
Predicted Gamba Line-up:
Yokohama F.Marinos vs Gamba Osaka