Vissel Kobe vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 7
Noevir Stadium Kobe
Sunday 26 July 19:00 (JST)
Round 7 of J1 2020 sees Gamba make the short trip west to play neighbours Vissel Kobe. Both sides come into the game unbeaten in their previous four matches so we should be in for a high-quality encounter. Hopefully this preview gives you all the information you’re looking for. Comments and feedback are always welcome and a massive thanks to those who have already contacted me.
Last Time Out
Gamba ground out a scrappy 1-0 win at home to Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Wednesday night which once again highlighted their ability to win ugly this season. In the corresponding match last year Gamba battered their visitors but ended up drawing 1-1 while this time round Sanfrecce may feel they did enough to take something from the game, but ultimately they return home winless, the fourth game in-a-row where they’ve failed to pick up three points.
Both sides reshuffled their packs for this clash as the intense summer schedule started to bite. Gamba made four changes to the starting XI with Yuya Fukuda, Yasuhito Endo, Shu Kurata and Kazuma Watanabe coming in for Kosuke Onose, Shinya Yajima, Yuji Ono and Ademilson respectively. Ono, a quiet revelation since his off-season move from Tosu, and Yajima took up spots on the bench while Onose and Ademilson were given a well earned night off. Interestingly, 17-year old forward Shoji Toyama, scorer of 11 goals in 15 games for the U23 side in J3 was on the bench for the first time, albeit as an unused sub, while Keisuke Kurokawa got his first taste of top-team action this year replacing cramp-victim Yuya Fukuda in additional time.
Sanfrecce had the better of the opening exchanges with Leandro Pereira making a nuisance of himself, his long range effort stinging the palms of Higashiguchi. Yuya Asano, recruited from Mito HollyHock last winter, also had his shot blocked by Gamba captain Genta Miura after he had robbed Fukuda in midfield. At the other end, Yasuhito Endo sent a rasping drive just past Takuto Hayashi’s left-hand post from about 25 metres out.
The game was a rather tame affair between two relatively evenly matched outfits in the first half and in the end it was decided by a goal just before the break. Takashi Usami’s corner from the main stand side found Miura, who’d escaped the attentions of his opposing captain Sho Sasaki, standing all alone just outside the six-yard box and the 183cm centre-back made no mistake, powering his header past Hayashi. 1-0 Gamba at half time.
Sanfrecce threw on Rhayner and Toshihiro Aoyama at the start of the second half, but there was no immediate change in the flow of the game. Hiroshima had the ball more in dangerous areas, but often shot off target or from distance. Gamba remained a threat when countering, their best chance coming on the hour mark with Rhayner blocking Kurata’s goal bound effort on the line. Just like in the previous game with Oita, Gamba came under late pressure. In the space of ten minutes, a Hayao Kawabe cross as well as shots from Tomoya Fujii, Ryo Nagai and of course the dangerous Leandro Pereira threatened to bring the visitors a point their general play may have merited, but it was not to be and Gamba held on to win by a solitary goal, moving themselves up to joint third on the ladder in the process.
Vissel Kobe played out an at times lively Kansai derby with Cerezo Osaka at Nagai Stadium in midweek, though neither defence could be breeched and the game ended scoreless. A cagey first half saw both teams happy to cede possession to the other provided it was in non-dangerous areas. Decent chances were at a premium, but the visitors created the most presentable ones. Iniesta, Furuhashi and Yamaguchi all found the gloves of Kim Jin-hyeon in the Cerezo goal with efforts from around the 18-yard line. The home side’s best opportunity fell to Ken Tokura who ran onto a long through ball, but found Vissel ‘keeper Hiroki Iikura up to the task of saving his shot.
A bit of needle crept into the game at the beginning of the second period with Kobe defender Hirofumi Watanabe guilty of giving away a few fouls and allegations and counter-allegations flew over how much contact was really involved in some of those challenges. The tie did settle down and became more even, Cerezo tended to attack more, as a home side should, but Vissel remained a danger on the break. Kobe ‘keeper Iikura tipped Yasuki Kimoto’s goal-bound header onto the bar while Hiroshi Kiyotake shot over from near the penalty spot after a great cross from Riku Matsuda. At the other end Iniesta and Sergi Samper fired in shots, but just like in the first half they were unable to create a really golden opportunity against the meanest defence in J1.
Vissel didn’t make their first replacement until the 75th minute and a string of late changes took the sting out of the game somewhat. Young Daiju Sasaki again showed some good touches and composure in midfield after replacing Sergi Samper, but the best chance to claim all three points fell to Cerezo’s Argentine midfielder Leandro Desabato. He shot inches wide of Iikura’s left hand post in the final minute of injury time ensuring that the game finished goalless.
Gamba once again opted for a three centre-back formation against Sanfrecce, although with the personnel involved, it could have been easily switched to 4-4-2 at any time. The four changes made to the side from the previous match affected the fluency of the build up and we saw far fewer pieces of neat interchange play in the opposition’s final third. Hopefully the re-introduction of Ademilson and Onose against Kobe will fix that. Yasuhito Endo will likely start this one on the bench after his 66 minutes on Wednesday. Truth be told he didn’t have his best game against Sanfre and although his vision, passing and leadership are second to none, due to his advancing years, Shinya Yajima’s energy and drive are a far better fit for this current Gamba strategy. Interestingly though, as this was the first game Endo had started since the Osaka Derby defeat, we could see that Miyamoto has recognised the issues that plagued the Gamba midfield in that game. When Hiroshima were in possession both Ideguchi and Kurata in the more advanced central midfield roles dropped back to form a line along with Endo just in front of the defenders which meant Sanfrecee didn’t have the room to play with that Cerezo and several teams last year enjoyed.
Vissel operate two main systems, either 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 depending on the opposition or players available. Due to the need for rotation this year, I can’t really be sure which strategy they’ll employ for this game, although I have outlined the likely starting members for each formation in the Know Your Opponent section below.
Kobe’s strength lies from the midfield forward, Andres Iniesta, who will probably sit this match out after playing 170 minutes across the previous two games, pulls the strings in the middle of the park, though Hotaru Yamaguchi and Sergi Samper are both equally adept at monopolising possession. Their wing-backs offer a clear and direct attacking threat, Japanese international Gotoku Sakai is probably the best left-back/wing-back in J1 and his counterpart on the right, Daigo Nishi, helped himself to seven assists in 2019. Both players have had a heavy workload this season and could be rested for this game which would be a major loss for Kobe.
In attack, the 184cm, 80kg frame of Douglas is the leader, in a 3-5-2 the sublime skills of Kyogo Furuhashi can be found just behind or to the left of him, however, if Kobe opt for a front three we could see either see Keijiro Ogawa, a player who seems to have been around forever, but is still only 28 or Noriaki Fujimoto play on the right wing.
Kobe’s soft underbelly definitely lies at the back. Their strategy of playing out from Hiroki Iikura in goals can leave them vulnerable to what DAZN’s commentators call a ‘short counter.’ The inability of the two or three centre-backs to form a straight defensive line is also a headache for head-coach Thorsten Fink, it allowed Cerezo several opportunities to break through in midweek, although they were unable to capatalise.
Last year, there were 120 goals in Vissel’s 34 J1 matches or 3.6 per game, a league high. This time round the men from Hyogo have scored six and conceded six in their opening six games, a massive turnaround. If you consider they scored half of their yearly total against Shimizu and conceded half against Hiroshima, then although both those games were in Kobe, like this one is, statistically we’re likely to see a low scoring clash on Sunday. For the record, I don’t believe Vissel have better defenders or worse forwards than last year, rather, they are adopting a new low-risk strategy which seems to be largely keeping the ball out of the danger area at both ends of the field.
To sum up this rather rambling tactical notes section, Kobe have a bounty of attacking weaponry that can threaten Gamba’s rearguard on Sunday night. However, they will be susceptible to the high press and also to long balls from deep, Kim Young-gwon may come in handy here, as well as quick interplay in the final third involving Usami, Ademilson and Ono.
As per Alan Gibson on this week’s J-Talk Podcast, Gen Shoji is almost fully fit, but is being wrapped in cotton wool to prevent a re-occurrence of his ankle knock. To add my own spin, Miura and Kim have played every game so far, therefore it’s likely Shoji will come in to give one of them a rest at some point after potentially playing in the Levain Cup matches away to Oita and Shonan next month.
Backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori is the only player who is definitely out, though with this being the third match in eight days, rotation will play a big factor in team selection, I’d suggest Endo and Fujiharu will probably make the bench at best.
One man who has had his rest is Kosuke Onose, he wasn’t in the squad on Wednesday but should be back to play his 50th game for Gamba and 50th in J1 on Sunday.
Experienced Belgian defender Thomas Vermalen hasn’t played in J1 yet this year, no injury has been reported, but I assume there must be some niggle which is stopping him from playing even once a week. Likewise, Brazilian centre-back Dankler hasn’t appeared in the previous three matches which I can only suspect is because of injury. After playing the majority of the games against Shimizu and Cerezo, I can’t see Iniesta starting here, right wing-back Daigo Nishi has also accumulated 338 minutes since J1 resumed and is another likely candidate to be rested. Centre-forward Douglas is only two away from netting fifty times in J1, Gamba will hope he doesn’t achieve that target against them.
Know Your Opponent – Vissel Kobe
Head Coach – Thorsten Fink (Appointed 9 June 2019) – League Record – P 26 W 12 D 6 L 8 F 44 A 41 Failed to Score 4 Clean Sheets 6.
GK – #18 Hiroki Iikura – Experienced ‘keeper who played over 200 J1 games for Yokohama F.Marinos before making the switch to Hyogo early last year. He has his critics over his sometimes erratic distribution and shot stopping, but showed in the last game against Cerezo what a decent option between the sticks he can be on his day.
CB – #17 Ryuho Kikuchi – Extremely physical graduate of Osaka University of Health & Sports Sciences (the same alma mater as Hiroki Fujiharu), 188cm tall Kikuchi joined Vissel from Renofa Yamaguchi after an impressive debut season in J2. He’s someone who I suggested Gamba ought to look at last year so I was a tad disappointed when he moved to Kobe. I was very impressed with him against Oita and Cerezo and in my opinion he’s Vissel’s best centre-back with the exception of Vermaelen.
CB – #25 Leo Osaki – Often mis-labelled as a promising youngster, Toin Yokohama University graduate Osaki will actually turn 29 early next month. His long and winding journey to J1 has taken him via the American lower leagues, Yokohama FC and Tokushima Vortis. I’ve seen him tipped for international honours before and agree that he’s a solid option, but Vissel’s defensive frailties since he’s joined them haven’t helped his reputation.
CB – #3 Hirofumi Watanabe – Now in his fourth year in Hyogo, Watanabe, who counts Kashiwa, Tochigi and Vegalta Sendai among his former clubs, is one of Vissel’s longest serving players. He only played six times in J1 in 2019, but with Vermaelen and Dankler missing and the games coming thick and fast he’s already racked up five league appearances this time round.
RWB – #44 So Fujitani – A once highly-rated full-back / wing-back, Fujitani’s career has stalled somewhat in recent years. Since Daigo Nishi arrived in early 2019 he’s only played in ten J1 matches and will hope to take advantage of the heavy squad rotation, that will surely take place, to earn more game time.
CM – #27 Yuta Goke – Promising attack-minded midfielder who joined the club directly from Aomori Yamada High School in 2018. Originally from Kyushu, Goke has now made a home for himself in Hyogo and the 21 year-old is beginning to blossom into a decent central midfielder under the tutelage of Thorsten Fink and Iniesta, two men who know a thing or two about the position.
DM – #6 Sergi Samper – The third ex-Barcelona player in the squad after Iniesta and Vermaelen, Samper took a while to settle into life in Japan but is now firmly established as first choice in the midfield anchor role. He does not have a league goal to his name in his senior career and will be content to sit in front of his defence and feed the ball to his more illustrious team-mates.
CM – #5 Hotaru Yamaguchi © – Capped 48 times by Japan, Yamaguchi made the slightly controversial move west from Cerezo last year while Naoyuki Fujita travelled in the opposite direction. Able to play at the base of the midfield triangle or slightly more advanced, the vastly experienced Yamaguchi will be a key cog in the Vissel machine wherever he finds himself selected for this game.
LWB – #24 Gotoku Sakai – An excellent mid-season addition from Hamburger SV last year, Japan international Sakai is a regular provider of ammunition for his forwards and was a huge upgrade on ex-Gamba youngster Ryo Hatsuse. With 42 Japanese caps under his belt and seven years spent playing in the German Bundesliga, Niigata native Sakai is someone Gamba will really have to watch out for on Sunday.
CF – #49 Douglas – Kobe’s biggest off-season signing, Douglas came in from Shimizu S-Pulse after contributing 25 goals and 8 assists in just 45 games across a year and a half spent in Shizuoka. He previously had a five and a half year spell in Japan from 2010-15 which produced more mixed results. His 21 goals in 33 matches fired Sanfrecce Hiroshima to the J1 title back in 2015, but prior to that his performances with both Tokushima Vortis and Kyoto Sanga in J2 were rather more patchy.
CF – #11 Kyogo Furuhashi – It’s difficult for me to add anything to the already loud chorus of praise that he receives from everyone in the JLeague English community on Twitter. I’ll do what I do best then and just quote some stats, Furuhashi has four goals and one assist in six J1 starts this season, his record extends to seven goals in nine games this calendar year if you include the ACL and Japanese Super Cup. He and Douglas have contributed all of Vissel’s J1 goals so far in 2020, Gamba must stop him if they want to take anything from Sunday’s game.
Other options – I’ve assumed two things with the above line up, one is that there will be rotation so Andres Iniesta and Daigo Nishi will be rested, and two is that Kobe will play 3-5-2, if they opt for 4-3-3 then expect Keijiro Ogawa or Noriaki Fujimoto, who has slightly underwhelmed since signing from Oita last summer, to start on the right wing. Other options in attack include ex-Sporting Lisbon forward Junya Tanaka, whose late goals sunk Gamba in the game at Panasonic Stadium last spring, or young Yutaro Oda, an academy graduate who has made a couple of sub appearances recently. Further back, two other former Kobe Under-18 players Takuya Yasui and Daiju Sasaki are options in midfield, Sasaki at the base and Yasui a little further forward. While in defence Ryo Hatsuse can play either on the left or right, but he’s yet to feature in J1 since returning from a loan spell with Avispa Fukuoka in the second half of last season.
A bit of a lottery this one as both sides come into the match tired following two tough games in the past week. I’d love to go for a 2-1 away win here, but I’ll let my cautious nature take over and say it’ll be a closely fought, at times physical 1-1 draw.