I had already written most of my match preview for Gamba’s trip to Tosu this Saturday when the news broke that there had been a cluster of COVID-19 infections within the Sagan squad that caused them to shut down operations until August 25th. I didn’t want to put my hard work to waste so I’ve decided to publish the parts of my preview that are still relevant and have added in some new features, please let me know what you think. Finally I’d like to wish a speedy recovery to all those Sagan Tosu players and staff currently infected with coronavirus. お大事に!
Last Time Out
Gamba returned to winning ways at home to Yokohama FC last weekend with a smash-and-grab victory over an extremely game away side. There were two changes to the Nerrazzuri’s starting XI with Gen Shoji fully fit and ready to make his Gamba J1 debut between Miura and Kim at the back, while Brazilian forward Ademilson also returned from a short layoff to take Watanabe’s place alongside Usami in attack. Yuji Ono was once again selected ahead of Shu Kurata and Yajima and Ideguchi swapped places again with Yajima as the base of the midfield and 15-times capped by Japan, Ideguchi on the right.
The home team made a strong start against Yokohama, who had switched to a 4-4-2 formation and brought veterans Masahiko Inoha and Calvin Jong-a-Pin into their defence in preparation for a backs to the wall effort. Yajima and Ideguchi both shot off target in the opening 10 minutes as Gamba enjoyed near total control. FC rallied a little towards the midway point of the half, but on 34 minutes the men in blue and black went ahead. Good work down the left resulted in Ono feeding the ball to Onose on the edge of the box, the ex-Yokohama FC star unleashed a right-foot shot which deflected off team-mate Ademilson, wrong-footed goalkeeper Yuta Minami and flew into his bottom left corner. 1-0 half-time.
Gamba sought to kill off their opponents at the start of the second half, but were unable to create any clear cut chances and soon energy levels dropped off, possibly a touch of complacency crept in and Yokohama FC began to take a grip on proceedings. Possibly sparked by an incident where Yusuke Matsuo had his shirt pulled by Gen Shoji in the box but didn’t go down and thus didn’t get a penalty, the Kanagawa side started to overrun a tiring Gamba midfield and created presentable chances for attackers Koki Saito and Yusuke Minagawa as well as right-winger Takuya Matsuura. They got their reward on the hour mark when Hiroki Fujiharu made a sloppy back pass that didn’t reach Higashiguchi, Minagawa was able to bundle the ball past Gamba’s number 1 towards strike partner Saito and the impressive 18-year old swept the ball by Shoji on the line. 1-1, game on.
In the final half hour, Yokohama FC looked the more likely winners. It took Gamba a full 31 minutes to register their first chance of the half with Patric shooting across Minami but his effort went well wide. At the other end, Higashiguchi pulled off a great right-footed stop from Minagawa and veteran substitute Leandro Domingues fired over which prompted Gamba’s ‘keeper to kick the post in frustration at what he was seeing in front of him. Head-coach Miyamoto clearly agreed and freshened things up by bringing on Takao and Fukuda to replace Onose and Fujiharu as well as having Watanabe come on for the tiring Usami. These changes breathed new life into the Gamba attack and additional time brought a spell of sustained pressure. Another second-half substitute, Patric, was the hero, after having an earlier attempt correctly ruled out for offside, the 189cm behemoth met Yosuke Ideguchi’s corner and bulleted his header low to Minami’s right from about 5 yards out to win the game with essentially the last play. A hugely relieved Gamba claim their 6th victory of the year, Yokohama FC will be left kicking themselves for missing the chances they did.
On Wednesday night 17 year-old striker Shoji Toyama announced himself on the big stage with a first-half double that helped a Gamba side, whose starting XI average age was just 22.4, see off Shonan Bellmare 2-1. The three points gained from this game were not enough for the Nerrazzurri to qualify for the knock-out stages, though because of this year’s chaotic league schedule I’m not sure anyone in Suita is particularly upset.
Aside from Toyama’s debut and brace, there were also first top team appearances for, Jefferson Tabinas at centre-back, Kohei Okuno and U23 assist wizard Shuhei Kawasaki (4 goals, 12 assists in 34 J3 games) in midfield as well as wide-men Haruto Shirai, Dai Tsukamoto and Tatsuya Yamaguchi from the bench. Also Shunya Suganuma returned from injury to captain the side, and must have felt like a very old man indeed.
Not a whole lot to cover regarding Gamba this week, all the first choice starters are fit so Saturday’s lineup is what Miyamoto believes to be his best formation. With that said, I have a couple of concerns, the first of which is fatigue. Yokohama FC were able to dominate for large chunks of the second half and pick passes, including several through balls which took out both Gamba’s midfield and defence in one stroke. I largely put this down to Yajima, Ideguchi and Ono running out of energy following a tough run of games. Hopefully more rotation will take place in that crucial area as the effects of fresh legs could be easily seen following the introduction of Takao, Fukuda, Kurata and Patric. Secondly, last weekend was the first time in a while we’ve come up against an opponent really determined to ‘park the bus.’ We were able to create some chances, but not many, in the first half and for the opening half hour of the second stanza, build up play generally ended around Yokohama FC’s 18-yard line. This should serve as a wake up call ahead of future encounters with the likes of Shonan, Sendai and Tosu at home.
It’s generally a clean bill of health to report for Gamba with last week’s starting XI being the first time this year that all first choice members have been available. Gen Shoji came through the game unscathed, though his workload may need to be managed moving forward, and Jun Ichimori had an excellent game between the sticks for Gamba U23 in their 2-1 win over Azul Claro Numazu on Sunday. Brazilian forward Ademilson notched his third goal of the campaign against Yokohama FC, but did seem to lack sharpness on his return to the first team. Outside of that, centre-back Shunya Suganuma returned against Shonan in the Levain Cup in midweek, but Ryo Shinzato’s, continued absence from all competitions suggests that he is on the treatment table.
From the Scout’s Office
I decided to add this section in for this match preview. Similar to Patric it won’t feature every week, but like the big man I hope it’ll have a big impact when it is used.
In the Yokohama FC preview, I identified central midfield as an area in need of an upgrade. This week staying home due to a minor infection gave me time to trawl through the leagues in search of talent. The rough parameters I set were, primary position is central midfield, aged between 23-30, at least 30 J1 appearances, willing to initially accept a role as backup in the rotation system. This is what I found, please note that not all players meet every category.
Secondly, I’d like to take a look at a player who troubled Gamba last week, Yokohama FC’s left-sided dynamo Yusuke Matsuo. Hiroki Fujiharu will turn 33 next season, so it’s possible Gamba will be in the market for a younger upgrade. At first glance Sendai University graduate Matsuo doesn’t fit the profile of recent Gamba signings, if we sign university players we tend to do it directly rather than wait until they’ve gained experience with another pro-team. However, due to COVID-19 this year, crowds have plummeted and this will surely hit teams with historically high average attendances, like Gamba, hard financially. With this in mind, we are likely to see the traditional ‘big boys’ battle it out over young Japanese talent with J1 experience in the coming transfer windows.
Yokohama FC have used Matsuo at left wing-back when they’ve operated the exact same 3-5-2 system as Gamba. Also, as shown on Saturday he can play as an orthodox left midfielder in a 4-4-2 and he mostly turned out as a left winger in YFC’s 4-2-3-1 formation last year. Theoretically he should have the skill set to play in the advanced left-side central midfield position currently being rotated between Ono and Kurata. Shu, like Fujiharu, will be 33 next season and Matsuo seems to tick a lot of boxes for Miyamoto. The kantoku is known for his fondness for players who can adapt to different systems and competently play in a number of positions.
I’m pretty sure there’s a dossier on Yusuke Matsuo sitting in Gamba’s scouting office right now, as well as quite a few other teams, Urawa? Kobe? Cerezo? Let me know what you think, how would he do with Gamba? Are there any other players you’d like Gamba to bring in within the next 6-12 months?
Know Your Future Opponent – J2 players likely to move to J1 clubs
With no opponent this weekend, I thought it was a good chance to give a rundown of some J2 talent that I believe will soon be playing in the top tier. Before I do, a couple of selection criteria I laid out were, young Japanese talents who are not currently on loan from J1 teams (no Daigo Takahashi or Kazuma Yamaguchi) and have never been contracted to a J1 team (sorry Hiroki Ito and Shuto Machino). Most of these players are forwards, but if the DAZN team of the week can do it, why can’t I?
Shogo Asada (22 years old, Kyoto Sanga) – As it’s alphabetical, my most surprising choice is first up. Centre-back Asada caught my eye in last night’s Kyoto vs Mito thriller. Although defending was not of the highest standard in general, both midfields left their backlines rather exposed, giving Asada, who spent 2019 on loan at Kamatamare Sanuki in J3, the chance to shine with some excellent blocks and interceptions.
Akira Silvano Disaro’ (24, Giravanz Kitakyushu) – Getting a lot of attention on J-Talk Extra Time, the ‘bald eagle’ has taken to life in J2 like a duck to water (that doesn’t really work does it?). He was in the stands as Giravanz rested a host of players against Kanazawa last night, but had scored in each of his previous four appearances. Possesses a very crisp shot and has built up a great understanding with his equally talented attacking team-mates.
Shion Homma (20, Albirex Niigata) I’m not really pushing the boat out with this one as anyone who watches J2 knows about this kid’s potential. The nimble left-winger blotted his copybook somewhat by getting foolishly sent off for two yellows against Yamaguchi, but not before he’d assisted Mauro for the game’s opening goal. It’s a matter of when, not if he makes it to a higher level.
Shion Inoue (23. Tokyo Verdy) Already identified by the FC Tokyo Kai-Guys as a potential answer to their midfield issues, Verdy youngster Inoue looks set to be the latest talent off their impressive production line. He’s played all but one J2 game so far in 2020 and has been a key cog in the pretty football Verdy tend to play. Really stood out with two goals and an assist in the 4-2 dismantling of Ventforet Kofu a few weeks back.
Mutsuki Kato (23, Zweigen Kanazawa) Got his third goal in as many games after coming on to replace the injured Lucao away at Kitakyushu on Wednesday. In fact the duo generally play as a partnership and have already contributed a combined 10 goals in 11 games this year. Former Sanfrecce Youth product Kato is currently in his rookie season as a pro having joined from Chuo University last off-season.
Kota Kawano (17, Renofa Yamaguchi) A bit of an internet sensation following his well taken finish against league leaders Nagasaki last month where he became J2’s youngest ever goalscorer. That strike prompted Yamaguchi to offer the High School 2nd grader his first professional contract. Given the good relationship between Gamba and Yamaguchi, could Kawano and Shoji Toyama be the Nerrazzuri’s strike pairing of the future?
Seiya Maikuma (22, V-Varen Nagasaki) Daniel from the Nagasaki Blue & Orange Blog assures me Maikuma will be in J1 as a V-Varen player next year and given their start to the campaign, I’m not going to argue. Previously senpai to Leo Takae and Yuya Fukuda at Higashi Fukuoka High School, Maikuma chose to attend Momoyama Gakuin University in Osaka before turning pro this season. Originally listed as a striker, he’s found a home playing either as an orthodox right-back or as a right-wing back depending on the formation employed by his coach. Scored his side’s third after coming on as a substitute against Thespakusatsu Gunma last night.
Kai Matsuzaki (22, Mito HollyHock) A big favourite of J-Talk Extra Time host Jon Steele, I was really excited to see Matsuzaki in action live for the first time against Kyoto. Given that I kind of expected him to be a J2 Messi, of course I was left slightly disappointed. That said, his stats for an attack-minded Mito side in his first year as a pro are impressive with a goal and four assists in his opening ten games (five starts and five sub appearances).
Solomon Sakuragawa (19, JEF United Chiba) The towering 190cm forward will hopefully learn from the excellent strike partners he has in Chiba (Hisato Sato, Kengo Kawamata, Kleber, Keita Yamashita) rather than be sucked down by his team’s wild inconsistency. Has generally been used as a sub after being promoted from the youth team last winter, but already has two goals to his name in J2 this year.
Masaki Watai (21, Tokushima Vortis) The diminutive attacking midfielder has seemingly been wrapped in cotton wool by manager Ricardo Rodriguez at the start of 2020. He’s now fully established in the starting XI and had an impressive outing with a goal and an assist against table-topping Nagasaki last weekend before setting up Kazuki Nishiya’s winner at Machida on Wednesday night.
Arata Watanabe (25, Albirex Niigata) The oldest of this group and someone I was really impressed with following his two-goal show in the 3-3 draw at home to Kofu in round 2. He’s found goalscoring a little tougher since strike partner Fabio was ruled out due to injury, but remains a threat. The Ryutsu Keizai University graduate is now in his third season as a pro and can play either as a central striker or on the right-wing as he did last year to accommodate Leonardo.
Other Notable Mentions – I don’t want to incur the wrath of @OkinawaOzzy so I better give a shout out to FC Ryukyu attacking midfielder Yoshio Koizumi who got a fine assist for Takuma Abe’s volley against Tokushima. Elsewhere, Ehime youth product Shuma Mihara has looked dangerous in the left wing-back role and Takahiro Akimoto of Tochigi SC has gone some of the way to filling the creative void left by Kazuki Nishuya. Kanji Okunuki has been in and out of the Omiya lineup this year, but owing to his form in 2019 he deserves a mention while Keita Yamashita who joined JEF from Yamaguchi last winter is a clean striker of the ball who looks like he could play at a higher level.
That’s all for this week, I hope you enjoyed the changes, feedback is always welcomed. I’ll be back next week to preview the Urawa and Kashima games. See you soon!