Gamba Osaka vs Urawa Red Diamonds
J1 2020 Round 11
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Wednesday 19 August 19:00 (JST)
It’s grudge match time as Gamba, fresh from a weekend off, following the COVID-19 enforced postponement of their match at Sagan Tosu, face rivals Urawa Red Diamonds. It will be the first game in ten days for Gamba’s top team while Reds are coming straight from a gruelling 90 minutes against Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Who will prevail in the heat and humidity of Panasonic Stadium?
Last Time Out
For analysis of Gamba’s 2-1 wins at home to Yokohama FC in J1 and away to Shonan Bellmare in the Levain Cup let me point you in the direction of my previous post, Gamba News 13/08/20, and you can find all the coverage in there. Now to our upcoming opponents Urawa who hosted Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Saturday night.
Urawa bounced back from their 6-2 pasting at Nagoya in the previous round by taking all 3 points and keeping a clean sheet against a dominant Hiroshima. The home side went ahead in just the 5th minute following their first attack of the match. Brazilian hitman Leonardo threaded a lovely through ball in the direction of left-winger Koya Yuruki which caused Sanfrecce’s right wing-back Rhayner to slide in. To me it looked like the contact was minimal but due to the rash nature of the defender’s lunge, he gave the referee a decision to make and, in fairness, his team-mates had few complaints. Reds’ top marksmen Leonardo took on the responsibility from the spot, did a Diego Oliveira-esque stuttering run up and coolly sent Keisuke Osako the wrong way to give the home side the lead.
After that early Urawa strike, the rest of the game was essentially one way traffic with Hiroshima camped in Reds half and ‘keeper Shusaku Nishikawa turning in an inspired display to keep his former side at bay. As he always seems to be when I watch Sanfre, Brazilian Leandro Pereira was the main threat for the men in purple. He forced a brilliant save from Nishikawa when he outjumped Daiki Hashioka and Thomas Deng in the seventeenth minute to get to Rhayner’s cross and powered a header across Urawa’s number one, however, the stopper was equal to the task and forced it away for a corner. Pereira executed a spectacular bicycle kick just four minutes later, but again there was no beating Nishikawa.
Into the second half and it was still a one-sided affair, Sanfrecce switched their wing backs with Tomoya Fujii and particularly Yusuke Chajima causing problems with crossed balls into the box, but still Urawa remained steadfast. The home team themselves changed things up, introducing Takuya Iwanami to form a back three alongside Deng and Tomoaki Makino which saw Reds revisit their 3-4-2-1 formation of previous years, though in reality it was more of 5-4-1. Leonardo made way for Kenyu Sugimoto and didn’t look happy about it as Hiroshima continued to press. Nishikawa saved well from Pereira who shot from a tight angle, and again from Rhayner’s header while Tsukasa Morishima fired wide and Shunki Higashi’s header suffered the same fate. Eventually Sanfrecce were reduced to attempting speculative efforts from distance as substitute Gakuto Notsuda tried his luck a couple of times. However, it was not to be their night and the Reds won by a solitary goal which moved them up to 6th in the standings, just two points shy of Gamba’s total with a game more played.
Not a whole lot to report regarding Gamba, we now know that the lineup selected for the match against Yokohama FC is what Miyamoto considers to be his strongest. In addition, with all first-choice members fit it is unlikely that we’ll see any deviation from the 3-5-2 set-up regardless of who the opposition is. I talked previously about second half fatigue and Lionel Piguet also gave a great rundown of that on the J-Talk Pod last week, coming off a ten day break since the Yokohama game, it will be no excuse against a battle-worn Urawa.
Speaking of our opponents from Saitama, they seem to have bucked the trend tactically in J1 by changing from a 3-4-2-1 formation last year to a more orthodox 4-4-2 in 2020. Reds head coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki is under pressure following a woeful 13th place finish in the league last season and heavy defeats to Kashiwa and Nagoya this time round. That said, his side currently sit in the top six so perhaps his decision to change things up has begun to bear fruit.
Having watched the Red Diamonds games at Nagoya and at home to Hiroshima it has been tough trying to work out what their attacking strategy is as, truth be told, they didn’t do a whole lot of attacking in either game. Off-season signing from Albirex Niigata, Leonardo is key for them and has scored over 50% of their league goals in 2020 (7 of 12). From what I’ve seen, the men from Saitama don’t like playing the ball out from the back like most of their J1 opponents, instead they aim to quickly move it forward and play long passes from the midfield into attack, then hope to build from there, either in the form of quick one-twos or working the ball out wide. With the ageing Yosuke Kashiwagi not seeing a lot of game time recently, creativity in midfield has been a bit of an issue as they tend to play with two holding midfielders. Takahiro Sekine is a useful outlet on either flank, but doubts persist over whether Koya Yuruki is really up to the challenge of playing for such a big club. Additionally, in attack, an injury to Shinzo Koroki, coupled with a loss of form for the likes of Kenyu Sugimoto, Yuki Muto and Martinus means that they are way too reliant on Leonardo for goals, it seems like if you can stop him, you can stop Reds.
In summary, Gamba come into this game fresh, and hotter favourites to win than they’ve been in recent seasons. It’s difficult to get a good read on Urawa as they were thrashed 6-2 two matches ago, but basically everything Nagoya touched that day turned to gold, while last week they held on for dear life for a good 85 minutes at home to Hiroshima. Gamba will surely enjoy the lions share of possession and territory with Urawa looking to clear their lines quickly and counter. The re-introduction of Tomoaki Makino alongside Thomas Deng in central defence as well as the return of Takuya Iwanami gives the Reds rearguard a more solid feel to it. They have been vulnerable against crosses into the box for years and although they defended such attacks efficiently against Sanfrecce, I’m sure Patric will be licking his lips in anticipation of grabbing a third goal in as many games.
* Gamba haven’t beaten Urawa at home since 2016 when Takashi Usami’s early strike was enough to give them the three points. Since returning to J1 in 2014 Gamba’s home record against Urawa stands at P6 W 2 D 2 L 2 F 4 A 4, Gamba have failed to score in half of these games.
* Gamba currently sit on 19 points after 9 matches played which compares to just 7 points at the same stage last year and 2018.
* At present Gamba sit third in J1, two points behind second placed Cerezo with a game in hand, the last time they were so high in the standings was after round 19 of the 2017 season when they saw off their city rivals 3-1 at Panasonic Stadium.
Urawa Red Diamonds
* Urawa have taken nine points from their first five away games, however there appears to be a clear split in the results. Their three wins have come against sides in the bottom half, Shonan (3-2), Sendai (2-1), Yokohama FC (2-0), however, both their matches against top half sides have ended in defeat, FC Tokyo (0-2), Nagoya Grampus (2-6)
* Reds only kept one J1 clean sheet under the stewardship of Tsuyoshi Otsuki in 2019, but have already prevented the opposition from scoring on four occasions this time round, Yokohama F.Marinos, Kashima and Hiroshima at home as well as Yokohama FC away.
* Leonardo has scored 58% of Urawa’s league goals in 2020, five of his seven strikes (71%) have come on the road.
Ryo Shinzato is the only injury doubt in the Gamba squad, the on-loan Jubilo Iwata defender has failed to feature in any competition since the home Levain Cup tie with Kashiwa in February, though there has still been no official announcement by the club. Jun Ichimori has now played a couple of games for the U23s in J3, but as yet has been unable to dislodge Kei Ishikawa from his spot on the bench and also played second fiddle to the former Tosu man against Shonan last Wednesday. It appears Shunya Suganuma is raring to go again after captaining a young Gamba in the Levain Cup while Gen Shoji, Kosuke Onose and Ademilson all seem to be fit and firing.
Urawa Red Diamonds
Legendary striker Shinzo Koroki has missed Reds past three games after being substituted against Yokohama FC last month, his continued absence places a huge goalscoring burden on Leonardo. Elsewhere, due to rotation in the squad, it’s difficult to know who’s unfit and who’s just not in favour with the coaching staff. Those I believe most likely to be suffering from a knock are, Brazilian centre-back Mauricio, who had a great game in this fixture last year, he, like Koroki, hasn’t been seen since the Yokohama FC match. His compatriot Fabricio was last spotted in the 4-0 home drubbing at the hands of Kashiwa four game weeks back and ex-Yokohama F.Marinos attacker Martinus has been absent for five matches.
Know Your Opponent – Urawa Red Diamonds
Head Coach: Tsuyoshi Otsuki – Appointed 28 May 2019 – Record P31 W 9 D 10 L 12 F 36 A 49 Points Per Game 1.2 Failed to score 8 Clean Sheets 5.
GK #1 Shusaku Nishikawa © – Captain fantastic for the Reds, former Oita, Hiroshima and Japan national team stopper Nishikawa has been part of the furniture in Saitama since his move in 2014. He produced a wonderful display to thwart his former charges last Saturday and despite no longer being involved with the national team he remains an excellent J1 level ‘keeper.
RB #27 Daiki Hashioka – Urawa’s brightest young talent in my books, 182cm tall Hashioka already has 2 national team caps to his name. He was the target for a bizarre tactic of playing every long ball directly to him in last year’s match between these two, that strategy met with zero success, although Urawa did emerge victorious in the end.
RCB #20 Thomas Deng – Kenyan born, Australian international who was recruited from Melbourne Victory last off-season. He has had a tough baptism into the Reds defence owing to the high turnover of centre-back partners he’s had. If he can play regularly alongside Makino then I’d expect him to develop into a top-quality player.
LCB #5 Tomoaki Makino – Vastly experienced club legend who like Nishikawa and Kashiwagi followed former boss Mihailo Petrovic on the well worn track from Hiroshima to Saitama. Makino’s route was slightly more complex as it came via an unsuccessful loan spell with Koln in the German Bundesliga, but he has now called Urawa home since 2012. The 38 times capped defender who has made J1’s Best Eleven on three separate occasions was out of the starting lineup at the beginning of the campaign, but is now back to restore stability. A big character in the dressing room, he will probably be disappointed that Gamba fans won’t be able to jeer him due to the COVID-19 supporter regulations.
LB #3 Tomoya Ugajin – A one-club man, full-back or wing-back Ugajin initially joined Urawa as a designated special player from Ryutsu Keizai University in 2009 and after signing his first pro-contract the following year has gone onto make over 250 league appearances. He has been back up to the younger Ryosuke Yamanaka for most of the season, but his superior defensive skills saw him earn a recall against Hiroshima.
RCM #29 Kai Shibato – A solid, if unspectacular option in the middle of the park, 24 year-old Shibato comes from solid stock, having attended the excellent Funabashi Municipal High School in Chiba before completing his education at Meiji University. He joined Urawa in 2018, but initially struggled to make an impact, though since mid-2019 he has become much more of a first choice in the Reds engine room.
LCM #8 Ewerton – Currently in the second year of his loan-spell from Portuguese giants FC Porto, Gamba fans will remember Ewerton well as the man who won last year’s fixture at Panasonic Stadium with a low drive in the 87th minute. He has been in and out of the Urawa side since his arrival at the beginning of 2019, but definitely brings more of a goal threat than his rivals for this position such as Takuya Aoki.
RW #41 Takahiro Sekine – Now in his second spell at the club following a disappointing year in Europe with FC Ingolstadt 04 in Germany and the Japanese enclave that is Sint-Truidense V.V. in Belgium. A lively player who can play on either wing or even just off the main striker, as yet, in part two of his Reds career, he has struggled to match the form which got him the move to Europe in the first place.
LW #24 Koya Yuruki – Came to Saitama at the beginning of last year following some impressive displays for Montedio Yamagata in J2. Initially he struggled to find a place in the 3-4-2-1 formation, however, since Urawa started using 4-4-2 he’s been a regular on the left wing. Question marks remain over his output as he’s yet to register a single goal or assist in nine appearances to date this year, he’ll be looking to amend those stats before much longer.
RCF #45 Leonardo – Top scorer in J3 with Gainare Tottori in 2018, top scorer in J2 with Albirex Niigata in 2019, top scorer for Reds so far this season. Young Brazilian forward Leonardo also has his sights set on a potential Japan national team call up in the future and with 59 goals in his first 78 JLeague appearances across the divisions he’d surely be a welcome addition to the Samurai Blue ranks.
LCF #14 Kenyu Sugimoto – Tall, ex-Cerezo forward who like former team-mate Yoichiro Kakitani has had a career of one or two epic highs surrounded by years of average displays. Across 2016-2017 Sugimoto found the back of the net 36 times in 75 league games (2016 was spent in J2 while 2017 was in J1), remove those years from the equation and you are left with a career record of 191 league appearances and just 29 goals. Unfortunately for Urawa this is one transfer they seem to have blundered on as 2 goals in his first 30 league matches is not what they were looking for. I’m fully aware that after me having a go at his goalscoring record, he’ll no doubt net the winner on Wednesday.
Other Options – One-time Vissel Kobe defender Takuya Iwanami made a return from the bench against Hiroshima on Saturday and is a good option at centre-back. In midfield there are plenty of choices, former club captain Yosuke Kashiwagi would surely bring a creative spark if selected for this one, while ex-Omiya man Takuya Aoki is a capable holding player and the versatile Kazuki Nagasawa can play all across the centre of the park. In attack, Yuki Muto at one time formed one of the most lethal combinations in the league with Shinzo Koroki, though his star has somewhat faded in the past 18 months. I like Kosuke Taketomi as a player but he hasn’t been given much of a shout since returning from a decent loan spell with Shonan last summer. Finally, young Ryotaro Ito spent the previous two and a half years on loan with Mito and Oita and is now trying to force his way into Urawa’s top team.
I’m actually feeling in quite confident mood ahead of this one, though I will qualify that by saying that neither of these teams have played particularly attractive football so far in 2020. I’m going for a 2-0 home win, Usami to get the ball rolling in the first half before Patric finishes off a tough, physical encounter late on.