Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 12
Kashima Soccer Stadium
Sunday 23 August 19:00 (JST)
Round 12 of J1 2020 sees a battle between two of the league’s most historically successful clubs, Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka. Both sides will be looking to bounce back from disappointing midweek results in the scorching heat and humidity which no doubt awaits them at the Kashima Soccer Stadium. This game is notable as the retirement match for Antlers popular ikemen full-back Atsuto “Uchi” Uchida. Reader feedback is welcome as always, I’d like to know if you feel any sections of the preview are rather long or uninteresting and also if there’s anything you’d like to see more of. Please get in touch.
Last Time Out
Gamba endured a hugely frustrating night at home to Urawa, going down to their worst defeat of the year, 3-1. After 10 days break for most of the top team, head coach Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made two changes to his starting line-up with Ryu Takao replacing the possibly injured Kim Young-gwon at the back and Kazuma Watanabe surprisingly recalled in place of the benched Ademilson. Takao’s selection at the right-hand side of the back three saw his partners Genta Miura and Gen Shoji both shift over one spot to the left.
Gamba started the brighter of the two sides and Takashi Usami rattled the Urawa bar from the edge of the area in the 11th minute, the Nerrazzuri number 33 later fired just wide from a similar distance and Yosuke Ideguchi headed Hiroki Fujiharu’s cross off target in a positive start. They were stung though when Reds opened the scoring with their first real chance of note just before the midway point of the first half. Good high pressing forced a loose Gamba pass into midfield which was returned with interest. Left-winger Takahiro Sekine picked the ball up about 30m out and played in danger man Leonardo. The Brazilian brilliantly turned in the box, wrong-footed two Gamba defenders and laid it back to Sekine whose right foot shot from 12 yards out took a slight deflection off Kosuke Onose on it’s way into the goal.
Less than 10 minutes later Urawa doubled their advantage from the penalty spot. Yet again a poor pass out of defence was intercepted by the visitors and as they attempted to play in Leonardo, Fujiharu stuck out an arm and the penalty was awarded. Leonardo did his staggered run up before once again shooting to the bottom left corner and sending the ‘keeper the wrong way, just as he had done against Hiroshima four days earlier. 2-0 Urawa at half-time and Gamba left with a mountain to climb.
Miyamoto introduced Yasuhito Endo and Ademilson for Yuji Ono and Watanabe at half-time and switched to a 4-4-2. The response was reasonable with decent possession and territory but only a few half chances to show for it. In the 56th minute Gamba were punished once more for poor defending as Urawa killed the game off for good. A slack pass (there’s a theme here) from Gen Shoji to Yasuhito Endo instead found it’s way to combative Reds midfielder Kazuki Nagasawa and the number seven played a seemingly harmless chip in the direction of Yuki Muto. Gamba captain Miura didn’t realise Muto was lurking just off his shoulder, allowed the ball to pass over him and into the path of the attacker who made no mistake with a clinical, angled left foot shot past Higashiguchi.
The home side had to wait an hour for their one and only goal, but it was certainly worth the wait. Fujiharu won a corner down the left-hand side, Usami swung the ball out to the edge of the box and it was met with a thumping Paul Scholes-esque volley by Yosuke Ideguchi. Reds ‘keeper Shusaku Nishakawa got both hands to it, but due to the sheer velocity of the strike he could do nothing other than palm it into the top corner. The remainder of the game was rather physical as Urawa sought to preserve their advantage and Gamba failed to create meaningful chances. The men from Suita played better against Yokohama FC, Shimizu and (arguably) Sanfrecce and won while now 4th place Urawa will surely play better and lose, but that’s the way football goes sometimes.
Ryotaro Araki scored his first ever JLeague goal to grab Antlers a point with virtually the last kick of their match at home to Vissel Kobe last Sunday. Visitors Vissel shaded the first half and were rewarded with the opener through Dankler in the 19th minute. Andres Iniesta’s corner from the far side was flicked past debutant ‘keeper Taiki Yamada at the near post which allowed Leo Osaki to cushion a header into his defensive partner’s path and the Brazilian volleyed home. The sides went into the break all-square though as Leo Silva broke in midfield and then good play from Yasushi Endo and Shoma Doi down the right resulted in full-back Rikuto Hirose delivering an inch perfect cross which was dispatched past Hiroki Iikura via a powerful header from Everaldo, the Brazilian netting his 7th J1 goal of the campaign.
The second half was again a tight affair, Ryuji Izumi came close to a second goal in as many games for Kashima, striking the outside of the post five minutes after the re-start. However, it was Kobe who snatched the lead eleven minutes later, Iniesta and Douglas exchanged a one two and the ball then found it’s way to Gotoku Sakai on the left. The Samurai Blue international fed Yuta Goke on the edge of the box, the former Aomori Yamada High School star then swivelled and fired home low to Yamada’s right.
Just as he had the previous week against Tosu, much criticised Antlers coach Zago turned to his substitutes bench to earn points for his side. Ryota Nagaki, Juan Alano, Itsuki Someno and Ryotaro Araki were introduced during the second half water break while right-winger Yuta Matsumura, fresh from netting the winner at S-Pulse in the Levain Cup in midweek, entered the fray ten minutes later. This left the men from Ibaraki with a youthful and attacking look to it, Shoma Doi and Juan Alano constituted the midfield for the last ten minutes. Their positive verve was rewarded in the fourth and final minute of additional time, Someno found space in the box and picked a pass to his fellow replacement Araki who took a touch before burying his right foot shot beyond the despairing leg of Dankler, past Iikura and into Kobe net. Full time 2-2.
Kashima suffered a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Yokohama FC in midweek which leaves them in 12th spot in the standings with just 11 points from as many games. Yusuke Minagawa’s scrappy effort in the 25th minute was all that separated the sides. There was a suspicion of handball against Gamba loanee Kazunari Ichimi in the build up, but it wasn’t spotted by the referee and in the resulting action Yusuke Matsuo (that man again) beat Kashima ‘keeper Taiki Yamada to a loose ball and it fell kindly for Minagawa who finished past Katsuya Nagato on the line. Ryuji Izumi had Antlers best two chances in the second half, but they generally failed to create clear-cut openings and even the introduction of their youngsters couldn’t swing the match in their favour. 1-0 YFC full-time.
Kashima play in quite a similar fashion to Gamba’s previous opponents Urawa Reds, lining up in a 4-4-1-1 / 4-2-3-1 depending on your preference. They like to knock the ball around at the back but not too close to goal as seems to be de rigueur elsewhere, preferring instead to get the ball at least 20-30m out before starting up their passing game. From there a lot of attacks tend to funnel through influential 34-year old midfielder Leo Silva. Antlers have a tendency to attack directly through the middle using their main goal threat and battering ram Everaldo to break down defences. However, they are able work the ball into wide areas with the intention of delivering quality to their Brazilian goal machine, the right wing has been particularly effective at that, as seen by Rikuto Hirose’s 3 assists so far this season.
Under new leadership in the form of kantoku Antonio Carlos Zago and after recruiting heavily in the off season, it is perhaps no surprise that Kashima have struggled to work out their best lineup and had difficulty in stringing performances and results together. Things to seem to be slowly gelling and even if Antlers fans have to endure a season in mid-table, they can at least look to the future with a degree of optimism. A trio of attacking teenagers are slowly but surely beginning to have an influence on the first team. Ryotaro Araki (Higashi Fukuoka), Itsuki Someno (Shoshi) and Yuta Matsumura (Shizuoka Gakuen) are all in their rookie seasons after winter moves from their respective high schools and have played their part in Antlers recent league and cup revival. In addition to the blooding of young goalies, Yuya Oki and Taiki Yamada (both Kashima Youth graduates) as well as the development of centre back Ikuma Sekigawa (Ryutsu Keizai Kashiwa High School – class of 2019), this may be a year that Antlers fans remember more fondly than most as it saw the birth of a new generation of stars.
One last point to note, Zago seems to have honed in on his best eleven, however, when making his influential second half changes a number of players are forced into secondary or unfamiliar positions in order to accommodate the fresh legs. For instance against Vissel, Kobe tended to make switches that were like for like, so Ogawa and Yasui came on for Oda and Goke and simply took over their position, Samper replaced Iniesta and went into central midfield. Yet Antlers changes required Nagaki to play at right back, Doi and Juan Alano to pair up in the centre, in previous weeks Araki and Izumi have taken up spots on both the right or left wing, Someno can play on either flank or just off the main attacker, they can even play three at the back when necessary, using Sekigawa, Machida and Inukai. In the long run I’m sure Zago would like things to settle down a touch, but for the moment it seems to be unsettling opponents and working.
* Gamba last won away at Kashima in 2016 when goals from Kotaro Omori, Yasuyuki Konno and a rare one from Kim Jung-ya saw them off to a perfect start to the J1 League Second Stage. The Nerrazzuri also won in Ibaraki in their previous two visits in 2014 and 2015. Their record since coming back up to J1 in 2014 stands at P6 W 3 D 1 L 2 F 11 A 9.
* Gamba’s 3-1 defeat at home to Urawa was the first time they had lost a J1 home game by more than one goal since a 2-0 reverse against Jubilo Iwata on 13 August 2017.
* Gamba are still unbeaten away in J1 2020 having registered three wins and a draw so far. They are one of only four sides still unbeaten on the road.
* Kashima have lost 6 of their first 11 J1 games in 2020. To put that in perspective, they only lost 7 league matches in the whole of last year.
* In 2019 they only lost 3 times at home in the league (their first game against Oita and the final two versus Kawasaki and Kobe). They’ve continued to be strong at home this year with just a solitary defeat (0-2 to Sapporo) from five matches. Conversely they have the 3rd worst away record in J1 with one win and five defeats.
* Kashima have drawn a blank in 5 of their 11 matches this season. They only failed to find the back of the net 3 times in all of 2020.
Kim Young-gwon was a surprising omission from Gamba’s squad for the match against Urawa, there has been no confirmation of his status from the club. Fellow centre-back Ryo Shinzato is the only other injury suspect having been absent since the 0-1 defeat to Kashiwa in the Levain Cup back in February.
Former youth team goalie Yuya Oki hasn’t been seen since putting in a decent performance on his league debut against Tosu a couple of weeks back and I’m putting this down as likely being due to injury. Antlers only other doubt is young ex-Hosei University forward Ayase Ueda who has missed the past five matches with an ankle problem.
Know Your Opponent – Kashima Antlers
Head Coach: Antonio Carlos Zago – Appointed 2 January 2020 – Record P 11 W 3 D 2 L 6 F 15 A 17 Points Per Game 1 Failed to score 5 Clean Sheets 1
GK #38 Taiki Yamada – 18-year old rookie straight out of Kashima’s Youth setup. Yamada started the campaign as fourth choice but owing to injuries and poor form from those in front of him, he was suddenly thrust into the starting eleven for the home game with Kobe last Saturday. The 190cm giant was slightly at fault for Dankler’s opener for Vissel, but if any benefit can be gleaned from this COVID-19 shortened season it is that teams are willing to give youngsters like Yamada a shot.
RB #2 Atsuto Uchida – 74 times capped by his country and a member of the Japan squads for both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, Kashima legend Uchida will hang up his boots after Sunday’s game as a result of years spent on the treatment table. He won back to back titles with the men from Ibaraki between 2007-2009 and made the J1 best eleven in the last two of those seasons before heading off to join Schalke in Germany in 2010. Since returning home eight years later he has mustered only 23 J1 appearances.
RCB #39 Tomoya Inukai – A mainstay at the heart of the Antlers defence since making the switch from S-Pulse at the start of 2018. The now 27 year-old quickly found himself promoted to defensive leader following the departures of current Gamba man Gen Shoji and his fellow Japanese international Naomichi Ueda. He is now tasked with helping to develop his younger defensive partners in the shape of Machida and Sekigawa as Tatsuki Nara is seemingly not what Zago is looking for.
LCB #33 Ikuma Sekigawa – Now in his second season as a pro, 182cm Sekigawa will turn 20 next month and looks to have a promising future ahead of him. Although still a touch raw, he certainly possesses the physique to be a top level defender and appears to be a good reader of the game who produced a number of intercepts which thwarted Kobe attacks when I watched him last week.
LB #14 Katsuya Nagato – Another off-season recruit, Nagato came to Kashima from Vegalta Sendai where he led J1 in assists last year with an outstanding 10 in 30 games for a team that only scored 38 times all year. He has won the battle to be first choice left-back against fellow new signing Daiki Sugioka (Shonan) a little more easily than I would have thought, but surprisingly is yet to produce an assist so far in 2020.
RCM #20 Kento Misao © – Captain of the ship and younger brother of Oita’s Yuto, Kento Misao joined Kashima from Tokyo Verdy back in 2016. So far he has a J1 title, an Asian Champions League and an Emperor’s Cup to his name in addition to six caps for Japan. He leads the side well and does a lot of the dirty work which allows Antlers’ flair players to flourish.
LCM #4 Leo Silva – Surely one of the best foreign players to grace J1 in recent years in terms of putting in top-level performances consistently over a number of seasons. Silva first moved to Japan with Albirex Niigata in 2013, but is now in his fourth season in Ibaraki. A real box-to-box midfielder, he has both a combative side and a creative touch which even at the veteran’s age of 34 (35 in December) would surely make him attractive to any side in J1.
RW #8 Shoma Doi – A big favourite of Ben Maxwell on the J-Talk Podcast, Doi joined Kashima as a Junior High School student and has been with the club ever since. Basically able to play anywhere in midfield or attack, the 28-year old has a quiet calmness about him on the field, but also a burning desire to win as evidenced through his confrontation with some angry Antlers supporters after a match last year. Provided an impressive 7 assists in addition to 5 goals in J1 in 2019, but hasn’t reached those heights as of yet in 2020.
LW #11 Ryuji Izumi – Another versatile midfielder, Izumi’s best positions appear to be either left or right-wing, though he is also able to play at full-back or just off the main striker. Netted 6 times for Nagoya Grampus in J1 last time out which put him on Gamba’s radar as a potential replacement should Kosuke Onose move to Yokohama F.Marinos. In the end neither transfer happened and Izumi made his way to Kashima. His first goal and assist for Antlers in their 2-0 win at home to Tosu a fortnight back has helped endear him to his new fans.
AM #25 Yasushi Endo – Veteran attacker who has been given a new lease of life under Zago after falling out of favour in the last days of Go Oiwa’s reign. Antlers are Endo’s only senior club and he’s racked up over 250 league appearances since being snapped up from Shiogama FC Youth in his native Sendai back in 2007.
CF #9 Everaldo – Brought in as a replacement for his now departed compatriot Serginho, Everaldo had some settling in issues very early in his Kashima career, but now the bustling attacker seems to have put them to bed and he is undoubtedly Antlers main threat in attack. The 181cm, 80kg Brazilian appears bigger than that owing to the way he uses his physique, he’s able to bully defenders in order to win headers, but also has a nice touch and possesses the ability to drop deeper and play in a wide midfield role if necessary.
Other Options – A big squad is one thing in Kashima’s favour this year as it affords them plenty of options should Zago see fit to switch things up for this encounter. Experienced South Korean stopper Kwoun Sun-tae appears to be the best goalie at the club, but is currently out of favour. In defence, Neil Debnam’s favourite and serial rejecter of Gamba, Tatsuki Nara doesn’t seem to be Zago’s cup of tea, while Koki Machida has already picked up a suspension for accumulated yellow cards in just nine games this season. Converted midfielder Kei Koizumi is a potential early replacement for Uchida, as is regular right-back Rikuto Hirose, an off-season signing from Yokohama F.Marinos. On the other side of defence, Daiki Sugioka is an alternative to Nagato, but has rarely been seen in J1 since joining from Shonan last winter. Moving forward, veteran Ryota Nagaki can be used instead of Misao or Leo Silva should either need to be rested and the young guns in the shape of, Ryotatro Araki, Itsuki Someno and Yuta Matsumura surely can’t be far away from earning starting berths. Brazilian forward Juan Alano hasn’t had the same impact as compatriot Everaldo, but can operate in a number of attacking roles, as can former Shimizu man Ryohei Shirasaki while veteran Sho Ito is an out-and-out striker.
I learned a harsh lesson about over-optimistic predictions in the last match, but I’ve not totally abandoned my glass half-full philosophy. It’s often a decent game when these two clash and I’ll say there will be goals to send Uchi off into the sunset of a potential modelling or TV presenting career. 2-2 the final score.