FC Tokyo vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 21
Saturday 10 October 14:00 (JST)
Last Time Out
Gamba recorded their 5th consecutive league win with a comfortable 2-1 triumph at a blustery Ekimae Real Esate Stadium on Wednesday night. With this being the second of five games within the space of fifteen days it was the first time this year we saw real rotation in the Gamba ranks. In total there were 6 changes to the starting lineup from the side that saw off Kashima last Saturday. At centre-back Ryo Shinzato started his first J1 game for Gamba while Shunya Suganuma returned to the starting eleven for the first time since the Osaka derby in round 2, Gen Shoji was on the bench with Kim Young-gwon left at home. Elsewhere, both forwards were switched, with Ademilson and Kazuma Watanabe starting and Takashi Usami and Patric on the pine. In midfield, Yuya Fukuda was selected on the right in place of Kosuke Onose while Shinya Yajima took over Yuki Yamamoto’s pot to make his first start since overcoming a sprained ankle. The team began in a 4-4-2 formation before changing to a 3-5-2 about 30 minutes in.
Tosu opened the match stronger, controlling both territory and possession with Gamba content to sit back and soak up pressure. However, the home side lacked penetration in the attacking third, moving the ball from side to side, but rarely threatening Masaaki Higashiguchi’s goal. Cho Dong-geon flicked a header from Riki Harakawa’s corner onto the bar in the 7th minute and Ryang Yong-gi shot over, but that was all they had to show for their early endeavours. At the other end, Gamba made them pay with two deadly counter attacks. First, in the 21st minute, good work down the left involving Shu Kurata and Hiroki Fujiharu culminated with the latter delivering the ball into the box where Watanabe took one touch with his right foot to bring it under control and then used his left to dispatch it past the despairing Yohei Takaoka low to his right. Just 13 minutes later it was two and Watanabe, whose 4 goals this year prior to this game had all come off the bench, bagged his 100th strike in J1 in fine style. A beautiful one-two between Ademilson and Watanabe released the Brazilian down the right flank, he centred for his strike partner to fire high into the back of the net.
Shuhei Kawasaki and Kosuke Onose replaced Kurata and Fujiharu at the half-time interval and the Osaka side dominated proceedings in the opening 15 minutes of the second stanza, young Kawasaki was heavily involved in several attacks. Following that, Tosu showed more urgency and Gamba, after initially being quite open to the counter, again shifted back into their solid defensive shape to see out the win. Left winger Tomoya Koyamatsu and central midfielder Riki Harakawa were at the heart of Tosu’s creativity. Second half substitute Kaisei Ishii shot over from the edge of the box midway though they second period, while a few minutes later full-back Ryoya Morishita blasted high and wide from a tight angle. Centre-back Teruki Hara missed Sagan’s best chance inside the 90 when he put Harakawa’s powerful drilled cross wide from 6 yards out. The Kyushu side were finally rewarded for their efforts when Uruguayan Renzo Lopez, who’d replaced Cho earlier in the half, denied Gamba a clean sheet by outjumping Yuya Fukuda to head home Harakawa’s measured cross in the second minute of additional time. However, it was too little too late for Tosu and the visitors won a league match in Kyushu for the first time since 2017.
FC Tokyo advanced to the final of the Levain Cup with an impressive 2-0 win away to J1 champions-elect Kawasaki Frontale on Wednesday night. Goals in either half from the excellent Brazilian Leandro earned them a famous win and they will face Kashiwa Reysol on November 7th after the Chiba-based side saw off Yokohama F.Marinos 1-0 in Kanagawa.
2nd in the table FC Tokyo host 4th placed Gamba Osaka in a contender for game of the round at Ajinomoto Stadium this Saturday afternoon. The Gasmen are 6 points better off than their opponents, but have crucially played an extra 3 matches, so an away win on Saturday would put the Nerazzurri within striking distance of their hosts. The reverse fixture between these two at Panasonic Stadium at the end of August didn’t pass without incident, Hiroki Fujiharu’s goal to put Gamba 2-1 up on the stroke of half-time was incorrectly ruled out for offside and FC Tokyo ended up running out 3-1 victors. The fact that Gamba have yet to lose in the 14 J1 games this season in which they’ve led shows just how crucial that decision was in altering the course of the outcome.
Our opposition this week are clearly one of the top teams in J1 and will surely feel that they could have run Kawasaki closer if it hadn’t been for the mammoth impact that their Asian Champions League participation has had on their J1 campaign. Let’s look at their schedule since they last faced Gamba. In the month of September alone, they fulfilled 8 league fixtures and 1 Levain Cup quarter-final and in October they’ve already seen off Shonan 1-0 in Hiratsuka last Sunday before defeating Frontale in the League Cup as mentioned above. They’ve won seven, drawn one and lost just two of those games which is a testament to the strength of the squad that former Gamba boss Kenta Hasegawa has built in western Tokyo.
An over-reliance on the goals of Diego Oliveira has been a weakness for the Gasmen over the past couple of campaigns, however, the shrewd acquisitions of his countrymen Leandro (Kashima) and the pacy Adailton (Iwata) has helped to relieve that particular burden a lot. Their attack has clearly improved in comparison to last season when they finished runners-up to Yokohama F.Marinos. They’re averaging 1.6 goals per game this year in comparison with 1.35 in 2019. At the back things have been a little more shaky, probably owing to the amount of rotation they’ve had to do, at present they average 1.35 goals against in 2020 compared with only 0.85 a year ago. Defending of crossed balls and in particular corners has been a constant cause of concern for FC Tokyo supporters on Twitter, though it should be noted that their defensive structures were pretty solid for a lot of the game away to Gamba.
Both FC Tokyo and Gamba have superior away records compared with what they do in their home stadiums and I can only put this down to the effect that COVID-19 has had on home attendances. Four of Tokyo’s five league defeats so far this year have come on home turf and they are currently averaging 1.8 points per home game versus 2.0 outside of Japan’s capital. To date they have seen off, Shonan (3-0), Urawa and Cerezo (2-0), Yokohama FC (2-1), Nagoya and Sendai (1-0) on their own patch, but have gone down to Kawasaki (0-4), Tosu and Oita (2-3) and Kashima (1-2).
Gamba are flying high away from home with a record of 7 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses which means they are already 2 wins and 3 points better of than their total from the whole of 2019. They currently average 2.3 points per game outside of Suita compared with just 1.5 at Panasonic Stadium and like their opponents on Saturday, they’ve lost just once away from home this season (3-0 at Kashiwa in round 15). The Nerazzurri also come into this clash in their best run of form since the end of 2018 (when they were victorious 9 times in a row), winning their last 5 which eclipses their four game winning run between rounds 3-7. One cause for concern may be the lack of clean sheets with only 4 being kept in 20 J1 fixtures so far compared with 11 in 34 games last time out. On their way to 7th place in J1 last year Gamba averaged 1.59 goals per game, marginally higher than this term’s 1.5, but at the back there has been a marked improvement with only 1.2 strikes per game conceded in 2020 versus 1.4 in the previous campaign.
Head to Head
Gamba have an appalling record in this fixture, winning the first two clashes between the sides in 2000 and 2001, but they have failed to return to Osaka with a victory on every occasion since. As the table below shows, Gamba have taken just a solitary point from the previous 6 games between the two at Ajinomoto Stadium. I attended Kenta Hasegawa’s final match as Gamba head coach in 2017 before he took over at FC Tokyo and it was a highly forgettable 0-0 draw with me being full of the cold and sitting outside for a couple of hours certainly not helping matters.
Gamba had the opportunity to rest many of their regular starters at Tosu on Wednesday and the only definite absentees for this game will be Yuji Ono who is out for the season after knee surgery and Genta Miura who is still missing with a thigh problem. Kim Young-gwon and Kazuma Watanabe will both make their 50th league appearances for Gamba if selected for this game, Watanabe will, of course, be up against one of his former sides fresh from reaching his century of J1 goals in midweek.
FC Tokyo captain Keigo Higashi has missed all of 2020 with a broken foot while the versatile Makoto Okazaki is now back after a tough loan spell at Shimizu, Transfermarkt report he has inflammation in his knee. Kazuya Konno, a promising attacking midfielder, recruited from Hosei University last winter and compared with Shoya Nakajima earlier in the year hasn’t been seen since the 2-1 home defeat by Kashima on August 26th and his absence from the much shuffled side for the match at Shonan suggests he may be carrying an injury.
Predicted Line Ups
After all the rotation in midweek, I think we’ll see a full strength Gamba on Saturday. I really don’t see Miyamoto deviating away from the members you can see below, although it is possible he could shuffle between 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 as happened in Saga on Wednesday. Yamamoto starting in place of Yajima is the most likely difference between Miyamoto’s side and mine, though theoretically any of Patric, Ademilson or Watanabe could partner Usami in attack, my money is on the more physical Patric getting the nod.
FC Tokyo have switched between 4-3-3 and Kenta Hasegawa’s favoured 4-4-2 in recent weeks depending on which personnel are selected for any given match. I believe if everyone was fit and they were only playing one game per week then their strongest eleven would be (4-3-3) Hayashi – H. Nakamura, Watanabe, Morishige, Ogawa – Higashi, Takahagi, Abe – Diego Oliveira, Nagai, Leandro, though with their deluge of games they are currently facing, I’m sure even their own supporters have little idea which side will be chosen on a weekly basis.
A tough one to call, Gamba have a horrible record away to Tokyo, but they are coming into this one full of confidence on the back of a 5 game winning streak, they are also one of the top away sides in J1 this year. Both outfits played on Wednesday night, so fatigue will be an issue, however, Gamba were able to rest more of their starters than Tokyo and also, with all due respect to Tosu, played much weaker opposition. I’ve put all of those factors together and come up with an entertaining 2-2 draw as my match prediction.