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Oita Trinita 0-1 Gamba Osaka Plus 2020 Squad Rundown

It wasn’t pretty, but Gamba scrapped their way to a 1-0 win at Oita yesterday which extended their unbeaten run to 8 games. Gen Shoji sat this one out as we wait for news on his ankle injury, while Hiroki Fujiharu was still not back from a concussion suffered in the first half of the match against Tosu 2 weeks ago. Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made 3 changes to the starting eleven for this, the 5th of 5 games inside a hectic 15 day period. Shunya Suganuma came in for the injured Shoji, while the forward pair was once again rotated, Ademilson and Kazuma Watanabe, the duo who tormented Tosu on the Nerazzurri’s previous trip to Kyushu started with Patric and Takashi Usami on the bench.

The first half was a rather forgettable affair, Gamba were understandably a little sluggish following their recent exertions while Trinita pressed and harassed the men from Suita well, forcing a series of turnovers, however, they were never able to put a series of good passages of play together. There were too many instances of poor control, aimless crossfield balls and inaccurate crosses to really build any sustained pressure on Masaaki Higashiguchi’s goal. Just after the water break Gamba sparked into life and nice play down the right involving Kosuke Onose and Ryu Takao saw the ball cut back, via several deflections, to Watanabe who in turn fed strike partner Ademilson. The Brazilian’s shot looked to be goalbound, but unfortunately struck the arm of his skipper Shu Kurata and hence was rightly disallowed. Although the correct decision was reached, this incident did seem to bring about a more cautious approach in Oita’s play as if they now recognised how dangerous Gamba could be. Ademilson stung the palms of home ‘keeper Kim Myung-gun, whose distribution was at times quite ropey in this game, with a shot on the turn from the edge of the area after a powerful Takao run, however, the referee was the star attraction of the second half of the first period. First, surely to Alan Gibson’s delight, he gave a foul throw against Oita on the half hour mark, he did balance things up though by bizarrely allowing a Trinita player to slide in and block a quickly taken Gamba free-kick from what surely must have been 3 yards away at most.

Patric came on for Watanabe at half-time and Oita seemed to go into full deer in the headlights mode at the thought of squaring off against a powerful foreigner, something Gamba are prone to do [Exhibit A: Olunga, Michael]. The big Brazilian’s introduction brought about a much more positive start to the half from the visitors, however, between the 55th and 65th minutes Trinita had their best spell of the game and really should have taken the lead from at least one of the three excellent chances they created. First, former Gamba-man Tatsuya Tanaka rounded Higashiguchi and had his effort cleared off the line after the referee’s assistant had initially caused confusion by incorrectly waving for offside. I didn’t really feel any sense of relief as I thought it wouldn’t have counted anyway, but when the referee awarded Oita a corner I saw how fortunate Gamba had been. Four minutes later, nice combination play between Kohei Isa and Kazushi Mitsuhira set up Tanaka but Higashiguchi came out well to smother his shot from 10 yards. Finally, four minutes after that, Trinita won three corners in a row with the third one headed wide by an unmarked Kento Haneda (surprisingly this was the only one of the 3 chances that made the DAZN highlights).

To use some J-Talk Podcast terminology, Oita were made to pay for their profligacy shortly after. Takashi Usami played a delicious through ball to the onrushing Takao, the EPL’s VAR would probably have flagged the full-back offside, but as it was he was free to put in a cross which was turned out for a corner by the home side’s captain Yoshinori Suzuki. Usami stepped up and put it on a plate for Patric, who outjumped Ryosuke Tone and Kento Haneda to power a header low into Mun’s bottom right corner, 1-0 Gamba and we know what happens when they take the lead in 2020, right?

Oita made a quadruple switch on 82 minutes with forwards, Kei Chinen, Yuya Takazawa, shadow player Naoki Nomura and holding midfielder Toshio Shimakawa entering the fray. In a similar vein to the match at home to Kashima a few weeks back, making a lot of changes in a short space of time hindered rather than helped our opponents. Chinen headed wide and Shimakawa volleyed into the side netting, but that was as close as Trinita came. Young Dai Tsukamoto made his J1 debut very late in proceedings and defeats for both Nagoya and FC Tokyo made this a very happy Sunday for all those connected with Gamba who are now up to 4th in the standings.

Gamba MVP

I know I bigged up Ryu Takao in the preview, but I was initially a bit disappointed with his display. Having watched the highlights and heard the views of others on Twitter I have changed my mind slightly. However, I’m going to choose Kim Young-gwon as I felt he was an absolute rock yesterday. Minus Genta Miura and Gen Shoji, the experienced Kim really stepped up and marshalled the defence brilliantly, his distribution, which has been shaky at times this year, was excellent, so I have no qualms about giving him this award.

Some inclement weather in Osaka today put the dampeners on my hiking trip, so I thought I’d take a look at how every member of Gamba’s squad has performed so far this season.

#1 Masaaki Higashiguchi – Shot-stopping has been superb all year, must be the form ‘keeper in J1 along with Mitch Langerak. His distribution is his weak point a times, but I’ve been more than happy with his performances.

#3 Gen Shoji – Has grown better and better since returning from injury, I rate him as our best centre-back. Hopefully his latest ankle problem won’t keep him out for too long.

#4 Hiroki Fujiharu – A little bit up and down from him this year and he now faces a real fight for his spot from Yuya Fukuda, 11 years his junior. Mistakes against Yokohama FC and FC Tokyo have been balanced out by a lot of good energetic performances down the left-flank in the draining summer heat.

#5 Genta Miura – Honestly he’s never been my favourite player to pull on a Gamba shirt, but he was generally quite competent before getting injured. I had him at 2 goals scored and 2.5 directly responsible for us conceding before he got injured during one of his best games, against Sapporo. Will be interesting to see where he fits into a 4-4-2 when everyone is fit.

#8 Kosuke Onose – After a wonderful year and half since joining from Yamaguchi, it’s gone a bit flat for him this term. He’s not been poor, rather he’s not really contributed in a way Gamba fans would have hoped, whether this is down to fatigue, a niggling injury, or something else, I don’t know.

#9 Ademilson – His goal and assist numbers are there, but he’s looked less sharp than last season. A couple of minor injuries in pre-season and just after the league’s re-start have perhaps hindered him and at the moment Patric and Usami seems to be our best strike partnership.

#10 Shu Kurata – A strange campaign from him, he’d actually lost his place to Yuji Ono before he got injured, but he’s now captaining the side in Miura’s absence. Beautiful goals away to Sendai and Hiroshima plus a couple of nice assists have been his highlights, but it looks like this year’s tough schedule has taken a toll on him.

#11 Yuji Ono – I didn’t expect much when we signed him, but he was a revelation in his midfield role before damaging knee ligaments. I hope he can come back strong again next year.

#13 Shunya Suganuma – Has only really played recently due to Miura and Shoji’s injuries plus the heavy schedule. Realistically shouldn’t be playing regularly for a top half J1 side, but he seems content to be a squad member and serves as useful backup.

#14 Yuya Fukuda – Finally getting a run in the team thanks to injuries elsewhere. He’s almost a victim of his own versatility as Miyamoto keeps switching his position. It was tough for him earlier in the campaign when he was only playing every 3rd/4th game, but now he’s getting more regular game time we can see his improvement.

#15 Yosuke Ideguchi – Has to be a strong contender for Gamba’s MVP this year. His work-rate, closing down and range of passing are immense. He’s started all but one J1 game in 2020 and of course banged in that memorable volley at home to Urawa.

#16 Jun Ichimori – Former Okayama number 1, signed to be our backup before dislocating his shoulder and finding himself in J3 as an overage player with the U23s. All this while our backup from last season Mizuki Hayashi is third choice at 19th in J2 Yamaguchi. The JLeague goalkeeping merry-go-round, eh?

#17 Ryo Shinzato – Signed on loan from Iwata to be back up to the back up centre-halves. I believe Scottish comedian Kevin Bridges put it better by saying, “you’re the guy who makes the tea for the guy who makes the coffee.” That said, I think he’s done alright the 2 times I’ve seen him play for the top team and once in J3.

#18 Patric – Has really come onto a game as the season has developed and offers something that none of our other forwards can provide. A pleasant surprise this campaign as I feared he may have been over-the-hill based on last year’s displays.

#19 Kim Young-gwon – A very consistent performer whose ability to defend is not in question. A big fan of the physical side of the game and some of the dark arts of defending which may make him unpopular with opponents (perhaps a Brazilian forward who has been vocal on Twitter lately lol). His distribution can be his greatest strength and also his biggest weakness, but overall I’m a fan.

#20 Daisuke Takagi – I think I can just lift my comments from last year’s player rundown about him… what was the purpose of his signing? He’s always had at least 2 better players ahead of him in any position he can play, he isn’t that young in footballing terms and aside from a lovely assist the other week, he hasn’t really stood out playing in J3.

#21 Shinya Yajima – A pretty decent season until his sprained ankle saw him lose his place to Yuki Yamamoto. Has gone a bit missing in some of the tougher games and will surely face more competition once Leo Takae returns from Machida, but a very useful player to have in the squad.

#24 Keisuke Kurokawa – Hasn’t featured much for the first team, but has definitely grown with the U23’s in J3. More of a left-back than Fukuda and I’d love to see him get a run in the J1 side at some point.

#25 Kei Ishikawa – Seems to have overtaken Ichimori to be Higashiguchi’s backup. Based on the couple of times I saw him play for the U23s, he looks like a good shot-stopper, but the thought of seeing his distribution in the J1 side gives me nightmares.

#26 Kohei Okuno – Central midfielder who sometimes gets punted to right-back or centre-back by the U23s when no-one else is available. Probably seen as a younger, better version of Takahiro Ko by the Gamba hierarchy.

#27 Ryu Takao – Surely the most improved player in the squad this year, either when played as a right-sided centre-back or in his favoured right-back role. Has outshone two similar players in Ryosuke Shindo and Tomoki Iwata already this season, are international honours in the near future totally out of the question?

#28 Jefferson Tabinas – Basically a Hail Mary loan signing from Kawasaki as we had no-one else to play centre-back in J3. He’s done better than expected, but I always judge him based on the fact he’s on loan from Frontale, as in reality he often looks more like a JFL player.

#29 Yuki Yamamoto – Takao’s former team-mate at Kwansei Gakuin who has come on in spades since breaking into the team due to Yajima’s injury. Now seems to be first choice alongside Ideguchi and has bagged a couple of nice goals too, which always helps.

#30 Dai Tsukamoto – The least famous of Gamba’s trident of prodigious youngsters along with Kawasaki and Toyama (is there also a city called Tsukamoto in Japan? – that would probably help with giving them a collective nickname). He’s really developed physically this year, though he will need to work on his end product if he wants to have a long J1 career, a bit like Fukuda he gets moved around too much due to his versatility.

#31 Haruki Saruta – Signed on loan from Kashiwa so we could loan our young goalies out. Got injured pre-lockdown, came back not fully fit and dropped a clanger against Sanuki on the opening day, disappeared for a bit after that, then came back and conceded five at YSCC and hasn’t been seen since.

#32 Ren Shibamoto – His next game in J3 will be his 100th, the first Gamba U23 player to reach that milestone. Was injured at the start of the year, but he’s improved the team so much since his return. I don’t know why he can’t get into the top team, he might be someone that @kanzawadreamin would like to have on loan at Zweigen next year.

#33 Takashi Usami – Excellent all round play, but did look exhausted at times prior to being given a rest. Often tasked with both scoring and setting up chances, the re-emergence of Patric has definitely helped him.

#34 Shuhei Kawasaki – I’m really happy with his development in his first year as a pro. He’s already too good to be playing in J3 and I liked what I saw the one time he was given extended playing time in J1, away to Tosu.

#35 Tatsuya Yamaguchi – A real work-horse for the U23s who despite his diminutive size spent the first half of the season as a left-sided centre-back. A really good player who will probably find himself crowded out by the traffic ahead of him at left-back, so could be an option for Renofa etc to look at for a loan next year (Yamaguchi sign Yamaguchi has a nice ring to it).

#36 Riku Matsuda – Broke his foot during the league’s layoff and came back not looking fully fit for the U23s. Got briefly promoted to the J1 side and was booked within a minute for clattering into the back of Iniesta, that’s certainly one to tell the grandkids about. Hasn’t looked as sharp as he did last year and the switch from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2 doesn’t really help him, may go out on loan next season.

#37 Haruto Shirai – Extremely pacey player who has now had about 3 niggling injuries this season. Lacks the consistency to crack the J1 squad, but his speed, control and distribution should see him forge a decent lower league career.

#38 Shoji Toyama – Has kept banging them in for the U23s and also netted a brace against Shonan in the Levain Cup. Hopefully we can keep hold of him for a bit to allow him to develop before the inevitable move to Europe.

#39 Kazuma Watanabe – Another pleasant surprise this season and is actually the team’s top scorer. Now that he’s got his 100 J1 goals, I wonder if there’s a chance he might return to his native Nagasaki and join V-Varen next year, as despite being an excellent squad member, the emergence of Toyama and potential return of Ichimi could mean the writing is on the wall for him at Gamba.

#40 Shin Won-ho – Joined after graduating high school in Korea, but unable to get in the U23 side ahead of several Japanese high schoolers on type 2 contracts which can’t be a great sign.

#50 Lee Yunoh – Signed on loan to replace our injured on loan U23 ‘keeper Saruta, he himself got injured soon after (what are we doing in training? that’s 3 goalkeeping injuries this year!). Has played once so far where he basically dropped the ball in the net against Kataller Toyama and looked very shaky in everything else he did.

I hope you all enjoyed that, please remember to check out my match preview for the game with Kashiwa Reysol which should be live on Thursday.

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