Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai
J1 2020 Round 27
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 14 November 15:00
Last Time Out
Gamba weren’t at their best, but still had enough in the tank to eek out a 1-0 home win over a second-string Vissel Kobe on Wednesday night. Fresh from an 8-day gap between fixtures, Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made just one change to the side which drew at Cerezo, and it was a surprising one. Star-man Yosuke Ideguchi was missing from the matchday squad after picking up a knock in training on Monday and attempting to fill his giant boots was J1 debutant Kohei Okuno. Elsewhere, Kim Young-gwon had overcome the knee injury which forced him off the field early in the Osaka Derby and there was a return to the bench for Gen Shoji after he’d missed the previous 4 games. However, captain Genta Miura was mysteriously absent having made his comeback just last week.
Vissel had the better of the opening exchanges against a sluggish Gamba, however, they were unable to punish their sloppy hosts. Daiju Sasaki wasted two very presentable openings, the second of which prompted me to write ‘Gamba need to waken up’ in my notes. Waken up they did as a mere two minutes later Usami and Patric combined before the Brazilian’s shot was deflected off Ryuho Kikuchi and past the despairing dive of Daiya Maekawa for the game’s only goal.
The home side were much livelier in the second half, I was particularly impressed with Yuki Yamamoto who took up the mantle of the absent Ideguchi well and was ably supported by his partner for the evening, Okuno. On the hour mark Vissel introduced Iniesta, Furuhashi and Hotaru Yamaguchi which gave Gamba’s young midfield duo an excellent opportunity to test themselves against some of the best J1 has to offer. For a large part of the final 20 minutes Gamba sat in their solid defensive shape while Kobe passed from side to side without really penetrating. Another substitute, Noriaki Fujimoto wasted Vissel’s one decent chance, slicing well wide under pressure from Kim Young-gwon. There was a second J1 debut of the evening for the Nerazzurri with highly-rated young prospect Shoji Toyama replacing Patric for the final 6 minutes plus additional time. All-in-all a pleasing night’s work, Gamba have broken their home duck against Vissel and are now unbeaten in 12 J1 games heading in to Saturday’s visit from bottom side Vegalta Sendai.
Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai
Gamba come into this encounter with 18th placed Sendai looking to extend their already outstanding unbeaten run to 13 games. The Nerazzurri took their win tally to 17 against Kobe in midweek meaning they’ve equalled their total from the 2016 season and currently lie just 2 away from the 19 victories that propelled them to the J1 title back in 2014. Just as in that memorable campaign a tight rearguard has proven to be essential. Gamba boast the third stingiest defence in J1 at the moment (behind Kawasaki and Nagoya) letting in just 1.04 per game and indeed the only time they’ve conceded less than a goal a game in an 18-team top flight they were crowned champions (31 in 34 games back in 2014).
After their usual ropey start at home this year when they lost 5 of their opening 8 matches, the ship has been well and truly steadied with the Nerazzurri going on a run of 5 wins and 1 draw since the shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of Shonan back on September 13th. They currently have the 4th best home record in the division with 25 points from 14 matches and at present only Kaswasaki and Nagoya (those two again) have bettered their 8 wins on home soil. Once again we can see solid defence has laid the foundations of this improvement with only 4 goals conceded in the last 6 home ties, two clean sheets (out of a total of 3 at home this year) have been kept in that run too with no opponent able to score more than once in a single game. After Saturday’s encounter, only Tosu (16th) and Shimizu (17th) are due in Suita for league duties so Gamba will surely be optimistic about closing out their home fixtures with no further slip-ups.
The defence seems to be earning all the plaudits in this particular match preview, but Gamba will be confident of playing much of this game on the front foot, particularly after running up a season best 4-1 scoreline in the away fixture. Brazilian striker Patric enjoyed a physical tussle with Kobe’s Dankler and Ryuho Kikuchi on Wednesday and came out on top with his winning goal his 3rd strike in Gamba’s last 5 outings. The powerful forward moved level with Kazuma Watanabe and compatriot Ademilson at the top of the team’s goalscoring charts. Each player currently sits on 6 goals, Gamba’s previous lowest figure for a top scorer in an 18-team top division is the 9 scored by Ademilson and Shun Nagasawa in 2016. It will be interesting to see if any of Gamba’s attackers can go on a scoring spree in the final 7 games of the year to overtake that total.
Now to our visitors to Sendai who have found themselves in all kinds of strife this year. They currently prop up the standings having won just twice all season, they have well documented financial problems, an injury crisis, supporter unrest and recently had to fire talented winger Ryohei Michibuchi after a domestic violence incident. One small crumb of comfort for our visitors from Miyagi is the fact that both of their league wins in 2020 have come on the road, 1-0 at Shonan on July 4th and a surprise 2-1 at Vissel Kobe on August 8th. However, they have now gone over 3 months since their last victory and have failed to score in 6 of their previous 7 outings.
Vegalta had the worst away record in J1 last season with just 3 wins and 1 draw all year and the absence of home supporters for much of this campaign seems to have caused them to bring that form home with them. Kantoku Takashi Kiyama arrived from Montedio Yamagata last winter after performing well in J2, however, in my season preview back in February I warned things could go a bit Alan Curbishley at Charlton following the rather harsh dismissal of Susumu Watanabe, and it’s proven to be the case. The Tokohu side possess the 3rd worst defence in the league with only Shimizu and Kobe (both 55) conceding more (it should be noted that Kobe have let in 3 more, but played an extra 5 games). At the other end, only Shonan (22) have found the back of the net less than Vegalta (23) and Alexandre Guedes’ 5 strikes is a league low for a team’s individual top scorer.
Last week Sendai were blown away 3-0 at home by Sagan Tosu which caused some of their Ultra supporters to surround the team bus for over an hour after the game. That result was undoubtedly one of their worst this year, a recent 6-0 drubbing at Urawa, the aforementioned 4-1 battering by Gamba, 5-1 away at Kashiwa and 3-0 at home to Oita have all been tough for their supporters to take. That doesn’t tell the whole story though as 10 of their 16 losses this season have been by a single goal, indeed the home defeats at the hands of Kawasaki and Cerezo (both 2-3) and Yokohama F.Marinos (0-1) have all been gut punches, while they performed extremely well in their 1-0 reversal at champions elect Frontale.
As alluded to earlier, consistently hitting the back of the net has been an issue for Vegalta all year. They’ve only scored more than once in a single game 6 times in 26 outings, in both matches against the notoriously bad defences of Sapporo and Kobe and also more surprisingly against Kawasaki and Cerezo, the number 1 and 4 ranked backlines in J1 respectively. They’ve only scored more than once twice on their travels this year while Gamba have only conceded more than once at home three times, the last being the controversial match at home to FC Tokyo on August 29th. Can Sendai fans come into this game with any kind of optimism or will Gamba simply run away with things?
Head to Head
I actually had a ticket for this match on it’s originally scheduled date of March 1st and had written over 50% of my preview for that game when the league was halted due to COVID-19. In my research (I believe Dan Orlowitz and Lionel Piguet helped me out) I uncovered the stat that Sendai have never defeated Gamba in a league game in Osaka. Their lone “away” win came in a match played in Kanazawa back in 2003, I’m glad I finally got the opportunity to put that in my blog! Gamba have won the previous 2 home matches against Vegalta without conceding and I’ve been in attendance for both, I’m not sure why Tosu and Sendai games seem to always conveniently fall when I’m not working.
As mentioned above, in-form midfield maestro Yosuke Ideguchi was a surprising absentee against Kobe and will definitely miss this game, it’s unclear when he will be fit enough to return. Gen Shoji is now available for selection, but a cloud of uncertainty surrounds Genta Miura who played 30 minutes of the Osaka Derby then missed out completely against Vissel. Two players definitely out are Yuji Ono (knee -season) and Ademilson (club suspension).
One title Vegalta could definitely lay claim to this year is J1’s longest injury list. On-loan FC Tokyo defender Takahiro Yanagi (hip), full-back Koji Hachisuka (thigh) and central midfielder Yoshiki Matsushita (hamstring) have all been missing since the 6-0 hammering at Urawa on October 18th, Matsushita, in particular, has had a rough time fitness wise this year. Club legend Shingo Tomita has missed the whole season with a cruciate knee ligament problem, veteran Shingo Hyodo (thigh) last appeared against Cerezo on September 27th, versatile former Sanfrecce player Kyohei Yoshino has been absent since September 9th with a dislocated shoulder and wide forward Ryo Germain (broken foot) was last in action against Yokohama F.Marinos on September 23rd. Attacker Takuma Nishimura was last picked against Sapporo on October 3rd, but no injury has been reported while Sendai selected 2 goalkeepers among their reserves for the 3-0 home loss to Tosu suggesting that, centre-back Hayato Teruyama, midfielder Wataru Tanaka, Cerezo-loanee Hiroto Yamada and regular backup ‘keeper Yuma Obata are struggling with fitness issues. Top scorer Alexandre Guedes left the field early last weekend and his status is unknown.
Predicted Line Ups
With a week’s rest ahead of their next J1 fixture away at Urawa, I expect a pretty strong Gamba lineup here despite the tight turnaround from the Kobe match. Shinya Yajima could start ahead of Okuno due to the youngster’s recent heavy workload and it’s also possible we’ll see Kazuma Watanabe in for either Patric or Usami. Yuya Fukuda seems to be the bona fide first choice at left-back these days, though Hiroki Fujiharu remains an option. I’ve gone for Shoji ahead of Suganuma at centre-back, though Miyamoto may opt for the latter as he doesn’t want to tinker with a winning team too much.
With all of Sendai’s injury woes, I’ve basically just gone with the players I know to be definitely fit and ready for this game. Fitness problems have hit them particularly hard in the full-back positions, central midfield and attack so basically if anyone mentioned in the ‘Team News’ section is back they stand a good chance of being selected for this match. The most likely variation to the starting eleven you see below is probably Shuhei Akasaki to partner Nagasawa in attack against one of his many former sides, though Takayoshi Ishihara’s versatility could reward him with a starting berth and I’m sure centre-back Kim Jung-ya would love game time against the side he made 70 J1 appearances for between 2011-2017.
Vegalta come into this one the fresher of the two sides, but that’s the only area where they really have an edge. I was there for a comfortable 2-0 Gamba win in the sunshine at Panasonic Stadium last November and I believe history will repeat itself this Saturday afternoon, leaving Sendai still searching for a first league triumph in Suita.