Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 29
Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium
Wednesday 25 November 18:30
Last Time Out
Urawa Reds vs Gamba Osaka
Gamba came from behind to defeat arch-rivals Urawa on Sunday to keep upcoming opponents Kawasaki Frontale’s championship champagne on ice, at least for a few more days. An instinctive strike by talisman Takashi Usami and Ryu Takao’s first ever senior goal overturned Tomoaki Makino’s opener for Reds to help the Nerazzurri banish the memories of last week’s 4-0 humbling by Sendai.
Four changes were made to the Gamba starting eleven with the rested Kim Young-gwon, Kosuke Onose, Takashi Usami and Patric returning in place of the benched Shunya Suganuma, Kohei Okuno, Kazuma Watanabe and Shoji Toyama. The match officials were the star attraction of my first-half notes on a blustery afternoon at Saitama Stadium. Gamba had claims for a penalty ignored when the referee didn’t spot Makino’s handball from Takao’s cross, while Reds players were rightly furious that Kim Young-gwon was adjudged to have won the ball rather than taken out Shinzo Koroki on the edge of the penalty area when replays indicated otherwise. The most comical officiating came when Martinus tried to milk a foul on the right-side of his own box and fell over, however, no free-kick was given leaving the Curacaoan international on all fours shielding the ball (I’m sure he handled it somewhere in the process), when a Gamba player rightly flicked it out from under him he rolled around like he’d been shot in the stomach and eventually got the free-kick (which in fairness most referees would have given him for the first ‘foul’).
The opening stanza was scrappy and featured few clear cut openings. Gamba’s midfield, once again missing the services of Yosuke Ideguchi, lacked bite and there were too many soft challenges going in for my liking. Shinzo Koroki flicked Usami’s corner onto his own post for the visitors best chance of the half, the same player also had his own side’s best opportunity, but couldn’t get the ball past Masaaki Higashiguchi with a low shot. Kosuke Onose went off with a leg muscle injury in the 24th minute and Fujiharu had to get his leg strapped up in the second, before soldiering on for a few more minutes then being taken off to add to Gamba’s recent injury woes. Better news came in the form of youngsters getting a run out, the left-side combination of Fukuda and Kawasaki gave Nerazzurri fans a taste of the future. Indeed Gamba’s closing midfield featured 3 youngsters, Kawasaki (19), Okuno (20) and Toyama (18 – bizarrely playing right wing) who have spent most of this year with the U23 side in J3.
Kazuki Nagasawa rattled the bar for Reds early in the second half after a mistake reminiscent of Gamba’s defending against Urawa in the match in Suita, the surprisingly quiet Leonardo also clipped the outside of the post in a bright opening to the half by the home team. In the 62nd minute, Makino, a player, who despite my best efforts, I can’t bring myself to dislike, tapped home from close range after defensive partner Deng sprung the Nerazzurri’s offside trap and cushioned a header across goal, Miyamoto will definitely want to have another look at his side’s defending for that one. He’d have no such issues with Gamba’s response, as they seemed to be galvanised by going behind, though, in truth, the men in blue and black are always easier to watch when they aren’t winning. Usami got his first goal in 7 games with an excellent shot though a crowd of defenders and just as in the Sapporo game, as soon as he was subbed and relieved of set-piece duties, with the very next set-play Yuki Yamamoto stepped up with a deadly cross which, on this occasion, found former Kwansei Gakuin team-mate Ryu Takao for the winner. 2-1 Gamba, double digit away wins in 2020, unbeaten in 4 league games at Saitama Stadium, roll on Wednesday night.
Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka Match Lowdown
It’s the battle between 1st and 2nd at Todoroki Stadium this Wednesday with anything other than an away win leading to a deserved 3rd title in 4 years for Kawasaki. Victory for Gamba, statistically the best away side in the division, would keep their ultra slim championship hopes alive, though they would have to win their remaining 4 fixtures while Frontale somehow contrived to lose all of theirs. The first part of the equation is believable as the Nerazzurri have still to play, Tosu (h), Shonan (a), Yokohama FC (a) and Shimizu (h), however, it seems nigh on impossible that Kawasaki could lose to Shimizu (a), Tosu (a), Urawa (h) and Kashiwa (a).
Digging up stats on Kawasaki is relatively straightforward as they pretty much dominate every team category you can name. As they have been in record breaking form this season I’ll do my best to put these figures into historical context. With 23 wins from their 29 games played so far, Kawasaki are 5 ahead of Gamba (18) in that particular table and indeed, Nagoya (2010), Kashiwa (2011) and Hiroshima (2015) are the only sides to win as many games in an 18-team J1 season meaning that just a solitary victory in their final 5 matches not only gives Frontale this year’s J1 title, but also the record for most wins in a single campaign. In terms of defeats, the men from Kanagawa have been turned over just 3 times all year (losing twice in their past 4 games to bottom half opponents may be a slight cause for concern, though), Gamba again are second in that ranking with 7 defeats (how those home losses to Shonan and Sendai hurt now!) Frontale already hold the record for least defeats in an 18-team J1, losing just 4 times en route to their first title back in 2017, if they can avoid another loss in their upcoming 5 fixtures then they will better that total.
In terms of goals for and against, Kawasaki are once again number one in each of these categories. They’ve scored 74 times in 29 matches (2.55 per game), 6 more than 2nd ranked Yokohama F.Marinos, but with 4 fewer games played and a whopping 33 more than Gamba. Their goal difference stands at an astonishing +49, to give that some context, Gamba have found the back of the net just 41 times all season. Historically, only Frontale, 84 in 2006, and Gamba, 82 in 2005, 80 in 2006 and 78 in 2011 have mustered more than that in an 18-team top flight. Merely maintaining their current goalscoring ratio will see them to 86 strikes for the year and yet another record. Goals conceded is one area where they could conceivably be overtaken as they’ve let in 25, just 3 fewer than Nagoya with 1 game less played.
Gamba actually have a slightly better away record than Kawasaki, so a big part of Frontale’s lead has been built on the back of excellent home performances. Last season, getting results in front of their own supporters was their achilles heal as they could win only 5 of 17 home fixtures and had a disappointing 9 draws. This time round only Tosu (a pre-Covid 0-0) and Sapporo (2-0) have left Kawasaki with anything other than a defeat and Frontale are averaging a 2.86-0.93 scoreline in their own backyard.
I have 5 Kawasaki players definitely in my J1 team of the year (Yamane, Taniguchi, Jesiel, Oshima and Mitoma) as well as one probable (Ienaga – there is tough competition for those wing / shadow positions – Mateus, Kiyotake, Esaka, Furuhashi, Sakamoto, to name a few standout performers) in addition to 2 from Gamba (Higashiguchi and Ideguchi), so this match will give fans an excellent opportunity to see a number of J1’s top performers on the field together. Frontale legend Kengo Nakamura will retire at the end of this campaign at the age of 40 and it will be interesting to see in what direction current kantoku Toru Oniki takes his side after this ground-breaking year. Asian Champions League success is surely the most obvious target after being the dominant force in Japan in recent years, though both Kawasaki and Gamba must have a bit of trepidation over what lies in store having seen what’s happened to FC Tokyo, Marinos and Kobe this year. Oniki’s main weak point seems to be getting the best out of the foreign players at his disposal and I wonder if he could be a potential future Japan national team head-coach as he wouldn’t have to deal with that issue. Elsewhere, mercurial winger Kaoru Mitoma seems set for a move to Europe over the winter and one of the best things about JLeague, for me, is that Frontale aren’t going to go out and buy Olunga, Ideguchi, Mateus and Kiyotake in the off-season to make themselves much stronger, so the chasing pack will feel they have, at least, some chance of catching up in the coming years.
This is a Gamba blog, of course, so let’s have a brief look at them now. Last Sunday’s win took them onto 33 away points for the year (1 more than Frontale), their best performance since returning to J1 in 2014, The Nerazzurri are averaging a 1.64-0.93 scoreline on the road (Gamba’s away defensive performance and Kawasaki’s home record are identical so we may be in for a low scoring game here) and the come from behind display at Urawa was the second time they’ve overturned a deficit to win away in 2020 (Sendai 4-1 was the other). Indeed they’ve only trailed in 4 of their 14 road games this season, an excellent display all round. It has been a real team-effort this season from Gamba, nowhere more so than in attack where Usami notched his 6th goal of the year against Reds pulling him level with fellow strikers, Ademilson, Patric and Watanabe, that quartet’s combined total stands at 24, exactly equal to J1’s top marksman Michael Olunga. Perhaps the absence of Yosuke Ideguchi is the only one that Gamba don’t have any form of solution for as he is so comfortably head and shoulders above everyone else in that department. However, the Nerazzurri’s ability to go on a run of only 1 defeat in 14 matches while blooding a number of youngsters to cover injuries all over the field surely bodes well for the coming years.
Head to Head
Frontale edged out Gamba 1-0 in the battle between 1st and 2nd at Panasonic Stadium back on August 1st, a match in which both sets of players showed each other a great deal of respect. There have only been 4 goals in the 3 previous fixtures between these two at Todoroki Stadium, however, prior to that there was a bizarre 5-3 Frontale win in 2015 that, for some reason, I have no recollection of. All Gamba supporters will remember the 2016 game well though, as the Nerazzurri overcame an early 2-0 deficit to stun their hosts with 3 goals in 11 second-half minutes to claim ACL qualification on the final day of the season.
The injuries have been piling up for Gamba in recent weeks with captain Genta Miura’s 45 minute run out against Iwate Grulla Morioka in J3 on Sunday the only piece of positive news from the camp. As mentioned above, both Kosuke Onose and Hiroki Fujiharu had to leave the field with leg muscle injuries on Sunday putting huge question marks over their participation in this clash. Yuji Ono (knee surgery – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) are definitely out while there has been no information regarding star midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi’s continued absence. Fujiharu (if fit) and stand-in skipper Shu Kurata will play their last game as 31 year-olds here with Kurata (Thusday) and Fujiharu (Saturday) both approaching their 32nd birthdays.
Frontale captain Shogo Taniguchi will miss this game through suspension after his red card against Oita on Saturday, however, regular centre-back partner Jesiel returns after sitting that one out due to the accumulation of yellow cards. My source inside the Frontale camp tells me that ex-Cerezo utility player Kazuya Yamamura picked up a knock in the 1-1 draw with Kashima on November 14th and is a doubt for Wednesday night. Former Gamba man Akihiro Ienaga and backup midfielder Hokuto Shimoda have been absent from the matchday squad for the past 2 games, while promising young forward Taisei Miyashiro hasn’t featured in the last 3 outings, no injury has been reported in any of these cases. Experienced South Korean international stopper Jung Sung-ryong will make his 150th Kawasaki and J1 appearance in this match.
Predicted Line Ups
For the lineup below, I’ve assumed that Fujiharu, Onose and Ideguchi will all be missing. However, if Ideguchi or Onose are fit enough to play, then I expect them to do so, Fukuda will probably start ahead of Fujiharu regardless, with the latter on the bench if available. Genta Miura should be ready to go for this one, but I believe Miyamoto will stick with Kim and Shoji for consistency before bringing in Miura for Kim against Tosu on Sunday. In the midfield, I’ve selected Shuhei Kawasaki to make his first J1 start against his namesake team with Shu Kurata switching to the right flank. An alternative would be, Yajima on the right, Kurata on the left and Yamamoto and Okuno in the middle, Up front, Patric had a physical 90 minute battle with Thomas Deng on Sunday so could start this one on the pine with Watanabe coming in alongside Usami.
Jesiel will likely return from his ban in a straight switch at centre-back for regular captain Taniguchi who will turn his armband over to Ryota Oshima as he sits this one out suspended. Defensively Frontale don’t have many options other than the players I’ve selected, but further forward they have some amazing depth. Kengo Nakamura or Yasuto Wakizaka could fill one of the more advanced midfield roles while I’ve selected the same front 3 as started in the 1-0 win at Panasonic Stadium. Kobayashi for Leandro Damiao is one obvious switch, Mitoma, Hasegawa and also Manabu Saito, who didn’t make my matchday squad, are alternatives down the flanks.
A lot riding on this one, anything other than a defeat sees Kawasaki crowned champions. Gamba know that a Frontale title win is inevitable, but will do their utmost to stop it happening in this encounter. I don’t think there will be many goals, I could see a 1-0 in either direction. In the end though, I’ll call it as a 1-1 draw.