Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu
J1 2020 Round 30
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Sunday 29 November 17:00
Last Time Out
Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka
Gamba slumped to their worst league result since 2012 as they were blown out of the water by a rampant Kawasaki Frontale on Wednesday night. The home side’s 5-0 triumph saw them lift the J1 title, their 3rd in 4 years, with 4 games to spare.
The Nerazzurri made just one change to their lineup from the 2-1 win at Urawa 3 days previously with Yuya Fukuda replacing the injured Kosuke Onose on the right-wing, while Hiroki Fujiharu, sporting strapping on his left leg, was surprisingly fit enough to start. Frontale began slowly, but once they got going they were simply unstoppable. Perhaps the most painful thing about the whole experience, from a Gamba perspective, was that the torturer-in-chief was one of our own, 34 year-old Akihiro Ienaga, who helped himself to a hat-trick (wonder if his name will get so much applause next time it’s read out at Panasonic Stadium?). Leandro Damiao opened the scoring just before the first half drinks break following a pinpoint cross from Kyohei Noborizato, but it was Ienaga’s double either side of half-time that killed the game off as a contest. Gamba threw on some of their youngsters late on and were picked off easily on the break with Ienega grabbing the 4th and Manabu Saito rubbing salt into the gaping wounds in the final minute of normal time.
Again, with the season Gamba have had and the injuries that have built up, it’s difficult to be overly critical. Unlike the Sendai game, here the Nerazzurri were simply up against superior opposition. Sure, a week’s rest in advance and a fully fit Ideguchi may have brought the score down to a more respectable 2 or 3 goal deficit, but the gulf in quality between these two sides, and indeed between Frontale and the rest of J1 is clear for all to see.
I wanted to finish this section by taking a minute to congratulate Kawasaki on their title win. It’s been comfortably the most dominant display I’ve seen by a J1 side since I started following Japanese football back in 2012. To dismantle your nearest rivals, Gamba (5-0), Cerezo (5-2), FC Tokyo (4-0) and Nagoya (3-0), as easily as they’ve done has just been phenomenal. Gamba didn’t lose to them on Wednesday through a lack of effort, they were totally outclassed by Frontale’s pressing, accurate passing, vision, movement and work-rate, it honestly looked like they had at least 12 players on the pitch for most of the match. Kawasaki have set a new standard for how good a JLeague side can be, the chasing pack must now pick up the baton and aim for those heights….let the chase begin.
Viewer discretion is advised for any Gamba supporters who choose to watch the ‘highlights’ below.
Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu Match Lowdown
Let’s start with the positives, despite Wednesday night’s thrashing Gamba still lie in 2nd place in the league and don’t have to play anyone higher than 14th in their remaining 4 fixtures. They currently sit 3 points clear of nearest challengers Nagoya in 3rd with both clubs having played 30 matches. City rivals Cerezo, as well as Kashima Antlers are 6 points behind, the Cherry Blossoms have a game in hand while Antlers have played an extra match. Realistically 3 wins from 4, starting with this one, would lead the Nerazzurri to their highest league finish since 2015.
Now to a bit of the ugly. Following the farce against Frontale I decided to dig up some horror results from Gamba’s recent past. The last time the men from Suita conceded 5 in a league match was actually also at Todoroki back in 2015, a 5-3 defeat which I conceded I could remember nothing about in my previous match preview. A 4-0 hiding at Hiroshima in the first post-2018 World Cup match (Levir Culpi’s penultimate game in charge) and an identical battering away at Urawa in 2016 stand out from the post treble-winning era. However, for wacky results, pride of place must go to the 2012 campaign in which Gamba endured a shock relegation to J2, finishing 17th despite 7 top 3 places in the previous 8 seasons. In that year of all years, the Nerazzurri suffered a 5-0 pasting at Kashima and a 6-2 drubbing at home to Kashiwa. There were no shortage of highlights though, with 4-0 (a) and 7-2 (h) wins over Sapporo and 5-0 routs of Nagoya and Urawa (both away)…what a crazy year that one was!
Back to a little bit of positivity now and then we’ll take a look at our visitors Sagan Tosu in just a moment. After Gamba complete this fixture, they have 7 days break before another visit to Kanto, where they’ll face Shonan Bellmare (16th) shorn of their on-loan ‘keeper and future Gamba #1 Kosei Tani. Next will come a much needed 10 day rest owing to having already played Vissel Kobe due the Hyogo-based side’s involvement in the Asian Champions League. The Nerazzurri finish the campaign with my schedule’s least favourite combination of matches, Wednesday night / Saturday afternoon, Yokohama FC (15th – away) on December 16th and Shimizu S-Pulse (18th home) on the 19th. A top 2 spot of course means elevation to the Emperor’s Cup semi-final, a quick chance to gain revenge on Kawasaki and the opportunity to lift silverware for the first time since 2015. To do all of that they have 2 remaining games at home and 2 away and Gamba are one of a surprisingly high 9 J1 sides to take more points on the road this year than in their own backyard. They are still J1’s best away side with 33 points from 15 matches, but 6 home defeats leaves them within touching distance of the 7 they’ve suffered over the preceding 2 years combined (remember that includes the Levir Culpi era!). It’s not all bad news at home though, before playing Shun Nagasawa and co. into form in their previous match at Panasonic Stadium, Gamba had gone 6 unbeaten in Suita with 5 wins and 1 draw, so they’ll be hoping to rekindle that spirit for their 2 remaining encounters at Panasonic Stadium.
Sagan Tosu enter this match in 14th spot in the standings and if you cast your eyes back to pre-season, you’ll remember many punters, including myself, had them finishing rock-bottom, so we can say it’s been a season of modest achievement for J1’s most poorly funded club. A solid rearguard has set the tone for their campaign and they’ve actually conceded 1 goal fewer than Gamba, albeit in 1 less game (Gamba shipping 10 in their last 3 not helping with that stat). Tosu have the best defensive record among all the bottom half sides, however, only Shonan (26 goals in 30 games) have a poorer attack. The Kyushu sides’ form has been very patchy throughout the year, the 1-0 home reverse to Sendai on Wednesday was preceded by a 7 match unbeaten run (2 wins and 5 draws), but that, in turn, followed a run of 7 losses in 9 games as the fixtures piled up following their August Covid cluster.
Tosu need to take 7 points from their remaining 5 games, Gamba (a), Yokohama FC (a), Kawasaki Frontale (h) (if anyone’s going to put them in their place it’ll be Tosu), Cerezo (a) and a Kyushu derby at home to Oita, to equal last season’s points total, which may be a tough ask. However, with the financial cuts they’ve made this year, by all rights they should be much worse than they are and credit must go to Kim Myung-hwi (potentially questionable pre-Covid cluster behaviour aside) for the job he’s done on a shoestring. They currently average 1.03 goals per game in 2020 compared with a meagre 0.94 last season and the improvement has been even more marked at the back as they are letting in 1.28 a game this year versus 1.56 in 2019. Brazilian Eduardo who joined from relegated Matsumoto Yamaga has been a real leader at the back and the recent addition of Yokohama F.Marinos ‘keeper Park Il-gyu on loan has also helped greatly, so Gamba will be fully aware of the tough challenge that awaits them in trying to unlock the Tosu defence on Sunday evening.
Looking ahead, Sagan’s finances will continue to be a cause for concern, though they did announce a new sponsorship deal recently which will hopefully give them a fresh injection of cash. They managed to offload high-earner Mu Kanazaki to Nagoya on loan earlier in the year, but his recent knee injury must be a worry as Tosu won’t want his contract to potentially become an albatross around their neck if they can’t find a potential suitor. Game-maker Riki Harakawa, a rare example of a Sagan player who’s in the prime of his career, has been linked with a number of J1 sides and Cerezo seem to be in pole position for his signature. Elsewhere, bright talents like Daiki Matsuoka, Ryoya Morishita, Teruki Hara and the man I bigged up on my J-Talk debut, Fuchi Honda, must be gathering admiring glances from rival teams. In Tosu’s favour is their generally excellent youth system through which they’ve already produced the likes of Matsuoka, Honda and Kaisei Ishii. Shinya Nakano is a 2nd grade high school student who performed superbly at left-back in the 2-1 win at Kashiwa last weekend, while 2 other Tosu Youth members, forwards Reoto Kodama and Ryunosuke Sagara (who made his J1 debut vs Sendai on Wednesday) will turn pro in 2021, as will Chuo University defender Daisuke Matsumoto, who is on a designated special player contract this year. With the coffers running close to empty and 4 teams to be relegated to J2 at the end of next season, Sagan will need to hope their youth system continues to churn out talents like these.
Head to Head
As seen in the table below, Tosu have lost on every occasion they’ve visited Panasonic Stadium on league business and have failed to find the back of the net on their 3 previous trips to Suita. Indeed, they’ve only ever won one league game away to Gamba in their shortish J1 history, a 3-2 victory in their first ever visit to the old Expo 70’ Memorial Stadium back in May 2012. The Nerazzurri actually haven’t lost a JLeague fixture at home to a Kyushu side since V-Varen Nagasaki’s 2-1 triumph in J2 all the way back in September 2013. I was there for the last Gamba senior team game at Expo 70’ Memorial Stadium, a 3-1 victory over Sagan in an Emperor’s Cup quarter-final in 2015 (Gamba went on to lift the trophy that year) and Tosu were also the opposition for my first ever J1 game at Panasonic Stadium in Golden Week 2018, an ultimately comfortable 3-0 home win, a rare experience during the short-lived Levir Culpi era.
Yuji Ono (knee – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) are both definitely out of this game while right-winger Kosuke Onose must be a huge doubt after leaving the field with a leg muscle injury in the first-half of last week’s 2-1 win at Urawa. Left-back Hiroki Fujiharu had his left thigh strapped up against Reds, but was fit enough to play against Frontale in midweek, it may be asking a bit too much of him to feature in this game though. Yosuke Ideguchi’s bite has been missing from midfield since he got injured in training on November 9th, there is still no word on when he’s expected to return. Club captain Genta Miura played 45 minutes as an overage player for the U23s in J3 last Sunday, but didn’t make the matchday squad for the Kawasaki game, it’s unclear whether or not he will return to the fold on Sunday.
Veteran centre-back / midfielder Hideto Takahashi (who is set to be Kazuma Watanabe’s team-mate at Yokohama FC next year) injured his elbow in the 3-0 home win over FC Tokyo on September 27th and hasn’t featured since while former Gamba Youth left-back Yuto Uchida was subbed off against Nagoya Grampus on November 3rd and is yet to return. Brazilian winger / forward Tiago Alves’ injury hit campaign continued when he damaged his foot against Kashiwa last week (November 21st). Forwards, Cho Dong-geon and Kaisei Ishii (a player bigger teams may be sniffing around) haven’t been in the matchday squad for the past 2 games with no injuries reported. Elsewhere, in the, are they injured? / have they just been dropped? category, on-loan Kashiwa defender / midfielder Park Jeong-su (a player known mostly for failing upwards) was last seen as an unused sub against S-Pulse on October 18th, Yoshiki Takahashi has made just 4 appearances (1 start) in J1 this year and last featured against Shonan (a) on October 21st, Uruguayan striker Renzo Lopez’s last sighting was as an unused sub in that same game while South Korean winger An Yong-woo was removed at half-time in the 3-0 loss at Hiroshima back on October 3rd and has been absent ever since. Promising young holding midfielder Daiki Matsuoka is set to make his 50th J1 appearance in this game and with his current career trajectory, it’s unlikely he’ll make too many more for Tosu.
Predicted Line Ups
It’s unclear whether Miyamoto will make sweeping changes to the side following Wednesday’s humiliation or if he’ll back his walking wounded one more time. I’ve assumed that Miura, Ideguchi and Onose won’t make it and Fujiharu won’t be fit enough to start, however, any of these names would likely come in to the eleven if fitness allows. Up top, I’ve perhaps over-optimistically gone for Shoji Toyama when Watanabe is more likely to partner Usami. I’ve also opted for Kohei Okuno in midfield as Yajima and Yamamoto are too similar in my opinion and Okuno is best placed to provide some of the grunt that’s been lost due to Ideguchi’s ongoing absence.
I’ve gone with the assumption that as they’ve been playing high school kids on type-2 contracts recently, Sagan can’t have too many fit options outside those who started on Wednesday night. 17 year-old Shinya Nakano has been starting ahead of Ohata and may continue to do so here, while it’s possible on-loan Kobe centre-back Daiki Miya could come in alongside Eduardo with Hara switching to right-back. Takeshi Kanamori can play on either wing or as a centre-forward while 38 year-old veteran Ryang Yong-gi is a possibility in the midfield engine room if Matsuoka is shifted elsewhere in the lineup.
This is likely to be my first live J1 game of the year and I’m in optimistic mood. Kawasaki are head and shoulders above the rest of J1 so I’m counting on Wednesday’s result having no bearing here. The home faithful, including myself, will be looking for a response and I’m backing on Gamba to provide it in the form of a 2-0 win.