2021 J1 Season Round 2
Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 24 July 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
It’s game 3 of Gamba’s 15 match summer marathon and they will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing home loss to Kansai rivals Vissel Kobe on Wednesday night. The side from Hyogo became the first team since Oita Trinita way back on 10th November 2019 to come from behind to defeat the Nerazzurri. Victory for Gamba on Saturday would take them up to 15th, out of the relegation zone, above Kashiwa and Tokushima on goal difference.
I have a little vacation time this week so I’ve pieced together this mini-preview for your perusal (it was meant to be mini, but the mailbag section at the end is pretty long). If we return to relative normality in 2022 (ie not playing league games every 3 days) then this mini preview format (shamelessly stolen from JTET’s mini pods) is something I might look to move forward with. As always please let me know what you think, either on WordPress or on Twitter. Hope you enjoy the game whoever you’re supporting.
Tale of the Tape
Some small shoots of recovery for Gamba’s attack as they recorded a season high xG total against Vissel in midweek and have mustered 7 shots on target in each of their 2 fixtures since returning from the ACL, also their best efforts of 2021. Additionally they’ve found the back of the net in 10 of their last 11 games in all competitions, scoring more than once on 6 occasions. Takashi Usami has cut a frustrated figure in recent matches, coming agonisingly close to scoring against both Fukuoka and Kobe, Gamba supporters will be looking for him to break his goal drought soon (it stands at almost 2 months now). No such issues for Usami’s strike partner Patric who has netted 8 times in his last 8 outings.
I went deep on Kashima’s style of play in my full preview for the originally scheduled match back in March, despite a change in leadership, from Zago to Naoki Soma, a lot of it is still pretty relevant so please check it out here if you have the chance.
Gamba are unbeaten in their past 5 J1 encounters against Kashima. Antlers last success came in round 2 of the 2018 season when Levir Culpi’s Nerazzurri went down 1-0 at the Kashima Soccer Stadium thanks to Mu Kanazaki’s late winner for the home team.
Last year, only Tomoya Inukai’s stoppage time header in his side’s 1-1 home draw prevented Gamba doing the double over Zago’s charges. The Nerazzurri ran out 2-0 winners in Suita thanks to a Patric penalty and a late clincher from Kazuma Watanabe. Indeed it was one of only 4 victories (out of a total of 20) where Gamba won by more than a single goal in 2020.
With 3 more fixtures remaining in July and 8 to be played in the brutal heat of August (7 league and 1 Emperor’s Cup), rotation will be the order of the day for Gamba kantoku Masanobu Matsunami. Six changes were made between last Saturday’s win at Fukuoka and Wednesday’s loss at home to Kobe and I expect we’ll see something similar again. It’s interesting to note that this game is followed by a more winnable looking fixture against Oita on Tuesday night, so will Matsunami try to be cute and play for a draw here before going all guns blazing against Trinita? It would be a risky strategy for sure. My feeling is that it’s best to get points on the board as early as possible in order to haul Gamba away from the relegation scrap. This would have the dual benefits of relieving pressure on Gamba while in turn piling it onto teams like Oita, Sendai, Tokushima, Shimizu and Shonan.
The treatment room is busy as usual in Suita. Backup goalkeeper Jun Ichimori (shoulder) is still out, while wing-back / shadow forward Haruto Shirai and South Korean left wing-back Shin Won-ho are rehabilitating. No official announcement was made regarding which players tested positive for Covid upon returning to Japan from the ACL, but there’s been a pretty obvious Yosuke Ideguchi shaped hole in the midfield for the past 2 games. Elsewhere, Hiroki Fujiharu, Yuya Fukuda, Ryu Takao, Yuji Ono and Dai Tsukamoto all picked up knocks during the ACL group stage campaign, but aren’t expected to be out for too long. At present Onose and Kurokawa are the only fit wing-backs in the squad, so if Takao, Fujiharu or Fukuda are ready to go then they could start on Saturday. Fujiharu’s crossing ability has been sorely missed in his absence, I also don’t believe Matsunami has a lot of faith in Kurokawa, and the Kansai University graduate’s defending for Kobe’s winner in midweek will have done little to change his kantoku’s mind.
Milestones: Goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi will play his 250th J1 game for Gamba while Takashi Usami will make his 200th JLeague appearance for the Nerazzurri in this match.
Predicted Lineup and Stats
Perennial J1 giants Kashima come into this fixture in somewhat patchy form with 2 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats in their last 7 league outings leaving them in 8th spot on the ladder, although a win here, in their game in hand, would lift them above both FC Tokyo and Urawa on goal difference. This game will be Kashima’s first since losing 2-1 at Kashiwa Reysol on July 11th and they don’t play again until August 9th, so expect them to come out locked and loaded for this one.
Highly rated centre-back Koki Machida (a rumoured Celtic target) and former Hosei University forward Ayase Ueda (5 goals in 13 J1 games in 2021) are both in Japan’s Olympic squad and therefore unavailable. Backup goalkeeper Taiki Yamada is out for the year with a knee injury and rising star Ryotaro Araki has missed 2 out of Antlers 3 previous games. He appears to have a bright future ahead of him and it surely won’t be long before the Higashi Fukuoka graduate (same high school as Yuya Fukuda, Leo Takae and Seiya Maikuma) attracts some serious attention from European sides.
Predicted Lineup and Stats
A big thanks to those of you who submitted questions,
First up was Neil, @Swing_Kinker who asked,
“What is the feeling amongst fans in japan? I get the feeling they are rapidly getting frustrated. Without Patric it would be a disaster”
Blog Gamba: Thanks for your question Neil. There is definite frustration among the fans, though it has been tempered by the Covid outbreak earlier in the year and the brutal summer schedule. The majority of fans surely believe the current league position is unacceptable for a club of Gamba’s size and Miyamoto paid the price for that. Supporters in Japan generally tend to look at the longer term picture a bit more than maybe some fans in Europe do, and although there have been questions asked about Ikoma, the physical coach, due to regular injury pile ups and also speculation as to why no-one has been brought in yet during the summer window (especially a wing-back), no-one’s quite ready to start a riot at the team’s training ground just yet.
Things are slowly moving in the right direction and a few wins in the upcoming fixtures will start to allay relegation fears, allowing fans to look forward to the injured players returning, youngsters like Okuno, Tsukamoto and Kawasaki developing and hopefully a new coach coming on board with the goal of having Gamba back in the ACL by 2023.
Hope this answers your question Neil and enjoy the game!
Also Jezalenco, @JeremyWarren24 asked,
“Is there a Gamba player in particular that is being missed right now as a result of being injured. Like Fukuda, Ono or Tsukamoto? The line up predictions and updates you have been doing recently have been fantastic.”
Blog Gamba: First of all thank you for the compliment Jeremy and I’m glad you’ve been enjoying them, I enjoy doing them!
To answer your question, I’d definitely say Hiroki Fujiharu. He’s the best defensive left-back/wing-back at the club and as seen from his 2 crossed assists for Patric in the ACL, he’s the most consistent crosser out of himself, Fukuda and Kurokawa, especially when it comes to aerial crosses.
Regarding the injured players you mentioned, Fukuda hasn’t really kicked on since bursting onto the scene in mid-2019, he really needs to nail down a regular spot rather than continuing to be a jack-of-all-trades, Ono looked very sharp in the match against Chiangrai in the ACL, and then he picked up another injury, which has been the story of his career, while I’d like to see a fit-again Tsukamoto get a run in the right shadow position as he could prove to be better there than Ichimi and Yajima in the longer term, he definitely shouldn’t be played at wing-back again unless it’s an emergency. I hope this is what you were looking for Jeremy and please enjoy the game.
Tyler Bartels, @tbartels12 asked,
“Which youngsters have the best chance at an increased role moving forward? Shuhei, Tsukamoto and Okuno have all shown out well at times and seem to be on the cusp?”
Blog Gamba: Thanks very much for your question Tyler. Okuno appears to have the full faith of Matsunami and is developing nicely in central midfield, he seems to be first choice ahead of Yamamoto and Ju Se-jong at the moment. Tsukamoto has developed a lot physically since turning pro, but Kawasaki is a smarter and more technically gifted player who can hopefully build on the momentum he generated in the ACL. A quick shout out to two 3rd grade high school students who currently hold amateur (Type 2) contracts, Jiro Nakamura (right wing) and Isa Sakamoto (centre-forward), both looked good for the U23s in J3 and should be rewarded with pro contracts for 2022, look out for them in the near future! Hope you enjoy the game!
SoRare Gems, @GemsSorare asked,
“Is Masaaki Higashiguchi untouchable on the goalie? Also, if everyone was fit, what would be the starting two on the middle and in the flanks for Miyamoto?”
Blog Gamba: Thanks for your questions. The first part is very easy, yes at the moment Higashiguchi is untouchable. Jun Ichimori the backup is out injured and the other goalies in the squad, Ishikawa, Hayashi and Kato would struggle to start regularly in J2. Honestly, I’d expect Kosei Tani to stay on loan at Shonan for another 1-2 years before returning to take over the gloves from Higashiguchi.
For the second part, I assume you mean Masanobu Matsunami, Gamba’s current coach and not the dismissed Tsuneyasu Miyamoto. I believe if Gamba were playing one league game per week then his first choice with everyone fit would be,
Miura, Shoji, Kim
Onose, Ideguchi, Okuno, Fujiharu
Finally Piero, @Piccioh92 had a quick question about Gamba’s defensive set-up over the upcoming games.
Blog Gamba: With the threat of Everaldo looming large, I think Gamba will go for their strongest back 3 of (r-l) Miura, Shoji and Kim for this game before bringing in either or both Suganuma and Sato for the Oita game on Tuesday then possibly reverting to Miura, Shoji, Kim for Sapporo away on Friday. It should be noted that against Kobe, Shunya Suganuma played on the left of the back three with Kim in the middle. Ordinarily we’d have expected them to lineup the opposite way round, as they did in the 2nd half after the Suganuma/Kurokawa area of the field proved to be a weak point Vissel could exploit. Expect to see Suganuma in the middle or on the right of a back 3 next time he’s in action, he’ll also likely be saved for games against bottom half opponents rather than heavyweights like Kashima and Kobe.
Thanks to everyone for your questions, I wasn’t sure I’d get any to be honest, so receiving 5 was great. That’s it for the preview, enjoy the game and let me know how you think it’s going to go!