Shimizu S-Pulse vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 24
IAI Stadium Nihondaira, Shizuoka
Friday 13 August 2021
Kick Off: 19:00
No rest for the wicked as hot on the heels of bruising encounters on Monday night, both Gamba Osaka and Shimizu S-Pulse head into this Friday the 13th clash with a lot at stake.
The Nerazzurri will be smarting from their 2-1 defeat at the hands of a fired up Tokushima. Vortis outran, outfought and outplayed Gamba on their way to a deserved three points. Impressive Frontale loanee Taisei Miyashiro flicked home Ken Iwao’s free-kick for the opening goal before the excellent Kazuki Nishiya slammed in a close range volley to strike the killer blow in first-half stoppage time. Gen Shoji has since put his hand up to take responsibility for his error in the lead up to that goal, but in truth the men in blue and black had several chances to clear their lines and took none of them. Yuji Ono’s delicious through ball in additional time at the end of the game was dispatched by Tiago Alves for his first goal since his winter move from Tosu, but the ship had already sailed by that point and it ended 2-1 to the hosts. Ono’s cameo was the sole bright spot from a Gamba perspective, aside from that, the spectacular post-typhoon sky in Naruto pre kick-off and Tokushima’s beautiful summer kits were the only other positive memories I could take from this game.
Shimizu can enter Friday’s battle feeling pretty good about themselves following a hard-fought 2-2 home draw with Gamba’s conquerors in their previous match, Yokohama F. Marinos. Despite possessing the third weakest home record in the division, S-Pulse raced into an early lead when Eiichi Katayama tapped home Thiago Santana’s headed knock-down. Marinos hit back though, as Brazilian duo Marcos Junior and Élber found the back of the net, just as they had in Suita 3 days earlier, to flip the game on it’s axis. However, Kenta Nishizawa, more known for his excellent deliveries from wide areas, was the recipient on this occasion, finding himself in the right place to head Yusuke Goto’s cross low to Yohei Takaoka’s left, the Marinos number one made a rather weak effort at stopping it and the ball squirmed over the line. 2-2 the final score.
Gamba travel east one position and two points ahead of their hosts so expect a cagey affair here with neither side looking to give much away. Shimizu are only three points outside the drop-zone following victories for Tokushima and Kashiwa on Monday, Gamba are slightly better off with a five point cushion to 17th placed Shonan, but both teams will be content to win ugly here if it takes them closer to their aim of maintaining top flight status next season.
Tale of the Tape
A bit of a worrying trend for Gamba, as their summer of sweat and toil continues, is the fact that over the past 4 matches they’ve conceded a minimum of 1.67 xG per game while at the same time matching or exceeding that figure themselves only twice. It appears they are starting to receive a bit of payback for outperforming xG Against so comprehensively over the first half of the season.
Shimizu, as one might expect from a side coached by Miguel Ángel Lotina, are happy to sit back in a solid defensive shape, allowing their opponents plenty of the ball, biding their time before striking on the counter when the moment is right. It’s interesting to note that Oita (away) is the only time this year that they’ve enjoyed more ball possession than their opposition. I alluded to S-Pulse’s poor home form above, having only taken 11 points from as many games. A brief glance at the stats table below indicates that they actually perform better at the Nihondaira than away from it in almost all of the metrics shown except for, and this is the crucial part, actual goals scored and conceded. They underperform xG For by 0.27 goals per home game while conceding 0.52 more goals than their xG Against total per 90 minutes in Shizuoka. This compares with overall totals of -0.09 xG For and +0.22 xG Against. I hope I haven’t bored too many people with the maths there, the bottom line is, expect to see lots of Gamba possession on Friday, but don’t be surprised if Shimizu have the larger quantity and better quality of the chances created on the night.
Head to Head
I was able to get a ticket for the 0-0 draw between these two earlier in the year, played out on an unseasonably cold April evening and I’d have to say probably the highlight of the day was getting to see S-Pulse’s dynamic forward Akira Silvano Disaro’ (one of my favourite J2 players last year) warm up in front of me. Aside from that, Yota Sato made his senior debut at right-back, Usami and Ideguchi both struck the frame of Shuichi Gonda’s goal in the first half before the match descended into something of a snoozefest in the second period, becoming the third of Gamba’s four 0-0 draws to date in J1 2021.
The Nerazzurri have won on each of their last 3 trips to Shimizu, though they were certainly made to work hard for their victory 12 months ago. A flowing team move was finished off by Kosuke Onose to send Gamba into the sheds one up at the break. However, the men from Suita then had to withstand a 30 minute onslaught of S-Pulse pressure culminating in centre-back Yugo Tatsuta’s headed equaliser. The scores weren’t level for long though, as a Fujiharu run and cut back found Kazuma Watanabe and the veteran buried the ball past Togo Umeda in the home goal to ensure the 3 points went to Gamba.
With players being rotated and formations chopping and changing, it’s something of a fool’s game trying to predict Gamba starting elevens these days, but I’ve given it a shot below. The Nerazzurri started in a 3-5-2 against Tokushima with Okuno (right) and Onose (left) playing as wing-backs, Ju Se-jong anchored the midfield and had Kurata (right) and Yajima (left) ahead of him while Ichimi partnered Leandro Pereira in attack. There are three main points I want to make about the tactics used on Monday.
* As mentioned previously with my ‘fish out of water’ comments re Okuno at right wing-back, it’s not his position and he was cruelly exposed by the rampaging Kazuki Nishiya of Tokushima. Right centre-back Genta Miura was often dragged out of place as a result of through balls played into the gap between him and Okuno and the whole central defence was thrown into disarray as a result. I went deep on this topic with Sam Robson on the J Talk Podcast a few months ago following a 2-0 defeat to Nagoya when Kosuke Onose was selected at right-back, so this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.
* A midfield three with one holding player and two in more advanced positions leaves Gamba’s backline more exposed than playing (to use Japanese parlance) a double-volante system. This was shown under Miyamoto in 2019 and the early part of 2020 and it was on display again on Monday night as Masaki Watai, operating in the number 10 role, had a field day running directly at Ju Se-jong and the Gamba centre-backs.
* Unfortunately it seems that the more Kazunari Ichimi plays the less likely it appears that he will be at Gamba next year. He looked to be lacking in confidence on Monday night, was ponderous and indecisive in possession, and offered little in the way of attacking prowess. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him return to Kyoto, regardless of whether they’re in J1 or J2, in 2022.
**After writing this piece, it was announced (August 11) that Ichimi would be joining Tokushima on a full deal, they obviously saw things a bit differently to me! I know I’ve been critical of the player’s performance above, but I certainly wouldn’t say the same about his attitude or efforts, and I wish him all the best for the future. As an aside, expect to see Gamba bring in another Japanese forward before the transfer window closes on Friday, Vissel Kobe appear to be overloaded in that area and Noriaki Fujimoto is a former Gamba Junior and Junior Youth player.**
The only fresh piece of team news is Yosuke Ideguchi’s absence from the squad for the Vortis game. The central midfielder has only been seen once since the team returned from the ACL in Uzbekistan, a brief cameo in the home clash with Marinos, I guess he has suffered a flare up of whatever was keeping him out of action until last Friday. No update on Wellington Silva’s groin injury yet, but it’s unlikely he’ll feature here while Ryu Takao (ankle) is definitely out, as are, Jun Ichimori, Haruto Shirai and Shin Won-ho. The silence has been deafening regarding Yota Sato’s continuous absence since the ACL and there has been nothing on Yuya Fukuda or Dai Tsukamoto’s leg muscle injuries sustained in that tournament. If any of these players are approaching full fitness then expect to see them get an outing in next Wednesday’s (August 18) Emperor’s Cup tie at home to Matsumoto Yamaga.
**Update – Gamba’s official Instagram account on Wednesday 11 August showed Yuya Fukuda back in training with the first team.**
Predicted Lineups and Stats
After a brief flirtation with 4-3-3/4-5-1 at the start of the year and a couple of dabbles with a back 3, Spanish kantoku Miguel Ángel Lotina has now settled on a rigid 4-4-2 setup. Defence was a massive issue for S-Pulse across the 2019 and 2020 seasons where they conceded 2.03 and 2.06 goals per game respectively. The former Verdy and Cerezo boss has got that figure down to a more respectable 1.39 this term thanks largely to pre-season signings such as, goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda (Portimonense), centre-back Yoshinori Suzuki (Oita) and utility men Teruki Hara (Tosu) and Eiichi Katayama (Cerezo). Issues have crept up when these players have sustained injuries and last year’s backline has been called into action, but the rearguard has now been further bolstered by the summer capture of one of Lotina’s favourite lieutenants during his time at Ajinomoto Stadium, Akira Ibayashi (latterly of Hiroshima).
Central midfield has often been fingered as an area of concern during this campaign, with veteran Ryo Takeuchi generally being paired with the less experienced Kota Miyamoto which has met with mixed results. Again, in a bid to keep their head above water, Shimizu have looked to the transfer market for upgrades. Daiki Matsuoka, a rather surprising purchase from 3rd placed Sagan Tosu, made his debut in the 2-2 draw with Marinos while Ronaldo (not that one) will soon join him in the S-Pulse engine room, coming in from Flamengo. Swiss-born, Kosovo international winger Benjamin Kololli (FC Zurich) is another intriguing summer acquisition with a pretty decent pedigree.
Four players have left the Nihondaira on loan deals during the mid-season break. Long serving wide-man Shota Kaneko, whose flame burned brightly in 2018, but has since dimmed considerably, made a slightly controversial move to prefectural rivals Júbilo Iwata. Elsewhere, youngsters Hikaru Naruoka (Sagamihara) and Ibrahim Junior Kuribara (Suzuka) will aim to get valuable experience and minutes on the field, while the injury-cursed Hideki Ishige will hope to get his career back on track at Fagiano Okayama. Rarely used centre-back Naoya Fukumori is the only permanent departure of the summer, he joined Vegalta Sendai.
The club confirmed on Tuesday (August 10) that Brazilian winger Carlinhos Junior injured his right knee in the match against Kawasaki Frontale on July 17 and would be absent for around 6 weeks. Key centre-back Yoshinori Suzuki (fractured skull) has been missing for the past 6 matches, as have Elsinho and Keita Nakamura, though I haven’t seen any injury news about them. Central midfielder Renato Augusto is a long-term absentee and is currently doing rehabilitation after undergoing knee surgery. Katsuhiro Nakayama and Akira Silvano Disaro weren’t in the matchday squad for the Marinos game, I’m not sure if that was due to physical condition or non-selection. I’m unsure if either Ronaldo or Benjamin Kololli are in contention to play here as they may be lacking sharpness after having to go through 14 day quarantine periods upon arriving in Japan. Brazilian defenders Valdo and Elsinho both currently sit on 3 yellow cards apiece meaning a 1 match suspension looms the next time they are cautioned.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks again for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.