Gamba Osaka vs FC Tokyo
2021 J1 Season Round 25
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 21 August 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
Gamba’s Summer Expo is back for the first time since 2019 so you may notice the home side wearing a different shade of blue than usual and the 5,000 fans permitted inside the Panasonic Stadium will each receive a free commemorative t-shirt which has earned some rather mixed reviews so far, please make your own minds up on that. 2014 Gamba treble winning coach Kenta Hasegawa’s FC Tokyo side are the visitors for what should hopefully be an entertaining and keenly contested match.
You may have heard me and other members of the Gamba Twitterati prattling on about a young lad called Hiroto Yamami. Well, he is certainly someone who knows how to make a first impression. His entrance to the J1 arena had me waxing lyrical with comparisons to Kaoru Mitoma and Wayne Rooney spewing out left, right and centre. Introduced at the expense of Shu Kurata 76 minutes into Friday’s match at a wet and windy Nihondaira Stadium in Shizuoka, Yamami wasted no time in acquainting himself with Japan’s number 1 ‘keeper, Shuichi Gonda in the S-Pulse goal. Ignoring the supporting Leandro Pereira and Usami to his left, the Kwansei Gakuin University senior brought out a nice stop from the 22 times capped stopper with a powerful right foot shot from outside the area. However, his pièce de résistance came after 82 minutes when he coolly plucked Yuji Ono’s long ball out of the air with his right foot, turned inside Eiichi Katayama and fired an unstoppable left foot rocket across Gonda, dipping viciously into his top-right corner for the winning goal. Gamba fans had waited patiently all week for news of a transfer window replacement for the Tokushima-bound Kazunari Ichimi, after hearing nothing and the clock getting close to 21:00 on deadline day, Yamami announced his entrance to the top flight for all to see. 1-0 Gamba and a season high position of 12th the reward.
So far, so positive from a Gamba standpoint, but now we need to talk about their dismal home form. 18 of the Nerazzurri’s 29 points accumulated to date have come on the road, a trend which mirrors 2020, only the divide between results in and out of Suita has become more pronounced. Three vital home wins over, Tokushima, Yokohama FC and Oita, have been countered by reverses against Kawasaki, Marinos, Kashima, Kobe, Urawa and Hiroshima. Notice a trend there? That’s right, the strongest team Gamba have beaten at Panasonic Stadium this year is 16th place Tokushima while they’ve taken just a solitary point from six home clashes with sides currently in the top 10. The men in blue and black really do need to turn things up a notch, or ten, in front of their own supporters, hopefully beginning on Saturday.
FC Tokyo arrive in Osaka for their 5th away match on the spin with kantoku Kenta Hasegawa starting to feel the hotseat become a touch warmer following a run of 3 league games without a win. After this encounter, the Gasmen have two ties of their epic summer road trip remaining before returning to Ajinomoto Stadium against Kashiwa Reysol on September 12 (they do have a home Levain Cup quarter final vs Sapporo to play before that). Some, of a blue and black persuasion, with fond memories of Hasegawa’s time in Suita, may feel the pressure is a touch harsh given FC Tokyo can be found 8th in the J1 standings, only 6 points off 3rd place with 14 rounds still to go. This is certainly a better situation than the capital club found itself in during most of the decade prior to Hasegawa’s arrival, so in some ways he could be considered a victim of his own success and rather like his time in Gamba, his motivational tactics and ideas might have a certain shelf-life which may be close to expiring at Ajinomoto Stadium?
Sparks usually fly when these two meet on the field, Gamba know a win here will take them to within 3 points of their visitors and put them right in the mix for a top half finish, while FC Tokyo will be determined to arrest their mini-slump and kick on towards hopefully booking a spot in next season’s edition of the ACL.
Tale of the Tape
I mentioned on the J Talk Podcast prior to Gamba’s return from the ACL that ‘draws are not your friend in this situation’ and those have proven to be sage words. The Nerazzurri have won 5 and lost 4 since returning to Japanese soil, earning 15 points at 1.67 points per game (ppg) which compares with only 0.93 ppg before heading off to Uzbekistan. This contrast can also be seen in average goals per game which stood at 0.47 for, 0.93 against in the early part of the year, but has since shot up to 1.22/1.00 over the past 9 fixtures.
As we know, things have been pretty solid defensively all year, and the shutout win over Shimizu last Friday was the men from Suita’s 10th in just 24 league fixtures in 2021, 2 better than last season and just 1 shy of the figure from 2019. Improvements can also be seen in attack with Gamba scoring 7 times in their last 5 outings from an xG total of 7.63 which is a huge upgrade in efficiency compared with the beginning of the season. At the back, 5 goals have been surrendered off 8.87 xG over the same time period, though it should be noted that 4 of the 5 matches in question took place away from home.
A look at their stats table below shows FC Tokyo to be a very Jekyll and Hyde outfit which must surely drive their supporters to distraction. Their season to date can roughly be split into three thirds, rounds 1-8 which I’ve titled ‘solid start,’ rounds 9-17 ‘very ropey apart from random rout of Kashiwa’ and finally rounds 18-24 ‘O Tridente reunited, but shaky defence threatens to steal their thunder.’
FC Tokyo are not a team big on possession, expect them to use the pace of Adailton, a player who has been a thorn in Gamba’s side in the past, in tandem with compatriot Leandro to wreak havoc on the counter attack as they did last week at the Sapporo Dome, and indeed last year in this very fixture. In 3 carefully selected away games from earlier in this campaign against Urawa (round 1), Kashima (13) and Shimizu (16), the Gasmen produced a combined total of just 0.78xG For, Gamba will certainly be hoping it’s that kind of night on offence for FC Tokyo come Saturday. At the other end, the capital side will aim to have their 2 holding midfielders protect their backline a bit better than they did against Consadole last week, though the vast gulf between Sapporo and Gamba’s attacking philosophies could render any analysis of the catalysts for last week’s defensive slopiness largely redundant.
Head to Head
FC Tokyo ran out 1-0 winners, thanks to Diego Oliveira’s strike in the opening minute, of the clash at Ajinomoto Stadium back in May. The game, Matsunami’s second in temporary charge, was largely uneventful after that, however, the same can’t be said for the two ties played out between these sides in 2020, with neither passing without incident.
First, Gamba welcomed FC Tokyo to Panasonic Stadium and gave up an early lead when good Tokyo pressing forced an error and eventually the ball found it’s way to, that man Diego Oliveira, who coolly lofted into an unguarded net from 25 yards. Takashi Usami hit back with a fierce drive from outside the box that Akihiro Hayashi between the sticks for FC Tokyo may feel he should have done better with. Then the fun really started, as in the fifth minute of additional time at the end of the first half, Hiroki Fujiharu had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside, with no VAR in place to reverse the decision. The Gasmen took full advantage of their good fortune and sealed the game with 2 devastating second-half counters, the first culminating in a soft, but ultimately correct handball decision against the sliding Kim Young-gwon, Leandro making no mistake from the spot. The third member of O Tridente then sealed the deal as Gamba were forced to chase the game, lost possession and a flowing move was finished off by Adailton, 3-1 the final score.
Gamba gained a modicum of revenge at a flooded Ajinomoto Stadium in what could better be described as a game of water polo rather than a football match. Ademilson’s penultimate goal for the Nerazzurri, from the penalty spot, following an extremely harsh point-blank handball decision against Hirotaka Mita, was the only mark on the scoresheets as Gamba continued their charge up the standings. The action didn’t end there though as Leandro escaped censure for hitting Yuki Yamamoto in the face in an unsavoury off-the-ball incident around 15 minutes after he appeared to aim an elbow at Kim Young-gwon’s chin before thinking better of it. The Brazilian was handed a 3 match ban following a league investigation in the aftermath and the match officials probably breathed a sigh of relief that he sent his late free kick just wide.
I felt genuinely aggrieved after FC Tokyo’s 3-1 win in Suita last summer, but on further reflection, across the two games, both sets of fans had good reason to question some of the officials’ decision making. I would probably make the case that had each of these matches been officiated correctly, then they would have ended up as draws, leaving Gamba and FC Tokyo with 2 points apiece, as it was they got 3, so we can’t complain too much, can we?
After making ten changes to the team that defeated S-Pulse, Gamba were taken to extra-time in their round 3 Emperor’s Cup tie at home to Matsumoto on Wednesday, ultimately prevailing 2-0 thanks to Ko Yanagisawa’s first goal for the club and Yosuke Ideguchi’s clincher on his return to the starting lineup. It was a good run out for several players short on match fitness, though Matsunami would surely have preferred Usami, Pereira and Onose to play fewer minutes than they ended up doing.
As mentioned above, Yamami-mania has swept through the Gambaverse, as the diminutive youngster, who turned 22 earlier in the week, was the talk of social media and has presented me with an Usami vs Yamami 2022 uniform selection dilemma. The Nerazzurri faithful are currently salivating over the mouth-watering prospect of Usami, Silva and Yamami in the same team, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, how can the dream become reality? I, for one, am looking forward to getting the answer. Yamami sat out the Emperor’s Cup tie versus Matsumoto as he played for Kwansei Gakuin against Gamba in the previous round and the question on every Nerazzurri fans’ lips is, will he get a first start here?
Yosuke Ideguchi, Yota Sato and Shin Won-ho all retuned to action against Matsumoto, though I wouldn’t expect to see either Sato or Shin in the squad for this game, as they are backups, while Ideguchi played 110 minutes on Wednesday so will likely be a sub, at best. Patric has missed the past 3 fixtures, he’s believed to have a small injury, and similar to Ideguchi, I don’t expect him to start here. The club confirmed what everyone who watched Gamba vs Yokohama F. Marinos could see (no I’m not banging on about the Thiago Martins incident again), Wellington Silva has a right groin injury. No return date was given, and I don’t expect we’ll get one, so it’s a case of wait and see. Ryu Takao will be out for a while yet with his ankle problem, Yuya Fukuda is understood to be in training, but his absence on Wednesday suggests he’s well short of match fitness and Dai Tsukamoto’s thigh injury continues to keep him on the sidelines. Jun Ichimori and Haruto Shirai are long-term casualties.
Predicted Lineup and Stats
FC Tokyo ended up 6th in the 2020 standings, comfortably better than fellow ACL sides Yokohama F. Marinos (9) and Vissel Kobe (14). Buoyed by their Levain Cup success and keeping the majority of last season’s squad intact, they would have expected to push on and challenge at the very top this year, as they did in 2019. That hasn’t happened and the reasons why are very much a hot topic these days. On the one hand you have the devastating O Tridente attacking dynamos of Leandro, Adailton and, one of my personal favourite opposition strikers, Diego Oliveira. You also have an excellent youth system delivering talents such as Go Hatano, Kashif Bangunagande, Manato Shinada, Takuya Uchida and Shuto Abe. On the flip side of the coin, the balance of the team seems a little off. In my predicted lineup below, just one player (Junya Suzuki) is aged between 25 and 29, so you are left with a side made up of, up-and-comers and slightly over-the-hill veterans, maybe that partly explains their inconsistency?
My second, perhaps more controversial theory, (please hear me out FC Tokyo fans, I come in peace, honestly), speaking as a Gamba fan, last season FC Tokyo were the least nice opponents we faced. Leandro, rightly or wrongly, steals a lot of the negative headlines, but I felt Tokyo were very physical, there was off the ball stuff going on and the referee was getting plenty of advice from both the players on the field and Kenta and co on the sidelines. Not all of this should be taken as an insult by any means, to get to the top of the pile in football, it may be necessary to become well-versed in some of the darker arts of the game. Gamba, for example, dished out more than their fare share of punishment in the away fixture, Kim Young-gwon leading the charge (I don’t believe for one minute that you play centre-back for your country at 2 World Cups and don’t have more than a few tricks up your sleeve). Back to my original train of thought, in 2020 Leandro was a ring-leader, but so too, in my view, were, Joan Oumari, Arthur Silva and Yojiro Takahagi. What do all 4 have in common other than that? They’ve all either been loaned out or reduced to bit-part player status for most or all of the season. Could removing those prepared to do the dirty work be a factor in creating the soft underbelly ruthlessly exposed by Sapporo last week?
These are just some outsiders opinions on what’s going on at FC Tokyo, I’m certainly not trying to have a dig at a side who, let’s remember, are 6 points better off than the Nerazzurri. You could argue they missed a trick not bringing in a Daiki, Matsuoka or Kaneko in the off-season and you may question the absence of big-name Brazilian acquisition Bruno Uvini, but don’t forget this is a quality outfit, packed full of talent ,who present a very real threat to Gamba on Saturday night.
Diego Oliveira was a surprising omission from the FC Tokyo team-sheet last week and Kenta Hasegawa would only confirm that he had an injury, but didn’t expand. Right-back Hotaka Nakamura’s knee problem is likely to keep him out until October, Takuya Uchida’s season is done after hurting his shoulder, Kazuya Konno did his knee ligaments and will be back next year and former number 1 Akihiro Hayashi is undergoing a lengthy rehab program after also suffering a serious knee injury. Central midfielder Shuto Abe is on 3 yellow cards so a caution in this match would see him pick up a one game suspension.
Predicted Lineup and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.