Gamba Osaka vs Cerezo Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 27
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 28 August 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
Quick Note – By the time you read this article, Cerezo boss Levir Culpi may have been relieved of his duties by the club. I decided not to tamper with the original text because, A – it would take forever to alter all the Culpi references, and B – a lot of it is still pretty relevant. So, please sit back, relax and enjoy my ‘ingenious’ foresight that a shocking run of results culminating in a 5-1 home defeat by relegation haunted opposition may put a manager under pressure. Oh, and have any FC Tokyo supporters suggested Kenta Hasegawa as a potential replacement yet?
The stage is set and the battle lines have been drawn for the second Osaka Derby of 2021. Gamba and Cerezo are set to become familiar foes over the next few days, first locking horns in this league clash before their Levain Cup quarter-final double-header on September 1st (Yodoka Sakura Stadium) and 5th (Panasonic Stadium). Just a quick reminder with regards to this blog, I only write cup previews if Gamba reach the final of the Levain Cup or the semi-finals of the Emperor’s Cup (I’ve got to to take a break sometime, you know!) However, next week I am planning to open the floor to questions and will hopefully have some answers to post around September 3rd, keep an eye out on Twitter for more information.
Just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for both Osaka clubs on Wednesday night. Ten-man Gamba were humbled 3-1 at bottom club Yokohama FC, while Cerezo said “hold my pint” and got pummeled 5-1 at home by Shonan Bellmare in one of the most shocking results of the year. The Cherry Blossoms and the Nerazzurri enter this Osaka Derby level on 30 points apiece, though Cerezo have the better goal difference and also, importantly, a game in hand. The gap between both teams and the drop zone currently stands at 7 points, so no imminent danger, but, with the pink half of Osaka winning just one of their last thirteen league outings, and the hiding from Bellmare fresh in everyone’s minds, the pressure really is on Brazilian kantoku Levir Culpi.
There you have it, two teams from the same prefecture, both coming off embarrassing midweek outings, both disappointing down in mid-table after excellent 2020 campaigns, both with under-performing players and under-fire coaches, who will take the bull by the horns and write themselves into Osaka Derby folklore this Saturday night?
Tale of the Tape
Consider that Cerezo lost their last league match 5-1 at home to Shonan, now look at the key stats for that game in the table below and you might wonder why I put so much faith in the statistical analysis of football. Levir Culpi must be tearing out what little hair he has left (I’m balding and Culpi’s older than my parents so I can make that joke, ok!!) at his side’s inability to convert xG dominance into victories. As stated above, the Cherry Blossoms have just a solitary win from their last thirteen fixtures yet they’ve exceeded their opponent’s xG in ten of those contests. At present, they average 1.4 goals conceded per game compared with the Lotina/Jonjić-era elite defence which gave up just 1.09 last year and a league leading 0.74 in 2019. Culpi is a much more attack-oriented coach than Lotina, so how do offensive stats shape up? In 2021, the Cherry Blossoms are scoring at a clip of 1.36 per match, which is almost identical to last season’s 1.35 and a decent improvement on the 1.14 two years ago. Clearly there’s been a steady shift from the ultra-defensive 2019 campaign to what we have now, a team trying to break out of it’s shell, but struggling to calibrate. In recent matchdays it appears Cerezo are able to attack well, but can’t simultaneously bolt the door shut, then when they do keep things tight at the back, they are unable to build up enough of a head of steam to penetrate (thanks S-Pulse) opposition rearguards. Can Culpi solve this conundrum? His job will very much be in jeopardy if he can’t.
I don’t have a whole lot to say about Gamba in this section other than while Cerezo vs Shonan was clearly a statistical outlier, the men in blue and black generated exactly 1.0 xG and scored 1 goal against Yokohama FC, so my faith in numbers is partially restored. All joking aside, the Nerazzurri are one of the biggest under-performers compared to xG For, and an extreme over-performer in regards to xG Against. A large part of this could be down to the sheer amount of rotational switches made from game to game as a result of the club’s fixture backlog. Hopefully we’ll start to see more consistent patterns emerge following the international break next month when the league schedule calms down a heck of a lot, which will be manna from heaven for blog writers like me!
Head to Head
The first Osaka Derby of 2021 in May unfortunately had to be held with no supporters in Nagai Stadium due to a state of emergency being in place at the time. Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s penultimate match in charge of the Nerazzurri was decided by two penalties, one missed by Cerezo, and the other scored by Gamba. Yuya Fukuda was rather harshly punished for a first-half handball and this gave Yuta Toyokawa the chance to put his side ahead from the spot. However, the former Kashima and Okayama forward saw his well-struck effort cannon off the post. It looked like that miss wouldn’t prove costly when substitute Motohiko Nakajima put the Cherry Blossoms in front with just 16 minutes remaining. No such luck for Cerezo though, Patric stayed cool and buried his penalty past Kim Jin-hyeon following another contentious handball decision. The hard-fought 1-1 draw earned Miyamoto a brief stay of execution before Kawasaki brought the curtain down on his near three year reign six days later.
Both 2020 editions of the derby were just as keenly contested. The first of the two was played at an empty Panasonic Stadium in early July, immediately following the league’s resumption after the four month Covid-enforced hiatus. Cerezo left-back Yusuke Maruhashi was the star of the show, cutting back for Hiroaki Okuno to slot home the opener, before slamming a goal of the season contender past Masaaki Higashiguchi early in the second half. Ademilson set up a nervy finish, converting a spot kick after Yasuki Kimoto handled in the area, but it ended 2-1 to the Cherry Blossoms, their first away league win at Gamba since 2003. The reverse fixture was another physical 1-1 draw, very similar to this year’s encounter. Yosuke Ideguchi drew first blood for the Nerazzurri, but Yuta Toyokawa levelled shortly after. Neither team were able to add to their tally after the interval, though Hiroshi Kiyotake almost delivered his own magical Osaka Derby moment, sending his bicycle kick just wide in second-half stoppage time.
Let’s Talk About Centre-Backs – A back three has been the order of the day for Gamba on-and-off since early 2019. With Genta Miura, Gen Shoji and Kim Young-gwon essentially un-droppable there is no other way for a Gamba coach to set up the team. Miura can play right-back, but Takao and Yanagisawa are far better options. It’s been mooted in the past that Kim Young-gwon possesses the skills to play as a deep-lying playmaker, yet he’s still untested in that role, and there’s always the fear it could go the same way as the Masato Morishige experiment at FC Tokyo. With all this in mind, I wonder if Gamba’s new kantoku, whoever that may be, could be willing to part with one of the holy trinity in order to focus on building the team around the potentially explosive 2022 offence? From left to right, Wellington Silva, Takashi Usami and Hiroto Yamami playing just behind Felipe Vizeu, with Patric coming of the bench for the final twenty. Anyone else’s mouth watering?
While we’re on the subject of centre-backs, Yota Sato was given a straight red-card for hauling down Maguinho in first-half stoppage time on Wednesday night. Sato is in his first season as a pro and arrived highly rated from Meiji University, however, I have real concerns about how he’s being managed. Of course Gamba have had to rotate, but centre-back is a role where it takes time to build up understanding with the players around you and throwing Sato in cold every 7-8 games isn’t really giving him a fair shake, is it? He hasn’t looked particularly brilliant any time I’ve seen him, but when you consider he made his first two senior starts out of position at right-back, the second of which was against Kaoru Mitoma and Kawasaki, and has since just dotted in and out of the team, you wonder if he’s really being handled the right way?
Finally, Gamba Youth product Shuhei Kawasaki has signed for Portimonense in Portugal today (26 August). I thoroughly enjoyed watching him run amok in J3 in the second half of 2019 and the early part of 2020, but he struggled to make much of an impression on the first-team after that. Did he see the instant impact made by Hiroto Yamami and also the potential arrival next season of fellow academy youngsters Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto and think his time to shine had come and gone? Or, has he got an agent in his ear telling him scoring a hat-trick against an exhausted Tampines Rovers, who’d just come from a double-header with Jeonbuk no-less, was the best thing since sliced bread? Who knows? I’m sad he’s gone, and I’m also more than a touch concerned over the career path he’s taking.
There was a again no Patric for the Nerazzurri on Wednesday night, he appears to have a niggling injury and I expect he’ll make the bench, at best, here. Yota Sato is, of course, suspended following his red against Yokohama FC, though it’s doubtful he’d have cracked the matchday squad in any case. Ryu Takao (ankle), Wellington Silva (groin), Yuya Fukuda (hamstring) and Dai Tsukamoto (thigh) are still nowhere to be seen, with no time-frame announced for their returns. Reserve ‘keeper Jun Ichimori and wing-back Haruto Shirai are continuing to work their way through lengthy rehab programs. Once again I’m unsure of the availability of designated special player Hiroto Yamami, this is a home game and his university is located in the eastern part of Hyogo, so it’s quite possible he could earn himself a spot on the pine.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Readers of this blog from last season will remember my regular jibes about Levir Culpi’s ill-fated stint as Nerazzurri boss back in 2018. I’m not fan of his personally, but despite being a Gamba supporter, I bear Cerezo no ill-will, so I’ll try and give them a fair shake here. Their main threats come from the wide areas with both, Riku Matsuda and the excellent Tatsuhiro Sakamoto down the right flank bagging four assists apiece already this campaign. On the left-side you have one of my favourite non-Gamba J1 players Yusuke Maruhashi (he was on fire during my first ever live game in Japan), he also has four assists in 2021 and just ahead of him is club captain and legend Hiroshi Kiyotake. Add Naoyuki Fujita’s long throws into the mix and Gamba’s much vaunted back three will have to be on their guard at all times on Saturday. Culpi, someone who was renowned for his youth development work during previous spells at the club, has curiously largely ignored a number of burgeoning young talents in the squad and instead squeezed the ageing warriors of the Lotina era into a series of different starting formations. In the last three outings alone we’ve seen, 3-4-2-1, 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2, so take my selection below with a rather large pinch of salt.
Off-season signing from Sapporo, Ryosuke Shindo’s miserable injury run has continued with Cerezo and he’s been out with a shoulder complaint since April. Additionally, veteran forward Yoshito Okubo who, of course, began the season with five goals in as many games, but hasn’t found the back of the net since, has been absent from the matchday squad for the past four games. Young prodigy Jun Nishikawa, a player one might have expected to thrive under Culpi, has started just once in J1 this campaign and hasn’t been seen for seven matches. I don’t have any details on why Okubo and Nishikawa have been absent, so can only speculate that it’s down to fitness issues.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thank you for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.