Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 29
Kashima Soccer Stadium
Saturday 18 September 2021
Kick Off: 18:00 (JST)
Two of J1’s perennial heavyweights step into the ring for this contest looking to make amends for damaging results suffered last weekend. Antlers were downed 3-0 at home by a rampant Avispa Fukuoka while Gamba huffed and puffed, but were ultimately bested 3-2 by Vegalta Sendai in a surprisingly high scoring shootout between two of the league’s weaker attacking units. Despite their most recent setback, Kashima are still very much in the hunt for a 2022 ACL place, sitting only 3 points off third with 10 games remaining. Gamba, meanwhile, have dropped down to fourteenth, but importantly maintain a seven point advantage over Tokushima, who occupy the uppermost spot in the drop zone. However, it seems like the Nerazzurri are currently being aided more by the poor quality of the teams below them rather than their own good form. Kashima will see this encounter as a good platform to build some momentum ahead of their midweek clash with defending champions Kawasaki, while Gamba need to arrest their recent slump in form before it turns into a full-blown crisis.
Just a quick note, I will be on next week’s edition of the J-Talk Podcast discussing this game and all the others on the round 29 slate, please check it out if you have the chance!
Tale of the Tape
A cursory glance at the stats from Gamba’s 3-2 home loss to Sendai (their eighth at Panasonic Stadium in the league this year) might suggest something of a smash-and-grab by the men from Miyagi, and while this may be partly true, those of a blue and black persuasion would do well not to dwell on that too much and instead look at the areas clearly in need of improvement. Usami and Patric being re-united in attack brought about a season high 21 shots on goal, however, had Yuji Ono taken his chance in the eighth minute or if Usami had buried his shot past Jakub Słowik when the game was on a knife-edge at 2-2 then we could have seen an outcome more in-keeping with the story the stats tell us. As it was, Takuma Nishimura stopped arguing with the officials long enough to give Usami a finishing lesson and Cayman Togashi, obviously a big fan of this blog, took exception to my pre-match comments that he was a hard-working forward who doesn’t score goals, planting two first-half headers past Masaaki Higashiguchi to leave the Gamba defence and myself with giant dollops of egg on our faces. Masanobu Matsunami once again has a free midweek and he’ll need to use all the time available to work on defending crosses and set-pieces in addition to extra shooting practice for the midfielders and forwards. A change of scenery might help a bit too as though Gamba’s road stats are much weaker than those in Suita, crucially, in away fixtures, they do get more of the two most important things in football, wins and points.
I’m sure those of you who read this blog regularly will be aware of my deep dissatisfaction with how 2021 has turned out for Gamba, I believe Kashima supporters must also be feeling a sense at frustration at how their team’s season has panned out thus far. While Gamba generally tend to play up or down to match their opponent and rarely appear much better or worse than their opposition, the only exceptions to this rule, in my eyes anyway, have been Kawasaki and Kashima, who both looked a cut above in their wins in Suita earlier in the year, at the other end of the scale, Oita rarely seem to turn up against the Nerazzurri. Despite looking so impressive on occasion and doing the double over Yokohama F. Marinos, the longest streak of consecutive league victories Antlers have been able to string together this season is four. Whenever you think they are going to kick on, they seem to stumble unexpectedly. Brazilian forward Everaldo’s drop off in goals has been a major contributing factor to their inability to properly mount a title challenge. J1’s second top marksman in 2020 with 18 strikes incredibly has only a solitary league goal to his name this time out (he does have 8 in cup competitions). Although up and comers, Ryotaro Araki (9 goals, 6 assists) and Olympian Ayase Ueda (8 goals) have done their part, not to mention the 5 goals apiece from centre-backs Tomoya Inukai and Koki Machida, just imagine Everaldo had found the back of the net 11 times instead of once. If that rang true, then I doubt Antlers would currently be lying 19 points off top spot. Should Naoki Soma be able to solve the Everaldo riddle over the winter then a 2022 title challenge isn’t out of the question, but for now all eyes in Ibaraki must be firmly set on locking down third spot this year.
Head to Head
As I mentioned above, Kashima’s 1-0 victory at Panasonic Stadium in July thanks to Arthur Caike’s first J1 goal was in actual fact far more comfortable than the final score suggests. For context, and I really do think this important when analysing most Gamba matches this season, at the time this game was held, the Nerazzurri players and staff were still living in a hotel as part of the quarantine procedure after returning from the ACL group stage in Uzbekistan. Additionally, they were playing their third match in the space of seven days while Kashima were fresh from a near two-week break.
In the corresponding fixture last year, Kosuke Onose gave Gamba a dream start in just the sixth minute before the Nerazzurri withstood a barrage of Kashima pressure. Just when it seemed they’d hold out for a vital three points, Tomoya Inukai popped up with a powerful header in off Masaaki Higashiguchi’s right-hand post in the final seconds of additional time to claim what was ultimately a deserved point for the home side.
Now that the coast has cleared a little fixture-wise for Gamba, one would expect to see more consistent team selections. However, at the weekend we were treated to a starting eleven from which 4-4-2 or 3-4-2-1 formations looked equally plausible. As it turned out, the team lined up in a 3-4-2-1 system in the first-half with Ryu Takao partnering Gen Shoji and Kim Young-gwon at the back before a switch to 4-4-2 in the second period, a move which saw Takao revert to his best position of right-back and Shinya Yajima shift from the right shadow role to left-wing. I’ve stated multiple times that I’m no fan of constant mid-season tinkering of a club’s shape, especially defensively, and it’s up to Matsunami now to define Gamba’ strategy for the remaining 10 league fixtures, are we a back 3 or a back 4 team? Speaking of remaining fixtures, Gamba’s defeat at the hands of Sendai looks all the more damaging when you consider the run of matches that lie ahead. In addition to this tussle with Kashima, the Nerazzurri also have to travel to Kawasaki, Marinos and Urawa as well as hosting Tosu and Nagoya before the season’s end, not an easy looking set of games at all, is it? Let’s keep our fingers and toes crossed there’s nothing left riding on that final day home encounter with Satoshi Yamaguchi’s Shonan Bellmare.
Quick Update: Today (16 September) Gamba announced winger Jiro Nakamura and forward Isa Sakamoto would be promoted to the top team next season. Congratulations to both.
Yuji Ono’s wretched run of luck continued on Sunday when he was stretchered off with a right-hamstring injury after only 15 minutes, I doubt he’ll be back again this season, and it’s possible Gamba could release him at the end of the year owing to his ongoing fitness issues. Hiroki Fujiharu and Ryu Takao were also subbed off against Sendai, though I believe Fujiharu was just suffering from cramp (yet again) and Takao’s withdrawal was merely precautionary. Wellington Silva did make a welcome return to the squad on Sunday, though the fact that it was Shinya Yajima, not him, who replaced Ono early on suggests he’s not fit enough to start yet. It appears Genta Miura’s knee injury won’t require surgery, but he’s likely to be sidelined for a number of weeks. Other than that, Yuya Fukuda (hamstring), Dai Tsukamoto (thigh), Jun Ichimori (shoulder) and Haruto Shirai (knee) are the other confirmed absentees. Leandro Pereira wasn’t in the matchday squad on Sunday and all I can say is that I doubt it’s because Matsunami thinks Tiago Alves is a better player than him.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Kashima are Kashima and though the faces on the field and on the bench may change, the playing style and philosophy endure. You can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be set up in their customary 4-4-2/4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1, however you want to define it, and will look to move the ball quickly from back to front, utilising the quality of their attacking widemen to generate chances while also peppering Gamba’s goal with a number of speculative efforts from distance. Box-to-box midfielder Diego Pituca, a stand out in the reverse fixture in July, will be a key player again here, as will compatriot Everaldo, depending on how much of a role he plays. He appears to be dropping deeper and into wider areas looking for work, when in reality it would be best for the team if he loitered around the edge of the box waiting to be serviced by the likes of Doi, Araki and Izumi rather than the other way round. The composition of Antlers central defence will also be an important factor, but I’ll get into that more in the paragraph below.
Centre-back Tomoya Inukai is the headline absentee for Kashima after injuring his hamstring in the Levain Cup quarter-final second leg defeat to Nagoya, he’s expected to be out for six weeks. Regular partner, and rumoured target for several European clubs, Koki Machida has missed the past two outings with no reason given by the club. Bueno, the Tiago Alves of Antlers, partnered rookie Naoki Hayashi (Osaka Taiiku Univ.) in the match with Fukuoka and the results were less than stellar, to say the least, so Kashima supporters will be keenly hoping for Machida’s return here. Elsewhere, backup ‘keeper Taiki Yamada (knee) is done for the year while Antlers’ version of Yuji Ono, Rikuto Hirose, is out with a hamstring problem yet again. Juan Alano and Yuta Matsumura haven’t featured in the matchday squad since the 2-1 win at Shonan on 9 August and veteran midfielder Ryota Nagaki last saw action in the 1-0 away defeat at the hands of Kobe on August 21.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks again for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.
Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka