Gamba Osaka vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
2021 J1 Season Round 31
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 2 October 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
Welcome to blog post #100 – thanks to everyone who’s helped me get this far!
Gamba’s 2-1 victory over Kashiwa Reysol on Sunday bought some crucial breathing space at the bottom of the table and has set them up nicely for their next fixture at home to Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. The Nerazzurri, currently sitting on 33 points, 7 clear of the drop zone, would pull to within 3 of their visitors should they manage to bag the win here. Consadole are safely ensconced in mid-table which has seemingly had an adverse effect on recent results meaning Gamba will see this as an opportunity to further cement their J1 status for 2022.
This clash will be followed by a two-week break for both these sides, and for the Nerazzurri, in particular, it could not have come at a better time with players dropping like flies as a result of the hectic summer schedule. Sapporo boss Mischa Petrović will also welcome the gap in fixtures as it gives him the chance to rally his troops for one final push towards the end of the year. Typically when these two collide we don’t see the best of Consadole and the men from Hokkaido will be keen to rectify that here, while the home side, buoyed by lightning quick starts in their previous two home outings will have the bit between their teeth as they look to give the 10,000 strong Panasonic Stadium faithful something to cheer about (this is the first time the capacity has been above 5,000 all year).
A quick reminder that Gamba will be wearing their 30th anniversary uniform in this fixture. It’s earned mixed, but mostly positive reviews on social media, check out the pictures below to see for yourself.
Tale of the Tape
Gamba avoided the indignity of losing 5 consecutive league games for the first time since 1998 and the success in the match against Kashiwa should hammer home the importance of getting off to a fast start. Contrast Sunday’s encounter with the home ties against Marinos, Kobe and Sendai earlier in the year. While the stats in the table below don’t look pretty for Gamba vs Kashiwa, in the battles with the aforementioned sides, the Nerazzurri dominated everywhere except on the scoresheet. Getting ahead makes things so much easier late on, and although Gamba still look vulnerable to quick counter attacks (Masaaki Higashiguchi leads the league in total saves made), they got the rub of the green on Sunday and were able to stay the course. The blueprint for victory has been laid out, so onwards and upwards from here with Sapporo representing the first of four remaining fixtures that should be targeted for wins, the others being, Tosu (h), Oita (a) and Shonan (h) while we’ll take what we can get from Urawa (a), Marinos (a), Nagoya (h) and Kawasaki (a).
I’ve thought for a long time that Sapporo play an extremely eye-catching, but highly inefficient brand of football. They are among the league’s best when it comes to xG for, xG difference, shots on goal, passes completed and possession, however, results on the pitch are much less impressive. I actually had them down as my dark horse surprise relegation contender for 2021 (little did I know it would be my own team who’d battle it out with Kashiwa and Cerezo for that crown – oops), but after a sluggish start, just 2 wins from their first 9 games, they steadied the ship, taking 27 points from their next 14. There’s been a bit of a wobble since then, as they followed up their disappointing 2-0 loss to the Nerazzurri in July with impressive home wins over FC Tokyo and Urawa before embarking on their present run of just 4 points from their most recent 7 outings. A J2 side for the majority of their history, Petrović, to his eternal credit, has firmly established them in Japan’s top flight, however, finances appear tight and despite decent youth development work and university recruitment it’s going to be tough for them to continue finishing so high in the league year after year.
Head to Head
Generally when I watch Consadole as a neutral I see a pretty entertaining game regardless of the opposition, however, recent battles between them and Gamba have mostly failed to catch fire. Case in point, the Nerazzurri’s 2-0 triumph on July 30 at the Atsubetsu Stadium, a venue which doesn’t suit the Rossoneri’s attacking style nearly as much as Sapporo Dome. The hosts burst out of the traps quickly, fired in numerous low percentage efforts, but were then picked off on the counter twice by Gamba with Shinya Yajima and Leandro Pereira having all the time in the world to bury their chances before the visitors shut the game down effectively for a valuable 3 points.
In 2020 it was a similar story with the Ao to Kuro winning both fixtures by just a solitary goal. Kazuma Watanabe’s late effort sealed a miserly 1-0 away win at the Atsubetsu while Gamba had to come from behind in the return match with Yosuke Ideguchi and Patric’s strikes cancelling out Douglas Oliveira’s first ever J1 goal.
Interestingly, or maybe not, 18 August 2013 was the first time I witnessed Takashi Usami score for Gamba live and in the flesh. The old Expo ‘70 Commemorative Stadium was the venue and Consadole Sapporo, prior to the addition of Hokkaido to their name, were the visitors. After a goalless first 45, two strikes in the space of four second-half minutes from Takaharu Nishino (now Sanuki) and Usami killed the game off as a contest. Brazilian Adi Rocha added gloss to the scoreline 14 minutes from time and it ended 3-0. Hiroki Fujiharu was the only other current Gamba player on duty that day, while both Hiroki Miyazawa and Takuma Arano were in the starting lineup for Sapporo.
Due to the mounting pile of injured bodies in the Gamba treatment room (calls for a new physical coach to be brought in next year grow louder by the day), Masanobu Matsunami’s hand has almost been forced selection wise, though it is interesting to see that he and I both seem to agree on 4-2-3-1 being the way forward, for now anyway. That system, which in truth became more of a 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 after the early lead was established against Kashiwa has worked well in the last 2 matches and hopefully the Nerazzurri stick with it until the end of the season. Realistically an average of just over a point per game can be expected from the remaining 8 league matches this year and if good results are achieved over the next couple of fixtures then it’d be great to see Matsunami start to put foundations in place for his successor. With Hiroto Yamami, Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto confirmed in the arrivals lounge, plus Wellington Silva, Takashi Usami and Shu Kurata already on the books the supporting cast for Patric, or a new main striker, looks to be coming together rather nicely. As I mentioned on the J-Talk Podcast last week, I think everyone of a Gamba persuasion will be happy to put this annus horribilis to an end and start afresh in 2022.
On Tuesday (28 September) a vaguely worded club statement announced that former JEF, Ehime, Yamagata and Sendai boss Takashi Kiyama had been brought on board to assist stand-in kantoku Masanobu Matsunami for the rest of 2021. Whether this is a prelude to him potentially filling the hot seat permanently from next year is up for debate. In my opinion, getting someone in with fresh ideas can only be a good thing for the remaining two months of this tortuous campaign, but Kiyama would be a rather underwhelming full-time appointment who I struggle to envisage returning Gamba to their former glories should he be handed the reigns. For me, the club need to look for a higher profile candidate, be that a Japanese or foreign coach. I’d certainly be keen to hear the thoughts of others, am I wrong to dismiss Kiyama so quickly, what do you think?
Unfortunately, from a Gamba perspective, there is plenty of team news this week. Shu Kurata left the field against Kashiwa with a heavily strapped right thigh in just the 25th minute while Wellington Silva was carried off on a stretcher later on, but I believe this was just down to fatigue. Both players took part in the celebratory clap in front of the home fans at the end and if I were a betting man I’d say Silva will play here and Kurata will return after the international break. Sapporo’s defence will certainly be hoping there’s no Silva after the the endless headaches his penetrating runs gave them in the reverse fixture. Gen Shoji, Yuki Yamamoto and Tiago Alves have all been absent from the matchday squad for the Shonan and Kashiwa games with no official confirmation why. Matsunami mentioned Shoji’s ‘poor physical condition’ as the reason for his non-selection against Antlers and we can merely speculate that as the Nerazzurri had Takao, Kurokawa and Sato all on the bench on Sunday that Shoji, Yamamoto and Alves must have problems of some kind (alternatively Alves might have been punished for his ridiculous celebration after his consolation away to Kashima). Elsewhere, Leandro Pereira Yuya Fukuda, and Yuji Ono (all hamstring), Genta Miura (knee) and Jun Ichimori (shoulder) are likely to miss out while there’s still no word on the heavy knock Kosuke Onose took in the Emperor’s Cup tie with Shonan.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Sapporo only really have pride to play for in their final 8 league fixtures, and after this trip to Osaka they still have home dates with Fukuoka, Shonan and Kashiwa remaining in addition to away duels with Marinos, Shimizu, Tosu and Yokohama FC. Depending on motivation and fitness levels within the squad, gathering 13 points from those games isn’t entirely out of the question and that would leave them tantalisingly close to the club record of 55 points set during their 4th place run in 2018 (granted that haul came in a 34 match campaign, but reaching the half century this term would be a huge step in the right direction for the Rossoneri).
Looking ahead to next season, integrating new Slovenian signing Milan Tučić into the attack is vital considering the ageing of Jay Bothroyd and the departure of Anderson Lopes. Consadole’s only confirmed new arrival for 2022 so far is midfielder Hiromu Tanaka, older brother of Vegalta Sendai’s Wataru, he’ll join from Rissho University, and Sapporo have a pretty decent record with varsity recruits in recent seasons (Shunta Tanaka, Takamine, Kaneko, Ogashiwa). Speaking of those four, it’s quite possible that J1’s most northerly club will have to fend off suitors from further south, particularly those with a pressing need to rapidly lower the average age of their squad, Cerezo and FC Tokyo to name but two.
As usual writing this section is much easier for Gamba’s opponents than for the Nerazzurri. Key defender / set-piece mastermind Akito Fukumori (most last passes in J1 with 58, Takuro Kaneko is 4th with 48) has missed the past 4 games with a knee injury as has Thai schemer Chanathip, he has a thigh problem. No date has been given for the return of either player, as per J League norms. Central midfielder Kazuki Fukai has been absent for the last 7 fixtures while Jay Bothroyd sat out Sunday afternoon’s home defeat at the hands of Hiroshima, I don’t have any additional information on either.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.