Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 32
Saitama Stadium 2002
Saturday 16 October 2021
Kick Off: 15:00 (JST)
J1 is back after the international break and we’ve got a monumental clash in store between two of the country’s biggest draws, Urawa Red Diamonds and Gamba Osaka. You’re probably aware that both of these sides lost their previous league outing 5-1….there, I said it…for the benefit of Gamba and Urawa supporters reading this article, I’ll do my best to mention it as little as is practically possible from now on. The Nerazzurri are coming off a rare two week break during which time they’ve hopefully erased the nightmare that was their 30th birthday party and been able to hatch a new, more effective game-plan. Reds, on the other hand, played a two-legged Levain Cup semi-final tie against Gamba’s prefectural rivals Cerezo, going down 2-1 on aggregate, so although Urawa are way ahead of the Ao to Kuro in the current standings, their confidence may be a little brittle at the moment too, meaning the first goal on Saturday will likely be crucial to the overall result.
Despite their setback at Kobe, Reds are still well in the hunt for a 3rd place finish in kantoku Ricardo Rodriguez’s first season at the helm, an outcome that would surely solidify his status as one of the top tacticians in the league. The Spaniard had his charges on an excellent run of 19 points from 7 matches in the run up to that clash with Vissel and will hope that was merely a minor bump in the road as he moves forward with his exciting project. Reds enter this fixture in fifth spot, three points shy of both Kobe and Nagoya, though they do have a game in hand over Grampus (this match). Gamba, by way of contrast, lie in fourteenth, six points above the drop zone and although taking anything from this bout will be a tall order, they really need to start showing some kind of form quickly if they’re to avoid being dragged deeper into the relegation battle.
Tale of the Tape
Gamba’s attack has continued to create chances at as much better rate than they were doing earlier in the season, but they remain one of the poorest teams in J1 at converting opportunities into goals. At the back, the Nerazzurri give up a divisional high 15.6 shots against per game and you have to feel that Masanobu Matsunami and new assistant Takashi Kiyama really need to put some sort of makeshift system in place to stop the bombardment Masaaki Higashiguchi faces on a weekly basis, with the former Japan international comfortably topping the ‘most saves’ charts for J1, making 100 already in 2021 (over 20 shots against in each of the last three fixtures is nothing to write home about either)!
Due to this being a season of rebuilding at Urawa, making sense out of their game-by-game stats is a thankless task. It’s taken a while for Rodriguez’s ideas to become fully embedded into the team’s psyche and if you glance down to my Reds’ predicted lineup below you’ll notice five of the starting eleven joined the club in mid-season, so with all that in mind I think 2022 might be a better time to fully assess the effectiveness of Rodriguez’s work and also the abilities of exciting new faces such as Scholz, Hirano and Junker. However, there are a couple of things I’d like to point out. Urawa’s passing and possession stats bear the unmistakable hallmarks of a Rodriguez team, but next year, if Reds are to mount a genuine title challenge, as a number of observers believe they will, then they’ll need to address regularly being outshot by opponents and I’m sure they’d love to get their xG difference number a good bit higher, it currently sits at +0.13 which isn’t all that impressive when compared with Kawasaki’s +0.8 and Marinos’ +0.66, though in the section titled ‘Urawa Red Diamonds’ later in this article, I’ll set out some reasons why I believe they’re more than capable of challenging the big 2 from Kanagawa next year.
Reds Goals For numbers include the 2 goals that league stripped from them over a player registration issue in the home match with Shonan. This was done to enable a better fit with other data such as xG, and Shots For (on target).
Head to Head
A very brief glance at the table below will tell you that away victories have been the order of the day in this fixture during recent years. The Nerazzurri saw off Reds in their first season at Panasonic Stadium, but have been unable to repeat the trick, however, since their 4-0 trouncing in a feisty battle back in 2016, they’ve remained unbeaten on league business at Saitama Stadium.
The reverse contest between these two back in mid-May was Matsunami’s first as caretaker boss with Tsuneyasu Miyamoto getting the axe following a 2-1 home reversal against Hiroshima four days prior. It turned out to be an afternoon to forget for everyone of a blue and black persuasion, though most certainly not for Reds’ Tatsuya Tanaka and Kasper Junker who ran amok to have the visitors 3-0 up at the interval, which is exactly how the match finished. Similarly, last season Reds raced out of the blocks early at Panasonic Stadium and Takahiro Sekine’s low shot, Leonardo’s penalty (he seems to be fishing for a return move to Japan **nudge nudge Gamba recruitment department**) and Yuki Muto’s fine finish following a Genta Miura misjudgement had them on easy street before Yosuke Ideguchi’s goal of the season contending volley from Takashi Usami’s corner provided Gamba with a consolation. The Nerazzurri earned a modicum of revenge with an excellent come-from-behind 2-1 win in Saitama in late November. Tomoaki Makino had fired Reds into a deserved lead, but Usami displayed the finishing instincts that have largely deserted him this year to draw Gamba level shortly after, before Ryu Takao, of all people, headed home what, to date, is the only goal of his senior career, to seal the deal. In the days following that match, Urawa announced that Tsuyoshi Otsuki would be vacating the hot-seat at the end of the year, a decision which surprised no-one.
In the absence of any top team games for the past fortnight, this section will be a little more newsy and combative than normal, which may or may not fit in with the usual style of this blog. First to the positive, both of the Nerazzurri’s Brazilian forwards, Patric and Leandro Pereira, did interviews with media in the their home country that were published last week. Pithy information to come out of those are the news that Patric’s current contract only runs until the end of this season (though it appears both parties will be keen to extend the present arrangement) while Pereira’s deal covers next year too (it was widely believed he had only penned a 12-month contract upon signing for the Nerazzurri). Both players said they enjoyed life and soccer in Japan and would like to stay in the country for the foreseeable future. Whether Pereira does indeed see out his two-year deal in Suita or moves to fresh pastures for 2022 will be something to keep an eye on.
Secondly, and this isn’t really an issue I particularly wanted to write about, but I feel I have to say something….the mountain out of a molehill being made of Gamba’s new badge. The 5-1 loss to Sapporo coupled with a new concept design that was widely pilloried by the wider J League fan community on Twitter left me feeling like Sunday 3 October was ‘have a go at Gamba day.’ In fairness, the majority of the banter was good natured, and I also accept that realistically the badge could have looked like anything and some people would have had a dig on Twitter, such is the nature of the beast. Additionally 5-1 defeats for the traditional big teams are always amusing (it was interesting to note that Urawa and Cerezo fans were largely absent from the chorus of laughter, maybe they experienced something similar in recent weeks, I can’t remember), not sure I’d be quite so keen to jump on the bandwagon if I was a Shimizu fan though (how many goals did they score in their two games against us, might be lower than one?) Anyway, joking aside, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was something along the lines of this…in life there are some people you should listen to, and some that you shouldn’t, if someone wouldn’t give you any credit regardless of what you do, then that’s not really someone you need to listen to… With that in mind, remember that Gamba finished second in J1 last year, yet there were still people lining up up to tell us we didn’t deserve it (it’s October 2021 and I’m still waiting to hear why not, and which teams should have been ahead of us), so I’m not sure Gamba need to be overly concerned about the opinions of opposition supporters. I certainly do not speak for all Gamba fans, but I believe those of a blue and black persuasion would just like a team to be proud of, not one that gets smacked around 5-1 by opponents who’d be forgiven for having one eye on their end of season break. Sure, the club stand guilty of not consulting the fans who they’ll be expecting to shell out on merchandise adorned with the new logo, but supporter votes can come with their downsides too. My Scottish team, Ayr United, had around 4 or 5 options when they changed club crest about 5 years back and I was really attached to one of the designs which wasn’t selected in the end, but hey, a debate over the pros and cons of democracy is certainly way above the remit of this particular blog.
My aim with the above rant was not to have a go at anyone in particular, more to act as something of a counter-weight to the seemingly endless slew of ‘point and laugh at Gamba’ content I’ve seen on Twitter in recent weeks. I’m a football fan, I get it, fourteenth in the league and just off a 5-1 home hammering, we’re ripe for the picking, but as I’m about to go onto discuss, Saturday’s opponents, Urawa were 14th just two seasons back, Vissel Kobe filled that slot twelve months ago and neither of those two look in particularly bad shape at the moment. So, by all means drink it all in now, but Japanese football is a wild and mysterious beast so the boot may be on the other foot sooner rather than later, though I guess that’s why we all love it so much, right?
I was also going to call out Marcus Tulio Tanaka for his rather ‘one-sided’ take on Yasuhito Endo’s loan move to Júbilo Iwata, but I think I’ve ranted quite enough so I’m off for a lie down now.
Plenty to write about in here as always, but also lots of corroborating evidence available to back up what I say as opposed to the wild speculation I normally have to indulge in. Reserve ‘keeper Jun Ichimori has been ruled out for the rest of 2021 as he needs to undergo surgery on a hamstring injury (sorry I had been saying he had a shoulder issue, but that was actually his problem last year and I got confused).
Gamba held their first open practice session since February 2020 on Tuesday and it was revealed the Kosuke Onose and Yuya Fukuda were back in full training with the first team squad while Gen Shoji is still absent. A couple of days earlier Fukuda uploaded videos to Instagram showing he and fellow hamstring injury victim Yuji Ono doing rehab in a gym. The shirtless and profusely sweating Ono no doubt set hearts fluttering, but more importantly he does look in decent shape and his comeback might not be far away. In fact, media reports indicated that Ono, Leandro Pereira and club captain Genta Miura are currently working through individual training programs involving light running and so on, and will hopefully be ready for selection soon, though this match arrives too early for the trio. I was unable to see Tiago Alves in any of the photos on Twitter and Instagram, he has been out of the matchday squad since scoring a penalty in the 3-1 loss at Kashima on 18 September.
Signed Jun Ichimori Epoch Card
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Urawa Red Diamonds
Despite back-to-back bottom half league finishes in 2019 and 2020, the chance to restore Urawa to their former glories was always going to be an attractive proposition for any manager worth their salt. As it was, Ricardo Rodriguez, fresh from leading Tokushima to the J2 title was the man selected for the task. Rodriguez’s attractive, build from the back passing style has taken a while to bear fruit, and there were certainly some early teething troubles, but at the moment things are generally headed in an upward trajectory. Just a solitary win from their opening six league fixtures, a period which included pastings at home to Kawasaki and away to Marinos may have brought some doubts about the course Rodriguez was plotting, but the addition of Danish forward Kasper Junker in May and other sound signings in the summer have helped them to bounce back and they are currently on a run of 37 points from their last 19 games (11W4D4L) which has them firmly in the hunt for an ACL spot. Rodriguez has stated that ACL qualification is an aim this year, though if, as expected, it remains a Covid influenced shell of a competition next term then I don’t think Reds need to worry too much if they end up missing out. Instead, they should perhaps see the rest of 2021 as a reconnaissance mission with Rodriguez trying to ascertain what works and what doesn’t. Should he find the right system to bring the best out of the multitude of attacking talents on the books while simultaneously keeping things tight at the back, then J1 take cover (at present they’ve kept 12 clean sheets in their last 19 league outings, but are still searching for the correct formula in attack). It’s possible that rival sides like, Kawasaki, Marinos and Kashima, could lose talents such as Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda, Thiago Martins, Ryotaro Araki, Ayase Ueda and Koki Machida over the winter meaning that if Reds plug the gap at left-back, and they may already have the man they need on their books now in the shape of Takuya Ogiwara, currently on loan at Kyoto Sanga, then they should be aiming for top 3 minimum in 2022.
As per usual, and much to my frustration, writing this section has proven to be a far more simple task for Gamba’s opponents than the Nerazzurri. I actually don’t have any Reds players who I know to be definitely injured at the moment. Whether Australian Olympian Thomas Deng has a fitness issue or is simply not flavour of the month with the powers that be in Saitama remains to be seen. His veteran team-mates, Tomoya Ugajin, Yuki Abe and Shinzo Koroki haven’t featured in recent weeks either, but this may be down to Rodriguez bedding in the new, younger signings with an eye on next year. One such acquisition, Kosuke Kinoshita has been out of the matchday squad too, though his capture from Norwegian outfit Stabæk was something of a surprise in the first place.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.