Yokohama F. Marinos vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 34
Wednesday 3 November 2021
Kick Off: 13:05 (JST)
November 3rd is Culture Day here in Japan which means a full round of Wednesday J.League action and all eyes will most definitely be set on Kanagawa as the clock strikes 1pm. The focus of this preview is of course 2nd place Yokohama F. Marinos’ home bout with my side Gamba Osaka, but taking place at the same time a mere 15 km away is the clash between Kawasaki Frontale and Urawa Red Diamonds. Frontale, 12 points ahead with 5 games remaining, are the champions elect, and should they better Marinos result on Wednesday afternoon they can uncork the champagne right there and then. A scrappy 2-1 win at home to Sapporo followed by another poor performance in the 2-1 reversal at Cerezo last week has heaped pressure on Ange Postecoglou’s hand-picked replacement, Kevin Muscat. With the title race all but over, will he be able to rouse his troops against a Gamba side who still need around 4 points from their remaining 5 fixtures to ensure J1 football for 2022?
Buoyed by Gamba’s 1-0 victory over Sagan Tosu last Saturday (October 23) which moved them 7 points clear of the drop-zone, I made the impulse decision to buy a visitor’s seat ticket for this game. I haven’t been to a Gamba away game since 2017 and this is my first time leaving Kansai for almost 2 years. I’m certainly pumped up for what will surely be an intriguing clash, and I hope this preview helps get you in the mood too.
Tale of the Tape
I won’t pull any punches here, this tie sees a title contender hosting a struggling bottom half side meaning one would be well within their rights to expect a reasonably comfortable home win and the stats laid out in the tables below certainly do nothing to contradict that point of view. If Gamba are to upset the odds, then getting themselves in front early will be crucial. Confidence seems to flow through individuals (see Usami after his goal vs Tosu) and the team as a whole when they break the deadlock before tension and nerves have any chance to take hold. To illustrate this very point, the Nerazzurri are 9-0-1 (the sole defeat coming at home to Kobe) after scoring the first goal, and by way of contrast, they have a dismal 1-2-15 record when conceding the opener (Oita being the sole opponent they’ve come from behind against).
I remember when writing my preview of Gamba’s home tie with Marinos in round 22 last season that I unearthed a large split in the Kanagawa side’s results versus bottom-half sides compared with those against top-half opposition. Clearly in 2020 their hectic schedule, as a result of ACL participation, hindered them badly, and this year they have improved markedly against what I’ll call lower-half top 10 teams (if that makes sense), but they still continue to struggle in the really big games, see losses against Kawasaki (a), Nagoya (a) and Kashima (h and a). Last week’s defeat at Cerezo bucked that trend, and was in fact more in-keeping with fierce rivals Frontale who have only lost to mid-table outfits with little to play for (Oita and Sapporo in 2020, Fukuoka in 2021) during their Covid-era rampage. Marinos may also reflect negatively on the fact that while smashing teams like Yokohama FC and Vegalta Sendai 5-0 at home might look great, it’s not half as impressive when you fail to pick up all 3 points in the reverse fixture. I could also point out that they drew 1-1 at home with Shonan, but then again I might stand accused of nit picking for the sake of it, as it should be noted that runaway leaders Kawasaki drew at home with Vegalta and away to Bellmare. So, perhaps it’s just Frontale’s relentless consistency and ability to grind out results when not playing well that has seen them achieve the results they have over the past few campaigns and as such denied a Marinos side that would surely have been good enough to win many other editions of J1.
Head to Head
The match between these two at Panasonic Stadium in early August didn’t pass without incident. Gamba put on one of their best attacking displays of the season despite it being their 7th league outing in the space of 20 days while their visitors were fresh from the Olympic break. The Nerazzurri dominated the stats, but were stunned by a fine shot from outside the area by Élber just past the half hour, and then Marcos Junior’s strike early in the second half. Their Brazilian team-mate, Thiago Martins, could count himself fortunate to remain on the field after giving away a spot kick whilst on a yellow card. Leandro Pereira dusted himself off after his compatriot’s trip and coolly converted from the spot before Patric’s shot was tipped onto the post by Yohei Takaoka’s outstretched leg. Kota Mizanuma restored the two goal advantage on 74 minutes meaning Patric’s additional time header from Usami’s cross was merely a consolation.
Then defending champions Marinos hosted Gamba in the opening weekend of J1 2020 which in fact turned out to be the only round of fixtures that year played out under ‘normal’ pre-Covid conditions. The Nerazzurri took full advantage of a sloppy opening 45 minutes from Ange Postecoglou’s men, racing into a two goal lead thanks to a goal and an assist apiece from Shu Kurata and Shinya Yajima, Marcos Junior pulled one back for Marinos deep into the second period, but it wasn’t enough and they kicked off the defence of their title with a home loss. Gamba dominated the match at Panasonic Stadium in October, but found themselves behind following an unfortunate Kim Young-gwon own goal. Takashi Usami converted a perhaps ‘soft’ penalty that he himself had won in first half stoppage time to restore parity, but there were to be no further goals and the Nerazzurri saw their six match winning run come to an end.
I had a spell living in Machida, Tokyo during 2016-2017 and found myself just six train stops away from Nissan Stadium. As a result, I was able to take in the 2-2 league draw in 2016 where Yosuke Ideguchi really announced himself as a player of enormous potential as well as the 1-1 League Cup Semi-Final draw (Gamba advanced on away goals) and the 2-1 Emperor’s Cup quarter-final loss in which Jun Amano settled the tie with a wonderful strike in injury time. 2017 saw Gamba run out 1-0 winners in J1 with Ritsu Doan finishing a flowing move involving Hiroki Fujiharu, Ademilson and the much-maligned Shun Nagasawa (who threw in a cheeky back heel assist for good measure). I’m thoroughly looking forward to heading back to my second favourite Japanese football stadium (after Panasta of course) and hoping to see another cracking game of football.
Just a reminder that I joined Ben and Sam on the J-Talk Podcast (episode 390) last week and some of what I say below will cover similar ground to the discussion I had with them. Takashi Kiyama was brought into assist Masanobu Matsunami shortly before the 5-1 home shellacking from Sapporo and in the two week break that followed it seems like he’s put his stamp on the team somewhat, especially when it comes to defensive organisation and transitioning from defence to attack. Kiyama appears to be taking training and a friend of a friend reported that it was he who was giving the players instructions from the touchline in the game with Tosu. The slight momentum built up in the away draw with Urawa and home victory over Sagan was tempered a touch by the Emperor’s Cup loss to Reds in midweek, but it’ll still be interesting to see if Kiyama has any tricks up his sleeve to match the tactical masterclass Tsuneyasu Miyamoto put on to outfox his counterpart Ange Postecoglou in Gamba’s 2-1 triumph at the Nissan Stadium last February.
It was reported in the Nikkan Sports newspaper on 24 October that Gamba are closing in on a deal for current Oita kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka, although Hiroshi Jofuku’s removal at Hiroshima this midweek may have muddied the waters slightly. Katanosaka, of course, remains a hugely popular figure in Suita having been Kenta Hasegawa’s number two during the trophy laden 2014 and 2015 seasons. He’s been in charge at Oita since 2016 taking them from J3 to J1 and achieving mid-table top-flight finishes in both 2019 and 2020. A known advocate of the 3-4-2-1 system, it’d be interesting to see how his game-plan would work out with greater resources at Gamba, and if we play the ‘which former players would he bring along with him game’…may I suggest Yoshinori Suzuki and Noriaki Fujimoto (on loan from Kobe) at Shimizu?
Finally, a load of gossip that should probably be taken with a pinch of salt. As of yet unsubstantiated rumours claim that due to the long-term effects of an absence of big crowds at the Panasonic Stadium coupled with no ACL football next year, Gamba will be looking to slash ¥500 million off their playing staff budget for 2022 (for reference, Leandro Pereira and Kim Young-gwon leaving would account for roughly half that figure). Soccer Digest Magazine published an article on 28 October suggesting potential destinations for several soon to be out-of-contract J1 stars and that produced a slew of transfer rumours. Yosuke Ideguchi to Iwata or Kyoto? Masaaki Higashiguchi to Kobe with Kosei Tani returning from his loan spell at Shonan? Tani staying at Shonan? Tani joining Júbilo if Shonan go down? Masato Nakayama joining Gamba from Mito? It’s been a wild few days on Twitter that’s for sure and I’m highly dubious if any of these deals will end up coming to fruition, but I thought a bit of tabloid tittle-tattle might bring a bit of light relief to my regular more serious style.
Centre-back is the main area of concern at the moment with Kim Young-gwon being stretchered off against Tosu following a series of leg knocks, however, as per DAZN reporter Mariko Takeshima’s photos and comments on Twitter, both Genta Miura and Gen Shoji joined training on Saturday (30 October) and could be back in the frame for selection. Leandro Pereira and Yuji Ono, are nearing the end of their rehabilitation periods and it’s possible we could see either of them take a spot on the bench here. Shinya Yajima and Dai Tsukamoto have dropped out of the matchday squad in recent weeks, I believe Yajima has been missing from training, presumably injured, but I haven’t heard anything about Tsukamoto. Elsewhere, Yuya Fukuda was absent for the Emperor’s Cup loss against Urawa, but this may have been precautionary due to his chronic ankle problem, midfield schemer Yuki Yamamoto didn’t feature either and I’m not sure why, though he trained with the team as normal on Saturday. Reserve goalkeeper Jun Ichimori (hamstring) is out for the year and his replacement Kei Ishikawa has seen his spot on the pine taken by on-loan Ehime stopper Taichi Kato, it’s unclear whether Ishikawa has a knock of some sort or this has been done with a view to next season.
Additional Note 1 November: Kim Young-gwon was left out of the South Korea squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers which would indicate he will play no part in this match.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Yokohama F. Marinos
Kevin Muscat’s first game in charge of Marinos actually came in the 3-2 win at Panasonic Stadium back on 6 August and he initially enjoyed something of a honeymoon period, keeping the good times of the Ange Postecoglou era rolling with 5 wins and a draw from his opening 6 fixtures. Since then, however, standards have slipped a little and they’ve put up a 3-1-3 record over their most recent set of matches. Performances in the narrow round 32 win at home to Sapporo and then last week’s loss at mid-table Cerezo have turned the heat up on Muscat somewhat, not least due to some questionable selections and a very noticeable deviation from the Postecoglou battle plan. Sam Robson did a tremendous job of analysing their recent malaise on the J-Talk Pod last week, and going by the feedback I read, it’s Marinos fan approved, so please give it a listen if you haven’t already.
It will be very interesting to observe the comings and goings at the Nissan Stadium this off-season. Barring something dramatic, even by J.League standards, happening between now and the end of the year, Marinos will finish a distant, but highly creditable 2nd in the standings (only their 3rd top 3 finish since 2004) and they may have a fight on their hands to keep hold of some of their better players. Tokyo 2020 Olympian and current J1 top scorer Daizen Maeda’s flight to Europe appears booked with Celtic the most likely suitors and it probably wouldn’t surprise regular watchers of Japanese football to see Thiago Martins and Marcos Junior also head for the bright lights of Europe in the near future (also, if Muscat has no use for Élber, one of the best signings this season in my book, then I’d love to have him at Gamba). Regarding potential recruits, the extent of the City Football Group’s role in Marinos’ affairs has always been slightly ambiguous, but it appears from the outside that Postecoglou and his staff were able to make full use of access to their Brazilian scouting network to bring in smash-hit after smash-hit from the land of the Samba. Domestically, things have been far more Jekyll and Hyde with a Kenyu Sugimoto and Keiya Sento for every Daizen Maeda and Shinnosuke Hatanaka and plenty of Tomoki Iwatas and Kota Watanabes in between. However, they do possess one of the better youth academies in the country and defender Yusuke Nishida and midfielder Riku Yamane will be promoted from that program next season while former youth team graduates Kota Yamada and Kaina Yoshio may return from productive loan spells at Yamagata and Machida respectively.
Good news first for Marinos fans and that’s the return from suspension of Brazilian playmaker Marcos Junior who will surely walk straight back into the starting lineup. In the bad news column, classy centre-back Shinnosuke Hatanaka is out for the year after undergoing hamstring surgery. Elsewhere, former club captain Jun Amano missed the Cerezo defeat and utility player Takuya Wada has been absent for the past 2 games, in both cases it’s unclear whether this has been down to injury or non-selection.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.