Gamba Osaka vs Nagoya Grampus
2021 J1 Season Round 36
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 20 November 2021
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)
Just 3 games remain in the 2021 edition of J1 and Gamba are finally mathematically safe following their come-from-behind 3-2 victory at Oita on November 7th. The Nerazzurri have rallied after being battered 5-1 at home by Sapporo last month, responding with 10 points from 4 games to plant themselves in amongst a train of teams battling for 10th. Saturday’s visitors Nagoya dropped the baton last time out, drawing 1-1 away at basement dwelling Sendai, a result that leaves them 5th in the standings, level with Kashima, but crucially 5 points worse off than 3rd placed Vissel Kobe, occupants of the final ACL spot. However, should Grampus accrue enough points from this clash and their two remaining outings against Cerezo (a) and Reds (h), it’s possible they could end up in 4th which, combined with Kawasaki lifting the Emperor’s Cup, would see them enter the 2022 Asian Champions League in the qualifying round.
If the Aichi-based outfit are to maintain their bid for only a second ACL appearance since 2012 then they’ll be hoping that in-form Gamba drop some of the intensity displayed in recent fixtures after securing their J1 status for next year. It will be interesting to see what route the Matsunami / Kiyama managerial partnership takes over the final 3 matches of the season. Matsunami will return to his role with the club’s academy from 2022 so it’s possible the likes of Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto could get a run out, while on the other hand Takashi Kiyama is auditioning for a full-time gig elsewhere and may seek to follow the blueprint from 2018 and 2019 where the Nerazzurri went on good runs at the end of the season which largely papered over some rather big cracks in the organisation. Either way, with Nagoya desperate to bag the 3 points and Gamba perhaps letting the handbrake off a little in terms of team selection and tactics, it’s sure to be an enthralling 90 minutes.
Tale of the Tape
Expect to hear Gamba supporters chanting the Japanese equivalent of ‘can we play Kyushu teams every week?’ sometime soon having seen their side take 16 points from 6 games against Fukuoka, Oita and Tosu in 2021. Trinita are the only club the Nerazzurri have defeated in J1 this year after conceding the opening goal, a feat they achieved in both home and away encounters with Tomohiro Katanosaka’s troops. Oita, in addition to Sagan Tosu are the only teams Gamba have done the double over in 2021 and Trinita are also the only outfit the Ao to Kuro have beaten in all 4 league clashes across the past 2 seasons.
Despite having the 4th weakest attack in J1 in terms of goals scored, Gamba’s xG For total is actually the 8th highest in the league. Nagoya’s defence, 2nd only to Kawasaki in terms of goals conceded will undoubtedly be tough to breach, but Nerazzurri supporters will be praying that someone from Grampus (h), Frontale (a) and Shonan (h) in the remaining 3 fixtures bears the brunt of the xG Gods evening things out. Gamba’s form in Suita remains a concern, as with just 2 games to go at Panasonic Stadium, 18 points from 17 matches is only good enough for 17th in the home league standings. Matsunami and Kiyama will surely be keen to give the Ao to Kuro faithful something to cheer about in the upcoming contests with Nagoya and Satoshi Yamaguchi’s Shonan.
At the back, Kiyama’s clearly defined defensive game-plan and the consistent selection of Yosuke Ideguchi and Yuki Yamamoto in central midfield has led to a much more solid looking Gamba over the past month (Yamamoto has also contributed offensively with 3 assists in his last 3 outings). However, despite that, the men from Suita are still the worst team in J1 in terms of shots against per game, 2nd weakest when considering shots against on target, and additionally they have the 3rd highest xG Against figure in the division. Again, I’m sure I speak for all supporters of a blue and black persuasion when I say, come on guys, let’s see some improvements in those numbers between now and the end of the year.
Defensive solidity has undoubtedly been the bedrock for Grampus’ strong showings over the past 2 seasons, a then league record 17 clean sheets in 2020 has since been surpassed by an astounding 20 in 35 this time round, and in keeping with their goals conceded numbers, they also trail only Kawasaki in xG against and shots against on target. Their clean sheet record this year, in particular, should be considered even more impressive considering the absence of captain Yuichi Maruyama since May. At the other end of the park, much to the frustration of Grampus supporters, their xG For number has only recently crept above 1 and they sit 15th in J1 for that particular statistic as well as shots for. Efforts from outside the area, especially from J1 Best Eleven contender Sho Inagaki have provided an invaluable source of goals to make up the shortfall caused by their inability to carve out clear cut openings.
Head to Head
The original game scheduled for March 3rd at Toyota Stadium was, of course, cancelled at the last minute due to a Covid outbreak in the Gamba camp, an incident which was essentially the start of this season’s woes. 7 weeks later on April 22nd was when the tussle eventually took place and Grampus ran out comfortable 2-0 winners with Yuki Soma assuming the role of tormentor-in-chief, first setting up Ryogo Yamasaki for the opener before settling the tie with a cool run and finish 10 minutes into the second half. That result ended an incredible run of 10 league games stretching back to 2015 where Gamba had scored at least twice in every match against Nagoya. A 1-0 home defeat at the old Expo 70’ Commemorative Stadium, 1 of only 2 losses the Nerazzurri suffered in the second half of the season during their incredible march to the J1 title, was the last time Gamba had failed to bag at least two goals against the Giallorossi.
Last year the two sides drew 2-2 at Toyota Stadium shortly after the league’s re-start in July. Genta Miura gave Gamba an early lead from a corner only to see Brazilian duo Mateus and Gabriel Xavier turn the game on it’s head before half time. Gamba pressed and pressed in the second half and eventually got their reward when Kazuma Watanabe struck a fine half-volley, teed-up by a Patric knockdown, past Mitch Langerak in additional time. In September, Mu Kanazaki swept Grampus in front at Panasonic Stadium, but Yuki Yamamoto’s deflected free-kick and Takashi Usami’s late winner which came from an attack started by a sumptuous Yasuhito Endo pass sealed a valuable 3 points in the 2nd of what would turn out to be 6 successive victories that moved the Nerazzurri up from 9th to 4th in the standings.
After starting out in the same 4-4-2 set-up they’d been using in previous games, Gamba switched to a 3-4-2-1 in the second half of the 3-2 win at Oita. From the outside it seems like Kiyama’s decision to bring on Gen Shoji at half-time to match Trinita’s formation was actually a pre-conceived plan rather than the more random personnel changes seen earlier in the year under Matsunami. With J1 survival now assured, it’ll be interesting to observe which shape the Nerazzurri adopt against the 4-2-3-1 of Massimo Ficcadenti’s Nagoya. It’s quite possible that Shunya Suganuma will start ahead of Ryu Takao which would shift the predicted lineup you see below into a 3-4-2-1.
Now, here’s a look at my personal checklist of things I’d like to see happen in the final 3 matches of 2021;
* Keep the Ideguchi and Yamamoto partnership in central midfield as they’ve generally been excellent across the last 4 games. Re-uniting last season’s partners-in-crime on a regular basis has given the team as a whole much more stability.
* Yota Sato to play the full 90 against Nagoya, Kawasaki and Shonan regardless of the fitness status of the other centre backs. He’s still raw, but has shown marked improvements next to Shunya Suganuma in Takashi Kiyama’s re-jigged defensive system. Ideally we’ll see him learn from Gen Shoji in the upcoming encounters with the ultimate goal being that the former Meiji University star develops into a bona-fide starting eleven contender for 2022.
* Kwansei Gakuin University have now sewn up the JUFA Kansai League title and if that means Gamba can get full access to Hiroto Yamami, I’ll be over the moon. After a season of agonisingly slow build-up play, I particularly enjoyed Yamami gliding past Oita’s defenders like a hot knife through butter in the lead up to Patric’s winning spot kick against Trinita and would love to see him test himself against the likes of Shinnosuke Nakatani and Shogo Taniguchi.
Finally, it seemed popular when I did it a few weeks back so I’ll have another go…Gamba transfer gossip. Just a quick disclaimer first as there are a few spam ‘in the know’ accounts springing up on Twitter these days. All of the following information is speculation at this stage, if any of it has been published in reputable outlets then I will say so.
For those of you who follow me on Twitter you’ll have seen my post regarding Kim Young-gwon. Japanese media (Yahoo News and others) are reporting that the South Korean international defender was offered a 2-year deal to remain with Gamba and a 3-year one to return home with 2020 ACL Champions Ulsan Hyundai (an interesting development considering Kim is from Jeonju, home of their great rivals Jeonbuk!) With the Qatar 2022 World Cup looming on the horizon and Kim having to quarantine every time he returns from international duty, a move to the K League could lift a weight off his and his family’s shoulders. Further tidbits from the same article, released on the evening of 7 November, were apparent confirmation that Oita kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka will almost certainly occupy the Gamba hot-seat in 2022 and hat-trick hero Patric (22 goals in 42 games in all competitions this year) will ink a new contract for next season.
Further to that original article, Sponichi Annex announced on November 14th that Kim to Ulsan was essentially a done deal as the call from South Korean legend and current Ulsan kantoku Hong Myung-bo, Kim’s coach at the 2012 London Olympics, was too much for the 85-times capped stopper to refuse. With that departure potentially opening up a spot for a left-footed foreign centre-back in next season’s squad, Gamba Twitter came up with Sagan Tosu skipper Eduardo and Oita Trinita’s Henrique Trevisan as possible replacements. Trevisan is presently playing under Katanosaka at Oita, though the fact he’s only on loan to Trinita from Estoril in Portugal could scupper any hypothetical transfer. Eduardo, a member of Ben, Sam and I’s team of the first half of the season on J-Talk Pod would be an outstanding capture from cash-strapped Tosu, though how many rival J1 clubs are also thinking the same thing? A couple of other names I’ve seen on supporters’ winter wish lists are Hokuto Shimoda and Yamato Machida from Oita, though with Ideguchi, Yamamoto and Okuno likely to stay next season, where would Shimoda fit in? Ditto Machida, who despite performing well this year doesn’t have age on his side. Former Valencia forward Vinicius Araújo of Montedio Yamagata who has 9 goals and 4 assists in 23 J2 games this season is another interesting shout from members of the Gamba fan community.
Finally, and I really do mean finally this time, a list of names headed for the Panasonic Stadium exit this winter has been doing the rounds. The source seems a little questionable, but the players on said list do largely match what the ordinary Gamba fan is thinking at the moment which is why I’ve included it here. Goalkeepers Taichi Kato (on loan from Ehime) and Mizuki Hayashi, midfielders Shinya Yajima and Yuji Ono, plus forward Tiago Alves will all join Kim Young-gwon in departing Suita this winter if you believe the local Osaka journalist who published this information. To drift slightly off topic (I know this isn’t Fagiano Okayama Blog in English), Shinya Yajima previously spent a couple of productive years with Fagiano Okayama in J2 and if, as they reportedly promised Mitch Duke upon his arrival, they will be bringing in players with the aim of gaining promotion next season then Yajima would fit the bill as a ‘statement signing.’
After the obscenely long section above, I’ll keep things mercifully brief in here. Pictorial evidence suggests that Genta Miura and Leandro Pereira are back in full-training, but whether they are match-fit or will even be risked in the remaining 3 games is questionable. Other than that, reserve ‘keeper Jun Ichimori (hamstring surgery) is done for the year, Kim Young-gwon wasn’t called up for the South Korea squad for their recent World Cup qualifiers after going off injured vs Sagan Tosu on 23rd October, Yuji Ono (hamstring) is doing rehabilitation work (he joined physical training with the rest of the squad on Tuesday, but sat out the mini game at the end), while Shinya Yajima and Dai Tsukamoto don’t appear to be training at the moment, however, no details have been released yet about either of them.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Personally I enjoy doing predicted starting lineups for Massimo Ficcadenti’s teams because there’s always an extremely limited pool of players he chooses from. The Italian has proven to be a somewhat polarising figure at the Toyota Stadium, on the one hand establishing a side that was on the verge of a return to J2 when he took over, as a force to be reckoned with, but on the other facing criticism for his tactics and team selections. Grampus, one of the founding members of the J.League and the sole professional men’s team in Japan’s 4th most populous prefecture are a side with big resources at their fingertips, but after their most recent J1 title win back in 2010 under the guidance of club legend Dragan ‘Piksi’ Stojković they slid down the standings and were eventually relegated in 2016. Bouncing back via the playoffs at the first time of asking, the Giallorossi sank like a stone in both the 2018 and 2019 campaigns following promising starts. When a possible return to J2 began looming ominously on the horizon, the club made an abrupt U-turn, binning the attack-minded Yahiro Kazama in favour of the Catenaccio master Ficcadenti. Fast forward to 2021 and the Italian’s game-plan is now firmly entrenched in the club’s fabric and they have a Levain Cup title to show for it. What then for 2022? In theory, they should be gearing up for a title shot with defensive lynchpin Yuichi Maruyama back from injury and Polish hit-man Jakub Świerczok fully integrated into the set-up. Throw in the possibility of 1 or 2 high-quality winter additions and you have a recipe for success, right? I guess we’ll find out in due course. Personally I have my doubts as to whether Ficcadenti is the kantoku to bring the title back to Aichi for the first time in 12 years, but with Cerezo and Nagasaki both having horror stories to tell in the wake of canning coaches who’d achieved objectively good on-field results, don’t expect to see the former Verona and Torino midfielder necessarily making a hasty departure should Nagoya fail to live up to pre-season hype. Speaking of next year, to date Grampus have confirmed that they’ll promote 3 players from their youth system ahead of the new campaign, 2024 Olympic prospect Hidemasa Koda (MF), Koki Toyoda (FW) and Haruki Yoshida (CM/CB). There are also strong rumours that Brazilian playmaker Gabriel Xavier, someone Ficcadenti has never really had much time for, will head for fresh pastures, most likely in his homeland.
Knee injuries to a trio of key players form the backbone of Grampus’ injuries worries ahead of this clash. Captain Yuichi Maruyama is definitely out for the year after undergoing surgery, while it’s unlikely we’ll see holding midfielder Takuji Yonemoto or former Gamba treble-winner Hiroyuki Abe before the end of the season (as an aside I wouldn’t be against Abe returning to Suita as a Gamba player in the near future). South Korean centre-back Kim Min-tae, who seemed to have won out in the battle with Yasuki Kimoto to be Shinnosuke Nakatani’s partner in Maruyama’s absence, missed the draw at Sendai before the international break as did veteran forward Mu Kanazaki, I don’t have any further information on either player.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.