Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers
2022 J1 Season Round 1
Saturday 19 February 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)
Eleven weeks since the end of the 2021 campaign and J. League is back for the 2022 edition. For Gamba fans it’ll be a first introduction to Katano-soccer while Kashima are still awaiting new kantoku René Weiler’s arrival in the country. However, Antlers supporters should be able to enjoy an initial glance at several promising winter captures as well as returning hero Yuma Suzuki.
As a slight disclaimer, it needs to be pointed out that although these two clubs share an impressive 10 J1 titles, 9 Emperor’s Cups, 8 League Cups and 2 ACL wins since the J. League’s inception in 1993, opening days and fast starts in general aren’t really their thing. The Nerazzurri have won just one opening fixture post 2011, 2-1 at then defending champions Yokohama F. Marinos back in 2020 while Kashima haven’t tasted victory since a 1-0 over Gamba in the first ever match played at Panasonic Stadium in 2016. The Ibaraki side will certainly be cock-a-hoop at having avoided being paired with Shimizu S-Pulse this season, something that has occurred 3 times in the last 7 years (including 2021), resulting in 1 draw and 2 defeats.
These two will be seeing a good deal more of each other over the coming weeks having been drawn together in the same Levain Cup group with upcoming encounters scheduled for 26 March (in Ibaraki) and 18 May (in Suita) to come so getting off to a good start here will be vital for both sides’ league campaigns and also a morale booster ahead of future cup clashes.
As this is my first match preview of the year, here are a few quick parish notices.
Thanks to everyone for the phenomenal response to my 2022 J1 Predicted Lineups article. It has frankly blown me away how many people have read, commented on, liked, retweeted and shared it, I can’t thank each and every one of you enough, my words could never express how truly grateful I am. As a result of having more eyeballs on that post, I seem to have picked up some new followers…..welcome aboard everyone!! With that in mind I thought now would be a good time to share some good sources of J1 information (apologies if I missed anyone out).
For my stats I use,
https://sporteria.jp/ (English translations in the pictures below)
https://www.football-lab.jp/ (all in Japanese)
https://www.jleague.co/ (generally has starting lineup announcements at least 2 hours before kick off)
Other good sources
https://twitter.com/JTalkPod (J-Talk Podcast, hosted by Ben and Sam (https://twitter.com/FrsoccerSam), I’m sometimes a guest too and other pods in the J-Talk solar system cover J2 and J3, FC Tokyo, and Yokohama F. Marinos, an absolute must for all fans of the league).
https://www.youtube.com/c/LostinFootballJapan (Lost in Football Japan, videos all about Japan, the J. League, matchday experiences, how to buy tickets and everything you need to follow Japanese football)
https://twitter.com/JLeague_Fantasy (J. League Fantasy – for all your fantasy football needs)
@Michael_Master (transfers), @aishiterutokyo (general news), @jleagueregista (articles and opinions), @frontalerabbit (Kawasaki), @yukinho (Antlers), @FCTokyoKaiGuys (FC Tokyo), @TricolorePride (Marinos), @avispadaniel and @NavyBlueWasp (Fukuoka), @seankyaroru (comments and analysis), @R_by_Ryo (stats), @J1tokei (stats) and @JleagueShirts (international delivery of J. League uniforms) are J1 handles I highly recommend following, there are probably loads more that I’ve forgotten, please comment on this article if there are any more accounts you recommend.
Sporteria Stats in English
Tale of the Tape
As this is the first week of the season I don’t have any current data to fall back on and you should see a return of the stats tables I used last year from about round 10 as it’s from that point onward that they’ll start to take on some meaning. But, I can’t leave this section blank so let’s take a brief dive into the 2021 numbers and I’ll let you be the judge of how much relevance they’ll have on this particular match. I’ve provided data that I previously published on Twitter below to back up the general summary that appears next.
Starting off with Kashima who had something of an up-and-down 2021 where they showed the ability to mix it with the top guns on their day, indeed they saw off Yokohama F. Marinos home and away, but were also just as capable of slipping up against less fancied opponents. Antlers’ overall 2021 performance ended up looking far more impressive on a spreadsheet compared to on the actual field of play, they led the league for fewest shots against and fewest shots against on target, were 2nd when it came to shots for, shots for on target and sprints, 3rd in terms of xG against and xG difference and 4th for xG for, however, all of that only led to a 4th place league finish which coupled with Urawa’s Emperor’s Cup triumph in December saw them miss out on ACL qualification for a second consecutive year.
Long term blog readers will know all about my frustrations when it came to how Gamba’s 2021 season panned out, with the coronavirus outbreak after round 1, subsequent ACL involvement and a never-ending injury crisis paving the way for mass squad rotation and a set of results and performances that largely defied analysis. The Nerazzurri didn’t rank higher than 11th for any of my key performance indicators, xG for and passes completed were their best showings, indeed pass completion was the only category where they outshone Saturday’s opponents. While Kashima boasted the best shots against record, Gamba posted the worst stats with Masaaki Higashiguchi forced to play like a man possessed between the sticks and he could consider himself unlucky not to be named in the league’s Best Eleven for 2021 (only the brilliance of Mitch Langerak denied him). The Ao to Kuro also had the 2nd poorest xG against and shots against on target figures as well as scoring 3rd lowest in sprints per game (this can probably be connected to the punishing summer schedule resulting from the early season Covid outbreak).
Head to Head
Kashima did the double over Gamba last season, running out 1-0 winners at Panasonic Stadium before cruising to a 3-1 home victory in mid-September. While the Nerazzurri could use their recent ACL involvement and summer backlog of games as an excuse for the home defeat which came as a result of Arthur Caike’s strike in the final quarter, they were comprehensively outplayed by a far superior outfit in the return clash. After a goalless first-half, efforts from Ayase Ueda and Juan Alano plus a fine solo run and shot from Shoma Doi all within the space of 21 minutes had Antlers coasting before sloppy defensive work from Ikuma Sekigawa gifted Tiago Alves a late consolation from the penalty spot. Sekigawa was then nearly responsible for creating an extremely nervy final 5 minutes for the home support as his wild and unsuccessful lunge to retrieve the ball allowed Kosuke Onose in to curve a delicious shot towards the Kashima goal, but unfortunately for the Gamba winger his effort went agonisingly just wide.
Back in 2020, Gamba came within seconds of doing the double over Kashima as Tomoya Inukai’s 95th minute header rescued a home point for Antlers after Onose had given the visitors an early lead. Later in the year, Gamba ran out 2-0 victors in Suita, with all the action coming in the second stanza. Masaaki Higashiguchi denied Juan Alano with a brilliant low save as the Brazilian raced clean through on goal before Patric’s penalty and Kazuma Watanabe’s injury time clincher earned a 4th league win on the trot for the Nerazzurri.
What’s changed at Gamba in the 2 ½ month break between seasons? In has come former assistant to Kenta Hasegawa during the trophy-laden 2014-2015 campaigns (also assistant to Akira Nishino from 2007-2009), Tomohiro Katanosaka, following a roller coaster 6 year spell with Oita Trinita. A host of new backroom staff have joined too, including, much to the joy of the Curva Nord faithful, a new physical coach (Ryo Yano from FC Ryukyu). Additionally 8 players have arrived at the club plus reserve ‘keeper Taichi Kato has turned his loan move from Ehime into a permanent deal. Regarding the new arrivals, for simplicity I’ll slot them into three categories, 1. Hiroto Yamami, Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto (players who were already at the club last season, either on designated special player contracts or as youth academy members), 2. foreign signings not yet in the country (Kwon Kyung-won and Dawhan), and 3. brand new players who’ve completed pre-season training (Shota Fukuoka, Mitsuki Saito and Hideki Ishige). From category 1 Yamami is the guy to watch, he’ll possibly begin the year as an impact sub, but should hopefully become a regular starter, either as an inside-forward or even centre-forward as the season progresses, look out for Nakamura and Sakamoto in the Levain Cup group stages. Both Kwon and Dawhan appear to be quality additions, but at the time of writing it’s impossible to know how long it’ll be before they can enter Japan. Dawhan has posted Instagram videos of himself training in Brazil and Kwon has been involved with the South Korean national team, so if they can join up with their team-mates soon and integration goes smoothly then they are certainly a duo for the Gamba support to get excited about. Of the other three, Fukuoka seems to be a real character and as a ball playing centre-back expect to see him take over from the departed Kim Young-gwon until Kwon is up to speed, Saito is an intriguing addition who should play regularly throughout the year and Ishige, if, and it’s a big IF, he can stay healthy could be a wonderful asset. At present it’s hard to predict with any degree of confidence where he’ll fit in, but once the season is up and running an injury or loss of form either at wing-back or inside forward will likely open the door for him to come in and prove the doubters wrong.
The coronavirus outbreak which affected 9 first teamers and 3 staff members has obviously had a negative impact on the side’s preparations though they did get around a week’s training in before the 11 day camp in Okinawa with the majority of the squad also training back in Suita for around a fortnight before this tie. With that said, I expect a slow start for the Nerazzurri, not least because the opening 3 league fixtures are Kashima (h), Urawa (a) and Kawasaki (h). Gamba took 6 points from those matches in 2020 and just 1 last year, will early results prove a reliable guide or something of a red herring this time round?
As a consequence of the recent corona outbreak it’s difficult to know just how fit each squad member is at the moment so there’s definitely the potential for a surprise or three in Saturday’s lineup though I’d still imagine the starting eleven will have plenty of experience in it. Brazilian forward Leandro Pereira missed the end of 2021 with a nagging hamstring complaint and only began training again at the beginning of this month so his participation in this clash must be in some doubt. Aside from that, the only other non-Covid related problem I’m aware of is backup goalie Jun Ichimori’s hamstring with the stopper still working his way through rehab following surgery carried out last autumn.
Predicted Lineup and Stats
New Swiss kantoku René Weiler appears to possess an extremely attack-minded philosophy and the 2022 Kashima Antlers have a wide range of offensive weapons for him to utilise. Yuma Suzuki is back from a three-year stint in Belgium to compete with Ayase Ueda and Everaldo for a spot up top while the highly-rated Yuta Higuchi arrives from Tosu to battle it out with the likes of Shoma Doi, Ryotaro Araki, Juan Alano, Arthur Caike, Ryuji Izumi, Yuta Matsumura and Hayato Nakama for the final 2 places in the front four. That’s too many players I hear you shout, and I’d agree with you. Dare I say it, but this squad seems to have been built in the knowledge that at least a couple of the names above (I’ll let you decide who) won’t be at Antlers for much longer, either that or Weiler’s planning on going 2-2-6? At the back, Tomoya Inukai (Urawa), Koki Machida (USG) and Katsuya Nagato (Marinos) have all departed and those moves plus the uncertainty around who their starting goalkeeper will be leaves me feeling slightly pessimistic about the strength of their rearguard. However, with all that said, I can’t see Kashima finishing any lower than 5th and the other 4 teams I have in my imaginary top 5 are ACL participants, could that be the vital edge Antlers and their forward thinking coach need?
Not too much to report here apart from the news that midfielder Shintaro Nago, a recent returnee following an injury-plagued loan stint at Shonan, is still out with a foot problem and isn’t expected back until May.
Predicted Lineup and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.
Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers