Shimizu S-Pulse vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 8
Sunday 10 April 2022
IAI Stadium Nihondaira
Kick Off: 13:00 (JST)
A hectic week of J1 action builds to a crescendo this Sunday with a slate of 8 fixtures, and while Shimizu vs Gamba at the picturesque Nihondaira Stadium may not initially be the most enticing match on the card, it promises to be an intriguing encounter nonetheless. Both sides drew their midweek outings 1-1 away from home, Gamba will still be ruing the chances they missed against Kyoto on Wednesday, but were ultimately fortunate to survive a late onslaught and escape back to Suita with a point. S-Pulse, on the other hand, will be far more content with their evening’s work, pegging back ACL competitors Urawa after earlier falling behind courtesy of Ataru Esaka’s first-half penalty. Atsuki Ito became the 3rd Reds player to see red in 2022 and his dismissal opened the door for a Shimizu fightback. I’ve often compared Mendes (Kyoto) and Valdo (Shimizu) due to the propensity of the pair to be dangers at both ends of the field, and while Mendes squandered his opportunity to be a hero late on against Gamba, Valdo powered home a header from Reon Yamahara’s fine cross to lift his side out of the drop zone on goal difference. The Nerazzurri are one of five teams currently sitting on 9 points, however, S-Pulse could draw level with them should they secure victory in this fixture for the first time since 2017. It promises to be a fascinating bout, be sure to tune in if you get the chance.
Tale of the Tape
Gamba are currently unbeaten on the road in J1 2022 albeit after only 3 games played. Their only clean sheet of the year came in the 1-0 away win at Urawa in February and in total they’ve only given up 2 goals (xG 3.32), granted their other opponents were the two newly promoted sides, Iwata and Kyoto. I might have my blue and black sunglasses on when I say this, but the Nerazzurri’s official xG For figures seem a touch low across their recent matches with Grampus and Sanga. Mendes’ big miss at the end put the Royals into the xG lead on Wednesday, but earlier in the tie, Kosuke Onose (twice), Gen Shoji and Hiroto Yamami had all spurned chances that I thought would register higher with the xG bean counters to balance out the fact that Dawhan’s wonder strike was quite a low percentage effort. Let’s just dwell on Dawhan’s first J1 goal, in only his second outing, for justa moment. By my reckoning that’s the Ao To Kuro’s 6th particularly impressive effort of the year, so they’re cooking along nicely in that entirely subjective metric, showing, in my eyes at least, the quality of shooting ability that exists among the playing squad. At the back, Gen Shoji had a bit of an off-day versus Kyoto, but what is of greater concern to me is the 16 shots against given up in both the win over Grampus and the draw at Sanga. Of course the Nerazzurri were 3 goals to the good with 28 minutes left plus injury time against Kenta Hasegawa’s troops on Saturday, so perhaps the late barrage in Kameoka on Wednesday is of greater concern, particularly as half of Kyoto’s efforts were registered from the 80th minute onwards. This could be an indication that a bit more rotation is required for the upcoming bout with Shimizu, or at the very least substitutions will need to be made sooner at the Nihondaira than they were at Sanga Stadium, the 109.5 km total team distance covered (a season low) might be interpreted as another arrow pointing in that direction.
While Gamba under Katanosaka have at times battled to dominate their opponents, clocking up an average of just 46.3% ball possession per game so far in 2022, Shimizu’s number for that particular metric sits at a paltry 44.1%, so it’ll be very interesting to see which side is more comfortable stepping onto the front foot on Sunday. Wracked by injuries in the opening weeks of the campaign, S-Pulse are without a win in their most recent 5 league outings (2D3L) and only Kobe (5) plus Shonan and Fukuoka (both 4) have notched up fewer than the Shizuoka side’s 6 league goals. Shimizu have registered a mediocre 6.82 xG For in their 7 J1 fixtures to date and have only exceeded an xG of 1 in a single contest twice (Iwata and Urawa, both away) this compares with the Nerazzurri’s figure of 7.13xG with 3 games containing an xG For of over 1. The absences of key Brazilian attackers, Thiago Santana and Carlinhos Junior, in addition to the late arrival of South Korean forward Oh Se-hun largely account for Shimizu’s anaemic attack as kantoku Hiroaki Hiraoka (not an easy name to get right well past the midnight hour) has been forced into utilising players more often thought of as wingers or number tens in the central attacking roles. To set the scene for his now inevitable winner on Sunday, I’ll point out that although his former boss at Oita, Tomohiro Katanosaka, is likely a fan, I’m amazed that Yusuke Goto still has a J1 contract with a record of only 4 goals in 72 appearances at this level. Finally, let’s briefly take a look at S-Pulse’s rearguard which has generally performed better than their attack, though with Valdo the only first choice to really spend any time on the sidelines I guess that’s to be expected. The Shizuoka-based outfit’s defensive numbers are extremely similar to Sunday’s opponents with 10 goals conceded in 7 outings lying one shy of the Nerazzurri’s figure, the two sides’ xG Against totals are extremely similar too, Shimizu’s tally is 10.09 while Gamba’s is 10.23, both team’s have just a solitary clean sheet to their name as well and I know I stopped doing scoreline predictions over a year ago, but a lot of what I’m writing points towards a scrappy 1-1 draw, doesn’t it?
Head to Head
Only 1 goal in the 2 fixtures between these sides in 2021 and what a goal it was. Hiroto Yamami, then a special designated player as he completed his studies at Kwansei Gakuin University, lit up a wet and windy Shizuoka night with a wonderful cut inside from the right wing followed by a sumptuous arced shot into Shuichi Gonda’s top right corner to settle a tightly contested affair played out in challenging blustery conditions. Four months earlier, in April, both Yosuke Ideguchi and Takashi Usami struck the frame of the goal at Panasonic Stadium, but after that the game petered out into a rather tame 0-0, the Nerazzurri’s fifth failure to score in their opening six fixtures, though it was their fourth clean sheet in the same time period, so I guess we can say that result was rather predictable.
A deeper shade of blue – You may be able to tell that I’ve written this preview in a bit of a rush as the second half of my week is generally a good deal busier than the start, anyway where was I going with this, ah yes, I still haven’t really processed my thoughts on the Kyoto game, but I have a sort of aching sense of disappointment inside. Two wins, three draws and two losses is very much par for the course at this stage of the year. Against Sanga, just like in the Júbilo game, there was plenty of attacking endeavour, but a lack of a real clinical edge, and how the Nerazzurri must have wished they had someone with the prowess of Peter Utaka in their ranks. Shimizu currently sit 15th in J1, but are gradually getting players back and represent a real tough test, a win would be great, a draw would leave many questions unanswered and a defeat would represent a significant setback for sure, who knows what my mood will be come Sunday evening.
Young hearts run free – A real positive for the travelling Nerazzurri support on Wednesday night was the cameo appearances from academy graduates Isa Sakamoto and Jiro Nakamura. Kumamoto-native Sakamoto, in particular, shone during his J1 debut, almost assisting Kosuke Onose within minutes of replacing Hiroto Yamami. His work-rate, touch and composure on the ball really impressed me and hopefully we see a lot more of him in a blue and black (or white) shirt in the coming weeks and months.
Rotation, rotation, rotation revisited – Don’t worry I’m not about to quote Tim Canterbury again, but I do feel that the rotation, or more to the point, the lack of it, needs further comment. Captain Shu Kurata being replaced on the left wing by Hideki Ishige, who unfortunately flattered to deceive once more, was surprisingly the only change to Gamba’s starting eleven from the 3-1 win over Nagoya the previous weekend. As I laid out above, Kyoto finished Wednesday’s fixture much stronger than the Nerazzurri so I wonder if Katanosaka will seek to shake things up a little for Shimizu on Sunday. Full-back might be one area to get a makeover with a first start for Hiroki Fujiharu and the return of Ko Yanagisawa, if fit, potentially on the cards. In midfield, I like Kohei Okuno playing the ‘closing pitcher’ role with Ju Se-jong offering support on occasion, hopefully Saito and Dawhan start again versus S-Pulse and go flat out for the first 60-65 minutes before getting a reprieve. Finally, in attack surely Patric won’t start 3 games in the space of 8 days, but either Leandro Pereira’s hamstring remains a cause for concern or Katanosaka is not a big fan despite his 2 goals in recent weeks, plus I’ve no idea why Wellington Silva wasn’t involved on Wednesday after an all-action sub appearance at the weekend. I guess the makeup of Gamba’s starting eleven will once again be very much a case of wait-and-see for the Nerazzurri faithful.
Masaaki Higashiguchi (knee) and Takashi Usami (achilles) are the two definite absentees for Gamba having undergone surgery, Higashiguchi was spotted standing normally in one of Shota Fukuoka’s April Fool’s Day pictures and he’ll hopefully be back some time next month. Other than that, captain Shu Kurata wasn’t in the matchday squad for the short trip to Kyoto on Wednesday though it’s unknown if he was simply being rested or he’s picked up a minor knock. Ko Yanagisawa and Yuki Yamamoto have been absent for the past 2 league fixtures with no updates given on their injury status. Yamamoto, like Higashiguchi, was photographed by Fukuoka last Friday so there’s nothing to indicate he’s not training, Yanagisawa, on the other hand, may well have some kind of fitness issue. Wellington Silva’s current status is similarly shrouded in mystery as after a buccaneering cameo as a sub against Grampus on Saturday he didn’t even make the bench on Wednesday, hopefully he’s just being saved up ready to be unleashed on an unsuspecting S-Pulse on Sunday.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
It certainly hasn’t been an easy start to life as a permanent J1 kantoku for Hiroaki Hiraoka with his charges decimated by injury early on in the campaign. Still, he has managed to keep them within touching distance of the peloton despite facing a number of tough fixtures and will be looking for his side to make strides in the right direction now that some of their bigger names are returning. Hiraoka may, of course, be hindered by the chronic instability which has plagued this iconic and hugely likeable club from Japan’s footballing heartland in recent seasons. I mentioned Nagoya’s managerial merry-go-round in one of my most recent previews and S-Pulse truly define the lack of imagination that often mars J.League coaching appointments, switching from the attack-minded Peter Cklamovski to the polar opposite in Miguel Ángel Lotina before now settling on the internally appointed Hiraoka. It should be noted that Swede Jan Jönsson was the last Shimizu coach to survive a whole season at the helm, and that was back in 2018 when they finished an excellent 8th. It’s not just in the dugout where things have been hard to fathom, their transfer business has been head scratching at times too. Impressive acquisitions such as national team ‘keeper Shuichi Gonda, Katanosaka’s former captain at Oita, Yoshinori Suzuki, Tosu starlet and Paris Olympics candidate Daiki Matsuoka plus imposing forward Thiago Santana form an excellent spine to this team and show that the finances are there to build a competitive side, if, and it’s a big if, they are deployed wisely. On the flip side of the coin, this year’s squad is very unbalanced with Takeru Kishimoto coming in to compete with Teruki Hara, Eiichi Katayama and Reon Yamahara for the right-back spot (yes I know Katayama and Yamahara can play elsewhere too) meaning there are 4 excellent full-backs at the club, but to my mind only one top level centre back (the aforementioned Suzuki). Anyway, I don’t want this to meander into my usual rant against Shimizu’s front office so let’s finish by talking about a couple of bright sparks, attacker Yuito Suzuki and versatile wide-man Yamahara. Readers of my pre-season preview will know I picked out former Funabashi Municipal High School forward Suzuki as S-Pulse’s key player this term and he got off to a flier with goals in his first 2 league appearances, they’ve dried up since then, however, I remain confident that in tandem with Santana and / or Oh Se-hun he can re-discover his goalscoring touch and establish himself as one to watch. Yamahara, like Hiroto Yamami for Gamba, was a special designated player in 2021 who managed to clock up a number of J1 appearances, 5 of them to be precise, which has allowed him to hit the ground running in his official rookie season. The JFA Academy Fukushima and University of Tsukuba graduate has assists in each of his last 2 league outings and with his versatility, work-rate, touch and crossing ability all looking good early on this season he’s someone who could go on to make great strides in the game.
The treatment room at the Nihondaira has certainly been a busy place this year with kantoku Hiraoka no doubt grateful Shimizu have such a large first team squad. The Shizuoka-based side’s Brazilian contingent have been hit particularly hard, Valdo has recently made his return, but compatriots Thiago Santana (13 goals in 37 J1 games in 2021), Carlinhos Junior (missed the final 5 games of 2021) and Renato Augusto (long, long-term knee injury) have all sat out the entire campaign to date. Additionally, talented home-grown winger Kenta Nishizawa has been absent with a wrist injury, though he is expected back soon while forwards, Benjamin Kololli and Daigo Takahashi, plus versatile midfielder Ryohei Shirasaki all dropped out of the squad for the midweek trip to Saitama and whether that was due to fitness or rotation is unclear. More positively, Daiki Matsuoka was on the bench as an unused sub on Wednesday, the first time he’s been spotted this year and recent recruit from Ulsan Hyundai, Oh Se-hun made his J1 debut, playing the final half hour of the draw with Reds.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.
Shimizu S-Pulse vs Gamba Osaka