Gamba Osaka vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
2022 J1 Season Round 11
Wednesday 4 May 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)
With 4 clubs on their way back from the ACL and the other 12 sides duelling it out on Tuesday, Gamba and Sapporo have the Greenery Day J1 spotlight all to themselves this Wednesday afternoon. For the hosts, the 2-0 loss to FC Tokyo on Friday shouldn’t quite be the catalyst to press the big red panic button, however, it’s probably best if the current situation is seen as amber on the danger scale. Visitors Sapporo have bounced back from a sluggish start and come into this fixture in the midst of their best run of form this year. They’ll be eager to repeat 2021’s demolition job and are frankly be the last group of players Gamba and their supporters want to see rolling into town a mere 7 months on from becoming the first and, so far, only away side to score 5 at Panasonic Stadium since it opened back in 2016. Goals and intrigue surely await us as bouts between these two rarely disappoint when it comes to drama and incident, so why not soak up some nature in the morning before tuning in to a potential corker after lunch?
Tale of the Tape
A sleek start to the year where goals were scored in each of their opening 12 outings in all competitions has ground to a shuddering halt recently for Gamba with blanks drawn in their past 3 matches (Shonan and FC Tokyo in J1 plus Cerezo in the Levain Cup). This slump has prompted kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka to re-think his attacking strategy and it seems Leandro Pereira is now seen as the main attacking weapon according to an article published by Yahoo News on Saturday 30 April. The route-one approach of hoofing it to Patric in the hope his knock-downs could tee up Dawhan or Yamami is in the process of being torn down and re-written with Pereira the new poster boy. Should Gamba finally adapt to the former Matsumoto and Hiroshima hit-man’s style then they could be onto a winner, but it’s still very much up for debate how long that will take and if it’s even a viable solution at all. Pereira made just his second league start of the year in the 2-0 loss at FC Tokyo as the Nerazzurri officially kicked off in a 4-4-2 system before blending into variations of 3-4-2-1 and 4-2-3-1 later in the game, my hunch is we’re going to see a number of ins and outs at Panasonic Stadium over the summer with Katanosaka shuffling his deck to suit his tastes as the current state of flux simply can’t continue indefinitely. Following the reverse in the capital, Gamba have scored 12 times (xG 10.14) and let in 15 (xG 13.77) in 10 J1 games and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Ao To Kuro’s inability to take the lead continues to be their undoing. I’d argue they were the better side on Friday after the break, but crucially during that time the Gasmen always had at least a one goal cushion so could afford to sit tight and play on the counter (in truth the Nerazzurri rarely threatened while the scoreline stood at 0-0, a recurring theme this season). Dawhan and Mitsuki Saito showed a bit of verve and panache in the second-half up against the excellent FC Tokyo trio of Takuya Aoki, Shuto Abe and Kuryu Matsuki, another stand-out was Jiro Nakamura, a half-time replacement for Isa Sakamoto. Gamba Youth product Nakamura was effusive in his praise for national age-level team-mate Matsuki, pointing out his excellent physical abilities as well has his technical nous, however, the Nerazzurri’s number 41 shone brightly in his own right with some penetrating runs and dangerous set-plays. A season high 200 sprints were recorded at the National Stadium on Friday so the work-rate is there and the players are behind their manager, now just to cut out that sloppy play at the back (granted weather conditions were atrocious for the entire match as FC Tokyo will certainly attest to) and get the all important opener against Consadole, who are absolutely not a team you want to chase a game against.
Consadole didn’t win any of their opening 7 league fixtures, but the 5-0 shellacking at Tosu appears to have jolted them into shape and they’re unbeaten in their last 3 with no goals conceded. In 2021 they finished 10th, and while their stats suggested they should have been higher, wasted chances let them down time and time again (though unfortunately for Gamba, not when they visited Suita). Sapporo ranked 2nd highest in terms of possession % last year (55.5), 3rd in xG For (1.57 per game) as well as Shots For (14.6), and 4th for xG Difference (+0.21) plus Shots For on Target (8.4), however, more worryingly, at the other end they placed 16th out of 20 for xG Against (1.36). This year has been much tougher viewing for the Rossoneri faithful with almost all of these performance indicators trending in the wrong direction. Let’s start with actual goals scored and conceded which stood at 1.26 For vs 1.32 Against 12 months ago and now sits at 0.9 vs 1.1, so better defending and more anaemic attacking although the xG For (1.24) and Against (1.45) numbers suggest that further improvements are definitely required at the back. Possession remains relatively high at 54.2%, however, the red and blacks are averaging 3 fewer shots per game than 2021 (11.6 vs 14.6) and 2 less on target every 90 minutes (6.4 vs 8.4), plus their xG Difference has nosedived 0.42 when we compare their opening 10 matches this campaign against the 38 match 2021 season (it’s currently sitting at -0.21, a fair bit better than Gamba’s -0.37). So to sum up, results are ticking in the right direction on the field for Mischa Petrović’s troops, but there is a lot of work still to be done on the training pitch in the weeks and months ahead if they’re to maintain or even improve upon their current league placing.
Head to Head
If you read my preview for the FC Tokyo game, you’ll know I promised goals in here this time round and with 8 of them spread across 2 fixtures, I’m about to deliver. After the initial round 4 clash between the two at Sapporo Dome was postponed due to a Covid outbreak in the Gamba squad, the re-arranged tie was eventually played out on Friday 30 July at a bumpy and windy Atsubetsu Stadium. The Ao To Kuro recorded a relatively comfortable 2-0 win over their hosts, the second of three victories in a row which went a long way to easing them clear of the relegation scrap. Close-range efforts either side of half-time from Shinya Yajima and Leandro Pereira sealed the deal for the Nerazzurri in a game notable for being by far and away Wellington Silva’s most effective league outing in a Gamba uniform to date, while agricultural challenges from Rossoneri duo Chanathip and Lucas Fernandes fortunately didn’t injure either Ryu Takao or Kosuke Onose seriously, though they did cause tempers to fray on both sides. Any supporters of a Gamba persuasion would be advised to skip to the next section now. Why? Two years on from a humiliating 5-0 hammering at Panasonic Stadium, Sapporo extracted revenge with a clinical 5-1 drubbing in early October 2021. That the result took place on a matchday ear-marked for Gamba’s 30th birthday celebrations, complete with a special kit, and a (not very well received at the time, but the critics have been eerily silent about it recently winning a prestigious international design award) new club logo, just added to the sense of utter dejection felt by the Curva Nord faithful at the final whistle. The visitors were 3 to the good by the interval thanks to goals from Yoshiaki Komai and Lucas Fernandes, plus a brilliant strike from the impressive Tomoki Takamine (his first ever in J1). The second-half was scarcely any better for the hosts with destroyer-in-chief Takuro Kaneko netting two minutes after the re-start before Patric grabbed a consolation. Sapporo weren’t done yet, however, and Douglas Oliveira rubbed salt into the already gaping wounds, preying on Hiroki Fujiharu’s indecisiveness and slotting past Masaaki Higashiguchi to complete the rout. From a Gamba perspective, if one positive thing came from the aftermath of that horror show, it was Takashi Kiyama effectively replacing Masanobu Matsunami in all but name from this point forward, a change in leadership which resulted in the Nerazzurri bagging 10 points and conceding just 3 goals from their next 4 outings to officially secure their status as a J1 club.
Jiro Nakamura ‘A light amidst the gloom’ – A disappointing result overall on Friday night for all of a Gamba persuasion, but one big positive to take from the defeat was the second-half performance of Jiro Nakamura. After replacing fellow rookie Isa Sakamoto at half-time, Paris Olympic hopeful Nakamura floated between the right wing and the middle of the field, got in behind FC Tokyo left-back Ryoya Ogawa on numerous occasions and generally made a nuisance of himself with his pace and movement. Although Patric was clearly offside when his header was correctly ruled out in the 82nd minute, Nakamura’s whipped delivery was delicious and I’m starting to suspect we could see him make his first ever J1 start on Wednesday.
Dawhan’s dilemma – Dawhan was another player to catch the eye largely for positive reasons on Friday and indeed I’ll call it now, Yosuke Ideguchi wouldn’t get into the current Gamba midfield if he cut his spell at Celtic short tomorrow (South Korean international Ju Se-jong appears set to return to his homeland this summer too due to a lack of top-team action). The Brazilian’s passing and vision helped the blue and blacks get on top of their hosts at times in the second-half and he almost drew the Nerazzurri level when one of his trademark long-range piledrivers smacked off Jakub Słowik’s crossbar. However, in the lead up to Leandro’s wonderful run and clinching goal, Gamba’s number 23 caught up with his mercurial opponent near the edge of the box and essentially had the opportunity to ‘take one for the team’ and wrestle him to the ground before he could deliver the death knell to the Nerazzurri’s chances. Granted, knowing Leandro, he’d probably have curled in a peach from the resulting free-kick, however, given that Shuto Abe, in this match, and Kuryu Matsuki, versus Marinos, have taken yellow and red cards on behalf of their FC Tokyo team-mates, is there an argument to be made that this Gamba side need to get a bit more ‘street-wise’ to succeed?
Jun Ichimori’s nomadic wanderings – While the aforementioned Leandro wonder-strike was a considerable step up in quality from the rest of Friday’s clash, the fact that the chance was brought about by a careless turnover should have surprised no-one. Gamba, in the first period, and both sides after the break seemed determined to cede possession to their opponents in dangerous areas, and ultimately the Nerazzurri were the ones who were punished for it. Stand-in ‘keeper Jun Ichimori had an interesting night, taking some mighty big risks and largely living to tell the tale. He does appear to be a real character with strong self-belief, but man did he have my heart pounding time, after time, after time, as I sat in the pouring rain at the National Stadium. Briefly, while we’re on the topic of goalkeepers, FC Tokyo gloveman Jakub Słowik’s caution for time-wasting just before full-time reminded me of how much I miss Masaaki Higashiguchi, the ultimate master of running down the clock by testing the referee’s patience to the absolute limit before kicking the ball at the last moment and escaping censure.
National Stadium thoughts – I’ll be honest I didn’t hold out great expectations for the pre-match light show, but it turned out to be pretty amazing and despite Gamba ending up as the losing side in a game that probably won’t live long in the memory, there was a definite big match feel to this one and it was great to be a part of such a special event. That said, the Olympic Stadium isn’t football specific and it shows. Leaving at full-time in the cold and wet, it was extremely difficult to see where I was going and approaching a packed and frankly dangerously crowded looking subway entrance I quickly U-turned and walked 2 JR stops away before boarding a train at Yoyogi. This kind of set-up might be ok when people are coming and going all day watching different track-and-field events, but I’m not sure it’s going to cut it when 50,000+ all head for the exits together at the conclusion of a football, rugby match etc.
Ryotaro’s Return – Finally, some transfer gossip and there are rumours linking attacker Ryotaro Meshino with a return to his former side. The Gamba youth product is currently on loan to Estoril in Portugal’s top flight from his parent club Manchester City whom he joined from the Nerazzurri back in 2019. The soon-to-be 24 year old is reportedly out of contract this summer, he needs a club, Gamba need more creativity in attack, he came through the ranks at Gamba, Gamba like re-recruiting their youth products when they return to Japan from spells in Europe, I’ve put 2+2 together, have I got the correct answer?
Oh, just one more thing, Gamba have a break in fixtures between 29 May and 18 June so I’m thinking about doing a 2022 version of last year’s popular ‘Ask Blog Gamba’ post, if you’d be interested please let me know. If I decide to go ahead with it I’ll put the call out for questions at the end of May / beginning of June.
Gamba starting lineup vs FC Tokyo 29 April 2022
Takashi Usami (achilles) and Masaaki Higashiguchi (knee) are definitely out while captain Shu Kurata (calf) is likely to be absent as well. It’s funny how these things work, as none of that highly influential trio have had any real sort of injury problems prior to this in recent memory, still ‘Haste Ye Back’ as we say in Scotland. It appears that Yuya Fukuda’s head injury is not as serious as first thought, though it’s unlikely he’ll return just yet and there hasn’t been any update on Yuki Yamamoto’s suspected leg knock that he sustained while taking a set-piece against Shonan on April 17. Ryu Takao and Hideki Ishige have both been out of the matchday squad in recent weeks with no official word on their status, it’s suspected that Takao may have a minor injury, but Ishige has just been dropped (that is largely hearsay, so please don’t take it to the bank).
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
It’s Mischa Petrović’s 5th year in charge and I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve uttered something along the lines of ‘things have gone stale,’ but he always finds a way to steady the ship. Last term I had them down as a potential surprise relegation struggler and after a rocky opening they cruised home slap bang in the middle in 10th which whetted my appetite a touch regarding what they could go on to achieve with a stable squad this time round. In my mind they seemed as suitable a candidate as any for that wide open 4th spot and a potential first ever ACL qualification, but like the JTET boys often jokingly suggest, 5th in J2 is forever destined to be Ventforet Kofu’s place in the pecking order, is 10th in J1 (Consadole’s current ranking in 2022) going to one day have such a connotation for Sapporo?
Excellent scouting of varsity football and a well-run youth setup have been the foundations on which Petrović has built his footballing house. Recent university graduates, wide centre-back Shunta Tanaka, midfield anchor / sometime emergency centre-back Tomoki Takamine and wing-back / shadow forward Takuro Kaneko (all 2020) plus pacy attacker Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (2021) form the core of the current side, while the likes of Daiki Suga, Kazuki Fukai and Takuma Arano are all examples of former youth team players presently earning regular minutes in J1. Throw Daigo Nishi, who came through the ranks and has returned to his ‘nest’ (a Japanese translation I always enjoy reading) this season, into the mix and you have a real home-grown feel to this squad. Unfortunately at the moment the 2022 crop of, defender Sora Igawa (University of Tsukuba) and wing-back Hiromu Tanaka (Rissho University) are yet to bear much fruit, but someone who has kicked on a bit is giant teenage forward Taika Nakashima. After spending his formative years with Kunimi High in Nagasaki, the very same school that honed the skills of J1 record scorer Yoshito Okubo (191) and ex-Gamba striker Kazuma Watanabe (now Yokohama FC, 104 J1 strikes), he’s not afraid of stepping into the shoes of giants, and that’s good because it might well be what he’s required to do in Sapporo in the very near future. Just over a month shy of his 20th birthday, Osaka-native Nakashima is yet to start in the league, however, he has found the back of the net twice with the goals coming against Cerezo (I think he got half a hair on it) and Nagoya, in addition to rattling in four in the Levain Cup group stage (braces at the expense of Kashiwa and Kyoto). The Jay Bothroyd era is over, Chanathip has moved south to Kawasaki, Koroki and Ogashiwa have had their injury problems and Gabriel Xavier still hasn’t fully adapted to his new surroundings, in amongst that uncertainty there is room for someone to step forward and grab the bull by the horns, is Taika Nakashima that man, is this his moment?
There was good news on the injury front for Mischa Petrović last Friday with the return of Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa from the bench for a half hour cameo and that leaves just strike partner Shinzo Koroki (knee) and regular thorn in Gamba’s side Takuro Kaneko (foot) as potential absentees from this tussle. No time-frame has been given for the return of either player though I believe Koroki’s problem is more serious than Kaneko’s.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.