Kashiwa Reysol vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 13
Saturday 14 May 2022
Sankyo Frontier Kashiwa Stadium
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
Kashiwa Reysol and Gamba Osaka are all set to clash under Saturday Night Lights at the Hitachidai Stadium in an intriguing contest that really could go either way. A win for hosts Reysol will bolster their top 4 credentials, while, should Gamba return to Kansai with the 3 points then that would put them firmly into the upper mid-table shake-up. The Nerazzurri got their season back on track last Sunday with a much needed 2-0 win over near-neighbours Vissel Kobe. The Ao to Kuro struck the frame of the goal three times during an incredible opening period which also saw them have a goal disallowed as well as Vissel defender Ryuho Kikuchi being ordered off for a DOGSO offence. The onslaught continued in the second-half, and just when you thought the breakthrough would never come, Kwon Kyung-won and Wellington Silva popped up to bag their first J1 goals in the final 10 minutes to shift the Nerazzurri up to 12th and leave Kobe in a world of trouble. Later on that day Kashiwa held Urawa to a scoreless draw at home, though they were beneficiaries of a tight offside call against Reds’ forward Alex Schalk to deny him what would have been the winner. Gamba now travel east to Chiba looking to secure back-to-back league wins for the first time in 2022, however, it will be no easy task against a side tipped by many to struggle, but who have instead bolted out of the traps to confound expectations. The kick-off time suits a good, fast-paced game of football and also a large global audience, so I hope you can tune in to be part of the latest installment of J1 drama and suspense.
Tale of the Tape
Well Sunday’s Hanshin Derby certainly blew my statistical averages out the water, but it also gave me quite a lot to write about in here. I will preface this section by saying that Vissel played with ten men for around 2/3 of the match which may, or may not, give context to some of the outlying numbers you see below, though if I may stick the boot into Kobe just a touch, after all his time-wasting in the second-half of the 2-1 win in Suita last year, there wasn’t a whole lot of sympathy for Ryuho Kikuchi from Gamba fans in the wake of his ordering off (I actually think that when on form he’s a very good defender, so I’m just jesting). I’ve been keeping shots for and against stats for every Gamba league game since 2020, that’s 84 in total now and the 33 shots for recorded on Sunday was a full 11 higher than the next best achieved over that time period which was 22 at home to both Urawa and Shonan in 2020 (2021’s highest figure of 21 came in the 3-2 loss against Sendai in Suita). An xG For of 2.93 is admittedly not great from such a high number of attempts on goal, but it is just shy of doubling the year’s second best tally of 1.47 in the 3-1 triumph over Nagoya in April, though it didn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of the 3.38 from the home defeat at the hands of Yokohama F. Marinos last August (I’ve only been collecting xG data since 2021 and that number [which included a penalty, I should add] is the clubhouse leader). Defensively, Vissel’s 0.3xG was the lowest a team has recorded against the Nerazzurri since the opening day of the 2021 campaign when the same opponents chalked up 0.4xG in their 1-0 win at the Noevir Stadium, their 5 shots on goal is also the smallest number to appear in my records, beating the 6 from Oita at Panasonic Stadium last summer. Finally a quick word on sprinting, it was reported in the Japanese media prior to Sunday’s outing that Gamba sat bottom of the J1 total sprints table (perennial speed kings Tosu are top), and while pedestrian Vissel were not really the kind of team to expose this lack of intensity, Sapporo on Wednesday and, to a lesser extent, Shonan a fortnight ago, were. Having the likes of Yanagisawa and Kurokawa at full-back plus Fukuda, Yamami and Nakamura further forward in addition to the harrying skills of Dawhan and Saito in the middle should help push those sprint numbers higher, but part of the issue may also be Katanosaka’s game-plan which might need some modifications going forward, more on that later in the ‘Gamba Osaka’ section (for reference his 2021 Oita side ranked 3rd in J1 for total distance covered, but only 12th for sprints, averaging 169 per game which compares with Gamba’s 160 so far in 2022).
As I alluded to above, Reysol were widely predicted to struggle this campaign, but a blistering start of 5 wins and 16 points from their opening 7 games took everyone, including many of their own supporters, by surprise. However, just a solitary victory in their last 5 outings, albeit an impressive one away to Hiroshima, has brought them down to earth slightly though they still sit in 4th, 6 points clear of the Nerazzurri with just over 1/3 of the season gone so we certainly can’t simply dismiss them as being lucky or a flash-in-the-pan. In 2021, reeling from the loss of J1’s top scorer the previous season, Michael Olunga, and the subsequent mid-season departure of influential playmaker Ataru Esaka, Kashiwa slumped to a disappointing 15th, a mere 5 points above the drop-zone. A quick glance through their performance data suggests that, actually in reality, they played to a higher standard than 15th for much of the campaign. They were the biggest under-performer in terms of xG For, scoring just 37 goals from 49.8xG (see how those losses of Olunga and Esaka came back to bite them) narrowly edging out Gamba who netted 33 times from an xG of 45.26. Defensively, they conceded 55 times from an xG of 46.94 which meant they were 4th unluckiest side in that regard, therefore we can perhaps conclude that missing chances in the absence of quality attackers, combined with being unfortunate at the back, contributed largely to their downfall 12 months ago. Looking slightly further into their 2021 numbers we can see that they ranked 6th in J1 in terms of xG For, Shots For and Shots For On Target as well as sprints, though it wasn’t all rosy as they came in 14th for xG Against, distance covered and possession % and 16th for passes completed. Moving things forward to this year and it’s easy to see why Reysol are sitting 11 places higher in the standings, xG For has slipped a touch from 1.31 to 1.23, but their defensive performance has improved markedly with last season’s xG Against figure of 1.23 being bettered by a more solid showing of 1.03 this time round. Elsewhere almost all of their other key performance metrics are ticking in the right direction, Shots Against (on target) has gone from 11.1 (6.6) to 10.4 (5.5), passes completed has risen from 312.7 to 335.1, distance covered 112.9 km to 116.2 km, sprints 174.4 to a whopping 203.1 and ball possession % 47.1 to 49.1. Shots For has actually declined a touch from 12.3 to 11.1, but crucially the number of those on target has barely moved from 7.4 to 7.3 per 90 minutes. The goal of this section is mainly to introduce just the raw data and in the ‘Kashiwa Reysol’ section below I’ll attempt to flesh out some further reasons behind the Sunkings 2022 ascension.
Head to Head
Just as they had done in 2020, both sides won their respective home fixtures last time round. The first meeting came in matchday 9 in mid-April, though in actuality it was only Gamba’s 4th league game of the season due to their Covid cluster. Soon-to-be-former Kashiwa playmaker Ataru Esaka was the star-turn causing numerous problems for the Nerazzurri defence with his intelligent movement and penetrating passes helping the Sunkings assert their dominance after the break following a tepid opening stanza. Brazilian Matheus Savio offered glimpses of what he was capable of too, but it was veteran Hidekazu Otani, of all people, who settled the tie 14 minutes from the end to leave Gamba with no goals and just 2 points from their first 4 J1 matches of 2021. The Ao to Kuro got their revenge in late September with Takashi Usami leading them to victory. First, his 3rd minute free-kick squeezed past Kim Seung-gyu and into the Reysol net before a sumptuous right wing cross from a set-piece midway through the first-half allowed Shunya Suganuma to bullet home a header from 12 yards out. To their credit though, Kashiwa battled valiantly and danger-man Cristiano squared for Yuta Kamiya to set up a nervy finish with only 4 minutes of normal time on the clock, but Gamba were not to be denied as they snapped a run of 4 losses on the spin to move up to 13th in the standings. 2-1 the final score and a nice, neat 2-2 on aggregate as if to illustrate just how well matched this pair were (a mere 3 points separated them at the conclusion of the 38 game J1 campaign).
* Jinking Jiro – Swapping shirts with Bojan, tearing into experienced Samurai Blue forward Yuya Osako for his on-field conduct and earning comparisons with Akihiro Ienaga, it certainly wasn’t a quiet Golden Week for Gamba’s new Golden Boy, Jiro Nakamura. With his low centre of gravity seeing him likened to a former Nerazzurri #41, the Ao to Kuro faithful will be crossing toes, fingers and everything else in the hope that Nakamura doesn’t become the latest in a series of Gamba youth products to quickly board the plane to Europe.
* Okuno vs Saito – There was a fair bit of online heat in Japanese Gamba supporting circles over Katanosaka’s decision to select Kohei Okuno ahead of Mitsuki Saito from the start last Sunday, I have two theories as to why the decision was made. The first is simply that Saito didn’t play much during his time in Russia and the coaching staff may be concerned that certain things have been dropping off a touch in training therefore he may be at risk of picking up an injury should he rack up too many minutes on the field in too short a space of time. The second suggestion is that Saito is an up-and-at-’em type of midfielder, see his hounding and harassing of Iniesta (I don’t think the ‘Iniesta no-tackle’ rule was in effect as he got away with a couple) for proof, whereas Okuno will happily drop in between the two centre-backs and start off Gamba attacks with some neat passing which better fits with how Katanosaka wants the game to be played. With Dawhan in imperious form since arriving in the J.League, it’ll be interesting to see how the battle between Okuno and Saito shapes up in the coming weeks.
* Formation, Formation, Formation Part 1034 – I know I’ve talked about this a lot, but it’s still an unresolved issue and Yuya Fukuda’s injury has added further fuel to the fire so let’s take a brief look at it one more time. Katanosaka is known to favour a 3421, he has 3 excellent centre-backs in Miura, Shoji and Kwon, but forwards who don’t quite match what he wants to do in attack. Could the loss of Fukuda precipitate a move from the 442 utilised in the past 3 fixtures back to the 3421 system for the away tussle with Kashiwa? If I was a betting man, I’d slightly side with yes, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
* 26,490 spectators were in the house to see Gamba break their recent scoring duck in the Hanshin Derby against Kobe and this was significant as it was the biggest attendance (by some distance) at Panasonic Stadium since the start of the pandemic and just 1,218 shy of the average recorded in the 2019 season, the highest figure in the club’s history. Well done to all involved, and hopefully many of the youngsters in the crowd enjoyed their day out in the warm sunshine and will be back for more in the future. With rumours of a glamour summer friendly against Paris Saint-Germain doing the rounds, a chance to see the Japanese Messi and the real Messi sharing the same turf is sure to be the hottest ticket in town.
* After working some serious overtime against Sapporo on Wednesday it was nice to see Jun Ichimori being afforded a nice, easy Sunday afternoon against Vissel Kobe. Fortunately he was alert enough to pull off an excellent second-half block from Yoshinori Muto, though other than that the ex-Yamaguchi and Okayama stopper would have had time to crack out his Kindle and do a spot of light reading had he chosen to do so.
* I believe the post down at the south end of Panasonic Stadium is still shaking after Kwon Kyung-won’s first-half stoppage-time thunderbolt on Sunday. Also, judging by his blood curdling screams at match officials when something doesn’t go his way, I don’t think he’s someone you want to get on the wrong side of, J1 forwards take note.
* And finally to a bit of irreverence, if you haven’t already, I invite you to check out Gotoku Sakai’s reaction to Kwon Kyung-won’s opener on Sunday. The Japan international full-back initially raises his arm to appeal for offside before quickly realising it was him who played Kwon on so he decides to slide his hand down through his hair in the vain hope that no-one noticed. Too bad, I noticed and, if I’m honest, it added a little more entertainment to what was already a thoroughly pleasant afternoon for me.
**Update – on 12 May 3 more asymptomatic Covid cases were announced taking the total to 7. However, it is unclear how many of these are players and how many are coaches, physios etc.**
The club announced early evening on 11 May that 4 first team players had tested positive for Covid-19, two of whom were asymptomatic (ie hopefully ok to play Cerezo on the 21st), one had a sore throat and one had a blocked nose. This adds to the issue of the treatment room at Panasonic Stadium getting worryingly full these days with Yuya Fukuda (dislocated shoulder) the latest casualty, my best guess is we’ll next see him after the June internationals. That time-frame also applies to veterans Masaaki Higashiguchi (knee) and Shu Kurata (calf) while Takashi Usami (achilles) is likely done for the year. Elsewhere, Yuki Yamamoto (suspected lower leg issue), Ryu Takao, Hideki Ishige and Shota Fukuoka have all been absent from recent matchday squads, Katanosaka confirmed that Fukuoka had a minor injury a few weeks back, as for the others, we’re still waiting official word though they are all strongly suspected to be suffering from minor ailments.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
*Note – I selected this side prior to the Covid announcement so it may turn out to be very different in reality (also perhaps scrap that ‘it could go either way’ quote from the opening line of the article, it’s very much advantage Kashiwa at the moment).
Kashiwa’s Brazilian kantoku Nelsinho came under a lot of fire last year (not least from me) over his team’s performances and indeed it was thought that it was only his legendary status within the club that kept him in a job. Fast forward to 2022 and despite suffering an achilles injury (which must be extremely tough at the age of 71) he seems to have calmed down a lot, largely settling on a 3-5-2 system plus a core group of regular starters and it appears to be having the desired effect. Being located in a known hot-bed of talent, Chiba Prefecture, it’s perhaps no surprise that Kashiwa have the highest number of ‘home-grown’ players in J1 this season (15). It’s one thing having a lot of youngsters in your squad and it’s another thing actually using them, but have a look at my predicted lineup below and you’ll see that Nelsinho hasn’t been afraid to give some of the starlets a shot at the limelight. I guess many people were sceptical about the Sunkings 2022 chances because while, for example, Douglas and Tomoya Koyamatsu were known quantities, the majority of their other winter additions, plus several of the second or third year pros in their ranks were largely unheard of outside the confines of the Hitachidai. However, a number of them have done the club proud in the early stages of the season, the likes of Kaito Mori (his double sank Hiroshima last week), Yugo Masukake (4 goals in the Levain Cup), Yuto Yamada, Fumiya Unoki and Hidetaka Maie have certainly bolstered Reysol’s first-team when called upon by their Brazilian kantoku this term while reserve goalkeeper Masato Sasaki and centre-back Hayato Tanaka haven’t got on the field yet in J1 2022, but come highly rated. Kashiwa have a relatively small core of extremely talented players, the best of whom would be, captain Taiyo Koga (I’m a long-time admirer), Dawhan’s former CS Alagoano team-mate Matheus Savio and exciting front-man Mao Hosoya. While Koga has been a solid performer over the past few season, both Savio and Hosoya have really come to the fore this campaign. Free from long-term injury and now the main creative force with Esaka, Segawa and Cristiano gone, Savio has been a revelation with his lung-bursting runs, vision and tenacity. Japan youth international Hosoya has been one of the finds of the season so far, he appears to be quicker, more composed and physically stronger than last campaign and already has 6 direct goal involvements from 12 J1 games this year (Savio has 5, Koyamatsu 4). Both Hosoya and Matheus Savio are essential components for Reysol going forward so it’s vital Gamba do their best to put the shackles on that duo if they hope to take anything away from Saturday’s game.
Big winter arrival Douglas has been out since round 4 of the season and he’s the only serious doubt I have for Reysol ahead of this game. Yuki Muto, Dodi and Fumiya Unoki have all missed the last 2 matches, however, they may just have been dropped in the wake of the 4-1 rout at the hands of Tosu. Unoki has subsequently been called into the Japan U-21 squad which suggests to me he’s fit and ready to go, if selected, though Muto bagged an assist versus Sagan in what was his return from a fairly lengthy spell on the sidelines, so it’s entirely possible he’s re-injured himself at some point.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.