Cerezo Osaka vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 14
Saturday 21 May 2022
Yodoko Sakura Stadium
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)
It’s Osaka Derby time this Saturday as Gamba make the short trip south to visit prefectural rivals Cerezo, and with the duo currently level on points in the standings, a titanic tussle surely awaits. Kashima, Kawasaki and Marinos appear to be a cut above the rest this season, but the Nerazzurri and the Cherry Blossoms both lie only 3 points behind 4th placed Kashiwa and with a large number of teams seemingly capable of challenging for that potential ACL spot, this clash between two of those contenders takes on extra significance. Gamba helped close the gap on Reysol with a hard-fought 1-0 victory at the Hitachidai last Saturday evening thanks to Dawhan’s late winner. Kashiwa perhaps only had themselves to blame for their demise, missing a number of good chances including Hiromu Mitsumaru’s last gasp header which hit the post, but for the Ao to Kuro, unable to call on at least 12 players due to injury and Covid issues, it was a result to savour. Cerezo, on the other hand, went down 1-0 at Nagoya courtesy of an early Keiya Sento strike that Kim Jin-hyeon, possibly still suffering the after-effects of his recent shoulder injury, may feel he should have done better with. These two have already duked it out twice this season in the Levain Cup and the second meeting produced the fixture’s first ever 0-0. With the dissatisfaction of their supporters still ringing in their ears, the onus is now on both sets of players to put on a more entertaining display of attacking football this time round.
Tale of the Tape
In my last preview I added the caveat that Gamba had played against 10 men for 2/3 of the match with Kobe, and this week I feel I need to point out that the Nerazzurri’s tactics and subsequent stats versus Reysol were heavily influenced by the Covid outbreak within the squad. With that said, the Ao to Kuro’s starting eleven at the Hitachidai still contained the same goalkeeper, defenders and central midfielders that played in the 2-0 home victory over Vissel and also boasted the likes of Hiroki Fujiharu, Genta Miura and Wellington Silva among the subs, so the team selected was clearly still more than capable of doing the business. Perhaps thanks to a backs-to-the-wall mindset, Katanosaka was able to cajole an energetic performance out of his troops, the 118.8 km distance covered was the joint 2nd highest total produced this year and indeed that number was identical in the 1-0 win at Urawa in February, a game which followed a not too dissimilar pattern. The 195 sprints recorded was also the club’s 2nd highest in 2022, perhaps owing much to the vibrance of young guns such as Yamami and Nakamura, plus debutant Minamino. If you glance down quickly to the 2021 vs 2022 stats comparison table below you’ll observe that things are mostly ticking in the right direction for Gamba under Katanosaka. We can see that xG against and goals conceded have improved slightly, though further work is definitely required to shore up the defence while remaining a threat going forward. The club’s xG difference currently sits at -0.32 (last season it was -0.43), projected over the course of a whole season that means the Nerazzurri would be expected to concede 10.88 more times than they scored. The number of shots Ao to Kuro ‘keepers are facing also remains a big concern with 3 instances (including Kashiwa last weekend) of opposition teams having 20 or more attempts on goal and only 2 matches (Iwata and Kobe) when opponents have had less than 10 efforts at Gamba’s net (the Nerazzurri are on a run of 3 clean sheets in-a-row from an xG against of 5.52 so the worry is that’s going to come back to bite sooner or later). Pass completion is the other metric that is down on 2021, though it is steadily improving. Across Gamba’s most recent 5 outings it stands at 350.6, and this includes a fixture played in very trying underfoot conditions vs FC Tokyo, last season it was a very similar 361.1 per 90 minutes. Additionally, I’d argue that pass completion is something of a ‘sweet spot’ statistic in that good teams naturally have higher numbers (with the odd exception), but going too high, ie Kobe or Tokushima at their worst, just means you are passing the ball side-to-side and drawing 0-0 or chasing games from 1-0 down while the likes of Kawasaki, Marinos, Antlers have matches sewn up 15-20 minutes before the end and can therefore afford to cruise and let their stats lag a touch, but I digress.
Is there something in the air in Osaka these days as Cerezo seem to have succumbed to the same home game blues as Gamba? The Sakura have picked up just 5 of their 17 points on their own turf this season (Gamba are doing little better with 8) and despite 60.4% of their points being earned at home last term they finished off the year losing 4 of their final 6 J1 fixtures at the Yodoko Sakura Stadium, is a case of new stadium syndrome to blame? Cerezo finished one position and 4 points better off than the Nerazzurri in 2021 and while they ranked 5th in terms of xG for, xG difference, shots for and shots for on target, their xG against, shots against, pass completion and sprinting stats were mediocre. Of course they made a pretty significant change in the dugout pre-season, replacing the ultra defensive Miguel Ángel Lotina with returning hero Levir Culpi in an effort to produce some more attractive attacking football. In reality what occurred was a loss of the defensive stability that was the foundation of their 4th and 5th place finishes from the previous two years and in it’s stead came more attacking endeavour, but a lack of cutting edge which ultimately led to Culpi’s dismissal days prior to the Osaka Derby last August. Akio Kogiku took over for the remaining 13 matches and oversaw 6 wins and 7 defeats. Perhaps his greatest triumph has been using his in-depth knowledge of the club’s youth structures to significantly reduce the average age of the starting eleven. This is perhaps best illustrated in the 2nd stats table below where you can see a major year-on-year improvement in both distance covered and number of sprints per game. Cerezo’s results have been a bit all over the place this season, though there has been a pleasant neatness to them. After a 2-2 draw at Yokohama F. Marinos in round 1, they are 4W4D4L across their last 12 league games and those can be divided into successive groups of 3 fixtures with each containing 1 win, 1 draw and 1 loss, so while we can say they’ve never really been out of form, we can’t say they’ve ever been in great form either. Their xG for and against numbers have worryingly both gone the wrong way this year compared to last season, but fortunately they are conceding less while goals scored has remained constant. Like Gamba they’ll be hoping that discrepancy between xG and real goals doesn’t come back to haunt them down the line.
Head to Head
2021 marked the second consecutive year that the Nagai Stadium leg of the Osaka Derby ended in a 1-1 draw. On that occasion it was a tale of two penalties, Yuta Toyokawa’s miss for Cerezo in the first-half and Patric’s equaliser for Gamba 8 minutes from the end of regulation time. Sandwiched in between was a pretty decent Motohiko Nakajima effort from the edge of the area, but there was to be no further scoring and the visitors would have been the happier of the two to leave with a share of the spoils. That result, however, meant that Gamba had still only accumulated 7 points from their opening 8 league fixtures and, more worryingly, had scored just once from open play during that time. The axe would fall on kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s head less than two weeks after this game following back-to-back home losses to Kawasaki and Hiroshima. Later in the year Cerezo saw off the Nerazzurri in the return match at Panasonic Stadium thanks to Riku Matsuda’s deflected shot 6 minutes into the second-half. It was another scrappy affair that the Cherry Blossoms slightly edged and was the second in a worrying run of four consecutive league defeats for Gamba as they faced severe burnout in the aftermath of their epic mid-summer fixture marathon. Both Osaka clubs have also faced each other 4 times in the Levain Cup over the past 2 seasons with Cerezo running out 4-1 winners on aggregate in last year’s quarter-final before easing past the Nerazzurri 3-2 in Suita in a Group A thriller this February. The return match ended in a much more sedate 0-0 stalemate which saw Gamba officially eliminated from the 2022 edition of the competition.
* What I like about Tomohiro Katanosaka is that he’s not afraid to take decisive action when his battle plan isn’t working. Case in point: Saturday night in Kashiwa, after a bright opening 20 minutes of attacking verve from Gamba which led to chances being created at the expense of the defence being left wide open and exposed, Reysol took almost complete command for the rest of the first-half and it looked like it was just a matter of time before they went ahead. Katanosaka then brought on Genta Miura for Hideki Ishige at the interval, changed the system from 4-4-2 to 3-4-2-1 and after a rocky opening 5 minutes to the second period, the Nerazzurri steadily improved and limited their hosts’ opportunities while finding time to grab a winner of their own. With all that said, at the moment I’d expect the same members that came out for the second-half last week to start versus Cerezo, possibly with the exception of Ishige for Nakamura and, if his condition allows, Onose for Yanagisawa. Those with asymptomatic Covid will likely return via the bench in my opinion.
* Gamba will travel to play Cerezo looking to make it three wins on the spin and have temporarily gone from nervously looking over their shoulders at the relegation zone to now staring optimistically at 4th place which lies just 3 points ahead of them. However, I add this note of caution, pre-season I had Gamba down as somewhere in the mid-table shuffle between 5th and 15th, there are plenty of teams around a similar level, capable of winning some and losing others, this is where the Nerazzurri are at the moment. I’m looking for incremental improvements in the Katanosaka game-plan, keeping players healthy and adding one or two who fit the system better in the summer will be key, but ultimately I’m not expecting too many fireworks in 2022.
* Gamba has always been a club known for harvesting it’s own talent and out of the Covid emergency (Katanosaka’s words, not mine) came the opportunity for two youngsters, midfielder Rikuto Kuwahara and forward Harumi Minamino to join up with the first-team squad. High school third grader Minamino is likely to turn pro next year and he enjoyed an eventful 16 minute cameo which involved, plenty of running, a cheeky back-heel on the edge of the Kashiwa box and concussing a Gamba fan behind the goal with a shot (the supporter in question received a Yuya Fukuda uniform as compensation and an apology from Minamino too…I also saw a fan with a baby in that area as well, not sure what that was all about? Welcome to the J.League, eh!) Kuwahara was an unused sub, but he is worth discussing as he has so far taken the same path from Nagaokakyo SS in Kyoto to the Gamba youth academy that Akihiro Ienaga and Takashi Usami have already trodden. With Jiro Nakamura (who understandably for someone so young had an off night on Saturday) being compared to the aforementioned Ienaga and Usami and drawing admiring glances from Celtic supporters, it’s good to know there’s fresh talent in the pipeline if he does go, albeit someone who plays a bit deeper and won’t be ready to join the first team on a permanent basis until 2024.
**Minamino and Kuwahara both started as Gamba bowed out of the Levain Cup at the group stage with a disappointing 3-1 home defeat to Kashima Antlers. Shoma Doi reminded kantoku René Weiler of his existence with a brace and Japan international Ayase Ueda got the other while captain Genta Miura netted the Nerazzurri’s consolation.**
* Ichimori vs Higashiguchi – I’ve said before that Masaaki Higashiguchi will undoubtedly come back and re-take the starting gloves once he returns to full fitness, but watching Kashiwa vs Gamba on Saturday night was the first time that just a sliver of doubt crept into my mind. It was Jun Ichimori’s first-half performance that did it. Not only did he thwart the Reysol attackers time and time again, but he also sprayed a magnificent pass out to the left wing for Keisuke Kurokawa who then fed the onrushing Yamami to set up what would have been a goal of the season contender had it gone in. I challenge you to spot a better pass from a goalkeeper to an outfield player in J1 this year!
* Deadly Dawhan – The Brazilian volante has quickly become a fan favourite since making his debut just under 2 months ago. He seems like a down-to-earth, family guy off the field and on it he reads the game well, has a good range of passing, is extremely fit and has a keen eye for goal. In my decade of following the Nerazzurri, Matheus Jesus, who came and went with the ill-fated Levir Culpi reign of 2018, is the only other Brazilian central midfielder I’ve seen turn out in the blue and black stripes, so I must say I’m thoroughly enjoying Dawhan’s start to life in the J.League.
**Note – On 17 May it was announced that Dawhan’s first Gamba strike, his volley against Kyoto Sanga, had been chosen as J1 Goal of the Month for April, congratulations to him.**
* Personal news – The home leg of the Osaka Derby originally scheduled for Sunday 17th July has been brought forward 24 hours as a result of Japan’s hosting of the EAFF E-1 Football Championship. That makes sense, but unfortunately for me that means missing out on attending due to work. To date I’ve only been to Gamba vs Cerezo cup games live and after the 2020 edition planned for Golden Week was cancelled and then played behind closed doors, I’m wondering if I’ll ever get the chance to take in the rarefied atmosphere. Anyway, personal moan over, now back to the action.
I’ve gone for a more slimmed down version of this section this week due to the volume of absentees and also time constraints.
**Note – 5 of the 7 reported Covid cases in the squad were asymptomatic, so in theory those players can return in this match.**
GK Masaaki Higashiguchi – Back in full training, not yet ready to play
CB Shota Fukuoka – Had a minor injury, was back training, potential Covid case
RB Ryu Takao – Out of the squad since 17 April, presumed injured
CM – Ju Se-jong – Potential Covid case
CM/S – Shu Kurata – Calf injury, expected back in June
CM Mitsuki Saito – Potential Covid case
CM Yuki Yamamoto – Injured leg on 17 April, return date unknown
WG – Yuya Fukuda – Dislocated shoulder – expected back in June / July
WG – Kosuke Onose – Potential Covid case
CF – Patric – Potential Covid case
CF – Takashi Usami – Achilles tendon rupture – out for the season
Predicted Lineups and Stats
I mentioned above that Cerezo and Gamba have experienced similar issues playing in front of their own supporters this season, and I think we can compare their work in the transfer market in recent windows as well, particularly when it comes to recruiting players from overseas or other J1 clubs. Hailing from a prefecture with a population of almost 9 million, it’s little surprise that both Cerezo and Gamba produce precocious talents through their youth academies at regular intervals and the Cherry Blossoms don’t only look at youngsters in Osaka and Sakai, their tentacles spread out into presently J.League club-less Wakayama and Nara too. That part of their organisation seems fine, as does their lower league recruitment, for example, they were clearly big fans of my Scouting J2 article from last year, which I’ll move onto later. However, like the Nerazzurri, when they bring in more developed players there tends to be too much of a focus on a signing target’s objective quality and availability rather than how they’ll actually fit in with the team’s structure and style which can lead to a lot of blunders and this has been exacerbated by hiring coaches with wildly differing views on how the game should be played on an almost year-by-year basis recently (Shindo, Tiago, Taggart, Tokura, Koji Suzuki and even Inui are the kinds of players I’m referring to at Cerezo, Leandro Pereira, Wellington Silva, Ju Se-jong and Markel Susaeta all fit the bill at Gamba.) Anyway, this blog may focus on the blue and black half of Osaka, but I don’t want to bash Cerezo too much, so let’s move onto something more positive. The Sakura currently lie 8th in the standings, just 3 points off 4th spot despite dealing with a raft of injuries, the late arrivals of Jonjić and Jean Patric, plus the Inui Incident (‘The Inui Incident’ sounds like a potential movie title) in the opening months of the campaign. With all of that mostly behind them it should be onwards and upwards from here. I think I helped answer a question from Gabriele Anello on a pre-season preview J-Talk Podcast about whether or not Cerezo were viable candidates for 4th, and at the moment, over a third of the way through the year, the answer has to be yes. One of the main reasons for that is the form of some of their winter signings from J2. Seiya Maikuma (Nagasaki) has slowly, but surely forced his way into the line-up as a right-winger, though long-term he’ll probably be Riku Matsuda’s replacement at right-back, while Nerazzurri supporters will require no re-introduction to Satoki Uejo (Okayama) and Hikaru Nakahara (Yamagata) because of the latter’s excellent performance and winning goal and the former’s wonder-strike in the first Levain Cup Osaka Derby back in February. The final player I wanted to highlight is someone who despite turning just 21 this week has already captained the side in Hiroshi Kiyotake’s absence earlier in the year, and that player is Ryuya Nishio. The Cerezo youth graduate has really blossomed (see what I did there?) under Kogiku, initially playing alongside Ayumu Seko and he now has the more experienced Jonjić there for guidance which should help his game come on in leaps and bounds. Having seen former team-mate Seko move to Switzerland and with the likes of Koki Machida, Ko Itakura, Takehiro Tomiyasu and, of course, Maya Yoshida, all Japanese centre-backs who’ve made strides in Europe in recent years, it’d be no surprise if Nishio follows that well beaten path in the not too distant future.
I’ve gone for a more slimmed down version of this section this week due to time constraints.
CM – Riki Harakawa – Subbed off vs Iwata on 6 May, hasn’t played since
WG – Takashi Inui – Available again after a league and club suspension, newspaper articles indicate he’s not fit enough to re-join the squad yet
CF – Bruno Mendes – Subbed off vs Iwata on 6 May, hasn’t played since
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.