Gamba Osaka vs Yokohama F. Marinos
2022 J1 Season Round 17
Saturday 18 June 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
J1 makes a welcome return this Saturday after a 3-week hiatus due to the June internationals and table-topping Yokohama F. Marinos are slated to make their way to Panasonic Stadium to square off against a Gamba Osaka side languishing in lower mid-table. Approaching the mid-way point of the season, 2019 champions Marinos currently lead the standings by a mere point with Kashima and Kawasaki hot on their heels and they’ll be keen to continue their recent run of good results in Suita. Meanwhile Gamba, and their supporters, must be hoping the short break has allowed a number of key squad members to return to fitness ahead of a busy run of fixtures which sees the Nerazzurri play 8 games in 30 days in the lead up to their glamour friendly with Paris Saint-Germain on July 25th. In truth, each side’s respective treatment room has had plenty of visitors this term and it will be equally important for both teams to hit the ground running here before a hectic month of non-stop action.
Tale of the Tape
Gamba currently lie 13th in the overall J1 standings, but that ranking falls to 16th for home matches only, albeit they have a game in hand owing to the bout with Hiroshima being postponed last month. It really goes without saying that correcting that pressing issue, which has plagued the club since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, is right near the very top of kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka’s to-do list. I could continue with my usual statistical drivel about stopping the opposition from having so many shots, plus how the constant tinkering with the team’s shape is the root cause of that, before then wandering on to poor transfer dealings, injuries etc, etc, but let’s instead opt for a change of pace in the form of some individual player stats I’ve dug up during the international window. First to a favourite of mine, Hiroto Yamami, who has very much taken over the Usami role of creator-in-chief and main goal threat, for what it’s worth I definitely think those duties need to be divided up. Yamami’s 27 shots (1.9 per 90 minutes) is the leading figure among everyone in the Ao to Kuro squad while his 20 chances created is also a club best. With Ayase Ueda seemingly on his way to Portugal and Yuma Suzuki potentially picking up an injury against Fukuoka at the weekend, it appears like Shoma Doi will be staying put, Nagoya’s Manabu Saito scored a lovely goal in the Levain Cup on Saturday, but he seems destined for Suwon FC in South Korea, so I’m left wondering who the Nerazzurri will turn to in order to take some of the heavy burden off young Yamami’s shoulders…Hiroyuki Abe? Musashi Suzuki? Ryotaro Meshino? At the back, Kwon Kyung-won has arrived and put in some mixed performances so far, but there is no doubting his work rate which I’ve tried to put into perspective by comparing some defensive stats with fellow centre backs Genta Miura and Gen Shoji. Kwon (524 minutes played) is making 4.5 clearances per 90 minutes compared with Miura’s (1142 minutes – most for a Gamba player) 5.3 and Shoji’s (1080 minutes – 4th in the squad) 3.1, however, he comes into his own with both, blocks, 3.3 to Miura’s 2.4 and Shoji’s 2.2 plus possession recoveries 3.6 versus Miura’s 2.4 and Shoji’s 1.5 (all numbers are per 90 minutes). After a busy international break it’ll be interesting to see what kind of shape the South Korean stopper returns in. Speaking of returns, it seems like the guardian deity and club legend himself Masaaki Higashiguchi is ready to don the gloves in a competitive match for the first time in 2022. So, I thought this would be a good time to have a look at how the different back up ‘keepers have performed in his absence. I’ve previously highlighted Jun Ichimori’s excellent ability with the ball at his feet (I wonder if Ju Se-jong dispossesses him in training as easily as he did Manuel Neuer in the 2018 World Cup), but now I have the stats at my disposal to back up my comments. Ichimori’s 79.9% pass completion rate dwarfs that of both Kei Ishikawa (59.6%) and Taichi Kato (66.7% – granted he’s only played once in J1 so far). Ichimori has also completed on average 21.2 successful passes per 90 minutes to Ishikawa’s 11.5 and conceded the same number of goals as Ishikawa despite playing an extra 360 minutes, though it should be pointed out he only made 15 more saves during those additional 4 games, so perhaps better team defending as a whole had something to do with that? With 19 league fixtures remaining and Higashiguchi set to play the majority of them, I look forward to having another look at these numbers come the season’s end. (In creating this mini-section, I’d like to give a brief shout out to the J.League’s official English site which has really, and I mean REALLY upped it’s game stats wise this season and is well worth a visit.)
Marinos are the division’s current pace-setters and they lead the league in xG For, shots for, shots for on target, completed passes and possession. Indeed they were first in all those categories last term in addition to sprints, though they’ve since been overtaken in that metric by both Sagan Tosu and Kyoto Sanga. Perhaps if you’re looking for a slight chink in the armour of Kevin Muscat’s side it’s that, out of my key performance indicators, only xG against and distance covered have improved this term, though it should be pointed out that a lot of their numbers were ridiculously good last season, so slipping back a touch from outstanding to comfortably above average is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Interestingly, despite xG against moving in the right direction, 17 goals conceded in 16 outings this year has seen their defensive ranking shift from joint 3rd in 2021 to 9th equal this time round. That might be a symptom of a more even league as last term Marinos finished 2nd on 79 points, 13 behind runway champions Kawasaki, however, in 2022 no team are averaging 2 points or more per game and it could be a case of somewhere in the region of 66-68 points being good enough to bag you the title. Marinos, Antlers, Frontale and if we’re being honest even Hiroshima, Kashiwa and Cerezo (maybe FC Tokyo too?) will currently consider themselves to be genuinely in the hunt for the J1 crown and where Yokohama may have the edge is in attack. They are currently the division’s top scorers with 30 goals, and outside of the presently suspended Anderson Lopes (7), the other strikes have been shared out between 10 different players, with none netting more than 4. I spoke about defence earlier, and while never a strong point of a Postecoglou-inspired system, the Tricolore have managed to keep 6 clean sheets this season to date including in their 2 most recent outings. With both ends of the pitch considered, to my eye it appears that Muscat has levelled the 2022 Marinos out a touch, the 5-0 and 8-0 wins of previous years are gone, but so are the 5-3 losses and ‘keepers being chipped from the half way line. Only 3 defeats all year, 5 victories in their last 7 league games, this is a proper good team and it’s a side that stands as strong a chance as any of lifting the J1 trophy when November rolls around.
(Just about) Mid Season Data Roundup
I’m not going to go into these stats in too much detail, I’d rather just leave the tables here for you to peruse and draw your own conclusions. However, there are a few small points I’d like to make.
* The Frontale fallaway – The Todoroki side boasted an xG difference of +0.75 during their title winning 2021 campaign, that’s dropped a whopping 0.81 per match to -0.06 this term.
* According to my xG data we could have expected Yokohama F. Marinos to score 2.9 more goals than Urawa across the first 16 fixtures. In reality, Marinos have hit the back of the net on 15 more occasions than their Saitama-based rivals, with Kevin Muscat’s troops bagging double the number of goals of Ricardo Rodriguez’s side (30 vs 15).
* Avispa Fukuoka have J1’s weakest attack and meanest defence in terms of goals scored and conceded, however the data indicates that might be about to change. The northern Kyushu side rank 11th in the xG For rankings and joint 5th in terms of xG against. Additionally, when we compare actual goals scored vs xG, the Wasps total of -6.9 is the 3rd poorest result in the division, while at the other end the figure of -6.62 actual goals conceded vs xG against is the biggest overperformance in the league.
* Kyoto Sanga may currently sit 9th, 7 points above the drop zone, but their stats suggest they are in something of a false position at the moment with only distance covered and sprints ranking above 15th. Summer has arrived in Japan, can they keep up their work-rate in the heat and humidity and can 38 year-old Peter Utaka keep up his remarkable scoring record?
* And finally to Gamba, 13th in J1 last season and 13th again this year. Unfortunately there isn’t much to say this is a particularly inaccurate position based on on-field performances so far. No metric scored higher than 9th (distance covered) while they have also posted league worst shots against numbers. Keeping players fit and maintaining a consistent shape are essential if this is to be remedied in the second half of the year.
Head to Head
Both clashes between these two in 2021 saw the home side dominate everywhere but where it mattered most, the scoreboard. Firstly, Gamba hosted Marinos in a re-arranged round 6 tie on August 6 and it was the visitors who ran out 3-2 winners in sweltering conditions. Élber gave Marinos the lead with a fine shot from the edge of the area, slightly against the run of play, before fellow Brazilian Marcos Junior doubled their advantage 3 minutes into the second half. The Nerazzurri pulled one back shortly after with Leandro Pereira dusting himself off after being brought down by Thiago Martins (who was lucky not to receive a second yellow) to convert a spot-kick. At that stage of the game, the Ao to Kuro seemed to be in the ascendancy with Yohei Takaoka having to be at his very best to divert Patric’s close-range effort onto the post minutes later, and that proved to be a crucial block as Marinos then went on to wrap the game up through super sub Kota Mizanuma with just 16 minutes remaining. There was still time for Gamba to grab a consolation in additional time with Patric heading home Usami’s exquisite cross, but it was too little too late and Kevin Muscat was able to celebrate 3 points in his first game in charge. Things didn’t go quite so swimmingly for the Australian and his charges in the return fixture in early November. Knowing that only a win would keep them in the hunt for the J1 title they came up against a stubborn and well-organised Gamba defence that limited them to shots from distance and tight angles. The sting in the tail arrived in the 55th minute when Nerazzurri number 10 Shu Kurata bagged the game’s only goal, stabbing home from Yuki Yamamoto’s dinked cross following a rare spell of attacking intensity from the visitors. Naturally, they subsequently returned to their defensive shell and a back four of Yanagisawa, Sato, Suganuma and Fujiharu, superbly marshalled by Takashi Kiyama on the sidelines, were able to see things through to the end, 1-0 the final score.
* Pretty close to the halfway point of the campaign and fresh from an appearance on the J-Talk Podcast where I helped choose the J1 team of the half season (sadly not a Gamba player in sight), I thought it’d be a good idea to highlight some standouts from a tough opening 15 league matches for the Nerazzurri. Goalkeeper Jun Ichimori (as described in ‘tale of the tape’ above) was generally excellent before dislocating two fingers, left-back / wing-back Keisuke Kurokawa has stepped up a level this year, Dawhan’s range of passing in addition to his boundless energy has been a real boost in midfield combined with Mitsuki Saito’s tenacity. Hiroto Yamami’s stunning strike away to Shimizu last season perhaps burdened him with too much pressure, but he’s definitely improved steadily as the year has progressed and two goals in his last two league outings are hopefully a harbinger for a better run of form ahead. With all that said, let’s get it out of the way, my choice for Gamba’s player of the half-season is…drumroll…Kosuke Onose who leads the side in sprints (271), distance covered (138.2 km), crosses (51), through balls (37), possession recoveries (55) and most importantly goals scored (3), let’s hope the the international break has given him the time to fully get back up to speed after his brief Covid-enforced absence and he can then potentially go on to match the 7 strikes he bagged in 2019.
* In the Summertime – Gamba vs Marinos marks the start of the Nerazzurri’s summer of festivities with a sports / music collaboration event titled ‘Gamba Sonic’ featuring Def Tech and DJ Kazu playing live sets in the stadium prior to kick off (Black Eyed Peas and Usher blasting out at the National Stadium just before the FC Tokyo vs Gamba clash last month took me back to my clubbing days and also reminded me why it’s a good thing they’re well in the past, so maybe it’s for the best I’m not going to this game – for the record I’ve no idea who either Def Tech or DJ Kazu are). An extra ¥500 on top of your matchday ticket gets you a quite fetching black and gold Gamba t-shirt too while there’s a range of new merchandise on sale now with the snapback caps looking particularly fetching in my opinion. The popular Summer Expo game will be held against Shimizu on August 14th with a pretty dazzling uniform being worn as usual (I’ve gone for #32 Sakamoto on mine) as well as free supporters t-shirts being given out to all paying spectators.
* Above I set out the good, now for the bad and the ugly. Despite unfounded social media goading to the contrary (honestly, I’m extremely tired of Twitter at the moment), in response to supporter unrest at the Osaka Derby, the club have announced stringent new rules inside Panasonic Stadium starting from this game. Flashpoint ties at home to Urawa and Cerezo await in July so this encounter with Marinos is surely being seen as an opportunity to test the water. Away supporters will be confined to the upper tier of the south stand and won’t be able walk around the concourse as is usually the case. Additionally, away uniforms and goods cannot be displayed outside the designated away support area. For reference, when Gamba hosted Vissel Kobe last month, a good number of Vissel supporters were drinking happily near the Gamba end of the stadium, there were Kobe fans sitting right behind me in the Back Stand and I saw a group of 4 young guys a few rows in front, 3 were in Gamba blue and black and one wore a maroon Vissel towel scarf. For me, these kind of interactions are what the J.League is all about and it’s a real shame that the mindless antics of the minority have caused the majority to suffer. As someone born and raised in the west coast of Scotland I like to think I know a bit about that kind of thing and I really hope those involved in the recent trouble reflect on their misdeeds and other more well-intentioned Gamba supporters can lead the club to a brighter and better future. (I am fully aware this last part sounds a bit too flowery, but I couldn’t think of a better way to word it!)
* Back to some positive news now about a couple of the club’s youngsters, Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto who were on target for Japan U-19 in the recent Maurice Revello Tournament in France. Congratulations to both and hopefully they learned a lot from their experiences and can once again become important cogs in the Gamba machine during the second half of the year.
* And finally, I was able to get myself a ticket for the match with Paris Saint-Germain next month, though it appears a number of regular Gamba match-goers were not. There is a fan club lottery coming up which hopefully goes some way to redressing the balance, but I feel the event organisers are in a bit of a pickle as on one hand this is a Gamba home game and on the other they’re essentially trying to market this almost as a cultural event for the whole of West Japan. I know the concept of a League XI vs X Big European Club tends to get pooh-poohed, but in this kind of scenario, I wonder if it’s not the worst idea in the world?
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
GK Masaaki Higashiguchi – has been in full training for the past few weeks, should be fit for a first start of the season here
GK Jun Ichimori – Dislocated two fingers in his right hand during training on 28 May, unlikely to be back before September
DF Kwon Kyung-won – Played 270 minutes for South Korea during the international break so could be rested here with so many games coming up in the next month
DF Ryu Takao – Returned to full training on 5 June, should be fit enough to at least make the bench here
MF Yuya Fukuda – Had shoulder surgery on 23 May, put out a post on Instagram suggesting he’ll miss the friendly with Paris Saint-Germain on 25 July, expect him back in late August / September at the earliest
MF Shu Kurata – Calf injury, I’d hoped he’d be ready for this match, but he hasn’t re-started full training yet which suggests a return in mid July at the very earliest
MF Mitsuki Saito – Was absent from open training sessions the club held on 5 and 12 June, no reason has yet been given
MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury sustained in training on May 22, no details given on the severity, at best I’d say 2-3 months, at worst his season is over
FW Takashi Usami – Achilles tendon rupture, was sighted lightly kicking a ball in training on 5 June, but he’s still a long, long way off a full return
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Yokohama F. Marinos
I wrote the following about Marinos kantoku Kevin Muscat and his troops in my J1 2022 Predicted Lineups post back in January, “I’m open minded as to what he [Muscat] can achieve given the time and space to put his own mark on the team. I’d argue that this squad is slightly weaker than 12 months ago, however, there is still plenty of talent onboard and top 4 should be a minimum expectation.” If you read that article back again you can find many dubious calls (Yuma Suzuki maybe not being a regular starter at Kashima – what was I thinking?) so I’m happy to milk a relatively accurate one. I’d now like to go on to point out a couple of areas in which I think Marinos, as an organisation, perform at a higher level than most of their rivals. Firstly, at the moment I’m taking part in the Transfermarkt.jp summer update for J1 and J2 and what really stands out to me is how few grizzled veterans (players who lose their value really quickly on that site) are in their squad, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it’s just right. This allows for good squad balance and an effective rotation system where quality players such as Kota Mizanuma, Joel Chima Fujita, Kota Watanabe and Ken Matsubara accept not being regular starters while still receiving plenty of playing minutes. Several other J1 outfits (Gamba being chief among them) tend to have backlogs of players in certain positions who are well within their rights to consider themselves J1 level starters while other areas of the field are much more sparsely covered. With that said, one of the best balanced squads in the division does seem to be slightly overloaded with right-wingers, though in fairness that is by far and away the most overstocked outfield position in Japanese football. Secondly, and this is another facet in which they blow Gamba out of the water, their recruitment of foreign stars who fit into the team tactically and culturally has been second to none since around mid-2018. Whether this has been down to the CFG connection or Ange Postecoglou’s lengthy book of contacts remains to be seen, and while it’s still too early to decide how to definitively rate the off-season capture of Eduardo, at present I feel confident in saying Marinos haven’t really whiffed on a foreign signing since Ange’s first transfer window (Yun Il-lok and Olivier Boumal, possibly Dusan later that year too, though I may be judging that trio a tad harshly?) Finally, a couple of players I wanted to point out as ones to watch, young centre-back Ryotaro Tsunoda (Kaoru Mitoma’s former team-mate at the University of Tsukuba), is still raw, but has stepped up well to help assuage the loss of Thiago Martins and the early bedding-in struggles of Eduardo while Takuma Nishimura (Vegalta Sendai) was an unheralded arrival who has really hit the ground running. He, of course, netted the winner for Sendai in their 3-2 triumph at Panasonic Stadium last year and is definitely a player to keep an eye on this Saturday night (On Tuesday I had flashbacks to that goal as Issam Jebali raced forward for Tunisia prior to his 93rd minute wonder-strike at the same end of the ground).
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
DF Ryuta Koike – Missed the last J1 game and was also out of a heavily rotated squad for the Emperor’s Cup win over Suzuka. I could have sworn I saw something about it being injury related, but now I can’t find anything.
MF Joel Chima Fujita – Won’t play due to his participation in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Uzbekistan where he’s been excellent on the couple of occasions I’ve seen him
MF Takuya Kida – Groin strain, expected back in about a month’s time
MF Ryo Miyaichi – Injured left hamstring against Suzuka on 1 June, reportedly out for a month
FW Élber – Subbed at half-time in the win over Nagoya Grampus on 7 May with a groin injury and not seen since, has apparently returned to training though
FW Anderson Lopes – Currently in the midst of a 6 game ban for spitting at an opponent in the recent defeat to Avispa Fukuoka
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.