Gamba Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima
2022 J1 Season Round 15
Wednesday 29 June 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
**Quick Note – As this is a re-scheduled fixture after the original game slated for 25 May was postponed due to Covid, I’d like to point you in the direction of my previous match preview here which covers a lot of ground still relevant to Wednesday’s clash. This preview, and probably the ones for Urawa (2 July) and Kawasaki (9 July), will be shorter than usual as the J.League definitely don’t consult me when scheduling Wednesday / Saturday fixtures.**
There’s plenty on the line for both Gamba Osaka and Sanfrecce Hiroshima in this Wednesday night’s bout at Panasonic Stadium. Hosts Gamba are on a run of 4 consecutive defeats which has seen them slip into the relegation playoff spot, however, victory here, in their game in hand, would lift them them up to the relative safety of 12th. That’s going to be no easy task though as their visitors, Sanfrecce, are chasing a domestic treble and know that securing 3 points from this tie will move them to within touching distance of the league’s summit. Hiroshima have won 5 of their last 6 and earned 16 points in the process, kantoku Michael Skibbe will be seeking a statement performance against Gamba, while Nerazzurri boss Tomohiro Katanosaka, a former Sanfrecce player and assistant coach no less, needs a victory in this game maybe more than he’s ever needed one before. This is the J. League, neither side has a midweek off until after the round of fixtures on July 16, it will be hot and sticky, there will be personnel changes, the hosts have lost their last four, the visitors have won four-in-a-row, to partially quote F1 commentating legend Murray Walker “anything can happen in [the J.League] and it usually does.”
Tale of the Tape
Sapporo round up – There was clear evidence of Katanosaka’s promised high-press against Consadole, however, it should definitely be considered a work in progress at this stage. Gaps were left in-behind which Sapporo were able to exploit on numerous occasions, additionally a lack of time to develop fluid combinations as a result of the seemingly never ending slew of injuries and tactical tinkering was clear for all to witness, particularly in Gamba’s disjointed build up play. A further worry was the Nerazzurri registering just 0.35xG, their second lowest tally of the year, with only Hiroto Yamami really threatening to provide any sort of spark going forward. At the other end, Consadole racked up 20 shots on Higashiguchi’s goal with the veteran stopper having to be at his very best to keep the hosts at bay. Sunday’s outcome means that the Ao to Kuro have now given up at least 20 shots to opponents 5 times in their last 7 games, which is frankly appalling, this compares with only Kashima (33) topping the 20 mark in the opening 10 rounds of fixtures and they had a player advantage for 52 minutes of that encounter. These numbers outlined above bear all the hallmarks of a side destined for the drop (-0.52xG difference per game says it all) and it’s set to be a big summer transfer window ahead for the Gamba front office.
Odds and ends – Despite that rant above I did manage to find a couple of bright spots amid the gloom on Sunday afternoon. Firstly, the ‘guardian deity’ himself Masaaki Higashiguchi, who was actually Gamba’s 2nd highest individual passer during the opening 45 minutes at the Sapporo Dome which I think kind of tells it’s own story. He produced excellent stops to deny Gabriel Xavier, Ryota Aoki and Takuro Kaneko and was powerless to prevent Yoshiaki Komai’s winning header finding the back of his net following poor defensive play from both of Gamba’s central midfielders. His busy day at the office ended with 6 saves, 4 of which were from inside the area, 2 caught crosses and 33 completed passes at a 78.6% accuracy rate. In attack, once again the burden of chance creation and goal scoring fell on the shoulders of young Hiroto Yamami who, despite being starved of possession for long periods, and rather embarrassingly pirouetting the ball out of play under little-to-no pressure in the first half still found himself at the heart of everything dangerous the Nerazzurri did. His 1 shot looked to be goal-bound before being headed away by Ryota Aoki while his 2 last passes included a beauty to set Hideki Ishige through for easily the blue and blacks’ best chance of the opening stanza and also one which took out multiple Consadole defenders midway through the second half, however, unfortunately Patric, receiving on the 18 yard line failed to bring it under control and the chance went begging. Yamami has stated he loves the club and isn’t going anywhere which must come as music to the supporters ears at this tough time.
The Skibbe effect – Experienced German coach Michael Skibbe was appointed Hiroshima kantoku without too much fanfare pre-season, however, due to Japan’s extremely tight Covid-era entry restrictions, he didn’t make his way onto the bench until round 6 when Sanfrecce, then winless, defeated fellow strugglers Shonan at the Lemon Gas Stadium. Since then they’ve suffered just a solitary loss in J1, a 2-1 reversal at home to Kashima in which Kaito Mori scored two absolute peaches, though crucially the Viola did look to have punched themselves out too early in that game and were ripe for the picking come the final 10 minutes. In terms of a potential title challenge, unthinkable before the campaign began, it’s worth considering that Hiroshima have picked up 21 points from their most recent 10 fixtures, compared with table-topping Marinos (22), Kawasaki (18) and Kashima (16). In a similar vein to Hanshin Tigers in the NPB, Sanfrecce must be wishing they could go back and erase the opening few rounds of the year.
The stars of the show – First of all, man of the moment, winter recruit from Ryutsu Keizai University Makoto Mitsuta whose 3 goals and 2 assists have proven invaluable in Sanfrecce’s recent run of 5 wins and 1 draw in their last 6 J1 outings. The Hiroshima youth product tops both the club’s goals scored and assists charts as well as registering the most shots of anyone in the squad (37, 2.6 per 90 minutes), ranking 2nd for crosses delivered (45) and 4th in terms of chances created. Defensively he’s not been too shabby either, his 29 blocks is second highest at Sanfre (21st in J1), while he’s successfully recovered possession 49 times which is only 4th best among his team-mates, but still sees him listed 18th in J1. On the right-wing is Tomoya Fujii, a stat collectors dream, and like Mitsuta a serious candidate for national team honours in the upcoming EAFF Cup. Second year pro out of Ritsumeikan University Fujii leads the league in sprints (617), dribbles (86) and crosses (109). His 162 km covered in 17 games is the best among Viola players while he rates second in his team for through balls (30), chances created (21) and possession recoveries (he’s 10th in J1 for this metric) plus, despite being a wing-back, he’s had the 3rd most shots out of all Hiroshima players (19). Last, but not least is Tsukasa Morishima, another individual for whom higher honours and potentially a move to Europe await. The classy schemer’s 57 through balls is the 3rd best figure in the division while 33 chances created in 15 outings is also a top ten league-wide performance.
Head to Head
**The text below is simply a copy and paste from the original match preview.**
3 April 2021 marked Gamba’s return to the field of play following a 5 week break due to a Covid cluster in the squad, and their opponents that day were Sanfrecce Hiroshima. A largely forgettable 0-0 ensued at the Edion Stadium with chances at a premium and Sanfrecce kantoku Hiroshi Jofuku’s decision to play Junior Santos, normally a centre-forward, on the left-wing turned out to be the game’s main talking point which I think kind of tells you how uneventful things were. The return fixture took place a mere 39 days later as it was a tie originally scheduled for round 20 that had been brought forward owing to the Nerazzurri’s participation in the ACL. It will forever be remembered as Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s final game in charge of the Ao to Kuro as Hiroshima’s 2-1 triumph left Gamba with just 7 points from their opening 10 games and the powers that be at the Panasonic Stadium flicked the panic switch. Sho Sasaki put the visitors in front before a scrappy Kazunari Ichimi effort, which would probably have been put down as a Keisuke Osako own goal in most other leagues, levelled things up at the interval. Hayao Kawabe then displayed the kind of form that made Grasshoppers, and later Wolves, make moves for him with a fine finish to secure the 3 points midway through the second-half.
Transfer round-up – My followers on Twitter (I’m trying to move away from there and more onto WordPress) will be aware that I posted on Friday regarding reserve left-back Shin Won-ho’s move to Suwon Samsung Bluewings in his home country, it was originally expected to just be a loan, but it turns out it’s a permanent deal, so good luck to him in his future endeavours. His departure does free up Ryotaro Meshino’s old #40 jersey should he opt to return home this summer. There have been no further updates regarding deals for either he, or Musashi Suzuki, since last week. Another former Gamba Youth product to unsuccessfully try his luck in Europe at an early age, Shuhei Kawasaki, looks to be on his way out at Portimonense, though I think a return to Panasonic Stadium is unlikely at this stage. Brazilian forward Leandro Pereira wasn’t in the matchday squad for the trip to Hokkaido on Sunday, this has led some to speculate his unhappy time at Gamba is nearing it’s end, could a reunion with former coach Hiroshi Jofuku at Tokyo Verdy with Emperor’s Cup hero Ryoga Sato heading in the opposite direction be on the cards? Left-back / wing-back Keisuke Kurokawa’s recent absence has also led to rumours that several European clubs are after his signature and Celtic are leading the race. It’d be a slightly surprising move for me as I feel he needs more time to develop before heading overseas, but he would be in a similar boat to Meshino, Kawasaki and Keito Nakamura in that respect. Should Kurokawa follow Shin Won-ho out the door then it’d be likely the Nerazzurri would be in the market for a new left-back, and having not signed anyone from Renofa Yamaguchi for a while, why not go for the Jon Steele approved Kento Hashimoto (and no, not the Vissel Kobe midfielder, same name though)? Finally, and I know this will never happen, but I was thinking that although I’ve no issue with stating Gen Shoji and Genta Miura are objectively far better defenders than say Yuto Misao, who opted to remain with Oita rather than move to Suita with Katanosaka last winter, I kind of get the impression that if the Nerazzurri had 2 lower profile new defenders who fitted the current kantoku’s style they could do a better job in this team than Shoji and Miura for a much lower salary. One name that popped into my head was Tokyo Verdy’s Japan Under-23 centre-back Seiya Baba. The ball-playing stopper has recently been linked with Shimizu and following his displays in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Uzbekistan he’s likely to be on a few European teams’ radars, but heck why not give Verdy a call, Baba and Sato for Pereira, sounds like a good deal to me, we can even throw in Yota Sato on loan too, how does that sound Verdy?
And finally…with the slew of negative news stories seemingly never-ending (apologies if I’ve contributed more in this preview), I thought I’d report on something a bit more heart-warming. Last Friday (24 June), Mitsuki Saito, Shota Fukuoka and Yota Sato were involved in a “Stadium Pitch Experience Event” in conjunction with Suita City council. It allows nursery and kindergarten kids playing time on the field at Panasonic Stadium (wouldn’t do any worse than the current first-team I hear you shout…chortle…chortle) supervised by the players themselves and I thought it was a pretty good initiative that deserves praise. At a time where media focus seems to be largely centred around looking for stories that paint footballers in a negative light, see the hounding of Jack Grealish on holiday in Las Vegas for evidence of this, we should also take the time to reflect on the good community work done by clubs and players away from the glare of the spotlight.
GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back in August at the earliest
DF Keisuke Kurokawa – Has missed the last 2 league games and has been linked with a move to Europe (specifically Celtic), though I’m unsure how reliable the source of the information is
DF Kwon Kyung-won – Available again after one match ban for sending off against Yokohama F. Marinos
MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, expected back in August at the earliest
MF Kosuke Onose – Not in the matchday squad versus Sapporo on Sunday, no reason yet given for his absence
MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, don’t expect him back anytime soon
FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season
Predicted Lineups and Stats
A team expected by many to get bogged down in mid-table instead finds itself in with a genuine shot at a first J1 crown since 2015, can Skibbe’s Gegenpressing system keep them on course over the hot summer months, that’s the million dollar question. I’d have to say at the moment, their smallish squad suggests to me that top 3 rather than champions is the most realistic outcome, though I did have them 13th in my pre-season league table, so maybe take what I have to say with a pinch of salt. In recent years they’ve had to make do with new arrivals drawn largely from their youth team and also varsity football, and to that end, excellent Toin Yokohama University (Yuki Nogami, Miki Yamane, Kento Tachibanada are all alumni) defender Shuto Nakano as well as Taichi Yamasaki from Juntendo University (Reo Hatate’s alma mater, they knocked FC Tokyo out of the Emperor’s Cup in 2021) are confirmed arrivals for next season. The acquisition of clubless Swiss international Nassim Ben Khalifa in April suggests that Skibbe has a contact or two around the globe and that may pay dividends again this summer in the shape of another left-field signing. The German kantoku originally had the Viola set up in a 3-4-2-1 system before tweaking it into a 3-5-2 with Notsuta at the base of the midfield and Morishima and Mitsuta further forward. He reverted back to 3-4-2-1 for the 3-1 win at Fukuoka last weekend with Taishi Matsumoto starting as a volante next to Notsuda, but owing to the latter’s suspension for this clash I reckon we’ll see the return of Junior Santos alongside Ben Khalifa while Matsumoto sits behind the deadly duo of Morishima and Mitsuta forming one heck of a homegrown midfield trio.
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
GK Takuto Hayashi – Backup ‘keeper, last involvement was as an unused sub on 7 May
MF Ezequiel – Suffered ankle injury, returned to Brazil for treatment, but now back in training, last played 2 March
MF Gakuto Notsuda – Serving a one-match suspension as a result of picking up 4 yellow cards, has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last 4 games, will be missed
FW Shun Ayukawa – Promising young forward who broke his foot earlier in the year, expected back in August
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.