Shonan Bellmare vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 20
Wednesday 6 July 2022
Lemon Gas Stadium Hiratsuka
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
Japan is currently experiencing one of it’s worst heatwaves on record, but there’s no rest for the wicked as Gamba Osaka and Shonan Bellmare lace up their boots to do battle this Wednesday. With Gamba sitting a mere point above their hosts, who in turn are precariously perched just outside the drop-zone, it goes without saying that the outcome of this match is of vital importance to both sides. The Ao to Kuro looked bright for the first hour or so of their 1-1 draw with Urawa on Saturday, but ultimately ran out of steam owing to their taxing midweek fixture against Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Mitsuki Saito’s wonderful strike at the end of a 4 man, 14 second counter attack lit up Panasonic Stadium more brightly than the pre-match fireworks, however, Alexander Scholz’s cool spot kick in second-half additional time, after Genta Miura had clumsily felled Yusuke Matsuo, earned Ricardo Rodríguez’s troops a share of the spoils. Shonan had slightly the better of their 0-0 draw at home to Nagoya Grampus and have now kept 3 consecutive clean-sheets. However, as usual, their issues lie at the other end of the field with only Fukuoka and Nagoya scoring less in J1 this season and, at present, hot prospect Shuto Machino accounts for half of their total. Shonan have lost only once in their most recent 6 J1 outings, but their main source of goals is facing a prolonged spell on the sidelines, while Gamba have just a solitary win to show for their efforts over that time period, but appear to have unearthed a new gem in, man-of-the-moment (boy-of-the-moment?) Isa Sakamoto, and their performances are headed in the right direction. Now, it’s time to feel the heat, which team will emerge victorious at a potentially sodden Lemon Gas Stadium?
Tale of the Tape
It’s easy to say that Gamba would have beaten Urawa had they not played the previous midweek, but then again you could argue that they’d have lost to Hiroshima had the game been held on it’s originally scheduled date and, in fairness, there was a good deal of fortune behind the Nerazzurri’s win in Saitama earlier in the year, so let’s agree to call it evens. Anyway, all I’ve really learned from this ramble is that we’ll probably all be travelling around in flying cars before either Gamba or Urawa manage another home win in the National Derby. The Ao to Kuro gassed-out after what certain sections of the Japanese media labelled their ‘best half of the year.’ Gamba outshot Reds 11 to 5 in the opening period with 9 of those efforts coming during a 20 minute barrage at the beginning of the game (it was almost a complete reversal of the encounter in Saitama). After the interval, the visitors took charge of the shot count 11-3, though even with that in mind I’m still struggling to work out how Sporteria credited them with an xG total of 2.45 (1.71 excluding the PK), it feels like someone keyed in 2 instead of 1, but this is ‘Gamba Blog in English’ so I might be a touch biased. Statistical positives for Gamba came in possession, pass completion and sprinting numbers (scant consolation I know), but the work-rate and energy was certainly there with Mitsuki Saito in particular impressing, constantly harrying and harassing Reds defenders in their own defensive third which allowed the Nerazzurri to generate numerous possession turnovers, indeed his 9 possession recoveries was a matchday high across the league. In the wake of Saturday’s game both teams were probably left ruing their wastefulness from set-plays and for Gamba this has been an issue all year. The blue and blacks are yet to score directly from a corner or free kick, of course some goals such as Patric’s vs Nagoya or Dawhan’s against Kashiwa have come indirectly from such a situation, though with a series of deflections and half clearances in the middle. Considering Gamba have had 67 corners in their 19 games to date and are yet to register a single header, flick or touch that’s gone into the back of the net from one of them, this is a facet of play that Katanosaka must seek to address urgently in training, and it is something that can be improved on the training ground more easily than other issues, so I, for one, will be looking for tangible improvements in the second half of the year. Speaking of improvements, Saturday was Kohei Okuno’s 50th J1 game and probably his best in a Gamba shirt. The Reds clash marked the first time Okuno and Saito had started together in a double-volante system in J1 though you wouldn’t have known it as they got torn in about their opposite numbers Ken Iwao and Kai Shibato right from the opening whistle. There have been rumours that Gamba will move for a new central midfielder to fill the void created by Yuki Yamamoto’s injury and Ju Se-jong’s imminent departure, however, Okuno, who will surely get another chance against Shonan, this time alongside Dawhan as Saito can’t play against his parent club, certainly staked a claim for more regular starts, completing 33 of 36 attempted passes was his statistical highlight on Saturday. Last, and certainly not least, is Isa Sakamoto, who, fresh from taking Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s backline to task last Wednesday set about giving Alexander Scholz, undoubtedly one of the best centre-backs in J1, a hard night’s work on Saturday. Comparisons with former-Gamba legend Masashi Oguro are growing by the day and the way Sakamoto held off the challenge of Scholz before ‘assisting the assist’ in the Nerazzurri’s breathtaking coast-to-coast opener, showed poise beyond his years. In his 79 minutes on the field he had 3 shots, all on target and 4 last passes, I love Patric to bits, but the standard of Sakamoto’s play was a cut above what the Brazilian has produced this season. The arrival of Musashi Suzuki will surely curtail Sakamoto’s minutes to a degree, but he’s been a ray of sunshine in quite a dark period for Gamba supporters, of that there is no doubt. A quick apology to Hideki Ishige, who had his most effective game in a Gamba jersey on Saturday night, any more performances like that and he’ll definitely be featured in here.
If you don’t mind me whipping out a cliché right at the start of this mini section, Shonan are a hardworking team. While they don’t have the cash or titles to compete with their big city rivals, Satoshi Yamaguchi’s charges do try to make up for it with sheer determination and grit, and to that end they average 117.3 km run per game (1.4 km more than Gamba) and also 192.3 sprints every 90 minutes (leading the Nerazzurri by 24, though as we saw above their numbers are gradually improving). Overall they sit in 15th in J1, just one place above the promotion / relegation playoff spot, but that ranking slips a place if we only consider home fixtures. In 10 games at the wonderfully named Lemon Gas Stadium, Shonan have been outscored 15-7 by their opposition. Worryingly for Yamaguchi is the fact that they’ve outshot opponents 145-115 (essentially 3 shots per game), but accrued a smaller xG figure, 11.6 versus 12.56, suggesting that while they’re creating a sizeable number of chances in front of their own supporters, they are not of a particularly high standard. For comparison, when we look at their stats for games both home and away, in 19 outings they’ve outshot their rivals 234 to 213, but only generated 18.87xG for while giving up 22.01xG against. They are keeping the ball better than last year, averaging 300.4 completed passes a game in 2022 as opposed to 280.3 12 months ago, but they are going to need to find better ways to use that possession if they are to survive yet again in the dog-eat-dog world of the J1 relegation scrap. As alluded to previously, former Yokohama F. Marinos and Giravanz Kitakyushu forward Shuto Machino has contributed 8 of Shonan’s 16 league goals to date and he remains on course to beat Yoshiro Abe’s record of 9 strikes in the 2010 season, the most a Bellmare player has managed in a modern-era 18 team / 34 game J1 season and considering last year after 38 games Wellington was top-scorer with just 6 goals, this would be quite an achievement (Wagner Lopes netted 18 back in 1998 however this was when the club went under the Bellmare Hiratsuka moniker and the league was split into 2 stages so I’m not sure a comparison between 1998 and 2022 really stands up to much scrutiny.)
First Match Recap
Gamba slumped to a disappointing home loss to Shonan in mid-April meaning that Ryotaro Meshino’s injury-time winner all the way back in 2019 is the last time they’ve breached the Bellmare defence at Panasonic Stadium in J1. Speaking of late winners, this year it was the turn of the Seasiders’ converted centre-back Shuto Yamamoto to be the hero. The former Kashima full-back bravely beat Genta Miura to the ball to power a header past Jun Ichimori in the final minute of normal time. He was stretchered off as a precaution due to concerns over a head injury, but was soon out celebrating in front of the travelling contingent at the final whistle. The Nerazzurri largely had themselves to blame for the outcome as lots of possession and territory led nowhere and long-range Yamami and Dawhan shots from Patric knock-downs plus the burly Brazilian narrowly failing to connect with Yuya Fukuda’s tempting cross was as close as they came. On a hot day, the Ao to Kuro ran out of energy after the interval and in all honesty, Yamamoto’s late clincher was just reward for a fighting display from the visitors (who came into this match 18th and last) in the final half-hour.
Gamba confirmed the signing of Japanese international forward Musashi Suzuki last Thursday (30 June) and the player, who will wear #45, has already started training with his new team-mates though he won’t be eligible until the Osaka Derby on July 16th, what a debut that could potentially be. Ryotaro Meshino is still expected to put pen to paper in the coming days, however, Yuya Yamagishi rejected a move to Suita, and subsequently put out a nice statement where he successfully navigated the tightrope of appeasing all concerned parties. It does appear that both Suzuki and Yamagishi were blessed with the Katanosaka seal of approval whereas I’m not sure the same applies to Meshino, only time will tell if that affects the success of the deals. In terms of departures, it’s been reported that up to 14 South Korean clubs have expressed interest in re-patriating Ju Se-jong, while Wellington Silva and Leandro Pereira remain well out of the picture and will be shipped out if buyers can be found, Júbilo Iwata, Omiya Ardija and Ventforet Kofu have all been linked with Pereira and I haven’t heard anything about Silva. If I now dive into pure speculation, Tatsuki Seko of Kawasaki is potentially headed for fresh pastures this summer and Gamba may be tempted to move for him, even if it’s just on loan, and speaking of loan deals, it’s worth remembering that both Dawhan and Mitsuki Saito are only on temporary contracts with the Nerazzurri, it’ll be very interesting to see what develops in regards to that duo in the coming months. Finally, Gen Shoji has seen his place taken by Shota Fukuoka for the past 2 games, though if the former Tokushima stopper keeps dawdling on the ball like he did in the 2nd half of the Reds clash then that might not be the case for much longer. Shoji, along with Leandro Pereira, Wellington Silva and Ju Se-jong is one of the high-salary, lower than expected performance, Miyamoto-era signings that I think Katanosaka would like out of the club sharpish. I’m not saying it’ll happen this summer, but I don’t really expect him to be a Gamba player in 2023.
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
**Once again expect the unexpected as rotation will be a key factor in Gamba (and any team for that matter) successfully navigating their gruelling schedule this week.**
GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back in August at the earliest
MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, expected back in August at the earliest
MF Mitsuki Saito – Can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement
MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, don’t expect him back anytime soon
FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season
FW Hiroto Yamami – Was pictured with ice on his lower left leg after being subbed off against Hiroshima last midweek, was an unused sub in the match with Urawa on Saturday, likely just as a precaution
Predicted Lineups and Stats
After a rocky start to the year with the 1-0 at Panasonic Stadium back in April being Shonan’s only triumph in their opening 13 fixtures, Satoshi Yamaguchi now has the Seasiders on the crest of a wave with 4 wins and a draw from their last 6 matches and hot-shot forward Shuto Machino going at a clip of a goal a game through that run. Yamaguchi has continued with the back 3 / wing-back system of his predecessors and generally operates a 3-5-2 formation though it can shift to a 3-4-2-1 on occasions. Surrounded by vultures in the shape of their better minted Kanto rivals it’s perhaps no surprise that Shonan kantokus, no matter who they are, have to make do with a combination of up-and-coming youngsters and fallen heroes. It was fascinating listening to Albert Puig’s English language interview with the FC Tokyo Kai-Guys where he talked about the importance of having players in the 25-30 years-old age-bracket. Well, look at my predicted starting 11 below and you’ll find injury-prone forward Yusuke Segawa is the only outfielder in that range. I’ve mentioned attacking issues above and that’s an area Shonan will really have to strengthen this summer, particularly if Machino is going to be out injured for any period of time, as losing his goals could prove fatal to Bellmare’s hopes of extending their present run of 5 consecutive years in the top flight (the only time they’ve managed more than 2 back-to-back since the millennium). Of course, bringing in genuine goalscorers is easier said than done when you have Shonan’s budget and I haven’t heard any potential targets mentioned as of yet. Looking more long-term, pictures posted on Twitter appear to indicate that former Gamba Youth defender / holding midfielder Naoya Takahashi (now of Kansai University) has been training with the club, Yamaguchi will know him from their time together in Suita when Takahashi performed admirably for Gamba U-23 in J3 back in 2019 and I had held out hopes he would return to the Ao to Kuro once he completed his studies in early 2024, we’ll have to wait and see how that situation develops over the coming months. For now, however, Shonan need some quick fixes, keeping hold of bright young things, Satoshi Tanaka and Taiga Hata will help, but where will that attacking spark to ease the goalscoring burden from Machino’s shoulders appear from?
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
GK Kosei Tani – Can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement
DF Takuya Okamoto – Knee injury, last played 19 March
DF Shuto Yamamoto – Subbed off in first half of 4-0 win at Kawasaki on 25 May, hasn’t played since
FW Shuto Machino – Stretchered off after picking up an ankle injury at the end of the match with Nagoya, must be a major doubt for this game
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.