Gamba Osaka vs Cerezo Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 22
Saturday 16 July 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
The final round of J1 fixtures before the two-week break to make way for the EAFF Cup sees Gamba host Cerezo in a vitally important Osaka Derby at Panasonic Stadium. Both sides are involved in battles at opposite ends of the table making the outcome of this particular contest of huge interest to fans of a number of clubs, not least the passionate supporters in Osaka. With that said, tempers have boiled over at times in the 3 previous meetings between the Nerazzurri and the Cherry Blossoms this year, so let’s hope everyone is on their best behaviour for this clash. Gamba were thrashed 4-0 away at defending champions Kawasaki last Saturday after playing 83 minutes with 10 men due to Kohei Okuno’s VAR assisted red card. Frontale were 4 up at the interval and then Masaaki Higashiguchi bailed the Nerazzurri out on numerous occasions in the second-half meaning that the Ao to Kuro were spared any further indignity. Cerezo raced into a 2-0 lead at home to league leaders Yokohama F. Marinos on Sunday night thanks to quality strikes from Mutsuki Kato and Adam Taggart. However, Marinos underlined their title credentials with a dramatic late fightback courtesy of a Léo Ceará brace. His first came from the penalty spot after an incident which saw Ryosuke Yamanaka ordered off for a DOGSO offence, and the Brazilian completed the fightback with a beautiful glancing header from Tomoki Iwata’s cross in the 92nd minute. Gamba lie just 1 place and a solitary point above the promotion / relegation playoff spot and indeed could find themselves bottom of the pile after this weekend’s action should results conspire against them. Things are far more rosy in Cerezo’s garden with yet another top 4 finish seemingly possible. The stakes couldn’t be higher for Tomohiro Katanosaka and his Gamba side, it’s a game that could make-or-break their season while Akio Kogiku’s Cherry Blossoms should be the more confident of the two outfits and will be seeking to extend their recent dominance over their prefectural rivals.
Tale of the Tape
The Frontale game was the terminus of a run of fixtures which saw Gamba in action Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, while their opponents had the 2 preceding midweeks free. Add that to the fact the Nerazzurri were forced to play 10 vs 11 for 83 minutes after Kohei Okuno’s early red-card on Saturday and I’ve been left feeling like there’s very little to comment on from a statistical perspective. But, I can’t leave this section completely blank so here goes. Perhaps most interestingly, Frontale struck 4 times from just 8 efforts and an xG of 1 in the opening period, before failing to add to their score after the break despite racking up 16 shots and 1.73xG (after losing at Todoroki 4-1 last year and 5-0 in 2020, maybe 4-0 with 10 men wasn’t such a bad performance after all?) Needless to say, the guardian deity Masaaki Higashiguchi was in fine form with 5 saves in total including 4 from inside the box, what would Gamba have done without him? The loss in Kanagawa extended the Ao to Kuro’s horror run on the road to 5 defeats on the spin and it now seems that Katanosaka will need to rely largely on home form to dig the Nerazzurri out of trouble. Beyond Saturday’s Derby lies bouts with Kyoto and Shimizu (both in Suita) plus Fukuoka away sandwiched in the middle, that trio of fixtures will unquestionably go a long way to shaping the rest of the blue and black’s season. Of course, the transfer window has now opened in Japan meaning that Musashi Suzuki and Ryotaro Meshino are eligible to play against Cerezo. Suzuki has a fortnight of training with his new team-mates under his belt and could start, something made all the more likely by Katanosaka’s decision to play high school third-grader Harumi Minamino ahead of Patric during last Saturday’s ill fated visit to Kawasaki. Isa Sakamoto was being rested, but Patric hadn’t accumulated enough minutes to warrant getting rotated out, suggesting to me that the Brazilian’s days as a starter are essentially behind him. Therefore, it’s Suzuki and / or Sakamoto leading the line for me this week. A couple of other selection quirks that we had a mere 7 minutes to digest were Shota Fukuoka starting ahead of Ryu Takao at right back (the early signs were not good) and Kosuke Onose on the left wing, Hiroto Yamami on the right and captain Shu Kurata up top with Minamino. I went into detail a few previews ago about Katanosaka regularly shifting from a back 3 to a back 4 and how much this irritated me, well he did it again versus Kawasaki. I get that he doesn’t yet have the players he wants at his disposal, there were scheduling issues and I’m not sure what’s going on with Kwon Kyung-won, all I can say is I hope and pray Katanosaka and the front desk have gotten together and worked out a proper battle plan for this summer’s transfer window.
Cerezo come into this installment of the Osaka Derby 6th in J1 a mere 2 points behind 4th placed Hiroshima (how those late dropped points against Antlers and Marinos last week are hurting now) and have accrued an equal 50% of their 32 points at home and on the road. Their away tally has come from one game fewer and from a statistical point of view they have overachieved somewhat outside the confines of the Yodoko Sakura Stadium. In front of goal, they’re netting 0.6 more goals per game than their xG total suggests they should, while it’s a little less pronounced at the other end of the field as they’re conceding 0.16 fewer times per 90 minutes compared with their xG against figure. Additionally, when on their travels the Cherry Blossoms have been outshot by 3 efforts per game, so in the light of that, a lot of credit should go to their clinical attackers. It has very much been a team effort at Cerezo as Mutsuki Kato’s wonderful finish against Marinos last Sunday took him clear as their top scorer in J1, though even he only has 4 goals while 5 players are tied on 3 strikes apiece. In terms of creativity, it’s a similar story as left-back Ryosuke Yamanaka plus midfielders Riki Harakawa, Seiya Maikuma and Tokuma Suzuki lead the way with 3 assists each. The driving force behind the side is Hiroaki Okuno who has covered a league best 248.7 km this season and although in my mind he is more of an attacking force, it’s his defensive stats that have really stood out in 2022. He ranks in the top 10 in the division for, interceptions (13, 2nd) tackles (60, 6th), blocks (54, 6th) and recoveries (71 10th). A couple of other veterans I’d like to shine a light on are, first of all, right-back Riku Matsuda, who has really had to up his game following the arrival of Seiya Maikuma. The former FC Tokyo man has made the 3rd most blocks in J1 this campaign (58), is ranked 5th for recoveries (81) and 7th for crosses (66). Lastly is Cerezo’s very own guardian deity, Kim Jin-hyeon, who despite a couple of dicey moments in recent weeks has generally been a rock at the back for the Sakura and his 61 saves in 21 outings sees him rank 2nd for that particular metric. Ahead of the previous Osaka Derby in round 14, I pointed out that Cerezo hadn’t won back-to-back J1 games all year up until that point and indeed had the Nerazzurri come out on top in that tussle then they’d have overtaken their prefectural rivals. However, the Cherry Blossoms’ 3-1 triumph in May was the first of three victories on the spin which actually remains their only winning streak of the 2022 campaign so far. Cerezo are W3D3L1 over the 7 matchdays since 21 May with their only defeat a 2-1 loss at Hiroshima, by contrast Gamba have gone W1D1L5 and, by chance, their only win in that time period came against Sanfrecce.
First Match Recap
Gamba were humbled by Cerezo 3-1 at the Yodoko Sakura Stadium in round 14, a chastening defeat that extended the Nerazzurri’s hunt for a league derby win to over 3 years. Due to the condensed nature of the 2022 season, the last match between these bitter rivals took place a mere 2 months ago and it was a day all of a blue and black persuasion would rather forget. Things started promisingly with Hiroto Yamami arriving at the back post to nod home Leandro Pereira’s cross despite Kim Jin-hyeon’s best efforts to convince everyone the ball hadn’t crossed the line. It was Yamami’s first goal of the campaign and it sent Gamba into the sheds one up. That was as good as it got, as soon after the re-start Adam Taggart fired home the equaliser from close range, the big Australian profiting from Genta Miura’s attempted clearance falling fortuitously into his path. Then, midway through the second period Hiroaki Okuno rose highest to power a header past Jun Ichimori in the visitors’ goal and turn the tables. Tempers flared and team-mates Gen Shoji and Leandro Pereira had to be separated by both Gamba and Cerezo players after a verbal altercation with 3 minutes of normal time remaining. A last gasp chance was then spurned by the Nerazzurri as Hideki Ishige’s free-kick failed to find a Gamba head, Cerezo broke quickly and that man Okuno sealed the deal with his second of the day. The drama wasn’t finished there though as the Ao to Kuro players and fans exchanged words at the final whistle, a couple of plastic bottles and a drumstick were reportedly thrown and an entire supporters group ended up getting banned from attending matches indefinitely. A horrible day on and off the field for the club and like that D:Ream song from the 90s, ‘things can only get better’ this time round surely.
I’d just like to quickly point you in the direction of this week’s episode of the J-Talk Podcast where I filled in for the holidaying Sam Robson and discussed round 21 as well as all things Gamba. Certain comments I said on there may overlap with my thoughts below, but as they say in Japanese 仕様がない…it can’t be helped.
The first order of business is Tomohiro Katanosaka and his future at the club. Having been assistant to both Akira Nishino and Kenta Hasegawa during the most successful spells in Gamba’s history, Katanosaka has a lot of goodwill and support from the fanbase as a whole, a completely different set of circumstances to, say, the Levir Culpi era of 2018. Players such as Ju Se-jong, Leandro Pereira and Wellington Silva were all meant to be part of Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s system last year until Covid struck and Miyamoto got canned early in the season. Katanosaka has now had 6 months to run the rule over the squad, identify who he wants to keep, and who he doesn’t. From my perspective, changing coaches mid-summer with the transfer window open would be madness. Get the kantoku working in unison with the front office and arm him with the weapons he requires to move the Nerazzurri forward rather than bringing in a new face who’d likely spend the rest of the season getting up to speed, something the club simply cannot afford to allow given their current perilous state near the foot of the table. I’m still behind Katanosaka and honestly I’d probably back him even if the Ao to Kuro do the unimaginable (or very imaginable in Japanese football) and drop down to J2 for next year. To those in the ‘Katanosaka Out’ camp, I’d say bear in mind that Gamba haven’t been in the bottom 3 since after the round 1 loss to Kashima so bringing in a Japanese Sam Allardyce type may generate headlines of them having ‘saved’ the Nerazzurri from the drop while the reality might state that results hardly improved despite significant upgrades being made to the playing staff over the summer. I’m all ears to comments saying Katanosaka could, and should be doing better, however, I don’t see a silver bullet solution. The club’s front office have done nothing in the past 2 decades to show they could attract a Postecoglou or a Skibbe, there are numerous players on high salaries doing little to justify their hefty pay cheques, and at present it feels like narrowly escaping the drop under a caretaker would be akin to bandaging up a wound that requires pretty urgent surgery (relegation).
Transfer Round Up – Ryotaro Meshino became Gamba’s second summer recruit on 8 July when he put pen to paper on a permanent deal from English giants Manchester City who had loaned him out to Estoril in Portugal’s top flight during the 2021/2022 European season. Gamba youth academy graduate Meshino, who netted eye-catching goals against Tosu, Shonan and Kashima in 2019 before his move to the UK is, in theory, fit and ready to play this Saturday and I see him as a potential bench option with fellow new signing Musashi Suzuki possibly leading the line from kick-off. On Thursday (14 July) it was confirmed that Ju Se-jong would return to him homeland to link up with K2 outfit Daejeon Citizen on a loan deal, though judging by his comments it appears unlikely he’ll be back in Suita anytime soon. He had spoken of his desire to return to the South Korean national team set-up before the World Cup, but unfortunately a move to the second tier would appear to have killed his chances stone dead.
Emperor’s Cup Wrap – Gamba bowed out of the Emperor’s Cup at the last 16 stage on Wednesday after going down 2-0 away to Kashima Antlers. Brazilian duo Diego Pituca and Everaldo sent the Stags on their way to their 4th victory over the Nerazzurri in all competitions this year. Gamba kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka fielded a pretty strong lineup and may live to regret that as Dawhan seemed to be struggling with his hamstring towards the end of the game while Kohei Okuno, suspended for Saturday’s Derby, surprisingly remained an unused sub. It should also be noted that upcoming opponents Cerezo were able to rest a number of their key players, yet still advanced to the quarter-finals with Hirotaka Tameda’s late winner sparing them the potentially draining experience of extra-time in their away tie with Nagoya Grampus.
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back in August at the earliest
DF Kwon Kyung-won – Has missed the past 3 games after going down with what appeared to be cramp near the end of the match with Urawa on 2 July. On 11 July he was named in the South Korea squad for the EAFF Cup which suggests any issue he’s had isn’t too serious.
MF Dawhan – Appeared to have a problem with his hamstring at the end of the Emperor’s Cup tie with Kashima, I don’t know any more than that
MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, shown jogging on the club’s official YouTube channel on 8 July, potentially back in August
MF Jiro Nakamura – Hasn’t been involved in the matchday squad in recent weeks, an injury is suspected, but nothing has been confirmed by the club
MF Kohei Okuno – Suspended for one match after receiving a red card versus Kawasaki last week
MF Kosuke Onose – Sat out Wednesday’s trip to Kashima, which in itself isn’t anything to be concerned about, however, all the other regular starters were involved so he may have some sort of issue
MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, shown jogging with Fukuda on the club’s official YouTube channel so the problem may not be as bad as first feared
FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season
Dawhan, Shu Kurata and Kosuke Onose are all just a single yellow card away from the one game suspension threshold of 4
Predicted Lineups and Stats
As I mentioned above, it’s very much the result of a team effort that Cerezo yet again find themselves inside the top 6 in the J1 standings. Indeed, since returning from a 2 year spell in the second tier in 2017, they’ve only finished outside the top 7 once, last year’s 12th place. Akio Kogiku (47), is approaching a quarter of a century with the Cherry Blossoms in one capacity or another, and in his first senior management role he is doing an excellent job in a quietly understated manner. However, that seems to be the way that suits Cerezo, a team that generally fly slightly under the radar, even in their own city and prefecture. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what kind of football Stoke City are playing now, but for me and probably a lot of my generation they’ll be forever associated with Tony Pulis’ often slandered, let’s call it rudimentary style. Gamba seem to benefit from this kind of thinking, but in the reverse way to Stoke, as many casual Japanese followers of the beautiful game that I encounter remember the days of Akira Nishino and to a lesser extent Kenta Hasegawa when the Nerazzurri won lots of trophies and played an easy-on-the-eye brand. I’m sorry for dropping this in Cerezo fans, but facts are facts, the Sakura have never won J1 or the ACL like their blue and black rivals which definitely hurts them in attracting new fans and, probably, to an extent, top level players too. With that said, anyone of a pink persuasion will gleefully point out that they’ve been by far and away the most consistently high performing of all the Kansai clubs over the past half decade and that period of dominance shows little sign of abating. In Kogiku they have a coach who knows the club inside and out, they produce a number of promising youngsters on an annual basis (Sota Kitano and Kosei Okazawa this year, potentially Shinnosuke Kinoshita and Nelson Ishiwatari in the near future) and are now comfortably settled into their new home stadium. I don’t want to milk the ‘things are looking rosy in Cerezo’s garden’ pun too much, but I feel it’s a fitting way to end this mini-section.
PS: Obviously I hope that by bigging them up in here, Cerezo will do what all good J. League teams do and fall flat on their faces come Saturday night. But, they can feel free to continue their good work from the following matchday as they continue to push for a top 4 spot. 😋
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
DF Yusuke Maruhashi – Has undergone knee surgery, out for the season
DF Ryosuke Yamanaka – Suspended as a result of the red card he received versus Marinos
MF Hinata Kida – Broken leg in pre-season hindered him, returned to first-team duties, but then had surgery to remove an ingrown toenail (I think that’s the proper translation), expected back in September
MF Hiroshi Kiyotake – Foot injury, expected back next month
FW Sota Kitano – Groin injury, expected back at the end of this month
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.