Nagoya Grampus vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 27
Saturday 27 August 2022
Kick Off: 18:00 (JST)
As the clock ticks ever closer to midnight on Gamba’s season they face the second of three away trips on the spin, this time at a Nagoya side who find themselves comfortably ensconced in mid-table. Could this be just the match Hiroshi Matsuda and his battered Nerazzurri troops are looking for, or does more heartbreak await at the Toyota Stadium? Gamba went down 5-2 at Sanfrecce Hiroshima last Saturday in a game that in some ways defies explanation and in others tells you everything you need to know about their 2022 campaign. Despite leading for half the contest, 4 goals in 16 breathtaking minutes from the Viola gave them an emphatic win that almost entirely erased the positive feeling built up during a dull, but largely effective opening 72 minutes from the Nerazzurri. That result leaves Gamba right where they started the matchday, 2nd bottom, only above Júbilo on goal difference and with just 9 fixtures remaining, including the next 3 within the space of 8 days, the blue and blacks have used up all of their lives and simply must start winning again following a barren run of 5 losses and 2 draws. Nagoya, coached by former Ao to Kuro treble-winning kantoku Kenta Hasegawa, have spent the bulk of the year floating just above the drop-zone without ever looking in serious danger and with last Friday night’s 1-0 victory over bottom side Júbilo Iwata safely in the bag they can surely begin planning for 2023 as they now find themselves almost equidistant, in terms of points, from the ACL places and the bottom 3. With that said, I’m sure the Grampus faithful will be expecting a professional display and a win, while Gamba, who will surely take a large following east to Aichi, know that victory at any cost is absolutely essential.
A quick reminder that I joined Sam on this week’s J-Talk Podcast where we discussed Gamba vs Sanfrecce and all the other games on the round 26 slate as well as looking ahead to the upcoming fixtures and commenting on developments in the Asian Champions League. Please check it out if you haven’t already, it’s available on all good podcast apps.
Tale of the Tape
There was absolutely nothing subtle or flashy about what Hiroshi Matsuda did tactics-wise against Hiroshima, 4-4-2, three banks of players set up to stifle Sanfrecce and their gegenpressing system, plus two ‘big men’ up-front with wingers on the flanks. Coming straight from the Sam Allardyce / Tony Pulis playbook as it did, one could argue for a club in Gamba’s predicament it was the most sensible option. Once Michael Skibbe and his coaching team saw the Nerazzurri lineup I’m sure there was little doubt in their minds how Gamba would play, yet still for the majority of the game, they struggled to deal with it. Rather prematurely I scribbled in my notes during the second-half drinks break, ‘2-1 Gamba, holding on quite comfortably.’ Famous last words though they were, I’m sure had you taken a sample poll of fans watching last Saturday’s tie then they’d likely have told you 2-2 or 3-1 Gamba were the most probable outcomes with 20 minutes to go. As I’m sure you’re well aware, Gamba didn’t return to Suita with the three points, instead they capitulated in the final 20 minutes. Well, I say capitulated, but in reality Sanfrecce won the game rather than Gamba losing it. While I can point the finger at Genta Miura for Nassim Ben Khalifa’s first or Gen Shoji’s weak effort at stopping Taishi Matsumoto’s fifth, Hiroshima players like Ben Khalifa, Gakuto Notsuda and Makoto Mitsuta stood up and produced the goods when it mattered and Gamba ultimately had no answer. Similar tactics likely await us going forward, even if Katanosaka-era signings such as Kwon Kyung-won, Dawhan and Musashi Suzuki do force their way into Matsuda’s plans over the coming weeks. The season low 113 completed passes and 29% possession (both marginally worse than Frontale away when it was 10 v 11 for 83 minutes) may owe something to weather conditions and the quality of the opposition, but are more likely harbingers of what’s to come. To combat this slight negativity on my part, Matsuda, or others, could rightly point out that while the Ao to Kuro were easier on the eye under Katanosaka compared to last year, that was fruitless as positive results didn’t follow. Additionally, Matsuda-ball did help Gamba engineer better chances than their more vaunted hosts on Saturday, generating an average of 0.092xG per attempt versus Sanfrecce’s 0.086xG. Small margins and clutching at straws, I know, I know, however, against a Grampus side that might not be quite as switched on, or as sharp as Hiroshima, it could, just could, make all the difference.
Although most associated with a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 setup, Kenta Hasegawa has shown that you can teach an old dog new tricks by, through a series of transitions, morphing Grampus into a 3-4-2-1 formation. Young Haruya Fujii has come to the fore this year, pouring scorn on claims that Hasegawa never gives youth a chance, playing in between the fit-again Yuichi Maruyama and Japan international Shinnosuke Nakatani, while another Samurai Blue, Yuki Soma, has found himself in the unfamiliar left wing-back role, ousting one of Massimo Ficcadenti’s favourites, Yutaka Yoshida, in the process. On the other flank, Ryoya Morishita has seen rather more action this season than he did under Hasegawa’s Italian predecessor and, in my book, Grampus are all the better for it. Further forward, Keiya Sento and Noriyoshi Sakai, who both joined from Sagan Tosu last winter, haven’t really lived up to expectations yet, meaning summer addition from Avispa Fukuoka, Takuya Shigehiro, has subsequently found himself in an unfamiliar attacking role and thus far become better known for head-scratchingly bad misses rather than good play (I’m sure that comment will come back to haunt me with Gamba’s record this year of everything that can possibly go wrong, going wrong).
Just two victories in their opening 12 league games had Nagoya and new kantoku Hasegawa under pressure earlier in the year, but a run of 6 wins, 4 draws and only 3 defeats over the subsequent 13 fixtures has steadied the ship. Defensively, naturally they’ve slipped back a touch from the halcyon days of Ficcadenti, but not as much as you might think. Grampus are still conceding at a clip of under a goal a game, 0.96 per 90 minutes this season compared with 0.79 in 2021 and 0.82 two years ago. Hasegawa’s greatest headache perhaps lies at the other end of the field. They’ve only hit the back of the net 8 times in their most recent 10 outings and Brazilian flyer Mateus has bagged 5 of those. The term ‘talisman’ feels like it doesn’t do him the justice he deserves, he’s not quite a one-man band, but he is so, so important to how the Giallorossi operate in the attacking third of the field. Grampus have scored 8.5 times fewer than we could reasonably expect based on their xG numbers and that under-performance is even more pronounced on home soil. Despite recording xG For totals of over 2 in 6 of their 12 matches at Toyota Stadium this season, that has only translated into 14 actual goals being scored, an under-performance of 4.84. With new attackers such as Kensuke Nagai, Leonardo and Shigehiro now on board, surely Nagoya will be aiming to reduce their reliance on Mateus while at the same time scoring more frequently in front of their own supporters.
First Match Recap
Gamba’s 3-1 triumph at home to Nagoya back in April was definitely one of the high points of their year and came at a vital time in the wake of a tame draw at Júbilo and a disappointing defeat to Fukuoka at Panasonic Stadium. After a slow-paced start the Nerazzurri picked up the momentum and in the aftermath of a Hiroto Yamami set-piece, Gen Shoji shot goalward and Patric was on hand to deflect in the opener after 26 minutes (just rewards after having a perfectly good effort ruled out against the same opposition at the back end of the 2021 season). Not long after, Australian ‘keeper Mitch Langerak denied the big Brazilian with a wonderful stop from point blank range, and then not a great deal of action took place up until the Ao to Kuro’s second, eight minutes into the second-half, and it was a tragic own-goal from a Grampus perspective. Yamami put in a speculative cross and right-back Kazuya Miyahara, who had a pretty grim afternoon all round, had the ball volleyed off him by team-mate Mateus, before it flew past the helpless Langerak in goal. Keisuke Kurokawa then sealed the deal with a fine run and shot, rewarding him with his first ever J1 goal. Three and easy for Gamba, well not quite, as with the game all but sewn up Shoji played a hospital pass to Ju Se-jong at the edge of his own area, Keiya Sento dispossessed the South Korean international and buried the ball past debutant Jun Ichimori for a late consolation. No more goals followed and Gamba saw out a comfortable 3-1 win which moved them up to 9th in the standings.
* At a press conference held on the evening of 17 August, Gamba Osaka Chairman Mr. Ono confirmed that although Hiroshi Matsuda had taken over from Tomohiro Katanosaka in the hot-seat, this was only until the end of the current season. At present, who the coach will be in 2023 is ‘a blank slate,’ (that’s me trying to translate accurately) and there was also a vague reference to a more rigorous approach being taken to identifying the right candidate. If this helps avoid future episodes of, bringing in a kantoku, signing a bunch of players that suit their style of football and then firing them after lots of money has been spent, that would be much appreciated.
With all this in mind, I drew up the official @BlogGamba Managerial Shortlist;
* Kenta Kawai – Currently has cash-strapped Sagan Tosu sitting 7th in J1 playing an easy-on-the-eye brand of attacking football. Likely to be in such demand that he won’t countenance a move to Suita, especially not if the Nerazzurri are in J2 next year, but we can dream, right?
* Satoshi Yamaguchi – Club legend who remains a fan favourite from his time as a member of both the playing and coaching staff at Gamba. Moved to Shonan in 2021 having been assistant to Tsuneyasu Miyamoto and has overachieved on a shoestring there. However, as you may have noticed above, a lot of his background is similar to Katanosaka’s, possibly so much so that it’ll make the Gamba front office think twice about hiring him.
* Peter Cklamovski – As far as I can tell, Gamba haven’t had a decent foreign coach this side of the millennium, could the popular Australian be the man to alter that? Wasn’t given the resources to fully implement his methods at Shimizu in 2020 and currently meeting expectations, but little more at Yamagata. Is this a project that would appeal to him, and can Gamba sell themselves as a progressive enough outfit to attract such a coach?
* Takeshi Oki – Currently working wonders with Roasso Kumamoto. His revolutionary 3-3-1-3 Marcelo Bielsa-esque formation took Kumamoto up from J3 to J2 last year and now has them in playoff contention where they could end up bumping into Gamba. At 61, age isn’t on his side, but he knows what he wants and he knows how to get it. It would certainly be a fascinating experiment if he took over at the helm in Suita.
* Akira Ito – This one is more if the worst comes to the worst and Gamba are playing J2 football in year. Ito steered Ventforet Kofu to 5th, 4th and 3rd placed finishes in 2019, 2020 and 2021 respectively, working on a much smaller budget than many of their rivals. They’ve dropped right off the pace this term without him in charge and despite recently getting the axe at Iwata, I see that job as a poisoned chalice that most coaches would have struggled with.
It will be very interesting to see how Gamba’s managerial search turns out. Stay tuned for future developments.
* Speaking of the future, on Monday 22 August Gamba announced the signing of Hosei University left-back Ibuki Konno who will join on a full-time deal from 2024, but has inked a designated special player contract for the rest of this season. This news has sent jitters through the Ao to Kuro fanbase as Keisuke Kurokawa was absent without explanation for the trip to Hiroshima last weekend and has been the subject of rumours linking him with a move to Europe. We’ll see what happens with that, but young Konno seems to come with good pedigree having played for Mitsubishi Yowa SC during high school, the same club that helped develop Keito Nakamura, before heading to Hosei, who of course knocked Gamba out of the 2019 Emperor’s Cup and boast the likes of Ayase Ueda among their alumni.
* On the evening of Monday 22 August, Sports Hochi’s Gamba beat reporter Mr. Kanagawa once again held a Twitter Spaces event with Mr. Uchida, his counterpart in Kashima. Interesting information to come out of that meeting was that apparently while members of the Gamba squad were wanting and expecting to play the same type of football that Katanosaka had served up in Oita, the boss himself opted to alter things and this lead to confusion and disagreements. Also, regarding Juan Alano’s recent move from Ibaraki to Suita, the two reporters stated that the move was instigated by Kashima as they were looking to free up space for new Nigerian signing Blessing Eleke. I realise that these stories might not be particularly earth-shattering to regular followers of the J. League, but I thought it would be good to share them nonetheless.
**Note – The club announced one asymptomatic case of Coronavirus among the playing staff on Monday 22 August. As is customary, the player in question’s identity is being kept under wraps.**
Additionally, the following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
DF Keisuke Kurokawa – Not in the matchday squad for Hiroshima away last week, potentially the Covid case that was announced by the club on 19 August or could he be on his way overseas?
MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, potentially back in early September
MF Kosuke Onose – Not in the matchday squad for Hiroshima away, potentially the Covid case that was announced by the club on 19 August or possibly dropped due to patchy form this term and last
MF Rihito Yamamoto – Small fracture in instep of foot, has started running again, should be back in early September
FW Leandro Pereira – Substituted at half-time in the loss at Hiroshima. Was seen grimacing during the water break as if he was feeling the effects of an earlier challenge. It’s equally possible he was replaced as Suzuki offered more pace on the counter.
FW Isa Sakamoto – Attended a Japan U-19 training camp alongside Jiro Nakamura and Rikuto Kuwahara last midweek which may have been behind his absence at Hiroshima, alternatively Matsuda’s style and penchant for experience may limit his playing time until the end of the year
FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season, has started light sprinting in training as per a video posted on the club’s official Instagram on 19 August
FW Hiroto Yamami – Not in the squad for the past 2 matches, it’s unclear whether he is injured or has been left out possibly due to his bad miss late on against Kyoto
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
Nagoya are clearly not satisfied with a season of comfortable mid-table football after feasting on 3rd and 5th placed finishes under Massimo Ficcadenti in 2020 and 2021, meaning Toyota Stadium has been the site of a bounty of ins and outs this summer. The headline signing has been the return of prodigal son Kensuke Nagai who bagged 42 goals in 161 J1 appearances for the club between 2011 and 2016. The former FC Tokyo speedster gives an extra option in attack, but in the twilight of his career at 33, he certainly won’t help to bring down the average age of the squad which is getting a tad problematic. In fairness, neither will any of the other recent acquisitions, Brazilian forward Leonardo (29) from Chengdu in China, veteran schemer Ryota Nagaki (34) on loan from Shonan and Takuya Shigehiro, the youngest of the crew at 27, who arrived from Avispa Fukuoka where he’d served as backup to Hiroyuki Mae and Shun Nakamura. The Giallorossi have managed to unload some of their more ageing attackers with Hiroyuki Abe going to Shonan, Mu Kanazaki linking up with former side Oita and Manabu Saito heading overseas to join Suwon Samsung Bluewings in South Korea. Mitch Langerak (34), Yuichi Maruyama (33) and Leo Silva (36) plus Tiago, Yoichiro Kakitani and Yutaka Yoshida (all 32) are still on-board, but honestly I’d expect at least a couple of them to head to fresh pastures this coming winter. The club have yet to show their hand transfer-wise for 2023 and it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of Polish international Jakub Świerczok, currently serving a year-long suspension for a PED violation. It would also be fascinating to observe what someone like Kenta Kawai of Tosu could do if given the reigns at a side with the resources of Grampus, however, ultimately nothing dramatic enough to warrant a managerial change has really taken place this year therefore I don’t really rate it as likely in the up-coming off-season (granted I held a similar belief 12 months ago). All I can say for sure looking into the future is that Rissho University attacker Kyota Sakakibara, currently on a designated special player contract, will join full-time, though that won’t be until he graduates college in 2024. Sakakibara is a former Grampus Under-18 player where he was a team-mate of Kwansei Gakuin University’s Ken Masui, a talented youngster who has been linked with Gamba, but who could also choose to return to his nest. (another Japanese to English translation I love).
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
DF Yutaka Yoshida – hasn’t played since being sent off after coming on as a sub at home to S-Pulse on 10 July, I suspect he’s just been dropped by Hasegawa
MF Hidemasa Koda – knee muscle injury, hasn’t played since 18 May, expected back soon
MF Kazuki Nagasawa – knee injury, hasn’t played since 20 April, no date yet given for his comeback
FW Noriyoshi Sakai – Last played 11 June, he may be injured, but it’s probably more likely he’s just been dropped due to underwhelming displays since his winter arrival from Tosu
FW Jakub Świerczok – Currently serving a suspension for an unspecified period of time due to testing positive for a banned substance during last year’s Asian Champions League campaign
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.