Avispa Fukuoka vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 24
Wednesday 31 August 2022
Best Denki Stadium
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
There’s no rest for the wicked as Avispa Fukuoka and Gamba Osaka lace up again this Wednesday to do battle in a match re-scheduled after the Wasps’ huge Covid outbreak at the beginning of the month. This clash absolutely fits the definition of a 6-pointer as a win for the hosts would put them 6 clear of the Nerazzurri, who currently occupy the promotion / relegation spot, with 7 games remaining, while a second away victory on the spin for the visitors will pull them level with Shigetoshi Hasebe’s side, albeit likely with an inferior goal difference. Gamba ended a run of 7 league outings without a win by seeing off a disappointing Nagoya Grampus 2-0 at the Toyota Stadium last Saturday night, their first triumph away to the Giallorossi since 2016. Goals right at the start and end of proceedings, courtesy of Patric and Musashi Suzuki sealed the deal and they sandwiched two extremely tight, but ultimately correct decisions to rule out strikes by Leandro Pereira. Fukuoka were in action 24 hours previously in a Kyushu Derby away to near neighbours Sagan Tosu. Belgian winger Jordy Croux’s effort after 26 minutes cancelled out Fuchi Honda’s early opener mere moments after Juanma Delgado’s strike had been rather (extremely?) controversially ruled to be offside and they had to settle for a share of the spoils. So, there you have it, the stage is set, there’s no easy way out, there’s no shortcut home, who will prevail in this most crucial of battles?
A quick reminder, I wrote a full preview for the originally scheduled match on 6 August which you can find here. I think a lot of what is said there is still pretty relevant to Wednesday night’s clash.
Tale of the Tape
Well, what, if anything, did we learn from the second outing of Matsuda-ball? The 4-4-2 with two big men up top, flanked by wingers is here to stay, though after the 5-2 pasting at Hiroshima, Dawhan, Kwon Kyung-won and Keisuke Kurokawa were restored to the starting eleven and the Nerazzurri were all the better for it. A barnstorming opening, starting with Patric’s second goal of the year which came about via what I noted as ‘probably the ugliest passage of play involving multiple Brazilians you’re ever likely to see’ was followed up with a Dawhan header just wide and Leandro Pereira having a goal disallowed after a very tight offside call as the Nerazzurri were seemingly able to cut through Grampus’ defensive lines at will. It appeared that during the first-half drinks break the instructions from Matsuda were clear, stop charging forward in search of a second, and start managing the game…and manage it a lot better than against Hiroshima. To that end, the Ao to Kuro completed 151 more passes than 7 days earlier (granted the relative quality of the opposition has to be factored in here) and Nagoya were only able to generate 0.58xG, just the 5th time this season Gamba have been able to hold their opponents under 1. Additionally 11 shots against is the blue and blacks’ 3rd best showing in 2022 (2nd best if you only include games where they faced 11 players for the whole 90), the aforementioned returns of Kwon and Kurokawa to the starting lineup were likely key to steadying the ship. South Korean international Kwon picked up a somewhat harsh yellow card for time wasting, I say harsh because Higashiguchi wasted approximately 30% of the 6 additional minutes taking goal kicks and Meshino was quite fortunate to escape a second caution late in the piece, why was Kwon singled out for such quick punishment by referee Hiroki Kasahara? I’ll let you be the judge of that. Right-back Ryu Takao looked a little shaky to me when watching live, but his stats hold up pretty well, he completed 31 of 35 passes (indeed passing accuracy was generally excellent across the board from Gamba), won 1 of 2 tackles, made 1 clearance, recovered possession 3 times and gave away just 1 foul. However, if 4-4-2 is going to be in vogue at Panasonic Stadium in the future then it’s an area the strengthening department will need to look at closely as Takao’s only real competition is Ko Yanagisawa with Onose, Fukuda, Miura and Okuno just being serviceable in emergencies. In attack, Gamba’s poor win % after scoring first had been in focus during the buildup to Saturday’s fixture and the 2-0 result means the Nerazzurri are now W6D3L4 after bagging a game’s opening goal, let’s put this down as a work in progress, though scoring first in 4 of the last 5 fixtures is definitely a step in the right direction. Two goals being scored in consecutive away games is definitely a plus (Gamba only scored multiple goals in 5 of Katanosaka’s 24 J1 matches in charge), however, the club’s top goalscorers are Dawhan, Kosuke Onose and Leandro Pereira with a mere 3 apiece. I remember producing a league-wide stats chart back in 2019 which showed relegated Matsumoto Yamaga’s leading marksmen as being Ryo Nagai, who netted only 3 times. Whoever it is, Patric, Suzuki, Pereira, someone has to go on a goalscoring run if the Ao to Kuro are to drag themselves out of the fire in 2022. Perhaps Masaaki Higashiguchi can help too as the Nerazzurri custodian bagged the first assist by a J1 goalkeeper this year in setting up Musashi Suzuki’s wonder-strike, well done to him! In actual fact, it was very much a team effort on Saturday as, to wander into the realm of clichés, Gamba simply wanted it more than their hosts and were first to second balls on more occasions than Grampus. The willingness to fight for the cause was greatly appreciated by the large travelling contingent of supporters, even if a persistent lack of on-field communication continues to hinder their progress. I’ve lost track of the amount of times the Nerazzurri have ceded possession in situations when a call from a team-mate would have alerted a player to oncoming danger and allowed them to make a better decision. Heck, deep into Saturday’s second half, after a seemingly harmless cross evaded everyone in the box Kurokawa nodded it out for a corner when a shout from Higashiguchi was all he needed to let him know he could leave it. At that point, having seen two goals disallowed by the thinnest of margins, I thought I knew what was coming from that corner, but ultimately the delivery was poor and Suzuki later produced the coup de grâce to give Gamba fans a night to savour. Make no mistake, the Nerazzurri are still knee deep in trouble, but they’ve eased the pressure on themselves just a touch and with upcoming bouts with mid-table Tosu (h) and FC Tokyo (h) plus struggling Vissel (a) to follow this clash, it really is crunch time.
As I mentioned previously, this game was originally scheduled for 6 August, but as a result of seemingly almost every player in the Avispa squad catching Coronavirus, that match was postponed. The reason I’m saying this again is that Fukuoka have had to battle gainfully across the past month with Covid affecting their past 4 league fixtures meaning we need to be careful when trying to identify patterns in their recent results, performances and stats. What then can we say about their season as a whole? Defence has once again been their strong point, conceding 1.04 times per game (compared with 0.97 in 2021) and their 27 goals against is the joint 3rd best record in J1. However, when we look at the Wasps’ attack things get a lot bleaker. Avispa have been involved in seven 0-0s to date this year and have incredibly failed to score in 14 of their 26 outings so far, including 2 runs of 3 games in-a-row without a goal and 1 run of 4 matches. When we factor in xG numbers it becomes clear that Fukuoka are creating enough chances, it’s just that they’re failing to convert what’s on offer. They’ve generated a total of 27.82xG this season, meaning their 19 actual goals scored represents an under-performance of 8.82 which contrasts starkly with things at the other end of the field where goals conceded and xG against are almost identical. Yuya Yamagishi has held up his end of the bargain, finding the back of the net on 7 occasions, but winter signings Lukian and Tatsuya Tanaka have underwhelmed, while Emil Salomonsson (6 assists in 2021) has been sorely missed down the right flank and on set pieces. Kantoku Shigetoshi Hasebe generally sets his side up to be hard to beat and to move the ball from back to front quickly while using their pacy wide players to generate the bulk of their chances. From that perspective it was notable that in the Avispa vs Gamba tie last season which finished 1-0 to the visitors (yappari Patric, and all that), Yamagishi had a goal disallowed for handball, however, the buildup came from a series of neat, intricate passes, quite at odds with their usual playing style and this had the Nerazzurri’s defence at sixes and sevens. In some ways Hasebe’s Avispa and Matsuda’s Gamba are stylistic bedfellows, so it’ll be interesting to see how they shape up against one another. Hasebe has dabbled with 3-4-2-1 when trying to get his 3 excellent centre-backs, Douglas Grolli, Tatsuki Nara and Daiki Miya into the same lineup or when there was no-one else available during the Covid outbreak, but with Miya suspended due to yellow card accumulation, we’re likely to see 4-4-2 on Wednesday. Fukuoka’s possession, running and pass completion stats are all low, but this was also the case last term when they ranked 20th in passes completed and distance covered as well as being 18th for possession %. Their number of passes completed per 90 minutes tally is up by a whopping 3 this time round, however, both possession and distance are down from 12 months ago. The match with Tosu last Friday saw the Hachi put out their strongest lineup of the month and with more players likely due back soon it’s entirely possible that they’ll put on an energetic display against Gamba which throws the form book and my stats tables out the window.
First Match Recap
**Note – this is the same text that appeared in the match preview for the originally scheduled game on 6 August.**
Gamba’s 3-2 loss at home to Avispa in mid-March was the first real warning sign that all was not well in the Nerazzurri camp this year, while at the same time it provided their visitors from Fukuoka with a maiden league win of the season at the fifth time of asking. Belgian winger Jordy Croux took advantage of some hesitancy in the Ao to Kuro backline to fire the Wasps ahead after only 10 minutes and it stayed that way up until the interval. Gamba started brightly after the break, but were caught out on the counter and former Nerazzurri wide-man Tatsuya Tanaka collected his usual goal against his old side. Then, with 9 minutes remaining, Ko Yanagisawa inadvertently swept a Takeshi Kanamori cross past Kei Ishikawa for an embarrassing own goal to make it 3-0 and just like Tanaka’s strike earlier in the half, it came about through the Hachi targeting the left-hand side of the home defence. The indignity of that moment as well as the lopsided nature of the scoreline seemed to shake Gamba out of their slumber and late efforts from Yuya Fukuda and Leandro Pereira brought more respectability to the result, though that was scant consolation for the Curva Nord faithful. Fukuoka, on the other hand, left Suita in buoyant mood after exorcising the ghosts of their first 4 league outings in which they had scored just once and accrued only 3 points despite putting in some decent performances.
* Yappari Patric (It had to be Patric) – The phrase inspired by the DAZN commentator’s reaction to Patric’s winner in the corresponding fixture last year got me thinking about the similarities between the two games. In 2021 Gamba returned from ACL action sitting 17th in J1 having played at least 5 games fewer than almost everyone else. A trip to the Best Denki Stadium awaited and a nervy encounter was settled by Patric’s late header which started a run of 4 wins in 6 games that formed the backbone of the Nerazzurri’s points total for a large portion of the year. I’m sure all of a Gamba persuasion will be hoping for a similar outcome this Wednesday night.
* Matsuda’s Red Herrings – In his media briefing on Friday, Hiroshi Matsuda stated that Leandro Pereira was carrying a slight injury and that both Shu Kurata and Yuki Yamamoto were good ball-playing midfielders who he could rely on. Fast forward just over 24 hours and Pereira was in the starting line up, Yamamoto an unused sub and Kurata nowhere to be seen. Can we expect more of these diversionary tactics from Matsuda-san in the coming weeks?
* In further Matsuda related news, his attempts to convert Ryotaro Meshino into a fully fledged wide midfielder capable of contributing to both attack and defence have drawn comparisons with his efforts at a similar schtick with Yoshito Okubo during their time together at Vissel Kobe. Meshino is probably best suited to operating as an inside forward behind a central striker (this was the reason he was brought in during the Katanosaka era), and has been largely ineffective in his 2 outings under Matsuda thus far. The same can’t be said for fellow new recruit Juan Alano on the right flank. The former Kashima man has 2 assists from just 2 starts which means he’s already joint top of that metric at Gamba!
* Voice Support Areas – Not only will Wednesday night’s match see the rather awkwardly titled ‘voice support areas’ make an appearance, but singing will be allowed in Panasonic Stadium for the first time since February 2020 in both Gamba’s round 31 and 33 clashes. Kashiwa are the visitors on 1 October which makes for a nice, neat story as they were also Gamba’s opponents for a Levain Cup group stage game on 16 February 2020, the last occasion the Nerazzurri took to their home turf under ‘normal’ conditions. Round 33 sees a potentially extremely significant clash with Júbilo Iwata where both sides’ top flight status’ could be on the line and we’re likely to see Yasuhito Endo playing against the team he represented from 2001-2020. I’m sure that’ll be an emotional day and with Gamba needing all the help they can get, the return of singing certainly couldn’t have come at a better time.
* Tickets are now on sale for Gamba’s end of season friendly with Makoto Hasebe’s Eintracht Frankfurt, a match which will take place on Saturday 19 November at 14:00 (JST) and will be shown on Sky PefecTV! in Japan. It’s interesting to note that you can purchase tickets from the official J. League site and 7-11 just like a normal league fixture so they clearly aren’t expecting anything like the demand for this game that there was for the Paris Saint-Germain glamour tie in July. Granted, the general malaise around the club at the moment is no doubt doing a good job of dampening the enthusiasm of the Gamba faithful towards such an event.
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
DF Gen Shoji – Was absent from the matchday squad for the win at Nagoya, it’s unclear whether he was the asymptomatic Covid case announced by the club last Monday (22 August) or was just dropped due to some shaky performances at the back in recent weeks
MF Dawhan – Will serve a one-match suspension as a result of picking up 4 yellow cards in J1 this season
MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, still working his way through a rehabilitation program, as far as I know he hasn’t re-joined top team training yet
MF Shu Kurata – The player most likely to have been the asymptomatic Covid case announced by the club last week, though some Gamba fans have suggested he was just dropped due to poor form
MF Kosuke Onose – Not in the matchday squad for the past 2 fixtures, 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 resumed light training, should be back in the next few weeks
FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season, resumed light jogging in training as per video posted on 19 August
Kwon Kyung-won, 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
The feel-good factor that should exist due to Avispa’s progress to the latter stages of both domestic cup competitions has been largely extinguished by a run of 5 games without a win in the league in conjunction with their well documented Covid struggles in recent weeks. The club haven’t made too many moves in the summer transfer market, opting as usual to go with a small squad of largely unheralded, but nevertheless effective players. The return of last season’s joint top scorer, John Mary (5 goals) has been the headline news, though given Hasebe was often reluctant to give him playing minutes during his previous loan spell, it seems a tad odd when viewed from afar. Central midfielder Yuto Hiratsuka has come in from the hotbed of talent that is Mito HollyHock and he takes the place of Takuya Shigehiro (unfortunately a fish out of water for Nagoya against Gamba on Saturday) as backup to Mae and Nakamura in the middle of the park. Other than that, centre-back / part-time centre-forward Kennedy Egbus Mikuni has returned from an up-and-down loan at Tochigi in J2, while winger Taro Sugimoto has headed for the exits and linked up with former club Tokushima Vortis. Not quite a new signing, but Hasebe has seen fit to select Takumi Nagaishi ahead of the highly-rated Masaaki Murakami between the sticks in recent weeks, the exact reasons why, and how it will turn out in the long run remain unknown. Looking ahead, attacker Reiju Tsuruno (Fukuoka University) who is currently on a designated special player contract will join full-time once he concludes his studies next year and that’s it for future recruitment at the time of writing. I guess more will be revealed if, and when, Avispa confirm their J1 status. A win here would go a long way to cementing their place in the top flight for a third consecutive season, a feat they’ve not achieved this century. And for a final @BlogGamba tip, watch out for Juanma Delgado. The Spaniard may not have the stats to get tongues wagging, though in a similar vein to Patric, what he brings to the table isn’t pretty, but it can be very effective and given Gamba’s defensive woes this season, expect to see Juanma subject the Ao to Kuro’s defence to a proper interrogation on Wednesday night.
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
DF Yuta Kumamoto – Last seen as a half-time replacement for Douglas Grolli in the 2-1 loss at Cerezo on July 30th, has subsequently been out of the squad for 3 J1 and 2 Levain Cup matches, likely as a result of Covid
DF Daiki Miya – Will serve a one-match suspension on Wednesday as a result of picking up 4 yellow cards in J1 this season
MF Shun Nakamura – Last featured on July 16th when he went the full 90 against former side Shonan. Has since missed 4 league and 2 Levain Cup ties, I’d normally credit this to the Covid outbreak in the squad, but due the length of the absence an injury is possible
FW Daiki Watari – Last seen in the 2-1 loss at Cerezo on July 30th, has subsequently been out of the squad for 3 J1 and 2 Levain Cup matches, likely as a result of Covid
Predicted Lineups and Stats
** Note – On Monday 29 August (a few hours after I originally published this article, Avispa Fukuoka announced they’d cancelled the loan contract of Takahiro Yanagi due to a drink driving offence.**
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.