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2020 J1 Preview Part 1… teams 1-9

This may be the only non Gamba specific article I do this year, but I thought I’d run down all 18 J1 teams and make some predictions for the year ahead. Teams are in order of where I think they’ll finish this year. In part 1 it’s the teams I think will place 1st-9th.

*The Key Players I’ve selected for each team are not necessarily the best players, more the ones whose good performances or lack of will influence their team the most.

Here we go…

1. Yokohama F.Marinos (last year:1st)
Director: Ange Postecoglou (3rd year)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Ado Onaiwu (Urawa) / Mateus (Nagoya)
Key Player: Marcos Junior
Lowdown: Last season’s champions have retained their manager and everyone in their first team with the exception of Mateus (who’s returned to Nagoya). The new signings seem more designed to add depth ahead of this season’s ACL campaign, however, Ado Onaiwu (10 J1 goals in 2019) and Kota Mizanuma (7 goals, 2 assists in 31 games) appear to be shrewd captures. Edigar Junio (11 goals in 16 games before injury last year) returns and could form a mouth watering front 3 alongside Erik (8 in 12) and last year’s J1 MVP Teruhito Nakagawa (15 goals, 10 assists in 33). They did have injuries in 2019 but the spine of the team; Thiago Martins, Hatanaka, Kida, Marcos Junior and Nakagawa all played at least 33 J1 games, will they be able to cope with the extra rotation that Champions League football will inevitably bring? Winning back-to-back titles will be tough but I don’t think any of their rivals have improved enough to overtake them, so as I see it, they’d need to regress / focus too much on ACL / have loads of injuries, if they’re to not lift the J1 crown again this year.
Predicted Starting XI:
Matsubara-Thiago Martins-Hatanaka-Theerathon
Marcos Junior

2. Kashima Antlers (3rd)
Director: Antonio Carlos Zago (new)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Ryotaro Araki (Higashi Fukuoka HS) / Serginho (Changchun Yatai)
Key Player: Shoma Doi
Lowdown: They seemed to run out of steam badly at the end of 2019, but in true Kashima fashion still finished 3rd and reached the final of the Emperor’s Cup. A surprise ACL exit in the qualifiers may actually play to their advantage domestically this year. I feel Brazilians hold the key to their 2020 campaign, Antonio Carlos Zago is the new head coach and he has a couple of his countrymen in Everaldo and Juan Alano joining him in Ibaraki. How well they combine to replace the departed Serginho (20 goals in 50 games in all competitions in 2019) will have a big impact on their title chances. The signings of Tatsuki Nara (who knocked Gamba back again), Daiki Sugioka, Katsuya Nagato and Rikuto Hirose should bring more stability at the back, however, if Bueno continues to play regularly then scrap my 2nd place prediction.
Predicted Starting XI:
Misao-Leo Silva
Juan Alano-Doi-Izumi

3. Kawasaki Frontale (4th)
Director: Toru Oniki (4th)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Zain Issaka (Toin Yokohama Univ.) / Hiroyuki Abe (Nagoya)
Key Player: Leandro Damiao
Lowdown: The 2017 and 2018 champions were well off the pace in a disappointing year for them last time out. Frontale seemed to shoot themselves in the foot by letting Elsinho join Shimizu (I’m still utterly baffled by this), refusing to play right-backs at right-back, signing foreigners but rarely using them and being unable to find a regular role for Leandro Damiao. That said, this is still one of the most talented squads in Japan and an infusion of youth in the form of recent university graduates, Issaka, Mitoma, Kamiya and Hatate, coupled with no ACL distractions, should see them bounce back this season. I’m also really looking forward to seeing how Yasuto Wakizaka develops as I was impressed by him last year plus young Ao Tanaka will surely only get better, how long can they keep hold of him?
Predicted Starting XI:

4. Cerezo Osaka (5th)
Director: Miguel Angel Lotina (2nd)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Tatsuhiro Sakamoto (Yamagata) / Kota Mizanuma (YFM)
Key Player: Hiroshi Kiyotake
Lowdown: Probably not the most popular prediction I could have made on a Gamba blog, but here we are. They have a manager who knows the type of player he needs and the style of football he wants to play, plus a front office that works in tandem with him (something we could learn from in Suita). Souza was an excellent player, but Lotina didn’t fancy him so he’s been and gone, replaced by his more conservative compatriot, Lucas Mineiro (on loan from Chapecoense). Other than that only Mizanuma (Marinos) has left from last year’s starting XI, though his replacement Tatsuhiro Sakamoto from Montedio Yamagata looks a good capture. It’ll be interesting to see how much game time young Jun Nishikawa gets and also how much Ken Tokura has left in the locker after suffering a serious injury in 2019.
Predicted Starting XI:
Okuno-Bruno Mendes

5. Gamba Osaka (7th)
Director: Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (3rd / 2nd full season)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Gen Shoji (Toulouse) / Hiroto Goya (Kashiwa)
Key Player: Takashi Usami
Lowdown: Last year I said we’d come 6th and we ended up 7th, but in reality I never envisaged we’d start as horribly as we did, nor for that matter did I think Usami, Ideguchi and Patric would return. The same XI that finished last year strongly are still here, the Usami-Ademison partnership is blossoming, Onose, Kurata and Ideguchi will provide goals from midfield and there are youngsters emerging. Gen Shoji’s late arrival from Toulouse would appear to be the icing on the cake and could pave the way for a genuine ACL push this time out. The back 3 of Miura, Shiji and Kim give us a trio of current internationals, almost unheard of in the modern JLeague era where most national team players ply their trade abroad. My only doubts are over whether or not the 3-5-2 system gets the best out of the current squad, it could be argued that 4-4-2 with Ideguchi and Yajima sitting in front of the defence may offer a more solid base to build from. Anyway, the signing of Shoji has me in upbeat mood, here’s hoping for an entire campaign spent in the right half of the table!
Predicted Starting XI:

6. FC Tokyo (2nd)
Director: Kenta Hasegawa (3rd)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Shuto Abe (Meiji Univ.) / Oh Jae-suk (Gamba)
Key Player: Diego Oliveira
Lowdown: Ex-Gamba head-coach Kenta Hasegawa has done excellent things in the capital over the past 2 years, culminating in a best ever 2nd place J1 finish last year. This season’s crop features largely the same starting members (we all know how much Kenta likes his favourites) and they’ve been bolstered by the addition of 2 Brazilians, Leandro (Kashima, loan – why would you loan someone to a divisional rival?) and Adailton (Iwata). I think hell may freeze over before Hasegawa plays both of them, Diego Oliveira and Kensuke Nagai in the same line-up, but they should add depth to what is already an excellent midfield / attack. At the back, Joan Oumari (ex-Kobe and Tosu) plus Hotaka Nakamura (Meiji University) have come in, but they seem quite short of experienced backup there. Also in attack, Adailton is similar to Nagai, but an injury to Diego Oliveira would open the door for Tagawa, Hara or Yajima, none of whom played much in 2019 or have a great deal of top flight experience in general. They once again have an epic road trip (this time owing to the Olympics), having dealt with it reasonably well in 2019, can they repeat the trick this time round?
Predicted Starting XI:

7. Vissel Kobe (8th)
Director: Thorsten Fink (2nd / 1st full)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Douglas (Shimizu) / David Villa (retired)
Key Player: Thomas Vermaelen
Lowdown: Kobe continue to baffle fans and pundits alike. If column inches were a predictor of success then they’d romp J1 every year, but as it stands, in the last 5 seasons (it doesn’t get any better if you look further back), they’ve finished 12th, 7th, 9th, 10th and 8th…as solidly mid-table as you could possibly be. After winning the Emperor’s Cup on January 1st they’ll compete in the ACL for the first time in their history, but with Japanese Super Cup commitments they had a very, very short off-season. A conservative estimate might say that they’ll play around 45 games in all competitions this year, realistically if Iniesta and Vermaelen could play 25 each they’ll be doing well, how they replace each of them in the 20 or so games they don’t feature in will go a long way to determining their fate. Douglas looks like an excellent replacement for David Villa and Furuhashi and Fujimoto bring goals too. At the back, the additions of Kikuchi and Yamakawa show an intent to fix a leaky rearguard, though the error-prone Hiroki Iikura is still between the sticks. Honestly, 7th is a pure guess, they could be champions or they could finish 12th and neither would really surprise me.
Predicted Starting XI:

8. Sanfrecce Hiroshima (6th)
Director: Hiroshi Jofuku (3rd)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Leandro Pereira (Matsumoto – Loan Extension) / Sho Inagaki (Nagoya)
Key Player: Tsukasa Morishima
Lowdown: The money drawer appears to be empty in Hiroshima as there has been little in the way of transfer action this winter. There are, however, plenty of young players coming through, Osako, Araki (would like him at Gamba) and Morishima (3 goals, 7 assists in 24 games in 2019) all look good. Taishi and Hiroya Matsumoto plus Shunki Higashi look to be the next in line to make an impact on the first team. Brazilian midfielder Ezequiel is an intriguing signing from Botafogo while the extension of Leandro Pereira’s loan deal from Matsumoto should help to relieve the goal-scoring burden on Douglas Vieira (7 goals, 4 assists in 24 games in his first season of J1 football).
Predicted Starting XI:
Douglas Vieira

9. Kashiwa Reysol (J2 1st)
Director: Nelsinho (2nd / 8th in total)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Yuta Kamiya (Shonan) / So Nakagawa (Iwata)
Key Player: Cristiano
Lowdown: Last year’s J2 champions return to J1 after a year-long sabbatical and like Kobe, I’m really unsure where to place them. Cristiano, Olunga, Esaka, Segawa and Matheus Savio will score goals, so from that perspective, it’s largely irrelevant whether or not new boys Goya and Nakama turn out to be good signings or not. They’ve brought in a lot of J2 talent this winter, Yokohama FC right-back Kengo Kitazume and midfielder Yuta Kamiya (Shonan – on loan at Ehime in 2019) seem to be the pick of the bunch. My questions about Kashiwa are all at the back, the partnership of Yuji Takahashi and Takuma Ominami could be very solid or it could be an undisciplined car crash, this will largely determine whether Reysol end up in the ACL spots or mid-table.
Predicted Starting XI:


Site Introduction

Picture taken at Gamba vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima J1 game on 10 August 2019

I’m a Gamba Osaka supporter originally from Scotland. Due to work I only attend live games 3-5 times a year, but I enjoy following Gamba and JLeague in general via tv and social media. I’ll try to post as much as I can, but make no promises. All ideas and opinions on this site are my own unless otherwise stated.


Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka 18 September 2021 Match Preview

Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 29
Kashima Soccer Stadium
Saturday 18 September 2021
Kick Off: 18:00 (JST)

Two of J1’s perennial heavyweights step into the ring for this contest looking to make amends for damaging results suffered last weekend. Antlers were downed 3-0 at home by a rampant Avispa Fukuoka while Gamba huffed and puffed, but were ultimately bested 3-2 by Vegalta Sendai in a surprisingly high scoring shootout between two of the league’s weaker attacking units. Despite their most recent setback, Kashima are still very much in the hunt for a 2022 ACL place, sitting only 3 points off third with 10 games remaining. Gamba, meanwhile, have dropped down to fourteenth, but importantly maintain a seven point advantage over Tokushima, who occupy the uppermost spot in the drop zone. However, it seems like the Nerazzurri are currently being aided more by the poor quality of the teams below them rather than their own good form. Kashima will see this encounter as a good platform to build some momentum ahead of their midweek clash with defending champions Kawasaki, while Gamba need to arrest their recent slump in form before it turns into a full-blown crisis.

Just a quick note, I will be on next week’s edition of the J-Talk Podcast discussing this game and all the others on the round 29 slate, please check it out if you have the chance!

Tale of the Tape

A cursory glance at the stats from Gamba’s 3-2 home loss to Sendai (their eighth at Panasonic Stadium in the league this year) might suggest something of a smash-and-grab by the men from Miyagi, and while this may be partly true, those of a blue and black persuasion would do well not to dwell on that too much and instead look at the areas clearly in need of improvement. Usami and Patric being re-united in attack brought about a season high 21 shots on goal, however, had Yuji Ono taken his chance in the eighth minute or if Usami had buried his shot past Jakub Słowik when the game was on a knife-edge at 2-2 then we could have seen an outcome more in-keeping with the story the stats tell us. As it was, Takuma Nishimura stopped arguing with the officials long enough to give Usami a finishing lesson and Cayman Togashi, obviously a big fan of this blog, took exception to my pre-match comments that he was a hard-working forward who doesn’t score goals, planting two first-half headers past Masaaki Higashiguchi to leave the Gamba defence and myself with giant dollops of egg on our faces. Masanobu Matsunami once again has a free midweek and he’ll need to use all the time available to work on defending crosses and set-pieces in addition to extra shooting practice for the midfielders and forwards. A change of scenery might help a bit too as though Gamba’s road stats are much weaker than those in Suita, crucially, in away fixtures, they do get more of the two most important things in football, wins and points.

I’m sure those of you who read this blog regularly will be aware of my deep dissatisfaction with how 2021 has turned out for Gamba, I believe Kashima supporters must also be feeling a sense at frustration at how their team’s season has panned out thus far. While Gamba generally tend to play up or down to match their opponent and rarely appear much better or worse than their opposition, the only exceptions to this rule, in my eyes anyway, have been Kawasaki and Kashima, who both looked a cut above in their wins in Suita earlier in the year, at the other end of the scale, Oita rarely seem to turn up against the Nerazzurri. Despite looking so impressive on occasion and doing the double over Yokohama F. Marinos, the longest streak of consecutive league victories Antlers have been able to string together this season is four. Whenever you think they are going to kick on, they seem to stumble unexpectedly. Brazilian forward Everaldo’s drop off in goals has been a major contributing factor to their inability to properly mount a title challenge. J1’s second top marksman in 2020 with 18 strikes incredibly has only a solitary league goal to his name this time out (he does have 8 in cup competitions). Although up and comers, Ryotaro Araki (9 goals, 6 assists) and Olympian Ayase Ueda (8 goals) have done their part, not to mention the 5 goals apiece from centre-backs Tomoya Inukai and Koki Machida, just imagine Everaldo had found the back of the net 11 times instead of once. If that rang true, then I doubt Antlers would currently be lying 19 points off top spot. Should Naoki Soma be able to solve the Everaldo riddle over the winter then a 2022 title challenge isn’t out of the question, but for now all eyes in Ibaraki must be firmly set on locking down third spot this year.

Head to Head

As I mentioned above, Kashima’s 1-0 victory at Panasonic Stadium in July thanks to Arthur Caike’s first J1 goal was in actual fact far more comfortable than the final score suggests. For context, and I really do think this important when analysing most Gamba matches this season, at the time this game was held, the Nerazzurri players and staff were still living in a hotel as part of the quarantine procedure after returning from the ACL group stage in Uzbekistan. Additionally, they were playing their third match in the space of seven days while Kashima were fresh from a near two-week break.

In the corresponding fixture last year, Kosuke Onose gave Gamba a dream start in just the sixth minute before the Nerazzurri withstood a barrage of Kashima pressure. Just when it seemed they’d hold out for a vital three points, Tomoya Inukai popped up with a powerful header in off Masaaki Higashiguchi’s right-hand post in the final seconds of additional time to claim what was ultimately a deserved point for the home side.

Gamba Osaka

Now that the coast has cleared a little fixture-wise for Gamba, one would expect to see more consistent team selections. However, at the weekend we were treated to a starting eleven from which 4-4-2 or 3-4-2-1 formations looked equally plausible. As it turned out, the team lined up in a 3-4-2-1 system in the first-half with Ryu Takao partnering Gen Shoji and Kim Young-gwon at the back before a switch to 4-4-2 in the second period, a move which saw Takao revert to his best position of right-back and Shinya Yajima shift from the right shadow role to left-wing. I’ve stated multiple times that I’m no fan of constant mid-season tinkering of a club’s shape, especially defensively, and it’s up to Matsunami now to define Gamba’ strategy for the remaining 10 league fixtures, are we a back 3 or a back 4 team? Speaking of remaining fixtures, Gamba’s defeat at the hands of Sendai looks all the more damaging when you consider the run of matches that lie ahead. In addition to this tussle with Kashima, the Nerazzurri also have to travel to Kawasaki, Marinos and Urawa as well as hosting Tosu and Nagoya before the season’s end, not an easy looking set of games at all, is it? Let’s keep our fingers and toes crossed there’s nothing left riding on that final day home encounter with Satoshi Yamaguchi’s Shonan Bellmare.

Quick Update: Today (16 September) Gamba announced winger Jiro Nakamura and forward Isa Sakamoto would be promoted to the top team next season. Congratulations to both.

Team News

Yuji Ono’s wretched run of luck continued on Sunday when he was stretchered off with a right-hamstring injury after only 15 minutes, I doubt he’ll be back again this season, and it’s possible Gamba could release him at the end of the year owing to his ongoing fitness issues. Hiroki Fujiharu and Ryu Takao were also subbed off against Sendai, though I believe Fujiharu was just suffering from cramp (yet again) and Takao’s withdrawal was merely precautionary. Wellington Silva did make a welcome return to the squad on Sunday, though the fact that it was Shinya Yajima, not him, who replaced Ono early on suggests he’s not fit enough to start yet. It appears Genta Miura’s knee injury won’t require surgery, but he’s likely to be sidelined for a number of weeks. Other than that, Yuya Fukuda (hamstring), Dai Tsukamoto (thigh), Jun Ichimori (shoulder) and Haruto Shirai (knee) are the other confirmed absentees. Leandro Pereira wasn’t in the matchday squad on Sunday and all I can say is that I doubt it’s because Matsunami thinks Tiago Alves is a better player than him.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Kashima Antlers

Kashima are Kashima and though the faces on the field and on the bench may change, the playing style and philosophy endure. You can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be set up in their customary 4-4-2/4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1, however you want to define it, and will look to move the ball quickly from back to front, utilising the quality of their attacking widemen to generate chances while also peppering Gamba’s goal with a number of speculative efforts from distance. Box-to-box midfielder Diego Pituca, a stand out in the reverse fixture in July, will be a key player again here, as will compatriot Everaldo, depending on how much of a role he plays. He appears to be dropping deeper and into wider areas looking for work, when in reality it would be best for the team if he loitered around the edge of the box waiting to be serviced by the likes of Doi, Araki and Izumi rather than the other way round. The composition of Antlers central defence will also be an important factor, but I’ll get into that more in the paragraph below.

Team News

Centre-back Tomoya Inukai is the headline absentee for Kashima after injuring his hamstring in the Levain Cup quarter-final second leg defeat to Nagoya, he’s expected to be out for six weeks. Regular partner, and rumoured target for several European clubs, Koki Machida has missed the past two outings with no reason given by the club. Bueno, the Tiago Alves of Antlers, partnered rookie Naoki Hayashi (Osaka Taiiku Univ.) in the match with Fukuoka and the results were less than stellar, to say the least, so Kashima supporters will be keenly hoping for Machida’s return here. Elsewhere, backup ‘keeper Taiki Yamada (knee) is done for the year while Antlers’ version of Yuji Ono, Rikuto Hirose, is out with a hamstring problem yet again. Juan Alano and Yuta Matsumura haven’t featured in the matchday squad since the 2-1 win at Shonan on 9 August and veteran midfielder Ryota Nagaki last saw action in the 1-0 away defeat at the hands of Kobe on August 21.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Thanks again for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.


Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai 12 September 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai
2021 J1 Season Round 28
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Sunday 12 September 2021
Kick Off: 18:30 (JST)

The international break is over and the Levain Cup quarter-finals are done and dusted, now it’s time for the first full slate of J1 games this month. Gamba Osaka host Vegalta Sendai in a match that could have big implications at the foot of the table. The Nerazzurri are still smarting from their harrowing trilogy with prefectural rivals Cerezo, however, crucially they’ve had a rare free midweek in the run up to this game. A Nerazzurri win here, coupled with a Tokushima loss at Nagoya on Friday night, would put a ten point buffer between them and the drop zone with only ten rounds remaining, so perhaps shards of light are beginning to emerge at the end of a very long and winding tunnel. Sunday evening’s visitors Sendai, on the other hand, currently sit eighteenth in the standings, eleven points worse off than Gamba. They’ve reached the do-or-die stage of their season, meaning a win at Panasonic Stadium is an absolute must as if results go against them they could sit bottom of the pile on Monday morning.

In truth, neither side come into this tie in particularly inspiring form. Since their re-arranged round five fixture on August 3, Gamba have won just one of their six J1 contests and most recently had fans hurling obscenities at the team bus in the aftermath of the humiliating 4-0 defeat at home to Cerezo in the second leg of their Levain Cup quarter final last Sunday. Things have been similarly grim up north in Sendai, though they have had two weeks to prepare themselves since their last league outing. The men from Miyagi, though, have no wins, a solitary goal, and a mere two points from their five matches since the 1-0 home reverse to the Nerazzurri just over a month ago. The pressure is on both Masanobu Matsunami and Makoto Teguramori ahead of this fixture, a win for Gamba and they can almost crawl across the finishing line, a loss for Sendai and a first season in J2 since 2009 starts to loom very large on the horizon. I believe this is what my fellow Scot, Sir Alex Ferguson, referred to as ‘squeaky bum time.’

Just a quick reminder to check out my Q and A post from last week, a lot of the content in it is much less time sensitive than my usual match previews, so please have a read if you haven’t already. Thanks once again to everyone who submitted a question and also to all of you who regularly read, like, comment on and share my blog posts, it means a lot to me. I’m open to suggestions for ways to improve these previews and also things you’d like to see covered in future weeks when Gamba might not be in action. Let me know in the comments either on WordPress or Twitter.

Tale of the Tape

This a battle between a team who play poorly at home versus one that struggles on the road. Levir Culpi seems to have a bit of free time on his hands now, so if he could maybe pop over and undo whatever curse he placed on the home dressing room during his time in charge at Panasonic Stadium then I’m sure both Gamba and the Samurai Blue would greatly appreciate it. Since the Brazilian’s departure midway through the 2018 campaign, the Nerazzurri have been defeated eighteen times on their own patch versus sixteen on their travels. And before anyone digs too deeply, I know the Culpi curse isn’t the real cause of Gamba’s inability to win in Suita as they’ve actually lost fourteen of thirty league games (47%) at Panasonic Stadium since the Coronavirus outbreak, how the Nerazzurri’s power brokers must be yearning for a return to normality. Vegalta, by contrast, possess the third weakest away record in the division and in the wake of their 5-0 drubbing at Yokohama F. Marinos in their previous road match, they now average 2 goals against per game outside of Miyagi with only Oita (2.23) and Yokohama FC (2.57) faring worse. Additionally, looking at combined home and away stats, Sendai have the lowest possession percentage in the league, averaging just 42.1% per match and their xG Against numbers aren’t much better, 1.6 per outing sees them rank nineteenth, a place below Gamba (1.54).

As you would have seen in my post last week, making sense of Gamba’s season stats is nigh on impossible due to all of the rotation and injuries which have resulted in nothing remotely close to the same lineup being named in consecutive games so far this year. With regular six to seven day gaps between league fixtures now upon them, we should, in theory, see things settle down a touch. Nerazzurri fans will certainly hope that consistent selection at the back and in the holding midfield roles will help to bring down the league high figure of 15 shots against per game. I mentioned the club’s shocking home form earlier, but more generally their current total of 13 league losses is only one shy of tying their 18 team J1 record of 14 set in 2012 and 2018 (I know there are 20 teams this year, but we’re only at round 28 which makes this statistic worse, if anything). Any team worth their salt has worked out that the way to play against Gamba in Suita is to sit deep, stifle their powder puff attack and then launch swift counters, Sendai did that wonderfully last year, can they repeat the trick here, or will they go the way of fellow strugglers Yokohama FC, Oita and Tokushima who have all left Panasonic Stadium empty handed? The yellow and blues have had their own issues at home and it’s interesting to note that in the aftermath of their victory over Kashiwa Reysol, their first at the Yurtec Stadium in well over a year, veteran Kunimitsu Sekiguchi admitted that after winning the coin toss they’d decided to shoot towards the opposite end than they normally do just to try and break the vicious cycle of defeat. I feel Gamba should opt for a similar approach, use the away dressing room, have the team bus take a different route to the stadium, stay in a hotel the night before, just try something, anything to end this wretched run of home defeats.

Head to Head

Gamba saw off Sendai 1-0 a little over a month ago thanks to Patric’s headed strike from Yuki Yamamoto’s first-half corner. At that time the Nerazzurri were in the midst of their summer fixture onslaught, while their hosts for the evening were just back from a near month-long break and often struggled for attacking fluency. Right-back Takumi Mase, someone I praised in the pre-match preview wasted Vegalta’s best opportunity, heading high and wide after Keisuke Kurokawa had inexplicably ducked out of the way of a dangerous looking cross. Mase went on to miss an even better chance, an event which rather summed up Sendai’s season, in the 1-0 home loss to Tosu a few weeks back, but has generally been one of the team’s better contributors in his actual position of full-back.

I gave a rundown of the 2020 head-to-head matches, Gamba’s 4-1 triumph at the Yurtec and Sendai’s 4-0 rout of the Nerazzurri at Panasta, in my preview for the reverse fixture back in August, so I won’t cover too much old ground here. I just wanted to add that Hiroto Yamada, a standout for the Miyagi side in the aforementioned 4-0 triumph, was also tormentor-in-chief for his parent club Cerezo, as they too left Suita with a four goal victory in the bag last weekend. Maybe Gamba could make moves to take him off the Cherry Blossom’s hands just to stop things like that from happening in the future? It’s just a thought.

Gamba Osaka

Gamba’s run to the semi-finals of the 2019 Levain Cup soured my image of the competition, probably irreparably, as after playing 12 games (over a third of a regular J1 season) we were eliminated on away goals with absolutely nothing to show for our endeavours. With that in mind, getting put out of this year’s edition is no water off my back, the manner of the exit is another matter entirely. If I try to spin it positively, it could serve as the kick up the backside the squad needs going into the remaining eleven league fixtures where the first choices should hog the majority of the playing minutes. As an aside, with all the intricate rules in Japanese football regarding how and when you can register players, am I the only one who found it slightly bizarre that with quarter-finals being played over two legs, Wednesday and Sunday, Cerezo were able to register Takashi Inui in between those two games? This ‘loophole’ strikes me as a bit odd, especially with all the judgements raining down from on-high regarding players having valid PCR certificates or not.

Recently I always seem to find myself using this space to talk about Gamba’s centre-backs, and this week is no exception. After playing the full 90 minutes on both Saturday and Wednesday nights, Gen Shoji was summoned by his country ahead of their World Cup qualifier against Oman at Panasonic Stadium on Thursday (September 2) as a result of Ko Itakura’s late withdrawal due to injury. Hajime Moriyasu loves calling up Sanfrecce players, and they’ve got a good defence, so why not go for the impressive Hayato Araki? Did he not want to leave them too short for their re-arranged clash with Kobe on Sunday? Urawa’s Hiroki Sakai was then released ahead of the squad’s departure for the Middle East to play China, a fair decision in my book, as it was stated he was exhausted following a punishing schedule over the summer. However, Shoji has also endured a heavy workload with both ACL and J1 games coming thick and fast in recent months, yet he gets no respite? Some of what I’ve said above is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, especially the stuff about Moriyasu’s penchant for selecting Hiroshima players, but, in all seriousness, I doubt he’s particularly endeared himself to anyone of a Gamba persuasion with some of his decisions over the past few days.

I’ll finish this section on a more positive note with my thoughts on Takashi Usami. I received a very thought-provoking question from Sam Robson for last week’s blog and I’ve been dwelling on my answer a bit in recent days. Usami’s stats are not great this year in terms of goals and assists, but think back to last Saturday’s Osaka Derby, Usami created what should have been Gamba’s equaliser with a delicious, teasing ball over the top of Cerezo’s defence, Kosuke Onose expertly met it first time and centred for Patric who tried a back-heel flick from only a few yards out, almost identical to the way he beat Park Il-gyu of Tosu last season, but he failed to make contact and the chance went begging. Similarly at 4-0 down on Sunday, Usami didn’t give up, and again floated a wonderful ball into the box which was met by Shinya Yajima, admittedly not the person you really want winning headers in the opposition box, and he forced Kim Jin-hyeon into action, tipping his effort over for a corner. Usami is still fighting, it’s time for his team-mates to step up too.

Oh, and one last thing, I loved the portmanteau 山ンバ (Yamamba) I saw on Twitter last weekend, hopefully I get to see it many more times in the years ahead.

Team News
Kim Young-gwon, Ju Se-jong and Gen Shoji should all be back in the mix after returning from international duty. Kim and Shoji’s returns, in particular, are welcome in the wake of Genta Miura getting stretchered off in last Sunday’s Levain Cup quarter-final second leg. Gamba’s skipper twisted his right knee awkwardly following a collision with Riki Matsuda and after initially trying to get back to his feet, he lay down once again for treatment and needed to be helped from the field meaning Yosuke Ideguchi had to fill in as a makeshift central defender. At the moment it’s unclear how serious the injury is, but it didn’t look great at the time. Miura’s centre-back partner for the evening Shunya Suganuma is available, but may be given a few weeks on the naughty step for his underwhelming efforts at keeping Cerezo at bay (I’m being very polite here). Some good news is that Ryu Takao is back after five weeks out with an ankle injury. However, Yuya Fukuda (hamstring), Dai Tsukamoto (thigh) and Wellington Silva (groin) are still on the treatment table with no date yet given for their returns while Jun Ichimori and Haruto Shirai continue to go through rehabilitation programs for their long-term injuries.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Vegalta Sendai

Sendai’s summer transfer work suggests they’re running low on cash reserves, with only Cayman Togashi, a forward Teguramori knows from his time at Nagasaki, and centre-back Naoya Fukumori to be found in the arrivals lounge. Togashi started off his professional career reasonably well with Yokohama F. Marinos back in 2016, but has since developed a reputation as a hard-working forward who struggles to find the back of the net, and frankly with Shuhei Akasaki and Yusuke Minagawa already on their books, that is the last thing Vegalta needed more of. Fukumori, on the other hand, made a grand total of 19 J1 appearances across two-and-a-half seasons with Oita and Shimizu, yet he’s waltzed right into the heart of Sendai’s backline, starting all four games since coming on-board. If you contrast this with, say, Júbilo Iwata in J2, who acquired Makito Ito and Ryo Takano from Marinos, plus Shota Kaneko from S-Pulse this summer, which team do you think are playing with the bigger transfer kitty? From a Sendai perspective, perhaps the most worrying thing is that if they do go down this year, they may struggle to bounce back anytime soon.

Makoto Teguramori likes operating with a back four, generally in a 4-4-2 system, but occasionally 4-2-3-1 when necessary. However, in a similar vein to fellow strugglers, Oita and Yokohama FC, Vegalta have reached the stage of the season where plans A, B and C have failed and all available metrics point to an impending relegation, so they’ve figured they might as well throw the playbook out the window, and they could be all the more dangerous as a result. After their 5-0 shellacking at the hands of Yokohama F. Marinos in round 25, Teguramori ditched 4-4-2 in favour of 4-2-3-1 for the home loss to FC Tokyo before getting very experimental with a 3-4-2-1 in the following match versus Tosu, whether this is just akin to shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic remains to be seen. If I were to throw in my tuppence worth, they should look to get Brazilian forward Felippe Cardoso and Ghanaian winger Emmanuel Oti involved more. While that duo may not have the kind of rigid tactical discipline their coach is looking for, they might possess an x-factor their team-mates don’t and that, at the moment, appears to be the only possible salvation for Sendai.

Team News
As alluded to above, this will be Sendai’s first outing in a fortnight so it’s possible the players mentioned below could have recovered from any injuries they were suffering from. I actually don’t have any confirmed absentees, though both Chihiro Kato and Emmanuel Oti have been missing from the squad for the past three matchdays while Ryoma Kida and Foguinho were subbed at half-time against FC Tokyo on 25 August and weren’t selected for the following match at home to Sagan Tosu. Whether that decision was tactical, or down to fitness issues remains to be seen.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.


Ask @BlogGamba

I believe it was Jon Steele who said to me ahead of my J-Talk: Extra Time debut, “the thing about opening the floor to questions is that people might ask some,” and I must admit I’ve been taken aback by the volume and quality of inquiries that have come my way over the past few days. I’ve tried my hardest to answer them all to the best of my ability, hopefully you enjoy my thoughts and opinions. I’m interested to hear your feedback on some of the points raised, not only about Gamba, but also other J1 sides.

Before we get to that though, have a quick trawl through some stats I’ve dug up below. Alternatively, if statistics aren’t really your thing, scroll down to the mailbag section to see my answers to your questions.

League Stats Correct to 3 September 2021

I’m not really going to analyse these tables as Ryo Nakagawara (@R_by_Ryo on Twitter) did an amazing job with some similar information during the summer break, check out his work, if you haven’t already. I have used J Stats for most of this data and what you see in my matchday previews. Please enjoy taking a look to see how your team stacks up.

Projected Gamba Osaka 2022 Depth Chart

I included this as it may be good to refer back to after some of my answers below.


Ok, now finally to your questions. Where possible I’ve answered several together.

First Up, I sent chins wagging with my starting eleven tweet on Saturday where I intimated captain Genta Miura’s time in Osaka was nearing it’s end. As a result I received the following questions,

João Miguel @JoaoMiguel063

Should Gamba bet on playing with 3 centre backs as their usual tactic? Because from what I’ve seen, Shoji, Miura and Gwon are 3 of the best CB’s in Japan.

Georg @G_R_1904

do you expect miura to leave or why do you think its a taste of 2022?

are there any more starters like miura rumored to be leaving & on which positions will gamba mainly be looking for new additions to the squad?

Pichichi FC @tastytorres

if he stays how do you see the rest of the season going for him minutes wise?

Blog Gamba: Perhaps giving Miura the captaincy made sense back in 2018, but now with him featuring alongside, sometime South Korea national team captain Kim Young-gwon and highly decorated Japan international Gen Shoji in addition to having Gamba legends Masaaki Higashiguchi and Shu Kurata behind, and in front of him, there’s a lot of weight on the 26 year-old’s shoulders. Additionally he’s received criticism from his own supporters for failing to press the referee into a VAR review in the match at Sapporo (see Tatsuki Seko’s sending off in the Kashiwa vs Yokohama FC game last weekend for an example of where a bit of high pitched screaming at the officials can get you), and also his blunder that led to Felipe Vizeu’s crucial second goal in the 3-1 loss at Yokohama FC. Consider too that Miura, Gamba’s captain no less, was an unused substitute in last Saturday’s Osaka Derby, and was also left on the bench for the 3-2 home loss to Yokohama F. Marinos, one of, if not, the strongest attacking units in the league and it doesn’t exactly add up to a ringing endorsement of his abilities from kantoku Masanobu Matsunami.

Of course the Nerazzurri should be under new management next season, whether members of the club’s hierarchy know who that is already is up for debate. At the moment Gamba have Miura, Kim and Shoji who are three of the top-rated centre-backs in the league, but when we look at high performing J1 sides they all have one thing in common, a clearly defined shape. Kawasaki? 4-3-3, Marinos? 4-2-3-1? Kashima? 4-4-2 with the second striker sometimes dropping a bit deeper. Gamba? 3-4-2-1? 4-4-2? 4-3-3? 4-2-3-1? 3-5-2? They’ve all been used this season. Whoever takes over in 2022 will have to make some tough choices, if they are going to play with a back three then some wingers and number tens will have to go, if it’s a back four then one of Miura, Shoji and Kim will have to depart. At the moment, from my eyes, Miura is the most likely of the trio to head for the exit, but I’m very much an outsider with regards to club affairs and this is purely my speculation.

Now to the second part of Georg’s question, again a lot will depend on who next season’s coach is and how quickly Gamba can confirm their J1 status for 2022 (if at all). Looking into my crystal ball, I’d expect more departures than arrivals as the squad is still a bit bloated and there likely won’t be any ACL next year. Hiroto Yamami is officially a new signing, there will probably also be 2-3 promotions from the youth team, potentially Jiro Nakamura, Isa Sakamoto and maybe even Naoki Asano or Jinta Miki (I’m less sure about them than the other two). If, as expected, Leandro Pereira goes, then a new (probably foreign) striker is a must, Felipe Vizeu (Yokohama FC) might fit that bill, Thiago Santana (Shimizu) would be a dream, or what about Keita Yamashita (Tosu) if the club are looking for a viable homegrown option? If Miura leaves, then a veteran backup centre-back or an up-and-comer from J2 could come aboard as a replacement. I quite like the look of Okayama’s Rikito Inoue, while Yuto Misao (Oita), Leo Osaki (Kobe), Han Hogang (Yokohama FC) or Kazunari Ohno (Shonan) are just a few examples off the top of my head of acquirable central defenders with J1 experience.

Leandro Pereira, Tiago Alves, Miura, Ju Se-jong and Haruto Shirai are the most likely departures in my opinion. Backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori could go too and I’m not the biggest fan of Shinya Yajima, but he must be running rings round his team-mates in training to keep on making the starting eleven, so he’ll probably stay. South Korean left-back / wing-back Shin Won-ho may very well push for more minutes in 2022 so he, plus Kim Young-gwon, Wellington Silva, Patric and a new forward from overseas would take the squad up to the five foreigner limit with Pereira, Alves and Ju Se-jong gone.

Richard Obermajer @RObermajer

And what about Ono, do you think that he will be in starting 11 next season?
(this question followed on from the thread about Miura, hence the question starting with ‘and’)

Blog Gamba: Yuji Ono arrived in Suita at the start of last season to little fanfare after a middling spell with Sagan Tosu. However, he was a ray of sunshine following the league’s re-start in June and was keeping Shu Kurata on the bench. Then, as has happened so often in his career, injury struck and he was ruled out for nine months due to knee surgery. He returned this summer, looked sharp in the ACL, but quickly got re-injured again and seems to have been wrapped in cotton wool in recent weeks. One goal and two assists since making his latest comeback shows you he certainly has the talent to nail down a space in the starting eleven, but I can’t see him staying injury-free long enough to make any confident predictions.

Rob Marshall @RobMarshall_19

How do you see them doing in the ACL? What is the situation with Kosei Tani, will he be first choice next season?

Blog Gamba: The club released a statement last month setting out goals for the remainder of 2021 which included staying in J1 and winning the Levain and Emperor’s Cups. So far, so bold. However, 24 hours later, ahead of their league clash with FC Tokyo, they made 11 changes to the starting lineup from the midweek Emperor’s Cup win over Matsumoto, so I’m not quite sure how serious they really are about lifting trophies this season. Emperor’s Cup success, of course, is Gamba’s only remaining path to ACL qualification next year, and in all honesty, I think they’d be better off out than in, in 2022 (especially if, as seems likely, it’s played in bubbles like this year’s edition). Also worth considering is the fact that second placed Marinos and Kobe (fourth) ended up ninth and fourteenth respectively twelve months ago. Now, I certainly don’t go along with the commonly aired excuse that these poor showings were almost entirely down to ACL involvement, but I will concede it was the biggest single contributing factor. If Gamba can play next season with no outside distractions (ACL, Covid clusters etc) and make a couple of tweaks to the squad and tactics, then there’s no reason that they can’t once again finish in the top six.

Re: Tani, I don’t think he’ll be back at Gamba next season. Although Higashiguchi didn’t exactly cover himself in glory trying to stop Riku Matsuda’s shot last Saturday, his form has generally been excellent and he’s still one of the best in J1. If Shonan stay up, then I’d expect Tani to remain there for at least one more year, his global exposure thanks to playing in the Olympics and now being called up to Japan’s senior team makes a move to Europe seem all the more likely by the day, though.

Nick Taylor @Rolyatkcin_

Now that their fixture schedule calms down, do you think they’ll have a set first 11 heading out each game week?

Blog Gamba: In theory yes, though they now have a large number of players who are used to starting at least once every two to three matches so it’s going to be a tough job keeping everyone happy. At the moment Gamba aren’t in imminent danger of being sucked back into the relegation battle and bagging the three points in their next match at home to Sendai would come close to putting all relegation worries to bed. Should things settle down towards the business end of the season and as decisions start getting made regarding the composition of next year’s squad then it’s possible that some of the players I mentioned above as being likely to depart could slip out of matchday contention.

Jezalenco @JeremyWarren24

After watching the Gamba game on the weekend and seeing fujiharu give everything and possibly injured again. Is to much being asked of certain players that aren’t 100% fit? What is the general feeling of that Osaka faithful about current management?

Blog Gamba: It seems that Fujiharu has struggled with cramp towards the end of his previous two outings. It’s worth pointing out how intense the summer heat is here in Japan, and also how humid it’s been, particularly over the past fortnight after a mid-August deluge. Fujiharu has suffered from cramp like many of his fellow professionals in the league, however, you are right to point the finger at Gamba’s management for the recurrent injury problems. Physical coach Takeshi Ikoma has been employed since the beginning of the 2020 season and has overseen a near constant cycle of injuries. This has been picked up on by the Gamba faithful and it’s quite likely that Ikoma will be heading for fresh pastures next year.

Sam Robson @FRsoccerSam

What are your views on the criticism levelled at Takashi Usami and his lack of goals. Does he do enough in other areas or should Gamba be expecting more from a player of his pedigree?

Blog Gamba: Yappari, a tough one from Sam. Since re-returning to Gamba in mid-2019, Usami, who of course first made a name for himself during the ultra attack-minded Nishino era, has been tasked with creating and scoring the majority of the team’s goals in defence first set-ups. In the formation graphic I included near the beginning of this post, I have Usami in the number ten role just behind a tall, physical Brazilian forward and that’s the kind of environment where I think he thrives. This year, he’s been on the left-wing, on the right, playing off Pereira, playing off Patric, playing off Alves, his head’s dipped at times and we definitely haven’t seen the best of him, but would we see the best of anyone under such circumstances? It’s interesting that (and this is relying on my rudimentary Japanese), opposing coaches often single out Usami as a danger in pre-match interviews and for praise afterwards, the DAZN commentators also regularly mention his attacking contributions, so he is still very well respected by those in the game. As you know from our chats on J-Talk, I’d like to see Akira Nishino return as Gamba coach, I believe the man who first brought Usami into the top team is also the man to revive his career. Nishino would build the team around Usami and together I believe they’d move Gamba away from, frankly pathetic, statistics like 19 goals for in 27 games.

Stuart Smith @sushi_football

What does a “successful” 2021 season for Gamba look like?

Blog Gamba: Wow, I just read that Kyogo Furuhashi article in the Times yesterday (Sunday), now the pressure’s really on…Gamba sit thirteenth, seven points out of the drop zone, so a conservative answer might say, climb a couple of places in the standings, get the goals for numbers up and don’t embarrass ourselves in the cups. It’d also be nice if we could uncover another young talent to pin our hopes on. Hiroto Yamami has already sent hearts fluttering, but maybe Shin Won-ho could come in and do some of his Cristiano Ronaldo stepovers in the last few games of the season or Yuya Fukuda returns from his hamstring injury like a man possessed and we’ve at least got something to make us believe that brighter days lie ahead.

ガンバ大阪スポルタヨーロッパ @Gambaosakaeurop

Why does gamba always seem to have a bad start into the season but are getting better during the second part of the season after summer?

Blog Gamba: I was maybe slightly over-critical of our good friends Urawa in my mid-season predicted lineups post, so let me try to build some bridges here. Gamba’s front office work hasn’t been good enough in recent years, especially when it comes to working in tandem with first-team management and youth academy staff. By way of comparison, look at Reds, they brought in Ricardo Rodriguez this season, a coach with a clear plan and way of playing football. Rodriguez’s project is running ahead of schedule, making the decision to sign five new players this summer seem a little surprising on the surface, as this would normally be quite rare for a team sitting comfortably in the top half of the standings. However, there is little pressure from the fanbase this year and though qualifying for the ACL would be a welcome bonus, it’s not expected, or demanded. Therefore, bringing the likes of Scholz, Sakai, Hirano, Esaka and Kinoshita in early allows them to get fully up to speed before next season when they will really be expected to challenge Kawasaki, Marinos and Kashima. Rodriguez will only need a couple of new additions in the off-season and will then have the team’s winter training camps to get the side ready to hit the ground running from the opening day.

Compare the situation above to what’s been going on at the three ‘big’ clubs currently languishing in the bottom half of the table, Gamba, Kashiwa and Cerezo. I’ve laid out a number of issues at Gamba in my answers above, additionally signings like Daisuke Takagi, David Concha and Markel Susaeta, where the left hand clearly didn’t know what the right hand was doing are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to internal mis-management in recent seasons. Kashiwa are also having a miserable year, hindered by incomprehensible front-office work and Cerezo are just done replacing Levir Culpi with Akio Kogiku. It appears that Kogiku has been handed the dual remits of stopping the recent poor run of results and drastically reducing the average age of one of J1’s oldest starting elevens. He was successful on both accounts against Gamba last Saturday and how did his front office repay him? A 33 year-old winger, presumably on a bumper salary.

Bottom line, in my opinion front office decisions matter a lot, be it Urawa’s use of Wyscout, Kashima utilising Zico and Marinos partnering with City Football Group to successfully recruit quality Brazilians or Kawasaki’s faith in youth team players and university graduates with a commitment to the team ethos. Those clubs have raised the bar, now it’s time for Gamba to rise to the challenge.


What are the things that changed for the better and the worse since Miyamoto is gone? Are the failed foreign signings (specially Leandro/Tiago) to blame for the bad season? Who should take over for next season?

Blog Gamba: Honestly, there haven’t been too many tactical changes since Miyamoto left. I think Matsunami would prefer a more attacking set-up, but after it went horribly wrong in his first two games in charge vs Urawa and FC Tokyo, he basically reverted to Miyamoto’s game plan. It’s kind of hard to judge him because Gamba have had loads of injuries, in addition to playing games every 3-4 days with no time to really work on things on the training ground (we played 17 times in all competitions during July and August!)

Regarding Pereira and Alves (I’d also add in Ju Se-jong as another example of a foreign signing that hasn’t worked out), I think it’s a little unfair to compare those two. Pereira was brought in on big money to be the main striker and he really hasn’t adapted to Gamba, while Gamba, in turn, haven’t adapted to him. Granted there have been some mitigating factors, he missed most of the team’s pre-season camp, the five week shutdown due to Covid made everything much more difficult and he then picked up a shoulder injury a few weeks after Gamba returned to action. He’s looked very isolated and frustrated on the field recently, but I think if he found another J1 club that played to his strengths then he would perform better. Alves, by contrast, was only really signed because we couldn’t get Wellington Silva into the country for the start of the season, and he’s re-surfaced recently because Wellington is injured. Nothing much was expected of him to begin with, Matsunami is picking him out of necessity, not because he thinks he’s one of the best eleven players at the club, and I’m sure he’ll be on his bike at the end of the year.

There’s never just one single factor that can define why a team’s season went well or poorly. Clearly a number of things have gone wrong at Gamba in 2021, the biggest of which was the Covid cluster after round 1. As you can see at teams like Kawasaki and Marinos recently, being without multiple players in the same position and also having to rotate regular starters at the same time leaves a team in a very vulnerable position. That’s basically been the story of Gamba’s season, Yota Sato was sent off against Yokohama FC, but he’s backup to the backup, Alves has started the past 2 league games because Patric and Wellington were injured and Pereira and Usami had to be rested as they’d had a punishing schedule covering for their team-mates. I don’t want to sound like I’m making excuses, but, fatigue, injuries and rotation have all led to Gamba playing a large number of matches this season with second and third choice players going against opposition first picks. Next year, that should be less of a factor, so if they can bring in a good, strong outside appointment such as Akira Nishino or Yahiro Kazama then I believe we can make a swift return to the top six/seven.

Dai @Dai71718626

I was more disappointed with the player’s attitude than I lost in the derby. They were laughing when greeting the audience after the Derby match. Is it possible for other overseas league players who lost after the derby match to laugh at each other?

Blog Gamba: This is a really good question, and I’d be interested to hear other people’s opinions on this subject too. Personally, as someone raised on European football, one of the most charming points about the J League is the absence of a number of things I’d grown sick of in the European game, greed and the same teams winning all the time, entitled, over-demanding supporters, play-acting, fan violence etc. I also enjoy the atmosphere in and around the stadiums, where you’ll find men, women, families and couples all mingling in a pleasant and safe environment. Added to that you have more camaraderie between players, as evidenced by Emil Salomonsson and Yoichiro Kakitani helping each other back to their feet after a coming together a couple of weeks ago or Shinzo Koroki sharing a joke with former team-mate Shinya Yajima following Gamba’s come-from-behind 2-1 win in Saitama last year. The players are human and if I’m satisfied they’ve given their best on the field, then I’m not too concerned if they chat with opposition players before or after games and even share a joke after a defeat to try and take their mind off things for a while. Like I said in my Gamba vs FC Tokyo preview, there’s a time for a bit of controlled aggression on a football pitch, and that’s between the first and final whistles, before and after, however, if players want to show a more human side to their character, I’m ok with that.

And that’s a wrap…hope you found what I had to say interesting, I’m sure you agreed with some points and disagreed on others, and that’s all fine. I’d love to hear from you, please let me know what you think about some of the issues raised in this post.

Thanks again for your support and maybe I’ll do one of these Q&A’s again at the end of the year.


Gamba Osaka vs Cerezo Osaka 28 August 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Cerezo Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 27
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 28 August 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

Quick Note – By the time you read this article, Cerezo boss Levir Culpi may have been relieved of his duties by the club. I decided not to tamper with the original text because, A – it would take forever to alter all the Culpi references, and B – a lot of it is still pretty relevant. So, please sit back, relax and enjoy my ‘ingenious’ foresight that a shocking run of results culminating in a 5-1 home defeat by relegation haunted opposition may put a manager under pressure. Oh, and have any FC Tokyo supporters suggested Kenta Hasegawa as a potential replacement yet?

The Game

The stage is set and the battle lines have been drawn for the second Osaka Derby of 2021. Gamba and Cerezo are set to become familiar foes over the next few days, first locking horns in this league clash before their Levain Cup quarter-final double-header on September 1st (Yodoka Sakura Stadium) and 5th (Panasonic Stadium). Just a quick reminder with regards to this blog, I only write cup previews if Gamba reach the final of the Levain Cup or the semi-finals of the Emperor’s Cup (I’ve got to to take a break sometime, you know!) However, next week I am planning to open the floor to questions and will hopefully have some answers to post around September 3rd, keep an eye out on Twitter for more information.

Just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for both Osaka clubs on Wednesday night. Ten-man Gamba were humbled 3-1 at bottom club Yokohama FC, while Cerezo said “hold my pint” and got pummeled 5-1 at home by Shonan Bellmare in one of the most shocking results of the year. The Cherry Blossoms and the Nerazzurri enter this Osaka Derby level on 30 points apiece, though Cerezo have the better goal difference and also, importantly, a game in hand. The gap between both teams and the drop zone currently stands at 7 points, so no imminent danger, but, with the pink half of Osaka winning just one of their last thirteen league outings, and the hiding from Bellmare fresh in everyone’s minds, the pressure really is on Brazilian kantoku Levir Culpi.

There you have it, two teams from the same prefecture, both coming off embarrassing midweek outings, both disappointing down in mid-table after excellent 2020 campaigns, both with under-performing players and under-fire coaches, who will take the bull by the horns and write themselves into Osaka Derby folklore this Saturday night?

Tale of the Tape

Consider that Cerezo lost their last league match 5-1 at home to Shonan, now look at the key stats for that game in the table below and you might wonder why I put so much faith in the statistical analysis of football. Levir Culpi must be tearing out what little hair he has left (I’m balding and Culpi’s older than my parents so I can make that joke, ok!!) at his side’s inability to convert xG dominance into victories. As stated above, the Cherry Blossoms have just a solitary win from their last thirteen fixtures yet they’ve exceeded their opponent’s xG in ten of those contests. At present, they average 1.4 goals conceded per game compared with the Lotina/Jonjić-era elite defence which gave up just 1.09 last year and a league leading 0.74 in 2019. Culpi is a much more attack-oriented coach than Lotina, so how do offensive stats shape up? In 2021, the Cherry Blossoms are scoring at a clip of 1.36 per match, which is almost identical to last season’s 1.35 and a decent improvement on the 1.14 two years ago. Clearly there’s been a steady shift from the ultra-defensive 2019 campaign to what we have now, a team trying to break out of it’s shell, but struggling to calibrate. In recent matchdays it appears Cerezo are able to attack well, but can’t simultaneously bolt the door shut, then when they do keep things tight at the back, they are unable to build up enough of a head of steam to penetrate (thanks S-Pulse) opposition rearguards. Can Culpi solve this conundrum? His job will very much be in jeopardy if he can’t.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about Gamba in this section other than while Cerezo vs Shonan was clearly a statistical outlier, the men in blue and black generated exactly 1.0 xG and scored 1 goal against Yokohama FC, so my faith in numbers is partially restored. All joking aside, the Nerazzurri are one of the biggest under-performers compared to xG For, and an extreme over-performer in regards to xG Against. A large part of this could be down to the sheer amount of rotational switches made from game to game as a result of the club’s fixture backlog. Hopefully we’ll start to see more consistent patterns emerge following the international break next month when the league schedule calms down a heck of a lot, which will be manna from heaven for blog writers like me!

Head to Head

The first Osaka Derby of 2021 in May unfortunately had to be held with no supporters in Nagai Stadium due to a state of emergency being in place at the time. Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s penultimate match in charge of the Nerazzurri was decided by two penalties, one missed by Cerezo, and the other scored by Gamba. Yuya Fukuda was rather harshly punished for a first-half handball and this gave Yuta Toyokawa the chance to put his side ahead from the spot. However, the former Kashima and Okayama forward saw his well-struck effort cannon off the post. It looked like that miss wouldn’t prove costly when substitute Motohiko Nakajima put the Cherry Blossoms in front with just 16 minutes remaining. No such luck for Cerezo though, Patric stayed cool and buried his penalty past Kim Jin-hyeon following another contentious handball decision. The hard-fought 1-1 draw earned Miyamoto a brief stay of execution before Kawasaki brought the curtain down on his near three year reign six days later.

Both 2020 editions of the derby were just as keenly contested. The first of the two was played at an empty Panasonic Stadium in early July, immediately following the league’s resumption after the four month Covid-enforced hiatus. Cerezo left-back Yusuke Maruhashi was the star of the show, cutting back for Hiroaki Okuno to slot home the opener, before slamming a goal of the season contender past Masaaki Higashiguchi early in the second half. Ademilson set up a nervy finish, converting a spot kick after Yasuki Kimoto handled in the area, but it ended 2-1 to the Cherry Blossoms, their first away league win at Gamba since 2003. The reverse fixture was another physical 1-1 draw, very similar to this year’s encounter. Yosuke Ideguchi drew first blood for the Nerazzurri, but Yuta Toyokawa levelled shortly after. Neither team were able to add to their tally after the interval, though Hiroshi Kiyotake almost delivered his own magical Osaka Derby moment, sending his bicycle kick just wide in second-half stoppage time.

Gamba Osaka

Let’s Talk About Centre-Backs – A back three has been the order of the day for Gamba on-and-off since early 2019. With Genta Miura, Gen Shoji and Kim Young-gwon essentially un-droppable there is no other way for a Gamba coach to set up the team. Miura can play right-back, but Takao and Yanagisawa are far better options. It’s been mooted in the past that Kim Young-gwon possesses the skills to play as a deep-lying playmaker, yet he’s still untested in that role, and there’s always the fear it could go the same way as the Masato Morishige experiment at FC Tokyo. With all this in mind, I wonder if Gamba’s new kantoku, whoever that may be, could be willing to part with one of the holy trinity in order to focus on building the team around the potentially explosive 2022 offence? From left to right, Wellington Silva, Takashi Usami and Hiroto Yamami playing just behind Felipe Vizeu, with Patric coming of the bench for the final twenty. Anyone else’s mouth watering?

While we’re on the subject of centre-backs, Yota Sato was given a straight red-card for hauling down Maguinho in first-half stoppage time on Wednesday night. Sato is in his first season as a pro and arrived highly rated from Meiji University, however, I have real concerns about how he’s being managed. Of course Gamba have had to rotate, but centre-back is a role where it takes time to build up understanding with the players around you and throwing Sato in cold every 7-8 games isn’t really giving him a fair shake, is it? He hasn’t looked particularly brilliant any time I’ve seen him, but when you consider he made his first two senior starts out of position at right-back, the second of which was against Kaoru Mitoma and Kawasaki, and has since just dotted in and out of the team, you wonder if he’s really being handled the right way?

Finally, Gamba Youth product Shuhei Kawasaki has signed for Portimonense in Portugal today (26 August). I thoroughly enjoyed watching him run amok in J3 in the second half of 2019 and the early part of 2020, but he struggled to make much of an impression on the first-team after that. Did he see the instant impact made by Hiroto Yamami and also the potential arrival next season of fellow academy youngsters Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto and think his time to shine had come and gone? Or, has he got an agent in his ear telling him scoring a hat-trick against an exhausted Tampines Rovers, who’d just come from a double-header with Jeonbuk no-less, was the best thing since sliced bread? Who knows? I’m sad he’s gone, and I’m also more than a touch concerned over the career path he’s taking.

Team News
There was a again no Patric for the Nerazzurri on Wednesday night, he appears to have a niggling injury and I expect he’ll make the bench, at best, here. Yota Sato is, of course, suspended following his red against Yokohama FC, though it’s doubtful he’d have cracked the matchday squad in any case. Ryu Takao (ankle), Wellington Silva (groin), Yuya Fukuda (hamstring) and Dai Tsukamoto (thigh) are still nowhere to be seen, with no time-frame announced for their returns. Reserve ‘keeper Jun Ichimori and wing-back Haruto Shirai are continuing to work their way through lengthy rehab programs. Once again I’m unsure of the availability of designated special player Hiroto Yamami, this is a home game and his university is located in the eastern part of Hyogo, so it’s quite possible he could earn himself a spot on the pine.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Cerezo Osaka

Readers of this blog from last season will remember my regular jibes about Levir Culpi’s ill-fated stint as Nerazzurri boss back in 2018. I’m not fan of his personally, but despite being a Gamba supporter, I bear Cerezo no ill-will, so I’ll try and give them a fair shake here. Their main threats come from the wide areas with both, Riku Matsuda and the excellent Tatsuhiro Sakamoto down the right flank bagging four assists apiece already this campaign. On the left-side you have one of my favourite non-Gamba J1 players Yusuke Maruhashi (he was on fire during my first ever live game in Japan), he also has four assists in 2021 and just ahead of him is club captain and legend Hiroshi Kiyotake. Add Naoyuki Fujita’s long throws into the mix and Gamba’s much vaunted back three will have to be on their guard at all times on Saturday. Culpi, someone who was renowned for his youth development work during previous spells at the club, has curiously largely ignored a number of burgeoning young talents in the squad and instead squeezed the ageing warriors of the Lotina era into a series of different starting formations. In the last three outings alone we’ve seen, 3-4-2-1, 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2, so take my selection below with a rather large pinch of salt.

Team News

Off-season signing from Sapporo, Ryosuke Shindo’s miserable injury run has continued with Cerezo and he’s been out with a shoulder complaint since April. Additionally, veteran forward Yoshito Okubo who, of course, began the season with five goals in as many games, but hasn’t found the back of the net since, has been absent from the matchday squad for the past four games. Young prodigy Jun Nishikawa, a player one might have expected to thrive under Culpi, has started just once in J1 this campaign and hasn’t been seen for seven matches. I don’t have any details on why Okubo and Nishikawa have been absent, so can only speculate that it’s down to fitness issues.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Thank you for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.


Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka 25 August 2021 Match Preview

Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 26
NHK Spring Mitsuzawa Football Stadium
Wednesday 25 August 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

Gamba make the two hour journey east along the Tokaido Shinkansen to face J1’s bottom side Yokohama FC this Wednesday in a match that arguably has more significance for the home side, given their predicament at the foot of the table. However, Nerazzurri kantoku Masanobu Matsunami, fresh from being confirmed as boss for the rest of the season, must still have some of the fan criticism following Saturday’s stalemate at home to FC Tokyo ringing in his ears, and he will be determined for his charges to return to winning ways here.

The Ao to Kuro’s first draw in ten league outings and fifth 0-0 of the year was a fairly drab affair, save for spurts of end-to end action at the beginning and conclusion of the second half. The late arrival of Hiroto Yamami brought some much needed impetus to Gamba’s attacking play and fellow substitute Tiago Alves blew two decent chances to earn the three points. The Nerazzurri could, and should, have been made to pay by FC Tokyo replacement Kyosuke Tagawa, but he couldn’t hit the target after being presented with a golden opportunity to make himself a hero in the final minute of regular time. A contest that looked like it would end scoreless from very early on, was indeed destined to finish that way. The point didn’t do either side much good in the grand scheme of things, but shouldn’t be considered a disaster either.

Yokohama FC were also in Osaka on Saturday night, but they saw their four-game mini-revival grind to a shuddering halt against a fired-up Cerezo side who bagged their first win in twelve league outings. Despite former Gamba favourite Kazuma Watanabe firing the visitors into an early lead, YFC’s advantage was quickly extinguished as they were undone by two Tiago headers from corners within the space of four first half minutes. A flowing team move in the second half was finished off by the always impressive Tatsuhiro Sakamoto to leave no way back for the men from Kanagawa.

The Fulie come into this clash 8 points from safety with just 13 matches to save themselves from the drop. Not only are they owners of the worst overall record in J1, they are also the division’s weakest home outfit. Gamba, by contrast, perform like a top 6 side on their travels, and will be confident of grabbing the three points at Mitsuzawa Stadium. Yokohama FC have reached the do-or-die stage of their campaign, can they summon a massive performance and prove that their 2-0 win over Nagoya was more than just a mirage, or will Gamba dig deep and grind out another ugly road win?

Tale of the Tape

Yokohama FC have earned two-thirds of their points this season on home turf, while visitors Gamba seemingly prefer an away day having picked up 60% of their yearly total on the road. A lot has rightly been made of YFC’s leaky defence, which gives up a frightening 2.16 goals per game, and has conceded five times in a single match on three occasions already in 2021, granted these were all away from the Mitsuzawa (Sapporo, Marinos and Kobe). Things did look to be picking up with a run of three consecutive clean sheets, two of them coming immediately after the arrivals of, German ‘keeper Svend Brodersen and Brazilian centre-back Gabriel, but that optimism was largely swept away by Cerezo at the weekend. Gamba’s prefectural rivals appear to be in possession of the manuscript for how to defeat Yokohama FC, and do it convincingly, having routed them 7-2 on aggregate this season. The Cherry Blossoms delivered YFC’s heaviest home defeat to date with a 4-1 counter attacking masterclass back in March, how Gamba would love Wednesday’s encounter to follow a similar pattern.

Yokohama FC have kept just four clean sheets all year, but took ten points from those games, so it is clear that their backline simply must be tightened or they are going to be relegated well before the season draws to a close. The Fulie have given up under 1 xG Against on only two occasions so far in 2021, and at the other end of the field their best xG For performance came in the away game at Panasonic Stadium, though the figure presented below certainly runs slightly contrary to my memory of that contest.

Finally, let’s take a brief look at Gamba and begin by once again comparing their attacking form before and after the ACL excursion to Uzbekistan. In fifteen pre-ACL outings, their offence produced a meagre 5 xG For totals of over 1, they have since equalled that number from just ten post-ACL games. Additionally, prior to their overseas trip, the Nerazzurri’s best xG For performance was 1.6 in the Osaka Derby at Cerezo, this of course includes Patric’s penalty. Following their return to Japan, that figure has been bettered four times. So, although many supporters expressed frustration over Gamba’s inability to unlock, or really look like unlocking, the FC Tokyo defence, statistically speaking things are trending in the right direction up front for the Nerazzurri and fans should be able to look forward to more goals in upcoming matches, hopefully starting here.


Gamba faced Yokohama FC at Panasonic Stadium back in May knowing that a win, and only a win, would suffice. They got what they were looking for, a 2-0 triumph courtesy of a Leandro Pereira double, his first two J1 goals for the club, but little more. It was a satisfactory outcome for the men from Suita, but boy was it not pretty.

Twelve months earlier it was a similar story with Gamba running out victors and Yokohama FC missing their cue at vital moments. Kosuke Onose’s drive from the edge of the box deflected off Ademilson and wrong footed Fulie stopper Yuta Minami for the game’s opening goal. The Brazilian was rather fortunately given the credit, Onose wasn’t awarded with an assist and Gamba headed into the sheds one up. The Nerazzurri dominated the first half, but after the interval it was a different affair, YFC youngster Koki Saito (now at Lommel in Belgium) fired in a deserved equaliser before Yusuke Minagawa wasted a couple of great chances to turn the tie on it’s head. The side from Kanagawa were made to rue those misses as Patric flicked home Yosuke Ideguchi’s corner with almost the last touch of the game to earn a fortunate three points.

In the reverse fixture, the Nerazzurri wrapped up second spot in the standings with an ultimately comfortable 2-0 victory at a freezing Mitsuzawa Stadium in the season’s penultimate round. Shu Kurata got the ball rolling in the first minute and there were a few slightly nervy moments before Patric, once again, got the decisive goal. Later on, Christmas came early for Genta Miura and Gen Shoji, who liked like a couple of over-excited schoolboys, when they were able to fulfill a lifetime’s ambition by sharing the same field as Japanese footballing legend ‘King Kazu’ as he made a late cameo in his team’s final home outing of the year.

Gamba Osaka

I may have got all 11 starters right in my previous blog post, but that was largely thanks to Matsunami showing his hand with his ‘B’ team selection against Matsumoto. This match represents Gamba’s last midweek league outing until Culture Day on November 3 and I’m unsure how much rotation will take place ahead of the Osaka Derby on Saturday. As such, in a blog first, I’ve presented two alternatives below. It’s also quite/very possible that Matsunami will make far fewer changes than I’ve predicted.

Briefly (he says), there are two tactical points I want to make about the FC Tokyo game.

* The difference between Patric and Leandro Pereira’s playing styles was laid bare several times on Saturday night. It was particularly noticeable that down Gamba’s right flank, both Onose and Yajima would pick up the ball and immediately look towards the penalty spot in expectation of Patric being there. Instead, what they found was Leandro Pereira hovering on the D at the edge of the box looking for a pass in to his feet.

How do Gamba fix this quandary?

Use the lighter league schedule between now and December to operate with basically the same starting lineup in every game and hope a better understanding develops?


Continue to bumble through this season, take advantage of the fact Pereira is only on a one year deal (reportedly) and bring in a younger version of Patric in the off-season? Heck, maybe we could even scout potential replacements on Wednesday night?

* Gamba selected two ball playing midfielders, Shu Kurata and Yuki Yamamoto, against FC Tokyo on Saturday. I believe Matsunami’s thinking was that as the Gasmen prefer counter attacking football, the Nerazzurri were likely to dominate possession and would require the nous and guile of those two to unpick the well-set defence in front of them. That proved to be correct, however, at the other end Leandro floated menacingly between the defensive and midfield lines, as he did twelve months ago. Despite flashes from him, and Brazilian compatriot Adailton giving Kosuke Onose a torrid time at points, Gamba lived to tell the tale. I still think the ideal combination would see one playmaker (Kurata / Yamamoto / Yajima) paired with one ball-winner / holding midfielder (Ideguchi / Okuno / Ju Se-jong). There are so many options there and not too many more games to go, how will Matsunami shuffle his pack to try and keep everyone happy?

Team News
was the headline absentee on Saturday and Matsunami made a rather vague statement about his condition not being quite right. I’ve optimistically put him in the starting lineup for Wednesday and he does enjoy a goal against Yokohama FC, so here’s hoping. Gamba fans will be praying Hiroki Fujiharu being substituted against FC Tokyo after going down clutching his left calf was nothing more than cramp, though personally I have my doubts. Ryu Takao was pictured in the stands on Saturday with strapping round his right-ankle, suggesting he won’t be back anytime soon, while Wellington Silva is still out with a groin muscle problem. Elsewhere, there’s no time-frame available for Yuya Fukuda or Dai Tsukamoto’s returns and Jun Ichimori plus Haruto Shirai are both long-term casualties. Summer vacation is winding down here in Japan and I’m unsure where that leaves designated special player Hiroto Yamami, especially with regards to away fixtures. There are now so many players to choose from that I left him out of my lineup, but, if available, expect to see him play some part.

Predicted Lineups and Stats


Yokohama FC

After a promising 2020, which culminated in a fifteenth place finish, Yokohama FC have crashed down to earth with a thud this season. Winter losses including, wonderkid Koki Saito, loanees Kazunari Ichimi (Gamba) and Yuki Kobayashi (Kobe), plus solid starters Katsuhiro Nakayama (Shimizu) and Takaaki Shichi (Fukuoka) were not adequately replaced, and a rather scattergun approach to recruitment unsurprisingly didn’t bear much fruit. Things started poorly as they were routed 5-1 at Sapporo on the opening day with three of last season’s star turns, central midfielders Tatsuki Seko and Kohei Tezuka, plus winger Yusuke Matsuo left on the bench. Kantoku Takahiro Shimotaira was the fall guy, getting the axe after the 3-0 home loss to Hiroshima on April 7, though quite how much of the mess the club currently finds itself in can be laid at his door is very much up for debate. YFC promoted internally and former player Tomonobu Hayakawa was handed the reigns, however, little progress has be made since his appointment. A summer recruitment campaign saw Brazilians, Gabriel (Atlético Mineiro) and Saulo Mineiro (Ceará SC) join on full deals while compatriots, Felipe Vizeu (Udinese via Ceará SC) and Arthur Silva (FC Tokyo) came in on loan. Germany Olympic squad member Svend Brodersen brought those in the arrivals lounge up to five, and this was balanced out by, Masakazu Tashiro, Sho Ito, Yuta Minami and Riku Furuyado heading out on loan deals and Calvin Jong-a-pin and Ryuji Sugimoto leaving permanently. There has been a recent improvement in on-field results, but I’m sceptical if it’ll prove to be enough to keep them away from the relegation trapdoor.

Team News
Central midfielder Hideto Takahashi is suspended following his straight red against Cerezo, while promising wing-back Yota Maejima’s thigh muscle problem is expected to keep him out until next month. Kosuke Saito (shoulder) is the only other confirmed absentee I have, though fellow volante Kohei Tezuka has missed the last eight games and it’s suspected this is Covid-related. Other than that, Keijiro Ogawa, Ryo Germain, Katsuya Iwatake and Kléber haven’t been spotted for the past three league matches, I can only guess that they are currently being kept out by the new summer arrivals named above. Brazilian wing-back Maguinho, on loan from Kawasaki, is walking a suspension tightrope and a yellow card in this game would mean he misses the weekend trip to Kashiwa.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Thanks again for reading and enjoy the game whoever you support.


Gamba Osaka vs FC Tokyo 21 August 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs FC Tokyo
2021 J1 Season Round 25
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 21 August 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

Gamba’s Summer Expo is back for the first time since 2019 so you may notice the home side wearing a different shade of blue than usual and the 5,000 fans permitted inside the Panasonic Stadium will each receive a free commemorative t-shirt which has earned some rather mixed reviews so far, please make your own minds up on that. 2014 Gamba treble winning coach Kenta Hasegawa’s FC Tokyo side are the visitors for what should hopefully be an entertaining and keenly contested match.

You may have heard me and other members of the Gamba Twitterati prattling on about a young lad called Hiroto Yamami. Well, he is certainly someone who knows how to make a first impression. His entrance to the J1 arena had me waxing lyrical with comparisons to Kaoru Mitoma and Wayne Rooney spewing out left, right and centre. Introduced at the expense of Shu Kurata 76 minutes into Friday’s match at a wet and windy Nihondaira Stadium in Shizuoka, Yamami wasted no time in acquainting himself with Japan’s number 1 ‘keeper, Shuichi Gonda in the S-Pulse goal. Ignoring the supporting Leandro Pereira and Usami to his left, the Kwansei Gakuin University senior brought out a nice stop from the 22 times capped stopper with a powerful right foot shot from outside the area. However, his pièce de résistance came after 82 minutes when he coolly plucked Yuji Ono’s long ball out of the air with his right foot, turned inside Eiichi Katayama and fired an unstoppable left foot rocket across Gonda, dipping viciously into his top-right corner for the winning goal. Gamba fans had waited patiently all week for news of a transfer window replacement for the Tokushima-bound Kazunari Ichimi, after hearing nothing and the clock getting close to 21:00 on deadline day, Yamami announced his entrance to the top flight for all to see. 1-0 Gamba and a season high position of 12th the reward.

So far, so positive from a Gamba standpoint, but now we need to talk about their dismal home form. 18 of the Nerazzurri’s 29 points accumulated to date have come on the road, a trend which mirrors 2020, only the divide between results in and out of Suita has become more pronounced. Three vital home wins over, Tokushima, Yokohama FC and Oita, have been countered by reverses against Kawasaki, Marinos, Kashima, Kobe, Urawa and Hiroshima. Notice a trend there? That’s right, the strongest team Gamba have beaten at Panasonic Stadium this year is 16th place Tokushima while they’ve taken just a solitary point from six home clashes with sides currently in the top 10. The men in blue and black really do need to turn things up a notch, or ten, in front of their own supporters, hopefully beginning on Saturday.

FC Tokyo arrive in Osaka for their 5th away match on the spin with kantoku Kenta Hasegawa starting to feel the hotseat become a touch warmer following a run of 3 league games without a win. After this encounter, the Gasmen have two ties of their epic summer road trip remaining before returning to Ajinomoto Stadium against Kashiwa Reysol on September 12 (they do have a home Levain Cup quarter final vs Sapporo to play before that). Some, of a blue and black persuasion, with fond memories of Hasegawa’s time in Suita, may feel the pressure is a touch harsh given FC Tokyo can be found 8th in the J1 standings, only 6 points off 3rd place with 14 rounds still to go. This is certainly a better situation than the capital club found itself in during most of the decade prior to Hasegawa’s arrival, so in some ways he could be considered a victim of his own success and rather like his time in Gamba, his motivational tactics and ideas might have a certain shelf-life which may be close to expiring at Ajinomoto Stadium?

Sparks usually fly when these two meet on the field, Gamba know a win here will take them to within 3 points of their visitors and put them right in the mix for a top half finish, while FC Tokyo will be determined to arrest their mini-slump and kick on towards hopefully booking a spot in next season’s edition of the ACL.

Tale of the Tape

I mentioned on the J Talk Podcast prior to Gamba’s return from the ACL that ‘draws are not your friend in this situation’ and those have proven to be sage words. The Nerazzurri have won 5 and lost 4 since returning to Japanese soil, earning 15 points at 1.67 points per game (ppg) which compares with only 0.93 ppg before heading off to Uzbekistan. This contrast can also be seen in average goals per game which stood at 0.47 for, 0.93 against in the early part of the year, but has since shot up to 1.22/1.00 over the past 9 fixtures.

As we know, things have been pretty solid defensively all year, and the shutout win over Shimizu last Friday was the men from Suita’s 10th in just 24 league fixtures in 2021, 2 better than last season and just 1 shy of the figure from 2019. Improvements can also be seen in attack with Gamba scoring 7 times in their last 5 outings from an xG total of 7.63 which is a huge upgrade in efficiency compared with the beginning of the season. At the back, 5 goals have been surrendered off 8.87 xG over the same time period, though it should be noted that 4 of the 5 matches in question took place away from home.

A look at their stats table below shows FC Tokyo to be a very Jekyll and Hyde outfit which must surely drive their supporters to distraction. Their season to date can roughly be split into three thirds, rounds 1-8 which I’ve titled ‘solid start,’ rounds 9-17 ‘very ropey apart from random rout of Kashiwa’ and finally rounds 18-24 ‘O Tridente reunited, but shaky defence threatens to steal their thunder.’

FC Tokyo are not a team big on possession, expect them to use the pace of Adailton, a player who has been a thorn in Gamba’s side in the past, in tandem with compatriot Leandro to wreak havoc on the counter attack as they did last week at the Sapporo Dome, and indeed last year in this very fixture. In 3 carefully selected away games from earlier in this campaign against Urawa (round 1), Kashima (13) and Shimizu (16), the Gasmen produced a combined total of just 0.78xG For, Gamba will certainly be hoping it’s that kind of night on offence for FC Tokyo come Saturday. At the other end, the capital side will aim to have their 2 holding midfielders protect their backline a bit better than they did against Consadole last week, though the vast gulf between Sapporo and Gamba’s attacking philosophies could render any analysis of the catalysts for last week’s defensive slopiness largely redundant.

Head to Head

FC Tokyo ran out 1-0 winners, thanks to Diego Oliveira’s strike in the opening minute, of the clash at Ajinomoto Stadium back in May. The game, Matsunami’s second in temporary charge, was largely uneventful after that, however, the same can’t be said for the two ties played out between these sides in 2020, with neither passing without incident.

First, Gamba welcomed FC Tokyo to Panasonic Stadium and gave up an early lead when good Tokyo pressing forced an error and eventually the ball found it’s way to, that man Diego Oliveira, who coolly lofted into an unguarded net from 25 yards. Takashi Usami hit back with a fierce drive from outside the box that Akihiro Hayashi between the sticks for FC Tokyo may feel he should have done better with. Then the fun really started, as in the fifth minute of additional time at the end of the first half, Hiroki Fujiharu had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside, with no VAR in place to reverse the decision. The Gasmen took full advantage of their good fortune and sealed the game with 2 devastating second-half counters, the first culminating in a soft, but ultimately correct handball decision against the sliding Kim Young-gwon, Leandro making no mistake from the spot. The third member of O Tridente then sealed the deal as Gamba were forced to chase the game, lost possession and a flowing move was finished off by Adailton, 3-1 the final score.

Gamba gained a modicum of revenge at a flooded Ajinomoto Stadium in what could better be described as a game of water polo rather than a football match. Ademilson’s penultimate goal for the Nerazzurri, from the penalty spot, following an extremely harsh point-blank handball decision against Hirotaka Mita, was the only mark on the scoresheets as Gamba continued their charge up the standings. The action didn’t end there though as Leandro escaped censure for hitting Yuki Yamamoto in the face in an unsavoury off-the-ball incident around 15 minutes after he appeared to aim an elbow at Kim Young-gwon’s chin before thinking better of it. The Brazilian was handed a 3 match ban following a league investigation in the aftermath and the match officials probably breathed a sigh of relief that he sent his late free kick just wide.

I felt genuinely aggrieved after FC Tokyo’s 3-1 win in Suita last summer, but on further reflection, across the two games, both sets of fans had good reason to question some of the officials’ decision making. I would probably make the case that had each of these matches been officiated correctly, then they would have ended up as draws, leaving Gamba and FC Tokyo with 2 points apiece, as it was they got 3, so we can’t complain too much, can we?

Gamba Osaka

After making ten changes to the team that defeated S-Pulse, Gamba were taken to extra-time in their round 3 Emperor’s Cup tie at home to Matsumoto on Wednesday, ultimately prevailing 2-0 thanks to Ko Yanagisawa’s first goal for the club and Yosuke Ideguchi’s clincher on his return to the starting lineup. It was a good run out for several players short on match fitness, though Matsunami would surely have preferred Usami, Pereira and Onose to play fewer minutes than they ended up doing.

As mentioned above, Yamami-mania has swept through the Gambaverse, as the diminutive youngster, who turned 22 earlier in the week, was the talk of social media and has presented me with an Usami vs Yamami 2022 uniform selection dilemma. The Nerazzurri faithful are currently salivating over the mouth-watering prospect of Usami, Silva and Yamami in the same team, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, how can the dream become reality? I, for one, am looking forward to getting the answer. Yamami sat out the Emperor’s Cup tie versus Matsumoto as he played for Kwansei Gakuin against Gamba in the previous round and the question on every Nerazzurri fans’ lips is, will he get a first start here?

Team News

Yosuke Ideguchi, Yota Sato and Shin Won-ho all retuned to action against Matsumoto, though I wouldn’t expect to see either Sato or Shin in the squad for this game, as they are backups, while Ideguchi played 110 minutes on Wednesday so will likely be a sub, at best. Patric has missed the past 3 fixtures, he’s believed to have a small injury, and similar to Ideguchi, I don’t expect him to start here. The club confirmed what everyone who watched Gamba vs Yokohama F. Marinos could see (no I’m not banging on about the Thiago Martins incident again), Wellington Silva has a right groin injury. No return date was given, and I don’t expect we’ll get one, so it’s a case of wait and see. Ryu Takao will be out for a while yet with his ankle problem, Yuya Fukuda is understood to be in training, but his absence on Wednesday suggests he’s well short of match fitness and Dai Tsukamoto’s thigh injury continues to keep him on the sidelines. Jun Ichimori and Haruto Shirai are long-term casualties.

Predicted Lineup and Stats

FC Tokyo

FC Tokyo ended up 6th in the 2020 standings, comfortably better than fellow ACL sides Yokohama F. Marinos (9) and Vissel Kobe (14). Buoyed by their Levain Cup success and keeping the majority of last season’s squad intact, they would have expected to push on and challenge at the very top this year, as they did in 2019. That hasn’t happened and the reasons why are very much a hot topic these days. On the one hand you have the devastating O Tridente attacking dynamos of Leandro, Adailton and, one of my personal favourite opposition strikers, Diego Oliveira. You also have an excellent youth system delivering talents such as Go Hatano, Kashif Bangunagande, Manato Shinada, Takuya Uchida and Shuto Abe. On the flip side of the coin, the balance of the team seems a little off. In my predicted lineup below, just one player (Junya Suzuki) is aged between 25 and 29, so you are left with a side made up of, up-and-comers and slightly over-the-hill veterans, maybe that partly explains their inconsistency?

My second, perhaps more controversial theory, (please hear me out FC Tokyo fans, I come in peace, honestly), speaking as a Gamba fan, last season FC Tokyo were the least nice opponents we faced. Leandro, rightly or wrongly, steals a lot of the negative headlines, but I felt Tokyo were very physical, there was off the ball stuff going on and the referee was getting plenty of advice from both the players on the field and Kenta and co on the sidelines. Not all of this should be taken as an insult by any means, to get to the top of the pile in football, it may be necessary to become well-versed in some of the darker arts of the game. Gamba, for example, dished out more than their fare share of punishment in the away fixture, Kim Young-gwon leading the charge (I don’t believe for one minute that you play centre-back for your country at 2 World Cups and don’t have more than a few tricks up your sleeve). Back to my original train of thought, in 2020 Leandro was a ring-leader, but so too, in my view, were, Joan Oumari, Arthur Silva and Yojiro Takahagi. What do all 4 have in common other than that? They’ve all either been loaned out or reduced to bit-part player status for most or all of the season. Could removing those prepared to do the dirty work be a factor in creating the soft underbelly ruthlessly exposed by Sapporo last week?

These are just some outsiders opinions on what’s going on at FC Tokyo, I’m certainly not trying to have a dig at a side who, let’s remember, are 6 points better off than the Nerazzurri. You could argue they missed a trick not bringing in a Daiki, Matsuoka or Kaneko in the off-season and you may question the absence of big-name Brazilian acquisition Bruno Uvini, but don’t forget this is a quality outfit, packed full of talent ,who present a very real threat to Gamba on Saturday night.

Team News

Diego Oliveira was a surprising omission from the FC Tokyo team-sheet last week and Kenta Hasegawa would only confirm that he had an injury, but didn’t expand. Right-back Hotaka Nakamura’s knee problem is likely to keep him out until October, Takuya Uchida’s season is done after hurting his shoulder, Kazuya Konno did his knee ligaments and will be back next year and former number 1 Akihiro Hayashi is undergoing a lengthy rehab program after also suffering a serious knee injury. Central midfielder Shuto Abe is on 3 yellow cards so a caution in this match would see him pick up a one game suspension.

Predicted Lineup and Stats

Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.


J1 Predicted Lineups Post Transfer Window Update

The summer transfer window “slammed shut,” or closed gently as it tends to do here in Japan, last Friday (August 13), so I thought this would be a good time to have a look at the lineups we are likely to see J1 teams field from now until December.

A quick reminder that you can always check out my regularly updated J1 and J2 databases here,

Before I get into it, here is a rough guide to some of the parameters I’ve used.

* Teams are listed in the order they finished the 2020 season, ie the order you’ll find them in all the 2021 yearbooks.
* The lineups below are not necessarily the ones you’ll see next week, more an amalgamation of the players expected to feature most frequently between now and the end of the season.
* Where genuine competition exists for a starting spot, I’ve listed alternatives below the projected starter.
* The injured / unavailable list only includes players who I feel would have a genuine chance of starting if they were fit. Regular readers will know finding information about JLeague injuries can be a thankless task, so I’ve done my best, but can’t promise it’s 100% accurate.

Finally, if you don’t already, please give @Michael_Master a follow on Twitter. The use of the word ‘Master’ in his handle is by no means an overstatement, the man is truly the oracle when it comes to Japanese transfers and this blog post wouldn’t have been possible without his updates. Thanks man!

Kawasaki Frontale

Yes Mitoma and Tanaka are gone, and yes Kashiwa have just become the first team in 40 J1 games to keep them scoreless, but take a look at the lineup below and you’ll surely agree this is still the strongest side in the division. A settled back 6 and plenty of options in attack plus rivals either losing players or being engaged in the process of rebuilding, makes me believe they’ll overcome ACL distractions to lift a fourth title in five years.
Injured/Unavailable: 10 Ryota Oshima

Gamba Osaka

Long time readers of this blog will know the trouble I’ve had predicting Gamba starting lineups recently, though I should point out in my defence, I’m generally more accurate at it than DAZN! With Miura, Kim and Shoji fit, 3-4-2-1 seems like it’ll be the order of the day for most remaining games this season. From 2022, however, it’d be good to see 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 getting an outing, especially if Hiroto Yamami can replicate anything like the form he did against Shimizu on Friday.
Injured/Unavailable: 14 Yuya Fukuda, 15 Yosuke Ideguchi, 27 Ryu Takao, 28 Wellington Silva

Nagoya Grampus

The arrival of Polish international Jakub Świerczok is like manna from heaven for the Grampus support who have been starved of a genuine centre-forward since Jô’s acrimonious departure at the start of 2020. Captain Yuichi Maruyama is out for the year and the slight defensive wobble caused by his absence, in addition to an inability to create presentable openings for their attackers has seen Nagoya slip back from the highs of last year and the early part of this campaign. Still very much in the hunt for 3rd place, their new number 40 will have a big say in whether they equal last season’s final ranking or not.
Injured/Unavailable: 3 Yuichi Maruyama, 9 Ryogo Yamasaki, 44 Mu Kanazaki

Cerezo Osaka

The problem with a having a club legend in charge, as both Osaka clubs have found out this year, is that it’s not easy to sever ties with them when things head south. The further away Cerezo get from the defensive stability of the Lotina-era, the more vulnerable they look at the back, while at the other end of the field, a succession of niggling injuries to key personnel has set-back Culpi’s plans to revitalise their attack. The Cherry Blossoms don’t really do mid-table finishes and have only 1 win and 11 points from their last 15 league outings…they couldn’t….could they?
Injured/Unavailable: 3 Ryosuke Shindo

Kashima Antlers

Things have generally meandered along under Naoki Soma, just as they did under predecessors Zago and Oiwa and on the back of 3 straight wins, the Ibaraki giants are firmly in the picture for 2022 ACL qualification which is really a bare minimum for a club of this size and prestige. Box-to-box midfielder Pituca seems to be a ready-made long term replacement for Leo Silva, but the Antlers faithful must have concerns over how long they can keep hold of talented youngsters like, Araki, Machida and Tsunemoto. Key forward Everaldo has incredibly only scored once in J1 this season and seems to be dropping deep and into wider areas too often, though with Tomoya Inukai raking in goals as he did against Shonan last week, it doesn’t appear to be hindering the team too much.
Injured/Unavailable: 22 Rikuto Hirose

FC Tokyo

A very streaky team this year, and I’ll discuss them in greater detail during my preview of their upcoming clash with Gamba, Gasmen supporters have seen their side go on both 5 game winning and losing runs in the first half of the season. Boss Kenta Hasegawa and playmaker Leandro burying the hatchet, for now, has helped make them a much more potent force going forward which has somewhat papered over the widening cracks at the back.
Injured/Unavailable: 9 Diego Oliveira, 14 Takuya Uchida, 33 Akihiro Hayashi, 37 Hotaka Nakamura

Kashiwa Reysol

I’ve already gone pretty deep on the J Talk Podcast regarding my issues with the Reysol front office’s performance in recent years. That, plus the winter departure of Olunga has really set them back this campaign in my opinion. Their season stats and recent results indicate a push up the table might be on the cards during the second half of the year. A bloated squad, constant tinkering with the team’s shape and a never-ending succession of injuries suggest otherwise.
Injured/Unavailable: 7 Hidekazu Otani, 11 Matheus Savio, 33 Hayato Nakama, 39 Yuta Kamiya

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Sanfre have reverted to the tried and trusted 3-4-2-1 after an ill-advised dabble with a back 4 at the beginning of the season. They appear to have a surplus of quality centre-backs, but there’s now a gaping Hayao Kawabe shaped hole in the middle of the park. More cutting edge is required up front, but with the new stadium project sucking in resources, they lack the funds to adequately replace Leandro Pereira and it looks like they’ll be left relying on youth team products, university graduates and promising J2 players in the coming years.

Yokohama F. Marinos

10 points from 4 games in quick-fire succession marks an excellent introduction to Japanese football for Kevin Muscat. The Australian head coach must have been delighted with Léo Ceará’s efforts in recent weeks, putting his hand up as the man to fill Ado Onaiwu’s big boots up front. They are now breathing right down the necks of Kanagawa rivals Kawasaki and we have a genuine title race on our hands. Their devastating attack is beyond reproach, but the old defensive frailties which held them back in 2018 and 2020 have been on display since returning from their summer break. Gamba and Oita, two of the weaker attacks in the division, let them off the hook, but I have a nagging doubt that they are going to give too many chances, to the wrong team, on the wrong day and that’s what’s ultimately going to cost them top spot.

Urawa Red Diamonds

The plethora of new talent in the arrivals lounge has made Reds one of the most talked about J1 sides during the summer months. The shape I’ve set out below was not the one used by Ricardo Rodriguez on Saturday night, however, I feel he may lean towards it later in the year. Although Kobe seem to act as a bit of lightning rod for online criticism about big spending, dress it up any way you like, Reds summer spree is a naked attempt at fixing problems using cold, hard cash. The Saitama outfit mean business, they may not reach the summit this year, but, they’ll definitely be a team to keep your eye on in the coming years.
**Please note – on August 15 Reds announced Kasper Junker had undergone surgery on a cheekbone injury, I expect to see him back wearing some Tsuneyasu Miyamoto-style facial protection in the next couple of weeks so kept him in the lineup below.**

Oita Trinita

After a decent run in the top flight since 2019, it seems like the curtain is coming down on their J1 journey, for now. Trinita possess the weakest attack in the division, scoring an anaemic 0.63 goals per game, see misses in the 15th and 48th minutes of their eventual 5-1 drubbing at Marinos on Sunday for clear evidence of where the issues lie. Former Gamba assistant Tomohiro Katanosaka, now in his 6th year in charge, has recently looked at alternatives to his favoured 3-4-2-1, including starting with a back 4 vs Marinos, but I feel like he will return to type soon as the squad is built to play with 3 centre-backs. Goya and Masuyama have come in to bolster the attack, but they still lack a proven source of goals. Onaiwu, Fujimoto and Tanaka have all previously departed for brighter lights elsewhere and it costs money to replace that kind of talent, money, that sadly, Trinita just don’t have.
Injured/Unavailable: 15 Yuta Koide

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Petrovic’s 100mph attacking football style is locked and loaded at the Sapporo Dome and at the moment it seems to be bearing fruit. As I write this, Consadole have just seen off FC Tokyo in impressive fashion, having dispatched Urawa with even greater ease the week before. Not the richest, or flashiest of J1 outfits, but their in-depth scouting of Japan’s varsity competitions, allied with solid youth development has proven crucial in steering them in an upwards trajectory over the past few months.

Sagan Tosu

With severe financial difficulties, a manager who’s just returned from a 3 week suspension while an internal power harassment investigation was conducted and 2 of their brightest talents freshly headed out the door, it’s amazing how settled things still appear at Tosu. Matsuoka and Hayashi are now yesterday’s men, but replacements Shirasaki and Koizumi from Kashima are thoroughbred pros who will help steady the ship. ACL qualification may be just beyond them this year, and that’s a real shame as the vultures will surely be circling the likes of Higuchi, Yamashita, Sento and Eduardo in the winter, making a repeat of this season’s heroics all the tougher.
Injured/Unavailable: 23 Fuchi Honda

Vissel Kobe

It’s worth remembering that Kobe have never finished higher than 7th in J1, so assuming they can get big-name summer recruits Muto and Osako integrated quickly then they’ll be well on their way to achieving a first ever ACL qualification through league performance. Bojan is a bit of an unknown quantity these days, but J1 coach of the month for July Miura has built a solid foundation and crucially has gotten, the high profile stars, the undercard, and the youngsters all pulling together in the same direction, hats off to him for that.
Injured/Unavailable: 1 Daiya Maekawa, 29 Lincoln

Yokohama FC

A mass recruitment process over the summer has given them a glimmer of hope, and they are now unbeaten in their last 4 games, but is it all a bit too little, too late? Getting my old EPL 40 points to avoid relegation calculator out, Yokohama FC still require 25 points from their 16 remaining fixtures to reach that mythical milestone. Yusuke Matsuo is in the side once more and a defence that was conceding at a rate of 2.32 goals per match has now kept back-to-back clean sheets thanks to the arrival of Brazilian defender Gabriel. If his compatriots, Felipe Vizeu and Saulo Mineiro, can have a similar impact at the other end of the pitch, then maybe, just maybe they could be on for the greatest of great escapes.
Injured/Unavailable: 8 Kosuke Saito, 23 Yota Maejima, 30 Kohei Tezuka

Shimizu S-Pulse

Their summer transfer business looks good, but I said that about their winter recruitment and it’s not really moved them very far up the standings. Similar to post-Ferguson/pre-Solskjær Manchester United, a hard-hitting critique might say that constantly flip-flopping between managers, players and playing styles is hindering the club as it seeks to move forward. Relying on goals from set-pieces and the physicality of Thiago Santana might bring some degree of success, but it feels like had they given Cklamovski this group of players, then he could have achieved much more.
Injured/Unavailable: 10 Carlinhos Junior, 18 Elsinho, 20 Keita Nakamura, 22 Renato Augusto, 50 Yoshinori Suzuki

Vegalta Sendai

Sendai are currently competing in their 12th consecutive J1 campaign, for context that’s a better run than, Gamba, Cerezo, Kobe, Nagoya, FC Tokyo or Kashiwa have had, but it appears likely that this era of relative success is drawing to a close and they may have to regroup and rebuild in J2 next year. 18 goals in 24 games while conceding double that figure tells its own story and though there have been bright sparks in the shape of university rookies Mase and Kato down the right, Foguinho in the middle and some recent substitute cameos from Oti and Felippe Cardoso, in the cold light of day, is it really inaccurate to suggest that the lineup I’ve set out below looks more like a team sitting 5th or 6th in J2 rather than one built to survive in the rarefied air of J1?
Injured/Unavailable: 8 Yoshiki Matsushita

Shonan Bellmare

After finishing bottom in 2020 with no relegation in place, Bin Ukishima deserves a bit of credit for improving things this year, making his side much more resolute and hard to beat. That said, despite gaining credible draws with the likes of Kawasaki, Marinos and Kobe as well as upsetting Reds in Saitama, they are currently on an ominous slide and it looks as though it’s between them and Tokushima, who they faced in the 2019 promotion/relegation playoff, to see who fills the uppermost spot in the drop zone. They experimented with a double-volante system against Nagoya, and that’s something we may see more of going forward, although I have them lined up in their tried and tested shape below. Sugioka looks to be a good addition, while keeping wide-man Taiga Hata fit so he can supply the bombs for Wellington may be the difference between J1 and J2 football for Bellmare next year.
Injured/Unavailable: 30 Sosuke Shibata

Tokushima Vortis

Tokushima’s victory at home to Gamba gave them the blueprint for how to attack the second half of the year. No messing around with the ball at the back, no possession for possession’s sake, quick counters culminating in dynamic running and interchanges between then front 4 topped off with more shots on goal and hopefully more points on the board. Kawasaki-loanee Taisei Miyashiro has certainly enhanced his reputation with a series of strong performances in a variety of positions along the front line, while right-back Takeru Kishimoto and number 10 Masaki Watai will draw many an admiring glance from rival teams’ scouting departments should they keep up their recent form. Keep your eyes peeled for young forward Taiyo Nishino also, he’s just starting to break into the team in his first year out of Kyoto Tachibana High School.
Injured/Unavailable: Kohei Uchida

Avispa Fukuoka

An excellent start to the season has them sitting in a place of relative comfort few predicted at the beginning of the year. Goalkeeper Masaaki Murakami has won over early doubters (myself included) with a string of good performances, the abrasive Douglas Grolli has been an excellent defensive lynchpin while the quality of deliveries from Jordy Croux and, in particular, irrepressible Swede Emil Salomonsson, have been second to none. In contrast to Kyushu cousins Oita, who came into J1 with a bang and were then looted of their best talent, the average age and playing style of most of Avispa’s squad suggests that they may not have to fend off too many suitors in upcoming transfer windows. One exception is team captain Hiroyuki Mae, and it will be interesting to see how his partnership with new recruit Shun Nakamura develops.
Injured/Unavailable: Bruno Mendes


Shimizu S-Pulse vs Gamba Osaka 13 August 2021 Match Preview

Shimizu S-Pulse vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 24
IAI Stadium Nihondaira, Shizuoka
Friday 13 August 2021
Kick Off: 19:00

No rest for the wicked as hot on the heels of bruising encounters on Monday night, both Gamba Osaka and Shimizu S-Pulse head into this Friday the 13th clash with a lot at stake.

The Nerazzurri will be smarting from their 2-1 defeat at the hands of a fired up Tokushima. Vortis outran, outfought and outplayed Gamba on their way to a deserved three points. Impressive Frontale loanee Taisei Miyashiro flicked home Ken Iwao’s free-kick for the opening goal before the excellent Kazuki Nishiya slammed in a close range volley to strike the killer blow in first-half stoppage time. Gen Shoji has since put his hand up to take responsibility for his error in the lead up to that goal, but in truth the men in blue and black had several chances to clear their lines and took none of them. Yuji Ono’s delicious through ball in additional time at the end of the game was dispatched by Tiago Alves for his first goal since his winter move from Tosu, but the ship had already sailed by that point and it ended 2-1 to the hosts. Ono’s cameo was the sole bright spot from a Gamba perspective, aside from that, the spectacular post-typhoon sky in Naruto pre kick-off and Tokushima’s beautiful summer kits were the only other positive memories I could take from this game.

Shimizu can enter Friday’s battle feeling pretty good about themselves following a hard-fought 2-2 home draw with Gamba’s conquerors in their previous match, Yokohama F. Marinos. Despite possessing the third weakest home record in the division, S-Pulse raced into an early lead when Eiichi Katayama tapped home Thiago Santana’s headed knock-down. Marinos hit back though, as Brazilian duo Marcos Junior and Élber found the back of the net, just as they had in Suita 3 days earlier, to flip the game on it’s axis. However, Kenta Nishizawa, more known for his excellent deliveries from wide areas, was the recipient on this occasion, finding himself in the right place to head Yusuke Goto’s cross low to Yohei Takaoka’s left, the Marinos number one made a rather weak effort at stopping it and the ball squirmed over the line. 2-2 the final score.

Gamba travel east one position and two points ahead of their hosts so expect a cagey affair here with neither side looking to give much away. Shimizu are only three points outside the drop-zone following victories for Tokushima and Kashiwa on Monday, Gamba are slightly better off with a five point cushion to 17th placed Shonan, but both teams will be content to win ugly here if it takes them closer to their aim of maintaining top flight status next season.

Tale of the Tape

A bit of a worrying trend for Gamba, as their summer of sweat and toil continues, is the fact that over the past 4 matches they’ve conceded a minimum of 1.67 xG per game while at the same time matching or exceeding that figure themselves only twice. It appears they are starting to receive a bit of payback for outperforming xG Against so comprehensively over the first half of the season.

Shimizu, as one might expect from a side coached by Miguel Ángel Lotina, are happy to sit back in a solid defensive shape, allowing their opponents plenty of the ball, biding their time before striking on the counter when the moment is right. It’s interesting to note that Oita (away) is the only time this year that they’ve enjoyed more ball possession than their opposition. I alluded to S-Pulse’s poor home form above, having only taken 11 points from as many games. A brief glance at the stats table below indicates that they actually perform better at the Nihondaira than away from it in almost all of the metrics shown except for, and this is the crucial part, actual goals scored and conceded. They underperform xG For by 0.27 goals per home game while conceding 0.52 more goals than their xG Against total per 90 minutes in Shizuoka. This compares with overall totals of -0.09 xG For and +0.22 xG Against. I hope I haven’t bored too many people with the maths there, the bottom line is, expect to see lots of Gamba possession on Friday, but don’t be surprised if Shimizu have the larger quantity and better quality of the chances created on the night.

Head to Head

I was able to get a ticket for the 0-0 draw between these two earlier in the year, played out on an unseasonably cold April evening and I’d have to say probably the highlight of the day was getting to see S-Pulse’s dynamic forward Akira Silvano Disaro’ (one of my favourite J2 players last year) warm up in front of me. Aside from that, Yota Sato made his senior debut at right-back, Usami and Ideguchi both struck the frame of Shuichi Gonda’s goal in the first half before the match descended into something of a snoozefest in the second period, becoming the third of Gamba’s four 0-0 draws to date in J1 2021.

The Nerazzurri have won on each of their last 3 trips to Shimizu, though they were certainly made to work hard for their victory 12 months ago. A flowing team move was finished off by Kosuke Onose to send Gamba into the sheds one up at the break. However, the men from Suita then had to withstand a 30 minute onslaught of S-Pulse pressure culminating in centre-back Yugo Tatsuta’s headed equaliser. The scores weren’t level for long though, as a Fujiharu run and cut back found Kazuma Watanabe and the veteran buried the ball past Togo Umeda in the home goal to ensure the 3 points went to Gamba.

Gamba Osaka

With players being rotated and formations chopping and changing, it’s something of a fool’s game trying to predict Gamba starting elevens these days, but I’ve given it a shot below. The Nerazzurri started in a 3-5-2 against Tokushima with Okuno (right) and Onose (left) playing as wing-backs, Ju Se-jong anchored the midfield and had Kurata (right) and Yajima (left) ahead of him while Ichimi partnered Leandro Pereira in attack. There are three main points I want to make about the tactics used on Monday.

* As mentioned previously with my ‘fish out of water’ comments re Okuno at right wing-back, it’s not his position and he was cruelly exposed by the rampaging Kazuki Nishiya of Tokushima. Right centre-back Genta Miura was often dragged out of place as a result of through balls played into the gap between him and Okuno and the whole central defence was thrown into disarray as a result. I went deep on this topic with Sam Robson on the J Talk Podcast a few months ago following a 2-0 defeat to Nagoya when Kosuke Onose was selected at right-back, so this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.

* A midfield three with one holding player and two in more advanced positions leaves Gamba’s backline more exposed than playing (to use Japanese parlance) a double-volante system. This was shown under Miyamoto in 2019 and the early part of 2020 and it was on display again on Monday night as Masaki Watai, operating in the number 10 role, had a field day running directly at Ju Se-jong and the Gamba centre-backs.

* Unfortunately it seems that the more Kazunari Ichimi plays the less likely it appears that he will be at Gamba next year. He looked to be lacking in confidence on Monday night, was ponderous and indecisive in possession, and offered little in the way of attacking prowess. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him return to Kyoto, regardless of whether they’re in J1 or J2, in 2022.

**After writing this piece, it was announced (August 11) that Ichimi would be joining Tokushima on a full deal, they obviously saw things a bit differently to me! I know I’ve been critical of the player’s performance above, but I certainly wouldn’t say the same about his attitude or efforts, and I wish him all the best for the future. As an aside, expect to see Gamba bring in another Japanese forward before the transfer window closes on Friday, Vissel Kobe appear to be overloaded in that area and Noriaki Fujimoto is a former Gamba Junior and Junior Youth player.**

Team News
The only fresh piece of team news is Yosuke Ideguchi’s absence from the squad for the Vortis game. The central midfielder has only been seen once since the team returned from the ACL in Uzbekistan, a brief cameo in the home clash with Marinos, I guess he has suffered a flare up of whatever was keeping him out of action until last Friday. No update on Wellington Silva’s groin injury yet, but it’s unlikely he’ll feature here while Ryu Takao (ankle) is definitely out, as are, Jun Ichimori, Haruto Shirai and Shin Won-ho. The silence has been deafening regarding Yota Sato’s continuous absence since the ACL and there has been nothing on Yuya Fukuda or Dai Tsukamoto’s leg muscle injuries sustained in that tournament. If any of these players are approaching full fitness then expect to see them get an outing in next Wednesday’s (August 18) Emperor’s Cup tie at home to Matsumoto Yamaga.
**Update – Gamba’s official Instagram account on Wednesday 11 August showed Yuya Fukuda back in training with the first team.**

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Shimizu S-Pulse

After a brief flirtation with 4-3-3/4-5-1 at the start of the year and a couple of dabbles with a back 3, Spanish kantoku Miguel Ángel Lotina has now settled on a rigid 4-4-2 setup. Defence was a massive issue for S-Pulse across the 2019 and 2020 seasons where they conceded 2.03 and 2.06 goals per game respectively. The former Verdy and Cerezo boss has got that figure down to a more respectable 1.39 this term thanks largely to pre-season signings such as, goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda (Portimonense), centre-back Yoshinori Suzuki (Oita) and utility men Teruki Hara (Tosu) and Eiichi Katayama (Cerezo). Issues have crept up when these players have sustained injuries and last year’s backline has been called into action, but the rearguard has now been further bolstered by the summer capture of one of Lotina’s favourite lieutenants during his time at Ajinomoto Stadium, Akira Ibayashi (latterly of Hiroshima).

Central midfield has often been fingered as an area of concern during this campaign, with veteran Ryo Takeuchi generally being paired with the less experienced Kota Miyamoto which has met with mixed results. Again, in a bid to keep their head above water, Shimizu have looked to the transfer market for upgrades. Daiki Matsuoka, a rather surprising purchase from 3rd placed Sagan Tosu, made his debut in the 2-2 draw with Marinos while Ronaldo (not that one) will soon join him in the S-Pulse engine room, coming in from Flamengo. Swiss-born, Kosovo international winger Benjamin Kololli (FC Zurich) is another intriguing summer acquisition with a pretty decent pedigree.

Four players have left the Nihondaira on loan deals during the mid-season break. Long serving wide-man Shota Kaneko, whose flame burned brightly in 2018, but has since dimmed considerably, made a slightly controversial move to prefectural rivals Júbilo Iwata. Elsewhere, youngsters Hikaru Naruoka (Sagamihara) and Ibrahim Junior Kuribara (Suzuka) will aim to get valuable experience and minutes on the field, while the injury-cursed Hideki Ishige will hope to get his career back on track at Fagiano Okayama. Rarely used centre-back Naoya Fukumori is the only permanent departure of the summer, he joined Vegalta Sendai.

Team News

The club confirmed on Tuesday (August 10) that Brazilian winger Carlinhos Junior injured his right knee in the match against Kawasaki Frontale on July 17 and would be absent for around 6 weeks. Key centre-back Yoshinori Suzuki (fractured skull) has been missing for the past 6 matches, as have Elsinho and Keita Nakamura, though I haven’t seen any injury news about them. Central midfielder Renato Augusto is a long-term absentee and is currently doing rehabilitation after undergoing knee surgery. Katsuhiro Nakayama and Akira Silvano Disaro weren’t in the matchday squad for the Marinos game, I’m not sure if that was due to physical condition or non-selection. I’m unsure if either Ronaldo or Benjamin Kololli are in contention to play here as they may be lacking sharpness after having to go through 14 day quarantine periods upon arriving in Japan. Brazilian defenders Valdo and Elsinho both currently sit on 3 yellow cards apiece meaning a 1 match suspension looms the next time they are cautioned.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Thanks again for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.


Tokushima Vortis vs Gamba Osaka 9 August 2021 Match Preview

Tokushima Vortis vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 23
Pocari Sweat Stadium, Tokushima
Monday 9 August 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

The Obon holiday is just kicking off here in Japan, but there’s no rest for J1 clubs with a full slate of action coming up this Monday. Gamba Osaka make their way to the Pocari Sweat Stadium in Tokushima for the first time since lifting the J1 title on a chilly December afternoon back in 2014. Vortis represent the final ‘cold’ opponent for the Nerazzurri during their summer blitz, having not played competitively since a 2-2 draw at home to Shimizu S-Pulse on July 11 (more on that later). Like I seem to have said about all recent fixtures, this is a vitally important match for both teams. Another 3 points on the road for Gamba would send them 9 clear of Monday’s hosts who currently occupy the uppermost relegation spot and could move out of the drop zone if they better Kashiwa’s result away to 3rd place Vissel Kobe.

While Tokushima have no doubt been busy on the training field this summer tweaking things ahead of a push for survival, Gamba have endured a hectic run of 7 J1 fixtures in the space of 20 days, the latest of which was a hugely disappointing 3-2 home loss to Yokohama F. Marinos on Friday, their 6th reverse in Suita this year. The Nerazzurri struck the post twice while Patric left his shooting boots at home and they were subsequently given a lesson in clinical attacking by their 2nd placed opponents. Despite old defensive frailties flaring up again in their first game back following their mid-season break, Marinos had no such issues at the other end with their razor sharp finishing being the difference maker. In the 7 J1 games Gamba have played since returning from the ACL, you could argue that the 12 points accrued is par for the course given the performances shown, however, Avispa Fukuoka and Vegalta Sendai might both have good reason to be a touch aggrieved by their losses to the men in blue and black, while the Nerazzurri could rightly feel deflated not taking any points from the home games against Kobe and Marinos. They say these things even themselves out over time, though if you look at the relative league placings of the 5 teams mentioned above then you may rightly point out that sides higher up in the standings are just generally that bit better at grinding out results in trying circumstances than those below them.

In amongst Patric’s rare off night and some questionable calls by referee Iemoto, a shining light for Gamba was the verve and purpose they showed in attack with flicks, back heels and penetrating forward passes aplenty wowing the home support, especially in the opening half hour. Alas the back of the Marinos net did not bulge as often as the Curva Nord faithful may have liked, though slowly, but surely the Osaka giants are starting to get back on their feet. A slight note of concern is that of the 16 J1 goals scored this season, Brazilian forwards Patric and Leandro Pereira (3 in his last 3) account for just south of 70% of that total and if you add in Takashi Usami’s three strikes then only 2 other players in the whole squad have found the target during this campaign, that is a statistic which simply must be improved going forward.

Tokushima, J2 champions in 2020, have been largely outshone by their fellow promoted side, Avispa Fukuoka, in J1 this season. The Shikoku based outfit started the year promisingly, but have since slipped and come into this fixture with just a solitary win in their past 12 matches, failing to score in half of those games. Norwegian forward Mushaga Bakenga, capped once by his country, could be set to join from Odd in his homeland, however, he most certainly won’t arrive in Japan in time for this clash. It should be noted that Tokushima, despite looking close to large cities like Osaka and Kobe on a map, is rather off the grid when it comes to national public transport infrastructure and can be a tough place to settle for foreign acquisitions, as evidenced by Cristian Battocchio’s hasty departure earlier in the summer transfer window.

Vortis require wins and points, and they need them now, Gamba’s necessity is no longer as great as it was a few weeks back, but victory here would certainly help supporters like myself breathe a little easier in the coming days and weeks. Which side will prevail?

Tale of the Tape

If football was played on a spreadsheet then Gamba would have wiped the floor with Marinos on Friday, but alas it isn’t and they went down 3-2. Still, some positives can be taken statistics wise with the team’s best xG For in 2021 smashed by almost 1 goal and Total Shots For as well as Shots For On Target both seeing season highs. Hopefully from a Gamba perspective, Tokushima bare the backlash of some of the profligacy seen against Marinos.

Vortis are known as a side who value ball retention, however, as seen in the reverse fixture between these two in May, it can often take the form of possession for possession’s sake. In that game, Tokushima trailed for just shy of an hour, but continued to knock the ball around between their centre-backs and holding midfielder Ken Iwao despite a pressing need to get it forward more quickly. Let me pat myself on the back briefly as I said about Vortis in my pre-season preview, “I can see things like, having 80% possession at home to Shimizu and still losing 1-0, happening a bit too often.” Look at the third table below and you’ll see 77% possession and a 2-2 draw in which they only shaded the xG scores….I wasn’t too far off, was I? One final key xG stat about Tokushima, they haven’t registered an xG For total of 2 or above all year (their season high is 1.83 against Gamba at Panasonic Stadium, that number includes a penalty), on the flip side of the coin, Sagan Tosu are the only team to record an xG of over 2 against the side from Shikoku in 2021, so don’t expect an abundance of goals here.

Head to Head

This will be just the 4th match between these two sides in the history of J1 and Vortis are still awaiting a maiden victory. Gamba recorded their first home 3 pointer of the year back in May with a largely forgettable 2-1 triumph. Patric coolly slotted home Kosuke Onose’s centre in a rare moment of quality during a drab first half. Tokushima levelled thanks to a Ken Iwao spot kick midway through the second period, but Takashi Usami won it for the hosts 5 minutes later following a collision between Patric and visiting ‘keeper Naoto Kamifukumoto which left Vortis’ kantoku Dani Poyatos enraged on the sidelines.

Last December, Tokushima visited Suita in the semi-finals of the Emperor’s Cup. On that occasion they dominated possession in the first half, but created few clear cut chances (something that may have influenced my pre-season comments about them quoted above) and were made to pay early in the second stanza when Kamifukumoto dropped the ball at Patric’s feet and was dearly punished for it (he must have been watching last Friday’s game enviously). Then, Yuya Fukuda broke the Vortis offside trap (their supporters may claim VAR would have shown otherwise) late on and slammed home to spark scenes of joy and wild cries of sugoi Yuya-kun from the female supporters near me in the stadium. 2-0 it finished.

Gamba Osaka

The arrival of Ko Yanagisawa coupled with the return of, Hiroki Fujiharu, Yosuke Ideguchi and Yuji Ono, has given both Masanobu Matsunami and myself a welcome selection headache. I’ve gone for a much changed side from the one that fell agonisingly short against Marinos and the most challenging aspect of picking this team was deciding on the formation. 3-4-2-1 has been the only show in town for much of the Matsunami reign owing to an injury pile up in the wide areas. However, the Nerazzurri started the Marinos game 4-3-3, spent most of it in a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond featuring Yamamoto at the base, Usami at the tip and Okuno (right) and Kurata (left) on either side before finishing in a more orthodox 4-4-2, well until Gen Shoji became an auxiliary striker right at the death. With Miura resting on the pine and Kim, Onose and Yajima given the night off altogether, the 4-4-2 made sense after Wellington Silva’s early departure (more on that below), but with a bigger group to choose from for this game I’d say 3-4-2-1 or 4-3-3 would be the most likely starting formations on Monday. Regular readers may be surprised to see Tiago Alves in my predicted eleven, but just when I thought he was heading for the exit, Wellington’s enforced absence may have earned him a reprieve from the Gamba scraphead.

Team News

Several big pieces of news from the Gamba treatment room this week with Fujiharu, Ideguchi and Ono all fit enough to make the matchday squad for the Marinos game, but just when the team’s medical staff thought they might be able to relax a little, Wellington Silva injured his right groin in a seemingly innocuous collision with Takuya Wada and collapsed in a heap. He appeared to be in a good deal of distress as he left the field, but hopefully his problem is not too serious as he was just starting to build up a head of steam and I picked him out as one to watch on last week’s J Talk Podcast. Yesterday (7 August) Gamba confirmed that Ryu Takao had sustained ankle ligament damage against Sapporo on July 30, Sports Hochi’s Gamba beat reporter @hochikanagawa suggested that the injury may not actually be as serious as it sounds, something more akin to a bad sprain. The club haven’t give any timeframe for Takao’s return, and I wouldn’t hold my breath on them doing so. Elsewhere, it’s as you were with Yota Sato still unseen since the team returned from Uzbekistan last month and Dai Tsukamoto and Yuya Fukuda nursing leg muscle injuries sustained in the ACL. Additionally, Jun Ichimori, Haruto Shirai and Shin Won-ho are long-term casualties.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Tokushima Vortis

Spanish kantoku Dani Poyatos used the summer break to take a brief trip back to visit family in his homeland. He has since returned to Japan and will need to be on his game from the word go if Vortis are to avoid another one-and-done in J1. On-loan Kawasaki forward Taisei Miyashiro, who appears on the right-wing in the formation below, but could play as the central striker as he did in the Shimizu game, is the Shikoku side’s main danger in attack and yet another scary example of the talent produced in Frontale’s youth system. @R_by_Ryo flagged up right-back Takeru Kishimoto (recently turned 24) as one of the better younger players in the league and the Cerezo youth product is actually someone several Gamba supporters on Twitter suggested the Nerazzurri should look to bring in before the Ko Yanagisawa deal was announced. Central midfielder Ken Iwao is the heartbeat of the side in the middle of the park, centre-back Cacá generally looks the part defensively, but I question how well his abilities match Vortis’ playing out from the back at all costs philosophy and keep an eye out for young attacker Taiyo Nishino (19 on Tuesday) who made his first J1 start against S-Pulse just prior to the summer break.

Team News
Not a whole lot of Vortis related team news to report. Joel Chima Fujita was part of Japan U-24s wider training group for the Olympics and I’m unsure whether that will affect his participation here. Centre-back Kohei Uchida injured his knee in the Emperor’s Cup tie at Gamba last December and hasn’t been seen since. Backup forward Atsushi Kawata has moved to Omiya on a permanent transfer while, as alluded to above, Cristian Battocchio had his contract cancelled by mutual consent and later signed for a side in Mexico.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Thanks again for reading and please enjoy the game whoever you’re supporting!


Gamba Osaka vs Yokohama F. Marinos 6 August 2021 Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Yokohama F. Marinos
2021 J1 Season Round 6
Friday 6 August 2021
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

There’s more Friday night J1 action this week as upwardly mobile Gamba Osaka face one of their biggest tests of the season, a visit from Kanagawa giants Yokohama F. Marinos. The Nerazzurri come into this encounter on the back of a 3 game winning streak, their best run of the year by far. The third victory in that trio came courtesy of a scrappy win away to Sendai on Wednesday. Patric headed his 5th goal of the league campaign from a Yuki Yamamoto corner in the first half and as happened so often in 2020, they put up the shutters and won ugly. The 3 points gained in Miyagi crucially moved Gamba 6 clear of the drop zone with Friday’s fixture still in hand. Incredibly, a win over Marinos would put the men in blue and black within 6 points of the scrap for 6th between, Kashima (6th), Urawa (7th) and FC Tokyo (8th), with all those sides having 35 points from 22 games (this in turn would probably end any hopes supporters like me had of signing Antlers or Grampus full-backs on loan.)

Let’s not forget that this is a vital game for Marinos too. The Tricolor take to the field for the first time in 27 days needing 3 points to close the gap on fierce rivals Kawasaki at the top of the division. There have been a number of personnel changes, which I’ll outline below in the team news section, that could hinder Marinos or alternatively push them onto greater heights. But, one thing stands true, they are 12 points off the J1 summit with 2 games in hand, so earning the 3 points here is non-negotiable for new boss Kevin Muscat and his troops.

Fans of Akira Nishino-era Gamba and followers of Ange Postecoglou sides may be surprised to know that these are actually 2 of the strongest defensive outfits in the league, conceding a mere 34 times in 41 combined games, though as we know the Marinos attack has generally been on a different level to Gamba’s in the first half of 2021. You could make an argument that on this season’s form, YFM are a cut above their Friday hosts, and you’d probably be right. However, when making a prediction for this clash, one should also take into account the time it takes Postecoglou sides (I know he’s not there any more, but at the moment it’s still his team in all but name) a while to get properly calibrated, see relatively poor starts to the year in each of his 4 seasons in charge for evidence. As such with Gamba in the full swing of their summer ‘chaos energy JLeague’ schedule and their visitors coming off a lengthy break, if the Nerazzurri are to upset their much vaunted opponents then Friday 6 August is likely to be that night.

Just a quick reminder that I joined Ben and Sam on the J Talk Podcast this week (Episode 388) to discuss Gamba, the Olympics and the second half of the J1 season, please check it out, it’s available on all the major podcast applications. Thanks.

Tale of the Tape

As seen below, Marinos are a side who create and take many chances, but will also present opponents with the opportunity to strike back. This ties in with my point about calibrating their team quickly, as at times this season their high press has been breathtaking and has simply overwhelmed their foes, but if they get things slightly wrong then Gamba need to be ready and willing to pounce on the counter attack. The Nerazzurri also have to be prepared to match the high work-rate and intensity on show from their Kanagawa visitors, even if the temperature will be around the 30 degree mark at kick off. There will be long spells of Marinos possession and pressure for sure, and during those periods Gamba must do their best to conserve energy when they can, coiling themselves, ready to strike when YFM try an overambitious pass or commit too many players to an attack, admittedly this is much easier said (or typed) than done.

Head to Head

Gamba stunned, then reigning champions, Marinos at Nissan Stadium on the opening day of the 2020 season, winning 2-1 in the only league match played under ‘normal’ pre-Covid conditions last year. YFM put in an extremely poor first half display while Nerazzurri kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto got his tactics spot on. South Korean duo Kim Young-gwon and Oh Jae-suk had colossal games at the back while the team’s high press forced multiple errors from Marinos defenders which had Ange Postecoglou nearly tearing his hair out. Shu Kurata opened the scoring, before VAR got an early outing, allowing Shinya Yajima’s strike from Kurata’s cut-back to send Gamba into the sheds with a 2-goal cushion. Inevitably they didn’t have things all their own way and a strong Marinos fightback in the second stanza was rewarded with Marcos Junior’s fine turn and shot in off the underside of the bar from the edge of the box, but that was their lot and Gamba held on for the 3 points.

Later in the year, drained by their exhausting pre-ACL schedule, Marinos limped into Suita and were lucky to leave with a 1-1 draw. Despite taking the lead through an unfortunate Kim Young-gwon own goal, YFM found themselves on the back foot for long periods, but Gamba were unable to add to Takashi Usami’s penalty in first-half stoppage time and had to settle for a share of the spoils in a match which ended their run of 6 consecutive league victories.

Gamba Osaka

Just when I think I’ve got a hang on Matsunami’s rotation system, he goes and mixes things up again, so take the rather attacking lineup below with a slight pinch of salt. Personally, I’m really looking forward to the fixture list settling down later in the season so we can see the front 3 of Usami, Wellington Silva and Leandro Pereira, backed by Patric from the bench, really start to click, hopefully Friday will be a glimpse of what’s to come. At the back, it seems like each centre-back essentially plays 3 times and then sits 1 match out, which by my reckoning means Kim Young-gwon is due a spot on the pine here. I wonder if handing Yanagisawa a first J1 start against Marinos is akin to throwing him to the wolves, but the alternatives are, an exhausted Onose, who we really can’t afford to lose to injury and Okuno, who has looked a bit like a fish out of water at times when played there.

Team News
Leandro Pereira wasn’t in the matchday squad for the trip to Sendai, but I haven’t heard of any injury issues, so it’s possible he was just given a night off to allow compatriot Tiago Alves an opportunity to put himself in the shop window. Ryu Takao has undergone a scan on his injured ankle and the results are not yet known, however, the club are confident he won’t require surgery. Midfield maestro Yosuke Ideguchi and young defender Yota Sato haven’t been seen on the field or the bench since Gamba returned from the ACL group stage in Uzbekistan, the reasons for their absence are still unclear. Elsewhere, we’re no closer to knowing when Hiroki Fujiharu, Yuya Fukuda, Yuji Ono and Dai Tsukamoto will return from their leg muscle injuries. As mentioned previously, reserve goalie Jun Ichimori and young wing-backs Haruto Shirai and Shin Won-ho are long term casualties.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Yokohama F. Marinos

As alluded to above, there have been a series of personnel changes for Marinos during the summer break, not least of which was the announcement that Kevin Muscat would replace compatriot Ange Postecoglou in the dugout. The Australian has now completed his mandatory 14-day quarantine and will be on the bench for the first time on Friday. Ado Onaiwu (12 goals in 20 J1 appearances) has left for Toulouse in the French second tier and the club rather surprisingly decided his replacement would be former Cerezo and Kawasaki striker Kenyu Sugimoto on loan from Urawa, despite him only managing 6 league goals in 70 games for Reds across two and a half years in Saitama. Another slightly puzzling move was repatriating highly talented, but injury prone winger Ryo Miyaichi from St. Pauli in Germany, while left-back Ryotaro Tsunoda’s transfer from the University of Tsukuba was brought forward by half a season. Headed for the exit door are, full-back Ryo Takano, someone I thought Gamba should have taken a look at, he has joined promotion chasing Iwata in J2 instead, backup centre-half Makito Ito who, like Takano, will make Júbilo his home for the rest of 2021 and up-and-comer Ryonosuke Kabayama, a player that arrived at Marinos from Kokoku High School in Osaka this year, and has moved to Peter Cklamovski’s Montedio Yamagata on a developmental loan deal.

Team News
Gamba will no doubt be relieved that pacy forward Daizen Maeda will be absent on Friday thanks to his involvement in his country’s Bronze Medal match against Mexico in the Tokyo Olympics. Marcos Junior will return from suspension while Shinnosuke Hatanaka, Léo Ceará and Ken Matsubara have missed the previous 1, 2 and 4 games respectively, but I don’t have anything concrete on the reasons behind their absences.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Thanks again for reading and I hope you enjoy the game whoever you are supporting!