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!


Vegalta Sendai vs Gamba Osaka 3 August 2021 Mini Preview

Vegalta Sendai vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 5
Yurtec Stadium, Sendai
Tuesday 3 August
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

Gamba Osaka, J1’s best away side in 2020, come into this tie at Vegalta Sendai looking for a fourth road win of the year in what is a crucial clash for both teams. A Nerazzurri triumph would draw them level with faltering city rivals Cerezo and perhaps more crucially put them 9 points ahead of Tuesday night’s hosts, Sendai.

A bruising 2-0 victory away to Sapporo on Friday evening came thanks to Shinya Yajima’s first league goal since the opening day of last year, fittingly on his 100th J1 outing, and a second strike in as many games from Leandro Pereira. Wellington Silva earned plaudits for his outstanding attacking endeavours in the opening stanza while captain Genta Miura was the target of some supporter ire for failing to press the referee into a VAR review following poor challenges by both Chanathip and Lucas Fernandes that only resulted in yellow cards being shown.

I mentioned in my preview of the Sapporo game that although Gamba may be tiring due to their intense summer schedule, their opposition on the other hand, would find it tough to gel instantly following a lengthy mid-season break. Sendai last played competitively on July 10th, and in the time they’ve been away, Gamba have racked up 9 points in 5 matches, which has placed Vegalta and their coach Makoto Teguramori under a huge amount of duress. Will Sendai’s fresh, but potentially disjointed troops prevail and pull themselves level with Kashiwa and Tokushima, or can Gamba, rotated and slightly weary, but crucially battle ready, gain the upper hand?

Tale of the Tape

Gamba were able to take advantage of the clear cut opportunities always afforded to Sapporo’s opponents to earn another good xG For score on Friday night. Things are ticking along nicely in that direction and it should be pointed out that despite finishing 2nd last season, they only averaged 1.35 goals for per match, so they don’t have a massive amount of distance to go to reach similar levels this year. In 2020, Patric (9), Ademilson, Usami and Kazuma Watanabe (all 6) combined for 27 league goals while this time round Patric and Pereira (both 4) and Usami (3) are the leading marksmen. The Gamba attack needs a fourth horseman to step up. Can Kazunari Ichimi be the man, or is it time for stage two of the summer recruitment plan to be unveiled?

Sendai’s Yurtec Stadium was something of a fortress in Susumu Watanabe’s final year in charge in 2019, however, the yellow and blues didn’t win a single match at home last year which saw the end of Takashi Kiyama and would have brought the curtain down on Vegalta’s 11 year run in the top flight had it not been for relegation getting scrapped due to Covid. In 2021 they have managed to see off Kashiwa and Oita on home soil and come into this game in a reasonable run of form, losing only 1 of their previous 5 matches in Miyagi, a disappointing 3-2 reverse against Shimizu. Their stats suggest that they concede a high number of good quality chances per game in general, but particularly at home and the Gamba attack, buoyed by recent displays, will be looking to take full advantage.

Head to Head

A pair of completely contrasting results between these two last year that some may label as being ‘classic JLeague.’ Gamba routed Sendai away in September, the only time they netted more than twice in J1 in 2020. Alexandre Guedes opened the scoring for the hosts early on, but Gamba quickly turned the tables thanks to Yuki Yamamoto, making his first J1 start, and Ademilson. Takuma Nishimura then had his first half penalty saved by Masaaki Higashiguchi following a harsh handball decision against Kosuke Onose, and Vegalta were made to pay late on as a result of Shu Kurata’s screamer and Yosuke Ideguchi’s coup de grâce.

Sendai got payback and more at Panasonic Stadium with their first ever league win in Suita coming courtesy of a Shun Nagasawa inspired 4-0 cakewalk. The ex-Gamba hitman, and Sam Robson’s favourite J1 striker bagged a hat-trick before Takahiro Yanagi put the final nail in Gamba’s coffin late on.

Gamba Osaka

Ryu Takao’s ankle injury has thrown the rotation system up in the air as Shoji, Kim and Onose are all due a rest, but at least 2 of the 3 will likely have to start here. As laid out above, getting 3 points from this clash is of vital importance to Gamba whereas Friday night’s home fixture with Yokohama F.Marinos might be seen as something more akin to a free swing and as such I’ve picked as strong a team as possible with rotation taken into account. Players such as Yanagisawa, Ideguchi and Sato could force their way into the eleven if they’ve regained full fitness, but I’m banking on Matsunami sticking with the tried and tested for this one. Patric or Pereira as the lone striker is essentially a 50/50 choice.

Transfer Gossip Update
In my last preview I reported that out-of-favour Kashima full-back Daiki Sugioka could be a possible target for Gamba. However, the Japanese media are now linking him with a loan move to former side Shonan. At the moment I don’t have the names of any credible transfer targets, but I’ll keep you posted if anything crops up.

One player seemingly headed for the Gamba exit door is Tiago Alves, now completely out of the picture due to poor performances and foreigner restrictions. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the upper echelons of **cough cough Kofu** J2 sometime soon.

Team News
Ryu Takao‘s horror run of injuries continued against Sapporo when a heavy challenge left him with what Gamba supporters will hope is ‘only’ a sprained ankle, it could be much worse though, and don’t expect him back for a few weeks at the very least. Yosuke Ideguchi and Yota Sato were both absent again for the Consadole game and I’m unsure whether it is injury, a general lack of fitness or Covid that is keeping them out. As mentioned last time, Hiroki Fujiharu, Yuya Fukuda, Yuji Ono and Dai Tsukamoto all have leg muscle injuries with no return date yet given. Backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori and young wing-backs Haruto Shirai and Shin Won-ho are long term casualties.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Vegalta Sendai

It was announced on Saturday (July 31st) that Sendai and Curaçao international winger Quenten Martinus had mutually agree to terminate his contract. Truth be told it didn’t come as much of a surprise as the ex-Marinos and Urawa man has often cut a frustrated figure this year and there were strong rumours that he and kantoku Makoto Teguramori didn’t see eye to eye.

As you can see below, there aren’t exactly a host of household names in this Vegalta lineup, however, that’s not to say they have no talent in their ranks. For instance, on the right flank you’ll find Chihiro Kato (Ryutsu Keizai Univ.) and Takumi Mase (Hannan Univ.), a pair of rookies who’ve quietly impressed in tough circumstances. Jakub Słowik was my pick for J1 goalkeeper of the half season when I was on the J Talk Podcast a few weeks back and the Pole is one of the main reasons why his side have overperformed xG Against at home by almost 0.4 goals per game. Forward Takuma Nishimura has looked like a pale imitation of the player who earned a move to CSKA Moscow back in 2018, but he still poses a threat when in the mood. I’m also intrigued by the loan signing of tall Brazilian striker Felippe Cardoso from Santos, though he’s yet to deliver anything on the field since his quarantine delayed arrival.

Team News
Central midfielder Foguinho has missed the past 4 league games for Sendai though I haven’t seen any injury reported. The distinctively bearded Brazilian appeared to have steadied things in the middle of the park for Vegalta, so if fully fit, expect him to start. Despite offloading Martinus, Sendai still have 6 foreigners on their books, so if Foguinho does indeed return then expect either, backup goalie Nedeljko Stojišić (I’m not too sure on the wisdom of using up 2 foreigner spots with goalkeepers) or former captain Simão Mate, currently a shadow of his 2019 self, to make way. Elsewhere veteran winger Kunimitsu Sekiguchi went off injured in Vegalta’s previous outing, a 1-1 draw at home to Sapporo, but I have no details on how serious that knock was.

Predicted Lineup and Stats

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


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo vs Gamba Osaka 30 July 2021 Mini Preview

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 League Season Round 4
Atsubetsu Stadium Sapporo
Friday 30 July 2021
Kick Off: 18:00 (JST)

Takashi Usami cried tears of joy after his 94th minute winner completed Gamba’s turnaround at home to Oita on Wednesday night and hauled the Nerazzurri out of the J1 relegation zone, albeit on goal difference. Next stop on the epic Gamba summer marathon is Sapporo on Friday night which represents round 5 of the series. They’ve won 2 out of 4 to date. J Talk Podcast listeners will be aware I stated that a win every two games should be enough to haul Gamba to safety and with that in mind, out of the next ‘pair’ of matches against our northern rivals Sapporo and Sendai, I’d say the battle against Vegalta is the more vital in terms of grabbing the three points. That is not to say the men in blue and black should simply wave the white flag of surrender here, quite the opposite in fact. While a lot of focus has centred on Gamba’s fixture pile up and associated tiredness, Kashima’s rusty first 40 minutes at Panasonic Stadium and Oita’s entire performance suggest that simply clicking back into gear after a 2 or 2 1/2 week layoff isn’t as easy as it may seem. Consadole will play competitively for the first time in 20 days on Friday night, coming up against a battle hardened Gamba, which side will gain the advantage from these wildly different preparations for this encounter?

I know I stated in my last preview that I wouldn’t be writing one for this fixture. Well, wouldn’t you know it, but a gap opened up in my schedule and I’ll hopefully also be able to prepare mini previews for both the Vegalta Sendai game on Tuesday 3 August as well as the home clash with Yokohama F.Marinos on Friday 6 August. That second one might be particularly tricky, however, the Marinos supporters were very complimentary of my work last year so I really want to put something out for that match.

Tale of the Tape

Gamba recorded season best, xG for, total shots for, shots on target, total shots against and shots against on target numbers against Oita in midweek and combined with the attacking stats we’ve seen in the recent Fukuoka and Kobe matches we can see an overall upward trend since the return from the ACL. The Nerazzurri’s xG figure for the year has now risen above 1, however, they are a bit of on outlier as they are underperforming xG For by about 0.5 goals per game while overperforming xG Against by a similar margin.
Sapporo, by way of contrast, average 2 goals per game at home this season in J1, though it should be noted that, as a result of the Olympics commandeering Sapporo Dome, this contest with take place at the outdoor Atsubetsu Stadium on a rather bumpy playing surface which tends to stifle the home side’s attacking verve.

Head to Head

The corresponding fixture last year also took place at Atsubetsu and was a generally lacklustre affair lit up only by Kazuma Watanabe’s late winner for the visitors. The return match at Panasonic Stadium saw Masaaki Higashiguchi endure a rare shaky evening between the sticks, allowing Douglas Oliveira’s rather tame effort to squirm beneath him early on. However, the Nerazzurri were soon on level terms after Yosuke Ideguchi’s low shot from inside the area. They didn’t have things all their own way after that though, and were somewhat relieved when Patric headed home Yuki Yamamoto’s free kick for the winner in the second half. Supporters of a Gamba persuasion must look back on that goal fondly given the poor quality of set plays they’ve witnessed in this campaign to date.

Gamba Osaka

A tough lineup to predict as by my calculations Shoji, Suganuma and Onose are all due to be rotated out, but the only way I can see to make that happen is for both Ryu Takao and new signing Ko Yanagisawa to play. At most Yanagisawa will have trained with his new team-mates twice so I don’t think he’ll feature at all here, though it is interesting to note that the Gamba hierarchy see him as an option for one of the wide centre-back berths in addition to full-back and wing-back.

Team News

Yosuke Ideguchi was in the stands for Gamba’s home win over Oita on Wednesday, so if my hunch that it was asymptomatic coronavirus which kept him out of all 4 fixtures since the ACL was true, then in theory he can play here, though I reckon a bench spot may be more realistic. The same would apply to Yota Sato, should it be correct that he was the other player to throw up a positive result for Covid.
Ryu Takao made a swashbuckling return from injury for the final 40 minutes of Wednesday’s game so is hopefully fit to start here, but I’ve yet to see any timeframe given for the returns of Hiroki Fujiharu, Yuya Fukuda, Dai Tsukamoto and Yuji Ono who all went down with leg muscle injuries in the ACL. Jun Ichimori, Haruto Shirai and Shin Won-ho are long term absentees who will definitely sit this one out.

Transfer Gossip

Gamba have stated that Ko Yanagisawa’s acquisition from Mito was just the first stage of the summer recruitment plan leaving fans eagerly anticipating the second stage. The most credible name I’ve come across in the ‘Gambaverse’ is Kashima’s out of favour full-back Daiki Sugioka, the 2018 Levain Cup MVP who’s been capped 3 times by his country. Mostly known as a left-back, 182cm tall Sugioka has been limited to just 7 J1 appearances and 1 goal in 2021 and with Antlers re-signing Koki Anzai, his days in Ibaraki appear to be numbered, will Suita be his next stop?

Predicted Lineup and Stats

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Sapporo are still reeling from the loss of top scorer Anderson Lopes (12 goals in 14 J1 games in 2021) and were reportedly knocked back by Urawa veteran Shinzo Koroki. Wildcard Nigerian signing Gabriel Okechukwu hasn’t delivered at all while Jay Bothroyd has been an excellent servant, but father time is rapidly catching up with him, it’ll be interesting to see which direction they go in next.
Fortunately for Consadole they do recruit well from universities and 2020’s crop of Shunta Tanaka (Osaka Taiiku Univ. – formerly Gamba Junior Youth!), Tomoki Takamine (Univ. of Tsukuba) and Takuro Kaneko (Nihon Univ.) have been lynchpins for Sapporo this season, helping them recover from a rocky opening to the year (just 2 wins in their opening 9 league fixtures) up to their current placing of 10th, 9 points ahead of Gamba with only 1 extra match played. This trio have been augmented by the arrival last winter of pacy forward Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (Yota Sato’s team-mate from Meiji University) and although he seems better suited to playing as a shadow forward he’s recently been pushed into action as a centre-forward in the absence of viable alternatives.

I went deep on Sapporo’s style of play earlier in the year, if you haven’t already, please check it out here. Also, I highly encourage you to check out Ryo Nakagawara’s (@R_by_Ryo on Twitter) 2021 Mid-Season Review.
If you like what I do then you’ll love this!

Team News

Central midfielder Kazuki Fukai is out with a back problem and this is the only confirmed injury I can see for the hosts. South Korean centre-back Kim Min-tae has been out of favour recently, though I believe this may be due to his 2 sending offs earlier in the year. Former Aomori Yamada High School midfielder Riku Danzaki is back with the squad after a loan spell with Brisbane Roar and is available for selection.

Predicted Lineup and Stats

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


Gamba Osaka vs Oita Trinita 27 July 2021 Mini Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Oita Trinita
2021 J1 Season Round 3
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Tuesday 27 July 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

It may be just before the halfway stage of the season, but I’m calling this a relegation 6-pointer as statistically the worst away side in J1, Oita Trinita, visit Gamba Osaka, owners of the second weakest home record in the division.

Gamba came out comfortably second best to a fresh Kashima outfit on Saturday and will need to step things up considerably for this vital clash after looking visibly out on their feet for much of the second half of yesterday’s match which was played out in sweltering conditions. For this, the third of their home triple-header, they will look to Brazilian left-winger Wellington Silva, perhaps the only bright spark from the Antlers defeat, to provide the guile and deception to unlock one of J1’s leakier rearguards. Oita, in turn, will be boosted by the recent arrivals of, former Gamba forward Hiroto Goya from Kashiwa Reysol and veteran attacker Tsukasa Umesaki (Shonan Bellmare), who are both now available for selection.

Thanks again for all your support, I will be returning to work on Tuesday so this will be the last mini preview for a while. I’ll continue to put out Gamba predicted lineups and stats on Twitter ahead of upcoming games, please keep an eye out for that. I may be back with something a bit bigger in the Obon break. If you’d like me to do another Q and A session, let me know in the comments here or on Twitter.

Tale of the Tape

Dress it up anyway you like, but goals may be at a premium here and 1-0 either way might be your safest best. Oita are coming off a pretty impressive counter attacking display in their home win over Urawa on July 10, though a quick scroll through their season stats reveals they’ve actually outperformed their usual levels in both outings against the Saitama giants this year. Can they replicate those heights once again in this game?

For Gamba, although the 22 shots against in the loss to Kashima equalled their season high, it should be noted that Antlers are to shots on goal what Tokushima are to possession, lots of high numbers, but not much to show for it. In that respect Diego Pituca, probably my MVP on Saturday (so hold on Kashima fans, I’m not having too much of a dig), has fitted in well, firing high and wide on a number of occasions from the 25-30 yard range while under pressure.

Head to Head

It’s usually very difficult to use one year’s set of results to accurately forecast what’ll happen the following season in JLeague, but Gamba vs Oita may be the exception. The Nerazzurri ran out 2-1 winners in the corresponding fixture in Suita twelve months ago. A strong start from the hosts was disrupted by Daiki Watari’s powerful header from Tatsuya Tanaka’s cross. Trinita’s lead didn’t last long though, as Takashi Usami’s penalty levelled things up a couple of minutes later before a fine Ademilson shot won the game early in the second half. The return match in Kyushu was a similarly tight affair with Gamba surviving some nervy moments before Patric headed home from Usami’s corner to seal the win. The Nerazzurri faithful will be hoping for more of the same on Tuesday night.

Gamba Osaka

A quick piece of transfer news before looking at injury updates and my predicted starters for Tuesday. Today (25 July) Gamba announced the signing of former Juntendo University and FC Gifu full-back Ko Yanagisawa (Transfermarkt Value €300,000) from Mito HollyHock on a permanent deal. The 25 year-old Chiba native has played 11 times for Mito in J2 this year and is able to operate on either flank which will significantly reduce the burden on Onose and Kurokawa. His acquisition also puts the option of 4-4-2 back on the table.

According to FC Gifu supporter @sushi_football here is a rundown of Yanagisawa’s pros and cons,

* He looks the part – tall with decent pace
* Stable – he’s not going to go eccentric on you
* Both footed – but primarily his right

* lack of one defining quality – he does a lot of stuff ok – but nothing that stands out. In J2 & J3 he looked ok – sometimes quite good – but never like he was miles ahead of the opposition.
* He’s not a game influencer or someone opponents talk about in tactics meetings

Thanks to Stuart for that, and don’t forget to check out the excellent J Talk Extra Time Podcast he hosts…whisper it gently, supporters of both Gamba and Oita may have to pay attention to events in J2 a bit more closely in the near future.

As stated above, Gamba looked exhausted at times against Kashima on Saturday and there will again be plenty of rotation here. Constantly switching between Patric, who prefers long, aerial balls and Leandro Pereira, a player who deals better with the ball on the ground, is proving to be a challenge for the Nerazzurri’s attack, but I’m really excited to see what Wellington Silva can do in tandem with Patric following his cameo against Antlers.

Team News:
As far as I know, none of the players who missed Saturday’s game have returned to full fitness meaning the injury list currently reads, goalkeeper Jun Ichimori, full-back/wing-backs Ryu Takao, Hiroki Fujiharu, Yuya Fukuda, Shin Won-ho and Haruto Shirai, central midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi and attacking midfielders Yuji Ono and Dai Tsukamoto. I believe Ideguchi was one of the players to test positive for Covid on his return from the ACL in Uzbekistan, however, it was also reported he was asymptomatic, so in theory he could return very soon, though most likely not in this game. Centre-back Yota Sato has also been out of the matchday squad since the resumption of league fixtures, it’s possible he was the other player to test positive for Covid, if not, then he may partner Shoji and Kim in the back three. Likewise, if any of Takao, Fujiharu or Fukuda are fit then they could play in this match with Kurokawa currently running on fumes. Even Shuhei Kawasaki at left wing-back, where he started against Chaingrai United, is an option.

Milestones: Shinya Yajima will make his 100th J1 appearance should he appear in this game. The first ever JLeague game I watched was a 2-2 draw between Cerezo Osaka and Urawa (I went on to become a Gamba fan, I know, I know!) and playing for Reds that day was a 19 year-old Yajima. It’s interesting to note that his slightly meandering career has seen him take 8 years to reach 100 J1 matches. Anyway, here’s to 100 more Shinya!

Predicted Lineup and Stats

Oita Trinita

I went deep on Oita and their style of play in this article earlier in the year, please check it out if you’d like a refresher course. Brazilian centre-back Henrique Trevisan has come in since then and seems to have added a calmness at the heart of the defence that had been missing since club legend Yoshinori Suzuki’s departure for Shimizu last winter. ‘Adult baby’ (thanks to Scott McIntyre on the J Talk Podcast for that nickname) Yamato Machida has been a vital source of goals for Trinita this year, look for him and central midfielder Hokuto Shimoda (an off-season capture from Kawasaki) to probe dangerously throughout the 90 minutes.

Team News: Shadow forward Naoki Nomura has been injured for almost the entire campaign, which really sums up his time in Oita. Centre-back Keisuke Saka and experienced holding midfielder Yuki Kobayashi have both been absent from the matchday squad in recent weeks with no injury being officially reported.

Predicted Lineup and Stats

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


Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers 24 July 2021 Mini Preview

2021 J1 Season Round 2
Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 24 July 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

It’s game 3 of Gamba’s 15 match summer marathon and they will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing home loss to Kansai rivals Vissel Kobe on Wednesday night. The side from Hyogo became the first team since Oita Trinita way back on 10th November 2019 to come from behind to defeat the Nerazzurri. Victory for Gamba on Saturday would take them up to 15th, out of the relegation zone, above Kashiwa and Tokushima on goal difference.

I have a little vacation time this week so I’ve pieced together this mini-preview for your perusal (it was meant to be mini, but the mailbag section at the end is pretty long). If we return to relative normality in 2022 (ie not playing league games every 3 days) then this mini preview format (shamelessly stolen from JTET’s mini pods) is something I might look to move forward with. As always please let me know what you think, either on WordPress or on Twitter. Hope you enjoy the game whoever you’re supporting.

Tale of the Tape

Some small shoots of recovery for Gamba’s attack as they recorded a season high xG total against Vissel in midweek and have mustered 7 shots on target in each of their 2 fixtures since returning from the ACL, also their best efforts of 2021. Additionally they’ve found the back of the net in 10 of their last 11 games in all competitions, scoring more than once on 6 occasions. Takashi Usami has cut a frustrated figure in recent matches, coming agonisingly close to scoring against both Fukuoka and Kobe, Gamba supporters will be looking for him to break his goal drought soon (it stands at almost 2 months now). No such issues for Usami’s strike partner Patric who has netted 8 times in his last 8 outings.

I went deep on Kashima’s style of play in my full preview for the originally scheduled match back in March, despite a change in leadership, from Zago to Naoki Soma, a lot of it is still pretty relevant so please check it out here if you have the chance.


Gamba are unbeaten in their past 5 J1 encounters against Kashima. Antlers last success came in round 2 of the 2018 season when Levir Culpi’s Nerazzurri went down 1-0 at the Kashima Soccer Stadium thanks to Mu Kanazaki’s late winner for the home team.

Last year, only Tomoya Inukai’s stoppage time header in his side’s 1-1 home draw prevented Gamba doing the double over Zago’s charges. The Nerazzurri ran out 2-0 winners in Suita thanks to a Patric penalty and a late clincher from Kazuma Watanabe. Indeed it was one of only 4 victories (out of a total of 20) where Gamba won by more than a single goal in 2020.

Gamba Osaka

With 3 more fixtures remaining in July and 8 to be played in the brutal heat of August (7 league and 1 Emperor’s Cup), rotation will be the order of the day for Gamba kantoku Masanobu Matsunami. Six changes were made between last Saturday’s win at Fukuoka and Wednesday’s loss at home to Kobe and I expect we’ll see something similar again. It’s interesting to note that this game is followed by a more winnable looking fixture against Oita on Tuesday night, so will Matsunami try to be cute and play for a draw here before going all guns blazing against Trinita? It would be a risky strategy for sure. My feeling is that it’s best to get points on the board as early as possible in order to haul Gamba away from the relegation scrap. This would have the dual benefits of relieving pressure on Gamba while in turn piling it onto teams like Oita, Sendai, Tokushima, Shimizu and Shonan.

Team News:
The treatment room is busy as usual in Suita. Backup goalkeeper Jun Ichimori (shoulder) is still out, while wing-back / shadow forward Haruto Shirai and South Korean left wing-back Shin Won-ho are rehabilitating. No official announcement was made regarding which players tested positive for Covid upon returning to Japan from the ACL, but there’s been a pretty obvious Yosuke Ideguchi shaped hole in the midfield for the past 2 games. Elsewhere, Hiroki Fujiharu, Yuya Fukuda, Ryu Takao, Yuji Ono and Dai Tsukamoto all picked up knocks during the ACL group stage campaign, but aren’t expected to be out for too long. At present Onose and Kurokawa are the only fit wing-backs in the squad, so if Takao, Fujiharu or Fukuda are ready to go then they could start on Saturday. Fujiharu’s crossing ability has been sorely missed in his absence, I also don’t believe Matsunami has a lot of faith in Kurokawa, and the Kansai University graduate’s defending for Kobe’s winner in midweek will have done little to change his kantoku’s mind.

Milestones: Goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi will play his 250th J1 game for Gamba while Takashi Usami will make his 200th JLeague appearance for the Nerazzurri in this match.

Predicted Lineup and Stats

Kashima Antlers

Perennial J1 giants Kashima come into this fixture in somewhat patchy form with 2 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats in their last 7 league outings leaving them in 8th spot on the ladder, although a win here, in their game in hand, would lift them above both FC Tokyo and Urawa on goal difference. This game will be Kashima’s first since losing 2-1 at Kashiwa Reysol on July 11th and they don’t play again until August 9th, so expect them to come out locked and loaded for this one.

Team News:
Highly rated centre-back Koki Machida (a rumoured Celtic target) and former Hosei University forward Ayase Ueda (5 goals in 13 J1 games in 2021) are both in Japan’s Olympic squad and therefore unavailable. Backup goalkeeper Taiki Yamada is out for the year with a knee injury and rising star Ryotaro Araki has missed 2 out of Antlers 3 previous games. He appears to have a bright future ahead of him and it surely won’t be long before the Higashi Fukuoka graduate (same high school as Yuya Fukuda, Leo Takae and Seiya Maikuma) attracts some serious attention from European sides.

Predicted Lineup and Stats


A big thanks to those of you who submitted questions,

First up was Neil, @Swing_Kinker who asked,
“What is the feeling amongst fans in japan? I get the feeling they are rapidly getting frustrated. Without Patric it would be a disaster”

Blog Gamba: Thanks for your question Neil. There is definite frustration among the fans, though it has been tempered by the Covid outbreak earlier in the year and the brutal summer schedule. The majority of fans surely believe the current league position is unacceptable for a club of Gamba’s size and Miyamoto paid the price for that. Supporters in Japan generally tend to look at the longer term picture a bit more than maybe some fans in Europe do, and although there have been questions asked about Ikoma, the physical coach, due to regular injury pile ups and also speculation as to why no-one has been brought in yet during the summer window (especially a wing-back), no-one’s quite ready to start a riot at the team’s training ground just yet.
Things are slowly moving in the right direction and a few wins in the upcoming fixtures will start to allay relegation fears, allowing fans to look forward to the injured players returning, youngsters like Okuno, Tsukamoto and Kawasaki developing and hopefully a new coach coming on board with the goal of having Gamba back in the ACL by 2023.
Hope this answers your question Neil and enjoy the game!

Also Jezalenco, @JeremyWarren24 asked,
“Is there a Gamba player in particular that is being missed right now as a result of being injured. Like Fukuda, Ono or Tsukamoto? The line up predictions and updates you have been doing recently have been fantastic.”

Blog Gamba: First of all thank you for the compliment Jeremy and I’m glad you’ve been enjoying them, I enjoy doing them!
To answer your question, I’d definitely say Hiroki Fujiharu. He’s the best defensive left-back/wing-back at the club and as seen from his 2 crossed assists for Patric in the ACL, he’s the most consistent crosser out of himself, Fukuda and Kurokawa, especially when it comes to aerial crosses.
Regarding the injured players you mentioned, Fukuda hasn’t really kicked on since bursting onto the scene in mid-2019, he really needs to nail down a regular spot rather than continuing to be a jack-of-all-trades, Ono looked very sharp in the match against Chiangrai in the ACL, and then he picked up another injury, which has been the story of his career, while I’d like to see a fit-again Tsukamoto get a run in the right shadow position as he could prove to be better there than Ichimi and Yajima in the longer term, he definitely shouldn’t be played at wing-back again unless it’s an emergency. I hope this is what you were looking for Jeremy and please enjoy the game.

Tyler Bartels, @tbartels12 asked,
“Which youngsters have the best chance at an increased role moving forward? Shuhei, Tsukamoto and Okuno have all shown out well at times and seem to be on the cusp?”

Blog Gamba: Thanks very much for your question Tyler. Okuno appears to have the full faith of Matsunami and is developing nicely in central midfield, he seems to be first choice ahead of Yamamoto and Ju Se-jong at the moment. Tsukamoto has developed a lot physically since turning pro, but Kawasaki is a smarter and more technically gifted player who can hopefully build on the momentum he generated in the ACL. A quick shout out to two 3rd grade high school students who currently hold amateur (Type 2) contracts, Jiro Nakamura (right wing) and Isa Sakamoto (centre-forward), both looked good for the U23s in J3 and should be rewarded with pro contracts for 2022, look out for them in the near future! Hope you enjoy the game!

SoRare Gems, @GemsSorare asked,
“Is Masaaki Higashiguchi untouchable on the goalie? Also, if everyone was fit, what would be the starting two on the middle and in the flanks for Miyamoto?”

Blog Gamba: Thanks for your questions. The first part is very easy, yes at the moment Higashiguchi is untouchable. Jun Ichimori the backup is out injured and the other goalies in the squad, Ishikawa, Hayashi and Kato would struggle to start regularly in J2. Honestly, I’d expect Kosei Tani to stay on loan at Shonan for another 1-2 years before returning to take over the gloves from Higashiguchi.
For the second part, I assume you mean Masanobu Matsunami, Gamba’s current coach and not the dismissed Tsuneyasu Miyamoto. I believe if Gamba were playing one league game per week then his first choice with everyone fit would be,
Miura, Shoji, Kim
Onose, Ideguchi, Okuno, Fujiharu
Yajima, Usami

Finally Piero, @Piccioh92 had a quick question about Gamba’s defensive set-up over the upcoming games.

Blog Gamba: With the threat of Everaldo looming large, I think Gamba will go for their strongest back 3 of (r-l) Miura, Shoji and Kim for this game before bringing in either or both Suganuma and Sato for the Oita game on Tuesday then possibly reverting to Miura, Shoji, Kim for Sapporo away on Friday. It should be noted that against Kobe, Shunya Suganuma played on the left of the back three with Kim in the middle. Ordinarily we’d have expected them to lineup the opposite way round, as they did in the 2nd half after the Suganuma/Kurokawa area of the field proved to be a weak point Vissel could exploit. Expect to see Suganuma in the middle or on the right of a back 3 next time he’s in action, he’ll also likely be saved for games against bottom half opponents rather than heavyweights like Kashima and Kobe.

Thanks to everyone for your questions, I wasn’t sure I’d get any to be honest, so receiving 5 was great. That’s it for the preview, enjoy the game and let me know how you think it’s going to go!


Gamba Osaka 2021 ACL Group Stage Preview

2008 winners and 2015 semi-finalists Gamba Osaka have returned to Asia’s premier club competition after a four-year absence. The purpose of this article is to provide a guide for fans unfamiliar with the 2020 J1 runners up. However, I hope it proves to be equally informative for regular followers of JLeague as well.

2021 to date

Gamba opened up the year with a 1-0 defeat against Kawasaki Frontale in the Emperor’s Cup Final on New Year’s Day before going down 3-2 to the same opponents in the Super Cup seven and a half weeks later. The Nerazzurri (Gamba’s nickname) started off their J1 campaign with a disappointing 1-0 loss at neighbours Vissel Kobe on February 27th (that 0 will be important later) and were then rocked when a Covid cluster in the squad saw their fixture against Nagoya Grampus scheduled for March 3rd cancelled at the last minute and subsequently there was a gap of five weeks between the narrow defeat at Kobe and a 0-0 draw with Sanfrecce Hiroshima on April 3rd.

As both Vissel and Sanfrecce are tough, top-half opponents and Gamba had the Covid issues to deal with, neither result had alarm bells ringing. However, the failure to score started to become a bigger and bigger burden to bear and it wasn’t until their fifth league fixture of the year, a 1-0 away triumph over surprise packages Sagan Tosu, that Gamba bagged their opening goal of the campaign through talisman Takashi Usami whose low drive ended a goal drought that had lasted 428 minutes. Unfortunately, from a Gamba perspective (though fans of other JLeague teams have certainly been enjoying it), the floodgates failed to open and the Nerazzurri scored just once from open play in their next five outings which led to club legend (more for his playing career than his exploits as a manager) Tsuneyasu Miyamoto being shown the door after almost three years at the helm.

Academy Director Masanobu Matsunami is the man who has taken over from Miyamoto, albeit on a quasi-temporary basis. He was at the helm the only time Gamba were relegated down to J2 back in 2012. Though in his defence he inherited a mess, took 38 points from 31 games (enough to keep a team up 9.5 times out of 10, I’d say) and also had Gamba playing like a top half side once he got his message across in the second half of the year, amassing 25 points (good enough to tie for 8th (only 3 points off 4th) if projected across the whole season – excuses, excuses, I know, I know!) Matsunami initially opted for the loudmouth fan behind the net tactic of correcting an under-performing offence by going all out attack. A 3-0 drubbing at home to fierce rivals Urawa, with all the visitors goals coming through barely challenged counter-attacks inside the opening 40 minutes and a defeat away to fellow big-team strugglers FC Tokyo in which the decisive strike came in the first minute of the match, though later on green shoots of recovery could be spotted, saw Gamba return to type and pull out the 2020 Miyamoto 1-0 playbook again.

Seven points from the three J1 fixtures prior to the ACL break look good on paper, but arrived thanks to home wins over, bottom side Yokohama FC, and 13th placed Tokushima as well as an extremely tepid 0-0 at, admittedly tough to break down, Shonan. More important than the direness of that tired display on a Wednesday night down on the Kanagawa coast was the fact that Gamba were able to move out of the relegation zone (on goal difference) for the first time this year and owing to the Covid cluster they have 2-3 games in hand over the four teams ahead of them and the two sides just below (Kashiwa and Sendai) whom they are tied on points with. Bright sparks have been few and far between for the Nerazzurri in 2021 to date and aside from Dai Tsukamoto’s performance in the loss at FC Tokyo and some solid showings from former Japan Under-17 international Kohei Okuno, the biggest thing the club can be thankful for is that despite playing extremely poorly by their standards, they are no longer in the drop zone and can hopefully move onwards and upwards from here.

Go Oiwa is someone ACL fans should be familiar with as he coached Kashima Antlers to the title back in 2018. He was Gamba’s original target to take over from Miyamoto, however, the two parties were unable to agree terms and Matsunami has since been named boss in an extremely vaguely worded statement which appears to leave the door open for a replacement to come in at any given time. Matsunami has had his hand forced selection-wise due to the mountain of injuries the club have suffered. Indeed, some supporters have questioned the role of Physical Coach Takeshi Ikoma, who arrived from Albirex Niigata at the beginning of 2020 and has overseen injury crises, with a number of knocks picked up in training, in each of his two campaigns with the club.

Matsunami went 4-4-2 in his first two matches in charge before using 3-4-2-1 in his most recent four, with the switch likely coming as a result of the return from injury of South Korean international centre-back Kim Young-gwon, coupled with the loss of only fit left-back in the squad, Keisuke Kurokawa. Throw all that into the mix and even Gamba supporters are not quite sure what we’ll get in our ACL group games. At the time of writing (June 18th) the following players have injury doubts hanging over their heads, Jun Ichimori (goalkeeper – dislocated shoulder), Keisuke Kurokawa, Shin Won-ho (both left-back / left wing-backs) and Haruto Shirai (wing – recovering from knee surgery). Recent occupants of the treatment room, left-back Hiroki Fujiharu, playmaker Yuki Yamamoto and winger Yuji Ono all returned to the matchday squad for the Emperor’s Cup 2nd round win over Kwansei Gakuin University on June 16th while Yuya Fukuda and Keisuke Kurokawa were also declared fit enough to make the trip to Uzbekistan.

*Possible Gamba starting eleven vs Jeonbuk

Group H Fixtures

All times Japan Standard Time

25 June 23:00 Tampines Rovers
29 June 01:00 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
2 July 01:00 Chiangrai United
5 July 01:00 Chiangrai United
7 July 23:00 Tampines Rovers
10 July 23:00 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

The Squad


Masaaki Higashiguchi, a non-playing member of Japan’s 2018 World Cup squad, now in his 8th season with the club is the undisputed number 1 having only missed 6 J1 games since his move from Albirex Niigata in 2014. Regular backup Jun Ichimori is out which leaves career benchwarmer Kei Ishikawa and recent loan acquisition from Ehime FC, Taichi Kato waiting in the wings with formerly highly touted youth product Mizuki Hayashi seemingly well out of the picture. Those not so familiar with the JLeague might be interested to note that Japan Olympic squad member Kosei Tani is currently on loan to Shonan Bellmare from Gamba.

Centre Backs

Gamba are blessed with three excellent centre-backs, though it seems like one is is generally injured at any given time. Genta Miura captains the side and can play right-back in an emergency as he did vs FC Tokyo a few weeks ago. He has 10 caps for the Samurai Blue, though personally I would only really rate him as a solid J1 defender at best. Kim Young-gwon is captain of his country, South Korea and Gen Shoji has forced his way back into the Japan national set-up following an injury plagued eighteen months in France with Toulouse.

Other options are, veteran Shunya Suganuma, a solid backup who is definitely better when being rotated into the lineup rather than holding down a regular starting spot, and Yota Sato, a 22 year-old in his first season as a pro. Sato was rated as the best centre-back in Japanese varsity football in his senior year with Meiji University in 2020, but has had to endure a tough baptism this term. He made his first two starts out of position at right-back, the second of which came against the formidable Kaoru Mitoma of Kawasaki, before finally getting a shot at centre-back versus Shonan in Gamba’s last pre-ACL league fixture, where he struggled to deal with the physicality of Brazilian forward Wellington. Still, good things are expected of him and Gen Shoji has stated that he thinks highly of him.

Full-Backs / Wing-Backs

I implored the Gamba hierarchy to consider building depth at the right-back slot last winter with options such as Ryoya Morishita (Tosu, now Nagoya), Seiya Maikuma (Nagasaki), Nanasei Iino (Gunma, now Tosu), Kenta Fukumori (Kitakyushu, now Oita) and Hayato Kurosaki (Tochigi, now Oita) all available. No-one was brought in and the Nerazzurri have paid the price as Ryu Takao, a stand-out in that position last year has spent most of this campaign on the sidelines. He is fit now, so expect him to play a big part in Uzbekistan. Elsewhere, club legend Hiroki Fujiharu last started at left-back in Gamba’s second league fixture of 2021 at the beginning of April, his replacement Keisuke Kurokawa recently disappeared from the squad with an unknown injury and utility player / ikemen (Japanese for hunk) Yuya Fukuda has also been absent since the Osaka Derby at the start of May. Fujiharu got 30 minutes under his belt in the Emperor’s Cup this week, but there are big question marks over how much Kurokawa and Fukuda will be able to contribute and this may lead to a case of square-pegs-in-round-holes at times. Kohei Okuno, Yota Sato or Kosuke Onose can play right-back at a push and Kim Young-gwon could go to left-back in a back four. A more likely scenario is a back three with wing backs.

Central Midfielders

Gamba possess a lot of depth in this area, but so far in 2021 they’ve struggled to find the right combination and there has even been talk of bringing back 41 year-old club legend Yasuhito Endo from J2 side Júbilo Iwata to try and remedy the issues. Yosuke Ideguchi, seemingly a certain starter for Japan in the 2018 World Cup until an ill-fated move to Europe put the brakes on his career, is now with his boyhood club once more and had regained top form before injury sidelined him again last November, however he’s struggled to reach his previous heights since returning this season. Ideguchi’s partner in crime for most of 2020 was Yuki Yamamoto, then a rookie out of Kwansei Gakuin University, but he has battled with injuries and form for most of this campaign to date. Jeonbuk supporters will be very familiar with Ju Se-jong, a player I described as a ‘Rolls-Royce of a signing’ earlier in the year, however, his confidence and performance levels have rather gone down with the ship since then and he can’t consider himself a regular starter just yet. Shinya Yajima’s versatility gets him a lot of playing time, and although the dyed-in-the-wool Urawa man has won over the Curva Nord faithful, the nagging doubts that he goes missing in important games persist in my mind. Finally a mention for young Kohei Okuno, a small ray of light in an otherwise gloomy campaign for the Nerazzurri, I’d have him starting alongside Ideguchi in my first choice eleven, but given the packed schedule all of the aforementioned players will get a shot and it’ll be interesting to see who wins out in the end.


A pretty broad church in here as 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and 3-4-2-1 formations have all been used at various times this season. Kosuke Onose is a right winger who made the step up to J1 with a bang in 2018, however his most recent eighteen months with the club have been far less impressive than his explosive first year-and-a-half in Suita (location of Gamba’s stadium). Shu Kurata came through the ranks with the Nerazzurri and often captained the side in Miura’s absence last year. You’ll likely see him topping distance covered and number of sprints stats at half-time in games, though at 32 his absolute peak may be behind him.

Wellington Silva joined up with the squad midway through the campaign due to strict immigration restrictions for new arrivals to Japan. He hasn’t had much action yet, but in brief flashes he’s teased the Gamba support that he could bring much needed X-factor to the attack, particularly if he can build a decent rapport with countrymen Leandro Pereira and Patric. Takashi Usami is a club legend and my favourite player (I have his #39 uniform). More known for playing just off the main forward during the majority of his time with Gamba, he’s operated mostly on the flanks this season. This is his 3rd spell with his boyhood team following stints in Germany with Bayern Munich, Hoffenheim, Augsburg and Fortuna Dusseldorf. He’s represented his country 27 times and played at the 2018 World Cup.

Dai Tsukamoto is a youth team product of whom good things are expected. Personally, I spent my 18th birthday doing a Media Studies exam followed by watching England vs Argentina at the 2002 World Cup on TV, while young Tsukamoto scored a hat-trick for Gamba’s U23 side against Gainare Tottori in J3 on his, different worlds, eh! Able to play on either flank and also as a central striker, the Osaka native found himself in the unfamiliar left wing-back position for Gamba’s three most recent J1 outings as all natural options in that area were injured and he was the next cab off the rank.

Much travelled Brazilian Tiago Alves has spent time with numerous Korean and Japanese sides, but a number of lengthy spells on the sidelines appear to have removed the spark from his game and he’s unlikely to make the cut due to tournament restrictions on foreign player numbers. Yuji Ono, like Tiago Alves a year later, was a bit of a bolter signing from Sagan Tosu. Both players came with talented, but injury prone reputations and unfortunately Ono lived up to that billing exactly with an impressive start to 2020 where he usurped Shu Kurata from the starting eleven before damaging knee ligaments last August. He’s only played 17 minutes this year and it remains to be seen how sharp he’ll be if called upon in Uzbekistan. Finally, young Shuhei Kawasaki was a revelation for Gamba’s U23 side in 2019 and the first half of 2020 which earned him a promotion to the top team. However, it hasn’t been plain sailing for him in J1 and recently he’s found himself well out of the picture.

Centre Forwards

There are three main centre-forwards currently on the books at Gamba, 2 Brazilians, Patric and Leandro Pereira as well as Kazunari Ichimi a Kumamoto-native recruited out of Ozu High School (Kumamoto) in 2016 and now back at the club following loan spells with Kyoto Sanga (2019) and Yokohama FC (2020). He can also play in the right shadow position just off the central striker. Patric is a fans favourite and member of the famous 2014 treble winning side where he and Usami combined to great effect, he’s now in his second spell with Gamba after a prolific two year stint in Hiroshima. Speaking of forwards who count Sanfrecce among their former clubs, Leandro Pereira was J1’s 3rd top marksman in 2020 with 15 goals, however, he’s found it difficult to hit the ground running with a late arrival due to quarantine and a niggling shoulder problem hindering him. Still, his double in the home win over Yokohama FC hinted at what he is capable of and if Gamba can find a way to utilise him as well as Sanfrecce did then his capture should pay dividends in the long run.


J1 and J2 Appearance Data Spreadsheet Introduction

This may be by far my shortest ever post on here, but I’m allowing my followers on WordPress a peek at some of the J1 and J2 appearance data I’ve been collecting. Following on from my previous post, I’ve converted some J1 and J2 stats into a shareable Google spreadsheet that I can update regularly.

Please get in touch and let me know what you think….this won’t be posted on Twitter but my DM’s are open.

The link is here…

And this is the basic key…

I’m still working on a couple of things such as how to colour code players who are subbed off after coming on as a sub, let me know if you have any ideas or are confused by any of the data, it is still very much a work in progress.

And finally…

In my last post I recommended the Japanese site
As their stats are presented in Japanese, I decided to translate the main offensive and defensive numbers so they are easier to understand for non-Japanese speakers. I hope this helps.

Offensive Stats

Defensive Stats