Nagoya Grampus vs Gamba Osaka J1 League 3 March 2021

2021 J1 League Round 11
Nagoya Grampus vs Gamba Osaka
Wednesday 3rd March 2021, 19:00 (JST)
Toyota Stadium

Gamba and Grampus face a turnaround reminiscent of 2020 in this matchday 11 clash which has been re-scheduled due to both sides’ participation in the Asian Champions League. Just a quick update, the game will go ahead at it’s originally scheduled time of 19:00 (JST) as the state of emergency has been lifted in Aichi ahead of Nagoya’s home opener.

Also, before I get into things fully, a gentle reminder that I was on last week’s J-Talk Podcast and Ben, Sam and I looked at both Nagoya and Gamba in detail (I’d say our comments on Yoichiro Kakitani were pretty accurate given his debut on Sunday lol). If you haven’t already, please have a listen. It’s actually available on Spotify now which gives you even less excuse to miss out!

Owing to my work / Gamba’s schedule, I’ll probably be on Twitter less in the early part of this season, HOWEVER, I encourage you to give @GawainStifyns, @JsoccerMagazine, @lionelpiguet and @90thMinuteSub a follow for more opinions on Gamba and the other Kansai clubs. Also for our opponents, please check out GRAMFRECCE (@J_LEAGUE_ULTRA) for the Nagoya take on things, I know he’s looking to connect with more Grampus fans from around the globe, so don’t be shy.

Last Time Out

Gamba made a disappointing start to their 2021 campaign, going down 1-0 away at Vissel Kobe. Kyogo Furuhashi’s lob from Hotaru Yamaguchi’s through ball consigned the Nerazzurri to yet another opening day defeat, meaning last season’s 2-1 victory at Yokohama F.Marinos is their only round one win since 2011. Vissel began the brighter of the two and Gamba were left chasing shadows for the opening half hour or so, however, they began to take a grip on proceedings in the middle third of the game and Kobe had to be thankful to the quick reflexes of ‘keeper Daiya Maekawa on several occasions. The match shifted in the home side’s favour during the second-half water-break when the withdrawal of Patric and Usami disrupted the visitors momentum. Furuhashi sent a warning shot across the bows by rattling the Gamba crossbar shortly before opening his account for the year 11 minutes from time. This was Gamba’s first loss in a league match in Hyogo since 2016 and kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto has work to do ahead of the upcoming encounter with Nagoya.

Nagoya came through a physical, and at times heated clash with J1 newboys Avispa Fukuoka, running out 2-1 winners in the end. Star winger Mateus scored near the start of both halves to leave Grampus in cruise control before left-back Yutaka Yoshida unfortunately lobbed the ball over his own ‘keeper Mitch Langerak under pressure from Avispa sub Takeshi Kanamori.

Tactical Notes


Saturday was my first look at the new 4-3-3 formation and although it’s early days yet, put me down as a sceptic. It seems like we’ve moved some ornaments around on the mantelpiece, but have fundamentally been left with the same pieces performing the same function in slightly different positions. It’s one thing to adopt Kawasaki’s formation, but quite another to acquire their mindset. Miyamoto appeared to send Gamba out to win 1-0 at Kobe, essentially the same strategy as last season. However, as I’m going to outline below, 4-3-3 is not the best option, in my book, to achieve results while maintaining a defensive frame of mind.
Issue 1 – lack of cover for the fullbacks – Takashi Usami (right wing) and Shuhei Kawasaki (left) are not naturally defensive players so a lot of responsibility falls on the midfield trio to protect the back 4. Due to the movement of Kobe’s attacking midfielders, they were able to work space down Gamba’s flanks and cause problems. The fact that impressive J1 debutant Shion Inoue and Samurai Blue international Gotoku Sakai found themselves up against newly converted right-back (more on that later) Kosuke Onose, merely exacerbated the problem. Second half sub Asahi Masuyama hugged the right touchline after coming on and found plenty of space to roam in that unguarded area.
Issue 2 – Space between the midfield and defensive lines – This was one of the reasons that 3-5-2 got canned midway through 2020. Yuki Yamamoto in the midfield anchor/quarterback position was arguably Gamba’s best player against Kobe, however, on a couple of occasions he stepped up to try and win possession, but didn’t succeed and neither Ideguchi nor Yajima moved back to cover, leaving a gaping hole in front of Miura and Shoji. Last year with the double volante system and Ideguchi playing alongside one of Yamamoto or Yajima, better protection was afforded to Gamba’s centre backs. Granted Ideguchi still looks a little rusty after his injury layoff and increased energy levels from him will also help in a 4-3-3.
Issue 3 – Usami on the wing – Whenever I see FC Tokyo play Diego Oliveira on the right flank, as an opposing fan I’m always relieved because a proven J1 goalscorer and penalty box threat is being moved away from his natural habitat. Ditto Usami, he can play wing for a few games or so, but I don’t want to see him stuck there for a whole season. It gives him defensive responsibilities he’s not good at and takes him away from the second striker position in the central attacking area where he thrives.

To round up this mini-rant up, I don’t feel either Onose or Yajima did enough last season to find themselves shoehorned into the side this time round. If there are fitness or other off-field concerns about Ryu Takao then I take this back, but he was one of the best right-backs in J1 last year, so why has he been replaced by a right winger? Still, at least by changing to 4-4-2 in the second half against Kawasaki and 4-2-3-1 near the end of the Kobe game, Miyamoto is showing a willingness to consider alternatives.

Briefly, to end this section on something of a high note, I have Vissel finishing 7th this year, and Gamba actually lost 3-0 to Kashiwa Reysol (7th in J1 2020) last season, so this may be a step in the right direction (clutching at straws?? lol) I also genuinely think the Nerazzurri put on a better overall performance on Saturday than they did in their 2-0 win at the same venue last summer, but hey, that’s football.


It seems like there won’t be many changes in terms of tactics or personnel for Nagoya Grampus this season. After taking the underachievers up from 13th in 2019 to 3rd last year, Italian kantoku Massimo Ficcadenti clearly has the backing of the power brokers at Toyota Stadium. Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo) was the only new face in the starting lineup against Fukuoka on Sunday. For those of you new to JLeague, Ficcadenti will set his side out in a defensively minded 4-2-3-1 formation with the key players at the back being Australian international ‘keeper Mitch Langerak (17 clean sheets in 2020), centre-backs, Yuichi Maruyama and Shinnosuke Nakatani and holding midfielder Sho Inagaki. Of that quartet, only Inagaki (missed 24 minutes) didn’t play every minute of every game last season, a quite phenomenal achievement all round.

Of course, as J1’s top ranked defence in 2020 (conceding just 0.82 goals per game), it is that part of the team that gets most of the headlines, but that’s not to say there’s no attacking flair on display. Brazilian right-winger Mateus, who scored against Gamba in this fixture last season, topped both Grampus’ goalscoring and assist rankings in 2020 with 9 and 8 respectively. His brace against newly-promoted Fukuoka on the opening day has already signalled his intentions. Look for him drifting all over the attacking third, he’ll also take most of Nagoya’s set plays.

For areas Gamba could look to attack, although Inagaki and Yonemoto cover acres of ground in the middle of the park, they do have the potential issue of a lack of cover for both full-backs with neither Mateus nor whoever plays on the left, Yuki Soma or Manabu Saito, being particularly adept at defensive support. Set plays will also play a key role with 2 of Gamba’s 4 goals against Grampus in 2020 coming from dead ball situations. Nagoya dealt well with the aerial attack from Emil Salomonsson’s crosses at the weekend, but Yamamoto and Usami will look to pose different problems on Wednesday night.

Head to Head

Grampus may have had the league’s strongest defence in 2020, but Gamba had no problems breaching it, notching 4 goals across their home and away games. Indeed they’ve scored exactly twice in each of their six league encounters with Nagoya since the Aichi side’s promotion back to J1 in 2018. Incredibly, you have to go back to August 14th 2014, a 1-0 home loss, for the last time the Nerazzurri netted less than two goals in a single match in this fixture.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Wingers Yuji Ono and Haruto Shirai (both recovering from knee surgery) are definitely out for Gamba. Kim Young-gwon and Yuya Fukuda have been absent from the matchday squad for both the Japanese Super Cup and last weekend’s defeat at Kobe. I believe Kim isn’t fully ready after missing a large part of the pre-season training camp in Okinawa and I haven’t heard anything regarding Fukuda. Central midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi will make his 100th Gamba and J1 appearance in this game. Fukuda will take his tally to 50 Gamba/J1 matches, should he play.

Nagoya Grampus

Ex-Japan international forward Mu Kanazaki is a long-term absentee after undergoing knee surgery towards the end of 2020. Neither, rampaging right-back Ryoya Morishita or former Gamba treble-winner Hiroyuki Abe were in the Grampus squad for the trip to Kyushu at the weekend, I haven’t heard any word as to whether that was down to injury/illness or just non selection.

Predicted Line Ups

Despite my reservations outlined above, it seems like 4-3-3 will remain in vogue for a while yet. With so many games in such a short space of time it’s inevitable some rotation will take place. I’ve selected Onose at right-back in the hope that if I put him there then Miyamoto may see sense and choose Takao instead. Other alternatives to the team below could be, Kawasaki and Patric keeping their places at left-wing and centre-forward respectively, and Ju Se-jong coming in for Shinya Yajima in the centre of the park (this would probably see him in the midfield anchor role with Ideguchi (right) and Yamamoto (left) just ahead of him). Should Kim Young-gwon or Yuya Fukuda regain full fitness then both would definitely make the matchday squad.

He may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for blog writers like me Massimo Ficcadenti is a breath of fresh air with his lack of rotation and predictable starting elevens. I’ve gone for the same side that saw off Fukuoka on Sunday. However, if the Italian is feeling a bit racy then he may tweak his attack with Gabriel Xavier, Naoki Maeda or Manabu Saito coming in, while further back Yasuki Kimoto could be an option as it appeared Takuji Yonemoto took a bit of a knock against Avispa.

Match Prediction

Two teams with reasonably strong defences, so it may seem a little counter-intuitive to predict goals, but looking at the history of this fixture and considering the possibility of errors resulting from a mixture of rustiness and fatigue, I’ll go for 2-2.


Vissel Kobe vs Gamba Osaka J1 League 27 February 2021

2021 J1 League Round 1
Vissel Kobe vs Gamba Osaka
Saturday 27th February 2021, 17:00 (JST)
Noevir Stadium

After a 10 week break J1 is back with a bang this weekend and it’s a Kansai Derby away at Vissel Kobe to start the season for Gamba. I joined Ben and Sam on this week’s J-Talk Podcast to run the rule over both these teams as well as Nagoya, Cerezo and Hiroshima…don’t worry I found nice things to say about all of them….even Cerezo!

I was only able to catch highlights of Gamba’s 3-2 Super Cup loss to Kawasaki last Saturday as a result of work commitments and the game being shown on terrestrial TV here in Japan. By most accounts, Frontale were the dominant force in the first half and went into the interval with a 2-goal cushion courtesy of, who else but, Kaoru Mitoma. The Nerazzurri fought back gamely in the second stanza and did something they failed to do in 2020, breached the Kawasaki rearguard. Shinya Yajima’s close range effort and a powerful Patric penalty (his 7th goal in his last 14 games in all competitions) looked to have the match on course for spot-kicks before Frontale talisman Yu Kobayashi’s excellent shot in the 6th minute of additional time saw the Kanagawa side lift yet another domestic trophy.

Key talking points from a Gamba perspective were, the 4-3-3 formation adopted at the start of the match, and also the personnel selected to fill it. Regarding the set-up, Miyamoto seems to be looking to emulate the last two J1 champions, Marinos and Kawasaki, with a more attacking brand of football. However, Gamba kick off their league season with 10 games inside 43 days (only 1 free midweek) and this could see the Nerazzurri revert to the defensive mindset that worked well for them and fellow ACL qualifiers Nagoya and Cerezo during the condensed 2020 campaign. Though, with things set to ease off fixture-wise in the latter part of the year and a far less intense summer schedule awaiting then it’s possible to hypothesize that we’ll see a number of the top sides operating more expansive game-plans this time round.

Regarding the starting eleven from last week, thanks to many of you who got in touch via Twitter and WordPress with your questions. I’ll summarise injury concerns and reasons for my predicted line-up in later parts of this post, but I will say my gut feeling is that the hectic upcoming schedule and last year’s injury crisis played a large part in Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s selection on Saturday. It was interesting to note that pre-match, Gamba supporters on Twitter were struggling to fit the eleven names selected into a coherent formation, I saw Kawasaki, Ideguchi, Kurata, Yajima and Onose all listed to start there in various posts. In the end, Kosuke Onose filled the void, though going forward I expect he’ll play either on the right wing or in the advanced right central-midfield role and Saturday’s match was just seen as an opportunity to test him as an option there should Brazilian Wellington Silva come in and make the right-wing slot his own.

Now to this weekend’s hosts Vissel Kobe, the side from Hyogo should be desperate to bounce back from last season’s poor domestic showing which saw them end up a lowly 14th, largely as a result of focusing on the ACL. With the exception of young Brazilian attacker Lincoln, there have been no big-name buys this winter, but crucially, I feel, this side is now younger and hungrier than before. I think they could be one of the most upwardly mobile teams in the league this season, along with Shimizu.

Aside from the purchase of Lincoln from Flamengo, 4 other players have joined Vissel permanently since the end of the 2020 campaign. For me, Shion Inoue (Tokyo Verdy) is the pick of the bunch, a very tidy performer with a nice range of passing, he should fit in well as one of the more advanced central midfielders or on the wing. Elsewhere young midfielder Tatsunori Sakurai comes highly rated from Maebashi Ikuei High School in Gunma (ex Gamba U23 captain Riku Matsuda’s alma mater), but he, as well as backup goalie Ryotaro Hironaga (Hiroshima) and right sided full-back / wing-back Nagisa Sakurauchi (Iwata) are likely to provide depth to the squad rather than being regular members of the starting eleven.

Yuki Kobayashi is a centre-back who is comfortable with the ball at his feet and he returns to Hyogo for the first time in 18 months following decent loan spells with Machida (2019) and Yokohama FC (2020). Both he, and attacking midfielder / winger Asahi Masuyama, who is back in town after helping Fukuoka win promotion last season, could prove to be key figures for the men in maroon this time round. Yuta Goke (21 years old), Takuya Yasui (22), Daiju Sasaki (21), Tetsushi Yamakawa (23) and Yutaro Oda (19 ) all showed in spells last season that they could form the core of a good, vibrant side for years to come. If, and it is a big IF, Kobe’s front office and coaching staff back this group of youngsters appropriately, then regular ventures into the Asian Champions League might become more of a reality than the pipe dream it appears to be at the moment. Last season’s final table may suggest otherwise, but this is a Vissel Kobe side that Gamba would do well not to underestimate.

Vissel Kobe 2021 Squad

Head to Head

Gamba did the double over Kobe in 2020 without conceding a goal, though it should be noted that Vissel were no pushovers in either match and could make an argument for being worthy of a point both home and away. Takashi Usami isn’t nicknamed the ‘Kobe Killer’ for nothing and a 2021 repeat of his fierce long-range effort which sealed Gamba’s 2-0 win at the Noevir last summer would be welcomed by all of a blue and black persuasion.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Yuji Ono and Haruto Shirai (both recovering from knee operations) are definitely out of this match. Takashi Usami (knee) wasn’t in the squad for the Super Cup, I’m led to believe that it’s more a case of him being wrapped in cotton wool than having a serious problem. Kim Young-gwon and Yuya Fukuda were also absent from last weekend’s precedings, Kim missed most of the team’s pre-season camp due to quarantine regulations, and I haven’t seen any news of a Fukuda injury, so his condition remains a mystery. If fit and selected, Fukuda will make his 50th Gamba and J1 appearance in this match.

Vissel Kobe

Spanish legend Andrés Iniesta is expected back in April at the earliest after picking up a hamstring injury playing in the Asian Champions League last December. Brazilian newcomer Lincoln is still not in the country due to the ongoing state of emergency so won’t be featuring until next month, if not later.

Predicted Line Ups

Gamba began last week’s clash with Kawasaki in a 4-3-3 system before switching to 4-4-2 later on. I’d also guess that 3-5-2 remains an option, however, I’m going with the assumption that 4-3-3 will be the default formation in 2021 unless (until? lol) the wheels come off. I believe Takao’s benching and Kim and Usami’s non-selection against Frontale were all precautionary, so we should see a stronger starting eleven this week, on paper at least. With the intense schedule coming up in March, it’s expected the side will be rotated a lot, so it would be no surprise to see new Brazilian duo, Leandro Pereira and Tiago Alves crack a start on Saturday.

One of Kobe’s main downfalls during the Thorsten Fink era was the constant switching between a back 3 and a back 4, however, under Atsuhiro Miura they seem to have settled on a 4-man rearguard. Thomas Vermaelen’s fitness is a constant topic of speculation and, in reality, I found him the easiest centre-back to leave out as, at the moment, I’m unsure of what order Miura ranks Kikuchi, Osaki and Kobayashi, so having them all in the matchday squad put my mind at rest (is that a good enough justification?) It’s also possible that we see Goke in central midfield ahead of Yasui with Oda or Inoue starting right-wing, while at right-back Sakurauchi is an alternative to Yamakawa.

Match Prediction

It’s always difficult to know what to expect on the opening day, but Gamba generally have a good record away to Vissel and come into this bout battle hardened after duelling with Kawasaki last week. With all that in mind I’ve opted for a tight 2-1 away win to set the ball rolling in 2021.


Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka Japanese Super Cup 20 February 2021

Japanese Super Cup
Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka
Saturday 20th February 2021, 13:35 (JST)
Saitama Stadium 2002

Just over 7 weeks since their last match in the Emperor’s Cup final on New Year’s Day, these two giants of Japanese football return to do battle in front of a limited crowd of 5,000 supporters in Saitama this Saturday afternoon.

In truth, there hasn’t been a great deal of change at Kawasaki since January 1st, meaning, in my eyes, at least, they are still very much the team to beat in 2021. With that said, despite 3 defeats and a grand total of 0 goals scored against Frontale last year, there are reasons for Gamba to be more confident ahead of this encounter which should provide an early acid test for both sides. While a repeat of the 3-3 draw we witnessed between Yokohama F.Marinos and Vissel Kobe in last season’s curtain raiser may be unlikely, we can surely expect more accurate penalty taking, should it come down to that. (chortle, chortle)

I appeared on the J-Talk Podcast ahead of the Emperor’s Cup Final and also did a companion mini-preview for that game, so I’m not going to go over old ground. Instead, let’s take a look at what both of these sides have done transfer-wise this off-season.

Gamba Osaka

Gamba, by most accounts, had one of the more accomplished winters of all J1 clubs, re-enforcing depleted areas while only losing one first-team regular, veteran forward Kazuma Watanabe (Yokohama FC). Midfield maestro Yosuke Ideguchi and injury-plagued Japan international central defender Gen Shoji are also both back and successfully came through the team’s training camp in Okinawa. As for the new arrivals, Leandro Pereira, J1’s 3rd top scorer with 15 strikes in 2020 is the headline signing, and Gamba fans will also be excited to see what role South Korean central midfielder Ju Se-jong (FC Seoul) occupies. As mentioned on numerous occasions last season, when Ideguchi was out, the Nerazzurri had no effective ball winner in the middle of the park, Ju should provide extra grunt and whether he is seen as an alternative to Ideguchi, or his partner in crime, will be revealed over time.

Elsewhere, centre-back Yota Sato comes highly rated from Meiji University (Yuichi Maruyama, Ryuji Izumi, Hirotaka Mita, Shuto Abe and Yusuke Segawa are just a few alumni from that particular institution) and his arrival surely gives Gamba the strongest group of central defenders in the division. Goalkeeper Mizuki Hayashi (Yamaguchi) and attacker Kazunari Ichimi (Kyoto 2019, Yokohama FC 2020) return from loan spells, but they, along with winger / central forward Tiago Alves (Tosu), are likely to be backup players for the majority of the campaign. Fluminense winger Wellington Silva is a rumoured target, but owing to current coronavirus restrictions, it’s unknown when he’d be able to enter the country if he did sign. His capture would help to provide competition for both Kosuke Onose and Shu Kurata and give the Nerazzurri an extra attacking dimension from the flanks which can only be seen as a good thing from a blue and black perspective.

Kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is known as someone who regularly challenges his ideas about how football should be played and isn’t wedded to any particular formation. Gamba’s relatively poor offensive showing in 2020 has him considering alternatives to the 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 set-ups we saw for the bulk of the last campaign and 4-3-3 has been mooted as the way forward. Big names have come in and seasoned pros have returned from injury, but I’m still hopeful that Miyamoto will continue to give youth it’s chance and we will see the likes of, Keisuke Kurokawa (left back / left wing-back), Kohei Okuno (central midfield), Shuhei Kawasaki (left wing), Dai Tsukamoto (wing / forward) and 18 year-old prodigy Shoji Toyama (forward) get more opportunities to shine. Many eyes will also be on Yuki Yamamoto and Yuya Fukuda, with both expected to build on impressive showings last time out.

Current Squad

Kawasaki Frontale

Due to being runaway J1 champions in 2020, there was little real incentive for Kawasaki to go out and make wholesale changes to their squad over the winter. As someone raised watching European football, the fact that the double winners from the previous year can’t just hoover up all their rivals’ best players is one of the most refreshing things about the JLeague. Hidemasa Morita (Santa Clara) is the only regular starter from last season to have moved on, while Manabu Saito (Nagoya), Kengo Nakamura (retirement) and young Taisei Miyashiro (Tokushima – loan), have also left Todoroki Stadium. In their place come some interesting new additions who could thrive, or underwhelm.

Brazilian central midfielder João Schmidt has the ability to make an impact, but found his playing time curtailed last year with Nagoya as he wasn’t a good stylistic match with Massimo Ficcadenti’s system. It may seem harsh to point out flaws in someone who has won 3 J1 titles in 4 years, but, to date, Toru Oniki has struggled to get the best out of the foreign (mostly Brazilian) talent at his disposal. Granted, why one of Asia’s top club sides shop in the Brazilian second tier so regularly (Diogo Mateus, Maguinho, Caio César) is another question for another day. However, with Jesiel and Leandro Damião taking until their second year to really make strides, the accusation still stands largely unanswered at this point, and how Schmidt adapts to his new surroundings will be interesting to watch.

Kazuki Kozuka (attacking midfield – Oita) is another intriguing acquisition. Trinita’s leading assist maker in 2019 regularly failed to make the squad for the Kyushu side last time out despite having the same head-coach, using the same formation, and Naoki Nomura, an important player in a similar role, missing a large chunk of the campaign. There was no official injury report, and I’m interested to know the real reason for his absence. Did something go on behind the scenes after Frontale’s reported move for him ahead of the 2020 season? We may never know.

Koki Tsukagawa has come in from Matsumoto Yamaga after bagging 9 goals in 29 J2 outings in 2020, and from the outside it seems like he’ll fill the backup midfield role previously occupied by Hokuto Shimoda (now at Oita). In attack, Kei Chinen (Oita), Daiya Tono (Fukuoka) and Ten Miyagi (Toyama) are back from loan spells that brought varying degrees of success, they’ll provide cover for Damião and Kobayashi. Central midfielder Kento Tachibanada (Toin Yokohama University – my old stamping ground) joins fellow Toin alumni Zain Issaka and Miki Yamane in the squad, while defender Shuto Tanabe moves east from the football factory that is Shizuoka Gakuen High School. How much action either of these two will see in 2021 is up for debate.

I’ve discussed a similar topic with a few people on Twitter and I’m still not sure what metrics European clubs are using to determine that while the likes of Koki Saito and Daiki Hashioka are quickly snapped up, top talents such as Ao Tanaka and Kaoru Mitoma remain in Japan. Should Tanaka and Mitoma stay Frontale players for the whole season then I can only see a 4th league title in 5 years, but the overdue departure of one or both may throw a spanner in the works. My hunch is that one of the duo will probably move on in the summer with the other following next winter. Despite that, plus the ageing of veterans like Ienaga and Kobayashi, Kawasaki are still my favourites to be crowned champions, though possibly more in the manner of their 2017 or 2018 triumphs than last season’s landslide.

Current Squad

Super Cup History

Taking a look at the tables below, we can see that this will be Gamba’s 7th Super Cup appearance (putting them 3rd behind Kashima (10) and Urawa (9) in the rankings) and victory on Saturday will allow the Nerazzurri to lift the trophy for the 3rd time, which would pull them level with Júbilo Iwata in joint 5th position. Kawasaki, on the other hand, first appeared in the 2018 edition and are now preparing for their 3rd Super Cup match in 4 years. They have a 50% win record at the moment, going down 3-2 to Cerezo in their inaugural appearance in 2018 before seeing off Urawa a year later.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Yuji Ono and Haruto Shirai are both recovering from knee operations performed last year and are definitely out. Overseas trio, Kim Young-gwon, Leandro Pereira and Tiago Alves all missed the first half of Gamba’s Okinawa training camp due to quarantine restrictions, so at the moment it’s unclear how much of a role they will play on Saturday. Yosuke Ideguchi and Gen Shoji fully participated in the club’s pre-season program and should be ready to go the full 90 if required, while Takashi Usami took a knock to his knee a couple of weeks back, but I haven’t heard anything since that would indicate he’s a doubt.

Kawasaki Frontale

Left-back Kyohei Noborizato (collarbone fracture) missed the tail end of the 2020 season and is still out, while influential central midfielder Ryota Oshima appears to be highly doubtful having been absent from pre-season training.

Predicted Lineups

I’ve been pretty conservative with my predicted Gamba lineup, making only one change to the side that lost 1-0 in the Emperor’s Cup final. An alternative to this would be, Shoji partnering Miura at centre-back with Sato on the bench and Kim missing out due to a lack of sharpness. I also have Leandro Pereira as a sub due to missing a chunk of pre-season training, though in the long run I think he will overtake Patric as the main starter. Regarding the mooted change to 4-3-3, I was reluctant to opt for it as that would mean one of Kurata or Onose missing out, and I couldn’t decide who. A central midfield of Ideguchi, Yamamoto and Ju Se-jong does have a very strong feel to it and I can definitely understand Miyamoto’s mindset in considering such a formation.

The main source of debate regarding the Frontale starting lineup is the shape of the midfield triangle, will it be last season’s one holding midfielder and two players in more advanced roles or two holding and one ahead. With the likely absence of Ryota Oshima, I’ve opted for the latter. It’s been rumoured that left-back Shintaro Kurumaya will focus on playing centre-back this season, so we could see Reo Hatate or even young Kaito Kamiya slot in on the left side of defence in Noborizato’s absence. Kazuki Kozuka offers an alternative to Wakizaka in attacking midfield and I’ve gone for Damião ahead of Kobayashi up top as he started all 3 games vs Gamba in 2020.

Match Prediction

Some might say it’s a fool’s game making predictions for one-off season openers like this, but it feels like I’m contractually obliged to do so. I’ll say an Ideguchi inspired Gamba will grind out a 1-1 draw, taking the tie to penalties, and from there it really will be a lottery…


J2 2021 Predicted Lineups

**Important Update**Important Update**Important Update**

Please check out the link above to see who’s been playing and who hasn’t. I’ll keep it updated regularly.

They key is shown below.

Also for anyone using the site for data, here is a brief English translation.

**Important Update**Important Update**Important Update**

Following the phenomenal response I had to my J1 Predicted Lineups article, I thought I’d take on an even more daunting task….doing the same for J2. I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labour. Once again please get in touch and tell me how right / wrong I am.

First up, some housekeeping rules,
* These lineups are not necessarily meant to be the ones that will start in the opening round, but more the players expected to feature most regularly over the course of the year.
* I’ve been a little more conservative in J2 with selecting university graduates and youth team rookies in lineups due to having less information on these players (for example, range of positions they can play) than their J1 counterparts.
* As with the J1 lineups, teams who performed reasonably well in 2020, kept the same manager and a bulk of their playing staff or who have dedicated English bloggers (V-Varen Nagasaki, FC Ryukyu) are easier to read than those who played poorly last season, changed coaches and had a large overhaul in personnel (both newly promoted sides were pretty tough too!)
* Teams are listed in the order they finished 2020, ages given are correct for the opening round of fixtures, (Y) = youth team product, and players with an injury cloud hanging over their head have not been included.

With that out of the way, here we go….

V-Varen Nagasaki

Brief Notes: Bridesmaids last year and despite the rather harsh parting of ways with Teguramori they look like the team to beat in 2021.

Ventforet Kofu

Brief Notes: The Scotland of J2 with no superstars, but their level doesn’t really go up or down regardless of who’s playing for them. They have a number of university rookies in their ranks who’ll probably feature more as the year progresses.

Giravanz Kitakyushu

Brief Notes: The vultures descended upon them over the winter and though the remaining carcass of last season’s 5th placed squad should see them to safety, they lack a proven goalscorer.

Júbilo Iwata

Brief Notes: The talent is there to go up, but, is their coach past his sell-by date? Can they find the right formation? And, is the squad motivated enough?

Montedio Yamagata

Brief Notes: With no playoffs they will most likely be thereabouts, rather than there, but this is a team worth keeping an eye on.

Kyoto Sanga

Brief Notes: With a new coach who knows his way out of the division and the outlay on new talent this winter, there are frankly no excuses for spending another year jostling for positions with teams with the budgets of (with the greatest of respect) Mito and Tochigi.

Mito HollyHock

Brief Notes: They won’t go up, and they won’t go down, but will surely play an attractive brand of football nonetheless and develop a few more youngsters on behalf of the powerhouses in J1.

Tochigi SC

Brief Notes: Like Kitakyushu, their 2020 overachievement has seen them ‘rewarded’ with several important players heading for fresh pastures. Should have enough to steer clear of the drop, but getting anywhere near last season’s form will be a tall ask.

Albirex Niigata

Brief Notes: The rather stagnant Covid-era transfer market had the trickle down effect of allowing them to keep Homma in Niigata. Could a potentially mouth-watering attack catapult them into the promotion spots?

Tokyo Verdy

Brief Notes: Twas forever thus, youngsters move on to spend their prime years away from Ajista, while others are promoted to take their place. Another year of solid mid-table football beckons.

Matsumoto Yamaga

Brief Notes: A lot of changes over the winter, but somehow on paper the pieces don’t seem to fit together as well as I thought they would. They’d surely be a playoff contender in a normal year, but top two seems a step too far this season, with, or without, Kazuma Yamaguchi.

JEF United Chiba

Brief Notes: Their starting eleven looks good in theory, and if new Brazilian Matheus Saldanha starts banging them in, they could go places. Any other side and I might say they were in the hunt for top 6, but this is JEF we’re talking about.

Omiya Ardija

Brief Notes: They surely can’t be as bad this year, Nakano and Yajima seem like solid additions in attack, and if they are able to keep everyone fit they should finish top half.

FC Ryukyu

Brief Notes: The squad seems to have the same imbalance as last year with a strong attack and leaky defence. This will probably lead to a similar end result, comfortably out of the drop zone, but not really threatening the top 10.

Fagiano Okayama

Brief Notes: As a disgruntled Scot, let me quote Alan Shearer from a BBC advert prior to some major tournament, “with expectations at an all-time low, we (England) might actually go on and win the thing.” That’s about the only positive thing I could think to say about Okayama after last season’s mediocrity and an underwhelming winter transfer market.

Zweigen Kanazawa

Brief Notes: There will be plenty of J1 scouts watching them this year due to the volume of talented youngsters in their ranks. If Niwa and Senuma can fill the Kato and Lucão shaped void in attack they could achieve a top-half finish.

Machida Zelvia

Brief Notes: You could make an argument that their entire midfield should be in J1 and with Chong Tese and Dudu in attack top 8 is an absolute minimum following 2 years of drudgery.

Thespakusatsu Gunma

Brief Notes: Ended 2020 pretty well and seemed to fly under the radar due to starting the season so poorly. Assuming their new defenders settle in quickly then they could surprise a few people with how high up the table they finish.

Ehime FC

Brief Notes: The return of several club legends over the winter gives them a more solid look than last year, however, it’s hard to see where the goals are coming from. Yoshiki Fujimoto will need to rediscover his 2019 form, and then some, if they’re to avoid risking being passed by prefectural neighbours Imabari.

Renofa Yamaguchi

Brief Notes: A team to watch as there will likely be goals, lots of them, at either end. Probably second to Machida in terms of sides who’ve upgraded the most over the winter.

Blaublitz Akita

Brief Notes: In a similar vein to what I said about Tokushima in the J1 article, Akita stormed to the title last season and kept the bulk of their stalwarts, but they don’t have a whole lot of experience in the league they’ll be playing in this year. J3 champions generally don’t go straight back down, but then again, there aren’t usually years when the bottom 4 all make the drop.

SC Sagamihara

Brief Notes: A solid, experienced outfit, and with Rômulo staying put, does that give them enough goals to stay afloat? Gamba loanee Ren Shibamoto is a gem of a signing in my book, keep an eye out for him.


J1 2021 Predicted Lineups

**Important Update**Important Update**Important Update**

Please check out the link above to see who has been playing and who hasn’t in J1 2021. I’ll update it regularly.
Data keys are below.

Also for those of you using the website, here is a simple English translation of the data displayed there…

I’m sure everyone would join me in thanking @Michael_Master and @bmtps_k for their wonderful coverage of all the off-season transfer activity in Japan. The purpose of this article is to see how those winter moves affect the matchday lineups of J1 sides one month out from the start of the new campaign. I hope you enjoy!

First up, some housekeeping notices;
* The lineups below are not necessarily intended to be the ones on the opening day, but more the players most likely to fill those positions on a regular basis throughout the year.
* Players currently recovering from serious and long-term injuries haven’t been included. Some examples are Andres Iniesta (Kobe), Takuma Arano (Sapporo), Mu Kanazaki (Nagoya), Yuji Ono (Gamba), Akihiro Hayashi (FC Tokyo) and Sachiro Toshima and Yuji Takahashi (both Kashiwa).
* As this is a Gamba blog, lineups and formations for other teams are based on a mixture of evidence and guesswork. For instance, teams who performed well in 2020, kept the same manager and the bulk of their playing staff (Kawasaki) are easier to read than those who played poorly last year, changed coaches and brought in a host of new players (Shimizu).
* Ages given are correct to 27 February 2021, the opening Saturday of the J1 season, (Y) donates youth team product and teams are listed in order of 2020 league position.

Here we go…

Kawasaki Frontale

Brief Notes: Way better than everyone else last season and with just Morita departing they’ll be the team to beat once more. Only Mitoma and Tanaka leaving in the summer and the ACL schedule getting moved around again can really threaten their dynasty.

Gamba Osaka

Brief Notes: Leandro Pereira and Ju Se-jong both address areas of need and although it will be difficult to get 2nd again, this group of players shouldn’t finish lower than 5th / 6th even with ACL distractions taken into account.

Nagoya Grampus

Brief Notes: Morishita and Kimoto look like great buys, and I was surprised to see Manabu Saito is only 30! Will be strong defensively again, but look a genuine centre-forward short of really challenging at the top.

Cerezo Osaka

Brief Notes: Have made some puzzling moves over the winter, but they still have the nucleus of a very good team. How quickly they adjust to Culpi’s brand of football and whether or not Taggart has brought his shooting boots with him from Korea will go a long way to determining their fate this year.

Kashima Antlers

Brief Notes: Assuming their two new Brazilian midfielders settle in well, they should be Kawasaki’s closest rivals. This may not please Gamba supporters like me, but should lead to some tasty @frontalerabbit blog posts.

FC Tokyo

Brief Notes: They will probably improve merely by not being involved in the ACL this year. That said, the squad looks very unbalanced, with loads of options in central midfield and attack, but significantly less depth further back.

Kashiwa Reysol

Brief Notes: Shiihashi, Dodi and Kamijima will help to fix their soft underbelly, but there is still a huge Olunga shaped hole in attack. Will Angelotti or rumoured new signing from Botafogo, Pedro Raúl, be able to fill it.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Brief Notes: Junior Santos appears to be an excellent capture, but money is tight and there’s a real lack of depth. Any injury down the central spine of the team could be painful and prevent them from kicking on from last year.

Yokohama F.Marinos

Brief Notes: This year’s squad looks leaner and more settled than last time. A lot will depend on how their new Brazilian attackers do and also how much of 2020’s poor display was down to their overcrowded schedule and how much of it was teams working out how to play against them.

Urawa Red Diamonds

Brief Notes: Given time, I’ve no doubt the Rodriguez project will bear fruit in Saitama, but it may not be as quick a turnaround as the Reds faithful would like. Defence and central midfield could be issues and they appear to be overloaded with attacking midfielders. Having worked with a similar style of player in Yuki Kakita, can Rodriguez turn around Kenyu Sugimoto’s career?

Oita Trinita

Brief Notes: Should have enough to escape the relegation dog-fight and have made some intriguing signings from J2 down the flanks. Goalkeeper and central defence look like weak areas at the moment. If Shun Nagasawa’s inevitable winner against Gamba could be confined to the Levain Cup I’d greatly appreciate it.

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Brief Notes: A lot riding on the shoulders of last year’s three university rookies, Tanaka, Takamine and Kaneko. If newbies Nakano and Ogashiwa can have a similar impact they could do ok, but they are my tip to be a dark horse relegation candidate.

Sagan Tosu

Brief Notes: Look better placed than at this point last year and I have no difficulty seeing them survive. Being able to keep hold of Matsuoka was a big surprise for me and I’m really interested to see how new African forwards, Chico (Nigeria) and Dunga (Kenya), get on. I know I’m in the minority here, but I genuinely dig their new kit.

Vissel Kobe

Brief Notes: I think they could surprise a few people this year, not by finishing top 4 or anything, but outside of Hyogo there is almost zero expectation and their exciting youngsters may start to come to the fore a little more.

Yokohama FC

Brief Notes: Should be exciting to watch as it appears there will be plenty of goals at both ends. I don’t see them going down and if Matsuo and Seko continue to play well neither will be at the Mitsuzawa in 2022.

Shimizu S-Pulse

Brief Notes: As a fan of the league, I’d have preferred Cklamovski’s style to succeed, but more realistically Lotina’s defensive brand of football is more likely to guide them to less troubled waters. How high they go is dependent on how quickly the new parts fit together and how fast Lotina can mend their dreadful defence (139 J1 goals conceded 2019-2020).

Vegalta Sendai

Brief Notes: If they’re going to avoid the drop the improvement will need to come from the coaching department, with Teguramori replacing Kiyama. The squad on paper looks weaker than last season with the exception of the wide midfield areas.

Shonan Bellmare

Brief Notes: Ditto what I said about Sendai, they finished in the relegation slots last year and look likely to do so again. The heart has been ripped out of the team with Kaneko, Saito and Matsuda all going and their most exciting players, Tani, Tanaka and Hata are too young to carry this side on their back.

Tokushima Vortis

Brief Notes: Perhaps benefiting from Coronavirus, they managed to keep all of last season’s title winners and even added rising star Joel Chima Fujita. There’s a glaring lack of J1 experience and I can see things like, having 80% possession at home to Shimizu and still losing 1-0, happening a bit too often.

Avispa Fukuoka

Brief Notes: My main concern is that a chunk of last season’s starting eleven were on loan and have now returned to their parent clubs. They have more players with top flight experience than Tokushima and have made some decent buys, but they are short on depth and haven’t replaced Serantes in goal yet.


Emperor’s Cup Final Review, Season Wrap, Transfer Round-up

Happy New Year to all! This will be my final blog post of the season and I’ll be back ahead of the Japanese Super Cup match between Gamba and Kawasaki on February 20th. Thanks to everyone who has supported me so far, and actually my Emperor’s Cup match preview was my most read post to date, a good way to kick off 2021 even if the result on the field didn’t match it. I’ll keep posting transfer updates and opinions on Twitter (@BlogGamba) and there’s more on that below.

Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 Gamba Osaka Match Report

Gamba fell just short in their bid to win this year’s Emperor’s Cup, going down 1-0 to deserved double-winners Kawasaki Frontale at the National Stadium on New Year’s Day. As predicted, Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made just a solitary change to the lineup from the semi-final win over Tokushima as the fit-again Takashi Usami replaced Kazuma Watanabe. The Nerazzurri started the game in their usual 4-4-2 before switching to a 3-4-2-1 system just after the 10th minute in order to get more players in central areas to protect against the Frontale onslaught. After Kaoru Mitoma’s 55th minute opener, they reverted back to 4-4-2.

Gamba thought they’d got off to the perfect start in the 6th minute when Patric nodded Usami’s free kick past Jung Sung-ryong, but it was ruled out for offside. I haven’t seen a proper replay yet, but my gut instinct tells me it was the correct decision as how else would the Brazilian have got so far ahead of the defence? This game was broadcast on NHK, so anyone hoping for analysis of the big decisions in the final during the half-time interval was to be sorely disappointed. We were instead treated to national team boss Hajime Moriyasu being grilled on who might make the Tokyo Olympics squad, should the games even take place (if any of you aren’t already aware Moriyasu has heard of Mitoma and Ao Tanaka).

Gamba did cause Kawasaki problems early doors and forced their backline into a number of loose passes, the downside was that this more adventurous approach left them exposed to counter attacks, so Miyamoto quickly went into defensive mode. This resulted in the remaining 2/3 of the half being all Frontale and fortunately for Gamba, Kawasaki hadn’t brought their shooting boots with them, Mitoma, Leandro Damião and Ienaga all guilty of wasting opportunities. Patric was booked for a silly shove on Hatate going into half time and exchanged words with fellow Brazilian Damião, however, it was definitely Gamba who were the happier to get to the interval scoreless.

The Frontale breakthrough inevitably came through the irrepressible Mitoma who coolly slotted past Ryu Takao and Masaaki Higashiguchi following a Damião through ball after possession had been ceded by Gamba in their own half. Kengo Nakamura (who NHK commentary spent most of the first half reminding us, was on the bench and today would be his last ever game) was shown celebrating gleefully on the sidelines and with the Nerazzurri’s record of coming back from a goal down, this really did feel like the winner, even with 35 minutes left to play. Following the 5-0 hammering in November, Gamba were left in a quandary, go all out attack and risk another heavy loss, or try to contain Kawasaki and then push for an equaliser late on. Despite introducing Watanabe and Fukuda for Yamamoto and Fujiharu, they opted for the latter.

Miyamoto has received some criticism for his strategy, but it very nearly paid off. Taniguchi cleared Watanabe’s scuffed shot off the line following a rare Jung blunder. The South Korean stopper more than made amends with two fine tips over the bar to deny both Usami and Fukuda late on. Gamba threw Genta Miura up front right in additional time and nearly conceded a horrible goal themselves when Higashiguchi was robbed of possession. In the end, it was too little too late, Frontale were unable to bring Kengo on for a final appearance, much to the dismay of the NHK commentary team, but he can be more than satisfied with his final year as a professional footballer. Gamba were forced to settle for 2nd again and the ignominy of taking a team photo (why?) with their silver medals and the cheque that will be partly used to pay the fine for Ademilson’s indiscretions.

Season Wrap

This crazy season started and ended with 1-0 defeats in the cups, but a lot of positive steps were taken in between and Gamba are once again a force in Japanese football after three years in the wilderness. I’ve gone into details ad nauseum in previous posts about how their new defensive strategy and ability to protect leads this year were major factors behind their re-ascendance. The ultimate goal, however, was facing them at the National Stadium yesterday (Friday), being able to attack as fluently as Kawasaki while keeping things tight at the back has to be the next step. You could see in the Final that when Gamba went into all out defensive mode it was almost impossible for them to quickly change to an attacking mindset and, as such, several chances to successfully counter were thrown away and wave after wave of Frontale attack kept coming back at them.

I like Miyamoto, I think he is a cerebral manager who isn’t afraid to re-consider his ideas about how football should be played and I look forward to seeing how he embraces the challenge ahead. The Nerazzurri are back in the Asian Champions League for the first time in four years which should allow them to attract a better calibre of player. 2021 will be a particularly big year for Yuki Yamamoto, who played at a much higher level than we had a right to expect this season, and also Yuya Fukuda. I feel it’s vital for him to nail down a position, rather than constantly switching between flanks and midfield / defence.

Below I’m going to have a look at some of the players likely to come and go in the off-season and you can make your own minds up about how you think these moves will alter Gamba’s style of play. Please let me know what you think in the comments section.

Transfer Rumours

* This is a fast moving situation, so some of the moves labelled as ‘Very Likely’ may actually be confirmed by the time you read this.



Yota Sato (22 years old Meiji University) A centre back who is one of 12 Meiji graduates to join JLeague clubs this winter. FC Tokyo duo Shuto Abe and Hotaka Nakamura were his seniors and if he can have the same impact those two have had this year then Gamba fans are in for a treat. The Nerazzurri don’t sign university players often, but when they do they are usually decent. I also can’t think of the last time they signed a player from a university outside of Kansai. Any takers?

Very Likely

Ju Se-jong (30 FC Seoul) South Korean international (24 caps 1 goal, played in 2018 World Cup where he robbed Manuel Neuer to set up Son Heung-min for the 2nd in the win over Germany) similar in style to Ideguchi, so covers an area of need. There are questions over his performance since completing military service, 16 games, 1 assists, 1 red card (for 2 yellows) in K1 2020, but he does bring ACL experience with him.

Leandro Pereira (29 Matsumoto Yamaga) – 15 goals and 2 assists in 26 J1 games (just 19 starts) in 2020 while on loan at Sanfrecce Hiroshima, the 190cm Pereira will apparently join on a free transfer as he’s out of contract, but his wages are reported to be some ¥155 million per year. He has 2 goals in 3 games for Sanfrecce against Gamba.

Kazunari Ichimi (23 Yokohama FC – loan return) – After spending 2019 with Kyoto in J2, Ichimi made the step up to the top tier with new boys Yokohama FC and bagged 4 goals and 2 assists in 31 games (21 starts). He didn’t find the target against any top-half opposition (only Sapporo, Sendai, Shonan and Kobe) and with the Olympics coming up one wonders if this is the right move for him, Miyamoto appears to be a fan, though.


Kim Ji-hyeon / Kim Ji-hyun [I’ve seen different Romanisations of his name] (24 Gangwon FC) – This move was rumoured on New Year’s Day and after the success Hwang Ui-jo enjoyed at Gamba it makes a lot of sense. Both are 184cm centre-forwards who can also operate wide, Kim has the slightly better K1 goalscoring ratio, 21 in 62 vs Hwang’s 30 in 121. Kim was K1 Rookie of the Year in 2019 and netted 8 in 23 last time out including a double off the bench in the 2-1 win at Jeonbuk on August 30th, this for a team that ended the season in 7th place.

Shion Homma (20 Albirex Niigata) – Left winger / second striker who got 7 goals and 7 assists in 40 J2 games in 2020 (30 starts). Gamba scouts were seen watching him in the 2-0 loss at Nagasaki on November 28th and it remains to be seen what comes of that.

Youth Team Promotion

Jiro Nakamura (high school 2nd grade) a right-winger who got 2 goals and 1 assist in 15 J3 games with the U23s and made his top team debut against Shimizu on the final day seems most likely. 3rd graders, Ko Ise (central midfield, J3 2020 27 games, 1 goal, 3 assists) and Keishi Murakami (left/right full-back / wing-back 23-0-1) are also possibilities.



Ademilson (26 contract termination) – The Brazilian is no longer a Gamba player following his drink-driving offence at the end of October. I went into this in detail on last week’s J-Talk Pod.

Very Likely

Kazuma Watanabe (34 Yokohama FC) – Was 3rd in line at the Emperor’s Cup presentation after the captain and vice-captain and I took this as a nod to that being his final game in a Gamba uniform. Grabbed 6 vital goals in 33 J1 appearances in 2020 (11 starts), winners against Shimizu and Sapporo, a late equaliser at Nagoya, a clincher versus Kashima and of course his double away to Tosu saw him reach a century of J1 goals. I wish him well!

Leo Takae (22 FC Machida Zelvia) – Takae has spent 2020 on loan in the western suburbs of Tokyo and notched 3 goals and 3 assists in 41 J2 games, forming a fine partnership with Kaishu Sano. I’m a bit surprised he won’t be back in Suita next year as I feel he has a lot to contribute. I’m sure we’ll see him in J1 again at some point.

Takahiro Ko (22 Albirex Niigata) – I’m much less surprised at this move than Takae’s as I see Ko as a good J2 level player. Has been on loan at struggling Renofa Yamaguchi for the past 18 months and a move to Niigata is just rewards for his hard work.

Riku Matsuda (21 Zweigen Kanazawa) – A rumoured permanent move for the former Gamba U23 captain. Has made 78 J3 and 2 J1 appearances in total, but unfortunately at 175cm it’s unlikely he’d be able to break into a top J1 defence on a regular basis. A good distributor from the back, I feel Matsuda will compliment Ryoga Ishio well in the Kanazawa defence next year and will give me a reason to visit when they open their new stadium.

Round Up: Both Yasuhito Endo (Iwata) and Kosei Tani (Shonan) are likely to extend their loan deals by another 12 months. It’s unclear what will happen to a number of other loanees such as, Mizuki Hayashi (Yamaguchi), Mizuki Ichimaru (FC Ryukyu) and Akito Takagi (Matsumoto), my guess is that only Hayashi will be back. Regarding players currently on loan with Gamba, I think that GK’s Haruki Saruta (Kashiwa), Lee Yunoh (Vegalta Sendai), and DF’s Ryo Shinzato (Iwata) and Jefferson Tabinas (Kawasaki) will return to their parent clubs. U23 regulars such as Tatsuya Yamaguchi, Keisuke Kurokawa, Ren Shibamoto and Haruto Shirai are all likely to leave either permanently or on loan to J2/J3 sides and even the likes of Shoji Toyama or Shuhei Kawasaki could be farmed out to gain some more top-team experience.


Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka Emperor’s Cup Final Mini Preview

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka
Emperor’s Cup Final
Japan National Stadium
Friday 1 January 2021 14:40

Hope it was a Merry Christmas for all who celebrated it! This is just a mini-preview ahead of Friday’s Emperor’s Cup Final and is intended to serve as a companion to the J-Talk Podcast that @frontalerabbit and myself joined Ben for on Tuesday.

Gamba sealed their place in the final by seeing off J2 Champions Tokushima Vortis 2-0 at Panasonic Stadium on Sunday. A scrappy effort from Patric early in the second-half and Yuya Fukuda’s fine strike just a minute after coming on as a substitute were enough for them to advance at the expense of Ricardo Rodriguez’s game side. Kosuke Onose (start) and Takashi Usami (bench) made returns to boost the morale of the Nerazzurri faithful ahead of the final in Tokyo.

Kawasaki defeated J3 outfit Blaublitz Akita 2-0 at Todoroki Stadium early on Sunday afternoon. Inevitably their opener came through the man, the myth, the legend that is Kaoru Mitoma in the 39th minute. Akita’s mean defence was only breached 18 times in 34 league matches this season, however, it was still surprising that the floodgates didn’t open in the second half, and Ao Tanaka’s free-kick 8 minutes from the end was the only additional goal. Still, a win is a win, and crucially Frontale welcomed back Ryota Oshima and Shintaro Kurumaya to leave them almost at full strength going into the final game of their campaign.

Head to Head

You can see a list of all the recent league meetings between these 2 in the table below, but in this week’s head-to-head I want to have a look at cup ties. Gamba defeated Kawasaki 1-0 in the final of the 2007 League Cup, the only evidence I can find of a one-off cup final played on neutral ground between both sides. Michihiro Yasuda, now of JEF United, scored the game’s only goal and helped himself to the MVP and New Hero awards for that year. Aside from that, the only other recent cup activity I could find was the two-legged League Cup semi-final in 2014 which Gamba won 5-4 on aggregate, triumphing 3-1 at home before going down 3-2 in Kanagawa. The Nerazzurri, of course, then went on to defeat Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-2 in the final, the first trophy of their incredible treble winning season.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

There will definitely be no Ademilson for Gamba after the Brazilian had his contract with the club cancelled on Monday. It’s believed that the former Yokohama F.Marinos forward reached a legal settlement with the victim of his drink-driving incident. Yuji Ono (knee) is another who will play no part on Friday, while it’s extremely unlikely that either Yosuke Ideguchi or Gen Shoji will be fit after both sat out the semi-final win over Tokushima.

Kawasaki Frontale

Left-back Kyohei Noborizato (collarbone fracture) appears to be Frontale’s only absentee. Dynamic midfielder Ryota Oshima, left winger Tatsuya Hasegawa and full-back Shintaro Kurumaya have all missed chunks of time this season, but were in the squad for the win over Akita on Sunday.

Predicted Line Ups

Usami for Watanabe is likely to be the only change for the men in blue and black. Gamba’s #33 got much needed minutes against Vortis and Watanabe (probably about to play his final Gamba game) has made more of an impact from the bench this year. Elsewhere, although Yuya Fukuda impressed with a cameo in the last 10 minutes on Sunday, I don’t think he will make the starting eleven here and despite Yajima and Yamamoto being the central midfielders in the 5-0 mauling at Kawasaki in November and neither of them being particularly great ball winners, I believe Miyamoto will opt for this pair again with Okuno on the pine.

With most of the squad good to go, it’s difficult for kantoku Toru Oniki to know who to leave out. If Kurumaya has fully overcome his injury then he will surely take Hatate’s spot at left-back, otherwise the former Juntendo University man, more normally an attacking midfielder or winger, will have to put in a shift there once again. Up top, it’s a toss of a coin between Damião and Kobayashi, but Damião started both league games against Gamba this year so I’ve selected him. This will be the final ever match for Frontale legend Kengo Nakamura and, if he can make the squad, it could be sayonara for Manabu Saito too, as he looks set to join Nagoya Grampus this off-season.

Match Prediction

All logic points to a Frontale win, but this is a Gamba blog after all and I’ll say we’ll grab an early goal and do what we do best, hold on for dear life. Patric to be the hero once more….sorry Kengo you’ll have to make do with just the record breaking league campaign in final year, legend that you are.


Gamba Osaka vs Tokushima Vortis Emperor’s Cup Semi-Final Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Tokushima Vortis
Emperor’s Cup Semi-Final
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Sunday 27 December 16:00

Last Time Out

Gamba closed out their 2020 J1 campaign with a disappointing 2-0 loss at home to Shimizu S-Pulse. Despite the game being a dead rubber, Nerazzurri kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto fielded a strong looking starting eleven with just 3 changes from the win at Yokohama FC 3 days prior. Kim Young-gwon, the free from suspension Yuya Fukuda and Dai Tsukamoto (1st J1 start) replaced the benched Gen Shoji, Shinya Yajima and Kazuma Watanabe.

The first-half was a dull end-of-season affair and the sides went into the break goalless before two goals in the opening 20 minutes of the second period won the game for the visitors. A first ever J1 strike by 19 year-old Riyo Kawamoto got things rolling after 49 minutes and when Shota Kaneko fired in a second after Yajima’s attempted block fell into his path, it knocked the stuffing out of Gamba. Jiro Nakamura provided some spark when he came on for a late cameo (and J1 debut), but in the end things petered out and the home side never really looked like breaching the leakiest defence in the league. Full time 0-2.

Gamba Osaka vs Tokushima Vortis Match Lowdown

In all honesty, Gamba would probably rather play this tie away or on neutral territory. As J1’s best away team in 2020, they defeated everyone from 8th down in the final standings on their travels, however, they also managed to lose at home to the bottom 3 sides (Shonan, Sendai and Shimizu) by a combined score of 7-0. Indeed, the Nerazzurri have only won by more than a single goal once at Panasonic Stadium this season, 2-0 versus Kashima in early October, and in that match the first goal came via the penalty spot, before Kazuma Watanabe wrapped up the points with a breakaway strike in second half stoppage time. As alluded to in my preview of the S-Pulse game, the next big task facing Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is to get the home form sorted, especially against teams who are content to sit deep and offer the men in blue and black plenty of opportunities to play the ball about in front of them. Granted, the return of Usami, Ideguchi, Ono and Onose will help in that respect, as will finding a suitable replacement for Ademilson if the purse strings can be loosened enough. (Leandro Pereira?)

With the J1 season now finished, we can finally compare the performances of teams on an even basis without wide discrepancies in number of fixtures played due to ACL commitments, COVID outbreaks etc. Gamba finished with the joint 5th best defensive record in J1, tied with FC Tokyo, however, for goals scored, they ranked equal ninth alongside Cerezo and Hiroshima, out of teams in the top-half of the standings, only Nagoya (45) found the back of the net less than Gamba’s 46. With this in mind, it’s easy to see where the work needs to be done in the off-season.

Gamba have won the Emperor’s Cup five times in their history including back-to-back triumphs in 2014 and 2015, however, their recent memories of the competition aren’t great as they’ve been knocked out by universities in each of the past 2 editions. First came the shock 2-1 extra-time defeat at the hands of Kwansei Gakuin University at Panasonic Stadium in 2018 and this was followed by a 2-0 reverse in Tokyo against Hosei University in August 2019. It’s interesting to see what some of those students have gone on to achieve in the game since upsetting Gamba. Ryu Takao captained Kwansei Gakuin in 2018 and Yuki Yamamoto pulled the strings in midfield, neither of them will require any introduction to Nerazzurri supporters. Hiroto Yamami, scorer of the winning goal that fateful evening will become the 3rd member of that squad to play for Gamba after he graduates next year, while midfielder Katsuya Nakano has called Kyoto home since 2019. For Hosei, senior midfielders, Kazuya Konno (FC Tokyo), Toshiki Mori (Tochigi), Hiroya Sueki (Toyama) and Ryotaro Onishi (FC Gifu), as well as forward Akira Matsuzawa (Toyama) have already started making their way in the professional game. Next year’s crop of graduates looks even better with goalkeeper Kojiro Nakano (Sapporo), defenders Taiki Miyabe (Matsumoto), Riku Morioka (Iwata), Masahiro Sekiguchi (Kofu) and Yuya Takagi (Yokohama FC) as well as midfielder Motoki Hasegawa (Kofu) all making the leap into the senior ranks.

Tokushima saw off JFL side Honda FC with surprising ease at Kobe’s Noevir Stadium on Wednesday night. A double from Tokuma Suzuki and Ken Iwao’s penalty helped them avoid a potential banana skin and they’ll now head east to Suita full of confidence. Vortis were crowned J2 champions just last week and will play in J1 next year, the first time they have done so since the 2014 season where they only took 14 points, scored 16 goals and racked up a goal difference of -58. After bouncing back from playoff heartbreak at Shonan last December, Tokushima will be looking to make their next visit to the rarified air of J1 more enjoyable than their previous experience. They will have to do so without Spanish kantoku Ricardo Rodriguez, in charge since 2017, but who has this week been confirmed as Urawa’s new boss for 2021, it’ll be interesting to see the reaction he gets from the Gamba support on Sunday. Ex-Panathinaikos coach and compatriot of Rodriguez, Daniel Poyatos is the new man in charge, he will have his hands full trying to keep hold of young #10 Masaki Watai who has been heavily linked with Reds, but the good news is that 187cm forward Yuki Kakita (Vortis’ top scorer this year with 17) looks set to remain on loan from Kashima despite reported interest from Shimizu. (It has since been announced that Watai will remain with the club in 2021).

Two Tokushima players Gamba fans should remember are forward Akihiro Sato and holding midfielder Yudai Konishi. Sato netted 14 times in 54 appearances for the Nerazzurri between 2012 and 2014 and Konishi is a Gamba Youth product who played twice for the U23s in J3 in 2016 before turning pro with Vortis the following year, to date he’s made 106 appearances and scored 8 goals in J2. Konishi’s partnership with the veteran Ken Iwao in central-midfield is a key component of Rodriguez’s strategy and after a bit of experimentation, the Spaniard seems to have settled on a 4-2-3-1 setup. The team plays a nice passing game and were able to break down J2 opponents on a regular basis leading to a number of players bagging a high total of assists. The right-sided Seiya Fujita helped himself to 9, just one shy of league leading Swede Emil Salomonsson of Fukuoka (10), while both Takeru Kishimoto (right flank) and Kazuya Nishiya (left) have 7 assists to their name, Gamba therefore have been given advanced warning of the dangers Tokushima can pose from either wing.

As expected with a side who finished top of the standings, Vortis’ team stats stack up quite nicely. Their 67 goals in 42 league outings was just one shy of top marksmen Mito (68), while only Fukuoka (29) conceded fewer than Tokushima’s 33 (0.79 per game). Just considering away results, Vortis were once again ranked as J2’s best side, ahead of Avispa on goal difference, exactly the same as the overall standings, with both teams taking home an impressive 10 more road points than 3rd placed V-Varen Nagasaki. Under pressure to secure promotion in their final few matches, Tokushima understandably played rather nervously and lost their last two away games of the season 1-0 (at Mito and Fukuoka), however, their previous road match was a see-saw 4-3 victory at Zweigen Kanazawa, so they clearly know how to find the back of the net away from the Pocari Sweat Stadium and this Sunday’s tie promises to be a real good game.

Head to Head

Gamba fans will have fond memories of the last time these two sides met, though the 0-0 played out in Tokushima on 6th December 2014 was very forgettable, the point gained was enough to see Gamba lift the J1 title in their first year back in the top flight following their shock relegation at the end of 2012. Indeed, both Vortis and the Nerazzurri were promoted together in 2013 (Tokushima via the playoffs) with Gamba winning both head-to-head league fixtures. Takashi Usami helped himself to 4 goals in a 5-1 rout in Shikoku in round 38, so I’m sure Vortis supporters will be hoping he’s still injured for this clash.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

As usual there hasn’t been much injury news from the Gamba camp, though we do know for sure that Yuji Ono (knee) and Ademilson (club suspension/police charges) won’t feature. I’d put Yosuke Ideguchi and Kosuke Onose in the highly doubtful category, while it is possible Takashi Usami could play some part.

Tokushima Vortis

Serbian centre-back Dušan Cvetinović, a winter 2019/20 capture from Yokohama F.Marinos, was last seen in the 2-1 win at Omiya on September 23rd while on-loan Nagoya Grampus midfielder Koki Sugimori hasn’t featured since the 2-0 loss at Kyoto on November 21st. Yatsunori Shimaya (7 J2 apps), Yuki Oshitani (5), Daiki Enomoto (3) and Genta Omotehara (0) haven’t gotten much action in 2020, though I believe this is more down to non-selection than any fitness concerns.
After this blog post was written it was announced that Shimaya and defender Takuya Akiyama would be released ahead of the 2021 season.

Predicted Line Ups

Any major changes to the lineup below will only come about if Ideguchi, Onose and Usami are fit enough to play. Other than that, it’s 2 from Miura, Kim and Shoji at the back, and I guess Okuno could start ahead of Yajima in the middle, but we are looking at another really young bench on Sunday.

Vortis’ recent team selections have been pretty consistent and I’m confident that they’ll line up in the 4-2-3-1 shown below. Alternatives are Ishii in place of Fukuoka at centre-back, Fujita for Kishimoto at right-back and possibly Diego in for Tamukai on the left, though he’s likely to make the bench at best. Further forward, I believe Watai has been out of the eleven recently due to a niggling injury, and I struggle to see him getting in ahead of, Wednesday’s 2 goal hero, Suzuki from the start here.

Match Prediction

Gamba will be champing at the bit to get another shot at Kawasaki after the 5-0 mauling last month, so I think they’ll do just enough to edge this one 2-1.


Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse 19 December 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse
J1 2020 Round 34
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 19 December 14:00

やった! Well, I made it….please enjoy reading my final match preview of 2020. This year has been trying for all of us and writing my blog has given me an outlet to temporarily distract myself from the harsh realities of life while also connecting with a number of people across the globe. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who took the time, to read, share, comment on or like any of my posts, it really means a lot to me. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!


Last Time Out

Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka

Gamba clinched runners-up spot in J1 with a game to spare as their 2-0 victory away to Yokohama FC coupled with Cerezo’s 2-1 loss at home against Sagan Tosu saw the Nerazzurri gain entry to the Emperor’s Cup semi finals and next season’s Asian Champions League.

On a chilly winter’s evening in Kanagawa, Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made just one change to the eleven that had seen off Shonan 10 days previously with Kohei Okuno replacing the suspended Yuya Fukuda. This move prompted a slight reshuffle in midfield as Shinya Yajima moved to the right flank to allow Okuno to partner Yuki Yamamoto in the centre. Kim Young-gwon returned from injury on the bench, however, there was still no place for Takashi Usami. On a more positive note, high school 2nd grader Jiro Nakamura was named as a substitute for the first time in J1, as was left-back Tatsuya ‘Omu’ Yamaguchi, a well deserved reward for 3 years of hard toil with the U23s.

Gamba literally couldn’t have got off to a better start as they led after just 25 seconds. Experienced Yokohama FC centre-back Masahiko Inoha played a casual ball out of defence which was intercepted by Shu Kurata near half-way, the subsequent attack culminated with a Shinya Yajima shot being well saved by Yuji Rokutan before cannoning off Patric into the path of the onrushing Kurata, who could barely believe his luck as he tapped in his 4th of the year. As expected Gamba then sat back ready to soak up pressure. Yokohama FC knocked the ball around with little purpose, and on several occasions they were their own worst enemies, ceding possession to the away side in dangerous areas. As the half wore on they did begin to grow in confidence and teenage prodigy Koki Saito brought out a fine stop from Masaaki Higashiguchi in additional time.

Almost unbelievably, YFC nearly gifted Gamba another goal in the first minute of the second period, as Rokutan, who otherwise put in a solid display, passed straight to Yajima just outside the box, however, the former Olympian couldn’t keep his lob down and it sailed over to spare the stopper’s blushes. At the other end, Minagawa, Takeda and Matsuura all had half chances, but Gamba kept their shape well and I was impressed by the partnership of Okuno and Yamamoto, particularly the way they preyed on the over-zealous nature of Reo Yasunaga in the opposing midfield, milking a number of fouls. Yamamoto found himself with more space to work with than usual and was able to dictate play intelligently. This brought him to the attentions of Kosuke Saito, who put in a rather nasty tackle midway through the half, luckily no lasting damage was done.

Gamba sealed their 12th away win of the year 9 minutes from the end of regulation time and it was no surprise the attacking move that created it originated from sloppy Yokohama passing near their own goal. Kohei Tezuka, on as a second half substitute, needlessly gave the ball away to Yajima and the resulting passage of play saw Kurata and Watanabe both denied by solid Rokutan saves. However, the on-loan S-Pulse ‘keeper couldn’t prevent Patric’s effort from getting past him and the despairing efforts of Yuki Kobayashi on the line to send the travelling support into raptures. It was the big Brazilian’s 9th of the year, 3rd in 3 games and his 2nd 1 goal, 1 assist game in a row. Job done!

Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse Match Lowdown

It’s the final J1 matchday of the year and neither side have anything other than pride resting on this one, so hopefully we’ll see a few fresh faces for both outfits and also a good number of goals to close the season out. It’s worth noting that a Gamba win in this fixture will see them tie their record number of wins in an 18-team J1 campaign (21 in 2011).

Gamba’s road results have been outstanding throughout 2020 and they are guaranteed to be J1’s best away side, regardless of what Kawasaki do in their final game at Kashiwa Reysol. However, the Nerazzurri’s home form has been their achilles heel, with 6 defeats in 16 matches so far and a points per game (ppg) ratio of 1.63 which falls well short of the outstanding 2.29 earned outside Suita. Interestingly, comparing this year’s performance at Panasonic Stadium with the previous 2 campaigns, in 2019 Gamba had a poorer ppg, just 1.59, but were better on both attack and defence, with an average home score of 1.56-1.06 versus the 1.19-1.31 we’ve seen in 2020. 2018 trumps 2020 on all 3 metrics, as in that year the men in blue and black took 2ppg and produced an average score of 1.41-0.76. Indeed, should Shimizu leave Suita with the 3 points on Saturday afternoon, then 7 home losses for the season would equal Gamba’s accrued total for 2018 and 2019 combined. The next step for Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is clearly to build on the solid platform that has been set defensively this year by adding an extra attacking element capable of breaking down the most resilient of defences without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Easier said than done, you may say, and you’d be right.

A quick review of the highs and lows at home this year is now in order. I’d label the best 3 wins at Panasonic Stadium as, the 2-0 over Kashima in early October, and the 2-1s against Kashiwa and Nagoya as all of them were solid top-half sides this season. As for regrets, the 4-0 Sendai debacle will unfortunately linger long in the memory, while although the 3-1 loss to Urawa definitely flattered Reds, it was a bitter pill to swallow nonetheless. The 0-1 versus Shonan was a tough watch, but it did serve as motivational fuel to power Gamba through a run of 12 games unbeaten after that humbling. Finally, the 2-1 defeat to Cerezo in the first (closed doors) match after the league’s re-start in July wasn’t pretty, but a quick glance at the league table shows Cerezo won that battle, but lost the war, so to speak.

Now for a rundown on our final opponents of 2020, Shimizu S-Pulse, a side currently sitting 18th and last, though a win here could move them up a spot with Sendai (16th) and Shonan (17th) facing off at the Yurtec Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Not only are S-Pulse the league’s weakest side, they also possess the worst away record, having gleaned a mere 10 points from 16 matches to date, their 14 goals scored and 35 conceded on the road are also the poorest in J1. They have won just twice outside the confines of Shizuoka in 2020, 3-0 at Shonan on September 19th and 3-1 against Yokohama FC on November 25th, they’ve found the net just 8 times in their other 14 games on their travels.

Shimizu, of course, started the season under the tutelage of Australian Peter Cklamovski, but the former Yokohama F.Marinos assistant was unable to make much of a positive impact and was replaced by Hiroaki Hiraoka in early November (whether Cklamovski jumped or was pushed is still up for debate). While Cklamovski’s selections often raised eyebrows for the amount of square pegs being shoved into round holes, Hiraoka has reverted to a more sedate 4-4-2 which has earned him 3 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats in his opening 8 matches in charge. Hiraoka was actually named November’s manager of the month after going 3-1-1, however S-Pulse are currently winless in December with a draw and 2 defeats.

Regarding the Cklamovski situation, fans of his may criticise Shimizu for the rather tepid way they backed his attempted tactical revolution. If they brought him in with the intention of replicating Ange Postecoglou’s success at Marinos then why did they not arm him with the weapons necessary to execute his battle plan? For example, did Cklamovski ask for a budget version of Marcos Junior and instead get handed Yusuke Goto from Oita’s bench, and surely they could have signed an actual left-back at some point? On the flip side of the coin, it could be argued that Cklamovski should have been more pragmatic with implementing his strategy as the S-Pulse project was beginning from a much lower starting point than the Marinos side Ange inherited in Yokohama. Whatever discussions went on behind the scenes before, and during his short-lived reign, I guess we’ll never know.

Regardless of how you feel about Cklamovski, Hiraoka or the S-Pulse board, the club’s slide from an excellent 8th place finish in 2018 to their present predicament is an undeniable fact. The losses of Douglas (Kobe), Koya Kitagawa (Rapid Vienna) and Ko Matsubara (St. Truidense) have really hurt and the poor recruitment alluded to above has exacerbated the situation. Breaking up the solid centre-back partnership of Hwang Seok-ho and Freire at the end of 2018 is a mistake they don’t seem to have recovered from either. After conceding just 1.41 goals per game in 2018, Shimizu were the only team to average more than 2 goals against per match last season (2.03) and already have a worse record this year, with a league high 70 goals conceded in 33 outings (2.13), this is the worst J1 performance since Tokushima let in 74 back in 2014 (2.18).

Finally, looking ahead to 2021, it’s already been announced that Junior Dutra, Neto Volpi, Mitsunari Musaka, Takashi Kanai, Kenta Ito and Jin Hiratsuka will be moving on, though, as only Dutra, Musaka and Kanai made more than 1 league appearance, it won’t make too much of a dent in the squad. More excitingly they have been linked with Japan national team ‘keeper Shuichi Gonda, currently frozen out at Portimonense, Brazilian forward Thiago Santana who is also playing in Portugal with Santa Clara, and today (Thursday) it was reported that a move for Kashima Antlers’ Yuki Kakita (now on-loan at Tokushima) is afoot. Winger / central-midfielder Daigo Takahashi will surely be recalled from his loan spell at Giravanz Kitakyushu in J2 and youth team prospect Hikaru Naruoka will turn pro after making a number of appearances on his type-2 amateur contract this season. Other youngsters such as, goalkeeper Togo Umeda and attacker Yuito Suzuki can give Shimizu fans hope of a brighter tomorrow, though that could be tempered slightly if they fail to keep hold of the likes of Kenta Nishizawa (whose 10 assists must surely have brought him to the attention of the likes of Urawa, Kashiwa and even Gamba) or Brazilian midfield anchor Renato Augusto. Nishizawa and Keita Nakamura have provided some excellent crosses this year and S-Pulse have scored a number of goals from set-pieces, however, finding defenders who can defend, as well as get on the end of these deliveries, must be a priority this off-season.

Head to Head

Gamba won away to Shimizu in round 4 back in July with Kazuma Watanabe’s 89th minute strike sealing the points in a highly competitive match. At Panasonic Stadium, I was in attendance for the final game of Levir Culpi’s reign (mentioning Culpi seems to have become something of a tradition in recent blog posts), a 2-1 defeat to S-Pulse on a sweltering evening in July 2018. Although, had Koki Yonekura stuck his header away right at the death, it would have earned Gamba a share of the spoils and potentially a short reprieve for the Brazilian. Prior to that, Shimizu’s last league win in Suita was a surprise 4-1 back in 2009 with Shinji Okazaki and future Gamba treble winner Keisuke Iwashita on the scoresheet that day.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Yuji Ono (knee) has returned to light training, but won’t be back until next season, while Osaka Police have now filed drink-driving charges against Ademilson, a move which is likely to end the Brazilian’s Gamba career. Elsewhere, with 2nd place already sewn up, we almost certainly won’t see Takashi Usami, Yosuke Ideguchi or Kosuke Onose on Saturday regardless of their injury status. Yuya Fukuda is free from suspension and Kim Young-gwon was fit enough to appear on the bench on Wednesday night. Right-back Ryu Takao will make his 50th J1 and 50th Gamba appearance should he be selected for this match.

Shinizu S-Pulse

Youngster Riyo Kawamoto had to leave the field injured just 21 minutes after coming on as a substitute at home to Shonan on November 29th and hasn’t been seen since. Versatile wide player Hideki Ishige has been plagued with fitness issues in recent seasons, he’s currently out with a hamstring problem picked up in the 5-0 hammering at Kawasaki on August 29th. Shimizu have 7 non-Japanese players in their squad (Neto Volpi, Valdo, Hwang, Elsinho, Renato Augusto, Junior Dutra, and Carlinhos) meaning 2 must miss out from any given matchday squad. 2020 top scorer Carlinhos (10 goals in 29 games) and Thai forward Teerasil have both been absent for the past 2 matches and I haven’t seen any injuries reported.

Predicted Line Ups

Honestly, with this game now a dead rubber, Saturday’s lineup is anyone’s guess. Kazuma Watanabe started on Wednesday and I can’t see him playing more than about 30 minutes here, so I’ve gone with Shoji Toyama to partner Patric, with his U23 mate Shuhei Kawasaki giving Kurata a rest and Yamamoto also putting his feet up for the first-half, at least. At centre-back, any 2 of Miura, Shoji, Kim and Suganuma could start, while I have Fukuda on the right-wing, but he could play there, right-back, left-wing or left-back depending on what takes Miyamoto’s fancy. Also, expect Dai Tsukamoto to get some serious minutes, either from the start or as a second half sub.

Shimizu lineups under Peter Cklamovski appeared to be chosen using Ben Maxwell’s random number generator and although Hiraoka has brought a bit more consistency, this is still the last game of the year so expect wild variations from what you see below. I wouldn’t be surprised if young Togo Umeda starts in goal and with no confirmation that they are actually unavailable, theoretically both Teerasil and Carlinhos could play.

Match Prediction

With their eyes now set on Emperor’s Cup glory, I could actually see Gamba dropping the ball here and coming second best in an entertaining 3-2.


Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka 16 December 2020 Match Preview

Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 33
Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium
Wednesday 16 December 19:00

Just a reminder that I was on last week’s J-Talk Podcast, so if you haven’t already please check out my chat with Ben and Sam regarding the Shonan match, the race for 2nd and all other things Gamba.

Last Time Out

Injury-hit Gamba earned a hard-fought 2-1 victory away at Shonan on December 6th, their 11th road win of the year. Takashi Usami and Kim Young-gwon were the latest players to make the treatment room their home, meaning that kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto was forced into changes once again. Fresh off a 7-day break, Gamba reverted to a 4-4-2 system and brought in, the fit-again Genta Miura, Gen Shoji, Yuki Yamamoto and Kazuma Watanabe for, Kim and Usami (injured) and Suganuma and Kawasaki (benched).

Gamba had something riding on this game whereas Shonan had nothing but pride to play for and the first 30 minutes of the contest really bore that out. Gamba reacted to my calls for a quicker start by racing into the lead in just the 6th minute. A slack ball out of defence by Kazunari Ohno (1 of 4 times Bellmare sloppily gifted their visitors possession in their defensive third inside the opening quarter) was intercepted on the right flank by Ryu Takao, he centred for Patric who laid it back to Yuya Fukuda and the youngster from Kokura smacked home his first of the campaign past a partially unsighted Masaaki Goto in the Shonan goal. Interestingly, Fukuda later revealed that Usami had been helping him improve his shooting in training, the results of that were here for all to see.

Bellmare lost experienced midfielder Akimi Barada to injury in the 29th minute with Mitsuki Saito’s arrival bringing about a mini-reshuffle in the home team’s engine room, the highly-rated Daiki Kaneko dropped deeper to his more favoured holding role. This seemed to wake Shonan from their slumber and within 5 minutes they were level. Impressive former Japan U-17 representative (where he was Shoji Toyama’s team-mate) Taiga Hata broke down the left and cut the ball back for Hiroto Nakagawa whose shot struck the arm of Gen Shoji leading to a rare event this season, a handball penalty that everyone agreed was actually the correct decision. The younger brother of 2019 J1 MVP Teruhito Nakagawa comfortably dispatched his spot-kick high into the goal, leaving Higashiguchi without a prayer. Gamba looked ragged as the half drew to a close and the game became a rather scrappy affair, Shoji seemed to be close to losing his cool as he tried to avenge the penalty decision while Patric shoved Shonan captain Takuya Okamoto in the chest as he was unhappy with the close attention he was receiving. Miyamoto would certainly have been happy to get his troops into the dressing room to re-group.

The Nerazzurri started the second half on the front foot before things developed into more of an arm-wrestle. The defining moment came in the 66th minute through a goal of real quality. Yajima and Watanabe combined to get Fujiharu in behind the Shonan defence and the full-back’s inch-perfect cross was headed home at the back post by Patric, the popular Brazilian bagging a goal and an assist in his 200th J1 appearance. Bellmare briefly rallied, but Sosuke Shibata and Satoshi Tanaka shot over while at the other end Goto made an excellent reflex stop to deny Patric his 2nd of the match. I was just about to write in my notes that Gamba were going to see the game out comfortably when up stepped Hata in the 90th minute to whip in a delicious cross that was met by Okamoto, however, Higashiguchi, was there with a crucial stop to earn Gamba the 3 points and probably secure his place in the J1 Best Eleven for 2020.

Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka Match Lowdown

The penultimate game of the 2020 J1 campaign is another crucial one for Gamba as they aim to solidify their grip on 2nd place against a Yokohama FC side who’ll still be smarting from their injury time loss in the reverse fixture between these two. Gamba currently sit on 62 points from 32 games while Nagoya are 2 points back with a better goal difference by 12, though crucially they’ve played an extra match and city rivals Cerezo are 3 behind the Nerazzurri with a better goal difference by 6 and remaining ties against Tosu (h) and Kashima (a). Hopefully Gamba’s 4-0 home defeat at the hands of Sendai doesn’t come back to haunt them in the goal difference stakes, victories here and at home to S-Pulse on Saturday will render that irrelevant. Indeed a win here guarantees 3rd spot at least and coupled with a Cerezo defeat it would leave Gamba with a dead rubber at the weekend with Emperor’s Cup qualification already in the bag.

It’s been 10 days since Gamba’s last match, their 11th 2-1 win of the season and, in fact, they have just three wins by more than a single goal to their credit in 2020 (Sendai 4-1, Kashima and Kobe both 2-0) and have incredibly only led by 2 goals or more for 168 out of a total of 2,880 minutes played. With 19 wins accrued this year, Gamba have already equalled their total from the 2014 title winning campaign and their current haul of 62 points is only 1 shy of that year’s tally, which kind of gives some context to just how good Kawasaki have been. I’ll repeat my favourite stat again (with a small update), Gamba are now 19-3-0 in league games they’ve led at any point in 2020, only Nagoya (a), Kashima (a) and Cerezo (a) have come from behind to take a point from their battle with the Nerazzurri. This looks all the better when compared to 2019 where 7 teams came back to draw and 5 sides overturned a deficit in matches with the men from Suita.

Although highlights reel defeats to Sendai and Kawasaki may be stuck in the minds of many supporters at the moment, it’s important to place those performances in the wider context of the year as a whole. In their most recent 17 games (essentially half a season), Gamba are 12-3-2, giving a total of 39 points which is a mere 8 short of last season’s 47 from 34 contests. That this has been achieved while blooding young, locally developed talent is definitely to Tsuneyasu Miyamoto and the club’s credit. Shuhei Kawasaki (14 games), Kohei Okuno and Shoji Toyama (both 5) and Dai Tsukamoto (4) have all featured more than anyone would have expected in pre-season, while ex-Kwansei Gakuin university duo, Ryu Takao and Yuki Yamamoto have really stepped up to the mark when required and Yuya Fukuda has built on the promise he showed in spurts last season.

This is Gamba’s final away game of the year which gives me one last chance to run the rule over their incredible road performances in 2020. 11 away victories is only 1 less than their win total in 2019 (12) and the 36 points earned outside Suita would see them sit 12th in the overall standings (6 points better off than Wednesday night’s opponents). The Nerazzurri boast a 9-3-4 record when comparing shots on target in away fixtures with their opponents and this correlates pretty well with their actual WDL record of 11-3-2. The fact that in total shots they are 4-0-12 and also 3-0-13 in possession kind of highlights how pointless those stats are. Looking at ball dominance, despite having the best away record in J1 (2 points more than Kawasaki, no less), Gamba average just 40.73% possession across their 16 games to date with a high of 59.1% at Nagoya in round 3 and a low of just 28.1 in the 2-1 win at Marinos on the opening day.

In this paragraph I plan to partake in a little revisionism so all non-Gamba fans may want to skip to the next one where I start discussing Yokohama FC. If you remove the 3-0 defeat at Kashiwa as well as the recent 4-0 home loss to Sendai and the 5-0 embarrassment at Kawasaki then Gamba’s record is just 28 goals against from 29 contests and a goal difference of +16, so I ask the question, which is the real Gamba, that one or the side who’ve lost 0-12 across 3 games? I’ll let you choose, but my guess is a bit of both. Against other teams currently in the top half of the table, Gamba average 1.56 points per game with a scoreline of 1.19-1.44 (1.2 against if you discount the Frontale mauling) whilst games with sides in places 10-18 have been more profitable, bringing 2.3 ppg and a score of 1.56-1.06 (0.87 if you remove the Sendai result). If anyone read that, I hope you enjoyed it, now let’s have a quick glance at our opposition.

While Gamba come into this clash needing 3 points, Yokohama FC will be able to play with the pressure off having already secured the best league finish in their club’s history. The club born out of the ashes of Yokohama Flugels took a mere 16 points from 34 games in their one previous J1 outing in 2007. However this year they have almost doubled that total and a win on Wednesday coupled with a Cerezo victory over Tosu would move them up to 14th ahead of their final match of the year, a Yokohama derby at home to Marinos on Saturday. So, there is still a little something to motivate Takahiro Shimotaira’s troops.

I tipped Yokohama FC to finish 2nd bottom this year and they have definitely exceeded my expectations and given themselves a platform to build on ahead of 2021 when relegation will once again be on the table. With 35 goals in 32 contests to date, only 4 teams (Shonan, Oita, Tosu and Sendai) have scored less than Yokohama FC, while their 57 conceded betters only Shimizu, Sendai, Sapporo and Kobe (it should be noted that both Consadole and Vissel have let in just 1 more from an extra fixture). With not a whole lot to play for recently, results have slidden a little after a mid-season high and they haven’t taken 3 points from any of their previous 5 games. Indeed, rather disappointingly for the men from Kanagawa, they have just 2 wins and 10 points from their last 13 fixtures.

Yokohama FC’s overall decent showing has largely been bolstered by home performances with 5 of their 8 triumphs this season coming on their own patch. Shonan (4-2), Nagoya (3-2), Kobe (2-1), and FC Tokyo and Kashima (both 1-0) have all been seen off at the Mitsuzawa. Their home average score is 1.27-1.93 which compares with their overall record of 1.09-1.78. They have won 3 games by 2 goals or more (the same as Gamba), the aforementioned Shonan victory as well as road wins at Kashiwa (3-1) and Urawa (2-0). On the flip side, they’ve gone down by 3 goals or more on 5 occasions though the last time was a 3-0 loss at Sapporo on October 24th, which may not have been a particularly accurate reflection of the run of play. In this encounter, top scorers for the year, Yusuke Matsuo (7) and Kazunari Ichimi (4) are both unavailable so a big question for them will be, who is going to be able to get on the end of the ammunition supplied by Takuya Matsuura (4 assists) and Kohei Tezuka (also 4)?

Briefly looking ahead to next season, Yokohama FC have been strongly linked with Gamba’s Kazuma Watanabe (34), while JEF United’s Brazilian forward Kleber (30) and Tosu midfield anchor / centre-back Hideto Takahashi (33) are also rumoured targets. In the departure lounge, veteran Daisuke Matsui has already left for Vietnam and young prodigy Koki Saito will make for Belgium at the year’s end. Yuki Kobayashi (Kobe), Kazunari Ichimi (Gamba), Kohei Tezuka (Kashiwa), Maguinho (Kawasaki), and Yuji Rokutan (Shimizu) are all regulars currently on loan from fellow J1 clubs so it’ll be interesting to monitor their future movements. I’ll also be keeping a keen eye on what happens with veterans Shunsuke Nakamura, Leandro Domingues and King Kazu, not to mention centre-back pairing, Masahiko Inoha and Calvin Jong-a-Pin. Fans at the Mitsuzawa may also be crossing fingers and toes in the hope that left-wing star Yusuke Matsuo’s shoulder problem keeps him off rival teams’ radars for at least another 6 months.

Head to Head

Gamba’s 2-1 win over Yokohama FC in August was the first J1 clash between these two since FC’s sole previous season in the top flight back in 2007. Shorn of the services of Kazunari Ichimi, Yokohama were wasteful in front of goal and were made to pay when Patric won the game for Gamba in the 94th minute. Yokohama FC are one of only 4 current J1 sides I haven’t seen play live (Nagoya, Oita and Shonan are the others) as I missed the 2 draws during Gamba’s J2 sojourn in 2013. Maybe next year, eh?

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Definitely out of this clash are Yuji Ono (knee – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) while Yuya Fukuda picked up a 4th yellow card of the year against Shonan and is therefore suspended. Takashi Usami and Kim Young-gwon both sat out the Bellmare game, but their injuries are not thought to be serious. Gamba are being coy about the fitness of Kosuke Onose and Yosuke Ideguchi, however, the general feeling seems to be that they’ll miss both remaining J1 matches. Captain Genta Miura appears to be back fit and firing after his 90 minutes in Kanagawa last week, and his return couldn’t have come at a better time as Kim and Ryu Takao are both walking a suspension tightrope with any caution against Yokohama FC ruling them out of the S-Pulse game. In better news, veteran Kazuma Watanabe will make 350th J1 appearance on Wednesday against the side he is likely to join next season.

Transfer Gossip / News Round-Up

It was announced last week that diminutive Kwansei Gakuin University forward Hiroto Yamami (currently in 3rd grade) will join Gamba from the 2022 season. Nerazzurri supporters may remember his winner in the shock 2-1 Emperor’s Cup defeat back in 2018 and he becomes the 3rd member of that side to move to Suita after Ryu Takao and Yuki Yamamoto. Elsewhere, it’s being reported that Yasuhito Endo will extend his Gamba contract next year, but remain on loan at J2 side Jubilo Iwata.
More left-field rumours include, a potential bid for Urawa’s on-loan Brazilian midfielder Ewerton, though that seems more like fan talk, while Kim Young-gwon has been linked with a move back to his homeland with Incheon United who are also said to be interested in ex-Gamba treble winner Oh Jae-suk.
Non-transfer related news is that the club are set to appoint a specialised forwards coach from next season in a bid to boost shooting performance (it’s worth noting that Gamba have a 19-1-12 record in terms of better shooting % this year). And finally…the 2021 uniforms will be officially unveiled in a ceremony prior to the final home game of 2020 against Shimizu on Saturday.

Yokohama FC

Forward Kazunari Ichimi (4 goals in 30 J1 games) can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement with Gamba while Yusuke Matsuo has a dislocated shoulder and hasn’t featured since the draw at Sendai on October 14th. Holding midfielder Kensuke Sato, an influential figure in the reverse fixture, is currently out with a knee injury and was last seen in a matchday squad on October 18th. In the injured?/dropped? column are, utility man Eijiro Takeda who was subbed at half-time in the home loss to S-Pulse on November 25th and hasn’t been seen since, while veteran centre-back Calvin Jong-a-Pin suffered the same fate as Takeda except in the away loss at Shimizu on August 22nd, rookie central defender Kyowan Hoshi last saw action in the 3-0 drubbing at Tosu on September 5th, legend Shunsuke Nakamura has been limited to just 10 J1 appearances in 2020 and was last spotted as an unused sub against Oita on November 3rd and on-loan winger Ryuji Sugimoto, a rare starter, has been out of the squad for over a month.

Predicted Line Ups

With options thin on the ground at the moment, there aren’t too many alternatives to the players in the lineup below. Should Kim be fit enough, he could take the place of either Shoji or Miura at centre-back while the midfield has 3 potential choices in my opinion. The most likely is set out below with Takashi Usami returning from injury on the right wing with Yajima and Yamamoto in the middle and Kurata down the left. It’s also possible we could see Kurata on the right, Kawasaki down the left and the Yajima-Yamamoto partnership in the centre or Yajima on the right, Kurata on the left and Okuno and Yamamoto in the middle, we’ll need to wait and see.

With one more home game yet to come, a Yokohama derby, no-less, against Marinos on Saturday I reckon YFC will save their veterans like Shunsuke Nakamura, Leandro Domingues and King Kazu for that one. Alternatives to the lineup below would be either Hakamata or Inoha coming in at centre-back, young Nakayama playing down the right with Matsuura on the left or most likely Minagawa in for Senuma as the replacement for Ichimi.

Match Prediction

Gamba to do what they do best and grind out an ugly 2-1 away from home.