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Gamba Osaka vs Nagoya Grampus 2 April 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Nagoya Grampus
2022 J1 Season Round 6
Saturday 2 April 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


J1 is back after a successful international break for the Samurai Blue, and speaking of success, former Gamba treble-winning coach Kenta Hasegawa is in town as he leads his Nagoya side into Osaka to face off with former protégé Tomohiro Katanosaka’s troops. Both teams currently sit level on 5 points, though Grampus have played a game fewer owing to their round 2 clash with FC Tokyo being postponed. Nerazzurri kantoku Katanosaka doesn’t have his troubles to seek following a chastening 3-2 home loss to Fukuoka a fortnight back which bore all the hallmarks of the darkest days of the 2021 season. That was followed up by a second-half capitulation away at Kashima in the Levain Cup last Saturday and, as such, the pressure he’s under might have been turned up just a notch or so. Hasegawa has made a steady, if unspectacular, start to life in Aichi. The Giallorossi were perhaps a shade fortunate to escape with a 1-1 draw against early season surprise package Kashiwa in their previous league outing, but bounced back to comfortably see off J2 promotion chasers Tokushima in the League Cup with Yoichiro Kakitani making a welcome return to the scoresheet. This will be the first of 3 J1 fixtures in the space of 8 days for both clubs so needless to say beginning that run with a positive result is of paramount importance to each side.

Tale of the Tape

I’ll try my best to stay upbeat and positive about Gamba in this section and I accept that might mean supporters of other teams think I’m being ever so slightly biased. The Nerazzurri’s 3-2 home loss at the hands of Avispa Fukuoka means they’re still without a home win this season in league or cup (D1L3, with a minimum of 2 goals conceded every game), however, it did mark their 2nd consecutive xG For over 1, possession % higher than 50 and completed passes above 400, if these kind of numbers continue then I’m reasonably confident better results are around the corner. April is shaping up as an important month for the Ao to Kuro with upcoming dates against Kyoto, Shimizu and Shonan likely to set the tone for the middle part of the campaign. With that in mind, the return of Hiroki Fujiharu in tandem with Kwon Kyung-won and Dawhan’s much anticipated entries into Japan couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, as that trio should be able to help stabilise the backline once they’re fully up to speed. I’m loathe to be overly critical at the moment due to several factors that have been against Katanosaka, inheriting a shambles, the pre-season Covid outbreak, a spate of injuries plus the aforementioned late arrival of two of the big winter signings. Overall things haven’t been great, though they certainly haven’t been terrible either, well up until the last week or so. It feels like the Nerazzurri’s season is balancing on something of a knife-edge at the moment and after the next run of games we’ll get a clearer picture of how things stand. If the men from Suita are going to take decisive steps in the right direction then the home form needs sorted out and that sorting needs to start this Saturday. The blue and blacks have struck first just once in four home outings this year, and did so only 5 times in 19 J1 games at Panasonic Stadium in 2021, that’s a statistic that Katanosaka simply must find a way to alter, and from this writer’s perspective it would be pleasing if Nagoya were the first team to bear the brunt of that change in fortunes. To finish this section on a positive note like I promised above, 8 fixtures have been fulfilled to date in all competitions and the Nerazzurri have found the net in each of them plus Pereira, Onose and Fukuda already have 2 league goals apiece so contributions are coming from different areas of the field, it’s now a matter of starting matches on the front foot, giving themselves a fighting chance of taking the lead (five of the seven goals Gamba have scored in J1 have come in the final 13 minutes plus additional time) and keeping the door bolted shut at the back, it all sounds so easy written down like that, doesn’t it?

Having been pipped to second spot by Gamba in 2020, Grampus finished a whopping 8 places and 22 points better off than the Nerazzurri last term. Just as in 2020, the foundation was set by kantoku Massimo Ficcadenti’s rock-solid catenaccio style defence. Nagoya’s 30 goals conceded was 2nd best in the league, only behind champions Kawasaki while Australian ‘keeper Mitch Langerak set a new divisional record of 21 clean sheets in a season (including an incredible 9 in-a-row in April/May), outdoing his own previous record from 12 months prior (17, albeit that campaign contained 4 fewer games). The Giallorossi also posted the 2nd best xG Against and Shots Against on Target numbers and were 3rd in the Shots Against rankings, on the other hand, and this might go some way to explaining why Massimo Ficcadenti is now their former kantoku, Grampus placed 16th out of 20 in both xG For and Shots For. That brings me on nicely to their new boss Kenta Hasegawa, and although he’s only been in charge for a grand total of 4 J1 and 3 Levain Cup games, there are a couple of small points I’d like to make about him and his new charges. Looking specifically at their league fixtures to date, a pretty tough run of games vs Kobe, Tosu, Kawasaki and Kashiwa, impressively they’ve outshot 3 of their 4 opponents so far and have also cleared 120km team distance covered in all but one outing (Kawasaki were the only team they didn’t achieve this against, while Gamba’s 118.9km versus Frontale at home is their current personal best). Conversely, Grampus are yet to enjoy the lion’s share of possession in any match, though the 48% recorded in the clash with Kashiwa just before the international break is their highest figure, so things may be starting to point in the right direction. Just as in the Gamba vs Fukuoka clash, the stats above suggest we are likely to see the Nerazzurri control possession and territory, and with my blue and black tinted sunglasses firmly secured, I hope this doesn’t once again lead to the type of counter attacking opportunities that allowed Avispa to bank their 2nd and 3rd goals and indeed provided the majority of Grampus’ chances in the head to head games between these two last season. In my previous preview I talked about Fukuoka being due a change in luck after having results that didn’t quite match their impressive stats, well check this out…in 2021 Nagoya scored 5 times in 2 games against Gamba from only 1.76xG For and 19 shots (12 on target). Put simply, almost 50% of their shots on target resulted in goals, a tally which stood at 100% for the 3-1 win at Panasonic Stadium in November, 3 shots on target, 3 goals, you can’t do much better than that, but minus their star Polish attacker is that run due to come to a shuddering halt?

Head to Head


Gamba’s 2021 nightmare can be traced back to March 3rd when, what would have been their second league match of the season versus Grampus at Toyota Stadium was postponed due to a Covid outbreak in the squad. The rescheduled fixture, played on Thursday 22 April was one to forget for the men from Suita with Nagoya running out comfortable 2-0 victors. Goals either side of half-time from Ryogo Yamasaki and the impressive Yuki Soma were enough to see off a rather toothless visiting side as the Brazilian duo of Patric and Leandro Pereira didn’t really click in attack while having Onose and Fukuda as full-backs left Gamba’s defence exposed to the twin threats of Mateus and Soma down the flanks.

The return match came in round 36 and was the Ao to Kuro’s first outing since making themselves mathematically safe from relegation in their tightly fought 3-2 triumph at Oita a fortnight previously. Co-kantokus Masanobu Matsunami and Takashi Kiyama let the handbrake off just a touch, but it was enough to allow a clinical Nagoya to race into an unassailable lead thanks to a 3 goal barrage within the opening half hour. Polish hitman Jakub Świerczok was destroyer-in-chief, bagging a deadly double from two lethal finishes, and ex-Cerezo legend Yoichiro Kakitani also getting on the scoresheet, how he must have revelled in that experience. Gamba rallied strongly after the break with Patric giving them a glimmer of hope in the 53rd minute and, hot on the heels of his hat-trick in Kyushu 13 days prior, he should have bagged a brace here, but after having the ball in the net for a second time the referee ruled it out for reasons that still remain unclear and VAR failed to overturn the original decision, so it finished 3-1 Grampus (with VAR also not being used to rescind his red-card following his ‘scuffle’ with Yuma Suzuki in round 1 could the Brazilian be considered a runner up to Shonan’s Takuya Okamoto in the J1 VAR’s most disliked player rankings?)




Gamba Osaka

* System of a Down – To quote Tim Canterbury from the Office “I’m boring myself talking about it,” but unfortunately the ever changing Gamba formation requires another mention here. Listeners to last week’s marathon J-Talk Pod will be aware that I was able to guess Hajime Moriyasu’s starting eleven for the crunch game with Australia perfectly despite only putting in minimum effort to research my answer. However, with Gamba, even seasoned observers have no real idea of what formation will be served up on any given matchday. I thought Katanosaka’s appointment would put an end to 2021’s chicanery, but it appears not. Maybe with Kwon Kyung-won and Dawhan arriving as the final pieces of the puzzle, Katanosaka will settle on 3-4-2-1 as he did at Oita, however, that remains to be seen. I challenge anyone reading this to name a successful side that regularly switch(ed) between a back 3 and back 4, in fact this observation formed the bulk of my criticism of Vissel Kobe across the 2019 and 2020 seasons, and lo-and-behold, once they started playing with a back 4 week-in week-out their defensive performance improved markedly. Perhaps Katanosaka would be well advised to sit down for a chat with his former mentor Kenta Hasegawa after Saturday’s match or even get on the blower to another of his previous bosses, Hajime Moriyasu, for some words of wisdom.

* Higuchi Heartbreak – 4 Kashima goals last Saturday, 4 Yuta Higuchi assists, if any Gamba fans were in doubt over what we missed out on then those illusions were shattered at the Kashima Soccer Stadium. In all honesty with the trajectory Antlers and Gamba are headed in, it appears that Higuchi made the right choice career wise, even if the antics of Kashima’s Kento Misao in the lead up to Patric’s early opener served as a reminder of why they make so few friends outside the confines of Ibaraki.

* Player Focus 1 Jun Ichimori – Two injury blighted years after his arrival from Fagiano Okayama, Ichimori, yet another member of the Kwansei Gakuin Old Boys brigade at Gamba, finally made his first team debut in the Levain Cup tie with Kashima, and unfortunately it was largely a debut to forget. The Nerazzurri conceded 4 goals in the space of 38 second half minutes, 3 of them from corners and Ichimori appeared to be at least partially culpable for a couple of them. After failing to cover himself in glory on his comeback, I’d expect nominal 3rd choice Kei Ishikawa to keep his place on Saturday, however, Ichimori is better with the ball at his feet, has 120 games of J2 football under his belt with Yamaguchi and Okayama (Ishikawa, who’s only 1 year younger than Ichimori had made a mere 4 league appearances above J3 level prior to this season) and in the only real head-to-head comparison I have, turning out as over-age players for the now defunct Gamba U23, Ichimori looked by far the more competent of the two, so let’s describe this situation as being fluid for now.

Player Focus 2 Dawhan – His first appearance in a blue and black uniform may have come in rather inconspicuous circumstances, playing the final 10 minutes of the 4-1 drubbing at Kashima, but Gamba supporters will be hoping that was just the opening chapter in what will ultimately be a long and fruitful partnership. With 55 games to his name in Brazil’s Serie A, most latterly with Juventude, Dawhan describes his playing style as being similar to Paulinho (the former Spurs and Barcelona one, not the Matsumoto Yamaga midfielder…I hope) and Felipe Melo and says his strengths are his defensive prowess and also his heading (despite standing at 177cm). It seems that he’s a like-for-like replacement for Ideguchi and I, for one, can’t wait to see him in the engine room with Mitsuki Saito on a regular basis.

Team News

Thankfully I don’t have a whole lot to say in this section for once. Talisman Takashi Usami (achilles) is expected to miss the rest of the season while regular first choice keeper Masaaki Higashiguchi has also gone under the knife, having relatively minor knee surgery and he’s expected back by the end of May if everything proceeds smoothly. Kwon Kyung-won may sit this one out after being away on international duty with his country and I have no information as to why Wellington Silva has been out of the matchday squad in recent weeks, it’s presumed that he’s picked up a knock of some sort.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Nagoya Grampus

Grampus have been round the houses in terms of management in recent seasons with the ultra-defensive Massimo Ficcadenti replacing the extremely attack-minded Yahiro Kazama towards the back end of 2019 as the Giallorossi flirted dangerously with a 2nd relegation in the space of 4 years. The Italian achieved excellent on-field results, 3rd and 5th in 2020 and 2021 respectively, however, his style of play was certainly not easy on the eye, though quite how entitled J.League fans are to demand exciting and successful football at the same time is a debate for another day. Kenta Hasegawa is something of a halfway house in that he gets results from a slightly more offensive setup than Ficcadenti, but don’t expect Nagoya to earn many plaudits for playing in an overly beautiful or dynamic way under his tutelage. Early on this season we’ve seen signs of greater openness at the back with Shinnosuke Nakatani and Mitch Langerak being stretched to their absolute limits in the Reysol match. In attack, the absence of Świerczok appears to have led to an over-reliance on wingers Soma and, in particular, Mateus and this has been exacerbated by the bedding in issues experienced by both Keiya Sento and Noriyoshi Sakai since their winter arrivals from Tosu. Hasegawa will not be the only Gamba treble winner in the Grampus ranks on Saturday with Hiroyuki Abe (ex-Kwansei Gakuin just like Ichimori, Takao, Yamamoto and Yamami) surely licking his lips at the prospect of following in the footsteps of Shun Nagasawa, Kotaro Omori and Tatsuya Tanaka in scoring against his former side this season. Indeed, I think Akihiro Ienaga is the only Old Boy who’s failed to hit the target against the Nerazzurri in 2022, though, in his defence he had a very positive influence in the attacking third during his brief second-half cameo in the recent Gamba vs Kawasaki match.

One thing that has interested me about Grampus over the past few years is the composition of their squad. Nagoya is the 4th biggest city in Japan and Aichi the country’s 4th largest prefecture, yet despite having a large pool of potential recruits slap-bang on their doorstep there is a distinct absence of youth graduates in the first team with full-back Shumpei Naruse and central defender Haruya Fujii the only ex-Nagoya U-18 players to earn league minutes in 2021 (Ryotaro Ishida was an unused sub). They also don’t tend to deal much with universities, Yuki Soma was the only player directly recruited from varsity football (Waseda University) to feature in J1 last term (Shunto Kodama was an unused replacement) and that is a trend that has continued into 2022 under Hasegawa. Rookie Hidemasa Koda has made a handful of sub appearances on the wing, Fujii has rotated with Tiago in Yuichi Maruyama’s extended leave of absence and Naruse appears to have dropped down the pecking order, but aside from that, there’s not a whole lot to report. For reference the 2022 Nagoya Grampus squad is made up of 30 players, 16 of whom were recruited from other J1 clubs, 4 from J2, 2 from overseas sides, 1 (Soma) from university and 7 from the youth team (of whom 3, Koda, Haruki Yoshida and Koki Toyoda were promoted last winter). Bringing in already developed J1 talents isn’t cheap and I’m curious about Grampus’ current financial situation. In the wake of Jô’s acrimonious departure there was essentially an 18 month gap before he was adequately replaced (by Świerczok who himself is now banned), suggesting that the club may have been awaiting the CAS’s decision on that matter before parting with more cash, and as Świerczok is now out of the picture indefinitely, will Hasegawa have to make do with what he has? Nagoya did announce the loan signing of versatile midfielder Takuya Uchida from Hasegawa’s previous charges FC Tokyo on Monday and he joined up with his new team-mates for training on Tuesday (29 March). It’s not an eye-catching acquisition by any stretch of the imagination, however, the Giallorossi still retain the backbone of the strong 2020 and 2021 sides and will deservedly start Saturday’s tie as favourites.

Team News

Covid seems to be the biggest concern for Grampus at the moment with 2 positive cases reported in the camp (1 on Monday 28/3, and 1 on Tuesday 29/3). Elsewhere Polish centre-forward Jakub Świerczok is still missing after being suspended due to a PED violation. In more positive news, long term casualty Yuichi Maruyama made his comeback in an Elite League game last Sunday while regular left-back Yutaka Yoshida was out of the squad completely for the 1-1 draw with Kashiwa then rode the pine for the Levain Cup win over Tokushima so is presumably good to go for Saturday. I hope Shinnosuke Nakatani did a good job organising the cones on the Samurai Blue training pitch as he certainly didn’t get anywhere near the starting eleven meaning he should slot back into his regular position here while Hidemasa Koda and Shumpei Naruse both featured in Japan U21’s impressive Dubai Cup campaign, but like Nakatani I’d imagine they will be ready to play against Gamba if called upon by Hasegawa.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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

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Gamba Osaka vs Avispa Fukuoka 19 March 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Avispa Fukuoka
2022 J1 Season Round 5
Saturday 19 March 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


It seems like the new season kicked off just yesterday, but here we are already at round 5 with a pivotal clash for both Gamba Osaka and Avispa Fukuoka. A first three-pointer on home turf this term for the Nerazzurri would put the Katanosaka revolution firmly on the right track whereas a win for the visitors would lift them out of the drop zone in the embryonic standings, above Gamba and into the mid-table mix.

Gamba, like Avispa in the opening round, were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw by a stuffy Júbilo Iwata side, at Yamaha Stadium last Saturday. The return to the match day squad, and indeed the scoresheet, of Leandro Pereira, another rottweiler-esque performance in the middle of the park from Mitsuki Saito and the link up play between Takao, Ishige and Onose down Gamba’s right flank were the main bright sparks for the Ao to Kuro. However, further evidence of the long-standing vulnerability to counter attacks, even against opponents as devoid of genuine pace as Iwata, is definitely something that will concern Tomohiro Katanosaka, as will a mounting list of injury casualties.

Conceding last gasp equalisers, squandering golden opportunities and missing penalties have hindered Avispa’s start to 2022, but it’s worth noting that they currently sit just 1 point shy of their total after 4 games last season, so Shigetoshi Hasebe and his troops certainly won’t be reaching for the panic button just yet, and with decent showings so far this campaign, albeit ones that haven’t yet translated into positive outcomes, they should be reasonably confident of leaving Panasonic Stadium with something this Saturday. A tight, nervy affair without too many goals likely lies in store for us, but it’s sure to be an intriguing battle nonetheless.

Tale of the Tape

Although the first game since the devastating Usami injury news was always going to be a tough one, I still found myself a touch disappointed as Júbilo appear to be one of the weaker sides in the division this year and that 4-1 rout of 10-man Kyoto is a bit of red herring methinks. Despite such negative talk, Yamaha Stadium was, in fact, the scene of Gamba’s maiden xG win this season and also the first occasion in 2022 for both an xG For total above 1 and an xG Against figure below 1. Iwata’s 0.49xG For was last bettered in the opening matchday of 2021 away at Kobe (0.4), while their 8 shots equalled the second lowest figure the Nerazzurri recorded last year, in both home and away fixtures with Kobe and the home loss against Nagoya (incidentally the 24 shots across those 3 games resulted in 6 goals being scored, contrast that with the 48 shots accrued by Urawa and Marinos in their home contests with the Nerazzurri which ended up producing just a solitary goal from the penalty spot). As we know with stats, they can at times be misleading, especially small data sets, and the number of times Kenyu Sugumoto (Iwata) and, in particular, Patric had chances on Saturday, but were subsequently pulled back for offside illustrates how tight the margins can be and though a brief look at the data from the game shows a relatively low number of shots, in truth there was actually a fair amount of goalmouth action, just not the kind that jumps out of an at-a-glance stats box. Finally, the Nerazzurri racked up 505 successful passes and also over 50% possession for the first time in 2022, though it is perhaps a tad unfair to compare newly promoted Júbilo with the behemoths of Kashima, Urawa and Kawasaki. The only reason I mention these two numbers is that they are likely to be around the same level in this week’s bout with Fukuoka who I’m going to talk about in the very next paragraph.

Avispa out-performed even their own supporters’ expectations in 2021 with their mean defence ceding only a small number of generally low quality opportunities to the opposition each game and indeed their xG Against figure ended up standing at a meagre 1.05 xG per 90 minutes which saw them rank 4th in J1 for that particular metric. On the flip side of the coin, as freshly promoted sides often tend to find, goals are not particularly easy to come by at a higher level, but the 42 strikes they recorded in 38 games (the lowest in the top 12), in tandem with their rock solid backline, was enough to propel them up to 8th in the final table. With xG For and Against figures finishing exactly the same to two decimal places it’s clear that for 2021’s high levels of attainment to be maintained then their strikers will have to be as clinical as they were last time round. We’re only 4 matches into the 2022 campaign, but that has been far from the case to date with just a solitary goal scored from an xG For of 7.16. Defensively, things have been as tight as ever with only 2 goals given up from an xG Against of 2.82, but the stark contrast in these figures make it abundantly clear where the issues lie. It is still very, very early in the season and if the Wasps continue to generate close to 2 xG For per game then it’s only a matter of time before they start charging back up the table. Will things click this Saturday? Quite possibly. Avispa ranked last for passes completed and distance covered per game as well as being 3rd bottom of the possession % rankings in 2021 which highlights their direct style of play. They like to move the ball from back to front quickly, often using their talented array of wingers and full-backs to good effect in order to supply the ammunition for their strikers. Emil Salomonsson (6 assists in 2021) may be gone, but they still have wide defenders Masato Yuzawa, Yota Maejima and Takaaki Shichi plus Jordy Croux, Tatsuya Tanaka, Takeshi Kanamori and Taro Sugimoto as competent wing options further forward. Once Lukian gets up and running, and I think it’s a case of when, not if, that happens, then the Hachi should be much more like their old selves.

Head to Head

There haven’t been many matches or goals between these two in recent years so I’ll be mercifully brief in here. The first meeting last season was a drab 0-0 played out at Panasonic Stadium and was the Nerazzurri’s 3rd league outing of 2021, and just their 2nd since returning from their Covid-enforced shutdown. Leandro Pereira and Tiago Alves both fluffed their lines when clean through on goal, stuttering and stumbling before ultimately not managing to get a shot away as the home side failed to hit the back of the net for the 3rd consecutive game. For Avispa, centre back Carlos Gutiérrez, now of Tochigi in J2, peppered Masaaki Higashiguchi’s goal with a series of long range efforts, but their much rotated lineup rarely threatened apart from that. The return fixture in July marked the first match of Gamba’s epic summer slog and ended in a vital 1-0 victory. After Fukuoka had a goal contentiously ruled out by VAR, Patric nodded home the winner from a deflected cross with 5 minutes remaining to inspire the now legendary “Yappari Patric” exclamation from the commentator.



Gamba Osaka

* Genta Miura strolling forward from centre-back to deliver a pinpoint cross for Leandro Pereira’s late equaliser on Saturday was Katano-soccer at it’s finest. I watched the first-half live and then the second on-demand so I was already aware that Miura had assisted Pereira, but had simply assumed that it must have come as a result of some sort of melee following a corner or free-kick, instead I found myself pleasantly surprised by the precision and quality of Miura’s delivery.

* It’s also been nice to see that Katanosaka can be flexible and does have a plan B up his sleeve. While there were plenty of pretty passing moves in the first half and opening 20 minutes of the second period, the former Oita kantoku opted to go more direct when it became clear things were turning stale. Enter Leandro Pereira, who, it seems, turns into a completely different animal once he scores. From a Gamba perspective, hopefully he can stay fit, enjoy an extended run in the side and start firing them in regularly to help ease the burden caused by Usami’s prolonged absence.

* I’ve long lamented the fact that it’s far easier for me to predict opponents’ starting lineups than Gamba’s and had naively assumed that Katanosaka’s arrival would remedy that. Not so fast, with Covid, injuries and late arrivals from overseas all playing havoc with Katanosaka’s game-plan. I believe 3-4-2-1 will be the go to once Kwon gets up to speed, probably after the World Cup qualifiers at the end of the month, but until then 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 will remain possibilities.

* After the forgettable ending to the match with Frontale, Kei Ishikawa would have been delighted to find himself largely a spectator for huge chunks of the Júbilo tussle. Indeed, perhaps his most challenging moment came when Kotaro Omori did some Yu Kobayashi inspired lurking behind him in the first half, thankfully Ishikawa had his wits about him on this occasion.

* Player Focus 1 Mitsuki Saito – The pocket pit-bull had another impressive display in the heart of Gamba’s midfield on Saturday, harrying and hounding his opponents into submission. Tantalisingly for the Ao to Kuro faithful, following his uneventful 45 minute cameo against Oita in the Levain Cup he’s now clocked 56 and 71 minutes versus Kawasaki and Iwata respectively as he works his way back to full fitness. He is on record stating that his goal is to help Gamba achieve their targets this season before heading back to Europe. As a decent English speaker and one of the more impressive central midfielders in the league in the early stages of this campaign it may unfortunately be a case of enjoy him while you can for the Curva Nord faithful.

* Player Focus 2 Kosuke Onose – It’s been great to witness his renaissance in the opening rounds of 2022 where he’s been spotted at right-back, wing-back and shadow forward and has already helped himself to 2 goals (as many as he managed in the previous 2 campaigns combined). As noted above, he was a real thorn in Júbilo’s side last weekend giving Riku Morioka and Masaya Matsumoto a torrid time and for Gamba it’s a matter of upmost importance that he retains his current performance levels. He can be a big player for the blue and blacks as they look to fill the giant Usami shaped hole in attack.

Quick Comment 1 – Deep into the second half Shota Fukuoka booted the ball straight off team-mate Kohei Okuno twice, ultimately leading to a Júbilo corner. Please leave those ricochet related shenanigans in Tokushima will ya Shota.

Quick Comment 2 – And finally, the Ayr United inspired white shirts / black shorts / black socks combination worn against Iwata was definitely a winner for me, let’s see more of that going forward.

Team News

There’s been plenty of concrete information available this week which makes a welcome change from the usual wild goose chase. The club announced on Tuesday (15 March) that Masaaki Higashiguchi had undergone surgery to fix a problem with the medial meniscus in his right knee. According to my brief Google research that should rule him out for somewhere in the region of 3-6 months. In his absence I’d expect Kei Ishikawa to hold onto the gloves unless his form drops and Jun Ichimori returns to full fitness. It’s also likely that a new backup to the backup will be brought in, probably from J2, I’m looking at you Eisuke Fujishima (Yamagata) and Yuma Obata (Sendai). Gen Shoji stated in his Reibola column that he missed the Júbilo game due to heavy bruising picked up in training, he didn’t say when exactly he’ll be back, but he was spotted training on Tuesday. Dawhan and Kwon ‘Diego’ Kyung-won joined top-team training on Tuesday thus theoretically could feature here. Kwon will leave to join up with the South Korean national side after this fixture so may be involved, while Dawhan might be saved for the Levain Cup tie with Kashima the following week as there are plenty of other volante options available. Shota Fukuoka’s Instagram story showed Hiroki Fujiharu working out in the gym and looking pretty spritely too. He was later sighted along with Gen Shoji in Kwon Kyung-won’s player introduction video shot on the training ground, I’m unsure when exactly he’ll make his return to the field of play, but it’s a step in the right direction anyway. Finally, Takashi Usami is up and about on crutches after having an operation to repair his ruptured achilles tendon on 7 March, he’s not expected to play again this season and it’s currently unclear whether the reason for Wellington Silva’s absence recently has been injury or non-selection.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Avispa Fukuoka


Last season was the first time Avispa had survived a J1 campaign since 2000 and they absolutely coasted home in 8th leaving more illustrious rivals such as Gamba, Cerezo, FC Tokyo, Hiroshima and Kashiwa trailing in their wake. Shigetoshi Hasebe turned down the Kobe job before the campaign got underway and with a team expertly marshalled by his on-field eyes and ears Hiroyuki Mae and inspired by the flair of popular Swede Emil Salomonsson down the right wing they blew many a #JPred out of the water. It might be tough to expect them to be quite as strong this time round, but I’d be confident in predicting that they’ll move away from the relegation zone sharpish and once more find themselves comfortably ensconced in mid-table. Hasebe generally favours a 4-4-2 though he has been known to dabble with a 3-4-2-1 (including in the 0-0 at home to Sapporo in round 3), but owing to some injury concerns at the back I feel it’s likely he’ll stick with his tried-and-trusted system here.

On the player front, Yuta Kumamoto was a somewhat unheralded arrival from Montedio Yamagata last winter, however, for me he was one of the better centre-backs in J2 prior to Peter Cklamovski’s arrival at the club and his subsequent banishment to the bench. Sure playing it out from the back might not really be his thing, but that shouldn’t really be an issue with Avispa. It’s rumoured that he turned Gamba down prior to the 2020 season with the Nerazzurri bringing in Ryo Shinzato instead, though given how little the current Omiya stopper played in Suita, Kumamoto was probably justified in biding his time waiting for a more suitable J1 club. Another ‘new’ face last off-season was local boy Tatsuya Tanaka who, of course, was a Gamba player for the first half of 2019. The pacy winger scored for Urawa in their 3-0 rout at Panasonic Stadium last term and will be looking to follow in the footsteps of Kotaro Omori and Shun Nagasawa in recent matches by adding to the already worryingly extensive list of players to find the back of the net against their former employers this year. Another achilles heel for the Nerazzurri in the past has been tall foreign strikers so Lukian should be aiming to banish the painful memories of his previous trip to Panasonic Stadium in 2019, when he was sent off for two bookable offences inside the opening 15 minutes, by netting his first goal for his new club.

Team News

Fukuoka’s fitness issues all lie at the back with star central defender Douglas Grolli missing out on the 1-0 loss at Kashiwa for an, as of yet, unspecified problem, while his regular partner-in-crime (and serial rejecter of Gamba offers) Tatsuki Nara hasn’t been sighted all year. Right-back Yota Maejima was subbed off just 12 minutes into the 0-0 draw away to Kobe on February 12th, how my suggested winter signing of Takeru Kishimoto would have helped to fill that gap, instead he’s wasting away on the bench at Shimizu, but that’s another story for another day.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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

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Júbilo Iwata vs Gamba Osaka 12 March 2022 Match Preview

Júbilo Iwata vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 4
Saturday 12 March 2022
Yamaha Stadium
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


Round 4 of the 2022 J1 season sees a day many Gamba supporters hoped they’d never have to endure come to pass, Yasuhito Endo playing against the side he represented from 2001-2020. At the ripe old age of 42, Endo, who won everything there is to win in the Japanese game during his time in Suita, will no doubt dominate the build up to this clash, but when we get down to business on Saturday afternoon an intriguing battle awaits us. Both hosts Júbilo, and visitors Gamba sit level on 4 points from their opening 3 fixtures so should be relatively content with their respective starts and will be looking to move up through the gears here.

Gut-wrenching is how I’d describe the Nerazzurri’s 2-2 draw with Kawasaki last Sunday. I’d have bitten your hand off for a draw pre kick-off, but with the ball being dropped literally, and figuratively, only in the dying seconds of the game it was certainly a bitter pill to swallow for all those of a blue and black persuasion. I met up with Frontale Rabbit before and after the match and we both agreed that a share of the spoils was probably a reasonable outcome, which in fairness is a massive upgrade on what’s happened in most of the encounters between those two across the past couple of years.

Júbilo bounced back from a painful derby defeat at the hands of Shimizu in round 2 by rolling over fellow newly-promoted side Kyoto Sanga 4-1 away on Saturday. While the previous weekend they’d been on the receiving end of 2 red cards, on this occasion they were the beneficiaries of an opposing player getting his marching orders, home goalkeeper Naoto Kamifukumoto who was controversially dismissed following a lengthy VAR review just before half time.

Confidence should be high in both camps and with this being the first J1 match Júbilo have played at Yamaha Stadium since their relegation in 2019 there is likely to be quite a raucous atmosphere, well as buoyant as Covid restrictions will allow for.

Tale of the Tape

Once again I’ll preface this section by stating that with so few games played it’s difficult to jump to any meaningful conclusions so my purpose here is just to pick out a couple of (hopefully) interesting talking points for both sides and run with those.

Early doors in 2022 and Gamba seem to be getting some breaks in the attacking third that simply didn’t go their way last season, see Yuya Fukuda and Kosuke Onose’s deflected efforts from outside the box finding the back of the net in consecutive weeks for proof of that. New kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka is still searching for his best XI and formation and as such we’ve seen 3-4-2-1, 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 (with Yuki Yamamoto a surprising selection on the left wing which even caught the Panasonic Stadium big screen graphics team by surprise) utilised in the last 3 matches alone. Keeping that in mind and also the considering the incredibly tough nature of the initial trio of fixtures it’s hard to get much of a read on Gamba’s stats, but I’ll give it a go. After last season’s shot shy start with only 3 goals scored in the first 12 league outings, Nerazzurri supporters will be delighted that the opposition’s net has bulged in each of the opening 5 games of 2022 (3 J1, 2 Levain Cup). Now to look exclusively at J1, 4 goals from just 1.95xG For suggests that while the goals scored column may be looking pretty at the moment, more chance creation will be required to succeed in the long run. At the other end, 5 goals conceded from 5.56xG Against is far more on par though those tallies do include the second half of the Kashima game where the Ao to Kuro wrongly found themselves playing 10v11. Number of completed passes and possession % are currently way down on last year, but it’s far too early to jump to conclusions on those metrics as all 3 opponents Gamba have faced will likely be in the top 6 this term and, as alluded to above, the 52 minutes the blue and blacks battled for a man short versus Kashima represents almost 20% of their total playing time this season so is liable to skew any reading of the stats.

Júbilo were promoted to J1 as a result of being crowned second division champions in 2021. They achieved that under the tutelage of, the now retired, Masakazu Suzuki thanks to an excellent attack which occasionally bailed out a slightly shaky rearguard. Iwata were top scorers in J2 last time round with their final total of 75 goals for being 6 more than the second ranked team in that category Nagasaki (69), they also led the league for most shots and crosses too. Star forward Lukian (now at Fukuoka) was the main attacking weapon, but behind him plenty of others made solid contributions, and it should be noted that they netted over 50 times even if you discount the Brazilian’s tally of 22 (enough to earn him the golden boot). Shadow forward Hiroki Yamada (11) was the only other Júbilo player to make it into double figures, but Yuto Suzuki (8 – and 3 already this campaign), Yuki Otsu (6) and Kosuke Yamamoto (5) provided able support. Assists also came from a plethora of sources, Lukian (8) topped that metric too, but Masaya Matsumoto and Kotaro Omori (both 7), Kosuke Yamamoto and Yuto Suzuki (both 6) and veteran playmaker Endo (5) all did the business. At the back, first choice ‘keeper Ryuki Miura wasn’t overly exerted with Iwata recording the 3rd lowest number of saves (73 vs a divisional average of 99), but their save % only ranked 16th perhaps suggesting a vulnerability to counter attacks in addition to giving up high-quality chances.

Since returning to the top flight Júbilo have done battle with Fukuoka (a), Shimizu (h – played at the larger Ecopa Stadium) and Kyoto (a), not an easy set of fixtures by any stretch of the imagination, but would you rather start against those teams or Kashima, Urawa and Kawasaki? After accumulating an xG For total of 1.06 from their opening 2 matches they obliterated that with 3.12 against Kyoto, though as mentioned previously, Sanga were reduced to ten men with over 45 minutes still to play. Defence again appears to be the area of greatest concern with at least 1 xG Against ceded in each game so far (1.16 vs Kyoto is their best performance), and double digit shot totals being recorded by all opponents to date (both S-Pulse and Sanga had 10 on target while Iwata could only equal that from their first 2 games combined before achieving a whopping 15 vs Kyoto). Perhaps slightly surprisingly for a freshly promoted outfit, Júbilo have enjoyed over 50% possession in all 3 matches thus far, admittedly against opponents not known for dominating that facet of play (455 completed passes vs Shimizu is their lowest number while 260 is Gamba’s highest). As pointed out above, this will be the first league game of 2022 at Yamaha Stadium and Júbilo should see plenty of the ball, but the big question is, can they create enough goal-scoring opportunities while at the same time avoiding being caught out on the break by Gamba?

Head to Head

Gamba and Júbilo last encountered one another on league business in the Nerazzurri’s 2019 Summer Expo game. A stadium record crowd of 37,334 bore witness to yet more 95th minute heartbreak for Gamba. The aforementioned Lukian was ordered off as a result of 2 yellow cards inside the opening quarter, the second of which was for ill-advisedly booting the ball away in frustration and it ending up in among the Ultras in the Curva Nord behind the home goal. Kosuke Onose sent Gamba into the sheds one up as his cross evaded everyone including Iwata keeper Krzystof Kamiński and nestled in the bottom corner on the stroke of half time. The Nerazzurri, sporting their snazzy Noritake Kinashi designed uniforms, had multiple chances to kill the game off in the second period, but took none of them. Patric’s header wide from Ryu Takao’s cross in injury time proved costly as moments later Takao bundled a Júbilo attacker over in the box and up stepped Masato Nakayama to earn the visitors a share of the spoils from the penalty spot. This was the 4th in what was to be a run of 5 consecutive draws for the Nerazzurri and the second time in the space of 8 days that they’d conceded an injury time equaliser at home. Current Gamba forward Leandro Pereira (then of Hiroshima) had cancelled out Shu Kurata’s 89th minute strike the previous Saturday and the Nerazzurri were knocked out of the Emperor’s Cup by Hosei University in the midweek between those 2 fixtures so I guess we could dub that Gamba’s “summer of discontent.” The last time the two sides met in Shizuoka was on 15 June 2019, a dull 0-0 which saw the men from Suita drop to a season low 17th place though 3 wins in their following 4 outings soon steadied the ship.



Gamba Osaka

Takashi Usami’s injury enforced departure midway through the second half, as well as the now infamous last second defensive calamity cast a pall over proceedings at Panasonic Stadium in the wake of the draw with Frontale, but they couldn’t fully detract away from what had been a largely positive performance. Teams are built in the shape of their coach and Katanosaka Gamba are no different with his fire and brimstone on the touchline transmitting its way onto the field in the shape of Mitsuki Saito’s courageous showing in midfield, Shu Kurata rallying the troops in an impromptu huddle after Kosuke Onose had restored Gamba’s lead, and the general willingness to go toe-to-toe with Frontale when circumstances permitted. This might be the Gamba section, but I also wanted to give a quick shout out to Leandro Damião for his beautiful display of sportsmanship in the wake of his 95th minute equaliser, his actions were in stark contrast to those of another visiting forward who (dis)graced the Panasonic Stadium turf a fortnight prior.

* The Usami replacement conundrum – The long-term loss of Gamba’s talisman will have Katanosaka frantically playing about with his tactics board searching for a workable back-up plan. He was almost exclusively a 3-4-2-1 devotee during his time with Oita, but as I said in the ‘tale of the tape’ section we’ve seen 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 in the last 2 games. As you’ll see in my predicted lineup below, I expect Hiroto Yamami to be the next cab off the rank, however, as he’s in his rookie season following his graduation from Kwansei Gakuin University it might be a tad premature to load him with the burden of creator-in-chief quite so soon. Hideki Ishige, Jiro Nakamura and Wellington Silva will all be required to help lighten the load if the Nerazzurri are to continue the solid progress they’ve made in the early part of this campaign. Another intriguing prospect is the upcoming arrival of Dawhan (apparently in the air as this article goes to press) who could potentially form an explosive volante partnership with Mitsuki Saito which would allow Shu Kurata and Yuki Yamamoto to compete for the shadow forward and number ten roles respectively, I guess as with everything we’ll get our answers soon enough.

* The Brazilian forward quandary – Leandro Pereira is reportedly Gamba’s biggest earner, but when he’s not been out injured or working his way back to full fitness then he’s generally been sulking around the field and has contributed a meagre 7 goals in 37 outings in all competitions since his move from Matsumoto Yamaga at the start of 2021. Personally I’d trade him for Kashima’s Everaldo in a heartbeat, but I reckon there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of that move coming to fruition. Fellow Brazilian Wellington Silva has also had his share of fitness issues since arriving in Japan just under a year ago, but when on the pitch he’s displayed a real passion and desire that has endeared him to the Nerazzurri support to a far greater extent than Pereira, even with his shenanigans away to Marinos taken into account. There are currently 7 overseas players contracted to Gamba (Patric, Pereira, Silva, Dawhan, Ju Se-jong, Kwon Kyung-won and Shin Won-ho), is it possible that Pereira is headed for the exit before the winter transfer window closes at the end of the month? Also, how big a role will Silva have to play during Usami’s leave of absence?

* Speaking of which, should Katanosaka look to bring in a replacement for Usami, he’s likely to have his hands tied by 1, the limitations on foreigners I laid out above and 2, anyone who’s anyone will already be under contract elsewhere. I guess it’s possible that a Japanese player currently overseas might join in the summer, say Ryotaro Meshino, but for me Yamato Machida of Oita appears to be the most realistic acquisition at this point, even if it’s just on a loan deal with Yota Sato and Jiro Nakamura moving in the opposite direction. The baby faced assassin netted 8 times in 32 J1 games for Katanosaka’s Oita last term, he knows the boss, and the system he wants to play, so theoretically could hit the ground running in Suita. To throw out a few J2 names who are under contract, but may fit the bill of the type of player Gamba are seeking, Masaki Watai (Tokushima), Motoki Hasegawa (Kofu), Taiki Hirato (Machida), Ryoga Sato (Verdy) and someone who would make significant waves…Shion Homma (Niigata)???

Team News

As my followers on Twitter will already be aware, every Gamba fan’s worst fears were realised on Tuesday morning with the announcement that Takashi Usami had undergone surgery on a ruptured achilles tendon and will likely miss the remainder of the 2022 campaign. The Nerazzurri’s joint vice-captain and the only outfielder to feature in all 38 league fixtures last season will be sorely missed, but as Queen once sang, ‘the show must go on.’ Ryu Takao left the field of play 12 minutes early against Kawasaki on Sunday, but I believe that was just due to cramp. There’s still no word on either Masaaki Higashiguchi or Hiroki Fujiharu so at the moment I’d have to say it’s probable that both will be absent again here. Other than that, it appears that Dawhan is on his way to Japan, we’re just awaiting official confirmation and Kwon Kyung-won may join up with the squad after the World Cup qualifiers at the end of the month. It remains unclear what stage of their recovery processes Leandro Pereira and Wellington Silva are at and how much of a future they have in Suita under Katanosaka.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Júbilo Iwata


One of Japan’s most famous clubs, Júbilo Iwata first played in J1 back in 1994 and in the years since have gone on to lift 3 top flight titles, 2 league cups, 1 Emperor’s Cup and an Asian Club Championship, though their last piece of silverware (excluding J2) was the 2010 League Cup when they dispatched Hiroshima 5-3 in an epic final. The past decade or so has been tough on their loyal supporters with relegations suffered in both 2013 and 2019. As one might expect from a club based in the birthplace of Japanese football, Shizuoka Prefecture, Iwata have a decent youth academy which has produced current top team talents such as Daiki Ogawa, Rikiya Uehara, Kosuke Yamamoto and Riku Morioka. However, on the flip side of the coin, the core of the squad from that 2019 relegation season, and indeed the 2018 campaign where they stayed afloat only due to defeating Tokyo Verdy 2-0 in playoff, is still intact, supplemented by players who were contracted to big clubs in the past, but for one reason or another found themselves out of the picture with their previous employers. Yasuhito Endo, Yuto Suzuki and Kotaro Omori all have Gamba connections, while centre-backs Norimichi Yamamoto and Makito Ito plus attacker Yuki Otsu moved west from Yokohama F. Marinos. One player I’d like to focus on is the much maligned (often by me) Kenyu Sugimoto, a powerful forward with 8 international caps and 53 J1 goals who is currently on loan from Urawa after a hugely disappointing 3 ½ year stint in Saitama where he found the back of the net just 6 times in 70 league outings. Indeed, the 187cm tall striker has scored only 14 goals in 5 seasons since his annus mirabilis of 2017 when his 22 strikes propelled Cerezo to 3rd in the final standings. Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself quietly impressed with his display away to Kyoto last week as he really bullied Sanga’s centre-backs (granted I think they’ve got the wrong players in there – Mendes, in particular, had a bit of a nightmare). He hasn’t scored yet this year, but his ability to hold the ball up and bring others into the game makes him a vital cog in new kantoku Akira Ito’s set up. They’ve had a rather gentle cushioned landing upon their return to the top flight, however, in the next couple of months more challenging fixtures against the likes of Urawa, Kawasaki, Nagoya and Kashima lie in wait, should Sugimoto start adding goals to his all round decent performances then that will be a massive fillip for Júbilo.

Team News

Centre-back Norimichi Yamamoto and Colombian forward Fabián González are both available again after serving one match bans in the game against Kyoto following red-cards in the Shizuoka derby the previous week. Brazilians Ricardo Graça and Dudu are in their home country awaiting clearance to enter Japan as the country’s immigration service works through a huge backlog of visa applications. Apart from that, wing-back Ryo Takano (knee – expected to return in June) is the only other confirmed absentee.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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

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Gamba Osaka vs Kawasaki Frontale 6 March 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Kawasaki Frontale
2022 J1 Season Round 3
Sunday 6 March 2022
Panasonic Stadium
Kick Off: 15:00 (JST)


Gamba’s first Sunday fixture of the year pits them against a Kawasaki side, who just like them, are fresh from a hard fought victory over Urawa. The Nerazzurri notched the first win of the Katanosaka era in the club’s 1000th league match thanks to Yuya Fukuda’s late deflected strike shortly after Reds’ midfielder Ken Iwao’s ordering off for a second bookable offence. Frontale, facing the Saitama giants at home, did as great champions so often do, turned a half-time deficit into 3 points while being outshone for long periods. Ominously for the rest of the league, after an extremely brief early season wobble, Wednesday’s triumph saw them regain top spot and they now sit clear of fellow ACL qualifiers Marinos, Kobe and Urawa by two, seven and eight points respectively as they seek to become only the second J1 champions, after Kashima 2007-2009, to three-peat. The league standings also make pleasant reading for Gamba supporters at the moment with the Ao to Kuro back in the rarefied air of the top half for the first time since the conclusion of the 2020 season when, of course, they finished as runners up to this weekend’s opponents.

I managed to snap up a ticket for this one and am looking forward to what should be a decent game played out in the right spirit, as these clashes generally tend to be (fingers crossed for no more red cards).

Tale of the Tape

There might be a slight feeling of vindication washing over the Gamba support at the moment with the tough schedule endured by the 4 ACL participants at the beginning of this season illustrating just how difficult it is to play 3 matches a week while trying to rotate a squad depleted by injuries, Covid cases and suspensions. Those of a blue and black persuasion certainly know all about the challenges involved with that from our torrid 2021 campaign. Speaking of last year, the Nerazzurri’s visit to Saitama Stadium on Saturday played out in quite a similar fashion to their previous trip. The home side were dominant for the opening half hour with Takahiro Sekine causing all manner of problems for the Gamba defence, they should have been at least a goal to the good, but weren’t and then the ideas all but dried up. Reds racked up 9 shots with an xG total of almost 1.2 in the first 30 minutes, but a mere 4 (2 of which were free kicks) after that which amassed only 0.24xG. By way of comparison, following Urawa’s opening onslaught, the Nerazzurri outshot them by a ratio of 2:1 and generated an xG figure almost 4 times higher (0.91 vs 0.24). Further encouragement for new Gamba kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka comes with the knowledge that in last year’s 1-1 draw, Reds had 24 attempts on Masaaki Higashiguchi’s goal, but only mustered 13 on Saturday, meaning that 3rd choice ‘keeper Kei Ishikawa, who put in another solid showing, found himself protected to a far greater extent than his more illustrious team-mate did 5 months prior. Katanosaka’s strategy seemed straight from his playbook of how to take on Frontale and Reds in last season’s Emperor’s Cup and Gamba themselves have adopted an almost identical set of tactics in their wins at Marinos in 2020 and 2021, so while not in the least bit pretty, it’s something that has proven to be effective. Next point on the Katanosaka agenda…home form.

Time for a slight meander off topic, I’d argue that with Sakai, Shibato, Moberg Karlsson, Matsuo, Akimoto and Junker (Reds) as well as Higashiguchi, Kwon, Fujiharu, Yamamoto, Saito, Dawhan, Patric and Wellington Silva (Gamba) all missing from their respective side’s starting elevens for one reason or another, Saturday’s contest almost had the feel of a Levain Cup tie which leads mean to the main crux of my argument. This might seem like an obvious point, but it deserves repeating, if you’re selling tickets for an event, it’s vital that the people buying those tickets have faith that the event will take place at the time and date advertised and also in relatively the same format as expected. I say this with my Gamba supporters hat on, but I feel it applies to all J1 clubs, in the wake of what’s gone on all around us in 2020 and 2021, why would you buy a season ticket for 2022 when you’re well within your rights to have doubts that the fixtures will go ahead as scheduled, or if they do that your side will be understrength for a good chunk of them? In fairness, I believe the J. League have handled the Covid pandemic as well as could reasonably be expected, but getting over the final hurdles back to normality may prove to be their stiffest challenge to date. I’m watching on with interest.

Now to have a brief look at Sunday’s opponents, Kawasaki Frontale. It’s still early days so I’m not going to take a particularly deep dive into the stats from their 4 games to date, but there are a couple of quick points I’d like to make. With a remarkable figure of just 28 goals conceded in 38 league matches in 2021, it’s no surprise that Frontale had J1’s meanest defence last season, letting in 2 less than nearest challengers Nagoya who had clean-sheet record breaker Mitch Langerak between the sticks for them. This term there have been signs of vulnerability that weren’t quite so evident across the past 2 years, possibly brought on by a spate of injuries at the back, or perhaps by other factors that may become clearer as time progresses. The key to not conceding many goals is not giving up many shots on your goal and in 2021 Kawasaki placed 2nd, behind Kashima, for shots against and shots against on target (those numbers stood at 9.4 and 5.6 per 90 minutes respectively). Their opening games this season have been tough, there’s no two ways about that, but they have exceeded the average for both of those metrics in 3 of their 4 league fixtures so far. Also, interestingly for a team who ranked 3rd in J1 for possession in 2021 (averaging 55.1% of the ball per game), they kicked off 2022 recording less than 50% possession in each of their opening 3 encounters vs FC Tokyo, Yokohama F. Marinos and Kashima, though I should balance that out by saying the Gasmen and Marinos will probably be near the top of the possession league table come the end of the year and Frontale were 2-0 up away to Antlers after only 17 minutes so had little need to press on after that, still it’s a stat to keep an eye on moving forward (I wrote this section prior to their Wednesday match with Urawa where they had 51% of the ball against a side who generally dominate their opponents in that respect, so perhaps the opening 3 games were just something of a blip).

Head to Head


This fixture has certainly not made pretty viewing for those of a Gamba persuasion during the Covid era with Frontale winning all 4 league games across 2020 and 2021 (the only team to achieve this) by a combined score of 12-1. Throw the 2020 Emperor’s Cup and 2021 Super Cup defeats into the equation and any Nerazzurri supporters not in the stadium on Sunday would be forgiven for watching this match from behind their sofas. Incidentally, prior to 2020 Kawasaki had never swept Gamba in any of the previous 14 occasions that the two clubs had occupied the same division.

The 2021 Japanese football season kicked off with the Super Cup at the National Stadium in Tokyo on February 20th. Kaoru Mitoma’s first-half double had Frontale on easy street before a spirited fightback in the second period saw Gamba draw level thanks to Shinya Yajima’s close range effort and a spot kick from Patric. Just when it appeared we were destined for penalties, Kawasaki talisman Yu Kobayashi broke clear to clinch the tie with essentially the last kick of the ball. In between that clash and the first league game between these two just after Golden Week, Gamba went through their Covid cluster crisis and by the time the defending champions rolled into town Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s job was hanging by a thread as a result of just 7 points being accrued from the opening 8 matches and only 2 goals (including one penalty) being scored in that period. As it was, Gamba defended in numbers, but were caught on the counter 4 minutes before the break with Leandro Damião slotting home the opener. The Ao to Kuro had their moments in the second stanza before Kaoru Mitoma (that man again) made the game safe late on, leaving the out of position Yota Sato for dead and then firing past Masaaki Higashiguchi. The curtain came down on the Miyamoto era less than a week later as a result of a 2-1 reversal at Panasonic Stadium courtesy of Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

The stakes were much lower for the return match in round 37 and Frontale ran out winners at Todoroki by a scoreline of 4 goals to 1, which I’d argue was rather flattering. There was some joy for the travelling contingent though, with Takashi Usami dancing his way merrily through the Kawasaki defence to make it 1-2 after just 17 minutes, but unfortunately early and late flurries from the already crowned champions proved far too high a hurdle for the Nerazzurri to overcome.

As an aside, Tomohiro Katanosaka’s Oita teams have caused Kawasaki several problems down the years, notably putting their J1 title celebrations on ice for a few days with a 1-0 win back in 2020 (Frontale of course routed 2nd placed Gamba 5-0 in their next outing to sew up the championship with 4 games to spare) and also famously knocking them out of the Emperor’s Cup on penalties last December following an epic backs-to-the-wall showing. Piecing together the evidence from that Tennohai semi-final, plus Gamba’s tactics, both in their home game with the Azzurro Nero last May, and also in turning over Urawa yet again on their own turf last weekend, it would be wise to assume that we’ll see a similarly defensive strategy employed here.




Gamba Osaka

Since the start of the 2020 season Gamba have recorded 20 away victories and just 13 at home, an unacceptable record that Katanosaka has sought to remedy quickly, granted kicking off your maiden campaign in charge with home fixtures against Kashima and Kawasaki isn’t exactly making things easy. Honestly when the schedule was announced I’d have taken 3 points from the opening trio of games so from that perspective the Nerazzurri are playing with house money at the moment. Fans like myself are now looking for some evidence of a more open, expansive game-plan at Panasonic Stadium which allows the team to score multiple goals regularly while also keeping things relatively tight at the back and not leaving the defence wide open to counter attacks like happened time, and time again last season. However, as mentioned above, much as this is something I’d love to see on Sunday, I think we might be parking the bus as much as the Curva Nord faithful’s patience will allow.

* Player Focus 1 Kei Ishikawa – From what I’ve seen in J3, cup competitions and briefly in J1, Ishikawa is a more than competent shot-stopper, though that really should be a minimum requirement for a goalkeeper with a professional contract at a top flight club. His distribution is definitely his weak point, but you wouldn’t really know that from last Saturday’s performance as he was rarely called upon to do anything with his feet, a trend I’d expect to see continue if he’s selected on Sunday.

* Player Focus 2 Yuya Fukuda – As if Gamba’s resident heartthrob couldn’t get any more popular with the Nerazzurri fanbase, he goes and scores away to Urawa again. 2 of his 3 J1 goals to date have come at Saitama Stadium and, in fact, save for a spectacular strike for Gamba U23 vs Akita in 2018 and the clincher against Tokushima in the 2020 Emperor’s Cup semi-final he’s never found the back of the net in front of his adoring supporters. What better opposition to break his J1 home duck against than Japanese football’s dominant force over the past half decade? One final point on Yuya-kun, he replaced Takashi Usami last week and slotted in on the left side of the front 3 (alongside Yamami and Ishige at that stage) meaning that he’s now basically played every position at Gamba with the exception of goalkeeper, centre-back and centre-forward.

* Katanosaka watch – I’ve been enjoying his use of substitutes at half time and on the hour mark. I’m fully aware that there may be fans of other clubs who’d love to see a bit more spontaneity with their changes, but after last season’s coaching car crash I’m quite happy to see someone on the sidelines appearing to be disciplined and in control of his battleplan. It was also interesting to see him deviate from his usual 3-4-2-1 and start 4-2-3-1 against his old team Oita with Yuki Yamamoto named captain and assigned to the Marcos Junior role in the hole between the double-volante and lone striker Isa Sakamoto.

* Levain Cup wrap – Shun Nagasawa (predictably) came back to haunt his former side with a double as a much changed Gamba could only pick up a solitary point from their visit to Oita on Wednesday. The 2-2 draw leaves the Ao to Kuro’s hopes of progressing to the knockout stages hanging by a thread, but the competition has so far proven to be useful for getting players valuable game time, Mitsuki Saito and Yuki Yamamoto to name but two from this match, and also for blooding youngsters, Jiro Nakamura versus Cerezo and Isa Sakamoto here. I’d love to see new type 2 acquisitions Harumi Minamino (FW) and Yuki Yoshihara (DF) see some action in the remaining 4 fixtures too.

Team News

Patric returns from his one-match ban no doubt buoyed by his goal away to Trinita in midweek. The fact that neither Masaaki Higashiguchi or Kei Ishikawa were involved on Wednesday night suggests to me that Higashiguchi is still not fit and Ishikawa will start on Sunday. Nominal 2nd choice keeper Jun Ichimori, though he’s been absent for so long I can’t be confident that’s still his place in the pecking order, returned on the bench against Oita, but I still feel he’s some way off challenging for regular minutes. Elsewhere, it appears Hiroki Fujiharu is still out having not been seen yet this year, South Korean international Kwon Kyung-won and Brazilian Serie A regular Dawhan should hopefully be able to arrive in Japan shortly, but the date is still to be confirmed and Mitsuki Saito, Yuki Yamamoto, Leandro Pereira and Wellington Silva are all at various stages of their comebacks, though I’m not sure any of that quartet will make the eleven here.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Kawasaki Frontale


4 J1 titles in the past 5 seasons coupled with triumphs in the 2019 Levain Cup and 2020 Emperor’s Cup have transformed Kawasaki from perennial bridesmaids into one of the most dominant sides in the 30 year history of the J. League, but perhaps what’s most remarkable about their rise is how they’ve managed to build an absolute juggernaut of a squad without really breaking the bank. Of their 31 registered players for 2022 (30 professionals and 1 type-2 amateur, centre back Yota Takai), 10 came directly from universities (2 of those, MF Yasuto Wakizaka and backup GK Yuki Hayasaka were involved with the club’s youth setup previously), 8 from other J1 clubs, 4 apiece arrived from overseas teams and Japanese high schools, 3 were promoted from Frontale’s youth academy, while Koki Tsukagawa was signed from then J2 Matsumoto Yamaga and Daiya Tono was a surprise pickup from cup-shock masters Honda FC in the JFL and spent his first season of senior football on loan with Fukuoka in the second tier. I’d argue that former South Korean international goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong (Suwon Samsung Bluewings), Thai schemer Chanathip (Sapporo) and 2021 J1 MVP Leandro Damião (Santos) are the only examples that readily spring to mind of players brought in off-the-shelf primed to perform at a high level from the word go for whom a premium price was paid, either in terms of transfer fee or salary, certainly a very different approach to what you see in Europe with the likes of PSG, Manchester City Real Madrid et al. Of course such success has come at a cost with Hidemasa Morita, Ao Tanaka, Kaoru Mitoma and Reo Hatate all heading overseas in the past year or so, but with their reputation as a talent-enhancing hub firmly entrenched they’ve had no problems attracting high-quality replacements. Step forward Asahi Sasaki, their new left-back, freshly graduated from Ryutsu Keizai University and a player whom Frontale reportedly beat off interest from Gamba to acquire. Sasaki was rated the best full-back in Japanese varsity football in 2021 and after a promising cameo in the defeat at Marinos he nabbed his first J1 goal in the 2-0 victory over Kashima last week which brought words of praise from none other than current Samurai Blue kantoku Hajime Moriyasu. He’s given Toru Oniki another viable option at full-back and will be someone to keep an eye on here should he see off veteran Osaka-native Kyohei Noborizato to earn a starting berth.

Team News

Frontale certainly don’t have their injury troubles to seek in the early part of 2022, especially at the back. Jesiel, for my money the best centre-back in the division, is a long term casualty after undergoing knee surgery, his replacement Shintaro Kurumaya dislocated his shoulder against FC Tokyo in round 1 and is out for 6 weeks while left-back Kyohei Noborizato was stretchered off in the first-half of the match with Urawa and his participation here is in serious doubt. Further forward, injury prone midfield dynamo Ryota Oshima has been missing from the squad for the games with Antlers and Reds, mercurial Brazilian winger Marcinho hasn’t been seen since the FC Tokyo encounter and Japan U-22 captain Renji Matsui is yet to surface this season. Thai midfielder Chanathip is walking a suspension tightrope as a result of picking up 3 yellow cards in his first 4 league outings in a Frontale shirt.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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

Categories
sport

Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka 26 February 2022 Match Preview

Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 2
Saturday 26 February 2022
Saitama Stadium 2022
Kick Off: 15:00 (JST)


Gamba travel to Saitama this Saturday for what will be their 1000th J. League match and this perennially feisty contest has taken on extra significance due to the sub-par starts both teams have made to their 2022 campaigns. The Nerazzurri were soundly beaten by an impressive Kashima last weekend in Suita (more on the controversy surrounding that later) before kicking off their Levain Cup group stage slate with a 3-2 home reverse against local rivals Cerezo. New Gamba kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka had talked of turning Panasonic Stadium into a fortress, but with those words looking hollow at the moment, he’ll be hoping a trip to equally under pressure Urawa could be the catalyst for a turnaround in his side’s fortunes. Reds were, and still very much are, expected to duel it out for one of the top 3 spots this season, however, since lifting the Super Cup a fortnight ago they’ve dropped points against Kansai opposition in each of their opening 2 league fixtures. After slipping on the banana skin that was newly-promoted Kyoto Sanga away in round 1 they had to settle for a share of the spoils in their re-arranged round 9 encounter with Vissel Kobe on Wednesday, an outcome made all the more painful by the fact the Hyogo side’s equaliser came courtesy of recently departed Reds legend Tomoaki Makino.

The omicron variant of Covid-19 is still posing major challenges for Japanese society and J. League clubs certainly aren’t safe from it’s tentacles. However, touch wood, at the time of writing this game is set to go ahead and that’s something of a rarity in recent seasons. I started writing match previews in late 2019 and had full draughts ready to go for, Sendai (home) 2020 and Nagoya (away) 2021, Gamba’s second scheduled league match of the year, but coronavirus struck and the next time the Ao to Kuro took the field was weeks (2021) or months (2020) later. Fingers, toes and everything else crossed that this mouthwatering bout between these two fierce rivals goes ahead without a hitch.

Tale of the Tape

What to say about Gamba vs Kashima that hasn’t already been covered? 33 shots to 8 sure as hell ain’t pretty, but while Antlers could certainly be considered heavyweights in Japanese football circles, the events of Saturday 19th February were akin to Tyson Fury starting off a fight looking sharp and taking the centre of the ring before deliberately low-blowing his opponent and smacking him a couple of times for good measure while he was on the canvas. To run with this analogy a little longer, the ref sees all of this, doesn’t disqualify Fury and the heavyweight champion of the world then proceeds to dance around the ring looking amazing for the remainder of the bout. Does that sound like something you’d purchase on pay-per-view? No? Me, neither. For the record I have nothing against Fury and would, in fact, welcome a charity contest between him and Mr. Yakuza-wannabe Suzuki, maybe it could be arranged for the end of the season? I’ll conclude this long and winding rant with a reminder that I did call out my own player Wellington Silva, for similarly embarrassing and shameful conduct away to Yokohama F. Marinos last year, and would have no problem doing it again should another Gamba player step over the line. On that sunny November afternoon in Kanagawa, however, the officials did their job, booked Silva, told him in no uncertain terms to buck up his ideas and got on with things, in my view the way a referee should take charge of a game.

Speaking of Kanagawa, there may be some of you who might feel this has gone a bit too much the way of a Frontale Rabbit Blog post (sorry, I’m not trying to steal your thunder Neil, honest!), so here are some stats which I’m sure is what you all came for. As mentioned above, before I got sidetracked, not only did Kashima defeat Gamba 3-1, they also outshot their hosts by a whopping 33-8. That figure of 33 is a full 9 shots higher than last season’s poorest Gamba performance (24 vs Urawa and Marinos (both away) – as a side note from those combined 48 shots the Nerazzurri conceded just a solitary goal, a penalty from Ataru Esaka). Kashima’s 19 shots on target also beat the figure of 14 they mustered in their 3-1 home win over the Ao to Kuro last September, a number which was also a season worst for Gamba. However, as is often the way with Antlers, they rather milked the stats, averaging a mere 0.09xG per shot (compared with Gamba’s 0.07) and I’d be very interested to find out the combined xG total of Diego Pituca’s 7 efforts. I’m more than happy to make a case for the Brazilian being the best central midfielder in the league, however, if I was coaching him, his insistence on wasting good attacking opportunities by blasting the ball high and wide from 35 yards out would have me tearing out what little hair I have left. While we’re on the subject of Kashima midfielders, as if to rub salt into blue and black wounds, Yuta Higuchi, the man who turned down Gamba in favour of a move to Ibaraki, was outstanding and looked like he’d been playing in the dark red shirt for years.

Just to quickly wrap up this section from a Gamba perspective, I’d argue that last Saturday’s game could very well have ended up 3-1 or 4-2 to Antlers even without Patric’s contentious ordering off, but the stats would likely have been much, much closer had the officials correctly utilised the VAR system they had at their disposal. It’s just one game, there’ll be 33 more and those will help us gain a better understanding of the true Gamba, after all they only played 45 minutes with 10 men in the whole of last season and that was against Yokohama FC, who of course ended up going down. Saturday’s stats could mean everything, or they could mean nothing, we’ll find out soon enough.

Reds’ key performance indicators, like Gamba’s, are skewed by a lack of data points and also because they played part of one of their two fixtures to date with only 10 players. It’s important to note that by the end of May, Urawa will have contested 23 games, 16 in J1, 6 in the ACL and the aforementioned Super Cup triumph over Kawasaki, a sequence that will require some herculean feats from the Reds to squad to come out the other side unscathed. Kantoku Ricardo Rodríguez set them up in a 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 for the ill-fated visit to Kyoto before returning to type with a 4-2-3-1 system against Kobe. I’m leaning towards the Spaniard sticking with 4-2-3-1 here, not least due to the club apparently being without the services of a number of key players (more on that below). Rodríguez is in uncharted waters managing at the sharp end of J1 and he’ll require all of his nous and guile to steer the ship through the current choppy waters. He’ll be hoping to chart the right course on Saturday, though as we’ll see below, while Gamba might appear ripe for the picking, that certainly hasn’t been the case in contests between these two at Saitama Stadium in recent years.

Head to Head


Tomohiro Katanosaka takes his troops to the Saitama Stadium in search of his first win as Gamba boss safe in the knowledge that the Nerazzurri haven’t tasted defeat away to Reds since 2016, a 4-0 pasting which also featured some Yuma Suzuki-esque play acting from everyone’s favourite pantomime villain Tomoaki Makino.

The two sides battled it out in round 32 last October with Haruto Shirai a surprise starter for Gamba and a stronger defensive structure in place thanks to the recent arrival of Takashi Kiyama as “assistant” to Masanobu Matsunami. Reds dominated from the off, but couldn’t penetrate the make-shift backline of Sato and Suganuma while “guardian deity” (I love that Google translation) Masaaki Higashiguchi was in inspired form between the sticks for Gamba. All the drama that afternoon was consigned to injury time with Urawa being awarded a controversial spot-kick for handball against Shunya Suganuma, notably Ataru Esaka, the Reds player closest to the incident, an dispatcher of the subsequent spot-kick, barely questioned the original decision and the referee didn’t look particularly confident either as he moved gingerly away from the VAR booth to overturn his call. For those karma believers among you justice was served almost immediately from the re-start as Takuya Iwanami got caught out by an awkward bounce and handballed to allow Patric the chance to slam home the equaliser from the spot.

While Kiyama got things tactically spot on in the away match, Matsunami made an absolute hash of his strategy in the home clash in May, his first game since being appointed caretaker manager in the wake of Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s firing. Gamba went all out attack and Reds, like all good counter-punchers do, bided their time and waited for the chance to strike. And strike they did, with Kasper Junker and Tatsuya Tanaka running riot to have the visitors 3-0 up at the interval. There would be no further scoring in the second half in what was a chastening start to the Matsunami reign.




Gamba Osaka


I thought I’d try something a little different this week, I’ve picked out some players and coaches and commented on each of them in turn, let me know what you think.

Tomohiro Katanosaka – What to make of Katano-soccer so far? The biggest talking point, for me, was his choice of Ryu Takao and Ko Yanagisawa as wide-centre backs against Kashima. This mirrors what he did with Tomoki Iwata and Yuto Misao at Oita, essentially using players previously thought of as full-backs or wing-backs more centrally. Where does that leave Genta Miura? It appears he’ll now be competing with Gen Shoji for the middle centre back slot and guiding some younger players along in the Levain Cup group stages.

A final point on Katanosaka, I like his blood and thunder attitude on the touchline, something that’s been missing since the departure of Kenta Hasegawa at the end of 2017. Indeed Hasegawa’s FC Tokyo (2020) and Tokushima Vortis last year are two examples that spring to mind of opposition benches out-shouting and out-influencing (is that a word? I mean putting more pressure on the officials) the Gamba dugout at Panasonic Stadium in recent seasons.

Hiroto Yamami – Came on as a second-half substitute in challenging circumstances against Antlers before starting and spurning a decent chance in the Osaka Derby on Wednesday. Some nice touches on display in both outings and he looks like someone to keep an eye out for in the coming weeks.

Ju Se-jong – A poor performance against Kashima and with Kohei Okuno fluffing his lines versus Cerezo, Gamba are in desperate need of Dawhan’s arrival and Mitsuki Saito and Yuki Yamamoto regaining full fitness. New signing Hideki Ishige finished the Osaka Derby in central midfield alongside Shu Kurata, is that something we could see more of?

Keisuke Kurokawa – Started at left wing-back, switched to left-back in the wake of Patric’s ordering off and played out the final 8 minutes at right-back following Yuya Fukuda’s entrance. I knew I’d seen him play on the right side for the U23s in J3 at some point, but had started to doubt myself and believe that it’d been some kind of optical illusion.

Shinya Yajima and Tiago Alves – Nice to see two Gamba old boys get off to a flyer in J2, I think Yajima’s issues in the top flight were more mental than physical while Alves has flattered to deceive at a number of J1 clubs so I don’t really feel any criticism is warranted over the Nerazzurri’s decision to let both leave last winter.

The Levain Cup – I know it’s not a person, but while it’s usually seen as a bit of an inconvenience, this year I think it could bring some real benefits to the club by giving Katanosaka the opportunity to try out players in different positions (Jiro Nakamura at right, then left wing-back for instance) and also build up the fitness of those struck down by Covid.

Team News

Patric, Gamba’s leading scorer last year with 13 J1 goals, will sit this one out after the J. League upheld his ban for a straight red in the much publicised game with Kashima. Judging from comments made by Katanosaka on February 22nd, both Masaaki Higashiguchi and Hiroki Fujiharu are injured and won’t play here. Club legend Higashiguchi saw his league leading run of 109 consecutive appearances, stretching back to 2018, come to an end last weekend though he did watch events unfold from the stand. His normal backup Jun Ichimori is also out as he continues his rehabilitation following hamstring surgery last year, however, Kei Ishikawa performed admirably against Antlers and Taichi Kato likewise in the Osaka Derby. It’s believed that both Wellington Silva and Yuki Yamamoto were among the 9 players who contracted Covid in pre-season, both started against Cerezo, but may be lacking the sharpness to start here. Mitsuki Saito hasn’t been seen yet this season and fellow new recruits Kwon Kyung-won and Dawhan are eagerly awaiting the Japanese border re-opening at the beginning of March, the talented duo will surely bring a lot to the side when they are finally allowed into the country.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Urawa Red Diamonds

I kind of covered a lot of the ground I wanted to here with my comments about Urawa in the ‘tale of the tape’ section above, but they are an intriguing prospect this term so let’s dig a little deeper. They brought in 12 new faces last winter, with the arrivals drawn from J1, J2, Japanese universities, Japanese high schools, and Europe (David Moberg Karlsson and potentially a new forward if rumours are to be believed), while it was only really squad players and veterans who headed for the exits. That kind of activity in addition to the steady progress they made under Ricardo Rodríguez in his first season with the club understandably has many punters, myself included, tipping them for big things in the next few years. However, the J. League can be a wild and unforgiving beast and the crazy schedule that faces Reds in the coming months really could be make or break time for the men from Saitama. As I mentioned in my most recent J-Talk podcast appearance, I find it easier to deliberate over known quantities such as Kawasaki or Kobe rather than teams who’ve undergone a pretty rapid overhaul, like Urawa have, but I guess that’s what makes this project all the more fascinating and that’s why they’re very much the talk of the town in J. League circles. Saturday’s match should be full of intrigue and I’m also fascinated to see how Reds are shaping up when they come to visit Suita Stadium in early July.

Team News

Some time left-back, some time forward Takahiro Akimoto will miss out after his red card against Vissel Kobe while Swedish winger David Moberg Karlsson, like Kwon and Dawhan above, is still awaiting clearance to enter the country. Elsewhere Danish forward Kasper Junker and wingers Yusuke Matsuo and Tomoaki Okubo are yet to feature in a matchday squad in 2022 and both Yuichi Hirano and Yuta Miyamoto were on the bench for the Super Cup clash with Kawasaki, but were absent for the Kyoto and Kobe matches. Reds did confirm corona cases a week or so ago, but I’m unsure whether any of the names above have been missing due to Covid, injury or just plain old non-selection.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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

Categories
sport

Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers 19 February 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers
2022 J1 Season Round 1
Saturday 19 February 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


Eleven weeks since the end of the 2021 campaign and J. League is back for the 2022 edition. For Gamba fans it’ll be a first introduction to Katano-soccer while Kashima are still awaiting new kantoku René Weiler’s arrival in the country. However, Antlers supporters should be able to enjoy an initial glance at several promising winter captures as well as returning hero Yuma Suzuki.

As a slight disclaimer, it needs to be pointed out that although these two clubs share an impressive 10 J1 titles, 9 Emperor’s Cups, 8 League Cups and 2 ACL wins since the J. League’s inception in 1993, opening days and fast starts in general aren’t really their thing. The Nerazzurri have won just one opening fixture post 2011, 2-1 at then defending champions Yokohama F. Marinos back in 2020 while Kashima haven’t tasted victory since a 1-0 over Gamba in the first ever match played at Panasonic Stadium in 2016. The Ibaraki side will certainly be cock-a-hoop at having avoided being paired with Shimizu S-Pulse this season, something that has occurred 3 times in the last 7 years (including 2021), resulting in 1 draw and 2 defeats.

These two will be seeing a good deal more of each other over the coming weeks having been drawn together in the same Levain Cup group with upcoming encounters scheduled for 26 March (in Ibaraki) and 18 May (in Suita) to come so getting off to a good start here will be vital for both sides’ league campaigns and also a morale booster ahead of future cup clashes.



As this is my first match preview of the year, here are a few quick parish notices.

Thanks to everyone for the phenomenal response to my 2022 J1 Predicted Lineups article. It has frankly blown me away how many people have read, commented on, liked, retweeted and shared it, I can’t thank each and every one of you enough, my words could never express how truly grateful I am. As a result of having more eyeballs on that post, I seem to have picked up some new followers…..welcome aboard everyone!! With that in mind I thought now would be a good time to share some good sources of J1 information (apologies if I missed anyone out).

For my stats I use,

https://sporteria.jp/ (English translations in the pictures below)
https://www.football-lab.jp/ (all in Japanese)
https://www.jleague.co/ (generally has starting lineup announcements at least 2 hours before kick off)

Other good sources

https://twitter.com/JTalkPod (J-Talk Podcast, hosted by Ben and Sam (https://twitter.com/FrsoccerSam), I’m sometimes a guest too and other pods in the J-Talk solar system cover J2 and J3, FC Tokyo, and Yokohama F. Marinos, an absolute must for all fans of the league).

https://www.youtube.com/c/LostinFootballJapan (Lost in Football Japan, videos all about Japan, the J. League, matchday experiences, how to buy tickets and everything you need to follow Japanese football)

https://twitter.com/JLeague_Fantasy (J. League Fantasy – for all your fantasy football needs)

On Twitter,

@Michael_Master (transfers), @aishiterutokyo (general news), @jleagueregista (articles and opinions), @frontalerabbit (Kawasaki), @yukinho (Antlers), @FCTokyoKaiGuys (FC Tokyo), @TricolorePride (Marinos), @avispadaniel and @NavyBlueWasp (Fukuoka), @seankyaroru (comments and analysis), @R_by_Ryo (stats), @J1tokei (stats) and @JleagueShirts (international delivery of J. League uniforms) are J1 handles I highly recommend following, there are probably loads more that I’ve forgotten, please comment on this article if there are any more accounts you recommend.


Sporteria Stats in English

Tale of the Tape

As this is the first week of the season I don’t have any current data to fall back on and you should see a return of the stats tables I used last year from about round 10 as it’s from that point onward that they’ll start to take on some meaning. But, I can’t leave this section blank so let’s take a brief dive into the 2021 numbers and I’ll let you be the judge of how much relevance they’ll have on this particular match. I’ve provided data that I previously published on Twitter below to back up the general summary that appears next.

Starting off with Kashima who had something of an up-and-down 2021 where they showed the ability to mix it with the top guns on their day, indeed they saw off Yokohama F. Marinos home and away, but were also just as capable of slipping up against less fancied opponents. Antlers’ overall 2021 performance ended up looking far more impressive on a spreadsheet compared to on the actual field of play, they led the league for fewest shots against and fewest shots against on target, were 2nd when it came to shots for, shots for on target and sprints, 3rd in terms of xG against and xG difference and 4th for xG for, however, all of that only led to a 4th place league finish which coupled with Urawa’s Emperor’s Cup triumph in December saw them miss out on ACL qualification for a second consecutive year.

Long term blog readers will know all about my frustrations when it came to how Gamba’s 2021 season panned out, with the coronavirus outbreak after round 1, subsequent ACL involvement and a never-ending injury crisis paving the way for mass squad rotation and a set of results and performances that largely defied analysis. The Nerazzurri didn’t rank higher than 11th for any of my key performance indicators, xG for and passes completed were their best showings, indeed pass completion was the only category where they outshone Saturday’s opponents. While Kashima boasted the best shots against record, Gamba posted the worst stats with Masaaki Higashiguchi forced to play like a man possessed between the sticks and he could consider himself unlucky not to be named in the league’s Best Eleven for 2021 (only the brilliance of Mitch Langerak denied him). The Ao to Kuro also had the 2nd poorest xG against and shots against on target figures as well as scoring 3rd lowest in sprints per game (this can probably be connected to the punishing summer schedule resulting from the early season Covid outbreak).





Head to Head

Kashima did the double over Gamba last season, running out 1-0 winners at Panasonic Stadium before cruising to a 3-1 home victory in mid-September. While the Nerazzurri could use their recent ACL involvement and summer backlog of games as an excuse for the home defeat which came as a result of Arthur Caike’s strike in the final quarter, they were comprehensively outplayed by a far superior outfit in the return clash. After a goalless first-half, efforts from Ayase Ueda and Juan Alano plus a fine solo run and shot from Shoma Doi all within the space of 21 minutes had Antlers coasting before sloppy defensive work from Ikuma Sekigawa gifted Tiago Alves a late consolation from the penalty spot. Sekigawa was then nearly responsible for creating an extremely nervy final 5 minutes for the home support as his wild and unsuccessful lunge to retrieve the ball allowed Kosuke Onose in to curve a delicious shot towards the Kashima goal, but unfortunately for the Gamba winger his effort went agonisingly just wide.

Back in 2020, Gamba came within seconds of doing the double over Kashima as Tomoya Inukai’s 95th minute header rescued a home point for Antlers after Onose had given the visitors an early lead. Later in the year, Gamba ran out 2-0 victors in Suita, with all the action coming in the second stanza. Masaaki Higashiguchi denied Juan Alano with a brilliant low save as the Brazilian raced clean through on goal before Patric’s penalty and Kazuma Watanabe’s injury time clincher earned a 4th league win on the trot for the Nerazzurri.



Gamba Osaka


What’s changed at Gamba in the 2 ½ month break between seasons? In has come former assistant to Kenta Hasegawa during the trophy-laden 2014-2015 campaigns (also assistant to Akira Nishino from 2007-2009), Tomohiro Katanosaka, following a roller coaster 6 year spell with Oita Trinita. A host of new backroom staff have joined too, including, much to the joy of the Curva Nord faithful, a new physical coach (Ryo Yano from FC Ryukyu). Additionally 8 players have arrived at the club plus reserve ‘keeper Taichi Kato has turned his loan move from Ehime into a permanent deal. Regarding the new arrivals, for simplicity I’ll slot them into three categories, 1. Hiroto Yamami, Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto (players who were already at the club last season, either on designated special player contracts or as youth academy members), 2. foreign signings not yet in the country (Kwon Kyung-won and Dawhan), and 3. brand new players who’ve completed pre-season training (Shota Fukuoka, Mitsuki Saito and Hideki Ishige). From category 1 Yamami is the guy to watch, he’ll possibly begin the year as an impact sub, but should hopefully become a regular starter, either as an inside-forward or even centre-forward as the season progresses, look out for Nakamura and Sakamoto in the Levain Cup group stages. Both Kwon and Dawhan appear to be quality additions, but at the time of writing it’s impossible to know how long it’ll be before they can enter Japan. Dawhan has posted Instagram videos of himself training in Brazil and Kwon has been involved with the South Korean national team, so if they can join up with their team-mates soon and integration goes smoothly then they are certainly a duo for the Gamba support to get excited about. Of the other three, Fukuoka seems to be a real character and as a ball playing centre-back expect to see him take over from the departed Kim Young-gwon until Kwon is up to speed, Saito is an intriguing addition who should play regularly throughout the year and Ishige, if, and it’s a big IF, he can stay healthy could be a wonderful asset. At present it’s hard to predict with any degree of confidence where he’ll fit in, but once the season is up and running an injury or loss of form either at wing-back or inside forward will likely open the door for him to come in and prove the doubters wrong.

The coronavirus outbreak which affected 9 first teamers and 3 staff members has obviously had a negative impact on the side’s preparations though they did get around a week’s training in before the 11 day camp in Okinawa with the majority of the squad also training back in Suita for around a fortnight before this tie. With that said, I expect a slow start for the Nerazzurri, not least because the opening 3 league fixtures are Kashima (h), Urawa (a) and Kawasaki (h). Gamba took 6 points from those matches in 2020 and just 1 last year, will early results prove a reliable guide or something of a red herring this time round?

Team News

As a consequence of the recent corona outbreak it’s difficult to know just how fit each squad member is at the moment so there’s definitely the potential for a surprise or three in Saturday’s lineup though I’d still imagine the starting eleven will have plenty of experience in it. Brazilian forward Leandro Pereira missed the end of 2021 with a nagging hamstring complaint and only began training again at the beginning of this month so his participation in this clash must be in some doubt. Aside from that, the only other non-Covid related problem I’m aware of is backup goalie Jun Ichimori’s hamstring with the stopper still working his way through rehab following surgery carried out last autumn.

Predicted Lineup and Stats




Kashima Antlers

New Swiss kantoku René Weiler appears to possess an extremely attack-minded philosophy and the 2022 Kashima Antlers have a wide range of offensive weapons for him to utilise. Yuma Suzuki is back from a three-year stint in Belgium to compete with Ayase Ueda and Everaldo for a spot up top while the highly-rated Yuta Higuchi arrives from Tosu to battle it out with the likes of Shoma Doi, Ryotaro Araki, Juan Alano, Arthur Caike, Ryuji Izumi, Yuta Matsumura and Hayato Nakama for the final 2 places in the front four. That’s too many players I hear you shout, and I’d agree with you. Dare I say it, but this squad seems to have been built in the knowledge that at least a couple of the names above (I’ll let you decide who) won’t be at Antlers for much longer, either that or Weiler’s planning on going 2-2-6? At the back, Tomoya Inukai (Urawa), Koki Machida (USG) and Katsuya Nagato (Marinos) have all departed and those moves plus the uncertainty around who their starting goalkeeper will be leaves me feeling slightly pessimistic about the strength of their rearguard. However, with all that said, I can’t see Kashima finishing any lower than 5th and the other 4 teams I have in my imaginary top 5 are ACL participants, could that be the vital edge Antlers and their forward thinking coach need?

Team News

Not too much to report here apart from the news that midfielder Shintaro Nago, a recent returnee following an injury-plagued loan stint at Shonan, is still out with a foot problem and isn’t expected back until May.

Predicted Lineup and Stats



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

Categories
sport

J1 2022 Predicted Lineups

Happy New Year everyone! This is my first post of 2022 and following on from the previous two seasons I’ve decided to put together a J1 predicted lineups article to get the ball rolling. Hope you all enjoy the fruits of my labour.

Also a quick reminder that you can find the 2022 squad lists screenshotted below in this Excel document.

And, be sure to check out @Michael_Master on Twitter if you haven’t already, the one and only account you need to follow to keep up to date with J. League transfers.

The Guide

Teams are listed below in the order they finished the 2021 campaign and each club’s mini-section contains the following information.

Best Signing – This won’t necessarily be objectively the best player the team have signed over the winter, more the one I feel addresses the most pressing need in the squad, for example, spoiler alert, I selected Kim Min-tae over both Yuta Higuchi and Yuma Suzuki in this category at Kashima.

Biggest Loss – Basically the opposite of best signing.

One to Watch – Again it might not be the best player in the squad or the one most likely to join a European club in the summer, rather someone whose good, bad or up-and-down form will set the tone for his team’s entire campaign.

Doubtful – Players who due to either injuries carried over from 2021, immigration issues or, in the case of a certain Polish striker at Nagoya, potential doping violations, might not be available for selection in the opening months of 2022.

Notes – Me trying to work out what direction the team is heading in this year.

Predicted Lineups

A few caveats here,

* For simplicity’s sake I’ve assumed every contracted player to be fit and available for selection when choosing these best elevens.
* These are not meant to be seen as the predicted starting lineup for round 1, think of them more as the players who will feature most across the course of the year (obviously new signings will be made in the summer, but unfortunately I’m not in possession of a crystal ball to make forecasts that far in advance).
* In cases where numerous players may see significant minutes in a certain position I’ve listed alternatives below the main choice (players may appear as alternatives for more than one role, see Satoshi Tanaka or Takuro Kaneko for examples). I also hope this illustrates where certain clubs have perhaps overstocked in one area of the field while neglecting others. Where two alternatives are listed, the name on the left is the one I consider to be higher on the team’s depth chart.
* I think I said this last year, but I’ll repeat myself anyway, expect the lineups for teams that have kept the same coach and most of the same playing staff as 2021 (Kawasaki) to be more accurate than those that have seen multiple changes in management and on-field personnel (Tosu).
* I have done a great deal of research to get these lineups as accurate as I can to the best of my knowledge, but full disclosure, I’ve also acted on some hunches and taken a punt on some lesser known talents (I guess there wouldn’t be much point reading this article if I just stated the obvious). Players coming from university sides directly into professional starting elevens is one of the unique selling points of football in this part of the world versus, say Europe, and it can be immensely tricky trying to project how each year’s batch of fresh-faced graduates will do, especially when data about their positions and skill-sets is hard to come by and the little information you can find seems to show them playing in a position that doesn’t appear to exist at the club they are joining (for example a wide midfielder in a university side that plays 4-4-2 moving to a J1 team that operates a 3-4-2-1, will they be a wing-back or inside forward?). I’m guessing these are the kind of choices that might generate the greatest debate, so please cut me some slack, I like to use data, but several players below have made the grade based largely on gut instinct developed over a decade watching the J. League.

Well, with all that out the way let’s move on and take a look at each of the 2022 J1 sides one by one, shall we? Again I look forward to hearing feedback (good natured I hope) from fans of all teams, followers of the league in general or just casual passers by, you’re all welcome. While I’m confident you’ll agree with some of the points below, I’m also sure there will be many choices and opinions that people will disagree with, and that’s all fine, it’s why we love the beautiful game so much, right?

Kawasaki Frontale

Best Signing: Chanathip – Had plateaued a little up in Sapporo, but a move to the champions should work out well for him and Frontale.
Biggest Loss: Reo Hatate – Basically by default as he was the only top teamer to leave. Perhaps the most frightening thing for the rest of the league is the amount of depth Kawasaki still have in midfield despite losing Hatate, Mitoma, Morita and Tanaka in the last 12 months.
One to Watch: Leandro Damião – Imperious in 2021 and the deserved recipient of the league’s MVP award, could a slight slip back from those grandiose heights offer a glimmer of hope to the chasing pack?
Doubtful: Jesiel (injury)
Notes: It’s Toru Oniki’s 6th campaign at the helm and once again Frontale start as the team to beat. Assuming Jesiel’s injury or the ageing of the forward line doesn’t adversely affect them too much, they are extremely well placed to fight off challenges from Marinos, Kobe, Kashima and Urawa to three-peat for the first time in their history.




Yokohama F. Marinos

Best Signing: Katsuya Nagato – By no means the most glamorous transfer of the winter, but Nagato who, don’t forget, led the league for assists with Sendai back in 2019 looks like he could thrive in Marinos’ system and help their fans quickly get over the loss of Theerathon.
Biggest Loss: Daizen Maeda – Only joined Celtic on an initial six-month loan deal, I don’t really see this happening, but if things turn sour in Glasgow, a sharp return to Yokohama in the summer would do wonders for Marinos’ title aspirations.
One to Watch: Marcos Junior – Goals-wise he’s dropped year-on-year since coming into the league in 2019, but he still remains pivotal to Marinos’ hopes and how well he adapts to Muscat’s game plan will be of critical importance to the team’s chances this season.
Doubtful: Shinnosuke Hatanaka (injury)
Notes: It’s all about Muscat for me, his appointment struck me as slightly strange at the time and even more so now that I’ve had time to digest it. Was he the best person to carry on Ange-ball? No (that guy is coaching Yamagata at the moment). If a desire to carry on the Ange-ball system wasn’t a pre-requisite for getting the job was he the best available candidate? Again, probably not. Despite that, I’m open minded as to what he can achieve given the time and space to put his own mark on the team. I’d argue that this squad is slightly weaker than 12 months ago, however, there is still plenty of talent onboard and top 4 should be a minimum expectation.

Additional Note: Anderson Lopes has been heavily linked with a move to Marinos. I’m unsure about his visa status or who would win out in a duel between him and Léo Ceará to be the main centre-forward.




Vissel Kobe

Best Signing: Tomoaki Makino – Vissel need an experienced head at the back to guide Kikuchi and Kobayashi along and although I’m sure it’ll seem strange at first seeing him in a darker shade of red, he should prove valuable on and off the field in the port city.
Biggest Loss: Thomas Vermaelen – Played more than I expected him to across his 2 ½ years in the league and no doubt passed on a trick or three to his younger protégés.
One to Watch: Yoshinori Muto – Was the dominant partner as he and Yuya Osako amassed a combined 9 goals and 11 assists in 23 appearances at the back end of 2021. More of that this term and Vissel will very much be in the title conversation.
Doubtful: Bojan Krkić (injury)
Notes: Things have never looked better in Kobe, a balanced and settled squad, a competent manager and Hiroshi Mikitani largely leaving the football decisions to football people. We may see some tinkering with the midfield shape, but regardless of what system Miura adopts there’s no reason to suggest Vissel won’t be there or thereabouts at the business end of the year.




Kashima Antlers

Best Signing: Kim Min-tae – Three of last year’s back four have moved on and Kim’s star is burning brightly following an impressive spell filling in for the injured Yuichi Maruyama at Nagoya. His experience alongside the talented, but erratic, Ikuma Sekigawa will be invaluable.
Biggest Loss: Koki Machida – Perhaps not much of a shock as he’d been linked with European clubs in the previous 2-3 windows so Antlers should have planned his succession accordingly.
One to Watch: Diego Pituca – A shining light once he was finally allowed into the country last year, the box-to-box midfielder should be a genuine J1 Best Eleven contender this term.
Doubtful: Shintaro Nago (injury), Kantoku René Weiler (Visa)
Notes: New kantoku René Weiler has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in attack and must be relishing the prospect of moulding them into a cohesive unit once he eventually makes it to the land of the rising sun. At the back the situation is a little less rosy, but should the attack-minded Weiler get things to gel, the Ibaraki side are not hindered by ACL involvement like their rivals and this could set them on a course towards a first title since 2016.




Nagoya Grampus

Best Signing: Keiya Sento – Played in a role for Tosu that doesn’t really exist in the current Grampus set-up, but to me he projects as Naoki Maeda’s replacement and should prove to be a gem of a signing.
Biggest Loss: Takuji Yonemoto – One of the surprise moves of the winter in my book, he left FC Tokyo after one season of working with Kenta Hasegawa, did they have prior beef?
One to Watch: Mateus Castro – Those of a Grampus persuasion will hope that the enigmatic Brazilian has gotten over the slump in form he experienced in the second half of 2021, as well as those Kawasaki transfer rumours, and will bounce back ready to lead the charge towards an ACL place.
Doubtful: Jakub Świerczok (PED Violation)
Notes: If I was a Nagoya fan would I have wanted to wake up to the news that Kenta Hasegawa was replacing Massimo Ficcadenti? No, but I’ll add that he’s nowhere near as bad as some FC Tokyo fans might have you believe. After winning silverware in each of his first 3 years at Gamba, he took an FC Tokyo side that had only achieved a single top 6 J1 finish in the 8 years prior to his appointment to 3 consecutive top 6 placings. Granted, the wheels came off spectacularly in his final seasons at both clubs, but I still maintain he’s a reasonably safe pair of hands until the Grampus hierarchy decide which direction they want the club to take next.




Urawa Red Diamonds

Best Signing: David Moberg Karlsson – Possibly the only player in the history of football to represent both Kilmarnock and Urawa which means that everything inside me should want him to fail, but I actually think this could be quite an astute piece of business by Reds.
Biggest Loss: Tomoaki Makino – Kind of wins this by default as Urawa didn’t lose any real nailed-on 2021 starters in the off-season, only Yuruki and Tanaka ran him close for this award.
One to Watch: Kasper Junker – 7 goals in his first 6 J1 appearances and just 2 in 11 after that as injuries struck. If a full pre-season schedule gets him back up to speed then J1 look out.
Doubtful: Ayumu Ohata (injury), David Moberg Karlsson (Visa)
Notes: When I wrote my Scouting J1 and Scouting J2 articles last autumn I never envisaged that Urawa and Cerezo would be the 2 teams to sign the most players from those lists, but there you go, hats off to both clubs. Reds have added a dizzying array of stars to an already strong looking squad and if they can find a way to get everyone pulling in the same direction then they appear well set to challenge domestically and in Asia.




Sagan Tosu

Best Signing: Naoyuki Fujita – Still very much good enough to play for Cerezo, but probably rightly moved on due to the ageing issues at the club. A return to his first pro side seems a logical next step and he’ll have a big part to play assisting the development of the bountiful young talent on the books at Tosu.
Biggest Loss: Yuta Higuchi – Plenty of competition for this award, but I’m still drowning my sorrows over Higuchi rejecting Gamba for Kashima and have to nominate him here.
One to Watch: Yuki Kakita – Finished 2021 with something of a bang, netting 5 times in 8 outings for a Tokushima side that struggled to create clear-cut openings. Has his old Vortis team-mate Miyashiro with him too and looks to be the ideal replacement for Keita Yamashita.
Notes: Let’s focus on the positives, the goalkeeper, defence and wing-backs are basically unchanged from 2021 (Ayumu Ohata excluded) and in attack, if I can quote Moneyball, they’ve realised they can’t directly replace departed stars like Higuchi, Sento, Koyamatsu and Yamashita, but they can re-create them in the aggregate. If the injury-prone Yuji Ono, high school wizzkids turned pro-level letdowns Jun Nishikawa and Yuto Iwasaki or any of their 6 recruits from varsity football enjoy a standout year then a mid-table finish isn’t out of the question.




Avispa Fukuoka

Best Signing: Lukian – This deal came as something of a bolt from the blue to me and the addition of J2’s top scorer from 2021 adds real impetus to an Avispa attack that will be looking to move up through the gears this year.
Biggest Loss: Emil Salomonsson – Will be a big loss both on and off the field. He must have found it tough with basically 2/3 of his time in Japan falling during the Coronavirus pandemic so it’s hard to begrudge him a move back home.
One to Watch: Tatsuya Tanaka – Back in his native Kyushu, big things will be expected of the versatile wide-man. This was an area where Avispa needed an upgrade and it looks like they’ve found one in the former Gamba, Oita and Urawa speedster.
Notes: I like what they’ve done in the transfer window, I like it a lot. There’s not one signing they’ve made that I haven’t liked, keeping Hasebe and Mae on board is massive too. After all those niceties I will add the qualifier that although on paper this year’s squad looks stronger than last year’s by a bigger margin than last year’s did than 2020’s (still with me?), it might not necessarily translate into them finishing any higher up in the standings. Though I guess having spent so much of their recent history in J2, the Avispa faithful won’t complain about another upper mid-table placing in 2022.




FC Tokyo

Best Signing: Jakub Słowik – Most J1 transfers have some sort of doubt hanging over them, player stepping up a level, poor previous season, injury prone, might not fit the system etc…none of these apply to Słowik, a clear upgrade on what was there before and questions marks over his distribution should only form a minor concern given the quality of the rest of his game.
Biggest Loss: Joan Oumari – Despite apparently only re-signing to cover until Bruno Uvini could get into the country, the Lebanese international had a decent second year in the capital.
One to Watch: Leandro – He and Hasegawa didn’t see eye to eye, that much is clear, if he and Puig butt heads then I’m not sure he’ll have too many backers left in the FC Tokyo support. A brilliant match-winner on his day, we all know what he can be when it’s not, for FC Tokyo and the league’s sake let’s hope the former, not the latter version rocks up in 2022.
Doubtful: Kashif Bangnagande, Sodai Hasukawa, Akihiro Hayashi (injury)
Notes: Far more change off the field than on it with Mixi taking over as the majority shareholder and Albert Puig moving into the managerial hotseat following a 2-year spell with Niigata. From the outside it appears that any kind of on-field improvement will need to be driven by a kantoku who has a beautiful philosophy on how the game should be played, but never really managed to translate that into meaningful results at Albirex, save for a magical 13 game run at the start of last season. A transitional campaign, give the manager time, yikes I’m using up all the clichés I had saved for the Gamba section several entries below.




Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Best Signing: Gabriel Xavier – An unexpected, but potentially excellent ready-made replacement for Chanathip…as long as his performances don’t go on to show that Massimo Ficcadenti knows rather more about football management than all of us armchair pundits.
Biggest Loss: Chanathip – 2021 was another injury-hit campaign for the Thai superstar, though he did bow out on a high with 3 assists in his last 2 matches. Things had gone a touch stale for him in Sapporo, but he’ll surely be fondly remembered in those parts for years to come.
One to Watch: Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa – I’ll admit I’m highly sceptical of the €700,000 move to Hearts rumours, but the pacy forward has certainly caught the eye of national team coach Hajime Moriyasu and in his second year as a pro will be expected to shoulder a greater burden of Consadole’s attacking hopes.
Doubtful: Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (injury)
Notes: The winds of change haven’t been blowing too strongly up in Sapporo with minimal transfer business being conducted. GX10 (will he change his name to GX18?) and Koroki are the only 2 senior signings, but given how they’ve worked the varsity market in recent years, I wouldn’t bet against Sora Igawa (Tsukuba Univ.) and Hiromu Tanaka (Rissho Univ.) turning out to be pretty handy.




Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Best Signing: Taishi Semba – The Ryutsu Keizai University graduate says he’s looked up to Toshihiro Aoyama for a number of years and if all goes according to plan he could well be the one to take over the legendary Sanfrecce midfield maestro’s spot in the not too distant future.
Biggest Loss: Kodai Dohi – Failed to build on a promising 2020 due to a succession of injuries, but a loan spell with Mito is absolutely the right move to resuscitate his career.
One to Watch: Junior Santos – If the 2020 Yokohama F. Marinos version of Junior Santos turns up this year then it’ll be as good as a new signing for the three arrows.
Doubtful: Tsukasa Morishima, Yoichi Naganuma, Douglas Vieira (injury), Kantoku Michael Skibbe (Visa)
Notes: After pleading poverty for much of last year, the additions of Tsukasa Shiotani and Michael Skibbe following spells in the Middle East indicate that there is money available if they choose to use it. Skibbe’s delayed arrival has thrown an unwelcome spanner in the works, though he is fortunate to have a settled squad at his disposal, albeit one that largely underperformed relative to their game-by-game stats in 2021.




Cerezo Osaka

Best Signing: Jean Patric – I must admit I don’t know a whole lot about him, but he appears to have a decent pedigree and fills a spot that really needed an upgrade as a result of the person I’ll talk about below departing.
Biggest Loss: Tatsuhiro Sakamoto – A fine player who slightly lost his way in what was a disappointing 2021 campaign overall for the Cherry Blossoms. Still, as a result of his 2020 form and the performances he put in at the start of last year, he’s done more than enough to merit his move.
One to Watch: Takashi Inui – I wasn’t a big fan of his return when it was initially announced due to Cerezo having a plethora of 30-somethings already on their books, but given the way this year’s squad is shaping up I feel he’ll have a vital role to play as an impact sub and dressing room leader.
Doubtful: Takashi Inui, Hinata Kida, Adam Taggart, Đặng Văn Lâm (injury), Jean Patric (Visa)
Notes: I like their winter transfer work a whole lot more than I did last year (see what I said about them in the Urawa section above), especially the acquisition of Nagasaki’s jewel-in-the-crown Seiya Maikuma (sorry for telling everyone how good he was Daniel!) The permanent appointment of Akio Kogiku who, according to Transfermarkt, has been at the club in one capacity or another since 1998 could be a masterstroke as he’s surely amassed the clout that will allow him to tap a few shoulders and break the news to several veterans that they’re no longer the automatic choices they once were.

Additional Note: Croatian defender Matej Jonjić is rumoured to be returning in the coming days. If that move happens he’ll be the main centre-back upon his arrival in the country with Nishio and Shindo battling it out to partner him. He’d also overtake Jean Patric as my choice for ‘best signing.’




Gamba Osaka

Best Signing: Mitsuki Saito – Not a signing I really expected going into the transfer window, but a more than welcome addition to the Nerazzurri’s midfield ranks
Biggest Loss: Kim Young-gwon / Yosuke Ideguchi – Neither were at their best in 2021 (a comment which could pretty much be applied to the majority of the squad), but both will be missed dearly by the Ao to Kuro faithful.
One to Watch: Hiroto Yamami – I should probably have chosen him in the ‘best signing’ category, but thought he’d fit better here instead. Hopefully that worldy against Shimizu was just a taste of what’s to come as he’s set himself the target of scoring double digits this year.
Doubtful: Jun Ichimori, Leandro Pereira (injury), Dawhan, Kwon Kyung-won (Visa)
Notes: As close to a free-hit of a season as you’ll ever get as Gamba kantoku awaits Tomohiro Katanosaka, though that didn’t stop him heaping pressure on himself by setting 3rd as the target for this year. Gamba fans I’ve talked to say that top 8 is more realistic, especially with Kawasaki, Marinos, Kobe, Kashima and Urawa all looking particularly strong. To quote Celtic supporters, “trust the process,” Katanosaka is a man with a plan and that’s something that was sorely missing for the majority of 2021.




Shimizu S-Pulse

Best Signing: Takeru Kishimoto – A surprisingly difficult choice this one, as though regular readers will remember I picked out Kishimoto as someone to keep an eye on in my Scouting J1 article last autumn, I can’t help but feel there were more logical moves for both him and Shimizu to make. Granted the S-Pulse front office and I never appear to be on the same frequency when it comes to ideas on how to take the club forward.
Biggest Loss: Hideki Ishige – I know he was at Okayama on loan at the end of last season, but his departure sums up, for me at least, the malaise at the Nihondaira. A once mighty powerhouse born out of the cradle of Japanese football now reduced to letting long-serving youth academy graduates leave for rival clubs while the powers-that-be continue to blindly spin the roulette wheel, trying in hope, more than expectation to find the coaches and players necessary to bring back the glory days.
One to Watch: Yuito Suzuki – I’m sure you’ve all seen his wonder strike against Shonan, however, unfortunately that was one of only two goals he’s amassed in 63 J1 outings since turning pro in 2020. Imagine the heights regular contributions from him, in addition to Thiago Santana’s steady stream of goals, could take S-Pulse to.
Doubtful: Renato Augusto, Akira Ibayashi, Takumi Kato, Kenta Nishizawa (injury)
Notes: I realise I’ve been a bit harsh on S-Pulse above and it’s absolutely nothing personal as they’re an iconic and extremely likeable club, I just struggle to be overly positive when their front office keeps making baffling decisions. The Peter Cklamovski experiment was ditched in favour of the ultra-defensive Lotina brand of football and now they’ve opted for the man who came in to temporarily do a spot of firefighting at the end of both 2020 and 2021, the particularly tricky to say regardless if you go Japanese or western style, Hiroaki Hiraoka (or Hiraoka Hiroaki if you prefer). There’s loads of depth on the flanks, but any injury or departure down the central spine of the team (Gonda, Yoshinori Suzuki, Matsuoka and Thiago Santana) would sting badly.

Additional Notes: Reports out of South Korea suggest that S-Pulse have tabled a large bid for Ulsan Hyundai’s tall forward Oh Se-hun. On Paper the highly-rated 23 year old would be a quality addition, but it would also leave Shimizu with 7 foreign talents on their books. Do they never get the memo from the J. League about only being allowed 5 in your matchday squad?




Kashiwa Reysol

Best Signing: Tomoya Koyamatsu – Big shoes to fill in attack, he’s coming off the back of a decent couple of seasons with Tosu and should quickly become a fan favourite at the Hitachidai.
Biggest Loss: Cristiano – The now 35-year old club legend departs after 7 years with the Sunkings. Sure he may be past his prime, but having seen him perform in the flesh last year, he’s very much still got it and I’m certain he’ll tear up J2 with Nagasaki.
One to Watch: Douglas – With the fearsome foursome of Olunga, Cristiano, Esaka and Segawa all gone, the goalscoring burden falls on the previously prolific, but perhaps slightly over-the-hill Douglas. Is there still enough fire there for one final hurrah before he rides off into the sunset?
Notes: I believe it was Gabriele Anello who pointed out that 2021 saw the most managerial changes in J. League history, a good number of them appeared harsh when viewed from afar, but on the flip side of the coin, Kashiwa’s stubborn dedication to keeping Nelsinho in the hotseat continues to puzzle me. Of course the Brazilian is a legend in Kashiwa circles, however, he had 38 J1 games last season to work out his best eleven and formation, and never managed it. If he doesn’t know, then how am I supposed to? I’ve gone 4-2-3-1 below, but 3-4-2-1, 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 are all possible. I’m not saying it’ll actually happen, but they’ll surely be a popular pick for big team who could go down this year.




Shonan Bellmare

Best Signing: Ryota Nagaki – The return of the prodigal son was an easy choice here, he’ll bring skill and more importantly a wealth of experience to help shepherd along Bellmare’s exciting crop of youngsters.
Biggest Loss: Mitsuki Saito – I know that selecting both Ishige and Saito as the biggest loss for their respective clubs may come across as extreme Gamba bias (especially given Saito was on loan at Rubin Kazan in 2021), but hear me out, how often do Shonan come through a winter transfer window with all their prized assets still in place? Hata, Tanaka and Hiraoka are still there, leaving me with the rare predicament of struggling to find a departed player Shonan will really miss this year.
One to Watch: Satoshi Tanaka – When I saw that Takuji Yonemoto had moved to Shonan on loan and Tanaka still hadn’t been confirmed as a Bellmare player for 2022, I felt sure we were less than 24 hours away from witnessing his unveiling at the Toyota Stadium, but alas it was not to be and he’ll continue developing down on the Shonan coast, for now at least, whether that’s as a holding midfielder or centre-back remains to be seen.
Notes: This is Satoshi Yamaguchi’s first full campaign at the helm and it’ll be interesting to observe what tactical alterations, if any, he makes. As you can see below, there are a number of players of similar abilities competing for spots across the field which can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. I’ve tried my hardest to cram Tanaka, Nagaki and Yonemoto into the same lineup, Yamaguchi may have other ideas. They were the best defensive team in the bottom half last year and with the business they’ve done since should be even stronger now. My concerns are at the other end, they accrued a league high 16 draws last season and joint top scorers Wellington and Naoki Yamada only managed 5 apiece, there’s nothing to suggest they’ll be any more prolific in 2022.




Júbilo Iwata

Best Signing: Ricardo Graça – Again, hands up, I don’t know a whole lot about him, but the rest of Júbilo’s transfer business hasn’t been much to write home about and although Kentaro Oi has given the club years of good service, promotion back to J1 should very much be the signal to put him out to pasture, the capture of Graça allows the club to do just that.
Biggest Loss: Lukian – A huge blow to the side’s attack and also their collective psyche to lose such an important player to a team, in Fukuoka, that despite far out-performing Júbilo on the field in 2021, would have been viewed as a step-down for the majority of the clubs’ respective histories.
One to Watch: Yasuhito Endo – Gamba let Endo go in mid-2020 as despite his passing and vision still being top drawer, the veteran (who’s the same age as Steven Gerrard and Xavi, don’t forget) couldn’t get around the park like he used to. We’ll have an answer on how right or wrong that decision was very soon.
Doubtful: Dudu, Ricardo Graça (Visa)
Notes: An extremely impressive promotion campaign followed up by the appointment of highly-rated Kofu boss Akira Ito had things looking rather spritely for a time in Iwata. However, the club don’t really appear to have backed the new kantoku enough in the transfer market. Kenyu Sugimoto could work, but I wouldn’t bet on it, there are question marks surrounding when their 2 new marquee Brazilians can get into the country and long-standing issues related to a chronic lack of pace throughout the squad haven’t been sufficiently addressed over the winter.

Additional Note: Brazilian forward Vinícius Araújo, now a free agent after failing to agree terms on a new deal with Yamagata, is a possible addition before the season begins. He’d take over the centre-forward berth from Sugimoto should he decide to make the Yamaha Stadium his home for 2022.




Kyoto Sanga

Best Signing: Rikito Inoue – Despite the club making a number of winter signings, few of them are clearly better than the options already in place. Inoue, who’s moved east from Okayama with Dutchman Jordy Buijs travelling in the opposite direction, is the pick of the bunch for me. Readers of my Scouting J2 article will know I’m a big fan of his and with Shogo Asada still onboard, Sanga have two of the top centre-backs from J2 2021 in their ranks, albeit neither of them has a single minute of J1 action to their name.
Biggest Loss: Jordy Buijs – His departure came as something of a surprise and I’ve no doubt that he’ll continue to prove himself to be one of the best defenders in J2 with Fagiano this season.
One to Watch: Peter Utaka – 38 years young when the season kicks off, if he can keep banging them in then Kyoto could (could, not will – please remember) be this year’s Fukuoka.
Doubtful: Naoto Misawa, Tomoya Wakahara (injury), Michael Woud (injury/Visa)
Notes: Reasons to be cheerful; they’ve got a coach who knows what it takes to survive in J1 and a squad with a decent sprinkling of top tier experience, especially when compared with other recent newly promoted sides. Reasons to be fearful; the murky goalkeeping situation, a lack of J1 experience at centre-back and central midfield and a host of Hail Mary signings that could all fall flat. The rather unorthodox Genki Omae may be the most likely to deliver from a list of names which also includes Mendes, Hisashi Appiah Tawiah, Martinus, Ryogo Yamasaki and Yuta Toyokawa.




If you’ve made it this far, thank you and congratulations! I hope this guide has been useful for you, look out for plenty more posts from me throughout the year and enjoy the 2022 J1 season whoever you support!

Categories
sport

Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare 4 December 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare
2021 J1 Season Round 38
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 4 December 2021
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


It’s the end of the J1 season and spirits are in the sky…well not really in the case of Gamba or Shonan who have both endured campaigns to forget. These two meet at Panasonic Stadium on Saturday with the Nerazzurri having only pride to play for while Bellmare’s top flight survival hinges on this game as well as Hiroshima’s visit to Tokushima. As long as the the side from Kanagawa match or better their Shikoku based rivals’ result at home to Sanfrecce then they’ll be fine. However, former Gamba centre-back and assistant kantoku Satoshi Yamaguchi shouldn’t count on getting an easy ride from the Ao to Kuro.

Gamba will be keen to avoid closing the year out with 3 losses on the spin and while recent defeats to Nagoya (1-3) and Kawasaki (1-4) look poor on paper, both Grampus and Frontale were rather flattered by the final scorelines. It should be pointed out though, that in the context of the Nerazzurri’s season as a whole, with chances being ceded to opponents at an alarming rate, these kind of outcomes have to be expected from time to time. Last week Shonan fluffed their lines too, going down 1-0 at home to relegation rivals Tokushima when a draw could have all but secured their J1 status and a win would have sealed the deal. In their defence, Bellmare had to deal with the shock death of Brazilian midfielder Riuler Oliveira in the build up and that tragedy was likely a significant contributing factor in their limp display. They must now dust themselves off though as they are very much drinking at the last chance saloon and need to put in the kind of performance that would have made their fallen team-mate proud.

As this is the final match preview of the year, a couple of quick parish notices. First, I’d like to congratulate Kyoto Sanga on their promotion back to J1, having 4 Kansai teams in the top flight is great for the region and also gives me the opportunity to once again moan about the lack of professional clubs in an area with a population not far off that of Australia. It’d be great to see the likes of FC Osaka and FC TIAMO Hirakata as well as sides from Mie, Nara, Shiga and Wakayama one day compete in the J.League. Finally, thanks again to everyone for all your support this year, I really appreciate you taking the time to read, comment on, share and like my posts. Honestly, the fact that I can put up an article on WordPress and see that it’s been read by people from all the world’s inhabited continents within a matter of hours still blows my mind. At this stage I’ve no idea where 2022 will take me, but I’m always open to ideas and suggestions.

Oh…and in case anyone wondered….Yokohama FC (away) has been the most viewed match preview of 2021 to date, rather randomly.

Tale of the Tape

As I alluded to above, I felt the nature of Gamba’s last 2 defeats was a bit harsh and that’s backed up by the fact that the 7 goals the Nerazzurri conceded came from an xG Against figure of just 2.74. This wouldn’t really offer me much comfort if I was a Shonan supporter as I’d be worried that Gamba might be due a lucky break at some point in the upcoming 90 minutes. While both Kawasaki and Nagoya have extremely efficient attacks, the same can’t really be said about the men from Hiratsuka which is evidenced by their top scorers Wellington and Naoki Yamada having just 5 goals apiece.

Like Gamba, Shonan average less than a goal per game in J1 2021, 36 in 37 outings versus Gamba’s 33, with that number lying 0.12 below their xG For average. At the other end of the park, among sides in the bottom half of the standings, only Hiroshima (40) have conceded less that Bellmare’s 41. Gamba (49) rank joint third for that particular statistic which is actually just marginally worse than when they finished 2nd 12 months ago (1.32 per game in 2021 compared with 1.24 last year). It’s interesting that the name Sanfrecce crept up as I was going to mention them anyway with the two fixtures between Hiroshima and Shonan this year producing some particularly odd outcomes. First, Bellmare won 1-0 at the Edion Stadium despite recording a season low xG For of 0.18, however, things were evened out and then some in the return match at the Lemon Gas Stadium. Following Kosei Shibasaki’s early sending off for the visitors, the home side pounded Takuto Hayashi’s goal and racked up a 3.06-0.07 xG victory while also posting season best stats in the categories of Shots For/Shots For on target, Shots Against/Shots Against on target, possession % and passes completed. Unfortunately, in the real word all that added up to was an extremely frustrating 0-0 draw which combined with the farcical ending to their 4-2 home loss at the hands of Kashiwa in June and skipper Takuya Okamoto’s long running bitter battle against VAR has rather summed up the Kanagawa outfit’s season.

Shonan have drawn 15 league games to date this year, more than any other side in the division, and the 10 of those recorded at home have been particularly damaging to their hopes of progressing up the table. Away from Hiratsuka, Bellmare possess the 4th worst record in J1 with just 17 points from 18 games. Interestingly, Gamba are 4th bottom of the home standings, averaging just a solitary point per outing at Panasonic Stadium. The Nerazzurri should be keen to end a disappointing year in winning fashion in front of their home supporters and with the spotlight very much on this clash, as well as the one taking place at the Pocari Sweat Stadium, we are likely to see a strong Gamba side take the field with the majority of the starters probably still being on board come the commencement of the 2022 campaign, so don’t go expecting any mass downing of tools. If I was devising the Ao to Kuro’s strategy for Saturday I would suggest using Shonan’s desperation for points as an advantage. Gamba have been poor at home, in no small part, because of a susceptibility to the counter attack. With that in mind, the Nerazzurri should treat this like an away game and invite Bellmare onto them, keep a compact shape and aim to pick them off on the counter.





Head to Head

Shonan and Gamba played out a largely dull and uneventful 0-0 draw in Hiratsuka at the beginning of June, the Nerazzurri’s final league match before heading off to Uzbekistan for the ACL group stage. Significantly though, that hard won point moved Gamba out of the relegation zone for the first time since the opening round of the season. Both fixtures in 2020 were tight affairs also, Bellmare stunned the Nerazzurri with a 1-0 win at Panasonic Stadium, their first league triumph in Suita under their present name. Genta Miura misread Daiki Kaneko’s neatly threaded through ball (it’s been quite a surprise to see him disappear without a trace at Reds) and centre-back Kazunari Ohno fired home at the back post to seal a smash-and-grab 3 pointer. As I discussed in detail in this section last week, that result sparked Gamba into life and they’d go on to lose just 3 more times in their remaining 19 league outings to finish the year in 2nd. En route to that runners up spot they exacted revenge on Shonan, defeating them 2-1 on their own turf in early December. Yuya Fukuda’s fine strike from the edge of the area was cancelled out by Hiroto Nakagawa before Patric won the game midway through the second half. Masaaki Goto, deputising for the ineligible Kosei Tani, later pulled off a fine stop to deny the Brazilian a 2nd and the Nerazzurri had to be content with a 2-1 victory.


Gamba Osaka


Being the final week of the season, this section features a bit of a hodge-podge of information so I thought bullet points was the simplest way to format it.

* Just 1 win and 7 points gleaned from the opening 12 games of the year combined with the Covid cluster to scuttle Gamba’s season before it ever got up-and-running. It’s worth noting that since then they’ve accumulated 36 points from 25 matches (1.44 points per game), a rate that would have seen them sit joint 8th with Avispa Fukuoka had it been achieved over the course of the whole year (excuses, excuses, I know!) Why do I mention this you ask? It seems that Oita kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka will be in charge next year and I felt it was right to attempt to measure where Gamba currently stand when you factor out the impact of the Covid outbreak (a factor that will hopefully be absent in 2022).

* To counter-balance what could be construed as the cherry picking of stats above, let me point out that in the 3 of the last 4 seasons Gamba have flirted with the drop zone for various lengths of time. This is a far cry from the trophy-laden glory years of Nishino and Hasegawa which all of a blue and black persuasion will hope Katanosaka can rekindle. Patience is the key, however, Rome wasn’t built in a day and it’s important for the Nerazzurri’s front office and tifosi to remember that.

* Gamba’s home kit for the 2022 campaign season will be unveiled before kick off on Saturday. This, of course, will be the first uniform to be adorned by the new club crest which I’m sure will lead to some interesting takes on Twitter. Personally, I hope to keep hearing opposition supporters going on about the new badge well into next year, as that will probably be a good indicator that Gamba are doing well on the field and the club’s detractors have to look elsewhere for things to criticise (tongue half planted in cheek while typing this, just half mind lol).

* If anyone was wondering, yes I was purring as Takashi Usami rolled back the years to slalom through the Kawasaki defence, leaving my mum’s favourite Shogo Taniguchi for dead before dinking the ball over Jung Sung-ryong in the 17th minute last Saturday. More of the same this week please!

* Usami’s strike partner Patric is currently sitting on 13 goals, joint 5th in the top scorers rankings only behind the leading marksmen from the current top 4. To put the 34 year-old’s performance in context, this is already his highest ever J1 haul in a Gamba shirt, beating the previous record of 12 set in 2015. Granted he did score 20 for Sanfrecce back in 2018, but I still think it’s apt to say he’s ageing like a fine wine.

* On the subject of Gamba’s forwards, remove the tallies of Patric, Usami and Leandro Pereira from the equation and the rest of the squad have amassed 9 goals from 37 J1 games…I’m not sure there’s a strong enough word to convey my feelings about that.

* Gen Shoji being dispossessed by a Kawasaki midfielder midway through the 2nd half of Saturday’s encounter which subsequently saw him berate team-mates for not warning him is indicative of the issues that have been plaguing Gamba throughout the year. I remember a few weeks back in the draw at Urawa, a Reds player was racing past the half-way line on a dangerous counter-attack and Shu Kurata took him out, receiving a yellow card for his troubles. At that time I thought to myself, that kind of thing should have been happening months earlier when the likes of Shoma Doi and Takuma Nishimura were allowed to canter through the Gamba defence almost unopposed before scoring. Katanosaka’s Oita sides are generally among the league’s least booked teams, so hopefully he has something up his sleeve to stop the Nerazzurri constantly finding themselves on their heels with marauding forwards bearing down on their goal and Masaaki Higashiguchi left to save the day time and time again (116 saves for the year and counting).

* Gamba sit 13th in J1 at the moment and due to having a far inferior goal difference compared with 12th placed Hiroshima (-16 vs 0) they can’t finish any higher. They hold a mere 2 point advantage over Kashiwa in 14th and the Sunkings have a winnable looking final fixture at home to Oita, so it’s definitely in Gamba’s best interests to aim for 3 points against Shonan in order to finish as far up the table as possible. Incidentally, due to playing catch up for most of the year, they’ve actually only spent one week higher than 13th in the standings, that was following their Hiroto Yamami inspired 1-0 victory at Shimizu in August.

Team News

Typical, you get to the end of the season and just about everyone is fit again! Backup goalkeeper Jun Ichimori is out as a result of undergoing hamstring surgery, while forward Leandro Pereira suffered a relapse of his hamstring injury and is currently back home in Brazil recovering (this was confirmed by the club on December 1st). There are also doubts over Kim Young-gwon and Ryu Takao. Kim went off injured in the 1-0 win over Tosu on October 23rd, and was absent from Tuesday’s (November 30th) open training session. Takao wasn’t in the squad for the Frontale loss and having been taken off at half-time in the 2 previous fixtures with Oita and Nagoya, it’s unclear if he missed out at Todoroki because of injury or non selection.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Shonan Bellmare

Perhaps the biggest anomaly in Shonan’s season to date was Satoshi Yamaguchi taking over from Bin Ukishima at the beginning of September after the latter had just seen off Cerezo (and Levir Culpi – he always needs a mention) 5-1 away and drawn 0-0 at home to the side they love antagonising the most, Urawa. Not exactly a turn of events that would usually precipitate a managerial switch at a yo-yo/elevator (pick your poison) team like Bellmare. With 2 wins and 10 points from the 10 games since the move, it’s turned out ok, but hasn’t exactly been a roaring success either. Regular J1 watchers may feel that Shonan are something akin to a cat whose nine lives are almost up as they narrowly avoided the drop in 2019, drawing 1-1 at home with Tokushima in the promotion/relegation playoff and then finished 18th and last during the chaotic 2020 season when relegation was off the table. This is their 4th year in a row in Japan’s top flight, their longest streak since the Bellmare Hiratsuka era of the 1990s. Indeed, the side famous for developing Hidetoshi Nakata in the J.League’s formative years is now home to a new generation of prodigious talents in the shape of Satoshi Tanaka, Taiyo Hiraoka and Taiga Hata. They potentially have a tough battle on their hands to keep that trio at the club regardless of what division they are playing in next season.

Speaking of 2022, Shonan have been busy snapping up yet more young talent to bolster their ranks. Defender Kodai Minoda (Hosei University) and forward Ryo Nemoto (Kanoya National Institute for Sport) will come on board with Nemoto having already made 3 J1 appearances across the past 2 seasons as a designated special player. Versatile duo Naoki Hara and Taisei Ishii will be promoted from Bellmare’s youth setup while defender Sere Matsumura (Teikyo Nagaoka High School), midfielder Junnosuke Suzuki (Teikyo University Kani High School) and attacker Akito Suzuki (Hannan University High School, Osaka) round out the new faces.

Team News

As I’m currently running on fumes from a long, hard slog of a season I’ll be mercifully brief in here. Kosei Tani can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement and Kashima loanee Daiki Sugioka is likely to be absent too. He was last seen in the home loss to Yokohama F. Marinos on October 1st while his former Antlers team-mate Shintaro Nago hasn’t surfaced since the game at Nagoya on August 15th. The club confirmed that he had undergone surgery on December 1st to cure a foot problem picked up in training on August 17th and would be out for a further 3 months.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





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

Categories
sport

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka 27 November 2021 Match Preview

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 37
Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium
Saturday 27 November 2021
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


It’s the Azzurro Nero versus the Nerazzurri as the penultimate round of the J1 season sees Gamba make the trip to Todoroki Stadium to face 2021 champions Kawasaki Frontale. Fresh from a 3-1 reverse at home to Nagoya Grampus courtesy of a combination of razor sharp counter-attacking and lax pressing (more on that later), the Nerazzurri will be out to replicate their previous visit to Kanagawa earlier this month when they ended the title dreams of Yokohama F. Marinos with an excellent backs-to-the-wall effort. That result, in conjunction with Kawasaki’s 1-1 draw with Urawa, saw the Dolphins lift a 4th J1 crown in 5 years and they subsequently followed that up with a rather hungover display in the 3-1 loss at Tosu, where like Gamba against Nagoya, they went into the sheds 3-0 down. Predictably, Toru Oniki’s side rebounded emphatically with a 4-1 rout of the Ao to Kuro’s prefectural rivals Cerezo in Osaka last weekend and those of a Gamba persuasion will be praying that Frontale take their foot off the gas on Saturday ahead of a mouth-watering final day visit to the Nissan Stadium. Depending on the result of this encounter and Marinos’ trip to Vissel Kobe, it’s possible a Kawasaki win on December 4th could potentially knock Kevin Muscat’s side down to 3rd, an outcome I’m sure @frontalerabbit and co. would relish.

Tale of the Tape

A brief look through Kawasaki’s key performance indicators in the table below shows that their 13 point gap at the top of J1 is certainly no fluke. They are the best team at home, the best team away and the best team overall. 26 goals conceded makes their defence the strongest in the division for that metric and that correlates with their xG Against performance. Although they trail Yokohama F. Marinos by 3 in the goals scored rankings (76 vs YFM’s 79), we can say they do have a more efficient attack than their great rivals, generating those goals from 1.3 fewer shots and an xG of 0.24 less per game. Like cool, calculating assassins Frontale strike their opponents quickly and decisively often putting games to bed well before the final whistle, which is likely a factor in them only recording more than 20 shots in a match on one occasion in J1 2021 (Sanfrecce at home in April). This compares with Marinos and Kashima (both 6), perhaps demonstrating the sheer importance of having someone of the calibre of Leandro Damião in your ranks while YFM have struggled to replace Ado Onaiwu, and Everaldo has been posted missing for Antlers this season.

Gamba have notched 25 of their 43 points to date on the road and still appear way more comfortable operating the counter-attacking system Tsuneyasu Miyamoto employed throughout the 2020 campaign rather than the high-press that went so horribly wrong against Grampus last Saturday. It seems likely that despite the Nerazzurri having nothing but pride left to play for that they’ll rock up at Todoroki fully intent on parking the bus. Gamba’s attack, in contrast to Kawasaki’s, is highly inefficient, though as I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions previously, it is tough making head-nor-tail of the Nerazzurri’s season statistics as a whole due to the constant rotation we saw during the summer months. The Ao to Kuro will create something against Frontale, it may not be much, but if Patric (7 goals in his last 9 J1 appearances) is on form against one of his former teams and Kiyama gets the defence set up properly then it’s definitely possible for Gamba to frustrate their hosts, nick a goal on the counter, and defy the odds.





Head to Head


During the Covid-era, Frontale have very much had the wood over Gamba. If you include the 2020 Emperor’s Cup Final and 2021 Japanese Super Cup then it’s a perfect 5 from 5 for the Kanagawa giants with 12 scored and a mere 2 conceded. You have to go back to the 2-2 draw the sides played out at Panasonic Stadium in October 2019 for the last time the Nerazzurri avoided defeat in this fixture.

Last year there was plenty of respect on show as the top two clashed in Suita on August 1st. Gamba had the better of the opening stanza, before the half-time introduction of Kaoru Mitoma changed things decisively in the visitors favour. It was he who teed up Ryota Oshima a matter of minutes after his arrival for the game’s only goal. The result, only Gamba’s 2nd loss of the year at that point sparked a poor sequence of results, proving to be the 1st in a run of 5 defeats in 9 games, though following the home reverse to Shonan on 13th September, the Ao to Kuro suffered just a solitary loss in their next 14 fixtures. I’d rather not spend too much time dwelling on the events of 25th November 2020 at the Todoroki Stadium, as Kawasaki, chastened by their 1-0 defeat at Oita days earlier brushed Gamba aside 5-0 to wrap up the J1 title with 4 games to spare. What I’d much rather say is what a truly phenomenal achievement it was to finish so far ahead of the chasing pack in such a chaotic year with a squad largely made up of university graduates, youth team products and undervalued talents from other clubs.

Perhaps with the 5-0 still fresh in his mind, then Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto adopted an extremely defensive mindset ahead of the battle between these two at Panasonic Stadium in May. That contest would prove to be Miyamoto’s penultimate game in charge of Gamba and it ended in a disappointing 2-0 defeat. The Nerazzurri contained Frontale reasonably well in the early stages, but were stung by Leandro Damião’s goal in the 41st minute following an excellent counter-attack. Kaoru Mitoma (who else?) sealed the deal in the final quarter as Yota Sato, playing out of position at right-back, proved no match for the silky winger. Patric missed a glorious late chance to bag a consolation, heading Keisuke Kurokawa’s delicious cross wide, but I’ll remember this game mostly for Ao Tanaka’s outstanding display in the middle of the park and the Nerazzurri will certainly be thankful that neither he nor Mitoma will be donning their side’s Azzurro Nero jerseys on Saturday.



Gamba Osaka


With J1 safety secured, many Gamba fans were keenly anticipating the announcement of the starting lineup for the match against Grampus last Saturday. Unfortunately, when it was released, it was a crushing disappointment, Sato out of the squad, Fukuda and Yamami on the bench, no Jiro Nakamura and a starting eleven so conservative in nature that it would even make Hajime Moriyasu blush! Perhaps worst of all was captain Genta Miura returning to re-form his partnership with Shunya Suganuma which was last seen in the 4-0 home loss against Cerezo in the Levain Cup (and will hopefully never be seen again). I’m loathe to have a go at one player in particular, however Miura stunk the joint out on Saturday, especially in the first half. Granted, the team as a whole have still to get to grips with the high press system, but he exacerbated that problem by constantly charging out of defence into central midfield leaving big gaps for the impressive Yuki Soma and Jakub Świerczok to exploit (especially, in Soma’s case, it was as if the lessons from the away game at Toyota Stadium had simply been ignored). Ryu Takao was hauled off for Ko Yanagisawa at half-time, but had Miura not been wearing the armband then he’d surely have been replaced by Gen Shoji (who I assume was still not 100%).

Despite that scathing rant, there were several bright spots on Saturday. The attacking verve showed at times in the first-half was impressive, though sadly lacking in end product. We ‘won’ the second-half, always important psychologically in these scenarios and I’d argue it should have been 2-0 instead of 1-0 as I’m not sure why Patric’s 72nd minute effort was ruled out (offside or foul? Neither option seems clear and obvious to me, why wasn’t there at least a VAR review?). The 4-1-4-1 on display at the end of the match with Usami and Wellington Silva playing just ahead of Kohei Okuno in the centre of the park was also an interesting experiment. It’s tough to get a proper read on how the substitutes truly performed given that Nagoya parked the bus in the second 45 following their first-half smash-and-grab, but I was encouraged with the purpose and intent shown by Fukuda and Yamami down the wings and the ball-winning abilities of Okuno (whose interception led to Patric’s goal), I’d really like to see more of that triumvirate in the 2 remaining fixtures.

Finally, some very brief transfer gossip. 31-year old, left-footed Dutch centre-back Dave Bulthuis will leave Ulsan Hyundai this winter ahead of the presumed arrival of Kim Young-gwon and he and FC Ryukyu’s currently injured stopper Tetsuya Chinen are the names buzzing around Gamba supporter circles at present when the topic of new signings for 2022 crops up. I will say that I think it’s quite possible that one of, Bulthuis, Chinen, Yoshinori Suzuki (Shimizu), Henrique Trevisan (Oita), Eduardo (Tosu), Shogo Asada (Kyoto) or Rikito Inoue (Okayama) will join the Nerazzurri this winter, though I wouldn’t like to bet on who. Elsewhere, Yokohama FC’s relegation to J2 has seen reports that captain Tatsuki Seko will move to Nagoya while winger Yusuke Matsuo and bustling Brazilian forward Saulo Mineiro have plenty of admirers. Much as I’d like to see Matsuo in Suita, I can’t see it happening, Mineiro, could be pricey and also has the potential to be the next Junior Santos, but he may be someone the Gamba front office is looking at.

Oh, and a quick note to say that Shoji Toyama bagged his first J2 goal at the 17th time of asking, although it wasn’t enough to stop his Ehime FC side going down 2-1 at home to Sagamihara in their relegation 6-pointer on Sunday.

Team News

Vice-captain Shu Kurata will miss this clash after picking up his 4th yellow card of the season against Nagoya. Matsunami stated that Leandro Pereira was fit again, but he wasn’t in the squad for the match with Grampus, whether he’s suffered an injury relapse or it’s a sign he won’t be at the club next season remains to be seen, he didn’t appear in any photos of Gamba’s open training session on Tuesday, and today (Wednesday) Football Tribe linked him with a return to Brazil next year. Other than that, backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori (hamstring) is done for the year, Kim Young-gwon is still missing after picking up a knock vs Tosu on October 23rd, Yuji Ono is continuing his rehabilitation work, while pictorial evidence from Tuesday (November 23rd) shows that Shinya Yajima and Dai Tsukamoto have now returned to full training.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Kawasaki Frontale

What to say about Toru Oniki and his Kawasaki side that hasn’t already been said? An unprecedented 4 J1 titles in 5 years and league records shattered all over the place. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which of their triumphs has been the best, but this season’s has to be up there, running at a clip of 2.44 points per game (exactly the same rate as in 2020), despite the winter departure of Hidemasa Morita, the mid-year losses of Ao Tanaka and Kaoru Mitoma, ACL involvement, an injury crisis and strong challenges from resurgent Marinos and Kobe teams. With star centre-back Jesiel now a long-term injury casualty, forwards Damião, Kobayashi and Ienaga ageing and consistent performers Hatate and Yamane potentially heading off to Europe, are we witnessing the end of an era? Perhaps yes, though don’t expect Frontale to fall off a cliff any time soon. Sure, Toru Oniki may be called up to replace Moriyasu in the national team hot-seat post Qatar 2022, (though still being a few years shy of his 50th birthday I’m not sure that’s an avenue he’s looking to go down at this stage of his career), but as long as the former Kashima and Kawasaki midfielder continues to pull the strings from the dugout then they’ll remain a force to be reckoned with.

Kento Tachibanada has really stood up in the midfield in the latter part of the year, while Ten Miyagi and Daiya Tono could have bigger parts to play from next season and there is still the returning Taisei Miyashiro (currently on loan at Tokushima) to consider. Additionally, behind the scenes the Azzurro Nero have been busily preparing the squad for 2022 and beyond. Think they are going to be a wounded beast next year? Think again. Japan Under-22 captain Renji Matsui (Hosei University) has already put pen to paper and would make an ideal replacement for Hatate (his older sister Airi is a Japanese talento, so I’m sure he’ll have no problems making friends with his new team-mates!!) Frontale also beat off reported interest from Gamba and Tosu to land left-back Asahi Sasaki (Ryutsu Keizai University), rated the best full-back in varsity football at the moment. Other new arrivals for 2022 will be, goalkeeper Yuki Hayasaka (Toin Yokohama University – alma mater of Yamane, Tachibanada and Zain Issaka), and forwards Takatora Einaga (Kokoku High School in Osaka – Kyogo Furuhashi and Takumi Minamino’s old stomping ground) and Taiyo Igarashi (promoted from the youth team).

Team News

As alluded to above, Jesiel, for my money the best centre-back in the league, damaged his cruciate knee ligaments against Sagan Tosu on 7th November and has now returned to his native Brazil for treatment, his season is over. Information on other absentees is a little harder to come by. João Schmidt last played in the 2-1 win at Kashima on September on 22nd September, rugged central-midfielder / centre-back Koki Tsukagawa was an unused sub in that match and has no further appearances after that, while Tatsuya Hasegawa hasn’t been selected since missing a penalty in the ACL last 16 shootout loss to Ulsan Hyundai on September 14th. According to @frontalerabbit they are all fit and there are rumours that either or both Schmidt and Hasegawa could depart in the winter, though he also added that due to the ever secretive world of J. League injuries, it’s possible the trio are all dealing with minor problems that haven’t been made public.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

Categories
sport

Gamba Osaka vs Nagoya Grampus 20 November 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Nagoya Grampus
2021 J1 Season Round 36
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 20 November 2021
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


Just 3 games remain in the 2021 edition of J1 and Gamba are finally mathematically safe following their come-from-behind 3-2 victory at Oita on November 7th. The Nerazzurri have rallied after being battered 5-1 at home by Sapporo last month, responding with 10 points from 4 games to plant themselves in amongst a train of teams battling for 10th. Saturday’s visitors Nagoya dropped the baton last time out, drawing 1-1 away at basement dwelling Sendai, a result that leaves them 5th in the standings, level with Kashima, but crucially 5 points worse off than 3rd placed Vissel Kobe, occupants of the final ACL spot. However, should Grampus accrue enough points from this clash and their two remaining outings against Cerezo (a) and Reds (h), it’s possible they could end up in 4th which, combined with Kawasaki lifting the Emperor’s Cup, would see them enter the 2022 Asian Champions League in the qualifying round.

If the Aichi-based outfit are to maintain their bid for only a second ACL appearance since 2012 then they’ll be hoping that in-form Gamba drop some of the intensity displayed in recent fixtures after securing their J1 status for next year. It will be interesting to see what route the Matsunami / Kiyama managerial partnership takes over the final 3 matches of the season. Matsunami will return to his role with the club’s academy from 2022 so it’s possible the likes of Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto could get a run out, while on the other hand Takashi Kiyama is auditioning for a full-time gig elsewhere and may seek to follow the blueprint from 2018 and 2019 where the Nerazzurri went on good runs at the end of the season which largely papered over some rather big cracks in the organisation. Either way, with Nagoya desperate to bag the 3 points and Gamba perhaps letting the handbrake off a little in terms of team selection and tactics, it’s sure to be an enthralling 90 minutes.

Tale of the Tape

Expect to hear Gamba supporters chanting the Japanese equivalent of ‘can we play Kyushu teams every week?’ sometime soon having seen their side take 16 points from 6 games against Fukuoka, Oita and Tosu in 2021. Trinita are the only club the Nerazzurri have defeated in J1 this year after conceding the opening goal, a feat they achieved in both home and away encounters with Tomohiro Katanosaka’s troops. Oita, in addition to Sagan Tosu are the only teams Gamba have done the double over in 2021 and Trinita are also the only outfit the Ao to Kuro have beaten in all 4 league clashes across the past 2 seasons.

Despite having the 4th weakest attack in J1 in terms of goals scored, Gamba’s xG For total is actually the 8th highest in the league. Nagoya’s defence, 2nd only to Kawasaki in terms of goals conceded will undoubtedly be tough to breach, but Nerazzurri supporters will be praying that someone from Grampus (h), Frontale (a) and Shonan (h) in the remaining 3 fixtures bears the brunt of the xG Gods evening things out. Gamba’s form in Suita remains a concern, as with just 2 games to go at Panasonic Stadium, 18 points from 17 matches is only good enough for 17th in the home league standings. Matsunami and Kiyama will surely be keen to give the Ao to Kuro faithful something to cheer about in the upcoming contests with Nagoya and Satoshi Yamaguchi’s Shonan.

At the back, Kiyama’s clearly defined defensive game-plan and the consistent selection of Yosuke Ideguchi and Yuki Yamamoto in central midfield has led to a much more solid looking Gamba over the past month (Yamamoto has also contributed offensively with 3 assists in his last 3 outings). However, despite that, the men from Suita are still the worst team in J1 in terms of shots against per game, 2nd weakest when considering shots against on target, and additionally they have the 3rd highest xG Against figure in the division. Again, I’m sure I speak for all supporters of a blue and black persuasion when I say, come on guys, let’s see some improvements in those numbers between now and the end of the year.

Defensive solidity has undoubtedly been the bedrock for Grampus’ strong showings over the past 2 seasons, a then league record 17 clean sheets in 2020 has since been surpassed by an astounding 20 in 35 this time round, and in keeping with their goals conceded numbers, they also trail only Kawasaki in xG against and shots against on target. Their clean sheet record this year, in particular, should be considered even more impressive considering the absence of captain Yuichi Maruyama since May. At the other end of the park, much to the frustration of Grampus supporters, their xG For number has only recently crept above 1 and they sit 15th in J1 for that particular statistic as well as shots for. Efforts from outside the area, especially from J1 Best Eleven contender Sho Inagaki have provided an invaluable source of goals to make up the shortfall caused by their inability to carve out clear cut openings.





Head to Head

The original game scheduled for March 3rd at Toyota Stadium was, of course, cancelled at the last minute due to a Covid outbreak in the Gamba camp, an incident which was essentially the start of this season’s woes. 7 weeks later on April 22nd was when the tussle eventually took place and Grampus ran out comfortable 2-0 winners with Yuki Soma assuming the role of tormentor-in-chief, first setting up Ryogo Yamasaki for the opener before settling the tie with a cool run and finish 10 minutes into the second half. That result ended an incredible run of 10 league games stretching back to 2015 where Gamba had scored at least twice in every match against Nagoya. A 1-0 home defeat at the old Expo 70’ Commemorative Stadium, 1 of only 2 losses the Nerazzurri suffered in the second half of the season during their incredible march to the J1 title, was the last time Gamba had failed to bag at least two goals against the Giallorossi.

Last year the two sides drew 2-2 at Toyota Stadium shortly after the league’s re-start in July. Genta Miura gave Gamba an early lead from a corner only to see Brazilian duo Mateus and Gabriel Xavier turn the game on it’s head before half time. Gamba pressed and pressed in the second half and eventually got their reward when Kazuma Watanabe struck a fine half-volley, teed-up by a Patric knockdown, past Mitch Langerak in additional time. In September, Mu Kanazaki swept Grampus in front at Panasonic Stadium, but Yuki Yamamoto’s deflected free-kick and Takashi Usami’s late winner which came from an attack started by a sumptuous Yasuhito Endo pass sealed a valuable 3 points in the 2nd of what would turn out to be 6 successive victories that moved the Nerazzurri up from 9th to 4th in the standings.



Gamba Osaka


After starting out in the same 4-4-2 set-up they’d been using in previous games, Gamba switched to a 3-4-2-1 in the second half of the 3-2 win at Oita. From the outside it seems like Kiyama’s decision to bring on Gen Shoji at half-time to match Trinita’s formation was actually a pre-conceived plan rather than the more random personnel changes seen earlier in the year under Matsunami. With J1 survival now assured, it’ll be interesting to observe which shape the Nerazzurri adopt against the 4-2-3-1 of Massimo Ficcadenti’s Nagoya. It’s quite possible that Shunya Suganuma will start ahead of Ryu Takao which would shift the predicted lineup you see below into a 3-4-2-1.

Now, here’s a look at my personal checklist of things I’d like to see happen in the final 3 matches of 2021;

* Keep the Ideguchi and Yamamoto partnership in central midfield as they’ve generally been excellent across the last 4 games. Re-uniting last season’s partners-in-crime on a regular basis has given the team as a whole much more stability.

* Yota Sato to play the full 90 against Nagoya, Kawasaki and Shonan regardless of the fitness status of the other centre backs. He’s still raw, but has shown marked improvements next to Shunya Suganuma in Takashi Kiyama’s re-jigged defensive system. Ideally we’ll see him learn from Gen Shoji in the upcoming encounters with the ultimate goal being that the former Meiji University star develops into a bona-fide starting eleven contender for 2022.

* Kwansei Gakuin University have now sewn up the JUFA Kansai League title and if that means Gamba can get full access to Hiroto Yamami, I’ll be over the moon. After a season of agonisingly slow build-up play, I particularly enjoyed Yamami gliding past Oita’s defenders like a hot knife through butter in the lead up to Patric’s winning spot kick against Trinita and would love to see him test himself against the likes of Shinnosuke Nakatani and Shogo Taniguchi.

Finally, it seemed popular when I did it a few weeks back so I’ll have another go…Gamba transfer gossip. Just a quick disclaimer first as there are a few spam ‘in the know’ accounts springing up on Twitter these days. All of the following information is speculation at this stage, if any of it has been published in reputable outlets then I will say so.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter you’ll have seen my post regarding Kim Young-gwon. Japanese media (Yahoo News and others) are reporting that the South Korean international defender was offered a 2-year deal to remain with Gamba and a 3-year one to return home with 2020 ACL Champions Ulsan Hyundai (an interesting development considering Kim is from Jeonju, home of their great rivals Jeonbuk!) With the Qatar 2022 World Cup looming on the horizon and Kim having to quarantine every time he returns from international duty, a move to the K League could lift a weight off his and his family’s shoulders. Further tidbits from the same article, released on the evening of 7 November, were apparent confirmation that Oita kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka will almost certainly occupy the Gamba hot-seat in 2022 and hat-trick hero Patric (22 goals in 42 games in all competitions this year) will ink a new contract for next season.

Further to that original article, Sponichi Annex announced on November 14th that Kim to Ulsan was essentially a done deal as the call from South Korean legend and current Ulsan kantoku Hong Myung-bo, Kim’s coach at the 2012 London Olympics, was too much for the 85-times capped stopper to refuse. With that departure potentially opening up a spot for a left-footed foreign centre-back in next season’s squad, Gamba Twitter came up with Sagan Tosu skipper Eduardo and Oita Trinita’s Henrique Trevisan as possible replacements. Trevisan is presently playing under Katanosaka at Oita, though the fact he’s only on loan to Trinita from Estoril in Portugal could scupper any hypothetical transfer. Eduardo, a member of Ben, Sam and I’s team of the first half of the season on J-Talk Pod would be an outstanding capture from cash-strapped Tosu, though how many rival J1 clubs are also thinking the same thing? A couple of other names I’ve seen on supporters’ winter wish lists are Hokuto Shimoda and Yamato Machida from Oita, though with Ideguchi, Yamamoto and Okuno likely to stay next season, where would Shimoda fit in? Ditto Machida, who despite performing well this year doesn’t have age on his side. Former Valencia forward Vinicius Araújo of Montedio Yamagata who has 9 goals and 4 assists in 23 J2 games this season is another interesting shout from members of the Gamba fan community.

Finally, and I really do mean finally this time, a list of names headed for the Panasonic Stadium exit this winter has been doing the rounds. The source seems a little questionable, but the players on said list do largely match what the ordinary Gamba fan is thinking at the moment which is why I’ve included it here. Goalkeepers Taichi Kato (on loan from Ehime) and Mizuki Hayashi, midfielders Shinya Yajima and Yuji Ono, plus forward Tiago Alves will all join Kim Young-gwon in departing Suita this winter if you believe the local Osaka journalist who published this information. To drift slightly off topic (I know this isn’t Fagiano Okayama Blog in English), Shinya Yajima previously spent a couple of productive years with Fagiano Okayama in J2 and if, as they reportedly promised Mitch Duke upon his arrival, they will be bringing in players with the aim of gaining promotion next season then Yajima would fit the bill as a ‘statement signing.’

Team News

After the obscenely long section above, I’ll keep things mercifully brief in here. Pictorial evidence suggests that Genta Miura and Leandro Pereira are back in full-training, but whether they are match-fit or will even be risked in the remaining 3 games is questionable. Other than that, reserve ‘keeper Jun Ichimori (hamstring surgery) is done for the year, Kim Young-gwon wasn’t called up for the South Korea squad for their recent World Cup qualifiers after going off injured vs Sagan Tosu on 23rd October, Yuji Ono (hamstring) is doing rehabilitation work (he joined physical training with the rest of the squad on Tuesday, but sat out the mini game at the end), while Shinya Yajima and Dai Tsukamoto don’t appear to be training at the moment, however, no details have been released yet about either of them.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Nagoya Grampus


Personally I enjoy doing predicted starting lineups for Massimo Ficcadenti’s teams because there’s always an extremely limited pool of players he chooses from. The Italian has proven to be a somewhat polarising figure at the Toyota Stadium, on the one hand establishing a side that was on the verge of a return to J2 when he took over, as a force to be reckoned with, but on the other facing criticism for his tactics and team selections. Grampus, one of the founding members of the J.League and the sole professional men’s team in Japan’s 4th most populous prefecture are a side with big resources at their fingertips, but after their most recent J1 title win back in 2010 under the guidance of club legend Dragan ‘Piksi’ Stojković they slid down the standings and were eventually relegated in 2016. Bouncing back via the playoffs at the first time of asking, the Giallorossi sank like a stone in both the 2018 and 2019 campaigns following promising starts. When a possible return to J2 began looming ominously on the horizon, the club made an abrupt U-turn, binning the attack-minded Yahiro Kazama in favour of the Catenaccio master Ficcadenti. Fast forward to 2021 and the Italian’s game-plan is now firmly entrenched in the club’s fabric and they have a Levain Cup title to show for it. What then for 2022? In theory, they should be gearing up for a title shot with defensive lynchpin Yuichi Maruyama back from injury and Polish hit-man Jakub Świerczok fully integrated into the set-up. Throw in the possibility of 1 or 2 high-quality winter additions and you have a recipe for success, right? I guess we’ll find out in due course. Personally I have my doubts as to whether Ficcadenti is the kantoku to bring the title back to Aichi for the first time in 12 years, but with Cerezo and Nagasaki both having horror stories to tell in the wake of canning coaches who’d achieved objectively good on-field results, don’t expect to see the former Verona and Torino midfielder necessarily making a hasty departure should Nagoya fail to live up to pre-season hype. Speaking of next year, to date Grampus have confirmed that they’ll promote 3 players from their youth system ahead of the new campaign, 2024 Olympic prospect Hidemasa Koda (MF), Koki Toyoda (FW) and Haruki Yoshida (CM/CB). There are also strong rumours that Brazilian playmaker Gabriel Xavier, someone Ficcadenti has never really had much time for, will head for fresh pastures, most likely in his homeland.

Team News

Knee injuries to a trio of key players form the backbone of Grampus’ injuries worries ahead of this clash. Captain Yuichi Maruyama is definitely out for the year after undergoing surgery, while it’s unlikely we’ll see holding midfielder Takuji Yonemoto or former Gamba treble-winner Hiroyuki Abe before the end of the season (as an aside I wouldn’t be against Abe returning to Suita as a Gamba player in the near future). South Korean centre-back Kim Min-tae, who seemed to have won out in the battle with Yasuki Kimoto to be Shinnosuke Nakatani’s partner in Maruyama’s absence, missed the draw at Sendai before the international break as did veteran forward Mu Kanazaki, I don’t have any further information on either player.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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