Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Gamba Osaka 27/09/2020 Match Preview

Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 19
Edion Stadium Hiroshima
Sunday 27 September 18:00 (JST)

Last Time Out

Gamba recorded an impressive 2-1 win at home to Nagoya Grampus on Wednesday night, their first home three-pointer in 5 games. Kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto retained the 4-4-2 formation used in the win at Sapporo the previous weekend, but made three personnel changes. Yuya Fukuda started at left-back for the first time in J1 in place of Hiroki Fujiharu, Gen Shoji came in for injured captain Genta Miura while Patric started alongside fellow Brazilian Ademilson in attack to give Takashi Usami a well earned breather. Both Usami and Fujiharu began proceedings on the bench.

Grampus edged a scrappy, stop-start first half and went into the interval ahead thanks to Mu Kanazaki’s 21st minute effort. A period of extremely sloppy Gamba defending resulted in a Nagoya corner on the far-side. Yuki Soma’s outswinger was flicked on at the near post by Takuji Yonemoto and Kanazaki showed great desire to barge between Shoji and Ryu Takao and steer the ball past Masaaki Higashiguchi. Later on in the half two events conspired to turn things in Gamba’s favour. First in the 36th minute a long ball put the dangerous Mateus away and Higashiguchi somehow managed to deflect the Brazilian’s shot up and on to the bar. This may have been the turning point as up to that point the game had followed a similar pattern to the 3-1 loss to Urawa, but where Reds were able to bag a second first-half goal and give Gamba a mountain to climb, Grampus couldn’t capitalise and the Nerazzurri remained very much in with a shout. Furthermore, a couple of minutes before the break ex-FC Tokyo holding midfielder Yonemoto lunged in on Ademilson, earning a yellow card and a knee injury in the process. His place was taken by Joao Schmidt, but from then on Gamba took a strong grip on the midfield battle.

Fujiharu replaced Takao at half time which meant Fukuda switched to right-back and after that Gamba didn’t take long to get back on level terms. Following Naoki Maeda’s dragged shot (similar to Yuki Muto’s goal in the aforementioned Urawa game) wide of Higashiguchi’s left hand post, Gamba broke up the other end. Ideguchi played in Onose and he was upended inside the D at the edge of the penalty area by Shinnosuke Nakatani. Yuki Yamamoto and Kim Young-gwon eyed up the resulting free-kick, the right-footed Yamamoto stepped up, the ball was then deflected downwards off a Grampus head in the wall and bounced awkwardly, beating Langerak to his right, 1-1 game on.

Gamba looked the more energetic of the two teams in the final 30 minutes, both Ademilson and Patric gave Langerak cause for concern before the men in blue and black were boosted by a triple switch with 14 minutes remaining. Usami, Watanabe and Endo entered the fray in place of Ademilson, Patric and Yamamoto and two of the subs would have a big hand in the winner. Endo rolled back the years to play a killer ball down the right flank to Onose, the ex-Yamaguchi winger advanced on Langerak and cut it back to Ideguchi who stumbled, but still directed it into Usami’s path. Gamba’s talisman took a touch, looked up and coolly belted the ball into the right-side of the net, 2-1 and 4 points from 2 games against Nagoya this year looks like an excellent haul. Quick stat to finish off, bizarrely Gamba have now scored at least twice in their past 10 league games against Grampus stretching back to 2015.

Sanfrecce were able to extract revenge over their hosts Oita, winning 2-0 in midweek after Trinita had claimed a smash-and-grab 2-1 victory at the Edion Stadium earlier in the campaign. Brazilian forward Douglas Vieira turned the game decisively in the visitors’ favour after his entrance in the 63rd minute, he set up Tsukasa Morishima for the game’s opening goal just 7 minutes later before sealing it with a neat finish 4 minutes from time.

The Lowdown

This may look like the most mid-table clash imaginable with 10th hosting 9th but as with everything this year, things are not what they appear on the surface. Gamba sit 4 points ahead of Sanfrecce and both teams have played half of their 34 league matches, however, crucially they have games in hand over everyone ahead of them in the standings with the exception of Nagoya. Kawasaki look to be waltzing away to a 3rd title in 4 years, but essentially anyone from Cerezo in 2nd down to Hiroshima in 10th could lay claim to one of the ACL berths (whether that’s a blessing or a curse in this current climate really depends on your personal opinion).

It’s interesting to note that Gamba’s 9 wins and 29 points from their opening 17 games (note they’ve played Grampus twice and are yet to face Tosu – though given out recent record in Kyushu that’s not the disadvantage it might seem) compares favourably with 5 wins, 20 points, 13th in J1 in 2019 and 4 wins, 15 points, 16th the year before. Using my rudimentary mathematics, 29 x 2 = 58 and 58 points would have placed Gamba 6th last season and 2nd in 2018! Indeed we won the title in 2014 with just 63 points!

Hiroshima, in a similar vein to Gamba, have struggled to get much of a rhythm going on their home turf this year, taking just 11 points from their 7 matches at Edion Stadium. This has included wins over Kashima (3-0), Shonan (1-0) and Shimizu (4-1), draws with FC Tokyo (3-3) and Vegalta Sendai (1-1) as well as defeats at the hands of Oita and Cerezo (both 2-1). After having the joint second best defence in the league in 2019, letting in just 0.85 goals per game and conceding more than 2 in a single game just once (3-0 at then rampant eventual champions Yokohama F.Marinos), things have been a bit more loose this year with 1.2 opposition strikes per match while FC Tokyo and Yokohama F.Marinos (3 goals each), plus Kawasaki (5) have all punished them dearly for defensive errors.

With no midweek fixture coming up for either side we can expect both to put out full-strength line-ups for this game. Gamba have started collecting injuries lately, but with their burgeoning youth system always on hand to produce another gem I’m not too worried about inexperienced players getting their shot. Sanfrecce do have a number of good youngsters in their ranks, but two of them, Tsukasa Morishima and Keisuke Osako haven’t kicked on as much as they might have hoped after enjoying breakout 2019 campaigns. The starting eleven is likely to contain 6 players aged 30 or over and 2 more who are 29. Left wing-back Yoshifumi Kashiwa missed the earlier match between these two with injury and is a key component for Sanfrecce, both Brazilian attackers Douglas Vieira and Leandro Pereira have 7 league goals for the year (together they’ve netted 54% of Hiroshima’s J1 total), Vieira in particular is enjoying a hot spell with 4 in his last 5, though kantoku Hiroshi Jofuku has struggled to find a system that can get the best out of both of them at the same time. Central midfielder Hayao Kawabe is a player who always impresses me, as is former Gamba Junior Youth centre-back Hayato Araki.

Head to Head

Gamba won a rather dull midweek clash at home to Sanfrecce back in round 6 on July 22nd. Genta Miura headed home Takashi Usami’s corner just before half-time following some uncharacteristically poor Hiroshima defending. Rhayner cleared an effort off the line in the second half and Sanfre were off target with most of their chances as the hosts earned their 4th win of the year.

Gamba’s previous two visits to Hiroshima on league business are ones they’d rather forget. The Nerazzurri were given a sound 3-0 drubbing last April which consigned them to a 4th defeat in 6 games, while 9 months earlier a 4-0 whipping in the first post-2018 World Cup J1 matchday essentially sealed Levir Culpi’s fate with the Brazilian receiving his marching orders following a 2-1 home loss to Shimizu 4 days later. This may all sound very bleak, but it’s worth remembering that prior to 2018 Gamba were on a run of 4 games unbeaten at the Edion Stadium.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Captain Genta Miura looks set for a spell on the sidelines with a thigh injury picked up against Sapporo last Saturday, the full extent of the damage is as yet unknown. Shinya Yajima should return from his sprained ankle sometime in the first half of October and Yuji Ono is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery. Elsewhere, Ryu Takao was subbed at half-time in the win over Nagoya, but I don’t believe it had anything to do with injury. Youngsters Shuhei Kawasaki and Shoji Toyama will hopefully be competing for bench spots again this weekend. Masaaki Higashiguchi will make his 300th J1 appearance in this match.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

There aren’t really any fitness issues to speak of for Hiroshima, they have a pretty small squad that they rotate reasonably well. Centre-back Kazuki Kushibiki joined last winter from Nagoya after spending the second half of 2019 on loan at Omiya, but hasn’t been spotted in a matchday squad this year, while Gamba fans favourite Kohei Shimizu has been out of contention for a while too. As neither would be regular starters, their absence may simply be down to non-selection.

Predicted Line Ups

With Miura likely to be missing I believe we’ll go 4-4-2 for the third game running. Whether Fukuda is considered a genuine full-back now after playing there against Nagoya, we’ll have to see. With 6 days before the next game at home to Kashima it’s more than likely we’ll see a full strength Gamba, I for one would like to see Usami partnered by Patric as I feel the big man would definitely be up for it against his former club.

Although they’ve rotated quite a bit in recent weeks, it’s not difficult to spot most of the first choice starters for Sanfrecce. Hayashi has been starting in goal ahead of Osaka in recent weeks, I’m not sure the logic behind dropping your up-and-coming 21 year-old for a 38 year-old veteran in this year of all years, but there you go. Nogami, Araki and Sasaki will almost certainly be the back 3 and Kawabe and Aoyama should play in central midfield. Rhayner appears to be first choice right wing-back but Chajima may start ahead of him here. In attack, as mentioned before, sticking Douglas Vieira at right-wing screams of trying to shove square pegs into round holes, but it seems that Jofuku has figured that having he and Morishima playing off Leandro Pereira is better than having Higashi, Notsuda or Ezequiel in the mix.

Match Prediction

A very close game which could be decided by a defensive or refereeing error, I’ll say Gamba will keep up their decent 2020 away form and eek out an at times seat-of-the-pants 1-1 draw.


Gamba Osaka vs Nagoya Grampus 23/09/2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Nagoya Grampus
J1 2020 Round 18
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Wednesday 23 September 19:00 (JST)

We’re officially into the second half of the 2020 campaign after squeezing in 16 rounds in under 3 months! If this season’s schedule is taking a heavy toll on you, don’t worry you’re not alone. Hopefully this preview can give you all the information you need ahead of this battle between two of J1’s perennial heavyweights.

The Lowdown

The current J1 standings show Nagoya in 4th spot after taking 30 points from 16 matches, Gamba are 5 places and 4 points worse off than their visitors, but crucially both sides have a number of games in hand over most of their rivals so are in with a real shout of securing ACL football next year. Grampus’ impressive form under the previously much-maligned Italian Massimo Ficcadenti has been one of the surprises of the year and Gamba’s 2-2 draw in Aichi in round 3 looks better and better with each passing week.

After announcing themselves as creditable contenders with a 1-0 win over runaway leaders Kawasaki back on August 23rd (to date they are still the only team to beat Frontale this year), Nagoya have suffered a dip in form with 2 wins, 1 draw and 2 defeats in their next 5 league matches as well as being dumped out of the Levain Cup, 3-0 at the hands of FC Tokyo. They’ve picked up a respectable 14 points on the road this year, just 3 shy of Gamba’s total with both sides having played 8 away games. With that said though, their only road win at top half opposition was on their last trip to Osaka when they upset Cerezo 2-0 at Nagai Stadium a mere 4 days after their 2-2 draw at home to Gamba.

Gamba will be desperate to put their home woes behind them having now lost 4 in a row on their own turf. As I seem to say every week on this blog, getting the first goal will be crucial, Gamba are unbeaten in 2020 when they’ve led at any time in a game. However, Nagoya are one of only two teams to have come from behind to earn a point against Gamba this year, Kashima being the other.

With this being a three matchday week, rotation is to be expect, although these two sides have perhaps switched things up less than many other teams. It’ll be interesting to see if Grampus’ summer signing from Gamba, Oh Jae-suk makes an appearance, while the popular Hiroyuki Abe will surely get a pleasant reception if he takes the field. The two goal-scorers for Nagoya in the 2-2 draw back in July, Mateus and Gabriel Xavier should again pose the greatest threat to Gamba’s rearguard, though both Naoki Maeda and Mu Kanazaki must be kept an eye on too. Gamba supporters would love to see Takashi Usami return to goalscoring form, he’s found the back of the net just once in his last 9 outings. Usami’s good friend Yosuke Ideguchi has been in excellent form in midfield, but I can’t be the only one fretting over his fitness as with Yajima and Ono already out, the loss of the Japan international would be catastrophic for the Nerazzurri.

Head to Head

This is the second clash between these two this season with the first taking place just over two months ago on July 8th at Toyota Stadium. Genta Miura gave Gamba an early lead, but this was quickly cancelled out after strikes from Mateus and Gabriel Xavier, before Kazuma Watanabe earned the men from Suita a share of the spoils with an equaliser in additional time at the end of the game.

As you can see in the table below, Grampus have an excellent recent record in this fixture, winning 3-2 in both of their previous two trips to Suita. We have to go back to 2016, the year Nagoya were relegated to J2, to find Gamba’s last triumph.

I’ve never actually seen a Gamba vs Nagoya game live at the stadium, so my strongest memory is Nagoya’s 1-0 win at Expo 70’ Memorial Stadium back in August 2014 which was the only home defeat Gamba suffered in the second half of that memorable year. Leandro Domingues got the winner late on and since then I’ve always had it in my head that Grampus are a real bogey team for Gamba.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

The big concern for Gamba is captain Genta Miura limping off in the second half of Saturday’s game with Sapporo with what looked like a leg muscle injury. It’s unknown how long he’ll be out for, but at least there is a lot of cover in his position. Yuji Ono (knee) is done for the year and Shinya Yajima (ankle) has missed the past 4 matches, no date has been set for his return. If Gamba continue to use the 4-4-2 formation, we could see Keisuke Kurokawa promoted from the U23s to compete for a slot at left-back while Yuya Fukuda will become a viable option on the left wing or in central midfield. Kantoku Miyamoto has said that we can expect to see Shoji Toyama in the top team at some point this year, but it’ll probably be next month at the earliest.

Nagoya Grampus

Attacking midfielder Aria Jasour Hasegawa is a long term absentee with a broken leg. Right-back Kazuya Miyahara should be over his bout of COVID-19, but after being first choice in 2019, he’s been completely out of the picture this time out. Versatile midfielder Ryota Aoki missed the whole of last campaign and briefly returned this year, but has now disappeared from the matchday squad, I can’t find any confirmation of whether he’s injured again or just out of favour.

Predicted Line Ups

I’m going with the assumption that Miyamoto will stick with 4-4-2, especially if, as seems likely, Miura won’t be fit enough to play. Should he opt for 3-5-2 then we should see Takao slot in alongside Shoji and Kim at centre-back, Onose and either Fujiharu, Fukuda or Kurokawa will take up the wing back spots. In central-midfield Yuki Yamamoto will again be the anchor with Ideguchi and Kurata ahead of him and Usami will be partnered in attack by either (in order of likelihood), Ademilson, Watanabe or Patric.

Kantoku Massimo Ficcadenti favours a 4-2-3-1 formation and has shown little desire to rotate his troops any more than necessary. It’s possible that left-back Yutaka Yoshida could switch to the right to accommodate ex-Tokyo man Kosuke Ota on the left. In midfield Sho Inagaki, probably one of the best transfers of winter 2019/20, has been an ever present, but Brazilian Joao Schmidt may partner him instead of Takuji Yonemoto. The attacking midfield roles have decent depth and dangerous former-Gamba title winner Hiroyuki Abe is an option just off Kanazaki while Yuki Soma may be selected on the left-wing, both Mateus and Gabriel Xavier can play on the right if any re-shuffle is required.

Match Prediction

It’s a tough one to call with so many factors up in the air in this unique COVID affected year. Nagoya are always a tough nut for Gamba to crack and it’ll be tougher than ever now that they seem to have pulled their socks up under Ficcadenti. Don’t be surprised to see Grampus leave Suita with all 3 points, but I’ll be positive and opt for a competitive 1-1 draw.


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 0-1 Gamba Osaka and Weekly Round-Up

The Match

Not one that will live long in the memory, as DAZN’s sub 5 minute highlights package will attest to, but the three points were all that mattered from a Gamba perspective. This victory was the Nerazzurri’s fifth on the road in 2020 which means they’ve already equalled 2019’s total after only 8 matches.

Kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto responded to his side’s recent slump in form by switching to a 4-4-2 formation for the first time since the 2-1 win at Shimizu back in round 4 and he was rewarded with the team’s first clean sheet in 9 matches. Hiroki Fujiharu, Kim Young-gwon and Ademilson came in for Yuya Fukuda, Gen Shoji and Kazuma Watanabe who all found themselves on the bench.

In my pre-match preview I mistakenly assumed this clash would take place at the Sapporo Dome when in fact it was scheduled for Consadole’s second home, Atsubetsu Stadium. The thick grass and bumpy surface was more akin to what I’ve seen the U23s play on in places such as Akita and Toyama and greatly hindered the match as a spectacle.

Gamba threatened early with captain Genta Miura flashing a header just over from Takashi Usami’s corner before Usami and Ademilson both fluffed their lines, heading Kosuke Onose crosses wide from decent areas. Sapporo, who looked like a shadow of the side that played with such attacking verve against Urawa and Tosu in the past week, rarely threatened Masaaki Higashiguchi’s goal. Despite Shunta Tanaka and the omnipresent Takuma Arano looking sharp, Yoshiaki Komai’s dragged shot wide was as close as they came in the opening period.

The second stanza continued in much the same way as the first with both teams sharing spells of possession and penetrating the opposition’s final third, but not really looking likely to score once they got there. Gamba suffered a blow in the 72nd minute when Miura, an ever-present this year, went down with what looked like a leg muscle injury. Gen Shoji took his place with Shu Kurata taking over the captain’s armband, Endo and Watanabe also entered the fray in a triple change. Watanabe took just 4 minutes to make his mark by scoring his 3rd goal off the bench in 2020. Following a Sapporo corner, Kurata and Endo worked the ball out to the left flank where Ryu Takao (only he knows why he was there) was charging. The normally right-sided Kwansei Gakuin graduate fed Hiroki Fujiharu whose pinpoint cross was met by Watanabe. Consadole ‘keeper Takanori Sugeno brilliantly tipped the header onto his right-hand post, but the ball rebounded for King Kazu who made no mistake. Despite huffing and puffing for the remainder of the game, Sapporo had ultimately run out of steam due to their hectic schedule and it finished 1-0 to Gamba.


* Not mentioned above, but Gamba had strong claims for a penalty against Sapporo’s stand-in skipper Arano who handled inside his own box in the 45th minute, personally I’m not convinced it was a spot kick. There was also another controversial incident at the end of the Cerezo Osaka vs Kashima Antlers game where Leo Silva’s arm made contact with a goal-bound effort, but no penalty was awarded. My question is, were either of these handballs any less of a penalty than the ones given against Kim Young-gwon (vs FC Tokyo) or Yuki Soma (Nagoya vs Sapporo)? FC Tokyo’s Leandro was in the headlines this week after having a moan on Twitter about inconsistent officiating following a couple of decisions against his side in their 3-2 home loss to Oita on Wednesday. I’m sure most JLeague fans could get behind the crux of his argument, though perhaps not the one-eyed nature of it. For me, he would have done well to acknowledge that his side have both gained and lost as a result of poor refereeing this year, the Kim and Leo Silva incidents above were chosen for a reason. What do you think?
* Following the switch to 4-4-2 and the potential loss of Miura at the back, Gamba have a few selection quandaries ahead of a tough week of games with Nagoya (home – Wednesday) and Hiroshima (away – Sunday) looming large on the horizon. Keisuke Kurokawa has been in sparkling form for the U23s in their past 2 games in J3, he, unlike, Yuya Fukuda, is a left-back in a 4-4-2 system, it would be good to see the former Kansai University star get a top team start in the near future. Speaking of Fukuda, it was interesting to note that he replaced Shu Kurata in the 89th minute on Saturday and took over the left central-midfield position, could this be a realistic option going forward with no Yuji Ono for the rest of 2020?
* Last year I raved about Consadole Sapporo defender Ryosuke Shindo, but echoing Sam Robson on the J-Talk Podcast, I agree that he seems to have gone off the boil this year. Ryu Takao has really grown and has performed well at right-centre back, right-back and right wing-back this season, would I be going out on a limb by saying that I now rate Takao as the better prospect? Both were born within 5 months of each other and play the same position, have I over-reacted to a short-spell of form or is the Gamba man now the superior player?
* Finally, a quick question for any Sapporo fans who may be reading. Are ticket prices for games at Sapporo Dome and Atsubetsu Stadium comparable? The poor quality playing surface and dated facilities at Atsubetsu would surely call for some kind of discount for the paying public, no?

Gamba MVP

Kosuke Onose was Gamba’s main attacking weapon in the first half and was unlucky not to bag an assist or two, but I’m going to award this to someone I’ve not shied away from criticising in the past, Genta Miura. After looking leggy in the past couple of matches, the Japan international was back to his best on Saturday. He dealt with the physical and aerial threat of first Jay, and later, briefly, Douglas Oliveira, before having to leave the field early. Hopefully his substitution was just a precaution and he’ll be back soon.

Under 23 Round Up

Gamba’s U23 side produced a sloppy defensive display to go down 3-2 to Vanraure Hachinohe on Saturday night. Goals at the start of both halves from Yosuke Kamigata and Taichi Nakamura meant Gamba were fighting an uphill battle for most of the game. Keisuke Kurokawa, once again the team’s best player cancelled out Hachinohe’s opener after 13 minutes following good play down the right from Haruto Shirai. Jiro Nakamura, making his first J3 appearance of 2020 as a second-half replacement then forced an own goal after an incisive run and cross in the 76th minute. However, Gamba were carved open once again just 8 minutes later, and another substitute, Taisuke Akiyoshi won the match for the Tohoku side with a fine finish. This was their first ever win over Gamba U23 after 2 draws in 2019 and also the first time they’d scored more than twice in a game this year.

Gamba U23 line-up: GK: Ichimori, RCB: Matsuda, CB: Tabinas ©, LCB: Yamaguchi, RWB: Shirai, RCM: Ise (Type 2), DM: Okuno, LCM: Shibamoto, LWB: Kurokawa, CF: Tsukamoto and Toyama.

Next Match: Tuesday 22 September vs Iwate Grulla Morioka (a) Kick Off: 13:00


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo vs Gamba Osaka 19 September 2020 Match Preview

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 17
Sapporo Dome
Saturday 19 September 14:00 (JST)

It’s officially the half-way point in the J1 League campaign this week, though a quick glance at the number of games each team have played may tell an altogether different story. A quick caveat, I wrote about 60% of this preview before I realised Sapporo were playing in midweek, I’ve tried to make all the necessary changes, but apologies in advance if anything slipped through the net.

The Lowdown

Sapporo come into this match fresh (well maybe not as they played on Wednesday) off a 2-0 win in their re-arranged match at Sagan Tosu, this was the first time they’d taken all 3 points for 10 league games. Gamba, by contrast, started 2020 with 5 wins and 16 points from their opening 7 fixtures, but since the start of August, they’ve lost 5 of 8 games and taken just 7 points. Sapporo currently sit 13th in the table, 6 points and 4 places shy of Gamba, but with an additional 2 matches played. Due to sharing Sapporo Dome with the Nippon Ham Fighters in NPB and also travel restrictions after the league’s re-start in June, they’ve been handed a lopsided schedule with long stretches of away games at the beginning and end of the year bookending a mid-season laden with matches in Hokkaido. The mid-year departures of goalkeeper Gu Sung-yun (Daegu) and the prolific Musashi Suzuki (Germinal Beerschot) have made my pre-season prediction of a 14th place finish look better than it otherwise could have.

The good thing about Consadole from a neutral perspective is that their games are always a good watch. I was treated to quite the match when I tuned into their 4-3 home defeat at the hands of Urawa last weekend. Head coach Mischa Petrovic’s footballing philosophy is simple, attack! attack! attack! The formation you’ll see at the start of the game, and the positions you’ll often see the players appear in during the 90 minutes will vary wildly. Expect to see right-sided centre-back Ryosuke Shindo regularly overlap right wing-back Lucas Fernandes and link up with the Brazilian and Yoshiaki Komai. In the middle of the park, Takuma Arano and Shunta Tanaka will often drop deep into defence to give captain and centre-back Hiroki Miyazawa the chance to bomb forward. All of this switching around can make them hard to handle, but also allows plentiful opportunities to counter attack against the league’s least structured defence. At present only Shimizu (40) have conceded more than Consadole’s 34 in 17 matches.

With neither side in great form, issues like Sapporo having a mere 64 ½ hours between full-time in Tosu and kick-off on their home turf at the other end of Japan on Saturday, could play a big role. Gamba would do well to aim for an early goal as they are yet to lose after scoring first, this stat also stands true if they hold the lead at half time. By contrast, they’ve only come from behind to win once this year, and in that match with Oita, they only trailed for 4 minutes.

Head to Head

These two teams have really only been playing each other regularly since Sapporo became a J1 staple in 2017, all the recent results can be seen in the table below. Personal highlights of mine would, of course, include the 5-0 rout in Suita last October with all the goals coming in the second half. Jungo Fujimoto’s beautiful finish in the 2-0 victory at the Sapporo Dome in 2017 is another great memory as is the 3-0 home win back during the J2 title-winning season of 2013, one of my first ever Gamba games which featured a fine, solo Takashi Usami effort as well as a rare effort from Takaharu Nishino, then a highly-rated prospect before having his career decimated by injuries. Ken Tokura’s 95th minute equaliser at Panasonic Stadium in Miyamoto’s 5th game in charge back in 2018 and a limp 1-0 defeat in the first ever Expo Match in 2017 were particularly tough to take.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

As mentioned previously Yuji Ono (knee) is out for the season while Shinya Yajima (ankle) has missed the past 3 matches and no time-frame has been given for his return. This fixture marks the start of another 3 game match week with difficult looking future opponents in the shape of Nagoya (home) and Hiroshima (away) looming on the horizon, as a result some rotation can be expected. I’d love to see young Shuhei Kawasaki get a start while solid showings from Ryu Takao and Yuya Fukuda against Shonan should hopefully see them retain their places. Shoji Toyama and Dai Tsukamoto both sat out Gamba U23s game with Kataller Toyama last weekend and must be in with a shout of at least some bench time in J1 soon. Kim Young-gwon wasn’t in the squad for the Bellmare game, but I believe he was just being rested. Takashi Usami will make his 150th J1 appearance if selected for this encounter.

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Sapporo don’t have a whole lot of injury issues to contend with. Backup ‘keeper Shunta Awaka is out for the year and defender Naoki Ishikawa hasn’t been spotted in a matchday squad in 2020. Other than that though, fatigue is the only factor likely to rule anyone else out of this clash.

Know Your Opponent – Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Kantoku: Mihailo Petrovic Appointed: 1 February 2018, Record: P 85 W 32 D 22 L 31 F 125 A 131 Points Per Game 1.4 Failed to Score 19 Clean Sheets 22

GK #1 Takanori Sugeno – Hugely experienced former Yokohama FC, Kashiwa and Kyoto ‘keeper who took over the number one spot following Gu’s departure during the lockdown. Now in his third year in Sapporo with the first two actually spent on loan from Sanga before he made the deal permanent last winter. It’s likely that he’s just keeping the spot warm before the 2m tall Kojiro Nakano joins next season, Gamba fans will remember him as he was Hosei University’s goalkeeper in their 2-0 Emperor’s Cup win last August.

RCB #3 Ryosuke Shindo – He’ll be named as the right-sided centre-back, but like Ryu Takao, expect to see him bombing forward on the outside of his right-winger. Bagged a hugely impressive 6 goals and 2 assists from defence in 2019, but hasn’t got close to those heights this year.

CB #10 Hiroki Miyazawa © – Mr. Sapporo, centre-back or central-midfielder Miyazawa has been with Consadole since leaving high school back in 2008. He’s closing in on 400 JLeague appearances and at the age of 31 still seems to have plenty of fuel left in the tank.

LCB #5 Akito Fukumori – Moved north to Hokkaido from his native Kanagawa in 2015 after 4 seasons largely spent as a Kawasaki reserve. Possesses a wonderful delivery from both corners and free-kicks which he showcased to devastating effect against Urawa last Sunday. His inch perfect cross for Jay’s second goal against Reds was surprisingly his first assist of the year, in 2019 he provided 8 which put him joint 3rd in J1 alongside Ademilson and Kyogo Furuhashi.

RWB #7 Lucas Fernandes – Now in his second season in Sapporo, Lucas initially came in on loan from Fluminense in his native Brazil, but after a successful first year which saw him play 31 times in J1, he made the deal permanent in the off-season. He looks to be one of Consadole’s main attacking weapons down the right flank, though maybe it’s not such a good idea to let him take penalties. He missed a vital spot kick in the final minute of additional time in a 0-0 draw with Nagoya a few weeks back.

RCM #27 Takuma Arano – Would probably be named most disliked player by opposition fans if such a vote were ever to take place, though I’m sure he’d take that as a compliment. Arano’s off-the-ball antics often overshadow what a fine, versatile attacking option he is. Most at home in the middle of the park, he’s also been called into action in more advanced areas due to a lack of alternatives and has re-paid his coach with 4 goals already this season.

LCM #32 Shunta Tanaka – Centre-back or central midfielder currently in his rookie season after joining from Osaka University of Health and Sports Sciences (Hiroki Fujiharu’s old stamping ground). Osaka- native Tanaka was actually called up to the Japan national team squad while still a student, though he didn’t win any caps, he’s also a strong contender to be selected for the Tokyo Olympics squad.

LWB #4 Daiki Suga – Attacker who Petrovic has converted into a dangerous left wing-back. Suga, like Shindo and Arano is a Sapporo U-18 graduate who turned pro in 2017 after making 5 appearances as a type-2 player in Consadole’s promotion winning season the year before. He has been capped by Japan at all levels from U17 through U23 and scored on his senior team debut against Hong Kong in the East Asian Cup last December. Was an unused squad member in last year’s Copa America.

RAM #14 Yoshiaki Komai – Spent 5 seasons with Kyoto after coming through their youth system and made well over 150 J2 appearances with Sanga. Got his big move to Urawa and after two decent years in Saitama he made the move north to link up once more with his former Reds coach Petrovic. Injury limited him to just 3 league games in 2019, but he’s back fit and firing this term.

LAM #18 Chanathip Songkrasin – One of the league’s leading assist makers, the 158cm Chanathip even chipped in with a rare header away to Sendai earlier in the campaign. Capable of playing just off the main striker or as a false-nine, Gamba will need to be very wary of his trickery and ability to slip between the defensive and midfield lines.

CF #48 Jay Bothroyd – Has been in Japan since 2015 when he was recruited by Jubilo Iwata in J2. After helping them gain promotion to the top flight at the first time of asking, he’s gone about building himself an impressive legacy. Now in his fourth year in Hokkaido, the 38 year-old is still able to bully defenders and poses a real aerial threat in the box as evidenced by his headed double against Urawa last weekend.

Other Options – Tall South Korean centre-back Kim Min-tae could be used if Petrovic wants to move Miyazawa into the middle of the park. Youth team graduate Kazuki Fukai has been a regular in central midfield for the past 2 seasons, though he seems to have fallen out of favour recently due to Tanaka’s emergence. Tomoki Takamine and Takuro Kaneko are 2 rookies who’ve been used in a number of roles this campaign, but have yet to nail down starting spots while Ryota Hayasaka, Kosuke Shirai and Yoshihiro Nakano are wide players who haven’t seen much game time in 2020. In attack, dangerous Brazilian forward Anderson Lopes is now back from an extended visit to his homeland, however, he hasn’t yet regained the form that saw him net 9 goals in 25 J1 games in 2019, and compatriot Douglas Oliveira recruited out of Serie C in his home country last winter has flattered to deceive thus far in his Sapporo career.

Predicted Line Ups

Match Prediction

I’ve reached a pessimistic point in my Gamba predictions and see Sapporo, buoyed by snapping their winless run, taking this one rather comfortably, I’ll go 3-1 to the hosts.


Gamba Osaka 0-1 Shonan Bellmare and Weekly Round-up

The Match

Have you ever seen a movie trailer and thought, this looks like 100 other films I’ve seen? Well, think of every football match you’ve ever watched where the underdog upsets the favourite by a score of 1-0 and you’ve just imagined the Gamba vs Shonan game from last night.

Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made three changes to his starting lineup ahead of this clash with Ryu Takao, Yuya Fukuda and Kazuma Watanabe coming in for Kim Young-gwon (not in the squad – rested?), Hiroki Fujiharu and Ademilson (both on the bench). Bellmare made two alterations with Daiki Tomii replacing the ineligible Kosei Tani and Temma Matsuda, normally a midfielder, playing up top with the veteran Naoki Ishihara, in place of on-loan Japan youth international Yuto Iwasaki.

The first half began rather brightly with Shonan in surprisingly expansive mood perhaps inspired by the better atmosphere inside Panasonic Stadium now that rhythmic clapping is once again allowed. A couple of slack passes out of defence from Miura and Shoji inside the opening 10 minutes allowed Bellmare chances to break, but their shots didn’t trouble Higashiguchi while Gamba struggled for fluency in their attacks, the partnership between Usami and Watanabe certainly looks in need of fine tuning. A pretty physical first stanza did have bright sparks, generally these were provided down the Gamba flanks by Takao and Fukuda, but they were unable to find team-mates with a killer pass and we went into half-time goalless.

The second period followed a similar pattern to the first with Shonan starting sharply without ever really looking too dangerous, before Gamba slowly took over possession and territory, but found a multitude of bodies blocking their path to goal. With a Gamba dominated 0-0 looking the most likely outcome, Bellmare struck a sucker punch in the 75th minute. A neat cross from deep by Daiki Kaneko (more on him later) evaded a tired looking Gamba central defence and found Kazunari Ohno who’d advanced from the back to supply a striker’s finish that flew high into the net.

Gamba went into all out attack mode in the final 15 minutes with Patric, Ademilson, Usami and Kawasaki all on the field together. Shonan threw bodies in the way to block all the shots that came their way and the closest Gamba came was a placed effort from Usami which went just wide and when Ademilson rattled the bar from distance in additional time after a nice lay-off from young Kawasaki. It was not to be and Shonan notched their first away win of 2020 and their first ever victory in Suita under their current guise. Gamba, on the other hand, have now lost 5 of their opening 8 home games this year and after losing only once in their first 7 league fixtures have now tasted defeat 5 times in the past 8. How will Miyamoto deal with this mini-crisis?


* Interesting to note that it was Gen Shoji, not captain Genta Miura, giving the pre-match pep-talk in the team huddle. Is Miura captain in name only with Shoji the one really pulling the strings? Is this causing friction at the back and resulting in poor performances? Have I become a tabloid journalist?
* Rotation, Rotation, Rotation – I fully understand that even though this year is crazy in many ways managers will want to finish as high up the league as possible in order to keep their jobs. However, I feel we should really be rotating a bit more than we are. Miura is clearly exhausted having started every league game and only being subbed once, Usami looks like he’s playing at 50% capacity most of the time and I’ve no idea how Ideguchi keeps going, but I’m dreading him getting injured.
* I think I watched too much JLeague yesterday, I also took in Sapporo (our next opponents) vs Urawa and the first half of Yokohama FC (no Ichimi or Matsuo!) vs Nagoya, so I ended up dreaming that Genta Miura joined Kawasaki, if that does happen I’ll consider it to be my first ever blog exclusive.
* I think ‘grounder ball’ has overtaken ‘middle shoot’ and ‘heading shoot’ as the most irritating thing the DAZN commentators say in a game. Also a shout out to the fact they seemed to be getting sponsored to say that it was Yuki Yamamoto’s third start in-a-row every time he touched the ball in the first half.
* I really enjoyed the chat I had after the game on Twitter, for the views of other English speaking Gamba fans let me point you in the direction of that…

Gamba MVP

There were shouts from some quarters for this to be given to Ryu Takao or Yuya Fukuda and I agree that they performed better than expected and are definitely worthy of future selection, however, I’m going to hand it to Kosuke Onose as I feel he was excellent. He was able to beat his opponent Hirokazu Ishihara on a number of occasions and put quality into the box, unfortunately on this day it didn’t come off, but I salute his efforts, his composure and control.

From the Scout’s Office – Daiki Kaneko

Those of you who checked out my match preview will know that I was particularly interested in watching Kaneko against Gamba. The 22 year-old Tokyo native didn’t disappoint, providing the assist for the winning goal in addition to protecting his backline, blocking shots and spraying some neat passes about.

He comes with a good pedigree having attended Funabashi Municipal High School in Chiba where he played alongside Gamba’s Takahiro Ko, future Shonan team-mate Daiki Sugioka, Tosu’s Teruki Hara and Sendai’s Takumi Mase amongst others. From there he moved to Kanagawa University in Yokohama, but unusually for a Japanese athlete, he dropped out of college after his first year to turn pro with then newly-promoted Shonan. After initially making a name for himself in Bellmare’s epic 2018 Levain Cup winning run, playing nine times and scoring twice, he became more of a regular in the league last year. This time out he missed the J1 opener with Urawa back in February, was an unused sub in the first match after the restart at home to Sendai, but since then he has been in the starting eleven for all but one league match, completing the full 90 minutes in each of his 12 starts.

With a good build, a nice range of passing, as well as the ability to snuff out danger through good positioning, Kaneko will surely be on the radar of potential suitors. Shonan’s formation is identical to Gamba’s, so he would have no issues transitioning over, though FC Tokyo, in particular, might also be interested as they currently have the more attack minded Yojiro Takahagi playing in Kaneko’s role.

U23 Round-up

Without their attacking trident of Shoji Toyama, Dai Tsukamoto and Shuhei Kawasaki, Gamba U23 went down to a battling 1-0 loss at Kataller Toyama on Saturday night. Toyama have proven to be one of the toughest nuts for Gamba to crack in their brief J3 history as this was Kataller’s 7th win in 9 encounters.

Owing to a tough work schedule I only caught the second-half of this match then watched the DAZN highlights later. For any of you confused by the TV line-up graphic and also Keishi Murakami (a wing-back/ full-back) being listed as a forward on the JLeague website (why do they do that?), Gamba’s formation was; Yu Fukumoto in goals, 3 centre-backs (right to left) Riku Matsuda, Jefferson Tabinas ©, Tatsuya Yamaguchi, an upside-down midfield triangle with each player taking turns at the base, I believe at the start Kohei Okuno was in the anchor role with Ko Ise on the right and Ren Shibamoto on the left, Keishi Murakami was right wing-back and the impressive Keisuke Kurokawa was on the left with Haruto Shirai and Ryusei Sugano in attack.

From the highlights it seemed Toyama had the better of the first half and were rewarded with an unfortunate, from a Gamba perspective, comedy own goal from Yamaguchi, though he may look to blame the bumpy playing surface. The U23s were in control for much of the second half, but looked toothless shorn of Toyama up-front, a triple-chance sparked by Ryusei Sugano’s header off the bar that was then followed up by a header cleared off the line and finally a decent stop by Kataller ‘keeper Hiroki Oka was as close as they came. They drop a place in the standings and currently sit 13th with 15 points from as many games. Next up a home clash with 11th placed Vanraure Hachinohe at Panasonic Stadium on Saturday.


Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare 13 September 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare
J1 2020 Round 16
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Sunday 13 September 19:00 (JST)

Last Time Out

Gamba were handed a chastening 3-0 defeat by Kashiwa Reysol on Wednesday night, their worst result of the year so far and one that will give a fair bit of ammunition to critics of Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s 3-5-2 formation. The match marked the third time in the last 5 games that the Nerazzurri have conceded 3 goals and moves them down to 8th in the standings.

Buoyed by the 4-1 win at Sendai four days previously, Gamba named the same starting eleven and subs for the first time this year, however they got off to the worst possible start when Kenyan hitman Michael Olunga raced onto a long ball in the 2nd minute and buried a left foot shot across Masaaki Higashiguchi. The first 20 minutes were all Reysol with long balls for Olunga and Hiroto Goya to chase causing all sorts of trouble for Gamba’s backline, while Ataru Esaka and Sachiro Toshima floated between the defence and midfield lines and threatened the visitor’s goal seemingly at will.

Following the water break Kashiwa took their foot off the gas pedal and the rest of the first half was largely even with Gamba probing, but aside from a Shu Kurata effort that Kim Seung-gyu tipped onto the bar they rarely threatened. The tide shifted decisively in Reysol’s favour five minutes from half-time when the impressive Esaka rose highest to power home a header from 6 yards out, 2-0 and Gamba left with a mountain to climb in the second half.

The away side came out swinging for the second 45 and there were weak claims for a penalty when Onose tumbled in the box at the end of a flowing attacking move and later Fujiharu and Usami both tested Kim. However, Kashiwa struck back and Gamba’s defence was once again ruthlessly punished by the Reysol attack in the 62nd minute. With the visitors pushing for a goal to bring them back into things, and on the run of play it would probably have been deserved, Kashiwa broke upfield and Goya crossed in from the right, Olunga found himself unmarked at the near post, but fluffed his attempted header, he needn’t worry though as Esaka was behind him and made it 2 goals for the night and 5 for the season in addition to 5 assists. 3-0 it would finish, though things could have got worse as Higashiguchi saved well from Olunga and Toshima on the break while Goya’s lob hit the bar and came down on the goal-line. Injury ravaged Reysol will be delighted, Gamba on the other hand have a lot of work ahead of them to arrest their current slide.

Bottom of the pile Shonan raced into an early 2-0 lead at fellow strugglers Oita on Wedneday night. A 5th of the season from veteran Naoki Ishihara and a second strike in as many games from Kazuki Oiwa had them in dreamland after just 11 minutes. Trinita were stunned, but roused for a spirited second-half comeback with Toshio Shimakawa and Kohei Isa finding the back of the net inside the last 12 minutes. In the 4th and final minute of additional time, on-loan Gamba ‘keeper Kosei Tani could only watch as a cross from deep struck his left hand post and fortunately bounced to safety meaning both sides had to settle for a point.

Gamba vs Shonan The Lowdown

Gamba come into this game with just a solitary victory in their previous 5 outings, meaning they sit in 8th place albeit wins in their games in hand would take them above Kashima in 6th and Urawa in 7th while pulling them level with Wednesday’s tormentors Kashiwa in 5th, so perhaps things aren’t as bleak as I painted them in the match summary above. Shonan currently lie 18th and last in the standings with their fans surely thankful that relegation isn’t on the table this year. Truth be told their league position can’t be a surprise to many as they only maintained their top flight status as a result of a 1-1 draw at home to Tokushima Vortis in the promotion / relegation play-off at the end of last year.

As laid out in the Kashiwa Match Preview, the opening exchanges of this game will be crucial as Gamba are yet to lose in 2020 after scoring the opening goal and Kashima have been the only team to come back and draw with the Nerazzurri having been behind at half time. Conversely, the men from Suita have come from behind just once to win this year, against Oita in round 5.

Shonan have conceded 3 or more goals in 6 of their 14 J1 games this year, though surprisingly with that stat in mind, 5 teams have let in more, Shimizu, Yokohama FC, Sapporo, Yokohama F.Marinos and Vissel Kobe. Attack appears to be where the bulk of the issues lie, they’ve found the back of the net just 13 times in 14 games with only Tosu having a lower overall total, though they can point to having played 3 fewer league matches so far than Bellmare.

Bellmare have only won once in the league in 2020, 1-0 at home to Kashima back on July 22nd and actually their 2-2 draw at Oita on Wednesday was their first road point of the year. This leaves them bottom of the away league standings, though it is interesting to note that they score and concede substantially more goals outside of Hiratsuka, 9 of their 13 league goals have come away from home while 19 of their 26 goals against have been let in on road trips.

Gamba have been inconsistent at home with three victories against Oita, Hiroshima and Yokohama FC being outweighed by four home defeats (the same total as in the whole of 2019) at the hands of Cerezo, Kawasaki, Urawa and FC Tokyo. Recent opponents have had success by pressuring Gamba’s defenders into mistakes and Shonan will no doubt look to emulate this. Both sides will most likely line up in identical 3-5-2 formations, though owing to the tough schedule over the past week we will surely see some rotation take place with youngsters and fringe players given a chance to shine.

Head to Head

Gamba generally have an excellent record both home and away in this fixture. As the table below shows, the 1-0 reverse in Kanagawa in 2018 thanks to Shunsuke Kikuchi’s early strike is Shonan’s only recent victory over the Nerazzurri. In Suita, you have to go back to 1998 to find a Bellmare victory, though at that time they went by the moniker Bellmare Hiratsuka and they triumphed 2-1 at Expo 70’ Memorial Stadium thanks to an extra-time golden goal as that was the system employed by the JLeague in those days. In fact, combing through the record books, a 3-0 Bellmare Hiratsuka win in 1994 and a 4-2 triumph the following year are the only times they’ve won league games away to Gamba inside 90 minutes.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Left-sided attacking midfielder Yuji Ono is out for the season with knee ligament damage while Shinya Yajima has missed the past couple of games with an ankle knock, it’s still unclear how long he’ll be out for. Elsewhere everyone else is theoretically ready to play, though fatigue and recent poor form may see a number of changes to the line up for this match, Yasuhito Endo, Shunya Suganuma, Yuya Fukuda, Patric, Kazuma Watanabe and even young Shuhei Kawasaki could make their first starts for a while (or first ever in the case of Kawasaki). Kawasaki’s partner in crime with the U23s, Shoji Toyama could also make it back into the top team squad, his only previous league involvement being as an unused sub against Hiroshima in July.

Shonan Bellmare

As with all JLeague sides, information about Shonan Bellmare injuries is hard to find so as usual I’ll start with those who definitely won’t play before moving onto speculation. Goalkeeper Kosei Tani can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement, experienced midfielder Tsukasa Umesaki is also out with a muscle problem and the unlucky Yuki Ohashi has a broken collarbone. Forwards Tarik and Hiroshi Ibusuki, ex-Urawa attacking midfielder Naoki Yamada and wing-back Kazuaki Mawatari have all missed the past 2 games but it’s unclear whether that’s been down to injury or non-selection. Young left wing-back Toichi Suzuki started the season well, but was subbed early in Shonan’s 4-2 hammering at Yokohama FC and has only made one sub appearance since while another wide player Shunya Mouri hasn’t featured in the league since joining from Zweigen Kanazawa last summer. Hiroto Nakagawa, an attacking midfielder who is the younger brother of 2019 J1 MVP Teruhito is another who is out of the picture at the moment.

Know Your Opponent – Shonan Bellmare

Kantoku: Bin Ukishima Appointed: 10 October 2019, Record: P 20 W 2 D 5 L 13 F 17 A 35 Points Per Game 0.55 Failed to Score 8 Clean Sheets 3

GK #1 Daiki Tomii – Has spent most of his career as a backup, save for a 2 year spell as Gunma first-choice in 2014 and 2015. Was called into action late last season when Ukishima dropped Yota Akimoto after one mistake too many in Shonan’s horrible end-of-season run. Started 2020 between the sticks but was quickly usurped by young Kosei Tani, with the Gamba loanee unavailable he should see off Masaaki Goto to start this one.

RCB #4 Keisuke Saka – Recruited out of Juntendo University ahead of Bellmare’s return to the top flight in 2018. At 174cm he must be one of the shortest centre-backs in J1, though that hasn’t stopped him from becoming a regular for Shonan over the past 3 years.

CB #22 Kazuki Oiwa – Hugely experienced former JEF United and Vegalta Sendai defender who is in his first year with the club. Surprisingly he’s the tallest of the three centre-backs at just 182cm. Poses a threat in the opposition area and has scored in each of Bellmare’s previous two matches, two more this season and he’ll have reached his career best total.

LCB #8 Kazunari Ohno – Another very experienced player who is now in his second stint with the club. Spent the bulk of his senior career with Albirex Niigata and started his current spell with Shonan in 2018. He’s on course to make his 200th J1 appearance if he can stay fit and in form this year.

RWB #6 Takuya Okamoto © – Club captain who spent several years with Urawa after graduating from their youth setup, however he never really made an impression on their top team. Now in his 5th campaign with Shonan, though the first three of those years were on loan from Reds before he made the deal permanent ahead of the start of last season.

RCM #18 Temma Matsuda – Diminutive central midfielder who can also play in a more offensive role. Originally from Kyushu, he came through the ranks at Higashi Fukuoka High School and then Kanoya Sports College in Kagoshima before initially moving to Kanagawa on a special designated player contract in 2017. He joined Shonan permanently the following year and has been a regular ever since.

DM #2 Daiki Kaneko – Probably the Bellmare player I’ll be keeping an eye on most in this match as he seems to fit the profile of someone who could play for a club higher up the league. The holding midfielder has been a mainstay in the side this year while the personnel around him have been rotated quite a bit. The former Funabashi Municipal High School graduate surprisingly cut short his studies at Kanagawa University in 2018 to turn pro with Shonan.

LCM #16 Mitsuki Saito – Like Kaneko, 21-year old Saito is a player that some of the teams in the upper echelons of J1 may be having a look at in the near future. A graduate of Bellmare’s youth system, he’s now in his 5th year as a pro and played a key role in Shonan’s 2018 Levain Cup run. Has played twice for Japan’s U23 and is in contention for a place in the Tokyo Olympics squad.

LWB #38 Hirokazu Ishihara – Another Bellmare Youth graduate who is back in Kanagawa after a loan spell with Avispa Fukuoka in 2019. Can play on either wing or even as a wide centre-back if necessary. 169cm tall Ishihara is most comfortable on the left flank and that’s where he’ll likely be deployed for this match.

RCF #13 Naoki Ishihara – Veteran forward who is enjoying a renaissance on the Shonan coast after a disappointing end to his career in Sendai. Comfortably Bellmare’s most dangerous goal threat this year with 5 strikes already. The wily Ishihara started his career with Shonan straight out of high school in 2003 and played 6 seasons with the men from Hiratsuka before going on to turn out for Omiya, Hiroshima, Urawa and Sendai. He’s currently just 8 matches away from making his 300th J1 appearance.

LCF #20 Yuto Iwasaki – Young forward who’s currently on-loan from Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. Highly rated and capped at every level from U17 to U23 by Japan, Iwasaki, like team-mate Saito, is in line to play at the Tokyo Olympics, should they ever take place. Unfortunately, his professional club career has not gone as smoothly as his international exploits and to date he’s mustered a mere 3 goals in 86 J1 and J2 appearances for Shonan, Sapporo and Kyoto. Even at the tender age of 22, he’s seemingly running out of time to prove he has what it takes to become a J1 level forward.

Other Options – Experienced wing-back Shota Kobayashi, another player who’s had multiple spells with the club may find himself in the starting eleven for this clash, as could the right-sided Kazuaki Mawatari, a Kawasaki loanee. Further forward, experienced former Kashiwa and Omiya man Akimi Barada is a central midfield option while Hidetoshi Miyuki, an off-season signing from Yamaguchi has been criminally underused this year. Ex-Urawa attacking midfielder Naoki Yamada, Norwegian international forward Tarik Elyounoussi and the tall Hiroshi Ibusuki could all come in assuming they are fit. With an eye on the future Bellmare have given young talent a chance in recent weeks in the form of midfielder Satoshi Tanaka, a youth team player who’ll be promoted to the top team next year and two special designated players, Kanoya Sports College forward Ryo Nemoto and Rissho University midfielder Sho Hiramatsu, it’ll be interesting to see if they get game time on Sunday.

Predicted Line Ups

Match Prediction

Gamba are not in great form and I expect the pack to be reshuffled a bit for this match against, on paper, the weakest side in the division. It won’t be a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but I think Gamba will have just enough in the tank to eek out a 2-1 win.


Kashiwa Reysol vs Gamba Osaka 9 September 2020 Match Preview

Kashiwa Reysol vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 15
Sankyo Frontier Kashiwa Stadium
Wednesday 9 September 19:00 (JST)

It’s 5th vs 6th this Wednesday as Gamba play their second away match in five days at one of their least favourite opposition grounds, the Kashiwa Stadium in Chiba. Both clubs are feeling the effects of the brutal summer match schedule and have a number of players injured or doubtful for this one making writing an insightful match preview a tall order.

Kashiwa and Gamba come into this clash level on points, however Reysol have the better goal difference and have played an extra match. The Chiba based side are known for their potency in attack and are 3rd in goals scored, way behind leaders Kawasaki, but their 28 strikes in 14 games puts them just one behind 2nd placed Yokohama F.Marinos with a match in hand. Conversely their rather leaky rearguard, which has seen no fewer than 7 different players used at centre-back as well as 3 goalkeepers taking turns between the sticks, ranks a surprisingly high 8th equal with 22 goals conceded.

Gamba’s 4-1 win at Sendai means that they are now one of only three sides still unbeaten away from home in J1 2020 along with FC Tokyo and Vissel Kobe. They currently boast an impressive record of 4 wins and 2 draws which is fourth best in the division, but with fewer games played than all three teams ahead of them. Our opponents Kashiwa have had the same struggles as Gamba at home, recording an identical three wins and four defeats to date. Both clubs have notoriously boisterous supports which have been largely nullified by the COVID-19 restrictions on fans.

Gamba have a tendency to share the goals more equally throughout the team than Kashiwa do. The Nerazzurri have netted 21 times in 13 J1 games and so far 11 different players have been on target with Brazilian Ademilson currently leading the way, notching 4 in 10 appearances. For Kashiwa, J1’s leading marksman Michael Olunga has picked up exactly where he left off last year in J2 and already has a whopping 14 goals in just 13 games which represents 50% of his team’s total. Overall just 8 players have found the back of the net for Reysol in 2020, other key contributors have been Hayato Nakama (4 goals) and Ataru Esaka (3 goals / 5 assists) while ex-Gamba marksmen Hiroto Goya has 3 league strikes from just 2 starts and has also bagged a couple in the Levain Cup.

Head to Head

This is not a happy hunting ground for Gamba as seen in the table below. The excellent 3-1 victory in round 2 of the 2017 campaign, thanks to Sam Robson’s favourite Shun Nagasawa’s double, is our only recent success at the normally intimidating Kashiwa Stadium. Indeed Reysol were the ones to end Gamba’s incredible nine match winning streak at the end of the 2018 season, the final match before their year-long sabbatical in J2 last year.

These two have already faced off once in 2020 with Kashiwa edging a tight Levain Cup Group stage match 1-0 with the goal inevitably coming from Olunga. That will likely be the only time I’ll be in Panasonic Stadium this year, but I did witness an entertaining tie between two sides shaking off the cobwebs in their first hit out of the year and in truth 6-4 Gamba may have been a more accurate reflection of the run of play than a 1-0 away win.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

It’s bad news for Gamba’s midfield with the announcement that the impressive Yuji Ono has damaged knee ligaments that require surgery which means he won’t be back until next year. Shinya Yajima missed the Sendai game with a sprained ankle, though as yet we don’t know how serious it is. As one door closes, so another opens and that will be the case for Yuki Yamamoto who capped his first J1 start in the midfield anchor role with a fine strike last Saturday and also 19 year-old Shuhei Kawasaki who has seen his excellent J3 form rewarded with a promotion to be Shu Kurata’s understudy in the top team. In defence, everyone is now fully fit with Ryo Shinzato and Shunya Suganuma both getting a run out as overage players with the U23s against Fujieda MYFC last Saturday.

Kashiwa Reysol

I could probably write a book about Kashiwa’s injury troubles this year, but I’ll try to be as brief as possible. Working from back to front, first choice goalkeeper Kosuke Nakamura had to be subbed off in the second half of Saturday’s game with S-Pulse after injuring his leg taking a goal-kick, Korean international Kim Seung-gyu hasn’t been on the bench in recent weeks and his status is unknown. Off-season signing from Tosu, Yuji Takahashi damaged his knee against Kashima 2 matchdays ago and is out for the year, while fellow centre-backs Takuma Ominami, Yuta Someya and Tatsuya Yamashita have been out of the squad recently and I’m assuming it’s because they are not fully fit. Further forward, Ben Maxwell’s favourite J1 hit-man Richardson has reached the four yellow card suspension threshold and will sit this one out. Star Brazilian winger Cristiano, who recorded 19 goals and 18 assists in J2 last year hasn’t been seen since the league’s re-start back in June while his compatriot Matheus Savio, like Takahashi above, was replaced in the first half of the match against Kashima and didn’t feature at Shimizu. Yuta Kamiya provided 4 assists early in the campaign, but hasn’t been seen in the matchday squad since the 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Cerezo last month. Likewise, Yusuke Segawa started the season as first choice but was subbed at half-time in the 3-2 win at Vissel Kobe and has been absent for the 3 subsequent matchdays. In a rare piece of good news, right-sided defender Shunki Takahashi is back from suspension following a rather harsh looking two yellow cards against Kashima Antlers. I’m assuming that Olunga was just rested against Shimizu and will be back looking for his usual goal(s) in this encounter.

Know Your Opponent – Kashiwa Reysol

Kantoku: Nelsinho Baptista (2nd spell), Re-appointed: 1 February 2019, Record: P 56 W 32 D 11 L 13 F 113 A 55 Points Per Game 1.91 Failed to Score 9 Clean Sheets 20

GK #17 Kim Seung-gyu – Capped 43 times by South Korea and named in Alan Gibson’s Best Ever J1 team, Kim was in outstanding form to keep a clean sheet in the clash between these two back in February. He’s since lost his place to Kosuke Nakamura and I’m simply guessing he may be fit enough to play in this match. He previously spent 3 ½ years with Vissel Kobe before a 6 month spell with Ulsan Hyundai in homeland which ended with a disastrous final day performance against rivals Pohang that let Jeonbuk slip in to land yet another title.

RCB #24 Naoki Kawaguchi – Normally a right-back, but may be asked to play as a right-sided centre-back in this match owing to a lack of alternatives. Kawaguchi originally joined Reysol on loan from Albirex Niigata midway through last year and made the deal permanent in the off-season.

CB #2 Jiro Kamata – Vastly experienced centre-back who started the Levain Cup game with Gamba in February alongside fellow veteran Yuta Someya before both subsequently lost their places to younger rivals. The former Sendai man is now back in the starting eleven and will need to use his nous and experience to help his defensive partners adjust to their new roles.

LCB #4 Taiyo Koga – Really impressed me in February while playing at left-back. Capped once by Japan, Koga has performed well at right-back for most of the season while Hiromu Mitsumaru has shone on the opposite flank, but has has recently shifted into the middle with more mixed results.

RWB #6 Shunki Takahashi – I’m honestly a little surprised he’s featured as much as he has this year after making just 19 league appearances across the previous two seasons spent with Kobe and Kashiwa. His versatility is useful for Nelsinho as he’s able to play on either flank and at full-back or wing-back.

RCM #27 Masatoshi Mihara – Another member of the Kobe Old Boys club, Mihara actually sunk his former employers with an injury time winner last month and looked like he really enjoyed it. Calling him a jack-of-all-trades may be a bit harsh, but he’s found himself used at right-back as well as various positions in the midfield during his year in Chiba. Like Kawaguchi, he originally joined on loan in mid-2019 before making things permanent over the winter.

DM #7 Hidekazu Otani © – Mr. Kashiwa; promotions, relegations, J1 and J2 title wins, League Cup and Emperor’s Cup triumphs, Otani has seen it all since coming to the club as a junior high school student. Kashiwa are his only professional side and he’s played over 450 league games for them. Team captain and a vital cog in the centre of the park.

LCM #28 Sachiro Toshima – One of a number of J2 players who clearly impressed the Kashiwa scouting department last year, Toshima followed his former team-mate Kawaguchi to Kashiwa from Niigata. The Tsukuba University graduate is a smooth operator when in possession and has the potential to be a mainstay in the Reysol midfield for the next decade.

LWB #20 Hiromu Mitsumaru – An off-season recruit from Tosu, Mitsumaru started the year on the sidelines, but grabbed his chance with an impressive second-half cameo away to Kawasaki and hasn’t looked back since. He was Toshima’s senpai at Tsukuba University prior to moving to Saga in 2016 and has quickly adapted to life in Chiba with 3 assists already this year.

RCF #14 Michael Olunga – What can I say about him that hasn’t already been covered? 8 goals in 1 match against Kyoto last year, 27 in total plus 8 assists in J2 and now running at better than a goal a game in J1. Gamba found back in February that the best way to stop Olunga is by preventing his less talented team-mates from getting the ball to him. Once he gets possession, though, you might as well adopt the same tactics I would in a fight with Tyson Fury, cover your eyes and hope for the best.

LCF #19 Hiroto GoyaIkemen former Gamba forward who never got close to hitting the heights expected of him in Suita. A brilliant loan spell with Nagasaki last year (22 goals in 36 league games) clearly took Kashiwa’s fancy. He’s struggled to break into the starting eleven as Reysol have played most games with Olunga as the lone striker supported by three attacking midfielders. The defensive crisis at the Kashiwa Stadium may prove to be Goya’s salvation as Nelsinho’s hand has been forced and there’s an extra centre-forward slot available.

Other Options – Should both Nakamura and Kim be ruled out through injury then third choice ‘keeper Haruhiko Takimoto, a Kashiwa academy graduate could be called into action, as he has twice already this year from the bench. Right-sided defender Kengo Kitazume joined from fellow promoted side Yokohama FC last winter and I unsuccessfully predicted he would take Takahashi’s place, that hasn’t happened yet, but he is a solid bench option. In central midfield, Yusuke Kobayashi, back in Chiba after a disappointing loan spell with Shonan and young Yuto Yamada, a surprise starter at Panasonic Stadium in February are alternatives to Otani and Mihara. Further forward, I’ve predicted that the lethal Ataru Esaka will be rested due to a heavy workload recently, but there is every chance he will start. The same could be said for Hayato Nakama who netted an impressive 15 times from left midfield for Fagiano Okayama last year, he is probably one of the best 11 players available to Nelsinho at the moment, but may find it difficult to operate in the current 3-5-2 system. Ex-Iwata and Niigata forward Ryohei Yamazaki and promising youngster Mao Hosoya are options to round out the bench, though it’s unlikely either will start unless there are further injuries to first teamers.

Predicted Line Ups

Match Prediction

With all the uncertainty surrounding who is fit or not for Kashiwa, making a definite prediction is tough. A Cristiano / Olunga inspired Reysol would be strong favourites to win in a normal season, but are an injury ravaged Kashiwa without the advantage of their yellow wall really such a sure bet? Recent form shows that both of these teams usually score and concede in every game so we should see goals. Gamba have 5 wins 1 draw and 0 defeats when leading at half time and are also 7-2-0 when they net the game’s opening goal, so the opening stanza will be crucial (for comparison, they are 1-0-4 when the opposition score first). I’ll go with 2-2, but honestly I don’t have a lot of faith in my prediction for the reasons laid out above.


Vegalta Sendai 1-4 Gamba Osaka 5 September 2020 and weekly round up

Once again a shout out to @vegalta_blog who helped me write the preview for this match. Please check out his site for the Sendai take on things.

The Match

Gamba got back to winning ways with a comfortable road win at struggling Vegalta Sendai on Saturday night. The 4-1 triumph takes their away record to 14 points from 6 matches and moves them back up to 6th in J1 with games in hand over most of the teams ahead. The 3 goal margin of victory was the Nerazzurri’s biggest this year and also marked the first time they had scored more than twice in a league match in 2020.

Kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made a couple of changes to the side that went down to FC Tokyo the previous weekend. There was a first J1 start for Yuki Yamamoto at the base of the midfield while Shu Kurata came in for Ryu Takao. There was also a positional switch with Kosuke Onose moving back into Takao’s spot at right wing-back, the now peroxide-blonde Yosuke Ideguchi moved from left to right central midfield to accommodate Kurata. Shinya Yajima dropped out of the matchday squad altogether, hopefully to get some much needed rest while there was bad news regarding Yuji Ono. The off-season recruit from Tosu damaged the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in training and will require surgery that will surely rule him out of the rest of the 2020 campaign.

This game got off to a flier with 3 goals in the opening 15 minutes. Sendai, with left-winger Takuma Nishimura prominent, started stronger and forced a couple of corners in the opening passages of play. The second of the two saw them take the lead. Takuma Hamasaki swung it in and Alexandre Guedes rose unmarked to head past Higashiguchi, a rare goal conceded from a corner by Gamba and there will surely be a post-mortem at training on Monday. The away side were quickly back in control and Yuki Yamamoto made sure his first J1 start was a memorable one just four minutes after Guedes’ opener. Good play down the right involving Onose and Ideguchi saw the ball fed to Usami in the box, Gamba’s talisman was outnumbered and the ball broke off a Sendai player to the edge of the area. Kurata challenged for it and again the ball fell Gamba’s way, this time for Yamamoto who coolly turned onto his right-foot past Sendai’s stand-in skipper Kyohei Yoshino and rifled home a shot low to Jakub Slowik’s right-hand side. Game on!

Next, Ademilson struck his fourth J1 goal of the year to give Gamba the lead after just a quarter of an hour. Usami had his shot blocked and from the resulting corner he found the head of captain Genta Miura, the centre-back flicked on and Ade found himself totally unmarked to loop an awkward looking header over and across Slowik into the net. Koji Hachisuka and Keiya Shiihashi looked at each other with confusion about what had gone wrong and Vegalta, like Gamba, will need to work on defending corners a bit better going forward.

Back in front, Gamba began to sit back more and soak up some Sendai pressure, Guedes forced Higashiguchi into an excellent save low to his right in the 17th minute, but in truth the home side, while looking spritely in patches, never presented a consistent threat. They would, however, be handed a golden opportunity to level things up before half time from the penalty spot (I’ll go into the rights and wrongs of the award in the analysis section below). Again a Hamasaki corner caused problems, Onose jumped with Guedes, both players had their arms up for leverage but the ball appeared to miss both and cannoned into the helpless Ademilson behind and the referee had no hesitation but to point to the spot for handball. Nishimura stepped up and just like Leandro the previous week aimed low to Higashiguchi’s right, unfortunately for the men from Miyagi, he didn’t get it far enough into the corner and Gamba’s number 1 ensured justice was served. 2-1 Gamba half time.

The second half followed the same pattern as the end of the first with Sendai controlling possession and having the bulk of the chances, but save for Nishimura’s header over after a terrific bustling run from right-back Takahiro Yanagi, they didn’t look like getting back on level terms. After making a few changes midway through the half, Vegalta looked like they were gearing up for a late push, but instead they found themselves stunned by Gamba’s riposte. 17 minutes from time Yamamoto’s innocuous looking cross-field header was allowed to bounce by two Sendai defenders, Kurata won it, cut inside and unleashed a fine strike past Slowik from just outside the box, check-mate to Gamba. Twelve minutes later they would finish things off decisively. Ideguchi started the move and played in substitute Kazuma Watanabe in the inside left channel, the veteran forward squared for fellow replacement Patric. The Brazilian tussled with Vegalta’s returning captain Simao Mate, those of a Sendai persuasion may have a case for a foul here, but the ball broke off the falling Simao into the path of Ideguchi who made no mistake from 5 yards out.

Young Shuhei Kawasaki got the final few minutes of action and managed a couple of nice touches, an ambitious shot and a bit of pushing and shoving with ex-Gamba forward Shun Nagasawa (who stands a solid 24cm taller than him) and Kyohei Yoshino. Full-time, job done, 4-1 and on to another injury ravaged side, Kashiwa Reysol, on Wednesday.


* Following on from my non-deliberate handball rant after the FC Tokyo game, more of the same tonight. It’s something that’s been a bug bear of mine for a long time and I’d enjoy hearing others in the JLeague English community’s views on this….should non-deliberate handballs in the box where the ball is not travelling towards goal result in a penalty? My view is no, a direct or indirect free-kick would be a more fitting punishment, what do you think?
* Yuki Yamamoto got a first start at the base of Gamba’s midfield in this game and he has definitely gone some way to addressing my concerns over a lack of depth in central midfield. Ideguchi is clearly a class above and essentially undroppable, but, in Yamamoto, it looks like we have someone who can give Yajima a break every so often, especially against, with the greatest respect to Sendai, bottom half opposition. Despite his well-taken goal, his performance was by no means perfect. I liked his range of passing, but his positioning and combination play with his fellow midfielders will understandably take time to develop.
* Continuing with the positive noises about young midfielders, it was great to see young Shuhei Kawasaki get a few minutes at the end of the game. He played with the verve and swagger of someone who didn’t have a care in the world and with Yuji Ono out for the rest of the year he is surely likely to become a regular on the bench, coming on to give the likes of Kurata and Onose a breather in the latter parts of games.
* Although the scoreline looks great on paper and energy levels were definitely higher than in previous games, I’m going to hold off on declaring Gamba being back to their best. Sendai were a step slower than most of out recent opponents and as a result we found it much easier to get the ball into dangerous areas and take advantage of sloppy play. As I’ll cover in my upcoming preview, Kashiwa, like Vegalta, don’t have their injury troubles to seek, and next Sunday we play basement dwellers Shonan at home (without their excellent on-loan ‘keeper), ask me after those games if the Nerazzurri are a force to be reckoned with.
* The final part of this analysis I promise, Masaaki Higashiguchi’s fine early block from Guedes and his later penalty save from Nishimura got me thinking….is there a more on-form ‘keeper in J1 2020 than Gamba’s stopper. FC Tokyo’s fans may point to Akihiro Hayashi, though he did lose his place for a few games, Kawasaki’s Jung Sung-ryong ‘suffers’ from the fact his team is so good and he doesn’t have much to do, I could accept an argument that overall Cerezo’s Kim Jin-hyeon is better than Higashiguchi, but he’s made a few uncharacteristic errors this year. Nagoya’s Australian Mitch Langerak has looked great when I’ve seen him and is the only rival to Masaaki for this title in my opinion, so…please tell me, what do you think?

Gamba MVP

Yosuke Ideguchi again. He was omnipresent once again, his engine and work rate are incredible. I really hope he can keep going and doesn’t break down with an injury, otherwise we’ll really struggle. I was delighted for him when he capped off a superb performance with a goal. Hamasaki and Shiihashi will be happy they don’t have to face him every week and while he’s not quite back to the form he showed before his move to Europe, he must be in Hajime Moriyasu’s thoughts for Japan’s next squad, whenever that is named.

U23 Round Up

An experienced Under 23 side featuring 4 overage players, GK Jun Ichimori, centre-backs Shunya Suganuma and Ryo Shinzato, as well as attacker Daisuke Takagi, went down to a disappointing 3-1 defeat to Fujieda MYFC. Despite taking an early lead when Kohei Okuno headed home Ren Shibamoto’s corner, the Shizuoka side were level at the break following Tsubasa Yoshihara’s 3rd goal of the season. The same player then put Fujieda in front just before the hour mark and Tsugutoshi Oishi made sure of things in additional time after young Ko Ise was dispossessed in midfield.


Vegalta Sendai vs Gamba Osaka Match Preview 5 September 2020

Vegalta Sendai vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 14
Yurtec Stadium Sendai
Saturday 5 September 18:30 (JST)

Round 14 of J1 2020 sees me collaborate with another fan as @vegalta_blog – author of the excellent gives us a deep insight into Vegalta Sendai, our next opponents. As always comments and feedback are welcomed, I’ve not been to Panasonic Stadium since February so I’ve really enjoyed interacting with fellow JLeague fans online recently.

The Lowdown

Neither side comes into this clash in great form, both having only won once in their previous five J1 games. Sendai, who made the Yurtec such a fortress in 2019 have failed to win in six home ties this time round, while Gamba, who only took 20 points on the road last year have four wins and a draw from their five away games thus far in 2020.

Vegalta are under new leadership this year with former Montedio Yamagata coach Takashi Kiyama taking over from the long-serving Susumu Watanabe and he’s endured a tough baptism. Long-term injuries to key players such as captain Simao Mate and left-winger Isaac Cuenca have definitely hindered the pace of the side’s development under their new coach. Additionally Kiyama has tried to move away from the rigid 4-4-2 employed by his predecessor and instead is currently operating a 4-2-1-2-1 or 4-3-3, depending on your preference. From the outside I think I can see what he’s trying to do, but similarly to Ange Postecoglou’s first year in Yokohama, as of yet he doesn’t have the right balance in the squad to play the kind of football he wants. It will surely take at least one more off-season before he can mould the team into his image.

Despite not boasting a great record away against Sendai in the past couple of years Gamba will come into this game as favourites. Vegalta’s record of 11 points from the first 12 games which has included only 2 victories (1-0 at bottom club Shonan in round 2 and a surprise 2-1 win at Jekyll and Hyde Kobe last month) means they are on paper the weakest side we’ve faced for some time. With this being the start of a three game week and fixtures away to Kashiwa (Wednesday) and home to Shonan (next Sunday) following quickly there may be a temptation to rotate the squad, but I feel in a bid to regain some momentum, Miyamoto will field a pretty strong starting eleven for this one.

Tactically, Urawa and Tokyo have shown other J1 sides the blueprint of how to play against Gamba in Suita. However, as the Nerazzurri are set up to play on the counter attack, so far it’s proven harder for teams to get the upper hand in their home clashes with the men in blue and black. In our previous away tie at Kashima, Patric was used effectively as a long ball option which meant we could clear our lines quicker, it’s possible a similar tactic could be used here. I’d also expect Kosuke Onose to move back to the right wing to provide a more attacking threat than Ryu Takao could offer last week, while it’s likely that Yuya Fukuda could come in for Hiroki Fujiharu, who has looked decent going forward, but has been plagued by uncharacteristic errors at the back in recent weeks.

Head to Head

Gamba have come out second best in their last two trips to Sendai, both by a scoreline of 2-1. Kim Young-gwon netted his only Gamba goal to date to give the Nerazzurri an early lead in round 9 last year, but Katsuya Nagato’s deflected strike in first half injury time, followed by Shun Nagasawa’s winner against his former charges in the 91st minute swung things in the home side’s favour. This was a case of déjà vu for both teams as in the same fixture in 2018 Kazuma Watanabe fired Gamba into a first half lead only for two Sendai goals in the space of four second half minutes to turn the tables. Prior to that Gamba had won three in a row at the Yurtec Stadium, scoring three times in each game. Vegalta, on the other hand, have never won a league match in Suita.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

No new injury concerns to report, Ryo Shinzato is still believed to be out, but elsewhere only fatigue seems to be an issue amongst the squad with captain Genta Miura, midfielders Shinya Yajima and Yosuke Ideguchi as well as star forward Takashi Usami surely due a rest soon. Should they be given a breather, excellent U23 attacking duo Shuhei Kawasaki and Shoji Toyama could be options to come into the squad, as could Ren Shibamoto whose return to the U23 ranks has co-incided with an upshoot in their form. At the back Riku Matsuda will be looking to come back into the top team set up and left-sided defenders Tatsuya Yamaguchi and Keisuke Kurokawa will surely be thirsty for J1 game time.

Vegalta Sendai

Vegalta certainly don’t have their injury troubles to seek coming into this one with no fewer than six first-teamers on the treatment table. Club legend Shingo Tomita is out for the year with knee trouble while captain and inspiration Simao Mate hasn’t featured since the league’s re-start in June. Further forward, off-season recruit from Tosu, Isaac Cuenca has missed the entire campaign to date with an ankle problem. Attackers Ryo Germain and Shuhei Akasaki as well as sitting midfielder Yoshiki Matsushita have all picked up knocks in recent weeks which have put them out of contention. I can’t find any confirmation on the status of special designated player Hisashi Appiah Tawiah who seemed to be struggling with a slight injury at the end of the defeat by Yokohama F.Marinos at the beginning of August or right-sided midfielder Ryohei Michibuchi, but my feeling is they are probably unavailable for selection at the moment.

Know Your Opponent – Vegalta Sendai

Kantoku: Takashi Kiyama, Appointed: 1 February 2020, Record: P 12 W 2 D 5 L 5 F 13 A 19 Points Per Game 0.92 Failed to Score 2 Clean Sheets 2

Thanks again to @vegalta_blog for his brilliant rundown on the Vegalta squad which you can read below. Please check out his blog for recent Sendai match previews and reports.

#24 Jakub SLOWIK – The Polish goalkeeper joined Vegalta Sendai after the departure of Daniel Schmidt to Belgium. He has provided trustworthy and reliable goalkeeping performances for Sendai. Unarguably, Vegalta Sendai would have gotten 4-5 points less without him between the sticks. His commanding presence is outstanding. You could hear him shouting at his teammates throughout the game.

#36 YANAGI Takahiro – 23-year-old loanee from FC Tokyo. Yanagi played under Kiyama at Montedio Yamagata last season. Kiyama brought him in as an emergency replacement for Masato Tokida, who was uncomfortable at the left full-back position. He said that Kiyama taught him the philosophy of aggressive football. He can play on both flanks, but Kiyama mostly uses him on the right and deploys Hachisuka on his opposite side. Gamba Osaka will definitely need to watch out for Yanagi’s contribution and link up play with Mase Takumi down the right.

#16 YOSHINO Kyohei – New signing from Sanfrecce Hiroshima last winter, Yoshino Kyohei is one of only two players who have started every single league game since the restart. He can play either as a center-back or holding midfielder. His interception rate is exceptional, but his weakness is one-on-one defending. A strong striker like Patric could win a duel against him often.

#13 HIRAOKA Yasuhiro – Hiraoka is a veteran center-back who retook his place after losing it early last year. His partnership with Simao Mate was arguably the most critical element that helped us avoid relegation. His aerial presence was outstanding last season, but Vegalta Sendai have struggled to score from set-pieces in 2020. If Simao came back in time for this game, the partnership would give Gamba’s defence a hard time.

#4 HACHISUKA Koji – “Always good” is how our manager Kiyama Takashi referred to Hachisuka. He has been with the club for ten years, playing as a right full-back. After the restart, Kiyama improvised and deployed him on the left instead. He looked uncomfortable at first but adjusted nicely after that. He has scored one goal, provided a few assists, and was selected as one of the best players by DAZN twice. His dedication will be necessary if Sendai are going to beat Gamba.

#26 HAMASAKI Takuma – Former FC Osaka right-back who was signed from Mito Hollyhock last winter. Most people expected him to be behind Iio and Hachisuka in the pecking-order. Still, Hamasaki defied everyone’s doubts in him and has established himself as a crucial holding-midfielder in Kiyama’s team. With an average of 12 kilometers covered per 90 minutes, it seems like Hamasaki is everywhere on the pitch. He also contributes to the attack a lot. Is it possible he will score his first goal in J1 against Gamba Osaka?

#5 SHIIHASHI Keiya – Shiihashi lost his place in the team to veteran Tomita Shingo last summer. At the start of the season, I thought he would have a hard time breaking into the first team, but the arrival of Kiyama transformed him. His partnership with Hamasaki is vital to the team. He can intercept and break down the opposition’s play effectively. Even though Shiihashi is more defensive-minded when compared to Hamasaki, his contribution should not be underestimated.

#7 SEKIGUCHI Kunimitsu – You are the heart of Sendai is the chant that we gave to Sekiguchi last autumn. Having spent 12 years in the northeast, his love for the team is less than no one. He will turn 35 this year, but is still running more than 12 kilometers per 90 minutes on average. Vegalta Sendai’s pressing usually starts from his initiation. This year, Kiyama has mostly deployed him as an attacking midfielder, but with the re-emergence of Hyodo, Sekiguchi may be used in the wide position more often.

#45 MASE Takumi – JFA Special designated player from Hannan University. Mase will officially join Vegalta Sendai from the 2021 campaign, but he has already established himself as a first-team member after four consecutive starts. He was a full-back in his university days, but Kiyama has deployed him as a right wide-forward since Germain Ryo’s injury. His combination with Yanagi is aggressive and furious. He assisted the equalizer that secured us a point against Hiroshima. His header was amazingly saved by Osako earlier in the game. Hopefully, he will score his first J1 goal against Gamba Osaka.

#15 NISHIMURA Takuma – Nishimura returned to Vegalta Sendai after 2 difficult years with CSKA Moscow. His goal scoring in 2018 was prolific, but he has not been able to replicate that level of performance in 2020. He is continually given chances by Kiyama, so I think he will start against Gamba after Ishihara Takayoshi’s sub-par performance in Hiroshima.

#20 NAGASAWA Shun – Honestly, I would like to write about Alexandre Guedes, but it seems like he took a knock during the last game. Thus, it is very likely that Nagasawa will start in place of him. The ex-Gamba striker is going through a goal drought right now; he has only scored one goal this season. Arguably, our deliveries into him have not been good enough. Nevertheless, his goal-scoring instinct has made him one of the best players we have. Facing a former club should encourage him to prove himself.

Predicted Line Ups

Match Prediction

This match could really define the direction Gamba’s season takes, a tame draw or defeat would point to another year of mid-table mediocrity while a comfortable victory would suggest that the home defeats to Urawa and Tokyo were a mere blip. I’m going for a positive outcome, Gamba haven’t scored more than twice this year and neither have Sendai, so goals may be at a premium, I’ll say 2-1 Gamba with Usami and Patric netting the decisive strikes.


Gamba Osaka 1-3 FC Tokyo 29 August 2020 and more

Gamba went down 3-1 at home to FC Tokyo on Saturday, their fourth league defeat of the year at Panasonic Stadium and second in a row. The result of the game, which was not without controversy, sees the Nerrazzuri slip down to 8th in the J1 standings.

Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made three changes from the 1-1 draw at Kashima Antlers. Ademilson replaced Patric in a surprising move as FC Tokyo have shown weakness against crossed balls all year. Elsewhere Hiroki Fujiharu re-took his starting spot from Yuya Fukuda down the left and Ryu Takao started at right-wing back presumably in a bid to thwart Tokyo’s lethal Brazilian winger Leandro. Takao’s inclusion brought about a midfield re-shuffle which saw Ideguchi sit at the base with Kosuke Onose on his right and Shinya Yajima to the left.

Questionable officiating would be a theme of this game and it started as early as the fourth minute when Leandro appeared to clearly dribble the ball over the dead ball line before cutting back to team-mate Arthur Silva who blasted wildly over from 20 metres out. Gamba then broke up the other end and nice play from Usami teed up Ademilson who fired wide from the edge of the box. In an end-to-end start it was Tokyo who drew first blood from a goal similar to those conceded in the previous home game with Urawa. Gen Shoji’s ball out of defence was well intercepted by Shuto Abe and the ricochet off his leg played in the speedy Kensuke Nagai. Genta Miura was able to throw out a foot and deflect the ball towards his ‘keeper Higashiguchi. A 50-50 collision ensued and the ball broke to Diego Oliveira who coolly stroked home a left-footed shot from well outside the area.

This goal wreaked havoc with Gamba’s game plan of getting ahead early and sitting back with the aim of grabbing a second on the counter. Indeed it was the visitors who outdid Gamba in this respect, earning fouls, rolling around and generally wasting as much time as possible. Gamba huffed and puffed, but often found themselves running down blind alleys as Tokyo’s defence and midfield proved to be extremely adept at snuffing out pressure, Akihiro Hayashi’s excellent point blank stop from Takao’s shot was the only decent effort of note. At the other end the Gasmen broke and Nagai’s shot appeared to be touched wide by Higashiguchi, but a goal kick was given, much to the striker’s bewilderment.

Gamba got themselves back in the game two minutes from the interval. Patient build-up in midfield culminated in a quick pass from Ideguchi to Ademilson, the Brazilian laid it off to Usami first touch and Gamba’s talisman took a second to get the ball out of his feet before powering in a lovely right-footed shot which Hayashi in the Tokyo goal could only parry into his left hand corner. It should have been 2-1 in the 4th minute (double any other game we’ve played this season) of additional time. Some, of a Gamba persuasion, would argue it would be karma for Yojiro Takahagi’s minutes of rolling on the ground, if his team were to concede so late on in the half. As it turned out the linesman ruled out Fujiharu’s legitimate strike, on what basis I don’t know, as Hotaka Nakamura and at least one other Tokyo defender were playing him onside. It was not to be and despite Gamba protests it was 1-1 at half-time.

More poor officiating followed in the second half as the referee appeared to cancel out one bad decision to award a Tokyo free kick for a ‘foul’ on Kensuke Nagai, with an equally bizarre one to not give the same player the benefit of the doubt minutes later. After that the game settled down a touch with both teams having chances on the break but overall things remained tight.

The match swung decisively on a penalty decision for handball against Kim Young-gwon in the 72nd minute, I’ll cover my views on this type of award in the analysis section below. Again Gamba protests fell on deaf ears and Leandro stepped up, placed his penalty low to the left, Higashiguchi got a glove on it but couldn’t keep it out and the visitors went ahead.

Gamba pressed for an equaliser and Hayashi saved well from sub Kazuma Watanabe’s effort. However, Tokyo looked dangerous on the break and were able to take advantage of the spaces left open by Gamba’s gung-ho approach. Substitute Adailton re-paid coach Kenta Hasegawa not long after coming on as he fired an excellent shot across Higashiguchi following a pass from Leandro on yet another Tokyo counter attack. 3-1 game over.


* Basically all of Gamba’s games this year have followed a similar pattern, Oita are the only team we’ve looked significantly better than, yet we only beat them 2-1. Similarly, Kawasaki are the only team who’ve looked much stronger than us and we only lost 1-0. What the last two home games have shown is that teams are on to our system and are quickly closing down our defenders, forcing mistakes and winning the ball back in dangerous areas. Playing Patric last week at Kashima gave us an out ball to allow us to quickly clear our lines, why did he not start here, and why was Watanabe brought off the bench before him?
* Ryu Takao in theory has the skill set to play right wing-back, but as this was his first start in the position he looked rather shaky. Despite being denied by an excellent Hayashi save and then colliding with the shrewd Takahagi at the end of a surging run into the box, his general distribution was much below that of Onose.
* The penalty against us was the correct decision in my opinion, the ball struck Kim on the arm and it was away from his body. However, how a player is supposed to slide and keep their arms by their side, I don’t know. Also from my recent reading on expected goals, a penalty kick is generally scored 70-75% of the time, I always feel dissatisfied when teams are given spot kicks for innocuous handballs in moves unlikely to result in shots or goals. Nagoya can feel more aggrieved than us with the penalty they conceded. Fortunately, in my eyes anyway, justice was served as Lucas Fernandes of Sapporo failed to convert. I don’t know how to fix this quandry and I am just ranting here out of frustration.
* We now look like also rans in the title race, so why not give some of the youngsters a shot. Tokyo had Shuto Abe in midfield and the two Nakamura’s at full-back on Saturday, while we saw Kashima with Araki and Someno, so for me it’s time to gently introduce Shuhei Kawasaki, Shoji Toyama and Ren Shibamoto who’ve been in great form for the U23s see below, as well as Yuki Yamamoto who has just been warming the bench for the top team.

Gamba MVP

Takashi Usami – His best game this season in my opinion. A brilliant strike to equalise, constantly dropped deep to pick the ball up and should have been rewarded with an assist but Watanabe was unable to guide his header past Hayashi. Really needs more help as he can’t create and score all by himself.

Under-23 round up

Gamba U23 eventually ran out comfortable 3-0 winners over Sagamihara S.C. on Sunday night. A shaky start could have seen them fall behind, but they bounced back to take the lead in the 21st minute. Haruto Shirai’s low cross from the right evaded everyone in the middle except Dai Tsukamoto who managed to guide his shot past the unlucky Victor.

Into the second half and Gamba escaped appeals for a handball when the ball bounced awkwardly and struck Keisuke Kurokawa on the arm. The Nerrazzuri received little advantage though, as it fell for Sagamihara and ‘keeper Kei Ishikawa was forced into a good save to tip the ball over.

Two goals on the counter in additional time at the end of the game added gloss to the scoreline. First Tsukamoto played in the tiring Shoji Toyama who powered a shot past Victor before being immediately replaced in the 93rd minute. Two minutes later, sub Ko Ise won the ball in midfield, fed Tsukamoto who in turn found Shuhei Kawasaki, the form man jinked and weaved before firing home his 5th goal in 4 games, surely some top team midfielders must be looking over their shoulders now.