Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai 14 November 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai
J1 2020 Round 27
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 14 November 15:00

Last Time Out

Gamba weren’t at their best, but still had enough in the tank to eek out a 1-0 home win over a second-string Vissel Kobe on Wednesday night. Fresh from an 8-day gap between fixtures, Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made just one change to the side which drew at Cerezo, and it was a surprising one. Star-man Yosuke Ideguchi was missing from the matchday squad after picking up a knock in training on Monday and attempting to fill his giant boots was J1 debutant Kohei Okuno. Elsewhere, Kim Young-gwon had overcome the knee injury which forced him off the field early in the Osaka Derby and there was a return to the bench for Gen Shoji after he’d missed the previous 4 games. However, captain Genta Miura was mysteriously absent having made his comeback just last week.

Vissel had the better of the opening exchanges against a sluggish Gamba, however, they were unable to punish their sloppy hosts. Daiju Sasaki wasted two very presentable openings, the second of which prompted me to write ‘Gamba need to waken up’ in my notes. Waken up they did as a mere two minutes later Usami and Patric combined before the Brazilian’s shot was deflected off Ryuho Kikuchi and past the despairing dive of Daiya Maekawa for the game’s only goal.

The home side were much livelier in the second half, I was particularly impressed with Yuki Yamamoto who took up the mantle of the absent Ideguchi well and was ably supported by his partner for the evening, Okuno. On the hour mark Vissel introduced Iniesta, Furuhashi and Hotaru Yamaguchi which gave Gamba’s young midfield duo an excellent opportunity to test themselves against some of the best J1 has to offer. For a large part of the final 20 minutes Gamba sat in their solid defensive shape while Kobe passed from side to side without really penetrating. Another substitute, Noriaki Fujimoto wasted Vissel’s one decent chance, slicing well wide under pressure from Kim Young-gwon. There was a second J1 debut of the evening for the Nerazzurri with highly-rated young prospect Shoji Toyama replacing Patric for the final 6 minutes plus additional time. All-in-all a pleasing night’s work, Gamba have broken their home duck against Vissel and are now unbeaten in 12 J1 games heading in to Saturday’s visit from bottom side Vegalta Sendai.

Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai

Gamba come into this encounter with 18th placed Sendai looking to extend their already outstanding unbeaten run to 13 games. The Nerazzurri took their win tally to 17 against Kobe in midweek meaning they’ve equalled their total from the 2016 season and currently lie just 2 away from the 19 victories that propelled them to the J1 title back in 2014. Just as in that memorable campaign a tight rearguard has proven to be essential. Gamba boast the third stingiest defence in J1 at the moment (behind Kawasaki and Nagoya) letting in just 1.04 per game and indeed the only time they’ve conceded less than a goal a game in an 18-team top flight they were crowned champions (31 in 34 games back in 2014).

After their usual ropey start at home this year when they lost 5 of their opening 8 matches, the ship has been well and truly steadied with the Nerazzurri going on a run of 5 wins and 1 draw since the shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of Shonan back on September 13th. They currently have the 4th best home record in the division with 25 points from 14 matches and at present only Kaswasaki and Nagoya (those two again) have bettered their 8 wins on home soil. Once again we can see solid defence has laid the foundations of this improvement with only 4 goals conceded in the last 6 home ties, two clean sheets (out of a total of 3 at home this year) have been kept in that run too with no opponent able to score more than once in a single game. After Saturday’s encounter, only Tosu (16th) and Shimizu (17th) are due in Suita for league duties so Gamba will surely be optimistic about closing out their home fixtures with no further slip-ups.

The defence seems to be earning all the plaudits in this particular match preview, but Gamba will be confident of playing much of this game on the front foot, particularly after running up a season best 4-1 scoreline in the away fixture. Brazilian striker Patric enjoyed a physical tussle with Kobe’s Dankler and Ryuho Kikuchi on Wednesday and came out on top with his winning goal his 3rd strike in Gamba’s last 5 outings. The powerful forward moved level with Kazuma Watanabe and compatriot Ademilson at the top of the team’s goalscoring charts. Each player currently sits on 6 goals, Gamba’s previous lowest figure for a top scorer in an 18-team top division is the 9 scored by Ademilson and Shun Nagasawa in 2016. It will be interesting to see if any of Gamba’s attackers can go on a scoring spree in the final 7 games of the year to overtake that total.

Now to our visitors to Sendai who have found themselves in all kinds of strife this year. They currently prop up the standings having won just twice all season, they have well documented financial problems, an injury crisis, supporter unrest and recently had to fire talented winger Ryohei Michibuchi after a domestic violence incident. One small crumb of comfort for our visitors from Miyagi is the fact that both of their league wins in 2020 have come on the road, 1-0 at Shonan on July 4th and a surprise 2-1 at Vissel Kobe on August 8th. However, they have now gone over 3 months since their last victory and have failed to score in 6 of their previous 7 outings.

Vegalta had the worst away record in J1 last season with just 3 wins and 1 draw all year and the absence of home supporters for much of this campaign seems to have caused them to bring that form home with them. Kantoku Takashi Kiyama arrived from Montedio Yamagata last winter after performing well in J2, however, in my season preview back in February I warned things could go a bit Alan Curbishley at Charlton following the rather harsh dismissal of Susumu Watanabe, and it’s proven to be the case. The Tokohu side possess the 3rd worst defence in the league with only Shimizu and Kobe (both 55) conceding more (it should be noted that Kobe have let in 3 more, but played an extra 5 games). At the other end, only Shonan (22) have found the back of the net less than Vegalta (23) and Alexandre Guedes’ 5 strikes is a league low for a team’s individual top scorer.

Last week Sendai were blown away 3-0 at home by Sagan Tosu which caused some of their Ultra supporters to surround the team bus for over an hour after the game. That result was undoubtedly one of their worst this year, a recent 6-0 drubbing at Urawa, the aforementioned 4-1 battering by Gamba, 5-1 away at Kashiwa and 3-0 at home to Oita have all been tough for their supporters to take. That doesn’t tell the whole story though as 10 of their 16 losses this season have been by a single goal, indeed the home defeats at the hands of Kawasaki and Cerezo (both 2-3) and Yokohama F.Marinos (0-1) have all been gut punches, while they performed extremely well in their 1-0 reversal at champions elect Frontale.

As alluded to earlier, consistently hitting the back of the net has been an issue for Vegalta all year. They’ve only scored more than once in a single game 6 times in 26 outings, in both matches against the notoriously bad defences of Sapporo and Kobe and also more surprisingly against Kawasaki and Cerezo, the number 1 and 4 ranked backlines in J1 respectively. They’ve only scored more than once twice on their travels this year while Gamba have only conceded more than once at home three times, the last being the controversial match at home to FC Tokyo on August 29th. Can Sendai fans come into this game with any kind of optimism or will Gamba simply run away with things?

Head to Head

I actually had a ticket for this match on it’s originally scheduled date of March 1st and had written over 50% of my preview for that game when the league was halted due to COVID-19. In my research (I believe Dan Orlowitz and Lionel Piguet helped me out) I uncovered the stat that Sendai have never defeated Gamba in a league game in Osaka. Their lone “away” win came in a match played in Kanazawa back in 2003, I’m glad I finally got the opportunity to put that in my blog! Gamba have won the previous 2 home matches against Vegalta without conceding and I’ve been in attendance for both, I’m not sure why Tosu and Sendai games seem to always conveniently fall when I’m not working.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

As mentioned above, in-form midfield maestro Yosuke Ideguchi was a surprising absentee against Kobe and will definitely miss this game, it’s unclear when he will be fit enough to return. Gen Shoji is now available for selection, but a cloud of uncertainty surrounds Genta Miura who played 30 minutes of the Osaka Derby then missed out completely against Vissel. Two players definitely out are Yuji Ono (knee -season) and Ademilson (club suspension).

Vegalta Sendai

One title Vegalta could definitely lay claim to this year is J1’s longest injury list. On-loan FC Tokyo defender Takahiro Yanagi (hip), full-back Koji Hachisuka (thigh) and central midfielder Yoshiki Matsushita (hamstring) have all been missing since the 6-0 hammering at Urawa on October 18th, Matsushita, in particular, has had a rough time fitness wise this year. Club legend Shingo Tomita has missed the whole season with a cruciate knee ligament problem, veteran Shingo Hyodo (thigh) last appeared against Cerezo on September 27th, versatile former Sanfrecce player Kyohei Yoshino has been absent since September 9th with a dislocated shoulder and wide forward Ryo Germain (broken foot) was last in action against Yokohama F.Marinos on September 23rd. Attacker Takuma Nishimura was last picked against Sapporo on October 3rd, but no injury has been reported while Sendai selected 2 goalkeepers among their reserves for the 3-0 home loss to Tosu suggesting that, centre-back Hayato Teruyama, midfielder Wataru Tanaka, Cerezo-loanee Hiroto Yamada and regular backup ‘keeper Yuma Obata are struggling with fitness issues. Top scorer Alexandre Guedes left the field early last weekend and his status is unknown.

Predicted Line Ups

With a week’s rest ahead of their next J1 fixture away at Urawa, I expect a pretty strong Gamba lineup here despite the tight turnaround from the Kobe match. Shinya Yajima could start ahead of Okuno due to the youngster’s recent heavy workload and it’s also possible we’ll see Kazuma Watanabe in for either Patric or Usami. Yuya Fukuda seems to be the bona fide first choice at left-back these days, though Hiroki Fujiharu remains an option. I’ve gone for Shoji ahead of Suganuma at centre-back, though Miyamoto may opt for the latter as he doesn’t want to tinker with a winning team too much.

With all of Sendai’s injury woes, I’ve basically just gone with the players I know to be definitely fit and ready for this game. Fitness problems have hit them particularly hard in the full-back positions, central midfield and attack so basically if anyone mentioned in the ‘Team News’ section is back they stand a good chance of being selected for this match. The most likely variation to the starting eleven you see below is probably Shuhei Akasaki to partner Nagasawa in attack against one of his many former sides, though Takayoshi Ishihara’s versatility could reward him with a starting berth and I’m sure centre-back Kim Jung-ya would love game time against the side he made 70 J1 appearances for between 2011-2017.

Match Prediction

Vegalta come into this one the fresher of the two sides, but that’s the only area where they really have an edge. I was there for a comfortable 2-0 Gamba win in the sunshine at Panasonic Stadium last November and I believe history will repeat itself this Saturday afternoon, leaving Sendai still searching for a first league triumph in Suita.


Gamba Osaka vs Vissel Kobe 11 November 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Vissel Kobe
J1 2020 Round 32
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Wednesday 11 November 19:00

The Lowdown

Gamba return from a welcome 8-day break to square off against Vissel Kobe in the final Kansai Derby of the year this Wednesday night. This is a round 32 fixture which has been brought forward as a result of the Hyogo side’s participation in the Asian Champions League in Qatar at the end of the month. Vissel are yet to lose a league match at Panasonic Stadium since Gamba moved in back in 2016 and they will be sure to use that as motivation as they have yet score in any of their 3 previous matches against the two Osaka clubs in 2020.

Vissel come into this encounter sitting 11th in the standings, a full 16 points behind Gamba with 4 extra games played. It certainly has not been the campaign they would have envisaged back at the start of the year when they won their first ever piece of silverware, the Emperor’s Cup, with a 2-0 win over Kashima Antlers. Their subsequent participation in the ACL has proven to be a huge burden on their small squad. Since the end of the Obon holiday in August, Vissel have played 22 matches (21 J1 and 1 Levain Cup) compared with Gamba’s 17 (all J1) and like fellow ACL participants Yokohama F.Marinos and FC Tokyo, this ridiculous schedule has caused results to take a nosedive. Between 2017 and 2019 both Gamba and Vissel ended up within one place of each other in the standings, even finishing level on points last season, so this year’s giant gap can be seen as a testament to the negative impact ACL participation has had on Kobe’s hopes of a successful J1 campaign.

Gamba have only 4 fixtures left in Suita this year including this one, 11th placed Vissel will be followed by, Sendai (18th), Tosu (15th) and Shimizu (17th) so the Nerazzurri will be keen to improve their home stats. They currently average 1.69 points per game at Panasonic Stadium with a scoreline of 1.31-1.23 in their favour. This pales in comparison to their excellent away record where they’ve taken 2.3 points per game with an average score of 1.62-0.92. Tight games have been the order of the day and, in fact, Kobe (2-0) are one of only three teams Gamba have bettered by more than one goal this season, Kashima (2-0) and Sendai (4-1) being the others, with Antlers being the only team to leave Suita defeated by more than a single goal margin. Just 2 clean sheets have been kept at home this year out of a total of 6 (vs Hiroshima and Kashima) and there have been 2 failures to score (vs Kawasaki and Shonan) while this has only happened once on the road.

If you remove Kawasaki from the league standings (I wish) Gamba’s record looks really impressive. They currently rank 2nd in total wins and also least defeats as well as having J1’s third tightest rearguard behind Frontale and Grampus. On the flip side, only the bottom 7 teams in the standings have netted fewer than Gamba’s 38 goals, Cerezo and Urawa have identical goalscoring records, though Reds have played a game more. Interestingly, Gamba’s top scorers this year are Kazuma Watanabe and Ademilson, both with 6 goals, only Vegalta Sendai have a top scorer with fewer strikes (Alexandre Guedes 5) while Sapporo and Shonan’s top marksmen are also on 6 goals. Only 1 of Watanabe’s 6 strikes have come at home this year, while stand-in skipper Shu Kurata has netted all 4 of his total on the road. Takashi Usami, on the other hand, is more of a home-body with 4 of his 5 efforts coming at Panasonic Stadium. With these numbers in mind, we can see the importance of Yosuke Ideguchi’s recent goal burst from midfield, I probably sound like a broken record now, but he must be a strong contender for the 2020 J1 Best Eleven. Goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi will surely be in the running too as long as he doesn’t have too many more shaky performances like he did in the first half against Sapporo a couple of weeks back.

A few more quick Gamba stats before we take a look at Kobe. I know I often mention it, but it does bear repeating that the Nerazzurri hold a 16-3-0 record in games where they’ve led at any point this year. This means they’ve only dropped points from winning positions on 3 occasions compared with a whopping 12 times (7 draws and 5 defeats) in 2019. Usami still tops the J1 last pass rankings with 60 in 26 appearances, a full 27 more than Gamba’s next best ranked player, Shu Kurata (33) and 6 ahead of the league’s top assist provider, Kenta Nishizawa of Shimizu.

Now to our visitors who will be left with only 3 J1 matches to play in 2020 after this game. Next, they host Shonan and Urawa at the Noevir Stadium before jetting off to Qatar to participate in the Asian Champions League and after that they’ll return to Japan to face FC Tokyo in the capital on the final day. Vissel started the season with German Thorsten Fink in charge, however, despite helping the port side to their first ever pieces of silverware, he was shown the door in September. Former Sporting Director Atsuhiro Miura is now in the hot-seat and after a dream start with 4 wins in his first 4 games he’s begun to find life a bit tougher. Kobe have just 1 win and 4 points from their previous 7 games moving into this encounter.

There’s a degree of symmetry to Vissel’s results this year, they’ve now played 30 games, 15 at home and 15 on the road and have scored 25 and conceded 27 both home and away. Like a number of teams this season, they boast a better record on their travels than on home soil, taking 19 of their 36 league points outside of Hyogo. They’ve got the better of Sapporo, Sendai and Yokohama F.Marinos (all 3-2), Urawa (2-1) and Tosu (1-0) away as well as putting up a great fight in their 3-2 loss at runaway leaders Kawasaki.

In total, Vissel average a scoreline of 1.67-1.8 compared with Gamba’s 1.46-1.08 which is gives a pretty good indicator as to where each side’s strengths and weaknesses lie. Kobe are currently the league’s 3rd top scorers with 50, though Kashiwa (49 but with 4 fewer games played) will surely overtake them soon. At the back, only Shimizu (55) have let in more than Vissel’s 54, though it should be noted that Sendai (52 goals conceded in 26 games), Yokohama FC (51 in 27) and Sapporo (49 in 27) are all contenders to end up with worse overall defensive records.

In terms of individuals, Kyogo Furuhashi has led the way in goals scored with 12 (joint 4th in the Golden Boot race) while Andres Iniesta and Gotoku Sakai have provided a team high 6 assists each which leave them tied 6th equal in that particular ranking. Furuhashi and right-back Daigo Nishi have also chipped in with 5 assists apiece while Brazilian, Douglas, an off-season capture from S-Pulse, has weighed in with 7 J1 strikes and 5 assists. In truth, despite posting reasonable numbers, I think it’s fair to say that Kobe fans were expecting more considering he bagged 14 goals and 5 assists in a struggling outfit last year. It could be that youth is the way to go for Vissel and looking in that direction, things do seem bright. Young midfielder Tatsunori Sakurai will join next year from Maebashi Ikuei High School (U23 defender Riku Matsuda’s alma mater) while centre-back Yuki Kobayashi has been decent on loan at Yokohama FC this season. Yuta Goke has been the real bright spark for Kobe in 2020, usually playing on the right-side of the front three, though he did drop deeper in the match on Sunday, he is someone Gamba will definitely need to keep an eye out for in this game.

Head to Head

As mentioned above and as highlighted in the table below, Vissel like playing at Panasonic Stadium and are unbeaten in J1 games there since it opened in 2016. I took in the final match between these two sides at the old Expo 70’ Memorial Stadium on my birthday back in 2015. Incognito in the away end due to the home tickets selling out, I was forced to endure a stale 0-0 that only livened up in the final 10 minutes. Luckily the steak I had at Denny’s afterwards made up for it, but I digress. Shonan, FC Tokyo and Cerezo have all ended long winless runs in Suita this year while Gamba buried their 19-year away hoodoo at Tokyo too, does this mean the stage is set for a first home win over Kobe at Panasonic Stadium?

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Gamba once again have selection issues to contend with. Kim Young-gwon (left knee) had to leave the field early in last week’s Osaka Derby and is a major doubt for this game, as is defensive partner Gen Shoji who has missed the past 4 games after aggravating his ankle injury against Yokohama F.Marinos. Elsewhere, Yuji Ono (knee – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) will both definitely miss out. Kim Young-gwon (if fit) and Yuya Fukuda both currently sit just one yellow card away from suspension after being cautioned against Cerezo. Shinya Yajima will make his 50th league appearance for Gamba if chosen and former Kwansei Gakuin University team-mates, Ryu Takao and Yuki Yamamoto have celebrated birthdays in the past week, Takao is now 24 and Yamamoto 23.

Vissel Kobe

Kobe have once of the smallest squads in J1 in terms of overall numbers, though fortunately for them, they don’t have many injury problems. Belgian centre-back Thomas Vermaelen has been absent since the game at Hiroshima on October 18th, I’m not sure if that’s a fitness issues or if he’s being rested ahead of the upcoming ACL games. Kyogo Furuhashi wasn’t in the squad for the previous 2 games and no injury was reported so I’m assuming he was just being given a rest too. Spanish holding midfielder Sergi Samper will make his 50th J1 and Vissel appearance in this clash while long-serving winger Keijiro Ogawa is set for his 200th J1 game. Former Kashiwa attacker Junya Tanaka, who sunk Gamba with a late double in this fixture last March, will reach if 50 J1 goals if he can find the back of the net on Wednesday.

Predicted Line Ups

Fresh from 8 days off, it’s likely we’ll see the strongest possible eleven available to Miyamoto start this Kansai Derby. I’ve opted for Fujiharu ahead of Fukuda as a result of his superior defensive attributes, also in defence, if either Kim or Shoji are fit enough to start then I expect them to do so. Yuki Yamamoto looked a bit tired in last week’s win over Cerezo, but after the extended break he should have recharged his batteries enough to hold off the challenge from Shinya Yajima. Once again in attack, either Watanabe or Patric could partner Usami, while young guns Toyama, Kawasaki and Tsukamoto will fight it out over 2 available bench seats.

Under their new head-coach, Vissel seem to have settled on a 4-3-3 formation after previous kantoku Thorsten Fink’s constant switching between 4-3-3 and 3-5-2. With their league season all but over and the majority of their focus now on the upcoming Asian Champions League it is anyone’s guess as to what personnel will be deployed on Wednesday night. As it’s a local derby I’ve assumed Kobe will field a strong side, but I’ll list a few alternatives to the lineup below. Goalkeepers Maekawa and Iikura have been rotating lately and Wednesday seems to be Maekawa’s turn to start, though the more experienced Iikura could be called upon. Vermaelen is always an option to play centre-back while ex-Gamba full-back Ryo Hatsuse may give Daigo Nishi a break. Further forward, youngsters Takuya Yasui and Daiju Sasaki will be champing at the bit to get more game time in midfield. In attack, if Furuhashi doesn’t make it, expect Kojiro Ogawa to be given the nod in his 200th J1 game, also centre-forward Noriaki Fujimoto may be preferred to Douglas in the central role.

Match Prediction

Gamba should be fresh after their long break while Vissel are in very poor recent form in the league so one may be tempted to think this will be a comfortable home win. Not me, as this is a derby after all and Kobe have game changers all over the field. I’ll still opt for a Gamba victory, but only by their usual slim margin of 2-1.


Cerezo Osaka 1-1 Gamba Osaka 3 November 2020

Gamba extended their unbeaten run to 11 matches after earning a 1-1 draw in a scrappy, physical battle with neighbours Cerezo Osaka on Culture Day. Kawasaki’s surprise loss at home to Sapporo reduces the gap at the top to 16 points, which is academic at this stage, but Nagoya’s 0-0 draw at Tosu will have come as welcome news to both Osaka teams.

Patric returned to the starting eleven in place of Kazuma Watanabe who dropped down to the bench where he was joined by returning skipper Genta Miura (his comeback would come in very handy later). For Cerezo, Riku Matsuda made a welcome return from injury, taking Eiichi Katayama’s spot at right-back and young Ayumu Seko, this week named the Levain Cup’s New Hero for 2020, was dropped after a poor display at Urawa last time out. Yasuki Kimoto slotted in at centre-half alongside Matej Jonjic while Naoyuki Fujita started next to Leandro Desabato in central-midfield.

The game as a whole was fairly even, but Cerezo, the home side, and fresher of the two did have the better of the limited chances on offer. In the 11th minute Yuki Yamamoto, who in truth didn’t have his best game in the Gamba engine room, failed to shepherd the ball out for a goal kick and had his pocket pinched by the dangerous Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, the right-winger’s cut-back found Desabato, but his shot was well blocked by Kim Young-gwon. Cerezo pressed further in the next 10 minutes, but Sakamoto’s volley wide from a corner and an inviting Murahashi cross that was just too far ahead of Yuta Toyokawa were as close as they came.

At the other end, Usami and Ideguchi looked a cut above for Gamba with their close control and direction of play a joy to watch at times. The Nerazzurri took the lead just after the half-hour mark when good work from Usami started a move that eventually ended up at the feet of Kosuke Onose on the edge of the box. The former Renofa Yamaguchi man swung over a left-foot cross for Patric who used his head, chest and foot to evade the attention of Jonjic and his pass was deflected by Riku Matsuda into the path of Ideguchi who slammed the ball past Kim Jin-hyeon for his 2nd in as many games. He’s doing his chances of a 2020 J1 Best Eleven selection no harm.

Unfortunately for Gamba, their lead lasted a mere 2 minutes, the first time they’ve ceded the advantage so quickly this season. Yamamoto made a careless foul in midfield and from the resulting free kick, Maruhashi picked out Kimoto at the back post. The big centre-back evaded the attention of Usami and Takao to volley against the bar and Toyokawa nodded the rebound into an empty goal for his 4th in the past 3 matches. Cerezo were in the ascendancy after that and Fujita should really have put them ahead, but he scuffed his shot wide after neat build-up play involving Sakamoto and Toyokawa. Gamba almost stunned the Cherry Blossoms with a break of their own, Patric controlled well and found Onose who threaded a beautifully weighted ball through to Usami, I was expecting to see the net bulge, but Kim spread himself well to deny the ex-Bayern man. 1-1 at the break.

The second period had a real derby feel to it with physical contests taking place all over the pitch. Perhaps the most intriguing one was between Jonjic and Patric with both earning yellow cards in the 50th minute after engaging in a pushing contest. Elsewhere there was bad news for Gamba as Kim Young-gwon had to leave the field with a left-knee problem, his place was taken by the returning Miura and Cerezo fans may feel he should have seen red. Already on a yellow, he felled Hiroaki Okuno on the edge of the area in the 90th minute, but the referee opted to just give the home side a free-kick, and no more. The otherwise excellent Hiroshi Kiyotake wasted the opportunity with a weak delivery, before firing an over-head kick just wide following a long throw from Katayama. Apart from that there wasn’t a great deal to report in the second half, Miura blocked a Kakitani effort late on and the Nerazzurri picked up a season high 5 yellow cards, however, 1-1 after such a short turnaround and against quality opposition like Cerezo makes me pretty content.

Gamba now have 8 days to dust down their wounded warriors before Vissel Kobe are the visitors to Panasonic Stadium for the final Kansai derby of the year next Wednesday. Gamba will find themselves in the same position Cerezo did today, having the weekend off while their opposition have to play. Can the Nerazzurri make it 12 games unbeaten or will Iniesta, Furuhashi and co. have something to say about that?

Gamba MVP

If this were a neutral blog I’d definitely give this award to Hiroshi Kiyotake who I thought had an outstanding game, especially in the second half. I would have no arguments if he made the J1 Best Eleven this year. As it is a Gamba blog, it should come as no surprise that Yosuke Ideguchi is my pick. Another energetic performance, he got stuck in from the word go, covered the whole pitch, moved the ball around well and of course notched the all important opening goal.

Key Takeaways
* Gamba did a good job of doubling up on Sakamoto, especially in the 2nd half.
* Yamamoto and Fukuda looked particularly tired after the recent tough schedule. Yamamoto’s passing and positioning was questionable at times while Fukuda’s crossing let him down.
* Kiyotake, Usami and Ideguchi really looked a level above all the other players at times today.

Gamba U-23

Just a quick mention that the Under-23s went down 2-0 at FC Imabari this afternoon. I only caught the first-half as the second overlapped with the Osaka derby. Gamba basically monopolised possession until they were caught cold in the 39th minute when Shungo Tamashiro fired home with Imabari’s first shot of the match. Further bad news followed when Keisuke Kurokawa injured his hamstring 5 minutes later and had to be replaced by Ryusei Sugano. The Shikoku based side took advantage of Ren Shibamoto’s dismissal for two yellow cards in the second half to double their lead through Masamichi Hayashi and it finished 2-0. Gamba U-23 sit 13th in the standings with 9 games left.

Starting Lineup

GK: Lee Yunoh, RCB: Hayate Toma, CB: Riku Matsuda, LCB: Tatsuya Yamaguchi, RWB: Keishi Murakami, RCM: Kohei Okuno, LCM: Ren Shibamoto, LWB: Keisuke Kurokawa, R Shadow: Jiro Nakamura, L Shadow: Daisuke Takagi ©, CF: Shoji Toyama.
*After Kurokawa was subbed off, Murakami moved to LWB, Takagi to RWB and Sugano to L Shadow


Cerezo Osaka vs Gamba Osaka 3 November 2020 Osaka Derby Match Preview

Cerezo Osaka vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 26
Nagai Stadium
Tuesday 3 November 14:00 (JST)

Last Time Out

Gamba extended their unbeaten run to 10 matches, but were made to ride their luck at times by a game Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo side who may very well feel aggrieved at leaving Panasonic Stadium empty handed. Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made just a solitary change to his starting lineup from the previous encounter against Kashiwa with Kazuma Watanabe rotating in for Patric who dropped down to the bench. Among the reserves there was a welcome return from concussion for Hiroki Fujiharu and Shoji Toyama was in the top-team squad for the third time this season in place of Ademilson, who, of course, is currently suspended by the club.

Despite the continuity in selection Gamba made a sluggish start and visitors Sapporo were well worthy of their early goal. In just the 9th minute Yoshiaki Komai centred for Brazilian Douglas Oliveira who scuffed his shot from the edge of the area, but saw it bobble and squirm past Masaaki Higashiguchi in off his left-hand post. This seemed to be the wake up call Gamba needed and they were level just 7 minutes later. Usami was instrumental in the build up, feeding Watanabe from the left, the veteran then took two touches, the second of which prodded the ball beyond Akito Fukumori into the path of the onrushing Yosuke Ideguchi and the former Leeds man brought it onto his right foot and slotted past Takanori Sugeno low to his left. After that Consadole enjoyed the better of the half, they posed different questions to Gamba’s defence than they have been facing recently with their concerted attack down the wings, the often maligned Douglas Oliveira had a pretty decent game and bullied the Nerazzurri backline at times. A low Tomoki Takamine drive and a Komai header on the bounce both found the welcoming arms of Higashiguchi, who, in truth, didn’t have his greatest half, but although Sapporo enjoyed the bulk of the chances and at times played like the home side, it was Gamba whose attacks carried a bit more menace about them as the first 45 drew to a close.

As they often do when attacking towards their own support Gamba came out firing and my half-time notes questioned whether Consadole could produce a second-half as good as their first (spoiler alert: they couldn’t). Yuya Fukuda won a free-kick in a dangerous area soon after the re-start as a result of being brought down by Lucas Fernandes, who in fact was subbed off 15 minutes later with his coach fearing he was on his way to an early bath. Gamba made a triple change of their own at the same time with Patric, Kawasaki and Yajima coming on for Usami, Kurata and Onose and it didn’t take long for this move to pay dividends. Play had been stopped for the changes ahead of a Gamba free-kick on the edge of the box and with no Usami on the field, Yuki Yamamoto took over the set-piece mantle. His beautifully weighted cross was flicked over the head of Sugeno by Patric as the Brazilian netted his 5th of the campaign with his first touch, it also marked the 14th Gamba goal from a dead ball situation this year.

The home side were content to sit back and invite Sapporo pressure after going ahead and were almost made to pay for that strategy. Takuro Kaneko came on down the right-flank for Consadole and was a constant menace, delivering a number of good quality crosses into the box. The real let-off for Gamba came in the 88th minute when Higashiguchi made a brilliant save from a header resulting from Fukumori’s corner and then Kim Min-tae’s rebound hit off both the right-hand post, the bar and Consadole captain Hiroki Miyazawa before somehow being scrambled to safety by Patric. Sapporo kantoku Mischa Petrovic berated the officials for not giving it, I can understand why he thought it was a goal, I don’t know how it didn’t go in, but tv replays did show that miraculously the ball didn’t cross the line meaning Gamba could breathe an almighty sigh of relief. There was more holding of breath a couple of minutes later when Higashiguchi took a routine cross, but then accidentally collided with the sliding Yoshiaki Komai. Following a couple of minutes of treatment the stopper was back on his feet and Komai was rather harshly, in my opinion, given a yellow card for his troubles. Full-time 2-1 Gamba and boy do I wish they would win games more comfortably.

Cerezo vs Gamba Match Preview

Tuesday 3rd November is Culture Day in Japan which gives us the rare opportunity to enjoy the Osaka Derby on a Tuesday afternoon. Gamba sit 2nd with Cerezo in 4th, 3 points adrift, both teams have identical goalscoring records with 37 strikes in 25 matches while Gamba have surprisingly let in one fewer than the much vaunted Cherry Blossoms backline. With league leaders Kawasaki 17 points clear, these 2 sides plus Nagoya Grampus in 3rd (level on points with Cerezo, but with a game more played) find themselves in a mini-league to see who will join Frontale in the latter stages of the Emperor’s Cup.

Gamba will come into this match more battle worn having played on Saturday night while Cerezo had the chance to put their feet up, but crucially the Nerazzurri are in much better form than their hosts. The 2-1 win at home to Sapporo was their 10th match unbeaten, a run that has included 9 wins and a draw. Interestingly, Gamba have only been ahead at half-time on 3 occasions during this streak, they’ve been drawing 6 times and behind just once. As alluded to in my match review above, tight games have been the story of Gamba’s season with 13 of their 16 league victories coming by a solitary goal (nine 2-1 wins and four 1-0s), only Sendai (4-1), Kobe and Kashima (2-0) have been seen off more comfortably. The triumph over Sapporo was the third time Gamba have come from behind to win in 2020 and all those games have been at home (Oita and Nagoya, both 2-1, were the others), when they’ve led at any point in a match they are 16-2-0.

Although Gamba’s overall defensive record has been good, keeping clean sheets has been an issue, and one which could sting them against an extremely miserly side like Cerezo. The Nerazzurri have only blanked their opposition 6 times this year, though it should be noted that 4 of these games were away from home. Speaking of their road record, Gamba once again lie behind Kawasaki in that particular league table, however, in this instance the gap between 1st and 2nd is a mere 2 points with both teams having played 12 matches. Kashiwa Reysol are the only side to defeat the men from Suita on their travels, a comprehensive 3-0 victory in September, while Nagoya and Kashima have each earned a share of the spoils.

Now to Cerezo, a team known for their defensive nous under the tutelage of wily Spanish kantoku Migel Angel Lotina. The Cherry Blossoms were owners of the best overall defensive record in 2019, letting in just 0.74 goals per game while keeping a joint league best 15 clean sheets. On the surface things have gone a little south in that department this year with 1.12 goals being let in on average, however, when you strip out the 8 they shipped in 2 games against the Kawasaki behemoth, it takes the figure down to 0.8 per game, nearly identical to last year’s performance. They’ve kept 9 clean sheets to date, of which 7 have been at Nagai Stadium, however, only one of those 9 has come in their past 8 matches (at home to struggling Shonan). Their total figure of 9 home goals conceded in 12 games is the best home defensive record in J1.

Cerezo’s previous match came on October 24th, a 3-1 reversal at Urawa. This meant that Reds became the first team not called Kawasaki Frontale to score more than twice in a league game against Cerezo this season, indeed they only let in more than 2 on one occasion in the whole of 2019 (0-3 away to FC Tokyo). The Cherry Blossoms have lost 7 times in the league this campaign (1 more than Gamba), but worryingly for their supporters, 5 of those defeats have been in their past 8 outings. Interestingly, they average 1.92 points per game both home and away having taken 23 points from 12 home fixtures and 25 from 13 road games. Just under half of their league defeats have been on their own turf although all were against top 6 opponents, Nagoya (0-2), Kashima (1-2) and Kawasaki (1-3)

Cerezo’s two wide midfielders, captain Hiroshi Kiyotake (7 assists) and off-season capture from Montedio Yamagata, Tatsuhiro Sakamoto (6) will need to be watched closely by Gamba on Tuesday and it will be interesting to see if Miyamoto brings in Hiroki Fujiharu to the left-back spot in an effort to combat Sakamoto’s threat. In terms of goals, Cerezo, like Gamba, tend to share things around pretty evenly. Hiroaki Okuno tops the charts with 7 strikes, followed by burly Brazilian Bruno Mendes (6) and Kiyotake (5). Yuta Toyokawa has 3 in his past 2 outings which has brought a welcome boost to his side’s attacking fortunes.

Head to Head

Cerezo were victorious at an empty Panasonic Stadium in the first game after the league’s resumption in July. Left-back Yusuke Maruhashi set up Hiroaki Okuno for the opener right on half-time before delivering the knockout blow with a fine strike from outside the area in the second period, Ademilson’s penalty was merely a consolation for Gamba. That was a rare win in this fixture for Cerezo, as was their 3-1 triumph in 2019’s corresponding encounter. Prior to those games, Cerezo’s last victory in a league derby was way back in round 2 of the 2012 campaign.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Yuji Ono (knee – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) are definitely missing while centre-backs Genta Miura (thigh) and Gen Shoji (ankle) are unlikely to make it after sitting out the past several games. Hiroki Fujiharu is now back in contention for a starting spot while Shoji Toyama is poised for a J1 debut in this clash.

Cerezo Osaka

Right-back Riku Matsuda injured his calf in the loss at Nagoya Grampus on October 10th and is unlikely to take any part in this game. Likewise, aggressive forward Ken Tokura, who tormented the Gamba backline in the match in Suita in July has a leg muscle injury, though it should be noted that he hasn’t played since his sending off for an ill-advised kick at a prone Daiya Maekawa in their match away to Vissel Kobe on September 16th. Club legend Yoichiro Kakitani, like Matsuda, was taken off in the game at Nagoya and hasn’t been used in the 3 matches since, I have yet to see any clarification as to why he’s been absent. Utility player Eiichi Katayama will make his 50th J1 appearance in this clash.

Predicted Line Ups

With Gamba’s form as it is, most of the players in the formation below are pretty much certainties to start. Depending on fitness, Fujiharu could get the nod ahead of Fukuda and it’s always possible that Watanabe may again partner Usami in attack, but other than that, assuming Miura and Shoji both miss out then this is definitely the most likely starting lineup.

Cerezo’s Spanish coach Miguel Angel Lotina is an avid fan of the 4-4-2 system and has rotated as little as possible this year which makes my job of predicting his starting eleven much easier. Centre-back Yasuki Kimoto can also play in central midfield, so it’s possible he could partner Desabato while Ayumu Seko slots in alongside Matej Jonjic. In attack, Bruno Mendes is generally the main man, but the recent form of Toyokawa could earn him a starting berth here. Otherwise, unless there are injuries, I’m confident that the lineup below is the one you’ll see on Tuesday afternoon.

Match Prediction

I’m going for it with this prediction, Gamba are on a roll and will walk out of Nagai Stadium at Tuesday dinner time with a 6-point lead over our neighbours following an extremely closely fought 2-1 win.


Gamba Osaka vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 31 October 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
J1 2020 Round 25
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 31 October 19:00 (JST)

Note: This preview was written prior to Sapporo’s acquisition of Hugo Vieira and the announcement that Daiki Suga had tested positive for COVID-19.

The Lowdown

Gamba welcome Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo to Panasonic Stadium for a Hallowe’en showdown this Saturday night with the home side looking to make it 10 games unbeaten which would be their best run since 2011. Gamba will don special edition uniforms designed by Hidekichi Shigemoto in this match, however, they are still reeling from the drink-driving scandal involving Ademilson that was made public on Monday. The Brazilian, who of course netted the winner in last week’s 2-1 victory over Kashiwa, is currently suspended by the club awaiting the outcome of an investigation and it seems unlikely that he’ll take the field again in a Gamba shirt after bagging 34 goals and 20 assists in 121 J1 games.

Both Gamba and Consadole had the rare luxury of a full 7 days to prepare for this fixture and the home team come into the match 3rd in the standings, level on points with city rivals Cerezo, who they play on Tuesday, so a win here would provide a psychological boost going into that clash. Despite finishing just a point below Gamba in 2019, Consadole have performed considerably poorer this time around. I predicted they’d end up 13th in my pre-season forecast and that’s exactly where they lie at the moment, 21 points behind Gamba.

With 6 wins, 1 draw and 5 losses at home this year, Gamba’s form inside Panasonic Stadium has been decidedly shaky. That being said, since the shock 1-0 reverse against Shonan Bellmare on September 13th, they are unbeaten in 4 games, all against top half rivals, Kashima (2-0), Nagoya and Kashiwa (2-1) and Yokohama F.Marinos (1-1). Additionally, their remaining 5 home fixtures in 2020, including this one, are all against bottom-half opposition, Kobe (11th), Tosu (15th), Shimizu (17th) and Sendai (18th) are all that’s left after Sapporo and interestingly enough victory in each of those 5 games would see Gamba match their 2014 title-winning points tally (63) regardless of what they do in their away fixtures.

Last weekend’s tight win over Kashiwa saw Gamba overtake the 47 points accrued in 2019 with 10 games to spare. They’ve won 15 J1 matches this season to date, their biggest total since 2016 (17) and the 2011 campaign’s figure of 21 wins could be a realistic target. As alluded to above, between 18th June and 18th September of that year the Nerazzurri embarked on an 11 game unbeaten run which consisted of 9 wins and 2 draws, how the home faithful would love a win in this fixture to set up the chance of equalling that impressive feet in Tuesday’s Osaka Derby.

Improved defending by the team as a whole has been a key element in this season’s revival of fortunes. Gamba are currently projecting to concede 37 goals this term (the Kawasaki away game notwithstanding) which would be their best defensive performance since 2015. All who witnessed the Kashiwa game would surely have been impressed by their tight-knit defending, closing players in dangerous shooting areas down quickly and putting their bodies on the line to block shots. Indeed we can see from the stats that this year Gamba have been outdone 15 times to 9 in overall efforts on goal, whereas when we look at attempts on target, the Nerazzurri hold the upper hand 14-3-7. Putting players under pressure when they attempt shots and headers in or near the box and making it very difficult for opponents to gain clear sights of Masaaki Higashiguchi’s goal have been vital components in Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s defensive masterplan this term.

Saturday’s opponents Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo have endured a tough campaign which hasn’t been helped by the departures of Gu Sung-yun (FC Daegu) and Musashi Suzuki (Beerschot). Thai assist king Chanathip has missed chunks of games and they never look the same without him on the field while fellow strike partners Jay and Anderson Lopes have been hindered by the heavy summer schedule and being stuck in Brazil due to Coronavirus restrictions respectively. On the flip side they have invested quite a bit in youth and will hope this bears fruit in the coming years. Shunta Tanaka (DF/MF), Tomoki Takamine (MF/DF) and Takuro Kaneko (AM) are a trio of rookies out of university who have all put their stamp on the team this season. Giant ‘keeper Kojiro Nakano, who Gamba supporters will remember as Hosei University’s stopper in the 2019 Emperor’s Cup humiliation, and attacker Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa have both featured as designated special players ahead of turning pro in 2021. Taika Nakashima, a young forward the same age as Shoji Toyama will move north to Hokkaido next year after graduating from Kunimi High School in Nagasaki, Kazuma Watanabe’s alma mater, he comes highly rated too.

Consadole come into this clash in decent form with only 1 defeat in their previous 5 matches, however, this was preceded by a horror run of just 1 win in 13 games that was bookended by losses to Vissel Kobe, 3-2 at Sapporo Dome on August 2nd and a 4-0 spanking at Noevir Stadium on September 26th. Without trying to rain on our northern rivals parade too much, one could argue that this recent mini-revival may simply be down to playing several teams below them in the standings, Yokohama FC (14th), Shonan (16th), and Sendai (18th), though before anyone tries to shoot me down I will acknowledge that their 1-0 home win over Kashima was mightily impressive.

Due to having to share Sapporo Dome with the Nippon Ham Fighters baseball team, Consadole’s fixture list has had a very lopsided look to it this year. All of their first 5 league matches were away from home and they’ll also round out their campaign with 3 of their final 4 games on the road. They only have 3 home matches left in 2020 compared with 6 away fixtures, indeed this encounter is the first of a 3 game road trip for Sapporo with Kawasaki and FC Tokyo to follow (so not getting any easier then, eh?). They currently hold a 3-2-6 away record this season with early wins at Yokohama FC (2-1) and Kashima Antlers (2-0) in rounds 2 and 3 respectively followed by their most recent road victory over Tosu (2-0) on September 6th. They have been on the end of several heavy defeats outside the comforts of Hokkaido with Kobe (4-0), Marinos (4-1), Kashiwa (4-2), Nagoya (3-0), Shimizu (3-1), Cerezo (2-0) all getting the better of them.

Away from home Consadole average a scoreline of 1.09-1.92 which doesn’t really differ wildly from their 1.4-1.71 home record. If we compare their year-on-year statistics we can see that their goals conceded in 2020 column (47) is only 2 shy of last season’s performance with 9 fewer matches played. Head-coach Mischa Petrovic has used the absence of relegation to really push his all-out attacking philosophy and they’ve already let in 3 or more goals in a single match 9 times this year (or more often than once every three games) compared with the 4 occasions it occurred in 2019.

Head to Head

Gamba are unbeaten in the last 4 fixtures between these 2 sides and have kept clean sheets in the previous 3. Last year’s 5-0 home rout saw all the goals come in the second half and although a repeat would be welcome by the Nerazzurri faithful much closer contests are usually the order of the day when these two meet.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Yuji Ono (knee surgery – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) are the two definite absentees for Gamba this weekend. In defence, Genta Miura (thigh), Hiroki Fujiharu (concussion) and Gen Shoji (ankle) have all been out for several games and no timeline has been set for their return. Ademilson’s absence should open the door for young Shoji Toyama to make his J1 debut some time in the not too distant future.

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Thai assist-kingpin Chanathip has been a key loss for Sapporo this term and he last appeared in the 2-0 away win at Tosu on 16th September, he was subbed off at half-time in that game. Defender Naoki Ishikawa (ankle) and reserve ‘keeper Shunta Awaka haven’t played yet this season due to injury, though neither would likely feature in a Consadole Best XI. Right-sided centre-back Ryosuke Shindo and central midfielder Kazuki Fukai seem to have fallen out of favour recently, though no injury has been reported. Young goalie Katsuya Nakano missed last week’s win over Yokohama FC, I’m guessing this could have been down to his studies. English forward Jay Bothroyd will make his 100th J1 appearance should he take the field in this game.

Predicted Line Ups

It will be interesting to see how Gamba approach this game as our next opponents Cerezo have a free weekend and there is basically only 2 ½ days between this match and that one. However, after the Osaka Derby, Gamba then have an 8 day hiatus until they play the final Kansai Derby of 2020 against Vissel Kobe so it’s likely the Nerazzurri will be at full-strength for this one. A fit-again Shoji or Miura would surely come in for Suganuma, even though he’s performed dutifully in the past few games. Fujiharu will likely be eased back on the bench when he does return, such has been the form of Yuya Fukuda. I wonder if Keisuke Kurokawa playing the full 90 against Fukushima in midweek can be taken as evidence of Fujiharu’s impending return? Elsewhere, Yajima for Yamamoto in central-midfield is a possibility and Watanabe partnering Usami in attack in place of the recently turned 33 Patric is another option.

I’m certain that Sapporo will line up in the formation below and there will also be a lot of shifting of positions mid-match with the wide centre-backs pushing forward along the flanks while the central midfielders shuffle back to cover. Personnel wise, Nakano could start in goal if he is free from his studies, it’s also possible that Miyazawa will play at centre-back which would allow Takamine to come in alongside Arano. In attack Jay is an option as the focal point with Anderson Lopes then moving into Kaneko’s spot in what would be a very attacking move by Mischa Petrovic.

Match Prediction

Gamba will look to place off field issues to one side and put Sapporo to the sword in this one. I don’t see anything like a repeat of last season’s 5-0 thrashing, so will instead opt for a comfortable 2-0 scoreline in the hosts’ favour.


Gamba Osaka 2-1 Kashiwa Reysol plus weekly round up

The Match

Gamba rode their luck at times but eventually dug deep enough to grind out an important 2-1 win over Kashiwa Reysol on Saturday afternoon. Our visitors, who had never previously lost at Panasonic Stadium were left to rue a series of missed chances and also a controversial refereeing decision, while Gamba captain Shu Kurata was given the perfect present to celebrate his 300th J1 appearance.

Coming into this game on the back of 6 days off Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto opted to only change his forwards for this clash with the first-choice pairing of Takashi Usami and Patric replacing Ademilson and Kazuma Watanabe, both of whom reverted to the bench. At the back, Gen Shoji (ankle) and Hiroki Fujiharu (concussion) were still not fit meaning the Nerazzurri’s defence once again had a slightly make-shift feel to it.

My notes for the first 30 minutes of this game can essentially be boiled down to the following, scrappy Gamba build up, Kashima counter, ball over top, came to nothing, shot off target. Truth be told this match didn’t really live up to the hype as both sets of players looked slightly off the pace with signs of wear and tear from this never-ending series of games beginning to take its toll. I was bigging myself up on Twitter for my successful predictions yesterday, but in actuality those of you who read my pre-match preview will know that I spent a lot of time analysing Reysol and my findings could basically be boiled down to, great attack, weak defence. However, in this game their backline held firm for long periods and it was their much vaunted forwards who let them down with a number of squandered opportunities.

Gamba’s main weakness this year has been in games where they’ve fallen behind early and the opening period of this half may be where Kashiwa lost their chance of earning the 3 points. The normally reliable Cristiano shot into to the side netting in the 4th minute before firing over 30 minutes later following a mix-up between Ideguchi and Yamamoto in the midfield. Ataru Esaka had headed over a Cristiano free-kick from seven yards out just three minutes prior to the Brazilian’s second opportunity, while J1’s top marksmen Michael Olunga was largely kept at arm’s length by resolute Gamba defending. At the other end a surging run from Ryu Takao saw him feed Takashi Usami, but he could only shoot straight at Kim from the edge of the area. Patric wasted Gamba’s best chance of the half as he tried to cushion a beautifully weighted Kurata cross into the bottom corner but fluffed his lines, so it was 0-0 at the break.

The deadlock was broken in somewhat controversial fashion 7 minutes into the second half. An aimless high kick into the middle of the field by a Kashiwa defender was nicely controlled by Kosuke Onose who played a neat one-two with Patric and unleashed a shot from a good 25-yards out. Kashiwa’s normally reliable South Korean stopper Kim Seung-gyu seemed to get his hands tangled and was barely able to claw away what should have been a regulation save for a corner. Usami’s set piece flew into the box and Kim challenged Patric for the ball, spilled it into his own net and the goal was given somewhat to my surprise and also the dismay of the Kashiwa players (more on this decision below). After that Gamba had a decent spell with Kurata heavily involved and substitute Ademilson looking sharp. With 10 minutes to go though, Kashiwa would have felt justice was served when they got their equaliser. Another aimless clearance high into the air, this time by Gamba was headed into Esaka’s path by Cristiano. J1’s leading assist maker then volleyed through for the league’s top scorer Olunga to slip his 23rd goal of an incredible campaign beneath Higashiguchi.

Reysol had the momentum after that, however, they were stunned in the 89th minute when Kurata played in Ademilson who took two touches with his right foot on the edge of the box before unleashing a powerful effort with his left which flew past Kim low to his right and sent the Gamba faithful into raptures. The Brazilian’s 6th goal of the campaign and by far the best. There was still time for Cristiano to test Higashiguchi, but Gamba’s number 1 was equal to the task and his save ensured the home side extended their unbeaten run to 9 matches. Defeats for both Cerezo and FC Tokyo made it an all round good day for everyone involved with the club.

Talking Points

* VAR – I’m broadly in favour of technology coming into football and there has been a lot of focus lately on the awarding and non-awarding of penalties. I’m no fan of the current handball laws which basically incentivise teams to get the ball in their opponent’s defensive third then just whack it into the box and hope it hits someone’s hand. VAR may give us more consistent decisions, but if the laws remain the way they are then there will still be a lot of disagreement.
Secondly, and the main reason I’m talking about VAR, I want to discuss Kim’s ‘own goal’ and also Ryo Shinzato’s effort that was ruled out in the match between these two back in February. If I were a Kashiwa supporter I’d be very disappointed to lose a goal like they did yesterday and you’d likely find me ranting about it in my blog if it happened to Gamba. With that said, I can see an argument for the goal to stand and the more I’ve watched it, the less I thought it was a foul. Granted it would have been given as such every day of the week in Europe and no-one wants to see 90kg defenders charging ‘keepers at corners, but that’s hardly what happened here. Likewise with the Shinzato incident, logical arguments could be made in either direction. One could certainly say that if an attacking player is standing in the 6 yard-box and the ball travels into the goal through his legs then he is most definitely affecting play. However, what if it is also clear that the goalkeeper had no chance of saving it regardless of the player’s position? I’m trying to be as neutral as possible even though both incidents involve Gamba and I hope you can see my point that VAR won’t stop arguments from breaking out over such issues.
* Feigning head injuries – The guys over at J-Talk Extra Time did a good piece on this last year, I believe it was the Renofa Yamaguchi goalkeeper who got under their skin. There was a collision in the 57th minute of this game when Kashiwa’s Hayato Nakama and Kosuke Onose went in physically on each other resulting in a Reysol free-kick. So far, so good, but in the aftermath Nakama held the top of his head while replays clearly showed contact was made with his upper arm. This is the second time I’ve seen this kind of incident this season, Urawa’s Leonardo after a clash with Kawasaki’s Jesiel was the other, and I wasn’t impressed on either occasion. In fairness, neither player particularly milked it and none of their team-mates joined in to call for a red-card etc, but I’d like to point out another situation in the Osaka U23 derby. Cerezo defender Ryuya Nishio was struck flush in the face by a powerful drive and somehow managed to stagger to his feet to guard against the subsequent Gamba attack. Further viewing revealed that he had indeed received a strong blow to the head that required treatment (he was able to play on after the physio looked at him), but with head injuries, a quick assessment is necessary and feigning head knocks creates a situation where it’s more difficult for officials to work out what’s real and what’s fake. The referees have been in the firing line a lot recently, but players have their part to play in raising on-field behavioural standards too. There have been another couple of incidents of unsporting conduct that have irritated me recently and I may look at them in detail in future columns. Please let me know what you think.

Gamba U23 Review

Gamba and Cerezo played out an entertaining 1-1 draw in the sunshine at Nagai Stadium on Sunday afternoon. With the disbansion of both sides at the end of the current season this was the final time fans could enjoy this fixture. After 20 minutes of near total Gamba domination they were stunned when Shota Fujio, who of course memorably scored against Urawa in J1 a few weeks back curled in a lovely shot low to Kei Ishikawa’s right from the edge of the box. He nearly repeated the dose a few minutes later, but in general Gamba had the better of the opening stanza. Some of their playing out from the back would have given footballing traditionalists like Tony Pulis or Sam Allardyce palpitations and there was an annoying tendency to get caught offside, but they could look ahead to the second half in positive fashion.

High School 3rd grader Ko Ise replaced overage player Daisuke Takagi at half-time and repaid his coach Hitoshi Morishita’s faith 14 minutes later with a controlled finish from the edge of the box after Keisuke Kurokawa’s cross from the left was only partially cleared. The impressive Kurokawa then sent in another beauty which was just out of the reach of Shoji Toyama a minute later before Cerezo began to come into things a bit more after replacing the ineffectual 191cm forward Pierce Waring. Attacker Fujio looked a cut above of the rest while team-mates Nagi Matsumoto (MF) and Ryuya Nishio (DF) also looked the part. Both sides huffed and puffed, Cerezo even hit the woodwork, but a probably fair 1-1 was the final outcome. Gamba sit 12th in the standings while Cerezo remain bottom, both teams have 11 games remaining.


Gamba Osaka vs Kashiwa Reysol 24 October 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Kashiwa Reysol
J1 2020 Round 24
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 24 October 16:00 (JST)

The Lowdown

Gamba come into this match 4th in the J1 standings while Kashiwa are 4 places and 8 points behind with both sides having played 23 games. Reysol, who will go head-to-head with FC Tokyo in the Levain Cup Final next month, have already defeated Gamba twice this season, winning 1-0 at Panasonic Stadium in the group stages of the League Cup back in February before inflicting the only away loss Gamba have suffered so far this year, a resounding 3-0 triumph on September 9th.

Gamba’s win at Oita last weekend took them onto an impressive 29 away points which is actually more than 6 J1 teams’ total points haul for the year. In Suita things have been a bit more dicey with 5 wins, 1 draw and 5 defeats, however the Nerazzurri’s schedule has been a touch top heavy and Reysol are the highest ranked side yet to visit Panasonic Stadium this year. Indeed, all of Gamba’s remaining visitors (Kobe, Sapporo, Tosu, Shimizu, Sendai) currently lie in the bottom half of the standings. With 45 total points this season the Nerazzurri require just a solitary victory in their 11 remaining fixtures to eclipse last season’s tally of 47. Protecting leads has been a big factor in this revival. My often quoted stat is that this year Gamba are 14-2-0 in games where they’ve led at any point, now contrast this with 2019 when they drew 11 of their 34 J1 fixtures including 7 matches where they let a lead slip (5 of these came consecutively between rounds 20-24!). More damaging was the 5 times that teams came from behind to defeat Gamba last season, this has been completely eradicated in the 23 rounds so far in 2020, an achievement worthy of a mention.

Kashiwa, like Gamba and a few other J1 teams, have enjoyed more success on the road than at home during this turbulent campaign. 20 of their 37 league points have been earned outside of Chiba and we can also see a clear difference between their attacking and defensive performances depending on match location. On home turf they score 2.17 goals per game with an average of 1.92 being conceded, however, away from home things are less free-flowing with an average score of 1.7-1.09 in their favour. They have won 6 games on opposition soil this year and lost 3 times, once to Kawasaki, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the other 2 defeats, at Tosu and Shonan are greater causes for concern.

Overall, Reysol possess the joint 3rd (level with Kobe who’ve played an additional 4 games) most potent attack in the league, slamming in 45 at 1.96 per match. Forward duo Michael Olunga and Ataru Esaka have 30 of those goals between them (more than 6 J1 teams’ totals), by way of contrast, Gamba’s attacking quartet of Usami, Patric, Ademilson and Watanabe have bagged a combined total of 20 goals. In Takashi Usami, Gamba have J1’s leading chance creator with 57 final passes to his name, Kashiwa’s Esaka is in third place on that list with 51.

Defence is undoubtedly Reysol’s achilles heel, though admittedly injury problems which have necessitated a series of personnel and positional switches throughout the year haven’t helped. They’ve conceded 10 goals more than Gamba so far in 2020 and ahead of them only Yokohama F.Marinos have a leakier rearguard, though with Reysol only being 4 points behind the defending champions with 4 games in hand we can expect to see them move up a place sooner or later. Kashiwa supporters must be eagerly anticipating the return of Avispa Fukuoka captain Takumi Kamijima, an academy graduate currently excelling out on loan, with the hope that he can steady the ship at the back. Reysol have conceded exactly 3 goals on 7 occasions this year (though only twice once away), which is pretty shocking for a team as high in the standings as they are, to counter that though they have scored three goals or more 9 times this season (including 3 times on their travels).

Head to Head

As you can see in the graphic below, Kashiwa have proven a tough nut for Gamba to crack in recent years with their last home win in this fixture coming way back in 2015. I was there for what might well prove to be my only visit to Panasonic Stadium in 2020 back in February when Reysol ran out 1-0 winners in the Levain Cup. That the goal was scored by Olunga and assisted by Cristiano should surprise no-one, however, at the other end Kim Seung-gyu had to be in outstanding form in order to earn a clean sheet as Gamba spent most of the second half camped in Kashiwa’s defensive third.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Injury problems are starting to mount up for Gamba as a result of their intense recent schedule of matches. Yuji Ono (knee) and Genta Miura (thigh) are both long-term absentees while it’s been reported that Hiroki Fujiharu sustained a concussion in the game against Tosu on October 7th and no date has yet been set for his return. Gen Shoji re-injured his ankle against Yokohama F.Marinos on October 14th and we’re still waiting to hear how long he will be out for. In more positive news, stand-in captain Shu Kurata will make his 300th J1 appearance in his match.

Kashiwa Reysol

Reysol have one of the biggest squads in the league and it’s just as well as they’ve been plagued by injuries all year. Centre-back Yuji Takahashi is out for the season with knee ligament damage as is impressive young midfielder Sachiro Toshima who suffered a horrific leg break against Yokohama F.Marinos. International goalkeeper Kosuke Nakamura hasn’t featured since being subbed off with a leg muscle injury against Shimizu on September 5th and influential attacking midfielder Yusuke Segawa has been out since being taken off at half-time of the 3-2 win at Kobe on August 19th. Brazilian wide-man Matheus Savio had to go off in the first half of the 3-2 home defeat by Kashima on August 29th and experienced centre-back Yuta Someya was last in the squad for the home game with Shonan on July 18th. The versatile Masatoshi Mihara picked up his 4th yellow card of the year in the 3-2 loss at Bellmare on Sunday so will miss this game through suspension, while full-back Shunki Takahashi returns after sitting out the previous game due to his second red-card of the campaign. Club captain Hidekazu Otani and veteran centre-back Jiro Kamata have missed the past 3 and 4 games respectively and ex-Gamba forward Hiroto Goya hasn’t been in the squad for the last 3 matches. Utility defender Taiyo Koga, the sole mainstay at the heart of Kashiwa’s defence this year missed the 3-2 loss at Shonan, whether he was rested or injured, I’m not sure.

Predicted Line Ups

Gamba only have to play 3 games in a week twice more this season, so we are likely to see the best available players selected for every match from now on. For my lineup below I’ve assumed that both Shoji and Fujiharu will miss out through injury, I’d say, if fit, Shoji will definitely replace Suganuma to try and combat the threat of Olunga. Elsewhere, Yajima could take Yamamoto’s place in the middle of the park and I’m pretty confident that Usami and Patric will be the starting attacking duo, particularly in light of Kashiwa’s poor defending of crosses against Shonan.

Reysol’s lineup and formation will basically come down to who’s fit and who’s out. I’ve gone with the assumption that Koga was rested last week so will return for this clash, if not, expect Tatsuya Yamashita to partner Ominami at centre-back. Mihara’s suspension has caused some issues in central midfield, if Otani is available he will surely partner Richardson, Yusuke Kobayashi and Yuto Yamada are alternatives, but both have been largely overlooked for most of the campaign. Another possibility with the personnel I’ve chosen is for a 4-3-3 with Richardson at the base of the midfield flanked by Kamiya and Nakama while Olunga leads the attack with Cristiano and Esaka either side of him.

Match Prediction

Despite Gamba’s recent record against Reysol, I’m feeling in bullish mood ahead of this clash so after taking the inevitable Olunga goal into consideration I’ll say Gamba will run out 2-1 winners.


Oita Trinita 0-1 Gamba Osaka Plus 2020 Squad Rundown

It wasn’t pretty, but Gamba scrapped their way to a 1-0 win at Oita yesterday which extended their unbeaten run to 8 games. Gen Shoji sat this one out as we wait for news on his ankle injury, while Hiroki Fujiharu was still not back from a concussion suffered in the first half of the match against Tosu 2 weeks ago. Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made 3 changes to the starting eleven for this, the 5th of 5 games inside a hectic 15 day period. Shunya Suganuma came in for the injured Shoji, while the forward pair was once again rotated, Ademilson and Kazuma Watanabe, the duo who tormented Tosu on the Nerazzurri’s previous trip to Kyushu started with Patric and Takashi Usami on the bench.

The first half was a rather forgettable affair, Gamba were understandably a little sluggish following their recent exertions while Trinita pressed and harassed the men from Suita well, forcing a series of turnovers, however, they were never able to put a series of good passages of play together. There were too many instances of poor control, aimless crossfield balls and inaccurate crosses to really build any sustained pressure on Masaaki Higashiguchi’s goal. Just after the water break Gamba sparked into life and nice play down the right involving Kosuke Onose and Ryu Takao saw the ball cut back, via several deflections, to Watanabe who in turn fed strike partner Ademilson. The Brazilian’s shot looked to be goalbound, but unfortunately struck the arm of his skipper Shu Kurata and hence was rightly disallowed. Although the correct decision was reached, this incident did seem to bring about a more cautious approach in Oita’s play as if they now recognised how dangerous Gamba could be. Ademilson stung the palms of home ‘keeper Kim Myung-gun, whose distribution was at times quite ropey in this game, with a shot on the turn from the edge of the area after a powerful Takao run, however, the referee was the star attraction of the second half of the first period. First, surely to Alan Gibson’s delight, he gave a foul throw against Oita on the half hour mark, he did balance things up though by bizarrely allowing a Trinita player to slide in and block a quickly taken Gamba free-kick from what surely must have been 3 yards away at most.

Patric came on for Watanabe at half-time and Oita seemed to go into full deer in the headlights mode at the thought of squaring off against a powerful foreigner, something Gamba are prone to do [Exhibit A: Olunga, Michael]. The big Brazilian’s introduction brought about a much more positive start to the half from the visitors, however, between the 55th and 65th minutes Trinita had their best spell of the game and really should have taken the lead from at least one of the three excellent chances they created. First, former Gamba-man Tatsuya Tanaka rounded Higashiguchi and had his effort cleared off the line after the referee’s assistant had initially caused confusion by incorrectly waving for offside. I didn’t really feel any sense of relief as I thought it wouldn’t have counted anyway, but when the referee awarded Oita a corner I saw how fortunate Gamba had been. Four minutes later, nice combination play between Kohei Isa and Kazushi Mitsuhira set up Tanaka but Higashiguchi came out well to smother his shot from 10 yards. Finally, four minutes after that, Trinita won three corners in a row with the third one headed wide by an unmarked Kento Haneda (surprisingly this was the only one of the 3 chances that made the DAZN highlights).

To use some J-Talk Podcast terminology, Oita were made to pay for their profligacy shortly after. Takashi Usami played a delicious through ball to the onrushing Takao, the EPL’s VAR would probably have flagged the full-back offside, but as it was he was free to put in a cross which was turned out for a corner by the home side’s captain Yoshinori Suzuki. Usami stepped up and put it on a plate for Patric, who outjumped Ryosuke Tone and Kento Haneda to power a header low into Mun’s bottom right corner, 1-0 Gamba and we know what happens when they take the lead in 2020, right?

Oita made a quadruple switch on 82 minutes with forwards, Kei Chinen, Yuya Takazawa, shadow player Naoki Nomura and holding midfielder Toshio Shimakawa entering the fray. In a similar vein to the match at home to Kashima a few weeks back, making a lot of changes in a short space of time hindered rather than helped our opponents. Chinen headed wide and Shimakawa volleyed into the side netting, but that was as close as Trinita came. Young Dai Tsukamoto made his J1 debut very late in proceedings and defeats for both Nagoya and FC Tokyo made this a very happy Sunday for all those connected with Gamba who are now up to 4th in the standings.

Gamba MVP

I know I bigged up Ryu Takao in the preview, but I was initially a bit disappointed with his display. Having watched the highlights and heard the views of others on Twitter I have changed my mind slightly. However, I’m going to choose Kim Young-gwon as I felt he was an absolute rock yesterday. Minus Genta Miura and Gen Shoji, the experienced Kim really stepped up and marshalled the defence brilliantly, his distribution, which has been shaky at times this year, was excellent, so I have no qualms about giving him this award.

Some inclement weather in Osaka today put the dampeners on my hiking trip, so I thought I’d take a look at how every member of Gamba’s squad has performed so far this season.

#1 Masaaki Higashiguchi – Shot-stopping has been superb all year, must be the form ‘keeper in J1 along with Mitch Langerak. His distribution is his weak point a times, but I’ve been more than happy with his performances.

#3 Gen Shoji – Has grown better and better since returning from injury, I rate him as our best centre-back. Hopefully his latest ankle problem won’t keep him out for too long.

#4 Hiroki Fujiharu – A little bit up and down from him this year and he now faces a real fight for his spot from Yuya Fukuda, 11 years his junior. Mistakes against Yokohama FC and FC Tokyo have been balanced out by a lot of good energetic performances down the left-flank in the draining summer heat.

#5 Genta Miura – Honestly he’s never been my favourite player to pull on a Gamba shirt, but he was generally quite competent before getting injured. I had him at 2 goals scored and 2.5 directly responsible for us conceding before he got injured during one of his best games, against Sapporo. Will be interesting to see where he fits into a 4-4-2 when everyone is fit.

#8 Kosuke Onose – After a wonderful year and half since joining from Yamaguchi, it’s gone a bit flat for him this term. He’s not been poor, rather he’s not really contributed in a way Gamba fans would have hoped, whether this is down to fatigue, a niggling injury, or something else, I don’t know.

#9 Ademilson – His goal and assist numbers are there, but he’s looked less sharp than last season. A couple of minor injuries in pre-season and just after the league’s re-start have perhaps hindered him and at the moment Patric and Usami seems to be our best strike partnership.

#10 Shu Kurata – A strange campaign from him, he’d actually lost his place to Yuji Ono before he got injured, but he’s now captaining the side in Miura’s absence. Beautiful goals away to Sendai and Hiroshima plus a couple of nice assists have been his highlights, but it looks like this year’s tough schedule has taken a toll on him.

#11 Yuji Ono – I didn’t expect much when we signed him, but he was a revelation in his midfield role before damaging knee ligaments. I hope he can come back strong again next year.

#13 Shunya Suganuma – Has only really played recently due to Miura and Shoji’s injuries plus the heavy schedule. Realistically shouldn’t be playing regularly for a top half J1 side, but he seems content to be a squad member and serves as useful backup.

#14 Yuya Fukuda – Finally getting a run in the team thanks to injuries elsewhere. He’s almost a victim of his own versatility as Miyamoto keeps switching his position. It was tough for him earlier in the campaign when he was only playing every 3rd/4th game, but now he’s getting more regular game time we can see his improvement.

#15 Yosuke Ideguchi – Has to be a strong contender for Gamba’s MVP this year. His work-rate, closing down and range of passing are immense. He’s started all but one J1 game in 2020 and of course banged in that memorable volley at home to Urawa.

#16 Jun Ichimori – Former Okayama number 1, signed to be our backup before dislocating his shoulder and finding himself in J3 as an overage player with the U23s. All this while our backup from last season Mizuki Hayashi is third choice at 19th in J2 Yamaguchi. The JLeague goalkeeping merry-go-round, eh?

#17 Ryo Shinzato – Signed on loan from Iwata to be back up to the back up centre-halves. I believe Scottish comedian Kevin Bridges put it better by saying, “you’re the guy who makes the tea for the guy who makes the coffee.” That said, I think he’s done alright the 2 times I’ve seen him play for the top team and once in J3.

#18 Patric – Has really come onto a game as the season has developed and offers something that none of our other forwards can provide. A pleasant surprise this campaign as I feared he may have been over-the-hill based on last year’s displays.

#19 Kim Young-gwon – A very consistent performer whose ability to defend is not in question. A big fan of the physical side of the game and some of the dark arts of defending which may make him unpopular with opponents (perhaps a Brazilian forward who has been vocal on Twitter lately lol). His distribution can be his greatest strength and also his biggest weakness, but overall I’m a fan.

#20 Daisuke Takagi – I think I can just lift my comments from last year’s player rundown about him… what was the purpose of his signing? He’s always had at least 2 better players ahead of him in any position he can play, he isn’t that young in footballing terms and aside from a lovely assist the other week, he hasn’t really stood out playing in J3.

#21 Shinya Yajima – A pretty decent season until his sprained ankle saw him lose his place to Yuki Yamamoto. Has gone a bit missing in some of the tougher games and will surely face more competition once Leo Takae returns from Machida, but a very useful player to have in the squad.

#24 Keisuke Kurokawa – Hasn’t featured much for the first team, but has definitely grown with the U23’s in J3. More of a left-back than Fukuda and I’d love to see him get a run in the J1 side at some point.

#25 Kei Ishikawa – Seems to have overtaken Ichimori to be Higashiguchi’s backup. Based on the couple of times I saw him play for the U23s, he looks like a good shot-stopper, but the thought of seeing his distribution in the J1 side gives me nightmares.

#26 Kohei Okuno – Central midfielder who sometimes gets punted to right-back or centre-back by the U23s when no-one else is available. Probably seen as a younger, better version of Takahiro Ko by the Gamba hierarchy.

#27 Ryu Takao – Surely the most improved player in the squad this year, either when played as a right-sided centre-back or in his favoured right-back role. Has outshone two similar players in Ryosuke Shindo and Tomoki Iwata already this season, are international honours in the near future totally out of the question?

#28 Jefferson Tabinas – Basically a Hail Mary loan signing from Kawasaki as we had no-one else to play centre-back in J3. He’s done better than expected, but I always judge him based on the fact he’s on loan from Frontale, as in reality he often looks more like a JFL player.

#29 Yuki Yamamoto – Takao’s former team-mate at Kwansei Gakuin who has come on in spades since breaking into the team due to Yajima’s injury. Now seems to be first choice alongside Ideguchi and has bagged a couple of nice goals too, which always helps.

#30 Dai Tsukamoto – The least famous of Gamba’s trident of prodigious youngsters along with Kawasaki and Toyama (is there also a city called Tsukamoto in Japan? – that would probably help with giving them a collective nickname). He’s really developed physically this year, though he will need to work on his end product if he wants to have a long J1 career, a bit like Fukuda he gets moved around too much due to his versatility.

#31 Haruki Saruta – Signed on loan from Kashiwa so we could loan our young goalies out. Got injured pre-lockdown, came back not fully fit and dropped a clanger against Sanuki on the opening day, disappeared for a bit after that, then came back and conceded five at YSCC and hasn’t been seen since.

#32 Ren Shibamoto – His next game in J3 will be his 100th, the first Gamba U23 player to reach that milestone. Was injured at the start of the year, but he’s improved the team so much since his return. I don’t know why he can’t get into the top team, he might be someone that @kanzawadreamin would like to have on loan at Zweigen next year.

#33 Takashi Usami – Excellent all round play, but did look exhausted at times prior to being given a rest. Often tasked with both scoring and setting up chances, the re-emergence of Patric has definitely helped him.

#34 Shuhei Kawasaki – I’m really happy with his development in his first year as a pro. He’s already too good to be playing in J3 and I liked what I saw the one time he was given extended playing time in J1, away to Tosu.

#35 Tatsuya Yamaguchi – A real work-horse for the U23s who despite his diminutive size spent the first half of the season as a left-sided centre-back. A really good player who will probably find himself crowded out by the traffic ahead of him at left-back, so could be an option for Renofa etc to look at for a loan next year (Yamaguchi sign Yamaguchi has a nice ring to it).

#36 Riku Matsuda – Broke his foot during the league’s layoff and came back not looking fully fit for the U23s. Got briefly promoted to the J1 side and was booked within a minute for clattering into the back of Iniesta, that’s certainly one to tell the grandkids about. Hasn’t looked as sharp as he did last year and the switch from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2 doesn’t really help him, may go out on loan next season.

#37 Haruto Shirai – Extremely pacey player who has now had about 3 niggling injuries this season. Lacks the consistency to crack the J1 squad, but his speed, control and distribution should see him forge a decent lower league career.

#38 Shoji Toyama – Has kept banging them in for the U23s and also netted a brace against Shonan in the Levain Cup. Hopefully we can keep hold of him for a bit to allow him to develop before the inevitable move to Europe.

#39 Kazuma Watanabe – Another pleasant surprise this season and is actually the team’s top scorer. Now that he’s got his 100 J1 goals, I wonder if there’s a chance he might return to his native Nagasaki and join V-Varen next year, as despite being an excellent squad member, the emergence of Toyama and potential return of Ichimi could mean the writing is on the wall for him at Gamba.

#40 Shin Won-ho – Joined after graduating high school in Korea, but unable to get in the U23 side ahead of several Japanese high schoolers on type 2 contracts which can’t be a great sign.

#50 Lee Yunoh – Signed on loan to replace our injured on loan U23 ‘keeper Saruta, he himself got injured soon after (what are we doing in training? that’s 3 goalkeeping injuries this year!). Has played once so far where he basically dropped the ball in the net against Kataller Toyama and looked very shaky in everything else he did.

I hope you all enjoyed that, please remember to check out my match preview for the game with Kashiwa Reysol which should be live on Thursday.


Oita Trinita vs Gamba Osaka 18 October 2020 Match Preview

Oita Trinita vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 23
Showa Denko Dome Oita
Sunday 18 October 14:00 (JST)

Last Time Out

Gamba were held to a 1-1 draw by Yokohama F.Marinos on Wednesday night, their first home tie of the year. It marked the end of a run of 6 straight wins, but does now mean they are currently 7 matches unbeaten. Results elsewhere saw the Nerazzurri drop down to 5th in the standings, behind Nagoya on goal difference, however, there were certainly plenty of positives to take from a strong display against last year’s champions.

Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto opted for just a solitary change to the starting eleven from the match with FC Tokyo on Saturday. Kosuke Onose came in for Ademilson, a move that saw Takashi Usami return to his more familiar role as a centre-forward. The continuity in selection allowed Gamba to start well and their high press put Marinos under pressure early on, as it had done in the away fixture back in February. Despite this, around the 20 minute mark Yokohama started to look more and more dangerous. First, Masaaki Higashiguchi had to get down well to his right to divert a Marcos Junior header to safety before both Junior Santos and Erik saw goalbound shots blocked by desperate Gamba lunges. Up the other end Patric knocked down a Higashiguchi long-ball for strike-partner Usami who easily went past Makito Ito before Yuji Kajikawa in the away goal tipped his shot wide for a corner. A mere minute later, however, and the home side trailed after a rather unfortunate own goal. Erik dispossessed Yuki Yamamoto in midfield and the ball broke for his compatriot Marcos Junior, the duo exchanged passes before Marcos shot at Higashiguchi from close range. Gamba’s number one got a leg to it but couldn’t prevent the ball from flying up and onto the face of the back-tracking Kim Young-gwon and from there it landed in the back of the net. Gamba left with an uphill battle ahead against tough opposition.

The following quarter of an hour saw something of a lull in proceedings with decent play from both sides, but little in the way of chances. Gamba broke the drought in the 41st minute when Onose played in the onrushing Takao and his shot into the side-netting was somewhat surprisingly given as a corner. Usami’s set piece was powerfully met by Patric, but Kajikawa again produced an excellent stop to keep the home team at bay. Unfortunately for Kajikawa, his side wouldn’t hold onto their lead for long as in the final minute of the first half a long ball from Ideguchi found Usami who knocked the ball past the Marinos ‘keeper, I’m not sure how strong the contact was, but Usami was flying and Kajikawa threw an arm out that caught Gamba’s number 33 in the stomach, he fell and the referee pointed to the spot. The former Bayern man dusted himself off and sent Kajikawa the wrong way for his 5th goal of the year. This decision and a subsequent one to award Gamba a throw in on half way clearly angered Ange Postecoglou and he was a lucky man that the 4th official was not a native English speaker as the DAZN highlights caught him giving out a verbal volley that would surely have seen him sent to the stands in say the A League or the EPL.

No further goals followed in the second half, but a pretty decent football game broke out. I’d go as far to call this Gamba’s best second half display of 2020, they spent most of it on the front foot, though they did fail to create that one killer chance to win the game. A clearly exhausted Marinos stuck to their task gamefully and probably had the best chance of the half when Shinnosuke Hatanaka shot wide from 6 yards out after good build up play involving Marcos Junior, Ryuta Koike and Erik. Positives for Gamba would be the second half displays of full-backs Takao and Fukuda, plus Yamamoto in midfield, while there were concerns when Gen Shoji appeared to aggravate his long standing ankle problem on the hour mark, but he did manage to soldier on to the end. All in all 1-1 probably doesn’t really suit either side, but for Gamba, 4 points from 2 games this year against Marinos and only 2 goals conceded represents a serious improvement from last season.

Oita played out a 1-1 draw away to an under-strength Vissel Kobe on Wednesday night. This is the second time this year that the sides have been tied at one apiece and both matches have immediately preceded Trinita’s fixtures with Gamba. Former Oita hitman Noriaki Fujimoto beat Mun Kyung-gun with a looping header from Keijiro Ogawa’s chipped through ball in the 6th minute to give Vissel the lead, but Trinita earned a share of the spoils when Gotoku Sakai turned Tomoki Iwata’s cross into his own goal under pressure from Yuya Takazawa 4 minutes from the end of normal time.

The Lowdown

5th placed Gamba travel to Kyushu this weekend to face off against an Oita Trinita outfit who currently find themselves sitting in 12th place in the standings, 13 points behind their visitors with a game more played. The blue and black half of Osaka have enjoyed an outstanding run of away form this year with 26 points from 11 games giving them the 2nd best road record in J1 after champions-elect Kawasaki. This represents quite a turnaround for Gamba who collected 26 points in total from all 17 away games in 2017 and mustered a mere 34 points outside of Suita across the 2018 and 2019 seasons, they could conceivably beat that combined tally this year.

As noted in the Yokohama F.Marinos preview last week, a major factor in Gamba’s improvement has been their tighter defence. The Nerazzurri have only conceded a maximum of one goal per game across the last 8 matches while they’ve only let in more than one away from home twice in J1 this season (Nagoya 2-2 and Kashiwa 0-3). By way of contrast, Oita’s defence has lost some of it’s stability this year and that has been a key factor in them slipping from 9th in 2019 (behind Gamba only on goal difference) to 12th this campaign. Their attack has actually marginally improved year on year, averaging 1.13 goals per game this term versus 1.01 a year ago, but at the back their 34 goals against this campaign is only 1 shy of 2019’s total despite playing 11 fewer matches to date. Additionally, they only conceded more than twice on two occasions in 2019, both away from home (FC Tokyo and Kawasaki – both 1-3), however, this time round they’ve shipped over 2 goals in a game 4 times, including twice in their own Showa Denko Dome.

At home Trinita have taken 15 points from their 11 matches so far, a total that is only one short of Gamba with an identical number of games played. Their results have been something of a mixed bag with 4 wins, Tosu (2-0), Shimizu (2-1) Marinos and Yokohama FC (1-0), 3 draws Shonan (2-2), Kobe (1-1), Kashiwa (0-0), and 4 defeats Kashima (4-1), Nagoya (3-0), Hiroshima (2-0), FC Tokyo (1-0). The Kyushu-based side could technically catch Vissel Kobe ahead of them if they win their games in hand and they are in a better run of form now (17 points from the past 9 matches) than at the beginning of the year when they opened up by taking only 12 points from their first 14 games.

Oita have used 31 players so far this term as opposed to Gamba’s 24 and I have my doubts as to how much depth they really possess outside their first choice starting eleven, however, I have identified a few talents to look out for on Sunday night. Naturally first is Mr Trinita himself, captain and centre-back Yoshinori Suzuki, who was last missing from an Oita league starting lineup way back on 31st May 2015, a 2-1 away defeat to Giravanz Kitakyushu in J2 (thanks Transfermarkt!) To Suzuki’s right is Tomoki Iwata, a player similar in style to Ryu Takao, regular readers may remember I bigged him up ahead of the match at Panasonic Stadium, only for him to concede a penalty with a rash tackle. Further forward, versatile former Gamba man Tatsuya Tanaka is Trinita’s top scorer this year with 7 goals, he can play in either wing-back position or what I believe the Japanese commentators call the ‘shadow’ position just off the main striker.

For Gamba, Takashi Usami will be looking to score against Oita for the third match running and his good friend in midfield Yosuke Ideguchi has been in sparkling form this year, his closing down against Marinos on Wednesday was a joy to watch. Finally, it will be interesting to contrast the aforementioned Ryu Takao with his opposite number Tomoki Iwata. Takao, for me, has been the most improved player in Gamba’s squad this year and has already outshone Ryosuke Shindo of Sapporo, another player who could be considered similar in style, so I’m keenly anticipating comparing the performances of Takao and Iwata in this encounter.

Head to Head

Between 2010-2018 these two were in different divisions so we don’t have a whole lot to cover in this section. Gamba defeated Trinita 2-1 at Panasonic Stadium in round 5 back in July, a penalty from Takashi Usami and a fine finish by Ademilson overturned Daiki Watari’s powerful header against the run of play for the visitors. In the corresponding match last year a flowing Gamba move was finished expertly by Usami to give the Nerazzurri an early lead, but efforts from Kazushi Mitsuhira and Tomoki Iwata reversed things in the home side’s favour. That would turn out to be Gamba’s final league defeat of 2019 as they went on to see off Sendai (2-0), Matsumoto (4-1) and Urawa (3-2) in their remaining fixtures.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Gamba have a few concerns at the back with captain Genta Miura out with a thigh muscle injury and Gen Shoji looking to have aggravated his long-standing ankle problem against Marinos on Wednesday. Shoji received treatment on the hour mark and played on, but it remains to see if he will be selected for this clash, Shunya Suganuma and Ryo Shinzato stand ready to deputise if required. Left-back Hiroki Fujiharu has been out of the matchday squad for the past 2 games, though no injury has yet been reported, while Yuji Ono will miss the rest of 2020 after undergoing knee surgery.

Oita Trinita

Trinita have a number of players currently unavailable for selection, holding midfielder Ryosuke Maeda sprained his ankle against Hiroshima on September 23rd while wing-back Yuki Kagawa damaged his hamstring a week earlier. Experienced midfielder Yuki Kobayashi hasn’t featured since being subbed early in the second half of Oita’s 2-1 defeat by Gamba at Panasonic Stadium on July 18th and his namesake Seigo, more of a squad player, broke his foot at the end of September. Utility man Kaoru Takayama hasn’t been seen since the 2-0 defeat at home to Hiroshima last month with no injury yet reported and last year’s key assist maker Kazuki Kozuka has been in and out of the side in 2020, I’m assuming this is down to fitness concerns.

Predicted Line Ups

This is the last in a tough stretch of 5 games in 15 days before the schedule becomes noticeably more gentle in the coming weeks, so it’ll be interesting to see if Miyamoto tries to shake one last big performance out of the main starters or re-jigs things a little. I’ve assumed that Fujiharu will sit this one out and that Yamamoto is now above Yajima in the pecking order. As usual we’re most likely to see rotation in the forward line with any combination of Usami, Patric, Ademilson or Watanabe possible.

I have no doubts that Trinita will line up in their usual 3-4-2-1 formation and the back three of Iwata, Suzuki and Misao will be key for them as they lack sufficient depth in that position. Similar to Gamba, it is in the attacking areas where we may see some changes. Centre-forward Kei Chinen and ‘shadow’ players Daiki Watari, Kazuki Kozuka or Kazushi Mitsuhira could start and at wing-back it’s possible we’ll see either or both Rei Matsumoto or Yuji Hoshi come in to give someone a breather.

Match Prediction

Kyushu is not usually a happy hunting ground for Gamba, but their away form has been brilliant this year. The Nerazzurri have the clear goal of qualifying for both this year’s Emperor’s Cup and next campaign’s Asian Champions League to motivate them while Trinita merely have pride and contracts for next year to occupy their thoughts. As such, I’m going to continue with my positive predicting and say Gamba will run out 2-1 winners in a tightly fought contest.


Gamba Osaka vs Yokohama F.Marinos 14 October 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Yokohama F.Marinos
J1 2020 Round 22
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Wednesday 14 October 19:00 (JST)

The Lowdown

4th placed Gamba host Yokohama F.Marinos who sit 2 places lower in the standings, 4 points worse off with an extra 3 matches played. As with our previous opponents FC Tokyo, defending J1 champions Yokohama have had their season schedule radically altered due to their participation in the Asian Champions League. As a result they’ve played every midweek since mid-August and must surely be running on fumes at the moment.

Ange Postecoglou’s side raced to a first J1 title in 15 years last season playing a breathtaking brand of attacking football which was too much for their rivals to handle. Indeed, they were the only side to beat Gamba home and away in 2019, triumphing 3-2 at Panasonic Stadium on the opening day before running out 3-1 winners at Mitsuzawa Stadium at the end of August. This year though, has been a much tougher slog for the men from Kanagawa. Their attack has actually improved, they currently average 2.01 goals per game (2nd best in J1 after Kawasaki) which is marginally up on the 2.0 in 2019. However, at the back things have gone downhill at a rate of knots. This year, they’ve already equalled the 38 goals they conceded in their title winning year, but in 10 fewer games. Additionally the 9 losses they’ve suffered this campaign is one more than they recorded in 2019.

Currently sitting in 6th place, but having played more games than everyone else in the top half with the exception of FC Tokyo, who are 7 points better off in 2nd place, Marinos face a real struggle to qualify for next year’s ACL. The challenge looks even greater when you consider that 7 of their remaining 10 J1 fixtures come against top half opponents, including all 5 teams ahead of them, 4 of those games (including this one) are away with Nagoya the only fellow ACL contender they’ll face off with at home. Let me add one more layer to this riddle if I may, consider the J1 table as it stands today (October 12th), Marinos record vs other top half teams is played 9, won 1, drawn 2, lost 6 with the only victory coming away to Kashiwa Reysol (3-1). Things have been much smoother against bottom half opposition where they’ve won 10, drawn 2 and lost 3 of their 15 games. They will desperate to improve this record on Wednesday night.

Last year I was someone who effusively praised Marinos dealings in the transfer market while contrasting them with the apparent lack of strategy on display at Gamba. Over the course of 3 transfer windows, Summer 2018, Winter 2018/2019, Summer 2019, Yokohama made a number of outstanding acquisitions of players who suited coach Ange Postecoglou’s footballing philosophy down to a tee. Centre-backs Shinnosuke Hatanaka and Thiago Martins arrived in mid-2018 and they were joined by Brazilian duo Marcos Junior and Edigar Junio, Thai full-back Theerathon and FC Ryukyu ‘keeper Park Il-gyu in the off-season. These players formed the core of last year’s title winning side while Erik and Kota Watanabe both made the move in mid-2019 and seem set to start this match, Erik being a particularly good pick up with 11 goals already this year, including 6 in his last 5 games.

Let’s contrast the paragraph above with what’s gone on in 2020. Norimichi Yamamoto, Ryuji Sugimoto and Takayuki Mae all joined from J2 sides last winter, but have all been shipped out on loan already without even making a solitary J1 appearance. Keiya Sento fared little better, playing just 3 league matches before returning to former side Kyoto on loan. The 2 players they signed from fellow J1 outfits last off-season have featured more, but haven’t really improved the team. Wide-man Kota Mizanuma has bagged an impressive 7 assists, but can’t seem to nail down a starting spot with 9 of 17 J1 appearances coming from the bench. Forward Ado Onaiwu has 3 goals and 3 assists to his name from 17 games, but he’s started just 6 times. Mid-season captures, Junior Santos (Kashiwa) and Daizen Maeda (Matsumoto), both on loan, seem to offer more hope. Santos has bagged 8 goals in his first 14 matches for the club, though it should be noted that after netting 5 in his first 4 appearances he has just 3 in the last 10 and he’s only scored once against top half opposition (Nagoya).

My final thoughts in this deep dive on Marinos are far more positive and look to the future. It’s interesting to see they’ve already tied down Juntendo University defender Ryotaro Tsunoda to a professional contract starting from 2022 and have registered him as a designated special player this year. He debuted as a substitute in their previous fixture with Oita and has been labelled the best defender in Japanese varsity soccer. Additionally, Shunsuke Hirai (DF), Ryonosuke Kabayama (MF) and Tomoki Tagawa (GK) all from Kokoku High School in Osaka have been locked down from next year, while youth team products, Riku Terakado (GK) and Keita Ueda (MF) will be promoted to the senior team in 2021. Marinos and Kashima have both been extremely active in trying to secure the next generation of talent early and with the effects of COVID-19 likely to linger for some time to come I wonder if this is a strategy we’ll see more and more teams adopt?

Now for Gamba who will be going for their 7th straight victory in this fixture. In fact their 13 victories this year to date is already more than last season (12) and 2017 (11) and only one shy of 2018 (14), though it should be noted that those were all historically poor seasons for the Nerazzurri. They are also only 6 points less than 2019’s total of 47, despite having played 13 fewer games this season, so it’s been quite the turnaround. The defence is where things have really moved forward, let’s compare Gamba with city rivals Cerezo. In 2019 the Cherry Blossoms boasted the best backline in J1, letting in just 25 strikes in their 34 matches while Gamba leaked a whopping 48. This time round both sides have identical goals against records, conceding 24 apiece. I know Cerezo have played one game more and have also squared off against Kawasaki twice (being spanked for 8 goals in 2 games) to Gamba’s once, but I think my point still stands. At home though, things must start improving as the Nerazzurri have averaged 1.3 goals against versus just 1.14 on the road. It should be noted that Gamba’s away form this year has been quite incredible and I’ll take a more in depth look at it ahead of the match with Oita on Sunday.

Head to Head

In what seemed like a lifetime ago, Gamba kicked off their 2020 J1 campaign with a surprise 2-1 win over Marinos at Nissan Stadium, Shu Kurata and Shinya Yajima taking advantage of some generous defending from the home side to bag themselves a goal and assist each before half-time. Marcos Junior pulled one back late on, but it wasn’t enough and Gamba earned a win over a side who did the double over them back in 2019.

I’ve never actually attended a Gamba home game against Marinos, but due to my past life living in Machida, I’ve seen several away contests. Yosuke Ideguchi’s masterclass in the 2-2 draw in 2016 plus Ritsu Doan supplying the finish to a flowing counter-attack which earned the Nerazzurri a hard-fought 1-0 win in 2017 are two of my personal highlights from this fixture.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

No new injury worries for Gamba with Yuji Ono (knee – season) and captain Genta Miura (thigh – return unknown) the only two certain absentees. Obviously the heavy surface and physical nature of the game against FC Tokyo on Saturday will have taken a toll on the players, but I’d expect the best available eleven to start this game and maybe a touch of rotation to take place in the Oita game on Sunday.

Yokohama F.Marinos

2019 J1 MVP Teruhito Nakagawa pulled up with a hamstring injury in the match away to Kashiwa on September 27th and hasn’t been seen since. Elsewhere, regular captain Takuya Kida picked up his 4th yellow card of the season in the 4-0 win over Oita at the weekend so will have to sit this one out. Left-back Ryo Takano, who missed most of 2019 with a knee injury, was subbed off only 10 minutes into the 1-1 draw with Tosu on September 30th and has to be a major doubt for this clash.

Know Your Opponent – Yokohama F.Marinos

*Please note this will be the last time I use this feature this year as I’ve now covered every team.
Kantoku: Ange Postecoglou
Appointed: 1st February 2018
League Record: P 92 W 45 D 13 L 34 F 174 A 132 Points Per Game 1.61 Clean Sheets 22 Games Without Scoring 11

GK #1 Park Il-gyu – The former Fujieda MYFC ‘keeper enjoyed a meteoric rise, winning J3 with FC Ryukyu in 2018 before landing the J1 title with Marinos the following year. He’s suffered a couple of injuries this season which have opened the door for Yuji Kajikawa, however, I believe he is still Ange’s number one when fit.

RB #25 Ryuta Koike – Ex-Renofa Yamaguchi and Kashiwa Reysol full-back who joined from Lokeren in Belgium this summer. Has generally rotated with the more experienced Ken Matsubara, as Matsubara played against his former club Oita at the weekend I’m expecting Koike to start here.

RCB #13 Thiago Martins – Has been first choice at the heart of the Marinos central defence since joining from Palmeiras midway through Ange Postecoglou’s first year in Kanagawa. Missed only one game in last season’s title winning run and formed an excellent partnership with the man just below.

LCB #44 Shinnosuke Hatanaka – One of many talented players to come through the ranks at Tokyo Verdy, Hatanaka came to the club in the same transfer window as Thiago, but initially had to bide his time behind Serbian, Dusan. An ever present last time out, Hatanaka has also established himself in Hajime Moriyasu’s national team squad, winning 7 caps to date.

LB #5 Theerathon Bunmathan – Popular Thai full-back who netted the opener in Marinos 3-1 home win over Gamba last year with a deflected effort and also repeated the same trick in the title-winning victory over FC Tokyo in round 34. Made his first foray into Japanese football with Vissel Kobe in 2018, but their loss was certainly Marinos gain and with Ryo Takano out injured he is the undisputed first choice for Postecoglou.

RCM #6 Takahiro Ogihara – Likely stand-in skipper in the absence of Takuya Kida, Cerezo youth product Ogihara was one of the first names on the team sheet last season, but has been used off the bench more frequently this year.

LCM #26 Kota Watanabe – Like Hatanaka, Watanabe made the short journey to Kanagawa from Tokyo Verdy. The diminutive central midfielder initially had to make do with substitute appearances, but recently has begun to be entrusted with a starting berth. He bagged his first J1 goal and assist in the 4-3 win at Shimizu in August.

RW #17 Erik – The man in form with 6 strikes in his last 5 games including a pair of near identical goals off the bench against Oita last Saturday. He joined as a replacement for the injured Edigar Junio midway through last season and quickly endeared himself to the Marinos faithful with 8 goals in his first 12 league appearances. He started a little more slowly this year, but is now the club’s joint top scorer alongside the man below.

AM #9 Marcos Junior – One of the best signings made by a J1 club in recent years, Marcos Junior finished as the league’s joint top scorer alongside team-mate Teruhito Nakagawa in his debut season last year, he also added a J1 winners medal and earned a place in the J1 Best Eleven. This time out, despite Marinos performing poorer as a whole, he’s on track to beat last season’s goalscoring total of 15 having already slammed home 11 strikes in 21 matches including one in the opening day defeat by Gamba.

LW #38 Daizen Maeda – Mid-season pick up on loan from J2 outfit Matsumoto Yamaga having spent the previous year with Maritimo in Portugal. Possesses electric pace and has earned international honours, though doubts persist about his ability to perform consistently at this level.

CF #45 Ado Onaiwu – Marinos were surprisingly able to lure him away from Urawa last Winter following his successful loan spell at Oita Trinita. I thought his signing would be a real coup for Yokohama, but things haven’t really gone his way. His shooting boots deserted him against Gamba in round 1 and haven’t really come back since.

Other Options – Owing to their horrendous fixture pile-up Marinos have experimented with several different formations and a multitude of players, the ones selected above are merely those who I think are the best available for this fixture. Yuji Kajikawa, the only off-season signing from J2 who has made any real impact on the starting line-up could keep his place ahead of the fit again Park. Ken Matsubara is an experienced option at right-back while ex-Mito centre-back Makito Ito endured a tough afternoon against Gamba in February, but could deputise for either Thiago or Hatanaka. In midfield, former club captain Jun Amano is now back from a loan spell in Belgium, former Tosu, FC Toyko and Cerezo winger Kota Mizanuma is a key provider of assists and rookie Eitaro Matsuda has looked to be an exciting prospect since returning from a loan at Sagamihara. Postecoglou seems to rate Takuya Wada’s versatility as he can operate in either full-back position or as a holding midfielder. In attack, Edigar Junio has yet to get back to his best since returning from injury and Junior Santos is a bull of a forward who possesses both power and pace.

Predicted Line Ups

Match Prediction

A really tough one to call as on their day the defending champions can turn anyone over, but this year they’ve generally come up short against top half opponents. Gamba’s improved defence will be confident of stifling the dangerous Brazilians in the Marinos ranks. I’ll say we’ll have a repeat of the scoreline from the opening day with Gamba bagging a 2-1 win despite our visitors dominating all stats with the exception of the scoreboard.