Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo vs Gamba Osaka 30 July 2021 Mini Preview

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

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

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

Tale of the Tape

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

Head to Head

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

Gamba Osaka

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

Team News

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

Transfer Gossip

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

Predicted Lineup and Stats

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

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

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

Team News

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

Predicted Lineup and Stats

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


Gamba Osaka vs Oita Trinita 27 July 2021 Mini Preview

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

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

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

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

Tale of the Tape

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

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

Head to Head

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

Gamba Osaka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predicted Lineup and Stats

Oita Trinita

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

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

Predicted Lineup and Stats

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


Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers 24 July 2021 Mini Preview

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

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

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

Tale of the Tape

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

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


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

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

Gamba Osaka

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

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

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

Predicted Lineup and Stats

Kashima Antlers

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

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

Predicted Lineup and Stats


A big thanks to those of you who submitted questions,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gamba Osaka 2021 ACL Group Stage Preview

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

2021 to date

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Possible Gamba starting eleven vs Jeonbuk

Group H Fixtures

All times Japan Standard Time

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

The Squad


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

Centre Backs

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

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

Full-Backs / Wing-Backs

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

Central Midfielders

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


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

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

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

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

Centre Forwards

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


J1 and J2 Appearance Data Spreadsheet Introduction

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

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

The link is here…

And this is the basic key…

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

And finally…

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

Offensive Stats

Defensive Stats


J1 2021 Appearance Data and Statistics

Thanks again everyone for supporting my recent articles. As I posted on Twitter a few weeks back, currently other areas in my life have to take priority over my blog writing, and for 2021, at least, my Gamba match previews will need to stay on the backburner. In some ways I feel like I took them as far as I could last season and at the beginning of this year, I felt like I was rehashing old material, please let me know if you agree or disagree.

With all that out of the way, my latest post provides a rundown of all 20 J1 teams’ matchday selections for every league match so far in 2021, presented in an (hopefully) easy to understand, at a glance style. I’ve also tagged on some additional comments and basic team stats correct to 18 April 2021.

A big shout out to everyone who has gotten in touch with me recently across various mediums. Actually I never envisaged my blog would get so many comments and my Twitter notifications are not really built to handle the traffic I’ve been getting. I recently noticed some people had left me comments weeks ago and I’d missed them, I genuinely try to reply to everyone who asks clean questions, so if I haven’t responded to your question / comment, I’m truly sorry.

Finally, some people have asked where I get my data, so here are a few of the resources I use…
And of course my trusty Soccer Digest Yearbook…

Kawasaki Frontale

Comment: The juggernaut has continued steamrollering opponents just as it did last season. Surely the best side in the history of the JLeague.

Gamba Osaka

Comment: How to fix a problem like Gamba? A Nagoya-esque defence, but can’t buy a goal at the other end. What’s to blame, the Covid cluster, overperforming xG last year, an overly defensive mindset they can’t shake off? Answers on a postcard to Tsuneyasu Miyamoto please.

Nagoya Grampus

Comment: You thought they couldn’t defend any better than last season, you thought wrong. If I were a gambler I’d have plenty on Mitch Langerak and co. to beat their clean sheet record set last year. How much will missing out on Kasper Junker to Urawa haunt them with their current paucity of centre-forward options seemingly denying us a genuine tussle for the title between Grampus and Frontale.

Cerezo Osaka

Comments: They’ve surprised many by performing at a similar level to 2020. With Taggart and Tiago almost ready to play and Sakamoto and Harakawa due back soon, a push for the top 4 isn’t out of the question.

Kashima Antlers

Comments: Although an Antlers legend, the way Naoki Soma’s spell in charge of Machida ended up poses some serious questions about how adept he’ll be at replacing Zago in the Kashima hotseat. Goals from Everaldo and instant impacts from Pituca and Caike are badly needed.

FC Tokyo

Comments: Injuries, rumoured dressing room discontent and a series of patchy results don’t make for happy start to the campaign for the capital side. Bruno Uvini is the great hope to steady things at the back, but it should be remembered he hasn’t kicked a ball in anger in over 6 months.

Kashiwa Reysol

Comments: They seem to have course corrected slightly with hard fought 1-0s in their past 2 games and the Brazilian cavalry is due to arrive soon. Quite how they keep their 9 overseas players happy, and what effect their second Covid cluster in under a year will have on them is yet to be seen.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Comments: Look set to hover around upper mid-table just as they did last time round. Morishima and Kawabe have started the season well, but they lack top quality support in attack. Defensively, Yuta Imazu has been a decent find, though they still need to find themselves a pair of genuine full-backs.

Yokohama F.Marinos

Comments: Haven’t lost since the opening day, but a rather kind run of fixtures since round 3 means question marks remain over whether they are genuine ACL contenders of not.

Urawa Red Diamonds

Comments: Two poundings in the space of three games at the hands of Kanagawa heavyweights Frontale and Marinos threatened to scuttle the Rodriguez project before it had the chance to take off, but they’ve bounced back well. We may come to look on Reds’ 2021 the same way Marinos supporters think of Ange Postecoglou’s debut campaign in 2018.

Oita Trinita

Comments: Six defeats in a row with just a single goal scored in the process, I’m sure there’s a joke about a famous Tom Petty song here somewhere. They need to hope they’ve hit the jackpot with their two soon-to-arrive Brazilians.

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Comments: Houston, we may have a problem. Dropping points like confetti and with 4 teams going down this year they’re rapidly finding themselves being drawn into a relegation dogfight.

Sagan Tosu

Comments: Prior to Sunday’s win at Grampus, some of the gloss was starting to come off their excellent start to the year with 4 failures to score in 5 outings. Kim Myung-hwi’s side are made of sterner stuff though, and while it’s likely they’ll regress a touch over the course of the season, a top ten finish remains a distinct possibility.

Vissel Kobe

Comments: A genuine ACL contender based on early season form. How they mesh the returning Iniesta and newly arrived duo of Lincoln and Masika with their current high performing starters will be key.

Yokohama FC

Comments: They tick all the boxes for a side about to take the drop, poor attack, woeful defence, no idea of best lineup, symbolic change of head-coach. I’m not usually so blunt, but take this to the bank, they’ll be in J2 next season.

Shimizu S-Pulse

Comments: Some had tipped them to finish in the top half this year, but as things stand it looks like the 3-1 win at Kashima on the opening day was something of a mirage. Thiago Santana has disappointed and Lotina has run into the same problem as a number of his predecessors, a complete lack of consistency amongst the players at his disposal.

Vegalta Sendai

Comments: Still haven’t won a home game since 2019 and that’s a stat they’ll have to alter fast if they want to avoid a return to J2 for the first time in 12 years.

Shonan Bellmare

Comments: Going under the radar a touch, but considering they finished bottom last year, their performances to date in 2021 have shown marked improvement. No defeats and 4 clean sheets in a tough looking run of 5 fixtures up to last weekend suggest they mean business and could defy the odds to remain in J1 next term.

Tokushima Vortis

Comments: The project looks to be running under budget and ahead of schedule. New head-coach Poyatos is now in the country and working with the players face-to-face and at present they appear set for a decent year. Having, The Alan Parsons Project’s Sirius and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on their pre-match playlist makes me enjoy their games that little bit more.

Avispa Fukuoka

Comments: The support inside the Best Denki Stadium is the thing that’s caught my eye most about Fukuoka this year. Their seems to be a genuine feel-good factor around the place which is helping to bring out performances that many, including myself, doubted they were capable of.


J1 Lineups Updated Version end of round 6

Thanks again to everyone who read, liked, shared and commented on my J1 and J2 Predicted Lineups posts that I put out about a month before the 2021 season started. The response to them was truly phenomenal and frankly blew me away, so much in fact, that I’ve been re-thinking how I should structure my blog (I’m always open to new ideas, so please tell me what you want!)

The J1 Predicted Lineups post is still getting a fair bit of traffic even though it is a bit out of date, so I thought I’d do some more research and update things a little. Included in this post is a short comment on teams’ performances in the opening month of the season, a list of currently unavailable players (as of 28 March 2021) and a full rundown of the lineups and formations used by each J1 side over their past 5 league fixtures.

A few qualifiers, the team comments don’t take into consideration this weekend’s Levain Cup games as personally I don’t think a whole lot can be read into them, for example if Tosu and Sapporo start to show the form they displayed yesterday in J1 matches, then I’ll revise my opinion of both sides. Secondly, regarding injuries, some of the players I’ve named as unavailable haven’t been officially confirmed as being injured. In certain instances I’ve assumed they are out due to being absent from the matchday squad for a prolonged period of time or being subbed off early in a game and missing subsequent fixtures.

Thanks again for your support and please enjoy!

Kawasaki Frontale

Comments: Have started the season in ominous form, only dropping points at much-improved Kobe. What’s more, Oshima and Noborizato are still to return and strengthen them while João Schmidt almost doesn’t feel like a new signing, he’s bedded in so quickly.
Unavailable: Kyohei Noborizato, Ryota Oshima (injured)

Gamba Osaka

Comments: Only one league match played so not much to discuss. Re-scheduling six fixtures later in the year may see the return of the more defensive 4-4-2 set-up used last season and hopefully the end of the Onose at right-back experiment with Takao returning to take his rightful place.
Unavailable: Jun Ichimori, Haruto Shirai, Yuji Ono (injured), Wellington Silva (Visa/quarantine)

Nagoya Grampus

Comments: Their defensive strength means they are Kawasaki’s closest challengers despite having no real goal-scorer. Yamasaki has done alright, but shouldn’t be starting for a title contender and Kakitani has shown nothing so far. Inagaki looks like an early MVP contender, Soma has improved, however Morishita seems to be 3rd choice right back at the moment, perhaps he’s too attack-minded for Ficcadenti, imagine how good Tosu would be if he was still there!
Unavilable: Mu Kanazaki (injured)

Cerezo Osaka

Comments: Higher up the league than many would have expected, but the fixture list has been pretty kind to them so far. Okubo’s goals have been a Godsend in the absence of Taggart while Nishio has slotted in well alongside Seko at the back. Recent injuries to Harakawa, Sakamoto and Takagi will really test their squad depth.
Unavailable: Riki Harakawa, Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, Ryuji Sawakami, Toshiyuki Takagi, Hirotaka Tameda, Koji Toriumi (injured), Adam Taggart (Visa/quarantine), Đặng Văn Lâm, Tiago (Visa/contract status unclear)

Kashima Antlers

Comments: The Ibaraki side have made their traditional slow start and will be desperate to get Brazilian midfield duo, Diego Pituca and Arthur Caike on the field as soon as possible. It’s at the back where most of the problems seem to lie, the full-back berths are still up for grabs and none of the centre-backs have covered themselves in glory.
Unavailable: Shoma Doi, Ryuji Izumi (injured), Arthur Caike, Diego Pituca (Visa/quarantine)

FC Tokyo

Comments: A roller-coaster start to the season from the capital club with, injuries, rotation and Covid-protocol violations preventing them from getting into any sort of groove. They’ve got points on the board early, but a chunk of them came in unimpressive home wins over last season’s bottom 2, Sendai and Shonan. They’ll need to hope Bruno Uvini is the man to shore up a rather leaky rearguard.
Unavailable: Akihiro Hayashi, Kazuya Konno, Manato Shinada (injured), Bruno Uvini (Visa/quarantine)

Kashiwa Reysol

Comments: Olunga, Olunga, where art thou Olunga? A very poor start to the season from Kashiwa and they desperately need the soon-to-arrive Brazilian quartet of, Emerson Santos, Dodi, Angelotti and Pedro Raúl to hit the ground running or the nightmares of 2018 could be lurking just around the corner.
Unavailable: Yuji Takahashi, Sachiro Toshima (injured), Angelotti, Dodi, Pedro Raúl, Emerson Santos (Visa/quarantine)

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Comments: A solid start, made all the more impressive by the fact they are still figuring out their new back four system and how best to set-up their attack. Junior Santos continues to cause intrigue as it appears he’s fighting young Shun Ayukawa to be Douglas Vieira’s backup rather than being the main man himself. Hayao Kawabe could partner former team-mate Sho Inagaki in the J1 Best Eleven if he keeps up his current form.
Unavailable: Akira Ibayashi, Rhayner (injured)

Yokohama F.Marinos

Comments: A rather harsh take on them might say that they’ve swatted aside bottom half teams while failing to take the three points against stiffer opposition, exactly as they did in 2020. That said, from what I’ve seen there is a bit more steel about them this time round. I’m re-evaluating Daizen Maeda now that he’s finally added goals to his game and though Élber seems to lack the attacking x-factor of Erik, having more solid, hard-workers than mercurial artists may suit them better in 2021.
Unavailable: Theerathon Bunmathan, Daizen Maeda (injured), Léo Ceará (Visa/quarantine)

Urawa Red Diamonds

Comments: Ricardo Rodriguez seems like a lovely bloke, so I’ll spare him any blame for now, but real questions must be getting asked about the financial situation at the club. I started to wonder when Brazilians, Mauricio and Fabricio weren’t replaced last season and now with Leonardo gone, Deng injured and Yuki Abe making a Lazarus like return from the retirement home, a sojourn to J2 next year isn’t entirely out of the reckoning.
Unavailable: Thomas Deng, Yudai Fujiwara (injured)

Oita Trinita

Comments: I picked them to fill the final relegation spot in pre-season and I haven’t seen anything yet to make me completely alter my opinion. The number of changes at the back made in the off-season has definitely unsettled them and Katanosaka is still searching for the right combinations in a number of places.
Unavailable: Naoki Nomura (injured), Matheus Pereira, Henrique Trevisan (Visa/quarantine)

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Comments: I’m considering starting my own Patreon account so Sapporo fans can pay me to not watch them live. Last week’s horror show at home to Kobe was their 8th defeat on the spin with me tuning in on DAZN. Second year pros Kaneko and Tanaka have been solid (Tanaka’s assist for Furuhashi last week aside) and young Ogashiwa and Nakashima have looked bright in flashes. Failure to change their slightly archaic game-plan could result in an unwelcome flirtation with the relegation trapdoor.
Unavailable: Takuma Arano, Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa, Douglas Oliveira (injured), Jay Bothroyd, Gabriel Okechukwu (Visa/quarantine)

Sagan Tosu

Comments: An outstanding youth system and kantoku have their fans dreaming of ACL football next year. Didn’t score in their opening 4 J1 fixtures in 2020, haven’t conceded in their first 6 games this time round, it’s been quite the reversal of fortunes. How long can they sustain it? Will their new foreign strikers propel them to even greater heights? Will the vultures descend to brutally devour this team in a similar manner to what happened to fellow Kyushu-ites Giravanz last winter?
Unavailable: Ismael Dunga, Chico Ofoedu (Visa/quarantine)

Vissel Kobe

Comments: I saw them referred to as ‘Galacticos’ the other day, but that’s not really what they are anymore. They have a healthy crop of youngsters, many of whom have been raised in their academy, developing alongside a few seasoned heads, most notably Hotaru Yamaguchi, who’s been in sparkling form so far this season. There seems to be a real determination to make amends for 2020’s pitiful league performance and 3rd place doesn’t look impossible judging by their early showings.
Unavailable: Andrés Iniesta, Junya Tanaka (injured), Lincoln, Ayub Masika (Visa/quarantine)

Yokohama FC

Comments: Things seem to have completely fallen apart over the winter at Mitsuzawa. In my season preview I predicted goals at both ends, unfortunately that has only proven to be half correct and their veteran forwards haven’t hit it off as of yet. Talented midfielders Matsuo, Seko and Tezuka are struggling against the tide, but receiving little support and, although it’s early days, I think many already see them lining up in J2 next year.
Unavailable: Calvin Jong-a-Pin, Haruki Saruta, Hideto Takahashi, Eijiro Takeda (injured)

Shimizu S-Pulse

Comments: They’ve had just the kind of solid, unspectacular start many would have expected under Lotina. After conceding an avalanche of goals over the past 2 years, letting in just 7 in 6 games must have come as welcome relief to long suffering supporters in their picturesque stadium. Lotina’s reluctance to use assist kingpin Kenta Nishizawa may have rivals sending out the feelers regarding his future availability.
Unavailable: Hideki Ishige, Eiichi Katayama, Ibrahim Junior Kuribara (injured), William Matheus (Visa/quarantine)

Vegalta Sendai

Comments: Collectively this is one of the 4 weakest squads in the division. That doesn’t necessarily need to condemn them to relegation, but to stave off the drop, they will need to find a way to play to more than the sum of their parts. Passing the ball from their centre-backs to wing-backs, pushing the midfield forward to join the attack, then losing the ball and getting countered constantly, isn’t the way to achieve that.
Unavailable: Isaac Cuenca, Kunimitsu Sekiguchi (injured), Foguinho, Emmanuel Oti, Nedeljko Stojišić (Visa/quarantine)

Shonan Bellmare

Comments: I was sure they’d used up their nine lives last year, but they look a bit better than 2020, at least if the early rounds are anything to go by. Impressive youngster Taiga Hata still hasn’t featured, but playing on the left-wing for Shonan seems to bring out the best in players and Ryo Takahashi has been in fantastic form down that flank. They really need Wellington and Welinton Júnior to bring their shooting boots over from Brazil as a lack of firepower would be the most likely cause of a relegation this year.
Unavailable: Tarik Elyounoussi, Taiga Hata, Shun Nakamura, Tsukasa Umesaki (injured), Wellington, Welinton Júnior (Visa/quarantine)

Tokushima Vortis

Comments: They’ve probably done as well as could have been expected given that the squad haven’t met their new Spanish kantoku face-to-face yet and most of the players lack top tier experience. Poyatos (I assume he is choosing the team) has made a number of interesting selections with Abe, Fuke, Fujiwara and Kawakami all featuring regularly despite being out in the cold during the Rodriguez era.
Unavailable: Dušan Cvetinović, Kazuki Nishiya, Koki Sugimori, Kohei Uchida (injured), Cristian Battocchio, Cacá (Visa/quarantine)

Avispa Fukuoka

Comments: A decent start has them sitting comfortably in mid-table. Word of warning though, other newly promoted sides, namely Matsumoto and Nagasaki, have also begun top-flight campaigns reasonably well before fading away badly. Avispa need new foreign talents, Jordy Croux and, particularly, Biblically-named forward John Mary to deliver in order to maintain their top-flight status.
Unavailable: Juanma Delgado, Bruno Mendes, Taro Sugimoto (injured), Douglas Grolli (1 match suspension vs Sapporo 3 April), Jordy Croux, John Mary (Visa/quarantine)


J1 League: Spotlight on Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Thanks to everyone who read my recent article on Oita Trinita, the feedback I got was extremely positive. With that in mind, and no light at the end of Gamba’s COVID tunnel at the moment, I decided to to turn my attention to the side the Nerazzurri were supposed to square off against this Saturday (March 13th), Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. There isn’t a whole lot of English content about them, but do give @IrishDosanko a follow as well as English forward @jaybothroyd if you want further insights into J1’s most northerly outfit.

Tactical Notes

I watched the whole of Sapporo’s 1-0 defeat away at Nagoya last weekend (March 6th) and a large part of this section is based on that game as well as the 6-7 times I saw them in action in 2020.

Regular followers of the JLeague will know that Consadole kantoku Mihailo ‘Mischa’ Petrovic only has one real footballing philosophy, ‘ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK.’ I could probably stop the article there, but I’m guessing that since you’ve clicked the link, you’re looking for something more thorough, so let’s take a deeper look.

The tables above showing Sapporo’s, defensive, offensive and building play from the back, set ups hopefully give you a flavour of the sort of style they operate. Their formation is generally shown as a nominal 3-4-2-1, but it is very common to see their two central midfielders as the two deepest lying players in the side while the wide centre-backs convert themselves into full-backs, or in the case of assist king Akito Fukumori (averaging 6 per year across the past 3 seasons), you will see him bombing past his left wing-back and left shadow attacker into the opposition final third. Captain and ‘Mr. Sapporo’ Hiroki Miyazawa is the heartbeat of the side and pops up everywhere. He can be thought of almost like a quarter-back, dropping deep to dictate the tempo and angle of attack, but his constant movement between the defensive and midfield lines can leave space for opponents to exploit. Although generally listed as a central midfielder, Miyazawa slots into a back 4 when the red and blacks are under pressure before rushing up with his offensive colleagues when the opportunity for a counter presents itself.

On attack, it’s common to see the wide centre-back, wing-back and shadow forward on either side position themselves in triangles around the corner of the opposition penalty area before attempting to use intricate passing moves that culminate in shots on goal or crosses into the centre-forward. Little of Consadole’s offensive play comes through the traditional central midfield area, there are lots of long cross-field diagonals and balls into channels from the deep lying, Miyazawa, Komai and Chanathip, amongst others. Generally when I’ve seen them in action, this has met with a low success rate, though it should be noted that against Nagoya, a side known for their excellent defensive core in the middle of the park, Sapporo had a degree of joy when firing quick balls into the less well guarded wider areas. Unfortunately in that match they were rather guilty of attempting one pass too many in the final third and frequently running the ball side-to-side along the 18-yard box without making any headway.

Since taking up the reins in Hokkaido ahead of the 2018 campaign, ex-Hiroshima and Urawa boss Petrovic has sought to overcome a lack of overall talent amongst his charges, at least when compared to the traditional heavyweights, by instilling a relentless work-ethic in the players, operating a high-press and attempting to overload the wide attacking areas. In essence, trying to bombard the opposition and keep them on the back foot to such an extent that they are unable to take advantage of the clear defensive frailties that come with the adoption of such a strategy. This style of football, while always pleasing on the eye to the neutral, has brought mixed results in Petrovic’s 3 years in the hot seat. It looks great when it comes off, ie the 5-1 home demolition of Yokohama FC on the opening day of this season, or when it had the element of surprise during the Austrian coach’s first year with the club, a stunning 4th place in 2018. However, it can also backfire spectacularly, see the 6-1 home loss to Kawasaki or the 4-0 drubbing at Vissel Kobe last year for evidence of that.

As we near the end of this section, I’d like to take a look at some team stats from 2020, just as I did with Oita. Sapporo were number one in J1 for attempted dribbles in 2020 and 2nd in terms of completion %, no doubt a number of these came in the wide areas of opposition territory. As alluded to above, they like to overload the wide attacking areas, so it’s no surprise to see they sent in the 3rd most crosses in the league in 2020 and their 23.4% success rate compares with a league average of 22.8%. Less impressive though was the fact that they ranked 5th in total number of shots, but had the 3rd worst on target percentage with the loss of Musashi Suzuki to Belgium early in the year really hurting them. Defensively, Consadole’s pressing and general intensity resulted in them giving away the most fouls in J1 last time round, but that work-rate didn’t seem to extend all the way towards the back of the side as they were last in number of clearances and 2nd last in blocks.

In order to try and arrest a slide in results that has seen them go from 4th to 10th to 12th over the past 3 years, Petrovic, still recovering from a fall in his homeland over the winter, has made a couple of minor tweaks while maintaining the overall aggressive strategy. Despite being the man opposition fans love to hate, Takuma Arano is actually an extremely talented footballer on his day, so his loss to a nasty looking ankle ligament tear has been keenly felt. Yoshiaki Komai, a solid performer with 4 goals and 5 assists in 33 J1 games in 2020 has shifted back from the right-shadow role he occupied for the majority of last season and is now often the only player to be seen in the central midfield. Pacy university rookie Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa has been operating in Komai’s old stomping ground and helped himself to 2 assists against Yokohama FC. Once-capped Japan international Daiki Suga has struggled to nail down a starting spot in the early part of this campaign with feisty Brazilian Lucas Fernandes switching from right to left wing-back and Takuro Kaneko, a youngster who enjoyed a bright rookie year, but bounced around a number of positions without making any his own, trying to claim the right wing-back slot. How these alterations work in the long run will be interesting to observe.

The Squad

Although you may note that Consadole play most of their games at the Sapporo Dome, a huge, modern, spaceship-like construction that they share with baseball team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, the football side are not particularly flush with cash themselves. As such, to try and breathe new life into a slightly stale looking squad they’ve turned to a selection of university, high school and youth team graduates to try and fill the void. I already mentioned that Takuro Kaneko (Nihon University) enjoyed a promising first year as a pro last season, star centre-back / holding midfielder Shunta Tanaka (Osaka Taiiku Uni.) and centre-back / centre-mid / shadow forward Tomoki Takamine (Tsukuba Uni.) also brought something to the party and it is upon that trio that a large chunk of the club’s future hopes rest.

Two metre tall goalkeeper Kojiro Nakano, well known to Gamba supporters from the Emperor’s Cup defeat to Hosei University in 2019 and the already mentioned Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (Meiji Uni.) have converted special designated player deals into permanent ones and will be desperate to make a quick impact on the top team. Another exciting addition for the future is young forward Taika Nakashima (Kunimi High School in Nagasaki – Kazuma Watanabe’s alma mater) and he netted on his top-team debut in the Levain Cup win at Fukuoka. Centre-back Daihachi Okamura, (Thespakusatsu Gunma) should be nicknamed ‘Iron Man’ as he was the only outfield player to be on the field for every minute of every game in last year’s epic J2 campaign, and I feel it’s a matter of when, not if, he unseats Kim Min-tae from the starting eleven. Elsewhere, other new arrivals seem more designed to add depth to the squad, Takahiro Yanagi (FC Tokyo – on loan to Sendai in 2020) can play as a wide centre-back or wing-back, youth team product Toya Nakamura, a centre-back, has returned from a middling year-and-a-half loan in JFL with Honda FC, veteran Shinji Ono is back in town, apparently more to raise dressing room morale than for his on-field contributions, once highly-touted prospect Ryota Aoki can play on the wing or as a shadow attacker, Koki Otani will likely be 3rd choice ‘keeper and may get the odd League Cup start and giant Nigerian centre-forwad Gabriel Okechukwu (Wydad Casablanca) is a real wild-card signing.

More positively, after the losses of Gu Sung-yun and Musashi Suzuki hit them hard early last year, not too many more followed them through the exit door during the winter break. Ryosuke Shindo went to Cerezo, but truth be told he was off-form and injured for a good chunk of last season and Tanaka is a better long-term prospect in my eyes. Other than that, Riku Danzaki in on loan at Brisbane Roar in the A-League having failed to build on early promise, veterans Naoki Ishikawa and Ryota Hayasaka retired, the versatile Kosuke Shirai joined Kyoto on loan, Thai backup keeper Kawin returned to Belgium after his loan expired, Hugo Vieira was released after his short term deal didn’t produce anything noteworthy and Yuta Iwasaki, the poster child for why you shouldn’t overrate kids with impressive age level stats before they’ve done anything as a pro has joined the J2 side most likely to be duped by said stats, JEF United, on loan.

Injury Report

Midfield maestro Takuma Arano suffered a nasty looking leg injury in the 5-1 win over Shimizu last November and is yet to return. Veteran centre-forward Jay Bothroyd endured a bout of Coronavirus during his winter break in the UK and I’m unsure if he’s made it back to Japan yet, he certainly hasn’t featured so far. Nigerian striker Gabriel Okechukwu may benefit from professional sports sides potentially getting their new acquisitions to the front of the visa line after the state of emergency ends, but for now he’s out of the country and unavailable for selection. Utility midfielder Yoshihiro Nakano has been seen yet this campaign, though he is very much a back up player anyway, while Chanathip was a late withdrawal from the side to face Hiroshima on March 10th. Yoshiaki Komai, Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa, Ryota Aoki and Douglas Oliveira were all absent from that encounter too, though I believe that may have been more of a squad rotation issue.

Current Starting XI
A fit-again Chanathip would definitely be in this lineup with probably Ogashiwa alongside him, Kaneko at right wing-back and Lucas Fernandes on the left. Takamine is also a possibility in central midfield or as a shadow attacker while Fukai is another potential partner for Miyazawa despite falling out of favour over the past 12 months.

Season Prediction

I’d have them more likely to finish in the bottom 10 than the top half. Lower middle table in a similar vein to last season seems probable, though if the wheels really come off and they carry over last season’s habit of grasping defeat from the jaws of victory/draws then a relegation scrap isn’t entirely out of the question.


J1 League: Spotlight On Oita Trinita

As you are no doubt aware, Gamba are currently in the midst of a Covid cluster with a number of players and staff testing positive for the virus. With the status of upcoming fixtures in doubt I decided to change the style of this blog post somewhat. I’ve already talked about Gamba ad nauseum in the previews of the postponed matches against Nagoya and Kashima, so I thought I’d dedicate this entire post to a team who don’t enjoy a great deal of English language coverage….Wednesday’s potential opponents Oita Trinita.

If you like what I’ve done here, please send me a comment and tell me you want more of it. Conversely, if you can’t wait for normal previews to resume and want me to revert to that style as quickly as possible, get in touch and let me know. Thanks again for reading, I really appreciate everyone’s support, enjoy the article, stay safe and take care.

Last Time Out

Two goals inside the opening 11 minutes sent Oita on their way to a first win of 2021 at Yokohama’s Mitsuzawa Stadium last Saturday. Showing no ill-effects from making 5 changes to their lineup from the previous week’s 1-1 draw with Tokushima, Trinita raced out of the blocks and put themselves in the driving seat, albeit aided by some amateurish Yokohama FC defending. First left centre-back Yuto Misao ghosted into the opposition box to place Hokuto Shimoda’s centre past a rather limp-wristed Yuji Rokutan before Kento Inoue crossed from the opposite flank and his ball evaded a wayward swipe by the embarrassed Yutaro Hakamata which allowed Seigo Kobayashi, hoping to put long-term injury problems behind him, to bag his first goal in 2 years from near the penalty spot.

After that early charge, Oita sat back / were forced back (delete as appropriate) and the home side were soon granted a lifeline. Not long after Brazilian forward Kleber’s header had bounced onto Shun Takagi’s crossbar, Kosuke Saito hit the deck on the edge of the area and earned a free-kick. Though, to say the contact between he and Kohei Isa was minimal would be being very kind. Dead ball specialist Kohei Tezuka stepped up and curled home to set up an intriguing second half.

Although they spent most of the second period on the back foot, Oita were rarely under sustained pressure and only endured a few scares. Takagi made a neat double stop from Kleber early in the half before tricky left winger Yusuke Matsuo’s shot was cleared off the line at the end of a mazy run after he’d intercepted a pass from another one of my Gamba scouting targets, Yushi Hasegawa. The real drama came right at the end when Sho Ito thought he’d earned his new side a point only for the linesmen to correctly flag him for offside. 2-1 Oita at full-time, 4 points in 2 games, granted not against the strongest opposition, represents a decent start for Tomohiro Katanosaka and his men.

Tactical Notes

Now in his 6th year in charge at the Showa Denko Dome, Takahiro Katanosaka has settled on a 3-4-2-1 system which reverts to a 5-4-1 when defending. He likes the wide centre-backs to also be able to play full-back / wing-back, though he’s had to alter this slightly following the winter departure of the jewel in the Trinita crown, Tomoki Iwata, who moved to Yokohama F.Marinos. Speedster Hatyato Kurosaki, a man I tipped as a potential Gamba signing, has joined from Tochigi SC, but may require some fine-tuning before he’s ready to step into Iwata’s boots.

In 2019 and 2020 Oita’s centre-back line up generally consisted of, Mr. Trinita Yoshinori Suzuki in the middle flanked by Iwata (right) and Yuto Misao (left), however, with Misao then only one of the trio still on the books, I noticed a few chinks in their defensive armour in the match against Yokohama FC. On several occasions the gap between the wing-backs and centre-backs was too wide leaving space for a good side to work overlaps and fire crosses into the box. Additionally, both defensive and midfield lines weren’t as straight as they were in the previous campaigns offering up opportunities for quick balls cutting out the central midfielders and exposing the backline. Finally, Katanosaka likes his wide central defenders to push up if the ball enters their zone. In theory the middle defender, Keisuke Saka for most of Saturday’s match, should essentially play a sweeper role in that situation. However once again a good side will be able to engineer space and quickly play the ball over the advancing centre-back to leave an attacker one-on-one with the sweeper. At the other end of the field, Oita generally press very well. They seem adept at winning the ball back in the opponent’s half against all teams. However, they have been known to target certain sides who are prone to overplaying in their own defensive third. Their 1-1 draw at home to Vissel Kobe last season was a great example of this, Yokohama F.Marinos should also be aware.

Going forward Oita are known as a passing side who like to build things from the back. Last year they ranked 4th in J1 both in total number of passes attempted and also in completion %. They also made the least amount of dribbles of all teams in the top division. They prefer using the pace of their wing-backs allied with the intricate skills of their two shadow players to manufacture scoring opportunities. This works well in theory, but in practice things didn’t really go according to plan last season. Trinita had the 3rd weakest attack in J1 in 2020, netting just 35 times in 34 games, they also registered the 2nd lowest number of shots. Much-maligned former Gamba beanpole Shun Nagasawa has been brought in, but as the J-Talk Podcast guys broke down on their season preview, there are genuine questions about how he will fit in with the Kyushu side’s attacking game-plan. Last year the centre-forward role was usually occupied by either Kei Chinen, a link up player, or Kohei Isa, a workhorse, Nagasawa is clearly a target man and Oita are not a side who excel at crossing. Again referencing the 2020 data we can see that although they were 6th in total crosses delivered last year, Trinita completed a mere 21.9% meaning that much work will need to be done on the training field if Sam Robson’s favourite is to become a success down in Kyushu.

Just to round this section off, I thought I’d uncover some interesting stats that I haven’t really seen discussed much elsewhere. As mentioned earlier, Oita are currently unbeaten in J1 with 4 points from 2 games against teams likely to be battling against the drop. I actually have Trinita going down in my #jpred2021, so their start to the campaign will be crucial. They have proven to be an extremely streaky side since returning to Japan’s top flight 2 years ago. Of course, they shocked everyone back in 2019 when they took 24 points from their opening 12 games despite being a popular pick to return to J2 at the first time of asking. Predictably, they couldn’t match those early highs and earned only 23 more points across their remaining 22 matches. That malaise carried over into 2020 when after a disappointing haul of 12 points from 14 fixtures was accrued, they improved markedly after that and finished the year with 31 points from their final 20 contests. Taking full advantage of their good spells of form will clearly be very important for Oita as they bid to retain their status in the rarefied atmosphere of J1.

The Squad

As always it was a busy winter down in the hot spring mecca of Oita. Eight important squad members headed for fresh pastures while a number of replacements of varying degrees of ability arrived. The main loss was top scorer (despite being a wing-back / shadow player) Tatsuya Tanaka (to Urawa), while yeoman central midfielder Toshio Shimakawa made the short journey west to link up with Tosu after 30 J1 appearances in 2020. I already talked about the massive blow dealt to the club’s defensive stability by Yoshinori Suzuki’s move to Shimizu and Japan international Tomoki Iwata linking up with Ange Postecoglou at Marinos. Kei Chinen’s loan ended and he went back to Kawasaki, where he was re-united with 2019’s leading assist maker Kazuki Kozuka. On top of that, veteran shadow / centre-forward Kazushi Mitsuhira is now in J2 with Kofu and Daiki Watari is another off-season departure who’s still plying his trade in Kyushu, in his case, Avispa Fukuoka.

Brazilian duo, centre back Henrique Trevisan (Estoril Praia, Portugal) and holding midfielder Matheus Sousa Pereira are the two most exotic winter arrivals. Neither have yet been able to enter the country due to COVID era visa restrictions and it will be interesting to see how they bed in when they eventually do make it to Japan. I wouldn’t say Oita would be as easy as say somewhere in Kanto or Kansai for Brazilians to quickly settle in, but only time will tell. Other new arrivals I haven’t mentioned above include, Arata Watanabe, an attacking player whose signing would have been heralded more had he not missed the end of the last campaign with a broken foot, Hokuto Shimoda, the team’s new set piece taker, a title winner in 2020 with Kawasaki, varsity duo Kenta Inoue, a wing-back from Fukuoka University and Kazuki Fujimoto, a shadow player who showed some nice touches against Gamba in Suita last summer, from Kanoya National Institute for Sport in Kagoshima. At the back Keisuke Saka has come in from Shonan, Bellmare supporters seemed saddened by his loss, though in truth I’ve never really seen anything to write home from him. Giravanz Kitakyushu wing-back Kenta Fukumori, yet another player I urged Gamba to look at, has already found himself a spot in the side, and young holding midfielder Masaki Yumiba has been promoted from the club’s decent youth academy.

Injury Report

No major injury dramas to report from the Showa Denko Dome so far. Shadow player Naoki Nomura, who missed the first half of 2020 following his move from Tokushima sat out last Saturday’s win at his former side Yokohama FC for, as far as I know, unspecified reasons. Right wing-back Kenta Inoue left the field with a leg muscle problem in the second half of that game and must be considered a doubt while Arata Watanabe was repeatedly going down with cramp in the final 10 minutes, but should now be good to go. Centre-back / wing-back Yuta Koide, like Nomura, also played the round 1 contest against Tokushima before sitting out the Yokohama FC clash with no reason given for his absence while Yamato Machida was an unused sub in the opening match of the season, but was nowhere to be seen in the Levain Cup defeat to Kobe or the aforementioned win in Kanagawa.

Current Starting XI

The formation is set, but due to the high turnover between rounds 1 and 2 it is as yet unclear who the preferred starters are in several areas. If fit, Nomura and Inoue would certainly feature, while Yuki Kobayashi is an alternative to Shimoda in the middle of the park, Ueebisu and Koide could potentially unseat Haneda at the back and Nagasawa or Takazawa will provide competition for Isa in attack.

Season Prediction

In my #jpred2021 I had them in 16th, the final relegation spot, largely due to their lack of firepower up front. However, I can’t really see them going any lower and realistically they could end up as high as 10th/11th if things click.


Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers J1 League 6 March 2021

2021 J1 League Round 2
Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers
Saturday 6th March 2021, 16:00 (JST)
Panasonic Stadium Suita

As I’m sure most of you are aware, Gamba’s midweek match away to Nagoya Grampus was postponed as a result of 4 Nerazzurri players and 1 staff member testing positive for COVID-19, a further two players were identified as close contacts and are currently self isolating. The club announced that today (March 4th) 225 staff members were given PCR tests and 1 further player tested positive, the other 224 tests were negative. The JLeague have subsequently announced this Satueday’s game is off.

Owing to the intense schedule at the beginning of this year, I had already written a good chunk of text about Saturday’s potential opponents, Kashima Antlers, and I didn’t want it to go to waste. When I started this blog I honestly didn’t think I’d dedicate the bulk of a post writing about one of Gamba’s biggest rivals, but this is the world we live in now. As an aside, both of my previews of Gamba vs Kashima games were among my most popular posts in 2020, so there is definitely a market there for English language Antlers content. @atlrs_english is the club’s official English account and gives regular updates on scores, transfers and results, while @yukinho posts about Kashima in both English and Japanese. I encourage you to give both a follow.

Last Time Out
Regular slow starters Kashima put on a flat performance in their home opener against Shimizu S-Pulse last Saturday, going down 3-1. A largely uneventful opening 75 minutes was lit up only by Shoma Doi striking the frame of the goal twice for Antlers while Katsuhiro Nakayama shot wide with the visitors best opportunity. Second half sub Ryotaro Araki added verve and energy to Kashima and it was he who broke the deadlock, volleying home after Everaldo’s looping header from Katsuya Nagato’s corner had evaded Shuichi Gonda in the S-Pulse goal and bounced back off the crossbar. However, Antlers were then stunned by three Shimizu goals within the space of ten minutes. New Brazilian battering-ram Thiago Santana struck on his debut from close range before sub Yusuke Goto turned the match on it’s head with a wonderful diving header from fellow replacement Yosuke Kawai’s cross. Moments later Ayase Ueda sliced the ball into his own net from a Kawai corner and Antlers were left with no way back.

Antlers then saw off Sagan Tosu 3-0 in the Levain Cup on Wednesday night. On a chilly evening at the Kashima Soccer Stadium goals from Ryuji Izumi, Everaldo and substitute Itsuki Someno were enough to comprehensively dispatch a youthful Tosu outfit.

Tactical Notes

**If you read my match preview of the postponed fixture vs Nagoya Grampus then please skip to the Kashima section as below is just a copy and paste from that post.**

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

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

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

Now to our opponents on Saturday, Kashima Antlers, the most successful side in J1 history with 8 league titles, the last of which came in 2016. The fact that finishing 5th and missing out on ACL qualification by the width of the goal-frame was treated as a great failure gives you an understanding of the standards the team set for themselves year in year out. Under the tutelage of new Brazilian head coach Zago, Antlers started 2020 by taking only 4 points from their opening 7 games, a run which included 5 defeats and just a solitary goal in their first 4 matches. Things have come a long way since then and many JLeague observers, including myself, have them down as Kawasaki’s nearest challengers in 2021.

If you’re new to watching J1, you can expect a steady, no-frills game plan from Kashima. This year Zago has them set-up in an orthodox 4-4-2 with Ayase Ueda partnering Everaldo in attack, a slight adjustment to last season’s 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1, though Zago enjoys tinkering with things when he utilises his substitutes, for instance they ended last week’s reverse against Shimizu in a 3-1-4-2 system. It is common to see both wide players, Juan Alano (right wing) and Shoma Doi (left) cut in to allow space for their full backs to overlap. Left back Katsuya Nagato (J1’s top assist maker with 10 for Vegalta Sendai in 2019, but only managed 2 in his debut season with Antlers) is particularly dangerous when given time to whip balls into the box, he’ll also take most of the Ibaraki side’s set pieces.

Looking at last season’s team stats we can see that crossing is Antlers real strength. They were 2nd in J1 for total crosses in 2020 and also 2nd in crossing accuracy, with a number of Everaldo’s 18 goals (2nd behind Michael Olunga (Kashiwa) 28) coming as a result of this tactic. However, on the flip side of the coin, Kashima took the 2nd most shots in J1 last time out (no shocks that Kawasaki were 1st), but had the worst conversion rate. Case in point, in their 2 matches against Gamba, they amassed 51 attempts on goal, of which 16 were on target and just 1 went into the back of Masaaki Higashiguchi’s net (unsurprisingly it was a header from a left-wing cross). Much to Neil Debnam’s amusement, I’m sure, Antlers committed the 3rd most fouls last season, though it should be noted, for me anyway, only Kawasaki were better at harassing and putting the opposition under pressure and this may have contributed to such a high number. I noticed a drop off in this facet of their play against S-Pulse and it could have been one of the reasons behind the rather surprising outcome.

Antlers enjoyed an interesting winter with Brazilians Diego Pituca (Santos) and Arthur Caike (Al Shabab, Saudi Arabia) the only senior additions. Their off-season, once again, saw them focus on bringing in youth in an attempt to build another dynasty at the summit of J1. With star players, Gaku Shibasaki, Gen Shoji, Naomichi Ueda, Yuma Suzuki and Hiroki Abe all departing for Europe within the space of 2-3 years and veterans such as Atsuto Uchida, Hitoshi Sogahata and legendary captain Mitsuo Ogasawara retiring, Zago, Zico and co clearly have a big job on their hands developing the next generation of Kashima stars.

Wide midfielder Ryotaro Araki, signed from Higashi Fukuoka High School in 2020, is the main attraction, while fellow teenagers, Yuta Matsumura and Itsuki Someno also made decent strides in their first year as professionals. At the back, I’d actually rate centre-half Ikuma Sekigawa (20) as a better prospect than the card-prone Koki Machida and 21 year-old former youth team goalkeeper Yuya Oki seems to have taken over the starting gloves from Kwoun Sun-tae on a permanent basis. Added to that mix of young talent came a new batch over the winter break, 3 university graduates, ‘keeper Tomoki Hayakawa and right-back Keigo Tsunemoto (both Meiji University) as well as centre-back Naoki Hayashi (Osaka Taiiku University), 2 high schoolers, central midfielder Yusuke Ogawa and wide player Naoki Sutoh (both Shohei High School in Saitama) plus Kashima Youth star Yu Funabashi (central midfield). It will be fascinating to see what impact they have this campaign and indeed how this young team begins to take shape over the coming seasons.

Head to Head

Kashima were the first ever league visitors to Panasonic Stadium Suita back in 2016 and left with all 3 points thanks to Yuma Suzuki’s second-half strike, the only goal of the game. However, Gamba are unbeaten in their previous 3 home encounters against Antlers, though last season’s 2-0 win courtesy of a Patric penalty and Kazuma Watanabe’s injury time tap-in was their only triumph on home soil since another 2-0 back in June 2015. Interestingly, the match during the 2015 season also featured a Gamba spot kick, converted on that occasion by Yasuhito Endo. His midfield partner in crime, Yasuyuki Konno, had earlier sent the Nerazzurri into the sheds a goal to the good.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Yuji Ono and Haruto Shirai (both recovering from knee surgery) are definitely out of this match. Kim Young-gwon and Yuya Fukuda are yet to feature this season and their status remains unclear. It hasn’t been revealed which players have tested positive for COVID and who has been identified as a close contact, so I’m unavailable to give any information on that. Should the game go ahead, Yosuke Ideguchi and Yuya Fukuda are in line to make their 100th and 50th Gamba / J1 appearances respectively.

Kashima Antlers

New Brazilian duo Arthur Caike and Diego Pituca are still unable to enter the country at the moment so are obviously unavailable for selection. Veteran central midfielder Leo Silva and winger Ryuji Izumi (a one time Gamba target) were both absent from the matchday squad against Shimizu, but played against Tosu in midweek. Theoretically they are fit and ready to go, though I believe Silva missed some of Antlers pre-season training camp because of quarantine regulations, so he could be short of match sharpness.

Predicted Line Ups

As mentioned above, it is still unclear which players have COVID and are thus unavailable so I’ve just used the same line up I predicted for the Nagoya game. Expect the same formation, but potentially different personnel in the starting eleven.

I’m confident that Zago will retain the 4-4-2 system used last week and the bulk of the starting eleven, despite the poor showing. I’ve gone for Hirose ahead of Koizumi at right-back as S-Pulse’s first 2 goals came from crosses originating in Koizumi’s defensive zone. Should Leo Silva be available for selection then he would likely replace Nagaki, while a fit Izumi could play wide left and allow Doi to slot in just behind Everaldo, alternatively Shirasaki could play in there with Doi on the left wing. After his goal last weekend, Araki must fancy his chances of a start, though I feel Zago may opt to use him as an impact sub once again. Young forward Ituski Someno could be in line for a slot on the pine after his late goal against Tosu on Wednesday.

Match Prediction

A thankless task this week as I have no idea what lineup Gamba will be able to field or if the game can even go ahead. In such circumstances I can’t be positive enough to go for a Gamba win, instead I’ll opt for a battling 1-0 loss.