sport Uncategorized

Kawasaki Frontale Match Preview 1/8/20

Gamba Osaka vs Kawasaki Frontale
J1 2020 Round 8
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 1 August 19:00 (JST)

Round 8 of J1 2020 brings us first versus second as table-topping Kawasaki Frontale visit Panasonic Stadium. It’s also another special edition of my match preview as I’m joined by Neil (@frontalerabbit on Twitter) from the excellent to look ahead to this mouthwatering clash. As always comments and feedback are welcomed, please let me know where you are reading this and what changes or improvements you’d like to see.

Last Time Out

Gamba earned their fourth win on the bounce with a hard-fought 2-0 victory at Vissel Kobe last Sunday. This was the third match in eight days for both sides, however, personnel changes were kept to a minimum and that contributed to a game often played at walking pace with the feel of the 5th day of a cricket test match where the two teams are happy to play for a draw.

The men from Suita made two changes to the starting eleven from the previous game against Hiroshima. Yuji Ono came in for Shu Kurata in a rotational move while Shinya Yajima replaced Yasuhito Endo at the base of the midfield after he was rested in midweek. There was still no place in the squad for either Kosuke Onose or Ademilson though it’s still unclear if they are injured or just being wrapped in cotton wool. Former U23 captain Riku Matsuda (not to be confused with Cerezo’s right-back with the same name) made his first appearance in J1 from the bench, replacing Ryu Takao in the 75th minute and picked up his first yellow card less than a minute later after flattening Andres Iniesta.

Gamba started the brighter of the two teams, finding ample space to move the ball around on a slippy surface which caused grip problems for both sides. Takashi Usami brought out a decent save from Hiroki Iikura in the 4th minute as the veteran stopper got fingertips to a shot from the edge of the area and turned it round the post. At the resulting corner Kim Young-gwon headed just wide of Iikura’s far post from an almost identical position that Genta Miura scored against Sanfrecce. However, as the half wore on Vissel, inspired by captain Iniesta in the middle of the park, dominated possession. Chances for the home side were few and far between though, Kyogo Furuhashi having their best moment, turning Takao at the corner of the box before firing in a decent effort that Masaaki Higashiguchi helped wide for a corner.

The second half started slowly and it seemed both teams would happily take 0-0, but things changed in the 62nd minute as Takao’s drilled cross-field ball caused confusion in the new-look Kobe backline. Thomas Vermaelen, making his first J1 start in 2020, played two Gamba players onside in the penalty area, however right-back So Fujitani, himself starting for only the second time, didn’t track back which allowed Yuji Ono to ghost in unnoticed. The former Tosu man scuffed his shot into the ground but it looped up and over Iikura, 1-0 Gamba and Ono’s final contribution of the match before being immediately replaced by Kurata.

A tired Kobe then proceeded to take the game to Gamba, having their best spell between the 73rd and 84th minutes. In that period, Junya Tanaka, one of only two subs used, turned on the edge of the box and fired straight at Higashiguchi, while Furuhashi was denied by a great save by Higashiguchi following nice set-up play by Iniesta, the left-winger then had his header parried by Gamba’s number 1 who was in unbeatable form.

Vissel had their failure to net an equaliser punished in the most dramatic way possible. Four minutes from the end of normal time neat build-up play down the left involving Kazuma Watanabe and Hiroki Fujiharu culminated with an inside pass from Yosuke Ideguchi to Usami, Gamba’s talisman then produced a goal of the season contender from fully 30 metres out that Iikura could only help on its way to the top corner. Usami the Kobe Killer strikes again and the Nerrazzuri took the short ride back to Osaka with all three points.

Vissel Kobe 0-2 Gamba Osaka

Kawasaki remained top after making slightly heavy weather of their 3-1 home victory over Shonan Bellmare. Frontale outshot their visitors 16 to 1 in the first half and also enjoyed 70% of the possession, but despite spending long periods camped in Bellmare’s defensive third, Yu Kobayashi’s header which was stopped by Gamba loanee Kosei Tani (possibly behind the line) was the closest they came. Goalless at the break.

Shots continued to rain down on the Shonan goal at the start of the second half with, Reo Hatate, Hidemasa Morita, Yasuto Wakizaka and Kobayashi all recording efforts. However, in classic underdog style, Bellmare sucker punched their Kanagawa neighbours with a beautiful goal. Two half-time replacements, Shota Kobayashi and Norwegian international Tarik combined with the former’s cross from the right wing scissor kicked home from the penalty spot by the latter. 1-0 Shonan, game on.

Predictably Kawasaki’s response was rapid and it owed more than a little to Bellmare’s more expansive play in the second half. Following the Hiratsuka side’s first corner of the match, Frontale were able to counter just four minutes after going behind. Ryota Oshima, who’d come on just after Tarik’s opener raced away and he played in former Bellmare defender Miki Yamane who shot past Tani for his second goal in as many games.

After that it was all one way traffic and the result rarely looked in doubt. Twelve minutes from time, right centre-back Hirokazu Ishihara miscontrolled the ball which allowed another second half change, Kaoru Mitoma to rob him. The left winger then cut inside and unleashed a fine shot low to Tani’s right meaning he, like Tarik before him, could celebrate his first goal in J1. Ten minutes later Kawasaki finished things off as yet another substitute, highly-touted midfielder Ao Tanaka won the ball aggressively, played a neat one-two with fellow second half replacement Taisei Miyashiro and then buried a shot past the unfortunate Tani. 3-1 Frontale at the finish.

Kawasaki Frontale 3-1 Shonan Bellmare

Tactical Notes

I don’t expect any big tactical changes from Gamba this week despite facing the league’s strongest team. The next two midweeks see Levain Cup action meaning that the strongest eleven will start in the league while youngsters and reserves can be deployed in the cup. This will help with energy levels which were clearly depleted against Kobe last Sunday.

Gamba can be happy that despite the absence of three first choice players, Gen Shoji, Kosuke Onose and Ademilson, in recent games, their replacements, Ryu Takao, Yuya Fukuda and Kazuma Watanabe have all stood up and provided high-quality alternatives. Additionally being able to rotate Shu Kurata and Yuji Ono in the advanced left midfield position with no drop off in performance regardless of who plays is what every manager dreams of. Patric is still doing a good job in his ‘closing pitcher’ role of holding the ball up at the end of games and indeed nearly got himself on the scoresheet at Noevir Stadium.

For this week’s visitors it has been much tougher trying to find chinks in their armour, so I’ll spend most of this tactical notes section waxing lyrical over their strengths. Head coach Toru Oniki, who usually at least starts the season in @frontalerabbit’s good books, has switched his set-up from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 partly in response to the success achieved by their Kanagawa rivals Yokohama F.Marinos last year. Players in all positions have high levels of technical ability allowing them to dictate the pace and direction of a game for long periods. Their central midfield trio takes the form of an inverted triangle in the exact same shape as Gamba and is made up of two orthodox central midfielders and one attacking midfielder / converted winger. This area of the field has seen the heaviest rotation in 2020, owing largely to the amount of quality players who can perform in the Frontale engine room.

Kawasaki’s midfield set-up is designed to get the ball into wide areas quickly, enabling them to engineer two on one situations against opposition full-backs. Once again they have a number of options for these positions on the wings, ex-Gamba prodigy Akihiro Ienaga, J1 MVP in 2018 is still pulling the strings down the right at the age of 34 while Tatsuya Hasegawa on the left flank was in great form before picking up a knock which caused him to miss the last couple of games. Youngsters Kaoru Mitoma, Reo Hatate and Taisei Miyashiro as well as the vastly experienced Manabu Saito are alternatives, however, for this top of the table bout I’d expect the first choices to start, if available.

Finally, to Frontale’s weak points, and there aren’t many. They seem to have a small teething problem with the inverted midfield triangle, one that Gamba also faced and now seem to have rectified. At points early in the first half of last week’s game, Hidemasa Morita, in the midfield anchor position was isolated from his more advanced partners, Hokuto Shimoda and Yasuto Wakizaka, this could have allowed a stronger side than Shonan to take advantage and run directly at Kawasaki’s centre backs. Gamba’s high press should hopefully be more adept than Bellmare’s at pressuring the Frontale defenders into mistakes, making interceptions and then working overlaps and two-on-one advantages.

The only other cause for optimism I could see when looking to exploit Frontale flaws was in their wide defensive areas. Shonan did have limited success in attacking left-back Kyohei Noborizato and indeed their goal was created from his defensive zone. Wakizaka in midfield and whoever plays on either wing are unlikely to provide much defensive cover, I don’t think Ienaga does defence, which can allow Gamba’s players the opportunity to get at isolated Kawasaki full-backs if they are patient and choose their passes carefully. On the right side Miki Yamane has had a flying start to the season, but I’d expect to see him do far more defending at Panasonic Stadium than he did against Shonan and it’ll be interesting to see how strongly he performs then.

Statistical Noise

I hope to expand this section more as the season progresses and we get more data points, so this week’s entry will be a little short. Please let me know what you think.

Gamba Osaka

*Gamba and good start to the season are not words often found in the same sentence, after 7 games this year the Nerrazzuri have 16 points, compared with just 6 points at the same stage in 2019 and 4 the year before.
*Gamba have now won their last four matches in-a-row, the first time they’ve achieved that since the end of 2018 when of course they went on their incredible 9 match winning streak from September 1st (2-0 at home to Kawasaki) to November 24th against V-Varen Nagasaki.
*Including last season, Gamba now have 8 wins from their last 10 J1 games with 1 draw and a solitary defeat to Cerezo. They’ve scored 21 and conceded 10 in that time.
*Improved away form has been a key factor in Gamba’s strong start to this season. They picked up just 5 wins on the road in 2019 and a mere 20 points from 17 games. 2020 has seen them win 3 out of 4 and they’ve already got halfway to matching last season’s away points total.

Kawasaki Frontale

*Frontale are the league’s top scorers with 20 strikes in 7 games, this puts them 2 ahead of Kashiwa Reysol and an incredible 8 more than joint third placed Gamba.
*Statistically the best away side in J1 last season, Kawasaki have started 2020 with a bang too, winning all 3 road games and scoring at least 3 times in each match. Their last away league defeat came against Cerezo Osaka on September 1st last year, a 2-1 reverse.
*Frontale forward Yu Kobayashi has scored 4 goals so far this campaign in just 154 on-field minutes, a goal every 38.5 minutes, Gamba better watch out on Saturday.
*Kawasaki have won just once away to Gamba since the men from Suita were promoted back to J1 in 2014, a 1-0 triumph on their first visit to Panasonic Stadium in 2016. Other than that Gamba have won twice (2014 and 2018) while there have been 3 draws.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Gen Shoji is once again a doubt and it’ll be interesting to see if he gets a run out in either of the upcoming Levain Cup games. Reserve goalie Jun Ichimori is still on the treatment table and is due back in September, while there has been no word on the status of Kosuke Onose or Ademilson after both were omitted from the squad for the Hiroshima and Kobe games, though according to Instagram, Ade is training with the first-team. Riku Matsuda’s inclusion against Vissel also raises the question of whether the more experienced Shunya Suganuma and Ryo Shinzato are injured or has Matsuda merely usurped them in the pecking order?

Kawasaki Frontale

Club legend Kengo Nakamura is back in training after injuring his knee at the end of 2019, but is unlikely to be risked yet, while @frontalerabbit reports that left-winger Tatsuya Hasegawa, who hasn’t played since leaving the field in the first half of the game against Vegalta Sendai on July 22nd, is out for a further 4 weeks. Elsewhere new Brazilian right-back Diogo Mateus hasn’t been spotted in the matchday squad since his arrival, though I’m putting that down to non-selection rather than injury.

Know Your OpponentKawasaki Frontale

Thanks again to Neil for his wonderful rundown of the likely Kawasaki starting lineup for Saturday’s game which you can read below. If you haven’t already please give him a follow on Twitter and check out his blog at

GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
35 year old keeper who joined us in 2016 from Suwon in his native Korea. Has pretty much been first choice since then but slightly fell out of favour late on last season. Not sure why though as he’s always pretty steady and he played an important part in us plugging our leaky defence to allow us to get our two league titles.

RB 13. YAMANE Miki
Signed from Shonan this year to hopefully fill what has been a dodgy position for us since Elsinho left. Looks to enjoy attacking and made a great assist for Damiao’s goal against FC Tokyo and scored a couple of nice goals already. Perhaps prone to the occasional defensive error, but is still settling in and if he’s busting forward as he tends to, the opposition have probably got to worry more about him gong forward than we might about his defending.

Captain and mainstay at the back. Joined us straight from Tsukuba University. Big favourite of Oniki and seems to be first pick on the team sheet. Occasionally makes horrific blunders but aside from those is generally quite steady and reliable. One of our biggest threats from corners.

Joined at the start of last season after playing with a few different Brazilian clubs and had a season where he drifted in and out of the starting line up in spite of him showing that he is probably our best defender. Picked up a slight injury earlier in the season but is strong, skillful and seems to be a real cut above when he’s playing at his best. One of only three centre backs in the whole squad!

Osaka born but has been with us since high school. Left-sided player who can play on the left wing too and has at times filled in at right back. Always full on energy and running. Used to play further forward but now seems to be settled at left back and is currently keeping former Japan national team member Kurumaya on the bench. 

Only 21 but was clearly last season’s player of the year and a fan favourite as he’s a Frontale youth team product. Recently has been playing the anchor role in front of the defence but can play anywhere you ask him to in the middle. Great passer and tackler and shooter when he ventures further forward. It’s probably only a matter of time before someone tries to buy him from us. Very important player for us.

MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
Joined us from high school and pulls the strings in midfield for us. Slightly injury prone but makes a huge difference when he’s fit and in the team. Has a great shot from outside the box and is much stronger on the ball than you’d think from looking at the size of him. Passing and tackling maestro. Often targeted by the opposition who look to kick him out of the game but has enough guile to skip round attempted fouls. Makes everything tick for us.

MF 28. WAKIZAKA Yasuto
Former Frontale youth player who joined us from his university team in 2018. Started to make appearances last season but has really cemented himself as a starter this year. Perhaps the most attacking of our three midfielders and likes to run at the box and shoot. Takes set pieces too. Tends to get substituted early on in the second half. Is still developing but looks like he’ll be a great player in the future.

FW 41. IENAGA Akihiro
Came to us from Omiya but his career has taken him from Gamba Osaka Youth to us via spells in Spain and Korea. Hugely important for us going forward. Nominally plays on the right but is left footed and tends to drift where he wants. Has a great shot on him and very skillful. 34 years old now but probably playing some of his best football. Was J League MVP in 2018 and thoroughly deserved it.

Transferred to us last year from Santos FC in Brazil. Presumably on big money and was our marquee signing. Didn’t really get much of a chance to settle in last year as he was in and out of the team in spite of having a decent scoring record. Oniki struggled to get him and Kobayashi to play well together and seems to have now given up on that idea. Kobayashi got the nod over him more often than not last year. Seems to have been unlucky with us so far and perhaps still hasn’t got to grips with the J League. 9 goals in 23 appearances last year though and has three already this year. Totally addicted to trying to score overhead kicks.

FW 18. MITOMA Kaoru 
Another Frontale youth team product. Has appeared for the national U23 team quite a few times and looked like he might be a possible star of the 2020 Olympics but we all know how that has turned out. Seems unstoppable when on the ball recently. Drives at defenders and seems to have the ball glued to his feet somehow. Very direct and likes to shoot. Would love to see him start, but then we wouldn’t be able to use him as an always game-changing super sub.

Possibly in place of Noborizato
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
Left back who also joined us directly from Tsukuba University but is likely to start at centre back as we have hardly any centre backs in our squad for some reason. Not 100% convinced by him playing there and is much betting roving forward with the ball. Can still do a job though. 

Toss up whether it is him or LEANDRO DAMIAO
Fan favourite and one club man. League MVP in 2017. Hasn’t quite set the world alight so much since then but has started this season pretty strong, especially when coming off the bench scoring six goals so far. Often needs quite a few chances to find his range, particularly if he starts the game for some reason. Has an absolutely lovely turn on him and will do something sublimely skillful and then pass the ball to the keeper. Or absolutely bury it depending on how he’s playing. This year it seems that whichever striker starts struggles and the sub does the business which makes it a bit tricky to predict whether Damiao or Kobayashi will get the nod up front. 

Possibly in place of Mitoma
Another young rising star with U23 team appearances and plenty of goals. Still looks a bit raw when he plays for us but another player who suits our new attacking style with his resolute desire to head for the goal whenever he has the ball. Nominally a striker but seems to be another who falls into the category of quite short attacking wide player who gets forward quite often. Feel that once he gets his first goal his confidence will bloom. For some reason got the nod over Mitoma to take Hasegawa’s place in the last starting line up, so maybe Oniki knows something we don’t. Has played as a sub on the right too though, so he has the potential to cover for a few players.

Predicted Lineups

Match Prediction

A real tough one this week with J1’s best going head to head and no midweek games to distract them. Once again I’d love to say 2-1 Gamba, but I’ll stick with my tried and tested 1-1 prediction and hope that I’m wrong again!

sport Uncategorized

Vissel Kobe Match Preview 26 July 2020

Vissel Kobe vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 7
Noevir Stadium Kobe
Sunday 26 July 19:00 (JST)

Round 7 of J1 2020 sees Gamba make the short trip west to play neighbours Vissel Kobe. Both sides come into the game unbeaten in their previous four matches so we should be in for a high-quality encounter. Hopefully this preview gives you all the information you’re looking for. Comments and feedback are always welcome and a massive thanks to those who have already contacted me.

Last Time Out

Gamba ground out a scrappy 1-0 win at home to Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Wednesday night which once again highlighted their ability to win ugly this season. In the corresponding match last year Gamba battered their visitors but ended up drawing 1-1 while this time round Sanfrecce may feel they did enough to take something from the game, but ultimately they return home winless, the fourth game in-a-row where they’ve failed to pick up three points.

Both sides reshuffled their packs for this clash as the intense summer schedule started to bite. Gamba made four changes to the starting XI with Yuya Fukuda, Yasuhito Endo, Shu Kurata and Kazuma Watanabe coming in for Kosuke Onose, Shinya Yajima, Yuji Ono and Ademilson respectively. Ono, a quiet revelation since his off-season move from Tosu, and Yajima took up spots on the bench while Onose and Ademilson were given a well earned night off. Interestingly, 17-year old forward Shoji Toyama, scorer of 11 goals in 15 games for the U23 side in J3 was on the bench for the first time, albeit as an unused sub, while Keisuke Kurokawa got his first taste of top-team action this year replacing cramp-victim Yuya Fukuda in additional time.

Sanfrecce had the better of the opening exchanges with Leandro Pereira making a nuisance of himself, his long range effort stinging the palms of Higashiguchi. Yuya Asano, recruited from Mito HollyHock last winter, also had his shot blocked by Gamba captain Genta Miura after he had robbed Fukuda in midfield. At the other end, Yasuhito Endo sent a rasping drive just past Takuto Hayashi’s left-hand post from about 25 metres out.

The game was a rather tame affair between two relatively evenly matched outfits in the first half and in the end it was decided by a goal just before the break. Takashi Usami’s corner from the main stand side found Miura, who’d escaped the attentions of his opposing captain Sho Sasaki, standing all alone just outside the six-yard box and the 183cm centre-back made no mistake, powering his header past Hayashi. 1-0 Gamba at half time.

Sanfrecce threw on Rhayner and Toshihiro Aoyama at the start of the second half, but there was no immediate change in the flow of the game. Hiroshima had the ball more in dangerous areas, but often shot off target or from distance. Gamba remained a threat when countering, their best chance coming on the hour mark with Rhayner blocking Kurata’s goal bound effort on the line. Just like in the previous game with Oita, Gamba came under late pressure. In the space of ten minutes, a Hayao Kawabe cross as well as shots from Tomoya Fujii, Ryo Nagai and of course the dangerous Leandro Pereira threatened to bring the visitors a point their general play may have merited, but it was not to be and Gamba held on to win by a solitary goal, moving themselves up to joint third on the ladder in the process.

Gamba Osaka 1-0 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
22 July 2020

Vissel Kobe played out an at times lively Kansai derby with Cerezo Osaka at Nagai Stadium in midweek, though neither defence could be breeched and the game ended scoreless. A cagey first half saw both teams happy to cede possession to the other provided it was in non-dangerous areas. Decent chances were at a premium, but the visitors created the most presentable ones. Iniesta, Furuhashi and Yamaguchi all found the gloves of Kim Jin-hyeon in the Cerezo goal with efforts from around the 18-yard line. The home side’s best opportunity fell to Ken Tokura who ran onto a long through ball, but found Vissel ‘keeper Hiroki Iikura up to the task of saving his shot.

A bit of needle crept into the game at the beginning of the second period with Kobe defender Hirofumi Watanabe guilty of giving away a few fouls and allegations and counter-allegations flew over how much contact was really involved in some of those challenges. The tie did settle down and became more even, Cerezo tended to attack more, as a home side should, but Vissel remained a danger on the break. Kobe ‘keeper Iikura tipped Yasuki Kimoto’s goal-bound header onto the bar while Hiroshi Kiyotake shot over from near the penalty spot after a great cross from Riku Matsuda. At the other end Iniesta and Sergi Samper fired in shots, but just like in the first half they were unable to create a really golden opportunity against the meanest defence in J1.

Vissel didn’t make their first replacement until the 75th minute and a string of late changes took the sting out of the game somewhat. Young Daiju Sasaki again showed some good touches and composure in midfield after replacing Sergi Samper, but the best chance to claim all three points fell to Cerezo’s Argentine midfielder Leandro Desabato. He shot inches wide of Iikura’s left hand post in the final minute of injury time ensuring that the game finished goalless.

Cerezo Osaka 0-0 Vissel Kobe
22 July 2020

Tactical Notes

Gamba once again opted for a three centre-back formation against Sanfrecce, although with the personnel involved, it could have been easily switched to 4-4-2 at any time. The four changes made to the side from the previous match affected the fluency of the build up and we saw far fewer pieces of neat interchange play in the opposition’s final third. Hopefully the re-introduction of Ademilson and Onose against Kobe will fix that. Yasuhito Endo will likely start this one on the bench after his 66 minutes on Wednesday. Truth be told he didn’t have his best game against Sanfre and although his vision, passing and leadership are second to none, due to his advancing years, Shinya Yajima’s energy and drive are a far better fit for this current Gamba strategy. Interestingly though, as this was the first game Endo had started since the Osaka Derby defeat, we could see that Miyamoto has recognised the issues that plagued the Gamba midfield in that game. When Hiroshima were in possession both Ideguchi and Kurata in the more advanced central midfield roles dropped back to form a line along with Endo just in front of the defenders which meant Sanfrecee didn’t have the room to play with that Cerezo and several teams last year enjoyed.

Vissel operate two main systems, either 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 depending on the opposition or players available. Due to the need for rotation this year, I can’t really be sure which strategy they’ll employ for this game, although I have outlined the likely starting members for each formation in the Know Your Opponent section below.

Kobe’s strength lies from the midfield forward, Andres Iniesta, who will probably sit this match out after playing 170 minutes across the previous two games, pulls the strings in the middle of the park, though Hotaru Yamaguchi and Sergi Samper are both equally adept at monopolising possession. Their wing-backs offer a clear and direct attacking threat, Japanese international Gotoku Sakai is probably the best left-back/wing-back in J1 and his counterpart on the right, Daigo Nishi, helped himself to seven assists in 2019. Both players have had a heavy workload this season and could be rested for this game which would be a major loss for Kobe.

In attack, the 184cm, 80kg frame of Douglas is the leader, in a 3-5-2 the sublime skills of Kyogo Furuhashi can be found just behind or to the left of him, however, if Kobe opt for a front three we could see either see Keijiro Ogawa, a player who seems to have been around forever, but is still only 28 or Noriaki Fujimoto play on the right wing.

Kobe’s soft underbelly definitely lies at the back. Their strategy of playing out from Hiroki Iikura in goals can leave them vulnerable to what DAZN’s commentators call a ‘short counter.’ The inability of the two or three centre-backs to form a straight defensive line is also a headache for head-coach Thorsten Fink, it allowed Cerezo several opportunities to break through in midweek, although they were unable to capatalise.

Last year, there were 120 goals in Vissel’s 34 J1 matches or 3.6 per game, a league high. This time round the men from Hyogo have scored six and conceded six in their opening six games, a massive turnaround. If you consider they scored half of their yearly total against Shimizu and conceded half against Hiroshima, then although both those games were in Kobe, like this one is, statistically we’re likely to see a low scoring clash on Sunday. For the record, I don’t believe Vissel have better defenders or worse forwards than last year, rather, they are adopting a new low-risk strategy which seems to be largely keeping the ball out of the danger area at both ends of the field.

To sum up this rather rambling tactical notes section, Kobe have a bounty of attacking weaponry that can threaten Gamba’s rearguard on Sunday night. However, they will be susceptible to the high press and also to long balls from deep, Kim Young-gwon may come in handy here, as well as quick interplay in the final third involving Usami, Ademilson and Ono.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

As per Alan Gibson on this week’s J-Talk Podcast, Gen Shoji is almost fully fit, but is being wrapped in cotton wool to prevent a re-occurrence of his ankle knock. To add my own spin, Miura and Kim have played every game so far, therefore it’s likely Shoji will come in to give one of them a rest at some point after potentially playing in the Levain Cup matches away to Oita and Shonan next month.
Backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori is the only player who is definitely out, though with this being the third match in eight days, rotation will play a big factor in team selection, I’d suggest Endo and Fujiharu will probably make the bench at best.
One man who has had his rest is Kosuke Onose, he wasn’t in the squad on Wednesday but should be back to play his 50th game for Gamba and 50th in J1 on Sunday.

Vissel Kobe

Experienced Belgian defender Thomas Vermalen hasn’t played in J1 yet this year, no injury has been reported, but I assume there must be some niggle which is stopping him from playing even once a week. Likewise, Brazilian centre-back Dankler hasn’t appeared in the previous three matches which I can only suspect is because of injury. After playing the majority of the games against Shimizu and Cerezo, I can’t see Iniesta starting here, right wing-back Daigo Nishi has also accumulated 338 minutes since J1 resumed and is another likely candidate to be rested. Centre-forward Douglas is only two away from netting fifty times in J1, Gamba will hope he doesn’t achieve that target against them.

Know Your OpponentVissel Kobe

Head Coach – Thorsten Fink (Appointed 9 June 2019) – League Record – P 26 W 12 D 6 L 8 F 44 A 41 Failed to Score 4 Clean Sheets 6.

GK – #18 Hiroki Iikura – Experienced ‘keeper who played over 200 J1 games for Yokohama F.Marinos before making the switch to Hyogo early last year. He has his critics over his sometimes erratic distribution and shot stopping, but showed in the last game against Cerezo what a decent option between the sticks he can be on his day.

CB – #17 Ryuho Kikuchi – Extremely physical graduate of Osaka University of Health & Sports Sciences (the same alma mater as Hiroki Fujiharu), 188cm tall Kikuchi joined Vissel from Renofa Yamaguchi after an impressive debut season in J2. He’s someone who I suggested Gamba ought to look at last year so I was a tad disappointed when he moved to Kobe. I was very impressed with him against Oita and Cerezo and in my opinion he’s Vissel’s best centre-back with the exception of Vermaelen.

CB – #25 Leo Osaki – Often mis-labelled as a promising youngster, Toin Yokohama University graduate Osaki will actually turn 29 early next month. His long and winding journey to J1 has taken him via the American lower leagues, Yokohama FC and Tokushima Vortis. I’ve seen him tipped for international honours before and agree that he’s a solid option, but Vissel’s defensive frailties since he’s joined them haven’t helped his reputation.

CB – #3 Hirofumi Watanabe – Now in his fourth year in Hyogo, Watanabe, who counts Kashiwa, Tochigi and Vegalta Sendai among his former clubs, is one of Vissel’s longest serving players. He only played six times in J1 in 2019, but with Vermaelen and Dankler missing and the games coming thick and fast he’s already racked up five league appearances this time round.

RWB – #44 So Fujitani – A once highly-rated full-back / wing-back, Fujitani’s career has stalled somewhat in recent years. Since Daigo Nishi arrived in early 2019 he’s only played in ten J1 matches and will hope to take advantage of the heavy squad rotation, that will surely take place, to earn more game time.

CM – #27 Yuta Goke – Promising attack-minded midfielder who joined the club directly from Aomori Yamada High School in 2018. Originally from Kyushu, Goke has now made a home for himself in Hyogo and the 21 year-old is beginning to blossom into a decent central midfielder under the tutelage of Thorsten Fink and Iniesta, two men who know a thing or two about the position.

DM – #6 Sergi Samper – The third ex-Barcelona player in the squad after Iniesta and Vermaelen, Samper took a while to settle into life in Japan but is now firmly established as first choice in the midfield anchor role. He does not have a league goal to his name in his senior career and will be content to sit in front of his defence and feed the ball to his more illustrious team-mates.

CM – #5 Hotaru Yamaguchi © – Capped 48 times by Japan, Yamaguchi made the slightly controversial move west from Cerezo last year while Naoyuki Fujita travelled in the opposite direction. Able to play at the base of the midfield triangle or slightly more advanced, the vastly experienced Yamaguchi will be a key cog in the Vissel machine wherever he finds himself selected for this game.

LWB – #24 Gotoku Sakai – An excellent mid-season addition from Hamburger SV last year, Japan international Sakai is a regular provider of ammunition for his forwards and was a huge upgrade on ex-Gamba youngster Ryo Hatsuse. With 42 Japanese caps under his belt and seven years spent playing in the German Bundesliga, Niigata native Sakai is someone Gamba will really have to watch out for on Sunday.

CF – #49 Douglas – Kobe’s biggest off-season signing, Douglas came in from Shimizu S-Pulse after contributing 25 goals and 8 assists in just 45 games across a year and a half spent in Shizuoka. He previously had a five and a half year spell in Japan from 2010-15 which produced more mixed results. His 21 goals in 33 matches fired Sanfrecce Hiroshima to the J1 title back in 2015, but prior to that his performances with both Tokushima Vortis and Kyoto Sanga in J2 were rather more patchy.

CF – #11 Kyogo Furuhashi – It’s difficult for me to add anything to the already loud chorus of praise that he receives from everyone in the JLeague English community on Twitter. I’ll do what I do best then and just quote some stats, Furuhashi has four goals and one assist in six J1 starts this season, his record extends to seven goals in nine games this calendar year if you include the ACL and Japanese Super Cup. He and Douglas have contributed all of Vissel’s J1 goals so far in 2020, Gamba must stop him if they want to take anything from Sunday’s game.

Other options – I’ve assumed two things with the above line up, one is that there will be rotation so Andres Iniesta and Daigo Nishi will be rested, and two is that Kobe will play 3-5-2, if they opt for 4-3-3 then expect Keijiro Ogawa or Noriaki Fujimoto, who has slightly underwhelmed since signing from Oita last summer, to start on the right wing. Other options in attack include ex-Sporting Lisbon forward Junya Tanaka, whose late goals sunk Gamba in the game at Panasonic Stadium last spring, or young Yutaro Oda, an academy graduate who has made a couple of sub appearances recently. Further back, two other former Kobe Under-18 players Takuya Yasui and Daiju Sasaki are options in midfield, Sasaki at the base and Yasui a little further forward. While in defence Ryo Hatsuse can play either on the left or right, but he’s yet to feature in J1 since returning from a loan spell with Avispa Fukuoka in the second half of last season.

Predicted Lineups

Match Prediction

A bit of a lottery this one as both sides come into the match tired following two tough games in the past week. I’d love to go for a 2-1 away win here, but I’ll let my cautious nature take over and say it’ll be a closely fought, at times physical 1-1 draw.

sport Uncategorized

Sanfrecce Hiroshima Match Preview 22 July 2020

Gamba Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima
J1 2020 Round 6
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Wednesday 22 July 19:00 (JST)

Round 6 of J1 2020 sees the first midweek game played at Panasonic Stadium Suita this year and Sanfrecce Hiroshima are the visitors. I had the great pleasure of working with Sanfrecce supporter and blogger Tobias (better known as @ConDrei on Twitter) to put this preview together. It is the first of what I hope will be several collaborations with other English language bloggers this season. Please let me know what you think.

Last Time Out

Gamba recorded a 2-1 home victory over Oita Trinita which was ultimately more comfortable than the tight scoreline might suggest. The Nerrazzuri made just one personnel change from the previous week’s triumph at S-Pulse with Yuji Ono coming in for Shu Kurata in midfield. They did, however, revert to a back-three with Shinya Yajima playing just in front of them and Yosuke Ideguchi putting in a great shift supporting both defence and attack admirably.

The men from Suita were in control for most of the first half, displaying an attacking coherence rarely seen thus far in 2020. The high press was also very successful and they essentially out-Oitad Oita (if that makes sense?), by building pressure and forcing mistakes. Daiki Watari did give an early indication of the dangers Trinita could pose on the counter as his shot was blocked by Ryu Takao following a cross from the right. Gamba failed to heed that warning and against the run of play in the 33rd minute Oita took the lead with a goal of real quality. Ex-Gamba winger Tatsuya Tanaka fired in from the right-hand side, this time Watari was able to get the better of Takao and he bulleted a header past Higashiguchi. 1-0 to the visitors.

Gamba didn’t have to wait long to get on level terms, just three minutes in fact. A good team move ended when Kosuke Onose was clearly tripped by Oita’s Tomoki Iwata and up stepped Takashi Usami to fire home a powerful penalty that beat Shun Takagi to his left. Usami’s first goal of the year and 1-1 at the interval.

Usami turned provider for strike partner Ademilson just three minutes into the second half. He robbed Trinita defender Kento Haneda of the ball on Gamba’s right and quickly fed his Brazilian team-mate, Ade then cut inside, brought the ball onto his left foot, turned Yoshinori Suzuki and buried his shot low, past Takagi at the near post for his second goal of the campaign.

Gamba threatened to run away with the game in the ten minutes or so that followed and Trinita ‘keeper Takagi was a relieved man as he almost let an innocuous looking back pass cross his goal line but managed to clear the ball just in the nick of time. The men in blue and black then slowly released their foot from the accelerator and gradually ceded possession and territory to their visitors. Despite substitute Kazuki Fujimoto showing some nice touches on his senior debut Oita were wasteful in the final third with numerous crosses failing to find their target and Yuto Misao’s weak effort straight at Higashiguchi their best chance to take anything from this game. Full time Gamba 2-1 Oita.

Gamba Osaka 2-1 Oita Trinita
18 July 2020

Sanfrecce made it three games without a win when they slumped to a 2-1 home reverse against Cerezo Osaka. The Cherry Blossoms, of course, defeated Gamba by the same scoreline a fortnight earlier and this game had a similar pattern to the Osaka derby with Cerezo the stronger team in terms of overall play and sharpness in front of goal.

The away side had the better of the first period and took the lead after just twenty minutes. Right winger Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, who was a thorn in Hiroshima’s side all night turned every Gamba fan’s favourite Sanfrecce player Kohei Shimizu inside out before firing in a dangerous low cross in the direction of Ken Tokura. Hiroshima captain Sho Sasaki got to the ball first but was unable to control his clearance and it spun past Takuto Hayashi for an unfortunate own goal. 1-0 Cerezo at the break.

The goalscoring action in the second half was confined to the opening fifteen minutes. First, Cerezo went 2-0 up with Sanfrecce the architects of their own downfall. Following numerous chances to clear from their defensive third, the three arrows were dispossessed by Cerezo central midfielder Naoyuki Fujita about 30 metres out, his interception was picked up by Hiroshi Kiyotake who then put the onrushing Fujita through one on one and he made no mistake, slipping the ball under Hayashi for his first league goal for the club.

Sanfrecce were back in the match literally seconds later when some slack defending allowed Douglas Vieira, a half-time replacement for the ineffectual Ryo Nagai, a run on goal, and Croatian centre-back Matej Jonjic brought him down for a penalty. After a bout of Cerezo shenanigans (on an even bigger scale than prior to Ademilson’s PK in the Osaka derby) delayed the kick for a good couple of minutes, Vieira dusted himself down and put his shot slightly left of the middle to reduce the deficit to just one goal. Despite huffing and puffing, Sanfrecce were largely reduced to long range efforts at goal and Cerezo held out reasonably comfortably to take the 2-1 win.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-2 Cerezo Osaka
18 July 2020

Recent History

With the games coming thick and fast these days I only have time to look back at the two matches between these two from last year.

The away clash came in round 6 in early April and it was one all supporters of a Gamba persuasion would rather forget. Goals inside the first ten minutes from Yoshifumi Kashiwa and Kosei Shibasaki sent Sanfrecce on their way and confined Gamba to their fourth league defeat in the first six games, although it was their first loss on the road following earlier wins at Kawasaki and Shimizu. Hayao Kawabe added gloss to the scoreline with a third five minutes before time. 3-0 it finished.

Gamba were an altogether different beast come the return leg at the beginning of the Obon holiday. A bumper crowd of over 30,000 witnessed young Yuya Fukuda announce himself on the big stage with a fine display of attacking prowess from the left-wing back position. The Osaka side swarmed all over their visitors right from the off, but Hiroshima remained resolute and there were few clear openings in a goalless first half.

Sanfrecce had more attacks in the second period, but Gamba were still largely in the driving seat in a game which looked destined to finish 0-0. That all changed in the 89th minute when Kosuke Onose cut inside and unleashed a powerful drive from the edge of the area, a partially unsighted Keisuke Osako spilled the ball into the path of the advancing Shu Kurata and he made no mistake to send the blue and black support into raptures. Their joy was to be short-lived as in the second minute of additional time, Leandro Pereira, then a recent loan addition from Matsumoto Yamaga, rose to head Tsukasa Morishima’s cross past Higashiguchi and claim a point for the men in purple. A frustrating night for all Gamba fans as this would be the third of five consecutive league draws, and the second of three games in which the Nerrazzuri threw away late leads.

Tactical Notes

Gamba returned to using the three centre-back system for the home game against Oita and owing to that result as well as Sanfrecce and Trinita’s similar playing styles, I believe that is the formation Miyamoto will employ for this game. As noted above, Yosuke Ideguchi covered a lot of ground playing in a double volante with Yajima when defending but then being found on the right side of Gamba’s inverted midfield triangle going forward. As a result of his heavy workload on Saturday, it’s possible he’ll sit this one out.

The high press employed by Gamba’s attackers reaped dividends last time out but I’m a touch concerned about the toll it’s taking on Usami and Ademilson. They have been subbed off in almost every game, so I wonder if we will see Patric and/or Watanabe start this clash. Hiroki Fujiharu was another who got through a mountain of work in the last match, he sat out the previous midweek game with Nagoya, and his place could once again go to Yuya Fukuda, who is yet to show his best form since returning from injury.

Hiroshima generally set up in the same 3-4-2-1 as Oita, though they did tweak their system for the visit of Cerezo, playing in an almost identical structure to Gamba with an inverted midfield triangle. The experienced Toshihiro Aoyama, another not so popular figure in Suita, sat at the base with his regular volante partner Hayao Kawabe just ahead to the right and Tsukasa Morishima, who regularly provides great service for his tall attackers from the left wing, sitting a little deeper just to the left of Kawabe. Up front Leandro Pereira was partnered by former Matsumoto team-mate Ryo Nagai and this simply didn’t work with the latter replaced by Douglas Vieira at half-time. This leads me to Sanfrecce’s attacking conundrum, Pereira and Vieira are their best forwards, but they are too similar to each other for it to really click as a partnership, in my opinion. Both do their best work in and around the penalty area, and although Vieira is better than Pereira at general link up play, if you’re going to play someone just off Pereira, then that role would surely be better suited to the likes of Shunki Higashi or Gakuto Notsuda.

Defensively, Hiroshima’s back three is pretty sound with, Yuki Nogami, ex-Gamba Junior Youth Hayato Araki and Japanese international Sho Sasaki forming a settled line up that didn’t concede more than twice in a league match last season. Down the left flank is where the issues lie, the experienced Yoshifumi Kashiwa is missing for at least another month and his absence has been keenly felt. Yuya Asano, Kohei Shimizu and young Tomoya Fujii have all been tried there with varying degrees of success and it should be noted that Cerezo’s right winger Tatsuhiro Sakamoto had great joy throughout the ninety minutes last Saturday. Additionally, Ken Tokura, who tormented Gamba in the Osaka derby caused identical problems for the Hiroshima rearguard and this is something Patric may seek to emulate when he gets his chance.

To sum up, this match will likely be similar in style to Gamba’s game with Oita. Hiroshima will be content to sit in and soak up pressure while hoping to catch Gamba on the counter. Gamba on the other hand will aim to build on the attacking fluency they showed in the first hour against Oita, they’ll attack the flanks and hope that the high press will bring them a similar reward to Cerezo who used it to score their second goal against Sanfrecce at the weekend.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

There are no new injury concerns that I know of, meaning that once again Gen Shoji (ankle) is a doubt and Jun Ichimori (shoulder) is definitely out. Yuki Yamamoto got a start for the U23 side on Sunday and could feature after a few games as an unused sub. This will be Kosuke Onose’s 50th game for Gamba and also his 50th in J1, he has 11 goals to his name to date.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Influential left wing-back Yoshifumi Kashiwa (8 goals, 4 assists in 34 J1 games last year) is definitely out with a leg injury, he’s expected back sometime in August. Highly-rated young stopper Keisuke Osako has been on the bench for the past two games following his error against Oita, I’m assuming he’s fully fit and could return at any time. Defender Kazuki Kushibiki, midfielders Taishi and Hiroya Matsumoto and attacker Ezequiel have all been out of the squad in recent games, though as none are established starters I’m guessing this is simply down to non-selection as opposed to injury. Veteran Toshihiro Aoyama will make his 400th league appearance for Sanfrecce if selected, to date he’s played 363 J1 and 36 J2 games.

Know Your OpponentSanfrecce Hiroshima

A massive thanks to @ConDrei for his excellent in-depth look at Wednesday night’s opposition. If you haven’t already, please give him a follow on Twitter and also check out his Sanfrecce Hiroshima EN – unofficial – page @threearrowsSFC as well as his blog

It is year three of the Hiroshi “JFK” Jofuku era. The turnover came when Sanfrecce under triple champion manager Hajime Moriyasu narrowly avoided relegation at the end of 2017. The tactics of 3-4-2-1 has been connected to the club for most of the last decade, Introduced by Michael Petrovic, adapted by Hajime Moriyasu and basically used by Hiroshi Jofuku leaving almost no change to the look of Sanfrecce’s formation. The sole striker position was regularly taken up by star players up front (Douglas,
Hisato Sato or Peter Utaka) but, odd as it sounds, since Sanfrecce has one of the best defenses in the league the heart of the squad recently moved from CDM to COM. It was Toshihiro Aoyama and the Morisaki twins that built up the game in 2012 and 2013, flanked by Michael Mikic and Kohei Shimizu with Hisato Sato up front, in 2020 you have some great talent in the backfield behind the striker, while the CDM looks a little old and unsettled.

Just last week the 3-4-2-1 was abandoned for a 3-1-4-2 formation. As Jofuku seems to have moved his focus onto high pressing and a more attacking style of play. I will use the formation change momentum to build up my probable Starting XI:

GK – #1 Takuto Hayashi – Remember when Nishikawa left for Urawa and the then 31y/o Hayashi was brought back to his former club? That was 6 years ago. Hayashi had his best season in 2015, when he conceded only 30 goals keeping 14 clean sheets in the process. In 2018 he came close to that mark, but just a few more goals conceded were enough to cost Sanfrecce a fourth title. After that, Hayashi lost his place between the posts to youngster Keisuke Osako in the lead up to the 2019 season. The veteran was responsible for the opening goal for Thai side Chonburi United by mishandling a ball. This was followed by an (to me) unknown injury and the chance for Osako to not only impress with a shining smile but very athletic and fast reactions on the line that
Hayashi had naturally lost after all these years. With Osako looking a little less secure in his last outing, Hayashi had his chance. But basically you can expect Osako’s return in any given match day. So don’tbe surprised if the 20 year old keeper returns against Gamba.

RCB #2 Yuki Nogami – Nogami has grown more and more reliable for Sanfrecce’s three-piece defense since moving to Hiroshima in 2016. A pleasant surprise in the final matches of the 2016 season, Nogami transitioned into a trusted player when he was tasked with filling the boots of Tsukasa Shiotani, who left for UAE club Al-Ain. I would characterize him as a hard worker with some pace, who sometimes lacks a little strength in using his body.

CB #23 Hayato Araki – With Kazuhiko Chiba growing older the central defense position had to be filled by a new player. As Jofuku tends to give younger players a chance it was the time for Hayato Araki, a former Sanfrecce youth player, to show what he is capable of. While still studying at Kansai University, Araki was brought to the team in 2018 and
since then he has played his boots off in one of the strongest defenses in the J.League. He is one of those highly-rated prospects that you hope will stay with your club for a couple of years. He plays cleverly despite his young age and is always willing to throw himself in front of shots.

LCB #19 Sho Sasaki – The poster boy of Sanfrecce Hiroshima is the 30 year-old veteran. Coincidentally he played under Jofuku at Ventforet Kofu but joined Sanfrecce ahead of the manager. When Hajime Moriyasu took the helm at the Samurai Blue it was Sho Sasaki who was given the chance to present himself with the National Team. Rightfully? I am not sure as Sasaki is solid but not the best of those three in my opinion. On the last matchday he deflected a crossed ball into his own goal, that brought mischief to Jofuku’s match plan. I hope that he won’t dwell on his mistake as it is crucial to have a focused defense.

RW #44 Rhayner – The Brazilian is on loan from Tombonense and returned to Japan after previously winning J1 with Kawasaki Frontale in 2017. Aside from knowing that fact, I was not aware of him as a player but his first impressions with Sanfrecce were undoubtly great. While he sometimes appears to lack a little offensive agility, I admire his efforts to defend almost anywhere in front of the three backs.

DM #6 Toshihiro Aoyama – He is one of the players that has endured everything with Sanfrecce in the last 16 years. Aoyama joined Sanfrecce in 2004 from a High school in Tsuyama, Okayama. He is one of the toughest players in the squad and apart from his defensive talent, he is able to provide a lot of crucial assists while regularly building up attacks. He is now 34 though and has lost a bit of his freshness. But, as a captain he
is still a stronghold on the pitch. Especially for those younger players that Jofuku brings into the team.

OM #10 Tsukasa Morishima – One of the young players whose career has really taken off under Hiroshi Jofuku. The 23 year-old attacker had a dire season in 2017 when he was given his first chance, but in 2019 Morishima’s standing sky-rocketed in the squad, playing all but one match in the AFC Champions League and assisting 9 goals in 24 league appearances (while scoring 3 goals himself). He is definitely a player to watch if he plays on Wednesday.

OM #8 Hayao Kawabe – Long-time loanee to Jubilo Iwata, Kawabe returned to Sanfrecce in 2018 and became a regular starter in 2019. Despite only being 24 years of age, he often looks often like a more experienced player. He hasn’t yet shown the sharpness in front of goal that he had with Jubilo, but this may be due to helping out Aoyama in a more defensive lineup. Unfortunately he was responsible for the second goal, a well-worked counter attack by Cerezo, when he mishandled a high ball. But apart from minor flaws in judgement I’d say you really can see his talent. I hope he will be a key member in the rejuvenation of the squad.

LW #16 Kohei Shimizu – From a Gamba perspective probably the most infamous player on the squad. If I don’t make you aware of it now, probably you heard Mr. Alan “JSoccer” Gibson more than once rant about Shimizu’s character as he simulated a violent conduct by Gamba defender Jae-suk Oh in the J.League championship final first leg of December 2nd, 2015. Oh was sent off by the ref in the 86th minute while Sanfrecce scored twice in injury time . That deed excluded, I see Kohei Shimizu as a reliable backup for both wings who is currently deputising for Yoshifumi Kashiwa, who will miss a couple of weeks due to a calf injury. Shimizu is no regular starter and Kashiwa’s attacking talent has been heavily missed in recent Sanfrecce matches.

FW #9 Douglas Vieira – Since moving to Sanfrecce in 2019, Douglas Vieira, the
former Verdy striker has yet to shine on the pitch. In most years the central forward has been essential to Sanfrecce’s results. Most goals came from those central attackers. While Patric has been a force in aerial battles (despite lacking some skills with his feet in my opinion), Douglas Vieira does not have the physical strength to nail a ball up front. His headers are also not worth mentioning. That is why Vieira was mostly used as a false 9 in recent matches as he can regularly build up some speed to catch those high ball forward passes.  Overall he has been a a decent addition to the team, with the double FW formation installed Douglas Vieira has moved up front. So it is hard to say if this
style of play benefits him.

FW #39 Leandro Pereira – Pereira moved to Sanfrecce from relegated Matsumoto Yamaga on loan last summer. Another oddity in Japanese transfer history, Yamaga can now see that Leandro Pereira has decisively established himself as the No.1 striker in our team. He looks much more comfortable with the ball at his feet than Patric did at
Sanfrecce, yet he sometimes lacks a little patience and shoots from bad positions. Right now he is the most feared striker of the squad, but when the build-up is lacking in sharpness he rarely has the chance to score.

In hindsight you can recognise the tactical development Sanfrecce Hiroshima have undergone in the Hiroshi Jofuku era. After almost being relegated in 2017, Jofuku tried to improve the dire defensive situation which ultimately lead to the feared anti-climax Sanfrecce football in 2018 that just missed out on a fourth title in 7 years only by a second-to-none collapse at the end of their season. The defensive blackout was worsened by a missing strike force that neither Patric, Masato Kudo nor Besart Berisha could serve over a full season. In 2019 you saw a strong defense with the first improvements in the build up of the attack. Also young players were able to get on the pitch more regularly, which serves as a possible focus point to further build up a team
over the next years. 2020 started well and you can see Sanfrecce more willing to adapt and vary their style of play to match their opposition. Either by more pressing tactics against a much improved Cerezo side or as a counter attacking force against Vissel Kobe. Yet, the offensive strike force is the weak point of the squad. The recipe to throw in one (or now two) Brazilians to score goals is at least uninspiring, yet, as a result of minor
mistakes in the defense it’s possible that the whole team has been totally thrown off balance by a much more offensively oriented style than 2018.

Predicted Lineups


Match Prediction

Gamba come into this one on a three match unbeaten run while Hiroshima haven’t won in their previous three games….I’ve jinxed it right there, haven’t I? Needless to say this will be a tight game, most likely decided by levels of energy and rotation within each squad. Gamba haven’t kept a clean sheet this year while Hiroshima don’t concede many. I don’t see more than three goals in this encounter and I’ll actually settle on a close 1-1 draw.

sport Uncategorized

Oita Trinita Match Preview 18 July 2020

Gamba Osaka vs Oita Trinita
J1 2020 Round 5
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 18 July 19:00 (JST)

Round 5 of J1 2020 sees Gamba back in Osaka for the first of two home games in the space of five days. Oita Trinita are the visitors for the first J1 game in front of paying spectators in Suita this year. Hopefully this preview gives you all the information you’re looking for ahead of this intriguing clash.

Last Time Out

Super-sub Kazuma Watanabe was again the hero for Gamba away to Shimizu S-Pulse last Sunday as his beautiful 89th minute shot proved the difference between the two sides in a highly competitive encounter.

Head Coach Tsuneyasu Miyamoto kept personnel changes to a minimum with only the rested Hiroki Fujiharu and Shu Kurata coming back into the side for Yuya Fukuda and Yuji Ono, both of whom took up spots on the bench. However, the big alteration came tactically with Gamba reverting to a 4-4-2 system last used in April 2019 at home to Urawa.

S-Pulse put in what must be their strongest performance of the season with Carlinhos down the left, 18 year-old Yuito Suzuki through the middle and Shota Kaneko on the right caused Gamba’s defence real problems all night with their pace and movement. Shimizu got in behind a few times early doors and put fizzing crosses across Gamba’s six-yard box to no avail, they also had a few long range efforts, but nothing too damaging from a blue and black perspective.

At the other end of the field, it was Gamba who opened the scoring through a lovely team goal which was started by Kim Young-gwon inside his own half, the South Korean defender found Usami who played a lovely ball to the onrushing Fujiharu. Gamba’s left-back then attacked the box and centred for Ademilson who produced a lovely first touch pass into the path of Kosuke Onose who netted his first of the season low to Togo Umeda’s right. 1-0 Gamba at half time.

Gamba started the second half brightly, however, owing to some sloppiness in possession and strong S-Pulse forward play the Shizuoka side dominated from around the 50th-85th minutes. Their best chance came just before the hour mark when Kim Young-gwon was dispossessed following an ill-advised run out of defence, in the aftermath Carlinhos was denied by a great save from Higashiguchi, the ball then spun up for Shota Kaneko who was faced with placing his header past Ideguchi and Yajima on the line, a tough task, but somehow he managed to head the ball wide of the target.

Gamba couldn’t hold out forever and the equaliser inevitably came. A quickly taken free kick down the right by Yusuke Goto sent Keita Nakamura away and his pinpoint cross was met at the back post by the 191cm frame of Yugo Tatsuta. The centre-back bagged only the 2nd goal of his pro career with a powerful header.

At this point the momentum was all with S-Pulse and you would have banked on them going onto win the game. That’s not how things turned out as a mere four minutes later a Gamba attack down the left saw Ademilson put Fujiharu in behind the Shimizu defence, he cut the ball back for Watanabe who still had plenty to do, but the veteran ran past several defenders on the edge of the area before firing a delicious shot across Umeda and into the bottom corner. Full Time 2-1 Gamba, King Kazu the saviour once more.

Shimizu S-Pulse 1-2 Gamba Osaka
12 July 2020

My half time notes for Oita’s 1-1 home draw with Vissel Kobe read, “Kobe have the swagger of an Asian Champions League team, but they’d do well to remember they got there by winning a cup. They have no right to turn up at places like Oita against a team who got the same number of points as them last year, and just expect to win.”

This game was a real clash of styles as Vissel after getting what in boxing would be termed a flash knockdown through Kyogo Furuhashi’s superb volley inside the first twenty seconds then spent most of the remaining first 45 minutes being harassed by Oita’s high pressing system. It was therefore little surprise when the men from Kyushu drew level through Tomoki Iwata on 29 minutes. Iwata, the closest thing Trinita have to a star player, started the move by winning a duel just inside the Kobe half, deflecting the ball towards Tatsuya Tanaka whose brave header found centre-forward Kei Chinen who, with a beautifully weighted pass released Iwata past the despairing Leo Osaki, Oita’s number 29 then coolly finished low to Hiroki Iikura’s left.

In the second half Oita were largely content to soak up Kobe pressure and on the whole it worked as the men from Hyogo were unable to unlock the well organised Trinita backline, frequently being forced into hitting low percentage shots from outside the box. The final ten minutes and injury time, however, saw Vissel take advantage of a tiring Oita rearguard and youngsters, Yutaro Oda and Daiju Sasaki both had decent changes to win the game, but in the end this tactical chess match finished up a probably fair 1-1.

Oita Trinita 1-1 Vissel Kobe
11 July 2020

Recent History

Prior to last season, Gamba and Oita hadn’t met in J1 since 2009, as a result I’ll just focus this week’s history section on the two games from the 2019 campaign.

In April, Gamba earned their first home point of the year, at the fifth time of asking in a physical and somewhat scrappy game. Ado Onaiwu got a controversial opener for Trinita in the 25th minute, attacking Rei Matsumoto’s right wing cross with a high boot, his connection went straight at Gamba ‘keeper Masaaki Higashiguchi from point blank range, the ball then rebounded onto the forward’s arm and into the net. Despite Gamba protests, the goal stood and Oita took a one goal advantage into the break. After laying siege to the Trinita box for parts of the second period Gamba were finally rewarded in somewhat fortunate circumstances. 19 minutes from time some uncharacteristically poor Oita defending ended up with the ball falling to Yasuhito Endo on the edge of the box and his scuffed effort deflected off Trinita captain Yoshinori Suzuki past Shun Takagi and into the back of the net. Noriaki Fujimoto wasted a couple of injury time chances for Oita and ultimately both sides would have been reasonably happy to take a point.

The second clash of the season in round 31 last November saw Gamba come into the match in much better form than their hosts, so Oita’s 2-1 triumph may have come as a little bit of a surprise to some. The Nerrazzuri raced into an early lead through a beautifully crafted team goal started, like the opener against Shimizu last week, by Kim Young-gwon in his own half. Kim’s pass found Shinya Yajima who turned and played a lovely ball for Ademilson to run onto, the Brazilian then fed Usami who shot past Shun Takagi at his near post. Usami later hit the bar with a thunderous shot and Ademilson headed against the post when it seemed easier to score. Gamba were made to pay for their wastefulness as Trinita drew level six minutes before half time. A quickly taken free kick (there’s a theme here with comparisons to the S-Pulse game) was played to Ado Onaiwu who passed the ball wide to Tomoki Iwata storming down the right flank, his inch perfect cross was met by the toe of Kazushi Mitsuhira and the former Shonan and Kyoto man prodded the ball beyond Higashiguchi. Iwata was not finished with Gamba and 19 minutes into the second half he won the game, turning up unmarked at the back post to fire home Onaiwu’s flick on and earn three points for his side.

Tactical Notes

Due to the win against Shimizu last week I feel we’ll see Gamba once again use 4-4-2 against the more defensively minded Oita. My only concerns about the system are how well Fujiharu and Kurata (both 31) can cope with sustained opposition pressure. The duo were dynamite in days gone by, but Kurata in particular seems to have lost a yard of pace and may be better utilised in a more central, advanced role.

Yajima and Ideguchi were solid if unspectacular against S-Pulse and Miyamoto has a decision to make on whether or not to use Yasuhito Endo for this game. With the Sanfrecce encounter following so closely after it seems reasonable he’ll start one of these two to give either Yajima or Ideguchi a rest, and to me this match seems more likely. His range of passing will be needed to to thread the eye of the needle and unpick Oita’s defence, though how effective he will be against their dangerous counter attack remains to be seen.

Under the guidance of former Gamba player and assistant head-coach Tomohiro Katanosaka, now in his 5th season in charge, Oita are a well oiled machine who punch well above their weight in terms of resources. Katanosaka’s preferred formation is 3-4-2-1, though this quickly becomes 5-4-1 when the opposition are in possession. You could clearly see the benefits of continuity in management philosophy and player selection in Trinita’s game against Vissel Kobe. Each Oita player has a specific role and knows how to do it, the backline of five can be found in a straight line across the field making it hard to spring the offside trap, this contrasted with their opponents who constantly formed a staggered line across the back. Players only leave their defensive position to attack the ball in their zone and you can almost see the training drills these guys must do in order to perfect their actions on the field. Further up the park, the front three show that defence really does start from attack as they constantly harry their opposite numbers in a tactic I believe rugby aficionados call the rush defence.

I mentioned him above briefly, but Tomoki Iwata is Oita’s jewel in the crown, although officially a centre-back he can often be seen charging down the right like a wing-back while one of his central midfielders covers for him. This can bring great rewards as in the games against Kobe last week and Gamba in 2019, but it also presents a rare opportunity to get in behind Trinita’s defensive live.

In summary, this will be a tactical chess match, Gamba will probably look to win free kicks in dangerous positions and try to probe for weaknesses while Endo’s tactical passing and quick interchanges between the attackers will be crucial if they want to get shots on goal from decent areas. Oita, on the other hand, will be content to sit back and soak up pressure with the intent of countering Gamba swiftly. They will use their wide players to generate the majority of their attacks from deep while also aiming to win the ball back high up the field through applying pressure to Gamba’s defence.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Gen Shoji is once again a doubt and reserve goalkeeper Jun Ichimori will be back in a couple of months. Elsewhere there are no new injury concerns and if 4-4-2 is the formation of choice then the starting XI should look very similar to the one that lined up against S-Pulse. Kim Young-gwon will play his 100th J1 game if selected for this encounter (23 FC Tokyo, 40 Omiya Ardija and 36 games for Gamba to date).

Oita Trinita

Veteran wide-man Kaoru Takayama is out after foot surgery while Yuki Kagawa should be fit despite suffering a nasty cut to his head following a collision with So Fujitani’s boot in the game against Kobe. Elsewhere the picture is less clear, assist maker Kazuki Kozuka was one of Oita’s best players in 2019 so I’m assuming his continued absence is injury related. Off-season signing from Tokushima Vortis, Naoki Nomura as well as wide player Yuji Hoshi and central midfielder Kazuhiro Sato haven’t been seen in recent games and I’m not sure whether this is due to injury or non-selection.

Know Your Opponent Oita Trinita

Katanosaka’s Oita side has a definite formation and clear patterns in playing selection. They have two games in quick succession after this one, Nagoya at home and Shimizu away so we could see some rotation, but I’m banking on them putting out their strongest XI

GK – #1 Shun Takagi – After starting his professional career with Kawasaki Frontale, Takagi made the move to Kyushu in 2017 and has been first choice in each of the previous two campaigns, playing in every league game. He’s a solid option between the sticks and fancies himself as a bit of a sweeper keeper.

CB – #29 Tomoki Iwata – I’m a big fan of his as you can probably tell from above. The 23 year-old Oita native is a one club man so far, though how long he’ll remain at Trinita is up for debate. He made 2 appearances for an inexperienced Japan side in last year’s Copa America and if his career continues its current trajectory, he’s sure to add more caps in the coming years.

CB – #5 Yoshinori Suzuki © – Mr Oita, at 27 Suzuki is actually a bit younger than I thought he was. Incredibly he hasn’t missed a league game since 2015, although that run will surely end due to the crowded schedule this year. Trinita’s captain stayed with them through the dark days of J3 and is now reaping his rewards. Like Iwata, I’d be quite happy to see him in the blue and black of Gamba one day.

CB – #3 Yuto Misao – The older brother of Kashima’s Kento, he’s slowly re-established himself as a solid J1 player after a disappointing two-year spell with Antlers. He replaced Naoya Fukumori in the starting lineup early last year and built a strong partnership with Suzuki and Iwata. Similar to Iwata he likes to move forward a bit at times and have his central midfielders cover for him.

RWB – #7 Rei Matsumoto – Another long-term servant of the club, former Yokohama F.Marinos wide-man Matsumoto joined Oita in 2013 while they were still in J1 and has been on their roller coaster ride down the divisions and back up again. I expect him to start in the right-wing back position, but he’s equally adept on the opposite flank.

CM – #40 Yushi Hasegawa – A calm and composed figure in the middle of the park, Hasegawa is now in his second season as a professional after his move from Miyazaki Sangyo Keiei University (the same alma mater as his captain Suzuki). He impressed last year, making 19 appearances despite facing tough competition for a starting slot from Ryosuke Maeda, Thitipan and Toshio Shimakawa. This time around it seems the 23 year-old from Kagoshima has established himself as first-choice.

CM – #6 Yuki Kobayashi – Brought in midway through 2019 from Nagoya Grampus, the immensely experienced Kobayashi, who has 222 J1 appearances to his name adds solidity to the Trinita midfield. Not known for his goalscoring exploits, Kanagawa native Kobayashi who also counts Jubilo Iwata and Albirex Niigata among his former teams will be content to sit back and protect his backline.

LWB – #2 Yuki Kagawa – An off-season signing from fellow Kyushu outfit V-Varen Nagasaki, Kagawa has quickly nailed down a starting slot on the left-wing and already has two assists to his name in four J1 games. Assuming he overcomes a nasty looking cut to his head sustained against Kobe he’ll give Ryu Takao and Kosuke Onose a lot of problems on Saturday night.

AM – #16 Daiki Watari – After two goal ladden seasons with Tokushima in J2 where he netted 35 times in 83 games, Watari earned himself a move to Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2018. The goals didn’t quite flow there and he was never able to string a run of performances together. He’s looked lively since joining Oita, but is yet to contribute any goals or assists this year, that will need to change if he wants to keep his place ahead of Kazushi Mitsuhira.

AM – #11 Tatsuya Tanaka – Persona non grata in Panasonic Stadium after leaving Gamba for Oita just a few months after joining from Roasso Kumamoto last year. Life is short and a footballer’s career is even shorter so I have no grudge against him, in terms of playing minutes his move made a lot of sense. He’s currently operating just off the main striker but can also do a job on either wing, making him an ideal fit for Oita. He’s already netted twice in J1 in 2020 including a header against Tosu, not bad for a 172cm winger.

CF – #9 Kei Chinen – An exciting loan signing from Kawasaki Frontale last winter, Okinawan Chinen has a big chance to shine this season in a relatively low pressure environment. His assist for Iwata’s goal against Kobe was his first goalscoring contribution of the year, but his hold up play and lay offs are vital to the way Trinita play and Gamba’s defence will need to be on their toes to deal with the threat he poses.

Other Options – Oita have a pretty settled line-up, but as we know 2020 is unlike any other season so rotation is always likely. The three centre-backs above are clearly the first choice, but Ryosuke Tone, who played against Vissel, plus two close-season additions, Yuta Koide (Ventforet Kofu) and rookie Kento Haneda (Kansai University) can fill in where necessary. Further forward in central midfield, Toshio Shimakawa and Ryosuke Maeda are holding players who both got minutes last weekend. Kenta Inoue, currently on a designated special player contract ahead of a 2021 move from Fukuoka University, can play as a right wing-back or attacking midfielder. One player I almost picked in the starting XI but who’s definitely in contention is long-term Oita servant Kazushi Mitsuhira, he could play just off the central striker, as could ex-JEF United Chiba man, Yamato Machida, a diminutive and mercurial talent. Finally if Katanosaka opts to rest Chinen, Kohei Isa, another player who experienced the J3 campaign and recent addition Yuya Takazawa, second top scorer in J3 last year with 17 strikes for Gainare Tottori and scorer of a crucial goal against Hiroshima, could come in.

Predicted Lineups



Match Prediction

This will be a bit of a tactical tussle and it will be interesting to see what difference, if any, the introduction of supporters has on Gamba’s home performance. Oita may not be flashy but they do the small things well, Gamba will need to be patient in attack while being vigilant defensively. I’ll say that a tight match will end in a 1-1 draw.

sport Uncategorized

Shimizu S-Pulse Match Preview 12 July 2020

Shimizu S-Pulse vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 4
IAI Stadium Nihondaira
Sunday 12 July 18:00 (JST)

It’s round 4 of J1 2020 as Gamba travel to Shizuoka to take on Shimizu S-Pulse. It will be the first time since February that supporters, 5,000 of them, will be allowed inside the stadium. Hopefully this preview gives you all the information you’re looking for ahead of this intriguing clash.

Last Time Out

Gamba played out a scrappy 2-2 draw away at Nagoya Grampus on Wednesday night. The starting XI saw four changes from the Osaka derby, with Ryu Takao taking Shunya Suganuma’s place to give Genta Miura and Kim Young-gwon a fourth centre-back partner in four games. Veteran Yasuhito Endo was unsurprisingly rested and Shinya Yajima dropped back to the holding role with Yosuke Ideguchi and Yuji Ono lining up in more attacking positions, Ono replaced Shu Kurata, who like Endo started on the bench. The final change saw the fit-again Yuya Fukuda replace the rested Hiroki Fujiharu down the left-flank.

The result and scoring pattern followed the 2019 matchup between these two exactly. Gamba drew first blood in the sixth minute when Takashi Usami’s free-kick from the left was flicked onto his own crossbar by Yutaka Yoshida, the ball then broke loose in the penalty area, Takao attempted a shot which was blocked into the path of his captain Miura whose effort was also deflected this time over Mitch Langerak in the Grampus goal, off the underside of the bar and in.

Nagoya bounced back quickly and Miura undid a lot of his good work for the opener in the lead up to Grampus’ equaliser. A free-kick by Gabriel Xavier from a similar position to Usami’s saw Ademilson head the ball straight up in the air in his own six-yard box, it luckily broke for Miura to head away but he could only find the boot of Sho Inagaki who guided it to the tricky Mateus, he spun past Miura and fired home. Fifteen minutes later, gamba were caught cold just after the drinks break, a fine counter down the right saw Mateus centre for Mu Kanazaki whose deft back heel fed Gabriel Xavier, the wily Brazilian turned Takao and scored at the second attempt after Masaaki Higashiguchi’s fine initial save.

Grampus led 2-1 at half time and were content to sit back and soak up Gamba pressure in the second half while making occasional forays forward in the form of counter attacks. This strategy looked like it would pay dividends until the 92nd minute when Kim Young-gwon’s long diagonal ball found substitute Patric who headed down for fellow replacement Kazuma Watanabe, he took a touch on his chest before coolly placing his volley low beyond Langerak, Nagoya 2-2 Gamba.

Nagoya Grampus 2-2 Gamba Osaka
8 July 2020

Shimizu went down to their third straight loss of the year against Cerezo Osaka at Nagai Stadium in midweek. Although S-Pulse put up a decent fight the result was ultimately a quite comfortable 2-0 defeat. Yusuke Maruhashi, tormentor of Gamba in the derby, picked up his second assist of the week, as his driving run right at the heart of the Shimizu defence culminated in a pass to Hiroaki Okuno who beat the offside trap and fired the ball past young Togo Umeda in the 71st minute. It was just five minutes from full-time when the Cherry Blossoms wrapped things up, captain Hiroshi Kiyotake, who’d come on as a second half substitute played a lovely ball through to another replacement Yuta Toyokawa who arrived at the ball the same time as the onrushing Umeda, due to the slippery nature of the surface the ball squirmed out straight to the approaching Eiichi Katayama and he produced a neat finish to end the game as a contest.

Cerezo Osaka 2-0 Shimizu S-Pulse
8 July 2020

Recent History

There have been six J1 matches between these two since Shimizu won promotion back to the top flight in 2017, Gamba have won each of the past three, but S-Pulse were undefeated in the previous encounters.

2019 saw Gamba do the double over the men from Shizuoka, one of only two sides they achieved this against, the other being Shonan Bellmare. Week 2 of the season in early March was the first of the two games and Gamba ran out comfortable 4-2 winners at the Nihondaira Stadium. Keito Nakamura fired S-Pulse into an early lead which was then cancelled out by Kosuke Onose before the interval. An Ademilson strike and a Hwang Ui-jo brace all within the space of fifteen second-half minutes put Gamba on easy street meaning Yuta Taki’s very late consolation was in vain. The return match in Suita was far less eventful with Shinya Yajima’s low drive two minutes from time all that separated the sides.

One year earlier it was S-Pulse who ended the short reign of Levir Culpi as Gamba head-coach with Koya Kitagawa’s penalty and a thumping header from Douglas giving them a comfortable lead. Hwang Ui-jo gave the Nerrazzurri hope with a nice effort fifteen minutes from the end and Koki Yonekura really should have tied things up at the death but he sent his header wide and Culpi was jettisoned before the following match. A Tsuneyasu Miyamoto inspired Gamba then reversed that scoreline in game three of their incredible nine match winning run towards the end of of the 2018 campaign as Hwang’s first half double ensured the three points would head back to Kansai despite Kitagawa’s late effort giving Shimizu some hope.

Tactical Notes

In general Gamba looked better against Nagoya than versus Cerezo though a large part of that can be put down to the fact that Cerezo are a stronger unit than Grampus. Playing Shinya Yajima as opposed to Yasuhito Endo as the deepest midfielder offers better protection for the centre-backs, however this comes at the cost of losing out on Endo’s immense passing ability. Yajima and Yosuke Ideguchi combined well as a double volante when Grampus were in possession on Wednesday and the goals conceded were more a result of individual errors than team structure.

Going forward Gamba’s attack seemed a little lethargic at times, the high press and closing down was more effective than against Cerezo and this took a toll on Usami, Ademilson and Ono who were all hauled off just after the hour mark. In future games, starting with this one against S-Pulse I’d like to see a bit more invention and quick passing as opposed to what’s been seen in the previous two games where there has been an over-reliance on long passes and individual brilliance to create chances.

Shimizu are a fascinating case study, new head-coach Peter Cklamovski has set them up in exactly the same formation as his former Yokohama F.Marinos, 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 depending on your preference. The main flaw is that as yet he does not yet possess the quality of player to carry out the philosophy he’s trying to implement. Their back four is one of the weakest in the league and there are two many attacking players in the midfield for a team that is incapable of keeping possession for long periods. The only game of theirs I’ve watched in full was against Nagoya Grampus and they had particular problems down the left side of defence as Carlinhos Junior was playing as a winger but offered almost zero protection for left-back Ryo Okui and indeed both Nagoya goals came from his defensive zone. The fact that Shimizu have played three different players at left-back in three league games and none of them are naturals in that position will give Gamba a great deal of hope.

Gamba will look to press Shimizu’s shaky back line and force mistakes while also exploiting the lack of cover afforded to their wide defenders. In turn, S-Pulse will have seen the success Cerezo and Grampus have had at taking advantage of Gamba’s susceptibility to counter attacks and issues with dealing with decent balls into the box and take confidence from that.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Gen Shoji is still a doubt with an ankle problem that will need to be managed carefully while reserve goalie Jun Ichimori is out until September at the earliest. Captain Genta Miura was subbed late on against Nagoya as a precaution and could be rested for this one. Attacking midfielder Yuji Ono fractured a bone in his face in the Osaka derby but played without a mask in the Nagoya match so should be good to go. One piece of transfer news that was announced on Thursday, South Korean full-back Oh Jae-suk officially ended his eight year relationship with the club when he joined Nagoya Grampus.

Shimizu S-Pulse

S-Pulse don’t have their injury troubles to seek especially in the goalkeeping area where Brazilian first-choice Neto Volpi and the experienced Yohei Nishibe are both out while Takuo Okubo, a mid-2019 signing from Sagan Tosu is just back and has been on the bench in the previous two matches. Further forward, Hideki Ishige, a winger Cklamovski had been trying to convert to a full-back is out with a hamstring injury after knee trouble saw him miss most of 2019. Central midfielder Yosuke Kawai is another missing with a hamstring problem, I wonder if it’s got anything to do with the new training methods? The Brazilian duo of Elsinho and Renato Augusto haven’t played yet in 2020 after picking up injuries, as yet I’m unsure when either will return.

Know Your OpponentShimizu S-Pulse

Compared with Cerezo and Nagoya in the previous rounds, trying to guess who’ll start for S-Pulse on Sunday is much more of a lottery. Cklamovski is using this relegation free season to experiment with tactics and players and thus far I’ve only been able to identify four players who I believe are first choice core starters, Valdo, Takeuchi, Okazaki and Kaneko.

GK – #31 Togo Umeda – Soon-to-be 20 year-old who has been thrown in the deep end following Shimizu’s goalkeeping crisis and has done pretty well considering. At 184cm he’s a bit smaller than some of his rivals, but his continued inclusion in the starting line-up is the kind of thing Japanese football fans in general will surely be in favour of in this chaotic 2020 season.

RB – #15 Takashi Kanai – Rugged defender who can play anywhere along the back four if necessary. I’m honestly a little surprised to see him playing for S-Pulse as Ange Postecoglou deemed him surplus to requirements pretty quickly after arriving in Yokohama. Has a decent knack of scoring, with ten goals in his last two seasons, but he’s also something of a journeyman who’s now at his fifth different professional club.

CB – #5 Valdo – Brazilian centre-back who joined from Ceara last winter and has had a difficult start to life in Japan. After S-Pulse’s five goal drubbing by Kawasaki Frontale, I wondered if he was going to be another Wanderson, but he looks to have a bit more about him than last season’s flop. He is a decent threat from set pieces, though when defending he does seem to be around trouble rather often as shown in his own goal mix up with Togo Umeda against Nagoya.

CB – #3 Hwang Seok-ho – In my books he’s S-Pulse’s best centre-back and I’ve no idea why they broke up the successful partnership he had with Freire in 2018. That said, I’m not sure the ex-Hiroshima and Kashima man is really a Cklamovski type of player and I can see him heading for fresh pastures in the not too distant future.

LB – #21 Ryo Okui – Another off-season capture, this time from Omiya Ardija in J2. Former Gamba Junior Youth player Okui is more often found at right-back, but may be forced to play on the left due to injuries.

DM – #24 Makoto Okazaki – Highly rated youngster on-loan from FC Tokyo and converted into a holding midfielder by his new Australian coach. He’s performed reasonably well in trying circumstances so far. It’ll be interesting to see if he moves back to centre-back when the likes of Renato Augusto and Yosuke Kawai regain full fitness.

DM – #6 Ryo Takeuchi © – The vastly experienced Takeuchi has been a safe pair of hands in the S-Pulse midfield for a number of years now and the Shizuoka native is seen as a central figure in the Cklamovski revolution. One of the few Shimizu players who can be confident of his place at the moment.

RW – #30 Shota Kaneko – One of the S-Pulse players I enjoy watching most, he got a nice goal against Nagoya and offers more defensively than his competitors for this position. His output was considerably down last season with just one goal and five assists compared to the excellent year he had in 2018 when he produced an outstanding ten goals and seven assists.

AM – #14 Yusuke Goto – Nuggety little player brought in from Oita Trinita last winter after not really getting the amount of opportunities his talent may have warranted in Kyushu in 2019. He can either play as a central striker or just off the front and will be effective in either role even if he doesn’t bring the same goal scoring threat Douglas did last campaign.

LW – #16 Kenta Nishizawa – The great hope in this Shimizu squad, he enjoyed a breakout 2019 in his first year as a pro after joining from Tsukuba University. He contributed seven goals and three assists in just twenty three J1 games and will be thirsty for more this year in the face of stiffer competition for a starting spot.

CF – #23 Teerasil Dangda – Thai international who is yet another recent recruit, this time from Muangthong United in his homeland. He has one year of J1 experience where he netted six times in thirty two matches for Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2018, but despite scoring a fine goal against FC Tokyo in round one of this campaign he faces an uphill task to match the feats of the now departed Douglas.

Other options – If Shimizu are not happy with how Umeda is performing they do now have the option of replacing him with fit-again Takuo Okubo while in defence Yugo Tatsuta, a youngster who had a decent 2018 as a right-back but has never really done as well in his more favoured centre-back role is definitely in contention for a start. Mitsunari Musaka, more commonly a central midfielder played at left back against Cerezo and could feature again while another player to find himself in a new role this year, Keita Nakamura is a central midfield option as are two loan returnees, Kota Miyamoto and Yasufumi Nishimura. In attack a lot of players have been rotated in recent games so it’s highly possible we could see former Funabashi Municipal High School attacking midfielder Yuito Suzuki, Brazilian wingers Junior Dutra and Carlinhos Junior or even the veteran North Korean forward Chong Tese make a starting appearance.

Predicted Lineups

undefined undefined


Match Prediction

Gamba have failed to really spark in their two post lockdown games, but this match against what must be considered one of the four weakest teams in J1 at the moment surely offers up a great chance to get three points. As I said on the J-Talk Pod a few weeks back, playing S-Pulse early on is definitely to our advantage as they’ll surely improve under Cklamovski as the season progresses. I’ll go for a tight 2-1 Gamba win.

sport Uncategorized

Nagoya Grampus Match Preview 8 July 2020

Nagoya Grampus vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 3
Toyota Stadium
Wednesday 8 July 19:30 (JST)

It’s the first midweek round of J1 2020 as Gamba make the short trip east to Aichi to face old nemesis Nagoya Grampus. Hopefully this preview gives you all the information you’re looking for ahead of this clash between two of Japan’s traditional heavyweights.

Last Time Out

Gamba succumbed to a tame 2-1 home loss in the Osaka derby against Cerezo last Saturday. The Cherry Blossoms had the better of the first 45 minutes and eventually took the lead in the 2nd minute of additional time at the end of the half as Hiroaki Okuno turned in left-back Yusuke Maruhashi’s cut back. Shooting towards the traditional home end at Panasonic Stadium, Gamba started the second period brighter, but they were stunned by Maruhashi’s thunderbolt from well outside the box and from there it was always going to be a tough ask to take anything from the game. Yasuki Kimoto’s deliberate handball gave the Nerrazzuri a glimmer of hope as it allowed a cool Ademilson to pull one goal back from the penalty spot. However, after that the game rather petered out and Gamba can’t really have any complaints about taking nothing from the clash.

Gamba Osaka 1-2 Cerezo Osaka
4 July 2020

Nagoya were also involved in a 2-1 away win, though in their case they were the beneficiaries, coming from behind to down Shimizu S-Pulse in wet and windy conditions in Shizuoka. An error in midfield by Brazilian Joao Schmidt was seized upon by Yusuke Goto, he then teed up right winger Shota Kaneko whose well executed shot gave S-Pulse an early lead. Grampus, however, were in front by half-time, Joao Schmidt brought out a wonderful double save from debutant ‘keeper Togo Umeda before Yuki Soma fired home from close range to level things up. Eight minutes later, a powerful run down the right by Naoki Maeda resulted in a cross that Brazilian centre-back Valdo turned into his own net. There were no further goals in the second half, though Nagoya did see young right-back Shumpei Naruse stretchered off with a leg injury and then winger Yuki Soma ruined his impressive display in the final minute of additional time by picking up a second yellow card.

Shimizu S-Pulse 1-2 Nagoya Grampus
4 July 2020

Recent History

These two have played each other four times in the league since Nagoya returned to J1 in 2018, the men from Aichi have won three of these clashes 3-2 with the other match ending in a 2-2 draw. It should also be noted that Gamba and Grampus have faced off in the early rounds in each of the past two campaigns (both at Panasonic Stadium), round 1 in 2018 where strikes from the Brazilian trio of Gabriel Xavier, Rocha and Jo saw Nagoya get their return to J1 off to a flier by cancelling out efforts by Yasuhito Endo and Shun Nagasawa, and in round 3 of 2019 where a late own goal by Hiroki Fujiharu saw the men in red eventually take the three points after being pegged back twice.

In games played at Toyota Stadium, Tsuneyasu Miyamoto tasted defeat for the first time as Gamba head-coach in the third match of his reign back in August 2018. A dramatic encounter started with Gamba racing into a two-goal lead thanks to an Ademilson penalty and a Jungo Fujimoto effort, but they were denied thanks to a brilliant 23 minute second-half hat-trick by Jo. Last year saw Gamba take their first point off Grampus since the latter returned from a one year sabbatical in J2, Takashi Usami netted his first goal in his third spell in Suita in the 91st minute after Naoki Maeda and Kazuya Miyahara had erased the damage done by Ademilson’s fine early effort.

Tactical Notes

Defensively Nagoya are set up exactly the same way as Cerezo with a flat back four being protected by two holding midfielders. In attack things are slightly different with three attacking midfielders supporting a lone striker. One key point is that the front four of Nagoya this season has been made up exclusively of players who’ve spent the bulk of their playing careers as wide midfielders. Loan returnees Mateus and Yuki Soma have lined up on the right and left-flanks respectively, though they can switch when necessary while Naoki Maeda has played as a centre-forward supported by ex-Gamba winger Hiroyuki Abe.

The majority of Grampus’ dangerous chances against S-Pulse were created from the wings, both of their goals were the result of crosses from the right and I’ve marked down Brazilian speedster Mateus as the man Gamba really must stop on Wednesday night. Gamba were vulnerable up the middle and against the counter attack against Cerezo, but I feel they can cope better with Nagoya’s attack if it is concentrated in wide areas. One option for the Toyota men is to bring in the tall Ryogo Yamasaki to see if he can cause the same types of problems for the Gamba rearguard that Ken Tokura did last week, though in reality I think we are more likely to see Mu Kanazaki play up top supported by Maeda, Abe and Mateus with Soma suspended.

Gamba’s inability to properly protect their centre-backs was exposed at times by Cerezo last weekend and it’ll be interesting to see what changes, if any, Miyamoto makes for this game. I’m of the mind that it’s the structure of the side rather than the personnel that is holding them back. Playing the more physical Patric ahead of Ademilson could be a tactic that is employed for this one, it’s also possible that Ideguchi and Yamamoto will form a double Volante as they did in the closing minutes of the derby with Shu Kurata playing just ahead of them. Nagoya could be vulnerable at the full-back position so we may see the fit-again Yuya Fukuda, fresh from a cameo against Cerezo U-23 in J3 play down the left side.

Team News

Gamba Osaka
Attacking midfielder Yuji Ono fractured a bone in his face against Cerezo and is out, Gen Shoji is still highly doubtful with a foot / ankle problem while backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori (dislocated shoulder) is due back in September at the earliest. As noted above, Yuya Fukuda is fully fit again and could feature, also with two away games coming up in close succession we may see some more youngsters get a chance, Keisuke Kurokawa got 45 minutes at left wing-back against Cerezo U-23 and Ren Shibamoto (highly touted by me on the J-Talk Pod a few weeks back) seems to have been promoted to the top team. There has been no word on Ryo Shinzato or Oh Jae-suk (linked with a move to FC Seoul), neither of them made the bench against Cerezo while Yasuhito Endo is unlikely to start as a result of the packed schedule.

Nagoya Grampus

The much maligned attacking midfielder Aria Jasuru Hasegawa is a long-term injury for Grampus. Shumpei Naruse hurt his leg last week and it’s unknown how long he’ll be out while fellow right-back Kazuya Miyahara, Nagoya’s first choice for the past 3 seasons hasn’t featured at all in 2020 though I’m not sure if that’s down to injury or Italian coach Massimo Ficcadenti not rating him. Dangerous wide-man Yuki Soma misses out through suspension after his red-card against S-Pulse and versatile midfielder Ryota Aoki is being eased back to full fitness after missing the entire 2019 campaign.

Know Your OpponentNagoya Grampus

GK – #1 Mitch Langerak – 8-times capped Australian stopper who has been Grampus’ first choice since joining from Levante in Spain ahead of the 2018 season. The 193cm giant overcame a bout of asymptomatic COVID-19 to take his place between the sticks against Shimizu last Saturday and put in a commanding display. He’s one of the best in J1 and judging by his appearance on the recent JLeague Interview series, he’s a thoroughly decent bloke too.

RB – #23 Yutaka Yoshida – More normally a left-back, the short but bullish Yoshida may have to play on the right in this game to cover injuries. He was given a torrid afternoon in a 3-0 Gamba win at home to Tosu back in 2018 and the Nerrazzuri may target the former Kofu and Shimizu man on Wednesday.

CB – #4 Shinnosuke Nakatani – Kashiwa Reysol youth product whose reputation has declined a bit owing to playing in a team known for the odd case of shoddy defending since he moved to Nagoya from Chiba in mid-2018. He’s scored once in 53 J1 games for Grampus.

CB – #3 Yuichi Maruyama © – Highly experienced club captain who was brought on board along with Nakatani in Grampus’ mid-2018 spending spree which saw them just avoid an immediate return to J2. The ex-FC Tokyo and twice capped Japanese international should provide a calming influence at the back.

LB – #14 Yosuke Akiyama – After spending the second half of last year loaned out to Jubilo Iwata, Akiyama seems to be back in favour again under Ficcadenti. He replaced the injured Naruse against S-Pulse and didn’t let anyone down in his 16 minutes on the field.

DM – #15 Sho Inagaki – His signing from Sanfrecce Hiroshima last winter may not have gained too many column inches, but getting in a holding midfielder who’d scored 7 times in 57 appearances playing for a much stronger team in the previous two years represents something of a coup for Nagoya. He will provide protection for his centre-backs while also being a danger with his long range efforts when given the chance.

DM – #8 Joao Schmidt – Definitely one of Grampus’ better players during a tough 2019 season, I’m still not sure how much Ficcadenti rates him and wonder if it’s he or Takuji Yonemoto who’ll win out in the battle to partner Inagaki. He had his pocket picked by Shimizu’s Yusuke Goto in the lead up to their solitary goal on Saturday, but atoned for his error by stretching S-Pulse ‘keeper Togo Umeda twice with powerful headers before Yuki Soma’s equaliser. The left-footer was later replaced by Yonemoto on the hour mark.

RW – #16 Mateus – Back in Aichi after a highly successful loan spell at Yokohama F.Marinos last year (why he was loaned out in the first place is another question), the one-time Omiya winger is full of confidence and represents Nagoya’s greatest threat in this clash. His pace is a real asset and it was his cross from the right which eventually led to Grampus’ first goal against S-Pulse

AM – #11 Hiroyuki Abe – Another winter capture, Abe is a three-time J1 winner, of course with Gamba back in 2014 and also with Kawasaki in 2017 and 2018. During his time in Osaka I never felt he was technically as good as his positional rivals Shu Kurata and Kotaro Omori, however, he does have a real knack of finding the back of the net, scoring 39 times in 187 J1 games to date.

LW – #25 Naoki Maeda – I watched him a lot when he played for Yokohama F.Marinos and always thought he offered much more in the way of style over substance. He’s certainly proved me wrong since his mid-2018 move from Matsumoto Yamaga, bagging 16 goals in 49 J1 games. He’s assumed the unfamiliar role of centre-forward due to the departure of Jo, and Kanazaki’s illness, but I’d expect him to revert to his more natural attacking midfield position from now on.

CF – #44 Mu Kanazaki – After leaving cash-strapped Tosu in a loan moved designed to get him off the wage bill back in March, former international Kanazaki found himself hospitalised with COVID-19. He now appears to have made a full recovery as evidenced by his 30 minute appearance in Shizuoka and should provide a decent alternative to Maeda up front.

Other options – Grampus have given us a good idea of who their core starters will be this year with consistent selection in all three matches to date, that said, the 2020 J1 schedule is a gruelling one and we can expect some rotation to take place. Kazuya Miyahara and Kosuke Ota are both options at right-back, though neither has featured at all this year, it’s unclear whether this is due to injury or not. Experienced former FC Tokyo defensive midfielder Takuji Yonemoto started ahead of Joao Schmidt against Kashima and Sendai in February and could come back in for this match. Further forward, mercurial Brazilian Gabriel Xavier doesn’t appear to be flavour of the month with Ficcadenti, but could be a decent bench option while the powerful Ryogo Yamasaki brings a physical presence to the attack, even if his J1 stats don’t quite match his J2 ones.

Predicted Line Ups



Match Prediction

It’s difficult to know how much player rotation will take place in these early rounds of J1 2020 so I’ll base my prediction on recent history. Gamba have struggled for form early on in previous campaigns and have tended to catch Nagoya at the worst possible time, both teams of course being known for extreme spells of good and bad form. This year’s away game will a close fought encounter which I’m sorry to say I think will see the home side end up as 2-1 winners.

sport Uncategorized

Osaka Derby Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Cerezo Osaka
J1 2020 Round 2
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 4 July 18:00 (JST)

Gamba recommence their 2020 J1 campaign against city rivals Cerezo a full 132 days since they last took the field competitively, away to Yokohama F.Marinos. The Nerazzurri of course famously upstaged the defending champion Marinos 2-1 on that occasion with a goal and an assist each for attacking midfield duo, Shu Kurata and Shinya Yajima.

Yokohama F.Marinos 1-2 Gamba Osaka
23 February 2020

A day earlier at Nagai Stadium, Cerezo ground out a 1-0 win over a determined Oita side. It was the kind of gritty, unspectacular but ultimately successful performance that they have become known for under pragmatic Spanish head-coach Miguel Angel Lotina.

Cerezo Osaka 1-0 Oita Trinita
22 February 2020


There have been 18 league fixtures played between these sides on Gamba’s turf, both the first meeting back in 1995 and the latest last May finished 1-0 to the home side. Cerezo have an extremely poor record in away league derby matches with their last win being a 2-0 triumph way back in 2003. A lot has changed since then and at present the overall standings have Gamba way ahead with 14 wins, Cerezo have 3 and there’s been 1 draw, 2-2 back in 2012. That solitary point against a Gamba side which would go on to be relegated is the only time in the previous 9 encounters in Suita that Cerezo haven’t left empty handed.

The 2018 and 2019 clashes provide potential clues to what we will see in this game. The scoreline in both was 1-0 to Gamba, Hwang Ui-jo’s penalty kick settling things in 2018 and Shu Kurata’s fine strike at the end of a wonderful team move proving to be decisive last year.

Gamba 1-0 Cerezo
18 May 2019
Gamba 1-0 Cerezo
21 April 2018

Team News

Gamba Osaka

In the 4 month break, Kim Young-gwon went down with a dislocated shoulder and Takashi Usami suffered a relatively innocuous leg muscle injury, however, both players appear to be ready to go now. The enforced gap between matches has allowed last season’s top scorer Ademilson (10 goals, 8 assists in 32 appearances) to regain full fitness, however, winter signing from Toulouse, Gen Shoji, has a minor foot injury and seems set to miss out with an eye on the coming fixture deluge. Elsewhere, backup goalkeeper Jun Ichimori, another off-season recruit from Fagiano Okayama, also dislocated his left shoulder and is expected back in September, former Tosu stopper Kei Ishikawa should take his place on the bench.

Gamba Player To Watch

Yasuhito Endo
Mr Gamba is all set to break the J1 appearance record he currently holds with his former national team colleague, Seigo Narazaki (631 games) and where better to do it than in a derby. The now 40-year old playmaker was in imperious form as Gamba upset Yokohama F.Marinos in their own back yard in February and although the epic nature of this season’s fixture list means that veterans like Yatto are likely to play less, I’m confident he’ll start this one. How he and central midfield partner Yosuke Ideguchi fare against their more defence minded opponents will sure have a massive effect on the final scoreline.

Cerezo Osaka

Cerezo had the best defence in J1 last season, conceding a mere 25 goals in 34 games (by contrast Gamba let in 48), and they also tied with Kashima Antlers for the most clean sheets in the league (15). As such they line up in a defensively oriented 4-4-2 formation.

Goalkeeper – #21 Kim Jin-hyeon – A one club man, the 192cm South Korean stopper has been Cerezo’s first choice between the sticks almost exclusively since making his debut back in 2009. He’s definitely one of the best in J1 and will provide a formidable obstacle for Gamba to pass on Saturday night.

Right-back – #2 Riku Matsuda – Solid, but unspectacular full back who has owned his position on the right side of the defence basically unchallenged since joining from FC Tokyo in 2016. He helped Cerezo win promotion back to J1 in his first season and has since made 94 appearances in the top league.

Left-back – #14 Yusuke Maruhashi – A player who really caught my eye the first time I took in a JLeague game live (Cerezo 2-2 Urawa back in 2013), age and the more defensive approach of Coach Lotina have seen him curb his attacking instincts somewhat in recent years. With that said, Maruhashi, a fine crosser of the ball and decent penalty taker has helped himself to 9 goals and 17 assists across the past 3 years in J1.

Centre-back – #22 Matej Jonjic – The Croatian has been a colossus at the back for Cerezo since moving from Incheon United back in 2017. Please read his interview in the latest edition of JSoccer Magazine (if you haven’t already), and you’ll see that he is one of the main reasons why Cerezo have been so hard to break down in recent seasons.

Centre-back – #15 Ayumu Seko – There are high hopes for Seko around Nagai Stadium and the 20 year-old looks like he could be the latest Europe-bound player off their famous production line. After initially cutting his teeth with the U-23 side in J3 he began to play semi-regularly last year and now appears to have won the battle to partner Jonjic at the heart of the defence.

Centre-midfield – #6 Leandro Desabato – Argentine holding midfielder who is very much a Lotina type player. He featured 18 times in J1 last time out and although I’m sure neutral fans would much prefer to see the enigmatic, now-departed Souza in the Cerezo engine room, Desabato appears to tick all the boxes his Spanish coach wants.

Centre-midfield – #3 Yasuki Kimoto – Having spent most of his senior career as a centre-back, the development of Seko appears to have hastened his switch from part-time defensive midfielder into a full-time role. Honestly, Kimoto and Desabato are not my idea of a dream central-midfield partnership, but defence is a team game and having these two protecting the back four will surely be one of the main reasons why Cerezo maintain their strong defensive record this year.

Right-wing – #17 Tatsuhiro Sakamoto – The off-season capture from Montedio Yamagata is one of the players I’m most looking forward to seeing for the Cherry Blossoms this campaign (obviously I hope he does nothing in this game!) He’s taken over from Kota Mizanuma, who took his 7 goals and 2 assists with him to Yokohama F.Marinos, however Sakamoto showed last year in J2 that he knows where the back of the net is, scoring 7 times and bagging 3 assists. He’s shown up well in his couple of outings earlier this year and should be a decent option down the right flank.

Left-wing – #10 Hiroshi Kiyotake – Cerezo’s danger man, I was under the impression that recently he’d been injured more than he actually had, he made 27 appearances in J1 last year, though his output was definitely down on previous years, only 1 goal and 3 assists. Despite that, he is a highly experienced technician who knows how to unlock defences and will need to be keenly watched on Saturday night.

Centre-forward – #20 Bruno Mendes – Physical Brazilian striker who is now into the second year of a loan-spell. He clearly did enough to impress his coaching staff last year, his hold up play and physical strength are his strong points, though I’m sure he’d love to improve on his scoring stats from 2019 when he netted 6 times in 24 J1 games.

Centre-forward – #25 Hiroaki Okuno – Having previously been more of an attacking midfielder, Okuno found a home as a centre-forward after moving to Osaka from Vegalta Sendai last season. He tied with Kota Mizanuma as Cerezo’s top scorer on 7 goals and this included a beautiful volley in the one live Cerezo game I took in (1-2 vs Tosu in August). He is a tricky player who compliments his more aggressive attacking partner well.

Other Options – Cerezo have one of the biggest squads in J1 this year, though how much depth they have is up for debate. One option to change things up would be to bench Seko, drop Kimoto in alongside Jonjic and play either the experienced Naoyuki Fujita or new Brazilian signing Lucas Mineiro next to Leandro Desabato. Club legend Yoichiro Kakitani is an option on the wing or in attack, even if his 2013 scoring days are long since departed. Daisuke Takagi’s older brother Toshiyuki is another option, although Lotina doesn’t seem to fancy him much and he had a recent injury. Ken Tokura is now back after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a knee injury, and he along with ex FC Ryukyu hitman, Koji Suzuki and winter arrival from Eupen in Belgium, Yuta Toyokawa, provide decent goal-scoring options from the bench. A final mention for 18 year-old attacking midfielder Jun Nishikawa, who turned pro this year and should see a decent amount of game time as the season progresses.

Predicted Line Ups

undefined undefined


Match Prediction

Derbies are notoriously tough to call, and this one especially so with the COVID-19 enforced break and the absence of any supporters. To say this will be a tight and cagey affair isn’t really pushing the boat out too far, but that’s how things will likely go. I’ll back Gamba to breach the Cerezo rearguard but the points will be shared in a rather tame 1-1 draw.


sport Uncategorized

J1 Recap June 2020

With the JLeague’s return almost upon us, I thought now would be a good time to take a refresher course on what’s been happening at each club over the previous few months.

Back in February I published a 2-part J1 preview, this article is intended to be a companion to that, so I’d like to take this chance to point you in the direction of those 2 previews (my most popular articles to date) if you’re in search of more reading material.

*All clubs are listed in the order they finished the 2019 season.

Yokohama F.Marinos

2019: 1st
Kantoku: Ange Postecoglou (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Marinos averaged exactly 2 goals per game in J1 last year (68 goals in 34 games)

Last season’s champions enjoyed a mixed start to 2020, recording impressive wins away to Jeonbuk (2-1) and home to Sydney FC (4-0) in the Asian Champions League. Domestically things weren’t so bright as they lost to Kobe in an infamously bad penalty shoot-out in the Super Cup before being beaten 2-1 on their own patch by Gamba in the first round of J1.

Squad Update:
Former captain Jun Amano (28 years old) has returned from a year-long loan at Belgian side Sporting Lokeren. Amano, with over 100 games already under his belt for Marinos will be re-united with Lokeren team-mate, former Renofa Yamaguchi and Kashiwa Reysol full-back, Ryota Koike, who has joined the champions on a permanent basis. Experienced Avispa Fukuoka centre-back Yuki Saneto has also moved east to Kanagawa to provide cover for the injured Thiago Martins. Youth team forward Takumi Tsukui has been promoted to the top team, while Kokoku High School trio, Shunsuke Hirai (DF), Ryunosuke Kabayama (MF) and Tomoki Tagawa (GK), have been registered on designated special player contracts ahead of full-time moves in 2021.
Despite ‘keeper Park Il-gyu being ruled out for the first 2 months of the re-start, the current squad looks stronger than last year and with no ACL return on the immediate horizon they should be there or thereabouts come the end of season.

Week 1:
vs Gamba Osaka (h) 1-2

FC Tokyo

2019: 2nd
Kantoku: Kenta Hasegawa (3rd year)
Quick Stat: FC Tokyo’s average attendance of 31,540 in 2019 was the highest in the club’s history.

Kenta Hasegawa’s men kicked off their year with a 2-0 triumph over Ceres from the Philippines in torrential rain to earn a spot in the Asian Champions League group stage. They backed that up with an impressive 1-1 draw at Ulsan before edging out Perth Glory 1-0 at home. Then, the newly formed Brazilian front trio of Diego Oliveira, Leandro and Adailton all scored late on to inspire them to a 3-1 win at Shimizu S-Pulse in round 1 of J1 2020.

Squad Update:
Korean winger Na Sang-ho’s loan departure for Seongnam FC in his homeland is the biggest piece of transfer news to come out of Ajinomoto Stadium during the break. The highly-touted 23 year-old had struggled to make an impression since his move from Gwangju at the beginning of last season so this wasn’t a major shock.
The other major story to report is that the club have scrapped their J3 Under-23 side citing a lack of available stadia, this meant that their one lockdown signing, 20 year-old Thai midfielder Chayathorn Tapsuvanavon, who joined on loan from Bangkok United at the start of March, returned to Thailand in late June having seen no competitive action.

Week 1:
vs Shimizu S-Pulse (a) 3-1

Kashima Antlers

2019: 3rd
Kantoku: Zago (new)
Quick Stat: Kashima are the most successful team in J1 history with 8 league titles.

After losing in the final of the Emperor’s Cup to Vissel Kobe on January 1st, perennial Japanese giants Kashima then replaced outgoing coach Go Oiwa with Brazilian Zago and made a host of new signings. The bedding in period was not smooth and the men from Ibaraki found themselves surprisingly eliminated in the Asian Champions League qualifiers just 4 weeks later, losing 1-0 at home to Melbourne Victory. They followed this up with 2 more defeats, 1-0 away to Nagoya in the Levain Cup and 3-0 at Sanfrecce Hiroshima in round 1 of J1. 3 games, 3 defeats, 0 goals scored, it was a nightmare start for Zago. Everyone at the Kashima Soccer Stadium will be hoping that the enforced shutdown has given him precious time to get his message across.

Squad Update:
Perhaps unsurprisingly given that 11 of their 31 squad members are new recruits for 2020, there have been no additional signings during the lockdown. The loss of Brazilian marksman Serginho to the Chinese second division (wonder if he’s having any regrets now) was a bitter blow for Kashima and how well his countrymen, Juan Alano (Internacional) and Everaldo (Queretaro, Mexico) settle in will be of utmost importance. Defender Bueno, who I suggested could be a weak link at the back in my February preview, has been loaned to Atletico Mineiro in his homeland.
With an eye on the future, Antlers announced in this month that Meiji University duo, Tomoki Hayakawa (GK) and Keigo Tsunemoto (DF) as well as Osaka Taiiku University defender Naoki Hayashi will join the club from next year.

Week 1:
vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima (a) 0-3

Kawasaki Frontale

2019: 4th
Kantoku: Toru Oniki (4th year)
Quick Stat: Kawasaki had the best away record in J1 last year, taking 36 points from 17 games.

Champions in 2017 and 2018, Kawasaki endured an indifferent 2019, missing out on Asian Champions League qualification, but managing to lift the Levain Cup following a penalty shoot-out win over Sapporo. This year promises to see a changing of the guard with a more youthful looking squad attempting to regain the Kanagawa bragging rights from neighbouring Yokohama F.Marinos. They kicked off 2020 with a bang, thumping S-Pulse 5-1 at Todoroki Stadium in the League Cup, but dropped the baton the following week in their League opener, drawing 0-0 at home to a Sagan Tosu side predicted by many to finish bottom of J1.

Squad Update:
Their only transfer of the lockdown was to sell backup ‘keeper Hiroki Mawatari to Fagiano Okayama, which brings them down to a more respectable 4 senior goalkeepers in their squad, while Kento Tachibanada a midfielder from Toin Yokohama University (my old workplace) was announced as a signing for next season. Elsewhere, the break will presumably have given new university recruits, Zain Issaka (another of the Toin OB network that also includes Miki Yamane), Kaoru Mitoma (Tsukuba), Kaito Kamiya (Tokai Gakuen) and Reo Hatate (Juntendo) time to adjust to life as a pro, Frontale supporters will be hoping these guys will form the backbone of the side for the coming years.

Week 1:
vs Sagan Tosu (h) 0-0

Cerezo Osaka

2019: 5th
Kantoku: Miguel Angel Lotina (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Cerezo had the best defensive record in J1 in 2019, conceding a mere 25 in 34 games (0.7 per game), they were also tied with Kashima for most clean sheets kept (15).

Under the tutelage of wily head-coach Miguel Angel Lotina, Cerezo played an often quite dull but extremely effective brand of football last time out. Built on a rock-solid defence which conceded just 25 goals, they were able to achieve the 6th top 5 finish in their history. All the main protagonists in last season’s defensive masterclass are still in place and they started 2020 in strong fashion, smashing J2 side Matsumoto 4-1 at Nagai Stadium in the League Cup and following that up with a 1-0 opening day League win over Oita Trinita at the same venue.

Squad Update:
Young forward Mizuki Ando’s loan move to Machida Zelvia was their only lockdown transfer activity, he followed another young striker, Hiroto Yamada (Sendai), on the loan trail, the latter leaving in early February. Brazilian midfielder Lucas Mineiro joined on loan from Chapecoense just before the season started to replace his compatriot Souza and made 2 substitute appearances before the COVID-19 enforced break. From the winter recruits, wide-man Tatsuhiro Sakamoto (Montedio Yamagata) and Japan Under-17 star, Jun Nishikawa (Toko Gakuen High School) will have a fair bit of expectation riding on their shoulders when the campaign resumes.

Week 1:
vs Oita Trinita (h) 1-0

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

2019: 6th
Kantoku: Hiroshi Jofuku (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Sanfrecce scored over 20% of their goals last year in just 2 games vs Vissel Kobe (6-2 home and 4-2 away)

After a roller-coaster 2018, Sanfrecce had a much more stable campaign in 2019, finishing a comfortable 6th in J1 as well as progressing from the Asian Champions League group stages before being bettered by Kashima. They had a pretty quiet off-season, but a number of younger talents are emerging, most notably assist-king, Tsukasa Morishima, an exciting attacking-midfielder. Buoyed by the news that plans to build a new stadium in downtown Hiroshima are afoot, Sanfrecce started 2020 in dominant fashion, seeing off J1 new boys Yokohama FC away in the League Cup before dismantling the newly assembled Kashima Antlers 3-0 at Edion Stadium in round 1 of J1. They currently top the standings, albeit after only one game week.

Squad Update:
There are no new transfers to report, although since my original preview was written, Ritsumeikan University midfielder Tomoya Fujii was signed on a pre-contract for 2021 and registered as a designated special player for 2020, he was on the bench for both games so far this year, playing once against Yokohama FC. Extending the loan deals of Brazilian duo Leandro Pereira and Rhayner was probably Hiroshima’s best work last winter, their compatriot, attacking midfielder Ezequiel, also joined on loan from Botafogo, while Yuya Asano (younger brother of Takuma) came in from Mito HollyHock, though the jury is very much still out on whether he’ll bring as much to the team as his elder sibling.

Week 1:
vs Kashima Antlers (h) 3-0

Gamba Osaka

2019: 7th
Kantoku: Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Yasuhito Endo will become the most experienced player in J1 history the next time he takes to the field. He’s currently tied on 631 appearances with legendary Nagoya ‘keeper Seigo Narazaki.

Gamba had a nightmare start to 2019 (as they did the year before), however, owing to a change in strategy – playing with 3 centre-backs, as well a change in philosophy – disbanding the ageing group of heroes from the treble winning 2014 squad and supplementing the new young guns with returning heroes like Ideguchi and Usami, Gamba were able to haul themselves up to an ultimately respectable 7th place. This year started with a 1-0 home reverse to Kashiwa Reysol in the League Cup which was eerily similar to some games from early on in the past 2 campaigns. They were able to make it count when it really mattered this time though, and produced the performance of round 1 of J1 2020, turning over defending champions Yokohama F.Marinos 2-1 at Nissan Stadium, Kurata and Yajima helping themselves to a goal and an assist each.

Squad Update:
Vegalta Sendai backup ‘keeper Lee Yunoh was brought in on loan at the beginning of March to take the place of another loanee, Haruki Saruta (Kashiwa), in the U-23 squad after Saruta suffered a knee injury in training. Meiji University centre-back Yota Sato signed a pre-contract for 2021 and has been registered as a designated special player this year. Additionally, Japanese international centre-back, Gen Shoji, joined on a bumper deal from French side Toulouse last winter, however, due to injury he was unable to play in the 2 games prior to the shutdown. Gamba fans will look forward to seeing him work in tandem with Genta Miura and Kim Young-gwon at the back.

Week 1:
vs Yokohama F.Marinos (a) 2-1

Vissel Kobe

2019: 8th
Kantoku: Thorsten Fink (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Kobe’s games last season produced a total of 120 goals (3.6 per game), a league high.

The Rakuten money finally seemed to pay off for Kobe as they lifted their first ever piece of silverware, the Emperor’s Cup, after a 2-0 win over Kashima at the new National Stadium in Tokyo on New Year’s Day. Like buses, their second trophy came soon after as they saw off J1 Champions Yokohama F.Marinos in the Super Cup in February.
A team which scored plenty and conceded loads gradually became more disciplined under German coach Thorsten Fink in the second half of last year and a more slimline squad started 2020 well. Their first ever Asian Champions League campaign began with a 5-1 trouncing of Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim and continued with a hugely impressive 1-0 win away to Suwon in Korea. In J1 they had to accept a share of the spoils when they met Yokohama FC in round 1 in a game played under bizarre circumstances with supporters allowed into the stadium, but told not to cheer.

Squad Update:
No ins or outs have been recorded during the league’s enforced absence which gives us a chance to look at their business from last winter. Douglas (14 goals, 5 assists for Shimizu in 2019) may be the signing of the close season and his partnership with Furuhashi guarantees goals. At the back, only Shonan and Shimizu conceded more than Kobe’s 59 last time out and to that end centre-backs, Ryuho Kikuchi (Renofa Yamaguchi) and Tetsushi Yamakawa (Tsukuba University) were brought in, though these signings appear to be more for the long term rather than right now.

Week 1:
vs Yokohama FC (h) 1-1

Oita Trinita

2019: 9th
Kantoku: Tomohiro Katanosaka (5th year)
Quick Stat: Now departed strikers, Noriaki Fujimoto (Kobe) and Ado Onaiwu (YFM) scored over 50% of Oita’s goals last year (18 out of 35)

Head coach Katanosaka has masterminded a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the Kyushu side which saw them move up from J3 to J1 in the space of 3 years. Last season they started like a house on fire before inevitably hitting a bit of a slump, but they were still able to finish an excellent 9th with a squad mainly consisting of players from their 2018 J2 promotion campaign as well as sprinkling of veterans from their J3 days.
Oita had a disappointing start to 2020, going down 1-0 away from home in both of their games, at Shonan in the League Cup and Cerezo a week later in the League.

Squad Update:
Their only transfers of note during the lockdown have been the registrations of Fukuoka University midfielder Kenta Inoue and Kanoya Sports College forward Kazuki Fujimoto as designated special players for 2020. Owing to their small budget, Oita have largely had to try and replace departed stars like Ado Onaiwu and Noriaki Fujimoto with players who’ve performed well at lower levels. Retaining attacking-midfielder Kazuki Kozuka and centre-back Tomoki Iwata was a big boost for the club, though how long they can keep hold of them remains to be seen.

Week 1:
vs Cerezo Osaka (a) 0-1

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

2019: 10th
Kantoku: Mihailo Petrovic (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Last year was the first time since 2007 that Mihailo Petrovic has coached a team to a bottom half finish in J1.

Improving on 2018’s incredible 4th place finish was always going to be a tall order for Sapporo, and so it proved last year, however, 10th was still a decent showing from Mihailo Petrovic’s men. Although at times a little suspect at the back, they did have strong performers throughout the side, Akito Fukumori’s deadly set-pieces earned him 8 assists, while Chanathip continued to lay on goals for his attacking partners, Jay, Musashi Suzuki and Anderson Lopes. They would have considered themselves unfortunate to lose out to Kawasaki in the lottery of a penalty shoot-out in the League Cup final last year, and this defeat preceded a rather poor end to 2019 which saw them lose 4 of their last 6 league games.
Consadole started 2020 by coasting past Sagan Tosu, 3-0 away in the League Cup, but then went down 4-2 to Kashiwa Reysol in Chiba on the opening day of J1, these results suggest there’ll be plenty of goalmouth action at both ends this campaign.

Squad Update:
The big transfer news story to emerge out of Sapporo during the league’s break was that international goalkeeper Gu Sung-yun would return to his homeland to play for Daegu FC ahead of a 2-year stint in the Korean military. Consadole have already secured the services of Hosei University’s 2M tall stopper Kojiro Nakano for 2021, and have him on a designated special player contract for this year, but whether it is he, Thai international Kawin Thamsatchanan (a recent loan arrival from Leuven in Belgium) or the experienced Takanori Sugeno that takes over the starting spot is up for debate.

Week 1:
vs Kashiwa Reysol (a) 2-4

Vegalta Sendai

2019: 11th
Kantoku: Takashi Kiyama (new)
Quick Stat: New Kashima Antlers full-back Katsuya Nagato provided assists for 26% of Sendai’s goals in 2019.

Sendai secured their second consecutive 11th place finish in J1 last year, perhaps even more impressive than the previous campaign due to the fact that it was achieved with what, on paper at least, looked like a weaker squad. Still, that didn’t stop head coach Susumu Watanabe from losing his job, with Yamagata manager Takashi Kiyama coming in for his first stab at J1 level. Despite J1’s leading assist maker Katsuya Nagato departing for Kashima, off season recruitment had inspired confidence. However, that feel-good factor was only short-lived when it was announced that both Isaac Cuenca and Alexandre Guedes had gone down with injuries before the campaign had even begun. Sendai were thrashed 5-2 at Urawa in the League Cup before holding Nagoya to a 1-1 draw in the League. The break in fixtures has allowed their attacking talent to return, though the loss for the next 2 months of captain Simao Mate is a huge blow, and an extended period of playing in front of no spectators may undermine their impressive home record.

Squad Update:
Exciting news for Sendai is the return of former attacker Takuma Nishimura on loan from CSKA Moscow. He hit 11 goals in 24 games before his big money move to Russia in the summer of 2018 and Vegalta fans will be looking forward with relish to the partnership he can form with Cuenca, Guedes and Shuhei Akasaki. Elsewhere defenders, Hisashi Appiah Tawiah (Ryutsu Keizai University) and Takumi Mase (Hannan University) have both been brought in on designated special player contracts ahead of turning pro next year.
In terms of departures, defender Masato Tokida who played against Urawa in the League Cup has left for Matsumoto in a loan deal and as previously mentioned, backup goalie Lee Yunoh has joined Gamba U-23 on loan, he spent 2019 farmed out to Fukushima United.

Week 1:
vs Nagoya Grampus (h) 1-1

Shimizu S-Pulse

2019: 12th
Kantoku: Peter Cklamovski (new)
Quick Stat: Shimizu had the worst defensive record in J1 last season with 69 goals conceded in total (2.03 per game). They were also one of only two teams to do the double over champions Yokohama F.Marinos (the other was Cerezo Osaka).

One of the biggest stories of last winter was Shimizu’s appointment of Ange Postecoglou’s assistant at Yokohama F.Marinos, Peter Cklamovski. An avid disciple of Ange’s, it’ll be interesting to see how he shapes this S-Pulse side in his image. The JLeague’s no-relegation rule will definitely help with his experimentation which is bound to encounter teething problems. Shimizu had the leakiest back line in J1 last season conceding 69 times, including an 8-0 home reverse against Sapporo. This year it took them 2 games to concede 8 goals, being hammered 5-1 at Kawasaki in the League Cup then putting up a better showing at home to FC Tokyo in the League before ultimately going down 3-1.

Squad Update:
Nothing to report on the transfer front during the lockdown, although S-Pulse did hire a new coach and recruit a number of new players in the off-season. Additionally, midfielders, Yasufumi Nishimura (Okayama) and Kota Miyamoto (FC Gifu) have returned from loan spells, while wide-man Hideki Ishige made a welcome comeback from serious injury and now appears to be seen as an option at full-back. Despite the additions of Yusuke Goto (Oita), Teerasil (Muangthong United) and Carlinhos (Sion) it’s still hard to see anyone getting close to matching Douglas’ 14 league goals scored last year.

Week 1:
vs FC Tokyo (h) 1-3

Nagoya Grampus

2019: 13th
Kantoku: Massimo Ficcadenti (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Nagoya were second only to Sendai in terms of % of total points picked up at home (65% compared with Sendai’s nearly 76%) in 2019.

One of the biggest spenders in the league, Nagoya have flattered to deceive since returning to J1 in 2018. They have a team full of highly talented individuals who rarely add up to the sum of their parts. Italian Massimo Ficcadenti was a surprise choice to replace the much more attack minded Yahiro Kazama midway through last year, however, he was able to steer a side which had been in freefall into a relatively safe 13th spot in the standings. Grampus started 2020 unbeaten, seeing off Kashima Antlers 1-0 at home in the League Cup before having the better of a 1-1 draw away at Sendai in round 1 of J1.

Squad Update:
Former Japan international front-man Mu Kanazaki joined on loan from cash-strapped Tosu at the end of March and he will take the place of Jo, who returned to Corinthians in Brazil (in a deal that seems to have more to it than meets the eye) having only found the net 6 times last season, compared to 24 in the previous campaign. Kanazaki, however, was recently struck down with Covid-19 and passed the virus on to Australian goalkeeper Mitch Langerak. Both players have since recovered, however, the fallout was that the rest of the squad had to endure a period of training together using Zoom while their J1 rivals were all working on the training ground.
During the break, young full-back Yukinari Sugawara turned his loan move to Dutch side AZ Alkmaar into a permanent one after impressing in his first year in the Netherlands.

Week 1:
vs Vegalta Sendai (a) 1-1

Urawa Reds

2019: 14th
Kantoku: Tsuyoshi Otsuki (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Legendary striker Shinzo Koroki has hit double figures in his last 8 league campaigns.

Despite reaching the final of the Asian Champions League last season, finishing 14th in J1, their worst performance since 2011 was simply unacceptable for a club of this size. Thing surely must get better, a lot better, this year if head-coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki wants to remain in his current role. Their was a surprising lack of transfer activity last winter considering the average age and performance of the squad over the previous 12 months, however, Brazilian attacker, Leonardo who joined from Albirex Niigata could well challenge Kobe’s signing of Douglas as the best coup of the transfer window. The former J3 and J2 top scorer introduced himself to the Saitama Stadium supporters with a double on his debut, a 5-2 win at home to Sendai in the League Cup. The defensive frailties that were briefly on show in that game resurfaced a week later in their League opener, a 3-2 victory over a Shonan Bellmare side who are expected to find things tough this year. It looks like Urawa games will be a pretty exciting watch over the coming months.

Squad Update:
The lack of transfer activity from Reds does seem a little surprising viewed from afar, only Ryutsu Keizai midfielder Atsuki Ito has come in on a designated special player contract. However, they may be banking on some of their younger crop of players to develop more over the coming years. Right-sided defender Daiki Hashioka appears to be the pick of the bunch, though left winger Koya Yuroki could also become a key asset if he’s given more game time. Central-midfielder Hidetoshi Takeda joined the club from the cradle of footballing talent that is Aomori Yamada High School last winter, so we can expect good things from him, while Chuo University winger Tomoaki Okubo has again been registered as a designated special player ahead of turning pro with Reds next year. Youth team ‘keeper Zion Suzuki is on a Type-2 amateur contract which allowed him to appear on the bench against both Sendai and Shonan despite still being in high school (he’s already 189cm tall!)

Week 1:
vs Shonan Bellmare (a) 3-2

Sagan Tosu

2019: 15th
Kantoku: Kim Myung-hwi (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Tosu failed to score in 9 out of their first 10 league games in 2019.

If you’re interested enough in Japanese football to read my blog, I’m going to assume you know something about Tosu’s appalling financial situation, so I don’t want to dwell on it too much. The lack of relegation this year would appear to help them more than any other side given that most #jpred2020 entrants had them going down. A very weak squad on paper were humbled 3-0 at home by Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in the League Cup’s first group-stage match this February before gaining a creditable 0-0 draw away to Kawasaki Frontale on the League’s opening day. Much more of that battling spirit will be required in the coming months and years, I feel.

Squad Update:
Mu Kanazaki’s departure on loan to Nagoya may be the first of quite a few in the near future as the club looks to balance it’s books. In terms of arrivals, Chuo University defender Daisuke Matsumoto is in as a designated special player while Tosu U-18 forwards Reoto Kodama and Ryunosuke Sagara as well as defender Shinya Nakano have come in on Type-2 contracts. One intriguing move just before the league started back in February was the acquisition of right-sided Chinese player Wang Jianan from Guangzhou R&F. The current squad has a very youthful feel to it, with midfielders, Fuchi Honda and Daiki Matsuoka (both 19) as well as former Meiji University full-back Ryoya Morishita (23) expected to be key players.

Week 1:
vs Kawasaki Frontale (a) 0-0

Shonan Bellmare

2019: 16th
Kantoku: Bin Ukishima (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Shonan kept the fewest clean sheets in J1 last year (4).

The Cho Kwi-jae power harassment scandal rocked Shonan to the core last summer, sending them into a tail-spin that they were only able to pull out of thanks to a 1-1 draw at home to Tokushima in the play-offs (again the rights and wrongs of that system have been discussed in depth elsewhere so I’ll not go any further into it.) Bin Ukishima, the man who replaced the long serving Cho has been tasked with rebuilding the side and he’s brought in 12 new faces along with 2 players who’ve returned to Bellmare from loan spells. This sort of annual upheaval is not uncommon in these parts and Shonan are likely to be another side who are assisted by the league’s no-relegation rule. Bellmare started 2020 by edging out Oita 1-0 at home in the League Cup, before losing their J1 opener 3-2 to Urawa at the same venue with new Norwegian signing Tarik missing a penalty.

Squad Update:
After a busy winter, Shonan’s lockdown work has been largely focused on the future, 5 youth team players have been registered on Type-2 Contracts, including midfielder Satoshi Tanaka who’ll turn pro next year. Additionally, 20 year-old forward Ryo Nemoto of Kanoya Sports College in Kagoshima and Sho Hiramatsu from Rissho University have joined as a designated special players. The club also announced the capture of midfielder Taiyo Hiraoka from Riseisha High School for 2021, though he hasn’t yet been registered for this campaign. Surprisingly, as far as I can tell, there has still been no announcement from the club regarding the futures of 2 Brazilians, Crislan and Leleu, who were on the books last year, I assume neither will be back, but usually JLeague teams are good at keeping the fans informed about this sort of thing.

Week 1:
vs Urawa Reds (h) 2-3

Kashiwa Reysol

2019: 1st (J2)
Kantoku: Nelsinho (2nd year – current spell)
Quick Stat: The last time Kashiwa won J2, they went on to lift the J1 title the following year (2011). Current head coch Nelsinho was also in charge back then.

Under legendary manager Nelsinho, Kashiwa are back in the top flight following a one-year sojourn in J2. After a few bumps and bruises in the early rounds, Reysol’s class eventually told and they were worthy champions, their season of course ending with that memorable 13-1 rout of Kyoto Sanga. They’ve kept most of last year’s championship winning side intact and added a cast of 2019 J2 all stars, how will they do in J1 this year?
They got 2020 off to the best possible start with a 1-0 win away to Gamba in the rain in February’s League Cup clash, goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu, left-back Taiyo Koga and inevitably the well-known attacking duo of Cristiano and Olunga were all in fine form. That victory was then backed up by a 4-2 triumph in a thrilling match at home to Sapporo in round 1 of J1 with both Esaka and Olunga notching doubles. They have more than enough attacking talent, but for me centre-back and centre-midfield are areas for concern. They’ll certainly be interesting to watch this year.

Squad Update:
Kashiwa’s only lockdown work has been to move youth product Keita Ide to Tochigi SC in what appears to be a full transfer, I say appears as he was only promoted to the top team last winter. There have been no ins during the break, though Reysol did recruit quite heavily in the off-season and have no doubt taken this opportunity to try and bring their ex-J2 players up to speed. I’m particularly excited by versatile 23 year-old midfielder Yuta Kamiya who spent 2019 with Ehime, on-loan from Shonan. Right-back Kengo Kitazume who joined from Yokohama FC looks a solid addition too, and I can see him taking over from Shunki Takahashi before much longer. Two other interesting coups were Hiroto Goya (Nagasaki – on loan from Gamba), who netted 22 goals in 36 J2 games last year and former youth team product Hayato Nakama (Okayama) who struck an impressive 15 times in 40 J2 matches from left midfield in 2019. These 2 undoubtedly possess the ability, but can they unseat one of the top dogs such as, Olunga, Cristiano, Esaka or Segawa, to nail down a starting berth?

Week 1:
vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo (h) 4-2

Yokohama FC

2019: 2nd (J2)
Kantoku: Takahiro Shimotaira (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Kazuyoshi Miura made his JLeague debut on 15 May 1993, over 8 years before team-mate Koki Saito was born.

Hear the name Yokohama FC and you probably instantly think of their famous veterans, Kazuyoshi ‘King Kazu’ Miura and Shunsuke Nakamura, then probably to a lesser extent, guys like Leandro Domingues, Ibba Laajab, Daisuke Matsui and Masahiko Inoha. However, bubbling under the surface are some of the hottest young talents in Japanese football, attacking trio, Koki Saito (18), Katsuhiro Nakayama (23) and Yusuke Matsuo (22) combined for 18 goals and 11 assists last season to help Yokohama FC achieve only the second season of top flight football in their history. Things will be tough for sure for this squad of ageing stars and up-and-comers, they started things off with a tame 2-0 loss at home to a wily Sanfrecce side in the League Cup, before holding Kobe to a respectable 1-1 draw in the League opener in Hyogo. Tatsuki Seko, another young gun who was recruited in the off-season from Meiji University netted Yokohama’s goal on his senior debut, he’s also one to look out for this year.

Squad Update:
A couple of pieces of transfer news to report from Yokohama during the lockdown, Hosei University defender Yuya Takagi was registered as a designated special player, he’ll turn pro when he’s finished with his studies next year. Full-back Yuta Fujii also made a permanent move to J2 outfit Avispa Fukuoka, he made a mere 5 appearances for Yokohama FC in 2019. Finally, a quick shout out to a name I didn’t mention above, left-back Takaaki Shichi (5 goals and 4 assists in 39 games for Mito HollyHock last year), his signing may have largely flown under the radar, but in my books it looks like a very shrewd move.

Week 1:
vs Vissel Kobe (a) 1-1

sport Uncategorized

Gamba meets FC Ryukyu

Hi Everyone,

I hope you are all keeping well, it is with great excitement that I write this article. Geoff Osborne (@OkinawaOzzy) has put together a tremendous series of get-to-know-you chats with some of the biggest names in the JLeague English scene…Michael Master, Frontale Rabbit Blog, Nagasaki Blue and Orange Blog, FC Tokyo Kai Guys and Tokyo Verdy Unofficial. I was the first interviewee of the series and I thought I’d repay the compliment by sitting down and interviewing Geoff in what will be the final installment before thankfully JLeague returns to action next week.

The new logo for

In this Interview, my words will be in bold and Geoff’s will appear in normal font.

Hi Geoff,

Q. It’s been a few months since we last talked, obviously the COVID-19 situation has evolved rapidly since then. I’d like to start by asking how things are over in Okinawa? How are you and your family dealing with the crisis?
Hey brother! Great to chat with you again. Well, the family and I are adjusting to what we perceive as the “new normal.” We try to follow a meticulous routine when we leave or enter the house, always using hand sanitizer when touching anything outside of our house, wiping down all products we buy in a store and always wearing a mask in public areas. We are by no means perfect and there are definitely times when you become complacent, flat out forget, or the kids get you rattled, but we firmly believe in doing as much as we can to limit our exposure to COVID-19 as well as the rest of society.

As far as Okinawa is concerned, there have been zero reported cases here in over 40 days, but there has also been very limited testing (less than 10 a day it seems) and we are expecting an uptick in tourism soon. They were expecting around 13 million visitors to Okinawa this year and it remains to be seen if they will allow travelers from those countries that frequently come to Okinawa to resume travel. No one should be under the impression that we’ve turned the corner on CV-19 and we should all expect several waves of the virus over the next few years.

That will impact Okinawa particularly hard as the economy is built on tourism, and to a lesser degree the employment offered on the military installations around Okinawa. It has already begun to affect those industries as well as the restaurants (izakaya) and shops that thrive on tourism dollars which may in turn have a direct impact on FC Ryukyu.

How about you? Osaka was one of the last areas to be released from a State of Emergency correct?

Yes, I believe we were the last ones outside of the prefectures in Kanto to exit the lockdown. I’m actually still working from home and as I live by myself, social distancing is not such a big problem for me. Like you, and I’m sure all of the readers, I’m looking forward to getting back to a bit of normality, the return of JLeague from 27 June will definitely help with that.

Q. Thanks again for putting this series of interviews together, the feedback on Twitter seems to have been overwhelmingly positive. What inspired you to do it?
I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to speak to so many great people that I follow on twitter with this series. It was a great getting to know them and their teams on a much deeper level. The inspiration came from a couple of different areas. First, I wanted others to become aware of the rich English content that covers the J-League that so many people pour their hearts and soul into for little more than recognition. I think we can all agree that English language coverage for the J-League is not that great which makes the herculean efforts by the lads over at the J-Talk Pod, J-Talk Extra Time Pod and J-Soccer magazine so special.

Second, after I wrote an article for the J-Soccer Magazine I wanted to know the story behind the authors of the J-League English blogs and Twitter accounts. I enjoyed writing my story and think that all should have a chance to tell their story.

Finally, I cannot recall where I heard or read this point but I think English bloggers/writers for the K-League came together under one entity and that idea really excited me. I thought that was awesome and wonder if we could replicate that here in Japan. Well, that would require each team in the J-League having an English blogger or unofficial twitter account and after doing some research, I found that we are a long way off from that goal. Doesn’t mean we can’t hope for that one day. I cannot recall where I heard/read that? Possibly on the J-Talk Pod with Paul Neat (@NeatPaul)?

Indeed, I’ve been following the K League quite a bit in the absence of JLeague football and have been casting envious glances at the work the K League United crew are doing and the fact their efforts are recognised by the K League itself.

Q. As we speak, J2 and J3 are set to kick off on the weekend of 27/28 June with J1 starting the following week. Of course, this means you’ll get to see your beloved FC Ryukyu on TV a week before I can watch Gamba, you must be pretty psyched for the league’s restart, right?
Buzzing! I’ve never experienced such a long break in sports in my lifetime and I am itching to watch some matches that count as well as seeing the boys from Oki back in action. I was traveling for work when the opening fixture kicked off so I didn’t get to see their first match way back on February 23rd (119 days ago!).

While we are excited for the return of sports, I am not sure what to expect this year. No relegation is good for us but at what cost? Stuart and Jon did a great job breaking down the revenue streams for the J2 clubs a few weeks back on their pod and it was evident that ticket sales were not the largest source of income for the clubs so we can see how important it is for the J-League to conduct a season based on sponsorship dollars.

I think we can all agree that the players and staff are professionals and super competitive – how else would they’ve gotten to this level in their career – but what will the product look like on the pitch? Players trying to avoid injury, experimental lineups, mass substitutions, and then there is the reality that a player will pop hot for CV-19 and then what?

What do you think? What will football look like for 2020 and beyond?

It’s really tough to say, I actually sent some questions over to the J-Talk pod guys a few weeks ago and they were kind enough to discuss them on the show. I really agreed with Sean Carroll’s point that games played behind closed doors or with few fans in the stadium should favour the stronger of the 2 teams, more so than if it were played with fans. But, there are so many things we don’t know, nothing would really surprise me at this stage.

Q. I’d like to come back and talk more about your predictions and aspirations for FC Ryukyu later on, but first I want to know about your journey. How did you come to be in Japan? And specifically, why Okinawa?
I accepted an offer for a job that initially was supposed to be in California but the company asked if I wished to take a similar position in Okinawa, Japan. I didn’t even hesitate as I was living with my brother in Jacksonville, FL after we had both finished our service in the U.S. Marine Corps which also happened to coincide with the US economy falling apart in 2008 and that meant finding a job proved to be difficult.

I landed in Okinawa in July of 2009 and got a rude awakening to the heat and humidity that I thought I was accustomed to while living in Florida. I was wrong. But I do love it here in Okinawa as a place to raise a family and work. I do think I’ll head back to the U.S. one day but I hope that is after my young kids are through High School.

Q. What made you take up blogging in English for FC Ryukyu? What’s the response to your blog been like?
The response has been absolutely phenomenal. The blog has allowed me to develop a much deeper relationship with FC Ryukyu as well as meet so many great people involved in the world of football and for that I am so grateful. The inspiration for the blog came after the Omiya match when the head of the FC Ryukyu Supporters club suggested I do one in English. It was a win-win as I finally had a venue to voice my displeasures or spout my opinions on the club.

It is funny, shortly after I started the blog I was asked to appear on the J-Talk Pod with Ben. I was excited but also a bit nervous as I am by no means someone who has played or studied football extensively so I have no idea on the technical or tactical part of football. As I said, I really started the blog to voice both my displeasures and pleasure with the club based on what I was seeing on the pitch every week as well as during transfer windows year in and year out.

But, while you may not be able to pick out the tactics, if you’ve watched enough football like we all have, then you can pick up on certain things and get to see parts of the game you may have otherwise missed while just sitting there ball watching.

Since that first entry, I’ve tried to continue to evolve the match day previews, reports and content as well as find something to talk about surrounding the club. As you know, there are some pretty dry times in blogging and if this season turns into match days every 3 or 4 days well there won’t be too many op-ed pieces with all of the aforementioned previews and recaps.

I know exactly what you mean, with many weeks containing 3 games, my match previews are going to contain more graphics and less writing. I’m looking forward to seeing what you have lined up.

Q. I know a lot of us are very active on Twitter, but we live busy lives in different corners of Japan, have you met any of the Twitter Japanese soccer community in person?
Actually yes. I linked up with @frontalerabbit for the “Tamagawa Derby” (is that right?) when FC Tokyo and Kawasaki Frontale locked horns last summer. That was awesome and I’ve written about that day many times.

I have met Stuart @stuartcw at an FC Ryukyu match last year as he is a fan of FC Ryukyu, as well as Yokohoma F Marinos.

I also met a member of English J-League royalty when I had a coffee and chat with no other than Jon Steele @J2KantoBites when he visited Okinawa this past spring with his family. I even tried bribing his young son with some FC Ryukyu schwag in a rather thinly veiled attempt at swaying this young man’s allegiances over to FC Ryukyu. To no avail though.

Finally, @frontalerabbit, @sushi_football, @tpen18, @BenitoWill and I are getting together periodically on Zoom for some rather nice, and rather expensive, craft beer parties.

I was thinking it would be great to do some live commentary on the matches over Zoom, to which I can record, and then upload them to YouTube. Would love to do it with supporters of the opponents. What do you think?

Yeah that sounds awesome, I know V-Varen Nagasaki, Tochigi SC and Zweigen Kanazawa (sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone) have pretty passionate online bloggers, would be great to hear you guys duelling it out! I also liked Stuart’s idea for a J-Talk Live once COVID-19 finally disappears.

Q. I’ve been living in Japan for over 7 years now, but have yet to visit Okinawa. If someone like myself was to visit for an FC Ryukyu game, what other attractions does the place have to offer?
For sake of this question, let’s assume that all the attractions are open and running. First, it will depend largely on what time of the year you’re visiting. The beaches, both paid and free access, are great. Second, the aquarium is spectacular but slightly far removed depending on your accommodation location.

Third, I would recommend taking the ferry to either Ie Island or the Kerama Islands. Each has something unique to offer and is a nice way to spend a few days or evening at a resort or hotel on the many smaller islands. A word of advice, if you intend on climbing Mt Gusuku with young children, I hope you’re in excellent shape when you need to carry them up and down after the novelty of walking up steep stairs wears off. This is based on first hand knowledge. When I reached “base camp” after the descent I went to the shaded area dripping in sweat and drank a gallon of water/Pocari sweat and then went to the car to cry out of sight of the family.

Finally, if you are football fan than you must visit the head of the FC Ryukyu supporters club, Hiro, at his bar/izakaya, Café Camp Nou just off the famous Kokusai-dori (street) in Naha. He has quite a collection of football paraphernalia and loves meeting fans of football teams from all over the world. (

As a huge tourist destination, you really cannot go wrong with whatever you decide to do here in Okinawa. The food is great and if you want some eclectic stuff, try the area they call “American Village.”

It’s always great to get a local’s perspective on things. Thanks a lot, I really hope to make it down there some day!

Q. I know you’ve mentioned before your father is from England and you support Arsenal in the Premier League, also you’re a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL. Do you have an interest in any other sports? Or any other teams in particular?
Other than following the local Pittsburgh teams of the Penguins and Pirates not really. According to my wife, I spend way too much time focusing on Fantasy Football for the NFL but I am involved in dozens of Fantasy Football leagues every year and that is one of my true passions. That leaves little time outside of FC Ryukyu, Arsenal and the Steelers for much else.

And despite playing baseball in college, I cannot watch baseball these days. If I were forced to choose an NPB team it would be the Chunichi Dragons as that was the team that Tom Selleck played for the in the iconic movie, “Mr. Baseball.” Which also so happened to be the main source for how I should conduct myself in Japan prior to meeting my wife.

Q. Osaka is a huge city and when I go to Gamba games, although Osaka people are known for their friendliness, the sheer scale of Panasonic Stadium makes it difficult for me to get chatting with other fans. How do you find things when you attend FC Ryukyu matches? Do you have a group of supporters you always go to games with? How do local people react when they see you at the stadium?
I envy you my friend. It is well known that FC Ryukyu don’t pack the Tapista in large numbers outside of very special occasions. Therefore, it is easy to interact with many fans as well as meet people in and around the grounds.

I used to have a nice group that would attend matches semi-regularly when FC Ryukyu were back in J3 but they have since moved on. I usually end up going solo but I do go early enough to hang my flags with the FC Ryukyu supporters’ group. We always chat pre-match when meeting up several hours before kickoff but then usually go our separate ways. To be honest, Hiro’s English is getting much better since I’ve been speaking only English at him the past 5 years.

I am a bit conflicted when it comes to sitting in the supporter section, and still to this day, I never understood the chants that they sing. I made a concerted effort this year to translate them into English and put them into a supporter’s guide in English for anyone who wanted to join in. I also enjoy being near, but not in that section, as I have met many more fans and can experience the matches in my own special way away from the supporter’s section. But make no mistake, I stand should to shoulder with them when I attend away games.

As far as how the locals react, its been great! I’ve been pulled into many little tailgating parties outside the stadium, photo bombed some twitter and IG accounts and met some awesome people. I mean, who wouldn’t want to hang out with a dude dressed in a templar tunic with chainmail?

Honestly I’m not sure how to answer that, but yeah, FC Ryukyu are almost everyone’s second club, so it’s great to hear they’ve got a good bunch of supporters.

Q. I know you’ve spoken very passionately before about ideas that FC Ryukyu should consider to broaden their fanbase and appeal, have you ever spoken to anyone at the club about implementing some of your suggestions?
I met the former President of the club, Subaru Mikami, last year and we had a lengthy conversation on several issues pertaining to the marketing of the club. I listed out near, mid and long-term goals that I though the club could achieve, some of which would come at little to no cost for the club in the hopes that the atmosphere in and around the stadium would improve.

It was an eye-opening experience, and one that I am grateful for, as I never truly understood the constraints that a club can face when they do not own their own stadium. I can say that at least two of the ideas were enacted as we finally got hand soap inside the bathrooms at the stadium and there was definitely more signage in the form of flags around and inside the grounds.

I have also met Kei Hirosaki, who is now the acting President of FC Ryukyu, at Haneda Airport after the final game against Kofu last season as well as at the fan event at the end of last season. I didn’t push any ideas on him and simply passed him a business card I made up that listed my blog and contact info and I hope to have some more conversations with him this year.

Awesome, it’s good to hear the club is at least willing to listen to suggestions.

Q. It’s quite common in J1 for clubs to have ageing marquee foreign or Japanese talents in their ranks such as Iniesta at Kobe of Shunsuke Nakamura at Yokohama FC. FC Ryukyu have the legendary Shinji Ono in their midfield now, what kind of impact has he had on and off the field?
The quick answer is he has made a massive impact at the club and community. I should also note that he joined the team late in the summer transfer window last season and we’ve seen a huge disruption in the schedule for this year so we will need more time to make an honest and accurate assessment.

His first ever match in the Bengara red drew the largest crowd in the history of the club when 12,019 people packed a stadium that was supposed to only hold 10,189 (though it could supposedly surge to 25,000). Unfortunately, Shinji didn’t score that game, or all year for the club, and eventually succumbed to an injury that ended his season.

I don’t think getting on the score sheet would have made the biggest impact for the club. In fact, I believe it was his presence in the locker room and training grounds that halted the slide that FC Ryukyu were in the middle of when he arrived.

He has been a marketing dream for the club as he constantly appears on television programs and I hope that his presence continues to bring people to the stadium but I am cautiously optimistic. History showed us last season, in his second and third games – which were massive for FC Ryukyu as they desperately needed points- less than half (6,000) and then less than one-sixth (2,000) of his first game attendees showed up to see him and the team.

Solving the great mystery of local attendance at matches is a very complex problem here in Okinawa.

Q. I think we both enjoyed the recent J-Talk Extra Time Podcast Stuart and Jon did on the state of finances in J2. FC Ryukyu were one of the great overachievers in J2 last year according to the numbers. Stuart did a great job of fleshing out the raw data for all clubs, but talking with you I’d like to zero in on FC Ryukyu. Basically, in your opinion, why have FC Ryukyu been able to punch well above their weight over the past few years?
That’s a good question and definitely not an easy one to answer as I only have extensive knowledge on FC Ryukyu and not the other 53 or so clubs in the J-League tiers. I will say that the club has pulled in some serious talent – and then shipped it out- over the years. Park Il-gyu, Nakagawa, Yuta Togashi, Satoki Uejo are just a few that jump right off the page. But the players would be nothing without the coaches and the system. Kim Jong Sung came in and gave this team an attacking identity and Keita Tanaka flourished in that system. So much so that he signed for Mito after 2016 and then returned for a loan spell before coming back fully last season. I think that we have got the most out of the players over the years and that speaks volumes on the level of coaching and scouting the team conducts.

I am not sure how they manage to sign talented players, on what I am assuming are relatively affordable contracts, when it is obvious that many of these players are talented and either have a lot left in the tank or are emerging stars. Maybe they convinced these guys that they will be playing versus rotting on the bench somewhere for a larger club.

There is also a bit of an interesting relationship between Mito HollyHock and FC Ryukyu as they initially loaned us Tanaka in 2017, signed DF Shuhei Takizawa away from us in the 2018 offseason, but then we signed Dany Carvajal and Keita on permanent (if that term even applies out here in Japan) deals, while also receiving Ryo Ishii on a year long loan deal last year that proved vital for us at the end of the season. Then FC Ryukyu signed a player that everyone raves about in Shunsuke Motegi this offseason. Maybe it was because Subaru Mikami once worked at Mito HollyHock and we have a good connection with the club, in either case, I am glad we do as we’ve poached several good players from their roster the past few years.

But until there is a monumental shift in the finances of this club, we’ll never be able to get to, or compete at, the level of the larger clubs. We will always feed the more financially stronger clubs talented players and I just hope the owner and management staff can get us to the point of being able to offer a player double his current wages, like Fagiano Okayama did with Uejo. Only then we can build up some serious staying power for a push to the top.

I rambled a bit there but to answer your original question, I think they’ve had some serious luck when it comes to the timing of their signings and then the coaches and staff have leveraged talent to its maximum extent. Not a recipe that will provide long term success, but will provide some exciting football right now.

The expectations must be tougher with a club like Gamba who are expected to compete for titles every year.

For anyone willing to listen to my extensive ramblings on Gamba’s transfer strategy in recent years, let me take this opportunity to point you in the direction of some previous entries on this blog.

Q. You’ve written an excellent piece in the latest JSoccer Magazine (Issue 29) and you talk about some of the away day trips you’ve done (I also thoroughly enjoyed your Twitter updates from the match at Kofu at the tail end of last year). I’ve only really done Gamba away games at Kanto clubs when I lived in Machida, how would you describe the away day experience in Japan?
Thank you for the kind words. Away games are simply great times, and away games are something that every fan should try to do. I understand that sometimes it is not financially feasible or even harder to convince your spouse and family that your headed off on a mini-vacation to go watch football. But the experience is well worth the sacrifices. Not only are you getting to see your club play, you get to experience another part of Japan that you may have otherwise never considered visiting.

I would tell anyone that before you book tickets and lodging, you need to consult Chris’s (@LiFJapan) Lost in Football Japan website. There is plenty of good information and advice there that me simply putting the link here doesn’t do it justice. (

Q. Now to this upcoming campaign, I was wondering if you could tell us, which already established first-team member do you think will be most pivotal to FC Ryukyu’s success this year? And who is a largely unheard-of future star we should look out for?
This one caught me off-guard, which makes it a great question. Damn, this is really hard! I’m looking at the roster on the FC Ryukyu website and I can make an argument for each of the starting 11 as to why they matter the most. Damn you man!

I am going to say that a defender will be the most pivotal player for the squad this year, I am just not sure which one. CB Lee Yong Jick may be the one but I think it may actually be Daisei Suzuki, but that will largely depend on whether or not Higuchi sticks with the man we initially received on loan from Vortis and then just signed to a permanent deal during the CV-19 break. I watched him in a training match and was impressed by his presence and as everyone witnessed last year, we need to put a stop to the massive bleeding at the back for Ryukyu.

FC Ryukyu only have 2 healthy strikers at this point, and both are over 30 years of age, so it seems we’ll rely heavily on our MFs to score goals. That probably isn’t a great idea and that is why we need a solid defense so we can see out 0-0 and 1-0 score lines this season.

The relatively unheard-of star could go in several different directions as well. MF Shuto Kawai came out of nowhere last year and his speed is lethal. There are indications that Urawa is interested in acquiring his services this year which would suck as there is no way we are going to stop that move. Ren Ikeda, a college signee, impressed Higuchi enough during camp to earn the starting CAM slot behind our lone striker but I don’t think he had the greatest of opening matches back in February so we’ll see if he is in there in 2 weeks.

The one I am going with is Yoshio Koizumi. He is a name that not many will know or care to know. He hasn’t registered any stats that would indicate he is someone that people need to be made aware of or even cracked the reserves in a consistent manner. But his time is coming.

This dude jumped off the screen in his limited action against Tokyo Verdy last year and I think he could challenge Ren for the #10 role sooner rather than later.

undefined undefined
New FC Ryukyu signing, #24 Daisei Suzuki, and
up and comer #28 Yoshio Koizumi.

Sorry, I didn’t realize that one would be so tough for you. Maybe the quick fire round later on will also prove harder than I thought. Also I didn’t know Suzuki had signed permanently, let’s hope it’s a good move for all parties.

Q. Obviously last year you guys got off to a flier before eventually settling for 14th. I’m guessing you would have taken that position at the start of the year? How do you see things panning out this time round?
Had you asked me this prior to the CV-19 break I would have said around the same place we finished last year. And you are right, I would have gladly taken 14th at the start of last season as FC Ryukyu were a newly promoted club which always seem to be one of the favorites to go right back down each year.

FC Ryukyu have shifted their approach to squad construction this year by moving on from youthful exuberance to more of a seasoned veteran approach. Not having the data in front of me, I’d like to see where FC Ryukyu rank as far as the average age of the squad compared to the other J2 teams. (maybe @ConDrei can help out with that?)

We already talked about the fact that defense was a major issue that needed addressed in the offseason and I think they did quite well there. With that said, we conceded a goal within the first 40 seconds of the campaign this year. I know that wasn’t the ideal start to the season but they did choke out that attack the rest of the game and that is the only data point we can operate off of for now.

Since there is no concern over relegation, and that games may look more like training sessions than actual competitive matches, I am not expecting much this year other than a break in the boredom of no sports.

I am more concerned for 2021 when there will be an actual season and what the squad will look like then. One last point, I don’t think our squad is large enough to survive a decent amount of injuries or CV-19 cases with the fixtures piling up. Glad there is nothing really at stake this year, outside of promotion, so we can suffer through whatever happens and then get right for 2021.

Q. I know we discussed last time that I support a small team in Scotland called Ayr United. When one of our players moves on to a clearly bigger side, most fans wish them all the best. However, there have been times when a player has moved on to a bigger spending divisional rival and this has soured the relationship with the fans. With that in mind, how do members of the FC Ryukyu support feel about the diaspora forming at Fagiano Okayama? (Satoki Uejo, Kosuke Masutani and Shuhei Tokumoto)
Probably the same as Mito feel about us at FC Ryukyu! The only person that is soured on these moves is me but I understand that the transfer system is broke here in Japan and these guys are looking out for themselves and their families as basically independent contractors.

Guys would be foolish to turn down larger sums of money for the sake of loyalty to a club and fan base when the system doesn’t support that way of thinking. I love seeing former players flourish at other clubs, especially in the J1, and until FC Ryukyu become a serious player in the financial market, this type of reality will continue.

As far as the other FC Ryukyu fans, nothing I’ve seen on Twitter would indicate any hostility to former players. In fact, the opposite is true. I watched many FC Ryukyu fans purchase Uejo and Tokumoto kits this year as well as visit them at the training camps in Okinawa this past winter.

The Japanese supporters are certainly a very different breed to Scottish ones. I’m not sure many Ayr fans bought Lawrence Shankland or Liam Smith jerseys when they moved to Dundee United last summer (I know absolutely no-one reading this has any idea who these players are!)

Q. Finally, before we move onto the quick fire round, I know the big European Leagues have all the stars, glitz and glamour, what would your sales pitch be to fans to try to make them become interested in JLeague?
Oh Boy. The league as a whole? That’s tough. The fact that we are doing these interviews shows that the league needs a massive overhaul in the way they produce and market their content to the outside world, especially when it comes to content in English.

Seeing how it is unlikely that any leagues should try and compete with the larger leagues head on, maybe taking the approach of the league as a way to start your day with football is one way to go. I think games come on around 4am in England and I recall being able to get up early each morning in the U.S. and get my fix of the Bundesliga and then EPL before the NFL kicked off. I loved those days filled with sports from the time I woke up until I went to bed.

Doing tours to Europe for training camps and friendlies, similar to how the larger European clubs come out this way each year, may garner a little more exposure to the league as well.

And you? What would you institute?

The K League United guys offer a template that it’d be good to follow initially, I know from my Gamba blog that there is decent demand out there for English language content, and also a lot of my followers are not native English speakers (I’m making an assumption here based on the location of their views), so there’s got to be other languages which are thirsty for content, German, Indonesian or Spanish for example.

OK, now to the quick fire round…

Best player you’ve ever seen pull on an FC Ryukyu shirt?
Kazaki Nakagawa, with Keita Tanaka a very, very close second thanks in part to his extensive service to the club. But Nakagawa’s 2018 season was insane from a statistical standpoint and his start of 2019 was even more blistering, that is, before he left after Match Day 3 and all the wind was taken out of the Ryukyu sails.

Best opposition player you’ve seen?
Cristiano from Kashiwa Reysol. I watched that dude when Reysol were in the ACL years ago and I am always impressed at his work rate and motor. He never tires and is relentless. Plus, he is a lethal finisher to go along with his ability to set up other players. I’d love him for 1-2 seasons down here but that will not happen when he is still in his J-League prime.

Favorite ever FC Ryukyu player?
Keita Tanaka with Yu Tomidokoro a close second in this race. Tanaka was great to watch in 2015-2016 and that made for a great viewing experience after some pretty harsh opening years for me. Yu is masterful at dead ball kicks and considered to be “Mr. Ryukyu” but Keita was scoring at will in his first season with us.

Ex-player you’d most like to see back at the club?
I hate you for this! Nakagawa. (Sorry!!)

Best FC Ryukyu game you’ve seen?
I think you all may be aware that I walked out early during the historic 3-2 comeback win against Nagasaki last season when we were down 2-1 to attend a Moai event. I deeply regret that as that is something that I never do. With that in mind, the answer is the first away match of the 2019 season at Omiya, which was also the first away match I ever attended. With so many unknowns and the way the game transpired I cannot think of a better game other than maybe the title lifting match in 2018 vs Thespakusatsu Gunma. 4-3 score line with goals galore, great saves and the celebrations were awesome that day in Omiya.

Best individual performance you’ve seen by an FC Ryukyu player?
Yuta Togashi’s 4 goal outburst against SC Sagamihara back in 2018 comes to mind and though I think Dany’s performance against Omiya on the road in 2019 allowed us to walk out of there with all 3 points that day. It has to be Nakagawa’s 3 assist performance against Omiya that same match.

Best (non FC Ryukyu) JLeague uniform this year?
Shonan Bellmare

Dream signing (if FC Ryukyu were the richest club in the world)?
Zinedine Zidane as Manager; Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the antics; Ronaldo for the publicity and Mbappe for the talent.

Dream signing (realistic)?
Cristiano, Olunga or Goya from Reysol would be nice. Though you never know. Maybe we could get Ryo Miyaichi from FC St. Pauli one day.

Away ground you’d most like to visit? Why?
Giravanz Kitakyushu’s Mikuni World Stadium. The view looks spectacular.

Best manager currently in Japan (J1, J2 or J3)?
Most might say Ange Postecoglou but we’ll see how Yokohama F.Marinos gets on without Cklamovski. Toss up between Ricardo Rodriguez at Tokushima or Baptista at Reysol.

And finally….best team in Osaka?
Cerezo of course! They have Koji Suzuki. But I prefer Gamba’s uniforms and I do like watching Usami.

Wrong….the correct answer is…….(drum roll)…….FC Osaka

Lastly Geoff, I know you’ve given myself and the other participants in this series the chance to point people in the direction of those in the know in the English speaking Japanese soccer world…is there anyone we’ve forgotten or anyone you’d like to give a shout out to…the floor is yours.
First off, all of us collectively have done an amazing job when it comes to presenting info about the J-League in English to the world. This pertains to everyone who writes a blog, tweets a tweet or conducts a podcast. I think through all of the interviews we have named just about everyone there is in the small J-League English coverage community. And we strongly encourage more people to get involved so we can have an English-speaking representative for each club in the J-League.

Second, I’d like to thank everyone that has been part of my J-League experience to date. While I cannot name everyone, 2019 was a turning point for me as I became a part of a larger community of fans in the J-League and have made some great friends along the way.

Finally, as recent events have shown us, we all need to be working together for common goals and using whatever platform we have to promote these causes. That includes stamping out racism and CV-19. There is no telling what is in store for the future but I am glad to know so many great people that will make the best of whatever lies ahead.

Well said brother, I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Just a final shout out to @vegalta_blog ( ) the JLeague’s newest English blog. Please give it a follow on Twitter.

Thanks again Geoff and I look forward to your contributions on all things FC Ryukyu during this crazy 2020 season.


Classic Gamba matches #1

Sunday 17 November 2013
J.League Division 2 Round 41
Gamba Osaka 3-2 Montedio Yamagata
Expo 70′ Commemorative Stadium
Attendance: 13,970

The teams come out.

The Background

Gamba suffered a shock relegation to J2 at the end of 2012. However, under the leadership of Kenta Hasegawa, in his first season with the club, and owing to the excellence of star players such as Endo, Konno and Usami, they came into this round 41 clash with promotion back to the top flight already in the bag. A win at home to a Yamagata side mired in mid-table would see them crowned J2 champions ahead of another Kansai club who had suffered relegation to the second tier the previous year, Vissel Kobe.

Gamba came into the game on the back of a 4-match winning streak which included impressive away victories at, 3rd place Kyoto (2-0) and 4th place Tokushima (5-1 – Usami scored 4 in that game), but, they’d have to do without their current Japanese internationals, Yasuhito Endo and Yasuyuki Konno who were with the national squad for a set of friendly matches in the build up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The Team

Experienced right-back Akira Kaji captained Gamba in the absence of Endo and Konno as Kenta Hasegawa lined them up in his usual 4-4-2 formation. Enigmatic ‘keeper Yosuke Fujigawa had a solid looking backline in front of him. Daiki Niwa was partnered by the promising Takaharu Nishino who had enjoyed a breakout year while Kaji and Hiroki Fujiharu were the fullbacks. Shu Kurata started on the right-wing, with Tatsuya Uchida, another player who enjoyed plenty of game time in 2013 and Kenya Okazaki in his first year out of university in the midfield engine room, while it was the veteran Takahiro Futagawa who played down the left. Takashi Usami with 16 goals in 16 games since returning from a loan spell in Germany in the summer was the great hope in attack and he was partnered by the tall Akihiro Sato who had only recently recovered from a serious knee injury (writing this in 2020 and seeing the path his career has taken, I wonder if recovered is the correct word?)

The Match

Gamba started on the front foot and were rewarded with a brilliant solo effort from Usami after 15 minutes where he really showed that he didn’t belong in J2, running onto Sato’s headed touch, flicking the ball over the defender and drilling it low into the bottom corner.

The home side had something to defend and began to sit back, however this played into Yamagata’s hands, as the Tohoku side had nothing but pride to play for and decided to go for it. Hiroki Bandai equalised for Montedio just 4 minutes after Usami’s opener, flicking on a corner from the main stand side which flew past Fujigaya and into the Gamba goal…game on.

Gamba were not for taking that one lying down and good work down the left by Usami and Fujiharu saw the latter’s cross turned in by Yamagata defender Taisuke Nakamura to send the men in blue and black back into the lead just 3 minutes after Bando’s goal.

The second half saw chances for both sides before Usami effectively sealed the game 22 minutes from time, picking up Futagawa’s cross-field ball, he cut inside under the attention of several defenders before unleashing a shot from 20 yards out which flew past Tokizawa in the Yamagata goal.

Hiroki Bandai caused a nervous final 10 minutes in Suita by pulling a goal back after Fujigaya could only parry a shot from the edge of the box. Despite some frantic defending by Gamba towards the end, Montedio, breaking with JLeague tradition and not wearing a white away kit (opting for a yellow and blue Napoli away-esque effort) couldn’t find an equaliser and Kaji went on to lift the J2 trophy in front of an ecstatic home crowd while his team-mates brought on the #7 and #15 shirts of Endo and Konno to be part of the post match photos.

undefined undefined undefined
Man of the match Usami and post match fun

Match Highlights

The Aftermath

No-one could have predicted that just over 12 months on from this slightly chilly early Autumn afternoon in 2013 that Gamba would have completed a domestic treble, winning J1, the League Cup and Emperor’s Cup. Indeed, the core of this side made up that treble-winning squad, Niwa, Fujiharu, Kurata, Endo, Konno and Usami were all big players whilst some who didn’t feature much in 2013 for a variety of reasons such as Keisuke Iwashita, Hiroyuki Abe, Oh Jae-suk and Kotaro Omori all made big contributions too.

The Stats

Gamba’s line up
*Apps and Goals correct to the end of the 2013 season.

Montedio Yamagata
Satoshi Tokizawa, Satoshi Horinouchi, Tatsuya Ishikawa, Takumi Yamada (Goshi Okubo 56′), Taisuke Nakamura, Lee Tae-ho, Masaru Akiba, Romero Frank, Masaki Miyasaka, Masato Yamazaki, Hiroki Bandai:
Unused Subs: Kenta Shimizu, Kohei Higa, Kim Byeom-yong, Yuji Sakuda, Kenichi Tanimura, Alvaro Pena.
Kantoku: Ryosuke Okuno