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 http://frontalerabbit.blogspot.com/ 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
*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.
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?
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 Opponent – Kawasaki 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 http://frontalerabbit.blogspot.com/
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.
DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo
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.
DF 4 . JESIEL
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!
LB 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei
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.
MF 25. TANAKA Ao
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.
FW 9. LEANDRO DAMIAO
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
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu
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
FW 30. HATATE Reo
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.
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!