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Nagoya Grampus vs Gamba Osaka 27 August 2022 Match Preview

Nagoya Grampus vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 27
Saturday 27 August 2022
Toyota Stadium
Kick Off: 18:00 (JST)


As the clock ticks ever closer to midnight on Gamba’s season they face the second of three away trips on the spin, this time at a Nagoya side who find themselves comfortably ensconced in mid-table. Could this be just the match Hiroshi Matsuda and his battered Nerazzurri troops are looking for, or does more heartbreak await at the Toyota Stadium? Gamba went down 5-2 at Sanfrecce Hiroshima last Saturday in a game that in some ways defies explanation and in others tells you everything you need to know about their 2022 campaign. Despite leading for half the contest, 4 goals in 16 breathtaking minutes from the Viola gave them an emphatic win that almost entirely erased the positive feeling built up during a dull, but largely effective opening 72 minutes from the Nerazzurri. That result leaves Gamba right where they started the matchday, 2nd bottom, only above Júbilo on goal difference and with just 9 fixtures remaining, including the next 3 within the space of 8 days, the blue and blacks have used up all of their lives and simply must start winning again following a barren run of 5 losses and 2 draws. Nagoya, coached by former Ao to Kuro treble-winning kantoku Kenta Hasegawa, have spent the bulk of the year floating just above the drop-zone without ever looking in serious danger and with last Friday night’s 1-0 victory over bottom side Júbilo Iwata safely in the bag they can surely begin planning for 2023 as they now find themselves almost equidistant, in terms of points, from the ACL places and the bottom 3. With that said, I’m sure the Grampus faithful will be expecting a professional display and a win, while Gamba, who will surely take a large following east to Aichi, know that victory at any cost is absolutely essential.

A quick reminder that I joined Sam on this week’s J-Talk Podcast where we discussed Gamba vs Sanfrecce and all the other games on the round 26 slate as well as looking ahead to the upcoming fixtures and commenting on developments in the Asian Champions League. Please check it out if you haven’t already, it’s available on all good podcast apps.

Tale of the Tape



There was absolutely nothing subtle or flashy about what Hiroshi Matsuda did tactics-wise against Hiroshima, 4-4-2, three banks of players set up to stifle Sanfrecce and their gegenpressing system, plus two ‘big men’ up-front with wingers on the flanks. Coming straight from the Sam Allardyce / Tony Pulis playbook as it did, one could argue for a club in Gamba’s predicament it was the most sensible option. Once Michael Skibbe and his coaching team saw the Nerazzurri lineup I’m sure there was little doubt in their minds how Gamba would play, yet still for the majority of the game, they struggled to deal with it. Rather prematurely I scribbled in my notes during the second-half drinks break, ‘2-1 Gamba, holding on quite comfortably.’ Famous last words though they were, I’m sure had you taken a sample poll of fans watching last Saturday’s tie then they’d likely have told you 2-2 or 3-1 Gamba were the most probable outcomes with 20 minutes to go. As I’m sure you’re well aware, Gamba didn’t return to Suita with the three points, instead they capitulated in the final 20 minutes. Well, I say capitulated, but in reality Sanfrecce won the game rather than Gamba losing it. While I can point the finger at Genta Miura for Nassim Ben Khalifa’s first or Gen Shoji’s weak effort at stopping Taishi Matsumoto’s fifth, Hiroshima players like Ben Khalifa, Gakuto Notsuda and Makoto Mitsuta stood up and produced the goods when it mattered and Gamba ultimately had no answer. Similar tactics likely await us going forward, even if Katanosaka-era signings such as Kwon Kyung-won, Dawhan and Musashi Suzuki do force their way into Matsuda’s plans over the coming weeks. The season low 113 completed passes and 29% possession (both marginally worse than Frontale away when it was 10 v 11 for 83 minutes) may owe something to weather conditions and the quality of the opposition, but are more likely harbingers of what’s to come. To combat this slight negativity on my part, Matsuda, or others, could rightly point out that while the Ao to Kuro were easier on the eye under Katanosaka compared to last year, that was fruitless as positive results didn’t follow. Additionally, Matsuda-ball did help Gamba engineer better chances than their more vaunted hosts on Saturday, generating an average of 0.092xG per attempt versus Sanfrecce’s 0.086xG. Small margins and clutching at straws, I know, I know, however, against a Grampus side that might not be quite as switched on, or as sharp as Hiroshima, it could, just could, make all the difference.



Although most associated with a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 setup, Kenta Hasegawa has shown that you can teach an old dog new tricks by, through a series of transitions, morphing Grampus into a 3-4-2-1 formation. Young Haruya Fujii has come to the fore this year, pouring scorn on claims that Hasegawa never gives youth a chance, playing in between the fit-again Yuichi Maruyama and Japan international Shinnosuke Nakatani, while another Samurai Blue, Yuki Soma, has found himself in the unfamiliar left wing-back role, ousting one of Massimo Ficcadenti’s favourites, Yutaka Yoshida, in the process. On the other flank, Ryoya Morishita has seen rather more action this season than he did under Hasegawa’s Italian predecessor and, in my book, Grampus are all the better for it. Further forward, Keiya Sento and Noriyoshi Sakai, who both joined from Sagan Tosu last winter, haven’t really lived up to expectations yet, meaning summer addition from Avispa Fukuoka, Takuya Shigehiro, has subsequently found himself in an unfamiliar attacking role and thus far become better known for head-scratchingly bad misses rather than good play (I’m sure that comment will come back to haunt me with Gamba’s record this year of everything that can possibly go wrong, going wrong).

Just two victories in their opening 12 league games had Nagoya and new kantoku Hasegawa under pressure earlier in the year, but a run of 6 wins, 4 draws and only 3 defeats over the subsequent 13 fixtures has steadied the ship. Defensively, naturally they’ve slipped back a touch from the halcyon days of Ficcadenti, but not as much as you might think. Grampus are still conceding at a clip of under a goal a game, 0.96 per 90 minutes this season compared with 0.79 in 2021 and 0.82 two years ago. Hasegawa’s greatest headache perhaps lies at the other end of the field. They’ve only hit the back of the net 8 times in their most recent 10 outings and Brazilian flyer Mateus has bagged 5 of those. The term ‘talisman’ feels like it doesn’t do him the justice he deserves, he’s not quite a one-man band, but he is so, so important to how the Giallorossi operate in the attacking third of the field. Grampus have scored 8.5 times fewer than we could reasonably expect based on their xG numbers and that under-performance is even more pronounced on home soil. Despite recording xG For totals of over 2 in 6 of their 12 matches at Toyota Stadium this season, that has only translated into 14 actual goals being scored, an under-performance of 4.84. With new attackers such as Kensuke Nagai, Leonardo and Shigehiro now on board, surely Nagoya will be aiming to reduce their reliance on Mateus while at the same time scoring more frequently in front of their own supporters.



First Match Recap

Gamba’s 3-1 triumph at home to Nagoya back in April was definitely one of the high points of their year and came at a vital time in the wake of a tame draw at Júbilo and a disappointing defeat to Fukuoka at Panasonic Stadium. After a slow-paced start the Nerazzurri picked up the momentum and in the aftermath of a Hiroto Yamami set-piece, Gen Shoji shot goalward and Patric was on hand to deflect in the opener after 26 minutes (just rewards after having a perfectly good effort ruled out against the same opposition at the back end of the 2021 season). Not long after, Australian ‘keeper Mitch Langerak denied the big Brazilian with a wonderful stop from point blank range, and then not a great deal of action took place up until the Ao to Kuro’s second, eight minutes into the second-half, and it was a tragic own-goal from a Grampus perspective. Yamami put in a speculative cross and right-back Kazuya Miyahara, who had a pretty grim afternoon all round, had the ball volleyed off him by team-mate Mateus, before it flew past the helpless Langerak in goal. Keisuke Kurokawa then sealed the deal with a fine run and shot, rewarding him with his first ever J1 goal. Three and easy for Gamba, well not quite, as with the game all but sewn up Shoji played a hospital pass to Ju Se-jong at the edge of his own area, Keiya Sento dispossessed the South Korean international and buried the ball past debutant Jun Ichimori for a late consolation. No more goals followed and Gamba saw out a comfortable 3-1 win which moved them up to 9th in the standings.



Gamba Osaka

* At a press conference held on the evening of 17 August, Gamba Osaka Chairman Mr. Ono confirmed that although Hiroshi Matsuda had taken over from Tomohiro Katanosaka in the hot-seat, this was only until the end of the current season. At present, who the coach will be in 2023 is ‘a blank slate,’ (that’s me trying to translate accurately) and there was also a vague reference to a more rigorous approach being taken to identifying the right candidate. If this helps avoid future episodes of, bringing in a kantoku, signing a bunch of players that suit their style of football and then firing them after lots of money has been spent, that would be much appreciated.

With all this in mind, I drew up the official @BlogGamba Managerial Shortlist;

* Kenta Kawai – Currently has cash-strapped Sagan Tosu sitting 7th in J1 playing an easy-on-the-eye brand of attacking football. Likely to be in such demand that he won’t countenance a move to Suita, especially not if the Nerazzurri are in J2 next year, but we can dream, right?

* Satoshi Yamaguchi – Club legend who remains a fan favourite from his time as a member of both the playing and coaching staff at Gamba. Moved to Shonan in 2021 having been assistant to Tsuneyasu Miyamoto and has overachieved on a shoestring there. However, as you may have noticed above, a lot of his background is similar to Katanosaka’s, possibly so much so that it’ll make the Gamba front office think twice about hiring him.

* Peter Cklamovski – As far as I can tell, Gamba haven’t had a decent foreign coach this side of the millennium, could the popular Australian be the man to alter that? Wasn’t given the resources to fully implement his methods at Shimizu in 2020 and currently meeting expectations, but little more at Yamagata. Is this a project that would appeal to him, and can Gamba sell themselves as a progressive enough outfit to attract such a coach?

* Takeshi Oki – Currently working wonders with Roasso Kumamoto. His revolutionary 3-3-1-3 Marcelo Bielsa-esque formation took Kumamoto up from J3 to J2 last year and now has them in playoff contention where they could end up bumping into Gamba. At 61, age isn’t on his side, but he knows what he wants and he knows how to get it. It would certainly be a fascinating experiment if he took over at the helm in Suita.

* Akira Ito – This one is more if the worst comes to the worst and Gamba are playing J2 football in year. Ito steered Ventforet Kofu to 5th, 4th and 3rd placed finishes in 2019, 2020 and 2021 respectively, working on a much smaller budget than many of their rivals. They’ve dropped right off the pace this term without him in charge and despite recently getting the axe at Iwata, I see that job as a poisoned chalice that most coaches would have struggled with.

It will be very interesting to see how Gamba’s managerial search turns out. Stay tuned for future developments.

* Speaking of the future, on Monday 22 August Gamba announced the signing of Hosei University left-back Ibuki Konno who will join on a full-time deal from 2024, but has inked a designated special player contract for the rest of this season. This news has sent jitters through the Ao to Kuro fanbase as Keisuke Kurokawa was absent without explanation for the trip to Hiroshima last weekend and has been the subject of rumours linking him with a move to Europe. We’ll see what happens with that, but young Konno seems to come with good pedigree having played for Mitsubishi Yowa SC during high school, the same club that helped develop Keito Nakamura, before heading to Hosei, who of course knocked Gamba out of the 2019 Emperor’s Cup and boast the likes of Ayase Ueda among their alumni.

* On the evening of Monday 22 August, Sports Hochi’s Gamba beat reporter Mr. Kanagawa once again held a Twitter Spaces event with Mr. Uchida, his counterpart in Kashima. Interesting information to come out of that meeting was that apparently while members of the Gamba squad were wanting and expecting to play the same type of football that Katanosaka had served up in Oita, the boss himself opted to alter things and this lead to confusion and disagreements. Also, regarding Juan Alano’s recent move from Ibaraki to Suita, the two reporters stated that the move was instigated by Kashima as they were looking to free up space for new Nigerian signing Blessing Eleke. I realise that these stories might not be particularly earth-shattering to regular followers of the J. League, but I thought it would be good to share them nonetheless.

Team News

**Note – The club announced one asymptomatic case of Coronavirus among the playing staff on Monday 22 August. As is customary, the player in question’s identity is being kept under wraps.**

Additionally, the following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.

DF Keisuke Kurokawa – Not in the matchday squad for Hiroshima away last week, potentially the Covid case that was announced by the club on 19 August or could he be on his way overseas?

MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, potentially back in early September

MF Kosuke Onose – Not in the matchday squad for Hiroshima away, potentially the Covid case that was announced by the club on 19 August or possibly dropped due to patchy form this term and last

MF Rihito Yamamoto – Small fracture in instep of foot, has started running again, should be back in early September

FW Leandro Pereira – Substituted at half-time in the loss at Hiroshima. Was seen grimacing during the water break as if he was feeling the effects of an earlier challenge. It’s equally possible he was replaced as Suzuki offered more pace on the counter.

FW Isa Sakamoto – Attended a Japan U-19 training camp alongside Jiro Nakamura and Rikuto Kuwahara last midweek which may have been behind his absence at Hiroshima, alternatively Matsuda’s style and penchant for experience may limit his playing time until the end of the year

FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season, has started light sprinting in training as per a video posted on the club’s official Instagram on 19 August

FW Hiroto Yamami – Not in the squad for the past 2 matches, it’s unclear whether he is injured or has been left out possibly due to his bad miss late on against Kyoto

Dawhan, Shu Kurata and Kosuke Onose are all just a single yellow card away from the one game suspension threshold of 4

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Nagoya Grampus

Nagoya are clearly not satisfied with a season of comfortable mid-table football after feasting on 3rd and 5th placed finishes under Massimo Ficcadenti in 2020 and 2021, meaning Toyota Stadium has been the site of a bounty of ins and outs this summer. The headline signing has been the return of prodigal son Kensuke Nagai who bagged 42 goals in 161 J1 appearances for the club between 2011 and 2016. The former FC Tokyo speedster gives an extra option in attack, but in the twilight of his career at 33, he certainly won’t help to bring down the average age of the squad which is getting a tad problematic. In fairness, neither will any of the other recent acquisitions, Brazilian forward Leonardo (29) from Chengdu in China, veteran schemer Ryota Nagaki (34) on loan from Shonan and Takuya Shigehiro, the youngest of the crew at 27, who arrived from Avispa Fukuoka where he’d served as backup to Hiroyuki Mae and Shun Nakamura. The Giallorossi have managed to unload some of their more ageing attackers with Hiroyuki Abe going to Shonan, Mu Kanazaki linking up with former side Oita and Manabu Saito heading overseas to join Suwon Samsung Bluewings in South Korea. Mitch Langerak (34), Yuichi Maruyama (33) and Leo Silva (36) plus Tiago, Yoichiro Kakitani and Yutaka Yoshida (all 32) are still on-board, but honestly I’d expect at least a couple of them to head to fresh pastures this coming winter. The club have yet to show their hand transfer-wise for 2023 and it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of Polish international Jakub Świerczok, currently serving a year-long suspension for a PED violation. It would also be fascinating to observe what someone like Kenta Kawai of Tosu could do if given the reigns at a side with the resources of Grampus, however, ultimately nothing dramatic enough to warrant a managerial change has really taken place this year therefore I don’t really rate it as likely in the up-coming off-season (granted I held a similar belief 12 months ago). All I can say for sure looking into the future is that Rissho University attacker Kyota Sakakibara, currently on a designated special player contract, will join full-time, though that won’t be until he graduates college in 2024. Sakakibara is a former Grampus Under-18 player where he was a team-mate of Kwansei Gakuin University’s Ken Masui, a talented youngster who has been linked with Gamba, but who could also choose to return to his nest. (another Japanese to English translation I love).

Team News

The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.

DF Yutaka Yoshida – hasn’t played since being sent off after coming on as a sub at home to S-Pulse on 10 July, I suspect he’s just been dropped by Hasegawa

MF Hidemasa Koda – knee muscle injury, hasn’t played since 18 May, expected back soon

MF Kazuki Nagasawa – knee injury, hasn’t played since 20 April, no date yet given for his comeback

FW Noriyoshi Sakai – Last played 11 June, he may be injured, but it’s probably more likely he’s just been dropped due to underwhelming displays since his winter arrival from Tosu

FW Jakub Świerczok – Currently serving a suspension for an unspecified period of time due to testing positive for a banned substance during last year’s Asian Champions League campaign

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.

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Gamba Osaka vs Nagoya Grampus 2 April 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Nagoya Grampus
2022 J1 Season Round 6
Saturday 2 April 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


J1 is back after a successful international break for the Samurai Blue, and speaking of success, former Gamba treble-winning coach Kenta Hasegawa is in town as he leads his Nagoya side into Osaka to face off with former protégé Tomohiro Katanosaka’s troops. Both teams currently sit level on 5 points, though Grampus have played a game fewer owing to their round 2 clash with FC Tokyo being postponed. Nerazzurri kantoku Katanosaka doesn’t have his troubles to seek following a chastening 3-2 home loss to Fukuoka a fortnight back which bore all the hallmarks of the darkest days of the 2021 season. That was followed up by a second-half capitulation away at Kashima in the Levain Cup last Saturday and, as such, the pressure he’s under might have been turned up just a notch or so. Hasegawa has made a steady, if unspectacular, start to life in Aichi. The Giallorossi were perhaps a shade fortunate to escape with a 1-1 draw against early season surprise package Kashiwa in their previous league outing, but bounced back to comfortably see off J2 promotion chasers Tokushima in the League Cup with Yoichiro Kakitani making a welcome return to the scoresheet. This will be the first of 3 J1 fixtures in the space of 8 days for both clubs so needless to say beginning that run with a positive result is of paramount importance to each side.

Tale of the Tape

I’ll try my best to stay upbeat and positive about Gamba in this section and I accept that might mean supporters of other teams think I’m being ever so slightly biased. The Nerazzurri’s 3-2 home loss at the hands of Avispa Fukuoka means they’re still without a home win this season in league or cup (D1L3, with a minimum of 2 goals conceded every game), however, it did mark their 2nd consecutive xG For over 1, possession % higher than 50 and completed passes above 400, if these kind of numbers continue then I’m reasonably confident better results are around the corner. April is shaping up as an important month for the Ao to Kuro with upcoming dates against Kyoto, Shimizu and Shonan likely to set the tone for the middle part of the campaign. With that in mind, the return of Hiroki Fujiharu in tandem with Kwon Kyung-won and Dawhan’s much anticipated entries into Japan couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, as that trio should be able to help stabilise the backline once they’re fully up to speed. I’m loathe to be overly critical at the moment due to several factors that have been against Katanosaka, inheriting a shambles, the pre-season Covid outbreak, a spate of injuries plus the aforementioned late arrival of two of the big winter signings. Overall things haven’t been great, though they certainly haven’t been terrible either, well up until the last week or so. It feels like the Nerazzurri’s season is balancing on something of a knife-edge at the moment and after the next run of games we’ll get a clearer picture of how things stand. If the men from Suita are going to take decisive steps in the right direction then the home form needs sorted out and that sorting needs to start this Saturday. The blue and blacks have struck first just once in four home outings this year, and did so only 5 times in 19 J1 games at Panasonic Stadium in 2021, that’s a statistic that Katanosaka simply must find a way to alter, and from this writer’s perspective it would be pleasing if Nagoya were the first team to bear the brunt of that change in fortunes. To finish this section on a positive note like I promised above, 8 fixtures have been fulfilled to date in all competitions and the Nerazzurri have found the net in each of them plus Pereira, Onose and Fukuda already have 2 league goals apiece so contributions are coming from different areas of the field, it’s now a matter of starting matches on the front foot, giving themselves a fighting chance of taking the lead (five of the seven goals Gamba have scored in J1 have come in the final 13 minutes plus additional time) and keeping the door bolted shut at the back, it all sounds so easy written down like that, doesn’t it?

Having been pipped to second spot by Gamba in 2020, Grampus finished a whopping 8 places and 22 points better off than the Nerazzurri last term. Just as in 2020, the foundation was set by kantoku Massimo Ficcadenti’s rock-solid catenaccio style defence. Nagoya’s 30 goals conceded was 2nd best in the league, only behind champions Kawasaki while Australian ‘keeper Mitch Langerak set a new divisional record of 21 clean sheets in a season (including an incredible 9 in-a-row in April/May), outdoing his own previous record from 12 months prior (17, albeit that campaign contained 4 fewer games). The Giallorossi also posted the 2nd best xG Against and Shots Against on Target numbers and were 3rd in the Shots Against rankings, on the other hand, and this might go some way to explaining why Massimo Ficcadenti is now their former kantoku, Grampus placed 16th out of 20 in both xG For and Shots For. That brings me on nicely to their new boss Kenta Hasegawa, and although he’s only been in charge for a grand total of 4 J1 and 3 Levain Cup games, there are a couple of small points I’d like to make about him and his new charges. Looking specifically at their league fixtures to date, a pretty tough run of games vs Kobe, Tosu, Kawasaki and Kashiwa, impressively they’ve outshot 3 of their 4 opponents so far and have also cleared 120km team distance covered in all but one outing (Kawasaki were the only team they didn’t achieve this against, while Gamba’s 118.9km versus Frontale at home is their current personal best). Conversely, Grampus are yet to enjoy the lion’s share of possession in any match, though the 48% recorded in the clash with Kashiwa just before the international break is their highest figure, so things may be starting to point in the right direction. Just as in the Gamba vs Fukuoka clash, the stats above suggest we are likely to see the Nerazzurri control possession and territory, and with my blue and black tinted sunglasses firmly secured, I hope this doesn’t once again lead to the type of counter attacking opportunities that allowed Avispa to bank their 2nd and 3rd goals and indeed provided the majority of Grampus’ chances in the head to head games between these two last season. In my previous preview I talked about Fukuoka being due a change in luck after having results that didn’t quite match their impressive stats, well check this out…in 2021 Nagoya scored 5 times in 2 games against Gamba from only 1.76xG For and 19 shots (12 on target). Put simply, almost 50% of their shots on target resulted in goals, a tally which stood at 100% for the 3-1 win at Panasonic Stadium in November, 3 shots on target, 3 goals, you can’t do much better than that, but minus their star Polish attacker is that run due to come to a shuddering halt?

Head to Head


Gamba’s 2021 nightmare can be traced back to March 3rd when, what would have been their second league match of the season versus Grampus at Toyota Stadium was postponed due to a Covid outbreak in the squad. The rescheduled fixture, played on Thursday 22 April was one to forget for the men from Suita with Nagoya running out comfortable 2-0 victors. Goals either side of half-time from Ryogo Yamasaki and the impressive Yuki Soma were enough to see off a rather toothless visiting side as the Brazilian duo of Patric and Leandro Pereira didn’t really click in attack while having Onose and Fukuda as full-backs left Gamba’s defence exposed to the twin threats of Mateus and Soma down the flanks.

The return match came in round 36 and was the Ao to Kuro’s first outing since making themselves mathematically safe from relegation in their tightly fought 3-2 triumph at Oita a fortnight previously. Co-kantokus Masanobu Matsunami and Takashi Kiyama let the handbrake off just a touch, but it was enough to allow a clinical Nagoya to race into an unassailable lead thanks to a 3 goal barrage within the opening half hour. Polish hitman Jakub Świerczok was destroyer-in-chief, bagging a deadly double from two lethal finishes, and ex-Cerezo legend Yoichiro Kakitani also getting on the scoresheet, how he must have revelled in that experience. Gamba rallied strongly after the break with Patric giving them a glimmer of hope in the 53rd minute and, hot on the heels of his hat-trick in Kyushu 13 days prior, he should have bagged a brace here, but after having the ball in the net for a second time the referee ruled it out for reasons that still remain unclear and VAR failed to overturn the original decision, so it finished 3-1 Grampus (with VAR also not being used to rescind his red-card following his ‘scuffle’ with Yuma Suzuki in round 1 could the Brazilian be considered a runner up to Shonan’s Takuya Okamoto in the J1 VAR’s most disliked player rankings?)




Gamba Osaka

* System of a Down – To quote Tim Canterbury from the Office “I’m boring myself talking about it,” but unfortunately the ever changing Gamba formation requires another mention here. Listeners to last week’s marathon J-Talk Pod will be aware that I was able to guess Hajime Moriyasu’s starting eleven for the crunch game with Australia perfectly despite only putting in minimum effort to research my answer. However, with Gamba, even seasoned observers have no real idea of what formation will be served up on any given matchday. I thought Katanosaka’s appointment would put an end to 2021’s chicanery, but it appears not. Maybe with Kwon Kyung-won and Dawhan arriving as the final pieces of the puzzle, Katanosaka will settle on 3-4-2-1 as he did at Oita, however, that remains to be seen. I challenge anyone reading this to name a successful side that regularly switch(ed) between a back 3 and back 4, in fact this observation formed the bulk of my criticism of Vissel Kobe across the 2019 and 2020 seasons, and lo-and-behold, once they started playing with a back 4 week-in week-out their defensive performance improved markedly. Perhaps Katanosaka would be well advised to sit down for a chat with his former mentor Kenta Hasegawa after Saturday’s match or even get on the blower to another of his previous bosses, Hajime Moriyasu, for some words of wisdom.

* Higuchi Heartbreak – 4 Kashima goals last Saturday, 4 Yuta Higuchi assists, if any Gamba fans were in doubt over what we missed out on then those illusions were shattered at the Kashima Soccer Stadium. In all honesty with the trajectory Antlers and Gamba are headed in, it appears that Higuchi made the right choice career wise, even if the antics of Kashima’s Kento Misao in the lead up to Patric’s early opener served as a reminder of why they make so few friends outside the confines of Ibaraki.

* Player Focus 1 Jun Ichimori – Two injury blighted years after his arrival from Fagiano Okayama, Ichimori, yet another member of the Kwansei Gakuin Old Boys brigade at Gamba, finally made his first team debut in the Levain Cup tie with Kashima, and unfortunately it was largely a debut to forget. The Nerazzurri conceded 4 goals in the space of 38 second half minutes, 3 of them from corners and Ichimori appeared to be at least partially culpable for a couple of them. After failing to cover himself in glory on his comeback, I’d expect nominal 3rd choice Kei Ishikawa to keep his place on Saturday, however, Ichimori is better with the ball at his feet, has 120 games of J2 football under his belt with Yamaguchi and Okayama (Ishikawa, who’s only 1 year younger than Ichimori had made a mere 4 league appearances above J3 level prior to this season) and in the only real head-to-head comparison I have, turning out as over-age players for the now defunct Gamba U23, Ichimori looked by far the more competent of the two, so let’s describe this situation as being fluid for now.

Player Focus 2 Dawhan – His first appearance in a blue and black uniform may have come in rather inconspicuous circumstances, playing the final 10 minutes of the 4-1 drubbing at Kashima, but Gamba supporters will be hoping that was just the opening chapter in what will ultimately be a long and fruitful partnership. With 55 games to his name in Brazil’s Serie A, most latterly with Juventude, Dawhan describes his playing style as being similar to Paulinho (the former Spurs and Barcelona one, not the Matsumoto Yamaga midfielder…I hope) and Felipe Melo and says his strengths are his defensive prowess and also his heading (despite standing at 177cm). It seems that he’s a like-for-like replacement for Ideguchi and I, for one, can’t wait to see him in the engine room with Mitsuki Saito on a regular basis.

Team News

Thankfully I don’t have a whole lot to say in this section for once. Talisman Takashi Usami (achilles) is expected to miss the rest of the season while regular first choice keeper Masaaki Higashiguchi has also gone under the knife, having relatively minor knee surgery and he’s expected back by the end of May if everything proceeds smoothly. Kwon Kyung-won may sit this one out after being away on international duty with his country and I have no information as to why Wellington Silva has been out of the matchday squad in recent weeks, it’s presumed that he’s picked up a knock of some sort.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Nagoya Grampus

Grampus have been round the houses in terms of management in recent seasons with the ultra-defensive Massimo Ficcadenti replacing the extremely attack-minded Yahiro Kazama towards the back end of 2019 as the Giallorossi flirted dangerously with a 2nd relegation in the space of 4 years. The Italian achieved excellent on-field results, 3rd and 5th in 2020 and 2021 respectively, however, his style of play was certainly not easy on the eye, though quite how entitled J.League fans are to demand exciting and successful football at the same time is a debate for another day. Kenta Hasegawa is something of a halfway house in that he gets results from a slightly more offensive setup than Ficcadenti, but don’t expect Nagoya to earn many plaudits for playing in an overly beautiful or dynamic way under his tutelage. Early on this season we’ve seen signs of greater openness at the back with Shinnosuke Nakatani and Mitch Langerak being stretched to their absolute limits in the Reysol match. In attack, the absence of Świerczok appears to have led to an over-reliance on wingers Soma and, in particular, Mateus and this has been exacerbated by the bedding in issues experienced by both Keiya Sento and Noriyoshi Sakai since their winter arrivals from Tosu. Hasegawa will not be the only Gamba treble winner in the Grampus ranks on Saturday with Hiroyuki Abe (ex-Kwansei Gakuin just like Ichimori, Takao, Yamamoto and Yamami) surely licking his lips at the prospect of following in the footsteps of Shun Nagasawa, Kotaro Omori and Tatsuya Tanaka in scoring against his former side this season. Indeed, I think Akihiro Ienaga is the only Old Boy who’s failed to hit the target against the Nerazzurri in 2022, though, in his defence he had a very positive influence in the attacking third during his brief second-half cameo in the recent Gamba vs Kawasaki match.

One thing that has interested me about Grampus over the past few years is the composition of their squad. Nagoya is the 4th biggest city in Japan and Aichi the country’s 4th largest prefecture, yet despite having a large pool of potential recruits slap-bang on their doorstep there is a distinct absence of youth graduates in the first team with full-back Shumpei Naruse and central defender Haruya Fujii the only ex-Nagoya U-18 players to earn league minutes in 2021 (Ryotaro Ishida was an unused sub). They also don’t tend to deal much with universities, Yuki Soma was the only player directly recruited from varsity football (Waseda University) to feature in J1 last term (Shunto Kodama was an unused replacement) and that is a trend that has continued into 2022 under Hasegawa. Rookie Hidemasa Koda has made a handful of sub appearances on the wing, Fujii has rotated with Tiago in Yuichi Maruyama’s extended leave of absence and Naruse appears to have dropped down the pecking order, but aside from that, there’s not a whole lot to report. For reference the 2022 Nagoya Grampus squad is made up of 30 players, 16 of whom were recruited from other J1 clubs, 4 from J2, 2 from overseas sides, 1 (Soma) from university and 7 from the youth team (of whom 3, Koda, Haruki Yoshida and Koki Toyoda were promoted last winter). Bringing in already developed J1 talents isn’t cheap and I’m curious about Grampus’ current financial situation. In the wake of Jô’s acrimonious departure there was essentially an 18 month gap before he was adequately replaced (by Świerczok who himself is now banned), suggesting that the club may have been awaiting the CAS’s decision on that matter before parting with more cash, and as Świerczok is now out of the picture indefinitely, will Hasegawa have to make do with what he has? Nagoya did announce the loan signing of versatile midfielder Takuya Uchida from Hasegawa’s previous charges FC Tokyo on Monday and he joined up with his new team-mates for training on Tuesday (29 March). It’s not an eye-catching acquisition by any stretch of the imagination, however, the Giallorossi still retain the backbone of the strong 2020 and 2021 sides and will deservedly start Saturday’s tie as favourites.

Team News

Covid seems to be the biggest concern for Grampus at the moment with 2 positive cases reported in the camp (1 on Monday 28/3, and 1 on Tuesday 29/3). Elsewhere Polish centre-forward Jakub Świerczok is still missing after being suspended due to a PED violation. In more positive news, long term casualty Yuichi Maruyama made his comeback in an Elite League game last Sunday while regular left-back Yutaka Yoshida was out of the squad completely for the 1-1 draw with Kashiwa then rode the pine for the Levain Cup win over Tokushima so is presumably good to go for Saturday. I hope Shinnosuke Nakatani did a good job organising the cones on the Samurai Blue training pitch as he certainly didn’t get anywhere near the starting eleven meaning he should slot back into his regular position here while Hidemasa Koda and Shumpei Naruse both featured in Japan U21’s impressive Dubai Cup campaign, but like Nakatani I’d imagine they will be ready to play against Gamba if called upon by Hasegawa.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.

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Gamba Osaka vs Nagoya Grampus 20 November 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Nagoya Grampus
2021 J1 Season Round 36
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 20 November 2021
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


Just 3 games remain in the 2021 edition of J1 and Gamba are finally mathematically safe following their come-from-behind 3-2 victory at Oita on November 7th. The Nerazzurri have rallied after being battered 5-1 at home by Sapporo last month, responding with 10 points from 4 games to plant themselves in amongst a train of teams battling for 10th. Saturday’s visitors Nagoya dropped the baton last time out, drawing 1-1 away at basement dwelling Sendai, a result that leaves them 5th in the standings, level with Kashima, but crucially 5 points worse off than 3rd placed Vissel Kobe, occupants of the final ACL spot. However, should Grampus accrue enough points from this clash and their two remaining outings against Cerezo (a) and Reds (h), it’s possible they could end up in 4th which, combined with Kawasaki lifting the Emperor’s Cup, would see them enter the 2022 Asian Champions League in the qualifying round.

If the Aichi-based outfit are to maintain their bid for only a second ACL appearance since 2012 then they’ll be hoping that in-form Gamba drop some of the intensity displayed in recent fixtures after securing their J1 status for next year. It will be interesting to see what route the Matsunami / Kiyama managerial partnership takes over the final 3 matches of the season. Matsunami will return to his role with the club’s academy from 2022 so it’s possible the likes of Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto could get a run out, while on the other hand Takashi Kiyama is auditioning for a full-time gig elsewhere and may seek to follow the blueprint from 2018 and 2019 where the Nerazzurri went on good runs at the end of the season which largely papered over some rather big cracks in the organisation. Either way, with Nagoya desperate to bag the 3 points and Gamba perhaps letting the handbrake off a little in terms of team selection and tactics, it’s sure to be an enthralling 90 minutes.

Tale of the Tape

Expect to hear Gamba supporters chanting the Japanese equivalent of ‘can we play Kyushu teams every week?’ sometime soon having seen their side take 16 points from 6 games against Fukuoka, Oita and Tosu in 2021. Trinita are the only club the Nerazzurri have defeated in J1 this year after conceding the opening goal, a feat they achieved in both home and away encounters with Tomohiro Katanosaka’s troops. Oita, in addition to Sagan Tosu are the only teams Gamba have done the double over in 2021 and Trinita are also the only outfit the Ao to Kuro have beaten in all 4 league clashes across the past 2 seasons.

Despite having the 4th weakest attack in J1 in terms of goals scored, Gamba’s xG For total is actually the 8th highest in the league. Nagoya’s defence, 2nd only to Kawasaki in terms of goals conceded will undoubtedly be tough to breach, but Nerazzurri supporters will be praying that someone from Grampus (h), Frontale (a) and Shonan (h) in the remaining 3 fixtures bears the brunt of the xG Gods evening things out. Gamba’s form in Suita remains a concern, as with just 2 games to go at Panasonic Stadium, 18 points from 17 matches is only good enough for 17th in the home league standings. Matsunami and Kiyama will surely be keen to give the Ao to Kuro faithful something to cheer about in the upcoming contests with Nagoya and Satoshi Yamaguchi’s Shonan.

At the back, Kiyama’s clearly defined defensive game-plan and the consistent selection of Yosuke Ideguchi and Yuki Yamamoto in central midfield has led to a much more solid looking Gamba over the past month (Yamamoto has also contributed offensively with 3 assists in his last 3 outings). However, despite that, the men from Suita are still the worst team in J1 in terms of shots against per game, 2nd weakest when considering shots against on target, and additionally they have the 3rd highest xG Against figure in the division. Again, I’m sure I speak for all supporters of a blue and black persuasion when I say, come on guys, let’s see some improvements in those numbers between now and the end of the year.

Defensive solidity has undoubtedly been the bedrock for Grampus’ strong showings over the past 2 seasons, a then league record 17 clean sheets in 2020 has since been surpassed by an astounding 20 in 35 this time round, and in keeping with their goals conceded numbers, they also trail only Kawasaki in xG against and shots against on target. Their clean sheet record this year, in particular, should be considered even more impressive considering the absence of captain Yuichi Maruyama since May. At the other end of the park, much to the frustration of Grampus supporters, their xG For number has only recently crept above 1 and they sit 15th in J1 for that particular statistic as well as shots for. Efforts from outside the area, especially from J1 Best Eleven contender Sho Inagaki have provided an invaluable source of goals to make up the shortfall caused by their inability to carve out clear cut openings.





Head to Head

The original game scheduled for March 3rd at Toyota Stadium was, of course, cancelled at the last minute due to a Covid outbreak in the Gamba camp, an incident which was essentially the start of this season’s woes. 7 weeks later on April 22nd was when the tussle eventually took place and Grampus ran out comfortable 2-0 winners with Yuki Soma assuming the role of tormentor-in-chief, first setting up Ryogo Yamasaki for the opener before settling the tie with a cool run and finish 10 minutes into the second half. That result ended an incredible run of 10 league games stretching back to 2015 where Gamba had scored at least twice in every match against Nagoya. A 1-0 home defeat at the old Expo 70’ Commemorative Stadium, 1 of only 2 losses the Nerazzurri suffered in the second half of the season during their incredible march to the J1 title, was the last time Gamba had failed to bag at least two goals against the Giallorossi.

Last year the two sides drew 2-2 at Toyota Stadium shortly after the league’s re-start in July. Genta Miura gave Gamba an early lead from a corner only to see Brazilian duo Mateus and Gabriel Xavier turn the game on it’s head before half time. Gamba pressed and pressed in the second half and eventually got their reward when Kazuma Watanabe struck a fine half-volley, teed-up by a Patric knockdown, past Mitch Langerak in additional time. In September, Mu Kanazaki swept Grampus in front at Panasonic Stadium, but Yuki Yamamoto’s deflected free-kick and Takashi Usami’s late winner which came from an attack started by a sumptuous Yasuhito Endo pass sealed a valuable 3 points in the 2nd of what would turn out to be 6 successive victories that moved the Nerazzurri up from 9th to 4th in the standings.



Gamba Osaka


After starting out in the same 4-4-2 set-up they’d been using in previous games, Gamba switched to a 3-4-2-1 in the second half of the 3-2 win at Oita. From the outside it seems like Kiyama’s decision to bring on Gen Shoji at half-time to match Trinita’s formation was actually a pre-conceived plan rather than the more random personnel changes seen earlier in the year under Matsunami. With J1 survival now assured, it’ll be interesting to observe which shape the Nerazzurri adopt against the 4-2-3-1 of Massimo Ficcadenti’s Nagoya. It’s quite possible that Shunya Suganuma will start ahead of Ryu Takao which would shift the predicted lineup you see below into a 3-4-2-1.

Now, here’s a look at my personal checklist of things I’d like to see happen in the final 3 matches of 2021;

* Keep the Ideguchi and Yamamoto partnership in central midfield as they’ve generally been excellent across the last 4 games. Re-uniting last season’s partners-in-crime on a regular basis has given the team as a whole much more stability.

* Yota Sato to play the full 90 against Nagoya, Kawasaki and Shonan regardless of the fitness status of the other centre backs. He’s still raw, but has shown marked improvements next to Shunya Suganuma in Takashi Kiyama’s re-jigged defensive system. Ideally we’ll see him learn from Gen Shoji in the upcoming encounters with the ultimate goal being that the former Meiji University star develops into a bona-fide starting eleven contender for 2022.

* Kwansei Gakuin University have now sewn up the JUFA Kansai League title and if that means Gamba can get full access to Hiroto Yamami, I’ll be over the moon. After a season of agonisingly slow build-up play, I particularly enjoyed Yamami gliding past Oita’s defenders like a hot knife through butter in the lead up to Patric’s winning spot kick against Trinita and would love to see him test himself against the likes of Shinnosuke Nakatani and Shogo Taniguchi.

Finally, it seemed popular when I did it a few weeks back so I’ll have another go…Gamba transfer gossip. Just a quick disclaimer first as there are a few spam ‘in the know’ accounts springing up on Twitter these days. All of the following information is speculation at this stage, if any of it has been published in reputable outlets then I will say so.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter you’ll have seen my post regarding Kim Young-gwon. Japanese media (Yahoo News and others) are reporting that the South Korean international defender was offered a 2-year deal to remain with Gamba and a 3-year one to return home with 2020 ACL Champions Ulsan Hyundai (an interesting development considering Kim is from Jeonju, home of their great rivals Jeonbuk!) With the Qatar 2022 World Cup looming on the horizon and Kim having to quarantine every time he returns from international duty, a move to the K League could lift a weight off his and his family’s shoulders. Further tidbits from the same article, released on the evening of 7 November, were apparent confirmation that Oita kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka will almost certainly occupy the Gamba hot-seat in 2022 and hat-trick hero Patric (22 goals in 42 games in all competitions this year) will ink a new contract for next season.

Further to that original article, Sponichi Annex announced on November 14th that Kim to Ulsan was essentially a done deal as the call from South Korean legend and current Ulsan kantoku Hong Myung-bo, Kim’s coach at the 2012 London Olympics, was too much for the 85-times capped stopper to refuse. With that departure potentially opening up a spot for a left-footed foreign centre-back in next season’s squad, Gamba Twitter came up with Sagan Tosu skipper Eduardo and Oita Trinita’s Henrique Trevisan as possible replacements. Trevisan is presently playing under Katanosaka at Oita, though the fact he’s only on loan to Trinita from Estoril in Portugal could scupper any hypothetical transfer. Eduardo, a member of Ben, Sam and I’s team of the first half of the season on J-Talk Pod would be an outstanding capture from cash-strapped Tosu, though how many rival J1 clubs are also thinking the same thing? A couple of other names I’ve seen on supporters’ winter wish lists are Hokuto Shimoda and Yamato Machida from Oita, though with Ideguchi, Yamamoto and Okuno likely to stay next season, where would Shimoda fit in? Ditto Machida, who despite performing well this year doesn’t have age on his side. Former Valencia forward Vinicius Araújo of Montedio Yamagata who has 9 goals and 4 assists in 23 J2 games this season is another interesting shout from members of the Gamba fan community.

Finally, and I really do mean finally this time, a list of names headed for the Panasonic Stadium exit this winter has been doing the rounds. The source seems a little questionable, but the players on said list do largely match what the ordinary Gamba fan is thinking at the moment which is why I’ve included it here. Goalkeepers Taichi Kato (on loan from Ehime) and Mizuki Hayashi, midfielders Shinya Yajima and Yuji Ono, plus forward Tiago Alves will all join Kim Young-gwon in departing Suita this winter if you believe the local Osaka journalist who published this information. To drift slightly off topic (I know this isn’t Fagiano Okayama Blog in English), Shinya Yajima previously spent a couple of productive years with Fagiano Okayama in J2 and if, as they reportedly promised Mitch Duke upon his arrival, they will be bringing in players with the aim of gaining promotion next season then Yajima would fit the bill as a ‘statement signing.’

Team News

After the obscenely long section above, I’ll keep things mercifully brief in here. Pictorial evidence suggests that Genta Miura and Leandro Pereira are back in full-training, but whether they are match-fit or will even be risked in the remaining 3 games is questionable. Other than that, reserve ‘keeper Jun Ichimori (hamstring surgery) is done for the year, Kim Young-gwon wasn’t called up for the South Korea squad for their recent World Cup qualifiers after going off injured vs Sagan Tosu on 23rd October, Yuji Ono (hamstring) is doing rehabilitation work (he joined physical training with the rest of the squad on Tuesday, but sat out the mini game at the end), while Shinya Yajima and Dai Tsukamoto don’t appear to be training at the moment, however, no details have been released yet about either of them.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Nagoya Grampus


Personally I enjoy doing predicted starting lineups for Massimo Ficcadenti’s teams because there’s always an extremely limited pool of players he chooses from. The Italian has proven to be a somewhat polarising figure at the Toyota Stadium, on the one hand establishing a side that was on the verge of a return to J2 when he took over, as a force to be reckoned with, but on the other facing criticism for his tactics and team selections. Grampus, one of the founding members of the J.League and the sole professional men’s team in Japan’s 4th most populous prefecture are a side with big resources at their fingertips, but after their most recent J1 title win back in 2010 under the guidance of club legend Dragan ‘Piksi’ Stojković they slid down the standings and were eventually relegated in 2016. Bouncing back via the playoffs at the first time of asking, the Giallorossi sank like a stone in both the 2018 and 2019 campaigns following promising starts. When a possible return to J2 began looming ominously on the horizon, the club made an abrupt U-turn, binning the attack-minded Yahiro Kazama in favour of the Catenaccio master Ficcadenti. Fast forward to 2021 and the Italian’s game-plan is now firmly entrenched in the club’s fabric and they have a Levain Cup title to show for it. What then for 2022? In theory, they should be gearing up for a title shot with defensive lynchpin Yuichi Maruyama back from injury and Polish hit-man Jakub Świerczok fully integrated into the set-up. Throw in the possibility of 1 or 2 high-quality winter additions and you have a recipe for success, right? I guess we’ll find out in due course. Personally I have my doubts as to whether Ficcadenti is the kantoku to bring the title back to Aichi for the first time in 12 years, but with Cerezo and Nagasaki both having horror stories to tell in the wake of canning coaches who’d achieved objectively good on-field results, don’t expect to see the former Verona and Torino midfielder necessarily making a hasty departure should Nagoya fail to live up to pre-season hype. Speaking of next year, to date Grampus have confirmed that they’ll promote 3 players from their youth system ahead of the new campaign, 2024 Olympic prospect Hidemasa Koda (MF), Koki Toyoda (FW) and Haruki Yoshida (CM/CB). There are also strong rumours that Brazilian playmaker Gabriel Xavier, someone Ficcadenti has never really had much time for, will head for fresh pastures, most likely in his homeland.

Team News

Knee injuries to a trio of key players form the backbone of Grampus’ injuries worries ahead of this clash. Captain Yuichi Maruyama is definitely out for the year after undergoing surgery, while it’s unlikely we’ll see holding midfielder Takuji Yonemoto or former Gamba treble-winner Hiroyuki Abe before the end of the season (as an aside I wouldn’t be against Abe returning to Suita as a Gamba player in the near future). South Korean centre-back Kim Min-tae, who seemed to have won out in the battle with Yasuki Kimoto to be Shinnosuke Nakatani’s partner in Maruyama’s absence, missed the draw at Sendai before the international break as did veteran forward Mu Kanazaki, I don’t have any further information on either player.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.