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J1 2021 Appearance Data and Statistics

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

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

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

Finally, some people have asked where I get my data, so here are a few of the resources I use…
https://www.football-lab.jp/
https://sporteria.jp/
https://us.soccerway.com/national/japan/j1-league/2021/regular-season/r61498/
https://www.flashscore.com/
https://www.transfermarkt.com/j1-league/startseite/wettbewerb/JAP1
https://www.jleague.jp/sp/en/
And of course my trusty Soccer Digest Yearbook…
https://www.cdjapan.co.jp/product/NEOBK-2586671



Kawasaki Frontale

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



Gamba Osaka

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



Nagoya Grampus

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



Cerezo Osaka

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



Kashima Antlers

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



FC Tokyo

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



Kashiwa Reysol

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



Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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



Yokohama F.Marinos


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


Urawa Red Diamonds


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



Oita Trinita

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



Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

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


Sagan Tosu

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



Vissel Kobe


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



Yokohama FC

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



Shimizu S-Pulse

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



Vegalta Sendai


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



Shonan Bellmare

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



Tokushima Vortis

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



Avispa Fukuoka


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




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sport

J1 Lineups Updated Version end of round 6

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

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

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

Thanks again for your support and please enjoy!

Kawasaki Frontale

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


Gamba Osaka

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


Nagoya Grampus

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


Cerezo Osaka

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


Kashima Antlers

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


FC Tokyo

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


Kashiwa Reysol

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

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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


Yokohama F.Marinos

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


Urawa Red Diamonds

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


Oita Trinita

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


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

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


Sagan Tosu

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


Vissel Kobe

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


Yokohama FC

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


Shimizu S-Pulse

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


Vegalta Sendai

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


Shonan Bellmare

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


Tokushima Vortis

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


Avispa Fukuoka

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

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sport

J1 2021 Predicted Lineups

**Important Update**Important Update**Important Update**

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1j6HTKFF38A3cAz7sqw3jfZ4f6y8soAgOjfXqKR3fNCM/edit#gid=0

Please check out the link above to see who has been playing and who hasn’t in J1 2021. I’ll update it regularly.
Data keys are below.




Also for those of you using the https://sporteria.jp/ website, here is a simple English translation of the data displayed there…




I’m sure everyone would join me in thanking @Michael_Master and @bmtps_k for their wonderful coverage of all the off-season transfer activity in Japan. The purpose of this article is to see how those winter moves affect the matchday lineups of J1 sides one month out from the start of the new campaign. I hope you enjoy!

First up, some housekeeping notices;
* The lineups below are not necessarily intended to be the ones on the opening day, but more the players most likely to fill those positions on a regular basis throughout the year.
* Players currently recovering from serious and long-term injuries haven’t been included. Some examples are Andres Iniesta (Kobe), Takuma Arano (Sapporo), Mu Kanazaki (Nagoya), Yuji Ono (Gamba), Akihiro Hayashi (FC Tokyo) and Sachiro Toshima and Yuji Takahashi (both Kashiwa).
* As this is a Gamba blog, lineups and formations for other teams are based on a mixture of evidence and guesswork. For instance, teams who performed well in 2020, kept the same manager and the bulk of their playing staff (Kawasaki) are easier to read than those who played poorly last year, changed coaches and brought in a host of new players (Shimizu).
* Ages given are correct to 27 February 2021, the opening Saturday of the J1 season, (Y) donates youth team product and teams are listed in order of 2020 league position.

Here we go…

Kawasaki Frontale

Brief Notes: Way better than everyone else last season and with just Morita departing they’ll be the team to beat once more. Only Mitoma and Tanaka leaving in the summer and the ACL schedule getting moved around again can really threaten their dynasty.


Gamba Osaka

Brief Notes: Leandro Pereira and Ju Se-jong both address areas of need and although it will be difficult to get 2nd again, this group of players shouldn’t finish lower than 5th / 6th even with ACL distractions taken into account.


Nagoya Grampus

Brief Notes: Morishita and Kimoto look like great buys, and I was surprised to see Manabu Saito is only 30! Will be strong defensively again, but look a genuine centre-forward short of really challenging at the top.


Cerezo Osaka

Brief Notes: Have made some puzzling moves over the winter, but they still have the nucleus of a very good team. How quickly they adjust to Culpi’s brand of football and whether or not Taggart has brought his shooting boots with him from Korea will go a long way to determining their fate this year.


Kashima Antlers

Brief Notes: Assuming their two new Brazilian midfielders settle in well, they should be Kawasaki’s closest rivals. This may not please Gamba supporters like me, but should lead to some tasty @frontalerabbit blog posts.


FC Tokyo

Brief Notes: They will probably improve merely by not being involved in the ACL this year. That said, the squad looks very unbalanced, with loads of options in central midfield and attack, but significantly less depth further back.


Kashiwa Reysol

Brief Notes: Shiihashi, Dodi and Kamijima will help to fix their soft underbelly, but there is still a huge Olunga shaped hole in attack. Will Angelotti or rumoured new signing from Botafogo, Pedro Raúl, be able to fill it.


Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Brief Notes: Junior Santos appears to be an excellent capture, but money is tight and there’s a real lack of depth. Any injury down the central spine of the team could be painful and prevent them from kicking on from last year.


Yokohama F.Marinos

Brief Notes: This year’s squad looks leaner and more settled than last time. A lot will depend on how their new Brazilian attackers do and also how much of 2020’s poor display was down to their overcrowded schedule and how much of it was teams working out how to play against them.


Urawa Red Diamonds

Brief Notes: Given time, I’ve no doubt the Rodriguez project will bear fruit in Saitama, but it may not be as quick a turnaround as the Reds faithful would like. Defence and central midfield could be issues and they appear to be overloaded with attacking midfielders. Having worked with a similar style of player in Yuki Kakita, can Rodriguez turn around Kenyu Sugimoto’s career?


Oita Trinita

Brief Notes: Should have enough to escape the relegation dog-fight and have made some intriguing signings from J2 down the flanks. Goalkeeper and central defence look like weak areas at the moment. If Shun Nagasawa’s inevitable winner against Gamba could be confined to the Levain Cup I’d greatly appreciate it.


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Brief Notes: A lot riding on the shoulders of last year’s three university rookies, Tanaka, Takamine and Kaneko. If newbies Nakano and Ogashiwa can have a similar impact they could do ok, but they are my tip to be a dark horse relegation candidate.


Sagan Tosu

Brief Notes: Look better placed than at this point last year and I have no difficulty seeing them survive. Being able to keep hold of Matsuoka was a big surprise for me and I’m really interested to see how new African forwards, Chico (Nigeria) and Dunga (Kenya), get on. I know I’m in the minority here, but I genuinely dig their new kit.


Vissel Kobe

Brief Notes: I think they could surprise a few people this year, not by finishing top 4 or anything, but outside of Hyogo there is almost zero expectation and their exciting youngsters may start to come to the fore a little more.


Yokohama FC

Brief Notes: Should be exciting to watch as it appears there will be plenty of goals at both ends. I don’t see them going down and if Matsuo and Seko continue to play well neither will be at the Mitsuzawa in 2022.


Shimizu S-Pulse

Brief Notes: As a fan of the league, I’d have preferred Cklamovski’s style to succeed, but more realistically Lotina’s defensive brand of football is more likely to guide them to less troubled waters. How high they go is dependent on how quickly the new parts fit together and how fast Lotina can mend their dreadful defence (139 J1 goals conceded 2019-2020).


Vegalta Sendai

Brief Notes: If they’re going to avoid the drop the improvement will need to come from the coaching department, with Teguramori replacing Kiyama. The squad on paper looks weaker than last season with the exception of the wide midfield areas.


Shonan Bellmare

Brief Notes: Ditto what I said about Sendai, they finished in the relegation slots last year and look likely to do so again. The heart has been ripped out of the team with Kaneko, Saito and Matsuda all going and their most exciting players, Tani, Tanaka and Hata are too young to carry this side on their back.


Tokushima Vortis

Brief Notes: Perhaps benefiting from Coronavirus, they managed to keep all of last season’s title winners and even added rising star Joel Chima Fujita. There’s a glaring lack of J1 experience and I can see things like, having 80% possession at home to Shimizu and still losing 1-0, happening a bit too often.


Avispa Fukuoka

Brief Notes: My main concern is that a chunk of last season’s starting eleven were on loan and have now returned to their parent clubs. They have more players with top flight experience than Tokushima and have made some decent buys, but they are short on depth and haven’t replaced Serantes in goal yet.

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sport

Cerezo Osaka 1-1 Gamba Osaka 3 November 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gamba MVP

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

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

Gamba U-23

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

Starting Lineup

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

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

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

Last Time Out


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

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

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

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

Cerezo vs Gamba Match Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

Head to Head

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

Team News

Gamba Osaka

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

Cerezo Osaka

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

Predicted Line Ups

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



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



Match Prediction

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

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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

Head-to-Head

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

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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.

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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)

Recap:
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.

Recap:
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
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Kashima Antlers

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

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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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).

Recap:
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
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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)

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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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)

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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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).

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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Shonan Bellmare

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

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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