Gamba Osaka vs Kashiwa Reysol
2021 J1 Season Round 30
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Sunday 26 September 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
It’s the first leg of a crucial home double-header for Gamba this weekend as they host fellow surprise strugglers Kashiwa Reysol on Sunday night. The outcome of this game and next Saturday’s encounter with Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo will go a long way to shaping the remainder of the Nerazzurri’s campaign, a gentle stroll, or a frantic crawl while constantly keeping tabs on what’s going on lower down in the standings.
The final match to be played at Panasonic Stadium before the 5,000 supporter limit is eased pits Gamba, in fourteenth, against the side who sit just one place and three points above them in the standings. Should the Nerazzurri be able to extend the feelgood factor generated by their 4-1 midweek thrashing of Shonan Bellmare in the Emperor’s Cup and pick up any sort of victory then they’d overtake the Sunkings. Conversely, if the men from Chiba are able to leave Suita with the win then that’d shift them onto 36 points, past my working threshold of 35 to be safe this year. Worth noting too is that this Saturday, Tokushima in seventeenth (seven points adrift of Gamba) travel to Vegalta Sendai and any result in that clash will leave the Ao to Kuro needing to avoid defeat here in order to maintain or extend the gap between themselves and the drop-zone.
Those of you who tuned in to this week’s episode of the J-Talk Podcast will know I’m going to be in attendance for this one and if you haven’t had a listen already then I encourage you to do so as you’ll hear my thoughts on Gamba’s harrowing 3-1 defeat at Kashima, Reysol’s 3-0 loss at home to Hiroshima and a complete rundown of all the recent talking points in J1. It’s available on all good podcast apps (including Spotify) so do check it out.
Tale of the Tape
It’s interesting that despite the totally different paths that have led them to round 30, only 3 points separate Kashiwa and Gamba and they both possess identical goal differences (-11). Reysol have scored and conceded seven more than the Nerazzurri which I think serves as a decent indicator of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two teams.
A brief glance at the second bottom line in the middle stats table below makes pretty grim reading for anyone of a Gamba persuasion. I can have my usual dig at Kashima for ‘milking’ the shots for figures with a number of speculative efforts from distance (they scored 4 times from 45 attempts this year versus once from 51 in 2020 so something’s improved), but in this case what you see in that chart gives a pretty accurate indication of the flow of the match. Despite that, after Tiago Alves’ spot kick, Kosuke Onose almost curled in what would have been a beautiful, but wholly unmerited second near the end and at that point it seemed Antlers centre-back Ikuma Sekigawa’s over-eagerness to fly into challenges and leave his fellow defenders exposed was the most likely assist provider for the Nerazzurri.
Big improvements are expected in this match and the outcome of Wednesday’s Emperor’s Cup fourth round tie with Shonan perhaps gives some indicators as to how Gamba can earn the three points here. The Nerazzurri found themselves three up going into half-time versus a shell-shocked Bellmare, courtesy of goals in the 2nd, 26th and 42nd minutes, however, in the league it’s been a different story with early strikes and comfortable leads almost unheard of in recent matches. During their present run of just a solitary win from their last eight league fixtures, the only time the men in blue and black have held the advantage was for the final eight minutes of the 1-0 away victory over Shimizu thanks to Hiroto Yamami’s wondergoal. At home the situation has been even more dire as the Gamba faithful haven’t seen their side record a J1 victory for almost two months since the come-from-behind triumph over Oita on 27 July where Takashi Usami’s winner was essentially the last kick of the game. One draw and three defeats have followed with the Nerazzurri lacking pace and incision in attack and being forced to chase games for long periods. This has allowed opponents to expose the home side’s tiredness later on, Takuma Nishimura and Shoma Doi’s solo efforts in the previous two league outings are painful evidence of that (I know Doi’s happened in an away game, but I think the point holds up nonetheless). I’ve rambled on for longer than I cared to in this section, but my basic argument is this, Gamba must strike early and decisively against both Kashiwa on Sunday and Sapporo next week in order to grab the six points that will make the rest of 2021 so much easier.
People who’ve followed my work throughout the year will have noted the number of times I’ve criticised Kashiwa for various transgressions and I want to make it clear that I have nothing against Reysol. My harsh words are more an expression of disappointment at the unfulfilled potential I see in their ranks rather than anything malicious. The Sunkings began 2021 horribly, taking just 14 points from their first 19 outings, to leave veteran coach Nelsinho’s job hanging by a thread. However, starting with the hugely fortuitous 4-2 win at Shonan in round 20, Reysol have picked up points at the clip of an ACL contender, 19 in 10 games. Though, as we can maybe gather from their 3-0 humbling at home to Hiroshima last weekend, this upsurge in results perhaps owes more to lady luck shining on them after casting them into the shadows during the early months of the season.
I struggle to find any reasons for their improvement when poring over the stats I collect on a game-by-game basis. Looking at xG, they outscored their opposition eleven times to eight in their opening nineteen fixtures, but only won four times. In their most recent ten outings, it’s an even 5-5 in terms of xG wins and losses while the Sunkings boast a 6-1-3 record in actual on-field results. XG For per game has risen 0.08 over the past ten matches, while xG Against also increased by 0.02. Additionally, Kashiwa are taking 0.6 shots more per match, but getting 0.1 less on target and at the other end, opponents are having 0.2 more efforts at goal per 90 minutes and finding the target 0.8 times more. There’s nothing there to suggest Nelsinho’s firmly got to grips with the issues at hand, though, in his defence, he has seemingly settled on a back three formation and there’s been a bit more consistency overall in his team selections. However, recurring injuries and a bloated squad continue to hold them back, without question. I’ll revisit some of these points in the ‘Kashiwa Reysol’ section below.
Head to Head
Kashiwa earned a valuable three points, just their second win of the year, when they saw off Gamba at Hitachidai back in April. Playmaker Ataru Esaka, now at Urawa, put in an outstanding performance and Brazilian substitute Matheus Savio added urgency to the attack, but the game’s only goal came via the rather unlikely source of Reysol veteran Hidekazu Otani. Despite Kashiwa huffing-and-puffing and threatening to blow Gamba’s house down for large periods during the second half, it appeared we were heading for a stalemate until Otani’s decisive strike fourteen minutes from time left the Nerazzurri winless and goalless from their opening four fixtures.
Gamba ground out an important 2-1 win over Olunga-inspired Reysol at Panasonic Stadium last October. That match is mostly remembered for Ademilson’s stunning winner in the final minute which would sadly prove to be the Brazilian’s last goal in a Gamba uniform as he was involved in a drink-driving incident just over 24 hours later and subsequently had his contract terminated. The home side had earlier taken the lead thanks to a Kim Seung-gyu own goal resulting from an incident in which the South Korean collided with Patric inside the six-yard box. The referee opted to allow the goal to stand despite strong protests from Cristiano et al. For me it was a 50/50 call just like the decision to rule out Ryo Shinzato’s header in the Levain Cup tie back in February, one was given, one wasn’t, pretty fair on the balance of things.
Just a final comment on that League Cup match back in 2020 as it was Gamba’s last pre-pandemic home fixture and it also featured one of the best goalkeeping displays I’ve ever seen live in a stadium with the aforementioned Kim Seung-gyu denying Gamba time and again during a second-half onslaught. For the sake of parity, I’ll mention that Michael Olunga gave Kashiwa a deserved first-half lead and rattled the hosts’ crossbar late on as they ran out of steam in the aftermath of Shinzato’s disallowed effort.
With goals, or lack of them, being a central theme to many of my Gamba related complaints this season, and in light of the Nerazzurri’s 4-1 win over Shonan plus the fact they’ve failed to score more than twice at home in the league since November 2019, I thought now would be a good time to dedicate a little space to Gamba’s Mr. Goals this year, Patric. It may surprise J.League observers to learn that the Brazilian currently has 17 strikes from 35 outings (21 starts) in all competitions in 2021. That’s a goal every 112 minutes, though unfortunately that jumps up to every 192 minutes in J1. As mentioned above, a hard and fast start is vital against Kashiwa, and Patric, in-tandem with Usami and Wellington Silva are the men who need to make that happen.
Another common theme in this column has been deliberations over Gamba’s formation. Against Kashima last Saturday a back three was once again deployed with Ryu Takao still looking rusty following his injury layoff and the recalled Shunya Suganuma appearing utterly devoid of confidence. Regardless of whether or not Gen Shoji is fit enough to play here, I have the feeling Matsunami will opt for a back four. This was the system that closed out the Antlers match and also saw off an understrength Shonan in midweek, it also allows the three gunslingers I deified above, Patric, Usami and Wellington Silva, to all make the starting eleven.
The return of the now bleach blonde Dai Tsukamoto as a second half sub against Shonan gave the Nerazzurri a welcome boost, particularly in the wake of the announcement that Leandro Pereira and Yuji Ono have picked up hamstring injuries. Captain Genta Miura’s knee problem is likely to keep him out for most of the remaining fixtures while central defensive partner Gen Shoji missed the trip to former club Kashima through what I can only translate as ‘poor physical condition.’ Unfortunately I can’t shed any more light than that, but all Gamba supporters will be praying for his swift return. Popular utility player Yuya Fukuda took to Instagram to let fans know his recovery will take a little more time, but he’s champing at the bit to make a return. Long-term absentee Haruto Shirai is back in full training following knee surgery, but is unlikely to crack the matchday squad anytime soon and backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori (shoulder) is still out. Kosuke Onose had to be replaced by Shu Kurata in the first half of the 4-1 rout of Shonan after appearing to take a heavy knock to his leg, potentially his knee, I’m unsure as to how serious the issue is, but we probably won’t see him on Sunday.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Selecting my Gamba predicted starting lineup usually keeps me awake at night with all the chopping and changing that goes on from one game to the next, but Kashiwa give them a run for their money having used 36 players this season compared with Gamba’s 27. The 3-0 home defeat to Hiroshima makes me think there will be some alterations in addition to the injury / suspension issues that I’ll detail below. Brazilian forward Pedro Raúl who netted 3 times in 8 J1 games surprisingly departed for Juárez in Mexico on loan this week having only signed for Reysol back in March, whether it’s because of a falling out with Nelsinho, as has been rumoured in some less than reliable quarters, or due to failing to settle in Japan, remains to be seen. But, what we can say is, it’s another hammer blow to a Sunkings attack already reeling from the losses of Olunga and Esaka in the past 12 months. They are having to rely more and more on the ageing Cristiano and injury prone Yusuke Segawa and the fruits of that can be seen in their inconsistent results this year. In all honesty, come December it wouldn’t surprise me if Nelsinho goes the way of compatriot Levir Culpi (see how I managed to squeeze him into yet another match preview), a once great club manager who’s now stayed at the disco too long and needs to be put out to pasture. Any potential new coach will inherit a talented squad with a number of burgeoning talents, but also several weak areas meaning that I’m sure the coming off-season will not be a quiet one in the western part of Chiba.
Midfield hardman Richardson picked up his fourth yellow card of the season against Hiroshima and will miss this tie due to suspension. Fellow central midfielder Hidekazu Otani has been out with a shoulder injury since mid-May and is expected back soon. It’s still unknown if young centre-back Takumi Kamijima has recovered from his heavy fall in the match with Sanfrecce which caused him to be stretchered off. Versatile midfielder Hayato Nakama has been missing since 19 June while winger Ippey Shinozuka and Brazilian volante Dodi haven’t featured in the matchday squad for the past seven league outings.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you’re supporting.