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FC Tokyo vs Gamba Osaka 29 April 2022 Match Preview

FC Tokyo vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 10
Friday 29 April 2022
Japan National Stadium
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


There’s Friday night football this week in J1 as the annual Golden Week holiday kicks off with FC Tokyo hosting Gamba Osaka at the recently rebuilt National Stadium located right in the heart of the country’s pulsing capital. While I’ve done my best to build the game up in the opening sentence, let me do something of a U-turn and try to level-off expectations just a touch. Hosts FC Tokyo, who are setting up HQ a good bit east of their regular basecamp at Ajinomoto Stadium, have drawn their past three league outings 0-0 while visitors Gamba, after hitting the ground running with at least one goal in their opening 12 contests this year, have since failed to hit the target in the last 2, conceding 1 at the other end in the process. None of this really points to a goal-fest, does it? But, I guess us football fans are a funny breed and tens of thousands will still descend on Shin-Kokuritsu Stadium on Friday evening with hope in their hearts. I’ll be among the thronging masses and with the number 37 of Hiroto Yamami adorning the back of my new away shirt, could it have the same effect as on my previous road trip, the 1-0 victory over Marinos at Nissan Stadium last November when Shu Kurata (the name on my 2021 alternate uniform) netted the winner?

Tale of the Tape

I’d like to start off this section by pointing you in the direction of the J-Talk Podcast (Episode 385) and Sam Robson’s analysis of Gamba vs Shonan as well as the task-list facing Tomohiro Katanosaka, I feel his neutral views should balance out my more Gamba-focused take on the same topics below. Nine games into the 2022 J1 campaign and the Nerazzurri’s average xG stands at 1 For and 1.39 Against per match which compares with 1.19 vs 1.62 last season. Quite clearly the defence has improved while the attack, despite scoring more frequently (1.33 per 90 in 2022 compared with 0.87 in 2021), has regressed in terms of chance creation. I could do my usual routine of whipping out a laundry list of excuses, the injury to Usami, Kwon Kyung-won and Dawhan’s late arrivals, the pre-season Covid cluster, but I don’t want this to turn into a pity party. Put simply, I’m desperate for the Ao to Kuro to snap out of the downward spiral of one rebuilding season after another, I’ve got faith in Katanosaka to sort things out, but it will take time. Currently Gamba’s xG difference is -0.39 per game, a very minor improvement from the dire -0.43 recorded 12 months ago and this is the metric I’ll be watching most closely going forward, the Nerazzurri won’t get much higher than 9th or 10th unless that stat is bettered sharpish. Another area in huge need of a shot-in-the-arm is Gamba’s ability to take the lead in games. In his comments prior to the Levain Cup tie with Cerezo last Saturday, veteran Hiroki Fujiharu pinpointed the Nerazzurri’s failure to really take the game to opponents early on as a weak point in their style. Gamba have only come from behind to win twice in their last 52 J1 outings, in both home and away fixtures with Katanosaka’s Oita last season, though it should be pointed out that over the same time period the reverse has only happened once, at home to Vissel Kobe last summer. So, you can almost take it to the bank that whichever team scores first in a Gamba match won’t lose, therefore an improvement in scoring first (opponents have struck first 30 times to the blue and blacks 16 over that 52 game time-frame) should lead to better results (if only life was that simple, eh?) To achieve this, a more direct approach is necessary, not the ‘Tonight Matthew we’re going to be Tokushima Vortis’ we saw in the first-half against Shonan. While possession % and pass completion stats were great, being outshot 7-1 in the second-half and recording an xG For figure of 0.6 at home to a side who sat bottom of the standings prior to kick off are huge worries. In fairness though, that game fitted in well with a matchday dominated by 0-0 draws. The combined xG total of 1.31 was the first time in a Gamba fixture this year that both team’s xG have been below 1 and that number (1.31) was also the lowest in 2022 to date, seeing off the 1.61 in the match with Kawasaki Frontale, where incidentally 4 goals were scored.



The biggest change at FC Tokyo this past off-season was the arrival of new kantoku Albert Puig and the Spaniard has switched things around a touch tactically, setting the side up in a 4-3-3 as opposed to the 4-2-3-1 utilised by his predecessor Kenta Hasegawa. There wasn’t a great deal of transfer activity at the Ajinomoto Stadium last winter meaning that a number of the grizzled veterans from the Hasegawa-era are still around in the top team, though it has been refreshing to see both Kuryu Matsuki and Kazuya Konno earn plenty of playing time while a plethora of youngsters have been blooded in the Levain Cup. Puig earned a reputation in J2 for putting out teams that played an extremely easy-on-the-eye brand of football, but it was a style that ultimately ran out of effectiveness as each season progressed. For evidence, Albirex won just 1 of their last 10 fixtures in 2020 to slip down from 4th to 11th in the standings, while the following year they came out of the traps flying and stayed unbeaten through the first 13 rounds accruing 33 points and scoring 31 goals (including a 7-0 hammering of FC Tokyo’s rivals Tokyo Verdy), however, this was followed by a run of 35 points and 30 goals from the remaining 29 games to leave them in a disappointing 6th spot. Considering he’s been hampered by an early season Covid cluster and the loss to injury of one of his main attacking weapons (Leandro), I’m inclined to give Puig strong pass marks over his opening 9 games as a J1 coach. The Gasmen sit 6th in the table, 5 points clear of Gamba, though only a mere 13 goals have been scored in total between them and their opponents so far (compared with 25 in Gamba games). Their xG For total of 1.04 is slightly above Friday night’s opponents, though well down on the 1.2 registered under Hasegawa last term. Also of concern is the fact that despite having better xG stats than the Nerazzurri, they’ve scored 4 fewer actual goals and they’ve also achieved an xG For figure over 1 just twice in their last 6 J1 outings. At the other end of the field, they are still pretty sound with this year’s xG Against sitting at 1.16 per game, almost identical to the 1.2 posted in 2021, so it appears that the improvement most urgently required from Puig’s charges is a significant upping of their chance creation stats, and Leandro’s imminent return should certainly help in that regard. In terms of ball retention, one would have expected more from a Puig side than 48.7% possession (46.5% in 2021) and 326.3 completed passes per game (Gamba’s 2022 figure is 330.3, while FC Tokyo’s was 313 last season), but again I add the caveats that Puig is new to the role and has also had to deal with Covid and injury issues.



Head to Head

This is the third and, thankfully, final installment in a run of three consecutive fixtures that produced an extremely limited amount of goalmouth action in the head to heads lasts season (don’t worry there will be goals aplenty next time when I discuss Gamba vs Sapporo, but unfortunately for me, there’ll be lots of Sapporo ones!) The first 2021 meeting between Gamba and FC Tokyo came in Masanobu Matsunami’s second game as caretaker boss in late May and fresh from a 3-0 hiding at home to Urawa the previous week, the Nerazzurri got off to the worst possible start in the capital as the Gasmen raced into a first minute lead courtesy of Diego Oliveira’s close-range effort. The Brazilian’s goal turned out to be the winner, though the game itself was a touch more interesting than the scoreline suggests as Gamba lived dangerously at times before enjoying a good spell prior to half-time with youngster Dai Tsukamoto, in particular, impressing. However, the second-half really petered out and there were no more goals, a trend which would continue through to the clash at Panasonic Stadium 3 months later. I’ll admit that in the aftermath of my first Covid vaccination I really struggled to keep focused on the action, though in truth it didn’t appear that there was a whole lot to get excited about. The Ao to Kuro wore their very snazzy Expo Uniforms (important note: Gamba generally perform poorly in limited edition kits [Gamba generally perform poorly in their normal kits I hear you cry opposition fans lol] and there will be more about that in my next match preview too!), however, the game itself didn’t live up to the billing in any way, shape or form. A cagey affair never really caught fire, Gamba’s midfield and Leandro Pereira were on different wavelengths and the only genuine bright spark came from substitute Hiroto Yamami who showed great pace on the counter a couple of times. The contest’s defining moment arrived right at the end as things got stretched and visiting forward Kyosuke Tagawa found himself well placed to bury the ball past Masaaki Higashiguchi, but he fluffed his lines and shot into Row Z thus allowing the Nerazzurri to record their 5th 0-0 draw of the year.



Gamba Osaka

* Gamba were officially eliminated from this year’s Levain Cup at the group stage following a tame 0-0 away to neighbours Cerezo Osaka on Saturday. Surprisingly this was first ever scoreless draw in the history of the fixture. I don’t have a whole lot to say about the match itself, but I will add that while celebrity fans are great and I’m sure Roland is a hard working and decent bloke, shouldn’t he step aside and let someone else walk out with the players and conduct the coin toss? I’m certain there are loads of Cerezo supporting kids who’d love to meet Kiyotake, Jonjić, Kim Jin-hyeon and co….it did appear that both Kiyotake and Gamba skipper Genta Miura enjoyed the experience though as they had gone to the special effort of bleaching their hair blonde ahead of meeting the talento.

* An open training session was held for a small selection of fans and journalists last Wednesday (April 20). As well as allowing supporters to see who was injured and who was out of the team due to Katanosaka’s preferences, we were also given a rare glimpse into the dynamics of the Gamba dressing room. ‘Players’ Chairman’ Gen Shoji (how is this role different from club captain?) greeted the fans and media rather than official stand-in captain Genta Miura, is he just much better on the mic? And why does he not captain the team on the field in Kurata’s absence? He certainly seems to have the respect of his team-mates as a simple shout of ‘Kosuke daijoubu’ was enough to stop Onose shoving Shonan’s Naoki Yamada during a water break shortly after the Bellmare man’s ‘forward’s challenge’ moments earlier.

* One player not in training on Wednesday was Yuki Yamamoto (more on that in the section below), but the schemer really blew his chance to shine during Mitsuki Saito’s enforced absence versus parent club Shonan. Unfortunately Yamamoto was a turnstile on defence, paling in comparison with Saito’s terrier-like displays thus far and he rarely showcased his playmaking abilities at the other end of the field meaning that Saito and Dawhan are likely to be the volante duo moving forward and Yamamoto will need to look to add some new strings to his bow if he’s going to crack the first eleven again any time soon.

* On the subject of midfielders who came in for criticism in the wake of the home loss to Shonan, being a Gamba Youth product didn’t protect Kohei Okuno from a wave of negative online comments following his 20 minute cameo. In his defence, the tide had already very much turned in Bellmare’s favour before he was introduced and their goal came when the Nerazzurri were temporarily down to 10 men with his central midfield partner Dawhan off the field receiving treatment. However, it was the lack of urgency in his play and his slowness in getting back to defend counter attacks, in particular, which angered some of the Curva Nord faithful. He was an unused sub in the 0-0 with Cerezo so let’s hope for a return to form should he get his usual 15-20 minutes at the end of this match.

* Now to finish on a positive, the people behind the big screen stats at Panasonic Stadium this season deserve a round of applause for really upping their game. Particularly impressive, for me anyway, has been the breakdown of how far players ran in the previous match and a comparison with a local landmark…ie ‘this is the equivalent of running to Shin-Osaka Station.’ The FIFA 2022 ratings and those wagon wheels where it’s good to have a big number for some metrics (ie goals scored) and it’s better to have a smaller one for others (ie clearances) I can take or leave, but the distance covered graphics are a game changer in my book.

Team News

Takashi Usami (achilles) and Masaaki Higashiguchi (knee) are both definitely out of this game, though Higashiguchi is currently nearing the end of his rehabilitation process and is said to be re-starting full training next month. Captain Shu Kurata is struggling with a calf problem, though he’s not expected to miss too many games, the same goes for reserve centre-back Shota Fukuoka who has an unspecified issue. In more worrying news, Yuya Fukuda sustained a head injury in the match with Cerezo last weekend, it is the third time in his career that this has happened so he may need to take an extended break to recover. Finally, as alluded to above, Yuki Yamamoto has been absent from training and it appeared that he damaged his leg when taking a free kick in the home loss to Shonan, no details have yet been given on his scheduled return date.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





FC Tokyo

I covered quite a lot of the ground I wanted to go over in the ‘Tale of the Tape’ section above so I’ll aim to be relatively brief in here. Resilience is a word I’d use to describe FC Tokyo in recent seasons, they endured a marathon run of away fixtures owing to Rugby World Cup matches taking place at Ajinomoto Stadium in 2019, and yet they still finished in their highest ever league position, second. The following year was tough for all clubs, but especially for the 3 ACL qualifiers, Yokohama F. Marinos, Vissel Kobe and FC Tokyo, and which of that trio performed best domestically…the Gasmen of course, coasting home 10 points ahead of Marinos and a whopping 19 better off than Vissel, not to mention the fact they lifted the Levain Cup that season too. This year they suffered an early season outbreak of Covid, however, that initially had little ill-effect on their results and indeed prompted a number of comments of praise and wonder from Gamba supporters mindful of their own struggles in front of goal last term. As noted above, FC Tokyo are currently 294 minutes without a goal in J1, but does that mean they’ll take to the Olympic Stadium turf like a caged beast set free on Friday? Recent history suggests they do play better when their backs are to the wall.

Now to move onto the playing squad as there are a couple of individuals I’d like to draw attention to, and they might not be the ones you’d expect. Long term readers will know of my admiration for Brazilian hitman Diego Oliveira, but his understudy Keita Yamashita is the first player I’d like to talk about. I’ve been a fan of him since his days with Renofa Yamaguchi back in 2019 and since then he’s taken a long and winding journey to the nation’s capital via JEF United and Sagan Tosu, but he’s finally reached the bright lights of the big city nonetheless. I’ve seen and heard several comments from FC Tokyo supporters that suggested they viewed him as something of a mediocre acquisition, but I would point out that in 2021 he played regularly for a team that finished comfortably above both the Gasmen and Nerazzurri and only the aforementioned Oliveira plus Patric scored more J1 goals than Yamashita last season from those 3 sides. He’s yet to find the target this time round, having seen VAR take a goal away from him at the end of the 3-1 home win over Kobe a few weeks back, but if he does break his duck in this fixture, it’ll come as no surprise to this particular observer. The other player I wanted to highlight faces stiff competition from the experienced Kensuke Nagai for a spot in the starting lineup on Friday (potentially the fit again Leandro too) and that player is Kazuya Konno. Nerazzurri supporters will be familiar with the tricky winger as he was part of the Hosei University side that ended Gamba’s Emperor’s Cup dreams in the summer of 2019 and despite suffering a serious knee injury early into his pro career it appears that he’s bounced back with aplomb. Previous FC Tokyo managers may not have given someone like Konno much of a chance, but Puig seems keen to let him off the leash and speaking as an opposition supporter I’d be happier if Nagai starts over Konno on Friday as I feel Ayase Ueda’s former supplier in varsity football is more likely to give the Gamba defence a collective headache.

Team News


Precious little to report in here at the moment with Leandro returning to training on Monday (25 April) having been out with a calf problem since the round 1 defeat at Kawasaki. That leaves just veteran ‘keeper Akihiro Hayashi, a long term knee-injury victim, as the sole absentee in the FC Tokyo ranks.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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

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J1 2022 Predicted Lineups

Happy New Year everyone! This is my first post of 2022 and following on from the previous two seasons I’ve decided to put together a J1 predicted lineups article to get the ball rolling. Hope you all enjoy the fruits of my labour.

Also a quick reminder that you can find the 2022 squad lists screenshotted below in this Excel document.

And, be sure to check out @Michael_Master on Twitter if you haven’t already, the one and only account you need to follow to keep up to date with J. League transfers.

The Guide

Teams are listed below in the order they finished the 2021 campaign and each club’s mini-section contains the following information.

Best Signing – This won’t necessarily be objectively the best player the team have signed over the winter, more the one I feel addresses the most pressing need in the squad, for example, spoiler alert, I selected Kim Min-tae over both Yuta Higuchi and Yuma Suzuki in this category at Kashima.

Biggest Loss – Basically the opposite of best signing.

One to Watch – Again it might not be the best player in the squad or the one most likely to join a European club in the summer, rather someone whose good, bad or up-and-down form will set the tone for his team’s entire campaign.

Doubtful – Players who due to either injuries carried over from 2021, immigration issues or, in the case of a certain Polish striker at Nagoya, potential doping violations, might not be available for selection in the opening months of 2022.

Notes – Me trying to work out what direction the team is heading in this year.

Predicted Lineups

A few caveats here,

* For simplicity’s sake I’ve assumed every contracted player to be fit and available for selection when choosing these best elevens.
* These are not meant to be seen as the predicted starting lineup for round 1, think of them more as the players who will feature most across the course of the year (obviously new signings will be made in the summer, but unfortunately I’m not in possession of a crystal ball to make forecasts that far in advance).
* In cases where numerous players may see significant minutes in a certain position I’ve listed alternatives below the main choice (players may appear as alternatives for more than one role, see Satoshi Tanaka or Takuro Kaneko for examples). I also hope this illustrates where certain clubs have perhaps overstocked in one area of the field while neglecting others. Where two alternatives are listed, the name on the left is the one I consider to be higher on the team’s depth chart.
* I think I said this last year, but I’ll repeat myself anyway, expect the lineups for teams that have kept the same coach and most of the same playing staff as 2021 (Kawasaki) to be more accurate than those that have seen multiple changes in management and on-field personnel (Tosu).
* I have done a great deal of research to get these lineups as accurate as I can to the best of my knowledge, but full disclosure, I’ve also acted on some hunches and taken a punt on some lesser known talents (I guess there wouldn’t be much point reading this article if I just stated the obvious). Players coming from university sides directly into professional starting elevens is one of the unique selling points of football in this part of the world versus, say Europe, and it can be immensely tricky trying to project how each year’s batch of fresh-faced graduates will do, especially when data about their positions and skill-sets is hard to come by and the little information you can find seems to show them playing in a position that doesn’t appear to exist at the club they are joining (for example a wide midfielder in a university side that plays 4-4-2 moving to a J1 team that operates a 3-4-2-1, will they be a wing-back or inside forward?). I’m guessing these are the kind of choices that might generate the greatest debate, so please cut me some slack, I like to use data, but several players below have made the grade based largely on gut instinct developed over a decade watching the J. League.

Well, with all that out the way let’s move on and take a look at each of the 2022 J1 sides one by one, shall we? Again I look forward to hearing feedback (good natured I hope) from fans of all teams, followers of the league in general or just casual passers by, you’re all welcome. While I’m confident you’ll agree with some of the points below, I’m also sure there will be many choices and opinions that people will disagree with, and that’s all fine, it’s why we love the beautiful game so much, right?

Kawasaki Frontale

Best Signing: Chanathip – Had plateaued a little up in Sapporo, but a move to the champions should work out well for him and Frontale.
Biggest Loss: Reo Hatate – Basically by default as he was the only top teamer to leave. Perhaps the most frightening thing for the rest of the league is the amount of depth Kawasaki still have in midfield despite losing Hatate, Mitoma, Morita and Tanaka in the last 12 months.
One to Watch: Leandro Damião – Imperious in 2021 and the deserved recipient of the league’s MVP award, could a slight slip back from those grandiose heights offer a glimmer of hope to the chasing pack?
Doubtful: Jesiel (injury)
Notes: It’s Toru Oniki’s 6th campaign at the helm and once again Frontale start as the team to beat. Assuming Jesiel’s injury or the ageing of the forward line doesn’t adversely affect them too much, they are extremely well placed to fight off challenges from Marinos, Kobe, Kashima and Urawa to three-peat for the first time in their history.




Yokohama F. Marinos

Best Signing: Katsuya Nagato – By no means the most glamorous transfer of the winter, but Nagato who, don’t forget, led the league for assists with Sendai back in 2019 looks like he could thrive in Marinos’ system and help their fans quickly get over the loss of Theerathon.
Biggest Loss: Daizen Maeda – Only joined Celtic on an initial six-month loan deal, I don’t really see this happening, but if things turn sour in Glasgow, a sharp return to Yokohama in the summer would do wonders for Marinos’ title aspirations.
One to Watch: Marcos Junior – Goals-wise he’s dropped year-on-year since coming into the league in 2019, but he still remains pivotal to Marinos’ hopes and how well he adapts to Muscat’s game plan will be of critical importance to the team’s chances this season.
Doubtful: Shinnosuke Hatanaka (injury)
Notes: It’s all about Muscat for me, his appointment struck me as slightly strange at the time and even more so now that I’ve had time to digest it. Was he the best person to carry on Ange-ball? No (that guy is coaching Yamagata at the moment). If a desire to carry on the Ange-ball system wasn’t a pre-requisite for getting the job was he the best available candidate? Again, probably not. Despite that, I’m open minded as to what he can achieve given the time and space to put his own mark on the team. I’d argue that this squad is slightly weaker than 12 months ago, however, there is still plenty of talent onboard and top 4 should be a minimum expectation.

Additional Note: Anderson Lopes has been heavily linked with a move to Marinos. I’m unsure about his visa status or who would win out in a duel between him and Léo Ceará to be the main centre-forward.




Vissel Kobe

Best Signing: Tomoaki Makino – Vissel need an experienced head at the back to guide Kikuchi and Kobayashi along and although I’m sure it’ll seem strange at first seeing him in a darker shade of red, he should prove valuable on and off the field in the port city.
Biggest Loss: Thomas Vermaelen – Played more than I expected him to across his 2 ½ years in the league and no doubt passed on a trick or three to his younger protégés.
One to Watch: Yoshinori Muto – Was the dominant partner as he and Yuya Osako amassed a combined 9 goals and 11 assists in 23 appearances at the back end of 2021. More of that this term and Vissel will very much be in the title conversation.
Doubtful: Bojan Krkić (injury)
Notes: Things have never looked better in Kobe, a balanced and settled squad, a competent manager and Hiroshi Mikitani largely leaving the football decisions to football people. We may see some tinkering with the midfield shape, but regardless of what system Miura adopts there’s no reason to suggest Vissel won’t be there or thereabouts at the business end of the year.




Kashima Antlers

Best Signing: Kim Min-tae – Three of last year’s back four have moved on and Kim’s star is burning brightly following an impressive spell filling in for the injured Yuichi Maruyama at Nagoya. His experience alongside the talented, but erratic, Ikuma Sekigawa will be invaluable.
Biggest Loss: Koki Machida – Perhaps not much of a shock as he’d been linked with European clubs in the previous 2-3 windows so Antlers should have planned his succession accordingly.
One to Watch: Diego Pituca – A shining light once he was finally allowed into the country last year, the box-to-box midfielder should be a genuine J1 Best Eleven contender this term.
Doubtful: Shintaro Nago (injury), Kantoku René Weiler (Visa)
Notes: New kantoku René Weiler has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in attack and must be relishing the prospect of moulding them into a cohesive unit once he eventually makes it to the land of the rising sun. At the back the situation is a little less rosy, but should the attack-minded Weiler get things to gel, the Ibaraki side are not hindered by ACL involvement like their rivals and this could set them on a course towards a first title since 2016.




Nagoya Grampus

Best Signing: Keiya Sento – Played in a role for Tosu that doesn’t really exist in the current Grampus set-up, but to me he projects as Naoki Maeda’s replacement and should prove to be a gem of a signing.
Biggest Loss: Takuji Yonemoto – One of the surprise moves of the winter in my book, he left FC Tokyo after one season of working with Kenta Hasegawa, did they have prior beef?
One to Watch: Mateus Castro – Those of a Grampus persuasion will hope that the enigmatic Brazilian has gotten over the slump in form he experienced in the second half of 2021, as well as those Kawasaki transfer rumours, and will bounce back ready to lead the charge towards an ACL place.
Doubtful: Jakub Świerczok (PED Violation)
Notes: If I was a Nagoya fan would I have wanted to wake up to the news that Kenta Hasegawa was replacing Massimo Ficcadenti? No, but I’ll add that he’s nowhere near as bad as some FC Tokyo fans might have you believe. After winning silverware in each of his first 3 years at Gamba, he took an FC Tokyo side that had only achieved a single top 6 J1 finish in the 8 years prior to his appointment to 3 consecutive top 6 placings. Granted, the wheels came off spectacularly in his final seasons at both clubs, but I still maintain he’s a reasonably safe pair of hands until the Grampus hierarchy decide which direction they want the club to take next.




Urawa Red Diamonds

Best Signing: David Moberg Karlsson – Possibly the only player in the history of football to represent both Kilmarnock and Urawa which means that everything inside me should want him to fail, but I actually think this could be quite an astute piece of business by Reds.
Biggest Loss: Tomoaki Makino – Kind of wins this by default as Urawa didn’t lose any real nailed-on 2021 starters in the off-season, only Yuruki and Tanaka ran him close for this award.
One to Watch: Kasper Junker – 7 goals in his first 6 J1 appearances and just 2 in 11 after that as injuries struck. If a full pre-season schedule gets him back up to speed then J1 look out.
Doubtful: Ayumu Ohata (injury), David Moberg Karlsson (Visa)
Notes: When I wrote my Scouting J1 and Scouting J2 articles last autumn I never envisaged that Urawa and Cerezo would be the 2 teams to sign the most players from those lists, but there you go, hats off to both clubs. Reds have added a dizzying array of stars to an already strong looking squad and if they can find a way to get everyone pulling in the same direction then they appear well set to challenge domestically and in Asia.




Sagan Tosu

Best Signing: Naoyuki Fujita – Still very much good enough to play for Cerezo, but probably rightly moved on due to the ageing issues at the club. A return to his first pro side seems a logical next step and he’ll have a big part to play assisting the development of the bountiful young talent on the books at Tosu.
Biggest Loss: Yuta Higuchi – Plenty of competition for this award, but I’m still drowning my sorrows over Higuchi rejecting Gamba for Kashima and have to nominate him here.
One to Watch: Yuki Kakita – Finished 2021 with something of a bang, netting 5 times in 8 outings for a Tokushima side that struggled to create clear-cut openings. Has his old Vortis team-mate Miyashiro with him too and looks to be the ideal replacement for Keita Yamashita.
Notes: Let’s focus on the positives, the goalkeeper, defence and wing-backs are basically unchanged from 2021 (Ayumu Ohata excluded) and in attack, if I can quote Moneyball, they’ve realised they can’t directly replace departed stars like Higuchi, Sento, Koyamatsu and Yamashita, but they can re-create them in the aggregate. If the injury-prone Yuji Ono, high school wizzkids turned pro-level letdowns Jun Nishikawa and Yuto Iwasaki or any of their 6 recruits from varsity football enjoy a standout year then a mid-table finish isn’t out of the question.




Avispa Fukuoka

Best Signing: Lukian – This deal came as something of a bolt from the blue to me and the addition of J2’s top scorer from 2021 adds real impetus to an Avispa attack that will be looking to move up through the gears this year.
Biggest Loss: Emil Salomonsson – Will be a big loss both on and off the field. He must have found it tough with basically 2/3 of his time in Japan falling during the Coronavirus pandemic so it’s hard to begrudge him a move back home.
One to Watch: Tatsuya Tanaka – Back in his native Kyushu, big things will be expected of the versatile wide-man. This was an area where Avispa needed an upgrade and it looks like they’ve found one in the former Gamba, Oita and Urawa speedster.
Notes: I like what they’ve done in the transfer window, I like it a lot. There’s not one signing they’ve made that I haven’t liked, keeping Hasebe and Mae on board is massive too. After all those niceties I will add the qualifier that although on paper this year’s squad looks stronger than last year’s by a bigger margin than last year’s did than 2020’s (still with me?), it might not necessarily translate into them finishing any higher up in the standings. Though I guess having spent so much of their recent history in J2, the Avispa faithful won’t complain about another upper mid-table placing in 2022.




FC Tokyo

Best Signing: Jakub Słowik – Most J1 transfers have some sort of doubt hanging over them, player stepping up a level, poor previous season, injury prone, might not fit the system etc…none of these apply to Słowik, a clear upgrade on what was there before and questions marks over his distribution should only form a minor concern given the quality of the rest of his game.
Biggest Loss: Joan Oumari – Despite apparently only re-signing to cover until Bruno Uvini could get into the country, the Lebanese international had a decent second year in the capital.
One to Watch: Leandro – He and Hasegawa didn’t see eye to eye, that much is clear, if he and Puig butt heads then I’m not sure he’ll have too many backers left in the FC Tokyo support. A brilliant match-winner on his day, we all know what he can be when it’s not, for FC Tokyo and the league’s sake let’s hope the former, not the latter version rocks up in 2022.
Doubtful: Kashif Bangnagande, Sodai Hasukawa, Akihiro Hayashi (injury)
Notes: Far more change off the field than on it with Mixi taking over as the majority shareholder and Albert Puig moving into the managerial hotseat following a 2-year spell with Niigata. From the outside it appears that any kind of on-field improvement will need to be driven by a kantoku who has a beautiful philosophy on how the game should be played, but never really managed to translate that into meaningful results at Albirex, save for a magical 13 game run at the start of last season. A transitional campaign, give the manager time, yikes I’m using up all the clichés I had saved for the Gamba section several entries below.




Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Best Signing: Gabriel Xavier – An unexpected, but potentially excellent ready-made replacement for Chanathip…as long as his performances don’t go on to show that Massimo Ficcadenti knows rather more about football management than all of us armchair pundits.
Biggest Loss: Chanathip – 2021 was another injury-hit campaign for the Thai superstar, though he did bow out on a high with 3 assists in his last 2 matches. Things had gone a touch stale for him in Sapporo, but he’ll surely be fondly remembered in those parts for years to come.
One to Watch: Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa – I’ll admit I’m highly sceptical of the €700,000 move to Hearts rumours, but the pacy forward has certainly caught the eye of national team coach Hajime Moriyasu and in his second year as a pro will be expected to shoulder a greater burden of Consadole’s attacking hopes.
Doubtful: Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (injury)
Notes: The winds of change haven’t been blowing too strongly up in Sapporo with minimal transfer business being conducted. GX10 (will he change his name to GX18?) and Koroki are the only 2 senior signings, but given how they’ve worked the varsity market in recent years, I wouldn’t bet against Sora Igawa (Tsukuba Univ.) and Hiromu Tanaka (Rissho Univ.) turning out to be pretty handy.




Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Best Signing: Taishi Semba – The Ryutsu Keizai University graduate says he’s looked up to Toshihiro Aoyama for a number of years and if all goes according to plan he could well be the one to take over the legendary Sanfrecce midfield maestro’s spot in the not too distant future.
Biggest Loss: Kodai Dohi – Failed to build on a promising 2020 due to a succession of injuries, but a loan spell with Mito is absolutely the right move to resuscitate his career.
One to Watch: Junior Santos – If the 2020 Yokohama F. Marinos version of Junior Santos turns up this year then it’ll be as good as a new signing for the three arrows.
Doubtful: Tsukasa Morishima, Yoichi Naganuma, Douglas Vieira (injury), Kantoku Michael Skibbe (Visa)
Notes: After pleading poverty for much of last year, the additions of Tsukasa Shiotani and Michael Skibbe following spells in the Middle East indicate that there is money available if they choose to use it. Skibbe’s delayed arrival has thrown an unwelcome spanner in the works, though he is fortunate to have a settled squad at his disposal, albeit one that largely underperformed relative to their game-by-game stats in 2021.




Cerezo Osaka

Best Signing: Jean Patric – I must admit I don’t know a whole lot about him, but he appears to have a decent pedigree and fills a spot that really needed an upgrade as a result of the person I’ll talk about below departing.
Biggest Loss: Tatsuhiro Sakamoto – A fine player who slightly lost his way in what was a disappointing 2021 campaign overall for the Cherry Blossoms. Still, as a result of his 2020 form and the performances he put in at the start of last year, he’s done more than enough to merit his move.
One to Watch: Takashi Inui – I wasn’t a big fan of his return when it was initially announced due to Cerezo having a plethora of 30-somethings already on their books, but given the way this year’s squad is shaping up I feel he’ll have a vital role to play as an impact sub and dressing room leader.
Doubtful: Takashi Inui, Hinata Kida, Adam Taggart, Đặng Văn Lâm (injury), Jean Patric (Visa)
Notes: I like their winter transfer work a whole lot more than I did last year (see what I said about them in the Urawa section above), especially the acquisition of Nagasaki’s jewel-in-the-crown Seiya Maikuma (sorry for telling everyone how good he was Daniel!) The permanent appointment of Akio Kogiku who, according to Transfermarkt, has been at the club in one capacity or another since 1998 could be a masterstroke as he’s surely amassed the clout that will allow him to tap a few shoulders and break the news to several veterans that they’re no longer the automatic choices they once were.

Additional Note: Croatian defender Matej Jonjić is rumoured to be returning in the coming days. If that move happens he’ll be the main centre-back upon his arrival in the country with Nishio and Shindo battling it out to partner him. He’d also overtake Jean Patric as my choice for ‘best signing.’




Gamba Osaka

Best Signing: Mitsuki Saito – Not a signing I really expected going into the transfer window, but a more than welcome addition to the Nerazzurri’s midfield ranks
Biggest Loss: Kim Young-gwon / Yosuke Ideguchi – Neither were at their best in 2021 (a comment which could pretty much be applied to the majority of the squad), but both will be missed dearly by the Ao to Kuro faithful.
One to Watch: Hiroto Yamami – I should probably have chosen him in the ‘best signing’ category, but thought he’d fit better here instead. Hopefully that worldy against Shimizu was just a taste of what’s to come as he’s set himself the target of scoring double digits this year.
Doubtful: Jun Ichimori, Leandro Pereira (injury), Dawhan, Kwon Kyung-won (Visa)
Notes: As close to a free-hit of a season as you’ll ever get as Gamba kantoku awaits Tomohiro Katanosaka, though that didn’t stop him heaping pressure on himself by setting 3rd as the target for this year. Gamba fans I’ve talked to say that top 8 is more realistic, especially with Kawasaki, Marinos, Kobe, Kashima and Urawa all looking particularly strong. To quote Celtic supporters, “trust the process,” Katanosaka is a man with a plan and that’s something that was sorely missing for the majority of 2021.




Shimizu S-Pulse

Best Signing: Takeru Kishimoto – A surprisingly difficult choice this one, as though regular readers will remember I picked out Kishimoto as someone to keep an eye on in my Scouting J1 article last autumn, I can’t help but feel there were more logical moves for both him and Shimizu to make. Granted the S-Pulse front office and I never appear to be on the same frequency when it comes to ideas on how to take the club forward.
Biggest Loss: Hideki Ishige – I know he was at Okayama on loan at the end of last season, but his departure sums up, for me at least, the malaise at the Nihondaira. A once mighty powerhouse born out of the cradle of Japanese football now reduced to letting long-serving youth academy graduates leave for rival clubs while the powers-that-be continue to blindly spin the roulette wheel, trying in hope, more than expectation to find the coaches and players necessary to bring back the glory days.
One to Watch: Yuito Suzuki – I’m sure you’ve all seen his wonder strike against Shonan, however, unfortunately that was one of only two goals he’s amassed in 63 J1 outings since turning pro in 2020. Imagine the heights regular contributions from him, in addition to Thiago Santana’s steady stream of goals, could take S-Pulse to.
Doubtful: Renato Augusto, Akira Ibayashi, Takumi Kato, Kenta Nishizawa (injury)
Notes: I realise I’ve been a bit harsh on S-Pulse above and it’s absolutely nothing personal as they’re an iconic and extremely likeable club, I just struggle to be overly positive when their front office keeps making baffling decisions. The Peter Cklamovski experiment was ditched in favour of the ultra-defensive Lotina brand of football and now they’ve opted for the man who came in to temporarily do a spot of firefighting at the end of both 2020 and 2021, the particularly tricky to say regardless if you go Japanese or western style, Hiroaki Hiraoka (or Hiraoka Hiroaki if you prefer). There’s loads of depth on the flanks, but any injury or departure down the central spine of the team (Gonda, Yoshinori Suzuki, Matsuoka and Thiago Santana) would sting badly.

Additional Notes: Reports out of South Korea suggest that S-Pulse have tabled a large bid for Ulsan Hyundai’s tall forward Oh Se-hun. On Paper the highly-rated 23 year old would be a quality addition, but it would also leave Shimizu with 7 foreign talents on their books. Do they never get the memo from the J. League about only being allowed 5 in your matchday squad?




Kashiwa Reysol

Best Signing: Tomoya Koyamatsu – Big shoes to fill in attack, he’s coming off the back of a decent couple of seasons with Tosu and should quickly become a fan favourite at the Hitachidai.
Biggest Loss: Cristiano – The now 35-year old club legend departs after 7 years with the Sunkings. Sure he may be past his prime, but having seen him perform in the flesh last year, he’s very much still got it and I’m certain he’ll tear up J2 with Nagasaki.
One to Watch: Douglas – With the fearsome foursome of Olunga, Cristiano, Esaka and Segawa all gone, the goalscoring burden falls on the previously prolific, but perhaps slightly over-the-hill Douglas. Is there still enough fire there for one final hurrah before he rides off into the sunset?
Notes: I believe it was Gabriele Anello who pointed out that 2021 saw the most managerial changes in J. League history, a good number of them appeared harsh when viewed from afar, but on the flip side of the coin, Kashiwa’s stubborn dedication to keeping Nelsinho in the hotseat continues to puzzle me. Of course the Brazilian is a legend in Kashiwa circles, however, he had 38 J1 games last season to work out his best eleven and formation, and never managed it. If he doesn’t know, then how am I supposed to? I’ve gone 4-2-3-1 below, but 3-4-2-1, 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 are all possible. I’m not saying it’ll actually happen, but they’ll surely be a popular pick for big team who could go down this year.




Shonan Bellmare

Best Signing: Ryota Nagaki – The return of the prodigal son was an easy choice here, he’ll bring skill and more importantly a wealth of experience to help shepherd along Bellmare’s exciting crop of youngsters.
Biggest Loss: Mitsuki Saito – I know that selecting both Ishige and Saito as the biggest loss for their respective clubs may come across as extreme Gamba bias (especially given Saito was on loan at Rubin Kazan in 2021), but hear me out, how often do Shonan come through a winter transfer window with all their prized assets still in place? Hata, Tanaka and Hiraoka are still there, leaving me with the rare predicament of struggling to find a departed player Shonan will really miss this year.
One to Watch: Satoshi Tanaka – When I saw that Takuji Yonemoto had moved to Shonan on loan and Tanaka still hadn’t been confirmed as a Bellmare player for 2022, I felt sure we were less than 24 hours away from witnessing his unveiling at the Toyota Stadium, but alas it was not to be and he’ll continue developing down on the Shonan coast, for now at least, whether that’s as a holding midfielder or centre-back remains to be seen.
Notes: This is Satoshi Yamaguchi’s first full campaign at the helm and it’ll be interesting to observe what tactical alterations, if any, he makes. As you can see below, there are a number of players of similar abilities competing for spots across the field which can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. I’ve tried my hardest to cram Tanaka, Nagaki and Yonemoto into the same lineup, Yamaguchi may have other ideas. They were the best defensive team in the bottom half last year and with the business they’ve done since should be even stronger now. My concerns are at the other end, they accrued a league high 16 draws last season and joint top scorers Wellington and Naoki Yamada only managed 5 apiece, there’s nothing to suggest they’ll be any more prolific in 2022.




Júbilo Iwata

Best Signing: Ricardo Graça – Again, hands up, I don’t know a whole lot about him, but the rest of Júbilo’s transfer business hasn’t been much to write home about and although Kentaro Oi has given the club years of good service, promotion back to J1 should very much be the signal to put him out to pasture, the capture of Graça allows the club to do just that.
Biggest Loss: Lukian – A huge blow to the side’s attack and also their collective psyche to lose such an important player to a team, in Fukuoka, that despite far out-performing Júbilo on the field in 2021, would have been viewed as a step-down for the majority of the clubs’ respective histories.
One to Watch: Yasuhito Endo – Gamba let Endo go in mid-2020 as despite his passing and vision still being top drawer, the veteran (who’s the same age as Steven Gerrard and Xavi, don’t forget) couldn’t get around the park like he used to. We’ll have an answer on how right or wrong that decision was very soon.
Doubtful: Dudu, Ricardo Graça (Visa)
Notes: An extremely impressive promotion campaign followed up by the appointment of highly-rated Kofu boss Akira Ito had things looking rather spritely for a time in Iwata. However, the club don’t really appear to have backed the new kantoku enough in the transfer market. Kenyu Sugimoto could work, but I wouldn’t bet on it, there are question marks surrounding when their 2 new marquee Brazilians can get into the country and long-standing issues related to a chronic lack of pace throughout the squad haven’t been sufficiently addressed over the winter.

Additional Note: Brazilian forward Vinícius Araújo, now a free agent after failing to agree terms on a new deal with Yamagata, is a possible addition before the season begins. He’d take over the centre-forward berth from Sugimoto should he decide to make the Yamaha Stadium his home for 2022.




Kyoto Sanga

Best Signing: Rikito Inoue – Despite the club making a number of winter signings, few of them are clearly better than the options already in place. Inoue, who’s moved east from Okayama with Dutchman Jordy Buijs travelling in the opposite direction, is the pick of the bunch for me. Readers of my Scouting J2 article will know I’m a big fan of his and with Shogo Asada still onboard, Sanga have two of the top centre-backs from J2 2021 in their ranks, albeit neither of them has a single minute of J1 action to their name.
Biggest Loss: Jordy Buijs – His departure came as something of a surprise and I’ve no doubt that he’ll continue to prove himself to be one of the best defenders in J2 with Fagiano this season.
One to Watch: Peter Utaka – 38 years young when the season kicks off, if he can keep banging them in then Kyoto could (could, not will – please remember) be this year’s Fukuoka.
Doubtful: Naoto Misawa, Tomoya Wakahara (injury), Michael Woud (injury/Visa)
Notes: Reasons to be cheerful; they’ve got a coach who knows what it takes to survive in J1 and a squad with a decent sprinkling of top tier experience, especially when compared with other recent newly promoted sides. Reasons to be fearful; the murky goalkeeping situation, a lack of J1 experience at centre-back and central midfield and a host of Hail Mary signings that could all fall flat. The rather unorthodox Genki Omae may be the most likely to deliver from a list of names which also includes Mendes, Hisashi Appiah Tawiah, Martinus, Ryogo Yamasaki and Yuta Toyokawa.




If you’ve made it this far, thank you and congratulations! I hope this guide has been useful for you, look out for plenty more posts from me throughout the year and enjoy the 2022 J1 season whoever you support!

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sport

Gamba Osaka vs FC Tokyo 21 August 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs FC Tokyo
2021 J1 Season Round 25
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 21 August 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

Gamba’s Summer Expo is back for the first time since 2019 so you may notice the home side wearing a different shade of blue than usual and the 5,000 fans permitted inside the Panasonic Stadium will each receive a free commemorative t-shirt which has earned some rather mixed reviews so far, please make your own minds up on that. 2014 Gamba treble winning coach Kenta Hasegawa’s FC Tokyo side are the visitors for what should hopefully be an entertaining and keenly contested match.

You may have heard me and other members of the Gamba Twitterati prattling on about a young lad called Hiroto Yamami. Well, he is certainly someone who knows how to make a first impression. His entrance to the J1 arena had me waxing lyrical with comparisons to Kaoru Mitoma and Wayne Rooney spewing out left, right and centre. Introduced at the expense of Shu Kurata 76 minutes into Friday’s match at a wet and windy Nihondaira Stadium in Shizuoka, Yamami wasted no time in acquainting himself with Japan’s number 1 ‘keeper, Shuichi Gonda in the S-Pulse goal. Ignoring the supporting Leandro Pereira and Usami to his left, the Kwansei Gakuin University senior brought out a nice stop from the 22 times capped stopper with a powerful right foot shot from outside the area. However, his pièce de résistance came after 82 minutes when he coolly plucked Yuji Ono’s long ball out of the air with his right foot, turned inside Eiichi Katayama and fired an unstoppable left foot rocket across Gonda, dipping viciously into his top-right corner for the winning goal. Gamba fans had waited patiently all week for news of a transfer window replacement for the Tokushima-bound Kazunari Ichimi, after hearing nothing and the clock getting close to 21:00 on deadline day, Yamami announced his entrance to the top flight for all to see. 1-0 Gamba and a season high position of 12th the reward.

So far, so positive from a Gamba standpoint, but now we need to talk about their dismal home form. 18 of the Nerazzurri’s 29 points accumulated to date have come on the road, a trend which mirrors 2020, only the divide between results in and out of Suita has become more pronounced. Three vital home wins over, Tokushima, Yokohama FC and Oita, have been countered by reverses against Kawasaki, Marinos, Kashima, Kobe, Urawa and Hiroshima. Notice a trend there? That’s right, the strongest team Gamba have beaten at Panasonic Stadium this year is 16th place Tokushima while they’ve taken just a solitary point from six home clashes with sides currently in the top 10. The men in blue and black really do need to turn things up a notch, or ten, in front of their own supporters, hopefully beginning on Saturday.

FC Tokyo arrive in Osaka for their 5th away match on the spin with kantoku Kenta Hasegawa starting to feel the hotseat become a touch warmer following a run of 3 league games without a win. After this encounter, the Gasmen have two ties of their epic summer road trip remaining before returning to Ajinomoto Stadium against Kashiwa Reysol on September 12 (they do have a home Levain Cup quarter final vs Sapporo to play before that). Some, of a blue and black persuasion, with fond memories of Hasegawa’s time in Suita, may feel the pressure is a touch harsh given FC Tokyo can be found 8th in the J1 standings, only 6 points off 3rd place with 14 rounds still to go. This is certainly a better situation than the capital club found itself in during most of the decade prior to Hasegawa’s arrival, so in some ways he could be considered a victim of his own success and rather like his time in Gamba, his motivational tactics and ideas might have a certain shelf-life which may be close to expiring at Ajinomoto Stadium?

Sparks usually fly when these two meet on the field, Gamba know a win here will take them to within 3 points of their visitors and put them right in the mix for a top half finish, while FC Tokyo will be determined to arrest their mini-slump and kick on towards hopefully booking a spot in next season’s edition of the ACL.



Tale of the Tape

I mentioned on the J Talk Podcast prior to Gamba’s return from the ACL that ‘draws are not your friend in this situation’ and those have proven to be sage words. The Nerazzurri have won 5 and lost 4 since returning to Japanese soil, earning 15 points at 1.67 points per game (ppg) which compares with only 0.93 ppg before heading off to Uzbekistan. This contrast can also be seen in average goals per game which stood at 0.47 for, 0.93 against in the early part of the year, but has since shot up to 1.22/1.00 over the past 9 fixtures.

As we know, things have been pretty solid defensively all year, and the shutout win over Shimizu last Friday was the men from Suita’s 10th in just 24 league fixtures in 2021, 2 better than last season and just 1 shy of the figure from 2019. Improvements can also be seen in attack with Gamba scoring 7 times in their last 5 outings from an xG total of 7.63 which is a huge upgrade in efficiency compared with the beginning of the season. At the back, 5 goals have been surrendered off 8.87 xG over the same time period, though it should be noted that 4 of the 5 matches in question took place away from home.

A look at their stats table below shows FC Tokyo to be a very Jekyll and Hyde outfit which must surely drive their supporters to distraction. Their season to date can roughly be split into three thirds, rounds 1-8 which I’ve titled ‘solid start,’ rounds 9-17 ‘very ropey apart from random rout of Kashiwa’ and finally rounds 18-24 ‘O Tridente reunited, but shaky defence threatens to steal their thunder.’

FC Tokyo are not a team big on possession, expect them to use the pace of Adailton, a player who has been a thorn in Gamba’s side in the past, in tandem with compatriot Leandro to wreak havoc on the counter attack as they did last week at the Sapporo Dome, and indeed last year in this very fixture. In 3 carefully selected away games from earlier in this campaign against Urawa (round 1), Kashima (13) and Shimizu (16), the Gasmen produced a combined total of just 0.78xG For, Gamba will certainly be hoping it’s that kind of night on offence for FC Tokyo come Saturday. At the other end, the capital side will aim to have their 2 holding midfielders protect their backline a bit better than they did against Consadole last week, though the vast gulf between Sapporo and Gamba’s attacking philosophies could render any analysis of the catalysts for last week’s defensive slopiness largely redundant.




Head to Head

FC Tokyo ran out 1-0 winners, thanks to Diego Oliveira’s strike in the opening minute, of the clash at Ajinomoto Stadium back in May. The game, Matsunami’s second in temporary charge, was largely uneventful after that, however, the same can’t be said for the two ties played out between these sides in 2020, with neither passing without incident.

First, Gamba welcomed FC Tokyo to Panasonic Stadium and gave up an early lead when good Tokyo pressing forced an error and eventually the ball found it’s way to, that man Diego Oliveira, who coolly lofted into an unguarded net from 25 yards. Takashi Usami hit back with a fierce drive from outside the box that Akihiro Hayashi between the sticks for FC Tokyo may feel he should have done better with. Then the fun really started, as in the fifth minute of additional time at the end of the first half, Hiroki Fujiharu had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside, with no VAR in place to reverse the decision. The Gasmen took full advantage of their good fortune and sealed the game with 2 devastating second-half counters, the first culminating in a soft, but ultimately correct handball decision against the sliding Kim Young-gwon, Leandro making no mistake from the spot. The third member of O Tridente then sealed the deal as Gamba were forced to chase the game, lost possession and a flowing move was finished off by Adailton, 3-1 the final score.

Gamba gained a modicum of revenge at a flooded Ajinomoto Stadium in what could better be described as a game of water polo rather than a football match. Ademilson’s penultimate goal for the Nerazzurri, from the penalty spot, following an extremely harsh point-blank handball decision against Hirotaka Mita, was the only mark on the scoresheets as Gamba continued their charge up the standings. The action didn’t end there though as Leandro escaped censure for hitting Yuki Yamamoto in the face in an unsavoury off-the-ball incident around 15 minutes after he appeared to aim an elbow at Kim Young-gwon’s chin before thinking better of it. The Brazilian was handed a 3 match ban following a league investigation in the aftermath and the match officials probably breathed a sigh of relief that he sent his late free kick just wide.

I felt genuinely aggrieved after FC Tokyo’s 3-1 win in Suita last summer, but on further reflection, across the two games, both sets of fans had good reason to question some of the officials’ decision making. I would probably make the case that had each of these matches been officiated correctly, then they would have ended up as draws, leaving Gamba and FC Tokyo with 2 points apiece, as it was they got 3, so we can’t complain too much, can we?



Gamba Osaka

After making ten changes to the team that defeated S-Pulse, Gamba were taken to extra-time in their round 3 Emperor’s Cup tie at home to Matsumoto on Wednesday, ultimately prevailing 2-0 thanks to Ko Yanagisawa’s first goal for the club and Yosuke Ideguchi’s clincher on his return to the starting lineup. It was a good run out for several players short on match fitness, though Matsunami would surely have preferred Usami, Pereira and Onose to play fewer minutes than they ended up doing.

As mentioned above, Yamami-mania has swept through the Gambaverse, as the diminutive youngster, who turned 22 earlier in the week, was the talk of social media and has presented me with an Usami vs Yamami 2022 uniform selection dilemma. The Nerazzurri faithful are currently salivating over the mouth-watering prospect of Usami, Silva and Yamami in the same team, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, how can the dream become reality? I, for one, am looking forward to getting the answer. Yamami sat out the Emperor’s Cup tie versus Matsumoto as he played for Kwansei Gakuin against Gamba in the previous round and the question on every Nerazzurri fans’ lips is, will he get a first start here?

Team News

Yosuke Ideguchi, Yota Sato and Shin Won-ho all retuned to action against Matsumoto, though I wouldn’t expect to see either Sato or Shin in the squad for this game, as they are backups, while Ideguchi played 110 minutes on Wednesday so will likely be a sub, at best. Patric has missed the past 3 fixtures, he’s believed to have a small injury, and similar to Ideguchi, I don’t expect him to start here. The club confirmed what everyone who watched Gamba vs Yokohama F. Marinos could see (no I’m not banging on about the Thiago Martins incident again), Wellington Silva has a right groin injury. No return date was given, and I don’t expect we’ll get one, so it’s a case of wait and see. Ryu Takao will be out for a while yet with his ankle problem, Yuya Fukuda is understood to be in training, but his absence on Wednesday suggests he’s well short of match fitness and Dai Tsukamoto’s thigh injury continues to keep him on the sidelines. Jun Ichimori and Haruto Shirai are long-term casualties.

Predicted Lineup and Stats




FC Tokyo

FC Tokyo ended up 6th in the 2020 standings, comfortably better than fellow ACL sides Yokohama F. Marinos (9) and Vissel Kobe (14). Buoyed by their Levain Cup success and keeping the majority of last season’s squad intact, they would have expected to push on and challenge at the very top this year, as they did in 2019. That hasn’t happened and the reasons why are very much a hot topic these days. On the one hand you have the devastating O Tridente attacking dynamos of Leandro, Adailton and, one of my personal favourite opposition strikers, Diego Oliveira. You also have an excellent youth system delivering talents such as Go Hatano, Kashif Bangunagande, Manato Shinada, Takuya Uchida and Shuto Abe. On the flip side of the coin, the balance of the team seems a little off. In my predicted lineup below, just one player (Junya Suzuki) is aged between 25 and 29, so you are left with a side made up of, up-and-comers and slightly over-the-hill veterans, maybe that partly explains their inconsistency?

My second, perhaps more controversial theory, (please hear me out FC Tokyo fans, I come in peace, honestly), speaking as a Gamba fan, last season FC Tokyo were the least nice opponents we faced. Leandro, rightly or wrongly, steals a lot of the negative headlines, but I felt Tokyo were very physical, there was off the ball stuff going on and the referee was getting plenty of advice from both the players on the field and Kenta and co on the sidelines. Not all of this should be taken as an insult by any means, to get to the top of the pile in football, it may be necessary to become well-versed in some of the darker arts of the game. Gamba, for example, dished out more than their fare share of punishment in the away fixture, Kim Young-gwon leading the charge (I don’t believe for one minute that you play centre-back for your country at 2 World Cups and don’t have more than a few tricks up your sleeve). Back to my original train of thought, in 2020 Leandro was a ring-leader, but so too, in my view, were, Joan Oumari, Arthur Silva and Yojiro Takahagi. What do all 4 have in common other than that? They’ve all either been loaned out or reduced to bit-part player status for most or all of the season. Could removing those prepared to do the dirty work be a factor in creating the soft underbelly ruthlessly exposed by Sapporo last week?

These are just some outsiders opinions on what’s going on at FC Tokyo, I’m certainly not trying to have a dig at a side who, let’s remember, are 6 points better off than the Nerazzurri. You could argue they missed a trick not bringing in a Daiki, Matsuoka or Kaneko in the off-season and you may question the absence of big-name Brazilian acquisition Bruno Uvini, but don’t forget this is a quality outfit, packed full of talent ,who present a very real threat to Gamba on Saturday night.

Team News

Diego Oliveira was a surprising omission from the FC Tokyo team-sheet last week and Kenta Hasegawa would only confirm that he had an injury, but didn’t expand. Right-back Hotaka Nakamura’s knee problem is likely to keep him out until October, Takuya Uchida’s season is done after hurting his shoulder, Kazuya Konno did his knee ligaments and will be back next year and former number 1 Akihiro Hayashi is undergoing a lengthy rehab program after also suffering a serious knee injury. Central midfielder Shuto Abe is on 3 yellow cards so a caution in this match would see him pick up a one game suspension.

Predicted Lineup and Stats




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

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sport

J1 Predicted Lineups Post Transfer Window Update

The summer transfer window “slammed shut,” or closed gently as it tends to do here in Japan, last Friday (August 13), so I thought this would be a good time to have a look at the lineups we are likely to see J1 teams field from now until December.

A quick reminder that you can always check out my regularly updated J1 and J2 databases here,

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1j6HTKFF38A3cAz7sqw3jfZ4f6y8soAgOjfXqKR3fNCM/

Before I get into it, here is a rough guide to some of the parameters I’ve used.

* Teams are listed in the order they finished the 2020 season, ie the order you’ll find them in all the 2021 yearbooks.
* The lineups below are not necessarily the ones you’ll see next week, more an amalgamation of the players expected to feature most frequently between now and the end of the season.
* Where genuine competition exists for a starting spot, I’ve listed alternatives below the projected starter.
* The injured / unavailable list only includes players who I feel would have a genuine chance of starting if they were fit. Regular readers will know finding information about JLeague injuries can be a thankless task, so I’ve done my best, but can’t promise it’s 100% accurate.

Finally, if you don’t already, please give @Michael_Master a follow on Twitter. The use of the word ‘Master’ in his handle is by no means an overstatement, the man is truly the oracle when it comes to Japanese transfers and this blog post wouldn’t have been possible without his updates. Thanks man!

Kawasaki Frontale

Comments
Yes Mitoma and Tanaka are gone, and yes Kashiwa have just become the first team in 40 J1 games to keep them scoreless, but take a look at the lineup below and you’ll surely agree this is still the strongest side in the division. A settled back 6 and plenty of options in attack plus rivals either losing players or being engaged in the process of rebuilding, makes me believe they’ll overcome ACL distractions to lift a fourth title in five years.
Injured/Unavailable: 10 Ryota Oshima


Gamba Osaka


Comments
Long time readers of this blog will know the trouble I’ve had predicting Gamba starting lineups recently, though I should point out in my defence, I’m generally more accurate at it than DAZN! With Miura, Kim and Shoji fit, 3-4-2-1 seems like it’ll be the order of the day for most remaining games this season. From 2022, however, it’d be good to see 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 getting an outing, especially if Hiroto Yamami can replicate anything like the form he did against Shimizu on Friday.
Injured/Unavailable: 14 Yuya Fukuda, 15 Yosuke Ideguchi, 27 Ryu Takao, 28 Wellington Silva


Nagoya Grampus

Comments
The arrival of Polish international Jakub Świerczok is like manna from heaven for the Grampus support who have been starved of a genuine centre-forward since Jô’s acrimonious departure at the start of 2020. Captain Yuichi Maruyama is out for the year and the slight defensive wobble caused by his absence, in addition to an inability to create presentable openings for their attackers has seen Nagoya slip back from the highs of last year and the early part of this campaign. Still very much in the hunt for 3rd place, their new number 40 will have a big say in whether they equal last season’s final ranking or not.
Injured/Unavailable: 3 Yuichi Maruyama, 9 Ryogo Yamasaki, 44 Mu Kanazaki


Cerezo Osaka

Comments
The problem with a having a club legend in charge, as both Osaka clubs have found out this year, is that it’s not easy to sever ties with them when things head south. The further away Cerezo get from the defensive stability of the Lotina-era, the more vulnerable they look at the back, while at the other end of the field, a succession of niggling injuries to key personnel has set-back Culpi’s plans to revitalise their attack. The Cherry Blossoms don’t really do mid-table finishes and have only 1 win and 11 points from their last 15 league outings…they couldn’t….could they?
Injured/Unavailable: 3 Ryosuke Shindo


Kashima Antlers


Comments
Things have generally meandered along under Naoki Soma, just as they did under predecessors Zago and Oiwa and on the back of 3 straight wins, the Ibaraki giants are firmly in the picture for 2022 ACL qualification which is really a bare minimum for a club of this size and prestige. Box-to-box midfielder Pituca seems to be a ready-made long term replacement for Leo Silva, but the Antlers faithful must have concerns over how long they can keep hold of talented youngsters like, Araki, Machida and Tsunemoto. Key forward Everaldo has incredibly only scored once in J1 this season and seems to be dropping deep and into wider areas too often, though with Tomoya Inukai raking in goals as he did against Shonan last week, it doesn’t appear to be hindering the team too much.
Injured/Unavailable: 22 Rikuto Hirose


FC Tokyo

Comments
A very streaky team this year, and I’ll discuss them in greater detail during my preview of their upcoming clash with Gamba, Gasmen supporters have seen their side go on both 5 game winning and losing runs in the first half of the season. Boss Kenta Hasegawa and playmaker Leandro burying the hatchet, for now, has helped make them a much more potent force going forward which has somewhat papered over the widening cracks at the back.
Injured/Unavailable: 9 Diego Oliveira, 14 Takuya Uchida, 33 Akihiro Hayashi, 37 Hotaka Nakamura


Kashiwa Reysol

Comments
I’ve already gone pretty deep on the J Talk Podcast regarding my issues with the Reysol front office’s performance in recent years. That, plus the winter departure of Olunga has really set them back this campaign in my opinion. Their season stats and recent results indicate a push up the table might be on the cards during the second half of the year. A bloated squad, constant tinkering with the team’s shape and a never-ending succession of injuries suggest otherwise.
Injured/Unavailable: 7 Hidekazu Otani, 11 Matheus Savio, 33 Hayato Nakama, 39 Yuta Kamiya


Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Comments
Sanfre have reverted to the tried and trusted 3-4-2-1 after an ill-advised dabble with a back 4 at the beginning of the season. They appear to have a surplus of quality centre-backs, but there’s now a gaping Hayao Kawabe shaped hole in the middle of the park. More cutting edge is required up front, but with the new stadium project sucking in resources, they lack the funds to adequately replace Leandro Pereira and it looks like they’ll be left relying on youth team products, university graduates and promising J2 players in the coming years.


Yokohama F. Marinos

Comments
10 points from 4 games in quick-fire succession marks an excellent introduction to Japanese football for Kevin Muscat. The Australian head coach must have been delighted with Léo Ceará’s efforts in recent weeks, putting his hand up as the man to fill Ado Onaiwu’s big boots up front. They are now breathing right down the necks of Kanagawa rivals Kawasaki and we have a genuine title race on our hands. Their devastating attack is beyond reproach, but the old defensive frailties which held them back in 2018 and 2020 have been on display since returning from their summer break. Gamba and Oita, two of the weaker attacks in the division, let them off the hook, but I have a nagging doubt that they are going to give too many chances, to the wrong team, on the wrong day and that’s what’s ultimately going to cost them top spot.


Urawa Red Diamonds


Comments
The plethora of new talent in the arrivals lounge has made Reds one of the most talked about J1 sides during the summer months. The shape I’ve set out below was not the one used by Ricardo Rodriguez on Saturday night, however, I feel he may lean towards it later in the year. Although Kobe seem to act as a bit of lightning rod for online criticism about big spending, dress it up any way you like, Reds summer spree is a naked attempt at fixing problems using cold, hard cash. The Saitama outfit mean business, they may not reach the summit this year, but, they’ll definitely be a team to keep your eye on in the coming years.
**Please note – on August 15 Reds announced Kasper Junker had undergone surgery on a cheekbone injury, I expect to see him back wearing some Tsuneyasu Miyamoto-style facial protection in the next couple of weeks so kept him in the lineup below.**


Oita Trinita

Comments
After a decent run in the top flight since 2019, it seems like the curtain is coming down on their J1 journey, for now. Trinita possess the weakest attack in the division, scoring an anaemic 0.63 goals per game, see misses in the 15th and 48th minutes of their eventual 5-1 drubbing at Marinos on Sunday for clear evidence of where the issues lie. Former Gamba assistant Tomohiro Katanosaka, now in his 6th year in charge, has recently looked at alternatives to his favoured 3-4-2-1, including starting with a back 4 vs Marinos, but I feel like he will return to type soon as the squad is built to play with 3 centre-backs. Goya and Masuyama have come in to bolster the attack, but they still lack a proven source of goals. Onaiwu, Fujimoto and Tanaka have all previously departed for brighter lights elsewhere and it costs money to replace that kind of talent, money, that sadly, Trinita just don’t have.
Injured/Unavailable: 15 Yuta Koide


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo


Comments
Petrovic’s 100mph attacking football style is locked and loaded at the Sapporo Dome and at the moment it seems to be bearing fruit. As I write this, Consadole have just seen off FC Tokyo in impressive fashion, having dispatched Urawa with even greater ease the week before. Not the richest, or flashiest of J1 outfits, but their in-depth scouting of Japan’s varsity competitions, allied with solid youth development has proven crucial in steering them in an upwards trajectory over the past few months.


Sagan Tosu

Comments
With severe financial difficulties, a manager who’s just returned from a 3 week suspension while an internal power harassment investigation was conducted and 2 of their brightest talents freshly headed out the door, it’s amazing how settled things still appear at Tosu. Matsuoka and Hayashi are now yesterday’s men, but replacements Shirasaki and Koizumi from Kashima are thoroughbred pros who will help steady the ship. ACL qualification may be just beyond them this year, and that’s a real shame as the vultures will surely be circling the likes of Higuchi, Yamashita, Sento and Eduardo in the winter, making a repeat of this season’s heroics all the tougher.
Injured/Unavailable: 23 Fuchi Honda


Vissel Kobe

Comments
It’s worth remembering that Kobe have never finished higher than 7th in J1, so assuming they can get big-name summer recruits Muto and Osako integrated quickly then they’ll be well on their way to achieving a first ever ACL qualification through league performance. Bojan is a bit of an unknown quantity these days, but J1 coach of the month for July Miura has built a solid foundation and crucially has gotten, the high profile stars, the undercard, and the youngsters all pulling together in the same direction, hats off to him for that.
Injured/Unavailable: 1 Daiya Maekawa, 29 Lincoln


Yokohama FC


Comments
A mass recruitment process over the summer has given them a glimmer of hope, and they are now unbeaten in their last 4 games, but is it all a bit too little, too late? Getting my old EPL 40 points to avoid relegation calculator out, Yokohama FC still require 25 points from their 16 remaining fixtures to reach that mythical milestone. Yusuke Matsuo is in the side once more and a defence that was conceding at a rate of 2.32 goals per match has now kept back-to-back clean sheets thanks to the arrival of Brazilian defender Gabriel. If his compatriots, Felipe Vizeu and Saulo Mineiro, can have a similar impact at the other end of the pitch, then maybe, just maybe they could be on for the greatest of great escapes.
Injured/Unavailable: 8 Kosuke Saito, 23 Yota Maejima, 30 Kohei Tezuka


Shimizu S-Pulse

Comments
Their summer transfer business looks good, but I said that about their winter recruitment and it’s not really moved them very far up the standings. Similar to post-Ferguson/pre-Solskjær Manchester United, a hard-hitting critique might say that constantly flip-flopping between managers, players and playing styles is hindering the club as it seeks to move forward. Relying on goals from set-pieces and the physicality of Thiago Santana might bring some degree of success, but it feels like had they given Cklamovski this group of players, then he could have achieved much more.
Injured/Unavailable: 10 Carlinhos Junior, 18 Elsinho, 20 Keita Nakamura, 22 Renato Augusto, 50 Yoshinori Suzuki


Vegalta Sendai


Comments
Sendai are currently competing in their 12th consecutive J1 campaign, for context that’s a better run than, Gamba, Cerezo, Kobe, Nagoya, FC Tokyo or Kashiwa have had, but it appears likely that this era of relative success is drawing to a close and they may have to regroup and rebuild in J2 next year. 18 goals in 24 games while conceding double that figure tells its own story and though there have been bright sparks in the shape of university rookies Mase and Kato down the right, Foguinho in the middle and some recent substitute cameos from Oti and Felippe Cardoso, in the cold light of day, is it really inaccurate to suggest that the lineup I’ve set out below looks more like a team sitting 5th or 6th in J2 rather than one built to survive in the rarefied air of J1?
Injured/Unavailable: 8 Yoshiki Matsushita


Shonan Bellmare

Comments
After finishing bottom in 2020 with no relegation in place, Bin Ukishima deserves a bit of credit for improving things this year, making his side much more resolute and hard to beat. That said, despite gaining credible draws with the likes of Kawasaki, Marinos and Kobe as well as upsetting Reds in Saitama, they are currently on an ominous slide and it looks as though it’s between them and Tokushima, who they faced in the 2019 promotion/relegation playoff, to see who fills the uppermost spot in the drop zone. They experimented with a double-volante system against Nagoya, and that’s something we may see more of going forward, although I have them lined up in their tried and tested shape below. Sugioka looks to be a good addition, while keeping wide-man Taiga Hata fit so he can supply the bombs for Wellington may be the difference between J1 and J2 football for Bellmare next year.
Injured/Unavailable: 30 Sosuke Shibata


Tokushima Vortis


Comments
Tokushima’s victory at home to Gamba gave them the blueprint for how to attack the second half of the year. No messing around with the ball at the back, no possession for possession’s sake, quick counters culminating in dynamic running and interchanges between then front 4 topped off with more shots on goal and hopefully more points on the board. Kawasaki-loanee Taisei Miyashiro has certainly enhanced his reputation with a series of strong performances in a variety of positions along the front line, while right-back Takeru Kishimoto and number 10 Masaki Watai will draw many an admiring glance from rival teams’ scouting departments should they keep up their recent form. Keep your eyes peeled for young forward Taiyo Nishino also, he’s just starting to break into the team in his first year out of Kyoto Tachibana High School.
Injured/Unavailable: Kohei Uchida


Avispa Fukuoka


Comments
An excellent start to the season has them sitting in a place of relative comfort few predicted at the beginning of the year. Goalkeeper Masaaki Murakami has won over early doubters (myself included) with a string of good performances, the abrasive Douglas Grolli has been an excellent defensive lynchpin while the quality of deliveries from Jordy Croux and, in particular, irrepressible Swede Emil Salomonsson, have been second to none. In contrast to Kyushu cousins Oita, who came into J1 with a bang and were then looted of their best talent, the average age and playing style of most of Avispa’s squad suggests that they may not have to fend off too many suitors in upcoming transfer windows. One exception is team captain Hiroyuki Mae, and it will be interesting to see how his partnership with new recruit Shun Nakamura develops.
Injured/Unavailable: Bruno Mendes

Categories
sport

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.




Categories
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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J1 2021 Predicted Lineups

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

If you’re still coming here in 2020, please click this link for the 2022 version…

https://gambaosakaenglish.blog/2022/01/23/j1-2022-predicted-lineups/

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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FC Tokyo 0-1 Gamba Osaka 10 October 2020 Match Summary

I was originally planning to put this into my next match preview, but as there were so many controversial issues in this game I decided to give this an article of it’s own. Hope you enjoy!

Gamba battled to a 6th win in-a-row with a 1-0 triumph over FC Tokyo in farcical conditions at Ajinomoto Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The victory moves them within 3 points of their hosts with 3 fewer games played. City neighbours Cerezo’s 1-0 defeat at Nagoya made it a good weekend for Nerazzurri fans who will surely now see a genuine chance of at least a top 4 finish.

Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made 5 personnel and 1 positional change from the midweek win at Tosu with centre-backs, Gen Shoji and Kim Young-gwon, central midfielder Yuki Yamamoto and forward Patric coming in while Takashi Usami played on the right-side of midfield for the first time this year and Yuya Fukuda switched from right-midfield / right-wing back to an orthodox left back role. Shunya Suganuma, Ryo Shinzato, Hiroki Fujiharu, Shinya Yajima and Kazuma Watanabe made way with Shinzato and Fujiharu the only two of that quintet to not feature on the bench.

The match kicked off with standing water visible on large chunks of the ground which made neat, intricate passing moves an impossibility. I think I commented after the U23s played a fixture in even worse conditions away to Gifu earlier in the year that it’s really unfair to judge players’ abilities on such a surface, but you can certainly learn something about their character in a trying situation such as this. I’ll try to take that into account in my summary of the game.

Gamba were initially the brighter of the two sides and took the game to their opponents in the opening ten minutes. With that said, inside the first quarter both teams enjoyed two decent chances apiece, with the home side having by far the more dangerous ones. Both of the Gasmen’s centre-backs will feel they should have done much better with headers from Hirotaka Mita set-plays, however, neither could find the target and Gamba were able to breathe a little easier. The Nerazzurri’s Brazilian front-pairing both had half chances, but Ademilson’s header and Patric’s drive from outside the box following an excellent run by Usami where he went past 4 defenders were as close as they came. After that, the weather was the game’s MVP and chances were at a premium.

Regular readers of my blog will know my views on handball penalties, so I’ll come flat out and say it, the spot kick awarded to Gamba in the 39th minute shouldn’t have been given in a month of Sundays in my opinion. The official rules may say differently, but Yosuke Ideguchi’s cross which went over the head of Tokyo right-winger Hirotaka Mita and was headed into the back of his arm from literally a yard away by Ademilson left me and many others asking, what else could Mita have done? Ademilson stepped up coolly, waited for Gasmen ‘keeper Akihiro Hayashi to dive to his right and promptly dispatched his kick low into the opposite corner. 1-0 Gamba at half-time.

The field initially seemed more playable at the start of the second stanza and it opened relatively brightly with Ademilson feeding Usami from the right-side, but Gamba’s talisman saw his shot well smothered by Hayashi from close range. Tokyo’s Brazilians, Adailton, Leandro and Diego Oliveira then combined to tee up compatriot Arthur Silva whose goalbound effort was well blocked by Yuya Fukuda.

Shortly after those chances, the rain came down heavily once more which led to off-the-ball incidents taking centre stage. The referee didn’t help matters by not giving a couple of clear fouls on Arthur Silva and that seemed to build tensions among the capital club’s Brazilian contingent. Whereas in the match at Panasonic Stadium, the South Americans and Yojiro Takahagi were able to waste time arguing with the officials from a winning position, at 1-0 down it only served as a handbrake on their side’s progress here.

It was all a bit much for Leandro who appeared to miss with an elbow aimed at the head of ex-Tokyo man Kim Young-gwon in the 54th minute. Not content with that he clearly punched Yuki Yamamoto in the face while chasing a long ball 15 minutes later. The referee didn’t see the contact and it will be interesting to see what punishment, if any, is meted out by the JLeague.

Tokyo’s players surrounded the ref pleading for Kim Young-gwon to see red less than 10 minutes later after he accidentally landed a high kick on an onrushing Leandro on the edge of his own box. I could see their point, but would counter it by saying that the on-loan Kashima man shouldn’t have been on the field at that point to make the run in the first place.

Leandro did, however, see the final whistle, curling free kicks past either post from the edge of the box after Kim and Yamamoto fouls, which was kind of ironic as they were they players he’d clashed with earlier. The home side pressed in the last ten minutes plus additional time, but Gamba held strong to earn their first win away to FC Tokyo since 2001. 6 wins in-a-row with 3 clean sheets kept during that run, let the good times continue to roll!

The games just keep coming and coming, next up are defending champions Yokohama F.Marinos at Panasonic Stadium on Wednesday night. Look out for my preview of that which should be live on Monday evening Japanese time.

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FC Tokyo vs Gamba Osaka 10 October 2020 Match Preview

FC Tokyo vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 21
Ajinomoto Stadium
Saturday 10 October 14:00 (JST)


Last Time Out

Gamba recorded their 5th consecutive league win with a comfortable 2-1 triumph at a blustery Ekimae Real Esate Stadium on Wednesday night. With this being the second of five games within the space of fifteen days it was the first time this year we saw real rotation in the Gamba ranks. In total there were 6 changes to the starting lineup from the side that saw off Kashima last Saturday. At centre-back Ryo Shinzato started his first J1 game for Gamba while Shunya Suganuma returned to the starting eleven for the first time since the Osaka derby in round 2, Gen Shoji was on the bench with Kim Young-gwon left at home. Elsewhere, both forwards were switched, with Ademilson and Kazuma Watanabe starting and Takashi Usami and Patric on the pine. In midfield, Yuya Fukuda was selected on the right in place of Kosuke Onose while Shinya Yajima took over Yuki Yamamoto’s pot to make his first start since overcoming a sprained ankle. The team began in a 4-4-2 formation before changing to a 3-5-2 about 30 minutes in.

Tosu opened the match stronger, controlling both territory and possession with Gamba content to sit back and soak up pressure. However, the home side lacked penetration in the attacking third, moving the ball from side to side, but rarely threatening Masaaki Higashiguchi’s goal. Cho Dong-geon flicked a header from Riki Harakawa’s corner onto the bar in the 7th minute and Ryang Yong-gi shot over, but that was all they had to show for their early endeavours. At the other end, Gamba made them pay with two deadly counter attacks. First, in the 21st minute, good work down the left involving Shu Kurata and Hiroki Fujiharu culminated with the latter delivering the ball into the box where Watanabe took one touch with his right foot to bring it under control and then used his left to dispatch it past the despairing Yohei Takaoka low to his right. Just 13 minutes later it was two and Watanabe, whose 4 goals this year prior to this game had all come off the bench, bagged his 100th strike in J1 in fine style. A beautiful one-two between Ademilson and Watanabe released the Brazilian down the right flank, he centred for his strike partner to fire high into the back of the net.

Shuhei Kawasaki and Kosuke Onose replaced Kurata and Fujiharu at the half-time interval and the Osaka side dominated proceedings in the opening 15 minutes of the second stanza, young Kawasaki was heavily involved in several attacks. Following that, Tosu showed more urgency and Gamba, after initially being quite open to the counter, again shifted back into their solid defensive shape to see out the win. Left winger Tomoya Koyamatsu and central midfielder Riki Harakawa were at the heart of Tosu’s creativity. Second half substitute Kaisei Ishii shot over from the edge of the box midway though they second period, while a few minutes later full-back Ryoya Morishita blasted high and wide from a tight angle. Centre-back Teruki Hara missed Sagan’s best chance inside the 90 when he put Harakawa’s powerful drilled cross wide from 6 yards out. The Kyushu side were finally rewarded for their efforts when Uruguayan Renzo Lopez, who’d replaced Cho earlier in the half, denied Gamba a clean sheet by outjumping Yuya Fukuda to head home Harakawa’s measured cross in the second minute of additional time. However, it was too little too late for Tosu and the visitors won a league match in Kyushu for the first time since 2017.

FC Tokyo advanced to the final of the Levain Cup with an impressive 2-0 win away to J1 champions-elect Kawasaki Frontale on Wednesday night. Goals in either half from the excellent Brazilian Leandro earned them a famous win and they will face Kashiwa Reysol on November 7th after the Chiba-based side saw off Yokohama F.Marinos 1-0 in Kanagawa.


The Lowdown

2nd in the table FC Tokyo host 4th placed Gamba Osaka in a contender for game of the round at Ajinomoto Stadium this Saturday afternoon. The Gasmen are 6 points better off than their opponents, but have crucially played an extra 3 matches, so an away win on Saturday would put the Nerazzurri within striking distance of their hosts. The reverse fixture between these two at Panasonic Stadium at the end of August didn’t pass without incident, Hiroki Fujiharu’s goal to put Gamba 2-1 up on the stroke of half-time was incorrectly ruled out for offside and FC Tokyo ended up running out 3-1 victors. The fact that Gamba have yet to lose in the 14 J1 games this season in which they’ve led shows just how crucial that decision was in altering the course of the outcome.

Our opposition this week are clearly one of the top teams in J1 and will surely feel that they could have run Kawasaki closer if it hadn’t been for the mammoth impact that their Asian Champions League participation has had on their J1 campaign. Let’s look at their schedule since they last faced Gamba. In the month of September alone, they fulfilled 8 league fixtures and 1 Levain Cup quarter-final and in October they’ve already seen off Shonan 1-0 in Hiratsuka last Sunday before defeating Frontale in the League Cup as mentioned above. They’ve won seven, drawn one and lost just two of those games which is a testament to the strength of the squad that former Gamba boss Kenta Hasegawa has built in western Tokyo.

An over-reliance on the goals of Diego Oliveira has been a weakness for the Gasmen over the past couple of campaigns, however, the shrewd acquisitions of his countrymen Leandro (Kashima) and the pacy Adailton (Iwata) has helped to relieve that particular burden a lot. Their attack has clearly improved in comparison to last season when they finished runners-up to Yokohama F.Marinos. They’re averaging 1.6 goals per game this year in comparison with 1.35 in 2019. At the back things have been a little more shaky, probably owing to the amount of rotation they’ve had to do, at present they average 1.35 goals against in 2020 compared with only 0.85 a year ago. Defending of crossed balls and in particular corners has been a constant cause of concern for FC Tokyo supporters on Twitter, though it should be noted that their defensive structures were pretty solid for a lot of the game away to Gamba.

Both FC Tokyo and Gamba have superior away records compared with what they do in their home stadiums and I can only put this down to the effect that COVID-19 has had on home attendances. Four of Tokyo’s five league defeats so far this year have come on home turf and they are currently averaging 1.8 points per home game versus 2.0 outside of Japan’s capital. To date they have seen off, Shonan (3-0), Urawa and Cerezo (2-0), Yokohama FC (2-1), Nagoya and Sendai (1-0) on their own patch, but have gone down to Kawasaki (0-4), Tosu and Oita (2-3) and Kashima (1-2).

Gamba are flying high away from home with a record of 7 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses which means they are already 2 wins and 3 points better of than their total from the whole of 2019. They currently average 2.3 points per game outside of Suita compared with just 1.5 at Panasonic Stadium and like their opponents on Saturday, they’ve lost just once away from home this season (3-0 at Kashiwa in round 15). The Nerazzurri also come into this clash in their best run of form since the end of 2018 (when they were victorious 9 times in a row), winning their last 5 which eclipses their four game winning run between rounds 3-7. One cause for concern may be the lack of clean sheets with only 4 being kept in 20 J1 fixtures so far compared with 11 in 34 games last time out. On their way to 7th place in J1 last year Gamba averaged 1.59 goals per game, marginally higher than this term’s 1.5, but at the back there has been a marked improvement with only 1.2 strikes per game conceded in 2020 versus 1.4 in the previous campaign.

Head to Head

Gamba have an appalling record in this fixture, winning the first two clashes between the sides in 2000 and 2001, but they have failed to return to Osaka with a victory on every occasion since. As the table below shows, Gamba have taken just a solitary point from the previous 6 games between the two at Ajinomoto Stadium. I attended Kenta Hasegawa’s final match as Gamba head coach in 2017 before he took over at FC Tokyo and it was a highly forgettable 0-0 draw with me being full of the cold and sitting outside for a couple of hours certainly not helping matters.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Gamba had the opportunity to rest many of their regular starters at Tosu on Wednesday and the only definite absentees for this game will be Yuji Ono who is out for the season after knee surgery and Genta Miura who is still missing with a thigh problem. Kim Young-gwon and Kazuma Watanabe will both make their 50th league appearances for Gamba if selected for this game, Watanabe will, of course, be up against one of his former sides fresh from reaching his century of J1 goals in midweek.

FC Tokyo

FC Tokyo captain Keigo Higashi has missed all of 2020 with a broken foot while the versatile Makoto Okazaki is now back after a tough loan spell at Shimizu, Transfermarkt report he has inflammation in his knee. Kazuya Konno, a promising attacking midfielder, recruited from Hosei University last winter and compared with Shoya Nakajima earlier in the year hasn’t been seen since the 2-1 home defeat by Kashima on August 26th and his absence from the much shuffled side for the match at Shonan suggests he may be carrying an injury.

Predicted Line Ups

Gamba Osaka
After all the rotation in midweek, I think we’ll see a full strength Gamba on Saturday. I really don’t see Miyamoto deviating away from the members you can see below, although it is possible he could shuffle between 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 as happened in Saga on Wednesday. Yamamoto starting in place of Yajima is the most likely difference between Miyamoto’s side and mine, though theoretically any of Patric, Ademilson or Watanabe could partner Usami in attack, my money is on the more physical Patric getting the nod.


FC Tokyo
FC Tokyo have switched between 4-3-3 and Kenta Hasegawa’s favoured 4-4-2 in recent weeks depending on which personnel are selected for any given match. I believe if everyone was fit and they were only playing one game per week then their strongest eleven would be (4-3-3) Hayashi – H. Nakamura, Watanabe, Morishige, Ogawa – Higashi, Takahagi, Abe – Diego Oliveira, Nagai, Leandro, though with their deluge of games they are currently facing, I’m sure even their own supporters have little idea which side will be chosen on a weekly basis.


Match Prediction

A tough one to call, Gamba have a horrible record away to Tokyo, but they are coming into this one full of confidence on the back of a 5 game winning streak, they are also one of the top away sides in J1 this year. Both outfits played on Wednesday night, so fatigue will be an issue, however, Gamba were able to rest more of their starters than Tokyo and also, with all due respect to Tosu, played much weaker opposition. I’ve put all of those factors together and come up with an entertaining 2-2 draw as my match prediction.

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Gamba Osaka 1-3 FC Tokyo 29 August 2020 and more

Gamba went down 3-1 at home to FC Tokyo on Saturday, their fourth league defeat of the year at Panasonic Stadium and second in a row. The result of the game, which was not without controversy, sees the Nerrazzuri slip down to 8th in the J1 standings.

Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made three changes from the 1-1 draw at Kashima Antlers. Ademilson replaced Patric in a surprising move as FC Tokyo have shown weakness against crossed balls all year. Elsewhere Hiroki Fujiharu re-took his starting spot from Yuya Fukuda down the left and Ryu Takao started at right-wing back presumably in a bid to thwart Tokyo’s lethal Brazilian winger Leandro. Takao’s inclusion brought about a midfield re-shuffle which saw Ideguchi sit at the base with Kosuke Onose on his right and Shinya Yajima to the left.

Questionable officiating would be a theme of this game and it started as early as the fourth minute when Leandro appeared to clearly dribble the ball over the dead ball line before cutting back to team-mate Arthur Silva who blasted wildly over from 20 metres out. Gamba then broke up the other end and nice play from Usami teed up Ademilson who fired wide from the edge of the box. In an end-to-end start it was Tokyo who drew first blood from a goal similar to those conceded in the previous home game with Urawa. Gen Shoji’s ball out of defence was well intercepted by Shuto Abe and the ricochet off his leg played in the speedy Kensuke Nagai. Genta Miura was able to throw out a foot and deflect the ball towards his ‘keeper Higashiguchi. A 50-50 collision ensued and the ball broke to Diego Oliveira who coolly stroked home a left-footed shot from well outside the area.

This goal wreaked havoc with Gamba’s game plan of getting ahead early and sitting back with the aim of grabbing a second on the counter. Indeed it was the visitors who outdid Gamba in this respect, earning fouls, rolling around and generally wasting as much time as possible. Gamba huffed and puffed, but often found themselves running down blind alleys as Tokyo’s defence and midfield proved to be extremely adept at snuffing out pressure, Akihiro Hayashi’s excellent point blank stop from Takao’s shot was the only decent effort of note. At the other end the Gasmen broke and Nagai’s shot appeared to be touched wide by Higashiguchi, but a goal kick was given, much to the striker’s bewilderment.

Gamba got themselves back in the game two minutes from the interval. Patient build-up in midfield culminated in a quick pass from Ideguchi to Ademilson, the Brazilian laid it off to Usami first touch and Gamba’s talisman took a second to get the ball out of his feet before powering in a lovely right-footed shot which Hayashi in the Tokyo goal could only parry into his left hand corner. It should have been 2-1 in the 4th minute (double any other game we’ve played this season) of additional time. Some, of a Gamba persuasion, would argue it would be karma for Yojiro Takahagi’s minutes of rolling on the ground, if his team were to concede so late on in the half. As it turned out the linesman ruled out Fujiharu’s legitimate strike, on what basis I don’t know, as Hotaka Nakamura and at least one other Tokyo defender were playing him onside. It was not to be and despite Gamba protests it was 1-1 at half-time.

More poor officiating followed in the second half as the referee appeared to cancel out one bad decision to award a Tokyo free kick for a ‘foul’ on Kensuke Nagai, with an equally bizarre one to not give the same player the benefit of the doubt minutes later. After that the game settled down a touch with both teams having chances on the break but overall things remained tight.

The match swung decisively on a penalty decision for handball against Kim Young-gwon in the 72nd minute, I’ll cover my views on this type of award in the analysis section below. Again Gamba protests fell on deaf ears and Leandro stepped up, placed his penalty low to the left, Higashiguchi got a glove on it but couldn’t keep it out and the visitors went ahead.

Gamba pressed for an equaliser and Hayashi saved well from sub Kazuma Watanabe’s effort. However, Tokyo looked dangerous on the break and were able to take advantage of the spaces left open by Gamba’s gung-ho approach. Substitute Adailton re-paid coach Kenta Hasegawa not long after coming on as he fired an excellent shot across Higashiguchi following a pass from Leandro on yet another Tokyo counter attack. 3-1 game over.

Analysis

* Basically all of Gamba’s games this year have followed a similar pattern, Oita are the only team we’ve looked significantly better than, yet we only beat them 2-1. Similarly, Kawasaki are the only team who’ve looked much stronger than us and we only lost 1-0. What the last two home games have shown is that teams are on to our system and are quickly closing down our defenders, forcing mistakes and winning the ball back in dangerous areas. Playing Patric last week at Kashima gave us an out ball to allow us to quickly clear our lines, why did he not start here, and why was Watanabe brought off the bench before him?
* Ryu Takao in theory has the skill set to play right wing-back, but as this was his first start in the position he looked rather shaky. Despite being denied by an excellent Hayashi save and then colliding with the shrewd Takahagi at the end of a surging run into the box, his general distribution was much below that of Onose.
* The penalty against us was the correct decision in my opinion, the ball struck Kim on the arm and it was away from his body. However, how a player is supposed to slide and keep their arms by their side, I don’t know. Also from my recent reading on expected goals, a penalty kick is generally scored 70-75% of the time, I always feel dissatisfied when teams are given spot kicks for innocuous handballs in moves unlikely to result in shots or goals. Nagoya can feel more aggrieved than us with the penalty they conceded. Fortunately, in my eyes anyway, justice was served as Lucas Fernandes of Sapporo failed to convert. I don’t know how to fix this quandry and I am just ranting here out of frustration.
* We now look like also rans in the title race, so why not give some of the youngsters a shot. Tokyo had Shuto Abe in midfield and the two Nakamura’s at full-back on Saturday, while we saw Kashima with Araki and Someno, so for me it’s time to gently introduce Shuhei Kawasaki, Shoji Toyama and Ren Shibamoto who’ve been in great form for the U23s see below, as well as Yuki Yamamoto who has just been warming the bench for the top team.

Gamba MVP

Takashi Usami – His best game this season in my opinion. A brilliant strike to equalise, constantly dropped deep to pick the ball up and should have been rewarded with an assist but Watanabe was unable to guide his header past Hayashi. Really needs more help as he can’t create and score all by himself.

Under-23 round up

Gamba U23 eventually ran out comfortable 3-0 winners over Sagamihara S.C. on Sunday night. A shaky start could have seen them fall behind, but they bounced back to take the lead in the 21st minute. Haruto Shirai’s low cross from the right evaded everyone in the middle except Dai Tsukamoto who managed to guide his shot past the unlucky Victor.

Into the second half and Gamba escaped appeals for a handball when the ball bounced awkwardly and struck Keisuke Kurokawa on the arm. The Nerrazzuri received little advantage though, as it fell for Sagamihara and ‘keeper Kei Ishikawa was forced into a good save to tip the ball over.

Two goals on the counter in additional time at the end of the game added gloss to the scoreline. First Tsukamoto played in the tiring Shoji Toyama who powered a shot past Victor before being immediately replaced in the 93rd minute. Two minutes later, sub Ko Ise won the ball in midfield, fed Tsukamoto who in turn found Shuhei Kawasaki, the form man jinked and weaved before firing home his 5th goal in 4 games, surely some top team midfielders must be looking over their shoulders now.