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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.

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Gamba Osaka vs FC Tokyo Match Preview 29 August 2020

Gamba Osaka vs FC Tokyo
J1 2020 Round 13
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 29 August 19:00 (JST)


Gamba return home after a 6-day break to square off against FC Tokyo. This week’s match preview has been streamlined and also has several new graphics, please let me know what you think. As for our opponents, check out the excellent blog https://fctokyokaiguys.wordpress.com/ and the associated Twitter handle @FCTokyoKaiGuys for up to date information, match previews, reviews etc.

The Lowdown

FC Tokyo travel to Osaka hot on the heels of a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Kashima on Wednesday night. The capital club rested a host of first team regulars for the game owing to their marathon schedule due to their participation in the Asian Champions League. Still, the Gasmen sit 4th in J1, 3 places and 2 points ahead of Gamba albeit with 2 more games played. That stat makes this clash pivotal for both as a home win would see the Nerrazzuri go ahead of their opponents with fewer matches under their belt, something that would surely give them a lot of confidence moving forward.

Truthfully, Gamba don’t come into this tie in particularly good form, they’ve only picked up a solitary win in their last four league games and that was a fortunate one at home to Yokohama FC. The performances in the past three contests have been tired and lacking invention, though the desire to get ahead early and rest weary legs by soaking up pressure is clearly the strategy Tsuneyasu Miyamoto wants his troops to employ. Will it bear fruit come the end of the year? That’s anyone’s guess in this unique COVID-19 affected season.

Ex-Gamba kantoku Kenta Hasegawa has his Tokyo side lining up in a 4-3-3 formation these days, a marked break from the rigid 4-4-2 / 4-2-3-1 we saw during his time in Suita. They’ve been stung by the loss of influential midfielder Kento Hashimoto to FK Rostov in Russia and attacking right-back Sei Muroya to Hannover in Germany’s second division in the summer transfer window, these departures compounded the absence of captain Keigo Higashi because of long term injury. For positives, the addition of Brazilian attacking duo Leandro (Kashima – loan – I still can’t fathom why you’d loan a player of his ability to a rival?) and Adailton (Iwata) in attack, the acquisition of youngsters from local universities, Shuto Abe and Hotaka Nakamura (both Meiji) as well as Kazuya Konno (Hosei) and importantly the promotion of players from their famed youth set up, Taichi Hara (top scorer in J3 last year), Takumi Nakamura and Kashifu Bangundagande have boosted their ranks.

Take all stats at the moment with a pinch of salt due to the disparity of games played between different teams in J1, but at present FC Tokyo possess the fourth most potent attack in the division (behind Kawasaki, Yokohama FM and Kashiwa). At the back things are a touch more vulnerable, first choice stopper Akihiro Hayashi lost his place to youngster Go Hatano for a few rounds and there seems to be an all round lack of depth in the defensive positions. As the FC Tokyo Kai Guys have repeatedly noted poor defending from crossed balls and full-backs playing opponents onside have been major contributing factors to a lot of their goals conceded this year, does this mean we are likely to see Patric in from the start again after a decent showing away to Kashima last weekend?


Head to Head

Gamba haven’t lost at home to FC Tokyo in the league since way back in 2008, a 3-1 defeat at the old Expo Memorial Stadium. Yasuhito Endo and current head-coach Satoshi Yamaguchi started for Gamba that day, while Shu Kurata came on as a second half replacement. Future Nerrazzuri legend Yasuyuki Konno as well as soon-to-be Samurai Blue star Yuto Nagatomo were in the Gasmen’s starting eleven.

Check out the recent head-to-head between the sides in the table below and you’ll see a clear home victory bias. Since Gamba returned to J1 in 2014 our home record vs FC Tokyo stands at P6 W 3 D 3 L 0 F 12 A 7. My personal highlight was Ademilson’s 95th minute winner back in 2018 after Diego Oliveira had equalised late on for the visitors. This was closely followed by Shu Kurata somehow being credited with the second goal in a three nil rout in 2017 when his effort would surely have been ruled as an own goal in any other league.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

On-loan Jubilo Iwata defender Ryo Shinzato is the only absentee for Gamba at the moment, he hasn’t been seen on the field since February. Backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori has been in fine form with the U23s in J3, but clearly that is not his true level, when will he return to the bench ahead of Kei Ishikawa?
A final piece of news is that U23 midfielder Mizuki Ichimaru has joined FC Ryukyu on loan, it’s unlikely we’ll see him back at Panasonic Stadium with the disbansion of the U23s next year and him being overage in 2021 anyway…good luck in Okinawa, Mizuki, I hope @OkinawaOzzy’s men get the best out of you.

FC Tokyo

As mentioned above, Tokyo captain Keigo Higashi is a long-term casualty with a broken foot, he has yet to feature in J1 this year. Young forward Kyosuke Tagawa dislocated his shoulder against Yokohama F.Marinos last month and should return soon while former Zweigen Kanzawa midfielder Kiwara Miyazaki is another who will be out for a while. 198cm goalie Go Hatano has dropped out of the matchday squad completely since the 3-3 draw at Hiroshima, his performance didn’t seem that bad, so I guess it’s down to injury.

Know Your Opponent – FC Tokyo

KantokuKenta Hasegawa – Appointed 1 February 2018 – P 81 W 39 D 19 L 23 F 107 A 80 Points Per Game 1.7 Failed to Score 24 Clean Sheets 31
Key Stat: Hasegawa guided FC Tokyo to their highest ever J1 finish of 2nd place last year.

GK #33 Akihiro Hayashi – Veteran ‘keeper Hayashi had an interesting start to his pro career with Plymouth Argyle in England and then Charleroi in Belgium. Since returning to his homeland in 2012 he’s been a solid custodian for Shimizu, Tosu and now Tokyo. He briefly ceded number one status to up-and-comer Go Hatano, but is back between the posts for now.

RB #37 Hotaka Nakamura – An off-season recruit from the footballing production line that is Meiji University, Hotaka, one of two full-backs named Nakamura in the Tokyo squad, endured a rough ride in the Gasmen’s 4-0 battering by Kawasaki earlier this year, but has battled back well and appears to be slightly ahead in the battle to take over from the departed Sei Muroya.

RCB #4 Tsuyoshi Watanabe © – Captain of the side in the absence of Keigo Higashi, 23 year-old Saitama native Watanabe is still only in his second season as a pro after graduating from Chuo University. He’s struck up a pretty solid partnership with Morishige and looks like he’ll be a mainstay in the capital club’s defence for the next decade or so. Has already been capped once by his country.

LCB #3 Masato Morishige – Hugely experienced centre-back who has played 41 times for the Samurai Blue and featured in both the 2014 World Cup and 2008 Olympic squads. Originally from Hiroshima, Morishige actually started his pro career with Oita Trinita back in 2006. He has been with FC Tokyo since 2010, showing loyalty by staying with them through their J2 sabbatical in 2011 and holds an impressive goalscoring record for a defender.

LB #6 Ryoya Ogawa – Predominantly a left-back, but like many of his positional rivals in the squad, he has the ability to play on both sides of the back four. Joined from Ryutsu Keizai Kashiwa High School back in 2015, but spent large chunks of his first four years in Tokyo playing with the U23 side in J3. He is now firmly established as a first-choice in the top team, though it’ll be interesting to see how the development of young Kashifu Bangunagande affects that in the future.

DM #8 Yojiro Takahagi – Normally more of an attacking midfielder, however, a new formation, injuries and mid-season sales have seen Takahagi deployed deeper this campaign. According to the FC Tokyo band of supporters on Twitter the results have been mixed, but there is no doubt that the one time Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Western Sydney Wanderers and FC Seoul man is a fine footballer on his day.

RCM #31 Shuto Abe – Probably second only to Kawasaki’s Kaoru Mitoma in the ‘best signing out of university’ rankings for 2020. Ex-Meiji University midfielder Abe has very quickly become a prominent figure in the FC Tokyo side. His defensive play may require some development over the coming years, but so far he’s proven to be an effective supplier of ammunition to his more famed attacking colleagues.

LCM #45 Arthur Silva – A bit of an unusual Brazilian signing this, Silva arrived to little fanfare at the beginning of last season and actually played more times in J3 than J1 in his maiden year in Japan. His screamer away to Kobe towards the end of 2019 served notice of what he could do given the opportunity and he has gleefully taken the chance to play regular first-team football this campaign.

RW #9 Diego Oliveira – The ex-Kashiwa Reysol man will be on the hunt for his 50th J1 goal in this game and given his prowess from the penalty spot and around the box in general who would bet against him getting it? Quite a physical player, he’s best used as a centre-forward, but is also able to play just off the main striker on the right-hand side and this is where we’ll likely see him deployed in this match.

CF #11 Kensuke Nagai – Pacy Japan international whose goalscoring feats don’t really match his overall contribution to the team. He’s an ideal player to have in your ranks for away games when you are set up to counter attack. Had spells with Vissel Kobe and Avispa Fukuoka while still a student at Fukuoka University, but spent the bulk of his pre-Tokyo pro career with Nagoya Grampus, save for a forgettable year with Standard Liege in Belgium. Scored a double against Gamba in the 3-1 win at Ajinomoto Stadium last year.

LW #20 Leandro – One of the best signings of 2020, Brazilian winger Leandro moved to the capital after three, at times injury plagued, years with Kashima. Still officially an Antlers player, he’s been quick to show his former charges what they are missing by racking up 6 goals and 4 assists in his first 11 Tokyo games. After being unable to play against his parent club in midweek, the free-kick maestro will surely be raring to go for this one.

Other Options – Tokyo possess depth at full-back in the shape of teenagers Takumi Nakamura, a right-back, and Kashifu Bangunagande, an academy graduate who played against Gamba in the Levain Cup last year. Both have talent, but are obviously lacking in experience and will be hopeful of gaining some during this hectic campaign. Leabanese centre-back Joan Oumari is an able deputy for either Watanabe or Morishige while in central midfield Hirotaka Mita, often deadly from set-pieces, has flattered to deceive in general play since his return from Kobe, niggling injuries may have played a part in that. Further forward, pacy Brazilian Adailton has troubled Gamba in the past during his time with Iwata, 191cm tall Taichi Hara seems to possess a selfish streak rarely seen in Japanese attackers and wide-man Takuya Uchida has been on the periphery for the bulk of his senior career, but has seen more game time this year.

Predicted Line Ups






Match Prediction

Gamba are ambling along not playing particularly well or poorly whereas Tokyo are in the midst of a fixture inferno and thus their form is a bit all over the shop. I am going to buck my recent positive trend and opt for a 2-1 away win which will subsequently be the wake up call Gamba need to pick things up going forward.

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J1 Recap June 2020

With the JLeague’s return almost upon us, I thought now would be a good time to take a refresher course on what’s been happening at each club over the previous few months.

Back in February I published a 2-part J1 preview, this article is intended to be a companion to that, so I’d like to take this chance to point you in the direction of those 2 previews (my most popular articles to date) if you’re in search of more reading material.

*All clubs are listed in the order they finished the 2019 season.

Yokohama F.Marinos

2019: 1st
Kantoku: Ange Postecoglou (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Marinos averaged exactly 2 goals per game in J1 last year (68 goals in 34 games)

Recap:
Last season’s champions enjoyed a mixed start to 2020, recording impressive wins away to Jeonbuk (2-1) and home to Sydney FC (4-0) in the Asian Champions League. Domestically things weren’t so bright as they lost to Kobe in an infamously bad penalty shoot-out in the Super Cup before being beaten 2-1 on their own patch by Gamba in the first round of J1.

Squad Update:
Former captain Jun Amano (28 years old) has returned from a year-long loan at Belgian side Sporting Lokeren. Amano, with over 100 games already under his belt for Marinos will be re-united with Lokeren team-mate, former Renofa Yamaguchi and Kashiwa Reysol full-back, Ryota Koike, who has joined the champions on a permanent basis. Experienced Avispa Fukuoka centre-back Yuki Saneto has also moved east to Kanagawa to provide cover for the injured Thiago Martins. Youth team forward Takumi Tsukui has been promoted to the top team, while Kokoku High School trio, Shunsuke Hirai (DF), Ryunosuke Kabayama (MF) and Tomoki Tagawa (GK), have been registered on designated special player contracts ahead of full-time moves in 2021.
Despite ‘keeper Park Il-gyu being ruled out for the first 2 months of the re-start, the current squad looks stronger than last year and with no ACL return on the immediate horizon they should be there or thereabouts come the end of season.

Week 1:
vs Gamba Osaka (h) 1-2


FC Tokyo

2019: 2nd
Kantoku: Kenta Hasegawa (3rd year)
Quick Stat: FC Tokyo’s average attendance of 31,540 in 2019 was the highest in the club’s history.

Recap:
Kenta Hasegawa’s men kicked off their year with a 2-0 triumph over Ceres from the Philippines in torrential rain to earn a spot in the Asian Champions League group stage. They backed that up with an impressive 1-1 draw at Ulsan before edging out Perth Glory 1-0 at home. Then, the newly formed Brazilian front trio of Diego Oliveira, Leandro and Adailton all scored late on to inspire them to a 3-1 win at Shimizu S-Pulse in round 1 of J1 2020.

Squad Update:
Korean winger Na Sang-ho’s loan departure for Seongnam FC in his homeland is the biggest piece of transfer news to come out of Ajinomoto Stadium during the break. The highly-touted 23 year-old had struggled to make an impression since his move from Gwangju at the beginning of last season so this wasn’t a major shock.
The other major story to report is that the club have scrapped their J3 Under-23 side citing a lack of available stadia, this meant that their one lockdown signing, 20 year-old Thai midfielder Chayathorn Tapsuvanavon, who joined on loan from Bangkok United at the start of March, returned to Thailand in late June having seen no competitive action.

Week 1:
vs Shimizu S-Pulse (a) 3-1
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Kashima Antlers

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

Recap:
After losing in the final of the Emperor’s Cup to Vissel Kobe on January 1st, perennial Japanese giants Kashima then replaced outgoing coach Go Oiwa with Brazilian Zago and made a host of new signings. The bedding in period was not smooth and the men from Ibaraki found themselves surprisingly eliminated in the Asian Champions League qualifiers just 4 weeks later, losing 1-0 at home to Melbourne Victory. They followed this up with 2 more defeats, 1-0 away to Nagoya in the Levain Cup and 3-0 at Sanfrecce Hiroshima in round 1 of J1. 3 games, 3 defeats, 0 goals scored, it was a nightmare start for Zago. Everyone at the Kashima Soccer Stadium will be hoping that the enforced shutdown has given him precious time to get his message across.

Squad Update:
Perhaps unsurprisingly given that 11 of their 31 squad members are new recruits for 2020, there have been no additional signings during the lockdown. The loss of Brazilian marksman Serginho to the Chinese second division (wonder if he’s having any regrets now) was a bitter blow for Kashima and how well his countrymen, Juan Alano (Internacional) and Everaldo (Queretaro, Mexico) settle in will be of utmost importance. Defender Bueno, who I suggested could be a weak link at the back in my February preview, has been loaned to Atletico Mineiro in his homeland.
With an eye on the future, Antlers announced in this month that Meiji University duo, Tomoki Hayakawa (GK) and Keigo Tsunemoto (DF) as well as Osaka Taiiku University defender Naoki Hayashi will join the club from next year.

Week 1:
vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima (a) 0-3
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Kawasaki Frontale

2019: 4th
Kantoku: Toru Oniki (4th year)
Quick Stat: Kawasaki had the best away record in J1 last year, taking 36 points from 17 games.

Recap:
Champions in 2017 and 2018, Kawasaki endured an indifferent 2019, missing out on Asian Champions League qualification, but managing to lift the Levain Cup following a penalty shoot-out win over Sapporo. This year promises to see a changing of the guard with a more youthful looking squad attempting to regain the Kanagawa bragging rights from neighbouring Yokohama F.Marinos. They kicked off 2020 with a bang, thumping S-Pulse 5-1 at Todoroki Stadium in the League Cup, but dropped the baton the following week in their League opener, drawing 0-0 at home to a Sagan Tosu side predicted by many to finish bottom of J1.

Squad Update:
Their only transfer of the lockdown was to sell backup ‘keeper Hiroki Mawatari to Fagiano Okayama, which brings them down to a more respectable 4 senior goalkeepers in their squad, while Kento Tachibanada a midfielder from Toin Yokohama University (my old workplace) was announced as a signing for next season. Elsewhere, the break will presumably have given new university recruits, Zain Issaka (another of the Toin OB network that also includes Miki Yamane), Kaoru Mitoma (Tsukuba), Kaito Kamiya (Tokai Gakuen) and Reo Hatate (Juntendo) time to adjust to life as a pro, Frontale supporters will be hoping these guys will form the backbone of the side for the coming years.

Week 1:
vs Sagan Tosu (h) 0-0
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Cerezo Osaka

2019: 5th
Kantoku: Miguel Angel Lotina (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Cerezo had the best defensive record in J1 in 2019, conceding a mere 25 in 34 games (0.7 per game), they were also tied with Kashima for most clean sheets kept (15).

Recap:
Under the tutelage of wily head-coach Miguel Angel Lotina, Cerezo played an often quite dull but extremely effective brand of football last time out. Built on a rock-solid defence which conceded just 25 goals, they were able to achieve the 6th top 5 finish in their history. All the main protagonists in last season’s defensive masterclass are still in place and they started 2020 in strong fashion, smashing J2 side Matsumoto 4-1 at Nagai Stadium in the League Cup and following that up with a 1-0 opening day League win over Oita Trinita at the same venue.

Squad Update:
Young forward Mizuki Ando’s loan move to Machida Zelvia was their only lockdown transfer activity, he followed another young striker, Hiroto Yamada (Sendai), on the loan trail, the latter leaving in early February. Brazilian midfielder Lucas Mineiro joined on loan from Chapecoense just before the season started to replace his compatriot Souza and made 2 substitute appearances before the COVID-19 enforced break. From the winter recruits, wide-man Tatsuhiro Sakamoto (Montedio Yamagata) and Japan Under-17 star, Jun Nishikawa (Toko Gakuen High School) will have a fair bit of expectation riding on their shoulders when the campaign resumes.

Week 1:
vs Oita Trinita (h) 1-0
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Sanfrecce Hiroshima

2019: 6th
Kantoku: Hiroshi Jofuku (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Sanfrecce scored over 20% of their goals last year in just 2 games vs Vissel Kobe (6-2 home and 4-2 away)

Recap:
After a roller-coaster 2018, Sanfrecce had a much more stable campaign in 2019, finishing a comfortable 6th in J1 as well as progressing from the Asian Champions League group stages before being bettered by Kashima. They had a pretty quiet off-season, but a number of younger talents are emerging, most notably assist-king, Tsukasa Morishima, an exciting attacking-midfielder. Buoyed by the news that plans to build a new stadium in downtown Hiroshima are afoot, Sanfrecce started 2020 in dominant fashion, seeing off J1 new boys Yokohama FC away in the League Cup before dismantling the newly assembled Kashima Antlers 3-0 at Edion Stadium in round 1 of J1. They currently top the standings, albeit after only one game week.

Squad Update:
There are no new transfers to report, although since my original preview was written, Ritsumeikan University midfielder Tomoya Fujii was signed on a pre-contract for 2021 and registered as a designated special player for 2020, he was on the bench for both games so far this year, playing once against Yokohama FC. Extending the loan deals of Brazilian duo Leandro Pereira and Rhayner was probably Hiroshima’s best work last winter, their compatriot, attacking midfielder Ezequiel, also joined on loan from Botafogo, while Yuya Asano (younger brother of Takuma) came in from Mito HollyHock, though the jury is very much still out on whether he’ll bring as much to the team as his elder sibling.

Week 1:
vs Kashima Antlers (h) 3-0
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Gamba Osaka

2019: 7th
Kantoku: Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Yasuhito Endo will become the most experienced player in J1 history the next time he takes to the field. He’s currently tied on 631 appearances with legendary Nagoya ‘keeper Seigo Narazaki.

Recap:
Gamba had a nightmare start to 2019 (as they did the year before), however, owing to a change in strategy – playing with 3 centre-backs, as well a change in philosophy – disbanding the ageing group of heroes from the treble winning 2014 squad and supplementing the new young guns with returning heroes like Ideguchi and Usami, Gamba were able to haul themselves up to an ultimately respectable 7th place. This year started with a 1-0 home reverse to Kashiwa Reysol in the League Cup which was eerily similar to some games from early on in the past 2 campaigns. They were able to make it count when it really mattered this time though, and produced the performance of round 1 of J1 2020, turning over defending champions Yokohama F.Marinos 2-1 at Nissan Stadium, Kurata and Yajima helping themselves to a goal and an assist each.

Squad Update:
Vegalta Sendai backup ‘keeper Lee Yunoh was brought in on loan at the beginning of March to take the place of another loanee, Haruki Saruta (Kashiwa), in the U-23 squad after Saruta suffered a knee injury in training. Meiji University centre-back Yota Sato signed a pre-contract for 2021 and has been registered as a designated special player this year. Additionally, Japanese international centre-back, Gen Shoji, joined on a bumper deal from French side Toulouse last winter, however, due to injury he was unable to play in the 2 games prior to the shutdown. Gamba fans will look forward to seeing him work in tandem with Genta Miura and Kim Young-gwon at the back.

Week 1:
vs Yokohama F.Marinos (a) 2-1
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Vissel Kobe

2019: 8th
Kantoku: Thorsten Fink (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Kobe’s games last season produced a total of 120 goals (3.6 per game), a league high.

Recap:
The Rakuten money finally seemed to pay off for Kobe as they lifted their first ever piece of silverware, the Emperor’s Cup, after a 2-0 win over Kashima at the new National Stadium in Tokyo on New Year’s Day. Like buses, their second trophy came soon after as they saw off J1 Champions Yokohama F.Marinos in the Super Cup in February.
A team which scored plenty and conceded loads gradually became more disciplined under German coach Thorsten Fink in the second half of last year and a more slimline squad started 2020 well. Their first ever Asian Champions League campaign began with a 5-1 trouncing of Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim and continued with a hugely impressive 1-0 win away to Suwon in Korea. In J1 they had to accept a share of the spoils when they met Yokohama FC in round 1 in a game played under bizarre circumstances with supporters allowed into the stadium, but told not to cheer.

Squad Update:
No ins or outs have been recorded during the league’s enforced absence which gives us a chance to look at their business from last winter. Douglas (14 goals, 5 assists for Shimizu in 2019) may be the signing of the close season and his partnership with Furuhashi guarantees goals. At the back, only Shonan and Shimizu conceded more than Kobe’s 59 last time out and to that end centre-backs, Ryuho Kikuchi (Renofa Yamaguchi) and Tetsushi Yamakawa (Tsukuba University) were brought in, though these signings appear to be more for the long term rather than right now.

Week 1:
vs Yokohama FC (h) 1-1
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Oita Trinita

2019: 9th
Kantoku: Tomohiro Katanosaka (5th year)
Quick Stat: Now departed strikers, Noriaki Fujimoto (Kobe) and Ado Onaiwu (YFM) scored over 50% of Oita’s goals last year (18 out of 35)

Recap:
Head coach Katanosaka has masterminded a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the Kyushu side which saw them move up from J3 to J1 in the space of 3 years. Last season they started like a house on fire before inevitably hitting a bit of a slump, but they were still able to finish an excellent 9th with a squad mainly consisting of players from their 2018 J2 promotion campaign as well as sprinkling of veterans from their J3 days.
Oita had a disappointing start to 2020, going down 1-0 away from home in both of their games, at Shonan in the League Cup and Cerezo a week later in the League.

Squad Update:
Their only transfers of note during the lockdown have been the registrations of Fukuoka University midfielder Kenta Inoue and Kanoya Sports College forward Kazuki Fujimoto as designated special players for 2020. Owing to their small budget, Oita have largely had to try and replace departed stars like Ado Onaiwu and Noriaki Fujimoto with players who’ve performed well at lower levels. Retaining attacking-midfielder Kazuki Kozuka and centre-back Tomoki Iwata was a big boost for the club, though how long they can keep hold of them remains to be seen.

Week 1:
vs Cerezo Osaka (a) 0-1
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Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

2019: 10th
Kantoku: Mihailo Petrovic (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Last year was the first time since 2007 that Mihailo Petrovic has coached a team to a bottom half finish in J1.

Recap:
Improving on 2018’s incredible 4th place finish was always going to be a tall order for Sapporo, and so it proved last year, however, 10th was still a decent showing from Mihailo Petrovic’s men. Although at times a little suspect at the back, they did have strong performers throughout the side, Akito Fukumori’s deadly set-pieces earned him 8 assists, while Chanathip continued to lay on goals for his attacking partners, Jay, Musashi Suzuki and Anderson Lopes. They would have considered themselves unfortunate to lose out to Kawasaki in the lottery of a penalty shoot-out in the League Cup final last year, and this defeat preceded a rather poor end to 2019 which saw them lose 4 of their last 6 league games.
Consadole started 2020 by coasting past Sagan Tosu, 3-0 away in the League Cup, but then went down 4-2 to Kashiwa Reysol in Chiba on the opening day of J1, these results suggest there’ll be plenty of goalmouth action at both ends this campaign.

Squad Update:
The big transfer news story to emerge out of Sapporo during the league’s break was that international goalkeeper Gu Sung-yun would return to his homeland to play for Daegu FC ahead of a 2-year stint in the Korean military. Consadole have already secured the services of Hosei University’s 2M tall stopper Kojiro Nakano for 2021, and have him on a designated special player contract for this year, but whether it is he, Thai international Kawin Thamsatchanan (a recent loan arrival from Leuven in Belgium) or the experienced Takanori Sugeno that takes over the starting spot is up for debate.

Week 1:
vs Kashiwa Reysol (a) 2-4
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Vegalta Sendai

2019: 11th
Kantoku: Takashi Kiyama (new)
Quick Stat: New Kashima Antlers full-back Katsuya Nagato provided assists for 26% of Sendai’s goals in 2019.

Recap:
Sendai secured their second consecutive 11th place finish in J1 last year, perhaps even more impressive than the previous campaign due to the fact that it was achieved with what, on paper at least, looked like a weaker squad. Still, that didn’t stop head coach Susumu Watanabe from losing his job, with Yamagata manager Takashi Kiyama coming in for his first stab at J1 level. Despite J1’s leading assist maker Katsuya Nagato departing for Kashima, off season recruitment had inspired confidence. However, that feel-good factor was only short-lived when it was announced that both Isaac Cuenca and Alexandre Guedes had gone down with injuries before the campaign had even begun. Sendai were thrashed 5-2 at Urawa in the League Cup before holding Nagoya to a 1-1 draw in the League. The break in fixtures has allowed their attacking talent to return, though the loss for the next 2 months of captain Simao Mate is a huge blow, and an extended period of playing in front of no spectators may undermine their impressive home record.

Squad Update:
Exciting news for Sendai is the return of former attacker Takuma Nishimura on loan from CSKA Moscow. He hit 11 goals in 24 games before his big money move to Russia in the summer of 2018 and Vegalta fans will be looking forward with relish to the partnership he can form with Cuenca, Guedes and Shuhei Akasaki. Elsewhere defenders, Hisashi Appiah Tawiah (Ryutsu Keizai University) and Takumi Mase (Hannan University) have both been brought in on designated special player contracts ahead of turning pro next year.
In terms of departures, defender Masato Tokida who played against Urawa in the League Cup has left for Matsumoto in a loan deal and as previously mentioned, backup goalie Lee Yunoh has joined Gamba U-23 on loan, he spent 2019 farmed out to Fukushima United.

Week 1:
vs Nagoya Grampus (h) 1-1
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Shimizu S-Pulse

2019: 12th
Kantoku: Peter Cklamovski (new)
Quick Stat: Shimizu had the worst defensive record in J1 last season with 69 goals conceded in total (2.03 per game). They were also one of only two teams to do the double over champions Yokohama F.Marinos (the other was Cerezo Osaka).

Recap:
One of the biggest stories of last winter was Shimizu’s appointment of Ange Postecoglou’s assistant at Yokohama F.Marinos, Peter Cklamovski. An avid disciple of Ange’s, it’ll be interesting to see how he shapes this S-Pulse side in his image. The JLeague’s no-relegation rule will definitely help with his experimentation which is bound to encounter teething problems. Shimizu had the leakiest back line in J1 last season conceding 69 times, including an 8-0 home reverse against Sapporo. This year it took them 2 games to concede 8 goals, being hammered 5-1 at Kawasaki in the League Cup then putting up a better showing at home to FC Tokyo in the League before ultimately going down 3-1.

Squad Update:
Nothing to report on the transfer front during the lockdown, although S-Pulse did hire a new coach and recruit a number of new players in the off-season. Additionally, midfielders, Yasufumi Nishimura (Okayama) and Kota Miyamoto (FC Gifu) have returned from loan spells, while wide-man Hideki Ishige made a welcome comeback from serious injury and now appears to be seen as an option at full-back. Despite the additions of Yusuke Goto (Oita), Teerasil (Muangthong United) and Carlinhos (Sion) it’s still hard to see anyone getting close to matching Douglas’ 14 league goals scored last year.

Week 1:
vs FC Tokyo (h) 1-3
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Nagoya Grampus

2019: 13th
Kantoku: Massimo Ficcadenti (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Nagoya were second only to Sendai in terms of % of total points picked up at home (65% compared with Sendai’s nearly 76%) in 2019.

Recap:
One of the biggest spenders in the league, Nagoya have flattered to deceive since returning to J1 in 2018. They have a team full of highly talented individuals who rarely add up to the sum of their parts. Italian Massimo Ficcadenti was a surprise choice to replace the much more attack minded Yahiro Kazama midway through last year, however, he was able to steer a side which had been in freefall into a relatively safe 13th spot in the standings. Grampus started 2020 unbeaten, seeing off Kashima Antlers 1-0 at home in the League Cup before having the better of a 1-1 draw away at Sendai in round 1 of J1.

Squad Update:
Former Japan international front-man Mu Kanazaki joined on loan from cash-strapped Tosu at the end of March and he will take the place of Jo, who returned to Corinthians in Brazil (in a deal that seems to have more to it than meets the eye) having only found the net 6 times last season, compared to 24 in the previous campaign. Kanazaki, however, was recently struck down with Covid-19 and passed the virus on to Australian goalkeeper Mitch Langerak. Both players have since recovered, however, the fallout was that the rest of the squad had to endure a period of training together using Zoom while their J1 rivals were all working on the training ground.
During the break, young full-back Yukinari Sugawara turned his loan move to Dutch side AZ Alkmaar into a permanent one after impressing in his first year in the Netherlands.

Week 1:
vs Vegalta Sendai (a) 1-1
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Urawa Reds

2019: 14th
Kantoku: Tsuyoshi Otsuki (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Legendary striker Shinzo Koroki has hit double figures in his last 8 league campaigns.

Recap:
Despite reaching the final of the Asian Champions League last season, finishing 14th in J1, their worst performance since 2011 was simply unacceptable for a club of this size. Thing surely must get better, a lot better, this year if head-coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki wants to remain in his current role. Their was a surprising lack of transfer activity last winter considering the average age and performance of the squad over the previous 12 months, however, Brazilian attacker, Leonardo who joined from Albirex Niigata could well challenge Kobe’s signing of Douglas as the best coup of the transfer window. The former J3 and J2 top scorer introduced himself to the Saitama Stadium supporters with a double on his debut, a 5-2 win at home to Sendai in the League Cup. The defensive frailties that were briefly on show in that game resurfaced a week later in their League opener, a 3-2 victory over a Shonan Bellmare side who are expected to find things tough this year. It looks like Urawa games will be a pretty exciting watch over the coming months.

Squad Update:
The lack of transfer activity from Reds does seem a little surprising viewed from afar, only Ryutsu Keizai midfielder Atsuki Ito has come in on a designated special player contract. However, they may be banking on some of their younger crop of players to develop more over the coming years. Right-sided defender Daiki Hashioka appears to be the pick of the bunch, though left winger Koya Yuroki could also become a key asset if he’s given more game time. Central-midfielder Hidetoshi Takeda joined the club from the cradle of footballing talent that is Aomori Yamada High School last winter, so we can expect good things from him, while Chuo University winger Tomoaki Okubo has again been registered as a designated special player ahead of turning pro with Reds next year. Youth team ‘keeper Zion Suzuki is on a Type-2 amateur contract which allowed him to appear on the bench against both Sendai and Shonan despite still being in high school (he’s already 189cm tall!)

Week 1:
vs Shonan Bellmare (a) 3-2
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Sagan Tosu

2019: 15th
Kantoku: Kim Myung-hwi (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Tosu failed to score in 9 out of their first 10 league games in 2019.

Recap:
If you’re interested enough in Japanese football to read my blog, I’m going to assume you know something about Tosu’s appalling financial situation, so I don’t want to dwell on it too much. The lack of relegation this year would appear to help them more than any other side given that most #jpred2020 entrants had them going down. A very weak squad on paper were humbled 3-0 at home by Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in the League Cup’s first group-stage match this February before gaining a creditable 0-0 draw away to Kawasaki Frontale on the League’s opening day. Much more of that battling spirit will be required in the coming months and years, I feel.

Squad Update:
Mu Kanazaki’s departure on loan to Nagoya may be the first of quite a few in the near future as the club looks to balance it’s books. In terms of arrivals, Chuo University defender Daisuke Matsumoto is in as a designated special player while Tosu U-18 forwards Reoto Kodama and Ryunosuke Sagara as well as defender Shinya Nakano have come in on Type-2 contracts. One intriguing move just before the league started back in February was the acquisition of right-sided Chinese player Wang Jianan from Guangzhou R&F. The current squad has a very youthful feel to it, with midfielders, Fuchi Honda and Daiki Matsuoka (both 19) as well as former Meiji University full-back Ryoya Morishita (23) expected to be key players.

Week 1:
vs Kawasaki Frontale (a) 0-0
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Shonan Bellmare

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

Recap:
The Cho Kwi-jae power harassment scandal rocked Shonan to the core last summer, sending them into a tail-spin that they were only able to pull out of thanks to a 1-1 draw at home to Tokushima in the play-offs (again the rights and wrongs of that system have been discussed in depth elsewhere so I’ll not go any further into it.) Bin Ukishima, the man who replaced the long serving Cho has been tasked with rebuilding the side and he’s brought in 12 new faces along with 2 players who’ve returned to Bellmare from loan spells. This sort of annual upheaval is not uncommon in these parts and Shonan are likely to be another side who are assisted by the league’s no-relegation rule. Bellmare started 2020 by edging out Oita 1-0 at home in the League Cup, before losing their J1 opener 3-2 to Urawa at the same venue with new Norwegian signing Tarik missing a penalty.

Squad Update:
After a busy winter, Shonan’s lockdown work has been largely focused on the future, 5 youth team players have been registered on Type-2 Contracts, including midfielder Satoshi Tanaka who’ll turn pro next year. Additionally, 20 year-old forward Ryo Nemoto of Kanoya Sports College in Kagoshima and Sho Hiramatsu from Rissho University have joined as a designated special players. The club also announced the capture of midfielder Taiyo Hiraoka from Riseisha High School for 2021, though he hasn’t yet been registered for this campaign. Surprisingly, as far as I can tell, there has still been no announcement from the club regarding the futures of 2 Brazilians, Crislan and Leleu, who were on the books last year, I assume neither will be back, but usually JLeague teams are good at keeping the fans informed about this sort of thing.

Week 1:
vs Urawa Reds (h) 2-3
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Kashiwa Reysol

2019: 1st (J2)
Kantoku: Nelsinho (2nd year – current spell)
Quick Stat: The last time Kashiwa won J2, they went on to lift the J1 title the following year (2011). Current head coch Nelsinho was also in charge back then.

Recap:
Under legendary manager Nelsinho, Kashiwa are back in the top flight following a one-year sojourn in J2. After a few bumps and bruises in the early rounds, Reysol’s class eventually told and they were worthy champions, their season of course ending with that memorable 13-1 rout of Kyoto Sanga. They’ve kept most of last year’s championship winning side intact and added a cast of 2019 J2 all stars, how will they do in J1 this year?
They got 2020 off to the best possible start with a 1-0 win away to Gamba in the rain in February’s League Cup clash, goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu, left-back Taiyo Koga and inevitably the well-known attacking duo of Cristiano and Olunga were all in fine form. That victory was then backed up by a 4-2 triumph in a thrilling match at home to Sapporo in round 1 of J1 with both Esaka and Olunga notching doubles. They have more than enough attacking talent, but for me centre-back and centre-midfield are areas for concern. They’ll certainly be interesting to watch this year.

Squad Update:
Kashiwa’s only lockdown work has been to move youth product Keita Ide to Tochigi SC in what appears to be a full transfer, I say appears as he was only promoted to the top team last winter. There have been no ins during the break, though Reysol did recruit quite heavily in the off-season and have no doubt taken this opportunity to try and bring their ex-J2 players up to speed. I’m particularly excited by versatile 23 year-old midfielder Yuta Kamiya who spent 2019 with Ehime, on-loan from Shonan. Right-back Kengo Kitazume who joined from Yokohama FC looks a solid addition too, and I can see him taking over from Shunki Takahashi before much longer. Two other interesting coups were Hiroto Goya (Nagasaki – on loan from Gamba), who netted 22 goals in 36 J2 games last year and former youth team product Hayato Nakama (Okayama) who struck an impressive 15 times in 40 J2 matches from left midfield in 2019. These 2 undoubtedly possess the ability, but can they unseat one of the top dogs such as, Olunga, Cristiano, Esaka or Segawa, to nail down a starting berth?

Week 1:
vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo (h) 4-2
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Yokohama FC

2019: 2nd (J2)
Kantoku: Takahiro Shimotaira (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Kazuyoshi Miura made his JLeague debut on 15 May 1993, over 8 years before team-mate Koki Saito was born.

Recap:
Hear the name Yokohama FC and you probably instantly think of their famous veterans, Kazuyoshi ‘King Kazu’ Miura and Shunsuke Nakamura, then probably to a lesser extent, guys like Leandro Domingues, Ibba Laajab, Daisuke Matsui and Masahiko Inoha. However, bubbling under the surface are some of the hottest young talents in Japanese football, attacking trio, Koki Saito (18), Katsuhiro Nakayama (23) and Yusuke Matsuo (22) combined for 18 goals and 11 assists last season to help Yokohama FC achieve only the second season of top flight football in their history. Things will be tough for sure for this squad of ageing stars and up-and-comers, they started things off with a tame 2-0 loss at home to a wily Sanfrecce side in the League Cup, before holding Kobe to a respectable 1-1 draw in the League opener in Hyogo. Tatsuki Seko, another young gun who was recruited in the off-season from Meiji University netted Yokohama’s goal on his senior debut, he’s also one to look out for this year.

Squad Update:
A couple of pieces of transfer news to report from Yokohama during the lockdown, Hosei University defender Yuya Takagi was registered as a designated special player, he’ll turn pro when he’s finished with his studies next year. Full-back Yuta Fujii also made a permanent move to J2 outfit Avispa Fukuoka, he made a mere 5 appearances for Yokohama FC in 2019. Finally, a quick shout out to a name I didn’t mention above, left-back Takaaki Shichi (5 goals and 4 assists in 39 games for Mito HollyHock last year), his signing may have largely flown under the radar, but in my books it looks like a very shrewd move.

Week 1:
vs Vissel Kobe (a) 1-1
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