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Nagoya Grampus vs Gamba Osaka 27 August 2022 Match Preview

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


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

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

Tale of the Tape



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



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

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



First Match Recap

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



Gamba Osaka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Nagoya Grampus

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

Team News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

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Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Gamba Osaka 20 August 2022 Match Preview

Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 26
Saturday 20 August 2022
Edion Stadium Hiroshima
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


Obon has been and gone in Japan, and with little over 2 months of the 2022 J1 season remaining Sanfrecce Hiroshima against Gamba Osaka on Saturday night brings us a match with big implications at both ends of the table. Hosts Hiroshima lie in 5th place, but are just 2 points behind Kashima in 2nd, while at the foot of the standings, Gamba are 2nd last and only lead bottom club Júbilo on goal difference. A heart-breaking 2-0 loss at home to the Saxe Blues’ prefectural rivals Shimizu courtesy of late strikes on the counter from substitutes Benjamin Kololli and Carlinhos Junior left Gamba’s J1 hopes hanging by a thread and saw the curtain come down on the eight-month reign of Tomohiro Katanosaka. Contrastingly, Sanfrecce notched a 2nd consecutive victory away to top 6, Kanto-based opposition in their come-from-behind 3-2 triumph at Kashiwa Reysol. It was a 3-pointer that arrived hot on the heels of a 2-0 at Kashima the week before and they seem to have eased themselves out of their recent slump of just a solitary win in their 6 previous outings. Will Hiroshi Matsuda’s appointment give Gamba enough of a new boss bounce to help them upset the odds against an impressive Viola side? We’ll get our answer to that soon enough.

Tale of the Tape



Last Sunday’s 2-0 home defeat to Shimizu marked Gamba’s 2nd xG win in-a-row as well as the second time in succession that they’ve not been outshot by their opponents, you’ve got to take the small victories when they come to you, right?…right? Joking aside, in all honesty going into last weekend’s Expo game I fully expected to lose, but the performance and level of fight on display from the Gamba squad was better than I anticipated. The Nerazzurri took the game to their visitors and controlled large parts of it, though unfortunately that old, familiar foe ‘susceptibility to counter attacks’ reared it’s ugly head in conjunction with an inability to convert pressure into goals and it was that deadly duo that ultimately sunk the Nerazzurri. The Ao to Kuro have generally looked pretty decent in the middle part of the field this season, and indeed Dawhan, Kohei Okuno, Keisuke Kurokawa and Isa Sakamoto all got pass marks from me on Sunday, especially in the first-half. However, it is the lack of a clinical edge in the attacking third combined with careless errors at the back (see Gen Shoji’s in the build up to Carlinhos Junior’s clincher for S-Pulse), that have been the blue and blacks’ undoing in a season where little to nothing has gone right. Shimizu have now won 2-0 at FC Tokyo and Gamba in consecutive weeks and if you were to sit someone with limited knowledge of the J. League down and have them watch those two matches back-to-back, I’m sure they’d struggle to pick which team was 8th and which was 17th, FC Tokyo or Gamba. Alas, it’s scant consolation for the Nerazzurri and their supporters and I’m really clutching at straws in the positivity stakes this week as frankly we appear doomed with 10 fixtures remaining. Like I mentioned above, there were several bright sparks versus Shimizu, however, for each good point there was a negative to balance things out. Ryotaro Meshino was far too selfish in possession, constantly trying to be the hero, I’ve no idea why Hiroki Fujiharu is playing as a left-sided centre-back, Musashi Suzuki clearly wasn’t fit and the Ao to Kuro diminished as an attacking force when he replaced Sakamoto. Also, though it pains me to say it, it appears that Shu Kurata is only in the Gamba matchday squad these days on reputation and because he’s the club captain. Hiroshi Matsuda had just a few days of working with the players after coming in as an experienced pair of hands to help Katanosaka out last week, so it’s unclear how much of Sunday’s strategy came from each coach. What we did see was a more energetic performance than in recent outings, though understandably that was hard to maintain over 90 minutes played out in intense heat and humidity and Gamba’s subs simply didn’t match their Shimizu counterparts in terms of influence. There were a lot of long-range diagonal balls to bring high-sitting wing-backs, Kurokawa and Onose, into play, Sakamoto’s movement and drifting between the lines gave S-Pulse’s centre-backs plenty of food for thought, however, ultimately the overall team performance ended up being akin to a meal that tasted good at the time, but had little real substance inside to fill you up. Gamba have been keeping themselves in games this term, they’ve only lost by more than 2 goals once, and on that occasion they were playing 10v11 for 83 minutes (don’t worry, I’m not about to go down that rabbit hole again). They need to somehow stop the rot, keep their heads from dropping, pick up an unexpected result from somewhere and then build from that.



25 league games into their 2022 J1 campaign and there’s a remarkable synergy between Hiroshima’s xG figures and the number of actual goals they’ve scored and conceded, particularly at home (I don’t have anything to properly back this up, but anecdotally it appears J Stats’ xG model is more accurate this year compared with last season), and I feel this highlights the quietly effective way kantoku Michael Skibbe has got his side going about their business. This is the 3rd Gamba Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima match preview I’ve written this year as we’ve had one Covid-enforced postponement, I’ve been effusive in my praise for the Viola the past 2 times and nothing has really happened since then to make me alter my tune. One thing worth repeating is their impressive sprinting numbers which have increased by an average of 20.7 per game since last year, from 169.9 up to 190.6. Irrepressible wing-back Tomoya Fujii, scorer of the winner away to Kashiwa last weekend has led the charge with a J1 best 829 sprints so far in 2022, a staggering 323 more than his nearest team-mate in that metric, Makoto Mitsuta, who has 506. In spite of Nassim Ben Khalifa’s early strike against Reysol and the ageing and injury prone Douglas Vieira bagging 3 goals and an assist in just 5 sub appearances, there has been a general absence of fire-power from the centre-forward position, though thankfully attacking midfielders Tsukasa Morishima and Makoto Mitsuta have made up for that. After netting just 9 times in J1 during his first 6 seasons as a pro, Morishima has has almost doubled that tally in 2022, hitting 7, while partner-in-crime Mitsuta has 5 goals and 5 assists in a hugely impressive rookie year. New Cypriot international forward Pieros Sotiriou, signed from Bulgarian cracks Ludogorets on Monday, would appear to be the cherry on top of the cake as far as Viola fans are concerned. Midfield has probably been Sanfrecce’s area of greatest improvement compared with 2021 as Taishi Matsumoto has really started to fulfill his enormous potential alongside someone who is a candidate for comeback story of the year, Gakuto Notsuda. The Hiroshima youth product, who has been loaned out 4 times already in his career bagged assist numbers 6 and 7 versus Kashiwa and was also involved in Japan’s successful EAFF Cup campaign last month, quite the year so far for the 28 year-old and who would have predicted that when the season kicked off back in February? The Notsuda-Matsumoto partnership is the main change Skibbe has instigated at the Edion Stadium recently, evolving from a 3-5-2 to a 3-4-2-1 setup. Tsukasa Shiotani will be out for around 6 weeks which leaves Sasaki, Araki and Nogami basically untouchable in the defensive positions, Takumu Kawamura’s return from injury allows the option of rotation in any of the slots in the middle 6 and star turns Morishima and Mitsuta will surely continue to provide the thrust and guile behind the main attacker, whoever they may be, Ben Khalifa, Douglas Vieira or Pieros Sotiriou.



First Match Recap

After the originally scheduled clash set for 25 May was postponed due to a Covid outbreak in the Sanfrecce squad, the re-arranged match took place a little over a month later on 29 June and it proved to be one of the high points of Gamba’s season to date. Following a slow opening that Hiroshima slightly shaded, Gamba struck decisively with 2 goals in the space of 4 first-half minutes. First, Keisuke Kurokawa drilled home an angled drive from just inside the Hiroshima penalty area. Soon after, neat build-up play saw Mitsuki Saito’s shot cannon back off the post, and from the resulting passage of play, the Nerazzurri worked the ball into the Viola box and it broke kindly for Isa Sakamoto to net his first J1 goal from close range. It was a poacher’s effort which drew comparisons with former Ao to Kuro forward and the leading scorer in J2 history, Masashi Oguro. Hiroshima had come into the game on the back of 4 consecutive victories, while Gamba had lost their previous 4 fixtures, however, there was to be no comeback after the break and the hosts ended up seeing things out rather comfortably to prove that no result is a foregone conclusion in the J. League.



Gamba Osaka

* The Katanosaka saga – A press release on the morning of 17 August confirmed what many had been suspecting for the preceding days, and weeks, that Tomohiro Katanosaka would no longer be kantoku of Gamba Osaka and former-Nagasaki boss Hiroshi Matsuda would be his successor. As a former assistant to Akira Nishino and Kenta Hasegawa during two of the Nerazzurri’s most successful spells in their history, Katanosaka, like predecessor Tsuneyasu Miyamoto leaves the club as an unsuccessful manager, but still someone who retains a special place in the hearts of the club’s supporters. Just 5 wins in 24 league games, 8 in 33 overall and with the team precariously positioned in 17th, only above Júbilo on goal difference at the bottom of the league standings, it’s difficult to make a case for Katanosaka to stay based on results. While injuries, specifically the one sustained by talisman Takashi Usami in round 3, stung badly, it’s important to note other clubs, such as Kawasaki, who were without Jesiel for the first half of the year, performed to a decent level without one of their top players, and others such as Urawa and Shimizu showed notable improvements once their stars became available for selection, that simply never happened at Gamba. A final thing worth considering is that almost every Japanese Gamba fan I’ve seen talking about this has said that the President and front office must be held accountable too. Anyone involved in paying big money to the likes of Ju Se-jong, Leandro Pereira and Wellington Silva and then firing Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, the man who wanted to bring them to the club, only 9 league games into the 2021 campaign, needs to take a long, hard look at themselves. Furthermore, it was essentially known that Katanosaka would be taking over from last August, yet no significant moves were made to bring in / move out players suitable / unsuitable for Katano-soccer last winter. As I said above, Katanosaka’s results have been poor, but one must wonder if he was set up to fail from the start. This is a dark chapter in the club’s history, there may be darker ones to follow, but make no mistake they’ll be back. It may take a year, it may take 5, it may take 10, but Gamba will return to the summit of Japanese football, mark my words.

* The turnout for Sunday’s Expo game stood at 27,662, Gamba’s highest (non PSG) attendance of the Covid-era, a mere 46 shy of the 2019 average, which of course was the best in the club’s history. However, it was almost 10,000 less than the 37,334 that watched the Ao to Kuro square off with Júbilo Iwata back in August 2019. Interestingly there were train and Wi-Fi issues on Sunday that weren’t in evidence when I attended the PSG friendly in July. Also, from my seat in the 8th row of the back stand, I observed pre kick-off that the referee, Yuichi Nishimura, had a quiet word with Gen Shoji and Takashi Inui separately. Everything appeared very cordial, but it seemed he specifically wanted to chat with those players about something. I’ve been critical of referees in recent weeks, however, on this occasion it appeared like it was a genuine attempt by the official to reach out to the players and try and deal with any potential problems at their source rather than waiting for them to flare up later on. I wonder if I’m just late to the game in spotting this, does anyone know, is this the sort of thing that happens often, or is it quite rare?

* Moflem (or Moh-foo-reh-moo in Japanese) is the name of Gamba’s new Sesame Street-esque mascot who was officially Christened prior to kick-off on Sunday night. The name has generally gone down well with Japanese Gamba fans, and as for me, all I’ll say is, at least it makes a break with the usual ….-kun J. League mascot names. In fairness to Moflem, it put in a decent performance on debut, it didn’t mess up the ceremonial kick-in, even if the players (Kosuke Onose excluded) did look a touch embarrassed holding their Moflem cuddly toys for the team photo. Perhaps it could be the answer to the Nerazzurri’s creativity issues in attack?

* The 2022 Expo Uniforms seemed to be a hit with everyone as both the field player and goalkeeper versions turned out really well. Judging by Gamba supporters’ posts on Twitter, Dawhan seems to have quickly acquired cult hero status among the Nerazzurri faithful as his #23 uniform was a popular seller. Unfortunately, he’s only on loan and I don’t imagine he’ll stick around for J2 football. From my, admittedly, minimal research, my #32 Sakamoto jersey seems to be the only one of it’s kind, and I found myself surprisingly rewarded by seeing the soon-to-be 19 year-old from Kumamoto make only his 5th J1 start where he gave a generally good account of himself for the 60 minutes he was on the field.

* While Shimizu fans inside Panasonic Stadium on Sunday night certainly played their part in making it a great occasion with their Samba drumming routines and orange lights, their supporters on Twitter aren’t half a chippy lot, are they? In the past they’ve been more than willing to chime in with unwanted and irrelevant chatter over issues like Gamba’s new emblem and the match against PSG, now a mere 5 minutes after leaving the J1 drop zone and you’d think they’d had the recent title success of Kawasaki. Forgive me if there’s some big ‘in’ joke that I’m not party to (and believe me, I’m well aware of the steaming mess that is the 2022 Gamba Osaka season), but I’m sure there’s someone in their fan base self-conscious enough to think ‘given our recent history, isn’t there a decent chance this bravado could boomerang back and smack us square in the face?’

Team News

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

DF Kwon Kyung-won – Pictured in training on Saturday 13 August, but then not in the squad for the match with Shimizu 24 hours later, did he pick up a late injury, was he the Covid case from the previous week, or was he just dropped?

MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, potentially back at the end of this month or early September

MF Rihito Yamamoto – Small fracture in instep of foot, currently working through a rehab program, should be back in early September

FW Musashi Suzuki – Katanosaka stated in an interview on 13 August that Suzuki was essentially a 50/50 for the Shimizu game, as it was, he came on as a second-half sub and didn’t look fit, so I expect him to start this match on the bench too

FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season

FW Hiroto Yamami – Not in the squad for the loss to S-Pulse, it’s unclear whether he was injured, was the Covid case announced the previous week, or was possibly left out due to his bad miss late on against Kyoto

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

Predicted Lineups and Stats

**Note – This will be the first matchday squad selected by new boss Hiroshi Matsuda, so expect changes.**





Sanfrecce Hiroshima

The big news out of the Hiroshima camp this week has been the signing of Cypriot international forward Pieros Sotiriou from Ludogorets in Bulgaria for a reported €2 million. That equates to a fairly hefty price tag in Japanese footballing circles, so the pressure will definitely be on him to deliver goals quickly and regularly. With 17 strikes in 25 outings in the Bulgarian First Division last year as well as over 50 caps for his country he certainly has the pedigree to succeed. On the way out is Junior Santos who was never able to recapture the form he showed briefly at Yokohama F. Marinos back in 2020 and could only muster 9 goals in 57 J1 appearances for the Viola. He joined Botafogo in his homeland on Tuesday 16 August, it’s initially a loan contract, but a permanent deal is likely if things go well for him there. From the outside it seems like a couple of shrewd pieces of business from Sanfrecce, even if the up-front fee for Sotiriou was a tad steep. He is a current international with European experience and more importantly is an out-and-out goal-scorer, which is exactly what the Viola require right now. Hiroshima are still fighting on three fronts domestically this year and after knocking Yokohama F. Marinos out of the Levain Cup at the quarter-final stage they next face Avispa Fukuoka in a two-legged semi-final in late September. Before that they have a tough looking Emperor’s Cup last 8 tie away to Cerezo Osaka early next month to negotiate. I guess the big question is, can Skibbe keep his squad suitably fresh and rotated in order to make it through a tough looking upcoming 6 weeks or so? Hiroshima’s 9 remaining league fixtures are something of a mixed bag, and a quick scan through them suggests there’s no reason for Sanfrecce not to continue to be in the running for a top 3 or 4 spot come the end of the season. Also, as I’ve just mentioned, they may even bag a cup or two as well which would put the Skibbe project ahead of schedule as he stated in his opening press conference that this year was about establishing stability before pressing on in 2023.

Team News

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

DF Tsukasa Shiotani – Injured his stomach playing in the Levain Cup on August 10, expected to miss around 6 weeks of action

MF Shunki Higashi – Suffered a leg injury in the recent defeat at home to FC Tokyo which will likely cause him to miss the rest of the season

FW Shun Ayukawa – Broke his foot in March, if his rehab has been going according to plan then he should be back soon

FW Pieros Sotiriou – The club announced his signing on Monday 15 August, in theory he should be ready to play on Saturday, but whether Skibbe risks him, or not, remains to be seen

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

Categories
sport

Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse 14 August 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse
2022 J1 Season Round 25
Sunday 14 August 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


Gamba return to league duty for the first time in a fortnight following the Covid-enforced postponement of their clash with Fukuoka last weekend. And, what a return it’s set to be as the club hold their annual Summer Expo this Sunday night and rejuvenated fellow relegation battlers Shimizu S-Pulse are the visitors to Panasonic Stadium. The Nerazzurri will take the field looking resplendent in their special black, blue, white and gold kit and they’ll need a performance to match those dazzling jerseys if they are to see off their visitors from Shizuoka. While Gamba were inactive in round 24, S-Pulse took full advantage with powerful headers from Brazilian duo Carlinhos Junior and Thiago Santana seeing them past a disappointing FC Tokyo outfit as well as some highly dubious officiating (more on which later). That win moved them out of the bottom 3 and they currently sit 1 place and 2 points above the Ao to Kuro who, of course, have a game in hand. Defeat in this bout would be disastrous for Gamba and it’s worth remembering that a 2-1 home loss to Shimizu in the summer of 2018 led to the end of Levir Culpi’s short reign as Gamba kantoku. A Koya Kitagawa penalty and a header from a Brazilian attacker followed by a late Gamba resurgence that ultimately comes up short, it’s not to hard to imagine history repeating itself in 2022, is it? Can Katanosaka and his raft of new attacking signings breathe new life into the Nerazzurri’s stuttering campaign or will this prove to be the death knell for his team’s J1 survival hopes?

Tale of the Tape



I went over a few statistical points pertaining to Gamba in my Avispa Fukuoka preview, and ultimately that game ended up being postponed a few hours after I published it. In the light of that, I don’t have too much left to say in here, so I’ll just aim for just a brief summary aided by plenty of charts below. As this match is being played at Panasonic Stadium then I guess the main takeaway should be Gamba’s home form in 2022. They’ve accrued 13 points from 12 fixtures in Suita this year which makes up just shy of 60% of their overall total and is the 4th poorest home showing in J1. Most disappointing from a blue and black perspective is the fact that the Nerazzurri have scored first in 8 of their 12 home outings this campaign, but have only converted 3 of those leads into wins. The 7 points thrown away in the 90th minute or after against Kawasaki, Urawa, Cerezo and Kyoto continue to sting badly. Indeed, in their past 3 league games on home soil, the blue and blacks have ceded equalisers in the 92nd and 97th minutes as well as throwing away a point in the 90th minute of the Osaka Derby. I’ve little doubt this recent run has caused many a sleepless night for Tomohiro Katanosaka and those closely connected to the club, and it’s a run that needs to be halted immediately. With this year’s J1 being so tightly balanced, if I’m honest there’s probably not a whole lot of difference in quality between 7th and 18th, it’s unlikely that a team can keep dropping points from winning positions at such an alarming rate and remain in the top flight. Though, with that said, I would urge those licking their lips at the prospect of Gamba and Kobe both going down to J2 to remember the procession that was the 2013 season with both Kansai giants having the automatic promotion spots sewn up long before final day. Fast forward to 2022 and for Gamba it’s all about battling nerves and a lack of confidence and holding on to a lead for once. Shonan, Kyoto and Júbilo are, for me, the 3 weakest sides overall in the division, but Gamba, Kobe and Shimizu, despite having better squads on paper, are by no means above getting things horribly wrong and ending up in the bottom 3. Though it’s still early days, S-Pulse’s summer recruitment work looks to have had a positive effect on their fortunes, meaning they come into this tie as slight favourites. For Gamba, defeat on Sunday night is unthinkable, and should they come off second best then I’d upgrade?/downgrade? their relegation status from possible to probable, that’s how pivotal a game this is.






Shimizu kicked off 2022 with a run of just 2 wins in their opening 16 games which precipitated a 4th mid-season managerial change in as many years as Brazilian Zé Ricardo replaced Hiroaki Hiroaka in the dugout in early June. Things have improved slightly in recent matches with 3 wins, 2 draws and 3 losses across their past 8 fixtures and with the attacking additions of Koya Kitagawa, Takashi Inui and the wonderfully named Yago Pikachu aligning with the return to fitness and / or form of several stalwarts there have been some real signs of a brighter future in both the recent 3-3 draw with Tosu and 2-0 triumph at FC Tokyo. With S-Pulse it is often a case of how successfully their decent attack can bail out their ropey defence. Solidity at the back has been an issue for a number of years now and their 38 goals conceded in 24 games this season is 2nd worst in the division with only Sapporo (40) letting in more. At the other end their 31 goals scored is the best of all sides currently in the bottom half of the table, and comfortably so, as it’s 5 more than their nearest rivals, who are once again Sapporo. There’s also a clear personality split when it comes to home and away fixtures. Shimizu are the division’s worst team in their home stadium, however, they are also the 5th best side in J1 away from home with 2/3 of their season’s points coming on the road. Whether this has predominately been down to luck or skill remains up for debate as they’ve out-performed their xG For total by 1.92 goals in their 12 away fixtures to date while at the same time conceding 2.04 less than would be expected based on their xG Against numbers. That 3.96 swing in their favour compares with overall totals of, a 4.08 over-performance vs xG For and a 4.8xG under-performance versus xG against. So, clearly opponents are taking their chances more clinically at the Nihondaira than they are anywhere else across the archipelago. New Brazilian kantoku Zé Ricardo has inherited a talented, but unbalanced squad. He has stuck with his predecessor’s 4-4-2 system and has compensated for a lack of genuine pace in attack by operating a strategy involving quick passing interplay among his front 6 as well as encouraging his full-backs to charge into enemy territory to supply the bullets for his centre-forwards, as they did so effectively in the 2-0 win at FC Tokyo. Kaoru Mitoma’s kōhai at the University of Tsukuba, Reon Yamahara might have been a shoo-in for J1 Rookie of the Year if it weren’t for the existence of Hiroshima’s Makoto Mitsuta. Left-back Yamahara, a Tokyo-native, delivered the cross for Thiago Santana’s clincher at Ajinomoto Stadium and that made it 1 goal and 3 assists in his last 3 league outings for the 23 year-old. Very adept at going forward, Yamahara has 6 assists in total and his 32 chances created sees him rank 14th overall in J1, quite an achievement for a full-back in a team placed 15th on the ladder. With that said, the defensive side of his game still requires some polishing as highlighted by Yoichi Naganuma of Sagan Tosu giving him a torrid time during the first half of their recent encounter at the Nihondaira. Last, and most certainly not least, I wanted to shine a light on one of the most effective attackers in J1 this season, Thiago Santana. Despite missing the opening 7 rounds of the campaign due to injury, the Brazilian hitman has bounced back to net 9 times which makes him a genuine contender for this year’s Golden Boot. Worryingly for Gamba, he’s currently in the midst of a run of 6 goals and 3 assists in his last 8 games with his hold-up play and finishing dragging his side up by the coat tails and providing them with genuine hope that they can avoid the drop.



First Match Recap

Gamba’s trip to the Nihondaira Stadium to face Shimizu back in April was a rare case of the Nerazzurri gaining points in injury time as opposed to the recent trend of throwing them away. Hosts S-Pulse were well worthy of their lead when they finally went in front midway through the second-half through debutant Oh Se-hun. However, the side from Shizuoka, with the game all but won, opted to go into their defensive shell and began sitting deeper and deeper as the final whistle approached. Hindsight is always 20-20, and, with the benefit of it, we can say that Hiroaki Hiraoka’s decision to replace pacy attacker Yuito Suzuki with centre-back Yugo Tatsuta was decisive. The loss of Suzuki deprived Shimizu of an out-ball to relieve pressure, while at the back Tatsuta essentially provided an additional pair of arms to be struck as the ball flew dangerously around the home penalty area. Mercurial Brazilian Valdo conceded a needless foul on the edge of his own box deep into additional time, Yuki Yamamoto’s resulting free kick clearly struck the hand of an S-Pulse defender inside the penalty area (not for the first time during the match), and to save the officials from making a big call, Kosuke Onose’s follow up shot squirmed beneath Shuichi Gonda’s fingertips to earn Tomohiro Katanosaka’s troops a barely deserved, but warmly welcomed point with the final kick of the game.



Gamba Osaka

* It’s Expo Time – After a partial break during 2020 and 2021 when heavy crowd restrictions were in place due to Covid, Gamba’s Summer Expo returns in all it’s glory this Sunday. From 2017-2019 all supporters received a t-shirt bearing a strong resemblance to field uniform worn by the players, adorned with the number 12 on the back and front. However, in 2020 and 2021 the t-shirt handed out to the fans came with an extra ¥500 cost on top of the ticket fee and was completely different in design to the players’ uniform. Additionally Gamba wore their supposed one-off Expo shirts twice in both 2020 and 2021. This year, the ¥500 price remains, but we’re back to the fans and players wearing similar shirts and this being a one-off occasion. Images of my Expo Uniform with #32 Sakamoto on the back are below as well as my collection of shirts from 2018, 2019 and 2021, which one is your favourite?





* Mascot Mayhem – Another part of the Expo festivities will be the official naming of Gamba’s new mascot during the ‘Heat Up Time’ pre-game segment. The character, who bares a striking resemblance to something out of Sesame Street, so much so that in my head I already think of it as ‘Gamba Elmo,’ was originally unveiled to mixed reviews prior to the home clash with Sapporo (I initially typed Sesame Street here…it’s getting late!) in Golden Week, though he has certainly grown on the Gamba fanbase over time. Now, following a competition entered by more than 9,000 people, the result is finally ready to be revealed to the public.

* Transfer Round Up – It appears that barring a surprise deal going through Gamba’s summer comings and goings are over. Juan Alano (Kashima), Ryotaro Meshino (Manchester City), Musashi Suzuki (Beerschot) and Rihito Yamamoto (Tokyo Verdy) are the arrivals while, Ju Se-jong (Daejeon Citizen), Yota Sato (Vegalta Sendai) and Shin Won-ho (Suwon Samsung Bluewings) have all departed, Ju and Sato on loan, Shin permanently. Of the newcomers, Yamamoto is probably one for the future, and the potential front three of Alano, Meshino and Suzuki has enough about it to offer Nerazzurri fans something to cling onto. It’s been reported that Alano signed an 18-month contract and stated the project laid out to him by Gamba’s front office was an exciting one. Yota Sato has quickly become a starter at promotion chasing J2 side Vegalta Sendai, hopefully he can gain some valuable experience before returning to Suita in 2023 ready to challenge for regular minutes. Leandro Pereira was an unused sub against Kyoto in the Nerazzurri’s most recent fixture, but it seems that the club are having difficulty getting his large salary off the wage-bill. It appears likely that 3 more months of frustration await both Pereira and Gamba as he sees out the remainder of his contract.

* On Tuesday 9 August, Gamba announced that former Nagasaki, Kobe, Fukuoka and Tochigi SC boss Hiroshi Matsuda would be joining the coaching staff, ostensibly as an experienced pair of hands to help Katanosaka out. Matsuda and Katanosaka go back a long way having played together at Sanfrecce Hiroshima during their younger days and it’s hoped that Matsuda can have a similar impact to current Okayama kantoku Takashi Kiyama who provided invaluable assistance to Masanobu Matsunami 12 months ago. Speculation is mounting in Gamba supporter circles that Matsuda may push for 4-4-2 to be used on a regular basis, however, for now that remains to be seen. It’s also worth remembering that Matsuda’s time working with the first-team squad will be limited in the run up to this game so we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see the fruits of his labour. As per Sports Hochi reporter Kanagawa-san, the move to bring in Matsuda was instigated by the club, though it has Katanosaka’s stamp of approval. Where it leaves the former Oita boss’ long-term future in Suita, that’s anyone’s guess at the minute.

* Regular Referee Rant – I really wanted to put this issue to bed in the Fukuoka preview, but with no Gamba game to watch at the weekend I took in Cerezo vs Kobe (wanting Cerezo to win was a very weird experience for me lol) as well as FC Tokyo against Shimizu and this exposed me to some extremely questionable officiating. I don’t know how Kohei Okuno’s 7th minute yellow card against Kawasaki, which was upgraded to a red by VAR, Hirotaka Tameda’s high boot on the hour mark against Kobe and Keigo Higashi’s very similar kick just prior to half time in the FC Tokyo vs S-Pulse game, have all been categorised differently. Okuno a red, Higashi a yellow and Tameda nothing, not even after a VAR check, which at the time led me to suspect that had the referee given him a yellow then VAR would have made it a red, but that theory went out the window with the Higashi incident. However, come to think about it, the officiating team at Ajinomoto Stadium were pretty dreadful in general and also managed to miss serial taker of cheap shots against unsuspecting, defenseless opponents, Leandro, smacking Yusuke Goto in the face twice, which was frankly laughable. With all the rightful concern surrounding concussion and head injuries in sports these days, it still flummoxes me why hitting people in the face is so under-punished in football when compared with other instances of violent conduct. Anyway, I’ve gone completely off topic, to sum up, what do I (fans in general?) want from refereeing and VAR decisions? Consistency. Is there any logic to suspensions and punishments handed down by the league? Generally once you stray away from things such as DOGSO red cards and 4 yellows = a 1 match suspension, no. Plus, rarer offences (spitting, biting etc.) seem to be punished more harshly, and making deliberate contact with the head of an opponent is often under-punished, this needs to be rectified swiftly in my opinion. Just to finish off this meandering rant of pent-up frustration from a weekend of having no Gamba game, I haven’t heard too many comments lately that Cerezo were wrong to suspend, and later terminate the contract of Takashi Inui for public dissent and smashing up their shower room (allegedly). It may all be coincidental of course, but Akio Kogiku’s 3rd placed side look like they’ve gone from strength to strength since Inui got canned and there seems to be a real sense of unity, purpose and direction in the south part of Osaka these days, if only I could say the same about activities in Suita.

Team News

The club announced one Covid case on 2 August, though with the postponement of the match with Avispa Fukuoka, if that case was asymptomatic then the player involved should be good to go on Sunday. (to quote someone who shall remain anonymous, “antibodies are about the only things working well at Gamba at the moment.”)

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

GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back by the end of this month at the earliest

MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, potentially back later this month or early September

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

MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, returned to full training on 1 August, possibly fit enough to make the bench for this game

FW Isa Sakamoto – Sat out the friendly with PSG and then not in the squad for the match with Kyoto, presumably has a minor injury

FW Musashi Suzuki – not in the squad for the draw with Kyoto, only reason given was the extremely vague ‘poor physical condition,’ his status for this game remains unclear

FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season

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

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Shimizu S-Pulse

I mentioned earlier that as relegation began lurking menacingly on the horizon, Shimizu made a coaching change back in June with former Vasco da Gama boss Zé Ricardo taking over at the wheel. That move precipitated a busy summer of transfer activity in Shizuoka with prodigal son Koya Kitagawa returning after an underwhelming 3 year spell in Austria with Rapid Vienna, Takashi Inui coming in following a period training with Fagiano Okayama in the wake of his acrimonious departure from Cerezo Osaka and every Pokémon fan’s favourite Brazilian winger, Yago Pikachu, arriving from Fortaleza in his home country. That has left Zé Ricardo with a large and rather unbalanced squad full of attacking talent and options in wide areas, but short on quality down the central spine, especially at centre-back. Yoshinori Suzuki, one of Katanosaka’s most trusted lieutenants at Oita, is a serviceable option, however, Yugo Tatsuta, Valdo and Akira Ibayashi are average at best, and it’s noticeable that without Suzuki and Gonda, because of Covid, things rapidly fell apart at the back against Sagan Tosu. Help is on it’s way though in the shape of centre-backs, Taketo Ochiai (Hosei University) and Takumu Kemmotsu (Waseda University), who, in addition to promising attacker Sena Saito (Ryutsu Keizai University), will turn pro in 2023. All those who support this iconic club will be hoping that Ochiai, Kemmotsu and Saito are J1 players next season. Since returning to the top flight in 2017 following a year long J2 sojourn, S-Pulse have only achieved one top-half finish (8th in 2018), but they’ve always managed to keep their heads just above water. Things will be tough over the next 10 games, though the green shoots of revival have started to sprout and there’s every reason to believe that Shimizu will live to fight another day once all is said and done at the end of this campaign.

Team News

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

GK Togo Umeda – Knee injury, which curtailed his promising loan spell at Fagiano Okayama, out for the season

MF Renato Augusto – Long term knee injury

MF Yuta Kamiya – Missed last week’s trip to FC Tokyo, no reason given, potentially a Covid case?

MF Katsuhiro Nakayama – Last saw competitive action scoring twice in the 8-0 rout of Shunan Public in the Emperor’s Cup on 1 June, unsure if injured or just dropped

MF Kenta Nishizawa – Fractured kneecap, expected back near the end of the season

FW Yuito Suzuki – Not seen since the AFC U-23 Championship at the end of June, believed to be injured

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

Categories
sport

Avispa Fukuoka vs Gamba Osaka 6 August 2022 Match Preview

Avispa Fukuoka vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 24
Saturday 6 August 2022
Best Denki Stadium
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


**Disclaimer – the majority of this preview was written prior to Avispa Fukuoka’s Covid cluster being announced, so it may read a little strange in certain places. Unfortunately, as a full-time teacher and part-time blogger I had to get most of my comments and analysis done on Sunday and Monday. However, I hope there are still plenty of pithy insights to keep you entertained.**

Tomohiro Katanosaka labelled last Saturday’s match at home to Covid-ravaged Kyoto Sanga a 6-pointer. After only picking up a solitary point as a result of Genki Omae’s soul crushing 97th minute penalty kick cancelling out Ryotaro Meshino’s opener, what does that make this game away to Avispa Fukuoka? The Nerazzurri survived an early blitz from Sanga’s special designated player Yudai Kimura (Hiroto Yamami’s kōhai at Kwansei Gakuin University) before taking a grip on proceedings thanks to Ryotaro Meshino’s first strike since returning from a 3-year stint in Europe. It was a scrappy, scrappy goal that looked like it would lead to an ugly, but ultimately vital victory, especially in the wake of Daiki Kaneko being ordered off (35 minutes too late from a Gamba perspective). However, lady luck once again chose not to shine on the Ao to Kuro at their cursed home stadium. Yamami missed a glorious chance to wrap things up and after Kimura tumbled under Higashiguchi’s ill-advised lunge, Genki Omae had to first, fight off the distraction that was his irate team-mate Martinus, before coolly slotting home to earn a potentially priceless share of the spoils for the Royals. Avispa, like Kyoto, were in Osaka on league business last Saturday, and they were also weakened by a number of Covid cases in their camp. Unfortunately for them, Cerezo were in no mood to show any mercy and Matej Jonjić’s early header in addition to substitute Satoki Uejo’s clincher meant Fukuoka headed back to Kyushu on a run of just 2 wins from their last 9 league games with only 6 goals scored during that time. Due to other round 23 results going their way, Gamba were able to nudge their way out of the bottom 3, but they remain precariously perched just 1 point ahead of bottom club Shimizu, who they face in Suita next Sunday. Avispa sit in 10th, 5 points above the danger zone, and because of their anaemic attack and recent poor run of form they certainly can’t consider themselves safe just yet which makes for a fascinating contest this Saturday at the Best Denki Stadium.

Tale of the Tape



I went into Gamba’s numbers in great detail in last week’s preview, so I’ll try to brief in here as, in truth, the equation is quite simple for the Nerazzurri, start doubling one goal leads and the late heartbreaks will soon become a distant memory, sounds so easy written down like that, doesn’t it? Genki Omae’s additional time spot-kick added to the collection of points ceded during the dying embers of matches this season. It’s a list which also includes, Leandro Damião’s 95th minute equaliser for Frontale, Alexander Scholz’s last gasp penalty for Urawa a few weeks back, and also Jean Patric’s memorable winner for Cerezo in the Osaka Derby just before the EAFF Cup enforced break. I know the Nerazzurri snatched a late leveller of their own away to Shimizu in April, but even throwing that into the mix, it’s still 6 points given up right at the end of games, and with the tightness of the 2022 league table, those 6 points are currently the difference between a relegation scrap and mid-table. With last Saturday’s opponents Kyoto ravaged by Covid, so much so that they only had one recognised centre-back on the field, any in-depth look at the stats has too many caveats involved to really tell us much. Gamba’s 2.23xG For was only the second time that figure has been above 2 all year, though the other occasion was against a Vissel Kobe side that then sat bottom of the league and were reduced to 10 men for more than half the game. This was also the first time the Ao to Kuro had outshot their opposition since that bright and sunny day in early May (though they did achieve parity away to Sagan Tosu). I’ll get into things like new signings, injuries etc. in later sections, but the main conclusion anyone should take from this part of the preview is that Gamba are in a genuine battle for survival and all statistical indicators show that it’s exactly where they deserve to be based on on-field performances.



Fukuoka were something of a surprise package 12 months ago, finishing 8th and leaving teams such as FC Tokyo, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, both Osaka clubs and Kashiwa trailing in their wake. That success was built on a holy alliance of a rock-solid defence and an ability to take chances in the opposition penalty area when they came along. Fast forward to 2022 and Avispa find themselves 2 spots lower in the standings and possess the division’s best rearguard, giving up only 20 goals in 23 outings. At the other end of the field, things generally haven’t functioned as smoothly. Winter recruit from Júbilo Iwata, Lukian, has yet to catch fire, netting only 3 times in 23 appearances which has led to the Wasps propping up the J1 goals scored charts with just 17 in total. It’s also worth bearing in mind that Avispa have bagged 7 goals in 2 matches against FC Tokyo as well as netting 3 away to Gamba in March meaning that in their other 20 fixtures they’ve only scored a paltry 8 times, a figure which includes 13 matches in which they’ve failed to hit the back of the net. Their xG For numbers suggest they should have scored 24.94 goals up to this point and that 7.94 under-performance of goals scored vs xG for is probably the biggest factor behind their slight slip in the standings. As I alluded to above, they are relatively safe in mid-table at the moment, but lying only 5 points above the drop zone with 11 matches remaining, they can’t afford to get too complacent. I know they had Covid issues in the lead up to the game with Cerezo which may explain their xG For figure of just 0.28, but more worryingly that was part of a wider trend of just 2 goals scored from an xG of 2.15 across their past 4 outings and kantoku Shigetoshi Hasebe will surely be hoping the recent re-recruitment of Cameroonian forward John Mary can help remedy that issue. Speaking of Hasebe, his go to formation is 4-4-2, though he has tinkered on occasions and opted for a 3-4-2-1 set-up to try and give game-time to each of his 3 excellent centre-backs, Douglas Grolli, Daiki Miya and Tatsuki Nara. However, with Nara suspended for this tie, it’s likely we’ll see the Hachi take the field in their usual 4-4-2 system with their wingers hoping to inflict the same amount of damage that they did in the return fixture against Gamba in Suita.



First Match Recap

Gamba’s 3-2 loss at home to Avispa in mid-March was the first real warning sign that all was not well in the Nerazzurri camp this year, while at the same time it provided their visitors from Fukuoka with a maiden league win of the season at the fifth time of asking. Belgian winger Jordy Croux took advantage of some hesitancy in the Ao to Kuro backline to fire the Wasps ahead after only 10 minutes and it stayed that way up until the interval. Gamba started brightly after the break, but were caught out on the counter and former Nerazzurri wide-man Tatsuya Tanaka collected his usual goal against his old side. Then, with 9 minutes remaining, Ko Yanagisawa inadvertently swept a Takeshi Kanamori cross past Kei Ishikawa for an embarrassing own goal to make it 3-0 and just like Tanaka’s strike earlier in the half, it came about through the Hachi targeting the left-hand side of the home defence. The indignity of that moment as well as the lopsided nature of the scoreline seemed to shake Gamba out of their slumber and late efforts from Yuya Fukuda and Leandro Pereira brought more respectability to the result, though that was scant consolation for the Curva Nord faithful. Fukuoka, on the other hand, left Suita in buoyant mood after exorcising the ghosts of their first 4 league outings in which they had scored just once and accrued only 3 points despite putting in some decent performances.



Gamba Osaka

Mood in the camp – I guess the nervous performance, lacking in fluency for large spells seen at home to Kyoto tells the story really. With Ryotaro Meshino slightly out of position at centre-forward due to the absence of Suzuki, Patric and Sakamoto, the Nerazzurri struggled to keep the ball in the attacking third for sustained periods. When they were eventually able to get at Kyoto’s makeshift backline, they caused problems and eventually after a series of dangerous breaks early in the second-half the deadlock was breached. Unfortunately after that, the Ao to Kuro failed to kill the game off, began sitting deeper and deeper and to be honest I felt no surprise at all when a penalty was conceded right at the death. The Gamba support generally still bear a lot of goodwill to Katanosaka, the front office are, to their credit, making some big splashes in the transfer market, but will it all be enough to stave off relegation? Following a run of 5 consecutive road defeats, some more Yappari Patric magic is surely the order of the day to see off a stubborn Fukuoka side this Saturday and kick-start the Nerazzurri’s 2022 campaign.

Transfer Update – As if to deflect attention away from Saturday’s disappointing result against Kyoto, there was the announcement on Sunday 31 July that Kashima Antlers winger Juan Alano would join on a permanent deal. Even Sports Hochi’s Gamba beat reporter Mr. Kanagawa (essentially the Fabrizio Romano of north Osaka) admitted he didn’t know anything about the move until it was announced. Whether that’s a sign of more secrecy around the Gamba front office following the embarrassingly public failed pursuits of Yuta Higuchi, Eduardo and Yuya Yamagishi in recent months, or the panic button being pushed leading to a deal being concluded at break-neck speed, I’ll let you be the judge of that. Anyway, for now a front 3 of Alano on the right, Meshino on the left and Suzuki through the centre seems to be the house the Nerazzurri are building their survival hopes upon. Gamba club chairman, Mr. Ono made comments on 3 August suggesting that after the capture of Alano, the Nerazzurri’s summer business was now complete which hopefully means the Ao to Kuro are not one of the J1 sides reportedly competing for ex-Vissel and Cerezo stopper Dankler.

Brazilian forward Leandro Pereira was an unused substitute against Kyoto and information passed to me from people who were in Panasonic Stadium last Saturday night suggests that he left the bench midway through the second half, made his way down the tunnel and didn’t re-emerge to walk round the field with his team-mates after the final whistle. He then posted a cryptic message in his native Portuguese on Instagram which seemed to translate along the lines of ‘never give up when you face a struggle.’ Make of all of that what you will.

Regular Referee Rant – Readers of this blog and listeners to the J-Talk Podcast will be familiar (overly-familiar?) with my views on Kohei Okuno’s VAR-assisted red card against Kawasaki a few weeks back. Using that logic then yes, I think Saturday’s referee Hiroki Kasahara was absolutely correct to give Daiki Kaneko a final verbal warning just before the break for a foul that surely met all the criteria of a yellow card, which of course would have meant the already booked Kaneko would have been ordered off and his beleaguered team-mates would have had to play the remaining 45 minutes a player short. As it was, Kaneko did eventually receive his marching orders with 9 minutes left on the clock, prior to which Gamba had gone 1-0 up so you could argue his presence didn’t make a lot of difference and due to the Nerazzurri’s nervousness, handing them an even bigger advantage may actually have been counter-productive. However, rules are rules ands they need to be applied fairly, where is the line between human officials’ empathy based decision making and the logic-only approach of technology? My argument is, Okuno shouldn’t have seen red so early against Frontale and Kasahara handled things correctly with Kaneko on Saturday, but instead we have a situation where on one occasion technology overrides a referee’s prerogative to give a strong final warning and on the other there’s no outside intervention, I don’t think that’s right or fair. Rant Over.

Expo Excitement – On Wednesday 3 August, Gamba opened up their Expo pop-up store in the Lucua 1100 department store adjacent to JR Osaka Station. Rather surprisingly so many people turned up that fans had to be turned away on the opening day. It will remain in place until Tuesday 9 August and I’m hoping to make the trip there at some point over the weekend. If you spend ¥4500 or more and you get a free bag with your favourite player’s name and number on it, plus there are paint cans (not sure why?) full of goodies and inside one of them is a Gamba home shirt signed by none other than Mr. Takashi Usami.

Team News

**Note – The club announced on Tuesday 2 August that one player had tested positive for Coronavirus. As per the usual protocols the player’s identity remains a secret.**

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

GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back by the end of this month at the earliest

MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, he revealed that he was behind Yuki Yamamoto in terms of a return date, may be back at the end of this month at the earliest

MF Rihito Yamamoto – Fractured bone in foot, should be back in early September

MF Yuki Yamamoto – Sustained a knee cartilage injury, in May, but joined full training on Monday 1 August suggesting a comeback is not far away

FW Patric – not in squad for draw with Kyoto, Katanosaka said “due to poor physical condition” which is a catch-all phrase that could mean almost anything, was seen in training pictures and videos on 1 August

FW Isa Sakamoto – Sat out the friendly with PSG and then not in the squad for the match with Kyoto last Saturday, presumably has a minor injury

FW Musashi Suzuki – not in squad for draw with Kyoto, Katanosaka said “due to poor physical condition” which is a catch-all phrase that could mean almost anything

FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season

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

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Avispa Fukuoka

I might as well get the ‘second year syndrome’ cliché out of the way right at the start of this section before aiming to finish things off on more of a high note. Although they are only 2 places below 2021’s excellent showing, viewed from the outside at least, it seems like the mood in and around the Best Denki Stadium is a few notches lower now than it was 12 months ago. In my pre-season preview I wrote about Avispa “I like what they’ve done in the transfer market, I like it a lot.” Unfortunately for the Wasps, when I looked into my crystal ball back in January it turned out I interpreted the data in an overly positive manner. I’ve already alluded to Lukian’s struggles above, Tatsuya Tanaka (1 goal and 1 assist, only 9 J1 starts) has also not really bedded in as well as expected and with the attack not firing for large parts of the first half of the year, the club made the rather strange move to bring back Cameroonian forward John Mary. I say strange because kantoku Shigetoshi Hasebe chose to start him only 5 times in J1 during his loan spell last season despite him impressing when given serious minutes on the park. Other than that, Yota Maejima (Yokohama FC) has been a solid addition when fit, though he hasn’t quite matched the levels of the departed Emil Salomonsson. Takumi Nagaishi turned his loan deal from Cerezo into a permanent one over the winter and has usurped J-Talk goalkeeper of the half season Masaaki Murakami from the starting lineup during the past 5 league matches while experienced defender Tatsuki Nara also spent 2021 on loan at Fukuoka before inking a full-time deal this term, and he’s continued to be his dependable self. Attack has been a source of concern for Hasebe all year, but one man who hasn’t let him down has been Yuya Yamagishi. Able to play as a central striker in a 4-4-2 or as a shadow-forward in a 3-4-2-1, Yamagishi turned down advances from Gamba this summer and to date he has 6 goals and an assist in 23 outings including 3 goals and one assist in his last 7 games as if to show the Nerazzurri just what they are missing. What I really like about the make-up of Avispa’s squad is that they’re not a particularly young team, however, the majority of the players are in the sweet-spot age bracket of 25-30 and, in my book at least, that’s a major factor behind why they are generally pretty solid and consistent. I feel they’ll be just about ok in the final shake up and obviously there is still time available to conduct more summer transfer business in addition to the arrivals of John Mary and MF Yuto Hiratsuka (Mito). However, for the moment I’d like to sum things up by saying, this does very much feel like a (perhaps necessary) season of treading water for the Wasps after the fireworks of 2020 and 2021, though having endured a lifetime of yo-yoing between J1 and J2, that might be just what the doctor ordered.

Team News

This section will be a bit different this week as Fukuoka have confirmed over 20 cases of Covid among first-team players and staff over the past week or so meaning any reasonable attempt at guessing their lineup for Saturday is futile. Only having 2 outfielders (backup ‘keeper Takumi Yamanoi even came on as an outfielder in second-half injury time!!) on the bench didn’t stop them from picking up a super-impressive 2-1 win at Kobe in their Levain Cup quarter-final first-leg on Wednesday, so Gamba have been well warned. Tatsuki Nara is suspended, Yuto Hiratsuka has joined from Mito HollyHock and his status is currently unclear. Juanma Delgado, John Mary, Daiki Miya and Shun Nakamura were all absent for the trip to Cerezo last weekend, presumably with Covid, but all 3, except Nakamura, returned against Vissel. My advice to any Sorare managers would be, don’t pick any Avispa players for this game week unless you can’t avoid it, there are too many unknowns.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Avispa Fukuoka vs Cerezo Osaka (a) J1, 30 July


Avispa Fukuoka vs Vissel Kobe (a) Levain Cup, 3 August





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

Categories
sport

Gamba Osaka vs Kyoto Sanga 30 July 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Kyoto Sanga
2022 J1 Season Round 23
Saturday 30 July 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


This Saturday marks the first of 12 remaining ‘cup ties’ for Gamba as they bid to save themselves from an inglorious drop down to the second tier. Covid-ravaged opponents Kyoto would appear to be made-to-order for Tomohiro Katanosaka’s beleaguered troops, but as we all know too well, if it’s predictability you’re after then Japanese football probably isn’t for you. The Nerazzurri last saw league action a fortnight ago in a gut-wrenching 2-1 home loss to prefectural rivals Cerezo, a game which marked the second time this year the Cherry Blossoms have come from behind to defeat their more well-decorated northern neighbours. Kyoto, on the other hand, earned a valuable point against fellow purple kit-wearers Hiroshima. Veteran forward Genki Omae was on hand to head home after Sanfrecce ‘keeper Keisuke Osako had misjudged a rather innocuous looking cross and that strike cancelled out Tsukasa Morishima’s opener for the visitors. The Royals did ride their luck though, when the referee chose not to overturn his decision of no penalty for Takuya Ogiwara’s apparent trip on Tomoya Fujii, despite being summoned over to the VAR booth for a second look. Since the round 22 fixtures took place there has been a 2 week hiatus in league action during which time Gamba have fitted in a glamour friendly against a star-studded Paris Saint-Germain side while Sanga have been laid low with Coronavirus, 11 players and 7 staff members being affected which led to team activities being halted from July 18th-24th. A home win here could possibly see the Ao to Kuro ease out of the bottom 3 and release some of the pressure that’s steadily been building around Katanosaka following a run of 1 win in 9 J1 matches. Meanwhile for Kyoto kantoku Cho Kwi-jae, after the tumultuous couple of weeks his side have endured, any positive result will surely suffice.

Tale of the Tape



Jean Patric’s last gasp winner in the Osaka Derby really was a dagger into the hearts of the Gamba-nation and was eerily reminiscent of Takuma Nishimura’s strike to earn Sendai a 3-2 victory at Panasonic Stadium last year and to a lesser extent Shoma Doi’s run and finish for Kashima in Ibaraki 12 months ago. Critics of Tomohiro Katanosaka will say that he’s done nothing to fix the Nerazzurri’s susceptibility to counter attacks during his tenure, and they’d have a point. Late fallaways in games have also hurt the Ao to Kuro badly, particularly during their hectic summer run. They’ve taken the lead in each of their past 4 home J1 fixtures against Yokohama F. Marinos, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Urawa Reds and Cerezo, but have emerged victorious on just one occasion. Gamba got a second soon after their opener against Sanfrecce and that killed the game off, had they bagged football’s most important goal, the one that takes the score from 1-0 to 2-0, against Urawa or Cerezo then neither of those two would have come back in my opinion, though you could argue that Marinos may have been able to eke out a draw. The Nerazzurri and their supporters must be hoping the two week break in league fixtures brings with it a change of luck in the wake of Kohei Okuno’s 7th minute ordering off versus Kawasaki and Jean Patric’s 0.05xG winner for the pink half of Osaka, incidents that are very much the kind of things that happen to teams in trouble. Looking in a more positive direction for a moment, Gamba answered my criticism over poor set-plays by netting their first goal from a corner all year against Cerezo. Ryuya Nishio and whoever is responsible for setting up the Cherry Blossoms’ zonal marking system certainly won’t want to see either Kwon Kyung-won’s initial effort which deflected off the bar or his powerful header from the resulting Hideki Ishige’s corner that sent the Curva Nord faithful into raptures, but this does neatly lead on to my point about the South Korean international’s effectiveness. During the former Seongnam stopper’s 876 minutes on the field in J1 this season, Gamba have conceded just 10 times (once every 87.6 minutes), but that number shoots up to a goal every 52.6 minutes when he’s not playing. The Nerazzurri simply can’t afford to lose him to injury again if they want to maintain their status as a J1 club in 2023. Kwon put in a generally solid display in the Osaka Derby, he went off with cramp prior to Cerezo’s late winner, however, he and Genta Miura both pushed up to play offside while Keisuke Kurokawa and Shota Fukuoka stayed back allowing Hiroto Yamada to slip through for the Cherry Blossoms’ equaliser. This conceded goal was disappointing from a Gamba perspective for a number of reasons, not least of which was the fact that it was nearly a carbon copy of Yokohama F. Marinos’ winner a few weeks back with the only difference being, on that occasion Hiroki Fujiharu was the sole culprit. This situation has come about due to the constant tinkering between a back 3 and back 4, something I’ve highlighted time and again in this blog. Vissel Kobe used to irritate me by doing that sort of thing and Yuji Ono’s opener for Gamba at the Noevir Stadium in 2020 should be sought out on YouTube if you’re looking for further evidence of the perils of messing around with your defensive shape on an almost weekly basis. All 4 goalkeepers used by Gamba this season have had a tough time trying to mop up the mess left in front of them and I’ve included a table below that compares some key stats between senior custodians Masaaki Higashiguchi and Jun Ichimori, I won’t say too much about it, I’d prefer to let you draw your own conclusions. At the moment, going forward things aren’t much better from a blue and black perspective. After 22 league games, the Nerazzurri’s joint top scorers are midfielders Dawhan and Kosuke Onose with just 3 goals apiece while Hideki Ishige and Leandro Pereira are the leading assist makers with 2 (Ishige has 2 in the last 2 home games). At present Hiroto Yamami’s 2.98 shots per 90 minutes is the highest figure among everyone at the club who has played 90 minutes or more, Musashi Suzuki, on debut, managed 3 attempts against Cerezo (4 if you include his wild shank in the first half that was incorrectly ruled offside) which is definitely a positive sign. Yamami was rested for the Osaka Derby with the double arrival of Suzuki and Ryotaro Meshino allowing him to take a night off following half a year of leading the Gamba attack. His 25 last passes is the best at the club, while his 32 shots on goal ties with Kosuke Onose as the top effort from a Gamba attacker.




Kyoto kantoku Cho Kwi-jae appears to strongly consider what he expects opponents to do prior to deciding his tactics and selecting his starting eleven for each match. However, with that said, up until their last outing at home to Sanfrecce, Kyoto had always kicked off in a 4-1-2-3 system (4-3-3 if you prefer) before attempting to match their highly-talented visitors from Hiroshima by lining up in a 3-4-2-1 shape. With Gamba constantly shifting between a back 3 and back 4 (much to the chagrin of me and many others), I’d bank on Cho reverting to the system he knows best in the face of such uncertainty, with only the personnel to fit the attacking midfield and wing roles up for debate (this sentence was written prior to news of Kyoto’s Covid outbreak reaching me, but once that passes it’ll still ring true, so I’ve left it in here). In a similar vein to Cho’s previous side, Shonan, Kyoto, as one of the smaller fish in the J1 pond, must make up for the absence of premium quality in their ranks with sheer grit and determination, and to that end they are currently averaging 35.7 more sprints per game than Gamba. Right-back Kosuke Shirai (a backup for most of their 2021 promotion campaign) leads the way with 606, which is a staggering 234 more than his nearest team-mate (perhaps not surprisingly left-back Takuya Ogiwara). Sanga’s xG for stats are generally on par in terms of number of goals scored, a phenomenon I’m tempted to christen, ‘the Utaka effect,’ but at the other end of the pitch they have massively overperformed defensively, which must be a worry for their coaching staff and fans alike. Taking all 22 fixtures into account, Sanga have conceded 7 times fewer than expected and a big chunk of that number (4.62) comes solely from opponents’ squandered opportunities in Royals’ away games. Should some of those chickens come home to roost on Saturday night then Gamba will be the gleeful recipients of a much needed change in fortunes. Any discussion about Kyoto wouldn’t be complete without mention of the man, the myth, the legend himself, Mr. Peter Utaka. I’m a mere 4 months younger than the 38 year-old goal machine and I get tired just watching games during the Japanese summer, yet Utaka put in three 90 minute appearances in the space of a week earlier this month, his stamina and endurance are frankly staggering. Currently lying 2nd in the J1 Golden Boot race, one strike behind man-of-the-moment Léo Ceará (Marinos) and the recently departed for Europe, Ayase Ueda (Kashima), it would be a fantastic story if he were to finish the campaign as top scorer (he was joint top in 2016). However, the downside to all of this is that perhaps the Royals depend on him a bit too much and any loss of form or fitness could bite them badly. His tally of 9 makes up 42.9% of Sanga’s yearly total, a percentage that sat at 35.6 last year, so if there is any spare cash floating around in Kameoka this summer then it might be wise to use it on a Utaka insurance policy. Away from the age defying veteran in attack, there are a plethora of young talents in this Kyoto squad and the two I’d briefly like to shine a light on are, holding midfielder Sota Kawasaki and centre-back / makeshift full-back Shogo Asada. Kawasaki is arguably the most talked about player in the team not called Utaka and despite a couple of niggling injuries he still sits in the top 10 in the division for tackles (51, 9th) and interceptions (6, 10th) which gives you a flavour of the defensive side of his game, though he is more than adept at going forward and linking up with his front 3, one goal plus 2 assists this campaign attest to that. The 27 fouls he’s given away in 17 appearances suggest plenty of youthful enthusiasm that I’m sure will be tamed over the coming years. Long term Twitter followers of mine will know I picked Shogo Asada out as a person of interest during Kyoto’s time in J2 and he’s made the step up with relative ease. He’s ranked 7th in the top flight for aerial battles won (61) and 9th for blocks made (53). As pointed out above, he started the season at left-back, before switching to his best position of centre-back, and it’s that spell out wide that likely accounts for his club leading 208.7 km distance covered as well as 363 sprints (that sees him rank 3rd behind his aforementioned team-mates Shirai and Ogiwara).



First Match Recap

April’s draw at Sanga Stadium by Kyocera saw both Kyoto and Gamba leaving with a point, but probably feeling like they could, and should, have gotten more. Fresh from an impressive 3-1 home win over Nagoya the previous weekend, the Nerazzurri were the brighter of the two teams early doors, but couldn’t make their dominance pay and were punished by Sanga talisman Peter Utaka right at the end of the first-half. They needn’t have worried too much though, as the home team’s lead lasted just 13 minutes before Dawhan’s powerful low volley squared things up. It was the Brazilian’s first strike for his new club and it went on to win J1’s April Goal of the Month Competition. Youngsters Isa Sakamoto and Jiro Nakamura were introduced during the second period, and Sakamoto almost had a dream J1 debut as his lovely weighted pass put Kosuke Onose clean through on Naoto Kamifukumoto’s goal, however, with the Sanga ‘keeper bearing down on him Onose poked the ball just wide. After that the home side rallied and the Ao to Kuro were left holding on for dear life during a final ten minute siege that culminated with substitute Mendes firing off target with the goal at his mercy in stoppage time. It finished 1-1 and both sides will have a sense of unfinished business as we approach the return fixture.



Gamba Osaka

Gamba went down 6-2 to Paris Saint-Germain in their friendly match played out in sweltering conditions at Panasonic Stadium on Monday night. The visitors sauntered into the break 4-1 up courtesy of goals from Pablo Sarabia, Nuno Mendes, Lionel Messi and a hugely controversial Neymar spot kick. Keisuke Kurokawa grabbed the Nerazzurri’s consolation and potentially alerted European scouts to his abilities with a decent first-half showing while guardian deity Masaaki Higashiguchi played like a man possessed to prevent an even more one-sided outcome. The 38,251 fans in attendance were treated to a generally slower paced second period which began with the home side making 7 changes with 1 ½ eyes on the important match against Kyoto this Saturday. Neymar made it 5-1 on the hour mark before Hiroto Yamami pulled one back from close range 10 minutes later. Substitute Kylian Mbappé (not a bad player to have on the bench, is he?) wrapped up the scoring from penalty spot near the end after being clearly upended by Ryu Takao. I’m recording a Patreon exclusive podcast with Jon Steele this Friday (29 July) where we’ll discuss PSG’s Japan tour in detail, look out for that next week!



It has now been confirmed that 2021/2022 Europa League champions Eintracht Frankfurt will come to Japan for a short tour in November just prior to the FIFA Men’s World Cup kicking off in Qatar. Makoto Hasebe is a legend at both Frankfurt and Urawa making the Saitama side a natural opponent (on November 16) while Daichi Kamada spent time in Gamba’s youth set-up which may explain why they’ve been chosen above the likes of Cerezo and Vissel for the West Japan leg of the tour. The match against the Nerazzurri will take place at Panasonic Stadium on Saturday 19 November.

A word on attendances – It was interesting to note that in the midst of Japan’s 7th Corona wave the turnout for the Panasonic Stadium leg of the Osaka Derby was just 22,531. This compares with 35,861 back in 2019, the last time it was played under normal circumstances. The Hanshin Derby against Vissel Kobe in Golden Week brought in just under 4,000 more paying spectators and the 26,490 attendance that day is the Nerazzurri’s best Covid-era figure. Unlike previous Osaka Derbies, steps taken by both clubs served to kill off any particularly bad behaviour, much to the disappointment of those who’d have been delighted had there been any hint of crowd trouble.

Transfer Round Up – On 24 July Gamba announced the capture of impressive young Japan U-23 international Rihito Yamamoto from Tokyo Verdy for a reported fee of €700,000. Yamamoto can play either as the anchor in a midfield 3 or in a double-volante system as he did successfully alongside former Verdy team-mate Joel Chima Fujita at the recent AFC Under-23 Cup. To date he has 104 J2 appearance and 3 goals to his name and of the midfielders currently on the books in Suita, his playing style most closely resembles that of Kohei Okuno. There had been strong rumours linking Gen Shoji with a return to his former side Kashima and these grew stronger after Shoji was the featured face on the starting eleven graphic for the game with Paris Saint-Germain as well as being the only Gamba player to go the full 90 against the French giants. However, the following day (26 July) speculation began to mount over an Antlers move for Vissel Kobe’s versatile defender Leo Osaki which, if true, would likely render any Shoji deal dead in the water. Leandro Pereira’s future in Suita remains up for debate with Júbilo Iwata suggested as a possible destination. Recalled to the enlarged 23 man matchday squad on Monday, Pereira cut a disinterested figure in the pre-game warm up, but gave a decent account of himself after replacing Musashi Suzuki at half-time. Other than that there’s not a whole lot to report other than Sports Hochi journalists Kanagawa and Uchida held a Twitter Spaces chat on Tuesday (26 July) and it was revealed there that Gamba are still pursuing new targets, but talks are not far enough advanced to publish the names of the players involved.

Random application of how much time to add on at the end of a game rant no. 328 – I’ve had a week off so I went back and did the maths, Jean Patric’s Osaka Derby winner came with 89:45 on the clock, it was followed by 1 minute 25 seconds of Cerezo celebrating and then making a time wasting substitution, absolutely nothing wrong with any of that. However, referee Ryuji Sato only added on a whopping 5 seconds to the initially awarded 5 minutes to make up for the break in play. Again, just as in the 1-0 loss to Shonan, there’s little doubt in my mind that Gamba would still have failed to score even if the extra time was played out, so my point is merely that I’d just rather we got a fairer application of the rules.

Any Gamba fans waking up to an Osaka Derby induced bout of nausea on Sunday 17 July were given some light relief in the shape of the club’s Under 18’s romping past Cerezo 3-0 in their Prince Takamado Cup West Division clash. A double from high school second-grader Renko Hikasa after Harumi Minamino’s early opener sent the Ao to Kuro on their way to only a second win of the campaign. After being struck down with Covid issues earlier in the year, Gamba Youth, like their senior counterparts face an uphill battle to remain in their division, but this result will give them a huge boost. Also of note was the presence in the matchday squad of Futa Endo, son of Yasuhito, as well as Haruta Yamaguchi, son of current Shonan boss Satoshi.

Team News

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

GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back in August at the earliest

DF Kwon Kyung-won – Played 180 minutes for South Korea during the EAFF Cup including the whole game in the 3-0 loss to Japan on Wednesday. He has been struggling with cramp in recent outings and may not be risked as a result.

MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, shown jogging on the club’s official YouTube channel on 8 July, potentially back in August

MF Rihito Yamamoto – It was announced today (28 July) that he had fractured his foot in a league match against FC Ryukyu at the beginning of July. He was seen walking unaided at the PSG game so it can’t be too serious and the club have said it will take about a month for him to recover.

MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, shown jogging with Fukuda on the club’s official YouTube channel so the problem may not be as bad as first feared

FW Isa Sakamoto – Sat out the match with PSG on Monday, presumably with a minor injury

FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the majority of the season

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

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Kyoto Sanga

After what the majority of observers labelled a mediocre winter transfer window, it’s fair to say that not a whole lot was expected from Kyoto prior to the commencement of the 2022 campaign, mere survival in their first year back in Japan’s top flight since 2010 would surely be treated as a success, many thought. However, as newly promoted sides tend to do, they made a bright start to life in J1, earning 4 wins and picking up 15 points from their opening 10 fixtures. Though, from that point onwards they’ve found things pretty tough, going on a run of 2 wins, 3 draws and 7 losses across their subsequent 12 outings in which they failed to score 5 times and kept just a solitary clean sheet. With only 12 matchdays remaining, Kyoto really need a spark from somewhere to lift them out of their present rut or they’re soon going to find themselves mired in the relegation dogfight. It has to be said that their trip to Júbilo Iwata in round 34 already has all the hallmarks of a rather tasty bout filled with last day drama. To put a more positive spin on proceedings, Cho is an excellent manager to have in this kind of situation, he’s been there before with Shonan and he knows what he’s doing. I’ve no doubt he’ll have his players organised, motivated and ready to do battle until the last minute of the last game of the season. Sitting 4 points above Gamba, who presently occupy the promotion / relegation playoff spot, the match situation is clear, the Nerazzurri need a win, Sanga only really require to avoid defeat. Will Cho stick or twist? I’d say he’ll follow the template of former club Shonan, who’ve already notched up 1-0 home and away victories over the Ao to Kuro thanks to a strategy aimed at frustrating Gamba early doors and knocking them out of their stride before striking decisively on the break. Perhaps Genki Omae is the man for that decisive strike, he certainly was in their previous match against Hiroshima, and he was one of 11 new additions prior to the start of the season. However, almost 2/3 of the way through the campaign I’d argue that only really, ‘keeper Naoto Kamifukumoto has equalled or exceeded expectations. Rikito Inoue, someone who I picked out in my Scouting J2 article last autumn can’t seem to dislodge Hisashi Appiah Tawiah from the starting centre-back role for reasons known only to Cho. Appiah Tawiah has picked up 7 yellow cards in 17 J1 appearances in 2022 and now has a disciplinary record of 16 cautions and 1 red in 52 J1 outings, the Japanese Richardson? Elsewhere, Daiki Kaneko and Kiwi ‘keeper Michael Woud are maybe the only additions who haven’t quite done as well as I thought they might, which is to say, I didn’t think much of their winter business was that great in the first place. I feel like I’m being a bit negative and Kyoto’s a lovely place, especially Arashiyama, a few train stops down the track from Sanga’s wonderful new stadium, so let’s finish this section on something of a high note by name-dropping a couple of promising youngsters. Wingers Fuki Yamada (a Japan U-23 representative) and 19 year-old Keita Nakano offer a glimpse into a bright future for the Royals, but for the next 3 ½ months at least, it’s shaping up to be squeaky bum time in Kameoka.

Team News

**Note – 11 players were struck down with Covid and club activities were shut down from 18-24 July so basically expect the unexpected from Kyoto. As we don’t know who was and wasn’t infected I’ve just gone for their strongest eleven, but that’s likely to differ a fair bit from their actual starting lineup on Saturday night.**

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

MF Alan Carius – Joined the club on a permanent deal from Saudi Arabian side Al-Adalah on Tuesday (26 July), but it’s unclear if he’ll be ready to feature on Saturday.

MF Naoto Misawa – Achilles tendon rupture similar to Usami, likely to miss the majority of the season

MF Fuki Yamada – Went off in 2nd half of Emperor’s Cup win away to Tochigi SC on 13 July and was missing from the matchday squad for the 1-1 draw with Hiroshima on 17 July

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

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Gamba Osaka vs Cerezo Osaka 16 July 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Cerezo Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 22
Saturday 16 July 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

The final round of J1 fixtures before the two-week break to make way for the EAFF Cup sees Gamba host Cerezo in a vitally important Osaka Derby at Panasonic Stadium. Both sides are involved in battles at opposite ends of the table making the outcome of this particular contest of huge interest to fans of a number of clubs, not least the passionate supporters in Osaka. With that said, tempers have boiled over at times in the 3 previous meetings between the Nerazzurri and the Cherry Blossoms this year, so let’s hope everyone is on their best behaviour for this clash. Gamba were thrashed 4-0 away at defending champions Kawasaki last Saturday after playing 83 minutes with 10 men due to Kohei Okuno’s VAR assisted red card. Frontale were 4 up at the interval and then Masaaki Higashiguchi bailed the Nerazzurri out on numerous occasions in the second-half meaning that the Ao to Kuro were spared any further indignity. Cerezo raced into a 2-0 lead at home to league leaders Yokohama F. Marinos on Sunday night thanks to quality strikes from Mutsuki Kato and Adam Taggart. However, Marinos underlined their title credentials with a dramatic late fightback courtesy of a Léo Ceará brace. His first came from the penalty spot after an incident which saw Ryosuke Yamanaka ordered off for a DOGSO offence, and the Brazilian completed the fightback with a beautiful glancing header from Tomoki Iwata’s cross in the 92nd minute. Gamba lie just 1 place and a solitary point above the promotion / relegation playoff spot and indeed could find themselves bottom of the pile after this weekend’s action should results conspire against them. Things are far more rosy in Cerezo’s garden with yet another top 4 finish seemingly possible. The stakes couldn’t be higher for Tomohiro Katanosaka and his Gamba side, it’s a game that could make-or-break their season while Akio Kogiku’s Cherry Blossoms should be the more confident of the two outfits and will be seeking to extend their recent dominance over their prefectural rivals.

Tale of the Tape



The Frontale game was the terminus of a run of fixtures which saw Gamba in action Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, while their opponents had the 2 preceding midweeks free. Add that to the fact the Nerazzurri were forced to play 10 vs 11 for 83 minutes after Kohei Okuno’s early red-card on Saturday and I’ve been left feeling like there’s very little to comment on from a statistical perspective. But, I can’t leave this section completely blank so here goes. Perhaps most interestingly, Frontale struck 4 times from just 8 efforts and an xG of 1 in the opening period, before failing to add to their score after the break despite racking up 16 shots and 1.73xG (after losing at Todoroki 4-1 last year and 5-0 in 2020, maybe 4-0 with 10 men wasn’t such a bad performance after all?) Needless to say, the guardian deity Masaaki Higashiguchi was in fine form with 5 saves in total including 4 from inside the box, what would Gamba have done without him? The loss in Kanagawa extended the Ao to Kuro’s horror run on the road to 5 defeats on the spin and it now seems that Katanosaka will need to rely largely on home form to dig the Nerazzurri out of trouble. Beyond Saturday’s Derby lies bouts with Kyoto and Shimizu (both in Suita) plus Fukuoka away sandwiched in the middle, that trio of fixtures will unquestionably go a long way to shaping the rest of the blue and black’s season. Of course, the transfer window has now opened in Japan meaning that Musashi Suzuki and Ryotaro Meshino are eligible to play against Cerezo. Suzuki has a fortnight of training with his new team-mates under his belt and could start, something made all the more likely by Katanosaka’s decision to play high school third-grader Harumi Minamino ahead of Patric during last Saturday’s ill fated visit to Kawasaki. Isa Sakamoto was being rested, but Patric hadn’t accumulated enough minutes to warrant getting rotated out, suggesting to me that the Brazilian’s days as a starter are essentially behind him. Therefore, it’s Suzuki and / or Sakamoto leading the line for me this week. A couple of other selection quirks that we had a mere 7 minutes to digest were Shota Fukuoka starting ahead of Ryu Takao at right back (the early signs were not good) and Kosuke Onose on the left wing, Hiroto Yamami on the right and captain Shu Kurata up top with Minamino. I went into detail a few previews ago about Katanosaka regularly shifting from a back 3 to a back 4 and how much this irritated me, well he did it again versus Kawasaki. I get that he doesn’t yet have the players he wants at his disposal, there were scheduling issues and I’m not sure what’s going on with Kwon Kyung-won, all I can say is I hope and pray Katanosaka and the front desk have gotten together and worked out a proper battle plan for this summer’s transfer window.



Cerezo come into this installment of the Osaka Derby 6th in J1 a mere 2 points behind 4th placed Hiroshima (how those late dropped points against Antlers and Marinos last week are hurting now) and have accrued an equal 50% of their 32 points at home and on the road. Their away tally has come from one game fewer and from a statistical point of view they have overachieved somewhat outside the confines of the Yodoko Sakura Stadium. In front of goal, they’re netting 0.6 more goals per game than their xG total suggests they should, while it’s a little less pronounced at the other end of the field as they’re conceding 0.16 fewer times per 90 minutes compared with their xG against figure. Additionally, when on their travels the Cherry Blossoms have been outshot by 3 efforts per game, so in the light of that, a lot of credit should go to their clinical attackers. It has very much been a team effort at Cerezo as Mutsuki Kato’s wonderful finish against Marinos last Sunday took him clear as their top scorer in J1, though even he only has 4 goals while 5 players are tied on 3 strikes apiece. In terms of creativity, it’s a similar story as left-back Ryosuke Yamanaka plus midfielders Riki Harakawa, Seiya Maikuma and Tokuma Suzuki lead the way with 3 assists each. The driving force behind the side is Hiroaki Okuno who has covered a league best 248.7 km this season and although in my mind he is more of an attacking force, it’s his defensive stats that have really stood out in 2022. He ranks in the top 10 in the division for, interceptions (13, 2nd) tackles (60, 6th), blocks (54, 6th) and recoveries (71 10th). A couple of other veterans I’d like to shine a light on are, first of all, right-back Riku Matsuda, who has really had to up his game following the arrival of Seiya Maikuma. The former FC Tokyo man has made the 3rd most blocks in J1 this campaign (58), is ranked 5th for recoveries (81) and 7th for crosses (66). Lastly is Cerezo’s very own guardian deity, Kim Jin-hyeon, who despite a couple of dicey moments in recent weeks has generally been a rock at the back for the Sakura and his 61 saves in 21 outings sees him rank 2nd for that particular metric. Ahead of the previous Osaka Derby in round 14, I pointed out that Cerezo hadn’t won back-to-back J1 games all year up until that point and indeed had the Nerazzurri come out on top in that tussle then they’d have overtaken their prefectural rivals. However, the Cherry Blossoms’ 3-1 triumph in May was the first of three victories on the spin which actually remains their only winning streak of the 2022 campaign so far. Cerezo are W3D3L1 over the 7 matchdays since 21 May with their only defeat a 2-1 loss at Hiroshima, by contrast Gamba have gone W1D1L5 and, by chance, their only win in that time period came against Sanfrecce.



First Match Recap

Gamba were humbled by Cerezo 3-1 at the Yodoko Sakura Stadium in round 14, a chastening defeat that extended the Nerazzurri’s hunt for a league derby win to over 3 years. Due to the condensed nature of the 2022 season, the last match between these bitter rivals took place a mere 2 months ago and it was a day all of a blue and black persuasion would rather forget. Things started promisingly with Hiroto Yamami arriving at the back post to nod home Leandro Pereira’s cross despite Kim Jin-hyeon’s best efforts to convince everyone the ball hadn’t crossed the line. It was Yamami’s first goal of the campaign and it sent Gamba into the sheds one up. That was as good as it got, as soon after the re-start Adam Taggart fired home the equaliser from close range, the big Australian profiting from Genta Miura’s attempted clearance falling fortuitously into his path. Then, midway through the second period Hiroaki Okuno rose highest to power a header past Jun Ichimori in the visitors’ goal and turn the tables. Tempers flared and team-mates Gen Shoji and Leandro Pereira had to be separated by both Gamba and Cerezo players after a verbal altercation with 3 minutes of normal time remaining. A last gasp chance was then spurned by the Nerazzurri as Hideki Ishige’s free-kick failed to find a Gamba head, Cerezo broke quickly and that man Okuno sealed the deal with his second of the day. The drama wasn’t finished there though as the Ao to Kuro players and fans exchanged words at the final whistle, a couple of plastic bottles and a drumstick were reportedly thrown and an entire supporters group ended up getting banned from attending matches indefinitely. A horrible day on and off the field for the club and like that D:Ream song from the 90s, ‘things can only get better’ this time round surely.



Gamba Osaka

I’d just like to quickly point you in the direction of this week’s episode of the J-Talk Podcast where I filled in for the holidaying Sam Robson and discussed round 21 as well as all things Gamba. Certain comments I said on there may overlap with my thoughts below, but as they say in Japanese 仕様がない…it can’t be helped.

The first order of business is Tomohiro Katanosaka and his future at the club. Having been assistant to both Akira Nishino and Kenta Hasegawa during the most successful spells in Gamba’s history, Katanosaka has a lot of goodwill and support from the fanbase as a whole, a completely different set of circumstances to, say, the Levir Culpi era of 2018. Players such as Ju Se-jong, Leandro Pereira and Wellington Silva were all meant to be part of Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s system last year until Covid struck and Miyamoto got canned early in the season. Katanosaka has now had 6 months to run the rule over the squad, identify who he wants to keep, and who he doesn’t. From my perspective, changing coaches mid-summer with the transfer window open would be madness. Get the kantoku working in unison with the front office and arm him with the weapons he requires to move the Nerazzurri forward rather than bringing in a new face who’d likely spend the rest of the season getting up to speed, something the club simply cannot afford to allow given their current perilous state near the foot of the table. I’m still behind Katanosaka and honestly I’d probably back him even if the Ao to Kuro do the unimaginable (or very imaginable in Japanese football) and drop down to J2 for next year. To those in the ‘Katanosaka Out’ camp, I’d say bear in mind that Gamba haven’t been in the bottom 3 since after the round 1 loss to Kashima so bringing in a Japanese Sam Allardyce type may generate headlines of them having ‘saved’ the Nerazzurri from the drop while the reality might state that results hardly improved despite significant upgrades being made to the playing staff over the summer. I’m all ears to comments saying Katanosaka could, and should be doing better, however, I don’t see a silver bullet solution. The club’s front office have done nothing in the past 2 decades to show they could attract a Postecoglou or a Skibbe, there are numerous players on high salaries doing little to justify their hefty pay cheques, and at present it feels like narrowly escaping the drop under a caretaker would be akin to bandaging up a wound that requires pretty urgent surgery (relegation).

Transfer Round Up – Ryotaro Meshino became Gamba’s second summer recruit on 8 July when he put pen to paper on a permanent deal from English giants Manchester City who had loaned him out to Estoril in Portugal’s top flight during the 2021/2022 European season. Gamba youth academy graduate Meshino, who netted eye-catching goals against Tosu, Shonan and Kashima in 2019 before his move to the UK is, in theory, fit and ready to play this Saturday and I see him as a potential bench option with fellow new signing Musashi Suzuki possibly leading the line from kick-off. On Thursday (14 July) it was confirmed that Ju Se-jong would return to him homeland to link up with K2 outfit Daejeon Citizen on a loan deal, though judging by his comments it appears unlikely he’ll be back in Suita anytime soon. He had spoken of his desire to return to the South Korean national team set-up before the World Cup, but unfortunately a move to the second tier would appear to have killed his chances stone dead.

Emperor’s Cup Wrap – Gamba bowed out of the Emperor’s Cup at the last 16 stage on Wednesday after going down 2-0 away to Kashima Antlers. Brazilian duo Diego Pituca and Everaldo sent the Stags on their way to their 4th victory over the Nerazzurri in all competitions this year. Gamba kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka fielded a pretty strong lineup and may live to regret that as Dawhan seemed to be struggling with his hamstring towards the end of the game while Kohei Okuno, suspended for Saturday’s Derby, surprisingly remained an unused sub. It should also be noted that upcoming opponents Cerezo were able to rest a number of their key players, yet still advanced to the quarter-finals with Hirotaka Tameda’s late winner sparing them the potentially draining experience of extra-time in their away tie with Nagoya Grampus.

Team News

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

GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back in August at the earliest

DF Kwon Kyung-won – Has missed the past 3 games after going down with what appeared to be cramp near the end of the match with Urawa on 2 July. On 11 July he was named in the South Korea squad for the EAFF Cup which suggests any issue he’s had isn’t too serious.

MF Dawhan – Appeared to have a problem with his hamstring at the end of the Emperor’s Cup tie with Kashima, I don’t know any more than that

MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, shown jogging on the club’s official YouTube channel on 8 July, potentially back in August

MF Jiro Nakamura – Hasn’t been involved in the matchday squad in recent weeks, an injury is suspected, but nothing has been confirmed by the club

MF Kohei Okuno – Suspended for one match after receiving a red card versus Kawasaki last week

MF Kosuke Onose – Sat out Wednesday’s trip to Kashima, which in itself isn’t anything to be concerned about, however, all the other regular starters were involved so he may have some sort of issue

MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, shown jogging with Fukuda on the club’s official YouTube channel so the problem may not be as bad as first feared

FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season

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

Predicted Lineups and Stats






Cerezo Osaka

As I mentioned above, it’s very much the result of a team effort that Cerezo yet again find themselves inside the top 6 in the J1 standings. Indeed, since returning from a 2 year spell in the second tier in 2017, they’ve only finished outside the top 7 once, last year’s 12th place. Akio Kogiku (47), is approaching a quarter of a century with the Cherry Blossoms in one capacity or another, and in his first senior management role he is doing an excellent job in a quietly understated manner. However, that seems to be the way that suits Cerezo, a team that generally fly slightly under the radar, even in their own city and prefecture. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what kind of football Stoke City are playing now, but for me and probably a lot of my generation they’ll be forever associated with Tony Pulis’ often slandered, let’s call it rudimentary style. Gamba seem to benefit from this kind of thinking, but in the reverse way to Stoke, as many casual Japanese followers of the beautiful game that I encounter remember the days of Akira Nishino and to a lesser extent Kenta Hasegawa when the Nerazzurri won lots of trophies and played an easy-on-the-eye brand. I’m sorry for dropping this in Cerezo fans, but facts are facts, the Sakura have never won J1 or the ACL like their blue and black rivals which definitely hurts them in attracting new fans and, probably, to an extent, top level players too. With that said, anyone of a pink persuasion will gleefully point out that they’ve been by far and away the most consistently high performing of all the Kansai clubs over the past half decade and that period of dominance shows little sign of abating. In Kogiku they have a coach who knows the club inside and out, they produce a number of promising youngsters on an annual basis (Sota Kitano and Kosei Okazawa this year, potentially Shinnosuke Kinoshita and Nelson Ishiwatari in the near future) and are now comfortably settled into their new home stadium. I don’t want to milk the ‘things are looking rosy in Cerezo’s garden’ pun too much, but I feel it’s a fitting way to end this mini-section.

PS: Obviously I hope that by bigging them up in here, Cerezo will do what all good J. League teams do and fall flat on their faces come Saturday night. But, they can feel free to continue their good work from the following matchday as they continue to push for a top 4 spot. 😋

Team News

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

DF Yusuke Maruhashi – Has undergone knee surgery, out for the season

DF Ryosuke Yamanaka – Suspended as a result of the red card he received versus Marinos

MF Hinata Kida – Broken leg in pre-season hindered him, returned to first-team duties, but then had surgery to remove an ingrown toenail (I think that’s the proper translation), expected back in September

MF Hiroshi Kiyotake – Foot injury, expected back next month

FW Sota Kitano – Groin injury, expected back at the end of this month

Predicted Lineups and Stats





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

Categories
sport

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka 9 July 2022 Match Preview

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 21
Saturday 9 July 2022
Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


Gamba face their 5th game in the space of a fortnight and just like last Saturday they’re up against a side who’ve had a free midweek, this time in the shape of defending champions Kawasaki Frontale. For the Nerazzurri it’s a 2nd trip to Kanagawa this week and they’ll be hoping for a better outcome on this occasion after meekly going down 1-0 to fellow basement battlers Shonan on Wednesday evening. That result leaves the Ao to Kuro just one place and two points above the promotion / relegation playoff spot, though because of the extremely tight nature of this year’s J1, they’re only 3 points behind Kyoto Sanga in 10th, so there’s still plenty to play for. Frontale currently lie 3rd in the standings, 9 points off prefectural rivals Yokohama F. Marinos’s blistering pace, albeit with a game in hand after their tie with Sagan Tosu, scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed due to a Covid outbreak in the Tosu camp. I’ll get into my thoughts on the J1 summer schedule later in this article, but all I’ll say for now is that regardless of their patchy recent form, the odds are certainly stacked in Frontale’s favour ahead of this clash.

Tale of the Tape



Bellmare Blues – Wednesday’s defeat at Shonan marked the 4th game in a row (and 5th time in the last 6) that Gamba have failed to score against the Seasiders. A fact made more remarkable / dismal [delete as appropriate] because Bellmare’s regular goalkeeper Kosei Tani has been unable to play in any of those matches and a succession of short-term replacements have been deployed. Once again Shonan’s low block lured Gamba into playing about the ball side-to-side along their backline rather than vertically to the danger men like Sakamoto, Yamami and Onose. Across the two 0-1s this season, the Ao to Kuro have averaged 409 completed passes, 85.5 above their yearly mean and it’s a similar story regarding possession, 58.5% when playing Satoshi Yamaguchi’s well disciplined side and 49% when all 20 J1 fixtures are taken into consideration. The final result wasn’t up to scratch and there isn’t a single Gamba player I could give pass marks to on the night so there was definitely plenty of food for thought for Tomohiro Katanosaka in that performance, particularly with the summer transfer window looming large on the horizon.

Away Day Malaise – After kicking off 2022 with 2 wins, 3 draws and just a solitary loss in their first 6 away games of the year, Gamba have subsequently slumped to 4 defeats on the spin. It’s not just the outcome of the tussles with Cerezo, Tosu, Sapporo and Shonan that’s concerning, but also the manner of the defeats. No xG For performance above 1 and only a single xG Against tally below 1. Things looked abject at the Sapporo Dome at the end of June, yet home performances, if not necessarily results, against Yokohama F. Marinos, Sanfrecce and Urawa, were promising. Home form, so long an achilles heel for Gamba appears to be slowly shifting in the right direction and Katanosaka’s dream of once again turning Panasonic Stadium into a fortress seems a bit closer to becoming a reality. However, these road trip no-shows need to stop sharpish or else the Nerazzurri will find themselves in a world of pain at the bottom of the table. I will extend the olive branch of the extreme humidity and packed schedule which probably accounted for the tired performance against Shonan (even the ever-reliable Masaaki Higashiguchi threw in a clanger for the game’s only goal) and that’s illustrated by the work-rate stats I collected, 111.8 km run as a team versus a seasonal average of 115.7 km and 160 sprints performed compared with their regular mean of 167.9 (they sprinted 204, 172 and 184 times respectively in the home bouts with Marinos, Hiroshima and Reds).



The nice thing about good teams and players is that even if you don’t particularly like them it’s still easy to find positive things to say due to their regular impressive results and title wins. I have no particular axe to grind with Kawasaki, but despite the Azzurro Nero having the kind of year the Nerazzurri can only dream of at the moment, because of their past 2 years of utter domination, anything they achieve in 2022 is bound to be overshadowed by the sheer awesomeness of their recent history and as a result the overall tone of this section will be more negative than it normally would be for a side in the top 3. One win and just 5 points from their last 6 outings in J1 is not something Toru Oniki and his troops have been accustomed to in the Covid-era and indeed their 5 defeats to date this season is equal to their total from 72 fixtures across 2020-2021. The biggest fallaway stats-wise has been in attack, though when you lose players of the quality of Hidemasa Morita, Ao Tanaka, Reo Hatate and, of course, Kaoru Mitoma over a 12-month period, some kind of regression is to be expected. Add in the ageing of key attackers such as Leandro Damião, Yu Kobayashi and ex-Gamba prodigy Akihiro Ienaga, Ryota Oshima’s never-ending injury worries and Chanathip’s bedding-in troubles, remembering of course that Takashi Usami was their first choice target last winter, and maybe it’s best for Frontale to use 2022 as a time to re-group and re-focus, rather than aim for a title three-peat. Of course, this is still a Kawasaki Frontale team, one that hasn’t finished outside the top 6 since 2012, so their attack is above par in terms of goals scored versus xG, but when your overall shots total is trending downwards while at the same time opposition efforts increase, there’s only so far good finishing and excellent goalkeeping can get you. In 2022, the Dolphins home and away results have been relatively even, though games at Todoroki Stadium have tended to contain more goals than those played on the road. Frontale score and concede more on home turf, but their home xG for figure is in actual fact 0.12 lower than the total number while xG against stands at 0.15 higher. Owing to Wednesday night’s fixture at home to Sagan Tosu being cancelled, I had a little more time to prepare this section so the second table below contains a comparison of their key performance indicators from their title winning 2021 campaign set against this year’s performance to date. I think the outcomes are pretty self explanatory and they also back up much of what @frontalerabbit has been saying in his blog, and he’s watched Kawasaki an awful lot more than me.




First Match Recap

How might those two dropped points come back to haunt Gamba? I’m sure that’s a thought that often runs through Nerazzurri third choice ‘keeper Kei Ishikawa’s mind when he closes his eyes at night. The Ao to Kuro led defending champions Kawasaki 2-1 going into the 95th minute at Panasonic Stadium, all that was required was for Ishikawa to boot the ball into the opposition half and the game would be won. However, wily Kawasaki attacker Yu Kobayashi had other ideas, sneaking up behind Ishikawa as he dropped the ball ahead of his clearance, the Frontale forward’s toe-poke found Leandro Damião and the 2021 J1 MVP rolled the ball into an unguarded net. As the drama was unfolding I was trying to get my phone out of my bag to check how long was left as there’s no additional time clock in the stadium and upon hearing wild excitement coming from the away supporters’ section I looked up in horror to see the ball seemingly take an age to find the back of the net. Watching the incident again on the train home things went much faster, but I still had a sickening sense of having being sucker-punched in the stomach. In terms of positives, the result did mean the Nerazzurri snapped a 6 game losing run against the Azzurro Nero in all competitions and Mitsuki Saito made an impressive league debut in the middle of the park, but they paid a heavy price with star forward Takashi Usami rupturing his achilles tendon in what was surely a massive turning point in Gamba’s season. Yuki Yamamoto, playing in an unfamiliar role down the left-wing, volleyed the Ao to Kuro into a half-time lead, however, substitute Ten Miyagi evened things up with quarter of an hour still to play after a lovely run and finish. Parity only lasted a mere 2 minutes before Kosuke Onose’s speculative drive was deflected and looped over Jung Sung-ryong to spark scenes of jubilation among the Gamba supporters. It was not to last though as Damião and Frontale had the final say and the points were shared.



Gamba Osaka

I mentioned above that I had a bit to say about some of the scheduling that’s gone on this season in J1. First of all as a caveat for the league itself, they are under a lot of external pressures with their fixtures having to comply with Asian Champions League, EAFF Cup and World Cup demands (not to mention Covid), making getting things 100% right nigh on impossible and I’m sure they’ll do a thorough review of their performance once we reach December. However, I have to question why have Gamba been forced to play fixtures on June 26 and 29 then July 2, 6 and 9? Five games in 2 weeks, but then what lies ahead is 13 matches in 118 days until the end of the season with no more midweek fixtures scheduled and 3 completely free weekends! Of course, the Nerazzurri do face Kashima away next Wednesday in the Emperor’s Cup, so further progression in that competition would use up a little of that available space, however, it seems like the fixtures are set up to only suit teams who are battling it out in 4 competitions, something that simply doesn’t apply to the majority. This may come across as sour grapes, but I had this rant ready before the loss to Shonan and although it’s Gamba-centric, this situation surely affects other teams in the league as well, heck we’ve seen players getting subbed off with heat-stroke in recent weeks (Tsunoda at Marinos springs to mind). The ‘it wouldn’t happen like that in Europe’ crowd and I rarely see eye-to-eye, but we could perhaps agree on the need for managers to perhaps speak out on this issue, especially from a player welfare angle.

While I’m in the midst of ranting and raving in the aftermath of a stinging defeat and poor performance, why do referees (Yoshiro Imamura – who messed up royally in the Morioka vs Kofu game recently, but got away with it on a technicality – in this case) arbitrarily decide whether or not to follow the originally announced amount of additional time? I’ve seen games when the board says 3 minutes, but they end up playing 4 and a half despite nothing happening to warrant adding any extra time (other than one team being on the attack), whereas on Wednesday 8 minutes were awarded, there was a substitution and a yellow card for time wasting, yet only about 98 minutes and 3 seconds were played before Mr. Imamura decided it was time to hit his local Izakaya (and before anyone says anything, I know Gamba could probably have kept playing until midnight and still not have scored).

Finally to transfers….still nothing concrete about further inbound moves since Musashi Suzuki signed last Thursday (minutes after I published my Gamba vs Urawa preview). The most likely names to join him are Ryotaro Meshino, Ryoga Sato (10 goals for Tokyo Verdy in J2 this year, tied with Tiago Alves, yikes! Apparently Kashima are in the running for him too), midfielder and badly-needed dead-ball specialist Hokuto Shimoda as well as left-sided centre-back / left-back / left wing-back and brother of Kashima’s Kento, Yuto Misao. Both Shimoda and Misao played under Katanosaka last year with Oita, so while not being the most glamorous of captures they should be able to get up to speed quickly. If all of those 4 arrive in addition to Suzuki then we could call it a successful summer window in Suita, even more so if high-earners such as Leandro Pereira, Wellington Silva and Ju Se-jong can be shipped out as it’s clear they’re not good fits for Katano-soccer.

On Thursday Morning (July 7), the club confirmed that young centre-back Yota Sato would head to J2 promotion chasers Vegalta Sendai on a training-type loan until the end of the season. This seems like exactly the kind of move Sato needed and hopefully he gets a chance to show what he’s capable of, helps Sendai regain their top-flight status and returns to Suita more experienced and more confident. Good luck Yota!

Team News

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

GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back in August at the earliest

DF Kwon Kyung-won – Out of the squad for the loss at Shonan after going down with cramp at the end of the match with Urawa, I think this was just precautionary and he should hopefully be good to go on Saturday

MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, expected back in August at the earliest

MF Jiro Nakamura – Has been absent from the squad for the past 3 games, I initially thought it was just non-selection, but high-schooler Harumi Minamino’s appearance on the bench vs Shonan suggests he might have an injury

MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, don’t expect him back anytime soon

FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season

Predicted Lineups and Stats


**With so many games in such a short space of time, rotation is inevitable for Gamba, but I’ve done my best to make the lineup below as accurate as possible.**






Kawasaki Frontale

When you win 4 league titles in your first 5 seasons as a coach and rack up 112 victories in 193 outings then even a slight slip in standards is likely to set tongues wagging, and this is the situation Kawasaki kantoku Toru Oniki currently finds himself in. It seems like the Frontale support are generally divided on his future with many willing to cut him a great deal of slack due to his outstanding past performance while others point out his tactical rigidity and poor record in cup competitions, especially the ACL, as blots on his record. If I throw in my tuppence worth, the Azzurro Nero are still genuine title contenders, but if I had to put money on it I’d say Marinos are more likely to lift the J1 crown come November. I think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of him being fired and Oniki walking away before the end of the season is only marginally less unlikely in my book. Would a potential post-World Cup opening for the position of Japan national team kantoku tempt him? Quite possibly yes, but he’s still a young coach so there’s no certainty it would. I’m a neutral in the Oniki debate so I can see both sides of the argument, he’s earned the right to stay as long as he wants vs he’s taken us as far as we can go, it may be best for all concerned if we move on. Whatever does end up happening, it’s going to make for fascinating viewing over the coming months. Oniki is still working with a 4-3-3 system and at the moment it has one holding midfielder with two players operating in slightly more advanced roles after a brief flirtation with the triangle set up the other way round. Kento Tachibanada, normally a defensive midfielder in the N’Golo Kante mold, has recently been starting at left-back with Ryota Oshima operating as a deep-lying playmaker and Chanathip slotting in just ahead of him to the left which appears to be a better use of his abilities rather than being on the left hand side of the front 3. The summer transfer window opens next week and there will be a lot of eyes on Kawasaki to see what they do. Of course, they have dominant centre-back Jesiel to return at some point in the hopefully not too distant future, and I can’t help but feel that another Brazilian in midfield or up-front wouldn’t go amiss if they do decide to spend a bit of cash. Being a club that loves to promote youth and recruit from universities, it should come as no surprise that they already have 4 confirmed new arrivals for 2023. Defenders Kota Takai (already standing 192cm) and Yuto Matsunagane, plus midfielder Yuto Ozeki will all step up from Kawasaki U-18, while Toin Yokohama University (they gave Sapporo an almighty run for their money in the Emperor’s Cup last month) forward Shin Yamada will join fellow alumni of that particular institute, Miki Yamane Kento Tachibanada and Yuki Hayasaka (plus Zain Issaka if he returns from his loan spell with Yokohama FC) in making the Todoroki Stadium his home. The future’s bright at Frontale, but what is the short and medium term forecast, and what role does Toru Oniki have to play in it?

Team News

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

DF Jesiel – Suffered a serious knee injury at the end of last season, went home to Brazil for treatment and has subsequently returned to Japan, it’s still unknown when he’ll be back playing again

DF Kyohei Noborizato – Injured thigh muscle in game vs Urawa on 2 March, expected back in the not too distant future, but doesn’t appear to have re-started training yet

FW Kei Chinen – Injured his leg in the game vs Sapporo on 18 June and hasn’t played since, no further information known at this stage

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

Categories
sport

Shonan Bellmare vs Gamba Osaka 6 July 2022 Match Preview

Shonan Bellmare vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 20
Wednesday 6 July 2022
Lemon Gas Stadium Hiratsuka
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

Japan is currently experiencing one of it’s worst heatwaves on record, but there’s no rest for the wicked as Gamba Osaka and Shonan Bellmare lace up their boots to do battle this Wednesday. With Gamba sitting a mere point above their hosts, who in turn are precariously perched just outside the drop-zone, it goes without saying that the outcome of this match is of vital importance to both sides. The Ao to Kuro looked bright for the first hour or so of their 1-1 draw with Urawa on Saturday, but ultimately ran out of steam owing to their taxing midweek fixture against Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Mitsuki Saito’s wonderful strike at the end of a 4 man, 14 second counter attack lit up Panasonic Stadium more brightly than the pre-match fireworks, however, Alexander Scholz’s cool spot kick in second-half additional time, after Genta Miura had clumsily felled Yusuke Matsuo, earned Ricardo Rodríguez’s troops a share of the spoils. Shonan had slightly the better of their 0-0 draw at home to Nagoya Grampus and have now kept 3 consecutive clean-sheets. However, as usual, their issues lie at the other end of the field with only Fukuoka and Nagoya scoring less in J1 this season and, at present, hot prospect Shuto Machino accounts for half of their total. Shonan have lost only once in their most recent 6 J1 outings, but their main source of goals is facing a prolonged spell on the sidelines, while Gamba have just a solitary win to show for their efforts over that time period, but appear to have unearthed a new gem in, man-of-the-moment (boy-of-the-moment?) Isa Sakamoto, and their performances are headed in the right direction. Now, it’s time to feel the heat, which team will emerge victorious at a potentially sodden Lemon Gas Stadium?

Tale of the Tape



It’s easy to say that Gamba would have beaten Urawa had they not played the previous midweek, but then again you could argue that they’d have lost to Hiroshima had the game been held on it’s originally scheduled date and, in fairness, there was a good deal of fortune behind the Nerazzurri’s win in Saitama earlier in the year, so let’s agree to call it evens. Anyway, all I’ve really learned from this ramble is that we’ll probably all be travelling around in flying cars before either Gamba or Urawa manage another home win in the National Derby. The Ao to Kuro gassed-out after what certain sections of the Japanese media labelled their ‘best half of the year.’ Gamba outshot Reds 11 to 5 in the opening period with 9 of those efforts coming during a 20 minute barrage at the beginning of the game (it was almost a complete reversal of the encounter in Saitama). After the interval, the visitors took charge of the shot count 11-3, though even with that in mind I’m still struggling to work out how Sporteria credited them with an xG total of 2.45 (1.71 excluding the PK), it feels like someone keyed in 2 instead of 1, but this is ‘Gamba Blog in English’ so I might be a touch biased. Statistical positives for Gamba came in possession, pass completion and sprinting numbers (scant consolation I know), but the work-rate and energy was certainly there with Mitsuki Saito in particular impressing, constantly harrying and harassing Reds defenders in their own defensive third which allowed the Nerazzurri to generate numerous possession turnovers, indeed his 9 possession recoveries was a matchday high across the league. In the wake of Saturday’s game both teams were probably left ruing their wastefulness from set-plays and for Gamba this has been an issue all year. The blue and blacks are yet to score directly from a corner or free kick, of course some goals such as Patric’s vs Nagoya or Dawhan’s against Kashiwa have come indirectly from such a situation, though with a series of deflections and half clearances in the middle. Considering Gamba have had 67 corners in their 19 games to date and are yet to register a single header, flick or touch that’s gone into the back of the net from one of them, this is a facet of play that Katanosaka must seek to address urgently in training, and it is something that can be improved on the training ground more easily than other issues, so I, for one, will be looking for tangible improvements in the second half of the year. Speaking of improvements, Saturday was Kohei Okuno’s 50th J1 game and probably his best in a Gamba shirt. The Reds clash marked the first time Okuno and Saito had started together in a double-volante system in J1 though you wouldn’t have known it as they got torn in about their opposite numbers Ken Iwao and Kai Shibato right from the opening whistle. There have been rumours that Gamba will move for a new central midfielder to fill the void created by Yuki Yamamoto’s injury and Ju Se-jong’s imminent departure, however, Okuno, who will surely get another chance against Shonan, this time alongside Dawhan as Saito can’t play against his parent club, certainly staked a claim for more regular starts, completing 33 of 36 attempted passes was his statistical highlight on Saturday. Last, and certainly not least, is Isa Sakamoto, who, fresh from taking Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s backline to task last Wednesday set about giving Alexander Scholz, undoubtedly one of the best centre-backs in J1, a hard night’s work on Saturday. Comparisons with former-Gamba legend Masashi Oguro are growing by the day and the way Sakamoto held off the challenge of Scholz before ‘assisting the assist’ in the Nerazzurri’s breathtaking coast-to-coast opener, showed poise beyond his years. In his 79 minutes on the field he had 3 shots, all on target and 4 last passes, I love Patric to bits, but the standard of Sakamoto’s play was a cut above what the Brazilian has produced this season. The arrival of Musashi Suzuki will surely curtail Sakamoto’s minutes to a degree, but he’s been a ray of sunshine in quite a dark period for Gamba supporters, of that there is no doubt. A quick apology to Hideki Ishige, who had his most effective game in a Gamba jersey on Saturday night, any more performances like that and he’ll definitely be featured in here.



If you don’t mind me whipping out a cliché right at the start of this mini section, Shonan are a hardworking team. While they don’t have the cash or titles to compete with their big city rivals, Satoshi Yamaguchi’s charges do try to make up for it with sheer determination and grit, and to that end they average 117.3 km run per game (1.4 km more than Gamba) and also 192.3 sprints every 90 minutes (leading the Nerazzurri by 24, though as we saw above their numbers are gradually improving). Overall they sit in 15th in J1, just one place above the promotion / relegation playoff spot, but that ranking slips a place if we only consider home fixtures. In 10 games at the wonderfully named Lemon Gas Stadium, Shonan have been outscored 15-7 by their opposition. Worryingly for Yamaguchi is the fact that they’ve outshot opponents 145-115 (essentially 3 shots per game), but accrued a smaller xG figure, 11.6 versus 12.56, suggesting that while they’re creating a sizeable number of chances in front of their own supporters, they are not of a particularly high standard. For comparison, when we look at their stats for games both home and away, in 19 outings they’ve outshot their rivals 234 to 213, but only generated 18.87xG for while giving up 22.01xG against. They are keeping the ball better than last year, averaging 300.4 completed passes a game in 2022 as opposed to 280.3 12 months ago, but they are going to need to find better ways to use that possession if they are to survive yet again in the dog-eat-dog world of the J1 relegation scrap. As alluded to previously, former Yokohama F. Marinos and Giravanz Kitakyushu forward Shuto Machino has contributed 8 of Shonan’s 16 league goals to date and he remains on course to beat Yoshiro Abe’s record of 9 strikes in the 2010 season, the most a Bellmare player has managed in a modern-era 18 team / 34 game J1 season and considering last year after 38 games Wellington was top-scorer with just 6 goals, this would be quite an achievement (Wagner Lopes netted 18 back in 1998 however this was when the club went under the Bellmare Hiratsuka moniker and the league was split into 2 stages so I’m not sure a comparison between 1998 and 2022 really stands up to much scrutiny.)



First Match Recap

Gamba slumped to a disappointing home loss to Shonan in mid-April meaning that Ryotaro Meshino’s injury-time winner all the way back in 2019 is the last time they’ve breached the Bellmare defence at Panasonic Stadium in J1. Speaking of late winners, this year it was the turn of the Seasiders’ converted centre-back Shuto Yamamoto to be the hero. The former Kashima full-back bravely beat Genta Miura to the ball to power a header past Jun Ichimori in the final minute of normal time. He was stretchered off as a precaution due to concerns over a head injury, but was soon out celebrating in front of the travelling contingent at the final whistle. The Nerazzurri largely had themselves to blame for the outcome as lots of possession and territory led nowhere and long-range Yamami and Dawhan shots from Patric knock-downs plus the burly Brazilian narrowly failing to connect with Yuya Fukuda’s tempting cross was as close as they came. On a hot day, the Ao to Kuro ran out of energy after the interval and in all honesty, Yamamoto’s late clincher was just reward for a fighting display from the visitors (who came into this match 18th and last) in the final half-hour.



Gamba Osaka

Gamba confirmed the signing of Japanese international forward Musashi Suzuki last Thursday (30 June) and the player, who will wear #45, has already started training with his new team-mates though he won’t be eligible until the Osaka Derby on July 16th, what a debut that could potentially be. Ryotaro Meshino is still expected to put pen to paper in the coming days, however, Yuya Yamagishi rejected a move to Suita, and subsequently put out a nice statement where he successfully navigated the tightrope of appeasing all concerned parties. It does appear that both Suzuki and Yamagishi were blessed with the Katanosaka seal of approval whereas I’m not sure the same applies to Meshino, only time will tell if that affects the success of the deals. In terms of departures, it’s been reported that up to 14 South Korean clubs have expressed interest in re-patriating Ju Se-jong, while Wellington Silva and Leandro Pereira remain well out of the picture and will be shipped out if buyers can be found, Júbilo Iwata, Omiya Ardija and Ventforet Kofu have all been linked with Pereira and I haven’t heard anything about Silva. If I now dive into pure speculation, Tatsuki Seko of Kawasaki is potentially headed for fresh pastures this summer and Gamba may be tempted to move for him, even if it’s just on loan, and speaking of loan deals, it’s worth remembering that both Dawhan and Mitsuki Saito are only on temporary contracts with the Nerazzurri, it’ll be very interesting to see what develops in regards to that duo in the coming months. Finally, Gen Shoji has seen his place taken by Shota Fukuoka for the past 2 games, though if the former Tokushima stopper keeps dawdling on the ball like he did in the 2nd half of the Reds clash then that might not be the case for much longer. Shoji, along with Leandro Pereira, Wellington Silva and Ju Se-jong is one of the high-salary, lower than expected performance, Miyamoto-era signings that I think Katanosaka would like out of the club sharpish. I’m not saying it’ll happen this summer, but I don’t really expect him to be a Gamba player in 2023.

Team News

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

**Once again expect the unexpected as rotation will be a key factor in Gamba (and any team for that matter) successfully navigating their gruelling schedule this week.**

GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back in August at the earliest

MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, expected back in August at the earliest

MF Mitsuki Saito – Can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement

MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, don’t expect him back anytime soon

FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season

FW Hiroto Yamami – Was pictured with ice on his lower left leg after being subbed off against Hiroshima last midweek, was an unused sub in the match with Urawa on Saturday, likely just as a precaution

Predicted Lineups and Stats






Shonan Bellmare

After a rocky start to the year with the 1-0 at Panasonic Stadium back in April being Shonan’s only triumph in their opening 13 fixtures, Satoshi Yamaguchi now has the Seasiders on the crest of a wave with 4 wins and a draw from their last 6 matches and hot-shot forward Shuto Machino going at a clip of a goal a game through that run. Yamaguchi has continued with the back 3 / wing-back system of his predecessors and generally operates a 3-5-2 formation though it can shift to a 3-4-2-1 on occasions. Surrounded by vultures in the shape of their better minted Kanto rivals it’s perhaps no surprise that Shonan kantokus, no matter who they are, have to make do with a combination of up-and-coming youngsters and fallen heroes. It was fascinating listening to Albert Puig’s English language interview with the FC Tokyo Kai-Guys where he talked about the importance of having players in the 25-30 years-old age-bracket. Well, look at my predicted starting 11 below and you’ll find injury-prone forward Yusuke Segawa is the only outfielder in that range. I’ve mentioned attacking issues above and that’s an area Shonan will really have to strengthen this summer, particularly if Machino is going to be out injured for any period of time, as losing his goals could prove fatal to Bellmare’s hopes of extending their present run of 5 consecutive years in the top flight (the only time they’ve managed more than 2 back-to-back since the millennium). Of course, bringing in genuine goalscorers is easier said than done when you have Shonan’s budget and I haven’t heard any potential targets mentioned as of yet. Looking more long-term, pictures posted on Twitter appear to indicate that former Gamba Youth defender / holding midfielder Naoya Takahashi (now of Kansai University) has been training with the club, Yamaguchi will know him from their time together in Suita when Takahashi performed admirably for Gamba U-23 in J3 back in 2019 and I had held out hopes he would return to the Ao to Kuro once he completed his studies in early 2024, we’ll have to wait and see how that situation develops over the coming months. For now, however, Shonan need some quick fixes, keeping hold of bright young things, Satoshi Tanaka and Taiga Hata will help, but where will that attacking spark to ease the goalscoring burden from Machino’s shoulders appear from?

Team News

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

GK Kosei Tani – Can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement

DF Takuya Okamoto – Knee injury, last played 19 March

DF Shuto Yamamoto – Subbed off in first half of 4-0 win at Kawasaki on 25 May, hasn’t played since

FW Shuto Machino – Stretchered off after picking up an ankle injury at the end of the match with Nagoya, must be a major doubt for this game

Predicted Lineups and Stats





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

Categories
sport

Gamba Osaka vs Urawa Red Diamonds 2 July Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Urawa Red Diamonds
2022 J1 Season Round 19
Saturday 2 July 2022
Panasonic Stadium
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


There’s a full slate of J1 games scheduled for this Saturday night in Japan and while this national derby, which pits 12th placed Gamba against Urawa in 10th, might not immediately stand out as pick-of-the-round, there’s plenty of intrigue surrounding it nonetheless. The home side avoided suffering 5 defeats in-a-row for the first time in 24 years with an unexpectedly comfortable 2-0 victory over much-vaunted Sanfrecce Hiroshima in their rescheduled bout on Wednesday. It was the Nerazzurri’s 3rd win on home soil this year and it came courtesy of a golden 4 minute spell in the first-half when Mitsuki Saito’s low shot off Keisuke Osako’s upright was sandwiched by close range efforts from Keisuke Kurokawa and surprise starter Isa Sakamoto (his first ever J1 goal). Urawa should also be in good spirits after having 6 days off to prepare for this clash following their 1-0 victory at Vissel Kobe last Sunday. Substitute David Moberg Karlsson was the hero as his 90th minute free-kick settled the match and made it 3 games unbeaten for the Saitama side. The last home win for either team in this fixture came way back in 2016 which certainly suggests a Reds triumph is the most likely outcome here, but with both Gamba and Urawa in among a train of teams from 9th to 17th covered by just 6 points, every result is vital, so expect plenty of passion, determination and no shortage of quality on the pitch come game night.

Tale of the Tape



If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my appearances on the J-Talk Podcast and J-Talk Extra Time it’s that whenever you see a fixture that looks certain to go one way, think very carefully before proudly declaring that Team A will comfortably see off Team B. Gamba against Sanfrecce on Wednesday night very much had the air of a relatively easy away win pre-match. However, it ended up fitting in well with several other games on the round 15 card that it was originally a part of, such as Kashiwa’s 6-1 thrashing of 10-man Sapporo, the epic 4-4 draw between Kashima and Tosu, and of course 16 goals in 18 games Shonan finding the back of the net 4 times in the space of 11 second-half minutes away to defending champions Kawasaki, but I digress. One swallow doesn’t make a summer as they say, but, there was a lot to like about Gamba’s display on Wednesday. They had their backs against the wall, however, a much changed lineup came out swinging and got their rewards. This was the Nerazzurri’s first xG victory since 8 May when they saw off Vissel Kobe at Panasonic Stadium, it was also only Hiroshima’s 2nd xG loss since kantoku Michael Skibbe entered the country, and after racing into a 2-0 lead after 39 minutes, the remaining 51 minutes of the contest now make up almost 70% of the time Gamba have been ahead by at least 2 goals this season. The Ao to Kuro outran their rather disappointing visitors by 8.7 km and 23 sprints respectively on an extremely hot and sticky evening in Suita, so I guess the worry is, with Saturday’s duel against Urawa being quickly followed by Shonan (away – July 6), Kawasaki (away – July 9), Kashima (Emperor’s Cup away – July 13) and the Osaka Derby at home to Cerezo (July 16), how much will be left in the tanks of some of these players when they get to the end of that gruelling schedule? Restricting Hiroshima to just 12 shots on goal helped with Gamba’s currently dreadful season statistics, but they are still averaging 4 shots fewer per game than their opponents, that needs to change, it’s a wrong that can’t be corrected immediately, but Wednesday was certainly a start. Home ties at Panasonic Stadium have been generating an xG of 2.82 per game so far in 2022, while Urawa away fixtures currently sit at 2.19, maybe Saturday brings with it another opportunity to get the defensive numbers trending in the right direction? Lastly, a couple of comments on players who impressed against Hiroshima. Keisuke Kurokawa marked his return to the side with a goal and a strong first-half display where he dominated Tomoya Fujii, someone I’d picked out as a dangerman in my match preview, he also stated post-match that a leg injury, not a potential move to Celtic, had kept him out of the previous 2 games. Volante Dawhan, who seems to have caught the eye of a number of opposition supporters for his good play, was quietly efficient again, keeping things ticking over and completing 47 of 55 attempted passes, which compares with his more ropey display of 29 out of 35 away to Sapporo last weekend. Finally, and this time I do mean finally, but I need to keep my run of using the phrase ‘guardian deity’ going so let’s mention Masaaki Higashiguchi once more. The veteran had by far and away his quietest game between the sticks since his recent return. He only had to make 1 save and catch 2 crosses throughout the 90 minutes on Wednesday, which is night and day when set against the combined total of 11 saves, 7 of which were from shots taken inside the box, he pulled off against Yokohama F. Marinos and Sapporo.



In my preview for Gamba’s trip to Urawa back in February I stated that I was looking forward to catching up with the Saitama giants’ progress when the teams met again in July. Honestly, what I’m about to describe certainly isn’t quite what I expected to be writing, but it has been a fascinating ride nonetheless. To put it simply it’s been a tale of attack versus defence for Urawa with the backline, shorn of a number of first choice players for large parts, but superbly marshalled by centre-back Alexander Scholz and veteran ‘keeper Shusaku Nishikawa, performing to a high standard while the forwards, equally decimated by injuries, have misfired badly on numerous occasions. Throw in a few red cards, failure to get any breaks from VAR, plus some rank bad luck (see Yuya Fukuda’s deflected winner at Saitama Stadium for evidence) and you get a kind of feel for the year Reds have had to date. Coming into 2022 on the back of a strong finish to the previous campaign much was expected of Ricardo Rodríguez’s squad, however, things started badly with a 1-0 loss at newly-promoted Kyoto and, in truth, didn’t really improve until after the June international break. The men from Saitama currently boast the joint meanest defence in the league along with Fukuoka, giving up just 16 goals in 18 outings, and have a healthy +0.48xG difference in the bag too, but in attack, despite creating decent enough chances, they’ve failed to convert them time and time again. This has been especially prevalent on the road where they’ve netted just 3 goals in 9 games from an xG For total of 12.33 and remarkably they’re still waiting for their first strike from open play outside the confines of Saitama Stadium this year (1 penalty, 1 direct free kick and 1 header from an indirect free-kick). Things have only been a shade better when we look at their campaign as a whole, they’ve won just 4 times in J1 and a sizeable chunk of the reason why is because they’ve failed to kill teams off when presented with the opportunity to do so. Goals have come, but generally they’ve been in bursts, such as against Júbilo (4-1), Marinos (3-3) and Nagoya (3-0). They’ve only found the back of opponents’ nets from open play in 5 of their 18 fixtures so far and that is something that kantoku Ricardo Rodríguez simply must amend if they’re going to improve upon their current ranking of 10th. Things are beginning to tick in the right direction with 7 points garnered from their 3 most recent league games with 3 clean sheets in the bag to boot, and as I’ll discuss in the ‘Urawa Red Diamonds’ section below, it’s likely to be an interesting transfer window for Reds as they seek to spruce themselves up for the J1 run in and beyond.



First Match Recap

Gamba extended their unbeaten run at Saitama Stadium to 6 J1 matches with a 1-0 triumph in round 2 back in February. Substitute Yuya Fukuda’s deflected effort minutes after Urawa’s Ken Iwao had been shown a second yellow was enough to bring the points back to Suita. Reds had dominated possession, territory and the shot count in the opening half-hour, but were later stifled by some tactical alterations from Nerazzurri kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka and the game developed into something of an arm-wrestle prior to Fukuda’s late clincher (his 2nd strike in 4 years away to Reds).



Gamba Osaka

Irresistible Isa – it defeated ‘Insatiable Isa’ and ‘Isa the Iceman’ for the title of this section, and yes, I could have fitted this into ‘tale of the tape’, but I thought it was more appropriate to give the 18 year-old from Kumamoto a bit more praise for netting his first ever J1 goal. After the lineups were announced on Wednesday there were murmurs among the Gamba support that Sakamoto’s selection was Katanosaka’s way of making sure the front office sign a striker or two in the summer transfer window. However, the youngster more than justified his inclusion, in his 75 minutes on the field he shot twice including his goal and completed 19 of 22 passes, of which 1 was a last pass. His touch and movement are good and I enjoyed his link up play with Yamami, in particular, though naturally as a first year pro out of the youth team, he needs to build up his physique a bit more and also become more ruthless in front of goal, hopefully that’ll come over time. On Wednesday there were 2 or 3 occasions when he had a good chance to shoot, however, he instead opted to try and play in a team-mate. Commendable as that is, he was operating as the sole striker so being more selfish is to be encouraged, but in fairness I am nit-picking a tad, well done Isa and here’s to many more J1 goals.

Transfer Gossip – In terms of summer additions, probably the most realistic names I’ve heard doing the rounds are Oita duo Hokuto Shimoda and Yuto Misao from Katanosaka’s former nest (another Japanese to English translation I enjoy) Oita. Central midfielder Shimoda spent 2018-2020 with Kawasaki, so has a decent pedigree and would also boost the Nerazzurri’s set-piece delivery options a fair bit. Misao, like Shimoda, would be able to fit seamlessly into Katanosaka’s system, though he did reportedly knock back Gamba in the winter, so if this story is true, why the change of heart now? J2 top scorer Koki Ogawa has also been mentioned in the same breath as Gamba recently, but with Belgian cracks St. Truidense now credited with an interest, any sort of deal looks quite a way off. An even more left-field name I saw linked was Tosu’s wing-back / shadow forward Yuto Iwasaki, however, being on loan from Sapporo to Sagan would surely complicate any hypothetical deal too much. Looking into the future, Kwansei Gakuin schemer Ken Masui, a former Nagoya Grampus U-18 player, is tipped to be the latest in a long line of talents to make their way from that particular university to Gamba. If a deal is reached, he wouldn’t be available until after graduation in 2024, so he’s definitely a long-term project.

**Update** – Sponichi Annex reported today (30 June) that Gamba will conclude deals for ex-Japan international forward Musashi Suzuki (28) and former-Gamba Youth prodigy Ryotaro Meshino (24) with the duo being available to play in the Osaka Derby on July 16, if selected. Both should be worthy additions to the squad and relieve some of the heavy burden from Yamami, Patric and co. Look out for official press releases in the coming days.

Team News

This section is pleasingly short for once!! However, as I outlined above, Gamba’s schedule over the next 2 weeks is jam-packed and the weather in Japan is currently roasting, so expect plenty of rotation.

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

GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back in August at the earliest

MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, expected back in August at the earliest

MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, don’t expect him back anytime soon

FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season

Predicted Lineups and Stats






Urawa Red Diamonds

It’s been quite a whirlwind for kantoku Ricardo Rodríguez since he took over the Reds hot-seat prior to the commencement of the 2021 J1 season and indeed out of Urawa’s current first-team squad of 29 players, only 10 were on the books for the Spaniard’s first game in charge at home to FC Tokyo last February. After proving himself during his maiden campaign in Japan’s top-flight he was able to freshen up the dressing room by moving on veterans such as Yuki Abe, Yosuke Kashiwagi, Tomoya Ugajin and Tomoaki Makino at various points in the past 18 months and in that time he certainly hasn’t been shy about putting his own stamp on proceedings. In came 5 news faces in the summer of 2021 and with them came a strong finish to the league campaign as well as an Emperor’s Cup triumph against Katanosaka’s Oita Trinita. After that I’m not sure whether to give them the benefit of the doubt or to be quite critical over the decision to add 13 new faces over the winter, 2 from Europe, 4 from other J1 clubs, 4 from J2, 2 university rookies and 1 high school graduate, it seemed a little bit like overkill in my book and can probably be added together with the reasons I laid out in ‘tale of the tape’ above to explain their sluggish start to the year. Their main attacking weapon Kasper Junker can’t seem to stay fit, it’s unclear who the first choice front 4 are, and a lot of Reds’ hopes for the remainder of 2022 seem to rest on the shoulders of impressive recent capture from Feyenoord, Bryan Linssen. The transfer window isn’t open yet so he’s ineligible to face Gamba, but after bagging 13 goals and 8 assists in 34 Eredivisie games in 2021/2022, he certainly has the pedigree to put an end to Urawa’s goalscoring issues. Reds have been too easy to stifle by deep lying defences too often this year, ending up going side-to-side with their neat passing culminating in little penetration and this was in evidence during their Emperor’s Cup loss to Gunma last week after which there were protests from Ultras groups. However, David Moberg Karlsson’s late free-kick away to Kobe on Sunday evening helped ease the pressure on Rodríguez just a touch, 3 points again here with Linssen still waiting in the wings will be manna from heaven for the Spaniard.

Team News

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

DF Tomoya Inukai – Picked up a serious knee injury at the beginning of April, expected back in October at the earliest

MF Atsuki Ito – Missed the 1-0 win over Vissel Kobe, no reason given yet

MF Yoshio Koizumi – Last played in the 0-0 draw away to Fukuoka on 28 May

FW Kasper Junker – Limped off early in the win at Kobe, can’t seem to catch a break injury wise, must be considered a huge doubt for this game

FW Alex Schalk – Missed the 1-0 win over Vissel Kobe, no reason given yet

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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

Categories
sport

Gamba Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima 29 June 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima
2022 J1 Season Round 15
Wednesday 29 June 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


**Quick Note – As this is a re-scheduled fixture after the original game slated for 25 May was postponed due to Covid, I’d like to point you in the direction of my previous match preview here which covers a lot of ground still relevant to Wednesday’s clash. This preview, and probably the ones for Urawa (2 July) and Kawasaki (9 July), will be shorter than usual as the J.League definitely don’t consult me when scheduling Wednesday / Saturday fixtures.**

There’s plenty on the line for both Gamba Osaka and Sanfrecce Hiroshima in this Wednesday night’s bout at Panasonic Stadium. Hosts Gamba are on a run of 4 consecutive defeats which has seen them slip into the relegation playoff spot, however, victory here, in their game in hand, would lift them them up to the relative safety of 12th. That’s going to be no easy task though as their visitors, Sanfrecce, are chasing a domestic treble and know that securing 3 points from this tie will move them to within touching distance of the league’s summit. Hiroshima have won 5 of their last 6 and earned 16 points in the process, kantoku Michael Skibbe will be seeking a statement performance against Gamba, while Nerazzurri boss Tomohiro Katanosaka, a former Sanfrecce player and assistant coach no less, needs a victory in this game maybe more than he’s ever needed one before. This is the J. League, neither side has a midweek off until after the round of fixtures on July 16, it will be hot and sticky, there will be personnel changes, the hosts have lost their last four, the visitors have won four-in-a-row, to partially quote F1 commentating legend Murray Walker “anything can happen in [the J.League] and it usually does.”

Tale of the Tape



Sapporo round up – There was clear evidence of Katanosaka’s promised high-press against Consadole, however, it should definitely be considered a work in progress at this stage. Gaps were left in-behind which Sapporo were able to exploit on numerous occasions, additionally a lack of time to develop fluid combinations as a result of the seemingly never ending slew of injuries and tactical tinkering was clear for all to witness, particularly in Gamba’s disjointed build up play. A further worry was the Nerazzurri registering just 0.35xG, their second lowest tally of the year, with only Hiroto Yamami really threatening to provide any sort of spark going forward. At the other end, Consadole racked up 20 shots on Higashiguchi’s goal with the veteran stopper having to be at his very best to keep the hosts at bay. Sunday’s outcome means that the Ao to Kuro have now given up at least 20 shots to opponents 5 times in their last 7 games, which is frankly appalling, this compares with only Kashima (33) topping the 20 mark in the opening 10 rounds of fixtures and they had a player advantage for 52 minutes of that encounter. These numbers outlined above bear all the hallmarks of a side destined for the drop (-0.52xG difference per game says it all) and it’s set to be a big summer transfer window ahead for the Gamba front office.

Odds and ends – Despite that rant above I did manage to find a couple of bright spots amid the gloom on Sunday afternoon. Firstly, the ‘guardian deity’ himself Masaaki Higashiguchi, who was actually Gamba’s 2nd highest individual passer during the opening 45 minutes at the Sapporo Dome which I think kind of tells it’s own story. He produced excellent stops to deny Gabriel Xavier, Ryota Aoki and Takuro Kaneko and was powerless to prevent Yoshiaki Komai’s winning header finding the back of his net following poor defensive play from both of Gamba’s central midfielders. His busy day at the office ended with 6 saves, 4 of which were from inside the area, 2 caught crosses and 33 completed passes at a 78.6% accuracy rate. In attack, once again the burden of chance creation and goal scoring fell on the shoulders of young Hiroto Yamami who, despite being starved of possession for long periods, and rather embarrassingly pirouetting the ball out of play under little-to-no pressure in the first half still found himself at the heart of everything dangerous the Nerazzurri did. His 1 shot looked to be goal-bound before being headed away by Ryota Aoki while his 2 last passes included a beauty to set Hideki Ishige through for easily the blue and blacks’ best chance of the opening stanza and also one which took out multiple Consadole defenders midway through the second half, however, unfortunately Patric, receiving on the 18 yard line failed to bring it under control and the chance went begging. Yamami has stated he loves the club and isn’t going anywhere which must come as music to the supporters ears at this tough time.



The Skibbe effect – Experienced German coach Michael Skibbe was appointed Hiroshima kantoku without too much fanfare pre-season, however, due to Japan’s extremely tight Covid-era entry restrictions, he didn’t make his way onto the bench until round 6 when Sanfrecce, then winless, defeated fellow strugglers Shonan at the Lemon Gas Stadium. Since then they’ve suffered just a solitary loss in J1, a 2-1 reversal at home to Kashima in which Kaito Mori scored two absolute peaches, though crucially the Viola did look to have punched themselves out too early in that game and were ripe for the picking come the final 10 minutes. In terms of a potential title challenge, unthinkable before the campaign began, it’s worth considering that Hiroshima have picked up 21 points from their most recent 10 fixtures, compared with table-topping Marinos (22), Kawasaki (18) and Kashima (16). In a similar vein to Hanshin Tigers in the NPB, Sanfrecce must be wishing they could go back and erase the opening few rounds of the year.

The stars of the show – First of all, man of the moment, winter recruit from Ryutsu Keizai University Makoto Mitsuta whose 3 goals and 2 assists have proven invaluable in Sanfrecce’s recent run of 5 wins and 1 draw in their last 6 J1 outings. The Hiroshima youth product tops both the club’s goals scored and assists charts as well as registering the most shots of anyone in the squad (37, 2.6 per 90 minutes), ranking 2nd for crosses delivered (45) and 4th in terms of chances created. Defensively he’s not been too shabby either, his 29 blocks is second highest at Sanfre (21st in J1), while he’s successfully recovered possession 49 times which is only 4th best among his team-mates, but still sees him listed 18th in J1. On the right-wing is Tomoya Fujii, a stat collectors dream, and like Mitsuta a serious candidate for national team honours in the upcoming EAFF Cup. Second year pro out of Ritsumeikan University Fujii leads the league in sprints (617), dribbles (86) and crosses (109). His 162 km covered in 17 games is the best among Viola players while he rates second in his team for through balls (30), chances created (21) and possession recoveries (he’s 10th in J1 for this metric) plus, despite being a wing-back, he’s had the 3rd most shots out of all Hiroshima players (19). Last, but not least is Tsukasa Morishima, another individual for whom higher honours and potentially a move to Europe await. The classy schemer’s 57 through balls is the 3rd best figure in the division while 33 chances created in 15 outings is also a top ten league-wide performance.



Head to Head

**The text below is simply a copy and paste from the original match preview.**

3 April 2021 marked Gamba’s return to the field of play following a 5 week break due to a Covid cluster in the squad, and their opponents that day were Sanfrecce Hiroshima. A largely forgettable 0-0 ensued at the Edion Stadium with chances at a premium and Sanfrecce kantoku Hiroshi Jofuku’s decision to play Junior Santos, normally a centre-forward, on the left-wing turned out to be the game’s main talking point which I think kind of tells you how uneventful things were. The return fixture took place a mere 39 days later as it was a tie originally scheduled for round 20 that had been brought forward owing to the Nerazzurri’s participation in the ACL. It will forever be remembered as Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s final game in charge of the Ao to Kuro as Hiroshima’s 2-1 triumph left Gamba with just 7 points from their opening 10 games and the powers that be at the Panasonic Stadium flicked the panic switch. Sho Sasaki put the visitors in front before a scrappy Kazunari Ichimi effort, which would probably have been put down as a Keisuke Osako own goal in most other leagues, levelled things up at the interval. Hayao Kawabe then displayed the kind of form that made Grasshoppers, and later Wolves, make moves for him with a fine finish to secure the 3 points midway through the second-half.



Gamba Osaka


Transfer round-up – My followers on Twitter (I’m trying to move away from there and more onto WordPress) will be aware that I posted on Friday regarding reserve left-back Shin Won-ho’s move to Suwon Samsung Bluewings in his home country, it was originally expected to just be a loan, but it turns out it’s a permanent deal, so good luck to him in his future endeavours. His departure does free up Ryotaro Meshino’s old #40 jersey should he opt to return home this summer. There have been no further updates regarding deals for either he, or Musashi Suzuki, since last week. Another former Gamba Youth product to unsuccessfully try his luck in Europe at an early age, Shuhei Kawasaki, looks to be on his way out at Portimonense, though I think a return to Panasonic Stadium is unlikely at this stage. Brazilian forward Leandro Pereira wasn’t in the matchday squad for the trip to Hokkaido on Sunday, this has led some to speculate his unhappy time at Gamba is nearing it’s end, could a reunion with former coach Hiroshi Jofuku at Tokyo Verdy with Emperor’s Cup hero Ryoga Sato heading in the opposite direction be on the cards? Left-back / wing-back Keisuke Kurokawa’s recent absence has also led to rumours that several European clubs are after his signature and Celtic are leading the race. It’d be a slightly surprising move for me as I feel he needs more time to develop before heading overseas, but he would be in a similar boat to Meshino, Kawasaki and Keito Nakamura in that respect. Should Kurokawa follow Shin Won-ho out the door then it’d be likely the Nerazzurri would be in the market for a new left-back, and having not signed anyone from Renofa Yamaguchi for a while, why not go for the Jon Steele approved Kento Hashimoto (and no, not the Vissel Kobe midfielder, same name though)? Finally, and I know this will never happen, but I was thinking that although I’ve no issue with stating Gen Shoji and Genta Miura are objectively far better defenders than say Yuto Misao, who opted to remain with Oita rather than move to Suita with Katanosaka last winter, I kind of get the impression that if the Nerazzurri had 2 lower profile new defenders who fitted the current kantoku’s style they could do a better job in this team than Shoji and Miura for a much lower salary. One name that popped into my head was Tokyo Verdy’s Japan Under-23 centre-back Seiya Baba. The ball-playing stopper has recently been linked with Shimizu and following his displays in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Uzbekistan he’s likely to be on a few European teams’ radars, but heck why not give Verdy a call, Baba and Sato for Pereira, sounds like a good deal to me, we can even throw in Yota Sato on loan too, how does that sound Verdy?

And finally…with the slew of negative news stories seemingly never-ending (apologies if I’ve contributed more in this preview), I thought I’d report on something a bit more heart-warming. Last Friday (24 June), Mitsuki Saito, Shota Fukuoka and Yota Sato were involved in a “Stadium Pitch Experience Event” in conjunction with Suita City council. It allows nursery and kindergarten kids playing time on the field at Panasonic Stadium (wouldn’t do any worse than the current first-team I hear you shout…chortle…chortle) supervised by the players themselves and I thought it was a pretty good initiative that deserves praise. At a time where media focus seems to be largely centred around looking for stories that paint footballers in a negative light, see the hounding of Jack Grealish on holiday in Las Vegas for evidence of this, we should also take the time to reflect on the good community work done by clubs and players away from the glare of the spotlight.

Team News

GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back in August at the earliest

DF Keisuke Kurokawa – Has missed the last 2 league games and has been linked with a move to Europe (specifically Celtic), though I’m unsure how reliable the source of the information is

DF Kwon Kyung-won – Available again after one match ban for sending off against Yokohama F. Marinos

MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, expected back in August at the earliest

MF Kosuke Onose – Not in the matchday squad versus Sapporo on Sunday, no reason yet given for his absence

MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, don’t expect him back anytime soon

FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season


Predicted Lineups and Stats






Sanfrecce Hiroshima

A team expected by many to get bogged down in mid-table instead finds itself in with a genuine shot at a first J1 crown since 2015, can Skibbe’s Gegenpressing system keep them on course over the hot summer months, that’s the million dollar question. I’d have to say at the moment, their smallish squad suggests to me that top 3 rather than champions is the most realistic outcome, though I did have them 13th in my pre-season league table, so maybe take what I have to say with a pinch of salt. In recent years they’ve had to make do with new arrivals drawn largely from their youth team and also varsity football, and to that end, excellent Toin Yokohama University (Yuki Nogami, Miki Yamane, Kento Tachibanada are all alumni) defender Shuto Nakano as well as Taichi Yamasaki from Juntendo University (Reo Hatate’s alma mater, they knocked FC Tokyo out of the Emperor’s Cup in 2021) are confirmed arrivals for next season. The acquisition of clubless Swiss international Nassim Ben Khalifa in April suggests that Skibbe has a contact or two around the globe and that may pay dividends again this summer in the shape of another left-field signing. The German kantoku originally had the Viola set up in a 3-4-2-1 system before tweaking it into a 3-5-2 with Notsuta at the base of the midfield and Morishima and Mitsuta further forward. He reverted back to 3-4-2-1 for the 3-1 win at Fukuoka last weekend with Taishi Matsumoto starting as a volante next to Notsuda, but owing to the latter’s suspension for this clash I reckon we’ll see the return of Junior Santos alongside Ben Khalifa while Matsumoto sits behind the deadly duo of Morishima and Mitsuta forming one heck of a homegrown midfield trio.

Team News

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

GK Takuto Hayashi – Backup ‘keeper, last involvement was as an unused sub on 7 May

MF Ezequiel – Suffered ankle injury, returned to Brazil for treatment, but now back in training, last played 2 March

MF Gakuto Notsuda – Serving a one-match suspension as a result of picking up 4 yellow cards, has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last 4 games, will be missed

FW Shun Ayukawa – Promising young forward who broke his foot earlier in the year, expected back in August

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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