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Avispa Fukuoka vs Gamba Osaka 31 August 2022 Match Preview

Avispa Fukuoka vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 24
Wednesday 31 August 2022
Best Denki Stadium
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


There’s no rest for the wicked as Avispa Fukuoka and Gamba Osaka lace up again this Wednesday to do battle in a match re-scheduled after the Wasps’ huge Covid outbreak at the beginning of the month. This clash absolutely fits the definition of a 6-pointer as a win for the hosts would put them 6 clear of the Nerazzurri, who currently occupy the promotion / relegation spot, with 7 games remaining, while a second away victory on the spin for the visitors will pull them level with Shigetoshi Hasebe’s side, albeit likely with an inferior goal difference. Gamba ended a run of 7 league outings without a win by seeing off a disappointing Nagoya Grampus 2-0 at the Toyota Stadium last Saturday night, their first triumph away to the Giallorossi since 2016. Goals right at the start and end of proceedings, courtesy of Patric and Musashi Suzuki sealed the deal and they sandwiched two extremely tight, but ultimately correct decisions to rule out strikes by Leandro Pereira. Fukuoka were in action 24 hours previously in a Kyushu Derby away to near neighbours Sagan Tosu. Belgian winger Jordy Croux’s effort after 26 minutes cancelled out Fuchi Honda’s early opener mere moments after Juanma Delgado’s strike had been rather (extremely?) controversially ruled to be offside and they had to settle for a share of the spoils. So, there you have it, the stage is set, there’s no easy way out, there’s no shortcut home, who will prevail in this most crucial of battles?

A quick reminder, I wrote a full preview for the originally scheduled match on 6 August which you can find here. I think a lot of what is said there is still pretty relevant to Wednesday night’s clash.

Tale of the Tape



Well, what, if anything, did we learn from the second outing of Matsuda-ball? The 4-4-2 with two big men up top, flanked by wingers is here to stay, though after the 5-2 pasting at Hiroshima, Dawhan, Kwon Kyung-won and Keisuke Kurokawa were restored to the starting eleven and the Nerazzurri were all the better for it. A barnstorming opening, starting with Patric’s second goal of the year which came about via what I noted as ‘probably the ugliest passage of play involving multiple Brazilians you’re ever likely to see’ was followed up with a Dawhan header just wide and Leandro Pereira having a goal disallowed after a very tight offside call as the Nerazzurri were seemingly able to cut through Grampus’ defensive lines at will. It appeared that during the first-half drinks break the instructions from Matsuda were clear, stop charging forward in search of a second, and start managing the game…and manage it a lot better than against Hiroshima. To that end, the Ao to Kuro completed 151 more passes than 7 days earlier (granted the relative quality of the opposition has to be factored in here) and Nagoya were only able to generate 0.58xG, just the 5th time this season Gamba have been able to hold their opponents under 1. Additionally 11 shots against is the blue and blacks’ 3rd best showing in 2022 (2nd best if you only include games where they faced 11 players for the whole 90), the aforementioned returns of Kwon and Kurokawa to the starting lineup were likely key to steadying the ship. South Korean international Kwon picked up a somewhat harsh yellow card for time wasting, I say harsh because Higashiguchi wasted approximately 30% of the 6 additional minutes taking goal kicks and Meshino was quite fortunate to escape a second caution late in the piece, why was Kwon singled out for such quick punishment by referee Hiroki Kasahara? I’ll let you be the judge of that. Right-back Ryu Takao looked a little shaky to me when watching live, but his stats hold up pretty well, he completed 31 of 35 passes (indeed passing accuracy was generally excellent across the board from Gamba), won 1 of 2 tackles, made 1 clearance, recovered possession 3 times and gave away just 1 foul. However, if 4-4-2 is going to be in vogue at Panasonic Stadium in the future then it’s an area the strengthening department will need to look at closely as Takao’s only real competition is Ko Yanagisawa with Onose, Fukuda, Miura and Okuno just being serviceable in emergencies. In attack, Gamba’s poor win % after scoring first had been in focus during the buildup to Saturday’s fixture and the 2-0 result means the Nerazzurri are now W6D3L4 after bagging a game’s opening goal, let’s put this down as a work in progress, though scoring first in 4 of the last 5 fixtures is definitely a step in the right direction. Two goals being scored in consecutive away games is definitely a plus (Gamba only scored multiple goals in 5 of Katanosaka’s 24 J1 matches in charge), however, the club’s top goalscorers are Dawhan, Kosuke Onose and Leandro Pereira with a mere 3 apiece. I remember producing a league-wide stats chart back in 2019 which showed relegated Matsumoto Yamaga’s leading marksmen as being Ryo Nagai, who netted only 3 times. Whoever it is, Patric, Suzuki, Pereira, someone has to go on a goalscoring run if the Ao to Kuro are to drag themselves out of the fire in 2022. Perhaps Masaaki Higashiguchi can help too as the Nerazzurri custodian bagged the first assist by a J1 goalkeeper this year in setting up Musashi Suzuki’s wonder-strike, well done to him! In actual fact, it was very much a team effort on Saturday as, to wander into the realm of clichés, Gamba simply wanted it more than their hosts and were first to second balls on more occasions than Grampus. The willingness to fight for the cause was greatly appreciated by the large travelling contingent of supporters, even if a persistent lack of on-field communication continues to hinder their progress. I’ve lost track of the amount of times the Nerazzurri have ceded possession in situations when a call from a team-mate would have alerted a player to oncoming danger and allowed them to make a better decision. Heck, deep into Saturday’s second half, after a seemingly harmless cross evaded everyone in the box Kurokawa nodded it out for a corner when a shout from Higashiguchi was all he needed to let him know he could leave it. At that point, having seen two goals disallowed by the thinnest of margins, I thought I knew what was coming from that corner, but ultimately the delivery was poor and Suzuki later produced the coup de grâce to give Gamba fans a night to savour. Make no mistake, the Nerazzurri are still knee deep in trouble, but they’ve eased the pressure on themselves just a touch and with upcoming bouts with mid-table Tosu (h) and FC Tokyo (h) plus struggling Vissel (a) to follow this clash, it really is crunch time.



As I mentioned previously, this game was originally scheduled for 6 August, but as a result of seemingly almost every player in the Avispa squad catching Coronavirus, that match was postponed. The reason I’m saying this again is that Fukuoka have had to battle gainfully across the past month with Covid affecting their past 4 league fixtures meaning we need to be careful when trying to identify patterns in their recent results, performances and stats. What then can we say about their season as a whole? Defence has once again been their strong point, conceding 1.04 times per game (compared with 0.97 in 2021) and their 27 goals against is the joint 3rd best record in J1. However, when we look at the Wasps’ attack things get a lot bleaker. Avispa have been involved in seven 0-0s to date this year and have incredibly failed to score in 14 of their 26 outings so far, including 2 runs of 3 games in-a-row without a goal and 1 run of 4 matches. When we factor in xG numbers it becomes clear that Fukuoka are creating enough chances, it’s just that they’re failing to convert what’s on offer. They’ve generated a total of 27.82xG this season, meaning their 19 actual goals scored represents an under-performance of 8.82 which contrasts starkly with things at the other end of the field where goals conceded and xG against are almost identical. Yuya Yamagishi has held up his end of the bargain, finding the back of the net on 7 occasions, but winter signings Lukian and Tatsuya Tanaka have underwhelmed, while Emil Salomonsson (6 assists in 2021) has been sorely missed down the right flank and on set pieces. Kantoku Shigetoshi Hasebe generally sets his side up to be hard to beat and to move the ball from back to front quickly while using their pacy wide players to generate the bulk of their chances. From that perspective it was notable that in the Avispa vs Gamba tie last season which finished 1-0 to the visitors (yappari Patric, and all that), Yamagishi had a goal disallowed for handball, however, the buildup came from a series of neat, intricate passes, quite at odds with their usual playing style and this had the Nerazzurri’s defence at sixes and sevens. In some ways Hasebe’s Avispa and Matsuda’s Gamba are stylistic bedfellows, so it’ll be interesting to see how they shape up against one another. Hasebe has dabbled with 3-4-2-1 when trying to get his 3 excellent centre-backs, Douglas Grolli, Tatsuki Nara and Daiki Miya into the same lineup or when there was no-one else available during the Covid outbreak, but with Miya suspended due to yellow card accumulation, we’re likely to see 4-4-2 on Wednesday. Fukuoka’s possession, running and pass completion stats are all low, but this was also the case last term when they ranked 20th in passes completed and distance covered as well as being 18th for possession %. Their number of passes completed per 90 minutes tally is up by a whopping 3 this time round, however, both possession and distance are down from 12 months ago. The match with Tosu last Friday saw the Hachi put out their strongest lineup of the month and with more players likely due back soon it’s entirely possible that they’ll put on an energetic display against Gamba which throws the form book and my stats tables out the window.

First Match Recap

**Note – this is the same text that appeared in the match preview for the originally scheduled game on 6 August.**

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

* Yappari Patric (It had to be Patric) – The phrase inspired by the DAZN commentator’s reaction to Patric’s winner in the corresponding fixture last year got me thinking about the similarities between the two games. In 2021 Gamba returned from ACL action sitting 17th in J1 having played at least 5 games fewer than almost everyone else. A trip to the Best Denki Stadium awaited and a nervy encounter was settled by Patric’s late header which started a run of 4 wins in 6 games that formed the backbone of the Nerazzurri’s points total for a large portion of the year. I’m sure all of a Gamba persuasion will be hoping for a similar outcome this Wednesday night.

* Matsuda’s Red Herrings – In his media briefing on Friday, Hiroshi Matsuda stated that Leandro Pereira was carrying a slight injury and that both Shu Kurata and Yuki Yamamoto were good ball-playing midfielders who he could rely on. Fast forward just over 24 hours and Pereira was in the starting line up, Yamamoto an unused sub and Kurata nowhere to be seen. Can we expect more of these diversionary tactics from Matsuda-san in the coming weeks?

* In further Matsuda related news, his attempts to convert Ryotaro Meshino into a fully fledged wide midfielder capable of contributing to both attack and defence have drawn comparisons with his efforts at a similar schtick with Yoshito Okubo during their time together at Vissel Kobe. Meshino is probably best suited to operating as an inside forward behind a central striker (this was the reason he was brought in during the Katanosaka era), and has been largely ineffective in his 2 outings under Matsuda thus far. The same can’t be said for fellow new recruit Juan Alano on the right flank. The former Kashima man has 2 assists from just 2 starts which means he’s already joint top of that metric at Gamba!

* Voice Support Areas – Not only will Wednesday night’s match see the rather awkwardly titled ‘voice support areas’ make an appearance, but singing will be allowed in Panasonic Stadium for the first time since February 2020 in both Gamba’s round 31 and 33 clashes. Kashiwa are the visitors on 1 October which makes for a nice, neat story as they were also Gamba’s opponents for a Levain Cup group stage game on 16 February 2020, the last occasion the Nerazzurri took to their home turf under ‘normal’ conditions. Round 33 sees a potentially extremely significant clash with Júbilo Iwata where both sides’ top flight status’ could be on the line and we’re likely to see Yasuhito Endo playing against the team he represented from 2001-2020. I’m sure that’ll be an emotional day and with Gamba needing all the help they can get, the return of singing certainly couldn’t have come at a better time.

* Tickets are now on sale for Gamba’s end of season friendly with Makoto Hasebe’s Eintracht Frankfurt, a match which will take place on Saturday 19 November at 14:00 (JST) and will be shown on Sky PefecTV! in Japan. It’s interesting to note that you can purchase tickets from the official J. League site and 7-11 just like a normal league fixture so they clearly aren’t expecting anything like the demand for this game that there was for the Paris Saint-Germain glamour tie in July. Granted, the general malaise around the club at the moment is no doubt doing a good job of dampening the enthusiasm of the Gamba faithful towards such an event.

Team News

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

DF Gen Shoji – Was absent from the matchday squad for the win at Nagoya, it’s unclear whether he was the asymptomatic Covid case announced by the club last Monday (22 August) or was just dropped due to some shaky performances at the back in recent weeks

MF Dawhan – Will serve a one-match suspension as a result of picking up 4 yellow cards in J1 this season

MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, still working his way through a rehabilitation program, as far as I know he hasn’t re-joined top team training yet

MF Shu Kurata – The player most likely to have been the asymptomatic Covid case announced by the club last week, though some Gamba fans have suggested he was just dropped due to poor form

MF Kosuke Onose – Not in the matchday squad for the past 2 fixtures, 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 resumed light training, should be back in the next few weeks

FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season, resumed light jogging in training as per video posted on 19 August

Kwon Kyung-won, 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

The feel-good factor that should exist due to Avispa’s progress to the latter stages of both domestic cup competitions has been largely extinguished by a run of 5 games without a win in the league in conjunction with their well documented Covid struggles in recent weeks. The club haven’t made too many moves in the summer transfer market, opting as usual to go with a small squad of largely unheralded, but nevertheless effective players. The return of last season’s joint top scorer, John Mary (5 goals) has been the headline news, though given Hasebe was often reluctant to give him playing minutes during his previous loan spell, it seems a tad odd when viewed from afar. Central midfielder Yuto Hiratsuka has come in from the hotbed of talent that is Mito HollyHock and he takes the place of Takuya Shigehiro (unfortunately a fish out of water for Nagoya against Gamba on Saturday) as backup to Mae and Nakamura in the middle of the park. Other than that, centre-back / part-time centre-forward Kennedy Egbus Mikuni has returned from an up-and-down loan at Tochigi in J2, while winger Taro Sugimoto has headed for the exits and linked up with former club Tokushima Vortis. Not quite a new signing, but Hasebe has seen fit to select Takumi Nagaishi ahead of the highly-rated Masaaki Murakami between the sticks in recent weeks, the exact reasons why, and how it will turn out in the long run remain unknown. Looking ahead, attacker Reiju Tsuruno (Fukuoka University) who is currently on a designated special player contract will join full-time once he concludes his studies next year and that’s it for future recruitment at the time of writing. I guess more will be revealed if, and when, Avispa confirm their J1 status. A win here would go a long way to cementing their place in the top flight for a third consecutive season, a feat they’ve not achieved this century. And for a final @BlogGamba tip, watch out for Juanma Delgado. The Spaniard may not have the stats to get tongues wagging, though in a similar vein to Patric, what he brings to the table isn’t pretty, but it can be very effective and given Gamba’s defensive woes this season, expect to see Juanma subject the Ao to Kuro’s defence to a proper interrogation on Wednesday night.

Team News

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

DF Yuta Kumamoto – Last seen as a half-time replacement for Douglas Grolli in the 2-1 loss at Cerezo on July 30th, has subsequently been out of the squad for 3 J1 and 2 Levain Cup matches, likely as a result of Covid

DF Daiki Miya – Will serve a one-match suspension on Wednesday as a result of picking up 4 yellow cards in J1 this season

MF Shun Nakamura – Last featured on July 16th when he went the full 90 against former side Shonan. Has since missed 4 league and 2 Levain Cup ties, I’d normally credit this to the Covid outbreak in the squad, but due the length of the absence an injury is possible

FW Daiki Watari – Last seen in the 2-1 loss at Cerezo on July 30th, has subsequently been out of the squad for 3 J1 and 2 Levain Cup matches, likely as a result of Covid

Predicted Lineups and Stats

** Note – On Monday 29 August (a few hours after I originally published this article, Avispa Fukuoka announced they’d cancelled the loan contract of Takahiro Yanagi due to a drink driving offence.**

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

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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 Avispa Fukuoka 19 March 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Avispa Fukuoka
2022 J1 Season Round 5
Saturday 19 March 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


It seems like the new season kicked off just yesterday, but here we are already at round 5 with a pivotal clash for both Gamba Osaka and Avispa Fukuoka. A first three-pointer on home turf this term for the Nerazzurri would put the Katanosaka revolution firmly on the right track whereas a win for the visitors would lift them out of the drop zone in the embryonic standings, above Gamba and into the mid-table mix.

Gamba, like Avispa in the opening round, were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw by a stuffy Júbilo Iwata side, at Yamaha Stadium last Saturday. The return to the match day squad, and indeed the scoresheet, of Leandro Pereira, another rottweiler-esque performance in the middle of the park from Mitsuki Saito and the link up play between Takao, Ishige and Onose down Gamba’s right flank were the main bright sparks for the Ao to Kuro. However, further evidence of the long-standing vulnerability to counter attacks, even against opponents as devoid of genuine pace as Iwata, is definitely something that will concern Tomohiro Katanosaka, as will a mounting list of injury casualties.

Conceding last gasp equalisers, squandering golden opportunities and missing penalties have hindered Avispa’s start to 2022, but it’s worth noting that they currently sit just 1 point shy of their total after 4 games last season, so Shigetoshi Hasebe and his troops certainly won’t be reaching for the panic button just yet, and with decent showings so far this campaign, albeit ones that haven’t yet translated into positive outcomes, they should be reasonably confident of leaving Panasonic Stadium with something this Saturday. A tight, nervy affair without too many goals likely lies in store for us, but it’s sure to be an intriguing battle nonetheless.

Tale of the Tape

Although the first game since the devastating Usami injury news was always going to be a tough one, I still found myself a touch disappointed as Júbilo appear to be one of the weaker sides in the division this year and that 4-1 rout of 10-man Kyoto is a bit of red herring methinks. Despite such negative talk, Yamaha Stadium was, in fact, the scene of Gamba’s maiden xG win this season and also the first occasion in 2022 for both an xG For total above 1 and an xG Against figure below 1. Iwata’s 0.49xG For was last bettered in the opening matchday of 2021 away at Kobe (0.4), while their 8 shots equalled the second lowest figure the Nerazzurri recorded last year, in both home and away fixtures with Kobe and the home loss against Nagoya (incidentally the 24 shots across those 3 games resulted in 6 goals being scored, contrast that with the 48 shots accrued by Urawa and Marinos in their home contests with the Nerazzurri which ended up producing just a solitary goal from the penalty spot). As we know with stats, they can at times be misleading, especially small data sets, and the number of times Kenyu Sugumoto (Iwata) and, in particular, Patric had chances on Saturday, but were subsequently pulled back for offside illustrates how tight the margins can be and though a brief look at the data from the game shows a relatively low number of shots, in truth there was actually a fair amount of goalmouth action, just not the kind that jumps out of an at-a-glance stats box. Finally, the Nerazzurri racked up 505 successful passes and also over 50% possession for the first time in 2022, though it is perhaps a tad unfair to compare newly promoted Júbilo with the behemoths of Kashima, Urawa and Kawasaki. The only reason I mention these two numbers is that they are likely to be around the same level in this week’s bout with Fukuoka who I’m going to talk about in the very next paragraph.

Avispa out-performed even their own supporters’ expectations in 2021 with their mean defence ceding only a small number of generally low quality opportunities to the opposition each game and indeed their xG Against figure ended up standing at a meagre 1.05 xG per 90 minutes which saw them rank 4th in J1 for that particular metric. On the flip side of the coin, as freshly promoted sides often tend to find, goals are not particularly easy to come by at a higher level, but the 42 strikes they recorded in 38 games (the lowest in the top 12), in tandem with their rock solid backline, was enough to propel them up to 8th in the final table. With xG For and Against figures finishing exactly the same to two decimal places it’s clear that for 2021’s high levels of attainment to be maintained then their strikers will have to be as clinical as they were last time round. We’re only 4 matches into the 2022 campaign, but that has been far from the case to date with just a solitary goal scored from an xG For of 7.16. Defensively, things have been as tight as ever with only 2 goals given up from an xG Against of 2.82, but the stark contrast in these figures make it abundantly clear where the issues lie. It is still very, very early in the season and if the Wasps continue to generate close to 2 xG For per game then it’s only a matter of time before they start charging back up the table. Will things click this Saturday? Quite possibly. Avispa ranked last for passes completed and distance covered per game as well as being 3rd bottom of the possession % rankings in 2021 which highlights their direct style of play. They like to move the ball from back to front quickly, often using their talented array of wingers and full-backs to good effect in order to supply the ammunition for their strikers. Emil Salomonsson (6 assists in 2021) may be gone, but they still have wide defenders Masato Yuzawa, Yota Maejima and Takaaki Shichi plus Jordy Croux, Tatsuya Tanaka, Takeshi Kanamori and Taro Sugimoto as competent wing options further forward. Once Lukian gets up and running, and I think it’s a case of when, not if, that happens, then the Hachi should be much more like their old selves.

Head to Head

There haven’t been many matches or goals between these two in recent years so I’ll be mercifully brief in here. The first meeting last season was a drab 0-0 played out at Panasonic Stadium and was the Nerazzurri’s 3rd league outing of 2021, and just their 2nd since returning from their Covid-enforced shutdown. Leandro Pereira and Tiago Alves both fluffed their lines when clean through on goal, stuttering and stumbling before ultimately not managing to get a shot away as the home side failed to hit the back of the net for the 3rd consecutive game. For Avispa, centre back Carlos Gutiérrez, now of Tochigi in J2, peppered Masaaki Higashiguchi’s goal with a series of long range efforts, but their much rotated lineup rarely threatened apart from that. The return fixture in July marked the first match of Gamba’s epic summer slog and ended in a vital 1-0 victory. After Fukuoka had a goal contentiously ruled out by VAR, Patric nodded home the winner from a deflected cross with 5 minutes remaining to inspire the now legendary “Yappari Patric” exclamation from the commentator.



Gamba Osaka

* Genta Miura strolling forward from centre-back to deliver a pinpoint cross for Leandro Pereira’s late equaliser on Saturday was Katano-soccer at it’s finest. I watched the first-half live and then the second on-demand so I was already aware that Miura had assisted Pereira, but had simply assumed that it must have come as a result of some sort of melee following a corner or free-kick, instead I found myself pleasantly surprised by the precision and quality of Miura’s delivery.

* It’s also been nice to see that Katanosaka can be flexible and does have a plan B up his sleeve. While there were plenty of pretty passing moves in the first half and opening 20 minutes of the second period, the former Oita kantoku opted to go more direct when it became clear things were turning stale. Enter Leandro Pereira, who, it seems, turns into a completely different animal once he scores. From a Gamba perspective, hopefully he can stay fit, enjoy an extended run in the side and start firing them in regularly to help ease the burden caused by Usami’s prolonged absence.

* I’ve long lamented the fact that it’s far easier for me to predict opponents’ starting lineups than Gamba’s and had naively assumed that Katanosaka’s arrival would remedy that. Not so fast, with Covid, injuries and late arrivals from overseas all playing havoc with Katanosaka’s game-plan. I believe 3-4-2-1 will be the go to once Kwon gets up to speed, probably after the World Cup qualifiers at the end of the month, but until then 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 will remain possibilities.

* After the forgettable ending to the match with Frontale, Kei Ishikawa would have been delighted to find himself largely a spectator for huge chunks of the Júbilo tussle. Indeed, perhaps his most challenging moment came when Kotaro Omori did some Yu Kobayashi inspired lurking behind him in the first half, thankfully Ishikawa had his wits about him on this occasion.

* Player Focus 1 Mitsuki Saito – The pocket pit-bull had another impressive display in the heart of Gamba’s midfield on Saturday, harrying and hounding his opponents into submission. Tantalisingly for the Ao to Kuro faithful, following his uneventful 45 minute cameo against Oita in the Levain Cup he’s now clocked 56 and 71 minutes versus Kawasaki and Iwata respectively as he works his way back to full fitness. He is on record stating that his goal is to help Gamba achieve their targets this season before heading back to Europe. As a decent English speaker and one of the more impressive central midfielders in the league in the early stages of this campaign it may unfortunately be a case of enjoy him while you can for the Curva Nord faithful.

* Player Focus 2 Kosuke Onose – It’s been great to witness his renaissance in the opening rounds of 2022 where he’s been spotted at right-back, wing-back and shadow forward and has already helped himself to 2 goals (as many as he managed in the previous 2 campaigns combined). As noted above, he was a real thorn in Júbilo’s side last weekend giving Riku Morioka and Masaya Matsumoto a torrid time and for Gamba it’s a matter of upmost importance that he retains his current performance levels. He can be a big player for the blue and blacks as they look to fill the giant Usami shaped hole in attack.

Quick Comment 1 – Deep into the second half Shota Fukuoka booted the ball straight off team-mate Kohei Okuno twice, ultimately leading to a Júbilo corner. Please leave those ricochet related shenanigans in Tokushima will ya Shota.

Quick Comment 2 – And finally, the Ayr United inspired white shirts / black shorts / black socks combination worn against Iwata was definitely a winner for me, let’s see more of that going forward.

Team News

There’s been plenty of concrete information available this week which makes a welcome change from the usual wild goose chase. The club announced on Tuesday (15 March) that Masaaki Higashiguchi had undergone surgery to fix a problem with the medial meniscus in his right knee. According to my brief Google research that should rule him out for somewhere in the region of 3-6 months. In his absence I’d expect Kei Ishikawa to hold onto the gloves unless his form drops and Jun Ichimori returns to full fitness. It’s also likely that a new backup to the backup will be brought in, probably from J2, I’m looking at you Eisuke Fujishima (Yamagata) and Yuma Obata (Sendai). Gen Shoji stated in his Reibola column that he missed the Júbilo game due to heavy bruising picked up in training, he didn’t say when exactly he’ll be back, but he was spotted training on Tuesday. Dawhan and Kwon ‘Diego’ Kyung-won joined top-team training on Tuesday thus theoretically could feature here. Kwon will leave to join up with the South Korean national side after this fixture so may be involved, while Dawhan might be saved for the Levain Cup tie with Kashima the following week as there are plenty of other volante options available. Shota Fukuoka’s Instagram story showed Hiroki Fujiharu working out in the gym and looking pretty spritely too. He was later sighted along with Gen Shoji in Kwon Kyung-won’s player introduction video shot on the training ground, I’m unsure when exactly he’ll make his return to the field of play, but it’s a step in the right direction anyway. Finally, Takashi Usami is up and about on crutches after having an operation to repair his ruptured achilles tendon on 7 March, he’s not expected to play again this season and it’s currently unclear whether the reason for Wellington Silva’s absence recently has been injury or non-selection.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Avispa Fukuoka


Last season was the first time Avispa had survived a J1 campaign since 2000 and they absolutely coasted home in 8th leaving more illustrious rivals such as Gamba, Cerezo, FC Tokyo, Hiroshima and Kashiwa trailing in their wake. Shigetoshi Hasebe turned down the Kobe job before the campaign got underway and with a team expertly marshalled by his on-field eyes and ears Hiroyuki Mae and inspired by the flair of popular Swede Emil Salomonsson down the right wing they blew many a #JPred out of the water. It might be tough to expect them to be quite as strong this time round, but I’d be confident in predicting that they’ll move away from the relegation zone sharpish and once more find themselves comfortably ensconced in mid-table. Hasebe generally favours a 4-4-2 though he has been known to dabble with a 3-4-2-1 (including in the 0-0 at home to Sapporo in round 3), but owing to some injury concerns at the back I feel it’s likely he’ll stick with his tried-and-trusted system here.

On the player front, Yuta Kumamoto was a somewhat unheralded arrival from Montedio Yamagata last winter, however, for me he was one of the better centre-backs in J2 prior to Peter Cklamovski’s arrival at the club and his subsequent banishment to the bench. Sure playing it out from the back might not really be his thing, but that shouldn’t really be an issue with Avispa. It’s rumoured that he turned Gamba down prior to the 2020 season with the Nerazzurri bringing in Ryo Shinzato instead, though given how little the current Omiya stopper played in Suita, Kumamoto was probably justified in biding his time waiting for a more suitable J1 club. Another ‘new’ face last off-season was local boy Tatsuya Tanaka who, of course, was a Gamba player for the first half of 2019. The pacy winger scored for Urawa in their 3-0 rout at Panasonic Stadium last term and will be looking to follow in the footsteps of Kotaro Omori and Shun Nagasawa in recent matches by adding to the already worryingly extensive list of players to find the back of the net against their former employers this year. Another achilles heel for the Nerazzurri in the past has been tall foreign strikers so Lukian should be aiming to banish the painful memories of his previous trip to Panasonic Stadium in 2019, when he was sent off for two bookable offences inside the opening 15 minutes, by netting his first goal for his new club.

Team News

Fukuoka’s fitness issues all lie at the back with star central defender Douglas Grolli missing out on the 1-0 loss at Kashiwa for an, as of yet, unspecified problem, while his regular partner-in-crime (and serial rejecter of Gamba offers) Tatsuki Nara hasn’t been sighted all year. Right-back Yota Maejima was subbed off just 12 minutes into the 0-0 draw away to Kobe on February 12th, how my suggested winter signing of Takeru Kishimoto would have helped to fill that gap, instead he’s wasting away on the bench at Shimizu, but that’s another story for another day.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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