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.


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.


Gamba Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima 25 May 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima
2022 J1 Season Round 15
Wednesday 25 May 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

The penultimate round of J1 action before the June international break sees Gamba Osaka hosting in-form Sanfrecce Hiroshima at Panasonic Stadium. Both sides come into this bout having been on opposite ends of 3-1 scorelines at the weekend. The Nerazzurri endured a tortuous trip to prefectural neighbours Cerezo, meekly surrendering a half-time lead with a timid and tame display after the break where despite doing precious little in the way of attacking they somehow managed to concede 3 times from counter attacks. A late on-field bust-up between Gen Shoji and Leandro Pereira, in addition to trouble between players and supporters after the final whistle, proceeded to cast a cloud over the club as a whole. However, moving away from faux social media outrage and hyperbole, publicly kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka and the players have said the right things to calm the situation and it’s worth remembering there are still 7-8 first-teamers due to return in the coming weeks so it’s not all doom and gloom. Things are far brighter down Hiroshima way with early coach-of-the-season contender Michael Skibbe’s side currently on a run of just 1 defeat in their last 9 league outings which has seen them shoot up to 4th in the standings. Most recently they brushed past Kyoto Sanga at the Edion Stadium courtesy of strikes from Makoto Mitsuta (more on him later), Junior Santos and new-signing Nassim Ben Khalifa. For some amongst the Ao to Kuro support, the red-hot Three Arrows flying into town might be the last thing they wanted to see coming over the horizon, but perhaps it’s best for all those of a blue and black persuasion to see this as an opportunity to quickly put the horrors of last Saturday behind them and rally behind the seemingly forgotten 2021 battle cry, ‘Together as One.’

Tale of the Tape

I said in my Osaka Derby preview that I felt the Gods of fate had been smiling warmly on Gamba during their recent run of 3 games unbeaten with 3 clean sheets. Well, last Saturday at the Yodoko Sakura Stadium, those Gods turned their backs with wretched consequences for the Nerazzurri. The numbers in the first table below tell you everything you need to know as, with the exception of sprints, all of the key performance metrics rank amongst the poorest 3 or 4 of the year and the xG for figure of 0.23 is the lowest in my records (which I started keeping at the beginning of 2021, so currently includes 52 matches), beating the 0.29 from the 1-0 win away at Sagan Tosu last April. Of course a derby is worth 3 points just like any other league match, but a defeat in it obviously stings that bit more, add in the fact that the Nerazzurri lost after taking the lead for the first time since last July, had only a single effort on goal following Hiroto Yamami’s opener and have now tasted victory just once in their last 10 clashes with Cerezo in all competitions and you can get a gist of why the visiting players and supporters were feeling so frustrated at full-time (which absolutely does not excuse the aggressive actions of a few). However, with all that said, the Osaka Derby essentially came down to the last play where a poor free-kick from Gamba led to an excellent Cerezo counter brilliantly finished by the irrepressible Hiroaki Okuno. With my blue and black sunglasses firmly fixed, may I suggest that the match was just a quality Gamba delivery away from finishing 2-2? Of course, 3-1 Cerezo is a far more accurate representation of how things actually went, but the Nerazzurri, tired and bruised and missing the likes of, Higashiguchi, Takao, Saito, Onose, Yamamoto, Fukuda, Patric and Kurata, who are all due back soon, managed to keep themselves in the tie until almost the final kick of the ball. That’s the positive I’ll be clinging to, though as we’ll see in the next paragraph, Sanfrecce Hiroshima are not likely to be willing participants in a Gamba revival on Wednesday night.

Before joining Hiroshima, Michael Skibbe was a coach I’d heard of, but I definitely couldn’t tell you much about what he’d been up to in recent years. Additionally, Germans I follow on Twitter were almost universally sceptical about his appointment, which had me and many others predicting a mid to lower mid-table finish for the Violets in 2022. However, since arriving in Japan after entry restrictions on foreigners were lifted in March, Skibbe has overseen something of a revolution in his mere 2 months of face-to-face communication with his squad. Three points and only 3 goals scored in the first 5 league fixtures gave way to the aforementioned run of just a solitary setback in their most recent 9 J1 outings. Skibbe’s form of gegenpressing is evident in the second stats table below with all metrics, excluding distance covered, bettering 2021’s numbers. Particularly impressive, for me anyway, is the 37.2 increase in sprints per game (non-stop running from right wing-back Tomoya Fujii has been a key factor in that), plus the 0.22 xG for improvement while also achieving a 0.18 drop in xG against. I’ll get a bit more in-depth about the club and players themselves in the ‘Sanfrecce Hiroshima’ section below, but for now I think it’s safe to say that a team long-known for effective, if unexciting football are now back among the league’s headline grabbers. Sitting just 4 points behind inconsistent Yokohama F. Marinos in 3rd, a genuine push for an ACL spot, unthinkable before the season began, is beginning to look more and more like a realistic prospect.

Head to Head

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

Panic on the streets of Osaka – Not really something I wanted to write about, but it would be the elephant in the room if I didn’t address it, so here we go. And, don’t worry I’m not about to go all Daily Record on you and get a former player out to lecture people on how team-mates falling out on the pitch is actually a good thing, but with that said, in the cold light of day it probably isn’t the worst thing in the world either. I’ve seen Gamba lose by scorelines such as 4 or 5-0 and not a single player has picked up a caution, at least the actions of Shoji and Pereira, heat of the moment and unruly as they may have been, showed that the players were embarrassed by what was going on and this hopefully means they’ll strive to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Also I’d like to give a quick shout out to Cerezo full-back Riku Matsuda who helped diffuse the situation along with the likes of Genta Miura. As for the stuff between the players and fans after the game, I’m not really sure exactly what happened so I’m not going to go on about it too much. What I will say is, the club have handed out suspensions and bans to supporters already this season for actions such as shouting abuse at the Cerezo team bus and verbally intimidating opposition supporters on the Panasonic Stadium concourse, so once the facts have been collated, you can expect swift and heavy handed action from Gamba, and potentially the J.League too.

Hiroto Yamami – Perhaps lost in the gloom of the post-match apocalypse, it’s easy to forget that Gamba went into the sheds a goal to the good last Saturday thanks to Hiroto Yamami’s header which just crept across Kim Jin-hyeon’s line despite his best efforts to convince everyone otherwise. It was a much needed first J1 goal of the year for Yamami, hot on the heels of his 3rd assist of the Levain Cup group stages against Kashima. You could see how much it meant to him and from a Gamba perspective, hopefully this is the first of many this season.

Minamino vs Sakamoto – Interesting to note was the absence of Isa Sakamoto from the matchday squad for the Osaka Derby having been a late replacement for Harumi Minamino in the 3-1 loss to Kashima in midweek. Sakamoto clearly wasn’t one of the recent Covid cases yet high schoolers Minamino and Kuwahara were still on the bench ahead of him at the Yodoko Sakura Stadium. Katanosaka has spoken of his admiration for the physical development of Minamino and Kuwahara, saying words to the effect of “they are ready to play against adults,” so the feeling is that Sakamoto may have been sent to the gym for some extra physical training.

* And finally…congratulations to Jiro Nakamura for his selection in the Japan U-19 squad for the Maurice Revello Tournament in France from May 29 to June 12 and also to Kwon Kyung-won who was once again chosen in the South Korea squad for their upcoming internationals.

Team News

I’ll keep the same format here as last time and I’ll also add that several of the players who had asymptomatic Covid have been training since last Friday though it’s unknown who they are. With so much uncertainty I’ve gone conservative with my team-selection, it’s equally possible that there will be a lot more changes

GK Masaaki Higashiguchi – In full training, expected back in June
DF Shota Fukuoka – Had a small injury, was training again, potential Covid case
DF Ryu Takao – Out of the squad since 17 April, suspected to have a minor injury
MF Yuya Fukuda – Dislocated left shoulder vs Kobe on 8 May, underwent surgery on 23 May
MF Ju Se-jong – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic he should be ready to play (rumoured to be heading back to South Korea in the summer so we may have seen the last of him in a blue and black uniform)
MF Shu Kurata – Calf problem, expected back in June
MF Kosuke Onose – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic he should be ready to play
MF Mitsuki Saito – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic he should be ready to play
MF Yuki Yamamoto – Injured leg on 17 April, no confirmation of injury by the club
FW Patric – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic he should be ready to play
FW Takashi Usami – Achilles tendon rupture on 6 March, likely out for the season

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Anyone hoping for a change of pace from the Michael Skibbe love-in witnessed in the ‘Tale of the Tape’ section above is about to be disappointed as I continue to use my positivity over Sanfre’s start to the season to distract me from the issues at Gamba. A quick glance through the Three Arrows history indicates that they’ve been J1 champions on 3 occasions (2012, 2013 and 2015) as well as finishing as runner-up twice (1994 and 2018), so taken from that perspective their current ranking of 4th might not seem particularly impressive. However, since that aforementioned 2nd place in 2018 they’ve been on a steady slide which culminated in 11th spot last year and long serving coach Hiroshi Jofuku receiving his marching orders before the season was done. Step forward Michael Skibbe who, with essentially the same group of players, save for a couple of university recruits, youth team graduates recalled from loan spells in J2 and a club-less former Swiss international, has utterly transformed the team’s fortunes. A Gamba vs Sanfrecce preview wouldn’t be complete without me gushing over former Gamba Junior Youth centre-back Hayato Araki, a colossus in defence and way too handsome to be playing in that position. Midfield deserves a mention also, with Skibbe recently moving from a 3-4-2-1 to a 3-5-2 with a central triangle containing, the rejuvenated Gakuto Notsuda at the base and the two kingpins, potential J1 rookie of the year Makoto Mitsuta (4 goals, 3 assists), and possible bolter in Hajime Moriyasu’s World Cup squad Tsukasa Morishima (4 goals, 1 assist) further forward. A final mention too for flier Tomoya Fujii down the right flank, a real live-wire who looks like he has what it takes to earn international honours one day. Hiroshima play with such intensity that a 3 game match-week presents a real challenge for them in terms of keeping everyone in their relatively small squad fresh, it would be a major boost for Gamba if any of the likes of Fujii, Mitsuta or Morishima were to start this tussle riding on the pine.

Team News

GK Takuto Hayashi – reserve goalkeeper, absent for last 2 J1 games plus most recent Levain Cup tie
MF Ezequiel – long term ankle injury, last played 2 March
MF Takumu Kawamura – knee problem, expected back soon
FW Yuya Asano – not in squad last weekend, hasn’t featured much recently, unclear if his absence was down to injury or non-selection
FW Shun Ayukawa – broken foot, expected back in August

MF Gakuto Notsuda and FW Junior Santos are both 1 yellow card away from an automatic 1 match suspension.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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

sport Uncategorized

Sanfrecce Hiroshima Match Preview 22 July 2020

Gamba Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima
J1 2020 Round 6
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Wednesday 22 July 19:00 (JST)

Round 6 of J1 2020 sees the first midweek game played at Panasonic Stadium Suita this year and Sanfrecce Hiroshima are the visitors. I had the great pleasure of working with Sanfrecce supporter and blogger Tobias (better known as @ConDrei on Twitter) to put this preview together. It is the first of what I hope will be several collaborations with other English language bloggers this season. Please let me know what you think.

Last Time Out

Gamba recorded a 2-1 home victory over Oita Trinita which was ultimately more comfortable than the tight scoreline might suggest. The Nerrazzuri made just one personnel change from the previous week’s triumph at S-Pulse with Yuji Ono coming in for Shu Kurata in midfield. They did, however, revert to a back-three with Shinya Yajima playing just in front of them and Yosuke Ideguchi putting in a great shift supporting both defence and attack admirably.

The men from Suita were in control for most of the first half, displaying an attacking coherence rarely seen thus far in 2020. The high press was also very successful and they essentially out-Oitad Oita (if that makes sense?), by building pressure and forcing mistakes. Daiki Watari did give an early indication of the dangers Trinita could pose on the counter as his shot was blocked by Ryu Takao following a cross from the right. Gamba failed to heed that warning and against the run of play in the 33rd minute Oita took the lead with a goal of real quality. Ex-Gamba winger Tatsuya Tanaka fired in from the right-hand side, this time Watari was able to get the better of Takao and he bulleted a header past Higashiguchi. 1-0 to the visitors.

Gamba didn’t have to wait long to get on level terms, just three minutes in fact. A good team move ended when Kosuke Onose was clearly tripped by Oita’s Tomoki Iwata and up stepped Takashi Usami to fire home a powerful penalty that beat Shun Takagi to his left. Usami’s first goal of the year and 1-1 at the interval.

Usami turned provider for strike partner Ademilson just three minutes into the second half. He robbed Trinita defender Kento Haneda of the ball on Gamba’s right and quickly fed his Brazilian team-mate, Ade then cut inside, brought the ball onto his left foot, turned Yoshinori Suzuki and buried his shot low, past Takagi at the near post for his second goal of the campaign.

Gamba threatened to run away with the game in the ten minutes or so that followed and Trinita ‘keeper Takagi was a relieved man as he almost let an innocuous looking back pass cross his goal line but managed to clear the ball just in the nick of time. The men in blue and black then slowly released their foot from the accelerator and gradually ceded possession and territory to their visitors. Despite substitute Kazuki Fujimoto showing some nice touches on his senior debut Oita were wasteful in the final third with numerous crosses failing to find their target and Yuto Misao’s weak effort straight at Higashiguchi their best chance to take anything from this game. Full time Gamba 2-1 Oita.

Gamba Osaka 2-1 Oita Trinita
18 July 2020

Sanfrecce made it three games without a win when they slumped to a 2-1 home reverse against Cerezo Osaka. The Cherry Blossoms, of course, defeated Gamba by the same scoreline a fortnight earlier and this game had a similar pattern to the Osaka derby with Cerezo the stronger team in terms of overall play and sharpness in front of goal.

The away side had the better of the first period and took the lead after just twenty minutes. Right winger Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, who was a thorn in Hiroshima’s side all night turned every Gamba fan’s favourite Sanfrecce player Kohei Shimizu inside out before firing in a dangerous low cross in the direction of Ken Tokura. Hiroshima captain Sho Sasaki got to the ball first but was unable to control his clearance and it spun past Takuto Hayashi for an unfortunate own goal. 1-0 Cerezo at the break.

The goalscoring action in the second half was confined to the opening fifteen minutes. First, Cerezo went 2-0 up with Sanfrecce the architects of their own downfall. Following numerous chances to clear from their defensive third, the three arrows were dispossessed by Cerezo central midfielder Naoyuki Fujita about 30 metres out, his interception was picked up by Hiroshi Kiyotake who then put the onrushing Fujita through one on one and he made no mistake, slipping the ball under Hayashi for his first league goal for the club.

Sanfrecce were back in the match literally seconds later when some slack defending allowed Douglas Vieira, a half-time replacement for the ineffectual Ryo Nagai, a run on goal, and Croatian centre-back Matej Jonjic brought him down for a penalty. After a bout of Cerezo shenanigans (on an even bigger scale than prior to Ademilson’s PK in the Osaka derby) delayed the kick for a good couple of minutes, Vieira dusted himself down and put his shot slightly left of the middle to reduce the deficit to just one goal. Despite huffing and puffing, Sanfrecce were largely reduced to long range efforts at goal and Cerezo held out reasonably comfortably to take the 2-1 win.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-2 Cerezo Osaka
18 July 2020

Recent History

With the games coming thick and fast these days I only have time to look back at the two matches between these two from last year.

The away clash came in round 6 in early April and it was one all supporters of a Gamba persuasion would rather forget. Goals inside the first ten minutes from Yoshifumi Kashiwa and Kosei Shibasaki sent Sanfrecce on their way and confined Gamba to their fourth league defeat in the first six games, although it was their first loss on the road following earlier wins at Kawasaki and Shimizu. Hayao Kawabe added gloss to the scoreline with a third five minutes before time. 3-0 it finished.

Gamba were an altogether different beast come the return leg at the beginning of the Obon holiday. A bumper crowd of over 30,000 witnessed young Yuya Fukuda announce himself on the big stage with a fine display of attacking prowess from the left-wing back position. The Osaka side swarmed all over their visitors right from the off, but Hiroshima remained resolute and there were few clear openings in a goalless first half.

Sanfrecce had more attacks in the second period, but Gamba were still largely in the driving seat in a game which looked destined to finish 0-0. That all changed in the 89th minute when Kosuke Onose cut inside and unleashed a powerful drive from the edge of the area, a partially unsighted Keisuke Osako spilled the ball into the path of the advancing Shu Kurata and he made no mistake to send the blue and black support into raptures. Their joy was to be short-lived as in the second minute of additional time, Leandro Pereira, then a recent loan addition from Matsumoto Yamaga, rose to head Tsukasa Morishima’s cross past Higashiguchi and claim a point for the men in purple. A frustrating night for all Gamba fans as this would be the third of five consecutive league draws, and the second of three games in which the Nerrazzuri threw away late leads.

Tactical Notes

Gamba returned to using the three centre-back system for the home game against Oita and owing to that result as well as Sanfrecce and Trinita’s similar playing styles, I believe that is the formation Miyamoto will employ for this game. As noted above, Yosuke Ideguchi covered a lot of ground playing in a double volante with Yajima when defending but then being found on the right side of Gamba’s inverted midfield triangle going forward. As a result of his heavy workload on Saturday, it’s possible he’ll sit this one out.

The high press employed by Gamba’s attackers reaped dividends last time out but I’m a touch concerned about the toll it’s taking on Usami and Ademilson. They have been subbed off in almost every game, so I wonder if we will see Patric and/or Watanabe start this clash. Hiroki Fujiharu was another who got through a mountain of work in the last match, he sat out the previous midweek game with Nagoya, and his place could once again go to Yuya Fukuda, who is yet to show his best form since returning from injury.

Hiroshima generally set up in the same 3-4-2-1 as Oita, though they did tweak their system for the visit of Cerezo, playing in an almost identical structure to Gamba with an inverted midfield triangle. The experienced Toshihiro Aoyama, another not so popular figure in Suita, sat at the base with his regular volante partner Hayao Kawabe just ahead to the right and Tsukasa Morishima, who regularly provides great service for his tall attackers from the left wing, sitting a little deeper just to the left of Kawabe. Up front Leandro Pereira was partnered by former Matsumoto team-mate Ryo Nagai and this simply didn’t work with the latter replaced by Douglas Vieira at half-time. This leads me to Sanfrecce’s attacking conundrum, Pereira and Vieira are their best forwards, but they are too similar to each other for it to really click as a partnership, in my opinion. Both do their best work in and around the penalty area, and although Vieira is better than Pereira at general link up play, if you’re going to play someone just off Pereira, then that role would surely be better suited to the likes of Shunki Higashi or Gakuto Notsuda.

Defensively, Hiroshima’s back three is pretty sound with, Yuki Nogami, ex-Gamba Junior Youth Hayato Araki and Japanese international Sho Sasaki forming a settled line up that didn’t concede more than twice in a league match last season. Down the left flank is where the issues lie, the experienced Yoshifumi Kashiwa is missing for at least another month and his absence has been keenly felt. Yuya Asano, Kohei Shimizu and young Tomoya Fujii have all been tried there with varying degrees of success and it should be noted that Cerezo’s right winger Tatsuhiro Sakamoto had great joy throughout the ninety minutes last Saturday. Additionally, Ken Tokura, who tormented Gamba in the Osaka derby caused identical problems for the Hiroshima rearguard and this is something Patric may seek to emulate when he gets his chance.

To sum up, this match will likely be similar in style to Gamba’s game with Oita. Hiroshima will be content to sit in and soak up pressure while hoping to catch Gamba on the counter. Gamba on the other hand will aim to build on the attacking fluency they showed in the first hour against Oita, they’ll attack the flanks and hope that the high press will bring them a similar reward to Cerezo who used it to score their second goal against Sanfrecce at the weekend.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

There are no new injury concerns that I know of, meaning that once again Gen Shoji (ankle) is a doubt and Jun Ichimori (shoulder) is definitely out. Yuki Yamamoto got a start for the U23 side on Sunday and could feature after a few games as an unused sub. This will be Kosuke Onose’s 50th game for Gamba and also his 50th in J1, he has 11 goals to his name to date.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Influential left wing-back Yoshifumi Kashiwa (8 goals, 4 assists in 34 J1 games last year) is definitely out with a leg injury, he’s expected back sometime in August. Highly-rated young stopper Keisuke Osako has been on the bench for the past two games following his error against Oita, I’m assuming he’s fully fit and could return at any time. Defender Kazuki Kushibiki, midfielders Taishi and Hiroya Matsumoto and attacker Ezequiel have all been out of the squad in recent games, though as none are established starters I’m guessing this is simply down to non-selection as opposed to injury. Veteran Toshihiro Aoyama will make his 400th league appearance for Sanfrecce if selected, to date he’s played 363 J1 and 36 J2 games.

Know Your OpponentSanfrecce Hiroshima

A massive thanks to @ConDrei for his excellent in-depth look at Wednesday night’s opposition. If you haven’t already, please give him a follow on Twitter and also check out his Sanfrecce Hiroshima EN – unofficial – page @threearrowsSFC as well as his blog

It is year three of the Hiroshi “JFK” Jofuku era. The turnover came when Sanfrecce under triple champion manager Hajime Moriyasu narrowly avoided relegation at the end of 2017. The tactics of 3-4-2-1 has been connected to the club for most of the last decade, Introduced by Michael Petrovic, adapted by Hajime Moriyasu and basically used by Hiroshi Jofuku leaving almost no change to the look of Sanfrecce’s formation. The sole striker position was regularly taken up by star players up front (Douglas,
Hisato Sato or Peter Utaka) but, odd as it sounds, since Sanfrecce has one of the best defenses in the league the heart of the squad recently moved from CDM to COM. It was Toshihiro Aoyama and the Morisaki twins that built up the game in 2012 and 2013, flanked by Michael Mikic and Kohei Shimizu with Hisato Sato up front, in 2020 you have some great talent in the backfield behind the striker, while the CDM looks a little old and unsettled.

Just last week the 3-4-2-1 was abandoned for a 3-1-4-2 formation. As Jofuku seems to have moved his focus onto high pressing and a more attacking style of play. I will use the formation change momentum to build up my probable Starting XI:

GK – #1 Takuto Hayashi – Remember when Nishikawa left for Urawa and the then 31y/o Hayashi was brought back to his former club? That was 6 years ago. Hayashi had his best season in 2015, when he conceded only 30 goals keeping 14 clean sheets in the process. In 2018 he came close to that mark, but just a few more goals conceded were enough to cost Sanfrecce a fourth title. After that, Hayashi lost his place between the posts to youngster Keisuke Osako in the lead up to the 2019 season. The veteran was responsible for the opening goal for Thai side Chonburi United by mishandling a ball. This was followed by an (to me) unknown injury and the chance for Osako to not only impress with a shining smile but very athletic and fast reactions on the line that
Hayashi had naturally lost after all these years. With Osako looking a little less secure in his last outing, Hayashi had his chance. But basically you can expect Osako’s return in any given match day. So don’tbe surprised if the 20 year old keeper returns against Gamba.

RCB #2 Yuki Nogami – Nogami has grown more and more reliable for Sanfrecce’s three-piece defense since moving to Hiroshima in 2016. A pleasant surprise in the final matches of the 2016 season, Nogami transitioned into a trusted player when he was tasked with filling the boots of Tsukasa Shiotani, who left for UAE club Al-Ain. I would characterize him as a hard worker with some pace, who sometimes lacks a little strength in using his body.

CB #23 Hayato Araki – With Kazuhiko Chiba growing older the central defense position had to be filled by a new player. As Jofuku tends to give younger players a chance it was the time for Hayato Araki, a former Sanfrecce youth player, to show what he is capable of. While still studying at Kansai University, Araki was brought to the team in 2018 and
since then he has played his boots off in one of the strongest defenses in the J.League. He is one of those highly-rated prospects that you hope will stay with your club for a couple of years. He plays cleverly despite his young age and is always willing to throw himself in front of shots.

LCB #19 Sho Sasaki – The poster boy of Sanfrecce Hiroshima is the 30 year-old veteran. Coincidentally he played under Jofuku at Ventforet Kofu but joined Sanfrecce ahead of the manager. When Hajime Moriyasu took the helm at the Samurai Blue it was Sho Sasaki who was given the chance to present himself with the National Team. Rightfully? I am not sure as Sasaki is solid but not the best of those three in my opinion. On the last matchday he deflected a crossed ball into his own goal, that brought mischief to Jofuku’s match plan. I hope that he won’t dwell on his mistake as it is crucial to have a focused defense.

RW #44 Rhayner – The Brazilian is on loan from Tombonense and returned to Japan after previously winning J1 with Kawasaki Frontale in 2017. Aside from knowing that fact, I was not aware of him as a player but his first impressions with Sanfrecce were undoubtly great. While he sometimes appears to lack a little offensive agility, I admire his efforts to defend almost anywhere in front of the three backs.

DM #6 Toshihiro Aoyama – He is one of the players that has endured everything with Sanfrecce in the last 16 years. Aoyama joined Sanfrecce in 2004 from a High school in Tsuyama, Okayama. He is one of the toughest players in the squad and apart from his defensive talent, he is able to provide a lot of crucial assists while regularly building up attacks. He is now 34 though and has lost a bit of his freshness. But, as a captain he
is still a stronghold on the pitch. Especially for those younger players that Jofuku brings into the team.

OM #10 Tsukasa Morishima – One of the young players whose career has really taken off under Hiroshi Jofuku. The 23 year-old attacker had a dire season in 2017 when he was given his first chance, but in 2019 Morishima’s standing sky-rocketed in the squad, playing all but one match in the AFC Champions League and assisting 9 goals in 24 league appearances (while scoring 3 goals himself). He is definitely a player to watch if he plays on Wednesday.

OM #8 Hayao Kawabe – Long-time loanee to Jubilo Iwata, Kawabe returned to Sanfrecce in 2018 and became a regular starter in 2019. Despite only being 24 years of age, he often looks often like a more experienced player. He hasn’t yet shown the sharpness in front of goal that he had with Jubilo, but this may be due to helping out Aoyama in a more defensive lineup. Unfortunately he was responsible for the second goal, a well-worked counter attack by Cerezo, when he mishandled a high ball. But apart from minor flaws in judgement I’d say you really can see his talent. I hope he will be a key member in the rejuvenation of the squad.

LW #16 Kohei Shimizu – From a Gamba perspective probably the most infamous player on the squad. If I don’t make you aware of it now, probably you heard Mr. Alan “JSoccer” Gibson more than once rant about Shimizu’s character as he simulated a violent conduct by Gamba defender Jae-suk Oh in the J.League championship final first leg of December 2nd, 2015. Oh was sent off by the ref in the 86th minute while Sanfrecce scored twice in injury time . That deed excluded, I see Kohei Shimizu as a reliable backup for both wings who is currently deputising for Yoshifumi Kashiwa, who will miss a couple of weeks due to a calf injury. Shimizu is no regular starter and Kashiwa’s attacking talent has been heavily missed in recent Sanfrecce matches.

FW #9 Douglas Vieira – Since moving to Sanfrecce in 2019, Douglas Vieira, the
former Verdy striker has yet to shine on the pitch. In most years the central forward has been essential to Sanfrecce’s results. Most goals came from those central attackers. While Patric has been a force in aerial battles (despite lacking some skills with his feet in my opinion), Douglas Vieira does not have the physical strength to nail a ball up front. His headers are also not worth mentioning. That is why Vieira was mostly used as a false 9 in recent matches as he can regularly build up some speed to catch those high ball forward passes.  Overall he has been a a decent addition to the team, with the double FW formation installed Douglas Vieira has moved up front. So it is hard to say if this
style of play benefits him.

FW #39 Leandro Pereira – Pereira moved to Sanfrecce from relegated Matsumoto Yamaga on loan last summer. Another oddity in Japanese transfer history, Yamaga can now see that Leandro Pereira has decisively established himself as the No.1 striker in our team. He looks much more comfortable with the ball at his feet than Patric did at
Sanfrecce, yet he sometimes lacks a little patience and shoots from bad positions. Right now he is the most feared striker of the squad, but when the build-up is lacking in sharpness he rarely has the chance to score.

In hindsight you can recognise the tactical development Sanfrecce Hiroshima have undergone in the Hiroshi Jofuku era. After almost being relegated in 2017, Jofuku tried to improve the dire defensive situation which ultimately lead to the feared anti-climax Sanfrecce football in 2018 that just missed out on a fourth title in 7 years only by a second-to-none collapse at the end of their season. The defensive blackout was worsened by a missing strike force that neither Patric, Masato Kudo nor Besart Berisha could serve over a full season. In 2019 you saw a strong defense with the first improvements in the build up of the attack. Also young players were able to get on the pitch more regularly, which serves as a possible focus point to further build up a team
over the next years. 2020 started well and you can see Sanfrecce more willing to adapt and vary their style of play to match their opposition. Either by more pressing tactics against a much improved Cerezo side or as a counter attacking force against Vissel Kobe. Yet, the offensive strike force is the weak point of the squad. The recipe to throw in one (or now two) Brazilians to score goals is at least uninspiring, yet, as a result of minor
mistakes in the defense it’s possible that the whole team has been totally thrown off balance by a much more offensively oriented style than 2018.

Predicted Lineups


Match Prediction

Gamba come into this one on a three match unbeaten run while Hiroshima haven’t won in their previous three games….I’ve jinxed it right there, haven’t I? Needless to say this will be a tight game, most likely decided by levels of energy and rotation within each squad. Gamba haven’t kept a clean sheet this year while Hiroshima don’t concede many. I don’t see more than three goals in this encounter and I’ll actually settle on a close 1-1 draw.