Categories
sport

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 0-1 Gamba Osaka and Weekly Round-Up

The Match

Not one that will live long in the memory, as DAZN’s sub 5 minute highlights package will attest to, but the three points were all that mattered from a Gamba perspective. This victory was the Nerazzurri’s fifth on the road in 2020 which means they’ve already equalled 2019’s total after only 8 matches.

Kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto responded to his side’s recent slump in form by switching to a 4-4-2 formation for the first time since the 2-1 win at Shimizu back in round 4 and he was rewarded with the team’s first clean sheet in 9 matches. Hiroki Fujiharu, Kim Young-gwon and Ademilson came in for Yuya Fukuda, Gen Shoji and Kazuma Watanabe who all found themselves on the bench.

In my pre-match preview I mistakenly assumed this clash would take place at the Sapporo Dome when in fact it was scheduled for Consadole’s second home, Atsubetsu Stadium. The thick grass and bumpy surface was more akin to what I’ve seen the U23s play on in places such as Akita and Toyama and greatly hindered the match as a spectacle.

Gamba threatened early with captain Genta Miura flashing a header just over from Takashi Usami’s corner before Usami and Ademilson both fluffed their lines, heading Kosuke Onose crosses wide from decent areas. Sapporo, who looked like a shadow of the side that played with such attacking verve against Urawa and Tosu in the past week, rarely threatened Masaaki Higashiguchi’s goal. Despite Shunta Tanaka and the omnipresent Takuma Arano looking sharp, Yoshiaki Komai’s dragged shot wide was as close as they came in the opening period.

The second stanza continued in much the same way as the first with both teams sharing spells of possession and penetrating the opposition’s final third, but not really looking likely to score once they got there. Gamba suffered a blow in the 72nd minute when Miura, an ever-present this year, went down with what looked like a leg muscle injury. Gen Shoji took his place with Shu Kurata taking over the captain’s armband, Endo and Watanabe also entered the fray in a triple change. Watanabe took just 4 minutes to make his mark by scoring his 3rd goal off the bench in 2020. Following a Sapporo corner, Kurata and Endo worked the ball out to the left flank where Ryu Takao (only he knows why he was there) was charging. The normally right-sided Kwansei Gakuin graduate fed Hiroki Fujiharu whose pinpoint cross was met by Watanabe. Consadole ‘keeper Takanori Sugeno brilliantly tipped the header onto his right-hand post, but the ball rebounded for King Kazu who made no mistake. Despite huffing and puffing for the remainder of the game, Sapporo had ultimately run out of steam due to their hectic schedule and it finished 1-0 to Gamba.

Analysis

* Not mentioned above, but Gamba had strong claims for a penalty against Sapporo’s stand-in skipper Arano who handled inside his own box in the 45th minute, personally I’m not convinced it was a spot kick. There was also another controversial incident at the end of the Cerezo Osaka vs Kashima Antlers game where Leo Silva’s arm made contact with a goal-bound effort, but no penalty was awarded. My question is, were either of these handballs any less of a penalty than the ones given against Kim Young-gwon (vs FC Tokyo) or Yuki Soma (Nagoya vs Sapporo)? FC Tokyo’s Leandro was in the headlines this week after having a moan on Twitter about inconsistent officiating following a couple of decisions against his side in their 3-2 home loss to Oita on Wednesday. I’m sure most JLeague fans could get behind the crux of his argument, though perhaps not the one-eyed nature of it. For me, he would have done well to acknowledge that his side have both gained and lost as a result of poor refereeing this year, the Kim and Leo Silva incidents above were chosen for a reason. What do you think?
* Following the switch to 4-4-2 and the potential loss of Miura at the back, Gamba have a few selection quandaries ahead of a tough week of games with Nagoya (home – Wednesday) and Hiroshima (away – Sunday) looming large on the horizon. Keisuke Kurokawa has been in sparkling form for the U23s in their past 2 games in J3, he, unlike, Yuya Fukuda, is a left-back in a 4-4-2 system, it would be good to see the former Kansai University star get a top team start in the near future. Speaking of Fukuda, it was interesting to note that he replaced Shu Kurata in the 89th minute on Saturday and took over the left central-midfield position, could this be a realistic option going forward with no Yuji Ono for the rest of 2020?
* Last year I raved about Consadole Sapporo defender Ryosuke Shindo, but echoing Sam Robson on the J-Talk Podcast, I agree that he seems to have gone off the boil this year. Ryu Takao has really grown and has performed well at right-centre back, right-back and right wing-back this season, would I be going out on a limb by saying that I now rate Takao as the better prospect? Both were born within 5 months of each other and play the same position, have I over-reacted to a short-spell of form or is the Gamba man now the superior player?
* Finally, a quick question for any Sapporo fans who may be reading. Are ticket prices for games at Sapporo Dome and Atsubetsu Stadium comparable? The poor quality playing surface and dated facilities at Atsubetsu would surely call for some kind of discount for the paying public, no?

Gamba MVP

Kosuke Onose was Gamba’s main attacking weapon in the first half and was unlucky not to bag an assist or two, but I’m going to award this to someone I’ve not shied away from criticising in the past, Genta Miura. After looking leggy in the past couple of matches, the Japan international was back to his best on Saturday. He dealt with the physical and aerial threat of first Jay, and later, briefly, Douglas Oliveira, before having to leave the field early. Hopefully his substitution was just a precaution and he’ll be back soon.

Under 23 Round Up

Gamba’s U23 side produced a sloppy defensive display to go down 3-2 to Vanraure Hachinohe on Saturday night. Goals at the start of both halves from Yosuke Kamigata and Taichi Nakamura meant Gamba were fighting an uphill battle for most of the game. Keisuke Kurokawa, once again the team’s best player cancelled out Hachinohe’s opener after 13 minutes following good play down the right from Haruto Shirai. Jiro Nakamura, making his first J3 appearance of 2020 as a second-half replacement then forced an own goal after an incisive run and cross in the 76th minute. However, Gamba were carved open once again just 8 minutes later, and another substitute, Taisuke Akiyoshi won the match for the Tohoku side with a fine finish. This was their first ever win over Gamba U23 after 2 draws in 2019 and also the first time they’d scored more than twice in a game this year.

Gamba U23 line-up: GK: Ichimori, RCB: Matsuda, CB: Tabinas ©, LCB: Yamaguchi, RWB: Shirai, RCM: Ise (Type 2), DM: Okuno, LCM: Shibamoto, LWB: Kurokawa, CF: Tsukamoto and Toyama.

Next Match: Tuesday 22 September vs Iwate Grulla Morioka (a) Kick Off: 13:00

Categories
sport

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo vs Gamba Osaka 19 September 2020 Match Preview

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 17
Sapporo Dome
Saturday 19 September 14:00 (JST)


It’s officially the half-way point in the J1 League campaign this week, though a quick glance at the number of games each team have played may tell an altogether different story. A quick caveat, I wrote about 60% of this preview before I realised Sapporo were playing in midweek, I’ve tried to make all the necessary changes, but apologies in advance if anything slipped through the net.

The Lowdown

Sapporo come into this match fresh (well maybe not as they played on Wednesday) off a 2-0 win in their re-arranged match at Sagan Tosu, this was the first time they’d taken all 3 points for 10 league games. Gamba, by contrast, started 2020 with 5 wins and 16 points from their opening 7 fixtures, but since the start of August, they’ve lost 5 of 8 games and taken just 7 points. Sapporo currently sit 13th in the table, 6 points and 4 places shy of Gamba, but with an additional 2 matches played. Due to sharing Sapporo Dome with the Nippon Ham Fighters in NPB and also travel restrictions after the league’s re-start in June, they’ve been handed a lopsided schedule with long stretches of away games at the beginning and end of the year bookending a mid-season laden with matches in Hokkaido. The mid-year departures of goalkeeper Gu Sung-yun (Daegu) and the prolific Musashi Suzuki (Germinal Beerschot) have made my pre-season prediction of a 14th place finish look better than it otherwise could have.

The good thing about Consadole from a neutral perspective is that their games are always a good watch. I was treated to quite the match when I tuned into their 4-3 home defeat at the hands of Urawa last weekend. Head coach Mischa Petrovic’s footballing philosophy is simple, attack! attack! attack! The formation you’ll see at the start of the game, and the positions you’ll often see the players appear in during the 90 minutes will vary wildly. Expect to see right-sided centre-back Ryosuke Shindo regularly overlap right wing-back Lucas Fernandes and link up with the Brazilian and Yoshiaki Komai. In the middle of the park, Takuma Arano and Shunta Tanaka will often drop deep into defence to give captain and centre-back Hiroki Miyazawa the chance to bomb forward. All of this switching around can make them hard to handle, but also allows plentiful opportunities to counter attack against the league’s least structured defence. At present only Shimizu (40) have conceded more than Consadole’s 34 in 17 matches.

With neither side in great form, issues like Sapporo having a mere 64 ½ hours between full-time in Tosu and kick-off on their home turf at the other end of Japan on Saturday, could play a big role. Gamba would do well to aim for an early goal as they are yet to lose after scoring first, this stat also stands true if they hold the lead at half time. By contrast, they’ve only come from behind to win once this year, and in that match with Oita, they only trailed for 4 minutes.

Head to Head

These two teams have really only been playing each other regularly since Sapporo became a J1 staple in 2017, all the recent results can be seen in the table below. Personal highlights of mine would, of course, include the 5-0 rout in Suita last October with all the goals coming in the second half. Jungo Fujimoto’s beautiful finish in the 2-0 victory at the Sapporo Dome in 2017 is another great memory as is the 3-0 home win back during the J2 title-winning season of 2013, one of my first ever Gamba games which featured a fine, solo Takashi Usami effort as well as a rare effort from Takaharu Nishino, then a highly-rated prospect before having his career decimated by injuries. Ken Tokura’s 95th minute equaliser at Panasonic Stadium in Miyamoto’s 5th game in charge back in 2018 and a limp 1-0 defeat in the first ever Expo Match in 2017 were particularly tough to take.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

As mentioned previously Yuji Ono (knee) is out for the season while Shinya Yajima (ankle) has missed the past 3 matches and no time-frame has been given for his return. This fixture marks the start of another 3 game match week with difficult looking future opponents in the shape of Nagoya (home) and Hiroshima (away) looming on the horizon, as a result some rotation can be expected. I’d love to see young Shuhei Kawasaki get a start while solid showings from Ryu Takao and Yuya Fukuda against Shonan should hopefully see them retain their places. Shoji Toyama and Dai Tsukamoto both sat out Gamba U23s game with Kataller Toyama last weekend and must be in with a shout of at least some bench time in J1 soon. Kim Young-gwon wasn’t in the squad for the Bellmare game, but I believe he was just being rested. Takashi Usami will make his 150th J1 appearance if selected for this encounter.

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Sapporo don’t have a whole lot of injury issues to contend with. Backup ‘keeper Shunta Awaka is out for the year and defender Naoki Ishikawa hasn’t been spotted in a matchday squad in 2020. Other than that though, fatigue is the only factor likely to rule anyone else out of this clash.

Know Your Opponent – Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Kantoku: Mihailo Petrovic Appointed: 1 February 2018, Record: P 85 W 32 D 22 L 31 F 125 A 131 Points Per Game 1.4 Failed to Score 19 Clean Sheets 22

GK #1 Takanori Sugeno – Hugely experienced former Yokohama FC, Kashiwa and Kyoto ‘keeper who took over the number one spot following Gu’s departure during the lockdown. Now in his third year in Sapporo with the first two actually spent on loan from Sanga before he made the deal permanent last winter. It’s likely that he’s just keeping the spot warm before the 2m tall Kojiro Nakano joins next season, Gamba fans will remember him as he was Hosei University’s goalkeeper in their 2-0 Emperor’s Cup win last August.

RCB #3 Ryosuke Shindo – He’ll be named as the right-sided centre-back, but like Ryu Takao, expect to see him bombing forward on the outside of his right-winger. Bagged a hugely impressive 6 goals and 2 assists from defence in 2019, but hasn’t got close to those heights this year.

CB #10 Hiroki Miyazawa © – Mr. Sapporo, centre-back or central-midfielder Miyazawa has been with Consadole since leaving high school back in 2008. He’s closing in on 400 JLeague appearances and at the age of 31 still seems to have plenty of fuel left in the tank.

LCB #5 Akito Fukumori – Moved north to Hokkaido from his native Kanagawa in 2015 after 4 seasons largely spent as a Kawasaki reserve. Possesses a wonderful delivery from both corners and free-kicks which he showcased to devastating effect against Urawa last Sunday. His inch perfect cross for Jay’s second goal against Reds was surprisingly his first assist of the year, in 2019 he provided 8 which put him joint 3rd in J1 alongside Ademilson and Kyogo Furuhashi.

RWB #7 Lucas Fernandes – Now in his second season in Sapporo, Lucas initially came in on loan from Fluminense in his native Brazil, but after a successful first year which saw him play 31 times in J1, he made the deal permanent in the off-season. He looks to be one of Consadole’s main attacking weapons down the right flank, though maybe it’s not such a good idea to let him take penalties. He missed a vital spot kick in the final minute of additional time in a 0-0 draw with Nagoya a few weeks back.

RCM #27 Takuma Arano – Would probably be named most disliked player by opposition fans if such a vote were ever to take place, though I’m sure he’d take that as a compliment. Arano’s off-the-ball antics often overshadow what a fine, versatile attacking option he is. Most at home in the middle of the park, he’s also been called into action in more advanced areas due to a lack of alternatives and has re-paid his coach with 4 goals already this season.

LCM #32 Shunta Tanaka – Centre-back or central midfielder currently in his rookie season after joining from Osaka University of Health and Sports Sciences (Hiroki Fujiharu’s old stamping ground). Osaka- native Tanaka was actually called up to the Japan national team squad while still a student, though he didn’t win any caps, he’s also a strong contender to be selected for the Tokyo Olympics squad.

LWB #4 Daiki Suga – Attacker who Petrovic has converted into a dangerous left wing-back. Suga, like Shindo and Arano is a Sapporo U-18 graduate who turned pro in 2017 after making 5 appearances as a type-2 player in Consadole’s promotion winning season the year before. He has been capped by Japan at all levels from U17 through U23 and scored on his senior team debut against Hong Kong in the East Asian Cup last December. Was an unused squad member in last year’s Copa America.

RAM #14 Yoshiaki Komai – Spent 5 seasons with Kyoto after coming through their youth system and made well over 150 J2 appearances with Sanga. Got his big move to Urawa and after two decent years in Saitama he made the move north to link up once more with his former Reds coach Petrovic. Injury limited him to just 3 league games in 2019, but he’s back fit and firing this term.

LAM #18 Chanathip Songkrasin – One of the league’s leading assist makers, the 158cm Chanathip even chipped in with a rare header away to Sendai earlier in the campaign. Capable of playing just off the main striker or as a false-nine, Gamba will need to be very wary of his trickery and ability to slip between the defensive and midfield lines.

CF #48 Jay Bothroyd – Has been in Japan since 2015 when he was recruited by Jubilo Iwata in J2. After helping them gain promotion to the top flight at the first time of asking, he’s gone about building himself an impressive legacy. Now in his fourth year in Hokkaido, the 38 year-old is still able to bully defenders and poses a real aerial threat in the box as evidenced by his headed double against Urawa last weekend.

Other Options – Tall South Korean centre-back Kim Min-tae could be used if Petrovic wants to move Miyazawa into the middle of the park. Youth team graduate Kazuki Fukai has been a regular in central midfield for the past 2 seasons, though he seems to have fallen out of favour recently due to Tanaka’s emergence. Tomoki Takamine and Takuro Kaneko are 2 rookies who’ve been used in a number of roles this campaign, but have yet to nail down starting spots while Ryota Hayasaka, Kosuke Shirai and Yoshihiro Nakano are wide players who haven’t seen much game time in 2020. In attack, dangerous Brazilian forward Anderson Lopes is now back from an extended visit to his homeland, however, he hasn’t yet regained the form that saw him net 9 goals in 25 J1 games in 2019, and compatriot Douglas Oliveira recruited out of Serie C in his home country last winter has flattered to deceive thus far in his Sapporo career.

Predicted Line Ups




Match Prediction

I’ve reached a pessimistic point in my Gamba predictions and see Sapporo, buoyed by snapping their winless run, taking this one rather comfortably, I’ll go 3-1 to the hosts.

Categories
sport Uncategorized

J1 Recap June 2020

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

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

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

Yokohama F.Marinos

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

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

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

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


FC Tokyo

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

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

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

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

Kashima Antlers

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

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

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

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

Kawasaki Frontale

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

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

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

Week 1:
vs Sagan Tosu (h) 0-0
undefined

Cerezo Osaka

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

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

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

Week 1:
vs Oita Trinita (h) 1-0
undefined

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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

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

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

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

Gamba Osaka

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

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

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

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

Vissel Kobe

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

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

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

Week 1:
vs Yokohama FC (h) 1-1
undefined

Oita Trinita

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

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

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

Week 1:
vs Cerezo Osaka (a) 0-1
undefined

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

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

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

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

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

Vegalta Sendai

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

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

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

Week 1:
vs Nagoya Grampus (h) 1-1
undefined

Shimizu S-Pulse

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

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

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

Week 1:
vs FC Tokyo (h) 1-3
undefined

Nagoya Grampus

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

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

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

Week 1:
vs Vegalta Sendai (a) 1-1
undefined

Urawa Reds

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

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

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

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

Sagan Tosu

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

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

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

Week 1:
vs Kawasaki Frontale (a) 0-0
undefined

Shonan Bellmare

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

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

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

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

Kashiwa Reysol

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

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

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

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

Yokohama FC

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

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

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

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