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Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo vs Gamba Osaka 26 June 2022 Match Preview

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 18
Sunday 26 June 2022
Sapporo Dome
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


It’s crunch time at the Sapporo Dome this Sunday afternoon as Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo and Gamba Osaka look to snap 3 match losing runs and put an end to their respective slides down the J1 standings. Gamba slumped to a 4th home defeat of the year against table-toppers Yokohama F. Marinos last Saturday, and while the outcome itself was perhaps unsurprising, worryingly for Tomohiro Katanosaka and the Nerazzurri support it was the 2nd time in the space of 3 matches where opponents have come from behind to defeat the Ao to Kuro, something that happened just once across the 2020 and 2021 campaigns. Gamba currently sit in 15th and Sunday’s hosts are 4 places and a mere 3 points ahead of them following a wretched run of results. Most recently they were thrashed 5-2 by Kawasaki Frontale at the Todoroki Stadium and they’ve now conceded 15 goals in their last 3 J1 outings. Long-serving kantoku Mischa Petrović’s position is coming under increasing pressure and he will be desperate to secure the 3 points here. These two sides combined for an xG of 4.73, but somehow drew 0-0 in Suita during Golden Week, and with this clash, unlike the 2020 and 2021 encounters, being played at the Sapporo Dome rather than the wind-swept, bumpy Atsubetsu Stadium, we should be in for an open game of football and hopefully plenty of goals.

Tale of the Tape


Before I start out this section I’d like to give a shout out to @R_by_Ryo for his excellent 2022 Mid-Season Review which includes a mind-blowing array of stats and information on all 18 J1 clubs, please check it out if you haven’t already.

For Gamba supporters, a one goal home defeat to Yokohama F. Marinos certainly has an air of familiarity about it as it’s now occurred on 5 of the 7 occasions the Kanagawa giants have visited the possibly cursed Panasonic Stadium on league business since it was opened in 2016 (has anyone checked it’s not built on an ancient burial site or anything?) Anyway, as usual when you play Marinos their open style gives you the chance to dazzle on occasions, but also to be completely overwhelmed on others. Quite impressively the Nerazzurri outran their guests from Kanto, completing 2.3 km more as a team and performing 26 more sprints. Both distance covered (120.3 km) and sprinting (204) numbers were season bests for the Ao to Kuro by 1.4 km and 4 respectively. However, on a hot early summer evening they ran out of steam and were unable to go the distance largely due to the efforts they put in during the first 45 minutes (Katanosaka said in his post-match comments that this first-half will serve as the blueprint for the way he wants Gamba to play from now on). Having been outshot a mere 8-7 (xG 1.1-0.5 in Marinos favour) in the opening stanza, after the break Marinos recorded 14 efforts on goal to Gamba’s 5 and outranked them in xG 1.3-0.64. It’s not so much that Marinos created loads of high quality chances for themselves, but as we saw in last week’s stats review, they have an above average attack and if they manage to get the ball in and around an opponent’s box for significant periods of time then they are going to score, no question about it.

Individually 3 players in blue and black stood out positively for me on Saturday. Firstly, goal-scorer Dawhan, who was the Nerazzurri’s leading shot taker on the night with 4 and is now joint top of the club’s scoring charts (tied with Onose on 3). Hiroto Yamami also shone brightly, especially in the first half, his evening’s work included 2 shots, 3 last passes, 3 crosses and 4 possession recoveries and he seems to be starting to find his feet at this level. Additionally, my choice for player of the first half of the season, Kosuke Onose, had a quietly effective evening in attack and defence, chalking up 2 shots, 2 last passes, 5 blocks and 4 possession recoveries.

The final point I wanted to make here is an extension of something I’ve been saying for multiple seasons now, constant tinkering with a team’s shape, especially at the back, leads you nowhere. Now, thanks to the first table you see below, I have the numbers to back up my comments. In 16 league matches so far, Gamba have started with a back 3 on 6 occasions compared to 10 back 4s, and that’s not to mention the numerous times things have been switched up on the fly mid-game or in cup competitions. There have also been 8 changes of formation between consecutive league matches, which in my book is just way, way too many, and it’s something that’s going to need to be addressed if the Ao to Kuro are to dig themselves out of the hole they’re presently in.



Honestly, Sapporo’s results and performances across the first half of the season have defied reason and logic to such an extent that I’m just going to opt for a descriptive rather than a prescriptive approach for the majority of this ‘analysis.’ After drawing their opening 6 games, they were then spanked 5-0 away at Tosu, who prior to that had scored just 3 times in 6 J1 matches (please never change J League), before embarking on a run of 5 consecutive clean sheets which included their trip to Panasonic Stadium in Golden Week. However, starting from the 4-1 drubbing at Kashima on 14 May, Mischa Petrović’s charges have let in a staggering 20 goals in 5 games, conceding 4 or more in 4 of those bouts, and currently boast the league’s most porous backline, 5 clear of nearest challengers Júbilo Iwata. Shots for and against numbers are pretty even, however, Consadole’s xG against is significantly higher than xG for suggesting that opponents are creating far better chances than they are, most likely through counter-attacking opportunities, especially when Sapporo are chasing a game and Petrović alters the strategy from all-out attack to ultra all-out attack. To make matters worse for the Rossoneri, not only has the defence leaked badly, but their injury-plagued attack has misfired too. The likes of Chanathip and Jay haven’t been adequately replaced, while Koroki and Ogashiwa’s fitness issues certainly haven’t helped either as this has led to a square pegs in round holes situation with the likes of Gabriel Xavier, Arano and Kaneko forced to become auxiliary centre-forwards. I’m a long-term admirer of Takuro Kaneko, but unfortunately the leading dribbler and crosser in J1 2021 has been shunted about between wing-back, shadow forward and central attacker which has greatly affected his output. He’s now down to 3rd in the dribbling rankings, level with his mercurial team-mate Lucas Fernandes, and doesn’t even rank 1st at Consadole in the crossing metric with Fernandes registering 14 more during the first half of the year (Kaneko’s currently listed as 20th in the league). With that said, Kaneko remains a threat with the most through balls played out of everyone in the Rossoneri squad while also creating the second highest number of chances. He’s definitely still someone that Tomohiro Katanosaka and the Gamba defence will have to keep a close eye on come Sunday.



First Match Recap

We’re less than 2 months on from the first meeting of the year between these two sides so I’ll be mercifully brief in here. The 0-0 scoreline at Panasonic Stadium doesn’t really tell the whole story of that game as Sapporo hit the post and had Yoshiaki Komai tread on the ball and somehow fail to score from the Gamba goal-line all within the first minute of the contest. Things got even more frustrating for Consadole at the end of the opening period when Gabriel Xavier’s penalty was brilliantly saved by Jun Ichimori after Kwon Kyung-won had been slightly harshly adjudged to have brought down Hiroki Miyazawa. The Rossoneri spent the majority of the second period on the front foot, but were wasteful in the attacking third and almost paid the ultimate price for their sloppiness in the final quarter when the Nerazzurri’s Brazilian duo Patric and Wellington Silva spurned presentable openings. However, a hot and sunny Golden Week encounter somehow finished up 0-0.



Gamba Osaka


Yokohama F. Marinos game wrap – I know I delved into this a touch in ‘tale of the tape’ above, but there were a couple of extra points I wanted to make. Firstly, was the feeling of inevitability that swept the stadium in the wake of Marinos going 2-1 in front, the apparent lack of belief among the Gamba players radiated out to all those of a blue and black persuasion and that was a real concern for me. With that said, Marinos’ keeper Yohei Takaoka did have to be at his best to earn his side the 3 points, just as he did in the corresponding fixture last season, with a couple of excellent stops, 1 in each half, so, while Gamba were thoroughly outplayed in the second period, it wasn’t quite all doom and gloom. Finally, some words of praise for the referee, Akihiro Ikeuchi for sticking with his on-field decision of no-penalty against Mitsuki Saito even when summoned to the VAR booth for a look. This is the first time, excluding when VAR cocked-up by forgetting to check a clear offside in the Gamba vs Sendai game last season, where I can remember a referee refusing to overturn a decision, for or against Gamba, after being called over to the TV monitor.

The ‘R’ Word – In the wake of Ange Postecoglou leading Celtic to the title in his first campaign in charge, I heard the season before his arrival being referred to as ‘a disaster’ and not by Celtic sources, this was the mainstream media I’m talking about. For anyone unfamiliar with the situation, they finished 2nd in 2020/21. Similarly, Gary Neville described the current Manchester United team as ‘the worst since the 1970s’ after finishing 6th in 2021/22 (I’m sure they ended up 7th the year after Fergie left), however, in Japan’s top flight, a season which can be described as ‘a disaster’ or ‘the worst ever’ leads you to J2. So, with that meandering ramble off my chest, now to my question, is Gamba’s annus horribilis of 2012 destined to repeat itself in 2022 and will this World Cup year culminate in relegation for the blue and blacks? Reasons pointing towards ‘yes’ would be, the Nerazzurri’s current form and league position trajectory, the lack of a clear shape or identity, front office recruitment issues, poor defending and constant injuries (I’m sorry this has been going on for so long that it has to be concluded that Gamba are doing something worse than the rest of the league / the rest of the league are doing something better than Gamba – word it as you please). Signs in favour of ‘no’ might be the upcoming summer transfer window, their game in hand and closeness to mid-table, experience in digging themselves out of a hole 12 months ago, and there being enough (though maybe only just enough) weaker teams in the league to finish below them. Which route will the Nerazzurri’s season take from here on? It’s impossible to say at this stage.

Transfer News and Gossip – With the J. League transfer window opening on 15 July and Gamba in dire need of re-enforcements I thought it would be a good time to run through some rumours. Football Tribe reported that Gamba and Fukuoka have dropped out of the race for highly rated Brazilian attacker Ademir (Atlético Mineiro) due to his hefty price-tag (he’s valued at €4.5 million on Transfermarkt). The article also suggested that S-Pulse could still be in the hunt as new kantoku Ze Ricardo seeks to re-shape his squad. He seems set to offload some of his current foreign talents, and the Nerazzurri could be tempted to make a move for someone like Carlinhos Junior or even the recently arrived Oh Se-hun (but that’s purely my speculation). There does seem to be something behind rumours linking Ryotaro Meshino with a return to Panasonic Stadium after 3 indifferent years in Europe and Gamba are also one of a number of clubs credited with an interest in Japan international forward Musashi Suzuki, who is crucially on record as saying he wants to go somewhere that he’ll play regularly, which may put the Ao to Kuro ahead of Kobe and Urawa in the pecking order for his services (then again this could just be wishful thinking on my part). In terms of departures, it’s being reported in South Korea that back-up left-back Shin Won-ho will join Suwon Samsung Bluewings on a 6-month loan while there are strong rumours that out-of-favour volante Ju Se-jong will also return to his homeland, though his future destination is unclear at the moment.

Emperor’s Cup Wrap – Gamba overcame a sluggish first-half performance (no efforts on goal) to see off Tomohiro Katanosaka’s former side Oita Trinita 3-1 at the Showa Denko Dome on Wednesday night. A beautiful dribble and dink from Hiroto Yamami following Shu Kurata’s defence splitting pass drew the Nerazzurri level after ex-Gamba forward (and fellow Kwansei Gakuin alumni) Hiroto Goya had given the hosts the lead with an early spot kick (the second time this season Yota Sato has given away a penalty at the same venue – the other being in the Levain Cup). Speaking of the Levain Cup, the Ao to Kuro will now face another of their group stage rivals, Kashima, away in the next round of this competition thanks to a late brace from Patric. The Brazilian’s first coming via a back post header, where he leapt to meet Shota Fukuoka’s cross superbly, and the second being dispatched from the penalty spot in the 89th minute. With the likes of Kawasaki, Marinos, Urawa, FC Tokyo and Sapporo all bowing out to J2 opposition on the same night, I think it’s safe to say this tie was a bullet dodged and it’s mission accomplished for Katanosaka and co.

Team News

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

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

DF Keisuke Kurokawa – Missed last Saturday’s loss to Marinos and the Emperor’s Cup victory over Oita in midweek, no reason given for his absence which remains a mystery at the moment

DF Kwon Kyung-won – 1 match suspension for red card picked up against Yokohama F. Marinos

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

MF Yuki Yamamoto – Injured knee cartilage in late May, expected back in Autumn at the earliest

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

Predicted Lineups and Stats






Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Interestingly, in the wake of Sapporo’s 5-2 defeat at the hands of defending champions Kawasaki last weekend, former player, from 2017-2021, Jay Bothroyd took to Twitter to criticise the current stagnation at the club and cited the 4th place finish achieved in Mischa Petrović’s first year in charge back in 2018 as the target for all future campaigns. Those comments got me wondering, does that 2018 season hang over the current Sapporo squad like the Sword of Damocles? As an outside observer, I would point out that since entering the J.League back in 1998, Consadole have spent 13 seasons in J2 compared with 11 in the top flight and their current run of 6 consecutive campaigns in J1 is by far and away the best in their history. They’ve never finished lower than 12th during that time and despite recent poor results they’re still 11th this term. With no real investment to bring in big-name talents in their prime, is it realistic to expect a team, that largely has to make do with shaping and molding talents from their youth system and varsity football into a cohesive footballing unit, to perform any better than they’ve been doing of late? I’d argue no, but as sporting fandom is as much a part of the heart, as it is the brain, I’m sure there will be others who disagree. Looking into the near future, it’s clear that Consadole need more attacking weapons to allow them to move up the standings. Having failed to adequately replace Chanathip when he departed for Kawasaki last winter they have now announced that his compatriot Supachok Sarachat will arrive on loan from Buriram United next month. If he can enjoy even half the success of his countryman then that would serve as a real fillip for Sapporo. Veteran forward Shinzo Koroki is now finally fit again, he could be the answer to their goal-scoring problems, though rapidly approaching his 36th birthday, it’s probably best if they don’t rely on him too greatly and instead look to bring in a new attacker this summer. There is increasing pressure on Petrović’s position, but with Consadole still ensconced in mid-table, 4 points above the drop-zone, getting rid of him and radically altering their playing style is probably a risk too great to contemplate at this very moment, though it is definitely a situation to keep your eye on, particularly if they continue to cede goals by the bucket load.

Team News

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

GK Takanori Sugeno – Calf injury, last played 14 May, has partially resumed training

MF Lucas Fernandes – Missed last week’s loss to Kawasaki and the midweek cup tie with Kofu, reason unknown

MF Tomoki Takamine – Hamstring injury, last played 14 May, return date unknown

FW Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa – Hamstring injury, last played 29 April which was a failed attempt at a comeback, currently unclear when he’ll be back

FW Gabriel Xavier – Was subbed off in the first half of the home loss to Ventforet Kofu in the Emperor’s Cup on Wednesday night, his participation here has to be in some doubt.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





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

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Gamba Osaka vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 4 May 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
2022 J1 Season Round 11
Wednesday 4 May 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


With 4 clubs on their way back from the ACL and the other 12 sides duelling it out on Tuesday, Gamba and Sapporo have the Greenery Day J1 spotlight all to themselves this Wednesday afternoon. For the hosts, the 2-0 loss to FC Tokyo on Friday shouldn’t quite be the catalyst to press the big red panic button, however, it’s probably best if the current situation is seen as amber on the danger scale. Visitors Sapporo have bounced back from a sluggish start and come into this fixture in the midst of their best run of form this year. They’ll be eager to repeat 2021’s demolition job and are frankly be the last group of players Gamba and their supporters want to see rolling into town a mere 7 months on from becoming the first and, so far, only away side to score 5 at Panasonic Stadium since it opened back in 2016. Goals and intrigue surely await us as bouts between these two rarely disappoint when it comes to drama and incident, so why not soak up some nature in the morning before tuning in to a potential corker after lunch?

Tale of the Tape

A sleek start to the year where goals were scored in each of their opening 12 outings in all competitions has ground to a shuddering halt recently for Gamba with blanks drawn in their past 3 matches (Shonan and FC Tokyo in J1 plus Cerezo in the Levain Cup). This slump has prompted kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka to re-think his attacking strategy and it seems Leandro Pereira is now seen as the main attacking weapon according to an article published by Yahoo News on Saturday 30 April. The route-one approach of hoofing it to Patric in the hope his knock-downs could tee up Dawhan or Yamami is in the process of being torn down and re-written with Pereira the new poster boy. Should Gamba finally adapt to the former Matsumoto and Hiroshima hit-man’s style then they could be onto a winner, but it’s still very much up for debate how long that will take and if it’s even a viable solution at all. Pereira made just his second league start of the year in the 2-0 loss at FC Tokyo as the Nerazzurri officially kicked off in a 4-4-2 system before blending into variations of 3-4-2-1 and 4-2-3-1 later in the game, my hunch is we’re going to see a number of ins and outs at Panasonic Stadium over the summer with Katanosaka shuffling his deck to suit his tastes as the current state of flux simply can’t continue indefinitely. Following the reverse in the capital, Gamba have scored 12 times (xG 10.14) and let in 15 (xG 13.77) in 10 J1 games and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Ao To Kuro’s inability to take the lead continues to be their undoing. I’d argue they were the better side on Friday after the break, but crucially during that time the Gasmen always had at least a one goal cushion so could afford to sit tight and play on the counter (in truth the Nerazzurri rarely threatened while the scoreline stood at 0-0, a recurring theme this season). Dawhan and Mitsuki Saito showed a bit of verve and panache in the second-half up against the excellent FC Tokyo trio of Takuya Aoki, Shuto Abe and Kuryu Matsuki, another stand-out was Jiro Nakamura, a half-time replacement for Isa Sakamoto. Gamba Youth product Nakamura was effusive in his praise for national age-level team-mate Matsuki, pointing out his excellent physical abilities as well has his technical nous, however, the Nerazzurri’s number 41 shone brightly in his own right with some penetrating runs and dangerous set-plays. A season high 200 sprints were recorded at the National Stadium on Friday so the work-rate is there and the players are behind their manager, now just to cut out that sloppy play at the back (granted weather conditions were atrocious for the entire match as FC Tokyo will certainly attest to) and get the all important opener against Consadole, who are absolutely not a team you want to chase a game against.



Consadole didn’t win any of their opening 7 league fixtures, but the 5-0 shellacking at Tosu appears to have jolted them into shape and they’re unbeaten in their last 3 with no goals conceded. In 2021 they finished 10th, and while their stats suggested they should have been higher, wasted chances let them down time and time again (though unfortunately for Gamba, not when they visited Suita). Sapporo ranked 2nd highest in terms of possession % last year (55.5), 3rd in xG For (1.57 per game) as well as Shots For (14.6), and 4th for xG Difference (+0.21) plus Shots For on Target (8.4), however, more worryingly, at the other end they placed 16th out of 20 for xG Against (1.36). This year has been much tougher viewing for the Rossoneri faithful with almost all of these performance indicators trending in the wrong direction. Let’s start with actual goals scored and conceded which stood at 1.26 For vs 1.32 Against 12 months ago and now sits at 0.9 vs 1.1, so better defending and more anaemic attacking although the xG For (1.24) and Against (1.45) numbers suggest that further improvements are definitely required at the back. Possession remains relatively high at 54.2%, however, the red and blacks are averaging 3 fewer shots per game than 2021 (11.6 vs 14.6) and 2 less on target every 90 minutes (6.4 vs 8.4), plus their xG Difference has nosedived 0.42 when we compare their opening 10 matches this campaign against the 38 match 2021 season (it’s currently sitting at -0.21, a fair bit better than Gamba’s -0.37). So to sum up, results are ticking in the right direction on the field for Mischa Petrović’s troops, but there is a lot of work still to be done on the training pitch in the weeks and months ahead if they’re to maintain or even improve upon their current league placing.



Head to Head


If you read my preview for the FC Tokyo game, you’ll know I promised goals in here this time round and with 8 of them spread across 2 fixtures, I’m about to deliver. After the initial round 4 clash between the two at Sapporo Dome was postponed due to a Covid outbreak in the Gamba squad, the re-arranged tie was eventually played out on Friday 30 July at a bumpy and windy Atsubetsu Stadium. The Ao To Kuro recorded a relatively comfortable 2-0 win over their hosts, the second of three victories in a row which went a long way to easing them clear of the relegation scrap. Close-range efforts either side of half-time from Shinya Yajima and Leandro Pereira sealed the deal for the Nerazzurri in a game notable for being by far and away Wellington Silva’s most effective league outing in a Gamba uniform to date, while agricultural challenges from Rossoneri duo Chanathip and Lucas Fernandes fortunately didn’t injure either Ryu Takao or Kosuke Onose seriously, though they did cause tempers to fray on both sides. Any supporters of a Gamba persuasion would be advised to skip to the next section now. Why? Two years on from a humiliating 5-0 hammering at Panasonic Stadium, Sapporo extracted revenge with a clinical 5-1 drubbing in early October 2021. That the result took place on a matchday ear-marked for Gamba’s 30th birthday celebrations, complete with a special kit, and a (not very well received at the time, but the critics have been eerily silent about it recently winning a prestigious international design award) new club logo, just added to the sense of utter dejection felt by the Curva Nord faithful at the final whistle. The visitors were 3 to the good by the interval thanks to goals from Yoshiaki Komai and Lucas Fernandes, plus a brilliant strike from the impressive Tomoki Takamine (his first ever in J1). The second-half was scarcely any better for the hosts with destroyer-in-chief Takuro Kaneko netting two minutes after the re-start before Patric grabbed a consolation. Sapporo weren’t done yet, however, and Douglas Oliveira rubbed salt into the already gaping wounds, preying on Hiroki Fujiharu’s indecisiveness and slotting past Masaaki Higashiguchi to complete the rout. From a Gamba perspective, if one positive thing came from the aftermath of that horror show, it was Takashi Kiyama effectively replacing Masanobu Matsunami in all but name from this point forward, a change in leadership which resulted in the Nerazzurri bagging 10 points and conceding just 3 goals from their next 4 outings to officially secure their status as a J1 club.




Gamba Osaka

Jiro Nakamura ‘A light amidst the gloom’ – A disappointing result overall on Friday night for all of a Gamba persuasion, but one big positive to take from the defeat was the second-half performance of Jiro Nakamura. After replacing fellow rookie Isa Sakamoto at half-time, Paris Olympic hopeful Nakamura floated between the right wing and the middle of the field, got in behind FC Tokyo left-back Ryoya Ogawa on numerous occasions and generally made a nuisance of himself with his pace and movement. Although Patric was clearly offside when his header was correctly ruled out in the 82nd minute, Nakamura’s whipped delivery was delicious and I’m starting to suspect we could see him make his first ever J1 start on Wednesday.

Dawhan’s dilemma – Dawhan was another player to catch the eye largely for positive reasons on Friday and indeed I’ll call it now, Yosuke Ideguchi wouldn’t get into the current Gamba midfield if he cut his spell at Celtic short tomorrow (South Korean international Ju Se-jong appears set to return to his homeland this summer too due to a lack of top-team action). The Brazilian’s passing and vision helped the blue and blacks get on top of their hosts at times in the second-half and he almost drew the Nerazzurri level when one of his trademark long-range piledrivers smacked off Jakub Słowik’s crossbar. However, in the lead up to Leandro’s wonderful run and clinching goal, Gamba’s number 23 caught up with his mercurial opponent near the edge of the box and essentially had the opportunity to ‘take one for the team’ and wrestle him to the ground before he could deliver the death knell to the Nerazzurri’s chances. Granted, knowing Leandro, he’d probably have curled in a peach from the resulting free-kick, however, given that Shuto Abe, in this match, and Kuryu Matsuki, versus Marinos, have taken yellow and red cards on behalf of their FC Tokyo team-mates, is there an argument to be made that this Gamba side need to get a bit more ‘street-wise’ to succeed?

Jun Ichimori’s nomadic wanderings – While the aforementioned Leandro wonder-strike was a considerable step up in quality from the rest of Friday’s clash, the fact that the chance was brought about by a careless turnover should have surprised no-one. Gamba, in the first period, and both sides after the break seemed determined to cede possession to their opponents in dangerous areas, and ultimately the Nerazzurri were the ones who were punished for it. Stand-in ‘keeper Jun Ichimori had an interesting night, taking some mighty big risks and largely living to tell the tale. He does appear to be a real character with strong self-belief, but man did he have my heart pounding time, after time, after time, as I sat in the pouring rain at the National Stadium. Briefly, while we’re on the topic of goalkeepers, FC Tokyo gloveman Jakub Słowik’s caution for time-wasting just before full-time reminded me of how much I miss Masaaki Higashiguchi, the ultimate master of running down the clock by testing the referee’s patience to the absolute limit before kicking the ball at the last moment and escaping censure.

National Stadium thoughts – I’ll be honest I didn’t hold out great expectations for the pre-match light show, but it turned out to be pretty amazing and despite Gamba ending up as the losing side in a game that probably won’t live long in the memory, there was a definite big match feel to this one and it was great to be a part of such a special event. That said, the Olympic Stadium isn’t football specific and it shows. Leaving at full-time in the cold and wet, it was extremely difficult to see where I was going and approaching a packed and frankly dangerously crowded looking subway entrance I quickly U-turned and walked 2 JR stops away before boarding a train at Yoyogi. This kind of set-up might be ok when people are coming and going all day watching different track-and-field events, but I’m not sure it’s going to cut it when 50,000+ all head for the exits together at the conclusion of a football, rugby match etc.

Ryotaro’s Return – Finally, some transfer gossip and there are rumours linking attacker Ryotaro Meshino with a return to his former side. The Gamba youth product is currently on loan to Estoril in Portugal’s top flight from his parent club Manchester City whom he joined from the Nerazzurri back in 2019. The soon-to-be 24 year old is reportedly out of contract this summer, he needs a club, Gamba need more creativity in attack, he came through the ranks at Gamba, Gamba like re-recruiting their youth products when they return to Japan from spells in Europe, I’ve put 2+2 together, have I got the correct answer?

Oh, just one more thing, Gamba have a break in fixtures between 29 May and 18 June so I’m thinking about doing a 2022 version of last year’s popular ‘Ask Blog Gamba’ post, if you’d be interested please let me know. If I decide to go ahead with it I’ll put the call out for questions at the end of May / beginning of June.


Gamba starting lineup vs FC Tokyo 29 April 2022

Team News

Takashi Usami (achilles) and Masaaki Higashiguchi (knee) are definitely out while captain Shu Kurata (calf) is likely to be absent as well. It’s funny how these things work, as none of that highly influential trio have had any real sort of injury problems prior to this in recent memory, still ‘Haste Ye Back’ as we say in Scotland. It appears that Yuya Fukuda’s head injury is not as serious as first thought, though it’s unlikely he’ll return just yet and there hasn’t been any update on Yuki Yamamoto’s suspected leg knock that he sustained while taking a set-piece against Shonan on April 17. Ryu Takao and Hideki Ishige have both been out of the matchday squad in recent weeks with no official word on their status, it’s suspected that Takao may have a minor injury, but Ishige has just been dropped (that is largely hearsay, so please don’t take it to the bank).

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

It’s Mischa Petrović’s 5th year in charge and I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve uttered something along the lines of ‘things have gone stale,’ but he always finds a way to steady the ship. Last term I had them down as a potential surprise relegation struggler and after a rocky opening they cruised home slap bang in the middle in 10th which whetted my appetite a touch regarding what they could go on to achieve with a stable squad this time round. In my mind they seemed as suitable a candidate as any for that wide open 4th spot and a potential first ever ACL qualification, but like the JTET boys often jokingly suggest, 5th in J2 is forever destined to be Ventforet Kofu’s place in the pecking order, is 10th in J1 (Consadole’s current ranking in 2022) going to one day have such a connotation for Sapporo?

Excellent scouting of varsity football and a well-run youth setup have been the foundations on which Petrović has built his footballing house. Recent university graduates, wide centre-back Shunta Tanaka, midfield anchor / sometime emergency centre-back Tomoki Takamine and wing-back / shadow forward Takuro Kaneko (all 2020) plus pacy attacker Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (2021) form the core of the current side, while the likes of Daiki Suga, Kazuki Fukai and Takuma Arano are all examples of former youth team players presently earning regular minutes in J1. Throw Daigo Nishi, who came through the ranks and has returned to his ‘nest’ (a Japanese translation I always enjoy reading) this season, into the mix and you have a real home-grown feel to this squad. Unfortunately at the moment the 2022 crop of, defender Sora Igawa (University of Tsukuba) and wing-back Hiromu Tanaka (Rissho University) are yet to bear much fruit, but someone who has kicked on a bit is giant teenage forward Taika Nakashima. After spending his formative years with Kunimi High in Nagasaki, the very same school that honed the skills of J1 record scorer Yoshito Okubo (191) and ex-Gamba striker Kazuma Watanabe (now Yokohama FC, 104 J1 strikes), he’s not afraid of stepping into the shoes of giants, and that’s good because it might well be what he’s required to do in Sapporo in the very near future. Just over a month shy of his 20th birthday, Osaka-native Nakashima is yet to start in the league, however, he has found the back of the net twice with the goals coming against Cerezo (I think he got half a hair on it) and Nagoya, in addition to rattling in four in the Levain Cup group stage (braces at the expense of Kashiwa and Kyoto). The Jay Bothroyd era is over, Chanathip has moved south to Kawasaki, Koroki and Ogashiwa have had their injury problems and Gabriel Xavier still hasn’t fully adapted to his new surroundings, in amongst that uncertainty there is room for someone to step forward and grab the bull by the horns, is Taika Nakashima that man, is this his moment?

Team News


There was good news on the injury front for Mischa Petrović last Friday with the return of Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa from the bench for a half hour cameo and that leaves just strike partner Shinzo Koroki (knee) and regular thorn in Gamba’s side Takuro Kaneko (foot) as potential absentees from this tussle. No time-frame has been given for the return of either player though I believe Koroki’s problem is more serious than Kaneko’s.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

Categories
sport

J1 2022 Predicted Lineups

Happy New Year everyone! This is my first post of 2022 and following on from the previous two seasons I’ve decided to put together a J1 predicted lineups article to get the ball rolling. Hope you all enjoy the fruits of my labour.

Also a quick reminder that you can find the 2022 squad lists screenshotted below in this Excel document.

And, be sure to check out @Michael_Master on Twitter if you haven’t already, the one and only account you need to follow to keep up to date with J. League transfers.

The Guide

Teams are listed below in the order they finished the 2021 campaign and each club’s mini-section contains the following information.

Best Signing – This won’t necessarily be objectively the best player the team have signed over the winter, more the one I feel addresses the most pressing need in the squad, for example, spoiler alert, I selected Kim Min-tae over both Yuta Higuchi and Yuma Suzuki in this category at Kashima.

Biggest Loss – Basically the opposite of best signing.

One to Watch – Again it might not be the best player in the squad or the one most likely to join a European club in the summer, rather someone whose good, bad or up-and-down form will set the tone for his team’s entire campaign.

Doubtful – Players who due to either injuries carried over from 2021, immigration issues or, in the case of a certain Polish striker at Nagoya, potential doping violations, might not be available for selection in the opening months of 2022.

Notes – Me trying to work out what direction the team is heading in this year.

Predicted Lineups

A few caveats here,

* For simplicity’s sake I’ve assumed every contracted player to be fit and available for selection when choosing these best elevens.
* These are not meant to be seen as the predicted starting lineup for round 1, think of them more as the players who will feature most across the course of the year (obviously new signings will be made in the summer, but unfortunately I’m not in possession of a crystal ball to make forecasts that far in advance).
* In cases where numerous players may see significant minutes in a certain position I’ve listed alternatives below the main choice (players may appear as alternatives for more than one role, see Satoshi Tanaka or Takuro Kaneko for examples). I also hope this illustrates where certain clubs have perhaps overstocked in one area of the field while neglecting others. Where two alternatives are listed, the name on the left is the one I consider to be higher on the team’s depth chart.
* I think I said this last year, but I’ll repeat myself anyway, expect the lineups for teams that have kept the same coach and most of the same playing staff as 2021 (Kawasaki) to be more accurate than those that have seen multiple changes in management and on-field personnel (Tosu).
* I have done a great deal of research to get these lineups as accurate as I can to the best of my knowledge, but full disclosure, I’ve also acted on some hunches and taken a punt on some lesser known talents (I guess there wouldn’t be much point reading this article if I just stated the obvious). Players coming from university sides directly into professional starting elevens is one of the unique selling points of football in this part of the world versus, say Europe, and it can be immensely tricky trying to project how each year’s batch of fresh-faced graduates will do, especially when data about their positions and skill-sets is hard to come by and the little information you can find seems to show them playing in a position that doesn’t appear to exist at the club they are joining (for example a wide midfielder in a university side that plays 4-4-2 moving to a J1 team that operates a 3-4-2-1, will they be a wing-back or inside forward?). I’m guessing these are the kind of choices that might generate the greatest debate, so please cut me some slack, I like to use data, but several players below have made the grade based largely on gut instinct developed over a decade watching the J. League.

Well, with all that out the way let’s move on and take a look at each of the 2022 J1 sides one by one, shall we? Again I look forward to hearing feedback (good natured I hope) from fans of all teams, followers of the league in general or just casual passers by, you’re all welcome. While I’m confident you’ll agree with some of the points below, I’m also sure there will be many choices and opinions that people will disagree with, and that’s all fine, it’s why we love the beautiful game so much, right?

Kawasaki Frontale

Best Signing: Chanathip – Had plateaued a little up in Sapporo, but a move to the champions should work out well for him and Frontale.
Biggest Loss: Reo Hatate – Basically by default as he was the only top teamer to leave. Perhaps the most frightening thing for the rest of the league is the amount of depth Kawasaki still have in midfield despite losing Hatate, Mitoma, Morita and Tanaka in the last 12 months.
One to Watch: Leandro Damião – Imperious in 2021 and the deserved recipient of the league’s MVP award, could a slight slip back from those grandiose heights offer a glimmer of hope to the chasing pack?
Doubtful: Jesiel (injury)
Notes: It’s Toru Oniki’s 6th campaign at the helm and once again Frontale start as the team to beat. Assuming Jesiel’s injury or the ageing of the forward line doesn’t adversely affect them too much, they are extremely well placed to fight off challenges from Marinos, Kobe, Kashima and Urawa to three-peat for the first time in their history.




Yokohama F. Marinos

Best Signing: Katsuya Nagato – By no means the most glamorous transfer of the winter, but Nagato who, don’t forget, led the league for assists with Sendai back in 2019 looks like he could thrive in Marinos’ system and help their fans quickly get over the loss of Theerathon.
Biggest Loss: Daizen Maeda – Only joined Celtic on an initial six-month loan deal, I don’t really see this happening, but if things turn sour in Glasgow, a sharp return to Yokohama in the summer would do wonders for Marinos’ title aspirations.
One to Watch: Marcos Junior – Goals-wise he’s dropped year-on-year since coming into the league in 2019, but he still remains pivotal to Marinos’ hopes and how well he adapts to Muscat’s game plan will be of critical importance to the team’s chances this season.
Doubtful: Shinnosuke Hatanaka (injury)
Notes: It’s all about Muscat for me, his appointment struck me as slightly strange at the time and even more so now that I’ve had time to digest it. Was he the best person to carry on Ange-ball? No (that guy is coaching Yamagata at the moment). If a desire to carry on the Ange-ball system wasn’t a pre-requisite for getting the job was he the best available candidate? Again, probably not. Despite that, I’m open minded as to what he can achieve given the time and space to put his own mark on the team. I’d argue that this squad is slightly weaker than 12 months ago, however, there is still plenty of talent onboard and top 4 should be a minimum expectation.

Additional Note: Anderson Lopes has been heavily linked with a move to Marinos. I’m unsure about his visa status or who would win out in a duel between him and Léo Ceará to be the main centre-forward.




Vissel Kobe

Best Signing: Tomoaki Makino – Vissel need an experienced head at the back to guide Kikuchi and Kobayashi along and although I’m sure it’ll seem strange at first seeing him in a darker shade of red, he should prove valuable on and off the field in the port city.
Biggest Loss: Thomas Vermaelen – Played more than I expected him to across his 2 ½ years in the league and no doubt passed on a trick or three to his younger protégés.
One to Watch: Yoshinori Muto – Was the dominant partner as he and Yuya Osako amassed a combined 9 goals and 11 assists in 23 appearances at the back end of 2021. More of that this term and Vissel will very much be in the title conversation.
Doubtful: Bojan Krkić (injury)
Notes: Things have never looked better in Kobe, a balanced and settled squad, a competent manager and Hiroshi Mikitani largely leaving the football decisions to football people. We may see some tinkering with the midfield shape, but regardless of what system Miura adopts there’s no reason to suggest Vissel won’t be there or thereabouts at the business end of the year.




Kashima Antlers

Best Signing: Kim Min-tae – Three of last year’s back four have moved on and Kim’s star is burning brightly following an impressive spell filling in for the injured Yuichi Maruyama at Nagoya. His experience alongside the talented, but erratic, Ikuma Sekigawa will be invaluable.
Biggest Loss: Koki Machida – Perhaps not much of a shock as he’d been linked with European clubs in the previous 2-3 windows so Antlers should have planned his succession accordingly.
One to Watch: Diego Pituca – A shining light once he was finally allowed into the country last year, the box-to-box midfielder should be a genuine J1 Best Eleven contender this term.
Doubtful: Shintaro Nago (injury), Kantoku René Weiler (Visa)
Notes: New kantoku René Weiler has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in attack and must be relishing the prospect of moulding them into a cohesive unit once he eventually makes it to the land of the rising sun. At the back the situation is a little less rosy, but should the attack-minded Weiler get things to gel, the Ibaraki side are not hindered by ACL involvement like their rivals and this could set them on a course towards a first title since 2016.




Nagoya Grampus

Best Signing: Keiya Sento – Played in a role for Tosu that doesn’t really exist in the current Grampus set-up, but to me he projects as Naoki Maeda’s replacement and should prove to be a gem of a signing.
Biggest Loss: Takuji Yonemoto – One of the surprise moves of the winter in my book, he left FC Tokyo after one season of working with Kenta Hasegawa, did they have prior beef?
One to Watch: Mateus Castro – Those of a Grampus persuasion will hope that the enigmatic Brazilian has gotten over the slump in form he experienced in the second half of 2021, as well as those Kawasaki transfer rumours, and will bounce back ready to lead the charge towards an ACL place.
Doubtful: Jakub Świerczok (PED Violation)
Notes: If I was a Nagoya fan would I have wanted to wake up to the news that Kenta Hasegawa was replacing Massimo Ficcadenti? No, but I’ll add that he’s nowhere near as bad as some FC Tokyo fans might have you believe. After winning silverware in each of his first 3 years at Gamba, he took an FC Tokyo side that had only achieved a single top 6 J1 finish in the 8 years prior to his appointment to 3 consecutive top 6 placings. Granted, the wheels came off spectacularly in his final seasons at both clubs, but I still maintain he’s a reasonably safe pair of hands until the Grampus hierarchy decide which direction they want the club to take next.




Urawa Red Diamonds

Best Signing: David Moberg Karlsson – Possibly the only player in the history of football to represent both Kilmarnock and Urawa which means that everything inside me should want him to fail, but I actually think this could be quite an astute piece of business by Reds.
Biggest Loss: Tomoaki Makino – Kind of wins this by default as Urawa didn’t lose any real nailed-on 2021 starters in the off-season, only Yuruki and Tanaka ran him close for this award.
One to Watch: Kasper Junker – 7 goals in his first 6 J1 appearances and just 2 in 11 after that as injuries struck. If a full pre-season schedule gets him back up to speed then J1 look out.
Doubtful: Ayumu Ohata (injury), David Moberg Karlsson (Visa)
Notes: When I wrote my Scouting J1 and Scouting J2 articles last autumn I never envisaged that Urawa and Cerezo would be the 2 teams to sign the most players from those lists, but there you go, hats off to both clubs. Reds have added a dizzying array of stars to an already strong looking squad and if they can find a way to get everyone pulling in the same direction then they appear well set to challenge domestically and in Asia.




Sagan Tosu

Best Signing: Naoyuki Fujita – Still very much good enough to play for Cerezo, but probably rightly moved on due to the ageing issues at the club. A return to his first pro side seems a logical next step and he’ll have a big part to play assisting the development of the bountiful young talent on the books at Tosu.
Biggest Loss: Yuta Higuchi – Plenty of competition for this award, but I’m still drowning my sorrows over Higuchi rejecting Gamba for Kashima and have to nominate him here.
One to Watch: Yuki Kakita – Finished 2021 with something of a bang, netting 5 times in 8 outings for a Tokushima side that struggled to create clear-cut openings. Has his old Vortis team-mate Miyashiro with him too and looks to be the ideal replacement for Keita Yamashita.
Notes: Let’s focus on the positives, the goalkeeper, defence and wing-backs are basically unchanged from 2021 (Ayumu Ohata excluded) and in attack, if I can quote Moneyball, they’ve realised they can’t directly replace departed stars like Higuchi, Sento, Koyamatsu and Yamashita, but they can re-create them in the aggregate. If the injury-prone Yuji Ono, high school wizzkids turned pro-level letdowns Jun Nishikawa and Yuto Iwasaki or any of their 6 recruits from varsity football enjoy a standout year then a mid-table finish isn’t out of the question.




Avispa Fukuoka

Best Signing: Lukian – This deal came as something of a bolt from the blue to me and the addition of J2’s top scorer from 2021 adds real impetus to an Avispa attack that will be looking to move up through the gears this year.
Biggest Loss: Emil Salomonsson – Will be a big loss both on and off the field. He must have found it tough with basically 2/3 of his time in Japan falling during the Coronavirus pandemic so it’s hard to begrudge him a move back home.
One to Watch: Tatsuya Tanaka – Back in his native Kyushu, big things will be expected of the versatile wide-man. This was an area where Avispa needed an upgrade and it looks like they’ve found one in the former Gamba, Oita and Urawa speedster.
Notes: I like what they’ve done in the transfer window, I like it a lot. There’s not one signing they’ve made that I haven’t liked, keeping Hasebe and Mae on board is massive too. After all those niceties I will add the qualifier that although on paper this year’s squad looks stronger than last year’s by a bigger margin than last year’s did than 2020’s (still with me?), it might not necessarily translate into them finishing any higher up in the standings. Though I guess having spent so much of their recent history in J2, the Avispa faithful won’t complain about another upper mid-table placing in 2022.




FC Tokyo

Best Signing: Jakub Słowik – Most J1 transfers have some sort of doubt hanging over them, player stepping up a level, poor previous season, injury prone, might not fit the system etc…none of these apply to Słowik, a clear upgrade on what was there before and questions marks over his distribution should only form a minor concern given the quality of the rest of his game.
Biggest Loss: Joan Oumari – Despite apparently only re-signing to cover until Bruno Uvini could get into the country, the Lebanese international had a decent second year in the capital.
One to Watch: Leandro – He and Hasegawa didn’t see eye to eye, that much is clear, if he and Puig butt heads then I’m not sure he’ll have too many backers left in the FC Tokyo support. A brilliant match-winner on his day, we all know what he can be when it’s not, for FC Tokyo and the league’s sake let’s hope the former, not the latter version rocks up in 2022.
Doubtful: Kashif Bangnagande, Sodai Hasukawa, Akihiro Hayashi (injury)
Notes: Far more change off the field than on it with Mixi taking over as the majority shareholder and Albert Puig moving into the managerial hotseat following a 2-year spell with Niigata. From the outside it appears that any kind of on-field improvement will need to be driven by a kantoku who has a beautiful philosophy on how the game should be played, but never really managed to translate that into meaningful results at Albirex, save for a magical 13 game run at the start of last season. A transitional campaign, give the manager time, yikes I’m using up all the clichés I had saved for the Gamba section several entries below.




Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Best Signing: Gabriel Xavier – An unexpected, but potentially excellent ready-made replacement for Chanathip…as long as his performances don’t go on to show that Massimo Ficcadenti knows rather more about football management than all of us armchair pundits.
Biggest Loss: Chanathip – 2021 was another injury-hit campaign for the Thai superstar, though he did bow out on a high with 3 assists in his last 2 matches. Things had gone a touch stale for him in Sapporo, but he’ll surely be fondly remembered in those parts for years to come.
One to Watch: Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa – I’ll admit I’m highly sceptical of the €700,000 move to Hearts rumours, but the pacy forward has certainly caught the eye of national team coach Hajime Moriyasu and in his second year as a pro will be expected to shoulder a greater burden of Consadole’s attacking hopes.
Doubtful: Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (injury)
Notes: The winds of change haven’t been blowing too strongly up in Sapporo with minimal transfer business being conducted. GX10 (will he change his name to GX18?) and Koroki are the only 2 senior signings, but given how they’ve worked the varsity market in recent years, I wouldn’t bet against Sora Igawa (Tsukuba Univ.) and Hiromu Tanaka (Rissho Univ.) turning out to be pretty handy.




Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Best Signing: Taishi Semba – The Ryutsu Keizai University graduate says he’s looked up to Toshihiro Aoyama for a number of years and if all goes according to plan he could well be the one to take over the legendary Sanfrecce midfield maestro’s spot in the not too distant future.
Biggest Loss: Kodai Dohi – Failed to build on a promising 2020 due to a succession of injuries, but a loan spell with Mito is absolutely the right move to resuscitate his career.
One to Watch: Junior Santos – If the 2020 Yokohama F. Marinos version of Junior Santos turns up this year then it’ll be as good as a new signing for the three arrows.
Doubtful: Tsukasa Morishima, Yoichi Naganuma, Douglas Vieira (injury), Kantoku Michael Skibbe (Visa)
Notes: After pleading poverty for much of last year, the additions of Tsukasa Shiotani and Michael Skibbe following spells in the Middle East indicate that there is money available if they choose to use it. Skibbe’s delayed arrival has thrown an unwelcome spanner in the works, though he is fortunate to have a settled squad at his disposal, albeit one that largely underperformed relative to their game-by-game stats in 2021.




Cerezo Osaka

Best Signing: Jean Patric – I must admit I don’t know a whole lot about him, but he appears to have a decent pedigree and fills a spot that really needed an upgrade as a result of the person I’ll talk about below departing.
Biggest Loss: Tatsuhiro Sakamoto – A fine player who slightly lost his way in what was a disappointing 2021 campaign overall for the Cherry Blossoms. Still, as a result of his 2020 form and the performances he put in at the start of last year, he’s done more than enough to merit his move.
One to Watch: Takashi Inui – I wasn’t a big fan of his return when it was initially announced due to Cerezo having a plethora of 30-somethings already on their books, but given the way this year’s squad is shaping up I feel he’ll have a vital role to play as an impact sub and dressing room leader.
Doubtful: Takashi Inui, Hinata Kida, Adam Taggart, Đặng Văn Lâm (injury), Jean Patric (Visa)
Notes: I like their winter transfer work a whole lot more than I did last year (see what I said about them in the Urawa section above), especially the acquisition of Nagasaki’s jewel-in-the-crown Seiya Maikuma (sorry for telling everyone how good he was Daniel!) The permanent appointment of Akio Kogiku who, according to Transfermarkt, has been at the club in one capacity or another since 1998 could be a masterstroke as he’s surely amassed the clout that will allow him to tap a few shoulders and break the news to several veterans that they’re no longer the automatic choices they once were.

Additional Note: Croatian defender Matej Jonjić is rumoured to be returning in the coming days. If that move happens he’ll be the main centre-back upon his arrival in the country with Nishio and Shindo battling it out to partner him. He’d also overtake Jean Patric as my choice for ‘best signing.’




Gamba Osaka

Best Signing: Mitsuki Saito – Not a signing I really expected going into the transfer window, but a more than welcome addition to the Nerazzurri’s midfield ranks
Biggest Loss: Kim Young-gwon / Yosuke Ideguchi – Neither were at their best in 2021 (a comment which could pretty much be applied to the majority of the squad), but both will be missed dearly by the Ao to Kuro faithful.
One to Watch: Hiroto Yamami – I should probably have chosen him in the ‘best signing’ category, but thought he’d fit better here instead. Hopefully that worldy against Shimizu was just a taste of what’s to come as he’s set himself the target of scoring double digits this year.
Doubtful: Jun Ichimori, Leandro Pereira (injury), Dawhan, Kwon Kyung-won (Visa)
Notes: As close to a free-hit of a season as you’ll ever get as Gamba kantoku awaits Tomohiro Katanosaka, though that didn’t stop him heaping pressure on himself by setting 3rd as the target for this year. Gamba fans I’ve talked to say that top 8 is more realistic, especially with Kawasaki, Marinos, Kobe, Kashima and Urawa all looking particularly strong. To quote Celtic supporters, “trust the process,” Katanosaka is a man with a plan and that’s something that was sorely missing for the majority of 2021.




Shimizu S-Pulse

Best Signing: Takeru Kishimoto – A surprisingly difficult choice this one, as though regular readers will remember I picked out Kishimoto as someone to keep an eye on in my Scouting J1 article last autumn, I can’t help but feel there were more logical moves for both him and Shimizu to make. Granted the S-Pulse front office and I never appear to be on the same frequency when it comes to ideas on how to take the club forward.
Biggest Loss: Hideki Ishige – I know he was at Okayama on loan at the end of last season, but his departure sums up, for me at least, the malaise at the Nihondaira. A once mighty powerhouse born out of the cradle of Japanese football now reduced to letting long-serving youth academy graduates leave for rival clubs while the powers-that-be continue to blindly spin the roulette wheel, trying in hope, more than expectation to find the coaches and players necessary to bring back the glory days.
One to Watch: Yuito Suzuki – I’m sure you’ve all seen his wonder strike against Shonan, however, unfortunately that was one of only two goals he’s amassed in 63 J1 outings since turning pro in 2020. Imagine the heights regular contributions from him, in addition to Thiago Santana’s steady stream of goals, could take S-Pulse to.
Doubtful: Renato Augusto, Akira Ibayashi, Takumi Kato, Kenta Nishizawa (injury)
Notes: I realise I’ve been a bit harsh on S-Pulse above and it’s absolutely nothing personal as they’re an iconic and extremely likeable club, I just struggle to be overly positive when their front office keeps making baffling decisions. The Peter Cklamovski experiment was ditched in favour of the ultra-defensive Lotina brand of football and now they’ve opted for the man who came in to temporarily do a spot of firefighting at the end of both 2020 and 2021, the particularly tricky to say regardless if you go Japanese or western style, Hiroaki Hiraoka (or Hiraoka Hiroaki if you prefer). There’s loads of depth on the flanks, but any injury or departure down the central spine of the team (Gonda, Yoshinori Suzuki, Matsuoka and Thiago Santana) would sting badly.

Additional Notes: Reports out of South Korea suggest that S-Pulse have tabled a large bid for Ulsan Hyundai’s tall forward Oh Se-hun. On Paper the highly-rated 23 year old would be a quality addition, but it would also leave Shimizu with 7 foreign talents on their books. Do they never get the memo from the J. League about only being allowed 5 in your matchday squad?




Kashiwa Reysol

Best Signing: Tomoya Koyamatsu – Big shoes to fill in attack, he’s coming off the back of a decent couple of seasons with Tosu and should quickly become a fan favourite at the Hitachidai.
Biggest Loss: Cristiano – The now 35-year old club legend departs after 7 years with the Sunkings. Sure he may be past his prime, but having seen him perform in the flesh last year, he’s very much still got it and I’m certain he’ll tear up J2 with Nagasaki.
One to Watch: Douglas – With the fearsome foursome of Olunga, Cristiano, Esaka and Segawa all gone, the goalscoring burden falls on the previously prolific, but perhaps slightly over-the-hill Douglas. Is there still enough fire there for one final hurrah before he rides off into the sunset?
Notes: I believe it was Gabriele Anello who pointed out that 2021 saw the most managerial changes in J. League history, a good number of them appeared harsh when viewed from afar, but on the flip side of the coin, Kashiwa’s stubborn dedication to keeping Nelsinho in the hotseat continues to puzzle me. Of course the Brazilian is a legend in Kashiwa circles, however, he had 38 J1 games last season to work out his best eleven and formation, and never managed it. If he doesn’t know, then how am I supposed to? I’ve gone 4-2-3-1 below, but 3-4-2-1, 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 are all possible. I’m not saying it’ll actually happen, but they’ll surely be a popular pick for big team who could go down this year.




Shonan Bellmare

Best Signing: Ryota Nagaki – The return of the prodigal son was an easy choice here, he’ll bring skill and more importantly a wealth of experience to help shepherd along Bellmare’s exciting crop of youngsters.
Biggest Loss: Mitsuki Saito – I know that selecting both Ishige and Saito as the biggest loss for their respective clubs may come across as extreme Gamba bias (especially given Saito was on loan at Rubin Kazan in 2021), but hear me out, how often do Shonan come through a winter transfer window with all their prized assets still in place? Hata, Tanaka and Hiraoka are still there, leaving me with the rare predicament of struggling to find a departed player Shonan will really miss this year.
One to Watch: Satoshi Tanaka – When I saw that Takuji Yonemoto had moved to Shonan on loan and Tanaka still hadn’t been confirmed as a Bellmare player for 2022, I felt sure we were less than 24 hours away from witnessing his unveiling at the Toyota Stadium, but alas it was not to be and he’ll continue developing down on the Shonan coast, for now at least, whether that’s as a holding midfielder or centre-back remains to be seen.
Notes: This is Satoshi Yamaguchi’s first full campaign at the helm and it’ll be interesting to observe what tactical alterations, if any, he makes. As you can see below, there are a number of players of similar abilities competing for spots across the field which can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. I’ve tried my hardest to cram Tanaka, Nagaki and Yonemoto into the same lineup, Yamaguchi may have other ideas. They were the best defensive team in the bottom half last year and with the business they’ve done since should be even stronger now. My concerns are at the other end, they accrued a league high 16 draws last season and joint top scorers Wellington and Naoki Yamada only managed 5 apiece, there’s nothing to suggest they’ll be any more prolific in 2022.




Júbilo Iwata

Best Signing: Ricardo Graça – Again, hands up, I don’t know a whole lot about him, but the rest of Júbilo’s transfer business hasn’t been much to write home about and although Kentaro Oi has given the club years of good service, promotion back to J1 should very much be the signal to put him out to pasture, the capture of Graça allows the club to do just that.
Biggest Loss: Lukian – A huge blow to the side’s attack and also their collective psyche to lose such an important player to a team, in Fukuoka, that despite far out-performing Júbilo on the field in 2021, would have been viewed as a step-down for the majority of the clubs’ respective histories.
One to Watch: Yasuhito Endo – Gamba let Endo go in mid-2020 as despite his passing and vision still being top drawer, the veteran (who’s the same age as Steven Gerrard and Xavi, don’t forget) couldn’t get around the park like he used to. We’ll have an answer on how right or wrong that decision was very soon.
Doubtful: Dudu, Ricardo Graça (Visa)
Notes: An extremely impressive promotion campaign followed up by the appointment of highly-rated Kofu boss Akira Ito had things looking rather spritely for a time in Iwata. However, the club don’t really appear to have backed the new kantoku enough in the transfer market. Kenyu Sugimoto could work, but I wouldn’t bet on it, there are question marks surrounding when their 2 new marquee Brazilians can get into the country and long-standing issues related to a chronic lack of pace throughout the squad haven’t been sufficiently addressed over the winter.

Additional Note: Brazilian forward Vinícius Araújo, now a free agent after failing to agree terms on a new deal with Yamagata, is a possible addition before the season begins. He’d take over the centre-forward berth from Sugimoto should he decide to make the Yamaha Stadium his home for 2022.




Kyoto Sanga

Best Signing: Rikito Inoue – Despite the club making a number of winter signings, few of them are clearly better than the options already in place. Inoue, who’s moved east from Okayama with Dutchman Jordy Buijs travelling in the opposite direction, is the pick of the bunch for me. Readers of my Scouting J2 article will know I’m a big fan of his and with Shogo Asada still onboard, Sanga have two of the top centre-backs from J2 2021 in their ranks, albeit neither of them has a single minute of J1 action to their name.
Biggest Loss: Jordy Buijs – His departure came as something of a surprise and I’ve no doubt that he’ll continue to prove himself to be one of the best defenders in J2 with Fagiano this season.
One to Watch: Peter Utaka – 38 years young when the season kicks off, if he can keep banging them in then Kyoto could (could, not will – please remember) be this year’s Fukuoka.
Doubtful: Naoto Misawa, Tomoya Wakahara (injury), Michael Woud (injury/Visa)
Notes: Reasons to be cheerful; they’ve got a coach who knows what it takes to survive in J1 and a squad with a decent sprinkling of top tier experience, especially when compared with other recent newly promoted sides. Reasons to be fearful; the murky goalkeeping situation, a lack of J1 experience at centre-back and central midfield and a host of Hail Mary signings that could all fall flat. The rather unorthodox Genki Omae may be the most likely to deliver from a list of names which also includes Mendes, Hisashi Appiah Tawiah, Martinus, Ryogo Yamasaki and Yuta Toyokawa.




If you’ve made it this far, thank you and congratulations! I hope this guide has been useful for you, look out for plenty more posts from me throughout the year and enjoy the 2022 J1 season whoever you support!

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sport

Gamba Osaka vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 2 October 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
2021 J1 Season Round 31
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 2 October 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


Welcome to blog post #100 – thanks to everyone who’s helped me get this far!

Gamba’s 2-1 victory over Kashiwa Reysol on Sunday bought some crucial breathing space at the bottom of the table and has set them up nicely for their next fixture at home to Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. The Nerazzurri, currently sitting on 33 points, 7 clear of the drop zone, would pull to within 3 of their visitors should they manage to bag the win here. Consadole are safely ensconced in mid-table which has seemingly had an adverse effect on recent results meaning Gamba will see this as an opportunity to further cement their J1 status for 2022.

This clash will be followed by a two-week break for both these sides, and for the Nerazzurri, in particular, it could not have come at a better time with players dropping like flies as a result of the hectic summer schedule. Sapporo boss Mischa Petrović will also welcome the gap in fixtures as it gives him the chance to rally his troops for one final push towards the end of the year. Typically when these two collide we don’t see the best of Consadole and the men from Hokkaido will be keen to rectify that here, while the home side, buoyed by lightning quick starts in their previous two home outings will have the bit between their teeth as they look to give the 10,000 strong Panasonic Stadium faithful something to cheer about (this is the first time the capacity has been above 5,000 all year).

A quick reminder that Gamba will be wearing their 30th anniversary uniform in this fixture. It’s earned mixed, but mostly positive reviews on social media, check out the pictures below to see for yourself.

Tale of the Tape

Gamba avoided the indignity of losing 5 consecutive league games for the first time since 1998 and the success in the match against Kashiwa should hammer home the importance of getting off to a fast start. Contrast Sunday’s encounter with the home ties against Marinos, Kobe and Sendai earlier in the year. While the stats in the table below don’t look pretty for Gamba vs Kashiwa, in the battles with the aforementioned sides, the Nerazzurri dominated everywhere except on the scoresheet. Getting ahead makes things so much easier late on, and although Gamba still look vulnerable to quick counter attacks (Masaaki Higashiguchi leads the league in total saves made), they got the rub of the green on Sunday and were able to stay the course. The blueprint for victory has been laid out, so onwards and upwards from here with Sapporo representing the first of four remaining fixtures that should be targeted for wins, the others being, Tosu (h), Oita (a) and Shonan (h) while we’ll take what we can get from Urawa (a), Marinos (a), Nagoya (h) and Kawasaki (a).

I’ve thought for a long time that Sapporo play an extremely eye-catching, but highly inefficient brand of football. They are among the league’s best when it comes to xG for, xG difference, shots on goal, passes completed and possession, however, results on the pitch are much less impressive. I actually had them down as my dark horse surprise relegation contender for 2021 (little did I know it would be my own team who’d battle it out with Kashiwa and Cerezo for that crown – oops), but after a sluggish start, just 2 wins from their first 9 games, they steadied the ship, taking 27 points from their next 14. There’s been a bit of a wobble since then, as they followed up their disappointing 2-0 loss to the Nerazzurri in July with impressive home wins over FC Tokyo and Urawa before embarking on their present run of just 4 points from their most recent 7 outings. A J2 side for the majority of their history, Petrović, to his eternal credit, has firmly established them in Japan’s top flight, however, finances appear tight and despite decent youth development work and university recruitment it’s going to be tough for them to continue finishing so high in the league year after year.





Head to Head

Generally when I watch Consadole as a neutral I see a pretty entertaining game regardless of the opposition, however, recent battles between them and Gamba have mostly failed to catch fire. Case in point, the Nerazzurri’s 2-0 triumph on July 30 at the Atsubetsu Stadium, a venue which doesn’t suit the Rossoneri’s attacking style nearly as much as Sapporo Dome. The hosts burst out of the traps quickly, fired in numerous low percentage efforts, but were then picked off on the counter twice by Gamba with Shinya Yajima and Leandro Pereira having all the time in the world to bury their chances before the visitors shut the game down effectively for a valuable 3 points.

In 2020 it was a similar story with the Ao to Kuro winning both fixtures by just a solitary goal. Kazuma Watanabe’s late effort sealed a miserly 1-0 away win at the Atsubetsu while Gamba had to come from behind in the return match with Yosuke Ideguchi and Patric’s strikes cancelling out Douglas Oliveira’s first ever J1 goal.

Interestingly, or maybe not, 18 August 2013 was the first time I witnessed Takashi Usami score for Gamba live and in the flesh. The old Expo ‘70 Commemorative Stadium was the venue and Consadole Sapporo, prior to the addition of Hokkaido to their name, were the visitors. After a goalless first 45, two strikes in the space of four second-half minutes from Takaharu Nishino (now Sanuki) and Usami killed the game off as a contest. Brazilian Adi Rocha added gloss to the scoreline 14 minutes from time and it ended 3-0. Hiroki Fujiharu was the only other current Gamba player on duty that day, while both Hiroki Miyazawa and Takuma Arano were in the starting lineup for Sapporo.



Gamba Osaka


Due to the mounting pile of injured bodies in the Gamba treatment room (calls for a new physical coach to be brought in next year grow louder by the day), Masanobu Matsunami’s hand has almost been forced selection wise, though it is interesting to see that he and I both seem to agree on 4-2-3-1 being the way forward, for now anyway. That system, which in truth became more of a 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 after the early lead was established against Kashiwa has worked well in the last 2 matches and hopefully the Nerazzurri stick with it until the end of the season. Realistically an average of just over a point per game can be expected from the remaining 8 league matches this year and if good results are achieved over the next couple of fixtures then it’d be great to see Matsunami start to put foundations in place for his successor. With Hiroto Yamami, Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto confirmed in the arrivals lounge, plus Wellington Silva, Takashi Usami and Shu Kurata already on the books the supporting cast for Patric, or a new main striker, looks to be coming together rather nicely. As I mentioned on the J-Talk Podcast last week, I think everyone of a Gamba persuasion will be happy to put this annus horribilis to an end and start afresh in 2022.

On Tuesday (28 September) a vaguely worded club statement announced that former JEF, Ehime, Yamagata and Sendai boss Takashi Kiyama had been brought on board to assist stand-in kantoku Masanobu Matsunami for the rest of 2021. Whether this is a prelude to him potentially filling the hot seat permanently from next year is up for debate. In my opinion, getting someone in with fresh ideas can only be a good thing for the remaining two months of this tortuous campaign, but Kiyama would be a rather underwhelming full-time appointment who I struggle to envisage returning Gamba to their former glories should he be handed the reigns. For me, the club need to look for a higher profile candidate, be that a Japanese or foreign coach. I’d certainly be keen to hear the thoughts of others, am I wrong to dismiss Kiyama so quickly, what do you think?

Team News


Unfortunately, from a Gamba perspective, there is plenty of team news this week. Shu Kurata left the field against Kashiwa with a heavily strapped right thigh in just the 25th minute while Wellington Silva was carried off on a stretcher later on, but I believe this was just down to fatigue. Both players took part in the celebratory clap in front of the home fans at the end and if I were a betting man I’d say Silva will play here and Kurata will return after the international break. Sapporo’s defence will certainly be hoping there’s no Silva after the the endless headaches his penetrating runs gave them in the reverse fixture. Gen Shoji, Yuki Yamamoto and Tiago Alves have all been absent from the matchday squad for the Shonan and Kashiwa games with no official confirmation why. Matsunami mentioned Shoji’s ‘poor physical condition’ as the reason for his non-selection against Antlers and we can merely speculate that as the Nerazzurri had Takao, Kurokawa and Sato all on the bench on Sunday that Shoji, Yamamoto and Alves must have problems of some kind (alternatively Alves might have been punished for his ridiculous celebration after his consolation away to Kashima). Elsewhere, Leandro Pereira Yuya Fukuda, and Yuji Ono (all hamstring), Genta Miura (knee) and Jun Ichimori (shoulder) are likely to miss out while there’s still no word on the heavy knock Kosuke Onose took in the Emperor’s Cup tie with Shonan.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo


Sapporo only really have pride to play for in their final 8 league fixtures, and after this trip to Osaka they still have home dates with Fukuoka, Shonan and Kashiwa remaining in addition to away duels with Marinos, Shimizu, Tosu and Yokohama FC. Depending on motivation and fitness levels within the squad, gathering 13 points from those games isn’t entirely out of the question and that would leave them tantalisingly close to the club record of 55 points set during their 4th place run in 2018 (granted that haul came in a 34 match campaign, but reaching the half century this term would be a huge step in the right direction for the Rossoneri).

Looking ahead to next season, integrating new Slovenian signing Milan Tučić into the attack is vital considering the ageing of Jay Bothroyd and the departure of Anderson Lopes. Consadole’s only confirmed new arrival for 2022 so far is midfielder Hiromu Tanaka, older brother of Vegalta Sendai’s Wataru, he’ll join from Rissho University, and Sapporo have a pretty decent record with varsity recruits in recent seasons (Shunta Tanaka, Takamine, Kaneko, Ogashiwa). Speaking of those four, it’s quite possible that J1’s most northerly club will have to fend off suitors from further south, particularly those with a pressing need to rapidly lower the average age of their squad, Cerezo and FC Tokyo to name but two.

Team News

As usual writing this section is much easier for Gamba’s opponents than for the Nerazzurri. Key defender / set-piece mastermind Akito Fukumori (most last passes in J1 with 58, Takuro Kaneko is 4th with 48) has missed the past 4 games with a knee injury as has Thai schemer Chanathip, he has a thigh problem. No date has been given for the return of either player, as per J League norms. Central midfielder Kazuki Fukai has been absent for the last 7 fixtures while Jay Bothroyd sat out Sunday afternoon’s home defeat at the hands of Hiroshima, I don’t have any additional information on either.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

Categories
sport

J1 Predicted Lineups Post Transfer Window Update

The summer transfer window “slammed shut,” or closed gently as it tends to do here in Japan, last Friday (August 13), so I thought this would be a good time to have a look at the lineups we are likely to see J1 teams field from now until December.

A quick reminder that you can always check out my regularly updated J1 and J2 databases here,

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1j6HTKFF38A3cAz7sqw3jfZ4f6y8soAgOjfXqKR3fNCM/

Before I get into it, here is a rough guide to some of the parameters I’ve used.

* Teams are listed in the order they finished the 2020 season, ie the order you’ll find them in all the 2021 yearbooks.
* The lineups below are not necessarily the ones you’ll see next week, more an amalgamation of the players expected to feature most frequently between now and the end of the season.
* Where genuine competition exists for a starting spot, I’ve listed alternatives below the projected starter.
* The injured / unavailable list only includes players who I feel would have a genuine chance of starting if they were fit. Regular readers will know finding information about JLeague injuries can be a thankless task, so I’ve done my best, but can’t promise it’s 100% accurate.

Finally, if you don’t already, please give @Michael_Master a follow on Twitter. The use of the word ‘Master’ in his handle is by no means an overstatement, the man is truly the oracle when it comes to Japanese transfers and this blog post wouldn’t have been possible without his updates. Thanks man!

Kawasaki Frontale

Comments
Yes Mitoma and Tanaka are gone, and yes Kashiwa have just become the first team in 40 J1 games to keep them scoreless, but take a look at the lineup below and you’ll surely agree this is still the strongest side in the division. A settled back 6 and plenty of options in attack plus rivals either losing players or being engaged in the process of rebuilding, makes me believe they’ll overcome ACL distractions to lift a fourth title in five years.
Injured/Unavailable: 10 Ryota Oshima


Gamba Osaka


Comments
Long time readers of this blog will know the trouble I’ve had predicting Gamba starting lineups recently, though I should point out in my defence, I’m generally more accurate at it than DAZN! With Miura, Kim and Shoji fit, 3-4-2-1 seems like it’ll be the order of the day for most remaining games this season. From 2022, however, it’d be good to see 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 getting an outing, especially if Hiroto Yamami can replicate anything like the form he did against Shimizu on Friday.
Injured/Unavailable: 14 Yuya Fukuda, 15 Yosuke Ideguchi, 27 Ryu Takao, 28 Wellington Silva


Nagoya Grampus

Comments
The arrival of Polish international Jakub Świerczok is like manna from heaven for the Grampus support who have been starved of a genuine centre-forward since Jô’s acrimonious departure at the start of 2020. Captain Yuichi Maruyama is out for the year and the slight defensive wobble caused by his absence, in addition to an inability to create presentable openings for their attackers has seen Nagoya slip back from the highs of last year and the early part of this campaign. Still very much in the hunt for 3rd place, their new number 40 will have a big say in whether they equal last season’s final ranking or not.
Injured/Unavailable: 3 Yuichi Maruyama, 9 Ryogo Yamasaki, 44 Mu Kanazaki


Cerezo Osaka

Comments
The problem with a having a club legend in charge, as both Osaka clubs have found out this year, is that it’s not easy to sever ties with them when things head south. The further away Cerezo get from the defensive stability of the Lotina-era, the more vulnerable they look at the back, while at the other end of the field, a succession of niggling injuries to key personnel has set-back Culpi’s plans to revitalise their attack. The Cherry Blossoms don’t really do mid-table finishes and have only 1 win and 11 points from their last 15 league outings…they couldn’t….could they?
Injured/Unavailable: 3 Ryosuke Shindo


Kashima Antlers


Comments
Things have generally meandered along under Naoki Soma, just as they did under predecessors Zago and Oiwa and on the back of 3 straight wins, the Ibaraki giants are firmly in the picture for 2022 ACL qualification which is really a bare minimum for a club of this size and prestige. Box-to-box midfielder Pituca seems to be a ready-made long term replacement for Leo Silva, but the Antlers faithful must have concerns over how long they can keep hold of talented youngsters like, Araki, Machida and Tsunemoto. Key forward Everaldo has incredibly only scored once in J1 this season and seems to be dropping deep and into wider areas too often, though with Tomoya Inukai raking in goals as he did against Shonan last week, it doesn’t appear to be hindering the team too much.
Injured/Unavailable: 22 Rikuto Hirose


FC Tokyo

Comments
A very streaky team this year, and I’ll discuss them in greater detail during my preview of their upcoming clash with Gamba, Gasmen supporters have seen their side go on both 5 game winning and losing runs in the first half of the season. Boss Kenta Hasegawa and playmaker Leandro burying the hatchet, for now, has helped make them a much more potent force going forward which has somewhat papered over the widening cracks at the back.
Injured/Unavailable: 9 Diego Oliveira, 14 Takuya Uchida, 33 Akihiro Hayashi, 37 Hotaka Nakamura


Kashiwa Reysol

Comments
I’ve already gone pretty deep on the J Talk Podcast regarding my issues with the Reysol front office’s performance in recent years. That, plus the winter departure of Olunga has really set them back this campaign in my opinion. Their season stats and recent results indicate a push up the table might be on the cards during the second half of the year. A bloated squad, constant tinkering with the team’s shape and a never-ending succession of injuries suggest otherwise.
Injured/Unavailable: 7 Hidekazu Otani, 11 Matheus Savio, 33 Hayato Nakama, 39 Yuta Kamiya


Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Comments
Sanfre have reverted to the tried and trusted 3-4-2-1 after an ill-advised dabble with a back 4 at the beginning of the season. They appear to have a surplus of quality centre-backs, but there’s now a gaping Hayao Kawabe shaped hole in the middle of the park. More cutting edge is required up front, but with the new stadium project sucking in resources, they lack the funds to adequately replace Leandro Pereira and it looks like they’ll be left relying on youth team products, university graduates and promising J2 players in the coming years.


Yokohama F. Marinos

Comments
10 points from 4 games in quick-fire succession marks an excellent introduction to Japanese football for Kevin Muscat. The Australian head coach must have been delighted with Léo Ceará’s efforts in recent weeks, putting his hand up as the man to fill Ado Onaiwu’s big boots up front. They are now breathing right down the necks of Kanagawa rivals Kawasaki and we have a genuine title race on our hands. Their devastating attack is beyond reproach, but the old defensive frailties which held them back in 2018 and 2020 have been on display since returning from their summer break. Gamba and Oita, two of the weaker attacks in the division, let them off the hook, but I have a nagging doubt that they are going to give too many chances, to the wrong team, on the wrong day and that’s what’s ultimately going to cost them top spot.


Urawa Red Diamonds


Comments
The plethora of new talent in the arrivals lounge has made Reds one of the most talked about J1 sides during the summer months. The shape I’ve set out below was not the one used by Ricardo Rodriguez on Saturday night, however, I feel he may lean towards it later in the year. Although Kobe seem to act as a bit of lightning rod for online criticism about big spending, dress it up any way you like, Reds summer spree is a naked attempt at fixing problems using cold, hard cash. The Saitama outfit mean business, they may not reach the summit this year, but, they’ll definitely be a team to keep your eye on in the coming years.
**Please note – on August 15 Reds announced Kasper Junker had undergone surgery on a cheekbone injury, I expect to see him back wearing some Tsuneyasu Miyamoto-style facial protection in the next couple of weeks so kept him in the lineup below.**


Oita Trinita

Comments
After a decent run in the top flight since 2019, it seems like the curtain is coming down on their J1 journey, for now. Trinita possess the weakest attack in the division, scoring an anaemic 0.63 goals per game, see misses in the 15th and 48th minutes of their eventual 5-1 drubbing at Marinos on Sunday for clear evidence of where the issues lie. Former Gamba assistant Tomohiro Katanosaka, now in his 6th year in charge, has recently looked at alternatives to his favoured 3-4-2-1, including starting with a back 4 vs Marinos, but I feel like he will return to type soon as the squad is built to play with 3 centre-backs. Goya and Masuyama have come in to bolster the attack, but they still lack a proven source of goals. Onaiwu, Fujimoto and Tanaka have all previously departed for brighter lights elsewhere and it costs money to replace that kind of talent, money, that sadly, Trinita just don’t have.
Injured/Unavailable: 15 Yuta Koide


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo


Comments
Petrovic’s 100mph attacking football style is locked and loaded at the Sapporo Dome and at the moment it seems to be bearing fruit. As I write this, Consadole have just seen off FC Tokyo in impressive fashion, having dispatched Urawa with even greater ease the week before. Not the richest, or flashiest of J1 outfits, but their in-depth scouting of Japan’s varsity competitions, allied with solid youth development has proven crucial in steering them in an upwards trajectory over the past few months.


Sagan Tosu

Comments
With severe financial difficulties, a manager who’s just returned from a 3 week suspension while an internal power harassment investigation was conducted and 2 of their brightest talents freshly headed out the door, it’s amazing how settled things still appear at Tosu. Matsuoka and Hayashi are now yesterday’s men, but replacements Shirasaki and Koizumi from Kashima are thoroughbred pros who will help steady the ship. ACL qualification may be just beyond them this year, and that’s a real shame as the vultures will surely be circling the likes of Higuchi, Yamashita, Sento and Eduardo in the winter, making a repeat of this season’s heroics all the tougher.
Injured/Unavailable: 23 Fuchi Honda


Vissel Kobe

Comments
It’s worth remembering that Kobe have never finished higher than 7th in J1, so assuming they can get big-name summer recruits Muto and Osako integrated quickly then they’ll be well on their way to achieving a first ever ACL qualification through league performance. Bojan is a bit of an unknown quantity these days, but J1 coach of the month for July Miura has built a solid foundation and crucially has gotten, the high profile stars, the undercard, and the youngsters all pulling together in the same direction, hats off to him for that.
Injured/Unavailable: 1 Daiya Maekawa, 29 Lincoln


Yokohama FC


Comments
A mass recruitment process over the summer has given them a glimmer of hope, and they are now unbeaten in their last 4 games, but is it all a bit too little, too late? Getting my old EPL 40 points to avoid relegation calculator out, Yokohama FC still require 25 points from their 16 remaining fixtures to reach that mythical milestone. Yusuke Matsuo is in the side once more and a defence that was conceding at a rate of 2.32 goals per match has now kept back-to-back clean sheets thanks to the arrival of Brazilian defender Gabriel. If his compatriots, Felipe Vizeu and Saulo Mineiro, can have a similar impact at the other end of the pitch, then maybe, just maybe they could be on for the greatest of great escapes.
Injured/Unavailable: 8 Kosuke Saito, 23 Yota Maejima, 30 Kohei Tezuka


Shimizu S-Pulse

Comments
Their summer transfer business looks good, but I said that about their winter recruitment and it’s not really moved them very far up the standings. Similar to post-Ferguson/pre-Solskjær Manchester United, a hard-hitting critique might say that constantly flip-flopping between managers, players and playing styles is hindering the club as it seeks to move forward. Relying on goals from set-pieces and the physicality of Thiago Santana might bring some degree of success, but it feels like had they given Cklamovski this group of players, then he could have achieved much more.
Injured/Unavailable: 10 Carlinhos Junior, 18 Elsinho, 20 Keita Nakamura, 22 Renato Augusto, 50 Yoshinori Suzuki


Vegalta Sendai


Comments
Sendai are currently competing in their 12th consecutive J1 campaign, for context that’s a better run than, Gamba, Cerezo, Kobe, Nagoya, FC Tokyo or Kashiwa have had, but it appears likely that this era of relative success is drawing to a close and they may have to regroup and rebuild in J2 next year. 18 goals in 24 games while conceding double that figure tells its own story and though there have been bright sparks in the shape of university rookies Mase and Kato down the right, Foguinho in the middle and some recent substitute cameos from Oti and Felippe Cardoso, in the cold light of day, is it really inaccurate to suggest that the lineup I’ve set out below looks more like a team sitting 5th or 6th in J2 rather than one built to survive in the rarefied air of J1?
Injured/Unavailable: 8 Yoshiki Matsushita


Shonan Bellmare

Comments
After finishing bottom in 2020 with no relegation in place, Bin Ukishima deserves a bit of credit for improving things this year, making his side much more resolute and hard to beat. That said, despite gaining credible draws with the likes of Kawasaki, Marinos and Kobe as well as upsetting Reds in Saitama, they are currently on an ominous slide and it looks as though it’s between them and Tokushima, who they faced in the 2019 promotion/relegation playoff, to see who fills the uppermost spot in the drop zone. They experimented with a double-volante system against Nagoya, and that’s something we may see more of going forward, although I have them lined up in their tried and tested shape below. Sugioka looks to be a good addition, while keeping wide-man Taiga Hata fit so he can supply the bombs for Wellington may be the difference between J1 and J2 football for Bellmare next year.
Injured/Unavailable: 30 Sosuke Shibata


Tokushima Vortis


Comments
Tokushima’s victory at home to Gamba gave them the blueprint for how to attack the second half of the year. No messing around with the ball at the back, no possession for possession’s sake, quick counters culminating in dynamic running and interchanges between then front 4 topped off with more shots on goal and hopefully more points on the board. Kawasaki-loanee Taisei Miyashiro has certainly enhanced his reputation with a series of strong performances in a variety of positions along the front line, while right-back Takeru Kishimoto and number 10 Masaki Watai will draw many an admiring glance from rival teams’ scouting departments should they keep up their recent form. Keep your eyes peeled for young forward Taiyo Nishino also, he’s just starting to break into the team in his first year out of Kyoto Tachibana High School.
Injured/Unavailable: Kohei Uchida


Avispa Fukuoka


Comments
An excellent start to the season has them sitting in a place of relative comfort few predicted at the beginning of the year. Goalkeeper Masaaki Murakami has won over early doubters (myself included) with a string of good performances, the abrasive Douglas Grolli has been an excellent defensive lynchpin while the quality of deliveries from Jordy Croux and, in particular, irrepressible Swede Emil Salomonsson, have been second to none. In contrast to Kyushu cousins Oita, who came into J1 with a bang and were then looted of their best talent, the average age and playing style of most of Avispa’s squad suggests that they may not have to fend off too many suitors in upcoming transfer windows. One exception is team captain Hiroyuki Mae, and it will be interesting to see how his partnership with new recruit Shun Nakamura develops.
Injured/Unavailable: Bruno Mendes

Categories
sport

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo vs Gamba Osaka 30 July 2021 Mini Preview

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 League Season Round 4
Atsubetsu Stadium Sapporo
Friday 30 July 2021
Kick Off: 18:00 (JST)


Takashi Usami cried tears of joy after his 94th minute winner completed Gamba’s turnaround at home to Oita on Wednesday night and hauled the Nerazzurri out of the J1 relegation zone, albeit on goal difference. Next stop on the epic Gamba summer marathon is Sapporo on Friday night which represents round 5 of the series. They’ve won 2 out of 4 to date. J Talk Podcast listeners will be aware I stated that a win every two games should be enough to haul Gamba to safety and with that in mind, out of the next ‘pair’ of matches against our northern rivals Sapporo and Sendai, I’d say the battle against Vegalta is the more vital in terms of grabbing the three points. That is not to say the men in blue and black should simply wave the white flag of surrender here, quite the opposite in fact. While a lot of focus has centred on Gamba’s fixture pile up and associated tiredness, Kashima’s rusty first 40 minutes at Panasonic Stadium and Oita’s entire performance suggest that simply clicking back into gear after a 2 or 2 1/2 week layoff isn’t as easy as it may seem. Consadole will play competitively for the first time in 20 days on Friday night, coming up against a battle hardened Gamba, which side will gain the advantage from these wildly different preparations for this encounter?

I know I stated in my last preview that I wouldn’t be writing one for this fixture. Well, wouldn’t you know it, but a gap opened up in my schedule and I’ll hopefully also be able to prepare mini previews for both the Vegalta Sendai game on Tuesday 3 August as well as the home clash with Yokohama F.Marinos on Friday 6 August. That second one might be particularly tricky, however, the Marinos supporters were very complimentary of my work last year so I really want to put something out for that match.

Tale of the Tape

Gamba recorded season best, xG for, total shots for, shots on target, total shots against and shots against on target numbers against Oita in midweek and combined with the attacking stats we’ve seen in the recent Fukuoka and Kobe matches we can see an overall upward trend since the return from the ACL. The Nerazzurri’s xG figure for the year has now risen above 1, however, they are a bit of on outlier as they are underperforming xG For by about 0.5 goals per game while overperforming xG Against by a similar margin.
Sapporo, by way of contrast, average 2 goals per game at home this season in J1, though it should be noted that, as a result of the Olympics commandeering Sapporo Dome, this contest with take place at the outdoor Atsubetsu Stadium on a rather bumpy playing surface which tends to stifle the home side’s attacking verve.




Head to Head

The corresponding fixture last year also took place at Atsubetsu and was a generally lacklustre affair lit up only by Kazuma Watanabe’s late winner for the visitors. The return match at Panasonic Stadium saw Masaaki Higashiguchi endure a rare shaky evening between the sticks, allowing Douglas Oliveira’s rather tame effort to squirm beneath him early on. However, the Nerazzurri were soon on level terms after Yosuke Ideguchi’s low shot from inside the area. They didn’t have things all their own way after that though, and were somewhat relieved when Patric headed home Yuki Yamamoto’s free kick for the winner in the second half. Supporters of a Gamba persuasion must look back on that goal fondly given the poor quality of set plays they’ve witnessed in this campaign to date.


Gamba Osaka

A tough lineup to predict as by my calculations Shoji, Suganuma and Onose are all due to be rotated out, but the only way I can see to make that happen is for both Ryu Takao and new signing Ko Yanagisawa to play. At most Yanagisawa will have trained with his new team-mates twice so I don’t think he’ll feature at all here, though it is interesting to note that the Gamba hierarchy see him as an option for one of the wide centre-back berths in addition to full-back and wing-back.

Team News

Yosuke Ideguchi was in the stands for Gamba’s home win over Oita on Wednesday, so if my hunch that it was asymptomatic coronavirus which kept him out of all 4 fixtures since the ACL was true, then in theory he can play here, though I reckon a bench spot may be more realistic. The same would apply to Yota Sato, should it be correct that he was the other player to throw up a positive result for Covid.
Ryu Takao made a swashbuckling return from injury for the final 40 minutes of Wednesday’s game so is hopefully fit to start here, but I’ve yet to see any timeframe given for the returns of Hiroki Fujiharu, Yuya Fukuda, Dai Tsukamoto and Yuji Ono who all went down with leg muscle injuries in the ACL. Jun Ichimori, Haruto Shirai and Shin Won-ho are long term absentees who will definitely sit this one out.

Transfer Gossip

Gamba have stated that Ko Yanagisawa’s acquisition from Mito was just the first stage of the summer recruitment plan leaving fans eagerly anticipating the second stage. The most credible name I’ve come across in the ‘Gambaverse’ is Kashima’s out of favour full-back Daiki Sugioka, the 2018 Levain Cup MVP who’s been capped 3 times by his country. Mostly known as a left-back, 182cm tall Sugioka has been limited to just 7 J1 appearances and 1 goal in 2021 and with Antlers re-signing Koki Anzai, his days in Ibaraki appear to be numbered, will Suita be his next stop?

Predicted Lineup and Stats




Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Sapporo are still reeling from the loss of top scorer Anderson Lopes (12 goals in 14 J1 games in 2021) and were reportedly knocked back by Urawa veteran Shinzo Koroki. Wildcard Nigerian signing Gabriel Okechukwu hasn’t delivered at all while Jay Bothroyd has been an excellent servant, but father time is rapidly catching up with him, it’ll be interesting to see which direction they go in next.
Fortunately for Consadole they do recruit well from universities and 2020’s crop of Shunta Tanaka (Osaka Taiiku Univ. – formerly Gamba Junior Youth!), Tomoki Takamine (Univ. of Tsukuba) and Takuro Kaneko (Nihon Univ.) have been lynchpins for Sapporo this season, helping them recover from a rocky opening to the year (just 2 wins in their opening 9 league fixtures) up to their current placing of 10th, 9 points ahead of Gamba with only 1 extra match played. This trio have been augmented by the arrival last winter of pacy forward Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (Yota Sato’s team-mate from Meiji University) and although he seems better suited to playing as a shadow forward he’s recently been pushed into action as a centre-forward in the absence of viable alternatives.

I went deep on Sapporo’s style of play earlier in the year, if you haven’t already, please check it out here. Also, I highly encourage you to check out Ryo Nakagawara’s (@R_by_Ryo on Twitter) 2021 Mid-Season Review.
If you like what I do then you’ll love this!

Team News

Central midfielder Kazuki Fukai is out with a back problem and this is the only confirmed injury I can see for the hosts. South Korean centre-back Kim Min-tae has been out of favour recently, though I believe this may be due to his 2 sending offs earlier in the year. Former Aomori Yamada High School midfielder Riku Danzaki is back with the squad after a loan spell with Brisbane Roar and is available for selection.

Predicted Lineup and Stats




Thanks again for reading and please enjoy the game whoever you’re supporting!

Categories
sport

J1 2021 Appearance Data and Statistics

Thanks again everyone for supporting my recent articles. As I posted on Twitter a few weeks back, currently other areas in my life have to take priority over my blog writing, and for 2021, at least, my Gamba match previews will need to stay on the backburner. In some ways I feel like I took them as far as I could last season and at the beginning of this year, I felt like I was rehashing old material, please let me know if you agree or disagree.

With all that out of the way, my latest post provides a rundown of all 20 J1 teams’ matchday selections for every league match so far in 2021, presented in an (hopefully) easy to understand, at a glance style. I’ve also tagged on some additional comments and basic team stats correct to 18 April 2021.

A big shout out to everyone who has gotten in touch with me recently across various mediums. Actually I never envisaged my blog would get so many comments and my Twitter notifications are not really built to handle the traffic I’ve been getting. I recently noticed some people had left me comments weeks ago and I’d missed them, I genuinely try to reply to everyone who asks clean questions, so if I haven’t responded to your question / comment, I’m truly sorry.

Finally, some people have asked where I get my data, so here are a few of the resources I use…
https://www.football-lab.jp/
https://sporteria.jp/
https://us.soccerway.com/national/japan/j1-league/2021/regular-season/r61498/
https://www.flashscore.com/
https://www.transfermarkt.com/j1-league/startseite/wettbewerb/JAP1
https://www.jleague.jp/sp/en/
And of course my trusty Soccer Digest Yearbook…
https://www.cdjapan.co.jp/product/NEOBK-2586671



Kawasaki Frontale

Comment: The juggernaut has continued steamrollering opponents just as it did last season. Surely the best side in the history of the JLeague.



Gamba Osaka

Comment: How to fix a problem like Gamba? A Nagoya-esque defence, but can’t buy a goal at the other end. What’s to blame, the Covid cluster, overperforming xG last year, an overly defensive mindset they can’t shake off? Answers on a postcard to Tsuneyasu Miyamoto please.



Nagoya Grampus

Comment: You thought they couldn’t defend any better than last season, you thought wrong. If I were a gambler I’d have plenty on Mitch Langerak and co. to beat their clean sheet record set last year. How much will missing out on Kasper Junker to Urawa haunt them with their current paucity of centre-forward options seemingly denying us a genuine tussle for the title between Grampus and Frontale.



Cerezo Osaka

Comments: They’ve surprised many by performing at a similar level to 2020. With Taggart and Tiago almost ready to play and Sakamoto and Harakawa due back soon, a push for the top 4 isn’t out of the question.



Kashima Antlers

Comments: Although an Antlers legend, the way Naoki Soma’s spell in charge of Machida ended up poses some serious questions about how adept he’ll be at replacing Zago in the Kashima hotseat. Goals from Everaldo and instant impacts from Pituca and Caike are badly needed.



FC Tokyo

Comments: Injuries, rumoured dressing room discontent and a series of patchy results don’t make for happy start to the campaign for the capital side. Bruno Uvini is the great hope to steady things at the back, but it should be remembered he hasn’t kicked a ball in anger in over 6 months.



Kashiwa Reysol

Comments: They seem to have course corrected slightly with hard fought 1-0s in their past 2 games and the Brazilian cavalry is due to arrive soon. Quite how they keep their 9 overseas players happy, and what effect their second Covid cluster in under a year will have on them is yet to be seen.



Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Comments: Look set to hover around upper mid-table just as they did last time round. Morishima and Kawabe have started the season well, but they lack top quality support in attack. Defensively, Yuta Imazu has been a decent find, though they still need to find themselves a pair of genuine full-backs.



Yokohama F.Marinos


Comments: Haven’t lost since the opening day, but a rather kind run of fixtures since round 3 means question marks remain over whether they are genuine ACL contenders of not.


Urawa Red Diamonds


Comments: Two poundings in the space of three games at the hands of Kanagawa heavyweights Frontale and Marinos threatened to scuttle the Rodriguez project before it had the chance to take off, but they’ve bounced back well. We may come to look on Reds’ 2021 the same way Marinos supporters think of Ange Postecoglou’s debut campaign in 2018.



Oita Trinita

Comments: Six defeats in a row with just a single goal scored in the process, I’m sure there’s a joke about a famous Tom Petty song here somewhere. They need to hope they’ve hit the jackpot with their two soon-to-arrive Brazilians.



Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Comments: Houston, we may have a problem. Dropping points like confetti and with 4 teams going down this year they’re rapidly finding themselves being drawn into a relegation dogfight.


Sagan Tosu

Comments: Prior to Sunday’s win at Grampus, some of the gloss was starting to come off their excellent start to the year with 4 failures to score in 5 outings. Kim Myung-hwi’s side are made of sterner stuff though, and while it’s likely they’ll regress a touch over the course of the season, a top ten finish remains a distinct possibility.



Vissel Kobe


Comments: A genuine ACL contender based on early season form. How they mesh the returning Iniesta and newly arrived duo of Lincoln and Masika with their current high performing starters will be key.



Yokohama FC

Comments: They tick all the boxes for a side about to take the drop, poor attack, woeful defence, no idea of best lineup, symbolic change of head-coach. I’m not usually so blunt, but take this to the bank, they’ll be in J2 next season.



Shimizu S-Pulse

Comments: Some had tipped them to finish in the top half this year, but as things stand it looks like the 3-1 win at Kashima on the opening day was something of a mirage. Thiago Santana has disappointed and Lotina has run into the same problem as a number of his predecessors, a complete lack of consistency amongst the players at his disposal.



Vegalta Sendai


Comments: Still haven’t won a home game since 2019 and that’s a stat they’ll have to alter fast if they want to avoid a return to J2 for the first time in 12 years.



Shonan Bellmare

Comments: Going under the radar a touch, but considering they finished bottom last year, their performances to date in 2021 have shown marked improvement. No defeats and 4 clean sheets in a tough looking run of 5 fixtures up to last weekend suggest they mean business and could defy the odds to remain in J1 next term.



Tokushima Vortis

Comments: The project looks to be running under budget and ahead of schedule. New head-coach Poyatos is now in the country and working with the players face-to-face and at present they appear set for a decent year. Having, The Alan Parsons Project’s Sirius and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on their pre-match playlist makes me enjoy their games that little bit more.



Avispa Fukuoka


Comments: The support inside the Best Denki Stadium is the thing that’s caught my eye most about Fukuoka this year. Their seems to be a genuine feel-good factor around the place which is helping to bring out performances that many, including myself, doubted they were capable of.




Categories
sport

J1 Lineups Updated Version end of round 6

Thanks again to everyone who read, liked, shared and commented on my J1 and J2 Predicted Lineups posts that I put out about a month before the 2021 season started. The response to them was truly phenomenal and frankly blew me away, so much in fact, that I’ve been re-thinking how I should structure my blog (I’m always open to new ideas, so please tell me what you want!)

The J1 Predicted Lineups post is still getting a fair bit of traffic even though it is a bit out of date, so I thought I’d do some more research and update things a little. Included in this post is a short comment on teams’ performances in the opening month of the season, a list of currently unavailable players (as of 28 March 2021) and a full rundown of the lineups and formations used by each J1 side over their past 5 league fixtures.

A few qualifiers, the team comments don’t take into consideration this weekend’s Levain Cup games as personally I don’t think a whole lot can be read into them, for example if Tosu and Sapporo start to show the form they displayed yesterday in J1 matches, then I’ll revise my opinion of both sides. Secondly, regarding injuries, some of the players I’ve named as unavailable haven’t been officially confirmed as being injured. In certain instances I’ve assumed they are out due to being absent from the matchday squad for a prolonged period of time or being subbed off early in a game and missing subsequent fixtures.

Thanks again for your support and please enjoy!

Kawasaki Frontale

Comments: Have started the season in ominous form, only dropping points at much-improved Kobe. What’s more, Oshima and Noborizato are still to return and strengthen them while João Schmidt almost doesn’t feel like a new signing, he’s bedded in so quickly.
Unavailable: Kyohei Noborizato, Ryota Oshima (injured)


Gamba Osaka

Comments: Only one league match played so not much to discuss. Re-scheduling six fixtures later in the year may see the return of the more defensive 4-4-2 set-up used last season and hopefully the end of the Onose at right-back experiment with Takao returning to take his rightful place.
Unavailable: Jun Ichimori, Haruto Shirai, Yuji Ono (injured), Wellington Silva (Visa/quarantine)


Nagoya Grampus

Comments: Their defensive strength means they are Kawasaki’s closest challengers despite having no real goal-scorer. Yamasaki has done alright, but shouldn’t be starting for a title contender and Kakitani has shown nothing so far. Inagaki looks like an early MVP contender, Soma has improved, however Morishita seems to be 3rd choice right back at the moment, perhaps he’s too attack-minded for Ficcadenti, imagine how good Tosu would be if he was still there!
Unavilable: Mu Kanazaki (injured)


Cerezo Osaka

Comments: Higher up the league than many would have expected, but the fixture list has been pretty kind to them so far. Okubo’s goals have been a Godsend in the absence of Taggart while Nishio has slotted in well alongside Seko at the back. Recent injuries to Harakawa, Sakamoto and Takagi will really test their squad depth.
Unavailable: Riki Harakawa, Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, Ryuji Sawakami, Toshiyuki Takagi, Hirotaka Tameda, Koji Toriumi (injured), Adam Taggart (Visa/quarantine), Đặng Văn Lâm, Tiago (Visa/contract status unclear)


Kashima Antlers

Comments: The Ibaraki side have made their traditional slow start and will be desperate to get Brazilian midfield duo, Diego Pituca and Arthur Caike on the field as soon as possible. It’s at the back where most of the problems seem to lie, the full-back berths are still up for grabs and none of the centre-backs have covered themselves in glory.
Unavailable: Shoma Doi, Ryuji Izumi (injured), Arthur Caike, Diego Pituca (Visa/quarantine)


FC Tokyo

Comments: A roller-coaster start to the season from the capital club with, injuries, rotation and Covid-protocol violations preventing them from getting into any sort of groove. They’ve got points on the board early, but a chunk of them came in unimpressive home wins over last season’s bottom 2, Sendai and Shonan. They’ll need to hope Bruno Uvini is the man to shore up a rather leaky rearguard.
Unavailable: Akihiro Hayashi, Kazuya Konno, Manato Shinada (injured), Bruno Uvini (Visa/quarantine)


Kashiwa Reysol

Comments: Olunga, Olunga, where art thou Olunga? A very poor start to the season from Kashiwa and they desperately need the soon-to-arrive Brazilian quartet of, Emerson Santos, Dodi, Angelotti and Pedro Raúl to hit the ground running or the nightmares of 2018 could be lurking just around the corner.
Unavailable: Yuji Takahashi, Sachiro Toshima (injured), Angelotti, Dodi, Pedro Raúl, Emerson Santos (Visa/quarantine)

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Comments: A solid start, made all the more impressive by the fact they are still figuring out their new back four system and how best to set-up their attack. Junior Santos continues to cause intrigue as it appears he’s fighting young Shun Ayukawa to be Douglas Vieira’s backup rather than being the main man himself. Hayao Kawabe could partner former team-mate Sho Inagaki in the J1 Best Eleven if he keeps up his current form.
Unavailable: Akira Ibayashi, Rhayner (injured)


Yokohama F.Marinos

Comments: A rather harsh take on them might say that they’ve swatted aside bottom half teams while failing to take the three points against stiffer opposition, exactly as they did in 2020. That said, from what I’ve seen there is a bit more steel about them this time round. I’m re-evaluating Daizen Maeda now that he’s finally added goals to his game and though Élber seems to lack the attacking x-factor of Erik, having more solid, hard-workers than mercurial artists may suit them better in 2021.
Unavailable: Theerathon Bunmathan, Daizen Maeda (injured), Léo Ceará (Visa/quarantine)


Urawa Red Diamonds

Comments: Ricardo Rodriguez seems like a lovely bloke, so I’ll spare him any blame for now, but real questions must be getting asked about the financial situation at the club. I started to wonder when Brazilians, Mauricio and Fabricio weren’t replaced last season and now with Leonardo gone, Deng injured and Yuki Abe making a Lazarus like return from the retirement home, a sojourn to J2 next year isn’t entirely out of the reckoning.
Unavailable: Thomas Deng, Yudai Fujiwara (injured)


Oita Trinita

Comments: I picked them to fill the final relegation spot in pre-season and I haven’t seen anything yet to make me completely alter my opinion. The number of changes at the back made in the off-season has definitely unsettled them and Katanosaka is still searching for the right combinations in a number of places.
Unavailable: Naoki Nomura (injured), Matheus Pereira, Henrique Trevisan (Visa/quarantine)


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Comments: I’m considering starting my own Patreon account so Sapporo fans can pay me to not watch them live. Last week’s horror show at home to Kobe was their 8th defeat on the spin with me tuning in on DAZN. Second year pros Kaneko and Tanaka have been solid (Tanaka’s assist for Furuhashi last week aside) and young Ogashiwa and Nakashima have looked bright in flashes. Failure to change their slightly archaic game-plan could result in an unwelcome flirtation with the relegation trapdoor.
Unavailable: Takuma Arano, Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa, Douglas Oliveira (injured), Jay Bothroyd, Gabriel Okechukwu (Visa/quarantine)


Sagan Tosu

Comments: An outstanding youth system and kantoku have their fans dreaming of ACL football next year. Didn’t score in their opening 4 J1 fixtures in 2020, haven’t conceded in their first 6 games this time round, it’s been quite the reversal of fortunes. How long can they sustain it? Will their new foreign strikers propel them to even greater heights? Will the vultures descend to brutally devour this team in a similar manner to what happened to fellow Kyushu-ites Giravanz last winter?
Unavailable: Ismael Dunga, Chico Ofoedu (Visa/quarantine)


Vissel Kobe

Comments: I saw them referred to as ‘Galacticos’ the other day, but that’s not really what they are anymore. They have a healthy crop of youngsters, many of whom have been raised in their academy, developing alongside a few seasoned heads, most notably Hotaru Yamaguchi, who’s been in sparkling form so far this season. There seems to be a real determination to make amends for 2020’s pitiful league performance and 3rd place doesn’t look impossible judging by their early showings.
Unavailable: Andrés Iniesta, Junya Tanaka (injured), Lincoln, Ayub Masika (Visa/quarantine)


Yokohama FC

Comments: Things seem to have completely fallen apart over the winter at Mitsuzawa. In my season preview I predicted goals at both ends, unfortunately that has only proven to be half correct and their veteran forwards haven’t hit it off as of yet. Talented midfielders Matsuo, Seko and Tezuka are struggling against the tide, but receiving little support and, although it’s early days, I think many already see them lining up in J2 next year.
Unavailable: Calvin Jong-a-Pin, Haruki Saruta, Hideto Takahashi, Eijiro Takeda (injured)


Shimizu S-Pulse

Comments: They’ve had just the kind of solid, unspectacular start many would have expected under Lotina. After conceding an avalanche of goals over the past 2 years, letting in just 7 in 6 games must have come as welcome relief to long suffering supporters in their picturesque stadium. Lotina’s reluctance to use assist kingpin Kenta Nishizawa may have rivals sending out the feelers regarding his future availability.
Unavailable: Hideki Ishige, Eiichi Katayama, Ibrahim Junior Kuribara (injured), William Matheus (Visa/quarantine)


Vegalta Sendai

Comments: Collectively this is one of the 4 weakest squads in the division. That doesn’t necessarily need to condemn them to relegation, but to stave off the drop, they will need to find a way to play to more than the sum of their parts. Passing the ball from their centre-backs to wing-backs, pushing the midfield forward to join the attack, then losing the ball and getting countered constantly, isn’t the way to achieve that.
Unavailable: Isaac Cuenca, Kunimitsu Sekiguchi (injured), Foguinho, Emmanuel Oti, Nedeljko Stojišić (Visa/quarantine)


Shonan Bellmare

Comments: I was sure they’d used up their nine lives last year, but they look a bit better than 2020, at least if the early rounds are anything to go by. Impressive youngster Taiga Hata still hasn’t featured, but playing on the left-wing for Shonan seems to bring out the best in players and Ryo Takahashi has been in fantastic form down that flank. They really need Wellington and Welinton Júnior to bring their shooting boots over from Brazil as a lack of firepower would be the most likely cause of a relegation this year.
Unavailable: Tarik Elyounoussi, Taiga Hata, Shun Nakamura, Tsukasa Umesaki (injured), Wellington, Welinton Júnior (Visa/quarantine)


Tokushima Vortis

Comments: They’ve probably done as well as could have been expected given that the squad haven’t met their new Spanish kantoku face-to-face yet and most of the players lack top tier experience. Poyatos (I assume he is choosing the team) has made a number of interesting selections with Abe, Fuke, Fujiwara and Kawakami all featuring regularly despite being out in the cold during the Rodriguez era.
Unavailable: Dušan Cvetinović, Kazuki Nishiya, Koki Sugimori, Kohei Uchida (injured), Cristian Battocchio, Cacá (Visa/quarantine)


Avispa Fukuoka

Comments: A decent start has them sitting comfortably in mid-table. Word of warning though, other newly promoted sides, namely Matsumoto and Nagasaki, have also begun top-flight campaigns reasonably well before fading away badly. Avispa need new foreign talents, Jordy Croux and, particularly, Biblically-named forward John Mary to deliver in order to maintain their top-flight status.
Unavailable: Juanma Delgado, Bruno Mendes, Taro Sugimoto (injured), Douglas Grolli (1 match suspension vs Sapporo 3 April), Jordy Croux, John Mary (Visa/quarantine)

Categories
sport

J1 League: Spotlight on Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Thanks to everyone who read my recent article on Oita Trinita, the feedback I got was extremely positive. With that in mind, and no light at the end of Gamba’s COVID tunnel at the moment, I decided to to turn my attention to the side the Nerazzurri were supposed to square off against this Saturday (March 13th), Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. There isn’t a whole lot of English content about them, but do give @IrishDosanko a follow as well as English forward @jaybothroyd if you want further insights into J1’s most northerly outfit.

Tactical Notes

I watched the whole of Sapporo’s 1-0 defeat away at Nagoya last weekend (March 6th) and a large part of this section is based on that game as well as the 6-7 times I saw them in action in 2020.

Regular followers of the JLeague will know that Consadole kantoku Mihailo ‘Mischa’ Petrovic only has one real footballing philosophy, ‘ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK.’ I could probably stop the article there, but I’m guessing that since you’ve clicked the link, you’re looking for something more thorough, so let’s take a deeper look.



The tables above showing Sapporo’s, defensive, offensive and building play from the back, set ups hopefully give you a flavour of the sort of style they operate. Their formation is generally shown as a nominal 3-4-2-1, but it is very common to see their two central midfielders as the two deepest lying players in the side while the wide centre-backs convert themselves into full-backs, or in the case of assist king Akito Fukumori (averaging 6 per year across the past 3 seasons), you will see him bombing past his left wing-back and left shadow attacker into the opposition final third. Captain and ‘Mr. Sapporo’ Hiroki Miyazawa is the heartbeat of the side and pops up everywhere. He can be thought of almost like a quarter-back, dropping deep to dictate the tempo and angle of attack, but his constant movement between the defensive and midfield lines can leave space for opponents to exploit. Although generally listed as a central midfielder, Miyazawa slots into a back 4 when the red and blacks are under pressure before rushing up with his offensive colleagues when the opportunity for a counter presents itself.

On attack, it’s common to see the wide centre-back, wing-back and shadow forward on either side position themselves in triangles around the corner of the opposition penalty area before attempting to use intricate passing moves that culminate in shots on goal or crosses into the centre-forward. Little of Consadole’s offensive play comes through the traditional central midfield area, there are lots of long cross-field diagonals and balls into channels from the deep lying, Miyazawa, Komai and Chanathip, amongst others. Generally when I’ve seen them in action, this has met with a low success rate, though it should be noted that against Nagoya, a side known for their excellent defensive core in the middle of the park, Sapporo had a degree of joy when firing quick balls into the less well guarded wider areas. Unfortunately in that match they were rather guilty of attempting one pass too many in the final third and frequently running the ball side-to-side along the 18-yard box without making any headway.

Since taking up the reins in Hokkaido ahead of the 2018 campaign, ex-Hiroshima and Urawa boss Petrovic has sought to overcome a lack of overall talent amongst his charges, at least when compared to the traditional heavyweights, by instilling a relentless work-ethic in the players, operating a high-press and attempting to overload the wide attacking areas. In essence, trying to bombard the opposition and keep them on the back foot to such an extent that they are unable to take advantage of the clear defensive frailties that come with the adoption of such a strategy. This style of football, while always pleasing on the eye to the neutral, has brought mixed results in Petrovic’s 3 years in the hot seat. It looks great when it comes off, ie the 5-1 home demolition of Yokohama FC on the opening day of this season, or when it had the element of surprise during the Austrian coach’s first year with the club, a stunning 4th place in 2018. However, it can also backfire spectacularly, see the 6-1 home loss to Kawasaki or the 4-0 drubbing at Vissel Kobe last year for evidence of that.

As we near the end of this section, I’d like to take a look at some team stats from 2020, just as I did with Oita. Sapporo were number one in J1 for attempted dribbles in 2020 and 2nd in terms of completion %, no doubt a number of these came in the wide areas of opposition territory. As alluded to above, they like to overload the wide attacking areas, so it’s no surprise to see they sent in the 3rd most crosses in the league in 2020 and their 23.4% success rate compares with a league average of 22.8%. Less impressive though was the fact that they ranked 5th in total number of shots, but had the 3rd worst on target percentage with the loss of Musashi Suzuki to Belgium early in the year really hurting them. Defensively, Consadole’s pressing and general intensity resulted in them giving away the most fouls in J1 last time round, but that work-rate didn’t seem to extend all the way towards the back of the side as they were last in number of clearances and 2nd last in blocks.

In order to try and arrest a slide in results that has seen them go from 4th to 10th to 12th over the past 3 years, Petrovic, still recovering from a fall in his homeland over the winter, has made a couple of minor tweaks while maintaining the overall aggressive strategy. Despite being the man opposition fans love to hate, Takuma Arano is actually an extremely talented footballer on his day, so his loss to a nasty looking ankle ligament tear has been keenly felt. Yoshiaki Komai, a solid performer with 4 goals and 5 assists in 33 J1 games in 2020 has shifted back from the right-shadow role he occupied for the majority of last season and is now often the only player to be seen in the central midfield. Pacy university rookie Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa has been operating in Komai’s old stomping ground and helped himself to 2 assists against Yokohama FC. Once-capped Japan international Daiki Suga has struggled to nail down a starting spot in the early part of this campaign with feisty Brazilian Lucas Fernandes switching from right to left wing-back and Takuro Kaneko, a youngster who enjoyed a bright rookie year, but bounced around a number of positions without making any his own, trying to claim the right wing-back slot. How these alterations work in the long run will be interesting to observe.

The Squad

Although you may note that Consadole play most of their games at the Sapporo Dome, a huge, modern, spaceship-like construction that they share with baseball team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, the football side are not particularly flush with cash themselves. As such, to try and breathe new life into a slightly stale looking squad they’ve turned to a selection of university, high school and youth team graduates to try and fill the void. I already mentioned that Takuro Kaneko (Nihon University) enjoyed a promising first year as a pro last season, star centre-back / holding midfielder Shunta Tanaka (Osaka Taiiku Uni.) and centre-back / centre-mid / shadow forward Tomoki Takamine (Tsukuba Uni.) also brought something to the party and it is upon that trio that a large chunk of the club’s future hopes rest.

Two metre tall goalkeeper Kojiro Nakano, well known to Gamba supporters from the Emperor’s Cup defeat to Hosei University in 2019 and the already mentioned Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (Meiji Uni.) have converted special designated player deals into permanent ones and will be desperate to make a quick impact on the top team. Another exciting addition for the future is young forward Taika Nakashima (Kunimi High School in Nagasaki – Kazuma Watanabe’s alma mater) and he netted on his top-team debut in the Levain Cup win at Fukuoka. Centre-back Daihachi Okamura, (Thespakusatsu Gunma) should be nicknamed ‘Iron Man’ as he was the only outfield player to be on the field for every minute of every game in last year’s epic J2 campaign, and I feel it’s a matter of when, not if, he unseats Kim Min-tae from the starting eleven. Elsewhere, other new arrivals seem more designed to add depth to the squad, Takahiro Yanagi (FC Tokyo – on loan to Sendai in 2020) can play as a wide centre-back or wing-back, youth team product Toya Nakamura, a centre-back, has returned from a middling year-and-a-half loan in JFL with Honda FC, veteran Shinji Ono is back in town, apparently more to raise dressing room morale than for his on-field contributions, once highly-touted prospect Ryota Aoki can play on the wing or as a shadow attacker, Koki Otani will likely be 3rd choice ‘keeper and may get the odd League Cup start and giant Nigerian centre-forwad Gabriel Okechukwu (Wydad Casablanca) is a real wild-card signing.

More positively, after the losses of Gu Sung-yun and Musashi Suzuki hit them hard early last year, not too many more followed them through the exit door during the winter break. Ryosuke Shindo went to Cerezo, but truth be told he was off-form and injured for a good chunk of last season and Tanaka is a better long-term prospect in my eyes. Other than that, Riku Danzaki in on loan at Brisbane Roar in the A-League having failed to build on early promise, veterans Naoki Ishikawa and Ryota Hayasaka retired, the versatile Kosuke Shirai joined Kyoto on loan, Thai backup keeper Kawin returned to Belgium after his loan expired, Hugo Vieira was released after his short term deal didn’t produce anything noteworthy and Yuta Iwasaki, the poster child for why you shouldn’t overrate kids with impressive age level stats before they’ve done anything as a pro has joined the J2 side most likely to be duped by said stats, JEF United, on loan.


Injury Report

Midfield maestro Takuma Arano suffered a nasty looking leg injury in the 5-1 win over Shimizu last November and is yet to return. Veteran centre-forward Jay Bothroyd endured a bout of Coronavirus during his winter break in the UK and I’m unsure if he’s made it back to Japan yet, he certainly hasn’t featured so far. Nigerian striker Gabriel Okechukwu may benefit from professional sports sides potentially getting their new acquisitions to the front of the visa line after the state of emergency ends, but for now he’s out of the country and unavailable for selection. Utility midfielder Yoshihiro Nakano has been seen yet this campaign, though he is very much a back up player anyway, while Chanathip was a late withdrawal from the side to face Hiroshima on March 10th. Yoshiaki Komai, Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa, Ryota Aoki and Douglas Oliveira were all absent from that encounter too, though I believe that may have been more of a squad rotation issue.

Current Starting XI
A fit-again Chanathip would definitely be in this lineup with probably Ogashiwa alongside him, Kaneko at right wing-back and Lucas Fernandes on the left. Takamine is also a possibility in central midfield or as a shadow attacker while Fukai is another potential partner for Miyazawa despite falling out of favour over the past 12 months.



Season Prediction

I’d have them more likely to finish in the bottom 10 than the top half. Lower middle table in a similar vein to last season seems probable, though if the wheels really come off and they carry over last season’s habit of grasping defeat from the jaws of victory/draws then a relegation scrap isn’t entirely out of the question.


Categories
sport

J1 2021 Predicted Lineups

**Important Update**Important Update**Important Update**

If you’re still coming here in 2020, please click this link for the 2022 version…

https://gambaosakaenglish.blog/2022/01/23/j1-2022-predicted-lineups/

Please check out the link above to see who has been playing and who hasn’t in J1 2021. I’ll update it regularly.
Data keys are below…




Also for those of you using the https://sporteria.jp/ website, here is a simple English translation of the data displayed there…




I’m sure everyone would join me in thanking @Michael_Master and @bmtps_k for their wonderful coverage of all the off-season transfer activity in Japan. The purpose of this article is to see how those winter moves affect the matchday lineups of J1 sides one month out from the start of the new campaign. I hope you enjoy!

First up, some housekeeping notices;
* The lineups below are not necessarily intended to be the ones on the opening day, but more the players most likely to fill those positions on a regular basis throughout the year.
* Players currently recovering from serious and long-term injuries haven’t been included. Some examples are Andres Iniesta (Kobe), Takuma Arano (Sapporo), Mu Kanazaki (Nagoya), Yuji Ono (Gamba), Akihiro Hayashi (FC Tokyo) and Sachiro Toshima and Yuji Takahashi (both Kashiwa).
* As this is a Gamba blog, lineups and formations for other teams are based on a mixture of evidence and guesswork. For instance, teams who performed well in 2020, kept the same manager and the bulk of their playing staff (Kawasaki) are easier to read than those who played poorly last year, changed coaches and brought in a host of new players (Shimizu).
* Ages given are correct to 27 February 2021, the opening Saturday of the J1 season, (Y) donates youth team product and teams are listed in order of 2020 league position.

Here we go…

Kawasaki Frontale

Brief Notes: Way better than everyone else last season and with just Morita departing they’ll be the team to beat once more. Only Mitoma and Tanaka leaving in the summer and the ACL schedule getting moved around again can really threaten their dynasty.


Gamba Osaka

Brief Notes: Leandro Pereira and Ju Se-jong both address areas of need and although it will be difficult to get 2nd again, this group of players shouldn’t finish lower than 5th / 6th even with ACL distractions taken into account.


Nagoya Grampus

Brief Notes: Morishita and Kimoto look like great buys, and I was surprised to see Manabu Saito is only 30! Will be strong defensively again, but look a genuine centre-forward short of really challenging at the top.


Cerezo Osaka

Brief Notes: Have made some puzzling moves over the winter, but they still have the nucleus of a very good team. How quickly they adjust to Culpi’s brand of football and whether or not Taggart has brought his shooting boots with him from Korea will go a long way to determining their fate this year.


Kashima Antlers

Brief Notes: Assuming their two new Brazilian midfielders settle in well, they should be Kawasaki’s closest rivals. This may not please Gamba supporters like me, but should lead to some tasty @frontalerabbit blog posts.


FC Tokyo

Brief Notes: They will probably improve merely by not being involved in the ACL this year. That said, the squad looks very unbalanced, with loads of options in central midfield and attack, but significantly less depth further back.


Kashiwa Reysol

Brief Notes: Shiihashi, Dodi and Kamijima will help to fix their soft underbelly, but there is still a huge Olunga shaped hole in attack. Will Angelotti or rumoured new signing from Botafogo, Pedro Raúl, be able to fill it.


Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Brief Notes: Junior Santos appears to be an excellent capture, but money is tight and there’s a real lack of depth. Any injury down the central spine of the team could be painful and prevent them from kicking on from last year.


Yokohama F.Marinos

Brief Notes: This year’s squad looks leaner and more settled than last time. A lot will depend on how their new Brazilian attackers do and also how much of 2020’s poor display was down to their overcrowded schedule and how much of it was teams working out how to play against them.


Urawa Red Diamonds

Brief Notes: Given time, I’ve no doubt the Rodriguez project will bear fruit in Saitama, but it may not be as quick a turnaround as the Reds faithful would like. Defence and central midfield could be issues and they appear to be overloaded with attacking midfielders. Having worked with a similar style of player in Yuki Kakita, can Rodriguez turn around Kenyu Sugimoto’s career?


Oita Trinita

Brief Notes: Should have enough to escape the relegation dog-fight and have made some intriguing signings from J2 down the flanks. Goalkeeper and central defence look like weak areas at the moment. If Shun Nagasawa’s inevitable winner against Gamba could be confined to the Levain Cup I’d greatly appreciate it.


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Brief Notes: A lot riding on the shoulders of last year’s three university rookies, Tanaka, Takamine and Kaneko. If newbies Nakano and Ogashiwa can have a similar impact they could do ok, but they are my tip to be a dark horse relegation candidate.


Sagan Tosu

Brief Notes: Look better placed than at this point last year and I have no difficulty seeing them survive. Being able to keep hold of Matsuoka was a big surprise for me and I’m really interested to see how new African forwards, Chico (Nigeria) and Dunga (Kenya), get on. I know I’m in the minority here, but I genuinely dig their new kit.


Vissel Kobe

Brief Notes: I think they could surprise a few people this year, not by finishing top 4 or anything, but outside of Hyogo there is almost zero expectation and their exciting youngsters may start to come to the fore a little more.


Yokohama FC

Brief Notes: Should be exciting to watch as it appears there will be plenty of goals at both ends. I don’t see them going down and if Matsuo and Seko continue to play well neither will be at the Mitsuzawa in 2022.


Shimizu S-Pulse

Brief Notes: As a fan of the league, I’d have preferred Cklamovski’s style to succeed, but more realistically Lotina’s defensive brand of football is more likely to guide them to less troubled waters. How high they go is dependent on how quickly the new parts fit together and how fast Lotina can mend their dreadful defence (139 J1 goals conceded 2019-2020).


Vegalta Sendai

Brief Notes: If they’re going to avoid the drop the improvement will need to come from the coaching department, with Teguramori replacing Kiyama. The squad on paper looks weaker than last season with the exception of the wide midfield areas.


Shonan Bellmare

Brief Notes: Ditto what I said about Sendai, they finished in the relegation slots last year and look likely to do so again. The heart has been ripped out of the team with Kaneko, Saito and Matsuda all going and their most exciting players, Tani, Tanaka and Hata are too young to carry this side on their back.


Tokushima Vortis

Brief Notes: Perhaps benefiting from Coronavirus, they managed to keep all of last season’s title winners and even added rising star Joel Chima Fujita. There’s a glaring lack of J1 experience and I can see things like, having 80% possession at home to Shimizu and still losing 1-0, happening a bit too often.


Avispa Fukuoka

Brief Notes: My main concern is that a chunk of last season’s starting eleven were on loan and have now returned to their parent clubs. They have more players with top flight experience than Tokushima and have made some decent buys, but they are short on depth and haven’t replaced Serantes in goal yet.