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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

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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!

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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.




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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)

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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.


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J1 2021 Predicted Lineups

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

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1j6HTKFF38A3cAz7sqw3jfZ4f6y8soAgOjfXqKR3fNCM/edit#gid=0

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.

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Gamba Osaka vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 31 October 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
J1 2020 Round 25
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 31 October 19:00 (JST)


Note: This preview was written prior to Sapporo’s acquisition of Hugo Vieira and the announcement that Daiki Suga had tested positive for COVID-19.

The Lowdown

Gamba welcome Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo to Panasonic Stadium for a Hallowe’en showdown this Saturday night with the home side looking to make it 10 games unbeaten which would be their best run since 2011. Gamba will don special edition uniforms designed by Hidekichi Shigemoto in this match, however, they are still reeling from the drink-driving scandal involving Ademilson that was made public on Monday. The Brazilian, who of course netted the winner in last week’s 2-1 victory over Kashiwa, is currently suspended by the club awaiting the outcome of an investigation and it seems unlikely that he’ll take the field again in a Gamba shirt after bagging 34 goals and 20 assists in 121 J1 games.

Both Gamba and Consadole had the rare luxury of a full 7 days to prepare for this fixture and the home team come into the match 3rd in the standings, level on points with city rivals Cerezo, who they play on Tuesday, so a win here would provide a psychological boost going into that clash. Despite finishing just a point below Gamba in 2019, Consadole have performed considerably poorer this time around. I predicted they’d end up 13th in my pre-season forecast and that’s exactly where they lie at the moment, 21 points behind Gamba.

With 6 wins, 1 draw and 5 losses at home this year, Gamba’s form inside Panasonic Stadium has been decidedly shaky. That being said, since the shock 1-0 reverse against Shonan Bellmare on September 13th, they are unbeaten in 4 games, all against top half rivals, Kashima (2-0), Nagoya and Kashiwa (2-1) and Yokohama F.Marinos (1-1). Additionally, their remaining 5 home fixtures in 2020, including this one, are all against bottom-half opposition, Kobe (11th), Tosu (15th), Shimizu (17th) and Sendai (18th) are all that’s left after Sapporo and interestingly enough victory in each of those 5 games would see Gamba match their 2014 title-winning points tally (63) regardless of what they do in their away fixtures.

Last weekend’s tight win over Kashiwa saw Gamba overtake the 47 points accrued in 2019 with 10 games to spare. They’ve won 15 J1 matches this season to date, their biggest total since 2016 (17) and the 2011 campaign’s figure of 21 wins could be a realistic target. As alluded to above, between 18th June and 18th September of that year the Nerazzurri embarked on an 11 game unbeaten run which consisted of 9 wins and 2 draws, how the home faithful would love a win in this fixture to set up the chance of equalling that impressive feet in Tuesday’s Osaka Derby.

Improved defending by the team as a whole has been a key element in this season’s revival of fortunes. Gamba are currently projecting to concede 37 goals this term (the Kawasaki away game notwithstanding) which would be their best defensive performance since 2015. All who witnessed the Kashiwa game would surely have been impressed by their tight-knit defending, closing players in dangerous shooting areas down quickly and putting their bodies on the line to block shots. Indeed we can see from the stats that this year Gamba have been outdone 15 times to 9 in overall efforts on goal, whereas when we look at attempts on target, the Nerazzurri hold the upper hand 14-3-7. Putting players under pressure when they attempt shots and headers in or near the box and making it very difficult for opponents to gain clear sights of Masaaki Higashiguchi’s goal have been vital components in Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s defensive masterplan this term.

Saturday’s opponents Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo have endured a tough campaign which hasn’t been helped by the departures of Gu Sung-yun (FC Daegu) and Musashi Suzuki (Beerschot). Thai assist king Chanathip has missed chunks of games and they never look the same without him on the field while fellow strike partners Jay and Anderson Lopes have been hindered by the heavy summer schedule and being stuck in Brazil due to Coronavirus restrictions respectively. On the flip side they have invested quite a bit in youth and will hope this bears fruit in the coming years. Shunta Tanaka (DF/MF), Tomoki Takamine (MF/DF) and Takuro Kaneko (AM) are a trio of rookies out of university who have all put their stamp on the team this season. Giant ‘keeper Kojiro Nakano, who Gamba supporters will remember as Hosei University’s stopper in the 2019 Emperor’s Cup humiliation, and attacker Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa have both featured as designated special players ahead of turning pro in 2021. Taika Nakashima, a young forward the same age as Shoji Toyama will move north to Hokkaido next year after graduating from Kunimi High School in Nagasaki, Kazuma Watanabe’s alma mater, he comes highly rated too.

Consadole come into this clash in decent form with only 1 defeat in their previous 5 matches, however, this was preceded by a horror run of just 1 win in 13 games that was bookended by losses to Vissel Kobe, 3-2 at Sapporo Dome on August 2nd and a 4-0 spanking at Noevir Stadium on September 26th. Without trying to rain on our northern rivals parade too much, one could argue that this recent mini-revival may simply be down to playing several teams below them in the standings, Yokohama FC (14th), Shonan (16th), and Sendai (18th), though before anyone tries to shoot me down I will acknowledge that their 1-0 home win over Kashima was mightily impressive.

Due to having to share Sapporo Dome with the Nippon Ham Fighters baseball team, Consadole’s fixture list has had a very lopsided look to it this year. All of their first 5 league matches were away from home and they’ll also round out their campaign with 3 of their final 4 games on the road. They only have 3 home matches left in 2020 compared with 6 away fixtures, indeed this encounter is the first of a 3 game road trip for Sapporo with Kawasaki and FC Tokyo to follow (so not getting any easier then, eh?). They currently hold a 3-2-6 away record this season with early wins at Yokohama FC (2-1) and Kashima Antlers (2-0) in rounds 2 and 3 respectively followed by their most recent road victory over Tosu (2-0) on September 6th. They have been on the end of several heavy defeats outside the comforts of Hokkaido with Kobe (4-0), Marinos (4-1), Kashiwa (4-2), Nagoya (3-0), Shimizu (3-1), Cerezo (2-0) all getting the better of them.

Away from home Consadole average a scoreline of 1.09-1.92 which doesn’t really differ wildly from their 1.4-1.71 home record. If we compare their year-on-year statistics we can see that their goals conceded in 2020 column (47) is only 2 shy of last season’s performance with 9 fewer matches played. Head-coach Mischa Petrovic has used the absence of relegation to really push his all-out attacking philosophy and they’ve already let in 3 or more goals in a single match 9 times this year (or more often than once every three games) compared with the 4 occasions it occurred in 2019.

Head to Head

Gamba are unbeaten in the last 4 fixtures between these 2 sides and have kept clean sheets in the previous 3. Last year’s 5-0 home rout saw all the goals come in the second half and although a repeat would be welcome by the Nerazzurri faithful much closer contests are usually the order of the day when these two meet.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Yuji Ono (knee surgery – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) are the two definite absentees for Gamba this weekend. In defence, Genta Miura (thigh), Hiroki Fujiharu (concussion) and Gen Shoji (ankle) have all been out for several games and no timeline has been set for their return. Ademilson’s absence should open the door for young Shoji Toyama to make his J1 debut some time in the not too distant future.

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Thai assist-kingpin Chanathip has been a key loss for Sapporo this term and he last appeared in the 2-0 away win at Tosu on 16th September, he was subbed off at half-time in that game. Defender Naoki Ishikawa (ankle) and reserve ‘keeper Shunta Awaka haven’t played yet this season due to injury, though neither would likely feature in a Consadole Best XI. Right-sided centre-back Ryosuke Shindo and central midfielder Kazuki Fukai seem to have fallen out of favour recently, though no injury has been reported. Young goalie Katsuya Nakano missed last week’s win over Yokohama FC, I’m guessing this could have been down to his studies. English forward Jay Bothroyd will make his 100th J1 appearance should he take the field in this game.

Predicted Line Ups

It will be interesting to see how Gamba approach this game as our next opponents Cerezo have a free weekend and there is basically only 2 ½ days between this match and that one. However, after the Osaka Derby, Gamba then have an 8 day hiatus until they play the final Kansai Derby of 2020 against Vissel Kobe so it’s likely the Nerazzurri will be at full-strength for this one. A fit-again Shoji or Miura would surely come in for Suganuma, even though he’s performed dutifully in the past few games. Fujiharu will likely be eased back on the bench when he does return, such has been the form of Yuya Fukuda. I wonder if Keisuke Kurokawa playing the full 90 against Fukushima in midweek can be taken as evidence of Fujiharu’s impending return? Elsewhere, Yajima for Yamamoto in central-midfield is a possibility and Watanabe partnering Usami in attack in place of the recently turned 33 Patric is another option.


I’m certain that Sapporo will line up in the formation below and there will also be a lot of shifting of positions mid-match with the wide centre-backs pushing forward along the flanks while the central midfielders shuffle back to cover. Personnel wise, Nakano could start in goal if he is free from his studies, it’s also possible that Miyazawa will play at centre-back which would allow Takamine to come in alongside Arano. In attack Jay is an option as the focal point with Anderson Lopes then moving into Kaneko’s spot in what would be a very attacking move by Mischa Petrovic.


Match Prediction

Gamba will look to place off field issues to one side and put Sapporo to the sword in this one. I don’t see anything like a repeat of last season’s 5-0 thrashing, so will instead opt for a comfortable 2-0 scoreline in the hosts’ favour.

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sport

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

The Match

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

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

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

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

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

Analysis

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

Gamba MVP

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

Under 23 Round Up

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

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

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

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sport

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo vs Gamba Osaka 19 September 2020 Match Preview

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


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

The Lowdown

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

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

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

Head to Head

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

Team News

Gamba Osaka

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

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

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

Know Your Opponent – Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predicted Line Ups




Match Prediction

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

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sport Uncategorized

J1 Recap June 2020

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

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

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

Yokohama F.Marinos

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

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

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

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


FC Tokyo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 1:
vs Sagan Tosu (h) 0-0
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Cerezo Osaka

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

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

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

Week 1:
vs Oita Trinita (h) 1-0
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Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 1:
vs Yokohama FC (h) 1-1
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Oita Trinita

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

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

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

Week 1:
vs Cerezo Osaka (a) 0-1
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Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 1:
vs Nagoya Grampus (h) 1-1
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Shimizu S-Pulse

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

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

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

Week 1:
vs FC Tokyo (h) 1-3
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Nagoya Grampus

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

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

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

Week 1:
vs Vegalta Sendai (a) 1-1
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Urawa Reds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 1:
vs Kawasaki Frontale (a) 0-0
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Shonan Bellmare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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