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Sagan Tosu vs Gamba Osaka 29 May 2022 Match Preview

Sagan Tosu vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 16
Sunday 29 May 2022
Ekimae Real Estate Stadium
Kick Off: 17:00 (JST)


Sunday brings us the final round of J1 action before a 3 week hiatus owing to the June international fixtures and following the epic bunch of matches witnessed on Wednesday night I’m sure there will be many mourning this break just as the league gets into top gear with battles raging at either end of the table. If I’m honest, after cranking out 16 of these match previews in just over 3 months, I’m looking forward to the rest and indeed Gamba themselves were afforded an unexpected midweek off following a Covid cluster in the Hiroshima camp which precipitated their bout being postponed at the last minute. Upcoming opponents Sagan Tosu, meanwhile, grabbed the headlines due to their epic 4-4 draw at title-chasing Kashima Antlers where a ding-dong battle culminated in 3 goals being scored in second-half additional time. Tosu raced out to a shock 3-0 lead inside the opening 50 minutes before finding themselves behind in the wake of Itsuki Someno’s 94th minute header. Perhaps as a sign of their unity and fighting spirit, they subsequently flew upfield and equalised through centre-back Masaya Tashiro’s low header with essentially the last play of the game. Sagan possessed J1’s meanest defence until they conceded 8 goals in their last 3 outings, can a relatively fresh Nerazzurri deliver a more dynamic display of attacking football than they did in the Osaka Derby to put the Kyushu side’s backline to the sword once more? All will be revealed from 5pm on Sunday, Japanese Time.

Tale of the Tape


The late cancellation of Gamba’s previous fixture at home to in-form Hiroshima leaves me without a whole lot to write about in here, so with the mini-break almost upon us I thought I might attempt a short review of what’s gone right and wrong for the Nerazzurri and new kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka thus far. If we look at mitigating factors in his favour, we can say Covid outbreaks, injuries to key attacking stalwarts such as Usami and Kurata, plus the mess he took over due to the club being in a rudderless state having been under caretaker management for much of 2021. There is a solid base for him to work from with Higashiguchi or Ichimori in goal, an internationally decorated back 3 of Genta Miura, Gen Shoji and Kwon Kyung-won plus two midfield dynamos in the shape of Dawhan and Mitsuki Saito. Further forward, despite scoring at a far better clip than last season, xG has actually decreased, though only at a rate that indicates we’d expect to see the Ao to Kuro net 3-4 fewer goals across a whole season. For a Katanosaka system, experienced attackers Patric and Leandro Pereira will always be square pegs in round holes (I think that’s the first time I’ve whipped out one of my favourite clichés this year!) so viewed from that context it’s going to be interesting to see what Gamba do in the summer transfer window. Readers of my Osaka Derby preview will have gotten a reminder of my rather scathing opinion of the blue and black’s transfer work in recent years, so it goes without saying that I’ll be keeping a keen eye on who they bring in (Shuto Machino? Toshiki Takahashi?), and how well they fit into Katanosaka’s system. With no Levain Cup fixtures to play, the Nerazzurri’s schedule is pretty light going forward, game time for the likes of Yamami, Nakamura, Sakamoto and Minamino in attack early on this year has been a positive and hopefully that continues, but the big-name, high-earners haven’t done enough and their incompatibility with the present coach’s style of play is emblematic of the problems which have plagued the club in recent years as it has meandered from one mid-table finish to another. Stats-wise, from June onwards I want to see Katano-soccer take shape in the form of better ball retention, especially in opposition territory, scoring more frequently inside the opening 45 minutes and playing a brand of football that sees chances created on a regular basis without that necessarily leading to wide open spaces for the opposition to exploit at the other end. I know, I know, that’s quite a lengthy shopping list for 20 games, but as I said pre-season, this year is a free hit for Katanosaka in many ways and progress towards those lofty goals is all I’m looking for.




Following the disappointment of last weekend’s Osaka Derby defeat at Cerezo I consoled myself with the fact that the Nerazzurri’s 2 upcoming fixtures with Hiroshima and Tosu gave me the chance to take a deep dive on a pair of the league’s success stories. Following a strong 7th place showing in 2021, which led to first-team regulars Daichi Hayashi and Daiki Matsuoka (summer) plus, Eduardo, Yuta Higuchi, Tomoya Koyamatsu, Ayumu Ohata, Noriyoshi Sakai, Keiya Sento and Keita Yamashita (winter) all being poached by other clubs, not to mention long-seving kantoku Kim Myung-hwi being dismissed in the wake of a power-harassment scandal, little was expected of Tosu this year. New coach Kenta Kawai comes from a rather unheralded background having taken charge of Ehime FC from 2018-2020 and most recently served as Peter Cklamovski’s assistant at Montedio Yamagata, but he has made the many naysayers eat their words with his current charges sitting in 8th (just 3 points off 4th) as we approach the mid-way point of the campaign. It’s clear from the rather lengthy list of departures above that Sagan can’t compete financially with the big market clubs in J1, let alone those in Europe, but what they can do is out-work them, and this has been the bedrock of their success in recent years. Tosu have been a staple in J1 since earning promotion in 2011, however, after a bright start to life in the top flight, the seasons between 2018-2020 saw them circling the drop-zone looking like it was just a matter of time before they returned to the second tier. Under Kim last term they ranked 1st in distance covered with their 123.4 km per game being a full 3.1 km more than nearest challengers Yokohama F. Marinos (and 9.7 km more than Gamba). As we can see in the second table below, Kawai has remarkably been able to cajole an extra 400 m extra out of his troops every match while adding a whopping 54.8 extra sprints every time the team take to the field. Things may have waned a touch in other metrics, which is understandable due to the huge playing staff losses sustained across the last 12 months, but it is clear that Gamba, fresh from a midweek off, will have to match and deal with the intensity shown by Tosu this Sunday if they are to stand any chance of extending their recent winning record at the Ekimae Stadium.


Head to Head

Sagan Tosu were one of only two teams Gamba did the double over in 2021, the other being Katanosaka’s Oita Trinita. The first meeting between the sides at the Ekimae Stadium saw the Nerazzurri bag their first win and first goal of the campaign at the fifth time of asking. Takashi Usami’s angled shot from the edge of the area beat Park Il-gyu to spark wild celebrations among players and fans alike. Usami was again the difference maker in the return clash in late October, finishing off a swift counter which started from a poor Tosu corner and culminated in Yuki Yamamoto playing a lovely dinked cross-field ball into the path of Gamba’s #39 who swept across Park for what turned out to be the winner. The Nerazzurri would back up that 1-0 success with away victories at Yokohama F. Marinos and Oita Trinita in their next two fixtures to secure their status as a top flight club for the 2022 season.



Gamba Osaka

Crowd trouble – Hopefully this is the last time I have to write about this, but Gamba announced on Tuesday (24 May) that two individuals identified as having thrown items in the direction of the players in the wake of last Saturday’s Osaka Derby defeat as well as the supporters group they belong to have been indefinitely banned from attending games. I fully support this swift and strong action as the behaviour of the minority has recently served to tarnish the reputation of the club as a whole. I know that a lot of my readership hail from outside Japan and it’s worth remembering that crowd trouble in Japan and crowd trouble in Europe or elsewhere are often 2 very different kettles of fish, which is absolutely not meant to serve as some sort of justification for the rowdy misdemeanours of certain misguided Gamba supporters groups. With the Shoji and Pereira on-field bust-up and the crowd unrest, Gamba served as an easy and deserving target for those with an axe to grind last weekend. If you want to have a go at dressing room disunity, lacklustre performances and poor supporter conduct, I agree with you fully, but criticising how long it took the club to take action (announcements of bans were made within 72 hours of the incident taking place) and suggesting Gamba won’t increase security at home games (which they stated they will do) with no evidence to back this up (as a point of note, on my recent visit to the National Stadium to watch FC Tokyo vs Gamba, no-one checked my bag upon entry, a practice that is always carried out at Panasonic Stadium) are the types of comments that should be generally ignored (although that could probably be said about lots of comments on Twitter lol). Anyway, I’m boring myself going on about this topic, so let’s move on to talk about 2 lesser known members of the Gamba squad.

Player Profile 1: Yota Sato – A highly-rated centre back who joined the club from Meiji University ahead of the 2021 season. It was always going to be hard for him to achieve much game time during his rookie campaign with Genta Miura, Gen Shoji and Kim Young-gwon locked in as starters and it’s fair to say he endured a rough ride on the occasions when he did play, facing off against Kaoru Mitoma while filling in out-of-position at right-back and receiving a straight red-card in the loss at bottom club Yokohama FC. Under Katanosaka he’s only really featured in the Levain Cup and has shown signs of improvement, he looks competent on the ball and his positioning, which still requires work, is steadily moving towards where it needs to be. A summer loan move to a decent J2 outfit such as Nagasaki or Kofu is just what the doctor ordered, I reckon.

Player Profile 2: Shin Won-ho – Signed straight out of Boin High School in South Korea, Shin is another player who’s endured a bit of a rocky ride since coming to the club in 2020. Injuries have severely curtailed his playing time, as has the abundance of decent left-backs / left wing-backs in the Gamba squad. Most recently he started on the left-side of the front 3 in the dead rubber Levain Cup tie with Kashima Antlers which may offer him a pathway into the starting lineup in the future. Despite the trickery and Cristiano Ronaldo stepovers, I feel regular J1 football is still some way off, so a loan switch to a J3 side for the second half of 2022 is the most logical step for his development.

* And finally…it was confirmed today (26 May) that Gamba will face off against Paris Saint-Germain as part of the French club’s 3 match tour of Japan which also includes games against Kawasaki and Urawa. The glamour fixture will be held on Monday 25 July at 19:00 (JST) and while tickets certainly don’t look cheap, I’m going to enter the lottery for one, so wish me luck!

Team News

The following players’ participation on Sunday is in some doubt.

GK Masaaki Higashiguchi – Back in training, expected to return in June
DF Shota Fukuoka – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic should be able to play
DF Ryu Takao – Out of the squad since April 17, presumed injured
MF Yuya Fukuda – Had shoulder surgery on May 23, expected back mid-summer
MF Ju Se-jong – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic should be able to play (likely to head back to South Korea this summer so may have played his last game for the club)
MF – Shu Kurata – Calf injury – expected back in June
MF – Jiro Nakamura – Japan U-19 commitments
MF – Kosuke Onose – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic should be able to play
MF Mitsuki Saito – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic should be able to play
MF Yuki Yamamoto – Injured leg April 17, no official confirmation from the club
FW Patric – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic should be able to play

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Sagan Tosu

Shimizu rather comically made the mistake of announcing they’d signed Ulsan Hyudai instead of Oh Se-hun from Ulsan Hyundai earlier in the season which put the thought into my head, I wish Gamba could just sign the whole of Sagan Tosu as an entity. They did make efforts to bring in both Eduardo and Yuta Higuchi last winter, but were rebuffed on both occasions in favour of moves to Yokohama F. Marinos and Kashima Antlers respectively. And, the mention of that duo, a pair of the biggest names in Japanese football, leads me to my question, how do Sagan Tosu, a team that it many ways fit the profile of say, a Shonan Bellmare, manage to consistently duel it out in the upper echelons of the top flight? I don’t really have a definitive answer, but I will fall back on my comments on the J-Talk Podcast a couple of months ago when I compared them to pre-title winning Leicester City in England, who brought in then unknown, high-potential talents that bigger clubs wouldn’t touch such as Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante. Granted, Tosu don’t have anyone in the same category as that trio quality-wise, but Akito Fukuta (Niigata) and Yuki Horigome (Yamagata, on loan from JEF United Chiba) are examples of players who were going nowhere in J2 until Tosu picked them up and gave them a new lease of life. Not all their new signings have bedded in quite as smoothly however, and despite a goal against Kashima on Wednesday, Taisei Miyashiro hasn’t featured as much as he’d like, neither has fellow loanee Yuki Kakita. University recruitment is high on Sagan’s agenda with 6 players making the leap from varsity football last winter, forwards Taichi Kikuchi (Ryutsu Keizai University) and Shunta Araki (Komazawa University) have appeared the most thus far, though I think it’s best to judge them more in a year or so’s time once they’ve gained more experience at this level. Kawai has tweaked the 3-5-2 system operated by predecessor Kim into a 3-4-2-1 for most games this season, though significantly he went for more of a 3-5-1-1 against Antlers on Wednesday, potentially to combat the insane threat the Stags possess in attack and it’ll be interesting to see which formation he adopts at home to Gamba. With such intensity demanded each game, it’s highly possible significant changes will be made. One thing that will remain constant, however, is the importance of wing-backs to their system. On the right, Nanasei Iino has been a revelation since moving west from Gunma last year and he looks like he could go further in the game. Down the left flank is a real feel-good story in the shape of 23 year-old Yuto Iwasaki, a once highly-touted forward who has found scoring in the pros much more challenging than at age-group level. In 2022 he has been outstanding as a wing-back and sometime shadow forward for Kawai’s troops. It’s acquisitions like Iwasaki, Fukuta and Horigome that make Tosu perhaps the J.League team best placed to be compared to Billy Beane’s ‘Moneyball’ Oakland A’s in my humble opinion.

Team News


The following players’ participation on Sunday is in some doubt.

DF Shinya Nakano – Japan U-19 commitments
MF Taichi Fukui – Japan U-19 commitments
MF Fuchi Honda – Out of squad since 14 May, no reason given

* FW Yuki Kakita is available again after missing the match versus parent club Kashima on Wednesday as per the terms of his loan agreement
**DF Masaya Tashiro and MF Kei Koizumi are one yellow card away from an automatic suspension

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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

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sport

Gamba Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima 25 May 2022 Match Preview

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

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

Tale of the Tape


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




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


Head to Head

3 April 2021 marked Gamba’s return to the field of play following a 5 week break due to a Covid cluster in the squad, and their opponents that day were Sanfrecce Hiroshima. A largely forgettable 0-0 ensued at the Edion Stadium with chances at a premium and Sanfrecce kantoku Hiroshi Jofuku’s decision to play Junior Santos, normally a centre-forward, on the left-wing turned out to be the game’s main talking point which I think kind of tells you how uneventful things were. The return fixture took place a mere 39 days later as it was a tie originally scheduled for round 20 that had been brought forward owing to the Nerazzurri’s participation in the ACL. It will forever be remembered as Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s final game in charge of the Ao to Kuro as Hiroshima’s 2-1 triumph left Gamba with just 7 points from their opening 10 games and the powers that be at the Panasonic Stadium flicked the panic switch. Sho Sasaki put the visitors in front before a scrappy Kazunari Ichimi effort, which would probably have been put down as a Keisuke Osako own goal in most other leagues, levelled things up at the interval. Hayao Kawabe then displayed the kind of form that made Grasshoppers, and later Wolves, make moves for him with a fine finish to secure the 3 points midway through the second-half.



Gamba Osaka

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

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

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

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

Team News

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

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

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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

Team News


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

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

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

Categories
sport

Cerezo Osaka vs Gamba Osaka 21 May 2022 Match Preview

Cerezo Osaka vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 14
Saturday 21 May 2022
Yodoko Sakura Stadium
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)

It’s Osaka Derby time this Saturday as Gamba make the short trip south to visit prefectural rivals Cerezo, and with the duo currently level on points in the standings, a titanic tussle surely awaits. Kashima, Kawasaki and Marinos appear to be a cut above the rest this season, but the Nerazzurri and the Cherry Blossoms both lie only 3 points behind 4th placed Kashiwa and with a large number of teams seemingly capable of challenging for that potential ACL spot, this clash between two of those contenders takes on extra significance. Gamba helped close the gap on Reysol with a hard-fought 1-0 victory at the Hitachidai last Saturday evening thanks to Dawhan’s late winner. Kashiwa perhaps only had themselves to blame for their demise, missing a number of good chances including Hiromu Mitsumaru’s last gasp header which hit the post, but for the Ao to Kuro, unable to call on at least 12 players due to injury and Covid issues, it was a result to savour. Cerezo, on the other hand, went down 1-0 at Nagoya courtesy of an early Keiya Sento strike that Kim Jin-hyeon, possibly still suffering the after-effects of his recent shoulder injury, may feel he should have done better with. These two have already duked it out twice this season in the Levain Cup and the second meeting produced the fixture’s first ever 0-0. With the dissatisfaction of their supporters still ringing in their ears, the onus is now on both sets of players to put on a more entertaining display of attacking football this time round.

Tale of the Tape



In my last preview I added the caveat that Gamba had played against 10 men for 2/3 of the match with Kobe, and this week I feel I need to point out that the Nerazzurri’s tactics and subsequent stats versus Reysol were heavily influenced by the Covid outbreak within the squad. With that said, the Ao to Kuro’s starting eleven at the Hitachidai still contained the same goalkeeper, defenders and central midfielders that played in the 2-0 home victory over Vissel and also boasted the likes of Hiroki Fujiharu, Genta Miura and Wellington Silva among the subs, so the team selected was clearly still more than capable of doing the business. Perhaps thanks to a backs-to-the-wall mindset, Katanosaka was able to cajole an energetic performance out of his troops, the 118.8 km distance covered was the joint 2nd highest total produced this year and indeed that number was identical in the 1-0 win at Urawa in February, a game which followed a not too dissimilar pattern. The 195 sprints recorded was also the club’s 2nd highest in 2022, perhaps owing much to the vibrance of young guns such as Yamami and Nakamura, plus debutant Minamino. If you glance down quickly to the 2021 vs 2022 stats comparison table below you’ll observe that things are mostly ticking in the right direction for Gamba under Katanosaka. We can see that xG against and goals conceded have improved slightly, though further work is definitely required to shore up the defence while remaining a threat going forward. The club’s xG difference currently sits at -0.32 (last season it was -0.43), projected over the course of a whole season that means the Nerazzurri would be expected to concede 10.88 more times than they scored. The number of shots Ao to Kuro ‘keepers are facing also remains a big concern with 3 instances (including Kashiwa last weekend) of opposition teams having 20 or more attempts on goal and only 2 matches (Iwata and Kobe) when opponents have had less than 10 efforts at Gamba’s net (the Nerazzurri are on a run of 3 clean sheets in-a-row from an xG against of 5.52 so the worry is that’s going to come back to bite sooner or later). Pass completion is the other metric that is down on 2021, though it is steadily improving. Across Gamba’s most recent 5 outings it stands at 350.6, and this includes a fixture played in very trying underfoot conditions vs FC Tokyo, last season it was a very similar 361.1 per 90 minutes. Additionally, I’d argue that pass completion is something of a ‘sweet spot’ statistic in that good teams naturally have higher numbers (with the odd exception), but going too high, ie Kobe or Tokushima at their worst, just means you are passing the ball side-to-side and drawing 0-0 or chasing games from 1-0 down while the likes of Kawasaki, Marinos, Antlers have matches sewn up 15-20 minutes before the end and can therefore afford to cruise and let their stats lag a touch, but I digress.


Is there something in the air in Osaka these days as Cerezo seem to have succumbed to the same home game blues as Gamba? The Sakura have picked up just 5 of their 17 points on their own turf this season (Gamba are doing little better with 8) and despite 60.4% of their points being earned at home last term they finished off the year losing 4 of their final 6 J1 fixtures at the Yodoko Sakura Stadium, is a case of new stadium syndrome to blame? Cerezo finished one position and 4 points better off than the Nerazzurri in 2021 and while they ranked 5th in terms of xG for, xG difference, shots for and shots for on target, their xG against, shots against, pass completion and sprinting stats were mediocre. Of course they made a pretty significant change in the dugout pre-season, replacing the ultra defensive Miguel Ángel Lotina with returning hero Levir Culpi in an effort to produce some more attractive attacking football. In reality what occurred was a loss of the defensive stability that was the foundation of their 4th and 5th place finishes from the previous two years and in it’s stead came more attacking endeavour, but a lack of cutting edge which ultimately led to Culpi’s dismissal days prior to the Osaka Derby last August. Akio Kogiku took over for the remaining 13 matches and oversaw 6 wins and 7 defeats. Perhaps his greatest triumph has been using his in-depth knowledge of the club’s youth structures to significantly reduce the average age of the starting eleven. This is perhaps best illustrated in the 2nd stats table below where you can see a major year-on-year improvement in both distance covered and number of sprints per game. Cerezo’s results have been a bit all over the place this season, though there has been a pleasant neatness to them. After a 2-2 draw at Yokohama F. Marinos in round 1, they are 4W4D4L across their last 12 league games and those can be divided into successive groups of 3 fixtures with each containing 1 win, 1 draw and 1 loss, so while we can say they’ve never really been out of form, we can’t say they’ve ever been in great form either. Their xG for and against numbers have worryingly both gone the wrong way this year compared to last season, but fortunately they are conceding less while goals scored has remained constant. Like Gamba they’ll be hoping that discrepancy between xG and real goals doesn’t come back to haunt them down the line.


Head to Head

2021 marked the second consecutive year that the Nagai Stadium leg of the Osaka Derby ended in a 1-1 draw. On that occasion it was a tale of two penalties, Yuta Toyokawa’s miss for Cerezo in the first-half and Patric’s equaliser for Gamba 8 minutes from the end of regulation time. Sandwiched in between was a pretty decent Motohiko Nakajima effort from the edge of the area, but there was to be no further scoring and the visitors would have been the happier of the two to leave with a share of the spoils. That result, however, meant that Gamba had still only accumulated 7 points from their opening 8 league fixtures and, more worryingly, had scored just once from open play during that time. The axe would fall on kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s head less than two weeks after this game following back-to-back home losses to Kawasaki and Hiroshima. Later in the year Cerezo saw off the Nerazzurri in the return match at Panasonic Stadium thanks to Riku Matsuda’s deflected shot 6 minutes into the second-half. It was another scrappy affair that the Cherry Blossoms slightly edged and was the second in a worrying run of four consecutive league defeats for Gamba as they faced severe burnout in the aftermath of their epic mid-summer fixture marathon. Both Osaka clubs have also faced each other 4 times in the Levain Cup over the past 2 seasons with Cerezo running out 4-1 winners on aggregate in last year’s quarter-final before easing past the Nerazzurri 3-2 in Suita in a Group A thriller this February. The return match ended in a much more sedate 0-0 stalemate which saw Gamba officially eliminated from the 2022 edition of the competition.



Gamba Osaka

* What I like about Tomohiro Katanosaka is that he’s not afraid to take decisive action when his battle plan isn’t working. Case in point: Saturday night in Kashiwa, after a bright opening 20 minutes of attacking verve from Gamba which led to chances being created at the expense of the defence being left wide open and exposed, Reysol took almost complete command for the rest of the first-half and it looked like it was just a matter of time before they went ahead. Katanosaka then brought on Genta Miura for Hideki Ishige at the interval, changed the system from 4-4-2 to 3-4-2-1 and after a rocky opening 5 minutes to the second period, the Nerazzurri steadily improved and limited their hosts’ opportunities while finding time to grab a winner of their own. With all that said, at the moment I’d expect the same members that came out for the second-half last week to start versus Cerezo, possibly with the exception of Ishige for Nakamura and, if his condition allows, Onose for Yanagisawa. Those with asymptomatic Covid will likely return via the bench in my opinion.

* Gamba will travel to play Cerezo looking to make it three wins on the spin and have temporarily gone from nervously looking over their shoulders at the relegation zone to now staring optimistically at 4th place which lies just 3 points ahead of them. However, I add this note of caution, pre-season I had Gamba down as somewhere in the mid-table shuffle between 5th and 15th, there are plenty of teams around a similar level, capable of winning some and losing others, this is where the Nerazzurri are at the moment. I’m looking for incremental improvements in the Katanosaka game-plan, keeping players healthy and adding one or two who fit the system better in the summer will be key, but ultimately I’m not expecting too many fireworks in 2022.

* Gamba has always been a club known for harvesting it’s own talent and out of the Covid emergency (Katanosaka’s words, not mine) came the opportunity for two youngsters, midfielder Rikuto Kuwahara and forward Harumi Minamino to join up with the first-team squad. High school third grader Minamino is likely to turn pro next year and he enjoyed an eventful 16 minute cameo which involved, plenty of running, a cheeky back-heel on the edge of the Kashiwa box and concussing a Gamba fan behind the goal with a shot (the supporter in question received a Yuya Fukuda uniform as compensation and an apology from Minamino too…I also saw a fan with a baby in that area as well, not sure what that was all about? Welcome to the J.League, eh!) Kuwahara was an unused sub, but he is worth discussing as he has so far taken the same path from Nagaokakyo SS in Kyoto to the Gamba youth academy that Akihiro Ienaga and Takashi Usami have already trodden. With Jiro Nakamura (who understandably for someone so young had an off night on Saturday) being compared to the aforementioned Ienaga and Usami and drawing admiring glances from Celtic supporters, it’s good to know there’s fresh talent in the pipeline if he does go, albeit someone who plays a bit deeper and won’t be ready to join the first team on a permanent basis until 2024.
**Minamino and Kuwahara both started as Gamba bowed out of the Levain Cup at the group stage with a disappointing 3-1 home defeat to Kashima Antlers. Shoma Doi reminded kantoku René Weiler of his existence with a brace and Japan international Ayase Ueda got the other while captain Genta Miura netted the Nerazzurri’s consolation.**

* Ichimori vs Higashiguchi – I’ve said before that Masaaki Higashiguchi will undoubtedly come back and re-take the starting gloves once he returns to full fitness, but watching Kashiwa vs Gamba on Saturday night was the first time that just a sliver of doubt crept into my mind. It was Jun Ichimori’s first-half performance that did it. Not only did he thwart the Reysol attackers time and time again, but he also sprayed a magnificent pass out to the left wing for Keisuke Kurokawa who then fed the onrushing Yamami to set up what would have been a goal of the season contender had it gone in. I challenge you to spot a better pass from a goalkeeper to an outfield player in J1 this year!

* Deadly Dawhan – The Brazilian volante has quickly become a fan favourite since making his debut just under 2 months ago. He seems like a down-to-earth, family guy off the field and on it he reads the game well, has a good range of passing, is extremely fit and has a keen eye for goal. In my decade of following the Nerazzurri, Matheus Jesus, who came and went with the ill-fated Levir Culpi reign of 2018, is the only other Brazilian central midfielder I’ve seen turn out in the blue and black stripes, so I must say I’m thoroughly enjoying Dawhan’s start to life in the J.League.
**Note – On 17 May it was announced that Dawhan’s first Gamba strike, his volley against Kyoto Sanga, had been chosen as J1 Goal of the Month for April, congratulations to him.**

* Personal news – The home leg of the Osaka Derby originally scheduled for Sunday 17th July has been brought forward 24 hours as a result of Japan’s hosting of the EAFF E-1 Football Championship. That makes sense, but unfortunately for me that means missing out on attending due to work. To date I’ve only been to Gamba vs Cerezo cup games live and after the 2020 edition planned for Golden Week was cancelled and then played behind closed doors, I’m wondering if I’ll ever get the chance to take in the rarefied atmosphere. Anyway, personal moan over, now back to the action.

Team News

I’ve gone for a more slimmed down version of this section this week due to the volume of absentees and also time constraints.

**Note – 5 of the 7 reported Covid cases in the squad were asymptomatic, so in theory those players can return in this match.**

GK Masaaki Higashiguchi – Back in full training, not yet ready to play
CB Shota Fukuoka – Had a minor injury, was back training, potential Covid case
RB Ryu Takao – Out of the squad since 17 April, presumed injured
CM – Ju Se-jong – Potential Covid case
CM/S – Shu Kurata – Calf injury, expected back in June
CM Mitsuki Saito – Potential Covid case
CM Yuki Yamamoto – Injured leg on 17 April, return date unknown
WG – Yuya Fukuda – Dislocated shoulder – expected back in June / July
WG – Kosuke Onose – Potential Covid case
CF – Patric – Potential Covid case
CF – Takashi Usami – Achilles tendon rupture – out for the season

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Cerezo Osaka

I mentioned above that Cerezo and Gamba have experienced similar issues playing in front of their own supporters this season, and I think we can compare their work in the transfer market in recent windows as well, particularly when it comes to recruiting players from overseas or other J1 clubs. Hailing from a prefecture with a population of almost 9 million, it’s little surprise that both Cerezo and Gamba produce precocious talents through their youth academies at regular intervals and the Cherry Blossoms don’t only look at youngsters in Osaka and Sakai, their tentacles spread out into presently J.League club-less Wakayama and Nara too. That part of their organisation seems fine, as does their lower league recruitment, for example, they were clearly big fans of my Scouting J2 article from last year, which I’ll move onto later. However, like the Nerazzurri, when they bring in more developed players there tends to be too much of a focus on a signing target’s objective quality and availability rather than how they’ll actually fit in with the team’s structure and style which can lead to a lot of blunders and this has been exacerbated by hiring coaches with wildly differing views on how the game should be played on an almost year-by-year basis recently (Shindo, Tiago, Taggart, Tokura, Koji Suzuki and even Inui are the kinds of players I’m referring to at Cerezo, Leandro Pereira, Wellington Silva, Ju Se-jong and Markel Susaeta all fit the bill at Gamba.) Anyway, this blog may focus on the blue and black half of Osaka, but I don’t want to bash Cerezo too much, so let’s move onto something more positive. The Sakura currently lie 8th in the standings, just 3 points off 4th spot despite dealing with a raft of injuries, the late arrivals of Jonjić and Jean Patric, plus the Inui Incident (‘The Inui Incident’ sounds like a potential movie title) in the opening months of the campaign. With all of that mostly behind them it should be onwards and upwards from here. I think I helped answer a question from Gabriele Anello on a pre-season preview J-Talk Podcast about whether or not Cerezo were viable candidates for 4th, and at the moment, over a third of the way through the year, the answer has to be yes. One of the main reasons for that is the form of some of their winter signings from J2. Seiya Maikuma (Nagasaki) has slowly, but surely forced his way into the line-up as a right-winger, though long-term he’ll probably be Riku Matsuda’s replacement at right-back, while Nerazzurri supporters will require no re-introduction to Satoki Uejo (Okayama) and Hikaru Nakahara (Yamagata) because of the latter’s excellent performance and winning goal and the former’s wonder-strike in the first Levain Cup Osaka Derby back in February. The final player I wanted to highlight is someone who despite turning just 21 this week has already captained the side in Hiroshi Kiyotake’s absence earlier in the year, and that player is Ryuya Nishio. The Cerezo youth graduate has really blossomed (see what I did there?) under Kogiku, initially playing alongside Ayumu Seko and he now has the more experienced Jonjić there for guidance which should help his game come on in leaps and bounds. Having seen former team-mate Seko move to Switzerland and with the likes of Koki Machida, Ko Itakura, Takehiro Tomiyasu and, of course, Maya Yoshida, all Japanese centre-backs who’ve made strides in Europe in recent years, it’d be no surprise if Nishio follows that well beaten path in the not too distant future.

Team New
s

I’ve gone for a more slimmed down version of this section this week due to time constraints.

CM – Riki Harakawa – Subbed off vs Iwata on 6 May, hasn’t played since
WG – Takashi Inui – Available again after a league and club suspension, newspaper articles indicate he’s not fit enough to re-join the squad yet
CF – Bruno Mendes – Subbed off vs Iwata on 6 May, hasn’t played since

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

Categories
sport

Kashiwa Reysol vs Gamba Osaka 14 May 2022 Match Preview

Kashiwa Reysol vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 13
Saturday 14 May 2022
Sankyo Frontier Kashiwa Stadium
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


Kashiwa Reysol and Gamba Osaka are all set to clash under Saturday Night Lights at the Hitachidai Stadium in an intriguing contest that really could go either way. A win for hosts Reysol will bolster their top 4 credentials, while, should Gamba return to Kansai with the 3 points then that would put them firmly into the upper mid-table shake-up. The Nerazzurri got their season back on track last Sunday with a much needed 2-0 win over near-neighbours Vissel Kobe. The Ao to Kuro struck the frame of the goal three times during an incredible opening period which also saw them have a goal disallowed as well as Vissel defender Ryuho Kikuchi being ordered off for a DOGSO offence. The onslaught continued in the second-half, and just when you thought the breakthrough would never come, Kwon Kyung-won and Wellington Silva popped up to bag their first J1 goals in the final 10 minutes to shift the Nerazzurri up to 12th and leave Kobe in a world of trouble. Later on that day Kashiwa held Urawa to a scoreless draw at home, though they were beneficiaries of a tight offside call against Reds’ forward Alex Schalk to deny him what would have been the winner. Gamba now travel east to Chiba looking to secure back-to-back league wins for the first time in 2022, however, it will be no easy task against a side tipped by many to struggle, but who have instead bolted out of the traps to confound expectations. The kick-off time suits a good, fast-paced game of football and also a large global audience, so I hope you can tune in to be part of the latest installment of J1 drama and suspense.

Tale of the Tape


Well Sunday’s Hanshin Derby certainly blew my statistical averages out the water, but it also gave me quite a lot to write about in here. I will preface this section by saying that Vissel played with ten men for around 2/3 of the match which may, or may not, give context to some of the outlying numbers you see below, though if I may stick the boot into Kobe just a touch, after all his time-wasting in the second-half of the 2-1 win in Suita last year, there wasn’t a whole lot of sympathy for Ryuho Kikuchi from Gamba fans in the wake of his ordering off (I actually think that when on form he’s a very good defender, so I’m just jesting). I’ve been keeping shots for and against stats for every Gamba league game since 2020, that’s 84 in total now and the 33 shots for recorded on Sunday was a full 11 higher than the next best achieved over that time period which was 22 at home to both Urawa and Shonan in 2020 (2021’s highest figure of 21 came in the 3-2 loss against Sendai in Suita). An xG For of 2.93 is admittedly not great from such a high number of attempts on goal, but it is just shy of doubling the year’s second best tally of 1.47 in the 3-1 triumph over Nagoya in April, though it didn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of the 3.38 from the home defeat at the hands of Yokohama F. Marinos last August (I’ve only been collecting xG data since 2021 and that number [which included a penalty, I should add] is the clubhouse leader). Defensively, Vissel’s 0.3xG was the lowest a team has recorded against the Nerazzurri since the opening day of the 2021 campaign when the same opponents chalked up 0.4xG in their 1-0 win at the Noevir Stadium, their 5 shots on goal is also the smallest number to appear in my records, beating the 6 from Oita at Panasonic Stadium last summer. Finally a quick word on sprinting, it was reported in the Japanese media prior to Sunday’s outing that Gamba sat bottom of the J1 total sprints table (perennial speed kings Tosu are top), and while pedestrian Vissel were not really the kind of team to expose this lack of intensity, Sapporo on Wednesday and, to a lesser extent, Shonan a fortnight ago, were. Having the likes of Yanagisawa and Kurokawa at full-back plus Fukuda, Yamami and Nakamura further forward in addition to the harrying skills of Dawhan and Saito in the middle should help push those sprint numbers higher, but part of the issue may also be Katanosaka’s game-plan which might need some modifications going forward, more on that later in the ‘Gamba Osaka’ section (for reference his 2021 Oita side ranked 3rd in J1 for total distance covered, but only 12th for sprints, averaging 169 per game which compares with Gamba’s 160 so far in 2022).



As I alluded to above, Reysol were widely predicted to struggle this campaign, but a blistering start of 5 wins and 16 points from their opening 7 games took everyone, including many of their own supporters, by surprise. However, just a solitary victory in their last 5 outings, albeit an impressive one away to Hiroshima, has brought them down to earth slightly though they still sit in 4th, 6 points clear of the Nerazzurri with just over 1/3 of the season gone so we certainly can’t simply dismiss them as being lucky or a flash-in-the-pan. In 2021, reeling from the loss of J1’s top scorer the previous season, Michael Olunga, and the subsequent mid-season departure of influential playmaker Ataru Esaka, Kashiwa slumped to a disappointing 15th, a mere 5 points above the drop-zone. A quick glance through their performance data suggests that, actually in reality, they played to a higher standard than 15th for much of the campaign. They were the biggest under-performer in terms of xG For, scoring just 37 goals from 49.8xG (see how those losses of Olunga and Esaka came back to bite them) narrowly edging out Gamba who netted 33 times from an xG of 45.26. Defensively, they conceded 55 times from an xG of 46.94 which meant they were 4th unluckiest side in that regard, therefore we can perhaps conclude that missing chances in the absence of quality attackers, combined with being unfortunate at the back, contributed largely to their downfall 12 months ago. Looking slightly further into their 2021 numbers we can see that they ranked 6th in J1 in terms of xG For, Shots For and Shots For On Target as well as sprints, though it wasn’t all rosy as they came in 14th for xG Against, distance covered and possession % and 16th for passes completed. Moving things forward to this year and it’s easy to see why Reysol are sitting 11 places higher in the standings, xG For has slipped a touch from 1.31 to 1.23, but their defensive performance has improved markedly with last season’s xG Against figure of 1.23 being bettered by a more solid showing of 1.03 this time round. Elsewhere almost all of their other key performance metrics are ticking in the right direction, Shots Against (on target) has gone from 11.1 (6.6) to 10.4 (5.5), passes completed has risen from 312.7 to 335.1, distance covered 112.9 km to 116.2 km, sprints 174.4 to a whopping 203.1 and ball possession % 47.1 to 49.1. Shots For has actually declined a touch from 12.3 to 11.1, but crucially the number of those on target has barely moved from 7.4 to 7.3 per 90 minutes. The goal of this section is mainly to introduce just the raw data and in the ‘Kashiwa Reysol’ section below I’ll attempt to flesh out some further reasons behind the Sunkings 2022 ascension.



Head to Head

Just as they had done in 2020, both sides won their respective home fixtures last time round. The first meeting came in matchday 9 in mid-April, though in actuality it was only Gamba’s 4th league game of the season due to their Covid cluster. Soon-to-be-former Kashiwa playmaker Ataru Esaka was the star-turn causing numerous problems for the Nerazzurri defence with his intelligent movement and penetrating passes helping the Sunkings assert their dominance after the break following a tepid opening stanza. Brazilian Matheus Savio offered glimpses of what he was capable of too, but it was veteran Hidekazu Otani, of all people, who settled the tie 14 minutes from the end to leave Gamba with no goals and just 2 points from their first 4 J1 matches of 2021. The Ao to Kuro got their revenge in late September with Takashi Usami leading them to victory. First, his 3rd minute free-kick squeezed past Kim Seung-gyu and into the Reysol net before a sumptuous right wing cross from a set-piece midway through the first-half allowed Shunya Suganuma to bullet home a header from 12 yards out. To their credit though, Kashiwa battled valiantly and danger-man Cristiano squared for Yuta Kamiya to set up a nervy finish with only 4 minutes of normal time on the clock, but Gamba were not to be denied as they snapped a run of 4 losses on the spin to move up to 13th in the standings. 2-1 the final score and a nice, neat 2-2 on aggregate as if to illustrate just how well matched this pair were (a mere 3 points separated them at the conclusion of the 38 game J1 campaign).



Gamba Osaka

* Jinking Jiro – Swapping shirts with Bojan, tearing into experienced Samurai Blue forward Yuya Osako for his on-field conduct and earning comparisons with Akihiro Ienaga, it certainly wasn’t a quiet Golden Week for Gamba’s new Golden Boy, Jiro Nakamura. With his low centre of gravity seeing him likened to a former Nerazzurri #41, the Ao to Kuro faithful will be crossing toes, fingers and everything else in the hope that Nakamura doesn’t become the latest in a series of Gamba youth products to quickly board the plane to Europe.

* Okuno vs Saito – There was a fair bit of online heat in Japanese Gamba supporting circles over Katanosaka’s decision to select Kohei Okuno ahead of Mitsuki Saito from the start last Sunday, I have two theories as to why the decision was made. The first is simply that Saito didn’t play much during his time in Russia and the coaching staff may be concerned that certain things have been dropping off a touch in training therefore he may be at risk of picking up an injury should he rack up too many minutes on the field in too short a space of time. The second suggestion is that Saito is an up-and-at-’em type of midfielder, see his hounding and harassing of Iniesta (I don’t think the ‘Iniesta no-tackle’ rule was in effect as he got away with a couple) for proof, whereas Okuno will happily drop in between the two centre-backs and start off Gamba attacks with some neat passing which better fits with how Katanosaka wants the game to be played. With Dawhan in imperious form since arriving in the J.League, it’ll be interesting to see how the battle between Okuno and Saito shapes up in the coming weeks.

* Formation, Formation, Formation Part 1034 – I know I’ve talked about this a lot, but it’s still an unresolved issue and Yuya Fukuda’s injury has added further fuel to the fire so let’s take a brief look at it one more time. Katanosaka is known to favour a 3421, he has 3 excellent centre-backs in Miura, Shoji and Kwon, but forwards who don’t quite match what he wants to do in attack. Could the loss of Fukuda precipitate a move from the 442 utilised in the past 3 fixtures back to the 3421 system for the away tussle with Kashiwa? If I was a betting man, I’d slightly side with yes, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

* 26,490 spectators were in the house to see Gamba break their recent scoring duck in the Hanshin Derby against Kobe and this was significant as it was the biggest attendance (by some distance) at Panasonic Stadium since the start of the pandemic and just 1,218 shy of the average recorded in the 2019 season, the highest figure in the club’s history. Well done to all involved, and hopefully many of the youngsters in the crowd enjoyed their day out in the warm sunshine and will be back for more in the future. With rumours of a glamour summer friendly against Paris Saint-Germain doing the rounds, a chance to see the Japanese Messi and the real Messi sharing the same turf is sure to be the hottest ticket in town.

* After working some serious overtime against Sapporo on Wednesday it was nice to see Jun Ichimori being afforded a nice, easy Sunday afternoon against Vissel Kobe. Fortunately he was alert enough to pull off an excellent second-half block from Yoshinori Muto, though other than that the ex-Yamaguchi and Okayama stopper would have had time to crack out his Kindle and do a spot of light reading had he chosen to do so.

* I believe the post down at the south end of Panasonic Stadium is still shaking after Kwon Kyung-won’s first-half stoppage-time thunderbolt on Sunday. Also, judging by his blood curdling screams at match officials when something doesn’t go his way, I don’t think he’s someone you want to get on the wrong side of, J1 forwards take note.

* And finally to a bit of irreverence, if you haven’t already, I invite you to check out Gotoku Sakai’s reaction to Kwon Kyung-won’s opener on Sunday. The Japan international full-back initially raises his arm to appeal for offside before quickly realising it was him who played Kwon on so he decides to slide his hand down through his hair in the vain hope that no-one noticed. Too bad, I noticed and, if I’m honest, it added a little more entertainment to what was already a thoroughly pleasant afternoon for me.

Team News

**Update – on 12 May 3 more asymptomatic Covid cases were announced taking the total to 7. However, it is unclear how many of these are players and how many are coaches, physios etc.**

The club announced early evening on 11 May that 4 first team players had tested positive for Covid-19, two of whom were asymptomatic (ie hopefully ok to play Cerezo on the 21st), one had a sore throat and one had a blocked nose. This adds to the issue of the treatment room at Panasonic Stadium getting worryingly full these days with Yuya Fukuda (dislocated shoulder) the latest casualty, my best guess is we’ll next see him after the June internationals. That time-frame also applies to veterans Masaaki Higashiguchi (knee) and Shu Kurata (calf) while Takashi Usami (achilles) is likely done for the year. Elsewhere, Yuki Yamamoto (suspected lower leg issue), Ryu Takao, Hideki Ishige and Shota Fukuoka have all been absent from recent matchday squads, Katanosaka confirmed that Fukuoka had a minor injury a few weeks back, as for the others, we’re still waiting official word though they are all strongly suspected to be suffering from minor ailments.

Predicted Lineups and Stats


*Note – I selected this side prior to the Covid announcement so it may turn out to be very different in reality (also perhaps scrap that ‘it could go either way’ quote from the opening line of the article, it’s very much advantage Kashiwa at the moment).





Kashiwa Reysol

Kashiwa’s Brazilian kantoku Nelsinho came under a lot of fire last year (not least from me) over his team’s performances and indeed it was thought that it was only his legendary status within the club that kept him in a job. Fast forward to 2022 and despite suffering an achilles injury (which must be extremely tough at the age of 71) he seems to have calmed down a lot, largely settling on a 3-5-2 system plus a core group of regular starters and it appears to be having the desired effect. Being located in a known hot-bed of talent, Chiba Prefecture, it’s perhaps no surprise that Kashiwa have the highest number of ‘home-grown’ players in J1 this season (15). It’s one thing having a lot of youngsters in your squad and it’s another thing actually using them, but have a look at my predicted lineup below and you’ll see that Nelsinho hasn’t been afraid to give some of the starlets a shot at the limelight. I guess many people were sceptical about the Sunkings 2022 chances because while, for example, Douglas and Tomoya Koyamatsu were known quantities, the majority of their other winter additions, plus several of the second or third year pros in their ranks were largely unheard of outside the confines of the Hitachidai. However, a number of them have done the club proud in the early stages of the season, the likes of Kaito Mori (his double sank Hiroshima last week), Yugo Masukake (4 goals in the Levain Cup), Yuto Yamada, Fumiya Unoki and Hidetaka Maie have certainly bolstered Reysol’s first-team when called upon by their Brazilian kantoku this term while reserve goalkeeper Masato Sasaki and centre-back Hayato Tanaka haven’t got on the field yet in J1 2022, but come highly rated. Kashiwa have a relatively small core of extremely talented players, the best of whom would be, captain Taiyo Koga (I’m a long-time admirer), Dawhan’s former CS Alagoano team-mate Matheus Savio and exciting front-man Mao Hosoya. While Koga has been a solid performer over the past few season, both Savio and Hosoya have really come to the fore this campaign. Free from long-term injury and now the main creative force with Esaka, Segawa and Cristiano gone, Savio has been a revelation with his lung-bursting runs, vision and tenacity. Japan youth international Hosoya has been one of the finds of the season so far, he appears to be quicker, more composed and physically stronger than last campaign and already has 6 direct goal involvements from 12 J1 games this year (Savio has 5, Koyamatsu 4). Both Hosoya and Matheus Savio are essential components for Reysol going forward so it’s vital Gamba do their best to put the shackles on that duo if they hope to take anything away from Saturday’s game.

Team News

Big winter arrival Douglas has been out since round 4 of the season and he’s the only serious doubt I have for Reysol ahead of this game. Yuki Muto, Dodi and Fumiya Unoki have all missed the last 2 matches, however, they may just have been dropped in the wake of the 4-1 rout at the hands of Tosu. Unoki has subsequently been called into the Japan U-21 squad which suggests to me he’s fit and ready to go, if selected, though Muto bagged an assist versus Sagan in what was his return from a fairly lengthy spell on the sidelines, so it’s entirely possible he’s re-injured himself at some point.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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

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sport

Gamba Osaka vs Vissel Kobe 8 May 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Vissel Kobe
2022 J1 Season Round 12
Sunday 8 May 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


It’s Hanshin Derby time this weekend at Panasonic Stadium and while it might be a bit premature to attach the ‘relegation six-pointer’ tag to this fixture, it’s safe to say both Gamba and Vissel need to buck up their ideas sharpish. Jun Ichimori was the hero for the Nerazzurri on Wednesday as his penalty save from Gabriel Xavier on the stroke of half-time combined with poor Consadole finishing and sheer luck to earn the Ao to Kuro a share of the spoils and move them up to 13th in the standings. Sunday’s match marks Vissel’s return to J1 action after a 4 week hiatus while they played out their ACL Group Stage games in Thailand. It was a case of job done as they overcame Kitchee SC and Chiangrai United (who caused Gamba all sorts of trouble 12 months ago) to qualify for the knock-out rounds, but now new kantoku Miguel Ángel Lotina and his charges need to focus all their collective energies on bridging the 11 point gap that lies between themselves and safety.

Tale of the Tape

The stats suggest that Gamba should feel aggrieved not to have drawn their recent games with Shonan and FC Tokyo, and also by way of contrast a 3-1 defeat would have been a much fairer outcome versus Sapporo on Wednesday, but hey, that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. Walking down the steps of Panasonic Stadium at full-time after the Consadole match the thought crossed my mind, “I bet you Sapporo had fewer shots and a lower xG when they won 5-1 here last season” and lo-and-behold they racked up 20 (12 on target) shots amounting to an xG figure of 2.13 (Gamba’s was 1.98) in 2021 which compares with the 26 (17) efforts and xG For of 3.47 (2.72 not including their missed penalty) in the 0-0. I know this is meant to be the stats part, but let me digress just a touch. Before I came to Japan to work I knew I was going to be located either in Osaka or Sapporo. I was sent to Toyonaka (one of Gamba’s official hometowns) and the rest is history. However, sometimes I watch Consadole games and think about what they would have done to my blood pressure if I’d ended up making my home there and adopting them as my local team. With that trip down memory lane out of the way, let me get back to my favourite topic, expected goals. Sapporo’s xG total of 2.72 from open play lists 2nd in Gamba’s worst xG Against performance of 2022 rankings, only behind the opening day 3-1 loss at home to Kashima, who, of course, had 52 minutes of wrongly playing 11v10 to wrack up impressive numbers. At the other end of the field, the Nerazzurri are still struggling to click with no goals in their last 4 outings in all competitions, however, they have recorded xG For tallies in excess of 1 in 6 of their previous 8 J1 games (plus one 0.99). I feel both Katanosaka and I (if I may put the two of us together in the same sentence) have identified the same issues of the attackers in the squad not matching their new kantoku’s style and the injuries to Usami and Kurata are exacerbating this problem. I reckon it’s going to be a matter of nursing this wounded beast through to the summer transfer window before some corrective surgery is performed to hopefully get the show on the road once more.


Fresh from a best ever J1 finish of 3rd in 2021 (4 places above their previous highest), I wrote the following about Kobe in my 2022 J1 season preview “Things have never looked better in Kobe…there’s no reason to suggest Vissel won’t be there or thereabouts at the business end of the year,” well the less said about that particular piece of ‘analysis’ the better. Joking aside, the Noevir Stadium club have clearly underperformed markedly compared with what armchair pundits like myself and also many genuine experts felt was possible. Vissel are currently bottom of the standings having played 10 matches and possess the weakest attack (a mere 5 goals scored to date) plus the second most porous defence (16). Those numbers are a tad misleading as the non-ACL clubs all had games on Tuesday or Wednesday while Kobe were travelling home from the ACL, however, on Monday when everyone was on an even keel, the Men in Maroon were equal with Shonan and Fukuoka in terms of least goals scored (they’ve got quite a way to go to catch Avispa now) and were on their own with the worst defensive record in J1. They’ll be hopeful that defensive-minded Spanish coach Miguel Ángel Lotina, formerly of Tokyo Verdy, Cerezo and Shimizu is the man to fix their leaky rearguard while the return of Yoshinori Muto, who’s missed the bulk of the campaign to date with injury, should bolster their attacking options (though from a Gamba perspective, preferably not as quickly as Leandro’s return helped FC Tokyo last week). Well then, what has Señor Lotina let himself in for? As I mentioned above, 3rd in 2021 was Vissel’s highest ever placing in Japan’s top flight and while plenty of players shone brightly and results were good, a brief look through their performance data casts doubt on how sustainable last year’s run really was. Kobe’s best numbers unsurprisingly came in areas related to ball retention, completed passes per game sat at 459.1 (3rd in J1) and their average possession % figure of 54.9 saw them rank 4th in the division, however, in all of the other key metrics I use they came in somewhere between 5th and 11th. Further digging also reveals that they were the 2nd biggest overperformer in terms of xG For, netting 62 times in 38 outings from a combined xG of 47.46 (Gamba scored just 33 goals from a very similar xG, 45.26) while also ranking 5th in the xG Against overperformance charts, conceding 36 times despite opponents chalking up 42.51xG over the course of the season. It’s still relatively early days in the 2022 campaign, but perhaps, as was the case for Gamba post-2020, a few chickens are now coming home to roost. Vissel games this year to date have been more open than 12 months ago, their average xG score is 1.34-1.31 versus 1.25-1.12 in 2021 while Shots For Per game (on target) has increased from 10.9 (6.8) to 13.5 (8.3), but worryingly at the other end it’s gone from 10.8 (6.3) to 13.3 (8.6). Ball retention stats continue to be good with 471.2 passes being completed per match and the possession % figure sitting at 58.4. Lotina is a slightly (very?) puzzling appointment as he’s a coach with a philosophy and style of play that really doesn’t match what Vissel and Mr. Mikitani want at all, at least as far as I can see. In fairness, one of the criticisms I’ve seen levelled at previous kantoku Miura from Kobe supporters was that he had no plan A let alone a plan B, so let’s see what the wily Spaniard can do. I’m guessing his side are not going to come out quite as gung-ho as Sapporo did on Wednesday, though as you can see from my quote above, I’ve been wrong before.



Head to Head


“It’s a funny old game” is a clichéd expression often banded about British footballing circles and it perfectly encapsulates the past 2 seasons of Gamba vs Vissel matches. The Nerazzurri did the double over the Ushi in 2020 before being swept by their western neighbours last term, though in truth there wasn’t an awful lot separating the sides in any of those 4 encounters. Week 1 of the 2021 J1 campaign saw the duo battle it out at the Noevir Stadium and a cagey affair was settled by a lovely Kyogo Furuhashi dink from the edge of the box following a delicious through ball supplied by ex-Cerezo star Hotaru Yamaguchi. Gamba would have had a right to feel a touch non-plussed as they slightly shaded proceedings in Hyogo and they’d definitely have felt aggrieved to also taste defeat at the hands of Atsuhiro Miura’s troops in Suita in late July. Vissel became the first, and only, team to come from behind to see off the Ao to Kuro in J1 2021 thanks to two goals in the space of five first-half minutes from Douglas and Junya Tanaka which cancelled out Patric’s 19th minute opener. Gamba huffed and puffed as they went in search of an equaliser, but Kobe’s defence, superbly marshalled by Ryuho Kikuchi, stood firm to secure a 5th league win in 6 visits to Panasonic Stadium.



Gamba Osaka

* A lucky escape, two points dropped by Sapporo….cliché, cliché, cliché…yes, Wednesday wasn’t a great performance or a particularly impressive result, though psychologically it was important as Gamba had temporarily slipped into the bottom 3 owing to playing a day later than 12 of their fellow J1 sides. Perhaps inspired by spending a bit too much time in the sun today (Wednesday), I’d like to cover a couple of things I thought were worth sharing. First, not unsurprisingly, is the weather. I’m not sure just how well the DAZN pictures conveyed the deluge the players played through on Friday night and naturally TV isn’t really a medium built for letting you experience temperatures, but let me tell you it was warm on Wednesday and the game was contested at a break-neck speed for much of the 90 minutes, so in both fixtures the weather dictated the quality of the play to a certain extent. Secondly, I know we all watch a lot of football and want the best for our teams, but I think it’s important to try and remember that J1 clubs haven’t reached the standard of your average European Champions league contender, so it’s unfair to treat them like one. Gamba are missing key players in attack like Usami and Kurata, and injuries etc. affect other clubs too, whether it be defensively like Kawasaki (Jesiel, Noborizato), FC Tokyo (Morishige, Trevisan) or in attack such as Kobe (Muto), Urawa (Junker, Matsuo, Moberg). There’s no Middle Eastern royal family money lying around waiting to propel Japanese clubs into the stratosphere or a Pep Guardiola on hand to create the ultimate game-plan, however, the J League is beautiful too. Sure, it can be frustrating at times and players, coaches and clubs often do things that are unfathomable to many of us, but if every game was perfect, we’d have nothing to talk about, right?

* While I’m off setting the world to rights, here is an apology addressed to a Mr. Jun Ichimori….Hi Jun, I’m not sure if you’re a fan of the blog, but your performance against Sapporo was outstanding after I moaned about you wandering all over the place at the National Stadium. If Kwon Kyung-won can get a nickname like ‘Diego’, how about we call you ‘Bruce’ after old spaghetti-legs himself Bruce Grobbelaar.

* The GX18 penalty miss / Ichimori save – I’m a Gabriel Xavier fan so I’m not having a dig at him personally, but it is always just that touch more pleasing when a missed penalty comes about as a result of a player running, stopping, shimmying, shuffling, then finally running a bit more and shooting, isn’t it?

* Attacking conundrum – Gamba started against Sapporo with Jiro Nakamura playing off Leandro Pereira and Kosuke Onose (right) and Yuya Fukuda (left) flanking that duo. Pereira got hooked at half-time for Yamami as Katanosaka looked to operate almost as the away team for a bit and try to expose Consadole’s long-standing vulnerability to quick counter attacks. That experiment was binned after just 13 minutes when Patric replaced the tiring Nakamura and we were back to route one, which to be fair, worked best with Yanagisawa (twice), the aforementioned Patric and Wellington Silva squandering presentable openings. What will we see on Sunday? Honestly, I’m not really sure. I’ve had a stab below, but have pretty low confidence in my ability to read the mind of Katanosaka at the moment.

* In my last preview I mentioned a potential move for Ryotaro Meshino in the summer, but that got me thinking, despite having European experience, Meshino is by no means the finished article and would likely suffer from the same inconsistencies as Yamami, Nakamura, Fukuda etc. While Kurata’s return will help things, the Nerazzurri should also be looking for someone (potentially short-term) with good mileage on their tyres, realistically I’m talking about a Hiroyuki Abe or Manabu Saito from Nagoya… though if I can step into the realms of fantasy for a moment, how about a loan move for either Shoma Doi (Kashima) or Daiya Tono (Kawasaki)?

* Finally to some proper transfer news and looking resplendent in his suit on Wednesday it appears that long serving club mascot ‘Gamba Boy’ is moving upstairs, potentially to become ‘Director of Mascots’ or some other such fancy title. In his place comes a new, as yet, un-named character that if I’m honest looks like it should be on Sesame Street. As a 37 year old, I don’t think I’m particularly well placed to judge the quality of such things, but I’ve heard children describe it with words such as ‘kimoi’ (that’s not a Japanese word you want to hear if you’ve designed something with the purpose of it being popular with the public) and ‘Cookie Monster.’ However, as with many things in life once you get used to something, your feeling about it changes over time, so I’m sure that’ll be the case here too.


Team News

Influential trio Masaaki Higashiguchi (knee), Takashi Usami (achilles) and skipper Shu Kurata (calf) are all definite absentees for this clash. Higashiguchi could return at the end of this month, but it’s more likely he’ll be back for the match with Yokohama F. Marinos on June 18th which is also when we’re likely to see Kurata re-take the armband. Elsewhere, it appears both Yuki Yamamoto and Ryu Takao have injury problems, Yamamoto damaged something in his leg taking a free-kick versus Shonan on April 17 and Takao, a mainstay on the right-hand side of the defence in the early part of the campaign, hasn’t played seen since going off 12 minutes from the end of the 1-1 draw with Shimizu on April 10, though he was an unused sub the following week. In my last preview I said there had been speculation attacking midfielder Hideki Ishige had been dropped, however, it now appears he’s actually carrying an injury, though the nature of it hasn’t been disclosed yet.

Predicted Lineups and Stats






Vissel Kobe

After a near 2 year period of relative stability in the port city of Kobe, Hiroshi Mikitani swung his axe abruptly to end the reign of one of his previously most trusted lieutenants Atsuhiro Miura, the man who had taken Vissel to their highest ever J1 placing of 3rd a matter of months before. I’ll acknowledge that as my xG stats in the ‘Tale of the Tape’ section above indicate, things did very much go their way in 2021, but I’d also argue it is far too simplistic to dismiss Miura as a poor coach or completely tactically inept. I have a soft spot for Kobe which is probably why I feel the need to be so critical about the decision to fire the most successful boss in their history 7 games after helping them finish 3rd. It seems the Ushi, or more specifically Mr. Mikitani, fell into the trap so many teams do of mistaking one good run of results, or one good season for being the new normal, when in fact it could just as easily be an aberration. Nevertheless, despite my ranting, Miura is gone and Miguel Ángel Lotina, who led Cerezo to 5th and 4th place finishes in 2019 and 2020 respectively before being released (clubs getting rid of coaches who achieve good results, but don’t play an aesthetically pleasing style of football is another genre of dismissal I may rant about in a future preview), so he clearly knows what he’s doing if he’s fully backed and allowed to implement his own style and ideas. Lotina mainly used 4-2-3-1 in the ACL which contrasted with the 4-4-2 diamond midfield system operated by Miura. With the likes of Hashimoto, Iniesta and Muto becoming available in the next few weeks it’ll be interesting to see how Vissel operate going forward, particularly because, as you can hear Sam and I discuss on Episode 408 of the J-Talk Podcast, some of their winter recruits (Yuruki and Ohgihara) aren’t well suited to a diamond set-up, though King of the Hill Iniesta definitely is. Kobe’s first item on the agenda upon returning from the ACL is quite simple and that is, like Gamba after their Covid shutdown 12 months ago, just by hook or by crook they need to get themselves out of the drop-zone as quickly as possible and build from that. Both these clubs were relegated together in 2012 and promoted back to the top flight a year later, neither want to repeat that experience anytime soon (though to be perfectly honest if that were to mean Gamba winning the treble in 2024 I’d have to consider it).

Finally, I’d like to shine a light on one of the lesser known talents in this Vissel Kobe squad and that is 18 year-old holding midfielder Mitsuki Hidaka. Signed on April 1st this year, I initially thought this was an April Fool’s joke, but sure enough the Aioi Gakuin High School graduate is a Vissel player. making his debut as a sub against Kitchee in the ACL and going on to play 134 minutes in total during the competition (1 start, 2 sub appearances). The youngster who cites his work-rate and ability to win the ball back as his strengths actually played for Gamba Juniors as an elementary school kid, but freely admits he grew up in Sakai (south Osaka) supporting Cerezo, so perhaps having Hotaru Yamaguchi and Takahiro Ohgihara on the books (in addition to Iniesta, of course), helped Kobe secure his services. Further interesting information about Hidaka (well for me anyway), he is the first ever Aioi Gakuin graduate to sign for a J1 club (though his former team-mate Haruki Yamasaki is now with Alemannia Aachen U19 in Germany, a deal reportedly brokered by none other than Gert Engels who has been helping the sports program at Aioi get off the ground), the reason why being that their football program is a relatively new one run in conjunction with Kamimura Gakuen in Kagoshima. Apparently there have been a number of teething problems, but with the likes of Hidaka, Yamasaki and Eugene Fukui (Sanuki) earning pro deals this year, we can surely expect to see more future starlets come out of that particular institution over the next few seasons.

Team News


There are a few injuries of note to worry coach Lotina going into this clash. Andrés Iniesta didn’t travel with the squad to Thailand for the ACL and the reasons for his absence weren’t disclosed, but according to pictures posted on the club’s official Twitter account on 4 and 5 May he’s back training with team-mates and along with fellow returnee Yoshinori Muto should be good to go from the start on Sunday. Other than that, fan of the blog Sergi Samper is out with a long-term knee injury, rising star Daiju Sasaki has a hamstring complaint that’s likely to sideline him until next month and Noriaki Fujimoto has suffered an achilles injury similar to Usami and his season is probably done and dusted.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

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sport

Gamba Osaka vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 4 May 2022 Match Preview

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


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

Tale of the Tape

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



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



Head to Head


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




Gamba Osaka

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gamba starting lineup vs FC Tokyo 29 April 2022

Team News

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

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

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

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

Team News


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

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

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FC Tokyo vs Gamba Osaka 29 April 2022 Match Preview

FC Tokyo vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 10
Friday 29 April 2022
Japan National Stadium
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


There’s Friday night football this week in J1 as the annual Golden Week holiday kicks off with FC Tokyo hosting Gamba Osaka at the recently rebuilt National Stadium located right in the heart of the country’s pulsing capital. While I’ve done my best to build the game up in the opening sentence, let me do something of a U-turn and try to level-off expectations just a touch. Hosts FC Tokyo, who are setting up HQ a good bit east of their regular basecamp at Ajinomoto Stadium, have drawn their past three league outings 0-0 while visitors Gamba, after hitting the ground running with at least one goal in their opening 12 contests this year, have since failed to hit the target in the last 2, conceding 1 at the other end in the process. None of this really points to a goal-fest, does it? But, I guess us football fans are a funny breed and tens of thousands will still descend on Shin-Kokuritsu Stadium on Friday evening with hope in their hearts. I’ll be among the thronging masses and with the number 37 of Hiroto Yamami adorning the back of my new away shirt, could it have the same effect as on my previous road trip, the 1-0 victory over Marinos at Nissan Stadium last November when Shu Kurata (the name on my 2021 alternate uniform) netted the winner?

Tale of the Tape

I’d like to start off this section by pointing you in the direction of the J-Talk Podcast (Episode 385) and Sam Robson’s analysis of Gamba vs Shonan as well as the task-list facing Tomohiro Katanosaka, I feel his neutral views should balance out my more Gamba-focused take on the same topics below. Nine games into the 2022 J1 campaign and the Nerazzurri’s average xG stands at 1 For and 1.39 Against per match which compares with 1.19 vs 1.62 last season. Quite clearly the defence has improved while the attack, despite scoring more frequently (1.33 per 90 in 2022 compared with 0.87 in 2021), has regressed in terms of chance creation. I could do my usual routine of whipping out a laundry list of excuses, the injury to Usami, Kwon Kyung-won and Dawhan’s late arrivals, the pre-season Covid cluster, but I don’t want this to turn into a pity party. Put simply, I’m desperate for the Ao to Kuro to snap out of the downward spiral of one rebuilding season after another, I’ve got faith in Katanosaka to sort things out, but it will take time. Currently Gamba’s xG difference is -0.39 per game, a very minor improvement from the dire -0.43 recorded 12 months ago and this is the metric I’ll be watching most closely going forward, the Nerazzurri won’t get much higher than 9th or 10th unless that stat is bettered sharpish. Another area in huge need of a shot-in-the-arm is Gamba’s ability to take the lead in games. In his comments prior to the Levain Cup tie with Cerezo last Saturday, veteran Hiroki Fujiharu pinpointed the Nerazzurri’s failure to really take the game to opponents early on as a weak point in their style. Gamba have only come from behind to win twice in their last 52 J1 outings, in both home and away fixtures with Katanosaka’s Oita last season, though it should be pointed out that over the same time period the reverse has only happened once, at home to Vissel Kobe last summer. So, you can almost take it to the bank that whichever team scores first in a Gamba match won’t lose, therefore an improvement in scoring first (opponents have struck first 30 times to the blue and blacks 16 over that 52 game time-frame) should lead to better results (if only life was that simple, eh?) To achieve this, a more direct approach is necessary, not the ‘Tonight Matthew we’re going to be Tokushima Vortis’ we saw in the first-half against Shonan. While possession % and pass completion stats were great, being outshot 7-1 in the second-half and recording an xG For figure of 0.6 at home to a side who sat bottom of the standings prior to kick off are huge worries. In fairness though, that game fitted in well with a matchday dominated by 0-0 draws. The combined xG total of 1.31 was the first time in a Gamba fixture this year that both team’s xG have been below 1 and that number (1.31) was also the lowest in 2022 to date, seeing off the 1.61 in the match with Kawasaki Frontale, where incidentally 4 goals were scored.



The biggest change at FC Tokyo this past off-season was the arrival of new kantoku Albert Puig and the Spaniard has switched things around a touch tactically, setting the side up in a 4-3-3 as opposed to the 4-2-3-1 utilised by his predecessor Kenta Hasegawa. There wasn’t a great deal of transfer activity at the Ajinomoto Stadium last winter meaning that a number of the grizzled veterans from the Hasegawa-era are still around in the top team, though it has been refreshing to see both Kuryu Matsuki and Kazuya Konno earn plenty of playing time while a plethora of youngsters have been blooded in the Levain Cup. Puig earned a reputation in J2 for putting out teams that played an extremely easy-on-the-eye brand of football, but it was a style that ultimately ran out of effectiveness as each season progressed. For evidence, Albirex won just 1 of their last 10 fixtures in 2020 to slip down from 4th to 11th in the standings, while the following year they came out of the traps flying and stayed unbeaten through the first 13 rounds accruing 33 points and scoring 31 goals (including a 7-0 hammering of FC Tokyo’s rivals Tokyo Verdy), however, this was followed by a run of 35 points and 30 goals from the remaining 29 games to leave them in a disappointing 6th spot. Considering he’s been hampered by an early season Covid cluster and the loss to injury of one of his main attacking weapons (Leandro), I’m inclined to give Puig strong pass marks over his opening 9 games as a J1 coach. The Gasmen sit 6th in the table, 5 points clear of Gamba, though only a mere 13 goals have been scored in total between them and their opponents so far (compared with 25 in Gamba games). Their xG For total of 1.04 is slightly above Friday night’s opponents, though well down on the 1.2 registered under Hasegawa last term. Also of concern is the fact that despite having better xG stats than the Nerazzurri, they’ve scored 4 fewer actual goals and they’ve also achieved an xG For figure over 1 just twice in their last 6 J1 outings. At the other end of the field, they are still pretty sound with this year’s xG Against sitting at 1.16 per game, almost identical to the 1.2 posted in 2021, so it appears that the improvement most urgently required from Puig’s charges is a significant upping of their chance creation stats, and Leandro’s imminent return should certainly help in that regard. In terms of ball retention, one would have expected more from a Puig side than 48.7% possession (46.5% in 2021) and 326.3 completed passes per game (Gamba’s 2022 figure is 330.3, while FC Tokyo’s was 313 last season), but again I add the caveats that Puig is new to the role and has also had to deal with Covid and injury issues.



Head to Head

This is the third and, thankfully, final installment in a run of three consecutive fixtures that produced an extremely limited amount of goalmouth action in the head to heads lasts season (don’t worry there will be goals aplenty next time when I discuss Gamba vs Sapporo, but unfortunately for me, there’ll be lots of Sapporo ones!) The first 2021 meeting between Gamba and FC Tokyo came in Masanobu Matsunami’s second game as caretaker boss in late May and fresh from a 3-0 hiding at home to Urawa the previous week, the Nerazzurri got off to the worst possible start in the capital as the Gasmen raced into a first minute lead courtesy of Diego Oliveira’s close-range effort. The Brazilian’s goal turned out to be the winner, though the game itself was a touch more interesting than the scoreline suggests as Gamba lived dangerously at times before enjoying a good spell prior to half-time with youngster Dai Tsukamoto, in particular, impressing. However, the second-half really petered out and there were no more goals, a trend which would continue through to the clash at Panasonic Stadium 3 months later. I’ll admit that in the aftermath of my first Covid vaccination I really struggled to keep focused on the action, though in truth it didn’t appear that there was a whole lot to get excited about. The Ao to Kuro wore their very snazzy Expo Uniforms (important note: Gamba generally perform poorly in limited edition kits [Gamba generally perform poorly in their normal kits I hear you cry opposition fans lol] and there will be more about that in my next match preview too!), however, the game itself didn’t live up to the billing in any way, shape or form. A cagey affair never really caught fire, Gamba’s midfield and Leandro Pereira were on different wavelengths and the only genuine bright spark came from substitute Hiroto Yamami who showed great pace on the counter a couple of times. The contest’s defining moment arrived right at the end as things got stretched and visiting forward Kyosuke Tagawa found himself well placed to bury the ball past Masaaki Higashiguchi, but he fluffed his lines and shot into Row Z thus allowing the Nerazzurri to record their 5th 0-0 draw of the year.



Gamba Osaka

* Gamba were officially eliminated from this year’s Levain Cup at the group stage following a tame 0-0 away to neighbours Cerezo Osaka on Saturday. Surprisingly this was first ever scoreless draw in the history of the fixture. I don’t have a whole lot to say about the match itself, but I will add that while celebrity fans are great and I’m sure Roland is a hard working and decent bloke, shouldn’t he step aside and let someone else walk out with the players and conduct the coin toss? I’m certain there are loads of Cerezo supporting kids who’d love to meet Kiyotake, Jonjić, Kim Jin-hyeon and co….it did appear that both Kiyotake and Gamba skipper Genta Miura enjoyed the experience though as they had gone to the special effort of bleaching their hair blonde ahead of meeting the talento.

* An open training session was held for a small selection of fans and journalists last Wednesday (April 20). As well as allowing supporters to see who was injured and who was out of the team due to Katanosaka’s preferences, we were also given a rare glimpse into the dynamics of the Gamba dressing room. ‘Players’ Chairman’ Gen Shoji (how is this role different from club captain?) greeted the fans and media rather than official stand-in captain Genta Miura, is he just much better on the mic? And why does he not captain the team on the field in Kurata’s absence? He certainly seems to have the respect of his team-mates as a simple shout of ‘Kosuke daijoubu’ was enough to stop Onose shoving Shonan’s Naoki Yamada during a water break shortly after the Bellmare man’s ‘forward’s challenge’ moments earlier.

* One player not in training on Wednesday was Yuki Yamamoto (more on that in the section below), but the schemer really blew his chance to shine during Mitsuki Saito’s enforced absence versus parent club Shonan. Unfortunately Yamamoto was a turnstile on defence, paling in comparison with Saito’s terrier-like displays thus far and he rarely showcased his playmaking abilities at the other end of the field meaning that Saito and Dawhan are likely to be the volante duo moving forward and Yamamoto will need to look to add some new strings to his bow if he’s going to crack the first eleven again any time soon.

* On the subject of midfielders who came in for criticism in the wake of the home loss to Shonan, being a Gamba Youth product didn’t protect Kohei Okuno from a wave of negative online comments following his 20 minute cameo. In his defence, the tide had already very much turned in Bellmare’s favour before he was introduced and their goal came when the Nerazzurri were temporarily down to 10 men with his central midfield partner Dawhan off the field receiving treatment. However, it was the lack of urgency in his play and his slowness in getting back to defend counter attacks, in particular, which angered some of the Curva Nord faithful. He was an unused sub in the 0-0 with Cerezo so let’s hope for a return to form should he get his usual 15-20 minutes at the end of this match.

* Now to finish on a positive, the people behind the big screen stats at Panasonic Stadium this season deserve a round of applause for really upping their game. Particularly impressive, for me anyway, has been the breakdown of how far players ran in the previous match and a comparison with a local landmark…ie ‘this is the equivalent of running to Shin-Osaka Station.’ The FIFA 2022 ratings and those wagon wheels where it’s good to have a big number for some metrics (ie goals scored) and it’s better to have a smaller one for others (ie clearances) I can take or leave, but the distance covered graphics are a game changer in my book.

Team News

Takashi Usami (achilles) and Masaaki Higashiguchi (knee) are both definitely out of this game, though Higashiguchi is currently nearing the end of his rehabilitation process and is said to be re-starting full training next month. Captain Shu Kurata is struggling with a calf problem, though he’s not expected to miss too many games, the same goes for reserve centre-back Shota Fukuoka who has an unspecified issue. In more worrying news, Yuya Fukuda sustained a head injury in the match with Cerezo last weekend, it is the third time in his career that this has happened so he may need to take an extended break to recover. Finally, as alluded to above, Yuki Yamamoto has been absent from training and it appeared that he damaged his leg when taking a free kick in the home loss to Shonan, no details have yet been given on his scheduled return date.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





FC Tokyo

I covered quite a lot of the ground I wanted to go over in the ‘Tale of the Tape’ section above so I’ll aim to be relatively brief in here. Resilience is a word I’d use to describe FC Tokyo in recent seasons, they endured a marathon run of away fixtures owing to Rugby World Cup matches taking place at Ajinomoto Stadium in 2019, and yet they still finished in their highest ever league position, second. The following year was tough for all clubs, but especially for the 3 ACL qualifiers, Yokohama F. Marinos, Vissel Kobe and FC Tokyo, and which of that trio performed best domestically…the Gasmen of course, coasting home 10 points ahead of Marinos and a whopping 19 better off than Vissel, not to mention the fact they lifted the Levain Cup that season too. This year they suffered an early season outbreak of Covid, however, that initially had little ill-effect on their results and indeed prompted a number of comments of praise and wonder from Gamba supporters mindful of their own struggles in front of goal last term. As noted above, FC Tokyo are currently 294 minutes without a goal in J1, but does that mean they’ll take to the Olympic Stadium turf like a caged beast set free on Friday? Recent history suggests they do play better when their backs are to the wall.

Now to move onto the playing squad as there are a couple of individuals I’d like to draw attention to, and they might not be the ones you’d expect. Long term readers will know of my admiration for Brazilian hitman Diego Oliveira, but his understudy Keita Yamashita is the first player I’d like to talk about. I’ve been a fan of him since his days with Renofa Yamaguchi back in 2019 and since then he’s taken a long and winding journey to the nation’s capital via JEF United and Sagan Tosu, but he’s finally reached the bright lights of the big city nonetheless. I’ve seen and heard several comments from FC Tokyo supporters that suggested they viewed him as something of a mediocre acquisition, but I would point out that in 2021 he played regularly for a team that finished comfortably above both the Gasmen and Nerazzurri and only the aforementioned Oliveira plus Patric scored more J1 goals than Yamashita last season from those 3 sides. He’s yet to find the target this time round, having seen VAR take a goal away from him at the end of the 3-1 home win over Kobe a few weeks back, but if he does break his duck in this fixture, it’ll come as no surprise to this particular observer. The other player I wanted to highlight faces stiff competition from the experienced Kensuke Nagai for a spot in the starting lineup on Friday (potentially the fit again Leandro too) and that player is Kazuya Konno. Nerazzurri supporters will be familiar with the tricky winger as he was part of the Hosei University side that ended Gamba’s Emperor’s Cup dreams in the summer of 2019 and despite suffering a serious knee injury early into his pro career it appears that he’s bounced back with aplomb. Previous FC Tokyo managers may not have given someone like Konno much of a chance, but Puig seems keen to let him off the leash and speaking as an opposition supporter I’d be happier if Nagai starts over Konno on Friday as I feel Ayase Ueda’s former supplier in varsity football is more likely to give the Gamba defence a collective headache.

Team News


Precious little to report in here at the moment with Leandro returning to training on Monday (25 April) having been out with a calf problem since the round 1 defeat at Kawasaki. That leaves just veteran ‘keeper Akihiro Hayashi, a long term knee-injury victim, as the sole absentee in the FC Tokyo ranks.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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

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Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare 17 April 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare
2022 J1 Season Round 9
Sunday 17 April 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


Sandwiched between a busy run of fixtures over the past fortnight and a hectic Golden Week ahead, round 9 of the 2022 J1 season may not have quite so many eyes on it with some big names involved in the ACL, however, Gamba vs Shonan is a vitally important clash for both sides nonetheless. The Nerazzurri have been the dictionary definition of a mid-table outfit with 2 victories, 4 draws and a pair of defeats to date while winless visitors Bellmare, led by former Gamba legend Satoshi Yamaguchi, currently prop up the standings and will be desperate to pick up a result of any sort at Panasonic Stadium on Sunday. This encounter sees one of the league’s leading attacking sides in Gamba (Takashi who?) face one of the weakest in Shonan, neither defence has been particularly water-tight and we’ve witnessed late drama in Nerazzurri fixtures on numerous occasions already in 2022, so keep your eyes peeled for excitement and goals here.

Tale of the Tape

Surprisingly, given the trials and tribulations in front of goal over the course of the past 2 seasons, Gamba are currently the 3rd highest scorers in J1 with 12 (xG 8.36) from their 8 games to date. Only the current top two Kawasaki (15/xG 10.78) and Yokohama F. Marinos (17/xG 15.72) have scored more, albeit that duo have completed two additional fixtures owing to their participation in this year’s ACL. Defensively, it’s a different kettle of fish for the Nerazzurri with just Kobe (16) conceding more than Gamba’s 12, and that tally also comes with the caveat of Vissel playing an extra two games. Although 8 of the 12 goals given up have come in just 3 fixtures (Kashima, Kawasaki and Fukuoka) with only 4 let in during the other 5 matches, consistently high xG Against figures will be of concern to kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka. Going forward, the Ao to Kuro have recorded double digit shots on target numbers in each of their last 5 games, a run they achieved just once in 2021, but at the other end, only Júbilo have failed to muster at least 10 shots on Gamba’s goal and 4 instances of 10+ efforts on target being given up from just 8 games is something that must be rectified going forward. From a blue and black perspective, hopefully the blossoming double-volante partnership between Dawhan and Mitsuki Saito plus the addition of South Korean international stopper Kwon Kyung-wong can assist with that.



Just 4 goals scored (xG 6.5) in 8 J1 games so far in 2022 sees Shonan sit joint bottom of that particular metric alongside Avispa Fukuoka and additionally they’ve only exceeded 1xG For in a single fixture once, at home to 10-man Kyoto. The 11 goals conceded (xG 9.92) in that same time span is just one fewer than Gamba (xG 11.84) and while the recent Covid cluster in the first-team squad certainly hasn’t helped, it’s worth pointing out that Shonan’s fixtures to date haven’t been especially taxing so they really must buck up their ideas sharpish if they want to avoid dropping down to J2 for the first time since 2017. Finishing 16th and only narrowly avoiding the drop on the final day last season, Bellmare naturally put up some less than stellar stats. Sprints per game was their strong point, recording an average of 178.2 per 90 minutes (this has increased to 196.9 in 2022), however they were 2nd worst in the division for passes completed (280.3), 4th lowest in terms of possession % (46.1) and tied with Gamba in shots for on target (5.8) which saw them rank equal 17th in J1. Unfortunately for kantoku Satoshi Yamaguchi, while pass completion is up slightly, currently sitting at 292.0 (though bear in mind my comments about their fixtures to date when assessing that rise), they have been spending less time on the ball compared with last year (45.3%) and are still registering a meagre 5.8 shots on target per game, interestingly for comparison, Gamba, under Katanosaka, have increased their performance in that metric to 6.1.



Head to Head


After only having one goal to work with when discussing Gamba vs Shimizu’s head to heads from 2021 last week, we have a pair of 0-0 draws to look at this time round so buckle your seatbelts and get ready, no sorry, just kidding. While there wasn’t much drama on the field between the Nerazzurri and Shonan twelve months ago, there was plenty riding on both fixtures. Gamba travelled to the Lemon Gas Stadium in early June for what would be their final game before jetting out to Uzbekistan for the ACL group stage. Having steadied the ship with back-to-back home triumphs over Tokushima and Yokohama FC the previous week, the scoreless draw in Hiratsuka crucially lifted the Ao to Kuro out of the J1 drop-zone for the first time in 2021. The waters were much calmer for the blue and blacks when they hosted Satoshi Yamaguchi’s troops in their final league fixture in December, however, their visitors came into the tie knowing they had to match or better Tokushima’s result at home to mid-table Hiroshima. As a consequence, Shonan came out all guns blazing in the first half and the opening 45 minutes was essentially a microcosm of their season, lots of attacking endeavour, but no end product. Heading into the locker rooms, Bellmare were greeted with the news that Vortis were losing 3-0 to Sanfrecce and as such the second stanza was largely a procession, lit up only by Takashi Usami’s wonderful shot from 20 yards which cannoned off the underside of Daiki Tomii’s crossbar and rolled away to safety. Gamba ended the 2021 J1 season 13th, 3 places and 7 points better off than the Seasiders.



Gamba Osaka

Sunday marked Gamba’s second 1-1 draw in Shizuoka this season and while they held the upper-hand for much of their bout with Júbilo, S-Pulse, on the other hand, looked the livelier side and more likely winners for the majority of last weekend’s tussle. I feel a bit hypocritical for saying this considering the amount of times I’ve called for consistency in the Gamba starting eleven, but the match with Shimizu seemed like one game too many for a number of the squad. Mitsuki Saito has spent a good chunk of the last 2 years injured and partner-in-crime Dawhan ended up playing 250 minutes in 9 days while still working his way back up to full speed following his delayed entry into Japan. As a result, Gamba were overrun in midfield and things only really improved in the wake of the belated introduction of the substitutes in the second half, Yuki Yamamoto and Leandro Pereira, in particular, impressing. Granted this was against an S-Pulse side seemingly hell-bent on pressing the self-destruct button after squandering chances to put the game to bed before then being forced into last ditch defending in the face of a late Gamba onslaught. Where the J.League giveth, the J.League also taketh away, and while I was left heartbroken by Kawasaki’s last gasp equaliser a few weeks ago, this result goes some way to balancing out that one. Having been in that situation before I can only say to Shimizu fans, I feel your pain, and I know there must have been a sickening inevitability to how the game ended. For the Nerazzurri, that’s now 6 of 12 league goals this season that have been scored after the 75th minute so Katanosaka and Gamba must start looking to get up to speed in games quicker and that ball needs to get rolling this Sunday at home to basement dwelling Shonan.

Sakamoto vs Pereira – With cameos against Kyoto and Shimizu where he’s had spells as both a second striker and right winger, it looks like Isa Sakamoto has usurped Gamba’s reported highest-earner Leandro Pereira in the attacking pecking order. His incessant running and higher work rate seem to have impressed Katanosaka more than Pereira’s, and it currently appears that the Brazilian is only being saved for occasions when the Nerazzurri urgently need a goal and the opposition are camped in their own defensive third desperately trying to prevent that from happening.

Kwon Kyung-won – I know in a World Cup year getting the core players together regularly is probably extremely important for a national team boss, but I have to question South Korea’s recent decision to select Kwon for their qualifiers with Iran and the UAE. He played a grand total of 4 minutes at the end of the 2-0 win over Iran and didn’t feature at all in the dead rubber in Dubai that he had fly around 8 hours to get to. Would it not have been in the better long-term interests of the Taeguk Warriors and Kwon for him to get proper game time in the Levain Cup rather than setting out water bottles on the training field with his national side? Granted he would have been up against Yuma Suzuki had he stayed in Japan, so who knows what kind of shenanigans he would have pulled!

Kwon did finally make his Gamba debut on Wednesday (13 April) and played the full 90 as the Nerazzurri kept only their second clean sheet of the year in a comfortable 2-0 Levain Cup win at home to Oita. However, it was the South Korean international’s fellow centre-back, Yota Sato, who stole the show with a wonderful raking cross-field ball in the lead up to Hiroki Fujiharu’s opener in the 13th minute, before netting himself 13 minutes into the second half, powering home a header from Yuki Yamamoto’s free-kick. The Ao to Kuro will still need to beat Cerezo (a) and Kashima (h) in their remaining two Group A fixtures to stand any chance of progressing to the knockout stages.

Finally in this section, a couple of pieces of content largely aimed at Sorare managers as I regularly receive a lot of questions on these topics.

Kurokawa vs Fujiharu – Hiroki Fujiharu played left-back for Gamba the first time I ever saw them live back in 2013, he’s been with the club since 2011, has won everything there is to win domestically during his time in Suita and is a club legend. In recent seasons, as he’s aged he’s become more and more injury prone so back in 2020 the Nerazzurri brought in promising Kansai University left-back Keisuke Kurokawa with the intention of grooming him to be first-choice moving forward. Kurokawa has shown potential in fits and spurts, but has also had the odd horror show along the way which puts a serious question mark over how long Gamba will stick with him, particularly if a new, shinier toy comes on the market. In all honesty before the 2022 season kicked off I expected it would be Kurokawa’s last with the Ao to Kuro as his 3-year contract (the length usually given to university graduates) should run out at the end of the year, but he has performed better than expected so will probably be kept on. To sum up, I think Fujiharu is the better player, but he’s ageing and injury prone, while Kurokawa is yet to fully live up to his initial promise so his shelf-life as first choice on the left-side of Gamba’s defence could be relatively short.

Goalkeepers

Masaaki Higashiguchi has made 354 J1 appearances, has 8 national team caps and was in the squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Domestically he’s won J1, the League Cup and Emperor’s Cup (twice) with Gamba and is the best ‘keeper in the club’s history. Prior to getting injured he showed no signs of his standards slipping, so much so that Gamba were happy for Kosei Tani to stay on loan at Shonan for another season.

Jun Ichimori had made 46 J3 and 120 J2 appearances prior to the start of 2022. He joined Gamba from Fagiano Okayama ahead of the commencement of the 2020 campaign, but suffered injuries that restricted his playing time greatly in both 2020 and 2021. During his days in J2 he built up a reputation as an excellent good shot stopper who was also relatively comfortable with the ball at his feet.

Kei Ishikawa – He is a 29 year-old career backup who since turning pro in 2011 has registered just a single season as a first choice at any level (2014 with Blaublitz Akita in J3). While he is a good shot-stopper, as one would expect from a professional goalkeeper contracted to one of the biggest sides in the country, his kicking is shoddy and he lacks the presence of Higashiguchi or Ichimori. He has never been considered anything more than 3rd choice by the club and there is a snowball’s chance in hell of him ever being selected ahead of Higashiguchi in J1 once he returns from injury.

Team News

There will be no Mitsuki Saito in the Gamba engine room this Sunday as he’s currently on loan from Shonan and can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement. Masaaki Higashiguchi (knee) and Takashi Usami (achilles) definitely miss out too after undergoing surgery, other than that it’s basically a clean bill of health. Wellington Silva has been absent from the matchday squad in recent games and this may simply be down to him not having a place in Katanosaka’s plans. With 7 foreign players on the books, and 6 of them in with a genuine shout of game time, it’s possible Silva or Ju Se-jong could be headed for the Panasonic Stadium exit door in the not too distant future.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Shonan Bellmare

If I were to sum up Satoshi Yamaguchi’s side in one word it would be ‘obdurate,’ Shonan rarely win or lose big and have been flirting dangerously with a return to J2 over the past few seasons. In 2021 former Gamba assistant kantoku Yamaguchi rather surprisingly replaced Bin Ukishima for the final 11 games and achieved his target of keeping Bellmare in the top flight. Their 36 goals in 38 outings was 3 better than Gamba, but off-season transfer work (more on which later), although decent on paper, didn’t really address the glaring lack of strike power in their ranks. At the back things were rather more positive as their 41 goals conceded in 2021 was the best tally of any side in the bottom half and with the exception of 11th placed Hiroshima (42) it was comfortably better than everyone else. The club play in an idyllic location down on the popular Shonan coast, however, unfortunately their close proximity to the big cities in the Kanto region means any promising youngsters are sitting ducks waiting to be picked off, in fact any players moving to FC Tokyo, Yokohama F. Marinos or Kawasaki Frontale wouldn’t even need to find new accommodation. This has left the Seasiders with a squad largely consisting of up-and-comers and grizzled veterans with little or nothing in between. Central midfielder / centre-back Satoshi Tanaka is the jewel-in-the-crown and I’d expect to see him wearing the shirt of one of those aforementioned J1 rivals in the not too distant future, potentially his national team’s jersey as well in the 2024 Paris Olympics. Forward Yusuke Segawa (Kashiwa) and midfielders Takuji Yonemoto (Nagoya) and Ryota Nagaki (Kashima) were the biggest arrivals at Shonan last winter and while all three have name value, Segawa and Yonemoto have been injury prone in the past and Nagaki’s best days have firmly been and gone, not to mention that Yonemoto, Nagaki and Tanaka are all a touch too similar for my liking. Yamaguchi always sets them up with a back 3, though the shape of the central midfielders and attackers does change from time to time. With no real stars and no out-and-out Peter Utaka-esque goalscorer in their ranks, the collective is much more important than the individual at Bellmare and they’ll require a strong team effort if they’re to extend their unbeaten league streak at Panasonic Stadium to 3 matches.

Team News

Just like Mitsuki Saito above, Kosei Tani will also miss this game as per his loan agreement with Gamba, however, in better news, young defender Hirokazu Ishihara is now free from suspension following his one match ban for a red card away to Nagoya. Repeat VAR victim Takuya Okamoto and fellow wing-back Taiga Hata (both knee) won’t play here, with Hata being closer to a return than Okamoto. Veteran Ryota Nagaki has missed the most recent 3 J1 fixtures and was last seen in action on 19 March while promising attacking midfielder Taiyo Hiraoka has been absent since the round 3 loss at Urawa on 6 March, I haven’t seen any official confirmation as to why the pair have been out of the matchday squad. As I alluded to earlier, Shonan had a Covid cluster in their ranks a few weeks back which caused Shuto Machino, Yusuke Segawa, Koki Tachi, Ryo Takahashi, Satoshi Tanaka and Wellington to sit some games out, however, all have now returned to the fold.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





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

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Shimizu S-Pulse vs Gamba Osaka 10 April 2022 Match Preview

Shimizu S-Pulse vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 8
Sunday 10 April 2022
IAI Stadium Nihondaira
Kick Off: 13:00 (JST)


A hectic week of J1 action builds to a crescendo this Sunday with a slate of 8 fixtures, and while Shimizu vs Gamba at the picturesque Nihondaira Stadium may not initially be the most enticing match on the card, it promises to be an intriguing encounter nonetheless. Both sides drew their midweek outings 1-1 away from home, Gamba will still be ruing the chances they missed against Kyoto on Wednesday, but were ultimately fortunate to survive a late onslaught and escape back to Suita with a point. S-Pulse, on the other hand, will be far more content with their evening’s work, pegging back ACL competitors Urawa after earlier falling behind courtesy of Ataru Esaka’s first-half penalty. Atsuki Ito became the 3rd Reds player to see red in 2022 and his dismissal opened the door for a Shimizu fightback. I’ve often compared Mendes (Kyoto) and Valdo (Shimizu) due to the propensity of the pair to be dangers at both ends of the field, and while Mendes squandered his opportunity to be a hero late on against Gamba, Valdo powered home a header from Reon Yamahara’s fine cross to lift his side out of the drop zone on goal difference. The Nerazzurri are one of five teams currently sitting on 9 points, however, S-Pulse could draw level with them should they secure victory in this fixture for the first time since 2017. It promises to be a fascinating bout, be sure to tune in if you get the chance.

Tale of the Tape

Gamba are currently unbeaten on the road in J1 2022 albeit after only 3 games played. Their only clean sheet of the year came in the 1-0 away win at Urawa in February and in total they’ve only given up 2 goals (xG 3.32), granted their other opponents were the two newly promoted sides, Iwata and Kyoto. I might have my blue and black sunglasses on when I say this, but the Nerazzurri’s official xG For figures seem a touch low across their recent matches with Grampus and Sanga. Mendes’ big miss at the end put the Royals into the xG lead on Wednesday, but earlier in the tie, Kosuke Onose (twice), Gen Shoji and Hiroto Yamami had all spurned chances that I thought would register higher with the xG bean counters to balance out the fact that Dawhan’s wonder strike was quite a low percentage effort. Let’s just dwell on Dawhan’s first J1 goal, in only his second outing, for justa moment. By my reckoning that’s the Ao To Kuro’s 6th particularly impressive effort of the year, so they’re cooking along nicely in that entirely subjective metric, showing, in my eyes at least, the quality of shooting ability that exists among the playing squad. At the back, Gen Shoji had a bit of an off-day versus Kyoto, but what is of greater concern to me is the 16 shots against given up in both the win over Grampus and the draw at Sanga. Of course the Nerazzurri were 3 goals to the good with 28 minutes left plus injury time against Kenta Hasegawa’s troops on Saturday, so perhaps the late barrage in Kameoka on Wednesday is of greater concern, particularly as half of Kyoto’s efforts were registered from the 80th minute onwards. This could be an indication that a bit more rotation is required for the upcoming bout with Shimizu, or at the very least substitutions will need to be made sooner at the Nihondaira than they were at Sanga Stadium, the 109.5 km total team distance covered (a season low) might be interpreted as another arrow pointing in that direction.

While Gamba under Katanosaka have at times battled to dominate their opponents, clocking up an average of just 46.3% ball possession per game so far in 2022, Shimizu’s number for that particular metric sits at a paltry 44.1%, so it’ll be very interesting to see which side is more comfortable stepping onto the front foot on Sunday. Wracked by injuries in the opening weeks of the campaign, S-Pulse are without a win in their most recent 5 league outings (2D3L) and only Kobe (5) plus Shonan and Fukuoka (both 4) have notched up fewer than the Shizuoka side’s 6 league goals. Shimizu have registered a mediocre 6.82 xG For in their 7 J1 fixtures to date and have only exceeded an xG of 1 in a single contest twice (Iwata and Urawa, both away) this compares with the Nerazzurri’s figure of 7.13xG with 3 games containing an xG For of over 1. The absences of key Brazilian attackers, Thiago Santana and Carlinhos Junior, in addition to the late arrival of South Korean forward Oh Se-hun largely account for Shimizu’s anaemic attack as kantoku Hiroaki Hiraoka (not an easy name to get right well past the midnight hour) has been forced into utilising players more often thought of as wingers or number tens in the central attacking roles. To set the scene for his now inevitable winner on Sunday, I’ll point out that although his former boss at Oita, Tomohiro Katanosaka, is likely a fan, I’m amazed that Yusuke Goto still has a J1 contract with a record of only 4 goals in 72 appearances at this level. Finally, let’s briefly take a look at S-Pulse’s rearguard which has generally performed better than their attack, though with Valdo the only first choice to really spend any time on the sidelines I guess that’s to be expected. The Shizuoka-based outfit’s defensive numbers are extremely similar to Sunday’s opponents with 10 goals conceded in 7 outings lying one shy of the Nerazzurri’s figure, the two sides’ xG Against totals are extremely similar too, Shimizu’s tally is 10.09 while Gamba’s is 10.23, both team’s have just a solitary clean sheet to their name as well and I know I stopped doing scoreline predictions over a year ago, but a lot of what I’m writing points towards a scrappy 1-1 draw, doesn’t it?

Head to Head


Only 1 goal in the 2 fixtures between these sides in 2021 and what a goal it was. Hiroto Yamami, then a special designated player as he completed his studies at Kwansei Gakuin University, lit up a wet and windy Shizuoka night with a wonderful cut inside from the right wing followed by a sumptuous arced shot into Shuichi Gonda’s top right corner to settle a tightly contested affair played out in challenging blustery conditions. Four months earlier, in April, both Yosuke Ideguchi and Takashi Usami struck the frame of the goal at Panasonic Stadium, but after that the game petered out into a rather tame 0-0, the Nerazzurri’s fifth failure to score in their opening six fixtures, though it was their fourth clean sheet in the same time period, so I guess we can say that result was rather predictable.



Gamba Osaka

A deeper shade of blue – You may be able to tell that I’ve written this preview in a bit of a rush as the second half of my week is generally a good deal busier than the start, anyway where was I going with this, ah yes, I still haven’t really processed my thoughts on the Kyoto game, but I have a sort of aching sense of disappointment inside. Two wins, three draws and two losses is very much par for the course at this stage of the year. Against Sanga, just like in the Júbilo game, there was plenty of attacking endeavour, but a lack of a real clinical edge, and how the Nerazzurri must have wished they had someone with the prowess of Peter Utaka in their ranks. Shimizu currently sit 15th in J1, but are gradually getting players back and represent a real tough test, a win would be great, a draw would leave many questions unanswered and a defeat would represent a significant setback for sure, who knows what my mood will be come Sunday evening.

Young hearts run free – A real positive for the travelling Nerazzurri support on Wednesday night was the cameo appearances from academy graduates Isa Sakamoto and Jiro Nakamura. Kumamoto-native Sakamoto, in particular, shone during his J1 debut, almost assisting Kosuke Onose within minutes of replacing Hiroto Yamami. His work-rate, touch and composure on the ball really impressed me and hopefully we see a lot more of him in a blue and black (or white) shirt in the coming weeks and months.

Rotation, rotation, rotation revisited – Don’t worry I’m not about to quote Tim Canterbury again, but I do feel that the rotation, or more to the point, the lack of it, needs further comment. Captain Shu Kurata being replaced on the left wing by Hideki Ishige, who unfortunately flattered to deceive once more, was surprisingly the only change to Gamba’s starting eleven from the 3-1 win over Nagoya the previous weekend. As I laid out above, Kyoto finished Wednesday’s fixture much stronger than the Nerazzurri so I wonder if Katanosaka will seek to shake things up a little for Shimizu on Sunday. Full-back might be one area to get a makeover with a first start for Hiroki Fujiharu and the return of Ko Yanagisawa, if fit, potentially on the cards. In midfield, I like Kohei Okuno playing the ‘closing pitcher’ role with Ju Se-jong offering support on occasion, hopefully Saito and Dawhan start again versus S-Pulse and go flat out for the first 60-65 minutes before getting a reprieve. Finally, in attack surely Patric won’t start 3 games in the space of 8 days, but either Leandro Pereira’s hamstring remains a cause for concern or Katanosaka is not a big fan despite his 2 goals in recent weeks, plus I’ve no idea why Wellington Silva wasn’t involved on Wednesday after an all-action sub appearance at the weekend. I guess the makeup of Gamba’s starting eleven will once again be very much a case of wait-and-see for the Nerazzurri faithful.

Team News


Masaaki Higashiguchi (knee) and Takashi Usami (achilles) are the two definite absentees for Gamba having undergone surgery, Higashiguchi was spotted standing normally in one of Shota Fukuoka’s April Fool’s Day pictures and he’ll hopefully be back some time next month. Other than that, captain Shu Kurata wasn’t in the matchday squad for the short trip to Kyoto on Wednesday though it’s unknown if he was simply being rested or he’s picked up a minor knock. Ko Yanagisawa and Yuki Yamamoto have been absent for the past 2 league fixtures with no updates given on their injury status. Yamamoto, like Higashiguchi, was photographed by Fukuoka last Friday so there’s nothing to indicate he’s not training, Yanagisawa, on the other hand, may well have some kind of fitness issue. Wellington Silva’s current status is similarly shrouded in mystery as after a buccaneering cameo as a sub against Grampus on Saturday he didn’t even make the bench on Wednesday, hopefully he’s just being saved up ready to be unleashed on an unsuspecting S-Pulse on Sunday.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



Shimizu S-Pulse


It certainly hasn’t been an easy start to life as a permanent J1 kantoku for Hiroaki Hiraoka with his charges decimated by injury early on in the campaign. Still, he has managed to keep them within touching distance of the peloton despite facing a number of tough fixtures and will be looking for his side to make strides in the right direction now that some of their bigger names are returning. Hiraoka may, of course, be hindered by the chronic instability which has plagued this iconic and hugely likeable club from Japan’s footballing heartland in recent seasons. I mentioned Nagoya’s managerial merry-go-round in one of my most recent previews and S-Pulse truly define the lack of imagination that often mars J.League coaching appointments, switching from the attack-minded Peter Cklamovski to the polar opposite in Miguel Ángel Lotina before now settling on the internally appointed Hiraoka. It should be noted that Swede Jan Jönsson was the last Shimizu coach to survive a whole season at the helm, and that was back in 2018 when they finished an excellent 8th. It’s not just in the dugout where things have been hard to fathom, their transfer business has been head scratching at times too. Impressive acquisitions such as national team ‘keeper Shuichi Gonda, Katanosaka’s former captain at Oita, Yoshinori Suzuki, Tosu starlet and Paris Olympics candidate Daiki Matsuoka plus imposing forward Thiago Santana form an excellent spine to this team and show that the finances are there to build a competitive side, if, and it’s a big if, they are deployed wisely. On the flip side of the coin, this year’s squad is very unbalanced with Takeru Kishimoto coming in to compete with Teruki Hara, Eiichi Katayama and Reon Yamahara for the right-back spot (yes I know Katayama and Yamahara can play elsewhere too) meaning there are 4 excellent full-backs at the club, but to my mind only one top level centre back (the aforementioned Suzuki). Anyway, I don’t want this to meander into my usual rant against Shimizu’s front office so let’s finish by talking about a couple of bright sparks, attacker Yuito Suzuki and versatile wide-man Yamahara. Readers of my pre-season preview will know I picked out former Funabashi Municipal High School forward Suzuki as S-Pulse’s key player this term and he got off to a flier with goals in his first 2 league appearances, they’ve dried up since then, however, I remain confident that in tandem with Santana and / or Oh Se-hun he can re-discover his goalscoring touch and establish himself as one to watch. Yamahara, like Hiroto Yamami for Gamba, was a special designated player in 2021 who managed to clock up a number of J1 appearances, 5 of them to be precise, which has allowed him to hit the ground running in his official rookie season. The JFA Academy Fukushima and University of Tsukuba graduate has assists in each of his last 2 league outings and with his versatility, work-rate, touch and crossing ability all looking good early on this season he’s someone who could go on to make great strides in the game.

Team News

The treatment room at the Nihondaira has certainly been a busy place this year with kantoku Hiraoka no doubt grateful Shimizu have such a large first team squad. The Shizuoka-based side’s Brazilian contingent have been hit particularly hard, Valdo has recently made his return, but compatriots Thiago Santana (13 goals in 37 J1 games in 2021), Carlinhos Junior (missed the final 5 games of 2021) and Renato Augusto (long, long-term knee injury) have all sat out the entire campaign to date. Additionally, talented home-grown winger Kenta Nishizawa has been absent with a wrist injury, though he is expected back soon while forwards, Benjamin Kololli and Daigo Takahashi, plus versatile midfielder Ryohei Shirasaki all dropped out of the squad for the midweek trip to Saitama and whether that was due to fitness or rotation is unclear. More positively, Daiki Matsuoka was on the bench as an unused sub on Wednesday, the first time he’s been spotted this year and recent recruit from Ulsan Hyundai, Oh Se-hun made his J1 debut, playing the final half hour of the draw with Reds.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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

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sport

Kyoto Sanga vs Gamba Osaka 6 April 2022 Match Preview

Kyoto Sanga vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 7
Wednesday 6 April 2022
Sanga Stadium by KYOCERA
Kick Off: 18:30 (JST)


The first full midweek J1 card of 2022 sees Gamba make the short trip north to Kameoka for a Keihan Derby with near neighbours Kyoto Sanga. This will be the first league meeting between these two in nine years and both sides come into the fixture buoyed by impressive 3-1 victories at the weekend. The Nerazzurri needed a positive result and performance at home to Nagoya on Saturday, and got both, while Sanga inflicted further pain and punishment on struggling Kobe with a come-from-behind victory at the Noevir Stadium. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect for Cho Kwi-jae and their supporters would be the fact that the goals were shared around and none came from talisman Peter Utaka. Gamba may have the more illustrious history of the two teams, but they enter this tie on a level footing with the Royals as both currently sit on 8 points courtesy of 2 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses. The Ao to Kuro travel to Shizuoka on Sunday a few hours prior to Sanga hosting Tosu, so it’s not inconceivable that either Kansai club could make it through this tough week unbeaten therefore they’ll undoubtedly be going flat out for a positive outcome here.

Tale of the Tape

There’s an old saying in America that ‘offense wins games, but defense wins championships’ and while there’s certainly a case to be made that Gamba currently possess neither a strong attack nor a particularly reliable backline, baby steps are being made in both regards. The Nerazzurri’s 10 goals in their opening 6 J1 outings (from an xG of 6.14) is joint 3rd best in the division, however, at the other end of the field, the 10 goals conceded across the same time-span (8.83xG Against) ranks 4th worst. With only 6 games played there aren’t a whole lot of data points to work with, but we can still see a clear contrast between rounds 1-3, Kashima, Urawa, Kawasaki and the 3 most recent clashes with Iwata, Fukuoka and Nagoya. Going forward, the accrued xG For figure was just 1.95 for the first 3 fixtures compared with 4.19 in the next trio, while defensively, xG Against stood at 5.56 after the 2-2 draw with Frontale, but since then it’s amounted to a mere 3.27 across 3 games. A work in progress for sure, though importantly progress does appear to be getting made. Finally, and briefly, in my preview for the Grampus game I predicted Gamba might see a lot of the ball and would have to be wary of Nagoya counter attacks, in this case I was proven to be dead wrong. The Ao to Kuro secured their first home win of the year in rather comfortable fashion (the first time they’ve won at home in J1 by a 2 goal margin since the 2-0 triumph over Yokohama FC last May) despite only completing 286 passes to their opponent’s 420 and having just 45% possession. This was a complete reversal of what happened in both clashes with the Giallorossi in 2021 and from a blue and black perspective, the result was all the better for it.

Goals have been raining in at either end consistently in Gamba games, however, in Kyoto’s case once you remove the 4-1 home defeat to Iwata and 3-1 victory at Kobe from the equation, you’re left with a more sedate 6 goals from the other 4 matches. Interestingly their xG For total of 6.16 is almost identical to the Nerazzurri’s, though 11.06xG Against must be something of a worry for kantoku Cho Kwi-jae and perhaps suggests why he chose to shake things up a touch for the Vissel encounter. Cho is a wily campaigner and has generally opted to set Sanga up to sit back and soak up opposition pressure. Again with the caveat of having a small sample size, Kyoto average 266 completed passes per game with a season high of just 301 which came in the home loss to Júbilo Iwata, this compares with Gamba’s 327 per match and the Nerazzurri also recorded their season best versus Iwata (505). After getting my match style prediction so wrong last time round I am a tad nervous about committing my thoughts to print again, but here were go. I think Gamba will seek to seize the initiative, control possession and take the game to Sanga, however, the Royals, who’ve clocked up over 200 sprints per game in all but 1 J1 fixture to date this season will look to press and harry Gamba’s players when they have the ball with the aim of creating counter attacking opportunities for themselves, something they did particularly well in the 2nd half of their match in Hyogo at the weekend.

Head to Head

This will be the first competitive match between these two since 2013 and in fact it’s been 12 years since they last duelled it out in J1. The 3-3 draw at the old Expo ‘70 Commemorative Stadium in the opening round of the 2013 J2 campaign should have been my first ever Gamba match, but as a newbie to Japan at that time I foolishly assumed I could just buy tickets on the day, not foreseeing that the Keihan Derby would sell out well in advance. As it was, I watched the drama unfold in Hub in Umeda, and what drama it was. Two goals in the space of three second half minutes through, first Hiroyuki Abe, and then a penalty from Leandro (no, not the FC Tokyo one) were sandwiched by efforts from Kyoto’s Jun Ando and Koji Yamase before future Japan international Yuya Kubo fired Sanga into the lead in injury time. However, the Nerazzurri were not to be denied in Kenta Hasegawa’s first game in charge and earned another spot kick which consequently led to the dismissal of Royals’ Serbian defender Miloš Bajalica. Yasuhito Endo stepped up and coolly slotted home to earn his side a share of the spoils in what was to be the first of 5 draws within the opening 7 rounds as the Ao to Kuro initially struggled to come terms with life as a J2 club.

The return fixture in matchday 40 saw Gamba all but wrap up the J2 title with a comfortable 2-0 win in the rain at the old Nishikyogoku Stadium. Yasuyuki Konno set the blue and blacks on their way in the first half before Kotaro Omori settled things with 4 minutes of normal time remaining, netting his first ever J.League goal at an absolutely crucial moment. The Nerazzurri secured promotion back to the top flight the following week with a 3-2 triumph at home to Montedio Yamagata and we all know what happened in 2014.




Gamba Osaka

* Needless to say an 18:30 kick off on a non-national holiday Wednesday hasn’t gone down well with travelling Gamba supporters, many of whom were hoping to visit Sanga Stadium for the first time. Their frustrations wouldn’t have been helped by the scheduled pre-season fixture between these two being postponed due to the Nerazzurri’s Covid-cluster, still there’s always next season, well, fingers crossed.

* Dogs of War – Dawhan made his long awaited J1 debut alongside Mitsuki Saito in the Gamba engine room last Saturday and, apart from a rather shaky opening 10-15 minutes, he was a revelation. The Ao to Kuro recorded a season high 171 sprints versus Grampus and a good number of these can surely be put down to the relentless Dawhan and Saito who never gave their opponents a moment’s rest. Nagoya captain Sho Inagaki was hooked at half-time while Leo Silva used all of his nous to earn a number of free-kicks, but was constantly overwhelmed in the middle of the park, being fed weak, aimless passes and then left facing 2, or even 3 on-rushing blue and black jerseys which very much made him look like the 36 year-old battle-worn veteran he is. The Dawhan and Saito double act is certainly something to keep your eyes on in the coming days and months.

* Rotation, rotation, rotation – 3 games in the space of 8 days means all J1 teams are likely to be tweaking their lineups this week which has made my team selections below a little trickier than normal. This is the first time Gamba have played 3 league fixtures in such a short space of time under Katanosaka so I had no real evidence to fall back on when making my picks. I’ve gone conservative (if it works for Hajime Moriyasu, why not?), but don’t be surprised if there are more changes to the lineup in reality, though I hope at least the same 4-4-2 system that was successful against Grampus is utilised again here.

* Renaissance man Kurokawa – Basically the embodiment of Gamba across the last 2 league outings, had a bit of a ‘mare versus Fukuoka before bouncing back in surprising and impressive fashion against Nagoya. My long-term followers will be well aware of my admiration of Takashi Usami and there’s no other way to spin his injury than as a huge loss for the club, but, it does seem to have inspired others, Yuya Fukuda late on in the Avispa bout and Kurokawa here to plough forward and have a shot whereas in the past giving the ball to Usami and having him direct operations from there on might have been the safer option.

* At the scene of every crime there’s Hiroto Yamami – The circumstantial evidence is piling up…no goals or assists again, but he was heavily involved in all 3 of Gamba’s goals as they breezed past Grampus in the Suita City sunshine. His excellent free kick in the first half eventually broke to Gen Shoji whose shot was then, of course, deflected home by Patric for the opener. In the second stanza, number 37 played provider once more, supplying the ammunition for Mateus and Kazuya Miyahara to combine for a comedic own goal (comedic if you don’t support Nagoya that is), before occupying space and defenders with an intelligent run that allowed Kurokawa to cut inside and slam the clincher past the despairing dive of Mitch Langerak. Two assists away to Oita in the Levain Cup, the final touch, but not assist, to set up Fukuda’s winner at Reds and now his performance here, things are starting to click for the diminutive forward. With a trip to the scene of his biggest heist to date, the Nihondaira Stadium in Shimizu, on the horizon, what might he produce to whet the appetite in the northern suburbs of Kyoto this Wednesday?

* It’s not often I get the chance to praise Gamba for being ahead of the game when it comes to innovative social media work, so I’m going to milk this opportunity for all it’s worth. Allowing dressing room mood-maker Shota Fukuoka to ‘hijack’ the club’s official Twitter account on April Fool’s Day was a masterstroke and a cut above the usual ‘we’ve signed Messi ha ha ha’ posts. Well done to all involved …even if I’ve heard complaints about a lack of shirtless Yuya Fukuda pictures!

Team News

Takashi Usami (achilles) and Masaaki Higashiguchi (knee) are the two definite absentees for Gamba with Usami likely to miss most, if not all, of the campaign and Higashiguchi due back in mid-to-late May should his rehabilitation go according to plan. Ryu Takao left the field on a stretcher on Saturday, but he appeared to have no more than cramp, while Ko Yanagisawa, Yuya Fukuda, Yuki Yamamoto and Hiroki Fujiharu were all surprisingly missing from the matchday squad last weekend. No updates have been forthcoming from the club to date so if I was to speculate I’d say, being saved for this game (Yanagisawa and Fujiharu), chronic ankle problem flaring up again (Fukuda) and not fitting in with Katanosaka’s system (Yamamoto) are possible reasons to explain their non-selection, but it is very much a case of wait and see.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Kyoto Sanga


In their first season back in Japan’s top flight since 2010, taking eight points from their opening six fixtures represents a decent start for Sanga. From the outside it appears that Cho Kwi-jae is the ideal kantoku to steer them to safety and expectations in Kameoka seem to be realistic. It’s apparently very much in vogue now (was it ever out of vogue?) for clubs / national teams to have a few positive results, or even a good year, and then conveniently forget how out of place that run of form was compared with how they’ve fared for the majority / entirety [delete as appropriate] of their history. That doesn’t seem to be the case at Sanga and I’m sure retaining their status as a J1 club for 2023 will be seen as a success. Veteran forward Peter Utaka, at the ripe old age of 38 is their goalscoring lifeline and I know it is very much a tired cliché, but he’s ageing like a fine wine. With that said, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a team full of grizzled veterans, midfield dynamo Sota Kawasaki, a product of the club’s under-rated youth system has shone brightly early doors this season, in fact so much so that he must be on a number of fellow J1 sides’ radars by now. In all honesty, I think Kyoto might struggle to escape the bottom 4 or 5 places this season, but I am on record as saying the ingredients are there to be ‘this year’s Fukuoka’ if everything clicks. However, unlike Avispa, in addition to Kawasaki (20), other young guns such as centre-back Shogo Asada (23), attacking midfielder Shimpei Fukuoka (21) and on-loan left-back Takuya Ogiwara (22) would likely head to fresh pastures should the Royals hit the dizzy heights of 8th this year leaving Cho with a big rebuilding job on his hands. Still, I’m getting way, way ahead of myself, of more immediate concern to Cho is fixing a backline that was actually the least porous in J2 last term (giving up just 31 goals in 42 games). Dutchman Jordy Buijs has since headed to Fagiano Okayama with Rikito Inoue moving the other way to take his place. Inoue and the aforementioned Asada did well against Kobe at the weekend and hopefully that means the ill-advised Mendes-Appiah Tawiah experiment will be brought to an end, now just to restore Takahiro Iida to first choice right back and they’re all set.

Team News

Playmaker Naoto Misawa suffered an achilles injury in pre-season, similar to the one later sustained by Takashi Usami and won’t be back until September at the earliest. Two winter additions, Martinus (unused sub) and Genki Omae (second half replacement) haven’t featured in a league or cup squad since the opening day victory over Urawa, I presume this is injury related. Winger Kosuke Taketomi who has struggled for fitness in recent years was taken off after 24 minutes on Saturday and his status is currently unclear. Elsewhere, Covid cases have been reported by the club and key central midfielder Shohei Takeda was a prominent omission from the matchday squad versus Kobe. Keeper Tomoya Wakahara, utility player Daigo Araki and forward Yuta Toyokawa also dropped out having being selected for the previous round, though in their cases I’m uncertain if this was due to injury, Covid or non-selection.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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