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Gamba Osaka 0-1 Shonan Bellmare and Weekly Round-up

The Match

Have you ever seen a movie trailer and thought, this looks like 100 other films I’ve seen? Well, think of every football match you’ve ever watched where the underdog upsets the favourite by a score of 1-0 and you’ve just imagined the Gamba vs Shonan game from last night.

Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made three changes to his starting lineup ahead of this clash with Ryu Takao, Yuya Fukuda and Kazuma Watanabe coming in for Kim Young-gwon (not in the squad – rested?), Hiroki Fujiharu and Ademilson (both on the bench). Bellmare made two alterations with Daiki Tomii replacing the ineligible Kosei Tani and Temma Matsuda, normally a midfielder, playing up top with the veteran Naoki Ishihara, in place of on-loan Japan youth international Yuto Iwasaki.

The first half began rather brightly with Shonan in surprisingly expansive mood perhaps inspired by the better atmosphere inside Panasonic Stadium now that rhythmic clapping is once again allowed. A couple of slack passes out of defence from Miura and Shoji inside the opening 10 minutes allowed Bellmare chances to break, but their shots didn’t trouble Higashiguchi while Gamba struggled for fluency in their attacks, the partnership between Usami and Watanabe certainly looks in need of fine tuning. A pretty physical first stanza did have bright sparks, generally these were provided down the Gamba flanks by Takao and Fukuda, but they were unable to find team-mates with a killer pass and we went into half-time goalless.

The second period followed a similar pattern to the first with Shonan starting sharply without ever really looking too dangerous, before Gamba slowly took over possession and territory, but found a multitude of bodies blocking their path to goal. With a Gamba dominated 0-0 looking the most likely outcome, Bellmare struck a sucker punch in the 75th minute. A neat cross from deep by Daiki Kaneko (more on him later) evaded a tired looking Gamba central defence and found Kazunari Ohno who’d advanced from the back to supply a striker’s finish that flew high into the net.

Gamba went into all out attack mode in the final 15 minutes with Patric, Ademilson, Usami and Kawasaki all on the field together. Shonan threw bodies in the way to block all the shots that came their way and the closest Gamba came was a placed effort from Usami which went just wide and when Ademilson rattled the bar from distance in additional time after a nice lay-off from young Kawasaki. It was not to be and Shonan notched their first away win of 2020 and their first ever victory in Suita under their current guise. Gamba, on the other hand, have now lost 5 of their opening 8 home games this year and after losing only once in their first 7 league fixtures have now tasted defeat 5 times in the past 8. How will Miyamoto deal with this mini-crisis?


Analysis

* Interesting to note that it was Gen Shoji, not captain Genta Miura, giving the pre-match pep-talk in the team huddle. Is Miura captain in name only with Shoji the one really pulling the strings? Is this causing friction at the back and resulting in poor performances? Have I become a tabloid journalist?
* Rotation, Rotation, Rotation – I fully understand that even though this year is crazy in many ways managers will want to finish as high up the league as possible in order to keep their jobs. However, I feel we should really be rotating a bit more than we are. Miura is clearly exhausted having started every league game and only being subbed once, Usami looks like he’s playing at 50% capacity most of the time and I’ve no idea how Ideguchi keeps going, but I’m dreading him getting injured.
* I think I watched too much JLeague yesterday, I also took in Sapporo (our next opponents) vs Urawa and the first half of Yokohama FC (no Ichimi or Matsuo!) vs Nagoya, so I ended up dreaming that Genta Miura joined Kawasaki, if that does happen I’ll consider it to be my first ever blog exclusive.
* I think ‘grounder ball’ has overtaken ‘middle shoot’ and ‘heading shoot’ as the most irritating thing the DAZN commentators say in a game. Also a shout out to the fact they seemed to be getting sponsored to say that it was Yuki Yamamoto’s third start in-a-row every time he touched the ball in the first half.
* I really enjoyed the chat I had after the game on Twitter, for the views of other English speaking Gamba fans let me point you in the direction of that…


Gamba MVP

There were shouts from some quarters for this to be given to Ryu Takao or Yuya Fukuda and I agree that they performed better than expected and are definitely worthy of future selection, however, I’m going to hand it to Kosuke Onose as I feel he was excellent. He was able to beat his opponent Hirokazu Ishihara on a number of occasions and put quality into the box, unfortunately on this day it didn’t come off, but I salute his efforts, his composure and control.

From the Scout’s Office – Daiki Kaneko


Those of you who checked out my match preview will know that I was particularly interested in watching Kaneko against Gamba. The 22 year-old Tokyo native didn’t disappoint, providing the assist for the winning goal in addition to protecting his backline, blocking shots and spraying some neat passes about.

He comes with a good pedigree having attended Funabashi Municipal High School in Chiba where he played alongside Gamba’s Takahiro Ko, future Shonan team-mate Daiki Sugioka, Tosu’s Teruki Hara and Sendai’s Takumi Mase amongst others. From there he moved to Kanagawa University in Yokohama, but unusually for a Japanese athlete, he dropped out of college after his first year to turn pro with then newly-promoted Shonan. After initially making a name for himself in Bellmare’s epic 2018 Levain Cup winning run, playing nine times and scoring twice, he became more of a regular in the league last year. This time out he missed the J1 opener with Urawa back in February, was an unused sub in the first match after the restart at home to Sendai, but since then he has been in the starting eleven for all but one league match, completing the full 90 minutes in each of his 12 starts.

With a good build, a nice range of passing, as well as the ability to snuff out danger through good positioning, Kaneko will surely be on the radar of potential suitors. Shonan’s formation is identical to Gamba’s, so he would have no issues transitioning over, though FC Tokyo, in particular, might also be interested as they currently have the more attack minded Yojiro Takahagi playing in Kaneko’s role.

U23 Round-up

Without their attacking trident of Shoji Toyama, Dai Tsukamoto and Shuhei Kawasaki, Gamba U23 went down to a battling 1-0 loss at Kataller Toyama on Saturday night. Toyama have proven to be one of the toughest nuts for Gamba to crack in their brief J3 history as this was Kataller’s 7th win in 9 encounters.

Owing to a tough work schedule I only caught the second-half of this match then watched the DAZN highlights later. For any of you confused by the TV line-up graphic and also Keishi Murakami (a wing-back/ full-back) being listed as a forward on the JLeague website (why do they do that?), Gamba’s formation was; Yu Fukumoto in goals, 3 centre-backs (right to left) Riku Matsuda, Jefferson Tabinas ©, Tatsuya Yamaguchi, an upside-down midfield triangle with each player taking turns at the base, I believe at the start Kohei Okuno was in the anchor role with Ko Ise on the right and Ren Shibamoto on the left, Keishi Murakami was right wing-back and the impressive Keisuke Kurokawa was on the left with Haruto Shirai and Ryusei Sugano in attack.

From the highlights it seemed Toyama had the better of the first half and were rewarded with an unfortunate, from a Gamba perspective, comedy own goal from Yamaguchi, though he may look to blame the bumpy playing surface. The U23s were in control for much of the second half, but looked toothless shorn of Toyama up-front, a triple-chance sparked by Ryusei Sugano’s header off the bar that was then followed up by a header cleared off the line and finally a decent stop by Kataller ‘keeper Hiroki Oka was as close as they came. They drop a place in the standings and currently sit 13th with 15 points from as many games. Next up a home clash with 11th placed Vanraure Hachinohe at Panasonic Stadium on Saturday.

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Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare 13 September 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare
J1 2020 Round 16
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Sunday 13 September 19:00 (JST)


Last Time Out

Gamba were handed a chastening 3-0 defeat by Kashiwa Reysol on Wednesday night, their worst result of the year so far and one that will give a fair bit of ammunition to critics of Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s 3-5-2 formation. The match marked the third time in the last 5 games that the Nerazzurri have conceded 3 goals and moves them down to 8th in the standings.

Buoyed by the 4-1 win at Sendai four days previously, Gamba named the same starting eleven and subs for the first time this year, however they got off to the worst possible start when Kenyan hitman Michael Olunga raced onto a long ball in the 2nd minute and buried a left foot shot across Masaaki Higashiguchi. The first 20 minutes were all Reysol with long balls for Olunga and Hiroto Goya to chase causing all sorts of trouble for Gamba’s backline, while Ataru Esaka and Sachiro Toshima floated between the defence and midfield lines and threatened the visitor’s goal seemingly at will.

Following the water break Kashiwa took their foot off the gas pedal and the rest of the first half was largely even with Gamba probing, but aside from a Shu Kurata effort that Kim Seung-gyu tipped onto the bar they rarely threatened. The tide shifted decisively in Reysol’s favour five minutes from half-time when the impressive Esaka rose highest to power home a header from 6 yards out, 2-0 and Gamba left with a mountain to climb in the second half.

The away side came out swinging for the second 45 and there were weak claims for a penalty when Onose tumbled in the box at the end of a flowing attacking move and later Fujiharu and Usami both tested Kim. However, Kashiwa struck back and Gamba’s defence was once again ruthlessly punished by the Reysol attack in the 62nd minute. With the visitors pushing for a goal to bring them back into things, and on the run of play it would probably have been deserved, Kashiwa broke upfield and Goya crossed in from the right, Olunga found himself unmarked at the near post, but fluffed his attempted header, he needn’t worry though as Esaka was behind him and made it 2 goals for the night and 5 for the season in addition to 5 assists. 3-0 it would finish, though things could have got worse as Higashiguchi saved well from Olunga and Toshima on the break while Goya’s lob hit the bar and came down on the goal-line. Injury ravaged Reysol will be delighted, Gamba on the other hand have a lot of work ahead of them to arrest their current slide.

Bottom of the pile Shonan raced into an early 2-0 lead at fellow strugglers Oita on Wedneday night. A 5th of the season from veteran Naoki Ishihara and a second strike in as many games from Kazuki Oiwa had them in dreamland after just 11 minutes. Trinita were stunned, but roused for a spirited second-half comeback with Toshio Shimakawa and Kohei Isa finding the back of the net inside the last 12 minutes. In the 4th and final minute of additional time, on-loan Gamba ‘keeper Kosei Tani could only watch as a cross from deep struck his left hand post and fortunately bounced to safety meaning both sides had to settle for a point.

Gamba vs Shonan The Lowdown

Gamba come into this game with just a solitary victory in their previous 5 outings, meaning they sit in 8th place albeit wins in their games in hand would take them above Kashima in 6th and Urawa in 7th while pulling them level with Wednesday’s tormentors Kashiwa in 5th, so perhaps things aren’t as bleak as I painted them in the match summary above. Shonan currently lie 18th and last in the standings with their fans surely thankful that relegation isn’t on the table this year. Truth be told their league position can’t be a surprise to many as they only maintained their top flight status as a result of a 1-1 draw at home to Tokushima Vortis in the promotion / relegation play-off at the end of last year.

As laid out in the Kashiwa Match Preview, the opening exchanges of this game will be crucial as Gamba are yet to lose in 2020 after scoring the opening goal and Kashima have been the only team to come back and draw with the Nerazzurri having been behind at half time. Conversely, the men from Suita have come from behind just once to win this year, against Oita in round 5.

Shonan have conceded 3 or more goals in 6 of their 14 J1 games this year, though surprisingly with that stat in mind, 5 teams have let in more, Shimizu, Yokohama FC, Sapporo, Yokohama F.Marinos and Vissel Kobe. Attack appears to be where the bulk of the issues lie, they’ve found the back of the net just 13 times in 14 games with only Tosu having a lower overall total, though they can point to having played 3 fewer league matches so far than Bellmare.

Bellmare have only won once in the league in 2020, 1-0 at home to Kashima back on July 22nd and actually their 2-2 draw at Oita on Wednesday was their first road point of the year. This leaves them bottom of the away league standings, though it is interesting to note that they score and concede substantially more goals outside of Hiratsuka, 9 of their 13 league goals have come away from home while 19 of their 26 goals against have been let in on road trips.

Gamba have been inconsistent at home with three victories against Oita, Hiroshima and Yokohama FC being outweighed by four home defeats (the same total as in the whole of 2019) at the hands of Cerezo, Kawasaki, Urawa and FC Tokyo. Recent opponents have had success by pressuring Gamba’s defenders into mistakes and Shonan will no doubt look to emulate this. Both sides will most likely line up in identical 3-5-2 formations, though owing to the tough schedule over the past week we will surely see some rotation take place with youngsters and fringe players given a chance to shine.

Head to Head

Gamba generally have an excellent record both home and away in this fixture. As the table below shows, the 1-0 reverse in Kanagawa in 2018 thanks to Shunsuke Kikuchi’s early strike is Shonan’s only recent victory over the Nerazzurri. In Suita, you have to go back to 1998 to find a Bellmare victory, though at that time they went by the moniker Bellmare Hiratsuka and they triumphed 2-1 at Expo 70’ Memorial Stadium thanks to an extra-time golden goal as that was the system employed by the JLeague in those days. In fact, combing through the record books, a 3-0 Bellmare Hiratsuka win in 1994 and a 4-2 triumph the following year are the only times they’ve won league games away to Gamba inside 90 minutes.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Left-sided attacking midfielder Yuji Ono is out for the season with knee ligament damage while Shinya Yajima has missed the past couple of games with an ankle knock, it’s still unclear how long he’ll be out for. Elsewhere everyone else is theoretically ready to play, though fatigue and recent poor form may see a number of changes to the line up for this match, Yasuhito Endo, Shunya Suganuma, Yuya Fukuda, Patric, Kazuma Watanabe and even young Shuhei Kawasaki could make their first starts for a while (or first ever in the case of Kawasaki). Kawasaki’s partner in crime with the U23s, Shoji Toyama could also make it back into the top team squad, his only previous league involvement being as an unused sub against Hiroshima in July.

Shonan Bellmare

As with all JLeague sides, information about Shonan Bellmare injuries is hard to find so as usual I’ll start with those who definitely won’t play before moving onto speculation. Goalkeeper Kosei Tani can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement, experienced midfielder Tsukasa Umesaki is also out with a muscle problem and the unlucky Yuki Ohashi has a broken collarbone. Forwards Tarik and Hiroshi Ibusuki, ex-Urawa attacking midfielder Naoki Yamada and wing-back Kazuaki Mawatari have all missed the past 2 games but it’s unclear whether that’s been down to injury or non-selection. Young left wing-back Toichi Suzuki started the season well, but was subbed early in Shonan’s 4-2 hammering at Yokohama FC and has only made one sub appearance since while another wide player Shunya Mouri hasn’t featured in the league since joining from Zweigen Kanazawa last summer. Hiroto Nakagawa, an attacking midfielder who is the younger brother of 2019 J1 MVP Teruhito is another who is out of the picture at the moment.

Know Your Opponent – Shonan Bellmare

Kantoku: Bin Ukishima Appointed: 10 October 2019, Record: P 20 W 2 D 5 L 13 F 17 A 35 Points Per Game 0.55 Failed to Score 8 Clean Sheets 3

GK #1 Daiki Tomii – Has spent most of his career as a backup, save for a 2 year spell as Gunma first-choice in 2014 and 2015. Was called into action late last season when Ukishima dropped Yota Akimoto after one mistake too many in Shonan’s horrible end-of-season run. Started 2020 between the sticks but was quickly usurped by young Kosei Tani, with the Gamba loanee unavailable he should see off Masaaki Goto to start this one.

RCB #4 Keisuke Saka – Recruited out of Juntendo University ahead of Bellmare’s return to the top flight in 2018. At 174cm he must be one of the shortest centre-backs in J1, though that hasn’t stopped him from becoming a regular for Shonan over the past 3 years.

CB #22 Kazuki Oiwa – Hugely experienced former JEF United and Vegalta Sendai defender who is in his first year with the club. Surprisingly he’s the tallest of the three centre-backs at just 182cm. Poses a threat in the opposition area and has scored in each of Bellmare’s previous two matches, two more this season and he’ll have reached his career best total.

LCB #8 Kazunari Ohno – Another very experienced player who is now in his second stint with the club. Spent the bulk of his senior career with Albirex Niigata and started his current spell with Shonan in 2018. He’s on course to make his 200th J1 appearance if he can stay fit and in form this year.

RWB #6 Takuya Okamoto © – Club captain who spent several years with Urawa after graduating from their youth setup, however he never really made an impression on their top team. Now in his 5th campaign with Shonan, though the first three of those years were on loan from Reds before he made the deal permanent ahead of the start of last season.

RCM #18 Temma Matsuda – Diminutive central midfielder who can also play in a more offensive role. Originally from Kyushu, he came through the ranks at Higashi Fukuoka High School and then Kanoya Sports College in Kagoshima before initially moving to Kanagawa on a special designated player contract in 2017. He joined Shonan permanently the following year and has been a regular ever since.

DM #2 Daiki Kaneko – Probably the Bellmare player I’ll be keeping an eye on most in this match as he seems to fit the profile of someone who could play for a club higher up the league. The holding midfielder has been a mainstay in the side this year while the personnel around him have been rotated quite a bit. The former Funabashi Municipal High School graduate surprisingly cut short his studies at Kanagawa University in 2018 to turn pro with Shonan.

LCM #16 Mitsuki Saito – Like Kaneko, 21-year old Saito is a player that some of the teams in the upper echelons of J1 may be having a look at in the near future. A graduate of Bellmare’s youth system, he’s now in his 5th year as a pro and played a key role in Shonan’s 2018 Levain Cup run. Has played twice for Japan’s U23 and is in contention for a place in the Tokyo Olympics squad.

LWB #38 Hirokazu Ishihara – Another Bellmare Youth graduate who is back in Kanagawa after a loan spell with Avispa Fukuoka in 2019. Can play on either wing or even as a wide centre-back if necessary. 169cm tall Ishihara is most comfortable on the left flank and that’s where he’ll likely be deployed for this match.

RCF #13 Naoki Ishihara – Veteran forward who is enjoying a renaissance on the Shonan coast after a disappointing end to his career in Sendai. Comfortably Bellmare’s most dangerous goal threat this year with 5 strikes already. The wily Ishihara started his career with Shonan straight out of high school in 2003 and played 6 seasons with the men from Hiratsuka before going on to turn out for Omiya, Hiroshima, Urawa and Sendai. He’s currently just 8 matches away from making his 300th J1 appearance.

LCF #20 Yuto Iwasaki – Young forward who’s currently on-loan from Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. Highly rated and capped at every level from U17 to U23 by Japan, Iwasaki, like team-mate Saito, is in line to play at the Tokyo Olympics, should they ever take place. Unfortunately, his professional club career has not gone as smoothly as his international exploits and to date he’s mustered a mere 3 goals in 86 J1 and J2 appearances for Shonan, Sapporo and Kyoto. Even at the tender age of 22, he’s seemingly running out of time to prove he has what it takes to become a J1 level forward.

Other Options – Experienced wing-back Shota Kobayashi, another player who’s had multiple spells with the club may find himself in the starting eleven for this clash, as could the right-sided Kazuaki Mawatari, a Kawasaki loanee. Further forward, experienced former Kashiwa and Omiya man Akimi Barada is a central midfield option while Hidetoshi Miyuki, an off-season signing from Yamaguchi has been criminally underused this year. Ex-Urawa attacking midfielder Naoki Yamada, Norwegian international forward Tarik Elyounoussi and the tall Hiroshi Ibusuki could all come in assuming they are fit. With an eye on the future Bellmare have given young talent a chance in recent weeks in the form of midfielder Satoshi Tanaka, a youth team player who’ll be promoted to the top team next year and two special designated players, Kanoya Sports College forward Ryo Nemoto and Rissho University midfielder Sho Hiramatsu, it’ll be interesting to see if they get game time on Sunday.

Predicted Line Ups





Match Prediction

Gamba are not in great form and I expect the pack to be reshuffled a bit for this match against, on paper, the weakest side in the division. It won’t be a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but I think Gamba will have just enough in the tank to eek out a 2-1 win.

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Kashiwa Reysol vs Gamba Osaka 9 September 2020 Match Preview

Kashiwa Reysol vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 15
Sankyo Frontier Kashiwa Stadium
Wednesday 9 September 19:00 (JST)


It’s 5th vs 6th this Wednesday as Gamba play their second away match in five days at one of their least favourite opposition grounds, the Kashiwa Stadium in Chiba. Both clubs are feeling the effects of the brutal summer match schedule and have a number of players injured or doubtful for this one making writing an insightful match preview a tall order.

Kashiwa and Gamba come into this clash level on points, however Reysol have the better goal difference and have played an extra match. The Chiba based side are known for their potency in attack and are 3rd in goals scored, way behind leaders Kawasaki, but their 28 strikes in 14 games puts them just one behind 2nd placed Yokohama F.Marinos with a match in hand. Conversely their rather leaky rearguard, which has seen no fewer than 7 different players used at centre-back as well as 3 goalkeepers taking turns between the sticks, ranks a surprisingly high 8th equal with 22 goals conceded.

Gamba’s 4-1 win at Sendai means that they are now one of only three sides still unbeaten away from home in J1 2020 along with FC Tokyo and Vissel Kobe. They currently boast an impressive record of 4 wins and 2 draws which is fourth best in the division, but with fewer games played than all three teams ahead of them. Our opponents Kashiwa have had the same struggles as Gamba at home, recording an identical three wins and four defeats to date. Both clubs have notoriously boisterous supports which have been largely nullified by the COVID-19 restrictions on fans.

Gamba have a tendency to share the goals more equally throughout the team than Kashiwa do. The Nerazzurri have netted 21 times in 13 J1 games and so far 11 different players have been on target with Brazilian Ademilson currently leading the way, notching 4 in 10 appearances. For Kashiwa, J1’s leading marksman Michael Olunga has picked up exactly where he left off last year in J2 and already has a whopping 14 goals in just 13 games which represents 50% of his team’s total. Overall just 8 players have found the back of the net for Reysol in 2020, other key contributors have been Hayato Nakama (4 goals) and Ataru Esaka (3 goals / 5 assists) while ex-Gamba marksmen Hiroto Goya has 3 league strikes from just 2 starts and has also bagged a couple in the Levain Cup.

Head to Head

This is not a happy hunting ground for Gamba as seen in the table below. The excellent 3-1 victory in round 2 of the 2017 campaign, thanks to Sam Robson’s favourite Shun Nagasawa’s double, is our only recent success at the normally intimidating Kashiwa Stadium. Indeed Reysol were the ones to end Gamba’s incredible nine match winning streak at the end of the 2018 season, the final match before their year-long sabbatical in J2 last year.

These two have already faced off once in 2020 with Kashiwa edging a tight Levain Cup Group stage match 1-0 with the goal inevitably coming from Olunga. That will likely be the only time I’ll be in Panasonic Stadium this year, but I did witness an entertaining tie between two sides shaking off the cobwebs in their first hit out of the year and in truth 6-4 Gamba may have been a more accurate reflection of the run of play than a 1-0 away win.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

It’s bad news for Gamba’s midfield with the announcement that the impressive Yuji Ono has damaged knee ligaments that require surgery which means he won’t be back until next year. Shinya Yajima missed the Sendai game with a sprained ankle, though as yet we don’t know how serious it is. As one door closes, so another opens and that will be the case for Yuki Yamamoto who capped his first J1 start in the midfield anchor role with a fine strike last Saturday and also 19 year-old Shuhei Kawasaki who has seen his excellent J3 form rewarded with a promotion to be Shu Kurata’s understudy in the top team. In defence, everyone is now fully fit with Ryo Shinzato and Shunya Suganuma both getting a run out as overage players with the U23s against Fujieda MYFC last Saturday.


Kashiwa Reysol

I could probably write a book about Kashiwa’s injury troubles this year, but I’ll try to be as brief as possible. Working from back to front, first choice goalkeeper Kosuke Nakamura had to be subbed off in the second half of Saturday’s game with S-Pulse after injuring his leg taking a goal-kick, Korean international Kim Seung-gyu hasn’t been on the bench in recent weeks and his status is unknown. Off-season signing from Tosu, Yuji Takahashi damaged his knee against Kashima 2 matchdays ago and is out for the year, while fellow centre-backs Takuma Ominami, Yuta Someya and Tatsuya Yamashita have been out of the squad recently and I’m assuming it’s because they are not fully fit. Further forward, Ben Maxwell’s favourite J1 hit-man Richardson has reached the four yellow card suspension threshold and will sit this one out. Star Brazilian winger Cristiano, who recorded 19 goals and 18 assists in J2 last year hasn’t been seen since the league’s re-start back in June while his compatriot Matheus Savio, like Takahashi above, was replaced in the first half of the match against Kashima and didn’t feature at Shimizu. Yuta Kamiya provided 4 assists early in the campaign, but hasn’t been seen in the matchday squad since the 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Cerezo last month. Likewise, Yusuke Segawa started the season as first choice but was subbed at half-time in the 3-2 win at Vissel Kobe and has been absent for the 3 subsequent matchdays. In a rare piece of good news, right-sided defender Shunki Takahashi is back from suspension following a rather harsh looking two yellow cards against Kashima Antlers. I’m assuming that Olunga was just rested against Shimizu and will be back looking for his usual goal(s) in this encounter.

Know Your Opponent – Kashiwa Reysol

Kantoku: Nelsinho Baptista (2nd spell), Re-appointed: 1 February 2019, Record: P 56 W 32 D 11 L 13 F 113 A 55 Points Per Game 1.91 Failed to Score 9 Clean Sheets 20

GK #17 Kim Seung-gyu – Capped 43 times by South Korea and named in Alan Gibson’s Best Ever J1 team, Kim was in outstanding form to keep a clean sheet in the clash between these two back in February. He’s since lost his place to Kosuke Nakamura and I’m simply guessing he may be fit enough to play in this match. He previously spent 3 ½ years with Vissel Kobe before a 6 month spell with Ulsan Hyundai in homeland which ended with a disastrous final day performance against rivals Pohang that let Jeonbuk slip in to land yet another title.

RCB #24 Naoki Kawaguchi – Normally a right-back, but may be asked to play as a right-sided centre-back in this match owing to a lack of alternatives. Kawaguchi originally joined Reysol on loan from Albirex Niigata midway through last year and made the deal permanent in the off-season.

CB #2 Jiro Kamata – Vastly experienced centre-back who started the Levain Cup game with Gamba in February alongside fellow veteran Yuta Someya before both subsequently lost their places to younger rivals. The former Sendai man is now back in the starting eleven and will need to use his nous and experience to help his defensive partners adjust to their new roles.

LCB #4 Taiyo Koga – Really impressed me in February while playing at left-back. Capped once by Japan, Koga has performed well at right-back for most of the season while Hiromu Mitsumaru has shone on the opposite flank, but has has recently shifted into the middle with more mixed results.

RWB #6 Shunki Takahashi – I’m honestly a little surprised he’s featured as much as he has this year after making just 19 league appearances across the previous two seasons spent with Kobe and Kashiwa. His versatility is useful for Nelsinho as he’s able to play on either flank and at full-back or wing-back.

RCM #27 Masatoshi Mihara – Another member of the Kobe Old Boys club, Mihara actually sunk his former employers with an injury time winner last month and looked like he really enjoyed it. Calling him a jack-of-all-trades may be a bit harsh, but he’s found himself used at right-back as well as various positions in the midfield during his year in Chiba. Like Kawaguchi, he originally joined on loan in mid-2019 before making things permanent over the winter.

DM #7 Hidekazu Otani © – Mr. Kashiwa; promotions, relegations, J1 and J2 title wins, League Cup and Emperor’s Cup triumphs, Otani has seen it all since coming to the club as a junior high school student. Kashiwa are his only professional side and he’s played over 450 league games for them. Team captain and a vital cog in the centre of the park.

LCM #28 Sachiro Toshima – One of a number of J2 players who clearly impressed the Kashiwa scouting department last year, Toshima followed his former team-mate Kawaguchi to Kashiwa from Niigata. The Tsukuba University graduate is a smooth operator when in possession and has the potential to be a mainstay in the Reysol midfield for the next decade.

LWB #20 Hiromu Mitsumaru – An off-season recruit from Tosu, Mitsumaru started the year on the sidelines, but grabbed his chance with an impressive second-half cameo away to Kawasaki and hasn’t looked back since. He was Toshima’s senpai at Tsukuba University prior to moving to Saga in 2016 and has quickly adapted to life in Chiba with 3 assists already this year.

RCF #14 Michael Olunga – What can I say about him that hasn’t already been covered? 8 goals in 1 match against Kyoto last year, 27 in total plus 8 assists in J2 and now running at better than a goal a game in J1. Gamba found back in February that the best way to stop Olunga is by preventing his less talented team-mates from getting the ball to him. Once he gets possession, though, you might as well adopt the same tactics I would in a fight with Tyson Fury, cover your eyes and hope for the best.

LCF #19 Hiroto GoyaIkemen former Gamba forward who never got close to hitting the heights expected of him in Suita. A brilliant loan spell with Nagasaki last year (22 goals in 36 league games) clearly took Kashiwa’s fancy. He’s struggled to break into the starting eleven as Reysol have played most games with Olunga as the lone striker supported by three attacking midfielders. The defensive crisis at the Kashiwa Stadium may prove to be Goya’s salvation as Nelsinho’s hand has been forced and there’s an extra centre-forward slot available.

Other Options – Should both Nakamura and Kim be ruled out through injury then third choice ‘keeper Haruhiko Takimoto, a Kashiwa academy graduate could be called into action, as he has twice already this year from the bench. Right-sided defender Kengo Kitazume joined from fellow promoted side Yokohama FC last winter and I unsuccessfully predicted he would take Takahashi’s place, that hasn’t happened yet, but he is a solid bench option. In central midfield, Yusuke Kobayashi, back in Chiba after a disappointing loan spell with Shonan and young Yuto Yamada, a surprise starter at Panasonic Stadium in February are alternatives to Otani and Mihara. Further forward, I’ve predicted that the lethal Ataru Esaka will be rested due to a heavy workload recently, but there is every chance he will start. The same could be said for Hayato Nakama who netted an impressive 15 times from left midfield for Fagiano Okayama last year, he is probably one of the best 11 players available to Nelsinho at the moment, but may find it difficult to operate in the current 3-5-2 system. Ex-Iwata and Niigata forward Ryohei Yamazaki and promising youngster Mao Hosoya are options to round out the bench, though it’s unlikely either will start unless there are further injuries to first teamers.

Predicted Line Ups




Match Prediction

With all the uncertainty surrounding who is fit or not for Kashiwa, making a definite prediction is tough. A Cristiano / Olunga inspired Reysol would be strong favourites to win in a normal season, but are an injury ravaged Kashiwa without the advantage of their yellow wall really such a sure bet? Recent form shows that both of these teams usually score and concede in every game so we should see goals. Gamba have 5 wins 1 draw and 0 defeats when leading at half time and are also 7-2-0 when they net the game’s opening goal, so the opening stanza will be crucial (for comparison, they are 1-0-4 when the opposition score first). I’ll go with 2-2, but honestly I don’t have a lot of faith in my prediction for the reasons laid out above.

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Vegalta Sendai 1-4 Gamba Osaka 5 September 2020 and weekly round up

Once again a shout out to @vegalta_blog who helped me write the preview for this match. Please check out his site https://vegaltasendaienglishblog.wordpress.com/ for the Sendai take on things.

The Match

Gamba got back to winning ways with a comfortable road win at struggling Vegalta Sendai on Saturday night. The 4-1 triumph takes their away record to 14 points from 6 matches and moves them back up to 6th in J1 with games in hand over most of the teams ahead. The 3 goal margin of victory was the Nerazzurri’s biggest this year and also marked the first time they had scored more than twice in a league match in 2020.

Kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made a couple of changes to the side that went down to FC Tokyo the previous weekend. There was a first J1 start for Yuki Yamamoto at the base of the midfield while Shu Kurata came in for Ryu Takao. There was also a positional switch with Kosuke Onose moving back into Takao’s spot at right wing-back, the now peroxide-blonde Yosuke Ideguchi moved from left to right central midfield to accommodate Kurata. Shinya Yajima dropped out of the matchday squad altogether, hopefully to get some much needed rest while there was bad news regarding Yuji Ono. The off-season recruit from Tosu damaged the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in training and will require surgery that will surely rule him out of the rest of the 2020 campaign.

This game got off to a flier with 3 goals in the opening 15 minutes. Sendai, with left-winger Takuma Nishimura prominent, started stronger and forced a couple of corners in the opening passages of play. The second of the two saw them take the lead. Takuma Hamasaki swung it in and Alexandre Guedes rose unmarked to head past Higashiguchi, a rare goal conceded from a corner by Gamba and there will surely be a post-mortem at training on Monday. The away side were quickly back in control and Yuki Yamamoto made sure his first J1 start was a memorable one just four minutes after Guedes’ opener. Good play down the right involving Onose and Ideguchi saw the ball fed to Usami in the box, Gamba’s talisman was outnumbered and the ball broke off a Sendai player to the edge of the area. Kurata challenged for it and again the ball fell Gamba’s way, this time for Yamamoto who coolly turned onto his right-foot past Sendai’s stand-in skipper Kyohei Yoshino and rifled home a shot low to Jakub Slowik’s right-hand side. Game on!

Next, Ademilson struck his fourth J1 goal of the year to give Gamba the lead after just a quarter of an hour. Usami had his shot blocked and from the resulting corner he found the head of captain Genta Miura, the centre-back flicked on and Ade found himself totally unmarked to loop an awkward looking header over and across Slowik into the net. Koji Hachisuka and Keiya Shiihashi looked at each other with confusion about what had gone wrong and Vegalta, like Gamba, will need to work on defending corners a bit better going forward.

Back in front, Gamba began to sit back more and soak up some Sendai pressure, Guedes forced Higashiguchi into an excellent save low to his right in the 17th minute, but in truth the home side, while looking spritely in patches, never presented a consistent threat. They would, however, be handed a golden opportunity to level things up before half time from the penalty spot (I’ll go into the rights and wrongs of the award in the analysis section below). Again a Hamasaki corner caused problems, Onose jumped with Guedes, both players had their arms up for leverage but the ball appeared to miss both and cannoned into the helpless Ademilson behind and the referee had no hesitation but to point to the spot for handball. Nishimura stepped up and just like Leandro the previous week aimed low to Higashiguchi’s right, unfortunately for the men from Miyagi, he didn’t get it far enough into the corner and Gamba’s number 1 ensured justice was served. 2-1 Gamba half time.

The second half followed the same pattern as the end of the first with Sendai controlling possession and having the bulk of the chances, but save for Nishimura’s header over after a terrific bustling run from right-back Takahiro Yanagi, they didn’t look like getting back on level terms. After making a few changes midway through the half, Vegalta looked like they were gearing up for a late push, but instead they found themselves stunned by Gamba’s riposte. 17 minutes from time Yamamoto’s innocuous looking cross-field header was allowed to bounce by two Sendai defenders, Kurata won it, cut inside and unleashed a fine strike past Slowik from just outside the box, check-mate to Gamba. Twelve minutes later they would finish things off decisively. Ideguchi started the move and played in substitute Kazuma Watanabe in the inside left channel, the veteran forward squared for fellow replacement Patric. The Brazilian tussled with Vegalta’s returning captain Simao Mate, those of a Sendai persuasion may have a case for a foul here, but the ball broke off the falling Simao into the path of Ideguchi who made no mistake from 5 yards out.

Young Shuhei Kawasaki got the final few minutes of action and managed a couple of nice touches, an ambitious shot and a bit of pushing and shoving with ex-Gamba forward Shun Nagasawa (who stands a solid 24cm taller than him) and Kyohei Yoshino. Full-time, job done, 4-1 and on to another injury ravaged side, Kashiwa Reysol, on Wednesday.

Analysis

* Following on from my non-deliberate handball rant after the FC Tokyo game, more of the same tonight. It’s something that’s been a bug bear of mine for a long time and I’d enjoy hearing others in the JLeague English community’s views on this….should non-deliberate handballs in the box where the ball is not travelling towards goal result in a penalty? My view is no, a direct or indirect free-kick would be a more fitting punishment, what do you think?
* Yuki Yamamoto got a first start at the base of Gamba’s midfield in this game and he has definitely gone some way to addressing my concerns over a lack of depth in central midfield. Ideguchi is clearly a class above and essentially undroppable, but, in Yamamoto, it looks like we have someone who can give Yajima a break every so often, especially against, with the greatest respect to Sendai, bottom half opposition. Despite his well-taken goal, his performance was by no means perfect. I liked his range of passing, but his positioning and combination play with his fellow midfielders will understandably take time to develop.
* Continuing with the positive noises about young midfielders, it was great to see young Shuhei Kawasaki get a few minutes at the end of the game. He played with the verve and swagger of someone who didn’t have a care in the world and with Yuji Ono out for the rest of the year he is surely likely to become a regular on the bench, coming on to give the likes of Kurata and Onose a breather in the latter parts of games.
* Although the scoreline looks great on paper and energy levels were definitely higher than in previous games, I’m going to hold off on declaring Gamba being back to their best. Sendai were a step slower than most of out recent opponents and as a result we found it much easier to get the ball into dangerous areas and take advantage of sloppy play. As I’ll cover in my upcoming preview, Kashiwa, like Vegalta, don’t have their injury troubles to seek, and next Sunday we play basement dwellers Shonan at home (without their excellent on-loan ‘keeper), ask me after those games if the Nerazzurri are a force to be reckoned with.
* The final part of this analysis I promise, Masaaki Higashiguchi’s fine early block from Guedes and his later penalty save from Nishimura got me thinking….is there a more on-form ‘keeper in J1 2020 than Gamba’s stopper. FC Tokyo’s fans may point to Akihiro Hayashi, though he did lose his place for a few games, Kawasaki’s Jung Sung-ryong ‘suffers’ from the fact his team is so good and he doesn’t have much to do, I could accept an argument that overall Cerezo’s Kim Jin-hyeon is better than Higashiguchi, but he’s made a few uncharacteristic errors this year. Nagoya’s Australian Mitch Langerak has looked great when I’ve seen him and is the only rival to Masaaki for this title in my opinion, so…please tell me, what do you think?

Gamba MVP

Yosuke Ideguchi again. He was omnipresent once again, his engine and work rate are incredible. I really hope he can keep going and doesn’t break down with an injury, otherwise we’ll really struggle. I was delighted for him when he capped off a superb performance with a goal. Hamasaki and Shiihashi will be happy they don’t have to face him every week and while he’s not quite back to the form he showed before his move to Europe, he must be in Hajime Moriyasu’s thoughts for Japan’s next squad, whenever that is named.

U23 Round Up

An experienced Under 23 side featuring 4 overage players, GK Jun Ichimori, centre-backs Shunya Suganuma and Ryo Shinzato, as well as attacker Daisuke Takagi, went down to a disappointing 3-1 defeat to Fujieda MYFC. Despite taking an early lead when Kohei Okuno headed home Ren Shibamoto’s corner, the Shizuoka side were level at the break following Tsubasa Yoshihara’s 3rd goal of the season. The same player then put Fujieda in front just before the hour mark and Tsugutoshi Oishi made sure of things in additional time after young Ko Ise was dispossessed in midfield.

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Vegalta Sendai vs Gamba Osaka Match Preview 5 September 2020

Vegalta Sendai vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 14
Yurtec Stadium Sendai
Saturday 5 September 18:30 (JST)


Round 14 of J1 2020 sees me collaborate with another fan as @vegalta_blog – author of the excellent https://vegaltasendaienglishblog.wordpress.com/ gives us a deep insight into Vegalta Sendai, our next opponents. As always comments and feedback are welcomed, I’ve not been to Panasonic Stadium since February so I’ve really enjoyed interacting with fellow JLeague fans online recently.

The Lowdown

Neither side comes into this clash in great form, both having only won once in their previous five J1 games. Sendai, who made the Yurtec such a fortress in 2019 have failed to win in six home ties this time round, while Gamba, who only took 20 points on the road last year have four wins and a draw from their five away games thus far in 2020.

Vegalta are under new leadership this year with former Montedio Yamagata coach Takashi Kiyama taking over from the long-serving Susumu Watanabe and he’s endured a tough baptism. Long-term injuries to key players such as captain Simao Mate and left-winger Isaac Cuenca have definitely hindered the pace of the side’s development under their new coach. Additionally Kiyama has tried to move away from the rigid 4-4-2 employed by his predecessor and instead is currently operating a 4-2-1-2-1 or 4-3-3, depending on your preference. From the outside I think I can see what he’s trying to do, but similarly to Ange Postecoglou’s first year in Yokohama, as of yet he doesn’t have the right balance in the squad to play the kind of football he wants. It will surely take at least one more off-season before he can mould the team into his image.

Despite not boasting a great record away against Sendai in the past couple of years Gamba will come into this game as favourites. Vegalta’s record of 11 points from the first 12 games which has included only 2 victories (1-0 at bottom club Shonan in round 2 and a surprise 2-1 win at Jekyll and Hyde Kobe last month) means they are on paper the weakest side we’ve faced for some time. With this being the start of a three game week and fixtures away to Kashiwa (Wednesday) and home to Shonan (next Sunday) following quickly there may be a temptation to rotate the squad, but I feel in a bid to regain some momentum, Miyamoto will field a pretty strong starting eleven for this one.

Tactically, Urawa and Tokyo have shown other J1 sides the blueprint of how to play against Gamba in Suita. However, as the Nerazzurri are set up to play on the counter attack, so far it’s proven harder for teams to get the upper hand in their home clashes with the men in blue and black. In our previous away tie at Kashima, Patric was used effectively as a long ball option which meant we could clear our lines quicker, it’s possible a similar tactic could be used here. I’d also expect Kosuke Onose to move back to the right wing to provide a more attacking threat than Ryu Takao could offer last week, while it’s likely that Yuya Fukuda could come in for Hiroki Fujiharu, who has looked decent going forward, but has been plagued by uncharacteristic errors at the back in recent weeks.

Head to Head

Gamba have come out second best in their last two trips to Sendai, both by a scoreline of 2-1. Kim Young-gwon netted his only Gamba goal to date to give the Nerazzurri an early lead in round 9 last year, but Katsuya Nagato’s deflected strike in first half injury time, followed by Shun Nagasawa’s winner against his former charges in the 91st minute swung things in the home side’s favour. This was a case of déjà vu for both teams as in the same fixture in 2018 Kazuma Watanabe fired Gamba into a first half lead only for two Sendai goals in the space of four second half minutes to turn the tables. Prior to that Gamba had won three in a row at the Yurtec Stadium, scoring three times in each game. Vegalta, on the other hand, have never won a league match in Suita.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

No new injury concerns to report, Ryo Shinzato is still believed to be out, but elsewhere only fatigue seems to be an issue amongst the squad with captain Genta Miura, midfielders Shinya Yajima and Yosuke Ideguchi as well as star forward Takashi Usami surely due a rest soon. Should they be given a breather, excellent U23 attacking duo Shuhei Kawasaki and Shoji Toyama could be options to come into the squad, as could Ren Shibamoto whose return to the U23 ranks has co-incided with an upshoot in their form. At the back Riku Matsuda will be looking to come back into the top team set up and left-sided defenders Tatsuya Yamaguchi and Keisuke Kurokawa will surely be thirsty for J1 game time.

Vegalta Sendai

Vegalta certainly don’t have their injury troubles to seek coming into this one with no fewer than six first-teamers on the treatment table. Club legend Shingo Tomita is out for the year with knee trouble while captain and inspiration Simao Mate hasn’t featured since the league’s re-start in June. Further forward, off-season recruit from Tosu, Isaac Cuenca has missed the entire campaign to date with an ankle problem. Attackers Ryo Germain and Shuhei Akasaki as well as sitting midfielder Yoshiki Matsushita have all picked up knocks in recent weeks which have put them out of contention. I can’t find any confirmation on the status of special designated player Hisashi Appiah Tawiah who seemed to be struggling with a slight injury at the end of the defeat by Yokohama F.Marinos at the beginning of August or right-sided midfielder Ryohei Michibuchi, but my feeling is they are probably unavailable for selection at the moment.

Know Your Opponent – Vegalta Sendai

Kantoku: Takashi Kiyama, Appointed: 1 February 2020, Record: P 12 W 2 D 5 L 5 F 13 A 19 Points Per Game 0.92 Failed to Score 2 Clean Sheets 2

Thanks again to @vegalta_blog for his brilliant rundown on the Vegalta squad which you can read below. Please check out his blog for recent Sendai match previews and reports.

#24 Jakub SLOWIK – The Polish goalkeeper joined Vegalta Sendai after the departure of Daniel Schmidt to Belgium. He has provided trustworthy and reliable goalkeeping performances for Sendai. Unarguably, Vegalta Sendai would have gotten 4-5 points less without him between the sticks. His commanding presence is outstanding. You could hear him shouting at his teammates throughout the game.

#36 YANAGI Takahiro – 23-year-old loanee from FC Tokyo. Yanagi played under Kiyama at Montedio Yamagata last season. Kiyama brought him in as an emergency replacement for Masato Tokida, who was uncomfortable at the left full-back position. He said that Kiyama taught him the philosophy of aggressive football. He can play on both flanks, but Kiyama mostly uses him on the right and deploys Hachisuka on his opposite side. Gamba Osaka will definitely need to watch out for Yanagi’s contribution and link up play with Mase Takumi down the right.

#16 YOSHINO Kyohei – New signing from Sanfrecce Hiroshima last winter, Yoshino Kyohei is one of only two players who have started every single league game since the restart. He can play either as a center-back or holding midfielder. His interception rate is exceptional, but his weakness is one-on-one defending. A strong striker like Patric could win a duel against him often.

#13 HIRAOKA Yasuhiro – Hiraoka is a veteran center-back who retook his place after losing it early last year. His partnership with Simao Mate was arguably the most critical element that helped us avoid relegation. His aerial presence was outstanding last season, but Vegalta Sendai have struggled to score from set-pieces in 2020. If Simao came back in time for this game, the partnership would give Gamba’s defence a hard time.

#4 HACHISUKA Koji – “Always good” is how our manager Kiyama Takashi referred to Hachisuka. He has been with the club for ten years, playing as a right full-back. After the restart, Kiyama improvised and deployed him on the left instead. He looked uncomfortable at first but adjusted nicely after that. He has scored one goal, provided a few assists, and was selected as one of the best players by DAZN twice. His dedication will be necessary if Sendai are going to beat Gamba.

#26 HAMASAKI Takuma – Former FC Osaka right-back who was signed from Mito Hollyhock last winter. Most people expected him to be behind Iio and Hachisuka in the pecking-order. Still, Hamasaki defied everyone’s doubts in him and has established himself as a crucial holding-midfielder in Kiyama’s team. With an average of 12 kilometers covered per 90 minutes, it seems like Hamasaki is everywhere on the pitch. He also contributes to the attack a lot. Is it possible he will score his first goal in J1 against Gamba Osaka?

#5 SHIIHASHI Keiya – Shiihashi lost his place in the team to veteran Tomita Shingo last summer. At the start of the season, I thought he would have a hard time breaking into the first team, but the arrival of Kiyama transformed him. His partnership with Hamasaki is vital to the team. He can intercept and break down the opposition’s play effectively. Even though Shiihashi is more defensive-minded when compared to Hamasaki, his contribution should not be underestimated.

#7 SEKIGUCHI Kunimitsu – You are the heart of Sendai is the chant that we gave to Sekiguchi last autumn. Having spent 12 years in the northeast, his love for the team is less than no one. He will turn 35 this year, but is still running more than 12 kilometers per 90 minutes on average. Vegalta Sendai’s pressing usually starts from his initiation. This year, Kiyama has mostly deployed him as an attacking midfielder, but with the re-emergence of Hyodo, Sekiguchi may be used in the wide position more often.

#45 MASE Takumi – JFA Special designated player from Hannan University. Mase will officially join Vegalta Sendai from the 2021 campaign, but he has already established himself as a first-team member after four consecutive starts. He was a full-back in his university days, but Kiyama has deployed him as a right wide-forward since Germain Ryo’s injury. His combination with Yanagi is aggressive and furious. He assisted the equalizer that secured us a point against Hiroshima. His header was amazingly saved by Osako earlier in the game. Hopefully, he will score his first J1 goal against Gamba Osaka.

#15 NISHIMURA Takuma – Nishimura returned to Vegalta Sendai after 2 difficult years with CSKA Moscow. His goal scoring in 2018 was prolific, but he has not been able to replicate that level of performance in 2020. He is continually given chances by Kiyama, so I think he will start against Gamba after Ishihara Takayoshi’s sub-par performance in Hiroshima.

#20 NAGASAWA Shun – Honestly, I would like to write about Alexandre Guedes, but it seems like he took a knock during the last game. Thus, it is very likely that Nagasawa will start in place of him. The ex-Gamba striker is going through a goal drought right now; he has only scored one goal this season. Arguably, our deliveries into him have not been good enough. Nevertheless, his goal-scoring instinct has made him one of the best players we have. Facing a former club should encourage him to prove himself.

Predicted Line Ups





Match Prediction

This match could really define the direction Gamba’s season takes, a tame draw or defeat would point to another year of mid-table mediocrity while a comfortable victory would suggest that the home defeats to Urawa and Tokyo were a mere blip. I’m going for a positive outcome, Gamba haven’t scored more than twice this year and neither have Sendai, so goals may be at a premium, I’ll say 2-1 Gamba with Usami and Patric netting the decisive strikes.

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Gamba Osaka vs FC Tokyo Match Preview 29 August 2020

Gamba Osaka vs FC Tokyo
J1 2020 Round 13
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 29 August 19:00 (JST)


Gamba return home after a 6-day break to square off against FC Tokyo. This week’s match preview has been streamlined and also has several new graphics, please let me know what you think. As for our opponents, check out the excellent blog https://fctokyokaiguys.wordpress.com/ and the associated Twitter handle @FCTokyoKaiGuys for up to date information, match previews, reviews etc.

The Lowdown

FC Tokyo travel to Osaka hot on the heels of a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Kashima on Wednesday night. The capital club rested a host of first team regulars for the game owing to their marathon schedule due to their participation in the Asian Champions League. Still, the Gasmen sit 4th in J1, 3 places and 2 points ahead of Gamba albeit with 2 more games played. That stat makes this clash pivotal for both as a home win would see the Nerrazzuri go ahead of their opponents with fewer matches under their belt, something that would surely give them a lot of confidence moving forward.

Truthfully, Gamba don’t come into this tie in particularly good form, they’ve only picked up a solitary win in their last four league games and that was a fortunate one at home to Yokohama FC. The performances in the past three contests have been tired and lacking invention, though the desire to get ahead early and rest weary legs by soaking up pressure is clearly the strategy Tsuneyasu Miyamoto wants his troops to employ. Will it bear fruit come the end of the year? That’s anyone’s guess in this unique COVID-19 affected season.

Ex-Gamba kantoku Kenta Hasegawa has his Tokyo side lining up in a 4-3-3 formation these days, a marked break from the rigid 4-4-2 / 4-2-3-1 we saw during his time in Suita. They’ve been stung by the loss of influential midfielder Kento Hashimoto to FK Rostov in Russia and attacking right-back Sei Muroya to Hannover in Germany’s second division in the summer transfer window, these departures compounded the absence of captain Keigo Higashi because of long term injury. For positives, the addition of Brazilian attacking duo Leandro (Kashima – loan – I still can’t fathom why you’d loan a player of his ability to a rival?) and Adailton (Iwata) in attack, the acquisition of youngsters from local universities, Shuto Abe and Hotaka Nakamura (both Meiji) as well as Kazuya Konno (Hosei) and importantly the promotion of players from their famed youth set up, Taichi Hara (top scorer in J3 last year), Takumi Nakamura and Kashifu Bangundagande have boosted their ranks.

Take all stats at the moment with a pinch of salt due to the disparity of games played between different teams in J1, but at present FC Tokyo possess the fourth most potent attack in the division (behind Kawasaki, Yokohama FM and Kashiwa). At the back things are a touch more vulnerable, first choice stopper Akihiro Hayashi lost his place to youngster Go Hatano for a few rounds and there seems to be an all round lack of depth in the defensive positions. As the FC Tokyo Kai Guys have repeatedly noted poor defending from crossed balls and full-backs playing opponents onside have been major contributing factors to a lot of their goals conceded this year, does this mean we are likely to see Patric in from the start again after a decent showing away to Kashima last weekend?


Head to Head

Gamba haven’t lost at home to FC Tokyo in the league since way back in 2008, a 3-1 defeat at the old Expo Memorial Stadium. Yasuhito Endo and current head-coach Satoshi Yamaguchi started for Gamba that day, while Shu Kurata came on as a second half replacement. Future Nerrazzuri legend Yasuyuki Konno as well as soon-to-be Samurai Blue star Yuto Nagatomo were in the Gasmen’s starting eleven.

Check out the recent head-to-head between the sides in the table below and you’ll see a clear home victory bias. Since Gamba returned to J1 in 2014 our home record vs FC Tokyo stands at P6 W 3 D 3 L 0 F 12 A 7. My personal highlight was Ademilson’s 95th minute winner back in 2018 after Diego Oliveira had equalised late on for the visitors. This was closely followed by Shu Kurata somehow being credited with the second goal in a three nil rout in 2017 when his effort would surely have been ruled as an own goal in any other league.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

On-loan Jubilo Iwata defender Ryo Shinzato is the only absentee for Gamba at the moment, he hasn’t been seen on the field since February. Backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori has been in fine form with the U23s in J3, but clearly that is not his true level, when will he return to the bench ahead of Kei Ishikawa?
A final piece of news is that U23 midfielder Mizuki Ichimaru has joined FC Ryukyu on loan, it’s unlikely we’ll see him back at Panasonic Stadium with the disbansion of the U23s next year and him being overage in 2021 anyway…good luck in Okinawa, Mizuki, I hope @OkinawaOzzy’s men get the best out of you.

FC Tokyo

As mentioned above, Tokyo captain Keigo Higashi is a long-term casualty with a broken foot, he has yet to feature in J1 this year. Young forward Kyosuke Tagawa dislocated his shoulder against Yokohama F.Marinos last month and should return soon while former Zweigen Kanzawa midfielder Kiwara Miyazaki is another who will be out for a while. 198cm goalie Go Hatano has dropped out of the matchday squad completely since the 3-3 draw at Hiroshima, his performance didn’t seem that bad, so I guess it’s down to injury.

Know Your Opponent – FC Tokyo

KantokuKenta Hasegawa – Appointed 1 February 2018 – P 81 W 39 D 19 L 23 F 107 A 80 Points Per Game 1.7 Failed to Score 24 Clean Sheets 31
Key Stat: Hasegawa guided FC Tokyo to their highest ever J1 finish of 2nd place last year.

GK #33 Akihiro Hayashi – Veteran ‘keeper Hayashi had an interesting start to his pro career with Plymouth Argyle in England and then Charleroi in Belgium. Since returning to his homeland in 2012 he’s been a solid custodian for Shimizu, Tosu and now Tokyo. He briefly ceded number one status to up-and-comer Go Hatano, but is back between the posts for now.

RB #37 Hotaka Nakamura – An off-season recruit from the footballing production line that is Meiji University, Hotaka, one of two full-backs named Nakamura in the Tokyo squad, endured a rough ride in the Gasmen’s 4-0 battering by Kawasaki earlier this year, but has battled back well and appears to be slightly ahead in the battle to take over from the departed Sei Muroya.

RCB #4 Tsuyoshi Watanabe © – Captain of the side in the absence of Keigo Higashi, 23 year-old Saitama native Watanabe is still only in his second season as a pro after graduating from Chuo University. He’s struck up a pretty solid partnership with Morishige and looks like he’ll be a mainstay in the capital club’s defence for the next decade or so. Has already been capped once by his country.

LCB #3 Masato Morishige – Hugely experienced centre-back who has played 41 times for the Samurai Blue and featured in both the 2014 World Cup and 2008 Olympic squads. Originally from Hiroshima, Morishige actually started his pro career with Oita Trinita back in 2006. He has been with FC Tokyo since 2010, showing loyalty by staying with them through their J2 sabbatical in 2011 and holds an impressive goalscoring record for a defender.

LB #6 Ryoya Ogawa – Predominantly a left-back, but like many of his positional rivals in the squad, he has the ability to play on both sides of the back four. Joined from Ryutsu Keizai Kashiwa High School back in 2015, but spent large chunks of his first four years in Tokyo playing with the U23 side in J3. He is now firmly established as a first-choice in the top team, though it’ll be interesting to see how the development of young Kashifu Bangunagande affects that in the future.

DM #8 Yojiro Takahagi – Normally more of an attacking midfielder, however, a new formation, injuries and mid-season sales have seen Takahagi deployed deeper this campaign. According to the FC Tokyo band of supporters on Twitter the results have been mixed, but there is no doubt that the one time Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Western Sydney Wanderers and FC Seoul man is a fine footballer on his day.

RCM #31 Shuto Abe – Probably second only to Kawasaki’s Kaoru Mitoma in the ‘best signing out of university’ rankings for 2020. Ex-Meiji University midfielder Abe has very quickly become a prominent figure in the FC Tokyo side. His defensive play may require some development over the coming years, but so far he’s proven to be an effective supplier of ammunition to his more famed attacking colleagues.

LCM #45 Arthur Silva – A bit of an unusual Brazilian signing this, Silva arrived to little fanfare at the beginning of last season and actually played more times in J3 than J1 in his maiden year in Japan. His screamer away to Kobe towards the end of 2019 served notice of what he could do given the opportunity and he has gleefully taken the chance to play regular first-team football this campaign.

RW #9 Diego Oliveira – The ex-Kashiwa Reysol man will be on the hunt for his 50th J1 goal in this game and given his prowess from the penalty spot and around the box in general who would bet against him getting it? Quite a physical player, he’s best used as a centre-forward, but is also able to play just off the main striker on the right-hand side and this is where we’ll likely see him deployed in this match.

CF #11 Kensuke Nagai – Pacy Japan international whose goalscoring feats don’t really match his overall contribution to the team. He’s an ideal player to have in your ranks for away games when you are set up to counter attack. Had spells with Vissel Kobe and Avispa Fukuoka while still a student at Fukuoka University, but spent the bulk of his pre-Tokyo pro career with Nagoya Grampus, save for a forgettable year with Standard Liege in Belgium. Scored a double against Gamba in the 3-1 win at Ajinomoto Stadium last year.

LW #20 Leandro – One of the best signings of 2020, Brazilian winger Leandro moved to the capital after three, at times injury plagued, years with Kashima. Still officially an Antlers player, he’s been quick to show his former charges what they are missing by racking up 6 goals and 4 assists in his first 11 Tokyo games. After being unable to play against his parent club in midweek, the free-kick maestro will surely be raring to go for this one.

Other Options – Tokyo possess depth at full-back in the shape of teenagers Takumi Nakamura, a right-back, and Kashifu Bangunagande, an academy graduate who played against Gamba in the Levain Cup last year. Both have talent, but are obviously lacking in experience and will be hopeful of gaining some during this hectic campaign. Leabanese centre-back Joan Oumari is an able deputy for either Watanabe or Morishige while in central midfield Hirotaka Mita, often deadly from set-pieces, has flattered to deceive in general play since his return from Kobe, niggling injuries may have played a part in that. Further forward, pacy Brazilian Adailton has troubled Gamba in the past during his time with Iwata, 191cm tall Taichi Hara seems to possess a selfish streak rarely seen in Japanese attackers and wide-man Takuya Uchida has been on the periphery for the bulk of his senior career, but has seen more game time this year.

Predicted Line Ups






Match Prediction

Gamba are ambling along not playing particularly well or poorly whereas Tokyo are in the midst of a fixture inferno and thus their form is a bit all over the shop. I am going to buck my recent positive trend and opt for a 2-1 away win which will subsequently be the wake up call Gamba need to pick things up going forward.

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Kashima Antlers 1-1 Gamba Osaka (23/08/20) Match Report

Match Report

Gamba conceded a heartbreaking 95th minute equaliser in Ibaraki last Sunday as Tomoya Inukai’s late header cancelled out Kosuke Onose’s early strike in Kashima legend Atsuto Uchida’s farewell match.

Kim Young-gwon returned to the left-side of central defence after sitting out the Urawa defeat, while Yuya Fukuda rotated with Hiroki Fujiharu down the left and Shu Kurata came in for Yuji Ono in midfield. In attack Patric got his first league start of the year, taking the place of Kazuma Watanabe who didn’t look sharp at all in the home loss to Reds.

Despite a positive start from Antlers which saw Shoma Doi and Ryuji Izumi fire weak shots at Masaaki Higashiguchi when they really should have done better (a theme that was constantly revisited in my match notes), it was the visitors who went ahead in just the 6th minute. Decent build up play culminated in a one-two down the left between Kurata and Patric, the former then made his way into the box and squared for Onose who finished coolly low to a diving Yuya Oki’s left. A dream start.

Kashima hero Atsuto Uchida made an earlier than anticipated entry replacing the injured Rikuto Hirose after just 16 minutes. After that the home side began to take more and more control of the game as Gamba were content to sit back and soak up pressure. Juan Alano struck the bar with a cross-shot in the 21st minute and ten minutes before the break a fierce left foot volley from Everaldo rebounded off Higashiguchi into the path of the advancing Ryuji Izumi who could only knee his effort wide.

Into the second half and it was more of the same, Kashima pressure and reasonably solid Gamba defence. My most commonly written note was…Kashima player #… weak shot from edge of the box, straight at Higashiguchi. Gamba did have a couple of decent chances on the counter, particularly when Usami took advantage of a mix-up between Oki and Ikuma Sekigawa but his touch took him too far wide and then in the 62nd minute when good build up play ended with Yosuke Ideguchi’s cross which found Onose in the 6-yard box but he was unable to properly direct his volley on the turn.

As ever Antonio Carlos Zago looked to his bench to try and sway things in his team’s direction, young replacement forward Itsuki Someno got in behind a tiring Gamba rear-guard a few times, but to no avail. Gamba looked dead on their feet for the remaining 20 minutes and tried to tippy-tappy play their way out of danger only to see their passes intercepted by Kashima players. Antlers would have had failed to score in 6 of their 12 league games this year if they didn’t find the back of the net here and the word I was preparing to use for their attack in my post-match Tweet was ‘toothless.’ Unfortunately for Gamba fans, I didn’t get to type that word. Inukai rose above Hiroki Fujiharu to head sub Ryotaro Araki’s cross in off Higashiguchi’s right-hand post to secure a draw few neutrals would begrudge them.

My Analysis

I’ve been reading a few books recently, The Football Code by James Tippett and The Numbers Game by Chris Anderson and David Sally, both talk about the role that luck plays in football and also how the final score skews the game’s narrative. Had Inukai’s header hit the post then Miyamoto would receive praise for winning 4 of the first 5 away from home this year while Zago would be slated for yet another defeat with no goals scored. But, of course, the scoreline was 1-1 and now Gamba management must consider if the current strategy we are pursuing in this unique season is the correct one.

Miyamoto can rightly point to the team’s league position and the fact that aside from runaway leaders Kawasaki, we can hold our own against anyone else in the chasing pack. As a Scottish person, however, Gamba’s strategy appears to mirror the one my home nation adopt when faced with a bigger, more powerful country, try to score early and then defend, defend, defend like our lives depend on it. Almost every other J1 club seems able to play at a higher tempo and press harder for longer than Gamba, so what is going on? Kashima have a big reputation and although they have performed poorly in 2020, they have many dangerous players who deserve respect, Doi, Leo Silva, Everaldo to name but three. However, in a similar manner to our friends over in Saitama who complained vigorously about the nature of their 1-0 win over Hiroshima last week, do Gamba fans have a right to feel aggrieved about the style of football being served up this term? What do you think? Please let me know in the comments.

Gamba MVP

A tough one as we basically abandoned any form of attacking strategy after 20 minutes but I’ll go for Yosuke Ideguchi for getting through a power of work in the middle of the park and covering so much ground.

Gamba U23 Round Up

Just a quick shout out to our Under-23 side in J3 who recorded an impressive 1-1 draw away to leaders Blaublitz Akita on Saturday night. After falling behind early, Gamba bounced back well and grabbed a deserved equaliser through Shuhei Kawasaki who beautifully curled the ball past Yudai Tanaka in the home goal for his 4th strike in the last 3 games (incredibly he now has 7 goals and 14 assists in 36 J3 games – surely if Gamba fall off the pace in J1 then he’ll get his chance this year). A stronger referee may have given Gamba an injury time penalty for a trip on Shoji Toyama, but it was not to be and the visitors had to be content with a point which keeps them 16th ahead of Sanuki and Cerezo U23.

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Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka Match Preview (23/08/2020)

Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 12
Kashima Soccer Stadium
Sunday 23 August 19:00 (JST)


Round 12 of J1 2020 sees a battle between two of the league’s most historically successful clubs, Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka. Both sides will be looking to bounce back from disappointing midweek results in the scorching heat and humidity which no doubt awaits them at the Kashima Soccer Stadium. This game is notable as the retirement match for Antlers popular ikemen full-back Atsuto “Uchi” Uchida. Reader feedback is welcome as always, I’d like to know if you feel any sections of the preview are rather long or uninteresting and also if there’s anything you’d like to see more of. Please get in touch.

Last Time Out

Gamba endured a hugely frustrating night at home to Urawa, going down to their worst defeat of the year, 3-1. After 10 days break for most of the top team, head coach Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made two changes to his starting line-up with Ryu Takao replacing the possibly injured Kim Young-gwon at the back and Kazuma Watanabe surprisingly recalled in place of the benched Ademilson. Takao’s selection at the right-hand side of the back three saw his partners Genta Miura and Gen Shoji both shift over one spot to the left.

Gamba started the brighter of the two sides and Takashi Usami rattled the Urawa bar from the edge of the area in the 11th minute, the Nerrazzuri number 33 later fired just wide from a similar distance and Yosuke Ideguchi headed Hiroki Fujiharu’s cross off target in a positive start. They were stung though when Reds opened the scoring with their first real chance of note just before the midway point of the first half. Good high pressing forced a loose Gamba pass into midfield which was returned with interest. Left-winger Takahiro Sekine picked the ball up about 30m out and played in danger man Leonardo. The Brazilian brilliantly turned in the box, wrong-footed two Gamba defenders and laid it back to Sekine whose right foot shot from 12 yards out took a slight deflection off Kosuke Onose on it’s way into the goal.

Less than 10 minutes later Urawa doubled their advantage from the penalty spot. Yet again a poor pass out of defence was intercepted by the visitors and as they attempted to play in Leonardo, Fujiharu stuck out an arm and the penalty was awarded. Leonardo did his staggered run up before once again shooting to the bottom left corner and sending the ‘keeper the wrong way, just as he had done against Hiroshima four days earlier. 2-0 Urawa at half-time and Gamba left with a mountain to climb.

Miyamoto introduced Yasuhito Endo and Ademilson for Yuji Ono and Watanabe at half-time and switched to a 4-4-2. The response was reasonable with decent possession and territory but only a few half chances to show for it. In the 56th minute Gamba were punished once more for poor defending as Urawa killed the game off for good. A slack pass (there’s a theme here) from Gen Shoji to Yasuhito Endo instead found it’s way to combative Reds midfielder Kazuki Nagasawa and the number seven played a seemingly harmless chip in the direction of Yuki Muto. Gamba captain Miura didn’t realise Muto was lurking just off his shoulder, allowed the ball to pass over him and into the path of the attacker who made no mistake with a clinical, angled left foot shot past Higashiguchi.

The home side had to wait an hour for their one and only goal, but it was certainly worth the wait. Fujiharu won a corner down the left-hand side, Usami swung the ball out to the edge of the box and it was met with a thumping Paul Scholes-esque volley by Yosuke Ideguchi. Reds ‘keeper Shusaku Nishakawa got both hands to it, but due to the sheer velocity of the strike he could do nothing other than palm it into the top corner. The remainder of the game was rather physical as Urawa sought to preserve their advantage and Gamba failed to create meaningful chances. The men from Suita played better against Yokohama FC, Shimizu and (arguably) Sanfrecce and won while now 4th place Urawa will surely play better and lose, but that’s the way football goes sometimes.

Ryotaro Araki scored his first ever JLeague goal to grab Antlers a point with virtually the last kick of their match at home to Vissel Kobe last Sunday. Visitors Vissel shaded the first half and were rewarded with the opener through Dankler in the 19th minute. Andres Iniesta’s corner from the far side was flicked past debutant ‘keeper Taiki Yamada at the near post which allowed Leo Osaki to cushion a header into his defensive partner’s path and the Brazilian volleyed home. The sides went into the break all-square though as Leo Silva broke in midfield and then good play from Yasushi Endo and Shoma Doi down the right resulted in full-back Rikuto Hirose delivering an inch perfect cross which was dispatched past Hiroki Iikura via a powerful header from Everaldo, the Brazilian netting his 7th J1 goal of the campaign.

The second half was again a tight affair, Ryuji Izumi came close to a second goal in as many games for Kashima, striking the outside of the post five minutes after the re-start. However, it was Kobe who snatched the lead eleven minutes later, Iniesta and Douglas exchanged a one two and the ball then found it’s way to Gotoku Sakai on the left. The Samurai Blue international fed Yuta Goke on the edge of the box, the former Aomori Yamada High School star then swivelled and fired home low to Yamada’s right.

Just as he had the previous week against Tosu, much criticised Antlers coach Zago turned to his substitutes bench to earn points for his side. Ryota Nagaki, Juan Alano, Itsuki Someno and Ryotaro Araki were introduced during the second half water break while right-winger Yuta Matsumura, fresh from netting the winner at S-Pulse in the Levain Cup in midweek, entered the fray ten minutes later. This left the men from Ibaraki with a youthful and attacking look to it, Shoma Doi and Juan Alano constituted the midfield for the last ten minutes. Their positive verve was rewarded in the fourth and final minute of additional time, Someno found space in the box and picked a pass to his fellow replacement Araki who took a touch before burying his right foot shot beyond the despairing leg of Dankler, past Iikura and into Kobe net. Full time 2-2.

Kashima suffered a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Yokohama FC in midweek which leaves them in 12th spot in the standings with just 11 points from as many games. Yusuke Minagawa’s scrappy effort in the 25th minute was all that separated the sides. There was a suspicion of handball against Gamba loanee Kazunari Ichimi in the build up, but it wasn’t spotted by the referee and in the resulting action Yusuke Matsuo (that man again) beat Kashima ‘keeper Taiki Yamada to a loose ball and it fell kindly for Minagawa who finished past Katsuya Nagato on the line. Ryuji Izumi had Antlers best two chances in the second half, but they generally failed to create clear-cut openings and even the introduction of their youngsters couldn’t swing the match in their favour. 1-0 YFC full-time.

Tactical Notes

Kashima play in quite a similar fashion to Gamba’s previous opponents Urawa Reds, lining up in a 4-4-1-1 / 4-2-3-1 depending on your preference. They like to knock the ball around at the back but not too close to goal as seems to be de rigueur elsewhere, preferring instead to get the ball at least 20-30m out before starting up their passing game. From there a lot of attacks tend to funnel through influential 34-year old midfielder Leo Silva. Antlers have a tendency to attack directly through the middle using their main goal threat and battering ram Everaldo to break down defences. However, they are able work the ball into wide areas with the intention of delivering quality to their Brazilian goal machine, the right wing has been particularly effective at that, as seen by Rikuto Hirose’s 3 assists so far this season.

Under new leadership in the form of kantoku Antonio Carlos Zago and after recruiting heavily in the off season, it is perhaps no surprise that Kashima have struggled to work out their best lineup and had difficulty in stringing performances and results together. Things to seem to be slowly gelling and even if Antlers fans have to endure a season in mid-table, they can at least look to the future with a degree of optimism. A trio of attacking teenagers are slowly but surely beginning to have an influence on the first team. Ryotaro Araki (Higashi Fukuoka), Itsuki Someno (Shoshi) and Yuta Matsumura (Shizuoka Gakuen) are all in their rookie seasons after winter moves from their respective high schools and have played their part in Antlers recent league and cup revival. In addition to the blooding of young goalies, Yuya Oki and Taiki Yamada (both Kashima Youth graduates) as well as the development of centre back Ikuma Sekigawa (Ryutsu Keizai Kashiwa High School – class of 2019), this may be a year that Antlers fans remember more fondly than most as it saw the birth of a new generation of stars.

One last point to note, Zago seems to have honed in on his best eleven, however, when making his influential second half changes a number of players are forced into secondary or unfamiliar positions in order to accommodate the fresh legs. For instance against Vissel, Kobe tended to make switches that were like for like, so Ogawa and Yasui came on for Oda and Goke and simply took over their position, Samper replaced Iniesta and went into central midfield. Yet Antlers changes required Nagaki to play at right back, Doi and Juan Alano to pair up in the centre, in previous weeks Araki and Izumi have taken up spots on both the right or left wing, Someno can play on either flank or just off the main attacker, they can even play three at the back when necessary, using Sekigawa, Machida and Inukai. In the long run I’m sure Zago would like things to settle down a touch, but for the moment it seems to be unsettling opponents and working.

Statistical Noise

Gamba Osaka

* Gamba last won away at Kashima in 2016 when goals from Kotaro Omori, Yasuyuki Konno and a rare one from Kim Jung-ya saw them off to a perfect start to the J1 League Second Stage. The Nerrazzuri also won in Ibaraki in their previous two visits in 2014 and 2015. Their record since coming back up to J1 in 2014 stands at P6 W 3 D 1 L 2 F 11 A 9.
* Gamba’s 3-1 defeat at home to Urawa was the first time they had lost a J1 home game by more than one goal since a 2-0 reverse against Jubilo Iwata on 13 August 2017.
* Gamba are still unbeaten away in J1 2020 having registered three wins and a draw so far. They are one of only four sides still unbeaten on the road.

Kashima Antlers

* Kashima have lost 6 of their first 11 J1 games in 2020. To put that in perspective, they only lost 7 league matches in the whole of last year.
* In 2019 they only lost 3 times at home in the league (their first game against Oita and the final two versus Kawasaki and Kobe). They’ve continued to be strong at home this year with just a solitary defeat (0-2 to Sapporo) from five matches. Conversely they have the 3rd worst away record in J1 with one win and five defeats.
* Kashima have drawn a blank in 5 of their 11 matches this season. They only failed to find the back of the net 3 times in all of 2020.


Team News

Gamba Osaka

Kim Young-gwon was a surprising omission from Gamba’s squad for the match against Urawa, there has been no confirmation of his status from the club. Fellow centre-back Ryo Shinzato is the only other injury suspect having been absent since the 0-1 defeat to Kashiwa in the Levain Cup back in February.

Kashima Antlers

Former youth team goalie Yuya Oki hasn’t been seen since putting in a decent performance on his league debut against Tosu a couple of weeks back and I’m putting this down as likely being due to injury. Antlers only other doubt is young ex-Hosei University forward Ayase Ueda who has missed the past five matches with an ankle problem.

Know Your Opponent – Kashima Antlers

Head Coach: Antonio Carlos Zago – Appointed 2 January 2020 – Record P 11 W 3 D 2 L 6 F 15 A 17 Points Per Game 1 Failed to score 5 Clean Sheets 1

GK #38 Taiki Yamada – 18-year old rookie straight out of Kashima’s Youth setup. Yamada started the campaign as fourth choice but owing to injuries and poor form from those in front of him, he was suddenly thrust into the starting eleven for the home game with Kobe last Saturday. The 190cm giant was slightly at fault for Dankler’s opener for Vissel, but if any benefit can be gleaned from this COVID-19 shortened season it is that teams are willing to give youngsters like Yamada a shot.

RB #2 Atsuto Uchida – 74 times capped by his country and a member of the Japan squads for both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, Kashima legend Uchida will hang up his boots after Sunday’s game as a result of years spent on the treatment table. He won back to back titles with the men from Ibaraki between 2007-2009 and made the J1 best eleven in the last two of those seasons before heading off to join Schalke in Germany in 2010. Since returning home eight years later he has mustered only 23 J1 appearances.

RCB #39 Tomoya Inukai – A mainstay at the heart of the Antlers defence since making the switch from S-Pulse at the start of 2018. The now 27 year-old quickly found himself promoted to defensive leader following the departures of current Gamba man Gen Shoji and his fellow Japanese international Naomichi Ueda. He is now tasked with helping to develop his younger defensive partners in the shape of Machida and Sekigawa as Tatsuki Nara is seemingly not what Zago is looking for.

LCB #33 Ikuma Sekigawa – Now in his second season as a pro, 182cm Sekigawa will turn 20 next month and looks to have a promising future ahead of him. Although still a touch raw, he certainly possesses the physique to be a top level defender and appears to be a good reader of the game who produced a number of intercepts which thwarted Kobe attacks when I watched him last week.

LB #14 Katsuya Nagato – Another off-season recruit, Nagato came to Kashima from Vegalta Sendai where he led J1 in assists last year with an outstanding 10 in 30 games for a team that only scored 38 times all year. He has won the battle to be first choice left-back against fellow new signing Daiki Sugioka (Shonan) a little more easily than I would have thought, but surprisingly is yet to produce an assist so far in 2020.

RCM #20 Kento Misao © – Captain of the ship and younger brother of Oita’s Yuto, Kento Misao joined Kashima from Tokyo Verdy back in 2016. So far he has a J1 title, an Asian Champions League and an Emperor’s Cup to his name in addition to six caps for Japan. He leads the side well and does a lot of the dirty work which allows Antlers’ flair players to flourish.

LCM #4 Leo Silva – Surely one of the best foreign players to grace J1 in recent years in terms of putting in top-level performances consistently over a number of seasons. Silva first moved to Japan with Albirex Niigata in 2013, but is now in his fourth season in Ibaraki. A real box-to-box midfielder, he has both a combative side and a creative touch which even at the veteran’s age of 34 (35 in December) would surely make him attractive to any side in J1.

RW #8 Shoma Doi – A big favourite of Ben Maxwell on the J-Talk Podcast, Doi joined Kashima as a Junior High School student and has been with the club ever since. Basically able to play anywhere in midfield or attack, the 28-year old has a quiet calmness about him on the field, but also a burning desire to win as evidenced through his confrontation with some angry Antlers supporters after a match last year. Provided an impressive 7 assists in addition to 5 goals in J1 in 2019, but hasn’t reached those heights as of yet in 2020.

LW #11 Ryuji Izumi – Another versatile midfielder, Izumi’s best positions appear to be either left or right-wing, though he is also able to play at full-back or just off the main striker. Netted 6 times for Nagoya Grampus in J1 last time out which put him on Gamba’s radar as a potential replacement should Kosuke Onose move to Yokohama F.Marinos. In the end neither transfer happened and Izumi made his way to Kashima. His first goal and assist for Antlers in their 2-0 win at home to Tosu a fortnight back has helped endear him to his new fans.

AM #25 Yasushi Endo – Veteran attacker who has been given a new lease of life under Zago after falling out of favour in the last days of Go Oiwa’s reign. Antlers are Endo’s only senior club and he’s racked up over 250 league appearances since being snapped up from Shiogama FC Youth in his native Sendai back in 2007.

CF #9 Everaldo – Brought in as a replacement for his now departed compatriot Serginho, Everaldo had some settling in issues very early in his Kashima career, but now the bustling attacker seems to have put them to bed and he is undoubtedly Antlers main threat in attack. The 181cm, 80kg Brazilian appears bigger than that owing to the way he uses his physique, he’s able to bully defenders in order to win headers, but also has a nice touch and possesses the ability to drop deeper and play in a wide midfield role if necessary.

Other OptionsA big squad is one thing in Kashima’s favour this year as it affords them plenty of options should Zago see fit to switch things up for this encounter. Experienced South Korean stopper Kwoun Sun-tae appears to be the best goalie at the club, but is currently out of favour. In defence, Neil Debnam’s favourite and serial rejecter of Gamba, Tatsuki Nara doesn’t seem to be Zago’s cup of tea, while Koki Machida has already picked up a suspension for accumulated yellow cards in just nine games this season. Converted midfielder Kei Koizumi is a potential early replacement for Uchida, as is regular right-back Rikuto Hirose, an off-season signing from Yokohama F.Marinos. On the other side of defence, Daiki Sugioka is an alternative to Nagato, but has rarely been seen in J1 since joining from Shonan last winter. Moving forward, veteran Ryota Nagaki can be used instead of Misao or Leo Silva should either need to be rested and the young guns in the shape of, Ryotatro Araki, Itsuki Someno and Yuta Matsumura surely can’t be far away from earning starting berths. Brazilian forward Juan Alano hasn’t had the same impact as compatriot Everaldo, but can operate in a number of attacking roles, as can former Shimizu man Ryohei Shirasaki while veteran Sho Ito is an out-and-out striker.

Predicted Lineups






Match Prediction

I learned a harsh lesson about over-optimistic predictions in the last match, but I’ve not totally abandoned my glass half-full philosophy. It’s often a decent game when these two clash and I’ll say there will be goals to send Uchi off into the sunset of a potential modelling or TV presenting career. 2-2 the final score.

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Gamba vs Urawa Match Preview 19 Aug 2020

Gamba Osaka vs Urawa Red Diamonds
J1 2020 Round 11
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Wednesday 19 August 19:00 (JST)


It’s grudge match time as Gamba, fresh from a weekend off, following the COVID-19 enforced postponement of their match at Sagan Tosu, face rivals Urawa Red Diamonds. It will be the first game in ten days for Gamba’s top team while Reds are coming straight from a gruelling 90 minutes against Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Who will prevail in the heat and humidity of Panasonic Stadium?

Last Time Out

For analysis of Gamba’s 2-1 wins at home to Yokohama FC in J1 and away to Shonan Bellmare in the Levain Cup let me point you in the direction of my previous post, Gamba News 13/08/20, and you can find all the coverage in there. Now to our upcoming opponents Urawa who hosted Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Saturday night.

Urawa bounced back from their 6-2 pasting at Nagoya in the previous round by taking all 3 points and keeping a clean sheet against a dominant Hiroshima. The home side went ahead in just the 5th minute following their first attack of the match. Brazilian hitman Leonardo threaded a lovely through ball in the direction of left-winger Koya Yuruki which caused Sanfrecce’s right wing-back Rhayner to slide in. To me it looked like the contact was minimal but due to the rash nature of the defender’s lunge, he gave the referee a decision to make and, in fairness, his team-mates had few complaints. Reds’ top marksmen Leonardo took on the responsibility from the spot, did a Diego Oliveira-esque stuttering run up and coolly sent Keisuke Osako the wrong way to give the home side the lead.

After that early Urawa strike, the rest of the game was essentially one way traffic with Hiroshima camped in Reds half and ‘keeper Shusaku Nishikawa turning in an inspired display to keep his former side at bay. As he always seems to be when I watch Sanfre, Brazilian Leandro Pereira was the main threat for the men in purple. He forced a brilliant save from Nishikawa when he outjumped Daiki Hashioka and Thomas Deng in the seventeenth minute to get to Rhayner’s cross and powered a header across Urawa’s number one, however, the stopper was equal to the task and forced it away for a corner. Pereira executed a spectacular bicycle kick just four minutes later, but again there was no beating Nishikawa.

Into the second half and it was still a one-sided affair, Sanfrecce switched their wing backs with Tomoya Fujii and particularly Yusuke Chajima causing problems with crossed balls into the box, but still Urawa remained steadfast. The home team themselves changed things up, introducing Takuya Iwanami to form a back three alongside Deng and Tomoaki Makino which saw Reds revisit their 3-4-2-1 formation of previous years, though in reality it was more of 5-4-1. Leonardo made way for Kenyu Sugimoto and didn’t look happy about it as Hiroshima continued to press. Nishikawa saved well from Pereira who shot from a tight angle, and again from Rhayner’s header while Tsukasa Morishima fired wide and Shunki Higashi’s header suffered the same fate. Eventually Sanfrecce were reduced to attempting speculative efforts from distance as substitute Gakuto Notsuda tried his luck a couple of times. However, it was not to be their night and the Reds won by a solitary goal which moved them up to 6th in the standings, just two points shy of Gamba’s total with a game more played.

Tactical Notes

Not a whole lot to report regarding Gamba, we now know that the lineup selected for the match against Yokohama FC is what Miyamoto considers to be his strongest. In addition, with all first-choice members fit it is unlikely that we’ll see any deviation from the 3-5-2 set-up regardless of who the opposition is. I talked previously about second half fatigue and Lionel Piguet also gave a great rundown of that on the J-Talk Pod last week, coming off a ten day break since the Yokohama game, it will be no excuse against a battle-worn Urawa.

Speaking of our opponents from Saitama, they seem to have bucked the trend tactically in J1 by changing from a 3-4-2-1 formation last year to a more orthodox 4-4-2 in 2020. Reds head coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki is under pressure following a woeful 13th place finish in the league last season and heavy defeats to Kashiwa and Nagoya this time round. That said, his side currently sit in the top six so perhaps his decision to change things up has begun to bear fruit.

Having watched the Red Diamonds games at Nagoya and at home to Hiroshima it has been tough trying to work out what their attacking strategy is as, truth be told, they didn’t do a whole lot of attacking in either game. Off-season signing from Albirex Niigata, Leonardo is key for them and has scored over 50% of their league goals in 2020 (7 of 12). From what I’ve seen, the men from Saitama don’t like playing the ball out from the back like most of their J1 opponents, instead they aim to quickly move it forward and play long passes from the midfield into attack, then hope to build from there, either in the form of quick one-twos or working the ball out wide. With the ageing Yosuke Kashiwagi not seeing a lot of game time recently, creativity in midfield has been a bit of an issue as they tend to play with two holding midfielders. Takahiro Sekine is a useful outlet on either flank, but doubts persist over whether Koya Yuruki is really up to the challenge of playing for such a big club. Additionally, in attack, an injury to Shinzo Koroki, coupled with a loss of form for the likes of Kenyu Sugimoto, Yuki Muto and Martinus means that they are way too reliant on Leonardo for goals, it seems like if you can stop him, you can stop Reds.

In summary, Gamba come into this game fresh, and hotter favourites to win than they’ve been in recent seasons. It’s difficult to get a good read on Urawa as they were thrashed 6-2 two matches ago, but basically everything Nagoya touched that day turned to gold, while last week they held on for dear life for a good 85 minutes at home to Hiroshima. Gamba will surely enjoy the lions share of possession and territory with Urawa looking to clear their lines quickly and counter. The re-introduction of Tomoaki Makino alongside Thomas Deng in central defence as well as the return of Takuya Iwanami gives the Reds rearguard a more solid feel to it. They have been vulnerable against crosses into the box for years and although they defended such attacks efficiently against Sanfrecce, I’m sure Patric will be licking his lips in anticipation of grabbing a third goal in as many games.

Statistical Noise

Gamba Osaka

* Gamba haven’t beaten Urawa at home since 2016 when Takashi Usami’s early strike was enough to give them the three points. Since returning to J1 in 2014 Gamba’s home record against Urawa stands at P6 W 2 D 2 L 2 F 4 A 4, Gamba have failed to score in half of these games.
* Gamba currently sit on 19 points after 9 matches played which compares to just 7 points at the same stage last year and 2018.
* At present Gamba sit third in J1, two points behind second placed Cerezo with a game in hand, the last time they were so high in the standings was after round 19 of the 2017 season when they saw off their city rivals 3-1 at Panasonic Stadium.

Urawa Red Diamonds

* Urawa have taken nine points from their first five away games, however there appears to be a clear split in the results. Their three wins have come against sides in the bottom half, Shonan (3-2), Sendai (2-1), Yokohama FC (2-0), however, both their matches against top half sides have ended in defeat, FC Tokyo (0-2), Nagoya Grampus (2-6)
* Reds only kept one J1 clean sheet under the stewardship of Tsuyoshi Otsuki in 2019, but have already prevented the opposition from scoring on four occasions this time round, Yokohama F.Marinos, Kashima and Hiroshima at home as well as Yokohama FC away.
* Leonardo has scored 58% of Urawa’s league goals in 2020, five of his seven strikes (71%) have come on the road.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Ryo Shinzato is the only injury doubt in the Gamba squad, the on-loan Jubilo Iwata defender has failed to feature in any competition since the home Levain Cup tie with Kashiwa in February, though there has still been no official announcement by the club. Jun Ichimori has now played a couple of games for the U23s in J3, but as yet has been unable to dislodge Kei Ishikawa from his spot on the bench and also played second fiddle to the former Tosu man against Shonan last Wednesday. It appears Shunya Suganuma is raring to go again after captaining a young Gamba in the Levain Cup while Gen Shoji, Kosuke Onose and Ademilson all seem to be fit and firing.

Urawa Red Diamonds

Legendary striker Shinzo Koroki has missed Reds past three games after being substituted against Yokohama FC last month, his continued absence places a huge goalscoring burden on Leonardo. Elsewhere, due to rotation in the squad, it’s difficult to know who’s unfit and who’s just not in favour with the coaching staff. Those I believe most likely to be suffering from a knock are, Brazilian centre-back Mauricio, who had a great game in this fixture last year, he, like Koroki, hasn’t been seen since the Yokohama FC match. His compatriot Fabricio was last spotted in the 4-0 home drubbing at the hands of Kashiwa four game weeks back and ex-Yokohama F.Marinos attacker Martinus has been absent for five matches.

Know Your Opponent – Urawa Red Diamonds

Head Coach: Tsuyoshi Otsuki – Appointed 28 May 2019 – Record P31 W 9 D 10 L 12 F 36 A 49 Points Per Game 1.2 Failed to score 8 Clean Sheets 5.

GK #1 Shusaku Nishikawa © – Captain fantastic for the Reds, former Oita, Hiroshima and Japan national team stopper Nishikawa has been part of the furniture in Saitama since his move in 2014. He produced a wonderful display to thwart his former charges last Saturday and despite no longer being involved with the national team he remains an excellent J1 level ‘keeper.

RB #27 Daiki Hashioka – Urawa’s brightest young talent in my books, 182cm tall Hashioka already has 2 national team caps to his name. He was the target for a bizarre tactic of playing every long ball directly to him in last year’s match between these two, that strategy met with zero success, although Urawa did emerge victorious in the end.

RCB #20 Thomas Deng – Kenyan born, Australian international who was recruited from Melbourne Victory last off-season. He has had a tough baptism into the Reds defence owing to the high turnover of centre-back partners he’s had. If he can play regularly alongside Makino then I’d expect him to develop into a top-quality player.

LCB #5 Tomoaki Makino – Vastly experienced club legend who like Nishikawa and Kashiwagi followed former boss Mihailo Petrovic on the well worn track from Hiroshima to Saitama. Makino’s route was slightly more complex as it came via an unsuccessful loan spell with Koln in the German Bundesliga, but he has now called Urawa home since 2012. The 38 times capped defender who has made J1’s Best Eleven on three separate occasions was out of the starting lineup at the beginning of the campaign, but is now back to restore stability. A big character in the dressing room, he will probably be disappointed that Gamba fans won’t be able to jeer him due to the COVID-19 supporter regulations.

LB #3 Tomoya Ugajin – A one-club man, full-back or wing-back Ugajin initially joined Urawa as a designated special player from Ryutsu Keizai University in 2009 and after signing his first pro-contract the following year has gone onto make over 250 league appearances. He has been back up to the younger Ryosuke Yamanaka for most of the season, but his superior defensive skills saw him earn a recall against Hiroshima.

RCM #29 Kai Shibato – A solid, if unspectacular option in the middle of the park, 24 year-old Shibato comes from solid stock, having attended the excellent Funabashi Municipal High School in Chiba before completing his education at Meiji University. He joined Urawa in 2018, but initially struggled to make an impact, though since mid-2019 he has become much more of a first choice in the Reds engine room.

LCM #8 Ewerton – Currently in the second year of his loan-spell from Portuguese giants FC Porto, Gamba fans will remember Ewerton well as the man who won last year’s fixture at Panasonic Stadium with a low drive in the 87th minute. He has been in and out of the Urawa side since his arrival at the beginning of 2019, but definitely brings more of a goal threat than his rivals for this position such as Takuya Aoki.

RW #41 Takahiro Sekine – Now in his second spell at the club following a disappointing year in Europe with FC Ingolstadt 04 in Germany and the Japanese enclave that is Sint-Truidense V.V. in Belgium. A lively player who can play on either wing or even just off the main striker, as yet, in part two of his Reds career, he has struggled to match the form which got him the move to Europe in the first place.

LW #24 Koya Yuruki – Came to Saitama at the beginning of last year following some impressive displays for Montedio Yamagata in J2. Initially he struggled to find a place in the 3-4-2-1 formation, however, since Urawa started using 4-4-2 he’s been a regular on the left wing. Question marks remain over his output as he’s yet to register a single goal or assist in nine appearances to date this year, he’ll be looking to amend those stats before much longer.

RCF #45 Leonardo – Top scorer in J3 with Gainare Tottori in 2018, top scorer in J2 with Albirex Niigata in 2019, top scorer for Reds so far this season. Young Brazilian forward Leonardo also has his sights set on a potential Japan national team call up in the future and with 59 goals in his first 78 JLeague appearances across the divisions he’d surely be a welcome addition to the Samurai Blue ranks.

LCF #14 Kenyu Sugimoto – Tall, ex-Cerezo forward who like former team-mate Yoichiro Kakitani has had a career of one or two epic highs surrounded by years of average displays. Across 2016-2017 Sugimoto found the back of the net 36 times in 75 league games (2016 was spent in J2 while 2017 was in J1), remove those years from the equation and you are left with a career record of 191 league appearances and just 29 goals. Unfortunately for Urawa this is one transfer they seem to have blundered on as 2 goals in his first 30 league matches is not what they were looking for. I’m fully aware that after me having a go at his goalscoring record, he’ll no doubt net the winner on Wednesday.

Other Options – One-time Vissel Kobe defender Takuya Iwanami made a return from the bench against Hiroshima on Saturday and is a good option at centre-back. In midfield there are plenty of choices, former club captain Yosuke Kashiwagi would surely bring a creative spark if selected for this one, while ex-Omiya man Takuya Aoki is a capable holding player and the versatile Kazuki Nagasawa can play all across the centre of the park. In attack, Yuki Muto at one time formed one of the most lethal combinations in the league with Shinzo Koroki, though his star has somewhat faded in the past 18 months. I like Kosuke Taketomi as a player but he hasn’t been given much of a shout since returning from a decent loan spell with Shonan last summer. Finally, young Ryotaro Ito spent the previous two and a half years on loan with Mito and Oita and is now trying to force his way into Urawa’s top team.

Predicted Lineups





Match Prediction

I’m actually feeling in quite confident mood ahead of this one, though I will qualify that by saying that neither of these teams have played particularly attractive football so far in 2020. I’m going for a 2-0 home win, Usami to get the ball rolling in the first half before Patric finishes off a tough, physical encounter late on.

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Gamba News 13/08/20

I had already written most of my match preview for Gamba’s trip to Tosu this Saturday when the news broke that there had been a cluster of COVID-19 infections within the Sagan squad that caused them to shut down operations until August 25th. I didn’t want to put my hard work to waste so I’ve decided to publish the parts of my preview that are still relevant and have added in some new features, please let me know what you think. Finally I’d like to wish a speedy recovery to all those Sagan Tosu players and staff currently infected with coronavirus. お大事に!

Last Time Out

Gamba returned to winning ways at home to Yokohama FC last weekend with a smash-and-grab victory over an extremely game away side. There were two changes to the Nerrazzuri’s starting XI with Gen Shoji fully fit and ready to make his Gamba J1 debut between Miura and Kim at the back, while Brazilian forward Ademilson also returned from a short layoff to take Watanabe’s place alongside Usami in attack. Yuji Ono was once again selected ahead of Shu Kurata and Yajima and Ideguchi swapped places again with Yajima as the base of the midfield and 15-times capped by Japan, Ideguchi on the right.

The home team made a strong start against Yokohama, who had switched to a 4-4-2 formation and brought veterans Masahiko Inoha and Calvin Jong-a-Pin into their defence in preparation for a backs to the wall effort. Yajima and Ideguchi both shot off target in the opening 10 minutes as Gamba enjoyed near total control. FC rallied a little towards the midway point of the half, but on 34 minutes the men in blue and black went ahead. Good work down the left resulted in Ono feeding the ball to Onose on the edge of the box, the ex-Yokohama FC star unleashed a right-foot shot which deflected off team-mate Ademilson, wrong-footed goalkeeper Yuta Minami and flew into his bottom left corner. 1-0 half-time.

Gamba sought to kill off their opponents at the start of the second half, but were unable to create any clear cut chances and soon energy levels dropped off, possibly a touch of complacency crept in and Yokohama FC began to take a grip on proceedings. Possibly sparked by an incident where Yusuke Matsuo had his shirt pulled by Gen Shoji in the box but didn’t go down and thus didn’t get a penalty, the Kanagawa side started to overrun a tiring Gamba midfield and created presentable chances for attackers Koki Saito and Yusuke Minagawa as well as right-winger Takuya Matsuura. They got their reward on the hour mark when Hiroki Fujiharu made a sloppy back pass that didn’t reach Higashiguchi, Minagawa was able to bundle the ball past Gamba’s number 1 towards strike partner Saito and the impressive 18-year old swept the ball by Shoji on the line. 1-1, game on.

In the final half hour, Yokohama FC looked the more likely winners. It took Gamba a full 31 minutes to register their first chance of the half with Patric shooting across Minami but his effort went well wide. At the other end, Higashiguchi pulled off a great right-footed stop from Minagawa and veteran substitute Leandro Domingues fired over which prompted Gamba’s ‘keeper to kick the post in frustration at what he was seeing in front of him. Head-coach Miyamoto clearly agreed and freshened things up by bringing on Takao and Fukuda to replace Onose and Fujiharu as well as having Watanabe come on for the tiring Usami. These changes breathed new life into the Gamba attack and additional time brought a spell of sustained pressure. Another second-half substitute, Patric, was the hero, after having an earlier attempt correctly ruled out for offside, the 189cm behemoth met Yosuke Ideguchi’s corner and bulleted his header low to Minami’s right from about 5 yards out to win the game with essentially the last play. A hugely relieved Gamba claim their 6th victory of the year, Yokohama FC will be left kicking themselves for missing the chances they did.

On Wednesday night 17 year-old striker Shoji Toyama announced himself on the big stage with a first-half double that helped a Gamba side, whose starting XI average age was just 22.4, see off Shonan Bellmare 2-1. The three points gained from this game were not enough for the Nerrazzurri to qualify for the knock-out stages, though because of this year’s chaotic league schedule I’m not sure anyone in Suita is particularly upset.

Aside from Toyama’s debut and brace, there were also first top team appearances for, Jefferson Tabinas at centre-back, Kohei Okuno and U23 assist wizard Shuhei Kawasaki (4 goals, 12 assists in 34 J3 games) in midfield as well as wide-men Haruto Shirai, Dai Tsukamoto and Tatsuya Yamaguchi from the bench. Also Shunya Suganuma returned from injury to captain the side, and must have felt like a very old man indeed.

Tactical Notes

Not a whole lot to cover regarding Gamba this week, all the first choice starters are fit so Saturday’s lineup is what Miyamoto believes to be his best formation. With that said, I have a couple of concerns, the first of which is fatigue. Yokohama FC were able to dominate for large chunks of the second half and pick passes, including several through balls which took out both Gamba’s midfield and defence in one stroke. I largely put this down to Yajima, Ideguchi and Ono running out of energy following a tough run of games. Hopefully more rotation will take place in that crucial area as the effects of fresh legs could be easily seen following the introduction of Takao, Fukuda, Kurata and Patric. Secondly, last weekend was the first time in a while we’ve come up against an opponent really determined to ‘park the bus.’ We were able to create some chances, but not many, in the first half and for the opening half hour of the second stanza, build up play generally ended around Yokohama FC’s 18-yard line. This should serve as a wake up call ahead of future encounters with the likes of Shonan, Sendai and Tosu at home.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

It’s generally a clean bill of health to report for Gamba with last week’s starting XI being the first time this year that all first choice members have been available. Gen Shoji came through the game unscathed, though his workload may need to be managed moving forward, and Jun Ichimori had an excellent game between the sticks for Gamba U23 in their 2-1 win over Azul Claro Numazu on Sunday. Brazilian forward Ademilson notched his third goal of the campaign against Yokohama FC, but did seem to lack sharpness on his return to the first team. Outside of that, centre-back Shunya Suganuma returned against Shonan in the Levain Cup in midweek, but Ryo Shinzato’s, continued absence from all competitions suggests that he is on the treatment table.

From the Scout’s Office

I decided to add this section in for this match preview. Similar to Patric it won’t feature every week, but like the big man I hope it’ll have a big impact when it is used.

In the Yokohama FC preview, I identified central midfield as an area in need of an upgrade. This week staying home due to a minor infection gave me time to trawl through the leagues in search of talent. The rough parameters I set were, primary position is central midfield, aged between 23-30, at least 30 J1 appearances, willing to initially accept a role as backup in the rotation system. This is what I found, please note that not all players meet every category.

Secondly, I’d like to take a look at a player who troubled Gamba last week, Yokohama FC’s left-sided dynamo Yusuke Matsuo. Hiroki Fujiharu will turn 33 next season, so it’s possible Gamba will be in the market for a younger upgrade. At first glance Sendai University graduate Matsuo doesn’t fit the profile of recent Gamba signings, if we sign university players we tend to do it directly rather than wait until they’ve gained experience with another pro-team. However, due to COVID-19 this year, crowds have plummeted and this will surely hit teams with historically high average attendances, like Gamba, hard financially. With this in mind, we are likely to see the traditional ‘big boys’ battle it out over young Japanese talent with J1 experience in the coming transfer windows.

Yokohama FC have used Matsuo at left wing-back when they’ve operated the exact same 3-5-2 system as Gamba. Also, as shown on Saturday he can play as an orthodox left midfielder in a 4-4-2 and he mostly turned out as a left winger in YFC’s 4-2-3-1 formation last year. Theoretically he should have the skill set to play in the advanced left-side central midfield position currently being rotated between Ono and Kurata. Shu, like Fujiharu, will be 33 next season and Matsuo seems to tick a lot of boxes for Miyamoto. The kantoku is known for his fondness for players who can adapt to different systems and competently play in a number of positions.

I’m pretty sure there’s a dossier on Yusuke Matsuo sitting in Gamba’s scouting office right now, as well as quite a few other teams, Urawa? Kobe? Cerezo? Let me know what you think, how would he do with Gamba? Are there any other players you’d like Gamba to bring in within the next 6-12 months?

Know Your Future Opponent – J2 players likely to move to J1 clubs

With no opponent this weekend, I thought it was a good chance to give a rundown of some J2 talent that I believe will soon be playing in the top tier. Before I do, a couple of selection criteria I laid out were, young Japanese talents who are not currently on loan from J1 teams (no Daigo Takahashi or Kazuma Yamaguchi) and have never been contracted to a J1 team (sorry Hiroki Ito and Shuto Machino). Most of these players are forwards, but if the DAZN team of the week can do it, why can’t I?

Shogo Asada (22 years old, Kyoto Sanga) – As it’s alphabetical, my most surprising choice is first up. Centre-back Asada caught my eye in last night’s Kyoto vs Mito thriller. Although defending was not of the highest standard in general, both midfields left their backlines rather exposed, giving Asada, who spent 2019 on loan at Kamatamare Sanuki in J3, the chance to shine with some excellent blocks and interceptions.

Akira Silvano Disaro’ (24, Giravanz Kitakyushu) – Getting a lot of attention on J-Talk Extra Time, the ‘bald eagle’ has taken to life in J2 like a duck to water (that doesn’t really work does it?). He was in the stands as Giravanz rested a host of players against Kanazawa last night, but had scored in each of his previous four appearances. Possesses a very crisp shot and has built up a great understanding with his equally talented attacking team-mates.

Shion Homma (20, Albirex Niigata) I’m not really pushing the boat out with this one as anyone who watches J2 knows about this kid’s potential. The nimble left-winger blotted his copybook somewhat by getting foolishly sent off for two yellows against Yamaguchi, but not before he’d assisted Mauro for the game’s opening goal. It’s a matter of when, not if he makes it to a higher level.

Shion Inoue (23. Tokyo Verdy) Already identified by the FC Tokyo Kai-Guys as a potential answer to their midfield issues, Verdy youngster Inoue looks set to be the latest talent off their impressive production line. He’s played all but one J2 game so far in 2020 and has been a key cog in the pretty football Verdy tend to play. Really stood out with two goals and an assist in the 4-2 dismantling of Ventforet Kofu a few weeks back.

Mutsuki Kato (23, Zweigen Kanazawa) Got his third goal in as many games after coming on to replace the injured Lucao away at Kitakyushu on Wednesday. In fact the duo generally play as a partnership and have already contributed a combined 10 goals in 11 games this year. Former Sanfrecce Youth product Kato is currently in his rookie season as a pro having joined from Chuo University last off-season.

Kota Kawano (17, Renofa Yamaguchi) A bit of an internet sensation following his well taken finish against league leaders Nagasaki last month where he became J2’s youngest ever goalscorer. That strike prompted Yamaguchi to offer the High School 2nd grader his first professional contract. Given the good relationship between Gamba and Yamaguchi, could Kawano and Shoji Toyama be the Nerrazzuri’s strike pairing of the future?

Seiya Maikuma (22, V-Varen Nagasaki) Daniel from the Nagasaki Blue & Orange Blog assures me Maikuma will be in J1 as a V-Varen player next year and given their start to the campaign, I’m not going to argue. Previously senpai to Leo Takae and Yuya Fukuda at Higashi Fukuoka High School, Maikuma chose to attend Momoyama Gakuin University in Osaka before turning pro this season. Originally listed as a striker, he’s found a home playing either as an orthodox right-back or as a right-wing back depending on the formation employed by his coach. Scored his side’s third after coming on as a substitute against Thespakusatsu Gunma last night.

Kai Matsuzaki (22, Mito HollyHock) A big favourite of J-Talk Extra Time host Jon Steele, I was really excited to see Matsuzaki in action live for the first time against Kyoto. Given that I kind of expected him to be a J2 Messi, of course I was left slightly disappointed. That said, his stats for an attack-minded Mito side in his first year as a pro are impressive with a goal and four assists in his opening ten games (five starts and five sub appearances).

Solomon Sakuragawa (19, JEF United Chiba) The towering 190cm forward will hopefully learn from the excellent strike partners he has in Chiba (Hisato Sato, Kengo Kawamata, Kleber, Keita Yamashita) rather than be sucked down by his team’s wild inconsistency. Has generally been used as a sub after being promoted from the youth team last winter, but already has two goals to his name in J2 this year.

Masaki Watai (21, Tokushima Vortis) The diminutive attacking midfielder has seemingly been wrapped in cotton wool by manager Ricardo Rodriguez at the start of 2020. He’s now fully established in the starting XI and had an impressive outing with a goal and an assist against table-topping Nagasaki last weekend before setting up Kazuki Nishiya’s winner at Machida on Wednesday night.

Arata Watanabe (25, Albirex Niigata) The oldest of this group and someone I was really impressed with following his two-goal show in the 3-3 draw at home to Kofu in round 2. He’s found goalscoring a little tougher since strike partner Fabio was ruled out due to injury, but remains a threat. The Ryutsu Keizai University graduate is now in his third season as a pro and can play either as a central striker or on the right-wing as he did last year to accommodate Leonardo.

Other Notable Mentions – I don’t want to incur the wrath of @OkinawaOzzy so I better give a shout out to FC Ryukyu attacking midfielder Yoshio Koizumi who got a fine assist for Takuma Abe’s volley against Tokushima. Elsewhere, Ehime youth product Shuma Mihara has looked dangerous in the left wing-back role and Takahiro Akimoto of Tochigi SC has gone some of the way to filling the creative void left by Kazuki Nishuya. Kanji Okunuki has been in and out of the Omiya lineup this year, but owing to his form in 2019 he deserves a mention while Keita Yamashita who joined JEF from Yamaguchi last winter is a clean striker of the ball who looks like he could play at a higher level.

That’s all for this week, I hope you enjoyed the changes, feedback is always welcomed. I’ll be back next week to preview the Urawa and Kashima games. See you soon!