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End of season review

After a pretty mediocre 2019 spent mostly in the bottom half of the table but ultimately ending in a 7th place finish, it’s time to look at the state of Gamba’s squad and make some predictions regarding player movements ahead of the 2020 season. I’ll go through each player one by one based on their number. All ages given are as of 1 January 2020.

#1 Masaaki Higashiguchi – goalkeeper – 33 (years old) – An excellent season between the sticks and at 33, he’s still got plenty of good years ahead of him. Only his age is preventing him from a national team recall at the moment.

#4 Hiroki Fujiharu – left-back – 31 = Plagued by injuries this year, he did however manage to break through the 200 J1 appearances barrier. Better as an orthodox left-back than a wing-back, in my opinion and it’ll be interesting to see the battle between him and Keisuke Kurokawa for a starting berth in 2020.

#5 Genta Miura – centre-back / occasional right-back – 24 – I was never his biggest fan, but he won me over with some solid displays which earned him a recall to the national team. Being dropped for a couple of games and then played at right-back during the early season slump seemed to shake him out of the complacency which had dogged him in 2018. Rumours circling that Jleague Champions Yokohama F.Marinos have bid for him, hopefully, despite them being able to offer Champions League football, he decides that he doesn’t want to battle Hatanaka and Thiago Martins for a starting position and instead stays to fight to bring ACL football back to Suita in 2021.

#7 Yasuhito Endo – centre-midfield / deep-lying playmaker – 39 – He’ll be 40 by the time the 2020 campaign kicks off, so this year will surely be the one where he starts to see his playing time become much more limited similar to Kengo Nakamura at Kawasaki Frontale this year (Gamba’s apparent overtures to FC Seoul midfielder Ju Se-jong appear to confirm this). Still he’ll be a great help to the crop of younger midfielders coming through.

#8 Kosuke Onose – right-winger / wing-back – 26 – Built on a promising end to 2018 by having a breakout season this year (7 J1 goals and 4 assists). He saw off competition from new signings Tanaka, Susaeta, Concha and Suzuki to remain the undisputed first choice in his position and I’d expect him to kick on further in 2020. Hopefully this will be with Gamba as his form has not gone unnoticed, FC Tokyo and Yokohama F.Marinos are credited with bids to lure him away from Osaka next year. Slightly surprising that he didn’t get a call up for the EAFF Cup this month.

#9 Ademilson – centre-forward – 25 – Started and finished the season on fire with 4 goals in the first 5 matches and 3 in the final 3, however in between there was a lot of mediocre play, so he’s clearly very much a confidence player. Still, his end of season stats look good, leading Gamba in both goals and assists, 10 and 8 respectively. His renewed partnership with Usami looks to be blossoming which could bode well for next year. Supposedly Urawa were interested in him, but he is rumoured to have penned a new deal with Gamba and hopefully he can beat his 2019 goal-scoring tally next year.

#10 Shu Kurata – attacking midfielder – 31 – Winner of the Mr.Gamba player of the year award after netting 7 times before a broken jaw against Kawasaki Frontale in October derailed his season somewhat. One of my favourite Gamba players, depending on the formation he can competently play 4 or 5 different positions (note to Gamba front office – please stop signing players in his position) although his main flaw is that he picks up too many bookings.

#11 David Concha – right / left-winger – 23 – No idea why he was signed, must have been due to Spanish players becoming the new Brazilians in Jleague teams’ eyes. Wasn’t even given a decent run with the U23 side to prove himself. Everything was wrong about this signing; the timing – just after the season started, the lack of any Spanish support staff / team-mates and his position – one Gamba were well covered in. I’m sure he’ll be back in Spain next year and will most likely go onto have a journeyman career.

#13 Shunya Suganuma – centre-back – 29 – Got a decent run alongside Miura and Kim in the last 5 games of the year and let nobody down. Still, for a team chasing the top 3, he is much better as a backup than a regular starter. The only Gamba Youth defender in the current squad, I expect him to stay, but I also expect him to return to the bench for 2020.

#14 Markel Susaeta – right-winger – 32 – He most definitely has the experience and pedigree to be a success, however signing him with only 9 league games left didn’t really give him much of a chance to bed in. Couple that with the fact that he plays in the same role as Onose, arguably Gamba’s 2019 player of the year, bringing him in could be seen as a big waste of money. However, given a good pre-season and time to settle into life in Japan I believe he could be a useful player and I’d like to see him stay.

#15 Yosuke Ideguchi – centre-midfield – 23 – Delighted to have him back, he didn’t quite hit the highs of his previous spell with the club, but this was understandable due to his injury problems while in Europe. I’ve no doubt that a fully-fit Ideguchi will go on to be a mainstay in Gamba’s midfield for the next decade. His 2 goals against Matsumoto gave a hint of what may be to come, with Kurata and Onose (if he stays) contributing 14 goals between them from midfield, another 5-6 from Ideguchi would compliment that nicely.

#17 Yuto Suzuki – right / left wing-back / winger – 26 – Brought in on loan mostly as injury cover he largely did what was expected of him. He played on the left a few times which really isn’t his position even though he’s listed as being able to play there. Honestly I don’t think he’s good enough to be anything more than backup for a team aiming to finish in the top half of J1. Had decent spells with Yamagata and Mito in J2, a move back to one of them would be good business for both parties.

#18 Patric – centre-forward – 32 – I’m not totally sure why he was pushed out of Sanfrecce in favour of Douglas Vieira, but I was happy to see him rejoin Gamba on loan mid-season. He started off well, but then fell behind the resurgent Watanabe in the pecking order for a while. It’s being reported that he’ll sign on permanently and he’d definitely be an excellent backup and potential mentor for young Kazunari Ichimi.

#19 Kim Young-gwon – centre-back – 29- A fairly solid season from him, 1 goal and 1 assist from 32 J1 games. This is the kind of signing I like to see Gamba make (along with Usami and Ideguchi), he’s fairly low risk and relatively high reward. My only slight concern is that a 76 times capped South Korean who’s played in 2 World Cups and captained his country on occasion should really be the best centre-back in Jleague, shouldn’t he? Yet although he performed competently throughout the year, I don’t see him anywhere near anyone’s team of the year….maybe I’m being a bit overcritical and I definitely hope he stays, Gamba have a good track record of signing Koreans and his presence makes it much easier to attract more of them.

#20 Daisuke Takagi – left-winger – 24 – Hopefully he was signed with 2020 in mind otherwise he can be filed under the category of pointless signings (he’ll have plenty of company in there). He plays in positions that were already well covered and as twitter video evidence showed in physical training he’s still not quite up to the rigours of J1 yet. Hopefully he can improve and become more of a regular next year, adding to his 2 J1 sub appearances in 4 months at the end of this season.

#21 Shinya Yajima – centre-midfield / deep-lying playmaker – 25 – A pleasant surprise for me this year, he bounced back well after a very disappointing 2018. With Endo likely to feature less next year I’d like to see him continue to form a good partnership in the midfield engine-room alongside Ideguchi. Got 4 assists and 1 goal (the winner at home to Shimizu) in 27 league games, comfortably the most J1 appearances he’s made in 1 year in his career to date, possibly the most improved player this year.

#23 Mizuki Hayashi – goalkeeper – 23 – Barely played last year as Higashiguchi had no injury worries. From what I’ve seen of him he’s a decent ‘keeper but he needs game time and that’s not going to come at Gamba in 2020 with Higashiguchi the established number one and young Tani breathing down his neck. Wouldn’t be surprised at all if he went out on loan to a J2 side to get much needed match practice.

#24 Keisuke Kurokawa (designated special player) – left-back / wing-back – 22 – Featured a couple of times this year but I didn’t see him play. He comes pretty highly rated and Gamba have had some decent success in recent seasons bringing in players from universities so I’ve got high hopes for him.

#26 Kohei Okuno – centre-midfield – 19 – He struggled in the first part of this year with injuries but went on to put in some solid performances in midfield for the U23s in J3. He seems similar in style to Takahiro Ko so I don’t see many opportunities for him in the first team at the moment. He was played as a full-back at times in J3 but that’s definitely not his position (though it seems to be in vogue at the moment for central-midfielders to play right-back). A whole-hearted performer and one of my favourite Gamba U23 players this year.

#27 Ryu Takao – right-sided centre-back / right-back – 23 – Another pleasant surprise this year, I watched him make his senior debut as a marauding full-back against Vanraure Hachinohe back in March and would never have guessed he’d go on to play over 20 games at centre-back in J1. Gamba should sign more players directly from university as they seem to be better at it than getting them from other J1 teams. He was brought in to play right-back, so I’d like to see him get a run in his favoured position at some point.

#28 Yuki Yamamoto (designated special player) – attacking-midfielder – 22 – From Kwansei Gakuin like Takao so hopefully he’ll make a similar impact. He plays in a position that’s well covered at the moment so he may need to be patient in the search for game-time.

#29 Leo Takae – central / attacking midfielder – 21 – I really like him as a player and he improved a good deal over the course of 2019. If he’s going to play in an attacking midfield role, he is going to have to add goals to his game or Yamamoto will quickly overtake him in the pecking order. A loan move to a good J2 side can’t be out of the question now that the U23 team is gone.

#30 Naoaki Aoyama – centre-back – 33 – Signed to be the backup to the backup centre-back, he did all that was expected of him. If he’s content at this stage of his career to play a handful of League Cup and Tennohai games a year then he’ll stay, otherwise I’m sure he could play more regularly in a middling J2 side.

#31 Ken Tajiri – goalkeeper – 26 – Returned this year after an 18-month loan spell at Kanazawa and spent most of the campaign covering for Tani in J3. If Hayashi goes out on loan I’d expect him to hang around but otherwise with no U23 team he faces the choice of being 4th choice ‘keeper or heading for a career with a much smaller club in J3 or JFL.

#32 Ren Shibamoto – deep-lying playmaker / centre-midfield – 20 – Really improved a lot as one of the senior players in the U23 side this year. Very much in the Andrea Pirlo role, he’s well positioned to become more of a regular in 2021 or 2022 whenever Endo eventually retires. I wouldn’t be averse to seeing him go out on loan next year, preferably to a J2 side who like to play attractive football,

#33 Takashi Usami – attacking-midfielder / centre-forward – 27 – Along with Endo, he’s my all-time favourite Gamba player and I’m really happy he came back. It took him a while to get going this year, but he still ended up with 7 goals in 14 games to be joint 2nd in the Gamba goalscoring charts. His partnership with Ademilson next year will be key, 25-30 goals between them would definitely put Gamba in with a shot of cracking the top three.

#34 Yuya Fukuda – left / right wing-back – 20 – I was very impressed with how he improved throughout the year and when he struggled with injuries in the latter part of the season, he was missed. If he improves on his output – goals and assists – then he could be the next young Gamba protege to head to Europe. Onose’s departure, should it happen, would be a blow, but it could also allow Fukuda to nail down a first team slot down his favoured right flank.

#35 Tatsuya Yamaguchi – left-back – 19 – He’s played a lot of league games for someone so young and is always a tireless performer. That said, I didn’t see a whole lot of improvement from him this year (although he had set the bar pretty high in 2018). At the moment he’s behind Fujiharu, Fukuda and Kurokawa in the pecking order (plus he has new Korean import Shin Won-ho for company) so he may well join a J3 side on loan in 2020.

#36 Riku Matsuda – centre-back / right-back – 20 – Made big improvements this year after being given the U23 captaincy and moving to centre-back. His height (175cm) may be an issue when it comes to playing centre-back in J1 but with Gamba U23 he improved his positioning and game-reading skills a lot which allowed him to mostly negate this. He was also able to talk Takahashi and Ono through games when he became the senior figure at the back after Noda’s loan move to Yamagata. I’d like to see him challenge for a starting slot next year and get some serious game time in the cups.

#37 Haruto Shirai – right-winger / centre-forward – 20 – He’s exclusively named as a centre-forward everywhere I’ve seen but the first 5-6 times I saw him play was on the right-wing and he only went up top when there was basically no-one else left to play there for the U23s. He’s very quick and tricky but needs to work on his goalscoring. I’m not sure if there are attitude / fitness issues with him as at times last year he was benched for high-school kids in J3 and was also often subbed with 30-35 minutes to go despite playing well. Sadly, I don’t see him making it at Gamba at the moment and a move to a J3 or JFL side may suit all parties.

#39 Kazuma Watanabe – centre-forward – 33 – I always thought he was slightly overrated when he was at Kobe but I definitely see the qualities he brings since he’s come to Gamba. He was backup for most of the year, but his winner against Tosu was invaluable and his goal against Sapporo a couple of weeks later showed what he’s all about. With Ichimi, Goya (maybe) and Takagi all due to come back after loan spells, I don’t see him playing anywhere near regularly with Gamba, and although I’d be happy for him to stay, he is a veteran with an eye for goal and any J2 side and even a few in J1 would benefit from his signature.

#41 Kosei Tani – goalkeeper – 19 – An injury hit 2019 still saw him earn a call-up to the Japan U22 squad in October. I really rate him and see him as the natural successor to Higashiguchi. If Hayashi goes out on loan next year, expect to see him move up to number 2 in the pecking order and get game-time in both cup competitions.

Kantoku – Tsuneyasu Miyamoto – 42 – A steep learning curve for him this year after everything going right for him in 2018. The horror start to the year (7 defeats in the first 11 games) could have seen the end of other managers, but to his credit he changed the formation and personnel and 39 points were gleamed from the remaining 23 league matches to earn a respectable 7th place finish. If the correct players are brought in and retained and ACL push and potentially +30,000 attendances will be expected.

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Gamba Osaka vs Urawa Red Diamonds Match Preview

Urawa Red Diamonds (13th) vs Gamba Osaka (9th)
2019 Meiji Yasuda J1 League Round 34
7 December 2019 at 14:00 JST
Saitama Stadium 2002

J1 draws to a close for 2019 this Saturday as fierce rivals Gamba Osaka and Urawa Red Diamonds go head to head in an attempt by both clubs to finish off extremely disappointing league campaigns with a win. Gamba could end up anywhere from 7th to 10th in the final standings depending on the result of this and other matches while 2019 Asian Champions League runners-up Urawa are only safe from the promotion/relegation place by virtue of the fact that 2 teams lower than them, Shimizu and Tosu, play each other in the final round of fixtures so cannot both overhaul their total of 37 points.

Gamba come into this encounter in much better domestic form than their opponents with last Saturday’s rout of now relegated Matsumoto Yamaga their 5th win in the last 8 league games. However, their away form has been more patchy with only 4 wins and 17 points coming from 16 matches to date, the 6th worst record in J1. Urawa held title-chasing FC Tokyo to a 1-1 draw at Ajinomoto Stadium in their previous game, but that was their 5th league match in a row without a win, their last 3 points coming on October 10th with a 2-1 victory over Shimizu S-Pulse in Saitama. Since then they’ve been defeated at home 1-0 by Oita and 2-0 by Kawasaki and in total they’ve only managed to take the 3 points on 4 occasions at Saitama Stadium 2002 this season, the 3rd worst record in the league, ahead of only already relegated Iwata and Matsumoto. Goalscoring has also been an issue all season, they’ve found the back of the net on just 32 occasions in 33 games so far, again this tally is only worsened by Iwata (28 goals) and Matsumoto (20). Top scorer Shinzo Koroki has struck 12 times in 31 J1 appearances this year (37.5% of their goals).

Urawa won the reverse fixture between the two back in April with Ewerton’s late drive enough to separate the sides in a rather dull clash which saw Hiroki Fujiharu go off injured following an accidental collision with Reds defender Ryota Moriwaki. It was also Gamba’s 5th defeat in their opening 7 games of 2019 and one of the last occasions on which they used the 4-4-2 formation. Last year, a rampant Gamba saw off Reds at Saitama Stadium 2002 though wonder-strikes from Kosukue Onose and Hwang Ui-jo either side of a Shinzo Koroki equaliser before Ademilson sealed the 3-1 win in the 69th minute, the 7th of Gamba’s epic 9 game winning streak. Last season’s encounter at Panasonic Stadium Suita was again a tepid affair, ending up 0-0. The previous 5 Urawa vs Gamba clashes in Saitama are even with 2 wins apiece (Urawa 2015, 2016), Gamba (2014, 2018) and 1 draw (2017). The most memorable of those from a Gamba perspective would definitely be the 2-0 victory in round 32 of the 2014 season as late strikes from Akihiro Sato and Patric saw the men in blue and black overtake their title rivals in the race for the J1 crown which of course they went onto lift following a 3-1 home victory over Kobe and a nervy 0-0 draw away to Tokushima. Victory for Urawa in this year’s match would see them become only the second team, after Yokohama F.Marinos, to defeat Gamba both home and away. Gamba in turn have taken 6 points from each of Matsumoto, Shonan and Shimizu.

Being the final fixture of a long and arduous season could be a factor in this game, especially for Urawa who, in goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa, have the J1 player with the most club appearances in total in 2019 (50 – 32 J1, 13 ACL, 2 Emperor’s Cup, 2 Jleague Cup and 1 Japanese Super Cup), his team-mates Tomoaki Makino and Shinzo Koroki (both 48 games) as well as attacking-midfielder Kazuki Nagasawa (43) and centre-back, Takuya Iwanami (40) are all in desperate need of a well-earned rest this winter. By contrast, Gamba top-scorer and assist provider Ademilson has played the most games for the club in 2019 (42 in all competitions – though only 32 have been starts), Masaaki Higashiguchi (41) and Genta Miura (40) are just behind. Interestingly, assuming midfield maestro Yasuhito takes the field just one month shy of his 40th birthday, it will be his 28th J1 game of the season (34th in all competitions), but will mark the first time since 2008 that he’s played less than 30 league games in one calendar year, an incredible feat of staying power.

Team News:
Gamba only have Takashi Usami as a doubt with a head knock but his prognosis is good so they are likely to see out the season with the same starting members as in the victories at home to Sendai and Matsumoto. My prediction of Shu Kurata coming into the line-up at the expense of either Endo or Yajima last week didn’t come to fruition but it remains an option for Director Tsuneyasu Miyamoto. This type of derby match doesn’t really lend itself to sentiment, but I guess depending on the match situation, it’s possible we may be able to get an insight into the future of certain players such as Patric (rumoured to be staying permanently) or Kazuma Watanabe who may be playing their last game for the club this weekend. Ademilson (rumoured to be signing a new contract despite interest from Urawa) scored his 9th goal and got his 7th assist of 2019 against Matsumoto and should he find the back of the net in this game, it’d be the first time he has reached double figures in J1 with this being his 5th season playing in Japanese football.

Urawa play in a 3-4-2-1 formation, although they have rotated their personnel quite heavily this year as a result of their extended Champions League participation and more recently due to poor league performances, this makes predicting their starting line-up a thankless task, but I’ll do my best. Former Japanese international Shusaku Nishikawa will be between the sticks for his 51st club appearance of the season. The back three will almost definitely have Nishikawa’s former Hiroshima team-mate, Tomoaki Makino in there and he’ll likely be flanked by last winter’s recruit from Kashiwa Reysol, Daisuke Suzuki and 25 year-old former Kobe centre-back, Takuya Iwanami. Other options include, the Brazilian Mauricio, who was imperious in the 1-0 win in Suita in April or Ryota Moriwaki, another member of the Sanfrecce old-boys network, who actually played at right wing-back against FC Tokyo and will leave Reds after 7 years with the club this off-season. 182 cm tall Daiki Hashioka plays right wing-back more regularly and may come in again for this clash, he was the focal point for Urawa’s tactic of playing long, high balls out to the wing with the aim of getting flick ons to the attackers in Osaka earlier this year, a strategy that brought no success at all, I wonder if it’ll be used this time round. The left wing-back slot is one of the most hotly contested in the Reds squad, last week it was filled by Ryohei Yamanaka, another Japanese international, who joined from Yokohama F.Marinos last winter, he is also the team’s top assist provider in J1 this year (with 4, it was also his long range drive which was only parried by FC Tokyo ‘keeper Akihiro Hayashi into the path of Martinus for the opening goal last week), Takahiro Sekine, who returned to Saitama from an unsuccessful spell in Germany this summer, has played there more frequently in recent games and veteran Tomoya Ugajin, a one-club man who’s been with Reds since 2009 is another option. Both Sekine and Ugajin are capable of playing down the right if required.

Going forward, the central midfield berths are likely to be occupied by on-loan Brazilian, Ewerton, scorer of the winner in Suita and former Omiya holding midfielder, Takuya Aoki with vastly experienced ex-Leicester City star, Yuki Abe likely to provide back up from the bench. Club legend and scorer of at least 10 goals in the previous 7 J1 campaigns, Shinzo Koroki will lead the attack and against FC Tokyo he was supported by club captain and another of the ex-Sanfrecce brigade, Yosuke Kashiwagi, who has missed large chunks of this year through injury and former Marinos man Martinus, the man who put Reds ahead last week but who has largely failed to reproduce the form of his Yokohama days where he gave Gamba several torrid afternoons. Again there are many options in these areas; Kazuki Nagasawa has played 29 J1 games this year (3 goals, 2 assists), there is also Yuki Muto, whose partnership with Koroki has proven so fruitful over the years, but, his return of 1 goal and 3 assists in 23 J1 games this campaign is basically a metaphor for Urawa’s entire season. Another Brazilian, Fabricio missed the first half of the year through injury and has never really regained his 2018 form since returning, while things just haven’t happened all season for 187cm target man and former Cerezo player Kenyu Sugimoto.

A really tough one to predict as neither side has much other than pride to play for in this one. Urawa’s poor home form and inability to score versus Gamba’s wastefulness in front of goal and aversion to winning on the road, which side will prevail? I had this game nailed down from a few weeks back as one in which only one side would have anything riding on it and naturally we could expect that side to pick up the points, but results have conspired to leave this essentially as meaningless a match as any between these two great rivals could be. I was leaning towards a 1-0 Reds win until I did the maths and worked out that there was no chance of them going down, so now I’m going to say it’ll be a rather tame 0-0 draw, similar in fashion to the final match of Kenta Hasegawa’s reign in 2017 when FC Tokyo vs Gamba finished scoreless.

Predicted Gamba Line-up:
GK 1 Masaaki Higashiguchi (33 years old/33 J1 apps / 0 goals / 1 assist)
CB 13 Shunya Suganuma (29/14/0/1)
CB 5 Genta Miura (C) (24/30/1/0)
CB 19 Kim Young-gwon (29/31/1/1)
RWB 8 Kosuke Onose (26/29/7/4)
LWB 4 Hiroki Fujiharu (31/16/2/3)
DM 21 Shinya Yajima (25/26/1/4)
CM 15 Yosuke Ideguchi (23/12/2/0)
CM 8 Shu Kurata (31/30/7/1)
CF 33 Ademilson (25/31/9/7)
CF 33 Takashi Usami (27/13/6/1)

Subs: 23 Mizuki Hayashi (GK/23/0/0/0), 27 Ryu Takao (CB/RWB/23/18/0/0), 34 Yuya Fukuda (RWB/LWB/20/16/0/0) 7 Yasuhito Endo (CM/39/27/1/5), 14 Markel Susaeta (RW/LW/AM/31/5/0/0), 18 Patric (CF/31/11/2/1), 39 Kazuma Watanabe (CF/33/18/3/0)

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5 players who could leave Gamba this winter

As a follow up to last week’s article on potential arrivals at Panasonic Stadium Suita this winter, here are 5 players who I believe could be on their way out of the club, either on a temporary or permanent basis this off-season.

#1 Mizuki Hayashi – Goalkeeper – 23 (years old) – After making 13 appearances in all competitions in 2018, due largely to first-choice Masaaki Higashiguchi’s injury problems, this year has been one of frustration for the 182cm, former Japan U17 representative. He’s played just 5 times for Gamba’s top team in the Levain Cup in addition to 5 J3 appearances with Gamba U23 and his career now stands at a crossroads. Higashiguchi, at 33, still has plenty of gas left in the tank and young Kosei Tani (now 19 years old) is hot on his heels, especially since his recent involvement with Japan’s Olympic team. Hayashi looks a decent ‘keeper to me, but realistically Tani is the long-term successor to Higashiguchi, so if he wants to avoid becoming a career backup, he may need to look elsewhere. Initially, that elsewhere is probably J2 where a team like Kyoto, who used 3 goalkeepers in the course of a reasonably successful 2019 campaign (I’ll ignore round 42), could be a potential destination for 2020, perhaps a loan deal at first that may turn into a permanent one.

#2 Naoaki Aoyama – Centre-back – 33 – The former Shimizu, Yokohama F.Marinos and Kofu defender was a bit of a surprise pick-up from Thai side Muangthong United last winter. He was probably off the radar for most JLeague sides and certainly mine, but he did have a good time in Thailand, playing Champions League football in 2 out his 4 seasons there. His signing did, however, make him the back up to Shunya Suganuma, who in turn was back up to Genta Miura and Kim Young-gwon in what was supposed to be a 4-4-2 formation (but later changed into 3-5-2). The emergence of Ryu Takao slid him even further down the pecking order and he’s only played 7 times in the cups and twice in J3 to date. Gamba really need to start developing younger defenders, Suganuma is the only Gamba Youth centre-back in the first-team squad (Sanfrecce Hiroshima centre-half Hayato Araki played for Gamba Osaka Junior Youth – how much would he improve Gamba’s defence?) and even young guys like Riku Matsuda and Hiroki Noda were never given a chance in the JLeague Cup, while many other clubs were blooding their stars of the future there. I believe Aoyama still has something to offer at J2 level and if they stay down, a move back to former side Ventforet Kofu may work out well for both parties.

#3 Kazuma Watanabe – Centre-forward – 33 – I was never a massive fan of his when I saw him playing for Kobe, but since moving east to Osaka, I’ve seen the qualities he brings to a team. He netted 3 times in 12 games in J1 in 2018 after his mid-season switch, but he’s spent most of this campaign on the bench, making only cameo appearances. He managed 3 goals in 4 games in September and October, scoring the winner in the crucial match against Tosu, finishing off the rout of Sapporo with an excellent shot from outside the box and adding a tap-in in the 2-2 draw at home to Kawasaki Frontale when Usami and Ademilson were out injured. With Hiroto Goya and Kazunari Ichimi due back from loan spells in J2 and Usami and Ademilson seemingly cemented as Gamba’s first-choice strike pairing, it looks like the experienced Watanabe will be on his way this winter. He could definitely do a job for a Sendai, Tosu or Shonan and would be an outstanding signing for anyone in J2 where I’m sure he’d score regularly.

#4 Mizuki Ichimaru – Central-midfield – 22 – He was seen as one of the brightest players in Gamba’s youth system a few years back, he even featured on all the promotional materials alongside the big stars like Endo, Konno, Higashiguchi. Since then, his career has been very stop-start, blighted by a number of niggling injuries. He started Levir Culpi’s first game as Gamba boss against Nagoya Grampus last year but ended up only making 4 JLeague and 5 Levain Cup appearances before moving down to the U23 side. He was appointed U23 captain this year and played 7 games in J3 before being loaned to J2 strugglers FC Gifu. Again injuries plagued him in Gifu and he played just 14 league games (including 10 starts) while contributing 2 assists, but he was unable to prevent them from dropping down to J3 after finishing bottom of the J2 standings this year. With Ren Shibamoto and Kohei Okuno rising up through the ranks, Takahiro Ko due back from Renofa Yamaguchi and Endo, Yajima, Ideguchi, Kurata and Takae already on the books, there appears no room for Ichimaru in Gamba’s 3-man midfield. The former-Gamba Youth man probably needs to look for fresh pastures either in the bottom half of J2 or a forward looking J3 side.

#5 David Concha (attacking midfielder/23) / Yuto Suzuki (wide midfielder/25) / Patric (centre-forward/32) – I know I’m cheating with this one, but I decided to combine the 3 current on-loan players in Gamba’s squad into one grouping. I’ve gone into details in previous posts about why Gamba blundered with the signing of Concha, no position for him etc, but even with his Spanish buddy Susaeta at the club, I don’t see anything other than a return to his homeland for him in 2020. Suzuki was brought in to cover injuries to Fujiharu and Fukuda in the summer and played a few games, though in truth from what I’ve see, although he technically ‘can’ play on the left (in much the same way Kim Young-gwon could probably play as a forward), he’s much more of a right-sided player. He’s on loan from Kawasaki and most likely doesn’t have a future there, a top J2 side may be his level, he used to play for Mito and Yamagata, these could be potential destinations for him in 2020. Finally, fans favourite and 2014 treble winner Patric who returned on loan from Hiroshima this summer. He’s scored two and assisted one in 11 J1 games since moving back to Osaka (only 4 starts though) and he did get the vital away goal in the JLeague Cup quarter-final victory over FC Tokyo, however I think he’ll depart Gamba once again this off-season. After scoring 20 J1 goals for Sanfrecce in 2018, I was surprised to see him lose his place to fellow Brazilian Douglas Vieira this campaign, but although he’s looked pretty sharp whenever I’ve watched him this season, his goalscoring touch of previous days has deserted him, case in point, when he missed a simple header in injury time against Iwata, only for them to go up the other end and get a penalty in the 95th minute and walk away with a 1-1 draw. I like him a lot as a player, but as with Watanabe, it may be time for the younger stars like Goya and Ichimi to get their chance.

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Gamba vs Matsumoto Yamaga Match Preview

Gamba Osaka (9th) vs Matsumoto Yamaga F.C. (17th)
2019 Meiji Yasuda J1 League Round 33

30 November 2019 at 14:00 JST
Panasonic Stadium Suita

It’s Gamba’s final home game of the season on Saturday as relegation strugglers Matsumoto Yamaga make their first ever league visit to Panasonic Stadium Suita. Second half strikes from attacking duo Takashi Usami and Ademilson saw Gamba overcome a dogged Vegalta Sendai at home last week while Yamaga went down 1-0 in Nagano against championship chasers Yokohama F.Marinos.

A win for Gamba could see them overtake 8th place Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo who currently sit just 2 points ahead of them in the standings and travel to Kyushu to face Sagan Tosu on Saturday. Matsumoto are in second last place on the ladder with 30 points from 32 games which puts them a mere 2 points ahead of bottom club Jubilo Iwata and 2 behind 16th place Shonan Bellmare who they face at home in their final league game on December 7th. Essentially they need to win this week and next to drag themselves into the relegation play-off spot and then take their chances in a one-off match at home to Omiya/Tokushima/Kofu/ Yamagata if they want to survive.

Gamba have upped their goalscoring output from 41 in 34 J1 games last year to 47 in just 32 so far this campaign. Additionally in 2018, Korean hitman Hwang Ui-jo netted 39% of Gamba’s league goals (16 of 41), while things have been much more evenly spread this time round with Ademilson in first place in the scoring charts, having found the back of the net 8 times in J1 (17%). There have also been strong midfield contributions from Shu Kurata (7 goals) and Kosuke Onose (6) as well as returning hero Takashi Usami scoring at a rate of one goal every two games (6 in 12) since coming back from Germany in the summer.

On the other hand, the main stats you need to know about Matsumoto are that they’ve scored just 19 times in 32 J1 matches (0.59 per game), the worst goalscoring record in the league by far (Jubilo are 17th with 26 goals) and their top scorer this year is forward Ryo Nagai who has just 3 league goals to his name in addition to 3 assists. Yamaga’s style of play under head-coach Yasuharu Sorimachi can certainly be described as ultra defensive, though it could also be argued that due to financial constraints he was unable to bring in the players necessary to play a more expansive brand of football. The men in green and white started the season promisingly, but have been near the foot of the table for the majority of the year. Their mid-season transfer dealings, which could have seen them aim for a push up the table instead seemed to have the opposite effect and this has greatly hindered their chances of survival. Both of their main attacking threats from the first part of the season departed, the pacy Daizen Maeda (Maritimo) and Brazilian giant Leandro Pereira (Sanfrecce Hiroshima on loan, in exchange for Hiroki Mizumoto). The second of the two transfers makes little sense in hindsight as Mizumoto, although doing well, essentially only strengthened an already decent defence whereas Pereira’s exit weakened an already weak attack. Other summer arrivals were J2 attacker Toyofumi Sakano from Montedio Yamagata (1 goal in 12 games), full-back / midfielder Masaki Yamamoto on loan from JEF United (1 sub appearance), left-back Toshiya Takagi from Kashiwa Reysol (1 sub appearance) and Portuguese/Guinea-Bissau striker Isma (a bit of a footballing nomad, he last played in Iran) who only managed his debut off the bench last week.

Gamba defeated Matsumoto 3-1 in the reverse fixture back in June with Hwang Ui-jo opening the scoring to send Gamba into the break ahead. Masaki Iida headed Yamaga level early in the second half before a fine Shu Kurata strike put Gamba back in front 3 minutes later and Hwang got his second of the game late on to seal the deal. Indeed the half-time score in this game could be crucial, Matsumoto are yet to lose when they’ve been ahead at half-time this year (6 games) while Gamba are yet to win when they’ve been behind (2 draws and 7 losses). It should also be noted that 8 of Gamba’s 10 wins so far in 2019 have come after they were level at the halfway point, so they panic button is unlikely to be pressed if they don’t find an early goal against Yamaga’s miserly defence.

Gamba’s win over Sendai last week improved their home league record to 24 points from 16 games and extended their home league unbeaten run to 12 matches (6 wins and 6 draws), they currently have the 8th best home league record in 2019. Matsumoto’s counter attacking style has had slightly more success on the road than in Nagano, 17 of their 30 points and 4 of their 6 wins this year have come away from home. They last won at home in the league on April 20 (1-0 against Sagan Tosu), but since then they have defeated Nagoya (1-0), Urawa (2-1) and most recently Sendai (1-0) on their travels. With all that said, they still only have the 15th best away record in J1 and unsurprisingly have scored the least amount of goals on opposition turf this season (10 in 16 games).

Team News:
Shu Kurata’s return from injury off the bench against Sendai last weekend means that Gamba have a fully fit squad to choose from for this encounter. Following the convincing second half display in the Vegalta game, changes are likely to be at a premium. I’d say the only possible switch would be Kurata returning to the starting line up at the expense of either Yajima or Endo. At almost 40, Gamba’s number 7 looked a bit leggy last week and may be in need of a break, so I’ll say he’ll be the one to make way allowing the younger Yajima to provide a bit more cover in front of a back 3 that was a little exposed at times during the first half of last week’s clash.

Matsumoto generally line up in the same 3-5-2 formation as Gamba (they did start the season playing 3-4-2-1) and have a core of about 15-16 players who play regularly. In goal will be the 191cm Tatsuya Morita, the man who replaced Masaaki Higashiguchi in Niigata. He will be behind a vastly experienced back 3 of; on-loan Sanfrecce Hiroshima veteran Hiroki Mizumoto (34 years old), the long-serving Masaki Iida (34), who scored in the home match against Gamba and the popular Yuya Hashiuchi (32). Former Nagoya and Shonan wide-man Ryo Takahashi will likely be at left wing-back having played 30 times already this season and last week saw veteran Hayuma Tanaka (37) play down the right side, he’ll make his 418th J1 appearance if selected for this one. In the midfield triangle, the diminutive Ibuki Fujita will sit at the base and it’s likely to be ex-Kashima Antlers attacking midfielder Taro Sugimoto, possessor of a fierce right-footed shot (that Cerezo know all about) and Yuzo Iwakami playing just ahead of him. Top scorer Ryo Nagai was partnered in attack last week by summer signing Toyofumi Sakano, although another mid-season acquisition, the Bissau-Guinean international Isma debuted off the bench and could earn himself a starting berth this week. Other possible options include; 30 year-old Brazilian defensive midfielder Paulinho and attacking midfielder Keiya Nakami, formerly of Sagan Tosu. Brazilians; attacker Serginho and defender Eduardo are currently sidelined through injury, as is former JEF United attacking midfielder Yamato Machida.

Gamba have nothing but pride to play for this week and Matsumoto are battling to save their J1 skins so it would be prudent to give them some shot at a positive result. However, I feel that the current Usami and Ideguchi inspired Gamba will have just a bit too much in the tank for the defensive Yamaga and will prevail in a tight game, winning 1-0 with Usami again netting the decisive goal that could potentially confine Matsumoto to J2 for 2020.

Predicted Gamba Line-up:
GK 1 Masaaki Higashiguchi (33 years old/32 J1 apps in 2019 / 0 goals / 1 assist)
CB 13 Shunya Suganuma (29/13/0/1)
CB 5 Genta Miura (C) (24/29/1/0)
CB 19 Kim Young-gwon (29/30/1/0)
RWB 8 Kosuke Onose (26/28/6/4)
LWB 4 Hiroki Fujiharu (31/15/2/3)
DM 21 Shinya Yajima (25/25/1/3)
CM 15 Yosuke Ideguchi (23/11/0/0)
CM 8 Shu Kurata (31/29/7/1)
CF 33 Ademilson (25/30/8/6)
CF 33 Takashi Usami (27/12/6/1)

Subs: 23 Mizuki Hayashi (GK/23/0/0/0), 27 Ryu Takao (CB/RWB/23/18/0/0), 34 Yuya Fukuda (RWB/LWB/20/15/0/0) 7 Yasuhito Endo (CM/39/26/1/5), 14 Markel Susaeta (RW/LW/AM/31/5/0/0), 18 Patric (CF/31/11/2/1), 39 Kazuma Watanabe (CF/33/17/3/0)

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5 players Gamba could sign this winter

Following on from my rant on Twitter the other day about the potential signing of Hayato Nakama from Fagiano Okayama (note to those who missed it, it’s nothing personal against the player who I think has had a brilliant season, more that like Ide, Tanaka, Concha, Susaeta and Takagi before him there’s no place for him to play), I decided to outline where I think the current Gamba squad can be improved and which players would be the best fit.

I am working on the understanding that next year will see a continuation of 3-5-2 with Higashiguchi in goal, a back three of Kim, Miura and Suganuma / Takao (this 3rd centre-back spot needs upgrading), Fujiharu and Onose as wing-backs with Fukuda and Kurokawa providing back-up (please no more wing backs unless someone leaves). A midfield triangle with Yajima at the base and Ideguchi and Kurata more advanced (Endo will probably see much less action next year), so we could potentially bring in someone to play just in front of the back 3. Finally Usami and Ademilson (if he stays) will play up front with Ichimi and Goya back from loan to give support, Patric and or Watanabe may leave for fresh pastures therefore possibly allowing for a new signing here.

With that in mind, here are my 5 suggestions;

#1 Yoshinori Suzuki – 27 (years old) – Oita Trinita – Centre-back – Captain and an ever present for Oita for the past 4 seasons. He has been a rock and source of dependability for the men from Kyushu as they’ve soared to 7th in J1 this season. Ideally I like to see Gamba build from within and just add the odd signing from smaller clubs, and with the greatest of respect to Oita, Suzuki fits the bill exactly. At 184cm he has the size to form a formidable defensive line along with Genta Miura and Kim Young-gwon. If we are looking for someone with a bit more pace at the back then see option #3.

#2 Ryuho Kikuchi – 23 – Renofa Yamaguchi FC – Centre-back – He’s just completed his first season of senior football following his graduation from Osaka University of Health and Sports Sciences (the same one as Hiroki Fujiharu) and quickly established himself as a key part of Yamaguchi’s defence. Renofa did concede 70 times in 42 games, but Kikuchi himself largely steered clear of the blame and managed 3 goals and 1 assist in 35 J2 games. I’d see the 188cm centre-half as a back-up initially, similar to what Yokohama F.Marinos are doing with Makito Ito, before hopefully nailing down a starting spot in the future.

#3 Tomoki Iwata – 22 – Oita Trinita – Centre-back / right-back – This is very much an either / or with option #1, Iwata’s club captain Suzuki. I’ve put Iwata lower on the list as owing to his status as a Japanese international following his call up to this year’s Copa America squad and his ongoing involvement with the Japanese Olympic team, I feel he’d be harder to prize away from Oita and may have better options elsewhere. At 178cm he’s quite small for an elite centre-back, but he does play on the right-side of a back 3 in a system very similar to Gamba. In addition he’s more pacy than Suzuki and can also play right-back if required.

#4 Ryota Nagaki – 31 – Kashima Antlers – Central-midfield / right-back – Before you start batting this one down, please hear me out. Nagaki may have played 46 games in all competitions for a strong Kashima side this year, so he could be seen as out of Gamba’s reach, but, he was reportedly on his way out of the club last winter as part of the deal that took Ryohei Shirasaki to Ibaraki. He’s also spent time at right full-back when Leo Silva and Kento Misao were fully fit and with the up-and-coming Shintaro Nago commanding more game time in the Antlers midfield, there is a slim chance Gamba could lure him to Osaka to provide a much needed shield in front of the back 3. Hidemasa Morita of Kawasaki would also fit this mould for me, but even if he’s behind Oshima and Tanaka at Frontale, I’m not sure we could get him (see Tatsuki Nara last year).

#5 Leonardo – 22 – Albirex Niigata – Centre-forward – Scored so many goals for Albirex in J2 this year that even Olunga’s 50 goals on the final day couldn’t overtake him. In all seriousness he netted 28 and assisted 6 in just 38 games making him one of the hottest properties in Asian football. Ademilson has been linked with Urawa (though the passion and commitment he showed on Saturday would suggest he’s going nowhere), however, if he stays, his partnership with Usami backed up by Goya and Ichimi (two other prolific scorers in J2 in 2019) probably means this deal would be dead in the water. If, on the other hand, Ademilson does become a Judas to the Gamba support and moves to Saitama, Leonardo would be the perfect replacement (Sugimoto in a swap deal would make heads explode). Gamba would be likely to face stiff competition from fellow J1 sides and even teams from China, the Middle East and Europe to land his services, but why not give it a shot?

Anyway, those are my thoughts, please let me know what you think on Twitter.

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Vegalta Sendai Match Preview

Gamba Osaka (9th) vs Vegalta Sendai (11th)
2019 Meiji Yasuda J1 League Round 32

23 November 2019 at 15:00 JST
Panasonic Stadium Suita

J1 returns after the final international break of the season with a clash between Gamba Osaka and Vegalta Sendai, two teams locked on 38 points in mid-table. Gamba currently lie 2 places above Sendai due to a superior goal difference and have accumulated their points total through 9 wins and 11 draws whereas Sendai have won 11 times and drawn 5. With only 3 rounds of games left, both teams will feel like their J1 status is almost secure for next season and any points taken from this game should guarantee safety. After this match, Gamba play Matsumoto Yamaga at home the following week and then AFC Champions League finalists Urawa Red Diamonds in the final round. Vegalta, on the other hand, face tricky fixtures, at home to Oita Trinita in round 33, before finishing away to Sanfrecce Hiroshima on December 7th.

Vegalta come to Osaka on Saturday with the worst away record in the league this year, just 3 wins and 1 draw from 15 matches, however, they have won 2 of their last 3 games on the road, overcoming struggling Nagoya Grampus 2-0 as well as a surprisingly comfortable 3-1 win at Sapporo back in September. Gamba haven’t been defeated in the league at Panasonic Stadium Suita since Urawa left with all 3 points back on April 14th and have won 5 and drawn 6 of their following 11 home fixtures.

Sendai won the reverse encounter between the sides on April 28th, as goals in injury time at the end of the first and second half by Katsuya Nagato and former Gamba man Shun Nagasawa respectively saw them overturn Kim Young-gwon’s early effort. This was an identical outcome to the match played between the two in 2018 when Kazuma Watanabe fired Gamba ahead only for two second half goals to swing things in the direction of the home side. This is a lesson that doesn’t seem to have been learned from by Gamba this year as they’ve only converted half-time leads into victories on two occasions (out of 6 attempts) and indeed when they’ve trailed at the break in 2019 they’re yet to come back to gain all 3 points (2 draws and 7 defeats).

Golden Week 2018 was the last time these two sides played a league match in Osaka with Levir Culpi’s struggling outfit earning a 1-0 victory over a Sendai team which on paper looked much stronger than this year’s crop, featuring as it did the likes of Ko Itakura, Hiroaki Okuno, Gakuto Notsuda and Takuma Nishimura, all now departed. Shu Kurata’s 62nd minute finish was all that separated them and although the talismanic Gamba number 10 is unlikely to take any part in this game due to a cheekbone fracture, the men in blue and black will be looking for a similar outcome against a Sendai side which has definitely punched above it’s weight this season following the departures of the aforementioned players.

Team News:
Gamba had Kim Young-gwon, Genta Miura and Yosuke Ideguchi away on international duty, but welcome all three back into a squad which is now only missing Shu Kurata through injury. Miyamoto usually likes to make a couple of small changes following a defeat, so I feel we could see the return of Yuya Fukuda down the left side in place of Hiroki Fujiharu. Other options for small tweaks could be bringing Ryu Takao back in for Shunya Suganuma at centre-back or perhaps changing the dynamic up-front with Kazuma Watanabe or Patric coming in to partner Takashi Usami and thus providing a big target for crosses or long balls.

Most of Sendai’s best performances in recent weeks have come with them operating the 4-4-2 system, although they have used 3-4-2-1 quite extensively in the recent past. I’m working on the basis that they’ll go 4-4-2 for this one. Polish ‘keeper Jakub Slowik, who joined the club as a mid-season replacement for the now departed Japanese international Daniel Schmidt will be between the sticks. Veteran centre-back Yasuhiro Hiraoka, who will make his 300th J1 appearance in this match, is likely to be partnered by versatile Mozambique international Simao Mate with Koji Hachisuka at right-back and assist-king Katsuya Nagato (9 assists, 2 goals in 27 J1 games in 2019) on the left. Club legend Shingo Tomita will anchor the midfield alongside Yoshiki Matsushita, an acquisition from Vissel Kobe last winter. Another winter 2018-19 signing, Ryohei Michibuchi (Ventforet Kofu) usually plays on the right-wing and in-form ex-Urawa and Cerezo winger Kunimutsu Sekiguchi is enjoying an Indian Summer in his career down the left (4 goals and 1 assist in 20 J1 games). Up front, 192cm former Gamba star Shun Nagasawa will likely be partnered by wily Brazilian Ramon Lopes, both forwards have found the net 6 times in the league this year and are currently Sendai’s top scorers. As noted earlier Simao Mate is able to play in more than one position, if he moves into central-midfield it could open the door for another former Gamba player, Kim Jung-ya, to come into their defence. Powerful forward Ryo Germain, ex-FC Tokyo attacker Takuma Abe and the vastly experienced Naoki Ishihara are likely to provide attacking re-inforcement from the bench.

Gamba haven’t lost at home in the league for 7 months and Vegalta are owners of the worst away record this season, but J1 is rarely that predictable. A draw for both teams would most probably make them mathematically safe from relegation, so I believe we will see a tight, tactical scuffle that Gamba will ultimately edge through a Takashi Usami strike which will take him to within one goal of Ademilson and Kurata at the top of the Gamba goalscoring charts.

As an aside, because of Labour Thanksgiving Day, this will be my 4th home game of the season. The results of the previous three are; 0-1 vs Urawa (Gamba’s last home league defeat), and 1-1 against Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Jubilo Iwata at either end of the Obon vacation. Goals scored by the opposition are Ewerton (Urawa) 87’, Leandro Pereira (Hiroshima) 90+2’ and Masato Nakayama (Iwata) 90+5’….so I guess what we can take from this is never give up Sendai….a 97th minute equaliser this time, anyone?

Predicted Gamba Line-up:
GK 1 Masaaki Higashiguchi (33 years old)
CB 13 Shunya Suganuma (29)
CB 5 Genta Miura (C) (24)
CB 19 Kim Young-gwon (29)
RWB 8 Kosuke Onose (26)
LWB 34 Yuya Fukuda (20)
DM 7 Yasuhito Endo (39)
CM 15 Yosuke Ideguchi (23)
CM 21 Shinya Yajima (25)
CF 33 Ademilson (25)
CF 33 Takashi Usami (27)

Subs: 23 Mizuki Hayashi (GK/23), 27 Ryu Takao (CB/RWB/23), 4 Hiroki Fujiharu (LWB/30), 11 David Concha (RW/LW/AM/23), 14 Markel Susaeta (RW/LW/AM/31), 18 Patric (CF/31), 39 Kazuma Watanabe (CF/33)


What will happen to Gamba’s legion of loanees?

With no J1 action this week owing to the international break and disappointing results for both Gamba U23 (3-0 losers at Blaublitz Akita) and Gamba Youth (who lost 4-0 to Nagoya Grampus U18 in the final of the Youth Cup), I decided to look at how Gamba’s large contingent of loanees have been getting on.

#2 Hiroki Noda (Montedio Yamata) – 22 years old – centre-back – Playing for Gamba U23 Noda always reminded me of the book Moneyball where Billy Beane basically said the only reason he had a pro-baseball career was due to the fact that he looked like a pro-baseball player. Standing 181cm, broad shouldered and strong, Noda looks like your archetypical centre-back, but to my eyes he’s never really performed at anything better than J3 level. I was surprised he went to Yamagata, a high flying J2 outfit with a strong defence, less surprising was his failure to make much of an impact, only 6 appearances to date. I think a return home to Kumamoto for 2020 may work out well for all parties concerned.

#14 Koki Yonekura (JEF United Chiba) – 31 – right-back – One of my favourite Gamba players since he joined from JEF in 2014, but even I have to reluctantly agree that his days as a J1 player are numbered. I know JEF are his hometown club, but there seems to be something badly wrong with their team environment so I’d love to see him join a side higher up the table, one who are genuinely looking for promotion.

#17 Mizuki Ichimaru (FC Gifu) – 22 – centre-midfield – Was highly rated a couple of years back and even appeared on all the Gamba promotional material alongside Endo, Konno, Higashiguchi etc, clearly being pushed as the new face of the Gamba Youth set-up. Niggling injuries every season seem to have hindered his development and he looked pretty disinterested when I saw him playing in J3 early this season. A loan move to FC Gifu brought 14 league appearances and 2 assists but also relegation and another injury. I can’t see him coming back to Gamba and playing, maybe he’ll leave permanently for a lower tier J2 or upper tier J3 side or he may go out on loan for another year.

#18 Akito Takagi (Montedio Yamagata) – 22 – centre-forward / right-wing – In the form of his life with Gamba U23 at the start of the year netting 11 times in just 17 games before moving to Yamagata on loan. If I were Gamba I wouldn’t be in a hurry to loan Yamagata any more players as shortly after he arrived they also brought in Yuya Yamagishi from FC Gifu in the same position. As a result Takagi has mustered 1 goal in 10 appearances (only 1 start) and must wonder what the future holds. He looks like an excellent prospect but he’ll surely be crowded out when it comes to a starting slot next year….another loan move to a lower ranked J2 side probably beckons.

#20 Hiroto Goya (V-Varen Nagasaki) – 25 – centre-forward – Things couldn’t have gone any better for Goya personally down in Kyushu, bagging 22 goals in 35 appearances for a mid-table side. Next season will surely see him in a Gamba shirt once more aiming to become the answer to our problematic finishing. It’s now or never for him as at 25 this is the perfect chance for him to light up Suita Stadium.

#22 Oh Jae-suk (FC Tokyo) – 29 – right/ left-back – Another popular member of the 2014 treble winning team who has gone out on loan this season, Jae-suk linked up with former coach Kenta Hasegawa and has nailed down the left-back spot as Tokyo search for their maiden J1 crown. Due to the way things have gone for him and the existing bond between he and Hasegawa, I’d say it’s pretty certain he’ll join the Gasmen permanently in the off-season.

#25 Jungo Fujimoto (Kyoto Sanga F.C.) – 35 – attacking midfielder – Famous for a couple of spectacular goals, some pretty passing and not a whole lot else at Gamba, in truth he was slightly over the hill before he joined us and now at 35 his career as a J1 player must surely be over. I’m sure he’ll have something to bring both on and off the field at a mid to lower table J2 team in 2020.

#28 Takahiro Ko (Renofa Yamaguchi FC) – 21 – central midfielder – Everyone else on Twitter seems to rate him more than me, he’s also been involved with the Japan U22 set-up so I’ll accept in this case that I’m the one in the wrong. Miyamoto made him captain of the U23’s last year and he was the first player he called into the J1 team after he was promoted so he clearly likes Ko. However, after some average results at the start of this campaign, a change of formation, the return of Ideguchi and the revival of Yajima saw him become surplus to requirements. Honestly, I don’t see him playing regularly for Gamba in 2020 so he may stay on at Yamaguchi next season. Due to the strong bond that’s developed between the clubs over the past couple of years, I wouldn’t mind if we could get Ryuho Kikuchi in exchange for Ko.

#– Ryota Suzuki (JEF United Chiba) – 25 – goalkeeper – Only managed 16 league appearances this season and was generally back-up to the error-prone Yuya Sato. If he comes back he’ll be way down the pecking order, he should probably join a J3 side and play regularly for the sake of his career.

#– Bae Soo-yong (Kamatamare Sanuki) – 21 – centre-back – Started off the season in the side, but now a bench warmer as Sanuki slip into the oblivion (they’re currently level on points with Gamba U23). He would take up a foreigner slot if he returned so I reckon he’ll either go to JFL or back to South Korea.

#– Kazunari Ichimi (Kyoto Sanga F.C.) – 22 – centre-forward – Like Goya, he’s done brilliantly, scoring 17 times in 35 matches for an over-performing Kyoto side. He’s more of a link up player compared to Goya who is more in the penalty box poacher mold, meaning than there should be room for both in Gamba’s J1 squad for 2020.

*Note – I didn’t include #38 Keito Nakamura as he’s on an 18-month loan at FC Twente – for what it’s worth I don’t see him coming back to J1 anytime soon.


Gamba News 10/11/19

A disappointing result for Gamba today in J1, going down 2-1 away to Oita Trinita, while they U23 side drew 3-3 at Iwate Grulla Morioka yesterday. Here’s my take on all the latest Gamba news.

# 1 Top half finish still a realistic prospect
I’m sure all Gamba supporters came away from today’s game with a feeling of what might have been, plenty of opportunities were created but only one taken and ultimately any chance to catch up with and pass Oita and Sapporo has now evaporated. That said, due to poor results for other team’s just behind Gamba, they remain in 9th place on a paltry 38 points. After the international break comes a home double header against Vegalta Sendai (11th, behind Gamba on goal difference, but the owners of the worst away record in the division) and Matsumoto Yamaga (17th, 30 points), two definitely winnable games which could see Gamba onto 44 points, a total unlikely to be overhauled by anyone further down the table regardless of the outcome of the Urawa game in the final day. 9th place (following on from 9th in 2018 and 10th in 2017) isn’t something that would have thrilled your average supporter had you asked them at the start of the season, but it looks like it’s going to be as good as it gets in 2019.

# 2 Away form a handbrake on the team’s progress
I felt strangely confident coming into the Oita game. As I wrote in the match preview, Trinita flew threw the first third of the season and have been in cruise control ever since. They are better away than at home and even after today’s win, they only have 5 victories in their last 19 J1 games. That Gamba were unable to come away with even a point is a testament to the fickleness of their road performances this year. After winning their first 2 games against Shimizu and Kawasaki, the only further away successes have been at struggling Matsumoto and Shonan. We haven’t lost at home in J1 for 7 months, but it that time have been well beaten at Cerezo, Tokyo and Yokohama as well as today’s loss….much improvement in mentality and tactical approach needed, I feel.

#3 How to judge this season….thoughts about next year
In 2017 Gamba defeated Cerezo 3-1 at home on 29 July to go third in the table after 19 matches but then conspired to win only one of their remaining fixtures and ended up 10th. The rot continued in the first half of 2018 and they only climbed out of the relegation zone after round 28 which fell in the middle of a 9 game winning run that ultimately saw a 9th place finish. This year started much like last with 7 defeats in the first 11 games which was been followed by personnel and tactical changes and a lot of average performances and may again result in a top half finish. However, the feel good factor that came with the Miyamoto appointment and the 9 game winning streak is not with me this time and I find myself desperately searching for reasons to be positive for 2020.
Here are some of my ideas for a better year;
* Better co-ordination between the front office and the coaching staff – too many players have been signed this year (and before) who the manager clearly didn’t want / need (Daisuke Takagi, Susaeta, Concha)
*Stick to the areas of recruitment we’re good at, namely; direct from the youth system (Gamba Youth have produced more internationals than any other JLeague club), players from high schools outwith Kansai (Keito Nakamura, Fukuda, Takae), players from university (Takao, Goya, Hiroyuki Abe, Fujiharu), ex-players (Ideguchi and Usami), and if we’re going to sign foreigners, maybe stick to South Koreans, we seem to be good at that.
*If we’re going to sign players from other J1 teams whose experience and age means that they’ll expect to play regularly, please consider if a) they play in a position that needs upgrading and b) they are better than players currently contracted to Gamba…I know this sounds obvious, but look at all transfer windows post 2014 for evidence of signings who don’t fit a, b or both.
*No more “Hail Mary” foreign signings – David Concha may or may not be a good player, no Gamba supporters really know, he was brought in after the season started, when we had no other Spanish speakers in the squad (Ademilson may have helped as I believe Spanish and Portuguese are mutually understandable)….he’s a young kid far away from home, at least give him a good chance of succeeding, ditto Susaeta, brought in with 9 matches left after being out of contract in Spain for a good 3 months, what kind of impact did we expect him to have? (this situation is made worse by the fact that neither player plays in a position that needs upgrading, if we’re going to go Spanish, what are Sergio Ramos or Gerard Pique up to?)
*Finally, please don’t sign any players in the same position as Kurata or Onose unless we either sell them or the new player is world class.

#4 2020 signings update
As I reported last week, it was confirmed that U23 assist king Shuhei Kawasaki would be joining the first team in 2020. He’ll be joined by fellow U23 left-winger / second striker (why did we sign Daisuke Takagi again?) Dai Tsukamoto….both players celebrated the news by scoring in Gamba U23’s 3-3 draw at the weekend, Tsukamoto even helped himself to an assist, setting up Kawasaki’s first half strike.

#5 Congratulations and good luck to those selected for international duty this week
Japan U22 vs Colombia….Kosei Tani
Japan vs Venezuela (Kirin Challenge)….Genta Miura and Yosuke Ideguchi
South Korea vs Lebanon and Brazil….Kim Young-gwon

Also….Gamba Youth and U23 forward Shoji Toyama represented Japan U17 in the World Cup, but unfortunately they were defeated 2-0 by Mexico in the last 16.

And finally….Gamba Youth defeated Avispa Fukuoka 3-1 today to reach the final of the Japanese Youth Cup….well done boys.


Oita Trinita match preview

Oita Trinita (8th) vs Gamba Osaka (9th)
2019 Meiji Yasuda J1 League Round 31
10 November 2019 at 14:00 JST
Showa Denko Dome Oita

Gamba travel to Kyushu this Sunday for their penultimate away game of the season knowing that a win will take them within just two points of Oita who sit only one place ahead of them in the standings. Both sides have had very contrasting seasons, Gamba kicked off their campaign by taking just 8 points from their first 11 games but have since steadied the ship, losing only 3 times in the following 19 league matches. Oita, on the other hand, came flying out of the blocks and after 12 games were sitting pretty with 24 points, since then life in J1 has proved tougher and they’ve taken just 19 points from the past 18 games with only 4 wins coming alongside 7 draws and 7 defeats. That said, the men from Kyushu would have bitten your hand off at the start of the year to have such a comfortable return to top flight football.

The reverse fixture between the sides took place back in April and saw Gamba have the better of play, but in the end the game finished 1-1 with Yasuhito Endo’s deflected shot in the 71st minute cancelling out Ado Onaiwu’s first half opener in front of just 17,727 fans (Gamba’s lowest attendance of the season). Prior to that the last league meeting between the two came way back in 2009, with Gamba winning both games, 1-0 at home and 3-1 away. However, Gamba have lost on each of their previous 3 league visits to Kyushu, 3-1 to Sagan Tosu in May as well 3-0 defeats to both Tosu and V-Varen Nagasaki in 2018. Their last win in Kyushu came on 26 August 2017 when second-half goals from Shu Kurata, Shun Nagasawa and Hiroki Fujiharu led them to a 3-1 win against Tosu which actually proved to be their final victory of the season as they collapsed in Kenta Hasegawa’s final matches in charge.

Gamba captain and centre-back Genta Miura as well as central midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi both received recalls to the Japan national team for the Kirin International Challenge match against Venezuela at Panasonic Stadium Suita on November 19th, Miura currently has 7 caps while Ideguchi has 2 goals in 12 national team appearances. For Oita, on-loan Urawa forward Ado Onaiwu who has netted 10 times for them in J1 this season will join Miura and Ideguchi in the squad, his first senior call-up. His team-mate, centre-back Tomoki Iwata will be part of the Japan Under-22 squad for the match against Colombia on November 17th where he’ll be joined by Gamba U23 goalkeeper Kosei Tani. In further international news, Gamba’s South Korean centre-back Kim Young-gwon will be looking to add to his 74 caps in matches against Lebanon and Brazil.

Team News:
Gamba made 4 changes to the starting line-up in their last game against Shonan Bellmare. Forwards Takashi Usami and Ademilson returned from injury to take the places of the injured Shu Kurata and experienced striker Kazuma Watanabe. Yasuhito Endo came into the deep-lying playmaker role and formed a midfield triangle with Yosuke Ideguchi and Shinya Yajima while right wing-back Yuya Fukuda missed out altogether (I assume he was injured but I didn’t see any announcements) and Kosuke Onose reverted to his regular role down the right having played as a second striker in the previous match at home to Kawasaki Frontale. The final move saw Shunya Suganuma replace Ryu Takao in the back 3 which seemed to give it a more solid look although Takao definitely does possess more pace than Suganuma. I’d expect Gamba to continue with the same starters against Oita with only potentially Watanabe coming in for Ademilson, who failed to score from 5 shots against Shonan or if Fukuda returns from injury (he was pictured alongside a mask-wearing Shu Kurata training with the top team on Thursday) then he could take the place of Fujiharu in the starting eleven or David Concha on the subs bench.

Oita are pretty set on a 3-4-2-1 formation which has seen them achieve excellent results this season. Shun Takagi, who blundered badly for FC Tokyo’s opener last week is the first choice goalkeeper. The three centre-backs consist of; captain Yoshinori Suzuki who is flanked by Tomoki Iwata, a member of Japan’s squad at this year’s Copa America and Yuto Misao, older brother of Kashima Antlers Kento. Right wing-back Rei Matsumoto has been an ever present for Trinita in J1 this year while on the left is Tatsuya Tanaka who of course joined mid-season from Gamba, only a matter of months after moving to Osaka from Roasso Kumamoto. In the midfield engine-room, another summer signing Yuki Kobayashi (Nagoya Grampus) is likely to be partnered by either Toshio Shimakawa or 22 year-old Yushi Hasegawa. Further forward, Kazuki Kozuka is a key provider of assists and he will probably be joined by the experienced Kazuki Mitsuhira in playing off of the diminutive Yusuke Goto in attack. Goto, who netted the winner away to Urawa a couple of weeks back is currently keeping top-scorer Ado Onaiwu on the bench, although I feel this may be due to Oita having only pride to play for and Onaiwu being set to return to his parent club, Urawa Red Diamonds, in 2020. Trinita don’t score many goals, just 32 in 30 games prior to this one, with Onaiwu and now departed forward Noriaki Fujimoto (Vissel Kobe’s bench) contributing 18 goals between them, however they are very solid at the back, letting in only 29, a rate of fewer than one per game which gives them the joint 5th best defence in J1.

Oita come into this game seemingly in holiday mode and are actually a better team on the road than they are at home with 22 of their 43 league points won away from the Oita Dome against just 21 won at home. They were comfortably defeated by title challengers FC Tokyo last week while Gamba easily saw off struggling Shonan, 3-0 still I’m not sure how much we can read into those results. My heart says Gamba will keep up their decent form and edge a hard fought clash 2-0, but I’m very wary of making positive predictions for this Gamba side away from home so I’ll opt for a 1-1 draw and hope to be proven wrong.

Predicted Gamba Line-up:
GK 1 Masaaki Higashiguchi (33 years old)
CB 13 Shunya Suganuma (29)
CB 5 Genta Miura (C) (24)
CB 19 Kim Young-gwon (29)
RWB 8 Kosuke Onose (26)
LWB 4 Hiroki Fujiharu (30)
DM 7 Yasuhito Endo (39)
CM 15 Yosuke Ideguchi (23)
CM 21 Shinya Yajima (25)
CF 33 Ademilson (25)
CF 33 Takashi Usami (27)

Subs: 23 Mizuki Hayashi (GK/23), 27 Ryu Takao (CB/RB22), 29 Leo Takae (CM/AM/21), 14 Markel Susaeta (RW/LW/AM/31), 34 Yuya Fukuda (RWB/LWB/20), 18 Patric (CF/31), 39 Kazuma Watanabe (CF/33)


Gamba Osaka News November 4th 2019

#1 Gamba record 3-0 win away to Shonan Bellmare
I predicted a hard-fought 2-2 draw between these sides, however, it proved to be anything but as Kosuke Onose’s early volley and powerful shots either side of half time by Takashi Usami secured an easy 3-0 victory. The win was Gamba’s first on the road in over 4 months and now sees their overall away record this season improve to 4 wins, 5 draws and 6 defeats, the 12th best record in the league. Two away games remain this year, against Oita this Sunday and Urawa on the final day of the season December 7th.

#2 Usami finds his goalscoring touch once again
Takashi Usami talked in the buildup to the Shonan match about how important finding the back of the net was for someone in his position and he certainly backed up that talk on Sunday. As reported on Japanese twitter this was the first time since the 2-1 win away to Kashima Antlers on 12 September 2015 that Usami has scored twice in once game for Gamba (of course he wasn’t a Gamba player for a large chunk of the time inbetween). He now has 4 goals in 10 J1 games since returning to the club in July, and is only 3 shy of joint-top scorers Ademilson and Shu Kurata who both have 7. With home games against Sendai and Matsumoto still to come he may fancy himself to match or better their season’s total.

#3 Relegation still a mathematical possibility but looking increasingly unlikely
As mentioned in the Shonan match preview, Gamba’s win moves them 7 points clear of Bellmare with just 4 matches left. Gamba are now in 9th spot in the standings, ahead of Vissel Kobe on goal difference. Bottom club Jubilo Iwata defeated local rivals Shimizu S-Pulse at the weekend but can’t finish ahead of Gamba even if they win all their remaining games as they are 13 points behind with just 4 remaining fixtures. Matsumoto Yamaga are 8 points behind Gamba, however should we win the home match against them on November 30th then they wouldn’t be able to overtake us regardless of the results in the other games.

# 4 Onose set for international honours?
The EAFF Cup which will be held in Korea this year between 10-18 December may not be to everyone’s taste (cough cough Marcello Lippi cough cough), but it does provide an excellent chance for JLeague players to gain international experience while foreign based stars such as Minamino, Osako and Nakajima are ineligible. Right-winger Kosuke Onose must be in with a great chance for a first international call-up. Despite his club’s mediocre results this season, he has been a shining light with 6 goals and 4 assists from 26 J1 games….should Gamba’s decent run of form continue until the end of the season, whisper it gently, but could there be international recalls for Ideguchi and Usami?

#5 Shuhei Kawasaki to be promoted to the top team for 2020
As I write this (4 November 19:08 JST) Gamba haven’t yet officially confirmed the club’s worst kept secret that U23 assist king Shuhei Kawasaki will be promoted to the senior squad for 2020. Yahoo News are reporting it as fact and I expect it to be confirmed by the club within hours/days. I was at the U23 side’s 3-2 win over SC Sagamihara today where he netted a goal and an assist (he was interviewed right after the game, but my Japanese isn’t good enough to hear if they congratulated him only on his first senior or also on his contract) and he played mostly up front alongside Haruto Shirai before dropping deeper into more of a second-striker role in the second half. He has previously played mostly on the left-wing and that appears to be his favoured position. Kawasaki has 1 goal and 8 assists from 20 J3 appearances this year.