Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare
2021 J1 Season Round 38
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 4 December 2021
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)
It’s the end of the J1 season and spirits are in the sky…well not really in the case of Gamba or Shonan who have both endured campaigns to forget. These two meet at Panasonic Stadium on Saturday with the Nerazzurri having only pride to play for while Bellmare’s top flight survival hinges on this game as well as Hiroshima’s visit to Tokushima. As long as the the side from Kanagawa match or better their Shikoku based rivals’ result at home to Sanfrecce then they’ll be fine. However, former Gamba centre-back and assistant kantoku Satoshi Yamaguchi shouldn’t count on getting an easy ride from the Ao to Kuro.
Gamba will be keen to avoid closing the year out with 3 losses on the spin and while recent defeats to Nagoya (1-3) and Kawasaki (1-4) look poor on paper, both Grampus and Frontale were rather flattered by the final scorelines. It should be pointed out though, that in the context of the Nerazzurri’s season as a whole, with chances being ceded to opponents at an alarming rate, these kind of outcomes have to be expected from time to time. Last week Shonan fluffed their lines too, going down 1-0 at home to relegation rivals Tokushima when a draw could have all but secured their J1 status and a win would have sealed the deal. In their defence, Bellmare had to deal with the shock death of Brazilian midfielder Riuler Oliveira in the build up and that tragedy was likely a significant contributing factor in their limp display. They must now dust themselves off though as they are very much drinking at the last chance saloon and need to put in the kind of performance that would have made their fallen team-mate proud.
As this is the final match preview of the year, a couple of quick parish notices. First, I’d like to congratulate Kyoto Sanga on their promotion back to J1, having 4 Kansai teams in the top flight is great for the region and also gives me the opportunity to once again moan about the lack of professional clubs in an area with a population not far off that of Australia. It’d be great to see the likes of FC Osaka and FC TIAMO Hirakata as well as sides from Mie, Nara, Shiga and Wakayama one day compete in the J.League. Finally, thanks again to everyone for all your support this year, I really appreciate you taking the time to read, comment on, share and like my posts. Honestly, the fact that I can put up an article on WordPress and see that it’s been read by people from all the world’s inhabited continents within a matter of hours still blows my mind. At this stage I’ve no idea where 2022 will take me, but I’m always open to ideas and suggestions.
Oh…and in case anyone wondered….Yokohama FC (away) has been the most viewed match preview of 2021 to date, rather randomly.
Tale of the Tape
As I alluded to above, I felt the nature of Gamba’s last 2 defeats was a bit harsh and that’s backed up by the fact that the 7 goals the Nerazzurri conceded came from an xG Against figure of just 2.74. This wouldn’t really offer me much comfort if I was a Shonan supporter as I’d be worried that Gamba might be due a lucky break at some point in the upcoming 90 minutes. While both Kawasaki and Nagoya have extremely efficient attacks, the same can’t really be said about the men from Hiratsuka which is evidenced by their top scorers Wellington and Naoki Yamada having just 5 goals apiece.
Like Gamba, Shonan average less than a goal per game in J1 2021, 36 in 37 outings versus Gamba’s 33, with that number lying 0.12 below their xG For average. At the other end of the park, among sides in the bottom half of the standings, only Hiroshima (40) have conceded less that Bellmare’s 41. Gamba (49) rank joint third for that particular statistic which is actually just marginally worse than when they finished 2nd 12 months ago (1.32 per game in 2021 compared with 1.24 last year). It’s interesting that the name Sanfrecce crept up as I was going to mention them anyway with the two fixtures between Hiroshima and Shonan this year producing some particularly odd outcomes. First, Bellmare won 1-0 at the Edion Stadium despite recording a season low xG For of 0.18, however, things were evened out and then some in the return match at the Lemon Gas Stadium. Following Kosei Shibasaki’s early sending off for the visitors, the home side pounded Takuto Hayashi’s goal and racked up a 3.06-0.07 xG victory while also posting season best stats in the categories of Shots For/Shots For on target, Shots Against/Shots Against on target, possession % and passes completed. Unfortunately, in the real word all that added up to was an extremely frustrating 0-0 draw which combined with the farcical ending to their 4-2 home loss at the hands of Kashiwa in June and skipper Takuya Okamoto’s long running bitter battle against VAR has rather summed up the Kanagawa outfit’s season.
Shonan have drawn 15 league games to date this year, more than any other side in the division, and the 10 of those recorded at home have been particularly damaging to their hopes of progressing up the table. Away from Hiratsuka, Bellmare possess the 4th worst record in J1 with just 17 points from 18 games. Interestingly, Gamba are 4th bottom of the home standings, averaging just a solitary point per outing at Panasonic Stadium. The Nerazzurri should be keen to end a disappointing year in winning fashion in front of their home supporters and with the spotlight very much on this clash, as well as the one taking place at the Pocari Sweat Stadium, we are likely to see a strong Gamba side take the field with the majority of the starters probably still being on board come the commencement of the 2022 campaign, so don’t go expecting any mass downing of tools. If I was devising the Ao to Kuro’s strategy for Saturday I would suggest using Shonan’s desperation for points as an advantage. Gamba have been poor at home, in no small part, because of a susceptibility to the counter attack. With that in mind, the Nerazzurri should treat this like an away game and invite Bellmare onto them, keep a compact shape and aim to pick them off on the counter.
Head to Head
Shonan and Gamba played out a largely dull and uneventful 0-0 draw in Hiratsuka at the beginning of June, the Nerazzurri’s final league match before heading off to Uzbekistan for the ACL group stage. Significantly though, that hard won point moved Gamba out of the relegation zone for the first time since the opening round of the season. Both fixtures in 2020 were tight affairs also, Bellmare stunned the Nerazzurri with a 1-0 win at Panasonic Stadium, their first league triumph in Suita under their present name. Genta Miura misread Daiki Kaneko’s neatly threaded through ball (it’s been quite a surprise to see him disappear without a trace at Reds) and centre-back Kazunari Ohno fired home at the back post to seal a smash-and-grab 3 pointer. As I discussed in detail in this section last week, that result sparked Gamba into life and they’d go on to lose just 3 more times in their remaining 19 league outings to finish the year in 2nd. En route to that runners up spot they exacted revenge on Shonan, defeating them 2-1 on their own turf in early December. Yuya Fukuda’s fine strike from the edge of the area was cancelled out by Hiroto Nakagawa before Patric won the game midway through the second half. Masaaki Goto, deputising for the ineligible Kosei Tani, later pulled off a fine stop to deny the Brazilian a 2nd and the Nerazzurri had to be content with a 2-1 victory.
Being the final week of the season, this section features a bit of a hodge-podge of information so I thought bullet points was the simplest way to format it.
* Just 1 win and 7 points gleaned from the opening 12 games of the year combined with the Covid cluster to scuttle Gamba’s season before it ever got up-and-running. It’s worth noting that since then they’ve accumulated 36 points from 25 matches (1.44 points per game), a rate that would have seen them sit joint 8th with Avispa Fukuoka had it been achieved over the course of the whole year (excuses, excuses, I know!) Why do I mention this you ask? It seems that Oita kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka will be in charge next year and I felt it was right to attempt to measure where Gamba currently stand when you factor out the impact of the Covid outbreak (a factor that will hopefully be absent in 2022).
* To counter-balance what could be construed as the cherry picking of stats above, let me point out that in the 3 of the last 4 seasons Gamba have flirted with the drop zone for various lengths of time. This is a far cry from the trophy-laden glory years of Nishino and Hasegawa which all of a blue and black persuasion will hope Katanosaka can rekindle. Patience is the key, however, Rome wasn’t built in a day and it’s important for the Nerazzurri’s front office and tifosi to remember that.
* Gamba’s home kit for the 2022 campaign season will be unveiled before kick off on Saturday. This, of course, will be the first uniform to be adorned by the new club crest which I’m sure will lead to some interesting takes on Twitter. Personally, I hope to keep hearing opposition supporters going on about the new badge well into next year, as that will probably be a good indicator that Gamba are doing well on the field and the club’s detractors have to look elsewhere for things to criticise (tongue half planted in cheek while typing this, just half mind lol).
* If anyone was wondering, yes I was purring as Takashi Usami rolled back the years to slalom through the Kawasaki defence, leaving my mum’s favourite Shogo Taniguchi for dead before dinking the ball over Jung Sung-ryong in the 17th minute last Saturday. More of the same this week please!
* Usami’s strike partner Patric is currently sitting on 13 goals, joint 5th in the top scorers rankings only behind the leading marksmen from the current top 4. To put the 34 year-old’s performance in context, this is already his highest ever J1 haul in a Gamba shirt, beating the previous record of 12 set in 2015. Granted he did score 20 for Sanfrecce back in 2018, but I still think it’s apt to say he’s ageing like a fine wine.
* On the subject of Gamba’s forwards, remove the tallies of Patric, Usami and Leandro Pereira from the equation and the rest of the squad have amassed 9 goals from 37 J1 games…I’m not sure there’s a strong enough word to convey my feelings about that.
* Gen Shoji being dispossessed by a Kawasaki midfielder midway through the 2nd half of Saturday’s encounter which subsequently saw him berate team-mates for not warning him is indicative of the issues that have been plaguing Gamba throughout the year. I remember a few weeks back in the draw at Urawa, a Reds player was racing past the half-way line on a dangerous counter-attack and Shu Kurata took him out, receiving a yellow card for his troubles. At that time I thought to myself, that kind of thing should have been happening months earlier when the likes of Shoma Doi and Takuma Nishimura were allowed to canter through the Gamba defence almost unopposed before scoring. Katanosaka’s Oita sides are generally among the league’s least booked teams, so hopefully he has something up his sleeve to stop the Nerazzurri constantly finding themselves on their heels with marauding forwards bearing down on their goal and Masaaki Higashiguchi left to save the day time and time again (116 saves for the year and counting).
* Gamba sit 13th in J1 at the moment and due to having a far inferior goal difference compared with 12th placed Hiroshima (-16 vs 0) they can’t finish any higher. They hold a mere 2 point advantage over Kashiwa in 14th and the Sunkings have a winnable looking final fixture at home to Oita, so it’s definitely in Gamba’s best interests to aim for 3 points against Shonan in order to finish as far up the table as possible. Incidentally, due to playing catch up for most of the year, they’ve actually only spent one week higher than 13th in the standings, that was following their Hiroto Yamami inspired 1-0 victory at Shimizu in August.
Typical, you get to the end of the season and just about everyone is fit again! Backup goalkeeper Jun Ichimori is out as a result of undergoing hamstring surgery, while forward Leandro Pereira suffered a relapse of his hamstring injury and is currently back home in Brazil recovering (this was confirmed by the club on December 1st). There are also doubts over Kim Young-gwon and Ryu Takao. Kim went off injured in the 1-0 win over Tosu on October 23rd, and was absent from Tuesday’s (November 30th) open training session. Takao wasn’t in the squad for the Frontale loss and having been taken off at half-time in the 2 previous fixtures with Oita and Nagoya, it’s unclear if he missed out at Todoroki because of injury or non selection.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Perhaps the biggest anomaly in Shonan’s season to date was Satoshi Yamaguchi taking over from Bin Ukishima at the beginning of September after the latter had just seen off Cerezo (and Levir Culpi – he always needs a mention) 5-1 away and drawn 0-0 at home to the side they love antagonising the most, Urawa. Not exactly a turn of events that would usually precipitate a managerial switch at a yo-yo/elevator (pick your poison) team like Bellmare. With 2 wins and 10 points from the 10 games since the move, it’s turned out ok, but hasn’t exactly been a roaring success either. Regular J1 watchers may feel that Shonan are something akin to a cat whose nine lives are almost up as they narrowly avoided the drop in 2019, drawing 1-1 at home with Tokushima in the promotion/relegation playoff and then finished 18th and last during the chaotic 2020 season when relegation was off the table. This is their 4th year in a row in Japan’s top flight, their longest streak since the Bellmare Hiratsuka era of the 1990s. Indeed, the side famous for developing Hidetoshi Nakata in the J.League’s formative years is now home to a new generation of prodigious talents in the shape of Satoshi Tanaka, Taiyo Hiraoka and Taiga Hata. They potentially have a tough battle on their hands to keep that trio at the club regardless of what division they are playing in next season.
Speaking of 2022, Shonan have been busy snapping up yet more young talent to bolster their ranks. Defender Kodai Minoda (Hosei University) and forward Ryo Nemoto (Kanoya National Institute for Sport) will come on board with Nemoto having already made 3 J1 appearances across the past 2 seasons as a designated special player. Versatile duo Naoki Hara and Taisei Ishii will be promoted from Bellmare’s youth setup while defender Sere Matsumura (Teikyo Nagaoka High School), midfielder Junnosuke Suzuki (Teikyo University Kani High School) and attacker Akito Suzuki (Hannan University High School, Osaka) round out the new faces.
As I’m currently running on fumes from a long, hard slog of a season I’ll be mercifully brief in here. Kosei Tani can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement and Kashima loanee Daiki Sugioka is likely to be absent too. He was last seen in the home loss to Yokohama F. Marinos on October 1st while his former Antlers team-mate Shintaro Nago hasn’t surfaced since the game at Nagoya on August 15th. The club confirmed that he had undergone surgery on December 1st to cure a foot problem picked up in training on August 17th and would be out for a further 3 months.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.
Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare