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Emperor’s Cup Final Review, Season Wrap, Transfer Round-up

Happy New Year to all! This will be my final blog post of the season and I’ll be back ahead of the Japanese Super Cup match between Gamba and Kawasaki on February 20th. Thanks to everyone who has supported me so far, and actually my Emperor’s Cup match preview was my most read post to date, a good way to kick off 2021 even if the result on the field didn’t match it. I’ll keep posting transfer updates and opinions on Twitter (@BlogGamba) and there’s more on that below.

Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 Gamba Osaka Match Report

Gamba fell just short in their bid to win this year’s Emperor’s Cup, going down 1-0 to deserved double-winners Kawasaki Frontale at the National Stadium on New Year’s Day. As predicted, Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made just a solitary change to the lineup from the semi-final win over Tokushima as the fit-again Takashi Usami replaced Kazuma Watanabe. The Nerazzurri started the game in their usual 4-4-2 before switching to a 3-4-2-1 system just after the 10th minute in order to get more players in central areas to protect against the Frontale onslaught. After Kaoru Mitoma’s 55th minute opener, they reverted back to 4-4-2.

Gamba thought they’d got off to the perfect start in the 6th minute when Patric nodded Usami’s free kick past Jung Sung-ryong, but it was ruled out for offside. I haven’t seen a proper replay yet, but my gut instinct tells me it was the correct decision as how else would the Brazilian have got so far ahead of the defence? This game was broadcast on NHK, so anyone hoping for analysis of the big decisions in the final during the half-time interval was to be sorely disappointed. We were instead treated to national team boss Hajime Moriyasu being grilled on who might make the Tokyo Olympics squad, should the games even take place (if any of you aren’t already aware Moriyasu has heard of Mitoma and Ao Tanaka).

Gamba did cause Kawasaki problems early doors and forced their backline into a number of loose passes, the downside was that this more adventurous approach left them exposed to counter attacks, so Miyamoto quickly went into defensive mode. This resulted in the remaining 2/3 of the half being all Frontale and fortunately for Gamba, Kawasaki hadn’t brought their shooting boots with them, Mitoma, Leandro Damião and Ienaga all guilty of wasting opportunities. Patric was booked for a silly shove on Hatate going into half time and exchanged words with fellow Brazilian Damião, however, it was definitely Gamba who were the happier to get to the interval scoreless.

The Frontale breakthrough inevitably came through the irrepressible Mitoma who coolly slotted past Ryu Takao and Masaaki Higashiguchi following a Damião through ball after possession had been ceded by Gamba in their own half. Kengo Nakamura (who NHK commentary spent most of the first half reminding us, was on the bench and today would be his last ever game) was shown celebrating gleefully on the sidelines and with the Nerazzurri’s record of coming back from a goal down, this really did feel like the winner, even with 35 minutes left to play. Following the 5-0 hammering in November, Gamba were left in a quandary, go all out attack and risk another heavy loss, or try to contain Kawasaki and then push for an equaliser late on. Despite introducing Watanabe and Fukuda for Yamamoto and Fujiharu, they opted for the latter.

Miyamoto has received some criticism for his strategy, but it very nearly paid off. Taniguchi cleared Watanabe’s scuffed shot off the line following a rare Jung blunder. The South Korean stopper more than made amends with two fine tips over the bar to deny both Usami and Fukuda late on. Gamba threw Genta Miura up front right in additional time and nearly conceded a horrible goal themselves when Higashiguchi was robbed of possession. In the end, it was too little too late, Frontale were unable to bring Kengo on for a final appearance, much to the dismay of the NHK commentary team, but he can be more than satisfied with his final year as a professional footballer. Gamba were forced to settle for 2nd again and the ignominy of taking a team photo (why?) with their silver medals and the cheque that will be partly used to pay the fine for Ademilson’s indiscretions.

Season Wrap

This crazy season started and ended with 1-0 defeats in the cups, but a lot of positive steps were taken in between and Gamba are once again a force in Japanese football after three years in the wilderness. I’ve gone into details ad nauseum in previous posts about how their new defensive strategy and ability to protect leads this year were major factors behind their re-ascendance. The ultimate goal, however, was facing them at the National Stadium yesterday (Friday), being able to attack as fluently as Kawasaki while keeping things tight at the back has to be the next step. You could see in the Final that when Gamba went into all out defensive mode it was almost impossible for them to quickly change to an attacking mindset and, as such, several chances to successfully counter were thrown away and wave after wave of Frontale attack kept coming back at them.

I like Miyamoto, I think he is a cerebral manager who isn’t afraid to re-consider his ideas about how football should be played and I look forward to seeing how he embraces the challenge ahead. The Nerazzurri are back in the Asian Champions League for the first time in four years which should allow them to attract a better calibre of player. 2021 will be a particularly big year for Yuki Yamamoto, who played at a much higher level than we had a right to expect this season, and also Yuya Fukuda. I feel it’s vital for him to nail down a position, rather than constantly switching between flanks and midfield / defence.

Below I’m going to have a look at some of the players likely to come and go in the off-season and you can make your own minds up about how you think these moves will alter Gamba’s style of play. Please let me know what you think in the comments section.

Transfer Rumours

* This is a fast moving situation, so some of the moves labelled as ‘Very Likely’ may actually be confirmed by the time you read this.

In

Confirmed

Yota Sato (22 years old Meiji University) A centre back who is one of 12 Meiji graduates to join JLeague clubs this winter. FC Tokyo duo Shuto Abe and Hotaka Nakamura were his seniors and if he can have the same impact those two have had this year then Gamba fans are in for a treat. The Nerazzurri don’t sign university players often, but when they do they are usually decent. I also can’t think of the last time they signed a player from a university outside of Kansai. Any takers?

Very Likely

Ju Se-jong (30 FC Seoul) South Korean international (24 caps 1 goal, played in 2018 World Cup where he robbed Manuel Neuer to set up Son Heung-min for the 2nd in the win over Germany) similar in style to Ideguchi, so covers an area of need. There are questions over his performance since completing military service, 16 games, 1 assists, 1 red card (for 2 yellows) in K1 2020, but he does bring ACL experience with him.

Leandro Pereira (29 Matsumoto Yamaga) – 15 goals and 2 assists in 26 J1 games (just 19 starts) in 2020 while on loan at Sanfrecce Hiroshima, the 190cm Pereira will apparently join on a free transfer as he’s out of contract, but his wages are reported to be some ¥155 million per year. He has 2 goals in 3 games for Sanfrecce against Gamba.

Kazunari Ichimi (23 Yokohama FC – loan return) – After spending 2019 with Kyoto in J2, Ichimi made the step up to the top tier with new boys Yokohama FC and bagged 4 goals and 2 assists in 31 games (21 starts). He didn’t find the target against any top-half opposition (only Sapporo, Sendai, Shonan and Kobe) and with the Olympics coming up one wonders if this is the right move for him, Miyamoto appears to be a fan, though.

Speculation

Kim Ji-hyeon / Kim Ji-hyun [I’ve seen different Romanisations of his name] (24 Gangwon FC) – This move was rumoured on New Year’s Day and after the success Hwang Ui-jo enjoyed at Gamba it makes a lot of sense. Both are 184cm centre-forwards who can also operate wide, Kim has the slightly better K1 goalscoring ratio, 21 in 62 vs Hwang’s 30 in 121. Kim was K1 Rookie of the Year in 2019 and netted 8 in 23 last time out including a double off the bench in the 2-1 win at Jeonbuk on August 30th, this for a team that ended the season in 7th place.

Shion Homma (20 Albirex Niigata) – Left winger / second striker who got 7 goals and 7 assists in 40 J2 games in 2020 (30 starts). Gamba scouts were seen watching him in the 2-0 loss at Nagasaki on November 28th and it remains to be seen what comes of that.

Youth Team Promotion

Jiro Nakamura (high school 2nd grade) a right-winger who got 2 goals and 1 assist in 15 J3 games with the U23s and made his top team debut against Shimizu on the final day seems most likely. 3rd graders, Ko Ise (central midfield, J3 2020 27 games, 1 goal, 3 assists) and Keishi Murakami (left/right full-back / wing-back 23-0-1) are also possibilities.

Out

Confirmed

Ademilson (26 contract termination) – The Brazilian is no longer a Gamba player following his drink-driving offence at the end of October. I went into this in detail on last week’s J-Talk Pod.

Very Likely

Kazuma Watanabe (34 Yokohama FC) – Was 3rd in line at the Emperor’s Cup presentation after the captain and vice-captain and I took this as a nod to that being his final game in a Gamba uniform. Grabbed 6 vital goals in 33 J1 appearances in 2020 (11 starts), winners against Shimizu and Sapporo, a late equaliser at Nagoya, a clincher versus Kashima and of course his double away to Tosu saw him reach a century of J1 goals. I wish him well!

Leo Takae (22 FC Machida Zelvia) – Takae has spent 2020 on loan in the western suburbs of Tokyo and notched 3 goals and 3 assists in 41 J2 games, forming a fine partnership with Kaishu Sano. I’m a bit surprised he won’t be back in Suita next year as I feel he has a lot to contribute. I’m sure we’ll see him in J1 again at some point.

Takahiro Ko (22 Albirex Niigata) – I’m much less surprised at this move than Takae’s as I see Ko as a good J2 level player. Has been on loan at struggling Renofa Yamaguchi for the past 18 months and a move to Niigata is just rewards for his hard work.

Riku Matsuda (21 Zweigen Kanazawa) – A rumoured permanent move for the former Gamba U23 captain. Has made 78 J3 and 2 J1 appearances in total, but unfortunately at 175cm it’s unlikely he’d be able to break into a top J1 defence on a regular basis. A good distributor from the back, I feel Matsuda will compliment Ryoga Ishio well in the Kanazawa defence next year and will give me a reason to visit when they open their new stadium.

Round Up: Both Yasuhito Endo (Iwata) and Kosei Tani (Shonan) are likely to extend their loan deals by another 12 months. It’s unclear what will happen to a number of other loanees such as, Mizuki Hayashi (Yamaguchi), Mizuki Ichimaru (FC Ryukyu) and Akito Takagi (Matsumoto), my guess is that only Hayashi will be back. Regarding players currently on loan with Gamba, I think that GK’s Haruki Saruta (Kashiwa), Lee Yunoh (Vegalta Sendai), and DF’s Ryo Shinzato (Iwata) and Jefferson Tabinas (Kawasaki) will return to their parent clubs. U23 regulars such as Tatsuya Yamaguchi, Keisuke Kurokawa, Ren Shibamoto and Haruto Shirai are all likely to leave either permanently or on loan to J2/J3 sides and even the likes of Shoji Toyama or Shuhei Kawasaki could be farmed out to gain some more top-team experience.

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Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse 19 December 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse
J1 2020 Round 34
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 19 December 14:00


やった! Well, I made it….please enjoy reading my final match preview of 2020. This year has been trying for all of us and writing my blog has given me an outlet to temporarily distract myself from the harsh realities of life while also connecting with a number of people across the globe. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who took the time, to read, share, comment on or like any of my posts, it really means a lot to me. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

Jonny.

Last Time Out

Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka

Gamba clinched runners-up spot in J1 with a game to spare as their 2-0 victory away to Yokohama FC coupled with Cerezo’s 2-1 loss at home against Sagan Tosu saw the Nerazzurri gain entry to the Emperor’s Cup semi finals and next season’s Asian Champions League.

On a chilly winter’s evening in Kanagawa, Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made just one change to the eleven that had seen off Shonan 10 days previously with Kohei Okuno replacing the suspended Yuya Fukuda. This move prompted a slight reshuffle in midfield as Shinya Yajima moved to the right flank to allow Okuno to partner Yuki Yamamoto in the centre. Kim Young-gwon returned from injury on the bench, however, there was still no place for Takashi Usami. On a more positive note, high school 2nd grader Jiro Nakamura was named as a substitute for the first time in J1, as was left-back Tatsuya ‘Omu’ Yamaguchi, a well deserved reward for 3 years of hard toil with the U23s.

Gamba literally couldn’t have got off to a better start as they led after just 25 seconds. Experienced Yokohama FC centre-back Masahiko Inoha played a casual ball out of defence which was intercepted by Shu Kurata near half-way, the subsequent attack culminated with a Shinya Yajima shot being well saved by Yuji Rokutan before cannoning off Patric into the path of the onrushing Kurata, who could barely believe his luck as he tapped in his 4th of the year. As expected Gamba then sat back ready to soak up pressure. Yokohama FC knocked the ball around with little purpose, and on several occasions they were their own worst enemies, ceding possession to the away side in dangerous areas. As the half wore on they did begin to grow in confidence and teenage prodigy Koki Saito brought out a fine stop from Masaaki Higashiguchi in additional time.

Almost unbelievably, YFC nearly gifted Gamba another goal in the first minute of the second period, as Rokutan, who otherwise put in a solid display, passed straight to Yajima just outside the box, however, the former Olympian couldn’t keep his lob down and it sailed over to spare the stopper’s blushes. At the other end, Minagawa, Takeda and Matsuura all had half chances, but Gamba kept their shape well and I was impressed by the partnership of Okuno and Yamamoto, particularly the way they preyed on the over-zealous nature of Reo Yasunaga in the opposing midfield, milking a number of fouls. Yamamoto found himself with more space to work with than usual and was able to dictate play intelligently. This brought him to the attentions of Kosuke Saito, who put in a rather nasty tackle midway through the half, luckily no lasting damage was done.

Gamba sealed their 12th away win of the year 9 minutes from the end of regulation time and it was no surprise the attacking move that created it originated from sloppy Yokohama passing near their own goal. Kohei Tezuka, on as a second half substitute, needlessly gave the ball away to Yajima and the resulting passage of play saw Kurata and Watanabe both denied by solid Rokutan saves. However, the on-loan S-Pulse ‘keeper couldn’t prevent Patric’s effort from getting past him and the despairing efforts of Yuki Kobayashi on the line to send the travelling support into raptures. It was the big Brazilian’s 9th of the year, 3rd in 3 games and his 2nd 1 goal, 1 assist game in a row. Job done!

Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse Match Lowdown

It’s the final J1 matchday of the year and neither side have anything other than pride resting on this one, so hopefully we’ll see a few fresh faces for both outfits and also a good number of goals to close the season out. It’s worth noting that a Gamba win in this fixture will see them tie their record number of wins in an 18-team J1 campaign (21 in 2011).

Gamba’s road results have been outstanding throughout 2020 and they are guaranteed to be J1’s best away side, regardless of what Kawasaki do in their final game at Kashiwa Reysol. However, the Nerazzurri’s home form has been their achilles heel, with 6 defeats in 16 matches so far and a points per game (ppg) ratio of 1.63 which falls well short of the outstanding 2.29 earned outside Suita. Interestingly, comparing this year’s performance at Panasonic Stadium with the previous 2 campaigns, in 2019 Gamba had a poorer ppg, just 1.59, but were better on both attack and defence, with an average home score of 1.56-1.06 versus the 1.19-1.31 we’ve seen in 2020. 2018 trumps 2020 on all 3 metrics, as in that year the men in blue and black took 2ppg and produced an average score of 1.41-0.76. Indeed, should Shimizu leave Suita with the 3 points on Saturday afternoon, then 7 home losses for the season would equal Gamba’s accrued total for 2018 and 2019 combined. The next step for Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is clearly to build on the solid platform that has been set defensively this year by adding an extra attacking element capable of breaking down the most resilient of defences without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Easier said than done, you may say, and you’d be right.

A quick review of the highs and lows at home this year is now in order. I’d label the best 3 wins at Panasonic Stadium as, the 2-0 over Kashima in early October, and the 2-1s against Kashiwa and Nagoya as all of them were solid top-half sides this season. As for regrets, the 4-0 Sendai debacle will unfortunately linger long in the memory, while although the 3-1 loss to Urawa definitely flattered Reds, it was a bitter pill to swallow nonetheless. The 0-1 versus Shonan was a tough watch, but it did serve as motivational fuel to power Gamba through a run of 12 games unbeaten after that humbling. Finally, the 2-1 defeat to Cerezo in the first (closed doors) match after the league’s re-start in July wasn’t pretty, but a quick glance at the league table shows Cerezo won that battle, but lost the war, so to speak.

Now for a rundown on our final opponents of 2020, Shimizu S-Pulse, a side currently sitting 18th and last, though a win here could move them up a spot with Sendai (16th) and Shonan (17th) facing off at the Yurtec Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Not only are S-Pulse the league’s weakest side, they also possess the worst away record, having gleaned a mere 10 points from 16 matches to date, their 14 goals scored and 35 conceded on the road are also the poorest in J1. They have won just twice outside the confines of Shizuoka in 2020, 3-0 at Shonan on September 19th and 3-1 against Yokohama FC on November 25th, they’ve found the net just 8 times in their other 14 games on their travels.

Shimizu, of course, started the season under the tutelage of Australian Peter Cklamovski, but the former Yokohama F.Marinos assistant was unable to make much of a positive impact and was replaced by Hiroaki Hiraoka in early November (whether Cklamovski jumped or was pushed is still up for debate). While Cklamovski’s selections often raised eyebrows for the amount of square pegs being shoved into round holes, Hiraoka has reverted to a more sedate 4-4-2 which has earned him 3 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats in his opening 8 matches in charge. Hiraoka was actually named November’s manager of the month after going 3-1-1, however S-Pulse are currently winless in December with a draw and 2 defeats.

Regarding the Cklamovski situation, fans of his may criticise Shimizu for the rather tepid way they backed his attempted tactical revolution. If they brought him in with the intention of replicating Ange Postecoglou’s success at Marinos then why did they not arm him with the weapons necessary to execute his battle plan? For example, did Cklamovski ask for a budget version of Marcos Junior and instead get handed Yusuke Goto from Oita’s bench, and surely they could have signed an actual left-back at some point? On the flip side of the coin, it could be argued that Cklamovski should have been more pragmatic with implementing his strategy as the S-Pulse project was beginning from a much lower starting point than the Marinos side Ange inherited in Yokohama. Whatever discussions went on behind the scenes before, and during his short-lived reign, I guess we’ll never know.

Regardless of how you feel about Cklamovski, Hiraoka or the S-Pulse board, the club’s slide from an excellent 8th place finish in 2018 to their present predicament is an undeniable fact. The losses of Douglas (Kobe), Koya Kitagawa (Rapid Vienna) and Ko Matsubara (St. Truidense) have really hurt and the poor recruitment alluded to above has exacerbated the situation. Breaking up the solid centre-back partnership of Hwang Seok-ho and Freire at the end of 2018 is a mistake they don’t seem to have recovered from either. After conceding just 1.41 goals per game in 2018, Shimizu were the only team to average more than 2 goals against per match last season (2.03) and already have a worse record this year, with a league high 70 goals conceded in 33 outings (2.13), this is the worst J1 performance since Tokushima let in 74 back in 2014 (2.18).

Finally, looking ahead to 2021, it’s already been announced that Junior Dutra, Neto Volpi, Mitsunari Musaka, Takashi Kanai, Kenta Ito and Jin Hiratsuka will be moving on, though, as only Dutra, Musaka and Kanai made more than 1 league appearance, it won’t make too much of a dent in the squad. More excitingly they have been linked with Japan national team ‘keeper Shuichi Gonda, currently frozen out at Portimonense, Brazilian forward Thiago Santana who is also playing in Portugal with Santa Clara, and today (Thursday) it was reported that a move for Kashima Antlers’ Yuki Kakita (now on-loan at Tokushima) is afoot. Winger / central-midfielder Daigo Takahashi will surely be recalled from his loan spell at Giravanz Kitakyushu in J2 and youth team prospect Hikaru Naruoka will turn pro after making a number of appearances on his type-2 amateur contract this season. Other youngsters such as, goalkeeper Togo Umeda and attacker Yuito Suzuki can give Shimizu fans hope of a brighter tomorrow, though that could be tempered slightly if they fail to keep hold of the likes of Kenta Nishizawa (whose 10 assists must surely have brought him to the attention of the likes of Urawa, Kashiwa and even Gamba) or Brazilian midfield anchor Renato Augusto. Nishizawa and Keita Nakamura have provided some excellent crosses this year and S-Pulse have scored a number of goals from set-pieces, however, finding defenders who can defend, as well as get on the end of these deliveries, must be a priority this off-season.

Head to Head

Gamba won away to Shimizu in round 4 back in July with Kazuma Watanabe’s 89th minute strike sealing the points in a highly competitive match. At Panasonic Stadium, I was in attendance for the final game of Levir Culpi’s reign (mentioning Culpi seems to have become something of a tradition in recent blog posts), a 2-1 defeat to S-Pulse on a sweltering evening in July 2018. Although, had Koki Yonekura stuck his header away right at the death, it would have earned Gamba a share of the spoils and potentially a short reprieve for the Brazilian. Prior to that, Shimizu’s last league win in Suita was a surprise 4-1 back in 2009 with Shinji Okazaki and future Gamba treble winner Keisuke Iwashita on the scoresheet that day.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Yuji Ono (knee) has returned to light training, but won’t be back until next season, while Osaka Police have now filed drink-driving charges against Ademilson, a move which is likely to end the Brazilian’s Gamba career. Elsewhere, with 2nd place already sewn up, we almost certainly won’t see Takashi Usami, Yosuke Ideguchi or Kosuke Onose on Saturday regardless of their injury status. Yuya Fukuda is free from suspension and Kim Young-gwon was fit enough to appear on the bench on Wednesday night. Right-back Ryu Takao will make his 50th J1 and 50th Gamba appearance should he be selected for this match.

Shinizu S-Pulse

Youngster Riyo Kawamoto had to leave the field injured just 21 minutes after coming on as a substitute at home to Shonan on November 29th and hasn’t been seen since. Versatile wide player Hideki Ishige has been plagued with fitness issues in recent seasons, he’s currently out with a hamstring problem picked up in the 5-0 hammering at Kawasaki on August 29th. Shimizu have 7 non-Japanese players in their squad (Neto Volpi, Valdo, Hwang, Elsinho, Renato Augusto, Junior Dutra, and Carlinhos) meaning 2 must miss out from any given matchday squad. 2020 top scorer Carlinhos (10 goals in 29 games) and Thai forward Teerasil have both been absent for the past 2 matches and I haven’t seen any injuries reported.

Predicted Line Ups

Honestly, with this game now a dead rubber, Saturday’s lineup is anyone’s guess. Kazuma Watanabe started on Wednesday and I can’t see him playing more than about 30 minutes here, so I’ve gone with Shoji Toyama to partner Patric, with his U23 mate Shuhei Kawasaki giving Kurata a rest and Yamamoto also putting his feet up for the first-half, at least. At centre-back, any 2 of Miura, Shoji, Kim and Suganuma could start, while I have Fukuda on the right-wing, but he could play there, right-back, left-wing or left-back depending on what takes Miyamoto’s fancy. Also, expect Dai Tsukamoto to get some serious minutes, either from the start or as a second half sub.



Shimizu lineups under Peter Cklamovski appeared to be chosen using Ben Maxwell’s random number generator and although Hiraoka has brought a bit more consistency, this is still the last game of the year so expect wild variations from what you see below. I wouldn’t be surprised if young Togo Umeda starts in goal and with no confirmation that they are actually unavailable, theoretically both Teerasil and Carlinhos could play.



Match Prediction

With their eyes now set on Emperor’s Cup glory, I could actually see Gamba dropping the ball here and coming second best in an entertaining 3-2.

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Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka 16 December 2020 Match Preview

Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 33
Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium
Wednesday 16 December 19:00


Just a reminder that I was on last week’s J-Talk Podcast, so if you haven’t already please check out my chat with Ben and Sam regarding the Shonan match, the race for 2nd and all other things Gamba.

Last Time Out

Injury-hit Gamba earned a hard-fought 2-1 victory away at Shonan on December 6th, their 11th road win of the year. Takashi Usami and Kim Young-gwon were the latest players to make the treatment room their home, meaning that kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto was forced into changes once again. Fresh off a 7-day break, Gamba reverted to a 4-4-2 system and brought in, the fit-again Genta Miura, Gen Shoji, Yuki Yamamoto and Kazuma Watanabe for, Kim and Usami (injured) and Suganuma and Kawasaki (benched).

Gamba had something riding on this game whereas Shonan had nothing but pride to play for and the first 30 minutes of the contest really bore that out. Gamba reacted to my calls for a quicker start by racing into the lead in just the 6th minute. A slack ball out of defence by Kazunari Ohno (1 of 4 times Bellmare sloppily gifted their visitors possession in their defensive third inside the opening quarter) was intercepted on the right flank by Ryu Takao, he centred for Patric who laid it back to Yuya Fukuda and the youngster from Kokura smacked home his first of the campaign past a partially unsighted Masaaki Goto in the Shonan goal. Interestingly, Fukuda later revealed that Usami had been helping him improve his shooting in training, the results of that were here for all to see.

Bellmare lost experienced midfielder Akimi Barada to injury in the 29th minute with Mitsuki Saito’s arrival bringing about a mini-reshuffle in the home team’s engine room, the highly-rated Daiki Kaneko dropped deeper to his more favoured holding role. This seemed to wake Shonan from their slumber and within 5 minutes they were level. Impressive former Japan U-17 representative (where he was Shoji Toyama’s team-mate) Taiga Hata broke down the left and cut the ball back for Hiroto Nakagawa whose shot struck the arm of Gen Shoji leading to a rare event this season, a handball penalty that everyone agreed was actually the correct decision. The younger brother of 2019 J1 MVP Teruhito Nakagawa comfortably dispatched his spot-kick high into the goal, leaving Higashiguchi without a prayer. Gamba looked ragged as the half drew to a close and the game became a rather scrappy affair, Shoji seemed to be close to losing his cool as he tried to avenge the penalty decision while Patric shoved Shonan captain Takuya Okamoto in the chest as he was unhappy with the close attention he was receiving. Miyamoto would certainly have been happy to get his troops into the dressing room to re-group.

The Nerazzurri started the second half on the front foot before things developed into more of an arm-wrestle. The defining moment came in the 66th minute through a goal of real quality. Yajima and Watanabe combined to get Fujiharu in behind the Shonan defence and the full-back’s inch-perfect cross was headed home at the back post by Patric, the popular Brazilian bagging a goal and an assist in his 200th J1 appearance. Bellmare briefly rallied, but Sosuke Shibata and Satoshi Tanaka shot over while at the other end Goto made an excellent reflex stop to deny Patric his 2nd of the match. I was just about to write in my notes that Gamba were going to see the game out comfortably when up stepped Hata in the 90th minute to whip in a delicious cross that was met by Okamoto, however, Higashiguchi, was there with a crucial stop to earn Gamba the 3 points and probably secure his place in the J1 Best Eleven for 2020.

Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka Match Lowdown

The penultimate game of the 2020 J1 campaign is another crucial one for Gamba as they aim to solidify their grip on 2nd place against a Yokohama FC side who’ll still be smarting from their injury time loss in the reverse fixture between these two. Gamba currently sit on 62 points from 32 games while Nagoya are 2 points back with a better goal difference by 12, though crucially they’ve played an extra match and city rivals Cerezo are 3 behind the Nerazzurri with a better goal difference by 6 and remaining ties against Tosu (h) and Kashima (a). Hopefully Gamba’s 4-0 home defeat at the hands of Sendai doesn’t come back to haunt them in the goal difference stakes, victories here and at home to S-Pulse on Saturday will render that irrelevant. Indeed a win here guarantees 3rd spot at least and coupled with a Cerezo defeat it would leave Gamba with a dead rubber at the weekend with Emperor’s Cup qualification already in the bag.

It’s been 10 days since Gamba’s last match, their 11th 2-1 win of the season and, in fact, they have just three wins by more than a single goal to their credit in 2020 (Sendai 4-1, Kashima and Kobe both 2-0) and have incredibly only led by 2 goals or more for 168 out of a total of 2,880 minutes played. With 19 wins accrued this year, Gamba have already equalled their total from the 2014 title winning campaign and their current haul of 62 points is only 1 shy of that year’s tally, which kind of gives some context to just how good Kawasaki have been. I’ll repeat my favourite stat again (with a small update), Gamba are now 19-3-0 in league games they’ve led at any point in 2020, only Nagoya (a), Kashima (a) and Cerezo (a) have come from behind to take a point from their battle with the Nerazzurri. This looks all the better when compared to 2019 where 7 teams came back to draw and 5 sides overturned a deficit in matches with the men from Suita.

Although highlights reel defeats to Sendai and Kawasaki may be stuck in the minds of many supporters at the moment, it’s important to place those performances in the wider context of the year as a whole. In their most recent 17 games (essentially half a season), Gamba are 12-3-2, giving a total of 39 points which is a mere 8 short of last season’s 47 from 34 contests. That this has been achieved while blooding young, locally developed talent is definitely to Tsuneyasu Miyamoto and the club’s credit. Shuhei Kawasaki (14 games), Kohei Okuno and Shoji Toyama (both 5) and Dai Tsukamoto (4) have all featured more than anyone would have expected in pre-season, while ex-Kwansei Gakuin university duo, Ryu Takao and Yuki Yamamoto have really stepped up to the mark when required and Yuya Fukuda has built on the promise he showed in spurts last season.

This is Gamba’s final away game of the year which gives me one last chance to run the rule over their incredible road performances in 2020. 11 away victories is only 1 less than their win total in 2019 (12) and the 36 points earned outside Suita would see them sit 12th in the overall standings (6 points better off than Wednesday night’s opponents). The Nerazzurri boast a 9-3-4 record when comparing shots on target in away fixtures with their opponents and this correlates pretty well with their actual WDL record of 11-3-2. The fact that in total shots they are 4-0-12 and also 3-0-13 in possession kind of highlights how pointless those stats are. Looking at ball dominance, despite having the best away record in J1 (2 points more than Kawasaki, no less), Gamba average just 40.73% possession across their 16 games to date with a high of 59.1% at Nagoya in round 3 and a low of just 28.1 in the 2-1 win at Marinos on the opening day.

In this paragraph I plan to partake in a little revisionism so all non-Gamba fans may want to skip to the next one where I start discussing Yokohama FC. If you remove the 3-0 defeat at Kashiwa as well as the recent 4-0 home loss to Sendai and the 5-0 embarrassment at Kawasaki then Gamba’s record is just 28 goals against from 29 contests and a goal difference of +16, so I ask the question, which is the real Gamba, that one or the side who’ve lost 0-12 across 3 games? I’ll let you choose, but my guess is a bit of both. Against other teams currently in the top half of the table, Gamba average 1.56 points per game with a scoreline of 1.19-1.44 (1.2 against if you discount the Frontale mauling) whilst games with sides in places 10-18 have been more profitable, bringing 2.3 ppg and a score of 1.56-1.06 (0.87 if you remove the Sendai result). If anyone read that, I hope you enjoyed it, now let’s have a quick glance at our opposition.

While Gamba come into this clash needing 3 points, Yokohama FC will be able to play with the pressure off having already secured the best league finish in their club’s history. The club born out of the ashes of Yokohama Flugels took a mere 16 points from 34 games in their one previous J1 outing in 2007. However this year they have almost doubled that total and a win on Wednesday coupled with a Cerezo victory over Tosu would move them up to 14th ahead of their final match of the year, a Yokohama derby at home to Marinos on Saturday. So, there is still a little something to motivate Takahiro Shimotaira’s troops.

I tipped Yokohama FC to finish 2nd bottom this year and they have definitely exceeded my expectations and given themselves a platform to build on ahead of 2021 when relegation will once again be on the table. With 35 goals in 32 contests to date, only 4 teams (Shonan, Oita, Tosu and Sendai) have scored less than Yokohama FC, while their 57 conceded betters only Shimizu, Sendai, Sapporo and Kobe (it should be noted that both Consadole and Vissel have let in just 1 more from an extra fixture). With not a whole lot to play for recently, results have slidden a little after a mid-season high and they haven’t taken 3 points from any of their previous 5 games. Indeed, rather disappointingly for the men from Kanagawa, they have just 2 wins and 10 points from their last 13 fixtures.

Yokohama FC’s overall decent showing has largely been bolstered by home performances with 5 of their 8 triumphs this season coming on their own patch. Shonan (4-2), Nagoya (3-2), Kobe (2-1), and FC Tokyo and Kashima (both 1-0) have all been seen off at the Mitsuzawa. Their home average score is 1.27-1.93 which compares with their overall record of 1.09-1.78. They have won 3 games by 2 goals or more (the same as Gamba), the aforementioned Shonan victory as well as road wins at Kashiwa (3-1) and Urawa (2-0). On the flip side, they’ve gone down by 3 goals or more on 5 occasions though the last time was a 3-0 loss at Sapporo on October 24th, which may not have been a particularly accurate reflection of the run of play. In this encounter, top scorers for the year, Yusuke Matsuo (7) and Kazunari Ichimi (4) are both unavailable so a big question for them will be, who is going to be able to get on the end of the ammunition supplied by Takuya Matsuura (4 assists) and Kohei Tezuka (also 4)?

Briefly looking ahead to next season, Yokohama FC have been strongly linked with Gamba’s Kazuma Watanabe (34), while JEF United’s Brazilian forward Kleber (30) and Tosu midfield anchor / centre-back Hideto Takahashi (33) are also rumoured targets. In the departure lounge, veteran Daisuke Matsui has already left for Vietnam and young prodigy Koki Saito will make for Belgium at the year’s end. Yuki Kobayashi (Kobe), Kazunari Ichimi (Gamba), Kohei Tezuka (Kashiwa), Maguinho (Kawasaki), and Yuji Rokutan (Shimizu) are all regulars currently on loan from fellow J1 clubs so it’ll be interesting to monitor their future movements. I’ll also be keeping a keen eye on what happens with veterans Shunsuke Nakamura, Leandro Domingues and King Kazu, not to mention centre-back pairing, Masahiko Inoha and Calvin Jong-a-Pin. Fans at the Mitsuzawa may also be crossing fingers and toes in the hope that left-wing star Yusuke Matsuo’s shoulder problem keeps him off rival teams’ radars for at least another 6 months.

Head to Head

Gamba’s 2-1 win over Yokohama FC in August was the first J1 clash between these two since FC’s sole previous season in the top flight back in 2007. Shorn of the services of Kazunari Ichimi, Yokohama were wasteful in front of goal and were made to pay when Patric won the game for Gamba in the 94th minute. Yokohama FC are one of only 4 current J1 sides I haven’t seen play live (Nagoya, Oita and Shonan are the others) as I missed the 2 draws during Gamba’s J2 sojourn in 2013. Maybe next year, eh?

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Definitely out of this clash are Yuji Ono (knee – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) while Yuya Fukuda picked up a 4th yellow card of the year against Shonan and is therefore suspended. Takashi Usami and Kim Young-gwon both sat out the Bellmare game, but their injuries are not thought to be serious. Gamba are being coy about the fitness of Kosuke Onose and Yosuke Ideguchi, however, the general feeling seems to be that they’ll miss both remaining J1 matches. Captain Genta Miura appears to be back fit and firing after his 90 minutes in Kanagawa last week, and his return couldn’t have come at a better time as Kim and Ryu Takao are both walking a suspension tightrope with any caution against Yokohama FC ruling them out of the S-Pulse game. In better news, veteran Kazuma Watanabe will make 350th J1 appearance on Wednesday against the side he is likely to join next season.

Transfer Gossip / News Round-Up

It was announced last week that diminutive Kwansei Gakuin University forward Hiroto Yamami (currently in 3rd grade) will join Gamba from the 2022 season. Nerazzurri supporters may remember his winner in the shock 2-1 Emperor’s Cup defeat back in 2018 and he becomes the 3rd member of that side to move to Suita after Ryu Takao and Yuki Yamamoto. Elsewhere, it’s being reported that Yasuhito Endo will extend his Gamba contract next year, but remain on loan at J2 side Jubilo Iwata.
More left-field rumours include, a potential bid for Urawa’s on-loan Brazilian midfielder Ewerton, though that seems more like fan talk, while Kim Young-gwon has been linked with a move back to his homeland with Incheon United who are also said to be interested in ex-Gamba treble winner Oh Jae-suk.
Non-transfer related news is that the club are set to appoint a specialised forwards coach from next season in a bid to boost shooting performance (it’s worth noting that Gamba have a 19-1-12 record in terms of better shooting % this year). And finally…the 2021 uniforms will be officially unveiled in a ceremony prior to the final home game of 2020 against Shimizu on Saturday.

Yokohama FC

Forward Kazunari Ichimi (4 goals in 30 J1 games) can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement with Gamba while Yusuke Matsuo has a dislocated shoulder and hasn’t featured since the draw at Sendai on October 14th. Holding midfielder Kensuke Sato, an influential figure in the reverse fixture, is currently out with a knee injury and was last seen in a matchday squad on October 18th. In the injured?/dropped? column are, utility man Eijiro Takeda who was subbed at half-time in the home loss to S-Pulse on November 25th and hasn’t been seen since, while veteran centre-back Calvin Jong-a-Pin suffered the same fate as Takeda except in the away loss at Shimizu on August 22nd, rookie central defender Kyowan Hoshi last saw action in the 3-0 drubbing at Tosu on September 5th, legend Shunsuke Nakamura has been limited to just 10 J1 appearances in 2020 and was last spotted as an unused sub against Oita on November 3rd and on-loan winger Ryuji Sugimoto, a rare starter, has been out of the squad for over a month.

Predicted Line Ups

With options thin on the ground at the moment, there aren’t too many alternatives to the players in the lineup below. Should Kim be fit enough, he could take the place of either Shoji or Miura at centre-back while the midfield has 3 potential choices in my opinion. The most likely is set out below with Takashi Usami returning from injury on the right wing with Yajima and Yamamoto in the middle and Kurata down the left. It’s also possible we could see Kurata on the right, Kawasaki down the left and the Yajima-Yamamoto partnership in the centre or Yajima on the right, Kurata on the left and Okuno and Yamamoto in the middle, we’ll need to wait and see.



With one more home game yet to come, a Yokohama derby, no-less, against Marinos on Saturday I reckon YFC will save their veterans like Shunsuke Nakamura, Leandro Domingues and King Kazu for that one. Alternatives to the lineup below would be either Hakamata or Inoha coming in at centre-back, young Nakayama playing down the right with Matsuura on the left or most likely Minagawa in for Senuma as the replacement for Ichimi.



Match Prediction

Gamba to do what they do best and grind out an ugly 2-1 away from home.

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sport

Shonan Bellmare vs Gamba Osaka 6 December 2020 Match Preview

Shonan Bellmare vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 31
Shonan BMW Stadium Hiratsuka
Sunday 6 December 15:00

Last Time Out

Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu


Gamba were left to rue yet another sluggish start, and later the form of visiting goalkeeper Park Il-gyu as they let two points get away from them in a disappointing 1-1 home draw against Sagan Tosu on Sunday evening. Just 4 days after the nightmare in Kawasaki, Nerazzurri kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes. Shunya Suganuma and Shuhei Kawasaki (1st J1 start) replaced the benched Gen Shoji (possibly still not fully fit) and Yuki Yamamoto, however, the big surprise was the temporary return of the 3-5-2 formation with Yajima sitting at the base of the midfield and Kurata (right) and Kawasaki (left) playing just ahead of him.

Shorn of Yosuke Ideguchi’s ball-winning capabilities in the centre of the park, Gamba were slow out of the blocks once again and were quickly behind for the 4th contest in a row (80% of the games Ideguchi has missed!) Sagan midfield duo Riki Harakawa and Daiki Matsuoka controlled the tempo early doors and it was no surprise when they took the lead in the 11th minute. Yajima had his pocket picked by Renzo Lopez and a mix up between Takao and Higashiguchi allowed 18 year-old Ryunosuke Sagara, making his first ever J1 start, to net. Truth be told, from a Tosu perspective, they probably scored too early, as although they remained a threat on the counter in the opening stanza, taking advantage of the acres of space available in the Gamba midfield, slowly, but surely, the Nerazzurri, inspired by Usami, took a vice-like grip on proceedings. Sagan were left hanging on for half-time with Park denying both Usami and Patric, while Suganuma headed a corner off the bar, still they led 1-0 going into the interval.

Both sides made changes early in the second half, Gamba switching to a 4-4-2 with Yuki Yamamoto entering the fray, but I can’t say they really changed the flow of the game as the wind was definitely blowing very much in the home side’s favour anyway. Sagan were their own worst enemy at times, giving the ball away under pressure in their defensive third. Perhaps a lesson Gamba can learn from this is, if that kind of intensity is present from the start of a match then they might not have to claw themselves back from 1-0 down every week. Patric’s equaliser in the 77th minute came after essentially 30 minutes of sustained Gamba pressure, Kazuma Watanabe, another substitute, fed Ryu Takao down the right and his centre was expertly flicked home by the Brazilian for his 7th of the campaign (and 4th in his last 9 matches). After that, young forward Shoji Toyama (once again coming on in the right wing position) had 2 good chances to win it, while another 2nd half replacement, Tosu right-back Ryoya Morishita, may well have caught the eye of the Gamba recruitment department with an incredible run from the edge of his own penalty area which culminated in a shot just wide of Higashiguchi’s right-hand post. It ended 1-1, Gamba have steadied the ship after the 5-0 hiding at Kawasaki and still have Emperor’s Cup qualification in their own hands ahead of their 3 remaining J1 fixtures.

A glimpse into 2021

With a full 7 days between fixtures and the news that Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is set to pen a new deal, I thought I’d add in a little bonus section this week to round up potential transfer activity this off-season. Meiji University centre-back Yota Sato is already confirmed, Gamba don’t often sign players from university (especially ones outside Kansai), but when they do they are usually decent (Yamamoto, Takao, Fujiharu, Hiroyuki Abe, heck even Kim Jung-ya has been a J1 player for 9 seasons!). FC Seoul midfielder Ju Se-jong looks set to join and this should help with covering any future Ideguchi absences, Albirex Niigata wunderkind Shion Homma is also a rumoured target, though Gamba will likely face stiff competition domestically, and perhaps from abroad, for his signature. Central midfielders, Ko Ise and Ryusei Sugano, right-winger Jiro Nakamura and full-back / wing-back Keishi Murakami could be promoted to the top team for 2021 after some solid displays in J3 this year.

In terms of departures, Leo Takae (Machida), Takahiro Ko and Mizuki Hayashi (both Yamaguchi), Akito Takagi (Matsumoto), Mizuki Ichimaru (FC Ryukyu) and Yasuhito Endo (Iwata) are all currently on loan to J2 sides, Endo has been offered a contract for next season, but I could see all the others, with the possible exception of Takae, moving on permanently. Veteran forward Kazuma Watanabe’s transfer to Yokohama FC is all but confirmed with Kazunari Ichimi moving in the opposite direction after 2 years out on loan. Jubilo centre-back Ryo Shinzato will likely return to Shizuoka when his rental deal is up, while fellow loanees Jefferson Tabinas (Kawasaki) and Haruki Saruta (Kashiwa) also appear to have no future in Suita with the disbandment of the U23 side next season. Youngsters, Ren Shibamoto, Tatsuya Yamaguchi and Haruto Shirai are all in line to be loaned out, or in the case of Shirai, probably released. South Korean goalie Lee Yunoh, currently on loan from Vegalta Sendai may be offered a deal though, after overcoming a horror J3 debut to turn in some decent performances. Daisuke Takagi seems to be on his way to a J3 contract rather than a J2 one for 2021, to use a quote from the FC Tokyo Kai-Guys vernacular, he’s been unable to “hit a cow’s backside with a banjo” this year.

My suggestions for potential upgrades aside from Sato, Ju and Homma are as follows. A Brazilian forward to replace the likely to depart Ademilson (how much money is there to do this, I’m not sure), and a right-back as, at present, Ryu Takao is the only specialist for that position in the squad. Fukuda, Miura, Matsuda and Okuno can play there, but to varying degrees, they are all shoving square pegs into round holes. My picks would be either Tosu’s Ryoya Morishita (see match report above) or Nagasaki’s Seiya Maikuma (senpai of Yuya Fukuda at Higashi Fukuoka High School), with Tochigi SC speedster Hayato Kurosaki being an outside bet.

Shonan Bellare vs Gamba Osaka Match Lowdown

It’s a big game for Gamba as the battle for 2nd place looks set to go down to the wire. The Nerazzurri have Nagoya (3 points, back, same number of games played) and Cerezo (4 behind, 1 game in hand) breathing down their necks and can ill afford any more slip ups in the race to the finish. A win in this encounter will essentially seal a top 4 spot and probable qualification for the 2021 Asian Champions League, an outcome I’m sure all supporters of a blue and black persuasion would have accepted prior to the season’s commencement. Patric, MVP in the 1-1 draw with Tosu, said in his hero interview that the squad would be going all out to get 2nd spot with only fixtures at, Yokohama FC (15th) and home to Shimizu (17th) remaining after this one.

Despite battling a string of injuries, Gamba still boast an 11-3-2 record over their last 16 games while managing to blood a number of younger players (Kawasaki, Toyama, Tsukamoto, Okuno etc), so the future does look quite rosy at the moment, in that respect. In spite of the 5-0 defeat at Kawasaki in their previous match, Gamba are still J1’s best away side with 10 wins and 33 points already in the bag after 15 road trips. The squad has had a slightly patched up feel to it over the past few rounds and hopefully a break of 7 days between the Tosu clash and this game, and then a further 10 day gap until the Yokohama FC match will allow time for the likes of Ideguchi, Onose and Miura to return to full fitness in order to help get that final away points total up to 39 and earn a highest league finish since 2015.

Our hosts on Sunday afternoon, Shonan Bellmare, should approach this game in confident mood having already seen off the Nerazzurri 1-0 at Panasonic Stadium before embarking on what is currently their best run of the year. Dreadful early season form saw them win just 2 of their first 21 league fixtures, a run of results that would surely have seen kantoku Bin Ukishima canned had relegation been a possibility. The Hiratsuka-based side have stuck with their man though, and it’s begun to reap some mild rewards. Just one defeat (1-3 at Nagoya) in their past 9 games has them in 16th place in J1, exactly where they finished the 2019 campaign. I put them 15th in my pre-season predictions and it’s difficult to make an argument that they should realistically be finishing any higher than that consistently given their budget constraints and regularly having their best players plucked away by Kanto rivals.

With just 27 goals in 30 league contests to date this year, Shonan possess J1’s weakest attack. They’ve failed to hit the back of the net in 1/3 of their games (compared with 11 times last season), though they have scored at least once in their past 7 outings. Interestingly, they’ve only netted more than twice on one occasion in 2020, a surprise 3-2 win at home to Kashiwa on October 18th and at present they are the only J1 side to average less than a goal per match. At the back things have been reasonably solid for a team in their position, they have conceded an average of 1.47 times per game this year, much better than the 1.85 in 2019. They have, however, let in 3 or more in a single fixture 8 times this campaign, though the aforementioned Nagoya loss is the only occasion it’s happened in the past 14 games. Indeed, things fell apart in the second half of 2019 after the Cho power harassment scandal and took a while to improve, but there definitely seem to be some green shoots of recovery if recent form is anything to go by.

Shonan are statistically the worst away side in J1, with the 1-0 at Gamba one of only two road wins in 2020, however, at home they are unbeaten in their last 5 games, 3 wins and 2 draws which have included 2 clean sheets and just one failure to score (0-0 vs Tosu). These recent victories represent 75% of their total for the season, only Kashima (1-0 on July 22nd) were conquered in Bellmare’s first 10 home contests, but since then, Kashiwa (3-2), Yokohama FC and Yokohama F.Marinos (both 1-0) have all bitten the dust at the BMW Stadium.

What have been some of the factors behind this recent upsurge? For one, I think looking to the future and giving young, hungry players a shot has given this Shonan side a real boost. 18 year-old Taiga Hata has become a regular at left wing-back, centre-back Koki Tachi (173cm), in his first year out of Nihon University, has formed a decent understanding with partner Hirokazu Ishihara (169cm) in what is certainly not an orthodox pairing in this height obsessed football culture. Midfielders Daiki Kaneko (22) and Mitsuki Saito (21) have both been stand-outs and look set to move onwards and upwards next year. Losing talents like those at such a young age kind of highlights why Bellmare have to resort to measures like playing sub 180cm centre-backs.

Defender / midfield Satoshi Tanaka is a youth team player who’ll turn pro in 2021, but has made 13 J1 appearances on a type-2 contract this season and he’ll be joined in the arrivals lounge by midfielders, Sho Hiramatsu (Rissho University) and Taiyo Hiraoka (Rissho High School). Who knows, maybe Shonan’s partnership with Fukushima United will finally bear fruit in the form of Nigerian forward Ismaila (13 goals in 30 J3 games), it’s certainly an area that needs an upgrade. Top scorer for the year Naoki Ishihara (6 goals in 23 matches) only returned from a fractured cheekbone last week against S-Pulse and in his absence, 2 players more normally thought of as attacking midfielders, Temma Matsuda and Hiroto Nakagawa deputised. In Scotland we call this kind of formation the “Levein.” If anyone cares for an explanation, please drop me a message in the comments.

Head to Head

Shonan upset Gamba 1-0 at Panasonic Stadium back in September, the first time they’d won in Suita since their Bellmare Hiratsuka days. In Kanagawa, Gamba have a pretty strong recent record, a 1-0 reverse during the Levir Culpi era aside. Takashi Usami talked big about hitting the back of the net more frequently ahead of last year’s corresponding fixture and he lived up to those words with a double that helped sink Shonan, who at that time were still rocking from Cho Kwi-jae’s dismissal, 3-0. Gamba’s number 33 would continue that fine form for the rest of the season, bagging a further 3 goals in the final 4 league games.

Team News

Gamba Osaka


Yuji Ono (knee surgery) is out for the season, while there is still no news on the future of Brazilian forward Ademilson (club suspension) who was arrested back on October 25th. I have seen rumours that several Brazilian Serie A sides are interested in repatriating him, though his salary demands could be a stumbling block. Elsewhere, captain Genta Miura, midfield maestro Yosuke Ideguchi and right winger Kosuke Onose all watched Sunday night’s 1-1 draw with Tosu from the stands with Miyamoto dropping hints in an interview that Ideguchi and Onose won’t be back this year. In more positive news, fan favourite Patric, currently Gamba’s top scorer this season, will make his 200th J1 appearance in this match (Kawasaki 8, Kofu 16, Gamba 114, Hiroshima 61 to date).

Shonan Bellmare

Impressive on-loan ‘keeper Kosei Tani will have to sit this one out as per the terms of his loan agreement with Gamba, and the most experienced stopper in the squad, Daiki Tomii, last started in the 1-0 win in Suita back in September, he hasn’t made the bench since the away defeat to Kashima on September 23rd and I haven’t seen any injury reported. Promising left wing-back Toichi Suzuki missed all of November with tonsillitis, though prior to that he had been out of favour with his coach having only started once (against his former youth side Cerezo) since being subbed off in the first half of the 4-2 drubbing at Yokohama FC back on August 15th. Norwegian forward Tarik Elyounoussi is out for the year after sustaining an injury in the match with Yokohama F.Marinos on November 11th. The 2-0 win at Vissel Kobe on November 15th was the last time we saw, centre-back Shunta Tanaka (youth team player potentially with high school commitments), midfield anchor Daiki Kaneko (apparently off to Urawa for 2021) and Naoki Yamada (got an assist in that game), I haven’t seen any confirmation why they’ve been missing. Also in the injured/dropped? column are, on-loan Kawasaki wing-back Kazuaki Mawatari who has played just 7 J1 games this year, with his last appearance being the 3-0 home loss to Shimizu on September 19th, experienced midfielder Tsukasa Umesaki who missed rounds 2-20 with a knee injury, returned for 2 games then disappeared again after the match at Cerezo on October 14th, and left sided defender Shunya Mori who is yet to play in J1 since moving from Zweigen Kanazawa in the summer of 2019.

Predicted Line Ups

I have Gamba lining up in a 4-4-2, though it is possible we’ll see Miyamoto use 3-5-2 again (hopefully not, in my opinion). With a 10 day window until the next fixture with Yokohama FC, the only real changes I can see in personnel compared with my chosen eleven is if Miura, Shoji, Onose or Ideguchi return to full-fitness ahead of this clash. I guess I might be being too optimistic in thinking that after his double at the same venue in the Levain Cup in August, Shoji Toyama may get a run out up front?



Shonan have been lining up in a 3-5-2 formation in recent games and have been reasonably consistent with their player selection. A fully fit Daiki Kaneko would surely usurp Shibata from the holding midfield role while I’ve put Naoki Ishihara in for a first start since recovering from injury, Ibusuki or Nakagawa are alternatives.



Match Prediction

Gamba need to win this one to keep their Emperor’s Cup hopes alive, Shonan have 2021 contracts and their coach’s job to play for. I’m banking on Gamba to grind out yet another win on the road with a trademark 1-0, Patric netting the decisive goal with a header from a corner….there’s a specific prediction for you!

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sport

Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu 29 November 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu
J1 2020 Round 30
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Sunday 29 November 17:00

Last Time Out

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka


Gamba slumped to their worst league result since 2012 as they were blown out of the water by a rampant Kawasaki Frontale on Wednesday night. The home side’s 5-0 triumph saw them lift the J1 title, their 3rd in 4 years, with 4 games to spare.

The Nerazzurri made just one change to their lineup from the 2-1 win at Urawa 3 days previously with Yuya Fukuda replacing the injured Kosuke Onose on the right-wing, while Hiroki Fujiharu, sporting strapping on his left leg, was surprisingly fit enough to start. Frontale began slowly, but once they got going they were simply unstoppable. Perhaps the most painful thing about the whole experience, from a Gamba perspective, was that the torturer-in-chief was one of our own, 34 year-old Akihiro Ienaga, who helped himself to a hat-trick (wonder if his name will get so much applause next time it’s read out at Panasonic Stadium?). Leandro Damiao opened the scoring just before the first half drinks break following a pinpoint cross from Kyohei Noborizato, but it was Ienaga’s double either side of half-time that killed the game off as a contest. Gamba threw on some of their youngsters late on and were picked off easily on the break with Ienega grabbing the 4th and Manabu Saito rubbing salt into the gaping wounds in the final minute of normal time.

Again, with the season Gamba have had and the injuries that have built up, it’s difficult to be overly critical. Unlike the Sendai game, here the Nerazzurri were simply up against superior opposition. Sure, a week’s rest in advance and a fully fit Ideguchi may have brought the score down to a more respectable 2 or 3 goal deficit, but the gulf in quality between these two sides, and indeed between Frontale and the rest of J1 is clear for all to see.

I wanted to finish this section by taking a minute to congratulate Kawasaki on their title win. It’s been comfortably the most dominant display I’ve seen by a J1 side since I started following Japanese football back in 2012. To dismantle your nearest rivals, Gamba (5-0), Cerezo (5-2), FC Tokyo (4-0) and Nagoya (3-0), as easily as they’ve done has just been phenomenal. Gamba didn’t lose to them on Wednesday through a lack of effort, they were totally outclassed by Frontale’s pressing, accurate passing, vision, movement and work-rate, it honestly looked like they had at least 12 players on the pitch for most of the match. Kawasaki have set a new standard for how good a JLeague side can be, the chasing pack must now pick up the baton and aim for those heights….let the chase begin.

Viewer discretion is advised for any Gamba supporters who choose to watch the ‘highlights’ below.

Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu Match Lowdown

Let’s start with the positives, despite Wednesday night’s thrashing Gamba still lie in 2nd place in the league and don’t have to play anyone higher than 14th in their remaining 4 fixtures. They currently sit 3 points clear of nearest challengers Nagoya in 3rd with both clubs having played 30 matches. City rivals Cerezo, as well as Kashima Antlers are 6 points behind, the Cherry Blossoms have a game in hand while Antlers have played an extra match. Realistically 3 wins from 4, starting with this one, would lead the Nerazzurri to their highest league finish since 2015.

Now to a bit of the ugly. Following the farce against Frontale I decided to dig up some horror results from Gamba’s recent past. The last time the men from Suita conceded 5 in a league match was actually also at Todoroki back in 2015, a 5-3 defeat which I conceded I could remember nothing about in my previous match preview. A 4-0 hiding at Hiroshima in the first post-2018 World Cup match (Levir Culpi’s penultimate game in charge) and an identical battering away at Urawa in 2016 stand out from the post treble-winning era. However, for wacky results, pride of place must go to the 2012 campaign in which Gamba endured a shock relegation to J2, finishing 17th despite 7 top 3 places in the previous 8 seasons. In that year of all years, the Nerazzurri suffered a 5-0 pasting at Kashima and a 6-2 drubbing at home to Kashiwa. There were no shortage of highlights though, with 4-0 (a) and 7-2 (h) wins over Sapporo and 5-0 routs of Nagoya and Urawa (both away)…what a crazy year that one was!

Back to a little bit of positivity now and then we’ll take a look at our visitors Sagan Tosu in just a moment. After Gamba complete this fixture, they have 7 days break before another visit to Kanto, where they’ll face Shonan Bellmare (16th) shorn of their on-loan ‘keeper and future Gamba #1 Kosei Tani. Next will come a much needed 10 day rest owing to having already played Vissel Kobe due the Hyogo-based side’s involvement in the Asian Champions League. The Nerazzurri finish the campaign with my schedule’s least favourite combination of matches, Wednesday night / Saturday afternoon, Yokohama FC (15th – away) on December 16th and Shimizu S-Pulse (18th home) on the 19th. A top 2 spot of course means elevation to the Emperor’s Cup semi-final, a quick chance to gain revenge on Kawasaki and the opportunity to lift silverware for the first time since 2015. To do all of that they have 2 remaining games at home and 2 away and Gamba are one of a surprisingly high 9 J1 sides to take more points on the road this year than in their own backyard. They are still J1’s best away side with 33 points from 15 matches, but 6 home defeats leaves them within touching distance of the 7 they’ve suffered over the preceding 2 years combined (remember that includes the Levir Culpi era!). It’s not all bad news at home though, before playing Shun Nagasawa and co. into form in their previous match at Panasonic Stadium, Gamba had gone 6 unbeaten in Suita with 5 wins and 1 draw, so they’ll be hoping to rekindle that spirit for their 2 remaining encounters at Panasonic Stadium.

Sagan Tosu enter this match in 14th spot in the standings and if you cast your eyes back to pre-season, you’ll remember many punters, including myself, had them finishing rock-bottom, so we can say it’s been a season of modest achievement for J1’s most poorly funded club. A solid rearguard has set the tone for their campaign and they’ve actually conceded 1 goal fewer than Gamba, albeit in 1 less game (Gamba shipping 10 in their last 3 not helping with that stat). Tosu have the best defensive record among all the bottom half sides, however, only Shonan (26 goals in 30 games) have a poorer attack. The Kyushu sides’ form has been very patchy throughout the year, the 1-0 home reverse to Sendai on Wednesday was preceded by a 7 match unbeaten run (2 wins and 5 draws), but that, in turn, followed a run of 7 losses in 9 games as the fixtures piled up following their August Covid cluster.

Tosu need to take 7 points from their remaining 5 games, Gamba (a), Yokohama FC (a), Kawasaki Frontale (h) (if anyone’s going to put them in their place it’ll be Tosu), Cerezo (a) and a Kyushu derby at home to Oita, to equal last season’s points total, which may be a tough ask. However, with the financial cuts they’ve made this year, by all rights they should be much worse than they are and credit must go to Kim Myung-hwi (potentially questionable pre-Covid cluster behaviour aside) for the job he’s done on a shoestring. They currently average 1.03 goals per game in 2020 compared with a meagre 0.94 last season and the improvement has been even more marked at the back as they are letting in 1.28 a game this year versus 1.56 in 2019. Brazilian Eduardo who joined from relegated Matsumoto Yamaga has been a real leader at the back and the recent addition of Yokohama F.Marinos ‘keeper Park Il-gyu on loan has also helped greatly, so Gamba will be fully aware of the tough challenge that awaits them in trying to unlock the Tosu defence on Sunday evening.

Looking ahead, Sagan’s finances will continue to be a cause for concern, though they did announce a new sponsorship deal recently which will hopefully give them a fresh injection of cash. They managed to offload high-earner Mu Kanazaki to Nagoya on loan earlier in the year, but his recent knee injury must be a worry as Tosu won’t want his contract to potentially become an albatross around their neck if they can’t find a potential suitor. Game-maker Riki Harakawa, a rare example of a Sagan player who’s in the prime of his career, has been linked with a number of J1 sides and Cerezo seem to be in pole position for his signature. Elsewhere, bright talents like Daiki Matsuoka, Ryoya Morishita, Teruki Hara and the man I bigged up on my J-Talk debut, Fuchi Honda, must be gathering admiring glances from rival teams. In Tosu’s favour is their generally excellent youth system through which they’ve already produced the likes of Matsuoka, Honda and Kaisei Ishii. Shinya Nakano is a 2nd grade high school student who performed superbly at left-back in the 2-1 win at Kashiwa last weekend, while 2 other Tosu Youth members, forwards Reoto Kodama and Ryunosuke Sagara (who made his J1 debut vs Sendai on Wednesday) will turn pro in 2021, as will Chuo University defender Daisuke Matsumoto, who is on a designated special player contract this year. With the coffers running close to empty and 4 teams to be relegated to J2 at the end of next season, Sagan will need to hope their youth system continues to churn out talents like these.

Head to Head

As seen in the table below, Tosu have lost on every occasion they’ve visited Panasonic Stadium on league business and have failed to find the back of the net on their 3 previous trips to Suita. Indeed, they’ve only ever won one league game away to Gamba in their shortish J1 history, a 3-2 victory in their first ever visit to the old Expo 70’ Memorial Stadium back in May 2012. The Nerazzurri actually haven’t lost a JLeague fixture at home to a Kyushu side since V-Varen Nagasaki’s 2-1 triumph in J2 all the way back in September 2013. I was there for the last Gamba senior team game at Expo 70’ Memorial Stadium, a 3-1 victory over Sagan in an Emperor’s Cup quarter-final in 2015 (Gamba went on to lift the trophy that year) and Tosu were also the opposition for my first ever J1 game at Panasonic Stadium in Golden Week 2018, an ultimately comfortable 3-0 home win, a rare experience during the short-lived Levir Culpi era.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Yuji Ono (knee – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) are both definitely out of this game while right-winger Kosuke Onose must be a huge doubt after leaving the field with a leg muscle injury in the first-half of last week’s 2-1 win at Urawa. Left-back Hiroki Fujiharu had his left thigh strapped up against Reds, but was fit enough to play against Frontale in midweek, it may be asking a bit too much of him to feature in this game though. Yosuke Ideguchi’s bite has been missing from midfield since he got injured in training on November 9th, there is still no word on when he’s expected to return. Club captain Genta Miura played 45 minutes as an overage player for the U23s in J3 last Sunday, but didn’t make the matchday squad for the Kawasaki game, it’s unclear whether or not he will return to the fold on Sunday.

Sagan Tosu

Veteran centre-back / midfielder Hideto Takahashi (who is set to be Kazuma Watanabe’s team-mate at Yokohama FC next year) injured his elbow in the 3-0 home win over FC Tokyo on September 27th and hasn’t featured since while former Gamba Youth left-back Yuto Uchida was subbed off against Nagoya Grampus on November 3rd and is yet to return. Brazilian winger / forward Tiago Alves’ injury hit campaign continued when he damaged his foot against Kashiwa last week (November 21st). Forwards, Cho Dong-geon and Kaisei Ishii (a player bigger teams may be sniffing around) haven’t been in the matchday squad for the past 2 games with no injuries reported. Elsewhere, in the, are they injured? / have they just been dropped? category, on-loan Kashiwa defender / midfielder Park Jeong-su (a player known mostly for failing upwards) was last seen as an unused sub against S-Pulse on October 18th, Yoshiki Takahashi has made just 4 appearances (1 start) in J1 this year and last featured against Shonan (a) on October 21st, Uruguayan striker Renzo Lopez’s last sighting was as an unused sub in that same game while South Korean winger An Yong-woo was removed at half-time in the 3-0 loss at Hiroshima back on October 3rd and has been absent ever since. Promising young holding midfielder Daiki Matsuoka is set to make his 50th J1 appearance in this game and with his current career trajectory, it’s unlikely he’ll make too many more for Tosu.

Predicted Line Ups

It’s unclear whether Miyamoto will make sweeping changes to the side following Wednesday’s humiliation or if he’ll back his walking wounded one more time. I’ve assumed that Miura, Ideguchi and Onose won’t make it and Fujiharu won’t be fit enough to start, however, any of these names would likely come in to the eleven if fitness allows. Up top, I’ve perhaps over-optimistically gone for Shoji Toyama when Watanabe is more likely to partner Usami. I’ve also opted for Kohei Okuno in midfield as Yajima and Yamamoto are too similar in my opinion and Okuno is best placed to provide some of the grunt that’s been lost due to Ideguchi’s ongoing absence.



I’ve gone with the assumption that as they’ve been playing high school kids on type-2 contracts recently, Sagan can’t have too many fit options outside those who started on Wednesday night. 17 year-old Shinya Nakano has been starting ahead of Ohata and may continue to do so here, while it’s possible on-loan Kobe centre-back Daiki Miya could come in alongside Eduardo with Hara switching to right-back. Takeshi Kanamori can play on either wing or as a centre-forward while 38 year-old veteran Ryang Yong-gi is a possibility in the midfield engine room if Matsuoka is shifted elsewhere in the lineup.



Match Prediction

This is likely to be my first live J1 game of the year and I’m in optimistic mood. Kawasaki are head and shoulders above the rest of J1 so I’m counting on Wednesday’s result having no bearing here. The home faithful, including myself, will be looking for a response and I’m backing on Gamba to provide it in the form of a 2-0 win.

Categories
sport

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka 25 November 2020 Match Preview

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 29
Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium
Wednesday 25 November 18:30

Last Time Out

Urawa Reds vs Gamba Osaka


Gamba came from behind to defeat arch-rivals Urawa on Sunday to keep upcoming opponents Kawasaki Frontale’s championship champagne on ice, at least for a few more days. An instinctive strike by talisman Takashi Usami and Ryu Takao’s first ever senior goal overturned Tomoaki Makino’s opener for Reds to help the Nerazzurri banish the memories of last week’s 4-0 humbling by Sendai.

Four changes were made to the Gamba starting eleven with the rested Kim Young-gwon, Kosuke Onose, Takashi Usami and Patric returning in place of the benched Shunya Suganuma, Kohei Okuno, Kazuma Watanabe and Shoji Toyama. The match officials were the star attraction of my first-half notes on a blustery afternoon at Saitama Stadium. Gamba had claims for a penalty ignored when the referee didn’t spot Makino’s handball from Takao’s cross, while Reds players were rightly furious that Kim Young-gwon was adjudged to have won the ball rather than taken out Shinzo Koroki on the edge of the penalty area when replays indicated otherwise. The most comical officiating came when Martinus tried to milk a foul on the right-side of his own box and fell over, however, no free-kick was given leaving the Curacaoan international on all fours shielding the ball (I’m sure he handled it somewhere in the process), when a Gamba player rightly flicked it out from under him he rolled around like he’d been shot in the stomach and eventually got the free-kick (which in fairness most referees would have given him for the first ‘foul’).

The opening stanza was scrappy and featured few clear cut openings. Gamba’s midfield, once again missing the services of Yosuke Ideguchi, lacked bite and there were too many soft challenges going in for my liking. Shinzo Koroki flicked Usami’s corner onto his own post for the visitors best chance of the half, the same player also had his own side’s best opportunity, but couldn’t get the ball past Masaaki Higashiguchi with a low shot. Kosuke Onose went off with a leg muscle injury in the 24th minute and Fujiharu had to get his leg strapped up in the second, before soldiering on for a few more minutes then being taken off to add to Gamba’s recent injury woes. Better news came in the form of youngsters getting a run out, the left-side combination of Fukuda and Kawasaki gave Nerazzurri fans a taste of the future. Indeed Gamba’s closing midfield featured 3 youngsters, Kawasaki (19), Okuno (20) and Toyama (18 – bizarrely playing right wing) who have spent most of this year with the U23 side in J3.

Kazuki Nagasawa rattled the bar for Reds early in the second half after a mistake reminiscent of Gamba’s defending against Urawa in the match in Suita, the surprisingly quiet Leonardo also clipped the outside of the post in a bright opening to the half by the home team. In the 62nd minute, Makino, a player, who despite my best efforts, I can’t bring myself to dislike, tapped home from close range after defensive partner Deng sprung the Nerazzurri’s offside trap and cushioned a header across goal, Miyamoto will definitely want to have another look at his side’s defending for that one. He’d have no such issues with Gamba’s response, as they seemed to be galvanised by going behind, though, in truth, the men in blue and black are always easier to watch when they aren’t winning. Usami got his first goal in 7 games with an excellent shot though a crowd of defenders and just as in the Sapporo game, as soon as he was subbed and relieved of set-piece duties, with the very next set-play Yuki Yamamoto stepped up with a deadly cross which, on this occasion, found former Kwansei Gakuin team-mate Ryu Takao for the winner. 2-1 Gamba, double digit away wins in 2020, unbeaten in 4 league games at Saitama Stadium, roll on Wednesday night.

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka Match Lowdown

It’s the battle between 1st and 2nd at Todoroki Stadium this Wednesday with anything other than an away win leading to a deserved 3rd title in 4 years for Kawasaki. Victory for Gamba, statistically the best away side in the division, would keep their ultra slim championship hopes alive, though they would have to win their remaining 4 fixtures while Frontale somehow contrived to lose all of theirs. The first part of the equation is believable as the Nerazzurri have still to play, Tosu (h), Shonan (a), Yokohama FC (a) and Shimizu (h), however, it seems nigh on impossible that Kawasaki could lose to Shimizu (a), Tosu (a), Urawa (h) and Kashiwa (a).

Digging up stats on Kawasaki is relatively straightforward as they pretty much dominate every team category you can name. As they have been in record breaking form this season I’ll do my best to put these figures into historical context. With 23 wins from their 29 games played so far, Kawasaki are 5 ahead of Gamba (18) in that particular table and indeed, Nagoya (2010), Kashiwa (2011) and Hiroshima (2015) are the only sides to win as many games in an 18-team J1 season meaning that just a solitary victory in their final 5 matches not only gives Frontale this year’s J1 title, but also the record for most wins in a single campaign. In terms of defeats, the men from Kanagawa have been turned over just 3 times all year (losing twice in their past 4 games to bottom half opponents may be a slight cause for concern, though), Gamba again are second in that ranking with 7 defeats (how those home losses to Shonan and Sendai hurt now!) Frontale already hold the record for least defeats in an 18-team J1, losing just 4 times en route to their first title back in 2017, if they can avoid another loss in their upcoming 5 fixtures then they will better that total.

In terms of goals for and against, Kawasaki are once again number one in each of these categories. They’ve scored 74 times in 29 matches (2.55 per game), 6 more than 2nd ranked Yokohama F.Marinos, but with 4 fewer games played and a whopping 33 more than Gamba. Their goal difference stands at an astonishing +49, to give that some context, Gamba have found the back of the net just 41 times all season. Historically, only Frontale, 84 in 2006, and Gamba, 82 in 2005, 80 in 2006 and 78 in 2011 have mustered more than that in an 18-team top flight. Merely maintaining their current goalscoring ratio will see them to 86 strikes for the year and yet another record. Goals conceded is one area where they could conceivably be overtaken as they’ve let in 25, just 3 fewer than Nagoya with 1 game less played.

Gamba actually have a slightly better away record than Kawasaki, so a big part of Frontale’s lead has been built on the back of excellent home performances. Last season, getting results in front of their own supporters was their achilles heal as they could win only 5 of 17 home fixtures and had a disappointing 9 draws. This time round only Tosu (a pre-Covid 0-0) and Sapporo (2-0) have left Kawasaki with anything other than a defeat and Frontale are averaging a 2.86-0.93 scoreline in their own backyard.

I have 5 Kawasaki players definitely in my J1 team of the year (Yamane, Taniguchi, Jesiel, Oshima and Mitoma) as well as one probable (Ienaga – there is tough competition for those wing / shadow positions – Mateus, Kiyotake, Esaka, Furuhashi, Sakamoto, to name a few standout performers) in addition to 2 from Gamba (Higashiguchi and Ideguchi), so this match will give fans an excellent opportunity to see a number of J1’s top performers on the field together. Frontale legend Kengo Nakamura will retire at the end of this campaign at the age of 40 and it will be interesting to see in what direction current kantoku Toru Oniki takes his side after this ground-breaking year. Asian Champions League success is surely the most obvious target after being the dominant force in Japan in recent years, though both Kawasaki and Gamba must have a bit of trepidation over what lies in store having seen what’s happened to FC Tokyo, Marinos and Kobe this year. Oniki’s main weak point seems to be getting the best out of the foreign players at his disposal and I wonder if he could be a potential future Japan national team head-coach as he wouldn’t have to deal with that issue. Elsewhere, mercurial winger Kaoru Mitoma seems set for a move to Europe over the winter and one of the best things about JLeague, for me, is that Frontale aren’t going to go out and buy Olunga, Ideguchi, Mateus and Kiyotake in the off-season to make themselves much stronger, so the chasing pack will feel they have, at least, some chance of catching up in the coming years.

This is a Gamba blog, of course, so let’s have a brief look at them now. Last Sunday’s win took them onto 33 away points for the year (1 more than Frontale), their best performance since returning to J1 in 2014, The Nerazzurri are averaging a 1.64-0.93 scoreline on the road (Gamba’s away defensive performance and Kawasaki’s home record are identical so we may be in for a low scoring game here) and the come from behind display at Urawa was the second time they’ve overturned a deficit to win away in 2020 (Sendai 4-1 was the other). Indeed they’ve only trailed in 4 of their 14 road games this season, an excellent display all round. It has been a real team-effort this season from Gamba, nowhere more so than in attack where Usami notched his 6th goal of the year against Reds pulling him level with fellow strikers, Ademilson, Patric and Watanabe, that quartet’s combined total stands at 24, exactly equal to J1’s top marksman Michael Olunga. Perhaps the absence of Yosuke Ideguchi is the only one that Gamba don’t have any form of solution for as he is so comfortably head and shoulders above everyone else in that department. However, the Nerazzurri’s ability to go on a run of only 1 defeat in 14 matches while blooding a number of youngsters to cover injuries all over the field surely bodes well for the coming years.

Head to Head

Frontale edged out Gamba 1-0 in the battle between 1st and 2nd at Panasonic Stadium back on August 1st, a match in which both sets of players showed each other a great deal of respect. There have only been 4 goals in the 3 previous fixtures between these two at Todoroki Stadium, however, prior to that there was a bizarre 5-3 Frontale win in 2015 that, for some reason, I have no recollection of. All Gamba supporters will remember the 2016 game well though, as the Nerazzurri overcame an early 2-0 deficit to stun their hosts with 3 goals in 11 second-half minutes to claim ACL qualification on the final day of the season.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

The injuries have been piling up for Gamba in recent weeks with captain Genta Miura’s 45 minute run out against Iwate Grulla Morioka in J3 on Sunday the only piece of positive news from the camp. As mentioned above, both Kosuke Onose and Hiroki Fujiharu had to leave the field with leg muscle injuries on Sunday putting huge question marks over their participation in this clash. Yuji Ono (knee surgery – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) are definitely out while there has been no information regarding star midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi’s continued absence. Fujiharu (if fit) and stand-in skipper Shu Kurata will play their last game as 31 year-olds here with Kurata (Thusday) and Fujiharu (Saturday) both approaching their 32nd birthdays.

Kawasaki Frontale

Frontale captain Shogo Taniguchi will miss this game through suspension after his red card against Oita on Saturday, however, regular centre-back partner Jesiel returns after sitting that one out due to the accumulation of yellow cards. My source inside the Frontale camp tells me that ex-Cerezo utility player Kazuya Yamamura picked up a knock in the 1-1 draw with Kashima on November 14th and is a doubt for Wednesday night. Former Gamba man Akihiro Ienaga and backup midfielder Hokuto Shimoda have been absent from the matchday squad for the past 2 games, while promising young forward Taisei Miyashiro hasn’t featured in the last 3 outings, no injury has been reported in any of these cases. Experienced South Korean international stopper Jung Sung-ryong will make his 150th Kawasaki and J1 appearance in this match.

Predicted Line Ups

For the lineup below, I’ve assumed that Fujiharu, Onose and Ideguchi will all be missing. However, if Ideguchi or Onose are fit enough to play, then I expect them to do so, Fukuda will probably start ahead of Fujiharu regardless, with the latter on the bench if available. Genta Miura should be ready to go for this one, but I believe Miyamoto will stick with Kim and Shoji for consistency before bringing in Miura for Kim against Tosu on Sunday. In the midfield, I’ve selected Shuhei Kawasaki to make his first J1 start against his namesake team with Shu Kurata switching to the right flank. An alternative would be, Yajima on the right, Kurata on the left and Yamamoto and Okuno in the middle, Up front, Patric had a physical 90 minute battle with Thomas Deng on Sunday so could start this one on the pine with Watanabe coming in alongside Usami.



Jesiel will likely return from his ban in a straight switch at centre-back for regular captain Taniguchi who will turn his armband over to Ryota Oshima as he sits this one out suspended. Defensively Frontale don’t have many options other than the players I’ve selected, but further forward they have some amazing depth. Kengo Nakamura or Yasuto Wakizaka could fill one of the more advanced midfield roles while I’ve selected the same front 3 as started in the 1-0 win at Panasonic Stadium. Kobayashi for Leandro Damiao is one obvious switch, Mitoma, Hasegawa and also Manabu Saito, who didn’t make my matchday squad, are alternatives down the flanks.



Match Prediction

A lot riding on this one, anything other than a defeat sees Kawasaki crowned champions. Gamba know that a Frontale title win is inevitable, but will do their utmost to stop it happening in this encounter. I don’t think there will be many goals, I could see a 1-0 in either direction. In the end though, I’ll call it as a 1-1 draw.

Categories
sport

Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka 22 November 2020 Match Preview

Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 28
Saitama Stadium 2002
Sunday 22 November 16:00


Last Time Out

If anyone reading this blog is new to Japanese football then Gamba’s home game with Vegalta Sendai gave you a taste of what you’re in for. Gamba started the day in 2nd place, unbeaten in their previous 12 league outings, while their visitors, who had never won in Suita in their entire history were bottom of the pile and hadn’t tasted victory for 18 matches. The final result, 4-0 to Sendai, of course.

Gamba have had a great season up until now, so I’m going to be mercifully brief with this match report and won’t dwell on their failings too much. October J1 Manager of the Month Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (good to see that curse applies everywhere) made five changes to the lineup from the game against Kobe 3 days previously. In came, Gen Shoji, Hiroki Fujiharu, Shinya Yajima, Kazuma Watanabe and Shoji Toyama (first J1 start) for Kim Young-gwon, Yuya Fukuda, Kosuke Onose, Patric and Takashi Usami. The spine of the team that has performed so well in 2020, Kim, Ideguchi and Usami were all gone and with them Gamba’s spark disappeared too, there was lots of neat passing from side-to-side, but no real penetration or urgency. Shoji made a pretty shaky return to top-team action and the defensive structure as a whole was off with Gamba never really coming to grips with the problems caused by Sendai’s front three. Nerazzurri old boy Shun Nagasawa helped himself to a hat-trick which doubled his tally for the year and on-loan FC Tokyo defender Takahiro Yanagi finished off the rout by waltzing through a non-existent defence to shoot past Masaaki Higashiguchi in the home goal.

With a double header coming up in Kanto against Urawa and Kawasaki, it felt like Gamba completely overlooked Sendai in this encounter and went in with the attitude that just turning up was enough. Maybe with Vegalta’s form to date in 2020 and, in particular, their woeful 3-0 reverse at the hands of Tosu a week earlier, this might have been an easy mistake to mate, however, the side from Miyagi needed a reaction in this game and they certainly got one. They were more determined than their hosts from the first whistle and Gamba will need to hope that they’ve vomited everything up in one go and got it out of their system ahead of the remaining 6 league fixtures. The only other positives I can take are that some youngsters got playing time (Ren Shibamoto finally made his J1 debut off the bench) and Cerezo also lost to bottom-half opponents meaning this was effectively a free-hit (I would have preferred Nagoya and Tokyo to finish 0-0, but, hey, Grampus still have to play out their final matches without a striker).

Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka Match Lowdown

One of Japan’s fiercest rivalries is back for another installment with 2nd placed Gamba travelling to Urawa, a team who currently lie in 8th position, 10 points behind the Nerazzurri with an extra game played. Owing to the uneven nature of the J1 schedule this year, it seems highly likely that Reds will overtake Yokohama F.Marinos at some point, but they are extremely vulnerable to attack from Hiroshima and Kashiwa, so this match will be of extreme importance to them.

By kick-off on Sunday, visitors Gamba will have had 8 days to contemplate their 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Sendai. They would actually do well to ask their hosts for some advice as Urawa have slammed 11 past Vegalta in their home 2 matches against them this year (1 in J1 and 1 in the Levain Cup.) This game marks the start of Gamba’s final push towards the end of this gruelling campaign with another away tie against Kawasaki following on Wednesday before they return to Suita to face Sagan Tosu on Sunday November 29th. After that, December is a pretty easy ride for the Nerazzurri with only 3 league fixtures awaiting, Shonan (a) on the 6th, followed by 10 days break before Yokohama FC (a) on the 16th and Shimizu (h) on the 19th.

Gamba’s 4-0 trouncing at the hands of Sendai is such an outlier in the context of this year that it defies analysis and I’m basically going to avoid doing so unless that level of performance becomes more of a habit. Prior to that, the 3-0 reversal at Kashiwa in September was the men from Suita’s worst result of the year, and is, in fact, their only road loss in 2020. This generally excellent sequence of scorelines sees Gamba sit 2nd in J1, 17 points off leaders Kawasaki, who can clinch the title with a win away to Oita on Saturday (they may have done so by the time you read this), Nagoya (3 points behind with an extra game played) and Cerezo (6 points back with a game less in the bank) are their only realistic challengers for second and it would take a pretty erratic set of results to see the blue and black side miss out on 2021 ACL qualification.

As alluded to earlier, Gamba’s away form has been the foundation on which they’ve built their season. Their current away points total sits at 30 which is more than the overall tally of J1’s 5 bottom clubs, bizarrely almost double that of last week’s conquerors, Sendai (18). Solid defence on the road has been key with just 12 goals conceded in 13 games, only Kawasaki (10) have let in fewer. My big stat for this week is that Gamba have trailed in just 3 of their 13 away fixtures this season, Nagoya (2-2), Sendai (4-1) and Kashiwa (0-3), incredibly they’ve only been behind for 153 out of a total 1,170 minutes playing time. Anything other than a defeat on Sunday will ensure that Gamba post their best away points total since returning to J1 in 2014. For the record those figures look like this, 2016 (30), 2014 (28), 2015 (27), 2017 (26), 2019 (20) and 2018 (14).

Now let’s take a deep dive on our opponents Urawa Red Diamonds. The Saitama-based side have had an up-and-down campaign on home soil this year, winning 5 and losing 6. Ominously for Gamba, Reds’ best home results have been in their previous 2 fixtures, Sendai (6-0) and Cerezo (3-1), however, prior to that they’d gone 5 games without a win in front of their own supporters, a run that included 4 successive losses without scoring. Following this match, Urawa have only 2 remaining home fixtures, Shonan and Sapporo, so they will definitely be confident of seeing out their schedule in Saitama without any further blemishes.

As gloated about below in the ‘Head to Head’ section, Urawa were Gamba’s closest title rival back in 2014 and that marked the midway point of a run of excellent league form where they achieved 4 top 3 finishes in 5 years. That success was largely based on excellent signings from other J1 sides, namely the likes of Nishikawa, Makino and Kashiwagi (all ex-Hiroshima), Koroki (Kashima), Aoki (Omiya) and Muto (Sendai), however, in recent seasons they seem to have lost their midas touch in the transfer market somewhat. Curacaoan winger Quenten Martinus is the team’s form player at the moment, but he has largely flattered to deceive since moving from Yokohama F.Marinos in 2018. Former Tricolore team-mate Ryosuke Yamanaka, who set up Martinus for the winner at Kobe on Wednesday, boasts good assist stats, but question marks persist over his defensive capabilities and in recent weeks he’s struggled to hold down his place ahead of every J1 referee’s best friend Tomoya Ugajin (6 yellow cards in 14 games this season). Elsewhere former Cerezo striker Kenyu Sugimoro (he’s never going to get a fair shake on a blog like this, eh) has as many league goals as yellow cards this season (and not in a Juanma Delgado sort of way where he has loads of both) and left-winger Koya Yuruki has shown flashes of what he’s capable in recent appearances, but is still searching for consistency at this level.

Head-coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki’s job is on a very shaky peg at the moment after leading one of Japan’s biggest clubs to a 14th place finish last time out and getting bogged down in mid-table this year with some particularly painful defeats thrown into the mix, Nagoya and Marinos (both 6-2 away) and Kashiwa (4-0 home). It’s been rumoured that Cho Kwi-jae (he of Shonan Bellmare power harassment scandal fame) is in line to take over for next season and this is likely to bring about a number of changes at Urawa if it goes ahead. Despite banging in 11 goals in 26 J1 games, Brazilian forward Leonardo hasn’t started any of the past 10 matches (Gamba may be in the market for a dynamic, young Brazilian forward this winter… nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and any new coach must find a way to get Shinzo Koroki and Leonardo into the same starting eleven, as to date they’ve netted 20 of Reds 41 J1 goals between them.

Next year will likely see more emphasis on youth, not generally a strong point for Reds. Midfielders Atsuki Ito (Ryutsu Keizai University) and Tomokai Okubo (Chuo University) are on designated special player contracts this year and will turn pro in 2021, as will youth team ‘keeper Zion Suzuki who already stands 189cm at the age of 18. Defenders Yudai Fujiwara (Aomori Yamada High School) and Ryuya Fukushima (Urawa Youth) are also locked in, with holding midfielder Yuta Miyamoto (Ryutsu Keizai University) to follow in 2022. If Cho potentially does take over, could we see promising Shonan midfielders Daiki Kaneko and Mitsuki Saito take the well worn path from Hiratsuka to Saitama? Urawa posted the best attendance figures in J1 in 2019 with an average of 34,184 per game, so they have been hit harder than anyone by the COVID-era restrictions, Brazilians Mauricio and Fabricio left mid-season and haven’t been replaced, it will be interesting to see if they genuinely do go down the path of rearing their own talent.

Head to Head

Urawa ran out 3-1 winners at Panasonic Stadium back in August with Gamba’s poor defending meaning they deserved nothing from the game, even if the final score rather flattered our visitors. The Nerazzurri have been victorious on their 2 previous league trips to Saitama, Yuya Fukuda’s first J1 goal on the final day last season and Kosuke Onose’s rasping half-volley which put Gamba on their way to a 7th consecutive victory back in 2018 were my personal highlights from those clashes. I’m sure all supporters of a blue and black persuasion get goosebumps thinking about the late smash-and-grab 2-0 win back in the treble-winning season of 2014, less so the 2016 edition of this contest when Ademilson was sent off for some impulsive stupidity (there’s a theme here), which wasn’t helped by Tomoaki Makino’s theatrics, and Reds eventually romped to a 4-0 victory.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Yuji Ono (knee surgery – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) are definite absentees. A cloud of uncertainty surrounds club captain Genta Miura who returned as a substitute in the Osaka Derby on November 3rd, but wasn’t in the squad for either the Kobe or Sendai games. Yosuke Ideguchi picked up an injury in training on November 9th and has missed the last 2 matches, there are conflicting reports doing the rounds about how serious his problem is. Takashi Usami and Kim Young-gwon both sat out the home shellacking from Vegalta, though I believe they were just being rested. Stand-in skipper Shu Kurata will make his 300th JLeague appearance for Gamba in this game (271 J1 and 28 in J2 to date).

I thought I’d also give a brief round-up of recent Gamba transfer news and gossip.

In: Meiji University centre-back Yota Sato is the only confirmed 2021 signing so far. Gamba have been linked with South Korean international central midfielder Ju Se-jong from FC Seoul, he, of course, turned down a move to Japan last winter. Playmaker Riki Harakawa from cash-strapped Sagan Tosu is also on the Nerazzurri’s radar, though Urawa and Cerezo have been credited with interest too. In my opinion, he’d be most likely to play at Urawa and his team-mate Daiki Matsuoka would be much more Miguel Angel Lotina’s cup of tea, I would have thought. (this was written before the news Lotina’s contract wouldn’t be renewed, maybe Hirakawa will take Hiroshi Nanami’s fancy?)

Out: Veteran forward Kazuma Watanabe looks set for a move to Yokohama FC, where at the age of 34 he’d probably be considered an up-and-coming youngster fnar fnar. Shimizu S-Pulse were also thought to have been in the running, but it seems like Watanabe will return to Kanagawa for the first time since 2011 with the on-loan Kazunari Ichimi coming back to his parent club for next season.

Urawa Red Diamonds

Versatile winger Takahiro Sekine went off injured in the away draw with Hiroshima on November 3rd and hasn’t featured since, while central midfielder Kai Shibato last appeared as a sub in the 6-0 rout of Sendai on October 18th, it’s unclear whether his absence is due to injury or non-selection. Club legend Yosuke Kashiwagi seems to be getting phased out of the top-team picture this year, mustering only 9 J1 appearances to date and he last made the matchday squad in the aforementioned Sendai game where he was an unused replacement. Centre-back Daisuke Suzuki has made just one solitary start since largely carrying the can for the 6-2 annihilation at Nagoya back on August 8th, it’s highly unlikely he has any future in Saitama beyond this current campaign. Rejuvenated winger Martinus stands to make his 100th J1 appearance in this game and much maligned striker Kenyu Sugimoto could play his 50th J1 match for Urawa. Centre-backs Tomoaki Makino and Thomas Deng, as well as central midfielders Ewerton and Kai Shibato are all walking a suspension tightrope with 3 yellow cards apiece. Dangerous forward Shinzo Koroki (9 goals in 24 games) needs just 1 more to reach double figures in J1 for the 9th successive season.

Predicted Line Ups

Gamba are likely to field a much stronger side than they did against Vegalta last week, though they will be mindful of the tough games they have coming up in the next 7 days. Alternatives to the side below would be, Suganuma in for either Kim or Shoji if they have any fitness issues. I believe Yuya Fukuda will come back in for Hiroki Fujiharu, but it’s possible that Miyamoto will stick with the veteran. In the centre of the park I’ve perhaps gone with hope over expectation by selecting Yosuke Ideguchi there, if he’s unavailable, promising youngster Kohei Okuno and Reds-old boy Shinya Yajima are contenders to take his place. On the bench, Dai Tsukamoto’s excellent strike against Hachinohe in J3 could see him promoted to the pine and I’d love to see Ren Shibamoto get another chance to shine.



Urawa’s selection has been very consistent lately, making my job of predicting their starters that bit easier. At left-back Yamanaka may very well get the nod ahead of Ugajin and Iwanami remains an option at centre-back, though after blanking Kobe in midweek, Makino and Deng is the most likely combination. Brazilian Ewerton, a scorer at Panasonic Stadium last year, may return in place of Aoki in the midfield engine-room after it was revealed that the latter is set to join FC Tokyo for next season. In attack I’ve opted for Leonardo over Muto, though Reds number 9 scored in the 3-1 win over Gamba earlier this season and generally combines well with Koroki.



Match Prediction

A tough one to call, for me Urawa haven’t looked great this year, but they can grind out good results. Gamba will be looking to bounce back from last week’s embarrassment and will come into this game safe in the knowledge that they’ve scored 3 times in each of their previous 3 visits to Saitama Stadium. I’ll opt for a reasonably entertaining 2-2 draw which won’t particularly suit either side, but won’t be a disaster.

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sport

Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai 14 November 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai
J1 2020 Round 27
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 14 November 15:00

Last Time Out


Gamba weren’t at their best, but still had enough in the tank to eek out a 1-0 home win over a second-string Vissel Kobe on Wednesday night. Fresh from an 8-day gap between fixtures, Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made just one change to the side which drew at Cerezo, and it was a surprising one. Star-man Yosuke Ideguchi was missing from the matchday squad after picking up a knock in training on Monday and attempting to fill his giant boots was J1 debutant Kohei Okuno. Elsewhere, Kim Young-gwon had overcome the knee injury which forced him off the field early in the Osaka Derby and there was a return to the bench for Gen Shoji after he’d missed the previous 4 games. However, captain Genta Miura was mysteriously absent having made his comeback just last week.

Vissel had the better of the opening exchanges against a sluggish Gamba, however, they were unable to punish their sloppy hosts. Daiju Sasaki wasted two very presentable openings, the second of which prompted me to write ‘Gamba need to waken up’ in my notes. Waken up they did as a mere two minutes later Usami and Patric combined before the Brazilian’s shot was deflected off Ryuho Kikuchi and past the despairing dive of Daiya Maekawa for the game’s only goal.

The home side were much livelier in the second half, I was particularly impressed with Yuki Yamamoto who took up the mantle of the absent Ideguchi well and was ably supported by his partner for the evening, Okuno. On the hour mark Vissel introduced Iniesta, Furuhashi and Hotaru Yamaguchi which gave Gamba’s young midfield duo an excellent opportunity to test themselves against some of the best J1 has to offer. For a large part of the final 20 minutes Gamba sat in their solid defensive shape while Kobe passed from side to side without really penetrating. Another substitute, Noriaki Fujimoto wasted Vissel’s one decent chance, slicing well wide under pressure from Kim Young-gwon. There was a second J1 debut of the evening for the Nerazzurri with highly-rated young prospect Shoji Toyama replacing Patric for the final 6 minutes plus additional time. All-in-all a pleasing night’s work, Gamba have broken their home duck against Vissel and are now unbeaten in 12 J1 games heading in to Saturday’s visit from bottom side Vegalta Sendai.


Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai

Gamba come into this encounter with 18th placed Sendai looking to extend their already outstanding unbeaten run to 13 games. The Nerazzurri took their win tally to 17 against Kobe in midweek meaning they’ve equalled their total from the 2016 season and currently lie just 2 away from the 19 victories that propelled them to the J1 title back in 2014. Just as in that memorable campaign a tight rearguard has proven to be essential. Gamba boast the third stingiest defence in J1 at the moment (behind Kawasaki and Nagoya) letting in just 1.04 per game and indeed the only time they’ve conceded less than a goal a game in an 18-team top flight they were crowned champions (31 in 34 games back in 2014).

After their usual ropey start at home this year when they lost 5 of their opening 8 matches, the ship has been well and truly steadied with the Nerazzurri going on a run of 5 wins and 1 draw since the shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of Shonan back on September 13th. They currently have the 4th best home record in the division with 25 points from 14 matches and at present only Kaswasaki and Nagoya (those two again) have bettered their 8 wins on home soil. Once again we can see solid defence has laid the foundations of this improvement with only 4 goals conceded in the last 6 home ties, two clean sheets (out of a total of 3 at home this year) have been kept in that run too with no opponent able to score more than once in a single game. After Saturday’s encounter, only Tosu (16th) and Shimizu (17th) are due in Suita for league duties so Gamba will surely be optimistic about closing out their home fixtures with no further slip-ups.

The defence seems to be earning all the plaudits in this particular match preview, but Gamba will be confident of playing much of this game on the front foot, particularly after running up a season best 4-1 scoreline in the away fixture. Brazilian striker Patric enjoyed a physical tussle with Kobe’s Dankler and Ryuho Kikuchi on Wednesday and came out on top with his winning goal his 3rd strike in Gamba’s last 5 outings. The powerful forward moved level with Kazuma Watanabe and compatriot Ademilson at the top of the team’s goalscoring charts. Each player currently sits on 6 goals, Gamba’s previous lowest figure for a top scorer in an 18-team top division is the 9 scored by Ademilson and Shun Nagasawa in 2016. It will be interesting to see if any of Gamba’s attackers can go on a scoring spree in the final 7 games of the year to overtake that total.

Now to our visitors to Sendai who have found themselves in all kinds of strife this year. They currently prop up the standings having won just twice all season, they have well documented financial problems, an injury crisis, supporter unrest and recently had to fire talented winger Ryohei Michibuchi after a domestic violence incident. One small crumb of comfort for our visitors from Miyagi is the fact that both of their league wins in 2020 have come on the road, 1-0 at Shonan on July 4th and a surprise 2-1 at Vissel Kobe on August 8th. However, they have now gone over 3 months since their last victory and have failed to score in 6 of their previous 7 outings.

Vegalta had the worst away record in J1 last season with just 3 wins and 1 draw all year and the absence of home supporters for much of this campaign seems to have caused them to bring that form home with them. Kantoku Takashi Kiyama arrived from Montedio Yamagata last winter after performing well in J2, however, in my season preview back in February I warned things could go a bit Alan Curbishley at Charlton following the rather harsh dismissal of Susumu Watanabe, and it’s proven to be the case. The Tokohu side possess the 3rd worst defence in the league with only Shimizu and Kobe (both 55) conceding more (it should be noted that Kobe have let in 3 more, but played an extra 5 games). At the other end, only Shonan (22) have found the back of the net less than Vegalta (23) and Alexandre Guedes’ 5 strikes is a league low for a team’s individual top scorer.

Last week Sendai were blown away 3-0 at home by Sagan Tosu which caused some of their Ultra supporters to surround the team bus for over an hour after the game. That result was undoubtedly one of their worst this year, a recent 6-0 drubbing at Urawa, the aforementioned 4-1 battering by Gamba, 5-1 away at Kashiwa and 3-0 at home to Oita have all been tough for their supporters to take. That doesn’t tell the whole story though as 10 of their 16 losses this season have been by a single goal, indeed the home defeats at the hands of Kawasaki and Cerezo (both 2-3) and Yokohama F.Marinos (0-1) have all been gut punches, while they performed extremely well in their 1-0 reversal at champions elect Frontale.

As alluded to earlier, consistently hitting the back of the net has been an issue for Vegalta all year. They’ve only scored more than once in a single game 6 times in 26 outings, in both matches against the notoriously bad defences of Sapporo and Kobe and also more surprisingly against Kawasaki and Cerezo, the number 1 and 4 ranked backlines in J1 respectively. They’ve only scored more than once twice on their travels this year while Gamba have only conceded more than once at home three times, the last being the controversial match at home to FC Tokyo on August 29th. Can Sendai fans come into this game with any kind of optimism or will Gamba simply run away with things?

Head to Head

I actually had a ticket for this match on it’s originally scheduled date of March 1st and had written over 50% of my preview for that game when the league was halted due to COVID-19. In my research (I believe Dan Orlowitz and Lionel Piguet helped me out) I uncovered the stat that Sendai have never defeated Gamba in a league game in Osaka. Their lone “away” win came in a match played in Kanazawa back in 2003, I’m glad I finally got the opportunity to put that in my blog! Gamba have won the previous 2 home matches against Vegalta without conceding and I’ve been in attendance for both, I’m not sure why Tosu and Sendai games seem to always conveniently fall when I’m not working.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

As mentioned above, in-form midfield maestro Yosuke Ideguchi was a surprising absentee against Kobe and will definitely miss this game, it’s unclear when he will be fit enough to return. Gen Shoji is now available for selection, but a cloud of uncertainty surrounds Genta Miura who played 30 minutes of the Osaka Derby then missed out completely against Vissel. Two players definitely out are Yuji Ono (knee -season) and Ademilson (club suspension).

Vegalta Sendai

One title Vegalta could definitely lay claim to this year is J1’s longest injury list. On-loan FC Tokyo defender Takahiro Yanagi (hip), full-back Koji Hachisuka (thigh) and central midfielder Yoshiki Matsushita (hamstring) have all been missing since the 6-0 hammering at Urawa on October 18th, Matsushita, in particular, has had a rough time fitness wise this year. Club legend Shingo Tomita has missed the whole season with a cruciate knee ligament problem, veteran Shingo Hyodo (thigh) last appeared against Cerezo on September 27th, versatile former Sanfrecce player Kyohei Yoshino has been absent since September 9th with a dislocated shoulder and wide forward Ryo Germain (broken foot) was last in action against Yokohama F.Marinos on September 23rd. Attacker Takuma Nishimura was last picked against Sapporo on October 3rd, but no injury has been reported while Sendai selected 2 goalkeepers among their reserves for the 3-0 home loss to Tosu suggesting that, centre-back Hayato Teruyama, midfielder Wataru Tanaka, Cerezo-loanee Hiroto Yamada and regular backup ‘keeper Yuma Obata are struggling with fitness issues. Top scorer Alexandre Guedes left the field early last weekend and his status is unknown.

Predicted Line Ups

With a week’s rest ahead of their next J1 fixture away at Urawa, I expect a pretty strong Gamba lineup here despite the tight turnaround from the Kobe match. Shinya Yajima could start ahead of Okuno due to the youngster’s recent heavy workload and it’s also possible we’ll see Kazuma Watanabe in for either Patric or Usami. Yuya Fukuda seems to be the bona fide first choice at left-back these days, though Hiroki Fujiharu remains an option. I’ve gone for Shoji ahead of Suganuma at centre-back, though Miyamoto may opt for the latter as he doesn’t want to tinker with a winning team too much.



With all of Sendai’s injury woes, I’ve basically just gone with the players I know to be definitely fit and ready for this game. Fitness problems have hit them particularly hard in the full-back positions, central midfield and attack so basically if anyone mentioned in the ‘Team News’ section is back they stand a good chance of being selected for this match. The most likely variation to the starting eleven you see below is probably Shuhei Akasaki to partner Nagasawa in attack against one of his many former sides, though Takayoshi Ishihara’s versatility could reward him with a starting berth and I’m sure centre-back Kim Jung-ya would love game time against the side he made 70 J1 appearances for between 2011-2017.



Match Prediction

Vegalta come into this one the fresher of the two sides, but that’s the only area where they really have an edge. I was there for a comfortable 2-0 Gamba win in the sunshine at Panasonic Stadium last November and I believe history will repeat itself this Saturday afternoon, leaving Sendai still searching for a first league triumph in Suita.

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sport

Gamba Osaka vs Vissel Kobe 11 November 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Vissel Kobe
J1 2020 Round 32
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Wednesday 11 November 19:00

The Lowdown


Gamba return from a welcome 8-day break to square off against Vissel Kobe in the final Kansai Derby of the year this Wednesday night. This is a round 32 fixture which has been brought forward as a result of the Hyogo side’s participation in the Asian Champions League in Qatar at the end of the month. Vissel are yet to lose a league match at Panasonic Stadium since Gamba moved in back in 2016 and they will be sure to use that as motivation as they have yet score in any of their 3 previous matches against the two Osaka clubs in 2020.

Vissel come into this encounter sitting 11th in the standings, a full 16 points behind Gamba with 4 extra games played. It certainly has not been the campaign they would have envisaged back at the start of the year when they won their first ever piece of silverware, the Emperor’s Cup, with a 2-0 win over Kashima Antlers. Their subsequent participation in the ACL has proven to be a huge burden on their small squad. Since the end of the Obon holiday in August, Vissel have played 22 matches (21 J1 and 1 Levain Cup) compared with Gamba’s 17 (all J1) and like fellow ACL participants Yokohama F.Marinos and FC Tokyo, this ridiculous schedule has caused results to take a nosedive. Between 2017 and 2019 both Gamba and Vissel ended up within one place of each other in the standings, even finishing level on points last season, so this year’s giant gap can be seen as a testament to the negative impact ACL participation has had on Kobe’s hopes of a successful J1 campaign.

Gamba have only 4 fixtures left in Suita this year including this one, 11th placed Vissel will be followed by, Sendai (18th), Tosu (15th) and Shimizu (17th) so the Nerazzurri will be keen to improve their home stats. They currently average 1.69 points per game at Panasonic Stadium with a scoreline of 1.31-1.23 in their favour. This pales in comparison to their excellent away record where they’ve taken 2.3 points per game with an average score of 1.62-0.92. Tight games have been the order of the day and, in fact, Kobe (2-0) are one of only three teams Gamba have bettered by more than one goal this season, Kashima (2-0) and Sendai (4-1) being the others, with Antlers being the only team to leave Suita defeated by more than a single goal margin. Just 2 clean sheets have been kept at home this year out of a total of 6 (vs Hiroshima and Kashima) and there have been 2 failures to score (vs Kawasaki and Shonan) while this has only happened once on the road.

If you remove Kawasaki from the league standings (I wish) Gamba’s record looks really impressive. They currently rank 2nd in total wins and also least defeats as well as having J1’s third tightest rearguard behind Frontale and Grampus. On the flip side, only the bottom 7 teams in the standings have netted fewer than Gamba’s 38 goals, Cerezo and Urawa have identical goalscoring records, though Reds have played a game more. Interestingly, Gamba’s top scorers this year are Kazuma Watanabe and Ademilson, both with 6 goals, only Vegalta Sendai have a top scorer with fewer strikes (Alexandre Guedes 5) while Sapporo and Shonan’s top marksmen are also on 6 goals. Only 1 of Watanabe’s 6 strikes have come at home this year, while stand-in skipper Shu Kurata has netted all 4 of his total on the road. Takashi Usami, on the other hand, is more of a home-body with 4 of his 5 efforts coming at Panasonic Stadium. With these numbers in mind, we can see the importance of Yosuke Ideguchi’s recent goal burst from midfield, I probably sound like a broken record now, but he must be a strong contender for the 2020 J1 Best Eleven. Goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi will surely be in the running too as long as he doesn’t have too many more shaky performances like he did in the first half against Sapporo a couple of weeks back.

A few more quick Gamba stats before we take a look at Kobe. I know I often mention it, but it does bear repeating that the Nerazzurri hold a 16-3-0 record in games where they’ve led at any point this year. This means they’ve only dropped points from winning positions on 3 occasions compared with a whopping 12 times (7 draws and 5 defeats) in 2019. Usami still tops the J1 last pass rankings with 60 in 26 appearances, a full 27 more than Gamba’s next best ranked player, Shu Kurata (33) and 6 ahead of the league’s top assist provider, Kenta Nishizawa of Shimizu.

Now to our visitors who will be left with only 3 J1 matches to play in 2020 after this game. Next, they host Shonan and Urawa at the Noevir Stadium before jetting off to Qatar to participate in the Asian Champions League and after that they’ll return to Japan to face FC Tokyo in the capital on the final day. Vissel started the season with German Thorsten Fink in charge, however, despite helping the port side to their first ever pieces of silverware, he was shown the door in September. Former Sporting Director Atsuhiro Miura is now in the hot-seat and after a dream start with 4 wins in his first 4 games he’s begun to find life a bit tougher. Kobe have just 1 win and 4 points from their previous 7 games moving into this encounter.

There’s a degree of symmetry to Vissel’s results this year, they’ve now played 30 games, 15 at home and 15 on the road and have scored 25 and conceded 27 both home and away. Like a number of teams this season, they boast a better record on their travels than on home soil, taking 19 of their 36 league points outside of Hyogo. They’ve got the better of Sapporo, Sendai and Yokohama F.Marinos (all 3-2), Urawa (2-1) and Tosu (1-0) away as well as putting up a great fight in their 3-2 loss at runaway leaders Kawasaki.

In total, Vissel average a scoreline of 1.67-1.8 compared with Gamba’s 1.46-1.08 which is gives a pretty good indicator as to where each side’s strengths and weaknesses lie. Kobe are currently the league’s 3rd top scorers with 50, though Kashiwa (49 but with 4 fewer games played) will surely overtake them soon. At the back, only Shimizu (55) have let in more than Vissel’s 54, though it should be noted that Sendai (52 goals conceded in 26 games), Yokohama FC (51 in 27) and Sapporo (49 in 27) are all contenders to end up with worse overall defensive records.

In terms of individuals, Kyogo Furuhashi has led the way in goals scored with 12 (joint 4th in the Golden Boot race) while Andres Iniesta and Gotoku Sakai have provided a team high 6 assists each which leave them tied 6th equal in that particular ranking. Furuhashi and right-back Daigo Nishi have also chipped in with 5 assists apiece while Brazilian, Douglas, an off-season capture from S-Pulse, has weighed in with 7 J1 strikes and 5 assists. In truth, despite posting reasonable numbers, I think it’s fair to say that Kobe fans were expecting more considering he bagged 14 goals and 5 assists in a struggling outfit last year. It could be that youth is the way to go for Vissel and looking in that direction, things do seem bright. Young midfielder Tatsunori Sakurai will join next year from Maebashi Ikuei High School (U23 defender Riku Matsuda’s alma mater) while centre-back Yuki Kobayashi has been decent on loan at Yokohama FC this season. Yuta Goke has been the real bright spark for Kobe in 2020, usually playing on the right-side of the front three, though he did drop deeper in the match on Sunday, he is someone Gamba will definitely need to keep an eye out for in this game.

Head to Head

As mentioned above and as highlighted in the table below, Vissel like playing at Panasonic Stadium and are unbeaten in J1 games there since it opened in 2016. I took in the final match between these two sides at the old Expo 70’ Memorial Stadium on my birthday back in 2015. Incognito in the away end due to the home tickets selling out, I was forced to endure a stale 0-0 that only livened up in the final 10 minutes. Luckily the steak I had at Denny’s afterwards made up for it, but I digress. Shonan, FC Tokyo and Cerezo have all ended long winless runs in Suita this year while Gamba buried their 19-year away hoodoo at Tokyo too, does this mean the stage is set for a first home win over Kobe at Panasonic Stadium?

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Gamba once again have selection issues to contend with. Kim Young-gwon (left knee) had to leave the field early in last week’s Osaka Derby and is a major doubt for this game, as is defensive partner Gen Shoji who has missed the past 4 games after aggravating his ankle injury against Yokohama F.Marinos. Elsewhere, Yuji Ono (knee – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) will both definitely miss out. Kim Young-gwon (if fit) and Yuya Fukuda both currently sit just one yellow card away from suspension after being cautioned against Cerezo. Shinya Yajima will make his 50th league appearance for Gamba if chosen and former Kwansei Gakuin University team-mates, Ryu Takao and Yuki Yamamoto have celebrated birthdays in the past week, Takao is now 24 and Yamamoto 23.

Vissel Kobe

Kobe have once of the smallest squads in J1 in terms of overall numbers, though fortunately for them, they don’t have many injury problems. Belgian centre-back Thomas Vermaelen has been absent since the game at Hiroshima on October 18th, I’m not sure if that’s a fitness issues or if he’s being rested ahead of the upcoming ACL games. Kyogo Furuhashi wasn’t in the squad for the previous 2 games and no injury was reported so I’m assuming he was just being given a rest too. Spanish holding midfielder Sergi Samper will make his 50th J1 and Vissel appearance in this clash while long-serving winger Keijiro Ogawa is set for his 200th J1 game. Former Kashiwa attacker Junya Tanaka, who sunk Gamba with a late double in this fixture last March, will reach if 50 J1 goals if he can find the back of the net on Wednesday.

Predicted Line Ups

Fresh from 8 days off, it’s likely we’ll see the strongest possible eleven available to Miyamoto start this Kansai Derby. I’ve opted for Fujiharu ahead of Fukuda as a result of his superior defensive attributes, also in defence, if either Kim or Shoji are fit enough to start then I expect them to do so. Yuki Yamamoto looked a bit tired in last week’s win over Cerezo, but after the extended break he should have recharged his batteries enough to hold off the challenge from Shinya Yajima. Once again in attack, either Watanabe or Patric could partner Usami, while young guns Toyama, Kawasaki and Tsukamoto will fight it out over 2 available bench seats.



Under their new head-coach, Vissel seem to have settled on a 4-3-3 formation after previous kantoku Thorsten Fink’s constant switching between 4-3-3 and 3-5-2. With their league season all but over and the majority of their focus now on the upcoming Asian Champions League it is anyone’s guess as to what personnel will be deployed on Wednesday night. As it’s a local derby I’ve assumed Kobe will field a strong side, but I’ll list a few alternatives to the lineup below. Goalkeepers Maekawa and Iikura have been rotating lately and Wednesday seems to be Maekawa’s turn to start, though the more experienced Iikura could be called upon. Vermaelen is always an option to play centre-back while ex-Gamba full-back Ryo Hatsuse may give Daigo Nishi a break. Further forward, youngsters Takuya Yasui and Daiju Sasaki will be champing at the bit to get more game time in midfield. In attack, if Furuhashi doesn’t make it, expect Kojiro Ogawa to be given the nod in his 200th J1 game, also centre-forward Noriaki Fujimoto may be preferred to Douglas in the central role.



Match Prediction

Gamba should be fresh after their long break while Vissel are in very poor recent form in the league so one may be tempted to think this will be a comfortable home win. Not me, as this is a derby after all and Kobe have game changers all over the field. I’ll still opt for a Gamba victory, but only by their usual slim margin of 2-1.

Categories
sport

Cerezo Osaka 1-1 Gamba Osaka 3 November 2020

Gamba extended their unbeaten run to 11 matches after earning a 1-1 draw in a scrappy, physical battle with neighbours Cerezo Osaka on Culture Day. Kawasaki’s surprise loss at home to Sapporo reduces the gap at the top to 16 points, which is academic at this stage, but Nagoya’s 0-0 draw at Tosu will have come as welcome news to both Osaka teams.

Patric returned to the starting eleven in place of Kazuma Watanabe who dropped down to the bench where he was joined by returning skipper Genta Miura (his comeback would come in very handy later). For Cerezo, Riku Matsuda made a welcome return from injury, taking Eiichi Katayama’s spot at right-back and young Ayumu Seko, this week named the Levain Cup’s New Hero for 2020, was dropped after a poor display at Urawa last time out. Yasuki Kimoto slotted in at centre-half alongside Matej Jonjic while Naoyuki Fujita started next to Leandro Desabato in central-midfield.

The game as a whole was fairly even, but Cerezo, the home side, and fresher of the two did have the better of the limited chances on offer. In the 11th minute Yuki Yamamoto, who in truth didn’t have his best game in the Gamba engine room, failed to shepherd the ball out for a goal kick and had his pocket pinched by the dangerous Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, the right-winger’s cut-back found Desabato, but his shot was well blocked by Kim Young-gwon. Cerezo pressed further in the next 10 minutes, but Sakamoto’s volley wide from a corner and an inviting Murahashi cross that was just too far ahead of Yuta Toyokawa were as close as they came.

At the other end, Usami and Ideguchi looked a cut above for Gamba with their close control and direction of play a joy to watch at times. The Nerazzurri took the lead just after the half-hour mark when good work from Usami started a move that eventually ended up at the feet of Kosuke Onose on the edge of the box. The former Renofa Yamaguchi man swung over a left-foot cross for Patric who used his head, chest and foot to evade the attention of Jonjic and his pass was deflected by Riku Matsuda into the path of Ideguchi who slammed the ball past Kim Jin-hyeon for his 2nd in as many games. He’s doing his chances of a 2020 J1 Best Eleven selection no harm.

Unfortunately for Gamba, their lead lasted a mere 2 minutes, the first time they’ve ceded the advantage so quickly this season. Yamamoto made a careless foul in midfield and from the resulting free kick, Maruhashi picked out Kimoto at the back post. The big centre-back evaded the attention of Usami and Takao to volley against the bar and Toyokawa nodded the rebound into an empty goal for his 4th in the past 3 matches. Cerezo were in the ascendancy after that and Fujita should really have put them ahead, but he scuffed his shot wide after neat build-up play involving Sakamoto and Toyokawa. Gamba almost stunned the Cherry Blossoms with a break of their own, Patric controlled well and found Onose who threaded a beautifully weighted ball through to Usami, I was expecting to see the net bulge, but Kim spread himself well to deny the ex-Bayern man. 1-1 at the break.

The second period had a real derby feel to it with physical contests taking place all over the pitch. Perhaps the most intriguing one was between Jonjic and Patric with both earning yellow cards in the 50th minute after engaging in a pushing contest. Elsewhere there was bad news for Gamba as Kim Young-gwon had to leave the field with a left-knee problem, his place was taken by the returning Miura and Cerezo fans may feel he should have seen red. Already on a yellow, he felled Hiroaki Okuno on the edge of the area in the 90th minute, but the referee opted to just give the home side a free-kick, and no more. The otherwise excellent Hiroshi Kiyotake wasted the opportunity with a weak delivery, before firing an over-head kick just wide following a long throw from Katayama. Apart from that there wasn’t a great deal to report in the second half, Miura blocked a Kakitani effort late on and the Nerazzurri picked up a season high 5 yellow cards, however, 1-1 after such a short turnaround and against quality opposition like Cerezo makes me pretty content.

Gamba now have 8 days to dust down their wounded warriors before Vissel Kobe are the visitors to Panasonic Stadium for the final Kansai derby of the year next Wednesday. Gamba will find themselves in the same position Cerezo did today, having the weekend off while their opposition have to play. Can the Nerazzurri make it 12 games unbeaten or will Iniesta, Furuhashi and co. have something to say about that?

Gamba MVP

If this were a neutral blog I’d definitely give this award to Hiroshi Kiyotake who I thought had an outstanding game, especially in the second half. I would have no arguments if he made the J1 Best Eleven this year. As it is a Gamba blog, it should come as no surprise that Yosuke Ideguchi is my pick. Another energetic performance, he got stuck in from the word go, covered the whole pitch, moved the ball around well and of course notched the all important opening goal.

Key Takeaways
* Gamba did a good job of doubling up on Sakamoto, especially in the 2nd half.
* Yamamoto and Fukuda looked particularly tired after the recent tough schedule. Yamamoto’s passing and positioning was questionable at times while Fukuda’s crossing let him down.
* Kiyotake, Usami and Ideguchi really looked a level above all the other players at times today.

Gamba U-23

Just a quick mention that the Under-23s went down 2-0 at FC Imabari this afternoon. I only caught the first-half as the second overlapped with the Osaka derby. Gamba basically monopolised possession until they were caught cold in the 39th minute when Shungo Tamashiro fired home with Imabari’s first shot of the match. Further bad news followed when Keisuke Kurokawa injured his hamstring 5 minutes later and had to be replaced by Ryusei Sugano. The Shikoku based side took advantage of Ren Shibamoto’s dismissal for two yellow cards in the second half to double their lead through Masamichi Hayashi and it finished 2-0. Gamba U-23 sit 13th in the standings with 9 games left.

Starting Lineup

GK: Lee Yunoh, RCB: Hayate Toma, CB: Riku Matsuda, LCB: Tatsuya Yamaguchi, RWB: Keishi Murakami, RCM: Kohei Okuno, LCM: Ren Shibamoto, LWB: Keisuke Kurokawa, R Shadow: Jiro Nakamura, L Shadow: Daisuke Takagi ©, CF: Shoji Toyama.
*After Kurokawa was subbed off, Murakami moved to LWB, Takagi to RWB and Sugano to L Shadow