Júbilo Iwata vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 4
Saturday 12 March 2022
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)
Round 4 of the 2022 J1 season sees a day many Gamba supporters hoped they’d never have to endure come to pass, Yasuhito Endo playing against the side he represented from 2001-2020. At the ripe old age of 42, Endo, who won everything there is to win in the Japanese game during his time in Suita, will no doubt dominate the build up to this clash, but when we get down to business on Saturday afternoon an intriguing battle awaits us. Both hosts Júbilo, and visitors Gamba sit level on 4 points from their opening 3 fixtures so should be relatively content with their respective starts and will be looking to move up through the gears here.
Gut-wrenching is how I’d describe the Nerazzurri’s 2-2 draw with Kawasaki last Sunday. I’d have bitten your hand off for a draw pre kick-off, but with the ball being dropped literally, and figuratively, only in the dying seconds of the game it was certainly a bitter pill to swallow for all those of a blue and black persuasion. I met up with Frontale Rabbit before and after the match and we both agreed that a share of the spoils was probably a reasonable outcome, which in fairness is a massive upgrade on what’s happened in most of the encounters between those two across the past couple of years.
Júbilo bounced back from a painful derby defeat at the hands of Shimizu in round 2 by rolling over fellow newly-promoted side Kyoto Sanga 4-1 away on Saturday. While the previous weekend they’d been on the receiving end of 2 red cards, on this occasion they were the beneficiaries of an opposing player getting his marching orders, home goalkeeper Naoto Kamifukumoto who was controversially dismissed following a lengthy VAR review just before half time.
Confidence should be high in both camps and with this being the first J1 match Júbilo have played at Yamaha Stadium since their relegation in 2019 there is likely to be quite a raucous atmosphere, well as buoyant as Covid restrictions will allow for.
Tale of the Tape
Once again I’ll preface this section by stating that with so few games played it’s difficult to jump to any meaningful conclusions so my purpose here is just to pick out a couple of (hopefully) interesting talking points for both sides and run with those.
Early doors in 2022 and Gamba seem to be getting some breaks in the attacking third that simply didn’t go their way last season, see Yuya Fukuda and Kosuke Onose’s deflected efforts from outside the box finding the back of the net in consecutive weeks for proof of that. New kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka is still searching for his best XI and formation and as such we’ve seen 3-4-2-1, 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 (with Yuki Yamamoto a surprising selection on the left wing which even caught the Panasonic Stadium big screen graphics team by surprise) utilised in the last 3 matches alone. Keeping that in mind and also the considering the incredibly tough nature of the initial trio of fixtures it’s hard to get much of a read on Gamba’s stats, but I’ll give it a go. After last season’s shot shy start with only 3 goals scored in the first 12 league outings, Nerazzurri supporters will be delighted that the opposition’s net has bulged in each of the opening 5 games of 2022 (3 J1, 2 Levain Cup). Now to look exclusively at J1, 4 goals from just 1.95xG For suggests that while the goals scored column may be looking pretty at the moment, more chance creation will be required to succeed in the long run. At the other end, 5 goals conceded from 5.56xG Against is far more on par though those tallies do include the second half of the Kashima game where the Ao to Kuro wrongly found themselves playing 10v11. Number of completed passes and possession % are currently way down on last year, but it’s far too early to jump to conclusions on those metrics as all 3 opponents Gamba have faced will likely be in the top 6 this term and, as alluded to above, the 52 minutes the blue and blacks battled for a man short versus Kashima represents almost 20% of their total playing time this season so is liable to skew any reading of the stats.
Júbilo were promoted to J1 as a result of being crowned second division champions in 2021. They achieved that under the tutelage of, the now retired, Masakazu Suzuki thanks to an excellent attack which occasionally bailed out a slightly shaky rearguard. Iwata were top scorers in J2 last time round with their final total of 75 goals for being 6 more than the second ranked team in that category Nagasaki (69), they also led the league for most shots and crosses too. Star forward Lukian (now at Fukuoka) was the main attacking weapon, but behind him plenty of others made solid contributions, and it should be noted that they netted over 50 times even if you discount the Brazilian’s tally of 22 (enough to earn him the golden boot). Shadow forward Hiroki Yamada (11) was the only other Júbilo player to make it into double figures, but Yuto Suzuki (8 – and 3 already this campaign), Yuki Otsu (6) and Kosuke Yamamoto (5) provided able support. Assists also came from a plethora of sources, Lukian (8) topped that metric too, but Masaya Matsumoto and Kotaro Omori (both 7), Kosuke Yamamoto and Yuto Suzuki (both 6) and veteran playmaker Endo (5) all did the business. At the back, first choice ‘keeper Ryuki Miura wasn’t overly exerted with Iwata recording the 3rd lowest number of saves (73 vs a divisional average of 99), but their save % only ranked 16th perhaps suggesting a vulnerability to counter attacks in addition to giving up high-quality chances.
Since returning to the top flight Júbilo have done battle with Fukuoka (a), Shimizu (h – played at the larger Ecopa Stadium) and Kyoto (a), not an easy set of fixtures by any stretch of the imagination, but would you rather start against those teams or Kashima, Urawa and Kawasaki? After accumulating an xG For total of 1.06 from their opening 2 matches they obliterated that with 3.12 against Kyoto, though as mentioned previously, Sanga were reduced to ten men with over 45 minutes still to play. Defence again appears to be the area of greatest concern with at least 1 xG Against ceded in each game so far (1.16 vs Kyoto is their best performance), and double digit shot totals being recorded by all opponents to date (both S-Pulse and Sanga had 10 on target while Iwata could only equal that from their first 2 games combined before achieving a whopping 15 vs Kyoto). Perhaps slightly surprisingly for a freshly promoted outfit, Júbilo have enjoyed over 50% possession in all 3 matches thus far, admittedly against opponents not known for dominating that facet of play (455 completed passes vs Shimizu is their lowest number while 260 is Gamba’s highest). As pointed out above, this will be the first league game of 2022 at Yamaha Stadium and Júbilo should see plenty of the ball, but the big question is, can they create enough goal-scoring opportunities while at the same time avoiding being caught out on the break by Gamba?
Head to Head
Gamba and Júbilo last encountered one another on league business in the Nerazzurri’s 2019 Summer Expo game. A stadium record crowd of 37,334 bore witness to yet more 95th minute heartbreak for Gamba. The aforementioned Lukian was ordered off as a result of 2 yellow cards inside the opening quarter, the second of which was for ill-advisedly booting the ball away in frustration and it ending up in among the Ultras in the Curva Nord behind the home goal. Kosuke Onose sent Gamba into the sheds one up as his cross evaded everyone including Iwata keeper Krzystof Kamiński and nestled in the bottom corner on the stroke of half time. The Nerazzurri, sporting their snazzy Noritake Kinashi designed uniforms, had multiple chances to kill the game off in the second period, but took none of them. Patric’s header wide from Ryu Takao’s cross in injury time proved costly as moments later Takao bundled a Júbilo attacker over in the box and up stepped Masato Nakayama to earn the visitors a share of the spoils from the penalty spot. This was the 4th in what was to be a run of 5 consecutive draws for the Nerazzurri and the second time in the space of 8 days that they’d conceded an injury time equaliser at home. Current Gamba forward Leandro Pereira (then of Hiroshima) had cancelled out Shu Kurata’s 89th minute strike the previous Saturday and the Nerazzurri were knocked out of the Emperor’s Cup by Hosei University in the midweek between those 2 fixtures so I guess we could dub that Gamba’s “summer of discontent.” The last time the two sides met in Shizuoka was on 15 June 2019, a dull 0-0 which saw the men from Suita drop to a season low 17th place though 3 wins in their following 4 outings soon steadied the ship.
Takashi Usami’s injury enforced departure midway through the second half, as well as the now infamous last second defensive calamity cast a pall over proceedings at Panasonic Stadium in the wake of the draw with Frontale, but they couldn’t fully detract away from what had been a largely positive performance. Teams are built in the shape of their coach and Katanosaka Gamba are no different with his fire and brimstone on the touchline transmitting its way onto the field in the shape of Mitsuki Saito’s courageous showing in midfield, Shu Kurata rallying the troops in an impromptu huddle after Kosuke Onose had restored Gamba’s lead, and the general willingness to go toe-to-toe with Frontale when circumstances permitted. This might be the Gamba section, but I also wanted to give a quick shout out to Leandro Damião for his beautiful display of sportsmanship in the wake of his 95th minute equaliser, his actions were in stark contrast to those of another visiting forward who (dis)graced the Panasonic Stadium turf a fortnight prior.
* The Usami replacement conundrum – The long-term loss of Gamba’s talisman will have Katanosaka frantically playing about with his tactics board searching for a workable back-up plan. He was almost exclusively a 3-4-2-1 devotee during his time with Oita, but as I said in the ‘tale of the tape’ section we’ve seen 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 in the last 2 games. As you’ll see in my predicted lineup below, I expect Hiroto Yamami to be the next cab off the rank, however, as he’s in his rookie season following his graduation from Kwansei Gakuin University it might be a tad premature to load him with the burden of creator-in-chief quite so soon. Hideki Ishige, Jiro Nakamura and Wellington Silva will all be required to help lighten the load if the Nerazzurri are to continue the solid progress they’ve made in the early part of this campaign. Another intriguing prospect is the upcoming arrival of Dawhan (apparently in the air as this article goes to press) who could potentially form an explosive volante partnership with Mitsuki Saito which would allow Shu Kurata and Yuki Yamamoto to compete for the shadow forward and number ten roles respectively, I guess as with everything we’ll get our answers soon enough.
* The Brazilian forward quandary – Leandro Pereira is reportedly Gamba’s biggest earner, but when he’s not been out injured or working his way back to full fitness then he’s generally been sulking around the field and has contributed a meagre 7 goals in 37 outings in all competitions since his move from Matsumoto Yamaga at the start of 2021. Personally I’d trade him for Kashima’s Everaldo in a heartbeat, but I reckon there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of that move coming to fruition. Fellow Brazilian Wellington Silva has also had his share of fitness issues since arriving in Japan just under a year ago, but when on the pitch he’s displayed a real passion and desire that has endeared him to the Nerazzurri support to a far greater extent than Pereira, even with his shenanigans away to Marinos taken into account. There are currently 7 overseas players contracted to Gamba (Patric, Pereira, Silva, Dawhan, Ju Se-jong, Kwon Kyung-won and Shin Won-ho), is it possible that Pereira is headed for the exit before the winter transfer window closes at the end of the month? Also, how big a role will Silva have to play during Usami’s leave of absence?
* Speaking of which, should Katanosaka look to bring in a replacement for Usami, he’s likely to have his hands tied by 1, the limitations on foreigners I laid out above and 2, anyone who’s anyone will already be under contract elsewhere. I guess it’s possible that a Japanese player currently overseas might join in the summer, say Ryotaro Meshino, but for me Yamato Machida of Oita appears to be the most realistic acquisition at this point, even if it’s just on a loan deal with Yota Sato and Jiro Nakamura moving in the opposite direction. The baby faced assassin netted 8 times in 32 J1 games for Katanosaka’s Oita last term, he knows the boss, and the system he wants to play, so theoretically could hit the ground running in Suita. To throw out a few J2 names who are under contract, but may fit the bill of the type of player Gamba are seeking, Masaki Watai (Tokushima), Motoki Hasegawa (Kofu), Taiki Hirato (Machida), Ryoga Sato (Verdy) and someone who would make significant waves…Shion Homma (Niigata)???
As my followers on Twitter will already be aware, every Gamba fan’s worst fears were realised on Tuesday morning with the announcement that Takashi Usami had undergone surgery on a ruptured achilles tendon and will likely miss the remainder of the 2022 campaign. The Nerazzurri’s joint vice-captain and the only outfielder to feature in all 38 league fixtures last season will be sorely missed, but as Queen once sang, ‘the show must go on.’ Ryu Takao left the field of play 12 minutes early against Kawasaki on Sunday, but I believe that was just due to cramp. There’s still no word on either Masaaki Higashiguchi or Hiroki Fujiharu so at the moment I’d have to say it’s probable that both will be absent again here. Other than that, it appears that Dawhan is on his way to Japan, we’re just awaiting official confirmation and Kwon Kyung-won may join up with the squad after the World Cup qualifiers at the end of the month. It remains unclear what stage of their recovery processes Leandro Pereira and Wellington Silva are at and how much of a future they have in Suita under Katanosaka.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
One of Japan’s most famous clubs, Júbilo Iwata first played in J1 back in 1994 and in the years since have gone on to lift 3 top flight titles, 2 league cups, 1 Emperor’s Cup and an Asian Club Championship, though their last piece of silverware (excluding J2) was the 2010 League Cup when they dispatched Hiroshima 5-3 in an epic final. The past decade or so has been tough on their loyal supporters with relegations suffered in both 2013 and 2019. As one might expect from a club based in the birthplace of Japanese football, Shizuoka Prefecture, Iwata have a decent youth academy which has produced current top team talents such as Daiki Ogawa, Rikiya Uehara, Kosuke Yamamoto and Riku Morioka. However, on the flip side of the coin, the core of the squad from that 2019 relegation season, and indeed the 2018 campaign where they stayed afloat only due to defeating Tokyo Verdy 2-0 in playoff, is still intact, supplemented by players who were contracted to big clubs in the past, but for one reason or another found themselves out of the picture with their previous employers. Yasuhito Endo, Yuto Suzuki and Kotaro Omori all have Gamba connections, while centre-backs Norimichi Yamamoto and Makito Ito plus attacker Yuki Otsu moved west from Yokohama F. Marinos. One player I’d like to focus on is the much maligned (often by me) Kenyu Sugimoto, a powerful forward with 8 international caps and 53 J1 goals who is currently on loan from Urawa after a hugely disappointing 3 ½ year stint in Saitama where he found the back of the net just 6 times in 70 league outings. Indeed, the 187cm tall striker has scored only 14 goals in 5 seasons since his annus mirabilis of 2017 when his 22 strikes propelled Cerezo to 3rd in the final standings. Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself quietly impressed with his display away to Kyoto last week as he really bullied Sanga’s centre-backs (granted I think they’ve got the wrong players in there – Mendes, in particular, had a bit of a nightmare). He hasn’t scored yet this year, but his ability to hold the ball up and bring others into the game makes him a vital cog in new kantoku Akira Ito’s set up. They’ve had a rather gentle cushioned landing upon their return to the top flight, however, in the next couple of months more challenging fixtures against the likes of Urawa, Kawasaki, Nagoya and Kashima lie in wait, should Sugimoto start adding goals to his all round decent performances then that will be a massive fillip for Júbilo.
Centre-back Norimichi Yamamoto and Colombian forward Fabián González are both available again after serving one match bans in the game against Kyoto following red-cards in the Shizuoka derby the previous week. Brazilians Ricardo Graça and Dudu are in their home country awaiting clearance to enter Japan as the country’s immigration service works through a huge backlog of visa applications. Apart from that, wing-back Ryo Takano (knee – expected to return in June) is the only other confirmed absentee.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.