Gamba Osaka vs Júbilo Iwata 29 October 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Júbilo Iwata
2022 J1 Season Round 33
Saturday 29 October 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 15:00 (JST)

Seventeenth hosts eighteenth in the penultimate round of J1 2022 this weekend with both sides knowing that anything other than a win is simply not good enough. A 5th home victory of the year for second-to-last Gamba would likely see them head into the final day outside the automatic drop-zone, however, anything less leaves the Ao to Kuro relying on Shonan, Kyoto, Fukuoka and S-Pulse slipping up. Júbilo’s equation is crystal-clear, lose or draw and they are down. As if the prospect of all that wasn’t tantalising enough, you’ve also got Japanese footballing icon Yasuhito Endo returning to Suita for the first time since his move to Júbilo in mid-2020, to add fuel to the fire. The match itself is unlikely to be pretty and it’s certainly not going to be for the faint of heart, but if it’s drama, passion and sheer nail-biting tension you’re after then Panasonic Stadium Suita is the place to be this Saturday afternoon.

As a brief aside, I recently teamed up with the excellent @The94thMin to put out an article about Gamba’s past, present and future for his “The Club Scene” blog series, you can check it out here if you haven’t already. Last week I also wrote about 15 gifted rookies who’ve appeared in J1 this year while name-dropping some of the most exciting talents that will be joining top-tier professional sides in 2023. Please click on the link here to read that, it’s a long one, but hopefully a good one.

Tale of the Tape

I know it seems like the Marinos vs Gamba game happened months ago, but I took copious amounts of notes, so I guess I should make a brief attempt at summarising them here. Also, having now won 3 times in-a-row at Nissan Stadium, if I were running Gamba I’d be seriously considering contacting Marinos regarding a stadium share from next season, either that or Saitama Stadium, another venue where the blue and blacks get all the breaks. The Nerazzurri, to their credit, worked incredibly hard throughout their visit to Kanagawa and put up some good numbers against Marinos, outrunning their hosts by ½ a kilometre, as well as, rather surprisingly, outsprinting them by 26. As is often the case, people tend to want to overlook Marinos’ defensive flaws in favour of their tremendous attacking prowess. However, after giving away slack goals to Gamba in the opening 10 minutes of both fixtures this year plus maxing out their luck at Panasonic Stadium over the past few seasons, they’re getting little sympathy from me for taking nothing from this tussle. 702 completed passes without a goal to show for it (they followed that up with 683 in their home defeat to Júbilo a few days later) highlights how much side-to-side, non-threatening passing took place and despite outshooting their visitors by a ratio of 3:1, it was the Nerazzurri who had the higher xG per shot, and things could have gotten better for them had Rihito Yamamoto taken his golden opportunity to make it 3-0 late on, though even I would have to admit that such a scoreline would have severely flattered the men from north Osaka. With such a backs-to-the-wall display following Juan Alano’s early opener (it didn’t pass Gamba fans by that Eduardo, who turned down a move to Suita last winter, was guilty of playing everyone onside for both goals), there were naturally numerous defensive heroes. Inevitably ‘guardian deity’ (haven’t whipped that one out for a while) Masaaki Higashiguchi was chief among them with 8 saves to follow on from an equally impressive display at home to Kashiwa a week prior. The midfield four did an immense job of keeping their shape when Marinos were in possession, between them they won 4 out of 4 tackles attempted, made 22 clearances and 12 blocks as well as recovering possession on 21 occasions. Juan Alano, an absolute stud since his summer move from Antlers, made 8 blocks and 8 possession recoveries while compatriot Dawhan, recalled to the starting eleven in place of the suspended Mitsuki Saito was responsible for 13 clearances, 2 blocks and 3 possession recoveries as well as winning the 1 tackle he attempted. All of this allowed centre-backs Miura and Shoji to sit in the pocket and sweep up the loose ends, with that duo making a combined total of 19 clearances and 5 blocks between them. The triumvirate of Higashiguchi, Miura and Shoji looks to be much rejuvenated since Hiroshi Matsuda took charge and made focusing on defensive stability more of a priority than his predecessors did. Matsuda has been caretaker boss for 8 rounds and in that time Gamba have picked up 1.38 points per game, averaging one goal per match and conceding at a clip of 1.25 goals per 90 minutes which contrasts with the 0.88 points, 0.96 goals for and 1.46 goals against seen during Tomohiro Katanosaka’s 24 game reign. All in all, the Ao to Kuro’s 50.21xG against is the worst defensive total in J1 and their 32.62xG for is the second poorest attacking record, a mere 0.07 better than Shonan. To sum up, Matsuda has slowly but surely got things moving in the right direction, it’s also worth remembering for everyone claiming Marinos dominated and should have beaten Gamba comfortably that the Nerazzurri have the players to complete more passes and take more shots on goal than they did, but instead they opted to sit back and soak up pressure after getting the opening goal they so desperately craved. Marinos, on the other hand, could be more solid defensively, however, they generally tend to go for the jugular, focusing on themselves and not taking into account opposition tactics (publicly at least) which leaves them vulnerable to ambush from time to time, I guess you might say it’s the yin and the yang of football. Why am I talking about all of this? Well, Júbilo are clearly a completely different kettle of fish to Marinos and thus Matsuda will need to come up with an entirely new battle-plan for Saturday. He’s had plenty of time to do just that, now can his troops exorcise the ghosts of the past few years of harrowing home defeats and take a giant step towards avoiding automatic relegation to J2?

Before I get my teeth into some Júbilo stats, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way shall we? The club have been handed a transfer ban from FIFA which covers this winter and next summer’s windows. The ruling came as a result of alleged wrongdoing by Júbilo and their Colombian forward Fabián González in breaking his contract with a Thai side prior to moving to Japan last year. Iwata already have the oldest squad in J1, so being unable to bring in fresh talent from outside will surely hit them hard (I’ll look into this more in the ‘Júbilo Iwata’ section below). With that gut-punch dealt with, let’s get cracking with some stats, and spoiler alert, things aren’t about to get any rosier from a Júbilo perspective. Current kantoku Hiroki Shibuya stepped up from the role of head coach after previous incumbent Akira Ito was fired in the wake of a 6-0 home mauling at the hands of Urawa in mid-August. Maintaining the 3-4-2-1 shape used by several of his predecessors, Shibuya has overseen a run of 1 win, 2 losses and 4 draws in his 7 games in charge, which, while not terrible, certainly hasn’t been anywhere near enough to stop the rot and the Saxon Blues remain rooted to the foot of the J1 standings, a position they’ve occupied since their coaching change. While results have been nothing to write home about in general, away form has been particularly poor. Their recent shock win at table topping Yokohama F. Marinos was their first outside of Shizuoka since early March when they routed 10-man Kyoto 4-1. Young Yosuke Furukawa was the spark for improved outcomes away to Marinos and in last weekend’s derby at Shimizu, contributing a goal and an assist across the two games, as well as squandering a golden opportunity to grab a priceless winner at S-Pulse. With that said, it’s worth noting that Iwata netted only 3 times on the road in 11 fixtures during the 6 months encompassing April to September. On average Júbilo concede one more than they score every time they take to an opponent’s field of play, and this number has not been helped one iota by their large underperformance relative to their xG for tally. The Saxon Blues have scored 5.64 times less than expected based on the quality of chances they’ve created, while defensively actual goals conceded and xG against are relatively equal. Overall, Júbilo’s 55 goals given up is the worst in J1, 4 more than Sapporo, their nearest rivals in that category and that tally is 7.32 higher than their xG against figure for all 32 games played to date. Going forward, replacing the prolific Lukian with Kenyu Sugimoto, who only bagged his first league goal of the season, a penalty, a couple of weeks ago against Kashima, has been hugely costly and the fact that wing-back Yuto Suzuki is still their top scorer with 6, despite netting just once since mid-April, tells it’s own story. To sum up then, this is unequivocally Júbilo’s last chance, so from that perspective they’ve got nothing to lose and should throw the kitchen sink at Gamba. Alternatively, mindful of their hosts’ equal need for a positive outcome and also their pretty dreadful recent run of results at home, particularly against sides that sit off them, would it be more prudent for Shibuya to set-up his charges to play on the counter and sucker punch Gamba in the way that Tosu, Shimizu and Shonan have done this year?

First Match Recap

As with most recent meetings between these two, the round 4 clash at Yamaha Stadium back in March ended up being a draw. Just a week on from losing talismanic attacker Takashi Usami to long-term injury, Gamba were slow out of the blocks and a Nerazzurri old boy made them pay. Kotaro Omori’s low shot from the edge of the area in the 15th minute beat the despairing dive of Kei Ishikawa to round off a flowing move from the hosts. That was as good as it got for Júbilo though, as they were second best for most of the remainder of proceedings. With that said, despite Gamba huffing and puffing and almost winning a penalty when Yamami was felled, but a Patric handball in the lead up denied them a spot kick, they had to wait until the 88th minute before parity was restored. Genta Miura, of all people, popped up on the right wing and delivered an inch perfect cross which was met by a glancing header from Leandro Pereira to earn the Ao to Kuro a point, sending them back to Suita sitting 9th in the standings.

Gamba Osaka

More good news for 2024 – On October 12th, Gamba announced their second new signing for the 2024 season (NB: 2024 is not a typo) in the shape of Kwansei Gakuin University hotshot Rin Mito. Capable of operating as a left-sided midfielder or wing-back and also as a holding-midfielder, Mito, who played just behind Hiroto Yamami in Kwansei Gakuin’s loss to Gamba in last year’s Emperor’s Cup, is extremely highly thought of in varsity football circles. Nerazzurri supporters have been speculating that the captures of Mito and Hosei University left-back Ibuki Konno suggest that Gamba’s front office are looking to play in a 4-3-3 system in the coming years. Second grade high-school student Keita Izumi (also a left-back) has been making waves with Gamba Youth this term and could also join the top-team in 2024, giving whoever is the kantoku at that time plenty of options. Finally, just a quick note, I previously wrote that Kwansei Gakuin’s Ken Masui was a potential target for Gamba after it was rumoured the Ao to Kuro were chasing a midfielder from KGU. My speculation was wrong as Masui will go back to his old ‘nest’ Grampus and it’s his current team-mate Mito who will move to Suita.

Fan events back up and running – A couple of interesting pieces of fan-service related news from here in Osaka. A watch-along party took place in Umekita Sotoniwa Square, Umeda for the Marinos vs Gamba clash, with former club legends Akira Kaji and Hideo Hashimoto taking part, I’m sure a good time was had by all given the final outcome. Also, on October 12th, Gamba held their first completely open training session since the start of the pandemic. By completely open, I mean anyone could attend, not just fan club members who won a lottery. The fan club members weren’t forgotten about though as, Yuki Yamamoto, Keisuke Kurokawa, Isa Sakamoto, Hiroto Yamami and Jiro Nakamura participated in a signing event for lottery winners in the club’s Blu Spazio shop next to gate 1 at Panasonic Stadium. It appears these open sessions will continue to be a weekly event, I’m looking forward to one being scheduled on a Sunday or Monday so I can attend.

The Higashiguchi-Nishikawa bromance – They may keep goal for rival teams on the field, but following their years together with the Samurai Blue, it’s clear that there’s a tremendous amount of respect between Masaaki Higashiguchi and his Urawa Reds counterpart Shusaku Nishikawa. Nishikawa took to Twitter to comment on a video showing an excellent save from Higashiguchi in the second half of the 2-0 win at Marinos, simply stating ‘sasuga,’ or…[my translation] ’as you’d expect from a great ‘keeper like Higashiguchi.’ It came across as a really classy touch from the former Oita and Hiroshima custodian.

The Yamamoto conundrum – Following Rihito Yamamoto’s summer move from Tokyo Verdy, there were some moans from members of the Gamba support who had bought ’29 Yamamoto’ uniforms pre-season, only to see it changed to ’29 Y. Yamamoto’ half-way through the year, but for me it’s brought on a more pressing issue. Yukimoto and Rihimoto or Yukito and Rihito, how should I best shorten their names to make my life easier than constantly using Yuki Yamamoto and Rihito Yamamoto?

Attack-dog Alano – This may actually be the first recorded use of bad language in my blogging career, but I feel like Juan Alano has brought over just the right amount of ‘shithousery’ from masters of the dark arts Kashima. The combative Brazilian winger has made quite the impression on the Gamba support since his summer switch and recently told a Brazilian sports website that he felt he’d made the right move in joining the Nerazzurri. He, Kesiuke Kurokawa and Patric are all walking a suspension tight-rope, so that trio will have to be extremely cautious against Júbilo, not least Alano who’ll surely be hoping to make Antlers pay for their decision to let him go when Gamba head to the Kashima Soccer Stadium on the final day of the season .

‘Tis the season to be silly – In the wake of the Ienaga ‘rumour’ I mentioned last time, we’ve seen Yosuke Ideguchi and Ademilson linked with moves back to Panasta and fans suggesting the club try to re-patriate Hiroyuki Abe following his screamer and celebratory dance away to FC Tokyo the other week. Furthermore, Higashiguchi to Niigata has surfaced in the murky depths of Twitter, I’m not having any of that though as Albirex already have a fine young ‘keeper of their own, in the shape of Ryosuke Kojima. One story that may have a bit more truth to it is Shoji Toyama returning to Gamba after spending the past 18 months out on loan. A double in Mito’s last-gasp 3-2 win at Tochigi preceded comments suggesting that he preferred the Osaka Derby to it’s Kita-Kanto equivalent, if that’s not a come and get me plea then I don’t know what is.

The end of an era – On Monday 24 October, Gamba confirmed that they’d be ending their kit-supplier partnership with Umbro that first started in 2003. Sports Hochi reported the same day that Hummel would replace Umbro from next year, though the club themselves are still keeping schtum on that matter. Furthermore, a couple of commemorative t-shirts are now available from the Gamba online shop displaying each Umbro home and away jersey from the 2003-2022 run. I’ve ordered the black version which shows home tops only, I’m hoping it’ll be here for Christmas.

And finally….popular Japanese singer Fujii Kaze became the first person to appear in concert at Panasonic Stadium since it opened in 2016. The Okayama native performed on the evenings of October 15 and 16. Parts of the pitch have subsequently been re-laid and in theory the playing surface should be fine for Saturday, let’s hope that is in fact the case.

Team News

The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.

FW Patric – Missed training for two weeks after going off versus Marinos and having his leg strapped while he sat on the bench. Since returning, he’s been working through a separate menu to his team-mates as per Matsuda kantoku‘s comments on Tuesday 25 October. In theory he’s ready to play some part on Saturday, though how big a role remains to be seen.

Juan Alano, Shu Kurata, Keisuke Kurokawa, Kosuke Onose and Patric are all just a single caution shy of reaching the one-match ban threshold.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Júbilo Iwata

Considering they’ve just been slapped with a two window transfer ban, it seems likely that the summer signing of former S-Pulse full-back Ko Matsubara from Sint-Truidense in Belgium will be Iwata’s last senior acquisition until the winter of 2023/2024. What effect will this have on a club that’s already struggling to avoid falling into the yo-yo category? In the short-term, centre-forward Shu Morooka (Tokyo International University) is going to need to find a new team as his pre-contract deal is now off the table. Also in attack, Kenyu Sugimoto will have to return to his parent club Urawa, though given how he’s performed this season, it seems likely he’ll be loaned out again, perhaps to a Shonan, Kyoto or Fukuoka. The Saxon Blues have 7 players currently out on loan to lower league sides, but Chelsea they are not, and perhaps only centre-back Kaito Suzuki (Tochigi) is ready to return and make an immediate impact. Júbilo already have the oldest squad in J1, so another season of having to rely on the likes of Yasuhito Endo (42), Kentaro Oi (38), Hiroki Yamada and Kosuke Yamamoto (both 33) plus Yuki Otsu (32) may see them creak to the point of breaking. Hailing from Shizuoka, the cradle of Japanese football, Júbilo are able to attract and develop plenty of young talents of their own. 190cm high school second grader Keita Goto, scorer of 9 goals in this year’s Prince Takamado Under-18 competition, will be promoted to the top-team for 2023, something which is permitted despite the FIFA sanctions, the pain will be felt further down the chain as they won’t be able to register new players to their youth teams from now until the end of next year either. Iwata will need to hope Goto swims rather than sinks and combines with the aforementioned Furukawa (19) as well as Kensuke Fujiwara (18) and Mahiro Yoshinaga (20) to build a brighter tomorrow for Júbilo.

Team News

The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.

DF Daiki Ogawa – Has been absent for the most recent 6 J1 fixtures and last saw action in the 1-0 loss to Nagoya on 19 August.

DF Norimichi Yamamoto – Currently sitting on three yellow cards, one more here would see him miss the final day encounter with Kyoto.

MF Kotaro Omori – The former Gamba treble winner injured his thigh muscle in the 2-2 draw with Kashiwa Reysol on 3 September and is out for the season.

MF Rikiya Uehara – Suspended after picking up his 4th yellow card of the season in last week’s draw with Shimizu.

FW Fabián González – Suspended for 4 months due to what has been deemed to be an illegal transfer. It’s now in the hands of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) who may say otherwise and ultimately shorten his ban.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.


Júbilo Iwata vs Gamba Osaka 12 March 2022 Match Preview

Júbilo Iwata vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 4
Saturday 12 March 2022
Yamaha Stadium
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.

Gamba Osaka

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)???

Team News

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

Júbilo Iwata

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.

Team News

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.


J1 2022 Predicted Lineups

Happy New Year everyone! This is my first post of 2022 and following on from the previous two seasons I’ve decided to put together a J1 predicted lineups article to get the ball rolling. Hope you all enjoy the fruits of my labour.

Also a quick reminder that you can find the 2022 squad lists screenshotted below in this Excel document.

And, be sure to check out @Michael_Master on Twitter if you haven’t already, the one and only account you need to follow to keep up to date with J. League transfers.

The Guide

Teams are listed below in the order they finished the 2021 campaign and each club’s mini-section contains the following information.

Best Signing – This won’t necessarily be objectively the best player the team have signed over the winter, more the one I feel addresses the most pressing need in the squad, for example, spoiler alert, I selected Kim Min-tae over both Yuta Higuchi and Yuma Suzuki in this category at Kashima.

Biggest Loss – Basically the opposite of best signing.

One to Watch – Again it might not be the best player in the squad or the one most likely to join a European club in the summer, rather someone whose good, bad or up-and-down form will set the tone for his team’s entire campaign.

Doubtful – Players who due to either injuries carried over from 2021, immigration issues or, in the case of a certain Polish striker at Nagoya, potential doping violations, might not be available for selection in the opening months of 2022.

Notes – Me trying to work out what direction the team is heading in this year.

Predicted Lineups

A few caveats here,

* For simplicity’s sake I’ve assumed every contracted player to be fit and available for selection when choosing these best elevens.
* These are not meant to be seen as the predicted starting lineup for round 1, think of them more as the players who will feature most across the course of the year (obviously new signings will be made in the summer, but unfortunately I’m not in possession of a crystal ball to make forecasts that far in advance).
* In cases where numerous players may see significant minutes in a certain position I’ve listed alternatives below the main choice (players may appear as alternatives for more than one role, see Satoshi Tanaka or Takuro Kaneko for examples). I also hope this illustrates where certain clubs have perhaps overstocked in one area of the field while neglecting others. Where two alternatives are listed, the name on the left is the one I consider to be higher on the team’s depth chart.
* I think I said this last year, but I’ll repeat myself anyway, expect the lineups for teams that have kept the same coach and most of the same playing staff as 2021 (Kawasaki) to be more accurate than those that have seen multiple changes in management and on-field personnel (Tosu).
* I have done a great deal of research to get these lineups as accurate as I can to the best of my knowledge, but full disclosure, I’ve also acted on some hunches and taken a punt on some lesser known talents (I guess there wouldn’t be much point reading this article if I just stated the obvious). Players coming from university sides directly into professional starting elevens is one of the unique selling points of football in this part of the world versus, say Europe, and it can be immensely tricky trying to project how each year’s batch of fresh-faced graduates will do, especially when data about their positions and skill-sets is hard to come by and the little information you can find seems to show them playing in a position that doesn’t appear to exist at the club they are joining (for example a wide midfielder in a university side that plays 4-4-2 moving to a J1 team that operates a 3-4-2-1, will they be a wing-back or inside forward?). I’m guessing these are the kind of choices that might generate the greatest debate, so please cut me some slack, I like to use data, but several players below have made the grade based largely on gut instinct developed over a decade watching the J. League.

Well, with all that out the way let’s move on and take a look at each of the 2022 J1 sides one by one, shall we? Again I look forward to hearing feedback (good natured I hope) from fans of all teams, followers of the league in general or just casual passers by, you’re all welcome. While I’m confident you’ll agree with some of the points below, I’m also sure there will be many choices and opinions that people will disagree with, and that’s all fine, it’s why we love the beautiful game so much, right?

Kawasaki Frontale

Best Signing: Chanathip – Had plateaued a little up in Sapporo, but a move to the champions should work out well for him and Frontale.
Biggest Loss: Reo Hatate – Basically by default as he was the only top teamer to leave. Perhaps the most frightening thing for the rest of the league is the amount of depth Kawasaki still have in midfield despite losing Hatate, Mitoma, Morita and Tanaka in the last 12 months.
One to Watch: Leandro Damião – Imperious in 2021 and the deserved recipient of the league’s MVP award, could a slight slip back from those grandiose heights offer a glimmer of hope to the chasing pack?
Doubtful: Jesiel (injury)
Notes: It’s Toru Oniki’s 6th campaign at the helm and once again Frontale start as the team to beat. Assuming Jesiel’s injury or the ageing of the forward line doesn’t adversely affect them too much, they are extremely well placed to fight off challenges from Marinos, Kobe, Kashima and Urawa to three-peat for the first time in their history.

Yokohama F. Marinos

Best Signing: Katsuya Nagato – By no means the most glamorous transfer of the winter, but Nagato who, don’t forget, led the league for assists with Sendai back in 2019 looks like he could thrive in Marinos’ system and help their fans quickly get over the loss of Theerathon.
Biggest Loss: Daizen Maeda – Only joined Celtic on an initial six-month loan deal, I don’t really see this happening, but if things turn sour in Glasgow, a sharp return to Yokohama in the summer would do wonders for Marinos’ title aspirations.
One to Watch: Marcos Junior – Goals-wise he’s dropped year-on-year since coming into the league in 2019, but he still remains pivotal to Marinos’ hopes and how well he adapts to Muscat’s game plan will be of critical importance to the team’s chances this season.
Doubtful: Shinnosuke Hatanaka (injury)
Notes: It’s all about Muscat for me, his appointment struck me as slightly strange at the time and even more so now that I’ve had time to digest it. Was he the best person to carry on Ange-ball? No (that guy is coaching Yamagata at the moment). If a desire to carry on the Ange-ball system wasn’t a pre-requisite for getting the job was he the best available candidate? Again, probably not. Despite that, I’m open minded as to what he can achieve given the time and space to put his own mark on the team. I’d argue that this squad is slightly weaker than 12 months ago, however, there is still plenty of talent onboard and top 4 should be a minimum expectation.

Additional Note: Anderson Lopes has been heavily linked with a move to Marinos. I’m unsure about his visa status or who would win out in a duel between him and Léo Ceará to be the main centre-forward.

Vissel Kobe

Best Signing: Tomoaki Makino – Vissel need an experienced head at the back to guide Kikuchi and Kobayashi along and although I’m sure it’ll seem strange at first seeing him in a darker shade of red, he should prove valuable on and off the field in the port city.
Biggest Loss: Thomas Vermaelen – Played more than I expected him to across his 2 ½ years in the league and no doubt passed on a trick or three to his younger protégés.
One to Watch: Yoshinori Muto – Was the dominant partner as he and Yuya Osako amassed a combined 9 goals and 11 assists in 23 appearances at the back end of 2021. More of that this term and Vissel will very much be in the title conversation.
Doubtful: Bojan Krkić (injury)
Notes: Things have never looked better in Kobe, a balanced and settled squad, a competent manager and Hiroshi Mikitani largely leaving the football decisions to football people. We may see some tinkering with the midfield shape, but regardless of what system Miura adopts there’s no reason to suggest Vissel won’t be there or thereabouts at the business end of the year.

Kashima Antlers

Best Signing: Kim Min-tae – Three of last year’s back four have moved on and Kim’s star is burning brightly following an impressive spell filling in for the injured Yuichi Maruyama at Nagoya. His experience alongside the talented, but erratic, Ikuma Sekigawa will be invaluable.
Biggest Loss: Koki Machida – Perhaps not much of a shock as he’d been linked with European clubs in the previous 2-3 windows so Antlers should have planned his succession accordingly.
One to Watch: Diego Pituca – A shining light once he was finally allowed into the country last year, the box-to-box midfielder should be a genuine J1 Best Eleven contender this term.
Doubtful: Shintaro Nago (injury), Kantoku René Weiler (Visa)
Notes: New kantoku René Weiler has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in attack and must be relishing the prospect of moulding them into a cohesive unit once he eventually makes it to the land of the rising sun. At the back the situation is a little less rosy, but should the attack-minded Weiler get things to gel, the Ibaraki side are not hindered by ACL involvement like their rivals and this could set them on a course towards a first title since 2016.

Nagoya Grampus

Best Signing: Keiya Sento – Played in a role for Tosu that doesn’t really exist in the current Grampus set-up, but to me he projects as Naoki Maeda’s replacement and should prove to be a gem of a signing.
Biggest Loss: Takuji Yonemoto – One of the surprise moves of the winter in my book, he left FC Tokyo after one season of working with Kenta Hasegawa, did they have prior beef?
One to Watch: Mateus Castro – Those of a Grampus persuasion will hope that the enigmatic Brazilian has gotten over the slump in form he experienced in the second half of 2021, as well as those Kawasaki transfer rumours, and will bounce back ready to lead the charge towards an ACL place.
Doubtful: Jakub Świerczok (PED Violation)
Notes: If I was a Nagoya fan would I have wanted to wake up to the news that Kenta Hasegawa was replacing Massimo Ficcadenti? No, but I’ll add that he’s nowhere near as bad as some FC Tokyo fans might have you believe. After winning silverware in each of his first 3 years at Gamba, he took an FC Tokyo side that had only achieved a single top 6 J1 finish in the 8 years prior to his appointment to 3 consecutive top 6 placings. Granted, the wheels came off spectacularly in his final seasons at both clubs, but I still maintain he’s a reasonably safe pair of hands until the Grampus hierarchy decide which direction they want the club to take next.

Urawa Red Diamonds

Best Signing: David Moberg Karlsson – Possibly the only player in the history of football to represent both Kilmarnock and Urawa which means that everything inside me should want him to fail, but I actually think this could be quite an astute piece of business by Reds.
Biggest Loss: Tomoaki Makino – Kind of wins this by default as Urawa didn’t lose any real nailed-on 2021 starters in the off-season, only Yuruki and Tanaka ran him close for this award.
One to Watch: Kasper Junker – 7 goals in his first 6 J1 appearances and just 2 in 11 after that as injuries struck. If a full pre-season schedule gets him back up to speed then J1 look out.
Doubtful: Ayumu Ohata (injury), David Moberg Karlsson (Visa)
Notes: When I wrote my Scouting J1 and Scouting J2 articles last autumn I never envisaged that Urawa and Cerezo would be the 2 teams to sign the most players from those lists, but there you go, hats off to both clubs. Reds have added a dizzying array of stars to an already strong looking squad and if they can find a way to get everyone pulling in the same direction then they appear well set to challenge domestically and in Asia.

Sagan Tosu

Best Signing: Naoyuki Fujita – Still very much good enough to play for Cerezo, but probably rightly moved on due to the ageing issues at the club. A return to his first pro side seems a logical next step and he’ll have a big part to play assisting the development of the bountiful young talent on the books at Tosu.
Biggest Loss: Yuta Higuchi – Plenty of competition for this award, but I’m still drowning my sorrows over Higuchi rejecting Gamba for Kashima and have to nominate him here.
One to Watch: Yuki Kakita – Finished 2021 with something of a bang, netting 5 times in 8 outings for a Tokushima side that struggled to create clear-cut openings. Has his old Vortis team-mate Miyashiro with him too and looks to be the ideal replacement for Keita Yamashita.
Notes: Let’s focus on the positives, the goalkeeper, defence and wing-backs are basically unchanged from 2021 (Ayumu Ohata excluded) and in attack, if I can quote Moneyball, they’ve realised they can’t directly replace departed stars like Higuchi, Sento, Koyamatsu and Yamashita, but they can re-create them in the aggregate. If the injury-prone Yuji Ono, high school wizzkids turned pro-level letdowns Jun Nishikawa and Yuto Iwasaki or any of their 6 recruits from varsity football enjoy a standout year then a mid-table finish isn’t out of the question.

Avispa Fukuoka

Best Signing: Lukian – This deal came as something of a bolt from the blue to me and the addition of J2’s top scorer from 2021 adds real impetus to an Avispa attack that will be looking to move up through the gears this year.
Biggest Loss: Emil Salomonsson – Will be a big loss both on and off the field. He must have found it tough with basically 2/3 of his time in Japan falling during the Coronavirus pandemic so it’s hard to begrudge him a move back home.
One to Watch: Tatsuya Tanaka – Back in his native Kyushu, big things will be expected of the versatile wide-man. This was an area where Avispa needed an upgrade and it looks like they’ve found one in the former Gamba, Oita and Urawa speedster.
Notes: I like what they’ve done in the transfer window, I like it a lot. There’s not one signing they’ve made that I haven’t liked, keeping Hasebe and Mae on board is massive too. After all those niceties I will add the qualifier that although on paper this year’s squad looks stronger than last year’s by a bigger margin than last year’s did than 2020’s (still with me?), it might not necessarily translate into them finishing any higher up in the standings. Though I guess having spent so much of their recent history in J2, the Avispa faithful won’t complain about another upper mid-table placing in 2022.

FC Tokyo

Best Signing: Jakub Słowik – Most J1 transfers have some sort of doubt hanging over them, player stepping up a level, poor previous season, injury prone, might not fit the system etc…none of these apply to Słowik, a clear upgrade on what was there before and questions marks over his distribution should only form a minor concern given the quality of the rest of his game.
Biggest Loss: Joan Oumari – Despite apparently only re-signing to cover until Bruno Uvini could get into the country, the Lebanese international had a decent second year in the capital.
One to Watch: Leandro – He and Hasegawa didn’t see eye to eye, that much is clear, if he and Puig butt heads then I’m not sure he’ll have too many backers left in the FC Tokyo support. A brilliant match-winner on his day, we all know what he can be when it’s not, for FC Tokyo and the league’s sake let’s hope the former, not the latter version rocks up in 2022.
Doubtful: Kashif Bangnagande, Sodai Hasukawa, Akihiro Hayashi (injury)
Notes: Far more change off the field than on it with Mixi taking over as the majority shareholder and Albert Puig moving into the managerial hotseat following a 2-year spell with Niigata. From the outside it appears that any kind of on-field improvement will need to be driven by a kantoku who has a beautiful philosophy on how the game should be played, but never really managed to translate that into meaningful results at Albirex, save for a magical 13 game run at the start of last season. A transitional campaign, give the manager time, yikes I’m using up all the clichés I had saved for the Gamba section several entries below.

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Best Signing: Gabriel Xavier – An unexpected, but potentially excellent ready-made replacement for Chanathip…as long as his performances don’t go on to show that Massimo Ficcadenti knows rather more about football management than all of us armchair pundits.
Biggest Loss: Chanathip – 2021 was another injury-hit campaign for the Thai superstar, though he did bow out on a high with 3 assists in his last 2 matches. Things had gone a touch stale for him in Sapporo, but he’ll surely be fondly remembered in those parts for years to come.
One to Watch: Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa – I’ll admit I’m highly sceptical of the €700,000 move to Hearts rumours, but the pacy forward has certainly caught the eye of national team coach Hajime Moriyasu and in his second year as a pro will be expected to shoulder a greater burden of Consadole’s attacking hopes.
Doubtful: Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (injury)
Notes: The winds of change haven’t been blowing too strongly up in Sapporo with minimal transfer business being conducted. GX10 (will he change his name to GX18?) and Koroki are the only 2 senior signings, but given how they’ve worked the varsity market in recent years, I wouldn’t bet against Sora Igawa (Tsukuba Univ.) and Hiromu Tanaka (Rissho Univ.) turning out to be pretty handy.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Best Signing: Taishi Semba – The Ryutsu Keizai University graduate says he’s looked up to Toshihiro Aoyama for a number of years and if all goes according to plan he could well be the one to take over the legendary Sanfrecce midfield maestro’s spot in the not too distant future.
Biggest Loss: Kodai Dohi – Failed to build on a promising 2020 due to a succession of injuries, but a loan spell with Mito is absolutely the right move to resuscitate his career.
One to Watch: Junior Santos – If the 2020 Yokohama F. Marinos version of Junior Santos turns up this year then it’ll be as good as a new signing for the three arrows.
Doubtful: Tsukasa Morishima, Yoichi Naganuma, Douglas Vieira (injury), Kantoku Michael Skibbe (Visa)
Notes: After pleading poverty for much of last year, the additions of Tsukasa Shiotani and Michael Skibbe following spells in the Middle East indicate that there is money available if they choose to use it. Skibbe’s delayed arrival has thrown an unwelcome spanner in the works, though he is fortunate to have a settled squad at his disposal, albeit one that largely underperformed relative to their game-by-game stats in 2021.

Cerezo Osaka

Best Signing: Jean Patric – I must admit I don’t know a whole lot about him, but he appears to have a decent pedigree and fills a spot that really needed an upgrade as a result of the person I’ll talk about below departing.
Biggest Loss: Tatsuhiro Sakamoto – A fine player who slightly lost his way in what was a disappointing 2021 campaign overall for the Cherry Blossoms. Still, as a result of his 2020 form and the performances he put in at the start of last year, he’s done more than enough to merit his move.
One to Watch: Takashi Inui – I wasn’t a big fan of his return when it was initially announced due to Cerezo having a plethora of 30-somethings already on their books, but given the way this year’s squad is shaping up I feel he’ll have a vital role to play as an impact sub and dressing room leader.
Doubtful: Takashi Inui, Hinata Kida, Adam Taggart, Đặng Văn Lâm (injury), Jean Patric (Visa)
Notes: I like their winter transfer work a whole lot more than I did last year (see what I said about them in the Urawa section above), especially the acquisition of Nagasaki’s jewel-in-the-crown Seiya Maikuma (sorry for telling everyone how good he was Daniel!) The permanent appointment of Akio Kogiku who, according to Transfermarkt, has been at the club in one capacity or another since 1998 could be a masterstroke as he’s surely amassed the clout that will allow him to tap a few shoulders and break the news to several veterans that they’re no longer the automatic choices they once were.

Additional Note: Croatian defender Matej Jonjić is rumoured to be returning in the coming days. If that move happens he’ll be the main centre-back upon his arrival in the country with Nishio and Shindo battling it out to partner him. He’d also overtake Jean Patric as my choice for ‘best signing.’

Gamba Osaka

Best Signing: Mitsuki Saito – Not a signing I really expected going into the transfer window, but a more than welcome addition to the Nerazzurri’s midfield ranks
Biggest Loss: Kim Young-gwon / Yosuke Ideguchi – Neither were at their best in 2021 (a comment which could pretty much be applied to the majority of the squad), but both will be missed dearly by the Ao to Kuro faithful.
One to Watch: Hiroto Yamami – I should probably have chosen him in the ‘best signing’ category, but thought he’d fit better here instead. Hopefully that worldy against Shimizu was just a taste of what’s to come as he’s set himself the target of scoring double digits this year.
Doubtful: Jun Ichimori, Leandro Pereira (injury), Dawhan, Kwon Kyung-won (Visa)
Notes: As close to a free-hit of a season as you’ll ever get as Gamba kantoku awaits Tomohiro Katanosaka, though that didn’t stop him heaping pressure on himself by setting 3rd as the target for this year. Gamba fans I’ve talked to say that top 8 is more realistic, especially with Kawasaki, Marinos, Kobe, Kashima and Urawa all looking particularly strong. To quote Celtic supporters, “trust the process,” Katanosaka is a man with a plan and that’s something that was sorely missing for the majority of 2021.

Shimizu S-Pulse

Best Signing: Takeru Kishimoto – A surprisingly difficult choice this one, as though regular readers will remember I picked out Kishimoto as someone to keep an eye on in my Scouting J1 article last autumn, I can’t help but feel there were more logical moves for both him and Shimizu to make. Granted the S-Pulse front office and I never appear to be on the same frequency when it comes to ideas on how to take the club forward.
Biggest Loss: Hideki Ishige – I know he was at Okayama on loan at the end of last season, but his departure sums up, for me at least, the malaise at the Nihondaira. A once mighty powerhouse born out of the cradle of Japanese football now reduced to letting long-serving youth academy graduates leave for rival clubs while the powers-that-be continue to blindly spin the roulette wheel, trying in hope, more than expectation to find the coaches and players necessary to bring back the glory days.
One to Watch: Yuito Suzuki – I’m sure you’ve all seen his wonder strike against Shonan, however, unfortunately that was one of only two goals he’s amassed in 63 J1 outings since turning pro in 2020. Imagine the heights regular contributions from him, in addition to Thiago Santana’s steady stream of goals, could take S-Pulse to.
Doubtful: Renato Augusto, Akira Ibayashi, Takumi Kato, Kenta Nishizawa (injury)
Notes: I realise I’ve been a bit harsh on S-Pulse above and it’s absolutely nothing personal as they’re an iconic and extremely likeable club, I just struggle to be overly positive when their front office keeps making baffling decisions. The Peter Cklamovski experiment was ditched in favour of the ultra-defensive Lotina brand of football and now they’ve opted for the man who came in to temporarily do a spot of firefighting at the end of both 2020 and 2021, the particularly tricky to say regardless if you go Japanese or western style, Hiroaki Hiraoka (or Hiraoka Hiroaki if you prefer). There’s loads of depth on the flanks, but any injury or departure down the central spine of the team (Gonda, Yoshinori Suzuki, Matsuoka and Thiago Santana) would sting badly.

Additional Notes: Reports out of South Korea suggest that S-Pulse have tabled a large bid for Ulsan Hyundai’s tall forward Oh Se-hun. On Paper the highly-rated 23 year old would be a quality addition, but it would also leave Shimizu with 7 foreign talents on their books. Do they never get the memo from the J. League about only being allowed 5 in your matchday squad?

Kashiwa Reysol

Best Signing: Tomoya Koyamatsu – Big shoes to fill in attack, he’s coming off the back of a decent couple of seasons with Tosu and should quickly become a fan favourite at the Hitachidai.
Biggest Loss: Cristiano – The now 35-year old club legend departs after 7 years with the Sunkings. Sure he may be past his prime, but having seen him perform in the flesh last year, he’s very much still got it and I’m certain he’ll tear up J2 with Nagasaki.
One to Watch: Douglas – With the fearsome foursome of Olunga, Cristiano, Esaka and Segawa all gone, the goalscoring burden falls on the previously prolific, but perhaps slightly over-the-hill Douglas. Is there still enough fire there for one final hurrah before he rides off into the sunset?
Notes: I believe it was Gabriele Anello who pointed out that 2021 saw the most managerial changes in J. League history, a good number of them appeared harsh when viewed from afar, but on the flip side of the coin, Kashiwa’s stubborn dedication to keeping Nelsinho in the hotseat continues to puzzle me. Of course the Brazilian is a legend in Kashiwa circles, however, he had 38 J1 games last season to work out his best eleven and formation, and never managed it. If he doesn’t know, then how am I supposed to? I’ve gone 4-2-3-1 below, but 3-4-2-1, 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 are all possible. I’m not saying it’ll actually happen, but they’ll surely be a popular pick for big team who could go down this year.

Shonan Bellmare

Best Signing: Ryota Nagaki – The return of the prodigal son was an easy choice here, he’ll bring skill and more importantly a wealth of experience to help shepherd along Bellmare’s exciting crop of youngsters.
Biggest Loss: Mitsuki Saito – I know that selecting both Ishige and Saito as the biggest loss for their respective clubs may come across as extreme Gamba bias (especially given Saito was on loan at Rubin Kazan in 2021), but hear me out, how often do Shonan come through a winter transfer window with all their prized assets still in place? Hata, Tanaka and Hiraoka are still there, leaving me with the rare predicament of struggling to find a departed player Shonan will really miss this year.
One to Watch: Satoshi Tanaka – When I saw that Takuji Yonemoto had moved to Shonan on loan and Tanaka still hadn’t been confirmed as a Bellmare player for 2022, I felt sure we were less than 24 hours away from witnessing his unveiling at the Toyota Stadium, but alas it was not to be and he’ll continue developing down on the Shonan coast, for now at least, whether that’s as a holding midfielder or centre-back remains to be seen.
Notes: This is Satoshi Yamaguchi’s first full campaign at the helm and it’ll be interesting to observe what tactical alterations, if any, he makes. As you can see below, there are a number of players of similar abilities competing for spots across the field which can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. I’ve tried my hardest to cram Tanaka, Nagaki and Yonemoto into the same lineup, Yamaguchi may have other ideas. They were the best defensive team in the bottom half last year and with the business they’ve done since should be even stronger now. My concerns are at the other end, they accrued a league high 16 draws last season and joint top scorers Wellington and Naoki Yamada only managed 5 apiece, there’s nothing to suggest they’ll be any more prolific in 2022.

Júbilo Iwata

Best Signing: Ricardo Graça – Again, hands up, I don’t know a whole lot about him, but the rest of Júbilo’s transfer business hasn’t been much to write home about and although Kentaro Oi has given the club years of good service, promotion back to J1 should very much be the signal to put him out to pasture, the capture of Graça allows the club to do just that.
Biggest Loss: Lukian – A huge blow to the side’s attack and also their collective psyche to lose such an important player to a team, in Fukuoka, that despite far out-performing Júbilo on the field in 2021, would have been viewed as a step-down for the majority of the clubs’ respective histories.
One to Watch: Yasuhito Endo – Gamba let Endo go in mid-2020 as despite his passing and vision still being top drawer, the veteran (who’s the same age as Steven Gerrard and Xavi, don’t forget) couldn’t get around the park like he used to. We’ll have an answer on how right or wrong that decision was very soon.
Doubtful: Dudu, Ricardo Graça (Visa)
Notes: An extremely impressive promotion campaign followed up by the appointment of highly-rated Kofu boss Akira Ito had things looking rather spritely for a time in Iwata. However, the club don’t really appear to have backed the new kantoku enough in the transfer market. Kenyu Sugimoto could work, but I wouldn’t bet on it, there are question marks surrounding when their 2 new marquee Brazilians can get into the country and long-standing issues related to a chronic lack of pace throughout the squad haven’t been sufficiently addressed over the winter.

Additional Note: Brazilian forward Vinícius Araújo, now a free agent after failing to agree terms on a new deal with Yamagata, is a possible addition before the season begins. He’d take over the centre-forward berth from Sugimoto should he decide to make the Yamaha Stadium his home for 2022.

Kyoto Sanga

Best Signing: Rikito Inoue – Despite the club making a number of winter signings, few of them are clearly better than the options already in place. Inoue, who’s moved east from Okayama with Dutchman Jordy Buijs travelling in the opposite direction, is the pick of the bunch for me. Readers of my Scouting J2 article will know I’m a big fan of his and with Shogo Asada still onboard, Sanga have two of the top centre-backs from J2 2021 in their ranks, albeit neither of them has a single minute of J1 action to their name.
Biggest Loss: Jordy Buijs – His departure came as something of a surprise and I’ve no doubt that he’ll continue to prove himself to be one of the best defenders in J2 with Fagiano this season.
One to Watch: Peter Utaka – 38 years young when the season kicks off, if he can keep banging them in then Kyoto could (could, not will – please remember) be this year’s Fukuoka.
Doubtful: Naoto Misawa, Tomoya Wakahara (injury), Michael Woud (injury/Visa)
Notes: Reasons to be cheerful; they’ve got a coach who knows what it takes to survive in J1 and a squad with a decent sprinkling of top tier experience, especially when compared with other recent newly promoted sides. Reasons to be fearful; the murky goalkeeping situation, a lack of J1 experience at centre-back and central midfield and a host of Hail Mary signings that could all fall flat. The rather unorthodox Genki Omae may be the most likely to deliver from a list of names which also includes Mendes, Hisashi Appiah Tawiah, Martinus, Ryogo Yamasaki and Yuta Toyokawa.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you and congratulations! I hope this guide has been useful for you, look out for plenty more posts from me throughout the year and enjoy the 2022 J1 season whoever you support!