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Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka 9 July 2022 Match Preview

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 21
Saturday 9 July 2022
Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


Gamba face their 5th game in the space of a fortnight and just like last Saturday they’re up against a side who’ve had a free midweek, this time in the shape of defending champions Kawasaki Frontale. For the Nerazzurri it’s a 2nd trip to Kanagawa this week and they’ll be hoping for a better outcome on this occasion after meekly going down 1-0 to fellow basement battlers Shonan on Wednesday evening. That result leaves the Ao to Kuro just one place and two points above the promotion / relegation playoff spot, though because of the extremely tight nature of this year’s J1, they’re only 3 points behind Kyoto Sanga in 10th, so there’s still plenty to play for. Frontale currently lie 3rd in the standings, 9 points off prefectural rivals Yokohama F. Marinos’s blistering pace, albeit with a game in hand after their tie with Sagan Tosu, scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed due to a Covid outbreak in the Tosu camp. I’ll get into my thoughts on the J1 summer schedule later in this article, but all I’ll say for now is that regardless of their patchy recent form, the odds are certainly stacked in Frontale’s favour ahead of this clash.

Tale of the Tape



Bellmare Blues – Wednesday’s defeat at Shonan marked the 4th game in a row (and 5th time in the last 6) that Gamba have failed to score against the Seasiders. A fact made more remarkable / dismal [delete as appropriate] because Bellmare’s regular goalkeeper Kosei Tani has been unable to play in any of those matches and a succession of short-term replacements have been deployed. Once again Shonan’s low block lured Gamba into playing about the ball side-to-side along their backline rather than vertically to the danger men like Sakamoto, Yamami and Onose. Across the two 0-1s this season, the Ao to Kuro have averaged 409 completed passes, 85.5 above their yearly mean and it’s a similar story regarding possession, 58.5% when playing Satoshi Yamaguchi’s well disciplined side and 49% when all 20 J1 fixtures are taken into consideration. The final result wasn’t up to scratch and there isn’t a single Gamba player I could give pass marks to on the night so there was definitely plenty of food for thought for Tomohiro Katanosaka in that performance, particularly with the summer transfer window looming large on the horizon.

Away Day Malaise – After kicking off 2022 with 2 wins, 3 draws and just a solitary loss in their first 6 away games of the year, Gamba have subsequently slumped to 4 defeats on the spin. It’s not just the outcome of the tussles with Cerezo, Tosu, Sapporo and Shonan that’s concerning, but also the manner of the defeats. No xG For performance above 1 and only a single xG Against tally below 1. Things looked abject at the Sapporo Dome at the end of June, yet home performances, if not necessarily results, against Yokohama F. Marinos, Sanfrecce and Urawa, were promising. Home form, so long an achilles heel for Gamba appears to be slowly shifting in the right direction and Katanosaka’s dream of once again turning Panasonic Stadium into a fortress seems a bit closer to becoming a reality. However, these road trip no-shows need to stop sharpish or else the Nerazzurri will find themselves in a world of pain at the bottom of the table. I will extend the olive branch of the extreme humidity and packed schedule which probably accounted for the tired performance against Shonan (even the ever-reliable Masaaki Higashiguchi threw in a clanger for the game’s only goal) and that’s illustrated by the work-rate stats I collected, 111.8 km run as a team versus a seasonal average of 115.7 km and 160 sprints performed compared with their regular mean of 167.9 (they sprinted 204, 172 and 184 times respectively in the home bouts with Marinos, Hiroshima and Reds).



The nice thing about good teams and players is that even if you don’t particularly like them it’s still easy to find positive things to say due to their regular impressive results and title wins. I have no particular axe to grind with Kawasaki, but despite the Azzurro Nero having the kind of year the Nerazzurri can only dream of at the moment, because of their past 2 years of utter domination, anything they achieve in 2022 is bound to be overshadowed by the sheer awesomeness of their recent history and as a result the overall tone of this section will be more negative than it normally would be for a side in the top 3. One win and just 5 points from their last 6 outings in J1 is not something Toru Oniki and his troops have been accustomed to in the Covid-era and indeed their 5 defeats to date this season is equal to their total from 72 fixtures across 2020-2021. The biggest fallaway stats-wise has been in attack, though when you lose players of the quality of Hidemasa Morita, Ao Tanaka, Reo Hatate and, of course, Kaoru Mitoma over a 12-month period, some kind of regression is to be expected. Add in the ageing of key attackers such as Leandro Damião, Yu Kobayashi and ex-Gamba prodigy Akihiro Ienaga, Ryota Oshima’s never-ending injury worries and Chanathip’s bedding-in troubles, remembering of course that Takashi Usami was their first choice target last winter, and maybe it’s best for Frontale to use 2022 as a time to re-group and re-focus, rather than aim for a title three-peat. Of course, this is still a Kawasaki Frontale team, one that hasn’t finished outside the top 6 since 2012, so their attack is above par in terms of goals scored versus xG, but when your overall shots total is trending downwards while at the same time opposition efforts increase, there’s only so far good finishing and excellent goalkeeping can get you. In 2022, the Dolphins home and away results have been relatively even, though games at Todoroki Stadium have tended to contain more goals than those played on the road. Frontale score and concede more on home turf, but their home xG for figure is in actual fact 0.12 lower than the total number while xG against stands at 0.15 higher. Owing to Wednesday night’s fixture at home to Sagan Tosu being cancelled, I had a little more time to prepare this section so the second table below contains a comparison of their key performance indicators from their title winning 2021 campaign set against this year’s performance to date. I think the outcomes are pretty self explanatory and they also back up much of what @frontalerabbit has been saying in his blog, and he’s watched Kawasaki an awful lot more than me.




First Match Recap

How might those two dropped points come back to haunt Gamba? I’m sure that’s a thought that often runs through Nerazzurri third choice ‘keeper Kei Ishikawa’s mind when he closes his eyes at night. The Ao to Kuro led defending champions Kawasaki 2-1 going into the 95th minute at Panasonic Stadium, all that was required was for Ishikawa to boot the ball into the opposition half and the game would be won. However, wily Kawasaki attacker Yu Kobayashi had other ideas, sneaking up behind Ishikawa as he dropped the ball ahead of his clearance, the Frontale forward’s toe-poke found Leandro Damião and the 2021 J1 MVP rolled the ball into an unguarded net. As the drama was unfolding I was trying to get my phone out of my bag to check how long was left as there’s no additional time clock in the stadium and upon hearing wild excitement coming from the away supporters’ section I looked up in horror to see the ball seemingly take an age to find the back of the net. Watching the incident again on the train home things went much faster, but I still had a sickening sense of having being sucker-punched in the stomach. In terms of positives, the result did mean the Nerazzurri snapped a 6 game losing run against the Azzurro Nero in all competitions and Mitsuki Saito made an impressive league debut in the middle of the park, but they paid a heavy price with star forward Takashi Usami rupturing his achilles tendon in what was surely a massive turning point in Gamba’s season. Yuki Yamamoto, playing in an unfamiliar role down the left-wing, volleyed the Ao to Kuro into a half-time lead, however, substitute Ten Miyagi evened things up with quarter of an hour still to play after a lovely run and finish. Parity only lasted a mere 2 minutes before Kosuke Onose’s speculative drive was deflected and looped over Jung Sung-ryong to spark scenes of jubilation among the Gamba supporters. It was not to last though as Damião and Frontale had the final say and the points were shared.



Gamba Osaka

I mentioned above that I had a bit to say about some of the scheduling that’s gone on this season in J1. First of all as a caveat for the league itself, they are under a lot of external pressures with their fixtures having to comply with Asian Champions League, EAFF Cup and World Cup demands (not to mention Covid), making getting things 100% right nigh on impossible and I’m sure they’ll do a thorough review of their performance once we reach December. However, I have to question why have Gamba been forced to play fixtures on June 26 and 29 then July 2, 6 and 9? Five games in 2 weeks, but then what lies ahead is 13 matches in 118 days until the end of the season with no more midweek fixtures scheduled and 3 completely free weekends! Of course, the Nerazzurri do face Kashima away next Wednesday in the Emperor’s Cup, so further progression in that competition would use up a little of that available space, however, it seems like the fixtures are set up to only suit teams who are battling it out in 4 competitions, something that simply doesn’t apply to the majority. This may come across as sour grapes, but I had this rant ready before the loss to Shonan and although it’s Gamba-centric, this situation surely affects other teams in the league as well, heck we’ve seen players getting subbed off with heat-stroke in recent weeks (Tsunoda at Marinos springs to mind). The ‘it wouldn’t happen like that in Europe’ crowd and I rarely see eye-to-eye, but we could perhaps agree on the need for managers to perhaps speak out on this issue, especially from a player welfare angle.

While I’m in the midst of ranting and raving in the aftermath of a stinging defeat and poor performance, why do referees (Yoshiro Imamura – who messed up royally in the Morioka vs Kofu game recently, but got away with it on a technicality – in this case) arbitrarily decide whether or not to follow the originally announced amount of additional time? I’ve seen games when the board says 3 minutes, but they end up playing 4 and a half despite nothing happening to warrant adding any extra time (other than one team being on the attack), whereas on Wednesday 8 minutes were awarded, there was a substitution and a yellow card for time wasting, yet only about 98 minutes and 3 seconds were played before Mr. Imamura decided it was time to hit his local Izakaya (and before anyone says anything, I know Gamba could probably have kept playing until midnight and still not have scored).

Finally to transfers….still nothing concrete about further inbound moves since Musashi Suzuki signed last Thursday (minutes after I published my Gamba vs Urawa preview). The most likely names to join him are Ryotaro Meshino, Ryoga Sato (10 goals for Tokyo Verdy in J2 this year, tied with Tiago Alves, yikes! Apparently Kashima are in the running for him too), midfielder and badly-needed dead-ball specialist Hokuto Shimoda as well as left-sided centre-back / left-back / left wing-back and brother of Kashima’s Kento, Yuto Misao. Both Shimoda and Misao played under Katanosaka last year with Oita, so while not being the most glamorous of captures they should be able to get up to speed quickly. If all of those 4 arrive in addition to Suzuki then we could call it a successful summer window in Suita, even more so if high-earners such as Leandro Pereira, Wellington Silva and Ju Se-jong can be shipped out as it’s clear they’re not good fits for Katano-soccer.

On Thursday Morning (July 7), the club confirmed that young centre-back Yota Sato would head to J2 promotion chasers Vegalta Sendai on a training-type loan until the end of the season. This seems like exactly the kind of move Sato needed and hopefully he gets a chance to show what he’s capable of, helps Sendai regain their top-flight status and returns to Suita more experienced and more confident. Good luck Yota!

Team News

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

GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back in August at the earliest

DF Kwon Kyung-won – Out of the squad for the loss at Shonan after going down with cramp at the end of the match with Urawa, I think this was just precautionary and he should hopefully be good to go on Saturday

MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, expected back in August at the earliest

MF Jiro Nakamura – Has been absent from the squad for the past 3 games, I initially thought it was just non-selection, but high-schooler Harumi Minamino’s appearance on the bench vs Shonan suggests he might have an injury

MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, don’t expect him back anytime soon

FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season

Predicted Lineups and Stats


**With so many games in such a short space of time, rotation is inevitable for Gamba, but I’ve done my best to make the lineup below as accurate as possible.**






Kawasaki Frontale

When you win 4 league titles in your first 5 seasons as a coach and rack up 112 victories in 193 outings then even a slight slip in standards is likely to set tongues wagging, and this is the situation Kawasaki kantoku Toru Oniki currently finds himself in. It seems like the Frontale support are generally divided on his future with many willing to cut him a great deal of slack due to his outstanding past performance while others point out his tactical rigidity and poor record in cup competitions, especially the ACL, as blots on his record. If I throw in my tuppence worth, the Azzurro Nero are still genuine title contenders, but if I had to put money on it I’d say Marinos are more likely to lift the J1 crown come November. I think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of him being fired and Oniki walking away before the end of the season is only marginally less unlikely in my book. Would a potential post-World Cup opening for the position of Japan national team kantoku tempt him? Quite possibly yes, but he’s still a young coach so there’s no certainty it would. I’m a neutral in the Oniki debate so I can see both sides of the argument, he’s earned the right to stay as long as he wants vs he’s taken us as far as we can go, it may be best for all concerned if we move on. Whatever does end up happening, it’s going to make for fascinating viewing over the coming months. Oniki is still working with a 4-3-3 system and at the moment it has one holding midfielder with two players operating in slightly more advanced roles after a brief flirtation with the triangle set up the other way round. Kento Tachibanada, normally a defensive midfielder in the N’Golo Kante mold, has recently been starting at left-back with Ryota Oshima operating as a deep-lying playmaker and Chanathip slotting in just ahead of him to the left which appears to be a better use of his abilities rather than being on the left hand side of the front 3. The summer transfer window opens next week and there will be a lot of eyes on Kawasaki to see what they do. Of course, they have dominant centre-back Jesiel to return at some point in the hopefully not too distant future, and I can’t help but feel that another Brazilian in midfield or up-front wouldn’t go amiss if they do decide to spend a bit of cash. Being a club that loves to promote youth and recruit from universities, it should come as no surprise that they already have 4 confirmed new arrivals for 2023. Defenders Kota Takai (already standing 192cm) and Yuto Matsunagane, plus midfielder Yuto Ozeki will all step up from Kawasaki U-18, while Toin Yokohama University (they gave Sapporo an almighty run for their money in the Emperor’s Cup last month) forward Shin Yamada will join fellow alumni of that particular institute, Miki Yamane Kento Tachibanada and Yuki Hayasaka (plus Zain Issaka if he returns from his loan spell with Yokohama FC) in making the Todoroki Stadium his home. The future’s bright at Frontale, but what is the short and medium term forecast, and what role does Toru Oniki have to play in it?

Team News

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

DF Jesiel – Suffered a serious knee injury at the end of last season, went home to Brazil for treatment and has subsequently returned to Japan, it’s still unknown when he’ll be back playing again

DF Kyohei Noborizato – Injured thigh muscle in game vs Urawa on 2 March, expected back in the not too distant future, but doesn’t appear to have re-started training yet

FW Kei Chinen – Injured his leg in the game vs Sapporo on 18 June and hasn’t played since, no further information known at this stage

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

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Shonan Bellmare vs Gamba Osaka 6 July 2022 Match Preview

Shonan Bellmare vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 20
Wednesday 6 July 2022
Lemon Gas Stadium Hiratsuka
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

Japan is currently experiencing one of it’s worst heatwaves on record, but there’s no rest for the wicked as Gamba Osaka and Shonan Bellmare lace up their boots to do battle this Wednesday. With Gamba sitting a mere point above their hosts, who in turn are precariously perched just outside the drop-zone, it goes without saying that the outcome of this match is of vital importance to both sides. The Ao to Kuro looked bright for the first hour or so of their 1-1 draw with Urawa on Saturday, but ultimately ran out of steam owing to their taxing midweek fixture against Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Mitsuki Saito’s wonderful strike at the end of a 4 man, 14 second counter attack lit up Panasonic Stadium more brightly than the pre-match fireworks, however, Alexander Scholz’s cool spot kick in second-half additional time, after Genta Miura had clumsily felled Yusuke Matsuo, earned Ricardo Rodríguez’s troops a share of the spoils. Shonan had slightly the better of their 0-0 draw at home to Nagoya Grampus and have now kept 3 consecutive clean-sheets. However, as usual, their issues lie at the other end of the field with only Fukuoka and Nagoya scoring less in J1 this season and, at present, hot prospect Shuto Machino accounts for half of their total. Shonan have lost only once in their most recent 6 J1 outings, but their main source of goals is facing a prolonged spell on the sidelines, while Gamba have just a solitary win to show for their efforts over that time period, but appear to have unearthed a new gem in, man-of-the-moment (boy-of-the-moment?) Isa Sakamoto, and their performances are headed in the right direction. Now, it’s time to feel the heat, which team will emerge victorious at a potentially sodden Lemon Gas Stadium?

Tale of the Tape



It’s easy to say that Gamba would have beaten Urawa had they not played the previous midweek, but then again you could argue that they’d have lost to Hiroshima had the game been held on it’s originally scheduled date and, in fairness, there was a good deal of fortune behind the Nerazzurri’s win in Saitama earlier in the year, so let’s agree to call it evens. Anyway, all I’ve really learned from this ramble is that we’ll probably all be travelling around in flying cars before either Gamba or Urawa manage another home win in the National Derby. The Ao to Kuro gassed-out after what certain sections of the Japanese media labelled their ‘best half of the year.’ Gamba outshot Reds 11 to 5 in the opening period with 9 of those efforts coming during a 20 minute barrage at the beginning of the game (it was almost a complete reversal of the encounter in Saitama). After the interval, the visitors took charge of the shot count 11-3, though even with that in mind I’m still struggling to work out how Sporteria credited them with an xG total of 2.45 (1.71 excluding the PK), it feels like someone keyed in 2 instead of 1, but this is ‘Gamba Blog in English’ so I might be a touch biased. Statistical positives for Gamba came in possession, pass completion and sprinting numbers (scant consolation I know), but the work-rate and energy was certainly there with Mitsuki Saito in particular impressing, constantly harrying and harassing Reds defenders in their own defensive third which allowed the Nerazzurri to generate numerous possession turnovers, indeed his 9 possession recoveries was a matchday high across the league. In the wake of Saturday’s game both teams were probably left ruing their wastefulness from set-plays and for Gamba this has been an issue all year. The blue and blacks are yet to score directly from a corner or free kick, of course some goals such as Patric’s vs Nagoya or Dawhan’s against Kashiwa have come indirectly from such a situation, though with a series of deflections and half clearances in the middle. Considering Gamba have had 67 corners in their 19 games to date and are yet to register a single header, flick or touch that’s gone into the back of the net from one of them, this is a facet of play that Katanosaka must seek to address urgently in training, and it is something that can be improved on the training ground more easily than other issues, so I, for one, will be looking for tangible improvements in the second half of the year. Speaking of improvements, Saturday was Kohei Okuno’s 50th J1 game and probably his best in a Gamba shirt. The Reds clash marked the first time Okuno and Saito had started together in a double-volante system in J1 though you wouldn’t have known it as they got torn in about their opposite numbers Ken Iwao and Kai Shibato right from the opening whistle. There have been rumours that Gamba will move for a new central midfielder to fill the void created by Yuki Yamamoto’s injury and Ju Se-jong’s imminent departure, however, Okuno, who will surely get another chance against Shonan, this time alongside Dawhan as Saito can’t play against his parent club, certainly staked a claim for more regular starts, completing 33 of 36 attempted passes was his statistical highlight on Saturday. Last, and certainly not least, is Isa Sakamoto, who, fresh from taking Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s backline to task last Wednesday set about giving Alexander Scholz, undoubtedly one of the best centre-backs in J1, a hard night’s work on Saturday. Comparisons with former-Gamba legend Masashi Oguro are growing by the day and the way Sakamoto held off the challenge of Scholz before ‘assisting the assist’ in the Nerazzurri’s breathtaking coast-to-coast opener, showed poise beyond his years. In his 79 minutes on the field he had 3 shots, all on target and 4 last passes, I love Patric to bits, but the standard of Sakamoto’s play was a cut above what the Brazilian has produced this season. The arrival of Musashi Suzuki will surely curtail Sakamoto’s minutes to a degree, but he’s been a ray of sunshine in quite a dark period for Gamba supporters, of that there is no doubt. A quick apology to Hideki Ishige, who had his most effective game in a Gamba jersey on Saturday night, any more performances like that and he’ll definitely be featured in here.



If you don’t mind me whipping out a cliché right at the start of this mini section, Shonan are a hardworking team. While they don’t have the cash or titles to compete with their big city rivals, Satoshi Yamaguchi’s charges do try to make up for it with sheer determination and grit, and to that end they average 117.3 km run per game (1.4 km more than Gamba) and also 192.3 sprints every 90 minutes (leading the Nerazzurri by 24, though as we saw above their numbers are gradually improving). Overall they sit in 15th in J1, just one place above the promotion / relegation playoff spot, but that ranking slips a place if we only consider home fixtures. In 10 games at the wonderfully named Lemon Gas Stadium, Shonan have been outscored 15-7 by their opposition. Worryingly for Yamaguchi is the fact that they’ve outshot opponents 145-115 (essentially 3 shots per game), but accrued a smaller xG figure, 11.6 versus 12.56, suggesting that while they’re creating a sizeable number of chances in front of their own supporters, they are not of a particularly high standard. For comparison, when we look at their stats for games both home and away, in 19 outings they’ve outshot their rivals 234 to 213, but only generated 18.87xG for while giving up 22.01xG against. They are keeping the ball better than last year, averaging 300.4 completed passes a game in 2022 as opposed to 280.3 12 months ago, but they are going to need to find better ways to use that possession if they are to survive yet again in the dog-eat-dog world of the J1 relegation scrap. As alluded to previously, former Yokohama F. Marinos and Giravanz Kitakyushu forward Shuto Machino has contributed 8 of Shonan’s 16 league goals to date and he remains on course to beat Yoshiro Abe’s record of 9 strikes in the 2010 season, the most a Bellmare player has managed in a modern-era 18 team / 34 game J1 season and considering last year after 38 games Wellington was top-scorer with just 6 goals, this would be quite an achievement (Wagner Lopes netted 18 back in 1998 however this was when the club went under the Bellmare Hiratsuka moniker and the league was split into 2 stages so I’m not sure a comparison between 1998 and 2022 really stands up to much scrutiny.)



First Match Recap

Gamba slumped to a disappointing home loss to Shonan in mid-April meaning that Ryotaro Meshino’s injury-time winner all the way back in 2019 is the last time they’ve breached the Bellmare defence at Panasonic Stadium in J1. Speaking of late winners, this year it was the turn of the Seasiders’ converted centre-back Shuto Yamamoto to be the hero. The former Kashima full-back bravely beat Genta Miura to the ball to power a header past Jun Ichimori in the final minute of normal time. He was stretchered off as a precaution due to concerns over a head injury, but was soon out celebrating in front of the travelling contingent at the final whistle. The Nerazzurri largely had themselves to blame for the outcome as lots of possession and territory led nowhere and long-range Yamami and Dawhan shots from Patric knock-downs plus the burly Brazilian narrowly failing to connect with Yuya Fukuda’s tempting cross was as close as they came. On a hot day, the Ao to Kuro ran out of energy after the interval and in all honesty, Yamamoto’s late clincher was just reward for a fighting display from the visitors (who came into this match 18th and last) in the final half-hour.



Gamba Osaka

Gamba confirmed the signing of Japanese international forward Musashi Suzuki last Thursday (30 June) and the player, who will wear #45, has already started training with his new team-mates though he won’t be eligible until the Osaka Derby on July 16th, what a debut that could potentially be. Ryotaro Meshino is still expected to put pen to paper in the coming days, however, Yuya Yamagishi rejected a move to Suita, and subsequently put out a nice statement where he successfully navigated the tightrope of appeasing all concerned parties. It does appear that both Suzuki and Yamagishi were blessed with the Katanosaka seal of approval whereas I’m not sure the same applies to Meshino, only time will tell if that affects the success of the deals. In terms of departures, it’s been reported that up to 14 South Korean clubs have expressed interest in re-patriating Ju Se-jong, while Wellington Silva and Leandro Pereira remain well out of the picture and will be shipped out if buyers can be found, Júbilo Iwata, Omiya Ardija and Ventforet Kofu have all been linked with Pereira and I haven’t heard anything about Silva. If I now dive into pure speculation, Tatsuki Seko of Kawasaki is potentially headed for fresh pastures this summer and Gamba may be tempted to move for him, even if it’s just on loan, and speaking of loan deals, it’s worth remembering that both Dawhan and Mitsuki Saito are only on temporary contracts with the Nerazzurri, it’ll be very interesting to see what develops in regards to that duo in the coming months. Finally, Gen Shoji has seen his place taken by Shota Fukuoka for the past 2 games, though if the former Tokushima stopper keeps dawdling on the ball like he did in the 2nd half of the Reds clash then that might not be the case for much longer. Shoji, along with Leandro Pereira, Wellington Silva and Ju Se-jong is one of the high-salary, lower than expected performance, Miyamoto-era signings that I think Katanosaka would like out of the club sharpish. I’m not saying it’ll happen this summer, but I don’t really expect him to be a Gamba player in 2023.

Team News

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

**Once again expect the unexpected as rotation will be a key factor in Gamba (and any team for that matter) successfully navigating their gruelling schedule this week.**

GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back in August at the earliest

MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, expected back in August at the earliest

MF Mitsuki Saito – Can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement

MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, don’t expect him back anytime soon

FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season

FW Hiroto Yamami – Was pictured with ice on his lower left leg after being subbed off against Hiroshima last midweek, was an unused sub in the match with Urawa on Saturday, likely just as a precaution

Predicted Lineups and Stats






Shonan Bellmare

After a rocky start to the year with the 1-0 at Panasonic Stadium back in April being Shonan’s only triumph in their opening 13 fixtures, Satoshi Yamaguchi now has the Seasiders on the crest of a wave with 4 wins and a draw from their last 6 matches and hot-shot forward Shuto Machino going at a clip of a goal a game through that run. Yamaguchi has continued with the back 3 / wing-back system of his predecessors and generally operates a 3-5-2 formation though it can shift to a 3-4-2-1 on occasions. Surrounded by vultures in the shape of their better minted Kanto rivals it’s perhaps no surprise that Shonan kantokus, no matter who they are, have to make do with a combination of up-and-coming youngsters and fallen heroes. It was fascinating listening to Albert Puig’s English language interview with the FC Tokyo Kai-Guys where he talked about the importance of having players in the 25-30 years-old age-bracket. Well, look at my predicted starting 11 below and you’ll find injury-prone forward Yusuke Segawa is the only outfielder in that range. I’ve mentioned attacking issues above and that’s an area Shonan will really have to strengthen this summer, particularly if Machino is going to be out injured for any period of time, as losing his goals could prove fatal to Bellmare’s hopes of extending their present run of 5 consecutive years in the top flight (the only time they’ve managed more than 2 back-to-back since the millennium). Of course, bringing in genuine goalscorers is easier said than done when you have Shonan’s budget and I haven’t heard any potential targets mentioned as of yet. Looking more long-term, pictures posted on Twitter appear to indicate that former Gamba Youth defender / holding midfielder Naoya Takahashi (now of Kansai University) has been training with the club, Yamaguchi will know him from their time together in Suita when Takahashi performed admirably for Gamba U-23 in J3 back in 2019 and I had held out hopes he would return to the Ao to Kuro once he completed his studies in early 2024, we’ll have to wait and see how that situation develops over the coming months. For now, however, Shonan need some quick fixes, keeping hold of bright young things, Satoshi Tanaka and Taiga Hata will help, but where will that attacking spark to ease the goalscoring burden from Machino’s shoulders appear from?

Team News

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

GK Kosei Tani – Can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement

DF Takuya Okamoto – Knee injury, last played 19 March

DF Shuto Yamamoto – Subbed off in first half of 4-0 win at Kawasaki on 25 May, hasn’t played since

FW Shuto Machino – Stretchered off after picking up an ankle injury at the end of the match with Nagoya, must be a major doubt for this game

Predicted Lineups and Stats





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

Categories
sport

Gamba Osaka vs Yokohama F. Marinos 18 June 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Yokohama F. Marinos
2022 J1 Season Round 17
Saturday 18 June 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


J1 makes a welcome return this Saturday after a 3-week hiatus due to the June internationals and table-topping Yokohama F. Marinos are slated to make their way to Panasonic Stadium to square off against a Gamba Osaka side languishing in lower mid-table. Approaching the mid-way point of the season, 2019 champions Marinos currently lead the standings by a mere point with Kashima and Kawasaki hot on their heels and they’ll be keen to continue their recent run of good results in Suita. Meanwhile Gamba, and their supporters, must be hoping the short break has allowed a number of key squad members to return to fitness ahead of a busy run of fixtures which sees the Nerazzurri play 8 games in 30 days in the lead up to their glamour friendly with Paris Saint-Germain on July 25th. In truth, each side’s respective treatment room has had plenty of visitors this term and it will be equally important for both teams to hit the ground running here before a hectic month of non-stop action.

Tale of the Tape



Gamba currently lie 13th in the overall J1 standings, but that ranking falls to 16th for home matches only, albeit they have a game in hand owing to the bout with Hiroshima being postponed last month. It really goes without saying that correcting that pressing issue, which has plagued the club since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, is right near the very top of kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka’s to-do list. I could continue with my usual statistical drivel about stopping the opposition from having so many shots, plus how the constant tinkering with the team’s shape is the root cause of that, before then wandering on to poor transfer dealings, injuries etc, etc, but let’s instead opt for a change of pace in the form of some individual player stats I’ve dug up during the international window. First to a favourite of mine, Hiroto Yamami, who has very much taken over the Usami role of creator-in-chief and main goal threat, for what it’s worth I definitely think those duties need to be divided up. Yamami’s 27 shots (1.9 per 90 minutes) is the leading figure among everyone in the Ao to Kuro squad while his 20 chances created is also a club best. With Ayase Ueda seemingly on his way to Portugal and Yuma Suzuki potentially picking up an injury against Fukuoka at the weekend, it appears like Shoma Doi will be staying put, Nagoya’s Manabu Saito scored a lovely goal in the Levain Cup on Saturday, but he seems destined for Suwon FC in South Korea, so I’m left wondering who the Nerazzurri will turn to in order to take some of the heavy burden off young Yamami’s shoulders…Hiroyuki Abe? Musashi Suzuki? Ryotaro Meshino? At the back, Kwon Kyung-won has arrived and put in some mixed performances so far, but there is no doubting his work rate which I’ve tried to put into perspective by comparing some defensive stats with fellow centre backs Genta Miura and Gen Shoji. Kwon (524 minutes played) is making 4.5 clearances per 90 minutes compared with Miura’s (1142 minutes – most for a Gamba player) 5.3 and Shoji’s (1080 minutes – 4th in the squad) 3.1, however, he comes into his own with both, blocks, 3.3 to Miura’s 2.4 and Shoji’s 2.2 plus possession recoveries 3.6 versus Miura’s 2.4 and Shoji’s 1.5 (all numbers are per 90 minutes). After a busy international break it’ll be interesting to see what kind of shape the South Korean stopper returns in. Speaking of returns, it seems like the guardian deity and club legend himself Masaaki Higashiguchi is ready to don the gloves in a competitive match for the first time in 2022. So, I thought this would be a good time to have a look at how the different back up ‘keepers have performed in his absence. I’ve previously highlighted Jun Ichimori’s excellent ability with the ball at his feet (I wonder if Ju Se-jong dispossesses him in training as easily as he did Manuel Neuer in the 2018 World Cup), but now I have the stats at my disposal to back up my comments. Ichimori’s 79.9% pass completion rate dwarfs that of both Kei Ishikawa (59.6%) and Taichi Kato (66.7% – granted he’s only played once in J1 so far). Ichimori has also completed on average 21.2 successful passes per 90 minutes to Ishikawa’s 11.5 and conceded the same number of goals as Ishikawa despite playing an extra 360 minutes, though it should be pointed out he only made 15 more saves during those additional 4 games, so perhaps better team defending as a whole had something to do with that? With 19 league fixtures remaining and Higashiguchi set to play the majority of them, I look forward to having another look at these numbers come the season’s end. (In creating this mini-section, I’d like to give a brief shout out to the J.League’s official English site which has really, and I mean REALLY upped it’s game stats wise this season and is well worth a visit.)




Marinos are the division’s current pace-setters and they lead the league in xG For, shots for, shots for on target, completed passes and possession. Indeed they were first in all those categories last term in addition to sprints, though they’ve since been overtaken in that metric by both Sagan Tosu and Kyoto Sanga. Perhaps if you’re looking for a slight chink in the armour of Kevin Muscat’s side it’s that, out of my key performance indicators, only xG against and distance covered have improved this term, though it should be pointed out that a lot of their numbers were ridiculously good last season, so slipping back a touch from outstanding to comfortably above average is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Interestingly, despite xG against moving in the right direction, 17 goals conceded in 16 outings this year has seen their defensive ranking shift from joint 3rd in 2021 to 9th equal this time round. That might be a symptom of a more even league as last term Marinos finished 2nd on 79 points, 13 behind runway champions Kawasaki, however, in 2022 no team are averaging 2 points or more per game and it could be a case of somewhere in the region of 66-68 points being good enough to bag you the title. Marinos, Antlers, Frontale and if we’re being honest even Hiroshima, Kashiwa and Cerezo (maybe FC Tokyo too?) will currently consider themselves to be genuinely in the hunt for the J1 crown and where Yokohama may have the edge is in attack. They are currently the division’s top scorers with 30 goals, and outside of the presently suspended Anderson Lopes (7), the other strikes have been shared out between 10 different players, with none netting more than 4. I spoke about defence earlier, and while never a strong point of a Postecoglou-inspired system, the Tricolore have managed to keep 6 clean sheets this season to date including in their 2 most recent outings. With both ends of the pitch considered, to my eye it appears that Muscat has levelled the 2022 Marinos out a touch, the 5-0 and 8-0 wins of previous years are gone, but so are the 5-3 losses and ‘keepers being chipped from the half way line. Only 3 defeats all year, 5 victories in their last 7 league games, this is a proper good team and it’s a side that stands as strong a chance as any of lifting the J1 trophy when November rolls around.




(Just about) Mid Season Data Roundup

I’m not going to go into these stats in too much detail, I’d rather just leave the tables here for you to peruse and draw your own conclusions. However, there are a few small points I’d like to make.

* The Frontale fallaway – The Todoroki side boasted an xG difference of +0.75 during their title winning 2021 campaign, that’s dropped a whopping 0.81 per match to -0.06 this term.
* According to my xG data we could have expected Yokohama F. Marinos to score 2.9 more goals than Urawa across the first 16 fixtures. In reality, Marinos have hit the back of the net on 15 more occasions than their Saitama-based rivals, with Kevin Muscat’s troops bagging double the number of goals of Ricardo Rodriguez’s side (30 vs 15).
* Avispa Fukuoka have J1’s weakest attack and meanest defence in terms of goals scored and conceded, however the data indicates that might be about to change. The northern Kyushu side rank 11th in the xG For rankings and joint 5th in terms of xG against. Additionally, when we compare actual goals scored vs xG, the Wasps total of -6.9 is the 3rd poorest result in the division, while at the other end the figure of -6.62 actual goals conceded vs xG against is the biggest overperformance in the league.
* Kyoto Sanga may currently sit 9th, 7 points above the drop zone, but their stats suggest they are in something of a false position at the moment with only distance covered and sprints ranking above 15th. Summer has arrived in Japan, can they keep up their work-rate in the heat and humidity and can 38 year-old Peter Utaka keep up his remarkable scoring record?
* And finally to Gamba, 13th in J1 last season and 13th again this year. Unfortunately there isn’t much to say this is a particularly inaccurate position based on on-field performances so far. No metric scored higher than 9th (distance covered) while they have also posted league worst shots against numbers. Keeping players fit and maintaining a consistent shape are essential if this is to be remedied in the second half of the year.




Head to Head

Both clashes between these two in 2021 saw the home side dominate everywhere but where it mattered most, the scoreboard. Firstly, Gamba hosted Marinos in a re-arranged round 6 tie on August 6 and it was the visitors who ran out 3-2 winners in sweltering conditions. Élber gave Marinos the lead with a fine shot from the edge of the area, slightly against the run of play, before fellow Brazilian Marcos Junior doubled their advantage 3 minutes into the second half. The Nerazzurri pulled one back shortly after with Leandro Pereira dusting himself off after being brought down by Thiago Martins (who was lucky not to receive a second yellow) to convert a spot-kick. At that stage of the game, the Ao to Kuro seemed to be in the ascendancy with Yohei Takaoka having to be at his very best to divert Patric’s close-range effort onto the post minutes later, and that proved to be a crucial block as Marinos then went on to wrap the game up through super sub Kota Mizanuma with just 16 minutes remaining. There was still time for Gamba to grab a consolation in additional time with Patric heading home Usami’s exquisite cross, but it was too little too late and Kevin Muscat was able to celebrate 3 points in his first game in charge. Things didn’t go quite so swimmingly for the Australian and his charges in the return fixture in early November. Knowing that only a win would keep them in the hunt for the J1 title they came up against a stubborn and well-organised Gamba defence that limited them to shots from distance and tight angles. The sting in the tail arrived in the 55th minute when Nerazzurri number 10 Shu Kurata bagged the game’s only goal, stabbing home from Yuki Yamamoto’s dinked cross following a rare spell of attacking intensity from the visitors. Naturally, they subsequently returned to their defensive shell and a back four of Yanagisawa, Sato, Suganuma and Fujiharu, superbly marshalled by Takashi Kiyama on the sidelines, were able to see things through to the end, 1-0 the final score.



Gamba Osaka


* Pretty close to the halfway point of the campaign and fresh from an appearance on the J-Talk Podcast where I helped choose the J1 team of the half season (sadly not a Gamba player in sight), I thought it’d be a good idea to highlight some standouts from a tough opening 15 league matches for the Nerazzurri. Goalkeeper Jun Ichimori (as described in ‘tale of the tape’ above) was generally excellent before dislocating two fingers, left-back / wing-back Keisuke Kurokawa has stepped up a level this year, Dawhan’s range of passing in addition to his boundless energy has been a real boost in midfield combined with Mitsuki Saito’s tenacity. Hiroto Yamami’s stunning strike away to Shimizu last season perhaps burdened him with too much pressure, but he’s definitely improved steadily as the year has progressed and two goals in his last two league outings are hopefully a harbinger for a better run of form ahead. With all that said, let’s get it out of the way, my choice for Gamba’s player of the half-season is…drumroll…Kosuke Onose who leads the side in sprints (271), distance covered (138.2 km), crosses (51), through balls (37), possession recoveries (55) and most importantly goals scored (3), let’s hope the the international break has given him the time to fully get back up to speed after his brief Covid-enforced absence and he can then potentially go on to match the 7 strikes he bagged in 2019.

* In the Summertime – Gamba vs Marinos marks the start of the Nerazzurri’s summer of festivities with a sports / music collaboration event titled ‘Gamba Sonic’ featuring Def Tech and DJ Kazu playing live sets in the stadium prior to kick off (Black Eyed Peas and Usher blasting out at the National Stadium just before the FC Tokyo vs Gamba clash last month took me back to my clubbing days and also reminded me why it’s a good thing they’re well in the past, so maybe it’s for the best I’m not going to this game – for the record I’ve no idea who either Def Tech or DJ Kazu are). An extra ¥500 on top of your matchday ticket gets you a quite fetching black and gold Gamba t-shirt too while there’s a range of new merchandise on sale now with the snapback caps looking particularly fetching in my opinion. The popular Summer Expo game will be held against Shimizu on August 14th with a pretty dazzling uniform being worn as usual (I’ve gone for #32 Sakamoto on mine) as well as free supporters t-shirts being given out to all paying spectators.

* Above I set out the good, now for the bad and the ugly. Despite unfounded social media goading to the contrary (honestly, I’m extremely tired of Twitter at the moment), in response to supporter unrest at the Osaka Derby, the club have announced stringent new rules inside Panasonic Stadium starting from this game. Flashpoint ties at home to Urawa and Cerezo await in July so this encounter with Marinos is surely being seen as an opportunity to test the water. Away supporters will be confined to the upper tier of the south stand and won’t be able walk around the concourse as is usually the case. Additionally, away uniforms and goods cannot be displayed outside the designated away support area. For reference, when Gamba hosted Vissel Kobe last month, a good number of Vissel supporters were drinking happily near the Gamba end of the stadium, there were Kobe fans sitting right behind me in the Back Stand and I saw a group of 4 young guys a few rows in front, 3 were in Gamba blue and black and one wore a maroon Vissel towel scarf. For me, these kind of interactions are what the J.League is all about and it’s a real shame that the mindless antics of the minority have caused the majority to suffer. As someone born and raised in the west coast of Scotland I like to think I know a bit about that kind of thing and I really hope those involved in the recent trouble reflect on their misdeeds and other more well-intentioned Gamba supporters can lead the club to a brighter and better future. (I am fully aware this last part sounds a bit too flowery, but I couldn’t think of a better way to word it!)

* Back to some positive news now about a couple of the club’s youngsters, Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto who were on target for Japan U-19 in the recent Maurice Revello Tournament in France. Congratulations to both and hopefully they learned a lot from their experiences and can once again become important cogs in the Gamba machine during the second half of the year.

* And finally, I was able to get myself a ticket for the match with Paris Saint-Germain next month, though it appears a number of regular Gamba match-goers were not. There is a fan club lottery coming up which hopefully goes some way to redressing the balance, but I feel the event organisers are in a bit of a pickle as on one hand this is a Gamba home game and on the other they’re essentially trying to market this almost as a cultural event for the whole of West Japan. I know the concept of a League XI vs X Big European Club tends to get pooh-poohed, but in this kind of scenario, I wonder if it’s not the worst idea in the world?

Team News

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

GK Masaaki Higashiguchi – has been in full training for the past few weeks, should be fit for a first start of the season here
GK Jun Ichimori – Dislocated two fingers in his right hand during training on 28 May, unlikely to be back before September
DF Kwon Kyung-won – Played 270 minutes for South Korea during the international break so could be rested here with so many games coming up in the next month
DF Ryu Takao – Returned to full training on 5 June, should be fit enough to at least make the bench here
MF Yuya Fukuda – Had shoulder surgery on 23 May, put out a post on Instagram suggesting he’ll miss the friendly with Paris Saint-Germain on 25 July, expect him back in late August / September at the earliest
MF Shu Kurata – Calf injury, I’d hoped he’d be ready for this match, but he hasn’t re-started full training yet which suggests a return in mid July at the very earliest
MF Mitsuki Saito – Was absent from open training sessions the club held on 5 and 12 June, no reason has yet been given
MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury sustained in training on May 22, no details given on the severity, at best I’d say 2-3 months, at worst his season is over
FW Takashi Usami – Achilles tendon rupture, was sighted lightly kicking a ball in training on 5 June, but he’s still a long, long way off a full return

Predicted Lineups and Stats






Yokohama F. Marinos

I wrote the following about Marinos kantoku Kevin Muscat and his troops in my J1 2022 Predicted Lineups post back in January, “I’m open minded as to what he [Muscat] 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.” If you read that article back again you can find many dubious calls (Yuma Suzuki maybe not being a regular starter at Kashima – what was I thinking?) so I’m happy to milk a relatively accurate one. I’d now like to go on to point out a couple of areas in which I think Marinos, as an organisation, perform at a higher level than most of their rivals. Firstly, at the moment I’m taking part in the Transfermarkt.jp summer update for J1 and J2 and what really stands out to me is how few grizzled veterans (players who lose their value really quickly on that site) are in their squad, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it’s just right. This allows for good squad balance and an effective rotation system where quality players such as Kota Mizanuma, Joel Chima Fujita, Kota Watanabe and Ken Matsubara accept not being regular starters while still receiving plenty of playing minutes. Several other J1 outfits (Gamba being chief among them) tend to have backlogs of players in certain positions who are well within their rights to consider themselves J1 level starters while other areas of the field are much more sparsely covered. With that said, one of the best balanced squads in the division does seem to be slightly overloaded with right-wingers, though in fairness that is by far and away the most overstocked outfield position in Japanese football. Secondly, and this is another facet in which they blow Gamba out of the water, their recruitment of foreign stars who fit into the team tactically and culturally has been second to none since around mid-2018. Whether this has been down to the CFG connection or Ange Postecoglou’s lengthy book of contacts remains to be seen, and while it’s still too early to decide how to definitively rate the off-season capture of Eduardo, at present I feel confident in saying Marinos haven’t really whiffed on a foreign signing since Ange’s first transfer window (Yun Il-lok and Olivier Boumal, possibly Dusan later that year too, though I may be judging that trio a tad harshly?) Finally, a couple of players I wanted to point out as ones to watch, young centre-back Ryotaro Tsunoda (Kaoru Mitoma’s former team-mate at the University of Tsukuba), is still raw, but has stepped up well to help assuage the loss of Thiago Martins and the early bedding-in struggles of Eduardo while Takuma Nishimura (Vegalta Sendai) was an unheralded arrival who has really hit the ground running. He, of course, netted the winner for Sendai in their 3-2 triumph at Panasonic Stadium last year and is definitely a player to keep an eye on this Saturday night (On Tuesday I had flashbacks to that goal as Issam Jebali raced forward for Tunisia prior to his 93rd minute wonder-strike at the same end of the ground).

Team News

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

DF Ryuta Koike – Missed the last J1 game and was also out of a heavily rotated squad for the Emperor’s Cup win over Suzuka. I could have sworn I saw something about it being injury related, but now I can’t find anything.
MF Joel Chima Fujita – Won’t play due to his participation in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Uzbekistan where he’s been excellent on the couple of occasions I’ve seen him
MF Takuya Kida – Groin strain, expected back in about a month’s time
MF Ryo Miyaichi – Injured left hamstring against Suzuka on 1 June, reportedly out for a month
FW Élber – Subbed at half-time in the win over Nagoya Grampus on 7 May with a groin injury and not seen since, has apparently returned to training though
FW Anderson Lopes – Currently in the midst of a 6 game ban for spitting at an opponent in the recent defeat to Avispa Fukuoka

Predicted Lineups and Stats





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

Categories
sport

Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare 17 April 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare
2022 J1 Season Round 9
Sunday 17 April 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


Sandwiched between a busy run of fixtures over the past fortnight and a hectic Golden Week ahead, round 9 of the 2022 J1 season may not have quite so many eyes on it with some big names involved in the ACL, however, Gamba vs Shonan is a vitally important clash for both sides nonetheless. The Nerazzurri have been the dictionary definition of a mid-table outfit with 2 victories, 4 draws and a pair of defeats to date while winless visitors Bellmare, led by former Gamba legend Satoshi Yamaguchi, currently prop up the standings and will be desperate to pick up a result of any sort at Panasonic Stadium on Sunday. This encounter sees one of the league’s leading attacking sides in Gamba (Takashi who?) face one of the weakest in Shonan, neither defence has been particularly water-tight and we’ve witnessed late drama in Nerazzurri fixtures on numerous occasions already in 2022, so keep your eyes peeled for excitement and goals here.

Tale of the Tape

Surprisingly, given the trials and tribulations in front of goal over the course of the past 2 seasons, Gamba are currently the 3rd highest scorers in J1 with 12 (xG 8.36) from their 8 games to date. Only the current top two Kawasaki (15/xG 10.78) and Yokohama F. Marinos (17/xG 15.72) have scored more, albeit that duo have completed two additional fixtures owing to their participation in this year’s ACL. Defensively, it’s a different kettle of fish for the Nerazzurri with just Kobe (16) conceding more than Gamba’s 12, and that tally also comes with the caveat of Vissel playing an extra two games. Although 8 of the 12 goals given up have come in just 3 fixtures (Kashima, Kawasaki and Fukuoka) with only 4 let in during the other 5 matches, consistently high xG Against figures will be of concern to kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka. Going forward, the Ao to Kuro have recorded double digit shots on target numbers in each of their last 5 games, a run they achieved just once in 2021, but at the other end, only Júbilo have failed to muster at least 10 shots on Gamba’s goal and 4 instances of 10+ efforts on target being given up from just 8 games is something that must be rectified going forward. From a blue and black perspective, hopefully the blossoming double-volante partnership between Dawhan and Mitsuki Saito plus the addition of South Korean international stopper Kwon Kyung-wong can assist with that.



Just 4 goals scored (xG 6.5) in 8 J1 games so far in 2022 sees Shonan sit joint bottom of that particular metric alongside Avispa Fukuoka and additionally they’ve only exceeded 1xG For in a single fixture once, at home to 10-man Kyoto. The 11 goals conceded (xG 9.92) in that same time span is just one fewer than Gamba (xG 11.84) and while the recent Covid cluster in the first-team squad certainly hasn’t helped, it’s worth pointing out that Shonan’s fixtures to date haven’t been especially taxing so they really must buck up their ideas sharpish if they want to avoid dropping down to J2 for the first time since 2017. Finishing 16th and only narrowly avoiding the drop on the final day last season, Bellmare naturally put up some less than stellar stats. Sprints per game was their strong point, recording an average of 178.2 per 90 minutes (this has increased to 196.9 in 2022), however they were 2nd worst in the division for passes completed (280.3), 4th lowest in terms of possession % (46.1) and tied with Gamba in shots for on target (5.8) which saw them rank equal 17th in J1. Unfortunately for kantoku Satoshi Yamaguchi, while pass completion is up slightly, currently sitting at 292.0 (though bear in mind my comments about their fixtures to date when assessing that rise), they have been spending less time on the ball compared with last year (45.3%) and are still registering a meagre 5.8 shots on target per game, interestingly for comparison, Gamba, under Katanosaka, have increased their performance in that metric to 6.1.



Head to Head


After only having one goal to work with when discussing Gamba vs Shimizu’s head to heads from 2021 last week, we have a pair of 0-0 draws to look at this time round so buckle your seatbelts and get ready, no sorry, just kidding. While there wasn’t much drama on the field between the Nerazzurri and Shonan twelve months ago, there was plenty riding on both fixtures. Gamba travelled to the Lemon Gas Stadium in early June for what would be their final game before jetting out to Uzbekistan for the ACL group stage. Having steadied the ship with back-to-back home triumphs over Tokushima and Yokohama FC the previous week, the scoreless draw in Hiratsuka crucially lifted the Ao to Kuro out of the J1 drop-zone for the first time in 2021. The waters were much calmer for the blue and blacks when they hosted Satoshi Yamaguchi’s troops in their final league fixture in December, however, their visitors came into the tie knowing they had to match or better Tokushima’s result at home to mid-table Hiroshima. As a consequence, Shonan came out all guns blazing in the first half and the opening 45 minutes was essentially a microcosm of their season, lots of attacking endeavour, but no end product. Heading into the locker rooms, Bellmare were greeted with the news that Vortis were losing 3-0 to Sanfrecce and as such the second stanza was largely a procession, lit up only by Takashi Usami’s wonderful shot from 20 yards which cannoned off the underside of Daiki Tomii’s crossbar and rolled away to safety. Gamba ended the 2021 J1 season 13th, 3 places and 7 points better off than the Seasiders.



Gamba Osaka

Sunday marked Gamba’s second 1-1 draw in Shizuoka this season and while they held the upper-hand for much of their bout with Júbilo, S-Pulse, on the other hand, looked the livelier side and more likely winners for the majority of last weekend’s tussle. I feel a bit hypocritical for saying this considering the amount of times I’ve called for consistency in the Gamba starting eleven, but the match with Shimizu seemed like one game too many for a number of the squad. Mitsuki Saito has spent a good chunk of the last 2 years injured and partner-in-crime Dawhan ended up playing 250 minutes in 9 days while still working his way back up to full speed following his delayed entry into Japan. As a result, Gamba were overrun in midfield and things only really improved in the wake of the belated introduction of the substitutes in the second half, Yuki Yamamoto and Leandro Pereira, in particular, impressing. Granted this was against an S-Pulse side seemingly hell-bent on pressing the self-destruct button after squandering chances to put the game to bed before then being forced into last ditch defending in the face of a late Gamba onslaught. Where the J.League giveth, the J.League also taketh away, and while I was left heartbroken by Kawasaki’s last gasp equaliser a few weeks ago, this result goes some way to balancing out that one. Having been in that situation before I can only say to Shimizu fans, I feel your pain, and I know there must have been a sickening inevitability to how the game ended. For the Nerazzurri, that’s now 6 of 12 league goals this season that have been scored after the 75th minute so Katanosaka and Gamba must start looking to get up to speed in games quicker and that ball needs to get rolling this Sunday at home to basement dwelling Shonan.

Sakamoto vs Pereira – With cameos against Kyoto and Shimizu where he’s had spells as both a second striker and right winger, it looks like Isa Sakamoto has usurped Gamba’s reported highest-earner Leandro Pereira in the attacking pecking order. His incessant running and higher work rate seem to have impressed Katanosaka more than Pereira’s, and it currently appears that the Brazilian is only being saved for occasions when the Nerazzurri urgently need a goal and the opposition are camped in their own defensive third desperately trying to prevent that from happening.

Kwon Kyung-won – I know in a World Cup year getting the core players together regularly is probably extremely important for a national team boss, but I have to question South Korea’s recent decision to select Kwon for their qualifiers with Iran and the UAE. He played a grand total of 4 minutes at the end of the 2-0 win over Iran and didn’t feature at all in the dead rubber in Dubai that he had fly around 8 hours to get to. Would it not have been in the better long-term interests of the Taeguk Warriors and Kwon for him to get proper game time in the Levain Cup rather than setting out water bottles on the training field with his national side? Granted he would have been up against Yuma Suzuki had he stayed in Japan, so who knows what kind of shenanigans he would have pulled!

Kwon did finally make his Gamba debut on Wednesday (13 April) and played the full 90 as the Nerazzurri kept only their second clean sheet of the year in a comfortable 2-0 Levain Cup win at home to Oita. However, it was the South Korean international’s fellow centre-back, Yota Sato, who stole the show with a wonderful raking cross-field ball in the lead up to Hiroki Fujiharu’s opener in the 13th minute, before netting himself 13 minutes into the second half, powering home a header from Yuki Yamamoto’s free-kick. The Ao to Kuro will still need to beat Cerezo (a) and Kashima (h) in their remaining two Group A fixtures to stand any chance of progressing to the knockout stages.

Finally in this section, a couple of pieces of content largely aimed at Sorare managers as I regularly receive a lot of questions on these topics.

Kurokawa vs Fujiharu – Hiroki Fujiharu played left-back for Gamba the first time I ever saw them live back in 2013, he’s been with the club since 2011, has won everything there is to win domestically during his time in Suita and is a club legend. In recent seasons, as he’s aged he’s become more and more injury prone so back in 2020 the Nerazzurri brought in promising Kansai University left-back Keisuke Kurokawa with the intention of grooming him to be first-choice moving forward. Kurokawa has shown potential in fits and spurts, but has also had the odd horror show along the way which puts a serious question mark over how long Gamba will stick with him, particularly if a new, shinier toy comes on the market. In all honesty before the 2022 season kicked off I expected it would be Kurokawa’s last with the Ao to Kuro as his 3-year contract (the length usually given to university graduates) should run out at the end of the year, but he has performed better than expected so will probably be kept on. To sum up, I think Fujiharu is the better player, but he’s ageing and injury prone, while Kurokawa is yet to fully live up to his initial promise so his shelf-life as first choice on the left-side of Gamba’s defence could be relatively short.

Goalkeepers

Masaaki Higashiguchi has made 354 J1 appearances, has 8 national team caps and was in the squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Domestically he’s won J1, the League Cup and Emperor’s Cup (twice) with Gamba and is the best ‘keeper in the club’s history. Prior to getting injured he showed no signs of his standards slipping, so much so that Gamba were happy for Kosei Tani to stay on loan at Shonan for another season.

Jun Ichimori had made 46 J3 and 120 J2 appearances prior to the start of 2022. He joined Gamba from Fagiano Okayama ahead of the commencement of the 2020 campaign, but suffered injuries that restricted his playing time greatly in both 2020 and 2021. During his days in J2 he built up a reputation as an excellent good shot stopper who was also relatively comfortable with the ball at his feet.

Kei Ishikawa – He is a 29 year-old career backup who since turning pro in 2011 has registered just a single season as a first choice at any level (2014 with Blaublitz Akita in J3). While he is a good shot-stopper, as one would expect from a professional goalkeeper contracted to one of the biggest sides in the country, his kicking is shoddy and he lacks the presence of Higashiguchi or Ichimori. He has never been considered anything more than 3rd choice by the club and there is a snowball’s chance in hell of him ever being selected ahead of Higashiguchi in J1 once he returns from injury.

Team News

There will be no Mitsuki Saito in the Gamba engine room this Sunday as he’s currently on loan from Shonan and can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement. Masaaki Higashiguchi (knee) and Takashi Usami (achilles) definitely miss out too after undergoing surgery, other than that it’s basically a clean bill of health. Wellington Silva has been absent from the matchday squad in recent games and this may simply be down to him not having a place in Katanosaka’s plans. With 7 foreign players on the books, and 6 of them in with a genuine shout of game time, it’s possible Silva or Ju Se-jong could be headed for the Panasonic Stadium exit door in the not too distant future.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Shonan Bellmare

If I were to sum up Satoshi Yamaguchi’s side in one word it would be ‘obdurate,’ Shonan rarely win or lose big and have been flirting dangerously with a return to J2 over the past few seasons. In 2021 former Gamba assistant kantoku Yamaguchi rather surprisingly replaced Bin Ukishima for the final 11 games and achieved his target of keeping Bellmare in the top flight. Their 36 goals in 38 outings was 3 better than Gamba, but off-season transfer work (more on which later), although decent on paper, didn’t really address the glaring lack of strike power in their ranks. At the back things were rather more positive as their 41 goals conceded in 2021 was the best tally of any side in the bottom half and with the exception of 11th placed Hiroshima (42) it was comfortably better than everyone else. The club play in an idyllic location down on the popular Shonan coast, however, unfortunately their close proximity to the big cities in the Kanto region means any promising youngsters are sitting ducks waiting to be picked off, in fact any players moving to FC Tokyo, Yokohama F. Marinos or Kawasaki Frontale wouldn’t even need to find new accommodation. This has left the Seasiders with a squad largely consisting of up-and-comers and grizzled veterans with little or nothing in between. Central midfielder / centre-back Satoshi Tanaka is the jewel-in-the-crown and I’d expect to see him wearing the shirt of one of those aforementioned J1 rivals in the not too distant future, potentially his national team’s jersey as well in the 2024 Paris Olympics. Forward Yusuke Segawa (Kashiwa) and midfielders Takuji Yonemoto (Nagoya) and Ryota Nagaki (Kashima) were the biggest arrivals at Shonan last winter and while all three have name value, Segawa and Yonemoto have been injury prone in the past and Nagaki’s best days have firmly been and gone, not to mention that Yonemoto, Nagaki and Tanaka are all a touch too similar for my liking. Yamaguchi always sets them up with a back 3, though the shape of the central midfielders and attackers does change from time to time. With no real stars and no out-and-out Peter Utaka-esque goalscorer in their ranks, the collective is much more important than the individual at Bellmare and they’ll require a strong team effort if they’re to extend their unbeaten league streak at Panasonic Stadium to 3 matches.

Team News

Just like Mitsuki Saito above, Kosei Tani will also miss this game as per his loan agreement with Gamba, however, in better news, young defender Hirokazu Ishihara is now free from suspension following his one match ban for a red card away to Nagoya. Repeat VAR victim Takuya Okamoto and fellow wing-back Taiga Hata (both knee) won’t play here, with Hata being closer to a return than Okamoto. Veteran Ryota Nagaki has missed the most recent 3 J1 fixtures and was last seen in action on 19 March while promising attacking midfielder Taiyo Hiraoka has been absent since the round 3 loss at Urawa on 6 March, I haven’t seen any official confirmation as to why the pair have been out of the matchday squad. As I alluded to earlier, Shonan had a Covid cluster in their ranks a few weeks back which caused Shuto Machino, Yusuke Segawa, Koki Tachi, Ryo Takahashi, Satoshi Tanaka and Wellington to sit some games out, however, all have now returned to the fold.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





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

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sport

Gamba Osaka vs Kawasaki Frontale 6 March 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Kawasaki Frontale
2022 J1 Season Round 3
Sunday 6 March 2022
Panasonic Stadium
Kick Off: 15:00 (JST)


Gamba’s first Sunday fixture of the year pits them against a Kawasaki side, who just like them, are fresh from a hard fought victory over Urawa. The Nerazzurri notched the first win of the Katanosaka era in the club’s 1000th league match thanks to Yuya Fukuda’s late deflected strike shortly after Reds’ midfielder Ken Iwao’s ordering off for a second bookable offence. Frontale, facing the Saitama giants at home, did as great champions so often do, turned a half-time deficit into 3 points while being outshone for long periods. Ominously for the rest of the league, after an extremely brief early season wobble, Wednesday’s triumph saw them regain top spot and they now sit clear of fellow ACL qualifiers Marinos, Kobe and Urawa by two, seven and eight points respectively as they seek to become only the second J1 champions, after Kashima 2007-2009, to three-peat. The league standings also make pleasant reading for Gamba supporters at the moment with the Ao to Kuro back in the rarefied air of the top half for the first time since the conclusion of the 2020 season when, of course, they finished as runners up to this weekend’s opponents.

I managed to snap up a ticket for this one and am looking forward to what should be a decent game played out in the right spirit, as these clashes generally tend to be (fingers crossed for no more red cards).

Tale of the Tape

There might be a slight feeling of vindication washing over the Gamba support at the moment with the tough schedule endured by the 4 ACL participants at the beginning of this season illustrating just how difficult it is to play 3 matches a week while trying to rotate a squad depleted by injuries, Covid cases and suspensions. Those of a blue and black persuasion certainly know all about the challenges involved with that from our torrid 2021 campaign. Speaking of last year, the Nerazzurri’s visit to Saitama Stadium on Saturday played out in quite a similar fashion to their previous trip. The home side were dominant for the opening half hour with Takahiro Sekine causing all manner of problems for the Gamba defence, they should have been at least a goal to the good, but weren’t and then the ideas all but dried up. Reds racked up 9 shots with an xG total of almost 1.2 in the first 30 minutes, but a mere 4 (2 of which were free kicks) after that which amassed only 0.24xG. By way of comparison, following Urawa’s opening onslaught, the Nerazzurri outshot them by a ratio of 2:1 and generated an xG figure almost 4 times higher (0.91 vs 0.24). Further encouragement for new Gamba kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka comes with the knowledge that in last year’s 1-1 draw, Reds had 24 attempts on Masaaki Higashiguchi’s goal, but only mustered 13 on Saturday, meaning that 3rd choice ‘keeper Kei Ishikawa, who put in another solid showing, found himself protected to a far greater extent than his more illustrious team-mate did 5 months prior. Katanosaka’s strategy seemed straight from his playbook of how to take on Frontale and Reds in last season’s Emperor’s Cup and Gamba themselves have adopted an almost identical set of tactics in their wins at Marinos in 2020 and 2021, so while not in the least bit pretty, it’s something that has proven to be effective. Next point on the Katanosaka agenda…home form.

Time for a slight meander off topic, I’d argue that with Sakai, Shibato, Moberg Karlsson, Matsuo, Akimoto and Junker (Reds) as well as Higashiguchi, Kwon, Fujiharu, Yamamoto, Saito, Dawhan, Patric and Wellington Silva (Gamba) all missing from their respective side’s starting elevens for one reason or another, Saturday’s contest almost had the feel of a Levain Cup tie which leads mean to the main crux of my argument. This might seem like an obvious point, but it deserves repeating, if you’re selling tickets for an event, it’s vital that the people buying those tickets have faith that the event will take place at the time and date advertised and also in relatively the same format as expected. I say this with my Gamba supporters hat on, but I feel it applies to all J1 clubs, in the wake of what’s gone on all around us in 2020 and 2021, why would you buy a season ticket for 2022 when you’re well within your rights to have doubts that the fixtures will go ahead as scheduled, or if they do that your side will be understrength for a good chunk of them? In fairness, I believe the J. League have handled the Covid pandemic as well as could reasonably be expected, but getting over the final hurdles back to normality may prove to be their stiffest challenge to date. I’m watching on with interest.

Now to have a brief look at Sunday’s opponents, Kawasaki Frontale. It’s still early days so I’m not going to take a particularly deep dive into the stats from their 4 games to date, but there are a couple of quick points I’d like to make. With a remarkable figure of just 28 goals conceded in 38 league matches in 2021, it’s no surprise that Frontale had J1’s meanest defence last season, letting in 2 less than nearest challengers Nagoya who had clean-sheet record breaker Mitch Langerak between the sticks for them. This term there have been signs of vulnerability that weren’t quite so evident across the past 2 years, possibly brought on by a spate of injuries at the back, or perhaps by other factors that may become clearer as time progresses. The key to not conceding many goals is not giving up many shots on your goal and in 2021 Kawasaki placed 2nd, behind Kashima, for shots against and shots against on target (those numbers stood at 9.4 and 5.6 per 90 minutes respectively). Their opening games this season have been tough, there’s no two ways about that, but they have exceeded the average for both of those metrics in 3 of their 4 league fixtures so far. Also, interestingly for a team who ranked 3rd in J1 for possession in 2021 (averaging 55.1% of the ball per game), they kicked off 2022 recording less than 50% possession in each of their opening 3 encounters vs FC Tokyo, Yokohama F. Marinos and Kashima, though I should balance that out by saying the Gasmen and Marinos will probably be near the top of the possession league table come the end of the year and Frontale were 2-0 up away to Antlers after only 17 minutes so had little need to press on after that, still it’s a stat to keep an eye on moving forward (I wrote this section prior to their Wednesday match with Urawa where they had 51% of the ball against a side who generally dominate their opponents in that respect, so perhaps the opening 3 games were just something of a blip).

Head to Head


This fixture has certainly not made pretty viewing for those of a Gamba persuasion during the Covid era with Frontale winning all 4 league games across 2020 and 2021 (the only team to achieve this) by a combined score of 12-1. Throw the 2020 Emperor’s Cup and 2021 Super Cup defeats into the equation and any Nerazzurri supporters not in the stadium on Sunday would be forgiven for watching this match from behind their sofas. Incidentally, prior to 2020 Kawasaki had never swept Gamba in any of the previous 14 occasions that the two clubs had occupied the same division.

The 2021 Japanese football season kicked off with the Super Cup at the National Stadium in Tokyo on February 20th. Kaoru Mitoma’s first-half double had Frontale on easy street before a spirited fightback in the second period saw Gamba draw level thanks to Shinya Yajima’s close range effort and a spot kick from Patric. Just when it appeared we were destined for penalties, Kawasaki talisman Yu Kobayashi broke clear to clinch the tie with essentially the last kick of the ball. In between that clash and the first league game between these two just after Golden Week, Gamba went through their Covid cluster crisis and by the time the defending champions rolled into town Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s job was hanging by a thread as a result of just 7 points being accrued from the opening 8 matches and only 2 goals (including one penalty) being scored in that period. As it was, Gamba defended in numbers, but were caught on the counter 4 minutes before the break with Leandro Damião slotting home the opener. The Ao to Kuro had their moments in the second stanza before Kaoru Mitoma (that man again) made the game safe late on, leaving the out of position Yota Sato for dead and then firing past Masaaki Higashiguchi. The curtain came down on the Miyamoto era less than a week later as a result of a 2-1 reversal at Panasonic Stadium courtesy of Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

The stakes were much lower for the return match in round 37 and Frontale ran out winners at Todoroki by a scoreline of 4 goals to 1, which I’d argue was rather flattering. There was some joy for the travelling contingent though, with Takashi Usami dancing his way merrily through the Kawasaki defence to make it 1-2 after just 17 minutes, but unfortunately early and late flurries from the already crowned champions proved far too high a hurdle for the Nerazzurri to overcome.

As an aside, Tomohiro Katanosaka’s Oita teams have caused Kawasaki several problems down the years, notably putting their J1 title celebrations on ice for a few days with a 1-0 win back in 2020 (Frontale of course routed 2nd placed Gamba 5-0 in their next outing to sew up the championship with 4 games to spare) and also famously knocking them out of the Emperor’s Cup on penalties last December following an epic backs-to-the-wall showing. Piecing together the evidence from that Tennohai semi-final, plus Gamba’s tactics, both in their home game with the Azzurro Nero last May, and also in turning over Urawa yet again on their own turf last weekend, it would be wise to assume that we’ll see a similarly defensive strategy employed here.




Gamba Osaka

Since the start of the 2020 season Gamba have recorded 20 away victories and just 13 at home, an unacceptable record that Katanosaka has sought to remedy quickly, granted kicking off your maiden campaign in charge with home fixtures against Kashima and Kawasaki isn’t exactly making things easy. Honestly when the schedule was announced I’d have taken 3 points from the opening trio of games so from that perspective the Nerazzurri are playing with house money at the moment. Fans like myself are now looking for some evidence of a more open, expansive game-plan at Panasonic Stadium which allows the team to score multiple goals regularly while also keeping things relatively tight at the back and not leaving the defence wide open to counter attacks like happened time, and time again last season. However, as mentioned above, much as this is something I’d love to see on Sunday, I think we might be parking the bus as much as the Curva Nord faithful’s patience will allow.

* Player Focus 1 Kei Ishikawa – From what I’ve seen in J3, cup competitions and briefly in J1, Ishikawa is a more than competent shot-stopper, though that really should be a minimum requirement for a goalkeeper with a professional contract at a top flight club. His distribution is definitely his weak point, but you wouldn’t really know that from last Saturday’s performance as he was rarely called upon to do anything with his feet, a trend I’d expect to see continue if he’s selected on Sunday.

* Player Focus 2 Yuya Fukuda – As if Gamba’s resident heartthrob couldn’t get any more popular with the Nerazzurri fanbase, he goes and scores away to Urawa again. 2 of his 3 J1 goals to date have come at Saitama Stadium and, in fact, save for a spectacular strike for Gamba U23 vs Akita in 2018 and the clincher against Tokushima in the 2020 Emperor’s Cup semi-final he’s never found the back of the net in front of his adoring supporters. What better opposition to break his J1 home duck against than Japanese football’s dominant force over the past half decade? One final point on Yuya-kun, he replaced Takashi Usami last week and slotted in on the left side of the front 3 (alongside Yamami and Ishige at that stage) meaning that he’s now basically played every position at Gamba with the exception of goalkeeper, centre-back and centre-forward.

* Katanosaka watch – I’ve been enjoying his use of substitutes at half time and on the hour mark. I’m fully aware that there may be fans of other clubs who’d love to see a bit more spontaneity with their changes, but after last season’s coaching car crash I’m quite happy to see someone on the sidelines appearing to be disciplined and in control of his battleplan. It was also interesting to see him deviate from his usual 3-4-2-1 and start 4-2-3-1 against his old team Oita with Yuki Yamamoto named captain and assigned to the Marcos Junior role in the hole between the double-volante and lone striker Isa Sakamoto.

* Levain Cup wrap – Shun Nagasawa (predictably) came back to haunt his former side with a double as a much changed Gamba could only pick up a solitary point from their visit to Oita on Wednesday. The 2-2 draw leaves the Ao to Kuro’s hopes of progressing to the knockout stages hanging by a thread, but the competition has so far proven to be useful for getting players valuable game time, Mitsuki Saito and Yuki Yamamoto to name but two from this match, and also for blooding youngsters, Jiro Nakamura versus Cerezo and Isa Sakamoto here. I’d love to see new type 2 acquisitions Harumi Minamino (FW) and Yuki Yoshihara (DF) see some action in the remaining 4 fixtures too.

Team News

Patric returns from his one-match ban no doubt buoyed by his goal away to Trinita in midweek. The fact that neither Masaaki Higashiguchi or Kei Ishikawa were involved on Wednesday night suggests to me that Higashiguchi is still not fit and Ishikawa will start on Sunday. Nominal 2nd choice keeper Jun Ichimori, though he’s been absent for so long I can’t be confident that’s still his place in the pecking order, returned on the bench against Oita, but I still feel he’s some way off challenging for regular minutes. Elsewhere, it appears Hiroki Fujiharu is still out having not been seen yet this year, South Korean international Kwon Kyung-won and Brazilian Serie A regular Dawhan should hopefully be able to arrive in Japan shortly, but the date is still to be confirmed and Mitsuki Saito, Yuki Yamamoto, Leandro Pereira and Wellington Silva are all at various stages of their comebacks, though I’m not sure any of that quartet will make the eleven here.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Kawasaki Frontale


4 J1 titles in the past 5 seasons coupled with triumphs in the 2019 Levain Cup and 2020 Emperor’s Cup have transformed Kawasaki from perennial bridesmaids into one of the most dominant sides in the 30 year history of the J. League, but perhaps what’s most remarkable about their rise is how they’ve managed to build an absolute juggernaut of a squad without really breaking the bank. Of their 31 registered players for 2022 (30 professionals and 1 type-2 amateur, centre back Yota Takai), 10 came directly from universities (2 of those, MF Yasuto Wakizaka and backup GK Yuki Hayasaka were involved with the club’s youth setup previously), 8 from other J1 clubs, 4 apiece arrived from overseas teams and Japanese high schools, 3 were promoted from Frontale’s youth academy, while Koki Tsukagawa was signed from then J2 Matsumoto Yamaga and Daiya Tono was a surprise pickup from cup-shock masters Honda FC in the JFL and spent his first season of senior football on loan with Fukuoka in the second tier. I’d argue that former South Korean international goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong (Suwon Samsung Bluewings), Thai schemer Chanathip (Sapporo) and 2021 J1 MVP Leandro Damião (Santos) are the only examples that readily spring to mind of players brought in off-the-shelf primed to perform at a high level from the word go for whom a premium price was paid, either in terms of transfer fee or salary, certainly a very different approach to what you see in Europe with the likes of PSG, Manchester City Real Madrid et al. Of course such success has come at a cost with Hidemasa Morita, Ao Tanaka, Kaoru Mitoma and Reo Hatate all heading overseas in the past year or so, but with their reputation as a talent-enhancing hub firmly entrenched they’ve had no problems attracting high-quality replacements. Step forward Asahi Sasaki, their new left-back, freshly graduated from Ryutsu Keizai University and a player whom Frontale reportedly beat off interest from Gamba to acquire. Sasaki was rated the best full-back in Japanese varsity football in 2021 and after a promising cameo in the defeat at Marinos he nabbed his first J1 goal in the 2-0 victory over Kashima last week which brought words of praise from none other than current Samurai Blue kantoku Hajime Moriyasu. He’s given Toru Oniki another viable option at full-back and will be someone to keep an eye on here should he see off veteran Osaka-native Kyohei Noborizato to earn a starting berth.

Team News

Frontale certainly don’t have their injury troubles to seek in the early part of 2022, especially at the back. Jesiel, for my money the best centre-back in the division, is a long term casualty after undergoing knee surgery, his replacement Shintaro Kurumaya dislocated his shoulder against FC Tokyo in round 1 and is out for 6 weeks while left-back Kyohei Noborizato was stretchered off in the first-half of the match with Urawa and his participation here is in serious doubt. Further forward, injury prone midfield dynamo Ryota Oshima has been missing from the squad for the games with Antlers and Reds, mercurial Brazilian winger Marcinho hasn’t been seen since the FC Tokyo encounter and Japan U-22 captain Renji Matsui is yet to surface this season. Thai midfielder Chanathip is walking a suspension tightrope as a result of picking up 3 yellow cards in his first 4 league outings in a Frontale shirt.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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

Categories
sport

Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare 4 December 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare
2021 J1 Season Round 38
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 4 December 2021
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


It’s the end of the J1 season and spirits are in the sky…well not really in the case of Gamba or Shonan who have both endured campaigns to forget. These two meet at Panasonic Stadium on Saturday with the Nerazzurri having only pride to play for while Bellmare’s top flight survival hinges on this game as well as Hiroshima’s visit to Tokushima. As long as the the side from Kanagawa match or better their Shikoku based rivals’ result at home to Sanfrecce then they’ll be fine. However, former Gamba centre-back and assistant kantoku Satoshi Yamaguchi shouldn’t count on getting an easy ride from the Ao to Kuro.

Gamba will be keen to avoid closing the year out with 3 losses on the spin and while recent defeats to Nagoya (1-3) and Kawasaki (1-4) look poor on paper, both Grampus and Frontale were rather flattered by the final scorelines. It should be pointed out though, that in the context of the Nerazzurri’s season as a whole, with chances being ceded to opponents at an alarming rate, these kind of outcomes have to be expected from time to time. Last week Shonan fluffed their lines too, going down 1-0 at home to relegation rivals Tokushima when a draw could have all but secured their J1 status and a win would have sealed the deal. In their defence, Bellmare had to deal with the shock death of Brazilian midfielder Riuler Oliveira in the build up and that tragedy was likely a significant contributing factor in their limp display. They must now dust themselves off though as they are very much drinking at the last chance saloon and need to put in the kind of performance that would have made their fallen team-mate proud.

As this is the final match preview of the year, a couple of quick parish notices. First, I’d like to congratulate Kyoto Sanga on their promotion back to J1, having 4 Kansai teams in the top flight is great for the region and also gives me the opportunity to once again moan about the lack of professional clubs in an area with a population not far off that of Australia. It’d be great to see the likes of FC Osaka and FC TIAMO Hirakata as well as sides from Mie, Nara, Shiga and Wakayama one day compete in the J.League. Finally, thanks again to everyone for all your support this year, I really appreciate you taking the time to read, comment on, share and like my posts. Honestly, the fact that I can put up an article on WordPress and see that it’s been read by people from all the world’s inhabited continents within a matter of hours still blows my mind. At this stage I’ve no idea where 2022 will take me, but I’m always open to ideas and suggestions.

Oh…and in case anyone wondered….Yokohama FC (away) has been the most viewed match preview of 2021 to date, rather randomly.

Tale of the Tape

As I alluded to above, I felt the nature of Gamba’s last 2 defeats was a bit harsh and that’s backed up by the fact that the 7 goals the Nerazzurri conceded came from an xG Against figure of just 2.74. This wouldn’t really offer me much comfort if I was a Shonan supporter as I’d be worried that Gamba might be due a lucky break at some point in the upcoming 90 minutes. While both Kawasaki and Nagoya have extremely efficient attacks, the same can’t really be said about the men from Hiratsuka which is evidenced by their top scorers Wellington and Naoki Yamada having just 5 goals apiece.

Like Gamba, Shonan average less than a goal per game in J1 2021, 36 in 37 outings versus Gamba’s 33, with that number lying 0.12 below their xG For average. At the other end of the park, among sides in the bottom half of the standings, only Hiroshima (40) have conceded less that Bellmare’s 41. Gamba (49) rank joint third for that particular statistic which is actually just marginally worse than when they finished 2nd 12 months ago (1.32 per game in 2021 compared with 1.24 last year). It’s interesting that the name Sanfrecce crept up as I was going to mention them anyway with the two fixtures between Hiroshima and Shonan this year producing some particularly odd outcomes. First, Bellmare won 1-0 at the Edion Stadium despite recording a season low xG For of 0.18, however, things were evened out and then some in the return match at the Lemon Gas Stadium. Following Kosei Shibasaki’s early sending off for the visitors, the home side pounded Takuto Hayashi’s goal and racked up a 3.06-0.07 xG victory while also posting season best stats in the categories of Shots For/Shots For on target, Shots Against/Shots Against on target, possession % and passes completed. Unfortunately, in the real word all that added up to was an extremely frustrating 0-0 draw which combined with the farcical ending to their 4-2 home loss at the hands of Kashiwa in June and skipper Takuya Okamoto’s long running bitter battle against VAR has rather summed up the Kanagawa outfit’s season.

Shonan have drawn 15 league games to date this year, more than any other side in the division, and the 10 of those recorded at home have been particularly damaging to their hopes of progressing up the table. Away from Hiratsuka, Bellmare possess the 4th worst record in J1 with just 17 points from 18 games. Interestingly, Gamba are 4th bottom of the home standings, averaging just a solitary point per outing at Panasonic Stadium. The Nerazzurri should be keen to end a disappointing year in winning fashion in front of their home supporters and with the spotlight very much on this clash, as well as the one taking place at the Pocari Sweat Stadium, we are likely to see a strong Gamba side take the field with the majority of the starters probably still being on board come the commencement of the 2022 campaign, so don’t go expecting any mass downing of tools. If I was devising the Ao to Kuro’s strategy for Saturday I would suggest using Shonan’s desperation for points as an advantage. Gamba have been poor at home, in no small part, because of a susceptibility to the counter attack. With that in mind, the Nerazzurri should treat this like an away game and invite Bellmare onto them, keep a compact shape and aim to pick them off on the counter.





Head to Head

Shonan and Gamba played out a largely dull and uneventful 0-0 draw in Hiratsuka at the beginning of June, the Nerazzurri’s final league match before heading off to Uzbekistan for the ACL group stage. Significantly though, that hard won point moved Gamba out of the relegation zone for the first time since the opening round of the season. Both fixtures in 2020 were tight affairs also, Bellmare stunned the Nerazzurri with a 1-0 win at Panasonic Stadium, their first league triumph in Suita under their present name. Genta Miura misread Daiki Kaneko’s neatly threaded through ball (it’s been quite a surprise to see him disappear without a trace at Reds) and centre-back Kazunari Ohno fired home at the back post to seal a smash-and-grab 3 pointer. As I discussed in detail in this section last week, that result sparked Gamba into life and they’d go on to lose just 3 more times in their remaining 19 league outings to finish the year in 2nd. En route to that runners up spot they exacted revenge on Shonan, defeating them 2-1 on their own turf in early December. Yuya Fukuda’s fine strike from the edge of the area was cancelled out by Hiroto Nakagawa before Patric won the game midway through the second half. Masaaki Goto, deputising for the ineligible Kosei Tani, later pulled off a fine stop to deny the Brazilian a 2nd and the Nerazzurri had to be content with a 2-1 victory.


Gamba Osaka


Being the final week of the season, this section features a bit of a hodge-podge of information so I thought bullet points was the simplest way to format it.

* Just 1 win and 7 points gleaned from the opening 12 games of the year combined with the Covid cluster to scuttle Gamba’s season before it ever got up-and-running. It’s worth noting that since then they’ve accumulated 36 points from 25 matches (1.44 points per game), a rate that would have seen them sit joint 8th with Avispa Fukuoka had it been achieved over the course of the whole year (excuses, excuses, I know!) Why do I mention this you ask? It seems that Oita kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka will be in charge next year and I felt it was right to attempt to measure where Gamba currently stand when you factor out the impact of the Covid outbreak (a factor that will hopefully be absent in 2022).

* To counter-balance what could be construed as the cherry picking of stats above, let me point out that in the 3 of the last 4 seasons Gamba have flirted with the drop zone for various lengths of time. This is a far cry from the trophy-laden glory years of Nishino and Hasegawa which all of a blue and black persuasion will hope Katanosaka can rekindle. Patience is the key, however, Rome wasn’t built in a day and it’s important for the Nerazzurri’s front office and tifosi to remember that.

* Gamba’s home kit for the 2022 campaign season will be unveiled before kick off on Saturday. This, of course, will be the first uniform to be adorned by the new club crest which I’m sure will lead to some interesting takes on Twitter. Personally, I hope to keep hearing opposition supporters going on about the new badge well into next year, as that will probably be a good indicator that Gamba are doing well on the field and the club’s detractors have to look elsewhere for things to criticise (tongue half planted in cheek while typing this, just half mind lol).

* If anyone was wondering, yes I was purring as Takashi Usami rolled back the years to slalom through the Kawasaki defence, leaving my mum’s favourite Shogo Taniguchi for dead before dinking the ball over Jung Sung-ryong in the 17th minute last Saturday. More of the same this week please!

* Usami’s strike partner Patric is currently sitting on 13 goals, joint 5th in the top scorers rankings only behind the leading marksmen from the current top 4. To put the 34 year-old’s performance in context, this is already his highest ever J1 haul in a Gamba shirt, beating the previous record of 12 set in 2015. Granted he did score 20 for Sanfrecce back in 2018, but I still think it’s apt to say he’s ageing like a fine wine.

* On the subject of Gamba’s forwards, remove the tallies of Patric, Usami and Leandro Pereira from the equation and the rest of the squad have amassed 9 goals from 37 J1 games…I’m not sure there’s a strong enough word to convey my feelings about that.

* Gen Shoji being dispossessed by a Kawasaki midfielder midway through the 2nd half of Saturday’s encounter which subsequently saw him berate team-mates for not warning him is indicative of the issues that have been plaguing Gamba throughout the year. I remember a few weeks back in the draw at Urawa, a Reds player was racing past the half-way line on a dangerous counter-attack and Shu Kurata took him out, receiving a yellow card for his troubles. At that time I thought to myself, that kind of thing should have been happening months earlier when the likes of Shoma Doi and Takuma Nishimura were allowed to canter through the Gamba defence almost unopposed before scoring. Katanosaka’s Oita sides are generally among the league’s least booked teams, so hopefully he has something up his sleeve to stop the Nerazzurri constantly finding themselves on their heels with marauding forwards bearing down on their goal and Masaaki Higashiguchi left to save the day time and time again (116 saves for the year and counting).

* Gamba sit 13th in J1 at the moment and due to having a far inferior goal difference compared with 12th placed Hiroshima (-16 vs 0) they can’t finish any higher. They hold a mere 2 point advantage over Kashiwa in 14th and the Sunkings have a winnable looking final fixture at home to Oita, so it’s definitely in Gamba’s best interests to aim for 3 points against Shonan in order to finish as far up the table as possible. Incidentally, due to playing catch up for most of the year, they’ve actually only spent one week higher than 13th in the standings, that was following their Hiroto Yamami inspired 1-0 victory at Shimizu in August.

Team News

Typical, you get to the end of the season and just about everyone is fit again! Backup goalkeeper Jun Ichimori is out as a result of undergoing hamstring surgery, while forward Leandro Pereira suffered a relapse of his hamstring injury and is currently back home in Brazil recovering (this was confirmed by the club on December 1st). There are also doubts over Kim Young-gwon and Ryu Takao. Kim went off injured in the 1-0 win over Tosu on October 23rd, and was absent from Tuesday’s (November 30th) open training session. Takao wasn’t in the squad for the Frontale loss and having been taken off at half-time in the 2 previous fixtures with Oita and Nagoya, it’s unclear if he missed out at Todoroki because of injury or non selection.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Shonan Bellmare

Perhaps the biggest anomaly in Shonan’s season to date was Satoshi Yamaguchi taking over from Bin Ukishima at the beginning of September after the latter had just seen off Cerezo (and Levir Culpi – he always needs a mention) 5-1 away and drawn 0-0 at home to the side they love antagonising the most, Urawa. Not exactly a turn of events that would usually precipitate a managerial switch at a yo-yo/elevator (pick your poison) team like Bellmare. With 2 wins and 10 points from the 10 games since the move, it’s turned out ok, but hasn’t exactly been a roaring success either. Regular J1 watchers may feel that Shonan are something akin to a cat whose nine lives are almost up as they narrowly avoided the drop in 2019, drawing 1-1 at home with Tokushima in the promotion/relegation playoff and then finished 18th and last during the chaotic 2020 season when relegation was off the table. This is their 4th year in a row in Japan’s top flight, their longest streak since the Bellmare Hiratsuka era of the 1990s. Indeed, the side famous for developing Hidetoshi Nakata in the J.League’s formative years is now home to a new generation of prodigious talents in the shape of Satoshi Tanaka, Taiyo Hiraoka and Taiga Hata. They potentially have a tough battle on their hands to keep that trio at the club regardless of what division they are playing in next season.

Speaking of 2022, Shonan have been busy snapping up yet more young talent to bolster their ranks. Defender Kodai Minoda (Hosei University) and forward Ryo Nemoto (Kanoya National Institute for Sport) will come on board with Nemoto having already made 3 J1 appearances across the past 2 seasons as a designated special player. Versatile duo Naoki Hara and Taisei Ishii will be promoted from Bellmare’s youth setup while defender Sere Matsumura (Teikyo Nagaoka High School), midfielder Junnosuke Suzuki (Teikyo University Kani High School) and attacker Akito Suzuki (Hannan University High School, Osaka) round out the new faces.

Team News

As I’m currently running on fumes from a long, hard slog of a season I’ll be mercifully brief in here. Kosei Tani can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement and Kashima loanee Daiki Sugioka is likely to be absent too. He was last seen in the home loss to Yokohama F. Marinos on October 1st while his former Antlers team-mate Shintaro Nago hasn’t surfaced since the game at Nagoya on August 15th. The club confirmed that he had undergone surgery on December 1st to cure a foot problem picked up in training on August 17th and would be out for a further 3 months.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





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

Categories
sport

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka 27 November 2021 Match Preview

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 37
Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium
Saturday 27 November 2021
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


It’s the Azzurro Nero versus the Nerazzurri as the penultimate round of the J1 season sees Gamba make the trip to Todoroki Stadium to face 2021 champions Kawasaki Frontale. Fresh from a 3-1 reverse at home to Nagoya Grampus courtesy of a combination of razor sharp counter-attacking and lax pressing (more on that later), the Nerazzurri will be out to replicate their previous visit to Kanagawa earlier this month when they ended the title dreams of Yokohama F. Marinos with an excellent backs-to-the-wall effort. That result, in conjunction with Kawasaki’s 1-1 draw with Urawa, saw the Dolphins lift a 4th J1 crown in 5 years and they subsequently followed that up with a rather hungover display in the 3-1 loss at Tosu, where like Gamba against Nagoya, they went into the sheds 3-0 down. Predictably, Toru Oniki’s side rebounded emphatically with a 4-1 rout of the Ao to Kuro’s prefectural rivals Cerezo in Osaka last weekend and those of a Gamba persuasion will be praying that Frontale take their foot off the gas on Saturday ahead of a mouth-watering final day visit to the Nissan Stadium. Depending on the result of this encounter and Marinos’ trip to Vissel Kobe, it’s possible a Kawasaki win on December 4th could potentially knock Kevin Muscat’s side down to 3rd, an outcome I’m sure @frontalerabbit and co. would relish.

Tale of the Tape

A brief look through Kawasaki’s key performance indicators in the table below shows that their 13 point gap at the top of J1 is certainly no fluke. They are the best team at home, the best team away and the best team overall. 26 goals conceded makes their defence the strongest in the division for that metric and that correlates with their xG Against performance. Although they trail Yokohama F. Marinos by 3 in the goals scored rankings (76 vs YFM’s 79), we can say they do have a more efficient attack than their great rivals, generating those goals from 1.3 fewer shots and an xG of 0.24 less per game. Like cool, calculating assassins Frontale strike their opponents quickly and decisively often putting games to bed well before the final whistle, which is likely a factor in them only recording more than 20 shots in a match on one occasion in J1 2021 (Sanfrecce at home in April). This compares with Marinos and Kashima (both 6), perhaps demonstrating the sheer importance of having someone of the calibre of Leandro Damião in your ranks while YFM have struggled to replace Ado Onaiwu, and Everaldo has been posted missing for Antlers this season.

Gamba have notched 25 of their 43 points to date on the road and still appear way more comfortable operating the counter-attacking system Tsuneyasu Miyamoto employed throughout the 2020 campaign rather than the high-press that went so horribly wrong against Grampus last Saturday. It seems likely that despite the Nerazzurri having nothing but pride left to play for that they’ll rock up at Todoroki fully intent on parking the bus. Gamba’s attack, in contrast to Kawasaki’s, is highly inefficient, though as I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions previously, it is tough making head-nor-tail of the Nerazzurri’s season statistics as a whole due to the constant rotation we saw during the summer months. The Ao to Kuro will create something against Frontale, it may not be much, but if Patric (7 goals in his last 9 J1 appearances) is on form against one of his former teams and Kiyama gets the defence set up properly then it’s definitely possible for Gamba to frustrate their hosts, nick a goal on the counter, and defy the odds.





Head to Head


During the Covid-era, Frontale have very much had the wood over Gamba. If you include the 2020 Emperor’s Cup Final and 2021 Japanese Super Cup then it’s a perfect 5 from 5 for the Kanagawa giants with 12 scored and a mere 2 conceded. You have to go back to the 2-2 draw the sides played out at Panasonic Stadium in October 2019 for the last time the Nerazzurri avoided defeat in this fixture.

Last year there was plenty of respect on show as the top two clashed in Suita on August 1st. Gamba had the better of the opening stanza, before the half-time introduction of Kaoru Mitoma changed things decisively in the visitors favour. It was he who teed up Ryota Oshima a matter of minutes after his arrival for the game’s only goal. The result, only Gamba’s 2nd loss of the year at that point sparked a poor sequence of results, proving to be the 1st in a run of 5 defeats in 9 games, though following the home reverse to Shonan on 13th September, the Ao to Kuro suffered just a solitary loss in their next 14 fixtures. I’d rather not spend too much time dwelling on the events of 25th November 2020 at the Todoroki Stadium, as Kawasaki, chastened by their 1-0 defeat at Oita days earlier brushed Gamba aside 5-0 to wrap up the J1 title with 4 games to spare. What I’d much rather say is what a truly phenomenal achievement it was to finish so far ahead of the chasing pack in such a chaotic year with a squad largely made up of university graduates, youth team products and undervalued talents from other clubs.

Perhaps with the 5-0 still fresh in his mind, then Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto adopted an extremely defensive mindset ahead of the battle between these two at Panasonic Stadium in May. That contest would prove to be Miyamoto’s penultimate game in charge of Gamba and it ended in a disappointing 2-0 defeat. The Nerazzurri contained Frontale reasonably well in the early stages, but were stung by Leandro Damião’s goal in the 41st minute following an excellent counter-attack. Kaoru Mitoma (who else?) sealed the deal in the final quarter as Yota Sato, playing out of position at right-back, proved no match for the silky winger. Patric missed a glorious late chance to bag a consolation, heading Keisuke Kurokawa’s delicious cross wide, but I’ll remember this game mostly for Ao Tanaka’s outstanding display in the middle of the park and the Nerazzurri will certainly be thankful that neither he nor Mitoma will be donning their side’s Azzurro Nero jerseys on Saturday.



Gamba Osaka


With J1 safety secured, many Gamba fans were keenly anticipating the announcement of the starting lineup for the match against Grampus last Saturday. Unfortunately, when it was released, it was a crushing disappointment, Sato out of the squad, Fukuda and Yamami on the bench, no Jiro Nakamura and a starting eleven so conservative in nature that it would even make Hajime Moriyasu blush! Perhaps worst of all was captain Genta Miura returning to re-form his partnership with Shunya Suganuma which was last seen in the 4-0 home loss against Cerezo in the Levain Cup (and will hopefully never be seen again). I’m loathe to have a go at one player in particular, however Miura stunk the joint out on Saturday, especially in the first half. Granted, the team as a whole have still to get to grips with the high press system, but he exacerbated that problem by constantly charging out of defence into central midfield leaving big gaps for the impressive Yuki Soma and Jakub Świerczok to exploit (especially, in Soma’s case, it was as if the lessons from the away game at Toyota Stadium had simply been ignored). Ryu Takao was hauled off for Ko Yanagisawa at half-time, but had Miura not been wearing the armband then he’d surely have been replaced by Gen Shoji (who I assume was still not 100%).

Despite that scathing rant, there were several bright spots on Saturday. The attacking verve showed at times in the first-half was impressive, though sadly lacking in end product. We ‘won’ the second-half, always important psychologically in these scenarios and I’d argue it should have been 2-0 instead of 1-0 as I’m not sure why Patric’s 72nd minute effort was ruled out (offside or foul? Neither option seems clear and obvious to me, why wasn’t there at least a VAR review?). The 4-1-4-1 on display at the end of the match with Usami and Wellington Silva playing just ahead of Kohei Okuno in the centre of the park was also an interesting experiment. It’s tough to get a proper read on how the substitutes truly performed given that Nagoya parked the bus in the second 45 following their first-half smash-and-grab, but I was encouraged with the purpose and intent shown by Fukuda and Yamami down the wings and the ball-winning abilities of Okuno (whose interception led to Patric’s goal), I’d really like to see more of that triumvirate in the 2 remaining fixtures.

Finally, some very brief transfer gossip. 31-year old, left-footed Dutch centre-back Dave Bulthuis will leave Ulsan Hyundai this winter ahead of the presumed arrival of Kim Young-gwon and he and FC Ryukyu’s currently injured stopper Tetsuya Chinen are the names buzzing around Gamba supporter circles at present when the topic of new signings for 2022 crops up. I will say that I think it’s quite possible that one of, Bulthuis, Chinen, Yoshinori Suzuki (Shimizu), Henrique Trevisan (Oita), Eduardo (Tosu), Shogo Asada (Kyoto) or Rikito Inoue (Okayama) will join the Nerazzurri this winter, though I wouldn’t like to bet on who. Elsewhere, Yokohama FC’s relegation to J2 has seen reports that captain Tatsuki Seko will move to Nagoya while winger Yusuke Matsuo and bustling Brazilian forward Saulo Mineiro have plenty of admirers. Much as I’d like to see Matsuo in Suita, I can’t see it happening, Mineiro, could be pricey and also has the potential to be the next Junior Santos, but he may be someone the Gamba front office is looking at.

Oh, and a quick note to say that Shoji Toyama bagged his first J2 goal at the 17th time of asking, although it wasn’t enough to stop his Ehime FC side going down 2-1 at home to Sagamihara in their relegation 6-pointer on Sunday.

Team News

Vice-captain Shu Kurata will miss this clash after picking up his 4th yellow card of the season against Nagoya. Matsunami stated that Leandro Pereira was fit again, but he wasn’t in the squad for the match with Grampus, whether he’s suffered an injury relapse or it’s a sign he won’t be at the club next season remains to be seen, he didn’t appear in any photos of Gamba’s open training session on Tuesday, and today (Wednesday) Football Tribe linked him with a return to Brazil next year. Other than that, backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori (hamstring) is done for the year, Kim Young-gwon is still missing after picking up a knock vs Tosu on October 23rd, Yuji Ono is continuing his rehabilitation work, while pictorial evidence from Tuesday (November 23rd) shows that Shinya Yajima and Dai Tsukamoto have now returned to full training.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Kawasaki Frontale

What to say about Toru Oniki and his Kawasaki side that hasn’t already been said? An unprecedented 4 J1 titles in 5 years and league records shattered all over the place. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which of their triumphs has been the best, but this season’s has to be up there, running at a clip of 2.44 points per game (exactly the same rate as in 2020), despite the winter departure of Hidemasa Morita, the mid-year losses of Ao Tanaka and Kaoru Mitoma, ACL involvement, an injury crisis and strong challenges from resurgent Marinos and Kobe teams. With star centre-back Jesiel now a long-term injury casualty, forwards Damião, Kobayashi and Ienaga ageing and consistent performers Hatate and Yamane potentially heading off to Europe, are we witnessing the end of an era? Perhaps yes, though don’t expect Frontale to fall off a cliff any time soon. Sure, Toru Oniki may be called up to replace Moriyasu in the national team hot-seat post Qatar 2022, (though still being a few years shy of his 50th birthday I’m not sure that’s an avenue he’s looking to go down at this stage of his career), but as long as the former Kashima and Kawasaki midfielder continues to pull the strings from the dugout then they’ll remain a force to be reckoned with.

Kento Tachibanada has really stood up in the midfield in the latter part of the year, while Ten Miyagi and Daiya Tono could have bigger parts to play from next season and there is still the returning Taisei Miyashiro (currently on loan at Tokushima) to consider. Additionally, behind the scenes the Azzurro Nero have been busily preparing the squad for 2022 and beyond. Think they are going to be a wounded beast next year? Think again. Japan Under-22 captain Renji Matsui (Hosei University) has already put pen to paper and would make an ideal replacement for Hatate (his older sister Airi is a Japanese talento, so I’m sure he’ll have no problems making friends with his new team-mates!!) Frontale also beat off reported interest from Gamba and Tosu to land left-back Asahi Sasaki (Ryutsu Keizai University), rated the best full-back in varsity football at the moment. Other new arrivals for 2022 will be, goalkeeper Yuki Hayasaka (Toin Yokohama University – alma mater of Yamane, Tachibanada and Zain Issaka), and forwards Takatora Einaga (Kokoku High School in Osaka – Kyogo Furuhashi and Takumi Minamino’s old stomping ground) and Taiyo Igarashi (promoted from the youth team).

Team News

As alluded to above, Jesiel, for my money the best centre-back in the league, damaged his cruciate knee ligaments against Sagan Tosu on 7th November and has now returned to his native Brazil for treatment, his season is over. Information on other absentees is a little harder to come by. João Schmidt last played in the 2-1 win at Kashima on September on 22nd September, rugged central-midfielder / centre-back Koki Tsukagawa was an unused sub in that match and has no further appearances after that, while Tatsuya Hasegawa hasn’t been selected since missing a penalty in the ACL last 16 shootout loss to Ulsan Hyundai on September 14th. According to @frontalerabbit they are all fit and there are rumours that either or both Schmidt and Hasegawa could depart in the winter, though he also added that due to the ever secretive world of J. League injuries, it’s possible the trio are all dealing with minor problems that haven’t been made public.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

Categories
sport

Yokohama F. Marinos vs Gamba Osaka 3 November 2021 Match Preview

Yokohama F. Marinos vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 34
Nissan Stadium
Wednesday 3 November 2021
Kick Off: 13:05 (JST)


November 3rd is Culture Day here in Japan which means a full round of Wednesday J.League action and all eyes will most definitely be set on Kanagawa as the clock strikes 1pm. The focus of this preview is of course 2nd place Yokohama F. Marinos’ home bout with my side Gamba Osaka, but taking place at the same time a mere 15 km away is the clash between Kawasaki Frontale and Urawa Red Diamonds. Frontale, 12 points ahead with 5 games remaining, are the champions elect, and should they better Marinos result on Wednesday afternoon they can uncork the champagne right there and then. A scrappy 2-1 win at home to Sapporo followed by another poor performance in the 2-1 reversal at Cerezo last week has heaped pressure on Ange Postecoglou’s hand-picked replacement, Kevin Muscat. With the title race all but over, will he be able to rouse his troops against a Gamba side who still need around 4 points from their remaining 5 fixtures to ensure J1 football for 2022?

Buoyed by Gamba’s 1-0 victory over Sagan Tosu last Saturday (October 23) which moved them 7 points clear of the drop-zone, I made the impulse decision to buy a visitor’s seat ticket for this game. I haven’t been to a Gamba away game since 2017 and this is my first time leaving Kansai for almost 2 years. I’m certainly pumped up for what will surely be an intriguing clash, and I hope this preview helps get you in the mood too.

Tale of the Tape

I won’t pull any punches here, this tie sees a title contender hosting a struggling bottom half side meaning one would be well within their rights to expect a reasonably comfortable home win and the stats laid out in the tables below certainly do nothing to contradict that point of view. If Gamba are to upset the odds, then getting themselves in front early will be crucial. Confidence seems to flow through individuals (see Usami after his goal vs Tosu) and the team as a whole when they break the deadlock before tension and nerves have any chance to take hold. To illustrate this very point, the Nerazzurri are 9-0-1 (the sole defeat coming at home to Kobe) after scoring the first goal, and by way of contrast, they have a dismal 1-2-15 record when conceding the opener (Oita being the sole opponent they’ve come from behind against).

I remember when writing my preview of Gamba’s home tie with Marinos in round 22 last season that I unearthed a large split in the Kanagawa side’s results versus bottom-half sides compared with those against top-half opposition. Clearly in 2020 their hectic schedule, as a result of ACL participation, hindered them badly, and this year they have improved markedly against what I’ll call lower-half top 10 teams (if that makes sense), but they still continue to struggle in the really big games, see losses against Kawasaki (a), Nagoya (a) and Kashima (h and a). Last week’s defeat at Cerezo bucked that trend, and was in fact more in-keeping with fierce rivals Frontale who have only lost to mid-table outfits with little to play for (Oita and Sapporo in 2020, Fukuoka in 2021) during their Covid-era rampage. Marinos may also reflect negatively on the fact that while smashing teams like Yokohama FC and Vegalta Sendai 5-0 at home might look great, it’s not half as impressive when you fail to pick up all 3 points in the reverse fixture. I could also point out that they drew 1-1 at home with Shonan, but then again I might stand accused of nit picking for the sake of it, as it should be noted that runaway leaders Kawasaki drew at home with Vegalta and away to Bellmare. So, perhaps it’s just Frontale’s relentless consistency and ability to grind out results when not playing well that has seen them achieve the results they have over the past few campaigns and as such denied a Marinos side that would surely have been good enough to win many other editions of J1.





Head to Head


The match between these two at Panasonic Stadium in early August didn’t pass without incident. Gamba put on one of their best attacking displays of the season despite it being their 7th league outing in the space of 20 days while their visitors were fresh from the Olympic break. The Nerazzurri dominated the stats, but were stunned by a fine shot from outside the area by Élber just past the half hour, and then Marcos Junior’s strike early in the second half. Their Brazilian team-mate, Thiago Martins, could count himself fortunate to remain on the field after giving away a spot kick whilst on a yellow card. Leandro Pereira dusted himself off after his compatriot’s trip and coolly converted from the spot before Patric’s shot was tipped onto the post by Yohei Takaoka’s outstretched leg. Kota Mizanuma restored the two goal advantage on 74 minutes meaning Patric’s additional time header from Usami’s cross was merely a consolation.

Then defending champions Marinos hosted Gamba in the opening weekend of J1 2020 which in fact turned out to be the only round of fixtures that year played out under ‘normal’ pre-Covid conditions. The Nerazzurri took full advantage of a sloppy opening 45 minutes from Ange Postecoglou’s men, racing into a two goal lead thanks to a goal and an assist apiece from Shu Kurata and Shinya Yajima, Marcos Junior pulled one back for Marinos deep into the second period, but it wasn’t enough and they kicked off the defence of their title with a home loss. Gamba dominated the match at Panasonic Stadium in October, but found themselves behind following an unfortunate Kim Young-gwon own goal. Takashi Usami converted a perhaps ‘soft’ penalty that he himself had won in first half stoppage time to restore parity, but there were to be no further goals and the Nerazzurri saw their six match winning run come to an end.

I had a spell living in Machida, Tokyo during 2016-2017 and found myself just six train stops away from Nissan Stadium. As a result, I was able to take in the 2-2 league draw in 2016 where Yosuke Ideguchi really announced himself as a player of enormous potential as well as the 1-1 League Cup Semi-Final draw (Gamba advanced on away goals) and the 2-1 Emperor’s Cup quarter-final loss in which Jun Amano settled the tie with a wonderful strike in injury time. 2017 saw Gamba run out 1-0 winners in J1 with Ritsu Doan finishing a flowing move involving Hiroki Fujiharu, Ademilson and the much-maligned Shun Nagasawa (who threw in a cheeky back heel assist for good measure). I’m thoroughly looking forward to heading back to my second favourite Japanese football stadium (after Panasta of course) and hoping to see another cracking game of football.



Gamba Osaka


Just a reminder that I joined Ben and Sam on the J-Talk Podcast (episode 390) last week and some of what I say below will cover similar ground to the discussion I had with them. Takashi Kiyama was brought into assist Masanobu Matsunami shortly before the 5-1 home shellacking from Sapporo and in the two week break that followed it seems like he’s put his stamp on the team somewhat, especially when it comes to defensive organisation and transitioning from defence to attack. Kiyama appears to be taking training and a friend of a friend reported that it was he who was giving the players instructions from the touchline in the game with Tosu. The slight momentum built up in the away draw with Urawa and home victory over Sagan was tempered a touch by the Emperor’s Cup loss to Reds in midweek, but it’ll still be interesting to see if Kiyama has any tricks up his sleeve to match the tactical masterclass Tsuneyasu Miyamoto put on to outfox his counterpart Ange Postecoglou in Gamba’s 2-1 triumph at the Nissan Stadium last February.

It was reported in the Nikkan Sports newspaper on 24 October that Gamba are closing in on a deal for current Oita kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka, although Hiroshi Jofuku’s removal at Hiroshima this midweek may have muddied the waters slightly. Katanosaka, of course, remains a hugely popular figure in Suita having been Kenta Hasegawa’s number two during the trophy laden 2014 and 2015 seasons. He’s been in charge at Oita since 2016 taking them from J3 to J1 and achieving mid-table top-flight finishes in both 2019 and 2020. A known advocate of the 3-4-2-1 system, it’d be interesting to see how his game-plan would work out with greater resources at Gamba, and if we play the ‘which former players would he bring along with him game’…may I suggest Yoshinori Suzuki and Noriaki Fujimoto (on loan from Kobe) at Shimizu?

Finally, a load of gossip that should probably be taken with a pinch of salt. As of yet unsubstantiated rumours claim that due to the long-term effects of an absence of big crowds at the Panasonic Stadium coupled with no ACL football next year, Gamba will be looking to slash ¥500 million off their playing staff budget for 2022 (for reference, Leandro Pereira and Kim Young-gwon leaving would account for roughly half that figure). Soccer Digest Magazine published an article on 28 October suggesting potential destinations for several soon to be out-of-contract J1 stars and that produced a slew of transfer rumours. Yosuke Ideguchi to Iwata or Kyoto? Masaaki Higashiguchi to Kobe with Kosei Tani returning from his loan spell at Shonan? Tani staying at Shonan? Tani joining Júbilo if Shonan go down? Masato Nakayama joining Gamba from Mito? It’s been a wild few days on Twitter that’s for sure and I’m highly dubious if any of these deals will end up coming to fruition, but I thought a bit of tabloid tittle-tattle might bring a bit of light relief to my regular more serious style.

Team News

Centre-back is the main area of concern at the moment with Kim Young-gwon being stretchered off against Tosu following a series of leg knocks, however, as per DAZN reporter Mariko Takeshima’s photos and comments on Twitter, both Genta Miura and Gen Shoji joined training on Saturday (30 October) and could be back in the frame for selection. Leandro Pereira and Yuji Ono, are nearing the end of their rehabilitation periods and it’s possible we could see either of them take a spot on the bench here. Shinya Yajima and Dai Tsukamoto have dropped out of the matchday squad in recent weeks, I believe Yajima has been missing from training, presumably injured, but I haven’t heard anything about Tsukamoto. Elsewhere, Yuya Fukuda was absent for the Emperor’s Cup loss against Urawa, but this may have been precautionary due to his chronic ankle problem, midfield schemer Yuki Yamamoto didn’t feature either and I’m not sure why, though he trained with the team as normal on Saturday. Reserve goalkeeper Jun Ichimori (hamstring) is out for the year and his replacement Kei Ishikawa has seen his spot on the pine taken by on-loan Ehime stopper Taichi Kato, it’s unclear whether Ishikawa has a knock of some sort or this has been done with a view to next season.

Additional Note 1 November: Kim Young-gwon was left out of the South Korea squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers which would indicate he will play no part in this match.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Yokohama F. Marinos

Kevin Muscat’s first game in charge of Marinos actually came in the 3-2 win at Panasonic Stadium back on 6 August and he initially enjoyed something of a honeymoon period, keeping the good times of the Ange Postecoglou era rolling with 5 wins and a draw from his opening 6 fixtures. Since then, however, standards have slipped a little and they’ve put up a 3-1-3 record over their most recent set of matches. Performances in the narrow round 32 win at home to Sapporo and then last week’s loss at mid-table Cerezo have turned the heat up on Muscat somewhat, not least due to some questionable selections and a very noticeable deviation from the Postecoglou battle plan. Sam Robson did a tremendous job of analysing their recent malaise on the J-Talk Pod last week, and going by the feedback I read, it’s Marinos fan approved, so please give it a listen if you haven’t already.

It will be very interesting to observe the comings and goings at the Nissan Stadium this off-season. Barring something dramatic, even by J.League standards, happening between now and the end of the year, Marinos will finish a distant, but highly creditable 2nd in the standings (only their 3rd top 3 finish since 2004) and they may have a fight on their hands to keep hold of some of their better players. Tokyo 2020 Olympian and current J1 top scorer Daizen Maeda’s flight to Europe appears booked with Celtic the most likely suitors and it probably wouldn’t surprise regular watchers of Japanese football to see Thiago Martins and Marcos Junior also head for the bright lights of Europe in the near future (also, if Muscat has no use for Élber, one of the best signings this season in my book, then I’d love to have him at Gamba). Regarding potential recruits, the extent of the City Football Group’s role in Marinos’ affairs has always been slightly ambiguous, but it appears from the outside that Postecoglou and his staff were able to make full use of access to their Brazilian scouting network to bring in smash-hit after smash-hit from the land of the Samba. Domestically, things have been far more Jekyll and Hyde with a Kenyu Sugimoto and Keiya Sento for every Daizen Maeda and Shinnosuke Hatanaka and plenty of Tomoki Iwatas and Kota Watanabes in between. However, they do possess one of the better youth academies in the country and defender Yusuke Nishida and midfielder Riku Yamane will be promoted from that program next season while former youth team graduates Kota Yamada and Kaina Yoshio may return from productive loan spells at Yamagata and Machida respectively.

Team News

Good news first for Marinos fans and that’s the return from suspension of Brazilian playmaker Marcos Junior who will surely walk straight back into the starting lineup. In the bad news column, classy centre-back Shinnosuke Hatanaka is out for the year after undergoing hamstring surgery. Elsewhere, former club captain Jun Amano missed the Cerezo defeat and utility player Takuya Wada has been absent for the past 2 games, in both cases it’s unclear whether this has been down to injury or non-selection.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

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Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka 25 August 2021 Match Preview

Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 26
NHK Spring Mitsuzawa Football Stadium
Wednesday 25 August 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


Gamba make the two hour journey east along the Tokaido Shinkansen to face J1’s bottom side Yokohama FC this Wednesday in a match that arguably has more significance for the home side, given their predicament at the foot of the table. However, Nerazzurri kantoku Masanobu Matsunami, fresh from being confirmed as boss for the rest of the season, must still have some of the fan criticism following Saturday’s stalemate at home to FC Tokyo ringing in his ears, and he will be determined for his charges to return to winning ways here.

The Ao to Kuro’s first draw in ten league outings and fifth 0-0 of the year was a fairly drab affair, save for spurts of end-to end action at the beginning and conclusion of the second half. The late arrival of Hiroto Yamami brought some much needed impetus to Gamba’s attacking play and fellow substitute Tiago Alves blew two decent chances to earn the three points. The Nerazzurri could, and should, have been made to pay by FC Tokyo replacement Kyosuke Tagawa, but he couldn’t hit the target after being presented with a golden opportunity to make himself a hero in the final minute of regular time. A contest that looked like it would end scoreless from very early on, was indeed destined to finish that way. The point didn’t do either side much good in the grand scheme of things, but shouldn’t be considered a disaster either.

Yokohama FC were also in Osaka on Saturday night, but they saw their four-game mini-revival grind to a shuddering halt against a fired-up Cerezo side who bagged their first win in twelve league outings. Despite former Gamba favourite Kazuma Watanabe firing the visitors into an early lead, YFC’s advantage was quickly extinguished as they were undone by two Tiago headers from corners within the space of four first half minutes. A flowing team move in the second half was finished off by the always impressive Tatsuhiro Sakamoto to leave no way back for the men from Kanagawa.

The Fulie come into this clash 8 points from safety with just 13 matches to save themselves from the drop. Not only are they owners of the worst overall record in J1, they are also the division’s weakest home outfit. Gamba, by contrast, perform like a top 6 side on their travels, and will be confident of grabbing the three points at Mitsuzawa Stadium. Yokohama FC have reached the do-or-die stage of their campaign, can they summon a massive performance and prove that their 2-0 win over Nagoya was more than just a mirage, or will Gamba dig deep and grind out another ugly road win?

Tale of the Tape

Yokohama FC have earned two-thirds of their points this season on home turf, while visitors Gamba seemingly prefer an away day having picked up 60% of their yearly total on the road. A lot has rightly been made of YFC’s leaky defence, which gives up a frightening 2.16 goals per game, and has conceded five times in a single match on three occasions already in 2021, granted these were all away from the Mitsuzawa (Sapporo, Marinos and Kobe). Things did look to be picking up with a run of three consecutive clean sheets, two of them coming immediately after the arrivals of, German ‘keeper Svend Brodersen and Brazilian centre-back Gabriel, but that optimism was largely swept away by Cerezo at the weekend. Gamba’s prefectural rivals appear to be in possession of the manuscript for how to defeat Yokohama FC, and do it convincingly, having routed them 7-2 on aggregate this season. The Cherry Blossoms delivered YFC’s heaviest home defeat to date with a 4-1 counter attacking masterclass back in March, how Gamba would love Wednesday’s encounter to follow a similar pattern.

Yokohama FC have kept just four clean sheets all year, but took ten points from those games, so it is clear that their backline simply must be tightened or they are going to be relegated well before the season draws to a close. The Fulie have given up under 1 xG Against on only two occasions so far in 2021, and at the other end of the field their best xG For performance came in the away game at Panasonic Stadium, though the figure presented below certainly runs slightly contrary to my memory of that contest.

Finally, let’s take a brief look at Gamba and begin by once again comparing their attacking form before and after the ACL excursion to Uzbekistan. In fifteen pre-ACL outings, their offence produced a meagre 5 xG For totals of over 1, they have since equalled that number from just ten post-ACL games. Additionally, prior to their overseas trip, the Nerazzurri’s best xG For performance was 1.6 in the Osaka Derby at Cerezo, this of course includes Patric’s penalty. Following their return to Japan, that figure has been bettered four times. So, although many supporters expressed frustration over Gamba’s inability to unlock, or really look like unlocking, the FC Tokyo defence, statistically speaking things are trending in the right direction up front for the Nerazzurri and fans should be able to look forward to more goals in upcoming matches, hopefully starting here.





Head-to-Head

Gamba faced Yokohama FC at Panasonic Stadium back in May knowing that a win, and only a win, would suffice. They got what they were looking for, a 2-0 triumph courtesy of a Leandro Pereira double, his first two J1 goals for the club, but little more. It was a satisfactory outcome for the men from Suita, but boy was it not pretty.

Twelve months earlier it was a similar story with Gamba running out victors and Yokohama FC missing their cue at vital moments. Kosuke Onose’s drive from the edge of the box deflected off Ademilson and wrong footed Fulie stopper Yuta Minami for the game’s opening goal. The Brazilian was rather fortunately given the credit, Onose wasn’t awarded with an assist and Gamba headed into the sheds one up. The Nerazzurri dominated the first half, but after the interval it was a different affair, YFC youngster Koki Saito (now at Lommel in Belgium) fired in a deserved equaliser before Yusuke Minagawa wasted a couple of great chances to turn the tie on it’s head. The side from Kanagawa were made to rue those misses as Patric flicked home Yosuke Ideguchi’s corner with almost the last touch of the game to earn a fortunate three points.

In the reverse fixture, the Nerazzurri wrapped up second spot in the standings with an ultimately comfortable 2-0 victory at a freezing Mitsuzawa Stadium in the season’s penultimate round. Shu Kurata got the ball rolling in the first minute and there were a few slightly nervy moments before Patric, once again, got the decisive goal. Later on, Christmas came early for Genta Miura and Gen Shoji, who liked like a couple of over-excited schoolboys, when they were able to fulfill a lifetime’s ambition by sharing the same field as Japanese footballing legend ‘King Kazu’ as he made a late cameo in his team’s final home outing of the year.



Gamba Osaka


I may have got all 11 starters right in my previous blog post, but that was largely thanks to Matsunami showing his hand with his ‘B’ team selection against Matsumoto. This match represents Gamba’s last midweek league outing until Culture Day on November 3 and I’m unsure how much rotation will take place ahead of the Osaka Derby on Saturday. As such, in a blog first, I’ve presented two alternatives below. It’s also quite/very possible that Matsunami will make far fewer changes than I’ve predicted.

Briefly (he says), there are two tactical points I want to make about the FC Tokyo game.

* The difference between Patric and Leandro Pereira’s playing styles was laid bare several times on Saturday night. It was particularly noticeable that down Gamba’s right flank, both Onose and Yajima would pick up the ball and immediately look towards the penalty spot in expectation of Patric being there. Instead, what they found was Leandro Pereira hovering on the D at the edge of the box looking for a pass in to his feet.

How do Gamba fix this quandary?

Use the lighter league schedule between now and December to operate with basically the same starting lineup in every game and hope a better understanding develops?

or

Continue to bumble through this season, take advantage of the fact Pereira is only on a one year deal (reportedly) and bring in a younger version of Patric in the off-season? Heck, maybe we could even scout potential replacements on Wednesday night?

* Gamba selected two ball playing midfielders, Shu Kurata and Yuki Yamamoto, against FC Tokyo on Saturday. I believe Matsunami’s thinking was that as the Gasmen prefer counter attacking football, the Nerazzurri were likely to dominate possession and would require the nous and guile of those two to unpick the well-set defence in front of them. That proved to be correct, however, at the other end Leandro floated menacingly between the defensive and midfield lines, as he did twelve months ago. Despite flashes from him, and Brazilian compatriot Adailton giving Kosuke Onose a torrid time at points, Gamba lived to tell the tale. I still think the ideal combination would see one playmaker (Kurata / Yamamoto / Yajima) paired with one ball-winner / holding midfielder (Ideguchi / Okuno / Ju Se-jong). There are so many options there and not too many more games to go, how will Matsunami shuffle his pack to try and keep everyone happy?

Team News
Patric
was the headline absentee on Saturday and Matsunami made a rather vague statement about his condition not being quite right. I’ve optimistically put him in the starting lineup for Wednesday and he does enjoy a goal against Yokohama FC, so here’s hoping. Gamba fans will be praying Hiroki Fujiharu being substituted against FC Tokyo after going down clutching his left calf was nothing more than cramp, though personally I have my doubts. Ryu Takao was pictured in the stands on Saturday with strapping round his right-ankle, suggesting he won’t be back anytime soon, while Wellington Silva is still out with a groin muscle problem. Elsewhere, there’s no time-frame available for Yuya Fukuda or Dai Tsukamoto’s returns and Jun Ichimori plus Haruto Shirai are both long-term casualties. Summer vacation is winding down here in Japan and I’m unsure where that leaves designated special player Hiroto Yamami, especially with regards to away fixtures. There are now so many players to choose from that I left him out of my lineup, but, if available, expect to see him play some part.

Predicted Lineups and Stats


or




Yokohama FC

After a promising 2020, which culminated in a fifteenth place finish, Yokohama FC have crashed down to earth with a thud this season. Winter losses including, wonderkid Koki Saito, loanees Kazunari Ichimi (Gamba) and Yuki Kobayashi (Kobe), plus solid starters Katsuhiro Nakayama (Shimizu) and Takaaki Shichi (Fukuoka) were not adequately replaced, and a rather scattergun approach to recruitment unsurprisingly didn’t bear much fruit. Things started poorly as they were routed 5-1 at Sapporo on the opening day with three of last season’s star turns, central midfielders Tatsuki Seko and Kohei Tezuka, plus winger Yusuke Matsuo left on the bench. Kantoku Takahiro Shimotaira was the fall guy, getting the axe after the 3-0 home loss to Hiroshima on April 7, though quite how much of the mess the club currently finds itself in can be laid at his door is very much up for debate. YFC promoted internally and former player Tomonobu Hayakawa was handed the reigns, however, little progress has be made since his appointment. A summer recruitment campaign saw Brazilians, Gabriel (Atlético Mineiro) and Saulo Mineiro (Ceará SC) join on full deals while compatriots, Felipe Vizeu (Udinese via Ceará SC) and Arthur Silva (FC Tokyo) came in on loan. Germany Olympic squad member Svend Brodersen brought those in the arrivals lounge up to five, and this was balanced out by, Masakazu Tashiro, Sho Ito, Yuta Minami and Riku Furuyado heading out on loan deals and Calvin Jong-a-pin and Ryuji Sugimoto leaving permanently. There has been a recent improvement in on-field results, but I’m sceptical if it’ll prove to be enough to keep them away from the relegation trapdoor.

Team News
Central midfielder Hideto Takahashi is suspended following his straight red against Cerezo, while promising wing-back Yota Maejima’s thigh muscle problem is expected to keep him out until next month. Kosuke Saito (shoulder) is the only other confirmed absentee I have, though fellow volante Kohei Tezuka has missed the last eight games and it’s suspected this is Covid-related. Other than that, Keijiro Ogawa, Ryo Germain, Katsuya Iwatake and Kléber haven’t been spotted for the past three league matches, I can only guess that they are currently being kept out by the new summer arrivals named above. Brazilian wing-back Maguinho, on loan from Kawasaki, is walking a suspension tightrope and a yellow card in this game would mean he misses the weekend trip to Kashiwa.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Thanks again for reading and enjoy the game whoever you support.

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Gamba Osaka vs Yokohama F. Marinos 6 August 2021 Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Yokohama F. Marinos
2021 J1 Season Round 6
Friday 6 August 2021
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


There’s more Friday night J1 action this week as upwardly mobile Gamba Osaka face one of their biggest tests of the season, a visit from Kanagawa giants Yokohama F. Marinos. The Nerazzurri come into this encounter on the back of a 3 game winning streak, their best run of the year by far. The third victory in that trio came courtesy of a scrappy win away to Sendai on Wednesday. Patric headed his 5th goal of the league campaign from a Yuki Yamamoto corner in the first half and as happened so often in 2020, they put up the shutters and won ugly. The 3 points gained in Miyagi crucially moved Gamba 6 clear of the drop zone with Friday’s fixture still in hand. Incredibly, a win over Marinos would put the men in blue and black within 6 points of the scrap for 6th between, Kashima (6th), Urawa (7th) and FC Tokyo (8th), with all those sides having 35 points from 22 games (this in turn would probably end any hopes supporters like me had of signing Antlers or Grampus full-backs on loan.)

Let’s not forget that this is a vital game for Marinos too. The Tricolor take to the field for the first time in 27 days needing 3 points to close the gap on fierce rivals Kawasaki at the top of the division. There have been a number of personnel changes, which I’ll outline below in the team news section, that could hinder Marinos or alternatively push them onto greater heights. But, one thing stands true, they are 12 points off the J1 summit with 2 games in hand, so earning the 3 points here is non-negotiable for new boss Kevin Muscat and his troops.

Fans of Akira Nishino-era Gamba and followers of Ange Postecoglou sides may be surprised to know that these are actually 2 of the strongest defensive outfits in the league, conceding a mere 34 times in 41 combined games, though as we know the Marinos attack has generally been on a different level to Gamba’s in the first half of 2021. You could make an argument that on this season’s form, YFM are a cut above their Friday hosts, and you’d probably be right. However, when making a prediction for this clash, one should also take into account the time it takes Postecoglou sides (I know he’s not there any more, but at the moment it’s still his team in all but name) a while to get properly calibrated, see relatively poor starts to the year in each of his 4 seasons in charge for evidence. As such with Gamba in the full swing of their summer ‘chaos energy JLeague’ schedule and their visitors coming off a lengthy break, if the Nerazzurri are to upset their much vaunted opponents then Friday 6 August is likely to be that night.

Just a quick reminder that I joined Ben and Sam on the J Talk Podcast this week (Episode 388) to discuss Gamba, the Olympics and the second half of the J1 season, please check it out, it’s available on all the major podcast applications. Thanks.

Tale of the Tape

As seen below, Marinos are a side who create and take many chances, but will also present opponents with the opportunity to strike back. This ties in with my point about calibrating their team quickly, as at times this season their high press has been breathtaking and has simply overwhelmed their foes, but if they get things slightly wrong then Gamba need to be ready and willing to pounce on the counter attack. The Nerazzurri also have to be prepared to match the high work-rate and intensity on show from their Kanagawa visitors, even if the temperature will be around the 30 degree mark at kick off. There will be long spells of Marinos possession and pressure for sure, and during those periods Gamba must do their best to conserve energy when they can, coiling themselves, ready to strike when YFM try an overambitious pass or commit too many players to an attack, admittedly this is much easier said (or typed) than done.





Head to Head

Gamba stunned, then reigning champions, Marinos at Nissan Stadium on the opening day of the 2020 season, winning 2-1 in the only league match played under ‘normal’ pre-Covid conditions last year. YFM put in an extremely poor first half display while Nerazzurri kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto got his tactics spot on. South Korean duo Kim Young-gwon and Oh Jae-suk had colossal games at the back while the team’s high press forced multiple errors from Marinos defenders which had Ange Postecoglou nearly tearing his hair out. Shu Kurata opened the scoring, before VAR got an early outing, allowing Shinya Yajima’s strike from Kurata’s cut-back to send Gamba into the sheds with a 2-goal cushion. Inevitably they didn’t have things all their own way and a strong Marinos fightback in the second stanza was rewarded with Marcos Junior’s fine turn and shot in off the underside of the bar from the edge of the box, but that was their lot and Gamba held on for the 3 points.

Later in the year, drained by their exhausting pre-ACL schedule, Marinos limped into Suita and were lucky to leave with a 1-1 draw. Despite taking the lead through an unfortunate Kim Young-gwon own goal, YFM found themselves on the back foot for long periods, but Gamba were unable to add to Takashi Usami’s penalty in first-half stoppage time and had to settle for a share of the spoils in a match which ended their run of 6 consecutive league victories.



Gamba Osaka

Just when I think I’ve got a hang on Matsunami’s rotation system, he goes and mixes things up again, so take the rather attacking lineup below with a slight pinch of salt. Personally, I’m really looking forward to the fixture list settling down later in the season so we can see the front 3 of Usami, Wellington Silva and Leandro Pereira, backed by Patric from the bench, really start to click, hopefully Friday will be a glimpse of what’s to come. At the back, it seems like each centre-back essentially plays 3 times and then sits 1 match out, which by my reckoning means Kim Young-gwon is due a spot on the pine here. I wonder if handing Yanagisawa a first J1 start against Marinos is akin to throwing him to the wolves, but the alternatives are, an exhausted Onose, who we really can’t afford to lose to injury and Okuno, who has looked a bit like a fish out of water at times when played there.

Team News
Leandro Pereira wasn’t in the matchday squad for the trip to Sendai, but I haven’t heard of any injury issues, so it’s possible he was just given a night off to allow compatriot Tiago Alves an opportunity to put himself in the shop window. Ryu Takao has undergone a scan on his injured ankle and the results are not yet known, however, the club are confident he won’t require surgery. Midfield maestro Yosuke Ideguchi and young defender Yota Sato haven’t been seen on the field or the bench since Gamba returned from the ACL group stage in Uzbekistan, the reasons for their absence are still unclear. Elsewhere, we’re no closer to knowing when Hiroki Fujiharu, Yuya Fukuda, Yuji Ono and Dai Tsukamoto will return from their leg muscle injuries. As mentioned previously, reserve goalie Jun Ichimori and young wing-backs Haruto Shirai and Shin Won-ho are long term casualties.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Yokohama F. Marinos

As alluded to above, there have been a series of personnel changes for Marinos during the summer break, not least of which was the announcement that Kevin Muscat would replace compatriot Ange Postecoglou in the dugout. The Australian has now completed his mandatory 14-day quarantine and will be on the bench for the first time on Friday. Ado Onaiwu (12 goals in 20 J1 appearances) has left for Toulouse in the French second tier and the club rather surprisingly decided his replacement would be former Cerezo and Kawasaki striker Kenyu Sugimoto on loan from Urawa, despite him only managing 6 league goals in 70 games for Reds across two and a half years in Saitama. Another slightly puzzling move was repatriating highly talented, but injury prone winger Ryo Miyaichi from St. Pauli in Germany, while left-back Ryotaro Tsunoda’s transfer from the University of Tsukuba was brought forward by half a season. Headed for the exit door are, full-back Ryo Takano, someone I thought Gamba should have taken a look at, he has joined promotion chasing Iwata in J2 instead, backup centre-half Makito Ito who, like Takano, will make Júbilo his home for the rest of 2021 and up-and-comer Ryonosuke Kabayama, a player that arrived at Marinos from Kokoku High School in Osaka this year, and has moved to Peter Cklamovski’s Montedio Yamagata on a developmental loan deal.

Team News
Gamba will no doubt be relieved that pacy forward Daizen Maeda will be absent on Friday thanks to his involvement in his country’s Bronze Medal match against Mexico in the Tokyo Olympics. Marcos Junior will return from suspension while Shinnosuke Hatanaka, Léo Ceará and Ken Matsubara have missed the previous 1, 2 and 4 games respectively, but I don’t have anything concrete on the reasons behind their absences.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Thanks again for reading and I hope you enjoy the game whoever you are supporting!