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.


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?


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
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


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.


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!


Shonan Bellmare vs Gamba Osaka 6 December 2020 Match Preview

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

Last Time Out

Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu

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

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

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

A glimpse into 2021

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

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

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

Shonan Bellare vs Gamba Osaka Match Lowdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Head to Head

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

Team News

Gamba Osaka

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

Shonan Bellmare

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

Predicted Line Ups

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

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

Match Prediction

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