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Vissel Kobe vs Gamba Osaka 18 September 2022 Match Preview

Vissel Kobe vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 30
Sunday 18 September 2022
Noevir Stadium
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

The stakes couldn’t be any higher for Gamba Osaka or Vissel Kobe ahead of this Sunday night’s Hanshin Derby. Hosts Vissel currently occupy the promotion / relegation spot, but they are just a solitary point behind their visitors from nearby Osaka, with a game in hand, following a crucial 2-1 victory over FC Tokyo in midweek. Kobe are only ahead of 17th placed Fukuoka on goal difference, while both Kyoto and Shonan sit a mere point above the Nerazzurri and 2 ahead of Vissel meaning that the result of this fixture could have serious implications across the country. Gamba come into this tie on the back of an 8 day break since their disappointing 0-0 draw with FC Tokyo at Panasonic Stadium, an outcome that looked like a distinct possibility pre-match and not a whole lot happened during the 90 minutes to suggest that it was going to end any other way. Having failed to score in their last 3 home outings, caretaker boss Hiroshi Matsuda may relish the chance to take his charges on the road again as they search for a third win on the spin outside of Suita. The Ao to Kuro have teased a potential return for Takashi ‘The Kobe Killer’ Usami, while there have been murmurings from the Kobe camp that seasoned international Yuya Osako could launch his latest comeback from injury here too. However, with or without that star duo we’re likely in for tension, drama and potentially a good deal of fireworks in one of Japan’s most picturesque cities, what more could you want from your Sunday evening?

Tale of the Tape



Five matches into Hiroshi Matsuda’s reign as Gamba kantoku and the Nerazzurri have won twice, drawn once and lost twice, accumulating 7 points in the process, if they can repeat that over their remaining 5 fixtures then they should just about be able to avoid the bottom three. Of course there have been ups and downs, defensively 3 clean sheets have been kept in 5 games (compared with 5 in the previous 24), while 8 goals have been given up in the other 2 outings against Hiroshima and Tosu. However, if it’s just the odd game when every shot from the opposition ends up in the back of the net versus stability in the next few, that’s probably an acceptable bargain given the current situation. Speaking of shots against, since the horror show at the Edion Stadium when 5 goals were ceded from 27 attempts, Matsuda’s Gamba have averaged only 12.3 (6 on target) shots against per 90 minutes compared with 15.9 (9.1) overall. The DAZN commentators on Saturday seemed to be on commission for using the phrase ‘442 zone defence’ when describing Matsuda’s set-up (‘innerlap’ appeared to be their buzzword when discussing FC Tokyo) and the signs do seem to be pointing towards greater defensively stability at Panasonic Stadium, though how much this is thrown off by Genta Miura’s concussion and the potential upcoming suspension headache (Kurokawa and Saito) remains to be seen. Further forward, Gamba applied more of a high-press against FC Tokyo than had been seen under Matsuda previously, with the Brazilian duo of Patric and a seemingly rejuvenated Leandro Pereira leading the charge. The Nerazzurri harassed and harried their opponents in their own half throughout the 90 minutes, though the strategy proved to be most effective during the opening half hour. FC Tokyo did seem to be made-to-order opponents for the Nerazzurri as, unlike Tosu the previous week, who came to Suita chastened by a 4-0 hammering at Kawasaki, the Gasmen were fresh off the back of a couple of more-than-decent results and had a slight air of ‘we only have to turn up here to win’ about them, which I’m sure irritated kantoku Albert Puig and their supporters no end. Gamba won 20 of 25 tackles attempted on Saturday night, I don’t quite have the stats to back this up, but anecdotally I’m pretty sure that’s by far the best performance in that metric all season. While it’s fair to say based on league position that FC Tokyo are much stronger than Gamba in 2022 and equally the Nerazzurri’s need to win was far higher than their opponents on Saturday, the sad truth is that the home side were unable to translate that greater desire and fighting spirit into something more tangible, like a much needed home 3 pointer. The lack of a finishing touch again came back to haunt them and it’s worth re-stating that the Nerazzurri’s top scorers are still Dawhan, Onose, Patric and Pereira, who are all tied on just 3 goals apiece. Furthermore, it should also be noted that this was the 3rd home game in-a-row where Gamba have failed to score, so there’s still plenty of work for Matsuda and his coaching staff to do on the training ground. While that might all be a touch negative, one bright spark for those of a blue and black persuasion was the return to the starting eleven of Yuki Yamamoto for the first time since round 9. The schemer helped take some of the creative burden off Juan Alano’s shoulders and put in an impressive display on attack and defence, completing 46 of 53 passes and supplying 1 last pass as well as winning 3 of 4 tackles (usually his weak point), making 3 blocks and recovering possession twice. The Ao to Kuro faithful will be hoping his partnership with Mitsuki Saito can continue to bear fruit over the remaining 5 games of the 2022 campaign.



Frankly speaking, Vissel have followed up a historic high 3rd place league finish in 2021 with an absolute abomination of a season to date this year. They kicked off their campaign with a run of just 1 win and 8 points from their opening 15 league fixtures and though things have picked up since then with 6 wins and 20 points being accrued from the next 13 games, they still find themselves mired in the bottom 3. During their Annus mirabilis last term they outperformed their opposition in terms of xG by 0.13 per game, however, this time round it’s been much more even, 1.22xG for per 90 minutes versus 1.21xG against, a razor thin margin which has left them susceptible to the vagaries of luck. Coaching and formation changes as well as injuries to key attackers Osako and Muto haven’t helped, but over the course of their 28 J1 games to date they’ve scored 9.35 times less than they should have based on their accumulated xG for figure of 34.16. Defensively things match up pretty evenly, 35 actual goals conceded compared with 33.88xG against. Vissel started the year in a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond under Atsuhiro Miura and that has since morphed into a 4-2-3-1 / 4-4-2 and latterly a 4-3-3 / 4-1-2-3 for the home bout with FC Tokyo. I may have wrote kantoku Takayuki Yoshida off as another shining example of tall, handsome men being more likely to earn promotions than anyone else in society and just another Mikitani yes-man, but in fairness to the former Nagasaki boss, he’s managed to grind out results with 5 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats the league record so far during his tenure. Kobe are going at a clip of 2.13 points per game under Yoshida as opposed to 1.00 across the campaign as a whole, granted he did win his first 3 games in charge, before the ride became a bit more bumpy. The current set-up that Yoshida has implemented does seem to get the best out of Koya Yuruki and he’s really stepped up to the plate while his more experienced attacking colleagues have been on the treatment table, a double in the away win at Sapporo in addition to two assists versus FC Tokyo on Wednesday night are testament to that. However, Vissel just like their near neighbours Gamba have struggled to hit the back of the net with any kind of regularity, Yoshinori Muto is their top scorer with 5 strikes, closely followed by Osako and Yuruki on 4. Indeed, ex-Yamagata and Urawa winger Yuruki’s 7 direct goal involvements is the leading total at the club and it means he’s had a hand in nearly 30% of Kobe’s goals this year. Gamba have been well warned about where the danger is coming from in this Vissel side, will they be able to maintain their recent defensive stability, or will Yuruki, Muto and co. be able to expose some old familiar frailties?

First Match Recap

Gamba’s 2-0 stroll in the sunshine against Kobe at the end of Golden Week has, on reflection, probably been their season’s highlight to date. Granted, the early dismissal of Vissel centre-back Ryuho Kikuchi for a DOGSO offence certainly played it’s part, but there were plenty of signs prior to that which indicated the Nerazzurri were the more focused and driven side on the occasion and thus the likelier to come out on top regardless of how many players Kobe kept on the field. Jiro Nakamura smacked the crossbar, Ko Yanagisawa the left post and Kwon Kyung-won the right in a raucous first-half during which the aforementioned Kikuchi saw red for tripping Patric with the big Brazilian bearing down on goal. In fairness to Vissel they put their bodies on the line to prevent Gamba taking the lead in the second period and could even have gone ahead themselves when substitute Iniesta shimmied and jinked and played in Yoshinori Muto whose shot was well smothered by Jun Ichimori. However, the visitors were undone twice in the final ten minutes, Kwon Kyung-won headed home the opener after a corner was only partially cleared before Wellington Silva wrapped up the scoring with his first Gamba goal courtesy of a pretty large deflection. In the aftermath there were suggestions that the Ao to Kuro should have considered themselves fortunate to come out on top, but such diatribes failed to take into account the fact that Kikuchi was rightly ordered off, the Nerazzurri outshot their opponents 33-5, struck the woodwork three times and had shots blocked, deflected away, and saved on numerous occasions. The Kobe dam simply had to burst and fans like myself left Panasonic Stadium in buoyant mood with Gamba avoiding home defeat to Vissel for only the second time since the club moved to their new digs back in 2016.



Gamba Osaka

The run in – After this Sunday’s Hanshin Derby, there’s an international break which means Gamba aren’t back in action until their home bout with out-of-form Kashiwa Reysol on 1 October. The following week there’s a trip to Nissan Stadium to square off against title-chasing Yokohama F. Marinos, a side they’ve only lost away to once in their last 7 visits. Next, there’s a 3 week gap before the visit of Yasuhito Endo and Júbilo Iwata who could already be down by that point and then the league season finishes just as it began with a game against Kashima. Hopefully the round 34 tie in Ibaraki doesn’t feature any shenanigans from you-know-who in the Stags #40 jersey. A tough, but not insurmountable set of fixtures await, Gamba’s fate lies in their own hands, will they be good enough to haul themselves to safety or will they be sucked down to the depths of J2?

Keisuke Kurokawa – I’m a little late with this nugget of information due to my illness, but I thought it was worth sharing nonetheless. When questioned about Keisuke Kurokawa, Matsuda kantoku said he initially struggled to understand what type of player Kurokawa was and what his strengths and weaknesses were. This is likely the reason that he was absent for the 5-2 loss at Hiroshima, Matsuda’s first game in charge. However, upon further inspection on the training field, as well as perhaps observing that sadly Hiroki Fujiharu is no longer a J1 player (Gamba have 2 draws and 8 losses from the 10 J1 games Fujiharu has started this year), Matsuda realised what a quality player Kurokawa was and quickly re-called him to the starting lineup.

Rihito Yamamoto – With the on-field success of Yuki Yamamoto last weekend I thought this was a good chance to shine the spotlight on his midfield namesake, Rihito Yamamoto. With Meshino, Juan Alano and Musashi Suzuki all getting regular first-team minutes, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Gamba made a fourth summer signing in late July, that of Tokyo Verdy and Japan U-20 star Rihito Yamamoto. He actually joined with a small fracture in his foot and has been completing a rehabilitation program ever since, though with 5 matches remaining I’m somewhat doubtful that he’ll play at all this year. Through no fault of his own Yamamoto has become a pawn in Gamba’s transfer market madness. Take his position of central midfield, the Nerazzurri have basically played with two players in that role all season, yet on their books they have the 2 Yamamotos, Dawhan, Mitsuki Saito, Kohei Okuno and Shu Kurata who are all skilled in that area. What is the reason for amassing so many talented players, especially when all except Kurata are essentially only central-midfielders who can’t play effectively elsewhere? This is an issue that plagues the club in several positions around the field and in the wake of Tomohiro Katanosaka’s dismissal there was talk of bringing the front office and coaching departments closer together. In all honesty, the fact that this didn’t happen years ago is borne out in the club’s struggles in recent seasons. Those who don’t move with the times are destined to fail.

A word on referees – Last week against Tosu, referee Takafumi Mikuriya had a completely scattergun approach to what was and wasn’t a foul or booking. The somewhat infamous Yoshiro Imamura took charge of Gamba vs FC Tokyo and while he was more consistent, his strategy of don’t give anything in the first-half, but everything is a free-kick and yellow card after the break surely infuriated both sets of supporters in equal measure. There were definitely a few wild lunges going in from Gamba players as things got frantic towards the end, though once more I have to question how FC Tokyo’s Keigo Higashi managed to remain on the field for the full 90. After being rightly yellow carded for breaking up a dangerous counter attack, he then proceeded to grab the ball with his hands (a second yellow surely?) to prevent a quick re-start and then when Imamura had cleared away the scrum of players challenging for the ball, Higashi rolled over on his back and started blatantly wasting time by feigning injury (which should have been a third yellow in the space of a minute?). Anyway, I digress as it happened late on and wouldn’t really have made much difference to the final outcome. The other major incident during the match was Yasuki Kimoto’s challenge on Leandro Pereira as the striker bore down on goal in the 55th minute. At a first glance (and that’s all we got on DAZN, suspicious much?) I think it was a fair tackle by Kimoto, however, as fans we were left wondering, why no replays? Why no VAR check? They spend minute after minute analysing certain decisions in scientific detail, how could they have been so sure, so quickly that Kimoto hadn’t caught Pereira?

The battle of the Yuya’s, Fukuda vs Osako – 8 May 2020 Gamba Osaka are hosting Vissel Kobe at Panasonic Stadium, after 22 minutes Yuya Fukuda clumsily brings down Yuya Osako for a foul and receives a yellow card for his troubles. Veteran national team forward Osako is unimpressed with the challenge and seeks revenge. Four minutes later the opportunity presents itself, he trips Fukuda, but Gamba’s number 14 only stumbles so Osako properly kicks him to ensure he hits the ground. Osako levels up the yellow card count 1-1, but Fukuda falls awkwardly and dislocates his shoulder meaning he’ll miss almost 4 months of action. In the aftermath, young Jiro Nakamura gets into a scuffle with Osako and Gotoku Sakai over the forward’s refusal to check on the condition of his prone opponent, and in fairness to him he eventually did shuffle over for a token apology. Why am I going into so much detail about this? Well, it’s clear that while Osako in no way intended to injure Fukuda as badly as he did, his actions suggest he was trying to hurt a fellow professional to get even. Possibly because Fukuda is such a popular player among the Ao to Kuro faithful, I’ve heard opinions from Gamba supporters along the lines of, if Osako is in the Japan national team squad for the World Cup then I’ll only cheer for him grudgingly. So, should both Fukuda and Osako make it onto the Noevir Stadium turf on Sunday night I’m very interested to see what goes down.

Team News

The club announced one symptomatic Covid case on Tuesday 13 September, there were no close contacts within the squad. Other than that, the following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.

DF Genta Miura – Left the field with concussion against FC Tokyo last weekend following a clash of heads with Adailton. Was training separately from his team-mates as of Tuesday 13 September and must be a serious doubt for this fixture.

MF Rihito Yamamoto – Recovering from a minor fracture in his foot. He’s still just in light training, but should be good to go very soon, whether Matsuda chooses to utilise him is another issue entirely

FW Takashi Usami – The ‘Kobe Killer’ was seen in full training on Monday 12 September as he makes his way back from an achilles tendon rupture suffered in early March. He couldn’t return just in time to sink his old friends over in Hyogo again, could he?

Shu Kurata, Keisuke Kurokawa, Kosuke Onose and Mitsuki Saito are all just a single yellow card away from the one game suspension threshold of 4

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Vissel Kobe

Transfer windows are usually a busy time around the Noevir Stadium and this summer was no exception with 4 arrivals and 3 departures. Sagan Tosu wing-back Nanasei Iino, who has generally played in a more advanced role since joining, classy Brazilian centre-back Matheus Thuler (Flamengo) and Montenegrin international goal-getter Stefan Mugoša (Incheon United), all get the BlogGamba seal of approval. Replacing the departed Kento Hashimoto with Yuki Kobayashi less so, as I can’t quite get away from a comment I saw from a Gamba fan on Twitter which compared that deal with the Nerazzurri’s decision to replace Yosuke Ideguchi with Shinya Yajima in 2018, ie a bona fide international who could feature in the upcoming World Cup, leaving for Europe and his place being taken by a run-of-the-mill J1 player. Other than those moves, young Brazilian forward Lincoln has returned to his homeland, joining Cruzeiro on loan after a disappointing 18 month spell in Hyogo where he found the back of the net just once in 21 league outings. Additionally, Mitsuki Hidaka, someone who I bigged up in my preview for the match at Panasonic Stadium, has departed for lower league Spanish outfit Atlético Paso on loan, a strange switch, but I think he was desperate for a move to Europe no matter how it came about, so good luck to him. Next season, regardless of whether or not they’re in J1 or J2 I expect to see a new face in the dugout, and it certainly will make for fascinating viewing if Vissel do grace the second tier for the first time since 2013, what effect, if any, would that have on the Mikitani Rakuten project? That’s a question I can’t answer, but what I can tell you is that the Port Town Boys have already acquired 4 new faces ahead of the 2023 campaign. Defender Shogo Terasaka, midfielder Shuto Adachi and forward Niina Tominaga will all move up from the club’s impressive Under-18 side which has produced the likes of Yuki Kobayashi (defender), Daiju Sasaki and Yutaro Oda in recent years. Another former youth team product, winger Toya Izumi, rounds out the new arrivals and he will move back to Kobe once he graduates from Biwako Seikei Sport College in Shiga (alma mater of Riku and Riki Matsuda among others).

Team News

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

MF Andrés Iniesta – Has missed the last 3 league games plus the ACL loss to Jeonbuk and the Emperor’s Cup defeat at the hands of Kashima

MF Sergi Samper – Likely out for the rest of the year with a cruciate knee ligament injury. Was back in Spain receiving treatment, though he has subsequently returned to Japan to continue his rehabilitation.

FW Bojan Krkić – Has been out for 2 months with a knee injury, expected back sometime in October

FW Stefan Mugoša – Has missed the last 4 games (3 league and 1 Emperor’s Cup)

FW Yutaro Oda – Has missed the last 3 games (2 league and 1 Emperor’s Cup)

FW Yuya Osako – Went off vs Yokohama F. Marinos in the ACL and has since missed the loss to Jeonbuk plus 3 league matches and 1 Emperor’s Cup tie. According to his coach’s rather cryptic comments he could return on Sunday.


Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

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Gamba Osaka vs Kyoto Sanga 30 July 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Kyoto Sanga
2022 J1 Season Round 23
Saturday 30 July 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


This Saturday marks the first of 12 remaining ‘cup ties’ for Gamba as they bid to save themselves from an inglorious drop down to the second tier. Covid-ravaged opponents Kyoto would appear to be made-to-order for Tomohiro Katanosaka’s beleaguered troops, but as we all know too well, if it’s predictability you’re after then Japanese football probably isn’t for you. The Nerazzurri last saw league action a fortnight ago in a gut-wrenching 2-1 home loss to prefectural rivals Cerezo, a game which marked the second time this year the Cherry Blossoms have come from behind to defeat their more well-decorated northern neighbours. Kyoto, on the other hand, earned a valuable point against fellow purple kit-wearers Hiroshima. Veteran forward Genki Omae was on hand to head home after Sanfrecce ‘keeper Keisuke Osako had misjudged a rather innocuous looking cross and that strike cancelled out Tsukasa Morishima’s opener for the visitors. The Royals did ride their luck though, when the referee chose not to overturn his decision of no penalty for Takuya Ogiwara’s apparent trip on Tomoya Fujii, despite being summoned over to the VAR booth for a second look. Since the round 22 fixtures took place there has been a 2 week hiatus in league action during which time Gamba have fitted in a glamour friendly against a star-studded Paris Saint-Germain side while Sanga have been laid low with Coronavirus, 11 players and 7 staff members being affected which led to team activities being halted from July 18th-24th. A home win here could possibly see the Ao to Kuro ease out of the bottom 3 and release some of the pressure that’s steadily been building around Katanosaka following a run of 1 win in 9 J1 matches. Meanwhile for Kyoto kantoku Cho Kwi-jae, after the tumultuous couple of weeks his side have endured, any positive result will surely suffice.

Tale of the Tape



Jean Patric’s last gasp winner in the Osaka Derby really was a dagger into the hearts of the Gamba-nation and was eerily reminiscent of Takuma Nishimura’s strike to earn Sendai a 3-2 victory at Panasonic Stadium last year and to a lesser extent Shoma Doi’s run and finish for Kashima in Ibaraki 12 months ago. Critics of Tomohiro Katanosaka will say that he’s done nothing to fix the Nerazzurri’s susceptibility to counter attacks during his tenure, and they’d have a point. Late fallaways in games have also hurt the Ao to Kuro badly, particularly during their hectic summer run. They’ve taken the lead in each of their past 4 home J1 fixtures against Yokohama F. Marinos, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Urawa Reds and Cerezo, but have emerged victorious on just one occasion. Gamba got a second soon after their opener against Sanfrecce and that killed the game off, had they bagged football’s most important goal, the one that takes the score from 1-0 to 2-0, against Urawa or Cerezo then neither of those two would have come back in my opinion, though you could argue that Marinos may have been able to eke out a draw. The Nerazzurri and their supporters must be hoping the two week break in league fixtures brings with it a change of luck in the wake of Kohei Okuno’s 7th minute ordering off versus Kawasaki and Jean Patric’s 0.05xG winner for the pink half of Osaka, incidents that are very much the kind of things that happen to teams in trouble. Looking in a more positive direction for a moment, Gamba answered my criticism over poor set-plays by netting their first goal from a corner all year against Cerezo. Ryuya Nishio and whoever is responsible for setting up the Cherry Blossoms’ zonal marking system certainly won’t want to see either Kwon Kyung-won’s initial effort which deflected off the bar or his powerful header from the resulting Hideki Ishige’s corner that sent the Curva Nord faithful into raptures, but this does neatly lead on to my point about the South Korean international’s effectiveness. During the former Seongnam stopper’s 876 minutes on the field in J1 this season, Gamba have conceded just 10 times (once every 87.6 minutes), but that number shoots up to a goal every 52.6 minutes when he’s not playing. The Nerazzurri simply can’t afford to lose him to injury again if they want to maintain their status as a J1 club in 2023. Kwon put in a generally solid display in the Osaka Derby, he went off with cramp prior to Cerezo’s late winner, however, he and Genta Miura both pushed up to play offside while Keisuke Kurokawa and Shota Fukuoka stayed back allowing Hiroto Yamada to slip through for the Cherry Blossoms’ equaliser. This conceded goal was disappointing from a Gamba perspective for a number of reasons, not least of which was the fact that it was nearly a carbon copy of Yokohama F. Marinos’ winner a few weeks back with the only difference being, on that occasion Hiroki Fujiharu was the sole culprit. This situation has come about due to the constant tinkering between a back 3 and back 4, something I’ve highlighted time and again in this blog. Vissel Kobe used to irritate me by doing that sort of thing and Yuji Ono’s opener for Gamba at the Noevir Stadium in 2020 should be sought out on YouTube if you’re looking for further evidence of the perils of messing around with your defensive shape on an almost weekly basis. All 4 goalkeepers used by Gamba this season have had a tough time trying to mop up the mess left in front of them and I’ve included a table below that compares some key stats between senior custodians Masaaki Higashiguchi and Jun Ichimori, I won’t say too much about it, I’d prefer to let you draw your own conclusions. At the moment, going forward things aren’t much better from a blue and black perspective. After 22 league games, the Nerazzurri’s joint top scorers are midfielders Dawhan and Kosuke Onose with just 3 goals apiece while Hideki Ishige and Leandro Pereira are the leading assist makers with 2 (Ishige has 2 in the last 2 home games). At present Hiroto Yamami’s 2.98 shots per 90 minutes is the highest figure among everyone at the club who has played 90 minutes or more, Musashi Suzuki, on debut, managed 3 attempts against Cerezo (4 if you include his wild shank in the first half that was incorrectly ruled offside) which is definitely a positive sign. Yamami was rested for the Osaka Derby with the double arrival of Suzuki and Ryotaro Meshino allowing him to take a night off following half a year of leading the Gamba attack. His 25 last passes is the best at the club, while his 32 shots on goal ties with Kosuke Onose as the top effort from a Gamba attacker.




Kyoto kantoku Cho Kwi-jae appears to strongly consider what he expects opponents to do prior to deciding his tactics and selecting his starting eleven for each match. However, with that said, up until their last outing at home to Sanfrecce, Kyoto had always kicked off in a 4-1-2-3 system (4-3-3 if you prefer) before attempting to match their highly-talented visitors from Hiroshima by lining up in a 3-4-2-1 shape. With Gamba constantly shifting between a back 3 and back 4 (much to the chagrin of me and many others), I’d bank on Cho reverting to the system he knows best in the face of such uncertainty, with only the personnel to fit the attacking midfield and wing roles up for debate (this sentence was written prior to news of Kyoto’s Covid outbreak reaching me, but once that passes it’ll still ring true, so I’ve left it in here). In a similar vein to Cho’s previous side, Shonan, Kyoto, as one of the smaller fish in the J1 pond, must make up for the absence of premium quality in their ranks with sheer grit and determination, and to that end they are currently averaging 35.7 more sprints per game than Gamba. Right-back Kosuke Shirai (a backup for most of their 2021 promotion campaign) leads the way with 606, which is a staggering 234 more than his nearest team-mate (perhaps not surprisingly left-back Takuya Ogiwara). Sanga’s xG for stats are generally on par in terms of number of goals scored, a phenomenon I’m tempted to christen, ‘the Utaka effect,’ but at the other end of the pitch they have massively overperformed defensively, which must be a worry for their coaching staff and fans alike. Taking all 22 fixtures into account, Sanga have conceded 7 times fewer than expected and a big chunk of that number (4.62) comes solely from opponents’ squandered opportunities in Royals’ away games. Should some of those chickens come home to roost on Saturday night then Gamba will be the gleeful recipients of a much needed change in fortunes. Any discussion about Kyoto wouldn’t be complete without mention of the man, the myth, the legend himself, Mr. Peter Utaka. I’m a mere 4 months younger than the 38 year-old goal machine and I get tired just watching games during the Japanese summer, yet Utaka put in three 90 minute appearances in the space of a week earlier this month, his stamina and endurance are frankly staggering. Currently lying 2nd in the J1 Golden Boot race, one strike behind man-of-the-moment Léo Ceará (Marinos) and the recently departed for Europe, Ayase Ueda (Kashima), it would be a fantastic story if he were to finish the campaign as top scorer (he was joint top in 2016). However, the downside to all of this is that perhaps the Royals depend on him a bit too much and any loss of form or fitness could bite them badly. His tally of 9 makes up 42.9% of Sanga’s yearly total, a percentage that sat at 35.6 last year, so if there is any spare cash floating around in Kameoka this summer then it might be wise to use it on a Utaka insurance policy. Away from the age defying veteran in attack, there are a plethora of young talents in this Kyoto squad and the two I’d briefly like to shine a light on are, holding midfielder Sota Kawasaki and centre-back / makeshift full-back Shogo Asada. Kawasaki is arguably the most talked about player in the team not called Utaka and despite a couple of niggling injuries he still sits in the top 10 in the division for tackles (51, 9th) and interceptions (6, 10th) which gives you a flavour of the defensive side of his game, though he is more than adept at going forward and linking up with his front 3, one goal plus 2 assists this campaign attest to that. The 27 fouls he’s given away in 17 appearances suggest plenty of youthful enthusiasm that I’m sure will be tamed over the coming years. Long term Twitter followers of mine will know I picked Shogo Asada out as a person of interest during Kyoto’s time in J2 and he’s made the step up with relative ease. He’s ranked 7th in the top flight for aerial battles won (61) and 9th for blocks made (53). As pointed out above, he started the season at left-back, before switching to his best position of centre-back, and it’s that spell out wide that likely accounts for his club leading 208.7 km distance covered as well as 363 sprints (that sees him rank 3rd behind his aforementioned team-mates Shirai and Ogiwara).



First Match Recap

April’s draw at Sanga Stadium by Kyocera saw both Kyoto and Gamba leaving with a point, but probably feeling like they could, and should, have gotten more. Fresh from an impressive 3-1 home win over Nagoya the previous weekend, the Nerazzurri were the brighter of the two teams early doors, but couldn’t make their dominance pay and were punished by Sanga talisman Peter Utaka right at the end of the first-half. They needn’t have worried too much though, as the home team’s lead lasted just 13 minutes before Dawhan’s powerful low volley squared things up. It was the Brazilian’s first strike for his new club and it went on to win J1’s April Goal of the Month Competition. Youngsters Isa Sakamoto and Jiro Nakamura were introduced during the second period, and Sakamoto almost had a dream J1 debut as his lovely weighted pass put Kosuke Onose clean through on Naoto Kamifukumoto’s goal, however, with the Sanga ‘keeper bearing down on him Onose poked the ball just wide. After that the home side rallied and the Ao to Kuro were left holding on for dear life during a final ten minute siege that culminated with substitute Mendes firing off target with the goal at his mercy in stoppage time. It finished 1-1 and both sides will have a sense of unfinished business as we approach the return fixture.



Gamba Osaka

Gamba went down 6-2 to Paris Saint-Germain in their friendly match played out in sweltering conditions at Panasonic Stadium on Monday night. The visitors sauntered into the break 4-1 up courtesy of goals from Pablo Sarabia, Nuno Mendes, Lionel Messi and a hugely controversial Neymar spot kick. Keisuke Kurokawa grabbed the Nerazzurri’s consolation and potentially alerted European scouts to his abilities with a decent first-half showing while guardian deity Masaaki Higashiguchi played like a man possessed to prevent an even more one-sided outcome. The 38,251 fans in attendance were treated to a generally slower paced second period which began with the home side making 7 changes with 1 ½ eyes on the important match against Kyoto this Saturday. Neymar made it 5-1 on the hour mark before Hiroto Yamami pulled one back from close range 10 minutes later. Substitute Kylian Mbappé (not a bad player to have on the bench, is he?) wrapped up the scoring from penalty spot near the end after being clearly upended by Ryu Takao. I’m recording a Patreon exclusive podcast with Jon Steele this Friday (29 July) where we’ll discuss PSG’s Japan tour in detail, look out for that next week!



It has now been confirmed that 2021/2022 Europa League champions Eintracht Frankfurt will come to Japan for a short tour in November just prior to the FIFA Men’s World Cup kicking off in Qatar. Makoto Hasebe is a legend at both Frankfurt and Urawa making the Saitama side a natural opponent (on November 16) while Daichi Kamada spent time in Gamba’s youth set-up which may explain why they’ve been chosen above the likes of Cerezo and Vissel for the West Japan leg of the tour. The match against the Nerazzurri will take place at Panasonic Stadium on Saturday 19 November.

A word on attendances – It was interesting to note that in the midst of Japan’s 7th Corona wave the turnout for the Panasonic Stadium leg of the Osaka Derby was just 22,531. This compares with 35,861 back in 2019, the last time it was played under normal circumstances. The Hanshin Derby against Vissel Kobe in Golden Week brought in just under 4,000 more paying spectators and the 26,490 attendance that day is the Nerazzurri’s best Covid-era figure. Unlike previous Osaka Derbies, steps taken by both clubs served to kill off any particularly bad behaviour, much to the disappointment of those who’d have been delighted had there been any hint of crowd trouble.

Transfer Round Up – On 24 July Gamba announced the capture of impressive young Japan U-23 international Rihito Yamamoto from Tokyo Verdy for a reported fee of €700,000. Yamamoto can play either as the anchor in a midfield 3 or in a double-volante system as he did successfully alongside former Verdy team-mate Joel Chima Fujita at the recent AFC Under-23 Cup. To date he has 104 J2 appearance and 3 goals to his name and of the midfielders currently on the books in Suita, his playing style most closely resembles that of Kohei Okuno. There had been strong rumours linking Gen Shoji with a return to his former side Kashima and these grew stronger after Shoji was the featured face on the starting eleven graphic for the game with Paris Saint-Germain as well as being the only Gamba player to go the full 90 against the French giants. However, the following day (26 July) speculation began to mount over an Antlers move for Vissel Kobe’s versatile defender Leo Osaki which, if true, would likely render any Shoji deal dead in the water. Leandro Pereira’s future in Suita remains up for debate with Júbilo Iwata suggested as a possible destination. Recalled to the enlarged 23 man matchday squad on Monday, Pereira cut a disinterested figure in the pre-game warm up, but gave a decent account of himself after replacing Musashi Suzuki at half-time. Other than that there’s not a whole lot to report other than Sports Hochi journalists Kanagawa and Uchida held a Twitter Spaces chat on Tuesday (26 July) and it was revealed there that Gamba are still pursuing new targets, but talks are not far enough advanced to publish the names of the players involved.

Random application of how much time to add on at the end of a game rant no. 328 – I’ve had a week off so I went back and did the maths, Jean Patric’s Osaka Derby winner came with 89:45 on the clock, it was followed by 1 minute 25 seconds of Cerezo celebrating and then making a time wasting substitution, absolutely nothing wrong with any of that. However, referee Ryuji Sato only added on a whopping 5 seconds to the initially awarded 5 minutes to make up for the break in play. Again, just as in the 1-0 loss to Shonan, there’s little doubt in my mind that Gamba would still have failed to score even if the extra time was played out, so my point is merely that I’d just rather we got a fairer application of the rules.

Any Gamba fans waking up to an Osaka Derby induced bout of nausea on Sunday 17 July were given some light relief in the shape of the club’s Under 18’s romping past Cerezo 3-0 in their Prince Takamado Cup West Division clash. A double from high school second-grader Renko Hikasa after Harumi Minamino’s early opener sent the Ao to Kuro on their way to only a second win of the campaign. After being struck down with Covid issues earlier in the year, Gamba Youth, like their senior counterparts face an uphill battle to remain in their division, but this result will give them a huge boost. Also of note was the presence in the matchday squad of Futa Endo, son of Yasuhito, as well as Haruta Yamaguchi, son of current Shonan boss Satoshi.

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 – Played 180 minutes for South Korea during the EAFF Cup including the whole game in the 3-0 loss to Japan on Wednesday. He has been struggling with cramp in recent outings and may not be risked as a result.

MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, shown jogging on the club’s official YouTube channel on 8 July, potentially back in August

MF Rihito Yamamoto – It was announced today (28 July) that he had fractured his foot in a league match against FC Ryukyu at the beginning of July. He was seen walking unaided at the PSG game so it can’t be too serious and the club have said it will take about a month for him to recover.

MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, shown jogging with Fukuda on the club’s official YouTube channel so the problem may not be as bad as first feared

FW Isa Sakamoto – Sat out the match with PSG on Monday, presumably with a minor injury

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

Dawhan, Shu Kurata and Kosuke Onose are all just a single yellow card away from the one game suspension threshold of 4

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Kyoto Sanga

After what the majority of observers labelled a mediocre winter transfer window, it’s fair to say that not a whole lot was expected from Kyoto prior to the commencement of the 2022 campaign, mere survival in their first year back in Japan’s top flight since 2010 would surely be treated as a success, many thought. However, as newly promoted sides tend to do, they made a bright start to life in J1, earning 4 wins and picking up 15 points from their opening 10 fixtures. Though, from that point onwards they’ve found things pretty tough, going on a run of 2 wins, 3 draws and 7 losses across their subsequent 12 outings in which they failed to score 5 times and kept just a solitary clean sheet. With only 12 matchdays remaining, Kyoto really need a spark from somewhere to lift them out of their present rut or they’re soon going to find themselves mired in the relegation dogfight. It has to be said that their trip to Júbilo Iwata in round 34 already has all the hallmarks of a rather tasty bout filled with last day drama. To put a more positive spin on proceedings, Cho is an excellent manager to have in this kind of situation, he’s been there before with Shonan and he knows what he’s doing. I’ve no doubt he’ll have his players organised, motivated and ready to do battle until the last minute of the last game of the season. Sitting 4 points above Gamba, who presently occupy the promotion / relegation playoff spot, the match situation is clear, the Nerazzurri need a win, Sanga only really require to avoid defeat. Will Cho stick or twist? I’d say he’ll follow the template of former club Shonan, who’ve already notched up 1-0 home and away victories over the Ao to Kuro thanks to a strategy aimed at frustrating Gamba early doors and knocking them out of their stride before striking decisively on the break. Perhaps Genki Omae is the man for that decisive strike, he certainly was in their previous match against Hiroshima, and he was one of 11 new additions prior to the start of the season. However, almost 2/3 of the way through the campaign I’d argue that only really, ‘keeper Naoto Kamifukumoto has equalled or exceeded expectations. Rikito Inoue, someone who I picked out in my Scouting J2 article last autumn can’t seem to dislodge Hisashi Appiah Tawiah from the starting centre-back role for reasons known only to Cho. Appiah Tawiah has picked up 7 yellow cards in 17 J1 appearances in 2022 and now has a disciplinary record of 16 cautions and 1 red in 52 J1 outings, the Japanese Richardson? Elsewhere, Daiki Kaneko and Kiwi ‘keeper Michael Woud are maybe the only additions who haven’t quite done as well as I thought they might, which is to say, I didn’t think much of their winter business was that great in the first place. I feel like I’m being a bit negative and Kyoto’s a lovely place, especially Arashiyama, a few train stops down the track from Sanga’s wonderful new stadium, so let’s finish this section on something of a high note by name-dropping a couple of promising youngsters. Wingers Fuki Yamada (a Japan U-23 representative) and 19 year-old Keita Nakano offer a glimpse into a bright future for the Royals, but for the next 3 ½ months at least, it’s shaping up to be squeaky bum time in Kameoka.

Team News

**Note – 11 players were struck down with Covid and club activities were shut down from 18-24 July so basically expect the unexpected from Kyoto. As we don’t know who was and wasn’t infected I’ve just gone for their strongest eleven, but that’s likely to differ a fair bit from their actual starting lineup on Saturday night.**

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

MF Alan Carius – Joined the club on a permanent deal from Saudi Arabian side Al-Adalah on Tuesday (26 July), but it’s unclear if he’ll be ready to feature on Saturday.

MF Naoto Misawa – Achilles tendon rupture similar to Usami, likely to miss the majority of the season

MF Fuki Yamada – Went off in 2nd half of Emperor’s Cup win away to Tochigi SC on 13 July and was missing from the matchday squad for the 1-1 draw with Hiroshima on 17 July

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

Categories
sport

Gamba Osaka vs Cerezo Osaka 28 August 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Cerezo Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 27
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 28 August 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


Quick Note – By the time you read this article, Cerezo boss Levir Culpi may have been relieved of his duties by the club. I decided not to tamper with the original text because, A – it would take forever to alter all the Culpi references, and B – a lot of it is still pretty relevant. So, please sit back, relax and enjoy my ‘ingenious’ foresight that a shocking run of results culminating in a 5-1 home defeat by relegation haunted opposition may put a manager under pressure. Oh, and have any FC Tokyo supporters suggested Kenta Hasegawa as a potential replacement yet?

The Game

The stage is set and the battle lines have been drawn for the second Osaka Derby of 2021. Gamba and Cerezo are set to become familiar foes over the next few days, first locking horns in this league clash before their Levain Cup quarter-final double-header on September 1st (Yodoka Sakura Stadium) and 5th (Panasonic Stadium). Just a quick reminder with regards to this blog, I only write cup previews if Gamba reach the final of the Levain Cup or the semi-finals of the Emperor’s Cup (I’ve got to to take a break sometime, you know!) However, next week I am planning to open the floor to questions and will hopefully have some answers to post around September 3rd, keep an eye out on Twitter for more information.

Just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for both Osaka clubs on Wednesday night. Ten-man Gamba were humbled 3-1 at bottom club Yokohama FC, while Cerezo said “hold my pint” and got pummeled 5-1 at home by Shonan Bellmare in one of the most shocking results of the year. The Cherry Blossoms and the Nerazzurri enter this Osaka Derby level on 30 points apiece, though Cerezo have the better goal difference and also, importantly, a game in hand. The gap between both teams and the drop zone currently stands at 7 points, so no imminent danger, but, with the pink half of Osaka winning just one of their last thirteen league outings, and the hiding from Bellmare fresh in everyone’s minds, the pressure really is on Brazilian kantoku Levir Culpi.

There you have it, two teams from the same prefecture, both coming off embarrassing midweek outings, both disappointing down in mid-table after excellent 2020 campaigns, both with under-performing players and under-fire coaches, who will take the bull by the horns and write themselves into Osaka Derby folklore this Saturday night?

Tale of the Tape

Consider that Cerezo lost their last league match 5-1 at home to Shonan, now look at the key stats for that game in the table below and you might wonder why I put so much faith in the statistical analysis of football. Levir Culpi must be tearing out what little hair he has left (I’m balding and Culpi’s older than my parents so I can make that joke, ok!!) at his side’s inability to convert xG dominance into victories. As stated above, the Cherry Blossoms have just a solitary win from their last thirteen fixtures yet they’ve exceeded their opponent’s xG in ten of those contests. At present, they average 1.4 goals conceded per game compared with the Lotina/Jonjić-era elite defence which gave up just 1.09 last year and a league leading 0.74 in 2019. Culpi is a much more attack-oriented coach than Lotina, so how do offensive stats shape up? In 2021, the Cherry Blossoms are scoring at a clip of 1.36 per match, which is almost identical to last season’s 1.35 and a decent improvement on the 1.14 two years ago. Clearly there’s been a steady shift from the ultra-defensive 2019 campaign to what we have now, a team trying to break out of it’s shell, but struggling to calibrate. In recent matchdays it appears Cerezo are able to attack well, but can’t simultaneously bolt the door shut, then when they do keep things tight at the back, they are unable to build up enough of a head of steam to penetrate (thanks S-Pulse) opposition rearguards. Can Culpi solve this conundrum? His job will very much be in jeopardy if he can’t.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about Gamba in this section other than while Cerezo vs Shonan was clearly a statistical outlier, the men in blue and black generated exactly 1.0 xG and scored 1 goal against Yokohama FC, so my faith in numbers is partially restored. All joking aside, the Nerazzurri are one of the biggest under-performers compared to xG For, and an extreme over-performer in regards to xG Against. A large part of this could be down to the sheer amount of rotational switches made from game to game as a result of the club’s fixture backlog. Hopefully we’ll start to see more consistent patterns emerge following the international break next month when the league schedule calms down a heck of a lot, which will be manna from heaven for blog writers like me!





Head to Head


The first Osaka Derby of 2021 in May unfortunately had to be held with no supporters in Nagai Stadium due to a state of emergency being in place at the time. Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s penultimate match in charge of the Nerazzurri was decided by two penalties, one missed by Cerezo, and the other scored by Gamba. Yuya Fukuda was rather harshly punished for a first-half handball and this gave Yuta Toyokawa the chance to put his side ahead from the spot. However, the former Kashima and Okayama forward saw his well-struck effort cannon off the post. It looked like that miss wouldn’t prove costly when substitute Motohiko Nakajima put the Cherry Blossoms in front with just 16 minutes remaining. No such luck for Cerezo though, Patric stayed cool and buried his penalty past Kim Jin-hyeon following another contentious handball decision. The hard-fought 1-1 draw earned Miyamoto a brief stay of execution before Kawasaki brought the curtain down on his near three year reign six days later.

Both 2020 editions of the derby were just as keenly contested. The first of the two was played at an empty Panasonic Stadium in early July, immediately following the league’s resumption after the four month Covid-enforced hiatus. Cerezo left-back Yusuke Maruhashi was the star of the show, cutting back for Hiroaki Okuno to slot home the opener, before slamming a goal of the season contender past Masaaki Higashiguchi early in the second half. Ademilson set up a nervy finish, converting a spot kick after Yasuki Kimoto handled in the area, but it ended 2-1 to the Cherry Blossoms, their first away league win at Gamba since 2003. The reverse fixture was another physical 1-1 draw, very similar to this year’s encounter. Yosuke Ideguchi drew first blood for the Nerazzurri, but Yuta Toyokawa levelled shortly after. Neither team were able to add to their tally after the interval, though Hiroshi Kiyotake almost delivered his own magical Osaka Derby moment, sending his bicycle kick just wide in second-half stoppage time.



Gamba Osaka


Let’s Talk About Centre-Backs – A back three has been the order of the day for Gamba on-and-off since early 2019. With Genta Miura, Gen Shoji and Kim Young-gwon essentially un-droppable there is no other way for a Gamba coach to set up the team. Miura can play right-back, but Takao and Yanagisawa are far better options. It’s been mooted in the past that Kim Young-gwon possesses the skills to play as a deep-lying playmaker, yet he’s still untested in that role, and there’s always the fear it could go the same way as the Masato Morishige experiment at FC Tokyo. With all this in mind, I wonder if Gamba’s new kantoku, whoever that may be, could be willing to part with one of the holy trinity in order to focus on building the team around the potentially explosive 2022 offence? From left to right, Wellington Silva, Takashi Usami and Hiroto Yamami playing just behind Felipe Vizeu, with Patric coming of the bench for the final twenty. Anyone else’s mouth watering?

While we’re on the subject of centre-backs, Yota Sato was given a straight red-card for hauling down Maguinho in first-half stoppage time on Wednesday night. Sato is in his first season as a pro and arrived highly rated from Meiji University, however, I have real concerns about how he’s being managed. Of course Gamba have had to rotate, but centre-back is a role where it takes time to build up understanding with the players around you and throwing Sato in cold every 7-8 games isn’t really giving him a fair shake, is it? He hasn’t looked particularly brilliant any time I’ve seen him, but when you consider he made his first two senior starts out of position at right-back, the second of which was against Kaoru Mitoma and Kawasaki, and has since just dotted in and out of the team, you wonder if he’s really being handled the right way?

Finally, Gamba Youth product Shuhei Kawasaki has signed for Portimonense in Portugal today (26 August). I thoroughly enjoyed watching him run amok in J3 in the second half of 2019 and the early part of 2020, but he struggled to make much of an impression on the first-team after that. Did he see the instant impact made by Hiroto Yamami and also the potential arrival next season of fellow academy youngsters Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto and think his time to shine had come and gone? Or, has he got an agent in his ear telling him scoring a hat-trick against an exhausted Tampines Rovers, who’d just come from a double-header with Jeonbuk no-less, was the best thing since sliced bread? Who knows? I’m sad he’s gone, and I’m also more than a touch concerned over the career path he’s taking.

Team News
There was a again no Patric for the Nerazzurri on Wednesday night, he appears to have a niggling injury and I expect he’ll make the bench, at best, here. Yota Sato is, of course, suspended following his red against Yokohama FC, though it’s doubtful he’d have cracked the matchday squad in any case. Ryu Takao (ankle), Wellington Silva (groin), Yuya Fukuda (hamstring) and Dai Tsukamoto (thigh) are still nowhere to be seen, with no time-frame announced for their returns. Reserve ‘keeper Jun Ichimori and wing-back Haruto Shirai are continuing to work their way through lengthy rehab programs. Once again I’m unsure of the availability of designated special player Hiroto Yamami, this is a home game and his university is located in the eastern part of Hyogo, so it’s quite possible he could earn himself a spot on the pine.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Cerezo Osaka

Readers of this blog from last season will remember my regular jibes about Levir Culpi’s ill-fated stint as Nerazzurri boss back in 2018. I’m not fan of his personally, but despite being a Gamba supporter, I bear Cerezo no ill-will, so I’ll try and give them a fair shake here. Their main threats come from the wide areas with both, Riku Matsuda and the excellent Tatsuhiro Sakamoto down the right flank bagging four assists apiece already this campaign. On the left-side you have one of my favourite non-Gamba J1 players Yusuke Maruhashi (he was on fire during my first ever live game in Japan), he also has four assists in 2021 and just ahead of him is club captain and legend Hiroshi Kiyotake. Add Naoyuki Fujita’s long throws into the mix and Gamba’s much vaunted back three will have to be on their guard at all times on Saturday. Culpi, someone who was renowned for his youth development work during previous spells at the club, has curiously largely ignored a number of burgeoning young talents in the squad and instead squeezed the ageing warriors of the Lotina era into a series of different starting formations. In the last three outings alone we’ve seen, 3-4-2-1, 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2, so take my selection below with a rather large pinch of salt.

Team News

Off-season signing from Sapporo, Ryosuke Shindo’s miserable injury run has continued with Cerezo and he’s been out with a shoulder complaint since April. Additionally, veteran forward Yoshito Okubo who, of course, began the season with five goals in as many games, but hasn’t found the back of the net since, has been absent from the matchday squad for the past four games. Young prodigy Jun Nishikawa, a player one might have expected to thrive under Culpi, has started just once in J1 this campaign and hasn’t been seen for seven matches. I don’t have any details on why Okubo and Nishikawa have been absent, so can only speculate that it’s down to fitness issues.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





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

Categories
sport

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

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

Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 Gamba Osaka Match Report

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

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

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

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

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

Season Wrap

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

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

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

Transfer Rumours

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

In

Confirmed

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

Very Likely

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

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

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

Speculation

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

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

Youth Team Promotion

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

Out

Confirmed

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

Very Likely

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

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

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

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

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

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sport

Gamba Osaka vs Tokushima Vortis Emperor’s Cup Semi-Final Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Tokushima Vortis
Emperor’s Cup Semi-Final
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Sunday 27 December 16:00


Last Time Out

Gamba closed out their 2020 J1 campaign with a disappointing 2-0 loss at home to Shimizu S-Pulse. Despite the game being a dead rubber, Nerazzurri kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto fielded a strong looking starting eleven with just 3 changes from the win at Yokohama FC 3 days prior. Kim Young-gwon, the free from suspension Yuya Fukuda and Dai Tsukamoto (1st J1 start) replaced the benched Gen Shoji, Shinya Yajima and Kazuma Watanabe.

The first-half was a dull end-of-season affair and the sides went into the break goalless before two goals in the opening 20 minutes of the second period won the game for the visitors. A first ever J1 strike by 19 year-old Riyo Kawamoto got things rolling after 49 minutes and when Shota Kaneko fired in a second after Yajima’s attempted block fell into his path, it knocked the stuffing out of Gamba. Jiro Nakamura provided some spark when he came on for a late cameo (and J1 debut), but in the end things petered out and the home side never really looked like breaching the leakiest defence in the league. Full time 0-2.

Gamba Osaka vs Tokushima Vortis Match Lowdown

In all honesty, Gamba would probably rather play this tie away or on neutral territory. As J1’s best away team in 2020, they defeated everyone from 8th down in the final standings on their travels, however, they also managed to lose at home to the bottom 3 sides (Shonan, Sendai and Shimizu) by a combined score of 7-0. Indeed, the Nerazzurri have only won by more than a single goal once at Panasonic Stadium this season, 2-0 versus Kashima in early October, and in that match the first goal came via the penalty spot, before Kazuma Watanabe wrapped up the points with a breakaway strike in second half stoppage time. As alluded to in my preview of the S-Pulse game, the next big task facing Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is to get the home form sorted, especially against teams who are content to sit deep and offer the men in blue and black plenty of opportunities to play the ball about in front of them. Granted, the return of Usami, Ideguchi, Ono and Onose will help in that respect, as will finding a suitable replacement for Ademilson if the purse strings can be loosened enough. (Leandro Pereira?)

With the J1 season now finished, we can finally compare the performances of teams on an even basis without wide discrepancies in number of fixtures played due to ACL commitments, COVID outbreaks etc. Gamba finished with the joint 5th best defensive record in J1, tied with FC Tokyo, however, for goals scored, they ranked equal ninth alongside Cerezo and Hiroshima, out of teams in the top-half of the standings, only Nagoya (45) found the back of the net less than Gamba’s 46. With this in mind, it’s easy to see where the work needs to be done in the off-season.

Gamba have won the Emperor’s Cup five times in their history including back-to-back triumphs in 2014 and 2015, however, their recent memories of the competition aren’t great as they’ve been knocked out by universities in each of the past 2 editions. First came the shock 2-1 extra-time defeat at the hands of Kwansei Gakuin University at Panasonic Stadium in 2018 and this was followed by a 2-0 reverse in Tokyo against Hosei University in August 2019. It’s interesting to see what some of those students have gone on to achieve in the game since upsetting Gamba. Ryu Takao captained Kwansei Gakuin in 2018 and Yuki Yamamoto pulled the strings in midfield, neither of them will require any introduction to Nerazzurri supporters. Hiroto Yamami, scorer of the winning goal that fateful evening will become the 3rd member of that squad to play for Gamba after he graduates next year, while midfielder Katsuya Nakano has called Kyoto home since 2019. For Hosei, senior midfielders, Kazuya Konno (FC Tokyo), Toshiki Mori (Tochigi), Hiroya Sueki (Toyama) and Ryotaro Onishi (FC Gifu), as well as forward Akira Matsuzawa (Toyama) have already started making their way in the professional game. Next year’s crop of graduates looks even better with goalkeeper Kojiro Nakano (Sapporo), defenders Taiki Miyabe (Matsumoto), Riku Morioka (Iwata), Masahiro Sekiguchi (Kofu) and Yuya Takagi (Yokohama FC) as well as midfielder Motoki Hasegawa (Kofu) all making the leap into the senior ranks.

Tokushima saw off JFL side Honda FC with surprising ease at Kobe’s Noevir Stadium on Wednesday night. A double from Tokuma Suzuki and Ken Iwao’s penalty helped them avoid a potential banana skin and they’ll now head east to Suita full of confidence. Vortis were crowned J2 champions just last week and will play in J1 next year, the first time they have done so since the 2014 season where they only took 14 points, scored 16 goals and racked up a goal difference of -58. After bouncing back from playoff heartbreak at Shonan last December, Tokushima will be looking to make their next visit to the rarified air of J1 more enjoyable than their previous experience. They will have to do so without Spanish kantoku Ricardo Rodriguez, in charge since 2017, but who has this week been confirmed as Urawa’s new boss for 2021, it’ll be interesting to see the reaction he gets from the Gamba support on Sunday. Ex-Panathinaikos coach and compatriot of Rodriguez, Daniel Poyatos is the new man in charge, he will have his hands full trying to keep hold of young #10 Masaki Watai who has been heavily linked with Reds, but the good news is that 187cm forward Yuki Kakita (Vortis’ top scorer this year with 17) looks set to remain on loan from Kashima despite reported interest from Shimizu. (It has since been announced that Watai will remain with the club in 2021).

Two Tokushima players Gamba fans should remember are forward Akihiro Sato and holding midfielder Yudai Konishi. Sato netted 14 times in 54 appearances for the Nerazzurri between 2012 and 2014 and Konishi is a Gamba Youth product who played twice for the U23s in J3 in 2016 before turning pro with Vortis the following year, to date he’s made 106 appearances and scored 8 goals in J2. Konishi’s partnership with the veteran Ken Iwao in central-midfield is a key component of Rodriguez’s strategy and after a bit of experimentation, the Spaniard seems to have settled on a 4-2-3-1 setup. The team plays a nice passing game and were able to break down J2 opponents on a regular basis leading to a number of players bagging a high total of assists. The right-sided Seiya Fujita helped himself to 9, just one shy of league leading Swede Emil Salomonsson of Fukuoka (10), while both Takeru Kishimoto (right flank) and Kazuya Nishiya (left) have 7 assists to their name, Gamba therefore have been given advanced warning of the dangers Tokushima can pose from either wing.

As expected with a side who finished top of the standings, Vortis’ team stats stack up quite nicely. Their 67 goals in 42 league outings was just one shy of top marksmen Mito (68), while only Fukuoka (29) conceded fewer than Tokushima’s 33 (0.79 per game). Just considering away results, Vortis were once again ranked as J2’s best side, ahead of Avispa on goal difference, exactly the same as the overall standings, with both teams taking home an impressive 10 more road points than 3rd placed V-Varen Nagasaki. Under pressure to secure promotion in their final few matches, Tokushima understandably played rather nervously and lost their last two away games of the season 1-0 (at Mito and Fukuoka), however, their previous road match was a see-saw 4-3 victory at Zweigen Kanazawa, so they clearly know how to find the back of the net away from the Pocari Sweat Stadium and this Sunday’s tie promises to be a real good game.

Head to Head

Gamba fans will have fond memories of the last time these two sides met, though the 0-0 played out in Tokushima on 6th December 2014 was very forgettable, the point gained was enough to see Gamba lift the J1 title in their first year back in the top flight following their shock relegation at the end of 2012. Indeed, both Vortis and the Nerazzurri were promoted together in 2013 (Tokushima via the playoffs) with Gamba winning both head-to-head league fixtures. Takashi Usami helped himself to 4 goals in a 5-1 rout in Shikoku in round 38, so I’m sure Vortis supporters will be hoping he’s still injured for this clash.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

As usual there hasn’t been much injury news from the Gamba camp, though we do know for sure that Yuji Ono (knee) and Ademilson (club suspension/police charges) won’t feature. I’d put Yosuke Ideguchi and Kosuke Onose in the highly doubtful category, while it is possible Takashi Usami could play some part.

Tokushima Vortis

Serbian centre-back Dušan Cvetinović, a winter 2019/20 capture from Yokohama F.Marinos, was last seen in the 2-1 win at Omiya on September 23rd while on-loan Nagoya Grampus midfielder Koki Sugimori hasn’t featured since the 2-0 loss at Kyoto on November 21st. Yatsunori Shimaya (7 J2 apps), Yuki Oshitani (5), Daiki Enomoto (3) and Genta Omotehara (0) haven’t gotten much action in 2020, though I believe this is more down to non-selection than any fitness concerns.
After this blog post was written it was announced that Shimaya and defender Takuya Akiyama would be released ahead of the 2021 season.

Predicted Line Ups

Any major changes to the lineup below will only come about if Ideguchi, Onose and Usami are fit enough to play. Other than that, it’s 2 from Miura, Kim and Shoji at the back, and I guess Okuno could start ahead of Yajima in the middle, but we are looking at another really young bench on Sunday.



Vortis’ recent team selections have been pretty consistent and I’m confident that they’ll line up in the 4-2-3-1 shown below. Alternatives are Ishii in place of Fukuoka at centre-back, Fujita for Kishimoto at right-back and possibly Diego in for Tamukai on the left, though he’s likely to make the bench at best. Further forward, I believe Watai has been out of the eleven recently due to a niggling injury, and I struggle to see him getting in ahead of, Wednesday’s 2 goal hero, Suzuki from the start here.



Match Prediction

Gamba will be champing at the bit to get another shot at Kawasaki after the 5-0 mauling last month, so I think they’ll do just enough to edge this one 2-1.

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sport

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

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


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

Jonny.

Last Time Out

Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka

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

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

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

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

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

Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse Match Lowdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Head to Head

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

Team News

Gamba Osaka

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

Shinizu S-Pulse

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

Predicted Line Ups

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



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



Match Prediction

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

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sport

Gamba Osaka vs Vissel Kobe 11 November 2020 Match Preview

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

The Lowdown


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Head to Head

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

Team News

Gamba Osaka

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

Vissel Kobe

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

Predicted Line Ups

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



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



Match Prediction

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