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J1 2023 Predicted Lineups

Hello Everyone,

Happy New Year and all the best to you and your team in 2023! This is my fourth year in a row putting out a J1 starting lineups preview post and the response I’ve received to the previous 3 editions continues to blow me away. The 2023 version follows a pattern that those of you familiar with my work will recognise, but I’ve also thrown in a couple of additions that will hopefully enhance your reading experience. Anyway, no matter whether this is your first time hearing about this blog or your 100th visit, thanks so much for supporting my work and I hope you enjoy what lies ahead. Let’s start with a quick rundown of the general layout of this post.

The Guide

Teams are listed below in the order they finished the 2022 campaign and each club’s mini-section contains the following information.

Best Signing – This won’t necessarily be objectively the best player the team have signed over the winter, more the one I feel will have the greatest impact in 2023.

Biggest Loss – The opposite of best signing.

One to Watch – Again, this might not be the best player in the squad or the one most likely to attract European scouts, rather someone whose good, bad or inconsistent form will heavily affect the outcome of his team’s campaign.

Notes – Me trying to add some colour commentary to the graphs and tables contained in the next section of the guide.

Predicted Lineups

A few caveats here,

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

Squad List

You will see a screenshot of each club’s current squad as of the day of going to press (29 January 2023), but just a quick reminder, you can check out the up to date version by clicking on the link to this Google Sheets document.

2021 and 2022 Stats

Key performance indicators I’ve collected over the past 2 years and how those numbers stack up against fellow J1 sides. This is a new feature in the pre-season post, but versions of it have been a staple of my Gamba match previews for several years. Please note the figures in the ‘#’ column are per 90 minutes with the exception of xG for and against per shot.

2023 Fixtures

Another new feature for 2023, this one is very much as it says on the tin, an at-a-glance look at your favourite side’s schedule for the upcoming year.

2022 Appearance Data

This shows another table that long-term readers will be familiar with and the colour code to assist you in understanding it can be seen below. Basically, it illustrates who played, scored, assisted etc., and how often, during the 2022 league campaign. How good a guide the past is for predicting the future, I’ll let you make up your own minds on that one.



Still with me? Yes? Great!
Well, with all that said and done, let’s move on and take a look at each of the 2023 J1 sides one by one, shall we? Again I look forward to hearing feedback (good natured, I hope) from fans of all teams, followers of the league in general or just casual passers by, you’re all welcome. While I’m confident you’ll agree with some of the points below, I’m also sure there will be many choices and opinions that people will disagree with, and that’s all fine, it’s why we love the beautiful game so much, right?

The Teams

Yokohama F. Marinos

Best Signing: Kenta Inoue – Right-sided player, solid defensively and comfortable in midfield, transferred from Oita to Marinos, remind you of anyone? Inoue first caught the eye with Trinita back in 2021 and has since experienced relegation from J1, in addition to Emperor’s Cup and promotion playoff heartache, so he most definitely arrives at the Nissan Stadium battle hardened. He’ll get playing time in Kevin Muscat’s rotation system and there are plenty of other big names around to let him develop in relative anonymity. A smart piece of business yet again from Marinos methinks.

Biggest Loss: Tomoki Iwata – Hands up who had him down to win J1 MVP when the 2022 season kicked off? Not many I’m sure, but he was majestic whether selected in the Marinos engine room or at the back and thoroughly deserves his big move to Europe. The Tricolore replaced him in bulk as they simply couldn’t find a replica and it’ll be fascinating to see how Takumi Kamijima (Kashiwa) and Takuto Kimura (Meiji University) get on under the bright glare of the spotlight at Nissan Stadium.

One to Watch: Takuma Nishimura – From unheralded arrival to genuine league MVP contender in the space of less than 12 months, 2022 was quite the ride for Takuma Nishimura. Marcos Junior is still nipping away at his heels for a starting berth and chances to play centre-forward may lie ahead in the wake of Léo Ceará’s departure. Whatever happens, Nishimura will certainly have to go some way to top the year just passed.

Notes: While expected to be competitive 12 months ago, few were bold enough to predict a second title in four seasons. However, they got there relatively comfortably in the end thanks to Kevin Muscat’s squad management keeping everyone fit and on their toes while delivering some, at times, dazzling attacking football and generally standing firm at the back. If Muscat can keep the ship sailing in the right direction, bank on them being there or thereabouts come the business end once again.






Kawasaki Frontale

Best Signing: Yusuke Segawa – His overall numbers for Shonan last season may not be that impressive at first glance, but it’s worth considering that Segawa recorded a higher xG total than 13 goal team-mate Shuto Machino. If he re-discovers his shooting boots in the more attacker friendly surrounds of the Todoroki Stadium then Frontale fans could be in for a real treat.

Biggest Loss: Shogo Taniguchi – A surprising departure, but ultimately a move to the Middle East represents a well earned payday for Taniguchi in the wake of his impressive World Cup showings. He’ll be missed by the Frontale fans, their marketing team and DOGSO loving refs alike, but after winning 4 J1 titles, 1 Emperor’s Cup and 1 Levain Cup in 9 seasons in Kawasaki, it’s hard to begrudge him moving on.

One to Watch: Yasuto Wakizaka – With plenty of changes in defence and attack, there’ll be a lot of responsibility on Frontale’s dynamic midfield trio in the season ahead. Ryota Oshima unfortunately seems to be getting struck down by injury on a more and more regular basis meaning the onus will once again be on Yasuto Wakizaka to be creator in chief for his side. 5 goals and 8 assists in 2022, Toru Oniki will be looking for more of the same this term.

Notes: How they manage the changing of the guard in attack and defence will surely determine their fate in 2023. Toru Oniki is still around to oversee the project and he’ll have to contend with Leandro Damião and Yu Kobayashi missing the start of the campaign, while winger Akihiro Ienaga certainly isn’t getting any younger. Will Taisei Miyashiro and Shin Yamada hit the ground running right from the off and is Takuma Ominami about to silence the naysayers by stepping into Taniguchi’s enormous boots with aplomb? More questions than usual down Frontale way this year, does Oniki have the answers?


Comments: Kobayashi likely isn’t really an option on the right-wing, I moved him there to help illustrate that Miyashiro and Yamada will vie for the starting centre-forward spot in the early months of the season.




Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Best Signing: Shuto Nakano – Captained Toin Yokohama to success in the All Japan University Football Championship on New Year’s Day and arrives at Hiroshima primed to start from the very first matchday. Nakano debuted at right wing-back as a special designated player in the 0-0 draw with Tosu in round 1 last season, though he can also operate as as centre-back, which is where he and fellow varsity recruit Taichi Yamasaki (Juntendo University) may ultimately end up as Michael Skibbe seeks to reduce some of the burden on the ageing Sho Sasaki and Tsukasa Shiotani.

Biggest Loss: Tomoya Fujii – J1’s sprint king revelled in new German kantoku Skibbe’s gegenpressing system before injury curtailed his season. Hiroshima still have options out wide, but none quite as dynamic or relentless as the Gifu Express.

One to Watch: Pieros Sotiriou – With Morishima and Mitsuta riding shotgun either side of him, is Sotiriou destined to be the angel upon the Christmas tree for Skibbe as he seeks to deliver a first J1 title to the Edion Stadium since 2015? The Cypriot was the hero in Sanfrecce’s Levain Cup triumph last October, though he struggled to make much of an impact in the league following a summer switch from Europe. Completely rested and with a full pre-season under his belt, he seems primed to take Japan’s top flight by storm in 2023.

Notes: Going by the goals he set out when he first joined the club, the Skibbe project is running well ahead of schedule. What then will 2023 bring? The German has at his disposal a talented squad, slightly lacking in numbers, which leaves the Viola’s chances of success balancing on the proverbial knife-edge. Is a slip back from the heights of last season inevitable or do they have a realistic shot of moving a couple of rungs up the ladder?


Comments: Expect a fair bit of chopping and changing at wing-back early in the year. It’s also possible for Skibbe to set up with Notsuda holding in midfield, Morishima and Mitsuta further forward and Sotiriou partnered by Ben Khalifa in attack.




Kashima Antlers

Best Signing: Tomoya Fujii – I’m breaking one of my unwritten rules here by including Fujii in one team’s best signing and another’s biggest loss categories, but his pace and work-ethic are manna from heaven for an Antlers outfit for whom the moniker ‘sluggish’ would often have been appropriate throughout the second half of 2023.

Biggest Loss: Ryuji Izumi – The Swiss army knife’s departure will be felt more keenly than Kashima may have expected when they chose to let him return to former side Nagoya, who in turn will get a bigger shot in the arm than his rather unheralded unveiling would suggest.

One to Watch: Yuma Suzuki – Love him or loathe him, you have to admit that he is box office. Shot out of the blocks 12 months ago with 6 goals and 6 assists in the opening 15 games, but could only follow that up with 1+3 in the remainder of the campaign. His side need him to make headlines for the right reasons in 2023.

Notes: Current kantoku Daiki Iwamasa was an Antlers legend as a player, but doubts persist as to whether he has the mettle to cut it as a boss. His Kashima side were able to meander to 4th last season despite seemingly being out of form for a good chunk of the campaign. If they’re able to find any sort of rhythm this time round then surely the most successful club in J League history have to be considered genuine contenders for a 9th J1 crown.


Comments: A midfield diamond with Sano at the base, Pituca and Higuchi wide and Araki at the tip is an option too. In that case, Fujii becomes a candidate for a full-back berth.




Cerezo Osaka

Best Signing: Jordy Croux – Think back to Léo Ceará’s headed equaliser in the 2-2 draw between Cerezo and Marinos last term, now close your eyes and imagine the Brazilian in a pink jersey and that it’s Jordy Croux, not Tomoki Iwata, supplying the delicious cross. It’s not that hard to do, and indeed it appears that the Cerezo front office have turned that dream into a reality this off-season by bringing the duo to the Yodoko Sakura Stadium. Is the partnership destined to become the stuff of legends or ultimately prove to be nothing more than a mirage? Either way, it’s going to be fun finding out.

Biggest Loss: Jean Patric – Not a whole lot of competition for this category to be honest, which surely stands Cerezo in good stead for the upcoming campaign. Jean Patric was the Cherry Blossoms’ hero with his brilliant last minute winner away to Gamba in the Osaka Derby last summer, but in reality, and I swear this isn’t sour grapes, given he was a regular in Portugal’s top flight prior to heading to Osaka, his overall contribution could be viewed as underwhelming. Certainly, if replacement Capixaba impresses early doors then Jean Patric may find himself quickly forgotten about in South Osaka.

One to Watch: Léo Ceará – I’m prepared to take flak for this and also willing to walk it back if I turn out to be bang wrong. First of all, I don’t think you have to be a particularly brilliant finisher to score in the region of 10 goals per season for Marinos, you just need on-field minutes. Secondly, if Marinos really wanted Ceará, he’d still be there. Does the 28 year-old Brazilian have enough fire in his belly to prove people like me wrong? Is the aforementioned combination with Croux about to become the Jordan and Pippen of the J League? All will be revealed in due course.

Notes: Cerezo enter 2023 with a settled, well-balanced squad, both in terms of age and ability, and are coached by a man who knows the club like the back of his hand. The Cherry Blossoms have never won J1, I’m not saying this is going to be their year, but their fans absolutely have the right to expect them to improve upon last season’s 5th placed showing.


Comments: If the rumours linking Shinji Kagawa with a return to Cerezo are true then I’d expect them to sometimes operate in a 4-2-3-1 / 4-4-1-1 system with Kagawa playing just behind the main forward. It’s also highly possible that the majority of the veteran’s appearances could come from the bench, in which case he may feature on either wing.




FC Tokyo

Best Signing: Kei Koizumi – Having stood in admirably at right-back for Kashima, Koziumi re-ignited his career with an excellent season alongside Akito Fukuta in the Sagan Tosu engine room as the Kyushu side exceeded expectations with a comfortable 11th place finish in 2022. His work-rate and passing abilities should be able to shine through in what is a midfield stacked with talent at the Ajinomoto Stadium, though failing that they could always re-patriate him to full-back, an area of the field where they’re not quite so well covered.

Biggest Loss: Kazuya Konno – Just like Cerezo above, the Gasmen didn’t suffer a lot of key departures in the winter, meaning I’m left choosing a player who saw injuries and experienced competition get in the way of him making a greater impact during his 2 years with the club. Konno’s screamer against future employers Fukuoka last July clearly got their attention and served notice of just how deadly he can be given time and space to operate.

One to Watch: Kuryu Matsuki – FC Tokyo are a team that have relied on moments of individual, usually Brazilian, brilliance to get them over the line for a few years now. With the Puig-era in full swing and the average age of the lineup getting lower, it’s high-time some of their young guns displayed a bit of x-factor of their own. Enter Kuryu Matsuki, a player who has made the tough step-up from high school football to the senior game look simple and is currently surely one of the most scouted talents in J1.

Notes: Albert Puig is about to begin his second season at the helm, and after a solid, if unspectacular 2022, what can we realistically expect in the coming months? Probably more of the same to be honest. Puig has a deep, talented squad to work with, but, for me anyway, it lacks enough of the genuine stars necessary for a title push. Though the Gasmen are certainly more than capable of another top 6 finish should things go according to plan.


Comments: Everyone I’ve listed on the right wing is also capable of playing on the left so Nishido and Arai may have to bide their time and prove themselves in the Levain Cup.




Kashiwa Reysol

Best Signing: Kota Yamada – following a couple of years under the tutelage of Peter Cklamovski at Montedio Yamagata, ex-Marinos starlet Yamada is primed and ready for a return to the big time. While 13 goals and 10 assists during 2 seasons spent in the fantasista position speak highly of his abilities, his 114 through balls played in 2022 (2nd most in J2) give an even better indicator of the type of talent the Sunkings now have on their hands.

Biggest Loss: Yuji Takahashi – With the departures of fellow defenders, Takumi Kamijima (Marinos) and Takuma Ominami (Kawasaki) eating up many column inches, Yuji Takahashi taking the plunge down to J2 along with new employers Shimizu may have passed many observers by. S-Pulse’s 191cm centre-back Yugo Tatsuta moves in the opposite direction and while he’s younger and outdoes Takahashi in height and physicality, a large part of me senses that it’s the Shizuoka side who’ve got the better half of that particular trade.

One to Watch: Matheus Savio – the effervescent Brazilian looked like he’d become the player Sunkings supporters had long dreamed he would, with his 6 goals and 3 assists in the first half of 2022 proving the catalyst for Reysol’s surprise bid for a top 4 spot. Unfortunately for Kashiwa, he mustered a solitary assist after that as they failed to win in their final 10 outings. Greater consistency from the former Flamengo man is required this year to ensure the good times are a rolling at the Hitachidai.

Notes: Under-achievers in 2021, over-achievers last year, somewhere between 7th and 15th seems about right in 2023, though the J League never operates in anything like a predictable manner, so best not all rush to back Reysol for 11th just yet. Plenty of changes over the winter, some fresh talents are on-board, but holes exist in the squad too which leads me to conclude that they aren’t genuine ACL contenders nor a relegation candidate, will that be enough to appease their passionate band of followers?


Comments: 4-4-2 / 4-2-3-1 with Shiihashi partnering Takamine in the middle and Mitsumaru dropping out of the above eleven is also a possibility. Additionally, I’d bank on them adding an attacking player from overseas before the season kicks off.




Nagoya Grampus

Best Signing: Kasper Junker – Since returning to the top flight in 2018, both of Grampus’ previous expensive foreign centre-forwards, Jô and Jakub Świerczok, have enjoyed explosive starts to life in Nagoya before disaster struck. In Danish dazzler Kasper Junker is it a case of third time lucky? 7 goals in his first 6 J1 games back in 2021 had opposition defences cowering in fear, but his career in Saitama never really went according to script in the 18 months that followed. An epic hat-trick in the 3-3 tie at home to Marinos last term was a clear highlight, though only being able to start 14 league games all year must be a concern for Grampus. Future club legend, or the latest in a line of overseas attackers to promise heaven and earth, then ultimately fail to deliver?

Biggest Loss: Leo Silva – Nagoya got good mileage out of the veteran last term leaving many a fan to lament his departure. Just how deep that feeling continues to run very much depends on how Yonemoto, Nagasawa and Yamada do in plugging the Silva shaped whole at the heart of the Grampus engine room.

One to Watch: Mateus Castro – He was almost like a one-man band at times last year, contributing 8 goals and 5 assists including a wonder-strike at home to Iwata. How will he do with a stronger supporting cast surrounding him in 2023?

Notes: 8th place in 2022 under Hasegawa earned them few plaudits or awards for artistic merit. With a rock-solid defensive line, the versatile Izumi back on board and their own version of O Tridente in attack, anything other than a genuine assault on the top 4 will, and should be, treated as a failure by the Giallorossi faithful.


Comments: If Nogami starts ahead of Maruyama, he’ll be on the right and Nakatani and Fujii will both switch one place to the left. The midfield may be set up with Inagaki sitting and 2 players ahead of him and a front 2 rather than the 3 illustrated above.




Urawa Red Diamonds

Best Signing: Marius Høibråten – Alex Scholz’s previous centre-back partner Takuya Iwanami never fully managed to endear himself to the Reds faithful during his 5 year spell in Saitama, meaning that for many, it’s high time he moved on to fresh pastures. As for his replacement? Step forward left-footed Norwegian Marius Høibråten who’ll form what could well be the J. League’s first ever all-Scandinavian centre-back pairing with the aforementioned Scholz. Should Høibråten settle in as quickly as his Danish counterpart then we can expect to see a robust Reds rearguard in 2023.

Biggest Loss: Ataru Esaka – After a bright and breezy opening to his career at the Saitama Stadium through the back end of the 2021 campaign, Esaka failed to reach those heights again in his sophomore year and has now opted to take what is becoming a more and more well trodden path from the J League to the K League. There may be exciting replacements in attack for Reds, but there must also surely be a number of their fans lamenting the loss of a maverick such as Esaka.

One to Watch: Atsuki Ito – Fast becoming Mr. Urawa, Ito has improved year on year since turning pro and with doubts surrounding how well suited fellow midfielders Ken Iwao, Kai Shibato or Yuichi Hirano are to a title challenge, a lot of pressure will come to rest on his young shoulders as he seeks to provide a reliable link between Urawa’s extremely impressive back and forward lines.

Notes: New coach Maciej Skorża is on board for 2023 and has an accomplished looking group of talent under his wings. Statistically Reds should have been title contenders last season, but ended up in mid-table. If their new Polish coach can find the formula to convert spreadsheet success into tangible on-field results, then they’ll be right up there. A good start in the league and lifting the ACL in the spring should make the rest of the year so much smoother.


Comments: Should Giorgos Giakoumakis (or any other reputable foreign forward) put pen to paper in the coming days then I’d expect him to partner Linssen in attack and Koizumi and Okubo would then battle it out for a spot on the wing in more of a 4-4-2 set-up.




Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Best Signing: Seiya Baba – Comfortable on the ball and capable of playing centrally or out wide in defence or midfield, Japan Under-21 international Baba is made to order for Mischa Petrović’s side.

Biggest Loss: Tomoki Takamine – He said he wanted to become an international footballer and was leaving childhood club Consadole in order to achieve his lofty goal. Fair enough. Though if you’re a Sapporo fan, the fact Takamine has headed to a divisional rival that finished a mere 3 places above you in J1 last season must sting a fair bit.

One to Watch: Takuro Kaneko – After a real breakthrough season in 2021, Kaneko seemed to plateau a touch last term, though in retrospect he did provide a career-high 5 assists. A pacy, skillful and clever player, Consadole supporters and fans of the league in general are well within their rights to expect more from Kaneko in the months that lie ahead.

Notes: Mired in mid-table since 2019, it seems prudent to predict more of the same at Sapporo once again. Goalkeeping giant Gu Sung-yun is back from military service and they’ve acquired some intriguing young Japanese talent, though they’re likely going to have to find a way to successfully integrate Supachok and Kim Gun-hee into their starting eleven if they’re to stand any chance of throwing off the mid-table shackles.






Sagan Tosu

Best Signing: So Kawahara – After blasting through J3 and J2 with Takeshi Oki’s impressive Roasso Kumamoto side, So Kawahara is now ready to take J1 by storm. As you might expect from a statistical stud like Kawahara, who dominated both J2 offensive and defensive numbers last term, he’s made the smart move of beginning his ascent to the summit of Japan’s top flight with perennially under the radar Tosu, giving him room to breathe as he finds his feet in the rarefied air of J1.

Biggest Loss: Taisei Miyashiro – His return to parent club Kawasaki should have come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Japanese football, and the success, or otherwise, of the man I’m about to talk about below will determine whereabouts between big loss and catastrophic departure Miyashiro and his 11 goals + assists from 22 appearances fits on the pain chart for Tosu.

One to Watch: Cayman Togashi – I labelled Togashi a non-scoring centre-forward prior to him promptly silencing me with a double in Sendai’s crucial 3-2 win over Gamba at Panasonic Stadium back in 2021. He’s since followed that up with a decent return of 11 strikes for Vegalta in J2 last time out. Can he and the supporting ensemble contribute enough goals to keep the feel-good factor alive and kicking down Tosu way?

Notes: Kenta Kawai is back for a second season in charge no doubt thrilled to bits that his Sagan side haven’t been asset-stripped quite as much as in recent years. That’s not to say they won’t miss the likes of Diego, Koizumi and Miyashiro, and they’ll definitely need an unheralded signing or two to come through to replace them. Unearthing another gem from their much vaunted youth academy wouldn’t go amiss either as they seek to build on 11th place last time round.






Shonan Bellmare

Best Signing: Song Bum-keun – Surprising and welcome in equal measure, the transfer of World Cup 2022 squad member Song from South Korean powerhouse Jeonbuk to suburban Shonan has certainly raised a few eyebrows in East Asian football circles. Kosei Tani may be gone after 3 generally excellent years down on the Kanagawa coast, but in Song, the Seasiders have as good a replacement as they realistically could have wished for.

Biggest Loss: Yusuke Segawa – While he blew a few key chances at critical points last season, Segawa’s link up play and movement proved to be crucial, not only in his team’s relative success, but also in aiding the goalscoring exploits of team-mate Machino. That he’s moved on to neighbouring juggernaut Kawasaki speaks volumes of his abilities, and the likes of Hiroyuki Abe and Kosuke Onose have big shoes to fill in the wake of his departure.

One to Watch: Shuto Machino – Having bagged the highest tally of goals for a Bellmare player in J1 since 1998, some speculated Machino would head back to his former side Yokohama F. Marinos, yet here he is ready to spearhead the Shonan attack once again. His 13 efforts in 2022 incredibly saw him finish just 1 behind the league’s overall top scorer, though it was a large overperformance versus his xG tally. Can he continue to bury chances for fun, or is he due a slip up some time?

Notes: With a highest J1 placing this side of the millennium in the bank, their coach and the bulk of last season’s squad still in tow and only one relegation spot to be avoided in 2023, it’s easy to be optimistic about Bellmare’s chances. However, as we all know, Japanese football has a habit of turning round and biting you just when you least expect it, so please forgive my unease at feeling so positive about Shonan. On paper avoiding 18th should be a relatively simple task, will it prove to be that way in reality?






Vissel Kobe

Best Signing: Matheus Thuler – I’ve cheated here slightly as Thuler has turned his loan move from Flamengo into a permanent deal after turning out 7 times for Vissel in J1 last season. Calm and composed on the ball with a keen eye for a pass, measuring up at 185cm, 83kg, he’s more than able to mix it up physically also. Thuler’s capture represents an extremely shrewd piece of business by Kobe.

Biggest Loss: Yuki Kobayashi (defender → Celtic) – One of two Yuki Kobayashis to leave the Noevir Stadium in the winter, with the midfield version venturing north to Sapporo. Ball playing, youth product Yuki Kobayashi was often a figure of stability at the back for Vissel during the early part of 2022 when it seemed that all around him was burning to the ground. Sure, it must be nice for fans to see one of their own head for the bright lights of Europe, but his absence also leaves a void that will be hard to completely fill.

One to Watch: Koya Yuruki – Having started his Vissel career as a winger in a team that didn’t play with any wingers, a system change midway through 2022 afforded him an opportunity that he grasped with both hands. That meant that at the age of 27, after a number of years of threatening to do so, Koya Yuruki finally made his breakthrough as a bona fide star in Japan’s top flight. There will be a bit more weight and expectation on his shoulders this term, plus he’s got some stiff competition to deal with in the shape of Jean Patric and Shuhei Kawasaki. I’m forecasting big things from him and international honours may not be out of the question in the not too distant future.

Notes: Vissel supporters have a right to feel a tad puzzled by their club’s recent transfer strategy. Without a senior addition of note as 2022 turned to 2023, Kobe found their backs against the wall and largely forced to chase overseas talent or overpay for domestic based stars. There is still a very skilful, if ageing, starting eleven to be crafted from their squad, however, is the depth there to challenge at the top end of the table and can off-field stability be maintained long enough to allow Yoshida and his players the opportunity to succeed on the pitch?


Comments: Approaching 39, Andrés Iniesta may be relegated to bench duty more often than not, meaning the side could set up in a 4-3-3 system.




Avispa Fukuoka

Best Signing: Ryoga Sato – After two consistent goalscoring seasons amidst all the off-field turmoil that engulfed Tokyo Verdy at times, Fukuoka native and Higashi Fukuoka High School Old Boy Ryoga Sato has earned his shot at the big time with hometown club Avispa. Finding the back of the net has been an issue for the Wasps since they returned to the top flight in 2021, so credit to the front office for pulling off quite the coup by re-patriating the highly touted Sato amid stiff competition. Here’s hoping, for their sake, that the move pays dividends.

Biggest Loss: Takaaki Shichi – Following a stuttering start to his professional career, Shichi has been on a sharp upward trajectory throughout the past 4 seasons. Avispa can be glad that they got 2 solid campaigns out of the left-sided defender and must now pin their hopes on returning hero Masashi Kamekawa having enough remaining in the tank to fill the Shichi-shaped gap on the flank.

One to Watch: Yuya Yamagishi – A double digit goalscoring season for a team not known for their attacking prowess saw the likes of Gamba and Kashima reportedly knocking on Yamagishi’s door. He has commendably opted to remain with Avispa, but after a meandering career largely spent in J2 where he averaged a goal every 6 games, is it realistic to expect more heroics from him this term?

Notes: A solid defence, a settled playing staff, a clear modus operandi and a couple of exciting attacking additions, 2023 should, in theory, see Fukuoka steer well clear of the dreaded drop zone. I was quite bullish about their chances twelve months back and they rather underwhelmed. Still, I’m reasonably confident that the spine of their team is armed with the talent, nous and J1 experience to shift up the rankings ever so slightly.


Comments: 4-4-2 is generally Hasebe’s go-to formation, but playing that would involve dropping one of their star centre-backs for a winger. Does he opt for the best eleven players, or the system he’s more comfortable with? Additionally Murakami vs Nagaishi for the starter’s gloves is a toss up at the moment.




Gamba Osaka

Best Signing: Riku Handa – With the team’s reputation taking something of a hit from two torrid seasons in the bottom half, Gamba have been forced to shift focus and look to young talents that fall into the low-risk, high-reward category. In 21 year-old Montedio Yamagata and Japan Under-21 right back Riku Handa, it appears they’ve struck gold. While Ryu Takao has proven to be a solid gatekeeper, Handa’s pace, energy and attacking prowess give the Ao to Kuro an added edge down the right flank which will surely compliment Keisuke Kurokawa on the left nicely.

Biggest Loss: Patric – Binning your top goal-scorer of the past 3 seasons may not seem like the brightest thing in the world to do, especially when you’re a team that’s been struggling to break opponents down. However, in removing Patric from the equation, Gamba’s front office have made it clear that long ball is a thing of the past and possession based football is the way ahead. Fans may lament his loss and reminisce about the good times, but it’s hard to argue against the notion that the Brazilian’s best days are behind him.

One to Watch: Takashi Usami – Losing Usami to an achilles injury in round 3 last term ripped the heart out of Gamba, while his return, though unspectacular, had a real soothing affect on those around him. Seemingly more focused on assists than scoring himself these days, mature enough to don the captain’s armband and enough of a club legend already to become the successor to Yasuhito Endo in the number 7 shirt, Nerazzurri fans can’t wait to see Usami link up with Issam Jebali, Juan Alano, Naohiro Sugiyama and the host of other attacking options at the club.

Notes: After a couple of dismal years by their standards, Gamba seek to rise again under the guidance of former Tokushima boss Dani Poyatos. There are a few eye-catching signings from J2 and overseas to throw into the mix, how quickly can they all adapt to their Spanish kantoku’s possession based style of football? How the Nerazzurri start 2023 is key and will likely define whether top 6 or bottom 6 awaits them.


Comments: There are still a number of unknowns at Gamba and several of the players listed as wide forwards could conceivably play as as one of the more advanced central midfielders and operate in a sort of hybrid number 10 role. Also, who prevails in the Higashiguchi vs Tani battle is still anyone’s guess.




Kyoto Sanga

Best Signing: Taiki Hirato – A class act for Machida in recent years, Hirato gets a well deserved second shot at the limelight after rather surprisingly not seeing much playing time at Kashima, the club that raised him. Able to operate on either flank or in the number 10 role, he delivered an impressive 80 goals + assists in 203 J2 appearances across 2 stints with Zelvia and if Sanga get anything like that kind of return then they’ll have a real gem on their hands.

Biggest Loss: Naoto Kamifukumoto – Unfortunately from a Sanga perspective there was some pretty stiff competition for this title. Peter Utaka would have been the hands down winner any time up until late summer last year, while Takuya Ogiwara, now back with parent club Urawa, will also be a hard act to follow. However, I plumped for Kamifukumoto, one of the pleasant surprises of 2022 following an indifferent previous campaign with Tokushima. He’ll now continue his much travelled career with Kanagawa giants Kawasaki, can he oust Frontale’s long-standing custodian Jung Sung-ryong?

One to Watch: Paulinho – A seemingly spur-of-the-moment loan pickup from Ukrainian side Metalist Kharkiv, out of match practice, the Brazilian didn’t feature a whole lot in Kyoto’s nervy run-in last season. This year though he should be fully up to speed and ready to deliver performances befitting a player who, with the greatest respect to Sanga, had global geopolitics turned out differently, would have been strutting his stuff at a higher level.

Notes: If the bottom 3 all had to contend with relegation in 2023 then Kyoto would be a team with a fair bit to worry about. With that said, I don’t feel this is the weakest group of players in the division and coached by the wily, experienced Cho Kwi-jae they ought to have just about enough finesse to remain in the top flight. They’ve stocked their attack largely with quantity rather than quality, which, in fairness, is a criticism that can also be levelled at a number of their rivals. If they can find some razzmatazz up front, then allied to a solid backline they may surprise a few people, though realistically we’re unlikely to see them threaten the dizzy heights of the top half.


Comments: New defenders Misao and Iyoha have both operated on the left side of back threes in recent years so Cho could, in theory, use the 3-4-2-1 formation that served him well during his time with Shonan. Yamasaki is another centre-forward option, but he might not start a lot.




Albirex Niigata

Best Signing: Shusuke Ota – Fresh off a couple of excellent seasons with Machida Zelvia, livewire attacker Ota brings even greater potency to what is already one of the most dynamic areas of Albirex’s squad. 20 goals and 12 assists during his time in the Tokyo suburbs mean he’s more than earned a crack at the big time and the ability to slot in anywhere across Niigata’s front 4 means playing minutes won’t be hard to come by. One to watch for sure.

Biggest Loss: Ippey Shinozuka – I feel a little bit like a broken record with some of these teams, but once again there wasn’t much competition for this prize. Shinozuka saw a shoulder injury restrict him to just 14 appearances during his loan spell from Kashiwa. A stand out for Omiya in 2019, his performances have meandered downwards since. He’ll be hoping to use this upcoming year to reverse the sense of ‘what might have been’ that surrounds his career.

One to Watch: Ryotaro Ito – A J2 MVP contender in 2022, now at the age of 25 it seems like Ryotaro Ito is finally ready to stamp his authority on the top table of Japanese football. Unable to quite make the grade in the cut-throat atmosphere of Urawa’s top team, a loan spell with Mito got his career back on the right path before 9 goals and 11 assists in his debut campaign at the Big Swan marked him out as a danger man of some repute.

Notes: A suspiciously quiet winter in northern Hokuriku sees an extremely settled squad gearing up for Albirex’s first J1 season since 2017. Truth be told, while there are a number of talented youngsters in their ranks who’ll surely have visiting scouts purring, a lack of depth at centre-back and centre-forward allied to a general dearth of top flight experience across the board could prove to be their achilles heel.






Yokohama FC

Best Signing: Mizuki Arai – Defeating a whole battalion of rivals to land this gong is Mizuki Arai who is the latest player to make his way along the well-trodden path from Tokyo Verdy to Yokohama FC, albeit via a brief loan spell in Portugal. Any fans of the excellent Japanese website Football Lab will be aware that Arai was the king of their ‘Chance Building Point’ metric in early 2022, delivering numbers that were frankly off the charts for someone not starting every week. Speaking of which, super-sub is the role I see him playing at the Mitsuzawa, and just how super he is may be the decisive factor in the Fulie’s survival bid.

Biggest Loss: Masashi Kamekawa – Barely edging out Montedio Yamagata recruit Zain Issaka owing to his greater versatility and the fact that he strengthens a rival (Fukuoka), Kamekawa spent a solitary season with YFC, but made a pretty big impression. Able to play as an orthodox left wing-back or as a wide centre-back in Shuhei Yomoda’s ‘Diet Petrović’ 3-4-2-1, competent defensively and useful in attack, this is one hole the Fulie could have done without having to cover.

One to Watch: Koki Ogawa – It couldn’t be anyone else could it? An incredible 26 goals last season helped fire the Cyan Blues to promotion and got Koki Ogawa’s spluttering career back on track, earning him J2 MVP honours to boot. His deadly double at home to JEF Chiba last summer drew comparisons with Ayase Ueda and I’m honestly surprised a side like Kashima didn’t move for Ogawa in the off-season. Does he take to his second spell in J1 like a duck to water and if so, how long can Yokohama FC keep him at the Mitsuzawa? The answers to these questions will go a long way to defining the Fulie’s year.

Notes: I might as well spit it out right away, a total of 20 new faces drawn from J1, J2, varsity football, high schools, Brazil, Vietnam and South Korea gives me strong Matsumoto Yamaga vibes (for those of you new to Japanese football, they dropped from J1 to J3 in the space of 3 years on the back of similar scattergun recruitment). Now, let me balance out that rather provocative negative comment by saying, there is an absolute ton of talent throughout this side. Should kantoku Yomoda be able to find the right blend then they may turn a few heads and shoot up the table. The odds on the reverse happening are a tad more likely though, I’m afraid.






You made it this far? Wow! Give yourself a medal. Seriously, thanks very much for your support and enjoy J1 2023.

—The End—

Categories
sport

Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka 5 November 2022 Match Preview

Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 34
Saturday 5 November 2022
Kashima Soccer Stadium
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)

The 2022 J1 season finishes just the way it started for both Kashima and Gamba with a clash against one another. This will be the fifth meeting of the two this calendar year and Antlers currently boast a perfect record of played 4, won 4. The Stags can still mathematically end up 3rd on the ladder after doing Gamba a massive favour in seeing off Shimuzu at the Nihondaira last weekend, their first win in the league since mid-August. The Nerazzurri meanwhile also defeated Shizuoka-based opponents last Saturday, relegating troubled Júbilo Iwata after a 2-0 home victory which came courtesy of second-half strikes from substitutes Ryotaro Meshino and Patric. All in all, the round 33 results went as well as could realistically have been expected from a Gamba perspective, though they are by no means out of the woods yet. Victory at the Kashima Soccer Stadium for the first time since 2016 secures J1 football for 2023, anything less leaves them anxiously looking over their shoulders hoping for Kyoto and S-Pulse to slip up. So, there you have it, the final week of the season promises to be dramatic at both ends of the table, which one of these two traditional heavyweights will have their hand raised in victory at the end of this titanic tussle?

Tale of the Tape



Last Saturday saw the first home win of the Matsuda-era and the first at Panasonic Stadium since another 2-0, against Sanfrecce Hiroshima, way back on 29 June. The interceding run of 7 games saw 3 draws and 4 defeats with the late, late points ceded to Cerezo, Urawa and Kyoto really hurting the Nerazzurri right now. Gamba are W4D2L3 under Matsuda, giving them an average of 1.56 points per game which, if projected over the course of a whole season, would see them currently tied with Saturday’s opponents Kashima and prefectural rivals Cerezo on 51 (I know, I know, it’s only been just under a 1/3 of a season and many opposition teams have been in cruise control, but it’s a stat that deserves to be commended nonetheless). The win over Júbilo was the Ao to Kuro’s 2nd 2-0 victory on the spin and also their 2nd time in a row recording an xG for total of over 1. It’s worth noting that at the other end there’s only been 1 sub xG against figure during the Matsuda-era (at Nagoya) while 3 matches have seen opponents record tallies over 2. Despite this, the Nerazzurri have kept 6 clean sheets in Matsuda’s 9 games in charge and are presently on a run of only conceding 1 goal from open play in their last 5 outings, with that coming in the hugely controversial VAR-inspired shambles at Kobe, so make of that what you will. In Matsuda’s case (and more on this later in the ‘Gamba Osaka’ section), is it better to be a lucky manager than a good one (think about Yasuhito Endo’s miss early in the second half on Saturday if you require further food for thought)?

Takashi Usami’s return has certainly sparked Gamba’s attack in recent weeks in conjunction with Yuki Yamamoto coming back from injury and the inspired acquisition of Juan Alano in the summer. Brazilian volante Dawhan had fallen away after a bright start to his Nerazzurri career, but he has been a colossus in the past 2 games, completing 44 of 55 passes attempted against Júbilo, including 1 last pass, while central-midfield partner Yamamoto made 42 of 58 with 2 last passes that brought him 1 assist (Meshino’s opener). At the other end, ‘guardian deity’ Masaaki Higashiguchi wasn’t nearly as busy as in the previous 2 games, and was actually almost the architect of the Nerazzurri’s downfall with an uncharacteristic first-half error that he redeemed in typical fashion. He made 5 saves in total, including decent blocks from Kenyu Sugimoto and Shota Kaneko late on to preserve Gamba’s 2 goal advantage. As I near the end of this section I just want to dwell on that phrase ‘2 goal advantage.’ Meshino and Patric both struck within the space of 7 second-half minutes to put the Ao to Kuro on easy street and crush Jubilo’s spirit, however, they were unable to double their lead against Urawa, Kyoto and Cerezo and paid a dear, dear price for that. They simply can’t afford to let a side as steely as Kashima off the hook, and they know it. To that end, we’ll likely see a return to the game-plan that worked to a tee against Marinos, a fully fit Patric should be restored to the starting eleven and fellow goal-scorer last Saturday, Ryotaro Meshino, could take the place of Kosuke Onose whose first-half miss versus Iwata has to be seen to be believed while his performance as a whole was underwhelming to say the least. Gamba are yet to win 3 in-a-row in 2022, on the back of 2 vastly different 2-0 triumphs, can they do it when it matters most this Saturday?



Kashima raced out of the blocks this year, picking up 9 wins and 29 points from their opening 13 league fixtures which had myself and many others putting them on a pedestal alongside title challengers Marinos and Frontale. Subsequently their form has taken something of a nose-dive and they’ve tasted victory on just 4 occasions in a little under 6 months since those halcyon early season days. A rather shocking, from their point of view, 12 failures to record an xG for total over 1 in their most recent 20 outings in the wake of Ayase Ueda’s departure for Europe has damaged their ACL aspirations badly, though thanks to others’ inconsistencies over the course of the season, they still enter the final matchday in 5th, trailing 3rd placed Hiroshima by 3 points and Cerezo in 4th by only goal difference. The most telling stat I could dig up about Antlers is that their xG difference per 90 minutes has dropped by a whopping 0.67 since 2021 (from +0.57 to -0.10). They’ve managed to avoid the worst effects that such a collapse could precipitate by out-performing their attacking xG number by 9.05 goals this term, while at the back xG against and actual goals conceded were relatively consistent. Though it seems like they’ve been out of form for ages, and a cursory glance through results and statistical performances show that to indeed have been the case, some decent showings from several of their attackers have helped them keep their heads not just above water, but swimming in the general direction of the ACL spots. Forever controversial, and also highly effective, Yuma Suzuki has marked his return to Japanese football with 7 goals and 9 assists in J1 while under-utilised Brazilian Arthur Caike (who I’d love to see follow Juan Alano on the trail from Ibaraki to Suita) has bagged 9 goals and 3 assists to relieve some of the burden of Ueda’s mid-season departure and Everaldo’s ongoing struggle to recapture his 2020 form. Further back, the one who got away (from a Gamba perspective), Yuta Higuchi sits on 2 goals and a career-high 8 assists for the year, and as if to rub salt into the Nerazzurri’s gaping wounds, provided 4 assists in one game during a Levain Cup group stage tie between Antlers and the Ao to Kuro. Former defensive stalwart Daiki Iwamasa is the current incumbent of the hottest of hot seats at the Kashima Soccer Stadium and though the Stags are generally thought of as a 4-4-1-1 / 4-4-2 side, he has experimented at times this campaign. I fancy him to stick with the 4-3-3 that was successful at S-Pulse last week and allows the holy trinity of Kento Misao, Diego Pituca and Yuta Higuchi to form a formidable midfield trio, something that hasn’t happened nearly enough in 2022 in this writer’s humble opinion.



First Match Recap

All hell broke loose when these two met at a rainy Panasonic Stadium back in round 1. Still reeling from their pre-season Covid outbreak, Gamba’s backline had a makeshift feel to it and Ayase Ueda made them pay in the 20th minute, racing onto a through ball and burying his shot past Nerazzurri 3rd choice ‘keeper Kei Ishikawa. The visitors’ lead lasted a mere 6 minutes before they failed to properly deal with a corner and Kosuke Onose fired in a fine half-volley. However, Antlers were back in front on the half-hour mark with Yuma Suzuki punishing slack Gamba passing in their own defensive third. It would not be Suzuki’s last significant contribution of the afternoon though, as less than 10 minutes later he and Patric clashed while contesting a loose ball and Kashima’s number 40 fell to the ground clutching his face. The referee immediately brandished a red-card and despite replays clearly showing Patric and Suzuki were both worthy of yellow cards, and a red was certainly not warranted in the Brazilian’s case, a technicality in VAR (which needs to be ironed out before the 2023 season kicks off) meant that the Nerazzurri had to play out the rest of the match down to 10 men. Shots rained in from the Stags in the wake of that hugely controversial decision and the woodwork was struck on several occasions while Ishikawa acquitted himself well in trying circumstances and the Ao to Kuro even briefly threatened an equaliser through Usami and Kurata. It was simply not Gamba’s afternoon and lovely Kashima passing and movement led up to Ayase Ueda’s clincher midway through the second half. It appeared back then in February as if Ryotaro Araki was set to continue where he left off in 2021, unfortunately it was not to be for the youngster. On the day, it certainly was to be for his Antlers side though as they ran out 3-1 winners and, social media scrutiny of Suzuki’s shenanigans not withstanding, got their campaign off to the perfect start.



Gamba Osaka


Mood in the camp – It’s certainly lighter than it’s been in recent weeks, but there’s a strong sense that any kind of slip up in what is an extremely tough final day fixture at Kashima could see the house of cards come crashing down. Gamba have transformed from a team that finished top 4 in J1 10 times between 2002 and 2016 to a side that, from 2017 onwards, has spent a considerable amount of time each year being amongst the worst performers in the league (2020 excluded). It’s been said on plenty of occasions about a team like Shonan, or in the past Niigata, Kofu or Omiya, you can only get away with circling the bowl for so long, one of these times you’re going to get swept away with the tide. I’ll be honest, since the 2-0 home loss to Shimizu in August, I’ve been convinced this year was going to end in relegation, I hope to be proven wrong come 4pm on Saturday afternoon.

Managerial matters – As I discussed above, Hiroshi Matsuda has generally achieved the required results in trying circumstances and the table below highlights the 3 key tenets of his reign, namely, a 442 formation, consistent player selection and an increase in yellow cards (that Alano-inspired shithousery I mentioned last week). However, with all of that said, I see him as more of a Sam Allardyce-esque firefighter than the forward-thinking kantoku the club needs to move them out of the bottom third of J1. I certainly wouldn’t like to ditch Matsuda altogether and surely we can find a spot for him either in the front office or in the youth department (Gamba Youth got tanked 9-1 by their Júbilo counterparts last weekend and look set to be relegated from the Prince Takamado Trophy West Division Premier League, so something there is most definitely broken and in need of urgent fixing). Names like Lotina and Ficcadenti have been banded about Gamba supporter circles with Tadahiro Akiba, formerly of Mito, an outside bet. However, throwing those names into the equation, when all is said and done, Matsuda is, in reality, probably the most likely person to be kantoku at the start of next season, be that in J1 or J2.



Leandro Pereira – The Brazilian striker spoke to the media recently about his earliest experiences in Japan and complained of not having a great relationship with Matsumoto kantoku Yasuharu Sorimachi which precipitated his loan move to Sanfrecce midway through the 2019 season. There has also been speculation that he won’t be offered a new deal at Gamba and he appears ready and willing to return to his native Brazil. He won’t be missed. I know you can argue that Gamba probably haven’t delivered on promises made to him on the footballing side, though they’ve certainly come through financially, as he’s believed to be the club’s highest earner, however, I’d make the point that the player himself has to take a long hard look in the mirror. His on-field bust up with Gen Shoji during the Osaka Derby was embarrassing, but it’s likely that Shoji merely stated what the majority of his team-mates and supporters have thought at one time or another. Pereira isn’t a superstar, or frankly anything close, yet from the outside it appears that he’s only willing to put in the effort when it suits him and that’s frankly the kind of prima-donna, blame everyone other than yourself behaviour the Nerazzurri can ill-afford to put up with anymore. In my book he’ll go down as a colossal waste of club resources and a horrible reflection on the archaic scouting system and front office decision making processes that have scarred Gamba over the past few years.

Endo standing ovation – To finish this section on something of a high note, it was extremely moving to see Yasuhito Endo be the last one to leave the Panasonic Stadium field last Saturday after receiving a standing ovation from everyone in the ground. I, for one, (I’m sure @GolazoGamba agrees) would love to have him back as a Gamba player for 2023…don’t let that be the last time we see him play in Suita, please!

Team News

For the first time in my 3+ years of writing these previews, I have nothing to say in here, everyone on 3 yellow cards escaped censure against Iwata and there are no fresh injury concerns. Congratulations to the current coaching staff for seemingly curing Gamba’s long-standing fitness curse.

Predicted Lineups and Stats






Kashima Antlers

At present, it appears that Daiki Iwamasa will be the man to lead Kashima into the 2023 season with the club’s chairman saying that the former Japan international defender’s footballing vision is aligned with that of the front office. This is the same chairman who criticised his own front office in his statement announcing the firing of Swiss kantoku René Weiler earlier this year. Reading between the lines, moves such as acquiring central midfielder Yuta Higuchi from Tosu when Misao and Pituca were already on the books and signing centre-back Eduardo instead would have made more logical sense, appeared to have been the trigger for the chairman’s anger. Further to that point, while it’s common for opposition fans to goad Kashima with jibes about them being located in the countryside and their stadium being impossible to reach, it seems that in reality it’s actually not so easy for them to attract top talent to deepest, darkest Ibaraki anymore. Sports Hochi’s Gamba beat reporter Mr. Kanagawa and his Kashima counterpart Mr. Uchida have chatted a couple of times on Twitter and during their talks it was revealed that with Antlers no longer being THE team in Japanese football, it’s becoming harder and harder for them to bring in genuine, proven quality either domestically or from overseas. Although they are the most successful side in the history of the J. League, Kashima boast only one J1 title in the last 12 seasons (soon to be 13) and 2023 will mark their 4th year in succession without ACL football. Is Iwamasa the man to right these wrongs? Personally, I’m sceptical, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Whatever happens this winter, he will definitely have two new promising youngsters on-board to help him navigate the choppy waters that likely lie ahead. Centre-back Keisuke Tsukui from Shohei High School in Saitama and Kashima Youth central midfielder Yoshihiro Shimoda will both make the step up to the professional ranks in 2023. Shimoda is presently with the Japan Under-18 squad on their short tour of Spain, where he is a team-mate of Gamba’s Harumi Minamino, so clearly he has some decent pedigree, and I wrote about Tsukui in my J1 Rookie Review article that you can find here.

Team News

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

DF Koki Anzai – Dislocated his right shoulder away at Shimizu last week and definitely won’t play on Saturday.

FW Shoma Doi – Has sat out the past 2 league games with a groin injury and seems set to miss this encounter as well.

DF Rikuto Hirose and MF Yuta Higuchi are available for selection again having been suspended for the win away to Shimizu last week.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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

Categories
sport

Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers 19 February 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers
2022 J1 Season Round 1
Saturday 19 February 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


Eleven weeks since the end of the 2021 campaign and J. League is back for the 2022 edition. For Gamba fans it’ll be a first introduction to Katano-soccer while Kashima are still awaiting new kantoku René Weiler’s arrival in the country. However, Antlers supporters should be able to enjoy an initial glance at several promising winter captures as well as returning hero Yuma Suzuki.

As a slight disclaimer, it needs to be pointed out that although these two clubs share an impressive 10 J1 titles, 9 Emperor’s Cups, 8 League Cups and 2 ACL wins since the J. League’s inception in 1993, opening days and fast starts in general aren’t really their thing. The Nerazzurri have won just one opening fixture post 2011, 2-1 at then defending champions Yokohama F. Marinos back in 2020 while Kashima haven’t tasted victory since a 1-0 over Gamba in the first ever match played at Panasonic Stadium in 2016. The Ibaraki side will certainly be cock-a-hoop at having avoided being paired with Shimizu S-Pulse this season, something that has occurred 3 times in the last 7 years (including 2021), resulting in 1 draw and 2 defeats.

These two will be seeing a good deal more of each other over the coming weeks having been drawn together in the same Levain Cup group with upcoming encounters scheduled for 26 March (in Ibaraki) and 18 May (in Suita) to come so getting off to a good start here will be vital for both sides’ league campaigns and also a morale booster ahead of future cup clashes.



As this is my first match preview of the year, here are a few quick parish notices.

Thanks to everyone for the phenomenal response to my 2022 J1 Predicted Lineups article. It has frankly blown me away how many people have read, commented on, liked, retweeted and shared it, I can’t thank each and every one of you enough, my words could never express how truly grateful I am. As a result of having more eyeballs on that post, I seem to have picked up some new followers…..welcome aboard everyone!! With that in mind I thought now would be a good time to share some good sources of J1 information (apologies if I missed anyone out).

For my stats I use,

https://sporteria.jp/ (English translations in the pictures below)
https://www.football-lab.jp/ (all in Japanese)
https://www.jleague.co/ (generally has starting lineup announcements at least 2 hours before kick off)

Other good sources

https://twitter.com/JTalkPod (J-Talk Podcast, hosted by Ben and Sam (https://twitter.com/FrsoccerSam), I’m sometimes a guest too and other pods in the J-Talk solar system cover J2 and J3, FC Tokyo, and Yokohama F. Marinos, an absolute must for all fans of the league).

https://www.youtube.com/c/LostinFootballJapan (Lost in Football Japan, videos all about Japan, the J. League, matchday experiences, how to buy tickets and everything you need to follow Japanese football)

https://twitter.com/JLeague_Fantasy (J. League Fantasy – for all your fantasy football needs)

On Twitter,

@Michael_Master (transfers), @aishiterutokyo (general news), @jleagueregista (articles and opinions), @frontalerabbit (Kawasaki), @yukinho (Antlers), @FCTokyoKaiGuys (FC Tokyo), @TricolorePride (Marinos), @avispadaniel and @NavyBlueWasp (Fukuoka), @seankyaroru (comments and analysis), @R_by_Ryo (stats), @J1tokei (stats) and @JleagueShirts (international delivery of J. League uniforms) are J1 handles I highly recommend following, there are probably loads more that I’ve forgotten, please comment on this article if there are any more accounts you recommend.


Sporteria Stats in English

Tale of the Tape

As this is the first week of the season I don’t have any current data to fall back on and you should see a return of the stats tables I used last year from about round 10 as it’s from that point onward that they’ll start to take on some meaning. But, I can’t leave this section blank so let’s take a brief dive into the 2021 numbers and I’ll let you be the judge of how much relevance they’ll have on this particular match. I’ve provided data that I previously published on Twitter below to back up the general summary that appears next.

Starting off with Kashima who had something of an up-and-down 2021 where they showed the ability to mix it with the top guns on their day, indeed they saw off Yokohama F. Marinos home and away, but were also just as capable of slipping up against less fancied opponents. Antlers’ overall 2021 performance ended up looking far more impressive on a spreadsheet compared to on the actual field of play, they led the league for fewest shots against and fewest shots against on target, were 2nd when it came to shots for, shots for on target and sprints, 3rd in terms of xG against and xG difference and 4th for xG for, however, all of that only led to a 4th place league finish which coupled with Urawa’s Emperor’s Cup triumph in December saw them miss out on ACL qualification for a second consecutive year.

Long term blog readers will know all about my frustrations when it came to how Gamba’s 2021 season panned out, with the coronavirus outbreak after round 1, subsequent ACL involvement and a never-ending injury crisis paving the way for mass squad rotation and a set of results and performances that largely defied analysis. The Nerazzurri didn’t rank higher than 11th for any of my key performance indicators, xG for and passes completed were their best showings, indeed pass completion was the only category where they outshone Saturday’s opponents. While Kashima boasted the best shots against record, Gamba posted the worst stats with Masaaki Higashiguchi forced to play like a man possessed between the sticks and he could consider himself unlucky not to be named in the league’s Best Eleven for 2021 (only the brilliance of Mitch Langerak denied him). The Ao to Kuro also had the 2nd poorest xG against and shots against on target figures as well as scoring 3rd lowest in sprints per game (this can probably be connected to the punishing summer schedule resulting from the early season Covid outbreak).





Head to Head

Kashima did the double over Gamba last season, running out 1-0 winners at Panasonic Stadium before cruising to a 3-1 home victory in mid-September. While the Nerazzurri could use their recent ACL involvement and summer backlog of games as an excuse for the home defeat which came as a result of Arthur Caike’s strike in the final quarter, they were comprehensively outplayed by a far superior outfit in the return clash. After a goalless first-half, efforts from Ayase Ueda and Juan Alano plus a fine solo run and shot from Shoma Doi all within the space of 21 minutes had Antlers coasting before sloppy defensive work from Ikuma Sekigawa gifted Tiago Alves a late consolation from the penalty spot. Sekigawa was then nearly responsible for creating an extremely nervy final 5 minutes for the home support as his wild and unsuccessful lunge to retrieve the ball allowed Kosuke Onose in to curve a delicious shot towards the Kashima goal, but unfortunately for the Gamba winger his effort went agonisingly just wide.

Back in 2020, Gamba came within seconds of doing the double over Kashima as Tomoya Inukai’s 95th minute header rescued a home point for Antlers after Onose had given the visitors an early lead. Later in the year, Gamba ran out 2-0 victors in Suita, with all the action coming in the second stanza. Masaaki Higashiguchi denied Juan Alano with a brilliant low save as the Brazilian raced clean through on goal before Patric’s penalty and Kazuma Watanabe’s injury time clincher earned a 4th league win on the trot for the Nerazzurri.



Gamba Osaka


What’s changed at Gamba in the 2 ½ month break between seasons? In has come former assistant to Kenta Hasegawa during the trophy-laden 2014-2015 campaigns (also assistant to Akira Nishino from 2007-2009), Tomohiro Katanosaka, following a roller coaster 6 year spell with Oita Trinita. A host of new backroom staff have joined too, including, much to the joy of the Curva Nord faithful, a new physical coach (Ryo Yano from FC Ryukyu). Additionally 8 players have arrived at the club plus reserve ‘keeper Taichi Kato has turned his loan move from Ehime into a permanent deal. Regarding the new arrivals, for simplicity I’ll slot them into three categories, 1. Hiroto Yamami, Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto (players who were already at the club last season, either on designated special player contracts or as youth academy members), 2. foreign signings not yet in the country (Kwon Kyung-won and Dawhan), and 3. brand new players who’ve completed pre-season training (Shota Fukuoka, Mitsuki Saito and Hideki Ishige). From category 1 Yamami is the guy to watch, he’ll possibly begin the year as an impact sub, but should hopefully become a regular starter, either as an inside-forward or even centre-forward as the season progresses, look out for Nakamura and Sakamoto in the Levain Cup group stages. Both Kwon and Dawhan appear to be quality additions, but at the time of writing it’s impossible to know how long it’ll be before they can enter Japan. Dawhan has posted Instagram videos of himself training in Brazil and Kwon has been involved with the South Korean national team, so if they can join up with their team-mates soon and integration goes smoothly then they are certainly a duo for the Gamba support to get excited about. Of the other three, Fukuoka seems to be a real character and as a ball playing centre-back expect to see him take over from the departed Kim Young-gwon until Kwon is up to speed, Saito is an intriguing addition who should play regularly throughout the year and Ishige, if, and it’s a big IF, he can stay healthy could be a wonderful asset. At present it’s hard to predict with any degree of confidence where he’ll fit in, but once the season is up and running an injury or loss of form either at wing-back or inside forward will likely open the door for him to come in and prove the doubters wrong.

The coronavirus outbreak which affected 9 first teamers and 3 staff members has obviously had a negative impact on the side’s preparations though they did get around a week’s training in before the 11 day camp in Okinawa with the majority of the squad also training back in Suita for around a fortnight before this tie. With that said, I expect a slow start for the Nerazzurri, not least because the opening 3 league fixtures are Kashima (h), Urawa (a) and Kawasaki (h). Gamba took 6 points from those matches in 2020 and just 1 last year, will early results prove a reliable guide or something of a red herring this time round?

Team News

As a consequence of the recent corona outbreak it’s difficult to know just how fit each squad member is at the moment so there’s definitely the potential for a surprise or three in Saturday’s lineup though I’d still imagine the starting eleven will have plenty of experience in it. Brazilian forward Leandro Pereira missed the end of 2021 with a nagging hamstring complaint and only began training again at the beginning of this month so his participation in this clash must be in some doubt. Aside from that, the only other non-Covid related problem I’m aware of is backup goalie Jun Ichimori’s hamstring with the stopper still working his way through rehab following surgery carried out last autumn.

Predicted Lineup and Stats




Kashima Antlers

New Swiss kantoku René Weiler appears to possess an extremely attack-minded philosophy and the 2022 Kashima Antlers have a wide range of offensive weapons for him to utilise. Yuma Suzuki is back from a three-year stint in Belgium to compete with Ayase Ueda and Everaldo for a spot up top while the highly-rated Yuta Higuchi arrives from Tosu to battle it out with the likes of Shoma Doi, Ryotaro Araki, Juan Alano, Arthur Caike, Ryuji Izumi, Yuta Matsumura and Hayato Nakama for the final 2 places in the front four. That’s too many players I hear you shout, and I’d agree with you. Dare I say it, but this squad seems to have been built in the knowledge that at least a couple of the names above (I’ll let you decide who) won’t be at Antlers for much longer, either that or Weiler’s planning on going 2-2-6? At the back, Tomoya Inukai (Urawa), Koki Machida (USG) and Katsuya Nagato (Marinos) have all departed and those moves plus the uncertainty around who their starting goalkeeper will be leaves me feeling slightly pessimistic about the strength of their rearguard. However, with all that said, I can’t see Kashima finishing any lower than 5th and the other 4 teams I have in my imaginary top 5 are ACL participants, could that be the vital edge Antlers and their forward thinking coach need?

Team News

Not too much to report here apart from the news that midfielder Shintaro Nago, a recent returnee following an injury-plagued loan stint at Shonan, is still out with a foot problem and isn’t expected back until May.

Predicted Lineup and Stats



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

Categories
sport

J1 2022 Predicted Lineups

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

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

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

The Guide

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

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

Biggest Loss – Basically the opposite of best signing.

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

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

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

Predicted Lineups

A few caveats here,

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

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

Kawasaki Frontale

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




Yokohama F. Marinos

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

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




Vissel Kobe

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




Kashima Antlers

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




Nagoya Grampus

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




Urawa Red Diamonds

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




Sagan Tosu

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




Avispa Fukuoka

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




FC Tokyo

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




Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

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




Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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




Cerezo Osaka

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

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




Gamba Osaka

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




Shimizu S-Pulse

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

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




Kashiwa Reysol

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




Shonan Bellmare

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




Júbilo Iwata

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

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




Kyoto Sanga

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




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

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sport

Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka 18 September 2021 Match Preview

Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 29
Kashima Soccer Stadium
Saturday 18 September 2021
Kick Off: 18:00 (JST)


Two of J1’s perennial heavyweights step into the ring for this contest looking to make amends for damaging results suffered last weekend. Antlers were downed 3-0 at home by a rampant Avispa Fukuoka while Gamba huffed and puffed, but were ultimately bested 3-2 by Vegalta Sendai in a surprisingly high scoring shootout between two of the league’s weaker attacking units. Despite their most recent setback, Kashima are still very much in the hunt for a 2022 ACL place, sitting only 3 points off third with 10 games remaining. Gamba, meanwhile, have dropped down to fourteenth, but importantly maintain a seven point advantage over Tokushima, who occupy the uppermost spot in the drop zone. However, it seems like the Nerazzurri are currently being aided more by the poor quality of the teams below them rather than their own good form. Kashima will see this encounter as a good platform to build some momentum ahead of their midweek clash with defending champions Kawasaki, while Gamba need to arrest their recent slump in form before it turns into a full-blown crisis.

Just a quick note, I will be on next week’s edition of the J-Talk Podcast discussing this game and all the others on the round 29 slate, please check it out if you have the chance!

Tale of the Tape

A cursory glance at the stats from Gamba’s 3-2 home loss to Sendai (their eighth at Panasonic Stadium in the league this year) might suggest something of a smash-and-grab by the men from Miyagi, and while this may be partly true, those of a blue and black persuasion would do well not to dwell on that too much and instead look at the areas clearly in need of improvement. Usami and Patric being re-united in attack brought about a season high 21 shots on goal, however, had Yuji Ono taken his chance in the eighth minute or if Usami had buried his shot past Jakub Słowik when the game was on a knife-edge at 2-2 then we could have seen an outcome more in-keeping with the story the stats tell us. As it was, Takuma Nishimura stopped arguing with the officials long enough to give Usami a finishing lesson and Cayman Togashi, obviously a big fan of this blog, took exception to my pre-match comments that he was a hard-working forward who doesn’t score goals, planting two first-half headers past Masaaki Higashiguchi to leave the Gamba defence and myself with giant dollops of egg on our faces. Masanobu Matsunami once again has a free midweek and he’ll need to use all the time available to work on defending crosses and set-pieces in addition to extra shooting practice for the midfielders and forwards. A change of scenery might help a bit too as though Gamba’s road stats are much weaker than those in Suita, crucially, in away fixtures, they do get more of the two most important things in football, wins and points.

I’m sure those of you who read this blog regularly will be aware of my deep dissatisfaction with how 2021 has turned out for Gamba, I believe Kashima supporters must also be feeling a sense at frustration at how their team’s season has panned out thus far. While Gamba generally tend to play up or down to match their opponent and rarely appear much better or worse than their opposition, the only exceptions to this rule, in my eyes anyway, have been Kawasaki and Kashima, who both looked a cut above in their wins in Suita earlier in the year, at the other end of the scale, Oita rarely seem to turn up against the Nerazzurri. Despite looking so impressive on occasion and doing the double over Yokohama F. Marinos, the longest streak of consecutive league victories Antlers have been able to string together this season is four. Whenever you think they are going to kick on, they seem to stumble unexpectedly. Brazilian forward Everaldo’s drop off in goals has been a major contributing factor to their inability to properly mount a title challenge. J1’s second top marksman in 2020 with 18 strikes incredibly has only a solitary league goal to his name this time out (he does have 8 in cup competitions). Although up and comers, Ryotaro Araki (9 goals, 6 assists) and Olympian Ayase Ueda (8 goals) have done their part, not to mention the 5 goals apiece from centre-backs Tomoya Inukai and Koki Machida, just imagine Everaldo had found the back of the net 11 times instead of once. If that rang true, then I doubt Antlers would currently be lying 19 points off top spot. Should Naoki Soma be able to solve the Everaldo riddle over the winter then a 2022 title challenge isn’t out of the question, but for now all eyes in Ibaraki must be firmly set on locking down third spot this year.





Head to Head

As I mentioned above, Kashima’s 1-0 victory at Panasonic Stadium in July thanks to Arthur Caike’s first J1 goal was in actual fact far more comfortable than the final score suggests. For context, and I really do think this important when analysing most Gamba matches this season, at the time this game was held, the Nerazzurri players and staff were still living in a hotel as part of the quarantine procedure after returning from the ACL group stage in Uzbekistan. Additionally, they were playing their third match in the space of seven days while Kashima were fresh from a near two-week break.

In the corresponding fixture last year, Kosuke Onose gave Gamba a dream start in just the sixth minute before the Nerazzurri withstood a barrage of Kashima pressure. Just when it seemed they’d hold out for a vital three points, Tomoya Inukai popped up with a powerful header in off Masaaki Higashiguchi’s right-hand post in the final seconds of additional time to claim what was ultimately a deserved point for the home side.



Gamba Osaka


Now that the coast has cleared a little fixture-wise for Gamba, one would expect to see more consistent team selections. However, at the weekend we were treated to a starting eleven from which 4-4-2 or 3-4-2-1 formations looked equally plausible. As it turned out, the team lined up in a 3-4-2-1 system in the first-half with Ryu Takao partnering Gen Shoji and Kim Young-gwon at the back before a switch to 4-4-2 in the second period, a move which saw Takao revert to his best position of right-back and Shinya Yajima shift from the right shadow role to left-wing. I’ve stated multiple times that I’m no fan of constant mid-season tinkering of a club’s shape, especially defensively, and it’s up to Matsunami now to define Gamba’ strategy for the remaining 10 league fixtures, are we a back 3 or a back 4 team? Speaking of remaining fixtures, Gamba’s defeat at the hands of Sendai looks all the more damaging when you consider the run of matches that lie ahead. In addition to this tussle with Kashima, the Nerazzurri also have to travel to Kawasaki, Marinos and Urawa as well as hosting Tosu and Nagoya before the season’s end, not an easy looking set of games at all, is it? Let’s keep our fingers and toes crossed there’s nothing left riding on that final day home encounter with Satoshi Yamaguchi’s Shonan Bellmare.

Quick Update: Today (16 September) Gamba announced winger Jiro Nakamura and forward Isa Sakamoto would be promoted to the top team next season. Congratulations to both.

Team News

Yuji Ono’s wretched run of luck continued on Sunday when he was stretchered off with a right-hamstring injury after only 15 minutes, I doubt he’ll be back again this season, and it’s possible Gamba could release him at the end of the year owing to his ongoing fitness issues. Hiroki Fujiharu and Ryu Takao were also subbed off against Sendai, though I believe Fujiharu was just suffering from cramp (yet again) and Takao’s withdrawal was merely precautionary. Wellington Silva did make a welcome return to the squad on Sunday, though the fact that it was Shinya Yajima, not him, who replaced Ono early on suggests he’s not fit enough to start yet. It appears Genta Miura’s knee injury won’t require surgery, but he’s likely to be sidelined for a number of weeks. Other than that, Yuya Fukuda (hamstring), Dai Tsukamoto (thigh), Jun Ichimori (shoulder) and Haruto Shirai (knee) are the other confirmed absentees. Leandro Pereira wasn’t in the matchday squad on Sunday and all I can say is that I doubt it’s because Matsunami thinks Tiago Alves is a better player than him.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Kashima Antlers

Kashima are Kashima and though the faces on the field and on the bench may change, the playing style and philosophy endure. You can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be set up in their customary 4-4-2/4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1, however you want to define it, and will look to move the ball quickly from back to front, utilising the quality of their attacking widemen to generate chances while also peppering Gamba’s goal with a number of speculative efforts from distance. Box-to-box midfielder Diego Pituca, a stand out in the reverse fixture in July, will be a key player again here, as will compatriot Everaldo, depending on how much of a role he plays. He appears to be dropping deeper and into wider areas looking for work, when in reality it would be best for the team if he loitered around the edge of the box waiting to be serviced by the likes of Doi, Araki and Izumi rather than the other way round. The composition of Antlers central defence will also be an important factor, but I’ll get into that more in the paragraph below.

Team News


Centre-back Tomoya Inukai is the headline absentee for Kashima after injuring his hamstring in the Levain Cup quarter-final second leg defeat to Nagoya, he’s expected to be out for six weeks. Regular partner, and rumoured target for several European clubs, Koki Machida has missed the past two outings with no reason given by the club. Bueno, the Tiago Alves of Antlers, partnered rookie Naoki Hayashi (Osaka Taiiku Univ.) in the match with Fukuoka and the results were less than stellar, to say the least, so Kashima supporters will be keenly hoping for Machida’s return here. Elsewhere, backup ‘keeper Taiki Yamada (knee) is done for the year while Antlers’ version of Yuji Ono, Rikuto Hirose, is out with a hamstring problem yet again. Juan Alano and Yuta Matsumura haven’t featured in the matchday squad since the 2-1 win at Shonan on 9 August and veteran midfielder Ryota Nagaki last saw action in the 1-0 away defeat at the hands of Kobe on August 21.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

Categories
sport

J1 Predicted Lineups Post Transfer Window Update

The summer transfer window “slammed shut,” or closed gently as it tends to do here in Japan, last Friday (August 13), so I thought this would be a good time to have a look at the lineups we are likely to see J1 teams field from now until December.

A quick reminder that you can always check out my regularly updated J1 and J2 databases here,

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1j6HTKFF38A3cAz7sqw3jfZ4f6y8soAgOjfXqKR3fNCM/

Before I get into it, here is a rough guide to some of the parameters I’ve used.

* Teams are listed in the order they finished the 2020 season, ie the order you’ll find them in all the 2021 yearbooks.
* The lineups below are not necessarily the ones you’ll see next week, more an amalgamation of the players expected to feature most frequently between now and the end of the season.
* Where genuine competition exists for a starting spot, I’ve listed alternatives below the projected starter.
* The injured / unavailable list only includes players who I feel would have a genuine chance of starting if they were fit. Regular readers will know finding information about JLeague injuries can be a thankless task, so I’ve done my best, but can’t promise it’s 100% accurate.

Finally, if you don’t already, please give @Michael_Master a follow on Twitter. The use of the word ‘Master’ in his handle is by no means an overstatement, the man is truly the oracle when it comes to Japanese transfers and this blog post wouldn’t have been possible without his updates. Thanks man!

Kawasaki Frontale

Comments
Yes Mitoma and Tanaka are gone, and yes Kashiwa have just become the first team in 40 J1 games to keep them scoreless, but take a look at the lineup below and you’ll surely agree this is still the strongest side in the division. A settled back 6 and plenty of options in attack plus rivals either losing players or being engaged in the process of rebuilding, makes me believe they’ll overcome ACL distractions to lift a fourth title in five years.
Injured/Unavailable: 10 Ryota Oshima


Gamba Osaka


Comments
Long time readers of this blog will know the trouble I’ve had predicting Gamba starting lineups recently, though I should point out in my defence, I’m generally more accurate at it than DAZN! With Miura, Kim and Shoji fit, 3-4-2-1 seems like it’ll be the order of the day for most remaining games this season. From 2022, however, it’d be good to see 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 getting an outing, especially if Hiroto Yamami can replicate anything like the form he did against Shimizu on Friday.
Injured/Unavailable: 14 Yuya Fukuda, 15 Yosuke Ideguchi, 27 Ryu Takao, 28 Wellington Silva


Nagoya Grampus

Comments
The arrival of Polish international Jakub Świerczok is like manna from heaven for the Grampus support who have been starved of a genuine centre-forward since Jô’s acrimonious departure at the start of 2020. Captain Yuichi Maruyama is out for the year and the slight defensive wobble caused by his absence, in addition to an inability to create presentable openings for their attackers has seen Nagoya slip back from the highs of last year and the early part of this campaign. Still very much in the hunt for 3rd place, their new number 40 will have a big say in whether they equal last season’s final ranking or not.
Injured/Unavailable: 3 Yuichi Maruyama, 9 Ryogo Yamasaki, 44 Mu Kanazaki


Cerezo Osaka

Comments
The problem with a having a club legend in charge, as both Osaka clubs have found out this year, is that it’s not easy to sever ties with them when things head south. The further away Cerezo get from the defensive stability of the Lotina-era, the more vulnerable they look at the back, while at the other end of the field, a succession of niggling injuries to key personnel has set-back Culpi’s plans to revitalise their attack. The Cherry Blossoms don’t really do mid-table finishes and have only 1 win and 11 points from their last 15 league outings…they couldn’t….could they?
Injured/Unavailable: 3 Ryosuke Shindo


Kashima Antlers


Comments
Things have generally meandered along under Naoki Soma, just as they did under predecessors Zago and Oiwa and on the back of 3 straight wins, the Ibaraki giants are firmly in the picture for 2022 ACL qualification which is really a bare minimum for a club of this size and prestige. Box-to-box midfielder Pituca seems to be a ready-made long term replacement for Leo Silva, but the Antlers faithful must have concerns over how long they can keep hold of talented youngsters like, Araki, Machida and Tsunemoto. Key forward Everaldo has incredibly only scored once in J1 this season and seems to be dropping deep and into wider areas too often, though with Tomoya Inukai raking in goals as he did against Shonan last week, it doesn’t appear to be hindering the team too much.
Injured/Unavailable: 22 Rikuto Hirose


FC Tokyo

Comments
A very streaky team this year, and I’ll discuss them in greater detail during my preview of their upcoming clash with Gamba, Gasmen supporters have seen their side go on both 5 game winning and losing runs in the first half of the season. Boss Kenta Hasegawa and playmaker Leandro burying the hatchet, for now, has helped make them a much more potent force going forward which has somewhat papered over the widening cracks at the back.
Injured/Unavailable: 9 Diego Oliveira, 14 Takuya Uchida, 33 Akihiro Hayashi, 37 Hotaka Nakamura


Kashiwa Reysol

Comments
I’ve already gone pretty deep on the J Talk Podcast regarding my issues with the Reysol front office’s performance in recent years. That, plus the winter departure of Olunga has really set them back this campaign in my opinion. Their season stats and recent results indicate a push up the table might be on the cards during the second half of the year. A bloated squad, constant tinkering with the team’s shape and a never-ending succession of injuries suggest otherwise.
Injured/Unavailable: 7 Hidekazu Otani, 11 Matheus Savio, 33 Hayato Nakama, 39 Yuta Kamiya


Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Comments
Sanfre have reverted to the tried and trusted 3-4-2-1 after an ill-advised dabble with a back 4 at the beginning of the season. They appear to have a surplus of quality centre-backs, but there’s now a gaping Hayao Kawabe shaped hole in the middle of the park. More cutting edge is required up front, but with the new stadium project sucking in resources, they lack the funds to adequately replace Leandro Pereira and it looks like they’ll be left relying on youth team products, university graduates and promising J2 players in the coming years.


Yokohama F. Marinos

Comments
10 points from 4 games in quick-fire succession marks an excellent introduction to Japanese football for Kevin Muscat. The Australian head coach must have been delighted with Léo Ceará’s efforts in recent weeks, putting his hand up as the man to fill Ado Onaiwu’s big boots up front. They are now breathing right down the necks of Kanagawa rivals Kawasaki and we have a genuine title race on our hands. Their devastating attack is beyond reproach, but the old defensive frailties which held them back in 2018 and 2020 have been on display since returning from their summer break. Gamba and Oita, two of the weaker attacks in the division, let them off the hook, but I have a nagging doubt that they are going to give too many chances, to the wrong team, on the wrong day and that’s what’s ultimately going to cost them top spot.


Urawa Red Diamonds


Comments
The plethora of new talent in the arrivals lounge has made Reds one of the most talked about J1 sides during the summer months. The shape I’ve set out below was not the one used by Ricardo Rodriguez on Saturday night, however, I feel he may lean towards it later in the year. Although Kobe seem to act as a bit of lightning rod for online criticism about big spending, dress it up any way you like, Reds summer spree is a naked attempt at fixing problems using cold, hard cash. The Saitama outfit mean business, they may not reach the summit this year, but, they’ll definitely be a team to keep your eye on in the coming years.
**Please note – on August 15 Reds announced Kasper Junker had undergone surgery on a cheekbone injury, I expect to see him back wearing some Tsuneyasu Miyamoto-style facial protection in the next couple of weeks so kept him in the lineup below.**


Oita Trinita

Comments
After a decent run in the top flight since 2019, it seems like the curtain is coming down on their J1 journey, for now. Trinita possess the weakest attack in the division, scoring an anaemic 0.63 goals per game, see misses in the 15th and 48th minutes of their eventual 5-1 drubbing at Marinos on Sunday for clear evidence of where the issues lie. Former Gamba assistant Tomohiro Katanosaka, now in his 6th year in charge, has recently looked at alternatives to his favoured 3-4-2-1, including starting with a back 4 vs Marinos, but I feel like he will return to type soon as the squad is built to play with 3 centre-backs. Goya and Masuyama have come in to bolster the attack, but they still lack a proven source of goals. Onaiwu, Fujimoto and Tanaka have all previously departed for brighter lights elsewhere and it costs money to replace that kind of talent, money, that sadly, Trinita just don’t have.
Injured/Unavailable: 15 Yuta Koide


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo


Comments
Petrovic’s 100mph attacking football style is locked and loaded at the Sapporo Dome and at the moment it seems to be bearing fruit. As I write this, Consadole have just seen off FC Tokyo in impressive fashion, having dispatched Urawa with even greater ease the week before. Not the richest, or flashiest of J1 outfits, but their in-depth scouting of Japan’s varsity competitions, allied with solid youth development has proven crucial in steering them in an upwards trajectory over the past few months.


Sagan Tosu

Comments
With severe financial difficulties, a manager who’s just returned from a 3 week suspension while an internal power harassment investigation was conducted and 2 of their brightest talents freshly headed out the door, it’s amazing how settled things still appear at Tosu. Matsuoka and Hayashi are now yesterday’s men, but replacements Shirasaki and Koizumi from Kashima are thoroughbred pros who will help steady the ship. ACL qualification may be just beyond them this year, and that’s a real shame as the vultures will surely be circling the likes of Higuchi, Yamashita, Sento and Eduardo in the winter, making a repeat of this season’s heroics all the tougher.
Injured/Unavailable: 23 Fuchi Honda


Vissel Kobe

Comments
It’s worth remembering that Kobe have never finished higher than 7th in J1, so assuming they can get big-name summer recruits Muto and Osako integrated quickly then they’ll be well on their way to achieving a first ever ACL qualification through league performance. Bojan is a bit of an unknown quantity these days, but J1 coach of the month for July Miura has built a solid foundation and crucially has gotten, the high profile stars, the undercard, and the youngsters all pulling together in the same direction, hats off to him for that.
Injured/Unavailable: 1 Daiya Maekawa, 29 Lincoln


Yokohama FC


Comments
A mass recruitment process over the summer has given them a glimmer of hope, and they are now unbeaten in their last 4 games, but is it all a bit too little, too late? Getting my old EPL 40 points to avoid relegation calculator out, Yokohama FC still require 25 points from their 16 remaining fixtures to reach that mythical milestone. Yusuke Matsuo is in the side once more and a defence that was conceding at a rate of 2.32 goals per match has now kept back-to-back clean sheets thanks to the arrival of Brazilian defender Gabriel. If his compatriots, Felipe Vizeu and Saulo Mineiro, can have a similar impact at the other end of the pitch, then maybe, just maybe they could be on for the greatest of great escapes.
Injured/Unavailable: 8 Kosuke Saito, 23 Yota Maejima, 30 Kohei Tezuka


Shimizu S-Pulse

Comments
Their summer transfer business looks good, but I said that about their winter recruitment and it’s not really moved them very far up the standings. Similar to post-Ferguson/pre-Solskjær Manchester United, a hard-hitting critique might say that constantly flip-flopping between managers, players and playing styles is hindering the club as it seeks to move forward. Relying on goals from set-pieces and the physicality of Thiago Santana might bring some degree of success, but it feels like had they given Cklamovski this group of players, then he could have achieved much more.
Injured/Unavailable: 10 Carlinhos Junior, 18 Elsinho, 20 Keita Nakamura, 22 Renato Augusto, 50 Yoshinori Suzuki


Vegalta Sendai


Comments
Sendai are currently competing in their 12th consecutive J1 campaign, for context that’s a better run than, Gamba, Cerezo, Kobe, Nagoya, FC Tokyo or Kashiwa have had, but it appears likely that this era of relative success is drawing to a close and they may have to regroup and rebuild in J2 next year. 18 goals in 24 games while conceding double that figure tells its own story and though there have been bright sparks in the shape of university rookies Mase and Kato down the right, Foguinho in the middle and some recent substitute cameos from Oti and Felippe Cardoso, in the cold light of day, is it really inaccurate to suggest that the lineup I’ve set out below looks more like a team sitting 5th or 6th in J2 rather than one built to survive in the rarefied air of J1?
Injured/Unavailable: 8 Yoshiki Matsushita


Shonan Bellmare

Comments
After finishing bottom in 2020 with no relegation in place, Bin Ukishima deserves a bit of credit for improving things this year, making his side much more resolute and hard to beat. That said, despite gaining credible draws with the likes of Kawasaki, Marinos and Kobe as well as upsetting Reds in Saitama, they are currently on an ominous slide and it looks as though it’s between them and Tokushima, who they faced in the 2019 promotion/relegation playoff, to see who fills the uppermost spot in the drop zone. They experimented with a double-volante system against Nagoya, and that’s something we may see more of going forward, although I have them lined up in their tried and tested shape below. Sugioka looks to be a good addition, while keeping wide-man Taiga Hata fit so he can supply the bombs for Wellington may be the difference between J1 and J2 football for Bellmare next year.
Injured/Unavailable: 30 Sosuke Shibata


Tokushima Vortis


Comments
Tokushima’s victory at home to Gamba gave them the blueprint for how to attack the second half of the year. No messing around with the ball at the back, no possession for possession’s sake, quick counters culminating in dynamic running and interchanges between then front 4 topped off with more shots on goal and hopefully more points on the board. Kawasaki-loanee Taisei Miyashiro has certainly enhanced his reputation with a series of strong performances in a variety of positions along the front line, while right-back Takeru Kishimoto and number 10 Masaki Watai will draw many an admiring glance from rival teams’ scouting departments should they keep up their recent form. Keep your eyes peeled for young forward Taiyo Nishino also, he’s just starting to break into the team in his first year out of Kyoto Tachibana High School.
Injured/Unavailable: Kohei Uchida


Avispa Fukuoka


Comments
An excellent start to the season has them sitting in a place of relative comfort few predicted at the beginning of the year. Goalkeeper Masaaki Murakami has won over early doubters (myself included) with a string of good performances, the abrasive Douglas Grolli has been an excellent defensive lynchpin while the quality of deliveries from Jordy Croux and, in particular, irrepressible Swede Emil Salomonsson, have been second to none. In contrast to Kyushu cousins Oita, who came into J1 with a bang and were then looted of their best talent, the average age and playing style of most of Avispa’s squad suggests that they may not have to fend off too many suitors in upcoming transfer windows. One exception is team captain Hiroyuki Mae, and it will be interesting to see how his partnership with new recruit Shun Nakamura develops.
Injured/Unavailable: Bruno Mendes

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sport

Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers 24 July 2021 Mini Preview

2021 J1 Season Round 2
Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 24 July 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

It’s game 3 of Gamba’s 15 match summer marathon and they will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing home loss to Kansai rivals Vissel Kobe on Wednesday night. The side from Hyogo became the first team since Oita Trinita way back on 10th November 2019 to come from behind to defeat the Nerazzurri. Victory for Gamba on Saturday would take them up to 15th, out of the relegation zone, above Kashiwa and Tokushima on goal difference.

I have a little vacation time this week so I’ve pieced together this mini-preview for your perusal (it was meant to be mini, but the mailbag section at the end is pretty long). If we return to relative normality in 2022 (ie not playing league games every 3 days) then this mini preview format (shamelessly stolen from JTET’s mini pods) is something I might look to move forward with. As always please let me know what you think, either on WordPress or on Twitter. Hope you enjoy the game whoever you’re supporting.

Tale of the Tape

Some small shoots of recovery for Gamba’s attack as they recorded a season high xG total against Vissel in midweek and have mustered 7 shots on target in each of their 2 fixtures since returning from the ACL, also their best efforts of 2021. Additionally they’ve found the back of the net in 10 of their last 11 games in all competitions, scoring more than once on 6 occasions. Takashi Usami has cut a frustrated figure in recent matches, coming agonisingly close to scoring against both Fukuoka and Kobe, Gamba supporters will be looking for him to break his goal drought soon (it stands at almost 2 months now). No such issues for Usami’s strike partner Patric who has netted 8 times in his last 8 outings.

I went deep on Kashima’s style of play in my full preview for the originally scheduled match back in March, despite a change in leadership, from Zago to Naoki Soma, a lot of it is still pretty relevant so please check it out here if you have the chance.



Head-to-Head

Gamba are unbeaten in their past 5 J1 encounters against Kashima. Antlers last success came in round 2 of the 2018 season when Levir Culpi’s Nerazzurri went down 1-0 at the Kashima Soccer Stadium thanks to Mu Kanazaki’s late winner for the home team.

Last year, only Tomoya Inukai’s stoppage time header in his side’s 1-1 home draw prevented Gamba doing the double over Zago’s charges. The Nerazzurri ran out 2-0 winners in Suita thanks to a Patric penalty and a late clincher from Kazuma Watanabe. Indeed it was one of only 4 victories (out of a total of 20) where Gamba won by more than a single goal in 2020.



Gamba Osaka

With 3 more fixtures remaining in July and 8 to be played in the brutal heat of August (7 league and 1 Emperor’s Cup), rotation will be the order of the day for Gamba kantoku Masanobu Matsunami. Six changes were made between last Saturday’s win at Fukuoka and Wednesday’s loss at home to Kobe and I expect we’ll see something similar again. It’s interesting to note that this game is followed by a more winnable looking fixture against Oita on Tuesday night, so will Matsunami try to be cute and play for a draw here before going all guns blazing against Trinita? It would be a risky strategy for sure. My feeling is that it’s best to get points on the board as early as possible in order to haul Gamba away from the relegation scrap. This would have the dual benefits of relieving pressure on Gamba while in turn piling it onto teams like Oita, Sendai, Tokushima, Shimizu and Shonan.

Team News:
The treatment room is busy as usual in Suita. Backup goalkeeper Jun Ichimori (shoulder) is still out, while wing-back / shadow forward Haruto Shirai and South Korean left wing-back Shin Won-ho are rehabilitating. No official announcement was made regarding which players tested positive for Covid upon returning to Japan from the ACL, but there’s been a pretty obvious Yosuke Ideguchi shaped hole in the midfield for the past 2 games. Elsewhere, Hiroki Fujiharu, Yuya Fukuda, Ryu Takao, Yuji Ono and Dai Tsukamoto all picked up knocks during the ACL group stage campaign, but aren’t expected to be out for too long. At present Onose and Kurokawa are the only fit wing-backs in the squad, so if Takao, Fujiharu or Fukuda are ready to go then they could start on Saturday. Fujiharu’s crossing ability has been sorely missed in his absence, I also don’t believe Matsunami has a lot of faith in Kurokawa, and the Kansai University graduate’s defending for Kobe’s winner in midweek will have done little to change his kantoku’s mind.

Milestones: Goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi will play his 250th J1 game for Gamba while Takashi Usami will make his 200th JLeague appearance for the Nerazzurri in this match.

Predicted Lineup and Stats



Kashima Antlers

Perennial J1 giants Kashima come into this fixture in somewhat patchy form with 2 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats in their last 7 league outings leaving them in 8th spot on the ladder, although a win here, in their game in hand, would lift them above both FC Tokyo and Urawa on goal difference. This game will be Kashima’s first since losing 2-1 at Kashiwa Reysol on July 11th and they don’t play again until August 9th, so expect them to come out locked and loaded for this one.

Team News:
Highly rated centre-back Koki Machida (a rumoured Celtic target) and former Hosei University forward Ayase Ueda (5 goals in 13 J1 games in 2021) are both in Japan’s Olympic squad and therefore unavailable. Backup goalkeeper Taiki Yamada is out for the year with a knee injury and rising star Ryotaro Araki has missed 2 out of Antlers 3 previous games. He appears to have a bright future ahead of him and it surely won’t be long before the Higashi Fukuoka graduate (same high school as Yuya Fukuda, Leo Takae and Seiya Maikuma) attracts some serious attention from European sides.

Predicted Lineup and Stats



Mailbag

A big thanks to those of you who submitted questions,

First up was Neil, @Swing_Kinker who asked,
“What is the feeling amongst fans in japan? I get the feeling they are rapidly getting frustrated. Without Patric it would be a disaster”

Blog Gamba: Thanks for your question Neil. There is definite frustration among the fans, though it has been tempered by the Covid outbreak earlier in the year and the brutal summer schedule. The majority of fans surely believe the current league position is unacceptable for a club of Gamba’s size and Miyamoto paid the price for that. Supporters in Japan generally tend to look at the longer term picture a bit more than maybe some fans in Europe do, and although there have been questions asked about Ikoma, the physical coach, due to regular injury pile ups and also speculation as to why no-one has been brought in yet during the summer window (especially a wing-back), no-one’s quite ready to start a riot at the team’s training ground just yet.
Things are slowly moving in the right direction and a few wins in the upcoming fixtures will start to allay relegation fears, allowing fans to look forward to the injured players returning, youngsters like Okuno, Tsukamoto and Kawasaki developing and hopefully a new coach coming on board with the goal of having Gamba back in the ACL by 2023.
Hope this answers your question Neil and enjoy the game!

Also Jezalenco, @JeremyWarren24 asked,
“Is there a Gamba player in particular that is being missed right now as a result of being injured. Like Fukuda, Ono or Tsukamoto? The line up predictions and updates you have been doing recently have been fantastic.”

Blog Gamba: First of all thank you for the compliment Jeremy and I’m glad you’ve been enjoying them, I enjoy doing them!
To answer your question, I’d definitely say Hiroki Fujiharu. He’s the best defensive left-back/wing-back at the club and as seen from his 2 crossed assists for Patric in the ACL, he’s the most consistent crosser out of himself, Fukuda and Kurokawa, especially when it comes to aerial crosses.
Regarding the injured players you mentioned, Fukuda hasn’t really kicked on since bursting onto the scene in mid-2019, he really needs to nail down a regular spot rather than continuing to be a jack-of-all-trades, Ono looked very sharp in the match against Chiangrai in the ACL, and then he picked up another injury, which has been the story of his career, while I’d like to see a fit-again Tsukamoto get a run in the right shadow position as he could prove to be better there than Ichimi and Yajima in the longer term, he definitely shouldn’t be played at wing-back again unless it’s an emergency. I hope this is what you were looking for Jeremy and please enjoy the game.

Tyler Bartels, @tbartels12 asked,
“Which youngsters have the best chance at an increased role moving forward? Shuhei, Tsukamoto and Okuno have all shown out well at times and seem to be on the cusp?”

Blog Gamba: Thanks very much for your question Tyler. Okuno appears to have the full faith of Matsunami and is developing nicely in central midfield, he seems to be first choice ahead of Yamamoto and Ju Se-jong at the moment. Tsukamoto has developed a lot physically since turning pro, but Kawasaki is a smarter and more technically gifted player who can hopefully build on the momentum he generated in the ACL. A quick shout out to two 3rd grade high school students who currently hold amateur (Type 2) contracts, Jiro Nakamura (right wing) and Isa Sakamoto (centre-forward), both looked good for the U23s in J3 and should be rewarded with pro contracts for 2022, look out for them in the near future! Hope you enjoy the game!

SoRare Gems, @GemsSorare asked,
“Is Masaaki Higashiguchi untouchable on the goalie? Also, if everyone was fit, what would be the starting two on the middle and in the flanks for Miyamoto?”

Blog Gamba: Thanks for your questions. The first part is very easy, yes at the moment Higashiguchi is untouchable. Jun Ichimori the backup is out injured and the other goalies in the squad, Ishikawa, Hayashi and Kato would struggle to start regularly in J2. Honestly, I’d expect Kosei Tani to stay on loan at Shonan for another 1-2 years before returning to take over the gloves from Higashiguchi.
For the second part, I assume you mean Masanobu Matsunami, Gamba’s current coach and not the dismissed Tsuneyasu Miyamoto. I believe if Gamba were playing one league game per week then his first choice with everyone fit would be,
Higashiguchi
Miura, Shoji, Kim
Onose, Ideguchi, Okuno, Fujiharu
Yajima, Usami
Patric

Finally Piero, @Piccioh92 had a quick question about Gamba’s defensive set-up over the upcoming games.

Blog Gamba: With the threat of Everaldo looming large, I think Gamba will go for their strongest back 3 of (r-l) Miura, Shoji and Kim for this game before bringing in either or both Suganuma and Sato for the Oita game on Tuesday then possibly reverting to Miura, Shoji, Kim for Sapporo away on Friday. It should be noted that against Kobe, Shunya Suganuma played on the left of the back three with Kim in the middle. Ordinarily we’d have expected them to lineup the opposite way round, as they did in the 2nd half after the Suganuma/Kurokawa area of the field proved to be a weak point Vissel could exploit. Expect to see Suganuma in the middle or on the right of a back 3 next time he’s in action, he’ll also likely be saved for games against bottom half opponents rather than heavyweights like Kashima and Kobe.

Thanks to everyone for your questions, I wasn’t sure I’d get any to be honest, so receiving 5 was great. That’s it for the preview, enjoy the game and let me know how you think it’s going to go!

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sport

J1 2021 Appearance Data and Statistics

Thanks again everyone for supporting my recent articles. As I posted on Twitter a few weeks back, currently other areas in my life have to take priority over my blog writing, and for 2021, at least, my Gamba match previews will need to stay on the backburner. In some ways I feel like I took them as far as I could last season and at the beginning of this year, I felt like I was rehashing old material, please let me know if you agree or disagree.

With all that out of the way, my latest post provides a rundown of all 20 J1 teams’ matchday selections for every league match so far in 2021, presented in an (hopefully) easy to understand, at a glance style. I’ve also tagged on some additional comments and basic team stats correct to 18 April 2021.

A big shout out to everyone who has gotten in touch with me recently across various mediums. Actually I never envisaged my blog would get so many comments and my Twitter notifications are not really built to handle the traffic I’ve been getting. I recently noticed some people had left me comments weeks ago and I’d missed them, I genuinely try to reply to everyone who asks clean questions, so if I haven’t responded to your question / comment, I’m truly sorry.

Finally, some people have asked where I get my data, so here are a few of the resources I use…
https://www.football-lab.jp/
https://sporteria.jp/
https://us.soccerway.com/national/japan/j1-league/2021/regular-season/r61498/
https://www.flashscore.com/
https://www.transfermarkt.com/j1-league/startseite/wettbewerb/JAP1
https://www.jleague.jp/sp/en/
And of course my trusty Soccer Digest Yearbook…
https://www.cdjapan.co.jp/product/NEOBK-2586671



Kawasaki Frontale

Comment: The juggernaut has continued steamrollering opponents just as it did last season. Surely the best side in the history of the JLeague.



Gamba Osaka

Comment: How to fix a problem like Gamba? A Nagoya-esque defence, but can’t buy a goal at the other end. What’s to blame, the Covid cluster, overperforming xG last year, an overly defensive mindset they can’t shake off? Answers on a postcard to Tsuneyasu Miyamoto please.



Nagoya Grampus

Comment: You thought they couldn’t defend any better than last season, you thought wrong. If I were a gambler I’d have plenty on Mitch Langerak and co. to beat their clean sheet record set last year. How much will missing out on Kasper Junker to Urawa haunt them with their current paucity of centre-forward options seemingly denying us a genuine tussle for the title between Grampus and Frontale.



Cerezo Osaka

Comments: They’ve surprised many by performing at a similar level to 2020. With Taggart and Tiago almost ready to play and Sakamoto and Harakawa due back soon, a push for the top 4 isn’t out of the question.



Kashima Antlers

Comments: Although an Antlers legend, the way Naoki Soma’s spell in charge of Machida ended up poses some serious questions about how adept he’ll be at replacing Zago in the Kashima hotseat. Goals from Everaldo and instant impacts from Pituca and Caike are badly needed.



FC Tokyo

Comments: Injuries, rumoured dressing room discontent and a series of patchy results don’t make for happy start to the campaign for the capital side. Bruno Uvini is the great hope to steady things at the back, but it should be remembered he hasn’t kicked a ball in anger in over 6 months.



Kashiwa Reysol

Comments: They seem to have course corrected slightly with hard fought 1-0s in their past 2 games and the Brazilian cavalry is due to arrive soon. Quite how they keep their 9 overseas players happy, and what effect their second Covid cluster in under a year will have on them is yet to be seen.



Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Comments: Look set to hover around upper mid-table just as they did last time round. Morishima and Kawabe have started the season well, but they lack top quality support in attack. Defensively, Yuta Imazu has been a decent find, though they still need to find themselves a pair of genuine full-backs.



Yokohama F.Marinos


Comments: Haven’t lost since the opening day, but a rather kind run of fixtures since round 3 means question marks remain over whether they are genuine ACL contenders of not.


Urawa Red Diamonds


Comments: Two poundings in the space of three games at the hands of Kanagawa heavyweights Frontale and Marinos threatened to scuttle the Rodriguez project before it had the chance to take off, but they’ve bounced back well. We may come to look on Reds’ 2021 the same way Marinos supporters think of Ange Postecoglou’s debut campaign in 2018.



Oita Trinita

Comments: Six defeats in a row with just a single goal scored in the process, I’m sure there’s a joke about a famous Tom Petty song here somewhere. They need to hope they’ve hit the jackpot with their two soon-to-arrive Brazilians.



Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Comments: Houston, we may have a problem. Dropping points like confetti and with 4 teams going down this year they’re rapidly finding themselves being drawn into a relegation dogfight.


Sagan Tosu

Comments: Prior to Sunday’s win at Grampus, some of the gloss was starting to come off their excellent start to the year with 4 failures to score in 5 outings. Kim Myung-hwi’s side are made of sterner stuff though, and while it’s likely they’ll regress a touch over the course of the season, a top ten finish remains a distinct possibility.



Vissel Kobe


Comments: A genuine ACL contender based on early season form. How they mesh the returning Iniesta and newly arrived duo of Lincoln and Masika with their current high performing starters will be key.



Yokohama FC

Comments: They tick all the boxes for a side about to take the drop, poor attack, woeful defence, no idea of best lineup, symbolic change of head-coach. I’m not usually so blunt, but take this to the bank, they’ll be in J2 next season.



Shimizu S-Pulse

Comments: Some had tipped them to finish in the top half this year, but as things stand it looks like the 3-1 win at Kashima on the opening day was something of a mirage. Thiago Santana has disappointed and Lotina has run into the same problem as a number of his predecessors, a complete lack of consistency amongst the players at his disposal.



Vegalta Sendai


Comments: Still haven’t won a home game since 2019 and that’s a stat they’ll have to alter fast if they want to avoid a return to J2 for the first time in 12 years.



Shonan Bellmare

Comments: Going under the radar a touch, but considering they finished bottom last year, their performances to date in 2021 have shown marked improvement. No defeats and 4 clean sheets in a tough looking run of 5 fixtures up to last weekend suggest they mean business and could defy the odds to remain in J1 next term.



Tokushima Vortis

Comments: The project looks to be running under budget and ahead of schedule. New head-coach Poyatos is now in the country and working with the players face-to-face and at present they appear set for a decent year. Having, The Alan Parsons Project’s Sirius and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on their pre-match playlist makes me enjoy their games that little bit more.



Avispa Fukuoka


Comments: The support inside the Best Denki Stadium is the thing that’s caught my eye most about Fukuoka this year. Their seems to be a genuine feel-good factor around the place which is helping to bring out performances that many, including myself, doubted they were capable of.




Categories
sport

J1 Lineups Updated Version end of round 6

Thanks again to everyone who read, liked, shared and commented on my J1 and J2 Predicted Lineups posts that I put out about a month before the 2021 season started. The response to them was truly phenomenal and frankly blew me away, so much in fact, that I’ve been re-thinking how I should structure my blog (I’m always open to new ideas, so please tell me what you want!)

The J1 Predicted Lineups post is still getting a fair bit of traffic even though it is a bit out of date, so I thought I’d do some more research and update things a little. Included in this post is a short comment on teams’ performances in the opening month of the season, a list of currently unavailable players (as of 28 March 2021) and a full rundown of the lineups and formations used by each J1 side over their past 5 league fixtures.

A few qualifiers, the team comments don’t take into consideration this weekend’s Levain Cup games as personally I don’t think a whole lot can be read into them, for example if Tosu and Sapporo start to show the form they displayed yesterday in J1 matches, then I’ll revise my opinion of both sides. Secondly, regarding injuries, some of the players I’ve named as unavailable haven’t been officially confirmed as being injured. In certain instances I’ve assumed they are out due to being absent from the matchday squad for a prolonged period of time or being subbed off early in a game and missing subsequent fixtures.

Thanks again for your support and please enjoy!

Kawasaki Frontale

Comments: Have started the season in ominous form, only dropping points at much-improved Kobe. What’s more, Oshima and Noborizato are still to return and strengthen them while João Schmidt almost doesn’t feel like a new signing, he’s bedded in so quickly.
Unavailable: Kyohei Noborizato, Ryota Oshima (injured)


Gamba Osaka

Comments: Only one league match played so not much to discuss. Re-scheduling six fixtures later in the year may see the return of the more defensive 4-4-2 set-up used last season and hopefully the end of the Onose at right-back experiment with Takao returning to take his rightful place.
Unavailable: Jun Ichimori, Haruto Shirai, Yuji Ono (injured), Wellington Silva (Visa/quarantine)


Nagoya Grampus

Comments: Their defensive strength means they are Kawasaki’s closest challengers despite having no real goal-scorer. Yamasaki has done alright, but shouldn’t be starting for a title contender and Kakitani has shown nothing so far. Inagaki looks like an early MVP contender, Soma has improved, however Morishita seems to be 3rd choice right back at the moment, perhaps he’s too attack-minded for Ficcadenti, imagine how good Tosu would be if he was still there!
Unavilable: Mu Kanazaki (injured)


Cerezo Osaka

Comments: Higher up the league than many would have expected, but the fixture list has been pretty kind to them so far. Okubo’s goals have been a Godsend in the absence of Taggart while Nishio has slotted in well alongside Seko at the back. Recent injuries to Harakawa, Sakamoto and Takagi will really test their squad depth.
Unavailable: Riki Harakawa, Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, Ryuji Sawakami, Toshiyuki Takagi, Hirotaka Tameda, Koji Toriumi (injured), Adam Taggart (Visa/quarantine), Đặng Văn Lâm, Tiago (Visa/contract status unclear)


Kashima Antlers

Comments: The Ibaraki side have made their traditional slow start and will be desperate to get Brazilian midfield duo, Diego Pituca and Arthur Caike on the field as soon as possible. It’s at the back where most of the problems seem to lie, the full-back berths are still up for grabs and none of the centre-backs have covered themselves in glory.
Unavailable: Shoma Doi, Ryuji Izumi (injured), Arthur Caike, Diego Pituca (Visa/quarantine)


FC Tokyo

Comments: A roller-coaster start to the season from the capital club with, injuries, rotation and Covid-protocol violations preventing them from getting into any sort of groove. They’ve got points on the board early, but a chunk of them came in unimpressive home wins over last season’s bottom 2, Sendai and Shonan. They’ll need to hope Bruno Uvini is the man to shore up a rather leaky rearguard.
Unavailable: Akihiro Hayashi, Kazuya Konno, Manato Shinada (injured), Bruno Uvini (Visa/quarantine)


Kashiwa Reysol

Comments: Olunga, Olunga, where art thou Olunga? A very poor start to the season from Kashiwa and they desperately need the soon-to-arrive Brazilian quartet of, Emerson Santos, Dodi, Angelotti and Pedro Raúl to hit the ground running or the nightmares of 2018 could be lurking just around the corner.
Unavailable: Yuji Takahashi, Sachiro Toshima (injured), Angelotti, Dodi, Pedro Raúl, Emerson Santos (Visa/quarantine)

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Comments: A solid start, made all the more impressive by the fact they are still figuring out their new back four system and how best to set-up their attack. Junior Santos continues to cause intrigue as it appears he’s fighting young Shun Ayukawa to be Douglas Vieira’s backup rather than being the main man himself. Hayao Kawabe could partner former team-mate Sho Inagaki in the J1 Best Eleven if he keeps up his current form.
Unavailable: Akira Ibayashi, Rhayner (injured)


Yokohama F.Marinos

Comments: A rather harsh take on them might say that they’ve swatted aside bottom half teams while failing to take the three points against stiffer opposition, exactly as they did in 2020. That said, from what I’ve seen there is a bit more steel about them this time round. I’m re-evaluating Daizen Maeda now that he’s finally added goals to his game and though Élber seems to lack the attacking x-factor of Erik, having more solid, hard-workers than mercurial artists may suit them better in 2021.
Unavailable: Theerathon Bunmathan, Daizen Maeda (injured), Léo Ceará (Visa/quarantine)


Urawa Red Diamonds

Comments: Ricardo Rodriguez seems like a lovely bloke, so I’ll spare him any blame for now, but real questions must be getting asked about the financial situation at the club. I started to wonder when Brazilians, Mauricio and Fabricio weren’t replaced last season and now with Leonardo gone, Deng injured and Yuki Abe making a Lazarus like return from the retirement home, a sojourn to J2 next year isn’t entirely out of the reckoning.
Unavailable: Thomas Deng, Yudai Fujiwara (injured)


Oita Trinita

Comments: I picked them to fill the final relegation spot in pre-season and I haven’t seen anything yet to make me completely alter my opinion. The number of changes at the back made in the off-season has definitely unsettled them and Katanosaka is still searching for the right combinations in a number of places.
Unavailable: Naoki Nomura (injured), Matheus Pereira, Henrique Trevisan (Visa/quarantine)


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Comments: I’m considering starting my own Patreon account so Sapporo fans can pay me to not watch them live. Last week’s horror show at home to Kobe was their 8th defeat on the spin with me tuning in on DAZN. Second year pros Kaneko and Tanaka have been solid (Tanaka’s assist for Furuhashi last week aside) and young Ogashiwa and Nakashima have looked bright in flashes. Failure to change their slightly archaic game-plan could result in an unwelcome flirtation with the relegation trapdoor.
Unavailable: Takuma Arano, Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa, Douglas Oliveira (injured), Jay Bothroyd, Gabriel Okechukwu (Visa/quarantine)


Sagan Tosu

Comments: An outstanding youth system and kantoku have their fans dreaming of ACL football next year. Didn’t score in their opening 4 J1 fixtures in 2020, haven’t conceded in their first 6 games this time round, it’s been quite the reversal of fortunes. How long can they sustain it? Will their new foreign strikers propel them to even greater heights? Will the vultures descend to brutally devour this team in a similar manner to what happened to fellow Kyushu-ites Giravanz last winter?
Unavailable: Ismael Dunga, Chico Ofoedu (Visa/quarantine)


Vissel Kobe

Comments: I saw them referred to as ‘Galacticos’ the other day, but that’s not really what they are anymore. They have a healthy crop of youngsters, many of whom have been raised in their academy, developing alongside a few seasoned heads, most notably Hotaru Yamaguchi, who’s been in sparkling form so far this season. There seems to be a real determination to make amends for 2020’s pitiful league performance and 3rd place doesn’t look impossible judging by their early showings.
Unavailable: Andrés Iniesta, Junya Tanaka (injured), Lincoln, Ayub Masika (Visa/quarantine)


Yokohama FC

Comments: Things seem to have completely fallen apart over the winter at Mitsuzawa. In my season preview I predicted goals at both ends, unfortunately that has only proven to be half correct and their veteran forwards haven’t hit it off as of yet. Talented midfielders Matsuo, Seko and Tezuka are struggling against the tide, but receiving little support and, although it’s early days, I think many already see them lining up in J2 next year.
Unavailable: Calvin Jong-a-Pin, Haruki Saruta, Hideto Takahashi, Eijiro Takeda (injured)


Shimizu S-Pulse

Comments: They’ve had just the kind of solid, unspectacular start many would have expected under Lotina. After conceding an avalanche of goals over the past 2 years, letting in just 7 in 6 games must have come as welcome relief to long suffering supporters in their picturesque stadium. Lotina’s reluctance to use assist kingpin Kenta Nishizawa may have rivals sending out the feelers regarding his future availability.
Unavailable: Hideki Ishige, Eiichi Katayama, Ibrahim Junior Kuribara (injured), William Matheus (Visa/quarantine)


Vegalta Sendai

Comments: Collectively this is one of the 4 weakest squads in the division. That doesn’t necessarily need to condemn them to relegation, but to stave off the drop, they will need to find a way to play to more than the sum of their parts. Passing the ball from their centre-backs to wing-backs, pushing the midfield forward to join the attack, then losing the ball and getting countered constantly, isn’t the way to achieve that.
Unavailable: Isaac Cuenca, Kunimitsu Sekiguchi (injured), Foguinho, Emmanuel Oti, Nedeljko Stojišić (Visa/quarantine)


Shonan Bellmare

Comments: I was sure they’d used up their nine lives last year, but they look a bit better than 2020, at least if the early rounds are anything to go by. Impressive youngster Taiga Hata still hasn’t featured, but playing on the left-wing for Shonan seems to bring out the best in players and Ryo Takahashi has been in fantastic form down that flank. They really need Wellington and Welinton Júnior to bring their shooting boots over from Brazil as a lack of firepower would be the most likely cause of a relegation this year.
Unavailable: Tarik Elyounoussi, Taiga Hata, Shun Nakamura, Tsukasa Umesaki (injured), Wellington, Welinton Júnior (Visa/quarantine)


Tokushima Vortis

Comments: They’ve probably done as well as could have been expected given that the squad haven’t met their new Spanish kantoku face-to-face yet and most of the players lack top tier experience. Poyatos (I assume he is choosing the team) has made a number of interesting selections with Abe, Fuke, Fujiwara and Kawakami all featuring regularly despite being out in the cold during the Rodriguez era.
Unavailable: Dušan Cvetinović, Kazuki Nishiya, Koki Sugimori, Kohei Uchida (injured), Cristian Battocchio, Cacá (Visa/quarantine)


Avispa Fukuoka

Comments: A decent start has them sitting comfortably in mid-table. Word of warning though, other newly promoted sides, namely Matsumoto and Nagasaki, have also begun top-flight campaigns reasonably well before fading away badly. Avispa need new foreign talents, Jordy Croux and, particularly, Biblically-named forward John Mary to deliver in order to maintain their top-flight status.
Unavailable: Juanma Delgado, Bruno Mendes, Taro Sugimoto (injured), Douglas Grolli (1 match suspension vs Sapporo 3 April), Jordy Croux, John Mary (Visa/quarantine)

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sport

Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers J1 League 6 March 2021

2021 J1 League Round 2
Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers
Saturday 6th March 2021, 16:00 (JST)
Panasonic Stadium Suita


As I’m sure most of you are aware, Gamba’s midweek match away to Nagoya Grampus was postponed as a result of 4 Nerazzurri players and 1 staff member testing positive for COVID-19, a further two players were identified as close contacts and are currently self isolating. The club announced that today (March 4th) 225 staff members were given PCR tests and 1 further player tested positive, the other 224 tests were negative. The JLeague have subsequently announced this Satueday’s game is off.

Owing to the intense schedule at the beginning of this year, I had already written a good chunk of text about Saturday’s potential opponents, Kashima Antlers, and I didn’t want it to go to waste. When I started this blog I honestly didn’t think I’d dedicate the bulk of a post writing about one of Gamba’s biggest rivals, but this is the world we live in now. As an aside, both of my previews of Gamba vs Kashima games were among my most popular posts in 2020, so there is definitely a market there for English language Antlers content. @atlrs_english is the club’s official English account and gives regular updates on scores, transfers and results, while @yukinho posts about Kashima in both English and Japanese. I encourage you to give both a follow.

Last Time Out
Regular slow starters Kashima put on a flat performance in their home opener against Shimizu S-Pulse last Saturday, going down 3-1. A largely uneventful opening 75 minutes was lit up only by Shoma Doi striking the frame of the goal twice for Antlers while Katsuhiro Nakayama shot wide with the visitors best opportunity. Second half sub Ryotaro Araki added verve and energy to Kashima and it was he who broke the deadlock, volleying home after Everaldo’s looping header from Katsuya Nagato’s corner had evaded Shuichi Gonda in the S-Pulse goal and bounced back off the crossbar. However, Antlers were then stunned by three Shimizu goals within the space of ten minutes. New Brazilian battering-ram Thiago Santana struck on his debut from close range before sub Yusuke Goto turned the match on it’s head with a wonderful diving header from fellow replacement Yosuke Kawai’s cross. Moments later Ayase Ueda sliced the ball into his own net from a Kawai corner and Antlers were left with no way back.

Antlers then saw off Sagan Tosu 3-0 in the Levain Cup on Wednesday night. On a chilly evening at the Kashima Soccer Stadium goals from Ryuji Izumi, Everaldo and substitute Itsuki Someno were enough to comprehensively dispatch a youthful Tosu outfit.

Tactical Notes

Gamba
**If you read my match preview of the postponed fixture vs Nagoya Grampus then please skip to the Kashima section as below is just a copy and paste from that post.**

Saturday was my first look at the new 4-3-3 formation and although it’s early days yet, put me down as a sceptic. It seems like we’ve moved some ornaments around on the mantelpiece, but have fundamentally been left with the same pieces performing the same function in slightly different positions. It’s one thing to adopt Kawasaki’s formation, but quite another to acquire their mindset. Miyamoto appeared to send Gamba out to win 1-0 at Kobe, essentially the same strategy as last season. However, as I’m going to outline below, 4-3-3 is not the best option, in my book, to achieve results while maintaining a defensive frame of mind.
Issue 1 – lack of cover for the fullbacks – Takashi Usami (right wing) and Shuhei Kawasaki (left) are not naturally defensive players so a lot of responsibility falls on the midfield trio to protect the back 4. Due to the movement of Kobe’s attacking midfielders, they were able to work space down Gamba’s flanks and cause problems. The fact that impressive J1 debutant Shion Inoue and Samurai Blue international Gotoku Sakai found themselves up against newly converted right-back (more on that later) Kosuke Onose, merely exacerbated the problem. Second half sub Asahi Masuyama hugged the right touchline after coming on and found plenty of space to roam in that unguarded area.
Issue 2 – Space between the midfield and defensive lines – This was one of the reasons that 3-5-2 got canned midway through 2020. Yuki Yamamoto in the midfield anchor/quarterback position was arguably Gamba’s best player against Kobe, however, on a couple of occasions he stepped up to try and win possession, but didn’t succeed and neither Ideguchi nor Yajima moved back to cover, leaving a gaping hole in front of Miura and Shoji. Last year with the double volante system and Ideguchi playing alongside one of Yamamoto or Yajima, better protection was afforded to Gamba’s centre backs. Granted Ideguchi still looks a little rusty after his injury layoff and increased energy levels from him will also help in a 4-3-3.
Issue 3 – Usami on the wing – Whenever I see FC Tokyo play Diego Oliveira on the right flank, as an opposing fan I’m always relieved because a proven J1 goalscorer and penalty box threat is being moved away from his natural habitat. Ditto Usami, he can play wing for a few games or so, but I don’t want to see him stuck there for a whole season. It gives him defensive responsibilities he’s not good at and takes him away from the second striker position in the central attacking area where he thrives.

To round up this mini-rant up, I don’t feel either Onose or Yajima did enough last season to find themselves shoehorned into the side this time round. If there are fitness or other off-field concerns about Ryu Takao then I take this back, but he was one of the best right-backs in J1 last year, so why has he been replaced by a right winger? Still, at least by changing to 4-4-2 in the second half against Kawasaki and 4-2-3-1 near the end of the Kobe game, Miyamoto is showing a willingness to consider alternatives.

Briefly, to end this section on something of a high note, I have Vissel finishing 7th this year, and Gamba actually lost 3-0 to Kashiwa Reysol (7th in J1 2020) last season, so this may be a step in the right direction (clutching at straws?? lol) I also genuinely think the Nerazzurri put on a better overall performance on Saturday than they did in their 2-0 win at the same venue last summer, but hey, that’s football.

Kashima
Now to our opponents on Saturday, Kashima Antlers, the most successful side in J1 history with 8 league titles, the last of which came in 2016. The fact that finishing 5th and missing out on ACL qualification by the width of the goal-frame was treated as a great failure gives you an understanding of the standards the team set for themselves year in year out. Under the tutelage of new Brazilian head coach Zago, Antlers started 2020 by taking only 4 points from their opening 7 games, a run which included 5 defeats and just a solitary goal in their first 4 matches. Things have come a long way since then and many JLeague observers, including myself, have them down as Kawasaki’s nearest challengers in 2021.

If you’re new to watching J1, you can expect a steady, no-frills game plan from Kashima. This year Zago has them set-up in an orthodox 4-4-2 with Ayase Ueda partnering Everaldo in attack, a slight adjustment to last season’s 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1, though Zago enjoys tinkering with things when he utilises his substitutes, for instance they ended last week’s reverse against Shimizu in a 3-1-4-2 system. It is common to see both wide players, Juan Alano (right wing) and Shoma Doi (left) cut in to allow space for their full backs to overlap. Left back Katsuya Nagato (J1’s top assist maker with 10 for Vegalta Sendai in 2019, but only managed 2 in his debut season with Antlers) is particularly dangerous when given time to whip balls into the box, he’ll also take most of the Ibaraki side’s set pieces.

Looking at last season’s team stats we can see that crossing is Antlers real strength. They were 2nd in J1 for total crosses in 2020 and also 2nd in crossing accuracy, with a number of Everaldo’s 18 goals (2nd behind Michael Olunga (Kashiwa) 28) coming as a result of this tactic. However, on the flip side of the coin, Kashima took the 2nd most shots in J1 last time out (no shocks that Kawasaki were 1st), but had the worst conversion rate. Case in point, in their 2 matches against Gamba, they amassed 51 attempts on goal, of which 16 were on target and just 1 went into the back of Masaaki Higashiguchi’s net (unsurprisingly it was a header from a left-wing cross). Much to Neil Debnam’s amusement, I’m sure, Antlers committed the 3rd most fouls last season, though it should be noted, for me anyway, only Kawasaki were better at harassing and putting the opposition under pressure and this may have contributed to such a high number. I noticed a drop off in this facet of their play against S-Pulse and it could have been one of the reasons behind the rather surprising outcome.

Antlers enjoyed an interesting winter with Brazilians Diego Pituca (Santos) and Arthur Caike (Al Shabab, Saudi Arabia) the only senior additions. Their off-season, once again, saw them focus on bringing in youth in an attempt to build another dynasty at the summit of J1. With star players, Gaku Shibasaki, Gen Shoji, Naomichi Ueda, Yuma Suzuki and Hiroki Abe all departing for Europe within the space of 2-3 years and veterans such as Atsuto Uchida, Hitoshi Sogahata and legendary captain Mitsuo Ogasawara retiring, Zago, Zico and co clearly have a big job on their hands developing the next generation of Kashima stars.

Wide midfielder Ryotaro Araki, signed from Higashi Fukuoka High School in 2020, is the main attraction, while fellow teenagers, Yuta Matsumura and Itsuki Someno also made decent strides in their first year as professionals. At the back, I’d actually rate centre-half Ikuma Sekigawa (20) as a better prospect than the card-prone Koki Machida and 21 year-old former youth team goalkeeper Yuya Oki seems to have taken over the starting gloves from Kwoun Sun-tae on a permanent basis. Added to that mix of young talent came a new batch over the winter break, 3 university graduates, ‘keeper Tomoki Hayakawa and right-back Keigo Tsunemoto (both Meiji University) as well as centre-back Naoki Hayashi (Osaka Taiiku University), 2 high schoolers, central midfielder Yusuke Ogawa and wide player Naoki Sutoh (both Shohei High School in Saitama) plus Kashima Youth star Yu Funabashi (central midfield). It will be fascinating to see what impact they have this campaign and indeed how this young team begins to take shape over the coming seasons.


Head to Head

Kashima were the first ever league visitors to Panasonic Stadium Suita back in 2016 and left with all 3 points thanks to Yuma Suzuki’s second-half strike, the only goal of the game. However, Gamba are unbeaten in their previous 3 home encounters against Antlers, though last season’s 2-0 win courtesy of a Patric penalty and Kazuma Watanabe’s injury time tap-in was their only triumph on home soil since another 2-0 back in June 2015. Interestingly, the match during the 2015 season also featured a Gamba spot kick, converted on that occasion by Yasuhito Endo. His midfield partner in crime, Yasuyuki Konno, had earlier sent the Nerazzurri into the sheds a goal to the good.


Team News

Gamba Osaka

Yuji Ono and Haruto Shirai (both recovering from knee surgery) are definitely out of this match. Kim Young-gwon and Yuya Fukuda are yet to feature this season and their status remains unclear. It hasn’t been revealed which players have tested positive for COVID and who has been identified as a close contact, so I’m unavailable to give any information on that. Should the game go ahead, Yosuke Ideguchi and Yuya Fukuda are in line to make their 100th and 50th Gamba / J1 appearances respectively.

Kashima Antlers

New Brazilian duo Arthur Caike and Diego Pituca are still unable to enter the country at the moment so are obviously unavailable for selection. Veteran central midfielder Leo Silva and winger Ryuji Izumi (a one time Gamba target) were both absent from the matchday squad against Shimizu, but played against Tosu in midweek. Theoretically they are fit and ready to go, though I believe Silva missed some of Antlers pre-season training camp because of quarantine regulations, so he could be short of match sharpness.

Predicted Line Ups

As mentioned above, it is still unclear which players have COVID and are thus unavailable so I’ve just used the same line up I predicted for the Nagoya game. Expect the same formation, but potentially different personnel in the starting eleven.


I’m confident that Zago will retain the 4-4-2 system used last week and the bulk of the starting eleven, despite the poor showing. I’ve gone for Hirose ahead of Koizumi at right-back as S-Pulse’s first 2 goals came from crosses originating in Koizumi’s defensive zone. Should Leo Silva be available for selection then he would likely replace Nagaki, while a fit Izumi could play wide left and allow Doi to slot in just behind Everaldo, alternatively Shirasaki could play in there with Doi on the left wing. After his goal last weekend, Araki must fancy his chances of a start, though I feel Zago may opt to use him as an impact sub once again. Young forward Ituski Someno could be in line for a slot on the pine after his late goal against Tosu on Wednesday.



Match Prediction

A thankless task this week as I have no idea what lineup Gamba will be able to field or if the game can even go ahead. In such circumstances I can’t be positive enough to go for a Gamba win, instead I’ll opt for a battling 1-0 loss.