Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers 3 October 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers
J1 2020 Round 20
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 3 October 19:00 (JST)

The Lowdown

It’s crunch time for Gamba as they welcome Kashima Antlers to Panasonic Stadium in what will be the first of 5 games in the next 15 days. The rescheduled match at Tosu will follow this one, then there are encounters with FC Tokyo (a), Yokohama F.Marinos (h) and Oita Trinita (a) to be dealt with as the COVID-19 affected schedule really starts to bite.

Kashima come into this clash in 6th place in the standings with 33 points from 20 games, Gamba are a place below them, a point worse off, but importantly with two games in hand. Thus a home win on Saturday night would put the Nerazzurri ahead of Antlers with 2 fewer games played, something that would likely prove crucial with the upcoming avalanche of games in mind.

Kashima started the season poorly under new Brazilian head-coach Zago and took just 12 points from their opening 12 fixtures. However, after their 1-1 draw with Gamba back in August they went on a 7 game winning streak which was only abruptly halted by Oita last weekend, they have picked up 21 points in their most recent 8 games. They’ve lost 7 times in J1 this year which has already equalled their total losses for the whole of 2019, though in fairness that was the least number of league games they’d lost in a calendar year since 2010 (6). Defensively things haven’t been too pretty for the Ibaraki side this campaign, letting in 1.35 goals per game which contrasts with the meagre 0.88 conceded in 2019, indeed their overall goals against total in 2020 is only three shy of last year despite having played 14 fewer fixtures.

With 4 wins and 5 defeats in Suita this year Gamba have already eclipsed their total number of home defeats suffered in 2019 (4), this has been balanced out by an excellent record on the road where they’ve won 6, drawn 2 and lost only 1 of their games. The 6 wins is already 1 better than in the previous campaign while the 20 points accrued equals last season’s haul, but has been earned in 8 fewer matches. Kashima have won their past 5 away league games and they last tasted defeat outside of Ibaraki in a 1-0 loss to Yokohama FC on August 19th. Looking at their away results in detail the only real pattern we can see is that, like their campaign as a whole, things have steadily improved over time. Impressive road wins over Oita (4-1), Nagoya (3-1), Kashiwa (3-2) and FC Tokyo, Shimizu and Cerezo (2-1) have been balanced out by losses at Hiroshima (3-0), Kawasaki (2-1) and Urawa, Shonan and Yokohama FC (all 1-0), those latter two being the only ones that particularly stand out as poor results.

I may come across as overly critical of Gamba on this blog, so I think it’s important to set this season’s performance to date in the context of recent years. The Nerazzurri have kicked off 2020 with 10 wins from 18 league fixtures giving them a win ratio of 55.6% which far exceeds the 35.3% last year, 41.2% in 2018 and 32.4% the season before that. We have to go back to 2016 when Gamba won exactly half of their regular season fixtures for a comparable performance, let’s home the upcoming deluge of matches doesn’t derail things.

I know this preview is a bit stat heavy, but I feel I covered a lot of other factors related to the recent history between these two teams in my preview for the game back in August, I’d like to point you in the direction of that if you are keen to read up more on Zago and the Antlers players likely to be in contention for a starting spot for this one. You can find it here…

Head to Head

It’s only a little over a month since these two drew 1-1 at the Kashima Stadium back on August 23rd. Kosuke Onose’s early opener was cancelled out in the final minute of additional time at the end of the game by a header from Tomoya Inukai, though many neutrals may have argued that Antlers deserved more on the balance of play.

The first time I watched Gamba play live in J1 live was actually at home to Kashima on an abnormally cold April afternoon back in 2014, the visitors were victorious 2-0 and I had their “woooooah Kashima” song stuck in my head for about 6 months after that. Later that year, Lins Lima gave Gamba a memorable 3-2 win in Ibaraki, a result that proved crucial in the title race. More recently, the past 4 games between this pair have all finished level, Ryotaro Meshino announcing himself with a fine strike in last year’s home match stands out in particular.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

No new injury worries for Gamba, Yuji Ono (knee) is out for the year, while captain Genta Miura is expected to be on the sidelines for a decent amount of time with a thigh injury. Last I heard Shinya Yajima (ankle) was expected back in October, though it’s not been confirmed exactly when yet. Takashi Usami should be raring to go for this one after starting on the bench in the previous two games.

Kashima Antlers

Right-back Rikuto Hirose injured his hamstring in the home game against Gamba and hasn’t been seen since. Key attacker Shoma Doi has missed the past couple of matches, though I haven’t seen any injury reported and experienced forward Sho Ito hasn’t been involved recently, I’m not sure if that’s fitness related or Zago just not fancying him.

Predicted Line Ups

Gamba Osaka
The solid defensive performance in the last game at Hiroshima will certainly have given proponents of Gamba playing with a 4-4-2 formation plenty of ammunition. I’d expect the best eleven available to start this Saturday and next with maybe a few changes at Tosu in midweek. Yajima will hopefully be back at some point in October to help out Ideguchi and Yamamoto in midfield, but for this game the only potential differences between my lineup and the actual one would likely be Yuya Fukuda playing either at full-back or right-wing and possibly Ademilson starting ahead of Patric.

Kashima Antlers
New kantoku Zago has rotated and switched things about quite a bit so I’m not too confident in my lineup below. If Shoma Doi isn’t fit for selection we could see either Ryotaro Araki or Itsuki Someno get the nod. Elsewhere Daiki Sugioka is a rotation option at left-back, Koki Machida started the season as first choice centre-back before losing his spot to Sekigawa and the experienced Ryota Nagaki can play either right-back or in central midfield.

Match Prediction

Gamba have yet to draw at home in 2020, Kashima are yet to draw away, the last 4 games between these 2 have all been draws, regular readers of my previews will know I love a 1-1 pre-match prediction. I’m tempted to go for a 1-0 in either direction, but can’t say which way so I’ll stick with my tried and trusted 1-1, a result which would probably suit Gamba more than Kashima.


Kashima Antlers 1-1 Gamba Osaka (23/08/20) Match Report

Match Report

Gamba conceded a heartbreaking 95th minute equaliser in Ibaraki last Sunday as Tomoya Inukai’s late header cancelled out Kosuke Onose’s early strike in Kashima legend Atsuto Uchida’s farewell match.

Kim Young-gwon returned to the left-side of central defence after sitting out the Urawa defeat, while Yuya Fukuda rotated with Hiroki Fujiharu down the left and Shu Kurata came in for Yuji Ono in midfield. In attack Patric got his first league start of the year, taking the place of Kazuma Watanabe who didn’t look sharp at all in the home loss to Reds.

Despite a positive start from Antlers which saw Shoma Doi and Ryuji Izumi fire weak shots at Masaaki Higashiguchi when they really should have done better (a theme that was constantly revisited in my match notes), it was the visitors who went ahead in just the 6th minute. Decent build up play culminated in a one-two down the left between Kurata and Patric, the former then made his way into the box and squared for Onose who finished coolly low to a diving Yuya Oki’s left. A dream start.

Kashima hero Atsuto Uchida made an earlier than anticipated entry replacing the injured Rikuto Hirose after just 16 minutes. After that the home side began to take more and more control of the game as Gamba were content to sit back and soak up pressure. Juan Alano struck the bar with a cross-shot in the 21st minute and ten minutes before the break a fierce left foot volley from Everaldo rebounded off Higashiguchi into the path of the advancing Ryuji Izumi who could only knee his effort wide.

Into the second half and it was more of the same, Kashima pressure and reasonably solid Gamba defence. My most commonly written note was…Kashima player #… weak shot from edge of the box, straight at Higashiguchi. Gamba did have a couple of decent chances on the counter, particularly when Usami took advantage of a mix-up between Oki and Ikuma Sekigawa but his touch took him too far wide and then in the 62nd minute when good build up play ended with Yosuke Ideguchi’s cross which found Onose in the 6-yard box but he was unable to properly direct his volley on the turn.

As ever Antonio Carlos Zago looked to his bench to try and sway things in his team’s direction, young replacement forward Itsuki Someno got in behind a tiring Gamba rear-guard a few times, but to no avail. Gamba looked dead on their feet for the remaining 20 minutes and tried to tippy-tappy play their way out of danger only to see their passes intercepted by Kashima players. Antlers would have had failed to score in 6 of their 12 league games this year if they didn’t find the back of the net here and the word I was preparing to use for their attack in my post-match Tweet was ‘toothless.’ Unfortunately for Gamba fans, I didn’t get to type that word. Inukai rose above Hiroki Fujiharu to head sub Ryotaro Araki’s cross in off Higashiguchi’s right-hand post to secure a draw few neutrals would begrudge them.

My Analysis

I’ve been reading a few books recently, The Football Code by James Tippett and The Numbers Game by Chris Anderson and David Sally, both talk about the role that luck plays in football and also how the final score skews the game’s narrative. Had Inukai’s header hit the post then Miyamoto would receive praise for winning 4 of the first 5 away from home this year while Zago would be slated for yet another defeat with no goals scored. But, of course, the scoreline was 1-1 and now Gamba management must consider if the current strategy we are pursuing in this unique season is the correct one.

Miyamoto can rightly point to the team’s league position and the fact that aside from runaway leaders Kawasaki, we can hold our own against anyone else in the chasing pack. As a Scottish person, however, Gamba’s strategy appears to mirror the one my home nation adopt when faced with a bigger, more powerful country, try to score early and then defend, defend, defend like our lives depend on it. Almost every other J1 club seems able to play at a higher tempo and press harder for longer than Gamba, so what is going on? Kashima have a big reputation and although they have performed poorly in 2020, they have many dangerous players who deserve respect, Doi, Leo Silva, Everaldo to name but three. However, in a similar manner to our friends over in Saitama who complained vigorously about the nature of their 1-0 win over Hiroshima last week, do Gamba fans have a right to feel aggrieved about the style of football being served up this term? What do you think? Please let me know in the comments.

Gamba MVP

A tough one as we basically abandoned any form of attacking strategy after 20 minutes but I’ll go for Yosuke Ideguchi for getting through a power of work in the middle of the park and covering so much ground.

Gamba U23 Round Up

Just a quick shout out to our Under-23 side in J3 who recorded an impressive 1-1 draw away to leaders Blaublitz Akita on Saturday night. After falling behind early, Gamba bounced back well and grabbed a deserved equaliser through Shuhei Kawasaki who beautifully curled the ball past Yudai Tanaka in the home goal for his 4th strike in the last 3 games (incredibly he now has 7 goals and 14 assists in 36 J3 games – surely if Gamba fall off the pace in J1 then he’ll get his chance this year). A stronger referee may have given Gamba an injury time penalty for a trip on Shoji Toyama, but it was not to be and the visitors had to be content with a point which keeps them 16th ahead of Sanuki and Cerezo U23.


Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka Match Preview (23/08/2020)

Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 12
Kashima Soccer Stadium
Sunday 23 August 19:00 (JST)

Round 12 of J1 2020 sees a battle between two of the league’s most historically successful clubs, Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka. Both sides will be looking to bounce back from disappointing midweek results in the scorching heat and humidity which no doubt awaits them at the Kashima Soccer Stadium. This game is notable as the retirement match for Antlers popular ikemen full-back Atsuto “Uchi” Uchida. Reader feedback is welcome as always, I’d like to know if you feel any sections of the preview are rather long or uninteresting and also if there’s anything you’d like to see more of. Please get in touch.

Last Time Out

Gamba endured a hugely frustrating night at home to Urawa, going down to their worst defeat of the year, 3-1. After 10 days break for most of the top team, head coach Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made two changes to his starting line-up with Ryu Takao replacing the possibly injured Kim Young-gwon at the back and Kazuma Watanabe surprisingly recalled in place of the benched Ademilson. Takao’s selection at the right-hand side of the back three saw his partners Genta Miura and Gen Shoji both shift over one spot to the left.

Gamba started the brighter of the two sides and Takashi Usami rattled the Urawa bar from the edge of the area in the 11th minute, the Nerrazzuri number 33 later fired just wide from a similar distance and Yosuke Ideguchi headed Hiroki Fujiharu’s cross off target in a positive start. They were stung though when Reds opened the scoring with their first real chance of note just before the midway point of the first half. Good high pressing forced a loose Gamba pass into midfield which was returned with interest. Left-winger Takahiro Sekine picked the ball up about 30m out and played in danger man Leonardo. The Brazilian brilliantly turned in the box, wrong-footed two Gamba defenders and laid it back to Sekine whose right foot shot from 12 yards out took a slight deflection off Kosuke Onose on it’s way into the goal.

Less than 10 minutes later Urawa doubled their advantage from the penalty spot. Yet again a poor pass out of defence was intercepted by the visitors and as they attempted to play in Leonardo, Fujiharu stuck out an arm and the penalty was awarded. Leonardo did his staggered run up before once again shooting to the bottom left corner and sending the ‘keeper the wrong way, just as he had done against Hiroshima four days earlier. 2-0 Urawa at half-time and Gamba left with a mountain to climb.

Miyamoto introduced Yasuhito Endo and Ademilson for Yuji Ono and Watanabe at half-time and switched to a 4-4-2. The response was reasonable with decent possession and territory but only a few half chances to show for it. In the 56th minute Gamba were punished once more for poor defending as Urawa killed the game off for good. A slack pass (there’s a theme here) from Gen Shoji to Yasuhito Endo instead found it’s way to combative Reds midfielder Kazuki Nagasawa and the number seven played a seemingly harmless chip in the direction of Yuki Muto. Gamba captain Miura didn’t realise Muto was lurking just off his shoulder, allowed the ball to pass over him and into the path of the attacker who made no mistake with a clinical, angled left foot shot past Higashiguchi.

The home side had to wait an hour for their one and only goal, but it was certainly worth the wait. Fujiharu won a corner down the left-hand side, Usami swung the ball out to the edge of the box and it was met with a thumping Paul Scholes-esque volley by Yosuke Ideguchi. Reds ‘keeper Shusaku Nishakawa got both hands to it, but due to the sheer velocity of the strike he could do nothing other than palm it into the top corner. The remainder of the game was rather physical as Urawa sought to preserve their advantage and Gamba failed to create meaningful chances. The men from Suita played better against Yokohama FC, Shimizu and (arguably) Sanfrecce and won while now 4th place Urawa will surely play better and lose, but that’s the way football goes sometimes.

Ryotaro Araki scored his first ever JLeague goal to grab Antlers a point with virtually the last kick of their match at home to Vissel Kobe last Sunday. Visitors Vissel shaded the first half and were rewarded with the opener through Dankler in the 19th minute. Andres Iniesta’s corner from the far side was flicked past debutant ‘keeper Taiki Yamada at the near post which allowed Leo Osaki to cushion a header into his defensive partner’s path and the Brazilian volleyed home. The sides went into the break all-square though as Leo Silva broke in midfield and then good play from Yasushi Endo and Shoma Doi down the right resulted in full-back Rikuto Hirose delivering an inch perfect cross which was dispatched past Hiroki Iikura via a powerful header from Everaldo, the Brazilian netting his 7th J1 goal of the campaign.

The second half was again a tight affair, Ryuji Izumi came close to a second goal in as many games for Kashima, striking the outside of the post five minutes after the re-start. However, it was Kobe who snatched the lead eleven minutes later, Iniesta and Douglas exchanged a one two and the ball then found it’s way to Gotoku Sakai on the left. The Samurai Blue international fed Yuta Goke on the edge of the box, the former Aomori Yamada High School star then swivelled and fired home low to Yamada’s right.

Just as he had the previous week against Tosu, much criticised Antlers coach Zago turned to his substitutes bench to earn points for his side. Ryota Nagaki, Juan Alano, Itsuki Someno and Ryotaro Araki were introduced during the second half water break while right-winger Yuta Matsumura, fresh from netting the winner at S-Pulse in the Levain Cup in midweek, entered the fray ten minutes later. This left the men from Ibaraki with a youthful and attacking look to it, Shoma Doi and Juan Alano constituted the midfield for the last ten minutes. Their positive verve was rewarded in the fourth and final minute of additional time, Someno found space in the box and picked a pass to his fellow replacement Araki who took a touch before burying his right foot shot beyond the despairing leg of Dankler, past Iikura and into Kobe net. Full time 2-2.

Kashima suffered a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Yokohama FC in midweek which leaves them in 12th spot in the standings with just 11 points from as many games. Yusuke Minagawa’s scrappy effort in the 25th minute was all that separated the sides. There was a suspicion of handball against Gamba loanee Kazunari Ichimi in the build up, but it wasn’t spotted by the referee and in the resulting action Yusuke Matsuo (that man again) beat Kashima ‘keeper Taiki Yamada to a loose ball and it fell kindly for Minagawa who finished past Katsuya Nagato on the line. Ryuji Izumi had Antlers best two chances in the second half, but they generally failed to create clear-cut openings and even the introduction of their youngsters couldn’t swing the match in their favour. 1-0 YFC full-time.

Tactical Notes

Kashima play in quite a similar fashion to Gamba’s previous opponents Urawa Reds, lining up in a 4-4-1-1 / 4-2-3-1 depending on your preference. They like to knock the ball around at the back but not too close to goal as seems to be de rigueur elsewhere, preferring instead to get the ball at least 20-30m out before starting up their passing game. From there a lot of attacks tend to funnel through influential 34-year old midfielder Leo Silva. Antlers have a tendency to attack directly through the middle using their main goal threat and battering ram Everaldo to break down defences. However, they are able work the ball into wide areas with the intention of delivering quality to their Brazilian goal machine, the right wing has been particularly effective at that, as seen by Rikuto Hirose’s 3 assists so far this season.

Under new leadership in the form of kantoku Antonio Carlos Zago and after recruiting heavily in the off season, it is perhaps no surprise that Kashima have struggled to work out their best lineup and had difficulty in stringing performances and results together. Things to seem to be slowly gelling and even if Antlers fans have to endure a season in mid-table, they can at least look to the future with a degree of optimism. A trio of attacking teenagers are slowly but surely beginning to have an influence on the first team. Ryotaro Araki (Higashi Fukuoka), Itsuki Someno (Shoshi) and Yuta Matsumura (Shizuoka Gakuen) are all in their rookie seasons after winter moves from their respective high schools and have played their part in Antlers recent league and cup revival. In addition to the blooding of young goalies, Yuya Oki and Taiki Yamada (both Kashima Youth graduates) as well as the development of centre back Ikuma Sekigawa (Ryutsu Keizai Kashiwa High School – class of 2019), this may be a year that Antlers fans remember more fondly than most as it saw the birth of a new generation of stars.

One last point to note, Zago seems to have honed in on his best eleven, however, when making his influential second half changes a number of players are forced into secondary or unfamiliar positions in order to accommodate the fresh legs. For instance against Vissel, Kobe tended to make switches that were like for like, so Ogawa and Yasui came on for Oda and Goke and simply took over their position, Samper replaced Iniesta and went into central midfield. Yet Antlers changes required Nagaki to play at right back, Doi and Juan Alano to pair up in the centre, in previous weeks Araki and Izumi have taken up spots on both the right or left wing, Someno can play on either flank or just off the main attacker, they can even play three at the back when necessary, using Sekigawa, Machida and Inukai. In the long run I’m sure Zago would like things to settle down a touch, but for the moment it seems to be unsettling opponents and working.

Statistical Noise

Gamba Osaka

* Gamba last won away at Kashima in 2016 when goals from Kotaro Omori, Yasuyuki Konno and a rare one from Kim Jung-ya saw them off to a perfect start to the J1 League Second Stage. The Nerrazzuri also won in Ibaraki in their previous two visits in 2014 and 2015. Their record since coming back up to J1 in 2014 stands at P6 W 3 D 1 L 2 F 11 A 9.
* Gamba’s 3-1 defeat at home to Urawa was the first time they had lost a J1 home game by more than one goal since a 2-0 reverse against Jubilo Iwata on 13 August 2017.
* Gamba are still unbeaten away in J1 2020 having registered three wins and a draw so far. They are one of only four sides still unbeaten on the road.

Kashima Antlers

* Kashima have lost 6 of their first 11 J1 games in 2020. To put that in perspective, they only lost 7 league matches in the whole of last year.
* In 2019 they only lost 3 times at home in the league (their first game against Oita and the final two versus Kawasaki and Kobe). They’ve continued to be strong at home this year with just a solitary defeat (0-2 to Sapporo) from five matches. Conversely they have the 3rd worst away record in J1 with one win and five defeats.
* Kashima have drawn a blank in 5 of their 11 matches this season. They only failed to find the back of the net 3 times in all of 2020.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Kim Young-gwon was a surprising omission from Gamba’s squad for the match against Urawa, there has been no confirmation of his status from the club. Fellow centre-back Ryo Shinzato is the only other injury suspect having been absent since the 0-1 defeat to Kashiwa in the Levain Cup back in February.

Kashima Antlers

Former youth team goalie Yuya Oki hasn’t been seen since putting in a decent performance on his league debut against Tosu a couple of weeks back and I’m putting this down as likely being due to injury. Antlers only other doubt is young ex-Hosei University forward Ayase Ueda who has missed the past five matches with an ankle problem.

Know Your Opponent – Kashima Antlers

Head Coach: Antonio Carlos Zago – Appointed 2 January 2020 – Record P 11 W 3 D 2 L 6 F 15 A 17 Points Per Game 1 Failed to score 5 Clean Sheets 1

GK #38 Taiki Yamada – 18-year old rookie straight out of Kashima’s Youth setup. Yamada started the campaign as fourth choice but owing to injuries and poor form from those in front of him, he was suddenly thrust into the starting eleven for the home game with Kobe last Saturday. The 190cm giant was slightly at fault for Dankler’s opener for Vissel, but if any benefit can be gleaned from this COVID-19 shortened season it is that teams are willing to give youngsters like Yamada a shot.

RB #2 Atsuto Uchida – 74 times capped by his country and a member of the Japan squads for both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, Kashima legend Uchida will hang up his boots after Sunday’s game as a result of years spent on the treatment table. He won back to back titles with the men from Ibaraki between 2007-2009 and made the J1 best eleven in the last two of those seasons before heading off to join Schalke in Germany in 2010. Since returning home eight years later he has mustered only 23 J1 appearances.

RCB #39 Tomoya Inukai – A mainstay at the heart of the Antlers defence since making the switch from S-Pulse at the start of 2018. The now 27 year-old quickly found himself promoted to defensive leader following the departures of current Gamba man Gen Shoji and his fellow Japanese international Naomichi Ueda. He is now tasked with helping to develop his younger defensive partners in the shape of Machida and Sekigawa as Tatsuki Nara is seemingly not what Zago is looking for.

LCB #33 Ikuma Sekigawa – Now in his second season as a pro, 182cm Sekigawa will turn 20 next month and looks to have a promising future ahead of him. Although still a touch raw, he certainly possesses the physique to be a top level defender and appears to be a good reader of the game who produced a number of intercepts which thwarted Kobe attacks when I watched him last week.

LB #14 Katsuya Nagato – Another off-season recruit, Nagato came to Kashima from Vegalta Sendai where he led J1 in assists last year with an outstanding 10 in 30 games for a team that only scored 38 times all year. He has won the battle to be first choice left-back against fellow new signing Daiki Sugioka (Shonan) a little more easily than I would have thought, but surprisingly is yet to produce an assist so far in 2020.

RCM #20 Kento Misao © – Captain of the ship and younger brother of Oita’s Yuto, Kento Misao joined Kashima from Tokyo Verdy back in 2016. So far he has a J1 title, an Asian Champions League and an Emperor’s Cup to his name in addition to six caps for Japan. He leads the side well and does a lot of the dirty work which allows Antlers’ flair players to flourish.

LCM #4 Leo Silva – Surely one of the best foreign players to grace J1 in recent years in terms of putting in top-level performances consistently over a number of seasons. Silva first moved to Japan with Albirex Niigata in 2013, but is now in his fourth season in Ibaraki. A real box-to-box midfielder, he has both a combative side and a creative touch which even at the veteran’s age of 34 (35 in December) would surely make him attractive to any side in J1.

RW #8 Shoma Doi – A big favourite of Ben Maxwell on the J-Talk Podcast, Doi joined Kashima as a Junior High School student and has been with the club ever since. Basically able to play anywhere in midfield or attack, the 28-year old has a quiet calmness about him on the field, but also a burning desire to win as evidenced through his confrontation with some angry Antlers supporters after a match last year. Provided an impressive 7 assists in addition to 5 goals in J1 in 2019, but hasn’t reached those heights as of yet in 2020.

LW #11 Ryuji Izumi – Another versatile midfielder, Izumi’s best positions appear to be either left or right-wing, though he is also able to play at full-back or just off the main striker. Netted 6 times for Nagoya Grampus in J1 last time out which put him on Gamba’s radar as a potential replacement should Kosuke Onose move to Yokohama F.Marinos. In the end neither transfer happened and Izumi made his way to Kashima. His first goal and assist for Antlers in their 2-0 win at home to Tosu a fortnight back has helped endear him to his new fans.

AM #25 Yasushi Endo – Veteran attacker who has been given a new lease of life under Zago after falling out of favour in the last days of Go Oiwa’s reign. Antlers are Endo’s only senior club and he’s racked up over 250 league appearances since being snapped up from Shiogama FC Youth in his native Sendai back in 2007.

CF #9 Everaldo – Brought in as a replacement for his now departed compatriot Serginho, Everaldo had some settling in issues very early in his Kashima career, but now the bustling attacker seems to have put them to bed and he is undoubtedly Antlers main threat in attack. The 181cm, 80kg Brazilian appears bigger than that owing to the way he uses his physique, he’s able to bully defenders in order to win headers, but also has a nice touch and possesses the ability to drop deeper and play in a wide midfield role if necessary.

Other OptionsA big squad is one thing in Kashima’s favour this year as it affords them plenty of options should Zago see fit to switch things up for this encounter. Experienced South Korean stopper Kwoun Sun-tae appears to be the best goalie at the club, but is currently out of favour. In defence, Neil Debnam’s favourite and serial rejecter of Gamba, Tatsuki Nara doesn’t seem to be Zago’s cup of tea, while Koki Machida has already picked up a suspension for accumulated yellow cards in just nine games this season. Converted midfielder Kei Koizumi is a potential early replacement for Uchida, as is regular right-back Rikuto Hirose, an off-season signing from Yokohama F.Marinos. On the other side of defence, Daiki Sugioka is an alternative to Nagato, but has rarely been seen in J1 since joining from Shonan last winter. Moving forward, veteran Ryota Nagaki can be used instead of Misao or Leo Silva should either need to be rested and the young guns in the shape of, Ryotatro Araki, Itsuki Someno and Yuta Matsumura surely can’t be far away from earning starting berths. Brazilian forward Juan Alano hasn’t had the same impact as compatriot Everaldo, but can operate in a number of attacking roles, as can former Shimizu man Ryohei Shirasaki while veteran Sho Ito is an out-and-out striker.

Predicted Lineups

Match Prediction

I learned a harsh lesson about over-optimistic predictions in the last match, but I’ve not totally abandoned my glass half-full philosophy. It’s often a decent game when these two clash and I’ll say there will be goals to send Uchi off into the sunset of a potential modelling or TV presenting career. 2-2 the final score.

sport Uncategorized

J1 Recap June 2020

With the JLeague’s return almost upon us, I thought now would be a good time to take a refresher course on what’s been happening at each club over the previous few months.

Back in February I published a 2-part J1 preview, this article is intended to be a companion to that, so I’d like to take this chance to point you in the direction of those 2 previews (my most popular articles to date) if you’re in search of more reading material.

*All clubs are listed in the order they finished the 2019 season.

Yokohama F.Marinos

2019: 1st
Kantoku: Ange Postecoglou (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Marinos averaged exactly 2 goals per game in J1 last year (68 goals in 34 games)

Last season’s champions enjoyed a mixed start to 2020, recording impressive wins away to Jeonbuk (2-1) and home to Sydney FC (4-0) in the Asian Champions League. Domestically things weren’t so bright as they lost to Kobe in an infamously bad penalty shoot-out in the Super Cup before being beaten 2-1 on their own patch by Gamba in the first round of J1.

Squad Update:
Former captain Jun Amano (28 years old) has returned from a year-long loan at Belgian side Sporting Lokeren. Amano, with over 100 games already under his belt for Marinos will be re-united with Lokeren team-mate, former Renofa Yamaguchi and Kashiwa Reysol full-back, Ryota Koike, who has joined the champions on a permanent basis. Experienced Avispa Fukuoka centre-back Yuki Saneto has also moved east to Kanagawa to provide cover for the injured Thiago Martins. Youth team forward Takumi Tsukui has been promoted to the top team, while Kokoku High School trio, Shunsuke Hirai (DF), Ryunosuke Kabayama (MF) and Tomoki Tagawa (GK), have been registered on designated special player contracts ahead of full-time moves in 2021.
Despite ‘keeper Park Il-gyu being ruled out for the first 2 months of the re-start, the current squad looks stronger than last year and with no ACL return on the immediate horizon they should be there or thereabouts come the end of season.

Week 1:
vs Gamba Osaka (h) 1-2

FC Tokyo

2019: 2nd
Kantoku: Kenta Hasegawa (3rd year)
Quick Stat: FC Tokyo’s average attendance of 31,540 in 2019 was the highest in the club’s history.

Kenta Hasegawa’s men kicked off their year with a 2-0 triumph over Ceres from the Philippines in torrential rain to earn a spot in the Asian Champions League group stage. They backed that up with an impressive 1-1 draw at Ulsan before edging out Perth Glory 1-0 at home. Then, the newly formed Brazilian front trio of Diego Oliveira, Leandro and Adailton all scored late on to inspire them to a 3-1 win at Shimizu S-Pulse in round 1 of J1 2020.

Squad Update:
Korean winger Na Sang-ho’s loan departure for Seongnam FC in his homeland is the biggest piece of transfer news to come out of Ajinomoto Stadium during the break. The highly-touted 23 year-old had struggled to make an impression since his move from Gwangju at the beginning of last season so this wasn’t a major shock.
The other major story to report is that the club have scrapped their J3 Under-23 side citing a lack of available stadia, this meant that their one lockdown signing, 20 year-old Thai midfielder Chayathorn Tapsuvanavon, who joined on loan from Bangkok United at the start of March, returned to Thailand in late June having seen no competitive action.

Week 1:
vs Shimizu S-Pulse (a) 3-1

Kashima Antlers

2019: 3rd
Kantoku: Zago (new)
Quick Stat: Kashima are the most successful team in J1 history with 8 league titles.

After losing in the final of the Emperor’s Cup to Vissel Kobe on January 1st, perennial Japanese giants Kashima then replaced outgoing coach Go Oiwa with Brazilian Zago and made a host of new signings. The bedding in period was not smooth and the men from Ibaraki found themselves surprisingly eliminated in the Asian Champions League qualifiers just 4 weeks later, losing 1-0 at home to Melbourne Victory. They followed this up with 2 more defeats, 1-0 away to Nagoya in the Levain Cup and 3-0 at Sanfrecce Hiroshima in round 1 of J1. 3 games, 3 defeats, 0 goals scored, it was a nightmare start for Zago. Everyone at the Kashima Soccer Stadium will be hoping that the enforced shutdown has given him precious time to get his message across.

Squad Update:
Perhaps unsurprisingly given that 11 of their 31 squad members are new recruits for 2020, there have been no additional signings during the lockdown. The loss of Brazilian marksman Serginho to the Chinese second division (wonder if he’s having any regrets now) was a bitter blow for Kashima and how well his countrymen, Juan Alano (Internacional) and Everaldo (Queretaro, Mexico) settle in will be of utmost importance. Defender Bueno, who I suggested could be a weak link at the back in my February preview, has been loaned to Atletico Mineiro in his homeland.
With an eye on the future, Antlers announced in this month that Meiji University duo, Tomoki Hayakawa (GK) and Keigo Tsunemoto (DF) as well as Osaka Taiiku University defender Naoki Hayashi will join the club from next year.

Week 1:
vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima (a) 0-3

Kawasaki Frontale

2019: 4th
Kantoku: Toru Oniki (4th year)
Quick Stat: Kawasaki had the best away record in J1 last year, taking 36 points from 17 games.

Champions in 2017 and 2018, Kawasaki endured an indifferent 2019, missing out on Asian Champions League qualification, but managing to lift the Levain Cup following a penalty shoot-out win over Sapporo. This year promises to see a changing of the guard with a more youthful looking squad attempting to regain the Kanagawa bragging rights from neighbouring Yokohama F.Marinos. They kicked off 2020 with a bang, thumping S-Pulse 5-1 at Todoroki Stadium in the League Cup, but dropped the baton the following week in their League opener, drawing 0-0 at home to a Sagan Tosu side predicted by many to finish bottom of J1.

Squad Update:
Their only transfer of the lockdown was to sell backup ‘keeper Hiroki Mawatari to Fagiano Okayama, which brings them down to a more respectable 4 senior goalkeepers in their squad, while Kento Tachibanada a midfielder from Toin Yokohama University (my old workplace) was announced as a signing for next season. Elsewhere, the break will presumably have given new university recruits, Zain Issaka (another of the Toin OB network that also includes Miki Yamane), Kaoru Mitoma (Tsukuba), Kaito Kamiya (Tokai Gakuen) and Reo Hatate (Juntendo) time to adjust to life as a pro, Frontale supporters will be hoping these guys will form the backbone of the side for the coming years.

Week 1:
vs Sagan Tosu (h) 0-0

Cerezo Osaka

2019: 5th
Kantoku: Miguel Angel Lotina (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Cerezo had the best defensive record in J1 in 2019, conceding a mere 25 in 34 games (0.7 per game), they were also tied with Kashima for most clean sheets kept (15).

Under the tutelage of wily head-coach Miguel Angel Lotina, Cerezo played an often quite dull but extremely effective brand of football last time out. Built on a rock-solid defence which conceded just 25 goals, they were able to achieve the 6th top 5 finish in their history. All the main protagonists in last season’s defensive masterclass are still in place and they started 2020 in strong fashion, smashing J2 side Matsumoto 4-1 at Nagai Stadium in the League Cup and following that up with a 1-0 opening day League win over Oita Trinita at the same venue.

Squad Update:
Young forward Mizuki Ando’s loan move to Machida Zelvia was their only lockdown transfer activity, he followed another young striker, Hiroto Yamada (Sendai), on the loan trail, the latter leaving in early February. Brazilian midfielder Lucas Mineiro joined on loan from Chapecoense just before the season started to replace his compatriot Souza and made 2 substitute appearances before the COVID-19 enforced break. From the winter recruits, wide-man Tatsuhiro Sakamoto (Montedio Yamagata) and Japan Under-17 star, Jun Nishikawa (Toko Gakuen High School) will have a fair bit of expectation riding on their shoulders when the campaign resumes.

Week 1:
vs Oita Trinita (h) 1-0

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

2019: 6th
Kantoku: Hiroshi Jofuku (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Sanfrecce scored over 20% of their goals last year in just 2 games vs Vissel Kobe (6-2 home and 4-2 away)

After a roller-coaster 2018, Sanfrecce had a much more stable campaign in 2019, finishing a comfortable 6th in J1 as well as progressing from the Asian Champions League group stages before being bettered by Kashima. They had a pretty quiet off-season, but a number of younger talents are emerging, most notably assist-king, Tsukasa Morishima, an exciting attacking-midfielder. Buoyed by the news that plans to build a new stadium in downtown Hiroshima are afoot, Sanfrecce started 2020 in dominant fashion, seeing off J1 new boys Yokohama FC away in the League Cup before dismantling the newly assembled Kashima Antlers 3-0 at Edion Stadium in round 1 of J1. They currently top the standings, albeit after only one game week.

Squad Update:
There are no new transfers to report, although since my original preview was written, Ritsumeikan University midfielder Tomoya Fujii was signed on a pre-contract for 2021 and registered as a designated special player for 2020, he was on the bench for both games so far this year, playing once against Yokohama FC. Extending the loan deals of Brazilian duo Leandro Pereira and Rhayner was probably Hiroshima’s best work last winter, their compatriot, attacking midfielder Ezequiel, also joined on loan from Botafogo, while Yuya Asano (younger brother of Takuma) came in from Mito HollyHock, though the jury is very much still out on whether he’ll bring as much to the team as his elder sibling.

Week 1:
vs Kashima Antlers (h) 3-0

Gamba Osaka

2019: 7th
Kantoku: Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Yasuhito Endo will become the most experienced player in J1 history the next time he takes to the field. He’s currently tied on 631 appearances with legendary Nagoya ‘keeper Seigo Narazaki.

Gamba had a nightmare start to 2019 (as they did the year before), however, owing to a change in strategy – playing with 3 centre-backs, as well a change in philosophy – disbanding the ageing group of heroes from the treble winning 2014 squad and supplementing the new young guns with returning heroes like Ideguchi and Usami, Gamba were able to haul themselves up to an ultimately respectable 7th place. This year started with a 1-0 home reverse to Kashiwa Reysol in the League Cup which was eerily similar to some games from early on in the past 2 campaigns. They were able to make it count when it really mattered this time though, and produced the performance of round 1 of J1 2020, turning over defending champions Yokohama F.Marinos 2-1 at Nissan Stadium, Kurata and Yajima helping themselves to a goal and an assist each.

Squad Update:
Vegalta Sendai backup ‘keeper Lee Yunoh was brought in on loan at the beginning of March to take the place of another loanee, Haruki Saruta (Kashiwa), in the U-23 squad after Saruta suffered a knee injury in training. Meiji University centre-back Yota Sato signed a pre-contract for 2021 and has been registered as a designated special player this year. Additionally, Japanese international centre-back, Gen Shoji, joined on a bumper deal from French side Toulouse last winter, however, due to injury he was unable to play in the 2 games prior to the shutdown. Gamba fans will look forward to seeing him work in tandem with Genta Miura and Kim Young-gwon at the back.

Week 1:
vs Yokohama F.Marinos (a) 2-1

Vissel Kobe

2019: 8th
Kantoku: Thorsten Fink (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Kobe’s games last season produced a total of 120 goals (3.6 per game), a league high.

The Rakuten money finally seemed to pay off for Kobe as they lifted their first ever piece of silverware, the Emperor’s Cup, after a 2-0 win over Kashima at the new National Stadium in Tokyo on New Year’s Day. Like buses, their second trophy came soon after as they saw off J1 Champions Yokohama F.Marinos in the Super Cup in February.
A team which scored plenty and conceded loads gradually became more disciplined under German coach Thorsten Fink in the second half of last year and a more slimline squad started 2020 well. Their first ever Asian Champions League campaign began with a 5-1 trouncing of Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim and continued with a hugely impressive 1-0 win away to Suwon in Korea. In J1 they had to accept a share of the spoils when they met Yokohama FC in round 1 in a game played under bizarre circumstances with supporters allowed into the stadium, but told not to cheer.

Squad Update:
No ins or outs have been recorded during the league’s enforced absence which gives us a chance to look at their business from last winter. Douglas (14 goals, 5 assists for Shimizu in 2019) may be the signing of the close season and his partnership with Furuhashi guarantees goals. At the back, only Shonan and Shimizu conceded more than Kobe’s 59 last time out and to that end centre-backs, Ryuho Kikuchi (Renofa Yamaguchi) and Tetsushi Yamakawa (Tsukuba University) were brought in, though these signings appear to be more for the long term rather than right now.

Week 1:
vs Yokohama FC (h) 1-1

Oita Trinita

2019: 9th
Kantoku: Tomohiro Katanosaka (5th year)
Quick Stat: Now departed strikers, Noriaki Fujimoto (Kobe) and Ado Onaiwu (YFM) scored over 50% of Oita’s goals last year (18 out of 35)

Head coach Katanosaka has masterminded a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the Kyushu side which saw them move up from J3 to J1 in the space of 3 years. Last season they started like a house on fire before inevitably hitting a bit of a slump, but they were still able to finish an excellent 9th with a squad mainly consisting of players from their 2018 J2 promotion campaign as well as sprinkling of veterans from their J3 days.
Oita had a disappointing start to 2020, going down 1-0 away from home in both of their games, at Shonan in the League Cup and Cerezo a week later in the League.

Squad Update:
Their only transfers of note during the lockdown have been the registrations of Fukuoka University midfielder Kenta Inoue and Kanoya Sports College forward Kazuki Fujimoto as designated special players for 2020. Owing to their small budget, Oita have largely had to try and replace departed stars like Ado Onaiwu and Noriaki Fujimoto with players who’ve performed well at lower levels. Retaining attacking-midfielder Kazuki Kozuka and centre-back Tomoki Iwata was a big boost for the club, though how long they can keep hold of them remains to be seen.

Week 1:
vs Cerezo Osaka (a) 0-1

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

2019: 10th
Kantoku: Mihailo Petrovic (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Last year was the first time since 2007 that Mihailo Petrovic has coached a team to a bottom half finish in J1.

Improving on 2018’s incredible 4th place finish was always going to be a tall order for Sapporo, and so it proved last year, however, 10th was still a decent showing from Mihailo Petrovic’s men. Although at times a little suspect at the back, they did have strong performers throughout the side, Akito Fukumori’s deadly set-pieces earned him 8 assists, while Chanathip continued to lay on goals for his attacking partners, Jay, Musashi Suzuki and Anderson Lopes. They would have considered themselves unfortunate to lose out to Kawasaki in the lottery of a penalty shoot-out in the League Cup final last year, and this defeat preceded a rather poor end to 2019 which saw them lose 4 of their last 6 league games.
Consadole started 2020 by coasting past Sagan Tosu, 3-0 away in the League Cup, but then went down 4-2 to Kashiwa Reysol in Chiba on the opening day of J1, these results suggest there’ll be plenty of goalmouth action at both ends this campaign.

Squad Update:
The big transfer news story to emerge out of Sapporo during the league’s break was that international goalkeeper Gu Sung-yun would return to his homeland to play for Daegu FC ahead of a 2-year stint in the Korean military. Consadole have already secured the services of Hosei University’s 2M tall stopper Kojiro Nakano for 2021, and have him on a designated special player contract for this year, but whether it is he, Thai international Kawin Thamsatchanan (a recent loan arrival from Leuven in Belgium) or the experienced Takanori Sugeno that takes over the starting spot is up for debate.

Week 1:
vs Kashiwa Reysol (a) 2-4

Vegalta Sendai

2019: 11th
Kantoku: Takashi Kiyama (new)
Quick Stat: New Kashima Antlers full-back Katsuya Nagato provided assists for 26% of Sendai’s goals in 2019.

Sendai secured their second consecutive 11th place finish in J1 last year, perhaps even more impressive than the previous campaign due to the fact that it was achieved with what, on paper at least, looked like a weaker squad. Still, that didn’t stop head coach Susumu Watanabe from losing his job, with Yamagata manager Takashi Kiyama coming in for his first stab at J1 level. Despite J1’s leading assist maker Katsuya Nagato departing for Kashima, off season recruitment had inspired confidence. However, that feel-good factor was only short-lived when it was announced that both Isaac Cuenca and Alexandre Guedes had gone down with injuries before the campaign had even begun. Sendai were thrashed 5-2 at Urawa in the League Cup before holding Nagoya to a 1-1 draw in the League. The break in fixtures has allowed their attacking talent to return, though the loss for the next 2 months of captain Simao Mate is a huge blow, and an extended period of playing in front of no spectators may undermine their impressive home record.

Squad Update:
Exciting news for Sendai is the return of former attacker Takuma Nishimura on loan from CSKA Moscow. He hit 11 goals in 24 games before his big money move to Russia in the summer of 2018 and Vegalta fans will be looking forward with relish to the partnership he can form with Cuenca, Guedes and Shuhei Akasaki. Elsewhere defenders, Hisashi Appiah Tawiah (Ryutsu Keizai University) and Takumi Mase (Hannan University) have both been brought in on designated special player contracts ahead of turning pro next year.
In terms of departures, defender Masato Tokida who played against Urawa in the League Cup has left for Matsumoto in a loan deal and as previously mentioned, backup goalie Lee Yunoh has joined Gamba U-23 on loan, he spent 2019 farmed out to Fukushima United.

Week 1:
vs Nagoya Grampus (h) 1-1

Shimizu S-Pulse

2019: 12th
Kantoku: Peter Cklamovski (new)
Quick Stat: Shimizu had the worst defensive record in J1 last season with 69 goals conceded in total (2.03 per game). They were also one of only two teams to do the double over champions Yokohama F.Marinos (the other was Cerezo Osaka).

One of the biggest stories of last winter was Shimizu’s appointment of Ange Postecoglou’s assistant at Yokohama F.Marinos, Peter Cklamovski. An avid disciple of Ange’s, it’ll be interesting to see how he shapes this S-Pulse side in his image. The JLeague’s no-relegation rule will definitely help with his experimentation which is bound to encounter teething problems. Shimizu had the leakiest back line in J1 last season conceding 69 times, including an 8-0 home reverse against Sapporo. This year it took them 2 games to concede 8 goals, being hammered 5-1 at Kawasaki in the League Cup then putting up a better showing at home to FC Tokyo in the League before ultimately going down 3-1.

Squad Update:
Nothing to report on the transfer front during the lockdown, although S-Pulse did hire a new coach and recruit a number of new players in the off-season. Additionally, midfielders, Yasufumi Nishimura (Okayama) and Kota Miyamoto (FC Gifu) have returned from loan spells, while wide-man Hideki Ishige made a welcome comeback from serious injury and now appears to be seen as an option at full-back. Despite the additions of Yusuke Goto (Oita), Teerasil (Muangthong United) and Carlinhos (Sion) it’s still hard to see anyone getting close to matching Douglas’ 14 league goals scored last year.

Week 1:
vs FC Tokyo (h) 1-3

Nagoya Grampus

2019: 13th
Kantoku: Massimo Ficcadenti (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Nagoya were second only to Sendai in terms of % of total points picked up at home (65% compared with Sendai’s nearly 76%) in 2019.

One of the biggest spenders in the league, Nagoya have flattered to deceive since returning to J1 in 2018. They have a team full of highly talented individuals who rarely add up to the sum of their parts. Italian Massimo Ficcadenti was a surprise choice to replace the much more attack minded Yahiro Kazama midway through last year, however, he was able to steer a side which had been in freefall into a relatively safe 13th spot in the standings. Grampus started 2020 unbeaten, seeing off Kashima Antlers 1-0 at home in the League Cup before having the better of a 1-1 draw away at Sendai in round 1 of J1.

Squad Update:
Former Japan international front-man Mu Kanazaki joined on loan from cash-strapped Tosu at the end of March and he will take the place of Jo, who returned to Corinthians in Brazil (in a deal that seems to have more to it than meets the eye) having only found the net 6 times last season, compared to 24 in the previous campaign. Kanazaki, however, was recently struck down with Covid-19 and passed the virus on to Australian goalkeeper Mitch Langerak. Both players have since recovered, however, the fallout was that the rest of the squad had to endure a period of training together using Zoom while their J1 rivals were all working on the training ground.
During the break, young full-back Yukinari Sugawara turned his loan move to Dutch side AZ Alkmaar into a permanent one after impressing in his first year in the Netherlands.

Week 1:
vs Vegalta Sendai (a) 1-1

Urawa Reds

2019: 14th
Kantoku: Tsuyoshi Otsuki (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Legendary striker Shinzo Koroki has hit double figures in his last 8 league campaigns.

Despite reaching the final of the Asian Champions League last season, finishing 14th in J1, their worst performance since 2011 was simply unacceptable for a club of this size. Thing surely must get better, a lot better, this year if head-coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki wants to remain in his current role. Their was a surprising lack of transfer activity last winter considering the average age and performance of the squad over the previous 12 months, however, Brazilian attacker, Leonardo who joined from Albirex Niigata could well challenge Kobe’s signing of Douglas as the best coup of the transfer window. The former J3 and J2 top scorer introduced himself to the Saitama Stadium supporters with a double on his debut, a 5-2 win at home to Sendai in the League Cup. The defensive frailties that were briefly on show in that game resurfaced a week later in their League opener, a 3-2 victory over a Shonan Bellmare side who are expected to find things tough this year. It looks like Urawa games will be a pretty exciting watch over the coming months.

Squad Update:
The lack of transfer activity from Reds does seem a little surprising viewed from afar, only Ryutsu Keizai midfielder Atsuki Ito has come in on a designated special player contract. However, they may be banking on some of their younger crop of players to develop more over the coming years. Right-sided defender Daiki Hashioka appears to be the pick of the bunch, though left winger Koya Yuroki could also become a key asset if he’s given more game time. Central-midfielder Hidetoshi Takeda joined the club from the cradle of footballing talent that is Aomori Yamada High School last winter, so we can expect good things from him, while Chuo University winger Tomoaki Okubo has again been registered as a designated special player ahead of turning pro with Reds next year. Youth team ‘keeper Zion Suzuki is on a Type-2 amateur contract which allowed him to appear on the bench against both Sendai and Shonan despite still being in high school (he’s already 189cm tall!)

Week 1:
vs Shonan Bellmare (a) 3-2

Sagan Tosu

2019: 15th
Kantoku: Kim Myung-hwi (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Tosu failed to score in 9 out of their first 10 league games in 2019.

If you’re interested enough in Japanese football to read my blog, I’m going to assume you know something about Tosu’s appalling financial situation, so I don’t want to dwell on it too much. The lack of relegation this year would appear to help them more than any other side given that most #jpred2020 entrants had them going down. A very weak squad on paper were humbled 3-0 at home by Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in the League Cup’s first group-stage match this February before gaining a creditable 0-0 draw away to Kawasaki Frontale on the League’s opening day. Much more of that battling spirit will be required in the coming months and years, I feel.

Squad Update:
Mu Kanazaki’s departure on loan to Nagoya may be the first of quite a few in the near future as the club looks to balance it’s books. In terms of arrivals, Chuo University defender Daisuke Matsumoto is in as a designated special player while Tosu U-18 forwards Reoto Kodama and Ryunosuke Sagara as well as defender Shinya Nakano have come in on Type-2 contracts. One intriguing move just before the league started back in February was the acquisition of right-sided Chinese player Wang Jianan from Guangzhou R&F. The current squad has a very youthful feel to it, with midfielders, Fuchi Honda and Daiki Matsuoka (both 19) as well as former Meiji University full-back Ryoya Morishita (23) expected to be key players.

Week 1:
vs Kawasaki Frontale (a) 0-0

Shonan Bellmare

2019: 16th
Kantoku: Bin Ukishima (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Shonan kept the fewest clean sheets in J1 last year (4).

The Cho Kwi-jae power harassment scandal rocked Shonan to the core last summer, sending them into a tail-spin that they were only able to pull out of thanks to a 1-1 draw at home to Tokushima in the play-offs (again the rights and wrongs of that system have been discussed in depth elsewhere so I’ll not go any further into it.) Bin Ukishima, the man who replaced the long serving Cho has been tasked with rebuilding the side and he’s brought in 12 new faces along with 2 players who’ve returned to Bellmare from loan spells. This sort of annual upheaval is not uncommon in these parts and Shonan are likely to be another side who are assisted by the league’s no-relegation rule. Bellmare started 2020 by edging out Oita 1-0 at home in the League Cup, before losing their J1 opener 3-2 to Urawa at the same venue with new Norwegian signing Tarik missing a penalty.

Squad Update:
After a busy winter, Shonan’s lockdown work has been largely focused on the future, 5 youth team players have been registered on Type-2 Contracts, including midfielder Satoshi Tanaka who’ll turn pro next year. Additionally, 20 year-old forward Ryo Nemoto of Kanoya Sports College in Kagoshima and Sho Hiramatsu from Rissho University have joined as a designated special players. The club also announced the capture of midfielder Taiyo Hiraoka from Riseisha High School for 2021, though he hasn’t yet been registered for this campaign. Surprisingly, as far as I can tell, there has still been no announcement from the club regarding the futures of 2 Brazilians, Crislan and Leleu, who were on the books last year, I assume neither will be back, but usually JLeague teams are good at keeping the fans informed about this sort of thing.

Week 1:
vs Urawa Reds (h) 2-3

Kashiwa Reysol

2019: 1st (J2)
Kantoku: Nelsinho (2nd year – current spell)
Quick Stat: The last time Kashiwa won J2, they went on to lift the J1 title the following year (2011). Current head coch Nelsinho was also in charge back then.

Under legendary manager Nelsinho, Kashiwa are back in the top flight following a one-year sojourn in J2. After a few bumps and bruises in the early rounds, Reysol’s class eventually told and they were worthy champions, their season of course ending with that memorable 13-1 rout of Kyoto Sanga. They’ve kept most of last year’s championship winning side intact and added a cast of 2019 J2 all stars, how will they do in J1 this year?
They got 2020 off to the best possible start with a 1-0 win away to Gamba in the rain in February’s League Cup clash, goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu, left-back Taiyo Koga and inevitably the well-known attacking duo of Cristiano and Olunga were all in fine form. That victory was then backed up by a 4-2 triumph in a thrilling match at home to Sapporo in round 1 of J1 with both Esaka and Olunga notching doubles. They have more than enough attacking talent, but for me centre-back and centre-midfield are areas for concern. They’ll certainly be interesting to watch this year.

Squad Update:
Kashiwa’s only lockdown work has been to move youth product Keita Ide to Tochigi SC in what appears to be a full transfer, I say appears as he was only promoted to the top team last winter. There have been no ins during the break, though Reysol did recruit quite heavily in the off-season and have no doubt taken this opportunity to try and bring their ex-J2 players up to speed. I’m particularly excited by versatile 23 year-old midfielder Yuta Kamiya who spent 2019 with Ehime, on-loan from Shonan. Right-back Kengo Kitazume who joined from Yokohama FC looks a solid addition too, and I can see him taking over from Shunki Takahashi before much longer. Two other interesting coups were Hiroto Goya (Nagasaki – on loan from Gamba), who netted 22 goals in 36 J2 games last year and former youth team product Hayato Nakama (Okayama) who struck an impressive 15 times in 40 J2 matches from left midfield in 2019. These 2 undoubtedly possess the ability, but can they unseat one of the top dogs such as, Olunga, Cristiano, Esaka or Segawa, to nail down a starting berth?

Week 1:
vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo (h) 4-2

Yokohama FC

2019: 2nd (J2)
Kantoku: Takahiro Shimotaira (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Kazuyoshi Miura made his JLeague debut on 15 May 1993, over 8 years before team-mate Koki Saito was born.

Hear the name Yokohama FC and you probably instantly think of their famous veterans, Kazuyoshi ‘King Kazu’ Miura and Shunsuke Nakamura, then probably to a lesser extent, guys like Leandro Domingues, Ibba Laajab, Daisuke Matsui and Masahiko Inoha. However, bubbling under the surface are some of the hottest young talents in Japanese football, attacking trio, Koki Saito (18), Katsuhiro Nakayama (23) and Yusuke Matsuo (22) combined for 18 goals and 11 assists last season to help Yokohama FC achieve only the second season of top flight football in their history. Things will be tough for sure for this squad of ageing stars and up-and-comers, they started things off with a tame 2-0 loss at home to a wily Sanfrecce side in the League Cup, before holding Kobe to a respectable 1-1 draw in the League opener in Hyogo. Tatsuki Seko, another young gun who was recruited in the off-season from Meiji University netted Yokohama’s goal on his senior debut, he’s also one to look out for this year.

Squad Update:
A couple of pieces of transfer news to report from Yokohama during the lockdown, Hosei University defender Yuya Takagi was registered as a designated special player, he’ll turn pro when he’s finished with his studies next year. Full-back Yuta Fujii also made a permanent move to J2 outfit Avispa Fukuoka, he made a mere 5 appearances for Yokohama FC in 2019. Finally, a quick shout out to a name I didn’t mention above, left-back Takaaki Shichi (5 goals and 4 assists in 39 games for Mito HollyHock last year), his signing may have largely flown under the radar, but in my books it looks like a very shrewd move.

Week 1:
vs Vissel Kobe (a) 1-1