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Gamba Osaka 2-1 Kashiwa Reysol plus weekly round up

The Match

Gamba rode their luck at times but eventually dug deep enough to grind out an important 2-1 win over Kashiwa Reysol on Saturday afternoon. Our visitors, who had never previously lost at Panasonic Stadium were left to rue a series of missed chances and also a controversial refereeing decision, while Gamba captain Shu Kurata was given the perfect present to celebrate his 300th J1 appearance.

Coming into this game on the back of 6 days off Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto opted to only change his forwards for this clash with the first-choice pairing of Takashi Usami and Patric replacing Ademilson and Kazuma Watanabe, both of whom reverted to the bench. At the back, Gen Shoji (ankle) and Hiroki Fujiharu (concussion) were still not fit meaning the Nerazzurri’s defence once again had a slightly make-shift feel to it.

My notes for the first 30 minutes of this game can essentially be boiled down to the following, scrappy Gamba build up, Kashima counter, ball over top, came to nothing, shot off target. Truth be told this match didn’t really live up to the hype as both sets of players looked slightly off the pace with signs of wear and tear from this never-ending series of games beginning to take its toll. I was bigging myself up on Twitter for my successful predictions yesterday, but in actuality those of you who read my pre-match preview will know that I spent a lot of time analysing Reysol and my findings could basically be boiled down to, great attack, weak defence. However, in this game their backline held firm for long periods and it was their much vaunted forwards who let them down with a number of squandered opportunities.

Gamba’s main weakness this year has been in games where they’ve fallen behind early and the opening period of this half may be where Kashiwa lost their chance of earning the 3 points. The normally reliable Cristiano shot into to the side netting in the 4th minute before firing over 30 minutes later following a mix-up between Ideguchi and Yamamoto in the midfield. Ataru Esaka had headed over a Cristiano free-kick from seven yards out just three minutes prior to the Brazilian’s second opportunity, while J1’s top marksmen Michael Olunga was largely kept at arm’s length by resolute Gamba defending. At the other end a surging run from Ryu Takao saw him feed Takashi Usami, but he could only shoot straight at Kim from the edge of the area. Patric wasted Gamba’s best chance of the half as he tried to cushion a beautifully weighted Kurata cross into the bottom corner but fluffed his lines, so it was 0-0 at the break.

The deadlock was broken in somewhat controversial fashion 7 minutes into the second half. An aimless high kick into the middle of the field by a Kashiwa defender was nicely controlled by Kosuke Onose who played a neat one-two with Patric and unleashed a shot from a good 25-yards out. Kashiwa’s normally reliable South Korean stopper Kim Seung-gyu seemed to get his hands tangled and was barely able to claw away what should have been a regulation save for a corner. Usami’s set piece flew into the box and Kim challenged Patric for the ball, spilled it into his own net and the goal was given somewhat to my surprise and also the dismay of the Kashiwa players (more on this decision below). After that Gamba had a decent spell with Kurata heavily involved and substitute Ademilson looking sharp. With 10 minutes to go though, Kashiwa would have felt justice was served when they got their equaliser. Another aimless clearance high into the air, this time by Gamba was headed into Esaka’s path by Cristiano. J1’s leading assist maker then volleyed through for the league’s top scorer Olunga to slip his 23rd goal of an incredible campaign beneath Higashiguchi.

Reysol had the momentum after that, however, they were stunned in the 89th minute when Kurata played in Ademilson who took two touches with his right foot on the edge of the box before unleashing a powerful effort with his left which flew past Kim low to his right and sent the Gamba faithful into raptures. The Brazilian’s 6th goal of the campaign and by far the best. There was still time for Cristiano to test Higashiguchi, but Gamba’s number 1 was equal to the task and his save ensured the home side extended their unbeaten run to 9 matches. Defeats for both Cerezo and FC Tokyo made it an all round good day for everyone involved with the club.

Talking Points

* VAR – I’m broadly in favour of technology coming into football and there has been a lot of focus lately on the awarding and non-awarding of penalties. I’m no fan of the current handball laws which basically incentivise teams to get the ball in their opponent’s defensive third then just whack it into the box and hope it hits someone’s hand. VAR may give us more consistent decisions, but if the laws remain the way they are then there will still be a lot of disagreement.
Secondly, and the main reason I’m talking about VAR, I want to discuss Kim’s ‘own goal’ and also Ryo Shinzato’s effort that was ruled out in the match between these two back in February. If I were a Kashiwa supporter I’d be very disappointed to lose a goal like they did yesterday and you’d likely find me ranting about it in my blog if it happened to Gamba. With that said, I can see an argument for the goal to stand and the more I’ve watched it, the less I thought it was a foul. Granted it would have been given as such every day of the week in Europe and no-one wants to see 90kg defenders charging ‘keepers at corners, but that’s hardly what happened here. Likewise with the Shinzato incident, logical arguments could be made in either direction. One could certainly say that if an attacking player is standing in the 6 yard-box and the ball travels into the goal through his legs then he is most definitely affecting play. However, what if it is also clear that the goalkeeper had no chance of saving it regardless of the player’s position? I’m trying to be as neutral as possible even though both incidents involve Gamba and I hope you can see my point that VAR won’t stop arguments from breaking out over such issues.
* Feigning head injuries – The guys over at J-Talk Extra Time did a good piece on this last year, I believe it was the Renofa Yamaguchi goalkeeper who got under their skin. There was a collision in the 57th minute of this game when Kashiwa’s Hayato Nakama and Kosuke Onose went in physically on each other resulting in a Reysol free-kick. So far, so good, but in the aftermath Nakama held the top of his head while replays clearly showed contact was made with his upper arm. This is the second time I’ve seen this kind of incident this season, Urawa’s Leonardo after a clash with Kawasaki’s Jesiel was the other, and I wasn’t impressed on either occasion. In fairness, neither player particularly milked it and none of their team-mates joined in to call for a red-card etc, but I’d like to point out another situation in the Osaka U23 derby. Cerezo defender Ryuya Nishio was struck flush in the face by a powerful drive and somehow managed to stagger to his feet to guard against the subsequent Gamba attack. Further viewing revealed that he had indeed received a strong blow to the head that required treatment (he was able to play on after the physio looked at him), but with head injuries, a quick assessment is necessary and feigning head knocks creates a situation where it’s more difficult for officials to work out what’s real and what’s fake. The referees have been in the firing line a lot recently, but players have their part to play in raising on-field behavioural standards too. There have been another couple of incidents of unsporting conduct that have irritated me recently and I may look at them in detail in future columns. Please let me know what you think.

Gamba U23 Review

Gamba and Cerezo played out an entertaining 1-1 draw in the sunshine at Nagai Stadium on Sunday afternoon. With the disbansion of both sides at the end of the current season this was the final time fans could enjoy this fixture. After 20 minutes of near total Gamba domination they were stunned when Shota Fujio, who of course memorably scored against Urawa in J1 a few weeks back curled in a lovely shot low to Kei Ishikawa’s right from the edge of the box. He nearly repeated the dose a few minutes later, but in general Gamba had the better of the opening stanza. Some of their playing out from the back would have given footballing traditionalists like Tony Pulis or Sam Allardyce palpitations and there was an annoying tendency to get caught offside, but they could look ahead to the second half in positive fashion.

High School 3rd grader Ko Ise replaced overage player Daisuke Takagi at half-time and repaid his coach Hitoshi Morishita’s faith 14 minutes later with a controlled finish from the edge of the box after Keisuke Kurokawa’s cross from the left was only partially cleared. The impressive Kurokawa then sent in another beauty which was just out of the reach of Shoji Toyama a minute later before Cerezo began to come into things a bit more after replacing the ineffectual 191cm forward Pierce Waring. Attacker Fujio looked a cut above of the rest while team-mates Nagi Matsumoto (MF) and Ryuya Nishio (DF) also looked the part. Both sides huffed and puffed, Cerezo even hit the woodwork, but a probably fair 1-1 was the final outcome. Gamba sit 12th in the standings while Cerezo remain bottom, both teams have 11 games remaining.


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Gamba Osaka vs Kashiwa Reysol 24 October 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Kashiwa Reysol
J1 2020 Round 24
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 24 October 16:00 (JST)


The Lowdown

Gamba come into this match 4th in the J1 standings while Kashiwa are 4 places and 8 points behind with both sides having played 23 games. Reysol, who will go head-to-head with FC Tokyo in the Levain Cup Final next month, have already defeated Gamba twice this season, winning 1-0 at Panasonic Stadium in the group stages of the League Cup back in February before inflicting the only away loss Gamba have suffered so far this year, a resounding 3-0 triumph on September 9th.

Gamba’s win at Oita last weekend took them onto an impressive 29 away points which is actually more than 6 J1 teams’ total points haul for the year. In Suita things have been a bit more dicey with 5 wins, 1 draw and 5 defeats, however the Nerazzurri’s schedule has been a touch top heavy and Reysol are the highest ranked side yet to visit Panasonic Stadium this year. Indeed, all of Gamba’s remaining visitors (Kobe, Sapporo, Tosu, Shimizu, Sendai) currently lie in the bottom half of the standings. With 45 total points this season the Nerazzurri require just a solitary victory in their 11 remaining fixtures to eclipse last season’s tally of 47. Protecting leads has been a big factor in this revival. My often quoted stat is that this year Gamba are 14-2-0 in games where they’ve led at any point, now contrast this with 2019 when they drew 11 of their 34 J1 fixtures including 7 matches where they let a lead slip (5 of these came consecutively between rounds 20-24!). More damaging was the 5 times that teams came from behind to defeat Gamba last season, this has been completely eradicated in the 23 rounds so far in 2020, an achievement worthy of a mention.

Kashiwa, like Gamba and a few other J1 teams, have enjoyed more success on the road than at home during this turbulent campaign. 20 of their 37 league points have been earned outside of Chiba and we can also see a clear difference between their attacking and defensive performances depending on match location. On home turf they score 2.17 goals per game with an average of 1.92 being conceded, however, away from home things are less free-flowing with an average score of 1.7-1.09 in their favour. They have won 6 games on opposition soil this year and lost 3 times, once to Kawasaki, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the other 2 defeats, at Tosu and Shonan are greater causes for concern.

Overall, Reysol possess the joint 3rd (level with Kobe who’ve played an additional 4 games) most potent attack in the league, slamming in 45 at 1.96 per match. Forward duo Michael Olunga and Ataru Esaka have 30 of those goals between them (more than 6 J1 teams’ totals), by way of contrast, Gamba’s attacking quartet of Usami, Patric, Ademilson and Watanabe have bagged a combined total of 20 goals. In Takashi Usami, Gamba have J1’s leading chance creator with 57 final passes to his name, Kashiwa’s Esaka is in third place on that list with 51.

Defence is undoubtedly Reysol’s achilles heel, though admittedly injury problems which have necessitated a series of personnel and positional switches throughout the year haven’t helped. They’ve conceded 10 goals more than Gamba so far in 2020 and ahead of them only Yokohama F.Marinos have a leakier rearguard, though with Reysol only being 4 points behind the defending champions with 4 games in hand we can expect to see them move up a place sooner or later. Kashiwa supporters must be eagerly anticipating the return of Avispa Fukuoka captain Takumi Kamijima, an academy graduate currently excelling out on loan, with the hope that he can steady the ship at the back. Reysol have conceded exactly 3 goals on 7 occasions this year (though only twice once away), which is pretty shocking for a team as high in the standings as they are, to counter that though they have scored three goals or more 9 times this season (including 3 times on their travels).

Head to Head

As you can see in the graphic below, Kashiwa have proven a tough nut for Gamba to crack in recent years with their last home win in this fixture coming way back in 2015. I was there for what might well prove to be my only visit to Panasonic Stadium in 2020 back in February when Reysol ran out 1-0 winners in the Levain Cup. That the goal was scored by Olunga and assisted by Cristiano should surprise no-one, however, at the other end Kim Seung-gyu had to be in outstanding form in order to earn a clean sheet as Gamba spent most of the second half camped in Kashiwa’s defensive third.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Injury problems are starting to mount up for Gamba as a result of their intense recent schedule of matches. Yuji Ono (knee) and Genta Miura (thigh) are both long-term absentees while it’s been reported that Hiroki Fujiharu sustained a concussion in the game against Tosu on October 7th and no date has yet been set for his return. Gen Shoji re-injured his ankle against Yokohama F.Marinos on October 14th and we’re still waiting to hear how long he will be out for. In more positive news, stand-in captain Shu Kurata will make his 300th J1 appearance in his match.

Kashiwa Reysol

Reysol have one of the biggest squads in the league and it’s just as well as they’ve been plagued by injuries all year. Centre-back Yuji Takahashi is out for the season with knee ligament damage as is impressive young midfielder Sachiro Toshima who suffered a horrific leg break against Yokohama F.Marinos. International goalkeeper Kosuke Nakamura hasn’t featured since being subbed off with a leg muscle injury against Shimizu on September 5th and influential attacking midfielder Yusuke Segawa has been out since being taken off at half-time of the 3-2 win at Kobe on August 19th. Brazilian wide-man Matheus Savio had to go off in the first half of the 3-2 home defeat by Kashima on August 29th and experienced centre-back Yuta Someya was last in the squad for the home game with Shonan on July 18th. The versatile Masatoshi Mihara picked up his 4th yellow card of the year in the 3-2 loss at Bellmare on Sunday so will miss this game through suspension, while full-back Shunki Takahashi returns after sitting out the previous game due to his second red-card of the campaign. Club captain Hidekazu Otani and veteran centre-back Jiro Kamata have missed the past 3 and 4 games respectively and ex-Gamba forward Hiroto Goya hasn’t been in the squad for the last 3 matches. Utility defender Taiyo Koga, the sole mainstay at the heart of Kashiwa’s defence this year missed the 3-2 loss at Shonan, whether he was rested or injured, I’m not sure.

Predicted Line Ups

Gamba only have to play 3 games in a week twice more this season, so we are likely to see the best available players selected for every match from now on. For my lineup below I’ve assumed that both Shoji and Fujiharu will miss out through injury, I’d say, if fit, Shoji will definitely replace Suganuma to try and combat the threat of Olunga. Elsewhere, Yajima could take Yamamoto’s place in the middle of the park and I’m pretty confident that Usami and Patric will be the starting attacking duo, particularly in light of Kashiwa’s poor defending of crosses against Shonan.


Reysol’s lineup and formation will basically come down to who’s fit and who’s out. I’ve gone with the assumption that Koga was rested last week so will return for this clash, if not, expect Tatsuya Yamashita to partner Ominami at centre-back. Mihara’s suspension has caused some issues in central midfield, if Otani is available he will surely partner Richardson, Yusuke Kobayashi and Yuto Yamada are alternatives, but both have been largely overlooked for most of the campaign. Another possibility with the personnel I’ve chosen is for a 4-3-3 with Richardson at the base of the midfield flanked by Kamiya and Nakama while Olunga leads the attack with Cristiano and Esaka either side of him.


Match Prediction

Despite Gamba’s recent record against Reysol, I’m feeling in bullish mood ahead of this clash so after taking the inevitable Olunga goal into consideration I’ll say Gamba will run out 2-1 winners.

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Kashiwa Reysol vs Gamba Osaka 9 September 2020 Match Preview

Kashiwa Reysol vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 15
Sankyo Frontier Kashiwa Stadium
Wednesday 9 September 19:00 (JST)


It’s 5th vs 6th this Wednesday as Gamba play their second away match in five days at one of their least favourite opposition grounds, the Kashiwa Stadium in Chiba. Both clubs are feeling the effects of the brutal summer match schedule and have a number of players injured or doubtful for this one making writing an insightful match preview a tall order.

Kashiwa and Gamba come into this clash level on points, however Reysol have the better goal difference and have played an extra match. The Chiba based side are known for their potency in attack and are 3rd in goals scored, way behind leaders Kawasaki, but their 28 strikes in 14 games puts them just one behind 2nd placed Yokohama F.Marinos with a match in hand. Conversely their rather leaky rearguard, which has seen no fewer than 7 different players used at centre-back as well as 3 goalkeepers taking turns between the sticks, ranks a surprisingly high 8th equal with 22 goals conceded.

Gamba’s 4-1 win at Sendai means that they are now one of only three sides still unbeaten away from home in J1 2020 along with FC Tokyo and Vissel Kobe. They currently boast an impressive record of 4 wins and 2 draws which is fourth best in the division, but with fewer games played than all three teams ahead of them. Our opponents Kashiwa have had the same struggles as Gamba at home, recording an identical three wins and four defeats to date. Both clubs have notoriously boisterous supports which have been largely nullified by the COVID-19 restrictions on fans.

Gamba have a tendency to share the goals more equally throughout the team than Kashiwa do. The Nerazzurri have netted 21 times in 13 J1 games and so far 11 different players have been on target with Brazilian Ademilson currently leading the way, notching 4 in 10 appearances. For Kashiwa, J1’s leading marksman Michael Olunga has picked up exactly where he left off last year in J2 and already has a whopping 14 goals in just 13 games which represents 50% of his team’s total. Overall just 8 players have found the back of the net for Reysol in 2020, other key contributors have been Hayato Nakama (4 goals) and Ataru Esaka (3 goals / 5 assists) while ex-Gamba marksmen Hiroto Goya has 3 league strikes from just 2 starts and has also bagged a couple in the Levain Cup.

Head to Head

This is not a happy hunting ground for Gamba as seen in the table below. The excellent 3-1 victory in round 2 of the 2017 campaign, thanks to Sam Robson’s favourite Shun Nagasawa’s double, is our only recent success at the normally intimidating Kashiwa Stadium. Indeed Reysol were the ones to end Gamba’s incredible nine match winning streak at the end of the 2018 season, the final match before their year-long sabbatical in J2 last year.

These two have already faced off once in 2020 with Kashiwa edging a tight Levain Cup Group stage match 1-0 with the goal inevitably coming from Olunga. That will likely be the only time I’ll be in Panasonic Stadium this year, but I did witness an entertaining tie between two sides shaking off the cobwebs in their first hit out of the year and in truth 6-4 Gamba may have been a more accurate reflection of the run of play than a 1-0 away win.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

It’s bad news for Gamba’s midfield with the announcement that the impressive Yuji Ono has damaged knee ligaments that require surgery which means he won’t be back until next year. Shinya Yajima missed the Sendai game with a sprained ankle, though as yet we don’t know how serious it is. As one door closes, so another opens and that will be the case for Yuki Yamamoto who capped his first J1 start in the midfield anchor role with a fine strike last Saturday and also 19 year-old Shuhei Kawasaki who has seen his excellent J3 form rewarded with a promotion to be Shu Kurata’s understudy in the top team. In defence, everyone is now fully fit with Ryo Shinzato and Shunya Suganuma both getting a run out as overage players with the U23s against Fujieda MYFC last Saturday.


Kashiwa Reysol

I could probably write a book about Kashiwa’s injury troubles this year, but I’ll try to be as brief as possible. Working from back to front, first choice goalkeeper Kosuke Nakamura had to be subbed off in the second half of Saturday’s game with S-Pulse after injuring his leg taking a goal-kick, Korean international Kim Seung-gyu hasn’t been on the bench in recent weeks and his status is unknown. Off-season signing from Tosu, Yuji Takahashi damaged his knee against Kashima 2 matchdays ago and is out for the year, while fellow centre-backs Takuma Ominami, Yuta Someya and Tatsuya Yamashita have been out of the squad recently and I’m assuming it’s because they are not fully fit. Further forward, Ben Maxwell’s favourite J1 hit-man Richardson has reached the four yellow card suspension threshold and will sit this one out. Star Brazilian winger Cristiano, who recorded 19 goals and 18 assists in J2 last year hasn’t been seen since the league’s re-start back in June while his compatriot Matheus Savio, like Takahashi above, was replaced in the first half of the match against Kashima and didn’t feature at Shimizu. Yuta Kamiya provided 4 assists early in the campaign, but hasn’t been seen in the matchday squad since the 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Cerezo last month. Likewise, Yusuke Segawa started the season as first choice but was subbed at half-time in the 3-2 win at Vissel Kobe and has been absent for the 3 subsequent matchdays. In a rare piece of good news, right-sided defender Shunki Takahashi is back from suspension following a rather harsh looking two yellow cards against Kashima Antlers. I’m assuming that Olunga was just rested against Shimizu and will be back looking for his usual goal(s) in this encounter.

Know Your Opponent – Kashiwa Reysol

Kantoku: Nelsinho Baptista (2nd spell), Re-appointed: 1 February 2019, Record: P 56 W 32 D 11 L 13 F 113 A 55 Points Per Game 1.91 Failed to Score 9 Clean Sheets 20

GK #17 Kim Seung-gyu – Capped 43 times by South Korea and named in Alan Gibson’s Best Ever J1 team, Kim was in outstanding form to keep a clean sheet in the clash between these two back in February. He’s since lost his place to Kosuke Nakamura and I’m simply guessing he may be fit enough to play in this match. He previously spent 3 ½ years with Vissel Kobe before a 6 month spell with Ulsan Hyundai in homeland which ended with a disastrous final day performance against rivals Pohang that let Jeonbuk slip in to land yet another title.

RCB #24 Naoki Kawaguchi – Normally a right-back, but may be asked to play as a right-sided centre-back in this match owing to a lack of alternatives. Kawaguchi originally joined Reysol on loan from Albirex Niigata midway through last year and made the deal permanent in the off-season.

CB #2 Jiro Kamata – Vastly experienced centre-back who started the Levain Cup game with Gamba in February alongside fellow veteran Yuta Someya before both subsequently lost their places to younger rivals. The former Sendai man is now back in the starting eleven and will need to use his nous and experience to help his defensive partners adjust to their new roles.

LCB #4 Taiyo Koga – Really impressed me in February while playing at left-back. Capped once by Japan, Koga has performed well at right-back for most of the season while Hiromu Mitsumaru has shone on the opposite flank, but has has recently shifted into the middle with more mixed results.

RWB #6 Shunki Takahashi – I’m honestly a little surprised he’s featured as much as he has this year after making just 19 league appearances across the previous two seasons spent with Kobe and Kashiwa. His versatility is useful for Nelsinho as he’s able to play on either flank and at full-back or wing-back.

RCM #27 Masatoshi Mihara – Another member of the Kobe Old Boys club, Mihara actually sunk his former employers with an injury time winner last month and looked like he really enjoyed it. Calling him a jack-of-all-trades may be a bit harsh, but he’s found himself used at right-back as well as various positions in the midfield during his year in Chiba. Like Kawaguchi, he originally joined on loan in mid-2019 before making things permanent over the winter.

DM #7 Hidekazu Otani © – Mr. Kashiwa; promotions, relegations, J1 and J2 title wins, League Cup and Emperor’s Cup triumphs, Otani has seen it all since coming to the club as a junior high school student. Kashiwa are his only professional side and he’s played over 450 league games for them. Team captain and a vital cog in the centre of the park.

LCM #28 Sachiro Toshima – One of a number of J2 players who clearly impressed the Kashiwa scouting department last year, Toshima followed his former team-mate Kawaguchi to Kashiwa from Niigata. The Tsukuba University graduate is a smooth operator when in possession and has the potential to be a mainstay in the Reysol midfield for the next decade.

LWB #20 Hiromu Mitsumaru – An off-season recruit from Tosu, Mitsumaru started the year on the sidelines, but grabbed his chance with an impressive second-half cameo away to Kawasaki and hasn’t looked back since. He was Toshima’s senpai at Tsukuba University prior to moving to Saga in 2016 and has quickly adapted to life in Chiba with 3 assists already this year.

RCF #14 Michael Olunga – What can I say about him that hasn’t already been covered? 8 goals in 1 match against Kyoto last year, 27 in total plus 8 assists in J2 and now running at better than a goal a game in J1. Gamba found back in February that the best way to stop Olunga is by preventing his less talented team-mates from getting the ball to him. Once he gets possession, though, you might as well adopt the same tactics I would in a fight with Tyson Fury, cover your eyes and hope for the best.

LCF #19 Hiroto GoyaIkemen former Gamba forward who never got close to hitting the heights expected of him in Suita. A brilliant loan spell with Nagasaki last year (22 goals in 36 league games) clearly took Kashiwa’s fancy. He’s struggled to break into the starting eleven as Reysol have played most games with Olunga as the lone striker supported by three attacking midfielders. The defensive crisis at the Kashiwa Stadium may prove to be Goya’s salvation as Nelsinho’s hand has been forced and there’s an extra centre-forward slot available.

Other Options – Should both Nakamura and Kim be ruled out through injury then third choice ‘keeper Haruhiko Takimoto, a Kashiwa academy graduate could be called into action, as he has twice already this year from the bench. Right-sided defender Kengo Kitazume joined from fellow promoted side Yokohama FC last winter and I unsuccessfully predicted he would take Takahashi’s place, that hasn’t happened yet, but he is a solid bench option. In central midfield, Yusuke Kobayashi, back in Chiba after a disappointing loan spell with Shonan and young Yuto Yamada, a surprise starter at Panasonic Stadium in February are alternatives to Otani and Mihara. Further forward, I’ve predicted that the lethal Ataru Esaka will be rested due to a heavy workload recently, but there is every chance he will start. The same could be said for Hayato Nakama who netted an impressive 15 times from left midfield for Fagiano Okayama last year, he is probably one of the best 11 players available to Nelsinho at the moment, but may find it difficult to operate in the current 3-5-2 system. Ex-Iwata and Niigata forward Ryohei Yamazaki and promising youngster Mao Hosoya are options to round out the bench, though it’s unlikely either will start unless there are further injuries to first teamers.

Predicted Line Ups




Match Prediction

With all the uncertainty surrounding who is fit or not for Kashiwa, making a definite prediction is tough. A Cristiano / Olunga inspired Reysol would be strong favourites to win in a normal season, but are an injury ravaged Kashiwa without the advantage of their yellow wall really such a sure bet? Recent form shows that both of these teams usually score and concede in every game so we should see goals. Gamba have 5 wins 1 draw and 0 defeats when leading at half time and are also 7-2-0 when they net the game’s opening goal, so the opening stanza will be crucial (for comparison, they are 1-0-4 when the opposition score first). I’ll go with 2-2, but honestly I don’t have a lot of faith in my prediction for the reasons laid out above.

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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)

Recap:
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.

Recap:
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
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Kashima Antlers

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

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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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).

Recap:
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
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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)

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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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)

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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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).

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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Shonan Bellmare

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

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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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.

Recap:
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
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