Gamba Osaka vs Kashiwa Reysol
2022 J1 Season Round 31
Saturday 1 October 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 16:00 (JST)
Gamba aren’t quite ready to order drinks at the last chance saloon, but they’re getting darn close in the wake of their controversial, gut-wrenching loss to near neighbours and fellow strugglers Vissel Kobe. As if to compound matters, their next fixture sees them welcome J1’s best away side, Kashiwa Reysol, to Panasonic Stadium as they seek to snap a run of 3 consecutive home games without scoring. The visiting Sunkings are 6th in the overall standings, 6 points off 3rd place and ACL qualification, despite a recent run of 6 outings without a win. Only a victory here can lift the Nerazzurri out of the drop-zone and with clashes against the likes of Marinos and Kashima looming large on the horizon, 3 points is really non-negotiable if they are serious about staying up. Reysol looked sharp and focused in their most recent game, a 1-1 home draw with defending champions Kawasaki and should they be able to re-produce that kind of performance then they’ll fancy their chances in this bout. The Ao to Kuro, on the other hand, must channel their frustration from the Kobe loss into an unwavering desire to defeat Kashiwa this Saturday, whatever the cost. It’s the first match at Panasonic Stadium with singing allowed for over 2 and a half years, could the home support perhaps nudge the VAR Gods into providing a dramatic plot twist and coming to Gamba’s aid, or is that just delving way too far into the realms of fantasy?
Tale of the Tape
Hiroshi Matsuda lined up in the opposite dugout from his former apprentice Takayuki Yoshida during the Hanshin Derby at the Noevir Stadium, how did he get on tactically? Generally pretty well in my book. It definitely wasn’t beautiful, free-flowing, attack-minded football, but until the intervention of referee Koei Koya in the final 10 minutes of the contest, it looked like Matsuda-ball was set to bring the Nerazzurri a priceless 1-0 victory which would have seen them move up to 13th in the standings, behind S-Pulse only on goal difference. Alas, it was not be and I’ll be honest as soon as Yuya Osako’s spot-kick hit the back of the net, his later injury-time winner became inevitable in the context of Gamba’s season. ‘The worst is yet to come’ was the thought running through my head as we entered second-half additional time and so it came to pass. I don’t even really blame the players as VAR overturning the no penalty decision without ‘clear and obvious’ evidence to do so (much more on that in the Gamba section below) simply crushed their spirits in the wake of the much publicised VAR inspired heavy losses against Kashima (h) and Kawasaki (a). Matsuda has got a wealth of experience developing promising youngsters on his CV, but he’s clearly been brought in with the sole remit of keeping Gamba in J1 no matter how ugly and defensively his side plays. Unfortunately that likely means no more Yamami, Nakamura or Sakamoto until next season with Brazilian giants Leandro Pereira and Patric leading the line, Musashi Suzuki coming off the bench hoping to use his pace to stretch tired defences and fellow gas-man Ryotaro Meshino being replaced for the final 15-20 minutes by returning talisman Takashi Usami. Under Matsuda’s tutelage, the players appear to know exactly what they are supposed to be doing, something which was absolutely not the case during the previous regime, so that’s one step in the right direction at least. Wait a minute, I’ve written about 20+ lines of text in this section and have barely mentioned a stat, so let’s finish off with some of them shall we? A few months back I said judge Tomohiro Katanosaka on Gamba’s xG difference and with 30 out of 34 fixtures now in the can, the Ao to Kuro’s figure is still sitting at -0.50xG per game, a number that hasn’t really budged much all season, and certainly suggests relegation is the most likely outcome for the club. More positively, across the past 5 matches of Matsuda’s ‘442 zone defence’ © DAZN, Gamba are giving up 12.6 (7.0 on target) shots per game to opponents which compares with 15.8 (9.2) overall, though at the other end of the field they’ve only been attempting 10 (5.4 on target) shots across that same run of fixtures versus 11.2 (6.2) when considering all 30 games to date. Four of Matsuda’s six matches in charge have seen an xG for total of less than 1 and all outings apart from the 2-0 win at Nagoya have been xG losses, granted the Fukuoka game was only by 0.02, so basically as close as you can get to an xG draw. There’s not much solace in the stats for Gamba fans, and this might not be what you were wanting or expecting to read at the conclusion of this section, but for me it’s down to pure luck from here on out. Opposition own goals, red cards, lack of effort due to having nothing other than pride to play for, they could all play a big role in whether the Nerazzurri sink or swim.
Kashiwa have certainly exceeded the expectations of most external observers this year, spending the entirety of the campaign in the top 6 when many expected them to be embroiled in a fight for survival similar to what their hosts this Saturday are currently enduring. They’ve been quite a streaky team in 2022, boasting runs of 3 and 4 wins in-a-row, as well as losing 3 on-the-bounce on two separate occasions. After opening up the year with 9 victories and 30 points from their first 17 games, they’ve since descended slightly from those dizzy heights, winning just 4 times and accumulating only 15 points from their most recent 13 outings, not bad, but it is form that has much more of a mid-table feel to it. The Sunkings have lost 8 of their last 10 matches on xG (they’ve won 1 and drawn 1 of the other 2), and the 4.13xG Reds put up against them in round 29 is the highest recorded in J1 since I started keeping data at the beginning of 2021. Six goals conceded from an xG of only 1.4 in the home bout with FC Tokyo was a bit more unfortunate, though kantoku Nelsinho will not be at all amused that his charges’ 40 goals conceded is the worst of everyone inside the top 10 and indeed is only 4 fewer that Gamba have let in. Other stats suggest that Reysol have had a knack of coming out on top in extremely tight contests this year as they are only outshooting their opponents by 0.3 (0.5 on target) efforts per game while registering 45.3% ball possession, down from 47.1% in 2021. They have upped the intensity of their work, however, recording 183.8 sprints per game (25.9 more than the Nerazzurri), which is an increase from 174.4 twelve months ago and this may have been a pivotal factor in their renaissance. Regarding individual players within their ranks, Matheus Savio was someone I highlighted prior to the match back in May and though things haven’t been going quite as swimmingly for the Brazilian lately with no goals or assists in his most recent 9 league outings as well as a potential bout of Covid in August, he’s enjoying a fine season overall nonetheless. Savio ranks first in J1 for through balls (115), chances created (78) and last passes (56), he’s also 8th for shots taken (58), 9th for shots on target (16) and 10th for dribbles (70). Defensively he’s put up some decent numbers too, sitting in the division’s top 15 for blocks, interceptions and possession recoveries. Ahead of Savio, young attacker Mao Hosoya has been a revelation and while his exertions with Japan U-21 in Europe over the past fortnight may necessitate a bench start on Saturday, he can be more than pleased with his season to date, registering 8 goals and 4 assists while listing 3rd in the J1 shots on target rankings with 22. His development has really come on in leaps and bounds this year, which will probably lead to an overseas move within the next 12 months. Hosoya is just in the embryonic stages of his professional career and while that statement certainly doesn’t ring true for Yuki Muto, the former Sendai and Urawa hitman has also been a key cog in the Reysol attacking wheel in recent months. The tag ‘super-sub’ most definitely applies to him as to date he’s bagged 7 goals and 2 assists from 15 appearances, with a grand total of only 4 starts (4 of his goals and 2 assists have come from sub appearances). I’m postulating that Muto might well partner Douglas in attack from the start on Saturday with Hosoya getting introduced in the second-half, the million dollar question is, what effect, if any, would that have on their forward play?
First Match Recap
Gamba’s 1-0 win away to Kashiwa in mid-May was one of those classic J.League results that defied any sort of rational analysis. Despite coming into the tie fresh off the back of a home victory over Vissel Kobe 6 days prior, the Nerazzurri had since been struck down with a Coronavirus cluster which, in addition to their lengthy injury list, left them with high school 3rd graders Harumi Minamino and Rikuto Kuwahara on the bench to make up the numbers. The Ao to Kuro had a go early doors with Hiroto Yamami’s lob as close as they came, unfortunately that strategy led to them being cut open on several occasions and in truth they were pretty lucky to go into half-time level. Things tightened up considerably in the second-half and Gamba were able to pick up a smash-and-grab victory courtesy of Dawhan’s close range effort after Reysol failed to clear a corner properly. Hiromu Mitsumaru’s header struck the frame of the Nerazzurri’s goal in the final minute of additional time meaning Gamba returned to Suita with all 3 points, a result that moved them up to 10th in the standings. How the Nerazzurri would love to get the rub of the green this Saturday afternoon in the same way they did on that late spring evening in Chiba.
VAR Verdict – Hopefully this is the last time I write about refereeing and VAR this year, though I won’t hold my breath. It should come as no surprise to anyone that I was left extremely angry by Koei Koya’s decision to overturn his call of no penalty during the vital Vissel vs Gamba clash prior to the international break, angrier than it’s really healthy to be after a football game, something that I recognised in the aftermath and I actually ended up messaging an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, so at least some good came out of it. However, back to my point, I pose the question to you dear reader, what is the purpose of using VAR in football? If it’s to bring consistency and clarity to the decision making process while at the same time only fixing clear errors by the on-field officiating team then it has failed on every account since it was introduced into J1 full-time at the start of the 2021 season. When Patric was given a straight red card following Yuma Suzuki’s play-acting on the opening day of the 2022 campaign, the reasoning given as to why VAR couldn’t overturn the decision was because Patric acted aggressively towards Suzuki so it technically wasn’t the wrong call. However, the referee that day dismissed Patric because he thought he’d struck Suzuki in the face, an act of aggression probably scoring an 8 or 9 on a 10 point scale, while in reality he likely said something a little nasty and tickled his opponent’s tummy, which would rank as a 2 or 3 in terms of aggression. With that in mind, Koya’s initial decision was to give a foul against Kobe’s Yoshinori Muto for a high boot with studs up. The replays showed it wasn’t as bad as first thought, but just like the Patric decision, the original judgement wasn’t technically completely wrong. Additionally, Fukuda and Muto go for the ball and make contact with each other, at the VAR booth the referee chooses to only consider Fukuda hitting Muto marginally before Muto hits him, ignoring the position of Muto’s boot and also his potential initiation of the contact. It’s not clearly a penalty and not clearly not a penalty, therefore it falls into a grey area and with the initial decision being no penalty, the best Los Millonarios should have got was a drop ball in my view. I know this is a Gamba blog and I’m biased, but the likes of Shohei Ogura and former J1 official Masaaki Iemoto (not to mention fans of other J1 teams) have weighed in with similar opinions to mine and I’m yet to hear anyone say it was clearly or definitely a penalty to Kobe. If I was Gamba I’d contact the J. League and ask for a written explanation as to why the decision was overturned. Sure we’re not going to get the last 10 minutes replayed or anything, but it would be nice to make the league squirm as they try and wiggle their way out of the mess they’ve made for themselves. It was interesting to note that at the same time as Vissel vs Gamba, FC Tokyo were hosting Kyoto Sanga in the first ever J1 match officiated by a female, let’s hope that opening this role up to an additional 50% of the population leads to greater openness, consistency and clarity in decision making going forward. Rant over…and breathe.
Above is an artist’s impression of the Vissel vs Gamba game
The Ultimate Warrior = Gamba Osaka
Ravishing Rick Rude = Vissel Kobe
Bobby The Brain Heenan = Referee Koei Koya
**Note – Let me just add that I know Vissel had a poor decision go against them away at Shonan and Gamba are certainly not the only team in world football to fall victim to questionable officiating. Also, I personally bear Vissel Kobe no ill-will, Kobe is a beautiful city that I recommend you visit now that it’s been announced Japan will properly re-open it’s borders…woo-hoo!!**
Saito vs Dawhan – Of course after Yuya Osako’s controversial penalty levelled things up, the same player inevitably won the game in injury time (remember what I wrote about him in the match preview?) The fact it came from a counter attack, which wouldn’t have been happening with the score at 0-1, made it all the more infuriating for me (as did Osako’s voice in his post match interview, he sounded like a decent bloke and I was hunting for a scapegoat). Anyway, for a Gamba squad and support beaten down by a campaign of errors, poor performances, last gasp equalisers and winners given up and a succession of VAR decisions going against them, it was understandably all a bit too much. At the final whistle, Mitsuki Saito took aim at central midfield partner Dawhan for not taking one for the team and giving away a cynical foul in the lead up to Osako’s winner. Dawhan has previous for this in the build up to Leandro’s effort to give FC Tokyo a 2-0 lead at the Olympic Stadium and to defend the Brazilian slightly here, although referee Koya was praised in certain quarters for allowing an advantage, he would certainly have evened things up a touch had he blown prematurely for a free-kick 25-30 yards away from goal. Saito took to social media soon after the match to set the record straight that he and his team-mates have not given up and remain committed to avoiding the drop to J2. Dawhan, for his part, seems to have kissed and made up with Saito and was seen posting ‘interesting’ home training videos on Instagram. Stand-in captain Genta Miura also deserves credit for his role as peace-broker as well as getting properly stuck into Koya in the wake of the penalty decision, something he’s been accused of not doing enough in the past, particularly in the away game against Sapporo last season.
Gamba vs Vissel, Japan’s new Grudge Match? – Prior to this season most Gamba fans I’ve spoken to would answer ‘Urawa and Cerezo’ when asked who the Nerazzurri’s rivals were. This may just be me, but I’ve always detected greater passion in their voices when they speak about playing Urawa. As for Cerezo it seems to be more a case of, ‘people in other countries dislike teams from the same city as them so we should do it too,’ rather than something more organic, again though this is merely my personal opinion. Furthermore, although I refer to Gamba vs Kobe as the ‘Hanshin Derby’ and Gamba vs Kyoto as the ‘Keihan Derby,’ in reality I feel that fans of all sides view these clashes more as convenient away days rather than bona fide rivalries. Could the genuine ill-feeling that seems to have developed as a result of the contentious incidents and decisions that crept up during both 2022 league encounters between Gamba and Vissel be the spark which ignites a new ferocious rivalry between two of Kansai’s powerhouses?
Harumi Minamino – On 16 September Gamba announced their first signing for the 2023 season, the promotion of forward Harumi Minamino from their youth setup. Minamino, of course, has been training with the top-team this year on a type-2 amateur contract and has made 8 appearances in all competitions. Able to play as a central forward or just off a main striker, he’s not been seen since the summer additions of Suzuki, Meshino and Juan Alano as well as the restoration of Leandro Pereira to top-team action with the arrival of Hiroshi Matsuda, but he’s an exciting addition who has been talked about in hushed tones by Gamba supporters in recent years, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do once he becomes a pro. Good luck Harumi!
The Beast Awakens? – Speaking of young Gamba forwards, Shoji Toyama broke his 2022 scoring duck with a goal on his 20th birthday in Mito’s home loss to Tokyo Verdy on 21 September. He then followed that up with a fine headed equaliser away to Tokushima last Sunday. It’s been a frustrating loan spell for Toyama with just 12 league appearances in total and only 5 starts, hopefully his recent efforts are the catalyst for him to go on and become the finisher everyone at Panasonic Stadium hopes he can be.
Post-season clear-out – Regardless of which division Gamba occupy in 2023 there are likely to be big changes to the playing staff over the winter. The Higashiguchi vs Tani goalkeeper debate is probably worthy of it’s own segment in a future match preview, but in front of them, the Gen Shoji to Kashima rumours will likely re-surface while backups Ko Yanagisawa and Shota Fukuoka may seek fresh pastures, Keisuke Kurokawa is likely to attract interest from elsewhere and centre-back Yota Sato could return to Suita following his loan spell at Sendai. Speaking of such deals, midfielders Dawhan and Saito are only on loan and will probably leave, veterans Shu Kurata and Hiroki Fujiharu could end their long associations with the club and widemen Wellington Silva, Kosuke Onose and Hideki Ishige may well be wearing a different team’s colours next term. In attack, Leandro Pereira is reportedly the highest earner at Panasta and out of contract at the end of the season so I see him going elsewhere. As mentioned above Harumi Minamino has put pen to paper and he could be joined by versatile youth team captain Rikuto Kuwahara, while a move for a university graduate can’t be ruled out. At present I see the 2023 Gamba squad projecting something like this…
GK: Higashiguchi, Ichimori, Kato, Ishikawa
DF: Takao, Miura, Kwon Kyung-won, Kurokawa, Sato, Kuwahara
MF: Alano, Okuno, Y. Yamamoto, Meshino, Kurata, Fukuda, R. Yamamoto, Nakamura
FW: Suzuki, Usami, Patric, Sakamoto, Yamami, Minamino
* And finally…Gamba held their annual Fan Festa (Festival) at a sun-drenched Panasonic Stadium Suita on Sunday 25 September and it appeared that a good time was had by all in attendance. I was unable to go, but from what I saw and heard, Gen Shoji and Leandro Pereira did a skit together showing that they’ve buried the hatchet following their fiery on-field bust up in the Osaka Derby back in May. Also, even critics of stand-in kantoku Hiroshi Matsuda’s rather agricultural style of football would have to laugh at the players running around the field engaged in a spot of touch rugby!
A video released on the club’s official YouTube channel showing highlights of training from Wednesday 21 September appeared to indicate that 30 of the 31 contracted Gamba first-team players were in full training. Only Kwon Kyung-won, who was away with his national side did not take part in the session, while potential Covid case Jun Ichimori and long term absentees Takashi Usami and Rihito Yamamoto look ready to go if, and when, their kantoku calls on them. Long-term readers will know this clean bill of health marks quite the contrast with the 2 most recent campaigns and I feel that a good deal of credit should go to physical coach Ryo Yano who joined the club from FC Ryukyu last off season. Finally, Shu Kurata, Keisuke Kurokawa, Kosuke Onose, Patric and Mitsuki Saito are all just a single yellow card away from the one game suspension threshold of 4.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Last year I was one of a number of critics of legendary Reysol coach Nelsinho and it seemed that his days at the Kashiwadai were numbered, but to his eternal credit, he’s completely turned the tables this term and has to be a candidate for manager of the year. How long can the 72 year-old keep going for? Well, that remains to be seen and it’s shaping up to be an interesting off season at Kashiwa without doubt. Being one of only 2 senior clubs from the heavily populated Chiba prefecture, home to a number of the nation’s top footballing schools, it’s no surprise that Reysol invest heavily in youth each year. To that end, the Sunkings have already confirmed the capture of 5 new youngsters ahead of the 2023 campaign, 2 from university, 2 from their youth setup and 1 from a local high school. To name them, they are, current All Japan University representatives, midfielder / attacker Kazuki Kumasawa (Ryutsu Keizai University) and Riku Ochiai (Tokyo International University). Ochiai was previously a Kashiwa Under-18 player before joining VONDS Ichihara in the Kanto Soccer League and then deciding to enter college, so he’s actually a year older than most university rookies. Additionally, last week the club announced the promotion of Faruzan Sana Mohamado and Ota Yamamoto from their youth team as well as the signing of 187cm forward William Owie from Nippon Sports Science University Kashiwa High School (not the catchiest name for a school sure, but they possess a decent track record when it comes to youth development). These newcomers will hope to match the impact of some of the fresh-faced youngsters who have graced yellow and black Reysol uniforms this year. Although, save for young ‘keeper Masato Sasaki, and highly touted centre-back Hayato Tanaka, Nelsinho has largely reverted back to using tried-and-trusted seasoned pros as the year has progressed, midfielders Takuto Kato, Yugo Masukake, Takumi Tsuchiya and Yuto Yamada as well as forwards Hidetaka Maie and Kaito Mori have flashed signs of their potential and all are well worth watching moving into 2023 and beyond.
**Note – I’ve seen Faruzan Sana Mohamado written as Faruzansana Mohamado, Ota Yamamoto translated as Outa Yamamoto and William Owie as William Ouie. At this stage I can’t verify the proper Roman character spelling for any of these names, but I’ve done my best and please accept my apologies if any errors crop up.**
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
DF Wataru Iwashita – Broken foot, likely to miss the rest of the season
DF Naoki Kawaguchi – Has missed the last 2 league games. I know he’s not necessarily a first-teamer but Kitazume being selected ahead of him versus Frontale suggests to me he was unavailable.
DF Takuma Ominami – Missed the home draw with Kawasaki on 17 September because of suspension, but available for selection again ahead of this clash.
DF Yuji Takahashi – Went off injured in the home loss to FC Tokyo on 27 August and not seen since
DF Hayato Tanaka – Missed the last 2 matches due to his involvement with Japan’s Under-20 squad as they completed their AFC U20 Asian Cup qualifiers. Incidentally, he was a team-mate of Gamba’s Rikuto Kuwahara, Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto during that time.
Mao Hosoya, Takumi Kamijima, Hiromu Mitsumaru, Matheus Savio and Sachiro Toshima are all just a single yellow card away from the one game suspension threshold of 4
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.
Gamba Osaka vs Kashiwa Reysol