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J1 Predicted Lineups Post Transfer Window Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kawasaki Frontale

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


Gamba Osaka


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


Nagoya Grampus

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


Cerezo Osaka

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


Kashima Antlers


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


FC Tokyo

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


Kashiwa Reysol

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


Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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


Yokohama F. Marinos

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


Urawa Red Diamonds


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


Oita Trinita

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


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo


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


Sagan Tosu

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


Vissel Kobe

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


Yokohama FC


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


Shimizu S-Pulse

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


Vegalta Sendai


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


Shonan Bellmare

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


Tokushima Vortis


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


Avispa Fukuoka


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

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J1 2021 Appearance Data and Statistics

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

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

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

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



Kawasaki Frontale

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



Gamba Osaka

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



Nagoya Grampus

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



Cerezo Osaka

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



Kashima Antlers

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



FC Tokyo

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



Kashiwa Reysol

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



Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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



Yokohama F.Marinos


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


Urawa Red Diamonds


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



Oita Trinita

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



Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

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


Sagan Tosu

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



Vissel Kobe


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



Yokohama FC

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



Shimizu S-Pulse

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



Vegalta Sendai


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



Shonan Bellmare

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



Tokushima Vortis

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



Avispa Fukuoka


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




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J1 Lineups Updated Version end of round 6

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

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

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

Thanks again for your support and please enjoy!

Kawasaki Frontale

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


Gamba Osaka

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


Nagoya Grampus

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


Cerezo Osaka

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


Kashima Antlers

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


FC Tokyo

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


Kashiwa Reysol

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

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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


Yokohama F.Marinos

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


Urawa Red Diamonds

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


Oita Trinita

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


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

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


Sagan Tosu

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


Vissel Kobe

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


Yokohama FC

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


Shimizu S-Pulse

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


Vegalta Sendai

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


Shonan Bellmare

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


Tokushima Vortis

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


Avispa Fukuoka

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

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sport

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka Japanese Super Cup 20 February 2021

Japanese Super Cup
Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka
Saturday 20th February 2021, 13:35 (JST)
Saitama Stadium 2002


Just over 7 weeks since their last match in the Emperor’s Cup final on New Year’s Day, these two giants of Japanese football return to do battle in front of a limited crowd of 5,000 supporters in Saitama this Saturday afternoon.

In truth, there hasn’t been a great deal of change at Kawasaki since January 1st, meaning, in my eyes, at least, they are still very much the team to beat in 2021. With that said, despite 3 defeats and a grand total of 0 goals scored against Frontale last year, there are reasons for Gamba to be more confident ahead of this encounter which should provide an early acid test for both sides. While a repeat of the 3-3 draw we witnessed between Yokohama F.Marinos and Vissel Kobe in last season’s curtain raiser may be unlikely, we can surely expect more accurate penalty taking, should it come down to that. (chortle, chortle)

I appeared on the J-Talk Podcast ahead of the Emperor’s Cup Final and also did a companion mini-preview for that game, so I’m not going to go over old ground. Instead, let’s take a look at what both of these sides have done transfer-wise this off-season.

Gamba Osaka

Gamba, by most accounts, had one of the more accomplished winters of all J1 clubs, re-enforcing depleted areas while only losing one first-team regular, veteran forward Kazuma Watanabe (Yokohama FC). Midfield maestro Yosuke Ideguchi and injury-plagued Japan international central defender Gen Shoji are also both back and successfully came through the team’s training camp in Okinawa. As for the new arrivals, Leandro Pereira, J1’s 3rd top scorer with 15 strikes in 2020 is the headline signing, and Gamba fans will also be excited to see what role South Korean central midfielder Ju Se-jong (FC Seoul) occupies. As mentioned on numerous occasions last season, when Ideguchi was out, the Nerazzurri had no effective ball winner in the middle of the park, Ju should provide extra grunt and whether he is seen as an alternative to Ideguchi, or his partner in crime, will be revealed over time.

Elsewhere, centre-back Yota Sato comes highly rated from Meiji University (Yuichi Maruyama, Ryuji Izumi, Hirotaka Mita, Shuto Abe and Yusuke Segawa are just a few alumni from that particular institution) and his arrival surely gives Gamba the strongest group of central defenders in the division. Goalkeeper Mizuki Hayashi (Yamaguchi) and attacker Kazunari Ichimi (Kyoto 2019, Yokohama FC 2020) return from loan spells, but they, along with winger / central forward Tiago Alves (Tosu), are likely to be backup players for the majority of the campaign. Fluminense winger Wellington Silva is a rumoured target, but owing to current coronavirus restrictions, it’s unknown when he’d be able to enter the country if he did sign. His capture would help to provide competition for both Kosuke Onose and Shu Kurata and give the Nerazzurri an extra attacking dimension from the flanks which can only be seen as a good thing from a blue and black perspective.

Kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is known as someone who regularly challenges his ideas about how football should be played and isn’t wedded to any particular formation. Gamba’s relatively poor offensive showing in 2020 has him considering alternatives to the 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 set-ups we saw for the bulk of the last campaign and 4-3-3 has been mooted as the way forward. Big names have come in and seasoned pros have returned from injury, but I’m still hopeful that Miyamoto will continue to give youth it’s chance and we will see the likes of, Keisuke Kurokawa (left back / left wing-back), Kohei Okuno (central midfield), Shuhei Kawasaki (left wing), Dai Tsukamoto (wing / forward) and 18 year-old prodigy Shoji Toyama (forward) get more opportunities to shine. Many eyes will also be on Yuki Yamamoto and Yuya Fukuda, with both expected to build on impressive showings last time out.

Current Squad


Kawasaki Frontale

Due to being runaway J1 champions in 2020, there was little real incentive for Kawasaki to go out and make wholesale changes to their squad over the winter. As someone raised watching European football, the fact that the double winners from the previous year can’t just hoover up all their rivals’ best players is one of the most refreshing things about the JLeague. Hidemasa Morita (Santa Clara) is the only regular starter from last season to have moved on, while Manabu Saito (Nagoya), Kengo Nakamura (retirement) and young Taisei Miyashiro (Tokushima – loan), have also left Todoroki Stadium. In their place come some interesting new additions who could thrive, or underwhelm.

Brazilian central midfielder João Schmidt has the ability to make an impact, but found his playing time curtailed last year with Nagoya as he wasn’t a good stylistic match with Massimo Ficcadenti’s system. It may seem harsh to point out flaws in someone who has won 3 J1 titles in 4 years, but, to date, Toru Oniki has struggled to get the best out of the foreign (mostly Brazilian) talent at his disposal. Granted, why one of Asia’s top club sides shop in the Brazilian second tier so regularly (Diogo Mateus, Maguinho, Caio César) is another question for another day. However, with Jesiel and Leandro Damião taking until their second year to really make strides, the accusation still stands largely unanswered at this point, and how Schmidt adapts to his new surroundings will be interesting to watch.

Kazuki Kozuka (attacking midfield – Oita) is another intriguing acquisition. Trinita’s leading assist maker in 2019 regularly failed to make the squad for the Kyushu side last time out despite having the same head-coach, using the same formation, and Naoki Nomura, an important player in a similar role, missing a large chunk of the campaign. There was no official injury report, and I’m interested to know the real reason for his absence. Did something go on behind the scenes after Frontale’s reported move for him ahead of the 2020 season? We may never know.

Koki Tsukagawa has come in from Matsumoto Yamaga after bagging 9 goals in 29 J2 outings in 2020, and from the outside it seems like he’ll fill the backup midfield role previously occupied by Hokuto Shimoda (now at Oita). In attack, Kei Chinen (Oita), Daiya Tono (Fukuoka) and Ten Miyagi (Toyama) are back from loan spells that brought varying degrees of success, they’ll provide cover for Damião and Kobayashi. Central midfielder Kento Tachibanada (Toin Yokohama University – my old stamping ground) joins fellow Toin alumni Zain Issaka and Miki Yamane in the squad, while defender Shuto Tanabe moves east from the football factory that is Shizuoka Gakuen High School. How much action either of these two will see in 2021 is up for debate.

I’ve discussed a similar topic with a few people on Twitter and I’m still not sure what metrics European clubs are using to determine that while the likes of Koki Saito and Daiki Hashioka are quickly snapped up, top talents such as Ao Tanaka and Kaoru Mitoma remain in Japan. Should Tanaka and Mitoma stay Frontale players for the whole season then I can only see a 4th league title in 5 years, but the overdue departure of one or both may throw a spanner in the works. My hunch is that one of the duo will probably move on in the summer with the other following next winter. Despite that, plus the ageing of veterans like Ienaga and Kobayashi, Kawasaki are still my favourites to be crowned champions, though possibly more in the manner of their 2017 or 2018 triumphs than last season’s landslide.

Current Squad

Super Cup History

Taking a look at the tables below, we can see that this will be Gamba’s 7th Super Cup appearance (putting them 3rd behind Kashima (10) and Urawa (9) in the rankings) and victory on Saturday will allow the Nerazzurri to lift the trophy for the 3rd time, which would pull them level with Júbilo Iwata in joint 5th position. Kawasaki, on the other hand, first appeared in the 2018 edition and are now preparing for their 3rd Super Cup match in 4 years. They have a 50% win record at the moment, going down 3-2 to Cerezo in their inaugural appearance in 2018 before seeing off Urawa a year later.



Team News

Gamba Osaka

Yuji Ono and Haruto Shirai are both recovering from knee operations performed last year and are definitely out. Overseas trio, Kim Young-gwon, Leandro Pereira and Tiago Alves all missed the first half of Gamba’s Okinawa training camp due to quarantine restrictions, so at the moment it’s unclear how much of a role they will play on Saturday. Yosuke Ideguchi and Gen Shoji fully participated in the club’s pre-season program and should be ready to go the full 90 if required, while Takashi Usami took a knock to his knee a couple of weeks back, but I haven’t heard anything since that would indicate he’s a doubt.

Kawasaki Frontale

Left-back Kyohei Noborizato (collarbone fracture) missed the tail end of the 2020 season and is still out, while influential central midfielder Ryota Oshima appears to be highly doubtful having been absent from pre-season training.

Predicted Lineups

I’ve been pretty conservative with my predicted Gamba lineup, making only one change to the side that lost 1-0 in the Emperor’s Cup final. An alternative to this would be, Shoji partnering Miura at centre-back with Sato on the bench and Kim missing out due to a lack of sharpness. I also have Leandro Pereira as a sub due to missing a chunk of pre-season training, though in the long run I think he will overtake Patric as the main starter. Regarding the mooted change to 4-3-3, I was reluctant to opt for it as that would mean one of Kurata or Onose missing out, and I couldn’t decide who. A central midfield of Ideguchi, Yamamoto and Ju Se-jong does have a very strong feel to it and I can definitely understand Miyamoto’s mindset in considering such a formation.



The main source of debate regarding the Frontale starting lineup is the shape of the midfield triangle, will it be last season’s one holding midfielder and two players in more advanced roles or two holding and one ahead. With the likely absence of Ryota Oshima, I’ve opted for the latter. It’s been rumoured that left-back Shintaro Kurumaya will focus on playing centre-back this season, so we could see Reo Hatate or even young Kaito Kamiya slot in on the left side of defence in Noborizato’s absence. Kazuki Kozuka offers an alternative to Wakizaka in attacking midfield and I’ve gone for Damião ahead of Kobayashi up top as he started all 3 games vs Gamba in 2020.



Match Prediction

Some might say it’s a fool’s game making predictions for one-off season openers like this, but it feels like I’m contractually obliged to do so. I’ll say an Ideguchi inspired Gamba will grind out a 1-1 draw, taking the tie to penalties, and from there it really will be a lottery…

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sport

J1 2021 Predicted Lineups

**Important Update**Important Update**Important Update**

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1j6HTKFF38A3cAz7sqw3jfZ4f6y8soAgOjfXqKR3fNCM/edit#gid=0

Please check out the link above to see who has been playing and who hasn’t in J1 2021. I’ll update it regularly.
Data keys are below.




Also for those of you using the https://sporteria.jp/ website, here is a simple English translation of the data displayed there…




I’m sure everyone would join me in thanking @Michael_Master and @bmtps_k for their wonderful coverage of all the off-season transfer activity in Japan. The purpose of this article is to see how those winter moves affect the matchday lineups of J1 sides one month out from the start of the new campaign. I hope you enjoy!

First up, some housekeeping notices;
* The lineups below are not necessarily intended to be the ones on the opening day, but more the players most likely to fill those positions on a regular basis throughout the year.
* Players currently recovering from serious and long-term injuries haven’t been included. Some examples are Andres Iniesta (Kobe), Takuma Arano (Sapporo), Mu Kanazaki (Nagoya), Yuji Ono (Gamba), Akihiro Hayashi (FC Tokyo) and Sachiro Toshima and Yuji Takahashi (both Kashiwa).
* As this is a Gamba blog, lineups and formations for other teams are based on a mixture of evidence and guesswork. For instance, teams who performed well in 2020, kept the same manager and the bulk of their playing staff (Kawasaki) are easier to read than those who played poorly last year, changed coaches and brought in a host of new players (Shimizu).
* Ages given are correct to 27 February 2021, the opening Saturday of the J1 season, (Y) donates youth team product and teams are listed in order of 2020 league position.

Here we go…

Kawasaki Frontale

Brief Notes: Way better than everyone else last season and with just Morita departing they’ll be the team to beat once more. Only Mitoma and Tanaka leaving in the summer and the ACL schedule getting moved around again can really threaten their dynasty.


Gamba Osaka

Brief Notes: Leandro Pereira and Ju Se-jong both address areas of need and although it will be difficult to get 2nd again, this group of players shouldn’t finish lower than 5th / 6th even with ACL distractions taken into account.


Nagoya Grampus

Brief Notes: Morishita and Kimoto look like great buys, and I was surprised to see Manabu Saito is only 30! Will be strong defensively again, but look a genuine centre-forward short of really challenging at the top.


Cerezo Osaka

Brief Notes: Have made some puzzling moves over the winter, but they still have the nucleus of a very good team. How quickly they adjust to Culpi’s brand of football and whether or not Taggart has brought his shooting boots with him from Korea will go a long way to determining their fate this year.


Kashima Antlers

Brief Notes: Assuming their two new Brazilian midfielders settle in well, they should be Kawasaki’s closest rivals. This may not please Gamba supporters like me, but should lead to some tasty @frontalerabbit blog posts.


FC Tokyo

Brief Notes: They will probably improve merely by not being involved in the ACL this year. That said, the squad looks very unbalanced, with loads of options in central midfield and attack, but significantly less depth further back.


Kashiwa Reysol

Brief Notes: Shiihashi, Dodi and Kamijima will help to fix their soft underbelly, but there is still a huge Olunga shaped hole in attack. Will Angelotti or rumoured new signing from Botafogo, Pedro Raúl, be able to fill it.


Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Brief Notes: Junior Santos appears to be an excellent capture, but money is tight and there’s a real lack of depth. Any injury down the central spine of the team could be painful and prevent them from kicking on from last year.


Yokohama F.Marinos

Brief Notes: This year’s squad looks leaner and more settled than last time. A lot will depend on how their new Brazilian attackers do and also how much of 2020’s poor display was down to their overcrowded schedule and how much of it was teams working out how to play against them.


Urawa Red Diamonds

Brief Notes: Given time, I’ve no doubt the Rodriguez project will bear fruit in Saitama, but it may not be as quick a turnaround as the Reds faithful would like. Defence and central midfield could be issues and they appear to be overloaded with attacking midfielders. Having worked with a similar style of player in Yuki Kakita, can Rodriguez turn around Kenyu Sugimoto’s career?


Oita Trinita

Brief Notes: Should have enough to escape the relegation dog-fight and have made some intriguing signings from J2 down the flanks. Goalkeeper and central defence look like weak areas at the moment. If Shun Nagasawa’s inevitable winner against Gamba could be confined to the Levain Cup I’d greatly appreciate it.


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Brief Notes: A lot riding on the shoulders of last year’s three university rookies, Tanaka, Takamine and Kaneko. If newbies Nakano and Ogashiwa can have a similar impact they could do ok, but they are my tip to be a dark horse relegation candidate.


Sagan Tosu

Brief Notes: Look better placed than at this point last year and I have no difficulty seeing them survive. Being able to keep hold of Matsuoka was a big surprise for me and I’m really interested to see how new African forwards, Chico (Nigeria) and Dunga (Kenya), get on. I know I’m in the minority here, but I genuinely dig their new kit.


Vissel Kobe

Brief Notes: I think they could surprise a few people this year, not by finishing top 4 or anything, but outside of Hyogo there is almost zero expectation and their exciting youngsters may start to come to the fore a little more.


Yokohama FC

Brief Notes: Should be exciting to watch as it appears there will be plenty of goals at both ends. I don’t see them going down and if Matsuo and Seko continue to play well neither will be at the Mitsuzawa in 2022.


Shimizu S-Pulse

Brief Notes: As a fan of the league, I’d have preferred Cklamovski’s style to succeed, but more realistically Lotina’s defensive brand of football is more likely to guide them to less troubled waters. How high they go is dependent on how quickly the new parts fit together and how fast Lotina can mend their dreadful defence (139 J1 goals conceded 2019-2020).


Vegalta Sendai

Brief Notes: If they’re going to avoid the drop the improvement will need to come from the coaching department, with Teguramori replacing Kiyama. The squad on paper looks weaker than last season with the exception of the wide midfield areas.


Shonan Bellmare

Brief Notes: Ditto what I said about Sendai, they finished in the relegation slots last year and look likely to do so again. The heart has been ripped out of the team with Kaneko, Saito and Matsuda all going and their most exciting players, Tani, Tanaka and Hata are too young to carry this side on their back.


Tokushima Vortis

Brief Notes: Perhaps benefiting from Coronavirus, they managed to keep all of last season’s title winners and even added rising star Joel Chima Fujita. There’s a glaring lack of J1 experience and I can see things like, having 80% possession at home to Shimizu and still losing 1-0, happening a bit too often.


Avispa Fukuoka

Brief Notes: My main concern is that a chunk of last season’s starting eleven were on loan and have now returned to their parent clubs. They have more players with top flight experience than Tokushima and have made some decent buys, but they are short on depth and haven’t replaced Serantes in goal yet.

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sport

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka Emperor’s Cup Final Mini Preview

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka
Emperor’s Cup Final
Japan National Stadium
Friday 1 January 2021 14:40
(JST)

Hope it was a Merry Christmas for all who celebrated it! This is just a mini-preview ahead of Friday’s Emperor’s Cup Final and is intended to serve as a companion to the J-Talk Podcast that @frontalerabbit and myself joined Ben for on Tuesday.

Gamba sealed their place in the final by seeing off J2 Champions Tokushima Vortis 2-0 at Panasonic Stadium on Sunday. A scrappy effort from Patric early in the second-half and Yuya Fukuda’s fine strike just a minute after coming on as a substitute were enough for them to advance at the expense of Ricardo Rodriguez’s game side. Kosuke Onose (start) and Takashi Usami (bench) made returns to boost the morale of the Nerazzurri faithful ahead of the final in Tokyo.

Kawasaki defeated J3 outfit Blaublitz Akita 2-0 at Todoroki Stadium early on Sunday afternoon. Inevitably their opener came through the man, the myth, the legend that is Kaoru Mitoma in the 39th minute. Akita’s mean defence was only breached 18 times in 34 league matches this season, however, it was still surprising that the floodgates didn’t open in the second half, and Ao Tanaka’s free-kick 8 minutes from the end was the only additional goal. Still, a win is a win, and crucially Frontale welcomed back Ryota Oshima and Shintaro Kurumaya to leave them almost at full strength going into the final game of their campaign.

Head to Head

You can see a list of all the recent league meetings between these 2 in the table below, but in this week’s head-to-head I want to have a look at cup ties. Gamba defeated Kawasaki 1-0 in the final of the 2007 League Cup, the only evidence I can find of a one-off cup final played on neutral ground between both sides. Michihiro Yasuda, now of JEF United, scored the game’s only goal and helped himself to the MVP and New Hero awards for that year. Aside from that, the only other recent cup activity I could find was the two-legged League Cup semi-final in 2014 which Gamba won 5-4 on aggregate, triumphing 3-1 at home before going down 3-2 in Kanagawa. The Nerazzurri, of course, then went on to defeat Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-2 in the final, the first trophy of their incredible treble winning season.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

There will definitely be no Ademilson for Gamba after the Brazilian had his contract with the club cancelled on Monday. It’s believed that the former Yokohama F.Marinos forward reached a legal settlement with the victim of his drink-driving incident. Yuji Ono (knee) is another who will play no part on Friday, while it’s extremely unlikely that either Yosuke Ideguchi or Gen Shoji will be fit after both sat out the semi-final win over Tokushima.

Kawasaki Frontale

Left-back Kyohei Noborizato (collarbone fracture) appears to be Frontale’s only absentee. Dynamic midfielder Ryota Oshima, left winger Tatsuya Hasegawa and full-back Shintaro Kurumaya have all missed chunks of time this season, but were in the squad for the win over Akita on Sunday.

Predicted Line Ups

Usami for Watanabe is likely to be the only change for the men in blue and black. Gamba’s #33 got much needed minutes against Vortis and Watanabe (probably about to play his final Gamba game) has made more of an impact from the bench this year. Elsewhere, although Yuya Fukuda impressed with a cameo in the last 10 minutes on Sunday, I don’t think he will make the starting eleven here and despite Yajima and Yamamoto being the central midfielders in the 5-0 mauling at Kawasaki in November and neither of them being particularly great ball winners, I believe Miyamoto will opt for this pair again with Okuno on the pine.



With most of the squad good to go, it’s difficult for kantoku Toru Oniki to know who to leave out. If Kurumaya has fully overcome his injury then he will surely take Hatate’s spot at left-back, otherwise the former Juntendo University man, more normally an attacking midfielder or winger, will have to put in a shift there once again. Up top, it’s a toss of a coin between Damião and Kobayashi, but Damião started both league games against Gamba this year so I’ve selected him. This will be the final ever match for Frontale legend Kengo Nakamura and, if he can make the squad, it could be sayonara for Manabu Saito too, as he looks set to join Nagoya Grampus this off-season.



Match Prediction

All logic points to a Frontale win, but this is a Gamba blog after all and I’ll say we’ll grab an early goal and do what we do best, hold on for dear life. Patric to be the hero once more….sorry Kengo you’ll have to make do with just the record breaking league campaign in final year, legend that you are.

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sport

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka 25 November 2020 Match Preview

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 29
Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium
Wednesday 25 November 18:30

Last Time Out

Urawa Reds vs Gamba Osaka


Gamba came from behind to defeat arch-rivals Urawa on Sunday to keep upcoming opponents Kawasaki Frontale’s championship champagne on ice, at least for a few more days. An instinctive strike by talisman Takashi Usami and Ryu Takao’s first ever senior goal overturned Tomoaki Makino’s opener for Reds to help the Nerazzurri banish the memories of last week’s 4-0 humbling by Sendai.

Four changes were made to the Gamba starting eleven with the rested Kim Young-gwon, Kosuke Onose, Takashi Usami and Patric returning in place of the benched Shunya Suganuma, Kohei Okuno, Kazuma Watanabe and Shoji Toyama. The match officials were the star attraction of my first-half notes on a blustery afternoon at Saitama Stadium. Gamba had claims for a penalty ignored when the referee didn’t spot Makino’s handball from Takao’s cross, while Reds players were rightly furious that Kim Young-gwon was adjudged to have won the ball rather than taken out Shinzo Koroki on the edge of the penalty area when replays indicated otherwise. The most comical officiating came when Martinus tried to milk a foul on the right-side of his own box and fell over, however, no free-kick was given leaving the Curacaoan international on all fours shielding the ball (I’m sure he handled it somewhere in the process), when a Gamba player rightly flicked it out from under him he rolled around like he’d been shot in the stomach and eventually got the free-kick (which in fairness most referees would have given him for the first ‘foul’).

The opening stanza was scrappy and featured few clear cut openings. Gamba’s midfield, once again missing the services of Yosuke Ideguchi, lacked bite and there were too many soft challenges going in for my liking. Shinzo Koroki flicked Usami’s corner onto his own post for the visitors best chance of the half, the same player also had his own side’s best opportunity, but couldn’t get the ball past Masaaki Higashiguchi with a low shot. Kosuke Onose went off with a leg muscle injury in the 24th minute and Fujiharu had to get his leg strapped up in the second, before soldiering on for a few more minutes then being taken off to add to Gamba’s recent injury woes. Better news came in the form of youngsters getting a run out, the left-side combination of Fukuda and Kawasaki gave Nerazzurri fans a taste of the future. Indeed Gamba’s closing midfield featured 3 youngsters, Kawasaki (19), Okuno (20) and Toyama (18 – bizarrely playing right wing) who have spent most of this year with the U23 side in J3.

Kazuki Nagasawa rattled the bar for Reds early in the second half after a mistake reminiscent of Gamba’s defending against Urawa in the match in Suita, the surprisingly quiet Leonardo also clipped the outside of the post in a bright opening to the half by the home team. In the 62nd minute, Makino, a player, who despite my best efforts, I can’t bring myself to dislike, tapped home from close range after defensive partner Deng sprung the Nerazzurri’s offside trap and cushioned a header across goal, Miyamoto will definitely want to have another look at his side’s defending for that one. He’d have no such issues with Gamba’s response, as they seemed to be galvanised by going behind, though, in truth, the men in blue and black are always easier to watch when they aren’t winning. Usami got his first goal in 7 games with an excellent shot though a crowd of defenders and just as in the Sapporo game, as soon as he was subbed and relieved of set-piece duties, with the very next set-play Yuki Yamamoto stepped up with a deadly cross which, on this occasion, found former Kwansei Gakuin team-mate Ryu Takao for the winner. 2-1 Gamba, double digit away wins in 2020, unbeaten in 4 league games at Saitama Stadium, roll on Wednesday night.

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka Match Lowdown

It’s the battle between 1st and 2nd at Todoroki Stadium this Wednesday with anything other than an away win leading to a deserved 3rd title in 4 years for Kawasaki. Victory for Gamba, statistically the best away side in the division, would keep their ultra slim championship hopes alive, though they would have to win their remaining 4 fixtures while Frontale somehow contrived to lose all of theirs. The first part of the equation is believable as the Nerazzurri have still to play, Tosu (h), Shonan (a), Yokohama FC (a) and Shimizu (h), however, it seems nigh on impossible that Kawasaki could lose to Shimizu (a), Tosu (a), Urawa (h) and Kashiwa (a).

Digging up stats on Kawasaki is relatively straightforward as they pretty much dominate every team category you can name. As they have been in record breaking form this season I’ll do my best to put these figures into historical context. With 23 wins from their 29 games played so far, Kawasaki are 5 ahead of Gamba (18) in that particular table and indeed, Nagoya (2010), Kashiwa (2011) and Hiroshima (2015) are the only sides to win as many games in an 18-team J1 season meaning that just a solitary victory in their final 5 matches not only gives Frontale this year’s J1 title, but also the record for most wins in a single campaign. In terms of defeats, the men from Kanagawa have been turned over just 3 times all year (losing twice in their past 4 games to bottom half opponents may be a slight cause for concern, though), Gamba again are second in that ranking with 7 defeats (how those home losses to Shonan and Sendai hurt now!) Frontale already hold the record for least defeats in an 18-team J1, losing just 4 times en route to their first title back in 2017, if they can avoid another loss in their upcoming 5 fixtures then they will better that total.

In terms of goals for and against, Kawasaki are once again number one in each of these categories. They’ve scored 74 times in 29 matches (2.55 per game), 6 more than 2nd ranked Yokohama F.Marinos, but with 4 fewer games played and a whopping 33 more than Gamba. Their goal difference stands at an astonishing +49, to give that some context, Gamba have found the back of the net just 41 times all season. Historically, only Frontale, 84 in 2006, and Gamba, 82 in 2005, 80 in 2006 and 78 in 2011 have mustered more than that in an 18-team top flight. Merely maintaining their current goalscoring ratio will see them to 86 strikes for the year and yet another record. Goals conceded is one area where they could conceivably be overtaken as they’ve let in 25, just 3 fewer than Nagoya with 1 game less played.

Gamba actually have a slightly better away record than Kawasaki, so a big part of Frontale’s lead has been built on the back of excellent home performances. Last season, getting results in front of their own supporters was their achilles heal as they could win only 5 of 17 home fixtures and had a disappointing 9 draws. This time round only Tosu (a pre-Covid 0-0) and Sapporo (2-0) have left Kawasaki with anything other than a defeat and Frontale are averaging a 2.86-0.93 scoreline in their own backyard.

I have 5 Kawasaki players definitely in my J1 team of the year (Yamane, Taniguchi, Jesiel, Oshima and Mitoma) as well as one probable (Ienaga – there is tough competition for those wing / shadow positions – Mateus, Kiyotake, Esaka, Furuhashi, Sakamoto, to name a few standout performers) in addition to 2 from Gamba (Higashiguchi and Ideguchi), so this match will give fans an excellent opportunity to see a number of J1’s top performers on the field together. Frontale legend Kengo Nakamura will retire at the end of this campaign at the age of 40 and it will be interesting to see in what direction current kantoku Toru Oniki takes his side after this ground-breaking year. Asian Champions League success is surely the most obvious target after being the dominant force in Japan in recent years, though both Kawasaki and Gamba must have a bit of trepidation over what lies in store having seen what’s happened to FC Tokyo, Marinos and Kobe this year. Oniki’s main weak point seems to be getting the best out of the foreign players at his disposal and I wonder if he could be a potential future Japan national team head-coach as he wouldn’t have to deal with that issue. Elsewhere, mercurial winger Kaoru Mitoma seems set for a move to Europe over the winter and one of the best things about JLeague, for me, is that Frontale aren’t going to go out and buy Olunga, Ideguchi, Mateus and Kiyotake in the off-season to make themselves much stronger, so the chasing pack will feel they have, at least, some chance of catching up in the coming years.

This is a Gamba blog, of course, so let’s have a brief look at them now. Last Sunday’s win took them onto 33 away points for the year (1 more than Frontale), their best performance since returning to J1 in 2014, The Nerazzurri are averaging a 1.64-0.93 scoreline on the road (Gamba’s away defensive performance and Kawasaki’s home record are identical so we may be in for a low scoring game here) and the come from behind display at Urawa was the second time they’ve overturned a deficit to win away in 2020 (Sendai 4-1 was the other). Indeed they’ve only trailed in 4 of their 14 road games this season, an excellent display all round. It has been a real team-effort this season from Gamba, nowhere more so than in attack where Usami notched his 6th goal of the year against Reds pulling him level with fellow strikers, Ademilson, Patric and Watanabe, that quartet’s combined total stands at 24, exactly equal to J1’s top marksman Michael Olunga. Perhaps the absence of Yosuke Ideguchi is the only one that Gamba don’t have any form of solution for as he is so comfortably head and shoulders above everyone else in that department. However, the Nerazzurri’s ability to go on a run of only 1 defeat in 14 matches while blooding a number of youngsters to cover injuries all over the field surely bodes well for the coming years.

Head to Head

Frontale edged out Gamba 1-0 in the battle between 1st and 2nd at Panasonic Stadium back on August 1st, a match in which both sets of players showed each other a great deal of respect. There have only been 4 goals in the 3 previous fixtures between these two at Todoroki Stadium, however, prior to that there was a bizarre 5-3 Frontale win in 2015 that, for some reason, I have no recollection of. All Gamba supporters will remember the 2016 game well though, as the Nerazzurri overcame an early 2-0 deficit to stun their hosts with 3 goals in 11 second-half minutes to claim ACL qualification on the final day of the season.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

The injuries have been piling up for Gamba in recent weeks with captain Genta Miura’s 45 minute run out against Iwate Grulla Morioka in J3 on Sunday the only piece of positive news from the camp. As mentioned above, both Kosuke Onose and Hiroki Fujiharu had to leave the field with leg muscle injuries on Sunday putting huge question marks over their participation in this clash. Yuji Ono (knee surgery – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) are definitely out while there has been no information regarding star midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi’s continued absence. Fujiharu (if fit) and stand-in skipper Shu Kurata will play their last game as 31 year-olds here with Kurata (Thusday) and Fujiharu (Saturday) both approaching their 32nd birthdays.

Kawasaki Frontale

Frontale captain Shogo Taniguchi will miss this game through suspension after his red card against Oita on Saturday, however, regular centre-back partner Jesiel returns after sitting that one out due to the accumulation of yellow cards. My source inside the Frontale camp tells me that ex-Cerezo utility player Kazuya Yamamura picked up a knock in the 1-1 draw with Kashima on November 14th and is a doubt for Wednesday night. Former Gamba man Akihiro Ienaga and backup midfielder Hokuto Shimoda have been absent from the matchday squad for the past 2 games, while promising young forward Taisei Miyashiro hasn’t featured in the last 3 outings, no injury has been reported in any of these cases. Experienced South Korean international stopper Jung Sung-ryong will make his 150th Kawasaki and J1 appearance in this match.

Predicted Line Ups

For the lineup below, I’ve assumed that Fujiharu, Onose and Ideguchi will all be missing. However, if Ideguchi or Onose are fit enough to play, then I expect them to do so, Fukuda will probably start ahead of Fujiharu regardless, with the latter on the bench if available. Genta Miura should be ready to go for this one, but I believe Miyamoto will stick with Kim and Shoji for consistency before bringing in Miura for Kim against Tosu on Sunday. In the midfield, I’ve selected Shuhei Kawasaki to make his first J1 start against his namesake team with Shu Kurata switching to the right flank. An alternative would be, Yajima on the right, Kurata on the left and Yamamoto and Okuno in the middle, Up front, Patric had a physical 90 minute battle with Thomas Deng on Sunday so could start this one on the pine with Watanabe coming in alongside Usami.



Jesiel will likely return from his ban in a straight switch at centre-back for regular captain Taniguchi who will turn his armband over to Ryota Oshima as he sits this one out suspended. Defensively Frontale don’t have many options other than the players I’ve selected, but further forward they have some amazing depth. Kengo Nakamura or Yasuto Wakizaka could fill one of the more advanced midfield roles while I’ve selected the same front 3 as started in the 1-0 win at Panasonic Stadium. Kobayashi for Leandro Damiao is one obvious switch, Mitoma, Hasegawa and also Manabu Saito, who didn’t make my matchday squad, are alternatives down the flanks.



Match Prediction

A lot riding on this one, anything other than a defeat sees Kawasaki crowned champions. Gamba know that a Frontale title win is inevitable, but will do their utmost to stop it happening in this encounter. I don’t think there will be many goals, I could see a 1-0 in either direction. In the end though, I’ll call it as a 1-1 draw.

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sport Uncategorized

Kawasaki Frontale Match Preview 1/8/20

Gamba Osaka vs Kawasaki Frontale
J1 2020 Round 8
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 1 August 19:00 (JST)


Round 8 of J1 2020 brings us first versus second as table-topping Kawasaki Frontale visit Panasonic Stadium. It’s also another special edition of my match preview as I’m joined by Neil (@frontalerabbit on Twitter) from the excellent http://frontalerabbit.blogspot.com/ to look ahead to this mouthwatering clash. As always comments and feedback are welcomed, please let me know where you are reading this and what changes or improvements you’d like to see.

Last Time Out

Gamba earned their fourth win on the bounce with a hard-fought 2-0 victory at Vissel Kobe last Sunday. This was the third match in eight days for both sides, however, personnel changes were kept to a minimum and that contributed to a game often played at walking pace with the feel of the 5th day of a cricket test match where the two teams are happy to play for a draw.

The men from Suita made two changes to the starting eleven from the previous game against Hiroshima. Yuji Ono came in for Shu Kurata in a rotational move while Shinya Yajima replaced Yasuhito Endo at the base of the midfield after he was rested in midweek. There was still no place in the squad for either Kosuke Onose or Ademilson though it’s still unclear if they are injured or just being wrapped in cotton wool. Former U23 captain Riku Matsuda (not to be confused with Cerezo’s right-back with the same name) made his first appearance in J1 from the bench, replacing Ryu Takao in the 75th minute and picked up his first yellow card less than a minute later after flattening Andres Iniesta.

Gamba started the brighter of the two teams, finding ample space to move the ball around on a slippy surface which caused grip problems for both sides. Takashi Usami brought out a decent save from Hiroki Iikura in the 4th minute as the veteran stopper got fingertips to a shot from the edge of the area and turned it round the post. At the resulting corner Kim Young-gwon headed just wide of Iikura’s far post from an almost identical position that Genta Miura scored against Sanfrecce. However, as the half wore on Vissel, inspired by captain Iniesta in the middle of the park, dominated possession. Chances for the home side were few and far between though, Kyogo Furuhashi having their best moment, turning Takao at the corner of the box before firing in a decent effort that Masaaki Higashiguchi helped wide for a corner.

The second half started slowly and it seemed both teams would happily take 0-0, but things changed in the 62nd minute as Takao’s drilled cross-field ball caused confusion in the new-look Kobe backline. Thomas Vermaelen, making his first J1 start in 2020, played two Gamba players onside in the penalty area, however right-back So Fujitani, himself starting for only the second time, didn’t track back which allowed Yuji Ono to ghost in unnoticed. The former Tosu man scuffed his shot into the ground but it looped up and over Iikura, 1-0 Gamba and Ono’s final contribution of the match before being immediately replaced by Kurata.

A tired Kobe then proceeded to take the game to Gamba, having their best spell between the 73rd and 84th minutes. In that period, Junya Tanaka, one of only two subs used, turned on the edge of the box and fired straight at Higashiguchi, while Furuhashi was denied by a great save by Higashiguchi following nice set-up play by Iniesta, the left-winger then had his header parried by Gamba’s number 1 who was in unbeatable form.

Vissel had their failure to net an equaliser punished in the most dramatic way possible. Four minutes from the end of normal time neat build-up play down the left involving Kazuma Watanabe and Hiroki Fujiharu culminated with an inside pass from Yosuke Ideguchi to Usami, Gamba’s talisman then produced a goal of the season contender from fully 30 metres out that Iikura could only help on its way to the top corner. Usami the Kobe Killer strikes again and the Nerrazzuri took the short ride back to Osaka with all three points.

Vissel Kobe 0-2 Gamba Osaka

Kawasaki remained top after making slightly heavy weather of their 3-1 home victory over Shonan Bellmare. Frontale outshot their visitors 16 to 1 in the first half and also enjoyed 70% of the possession, but despite spending long periods camped in Bellmare’s defensive third, Yu Kobayashi’s header which was stopped by Gamba loanee Kosei Tani (possibly behind the line) was the closest they came. Goalless at the break.

Shots continued to rain down on the Shonan goal at the start of the second half with, Reo Hatate, Hidemasa Morita, Yasuto Wakizaka and Kobayashi all recording efforts. However, in classic underdog style, Bellmare sucker punched their Kanagawa neighbours with a beautiful goal. Two half-time replacements, Shota Kobayashi and Norwegian international Tarik combined with the former’s cross from the right wing scissor kicked home from the penalty spot by the latter. 1-0 Shonan, game on.

Predictably Kawasaki’s response was rapid and it owed more than a little to Bellmare’s more expansive play in the second half. Following the Hiratsuka side’s first corner of the match, Frontale were able to counter just four minutes after going behind. Ryota Oshima, who’d come on just after Tarik’s opener raced away and he played in former Bellmare defender Miki Yamane who shot past Tani for his second goal in as many games.

After that it was all one way traffic and the result rarely looked in doubt. Twelve minutes from time, right centre-back Hirokazu Ishihara miscontrolled the ball which allowed another second half change, Kaoru Mitoma to rob him. The left winger then cut inside and unleashed a fine shot low to Tani’s right meaning he, like Tarik before him, could celebrate his first goal in J1. Ten minutes later Kawasaki finished things off as yet another substitute, highly-touted midfielder Ao Tanaka won the ball aggressively, played a neat one-two with fellow second half replacement Taisei Miyashiro and then buried a shot past the unfortunate Tani. 3-1 Frontale at the finish.

Kawasaki Frontale 3-1 Shonan Bellmare

Tactical Notes

I don’t expect any big tactical changes from Gamba this week despite facing the league’s strongest team. The next two midweeks see Levain Cup action meaning that the strongest eleven will start in the league while youngsters and reserves can be deployed in the cup. This will help with energy levels which were clearly depleted against Kobe last Sunday.

Gamba can be happy that despite the absence of three first choice players, Gen Shoji, Kosuke Onose and Ademilson, in recent games, their replacements, Ryu Takao, Yuya Fukuda and Kazuma Watanabe have all stood up and provided high-quality alternatives. Additionally being able to rotate Shu Kurata and Yuji Ono in the advanced left midfield position with no drop off in performance regardless of who plays is what every manager dreams of. Patric is still doing a good job in his ‘closing pitcher’ role of holding the ball up at the end of games and indeed nearly got himself on the scoresheet at Noevir Stadium.

For this week’s visitors it has been much tougher trying to find chinks in their armour, so I’ll spend most of this tactical notes section waxing lyrical over their strengths. Head coach Toru Oniki, who usually at least starts the season in @frontalerabbit’s good books, has switched his set-up from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 partly in response to the success achieved by their Kanagawa rivals Yokohama F.Marinos last year. Players in all positions have high levels of technical ability allowing them to dictate the pace and direction of a game for long periods. Their central midfield trio takes the form of an inverted triangle in the exact same shape as Gamba and is made up of two orthodox central midfielders and one attacking midfielder / converted winger. This area of the field has seen the heaviest rotation in 2020, owing largely to the amount of quality players who can perform in the Frontale engine room.

Kawasaki’s midfield set-up is designed to get the ball into wide areas quickly, enabling them to engineer two on one situations against opposition full-backs. Once again they have a number of options for these positions on the wings, ex-Gamba prodigy Akihiro Ienaga, J1 MVP in 2018 is still pulling the strings down the right at the age of 34 while Tatsuya Hasegawa on the left flank was in great form before picking up a knock which caused him to miss the last couple of games. Youngsters Kaoru Mitoma, Reo Hatate and Taisei Miyashiro as well as the vastly experienced Manabu Saito are alternatives, however, for this top of the table bout I’d expect the first choices to start, if available.

Finally, to Frontale’s weak points, and there aren’t many. They seem to have a small teething problem with the inverted midfield triangle, one that Gamba also faced and now seem to have rectified. At points early in the first half of last week’s game, Hidemasa Morita, in the midfield anchor position was isolated from his more advanced partners, Hokuto Shimoda and Yasuto Wakizaka, this could have allowed a stronger side than Shonan to take advantage and run directly at Kawasaki’s centre backs. Gamba’s high press should hopefully be more adept than Bellmare’s at pressuring the Frontale defenders into mistakes, making interceptions and then working overlaps and two-on-one advantages.

The only other cause for optimism I could see when looking to exploit Frontale flaws was in their wide defensive areas. Shonan did have limited success in attacking left-back Kyohei Noborizato and indeed their goal was created from his defensive zone. Wakizaka in midfield and whoever plays on either wing are unlikely to provide much defensive cover, I don’t think Ienaga does defence, which can allow Gamba’s players the opportunity to get at isolated Kawasaki full-backs if they are patient and choose their passes carefully. On the right side Miki Yamane has had a flying start to the season, but I’d expect to see him do far more defending at Panasonic Stadium than he did against Shonan and it’ll be interesting to see how strongly he performs then.

Statistical Noise

I hope to expand this section more as the season progresses and we get more data points, so this week’s entry will be a little short. Please let me know what you think.

Gamba Osaka

*Gamba and good start to the season are not words often found in the same sentence, after 7 games this year the Nerrazzuri have 16 points, compared with just 6 points at the same stage in 2019 and 4 the year before.
*Gamba have now won their last four matches in-a-row, the first time they’ve achieved that since the end of 2018 when of course they went on their incredible 9 match winning streak from September 1st (2-0 at home to Kawasaki) to November 24th against V-Varen Nagasaki.
*Including last season, Gamba now have 8 wins from their last 10 J1 games with 1 draw and a solitary defeat to Cerezo. They’ve scored 21 and conceded 10 in that time.
*Improved away form has been a key factor in Gamba’s strong start to this season. They picked up just 5 wins on the road in 2019 and a mere 20 points from 17 games. 2020 has seen them win 3 out of 4 and they’ve already got halfway to matching last season’s away points total.

Kawasaki Frontale

*Frontale are the league’s top scorers with 20 strikes in 7 games, this puts them 2 ahead of Kashiwa Reysol and an incredible 8 more than joint third placed Gamba.
*Statistically the best away side in J1 last season, Kawasaki have started 2020 with a bang too, winning all 3 road games and scoring at least 3 times in each match. Their last away league defeat came against Cerezo Osaka on September 1st last year, a 2-1 reverse.
*Frontale forward Yu Kobayashi has scored 4 goals so far this campaign in just 154 on-field minutes, a goal every 38.5 minutes, Gamba better watch out on Saturday.
*Kawasaki have won just once away to Gamba since the men from Suita were promoted back to J1 in 2014, a 1-0 triumph on their first visit to Panasonic Stadium in 2016. Other than that Gamba have won twice (2014 and 2018) while there have been 3 draws.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Gen Shoji is once again a doubt and it’ll be interesting to see if he gets a run out in either of the upcoming Levain Cup games. Reserve goalie Jun Ichimori is still on the treatment table and is due back in September, while there has been no word on the status of Kosuke Onose or Ademilson after both were omitted from the squad for the Hiroshima and Kobe games, though according to Instagram, Ade is training with the first-team. Riku Matsuda’s inclusion against Vissel also raises the question of whether the more experienced Shunya Suganuma and Ryo Shinzato are injured or has Matsuda merely usurped them in the pecking order?

Kawasaki Frontale

Club legend Kengo Nakamura is back in training after injuring his knee at the end of 2019, but is unlikely to be risked yet, while @frontalerabbit reports that left-winger Tatsuya Hasegawa, who hasn’t played since leaving the field in the first half of the game against Vegalta Sendai on July 22nd, is out for a further 4 weeks. Elsewhere new Brazilian right-back Diogo Mateus hasn’t been spotted in the matchday squad since his arrival, though I’m putting that down to non-selection rather than injury.

Know Your OpponentKawasaki Frontale

Thanks again to Neil for his wonderful rundown of the likely Kawasaki starting lineup for Saturday’s game which you can read below. If you haven’t already please give him a follow on Twitter and check out his blog at http://frontalerabbit.blogspot.com/

GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
35 year old keeper who joined us in 2016 from Suwon in his native Korea. Has pretty much been first choice since then but slightly fell out of favour late on last season. Not sure why though as he’s always pretty steady and he played an important part in us plugging our leaky defence to allow us to get our two league titles.

RB 13. YAMANE Miki
Signed from Shonan this year to hopefully fill what has been a dodgy position for us since Elsinho left. Looks to enjoy attacking and made a great assist for Damiao’s goal against FC Tokyo and scored a couple of nice goals already. Perhaps prone to the occasional defensive error, but is still settling in and if he’s busting forward as he tends to, the opposition have probably got to worry more about him gong forward than we might about his defending.

DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo
Captain and mainstay at the back. Joined us straight from Tsukuba University. Big favourite of Oniki and seems to be first pick on the team sheet. Occasionally makes horrific blunders but aside from those is generally quite steady and reliable. One of our biggest threats from corners.

DF 4 . JESIEL
Joined at the start of last season after playing with a few different Brazilian clubs and had a season where he drifted in and out of the starting line up in spite of him showing that he is probably our best defender. Picked up a slight injury earlier in the season but is strong, skillful and seems to be a real cut above when he’s playing at his best. One of only three centre backs in the whole squad!

LB 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei
Osaka born but has been with us since high school. Left-sided player who can play on the left wing too and has at times filled in at right back. Always full on energy and running. Used to play further forward but now seems to be settled at left back and is currently keeping former Japan national team member Kurumaya on the bench. 

MF 25. TANAKA Ao
Only 21 but was clearly last season’s player of the year and a fan favourite as he’s a Frontale youth team product. Recently has been playing the anchor role in front of the defence but can play anywhere you ask him to in the middle. Great passer and tackler and shooter when he ventures further forward. It’s probably only a matter of time before someone tries to buy him from us. Very important player for us.

MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
Joined us from high school and pulls the strings in midfield for us. Slightly injury prone but makes a huge difference when he’s fit and in the team. Has a great shot from outside the box and is much stronger on the ball than you’d think from looking at the size of him. Passing and tackling maestro. Often targeted by the opposition who look to kick him out of the game but has enough guile to skip round attempted fouls. Makes everything tick for us.

MF 28. WAKIZAKA Yasuto
Former Frontale youth player who joined us from his university team in 2018. Started to make appearances last season but has really cemented himself as a starter this year. Perhaps the most attacking of our three midfielders and likes to run at the box and shoot. Takes set pieces too. Tends to get substituted early on in the second half. Is still developing but looks like he’ll be a great player in the future.

FW 41. IENAGA Akihiro
Came to us from Omiya but his career has taken him from Gamba Osaka Youth to us via spells in Spain and Korea. Hugely important for us going forward. Nominally plays on the right but is left footed and tends to drift where he wants. Has a great shot on him and very skillful. 34 years old now but probably playing some of his best football. Was J League MVP in 2018 and thoroughly deserved it.

FW 9. LEANDRO DAMIAO
Transferred to us last year from Santos FC in Brazil. Presumably on big money and was our marquee signing. Didn’t really get much of a chance to settle in last year as he was in and out of the team in spite of having a decent scoring record. Oniki struggled to get him and Kobayashi to play well together and seems to have now given up on that idea. Kobayashi got the nod over him more often than not last year. Seems to have been unlucky with us so far and perhaps still hasn’t got to grips with the J League. 9 goals in 23 appearances last year though and has three already this year. Totally addicted to trying to score overhead kicks.

FW 18. MITOMA Kaoru 
Another Frontale youth team product. Has appeared for the national U23 team quite a few times and looked like he might be a possible star of the 2020 Olympics but we all know how that has turned out. Seems unstoppable when on the ball recently. Drives at defenders and seems to have the ball glued to his feet somehow. Very direct and likes to shoot. Would love to see him start, but then we wouldn’t be able to use him as an always game-changing super sub.

Possibly in place of Noborizato
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
Left back who also joined us directly from Tsukuba University but is likely to start at centre back as we have hardly any centre backs in our squad for some reason. Not 100% convinced by him playing there and is much betting roving forward with the ball. Can still do a job though. 

Toss up whether it is him or LEANDRO DAMIAO
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu 
Fan favourite and one club man. League MVP in 2017. Hasn’t quite set the world alight so much since then but has started this season pretty strong, especially when coming off the bench scoring six goals so far. Often needs quite a few chances to find his range, particularly if he starts the game for some reason. Has an absolutely lovely turn on him and will do something sublimely skillful and then pass the ball to the keeper. Or absolutely bury it depending on how he’s playing. This year it seems that whichever striker starts struggles and the sub does the business which makes it a bit tricky to predict whether Damiao or Kobayashi will get the nod up front. 

Possibly in place of Mitoma
FW 30. HATATE Reo
Another young rising star with U23 team appearances and plenty of goals. Still looks a bit raw when he plays for us but another player who suits our new attacking style with his resolute desire to head for the goal whenever he has the ball. Nominally a striker but seems to be another who falls into the category of quite short attacking wide player who gets forward quite often. Feel that once he gets his first goal his confidence will bloom. For some reason got the nod over Mitoma to take Hasegawa’s place in the last starting line up, so maybe Oniki knows something we don’t. Has played as a sub on the right too though, so he has the potential to cover for a few players.

Predicted Lineups





Match Prediction

A real tough one this week with J1’s best going head to head and no midweek games to distract them. Once again I’d love to say 2-1 Gamba, but I’ll stick with my tried and tested 1-1 prediction and hope that I’m wrong again!

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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)

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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