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Gamba Osaka vs Kawasaki Frontale 6 March 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Kawasaki Frontale
2022 J1 Season Round 3
Sunday 6 March 2022
Panasonic Stadium
Kick Off: 15:00 (JST)


Gamba’s first Sunday fixture of the year pits them against a Kawasaki side, who just like them, are fresh from a hard fought victory over Urawa. The Nerazzurri notched the first win of the Katanosaka era in the club’s 1000th league match thanks to Yuya Fukuda’s late deflected strike shortly after Reds’ midfielder Ken Iwao’s ordering off for a second bookable offence. Frontale, facing the Saitama giants at home, did as great champions so often do, turned a half-time deficit into 3 points while being outshone for long periods. Ominously for the rest of the league, after an extremely brief early season wobble, Wednesday’s triumph saw them regain top spot and they now sit clear of fellow ACL qualifiers Marinos, Kobe and Urawa by two, seven and eight points respectively as they seek to become only the second J1 champions, after Kashima 2007-2009, to three-peat. The league standings also make pleasant reading for Gamba supporters at the moment with the Ao to Kuro back in the rarefied air of the top half for the first time since the conclusion of the 2020 season when, of course, they finished as runners up to this weekend’s opponents.

I managed to snap up a ticket for this one and am looking forward to what should be a decent game played out in the right spirit, as these clashes generally tend to be (fingers crossed for no more red cards).

Tale of the Tape

There might be a slight feeling of vindication washing over the Gamba support at the moment with the tough schedule endured by the 4 ACL participants at the beginning of this season illustrating just how difficult it is to play 3 matches a week while trying to rotate a squad depleted by injuries, Covid cases and suspensions. Those of a blue and black persuasion certainly know all about the challenges involved with that from our torrid 2021 campaign. Speaking of last year, the Nerazzurri’s visit to Saitama Stadium on Saturday played out in quite a similar fashion to their previous trip. The home side were dominant for the opening half hour with Takahiro Sekine causing all manner of problems for the Gamba defence, they should have been at least a goal to the good, but weren’t and then the ideas all but dried up. Reds racked up 9 shots with an xG total of almost 1.2 in the first 30 minutes, but a mere 4 (2 of which were free kicks) after that which amassed only 0.24xG. By way of comparison, following Urawa’s opening onslaught, the Nerazzurri outshot them by a ratio of 2:1 and generated an xG figure almost 4 times higher (0.91 vs 0.24). Further encouragement for new Gamba kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka comes with the knowledge that in last year’s 1-1 draw, Reds had 24 attempts on Masaaki Higashiguchi’s goal, but only mustered 13 on Saturday, meaning that 3rd choice ‘keeper Kei Ishikawa, who put in another solid showing, found himself protected to a far greater extent than his more illustrious team-mate did 5 months prior. Katanosaka’s strategy seemed straight from his playbook of how to take on Frontale and Reds in last season’s Emperor’s Cup and Gamba themselves have adopted an almost identical set of tactics in their wins at Marinos in 2020 and 2021, so while not in the least bit pretty, it’s something that has proven to be effective. Next point on the Katanosaka agenda…home form.

Time for a slight meander off topic, I’d argue that with Sakai, Shibato, Moberg Karlsson, Matsuo, Akimoto and Junker (Reds) as well as Higashiguchi, Kwon, Fujiharu, Yamamoto, Saito, Dawhan, Patric and Wellington Silva (Gamba) all missing from their respective side’s starting elevens for one reason or another, Saturday’s contest almost had the feel of a Levain Cup tie which leads mean to the main crux of my argument. This might seem like an obvious point, but it deserves repeating, if you’re selling tickets for an event, it’s vital that the people buying those tickets have faith that the event will take place at the time and date advertised and also in relatively the same format as expected. I say this with my Gamba supporters hat on, but I feel it applies to all J1 clubs, in the wake of what’s gone on all around us in 2020 and 2021, why would you buy a season ticket for 2022 when you’re well within your rights to have doubts that the fixtures will go ahead as scheduled, or if they do that your side will be understrength for a good chunk of them? In fairness, I believe the J. League have handled the Covid pandemic as well as could reasonably be expected, but getting over the final hurdles back to normality may prove to be their stiffest challenge to date. I’m watching on with interest.

Now to have a brief look at Sunday’s opponents, Kawasaki Frontale. It’s still early days so I’m not going to take a particularly deep dive into the stats from their 4 games to date, but there are a couple of quick points I’d like to make. With a remarkable figure of just 28 goals conceded in 38 league matches in 2021, it’s no surprise that Frontale had J1’s meanest defence last season, letting in 2 less than nearest challengers Nagoya who had clean-sheet record breaker Mitch Langerak between the sticks for them. This term there have been signs of vulnerability that weren’t quite so evident across the past 2 years, possibly brought on by a spate of injuries at the back, or perhaps by other factors that may become clearer as time progresses. The key to not conceding many goals is not giving up many shots on your goal and in 2021 Kawasaki placed 2nd, behind Kashima, for shots against and shots against on target (those numbers stood at 9.4 and 5.6 per 90 minutes respectively). Their opening games this season have been tough, there’s no two ways about that, but they have exceeded the average for both of those metrics in 3 of their 4 league fixtures so far. Also, interestingly for a team who ranked 3rd in J1 for possession in 2021 (averaging 55.1% of the ball per game), they kicked off 2022 recording less than 50% possession in each of their opening 3 encounters vs FC Tokyo, Yokohama F. Marinos and Kashima, though I should balance that out by saying the Gasmen and Marinos will probably be near the top of the possession league table come the end of the year and Frontale were 2-0 up away to Antlers after only 17 minutes so had little need to press on after that, still it’s a stat to keep an eye on moving forward (I wrote this section prior to their Wednesday match with Urawa where they had 51% of the ball against a side who generally dominate their opponents in that respect, so perhaps the opening 3 games were just something of a blip).

Head to Head


This fixture has certainly not made pretty viewing for those of a Gamba persuasion during the Covid era with Frontale winning all 4 league games across 2020 and 2021 (the only team to achieve this) by a combined score of 12-1. Throw the 2020 Emperor’s Cup and 2021 Super Cup defeats into the equation and any Nerazzurri supporters not in the stadium on Sunday would be forgiven for watching this match from behind their sofas. Incidentally, prior to 2020 Kawasaki had never swept Gamba in any of the previous 14 occasions that the two clubs had occupied the same division.

The 2021 Japanese football season kicked off with the Super Cup at the National Stadium in Tokyo on February 20th. Kaoru Mitoma’s first-half double had Frontale on easy street before a spirited fightback in the second period saw Gamba draw level thanks to Shinya Yajima’s close range effort and a spot kick from Patric. Just when it appeared we were destined for penalties, Kawasaki talisman Yu Kobayashi broke clear to clinch the tie with essentially the last kick of the ball. In between that clash and the first league game between these two just after Golden Week, Gamba went through their Covid cluster crisis and by the time the defending champions rolled into town Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s job was hanging by a thread as a result of just 7 points being accrued from the opening 8 matches and only 2 goals (including one penalty) being scored in that period. As it was, Gamba defended in numbers, but were caught on the counter 4 minutes before the break with Leandro Damião slotting home the opener. The Ao to Kuro had their moments in the second stanza before Kaoru Mitoma (that man again) made the game safe late on, leaving the out of position Yota Sato for dead and then firing past Masaaki Higashiguchi. The curtain came down on the Miyamoto era less than a week later as a result of a 2-1 reversal at Panasonic Stadium courtesy of Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

The stakes were much lower for the return match in round 37 and Frontale ran out winners at Todoroki by a scoreline of 4 goals to 1, which I’d argue was rather flattering. There was some joy for the travelling contingent though, with Takashi Usami dancing his way merrily through the Kawasaki defence to make it 1-2 after just 17 minutes, but unfortunately early and late flurries from the already crowned champions proved far too high a hurdle for the Nerazzurri to overcome.

As an aside, Tomohiro Katanosaka’s Oita teams have caused Kawasaki several problems down the years, notably putting their J1 title celebrations on ice for a few days with a 1-0 win back in 2020 (Frontale of course routed 2nd placed Gamba 5-0 in their next outing to sew up the championship with 4 games to spare) and also famously knocking them out of the Emperor’s Cup on penalties last December following an epic backs-to-the-wall showing. Piecing together the evidence from that Tennohai semi-final, plus Gamba’s tactics, both in their home game with the Azzurro Nero last May, and also in turning over Urawa yet again on their own turf last weekend, it would be wise to assume that we’ll see a similarly defensive strategy employed here.




Gamba Osaka

Since the start of the 2020 season Gamba have recorded 20 away victories and just 13 at home, an unacceptable record that Katanosaka has sought to remedy quickly, granted kicking off your maiden campaign in charge with home fixtures against Kashima and Kawasaki isn’t exactly making things easy. Honestly when the schedule was announced I’d have taken 3 points from the opening trio of games so from that perspective the Nerazzurri are playing with house money at the moment. Fans like myself are now looking for some evidence of a more open, expansive game-plan at Panasonic Stadium which allows the team to score multiple goals regularly while also keeping things relatively tight at the back and not leaving the defence wide open to counter attacks like happened time, and time again last season. However, as mentioned above, much as this is something I’d love to see on Sunday, I think we might be parking the bus as much as the Curva Nord faithful’s patience will allow.

* Player Focus 1 Kei Ishikawa – From what I’ve seen in J3, cup competitions and briefly in J1, Ishikawa is a more than competent shot-stopper, though that really should be a minimum requirement for a goalkeeper with a professional contract at a top flight club. His distribution is definitely his weak point, but you wouldn’t really know that from last Saturday’s performance as he was rarely called upon to do anything with his feet, a trend I’d expect to see continue if he’s selected on Sunday.

* Player Focus 2 Yuya Fukuda – As if Gamba’s resident heartthrob couldn’t get any more popular with the Nerazzurri fanbase, he goes and scores away to Urawa again. 2 of his 3 J1 goals to date have come at Saitama Stadium and, in fact, save for a spectacular strike for Gamba U23 vs Akita in 2018 and the clincher against Tokushima in the 2020 Emperor’s Cup semi-final he’s never found the back of the net in front of his adoring supporters. What better opposition to break his J1 home duck against than Japanese football’s dominant force over the past half decade? One final point on Yuya-kun, he replaced Takashi Usami last week and slotted in on the left side of the front 3 (alongside Yamami and Ishige at that stage) meaning that he’s now basically played every position at Gamba with the exception of goalkeeper, centre-back and centre-forward.

* Katanosaka watch – I’ve been enjoying his use of substitutes at half time and on the hour mark. I’m fully aware that there may be fans of other clubs who’d love to see a bit more spontaneity with their changes, but after last season’s coaching car crash I’m quite happy to see someone on the sidelines appearing to be disciplined and in control of his battleplan. It was also interesting to see him deviate from his usual 3-4-2-1 and start 4-2-3-1 against his old team Oita with Yuki Yamamoto named captain and assigned to the Marcos Junior role in the hole between the double-volante and lone striker Isa Sakamoto.

* Levain Cup wrap – Shun Nagasawa (predictably) came back to haunt his former side with a double as a much changed Gamba could only pick up a solitary point from their visit to Oita on Wednesday. The 2-2 draw leaves the Ao to Kuro’s hopes of progressing to the knockout stages hanging by a thread, but the competition has so far proven to be useful for getting players valuable game time, Mitsuki Saito and Yuki Yamamoto to name but two from this match, and also for blooding youngsters, Jiro Nakamura versus Cerezo and Isa Sakamoto here. I’d love to see new type 2 acquisitions Harumi Minamino (FW) and Yuki Yoshihara (DF) see some action in the remaining 4 fixtures too.

Team News

Patric returns from his one-match ban no doubt buoyed by his goal away to Trinita in midweek. The fact that neither Masaaki Higashiguchi or Kei Ishikawa were involved on Wednesday night suggests to me that Higashiguchi is still not fit and Ishikawa will start on Sunday. Nominal 2nd choice keeper Jun Ichimori, though he’s been absent for so long I can’t be confident that’s still his place in the pecking order, returned on the bench against Oita, but I still feel he’s some way off challenging for regular minutes. Elsewhere, it appears Hiroki Fujiharu is still out having not been seen yet this year, South Korean international Kwon Kyung-won and Brazilian Serie A regular Dawhan should hopefully be able to arrive in Japan shortly, but the date is still to be confirmed and Mitsuki Saito, Yuki Yamamoto, Leandro Pereira and Wellington Silva are all at various stages of their comebacks, though I’m not sure any of that quartet will make the eleven here.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Kawasaki Frontale


4 J1 titles in the past 5 seasons coupled with triumphs in the 2019 Levain Cup and 2020 Emperor’s Cup have transformed Kawasaki from perennial bridesmaids into one of the most dominant sides in the 30 year history of the J. League, but perhaps what’s most remarkable about their rise is how they’ve managed to build an absolute juggernaut of a squad without really breaking the bank. Of their 31 registered players for 2022 (30 professionals and 1 type-2 amateur, centre back Yota Takai), 10 came directly from universities (2 of those, MF Yasuto Wakizaka and backup GK Yuki Hayasaka were involved with the club’s youth setup previously), 8 from other J1 clubs, 4 apiece arrived from overseas teams and Japanese high schools, 3 were promoted from Frontale’s youth academy, while Koki Tsukagawa was signed from then J2 Matsumoto Yamaga and Daiya Tono was a surprise pickup from cup-shock masters Honda FC in the JFL and spent his first season of senior football on loan with Fukuoka in the second tier. I’d argue that former South Korean international goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong (Suwon Samsung Bluewings), Thai schemer Chanathip (Sapporo) and 2021 J1 MVP Leandro Damião (Santos) are the only examples that readily spring to mind of players brought in off-the-shelf primed to perform at a high level from the word go for whom a premium price was paid, either in terms of transfer fee or salary, certainly a very different approach to what you see in Europe with the likes of PSG, Manchester City Real Madrid et al. Of course such success has come at a cost with Hidemasa Morita, Ao Tanaka, Kaoru Mitoma and Reo Hatate all heading overseas in the past year or so, but with their reputation as a talent-enhancing hub firmly entrenched they’ve had no problems attracting high-quality replacements. Step forward Asahi Sasaki, their new left-back, freshly graduated from Ryutsu Keizai University and a player whom Frontale reportedly beat off interest from Gamba to acquire. Sasaki was rated the best full-back in Japanese varsity football in 2021 and after a promising cameo in the defeat at Marinos he nabbed his first J1 goal in the 2-0 victory over Kashima last week which brought words of praise from none other than current Samurai Blue kantoku Hajime Moriyasu. He’s given Toru Oniki another viable option at full-back and will be someone to keep an eye on here should he see off veteran Osaka-native Kyohei Noborizato to earn a starting berth.

Team News

Frontale certainly don’t have their injury troubles to seek in the early part of 2022, especially at the back. Jesiel, for my money the best centre-back in the division, is a long term casualty after undergoing knee surgery, his replacement Shintaro Kurumaya dislocated his shoulder against FC Tokyo in round 1 and is out for 6 weeks while left-back Kyohei Noborizato was stretchered off in the first-half of the match with Urawa and his participation here is in serious doubt. Further forward, injury prone midfield dynamo Ryota Oshima has been missing from the squad for the games with Antlers and Reds, mercurial Brazilian winger Marcinho hasn’t been seen since the FC Tokyo encounter and Japan U-22 captain Renji Matsui is yet to surface this season. Thai midfielder Chanathip is walking a suspension tightrope as a result of picking up 3 yellow cards in his first 4 league outings in a Frontale shirt.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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

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J1 2022 Predicted Lineups

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

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

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

The Guide

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

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

Biggest Loss – Basically the opposite of best signing.

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

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

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

Predicted Lineups

A few caveats here,

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

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

Kawasaki Frontale

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




Yokohama F. Marinos

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

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




Vissel Kobe

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




Kashima Antlers

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




Nagoya Grampus

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




Urawa Red Diamonds

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




Sagan Tosu

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




Avispa Fukuoka

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




FC Tokyo

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




Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

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




Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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




Cerezo Osaka

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

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




Gamba Osaka

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




Shimizu S-Pulse

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

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




Kashiwa Reysol

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




Shonan Bellmare

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




Júbilo Iwata

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

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




Kyoto Sanga

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




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

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sport

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka 27 November 2021 Match Preview

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 37
Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium
Saturday 27 November 2021
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


It’s the Azzurro Nero versus the Nerazzurri as the penultimate round of the J1 season sees Gamba make the trip to Todoroki Stadium to face 2021 champions Kawasaki Frontale. Fresh from a 3-1 reverse at home to Nagoya Grampus courtesy of a combination of razor sharp counter-attacking and lax pressing (more on that later), the Nerazzurri will be out to replicate their previous visit to Kanagawa earlier this month when they ended the title dreams of Yokohama F. Marinos with an excellent backs-to-the-wall effort. That result, in conjunction with Kawasaki’s 1-1 draw with Urawa, saw the Dolphins lift a 4th J1 crown in 5 years and they subsequently followed that up with a rather hungover display in the 3-1 loss at Tosu, where like Gamba against Nagoya, they went into the sheds 3-0 down. Predictably, Toru Oniki’s side rebounded emphatically with a 4-1 rout of the Ao to Kuro’s prefectural rivals Cerezo in Osaka last weekend and those of a Gamba persuasion will be praying that Frontale take their foot off the gas on Saturday ahead of a mouth-watering final day visit to the Nissan Stadium. Depending on the result of this encounter and Marinos’ trip to Vissel Kobe, it’s possible a Kawasaki win on December 4th could potentially knock Kevin Muscat’s side down to 3rd, an outcome I’m sure @frontalerabbit and co. would relish.

Tale of the Tape

A brief look through Kawasaki’s key performance indicators in the table below shows that their 13 point gap at the top of J1 is certainly no fluke. They are the best team at home, the best team away and the best team overall. 26 goals conceded makes their defence the strongest in the division for that metric and that correlates with their xG Against performance. Although they trail Yokohama F. Marinos by 3 in the goals scored rankings (76 vs YFM’s 79), we can say they do have a more efficient attack than their great rivals, generating those goals from 1.3 fewer shots and an xG of 0.24 less per game. Like cool, calculating assassins Frontale strike their opponents quickly and decisively often putting games to bed well before the final whistle, which is likely a factor in them only recording more than 20 shots in a match on one occasion in J1 2021 (Sanfrecce at home in April). This compares with Marinos and Kashima (both 6), perhaps demonstrating the sheer importance of having someone of the calibre of Leandro Damião in your ranks while YFM have struggled to replace Ado Onaiwu, and Everaldo has been posted missing for Antlers this season.

Gamba have notched 25 of their 43 points to date on the road and still appear way more comfortable operating the counter-attacking system Tsuneyasu Miyamoto employed throughout the 2020 campaign rather than the high-press that went so horribly wrong against Grampus last Saturday. It seems likely that despite the Nerazzurri having nothing but pride left to play for that they’ll rock up at Todoroki fully intent on parking the bus. Gamba’s attack, in contrast to Kawasaki’s, is highly inefficient, though as I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions previously, it is tough making head-nor-tail of the Nerazzurri’s season statistics as a whole due to the constant rotation we saw during the summer months. The Ao to Kuro will create something against Frontale, it may not be much, but if Patric (7 goals in his last 9 J1 appearances) is on form against one of his former teams and Kiyama gets the defence set up properly then it’s definitely possible for Gamba to frustrate their hosts, nick a goal on the counter, and defy the odds.





Head to Head


During the Covid-era, Frontale have very much had the wood over Gamba. If you include the 2020 Emperor’s Cup Final and 2021 Japanese Super Cup then it’s a perfect 5 from 5 for the Kanagawa giants with 12 scored and a mere 2 conceded. You have to go back to the 2-2 draw the sides played out at Panasonic Stadium in October 2019 for the last time the Nerazzurri avoided defeat in this fixture.

Last year there was plenty of respect on show as the top two clashed in Suita on August 1st. Gamba had the better of the opening stanza, before the half-time introduction of Kaoru Mitoma changed things decisively in the visitors favour. It was he who teed up Ryota Oshima a matter of minutes after his arrival for the game’s only goal. The result, only Gamba’s 2nd loss of the year at that point sparked a poor sequence of results, proving to be the 1st in a run of 5 defeats in 9 games, though following the home reverse to Shonan on 13th September, the Ao to Kuro suffered just a solitary loss in their next 14 fixtures. I’d rather not spend too much time dwelling on the events of 25th November 2020 at the Todoroki Stadium, as Kawasaki, chastened by their 1-0 defeat at Oita days earlier brushed Gamba aside 5-0 to wrap up the J1 title with 4 games to spare. What I’d much rather say is what a truly phenomenal achievement it was to finish so far ahead of the chasing pack in such a chaotic year with a squad largely made up of university graduates, youth team products and undervalued talents from other clubs.

Perhaps with the 5-0 still fresh in his mind, then Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto adopted an extremely defensive mindset ahead of the battle between these two at Panasonic Stadium in May. That contest would prove to be Miyamoto’s penultimate game in charge of Gamba and it ended in a disappointing 2-0 defeat. The Nerazzurri contained Frontale reasonably well in the early stages, but were stung by Leandro Damião’s goal in the 41st minute following an excellent counter-attack. Kaoru Mitoma (who else?) sealed the deal in the final quarter as Yota Sato, playing out of position at right-back, proved no match for the silky winger. Patric missed a glorious late chance to bag a consolation, heading Keisuke Kurokawa’s delicious cross wide, but I’ll remember this game mostly for Ao Tanaka’s outstanding display in the middle of the park and the Nerazzurri will certainly be thankful that neither he nor Mitoma will be donning their side’s Azzurro Nero jerseys on Saturday.



Gamba Osaka


With J1 safety secured, many Gamba fans were keenly anticipating the announcement of the starting lineup for the match against Grampus last Saturday. Unfortunately, when it was released, it was a crushing disappointment, Sato out of the squad, Fukuda and Yamami on the bench, no Jiro Nakamura and a starting eleven so conservative in nature that it would even make Hajime Moriyasu blush! Perhaps worst of all was captain Genta Miura returning to re-form his partnership with Shunya Suganuma which was last seen in the 4-0 home loss against Cerezo in the Levain Cup (and will hopefully never be seen again). I’m loathe to have a go at one player in particular, however Miura stunk the joint out on Saturday, especially in the first half. Granted, the team as a whole have still to get to grips with the high press system, but he exacerbated that problem by constantly charging out of defence into central midfield leaving big gaps for the impressive Yuki Soma and Jakub Świerczok to exploit (especially, in Soma’s case, it was as if the lessons from the away game at Toyota Stadium had simply been ignored). Ryu Takao was hauled off for Ko Yanagisawa at half-time, but had Miura not been wearing the armband then he’d surely have been replaced by Gen Shoji (who I assume was still not 100%).

Despite that scathing rant, there were several bright spots on Saturday. The attacking verve showed at times in the first-half was impressive, though sadly lacking in end product. We ‘won’ the second-half, always important psychologically in these scenarios and I’d argue it should have been 2-0 instead of 1-0 as I’m not sure why Patric’s 72nd minute effort was ruled out (offside or foul? Neither option seems clear and obvious to me, why wasn’t there at least a VAR review?). The 4-1-4-1 on display at the end of the match with Usami and Wellington Silva playing just ahead of Kohei Okuno in the centre of the park was also an interesting experiment. It’s tough to get a proper read on how the substitutes truly performed given that Nagoya parked the bus in the second 45 following their first-half smash-and-grab, but I was encouraged with the purpose and intent shown by Fukuda and Yamami down the wings and the ball-winning abilities of Okuno (whose interception led to Patric’s goal), I’d really like to see more of that triumvirate in the 2 remaining fixtures.

Finally, some very brief transfer gossip. 31-year old, left-footed Dutch centre-back Dave Bulthuis will leave Ulsan Hyundai this winter ahead of the presumed arrival of Kim Young-gwon and he and FC Ryukyu’s currently injured stopper Tetsuya Chinen are the names buzzing around Gamba supporter circles at present when the topic of new signings for 2022 crops up. I will say that I think it’s quite possible that one of, Bulthuis, Chinen, Yoshinori Suzuki (Shimizu), Henrique Trevisan (Oita), Eduardo (Tosu), Shogo Asada (Kyoto) or Rikito Inoue (Okayama) will join the Nerazzurri this winter, though I wouldn’t like to bet on who. Elsewhere, Yokohama FC’s relegation to J2 has seen reports that captain Tatsuki Seko will move to Nagoya while winger Yusuke Matsuo and bustling Brazilian forward Saulo Mineiro have plenty of admirers. Much as I’d like to see Matsuo in Suita, I can’t see it happening, Mineiro, could be pricey and also has the potential to be the next Junior Santos, but he may be someone the Gamba front office is looking at.

Oh, and a quick note to say that Shoji Toyama bagged his first J2 goal at the 17th time of asking, although it wasn’t enough to stop his Ehime FC side going down 2-1 at home to Sagamihara in their relegation 6-pointer on Sunday.

Team News

Vice-captain Shu Kurata will miss this clash after picking up his 4th yellow card of the season against Nagoya. Matsunami stated that Leandro Pereira was fit again, but he wasn’t in the squad for the match with Grampus, whether he’s suffered an injury relapse or it’s a sign he won’t be at the club next season remains to be seen, he didn’t appear in any photos of Gamba’s open training session on Tuesday, and today (Wednesday) Football Tribe linked him with a return to Brazil next year. Other than that, backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori (hamstring) is done for the year, Kim Young-gwon is still missing after picking up a knock vs Tosu on October 23rd, Yuji Ono is continuing his rehabilitation work, while pictorial evidence from Tuesday (November 23rd) shows that Shinya Yajima and Dai Tsukamoto have now returned to full training.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Kawasaki Frontale

What to say about Toru Oniki and his Kawasaki side that hasn’t already been said? An unprecedented 4 J1 titles in 5 years and league records shattered all over the place. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which of their triumphs has been the best, but this season’s has to be up there, running at a clip of 2.44 points per game (exactly the same rate as in 2020), despite the winter departure of Hidemasa Morita, the mid-year losses of Ao Tanaka and Kaoru Mitoma, ACL involvement, an injury crisis and strong challenges from resurgent Marinos and Kobe teams. With star centre-back Jesiel now a long-term injury casualty, forwards Damião, Kobayashi and Ienaga ageing and consistent performers Hatate and Yamane potentially heading off to Europe, are we witnessing the end of an era? Perhaps yes, though don’t expect Frontale to fall off a cliff any time soon. Sure, Toru Oniki may be called up to replace Moriyasu in the national team hot-seat post Qatar 2022, (though still being a few years shy of his 50th birthday I’m not sure that’s an avenue he’s looking to go down at this stage of his career), but as long as the former Kashima and Kawasaki midfielder continues to pull the strings from the dugout then they’ll remain a force to be reckoned with.

Kento Tachibanada has really stood up in the midfield in the latter part of the year, while Ten Miyagi and Daiya Tono could have bigger parts to play from next season and there is still the returning Taisei Miyashiro (currently on loan at Tokushima) to consider. Additionally, behind the scenes the Azzurro Nero have been busily preparing the squad for 2022 and beyond. Think they are going to be a wounded beast next year? Think again. Japan Under-22 captain Renji Matsui (Hosei University) has already put pen to paper and would make an ideal replacement for Hatate (his older sister Airi is a Japanese talento, so I’m sure he’ll have no problems making friends with his new team-mates!!) Frontale also beat off reported interest from Gamba and Tosu to land left-back Asahi Sasaki (Ryutsu Keizai University), rated the best full-back in varsity football at the moment. Other new arrivals for 2022 will be, goalkeeper Yuki Hayasaka (Toin Yokohama University – alma mater of Yamane, Tachibanada and Zain Issaka), and forwards Takatora Einaga (Kokoku High School in Osaka – Kyogo Furuhashi and Takumi Minamino’s old stomping ground) and Taiyo Igarashi (promoted from the youth team).

Team News

As alluded to above, Jesiel, for my money the best centre-back in the league, damaged his cruciate knee ligaments against Sagan Tosu on 7th November and has now returned to his native Brazil for treatment, his season is over. Information on other absentees is a little harder to come by. João Schmidt last played in the 2-1 win at Kashima on September on 22nd September, rugged central-midfielder / centre-back Koki Tsukagawa was an unused sub in that match and has no further appearances after that, while Tatsuya Hasegawa hasn’t been selected since missing a penalty in the ACL last 16 shootout loss to Ulsan Hyundai on September 14th. According to @frontalerabbit they are all fit and there are rumours that either or both Schmidt and Hasegawa could depart in the winter, though he also added that due to the ever secretive world of J. League injuries, it’s possible the trio are all dealing with minor problems that haven’t been made public.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

Categories
sport

J1 Predicted Lineups Post Transfer Window Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kawasaki Frontale

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


Gamba Osaka


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


Nagoya Grampus

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


Cerezo Osaka

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


Kashima Antlers


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


FC Tokyo

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


Kashiwa Reysol

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


Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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


Yokohama F. Marinos

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


Urawa Red Diamonds


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


Oita Trinita

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


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo


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


Sagan Tosu

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


Vissel Kobe

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


Yokohama FC


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


Shimizu S-Pulse

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


Vegalta Sendai


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


Shonan Bellmare

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


Tokushima Vortis


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


Avispa Fukuoka


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

Categories
sport

J1 2021 Appearance Data and Statistics

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

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

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

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



Kawasaki Frontale

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



Gamba Osaka

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



Nagoya Grampus

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



Cerezo Osaka

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



Kashima Antlers

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



FC Tokyo

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



Kashiwa Reysol

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



Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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



Yokohama F.Marinos


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


Urawa Red Diamonds


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



Oita Trinita

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



Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

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


Sagan Tosu

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



Vissel Kobe


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



Yokohama FC

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



Shimizu S-Pulse

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



Vegalta Sendai


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



Shonan Bellmare

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



Tokushima Vortis

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



Avispa Fukuoka


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




Categories
sport

J1 Lineups Updated Version end of round 6

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

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

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

Thanks again for your support and please enjoy!

Kawasaki Frontale

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


Gamba Osaka

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


Nagoya Grampus

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


Cerezo Osaka

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


Kashima Antlers

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


FC Tokyo

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


Kashiwa Reysol

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

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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


Yokohama F.Marinos

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


Urawa Red Diamonds

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


Oita Trinita

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


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

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


Sagan Tosu

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


Vissel Kobe

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


Yokohama FC

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


Shimizu S-Pulse

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


Vegalta Sendai

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


Shonan Bellmare

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


Tokushima Vortis

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


Avispa Fukuoka

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

Categories
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**

If you’re still coming here in 2020, please click this link for the 2022 version…

https://gambaosakaenglish.blog/2022/01/23/j1-2022-predicted-lineups/

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.