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Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai 12 September 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai
2021 J1 Season Round 28
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Sunday 12 September 2021
Kick Off: 18:30 (JST)


The international break is over and the Levain Cup quarter-finals are done and dusted, now it’s time for the first full slate of J1 games this month. Gamba Osaka host Vegalta Sendai in a match that could have big implications at the foot of the table. The Nerazzurri are still smarting from their harrowing trilogy with prefectural rivals Cerezo, however, crucially they’ve had a rare free midweek in the run up to this game. A Nerazzurri win here, coupled with a Tokushima loss at Nagoya on Friday night, would put a ten point buffer between them and the drop zone with only ten rounds remaining, so perhaps shards of light are beginning to emerge at the end of a very long and winding tunnel. Sunday evening’s visitors Sendai, on the other hand, currently sit eighteenth in the standings, eleven points worse off than Gamba. They’ve reached the do-or-die stage of their season, meaning a win at Panasonic Stadium is an absolute must as if results go against them they could sit bottom of the pile on Monday morning.

In truth, neither side come into this tie in particularly inspiring form. Since their re-arranged round five fixture on August 3, Gamba have won just one of their six J1 contests and most recently had fans hurling obscenities at the team bus in the aftermath of the humiliating 4-0 defeat at home to Cerezo in the second leg of their Levain Cup quarter final last Sunday. Things have been similarly grim up north in Sendai, though they have had two weeks to prepare themselves since their last league outing. The men from Miyagi, though, have no wins, a solitary goal, and a mere two points from their five matches since the 1-0 home reverse to the Nerazzurri just over a month ago. The pressure is on both Masanobu Matsunami and Makoto Teguramori ahead of this fixture, a win for Gamba and they can almost crawl across the finishing line, a loss for Sendai and a first season in J2 since 2009 starts to loom very large on the horizon. I believe this is what my fellow Scot, Sir Alex Ferguson, referred to as ‘squeaky bum time.’

Just a quick reminder to check out my Q and A post from last week, a lot of the content in it is much less time sensitive than my usual match previews, so please have a read if you haven’t already. Thanks once again to everyone who submitted a question and also to all of you who regularly read, like, comment on and share my blog posts, it means a lot to me. I’m open to suggestions for ways to improve these previews and also things you’d like to see covered in future weeks when Gamba might not be in action. Let me know in the comments either on WordPress or Twitter.

Tale of the Tape

This a battle between a team who play poorly at home versus one that struggles on the road. Levir Culpi seems to have a bit of free time on his hands now, so if he could maybe pop over and undo whatever curse he placed on the home dressing room during his time in charge at Panasonic Stadium then I’m sure both Gamba and the Samurai Blue would greatly appreciate it. Since the Brazilian’s departure midway through the 2018 campaign, the Nerazzurri have been defeated eighteen times on their own patch versus sixteen on their travels. And before anyone digs too deeply, I know the Culpi curse isn’t the real cause of Gamba’s inability to win in Suita as they’ve actually lost fourteen of thirty league games (47%) at Panasonic Stadium since the Coronavirus outbreak, how the Nerazzurri’s power brokers must be yearning for a return to normality. Vegalta, by contrast, possess the third weakest away record in the division and in the wake of their 5-0 drubbing at Yokohama F. Marinos in their previous road match, they now average 2 goals against per game outside of Miyagi with only Oita (2.23) and Yokohama FC (2.57) faring worse. Additionally, looking at combined home and away stats, Sendai have the lowest possession percentage in the league, averaging just 42.1% per match and their xG Against numbers aren’t much better, 1.6 per outing sees them rank nineteenth, a place below Gamba (1.54).

As you would have seen in my post last week, making sense of Gamba’s season stats is nigh on impossible due to all of the rotation and injuries which have resulted in nothing remotely close to the same lineup being named in consecutive games so far this year. With regular six to seven day gaps between league fixtures now upon them, we should, in theory, see things settle down a touch. Nerazzurri fans will certainly hope that consistent selection at the back and in the holding midfield roles will help to bring down the league high figure of 15 shots against per game. I mentioned the club’s shocking home form earlier, but more generally their current total of 13 league losses is only one shy of tying their 18 team J1 record of 14 set in 2012 and 2018 (I know there are 20 teams this year, but we’re only at round 28 which makes this statistic worse, if anything). Any team worth their salt has worked out that the way to play against Gamba in Suita is to sit deep, stifle their powder puff attack and then launch swift counters, Sendai did that wonderfully last year, can they repeat the trick here, or will they go the way of fellow strugglers Yokohama FC, Oita and Tokushima who have all left Panasonic Stadium empty handed? The yellow and blues have had their own issues at home and it’s interesting to note that in the aftermath of their victory over Kashiwa Reysol, their first at the Yurtec Stadium in well over a year, veteran Kunimitsu Sekiguchi admitted that after winning the coin toss they’d decided to shoot towards the opposite end than they normally do just to try and break the vicious cycle of defeat. I feel Gamba should opt for a similar approach, use the away dressing room, have the team bus take a different route to the stadium, stay in a hotel the night before, just try something, anything to end this wretched run of home defeats.





Head to Head

Gamba saw off Sendai 1-0 a little over a month ago thanks to Patric’s headed strike from Yuki Yamamoto’s first-half corner. At that time the Nerazzurri were in the midst of their summer fixture onslaught, while their hosts for the evening were just back from a near month-long break and often struggled for attacking fluency. Right-back Takumi Mase, someone I praised in the pre-match preview wasted Vegalta’s best opportunity, heading high and wide after Keisuke Kurokawa had inexplicably ducked out of the way of a dangerous looking cross. Mase went on to miss an even better chance, an event which rather summed up Sendai’s season, in the 1-0 home loss to Tosu a few weeks back, but has generally been one of the team’s better contributors in his actual position of full-back.

I gave a rundown of the 2020 head-to-head matches, Gamba’s 4-1 triumph at the Yurtec and Sendai’s 4-0 rout of the Nerazzurri at Panasta, in my preview for the reverse fixture back in August, so I won’t cover too much old ground here. I just wanted to add that Hiroto Yamada, a standout for the Miyagi side in the aforementioned 4-0 triumph, was also tormentor-in-chief for his parent club Cerezo, as they too left Suita with a four goal victory in the bag last weekend. Maybe Gamba could make moves to take him off the Cherry Blossom’s hands just to stop things like that from happening in the future? It’s just a thought.



Gamba Osaka

Gamba’s run to the semi-finals of the 2019 Levain Cup soured my image of the competition, probably irreparably, as after playing 12 games (over a third of a regular J1 season) we were eliminated on away goals with absolutely nothing to show for our endeavours. With that in mind, getting put out of this year’s edition is no water off my back, the manner of the exit is another matter entirely. If I try to spin it positively, it could serve as the kick up the backside the squad needs going into the remaining eleven league fixtures where the first choices should hog the majority of the playing minutes. As an aside, with all the intricate rules in Japanese football regarding how and when you can register players, am I the only one who found it slightly bizarre that with quarter-finals being played over two legs, Wednesday and Sunday, Cerezo were able to register Takashi Inui in between those two games? This ‘loophole’ strikes me as a bit odd, especially with all the judgements raining down from on-high regarding players having valid PCR certificates or not.

Recently I always seem to find myself using this space to talk about Gamba’s centre-backs, and this week is no exception. After playing the full 90 minutes on both Saturday and Wednesday nights, Gen Shoji was summoned by his country ahead of their World Cup qualifier against Oman at Panasonic Stadium on Thursday (September 2) as a result of Ko Itakura’s late withdrawal due to injury. Hajime Moriyasu loves calling up Sanfrecce players, and they’ve got a good defence, so why not go for the impressive Hayato Araki? Did he not want to leave them too short for their re-arranged clash with Kobe on Sunday? Urawa’s Hiroki Sakai was then released ahead of the squad’s departure for the Middle East to play China, a fair decision in my book, as it was stated he was exhausted following a punishing schedule over the summer. However, Shoji has also endured a heavy workload with both ACL and J1 games coming thick and fast in recent months, yet he gets no respite? Some of what I’ve said above is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, especially the stuff about Moriyasu’s penchant for selecting Hiroshima players, but, in all seriousness, I doubt he’s particularly endeared himself to anyone of a Gamba persuasion with some of his decisions over the past few days.

I’ll finish this section on a more positive note with my thoughts on Takashi Usami. I received a very thought-provoking question from Sam Robson for last week’s blog and I’ve been dwelling on my answer a bit in recent days. Usami’s stats are not great this year in terms of goals and assists, but think back to last Saturday’s Osaka Derby, Usami created what should have been Gamba’s equaliser with a delicious, teasing ball over the top of Cerezo’s defence, Kosuke Onose expertly met it first time and centred for Patric who tried a back-heel flick from only a few yards out, almost identical to the way he beat Park Il-gyu of Tosu last season, but he failed to make contact and the chance went begging. Similarly at 4-0 down on Sunday, Usami didn’t give up, and again floated a wonderful ball into the box which was met by Shinya Yajima, admittedly not the person you really want winning headers in the opposition box, and he forced Kim Jin-hyeon into action, tipping his effort over for a corner. Usami is still fighting, it’s time for his team-mates to step up too.

Oh, and one last thing, I loved the portmanteau 山ンバ (Yamamba) I saw on Twitter last weekend, hopefully I get to see it many more times in the years ahead.

Team News
Kim Young-gwon, Ju Se-jong and Gen Shoji should all be back in the mix after returning from international duty. Kim and Shoji’s returns, in particular, are welcome in the wake of Genta Miura getting stretchered off in last Sunday’s Levain Cup quarter-final second leg. Gamba’s skipper twisted his right knee awkwardly following a collision with Riki Matsuda and after initially trying to get back to his feet, he lay down once again for treatment and needed to be helped from the field meaning Yosuke Ideguchi had to fill in as a makeshift central defender. At the moment it’s unclear how serious the injury is, but it didn’t look great at the time. Miura’s centre-back partner for the evening Shunya Suganuma is available, but may be given a few weeks on the naughty step for his underwhelming efforts at keeping Cerezo at bay (I’m being very polite here). Some good news is that Ryu Takao is back after five weeks out with an ankle injury. However, Yuya Fukuda (hamstring), Dai Tsukamoto (thigh) and Wellington Silva (groin) are still on the treatment table with no date yet given for their returns while Jun Ichimori and Haruto Shirai continue to go through rehabilitation programs for their long-term injuries.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Vegalta Sendai


Sendai’s summer transfer work suggests they’re running low on cash reserves, with only Cayman Togashi, a forward Teguramori knows from his time at Nagasaki, and centre-back Naoya Fukumori to be found in the arrivals lounge. Togashi started off his professional career reasonably well with Yokohama F. Marinos back in 2016, but has since developed a reputation as a hard-working forward who struggles to find the back of the net, and frankly with Shuhei Akasaki and Yusuke Minagawa already on their books, that is the last thing Vegalta needed more of. Fukumori, on the other hand, made a grand total of 19 J1 appearances across two-and-a-half seasons with Oita and Shimizu, yet he’s waltzed right into the heart of Sendai’s backline, starting all four games since coming on-board. If you contrast this with, say, Júbilo Iwata in J2, who acquired Makito Ito and Ryo Takano from Marinos, plus Shota Kaneko from S-Pulse this summer, which team do you think are playing with the bigger transfer kitty? From a Sendai perspective, perhaps the most worrying thing is that if they do go down this year, they may struggle to bounce back anytime soon.

Makoto Teguramori likes operating with a back four, generally in a 4-4-2 system, but occasionally 4-2-3-1 when necessary. However, in a similar vein to fellow strugglers, Oita and Yokohama FC, Vegalta have reached the stage of the season where plans A, B and C have failed and all available metrics point to an impending relegation, so they’ve figured they might as well throw the playbook out the window, and they could be all the more dangerous as a result. After their 5-0 shellacking at the hands of Yokohama F. Marinos in round 25, Teguramori ditched 4-4-2 in favour of 4-2-3-1 for the home loss to FC Tokyo before getting very experimental with a 3-4-2-1 in the following match versus Tosu, whether this is just akin to shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic remains to be seen. If I were to throw in my tuppence worth, they should look to get Brazilian forward Felippe Cardoso and Ghanaian winger Emmanuel Oti involved more. While that duo may not have the kind of rigid tactical discipline their coach is looking for, they might possess an x-factor their team-mates don’t and that, at the moment, appears to be the only possible salvation for Sendai.

Team News
As alluded to above, this will be Sendai’s first outing in a fortnight so it’s possible the players mentioned below could have recovered from any injuries they were suffering from. I actually don’t have any confirmed absentees, though both Chihiro Kato and Emmanuel Oti have been missing from the squad for the past three matchdays while Ryoma Kida and Foguinho were subbed at half-time against FC Tokyo on 25 August and weren’t selected for the following match at home to Sagan Tosu. Whether that decision was tactical, or down to fitness issues remains to be seen.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





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

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Vegalta Sendai vs Gamba Osaka 3 August 2021 Mini Preview

Vegalta Sendai vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 5
Yurtec Stadium, Sendai
Tuesday 3 August
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


Gamba Osaka, J1’s best away side in 2020, come into this tie at Vegalta Sendai looking for a fourth road win of the year in what is a crucial clash for both teams. A Nerazzurri triumph would draw them level with faltering city rivals Cerezo and perhaps more crucially put them 9 points ahead of Tuesday night’s hosts, Sendai.

A bruising 2-0 victory away to Sapporo on Friday evening came thanks to Shinya Yajima’s first league goal since the opening day of last year, fittingly on his 100th J1 outing, and a second strike in as many games from Leandro Pereira. Wellington Silva earned plaudits for his outstanding attacking endeavours in the opening stanza while captain Genta Miura was the target of some supporter ire for failing to press the referee into a VAR review following poor challenges by both Chanathip and Lucas Fernandes that only resulted in yellow cards being shown.

I mentioned in my preview of the Sapporo game that although Gamba may be tiring due to their intense summer schedule, their opposition on the other hand, would find it tough to gel instantly following a lengthy mid-season break. Sendai last played competitively on July 10th, and in the time they’ve been away, Gamba have racked up 9 points in 5 matches, which has placed Vegalta and their coach Makoto Teguramori under a huge amount of duress. Will Sendai’s fresh, but potentially disjointed troops prevail and pull themselves level with Kashiwa and Tokushima, or can Gamba, rotated and slightly weary, but crucially battle ready, gain the upper hand?

Tale of the Tape

Gamba were able to take advantage of the clear cut opportunities always afforded to Sapporo’s opponents to earn another good xG For score on Friday night. Things are ticking along nicely in that direction and it should be pointed out that despite finishing 2nd last season, they only averaged 1.35 goals for per match, so they don’t have a massive amount of distance to go to reach similar levels this year. In 2020, Patric (9), Ademilson, Usami and Kazuma Watanabe (all 6) combined for 27 league goals while this time round Patric and Pereira (both 4) and Usami (3) are the leading marksmen. The Gamba attack needs a fourth horseman to step up. Can Kazunari Ichimi be the man, or is it time for stage two of the summer recruitment plan to be unveiled?

Sendai’s Yurtec Stadium was something of a fortress in Susumu Watanabe’s final year in charge in 2019, however, the yellow and blues didn’t win a single match at home last year which saw the end of Takashi Kiyama and would have brought the curtain down on Vegalta’s 11 year run in the top flight had it not been for relegation getting scrapped due to Covid. In 2021 they have managed to see off Kashiwa and Oita on home soil and come into this game in a reasonable run of form, losing only 1 of their previous 5 matches in Miyagi, a disappointing 3-2 reverse against Shimizu. Their stats suggest that they concede a high number of good quality chances per game in general, but particularly at home and the Gamba attack, buoyed by recent displays, will be looking to take full advantage.





Head to Head

A pair of completely contrasting results between these two last year that some may label as being ‘classic JLeague.’ Gamba routed Sendai away in September, the only time they netted more than twice in J1 in 2020. Alexandre Guedes opened the scoring for the hosts early on, but Gamba quickly turned the tables thanks to Yuki Yamamoto, making his first J1 start, and Ademilson. Takuma Nishimura then had his first half penalty saved by Masaaki Higashiguchi following a harsh handball decision against Kosuke Onose, and Vegalta were made to pay late on as a result of Shu Kurata’s screamer and Yosuke Ideguchi’s coup de grâce.

Sendai got payback and more at Panasonic Stadium with their first ever league win in Suita coming courtesy of a Shun Nagasawa inspired 4-0 cakewalk. The ex-Gamba hitman, and Sam Robson’s favourite J1 striker bagged a hat-trick before Takahiro Yanagi put the final nail in Gamba’s coffin late on.


Gamba Osaka

Ryu Takao’s ankle injury has thrown the rotation system up in the air as Shoji, Kim and Onose are all due a rest, but at least 2 of the 3 will likely have to start here. As laid out above, getting 3 points from this clash is of vital importance to Gamba whereas Friday night’s home fixture with Yokohama F.Marinos might be seen as something more akin to a free swing and as such I’ve picked as strong a team as possible with rotation taken into account. Players such as Yanagisawa, Ideguchi and Sato could force their way into the eleven if they’ve regained full fitness, but I’m banking on Matsunami sticking with the tried and tested for this one. Patric or Pereira as the lone striker is essentially a 50/50 choice.

Transfer Gossip Update
In my last preview I reported that out-of-favour Kashima full-back Daiki Sugioka could be a possible target for Gamba. However, the Japanese media are now linking him with a loan move to former side Shonan. At the moment I don’t have the names of any credible transfer targets, but I’ll keep you posted if anything crops up.

One player seemingly headed for the Gamba exit door is Tiago Alves, now completely out of the picture due to poor performances and foreigner restrictions. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the upper echelons of **cough cough Kofu** J2 sometime soon.

Team News
Ryu Takao‘s horror run of injuries continued against Sapporo when a heavy challenge left him with what Gamba supporters will hope is ‘only’ a sprained ankle, it could be much worse though, and don’t expect him back for a few weeks at the very least. Yosuke Ideguchi and Yota Sato were both absent again for the Consadole game and I’m unsure whether it is injury, a general lack of fitness or Covid that is keeping them out. As mentioned last time, Hiroki Fujiharu, Yuya Fukuda, Yuji Ono and Dai Tsukamoto all have leg muscle injuries with no return date yet given. Backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori and young wing-backs Haruto Shirai and Shin Won-ho are long term casualties.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Vegalta Sendai

It was announced on Saturday (July 31st) that Sendai and Curaçao international winger Quenten Martinus had mutually agree to terminate his contract. Truth be told it didn’t come as much of a surprise as the ex-Marinos and Urawa man has often cut a frustrated figure this year and there were strong rumours that he and kantoku Makoto Teguramori didn’t see eye to eye.

As you can see below, there aren’t exactly a host of household names in this Vegalta lineup, however, that’s not to say they have no talent in their ranks. For instance, on the right flank you’ll find Chihiro Kato (Ryutsu Keizai Univ.) and Takumi Mase (Hannan Univ.), a pair of rookies who’ve quietly impressed in tough circumstances. Jakub Słowik was my pick for J1 goalkeeper of the half season when I was on the J Talk Podcast a few weeks back and the Pole is one of the main reasons why his side have overperformed xG Against at home by almost 0.4 goals per game. Forward Takuma Nishimura has looked like a pale imitation of the player who earned a move to CSKA Moscow back in 2018, but he still poses a threat when in the mood. I’m also intrigued by the loan signing of tall Brazilian striker Felippe Cardoso from Santos, though he’s yet to deliver anything on the field since his quarantine delayed arrival.

Team News
Central midfielder Foguinho has missed the past 4 league games for Sendai though I haven’t seen any injury reported. The distinctively bearded Brazilian appeared to have steadied things in the middle of the park for Vegalta, so if fully fit, expect him to start. Despite offloading Martinus, Sendai still have 6 foreigners on their books, so if Foguinho does indeed return then expect either, backup goalie Nedeljko Stojišić (I’m not too sure on the wisdom of using up 2 foreigner spots with goalkeepers) or former captain Simão Mate, currently a shadow of his 2019 self, to make way. Elsewhere veteran winger Kunimitsu Sekiguchi went off injured in Vegalta’s previous outing, a 1-1 draw at home to Sapporo, but I have no details on how serious that knock was.

Predicted Lineup and Stats




Thanks again for reading and enjoy the game whoever you’re supporting!