Gamba Osaka vs Nagoya Grampus
2022 J1 Season Round 6
Saturday 2 April 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)
J1 is back after a successful international break for the Samurai Blue, and speaking of success, former Gamba treble-winning coach Kenta Hasegawa is in town as he leads his Nagoya side into Osaka to face off with former protégé Tomohiro Katanosaka’s troops. Both teams currently sit level on 5 points, though Grampus have played a game fewer owing to their round 2 clash with FC Tokyo being postponed. Nerazzurri kantoku Katanosaka doesn’t have his troubles to seek following a chastening 3-2 home loss to Fukuoka a fortnight back which bore all the hallmarks of the darkest days of the 2021 season. That was followed up by a second-half capitulation away at Kashima in the Levain Cup last Saturday and, as such, the pressure he’s under might have been turned up just a notch or so. Hasegawa has made a steady, if unspectacular, start to life in Aichi. The Giallorossi were perhaps a shade fortunate to escape with a 1-1 draw against early season surprise package Kashiwa in their previous league outing, but bounced back to comfortably see off J2 promotion chasers Tokushima in the League Cup with Yoichiro Kakitani making a welcome return to the scoresheet. This will be the first of 3 J1 fixtures in the space of 8 days for both clubs so needless to say beginning that run with a positive result is of paramount importance to each side.
Tale of the Tape
I’ll try my best to stay upbeat and positive about Gamba in this section and I accept that might mean supporters of other teams think I’m being ever so slightly biased. The Nerazzurri’s 3-2 home loss at the hands of Avispa Fukuoka means they’re still without a home win this season in league or cup (D1L3, with a minimum of 2 goals conceded every game), however, it did mark their 2nd consecutive xG For over 1, possession % higher than 50 and completed passes above 400, if these kind of numbers continue then I’m reasonably confident better results are around the corner. April is shaping up as an important month for the Ao to Kuro with upcoming dates against Kyoto, Shimizu and Shonan likely to set the tone for the middle part of the campaign. With that in mind, the return of Hiroki Fujiharu in tandem with Kwon Kyung-won and Dawhan’s much anticipated entries into Japan couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, as that trio should be able to help stabilise the backline once they’re fully up to speed. I’m loathe to be overly critical at the moment due to several factors that have been against Katanosaka, inheriting a shambles, the pre-season Covid outbreak, a spate of injuries plus the aforementioned late arrival of two of the big winter signings. Overall things haven’t been great, though they certainly haven’t been terrible either, well up until the last week or so. It feels like the Nerazzurri’s season is balancing on something of a knife-edge at the moment and after the next run of games we’ll get a clearer picture of how things stand. If the men from Suita are going to take decisive steps in the right direction then the home form needs sorted out and that sorting needs to start this Saturday. The blue and blacks have struck first just once in four home outings this year, and did so only 5 times in 19 J1 games at Panasonic Stadium in 2021, that’s a statistic that Katanosaka simply must find a way to alter, and from this writer’s perspective it would be pleasing if Nagoya were the first team to bear the brunt of that change in fortunes. To finish this section on a positive note like I promised above, 8 fixtures have been fulfilled to date in all competitions and the Nerazzurri have found the net in each of them plus Pereira, Onose and Fukuda already have 2 league goals apiece so contributions are coming from different areas of the field, it’s now a matter of starting matches on the front foot, giving themselves a fighting chance of taking the lead (five of the seven goals Gamba have scored in J1 have come in the final 13 minutes plus additional time) and keeping the door bolted shut at the back, it all sounds so easy written down like that, doesn’t it?
Having been pipped to second spot by Gamba in 2020, Grampus finished a whopping 8 places and 22 points better off than the Nerazzurri last term. Just as in 2020, the foundation was set by kantoku Massimo Ficcadenti’s rock-solid catenaccio style defence. Nagoya’s 30 goals conceded was 2nd best in the league, only behind champions Kawasaki while Australian ‘keeper Mitch Langerak set a new divisional record of 21 clean sheets in a season (including an incredible 9 in-a-row in April/May), outdoing his own previous record from 12 months prior (17, albeit that campaign contained 4 fewer games). The Giallorossi also posted the 2nd best xG Against and Shots Against on Target numbers and were 3rd in the Shots Against rankings, on the other hand, and this might go some way to explaining why Massimo Ficcadenti is now their former kantoku, Grampus placed 16th out of 20 in both xG For and Shots For. That brings me on nicely to their new boss Kenta Hasegawa, and although he’s only been in charge for a grand total of 4 J1 and 3 Levain Cup games, there are a couple of small points I’d like to make about him and his new charges. Looking specifically at their league fixtures to date, a pretty tough run of games vs Kobe, Tosu, Kawasaki and Kashiwa, impressively they’ve outshot 3 of their 4 opponents so far and have also cleared 120km team distance covered in all but one outing (Kawasaki were the only team they didn’t achieve this against, while Gamba’s 118.9km versus Frontale at home is their current personal best). Conversely, Grampus are yet to enjoy the lion’s share of possession in any match, though the 48% recorded in the clash with Kashiwa just before the international break is their highest figure, so things may be starting to point in the right direction. Just as in the Gamba vs Fukuoka clash, the stats above suggest we are likely to see the Nerazzurri control possession and territory, and with my blue and black tinted sunglasses firmly secured, I hope this doesn’t once again lead to the type of counter attacking opportunities that allowed Avispa to bank their 2nd and 3rd goals and indeed provided the majority of Grampus’ chances in the head to head games between these two last season. In my previous preview I talked about Fukuoka being due a change in luck after having results that didn’t quite match their impressive stats, well check this out…in 2021 Nagoya scored 5 times in 2 games against Gamba from only 1.76xG For and 19 shots (12 on target). Put simply, almost 50% of their shots on target resulted in goals, a tally which stood at 100% for the 3-1 win at Panasonic Stadium in November, 3 shots on target, 3 goals, you can’t do much better than that, but minus their star Polish attacker is that run due to come to a shuddering halt?
Head to Head
Gamba’s 2021 nightmare can be traced back to March 3rd when, what would have been their second league match of the season versus Grampus at Toyota Stadium was postponed due to a Covid outbreak in the squad. The rescheduled fixture, played on Thursday 22 April was one to forget for the men from Suita with Nagoya running out comfortable 2-0 victors. Goals either side of half-time from Ryogo Yamasaki and the impressive Yuki Soma were enough to see off a rather toothless visiting side as the Brazilian duo of Patric and Leandro Pereira didn’t really click in attack while having Onose and Fukuda as full-backs left Gamba’s defence exposed to the twin threats of Mateus and Soma down the flanks.
The return match came in round 36 and was the Ao to Kuro’s first outing since making themselves mathematically safe from relegation in their tightly fought 3-2 triumph at Oita a fortnight previously. Co-kantokus Masanobu Matsunami and Takashi Kiyama let the handbrake off just a touch, but it was enough to allow a clinical Nagoya to race into an unassailable lead thanks to a 3 goal barrage within the opening half hour. Polish hitman Jakub Świerczok was destroyer-in-chief, bagging a deadly double from two lethal finishes, and ex-Cerezo legend Yoichiro Kakitani also getting on the scoresheet, how he must have revelled in that experience. Gamba rallied strongly after the break with Patric giving them a glimmer of hope in the 53rd minute and, hot on the heels of his hat-trick in Kyushu 13 days prior, he should have bagged a brace here, but after having the ball in the net for a second time the referee ruled it out for reasons that still remain unclear and VAR failed to overturn the original decision, so it finished 3-1 Grampus (with VAR also not being used to rescind his red-card following his ‘scuffle’ with Yuma Suzuki in round 1 could the Brazilian be considered a runner up to Shonan’s Takuya Okamoto in the J1 VAR’s most disliked player rankings?)
* System of a Down – To quote Tim Canterbury from the Office “I’m boring myself talking about it,” but unfortunately the ever changing Gamba formation requires another mention here. Listeners to last week’s marathon J-Talk Pod will be aware that I was able to guess Hajime Moriyasu’s starting eleven for the crunch game with Australia perfectly despite only putting in minimum effort to research my answer. However, with Gamba, even seasoned observers have no real idea of what formation will be served up on any given matchday. I thought Katanosaka’s appointment would put an end to 2021’s chicanery, but it appears not. Maybe with Kwon Kyung-won and Dawhan arriving as the final pieces of the puzzle, Katanosaka will settle on 3-4-2-1 as he did at Oita, however, that remains to be seen. I challenge anyone reading this to name a successful side that regularly switch(ed) between a back 3 and back 4, in fact this observation formed the bulk of my criticism of Vissel Kobe across the 2019 and 2020 seasons, and lo-and-behold, once they started playing with a back 4 week-in week-out their defensive performance improved markedly. Perhaps Katanosaka would be well advised to sit down for a chat with his former mentor Kenta Hasegawa after Saturday’s match or even get on the blower to another of his previous bosses, Hajime Moriyasu, for some words of wisdom.
* Higuchi Heartbreak – 4 Kashima goals last Saturday, 4 Yuta Higuchi assists, if any Gamba fans were in doubt over what we missed out on then those illusions were shattered at the Kashima Soccer Stadium. In all honesty with the trajectory Antlers and Gamba are headed in, it appears that Higuchi made the right choice career wise, even if the antics of Kashima’s Kento Misao in the lead up to Patric’s early opener served as a reminder of why they make so few friends outside the confines of Ibaraki.
* Player Focus 1 Jun Ichimori – Two injury blighted years after his arrival from Fagiano Okayama, Ichimori, yet another member of the Kwansei Gakuin Old Boys brigade at Gamba, finally made his first team debut in the Levain Cup tie with Kashima, and unfortunately it was largely a debut to forget. The Nerazzurri conceded 4 goals in the space of 38 second half minutes, 3 of them from corners and Ichimori appeared to be at least partially culpable for a couple of them. After failing to cover himself in glory on his comeback, I’d expect nominal 3rd choice Kei Ishikawa to keep his place on Saturday, however, Ichimori is better with the ball at his feet, has 120 games of J2 football under his belt with Yamaguchi and Okayama (Ishikawa, who’s only 1 year younger than Ichimori had made a mere 4 league appearances above J3 level prior to this season) and in the only real head-to-head comparison I have, turning out as over-age players for the now defunct Gamba U23, Ichimori looked by far the more competent of the two, so let’s describe this situation as being fluid for now.
Player Focus 2 Dawhan – His first appearance in a blue and black uniform may have come in rather inconspicuous circumstances, playing the final 10 minutes of the 4-1 drubbing at Kashima, but Gamba supporters will be hoping that was just the opening chapter in what will ultimately be a long and fruitful partnership. With 55 games to his name in Brazil’s Serie A, most latterly with Juventude, Dawhan describes his playing style as being similar to Paulinho (the former Spurs and Barcelona one, not the Matsumoto Yamaga midfielder…I hope) and Felipe Melo and says his strengths are his defensive prowess and also his heading (despite standing at 177cm). It seems that he’s a like-for-like replacement for Ideguchi and I, for one, can’t wait to see him in the engine room with Mitsuki Saito on a regular basis.
Thankfully I don’t have a whole lot to say in this section for once. Talisman Takashi Usami (achilles) is expected to miss the rest of the season while regular first choice keeper Masaaki Higashiguchi has also gone under the knife, having relatively minor knee surgery and he’s expected back by the end of May if everything proceeds smoothly. Kwon Kyung-won may sit this one out after being away on international duty with his country and I have no information as to why Wellington Silva has been out of the matchday squad in recent weeks, it’s presumed that he’s picked up a knock of some sort.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Grampus have been round the houses in terms of management in recent seasons with the ultra-defensive Massimo Ficcadenti replacing the extremely attack-minded Yahiro Kazama towards the back end of 2019 as the Giallorossi flirted dangerously with a 2nd relegation in the space of 4 years. The Italian achieved excellent on-field results, 3rd and 5th in 2020 and 2021 respectively, however, his style of play was certainly not easy on the eye, though quite how entitled J.League fans are to demand exciting and successful football at the same time is a debate for another day. Kenta Hasegawa is something of a halfway house in that he gets results from a slightly more offensive setup than Ficcadenti, but don’t expect Nagoya to earn many plaudits for playing in an overly beautiful or dynamic way under his tutelage. Early on this season we’ve seen signs of greater openness at the back with Shinnosuke Nakatani and Mitch Langerak being stretched to their absolute limits in the Reysol match. In attack, the absence of Świerczok appears to have led to an over-reliance on wingers Soma and, in particular, Mateus and this has been exacerbated by the bedding in issues experienced by both Keiya Sento and Noriyoshi Sakai since their winter arrivals from Tosu. Hasegawa will not be the only Gamba treble winner in the Grampus ranks on Saturday with Hiroyuki Abe (ex-Kwansei Gakuin just like Ichimori, Takao, Yamamoto and Yamami) surely licking his lips at the prospect of following in the footsteps of Shun Nagasawa, Kotaro Omori and Tatsuya Tanaka in scoring against his former side this season. Indeed, I think Akihiro Ienaga is the only Old Boy who’s failed to hit the target against the Nerazzurri in 2022, though, in his defence he had a very positive influence in the attacking third during his brief second-half cameo in the recent Gamba vs Kawasaki match.
One thing that has interested me about Grampus over the past few years is the composition of their squad. Nagoya is the 4th biggest city in Japan and Aichi the country’s 4th largest prefecture, yet despite having a large pool of potential recruits slap-bang on their doorstep there is a distinct absence of youth graduates in the first team with full-back Shumpei Naruse and central defender Haruya Fujii the only ex-Nagoya U-18 players to earn league minutes in 2021 (Ryotaro Ishida was an unused sub). They also don’t tend to deal much with universities, Yuki Soma was the only player directly recruited from varsity football (Waseda University) to feature in J1 last term (Shunto Kodama was an unused replacement) and that is a trend that has continued into 2022 under Hasegawa. Rookie Hidemasa Koda has made a handful of sub appearances on the wing, Fujii has rotated with Tiago in Yuichi Maruyama’s extended leave of absence and Naruse appears to have dropped down the pecking order, but aside from that, there’s not a whole lot to report. For reference the 2022 Nagoya Grampus squad is made up of 30 players, 16 of whom were recruited from other J1 clubs, 4 from J2, 2 from overseas sides, 1 (Soma) from university and 7 from the youth team (of whom 3, Koda, Haruki Yoshida and Koki Toyoda were promoted last winter). Bringing in already developed J1 talents isn’t cheap and I’m curious about Grampus’ current financial situation. In the wake of Jô’s acrimonious departure there was essentially an 18 month gap before he was adequately replaced (by Świerczok who himself is now banned), suggesting that the club may have been awaiting the CAS’s decision on that matter before parting with more cash, and as Świerczok is now out of the picture indefinitely, will Hasegawa have to make do with what he has? Nagoya did announce the loan signing of versatile midfielder Takuya Uchida from Hasegawa’s previous charges FC Tokyo on Monday and he joined up with his new team-mates for training on Tuesday (29 March). It’s not an eye-catching acquisition by any stretch of the imagination, however, the Giallorossi still retain the backbone of the strong 2020 and 2021 sides and will deservedly start Saturday’s tie as favourites.
Covid seems to be the biggest concern for Grampus at the moment with 2 positive cases reported in the camp (1 on Monday 28/3, and 1 on Tuesday 29/3). Elsewhere Polish centre-forward Jakub Świerczok is still missing after being suspended due to a PED violation. In more positive news, long term casualty Yuichi Maruyama made his comeback in an Elite League game last Sunday while regular left-back Yutaka Yoshida was out of the squad completely for the 1-1 draw with Kashiwa then rode the pine for the Levain Cup win over Tokushima so is presumably good to go for Saturday. I hope Shinnosuke Nakatani did a good job organising the cones on the Samurai Blue training pitch as he certainly didn’t get anywhere near the starting eleven meaning he should slot back into his regular position here while Hidemasa Koda and Shumpei Naruse both featured in Japan U21’s impressive Dubai Cup campaign, but like Nakatani I’d imagine they will be ready to play against Gamba if called upon by Hasegawa.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.