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Gamba Osaka vs Nagoya Grampus 23/09/2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Nagoya Grampus
J1 2020 Round 18
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Wednesday 23 September 19:00 (JST)


We’re officially into the second half of the 2020 campaign after squeezing in 16 rounds in under 3 months! If this season’s schedule is taking a heavy toll on you, don’t worry you’re not alone. Hopefully this preview can give you all the information you need ahead of this battle between two of J1’s perennial heavyweights.

The Lowdown

The current J1 standings show Nagoya in 4th spot after taking 30 points from 16 matches, Gamba are 5 places and 4 points worse off than their visitors, but crucially both sides have a number of games in hand over most of their rivals so are in with a real shout of securing ACL football next year. Grampus’ impressive form under the previously much-maligned Italian Massimo Ficcadenti has been one of the surprises of the year and Gamba’s 2-2 draw in Aichi in round 3 looks better and better with each passing week.

After announcing themselves as creditable contenders with a 1-0 win over runaway leaders Kawasaki back on August 23rd (to date they are still the only team to beat Frontale this year), Nagoya have suffered a dip in form with 2 wins, 1 draw and 2 defeats in their next 5 league matches as well as being dumped out of the Levain Cup, 3-0 at the hands of FC Tokyo. They’ve picked up a respectable 14 points on the road this year, just 3 shy of Gamba’s total with both sides having played 8 away games. With that said though, their only road win at top half opposition was on their last trip to Osaka when they upset Cerezo 2-0 at Nagai Stadium a mere 4 days after their 2-2 draw at home to Gamba.

Gamba will be desperate to put their home woes behind them having now lost 4 in a row on their own turf. As I seem to say every week on this blog, getting the first goal will be crucial, Gamba are unbeaten in 2020 when they’ve led at any time in a game. However, Nagoya are one of only two teams to have come from behind to earn a point against Gamba this year, Kashima being the other.

With this being a three matchday week, rotation is to be expect, although these two sides have perhaps switched things up less than many other teams. It’ll be interesting to see if Grampus’ summer signing from Gamba, Oh Jae-suk makes an appearance, while the popular Hiroyuki Abe will surely get a pleasant reception if he takes the field. The two goal-scorers for Nagoya in the 2-2 draw back in July, Mateus and Gabriel Xavier should again pose the greatest threat to Gamba’s rearguard, though both Naoki Maeda and Mu Kanazaki must be kept an eye on too. Gamba supporters would love to see Takashi Usami return to goalscoring form, he’s found the back of the net just once in his last 9 outings. Usami’s good friend Yosuke Ideguchi has been in excellent form in midfield, but I can’t be the only one fretting over his fitness as with Yajima and Ono already out, the loss of the Japan international would be catastrophic for the Nerazzurri.

Head to Head

This is the second clash between these two this season with the first taking place just over two months ago on July 8th at Toyota Stadium. Genta Miura gave Gamba an early lead, but this was quickly cancelled out after strikes from Mateus and Gabriel Xavier, before Kazuma Watanabe earned the men from Suita a share of the spoils with an equaliser in additional time at the end of the game.

As you can see in the table below, Grampus have an excellent recent record in this fixture, winning 3-2 in both of their previous two trips to Suita. We have to go back to 2016, the year Nagoya were relegated to J2, to find Gamba’s last triumph.

I’ve never actually seen a Gamba vs Nagoya game live at the stadium, so my strongest memory is Nagoya’s 1-0 win at Expo 70’ Memorial Stadium back in August 2014 which was the only home defeat Gamba suffered in the second half of that memorable year. Leandro Domingues got the winner late on and since then I’ve always had it in my head that Grampus are a real bogey team for Gamba.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

The big concern for Gamba is captain Genta Miura limping off in the second half of Saturday’s game with Sapporo with what looked like a leg muscle injury. It’s unknown how long he’ll be out for, but at least there is a lot of cover in his position. Yuji Ono (knee) is done for the year and Shinya Yajima (ankle) has missed the past 4 matches, no date has been set for his return. If Gamba continue to use the 4-4-2 formation, we could see Keisuke Kurokawa promoted from the U23s to compete for a slot at left-back while Yuya Fukuda will become a viable option on the left wing or in central midfield. Kantoku Miyamoto has said that we can expect to see Shoji Toyama in the top team at some point this year, but it’ll probably be next month at the earliest.

Nagoya Grampus

Attacking midfielder Aria Jasour Hasegawa is a long term absentee with a broken leg. Right-back Kazuya Miyahara should be over his bout of COVID-19, but after being first choice in 2019, he’s been completely out of the picture this time out. Versatile midfielder Ryota Aoki missed the whole of last campaign and briefly returned this year, but has now disappeared from the matchday squad, I can’t find any confirmation of whether he’s injured again or just out of favour.

Predicted Line Ups

I’m going with the assumption that Miyamoto will stick with 4-4-2, especially if, as seems likely, Miura won’t be fit enough to play. Should he opt for 3-5-2 then we should see Takao slot in alongside Shoji and Kim at centre-back, Onose and either Fujiharu, Fukuda or Kurokawa will take up the wing back spots. In central-midfield Yuki Yamamoto will again be the anchor with Ideguchi and Kurata ahead of him and Usami will be partnered in attack by either (in order of likelihood), Ademilson, Watanabe or Patric.


Kantoku Massimo Ficcadenti favours a 4-2-3-1 formation and has shown little desire to rotate his troops any more than necessary. It’s possible that left-back Yutaka Yoshida could switch to the right to accommodate ex-Tokyo man Kosuke Ota on the left. In midfield Sho Inagaki, probably one of the best transfers of winter 2019/20, has been an ever present, but Brazilian Joao Schmidt may partner him instead of Takuji Yonemoto. The attacking midfield roles have decent depth and dangerous former-Gamba title winner Hiroyuki Abe is an option just off Kanazaki while Yuki Soma may be selected on the left-wing, both Mateus and Gabriel Xavier can play on the right if any re-shuffle is required.


Match Prediction

It’s a tough one to call with so many factors up in the air in this unique COVID affected year. Nagoya are always a tough nut for Gamba to crack and it’ll be tougher than ever now that they seem to have pulled their socks up under Ficcadenti. Don’t be surprised to see Grampus leave Suita with all 3 points, but I’ll be positive and opt for a competitive 1-1 draw.


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Nagoya Grampus Match Preview 8 July 2020

Nagoya Grampus vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 3
Toyota Stadium
Wednesday 8 July 19:30 (JST)


It’s the first midweek round of J1 2020 as Gamba make the short trip east to Aichi to face old nemesis Nagoya Grampus. Hopefully this preview gives you all the information you’re looking for ahead of this clash between two of Japan’s traditional heavyweights.

Last Time Out

Gamba succumbed to a tame 2-1 home loss in the Osaka derby against Cerezo last Saturday. The Cherry Blossoms had the better of the first 45 minutes and eventually took the lead in the 2nd minute of additional time at the end of the half as Hiroaki Okuno turned in left-back Yusuke Maruhashi’s cut back. Shooting towards the traditional home end at Panasonic Stadium, Gamba started the second period brighter, but they were stunned by Maruhashi’s thunderbolt from well outside the box and from there it was always going to be a tough ask to take anything from the game. Yasuki Kimoto’s deliberate handball gave the Nerrazzuri a glimmer of hope as it allowed a cool Ademilson to pull one goal back from the penalty spot. However, after that the game rather petered out and Gamba can’t really have any complaints about taking nothing from the clash.

Gamba Osaka 1-2 Cerezo Osaka
4 July 2020

Nagoya were also involved in a 2-1 away win, though in their case they were the beneficiaries, coming from behind to down Shimizu S-Pulse in wet and windy conditions in Shizuoka. An error in midfield by Brazilian Joao Schmidt was seized upon by Yusuke Goto, he then teed up right winger Shota Kaneko whose well executed shot gave S-Pulse an early lead. Grampus, however, were in front by half-time, Joao Schmidt brought out a wonderful double save from debutant ‘keeper Togo Umeda before Yuki Soma fired home from close range to level things up. Eight minutes later, a powerful run down the right by Naoki Maeda resulted in a cross that Brazilian centre-back Valdo turned into his own net. There were no further goals in the second half, though Nagoya did see young right-back Shumpei Naruse stretchered off with a leg injury and then winger Yuki Soma ruined his impressive display in the final minute of additional time by picking up a second yellow card.

Shimizu S-Pulse 1-2 Nagoya Grampus
4 July 2020

Recent History

These two have played each other four times in the league since Nagoya returned to J1 in 2018, the men from Aichi have won three of these clashes 3-2 with the other match ending in a 2-2 draw. It should also be noted that Gamba and Grampus have faced off in the early rounds in each of the past two campaigns (both at Panasonic Stadium), round 1 in 2018 where strikes from the Brazilian trio of Gabriel Xavier, Rocha and Jo saw Nagoya get their return to J1 off to a flier by cancelling out efforts by Yasuhito Endo and Shun Nagasawa, and in round 3 of 2019 where a late own goal by Hiroki Fujiharu saw the men in red eventually take the three points after being pegged back twice.

In games played at Toyota Stadium, Tsuneyasu Miyamoto tasted defeat for the first time as Gamba head-coach in the third match of his reign back in August 2018. A dramatic encounter started with Gamba racing into a two-goal lead thanks to an Ademilson penalty and a Jungo Fujimoto effort, but they were denied thanks to a brilliant 23 minute second-half hat-trick by Jo. Last year saw Gamba take their first point off Grampus since the latter returned from a one year sabbatical in J2, Takashi Usami netted his first goal in his third spell in Suita in the 91st minute after Naoki Maeda and Kazuya Miyahara had erased the damage done by Ademilson’s fine early effort.

Tactical Notes

Defensively Nagoya are set up exactly the same way as Cerezo with a flat back four being protected by two holding midfielders. In attack things are slightly different with three attacking midfielders supporting a lone striker. One key point is that the front four of Nagoya this season has been made up exclusively of players who’ve spent the bulk of their playing careers as wide midfielders. Loan returnees Mateus and Yuki Soma have lined up on the right and left-flanks respectively, though they can switch when necessary while Naoki Maeda has played as a centre-forward supported by ex-Gamba winger Hiroyuki Abe.

The majority of Grampus’ dangerous chances against S-Pulse were created from the wings, both of their goals were the result of crosses from the right and I’ve marked down Brazilian speedster Mateus as the man Gamba really must stop on Wednesday night. Gamba were vulnerable up the middle and against the counter attack against Cerezo, but I feel they can cope better with Nagoya’s attack if it is concentrated in wide areas. One option for the Toyota men is to bring in the tall Ryogo Yamasaki to see if he can cause the same types of problems for the Gamba rearguard that Ken Tokura did last week, though in reality I think we are more likely to see Mu Kanazaki play up top supported by Maeda, Abe and Mateus with Soma suspended.

Gamba’s inability to properly protect their centre-backs was exposed at times by Cerezo last weekend and it’ll be interesting to see what changes, if any, Miyamoto makes for this game. I’m of the mind that it’s the structure of the side rather than the personnel that is holding them back. Playing the more physical Patric ahead of Ademilson could be a tactic that is employed for this one, it’s also possible that Ideguchi and Yamamoto will form a double Volante as they did in the closing minutes of the derby with Shu Kurata playing just ahead of them. Nagoya could be vulnerable at the full-back position so we may see the fit-again Yuya Fukuda, fresh from a cameo against Cerezo U-23 in J3 play down the left side.

Team News

Gamba Osaka
Attacking midfielder Yuji Ono fractured a bone in his face against Cerezo and is out, Gen Shoji is still highly doubtful with a foot / ankle problem while backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori (dislocated shoulder) is due back in September at the earliest. As noted above, Yuya Fukuda is fully fit again and could feature, also with two away games coming up in close succession we may see some more youngsters get a chance, Keisuke Kurokawa got 45 minutes at left wing-back against Cerezo U-23 and Ren Shibamoto (highly touted by me on the J-Talk Pod a few weeks back) seems to have been promoted to the top team. There has been no word on Ryo Shinzato or Oh Jae-suk (linked with a move to FC Seoul), neither of them made the bench against Cerezo while Yasuhito Endo is unlikely to start as a result of the packed schedule.

Nagoya Grampus

The much maligned attacking midfielder Aria Jasuru Hasegawa is a long-term injury for Grampus. Shumpei Naruse hurt his leg last week and it’s unknown how long he’ll be out while fellow right-back Kazuya Miyahara, Nagoya’s first choice for the past 3 seasons hasn’t featured at all in 2020 though I’m not sure if that’s down to injury or Italian coach Massimo Ficcadenti not rating him. Dangerous wide-man Yuki Soma misses out through suspension after his red-card against S-Pulse and versatile midfielder Ryota Aoki is being eased back to full fitness after missing the entire 2019 campaign.

Know Your OpponentNagoya Grampus

GK – #1 Mitch Langerak – 8-times capped Australian stopper who has been Grampus’ first choice since joining from Levante in Spain ahead of the 2018 season. The 193cm giant overcame a bout of asymptomatic COVID-19 to take his place between the sticks against Shimizu last Saturday and put in a commanding display. He’s one of the best in J1 and judging by his appearance on the recent JLeague Interview series, he’s a thoroughly decent bloke too.

RB – #23 Yutaka Yoshida – More normally a left-back, the short but bullish Yoshida may have to play on the right in this game to cover injuries. He was given a torrid afternoon in a 3-0 Gamba win at home to Tosu back in 2018 and the Nerrazzuri may target the former Kofu and Shimizu man on Wednesday.

CB – #4 Shinnosuke Nakatani – Kashiwa Reysol youth product whose reputation has declined a bit owing to playing in a team known for the odd case of shoddy defending since he moved to Nagoya from Chiba in mid-2018. He’s scored once in 53 J1 games for Grampus.

CB – #3 Yuichi Maruyama © – Highly experienced club captain who was brought on board along with Nakatani in Grampus’ mid-2018 spending spree which saw them just avoid an immediate return to J2. The ex-FC Tokyo and twice capped Japanese international should provide a calming influence at the back.

LB – #14 Yosuke Akiyama – After spending the second half of last year loaned out to Jubilo Iwata, Akiyama seems to be back in favour again under Ficcadenti. He replaced the injured Naruse against S-Pulse and didn’t let anyone down in his 16 minutes on the field.

DM – #15 Sho Inagaki – His signing from Sanfrecce Hiroshima last winter may not have gained too many column inches, but getting in a holding midfielder who’d scored 7 times in 57 appearances playing for a much stronger team in the previous two years represents something of a coup for Nagoya. He will provide protection for his centre-backs while also being a danger with his long range efforts when given the chance.

DM – #8 Joao Schmidt – Definitely one of Grampus’ better players during a tough 2019 season, I’m still not sure how much Ficcadenti rates him and wonder if it’s he or Takuji Yonemoto who’ll win out in the battle to partner Inagaki. He had his pocket picked by Shimizu’s Yusuke Goto in the lead up to their solitary goal on Saturday, but atoned for his error by stretching S-Pulse ‘keeper Togo Umeda twice with powerful headers before Yuki Soma’s equaliser. The left-footer was later replaced by Yonemoto on the hour mark.

RW – #16 Mateus – Back in Aichi after a highly successful loan spell at Yokohama F.Marinos last year (why he was loaned out in the first place is another question), the one-time Omiya winger is full of confidence and represents Nagoya’s greatest threat in this clash. His pace is a real asset and it was his cross from the right which eventually led to Grampus’ first goal against S-Pulse

AM – #11 Hiroyuki Abe – Another winter capture, Abe is a three-time J1 winner, of course with Gamba back in 2014 and also with Kawasaki in 2017 and 2018. During his time in Osaka I never felt he was technically as good as his positional rivals Shu Kurata and Kotaro Omori, however, he does have a real knack of finding the back of the net, scoring 39 times in 187 J1 games to date.

LW – #25 Naoki Maeda – I watched him a lot when he played for Yokohama F.Marinos and always thought he offered much more in the way of style over substance. He’s certainly proved me wrong since his mid-2018 move from Matsumoto Yamaga, bagging 16 goals in 49 J1 games. He’s assumed the unfamiliar role of centre-forward due to the departure of Jo, and Kanazaki’s illness, but I’d expect him to revert to his more natural attacking midfield position from now on.

CF – #44 Mu Kanazaki – After leaving cash-strapped Tosu in a loan moved designed to get him off the wage bill back in March, former international Kanazaki found himself hospitalised with COVID-19. He now appears to have made a full recovery as evidenced by his 30 minute appearance in Shizuoka and should provide a decent alternative to Maeda up front.

Other options – Grampus have given us a good idea of who their core starters will be this year with consistent selection in all three matches to date, that said, the 2020 J1 schedule is a gruelling one and we can expect some rotation to take place. Kazuya Miyahara and Kosuke Ota are both options at right-back, though neither has featured at all this year, it’s unclear whether this is due to injury or not. Experienced former FC Tokyo defensive midfielder Takuji Yonemoto started ahead of Joao Schmidt against Kashima and Sendai in February and could come back in for this match. Further forward, mercurial Brazilian Gabriel Xavier doesn’t appear to be flavour of the month with Ficcadenti, but could be a decent bench option while the powerful Ryogo Yamasaki brings a physical presence to the attack, even if his J1 stats don’t quite match his J2 ones.

Predicted Line Ups

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Match Prediction

It’s difficult to know how much player rotation will take place in these early rounds of J1 2020 so I’ll base my prediction on recent history. Gamba have struggled for form early on in previous campaigns and have tended to catch Nagoya at the worst possible time, both teams of course being known for extreme spells of good and bad form. This year’s away game will a close fought encounter which I’m sorry to say I think will see the home side end up as 2-1 winners.

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J1 Recap June 2020

With the JLeague’s return almost upon us, I thought now would be a good time to take a refresher course on what’s been happening at each club over the previous few months.

Back in February I published a 2-part J1 preview, this article is intended to be a companion to that, so I’d like to take this chance to point you in the direction of those 2 previews (my most popular articles to date) if you’re in search of more reading material.

*All clubs are listed in the order they finished the 2019 season.

Yokohama F.Marinos

2019: 1st
Kantoku: Ange Postecoglou (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Marinos averaged exactly 2 goals per game in J1 last year (68 goals in 34 games)

Recap:
Last season’s champions enjoyed a mixed start to 2020, recording impressive wins away to Jeonbuk (2-1) and home to Sydney FC (4-0) in the Asian Champions League. Domestically things weren’t so bright as they lost to Kobe in an infamously bad penalty shoot-out in the Super Cup before being beaten 2-1 on their own patch by Gamba in the first round of J1.

Squad Update:
Former captain Jun Amano (28 years old) has returned from a year-long loan at Belgian side Sporting Lokeren. Amano, with over 100 games already under his belt for Marinos will be re-united with Lokeren team-mate, former Renofa Yamaguchi and Kashiwa Reysol full-back, Ryota Koike, who has joined the champions on a permanent basis. Experienced Avispa Fukuoka centre-back Yuki Saneto has also moved east to Kanagawa to provide cover for the injured Thiago Martins. Youth team forward Takumi Tsukui has been promoted to the top team, while Kokoku High School trio, Shunsuke Hirai (DF), Ryunosuke Kabayama (MF) and Tomoki Tagawa (GK), have been registered on designated special player contracts ahead of full-time moves in 2021.
Despite ‘keeper Park Il-gyu being ruled out for the first 2 months of the re-start, the current squad looks stronger than last year and with no ACL return on the immediate horizon they should be there or thereabouts come the end of season.

Week 1:
vs Gamba Osaka (h) 1-2


FC Tokyo

2019: 2nd
Kantoku: Kenta Hasegawa (3rd year)
Quick Stat: FC Tokyo’s average attendance of 31,540 in 2019 was the highest in the club’s history.

Recap:
Kenta Hasegawa’s men kicked off their year with a 2-0 triumph over Ceres from the Philippines in torrential rain to earn a spot in the Asian Champions League group stage. They backed that up with an impressive 1-1 draw at Ulsan before edging out Perth Glory 1-0 at home. Then, the newly formed Brazilian front trio of Diego Oliveira, Leandro and Adailton all scored late on to inspire them to a 3-1 win at Shimizu S-Pulse in round 1 of J1 2020.

Squad Update:
Korean winger Na Sang-ho’s loan departure for Seongnam FC in his homeland is the biggest piece of transfer news to come out of Ajinomoto Stadium during the break. The highly-touted 23 year-old had struggled to make an impression since his move from Gwangju at the beginning of last season so this wasn’t a major shock.
The other major story to report is that the club have scrapped their J3 Under-23 side citing a lack of available stadia, this meant that their one lockdown signing, 20 year-old Thai midfielder Chayathorn Tapsuvanavon, who joined on loan from Bangkok United at the start of March, returned to Thailand in late June having seen no competitive action.

Week 1:
vs Shimizu S-Pulse (a) 3-1
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Kashima Antlers

2019: 3rd
Kantoku: Zago (new)
Quick Stat: Kashima are the most successful team in J1 history with 8 league titles.

Recap:
After losing in the final of the Emperor’s Cup to Vissel Kobe on January 1st, perennial Japanese giants Kashima then replaced outgoing coach Go Oiwa with Brazilian Zago and made a host of new signings. The bedding in period was not smooth and the men from Ibaraki found themselves surprisingly eliminated in the Asian Champions League qualifiers just 4 weeks later, losing 1-0 at home to Melbourne Victory. They followed this up with 2 more defeats, 1-0 away to Nagoya in the Levain Cup and 3-0 at Sanfrecce Hiroshima in round 1 of J1. 3 games, 3 defeats, 0 goals scored, it was a nightmare start for Zago. Everyone at the Kashima Soccer Stadium will be hoping that the enforced shutdown has given him precious time to get his message across.

Squad Update:
Perhaps unsurprisingly given that 11 of their 31 squad members are new recruits for 2020, there have been no additional signings during the lockdown. The loss of Brazilian marksman Serginho to the Chinese second division (wonder if he’s having any regrets now) was a bitter blow for Kashima and how well his countrymen, Juan Alano (Internacional) and Everaldo (Queretaro, Mexico) settle in will be of utmost importance. Defender Bueno, who I suggested could be a weak link at the back in my February preview, has been loaned to Atletico Mineiro in his homeland.
With an eye on the future, Antlers announced in this month that Meiji University duo, Tomoki Hayakawa (GK) and Keigo Tsunemoto (DF) as well as Osaka Taiiku University defender Naoki Hayashi will join the club from next year.

Week 1:
vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima (a) 0-3
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Kawasaki Frontale

2019: 4th
Kantoku: Toru Oniki (4th year)
Quick Stat: Kawasaki had the best away record in J1 last year, taking 36 points from 17 games.

Recap:
Champions in 2017 and 2018, Kawasaki endured an indifferent 2019, missing out on Asian Champions League qualification, but managing to lift the Levain Cup following a penalty shoot-out win over Sapporo. This year promises to see a changing of the guard with a more youthful looking squad attempting to regain the Kanagawa bragging rights from neighbouring Yokohama F.Marinos. They kicked off 2020 with a bang, thumping S-Pulse 5-1 at Todoroki Stadium in the League Cup, but dropped the baton the following week in their League opener, drawing 0-0 at home to a Sagan Tosu side predicted by many to finish bottom of J1.

Squad Update:
Their only transfer of the lockdown was to sell backup ‘keeper Hiroki Mawatari to Fagiano Okayama, which brings them down to a more respectable 4 senior goalkeepers in their squad, while Kento Tachibanada a midfielder from Toin Yokohama University (my old workplace) was announced as a signing for next season. Elsewhere, the break will presumably have given new university recruits, Zain Issaka (another of the Toin OB network that also includes Miki Yamane), Kaoru Mitoma (Tsukuba), Kaito Kamiya (Tokai Gakuen) and Reo Hatate (Juntendo) time to adjust to life as a pro, Frontale supporters will be hoping these guys will form the backbone of the side for the coming years.

Week 1:
vs Sagan Tosu (h) 0-0
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Cerezo Osaka

2019: 5th
Kantoku: Miguel Angel Lotina (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Cerezo had the best defensive record in J1 in 2019, conceding a mere 25 in 34 games (0.7 per game), they were also tied with Kashima for most clean sheets kept (15).

Recap:
Under the tutelage of wily head-coach Miguel Angel Lotina, Cerezo played an often quite dull but extremely effective brand of football last time out. Built on a rock-solid defence which conceded just 25 goals, they were able to achieve the 6th top 5 finish in their history. All the main protagonists in last season’s defensive masterclass are still in place and they started 2020 in strong fashion, smashing J2 side Matsumoto 4-1 at Nagai Stadium in the League Cup and following that up with a 1-0 opening day League win over Oita Trinita at the same venue.

Squad Update:
Young forward Mizuki Ando’s loan move to Machida Zelvia was their only lockdown transfer activity, he followed another young striker, Hiroto Yamada (Sendai), on the loan trail, the latter leaving in early February. Brazilian midfielder Lucas Mineiro joined on loan from Chapecoense just before the season started to replace his compatriot Souza and made 2 substitute appearances before the COVID-19 enforced break. From the winter recruits, wide-man Tatsuhiro Sakamoto (Montedio Yamagata) and Japan Under-17 star, Jun Nishikawa (Toko Gakuen High School) will have a fair bit of expectation riding on their shoulders when the campaign resumes.

Week 1:
vs Oita Trinita (h) 1-0
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Sanfrecce Hiroshima

2019: 6th
Kantoku: Hiroshi Jofuku (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Sanfrecce scored over 20% of their goals last year in just 2 games vs Vissel Kobe (6-2 home and 4-2 away)

Recap:
After a roller-coaster 2018, Sanfrecce had a much more stable campaign in 2019, finishing a comfortable 6th in J1 as well as progressing from the Asian Champions League group stages before being bettered by Kashima. They had a pretty quiet off-season, but a number of younger talents are emerging, most notably assist-king, Tsukasa Morishima, an exciting attacking-midfielder. Buoyed by the news that plans to build a new stadium in downtown Hiroshima are afoot, Sanfrecce started 2020 in dominant fashion, seeing off J1 new boys Yokohama FC away in the League Cup before dismantling the newly assembled Kashima Antlers 3-0 at Edion Stadium in round 1 of J1. They currently top the standings, albeit after only one game week.

Squad Update:
There are no new transfers to report, although since my original preview was written, Ritsumeikan University midfielder Tomoya Fujii was signed on a pre-contract for 2021 and registered as a designated special player for 2020, he was on the bench for both games so far this year, playing once against Yokohama FC. Extending the loan deals of Brazilian duo Leandro Pereira and Rhayner was probably Hiroshima’s best work last winter, their compatriot, attacking midfielder Ezequiel, also joined on loan from Botafogo, while Yuya Asano (younger brother of Takuma) came in from Mito HollyHock, though the jury is very much still out on whether he’ll bring as much to the team as his elder sibling.

Week 1:
vs Kashima Antlers (h) 3-0
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Gamba Osaka

2019: 7th
Kantoku: Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Yasuhito Endo will become the most experienced player in J1 history the next time he takes to the field. He’s currently tied on 631 appearances with legendary Nagoya ‘keeper Seigo Narazaki.

Recap:
Gamba had a nightmare start to 2019 (as they did the year before), however, owing to a change in strategy – playing with 3 centre-backs, as well a change in philosophy – disbanding the ageing group of heroes from the treble winning 2014 squad and supplementing the new young guns with returning heroes like Ideguchi and Usami, Gamba were able to haul themselves up to an ultimately respectable 7th place. This year started with a 1-0 home reverse to Kashiwa Reysol in the League Cup which was eerily similar to some games from early on in the past 2 campaigns. They were able to make it count when it really mattered this time though, and produced the performance of round 1 of J1 2020, turning over defending champions Yokohama F.Marinos 2-1 at Nissan Stadium, Kurata and Yajima helping themselves to a goal and an assist each.

Squad Update:
Vegalta Sendai backup ‘keeper Lee Yunoh was brought in on loan at the beginning of March to take the place of another loanee, Haruki Saruta (Kashiwa), in the U-23 squad after Saruta suffered a knee injury in training. Meiji University centre-back Yota Sato signed a pre-contract for 2021 and has been registered as a designated special player this year. Additionally, Japanese international centre-back, Gen Shoji, joined on a bumper deal from French side Toulouse last winter, however, due to injury he was unable to play in the 2 games prior to the shutdown. Gamba fans will look forward to seeing him work in tandem with Genta Miura and Kim Young-gwon at the back.

Week 1:
vs Yokohama F.Marinos (a) 2-1
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Vissel Kobe

2019: 8th
Kantoku: Thorsten Fink (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Kobe’s games last season produced a total of 120 goals (3.6 per game), a league high.

Recap:
The Rakuten money finally seemed to pay off for Kobe as they lifted their first ever piece of silverware, the Emperor’s Cup, after a 2-0 win over Kashima at the new National Stadium in Tokyo on New Year’s Day. Like buses, their second trophy came soon after as they saw off J1 Champions Yokohama F.Marinos in the Super Cup in February.
A team which scored plenty and conceded loads gradually became more disciplined under German coach Thorsten Fink in the second half of last year and a more slimline squad started 2020 well. Their first ever Asian Champions League campaign began with a 5-1 trouncing of Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim and continued with a hugely impressive 1-0 win away to Suwon in Korea. In J1 they had to accept a share of the spoils when they met Yokohama FC in round 1 in a game played under bizarre circumstances with supporters allowed into the stadium, but told not to cheer.

Squad Update:
No ins or outs have been recorded during the league’s enforced absence which gives us a chance to look at their business from last winter. Douglas (14 goals, 5 assists for Shimizu in 2019) may be the signing of the close season and his partnership with Furuhashi guarantees goals. At the back, only Shonan and Shimizu conceded more than Kobe’s 59 last time out and to that end centre-backs, Ryuho Kikuchi (Renofa Yamaguchi) and Tetsushi Yamakawa (Tsukuba University) were brought in, though these signings appear to be more for the long term rather than right now.

Week 1:
vs Yokohama FC (h) 1-1
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Oita Trinita

2019: 9th
Kantoku: Tomohiro Katanosaka (5th year)
Quick Stat: Now departed strikers, Noriaki Fujimoto (Kobe) and Ado Onaiwu (YFM) scored over 50% of Oita’s goals last year (18 out of 35)

Recap:
Head coach Katanosaka has masterminded a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the Kyushu side which saw them move up from J3 to J1 in the space of 3 years. Last season they started like a house on fire before inevitably hitting a bit of a slump, but they were still able to finish an excellent 9th with a squad mainly consisting of players from their 2018 J2 promotion campaign as well as sprinkling of veterans from their J3 days.
Oita had a disappointing start to 2020, going down 1-0 away from home in both of their games, at Shonan in the League Cup and Cerezo a week later in the League.

Squad Update:
Their only transfers of note during the lockdown have been the registrations of Fukuoka University midfielder Kenta Inoue and Kanoya Sports College forward Kazuki Fujimoto as designated special players for 2020. Owing to their small budget, Oita have largely had to try and replace departed stars like Ado Onaiwu and Noriaki Fujimoto with players who’ve performed well at lower levels. Retaining attacking-midfielder Kazuki Kozuka and centre-back Tomoki Iwata was a big boost for the club, though how long they can keep hold of them remains to be seen.

Week 1:
vs Cerezo Osaka (a) 0-1
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Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

2019: 10th
Kantoku: Mihailo Petrovic (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Last year was the first time since 2007 that Mihailo Petrovic has coached a team to a bottom half finish in J1.

Recap:
Improving on 2018’s incredible 4th place finish was always going to be a tall order for Sapporo, and so it proved last year, however, 10th was still a decent showing from Mihailo Petrovic’s men. Although at times a little suspect at the back, they did have strong performers throughout the side, Akito Fukumori’s deadly set-pieces earned him 8 assists, while Chanathip continued to lay on goals for his attacking partners, Jay, Musashi Suzuki and Anderson Lopes. They would have considered themselves unfortunate to lose out to Kawasaki in the lottery of a penalty shoot-out in the League Cup final last year, and this defeat preceded a rather poor end to 2019 which saw them lose 4 of their last 6 league games.
Consadole started 2020 by coasting past Sagan Tosu, 3-0 away in the League Cup, but then went down 4-2 to Kashiwa Reysol in Chiba on the opening day of J1, these results suggest there’ll be plenty of goalmouth action at both ends this campaign.

Squad Update:
The big transfer news story to emerge out of Sapporo during the league’s break was that international goalkeeper Gu Sung-yun would return to his homeland to play for Daegu FC ahead of a 2-year stint in the Korean military. Consadole have already secured the services of Hosei University’s 2M tall stopper Kojiro Nakano for 2021, and have him on a designated special player contract for this year, but whether it is he, Thai international Kawin Thamsatchanan (a recent loan arrival from Leuven in Belgium) or the experienced Takanori Sugeno that takes over the starting spot is up for debate.

Week 1:
vs Kashiwa Reysol (a) 2-4
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Vegalta Sendai

2019: 11th
Kantoku: Takashi Kiyama (new)
Quick Stat: New Kashima Antlers full-back Katsuya Nagato provided assists for 26% of Sendai’s goals in 2019.

Recap:
Sendai secured their second consecutive 11th place finish in J1 last year, perhaps even more impressive than the previous campaign due to the fact that it was achieved with what, on paper at least, looked like a weaker squad. Still, that didn’t stop head coach Susumu Watanabe from losing his job, with Yamagata manager Takashi Kiyama coming in for his first stab at J1 level. Despite J1’s leading assist maker Katsuya Nagato departing for Kashima, off season recruitment had inspired confidence. However, that feel-good factor was only short-lived when it was announced that both Isaac Cuenca and Alexandre Guedes had gone down with injuries before the campaign had even begun. Sendai were thrashed 5-2 at Urawa in the League Cup before holding Nagoya to a 1-1 draw in the League. The break in fixtures has allowed their attacking talent to return, though the loss for the next 2 months of captain Simao Mate is a huge blow, and an extended period of playing in front of no spectators may undermine their impressive home record.

Squad Update:
Exciting news for Sendai is the return of former attacker Takuma Nishimura on loan from CSKA Moscow. He hit 11 goals in 24 games before his big money move to Russia in the summer of 2018 and Vegalta fans will be looking forward with relish to the partnership he can form with Cuenca, Guedes and Shuhei Akasaki. Elsewhere defenders, Hisashi Appiah Tawiah (Ryutsu Keizai University) and Takumi Mase (Hannan University) have both been brought in on designated special player contracts ahead of turning pro next year.
In terms of departures, defender Masato Tokida who played against Urawa in the League Cup has left for Matsumoto in a loan deal and as previously mentioned, backup goalie Lee Yunoh has joined Gamba U-23 on loan, he spent 2019 farmed out to Fukushima United.

Week 1:
vs Nagoya Grampus (h) 1-1
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Shimizu S-Pulse

2019: 12th
Kantoku: Peter Cklamovski (new)
Quick Stat: Shimizu had the worst defensive record in J1 last season with 69 goals conceded in total (2.03 per game). They were also one of only two teams to do the double over champions Yokohama F.Marinos (the other was Cerezo Osaka).

Recap:
One of the biggest stories of last winter was Shimizu’s appointment of Ange Postecoglou’s assistant at Yokohama F.Marinos, Peter Cklamovski. An avid disciple of Ange’s, it’ll be interesting to see how he shapes this S-Pulse side in his image. The JLeague’s no-relegation rule will definitely help with his experimentation which is bound to encounter teething problems. Shimizu had the leakiest back line in J1 last season conceding 69 times, including an 8-0 home reverse against Sapporo. This year it took them 2 games to concede 8 goals, being hammered 5-1 at Kawasaki in the League Cup then putting up a better showing at home to FC Tokyo in the League before ultimately going down 3-1.

Squad Update:
Nothing to report on the transfer front during the lockdown, although S-Pulse did hire a new coach and recruit a number of new players in the off-season. Additionally, midfielders, Yasufumi Nishimura (Okayama) and Kota Miyamoto (FC Gifu) have returned from loan spells, while wide-man Hideki Ishige made a welcome comeback from serious injury and now appears to be seen as an option at full-back. Despite the additions of Yusuke Goto (Oita), Teerasil (Muangthong United) and Carlinhos (Sion) it’s still hard to see anyone getting close to matching Douglas’ 14 league goals scored last year.

Week 1:
vs FC Tokyo (h) 1-3
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Nagoya Grampus

2019: 13th
Kantoku: Massimo Ficcadenti (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Nagoya were second only to Sendai in terms of % of total points picked up at home (65% compared with Sendai’s nearly 76%) in 2019.

Recap:
One of the biggest spenders in the league, Nagoya have flattered to deceive since returning to J1 in 2018. They have a team full of highly talented individuals who rarely add up to the sum of their parts. Italian Massimo Ficcadenti was a surprise choice to replace the much more attack minded Yahiro Kazama midway through last year, however, he was able to steer a side which had been in freefall into a relatively safe 13th spot in the standings. Grampus started 2020 unbeaten, seeing off Kashima Antlers 1-0 at home in the League Cup before having the better of a 1-1 draw away at Sendai in round 1 of J1.

Squad Update:
Former Japan international front-man Mu Kanazaki joined on loan from cash-strapped Tosu at the end of March and he will take the place of Jo, who returned to Corinthians in Brazil (in a deal that seems to have more to it than meets the eye) having only found the net 6 times last season, compared to 24 in the previous campaign. Kanazaki, however, was recently struck down with Covid-19 and passed the virus on to Australian goalkeeper Mitch Langerak. Both players have since recovered, however, the fallout was that the rest of the squad had to endure a period of training together using Zoom while their J1 rivals were all working on the training ground.
During the break, young full-back Yukinari Sugawara turned his loan move to Dutch side AZ Alkmaar into a permanent one after impressing in his first year in the Netherlands.

Week 1:
vs Vegalta Sendai (a) 1-1
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Urawa Reds

2019: 14th
Kantoku: Tsuyoshi Otsuki (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Legendary striker Shinzo Koroki has hit double figures in his last 8 league campaigns.

Recap:
Despite reaching the final of the Asian Champions League last season, finishing 14th in J1, their worst performance since 2011 was simply unacceptable for a club of this size. Thing surely must get better, a lot better, this year if head-coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki wants to remain in his current role. Their was a surprising lack of transfer activity last winter considering the average age and performance of the squad over the previous 12 months, however, Brazilian attacker, Leonardo who joined from Albirex Niigata could well challenge Kobe’s signing of Douglas as the best coup of the transfer window. The former J3 and J2 top scorer introduced himself to the Saitama Stadium supporters with a double on his debut, a 5-2 win at home to Sendai in the League Cup. The defensive frailties that were briefly on show in that game resurfaced a week later in their League opener, a 3-2 victory over a Shonan Bellmare side who are expected to find things tough this year. It looks like Urawa games will be a pretty exciting watch over the coming months.

Squad Update:
The lack of transfer activity from Reds does seem a little surprising viewed from afar, only Ryutsu Keizai midfielder Atsuki Ito has come in on a designated special player contract. However, they may be banking on some of their younger crop of players to develop more over the coming years. Right-sided defender Daiki Hashioka appears to be the pick of the bunch, though left winger Koya Yuroki could also become a key asset if he’s given more game time. Central-midfielder Hidetoshi Takeda joined the club from the cradle of footballing talent that is Aomori Yamada High School last winter, so we can expect good things from him, while Chuo University winger Tomoaki Okubo has again been registered as a designated special player ahead of turning pro with Reds next year. Youth team ‘keeper Zion Suzuki is on a Type-2 amateur contract which allowed him to appear on the bench against both Sendai and Shonan despite still being in high school (he’s already 189cm tall!)

Week 1:
vs Shonan Bellmare (a) 3-2
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Sagan Tosu

2019: 15th
Kantoku: Kim Myung-hwi (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Tosu failed to score in 9 out of their first 10 league games in 2019.

Recap:
If you’re interested enough in Japanese football to read my blog, I’m going to assume you know something about Tosu’s appalling financial situation, so I don’t want to dwell on it too much. The lack of relegation this year would appear to help them more than any other side given that most #jpred2020 entrants had them going down. A very weak squad on paper were humbled 3-0 at home by Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in the League Cup’s first group-stage match this February before gaining a creditable 0-0 draw away to Kawasaki Frontale on the League’s opening day. Much more of that battling spirit will be required in the coming months and years, I feel.

Squad Update:
Mu Kanazaki’s departure on loan to Nagoya may be the first of quite a few in the near future as the club looks to balance it’s books. In terms of arrivals, Chuo University defender Daisuke Matsumoto is in as a designated special player while Tosu U-18 forwards Reoto Kodama and Ryunosuke Sagara as well as defender Shinya Nakano have come in on Type-2 contracts. One intriguing move just before the league started back in February was the acquisition of right-sided Chinese player Wang Jianan from Guangzhou R&F. The current squad has a very youthful feel to it, with midfielders, Fuchi Honda and Daiki Matsuoka (both 19) as well as former Meiji University full-back Ryoya Morishita (23) expected to be key players.

Week 1:
vs Kawasaki Frontale (a) 0-0
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Shonan Bellmare

2019: 16th
Kantoku: Bin Ukishima (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Shonan kept the fewest clean sheets in J1 last year (4).

Recap:
The Cho Kwi-jae power harassment scandal rocked Shonan to the core last summer, sending them into a tail-spin that they were only able to pull out of thanks to a 1-1 draw at home to Tokushima in the play-offs (again the rights and wrongs of that system have been discussed in depth elsewhere so I’ll not go any further into it.) Bin Ukishima, the man who replaced the long serving Cho has been tasked with rebuilding the side and he’s brought in 12 new faces along with 2 players who’ve returned to Bellmare from loan spells. This sort of annual upheaval is not uncommon in these parts and Shonan are likely to be another side who are assisted by the league’s no-relegation rule. Bellmare started 2020 by edging out Oita 1-0 at home in the League Cup, before losing their J1 opener 3-2 to Urawa at the same venue with new Norwegian signing Tarik missing a penalty.

Squad Update:
After a busy winter, Shonan’s lockdown work has been largely focused on the future, 5 youth team players have been registered on Type-2 Contracts, including midfielder Satoshi Tanaka who’ll turn pro next year. Additionally, 20 year-old forward Ryo Nemoto of Kanoya Sports College in Kagoshima and Sho Hiramatsu from Rissho University have joined as a designated special players. The club also announced the capture of midfielder Taiyo Hiraoka from Riseisha High School for 2021, though he hasn’t yet been registered for this campaign. Surprisingly, as far as I can tell, there has still been no announcement from the club regarding the futures of 2 Brazilians, Crislan and Leleu, who were on the books last year, I assume neither will be back, but usually JLeague teams are good at keeping the fans informed about this sort of thing.

Week 1:
vs Urawa Reds (h) 2-3
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Kashiwa Reysol

2019: 1st (J2)
Kantoku: Nelsinho (2nd year – current spell)
Quick Stat: The last time Kashiwa won J2, they went on to lift the J1 title the following year (2011). Current head coch Nelsinho was also in charge back then.

Recap:
Under legendary manager Nelsinho, Kashiwa are back in the top flight following a one-year sojourn in J2. After a few bumps and bruises in the early rounds, Reysol’s class eventually told and they were worthy champions, their season of course ending with that memorable 13-1 rout of Kyoto Sanga. They’ve kept most of last year’s championship winning side intact and added a cast of 2019 J2 all stars, how will they do in J1 this year?
They got 2020 off to the best possible start with a 1-0 win away to Gamba in the rain in February’s League Cup clash, goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu, left-back Taiyo Koga and inevitably the well-known attacking duo of Cristiano and Olunga were all in fine form. That victory was then backed up by a 4-2 triumph in a thrilling match at home to Sapporo in round 1 of J1 with both Esaka and Olunga notching doubles. They have more than enough attacking talent, but for me centre-back and centre-midfield are areas for concern. They’ll certainly be interesting to watch this year.

Squad Update:
Kashiwa’s only lockdown work has been to move youth product Keita Ide to Tochigi SC in what appears to be a full transfer, I say appears as he was only promoted to the top team last winter. There have been no ins during the break, though Reysol did recruit quite heavily in the off-season and have no doubt taken this opportunity to try and bring their ex-J2 players up to speed. I’m particularly excited by versatile 23 year-old midfielder Yuta Kamiya who spent 2019 with Ehime, on-loan from Shonan. Right-back Kengo Kitazume who joined from Yokohama FC looks a solid addition too, and I can see him taking over from Shunki Takahashi before much longer. Two other interesting coups were Hiroto Goya (Nagasaki – on loan from Gamba), who netted 22 goals in 36 J2 games last year and former youth team product Hayato Nakama (Okayama) who struck an impressive 15 times in 40 J2 matches from left midfield in 2019. These 2 undoubtedly possess the ability, but can they unseat one of the top dogs such as, Olunga, Cristiano, Esaka or Segawa, to nail down a starting berth?

Week 1:
vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo (h) 4-2
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Yokohama FC

2019: 2nd (J2)
Kantoku: Takahiro Shimotaira (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Kazuyoshi Miura made his JLeague debut on 15 May 1993, over 8 years before team-mate Koki Saito was born.

Recap:
Hear the name Yokohama FC and you probably instantly think of their famous veterans, Kazuyoshi ‘King Kazu’ Miura and Shunsuke Nakamura, then probably to a lesser extent, guys like Leandro Domingues, Ibba Laajab, Daisuke Matsui and Masahiko Inoha. However, bubbling under the surface are some of the hottest young talents in Japanese football, attacking trio, Koki Saito (18), Katsuhiro Nakayama (23) and Yusuke Matsuo (22) combined for 18 goals and 11 assists last season to help Yokohama FC achieve only the second season of top flight football in their history. Things will be tough for sure for this squad of ageing stars and up-and-comers, they started things off with a tame 2-0 loss at home to a wily Sanfrecce side in the League Cup, before holding Kobe to a respectable 1-1 draw in the League opener in Hyogo. Tatsuki Seko, another young gun who was recruited in the off-season from Meiji University netted Yokohama’s goal on his senior debut, he’s also one to look out for this year.

Squad Update:
A couple of pieces of transfer news to report from Yokohama during the lockdown, Hosei University defender Yuya Takagi was registered as a designated special player, he’ll turn pro when he’s finished with his studies next year. Full-back Yuta Fujii also made a permanent move to J2 outfit Avispa Fukuoka, he made a mere 5 appearances for Yokohama FC in 2019. Finally, a quick shout out to a name I didn’t mention above, left-back Takaaki Shichi (5 goals and 4 assists in 39 games for Mito HollyHock last year), his signing may have largely flown under the radar, but in my books it looks like a very shrewd move.

Week 1:
vs Vissel Kobe (a) 1-1
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