2023 Season Kick-off Event sees squad named, new Hummel kit revealed

Welcome to the final installment of this little mini-series analysing all of Gamba’s moves during the 2022-23 off-season. Monday 9 January is Coming of Age Day here in Japan which means a national holiday, and this year from 18:00 (JST) we were able to witness Gamba’s 2023 season kick-off event, complete with the new kit unveiling and of course the squad announcement. We’re still awaiting official word on what’s happening with Israeli international midfielder Neta Lavi, though my understanding is that it’s essentially a done deal with the haggling being over when he actually leaves his current side Maccabi Haifa (the story does seem to be changing every 5 minutes, so take this with a pinch of salt). Anyway, regardless of whether the Nerazzurri enter the new campaign with or without Lavi, you can read my comments on the current state of the squad below, as well transfer updates and a little bit of good natured ribbing of our Kansai rivals. I hope you enjoy all of that, thanks for your support throughout this fanzine-esque series of posts. You’ll be able to catch me in various guises in the build up to the J1 season and after that, well, I’m not sure, I’m still trying to figure out the path I want the blog to take. If you’ve got any ideas, I’d love to hear them!

The New Kit

The first ever Hummel Gamba Osaka uniforms.

My initial reaction was, it’s too conservative and not as nice as some of the concept kits I’d seen created by fans on Twitter, plus it was a bit too similar to the 2022 edition (this is the home uniform I’m talking about). On further reflection, it’s an absolutely beauty regardless of what you make of the ‘interesting’ placement of a QR code on it. Further tidbits include the fact that from 2023 Gamba are allowing the use of given names on the back of the shirts, for example 5 Genta instead of 5 Miura, and they’ve also embraced the new league rule of allowing squad numbers above 50 (I don’t like it, but I’m a grumpy old man with no rationale behind my dislike of it other than I’m a grumpy old man) by assigning the number 99 to returnee ‘keeper Kosei Tani.

The Squad

A couple of key takeaways from Monday’s big kick-off event (some of this is relying on my Japanese so bear with me). First was Takashi Usami moving from number 39 to number 7 with the Scot in me loving the fact I can save some money with him now having one less number on the back of his shirt. Usami revealed he’d asked club legend Yasuhito Endo directly over a dinner of yakiniku (grilled barbecue meat) if it was ok to inherit his long held number (Twitter pictures suggest Masaaki Higashiguchi was also present). Endo replied in typical blunt fashion with a simple ‘ii yo’ (no problem) and the deal was done. Secondly, new acquisitions Harumi Minamino (Gamba Youth) and Ryuta Takahashi (Shizuoka Gakuen High School) will spend their debut professional season out on loan at a destination(s) yet to be confirmed (if I were to guess, I’d say FC Osaka or Nara Club in J3). Aside from that, the table below should give you a run down of everything else you need to know at the moment. Finally, if I understood correctly, bigger screens are getting installed at Panasonic Stadium, which is a God-send for people like me who still haven’t learned how to wear a mask and glasses together without the glasses steaming up. Oh, and ‘Be the Heat, Be the Heart’ will again be the club slogan in 2023, thus we’ve managed to successfully use English and haven’t embarrassed ourselves with any accidental eroticism.

When asked about what formation he favours, new kantoku Dani Poyatos (looking resplendent in a suit) said something along the lines of, I work the formation around the players I have available. I’m going on the assumption that he’ll opt for 4-3-3, though 4-2-3-1 is also possible. Higashiguchi vs Tani will be an epic battle for the starting spot between the sticks and it wouldn’t massively shock me if Jun Ichimori ended up at Kobe to do battle with Daiya Maekawa should Vissel’s pursuit of Brazilian ‘keeper Hugo Souza hit the rocks. In defence, Handa will likely take Takao’s starting spot and Egawa provides good cover at left centre-back and left-back, Yanagisawa, Fukuoka, Sato and Fujiharu are all probably going to be gone within the next 12 months, I’d wager. Midfield is already stacked and should Lavi or Ideguchi arrive then there will be way too much talent on board for those 3 spots. Bear in mind that the Nerazzurri used a midfield 3 for much of 2020 and the likes of Kurata, Fukuda, Ishige, Nakamura, Yamami, Usami and Juan Alano could all, in theory, take one of the more attacking roles with 2 of Dawhan, Rihito Yamamoto, Yuki Yamamoto, Kohei Okuno, Neta Lavi and Yosuke Ideguchi along side them and it’s easy to see why I’m predicting several midfield departures over the coming months. In attack, I’m slightly concerned about centre forward depth given Sakamoto and Minamino are both out on loan, though I believe they’re on training type deals which means they can be recalled anytime. The same can’t be said for the wide forward positions which are brimming with talent. I’m especially excited about seeing Naohiro Sugiyama (a strong contender for name and number on my away top) in the blue and black, his set-piece deliveries should be a real weapon for the Ao to Kuro in 2023.

Gamba News

In: Riku Handa – On Sunday 8 January Gamba finally announced the capture of Montedio Yamagata’s 21 year-old right-back Riku Handa. Hailing from Yamagata and working his way up through Montedio’s youth set-up before making his top-team debut at the tender age of just 17, Handa went on to bag 3 goals and 9 assists from a grand total of 92 J2 appearances during his time in his home prefecture. His roving runs and general attacking prowess are considered to be his strong points, though it should be noted his best stats in 2022 were, 96 blocks made, which saw him rank 8th in J2 and 93 completed tackles (10th in the division), so he’s a bit of an all rounder it seems, even able to operate as a wide central defender in a back 3, if required. Gamba aren’t the only ones who’ve been impressed by Handa’s abilities as he’s been involved with the Samurai Blue set-up at every level from Under-15 to Under-21 and is a genuine candidate to go to the Paris Olympics in 2024 and potentially even to rival Miki Yamane and Nanasei Iino for a spot in the 2026 World Cup squad, but I’ll be the first to admit I’m getting way, way ahead of myself here. The bottom line is, this is an extremely exciting signing from a Gamba perspective as, in addition to the summer capture of Rihito Yamamoto (who seems to be on good terms with Handa), it shows that the Nerazzurri are not content with just developing players in their own youth system plus picking up some rough diamonds from Kansai based universities, they are now aggressively pursuing J2 talents they see becoming future national team stars. The poor league showings across the past few years have meant the Ao to Kuro simply aren’t in a position to compete with other J1 sides for the services of more established names, and sadly the list of those who’ve turned Gamba down in recent years is embarrassingly long (Eduardo, Higuchi, Nara, Yamagishi…and that’s just off the top of my head). Current right-back incumbent Ryu Takao may have good reason to fear this signing, but for everyone else involved with the Nerazzurri, it’s something to celebrate.

Out (Permanent Deal): Ju Se-jong – The South Korean international has turned his loan move to Daejeon Hana Citizen in his homeland into a permanent one after helping them gain promotion to K League 1 for the 2023 season. The playmaker, who famously dispossessed Manuel Neuer to set up Son Heung-min’s goal in the Taeguk Warriors memorable 2-0 triumph over Germany at the 2018 World Cup, endured a disappointing 18 months in Suita prior to his return home last summer. Brought in at the request of then boss Tsuneyasu Miyamoto prior to the 2021 campaign, Covid and the departure of Miyamoto early in the year put paid to what had been a promising opening chapter to his career in a blue and black jersey and he ended up starting just 14 J1 contests throughout his stint with Gamba. Hopefully lessons have been learned from all sides as to why this partnership didn’t bear fruit, and despite only spending a short time at Panasonic Stadium, I wish Ju Se-jong all the best for the remaining years of his career.

Hyogo based football team seeking genuine rivalry – Less than 24 hours after the news Vissel had signed Cerezo winger Jean Patric (yes, he of last minute Osaka Derby Golazo only to follow it up with half a season of shots threatening corner flags and spectators behind the goal in equal measure) despite him having 2 years to run on his contract with the Cherry Blossoms, the Ushi announced that they’d snapped up former Gamba youth product Shuhei Kawasaki on loan from Portuguese outfit Portimonense. Kawasaki was dynamite for Gamba U-23 in J3 alongside fellow members of O Tridente, Shoji Toyama and Dai Tsukamoto, throughout the 2019 and 2020 campaigns. He then made it to the Nerazzurri top team where his progress stalled, save for a hat-trick in an 8-1 rout of a dismal Tampines Rovers side in the ACL which rather went to his and his agent’s heads, I feel. Following 18 months largely spent with Portimonense’s Under-23 side, Kawasaki is now linking up with Vissel. Is the Noevir Stadium the venue, and is Takayuki Yoshida the coach to draw out the talent we all know is there? More to the point, are Kobe trying to antagonise both Osaka sides to such an extent that the Hanshin Derby becomes a real thing and not just a couple of meaningless words thrown together on blogs like this?

**In case this passes over anyone’s head, the above is largely meant to be tongue-in-cheek humour.**

Shuhei Kawasaki doing a ‘Hero Interview’ following his MVP performance vs SC Sagamihara in 2019.


2023 Gamba squad starting to take shape

Happy New Year everyone, all the best for 2023!

This is intended to be the penultimate entry in this pre-season series, with the final article being published after Gamba’s 2023 kick-off event which will take place on Monday 9 January at 18:00 (JST) and will be streamed live on the club’s official YouTube channel.

Once again I’d hoped to bring news of Riku Handa’s move from Montedio Yamagata, however, despite confirmation in the normally reliable Sports Hochi, there has still not been any official word from Gamba. Elsewhere, it seems that the Nerazzurri and Maccabi Haifa have yet to agree on a fee for Neta Lavi who scored quite the Golazo for his Israeli side in midweek. I’m sure we’ll get decisive answers to those pursuits and more in the coming days and hours. Below are the deals that have gone through in recent days, you can read my take on them and then I’ll be in touch next week. Thanks again for your support.

Gamba News

Out: Mitsuki Saito – The first piece of transfer news announced by Gamba in 2023 was the disappointing, though not particularly surprising departure of midfielder Mitsuki Saito. The diminutive ball-winning maestro spent last year on loan at the Nerazzurri from Shonan Bellmare and now moves a little further west to Hyogo where he’ll link up with Vissel Kobe. Saito proved to be a popular figure on and off the pitch in Suita thanks to his wholehearted performances and no-nonsense style of play. In total he scored twice and also bagged 2 assists in 26 J1 outings and he’ll likely be best remembered for providing a wonderful finish to a great team move as the Ao to Kuro opened the scoring in breathtaking fashion at home to Urawa last July. His next destination certainly isn’t one that many among the Gamba support would have chosen, however, after giving his all, and then some, to help keep the Nerazzurri in J1, it’s only right to say, thanks a lot Mitsuki and all the best for the future, you’re welcome back at Gamba anytime!

Saito on debut for Gamba at home to Kawasaki Frontale.

That goal against Reds.

In: Issam Jebali – Thursday 5 January marked the first day back at work for many Japanese people following on from the New Year holiday and Gamba supporters were given a welcome treat at 17:00 (JST) with the official announcement that Tunisian forward Issam Jebali had signed. The powerful attacker played in all 3 of his country’s matches at the recent FIFA World Cup in Qatar and possesses an international record of 13 caps and 2 goals, with both strikes coming on Japanese soil, against Chile at Noevir Stadium, Kobe and versus the Samurai Blue at Panasonic Stadium Suita no less. Having turned 31 on Christmas Day, it’s fair to say Jebali is no spring chicken, though that clearly didn’t deter Gamba and several outlets in Europe and Tunisia have reported that he’s inked a 3-year deal with the Nerazzurri believed to have paid Danish side OB somewhere in the region of €1 million to take him off their hands. Since leaving his homeland in 2015, Jebali, who is known to be a strong presser as well as someone who links up well with his fellow attackers, has played in Sweden, Norway, Saudi Arabia and Denmark. While his form during his time in Sweden and Denmark was generally excellent, he did have questionable short spells in Norway and Saudi Arabia in 2018 and 2019. The fact that Matthew Benham’s original Moneyball masters, FC Midtjylland, were credited with an interest in Jebali certainly fills me with confidence that the 186cm tall hitman who had 4 goals and 3 assists to his name from 13 Danish Superliga appearances in the 2022-23 season, will prove to be a worthy addition to the Ao to Kuro’s ranks. Seeing Gamba targeting players from countries such as Israel and Tunisia rather than going down the usual route of Brazilians and South Koreans is refreshing to say the least and Jebali will become the first African born player to pull on the blue and black shirt since Patrick Mboma in 1998. If he can become half as popular as his Cameroonian predecessor then kantoku Dani Poyatos and his charges will definitely be on to a winner.

Permanent Deal: Dawhan – A few hours prior to the big Jebali announcement, those of a blue and black persuasion received more welcome news in the shape of influential midfielder Dawhan converting his loan deal into a permanent move. I’m no expert on Brazilian football and would appreciate if someone could fill me in as to why Dawhan was contracted to SC Santa Rita, a team that my English language research suggests have been inactive since 2019, yet he has subsequently been loaned out to Brazilian Serie A outfit Juventude and then Gamba. Though, then again, an outsider looking at Japanese football would struggle to comprehend a number of the transfers that take place in the J. League during each window. Anyway, Dawhan quickly established himself as a fans’ favourite at Panasonic Stadium, as evidenced by the number of supporters who bought summer Expo jerseys with his name and number set on the back. Overall, he netted 3 times from 27 J1 appearances in his debut campaign for the Nerazzurri with his first effort, the equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Kyoto Sanga, winning J1 goal of the month for April. I’m happy to have him back on board for 2023 and I’m sure many of my fellow Gamba brethren are too.

Dawhan preparing for home bouts with Sapporo (left) and Kobe (right)

Dawhan (centre) ready to do battle with Shimizu S-Pulse in the 2022 Expo fixture. His number 23 uniform was a big hit with the fans.

And finally…former Gamba forward Akihiro Sato has hung up his boots after finishing his career where it started, at Tokushima Vortis. Sato turned out for the Nerazzurri between 2012 and 2014, bagging 11 goals in his debut campaign, though it wasn’t enough to stop the Ao to Kuro dropping down to J2 for the first time in their history. Owing to a serious knee injury picked up in the fall of 2012, Sato only returned at the end of the 2013 season where a late goal in the home rout of Roasso Kumamoto showed he still had his predatory instincts. He’ll perhaps be most fondly remembered by the Gamba faithful for his decisive opener in the round 32 victory away at Urawa Reds in 2014 that paved the way for the Nerazzurri to go on and win the J1 title that year. Enjoy your retirement Akihiro, and I wish you the best success with whatever the future holds for you.

Thanks again for reading and I’ll see you all again soon!


Comings and Goings: The build up to 2023

This blog entry comes to you a day later than I’d hoped with less than 36 hours of 2022 remaining at the time of publication in Japan. I’ve been busy lately and so have Gamba which is why things have been pushed back a touch. According to trustworthy sources, Tunisian forward Issam Jebali and Montedio Yamagata right-back Riku Handa should be unveiled at Panasonic Stadium within the coming days, heck we might even get a New Year’s Day surprise like we did last year with Dawhan and Kwon Kyung-won. Talks with Israeli international Neta Lavi seem to be progressing smoothly (touch wood), while we are still awaiting confirmation on Dawhan signing a permanent contract and whether or not Mitsuki Saito will join Vissel Kobe. I’m sure there will be announcements galore in the coming week or so as the Ao to Kuro finalise their squad for 2023. Below is an in-depth look at the players confirmed to have come and gone from Panasonic Stadium during the past week plus a summary of other important events in the Gamba-verse over the same time period. As always, I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labour.

Latest News

In: Yusei Egawa – V-Varen Nagasaki centre-back / sometime left-back Yusei Egawa has put pen to paper on a contract with the Nerazzurri in a deal that was announced on the afternoon of Wednesday 28 December here in Japan. Officially standing 175 cm, though he did claim to be 179cm in a video on Nagasaki’s official Instagram page (was this the truth or a cunning dating strategy?), the 22 year-old is Nagasaki born-and-bred and a product of V-Varen’s emerging youth system. His build-up play, heading and leadership abilities rank among his strong points and while he initially projects as Kwon Kyung-won’s backup, his versatility is likely to see him crack the starting 11 sooner or later. Boasting 3 goals and 4 assists in 79 J2 appearances for Nagasaki, Egawa would have got a taster of Dani Poyatos’ footballing philosophy when facing off against his Tokushima Vortis side on 2 occasions in 2022 and it’s a real fillip for Gamba to be able to attract a young player of his obvious talents to the club. If you want to read more about him and fellow winter recruit Naohiro Sugiyama, please check out my Scouting J2 2022 article here.

In: Kosei Tani – Just a couple of hours after the Egawa signing was made public, Nerazzurri supporters got more good news in the shape of the announcement that Kosei Tani would be returning from a 3-year loan spell at Shonan Bellmare. While stationed in southern Kanagawa between 2020 to 2022, Tani went from a relatively unknown Gamba youth product who’d impressed for the club’s U-23 side in J3 to an established J1 level starter who also represented his country at the 2020 (2021) Tokyo Olympics. Most Japanese football observers would probably agree that Tani had a stronger campaign in 2021 than 2022 and perhaps this is the right time for a change of scenery, though the million dollar question is, who will start versus Kashiwa on the opening day of J1 2023, Higashiguchi or Tani? Until we see what Dani Poyatos wants to do in pre-season, it’s a question with no definitive answer I’m afraid. On one side you could say Masaaki Higashiguchi was THE form goalkeeper in J1 during the second half of this year, but on the other hand one might argue, what’s the point of Gamba re-patriating Tani if they’re not going to play him. Either way, it’s set to be a fascinating battle for the gloves at Panasonic Stadium in the coming weeks and months.

Out: Isa Sakamoto – The impressive young forward will spend his second year as a pro out on loan at promotion chasing J2 outfit Fagiano Okayama under the tutelage of former Gamba caretaker boss Takashi Kiyama. Sakamoto scored once in 15 appearances in all competitions in 2022, the clincher in a crucial 2-0 home victory over Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and while those numbers might not sound all that impressive, he certainly passed the eye test and I’ll be watching on with interest to see how he fares at Fagiano in among their throng of loanees which is almost akin to Akiba-era Mito. I’m expecting to hear news in the coming days about Jiro Nakamura heading off to a J2 club on loan too. Harumi Minamino and Ryuta Takahashi will fill Sakamoto and Nakamura’s spots in the squad in 2023 then, barring a massive break out year for either Minamino or Takahashi, roles will be reversed the following season, such is the circle of Japanese footballing life.

If you want more information on Isa Sakamoto, you can read my J1 Rookie Review 2022 here.

Kit Supplier Shuffle – At 12:00PM sharp on Christmas Day, Gamba confirmed one of the worst kept secrets in Japanese football, that they’d be playing in Hummel kits from the 2023 season. Following on from a Twitter teaser on Christmas Eve, many fans had speculated we might get to see next year’s uniforms as a special Christmas present, but alas it was not to be and we’ll likely have to wait until the 2023 campaign kick-off event on 8 January before we can feast our eyes on Hummel’s first Gamba offering.

Gamba Osaka / Umbro commemorative t-shirt displaying every home league top from their twenty year partnership.

Fixture Update – The J. League announced each member club’s 2023 opening home fixture live on their official YouTube channel on Friday 23 December. Gamba will get their J1 campaign underway at Kashiwa Reysol on the weekend of 18/19 February before squaring off against Sagan Tosu at Panasonic Stadium on either 25 or 26 February. Two tough assignments to commence the Poyatos era for sure, but you’ve got to play these kind of games sometime, so why not slap bang at the beginning of the year? The full schedules for J1, J2 and J3 will be released on Friday 20 January, I look forward to perusing them and I’ve no doubt many of you do too.

Action from Gamba versus Kashiwa (left) and Tosu (right) from the 2020 season.

Coaching Reshuffle – Koichiro Yoshimichi, physical coach throughout the entirety of Kenta Hasegawa’s spells with Gamba and FC Tokyo (2013-2021) will step up from being the Nerazzurri’s academy’s conditioning coach, the position he worked in this year, to once again holding the reigns as first-team physical trainer in 2023. Elsewhere, Arata Kodama, who has been an Ao to Kuro top team coach since 2016 has essentially switched jobs with Gamba Junior Youth coach Kazumichi Takagi. Takagi has been in coaching for only 3 years, but brings a wealth of experience from a playing career which spanned 2000 to 2018. During that time, he played for Gamba from 2009-2011 and also won 5 caps for Japan between 2008 and 2009. It’s been speculated that Kodama’s apparent demotion is, in fact, an attempt to attract more Osaka talent into Gamba’s youth setup with 2022’s disastrous Prince Takamado Trophy showing highlighting the painful reality that perhaps right now, Cerezo, Vissel and several local high schools are seen as more attractive options for up-and-coming youngsters than the Nerazzurri.

Thanks again to everyone for reading, commenting on, liking and sharing this blog. This will unequivocally be my final blog post of 2022, it’s been a great year for Blog Gamba and I really appreciate all your support. Happy New Year and all the best for 2023!


Gamba gossip and tidbits while we wait for the main course

I’d hoped to bring you news of Gamba wrapping up deals for up-and-coming defenders, Yusei Egawa (Nagasaki) and Riku Handa (Yamagata) in this post, but it appears those transfers are still at the ‘in the oven’ stage. The club are confirmed to be in negotiations with Tunisian international forward Issam Jebali, and anyone that Moneyball maestros FC Midtjylland are also courting has to have something about them. I’m also expecting news of Kosei Tani’s return, Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto’s loan departures, plus Dawhan and Mitsuki Saito penning permanent contracts with the Ao to Kuro to hit my desk in the coming days. However, I have family commitments from tomorrow, so I’ll go to press with a collection of general stories from the Gamba universe. I hope once again you enjoy the fruits of my labours and please also look forward to an upcoming appearance on the J-Talk Podcast that should be with you in the next few days. Please take care of yourselves and enjoy the remainder of 2022.

2023 KICK OFF EVENT – Gamba will get their season up and running on Monday 9 January (18:00 JST) with their annual launch event where the new signings and hopefully the new uniform (Hummel still tbc) will be unveiled. It’s likely that we’ll be able to hear from Daniel Poyatos for the first time since taking over as Nerazzurri kantoku at the curtain-raiser which will be shown on the club’s official YouTube channel. Additionally, it’s also been revealed that Gamba will head to Okinawa for a two-week training camp between 16 and 31 January prior to the season starting on the weekend of 18/19 February. This will take the place of the usual two separate camps, presumably to cut down on the risk of a Coronavirus outbreak within the squad as they all fly together to and from Okinawa.

RETURN – Gamba announced on 16 December that 21 year old winger Dai Tsukamoto will return to Suita next season following an injury-hit loan spell with J2 outfit Zweigen Kanazawa. Having missed the whole of 2022 with a serious knee injury, it’s believed that Gamba Youth graduate Tsukamoto still has at least a year left on his Nerazzurri contract, making a return to his parent club to complete his rehabilitation inevitable. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him get some minutes in the Levain Cup before heading out on loan again in the summer, possibly back to Kanazawa.

MORE LOANEE UPDATES – Buried in among the avalanche of posts about the J.League format changes from 2024 was the news that Yota Sato would return to Gamba following a half-season loan spell with Vegalta Sendai, while former youth team prodigy Shoji Toyama saw his temporary contract with Mito HollyHock extended for another year. Sato turned out 15 times in J2 for Sendai in 2022, but couldn’t halt their slide down the table which ultimately led to them missing out on the play-offs altogether. His return has drawn a mixed reaction from the Nerazzurri faithful with some pointing out that he may have grown during his spell in Miyagi, while others have suggested he’s not compatible with Poyatos’ brand of football. As with most things in life, we’ll get our answer in good time. Toyama initially struggled to find his feet at Mito, but ended the season with quite a bang, bagging 5 goals in his final 6 appearances of the year, which saw him end up with final stats of 5 strikes in 16 games, a figure which is more impressive if you consider he only started on 5 occasions. HollyHock’s main forward Kosuke Kinoshita (12 goals in 38 outings) recently moved to Kyoto to vie it out with Patric and Kazunari Ichimi for a starting spot, meaning the opportunity now exists in Mito for Toyama to stake his claim for regular football, let’s hope he grabs his chance with both hands.

NATIONAL TEAM CALL-UP – Current Gamba Youth forward and soon-to-be 2023 first-team member Harumi Minamino has been selected in the Japan Under-18 squad for the upcoming Ibaraki Next Generation Cup. Games will be held against Under-20, Under-22 and full adult sides on 22, 24 and 25 December respectively. Good luck to him, and let’s hope he represents Gamba Youth in a similar way to how a certain Ritsu Doan did recently in Qatar.

A BIG SHOUT OUT TO – Rihito Yamamoto, who went back to his hometown of Sagamihara in Kanagawa to visit local sports club FC Bande Plus, where he distributed a number of Gamba goods, spoke highly of life with the Nerazzurri and even found time to have a kick-about with local youngsters. It’s great to see him spreading the gospel behind enemy lines and he’s apparently definitely going to be on-board for the Ao to Kuro’s 2023 campaign.

AND FINALLY – Heartbreak for a number of Gamba supporters as the club announced the wedding of popular full-back, Ko ‘Prince’ Yanagisawa on Sunday 18 December. Honestly, when I saw his picture appear on my Twitter feed, I felt sure the post would be about him joining a J2 side, but upon further inspection it turned out to be far happier news for the former Gifu and Mito defender. All the best to him and his new wife!


Gamba News Update: Sugiyama in, Shoji out…and more

Hello again everyone,

I hope you’ve all been enjoying watching the World Cup, where a number of the traditional big names have flexed their muscles while several of the supporting cast, including Japan, have demonstrated ample potential to become heavyweights in future competitions. However, I’m not here to discuss the ins and outs of Qatar 2022, instead I want to give a bit of a rundown on some of the most recent goings at Panasonic Stadium, home of Gamba Osaka.

Please enjoy the fruits of my labour and I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas / End of Year / Holiday Season (whichever applies to you).

Nerazzurri News

OUT – Physical coach Ryo Yano has left Gamba after spending just a solitary season with the club. Brought in from FC Ryukyu as part of the Katanosaka revolution at the end of 2021, Yano out-lasted his kantoku by 3 months and he should be fondly remembered for his excellent work in reducing the casualty list at Panasonic Stadium to nearly zero in the final weeks of the year. Spaniard Carlos Soriano, who worked under Ricardo Rodríguez and Dani Poyatos at Tokushima, following a spell with Júbilo Iwata, has recently vacated his post at Vortis and is expected to rock up in Suita shortly to take over Yano’s position .

IN – On 7 December, impressive Roasso Kumamoto winger Naohiro Sugiyama became the Nerazzurri’s 3rd winter signing, following on from Harumi Minamino’s promotion from the youth setup and Ryuta Takahashi’s switch from Shizuoka Gakuen High School. Able to play on either wing as well as in the number 10 role, Fukuoka-born Sugiyama carried himself with a certain verve and swagger at times during Roasso’s miraculous run to 4th in J2 and a place in the playoff final, In Scotland we may refer to him as being ‘gallus,’ and Nerazzurri supporters will be hoping to see him deliver on a regular basis once he gets up to speed with life in Kansai. The former Ozu High School and Juntendo University star bagged 9 goals and 4 assists during his solitary campaign at J2 level and finished 2022 with 162 dribbles (2nd best in the division), 99 shots (also 2nd), 138 crosses (4th), 35 shots on target (6th), 66 chances created (7th) and 81 through balls (11th). That’s quite the repertoire and hopefully he can live up to the hype in Dani Poyatos’ new system.

OUT – Former Japan international Gen Shoji has returned to his old side Kashima following a 3 year spell with Gamba during which time he made 71 J1 appearances. A big character on and off the field, Shoji was a popular figure among supporters despite issues with injuries, form and managerial changes meaning that they never really got to see the best of him in a blue and black jersey. He’ll certainly be missed for the respect he commanded from referees, and Gamba, a side that have been far too easy for officials to give soft decisions against in recent years, will certainly need to find a Gary Neville-esque figure or two to fill that particular void. However, watching Japan vs Spain at an ungodly hour, I was struck by the Spanish centre-backs’ (Torres and Rodri) performances, where they were essentially auxiliary holding midfielders who combined with the midfield anchor, Busquets, to build La Roja’s many attacks. This is the essence of what Poyatos will seek to do in Suita, and Shoji, never the greatest passer in the world, doesn’t really fit into that kind of system (Kwon Kyung-won, on the other hand, looked pretty handy when he got game time against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, CR7 might not be the force he once was, but don’t tell me he wouldn’t have topped the J1 scoring charts this year). Therefore, with Shoji being such a big part of the squad, as well as one of the highest earners (rumoured to be on around ¥100 million per year), when a decent sized offer came in (somewhere in the region of ¥230 million, I’m led to believe – just under £1.4 million), I’m not quite going to say accepting it was a no-brainer, but I think it was the right move to make. A bit like in the book Moneyball where Billy Beane trades certain players so his head coach Art Howe must use the new guys he’s brought in, removing Patric and Shoji from the Gamba dressing room, no matter how painful in the short term, may be a necessary growing pain.

NEW CLUB – Patric has found fresh employment in the suburban Kyoto town of Kameoka where he’ll join up with Cho Kwi-jae’s Kyoto Sanga. It’s probably a good move for all concerned, even if the 35 year old’s 5 league goals in 2022 is just over half what the man he’s replacing, Peter Utaka, managed. Prior to last season kicking off, I stated on the J-Talk Podcast that Sanga would be ‘up the creak without a paddle’ if Utaka stopped scoring, and lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened in the second half of the year. Another Gamba OB, Kazunari Ichimi, has been brought in from Tokushima to try and assist Patric in steering the Royals to safety (the impressive Taiki Hirato too), and while I’m on the topic of Ichimi, it’s worth digressing to mention that he was a grade above Naohiro Sugiyama at Ozu High School in Kumamoto (Ao to Kuro full-back Ko Yanagisawa was 2 years ahead of Sugiyama at Juntendo University too, so he already has a ready-made senpai waiting for him in Suita).

GAMBA YOUTH RELEGATION – Long known for producing excellent young talent year after year, Gamba Youth’s relegation from the Prince Takamado Premier League West Division has come as quite the shock to all concerned. A draw away to Nagoya on the final day left them rock bottom of the standings and they must now compete in the Kansai League in 2023. Many fans have since questioned the almost exclusive hiring of club old boys in the coaching department (I’m reminded of Jennifer Taylor-Clarke berating David Brent in the UK office, ‘this is just one big boys club, isn’t it?’), which also seems to have extended to recruiting a rather high number of sons of former players too. Former top-team kantoku Hiroshi Matsuda was apparently offered a role in the youth setup, but opted to move to Tegevajaro Miyazaki instead. Personally, I’m hoping to see big changes in the way Gamba Youth is run, and I look forward to seeing them quickly bounce back into the top flight at the first time of asking.

Well, that’s all for now, thanks again for reading and hopefully I’ll be able to bring you some more in-depth Gamba news before the new season gets underway in February.


Gamba appoint Daniel Poyatos as new boss…plus general news roundup

Gamba announced on the afternoon of 23 November that Tokushima Vortis kantoku Daniel Poyatos would be taking over as Nerazzurri boss for the 2023 season in tandem with his assistant Marcel Sans. The Spaniard becomes only the third foreigner to hold the reigns in Suita in the past 2 decades and moves north-east from Shikoku following a mixed 2 year spell with Vortis. As this is something of a left-field appointment, I thought the best way to tackle it would be to, first lay out why Gamba have gone for this type of coach, before secondly assessing the pros and cons of Poyatos himself.

Why this type of coach?

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I largely put the failure of the Katanosaka era down to, in no particular order, differences of opinion between players and management regarding game strategy, injuries, Covid (plus the decision to carry out the 2022 pre-season training camp in Okinawa), mediocre recruitment, and rank bad luck with VAR. Although, admittedly, things were far more nuanced than boiling it down to just those factors suggests, they do provide a potted guide to the main issues. Hiroshi Matsuda came on-board as a firefighter in August and led the Nerazzurri to 4 wins and 15 points from his 10 games in charge which was good enough to haul the Ao to Kuro outside the drop-zone by a solitary point in the final shake-up. Seven clean sheets and just one goal conceded from open play in the last 6 fixtures of the year illustrate the no-nonsense, backs to the wall, defensive 442 system operated by the veteran coach. It sure as hell wasn’t pretty, but it was effective, meaning for Matsuda, he accomplished the mission he was tasked with, and thus can now happily ride off into the sunset. Though, search no further than Kenta Hasegawa and his Nagoya side, who earned few plaudits on the way to finishing 8th playing a dull, uninspiring brand of football, to see how this game-plan would be received at Panasonic Stadium over the course of a whole season. By way of contrast, let’s look at Shonan as an example, and in doing so I’m in no way trying to have a dig at them. After finishing 12th in the 2022 standings with their low block, counter attacking system that restricts opportunities for both themselves and opposition, there is absolutely no pressure on Satoshi Yamaguchi to change his modus operandi for next season as the Seasiders will be cock-a-hoop with a best J1 finish this side of the millennium. Gamba, on the other hand, with one of the biggest support bases in Japan and 11 top 4 finishes in the last 20 years, know that on the back of 13th and 15th place showings in the past 2 campaigns, results and performances need to improve, and they need to improve markedly. Promising youngsters such as Hiroto Yamami, Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto sitting in the stand throughout the Matsuda era was tolerated on the basis that it was a short-term fix designed to keep Gamba in J1 before a full rebuilding job could be undertaken in the winter. A coach comfortable with promoting youngsters into a team that play an attractive brand of winning football is what the Nerazzurri supporters and front-office crave, which leads me to the second part of my analysis.

Why Daniel Poyatos?

A very good question as I’ll be honest even before his appointment by Gamba, I’d long considered how I should evaluate him as a coach. He was apparently hand-picked by Ricardo Rodríguez to be his successor at Tokushima Vortis ahead of only their second ever season in Japan’s top flight in 2021. However, Covid-related visa issues delayed his arrival into Japan. It didn’t really seem to affect his side though as they started the year in decent fashion, picking up 14 points from their opening 10 outings. Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last as a defensive hiccup or three, injuries, and limited resources saw them wind-up in a relegation scrap. A 4-2 home defeat to Sanfrecce Hiroshima on the final day sealed their fate, though if I was to be fair to Poyatos and Vortis, realistically, going into round 38 with a genuine shot at staying up was probably a reasonable achievement on their part. Being the only of the four relegated sides to come anywhere close to surviving in the top flight, Tokushima were raided to a far greater extend than Oita, Sendai and Yokohama FC, and they saw; Naoto Kamifukumoto (Kyoto), Takeru Kishimoto (Shimizu), Shota Fukuoka (Gamba), Joel Chima Fujita (Marinos), Ken Iwao (Urawa), Tokuma Suzuki (Cerezo), Yuki Kakita and Taisei Miyashiro (both Tosu) all leave. Poyatos was left with an epic rebuilding job on his hands, and it was a task which wasn’t helped one iota by their involvement in the Levain Cup group stage. They drew ire from many observers for the record number of draws they accrued en-route to their ultimate 8th place finish in J2, and the inability to kill opponents off is definitely a stick with which to beat Poyatos. In his defence, and like with Shonan, I mean no offence to Tokushima here, despite Gamba finishing a poor 15th in J1 last term, the resources they have on and off the field simply dwarf those on the table in Naruto. For my money, Spanish ‘keeper José Aurelio Suárez and centre-forward Shota Fujio are the only Vortis players a J1 outfit, with top half ambitions, should be targeting. Goalkeeper is literally the last position where the Nerazzurri require an upgrade, while Fujio is on loan from Cerezo, so I don’t see either of them following their coaches to Gamba. A job, like the one on offer at Panasonic Stadium, was clearly a major motivating factor in Poyatos moving to Japan in the first place and while it’s true his Tokushima sides haven’t exactly lit the world on fire in an attacking sense, either in 2021’s 4-2-3-1 system or this year’s possession heavy 4-3-3 set-up, he’s never been able to field a lineup with the likes of Yuki Yamamoto, Takashi Usami and Juan Alano in it, so perhaps we should give him the time he deserves to prove himself with greater resources at his disposal in Suita (look at the uptick in his compatriot Albert Puig’s results after moving from Niigata to FC Tokyo). His 10+ years of youth team work with Espanyol and Real Madrid is not to be scoffed at and if (and it’s a big IF) the Gamba front office arm him with the weapons he needs, ball playing defenders (look at Shoji and Miura’s performances under Katanosaka versus those under Matsuda, are they really who you want in a Poyatos system?), midfielders capable of moving up and down the pitch in unison, plus a forward who’ll knock in double digit goal tallies on a yearly basis, then it could be the start of something special at Panasonic Stadium. Of course, that’s all very rose tinted, and if I’m brutally honest, I see this appointment going one of two ways, a roaring success with Poyatos a candidate for coach of the year next term, or for a 3rd time in the last 3 years, the Nerazzurri will be looking for an Allardyce-esque firefighter to come in and save the day mid-season. Which way will it turn out? We’ll get our answer in due course.

News Roundup

Since the conclusion of the 2022 J1 season, Gamba have announced the departures of 6 first-team players, with some names more surprising than others. They are; Taichi Kato, Kosuke Onose, Ren Shibamoto, Wellington Silva, Patric and Leandro Pereira. Additionally head coach Yoshitaka Yasuda, Tomohiro Katanosaka’s right-hand man who he brought along with him from Oita, has also left the club.

I’ve prepared a few short sentences on each of the players who’ve left below.

GK Taichi Kato – Brought in on loan from Ehime FC in March 2021 to cover an injury crisis and subsequently turned that deal into a permanent one last winter. Played once in J1 in addition to two appearances in both the Levain and Emperor’s Cups this season. Was only ever going to be backup at this level and hopefully he sees more game time wherever he ends up, in J2 or in J3.

MF Kosuke Onose – Possibly the biggest shock out of all the departures. The versatile Onose spent 4 ½ years in Suita and after starting off with a bang in his first eighteen months, his performance levels steadily dropped after that. A bright opening to 2022 was curtailed by concussion, Covid and appendicitis issues, so it’s a real shame for such a loyal servant and, judging by the reactions of his team-mates to this news, a genuine good guy, to have his final outing in a blue and black uniform marred by an appalling miss against Júbilo. Dwelling on his outstanding effort away to Urawa in his debut J1 campaign would make for a much more fitting farewell.

MF Ren Shibamoto – Gamba U-23’s record appearance maker with 105 outings between 2017 and 2020, Shibamoto, more recently, endured two difficult years out on loan, firstly at SC Sagamihara in J2 last season and more latterly at J3 surprise packages Fujieda MYFC. He was relegated in 2021 and promoted this term, but in truth, the deep-lying playmaker who I compared with Andrea Pirlo and Yasuhito Endo in the past (we all get it wrong sometimes), failed to make an impact in either Kanagawa or Shizuoka. His slight frame appears to be the main issue holding him back and like Gamba Youth predecessor Mizuki Ichimaru, despite being highly touted in his teens, unfortunately Shibamoto may spend the majority of his 20s in semi-professional football.

MF Wellington Silva – Things just didn’t click for Wellington Silva at Gamba. By the time he’d managed to get into the country in 2021, the man who wanted him, Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, had one foot out the door and whenever he seemed to find some form, he’d get injured or produce some stupid shenanigans such as those seen away to Marinos at the end of last season. He didn’t make a start in the league this term and although he netted his first J1 goal at home to Vissel Kobe in Golden Week, he was never able to build on that, leading to an off-season release being the inevitable conclusion to his time with the Nerazzurri.

FW Patric – The hardest departure to stomach for me on a personal level. The big Brazilian and the Nerazzurri go way back. Although always a tad ungainly and not as prolific as he once was, as a member of the 2014 treble-winning side and the club’s top scorer for the past 3 years, as well as being a shining example of a foreign signing really adapting to Japanese life and embracing the culture, I’m sure Patric will be remembered in North Osaka for decades to come. His age (35), and the club’s desire to move away from long ball football are likely the main factors behind his release.

FW Leandro Pereira – I did a bit of a number on him in my preview of the Kashima Antlers game in round 34 and suffice to say I’m not a huge fan. Like Silva above, Pereira was brought in to play in a Miyamoto system that barely saw the light of day due to the club’s Covid outbreak early in 2021 and when the dust settled he only mustered 9 goals in 47 J1 outings across 2 seasons despite reportedly being the Nerazzurri’s highest earner. I saw an Urawa fan on Twitter mocking Gamba for getting rid of the 3 top scorers from last season, Patric (5), Pereira (4) and Onose (3), and while I’m sure this is all hilarious for supporters of rival teams, one good, well thought-out signing is all it takes to replace those 3 contributions in 2023.

The New Arrivals – As previously reported in this blog, youth team forward Harumi Minamino and Shizuoka Gakuen fantasista Ryuta Takahashi have already signed up for next season, while Hosei University left wing-back Ibuki Konno and versatile left-footed Kwansei Gakuin starlet Rin Mito have also committed and will join once they conclude their studies the following year. Haruta Yamaguchi, son of Gamba legend and current Shonan kantoku Satoshi has been training with the first team recently and could be set to become a rare example of a Gamba Youth defender earning his top team stripes. He’s still a high school second grader, so it’s 2024 at the earliest in terms of him turning pro. The transfer silly season has been in full swing on Twitter and Riku Handa, Montedio Yamagata’s prodigiously talented right-back, Shimizu centre-forward Thiago Santana, J1’s top scorer in 2022, and maybe Naohiro Sugiyama of Kumamoto (who you can read about more in my Scouting J2 2022 article), are the only rumoured targets whose potential moves I give any credence to at the moment (also, if you’re going to bash Gamba on Twitter about trying to steal your players, please don’t rely solely on posts from an account with no profile picture and a user name consisting of random letters and numbers). Needless to say, there will be a ton of competition for Handa, Santana and Sugiyama, and Gamba’s performances over the past couple of years don’t really stand them in good stead to be successful in their pursuit of any of that particular trio (perhaps targeting Takeru Kishimoto and Yuki Kakita, players who did well under Poyatos in 2021 may be a better strategy, but who am I to say.)

Harumi Minamino (front) and Haruta Yamaguchi (behind)

And finally…A largely second-string Gamba ended their season with a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over touring German side Eintracht Frankfurt at Panasonic Stadium on 19 November (Miura, Alano and Usami were injured, while Kwon Kyung-won, Rihito Yamamoto and Isa Sakamoto were away on international duty). Tuta gave the visitors the lead at the interval, but a Hiroto Yamami penalty, followed by a Yuki Yamamoto thunderbolt (careful Yuki, don’t go alerting those European scouts now) in the last 10 minutes gave the Nerazzurri the win. The match was perhaps more significant for, first of all, the banner displayed by ultras behind the Curva Nord goal which chastised the club’s front office over the side’s poor performances across the past 2 years (a rough translation (with help from my Japanese friend) ‘Front Office, is it only the players who will take responsibility for the poor performances in recent years?’), and secondly, departed players Kosuke Onose and Taichi Kato taking to the field after the match to say goodbye to the supporters one last time. Onose’s lap of honour and message to the fans was particularly moving. Apparently the release took him by surprise and he’s now aiming to join another team in J1 with Shonan appearing to be in pole position at the moment. Good luck in the future Kosuke and Taichi!

Thanks for reading this little bonus article, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you all again sometime.


Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka 5 November 2022 Match Preview

Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 34
Saturday 5 November 2022
Kashima Soccer Stadium
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)

The 2022 J1 season finishes just the way it started for both Kashima and Gamba with a clash against one another. This will be the fifth meeting of the two this calendar year and Antlers currently boast a perfect record of played 4, won 4. The Stags can still mathematically end up 3rd on the ladder after doing Gamba a massive favour in seeing off Shimuzu at the Nihondaira last weekend, their first win in the league since mid-August. The Nerazzurri meanwhile also defeated Shizuoka-based opponents last Saturday, relegating troubled Júbilo Iwata after a 2-0 home victory which came courtesy of second-half strikes from substitutes Ryotaro Meshino and Patric. All in all, the round 33 results went as well as could realistically have been expected from a Gamba perspective, though they are by no means out of the woods yet. Victory at the Kashima Soccer Stadium for the first time since 2016 secures J1 football for 2023, anything less leaves them anxiously looking over their shoulders hoping for Kyoto and S-Pulse to slip up. So, there you have it, the final week of the season promises to be dramatic at both ends of the table, which one of these two traditional heavyweights will have their hand raised in victory at the end of this titanic tussle?

Tale of the Tape

Last Saturday saw the first home win of the Matsuda-era and the first at Panasonic Stadium since another 2-0, against Sanfrecce Hiroshima, way back on 29 June. The interceding run of 7 games saw 3 draws and 4 defeats with the late, late points ceded to Cerezo, Urawa and Kyoto really hurting the Nerazzurri right now. Gamba are W4D2L3 under Matsuda, giving them an average of 1.56 points per game which, if projected over the course of a whole season, would see them currently tied with Saturday’s opponents Kashima and prefectural rivals Cerezo on 51 (I know, I know, it’s only been just under a 1/3 of a season and many opposition teams have been in cruise control, but it’s a stat that deserves to be commended nonetheless). The win over Júbilo was the Ao to Kuro’s 2nd 2-0 victory on the spin and also their 2nd time in a row recording an xG for total of over 1. It’s worth noting that at the other end there’s only been 1 sub xG against figure during the Matsuda-era (at Nagoya) while 3 matches have seen opponents record tallies over 2. Despite this, the Nerazzurri have kept 6 clean sheets in Matsuda’s 9 games in charge and are presently on a run of only conceding 1 goal from open play in their last 5 outings, with that coming in the hugely controversial VAR-inspired shambles at Kobe, so make of that what you will. In Matsuda’s case (and more on this later in the ‘Gamba Osaka’ section), is it better to be a lucky manager than a good one (think about Yasuhito Endo’s miss early in the second half on Saturday if you require further food for thought)?

Takashi Usami’s return has certainly sparked Gamba’s attack in recent weeks in conjunction with Yuki Yamamoto coming back from injury and the inspired acquisition of Juan Alano in the summer. Brazilian volante Dawhan had fallen away after a bright start to his Nerazzurri career, but he has been a colossus in the past 2 games, completing 44 of 55 passes attempted against Júbilo, including 1 last pass, while central-midfield partner Yamamoto made 42 of 58 with 2 last passes that brought him 1 assist (Meshino’s opener). At the other end, ‘guardian deity’ Masaaki Higashiguchi wasn’t nearly as busy as in the previous 2 games, and was actually almost the architect of the Nerazzurri’s downfall with an uncharacteristic first-half error that he redeemed in typical fashion. He made 5 saves in total, including decent blocks from Kenyu Sugimoto and Shota Kaneko late on to preserve Gamba’s 2 goal advantage. As I near the end of this section I just want to dwell on that phrase ‘2 goal advantage.’ Meshino and Patric both struck within the space of 7 second-half minutes to put the Ao to Kuro on easy street and crush Jubilo’s spirit, however, they were unable to double their lead against Urawa, Kyoto and Cerezo and paid a dear, dear price for that. They simply can’t afford to let a side as steely as Kashima off the hook, and they know it. To that end, we’ll likely see a return to the game-plan that worked to a tee against Marinos, a fully fit Patric should be restored to the starting eleven and fellow goal-scorer last Saturday, Ryotaro Meshino, could take the place of Kosuke Onose whose first-half miss versus Iwata has to be seen to be believed while his performance as a whole was underwhelming to say the least. Gamba are yet to win 3 in-a-row in 2022, on the back of 2 vastly different 2-0 triumphs, can they do it when it matters most this Saturday?

Kashima raced out of the blocks this year, picking up 9 wins and 29 points from their opening 13 league fixtures which had myself and many others putting them on a pedestal alongside title challengers Marinos and Frontale. Subsequently their form has taken something of a nose-dive and they’ve tasted victory on just 4 occasions in a little under 6 months since those halcyon early season days. A rather shocking, from their point of view, 12 failures to record an xG for total over 1 in their most recent 20 outings in the wake of Ayase Ueda’s departure for Europe has damaged their ACL aspirations badly, though thanks to others’ inconsistencies over the course of the season, they still enter the final matchday in 5th, trailing 3rd placed Hiroshima by 3 points and Cerezo in 4th by only goal difference. The most telling stat I could dig up about Antlers is that their xG difference per 90 minutes has dropped by a whopping 0.67 since 2021 (from +0.57 to -0.10). They’ve managed to avoid the worst effects that such a collapse could precipitate by out-performing their attacking xG number by 9.05 goals this term, while at the back xG against and actual goals conceded were relatively consistent. Though it seems like they’ve been out of form for ages, and a cursory glance through results and statistical performances show that to indeed have been the case, some decent showings from several of their attackers have helped them keep their heads not just above water, but swimming in the general direction of the ACL spots. Forever controversial, and also highly effective, Yuma Suzuki has marked his return to Japanese football with 7 goals and 9 assists in J1 while under-utilised Brazilian Arthur Caike (who I’d love to see follow Juan Alano on the trail from Ibaraki to Suita) has bagged 9 goals and 3 assists to relieve some of the burden of Ueda’s mid-season departure and Everaldo’s ongoing struggle to recapture his 2020 form. Further back, the one who got away (from a Gamba perspective), Yuta Higuchi sits on 2 goals and a career-high 8 assists for the year, and as if to rub salt into the Nerazzurri’s gaping wounds, provided 4 assists in one game during a Levain Cup group stage tie between Antlers and the Ao to Kuro. Former defensive stalwart Daiki Iwamasa is the current incumbent of the hottest of hot seats at the Kashima Soccer Stadium and though the Stags are generally thought of as a 4-4-1-1 / 4-4-2 side, he has experimented at times this campaign. I fancy him to stick with the 4-3-3 that was successful at S-Pulse last week and allows the holy trinity of Kento Misao, Diego Pituca and Yuta Higuchi to form a formidable midfield trio, something that hasn’t happened nearly enough in 2022 in this writer’s humble opinion.

First Match Recap

All hell broke loose when these two met at a rainy Panasonic Stadium back in round 1. Still reeling from their pre-season Covid outbreak, Gamba’s backline had a makeshift feel to it and Ayase Ueda made them pay in the 20th minute, racing onto a through ball and burying his shot past Nerazzurri 3rd choice ‘keeper Kei Ishikawa. The visitors’ lead lasted a mere 6 minutes before they failed to properly deal with a corner and Kosuke Onose fired in a fine half-volley. However, Antlers were back in front on the half-hour mark with Yuma Suzuki punishing slack Gamba passing in their own defensive third. It would not be Suzuki’s last significant contribution of the afternoon though, as less than 10 minutes later he and Patric clashed while contesting a loose ball and Kashima’s number 40 fell to the ground clutching his face. The referee immediately brandished a red-card and despite replays clearly showing Patric and Suzuki were both worthy of yellow cards, and a red was certainly not warranted in the Brazilian’s case, a technicality in VAR (which needs to be ironed out before the 2023 season kicks off) meant that the Nerazzurri had to play out the rest of the match down to 10 men. Shots rained in from the Stags in the wake of that hugely controversial decision and the woodwork was struck on several occasions while Ishikawa acquitted himself well in trying circumstances and the Ao to Kuro even briefly threatened an equaliser through Usami and Kurata. It was simply not Gamba’s afternoon and lovely Kashima passing and movement led up to Ayase Ueda’s clincher midway through the second half. It appeared back then in February as if Ryotaro Araki was set to continue where he left off in 2021, unfortunately it was not to be for the youngster. On the day, it certainly was to be for his Antlers side though as they ran out 3-1 winners and, social media scrutiny of Suzuki’s shenanigans not withstanding, got their campaign off to the perfect start.

Gamba Osaka

Mood in the camp – It’s certainly lighter than it’s been in recent weeks, but there’s a strong sense that any kind of slip up in what is an extremely tough final day fixture at Kashima could see the house of cards come crashing down. Gamba have transformed from a team that finished top 4 in J1 10 times between 2002 and 2016 to a side that, from 2017 onwards, has spent a considerable amount of time each year being amongst the worst performers in the league (2020 excluded). It’s been said on plenty of occasions about a team like Shonan, or in the past Niigata, Kofu or Omiya, you can only get away with circling the bowl for so long, one of these times you’re going to get swept away with the tide. I’ll be honest, since the 2-0 home loss to Shimizu in August, I’ve been convinced this year was going to end in relegation, I hope to be proven wrong come 4pm on Saturday afternoon.

Managerial matters – As I discussed above, Hiroshi Matsuda has generally achieved the required results in trying circumstances and the table below highlights the 3 key tenets of his reign, namely, a 442 formation, consistent player selection and an increase in yellow cards (that Alano-inspired shithousery I mentioned last week). However, with all of that said, I see him as more of a Sam Allardyce-esque firefighter than the forward-thinking kantoku the club needs to move them out of the bottom third of J1. I certainly wouldn’t like to ditch Matsuda altogether and surely we can find a spot for him either in the front office or in the youth department (Gamba Youth got tanked 9-1 by their Júbilo counterparts last weekend and look set to be relegated from the Prince Takamado Trophy West Division Premier League, so something there is most definitely broken and in need of urgent fixing). Names like Lotina and Ficcadenti have been banded about Gamba supporter circles with Tadahiro Akiba, formerly of Mito, an outside bet. However, throwing those names into the equation, when all is said and done, Matsuda is, in reality, probably the most likely person to be kantoku at the start of next season, be that in J1 or J2.

Leandro Pereira – The Brazilian striker spoke to the media recently about his earliest experiences in Japan and complained of not having a great relationship with Matsumoto kantoku Yasuharu Sorimachi which precipitated his loan move to Sanfrecce midway through the 2019 season. There has also been speculation that he won’t be offered a new deal at Gamba and he appears ready and willing to return to his native Brazil. He won’t be missed. I know you can argue that Gamba probably haven’t delivered on promises made to him on the footballing side, though they’ve certainly come through financially, as he’s believed to be the club’s highest earner, however, I’d make the point that the player himself has to take a long hard look in the mirror. His on-field bust up with Gen Shoji during the Osaka Derby was embarrassing, but it’s likely that Shoji merely stated what the majority of his team-mates and supporters have thought at one time or another. Pereira isn’t a superstar, or frankly anything close, yet from the outside it appears that he’s only willing to put in the effort when it suits him and that’s frankly the kind of prima-donna, blame everyone other than yourself behaviour the Nerazzurri can ill-afford to put up with anymore. In my book he’ll go down as a colossal waste of club resources and a horrible reflection on the archaic scouting system and front office decision making processes that have scarred Gamba over the past few years.

Endo standing ovation – To finish this section on something of a high note, it was extremely moving to see Yasuhito Endo be the last one to leave the Panasonic Stadium field last Saturday after receiving a standing ovation from everyone in the ground. I, for one, (I’m sure @GolazoGamba agrees) would love to have him back as a Gamba player for 2023…don’t let that be the last time we see him play in Suita, please!

Team News

For the first time in my 3+ years of writing these previews, I have nothing to say in here, everyone on 3 yellow cards escaped censure against Iwata and there are no fresh injury concerns. Congratulations to the current coaching staff for seemingly curing Gamba’s long-standing fitness curse.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Kashima Antlers

At present, it appears that Daiki Iwamasa will be the man to lead Kashima into the 2023 season with the club’s chairman saying that the former Japan international defender’s footballing vision is aligned with that of the front office. This is the same chairman who criticised his own front office in his statement announcing the firing of Swiss kantoku René Weiler earlier this year. Reading between the lines, moves such as acquiring central midfielder Yuta Higuchi from Tosu when Misao and Pituca were already on the books and signing centre-back Eduardo instead would have made more logical sense, appeared to have been the trigger for the chairman’s anger. Further to that point, while it’s common for opposition fans to goad Kashima with jibes about them being located in the countryside and their stadium being impossible to reach, it seems that in reality it’s actually not so easy for them to attract top talent to deepest, darkest Ibaraki anymore. Sports Hochi’s Gamba beat reporter Mr. Kanagawa and his Kashima counterpart Mr. Uchida have chatted a couple of times on Twitter and during their talks it was revealed that with Antlers no longer being THE team in Japanese football, it’s becoming harder and harder for them to bring in genuine, proven quality either domestically or from overseas. Although they are the most successful side in the history of the J. League, Kashima boast only one J1 title in the last 12 seasons (soon to be 13) and 2023 will mark their 4th year in succession without ACL football. Is Iwamasa the man to right these wrongs? Personally, I’m sceptical, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Whatever happens this winter, he will definitely have two new promising youngsters on-board to help him navigate the choppy waters that likely lie ahead. Centre-back Keisuke Tsukui from Shohei High School in Saitama and Kashima Youth central midfielder Yoshihiro Shimoda will both make the step up to the professional ranks in 2023. Shimoda is presently with the Japan Under-18 squad on their short tour of Spain, where he is a team-mate of Gamba’s Harumi Minamino, so clearly he has some decent pedigree, and I wrote about Tsukui in my J1 Rookie Review article that you can find here.

Team News

The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.

DF Koki Anzai – Dislocated his right shoulder away at Shimizu last week and definitely won’t play on Saturday.

FW Shoma Doi – Has sat out the past 2 league games with a groin injury and seems set to miss this encounter as well.

DF Rikuto Hirose and MF Yuta Higuchi are available for selection again having been suspended for the win away to Shimizu last week.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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


Gamba Osaka vs Júbilo Iwata 29 October 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Júbilo Iwata
2022 J1 Season Round 33
Saturday 29 October 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 15:00 (JST)

Seventeenth hosts eighteenth in the penultimate round of J1 2022 this weekend with both sides knowing that anything other than a win is simply not good enough. A 5th home victory of the year for second-to-last Gamba would likely see them head into the final day outside the automatic drop-zone, however, anything less leaves the Ao to Kuro relying on Shonan, Kyoto, Fukuoka and S-Pulse slipping up. Júbilo’s equation is crystal-clear, lose or draw and they are down. As if the prospect of all that wasn’t tantalising enough, you’ve also got Japanese footballing icon Yasuhito Endo returning to Suita for the first time since his move to Júbilo in mid-2020, to add fuel to the fire. The match itself is unlikely to be pretty and it’s certainly not going to be for the faint of heart, but if it’s drama, passion and sheer nail-biting tension you’re after then Panasonic Stadium Suita is the place to be this Saturday afternoon.

As a brief aside, I recently teamed up with the excellent @The94thMin to put out an article about Gamba’s past, present and future for his “The Club Scene” blog series, you can check it out here if you haven’t already. Last week I also wrote about 15 gifted rookies who’ve appeared in J1 this year while name-dropping some of the most exciting talents that will be joining top-tier professional sides in 2023. Please click on the link here to read that, it’s a long one, but hopefully a good one.

Tale of the Tape

I know it seems like the Marinos vs Gamba game happened months ago, but I took copious amounts of notes, so I guess I should make a brief attempt at summarising them here. Also, having now won 3 times in-a-row at Nissan Stadium, if I were running Gamba I’d be seriously considering contacting Marinos regarding a stadium share from next season, either that or Saitama Stadium, another venue where the blue and blacks get all the breaks. The Nerazzurri, to their credit, worked incredibly hard throughout their visit to Kanagawa and put up some good numbers against Marinos, outrunning their hosts by ½ a kilometre, as well as, rather surprisingly, outsprinting them by 26. As is often the case, people tend to want to overlook Marinos’ defensive flaws in favour of their tremendous attacking prowess. However, after giving away slack goals to Gamba in the opening 10 minutes of both fixtures this year plus maxing out their luck at Panasonic Stadium over the past few seasons, they’re getting little sympathy from me for taking nothing from this tussle. 702 completed passes without a goal to show for it (they followed that up with 683 in their home defeat to Júbilo a few days later) highlights how much side-to-side, non-threatening passing took place and despite outshooting their visitors by a ratio of 3:1, it was the Nerazzurri who had the higher xG per shot, and things could have gotten better for them had Rihito Yamamoto taken his golden opportunity to make it 3-0 late on, though even I would have to admit that such a scoreline would have severely flattered the men from north Osaka. With such a backs-to-the-wall display following Juan Alano’s early opener (it didn’t pass Gamba fans by that Eduardo, who turned down a move to Suita last winter, was guilty of playing everyone onside for both goals), there were naturally numerous defensive heroes. Inevitably ‘guardian deity’ (haven’t whipped that one out for a while) Masaaki Higashiguchi was chief among them with 8 saves to follow on from an equally impressive display at home to Kashiwa a week prior. The midfield four did an immense job of keeping their shape when Marinos were in possession, between them they won 4 out of 4 tackles attempted, made 22 clearances and 12 blocks as well as recovering possession on 21 occasions. Juan Alano, an absolute stud since his summer move from Antlers, made 8 blocks and 8 possession recoveries while compatriot Dawhan, recalled to the starting eleven in place of the suspended Mitsuki Saito was responsible for 13 clearances, 2 blocks and 3 possession recoveries as well as winning the 1 tackle he attempted. All of this allowed centre-backs Miura and Shoji to sit in the pocket and sweep up the loose ends, with that duo making a combined total of 19 clearances and 5 blocks between them. The triumvirate of Higashiguchi, Miura and Shoji looks to be much rejuvenated since Hiroshi Matsuda took charge and made focusing on defensive stability more of a priority than his predecessors did. Matsuda has been caretaker boss for 8 rounds and in that time Gamba have picked up 1.38 points per game, averaging one goal per match and conceding at a clip of 1.25 goals per 90 minutes which contrasts with the 0.88 points, 0.96 goals for and 1.46 goals against seen during Tomohiro Katanosaka’s 24 game reign. All in all, the Ao to Kuro’s 50.21xG against is the worst defensive total in J1 and their 32.62xG for is the second poorest attacking record, a mere 0.07 better than Shonan. To sum up, Matsuda has slowly but surely got things moving in the right direction, it’s also worth remembering for everyone claiming Marinos dominated and should have beaten Gamba comfortably that the Nerazzurri have the players to complete more passes and take more shots on goal than they did, but instead they opted to sit back and soak up pressure after getting the opening goal they so desperately craved. Marinos, on the other hand, could be more solid defensively, however, they generally tend to go for the jugular, focusing on themselves and not taking into account opposition tactics (publicly at least) which leaves them vulnerable to ambush from time to time, I guess you might say it’s the yin and the yang of football. Why am I talking about all of this? Well, Júbilo are clearly a completely different kettle of fish to Marinos and thus Matsuda will need to come up with an entirely new battle-plan for Saturday. He’s had plenty of time to do just that, now can his troops exorcise the ghosts of the past few years of harrowing home defeats and take a giant step towards avoiding automatic relegation to J2?

Before I get my teeth into some Júbilo stats, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way shall we? The club have been handed a transfer ban from FIFA which covers this winter and next summer’s windows. The ruling came as a result of alleged wrongdoing by Júbilo and their Colombian forward Fabián González in breaking his contract with a Thai side prior to moving to Japan last year. Iwata already have the oldest squad in J1, so being unable to bring in fresh talent from outside will surely hit them hard (I’ll look into this more in the ‘Júbilo Iwata’ section below). With that gut-punch dealt with, let’s get cracking with some stats, and spoiler alert, things aren’t about to get any rosier from a Júbilo perspective. Current kantoku Hiroki Shibuya stepped up from the role of head coach after previous incumbent Akira Ito was fired in the wake of a 6-0 home mauling at the hands of Urawa in mid-August. Maintaining the 3-4-2-1 shape used by several of his predecessors, Shibuya has overseen a run of 1 win, 2 losses and 4 draws in his 7 games in charge, which, while not terrible, certainly hasn’t been anywhere near enough to stop the rot and the Saxon Blues remain rooted to the foot of the J1 standings, a position they’ve occupied since their coaching change. While results have been nothing to write home about in general, away form has been particularly poor. Their recent shock win at table topping Yokohama F. Marinos was their first outside of Shizuoka since early March when they routed 10-man Kyoto 4-1. Young Yosuke Furukawa was the spark for improved outcomes away to Marinos and in last weekend’s derby at Shimizu, contributing a goal and an assist across the two games, as well as squandering a golden opportunity to grab a priceless winner at S-Pulse. With that said, it’s worth noting that Iwata netted only 3 times on the road in 11 fixtures during the 6 months encompassing April to September. On average Júbilo concede one more than they score every time they take to an opponent’s field of play, and this number has not been helped one iota by their large underperformance relative to their xG for tally. The Saxon Blues have scored 5.64 times less than expected based on the quality of chances they’ve created, while defensively actual goals conceded and xG against are relatively equal. Overall, Júbilo’s 55 goals given up is the worst in J1, 4 more than Sapporo, their nearest rivals in that category and that tally is 7.32 higher than their xG against figure for all 32 games played to date. Going forward, replacing the prolific Lukian with Kenyu Sugimoto, who only bagged his first league goal of the season, a penalty, a couple of weeks ago against Kashima, has been hugely costly and the fact that wing-back Yuto Suzuki is still their top scorer with 6, despite netting just once since mid-April, tells it’s own story. To sum up then, this is unequivocally Júbilo’s last chance, so from that perspective they’ve got nothing to lose and should throw the kitchen sink at Gamba. Alternatively, mindful of their hosts’ equal need for a positive outcome and also their pretty dreadful recent run of results at home, particularly against sides that sit off them, would it be more prudent for Shibuya to set-up his charges to play on the counter and sucker punch Gamba in the way that Tosu, Shimizu and Shonan have done this year?

First Match Recap

As with most recent meetings between these two, the round 4 clash at Yamaha Stadium back in March ended up being a draw. Just a week on from losing talismanic attacker Takashi Usami to long-term injury, Gamba were slow out of the blocks and a Nerazzurri old boy made them pay. Kotaro Omori’s low shot from the edge of the area in the 15th minute beat the despairing dive of Kei Ishikawa to round off a flowing move from the hosts. That was as good as it got for Júbilo though, as they were second best for most of the remainder of proceedings. With that said, despite Gamba huffing and puffing and almost winning a penalty when Yamami was felled, but a Patric handball in the lead up denied them a spot kick, they had to wait until the 88th minute before parity was restored. Genta Miura, of all people, popped up on the right wing and delivered an inch perfect cross which was met by a glancing header from Leandro Pereira to earn the Ao to Kuro a point, sending them back to Suita sitting 9th in the standings.

Gamba Osaka

More good news for 2024 – On October 12th, Gamba announced their second new signing for the 2024 season (NB: 2024 is not a typo) in the shape of Kwansei Gakuin University hotshot Rin Mito. Capable of operating as a left-sided midfielder or wing-back and also as a holding-midfielder, Mito, who played just behind Hiroto Yamami in Kwansei Gakuin’s loss to Gamba in last year’s Emperor’s Cup, is extremely highly thought of in varsity football circles. Nerazzurri supporters have been speculating that the captures of Mito and Hosei University left-back Ibuki Konno suggest that Gamba’s front office are looking to play in a 4-3-3 system in the coming years. Second grade high-school student Keita Izumi (also a left-back) has been making waves with Gamba Youth this term and could also join the top-team in 2024, giving whoever is the kantoku at that time plenty of options. Finally, just a quick note, I previously wrote that Kwansei Gakuin’s Ken Masui was a potential target for Gamba after it was rumoured the Ao to Kuro were chasing a midfielder from KGU. My speculation was wrong as Masui will go back to his old ‘nest’ Grampus and it’s his current team-mate Mito who will move to Suita.

Fan events back up and running – A couple of interesting pieces of fan-service related news from here in Osaka. A watch-along party took place in Umekita Sotoniwa Square, Umeda for the Marinos vs Gamba clash, with former club legends Akira Kaji and Hideo Hashimoto taking part, I’m sure a good time was had by all given the final outcome. Also, on October 12th, Gamba held their first completely open training session since the start of the pandemic. By completely open, I mean anyone could attend, not just fan club members who won a lottery. The fan club members weren’t forgotten about though as, Yuki Yamamoto, Keisuke Kurokawa, Isa Sakamoto, Hiroto Yamami and Jiro Nakamura participated in a signing event for lottery winners in the club’s Blu Spazio shop next to gate 1 at Panasonic Stadium. It appears these open sessions will continue to be a weekly event, I’m looking forward to one being scheduled on a Sunday or Monday so I can attend.

The Higashiguchi-Nishikawa bromance – They may keep goal for rival teams on the field, but following their years together with the Samurai Blue, it’s clear that there’s a tremendous amount of respect between Masaaki Higashiguchi and his Urawa Reds counterpart Shusaku Nishikawa. Nishikawa took to Twitter to comment on a video showing an excellent save from Higashiguchi in the second half of the 2-0 win at Marinos, simply stating ‘sasuga,’ or…[my translation] ’as you’d expect from a great ‘keeper like Higashiguchi.’ It came across as a really classy touch from the former Oita and Hiroshima custodian.

The Yamamoto conundrum – Following Rihito Yamamoto’s summer move from Tokyo Verdy, there were some moans from members of the Gamba support who had bought ’29 Yamamoto’ uniforms pre-season, only to see it changed to ’29 Y. Yamamoto’ half-way through the year, but for me it’s brought on a more pressing issue. Yukimoto and Rihimoto or Yukito and Rihito, how should I best shorten their names to make my life easier than constantly using Yuki Yamamoto and Rihito Yamamoto?

Attack-dog Alano – This may actually be the first recorded use of bad language in my blogging career, but I feel like Juan Alano has brought over just the right amount of ‘shithousery’ from masters of the dark arts Kashima. The combative Brazilian winger has made quite the impression on the Gamba support since his summer switch and recently told a Brazilian sports website that he felt he’d made the right move in joining the Nerazzurri. He, Kesiuke Kurokawa and Patric are all walking a suspension tight-rope, so that trio will have to be extremely cautious against Júbilo, not least Alano who’ll surely be hoping to make Antlers pay for their decision to let him go when Gamba head to the Kashima Soccer Stadium on the final day of the season .

‘Tis the season to be silly – In the wake of the Ienaga ‘rumour’ I mentioned last time, we’ve seen Yosuke Ideguchi and Ademilson linked with moves back to Panasta and fans suggesting the club try to re-patriate Hiroyuki Abe following his screamer and celebratory dance away to FC Tokyo the other week. Furthermore, Higashiguchi to Niigata has surfaced in the murky depths of Twitter, I’m not having any of that though as Albirex already have a fine young ‘keeper of their own, in the shape of Ryosuke Kojima. One story that may have a bit more truth to it is Shoji Toyama returning to Gamba after spending the past 18 months out on loan. A double in Mito’s last-gasp 3-2 win at Tochigi preceded comments suggesting that he preferred the Osaka Derby to it’s Kita-Kanto equivalent, if that’s not a come and get me plea then I don’t know what is.

The end of an era – On Monday 24 October, Gamba confirmed that they’d be ending their kit-supplier partnership with Umbro that first started in 2003. Sports Hochi reported the same day that Hummel would replace Umbro from next year, though the club themselves are still keeping schtum on that matter. Furthermore, a couple of commemorative t-shirts are now available from the Gamba online shop displaying each Umbro home and away jersey from the 2003-2022 run. I’ve ordered the black version which shows home tops only, I’m hoping it’ll be here for Christmas.

And finally….popular Japanese singer Fujii Kaze became the first person to appear in concert at Panasonic Stadium since it opened in 2016. The Okayama native performed on the evenings of October 15 and 16. Parts of the pitch have subsequently been re-laid and in theory the playing surface should be fine for Saturday, let’s hope that is in fact the case.

Team News

The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.

FW Patric – Missed training for two weeks after going off versus Marinos and having his leg strapped while he sat on the bench. Since returning, he’s been working through a separate menu to his team-mates as per Matsuda kantoku‘s comments on Tuesday 25 October. In theory he’s ready to play some part on Saturday, though how big a role remains to be seen.

Juan Alano, Shu Kurata, Keisuke Kurokawa, Kosuke Onose and Patric are all just a single caution shy of reaching the one-match ban threshold.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Júbilo Iwata

Considering they’ve just been slapped with a two window transfer ban, it seems likely that the summer signing of former S-Pulse full-back Ko Matsubara from Sint-Truidense in Belgium will be Iwata’s last senior acquisition until the winter of 2023/2024. What effect will this have on a club that’s already struggling to avoid falling into the yo-yo category? In the short-term, centre-forward Shu Morooka (Tokyo International University) is going to need to find a new team as his pre-contract deal is now off the table. Also in attack, Kenyu Sugimoto will have to return to his parent club Urawa, though given how he’s performed this season, it seems likely he’ll be loaned out again, perhaps to a Shonan, Kyoto or Fukuoka. The Saxon Blues have 7 players currently out on loan to lower league sides, but Chelsea they are not, and perhaps only centre-back Kaito Suzuki (Tochigi) is ready to return and make an immediate impact. Júbilo already have the oldest squad in J1, so another season of having to rely on the likes of Yasuhito Endo (42), Kentaro Oi (38), Hiroki Yamada and Kosuke Yamamoto (both 33) plus Yuki Otsu (32) may see them creak to the point of breaking. Hailing from Shizuoka, the cradle of Japanese football, Júbilo are able to attract and develop plenty of young talents of their own. 190cm high school second grader Keita Goto, scorer of 9 goals in this year’s Prince Takamado Under-18 competition, will be promoted to the top-team for 2023, something which is permitted despite the FIFA sanctions, the pain will be felt further down the chain as they won’t be able to register new players to their youth teams from now until the end of next year either. Iwata will need to hope Goto swims rather than sinks and combines with the aforementioned Furukawa (19) as well as Kensuke Fujiwara (18) and Mahiro Yoshinaga (20) to build a brighter tomorrow for Júbilo.

Team News

The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.

DF Daiki Ogawa – Has been absent for the most recent 6 J1 fixtures and last saw action in the 1-0 loss to Nagoya on 19 August.

DF Norimichi Yamamoto – Currently sitting on three yellow cards, one more here would see him miss the final day encounter with Kyoto.

MF Kotaro Omori – The former Gamba treble winner injured his thigh muscle in the 2-2 draw with Kashiwa Reysol on 3 September and is out for the season.

MF Rikiya Uehara – Suspended after picking up his 4th yellow card of the season in last week’s draw with Shimizu.

FW Fabián González – Suspended for 4 months due to what has been deemed to be an illegal transfer. It’s now in the hands of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) who may say otherwise and ultimately shorten his ban.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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


Yokohama F. Marinos vs Gamba Osaka 8 October 2022 Match Preview

Yokohama F. Marinos vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 32
Saturday 8 October 2022
Nissan Stadium
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)

There are no complicated equations ahead of Gamba’s trip to Nissan Stadium this weekend. Two wins from their four remaining fixtures is all Marinos need to be crowned J1 champions for the second time in four seasons regardless of what their rivals do, while their visitors are firmly ensconced at the wrong end of the table and know they simply must return to Suita with all three points in the bag. Despite having a fortnight to get over their VAR-inspired heartbreak at Vissel Kobe, Gamba could only scrape a 0-0 draw against a Kashiwa Reysol side that barely got out of second gear last Saturday. Talismanic forward Takashi Usami was back to captain the Nerazzurri following a 7 month, injury-enforced absence and the Curva Nord faithful were in full voice for the first time in over 2 and a half years, but even that double boost couldn’t jolt the Ao to Kuro attack into life and in the end Gamba were heavily indebted to ‘keeper Masaaki Higashiguchi, who made a string of fine saves to keep the Sunkings at bay. A fourth consecutive failure to find the back of the net in front of their own fans has left the Nerazzurri’s survival chances hanging by a thread and kantoku Hiroshi Matsuda must be hoping that Marinos’ attacking style is more conducive for his charges to exploit on the counter than Reysol’s low block. While Gamba were toiling at home to Kashiwa, Marinos were busy romping past Nagoya Grampus in Toyota last Saturday. A brace from Kota Mizanuma put them firmly in the driver’s seat, before late efforts from substitutes Léo Ceará and Joel Chima Fujita, the latter’s first for the club, added gloss to the scoreline and that 4-0 triumph, allied with Kawasaki’s dramatic late loss to Sapporo, has put Kevin Muscat’s troops within touching distance of the 2022 J1 title. A home victory seems like a no-brainer here, but remember Gamba have won this fixture in each of the past 2 seasons and have only tasted defeat once since 2015. The pressure is on both teams, who will cope with it best, and who will wilt in the autumn heat? Tune in this Saturday afternoon to find out.

Tale of the Tape

Well what to make of Saturday’s duel with Kashiwa that promised so much with Usami’s long-awaited comeback as well as the return of supporter chanting, but ultimately ended in an anti-climax. The stats show that Reysol edged proceedings, as you’d expect from a top 6 side boasting a fine away record. However, despite it ending up 14-8 to Kashiwa in the official J Stats shot count, DAZN had Gamba leading 9-8 on their graphic in the 68th minute with the Sunkings then asserting a modicum of dominance on the counter in the dying moments. Worryingly for the Nerazzurri, they could only muster a grand total of 2 shots on goal in the second 45 minutes with none coming after the 66th minute. The partnership of Patric and Leandro Pereira caught Hiroshima and Nagoya cold, but has absolutely zero guile or subtlety about it so defences have wisened-up sharpish and I’ve no idea why Musashi Suzuki only came on with 2 minutes remaining rather than taking Pereira’s place at the same time Patric took over from Usami. With Usami back in town, the shift away from relying almost entirely on Juan Alano for creativity has been completed. It started with Yuki Yamamoto’s return to the starting lineup and the central duo of Yamamoto and Usami were at the heart of everything positive the Nerazzurri did in an attacking sense, if only Usami would let Yamamoto take a few more of the set-plays, though it was his big day back at the office so he can be forgiven this time. Perhaps what can’t be written off so easily is the way that Gamba surrendered to their fate, a 0-0 draw against not particularly motivated opponents, while fellow dog-fighters Kyoto and Shonan showed the way with a 1-0 win at Tosu and a 96th minute equaliser away at Cerezo respectively. Once again, I’ve gone rant heavy and stat-lite in the early part of this section so let’s seek to redress the balance a touch. The Ao to Kuro’s 566 completed passes on Saturday dwarves their previous highest this year of 505 away to Júbilo Iwata in round 4, and the fact that Reysol made 444 passes of their own probably gives you a very good indication of the tepid type of game the 17,689 paying spectators witnessed. That’s something which becomes all the more surprising when you consider Gamba’s desperate need for a win and also that Reysol were still technically in the hunt for 3rd spot prior to kick-off. The 0-0 marked the Nerazzurri’s 3rd failure to score of the Matsuda era, though it was also the 4th clean sheet his 442 zone defence has kept in only 7 outings, now to just nudge the scales ever so slightly in favour of attacking verve. For individual players, there are three I’d like to highlight. First, Masaaki Higashiguchi who earned his side a share of the spoils with 8 saves including 6 from inside the box (Reysol’s Douglas, Hosoya and Muto will be ruing placing their efforts right down his throat – Douglas’ 2nd header excluded). The veteran stopper, who you can read more about in the Gamba Osaka section below, leads the league in saves per game with an average of 4 (2.7 from inside the area) and also possesses a decent save percentage (72.7%) as well as a sharp pass completion rate (76.6%). Returning hero Takashi Usami, while expected to be on the bench, instead found himself starting and captaining the Nerazzurri. During his 73 minutes on the field, he registered 2 shots on goal, including 1 on target, 1 last pass and also completed 24 of his 28 attempted passes, a bit more clinical-ness in front of goal from the old master is just what the doctor ordered. Finally, popular schemer Yuki Yamamoto was once again active on defence and attack. The Shiga-native mustered 1 shot, and made 62 of 70 attempted passes which included 1 last pass going forward, while defensively he continued his recent improvement, winning 5 of 7 tackles, executing 3 blocks and recovering possession on 4 occasions.

Champions-elect Yokohama F. Marinos are top of the pile for good reason having outscored everyone else in the division by at least 9 goals and following Urawa’s 4-1 trouncing at Hiroshima, they also boast J1’s best defence, conceding 30 times in 30 outings. While Marinos have outscored opponents by a ratio of more than 2:1, at the same time they’ve out-performed their xG for total by just shy of 10 goals and at the other end, they’ve let in 3.9 fewer than could be expected based on their opposition’s xG numbers. Furthermore, when we compare the Tricolor’s key performance indicators with last year we can see that the only areas where they’re doing better this season versus 2021 is xG against and shots for on target. Interestingly, they’re completing on average 67.5 passes fewer than 12 months ago, covering 2.5 km less per game and sprinting on 19.5 fewer occasions. None of that seems to have mattered as Kevin Muscat’s side have recovered from a slightly jittery opening to their campaign and are currently on a run of 11 wins, 4 draws and 1 defeat across their past 16 J1 games. The match prior to that run starting was a hugely disappointing 1-0 loss at Avispa Fukuoka and the 2-1 defeat at title rivals Kawasaki has been the only time they’ve been bettered since. It’s undoubtedly been a team effort as only 3 players (Yohei Takaoka, Tomoki Iwata and Élber have started more than 20 games) while 6 have scored on at least 5 occasions and 5 have a minimum of 4 assists. In my pre-season preview, I picked out Katsuya Nagato as Marinos’ best winter signing, and the former Sendai and Kashima full-back has done well with 4 assists to date, however, he has been usurped by Takuma Nishimura (I’m shocked he’s still only 25) who’s been a revelation with 9 goals and an assist in 23 appearances, even managing to edge Marcos Junior out of the starting eleven. Centre-back / holding midfielder Tomoki Iwata is another star deserving of having his praises sung here. He’s converted to a central role so well in recent seasons that it’s easy to forget that he made his name as a marauding right-sided centre-back in Tomohiro Katanosaka’s 3421 at Oita. Along with impressive Japan age-level dynamo, Joel Chima Fujita, Iwata is my tip as the Marinos player most likely to be the next to head over to Europe. Watch this space.

First Match Recap

Gamba’s 2-1 home defeat to Marinos back in June was the second of four gyakuten defeats they’ve suffered this year which have badly hindered their efforts to stay in the top flight. A poor Ken Matsubara back-pass in the 7th minute put his ‘keeper Yohei Takaoka in all kinds of trouble, allowing Patric to nick the ball away from him and tee up his compatriot Dawhan, who coolly slotted home the opener. Gamba stood firm until half-time, but came under sustained pressure after the break and efforts from Takuma Nishimura and Kota Mizanuma turned the game on it’s head. Ex-Cerezo winger Mizanuma would surely have enjoyed scoring the winner, while Nishimura also sunk the Nerazzurri at Panasta 12 months prior with a fine individual effort for Vegalta Sendai. The Ao to Kuro’s South Korean international centre-back Kwon Kyung-won saw red for a second yellow-card offence in additional time to cap off a miserable evening for Gamba who sunk to 15th in the standings on the back of 3 consecutive losses in what was the first J1 matchday following the June international break.

Gamba Osaka

* Saito replacement – On-loan Shonan Bellmare ace Mitsuki Saito has been a revelation since his restoration to the starting eleven after Hiroshi Matsuda took charge of top team affairs. However, the combative midfield maestro has made one rash challenge too many and is out of this weekend’s trip to Kanagawa, so who will take his place? Option A: Rihito Yamamoto, who made his debut off the bench last weekend, partnering Saito for the final 7 minutes of the draw with Kashiwa. It would be getting thrown in at the deep end for sure, but he appears to be in pole position and would surely relish doing battle with former Verdy team-mates Fujita and Watanabe. Option B: Kohei Okuno, well suited to the role and has partnered Yuki Yamamoto before, however he seems to have fallen out of favour in recent weeks, making him most likely a bench option here. Option C: Dawhan, currently on the naughty step after failing to stop Vissel Kobe’s winner a few weeks back, other naughty step occupiers such as Kwon Kyung-won and Hiroki Fujiharu are yet to return to the starting lineup and I don’t see Dawhan doing it either this Saturday. Option D: Club captain Shu Kurata, who has been completely sidelined during the Matsuda-era, and with Usami, Miura and Shoji providing the on-field leadership it’s extremely unlikely there will be space for Kurata to come in and score the winner like he did in the Nissan Stadium sun last November.

* Higashiguchi vs Tani – I teased it last week and after receiving a question on the topic I decided I should tackle the burning issue in this article. As you saw from his heroics on Saturday, Masaaki Higashiguchi shows no signs of ageing and the 36 year-old will most probably be the man between the sticks for the Nerazzurri regardless of what division they occupy in 2023. Where then does that leave Kosei Tani who has played alright for Shonan this year, but hasn’t really kicked on or shown anything he hadn’t in previous seasons. Should the Seasiders remain in J1 then I think Tani is most likely to stay there for 2023, failing that, a loan to a team like Kyoto could be on the cards. Vissel Kobe are the ‘big’ J1 side most obviously in need of a change between the sticks, but I feel they are much more likely to sign Suárez of Tokushima, who I somehow forgot about in my Scouting J2 2022 article, while Kashima could also be in the market for a new custodian and a move for Tani may be something to keep your eyes open for.
Tl;dr Higashiguchi is Gamba’s number 1 next season, Tani remains a J1 GK in 2023 though where exactly remains up for debate.

* Gamba fans vs VAR – Supporters in Japan may generally shy away from giving criticism as directly or aggressively as their counterparts in other parts of the world, but I think it’s still become patently clear that the relationship between the Gamba support and VAR is broken to the point of no repair. Last Saturday, Ryotaro Meshino’s 44th minute effort being ruled out for handball and DOGSO favourite Takumi Kamijima escaping censure for a last man pull on Leandro Pereira’s jersey were both correct decisions in my book, though as the feeling among the Nerazzurri faithful seems to be something along the lines of, we’ve given VAR our money, now we’re waiting for our change, both incidents drew the ire of many observers on Twitter. I am well aware that you can easily make the argument that Gamba only have themselves to blame for their current predicament with poor performances, a lack of clinical finishing and simple goals being given up left, right and centre. It’s also true that the Ao to Kuro have failed to balance out late, late goals given away such as those against Kawasaki (h), Kyoto (h), Urawa (h), Cerezo (h) and Vissel (a) with enough last-gasp strikes of their own, Shimizu (a) and Fukuoka (a) the only examples that readily spring to mind. Only 3 league games remain and if Gamba are to miraculously escape their current predicament then not only will performance levels need to go up several notches, but VAR is probably going to have to come to the Nerazzurri’s aid at some point too. I won’t hold my breath.

* More New Blood for 2023 – On Tuesday 4 October, Gamba announced their second signing for the 2023 campaign in the shape of 156cm tall Shizuoka Gakuen High School number 10 Ryuta Takahashi. Takahashi, who hails from Nagaokakyo in Kyoto just like Takashi Usami and Akihiro Ienaga, previously turned out alongside fellow 2023 new recruit Harumi Minamino for Gamba Junior Youth from the ages of 12-15 before heading east to Shizuoka. Several articles in the Japanese press have pointed out that he’s a two footed player who excels at dribbling and creating chances. I’m guessing the club see him as the long-term successor to Usami and I’ll be the first to slap the ‘Japanese Messi’ tag on him. No pressure then, eh?

* And finally….I caught my first sighting of the annual Akihiro Ienaga back to Gamba transfer rumour which allows me to bring up an extremely niche reference from my younger days of Scottish playmaker David Bingham being linked to my favourites Ayr United seemingly every summer while he was still playing and for several years after he retired as something of a running joke among the Honest Men’s support.

David Bingham, aka ‘the Scottish Ienaga’

Team News

Mitsuki Saito is suspended after picking up his fourth yellow card of the season in the home draw with Kashiwa Reysol while Shu Kurata, Keisuke Kurokawa, Kosuke Onose and Patric are all just a single caution shy of reaching the one-match ban threshold. Other than that it’s a clean bill of health for the rest of the Gamba squad.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Yokohama F. Marinos

Brazilian winger Yan Matheus from Moreirense in Portugal was the sole arrival at Nissan Stadium this summer with 3 youngsters leaving on loan deals, and the 24 year-old has already made his mark, scoring in the 3-0 home win over Shonan at the beginning of September. Looking ahead to this winter, after the glamour friendly with Jose Mourinho’s AS Roma is done and dusted, kantoku Kevin Muscat and the aforementioned duo of Iwata and Fujita could draw attention from Europe, I’m sure there are plenty who would relish a Muscat vs Postecoglou, Rangers vs Celtic battle…and probably quite a few who’d dread it too, to be fair. In the past, I’ve often praised Marinos’ City Football Group assisted overseas recruitment for giving them an edge over their rivals while at the same time I’ve questioned the methodology behind some of their domestic moves. However, the success of the likes of Iwata (ex-Oita) and Fujita (Tokushima), in addition to the captures of Takaoka (Tosu), Nagato (Kashima), Watanabe (Verdy) and Nishimura (Sendai) in recent years shows they’ve certainly learned from past mistakes. For 2023 they’ve taken a slightly unusual step, well for them in recent years anyway, and that is to sign 2 players from Kanto-based universities. Attacker Yuhi Murakami (Kanto Gakuin University) and midfielder / full-back Takuto Kimura (Meiji University, formerly of Marinos Youth), will join the squad ahead of what, I presume, will be the defence of their title. Also, there’s been no official announcement yet, but I’ve heard good things about Marinos Youth forward Kotaro Uchino and he’s on a type-2 amateur contract with the top team this year while Murakami and Kimura have designated special player deals, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Uchino, who’s been scoring for fun in the Prince Takamado Cup, makes the step up next season. As per usual, the Tricolor have a legion of loanees out at a variety of clubs across the archipelago and even over in South Korea (Jun Amano). They currently number 14 in total and in my book, winger Eitaro Matsuda looks to be the one most capable of breaking into the Marinos top team in the near future. With his current side Albirex Niigata only goal difference away from sealing a return to top flight, it may be expedient to leave him at the Big Swan for one more year to allow him to fully mature. With so many players under contract, it’s likely to be an extremely busy winter in and around the Nissan Stadium and should they be able to use the title ‘J1 Champions 2022’ to attract new talent then their rivals had better watch out.

Team News

Injury-prone winger Ryo Miyaichi is currently out with a serious knee ligament injury sustained on international duty in July and isn’t due back until next spring, while left-back Katsuya Nagato is just a single yellow card away from the one game suspension threshold of 4. Experienced full-back Ken Matsubara dropped out of the squad for the 4-0 rout of Nagoya last weekend, but I think that was just due to the return of Ryuta Koike and I have no reason to believe that he or any other members of the Marinos squad are presently unavailable.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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


Gamba Osaka vs Kashiwa Reysol 1 October 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Kashiwa Reysol
2022 J1 Season Round 31
Saturday 1 October 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 16:00 (JST)

Gamba aren’t quite ready to order drinks at the last chance saloon, but they’re getting darn close in the wake of their controversial, gut-wrenching loss to near neighbours and fellow strugglers Vissel Kobe. As if to compound matters, their next fixture sees them welcome J1’s best away side, Kashiwa Reysol, to Panasonic Stadium as they seek to snap a run of 3 consecutive home games without scoring. The visiting Sunkings are 6th in the overall standings, 6 points off 3rd place and ACL qualification, despite a recent run of 6 outings without a win. Only a victory here can lift the Nerazzurri out of the drop-zone and with clashes against the likes of Marinos and Kashima looming large on the horizon, 3 points is really non-negotiable if they are serious about staying up. Reysol looked sharp and focused in their most recent game, a 1-1 home draw with defending champions Kawasaki and should they be able to re-produce that kind of performance then they’ll fancy their chances in this bout. The Ao to Kuro, on the other hand, must channel their frustration from the Kobe loss into an unwavering desire to defeat Kashiwa this Saturday, whatever the cost. It’s the first match at Panasonic Stadium with singing allowed for over 2 and a half years, could the home support perhaps nudge the VAR Gods into providing a dramatic plot twist and coming to Gamba’s aid, or is that just delving way too far into the realms of fantasy?

Tale of the Tape

Hiroshi Matsuda lined up in the opposite dugout from his former apprentice Takayuki Yoshida during the Hanshin Derby at the Noevir Stadium, how did he get on tactically? Generally pretty well in my book. It definitely wasn’t beautiful, free-flowing, attack-minded football, but until the intervention of referee Koei Koya in the final 10 minutes of the contest, it looked like Matsuda-ball was set to bring the Nerazzurri a priceless 1-0 victory which would have seen them move up to 13th in the standings, behind S-Pulse only on goal difference. Alas, it was not be and I’ll be honest as soon as Yuya Osako’s spot-kick hit the back of the net, his later injury-time winner became inevitable in the context of Gamba’s season. ‘The worst is yet to come’ was the thought running through my head as we entered second-half additional time and so it came to pass. I don’t even really blame the players as VAR overturning the no penalty decision without ‘clear and obvious’ evidence to do so (much more on that in the Gamba section below) simply crushed their spirits in the wake of the much publicised VAR inspired heavy losses against Kashima (h) and Kawasaki (a). Matsuda has got a wealth of experience developing promising youngsters on his CV, but he’s clearly been brought in with the sole remit of keeping Gamba in J1 no matter how ugly and defensively his side plays. Unfortunately that likely means no more Yamami, Nakamura or Sakamoto until next season with Brazilian giants Leandro Pereira and Patric leading the line, Musashi Suzuki coming off the bench hoping to use his pace to stretch tired defences and fellow gas-man Ryotaro Meshino being replaced for the final 15-20 minutes by returning talisman Takashi Usami. Under Matsuda’s tutelage, the players appear to know exactly what they are supposed to be doing, something which was absolutely not the case during the previous regime, so that’s one step in the right direction at least. Wait a minute, I’ve written about 20+ lines of text in this section and have barely mentioned a stat, so let’s finish off with some of them shall we? A few months back I said judge Tomohiro Katanosaka on Gamba’s xG difference and with 30 out of 34 fixtures now in the can, the Ao to Kuro’s figure is still sitting at -0.50xG per game, a number that hasn’t really budged much all season, and certainly suggests relegation is the most likely outcome for the club. More positively, across the past 5 matches of Matsuda’s ‘442 zone defence’ © DAZN, Gamba are giving up 12.6 (7.0 on target) shots per game to opponents which compares with 15.8 (9.2) overall, though at the other end of the field they’ve only been attempting 10 (5.4 on target) shots across that same run of fixtures versus 11.2 (6.2) when considering all 30 games to date. Four of Matsuda’s six matches in charge have seen an xG for total of less than 1 and all outings apart from the 2-0 win at Nagoya have been xG losses, granted the Fukuoka game was only by 0.02, so basically as close as you can get to an xG draw. There’s not much solace in the stats for Gamba fans, and this might not be what you were wanting or expecting to read at the conclusion of this section, but for me it’s down to pure luck from here on out. Opposition own goals, red cards, lack of effort due to having nothing other than pride to play for, they could all play a big role in whether the Nerazzurri sink or swim.

Kashiwa have certainly exceeded the expectations of most external observers this year, spending the entirety of the campaign in the top 6 when many expected them to be embroiled in a fight for survival similar to what their hosts this Saturday are currently enduring. They’ve been quite a streaky team in 2022, boasting runs of 3 and 4 wins in-a-row, as well as losing 3 on-the-bounce on two separate occasions. After opening up the year with 9 victories and 30 points from their first 17 games, they’ve since descended slightly from those dizzy heights, winning just 4 times and accumulating only 15 points from their most recent 13 outings, not bad, but it is form that has much more of a mid-table feel to it. The Sunkings have lost 8 of their last 10 matches on xG (they’ve won 1 and drawn 1 of the other 2), and the 4.13xG Reds put up against them in round 29 is the highest recorded in J1 since I started keeping data at the beginning of 2021. Six goals conceded from an xG of only 1.4 in the home bout with FC Tokyo was a bit more unfortunate, though kantoku Nelsinho will not be at all amused that his charges’ 40 goals conceded is the worst of everyone inside the top 10 and indeed is only 4 fewer that Gamba have let in. Other stats suggest that Reysol have had a knack of coming out on top in extremely tight contests this year as they are only outshooting their opponents by 0.3 (0.5 on target) efforts per game while registering 45.3% ball possession, down from 47.1% in 2021. They have upped the intensity of their work, however, recording 183.8 sprints per game (25.9 more than the Nerazzurri), which is an increase from 174.4 twelve months ago and this may have been a pivotal factor in their renaissance. Regarding individual players within their ranks, Matheus Savio was someone I highlighted prior to the match back in May and though things haven’t been going quite as swimmingly for the Brazilian lately with no goals or assists in his most recent 9 league outings as well as a potential bout of Covid in August, he’s enjoying a fine season overall nonetheless. Savio ranks first in J1 for through balls (115), chances created (78) and last passes (56), he’s also 8th for shots taken (58), 9th for shots on target (16) and 10th for dribbles (70). Defensively he’s put up some decent numbers too, sitting in the division’s top 15 for blocks, interceptions and possession recoveries. Ahead of Savio, young attacker Mao Hosoya has been a revelation and while his exertions with Japan U-21 in Europe over the past fortnight may necessitate a bench start on Saturday, he can be more than pleased with his season to date, registering 8 goals and 4 assists while listing 3rd in the J1 shots on target rankings with 22. His development has really come on in leaps and bounds this year, which will probably lead to an overseas move within the next 12 months. Hosoya is just in the embryonic stages of his professional career and while that statement certainly doesn’t ring true for Yuki Muto, the former Sendai and Urawa hitman has also been a key cog in the Reysol attacking wheel in recent months. The tag ‘super-sub’ most definitely applies to him as to date he’s bagged 7 goals and 2 assists from 15 appearances, with a grand total of only 4 starts (4 of his goals and 2 assists have come from sub appearances). I’m postulating that Muto might well partner Douglas in attack from the start on Saturday with Hosoya getting introduced in the second-half, the million dollar question is, what effect, if any, would that have on their forward play?

First Match Recap

Gamba’s 1-0 win away to Kashiwa in mid-May was one of those classic J.League results that defied any sort of rational analysis. Despite coming into the tie fresh off the back of a home victory over Vissel Kobe 6 days prior, the Nerazzurri had since been struck down with a Coronavirus cluster which, in addition to their lengthy injury list, left them with high school 3rd graders Harumi Minamino and Rikuto Kuwahara on the bench to make up the numbers. The Ao to Kuro had a go early doors with Hiroto Yamami’s lob as close as they came, unfortunately that strategy led to them being cut open on several occasions and in truth they were pretty lucky to go into half-time level. Things tightened up considerably in the second-half and Gamba were able to pick up a smash-and-grab victory courtesy of Dawhan’s close range effort after Reysol failed to clear a corner properly. Hiromu Mitsumaru’s header struck the frame of the Nerazzurri’s goal in the final minute of additional time meaning Gamba returned to Suita with all 3 points, a result that moved them up to 10th in the standings. How the Nerazzurri would love to get the rub of the green this Saturday afternoon in the same way they did on that late spring evening in Chiba.

Gamba Osaka

VAR Verdict – Hopefully this is the last time I write about refereeing and VAR this year, though I won’t hold my breath. It should come as no surprise to anyone that I was left extremely angry by Koei Koya’s decision to overturn his call of no penalty during the vital Vissel vs Gamba clash prior to the international break, angrier than it’s really healthy to be after a football game, something that I recognised in the aftermath and I actually ended up messaging an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, so at least some good came out of it. However, back to my point, I pose the question to you dear reader, what is the purpose of using VAR in football? If it’s to bring consistency and clarity to the decision making process while at the same time only fixing clear errors by the on-field officiating team then it has failed on every account since it was introduced into J1 full-time at the start of the 2021 season. When Patric was given a straight red card following Yuma Suzuki’s play-acting on the opening day of the 2022 campaign, the reasoning given as to why VAR couldn’t overturn the decision was because Patric acted aggressively towards Suzuki so it technically wasn’t the wrong call. However, the referee that day dismissed Patric because he thought he’d struck Suzuki in the face, an act of aggression probably scoring an 8 or 9 on a 10 point scale, while in reality he likely said something a little nasty and tickled his opponent’s tummy, which would rank as a 2 or 3 in terms of aggression. With that in mind, Koya’s initial decision was to give a foul against Kobe’s Yoshinori Muto for a high boot with studs up. The replays showed it wasn’t as bad as first thought, but just like the Patric decision, the original judgement wasn’t technically completely wrong. Additionally, Fukuda and Muto go for the ball and make contact with each other, at the VAR booth the referee chooses to only consider Fukuda hitting Muto marginally before Muto hits him, ignoring the position of Muto’s boot and also his potential initiation of the contact. It’s not clearly a penalty and not clearly not a penalty, therefore it falls into a grey area and with the initial decision being no penalty, the best Los Millonarios should have got was a drop ball in my view. I know this is a Gamba blog and I’m biased, but the likes of Shohei Ogura and former J1 official Masaaki Iemoto (not to mention fans of other J1 teams) have weighed in with similar opinions to mine and I’m yet to hear anyone say it was clearly or definitely a penalty to Kobe. If I was Gamba I’d contact the J. League and ask for a written explanation as to why the decision was overturned. Sure we’re not going to get the last 10 minutes replayed or anything, but it would be nice to make the league squirm as they try and wiggle their way out of the mess they’ve made for themselves. It was interesting to note that at the same time as Vissel vs Gamba, FC Tokyo were hosting Kyoto Sanga in the first ever J1 match officiated by a female, let’s hope that opening this role up to an additional 50% of the population leads to greater openness, consistency and clarity in decision making going forward. Rant over…and breathe.

Above is an artist’s impression of the Vissel vs Gamba game
The Ultimate Warrior = Gamba Osaka
Ravishing Rick Rude = Vissel Kobe
Bobby The Brain Heenan = Referee Koei Koya

**Note – Let me just add that I know Vissel had a poor decision go against them away at Shonan and Gamba are certainly not the only team in world football to fall victim to questionable officiating. Also, I personally bear Vissel Kobe no ill-will, Kobe is a beautiful city that I recommend you visit now that it’s been announced Japan will properly re-open it’s borders…woo-hoo!!**

Saito vs Dawhan – Of course after Yuya Osako’s controversial penalty levelled things up, the same player inevitably won the game in injury time (remember what I wrote about him in the match preview?) The fact it came from a counter attack, which wouldn’t have been happening with the score at 0-1, made it all the more infuriating for me (as did Osako’s voice in his post match interview, he sounded like a decent bloke and I was hunting for a scapegoat). Anyway, for a Gamba squad and support beaten down by a campaign of errors, poor performances, last gasp equalisers and winners given up and a succession of VAR decisions going against them, it was understandably all a bit too much. At the final whistle, Mitsuki Saito took aim at central midfield partner Dawhan for not taking one for the team and giving away a cynical foul in the lead up to Osako’s winner. Dawhan has previous for this in the build up to Leandro’s effort to give FC Tokyo a 2-0 lead at the Olympic Stadium and to defend the Brazilian slightly here, although referee Koya was praised in certain quarters for allowing an advantage, he would certainly have evened things up a touch had he blown prematurely for a free-kick 25-30 yards away from goal. Saito took to social media soon after the match to set the record straight that he and his team-mates have not given up and remain committed to avoiding the drop to J2. Dawhan, for his part, seems to have kissed and made up with Saito and was seen posting ‘interesting’ home training videos on Instagram. Stand-in captain Genta Miura also deserves credit for his role as peace-broker as well as getting properly stuck into Koya in the wake of the penalty decision, something he’s been accused of not doing enough in the past, particularly in the away game against Sapporo last season.

Gamba vs Vissel, Japan’s new Grudge Match? – Prior to this season most Gamba fans I’ve spoken to would answer ‘Urawa and Cerezo’ when asked who the Nerazzurri’s rivals were. This may just be me, but I’ve always detected greater passion in their voices when they speak about playing Urawa. As for Cerezo it seems to be more a case of, ‘people in other countries dislike teams from the same city as them so we should do it too,’ rather than something more organic, again though this is merely my personal opinion. Furthermore, although I refer to Gamba vs Kobe as the ‘Hanshin Derby’ and Gamba vs Kyoto as the ‘Keihan Derby,’ in reality I feel that fans of all sides view these clashes more as convenient away days rather than bona fide rivalries. Could the genuine ill-feeling that seems to have developed as a result of the contentious incidents and decisions that crept up during both 2022 league encounters between Gamba and Vissel be the spark which ignites a new ferocious rivalry between two of Kansai’s powerhouses?

Harumi Minamino – On 16 September Gamba announced their first signing for the 2023 season, the promotion of forward Harumi Minamino from their youth setup. Minamino, of course, has been training with the top-team this year on a type-2 amateur contract and has made 8 appearances in all competitions. Able to play as a central forward or just off a main striker, he’s not been seen since the summer additions of Suzuki, Meshino and Juan Alano as well as the restoration of Leandro Pereira to top-team action with the arrival of Hiroshi Matsuda, but he’s an exciting addition who has been talked about in hushed tones by Gamba supporters in recent years, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do once he becomes a pro. Good luck Harumi!

The Beast Awakens? – Speaking of young Gamba forwards, Shoji Toyama broke his 2022 scoring duck with a goal on his 20th birthday in Mito’s home loss to Tokyo Verdy on 21 September. He then followed that up with a fine headed equaliser away to Tokushima last Sunday. It’s been a frustrating loan spell for Toyama with just 12 league appearances in total and only 5 starts, hopefully his recent efforts are the catalyst for him to go on and become the finisher everyone at Panasonic Stadium hopes he can be.

Post-season clear-out – Regardless of which division Gamba occupy in 2023 there are likely to be big changes to the playing staff over the winter. The Higashiguchi vs Tani goalkeeper debate is probably worthy of it’s own segment in a future match preview, but in front of them, the Gen Shoji to Kashima rumours will likely re-surface while backups Ko Yanagisawa and Shota Fukuoka may seek fresh pastures, Keisuke Kurokawa is likely to attract interest from elsewhere and centre-back Yota Sato could return to Suita following his loan spell at Sendai. Speaking of such deals, midfielders Dawhan and Saito are only on loan and will probably leave, veterans Shu Kurata and Hiroki Fujiharu could end their long associations with the club and widemen Wellington Silva, Kosuke Onose and Hideki Ishige may well be wearing a different team’s colours next term. In attack, Leandro Pereira is reportedly the highest earner at Panasta and out of contract at the end of the season so I see him going elsewhere. As mentioned above Harumi Minamino has put pen to paper and he could be joined by versatile youth team captain Rikuto Kuwahara, while a move for a university graduate can’t be ruled out. At present I see the 2023 Gamba squad projecting something like this…

GK: Higashiguchi, Ichimori, Kato, Ishikawa
DF: Takao, Miura, Kwon Kyung-won, Kurokawa, Sato, Kuwahara
MF: Alano, Okuno, Y. Yamamoto, Meshino, Kurata, Fukuda, R. Yamamoto, Nakamura
FW: Suzuki, Usami, Patric, Sakamoto, Yamami, Minamino

* And finally…Gamba held their annual Fan Festa (Festival) at a sun-drenched Panasonic Stadium Suita on Sunday 25 September and it appeared that a good time was had by all in attendance. I was unable to go, but from what I saw and heard, Gen Shoji and Leandro Pereira did a skit together showing that they’ve buried the hatchet following their fiery on-field bust up in the Osaka Derby back in May. Also, even critics of stand-in kantoku Hiroshi Matsuda’s rather agricultural style of football would have to laugh at the players running around the field engaged in a spot of touch rugby!

Team News

A video released on the club’s official YouTube channel showing highlights of training from Wednesday 21 September appeared to indicate that 30 of the 31 contracted Gamba first-team players were in full training. Only Kwon Kyung-won, who was away with his national side did not take part in the session, while potential Covid case Jun Ichimori and long term absentees Takashi Usami and Rihito Yamamoto look ready to go if, and when, their kantoku calls on them. Long-term readers will know this clean bill of health marks quite the contrast with the 2 most recent campaigns and I feel that a good deal of credit should go to physical coach Ryo Yano who joined the club from FC Ryukyu last off season. Finally, Shu Kurata, Keisuke Kurokawa, Kosuke Onose, Patric and Mitsuki Saito are all just a single yellow card away from the one game suspension threshold of 4.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Kashiwa Reysol

Last year I was one of a number of critics of legendary Reysol coach Nelsinho and it seemed that his days at the Kashiwadai were numbered, but to his eternal credit, he’s completely turned the tables this term and has to be a candidate for manager of the year. How long can the 72 year-old keep going for? Well, that remains to be seen and it’s shaping up to be an interesting off season at Kashiwa without doubt. Being one of only 2 senior clubs from the heavily populated Chiba prefecture, home to a number of the nation’s top footballing schools, it’s no surprise that Reysol invest heavily in youth each year. To that end, the Sunkings have already confirmed the capture of 5 new youngsters ahead of the 2023 campaign, 2 from university, 2 from their youth setup and 1 from a local high school. To name them, they are, current All Japan University representatives, midfielder / attacker Kazuki Kumasawa (Ryutsu Keizai University) and Riku Ochiai (Tokyo International University). Ochiai was previously a Kashiwa Under-18 player before joining VONDS Ichihara in the Kanto Soccer League and then deciding to enter college, so he’s actually a year older than most university rookies. Additionally, last week the club announced the promotion of Faruzan Sana Mohamado and Ota Yamamoto from their youth team as well as the signing of 187cm forward William Owie from Nippon Sports Science University Kashiwa High School (not the catchiest name for a school sure, but they possess a decent track record when it comes to youth development). These newcomers will hope to match the impact of some of the fresh-faced youngsters who have graced yellow and black Reysol uniforms this year. Although, save for young ‘keeper Masato Sasaki, and highly touted centre-back Hayato Tanaka, Nelsinho has largely reverted back to using tried-and-trusted seasoned pros as the year has progressed, midfielders Takuto Kato, Yugo Masukake, Takumi Tsuchiya and Yuto Yamada as well as forwards Hidetaka Maie and Kaito Mori have flashed signs of their potential and all are well worth watching moving into 2023 and beyond.

**Note – I’ve seen Faruzan Sana Mohamado written as Faruzansana Mohamado, Ota Yamamoto translated as Outa Yamamoto and William Owie as William Ouie. At this stage I can’t verify the proper Roman character spelling for any of these names, but I’ve done my best and please accept my apologies if any errors crop up.**

Team News

The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.

DF Wataru Iwashita – Broken foot, likely to miss the rest of the season

DF Naoki Kawaguchi – Has missed the last 2 league games. I know he’s not necessarily a first-teamer but Kitazume being selected ahead of him versus Frontale suggests to me he was unavailable.

DF Takuma Ominami – Missed the home draw with Kawasaki on 17 September because of suspension, but available for selection again ahead of this clash.

DF Yuji Takahashi – Went off injured in the home loss to FC Tokyo on 27 August and not seen since

DF Hayato Tanaka – Missed the last 2 matches due to his involvement with Japan’s Under-20 squad as they completed their AFC U20 Asian Cup qualifiers. Incidentally, he was a team-mate of Gamba’s Rikuto Kuwahara, Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto during that time.

Mao Hosoya, Takumi Kamijima, Hiromu Mitsumaru, Matheus Savio and Sachiro Toshima are all just a single yellow card away from the one game suspension threshold of 4

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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