Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka 16 October 2021 Match Preview

Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 32
Saitama Stadium 2002
Saturday 16 October 2021
Kick Off: 15:00 (JST)

J1 is back after the international break and we’ve got a monumental clash in store between two of the country’s biggest draws, Urawa Red Diamonds and Gamba Osaka. You’re probably aware that both of these sides lost their previous league outing 5-1….there, I said it…for the benefit of Gamba and Urawa supporters reading this article, I’ll do my best to mention it as little as is practically possible from now on. The Nerazzurri are coming off a rare two week break during which time they’ve hopefully erased the nightmare that was their 30th birthday party and been able to hatch a new, more effective game-plan. Reds, on the other hand, played a two-legged Levain Cup semi-final tie against Gamba’s prefectural rivals Cerezo, going down 2-1 on aggregate, so although Urawa are way ahead of the Ao to Kuro in the current standings, their confidence may be a little brittle at the moment too, meaning the first goal on Saturday will likely be crucial to the overall result.

Despite their setback at Kobe, Reds are still well in the hunt for a 3rd place finish in kantoku Ricardo Rodriguez’s first season at the helm, an outcome that would surely solidify his status as one of the top tacticians in the league. The Spaniard had his charges on an excellent run of 19 points from 7 matches in the run up to that clash with Vissel and will hope that was merely a minor bump in the road as he moves forward with his exciting project. Reds enter this fixture in fifth spot, three points shy of both Kobe and Nagoya, though they do have a game in hand over Grampus (this match). Gamba, by way of contrast, lie in fourteenth, six points above the drop zone and although taking anything from this bout will be a tall order, they really need to start showing some kind of form quickly if they’re to avoid being dragged deeper into the relegation battle.

Tale of the Tape

Gamba’s attack has continued to create chances at as much better rate than they were doing earlier in the season, but they remain one of the poorest teams in J1 at converting opportunities into goals. At the back, the Nerazzurri give up a divisional high 15.6 shots against per game and you have to feel that Masanobu Matsunami and new assistant Takashi Kiyama really need to put some sort of makeshift system in place to stop the bombardment Masaaki Higashiguchi faces on a weekly basis, with the former Japan international comfortably topping the ‘most saves’ charts for J1, making 100 already in 2021 (over 20 shots against in each of the last three fixtures is nothing to write home about either)!

Due to this being a season of rebuilding at Urawa, making sense out of their game-by-game stats is a thankless task. It’s taken a while for Rodriguez’s ideas to become fully embedded into the team’s psyche and if you glance down to my Reds’ predicted lineup below you’ll notice five of the starting eleven joined the club in mid-season, so with all that in mind I think 2022 might be a better time to fully assess the effectiveness of Rodriguez’s work and also the abilities of exciting new faces such as Scholz, Hirano and Junker. However, there are a couple of things I’d like to point out. Urawa’s passing and possession stats bear the unmistakable hallmarks of a Rodriguez team, but next year, if Reds are to mount a genuine title challenge, as a number of observers believe they will, then they’ll need to address regularly being outshot by opponents and I’m sure they’d love to get their xG difference number a good bit higher, it currently sits at +0.13 which isn’t all that impressive when compared with Kawasaki’s +0.8 and Marinos’ +0.66, though in the section titled ‘Urawa Red Diamonds’ later in this article, I’ll set out some reasons why I believe they’re more than capable of challenging the big 2 from Kanagawa next year.

Reds Goals For numbers include the 2 goals that league stripped from them over a player registration issue in the home match with Shonan. This was done to enable a better fit with other data such as xG, and Shots For (on target).

Head to Head

A very brief glance at the table below will tell you that away victories have been the order of the day in this fixture during recent years. The Nerazzurri saw off Reds in their first season at Panasonic Stadium, but have been unable to repeat the trick, however, since their 4-0 trouncing in a feisty battle back in 2016, they’ve remained unbeaten on league business at Saitama Stadium.

The reverse contest between these two back in mid-May was Matsunami’s first as caretaker boss with Tsuneyasu Miyamoto getting the axe following a 2-1 home reversal against Hiroshima four days prior. It turned out to be an afternoon to forget for everyone of a blue and black persuasion, though most certainly not for Reds’ Tatsuya Tanaka and Kasper Junker who ran amok to have the visitors 3-0 up at the interval, which is exactly how the match finished. Similarly, last season Reds raced out of the blocks early at Panasonic Stadium and Takahiro Sekine’s low shot, Leonardo’s penalty (he seems to be fishing for a return move to Japan **nudge nudge Gamba recruitment department**) and Yuki Muto’s fine finish following a Genta Miura misjudgement had them on easy street before Yosuke Ideguchi’s goal of the season contending volley from Takashi Usami’s corner provided Gamba with a consolation. The Nerazzurri earned a modicum of revenge with an excellent come-from-behind 2-1 win in Saitama in late November. Tomoaki Makino had fired Reds into a deserved lead, but Usami displayed the finishing instincts that have largely deserted him this year to draw Gamba level shortly after, before Ryu Takao, of all people, headed home what, to date, is the only goal of his senior career, to seal the deal. In the days following that match, Urawa announced that Tsuyoshi Otsuki would be vacating the hot-seat at the end of the year, a decision which surprised no-one.

Gamba Osaka

In the absence of any top team games for the past fortnight, this section will be a little more newsy and combative than normal, which may or may not fit in with the usual style of this blog. First to the positive, both of the Nerazzurri’s Brazilian forwards, Patric and Leandro Pereira, did interviews with media in the their home country that were published last week. Pithy information to come out of those are the news that Patric’s current contract only runs until the end of this season (though it appears both parties will be keen to extend the present arrangement) while Pereira’s deal covers next year too (it was widely believed he had only penned a 12-month contract upon signing for the Nerazzurri). Both players said they enjoyed life and soccer in Japan and would like to stay in the country for the foreseeable future. Whether Pereira does indeed see out his two-year deal in Suita or moves to fresh pastures for 2022 will be something to keep an eye on.

Secondly, and this isn’t really an issue I particularly wanted to write about, but I feel I have to say something….the mountain out of a molehill being made of Gamba’s new badge. The 5-1 loss to Sapporo coupled with a new concept design that was widely pilloried by the wider J League fan community on Twitter left me feeling like Sunday 3 October was ‘have a go at Gamba day.’ In fairness, the majority of the banter was good natured, and I also accept that realistically the badge could have looked like anything and some people would have had a dig on Twitter, such is the nature of the beast. Additionally 5-1 defeats for the traditional big teams are always amusing (it was interesting to note that Urawa and Cerezo fans were largely absent from the chorus of laughter, maybe they experienced something similar in recent weeks, I can’t remember), not sure I’d be quite so keen to jump on the bandwagon if I was a Shimizu fan though (how many goals did they score in their two games against us, might be lower than one?) Anyway, joking aside, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was something along the lines of this…in life there are some people you should listen to, and some that you shouldn’t, if someone wouldn’t give you any credit regardless of what you do, then that’s not really someone you need to listen to… With that in mind, remember that Gamba finished second in J1 last year, yet there were still people lining up up to tell us we didn’t deserve it (it’s October 2021 and I’m still waiting to hear why not, and which teams should have been ahead of us), so I’m not sure Gamba need to be overly concerned about the opinions of opposition supporters. I certainly do not speak for all Gamba fans, but I believe those of a blue and black persuasion would just like a team to be proud of, not one that gets smacked around 5-1 by opponents who’d be forgiven for having one eye on their end of season break. Sure, the club stand guilty of not consulting the fans who they’ll be expecting to shell out on merchandise adorned with the new logo, but supporter votes can come with their downsides too. My Scottish team, Ayr United, had around 4 or 5 options when they changed club crest about 5 years back and I was really attached to one of the designs which wasn’t selected in the end, but hey, a debate over the pros and cons of democracy is certainly way above the remit of this particular blog.

My aim with the above rant was not to have a go at anyone in particular, more to act as something of a counter-weight to the seemingly endless slew of ‘point and laugh at Gamba’ content I’ve seen on Twitter in recent weeks. I’m a football fan, I get it, fourteenth in the league and just off a 5-1 home hammering, we’re ripe for the picking, but as I’m about to go onto discuss, Saturday’s opponents, Urawa were 14th just two seasons back, Vissel Kobe filled that slot twelve months ago and neither of those two look in particularly bad shape at the moment. So, by all means drink it all in now, but Japanese football is a wild and mysterious beast so the boot may be on the other foot sooner rather than later, though I guess that’s why we all love it so much, right?

I was also going to call out Marcus Tulio Tanaka for his rather ‘one-sided’ take on Yasuhito Endo’s loan move to Júbilo Iwata, but I think I’ve ranted quite enough so I’m off for a lie down now.

Team News

Plenty to write about in here as always, but also lots of corroborating evidence available to back up what I say as opposed to the wild speculation I normally have to indulge in. Reserve ‘keeper Jun Ichimori has been ruled out for the rest of 2021 as he needs to undergo surgery on a hamstring injury (sorry I had been saying he had a shoulder issue, but that was actually his problem last year and I got confused).
Gamba held their first open practice session since February 2020 on Tuesday and it was revealed the Kosuke Onose and Yuya Fukuda were back in full training with the first team squad while Gen Shoji is still absent. A couple of days earlier Fukuda uploaded videos to Instagram showing he and fellow hamstring injury victim Yuji Ono doing rehab in a gym. The shirtless and profusely sweating Ono no doubt set hearts fluttering, but more importantly he does look in decent shape and his comeback might not be far away. In fact, media reports indicated that Ono, Leandro Pereira and club captain Genta Miura are currently working through individual training programs involving light running and so on, and will hopefully be ready for selection soon, though this match arrives too early for the trio. I was unable to see Tiago Alves in any of the photos on Twitter and Instagram, he has been out of the matchday squad since scoring a penalty in the 3-1 loss at Kashima on 18 September.

Signed Jun Ichimori Epoch Card

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Urawa Red Diamonds

Despite back-to-back bottom half league finishes in 2019 and 2020, the chance to restore Urawa to their former glories was always going to be an attractive proposition for any manager worth their salt. As it was, Ricardo Rodriguez, fresh from leading Tokushima to the J2 title was the man selected for the task. Rodriguez’s attractive, build from the back passing style has taken a while to bear fruit, and there were certainly some early teething troubles, but at the moment things are generally headed in an upward trajectory. Just a solitary win from their opening six league fixtures, a period which included pastings at home to Kawasaki and away to Marinos may have brought some doubts about the course Rodriguez was plotting, but the addition of Danish forward Kasper Junker in May and other sound signings in the summer have helped them to bounce back and they are currently on a run of 37 points from their last 19 games (11W4D4L) which has them firmly in the hunt for an ACL spot. Rodriguez has stated that ACL qualification is an aim this year, though if, as expected, it remains a Covid influenced shell of a competition next term then I don’t think Reds need to worry too much if they end up missing out. Instead, they should perhaps see the rest of 2021 as a reconnaissance mission with Rodriguez trying to ascertain what works and what doesn’t. Should he find the right system to bring the best out of the multitude of attacking talents on the books while simultaneously keeping things tight at the back, then J1 take cover (at present they’ve kept 12 clean sheets in their last 19 league outings, but are still searching for the correct formula in attack). It’s possible that rival sides like, Kawasaki, Marinos and Kashima, could lose talents such as Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda, Thiago Martins, Ryotaro Araki, Ayase Ueda and Koki Machida over the winter meaning that if Reds plug the gap at left-back, and they may already have the man they need on their books now in the shape of Takuya Ogiwara, currently on loan at Kyoto Sanga, then they should be aiming for top 3 minimum in 2022.

Team News

As per usual, and much to my frustration, writing this section has proven to be a far more simple task for Gamba’s opponents than the Nerazzurri. I actually don’t have any Reds players who I know to be definitely injured at the moment. Whether Australian Olympian Thomas Deng has a fitness issue or is simply not flavour of the month with the powers that be in Saitama remains to be seen. His veteran team-mates, Tomoya Ugajin, Yuki Abe and Shinzo Koroki haven’t featured in recent weeks either, but this may be down to Rodriguez bedding in the new, younger signings with an eye on next year. One such acquisition, Kosuke Kinoshita has been out of the matchday squad too, though his capture from Norwegian outfit Stabæk was something of a surprise in the first place.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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


Gamba Osaka vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 2 October 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
2021 J1 Season Round 31
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 2 October 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

Welcome to blog post #100 – thanks to everyone who’s helped me get this far!

Gamba’s 2-1 victory over Kashiwa Reysol on Sunday bought some crucial breathing space at the bottom of the table and has set them up nicely for their next fixture at home to Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. The Nerazzurri, currently sitting on 33 points, 7 clear of the drop zone, would pull to within 3 of their visitors should they manage to bag the win here. Consadole are safely ensconced in mid-table which has seemingly had an adverse effect on recent results meaning Gamba will see this as an opportunity to further cement their J1 status for 2022.

This clash will be followed by a two-week break for both these sides, and for the Nerazzurri, in particular, it could not have come at a better time with players dropping like flies as a result of the hectic summer schedule. Sapporo boss Mischa Petrović will also welcome the gap in fixtures as it gives him the chance to rally his troops for one final push towards the end of the year. Typically when these two collide we don’t see the best of Consadole and the men from Hokkaido will be keen to rectify that here, while the home side, buoyed by lightning quick starts in their previous two home outings will have the bit between their teeth as they look to give the 10,000 strong Panasonic Stadium faithful something to cheer about (this is the first time the capacity has been above 5,000 all year).

A quick reminder that Gamba will be wearing their 30th anniversary uniform in this fixture. It’s earned mixed, but mostly positive reviews on social media, check out the pictures below to see for yourself.

Tale of the Tape

Gamba avoided the indignity of losing 5 consecutive league games for the first time since 1998 and the success in the match against Kashiwa should hammer home the importance of getting off to a fast start. Contrast Sunday’s encounter with the home ties against Marinos, Kobe and Sendai earlier in the year. While the stats in the table below don’t look pretty for Gamba vs Kashiwa, in the battles with the aforementioned sides, the Nerazzurri dominated everywhere except on the scoresheet. Getting ahead makes things so much easier late on, and although Gamba still look vulnerable to quick counter attacks (Masaaki Higashiguchi leads the league in total saves made), they got the rub of the green on Sunday and were able to stay the course. The blueprint for victory has been laid out, so onwards and upwards from here with Sapporo representing the first of four remaining fixtures that should be targeted for wins, the others being, Tosu (h), Oita (a) and Shonan (h) while we’ll take what we can get from Urawa (a), Marinos (a), Nagoya (h) and Kawasaki (a).

I’ve thought for a long time that Sapporo play an extremely eye-catching, but highly inefficient brand of football. They are among the league’s best when it comes to xG for, xG difference, shots on goal, passes completed and possession, however, results on the pitch are much less impressive. I actually had them down as my dark horse surprise relegation contender for 2021 (little did I know it would be my own team who’d battle it out with Kashiwa and Cerezo for that crown – oops), but after a sluggish start, just 2 wins from their first 9 games, they steadied the ship, taking 27 points from their next 14. There’s been a bit of a wobble since then, as they followed up their disappointing 2-0 loss to the Nerazzurri in July with impressive home wins over FC Tokyo and Urawa before embarking on their present run of just 4 points from their most recent 7 outings. A J2 side for the majority of their history, Petrović, to his eternal credit, has firmly established them in Japan’s top flight, however, finances appear tight and despite decent youth development work and university recruitment it’s going to be tough for them to continue finishing so high in the league year after year.

Head to Head

Generally when I watch Consadole as a neutral I see a pretty entertaining game regardless of the opposition, however, recent battles between them and Gamba have mostly failed to catch fire. Case in point, the Nerazzurri’s 2-0 triumph on July 30 at the Atsubetsu Stadium, a venue which doesn’t suit the Rossoneri’s attacking style nearly as much as Sapporo Dome. The hosts burst out of the traps quickly, fired in numerous low percentage efforts, but were then picked off on the counter twice by Gamba with Shinya Yajima and Leandro Pereira having all the time in the world to bury their chances before the visitors shut the game down effectively for a valuable 3 points.

In 2020 it was a similar story with the Ao to Kuro winning both fixtures by just a solitary goal. Kazuma Watanabe’s late effort sealed a miserly 1-0 away win at the Atsubetsu while Gamba had to come from behind in the return match with Yosuke Ideguchi and Patric’s strikes cancelling out Douglas Oliveira’s first ever J1 goal.

Interestingly, or maybe not, 18 August 2013 was the first time I witnessed Takashi Usami score for Gamba live and in the flesh. The old Expo ‘70 Commemorative Stadium was the venue and Consadole Sapporo, prior to the addition of Hokkaido to their name, were the visitors. After a goalless first 45, two strikes in the space of four second-half minutes from Takaharu Nishino (now Sanuki) and Usami killed the game off as a contest. Brazilian Adi Rocha added gloss to the scoreline 14 minutes from time and it ended 3-0. Hiroki Fujiharu was the only other current Gamba player on duty that day, while both Hiroki Miyazawa and Takuma Arano were in the starting lineup for Sapporo.

Gamba Osaka

Due to the mounting pile of injured bodies in the Gamba treatment room (calls for a new physical coach to be brought in next year grow louder by the day), Masanobu Matsunami’s hand has almost been forced selection wise, though it is interesting to see that he and I both seem to agree on 4-2-3-1 being the way forward, for now anyway. That system, which in truth became more of a 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 after the early lead was established against Kashiwa has worked well in the last 2 matches and hopefully the Nerazzurri stick with it until the end of the season. Realistically an average of just over a point per game can be expected from the remaining 8 league matches this year and if good results are achieved over the next couple of fixtures then it’d be great to see Matsunami start to put foundations in place for his successor. With Hiroto Yamami, Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto confirmed in the arrivals lounge, plus Wellington Silva, Takashi Usami and Shu Kurata already on the books the supporting cast for Patric, or a new main striker, looks to be coming together rather nicely. As I mentioned on the J-Talk Podcast last week, I think everyone of a Gamba persuasion will be happy to put this annus horribilis to an end and start afresh in 2022.

On Tuesday (28 September) a vaguely worded club statement announced that former JEF, Ehime, Yamagata and Sendai boss Takashi Kiyama had been brought on board to assist stand-in kantoku Masanobu Matsunami for the rest of 2021. Whether this is a prelude to him potentially filling the hot seat permanently from next year is up for debate. In my opinion, getting someone in with fresh ideas can only be a good thing for the remaining two months of this tortuous campaign, but Kiyama would be a rather underwhelming full-time appointment who I struggle to envisage returning Gamba to their former glories should he be handed the reigns. For me, the club need to look for a higher profile candidate, be that a Japanese or foreign coach. I’d certainly be keen to hear the thoughts of others, am I wrong to dismiss Kiyama so quickly, what do you think?

Team News

Unfortunately, from a Gamba perspective, there is plenty of team news this week. Shu Kurata left the field against Kashiwa with a heavily strapped right thigh in just the 25th minute while Wellington Silva was carried off on a stretcher later on, but I believe this was just down to fatigue. Both players took part in the celebratory clap in front of the home fans at the end and if I were a betting man I’d say Silva will play here and Kurata will return after the international break. Sapporo’s defence will certainly be hoping there’s no Silva after the the endless headaches his penetrating runs gave them in the reverse fixture. Gen Shoji, Yuki Yamamoto and Tiago Alves have all been absent from the matchday squad for the Shonan and Kashiwa games with no official confirmation why. Matsunami mentioned Shoji’s ‘poor physical condition’ as the reason for his non-selection against Antlers and we can merely speculate that as the Nerazzurri had Takao, Kurokawa and Sato all on the bench on Sunday that Shoji, Yamamoto and Alves must have problems of some kind (alternatively Alves might have been punished for his ridiculous celebration after his consolation away to Kashima). Elsewhere, Leandro Pereira Yuya Fukuda, and Yuji Ono (all hamstring), Genta Miura (knee) and Jun Ichimori (shoulder) are likely to miss out while there’s still no word on the heavy knock Kosuke Onose took in the Emperor’s Cup tie with Shonan.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Sapporo only really have pride to play for in their final 8 league fixtures, and after this trip to Osaka they still have home dates with Fukuoka, Shonan and Kashiwa remaining in addition to away duels with Marinos, Shimizu, Tosu and Yokohama FC. Depending on motivation and fitness levels within the squad, gathering 13 points from those games isn’t entirely out of the question and that would leave them tantalisingly close to the club record of 55 points set during their 4th place run in 2018 (granted that haul came in a 34 match campaign, but reaching the half century this term would be a huge step in the right direction for the Rossoneri).

Looking ahead to next season, integrating new Slovenian signing Milan Tučić into the attack is vital considering the ageing of Jay Bothroyd and the departure of Anderson Lopes. Consadole’s only confirmed new arrival for 2022 so far is midfielder Hiromu Tanaka, older brother of Vegalta Sendai’s Wataru, he’ll join from Rissho University, and Sapporo have a pretty decent record with varsity recruits in recent seasons (Shunta Tanaka, Takamine, Kaneko, Ogashiwa). Speaking of those four, it’s quite possible that J1’s most northerly club will have to fend off suitors from further south, particularly those with a pressing need to rapidly lower the average age of their squad, Cerezo and FC Tokyo to name but two.

Team News

As usual writing this section is much easier for Gamba’s opponents than for the Nerazzurri. Key defender / set-piece mastermind Akito Fukumori (most last passes in J1 with 58, Takuro Kaneko is 4th with 48) has missed the past 4 games with a knee injury as has Thai schemer Chanathip, he has a thigh problem. No date has been given for the return of either player, as per J League norms. Central midfielder Kazuki Fukai has been absent for the last 7 fixtures while Jay Bothroyd sat out Sunday afternoon’s home defeat at the hands of Hiroshima, I don’t have any additional information on either.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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


Gamba Osaka vs Kashiwa Reysol 26 September 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Kashiwa Reysol
2021 J1 Season Round 30
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Sunday 26 September 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

It’s the first leg of a crucial home double-header for Gamba this weekend as they host fellow surprise strugglers Kashiwa Reysol on Sunday night. The outcome of this game and next Saturday’s encounter with Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo will go a long way to shaping the remainder of the Nerazzurri’s campaign, a gentle stroll, or a frantic crawl while constantly keeping tabs on what’s going on lower down in the standings.

The final match to be played at Panasonic Stadium before the 5,000 supporter limit is eased pits Gamba, in fourteenth, against the side who sit just one place and three points above them in the standings. Should the Nerazzurri be able to extend the feelgood factor generated by their 4-1 midweek thrashing of Shonan Bellmare in the Emperor’s Cup and pick up any sort of victory then they’d overtake the Sunkings. Conversely, if the men from Chiba are able to leave Suita with the win then that’d shift them onto 36 points, past my working threshold of 35 to be safe this year. Worth noting too is that this Saturday, Tokushima in seventeenth (seven points adrift of Gamba) travel to Vegalta Sendai and any result in that clash will leave the Ao to Kuro needing to avoid defeat here in order to maintain or extend the gap between themselves and the drop-zone.

Those of you who tuned in to this week’s episode of the J-Talk Podcast will know I’m going to be in attendance for this one and if you haven’t had a listen already then I encourage you to do so as you’ll hear my thoughts on Gamba’s harrowing 3-1 defeat at Kashima, Reysol’s 3-0 loss at home to Hiroshima and a complete rundown of all the recent talking points in J1. It’s available on all good podcast apps (including Spotify) so do check it out.

Tale of the Tape

It’s interesting that despite the totally different paths that have led them to round 30, only 3 points separate Kashiwa and Gamba and they both possess identical goal differences (-11). Reysol have scored and conceded seven more than the Nerazzurri which I think serves as a decent indicator of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two teams.

A brief glance at the second bottom line in the middle stats table below makes pretty grim reading for anyone of a Gamba persuasion. I can have my usual dig at Kashima for ‘milking’ the shots for figures with a number of speculative efforts from distance (they scored 4 times from 45 attempts this year versus once from 51 in 2020 so something’s improved), but in this case what you see in that chart gives a pretty accurate indication of the flow of the match. Despite that, after Tiago Alves’ spot kick, Kosuke Onose almost curled in what would have been a beautiful, but wholly unmerited second near the end and at that point it seemed Antlers centre-back Ikuma Sekigawa’s over-eagerness to fly into challenges and leave his fellow defenders exposed was the most likely assist provider for the Nerazzurri.

Big improvements are expected in this match and the outcome of Wednesday’s Emperor’s Cup fourth round tie with Shonan perhaps gives some indicators as to how Gamba can earn the three points here. The Nerazzurri found themselves three up going into half-time versus a shell-shocked Bellmare, courtesy of goals in the 2nd, 26th and 42nd minutes, however, in the league it’s been a different story with early strikes and comfortable leads almost unheard of in recent matches. During their present run of just a solitary win from their last eight league fixtures, the only time the men in blue and black have held the advantage was for the final eight minutes of the 1-0 away victory over Shimizu thanks to Hiroto Yamami’s wondergoal. At home the situation has been even more dire as the Gamba faithful haven’t seen their side record a J1 victory for almost two months since the come-from-behind triumph over Oita on 27 July where Takashi Usami’s winner was essentially the last kick of the game. One draw and three defeats have followed with the Nerazzurri lacking pace and incision in attack and being forced to chase games for long periods. This has allowed opponents to expose the home side’s tiredness later on, Takuma Nishimura and Shoma Doi’s solo efforts in the previous two league outings are painful evidence of that (I know Doi’s happened in an away game, but I think the point holds up nonetheless). I’ve rambled on for longer than I cared to in this section, but my basic argument is this, Gamba must strike early and decisively against both Kashiwa on Sunday and Sapporo next week in order to grab the six points that will make the rest of 2021 so much easier.

People who’ve followed my work throughout the year will have noted the number of times I’ve criticised Kashiwa for various transgressions and I want to make it clear that I have nothing against Reysol. My harsh words are more an expression of disappointment at the unfulfilled potential I see in their ranks rather than anything malicious. The Sunkings began 2021 horribly, taking just 14 points from their first 19 outings, to leave veteran coach Nelsinho’s job hanging by a thread. However, starting with the hugely fortuitous 4-2 win at Shonan in round 20, Reysol have picked up points at the clip of an ACL contender, 19 in 10 games. Though, as we can maybe gather from their 3-0 humbling at home to Hiroshima last weekend, this upsurge in results perhaps owes more to lady luck shining on them after casting them into the shadows during the early months of the season.

I struggle to find any reasons for their improvement when poring over the stats I collect on a game-by-game basis. Looking at xG, they outscored their opposition eleven times to eight in their opening nineteen fixtures, but only won four times. In their most recent ten outings, it’s an even 5-5 in terms of xG wins and losses while the Sunkings boast a 6-1-3 record in actual on-field results. XG For per game has risen 0.08 over the past ten matches, while xG Against also increased by 0.02. Additionally, Kashiwa are taking 0.6 shots more per match, but getting 0.1 less on target and at the other end, opponents are having 0.2 more efforts at goal per 90 minutes and finding the target 0.8 times more. There’s nothing there to suggest Nelsinho’s firmly got to grips with the issues at hand, though, in his defence, he has seemingly settled on a back three formation and there’s been a bit more consistency overall in his team selections. However, recurring injuries and a bloated squad continue to hold them back, without question. I’ll revisit some of these points in the ‘Kashiwa Reysol’ section below.

Head to Head

Kashiwa earned a valuable three points, just their second win of the year, when they saw off Gamba at Hitachidai back in April. Playmaker Ataru Esaka, now at Urawa, put in an outstanding performance and Brazilian substitute Matheus Savio added urgency to the attack, but the game’s only goal came via the rather unlikely source of Reysol veteran Hidekazu Otani. Despite Kashiwa huffing-and-puffing and threatening to blow Gamba’s house down for large periods during the second half, it appeared we were heading for a stalemate until Otani’s decisive strike fourteen minutes from time left the Nerazzurri winless and goalless from their opening four fixtures.

Gamba ground out an important 2-1 win over Olunga-inspired Reysol at Panasonic Stadium last October. That match is mostly remembered for Ademilson’s stunning winner in the final minute which would sadly prove to be the Brazilian’s last goal in a Gamba uniform as he was involved in a drink-driving incident just over 24 hours later and subsequently had his contract terminated. The home side had earlier taken the lead thanks to a Kim Seung-gyu own goal resulting from an incident in which the South Korean collided with Patric inside the six-yard box. The referee opted to allow the goal to stand despite strong protests from Cristiano et al. For me it was a 50/50 call just like the decision to rule out Ryo Shinzato’s header in the Levain Cup tie back in February, one was given, one wasn’t, pretty fair on the balance of things.

Just a final comment on that League Cup match back in 2020 as it was Gamba’s last pre-pandemic home fixture and it also featured one of the best goalkeeping displays I’ve ever seen live in a stadium with the aforementioned Kim Seung-gyu denying Gamba time and again during a second-half onslaught. For the sake of parity, I’ll mention that Michael Olunga gave Kashiwa a deserved first-half lead and rattled the hosts’ crossbar late on as they ran out of steam in the aftermath of Shinzato’s disallowed effort.

Gamba Osaka

With goals, or lack of them, being a central theme to many of my Gamba related complaints this season, and in light of the Nerazzurri’s 4-1 win over Shonan plus the fact they’ve failed to score more than twice at home in the league since November 2019, I thought now would be a good time to dedicate a little space to Gamba’s Mr. Goals this year, Patric. It may surprise J.League observers to learn that the Brazilian currently has 17 strikes from 35 outings (21 starts) in all competitions in 2021. That’s a goal every 112 minutes, though unfortunately that jumps up to every 192 minutes in J1. As mentioned above, a hard and fast start is vital against Kashiwa, and Patric, in-tandem with Usami and Wellington Silva are the men who need to make that happen.

Another common theme in this column has been deliberations over Gamba’s formation. Against Kashima last Saturday a back three was once again deployed with Ryu Takao still looking rusty following his injury layoff and the recalled Shunya Suganuma appearing utterly devoid of confidence. Regardless of whether or not Gen Shoji is fit enough to play here, I have the feeling Matsunami will opt for a back four. This was the system that closed out the Antlers match and also saw off an understrength Shonan in midweek, it also allows the three gunslingers I deified above, Patric, Usami and Wellington Silva, to all make the starting eleven.

Team News

The return of the now bleach blonde Dai Tsukamoto as a second half sub against Shonan gave the Nerazzurri a welcome boost, particularly in the wake of the announcement that Leandro Pereira and Yuji Ono have picked up hamstring injuries. Captain Genta Miura’s knee problem is likely to keep him out for most of the remaining fixtures while central defensive partner Gen Shoji missed the trip to former club Kashima through what I can only translate as ‘poor physical condition.’ Unfortunately I can’t shed any more light than that, but all Gamba supporters will be praying for his swift return. Popular utility player Yuya Fukuda took to Instagram to let fans know his recovery will take a little more time, but he’s champing at the bit to make a return. Long-term absentee Haruto Shirai is back in full training following knee surgery, but is unlikely to crack the matchday squad anytime soon and backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori (shoulder) is still out. Kosuke Onose had to be replaced by Shu Kurata in the first half of the 4-1 rout of Shonan after appearing to take a heavy knock to his leg, potentially his knee, I’m unsure as to how serious the issue is, but we probably won’t see him on Sunday.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Kashiwa Reysol

Selecting my Gamba predicted starting lineup usually keeps me awake at night with all the chopping and changing that goes on from one game to the next, but Kashiwa give them a run for their money having used 36 players this season compared with Gamba’s 27. The 3-0 home defeat to Hiroshima makes me think there will be some alterations in addition to the injury / suspension issues that I’ll detail below. Brazilian forward Pedro Raúl who netted 3 times in 8 J1 games surprisingly departed for Juárez in Mexico on loan this week having only signed for Reysol back in March, whether it’s because of a falling out with Nelsinho, as has been rumoured in some less than reliable quarters, or due to failing to settle in Japan, remains to be seen. But, what we can say is, it’s another hammer blow to a Sunkings attack already reeling from the losses of Olunga and Esaka in the past 12 months. They are having to rely more and more on the ageing Cristiano and injury prone Yusuke Segawa and the fruits of that can be seen in their inconsistent results this year. In all honesty, come December it wouldn’t surprise me if Nelsinho goes the way of compatriot Levir Culpi (see how I managed to squeeze him into yet another match preview), a once great club manager who’s now stayed at the disco too long and needs to be put out to pasture. Any potential new coach will inherit a talented squad with a number of burgeoning talents, but also several weak areas meaning that I’m sure the coming off-season will not be a quiet one in the western part of Chiba.

Team News

Midfield hardman Richardson picked up his fourth yellow card of the season against Hiroshima and will miss this tie due to suspension. Fellow central midfielder Hidekazu Otani has been out with a shoulder injury since mid-May and is expected back soon. It’s still unknown if young centre-back Takumi Kamijima has recovered from his heavy fall in the match with Sanfrecce which caused him to be stretchered off. Versatile midfielder Hayato Nakama has been missing since 19 June while winger Ippey Shinozuka and Brazilian volante Dodi haven’t featured in the matchday squad for the past seven league outings.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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


Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka 18 September 2021 Match Preview

Kashima Antlers vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 29
Kashima Soccer Stadium
Saturday 18 September 2021
Kick Off: 18:00 (JST)

Two of J1’s perennial heavyweights step into the ring for this contest looking to make amends for damaging results suffered last weekend. Antlers were downed 3-0 at home by a rampant Avispa Fukuoka while Gamba huffed and puffed, but were ultimately bested 3-2 by Vegalta Sendai in a surprisingly high scoring shootout between two of the league’s weaker attacking units. Despite their most recent setback, Kashima are still very much in the hunt for a 2022 ACL place, sitting only 3 points off third with 10 games remaining. Gamba, meanwhile, have dropped down to fourteenth, but importantly maintain a seven point advantage over Tokushima, who occupy the uppermost spot in the drop zone. However, it seems like the Nerazzurri are currently being aided more by the poor quality of the teams below them rather than their own good form. Kashima will see this encounter as a good platform to build some momentum ahead of their midweek clash with defending champions Kawasaki, while Gamba need to arrest their recent slump in form before it turns into a full-blown crisis.

Just a quick note, I will be on next week’s edition of the J-Talk Podcast discussing this game and all the others on the round 29 slate, please check it out if you have the chance!

Tale of the Tape

A cursory glance at the stats from Gamba’s 3-2 home loss to Sendai (their eighth at Panasonic Stadium in the league this year) might suggest something of a smash-and-grab by the men from Miyagi, and while this may be partly true, those of a blue and black persuasion would do well not to dwell on that too much and instead look at the areas clearly in need of improvement. Usami and Patric being re-united in attack brought about a season high 21 shots on goal, however, had Yuji Ono taken his chance in the eighth minute or if Usami had buried his shot past Jakub Słowik when the game was on a knife-edge at 2-2 then we could have seen an outcome more in-keeping with the story the stats tell us. As it was, Takuma Nishimura stopped arguing with the officials long enough to give Usami a finishing lesson and Cayman Togashi, obviously a big fan of this blog, took exception to my pre-match comments that he was a hard-working forward who doesn’t score goals, planting two first-half headers past Masaaki Higashiguchi to leave the Gamba defence and myself with giant dollops of egg on our faces. Masanobu Matsunami once again has a free midweek and he’ll need to use all the time available to work on defending crosses and set-pieces in addition to extra shooting practice for the midfielders and forwards. A change of scenery might help a bit too as though Gamba’s road stats are much weaker than those in Suita, crucially, in away fixtures, they do get more of the two most important things in football, wins and points.

I’m sure those of you who read this blog regularly will be aware of my deep dissatisfaction with how 2021 has turned out for Gamba, I believe Kashima supporters must also be feeling a sense at frustration at how their team’s season has panned out thus far. While Gamba generally tend to play up or down to match their opponent and rarely appear much better or worse than their opposition, the only exceptions to this rule, in my eyes anyway, have been Kawasaki and Kashima, who both looked a cut above in their wins in Suita earlier in the year, at the other end of the scale, Oita rarely seem to turn up against the Nerazzurri. Despite looking so impressive on occasion and doing the double over Yokohama F. Marinos, the longest streak of consecutive league victories Antlers have been able to string together this season is four. Whenever you think they are going to kick on, they seem to stumble unexpectedly. Brazilian forward Everaldo’s drop off in goals has been a major contributing factor to their inability to properly mount a title challenge. J1’s second top marksman in 2020 with 18 strikes incredibly has only a solitary league goal to his name this time out (he does have 8 in cup competitions). Although up and comers, Ryotaro Araki (9 goals, 6 assists) and Olympian Ayase Ueda (8 goals) have done their part, not to mention the 5 goals apiece from centre-backs Tomoya Inukai and Koki Machida, just imagine Everaldo had found the back of the net 11 times instead of once. If that rang true, then I doubt Antlers would currently be lying 19 points off top spot. Should Naoki Soma be able to solve the Everaldo riddle over the winter then a 2022 title challenge isn’t out of the question, but for now all eyes in Ibaraki must be firmly set on locking down third spot this year.

Head to Head

As I mentioned above, Kashima’s 1-0 victory at Panasonic Stadium in July thanks to Arthur Caike’s first J1 goal was in actual fact far more comfortable than the final score suggests. For context, and I really do think this important when analysing most Gamba matches this season, at the time this game was held, the Nerazzurri players and staff were still living in a hotel as part of the quarantine procedure after returning from the ACL group stage in Uzbekistan. Additionally, they were playing their third match in the space of seven days while Kashima were fresh from a near two-week break.

In the corresponding fixture last year, Kosuke Onose gave Gamba a dream start in just the sixth minute before the Nerazzurri withstood a barrage of Kashima pressure. Just when it seemed they’d hold out for a vital three points, Tomoya Inukai popped up with a powerful header in off Masaaki Higashiguchi’s right-hand post in the final seconds of additional time to claim what was ultimately a deserved point for the home side.

Gamba Osaka

Now that the coast has cleared a little fixture-wise for Gamba, one would expect to see more consistent team selections. However, at the weekend we were treated to a starting eleven from which 4-4-2 or 3-4-2-1 formations looked equally plausible. As it turned out, the team lined up in a 3-4-2-1 system in the first-half with Ryu Takao partnering Gen Shoji and Kim Young-gwon at the back before a switch to 4-4-2 in the second period, a move which saw Takao revert to his best position of right-back and Shinya Yajima shift from the right shadow role to left-wing. I’ve stated multiple times that I’m no fan of constant mid-season tinkering of a club’s shape, especially defensively, and it’s up to Matsunami now to define Gamba’ strategy for the remaining 10 league fixtures, are we a back 3 or a back 4 team? Speaking of remaining fixtures, Gamba’s defeat at the hands of Sendai looks all the more damaging when you consider the run of matches that lie ahead. In addition to this tussle with Kashima, the Nerazzurri also have to travel to Kawasaki, Marinos and Urawa as well as hosting Tosu and Nagoya before the season’s end, not an easy looking set of games at all, is it? Let’s keep our fingers and toes crossed there’s nothing left riding on that final day home encounter with Satoshi Yamaguchi’s Shonan Bellmare.

Quick Update: Today (16 September) Gamba announced winger Jiro Nakamura and forward Isa Sakamoto would be promoted to the top team next season. Congratulations to both.

Team News

Yuji Ono’s wretched run of luck continued on Sunday when he was stretchered off with a right-hamstring injury after only 15 minutes, I doubt he’ll be back again this season, and it’s possible Gamba could release him at the end of the year owing to his ongoing fitness issues. Hiroki Fujiharu and Ryu Takao were also subbed off against Sendai, though I believe Fujiharu was just suffering from cramp (yet again) and Takao’s withdrawal was merely precautionary. Wellington Silva did make a welcome return to the squad on Sunday, though the fact that it was Shinya Yajima, not him, who replaced Ono early on suggests he’s not fit enough to start yet. It appears Genta Miura’s knee injury won’t require surgery, but he’s likely to be sidelined for a number of weeks. Other than that, Yuya Fukuda (hamstring), Dai Tsukamoto (thigh), Jun Ichimori (shoulder) and Haruto Shirai (knee) are the other confirmed absentees. Leandro Pereira wasn’t in the matchday squad on Sunday and all I can say is that I doubt it’s because Matsunami thinks Tiago Alves is a better player than him.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Kashima Antlers

Kashima are Kashima and though the faces on the field and on the bench may change, the playing style and philosophy endure. You can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be set up in their customary 4-4-2/4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1, however you want to define it, and will look to move the ball quickly from back to front, utilising the quality of their attacking widemen to generate chances while also peppering Gamba’s goal with a number of speculative efforts from distance. Box-to-box midfielder Diego Pituca, a stand out in the reverse fixture in July, will be a key player again here, as will compatriot Everaldo, depending on how much of a role he plays. He appears to be dropping deeper and into wider areas looking for work, when in reality it would be best for the team if he loitered around the edge of the box waiting to be serviced by the likes of Doi, Araki and Izumi rather than the other way round. The composition of Antlers central defence will also be an important factor, but I’ll get into that more in the paragraph below.

Team News

Centre-back Tomoya Inukai is the headline absentee for Kashima after injuring his hamstring in the Levain Cup quarter-final second leg defeat to Nagoya, he’s expected to be out for six weeks. Regular partner, and rumoured target for several European clubs, Koki Machida has missed the past two outings with no reason given by the club. Bueno, the Tiago Alves of Antlers, partnered rookie Naoki Hayashi (Osaka Taiiku Univ.) in the match with Fukuoka and the results were less than stellar, to say the least, so Kashima supporters will be keenly hoping for Machida’s return here. Elsewhere, backup ‘keeper Taiki Yamada (knee) is done for the year while Antlers’ version of Yuji Ono, Rikuto Hirose, is out with a hamstring problem yet again. Juan Alano and Yuta Matsumura haven’t featured in the matchday squad since the 2-1 win at Shonan on 9 August and veteran midfielder Ryota Nagaki last saw action in the 1-0 away defeat at the hands of Kobe on August 21.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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


Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai 12 September 2021 Match Preview

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

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

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

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

Tale of the Tape

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

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

Head to Head

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

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

Gamba Osaka

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

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

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

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

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

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Vegalta Sendai

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

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

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

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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


Ask @BlogGamba

I believe it was Jon Steele who said to me ahead of my J-Talk: Extra Time debut, “the thing about opening the floor to questions is that people might ask some,” and I must admit I’ve been taken aback by the volume and quality of inquiries that have come my way over the past few days. I’ve tried my hardest to answer them all to the best of my ability, hopefully you enjoy my thoughts and opinions. I’m interested to hear your feedback on some of the points raised, not only about Gamba, but also other J1 sides.

Before we get to that though, have a quick trawl through some stats I’ve dug up below. Alternatively, if statistics aren’t really your thing, scroll down to the mailbag section to see my answers to your questions.

League Stats Correct to 3 September 2021

I’m not really going to analyse these tables as Ryo Nakagawara (@R_by_Ryo on Twitter) did an amazing job with some similar information during the summer break, check out his work, if you haven’t already. I have used J Stats for most of this data and what you see in my matchday previews. Please enjoy taking a look to see how your team stacks up.

Projected Gamba Osaka 2022 Depth Chart

I included this as it may be good to refer back to after some of my answers below.


Ok, now finally to your questions. Where possible I’ve answered several together.

First Up, I sent chins wagging with my starting eleven tweet on Saturday where I intimated captain Genta Miura’s time in Osaka was nearing it’s end. As a result I received the following questions,

João Miguel @JoaoMiguel063

Should Gamba bet on playing with 3 centre backs as their usual tactic? Because from what I’ve seen, Shoji, Miura and Gwon are 3 of the best CB’s in Japan.

Georg @G_R_1904

do you expect miura to leave or why do you think its a taste of 2022?

are there any more starters like miura rumored to be leaving & on which positions will gamba mainly be looking for new additions to the squad?

Pichichi FC @tastytorres

if he stays how do you see the rest of the season going for him minutes wise?

Blog Gamba: Perhaps giving Miura the captaincy made sense back in 2018, but now with him featuring alongside, sometime South Korea national team captain Kim Young-gwon and highly decorated Japan international Gen Shoji in addition to having Gamba legends Masaaki Higashiguchi and Shu Kurata behind, and in front of him, there’s a lot of weight on the 26 year-old’s shoulders. Additionally he’s received criticism from his own supporters for failing to press the referee into a VAR review in the match at Sapporo (see Tatsuki Seko’s sending off in the Kashiwa vs Yokohama FC game last weekend for an example of where a bit of high pitched screaming at the officials can get you), and also his blunder that led to Felipe Vizeu’s crucial second goal in the 3-1 loss at Yokohama FC. Consider too that Miura, Gamba’s captain no less, was an unused substitute in last Saturday’s Osaka Derby, and was also left on the bench for the 3-2 home loss to Yokohama F. Marinos, one of, if not, the strongest attacking units in the league and it doesn’t exactly add up to a ringing endorsement of his abilities from kantoku Masanobu Matsunami.

Of course the Nerazzurri should be under new management next season, whether members of the club’s hierarchy know who that is already is up for debate. At the moment Gamba have Miura, Kim and Shoji who are three of the top-rated centre-backs in the league, but when we look at high performing J1 sides they all have one thing in common, a clearly defined shape. Kawasaki? 4-3-3, Marinos? 4-2-3-1? Kashima? 4-4-2 with the second striker sometimes dropping a bit deeper. Gamba? 3-4-2-1? 4-4-2? 4-3-3? 4-2-3-1? 3-5-2? They’ve all been used this season. Whoever takes over in 2022 will have to make some tough choices, if they are going to play with a back three then some wingers and number tens will have to go, if it’s a back four then one of Miura, Shoji and Kim will have to depart. At the moment, from my eyes, Miura is the most likely of the trio to head for the exit, but I’m very much an outsider with regards to club affairs and this is purely my speculation.

Now to the second part of Georg’s question, again a lot will depend on who next season’s coach is and how quickly Gamba can confirm their J1 status for 2022 (if at all). Looking into my crystal ball, I’d expect more departures than arrivals as the squad is still a bit bloated and there likely won’t be any ACL next year. Hiroto Yamami is officially a new signing, there will probably also be 2-3 promotions from the youth team, potentially Jiro Nakamura, Isa Sakamoto and maybe even Naoki Asano or Jinta Miki (I’m less sure about them than the other two). If, as expected, Leandro Pereira goes, then a new (probably foreign) striker is a must, Felipe Vizeu (Yokohama FC) might fit that bill, Thiago Santana (Shimizu) would be a dream, or what about Keita Yamashita (Tosu) if the club are looking for a viable homegrown option? If Miura leaves, then a veteran backup centre-back or an up-and-comer from J2 could come aboard as a replacement. I quite like the look of Okayama’s Rikito Inoue, while Yuto Misao (Oita), Leo Osaki (Kobe), Han Hogang (Yokohama FC) or Kazunari Ohno (Shonan) are just a few examples off the top of my head of acquirable central defenders with J1 experience.

Leandro Pereira, Tiago Alves, Miura, Ju Se-jong and Haruto Shirai are the most likely departures in my opinion. Backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori could go too and I’m not the biggest fan of Shinya Yajima, but he must be running rings round his team-mates in training to keep on making the starting eleven, so he’ll probably stay. South Korean left-back / wing-back Shin Won-ho may very well push for more minutes in 2022 so he, plus Kim Young-gwon, Wellington Silva, Patric and a new forward from overseas would take the squad up to the five foreigner limit with Pereira, Alves and Ju Se-jong gone.

Richard Obermajer @RObermajer

And what about Ono, do you think that he will be in starting 11 next season?
(this question followed on from the thread about Miura, hence the question starting with ‘and’)

Blog Gamba: Yuji Ono arrived in Suita at the start of last season to little fanfare after a middling spell with Sagan Tosu. However, he was a ray of sunshine following the league’s re-start in June and was keeping Shu Kurata on the bench. Then, as has happened so often in his career, injury struck and he was ruled out for nine months due to knee surgery. He returned this summer, looked sharp in the ACL, but quickly got re-injured again and seems to have been wrapped in cotton wool in recent weeks. One goal and two assists since making his latest comeback shows you he certainly has the talent to nail down a space in the starting eleven, but I can’t see him staying injury-free long enough to make any confident predictions.

Rob Marshall @RobMarshall_19

How do you see them doing in the ACL? What is the situation with Kosei Tani, will he be first choice next season?

Blog Gamba: The club released a statement last month setting out goals for the remainder of 2021 which included staying in J1 and winning the Levain and Emperor’s Cups. So far, so bold. However, 24 hours later, ahead of their league clash with FC Tokyo, they made 11 changes to the starting lineup from the midweek Emperor’s Cup win over Matsumoto, so I’m not quite sure how serious they really are about lifting trophies this season. Emperor’s Cup success, of course, is Gamba’s only remaining path to ACL qualification next year, and in all honesty, I think they’d be better off out than in, in 2022 (especially if, as seems likely, it’s played in bubbles like this year’s edition). Also worth considering is the fact that second placed Marinos and Kobe (fourth) ended up ninth and fourteenth respectively twelve months ago. Now, I certainly don’t go along with the commonly aired excuse that these poor showings were almost entirely down to ACL involvement, but I will concede it was the biggest single contributing factor. If Gamba can play next season with no outside distractions (ACL, Covid clusters etc) and make a couple of tweaks to the squad and tactics, then there’s no reason that they can’t once again finish in the top six.

Re: Tani, I don’t think he’ll be back at Gamba next season. Although Higashiguchi didn’t exactly cover himself in glory trying to stop Riku Matsuda’s shot last Saturday, his form has generally been excellent and he’s still one of the best in J1. If Shonan stay up, then I’d expect Tani to remain there for at least one more year, his global exposure thanks to playing in the Olympics and now being called up to Japan’s senior team makes a move to Europe seem all the more likely by the day, though.

Nick Taylor @Rolyatkcin_

Now that their fixture schedule calms down, do you think they’ll have a set first 11 heading out each game week?

Blog Gamba: In theory yes, though they now have a large number of players who are used to starting at least once every two to three matches so it’s going to be a tough job keeping everyone happy. At the moment Gamba aren’t in imminent danger of being sucked back into the relegation battle and bagging the three points in their next match at home to Sendai would come close to putting all relegation worries to bed. Should things settle down towards the business end of the season and as decisions start getting made regarding the composition of next year’s squad then it’s possible that some of the players I mentioned above as being likely to depart could slip out of matchday contention.

Jezalenco @JeremyWarren24

After watching the Gamba game on the weekend and seeing fujiharu give everything and possibly injured again. Is to much being asked of certain players that aren’t 100% fit? What is the general feeling of that Osaka faithful about current management?

Blog Gamba: It seems that Fujiharu has struggled with cramp towards the end of his previous two outings. It’s worth pointing out how intense the summer heat is here in Japan, and also how humid it’s been, particularly over the past fortnight after a mid-August deluge. Fujiharu has suffered from cramp like many of his fellow professionals in the league, however, you are right to point the finger at Gamba’s management for the recurrent injury problems. Physical coach Takeshi Ikoma has been employed since the beginning of the 2020 season and has overseen a near constant cycle of injuries. This has been picked up on by the Gamba faithful and it’s quite likely that Ikoma will be heading for fresh pastures next year.

Sam Robson @FRsoccerSam

What are your views on the criticism levelled at Takashi Usami and his lack of goals. Does he do enough in other areas or should Gamba be expecting more from a player of his pedigree?

Blog Gamba: Yappari, a tough one from Sam. Since re-returning to Gamba in mid-2019, Usami, who of course first made a name for himself during the ultra attack-minded Nishino era, has been tasked with creating and scoring the majority of the team’s goals in defence first set-ups. In the formation graphic I included near the beginning of this post, I have Usami in the number ten role just behind a tall, physical Brazilian forward and that’s the kind of environment where I think he thrives. This year, he’s been on the left-wing, on the right, playing off Pereira, playing off Patric, playing off Alves, his head’s dipped at times and we definitely haven’t seen the best of him, but would we see the best of anyone under such circumstances? It’s interesting that (and this is relying on my rudimentary Japanese), opposing coaches often single out Usami as a danger in pre-match interviews and for praise afterwards, the DAZN commentators also regularly mention his attacking contributions, so he is still very well respected by those in the game. As you know from our chats on J-Talk, I’d like to see Akira Nishino return as Gamba coach, I believe the man who first brought Usami into the top team is also the man to revive his career. Nishino would build the team around Usami and together I believe they’d move Gamba away from, frankly pathetic, statistics like 19 goals for in 27 games.

Stuart Smith @sushi_football

What does a “successful” 2021 season for Gamba look like?

Blog Gamba: Wow, I just read that Kyogo Furuhashi article in the Times yesterday (Sunday), now the pressure’s really on…Gamba sit thirteenth, seven points out of the drop zone, so a conservative answer might say, climb a couple of places in the standings, get the goals for numbers up and don’t embarrass ourselves in the cups. It’d also be nice if we could uncover another young talent to pin our hopes on. Hiroto Yamami has already sent hearts fluttering, but maybe Shin Won-ho could come in and do some of his Cristiano Ronaldo stepovers in the last few games of the season or Yuya Fukuda returns from his hamstring injury like a man possessed and we’ve at least got something to make us believe that brighter days lie ahead.

ガンバ大阪スポルタヨーロッパ @Gambaosakaeurop

Why does gamba always seem to have a bad start into the season but are getting better during the second part of the season after summer?

Blog Gamba: I was maybe slightly over-critical of our good friends Urawa in my mid-season predicted lineups post, so let me try to build some bridges here. Gamba’s front office work hasn’t been good enough in recent years, especially when it comes to working in tandem with first-team management and youth academy staff. By way of comparison, look at Reds, they brought in Ricardo Rodriguez this season, a coach with a clear plan and way of playing football. Rodriguez’s project is running ahead of schedule, making the decision to sign five new players this summer seem a little surprising on the surface, as this would normally be quite rare for a team sitting comfortably in the top half of the standings. However, there is little pressure from the fanbase this year and though qualifying for the ACL would be a welcome bonus, it’s not expected, or demanded. Therefore, bringing the likes of Scholz, Sakai, Hirano, Esaka and Kinoshita in early allows them to get fully up to speed before next season when they will really be expected to challenge Kawasaki, Marinos and Kashima. Rodriguez will only need a couple of new additions in the off-season and will then have the team’s winter training camps to get the side ready to hit the ground running from the opening day.

Compare the situation above to what’s been going on at the three ‘big’ clubs currently languishing in the bottom half of the table, Gamba, Kashiwa and Cerezo. I’ve laid out a number of issues at Gamba in my answers above, additionally signings like Daisuke Takagi, David Concha and Markel Susaeta, where the left hand clearly didn’t know what the right hand was doing are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to internal mis-management in recent seasons. Kashiwa are also having a miserable year, hindered by incomprehensible front-office work and Cerezo are just done replacing Levir Culpi with Akio Kogiku. It appears that Kogiku has been handed the dual remits of stopping the recent poor run of results and drastically reducing the average age of one of J1’s oldest starting elevens. He was successful on both accounts against Gamba last Saturday and how did his front office repay him? A 33 year-old winger, presumably on a bumper salary.

Bottom line, in my opinion front office decisions matter a lot, be it Urawa’s use of Wyscout, Kashima utilising Zico and Marinos partnering with City Football Group to successfully recruit quality Brazilians or Kawasaki’s faith in youth team players and university graduates with a commitment to the team ethos. Those clubs have raised the bar, now it’s time for Gamba to rise to the challenge.


What are the things that changed for the better and the worse since Miyamoto is gone? Are the failed foreign signings (specially Leandro/Tiago) to blame for the bad season? Who should take over for next season?

Blog Gamba: Honestly, there haven’t been too many tactical changes since Miyamoto left. I think Matsunami would prefer a more attacking set-up, but after it went horribly wrong in his first two games in charge vs Urawa and FC Tokyo, he basically reverted to Miyamoto’s game plan. It’s kind of hard to judge him because Gamba have had loads of injuries, in addition to playing games every 3-4 days with no time to really work on things on the training ground (we played 17 times in all competitions during July and August!)

Regarding Pereira and Alves (I’d also add in Ju Se-jong as another example of a foreign signing that hasn’t worked out), I think it’s a little unfair to compare those two. Pereira was brought in on big money to be the main striker and he really hasn’t adapted to Gamba, while Gamba, in turn, haven’t adapted to him. Granted there have been some mitigating factors, he missed most of the team’s pre-season camp, the five week shutdown due to Covid made everything much more difficult and he then picked up a shoulder injury a few weeks after Gamba returned to action. He’s looked very isolated and frustrated on the field recently, but I think if he found another J1 club that played to his strengths then he would perform better. Alves, by contrast, was only really signed because we couldn’t get Wellington Silva into the country for the start of the season, and he’s re-surfaced recently because Wellington is injured. Nothing much was expected of him to begin with, Matsunami is picking him out of necessity, not because he thinks he’s one of the best eleven players at the club, and I’m sure he’ll be on his bike at the end of the year.

There’s never just one single factor that can define why a team’s season went well or poorly. Clearly a number of things have gone wrong at Gamba in 2021, the biggest of which was the Covid cluster after round 1. As you can see at teams like Kawasaki and Marinos recently, being without multiple players in the same position and also having to rotate regular starters at the same time leaves a team in a very vulnerable position. That’s basically been the story of Gamba’s season, Yota Sato was sent off against Yokohama FC, but he’s backup to the backup, Alves has started the past 2 league games because Patric and Wellington were injured and Pereira and Usami had to be rested as they’d had a punishing schedule covering for their team-mates. I don’t want to sound like I’m making excuses, but, fatigue, injuries and rotation have all led to Gamba playing a large number of matches this season with second and third choice players going against opposition first picks. Next year, that should be less of a factor, so if they can bring in a good, strong outside appointment such as Akira Nishino or Yahiro Kazama then I believe we can make a swift return to the top six/seven.

Dai @Dai71718626

I was more disappointed with the player’s attitude than I lost in the derby. They were laughing when greeting the audience after the Derby match. Is it possible for other overseas league players who lost after the derby match to laugh at each other?

Blog Gamba: This is a really good question, and I’d be interested to hear other people’s opinions on this subject too. Personally, as someone raised on European football, one of the most charming points about the J League is the absence of a number of things I’d grown sick of in the European game, greed and the same teams winning all the time, entitled, over-demanding supporters, play-acting, fan violence etc. I also enjoy the atmosphere in and around the stadiums, where you’ll find men, women, families and couples all mingling in a pleasant and safe environment. Added to that you have more camaraderie between players, as evidenced by Emil Salomonsson and Yoichiro Kakitani helping each other back to their feet after a coming together a couple of weeks ago or Shinzo Koroki sharing a joke with former team-mate Shinya Yajima following Gamba’s come-from-behind 2-1 win in Saitama last year. The players are human and if I’m satisfied they’ve given their best on the field, then I’m not too concerned if they chat with opposition players before or after games and even share a joke after a defeat to try and take their mind off things for a while. Like I said in my Gamba vs FC Tokyo preview, there’s a time for a bit of controlled aggression on a football pitch, and that’s between the first and final whistles, before and after, however, if players want to show a more human side to their character, I’m ok with that.

And that’s a wrap…hope you found what I had to say interesting, I’m sure you agreed with some points and disagreed on others, and that’s all fine. I’d love to hear from you, please let me know what you think about some of the issues raised in this post.

Thanks again for your support and maybe I’ll do one of these Q&A’s again at the end of the year.


Gamba Osaka vs Cerezo Osaka 28 August 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Cerezo Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 27
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 28 August 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

Quick Note – By the time you read this article, Cerezo boss Levir Culpi may have been relieved of his duties by the club. I decided not to tamper with the original text because, A – it would take forever to alter all the Culpi references, and B – a lot of it is still pretty relevant. So, please sit back, relax and enjoy my ‘ingenious’ foresight that a shocking run of results culminating in a 5-1 home defeat by relegation haunted opposition may put a manager under pressure. Oh, and have any FC Tokyo supporters suggested Kenta Hasegawa as a potential replacement yet?

The Game

The stage is set and the battle lines have been drawn for the second Osaka Derby of 2021. Gamba and Cerezo are set to become familiar foes over the next few days, first locking horns in this league clash before their Levain Cup quarter-final double-header on September 1st (Yodoka Sakura Stadium) and 5th (Panasonic Stadium). Just a quick reminder with regards to this blog, I only write cup previews if Gamba reach the final of the Levain Cup or the semi-finals of the Emperor’s Cup (I’ve got to to take a break sometime, you know!) However, next week I am planning to open the floor to questions and will hopefully have some answers to post around September 3rd, keep an eye out on Twitter for more information.

Just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for both Osaka clubs on Wednesday night. Ten-man Gamba were humbled 3-1 at bottom club Yokohama FC, while Cerezo said “hold my pint” and got pummeled 5-1 at home by Shonan Bellmare in one of the most shocking results of the year. The Cherry Blossoms and the Nerazzurri enter this Osaka Derby level on 30 points apiece, though Cerezo have the better goal difference and also, importantly, a game in hand. The gap between both teams and the drop zone currently stands at 7 points, so no imminent danger, but, with the pink half of Osaka winning just one of their last thirteen league outings, and the hiding from Bellmare fresh in everyone’s minds, the pressure really is on Brazilian kantoku Levir Culpi.

There you have it, two teams from the same prefecture, both coming off embarrassing midweek outings, both disappointing down in mid-table after excellent 2020 campaigns, both with under-performing players and under-fire coaches, who will take the bull by the horns and write themselves into Osaka Derby folklore this Saturday night?

Tale of the Tape

Consider that Cerezo lost their last league match 5-1 at home to Shonan, now look at the key stats for that game in the table below and you might wonder why I put so much faith in the statistical analysis of football. Levir Culpi must be tearing out what little hair he has left (I’m balding and Culpi’s older than my parents so I can make that joke, ok!!) at his side’s inability to convert xG dominance into victories. As stated above, the Cherry Blossoms have just a solitary win from their last thirteen fixtures yet they’ve exceeded their opponent’s xG in ten of those contests. At present, they average 1.4 goals conceded per game compared with the Lotina/Jonjić-era elite defence which gave up just 1.09 last year and a league leading 0.74 in 2019. Culpi is a much more attack-oriented coach than Lotina, so how do offensive stats shape up? In 2021, the Cherry Blossoms are scoring at a clip of 1.36 per match, which is almost identical to last season’s 1.35 and a decent improvement on the 1.14 two years ago. Clearly there’s been a steady shift from the ultra-defensive 2019 campaign to what we have now, a team trying to break out of it’s shell, but struggling to calibrate. In recent matchdays it appears Cerezo are able to attack well, but can’t simultaneously bolt the door shut, then when they do keep things tight at the back, they are unable to build up enough of a head of steam to penetrate (thanks S-Pulse) opposition rearguards. Can Culpi solve this conundrum? His job will very much be in jeopardy if he can’t.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about Gamba in this section other than while Cerezo vs Shonan was clearly a statistical outlier, the men in blue and black generated exactly 1.0 xG and scored 1 goal against Yokohama FC, so my faith in numbers is partially restored. All joking aside, the Nerazzurri are one of the biggest under-performers compared to xG For, and an extreme over-performer in regards to xG Against. A large part of this could be down to the sheer amount of rotational switches made from game to game as a result of the club’s fixture backlog. Hopefully we’ll start to see more consistent patterns emerge following the international break next month when the league schedule calms down a heck of a lot, which will be manna from heaven for blog writers like me!

Head to Head

The first Osaka Derby of 2021 in May unfortunately had to be held with no supporters in Nagai Stadium due to a state of emergency being in place at the time. Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s penultimate match in charge of the Nerazzurri was decided by two penalties, one missed by Cerezo, and the other scored by Gamba. Yuya Fukuda was rather harshly punished for a first-half handball and this gave Yuta Toyokawa the chance to put his side ahead from the spot. However, the former Kashima and Okayama forward saw his well-struck effort cannon off the post. It looked like that miss wouldn’t prove costly when substitute Motohiko Nakajima put the Cherry Blossoms in front with just 16 minutes remaining. No such luck for Cerezo though, Patric stayed cool and buried his penalty past Kim Jin-hyeon following another contentious handball decision. The hard-fought 1-1 draw earned Miyamoto a brief stay of execution before Kawasaki brought the curtain down on his near three year reign six days later.

Both 2020 editions of the derby were just as keenly contested. The first of the two was played at an empty Panasonic Stadium in early July, immediately following the league’s resumption after the four month Covid-enforced hiatus. Cerezo left-back Yusuke Maruhashi was the star of the show, cutting back for Hiroaki Okuno to slot home the opener, before slamming a goal of the season contender past Masaaki Higashiguchi early in the second half. Ademilson set up a nervy finish, converting a spot kick after Yasuki Kimoto handled in the area, but it ended 2-1 to the Cherry Blossoms, their first away league win at Gamba since 2003. The reverse fixture was another physical 1-1 draw, very similar to this year’s encounter. Yosuke Ideguchi drew first blood for the Nerazzurri, but Yuta Toyokawa levelled shortly after. Neither team were able to add to their tally after the interval, though Hiroshi Kiyotake almost delivered his own magical Osaka Derby moment, sending his bicycle kick just wide in second-half stoppage time.

Gamba Osaka

Let’s Talk About Centre-Backs – A back three has been the order of the day for Gamba on-and-off since early 2019. With Genta Miura, Gen Shoji and Kim Young-gwon essentially un-droppable there is no other way for a Gamba coach to set up the team. Miura can play right-back, but Takao and Yanagisawa are far better options. It’s been mooted in the past that Kim Young-gwon possesses the skills to play as a deep-lying playmaker, yet he’s still untested in that role, and there’s always the fear it could go the same way as the Masato Morishige experiment at FC Tokyo. With all this in mind, I wonder if Gamba’s new kantoku, whoever that may be, could be willing to part with one of the holy trinity in order to focus on building the team around the potentially explosive 2022 offence? From left to right, Wellington Silva, Takashi Usami and Hiroto Yamami playing just behind Felipe Vizeu, with Patric coming of the bench for the final twenty. Anyone else’s mouth watering?

While we’re on the subject of centre-backs, Yota Sato was given a straight red-card for hauling down Maguinho in first-half stoppage time on Wednesday night. Sato is in his first season as a pro and arrived highly rated from Meiji University, however, I have real concerns about how he’s being managed. Of course Gamba have had to rotate, but centre-back is a role where it takes time to build up understanding with the players around you and throwing Sato in cold every 7-8 games isn’t really giving him a fair shake, is it? He hasn’t looked particularly brilliant any time I’ve seen him, but when you consider he made his first two senior starts out of position at right-back, the second of which was against Kaoru Mitoma and Kawasaki, and has since just dotted in and out of the team, you wonder if he’s really being handled the right way?

Finally, Gamba Youth product Shuhei Kawasaki has signed for Portimonense in Portugal today (26 August). I thoroughly enjoyed watching him run amok in J3 in the second half of 2019 and the early part of 2020, but he struggled to make much of an impression on the first-team after that. Did he see the instant impact made by Hiroto Yamami and also the potential arrival next season of fellow academy youngsters Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto and think his time to shine had come and gone? Or, has he got an agent in his ear telling him scoring a hat-trick against an exhausted Tampines Rovers, who’d just come from a double-header with Jeonbuk no-less, was the best thing since sliced bread? Who knows? I’m sad he’s gone, and I’m also more than a touch concerned over the career path he’s taking.

Team News
There was a again no Patric for the Nerazzurri on Wednesday night, he appears to have a niggling injury and I expect he’ll make the bench, at best, here. Yota Sato is, of course, suspended following his red against Yokohama FC, though it’s doubtful he’d have cracked the matchday squad in any case. Ryu Takao (ankle), Wellington Silva (groin), Yuya Fukuda (hamstring) and Dai Tsukamoto (thigh) are still nowhere to be seen, with no time-frame announced for their returns. Reserve ‘keeper Jun Ichimori and wing-back Haruto Shirai are continuing to work their way through lengthy rehab programs. Once again I’m unsure of the availability of designated special player Hiroto Yamami, this is a home game and his university is located in the eastern part of Hyogo, so it’s quite possible he could earn himself a spot on the pine.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Cerezo Osaka

Readers of this blog from last season will remember my regular jibes about Levir Culpi’s ill-fated stint as Nerazzurri boss back in 2018. I’m not fan of his personally, but despite being a Gamba supporter, I bear Cerezo no ill-will, so I’ll try and give them a fair shake here. Their main threats come from the wide areas with both, Riku Matsuda and the excellent Tatsuhiro Sakamoto down the right flank bagging four assists apiece already this campaign. On the left-side you have one of my favourite non-Gamba J1 players Yusuke Maruhashi (he was on fire during my first ever live game in Japan), he also has four assists in 2021 and just ahead of him is club captain and legend Hiroshi Kiyotake. Add Naoyuki Fujita’s long throws into the mix and Gamba’s much vaunted back three will have to be on their guard at all times on Saturday. Culpi, someone who was renowned for his youth development work during previous spells at the club, has curiously largely ignored a number of burgeoning young talents in the squad and instead squeezed the ageing warriors of the Lotina era into a series of different starting formations. In the last three outings alone we’ve seen, 3-4-2-1, 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2, so take my selection below with a rather large pinch of salt.

Team News

Off-season signing from Sapporo, Ryosuke Shindo’s miserable injury run has continued with Cerezo and he’s been out with a shoulder complaint since April. Additionally, veteran forward Yoshito Okubo who, of course, began the season with five goals in as many games, but hasn’t found the back of the net since, has been absent from the matchday squad for the past four games. Young prodigy Jun Nishikawa, a player one might have expected to thrive under Culpi, has started just once in J1 this campaign and hasn’t been seen for seven matches. I don’t have any details on why Okubo and Nishikawa have been absent, so can only speculate that it’s down to fitness issues.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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


Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka 25 August 2021 Match Preview

Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 26
NHK Spring Mitsuzawa Football Stadium
Wednesday 25 August 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

Gamba make the two hour journey east along the Tokaido Shinkansen to face J1’s bottom side Yokohama FC this Wednesday in a match that arguably has more significance for the home side, given their predicament at the foot of the table. However, Nerazzurri kantoku Masanobu Matsunami, fresh from being confirmed as boss for the rest of the season, must still have some of the fan criticism following Saturday’s stalemate at home to FC Tokyo ringing in his ears, and he will be determined for his charges to return to winning ways here.

The Ao to Kuro’s first draw in ten league outings and fifth 0-0 of the year was a fairly drab affair, save for spurts of end-to end action at the beginning and conclusion of the second half. The late arrival of Hiroto Yamami brought some much needed impetus to Gamba’s attacking play and fellow substitute Tiago Alves blew two decent chances to earn the three points. The Nerazzurri could, and should, have been made to pay by FC Tokyo replacement Kyosuke Tagawa, but he couldn’t hit the target after being presented with a golden opportunity to make himself a hero in the final minute of regular time. A contest that looked like it would end scoreless from very early on, was indeed destined to finish that way. The point didn’t do either side much good in the grand scheme of things, but shouldn’t be considered a disaster either.

Yokohama FC were also in Osaka on Saturday night, but they saw their four-game mini-revival grind to a shuddering halt against a fired-up Cerezo side who bagged their first win in twelve league outings. Despite former Gamba favourite Kazuma Watanabe firing the visitors into an early lead, YFC’s advantage was quickly extinguished as they were undone by two Tiago headers from corners within the space of four first half minutes. A flowing team move in the second half was finished off by the always impressive Tatsuhiro Sakamoto to leave no way back for the men from Kanagawa.

The Fulie come into this clash 8 points from safety with just 13 matches to save themselves from the drop. Not only are they owners of the worst overall record in J1, they are also the division’s weakest home outfit. Gamba, by contrast, perform like a top 6 side on their travels, and will be confident of grabbing the three points at Mitsuzawa Stadium. Yokohama FC have reached the do-or-die stage of their campaign, can they summon a massive performance and prove that their 2-0 win over Nagoya was more than just a mirage, or will Gamba dig deep and grind out another ugly road win?

Tale of the Tape

Yokohama FC have earned two-thirds of their points this season on home turf, while visitors Gamba seemingly prefer an away day having picked up 60% of their yearly total on the road. A lot has rightly been made of YFC’s leaky defence, which gives up a frightening 2.16 goals per game, and has conceded five times in a single match on three occasions already in 2021, granted these were all away from the Mitsuzawa (Sapporo, Marinos and Kobe). Things did look to be picking up with a run of three consecutive clean sheets, two of them coming immediately after the arrivals of, German ‘keeper Svend Brodersen and Brazilian centre-back Gabriel, but that optimism was largely swept away by Cerezo at the weekend. Gamba’s prefectural rivals appear to be in possession of the manuscript for how to defeat Yokohama FC, and do it convincingly, having routed them 7-2 on aggregate this season. The Cherry Blossoms delivered YFC’s heaviest home defeat to date with a 4-1 counter attacking masterclass back in March, how Gamba would love Wednesday’s encounter to follow a similar pattern.

Yokohama FC have kept just four clean sheets all year, but took ten points from those games, so it is clear that their backline simply must be tightened or they are going to be relegated well before the season draws to a close. The Fulie have given up under 1 xG Against on only two occasions so far in 2021, and at the other end of the field their best xG For performance came in the away game at Panasonic Stadium, though the figure presented below certainly runs slightly contrary to my memory of that contest.

Finally, let’s take a brief look at Gamba and begin by once again comparing their attacking form before and after the ACL excursion to Uzbekistan. In fifteen pre-ACL outings, their offence produced a meagre 5 xG For totals of over 1, they have since equalled that number from just ten post-ACL games. Additionally, prior to their overseas trip, the Nerazzurri’s best xG For performance was 1.6 in the Osaka Derby at Cerezo, this of course includes Patric’s penalty. Following their return to Japan, that figure has been bettered four times. So, although many supporters expressed frustration over Gamba’s inability to unlock, or really look like unlocking, the FC Tokyo defence, statistically speaking things are trending in the right direction up front for the Nerazzurri and fans should be able to look forward to more goals in upcoming matches, hopefully starting here.


Gamba faced Yokohama FC at Panasonic Stadium back in May knowing that a win, and only a win, would suffice. They got what they were looking for, a 2-0 triumph courtesy of a Leandro Pereira double, his first two J1 goals for the club, but little more. It was a satisfactory outcome for the men from Suita, but boy was it not pretty.

Twelve months earlier it was a similar story with Gamba running out victors and Yokohama FC missing their cue at vital moments. Kosuke Onose’s drive from the edge of the box deflected off Ademilson and wrong footed Fulie stopper Yuta Minami for the game’s opening goal. The Brazilian was rather fortunately given the credit, Onose wasn’t awarded with an assist and Gamba headed into the sheds one up. The Nerazzurri dominated the first half, but after the interval it was a different affair, YFC youngster Koki Saito (now at Lommel in Belgium) fired in a deserved equaliser before Yusuke Minagawa wasted a couple of great chances to turn the tie on it’s head. The side from Kanagawa were made to rue those misses as Patric flicked home Yosuke Ideguchi’s corner with almost the last touch of the game to earn a fortunate three points.

In the reverse fixture, the Nerazzurri wrapped up second spot in the standings with an ultimately comfortable 2-0 victory at a freezing Mitsuzawa Stadium in the season’s penultimate round. Shu Kurata got the ball rolling in the first minute and there were a few slightly nervy moments before Patric, once again, got the decisive goal. Later on, Christmas came early for Genta Miura and Gen Shoji, who liked like a couple of over-excited schoolboys, when they were able to fulfill a lifetime’s ambition by sharing the same field as Japanese footballing legend ‘King Kazu’ as he made a late cameo in his team’s final home outing of the year.

Gamba Osaka

I may have got all 11 starters right in my previous blog post, but that was largely thanks to Matsunami showing his hand with his ‘B’ team selection against Matsumoto. This match represents Gamba’s last midweek league outing until Culture Day on November 3 and I’m unsure how much rotation will take place ahead of the Osaka Derby on Saturday. As such, in a blog first, I’ve presented two alternatives below. It’s also quite/very possible that Matsunami will make far fewer changes than I’ve predicted.

Briefly (he says), there are two tactical points I want to make about the FC Tokyo game.

* The difference between Patric and Leandro Pereira’s playing styles was laid bare several times on Saturday night. It was particularly noticeable that down Gamba’s right flank, both Onose and Yajima would pick up the ball and immediately look towards the penalty spot in expectation of Patric being there. Instead, what they found was Leandro Pereira hovering on the D at the edge of the box looking for a pass in to his feet.

How do Gamba fix this quandary?

Use the lighter league schedule between now and December to operate with basically the same starting lineup in every game and hope a better understanding develops?


Continue to bumble through this season, take advantage of the fact Pereira is only on a one year deal (reportedly) and bring in a younger version of Patric in the off-season? Heck, maybe we could even scout potential replacements on Wednesday night?

* Gamba selected two ball playing midfielders, Shu Kurata and Yuki Yamamoto, against FC Tokyo on Saturday. I believe Matsunami’s thinking was that as the Gasmen prefer counter attacking football, the Nerazzurri were likely to dominate possession and would require the nous and guile of those two to unpick the well-set defence in front of them. That proved to be correct, however, at the other end Leandro floated menacingly between the defensive and midfield lines, as he did twelve months ago. Despite flashes from him, and Brazilian compatriot Adailton giving Kosuke Onose a torrid time at points, Gamba lived to tell the tale. I still think the ideal combination would see one playmaker (Kurata / Yamamoto / Yajima) paired with one ball-winner / holding midfielder (Ideguchi / Okuno / Ju Se-jong). There are so many options there and not too many more games to go, how will Matsunami shuffle his pack to try and keep everyone happy?

Team News
was the headline absentee on Saturday and Matsunami made a rather vague statement about his condition not being quite right. I’ve optimistically put him in the starting lineup for Wednesday and he does enjoy a goal against Yokohama FC, so here’s hoping. Gamba fans will be praying Hiroki Fujiharu being substituted against FC Tokyo after going down clutching his left calf was nothing more than cramp, though personally I have my doubts. Ryu Takao was pictured in the stands on Saturday with strapping round his right-ankle, suggesting he won’t be back anytime soon, while Wellington Silva is still out with a groin muscle problem. Elsewhere, there’s no time-frame available for Yuya Fukuda or Dai Tsukamoto’s returns and Jun Ichimori plus Haruto Shirai are both long-term casualties. Summer vacation is winding down here in Japan and I’m unsure where that leaves designated special player Hiroto Yamami, especially with regards to away fixtures. There are now so many players to choose from that I left him out of my lineup, but, if available, expect to see him play some part.

Predicted Lineups and Stats


Yokohama FC

After a promising 2020, which culminated in a fifteenth place finish, Yokohama FC have crashed down to earth with a thud this season. Winter losses including, wonderkid Koki Saito, loanees Kazunari Ichimi (Gamba) and Yuki Kobayashi (Kobe), plus solid starters Katsuhiro Nakayama (Shimizu) and Takaaki Shichi (Fukuoka) were not adequately replaced, and a rather scattergun approach to recruitment unsurprisingly didn’t bear much fruit. Things started poorly as they were routed 5-1 at Sapporo on the opening day with three of last season’s star turns, central midfielders Tatsuki Seko and Kohei Tezuka, plus winger Yusuke Matsuo left on the bench. Kantoku Takahiro Shimotaira was the fall guy, getting the axe after the 3-0 home loss to Hiroshima on April 7, though quite how much of the mess the club currently finds itself in can be laid at his door is very much up for debate. YFC promoted internally and former player Tomonobu Hayakawa was handed the reigns, however, little progress has be made since his appointment. A summer recruitment campaign saw Brazilians, Gabriel (Atlético Mineiro) and Saulo Mineiro (Ceará SC) join on full deals while compatriots, Felipe Vizeu (Udinese via Ceará SC) and Arthur Silva (FC Tokyo) came in on loan. Germany Olympic squad member Svend Brodersen brought those in the arrivals lounge up to five, and this was balanced out by, Masakazu Tashiro, Sho Ito, Yuta Minami and Riku Furuyado heading out on loan deals and Calvin Jong-a-pin and Ryuji Sugimoto leaving permanently. There has been a recent improvement in on-field results, but I’m sceptical if it’ll prove to be enough to keep them away from the relegation trapdoor.

Team News
Central midfielder Hideto Takahashi is suspended following his straight red against Cerezo, while promising wing-back Yota Maejima’s thigh muscle problem is expected to keep him out until next month. Kosuke Saito (shoulder) is the only other confirmed absentee I have, though fellow volante Kohei Tezuka has missed the last eight games and it’s suspected this is Covid-related. Other than that, Keijiro Ogawa, Ryo Germain, Katsuya Iwatake and Kléber haven’t been spotted for the past three league matches, I can only guess that they are currently being kept out by the new summer arrivals named above. Brazilian wing-back Maguinho, on loan from Kawasaki, is walking a suspension tightrope and a yellow card in this game would mean he misses the weekend trip to Kashiwa.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Thanks again for reading and enjoy the game whoever you support.


Gamba Osaka vs FC Tokyo 21 August 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs FC Tokyo
2021 J1 Season Round 25
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 21 August 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

Gamba’s Summer Expo is back for the first time since 2019 so you may notice the home side wearing a different shade of blue than usual and the 5,000 fans permitted inside the Panasonic Stadium will each receive a free commemorative t-shirt which has earned some rather mixed reviews so far, please make your own minds up on that. 2014 Gamba treble winning coach Kenta Hasegawa’s FC Tokyo side are the visitors for what should hopefully be an entertaining and keenly contested match.

You may have heard me and other members of the Gamba Twitterati prattling on about a young lad called Hiroto Yamami. Well, he is certainly someone who knows how to make a first impression. His entrance to the J1 arena had me waxing lyrical with comparisons to Kaoru Mitoma and Wayne Rooney spewing out left, right and centre. Introduced at the expense of Shu Kurata 76 minutes into Friday’s match at a wet and windy Nihondaira Stadium in Shizuoka, Yamami wasted no time in acquainting himself with Japan’s number 1 ‘keeper, Shuichi Gonda in the S-Pulse goal. Ignoring the supporting Leandro Pereira and Usami to his left, the Kwansei Gakuin University senior brought out a nice stop from the 22 times capped stopper with a powerful right foot shot from outside the area. However, his pièce de résistance came after 82 minutes when he coolly plucked Yuji Ono’s long ball out of the air with his right foot, turned inside Eiichi Katayama and fired an unstoppable left foot rocket across Gonda, dipping viciously into his top-right corner for the winning goal. Gamba fans had waited patiently all week for news of a transfer window replacement for the Tokushima-bound Kazunari Ichimi, after hearing nothing and the clock getting close to 21:00 on deadline day, Yamami announced his entrance to the top flight for all to see. 1-0 Gamba and a season high position of 12th the reward.

So far, so positive from a Gamba standpoint, but now we need to talk about their dismal home form. 18 of the Nerazzurri’s 29 points accumulated to date have come on the road, a trend which mirrors 2020, only the divide between results in and out of Suita has become more pronounced. Three vital home wins over, Tokushima, Yokohama FC and Oita, have been countered by reverses against Kawasaki, Marinos, Kashima, Kobe, Urawa and Hiroshima. Notice a trend there? That’s right, the strongest team Gamba have beaten at Panasonic Stadium this year is 16th place Tokushima while they’ve taken just a solitary point from six home clashes with sides currently in the top 10. The men in blue and black really do need to turn things up a notch, or ten, in front of their own supporters, hopefully beginning on Saturday.

FC Tokyo arrive in Osaka for their 5th away match on the spin with kantoku Kenta Hasegawa starting to feel the hotseat become a touch warmer following a run of 3 league games without a win. After this encounter, the Gasmen have two ties of their epic summer road trip remaining before returning to Ajinomoto Stadium against Kashiwa Reysol on September 12 (they do have a home Levain Cup quarter final vs Sapporo to play before that). Some, of a blue and black persuasion, with fond memories of Hasegawa’s time in Suita, may feel the pressure is a touch harsh given FC Tokyo can be found 8th in the J1 standings, only 6 points off 3rd place with 14 rounds still to go. This is certainly a better situation than the capital club found itself in during most of the decade prior to Hasegawa’s arrival, so in some ways he could be considered a victim of his own success and rather like his time in Gamba, his motivational tactics and ideas might have a certain shelf-life which may be close to expiring at Ajinomoto Stadium?

Sparks usually fly when these two meet on the field, Gamba know a win here will take them to within 3 points of their visitors and put them right in the mix for a top half finish, while FC Tokyo will be determined to arrest their mini-slump and kick on towards hopefully booking a spot in next season’s edition of the ACL.

Tale of the Tape

I mentioned on the J Talk Podcast prior to Gamba’s return from the ACL that ‘draws are not your friend in this situation’ and those have proven to be sage words. The Nerazzurri have won 5 and lost 4 since returning to Japanese soil, earning 15 points at 1.67 points per game (ppg) which compares with only 0.93 ppg before heading off to Uzbekistan. This contrast can also be seen in average goals per game which stood at 0.47 for, 0.93 against in the early part of the year, but has since shot up to 1.22/1.00 over the past 9 fixtures.

As we know, things have been pretty solid defensively all year, and the shutout win over Shimizu last Friday was the men from Suita’s 10th in just 24 league fixtures in 2021, 2 better than last season and just 1 shy of the figure from 2019. Improvements can also be seen in attack with Gamba scoring 7 times in their last 5 outings from an xG total of 7.63 which is a huge upgrade in efficiency compared with the beginning of the season. At the back, 5 goals have been surrendered off 8.87 xG over the same time period, though it should be noted that 4 of the 5 matches in question took place away from home.

A look at their stats table below shows FC Tokyo to be a very Jekyll and Hyde outfit which must surely drive their supporters to distraction. Their season to date can roughly be split into three thirds, rounds 1-8 which I’ve titled ‘solid start,’ rounds 9-17 ‘very ropey apart from random rout of Kashiwa’ and finally rounds 18-24 ‘O Tridente reunited, but shaky defence threatens to steal their thunder.’

FC Tokyo are not a team big on possession, expect them to use the pace of Adailton, a player who has been a thorn in Gamba’s side in the past, in tandem with compatriot Leandro to wreak havoc on the counter attack as they did last week at the Sapporo Dome, and indeed last year in this very fixture. In 3 carefully selected away games from earlier in this campaign against Urawa (round 1), Kashima (13) and Shimizu (16), the Gasmen produced a combined total of just 0.78xG For, Gamba will certainly be hoping it’s that kind of night on offence for FC Tokyo come Saturday. At the other end, the capital side will aim to have their 2 holding midfielders protect their backline a bit better than they did against Consadole last week, though the vast gulf between Sapporo and Gamba’s attacking philosophies could render any analysis of the catalysts for last week’s defensive slopiness largely redundant.

Head to Head

FC Tokyo ran out 1-0 winners, thanks to Diego Oliveira’s strike in the opening minute, of the clash at Ajinomoto Stadium back in May. The game, Matsunami’s second in temporary charge, was largely uneventful after that, however, the same can’t be said for the two ties played out between these sides in 2020, with neither passing without incident.

First, Gamba welcomed FC Tokyo to Panasonic Stadium and gave up an early lead when good Tokyo pressing forced an error and eventually the ball found it’s way to, that man Diego Oliveira, who coolly lofted into an unguarded net from 25 yards. Takashi Usami hit back with a fierce drive from outside the box that Akihiro Hayashi between the sticks for FC Tokyo may feel he should have done better with. Then the fun really started, as in the fifth minute of additional time at the end of the first half, Hiroki Fujiharu had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside, with no VAR in place to reverse the decision. The Gasmen took full advantage of their good fortune and sealed the game with 2 devastating second-half counters, the first culminating in a soft, but ultimately correct handball decision against the sliding Kim Young-gwon, Leandro making no mistake from the spot. The third member of O Tridente then sealed the deal as Gamba were forced to chase the game, lost possession and a flowing move was finished off by Adailton, 3-1 the final score.

Gamba gained a modicum of revenge at a flooded Ajinomoto Stadium in what could better be described as a game of water polo rather than a football match. Ademilson’s penultimate goal for the Nerazzurri, from the penalty spot, following an extremely harsh point-blank handball decision against Hirotaka Mita, was the only mark on the scoresheets as Gamba continued their charge up the standings. The action didn’t end there though as Leandro escaped censure for hitting Yuki Yamamoto in the face in an unsavoury off-the-ball incident around 15 minutes after he appeared to aim an elbow at Kim Young-gwon’s chin before thinking better of it. The Brazilian was handed a 3 match ban following a league investigation in the aftermath and the match officials probably breathed a sigh of relief that he sent his late free kick just wide.

I felt genuinely aggrieved after FC Tokyo’s 3-1 win in Suita last summer, but on further reflection, across the two games, both sets of fans had good reason to question some of the officials’ decision making. I would probably make the case that had each of these matches been officiated correctly, then they would have ended up as draws, leaving Gamba and FC Tokyo with 2 points apiece, as it was they got 3, so we can’t complain too much, can we?

Gamba Osaka

After making ten changes to the team that defeated S-Pulse, Gamba were taken to extra-time in their round 3 Emperor’s Cup tie at home to Matsumoto on Wednesday, ultimately prevailing 2-0 thanks to Ko Yanagisawa’s first goal for the club and Yosuke Ideguchi’s clincher on his return to the starting lineup. It was a good run out for several players short on match fitness, though Matsunami would surely have preferred Usami, Pereira and Onose to play fewer minutes than they ended up doing.

As mentioned above, Yamami-mania has swept through the Gambaverse, as the diminutive youngster, who turned 22 earlier in the week, was the talk of social media and has presented me with an Usami vs Yamami 2022 uniform selection dilemma. The Nerazzurri faithful are currently salivating over the mouth-watering prospect of Usami, Silva and Yamami in the same team, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, how can the dream become reality? I, for one, am looking forward to getting the answer. Yamami sat out the Emperor’s Cup tie versus Matsumoto as he played for Kwansei Gakuin against Gamba in the previous round and the question on every Nerazzurri fans’ lips is, will he get a first start here?

Team News

Yosuke Ideguchi, Yota Sato and Shin Won-ho all retuned to action against Matsumoto, though I wouldn’t expect to see either Sato or Shin in the squad for this game, as they are backups, while Ideguchi played 110 minutes on Wednesday so will likely be a sub, at best. Patric has missed the past 3 fixtures, he’s believed to have a small injury, and similar to Ideguchi, I don’t expect him to start here. The club confirmed what everyone who watched Gamba vs Yokohama F. Marinos could see (no I’m not banging on about the Thiago Martins incident again), Wellington Silva has a right groin injury. No return date was given, and I don’t expect we’ll get one, so it’s a case of wait and see. Ryu Takao will be out for a while yet with his ankle problem, Yuya Fukuda is understood to be in training, but his absence on Wednesday suggests he’s well short of match fitness and Dai Tsukamoto’s thigh injury continues to keep him on the sidelines. Jun Ichimori and Haruto Shirai are long-term casualties.

Predicted Lineup and Stats

FC Tokyo

FC Tokyo ended up 6th in the 2020 standings, comfortably better than fellow ACL sides Yokohama F. Marinos (9) and Vissel Kobe (14). Buoyed by their Levain Cup success and keeping the majority of last season’s squad intact, they would have expected to push on and challenge at the very top this year, as they did in 2019. That hasn’t happened and the reasons why are very much a hot topic these days. On the one hand you have the devastating O Tridente attacking dynamos of Leandro, Adailton and, one of my personal favourite opposition strikers, Diego Oliveira. You also have an excellent youth system delivering talents such as Go Hatano, Kashif Bangunagande, Manato Shinada, Takuya Uchida and Shuto Abe. On the flip side of the coin, the balance of the team seems a little off. In my predicted lineup below, just one player (Junya Suzuki) is aged between 25 and 29, so you are left with a side made up of, up-and-comers and slightly over-the-hill veterans, maybe that partly explains their inconsistency?

My second, perhaps more controversial theory, (please hear me out FC Tokyo fans, I come in peace, honestly), speaking as a Gamba fan, last season FC Tokyo were the least nice opponents we faced. Leandro, rightly or wrongly, steals a lot of the negative headlines, but I felt Tokyo were very physical, there was off the ball stuff going on and the referee was getting plenty of advice from both the players on the field and Kenta and co on the sidelines. Not all of this should be taken as an insult by any means, to get to the top of the pile in football, it may be necessary to become well-versed in some of the darker arts of the game. Gamba, for example, dished out more than their fare share of punishment in the away fixture, Kim Young-gwon leading the charge (I don’t believe for one minute that you play centre-back for your country at 2 World Cups and don’t have more than a few tricks up your sleeve). Back to my original train of thought, in 2020 Leandro was a ring-leader, but so too, in my view, were, Joan Oumari, Arthur Silva and Yojiro Takahagi. What do all 4 have in common other than that? They’ve all either been loaned out or reduced to bit-part player status for most or all of the season. Could removing those prepared to do the dirty work be a factor in creating the soft underbelly ruthlessly exposed by Sapporo last week?

These are just some outsiders opinions on what’s going on at FC Tokyo, I’m certainly not trying to have a dig at a side who, let’s remember, are 6 points better off than the Nerazzurri. You could argue they missed a trick not bringing in a Daiki, Matsuoka or Kaneko in the off-season and you may question the absence of big-name Brazilian acquisition Bruno Uvini, but don’t forget this is a quality outfit, packed full of talent ,who present a very real threat to Gamba on Saturday night.

Team News

Diego Oliveira was a surprising omission from the FC Tokyo team-sheet last week and Kenta Hasegawa would only confirm that he had an injury, but didn’t expand. Right-back Hotaka Nakamura’s knee problem is likely to keep him out until October, Takuya Uchida’s season is done after hurting his shoulder, Kazuya Konno did his knee ligaments and will be back next year and former number 1 Akihiro Hayashi is undergoing a lengthy rehab program after also suffering a serious knee injury. Central midfielder Shuto Abe is on 3 yellow cards so a caution in this match would see him pick up a one game suspension.

Predicted Lineup and Stats

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


Shimizu S-Pulse vs Gamba Osaka 13 August 2021 Match Preview

Shimizu S-Pulse vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 24
IAI Stadium Nihondaira, Shizuoka
Friday 13 August 2021
Kick Off: 19:00

No rest for the wicked as hot on the heels of bruising encounters on Monday night, both Gamba Osaka and Shimizu S-Pulse head into this Friday the 13th clash with a lot at stake.

The Nerazzurri will be smarting from their 2-1 defeat at the hands of a fired up Tokushima. Vortis outran, outfought and outplayed Gamba on their way to a deserved three points. Impressive Frontale loanee Taisei Miyashiro flicked home Ken Iwao’s free-kick for the opening goal before the excellent Kazuki Nishiya slammed in a close range volley to strike the killer blow in first-half stoppage time. Gen Shoji has since put his hand up to take responsibility for his error in the lead up to that goal, but in truth the men in blue and black had several chances to clear their lines and took none of them. Yuji Ono’s delicious through ball in additional time at the end of the game was dispatched by Tiago Alves for his first goal since his winter move from Tosu, but the ship had already sailed by that point and it ended 2-1 to the hosts. Ono’s cameo was the sole bright spot from a Gamba perspective, aside from that, the spectacular post-typhoon sky in Naruto pre kick-off and Tokushima’s beautiful summer kits were the only other positive memories I could take from this game.

Shimizu can enter Friday’s battle feeling pretty good about themselves following a hard-fought 2-2 home draw with Gamba’s conquerors in their previous match, Yokohama F. Marinos. Despite possessing the third weakest home record in the division, S-Pulse raced into an early lead when Eiichi Katayama tapped home Thiago Santana’s headed knock-down. Marinos hit back though, as Brazilian duo Marcos Junior and Élber found the back of the net, just as they had in Suita 3 days earlier, to flip the game on it’s axis. However, Kenta Nishizawa, more known for his excellent deliveries from wide areas, was the recipient on this occasion, finding himself in the right place to head Yusuke Goto’s cross low to Yohei Takaoka’s left, the Marinos number one made a rather weak effort at stopping it and the ball squirmed over the line. 2-2 the final score.

Gamba travel east one position and two points ahead of their hosts so expect a cagey affair here with neither side looking to give much away. Shimizu are only three points outside the drop-zone following victories for Tokushima and Kashiwa on Monday, Gamba are slightly better off with a five point cushion to 17th placed Shonan, but both teams will be content to win ugly here if it takes them closer to their aim of maintaining top flight status next season.

Tale of the Tape

A bit of a worrying trend for Gamba, as their summer of sweat and toil continues, is the fact that over the past 4 matches they’ve conceded a minimum of 1.67 xG per game while at the same time matching or exceeding that figure themselves only twice. It appears they are starting to receive a bit of payback for outperforming xG Against so comprehensively over the first half of the season.

Shimizu, as one might expect from a side coached by Miguel Ángel Lotina, are happy to sit back in a solid defensive shape, allowing their opponents plenty of the ball, biding their time before striking on the counter when the moment is right. It’s interesting to note that Oita (away) is the only time this year that they’ve enjoyed more ball possession than their opposition. I alluded to S-Pulse’s poor home form above, having only taken 11 points from as many games. A brief glance at the stats table below indicates that they actually perform better at the Nihondaira than away from it in almost all of the metrics shown except for, and this is the crucial part, actual goals scored and conceded. They underperform xG For by 0.27 goals per home game while conceding 0.52 more goals than their xG Against total per 90 minutes in Shizuoka. This compares with overall totals of -0.09 xG For and +0.22 xG Against. I hope I haven’t bored too many people with the maths there, the bottom line is, expect to see lots of Gamba possession on Friday, but don’t be surprised if Shimizu have the larger quantity and better quality of the chances created on the night.

Head to Head

I was able to get a ticket for the 0-0 draw between these two earlier in the year, played out on an unseasonably cold April evening and I’d have to say probably the highlight of the day was getting to see S-Pulse’s dynamic forward Akira Silvano Disaro’ (one of my favourite J2 players last year) warm up in front of me. Aside from that, Yota Sato made his senior debut at right-back, Usami and Ideguchi both struck the frame of Shuichi Gonda’s goal in the first half before the match descended into something of a snoozefest in the second period, becoming the third of Gamba’s four 0-0 draws to date in J1 2021.

The Nerazzurri have won on each of their last 3 trips to Shimizu, though they were certainly made to work hard for their victory 12 months ago. A flowing team move was finished off by Kosuke Onose to send Gamba into the sheds one up at the break. However, the men from Suita then had to withstand a 30 minute onslaught of S-Pulse pressure culminating in centre-back Yugo Tatsuta’s headed equaliser. The scores weren’t level for long though, as a Fujiharu run and cut back found Kazuma Watanabe and the veteran buried the ball past Togo Umeda in the home goal to ensure the 3 points went to Gamba.

Gamba Osaka

With players being rotated and formations chopping and changing, it’s something of a fool’s game trying to predict Gamba starting elevens these days, but I’ve given it a shot below. The Nerazzurri started in a 3-5-2 against Tokushima with Okuno (right) and Onose (left) playing as wing-backs, Ju Se-jong anchored the midfield and had Kurata (right) and Yajima (left) ahead of him while Ichimi partnered Leandro Pereira in attack. There are three main points I want to make about the tactics used on Monday.

* As mentioned previously with my ‘fish out of water’ comments re Okuno at right wing-back, it’s not his position and he was cruelly exposed by the rampaging Kazuki Nishiya of Tokushima. Right centre-back Genta Miura was often dragged out of place as a result of through balls played into the gap between him and Okuno and the whole central defence was thrown into disarray as a result. I went deep on this topic with Sam Robson on the J Talk Podcast a few months ago following a 2-0 defeat to Nagoya when Kosuke Onose was selected at right-back, so this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.

* A midfield three with one holding player and two in more advanced positions leaves Gamba’s backline more exposed than playing (to use Japanese parlance) a double-volante system. This was shown under Miyamoto in 2019 and the early part of 2020 and it was on display again on Monday night as Masaki Watai, operating in the number 10 role, had a field day running directly at Ju Se-jong and the Gamba centre-backs.

* Unfortunately it seems that the more Kazunari Ichimi plays the less likely it appears that he will be at Gamba next year. He looked to be lacking in confidence on Monday night, was ponderous and indecisive in possession, and offered little in the way of attacking prowess. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him return to Kyoto, regardless of whether they’re in J1 or J2, in 2022.

**After writing this piece, it was announced (August 11) that Ichimi would be joining Tokushima on a full deal, they obviously saw things a bit differently to me! I know I’ve been critical of the player’s performance above, but I certainly wouldn’t say the same about his attitude or efforts, and I wish him all the best for the future. As an aside, expect to see Gamba bring in another Japanese forward before the transfer window closes on Friday, Vissel Kobe appear to be overloaded in that area and Noriaki Fujimoto is a former Gamba Junior and Junior Youth player.**

Team News
The only fresh piece of team news is Yosuke Ideguchi’s absence from the squad for the Vortis game. The central midfielder has only been seen once since the team returned from the ACL in Uzbekistan, a brief cameo in the home clash with Marinos, I guess he has suffered a flare up of whatever was keeping him out of action until last Friday. No update on Wellington Silva’s groin injury yet, but it’s unlikely he’ll feature here while Ryu Takao (ankle) is definitely out, as are, Jun Ichimori, Haruto Shirai and Shin Won-ho. The silence has been deafening regarding Yota Sato’s continuous absence since the ACL and there has been nothing on Yuya Fukuda or Dai Tsukamoto’s leg muscle injuries sustained in that tournament. If any of these players are approaching full fitness then expect to see them get an outing in next Wednesday’s (August 18) Emperor’s Cup tie at home to Matsumoto Yamaga.
**Update – Gamba’s official Instagram account on Wednesday 11 August showed Yuya Fukuda back in training with the first team.**

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Shimizu S-Pulse

After a brief flirtation with 4-3-3/4-5-1 at the start of the year and a couple of dabbles with a back 3, Spanish kantoku Miguel Ángel Lotina has now settled on a rigid 4-4-2 setup. Defence was a massive issue for S-Pulse across the 2019 and 2020 seasons where they conceded 2.03 and 2.06 goals per game respectively. The former Verdy and Cerezo boss has got that figure down to a more respectable 1.39 this term thanks largely to pre-season signings such as, goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda (Portimonense), centre-back Yoshinori Suzuki (Oita) and utility men Teruki Hara (Tosu) and Eiichi Katayama (Cerezo). Issues have crept up when these players have sustained injuries and last year’s backline has been called into action, but the rearguard has now been further bolstered by the summer capture of one of Lotina’s favourite lieutenants during his time at Ajinomoto Stadium, Akira Ibayashi (latterly of Hiroshima).

Central midfield has often been fingered as an area of concern during this campaign, with veteran Ryo Takeuchi generally being paired with the less experienced Kota Miyamoto which has met with mixed results. Again, in a bid to keep their head above water, Shimizu have looked to the transfer market for upgrades. Daiki Matsuoka, a rather surprising purchase from 3rd placed Sagan Tosu, made his debut in the 2-2 draw with Marinos while Ronaldo (not that one) will soon join him in the S-Pulse engine room, coming in from Flamengo. Swiss-born, Kosovo international winger Benjamin Kololli (FC Zurich) is another intriguing summer acquisition with a pretty decent pedigree.

Four players have left the Nihondaira on loan deals during the mid-season break. Long serving wide-man Shota Kaneko, whose flame burned brightly in 2018, but has since dimmed considerably, made a slightly controversial move to prefectural rivals Júbilo Iwata. Elsewhere, youngsters Hikaru Naruoka (Sagamihara) and Ibrahim Junior Kuribara (Suzuka) will aim to get valuable experience and minutes on the field, while the injury-cursed Hideki Ishige will hope to get his career back on track at Fagiano Okayama. Rarely used centre-back Naoya Fukumori is the only permanent departure of the summer, he joined Vegalta Sendai.

Team News

The club confirmed on Tuesday (August 10) that Brazilian winger Carlinhos Junior injured his right knee in the match against Kawasaki Frontale on July 17 and would be absent for around 6 weeks. Key centre-back Yoshinori Suzuki (fractured skull) has been missing for the past 6 matches, as have Elsinho and Keita Nakamura, though I haven’t seen any injury news about them. Central midfielder Renato Augusto is a long-term absentee and is currently doing rehabilitation after undergoing knee surgery. Katsuhiro Nakayama and Akira Silvano Disaro weren’t in the matchday squad for the Marinos game, I’m not sure if that was due to physical condition or non-selection. I’m unsure if either Ronaldo or Benjamin Kololli are in contention to play here as they may be lacking sharpness after having to go through 14 day quarantine periods upon arriving in Japan. Brazilian defenders Valdo and Elsinho both currently sit on 3 yellow cards apiece meaning a 1 match suspension looms the next time they are cautioned.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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