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Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo vs Gamba Osaka 30 July 2021 Mini Preview

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 League Season Round 4
Atsubetsu Stadium Sapporo
Friday 30 July 2021
Kick Off: 18:00 (JST)


Takashi Usami cried tears of joy after his 94th minute winner completed Gamba’s turnaround at home to Oita on Wednesday night and hauled the Nerazzurri out of the J1 relegation zone, albeit on goal difference. Next stop on the epic Gamba summer marathon is Sapporo on Friday night which represents round 5 of the series. They’ve won 2 out of 4 to date. J Talk Podcast listeners will be aware I stated that a win every two games should be enough to haul Gamba to safety and with that in mind, out of the next ‘pair’ of matches against our northern rivals Sapporo and Sendai, I’d say the battle against Vegalta is the more vital in terms of grabbing the three points. That is not to say the men in blue and black should simply wave the white flag of surrender here, quite the opposite in fact. While a lot of focus has centred on Gamba’s fixture pile up and associated tiredness, Kashima’s rusty first 40 minutes at Panasonic Stadium and Oita’s entire performance suggest that simply clicking back into gear after a 2 or 2 1/2 week layoff isn’t as easy as it may seem. Consadole will play competitively for the first time in 20 days on Friday night, coming up against a battle hardened Gamba, which side will gain the advantage from these wildly different preparations for this encounter?

I know I stated in my last preview that I wouldn’t be writing one for this fixture. Well, wouldn’t you know it, but a gap opened up in my schedule and I’ll hopefully also be able to prepare mini previews for both the Vegalta Sendai game on Tuesday 3 August as well as the home clash with Yokohama F.Marinos on Friday 6 August. That second one might be particularly tricky, however, the Marinos supporters were very complimentary of my work last year so I really want to put something out for that match.

Tale of the Tape

Gamba recorded season best, xG for, total shots for, shots on target, total shots against and shots against on target numbers against Oita in midweek and combined with the attacking stats we’ve seen in the recent Fukuoka and Kobe matches we can see an overall upward trend since the return from the ACL. The Nerazzurri’s xG figure for the year has now risen above 1, however, they are a bit of on outlier as they are underperforming xG For by about 0.5 goals per game while overperforming xG Against by a similar margin.
Sapporo, by way of contrast, average 2 goals per game at home this season in J1, though it should be noted that, as a result of the Olympics commandeering Sapporo Dome, this contest with take place at the outdoor Atsubetsu Stadium on a rather bumpy playing surface which tends to stifle the home side’s attacking verve.




Head to Head

The corresponding fixture last year also took place at Atsubetsu and was a generally lacklustre affair lit up only by Kazuma Watanabe’s late winner for the visitors. The return match at Panasonic Stadium saw Masaaki Higashiguchi endure a rare shaky evening between the sticks, allowing Douglas Oliveira’s rather tame effort to squirm beneath him early on. However, the Nerazzurri were soon on level terms after Yosuke Ideguchi’s low shot from inside the area. They didn’t have things all their own way after that though, and were somewhat relieved when Patric headed home Yuki Yamamoto’s free kick for the winner in the second half. Supporters of a Gamba persuasion must look back on that goal fondly given the poor quality of set plays they’ve witnessed in this campaign to date.


Gamba Osaka

A tough lineup to predict as by my calculations Shoji, Suganuma and Onose are all due to be rotated out, but the only way I can see to make that happen is for both Ryu Takao and new signing Ko Yanagisawa to play. At most Yanagisawa will have trained with his new team-mates twice so I don’t think he’ll feature at all here, though it is interesting to note that the Gamba hierarchy see him as an option for one of the wide centre-back berths in addition to full-back and wing-back.

Team News

Yosuke Ideguchi was in the stands for Gamba’s home win over Oita on Wednesday, so if my hunch that it was asymptomatic coronavirus which kept him out of all 4 fixtures since the ACL was true, then in theory he can play here, though I reckon a bench spot may be more realistic. The same would apply to Yota Sato, should it be correct that he was the other player to throw up a positive result for Covid.
Ryu Takao made a swashbuckling return from injury for the final 40 minutes of Wednesday’s game so is hopefully fit to start here, but I’ve yet to see any timeframe given for the returns of Hiroki Fujiharu, Yuya Fukuda, Dai Tsukamoto and Yuji Ono who all went down with leg muscle injuries in the ACL. Jun Ichimori, Haruto Shirai and Shin Won-ho are long term absentees who will definitely sit this one out.

Transfer Gossip

Gamba have stated that Ko Yanagisawa’s acquisition from Mito was just the first stage of the summer recruitment plan leaving fans eagerly anticipating the second stage. The most credible name I’ve come across in the ‘Gambaverse’ is Kashima’s out of favour full-back Daiki Sugioka, the 2018 Levain Cup MVP who’s been capped 3 times by his country. Mostly known as a left-back, 182cm tall Sugioka has been limited to just 7 J1 appearances and 1 goal in 2021 and with Antlers re-signing Koki Anzai, his days in Ibaraki appear to be numbered, will Suita be his next stop?

Predicted Lineup and Stats




Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Sapporo are still reeling from the loss of top scorer Anderson Lopes (12 goals in 14 J1 games in 2021) and were reportedly knocked back by Urawa veteran Shinzo Koroki. Wildcard Nigerian signing Gabriel Okechukwu hasn’t delivered at all while Jay Bothroyd has been an excellent servant, but father time is rapidly catching up with him, it’ll be interesting to see which direction they go in next.
Fortunately for Consadole they do recruit well from universities and 2020’s crop of Shunta Tanaka (Osaka Taiiku Univ. – formerly Gamba Junior Youth!), Tomoki Takamine (Univ. of Tsukuba) and Takuro Kaneko (Nihon Univ.) have been lynchpins for Sapporo this season, helping them recover from a rocky opening to the year (just 2 wins in their opening 9 league fixtures) up to their current placing of 10th, 9 points ahead of Gamba with only 1 extra match played. This trio have been augmented by the arrival last winter of pacy forward Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (Yota Sato’s team-mate from Meiji University) and although he seems better suited to playing as a shadow forward he’s recently been pushed into action as a centre-forward in the absence of viable alternatives.

I went deep on Sapporo’s style of play earlier in the year, if you haven’t already, please check it out here. Also, I highly encourage you to check out Ryo Nakagawara’s (@R_by_Ryo on Twitter) 2021 Mid-Season Review.
If you like what I do then you’ll love this!

Team News

Central midfielder Kazuki Fukai is out with a back problem and this is the only confirmed injury I can see for the hosts. South Korean centre-back Kim Min-tae has been out of favour recently, though I believe this may be due to his 2 sending offs earlier in the year. Former Aomori Yamada High School midfielder Riku Danzaki is back with the squad after a loan spell with Brisbane Roar and is available for selection.

Predicted Lineup and Stats




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

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Gamba Osaka vs Oita Trinita 27 July 2021 Mini Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Oita Trinita
2021 J1 Season Round 3
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Tuesday 27 July 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


It may be just before the halfway stage of the season, but I’m calling this a relegation 6-pointer as statistically the worst away side in J1, Oita Trinita, visit Gamba Osaka, owners of the second weakest home record in the division.

Gamba came out comfortably second best to a fresh Kashima outfit on Saturday and will need to step things up considerably for this vital clash after looking visibly out on their feet for much of the second half of yesterday’s match which was played out in sweltering conditions. For this, the third of their home triple-header, they will look to Brazilian left-winger Wellington Silva, perhaps the only bright spark from the Antlers defeat, to provide the guile and deception to unlock one of J1’s leakier rearguards. Oita, in turn, will be boosted by the recent arrivals of, former Gamba forward Hiroto Goya from Kashiwa Reysol and veteran attacker Tsukasa Umesaki (Shonan Bellmare), who are both now available for selection.

Thanks again for all your support, I will be returning to work on Tuesday so this will be the last mini preview for a while. I’ll continue to put out Gamba predicted lineups and stats on Twitter ahead of upcoming games, please keep an eye out for that. I may be back with something a bit bigger in the Obon break. If you’d like me to do another Q and A session, let me know in the comments here or on Twitter.

Tale of the Tape

Dress it up anyway you like, but goals may be at a premium here and 1-0 either way might be your safest best. Oita are coming off a pretty impressive counter attacking display in their home win over Urawa on July 10, though a quick scroll through their season stats reveals they’ve actually outperformed their usual levels in both outings against the Saitama giants this year. Can they replicate those heights once again in this game?

For Gamba, although the 22 shots against in the loss to Kashima equalled their season high, it should be noted that Antlers are to shots on goal what Tokushima are to possession, lots of high numbers, but not much to show for it. In that respect Diego Pituca, probably my MVP on Saturday (so hold on Kashima fans, I’m not having too much of a dig), has fitted in well, firing high and wide on a number of occasions from the 25-30 yard range while under pressure.




Head to Head

It’s usually very difficult to use one year’s set of results to accurately forecast what’ll happen the following season in JLeague, but Gamba vs Oita may be the exception. The Nerazzurri ran out 2-1 winners in the corresponding fixture in Suita twelve months ago. A strong start from the hosts was disrupted by Daiki Watari’s powerful header from Tatsuya Tanaka’s cross. Trinita’s lead didn’t last long though, as Takashi Usami’s penalty levelled things up a couple of minutes later before a fine Ademilson shot won the game early in the second half. The return match in Kyushu was a similarly tight affair with Gamba surviving some nervy moments before Patric headed home from Usami’s corner to seal the win. The Nerazzurri faithful will be hoping for more of the same on Tuesday night.


Gamba Osaka

A quick piece of transfer news before looking at injury updates and my predicted starters for Tuesday. Today (25 July) Gamba announced the signing of former Juntendo University and FC Gifu full-back Ko Yanagisawa (Transfermarkt Value €300,000) from Mito HollyHock on a permanent deal. The 25 year-old Chiba native has played 11 times for Mito in J2 this year and is able to operate on either flank which will significantly reduce the burden on Onose and Kurokawa. His acquisition also puts the option of 4-4-2 back on the table.

According to FC Gifu supporter @sushi_football here is a rundown of Yanagisawa’s pros and cons,

Pros
* He looks the part – tall with decent pace
* Stable – he’s not going to go eccentric on you
* Both footed – but primarily his right

Cons
* lack of one defining quality – he does a lot of stuff ok – but nothing that stands out. In J2 & J3 he looked ok – sometimes quite good – but never like he was miles ahead of the opposition.
* He’s not a game influencer or someone opponents talk about in tactics meetings

Thanks to Stuart for that, and don’t forget to check out the excellent J Talk Extra Time Podcast he hosts…whisper it gently, supporters of both Gamba and Oita may have to pay attention to events in J2 a bit more closely in the near future.

As stated above, Gamba looked exhausted at times against Kashima on Saturday and there will again be plenty of rotation here. Constantly switching between Patric, who prefers long, aerial balls and Leandro Pereira, a player who deals better with the ball on the ground, is proving to be a challenge for the Nerazzurri’s attack, but I’m really excited to see what Wellington Silva can do in tandem with Patric following his cameo against Antlers.

Team News:
As far as I know, none of the players who missed Saturday’s game have returned to full fitness meaning the injury list currently reads, goalkeeper Jun Ichimori, full-back/wing-backs Ryu Takao, Hiroki Fujiharu, Yuya Fukuda, Shin Won-ho and Haruto Shirai, central midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi and attacking midfielders Yuji Ono and Dai Tsukamoto. I believe Ideguchi was one of the players to test positive for Covid on his return from the ACL in Uzbekistan, however, it was also reported he was asymptomatic, so in theory he could return very soon, though most likely not in this game. Centre-back Yota Sato has also been out of the matchday squad since the resumption of league fixtures, it’s possible he was the other player to test positive for Covid, if not, then he may partner Shoji and Kim in the back three. Likewise, if any of Takao, Fujiharu or Fukuda are fit then they could play in this match with Kurokawa currently running on fumes. Even Shuhei Kawasaki at left wing-back, where he started against Chaingrai United, is an option.

Milestones: Shinya Yajima will make his 100th J1 appearance should he appear in this game. The first ever JLeague game I watched was a 2-2 draw between Cerezo Osaka and Urawa (I went on to become a Gamba fan, I know, I know!) and playing for Reds that day was a 19 year-old Yajima. It’s interesting to note that his slightly meandering career has seen him take 8 years to reach 100 J1 matches. Anyway, here’s to 100 more Shinya!

Predicted Lineup and Stats



Oita Trinita

I went deep on Oita and their style of play in this article earlier in the year, please check it out if you’d like a refresher course. Brazilian centre-back Henrique Trevisan has come in since then and seems to have added a calmness at the heart of the defence that had been missing since club legend Yoshinori Suzuki’s departure for Shimizu last winter. ‘Adult baby’ (thanks to Scott McIntyre on the J Talk Podcast for that nickname) Yamato Machida has been a vital source of goals for Trinita this year, look for him and central midfielder Hokuto Shimoda (an off-season capture from Kawasaki) to probe dangerously throughout the 90 minutes.

Team News: Shadow forward Naoki Nomura has been injured for almost the entire campaign, which really sums up his time in Oita. Centre-back Keisuke Saka and experienced holding midfielder Yuki Kobayashi have both been absent from the matchday squad in recent weeks with no injury being officially reported.

Predicted Lineup and Stats





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

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Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers 24 July 2021 Mini Preview

2021 J1 Season Round 2
Gamba Osaka vs Kashima Antlers
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 24 July 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

It’s game 3 of Gamba’s 15 match summer marathon and they will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing home loss to Kansai rivals Vissel Kobe on Wednesday night. The side from Hyogo became the first team since Oita Trinita way back on 10th November 2019 to come from behind to defeat the Nerazzurri. Victory for Gamba on Saturday would take them up to 15th, out of the relegation zone, above Kashiwa and Tokushima on goal difference.

I have a little vacation time this week so I’ve pieced together this mini-preview for your perusal (it was meant to be mini, but the mailbag section at the end is pretty long). If we return to relative normality in 2022 (ie not playing league games every 3 days) then this mini preview format (shamelessly stolen from JTET’s mini pods) is something I might look to move forward with. As always please let me know what you think, either on WordPress or on Twitter. Hope you enjoy the game whoever you’re supporting.

Tale of the Tape

Some small shoots of recovery for Gamba’s attack as they recorded a season high xG total against Vissel in midweek and have mustered 7 shots on target in each of their 2 fixtures since returning from the ACL, also their best efforts of 2021. Additionally they’ve found the back of the net in 10 of their last 11 games in all competitions, scoring more than once on 6 occasions. Takashi Usami has cut a frustrated figure in recent matches, coming agonisingly close to scoring against both Fukuoka and Kobe, Gamba supporters will be looking for him to break his goal drought soon (it stands at almost 2 months now). No such issues for Usami’s strike partner Patric who has netted 8 times in his last 8 outings.

I went deep on Kashima’s style of play in my full preview for the originally scheduled match back in March, despite a change in leadership, from Zago to Naoki Soma, a lot of it is still pretty relevant so please check it out here if you have the chance.



Head-to-Head

Gamba are unbeaten in their past 5 J1 encounters against Kashima. Antlers last success came in round 2 of the 2018 season when Levir Culpi’s Nerazzurri went down 1-0 at the Kashima Soccer Stadium thanks to Mu Kanazaki’s late winner for the home team.

Last year, only Tomoya Inukai’s stoppage time header in his side’s 1-1 home draw prevented Gamba doing the double over Zago’s charges. The Nerazzurri ran out 2-0 winners in Suita thanks to a Patric penalty and a late clincher from Kazuma Watanabe. Indeed it was one of only 4 victories (out of a total of 20) where Gamba won by more than a single goal in 2020.



Gamba Osaka

With 3 more fixtures remaining in July and 8 to be played in the brutal heat of August (7 league and 1 Emperor’s Cup), rotation will be the order of the day for Gamba kantoku Masanobu Matsunami. Six changes were made between last Saturday’s win at Fukuoka and Wednesday’s loss at home to Kobe and I expect we’ll see something similar again. It’s interesting to note that this game is followed by a more winnable looking fixture against Oita on Tuesday night, so will Matsunami try to be cute and play for a draw here before going all guns blazing against Trinita? It would be a risky strategy for sure. My feeling is that it’s best to get points on the board as early as possible in order to haul Gamba away from the relegation scrap. This would have the dual benefits of relieving pressure on Gamba while in turn piling it onto teams like Oita, Sendai, Tokushima, Shimizu and Shonan.

Team News:
The treatment room is busy as usual in Suita. Backup goalkeeper Jun Ichimori (shoulder) is still out, while wing-back / shadow forward Haruto Shirai and South Korean left wing-back Shin Won-ho are rehabilitating. No official announcement was made regarding which players tested positive for Covid upon returning to Japan from the ACL, but there’s been a pretty obvious Yosuke Ideguchi shaped hole in the midfield for the past 2 games. Elsewhere, Hiroki Fujiharu, Yuya Fukuda, Ryu Takao, Yuji Ono and Dai Tsukamoto all picked up knocks during the ACL group stage campaign, but aren’t expected to be out for too long. At present Onose and Kurokawa are the only fit wing-backs in the squad, so if Takao, Fujiharu or Fukuda are ready to go then they could start on Saturday. Fujiharu’s crossing ability has been sorely missed in his absence, I also don’t believe Matsunami has a lot of faith in Kurokawa, and the Kansai University graduate’s defending for Kobe’s winner in midweek will have done little to change his kantoku’s mind.

Milestones: Goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi will play his 250th J1 game for Gamba while Takashi Usami will make his 200th JLeague appearance for the Nerazzurri in this match.

Predicted Lineup and Stats



Kashima Antlers

Perennial J1 giants Kashima come into this fixture in somewhat patchy form with 2 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats in their last 7 league outings leaving them in 8th spot on the ladder, although a win here, in their game in hand, would lift them above both FC Tokyo and Urawa on goal difference. This game will be Kashima’s first since losing 2-1 at Kashiwa Reysol on July 11th and they don’t play again until August 9th, so expect them to come out locked and loaded for this one.

Team News:
Highly rated centre-back Koki Machida (a rumoured Celtic target) and former Hosei University forward Ayase Ueda (5 goals in 13 J1 games in 2021) are both in Japan’s Olympic squad and therefore unavailable. Backup goalkeeper Taiki Yamada is out for the year with a knee injury and rising star Ryotaro Araki has missed 2 out of Antlers 3 previous games. He appears to have a bright future ahead of him and it surely won’t be long before the Higashi Fukuoka graduate (same high school as Yuya Fukuda, Leo Takae and Seiya Maikuma) attracts some serious attention from European sides.

Predicted Lineup and Stats



Mailbag

A big thanks to those of you who submitted questions,

First up was Neil, @Swing_Kinker who asked,
“What is the feeling amongst fans in japan? I get the feeling they are rapidly getting frustrated. Without Patric it would be a disaster”

Blog Gamba: Thanks for your question Neil. There is definite frustration among the fans, though it has been tempered by the Covid outbreak earlier in the year and the brutal summer schedule. The majority of fans surely believe the current league position is unacceptable for a club of Gamba’s size and Miyamoto paid the price for that. Supporters in Japan generally tend to look at the longer term picture a bit more than maybe some fans in Europe do, and although there have been questions asked about Ikoma, the physical coach, due to regular injury pile ups and also speculation as to why no-one has been brought in yet during the summer window (especially a wing-back), no-one’s quite ready to start a riot at the team’s training ground just yet.
Things are slowly moving in the right direction and a few wins in the upcoming fixtures will start to allay relegation fears, allowing fans to look forward to the injured players returning, youngsters like Okuno, Tsukamoto and Kawasaki developing and hopefully a new coach coming on board with the goal of having Gamba back in the ACL by 2023.
Hope this answers your question Neil and enjoy the game!

Also Jezalenco, @JeremyWarren24 asked,
“Is there a Gamba player in particular that is being missed right now as a result of being injured. Like Fukuda, Ono or Tsukamoto? The line up predictions and updates you have been doing recently have been fantastic.”

Blog Gamba: First of all thank you for the compliment Jeremy and I’m glad you’ve been enjoying them, I enjoy doing them!
To answer your question, I’d definitely say Hiroki Fujiharu. He’s the best defensive left-back/wing-back at the club and as seen from his 2 crossed assists for Patric in the ACL, he’s the most consistent crosser out of himself, Fukuda and Kurokawa, especially when it comes to aerial crosses.
Regarding the injured players you mentioned, Fukuda hasn’t really kicked on since bursting onto the scene in mid-2019, he really needs to nail down a regular spot rather than continuing to be a jack-of-all-trades, Ono looked very sharp in the match against Chiangrai in the ACL, and then he picked up another injury, which has been the story of his career, while I’d like to see a fit-again Tsukamoto get a run in the right shadow position as he could prove to be better there than Ichimi and Yajima in the longer term, he definitely shouldn’t be played at wing-back again unless it’s an emergency. I hope this is what you were looking for Jeremy and please enjoy the game.

Tyler Bartels, @tbartels12 asked,
“Which youngsters have the best chance at an increased role moving forward? Shuhei, Tsukamoto and Okuno have all shown out well at times and seem to be on the cusp?”

Blog Gamba: Thanks very much for your question Tyler. Okuno appears to have the full faith of Matsunami and is developing nicely in central midfield, he seems to be first choice ahead of Yamamoto and Ju Se-jong at the moment. Tsukamoto has developed a lot physically since turning pro, but Kawasaki is a smarter and more technically gifted player who can hopefully build on the momentum he generated in the ACL. A quick shout out to two 3rd grade high school students who currently hold amateur (Type 2) contracts, Jiro Nakamura (right wing) and Isa Sakamoto (centre-forward), both looked good for the U23s in J3 and should be rewarded with pro contracts for 2022, look out for them in the near future! Hope you enjoy the game!

SoRare Gems, @GemsSorare asked,
“Is Masaaki Higashiguchi untouchable on the goalie? Also, if everyone was fit, what would be the starting two on the middle and in the flanks for Miyamoto?”

Blog Gamba: Thanks for your questions. The first part is very easy, yes at the moment Higashiguchi is untouchable. Jun Ichimori the backup is out injured and the other goalies in the squad, Ishikawa, Hayashi and Kato would struggle to start regularly in J2. Honestly, I’d expect Kosei Tani to stay on loan at Shonan for another 1-2 years before returning to take over the gloves from Higashiguchi.
For the second part, I assume you mean Masanobu Matsunami, Gamba’s current coach and not the dismissed Tsuneyasu Miyamoto. I believe if Gamba were playing one league game per week then his first choice with everyone fit would be,
Higashiguchi
Miura, Shoji, Kim
Onose, Ideguchi, Okuno, Fujiharu
Yajima, Usami
Patric

Finally Piero, @Piccioh92 had a quick question about Gamba’s defensive set-up over the upcoming games.

Blog Gamba: With the threat of Everaldo looming large, I think Gamba will go for their strongest back 3 of (r-l) Miura, Shoji and Kim for this game before bringing in either or both Suganuma and Sato for the Oita game on Tuesday then possibly reverting to Miura, Shoji, Kim for Sapporo away on Friday. It should be noted that against Kobe, Shunya Suganuma played on the left of the back three with Kim in the middle. Ordinarily we’d have expected them to lineup the opposite way round, as they did in the 2nd half after the Suganuma/Kurokawa area of the field proved to be a weak point Vissel could exploit. Expect to see Suganuma in the middle or on the right of a back 3 next time he’s in action, he’ll also likely be saved for games against bottom half opponents rather than heavyweights like Kashima and Kobe.

Thanks to everyone for your questions, I wasn’t sure I’d get any to be honest, so receiving 5 was great. That’s it for the preview, enjoy the game and let me know how you think it’s going to go!

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sport

Emperor’s Cup Final Review, Season Wrap, Transfer Round-up

Happy New Year to all! This will be my final blog post of the season and I’ll be back ahead of the Japanese Super Cup match between Gamba and Kawasaki on February 20th. Thanks to everyone who has supported me so far, and actually my Emperor’s Cup match preview was my most read post to date, a good way to kick off 2021 even if the result on the field didn’t match it. I’ll keep posting transfer updates and opinions on Twitter (@BlogGamba) and there’s more on that below.

Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 Gamba Osaka Match Report

Gamba fell just short in their bid to win this year’s Emperor’s Cup, going down 1-0 to deserved double-winners Kawasaki Frontale at the National Stadium on New Year’s Day. As predicted, Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made just a solitary change to the lineup from the semi-final win over Tokushima as the fit-again Takashi Usami replaced Kazuma Watanabe. The Nerazzurri started the game in their usual 4-4-2 before switching to a 3-4-2-1 system just after the 10th minute in order to get more players in central areas to protect against the Frontale onslaught. After Kaoru Mitoma’s 55th minute opener, they reverted back to 4-4-2.

Gamba thought they’d got off to the perfect start in the 6th minute when Patric nodded Usami’s free kick past Jung Sung-ryong, but it was ruled out for offside. I haven’t seen a proper replay yet, but my gut instinct tells me it was the correct decision as how else would the Brazilian have got so far ahead of the defence? This game was broadcast on NHK, so anyone hoping for analysis of the big decisions in the final during the half-time interval was to be sorely disappointed. We were instead treated to national team boss Hajime Moriyasu being grilled on who might make the Tokyo Olympics squad, should the games even take place (if any of you aren’t already aware Moriyasu has heard of Mitoma and Ao Tanaka).

Gamba did cause Kawasaki problems early doors and forced their backline into a number of loose passes, the downside was that this more adventurous approach left them exposed to counter attacks, so Miyamoto quickly went into defensive mode. This resulted in the remaining 2/3 of the half being all Frontale and fortunately for Gamba, Kawasaki hadn’t brought their shooting boots with them, Mitoma, Leandro Damião and Ienaga all guilty of wasting opportunities. Patric was booked for a silly shove on Hatate going into half time and exchanged words with fellow Brazilian Damião, however, it was definitely Gamba who were the happier to get to the interval scoreless.

The Frontale breakthrough inevitably came through the irrepressible Mitoma who coolly slotted past Ryu Takao and Masaaki Higashiguchi following a Damião through ball after possession had been ceded by Gamba in their own half. Kengo Nakamura (who NHK commentary spent most of the first half reminding us, was on the bench and today would be his last ever game) was shown celebrating gleefully on the sidelines and with the Nerazzurri’s record of coming back from a goal down, this really did feel like the winner, even with 35 minutes left to play. Following the 5-0 hammering in November, Gamba were left in a quandary, go all out attack and risk another heavy loss, or try to contain Kawasaki and then push for an equaliser late on. Despite introducing Watanabe and Fukuda for Yamamoto and Fujiharu, they opted for the latter.

Miyamoto has received some criticism for his strategy, but it very nearly paid off. Taniguchi cleared Watanabe’s scuffed shot off the line following a rare Jung blunder. The South Korean stopper more than made amends with two fine tips over the bar to deny both Usami and Fukuda late on. Gamba threw Genta Miura up front right in additional time and nearly conceded a horrible goal themselves when Higashiguchi was robbed of possession. In the end, it was too little too late, Frontale were unable to bring Kengo on for a final appearance, much to the dismay of the NHK commentary team, but he can be more than satisfied with his final year as a professional footballer. Gamba were forced to settle for 2nd again and the ignominy of taking a team photo (why?) with their silver medals and the cheque that will be partly used to pay the fine for Ademilson’s indiscretions.

Season Wrap

This crazy season started and ended with 1-0 defeats in the cups, but a lot of positive steps were taken in between and Gamba are once again a force in Japanese football after three years in the wilderness. I’ve gone into details ad nauseum in previous posts about how their new defensive strategy and ability to protect leads this year were major factors behind their re-ascendance. The ultimate goal, however, was facing them at the National Stadium yesterday (Friday), being able to attack as fluently as Kawasaki while keeping things tight at the back has to be the next step. You could see in the Final that when Gamba went into all out defensive mode it was almost impossible for them to quickly change to an attacking mindset and, as such, several chances to successfully counter were thrown away and wave after wave of Frontale attack kept coming back at them.

I like Miyamoto, I think he is a cerebral manager who isn’t afraid to re-consider his ideas about how football should be played and I look forward to seeing how he embraces the challenge ahead. The Nerazzurri are back in the Asian Champions League for the first time in four years which should allow them to attract a better calibre of player. 2021 will be a particularly big year for Yuki Yamamoto, who played at a much higher level than we had a right to expect this season, and also Yuya Fukuda. I feel it’s vital for him to nail down a position, rather than constantly switching between flanks and midfield / defence.

Below I’m going to have a look at some of the players likely to come and go in the off-season and you can make your own minds up about how you think these moves will alter Gamba’s style of play. Please let me know what you think in the comments section.

Transfer Rumours

* This is a fast moving situation, so some of the moves labelled as ‘Very Likely’ may actually be confirmed by the time you read this.

In

Confirmed

Yota Sato (22 years old Meiji University) A centre back who is one of 12 Meiji graduates to join JLeague clubs this winter. FC Tokyo duo Shuto Abe and Hotaka Nakamura were his seniors and if he can have the same impact those two have had this year then Gamba fans are in for a treat. The Nerazzurri don’t sign university players often, but when they do they are usually decent. I also can’t think of the last time they signed a player from a university outside of Kansai. Any takers?

Very Likely

Ju Se-jong (30 FC Seoul) South Korean international (24 caps 1 goal, played in 2018 World Cup where he robbed Manuel Neuer to set up Son Heung-min for the 2nd in the win over Germany) similar in style to Ideguchi, so covers an area of need. There are questions over his performance since completing military service, 16 games, 1 assists, 1 red card (for 2 yellows) in K1 2020, but he does bring ACL experience with him.

Leandro Pereira (29 Matsumoto Yamaga) – 15 goals and 2 assists in 26 J1 games (just 19 starts) in 2020 while on loan at Sanfrecce Hiroshima, the 190cm Pereira will apparently join on a free transfer as he’s out of contract, but his wages are reported to be some ¥155 million per year. He has 2 goals in 3 games for Sanfrecce against Gamba.

Kazunari Ichimi (23 Yokohama FC – loan return) – After spending 2019 with Kyoto in J2, Ichimi made the step up to the top tier with new boys Yokohama FC and bagged 4 goals and 2 assists in 31 games (21 starts). He didn’t find the target against any top-half opposition (only Sapporo, Sendai, Shonan and Kobe) and with the Olympics coming up one wonders if this is the right move for him, Miyamoto appears to be a fan, though.

Speculation

Kim Ji-hyeon / Kim Ji-hyun [I’ve seen different Romanisations of his name] (24 Gangwon FC) – This move was rumoured on New Year’s Day and after the success Hwang Ui-jo enjoyed at Gamba it makes a lot of sense. Both are 184cm centre-forwards who can also operate wide, Kim has the slightly better K1 goalscoring ratio, 21 in 62 vs Hwang’s 30 in 121. Kim was K1 Rookie of the Year in 2019 and netted 8 in 23 last time out including a double off the bench in the 2-1 win at Jeonbuk on August 30th, this for a team that ended the season in 7th place.

Shion Homma (20 Albirex Niigata) – Left winger / second striker who got 7 goals and 7 assists in 40 J2 games in 2020 (30 starts). Gamba scouts were seen watching him in the 2-0 loss at Nagasaki on November 28th and it remains to be seen what comes of that.

Youth Team Promotion

Jiro Nakamura (high school 2nd grade) a right-winger who got 2 goals and 1 assist in 15 J3 games with the U23s and made his top team debut against Shimizu on the final day seems most likely. 3rd graders, Ko Ise (central midfield, J3 2020 27 games, 1 goal, 3 assists) and Keishi Murakami (left/right full-back / wing-back 23-0-1) are also possibilities.

Out

Confirmed

Ademilson (26 contract termination) – The Brazilian is no longer a Gamba player following his drink-driving offence at the end of October. I went into this in detail on last week’s J-Talk Pod.

Very Likely

Kazuma Watanabe (34 Yokohama FC) – Was 3rd in line at the Emperor’s Cup presentation after the captain and vice-captain and I took this as a nod to that being his final game in a Gamba uniform. Grabbed 6 vital goals in 33 J1 appearances in 2020 (11 starts), winners against Shimizu and Sapporo, a late equaliser at Nagoya, a clincher versus Kashima and of course his double away to Tosu saw him reach a century of J1 goals. I wish him well!

Leo Takae (22 FC Machida Zelvia) – Takae has spent 2020 on loan in the western suburbs of Tokyo and notched 3 goals and 3 assists in 41 J2 games, forming a fine partnership with Kaishu Sano. I’m a bit surprised he won’t be back in Suita next year as I feel he has a lot to contribute. I’m sure we’ll see him in J1 again at some point.

Takahiro Ko (22 Albirex Niigata) – I’m much less surprised at this move than Takae’s as I see Ko as a good J2 level player. Has been on loan at struggling Renofa Yamaguchi for the past 18 months and a move to Niigata is just rewards for his hard work.

Riku Matsuda (21 Zweigen Kanazawa) – A rumoured permanent move for the former Gamba U23 captain. Has made 78 J3 and 2 J1 appearances in total, but unfortunately at 175cm it’s unlikely he’d be able to break into a top J1 defence on a regular basis. A good distributor from the back, I feel Matsuda will compliment Ryoga Ishio well in the Kanazawa defence next year and will give me a reason to visit when they open their new stadium.

Round Up: Both Yasuhito Endo (Iwata) and Kosei Tani (Shonan) are likely to extend their loan deals by another 12 months. It’s unclear what will happen to a number of other loanees such as, Mizuki Hayashi (Yamaguchi), Mizuki Ichimaru (FC Ryukyu) and Akito Takagi (Matsumoto), my guess is that only Hayashi will be back. Regarding players currently on loan with Gamba, I think that GK’s Haruki Saruta (Kashiwa), Lee Yunoh (Vegalta Sendai), and DF’s Ryo Shinzato (Iwata) and Jefferson Tabinas (Kawasaki) will return to their parent clubs. U23 regulars such as Tatsuya Yamaguchi, Keisuke Kurokawa, Ren Shibamoto and Haruto Shirai are all likely to leave either permanently or on loan to J2/J3 sides and even the likes of Shoji Toyama or Shuhei Kawasaki could be farmed out to gain some more top-team experience.

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sport

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka Emperor’s Cup Final Mini Preview

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka
Emperor’s Cup Final
Japan National Stadium
Friday 1 January 2021 14:40
(JST)

Hope it was a Merry Christmas for all who celebrated it! This is just a mini-preview ahead of Friday’s Emperor’s Cup Final and is intended to serve as a companion to the J-Talk Podcast that @frontalerabbit and myself joined Ben for on Tuesday.

Gamba sealed their place in the final by seeing off J2 Champions Tokushima Vortis 2-0 at Panasonic Stadium on Sunday. A scrappy effort from Patric early in the second-half and Yuya Fukuda’s fine strike just a minute after coming on as a substitute were enough for them to advance at the expense of Ricardo Rodriguez’s game side. Kosuke Onose (start) and Takashi Usami (bench) made returns to boost the morale of the Nerazzurri faithful ahead of the final in Tokyo.

Kawasaki defeated J3 outfit Blaublitz Akita 2-0 at Todoroki Stadium early on Sunday afternoon. Inevitably their opener came through the man, the myth, the legend that is Kaoru Mitoma in the 39th minute. Akita’s mean defence was only breached 18 times in 34 league matches this season, however, it was still surprising that the floodgates didn’t open in the second half, and Ao Tanaka’s free-kick 8 minutes from the end was the only additional goal. Still, a win is a win, and crucially Frontale welcomed back Ryota Oshima and Shintaro Kurumaya to leave them almost at full strength going into the final game of their campaign.

Head to Head

You can see a list of all the recent league meetings between these 2 in the table below, but in this week’s head-to-head I want to have a look at cup ties. Gamba defeated Kawasaki 1-0 in the final of the 2007 League Cup, the only evidence I can find of a one-off cup final played on neutral ground between both sides. Michihiro Yasuda, now of JEF United, scored the game’s only goal and helped himself to the MVP and New Hero awards for that year. Aside from that, the only other recent cup activity I could find was the two-legged League Cup semi-final in 2014 which Gamba won 5-4 on aggregate, triumphing 3-1 at home before going down 3-2 in Kanagawa. The Nerazzurri, of course, then went on to defeat Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-2 in the final, the first trophy of their incredible treble winning season.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

There will definitely be no Ademilson for Gamba after the Brazilian had his contract with the club cancelled on Monday. It’s believed that the former Yokohama F.Marinos forward reached a legal settlement with the victim of his drink-driving incident. Yuji Ono (knee) is another who will play no part on Friday, while it’s extremely unlikely that either Yosuke Ideguchi or Gen Shoji will be fit after both sat out the semi-final win over Tokushima.

Kawasaki Frontale

Left-back Kyohei Noborizato (collarbone fracture) appears to be Frontale’s only absentee. Dynamic midfielder Ryota Oshima, left winger Tatsuya Hasegawa and full-back Shintaro Kurumaya have all missed chunks of time this season, but were in the squad for the win over Akita on Sunday.

Predicted Line Ups

Usami for Watanabe is likely to be the only change for the men in blue and black. Gamba’s #33 got much needed minutes against Vortis and Watanabe (probably about to play his final Gamba game) has made more of an impact from the bench this year. Elsewhere, although Yuya Fukuda impressed with a cameo in the last 10 minutes on Sunday, I don’t think he will make the starting eleven here and despite Yajima and Yamamoto being the central midfielders in the 5-0 mauling at Kawasaki in November and neither of them being particularly great ball winners, I believe Miyamoto will opt for this pair again with Okuno on the pine.



With most of the squad good to go, it’s difficult for kantoku Toru Oniki to know who to leave out. If Kurumaya has fully overcome his injury then he will surely take Hatate’s spot at left-back, otherwise the former Juntendo University man, more normally an attacking midfielder or winger, will have to put in a shift there once again. Up top, it’s a toss of a coin between Damião and Kobayashi, but Damião started both league games against Gamba this year so I’ve selected him. This will be the final ever match for Frontale legend Kengo Nakamura and, if he can make the squad, it could be sayonara for Manabu Saito too, as he looks set to join Nagoya Grampus this off-season.



Match Prediction

All logic points to a Frontale win, but this is a Gamba blog after all and I’ll say we’ll grab an early goal and do what we do best, hold on for dear life. Patric to be the hero once more….sorry Kengo you’ll have to make do with just the record breaking league campaign in final year, legend that you are.

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sport

Gamba Osaka vs Tokushima Vortis Emperor’s Cup Semi-Final Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Tokushima Vortis
Emperor’s Cup Semi-Final
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Sunday 27 December 16:00


Last Time Out

Gamba closed out their 2020 J1 campaign with a disappointing 2-0 loss at home to Shimizu S-Pulse. Despite the game being a dead rubber, Nerazzurri kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto fielded a strong looking starting eleven with just 3 changes from the win at Yokohama FC 3 days prior. Kim Young-gwon, the free from suspension Yuya Fukuda and Dai Tsukamoto (1st J1 start) replaced the benched Gen Shoji, Shinya Yajima and Kazuma Watanabe.

The first-half was a dull end-of-season affair and the sides went into the break goalless before two goals in the opening 20 minutes of the second period won the game for the visitors. A first ever J1 strike by 19 year-old Riyo Kawamoto got things rolling after 49 minutes and when Shota Kaneko fired in a second after Yajima’s attempted block fell into his path, it knocked the stuffing out of Gamba. Jiro Nakamura provided some spark when he came on for a late cameo (and J1 debut), but in the end things petered out and the home side never really looked like breaching the leakiest defence in the league. Full time 0-2.

Gamba Osaka vs Tokushima Vortis Match Lowdown

In all honesty, Gamba would probably rather play this tie away or on neutral territory. As J1’s best away team in 2020, they defeated everyone from 8th down in the final standings on their travels, however, they also managed to lose at home to the bottom 3 sides (Shonan, Sendai and Shimizu) by a combined score of 7-0. Indeed, the Nerazzurri have only won by more than a single goal once at Panasonic Stadium this season, 2-0 versus Kashima in early October, and in that match the first goal came via the penalty spot, before Kazuma Watanabe wrapped up the points with a breakaway strike in second half stoppage time. As alluded to in my preview of the S-Pulse game, the next big task facing Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is to get the home form sorted, especially against teams who are content to sit deep and offer the men in blue and black plenty of opportunities to play the ball about in front of them. Granted, the return of Usami, Ideguchi, Ono and Onose will help in that respect, as will finding a suitable replacement for Ademilson if the purse strings can be loosened enough. (Leandro Pereira?)

With the J1 season now finished, we can finally compare the performances of teams on an even basis without wide discrepancies in number of fixtures played due to ACL commitments, COVID outbreaks etc. Gamba finished with the joint 5th best defensive record in J1, tied with FC Tokyo, however, for goals scored, they ranked equal ninth alongside Cerezo and Hiroshima, out of teams in the top-half of the standings, only Nagoya (45) found the back of the net less than Gamba’s 46. With this in mind, it’s easy to see where the work needs to be done in the off-season.

Gamba have won the Emperor’s Cup five times in their history including back-to-back triumphs in 2014 and 2015, however, their recent memories of the competition aren’t great as they’ve been knocked out by universities in each of the past 2 editions. First came the shock 2-1 extra-time defeat at the hands of Kwansei Gakuin University at Panasonic Stadium in 2018 and this was followed by a 2-0 reverse in Tokyo against Hosei University in August 2019. It’s interesting to see what some of those students have gone on to achieve in the game since upsetting Gamba. Ryu Takao captained Kwansei Gakuin in 2018 and Yuki Yamamoto pulled the strings in midfield, neither of them will require any introduction to Nerazzurri supporters. Hiroto Yamami, scorer of the winning goal that fateful evening will become the 3rd member of that squad to play for Gamba after he graduates next year, while midfielder Katsuya Nakano has called Kyoto home since 2019. For Hosei, senior midfielders, Kazuya Konno (FC Tokyo), Toshiki Mori (Tochigi), Hiroya Sueki (Toyama) and Ryotaro Onishi (FC Gifu), as well as forward Akira Matsuzawa (Toyama) have already started making their way in the professional game. Next year’s crop of graduates looks even better with goalkeeper Kojiro Nakano (Sapporo), defenders Taiki Miyabe (Matsumoto), Riku Morioka (Iwata), Masahiro Sekiguchi (Kofu) and Yuya Takagi (Yokohama FC) as well as midfielder Motoki Hasegawa (Kofu) all making the leap into the senior ranks.

Tokushima saw off JFL side Honda FC with surprising ease at Kobe’s Noevir Stadium on Wednesday night. A double from Tokuma Suzuki and Ken Iwao’s penalty helped them avoid a potential banana skin and they’ll now head east to Suita full of confidence. Vortis were crowned J2 champions just last week and will play in J1 next year, the first time they have done so since the 2014 season where they only took 14 points, scored 16 goals and racked up a goal difference of -58. After bouncing back from playoff heartbreak at Shonan last December, Tokushima will be looking to make their next visit to the rarified air of J1 more enjoyable than their previous experience. They will have to do so without Spanish kantoku Ricardo Rodriguez, in charge since 2017, but who has this week been confirmed as Urawa’s new boss for 2021, it’ll be interesting to see the reaction he gets from the Gamba support on Sunday. Ex-Panathinaikos coach and compatriot of Rodriguez, Daniel Poyatos is the new man in charge, he will have his hands full trying to keep hold of young #10 Masaki Watai who has been heavily linked with Reds, but the good news is that 187cm forward Yuki Kakita (Vortis’ top scorer this year with 17) looks set to remain on loan from Kashima despite reported interest from Shimizu. (It has since been announced that Watai will remain with the club in 2021).

Two Tokushima players Gamba fans should remember are forward Akihiro Sato and holding midfielder Yudai Konishi. Sato netted 14 times in 54 appearances for the Nerazzurri between 2012 and 2014 and Konishi is a Gamba Youth product who played twice for the U23s in J3 in 2016 before turning pro with Vortis the following year, to date he’s made 106 appearances and scored 8 goals in J2. Konishi’s partnership with the veteran Ken Iwao in central-midfield is a key component of Rodriguez’s strategy and after a bit of experimentation, the Spaniard seems to have settled on a 4-2-3-1 setup. The team plays a nice passing game and were able to break down J2 opponents on a regular basis leading to a number of players bagging a high total of assists. The right-sided Seiya Fujita helped himself to 9, just one shy of league leading Swede Emil Salomonsson of Fukuoka (10), while both Takeru Kishimoto (right flank) and Kazuya Nishiya (left) have 7 assists to their name, Gamba therefore have been given advanced warning of the dangers Tokushima can pose from either wing.

As expected with a side who finished top of the standings, Vortis’ team stats stack up quite nicely. Their 67 goals in 42 league outings was just one shy of top marksmen Mito (68), while only Fukuoka (29) conceded fewer than Tokushima’s 33 (0.79 per game). Just considering away results, Vortis were once again ranked as J2’s best side, ahead of Avispa on goal difference, exactly the same as the overall standings, with both teams taking home an impressive 10 more road points than 3rd placed V-Varen Nagasaki. Under pressure to secure promotion in their final few matches, Tokushima understandably played rather nervously and lost their last two away games of the season 1-0 (at Mito and Fukuoka), however, their previous road match was a see-saw 4-3 victory at Zweigen Kanazawa, so they clearly know how to find the back of the net away from the Pocari Sweat Stadium and this Sunday’s tie promises to be a real good game.

Head to Head

Gamba fans will have fond memories of the last time these two sides met, though the 0-0 played out in Tokushima on 6th December 2014 was very forgettable, the point gained was enough to see Gamba lift the J1 title in their first year back in the top flight following their shock relegation at the end of 2012. Indeed, both Vortis and the Nerazzurri were promoted together in 2013 (Tokushima via the playoffs) with Gamba winning both head-to-head league fixtures. Takashi Usami helped himself to 4 goals in a 5-1 rout in Shikoku in round 38, so I’m sure Vortis supporters will be hoping he’s still injured for this clash.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

As usual there hasn’t been much injury news from the Gamba camp, though we do know for sure that Yuji Ono (knee) and Ademilson (club suspension/police charges) won’t feature. I’d put Yosuke Ideguchi and Kosuke Onose in the highly doubtful category, while it is possible Takashi Usami could play some part.

Tokushima Vortis

Serbian centre-back Dušan Cvetinović, a winter 2019/20 capture from Yokohama F.Marinos, was last seen in the 2-1 win at Omiya on September 23rd while on-loan Nagoya Grampus midfielder Koki Sugimori hasn’t featured since the 2-0 loss at Kyoto on November 21st. Yatsunori Shimaya (7 J2 apps), Yuki Oshitani (5), Daiki Enomoto (3) and Genta Omotehara (0) haven’t gotten much action in 2020, though I believe this is more down to non-selection than any fitness concerns.
After this blog post was written it was announced that Shimaya and defender Takuya Akiyama would be released ahead of the 2021 season.

Predicted Line Ups

Any major changes to the lineup below will only come about if Ideguchi, Onose and Usami are fit enough to play. Other than that, it’s 2 from Miura, Kim and Shoji at the back, and I guess Okuno could start ahead of Yajima in the middle, but we are looking at another really young bench on Sunday.



Vortis’ recent team selections have been pretty consistent and I’m confident that they’ll line up in the 4-2-3-1 shown below. Alternatives are Ishii in place of Fukuoka at centre-back, Fujita for Kishimoto at right-back and possibly Diego in for Tamukai on the left, though he’s likely to make the bench at best. Further forward, I believe Watai has been out of the eleven recently due to a niggling injury, and I struggle to see him getting in ahead of, Wednesday’s 2 goal hero, Suzuki from the start here.



Match Prediction

Gamba will be champing at the bit to get another shot at Kawasaki after the 5-0 mauling last month, so I think they’ll do just enough to edge this one 2-1.

Categories
sport

Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse 19 December 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse
J1 2020 Round 34
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 19 December 14:00


やった! Well, I made it….please enjoy reading my final match preview of 2020. This year has been trying for all of us and writing my blog has given me an outlet to temporarily distract myself from the harsh realities of life while also connecting with a number of people across the globe. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who took the time, to read, share, comment on or like any of my posts, it really means a lot to me. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

Jonny.

Last Time Out

Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka

Gamba clinched runners-up spot in J1 with a game to spare as their 2-0 victory away to Yokohama FC coupled with Cerezo’s 2-1 loss at home against Sagan Tosu saw the Nerazzurri gain entry to the Emperor’s Cup semi finals and next season’s Asian Champions League.

On a chilly winter’s evening in Kanagawa, Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made just one change to the eleven that had seen off Shonan 10 days previously with Kohei Okuno replacing the suspended Yuya Fukuda. This move prompted a slight reshuffle in midfield as Shinya Yajima moved to the right flank to allow Okuno to partner Yuki Yamamoto in the centre. Kim Young-gwon returned from injury on the bench, however, there was still no place for Takashi Usami. On a more positive note, high school 2nd grader Jiro Nakamura was named as a substitute for the first time in J1, as was left-back Tatsuya ‘Omu’ Yamaguchi, a well deserved reward for 3 years of hard toil with the U23s.

Gamba literally couldn’t have got off to a better start as they led after just 25 seconds. Experienced Yokohama FC centre-back Masahiko Inoha played a casual ball out of defence which was intercepted by Shu Kurata near half-way, the subsequent attack culminated with a Shinya Yajima shot being well saved by Yuji Rokutan before cannoning off Patric into the path of the onrushing Kurata, who could barely believe his luck as he tapped in his 4th of the year. As expected Gamba then sat back ready to soak up pressure. Yokohama FC knocked the ball around with little purpose, and on several occasions they were their own worst enemies, ceding possession to the away side in dangerous areas. As the half wore on they did begin to grow in confidence and teenage prodigy Koki Saito brought out a fine stop from Masaaki Higashiguchi in additional time.

Almost unbelievably, YFC nearly gifted Gamba another goal in the first minute of the second period, as Rokutan, who otherwise put in a solid display, passed straight to Yajima just outside the box, however, the former Olympian couldn’t keep his lob down and it sailed over to spare the stopper’s blushes. At the other end, Minagawa, Takeda and Matsuura all had half chances, but Gamba kept their shape well and I was impressed by the partnership of Okuno and Yamamoto, particularly the way they preyed on the over-zealous nature of Reo Yasunaga in the opposing midfield, milking a number of fouls. Yamamoto found himself with more space to work with than usual and was able to dictate play intelligently. This brought him to the attentions of Kosuke Saito, who put in a rather nasty tackle midway through the half, luckily no lasting damage was done.

Gamba sealed their 12th away win of the year 9 minutes from the end of regulation time and it was no surprise the attacking move that created it originated from sloppy Yokohama passing near their own goal. Kohei Tezuka, on as a second half substitute, needlessly gave the ball away to Yajima and the resulting passage of play saw Kurata and Watanabe both denied by solid Rokutan saves. However, the on-loan S-Pulse ‘keeper couldn’t prevent Patric’s effort from getting past him and the despairing efforts of Yuki Kobayashi on the line to send the travelling support into raptures. It was the big Brazilian’s 9th of the year, 3rd in 3 games and his 2nd 1 goal, 1 assist game in a row. Job done!

Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse Match Lowdown

It’s the final J1 matchday of the year and neither side have anything other than pride resting on this one, so hopefully we’ll see a few fresh faces for both outfits and also a good number of goals to close the season out. It’s worth noting that a Gamba win in this fixture will see them tie their record number of wins in an 18-team J1 campaign (21 in 2011).

Gamba’s road results have been outstanding throughout 2020 and they are guaranteed to be J1’s best away side, regardless of what Kawasaki do in their final game at Kashiwa Reysol. However, the Nerazzurri’s home form has been their achilles heel, with 6 defeats in 16 matches so far and a points per game (ppg) ratio of 1.63 which falls well short of the outstanding 2.29 earned outside Suita. Interestingly, comparing this year’s performance at Panasonic Stadium with the previous 2 campaigns, in 2019 Gamba had a poorer ppg, just 1.59, but were better on both attack and defence, with an average home score of 1.56-1.06 versus the 1.19-1.31 we’ve seen in 2020. 2018 trumps 2020 on all 3 metrics, as in that year the men in blue and black took 2ppg and produced an average score of 1.41-0.76. Indeed, should Shimizu leave Suita with the 3 points on Saturday afternoon, then 7 home losses for the season would equal Gamba’s accrued total for 2018 and 2019 combined. The next step for Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is clearly to build on the solid platform that has been set defensively this year by adding an extra attacking element capable of breaking down the most resilient of defences without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Easier said than done, you may say, and you’d be right.

A quick review of the highs and lows at home this year is now in order. I’d label the best 3 wins at Panasonic Stadium as, the 2-0 over Kashima in early October, and the 2-1s against Kashiwa and Nagoya as all of them were solid top-half sides this season. As for regrets, the 4-0 Sendai debacle will unfortunately linger long in the memory, while although the 3-1 loss to Urawa definitely flattered Reds, it was a bitter pill to swallow nonetheless. The 0-1 versus Shonan was a tough watch, but it did serve as motivational fuel to power Gamba through a run of 12 games unbeaten after that humbling. Finally, the 2-1 defeat to Cerezo in the first (closed doors) match after the league’s re-start in July wasn’t pretty, but a quick glance at the league table shows Cerezo won that battle, but lost the war, so to speak.

Now for a rundown on our final opponents of 2020, Shimizu S-Pulse, a side currently sitting 18th and last, though a win here could move them up a spot with Sendai (16th) and Shonan (17th) facing off at the Yurtec Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Not only are S-Pulse the league’s weakest side, they also possess the worst away record, having gleaned a mere 10 points from 16 matches to date, their 14 goals scored and 35 conceded on the road are also the poorest in J1. They have won just twice outside the confines of Shizuoka in 2020, 3-0 at Shonan on September 19th and 3-1 against Yokohama FC on November 25th, they’ve found the net just 8 times in their other 14 games on their travels.

Shimizu, of course, started the season under the tutelage of Australian Peter Cklamovski, but the former Yokohama F.Marinos assistant was unable to make much of a positive impact and was replaced by Hiroaki Hiraoka in early November (whether Cklamovski jumped or was pushed is still up for debate). While Cklamovski’s selections often raised eyebrows for the amount of square pegs being shoved into round holes, Hiraoka has reverted to a more sedate 4-4-2 which has earned him 3 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats in his opening 8 matches in charge. Hiraoka was actually named November’s manager of the month after going 3-1-1, however S-Pulse are currently winless in December with a draw and 2 defeats.

Regarding the Cklamovski situation, fans of his may criticise Shimizu for the rather tepid way they backed his attempted tactical revolution. If they brought him in with the intention of replicating Ange Postecoglou’s success at Marinos then why did they not arm him with the weapons necessary to execute his battle plan? For example, did Cklamovski ask for a budget version of Marcos Junior and instead get handed Yusuke Goto from Oita’s bench, and surely they could have signed an actual left-back at some point? On the flip side of the coin, it could be argued that Cklamovski should have been more pragmatic with implementing his strategy as the S-Pulse project was beginning from a much lower starting point than the Marinos side Ange inherited in Yokohama. Whatever discussions went on behind the scenes before, and during his short-lived reign, I guess we’ll never know.

Regardless of how you feel about Cklamovski, Hiraoka or the S-Pulse board, the club’s slide from an excellent 8th place finish in 2018 to their present predicament is an undeniable fact. The losses of Douglas (Kobe), Koya Kitagawa (Rapid Vienna) and Ko Matsubara (St. Truidense) have really hurt and the poor recruitment alluded to above has exacerbated the situation. Breaking up the solid centre-back partnership of Hwang Seok-ho and Freire at the end of 2018 is a mistake they don’t seem to have recovered from either. After conceding just 1.41 goals per game in 2018, Shimizu were the only team to average more than 2 goals against per match last season (2.03) and already have a worse record this year, with a league high 70 goals conceded in 33 outings (2.13), this is the worst J1 performance since Tokushima let in 74 back in 2014 (2.18).

Finally, looking ahead to 2021, it’s already been announced that Junior Dutra, Neto Volpi, Mitsunari Musaka, Takashi Kanai, Kenta Ito and Jin Hiratsuka will be moving on, though, as only Dutra, Musaka and Kanai made more than 1 league appearance, it won’t make too much of a dent in the squad. More excitingly they have been linked with Japan national team ‘keeper Shuichi Gonda, currently frozen out at Portimonense, Brazilian forward Thiago Santana who is also playing in Portugal with Santa Clara, and today (Thursday) it was reported that a move for Kashima Antlers’ Yuki Kakita (now on-loan at Tokushima) is afoot. Winger / central-midfielder Daigo Takahashi will surely be recalled from his loan spell at Giravanz Kitakyushu in J2 and youth team prospect Hikaru Naruoka will turn pro after making a number of appearances on his type-2 amateur contract this season. Other youngsters such as, goalkeeper Togo Umeda and attacker Yuito Suzuki can give Shimizu fans hope of a brighter tomorrow, though that could be tempered slightly if they fail to keep hold of the likes of Kenta Nishizawa (whose 10 assists must surely have brought him to the attention of the likes of Urawa, Kashiwa and even Gamba) or Brazilian midfield anchor Renato Augusto. Nishizawa and Keita Nakamura have provided some excellent crosses this year and S-Pulse have scored a number of goals from set-pieces, however, finding defenders who can defend, as well as get on the end of these deliveries, must be a priority this off-season.

Head to Head

Gamba won away to Shimizu in round 4 back in July with Kazuma Watanabe’s 89th minute strike sealing the points in a highly competitive match. At Panasonic Stadium, I was in attendance for the final game of Levir Culpi’s reign (mentioning Culpi seems to have become something of a tradition in recent blog posts), a 2-1 defeat to S-Pulse on a sweltering evening in July 2018. Although, had Koki Yonekura stuck his header away right at the death, it would have earned Gamba a share of the spoils and potentially a short reprieve for the Brazilian. Prior to that, Shimizu’s last league win in Suita was a surprise 4-1 back in 2009 with Shinji Okazaki and future Gamba treble winner Keisuke Iwashita on the scoresheet that day.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Yuji Ono (knee) has returned to light training, but won’t be back until next season, while Osaka Police have now filed drink-driving charges against Ademilson, a move which is likely to end the Brazilian’s Gamba career. Elsewhere, with 2nd place already sewn up, we almost certainly won’t see Takashi Usami, Yosuke Ideguchi or Kosuke Onose on Saturday regardless of their injury status. Yuya Fukuda is free from suspension and Kim Young-gwon was fit enough to appear on the bench on Wednesday night. Right-back Ryu Takao will make his 50th J1 and 50th Gamba appearance should he be selected for this match.

Shinizu S-Pulse

Youngster Riyo Kawamoto had to leave the field injured just 21 minutes after coming on as a substitute at home to Shonan on November 29th and hasn’t been seen since. Versatile wide player Hideki Ishige has been plagued with fitness issues in recent seasons, he’s currently out with a hamstring problem picked up in the 5-0 hammering at Kawasaki on August 29th. Shimizu have 7 non-Japanese players in their squad (Neto Volpi, Valdo, Hwang, Elsinho, Renato Augusto, Junior Dutra, and Carlinhos) meaning 2 must miss out from any given matchday squad. 2020 top scorer Carlinhos (10 goals in 29 games) and Thai forward Teerasil have both been absent for the past 2 matches and I haven’t seen any injuries reported.

Predicted Line Ups

Honestly, with this game now a dead rubber, Saturday’s lineup is anyone’s guess. Kazuma Watanabe started on Wednesday and I can’t see him playing more than about 30 minutes here, so I’ve gone with Shoji Toyama to partner Patric, with his U23 mate Shuhei Kawasaki giving Kurata a rest and Yamamoto also putting his feet up for the first-half, at least. At centre-back, any 2 of Miura, Shoji, Kim and Suganuma could start, while I have Fukuda on the right-wing, but he could play there, right-back, left-wing or left-back depending on what takes Miyamoto’s fancy. Also, expect Dai Tsukamoto to get some serious minutes, either from the start or as a second half sub.



Shimizu lineups under Peter Cklamovski appeared to be chosen using Ben Maxwell’s random number generator and although Hiraoka has brought a bit more consistency, this is still the last game of the year so expect wild variations from what you see below. I wouldn’t be surprised if young Togo Umeda starts in goal and with no confirmation that they are actually unavailable, theoretically both Teerasil and Carlinhos could play.



Match Prediction

With their eyes now set on Emperor’s Cup glory, I could actually see Gamba dropping the ball here and coming second best in an entertaining 3-2.

Categories
sport

Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka 16 December 2020 Match Preview

Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 33
Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium
Wednesday 16 December 19:00


Just a reminder that I was on last week’s J-Talk Podcast, so if you haven’t already please check out my chat with Ben and Sam regarding the Shonan match, the race for 2nd and all other things Gamba.

Last Time Out

Injury-hit Gamba earned a hard-fought 2-1 victory away at Shonan on December 6th, their 11th road win of the year. Takashi Usami and Kim Young-gwon were the latest players to make the treatment room their home, meaning that kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto was forced into changes once again. Fresh off a 7-day break, Gamba reverted to a 4-4-2 system and brought in, the fit-again Genta Miura, Gen Shoji, Yuki Yamamoto and Kazuma Watanabe for, Kim and Usami (injured) and Suganuma and Kawasaki (benched).

Gamba had something riding on this game whereas Shonan had nothing but pride to play for and the first 30 minutes of the contest really bore that out. Gamba reacted to my calls for a quicker start by racing into the lead in just the 6th minute. A slack ball out of defence by Kazunari Ohno (1 of 4 times Bellmare sloppily gifted their visitors possession in their defensive third inside the opening quarter) was intercepted on the right flank by Ryu Takao, he centred for Patric who laid it back to Yuya Fukuda and the youngster from Kokura smacked home his first of the campaign past a partially unsighted Masaaki Goto in the Shonan goal. Interestingly, Fukuda later revealed that Usami had been helping him improve his shooting in training, the results of that were here for all to see.

Bellmare lost experienced midfielder Akimi Barada to injury in the 29th minute with Mitsuki Saito’s arrival bringing about a mini-reshuffle in the home team’s engine room, the highly-rated Daiki Kaneko dropped deeper to his more favoured holding role. This seemed to wake Shonan from their slumber and within 5 minutes they were level. Impressive former Japan U-17 representative (where he was Shoji Toyama’s team-mate) Taiga Hata broke down the left and cut the ball back for Hiroto Nakagawa whose shot struck the arm of Gen Shoji leading to a rare event this season, a handball penalty that everyone agreed was actually the correct decision. The younger brother of 2019 J1 MVP Teruhito Nakagawa comfortably dispatched his spot-kick high into the goal, leaving Higashiguchi without a prayer. Gamba looked ragged as the half drew to a close and the game became a rather scrappy affair, Shoji seemed to be close to losing his cool as he tried to avenge the penalty decision while Patric shoved Shonan captain Takuya Okamoto in the chest as he was unhappy with the close attention he was receiving. Miyamoto would certainly have been happy to get his troops into the dressing room to re-group.

The Nerazzurri started the second half on the front foot before things developed into more of an arm-wrestle. The defining moment came in the 66th minute through a goal of real quality. Yajima and Watanabe combined to get Fujiharu in behind the Shonan defence and the full-back’s inch-perfect cross was headed home at the back post by Patric, the popular Brazilian bagging a goal and an assist in his 200th J1 appearance. Bellmare briefly rallied, but Sosuke Shibata and Satoshi Tanaka shot over while at the other end Goto made an excellent reflex stop to deny Patric his 2nd of the match. I was just about to write in my notes that Gamba were going to see the game out comfortably when up stepped Hata in the 90th minute to whip in a delicious cross that was met by Okamoto, however, Higashiguchi, was there with a crucial stop to earn Gamba the 3 points and probably secure his place in the J1 Best Eleven for 2020.

Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka Match Lowdown

The penultimate game of the 2020 J1 campaign is another crucial one for Gamba as they aim to solidify their grip on 2nd place against a Yokohama FC side who’ll still be smarting from their injury time loss in the reverse fixture between these two. Gamba currently sit on 62 points from 32 games while Nagoya are 2 points back with a better goal difference by 12, though crucially they’ve played an extra match and city rivals Cerezo are 3 behind the Nerazzurri with a better goal difference by 6 and remaining ties against Tosu (h) and Kashima (a). Hopefully Gamba’s 4-0 home defeat at the hands of Sendai doesn’t come back to haunt them in the goal difference stakes, victories here and at home to S-Pulse on Saturday will render that irrelevant. Indeed a win here guarantees 3rd spot at least and coupled with a Cerezo defeat it would leave Gamba with a dead rubber at the weekend with Emperor’s Cup qualification already in the bag.

It’s been 10 days since Gamba’s last match, their 11th 2-1 win of the season and, in fact, they have just three wins by more than a single goal to their credit in 2020 (Sendai 4-1, Kashima and Kobe both 2-0) and have incredibly only led by 2 goals or more for 168 out of a total of 2,880 minutes played. With 19 wins accrued this year, Gamba have already equalled their total from the 2014 title winning campaign and their current haul of 62 points is only 1 shy of that year’s tally, which kind of gives some context to just how good Kawasaki have been. I’ll repeat my favourite stat again (with a small update), Gamba are now 19-3-0 in league games they’ve led at any point in 2020, only Nagoya (a), Kashima (a) and Cerezo (a) have come from behind to take a point from their battle with the Nerazzurri. This looks all the better when compared to 2019 where 7 teams came back to draw and 5 sides overturned a deficit in matches with the men from Suita.

Although highlights reel defeats to Sendai and Kawasaki may be stuck in the minds of many supporters at the moment, it’s important to place those performances in the wider context of the year as a whole. In their most recent 17 games (essentially half a season), Gamba are 12-3-2, giving a total of 39 points which is a mere 8 short of last season’s 47 from 34 contests. That this has been achieved while blooding young, locally developed talent is definitely to Tsuneyasu Miyamoto and the club’s credit. Shuhei Kawasaki (14 games), Kohei Okuno and Shoji Toyama (both 5) and Dai Tsukamoto (4) have all featured more than anyone would have expected in pre-season, while ex-Kwansei Gakuin university duo, Ryu Takao and Yuki Yamamoto have really stepped up to the mark when required and Yuya Fukuda has built on the promise he showed in spurts last season.

This is Gamba’s final away game of the year which gives me one last chance to run the rule over their incredible road performances in 2020. 11 away victories is only 1 less than their win total in 2019 (12) and the 36 points earned outside Suita would see them sit 12th in the overall standings (6 points better off than Wednesday night’s opponents). The Nerazzurri boast a 9-3-4 record when comparing shots on target in away fixtures with their opponents and this correlates pretty well with their actual WDL record of 11-3-2. The fact that in total shots they are 4-0-12 and also 3-0-13 in possession kind of highlights how pointless those stats are. Looking at ball dominance, despite having the best away record in J1 (2 points more than Kawasaki, no less), Gamba average just 40.73% possession across their 16 games to date with a high of 59.1% at Nagoya in round 3 and a low of just 28.1 in the 2-1 win at Marinos on the opening day.

In this paragraph I plan to partake in a little revisionism so all non-Gamba fans may want to skip to the next one where I start discussing Yokohama FC. If you remove the 3-0 defeat at Kashiwa as well as the recent 4-0 home loss to Sendai and the 5-0 embarrassment at Kawasaki then Gamba’s record is just 28 goals against from 29 contests and a goal difference of +16, so I ask the question, which is the real Gamba, that one or the side who’ve lost 0-12 across 3 games? I’ll let you choose, but my guess is a bit of both. Against other teams currently in the top half of the table, Gamba average 1.56 points per game with a scoreline of 1.19-1.44 (1.2 against if you discount the Frontale mauling) whilst games with sides in places 10-18 have been more profitable, bringing 2.3 ppg and a score of 1.56-1.06 (0.87 if you remove the Sendai result). If anyone read that, I hope you enjoyed it, now let’s have a quick glance at our opposition.

While Gamba come into this clash needing 3 points, Yokohama FC will be able to play with the pressure off having already secured the best league finish in their club’s history. The club born out of the ashes of Yokohama Flugels took a mere 16 points from 34 games in their one previous J1 outing in 2007. However this year they have almost doubled that total and a win on Wednesday coupled with a Cerezo victory over Tosu would move them up to 14th ahead of their final match of the year, a Yokohama derby at home to Marinos on Saturday. So, there is still a little something to motivate Takahiro Shimotaira’s troops.

I tipped Yokohama FC to finish 2nd bottom this year and they have definitely exceeded my expectations and given themselves a platform to build on ahead of 2021 when relegation will once again be on the table. With 35 goals in 32 contests to date, only 4 teams (Shonan, Oita, Tosu and Sendai) have scored less than Yokohama FC, while their 57 conceded betters only Shimizu, Sendai, Sapporo and Kobe (it should be noted that both Consadole and Vissel have let in just 1 more from an extra fixture). With not a whole lot to play for recently, results have slidden a little after a mid-season high and they haven’t taken 3 points from any of their previous 5 games. Indeed, rather disappointingly for the men from Kanagawa, they have just 2 wins and 10 points from their last 13 fixtures.

Yokohama FC’s overall decent showing has largely been bolstered by home performances with 5 of their 8 triumphs this season coming on their own patch. Shonan (4-2), Nagoya (3-2), Kobe (2-1), and FC Tokyo and Kashima (both 1-0) have all been seen off at the Mitsuzawa. Their home average score is 1.27-1.93 which compares with their overall record of 1.09-1.78. They have won 3 games by 2 goals or more (the same as Gamba), the aforementioned Shonan victory as well as road wins at Kashiwa (3-1) and Urawa (2-0). On the flip side, they’ve gone down by 3 goals or more on 5 occasions though the last time was a 3-0 loss at Sapporo on October 24th, which may not have been a particularly accurate reflection of the run of play. In this encounter, top scorers for the year, Yusuke Matsuo (7) and Kazunari Ichimi (4) are both unavailable so a big question for them will be, who is going to be able to get on the end of the ammunition supplied by Takuya Matsuura (4 assists) and Kohei Tezuka (also 4)?

Briefly looking ahead to next season, Yokohama FC have been strongly linked with Gamba’s Kazuma Watanabe (34), while JEF United’s Brazilian forward Kleber (30) and Tosu midfield anchor / centre-back Hideto Takahashi (33) are also rumoured targets. In the departure lounge, veteran Daisuke Matsui has already left for Vietnam and young prodigy Koki Saito will make for Belgium at the year’s end. Yuki Kobayashi (Kobe), Kazunari Ichimi (Gamba), Kohei Tezuka (Kashiwa), Maguinho (Kawasaki), and Yuji Rokutan (Shimizu) are all regulars currently on loan from fellow J1 clubs so it’ll be interesting to monitor their future movements. I’ll also be keeping a keen eye on what happens with veterans Shunsuke Nakamura, Leandro Domingues and King Kazu, not to mention centre-back pairing, Masahiko Inoha and Calvin Jong-a-Pin. Fans at the Mitsuzawa may also be crossing fingers and toes in the hope that left-wing star Yusuke Matsuo’s shoulder problem keeps him off rival teams’ radars for at least another 6 months.

Head to Head

Gamba’s 2-1 win over Yokohama FC in August was the first J1 clash between these two since FC’s sole previous season in the top flight back in 2007. Shorn of the services of Kazunari Ichimi, Yokohama were wasteful in front of goal and were made to pay when Patric won the game for Gamba in the 94th minute. Yokohama FC are one of only 4 current J1 sides I haven’t seen play live (Nagoya, Oita and Shonan are the others) as I missed the 2 draws during Gamba’s J2 sojourn in 2013. Maybe next year, eh?

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Definitely out of this clash are Yuji Ono (knee – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) while Yuya Fukuda picked up a 4th yellow card of the year against Shonan and is therefore suspended. Takashi Usami and Kim Young-gwon both sat out the Bellmare game, but their injuries are not thought to be serious. Gamba are being coy about the fitness of Kosuke Onose and Yosuke Ideguchi, however, the general feeling seems to be that they’ll miss both remaining J1 matches. Captain Genta Miura appears to be back fit and firing after his 90 minutes in Kanagawa last week, and his return couldn’t have come at a better time as Kim and Ryu Takao are both walking a suspension tightrope with any caution against Yokohama FC ruling them out of the S-Pulse game. In better news, veteran Kazuma Watanabe will make 350th J1 appearance on Wednesday against the side he is likely to join next season.

Transfer Gossip / News Round-Up

It was announced last week that diminutive Kwansei Gakuin University forward Hiroto Yamami (currently in 3rd grade) will join Gamba from the 2022 season. Nerazzurri supporters may remember his winner in the shock 2-1 Emperor’s Cup defeat back in 2018 and he becomes the 3rd member of that side to move to Suita after Ryu Takao and Yuki Yamamoto. Elsewhere, it’s being reported that Yasuhito Endo will extend his Gamba contract next year, but remain on loan at J2 side Jubilo Iwata.
More left-field rumours include, a potential bid for Urawa’s on-loan Brazilian midfielder Ewerton, though that seems more like fan talk, while Kim Young-gwon has been linked with a move back to his homeland with Incheon United who are also said to be interested in ex-Gamba treble winner Oh Jae-suk.
Non-transfer related news is that the club are set to appoint a specialised forwards coach from next season in a bid to boost shooting performance (it’s worth noting that Gamba have a 19-1-12 record in terms of better shooting % this year). And finally…the 2021 uniforms will be officially unveiled in a ceremony prior to the final home game of 2020 against Shimizu on Saturday.

Yokohama FC

Forward Kazunari Ichimi (4 goals in 30 J1 games) can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement with Gamba while Yusuke Matsuo has a dislocated shoulder and hasn’t featured since the draw at Sendai on October 14th. Holding midfielder Kensuke Sato, an influential figure in the reverse fixture, is currently out with a knee injury and was last seen in a matchday squad on October 18th. In the injured?/dropped? column are, utility man Eijiro Takeda who was subbed at half-time in the home loss to S-Pulse on November 25th and hasn’t been seen since, while veteran centre-back Calvin Jong-a-Pin suffered the same fate as Takeda except in the away loss at Shimizu on August 22nd, rookie central defender Kyowan Hoshi last saw action in the 3-0 drubbing at Tosu on September 5th, legend Shunsuke Nakamura has been limited to just 10 J1 appearances in 2020 and was last spotted as an unused sub against Oita on November 3rd and on-loan winger Ryuji Sugimoto, a rare starter, has been out of the squad for over a month.

Predicted Line Ups

With options thin on the ground at the moment, there aren’t too many alternatives to the players in the lineup below. Should Kim be fit enough, he could take the place of either Shoji or Miura at centre-back while the midfield has 3 potential choices in my opinion. The most likely is set out below with Takashi Usami returning from injury on the right wing with Yajima and Yamamoto in the middle and Kurata down the left. It’s also possible we could see Kurata on the right, Kawasaki down the left and the Yajima-Yamamoto partnership in the centre or Yajima on the right, Kurata on the left and Okuno and Yamamoto in the middle, we’ll need to wait and see.



With one more home game yet to come, a Yokohama derby, no-less, against Marinos on Saturday I reckon YFC will save their veterans like Shunsuke Nakamura, Leandro Domingues and King Kazu for that one. Alternatives to the lineup below would be either Hakamata or Inoha coming in at centre-back, young Nakayama playing down the right with Matsuura on the left or most likely Minagawa in for Senuma as the replacement for Ichimi.



Match Prediction

Gamba to do what they do best and grind out an ugly 2-1 away from home.

Categories
sport

Shonan Bellmare vs Gamba Osaka 6 December 2020 Match Preview

Shonan Bellmare vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 31
Shonan BMW Stadium Hiratsuka
Sunday 6 December 15:00

Last Time Out

Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu


Gamba were left to rue yet another sluggish start, and later the form of visiting goalkeeper Park Il-gyu as they let two points get away from them in a disappointing 1-1 home draw against Sagan Tosu on Sunday evening. Just 4 days after the nightmare in Kawasaki, Nerazzurri kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes. Shunya Suganuma and Shuhei Kawasaki (1st J1 start) replaced the benched Gen Shoji (possibly still not fully fit) and Yuki Yamamoto, however, the big surprise was the temporary return of the 3-5-2 formation with Yajima sitting at the base of the midfield and Kurata (right) and Kawasaki (left) playing just ahead of him.

Shorn of Yosuke Ideguchi’s ball-winning capabilities in the centre of the park, Gamba were slow out of the blocks once again and were quickly behind for the 4th contest in a row (80% of the games Ideguchi has missed!) Sagan midfield duo Riki Harakawa and Daiki Matsuoka controlled the tempo early doors and it was no surprise when they took the lead in the 11th minute. Yajima had his pocket picked by Renzo Lopez and a mix up between Takao and Higashiguchi allowed 18 year-old Ryunosuke Sagara, making his first ever J1 start, to net. Truth be told, from a Tosu perspective, they probably scored too early, as although they remained a threat on the counter in the opening stanza, taking advantage of the acres of space available in the Gamba midfield, slowly, but surely, the Nerazzurri, inspired by Usami, took a vice-like grip on proceedings. Sagan were left hanging on for half-time with Park denying both Usami and Patric, while Suganuma headed a corner off the bar, still they led 1-0 going into the interval.

Both sides made changes early in the second half, Gamba switching to a 4-4-2 with Yuki Yamamoto entering the fray, but I can’t say they really changed the flow of the game as the wind was definitely blowing very much in the home side’s favour anyway. Sagan were their own worst enemy at times, giving the ball away under pressure in their defensive third. Perhaps a lesson Gamba can learn from this is, if that kind of intensity is present from the start of a match then they might not have to claw themselves back from 1-0 down every week. Patric’s equaliser in the 77th minute came after essentially 30 minutes of sustained Gamba pressure, Kazuma Watanabe, another substitute, fed Ryu Takao down the right and his centre was expertly flicked home by the Brazilian for his 7th of the campaign (and 4th in his last 9 matches). After that, young forward Shoji Toyama (once again coming on in the right wing position) had 2 good chances to win it, while another 2nd half replacement, Tosu right-back Ryoya Morishita, may well have caught the eye of the Gamba recruitment department with an incredible run from the edge of his own penalty area which culminated in a shot just wide of Higashiguchi’s right-hand post. It ended 1-1, Gamba have steadied the ship after the 5-0 hiding at Kawasaki and still have Emperor’s Cup qualification in their own hands ahead of their 3 remaining J1 fixtures.

A glimpse into 2021

With a full 7 days between fixtures and the news that Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is set to pen a new deal, I thought I’d add in a little bonus section this week to round up potential transfer activity this off-season. Meiji University centre-back Yota Sato is already confirmed, Gamba don’t often sign players from university (especially ones outside Kansai), but when they do they are usually decent (Yamamoto, Takao, Fujiharu, Hiroyuki Abe, heck even Kim Jung-ya has been a J1 player for 9 seasons!). FC Seoul midfielder Ju Se-jong looks set to join and this should help with covering any future Ideguchi absences, Albirex Niigata wunderkind Shion Homma is also a rumoured target, though Gamba will likely face stiff competition domestically, and perhaps from abroad, for his signature. Central midfielders, Ko Ise and Ryusei Sugano, right-winger Jiro Nakamura and full-back / wing-back Keishi Murakami could be promoted to the top team for 2021 after some solid displays in J3 this year.

In terms of departures, Leo Takae (Machida), Takahiro Ko and Mizuki Hayashi (both Yamaguchi), Akito Takagi (Matsumoto), Mizuki Ichimaru (FC Ryukyu) and Yasuhito Endo (Iwata) are all currently on loan to J2 sides, Endo has been offered a contract for next season, but I could see all the others, with the possible exception of Takae, moving on permanently. Veteran forward Kazuma Watanabe’s transfer to Yokohama FC is all but confirmed with Kazunari Ichimi moving in the opposite direction after 2 years out on loan. Jubilo centre-back Ryo Shinzato will likely return to Shizuoka when his rental deal is up, while fellow loanees Jefferson Tabinas (Kawasaki) and Haruki Saruta (Kashiwa) also appear to have no future in Suita with the disbandment of the U23 side next season. Youngsters, Ren Shibamoto, Tatsuya Yamaguchi and Haruto Shirai are all in line to be loaned out, or in the case of Shirai, probably released. South Korean goalie Lee Yunoh, currently on loan from Vegalta Sendai may be offered a deal though, after overcoming a horror J3 debut to turn in some decent performances. Daisuke Takagi seems to be on his way to a J3 contract rather than a J2 one for 2021, to use a quote from the FC Tokyo Kai-Guys vernacular, he’s been unable to “hit a cow’s backside with a banjo” this year.

My suggestions for potential upgrades aside from Sato, Ju and Homma are as follows. A Brazilian forward to replace the likely to depart Ademilson (how much money is there to do this, I’m not sure), and a right-back as, at present, Ryu Takao is the only specialist for that position in the squad. Fukuda, Miura, Matsuda and Okuno can play there, but to varying degrees, they are all shoving square pegs into round holes. My picks would be either Tosu’s Ryoya Morishita (see match report above) or Nagasaki’s Seiya Maikuma (senpai of Yuya Fukuda at Higashi Fukuoka High School), with Tochigi SC speedster Hayato Kurosaki being an outside bet.

Shonan Bellare vs Gamba Osaka Match Lowdown

It’s a big game for Gamba as the battle for 2nd place looks set to go down to the wire. The Nerazzurri have Nagoya (3 points, back, same number of games played) and Cerezo (4 behind, 1 game in hand) breathing down their necks and can ill afford any more slip ups in the race to the finish. A win in this encounter will essentially seal a top 4 spot and probable qualification for the 2021 Asian Champions League, an outcome I’m sure all supporters of a blue and black persuasion would have accepted prior to the season’s commencement. Patric, MVP in the 1-1 draw with Tosu, said in his hero interview that the squad would be going all out to get 2nd spot with only fixtures at, Yokohama FC (15th) and home to Shimizu (17th) remaining after this one.

Despite battling a string of injuries, Gamba still boast an 11-3-2 record over their last 16 games while managing to blood a number of younger players (Kawasaki, Toyama, Tsukamoto, Okuno etc), so the future does look quite rosy at the moment, in that respect. In spite of the 5-0 defeat at Kawasaki in their previous match, Gamba are still J1’s best away side with 10 wins and 33 points already in the bag after 15 road trips. The squad has had a slightly patched up feel to it over the past few rounds and hopefully a break of 7 days between the Tosu clash and this game, and then a further 10 day gap until the Yokohama FC match will allow time for the likes of Ideguchi, Onose and Miura to return to full fitness in order to help get that final away points total up to 39 and earn a highest league finish since 2015.

Our hosts on Sunday afternoon, Shonan Bellmare, should approach this game in confident mood having already seen off the Nerazzurri 1-0 at Panasonic Stadium before embarking on what is currently their best run of the year. Dreadful early season form saw them win just 2 of their first 21 league fixtures, a run of results that would surely have seen kantoku Bin Ukishima canned had relegation been a possibility. The Hiratsuka-based side have stuck with their man though, and it’s begun to reap some mild rewards. Just one defeat (1-3 at Nagoya) in their past 9 games has them in 16th place in J1, exactly where they finished the 2019 campaign. I put them 15th in my pre-season predictions and it’s difficult to make an argument that they should realistically be finishing any higher than that consistently given their budget constraints and regularly having their best players plucked away by Kanto rivals.

With just 27 goals in 30 league contests to date this year, Shonan possess J1’s weakest attack. They’ve failed to hit the back of the net in 1/3 of their games (compared with 11 times last season), though they have scored at least once in their past 7 outings. Interestingly, they’ve only netted more than twice on one occasion in 2020, a surprise 3-2 win at home to Kashiwa on October 18th and at present they are the only J1 side to average less than a goal per match. At the back things have been reasonably solid for a team in their position, they have conceded an average of 1.47 times per game this year, much better than the 1.85 in 2019. They have, however, let in 3 or more in a single fixture 8 times this campaign, though the aforementioned Nagoya loss is the only occasion it’s happened in the past 14 games. Indeed, things fell apart in the second half of 2019 after the Cho power harassment scandal and took a while to improve, but there definitely seem to be some green shoots of recovery if recent form is anything to go by.

Shonan are statistically the worst away side in J1, with the 1-0 at Gamba one of only two road wins in 2020, however, at home they are unbeaten in their last 5 games, 3 wins and 2 draws which have included 2 clean sheets and just one failure to score (0-0 vs Tosu). These recent victories represent 75% of their total for the season, only Kashima (1-0 on July 22nd) were conquered in Bellmare’s first 10 home contests, but since then, Kashiwa (3-2), Yokohama FC and Yokohama F.Marinos (both 1-0) have all bitten the dust at the BMW Stadium.

What have been some of the factors behind this recent upsurge? For one, I think looking to the future and giving young, hungry players a shot has given this Shonan side a real boost. 18 year-old Taiga Hata has become a regular at left wing-back, centre-back Koki Tachi (173cm), in his first year out of Nihon University, has formed a decent understanding with partner Hirokazu Ishihara (169cm) in what is certainly not an orthodox pairing in this height obsessed football culture. Midfielders Daiki Kaneko (22) and Mitsuki Saito (21) have both been stand-outs and look set to move onwards and upwards next year. Losing talents like those at such a young age kind of highlights why Bellmare have to resort to measures like playing sub 180cm centre-backs.

Defender / midfield Satoshi Tanaka is a youth team player who’ll turn pro in 2021, but has made 13 J1 appearances on a type-2 contract this season and he’ll be joined in the arrivals lounge by midfielders, Sho Hiramatsu (Rissho University) and Taiyo Hiraoka (Rissho High School). Who knows, maybe Shonan’s partnership with Fukushima United will finally bear fruit in the form of Nigerian forward Ismaila (13 goals in 30 J3 games), it’s certainly an area that needs an upgrade. Top scorer for the year Naoki Ishihara (6 goals in 23 matches) only returned from a fractured cheekbone last week against S-Pulse and in his absence, 2 players more normally thought of as attacking midfielders, Temma Matsuda and Hiroto Nakagawa deputised. In Scotland we call this kind of formation the “Levein.” If anyone cares for an explanation, please drop me a message in the comments.

Head to Head

Shonan upset Gamba 1-0 at Panasonic Stadium back in September, the first time they’d won in Suita since their Bellmare Hiratsuka days. In Kanagawa, Gamba have a pretty strong recent record, a 1-0 reverse during the Levir Culpi era aside. Takashi Usami talked big about hitting the back of the net more frequently ahead of last year’s corresponding fixture and he lived up to those words with a double that helped sink Shonan, who at that time were still rocking from Cho Kwi-jae’s dismissal, 3-0. Gamba’s number 33 would continue that fine form for the rest of the season, bagging a further 3 goals in the final 4 league games.

Team News

Gamba Osaka


Yuji Ono (knee surgery) is out for the season, while there is still no news on the future of Brazilian forward Ademilson (club suspension) who was arrested back on October 25th. I have seen rumours that several Brazilian Serie A sides are interested in repatriating him, though his salary demands could be a stumbling block. Elsewhere, captain Genta Miura, midfield maestro Yosuke Ideguchi and right winger Kosuke Onose all watched Sunday night’s 1-1 draw with Tosu from the stands with Miyamoto dropping hints in an interview that Ideguchi and Onose won’t be back this year. In more positive news, fan favourite Patric, currently Gamba’s top scorer this season, will make his 200th J1 appearance in this match (Kawasaki 8, Kofu 16, Gamba 114, Hiroshima 61 to date).

Shonan Bellmare

Impressive on-loan ‘keeper Kosei Tani will have to sit this one out as per the terms of his loan agreement with Gamba, and the most experienced stopper in the squad, Daiki Tomii, last started in the 1-0 win in Suita back in September, he hasn’t made the bench since the away defeat to Kashima on September 23rd and I haven’t seen any injury reported. Promising left wing-back Toichi Suzuki missed all of November with tonsillitis, though prior to that he had been out of favour with his coach having only started once (against his former youth side Cerezo) since being subbed off in the first half of the 4-2 drubbing at Yokohama FC back on August 15th. Norwegian forward Tarik Elyounoussi is out for the year after sustaining an injury in the match with Yokohama F.Marinos on November 11th. The 2-0 win at Vissel Kobe on November 15th was the last time we saw, centre-back Shunta Tanaka (youth team player potentially with high school commitments), midfield anchor Daiki Kaneko (apparently off to Urawa for 2021) and Naoki Yamada (got an assist in that game), I haven’t seen any confirmation why they’ve been missing. Also in the injured/dropped? column are, on-loan Kawasaki wing-back Kazuaki Mawatari who has played just 7 J1 games this year, with his last appearance being the 3-0 home loss to Shimizu on September 19th, experienced midfielder Tsukasa Umesaki who missed rounds 2-20 with a knee injury, returned for 2 games then disappeared again after the match at Cerezo on October 14th, and left sided defender Shunya Mori who is yet to play in J1 since moving from Zweigen Kanazawa in the summer of 2019.

Predicted Line Ups

I have Gamba lining up in a 4-4-2, though it is possible we’ll see Miyamoto use 3-5-2 again (hopefully not, in my opinion). With a 10 day window until the next fixture with Yokohama FC, the only real changes I can see in personnel compared with my chosen eleven is if Miura, Shoji, Onose or Ideguchi return to full-fitness ahead of this clash. I guess I might be being too optimistic in thinking that after his double at the same venue in the Levain Cup in August, Shoji Toyama may get a run out up front?



Shonan have been lining up in a 3-5-2 formation in recent games and have been reasonably consistent with their player selection. A fully fit Daiki Kaneko would surely usurp Shibata from the holding midfield role while I’ve put Naoki Ishihara in for a first start since recovering from injury, Ibusuki or Nakagawa are alternatives.



Match Prediction

Gamba need to win this one to keep their Emperor’s Cup hopes alive, Shonan have 2021 contracts and their coach’s job to play for. I’m banking on Gamba to grind out yet another win on the road with a trademark 1-0, Patric netting the decisive goal with a header from a corner….there’s a specific prediction for you!

Categories
sport

Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu 29 November 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu
J1 2020 Round 30
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Sunday 29 November 17:00

Last Time Out

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka


Gamba slumped to their worst league result since 2012 as they were blown out of the water by a rampant Kawasaki Frontale on Wednesday night. The home side’s 5-0 triumph saw them lift the J1 title, their 3rd in 4 years, with 4 games to spare.

The Nerazzurri made just one change to their lineup from the 2-1 win at Urawa 3 days previously with Yuya Fukuda replacing the injured Kosuke Onose on the right-wing, while Hiroki Fujiharu, sporting strapping on his left leg, was surprisingly fit enough to start. Frontale began slowly, but once they got going they were simply unstoppable. Perhaps the most painful thing about the whole experience, from a Gamba perspective, was that the torturer-in-chief was one of our own, 34 year-old Akihiro Ienaga, who helped himself to a hat-trick (wonder if his name will get so much applause next time it’s read out at Panasonic Stadium?). Leandro Damiao opened the scoring just before the first half drinks break following a pinpoint cross from Kyohei Noborizato, but it was Ienaga’s double either side of half-time that killed the game off as a contest. Gamba threw on some of their youngsters late on and were picked off easily on the break with Ienega grabbing the 4th and Manabu Saito rubbing salt into the gaping wounds in the final minute of normal time.

Again, with the season Gamba have had and the injuries that have built up, it’s difficult to be overly critical. Unlike the Sendai game, here the Nerazzurri were simply up against superior opposition. Sure, a week’s rest in advance and a fully fit Ideguchi may have brought the score down to a more respectable 2 or 3 goal deficit, but the gulf in quality between these two sides, and indeed between Frontale and the rest of J1 is clear for all to see.

I wanted to finish this section by taking a minute to congratulate Kawasaki on their title win. It’s been comfortably the most dominant display I’ve seen by a J1 side since I started following Japanese football back in 2012. To dismantle your nearest rivals, Gamba (5-0), Cerezo (5-2), FC Tokyo (4-0) and Nagoya (3-0), as easily as they’ve done has just been phenomenal. Gamba didn’t lose to them on Wednesday through a lack of effort, they were totally outclassed by Frontale’s pressing, accurate passing, vision, movement and work-rate, it honestly looked like they had at least 12 players on the pitch for most of the match. Kawasaki have set a new standard for how good a JLeague side can be, the chasing pack must now pick up the baton and aim for those heights….let the chase begin.

Viewer discretion is advised for any Gamba supporters who choose to watch the ‘highlights’ below.

Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu Match Lowdown

Let’s start with the positives, despite Wednesday night’s thrashing Gamba still lie in 2nd place in the league and don’t have to play anyone higher than 14th in their remaining 4 fixtures. They currently sit 3 points clear of nearest challengers Nagoya in 3rd with both clubs having played 30 matches. City rivals Cerezo, as well as Kashima Antlers are 6 points behind, the Cherry Blossoms have a game in hand while Antlers have played an extra match. Realistically 3 wins from 4, starting with this one, would lead the Nerazzurri to their highest league finish since 2015.

Now to a bit of the ugly. Following the farce against Frontale I decided to dig up some horror results from Gamba’s recent past. The last time the men from Suita conceded 5 in a league match was actually also at Todoroki back in 2015, a 5-3 defeat which I conceded I could remember nothing about in my previous match preview. A 4-0 hiding at Hiroshima in the first post-2018 World Cup match (Levir Culpi’s penultimate game in charge) and an identical battering away at Urawa in 2016 stand out from the post treble-winning era. However, for wacky results, pride of place must go to the 2012 campaign in which Gamba endured a shock relegation to J2, finishing 17th despite 7 top 3 places in the previous 8 seasons. In that year of all years, the Nerazzurri suffered a 5-0 pasting at Kashima and a 6-2 drubbing at home to Kashiwa. There were no shortage of highlights though, with 4-0 (a) and 7-2 (h) wins over Sapporo and 5-0 routs of Nagoya and Urawa (both away)…what a crazy year that one was!

Back to a little bit of positivity now and then we’ll take a look at our visitors Sagan Tosu in just a moment. After Gamba complete this fixture, they have 7 days break before another visit to Kanto, where they’ll face Shonan Bellmare (16th) shorn of their on-loan ‘keeper and future Gamba #1 Kosei Tani. Next will come a much needed 10 day rest owing to having already played Vissel Kobe due the Hyogo-based side’s involvement in the Asian Champions League. The Nerazzurri finish the campaign with my schedule’s least favourite combination of matches, Wednesday night / Saturday afternoon, Yokohama FC (15th – away) on December 16th and Shimizu S-Pulse (18th home) on the 19th. A top 2 spot of course means elevation to the Emperor’s Cup semi-final, a quick chance to gain revenge on Kawasaki and the opportunity to lift silverware for the first time since 2015. To do all of that they have 2 remaining games at home and 2 away and Gamba are one of a surprisingly high 9 J1 sides to take more points on the road this year than in their own backyard. They are still J1’s best away side with 33 points from 15 matches, but 6 home defeats leaves them within touching distance of the 7 they’ve suffered over the preceding 2 years combined (remember that includes the Levir Culpi era!). It’s not all bad news at home though, before playing Shun Nagasawa and co. into form in their previous match at Panasonic Stadium, Gamba had gone 6 unbeaten in Suita with 5 wins and 1 draw, so they’ll be hoping to rekindle that spirit for their 2 remaining encounters at Panasonic Stadium.

Sagan Tosu enter this match in 14th spot in the standings and if you cast your eyes back to pre-season, you’ll remember many punters, including myself, had them finishing rock-bottom, so we can say it’s been a season of modest achievement for J1’s most poorly funded club. A solid rearguard has set the tone for their campaign and they’ve actually conceded 1 goal fewer than Gamba, albeit in 1 less game (Gamba shipping 10 in their last 3 not helping with that stat). Tosu have the best defensive record among all the bottom half sides, however, only Shonan (26 goals in 30 games) have a poorer attack. The Kyushu sides’ form has been very patchy throughout the year, the 1-0 home reverse to Sendai on Wednesday was preceded by a 7 match unbeaten run (2 wins and 5 draws), but that, in turn, followed a run of 7 losses in 9 games as the fixtures piled up following their August Covid cluster.

Tosu need to take 7 points from their remaining 5 games, Gamba (a), Yokohama FC (a), Kawasaki Frontale (h) (if anyone’s going to put them in their place it’ll be Tosu), Cerezo (a) and a Kyushu derby at home to Oita, to equal last season’s points total, which may be a tough ask. However, with the financial cuts they’ve made this year, by all rights they should be much worse than they are and credit must go to Kim Myung-hwi (potentially questionable pre-Covid cluster behaviour aside) for the job he’s done on a shoestring. They currently average 1.03 goals per game in 2020 compared with a meagre 0.94 last season and the improvement has been even more marked at the back as they are letting in 1.28 a game this year versus 1.56 in 2019. Brazilian Eduardo who joined from relegated Matsumoto Yamaga has been a real leader at the back and the recent addition of Yokohama F.Marinos ‘keeper Park Il-gyu on loan has also helped greatly, so Gamba will be fully aware of the tough challenge that awaits them in trying to unlock the Tosu defence on Sunday evening.

Looking ahead, Sagan’s finances will continue to be a cause for concern, though they did announce a new sponsorship deal recently which will hopefully give them a fresh injection of cash. They managed to offload high-earner Mu Kanazaki to Nagoya on loan earlier in the year, but his recent knee injury must be a worry as Tosu won’t want his contract to potentially become an albatross around their neck if they can’t find a potential suitor. Game-maker Riki Harakawa, a rare example of a Sagan player who’s in the prime of his career, has been linked with a number of J1 sides and Cerezo seem to be in pole position for his signature. Elsewhere, bright talents like Daiki Matsuoka, Ryoya Morishita, Teruki Hara and the man I bigged up on my J-Talk debut, Fuchi Honda, must be gathering admiring glances from rival teams. In Tosu’s favour is their generally excellent youth system through which they’ve already produced the likes of Matsuoka, Honda and Kaisei Ishii. Shinya Nakano is a 2nd grade high school student who performed superbly at left-back in the 2-1 win at Kashiwa last weekend, while 2 other Tosu Youth members, forwards Reoto Kodama and Ryunosuke Sagara (who made his J1 debut vs Sendai on Wednesday) will turn pro in 2021, as will Chuo University defender Daisuke Matsumoto, who is on a designated special player contract this year. With the coffers running close to empty and 4 teams to be relegated to J2 at the end of next season, Sagan will need to hope their youth system continues to churn out talents like these.

Head to Head

As seen in the table below, Tosu have lost on every occasion they’ve visited Panasonic Stadium on league business and have failed to find the back of the net on their 3 previous trips to Suita. Indeed, they’ve only ever won one league game away to Gamba in their shortish J1 history, a 3-2 victory in their first ever visit to the old Expo 70’ Memorial Stadium back in May 2012. The Nerazzurri actually haven’t lost a JLeague fixture at home to a Kyushu side since V-Varen Nagasaki’s 2-1 triumph in J2 all the way back in September 2013. I was there for the last Gamba senior team game at Expo 70’ Memorial Stadium, a 3-1 victory over Sagan in an Emperor’s Cup quarter-final in 2015 (Gamba went on to lift the trophy that year) and Tosu were also the opposition for my first ever J1 game at Panasonic Stadium in Golden Week 2018, an ultimately comfortable 3-0 home win, a rare experience during the short-lived Levir Culpi era.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Yuji Ono (knee – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) are both definitely out of this game while right-winger Kosuke Onose must be a huge doubt after leaving the field with a leg muscle injury in the first-half of last week’s 2-1 win at Urawa. Left-back Hiroki Fujiharu had his left thigh strapped up against Reds, but was fit enough to play against Frontale in midweek, it may be asking a bit too much of him to feature in this game though. Yosuke Ideguchi’s bite has been missing from midfield since he got injured in training on November 9th, there is still no word on when he’s expected to return. Club captain Genta Miura played 45 minutes as an overage player for the U23s in J3 last Sunday, but didn’t make the matchday squad for the Kawasaki game, it’s unclear whether or not he will return to the fold on Sunday.

Sagan Tosu

Veteran centre-back / midfielder Hideto Takahashi (who is set to be Kazuma Watanabe’s team-mate at Yokohama FC next year) injured his elbow in the 3-0 home win over FC Tokyo on September 27th and hasn’t featured since while former Gamba Youth left-back Yuto Uchida was subbed off against Nagoya Grampus on November 3rd and is yet to return. Brazilian winger / forward Tiago Alves’ injury hit campaign continued when he damaged his foot against Kashiwa last week (November 21st). Forwards, Cho Dong-geon and Kaisei Ishii (a player bigger teams may be sniffing around) haven’t been in the matchday squad for the past 2 games with no injuries reported. Elsewhere, in the, are they injured? / have they just been dropped? category, on-loan Kashiwa defender / midfielder Park Jeong-su (a player known mostly for failing upwards) was last seen as an unused sub against S-Pulse on October 18th, Yoshiki Takahashi has made just 4 appearances (1 start) in J1 this year and last featured against Shonan (a) on October 21st, Uruguayan striker Renzo Lopez’s last sighting was as an unused sub in that same game while South Korean winger An Yong-woo was removed at half-time in the 3-0 loss at Hiroshima back on October 3rd and has been absent ever since. Promising young holding midfielder Daiki Matsuoka is set to make his 50th J1 appearance in this game and with his current career trajectory, it’s unlikely he’ll make too many more for Tosu.

Predicted Line Ups

It’s unclear whether Miyamoto will make sweeping changes to the side following Wednesday’s humiliation or if he’ll back his walking wounded one more time. I’ve assumed that Miura, Ideguchi and Onose won’t make it and Fujiharu won’t be fit enough to start, however, any of these names would likely come in to the eleven if fitness allows. Up top, I’ve perhaps over-optimistically gone for Shoji Toyama when Watanabe is more likely to partner Usami. I’ve also opted for Kohei Okuno in midfield as Yajima and Yamamoto are too similar in my opinion and Okuno is best placed to provide some of the grunt that’s been lost due to Ideguchi’s ongoing absence.



I’ve gone with the assumption that as they’ve been playing high school kids on type-2 contracts recently, Sagan can’t have too many fit options outside those who started on Wednesday night. 17 year-old Shinya Nakano has been starting ahead of Ohata and may continue to do so here, while it’s possible on-loan Kobe centre-back Daiki Miya could come in alongside Eduardo with Hara switching to right-back. Takeshi Kanamori can play on either wing or as a centre-forward while 38 year-old veteran Ryang Yong-gi is a possibility in the midfield engine room if Matsuoka is shifted elsewhere in the lineup.



Match Prediction

This is likely to be my first live J1 game of the year and I’m in optimistic mood. Kawasaki are head and shoulders above the rest of J1 so I’m counting on Wednesday’s result having no bearing here. The home faithful, including myself, will be looking for a response and I’m backing on Gamba to provide it in the form of a 2-0 win.