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Vissel Kobe Match Preview 26 July 2020

Vissel Kobe vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 7
Noevir Stadium Kobe
Sunday 26 July 19:00 (JST)

Round 7 of J1 2020 sees Gamba make the short trip west to play neighbours Vissel Kobe. Both sides come into the game unbeaten in their previous four matches so we should be in for a high-quality encounter. Hopefully this preview gives you all the information you’re looking for. Comments and feedback are always welcome and a massive thanks to those who have already contacted me.

Last Time Out

Gamba ground out a scrappy 1-0 win at home to Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Wednesday night which once again highlighted their ability to win ugly this season. In the corresponding match last year Gamba battered their visitors but ended up drawing 1-1 while this time round Sanfrecce may feel they did enough to take something from the game, but ultimately they return home winless, the fourth game in-a-row where they’ve failed to pick up three points.

Both sides reshuffled their packs for this clash as the intense summer schedule started to bite. Gamba made four changes to the starting XI with Yuya Fukuda, Yasuhito Endo, Shu Kurata and Kazuma Watanabe coming in for Kosuke Onose, Shinya Yajima, Yuji Ono and Ademilson respectively. Ono, a quiet revelation since his off-season move from Tosu, and Yajima took up spots on the bench while Onose and Ademilson were given a well earned night off. Interestingly, 17-year old forward Shoji Toyama, scorer of 11 goals in 15 games for the U23 side in J3 was on the bench for the first time, albeit as an unused sub, while Keisuke Kurokawa got his first taste of top-team action this year replacing cramp-victim Yuya Fukuda in additional time.

Sanfrecce had the better of the opening exchanges with Leandro Pereira making a nuisance of himself, his long range effort stinging the palms of Higashiguchi. Yuya Asano, recruited from Mito HollyHock last winter, also had his shot blocked by Gamba captain Genta Miura after he had robbed Fukuda in midfield. At the other end, Yasuhito Endo sent a rasping drive just past Takuto Hayashi’s left-hand post from about 25 metres out.

The game was a rather tame affair between two relatively evenly matched outfits in the first half and in the end it was decided by a goal just before the break. Takashi Usami’s corner from the main stand side found Miura, who’d escaped the attentions of his opposing captain Sho Sasaki, standing all alone just outside the six-yard box and the 183cm centre-back made no mistake, powering his header past Hayashi. 1-0 Gamba at half time.

Sanfrecce threw on Rhayner and Toshihiro Aoyama at the start of the second half, but there was no immediate change in the flow of the game. Hiroshima had the ball more in dangerous areas, but often shot off target or from distance. Gamba remained a threat when countering, their best chance coming on the hour mark with Rhayner blocking Kurata’s goal bound effort on the line. Just like in the previous game with Oita, Gamba came under late pressure. In the space of ten minutes, a Hayao Kawabe cross as well as shots from Tomoya Fujii, Ryo Nagai and of course the dangerous Leandro Pereira threatened to bring the visitors a point their general play may have merited, but it was not to be and Gamba held on to win by a solitary goal, moving themselves up to joint third on the ladder in the process.

Gamba Osaka 1-0 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
22 July 2020

Vissel Kobe played out an at times lively Kansai derby with Cerezo Osaka at Nagai Stadium in midweek, though neither defence could be breeched and the game ended scoreless. A cagey first half saw both teams happy to cede possession to the other provided it was in non-dangerous areas. Decent chances were at a premium, but the visitors created the most presentable ones. Iniesta, Furuhashi and Yamaguchi all found the gloves of Kim Jin-hyeon in the Cerezo goal with efforts from around the 18-yard line. The home side’s best opportunity fell to Ken Tokura who ran onto a long through ball, but found Vissel ‘keeper Hiroki Iikura up to the task of saving his shot.

A bit of needle crept into the game at the beginning of the second period with Kobe defender Hirofumi Watanabe guilty of giving away a few fouls and allegations and counter-allegations flew over how much contact was really involved in some of those challenges. The tie did settle down and became more even, Cerezo tended to attack more, as a home side should, but Vissel remained a danger on the break. Kobe ‘keeper Iikura tipped Yasuki Kimoto’s goal-bound header onto the bar while Hiroshi Kiyotake shot over from near the penalty spot after a great cross from Riku Matsuda. At the other end Iniesta and Sergi Samper fired in shots, but just like in the first half they were unable to create a really golden opportunity against the meanest defence in J1.

Vissel didn’t make their first replacement until the 75th minute and a string of late changes took the sting out of the game somewhat. Young Daiju Sasaki again showed some good touches and composure in midfield after replacing Sergi Samper, but the best chance to claim all three points fell to Cerezo’s Argentine midfielder Leandro Desabato. He shot inches wide of Iikura’s left hand post in the final minute of injury time ensuring that the game finished goalless.

Cerezo Osaka 0-0 Vissel Kobe
22 July 2020

Tactical Notes

Gamba once again opted for a three centre-back formation against Sanfrecce, although with the personnel involved, it could have been easily switched to 4-4-2 at any time. The four changes made to the side from the previous match affected the fluency of the build up and we saw far fewer pieces of neat interchange play in the opposition’s final third. Hopefully the re-introduction of Ademilson and Onose against Kobe will fix that. Yasuhito Endo will likely start this one on the bench after his 66 minutes on Wednesday. Truth be told he didn’t have his best game against Sanfre and although his vision, passing and leadership are second to none, due to his advancing years, Shinya Yajima’s energy and drive are a far better fit for this current Gamba strategy. Interestingly though, as this was the first game Endo had started since the Osaka Derby defeat, we could see that Miyamoto has recognised the issues that plagued the Gamba midfield in that game. When Hiroshima were in possession both Ideguchi and Kurata in the more advanced central midfield roles dropped back to form a line along with Endo just in front of the defenders which meant Sanfrecee didn’t have the room to play with that Cerezo and several teams last year enjoyed.

Vissel operate two main systems, either 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 depending on the opposition or players available. Due to the need for rotation this year, I can’t really be sure which strategy they’ll employ for this game, although I have outlined the likely starting members for each formation in the Know Your Opponent section below.

Kobe’s strength lies from the midfield forward, Andres Iniesta, who will probably sit this match out after playing 170 minutes across the previous two games, pulls the strings in the middle of the park, though Hotaru Yamaguchi and Sergi Samper are both equally adept at monopolising possession. Their wing-backs offer a clear and direct attacking threat, Japanese international Gotoku Sakai is probably the best left-back/wing-back in J1 and his counterpart on the right, Daigo Nishi, helped himself to seven assists in 2019. Both players have had a heavy workload this season and could be rested for this game which would be a major loss for Kobe.

In attack, the 184cm, 80kg frame of Douglas is the leader, in a 3-5-2 the sublime skills of Kyogo Furuhashi can be found just behind or to the left of him, however, if Kobe opt for a front three we could see either see Keijiro Ogawa, a player who seems to have been around forever, but is still only 28 or Noriaki Fujimoto play on the right wing.

Kobe’s soft underbelly definitely lies at the back. Their strategy of playing out from Hiroki Iikura in goals can leave them vulnerable to what DAZN’s commentators call a ‘short counter.’ The inability of the two or three centre-backs to form a straight defensive line is also a headache for head-coach Thorsten Fink, it allowed Cerezo several opportunities to break through in midweek, although they were unable to capatalise.

Last year, there were 120 goals in Vissel’s 34 J1 matches or 3.6 per game, a league high. This time round the men from Hyogo have scored six and conceded six in their opening six games, a massive turnaround. If you consider they scored half of their yearly total against Shimizu and conceded half against Hiroshima, then although both those games were in Kobe, like this one is, statistically we’re likely to see a low scoring clash on Sunday. For the record, I don’t believe Vissel have better defenders or worse forwards than last year, rather, they are adopting a new low-risk strategy which seems to be largely keeping the ball out of the danger area at both ends of the field.

To sum up this rather rambling tactical notes section, Kobe have a bounty of attacking weaponry that can threaten Gamba’s rearguard on Sunday night. However, they will be susceptible to the high press and also to long balls from deep, Kim Young-gwon may come in handy here, as well as quick interplay in the final third involving Usami, Ademilson and Ono.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

As per Alan Gibson on this week’s J-Talk Podcast, Gen Shoji is almost fully fit, but is being wrapped in cotton wool to prevent a re-occurrence of his ankle knock. To add my own spin, Miura and Kim have played every game so far, therefore it’s likely Shoji will come in to give one of them a rest at some point after potentially playing in the Levain Cup matches away to Oita and Shonan next month.
Backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori is the only player who is definitely out, though with this being the third match in eight days, rotation will play a big factor in team selection, I’d suggest Endo and Fujiharu will probably make the bench at best.
One man who has had his rest is Kosuke Onose, he wasn’t in the squad on Wednesday but should be back to play his 50th game for Gamba and 50th in J1 on Sunday.

Vissel Kobe

Experienced Belgian defender Thomas Vermalen hasn’t played in J1 yet this year, no injury has been reported, but I assume there must be some niggle which is stopping him from playing even once a week. Likewise, Brazilian centre-back Dankler hasn’t appeared in the previous three matches which I can only suspect is because of injury. After playing the majority of the games against Shimizu and Cerezo, I can’t see Iniesta starting here, right wing-back Daigo Nishi has also accumulated 338 minutes since J1 resumed and is another likely candidate to be rested. Centre-forward Douglas is only two away from netting fifty times in J1, Gamba will hope he doesn’t achieve that target against them.

Know Your OpponentVissel Kobe

Head Coach – Thorsten Fink (Appointed 9 June 2019) – League Record – P 26 W 12 D 6 L 8 F 44 A 41 Failed to Score 4 Clean Sheets 6.

GK – #18 Hiroki Iikura – Experienced ‘keeper who played over 200 J1 games for Yokohama F.Marinos before making the switch to Hyogo early last year. He has his critics over his sometimes erratic distribution and shot stopping, but showed in the last game against Cerezo what a decent option between the sticks he can be on his day.

CB – #17 Ryuho Kikuchi – Extremely physical graduate of Osaka University of Health & Sports Sciences (the same alma mater as Hiroki Fujiharu), 188cm tall Kikuchi joined Vissel from Renofa Yamaguchi after an impressive debut season in J2. He’s someone who I suggested Gamba ought to look at last year so I was a tad disappointed when he moved to Kobe. I was very impressed with him against Oita and Cerezo and in my opinion he’s Vissel’s best centre-back with the exception of Vermaelen.

CB – #25 Leo Osaki – Often mis-labelled as a promising youngster, Toin Yokohama University graduate Osaki will actually turn 29 early next month. His long and winding journey to J1 has taken him via the American lower leagues, Yokohama FC and Tokushima Vortis. I’ve seen him tipped for international honours before and agree that he’s a solid option, but Vissel’s defensive frailties since he’s joined them haven’t helped his reputation.

CB – #3 Hirofumi Watanabe – Now in his fourth year in Hyogo, Watanabe, who counts Kashiwa, Tochigi and Vegalta Sendai among his former clubs, is one of Vissel’s longest serving players. He only played six times in J1 in 2019, but with Vermaelen and Dankler missing and the games coming thick and fast he’s already racked up five league appearances this time round.

RWB – #44 So Fujitani – A once highly-rated full-back / wing-back, Fujitani’s career has stalled somewhat in recent years. Since Daigo Nishi arrived in early 2019 he’s only played in ten J1 matches and will hope to take advantage of the heavy squad rotation, that will surely take place, to earn more game time.

CM – #27 Yuta Goke – Promising attack-minded midfielder who joined the club directly from Aomori Yamada High School in 2018. Originally from Kyushu, Goke has now made a home for himself in Hyogo and the 21 year-old is beginning to blossom into a decent central midfielder under the tutelage of Thorsten Fink and Iniesta, two men who know a thing or two about the position.

DM – #6 Sergi Samper – The third ex-Barcelona player in the squad after Iniesta and Vermaelen, Samper took a while to settle into life in Japan but is now firmly established as first choice in the midfield anchor role. He does not have a league goal to his name in his senior career and will be content to sit in front of his defence and feed the ball to his more illustrious team-mates.

CM – #5 Hotaru Yamaguchi © – Capped 48 times by Japan, Yamaguchi made the slightly controversial move west from Cerezo last year while Naoyuki Fujita travelled in the opposite direction. Able to play at the base of the midfield triangle or slightly more advanced, the vastly experienced Yamaguchi will be a key cog in the Vissel machine wherever he finds himself selected for this game.

LWB – #24 Gotoku Sakai – An excellent mid-season addition from Hamburger SV last year, Japan international Sakai is a regular provider of ammunition for his forwards and was a huge upgrade on ex-Gamba youngster Ryo Hatsuse. With 42 Japanese caps under his belt and seven years spent playing in the German Bundesliga, Niigata native Sakai is someone Gamba will really have to watch out for on Sunday.

CF – #49 Douglas – Kobe’s biggest off-season signing, Douglas came in from Shimizu S-Pulse after contributing 25 goals and 8 assists in just 45 games across a year and a half spent in Shizuoka. He previously had a five and a half year spell in Japan from 2010-15 which produced more mixed results. His 21 goals in 33 matches fired Sanfrecce Hiroshima to the J1 title back in 2015, but prior to that his performances with both Tokushima Vortis and Kyoto Sanga in J2 were rather more patchy.

CF – #11 Kyogo Furuhashi – It’s difficult for me to add anything to the already loud chorus of praise that he receives from everyone in the JLeague English community on Twitter. I’ll do what I do best then and just quote some stats, Furuhashi has four goals and one assist in six J1 starts this season, his record extends to seven goals in nine games this calendar year if you include the ACL and Japanese Super Cup. He and Douglas have contributed all of Vissel’s J1 goals so far in 2020, Gamba must stop him if they want to take anything from Sunday’s game.

Other options – I’ve assumed two things with the above line up, one is that there will be rotation so Andres Iniesta and Daigo Nishi will be rested, and two is that Kobe will play 3-5-2, if they opt for 4-3-3 then expect Keijiro Ogawa or Noriaki Fujimoto, who has slightly underwhelmed since signing from Oita last summer, to start on the right wing. Other options in attack include ex-Sporting Lisbon forward Junya Tanaka, whose late goals sunk Gamba in the game at Panasonic Stadium last spring, or young Yutaro Oda, an academy graduate who has made a couple of sub appearances recently. Further back, two other former Kobe Under-18 players Takuya Yasui and Daiju Sasaki are options in midfield, Sasaki at the base and Yasui a little further forward. While in defence Ryo Hatsuse can play either on the left or right, but he’s yet to feature in J1 since returning from a loan spell with Avispa Fukuoka in the second half of last season.

Predicted Lineups

Match Prediction

A bit of a lottery this one as both sides come into the match tired following two tough games in the past week. I’d love to go for a 2-1 away win here, but I’ll let my cautious nature take over and say it’ll be a closely fought, at times physical 1-1 draw.

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Sanfrecce Hiroshima Match Preview 22 July 2020

Gamba Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima
J1 2020 Round 6
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Wednesday 22 July 19:00 (JST)

Round 6 of J1 2020 sees the first midweek game played at Panasonic Stadium Suita this year and Sanfrecce Hiroshima are the visitors. I had the great pleasure of working with Sanfrecce supporter and blogger Tobias (better known as @ConDrei on Twitter) to put this preview together. It is the first of what I hope will be several collaborations with other English language bloggers this season. Please let me know what you think.

Last Time Out

Gamba recorded a 2-1 home victory over Oita Trinita which was ultimately more comfortable than the tight scoreline might suggest. The Nerrazzuri made just one personnel change from the previous week’s triumph at S-Pulse with Yuji Ono coming in for Shu Kurata in midfield. They did, however, revert to a back-three with Shinya Yajima playing just in front of them and Yosuke Ideguchi putting in a great shift supporting both defence and attack admirably.

The men from Suita were in control for most of the first half, displaying an attacking coherence rarely seen thus far in 2020. The high press was also very successful and they essentially out-Oitad Oita (if that makes sense?), by building pressure and forcing mistakes. Daiki Watari did give an early indication of the dangers Trinita could pose on the counter as his shot was blocked by Ryu Takao following a cross from the right. Gamba failed to heed that warning and against the run of play in the 33rd minute Oita took the lead with a goal of real quality. Ex-Gamba winger Tatsuya Tanaka fired in from the right-hand side, this time Watari was able to get the better of Takao and he bulleted a header past Higashiguchi. 1-0 to the visitors.

Gamba didn’t have to wait long to get on level terms, just three minutes in fact. A good team move ended when Kosuke Onose was clearly tripped by Oita’s Tomoki Iwata and up stepped Takashi Usami to fire home a powerful penalty that beat Shun Takagi to his left. Usami’s first goal of the year and 1-1 at the interval.

Usami turned provider for strike partner Ademilson just three minutes into the second half. He robbed Trinita defender Kento Haneda of the ball on Gamba’s right and quickly fed his Brazilian team-mate, Ade then cut inside, brought the ball onto his left foot, turned Yoshinori Suzuki and buried his shot low, past Takagi at the near post for his second goal of the campaign.

Gamba threatened to run away with the game in the ten minutes or so that followed and Trinita ‘keeper Takagi was a relieved man as he almost let an innocuous looking back pass cross his goal line but managed to clear the ball just in the nick of time. The men in blue and black then slowly released their foot from the accelerator and gradually ceded possession and territory to their visitors. Despite substitute Kazuki Fujimoto showing some nice touches on his senior debut Oita were wasteful in the final third with numerous crosses failing to find their target and Yuto Misao’s weak effort straight at Higashiguchi their best chance to take anything from this game. Full time Gamba 2-1 Oita.

Gamba Osaka 2-1 Oita Trinita
18 July 2020

Sanfrecce made it three games without a win when they slumped to a 2-1 home reverse against Cerezo Osaka. The Cherry Blossoms, of course, defeated Gamba by the same scoreline a fortnight earlier and this game had a similar pattern to the Osaka derby with Cerezo the stronger team in terms of overall play and sharpness in front of goal.

The away side had the better of the first period and took the lead after just twenty minutes. Right winger Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, who was a thorn in Hiroshima’s side all night turned every Gamba fan’s favourite Sanfrecce player Kohei Shimizu inside out before firing in a dangerous low cross in the direction of Ken Tokura. Hiroshima captain Sho Sasaki got to the ball first but was unable to control his clearance and it spun past Takuto Hayashi for an unfortunate own goal. 1-0 Cerezo at the break.

The goalscoring action in the second half was confined to the opening fifteen minutes. First, Cerezo went 2-0 up with Sanfrecce the architects of their own downfall. Following numerous chances to clear from their defensive third, the three arrows were dispossessed by Cerezo central midfielder Naoyuki Fujita about 30 metres out, his interception was picked up by Hiroshi Kiyotake who then put the onrushing Fujita through one on one and he made no mistake, slipping the ball under Hayashi for his first league goal for the club.

Sanfrecce were back in the match literally seconds later when some slack defending allowed Douglas Vieira, a half-time replacement for the ineffectual Ryo Nagai, a run on goal, and Croatian centre-back Matej Jonjic brought him down for a penalty. After a bout of Cerezo shenanigans (on an even bigger scale than prior to Ademilson’s PK in the Osaka derby) delayed the kick for a good couple of minutes, Vieira dusted himself down and put his shot slightly left of the middle to reduce the deficit to just one goal. Despite huffing and puffing, Sanfrecce were largely reduced to long range efforts at goal and Cerezo held out reasonably comfortably to take the 2-1 win.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-2 Cerezo Osaka
18 July 2020

Recent History

With the games coming thick and fast these days I only have time to look back at the two matches between these two from last year.

The away clash came in round 6 in early April and it was one all supporters of a Gamba persuasion would rather forget. Goals inside the first ten minutes from Yoshifumi Kashiwa and Kosei Shibasaki sent Sanfrecce on their way and confined Gamba to their fourth league defeat in the first six games, although it was their first loss on the road following earlier wins at Kawasaki and Shimizu. Hayao Kawabe added gloss to the scoreline with a third five minutes before time. 3-0 it finished.

Gamba were an altogether different beast come the return leg at the beginning of the Obon holiday. A bumper crowd of over 30,000 witnessed young Yuya Fukuda announce himself on the big stage with a fine display of attacking prowess from the left-wing back position. The Osaka side swarmed all over their visitors right from the off, but Hiroshima remained resolute and there were few clear openings in a goalless first half.

Sanfrecce had more attacks in the second period, but Gamba were still largely in the driving seat in a game which looked destined to finish 0-0. That all changed in the 89th minute when Kosuke Onose cut inside and unleashed a powerful drive from the edge of the area, a partially unsighted Keisuke Osako spilled the ball into the path of the advancing Shu Kurata and he made no mistake to send the blue and black support into raptures. Their joy was to be short-lived as in the second minute of additional time, Leandro Pereira, then a recent loan addition from Matsumoto Yamaga, rose to head Tsukasa Morishima’s cross past Higashiguchi and claim a point for the men in purple. A frustrating night for all Gamba fans as this would be the third of five consecutive league draws, and the second of three games in which the Nerrazzuri threw away late leads.

Tactical Notes

Gamba returned to using the three centre-back system for the home game against Oita and owing to that result as well as Sanfrecce and Trinita’s similar playing styles, I believe that is the formation Miyamoto will employ for this game. As noted above, Yosuke Ideguchi covered a lot of ground playing in a double volante with Yajima when defending but then being found on the right side of Gamba’s inverted midfield triangle going forward. As a result of his heavy workload on Saturday, it’s possible he’ll sit this one out.

The high press employed by Gamba’s attackers reaped dividends last time out but I’m a touch concerned about the toll it’s taking on Usami and Ademilson. They have been subbed off in almost every game, so I wonder if we will see Patric and/or Watanabe start this clash. Hiroki Fujiharu was another who got through a mountain of work in the last match, he sat out the previous midweek game with Nagoya, and his place could once again go to Yuya Fukuda, who is yet to show his best form since returning from injury.

Hiroshima generally set up in the same 3-4-2-1 as Oita, though they did tweak their system for the visit of Cerezo, playing in an almost identical structure to Gamba with an inverted midfield triangle. The experienced Toshihiro Aoyama, another not so popular figure in Suita, sat at the base with his regular volante partner Hayao Kawabe just ahead to the right and Tsukasa Morishima, who regularly provides great service for his tall attackers from the left wing, sitting a little deeper just to the left of Kawabe. Up front Leandro Pereira was partnered by former Matsumoto team-mate Ryo Nagai and this simply didn’t work with the latter replaced by Douglas Vieira at half-time. This leads me to Sanfrecce’s attacking conundrum, Pereira and Vieira are their best forwards, but they are too similar to each other for it to really click as a partnership, in my opinion. Both do their best work in and around the penalty area, and although Vieira is better than Pereira at general link up play, if you’re going to play someone just off Pereira, then that role would surely be better suited to the likes of Shunki Higashi or Gakuto Notsuda.

Defensively, Hiroshima’s back three is pretty sound with, Yuki Nogami, ex-Gamba Junior Youth Hayato Araki and Japanese international Sho Sasaki forming a settled line up that didn’t concede more than twice in a league match last season. Down the left flank is where the issues lie, the experienced Yoshifumi Kashiwa is missing for at least another month and his absence has been keenly felt. Yuya Asano, Kohei Shimizu and young Tomoya Fujii have all been tried there with varying degrees of success and it should be noted that Cerezo’s right winger Tatsuhiro Sakamoto had great joy throughout the ninety minutes last Saturday. Additionally, Ken Tokura, who tormented Gamba in the Osaka derby caused identical problems for the Hiroshima rearguard and this is something Patric may seek to emulate when he gets his chance.

To sum up, this match will likely be similar in style to Gamba’s game with Oita. Hiroshima will be content to sit in and soak up pressure while hoping to catch Gamba on the counter. Gamba on the other hand will aim to build on the attacking fluency they showed in the first hour against Oita, they’ll attack the flanks and hope that the high press will bring them a similar reward to Cerezo who used it to score their second goal against Sanfrecce at the weekend.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

There are no new injury concerns that I know of, meaning that once again Gen Shoji (ankle) is a doubt and Jun Ichimori (shoulder) is definitely out. Yuki Yamamoto got a start for the U23 side on Sunday and could feature after a few games as an unused sub. This will be Kosuke Onose’s 50th game for Gamba and also his 50th in J1, he has 11 goals to his name to date.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Influential left wing-back Yoshifumi Kashiwa (8 goals, 4 assists in 34 J1 games last year) is definitely out with a leg injury, he’s expected back sometime in August. Highly-rated young stopper Keisuke Osako has been on the bench for the past two games following his error against Oita, I’m assuming he’s fully fit and could return at any time. Defender Kazuki Kushibiki, midfielders Taishi and Hiroya Matsumoto and attacker Ezequiel have all been out of the squad in recent games, though as none are established starters I’m guessing this is simply down to non-selection as opposed to injury. Veteran Toshihiro Aoyama will make his 400th league appearance for Sanfrecce if selected, to date he’s played 363 J1 and 36 J2 games.

Know Your OpponentSanfrecce Hiroshima

A massive thanks to @ConDrei for his excellent in-depth look at Wednesday night’s opposition. If you haven’t already, please give him a follow on Twitter and also check out his Sanfrecce Hiroshima EN – unofficial – page @threearrowsSFC as well as his blog

It is year three of the Hiroshi “JFK” Jofuku era. The turnover came when Sanfrecce under triple champion manager Hajime Moriyasu narrowly avoided relegation at the end of 2017. The tactics of 3-4-2-1 has been connected to the club for most of the last decade, Introduced by Michael Petrovic, adapted by Hajime Moriyasu and basically used by Hiroshi Jofuku leaving almost no change to the look of Sanfrecce’s formation. The sole striker position was regularly taken up by star players up front (Douglas,
Hisato Sato or Peter Utaka) but, odd as it sounds, since Sanfrecce has one of the best defenses in the league the heart of the squad recently moved from CDM to COM. It was Toshihiro Aoyama and the Morisaki twins that built up the game in 2012 and 2013, flanked by Michael Mikic and Kohei Shimizu with Hisato Sato up front, in 2020 you have some great talent in the backfield behind the striker, while the CDM looks a little old and unsettled.

Just last week the 3-4-2-1 was abandoned for a 3-1-4-2 formation. As Jofuku seems to have moved his focus onto high pressing and a more attacking style of play. I will use the formation change momentum to build up my probable Starting XI:

GK – #1 Takuto Hayashi – Remember when Nishikawa left for Urawa and the then 31y/o Hayashi was brought back to his former club? That was 6 years ago. Hayashi had his best season in 2015, when he conceded only 30 goals keeping 14 clean sheets in the process. In 2018 he came close to that mark, but just a few more goals conceded were enough to cost Sanfrecce a fourth title. After that, Hayashi lost his place between the posts to youngster Keisuke Osako in the lead up to the 2019 season. The veteran was responsible for the opening goal for Thai side Chonburi United by mishandling a ball. This was followed by an (to me) unknown injury and the chance for Osako to not only impress with a shining smile but very athletic and fast reactions on the line that
Hayashi had naturally lost after all these years. With Osako looking a little less secure in his last outing, Hayashi had his chance. But basically you can expect Osako’s return in any given match day. So don’tbe surprised if the 20 year old keeper returns against Gamba.

RCB #2 Yuki Nogami – Nogami has grown more and more reliable for Sanfrecce’s three-piece defense since moving to Hiroshima in 2016. A pleasant surprise in the final matches of the 2016 season, Nogami transitioned into a trusted player when he was tasked with filling the boots of Tsukasa Shiotani, who left for UAE club Al-Ain. I would characterize him as a hard worker with some pace, who sometimes lacks a little strength in using his body.

CB #23 Hayato Araki – With Kazuhiko Chiba growing older the central defense position had to be filled by a new player. As Jofuku tends to give younger players a chance it was the time for Hayato Araki, a former Sanfrecce youth player, to show what he is capable of. While still studying at Kansai University, Araki was brought to the team in 2018 and
since then he has played his boots off in one of the strongest defenses in the J.League. He is one of those highly-rated prospects that you hope will stay with your club for a couple of years. He plays cleverly despite his young age and is always willing to throw himself in front of shots.

LCB #19 Sho Sasaki – The poster boy of Sanfrecce Hiroshima is the 30 year-old veteran. Coincidentally he played under Jofuku at Ventforet Kofu but joined Sanfrecce ahead of the manager. When Hajime Moriyasu took the helm at the Samurai Blue it was Sho Sasaki who was given the chance to present himself with the National Team. Rightfully? I am not sure as Sasaki is solid but not the best of those three in my opinion. On the last matchday he deflected a crossed ball into his own goal, that brought mischief to Jofuku’s match plan. I hope that he won’t dwell on his mistake as it is crucial to have a focused defense.

RW #44 Rhayner – The Brazilian is on loan from Tombonense and returned to Japan after previously winning J1 with Kawasaki Frontale in 2017. Aside from knowing that fact, I was not aware of him as a player but his first impressions with Sanfrecce were undoubtly great. While he sometimes appears to lack a little offensive agility, I admire his efforts to defend almost anywhere in front of the three backs.

DM #6 Toshihiro Aoyama – He is one of the players that has endured everything with Sanfrecce in the last 16 years. Aoyama joined Sanfrecce in 2004 from a High school in Tsuyama, Okayama. He is one of the toughest players in the squad and apart from his defensive talent, he is able to provide a lot of crucial assists while regularly building up attacks. He is now 34 though and has lost a bit of his freshness. But, as a captain he
is still a stronghold on the pitch. Especially for those younger players that Jofuku brings into the team.

OM #10 Tsukasa Morishima – One of the young players whose career has really taken off under Hiroshi Jofuku. The 23 year-old attacker had a dire season in 2017 when he was given his first chance, but in 2019 Morishima’s standing sky-rocketed in the squad, playing all but one match in the AFC Champions League and assisting 9 goals in 24 league appearances (while scoring 3 goals himself). He is definitely a player to watch if he plays on Wednesday.

OM #8 Hayao Kawabe – Long-time loanee to Jubilo Iwata, Kawabe returned to Sanfrecce in 2018 and became a regular starter in 2019. Despite only being 24 years of age, he often looks often like a more experienced player. He hasn’t yet shown the sharpness in front of goal that he had with Jubilo, but this may be due to helping out Aoyama in a more defensive lineup. Unfortunately he was responsible for the second goal, a well-worked counter attack by Cerezo, when he mishandled a high ball. But apart from minor flaws in judgement I’d say you really can see his talent. I hope he will be a key member in the rejuvenation of the squad.

LW #16 Kohei Shimizu – From a Gamba perspective probably the most infamous player on the squad. If I don’t make you aware of it now, probably you heard Mr. Alan “JSoccer” Gibson more than once rant about Shimizu’s character as he simulated a violent conduct by Gamba defender Jae-suk Oh in the J.League championship final first leg of December 2nd, 2015. Oh was sent off by the ref in the 86th minute while Sanfrecce scored twice in injury time . That deed excluded, I see Kohei Shimizu as a reliable backup for both wings who is currently deputising for Yoshifumi Kashiwa, who will miss a couple of weeks due to a calf injury. Shimizu is no regular starter and Kashiwa’s attacking talent has been heavily missed in recent Sanfrecce matches.

FW #9 Douglas Vieira – Since moving to Sanfrecce in 2019, Douglas Vieira, the
former Verdy striker has yet to shine on the pitch. In most years the central forward has been essential to Sanfrecce’s results. Most goals came from those central attackers. While Patric has been a force in aerial battles (despite lacking some skills with his feet in my opinion), Douglas Vieira does not have the physical strength to nail a ball up front. His headers are also not worth mentioning. That is why Vieira was mostly used as a false 9 in recent matches as he can regularly build up some speed to catch those high ball forward passes.  Overall he has been a a decent addition to the team, with the double FW formation installed Douglas Vieira has moved up front. So it is hard to say if this
style of play benefits him.

FW #39 Leandro Pereira – Pereira moved to Sanfrecce from relegated Matsumoto Yamaga on loan last summer. Another oddity in Japanese transfer history, Yamaga can now see that Leandro Pereira has decisively established himself as the No.1 striker in our team. He looks much more comfortable with the ball at his feet than Patric did at
Sanfrecce, yet he sometimes lacks a little patience and shoots from bad positions. Right now he is the most feared striker of the squad, but when the build-up is lacking in sharpness he rarely has the chance to score.

In hindsight you can recognise the tactical development Sanfrecce Hiroshima have undergone in the Hiroshi Jofuku era. After almost being relegated in 2017, Jofuku tried to improve the dire defensive situation which ultimately lead to the feared anti-climax Sanfrecce football in 2018 that just missed out on a fourth title in 7 years only by a second-to-none collapse at the end of their season. The defensive blackout was worsened by a missing strike force that neither Patric, Masato Kudo nor Besart Berisha could serve over a full season. In 2019 you saw a strong defense with the first improvements in the build up of the attack. Also young players were able to get on the pitch more regularly, which serves as a possible focus point to further build up a team
over the next years. 2020 started well and you can see Sanfrecce more willing to adapt and vary their style of play to match their opposition. Either by more pressing tactics against a much improved Cerezo side or as a counter attacking force against Vissel Kobe. Yet, the offensive strike force is the weak point of the squad. The recipe to throw in one (or now two) Brazilians to score goals is at least uninspiring, yet, as a result of minor
mistakes in the defense it’s possible that the whole team has been totally thrown off balance by a much more offensively oriented style than 2018.

Predicted Lineups


Match Prediction

Gamba come into this one on a three match unbeaten run while Hiroshima haven’t won in their previous three games….I’ve jinxed it right there, haven’t I? Needless to say this will be a tight game, most likely decided by levels of energy and rotation within each squad. Gamba haven’t kept a clean sheet this year while Hiroshima don’t concede many. I don’t see more than three goals in this encounter and I’ll actually settle on a close 1-1 draw.

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Oita Trinita Match Preview 18 July 2020

Gamba Osaka vs Oita Trinita
J1 2020 Round 5
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 18 July 19:00 (JST)

Round 5 of J1 2020 sees Gamba back in Osaka for the first of two home games in the space of five days. Oita Trinita are the visitors for the first J1 game in front of paying spectators in Suita this year. Hopefully this preview gives you all the information you’re looking for ahead of this intriguing clash.

Last Time Out

Super-sub Kazuma Watanabe was again the hero for Gamba away to Shimizu S-Pulse last Sunday as his beautiful 89th minute shot proved the difference between the two sides in a highly competitive encounter.

Head Coach Tsuneyasu Miyamoto kept personnel changes to a minimum with only the rested Hiroki Fujiharu and Shu Kurata coming back into the side for Yuya Fukuda and Yuji Ono, both of whom took up spots on the bench. However, the big alteration came tactically with Gamba reverting to a 4-4-2 system last used in April 2019 at home to Urawa.

S-Pulse put in what must be their strongest performance of the season with Carlinhos down the left, 18 year-old Yuito Suzuki through the middle and Shota Kaneko on the right caused Gamba’s defence real problems all night with their pace and movement. Shimizu got in behind a few times early doors and put fizzing crosses across Gamba’s six-yard box to no avail, they also had a few long range efforts, but nothing too damaging from a blue and black perspective.

At the other end of the field, it was Gamba who opened the scoring through a lovely team goal which was started by Kim Young-gwon inside his own half, the South Korean defender found Usami who played a lovely ball to the onrushing Fujiharu. Gamba’s left-back then attacked the box and centred for Ademilson who produced a lovely first touch pass into the path of Kosuke Onose who netted his first of the season low to Togo Umeda’s right. 1-0 Gamba at half time.

Gamba started the second half brightly, however, owing to some sloppiness in possession and strong S-Pulse forward play the Shizuoka side dominated from around the 50th-85th minutes. Their best chance came just before the hour mark when Kim Young-gwon was dispossessed following an ill-advised run out of defence, in the aftermath Carlinhos was denied by a great save from Higashiguchi, the ball then spun up for Shota Kaneko who was faced with placing his header past Ideguchi and Yajima on the line, a tough task, but somehow he managed to head the ball wide of the target.

Gamba couldn’t hold out forever and the equaliser inevitably came. A quickly taken free kick down the right by Yusuke Goto sent Keita Nakamura away and his pinpoint cross was met at the back post by the 191cm frame of Yugo Tatsuta. The centre-back bagged only the 2nd goal of his pro career with a powerful header.

At this point the momentum was all with S-Pulse and you would have banked on them going onto win the game. That’s not how things turned out as a mere four minutes later a Gamba attack down the left saw Ademilson put Fujiharu in behind the Shimizu defence, he cut the ball back for Watanabe who still had plenty to do, but the veteran ran past several defenders on the edge of the area before firing a delicious shot across Umeda and into the bottom corner. Full Time 2-1 Gamba, King Kazu the saviour once more.

Shimizu S-Pulse 1-2 Gamba Osaka
12 July 2020

My half time notes for Oita’s 1-1 home draw with Vissel Kobe read, “Kobe have the swagger of an Asian Champions League team, but they’d do well to remember they got there by winning a cup. They have no right to turn up at places like Oita against a team who got the same number of points as them last year, and just expect to win.”

This game was a real clash of styles as Vissel after getting what in boxing would be termed a flash knockdown through Kyogo Furuhashi’s superb volley inside the first twenty seconds then spent most of the remaining first 45 minutes being harassed by Oita’s high pressing system. It was therefore little surprise when the men from Kyushu drew level through Tomoki Iwata on 29 minutes. Iwata, the closest thing Trinita have to a star player, started the move by winning a duel just inside the Kobe half, deflecting the ball towards Tatsuya Tanaka whose brave header found centre-forward Kei Chinen who, with a beautifully weighted pass released Iwata past the despairing Leo Osaki, Oita’s number 29 then coolly finished low to Hiroki Iikura’s left.

In the second half Oita were largely content to soak up Kobe pressure and on the whole it worked as the men from Hyogo were unable to unlock the well organised Trinita backline, frequently being forced into hitting low percentage shots from outside the box. The final ten minutes and injury time, however, saw Vissel take advantage of a tiring Oita rearguard and youngsters, Yutaro Oda and Daiju Sasaki both had decent changes to win the game, but in the end this tactical chess match finished up a probably fair 1-1.

Oita Trinita 1-1 Vissel Kobe
11 July 2020

Recent History

Prior to last season, Gamba and Oita hadn’t met in J1 since 2009, as a result I’ll just focus this week’s history section on the two games from the 2019 campaign.

In April, Gamba earned their first home point of the year, at the fifth time of asking in a physical and somewhat scrappy game. Ado Onaiwu got a controversial opener for Trinita in the 25th minute, attacking Rei Matsumoto’s right wing cross with a high boot, his connection went straight at Gamba ‘keeper Masaaki Higashiguchi from point blank range, the ball then rebounded onto the forward’s arm and into the net. Despite Gamba protests, the goal stood and Oita took a one goal advantage into the break. After laying siege to the Trinita box for parts of the second period Gamba were finally rewarded in somewhat fortunate circumstances. 19 minutes from time some uncharacteristically poor Oita defending ended up with the ball falling to Yasuhito Endo on the edge of the box and his scuffed effort deflected off Trinita captain Yoshinori Suzuki past Shun Takagi and into the back of the net. Noriaki Fujimoto wasted a couple of injury time chances for Oita and ultimately both sides would have been reasonably happy to take a point.

The second clash of the season in round 31 last November saw Gamba come into the match in much better form than their hosts, so Oita’s 2-1 triumph may have come as a little bit of a surprise to some. The Nerrazzuri raced into an early lead through a beautifully crafted team goal started, like the opener against Shimizu last week, by Kim Young-gwon in his own half. Kim’s pass found Shinya Yajima who turned and played a lovely ball for Ademilson to run onto, the Brazilian then fed Usami who shot past Shun Takagi at his near post. Usami later hit the bar with a thunderous shot and Ademilson headed against the post when it seemed easier to score. Gamba were made to pay for their wastefulness as Trinita drew level six minutes before half time. A quickly taken free kick (there’s a theme here with comparisons to the S-Pulse game) was played to Ado Onaiwu who passed the ball wide to Tomoki Iwata storming down the right flank, his inch perfect cross was met by the toe of Kazushi Mitsuhira and the former Shonan and Kyoto man prodded the ball beyond Higashiguchi. Iwata was not finished with Gamba and 19 minutes into the second half he won the game, turning up unmarked at the back post to fire home Onaiwu’s flick on and earn three points for his side.

Tactical Notes

Due to the win against Shimizu last week I feel we’ll see Gamba once again use 4-4-2 against the more defensively minded Oita. My only concerns about the system are how well Fujiharu and Kurata (both 31) can cope with sustained opposition pressure. The duo were dynamite in days gone by, but Kurata in particular seems to have lost a yard of pace and may be better utilised in a more central, advanced role.

Yajima and Ideguchi were solid if unspectacular against S-Pulse and Miyamoto has a decision to make on whether or not to use Yasuhito Endo for this game. With the Sanfrecce encounter following so closely after it seems reasonable he’ll start one of these two to give either Yajima or Ideguchi a rest, and to me this match seems more likely. His range of passing will be needed to to thread the eye of the needle and unpick Oita’s defence, though how effective he will be against their dangerous counter attack remains to be seen.

Under the guidance of former Gamba player and assistant head-coach Tomohiro Katanosaka, now in his 5th season in charge, Oita are a well oiled machine who punch well above their weight in terms of resources. Katanosaka’s preferred formation is 3-4-2-1, though this quickly becomes 5-4-1 when the opposition are in possession. You could clearly see the benefits of continuity in management philosophy and player selection in Trinita’s game against Vissel Kobe. Each Oita player has a specific role and knows how to do it, the backline of five can be found in a straight line across the field making it hard to spring the offside trap, this contrasted with their opponents who constantly formed a staggered line across the back. Players only leave their defensive position to attack the ball in their zone and you can almost see the training drills these guys must do in order to perfect their actions on the field. Further up the park, the front three show that defence really does start from attack as they constantly harry their opposite numbers in a tactic I believe rugby aficionados call the rush defence.

I mentioned him above briefly, but Tomoki Iwata is Oita’s jewel in the crown, although officially a centre-back he can often be seen charging down the right like a wing-back while one of his central midfielders covers for him. This can bring great rewards as in the games against Kobe last week and Gamba in 2019, but it also presents a rare opportunity to get in behind Trinita’s defensive live.

In summary, this will be a tactical chess match, Gamba will probably look to win free kicks in dangerous positions and try to probe for weaknesses while Endo’s tactical passing and quick interchanges between the attackers will be crucial if they want to get shots on goal from decent areas. Oita, on the other hand, will be content to sit back and soak up pressure with the intent of countering Gamba swiftly. They will use their wide players to generate the majority of their attacks from deep while also aiming to win the ball back high up the field through applying pressure to Gamba’s defence.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Gen Shoji is once again a doubt and reserve goalkeeper Jun Ichimori will be back in a couple of months. Elsewhere there are no new injury concerns and if 4-4-2 is the formation of choice then the starting XI should look very similar to the one that lined up against S-Pulse. Kim Young-gwon will play his 100th J1 game if selected for this encounter (23 FC Tokyo, 40 Omiya Ardija and 36 games for Gamba to date).

Oita Trinita

Veteran wide-man Kaoru Takayama is out after foot surgery while Yuki Kagawa should be fit despite suffering a nasty cut to his head following a collision with So Fujitani’s boot in the game against Kobe. Elsewhere the picture is less clear, assist maker Kazuki Kozuka was one of Oita’s best players in 2019 so I’m assuming his continued absence is injury related. Off-season signing from Tokushima Vortis, Naoki Nomura as well as wide player Yuji Hoshi and central midfielder Kazuhiro Sato haven’t been seen in recent games and I’m not sure whether this is due to injury or non-selection.

Know Your Opponent Oita Trinita

Katanosaka’s Oita side has a definite formation and clear patterns in playing selection. They have two games in quick succession after this one, Nagoya at home and Shimizu away so we could see some rotation, but I’m banking on them putting out their strongest XI

GK – #1 Shun Takagi – After starting his professional career with Kawasaki Frontale, Takagi made the move to Kyushu in 2017 and has been first choice in each of the previous two campaigns, playing in every league game. He’s a solid option between the sticks and fancies himself as a bit of a sweeper keeper.

CB – #29 Tomoki Iwata – I’m a big fan of his as you can probably tell from above. The 23 year-old Oita native is a one club man so far, though how long he’ll remain at Trinita is up for debate. He made 2 appearances for an inexperienced Japan side in last year’s Copa America and if his career continues its current trajectory, he’s sure to add more caps in the coming years.

CB – #5 Yoshinori Suzuki © – Mr Oita, at 27 Suzuki is actually a bit younger than I thought he was. Incredibly he hasn’t missed a league game since 2015, although that run will surely end due to the crowded schedule this year. Trinita’s captain stayed with them through the dark days of J3 and is now reaping his rewards. Like Iwata, I’d be quite happy to see him in the blue and black of Gamba one day.

CB – #3 Yuto Misao – The older brother of Kashima’s Kento, he’s slowly re-established himself as a solid J1 player after a disappointing two-year spell with Antlers. He replaced Naoya Fukumori in the starting lineup early last year and built a strong partnership with Suzuki and Iwata. Similar to Iwata he likes to move forward a bit at times and have his central midfielders cover for him.

RWB – #7 Rei Matsumoto – Another long-term servant of the club, former Yokohama F.Marinos wide-man Matsumoto joined Oita in 2013 while they were still in J1 and has been on their roller coaster ride down the divisions and back up again. I expect him to start in the right-wing back position, but he’s equally adept on the opposite flank.

CM – #40 Yushi Hasegawa – A calm and composed figure in the middle of the park, Hasegawa is now in his second season as a professional after his move from Miyazaki Sangyo Keiei University (the same alma mater as his captain Suzuki). He impressed last year, making 19 appearances despite facing tough competition for a starting slot from Ryosuke Maeda, Thitipan and Toshio Shimakawa. This time around it seems the 23 year-old from Kagoshima has established himself as first-choice.

CM – #6 Yuki Kobayashi – Brought in midway through 2019 from Nagoya Grampus, the immensely experienced Kobayashi, who has 222 J1 appearances to his name adds solidity to the Trinita midfield. Not known for his goalscoring exploits, Kanagawa native Kobayashi who also counts Jubilo Iwata and Albirex Niigata among his former teams will be content to sit back and protect his backline.

LWB – #2 Yuki Kagawa – An off-season signing from fellow Kyushu outfit V-Varen Nagasaki, Kagawa has quickly nailed down a starting slot on the left-wing and already has two assists to his name in four J1 games. Assuming he overcomes a nasty looking cut to his head sustained against Kobe he’ll give Ryu Takao and Kosuke Onose a lot of problems on Saturday night.

AM – #16 Daiki Watari – After two goal ladden seasons with Tokushima in J2 where he netted 35 times in 83 games, Watari earned himself a move to Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2018. The goals didn’t quite flow there and he was never able to string a run of performances together. He’s looked lively since joining Oita, but is yet to contribute any goals or assists this year, that will need to change if he wants to keep his place ahead of Kazushi Mitsuhira.

AM – #11 Tatsuya Tanaka – Persona non grata in Panasonic Stadium after leaving Gamba for Oita just a few months after joining from Roasso Kumamoto last year. Life is short and a footballer’s career is even shorter so I have no grudge against him, in terms of playing minutes his move made a lot of sense. He’s currently operating just off the main striker but can also do a job on either wing, making him an ideal fit for Oita. He’s already netted twice in J1 in 2020 including a header against Tosu, not bad for a 172cm winger.

CF – #9 Kei Chinen – An exciting loan signing from Kawasaki Frontale last winter, Okinawan Chinen has a big chance to shine this season in a relatively low pressure environment. His assist for Iwata’s goal against Kobe was his first goalscoring contribution of the year, but his hold up play and lay offs are vital to the way Trinita play and Gamba’s defence will need to be on their toes to deal with the threat he poses.

Other Options – Oita have a pretty settled line-up, but as we know 2020 is unlike any other season so rotation is always likely. The three centre-backs above are clearly the first choice, but Ryosuke Tone, who played against Vissel, plus two close-season additions, Yuta Koide (Ventforet Kofu) and rookie Kento Haneda (Kansai University) can fill in where necessary. Further forward in central midfield, Toshio Shimakawa and Ryosuke Maeda are holding players who both got minutes last weekend. Kenta Inoue, currently on a designated special player contract ahead of a 2021 move from Fukuoka University, can play as a right wing-back or attacking midfielder. One player I almost picked in the starting XI but who’s definitely in contention is long-term Oita servant Kazushi Mitsuhira, he could play just off the central striker, as could ex-JEF United Chiba man, Yamato Machida, a diminutive and mercurial talent. Finally if Katanosaka opts to rest Chinen, Kohei Isa, another player who experienced the J3 campaign and recent addition Yuya Takazawa, second top scorer in J3 last year with 17 strikes for Gainare Tottori and scorer of a crucial goal against Hiroshima, could come in.

Predicted Lineups



Match Prediction

This will be a bit of a tactical tussle and it will be interesting to see what difference, if any, the introduction of supporters has on Gamba’s home performance. Oita may not be flashy but they do the small things well, Gamba will need to be patient in attack while being vigilant defensively. I’ll say that a tight match will end in a 1-1 draw.

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Shimizu S-Pulse Match Preview 12 July 2020

Shimizu S-Pulse vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 4
IAI Stadium Nihondaira
Sunday 12 July 18:00 (JST)

It’s round 4 of J1 2020 as Gamba travel to Shizuoka to take on Shimizu S-Pulse. It will be the first time since February that supporters, 5,000 of them, will be allowed inside the stadium. Hopefully this preview gives you all the information you’re looking for ahead of this intriguing clash.

Last Time Out

Gamba played out a scrappy 2-2 draw away at Nagoya Grampus on Wednesday night. The starting XI saw four changes from the Osaka derby, with Ryu Takao taking Shunya Suganuma’s place to give Genta Miura and Kim Young-gwon a fourth centre-back partner in four games. Veteran Yasuhito Endo was unsurprisingly rested and Shinya Yajima dropped back to the holding role with Yosuke Ideguchi and Yuji Ono lining up in more attacking positions, Ono replaced Shu Kurata, who like Endo started on the bench. The final change saw the fit-again Yuya Fukuda replace the rested Hiroki Fujiharu down the left-flank.

The result and scoring pattern followed the 2019 matchup between these two exactly. Gamba drew first blood in the sixth minute when Takashi Usami’s free-kick from the left was flicked onto his own crossbar by Yutaka Yoshida, the ball then broke loose in the penalty area, Takao attempted a shot which was blocked into the path of his captain Miura whose effort was also deflected this time over Mitch Langerak in the Grampus goal, off the underside of the bar and in.

Nagoya bounced back quickly and Miura undid a lot of his good work for the opener in the lead up to Grampus’ equaliser. A free-kick by Gabriel Xavier from a similar position to Usami’s saw Ademilson head the ball straight up in the air in his own six-yard box, it luckily broke for Miura to head away but he could only find the boot of Sho Inagaki who guided it to the tricky Mateus, he spun past Miura and fired home. Fifteen minutes later, gamba were caught cold just after the drinks break, a fine counter down the right saw Mateus centre for Mu Kanazaki whose deft back heel fed Gabriel Xavier, the wily Brazilian turned Takao and scored at the second attempt after Masaaki Higashiguchi’s fine initial save.

Grampus led 2-1 at half time and were content to sit back and soak up Gamba pressure in the second half while making occasional forays forward in the form of counter attacks. This strategy looked like it would pay dividends until the 92nd minute when Kim Young-gwon’s long diagonal ball found substitute Patric who headed down for fellow replacement Kazuma Watanabe, he took a touch on his chest before coolly placing his volley low beyond Langerak, Nagoya 2-2 Gamba.

Nagoya Grampus 2-2 Gamba Osaka
8 July 2020

Shimizu went down to their third straight loss of the year against Cerezo Osaka at Nagai Stadium in midweek. Although S-Pulse put up a decent fight the result was ultimately a quite comfortable 2-0 defeat. Yusuke Maruhashi, tormentor of Gamba in the derby, picked up his second assist of the week, as his driving run right at the heart of the Shimizu defence culminated in a pass to Hiroaki Okuno who beat the offside trap and fired the ball past young Togo Umeda in the 71st minute. It was just five minutes from full-time when the Cherry Blossoms wrapped things up, captain Hiroshi Kiyotake, who’d come on as a second half substitute played a lovely ball through to another replacement Yuta Toyokawa who arrived at the ball the same time as the onrushing Umeda, due to the slippery nature of the surface the ball squirmed out straight to the approaching Eiichi Katayama and he produced a neat finish to end the game as a contest.

Cerezo Osaka 2-0 Shimizu S-Pulse
8 July 2020

Recent History

There have been six J1 matches between these two since Shimizu won promotion back to the top flight in 2017, Gamba have won each of the past three, but S-Pulse were undefeated in the previous encounters.

2019 saw Gamba do the double over the men from Shizuoka, one of only two sides they achieved this against, the other being Shonan Bellmare. Week 2 of the season in early March was the first of the two games and Gamba ran out comfortable 4-2 winners at the Nihondaira Stadium. Keito Nakamura fired S-Pulse into an early lead which was then cancelled out by Kosuke Onose before the interval. An Ademilson strike and a Hwang Ui-jo brace all within the space of fifteen second-half minutes put Gamba on easy street meaning Yuta Taki’s very late consolation was in vain. The return match in Suita was far less eventful with Shinya Yajima’s low drive two minutes from time all that separated the sides.

One year earlier it was S-Pulse who ended the short reign of Levir Culpi as Gamba head-coach with Koya Kitagawa’s penalty and a thumping header from Douglas giving them a comfortable lead. Hwang Ui-jo gave the Nerrazzurri hope with a nice effort fifteen minutes from the end and Koki Yonekura really should have tied things up at the death but he sent his header wide and Culpi was jettisoned before the following match. A Tsuneyasu Miyamoto inspired Gamba then reversed that scoreline in game three of their incredible nine match winning run towards the end of of the 2018 campaign as Hwang’s first half double ensured the three points would head back to Kansai despite Kitagawa’s late effort giving Shimizu some hope.

Tactical Notes

In general Gamba looked better against Nagoya than versus Cerezo though a large part of that can be put down to the fact that Cerezo are a stronger unit than Grampus. Playing Shinya Yajima as opposed to Yasuhito Endo as the deepest midfielder offers better protection for the centre-backs, however this comes at the cost of losing out on Endo’s immense passing ability. Yajima and Yosuke Ideguchi combined well as a double volante when Grampus were in possession on Wednesday and the goals conceded were more a result of individual errors than team structure.

Going forward Gamba’s attack seemed a little lethargic at times, the high press and closing down was more effective than against Cerezo and this took a toll on Usami, Ademilson and Ono who were all hauled off just after the hour mark. In future games, starting with this one against S-Pulse I’d like to see a bit more invention and quick passing as opposed to what’s been seen in the previous two games where there has been an over-reliance on long passes and individual brilliance to create chances.

Shimizu are a fascinating case study, new head-coach Peter Cklamovski has set them up in exactly the same formation as his former Yokohama F.Marinos, 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 depending on your preference. The main flaw is that as yet he does not yet possess the quality of player to carry out the philosophy he’s trying to implement. Their back four is one of the weakest in the league and there are two many attacking players in the midfield for a team that is incapable of keeping possession for long periods. The only game of theirs I’ve watched in full was against Nagoya Grampus and they had particular problems down the left side of defence as Carlinhos Junior was playing as a winger but offered almost zero protection for left-back Ryo Okui and indeed both Nagoya goals came from his defensive zone. The fact that Shimizu have played three different players at left-back in three league games and none of them are naturals in that position will give Gamba a great deal of hope.

Gamba will look to press Shimizu’s shaky back line and force mistakes while also exploiting the lack of cover afforded to their wide defenders. In turn, S-Pulse will have seen the success Cerezo and Grampus have had at taking advantage of Gamba’s susceptibility to counter attacks and issues with dealing with decent balls into the box and take confidence from that.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Gen Shoji is still a doubt with an ankle problem that will need to be managed carefully while reserve goalie Jun Ichimori is out until September at the earliest. Captain Genta Miura was subbed late on against Nagoya as a precaution and could be rested for this one. Attacking midfielder Yuji Ono fractured a bone in his face in the Osaka derby but played without a mask in the Nagoya match so should be good to go. One piece of transfer news that was announced on Thursday, South Korean full-back Oh Jae-suk officially ended his eight year relationship with the club when he joined Nagoya Grampus.

Shimizu S-Pulse

S-Pulse don’t have their injury troubles to seek especially in the goalkeeping area where Brazilian first-choice Neto Volpi and the experienced Yohei Nishibe are both out while Takuo Okubo, a mid-2019 signing from Sagan Tosu is just back and has been on the bench in the previous two matches. Further forward, Hideki Ishige, a winger Cklamovski had been trying to convert to a full-back is out with a hamstring injury after knee trouble saw him miss most of 2019. Central midfielder Yosuke Kawai is another missing with a hamstring problem, I wonder if it’s got anything to do with the new training methods? The Brazilian duo of Elsinho and Renato Augusto haven’t played yet in 2020 after picking up injuries, as yet I’m unsure when either will return.

Know Your OpponentShimizu S-Pulse

Compared with Cerezo and Nagoya in the previous rounds, trying to guess who’ll start for S-Pulse on Sunday is much more of a lottery. Cklamovski is using this relegation free season to experiment with tactics and players and thus far I’ve only been able to identify four players who I believe are first choice core starters, Valdo, Takeuchi, Okazaki and Kaneko.

GK – #31 Togo Umeda – Soon-to-be 20 year-old who has been thrown in the deep end following Shimizu’s goalkeeping crisis and has done pretty well considering. At 184cm he’s a bit smaller than some of his rivals, but his continued inclusion in the starting line-up is the kind of thing Japanese football fans in general will surely be in favour of in this chaotic 2020 season.

RB – #15 Takashi Kanai – Rugged defender who can play anywhere along the back four if necessary. I’m honestly a little surprised to see him playing for S-Pulse as Ange Postecoglou deemed him surplus to requirements pretty quickly after arriving in Yokohama. Has a decent knack of scoring, with ten goals in his last two seasons, but he’s also something of a journeyman who’s now at his fifth different professional club.

CB – #5 Valdo – Brazilian centre-back who joined from Ceara last winter and has had a difficult start to life in Japan. After S-Pulse’s five goal drubbing by Kawasaki Frontale, I wondered if he was going to be another Wanderson, but he looks to have a bit more about him than last season’s flop. He is a decent threat from set pieces, though when defending he does seem to be around trouble rather often as shown in his own goal mix up with Togo Umeda against Nagoya.

CB – #3 Hwang Seok-ho – In my books he’s S-Pulse’s best centre-back and I’ve no idea why they broke up the successful partnership he had with Freire in 2018. That said, I’m not sure the ex-Hiroshima and Kashima man is really a Cklamovski type of player and I can see him heading for fresh pastures in the not too distant future.

LB – #21 Ryo Okui – Another off-season capture, this time from Omiya Ardija in J2. Former Gamba Junior Youth player Okui is more often found at right-back, but may be forced to play on the left due to injuries.

DM – #24 Makoto Okazaki – Highly rated youngster on-loan from FC Tokyo and converted into a holding midfielder by his new Australian coach. He’s performed reasonably well in trying circumstances so far. It’ll be interesting to see if he moves back to centre-back when the likes of Renato Augusto and Yosuke Kawai regain full fitness.

DM – #6 Ryo Takeuchi © – The vastly experienced Takeuchi has been a safe pair of hands in the S-Pulse midfield for a number of years now and the Shizuoka native is seen as a central figure in the Cklamovski revolution. One of the few Shimizu players who can be confident of his place at the moment.

RW – #30 Shota Kaneko – One of the S-Pulse players I enjoy watching most, he got a nice goal against Nagoya and offers more defensively than his competitors for this position. His output was considerably down last season with just one goal and five assists compared to the excellent year he had in 2018 when he produced an outstanding ten goals and seven assists.

AM – #14 Yusuke Goto – Nuggety little player brought in from Oita Trinita last winter after not really getting the amount of opportunities his talent may have warranted in Kyushu in 2019. He can either play as a central striker or just off the front and will be effective in either role even if he doesn’t bring the same goal scoring threat Douglas did last campaign.

LW – #16 Kenta Nishizawa – The great hope in this Shimizu squad, he enjoyed a breakout 2019 in his first year as a pro after joining from Tsukuba University. He contributed seven goals and three assists in just twenty three J1 games and will be thirsty for more this year in the face of stiffer competition for a starting spot.

CF – #23 Teerasil Dangda – Thai international who is yet another recent recruit, this time from Muangthong United in his homeland. He has one year of J1 experience where he netted six times in thirty two matches for Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2018, but despite scoring a fine goal against FC Tokyo in round one of this campaign he faces an uphill task to match the feats of the now departed Douglas.

Other options – If Shimizu are not happy with how Umeda is performing they do now have the option of replacing him with fit-again Takuo Okubo while in defence Yugo Tatsuta, a youngster who had a decent 2018 as a right-back but has never really done as well in his more favoured centre-back role is definitely in contention for a start. Mitsunari Musaka, more commonly a central midfielder played at left back against Cerezo and could feature again while another player to find himself in a new role this year, Keita Nakamura is a central midfield option as are two loan returnees, Kota Miyamoto and Yasufumi Nishimura. In attack a lot of players have been rotated in recent games so it’s highly possible we could see former Funabashi Municipal High School attacking midfielder Yuito Suzuki, Brazilian wingers Junior Dutra and Carlinhos Junior or even the veteran North Korean forward Chong Tese make a starting appearance.

Predicted Lineups

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Match Prediction

Gamba have failed to really spark in their two post lockdown games, but this match against what must be considered one of the four weakest teams in J1 at the moment surely offers up a great chance to get three points. As I said on the J-Talk Pod a few weeks back, playing S-Pulse early on is definitely to our advantage as they’ll surely improve under Cklamovski as the season progresses. I’ll go for a tight 2-1 Gamba win.

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Osaka Derby Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Cerezo Osaka
J1 2020 Round 2
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 4 July 18:00 (JST)

Gamba recommence their 2020 J1 campaign against city rivals Cerezo a full 132 days since they last took the field competitively, away to Yokohama F.Marinos. The Nerazzurri of course famously upstaged the defending champion Marinos 2-1 on that occasion with a goal and an assist each for attacking midfield duo, Shu Kurata and Shinya Yajima.

Yokohama F.Marinos 1-2 Gamba Osaka
23 February 2020

A day earlier at Nagai Stadium, Cerezo ground out a 1-0 win over a determined Oita side. It was the kind of gritty, unspectacular but ultimately successful performance that they have become known for under pragmatic Spanish head-coach Miguel Angel Lotina.

Cerezo Osaka 1-0 Oita Trinita
22 February 2020


There have been 18 league fixtures played between these sides on Gamba’s turf, both the first meeting back in 1995 and the latest last May finished 1-0 to the home side. Cerezo have an extremely poor record in away league derby matches with their last win being a 2-0 triumph way back in 2003. A lot has changed since then and at present the overall standings have Gamba way ahead with 14 wins, Cerezo have 3 and there’s been 1 draw, 2-2 back in 2012. That solitary point against a Gamba side which would go on to be relegated is the only time in the previous 9 encounters in Suita that Cerezo haven’t left empty handed.

The 2018 and 2019 clashes provide potential clues to what we will see in this game. The scoreline in both was 1-0 to Gamba, Hwang Ui-jo’s penalty kick settling things in 2018 and Shu Kurata’s fine strike at the end of a wonderful team move proving to be decisive last year.

Gamba 1-0 Cerezo
18 May 2019
Gamba 1-0 Cerezo
21 April 2018

Team News

Gamba Osaka

In the 4 month break, Kim Young-gwon went down with a dislocated shoulder and Takashi Usami suffered a relatively innocuous leg muscle injury, however, both players appear to be ready to go now. The enforced gap between matches has allowed last season’s top scorer Ademilson (10 goals, 8 assists in 32 appearances) to regain full fitness, however, winter signing from Toulouse, Gen Shoji, has a minor foot injury and seems set to miss out with an eye on the coming fixture deluge. Elsewhere, backup goalkeeper Jun Ichimori, another off-season recruit from Fagiano Okayama, also dislocated his left shoulder and is expected back in September, former Tosu stopper Kei Ishikawa should take his place on the bench.

Gamba Player To Watch

Yasuhito Endo
Mr Gamba is all set to break the J1 appearance record he currently holds with his former national team colleague, Seigo Narazaki (631 games) and where better to do it than in a derby. The now 40-year old playmaker was in imperious form as Gamba upset Yokohama F.Marinos in their own back yard in February and although the epic nature of this season’s fixture list means that veterans like Yatto are likely to play less, I’m confident he’ll start this one. How he and central midfield partner Yosuke Ideguchi fare against their more defence minded opponents will sure have a massive effect on the final scoreline.

Cerezo Osaka

Cerezo had the best defence in J1 last season, conceding a mere 25 goals in 34 games (by contrast Gamba let in 48), and they also tied with Kashima Antlers for the most clean sheets in the league (15). As such they line up in a defensively oriented 4-4-2 formation.

Goalkeeper – #21 Kim Jin-hyeon – A one club man, the 192cm South Korean stopper has been Cerezo’s first choice between the sticks almost exclusively since making his debut back in 2009. He’s definitely one of the best in J1 and will provide a formidable obstacle for Gamba to pass on Saturday night.

Right-back – #2 Riku Matsuda – Solid, but unspectacular full back who has owned his position on the right side of the defence basically unchallenged since joining from FC Tokyo in 2016. He helped Cerezo win promotion back to J1 in his first season and has since made 94 appearances in the top league.

Left-back – #14 Yusuke Maruhashi – A player who really caught my eye the first time I took in a JLeague game live (Cerezo 2-2 Urawa back in 2013), age and the more defensive approach of Coach Lotina have seen him curb his attacking instincts somewhat in recent years. With that said, Maruhashi, a fine crosser of the ball and decent penalty taker has helped himself to 9 goals and 17 assists across the past 3 years in J1.

Centre-back – #22 Matej Jonjic – The Croatian has been a colossus at the back for Cerezo since moving from Incheon United back in 2017. Please read his interview in the latest edition of JSoccer Magazine (if you haven’t already), and you’ll see that he is one of the main reasons why Cerezo have been so hard to break down in recent seasons.

Centre-back – #15 Ayumu Seko – There are high hopes for Seko around Nagai Stadium and the 20 year-old looks like he could be the latest Europe-bound player off their famous production line. After initially cutting his teeth with the U-23 side in J3 he began to play semi-regularly last year and now appears to have won the battle to partner Jonjic at the heart of the defence.

Centre-midfield – #6 Leandro Desabato – Argentine holding midfielder who is very much a Lotina type player. He featured 18 times in J1 last time out and although I’m sure neutral fans would much prefer to see the enigmatic, now-departed Souza in the Cerezo engine room, Desabato appears to tick all the boxes his Spanish coach wants.

Centre-midfield – #3 Yasuki Kimoto – Having spent most of his senior career as a centre-back, the development of Seko appears to have hastened his switch from part-time defensive midfielder into a full-time role. Honestly, Kimoto and Desabato are not my idea of a dream central-midfield partnership, but defence is a team game and having these two protecting the back four will surely be one of the main reasons why Cerezo maintain their strong defensive record this year.

Right-wing – #17 Tatsuhiro Sakamoto – The off-season capture from Montedio Yamagata is one of the players I’m most looking forward to seeing for the Cherry Blossoms this campaign (obviously I hope he does nothing in this game!) He’s taken over from Kota Mizanuma, who took his 7 goals and 2 assists with him to Yokohama F.Marinos, however Sakamoto showed last year in J2 that he knows where the back of the net is, scoring 7 times and bagging 3 assists. He’s shown up well in his couple of outings earlier this year and should be a decent option down the right flank.

Left-wing – #10 Hiroshi Kiyotake – Cerezo’s danger man, I was under the impression that recently he’d been injured more than he actually had, he made 27 appearances in J1 last year, though his output was definitely down on previous years, only 1 goal and 3 assists. Despite that, he is a highly experienced technician who knows how to unlock defences and will need to be keenly watched on Saturday night.

Centre-forward – #20 Bruno Mendes – Physical Brazilian striker who is now into the second year of a loan-spell. He clearly did enough to impress his coaching staff last year, his hold up play and physical strength are his strong points, though I’m sure he’d love to improve on his scoring stats from 2019 when he netted 6 times in 24 J1 games.

Centre-forward – #25 Hiroaki Okuno – Having previously been more of an attacking midfielder, Okuno found a home as a centre-forward after moving to Osaka from Vegalta Sendai last season. He tied with Kota Mizanuma as Cerezo’s top scorer on 7 goals and this included a beautiful volley in the one live Cerezo game I took in (1-2 vs Tosu in August). He is a tricky player who compliments his more aggressive attacking partner well.

Other Options – Cerezo have one of the biggest squads in J1 this year, though how much depth they have is up for debate. One option to change things up would be to bench Seko, drop Kimoto in alongside Jonjic and play either the experienced Naoyuki Fujita or new Brazilian signing Lucas Mineiro next to Leandro Desabato. Club legend Yoichiro Kakitani is an option on the wing or in attack, even if his 2013 scoring days are long since departed. Daisuke Takagi’s older brother Toshiyuki is another option, although Lotina doesn’t seem to fancy him much and he had a recent injury. Ken Tokura is now back after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a knee injury, and he along with ex FC Ryukyu hitman, Koji Suzuki and winter arrival from Eupen in Belgium, Yuta Toyokawa, provide decent goal-scoring options from the bench. A final mention for 18 year-old attacking midfielder Jun Nishikawa, who turned pro this year and should see a decent amount of game time as the season progresses.

Predicted Line Ups

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Match Prediction

Derbies are notoriously tough to call, and this one especially so with the COVID-19 enforced break and the absence of any supporters. To say this will be a tight and cagey affair isn’t really pushing the boat out too far, but that’s how things will likely go. I’ll back Gamba to breach the Cerezo rearguard but the points will be shared in a rather tame 1-1 draw.



Classic Gamba matches #1

Sunday 17 November 2013
J.League Division 2 Round 41
Gamba Osaka 3-2 Montedio Yamagata
Expo 70′ Commemorative Stadium
Attendance: 13,970

The teams come out.

The Background

Gamba suffered a shock relegation to J2 at the end of 2012. However, under the leadership of Kenta Hasegawa, in his first season with the club, and owing to the excellence of star players such as Endo, Konno and Usami, they came into this round 41 clash with promotion back to the top flight already in the bag. A win at home to a Yamagata side mired in mid-table would see them crowned J2 champions ahead of another Kansai club who had suffered relegation to the second tier the previous year, Vissel Kobe.

Gamba came into the game on the back of a 4-match winning streak which included impressive away victories at, 3rd place Kyoto (2-0) and 4th place Tokushima (5-1 – Usami scored 4 in that game), but, they’d have to do without their current Japanese internationals, Yasuhito Endo and Yasuyuki Konno who were with the national squad for a set of friendly matches in the build up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The Team

Experienced right-back Akira Kaji captained Gamba in the absence of Endo and Konno as Kenta Hasegawa lined them up in his usual 4-4-2 formation. Enigmatic ‘keeper Yosuke Fujigawa had a solid looking backline in front of him. Daiki Niwa was partnered by the promising Takaharu Nishino who had enjoyed a breakout year while Kaji and Hiroki Fujiharu were the fullbacks. Shu Kurata started on the right-wing, with Tatsuya Uchida, another player who enjoyed plenty of game time in 2013 and Kenya Okazaki in his first year out of university in the midfield engine room, while it was the veteran Takahiro Futagawa who played down the left. Takashi Usami with 16 goals in 16 games since returning from a loan spell in Germany in the summer was the great hope in attack and he was partnered by the tall Akihiro Sato who had only recently recovered from a serious knee injury (writing this in 2020 and seeing the path his career has taken, I wonder if recovered is the correct word?)

The Match

Gamba started on the front foot and were rewarded with a brilliant solo effort from Usami after 15 minutes where he really showed that he didn’t belong in J2, running onto Sato’s headed touch, flicking the ball over the defender and drilling it low into the bottom corner.

The home side had something to defend and began to sit back, however this played into Yamagata’s hands, as the Tohoku side had nothing but pride to play for and decided to go for it. Hiroki Bandai equalised for Montedio just 4 minutes after Usami’s opener, flicking on a corner from the main stand side which flew past Fujigaya and into the Gamba goal…game on.

Gamba were not for taking that one lying down and good work down the left by Usami and Fujiharu saw the latter’s cross turned in by Yamagata defender Taisuke Nakamura to send the men in blue and black back into the lead just 3 minutes after Bando’s goal.

The second half saw chances for both sides before Usami effectively sealed the game 22 minutes from time, picking up Futagawa’s cross-field ball, he cut inside under the attention of several defenders before unleashing a shot from 20 yards out which flew past Tokizawa in the Yamagata goal.

Hiroki Bandai caused a nervous final 10 minutes in Suita by pulling a goal back after Fujigaya could only parry a shot from the edge of the box. Despite some frantic defending by Gamba towards the end, Montedio, breaking with JLeague tradition and not wearing a white away kit (opting for a yellow and blue Napoli away-esque effort) couldn’t find an equaliser and Kaji went on to lift the J2 trophy in front of an ecstatic home crowd while his team-mates brought on the #7 and #15 shirts of Endo and Konno to be part of the post match photos.

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Man of the match Usami and post match fun

Match Highlights

The Aftermath

No-one could have predicted that just over 12 months on from this slightly chilly early Autumn afternoon in 2013 that Gamba would have completed a domestic treble, winning J1, the League Cup and Emperor’s Cup. Indeed, the core of this side made up that treble-winning squad, Niwa, Fujiharu, Kurata, Endo, Konno and Usami were all big players whilst some who didn’t feature much in 2013 for a variety of reasons such as Keisuke Iwashita, Hiroyuki Abe, Oh Jae-suk and Kotaro Omori all made big contributions too.

The Stats

Gamba’s line up
*Apps and Goals correct to the end of the 2013 season.

Montedio Yamagata
Satoshi Tokizawa, Satoshi Horinouchi, Tatsuya Ishikawa, Takumi Yamada (Goshi Okubo 56′), Taisuke Nakamura, Lee Tae-ho, Masaru Akiba, Romero Frank, Masaki Miyasaka, Masato Yamazaki, Hiroki Bandai:
Unused Subs: Kenta Shimizu, Kohei Higa, Kim Byeom-yong, Yuji Sakuda, Kenichi Tanimura, Alvaro Pena.
Kantoku: Ryosuke Okuno

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Yokohama F.Marinos vs Gamba Osaka Match Preview

Yokohama F.Marinos vs Gamba Osaka
2020 Meiji Yasuda J1 League Round 1
23 February 2020 at 14:00 JST
Nissan Stadium

J1 returns for the 2020 season and Gamba face the toughest test possible first up, a trip to face the defending champions Yokohama F.Marinos at Nissan Stadium. Although it is the first league clash for both sides this year, it will in fact be Yokohama’s 4th competitive game of the year and Gamba’s 2nd.

Marinos lost out to Vissel Kobe in one of the most bizarre penalty shootouts of all time where 9 spot kicks were missed in a row in the Japanese Super Cup, but have also recorded impressive results in the Asian Champions League, upsetting Korean Champions and Continental powerhouse, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 away before demolishing Australian champions Sydney FC 4-0 at home on Wednesday night.

Gamba commenced 2020 with a disappointing 1-0 home defeat to newly promoted Kashiwa Reysol in the JLeague Cup. It was a game of two halves for the men in blue and black, Michael Olunga’s first half goal gave Kashiwa a deserved lead, but Gamba enjoyed almost total domination in the second half, with Kashiwa’s Korean international goalkeeper, Kim Seung-gyu, in inspired form to help them return to Chiba with the 3 points.

Yokohama F.Marinos were the only team to do the double over Gamba in J1 last year, winning 3-2 in Suita on the opening day and following that up with a 3-1 victory at the Mitsuzawa Stadium in late August. However, prior to that defeat, Gamba hadn’t lost in their 4 previous visits to Japan’s second largest city, winning once in 2017 (through a Ritsu Doan goal) and sharing the spoils in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

Opening days are a bit of sore point for Gamba, they haven’t won first up since 2011 when they saw off city rivals Cerezo 2-1 at the old Expo Memorial Stadium. Adriano opened the scoring for Gamba midway through the second half, before Shu Kurata (bizarrely allowed to play whilst being on loan from Gamba) equalised only for Yasuhito Endo to net the winner 3 minutes later.

Head to head, these sides have played 58 matches in J1 with Yokohama F.Marinos holding by far the superior record, winning 30 times compared with Gamba’s 17, while there have been 11 draws. Marinos have also outscored Gamba by 97 goals to 80.

In 2019, en-route to their 4th J1 title, and first since 2004, Marinos were the league’s top scorers, scoring at an average of exactly 2 goals per game (68 in 34). They also had the league’s 2 top individual marksmen in Marcos Junior and Teruhito Nakagawa who bagged 15 goals apiece. 2019 J1 MVP Nakagawa also finished 2nd to Vegalta Sendai’s Katsuya Nagato in the assist charts, helping himself to 9 in 33 appearances. For Gamba, ex-Marinos forward, Ademilson was the leading scorer and assist maker, bagging 10 and 8 respectively, though returning hero Takashi Usami had a strong run in the 2nd half of the year, scoring 7 goals in 14 games including 6 in the final 7 matches. At the back, both sides kept 11 clean sheets, but Marinos overall defensive record was much better, conceding 38 times compared with Gamba’s 48.

Team News:
Gamba are unlikely to make many changes to the side which started against Kashiwa last Sunday. New signing from Toulouse, Gen Shoji, probably won’t be risked, having only played once since last summer due to injury. Ademilson, Ryu Takao and winter signing from Sagan Tosu, Yuji Ono, also missed last week’s encounter and are rated as doubtful for this one. Ademilson, judging by his Instagram pictures, at least, seems to have returned to training and could feature from the bench. The experiment of playing Kosuke Onose up top alongside Usami didn’t really bear fruit last week, but I think Miyamoto will persist with it some more. The alternative option is to send Onose back to his regular position on the right wing, drop Yuya Fukuda, who had a tough assignment last time out against Kashiwa’s Taiyo Koga, to the bench and bring in either Kazuma Watanabe or Patric to partner Usami in attack.

Marinos coach Ange Postecoglou had the luxury of fielding the same lineup consistently last year with centre-backs, Hatanaka and Thiago Martins, midfielders Takuya Kida and Marcos Junior as well as right-winger Teruhito Nakagawa all playing at least 33 league matches. This year in order to balance Champions League and J1 commitments, he may be forced to rotate more and to that end he has brought in a number of players in an attempt to add depth to what was already a pretty decent squad. Ado Onaiwu netted 10 times for Oita, on loan from Urawa last season and was surprisingly allowed to leave for Kanagawa in the off-season, he, along with former Cerezo wide-man Kota Mizanuma, who himself scored 7 times in 31 J1 matches in 2019, are the main reinforcements. Goalkeeper Yuji Kajikawa and attacking midfielder Ryuji Sugimoto (both Tokushima), centre-back Norimichi Yamamoto (Zweigen Kanazawa), full-back Takayuki Mae (Renofa Yamaguchi) and winger Keiya Sento (Kyoto Sanga) all arrived from J2 sides this winter and may initially have to bide their time before breaking into this star-studded line-up.

I’m going to assume that Marinos will aim to kick off their league season with a bang and name their strongest starting XI in this game. They play with a very attacking 4-3-3 formation. Park Il-gyu, unavailable for the ACL due to the stricter limitations on foreign players, will start in goal. Ahead of him will be a back 4 consisting of right-back Ken Matsubara, now in his 4th season with the club, a centre-half pairing of Thiago Martins and Japanese international Shinnosuke Hatanaka, with Thailand’s Theerathon Bunmathan, a scorer in Marinos 3-1 over Gamba last year, playing down the left. Club captain and youth team product Takuya Kida will sit in front of the defence alongside ex-Cerezo anchor man Takahiro Ogihara. Ahead of those two is where things start to get really interesting. Marcos Junior will roam in the centre of the field, flanked by Teruhito Nakagawa down the right and another Brazilian, Erik, down the left. Erik scored 8 times in 12 league games following his mid-season loan move from Botafogo in 2019. New capture Ado Onaiwu is likely to play up top. There is plenty of attacking depth up front for Marinos with yet another Brazilian, Edigar Junio (11 goals in 16 games before injury ruled him out last year) competing with Onaiwu for a starting berth while another youth product, Keita Endo, is capable of playing on the left wing.

Quick Stats:
* Captain Genta Miura will play his 100th J1 match for Gamba if selected on Sunday,
* Yasuhito Endo will equal Seigo Narazaki’s record of most J1 appearances (631) if he plays in this match.
*A goal for Shu Kurata would see him reach 50 J1 strikes (at present he has 39 for Gamba and 10 while on loan at Cerezo in 2011).
*Marinos captain Takuya Kida is the current player with the most J1 appearances for the club, playing 131 times since his debut in 2014.
*New Marinos recruit Kota Mizanuma is the club’s leading J1 appearance maker and goal scorer if appearances for any club is taken into consideration. He’s played 252 matches and scored 32 times (He made 29 appearances for the club in his previous spell with them from 2007-2010).

Gamba don’t do opening day wins, so in some respects this match is heaven sent as they would be second favourites for it at any time of the season. In this regard, I’m more interested in the performance rather than the result. If we can compete with Marinos in a way we were unable to do so in 2019, I would accept a narrow defeat provided it was backed up with 3 points at home to Sendai in Week 2. With that in mind I’ll go for a 2-1 victory to the home side in what I expect to be quite an open game with multiple chances for both teams.

Predicted Gamba Line-up:


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2020 J1 Preview Part 2… teams 10-18

This may be the only non Gamba specific article I do this year, but I thought I’d run down all 18 J1 teams and make some predictions for the year ahead. Teams are in order of where I think they’ll finish this year. In part 2 it’s the teams I think will place 10th-18th.

*The Key Players I’ve selected for each team are not necessarily the best players, more the ones whose good performances or lack of will influence their team the most.

Here we go…

10. Urawa Red Diamonds (14th)
Director: Tsuyoshi Otsuki (2nd / 1st full)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Leonardo (Niigata) / Ado Onaiwu (YFM)
Key Player: Leonardo
Lowdown: From the outside looking in I’m not really sure what’s going on at the Saitama Stadium. Last year saw them reach the ACL final but also perform horribly in J1, yet they’ve kept faith in director Tsuyoshi Otsuki and the ageing squad who limped to 14th in 2019. Leonardo from Niigata and Thomas Deng from Melbourne Victory were the only major signings this off-season, albeit they both look to be smart buys. However, bizarrely they let Ado Onaiwu (who was on loan at Oita last season) join Yokohama F.Marinos, and also made a failed bid for Shonan’s Daiki Sugioka despite already having Yamanaka, Sekine and Ugajin in his position. Things seem disjointed at one of Japan’s largest clubs and if Martinus’ social media posts are to be believed, the mood in the camp isn’t great either.
Predicted Starting XI:

11. Oita Trinita (9th)
Director: Tomohiro Katanosaka (5th)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Naoki Nomura (Tokushima) / Ado Onaiwu (Urawa/YFM)
Key Player: Kazuki Kozuka
Lowdown: Last year’s surprise package have managed to keep the majority of their squad together which bodes well for the coming season. Goalkeeper Takagi and centre-backs, Iwata, Suzuki and Misao formed a solid base in 2019 and all have been retained for this season. The midfield is also still intact and like the defence, has been bolstered by good yet unspectacular signings. Further forward, keeping Kazuki Kozuka despite interest from elsewhere is a real coup, while new addition Naoki Nomura was excellent for Tokushima Vortis in J2 in 2019. Also, Kei Chinen (Kawasaki – loan) seems like a decent replacement for the now departed Ado Onaiwu.
Predicted Starting XI:

12. Nagoya Grampus (13th)
Director: Massimo Ficcadenti (2nd / 1st full)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Sho Inagaki (Hiroshima) / Ryuji Izumi (Kashima)
Key Player: Jo
Lowdown: Nagoya seem to be the JEF United of J1, they always recruit players from decent clubs and on paper the team looks strong, however, somewhere along the way things seem to go wrong. The arrival of Massimo Ficcadenti towards the end of last season brought about a major change in their style and the off-season has given him more time to implement it. After starting 2019 well (including their customary 3-2 win away to Gamba), they fell apart horribly and were basically saved by other teams being worse than them rather than their own good play. J1 names, Sho Inagaki (Hiroshima), Hiroyuki Abe (Kawasaki) and Ryogo Yamasaki (Shonan) have all come in, while Mateus (Marinos) and Yuki Soma (Kashima) return from loan spells that reflect the club’s recent muddled thinking and strategy. What formation will they play? Will Jo rediscover his scoring touch? Will Ficcadenti come good? So many questions I don’t have an answer to.
Predicted Starting XI:

13. Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo (10th)
Director: Mihailo Petrovic (3rd)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Shunta Tanaka (Osaka Taiiku Univ.) / none
Key Player: Chanathip
Lowdown: I’ll be honest, I don’t actually think they’ll finish this low, rather I just struggled to see them getting out of last year’s end-of-season slump and was more positive about other teams who’ve freshened things up a bit more. I’m a big fan of stability, but, just two senior signings, one from the Brazilian lower leagues, and a new backup ‘keeper doesn’t convince me they’ll improve this year. More realistically they’ll probably end up around 10th again. Other than forward Douglas Oliveira (on loan from Luverdense – no, I’ve never heard of them either), and Thai stopper Kawin Thamsatchanan (on loan from Belgians OH Leuven), the only “new faces” are university graduates, Kaneko, Takamine and Shunta Tanaka who were already at the club last year on designated special player contracts. It’ll be interesting to see how Tanaka, in particular, does as he plays in an area that needed upgrading and he is unique having already been involved with the full Japanese international squad prior to making his JLeague debut. They have an excellent coach and some really good players, but I’m concerned things have gone a touch stale and they have a worrying tendency to completely fall apart in games (see the 5-0 loss at Panasonic Stadium last autumn).
Predicted Starting XI:

14. Vegalta Sendai (11th)
Director: Takashi Kiyama (new)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Isaac Cuenca (Tosu) / Katsuya Nagato (Kashima)
Key Player: Isaac Cuenca
Lowdown: 11th place last year was an excellent performance in my books given that they also finished in that spot 12 months previously with, what appeared to be, a much more talented squad. In replacing Susumu Watanabe (in charge since 2014) have they just had their Charlton/Alan Curbishley, West Brom/Steve Clarke moment? On the surface they’ve recruited well in the off-season, Isaac Cuenca (Tosu), Shuhei Akasaki (Kawasaki – 2019 loan to Nagoya) and the Portuguese forward Alexandre Guedes (Vitoria S.C. – loan) look to have given them more bite in attack. Defensively, left-back Katsuya Nagato took his 10 assists (from 38 team goals scored in 2019) to Kashima with Brazilian, Para taking his place. Kyohei Yoshino (Hiroshima) also looks a solid addition, but can the new boys collectively bring the creativity needed to replace Nagato’s freakish assist ratio?
*Injuries to, Isaac Cuenca, Shun Nagasawa and Alexandre Guedes, made me put them down a couple of spots from where I originally thought they’d end up.
Predicted Starting XI:

15. Shonan Bellmare (16th)
Director: Bin Ukishima (2nd, 1st full)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Hidetoshi Miyuki (Yamaguchi) / Daiki Sugioka (Kashima)
Key Player: Tarik Elyounoussi
Lowdown: Anyone who predicted Shonan would end up in the bottom 3 last year got the right result but for the wrong reasons. The Cho Kwi-jae power harassment scandal could, and Tokushima might argue, should have sent them down. It remains to be seen how Bin Ukishima does in charge over the course of an entire season, but there were signs of small improvement towards the tail end of 2019. Promising youngsters Matsuda, Saito, Suzuki and Kaneko are still there, however, as seems to be the case every year, there have been a host of changes in playing personnel in the off season with Sugioka, Yamane and Yamasaki the most noteworthy departures. New arrivals number in the double digits, Norwegian international forward Tarik Elyounoussi from AIK Solna being the most intriguing, and young, on-loan goalkeeper Kosei Tani the most interesting from a Gamba perspective. However, doubts persist over whether this year’s crop are as strong as their predecessors (no such doubts over their kits which are absolute beauties).
Predicted Starting XI:

16. Shimizu S-Pulse (12th)
Director: Peter Cklamovski (new)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Teerasil (Muangthong Utd.) / Douglas (Kobe)
Key Player: Kenta Nishizawa
Lowdown: Ange Postecoglou’s former assistant at Marinos, Peter Cklamovski, has made the move to Shimizu and it promises to be a fascinating appointment. I’m looking forward to see how quickly he can get his message across, remembering how Ange had to take Marinos backwards before he could take a giant leap in the right direction. Cklamovski has been massively hamstrung by the sale of leading scorer Douglas to Kobe. Yusuke Goto has come in from Oita, while Thai-forward Teerasil is back in Japan having joined from Muangthong United, but, can they plus Junior Dutra replicate Douglas’ scoring feats?. Kenta Nishizawa remains the great hope down the left wing while efforts have definitely been made to shore up last year’s porous defence with Brazilian goalkeeper Neto Volpi coming in along with his compatriot Valdo, a centre half, as well as Makoto Okazaki (FC Tokyo – loan) and Takashi Kanai (Nagoya – on loan to Tosu in 2019).
Predicted Starting XI:
Neto Volpi
Renato Augusto-Kawai-Takeuchi
Kaneko-Junior Dutra-Nishizawa

17. Yokohama FC (J2 2nd)
Director: Takahiro Shimotaira (2nd, 1st full)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Takaaki Shichi (Mito) / Kengo Kitazume (Kashiwa)
Key Player: Yusuke Matsuo
Lowdown: Preparing for their 2nd ever season in the top flight, and first since 2007, Yokohama FC continue to make headlines due to their ageing legends in the shape of Kazuyoshi ‘King Kazu’ Miura and Shunsuke Nakamura. However, it is the young crop of attacking talent that observers should focus on. Koki Saito, Katsuhiro Nakayama and Yusuke Matsuo will no doubt keep Japanese and foreign scouts busy throughout the year. For Gamba supporters, it’ll be interesting to see how on-loan forward Kazunari Ichimi does after an excellent season with Kyoto last year. Overall, I feel Yokohama FC have too many veterans and promising youngsters but not enough players at the peak of their powers to ultimately survive at the end of a long, hard campaign.
Predicted Starting XI:
Nakayama-Koki Saito-Matsuo

18. Sagan Tosu (15th)
Director: Kim Myung-hwi (2nd, 1st full)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Tomoya Koyamatsu (Kyoto) / Isaac Cuenca (Sendai)
Key Player: Mu Kanazaki
Lowdown: I’ve had Tosu penned to go down for a few seasons now, will this finally be the year they slip through the trapdoor? Only a last minute goal for Matsumoto against Shonan in round 34 saved them from the relegation playoff in 2019 and looking down the squad lists for this year I don’t see a weaker group of players elsewhere. I think most expected Isaac Cuenca to leave, but few would have thought Sendai would be his destination, that must be a bit of a slap in the face. Elsewhere, 3 of last season’s back 4, Mitsumaru, Kanai and Yuji Takahashi have gone and I don’t believe their replacements have the same quality. Takuya Koyamatsu has joined from Kyoto to replace Cuenca and while I like him, he faces an uphill battle in this team. Ex-Gamba player Yuto Uchida has also made the move from Tokushima and it’ll be good to see him get a run at left-back. Look out also for young forward Daichi Hayashi who turns pro this year after netting on his senior debut away to Cerezo last Obon while still a league designated special player.
Predicted Starting XI:

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2020 J1 Preview Part 1… teams 1-9

This may be the only non Gamba specific article I do this year, but I thought I’d run down all 18 J1 teams and make some predictions for the year ahead. Teams are in order of where I think they’ll finish this year. In part 1 it’s the teams I think will place 1st-9th.

*The Key Players I’ve selected for each team are not necessarily the best players, more the ones whose good performances or lack of will influence their team the most.

Here we go…

1. Yokohama F.Marinos (last year:1st)
Director: Ange Postecoglou (3rd year)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Ado Onaiwu (Urawa) / Mateus (Nagoya)
Key Player: Marcos Junior
Lowdown: Last season’s champions have retained their manager and everyone in their first team with the exception of Mateus (who’s returned to Nagoya). The new signings seem more designed to add depth ahead of this season’s ACL campaign, however, Ado Onaiwu (10 J1 goals in 2019) and Kota Mizanuma (7 goals, 2 assists in 31 games) appear to be shrewd captures. Edigar Junio (11 goals in 16 games before injury last year) returns and could form a mouth watering front 3 alongside Erik (8 in 12) and last year’s J1 MVP Teruhito Nakagawa (15 goals, 10 assists in 33). They did have injuries in 2019 but the spine of the team; Thiago Martins, Hatanaka, Kida, Marcos Junior and Nakagawa all played at least 33 J1 games, will they be able to cope with the extra rotation that Champions League football will inevitably bring? Winning back-to-back titles will be tough but I don’t think any of their rivals have improved enough to overtake them, so as I see it, they’d need to regress / focus too much on ACL / have loads of injuries, if they’re to not lift the J1 crown again this year.
Predicted Starting XI:
Matsubara-Thiago Martins-Hatanaka-Theerathon
Marcos Junior

2. Kashima Antlers (3rd)
Director: Antonio Carlos Zago (new)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Ryotaro Araki (Higashi Fukuoka HS) / Serginho (Changchun Yatai)
Key Player: Shoma Doi
Lowdown: They seemed to run out of steam badly at the end of 2019, but in true Kashima fashion still finished 3rd and reached the final of the Emperor’s Cup. A surprise ACL exit in the qualifiers may actually play to their advantage domestically this year. I feel Brazilians hold the key to their 2020 campaign, Antonio Carlos Zago is the new head coach and he has a couple of his countrymen in Everaldo and Juan Alano joining him in Ibaraki. How well they combine to replace the departed Serginho (20 goals in 50 games in all competitions in 2019) will have a big impact on their title chances. The signings of Tatsuki Nara (who knocked Gamba back again), Daiki Sugioka, Katsuya Nagato and Rikuto Hirose should bring more stability at the back, however, if Bueno continues to play regularly then scrap my 2nd place prediction.
Predicted Starting XI:
Misao-Leo Silva
Juan Alano-Doi-Izumi

3. Kawasaki Frontale (4th)
Director: Toru Oniki (4th)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Zain Issaka (Toin Yokohama Univ.) / Hiroyuki Abe (Nagoya)
Key Player: Leandro Damiao
Lowdown: The 2017 and 2018 champions were well off the pace in a disappointing year for them last time out. Frontale seemed to shoot themselves in the foot by letting Elsinho join Shimizu (I’m still utterly baffled by this), refusing to play right-backs at right-back, signing foreigners but rarely using them and being unable to find a regular role for Leandro Damiao. That said, this is still one of the most talented squads in Japan and an infusion of youth in the form of recent university graduates, Issaka, Mitoma, Kamiya and Hatate, coupled with no ACL distractions, should see them bounce back this season. I’m also really looking forward to seeing how Yasuto Wakizaka develops as I was impressed by him last year plus young Ao Tanaka will surely only get better, how long can they keep hold of him?
Predicted Starting XI:

4. Cerezo Osaka (5th)
Director: Miguel Angel Lotina (2nd)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Tatsuhiro Sakamoto (Yamagata) / Kota Mizanuma (YFM)
Key Player: Hiroshi Kiyotake
Lowdown: Probably not the most popular prediction I could have made on a Gamba blog, but here we are. They have a manager who knows the type of player he needs and the style of football he wants to play, plus a front office that works in tandem with him (something we could learn from in Suita). Souza was an excellent player, but Lotina didn’t fancy him so he’s been and gone, replaced by his more conservative compatriot, Lucas Mineiro (on loan from Chapecoense). Other than that only Mizanuma (Marinos) has left from last year’s starting XI, though his replacement Tatsuhiro Sakamoto from Montedio Yamagata looks a good capture. It’ll be interesting to see how much game time young Jun Nishikawa gets and also how much Ken Tokura has left in the locker after suffering a serious injury in 2019.
Predicted Starting XI:
Okuno-Bruno Mendes

5. Gamba Osaka (7th)
Director: Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (3rd / 2nd full season)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Gen Shoji (Toulouse) / Hiroto Goya (Kashiwa)
Key Player: Takashi Usami
Lowdown: Last year I said we’d come 6th and we ended up 7th, but in reality I never envisaged we’d start as horribly as we did, nor for that matter did I think Usami, Ideguchi and Patric would return. The same XI that finished last year strongly are still here, the Usami-Ademison partnership is blossoming, Onose, Kurata and Ideguchi will provide goals from midfield and there are youngsters emerging. Gen Shoji’s late arrival from Toulouse would appear to be the icing on the cake and could pave the way for a genuine ACL push this time out. The back 3 of Miura, Shiji and Kim give us a trio of current internationals, almost unheard of in the modern JLeague era where most national team players ply their trade abroad. My only doubts are over whether or not the 3-5-2 system gets the best out of the current squad, it could be argued that 4-4-2 with Ideguchi and Yajima sitting in front of the defence may offer a more solid base to build from. Anyway, the signing of Shoji has me in upbeat mood, here’s hoping for an entire campaign spent in the right half of the table!
Predicted Starting XI:

6. FC Tokyo (2nd)
Director: Kenta Hasegawa (3rd)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Shuto Abe (Meiji Univ.) / Oh Jae-suk (Gamba)
Key Player: Diego Oliveira
Lowdown: Ex-Gamba head-coach Kenta Hasegawa has done excellent things in the capital over the past 2 years, culminating in a best ever 2nd place J1 finish last year. This season’s crop features largely the same starting members (we all know how much Kenta likes his favourites) and they’ve been bolstered by the addition of 2 Brazilians, Leandro (Kashima, loan – why would you loan someone to a divisional rival?) and Adailton (Iwata). I think hell may freeze over before Hasegawa plays both of them, Diego Oliveira and Kensuke Nagai in the same line-up, but they should add depth to what is already an excellent midfield / attack. At the back, Joan Oumari (ex-Kobe and Tosu) plus Hotaka Nakamura (Meiji University) have come in, but they seem quite short of experienced backup there. Also in attack, Adailton is similar to Nagai, but an injury to Diego Oliveira would open the door for Tagawa, Hara or Yajima, none of whom played much in 2019 or have a great deal of top flight experience in general. They once again have an epic road trip (this time owing to the Olympics), having dealt with it reasonably well in 2019, can they repeat the trick this time round?
Predicted Starting XI:

7. Vissel Kobe (8th)
Director: Thorsten Fink (2nd / 1st full)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Douglas (Shimizu) / David Villa (retired)
Key Player: Thomas Vermaelen
Lowdown: Kobe continue to baffle fans and pundits alike. If column inches were a predictor of success then they’d romp J1 every year, but as it stands, in the last 5 seasons (it doesn’t get any better if you look further back), they’ve finished 12th, 7th, 9th, 10th and 8th…as solidly mid-table as you could possibly be. After winning the Emperor’s Cup on January 1st they’ll compete in the ACL for the first time in their history, but with Japanese Super Cup commitments they had a very, very short off-season. A conservative estimate might say that they’ll play around 45 games in all competitions this year, realistically if Iniesta and Vermaelen could play 25 each they’ll be doing well, how they replace each of them in the 20 or so games they don’t feature in will go a long way to determining their fate. Douglas looks like an excellent replacement for David Villa and Furuhashi and Fujimoto bring goals too. At the back, the additions of Kikuchi and Yamakawa show an intent to fix a leaky rearguard, though the error-prone Hiroki Iikura is still between the sticks. Honestly, 7th is a pure guess, they could be champions or they could finish 12th and neither would really surprise me.
Predicted Starting XI:

8. Sanfrecce Hiroshima (6th)
Director: Hiroshi Jofuku (3rd)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Leandro Pereira (Matsumoto – Loan Extension) / Sho Inagaki (Nagoya)
Key Player: Tsukasa Morishima
Lowdown: The money drawer appears to be empty in Hiroshima as there has been little in the way of transfer action this winter. There are, however, plenty of young players coming through, Osako, Araki (would like him at Gamba) and Morishima (3 goals, 7 assists in 24 games in 2019) all look good. Taishi and Hiroya Matsumoto plus Shunki Higashi look to be the next in line to make an impact on the first team. Brazilian midfielder Ezequiel is an intriguing signing from Botafogo while the extension of Leandro Pereira’s loan deal from Matsumoto should help to relieve the goal-scoring burden on Douglas Vieira (7 goals, 4 assists in 24 games in his first season of J1 football).
Predicted Starting XI:
Douglas Vieira

9. Kashiwa Reysol (J2 1st)
Director: Nelsinho (2nd / 8th in total)
Best Signing / Biggest Loss: Yuta Kamiya (Shonan) / So Nakagawa (Iwata)
Key Player: Cristiano
Lowdown: Last year’s J2 champions return to J1 after a year-long sabbatical and like Kobe, I’m really unsure where to place them. Cristiano, Olunga, Esaka, Segawa and Matheus Savio will score goals, so from that perspective, it’s largely irrelevant whether or not new boys Goya and Nakama turn out to be good signings or not. They’ve brought in a lot of J2 talent this winter, Yokohama FC right-back Kengo Kitazume and midfielder Yuta Kamiya (Shonan – on loan at Ehime in 2019) seem to be the pick of the bunch. My questions about Kashiwa are all at the back, the partnership of Yuji Takahashi and Takuma Ominami could be very solid or it could be an undisciplined car crash, this will largely determine whether Reysol end up in the ACL spots or mid-table.
Predicted Starting XI:

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5 factors that will define Gamba’s season

With Gamba midway through their first training camp in Okinawa and me now fully settled back in Japan after a Christmas break Down Under, I thought it would be a good time for my first blog post of 2020. Again any feedback, opinions and constructive criticism are always welcome on Twitter.

#1 The Usami-Ademilson partnership
We all know that Takashi Usami is a prolific scorer in J1, he currently has 52 goals in 132 games in the competition and netted 7 in 14 at the end of 2019 (including 6 in the final 7 league matches when he stopped dropping deep so much). Perhaps the most impressive feature of his return home was how quickly he and Ademilson rebuilt their strike partnership after 3 years apart. I have been quick to criticise the Brazilian, but as part of my 2020 New Year’s resolution, I’m going to try and do that less this year. He shut me up last season largely by netting double figures in J1 for the first time in his career and also contributing 7 assists (8 if you included Kim Jin-hyeon’s own goal in the away match at Cerezo). Like a pre-Liverpool Sadio Mane, however, if you break the numbers down, you will find wild inconsistencies. Ade netted 4 in the first 5 J1 games and then 4 in the last 7 (when he played alongside Usami), but, in between there is a glaring 22 game run spanning 6 months which produced just 2 goals. I am in confident mood ahead of 2020 and say that Usami and Ademilson will combine for at least 25 goals this season!

#2 Who will play in the midfield triangle?
At the tail end of 2019 with Gamba on their way to 5 wins and 16 points from their last 7 matches which would propel them to a flattering 7th spot in the final standings, these places were filled by; Yasuhito Endo in the anchor role, with Shinya Yajima playing just ahead to the right alongside Yosuke Ideguchi to his left. Endo, veteran of 630 J1 games and due to turn 40 on January 28 doesn’t have much gas left in the tank and could be in his final year as a pro. Rumours of a move for Korean international Ju Se-jong seem to have come to nothing with the 29 year-old seemingly opting to stay at FC Seoul and play ACL football in 2020. This leaves the likely midfield three to be; Yajima in the anchor role, providing an energetic presence in front of the back 3 that Endo is no longer able to give, Ideguchi and the now fully-fit Shu Kurata just ahead of him. Kurata was Gamba’s joint-second top league scorer in 2019 with 7 goals and with a full pre-season under his belt I’d expect Ideguchi to contribute 4-5 goals this campaign. All the foreigner spots seem to be locked down and I don’t see any new blood coming in, so a midfield triangle consisting of Yajima, Ideguchi and Kurata with Endo getting game time in matches where Gamba are expected to dominate seems to be the way things will go. New signing from Kwansei Gakuin, Yuki Yamamoto will also likely feature at some point, but initially, at least, it’ll probably be from the bench and in the cups.

#3 Who will win out in the battle of the wing-backs?
If shirt sales were a factor in selecting the starting line-up then it’d be no contest and we’d see Kosuke Onose down the right and Yuya Fukuda down the left. This may well be what’ll happen at certain times, but, in all honesty I think we’ll see Fukuda return to what is supposed to be his favoured position down the right where he’ll compete with Onose, now the blue eyed boy of the Gamba faithful after turning down Champions Yokohama F.Marinos this winter. Onose netted 7 times in 30 J1 games last time out and Fukuda will need to up his output of 1 goal and 2 assists in 17 games if he wants to compete. Both players are versatile and can potentially play attacking midfield roles if required by Director Miyamoto who seems to have a real thing for players who can fill a number of positions.
Down the left, while Fukuda can play well there, I expect to see the experienced Hiroki Fujiharu and Kansai University graduate Keisuke Kurokawa battle it out. Fujiharu is in possession of the jersey at the moment after recovering from an injury plagued 2019, while I don’t know much of Kurokawa, save for 1 J1 game and 2 League Cup appearances last year while a special designated player, he does come highly rated and Gamba have a decent record with university recruits.

#4 More of the same in the back 3, or will Miyamoto shake things up?
Captain Genta Miura has apparently spurned the advances of Belgian side Sint Truidense to remain at the club and as long as that remains true, he and Kim Young-gwon will be automatic picks at the back. Who plays alongside them is the interesting question. There appear to be 4 candidates at the moment; Shunya Suganuma, Ryo Shinzato, Oh Jae-suk and Ryu Takao, let’s look at each individually. Suganuma finished the season in the role, playing the last 5 games and making a total of 15 J1 appearances, I like him, but feel he has limitations and a club looking to qualify for the ACL should be looking at someone a little better. Shinzato is a new signing on loan from relegated Jubilo Iwata, he played 20 times in J1 in 2019, but new head coach Fernando Jubero didn’t seem to fancy him, so he spent the end of the campaign out of the team. I don’t know a lot about him, but a quick scan through his career history seems to suggest he’s at a similar level to Suganuma.
Thirdly there’s Oh Jae-suk who spent the 2nd half of 2019 with his old Gamba boss Kenta Hasegawa at FC Tokyo. Better known as a right or left full back in his previous spell in Suita, playing as a 3rd centre back as he did in a couple of League Cup games last year may be his best shot of cracking the starting eleven. Ryu Takao, essentially signed as an attacking right-back from Kwansei Gakuin a year ago, played 18 games as the 3rd centre half before losing his position to Suganuma after the 2-2 draw at home to Kawasaki in mid-October. He did ok considering it’s not really his position, but I’m not sure the experiment will continue this season.
So to sum up, I’d expect Suganuma to start the season alongside Kim and Genta, but Shinzato will push him hard and either he or Jae-suk could earn a starting role if they play well in the Levain Cup.

#5 Can Jun Ichimori mount a genuine challenge to Higashiguchi’s number one spot.
Short answer no. The former Okayama man comes highly rated and had a decent season with Fagiano, playing 34 times in J2, but Higashiguchi was in solid form in 2019 and was an ever-present in J1. Barring injury or a serious loss of form by Higashiguchi, I can only see Ichimori being a very solid backup who plays in the cups.
Another interesting goalkeeper related topic his how youngsters, Mizuki Hayashi and Kosei Tani do during their loan spells at Renofa Yamaguchi and Shonan Bellmare respectively. As you know, Tani is my tip to replace Higashiguchi long-term, and I guess he has a decent shot at starting for Shonan, otherwise why would Gamba loan him to another J1 team to sit on the bench when he could get regular game time in J3 while training with Higashiguchi on a daily basis if he stayed put. Hayashi, on the other hand, may have selected the wrong side to join, although there is a good relationship between Gamba and Renofa, he faces fierce competition for a starting berth from Daisuke Yoshimitsu and Genki Yamada, I feel Okayama, now devoid of Jun Ichimori, may have been the better choice for him.