Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu 2022 J1 Season Round 28 Saturday 3 September 2022 Panasonic Stadium Suita Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
This is a special Blog Gamba article. As those of you who follow me on Twitter will know I’ve been ill recently which meant no coverage of the 3-0 home loss to Sagan Tosu or the 0-0 draw with FC Tokyo…to deal with the elephant in the room, it was Covid-19, and it was not pleasant at all. Anyway, as I was gearing up for a busy week with Fukuoka (a) and Tosu (h) on the horizon, I’d started my preview for the Sagan game before I fell ill. I was in full flow and there was some decent stuff in there so I decided to just go ahead and publish what I had written (I guess this is a bit like bands putting out old session demos long after they’ve split up?). Anyway, I hope you all enjoy the fruits of my labour, I should be back to cover the remaining 5 league fixtures this season.
First Match Recap
Gamba’s 2-1 defeat away to Tosu at the back end of May was essentially a microcosm of their season as a whole, able to hold their own against top half opposition, but lacking the chutzpah to go grab the bull by the horns and earn the three points. Taichi Kato’s debut between the sticks for the Nerazzurri was the major talking point selection-wise and it probably came as much as a surprise to him as it did to anyone else, with previous incumbent, Jun Ichimori, dislocating 2 fingers in training the day before the game. Kato performed well overall, though he was left helpless as Yuki Horigome swept in the hosts’ opener in the 19th minute following good work down the right flank by Nanasei Iino. It remained 1-0 into the second-half, however, Gamba were quicker out of the blocks after the re-start and grabbed a deserved equaliser when a flowing move culminated in Mitsuki Saito’s inch-perfect cross being powered home at the back post by Hiroto Yamami, his 2nd headed goal in as many outings. We appeared to be drifting towards quite a tame draw for the next half hour or so with few clear openings created by either side, but, Sagan rallied late on to seal all three points and send their passionate fans home happy. Gamba conceded a needless free-kick in their own defensive third, Kentaro Moriya, who’d only come on as a substitute a minute prior, whipped in a delicious cross that was met by the head of Hwang Seok-ho for the winner, 2-1 Tosu the final score. For Gamba it was the second of what was to be four consecutive losses and one of the first real, powerful warning signs to kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka that things weren’t going his way in Suita.
Promoted to J1 back in 2012, Tosu initially found success, but then began a slow slide down the rankings in a slump that looked destined to end in eventual relegation. Not so fast however, as first Kim Myung-hwi, and now following his dismissal for power harassment, 41 year-old Kenta Kawai has taken over and once again has them sitting in the top half while bigger and better funded rivals (cough cough Gamba) continue to flounder. Hailing from one of Japan’s more slow-paced and rural areas, their ‘heavy metal’ football has brought the local community in Saga and the southern part of Fukuoka to life. After being ransacked last winter, few expected Tosu to do anything noteworthy, but new kantoku Kawai, fresh from a stint under the wing of Peter Cklamovski at Montedio Yamagata, but better known for his time with Ehime, has pulled numerous rabbits out of various hats personnel wise….be honest, who thought the likes of Akito Fukuta, Yuki Horigome or Kentaro Moriya would be playing and contributing for a top half J1 side in 2022? Granted, while I’m sure Kawai gets the hairdryer out from time to time and Tosu fans don’t like drawing or losing anymore than anyone else, the sheer size of clubs such as Gamba, Nagoya, Urawa etc. means the pressure is always on, no matter who you’re playing, so some Sagan results this season, such as blowing 3-0 and 3-1 leads at Kashima and Shimizu respectively, losing 3-1 to both newly promoted sides or being thrashed 4-0 by struggling Vissel Kobe, will provoke unrest among those who hold the club dear to their hearts, but simply not on the scale as would happen at one of the Kanto or Kansai powerhouses. I’m hoping that what I’ve just said didn’t come off too condescending, because deep down I’m massively impressed by Tosu this season, I mentioned these things more because I think it helps to explain why on one hand players like Yuta Higuchi, Tomoya Koyamatsu and Nanasei Iino can keep up their form after moving away to the bright lights in the east, they’re quality players after all, others such as Keiya Sento, Eduardo, Noriyoshi Sakai and Keita Yamashita struggle under the more intense glare they face outside the confines of the Ekimae Stadium as the spotlight from fans and media alike can be just that bit brigher, their flaws magnified that touch more, and as many of the aforementioned players have found, patience can be in short supply when results don’t arrive swiftly. Anyway, I’m rambling, this summer Sagan brought in Hiroshima’s Swiss pocket knife Yoichi Naganuma, who previously worked with Kawai at Ehime and he re-paid his former boss’ faith with a debut goal against Shimizu. Young South Korean defender Bak Keon-woo has also arrived on loan from Pohang Steelers in his home country, while centre-back Dai Hirase came in on a designated special player contract, he’ll sign a permanent deal once he finishes his studies at Waseda University next Spring. The club will be hoping he fares a bit better than a couple of centre-backs they’ve recruited from varsity football in recent years, Daisuke Matsumoto (Chuo University, 2021) and Taiga Son (Rissho University, 2022), who are both are currently on loan at Zweigen Kanazawa in J2. Indeed the Tosu departure lounge has been a busy place this summer with Son one of 8 players to leave Sagan in one capacity or another. Yuta Fujihara (Yamagata) and Kaisei Ishii (Yokohama FC) have stepped down to J2 on loan, Kyo Sato (Kyoto) and Tatsuya Morita (Kashiwa) have stayed in J1 thanks to rental agreements, Yoshihiro Nakano is off to Shonan permanently, Lebanese defender Joan Oumari got released after just 1 sub appearance in J1 while the aforementioned Iino was the headline departure with a well earned transfer to Kobe. Taichi Fukui, an 18 year old who has represented Japan at Under-20 level has been linked with Bayern which shows how highly rated the Tosu youth system is. Speaking of which, Sagan must be one of the most scouted clubs in the J. League and their boss Kenta Kawai is likely to find himself on the wish list of the likes of Gamba, Nagoya and Kashima this winter, however, he or whoever else is coaching the 2023 Sagan Tosu squad is likely to have far less of a rebuilding job on their hands than some of the previous incumbents of the position have faced. Taisei Miyashiro (Kawasaki), Yuki Kakita (Kashima) and Yuto Iwasaki (Sapporo) are all on loan and likely won’t return, but apart from them, maybe only young defender Shinya Nakano (19) and utility forward Fuchi Honda (21), now that he’s overcome his injuries, are the only others who may be snatched away from Tosu against their wishes. It’s been another season of hard work, graft and no little success for Sagan Tosu, of course I’m a Gamba supporter so I’m hoping for a home win on Saturday, but rest assured Tosu fans, I’m a big admirer of your club and wish you continued success over the coming years.
Thanks for reading and I’ll be back on Thursday 15 September with a preview of the all-important Hanshin Derby between Gamba and Vissel Kobe.
Sagan Tosu vs Gamba Osaka 2022 J1 Season Round 16 Sunday 29 May 2022 Ekimae Real Estate Stadium Kick Off: 17:00 (JST)
Sunday brings us the final round of J1 action before a 3 week hiatus owing to the June international fixtures and following the epic bunch of matches witnessed on Wednesday night I’m sure there will be many mourning this break just as the league gets into top gear with battles raging at either end of the table. If I’m honest, after cranking out 16 of these match previews in just over 3 months, I’m looking forward to the rest and indeed Gamba themselves were afforded an unexpected midweek off following a Covid cluster in the Hiroshima camp which precipitated their bout being postponed at the last minute. Upcoming opponents Sagan Tosu, meanwhile, grabbed the headlines due to their epic 4-4 draw at title-chasing Kashima Antlers where a ding-dong battle culminated in 3 goals being scored in second-half additional time. Tosu raced out to a shock 3-0 lead inside the opening 50 minutes before finding themselves behind in the wake of Itsuki Someno’s 94th minute header. Perhaps as a sign of their unity and fighting spirit, they subsequently flew upfield and equalised through centre-back Masaya Tashiro’s low header with essentially the last play of the game. Sagan possessed J1’s meanest defence until they conceded 8 goals in their last 3 outings, can a relatively fresh Nerazzurri deliver a more dynamic display of attacking football than they did in the Osaka Derby to put the Kyushu side’s backline to the sword once more? All will be revealed from 5pm on Sunday, Japanese Time.
Tale of the Tape
The late cancellation of Gamba’s previous fixture at home to in-form Hiroshima leaves me without a whole lot to write about in here, so with the mini-break almost upon us I thought I might attempt a short review of what’s gone right and wrong for the Nerazzurri and new kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka thus far. If we look at mitigating factors in his favour, we can say Covid outbreaks, injuries to key attacking stalwarts such as Usami and Kurata, plus the mess he took over due to the club being in a rudderless state having been under caretaker management for much of 2021. There is a solid base for him to work from with Higashiguchi or Ichimori in goal, an internationally decorated back 3 of Genta Miura, Gen Shoji and Kwon Kyung-won plus two midfield dynamos in the shape of Dawhan and Mitsuki Saito. Further forward, despite scoring at a far better clip than last season, xG has actually decreased, though only at a rate that indicates we’d expect to see the Ao to Kuro net 3-4 fewer goals across a whole season. For a Katanosaka system, experienced attackers Patric and Leandro Pereira will always be square pegs in round holes (I think that’s the first time I’ve whipped out one of my favourite clichés this year!) so viewed from that context it’s going to be interesting to see what Gamba do in the summer transfer window. Readers of my Osaka Derby preview will have gotten a reminder of my rather scathing opinion of the blue and black’s transfer work in recent years, so it goes without saying that I’ll be keeping a keen eye on who they bring in (Shuto Machino? Toshiki Takahashi?), and how well they fit into Katanosaka’s system. With no Levain Cup fixtures to play, the Nerazzurri’s schedule is pretty light going forward, game time for the likes of Yamami, Nakamura, Sakamoto and Minamino in attack early on this year has been a positive and hopefully that continues, but the big-name, high-earners haven’t done enough and their incompatibility with the present coach’s style of play is emblematic of the problems which have plagued the club in recent years as it has meandered from one mid-table finish to another. Stats-wise, from June onwards I want to see Katano-soccer take shape in the form of better ball retention, especially in opposition territory, scoring more frequently inside the opening 45 minutes and playing a brand of football that sees chances created on a regular basis without that necessarily leading to wide open spaces for the opposition to exploit at the other end. I know, I know, that’s quite a lengthy shopping list for 20 games, but as I said pre-season, this year is a free hit for Katanosaka in many ways and progress towards those lofty goals is all I’m looking for.
Following the disappointment of last weekend’s Osaka Derby defeat at Cerezo I consoled myself with the fact that the Nerazzurri’s 2 upcoming fixtures with Hiroshima and Tosu gave me the chance to take a deep dive on a pair of the league’s success stories. Following a strong 7th place showing in 2021, which led to first-team regulars Daichi Hayashi and Daiki Matsuoka (summer) plus, Eduardo, Yuta Higuchi, Tomoya Koyamatsu, Ayumu Ohata, Noriyoshi Sakai, Keiya Sento and Keita Yamashita (winter) all being poached by other clubs, not to mention long-seving kantoku Kim Myung-hwi being dismissed in the wake of a power-harassment scandal, little was expected of Tosu this year. New coach Kenta Kawai comes from a rather unheralded background having taken charge of Ehime FC from 2018-2020 and most recently served as Peter Cklamovski’s assistant at Montedio Yamagata, but he has made the many naysayers eat their words with his current charges sitting in 8th (just 3 points off 4th) as we approach the mid-way point of the campaign. It’s clear from the rather lengthy list of departures above that Sagan can’t compete financially with the big market clubs in J1, let alone those in Europe, but what they can do is out-work them, and this has been the bedrock of their success in recent years. Tosu have been a staple in J1 since earning promotion in 2011, however, after a bright start to life in the top flight, the seasons between 2018-2020 saw them circling the drop-zone looking like it was just a matter of time before they returned to the second tier. Under Kim last term they ranked 1st in distance covered with their 123.4 km per game being a full 3.1 km more than nearest challengers Yokohama F. Marinos (and 9.7 km more than Gamba). As we can see in the second table below, Kawai has remarkably been able to cajole an extra 400 m extra out of his troops every match while adding a whopping 54.8 extra sprints every time the team take to the field. Things may have waned a touch in other metrics, which is understandable due to the huge playing staff losses sustained across the last 12 months, but it is clear that Gamba, fresh from a midweek off, will have to match and deal with the intensity shown by Tosu this Sunday if they are to stand any chance of extending their recent winning record at the Ekimae Stadium.
Head to Head
Sagan Tosu were one of only two teams Gamba did the double over in 2021, the other being Katanosaka’s Oita Trinita. The first meeting between the sides at the Ekimae Stadium saw the Nerazzurri bag their first win and first goal of the campaign at the fifth time of asking. Takashi Usami’s angled shot from the edge of the area beat Park Il-gyu to spark wild celebrations among players and fans alike. Usami was again the difference maker in the return clash in late October, finishing off a swift counter which started from a poor Tosu corner and culminated in Yuki Yamamoto playing a lovely dinked cross-field ball into the path of Gamba’s #39 who swept across Park for what turned out to be the winner. The Nerazzurri would back up that 1-0 success with away victories at Yokohama F. Marinos and Oita Trinita in their next two fixtures to secure their status as a top flight club for the 2022 season.
Crowd trouble – Hopefully this is the last time I have to write about this, but Gamba announced on Tuesday (24 May) that two individuals identified as having thrown items in the direction of the players in the wake of last Saturday’s Osaka Derby defeat as well as the supporters group they belong to have been indefinitely banned from attending games. I fully support this swift and strong action as the behaviour of the minority has recently served to tarnish the reputation of the club as a whole. I know that a lot of my readership hail from outside Japan and it’s worth remembering that crowd trouble in Japan and crowd trouble in Europe or elsewhere are often 2 very different kettles of fish, which is absolutely not meant to serve as some sort of justification for the rowdy misdemeanours of certain misguided Gamba supporters groups. With the Shoji and Pereira on-field bust-up and the crowd unrest, Gamba served as an easy and deserving target for those with an axe to grind last weekend. If you want to have a go at dressing room disunity, lacklustre performances and poor supporter conduct, I agree with you fully, but criticising how long it took the club to take action (announcements of bans were made within 72 hours of the incident taking place) and suggesting Gamba won’t increase security at home games (which they stated they will do) with no evidence to back this up (as a point of note, on my recent visit to the National Stadium to watch FC Tokyo vs Gamba, no-one checked my bag upon entry, a practice that is always carried out at Panasonic Stadium) are the types of comments that should be generally ignored (although that could probably be said about lots of comments on Twitter lol). Anyway, I’m boring myself going on about this topic, so let’s move on to talk about 2 lesser known members of the Gamba squad.
Player Profile 1: Yota Sato – A highly-rated centre back who joined the club from Meiji University ahead of the 2021 season. It was always going to be hard for him to achieve much game time during his rookie campaign with Genta Miura, Gen Shoji and Kim Young-gwon locked in as starters and it’s fair to say he endured a rough ride on the occasions when he did play, facing off against Kaoru Mitoma while filling in out-of-position at right-back and receiving a straight red-card in the loss at bottom club Yokohama FC. Under Katanosaka he’s only really featured in the Levain Cup and has shown signs of improvement, he looks competent on the ball and his positioning, which still requires work, is steadily moving towards where it needs to be. A summer loan move to a decent J2 outfit such as Nagasaki or Kofu is just what the doctor ordered, I reckon.
Player Profile 2: Shin Won-ho – Signed straight out of Boin High School in South Korea, Shin is another player who’s endured a bit of a rocky ride since coming to the club in 2020. Injuries have severely curtailed his playing time, as has the abundance of decent left-backs / left wing-backs in the Gamba squad. Most recently he started on the left-side of the front 3 in the dead rubber Levain Cup tie with Kashima Antlers which may offer him a pathway into the starting lineup in the future. Despite the trickery and Cristiano Ronaldo stepovers, I feel regular J1 football is still some way off, so a loan switch to a J3 side for the second half of 2022 is the most logical step for his development.
* And finally…it was confirmed today (26 May) that Gamba will face off against Paris Saint-Germain as part of the French club’s 3 match tour of Japan which also includes games against Kawasaki and Urawa. The glamour fixture will be held on Monday 25 July at 19:00 (JST) and while tickets certainly don’t look cheap, I’m going to enter the lottery for one, so wish me luck!
The following players’ participation on Sunday is in some doubt.
GK Masaaki Higashiguchi – Back in training, expected to return in June DF Shota Fukuoka – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic should be able to play DF Ryu Takao – Out of the squad since April 17, presumed injured MF Yuya Fukuda – Had shoulder surgery on May 23, expected back mid-summer MF Ju Se-jong – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic should be able to play (likely to head back to South Korea this summer so may have played his last game for the club) MF – Shu Kurata – Calf injury – expected back in June MF – Jiro Nakamura – Japan U-19 commitments MF – Kosuke Onose – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic should be able to play MF Mitsuki Saito – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic should be able to play MF Yuki Yamamoto – Injured leg April 17, no official confirmation from the club FW Patric – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic should be able to play Predicted Lineups and Stats
Shimizu rather comically made the mistake of announcing they’d signed Ulsan Hyudai instead of Oh Se-hun from Ulsan Hyundai earlier in the season which put the thought into my head, I wish Gamba could just sign the whole of Sagan Tosu as an entity. They did make efforts to bring in both Eduardo and Yuta Higuchi last winter, but were rebuffed on both occasions in favour of moves to Yokohama F. Marinos and Kashima Antlers respectively. And, the mention of that duo, a pair of the biggest names in Japanese football, leads me to my question, how do Sagan Tosu, a team that it many ways fit the profile of say, a Shonan Bellmare, manage to consistently duel it out in the upper echelons of the top flight? I don’t really have a definitive answer, but I will fall back on my comments on the J-Talk Podcast a couple of months ago when I compared them to pre-title winning Leicester City in England, who brought in then unknown, high-potential talents that bigger clubs wouldn’t touch such as Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante. Granted, Tosu don’t have anyone in the same category as that trio quality-wise, but Akito Fukuta (Niigata) and Yuki Horigome (Yamagata, on loan from JEF United Chiba) are examples of players who were going nowhere in J2 until Tosu picked them up and gave them a new lease of life. Not all their new signings have bedded in quite as smoothly however, and despite a goal against Kashima on Wednesday, Taisei Miyashiro hasn’t featured as much as he’d like, neither has fellow loanee Yuki Kakita. University recruitment is high on Sagan’s agenda with 6 players making the leap from varsity football last winter, forwards Taichi Kikuchi (Ryutsu Keizai University) and Shunta Araki (Komazawa University) have appeared the most thus far, though I think it’s best to judge them more in a year or so’s time once they’ve gained more experience at this level. Kawai has tweaked the 3-5-2 system operated by predecessor Kim into a 3-4-2-1 for most games this season, though significantly he went for more of a 3-5-1-1 against Antlers on Wednesday, potentially to combat the insane threat the Stags possess in attack and it’ll be interesting to see which formation he adopts at home to Gamba. With such intensity demanded each game, it’s highly possible significant changes will be made. One thing that will remain constant, however, is the importance of wing-backs to their system. On the right, Nanasei Iino has been a revelation since moving west from Gunma last year and he looks like he could go further in the game. Down the left flank is a real feel-good story in the shape of 23 year-old Yuto Iwasaki, a once highly-touted forward who has found scoring in the pros much more challenging than at age-group level. In 2022 he has been outstanding as a wing-back and sometime shadow forward for Kawai’s troops. It’s acquisitions like Iwasaki, Fukuta and Horigome that make Tosu perhaps the J.League team best placed to be compared to Billy Beane’s ‘Moneyball’ Oakland A’s in my humble opinion. Team News
The following players’ participation on Sunday is in some doubt.
DF Shinya Nakano – Japan U-19 commitments MF Taichi Fukui – Japan U-19 commitments MF Fuchi Honda – Out of squad since 14 May, no reason given
* FW Yuki Kakita is available again after missing the match versus parent club Kashima on Wednesday as per the terms of his loan agreement **DF Masaya Tashiro and MF Kei Koizumi are one yellow card away from an automatic suspension
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.
Happy New Year everyone! This is my first post of 2022 and following on from the previous two seasons I’ve decided to put together a J1 predicted lineups article to get the ball rolling. Hope you all enjoy the fruits of my labour.
Also a quick reminder that you can find the 2022 squad lists screenshotted below in this Excel document.
And, be sure to check out @Michael_Master on Twitter if you haven’t already, the one and only account you need to follow to keep up to date with J. League transfers.
Teams are listed below in the order they finished the 2021 campaign and each club’s mini-section contains the following information.
Best Signing – This won’t necessarily be objectively the best player the team have signed over the winter, more the one I feel addresses the most pressing need in the squad, for example, spoiler alert, I selected Kim Min-tae over both Yuta Higuchi and Yuma Suzuki in this category at Kashima.
Biggest Loss – Basically the opposite of best signing.
One to Watch – Again it might not be the best player in the squad or the one most likely to join a European club in the summer, rather someone whose good, bad or up-and-down form will set the tone for his team’s entire campaign.
Doubtful – Players who due to either injuries carried over from 2021, immigration issues or, in the case of a certain Polish striker at Nagoya, potential doping violations, might not be available for selection in the opening months of 2022.
Notes – Me trying to work out what direction the team is heading in this year.
A few caveats here,
* For simplicity’s sake I’ve assumed every contracted player to be fit and available for selection when choosing these best elevens. * These are not meant to be seen as the predicted starting lineup for round 1, think of them more as the players who will feature most across the course of the year (obviously new signings will be made in the summer, but unfortunately I’m not in possession of a crystal ball to make forecasts that far in advance). * In cases where numerous players may see significant minutes in a certain position I’ve listed alternatives below the main choice (players may appear as alternatives for more than one role, see Satoshi Tanaka or Takuro Kaneko for examples). I also hope this illustrates where certain clubs have perhaps overstocked in one area of the field while neglecting others. Where two alternatives are listed, the name on the left is the one I consider to be higher on the team’s depth chart. * I think I said this last year, but I’ll repeat myself anyway, expect the lineups for teams that have kept the same coach and most of the same playing staff as 2021 (Kawasaki) to be more accurate than those that have seen multiple changes in management and on-field personnel (Tosu). * I have done a great deal of research to get these lineups as accurate as I can to the best of my knowledge, but full disclosure, I’ve also acted on some hunches and taken a punt on some lesser known talents (I guess there wouldn’t be much point reading this article if I just stated the obvious). Players coming from university sides directly into professional starting elevens is one of the unique selling points of football in this part of the world versus, say Europe, and it can be immensely tricky trying to project how each year’s batch of fresh-faced graduates will do, especially when data about their positions and skill-sets is hard to come by and the little information you can find seems to show them playing in a position that doesn’t appear to exist at the club they are joining (for example a wide midfielder in a university side that plays 4-4-2 moving to a J1 team that operates a 3-4-2-1, will they be a wing-back or inside forward?). I’m guessing these are the kind of choices that might generate the greatest debate, so please cut me some slack, I like to use data, but several players below have made the grade based largely on gut instinct developed over a decade watching the J. League.
Well, with all that out the way let’s move on and take a look at each of the 2022 J1 sides one by one, shall we? Again I look forward to hearing feedback (good natured I hope) from fans of all teams, followers of the league in general or just casual passers by, you’re all welcome. While I’m confident you’ll agree with some of the points below, I’m also sure there will be many choices and opinions that people will disagree with, and that’s all fine, it’s why we love the beautiful game so much, right?
Best Signing: Chanathip – Had plateaued a little up in Sapporo, but a move to the champions should work out well for him and Frontale. Biggest Loss: Reo Hatate – Basically by default as he was the only top teamer to leave. Perhaps the most frightening thing for the rest of the league is the amount of depth Kawasaki still have in midfield despite losing Hatate, Mitoma, Morita and Tanaka in the last 12 months. One to Watch: Leandro Damião – Imperious in 2021 and the deserved recipient of the league’s MVP award, could a slight slip back from those grandiose heights offer a glimmer of hope to the chasing pack? Doubtful: Jesiel (injury) Notes: It’s Toru Oniki’s 6th campaign at the helm and once again Frontale start as the team to beat. Assuming Jesiel’s injury or the ageing of the forward line doesn’t adversely affect them too much, they are extremely well placed to fight off challenges from Marinos, Kobe, Kashima and Urawa to three-peat for the first time in their history.
Yokohama F. Marinos
Best Signing: Katsuya Nagato – By no means the most glamorous transfer of the winter, but Nagato who, don’t forget, led the league for assists with Sendai back in 2019 looks like he could thrive in Marinos’ system and help their fans quickly get over the loss of Theerathon. Biggest Loss: Daizen Maeda – Only joined Celtic on an initial six-month loan deal, I don’t really see this happening, but if things turn sour in Glasgow, a sharp return to Yokohama in the summer would do wonders for Marinos’ title aspirations. One to Watch: Marcos Junior – Goals-wise he’s dropped year-on-year since coming into the league in 2019, but he still remains pivotal to Marinos’ hopes and how well he adapts to Muscat’s game plan will be of critical importance to the team’s chances this season. Doubtful: Shinnosuke Hatanaka (injury) Notes: It’s all about Muscat for me, his appointment struck me as slightly strange at the time and even more so now that I’ve had time to digest it. Was he the best person to carry on Ange-ball? No (that guy is coaching Yamagata at the moment). If a desire to carry on the Ange-ball system wasn’t a pre-requisite for getting the job was he the best available candidate? Again, probably not. Despite that, I’m open minded as to what he can achieve given the time and space to put his own mark on the team. I’d argue that this squad is slightly weaker than 12 months ago, however, there is still plenty of talent onboard and top 4 should be a minimum expectation.
Additional Note: Anderson Lopes has been heavily linked with a move to Marinos. I’m unsure about his visa status or who would win out in a duel between him and Léo Ceará to be the main centre-forward.
Best Signing: Tomoaki Makino – Vissel need an experienced head at the back to guide Kikuchi and Kobayashi along and although I’m sure it’ll seem strange at first seeing him in a darker shade of red, he should prove valuable on and off the field in the port city. Biggest Loss: Thomas Vermaelen – Played more than I expected him to across his 2 ½ years in the league and no doubt passed on a trick or three to his younger protégés. One to Watch: Yoshinori Muto – Was the dominant partner as he and Yuya Osako amassed a combined 9 goals and 11 assists in 23 appearances at the back end of 2021. More of that this term and Vissel will very much be in the title conversation. Doubtful: Bojan Krkić (injury) Notes: Things have never looked better in Kobe, a balanced and settled squad, a competent manager and Hiroshi Mikitani largely leaving the football decisions to football people. We may see some tinkering with the midfield shape, but regardless of what system Miura adopts there’s no reason to suggest Vissel won’t be there or thereabouts at the business end of the year.
Best Signing: Kim Min-tae – Three of last year’s back four have moved on and Kim’s star is burning brightly following an impressive spell filling in for the injured Yuichi Maruyama at Nagoya. His experience alongside the talented, but erratic, Ikuma Sekigawa will be invaluable. Biggest Loss: Koki Machida – Perhaps not much of a shock as he’d been linked with European clubs in the previous 2-3 windows so Antlers should have planned his succession accordingly. One to Watch: Diego Pituca – A shining light once he was finally allowed into the country last year, the box-to-box midfielder should be a genuine J1 Best Eleven contender this term. Doubtful: Shintaro Nago (injury), Kantoku René Weiler (Visa) Notes: New kantoku René Weiler has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in attack and must be relishing the prospect of moulding them into a cohesive unit once he eventually makes it to the land of the rising sun. At the back the situation is a little less rosy, but should the attack-minded Weiler get things to gel, the Ibaraki side are not hindered by ACL involvement like their rivals and this could set them on a course towards a first title since 2016.
Best Signing: Keiya Sento – Played in a role for Tosu that doesn’t really exist in the current Grampus set-up, but to me he projects as Naoki Maeda’s replacement and should prove to be a gem of a signing. Biggest Loss: Takuji Yonemoto – One of the surprise moves of the winter in my book, he left FC Tokyo after one season of working with Kenta Hasegawa, did they have prior beef? One to Watch: Mateus Castro – Those of a Grampus persuasion will hope that the enigmatic Brazilian has gotten over the slump in form he experienced in the second half of 2021, as well as those Kawasaki transfer rumours, and will bounce back ready to lead the charge towards an ACL place. Doubtful: Jakub Świerczok (PED Violation) Notes: If I was a Nagoya fan would I have wanted to wake up to the news that Kenta Hasegawa was replacing Massimo Ficcadenti? No, but I’ll add that he’s nowhere near as bad as some FC Tokyo fans might have you believe. After winning silverware in each of his first 3 years at Gamba, he took an FC Tokyo side that had only achieved a single top 6 J1 finish in the 8 years prior to his appointment to 3 consecutive top 6 placings. Granted, the wheels came off spectacularly in his final seasons at both clubs, but I still maintain he’s a reasonably safe pair of hands until the Grampus hierarchy decide which direction they want the club to take next.
Urawa Red Diamonds
Best Signing: David Moberg Karlsson – Possibly the only player in the history of football to represent both Kilmarnock and Urawa which means that everything inside me should want him to fail, but I actually think this could be quite an astute piece of business by Reds. Biggest Loss: Tomoaki Makino – Kind of wins this by default as Urawa didn’t lose any real nailed-on 2021 starters in the off-season, only Yuruki and Tanaka ran him close for this award. One to Watch: Kasper Junker – 7 goals in his first 6 J1 appearances and just 2 in 11 after that as injuries struck. If a full pre-season schedule gets him back up to speed then J1 look out. Doubtful: Ayumu Ohata (injury), David Moberg Karlsson (Visa) Notes: When I wrote my Scouting J1 and Scouting J2 articles last autumn I never envisaged that Urawa and Cerezo would be the 2 teams to sign the most players from those lists, but there you go, hats off to both clubs. Reds have added a dizzying array of stars to an already strong looking squad and if they can find a way to get everyone pulling in the same direction then they appear well set to challenge domestically and in Asia.
Best Signing: Naoyuki Fujita – Still very much good enough to play for Cerezo, but probably rightly moved on due to the ageing issues at the club. A return to his first pro side seems a logical next step and he’ll have a big part to play assisting the development of the bountiful young talent on the books at Tosu. Biggest Loss: Yuta Higuchi – Plenty of competition for this award, but I’m still drowning my sorrows over Higuchi rejecting Gamba for Kashima and have to nominate him here. One to Watch: Yuki Kakita – Finished 2021 with something of a bang, netting 5 times in 8 outings for a Tokushima side that struggled to create clear-cut openings. Has his old Vortis team-mate Miyashiro with him too and looks to be the ideal replacement for Keita Yamashita. Notes: Let’s focus on the positives, the goalkeeper, defence and wing-backs are basically unchanged from 2021 (Ayumu Ohata excluded) and in attack, if I can quote Moneyball, they’ve realised they can’t directly replace departed stars like Higuchi, Sento, Koyamatsu and Yamashita, but they can re-create them in the aggregate. If the injury-prone Yuji Ono, high school wizzkids turned pro-level letdowns Jun Nishikawa and Yuto Iwasaki or any of their 6 recruits from varsity football enjoy a standout year then a mid-table finish isn’t out of the question.
Best Signing: Lukian – This deal came as something of a bolt from the blue to me and the addition of J2’s top scorer from 2021 adds real impetus to an Avispa attack that will be looking to move up through the gears this year. Biggest Loss: Emil Salomonsson – Will be a big loss both on and off the field. He must have found it tough with basically 2/3 of his time in Japan falling during the Coronavirus pandemic so it’s hard to begrudge him a move back home. One to Watch: Tatsuya Tanaka – Back in his native Kyushu, big things will be expected of the versatile wide-man. This was an area where Avispa needed an upgrade and it looks like they’ve found one in the former Gamba, Oita and Urawa speedster. Notes: I like what they’ve done in the transfer window, I like it a lot. There’s not one signing they’ve made that I haven’t liked, keeping Hasebe and Mae on board is massive too. After all those niceties I will add the qualifier that although on paper this year’s squad looks stronger than last year’s by a bigger margin than last year’s did than 2020’s (still with me?), it might not necessarily translate into them finishing any higher up in the standings. Though I guess having spent so much of their recent history in J2, the Avispa faithful won’t complain about another upper mid-table placing in 2022.
Best Signing: Jakub Słowik – Most J1 transfers have some sort of doubt hanging over them, player stepping up a level, poor previous season, injury prone, might not fit the system etc…none of these apply to Słowik, a clear upgrade on what was there before and questions marks over his distribution should only form a minor concern given the quality of the rest of his game. Biggest Loss: Joan Oumari – Despite apparently only re-signing to cover until Bruno Uvini could get into the country, the Lebanese international had a decent second year in the capital. One to Watch: Leandro – He and Hasegawa didn’t see eye to eye, that much is clear, if he and Puig butt heads then I’m not sure he’ll have too many backers left in the FC Tokyo support. A brilliant match-winner on his day, we all know what he can be when it’s not, for FC Tokyo and the league’s sake let’s hope the former, not the latter version rocks up in 2022. Doubtful: Kashif Bangnagande, Sodai Hasukawa, Akihiro Hayashi (injury) Notes: Far more change off the field than on it with Mixi taking over as the majority shareholder and Albert Puig moving into the managerial hotseat following a 2-year spell with Niigata. From the outside it appears that any kind of on-field improvement will need to be driven by a kantoku who has a beautiful philosophy on how the game should be played, but never really managed to translate that into meaningful results at Albirex, save for a magical 13 game run at the start of last season. A transitional campaign, give the manager time, yikes I’m using up all the clichés I had saved for the Gamba section several entries below.
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Best Signing: Gabriel Xavier – An unexpected, but potentially excellent ready-made replacement for Chanathip…as long as his performances don’t go on to show that Massimo Ficcadenti knows rather more about football management than all of us armchair pundits. Biggest Loss: Chanathip – 2021 was another injury-hit campaign for the Thai superstar, though he did bow out on a high with 3 assists in his last 2 matches. Things had gone a touch stale for him in Sapporo, but he’ll surely be fondly remembered in those parts for years to come. One to Watch: Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa – I’ll admit I’m highly sceptical of the €700,000 move to Hearts rumours, but the pacy forward has certainly caught the eye of national team coach Hajime Moriyasu and in his second year as a pro will be expected to shoulder a greater burden of Consadole’s attacking hopes. Doubtful: Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (injury) Notes: The winds of change haven’t been blowing too strongly up in Sapporo with minimal transfer business being conducted. GX10 (will he change his name to GX18?) and Koroki are the only 2 senior signings, but given how they’ve worked the varsity market in recent years, I wouldn’t bet against Sora Igawa (Tsukuba Univ.) and Hiromu Tanaka (Rissho Univ.) turning out to be pretty handy.
Best Signing: Taishi Semba – The Ryutsu Keizai University graduate says he’s looked up to Toshihiro Aoyama for a number of years and if all goes according to plan he could well be the one to take over the legendary Sanfrecce midfield maestro’s spot in the not too distant future. Biggest Loss: Kodai Dohi – Failed to build on a promising 2020 due to a succession of injuries, but a loan spell with Mito is absolutely the right move to resuscitate his career. One to Watch: Junior Santos – If the 2020 Yokohama F. Marinos version of Junior Santos turns up this year then it’ll be as good as a new signing for the three arrows. Doubtful: Tsukasa Morishima, Yoichi Naganuma, Douglas Vieira (injury), Kantoku Michael Skibbe (Visa) Notes: After pleading poverty for much of last year, the additions of Tsukasa Shiotani and Michael Skibbe following spells in the Middle East indicate that there is money available if they choose to use it. Skibbe’s delayed arrival has thrown an unwelcome spanner in the works, though he is fortunate to have a settled squad at his disposal, albeit one that largely underperformed relative to their game-by-game stats in 2021.
Best Signing: Jean Patric – I must admit I don’t know a whole lot about him, but he appears to have a decent pedigree and fills a spot that really needed an upgrade as a result of the person I’ll talk about below departing. Biggest Loss: Tatsuhiro Sakamoto – A fine player who slightly lost his way in what was a disappointing 2021 campaign overall for the Cherry Blossoms. Still, as a result of his 2020 form and the performances he put in at the start of last year, he’s done more than enough to merit his move. One to Watch: Takashi Inui – I wasn’t a big fan of his return when it was initially announced due to Cerezo having a plethora of 30-somethings already on their books, but given the way this year’s squad is shaping up I feel he’ll have a vital role to play as an impact sub and dressing room leader. Doubtful: Takashi Inui, Hinata Kida, Adam Taggart, Đặng Văn Lâm (injury), Jean Patric (Visa) Notes: I like their winter transfer work a whole lot more than I did last year (see what I said about them in the Urawa section above), especially the acquisition of Nagasaki’s jewel-in-the-crown Seiya Maikuma (sorry for telling everyone how good he was Daniel!) The permanent appointment of Akio Kogiku who, according to Transfermarkt, has been at the club in one capacity or another since 1998 could be a masterstroke as he’s surely amassed the clout that will allow him to tap a few shoulders and break the news to several veterans that they’re no longer the automatic choices they once were.
Additional Note: Croatian defender Matej Jonjić is rumoured to be returning in the coming days. If that move happens he’ll be the main centre-back upon his arrival in the country with Nishio and Shindo battling it out to partner him. He’d also overtake Jean Patric as my choice for ‘best signing.’
Best Signing: Mitsuki Saito – Not a signing I really expected going into the transfer window, but a more than welcome addition to the Nerazzurri’s midfield ranks Biggest Loss: Kim Young-gwon / Yosuke Ideguchi – Neither were at their best in 2021 (a comment which could pretty much be applied to the majority of the squad), but both will be missed dearly by the Ao to Kuro faithful. One to Watch: Hiroto Yamami – I should probably have chosen him in the ‘best signing’ category, but thought he’d fit better here instead. Hopefully that worldy against Shimizu was just a taste of what’s to come as he’s set himself the target of scoring double digits this year. Doubtful: Jun Ichimori, Leandro Pereira (injury), Dawhan, Kwon Kyung-won (Visa) Notes: As close to a free-hit of a season as you’ll ever get as Gamba kantoku awaits Tomohiro Katanosaka, though that didn’t stop him heaping pressure on himself by setting 3rd as the target for this year. Gamba fans I’ve talked to say that top 8 is more realistic, especially with Kawasaki, Marinos, Kobe, Kashima and Urawa all looking particularly strong. To quote Celtic supporters, “trust the process,” Katanosaka is a man with a plan and that’s something that was sorely missing for the majority of 2021.
Best Signing: Takeru Kishimoto – A surprisingly difficult choice this one, as though regular readers will remember I picked out Kishimoto as someone to keep an eye on in my Scouting J1 article last autumn, I can’t help but feel there were more logical moves for both him and Shimizu to make. Granted the S-Pulse front office and I never appear to be on the same frequency when it comes to ideas on how to take the club forward. Biggest Loss: Hideki Ishige – I know he was at Okayama on loan at the end of last season, but his departure sums up, for me at least, the malaise at the Nihondaira. A once mighty powerhouse born out of the cradle of Japanese football now reduced to letting long-serving youth academy graduates leave for rival clubs while the powers-that-be continue to blindly spin the roulette wheel, trying in hope, more than expectation to find the coaches and players necessary to bring back the glory days. One to Watch: Yuito Suzuki – I’m sure you’ve all seen his wonder strike against Shonan, however, unfortunately that was one of only two goals he’s amassed in 63 J1 outings since turning pro in 2020. Imagine the heights regular contributions from him, in addition to Thiago Santana’s steady stream of goals, could take S-Pulse to. Doubtful: Renato Augusto, Akira Ibayashi, Takumi Kato, Kenta Nishizawa (injury) Notes: I realise I’ve been a bit harsh on S-Pulse above and it’s absolutely nothing personal as they’re an iconic and extremely likeable club, I just struggle to be overly positive when their front office keeps making baffling decisions. The Peter Cklamovski experiment was ditched in favour of the ultra-defensive Lotina brand of football and now they’ve opted for the man who came in to temporarily do a spot of firefighting at the end of both 2020 and 2021, the particularly tricky to say regardless if you go Japanese or western style, Hiroaki Hiraoka (or Hiraoka Hiroaki if you prefer). There’s loads of depth on the flanks, but any injury or departure down the central spine of the team (Gonda, Yoshinori Suzuki, Matsuoka and Thiago Santana) would sting badly.
Additional Notes: Reports out of South Korea suggest that S-Pulse have tabled a large bid for Ulsan Hyundai’s tall forward Oh Se-hun. On Paper the highly-rated 23 year old would be a quality addition, but it would also leave Shimizu with 7 foreign talents on their books. Do they never get the memo from the J. League about only being allowed 5 in your matchday squad?
Best Signing: Tomoya Koyamatsu – Big shoes to fill in attack, he’s coming off the back of a decent couple of seasons with Tosu and should quickly become a fan favourite at the Hitachidai. Biggest Loss: Cristiano – The now 35-year old club legend departs after 7 years with the Sunkings. Sure he may be past his prime, but having seen him perform in the flesh last year, he’s very much still got it and I’m certain he’ll tear up J2 with Nagasaki. One to Watch: Douglas – With the fearsome foursome of Olunga, Cristiano, Esaka and Segawa all gone, the goalscoring burden falls on the previously prolific, but perhaps slightly over-the-hill Douglas. Is there still enough fire there for one final hurrah before he rides off into the sunset? Notes: I believe it was Gabriele Anello who pointed out that 2021 saw the most managerial changes in J. League history, a good number of them appeared harsh when viewed from afar, but on the flip side of the coin, Kashiwa’s stubborn dedication to keeping Nelsinho in the hotseat continues to puzzle me. Of course the Brazilian is a legend in Kashiwa circles, however, he had 38 J1 games last season to work out his best eleven and formation, and never managed it. If he doesn’t know, then how am I supposed to? I’ve gone 4-2-3-1 below, but 3-4-2-1, 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 are all possible. I’m not saying it’ll actually happen, but they’ll surely be a popular pick for big team who could go down this year.
Best Signing: Ryota Nagaki – The return of the prodigal son was an easy choice here, he’ll bring skill and more importantly a wealth of experience to help shepherd along Bellmare’s exciting crop of youngsters. Biggest Loss: Mitsuki Saito – I know that selecting both Ishige and Saito as the biggest loss for their respective clubs may come across as extreme Gamba bias (especially given Saito was on loan at Rubin Kazan in 2021), but hear me out, how often do Shonan come through a winter transfer window with all their prized assets still in place? Hata, Tanaka and Hiraoka are still there, leaving me with the rare predicament of struggling to find a departed player Shonan will really miss this year. One to Watch: Satoshi Tanaka – When I saw that Takuji Yonemoto had moved to Shonan on loan and Tanaka still hadn’t been confirmed as a Bellmare player for 2022, I felt sure we were less than 24 hours away from witnessing his unveiling at the Toyota Stadium, but alas it was not to be and he’ll continue developing down on the Shonan coast, for now at least, whether that’s as a holding midfielder or centre-back remains to be seen. Notes: This is Satoshi Yamaguchi’s first full campaign at the helm and it’ll be interesting to observe what tactical alterations, if any, he makes. As you can see below, there are a number of players of similar abilities competing for spots across the field which can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. I’ve tried my hardest to cram Tanaka, Nagaki and Yonemoto into the same lineup, Yamaguchi may have other ideas. They were the best defensive team in the bottom half last year and with the business they’ve done since should be even stronger now. My concerns are at the other end, they accrued a league high 16 draws last season and joint top scorers Wellington and Naoki Yamada only managed 5 apiece, there’s nothing to suggest they’ll be any more prolific in 2022.
Best Signing: Ricardo Graça – Again, hands up, I don’t know a whole lot about him, but the rest of Júbilo’s transfer business hasn’t been much to write home about and although Kentaro Oi has given the club years of good service, promotion back to J1 should very much be the signal to put him out to pasture, the capture of Graça allows the club to do just that. Biggest Loss: Lukian – A huge blow to the side’s attack and also their collective psyche to lose such an important player to a team, in Fukuoka, that despite far out-performing Júbilo on the field in 2021, would have been viewed as a step-down for the majority of the clubs’ respective histories. One to Watch: Yasuhito Endo – Gamba let Endo go in mid-2020 as despite his passing and vision still being top drawer, the veteran (who’s the same age as Steven Gerrard and Xavi, don’t forget) couldn’t get around the park like he used to. We’ll have an answer on how right or wrong that decision was very soon. Doubtful: Dudu, Ricardo Graça (Visa) Notes: An extremely impressive promotion campaign followed up by the appointment of highly-rated Kofu boss Akira Ito had things looking rather spritely for a time in Iwata. However, the club don’t really appear to have backed the new kantoku enough in the transfer market. Kenyu Sugimoto could work, but I wouldn’t bet on it, there are question marks surrounding when their 2 new marquee Brazilians can get into the country and long-standing issues related to a chronic lack of pace throughout the squad haven’t been sufficiently addressed over the winter.
Additional Note: Brazilian forward Vinícius Araújo, now a free agent after failing to agree terms on a new deal with Yamagata, is a possible addition before the season begins. He’d take over the centre-forward berth from Sugimoto should he decide to make the Yamaha Stadium his home for 2022.
Best Signing: Rikito Inoue – Despite the club making a number of winter signings, few of them are clearly better than the options already in place. Inoue, who’s moved east from Okayama with Dutchman Jordy Buijs travelling in the opposite direction, is the pick of the bunch for me. Readers of my Scouting J2 article will know I’m a big fan of his and with Shogo Asada still onboard, Sanga have two of the top centre-backs from J2 2021 in their ranks, albeit neither of them has a single minute of J1 action to their name. Biggest Loss: Jordy Buijs – His departure came as something of a surprise and I’ve no doubt that he’ll continue to prove himself to be one of the best defenders in J2 with Fagiano this season. One to Watch: Peter Utaka – 38 years young when the season kicks off, if he can keep banging them in then Kyoto could (could, not will – please remember) be this year’s Fukuoka. Doubtful: Naoto Misawa, Tomoya Wakahara (injury), Michael Woud (injury/Visa) Notes: Reasons to be cheerful; they’ve got a coach who knows what it takes to survive in J1 and a squad with a decent sprinkling of top tier experience, especially when compared with other recent newly promoted sides. Reasons to be fearful; the murky goalkeeping situation, a lack of J1 experience at centre-back and central midfield and a host of Hail Mary signings that could all fall flat. The rather unorthodox Genki Omae may be the most likely to deliver from a list of names which also includes Mendes, Hisashi Appiah Tawiah, Martinus, Ryogo Yamasaki and Yuta Toyokawa.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you and congratulations! I hope this guide has been useful for you, look out for plenty more posts from me throughout the year and enjoy the 2022 J1 season whoever you support!
Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu 2021 J1 Season Round 33 Panasonic Stadium Suita Saturday 23 October 2021 Kick Off: 17:00 (JST)
Only six games remain in the 2021 edition of J1 and while it might be a slight stretch to call them six cup finals for Gamba, taking three points from this crucial encounter at home to Sagan Tosu could prove to be pivotal in their quest for survival. Fresh from a battling 1-1 draw away to fierce rivals Urawa, the Nerazzurri will be hoping to extend their impressive 3-1-0 record against Kyushu sides in 2021 this Saturday. Visitors Sagan Tosu currently occupy seventh spot on the ladder and remain well on course for a highest league placing since 2014 (5th) despite a recent wobble. Following a 4-0 home defeat by Yokohama F. Marinos, a scoreline quite flattering to Kevin Muscat’s men, Sagan have taken just 8 points from a pretty lenient run of 6 fixtures and from the outside, at least, it appears that perhaps the mid-season departures of Daiki Matsuoka and Daichi Hayashi, in addition to the ongoing ‘power harassment’ investigation into kantoku Kim Myung-hwi have taken their toll. It would certainly be natural if they had one eye on what will likely be an eventful off-season in one of Japan’s normally more sedate regions. Word of warning though, one might have been forgiven for saying similar things about Sapporo, the previous visitors to Panasonic Stadium, and we all saw how that game panned out.
Saturday afternoon saw Gamba make it four straight games with over 20 shots faced and following his heroics to keep Urawa at bay, Masaaki Higashiguchi is averaging a league high 3.5 saves per match. Indeed, his display at the Saitama Stadium surely put to bed any lingering suspicions that Kosei Tani would return to Suita in 2022 to challenge for the number one jersey. At Panasonic Stadium, the Nerazzurri really need to bridge the gap between actual goals scored and xG For, it’s also worth noting that their last 6 league goals (home and away) have all come from set pieces, a figure that includes 3 penalties. Set plays were a weak point earlier in the year, but now that they are bearing fruit, other sources of goals have dried up. At the other end of the park, the 5-1 humbling at the hands of Sapporo brought goals conceded and xG Against much closer to equilibrium. The Ao to Kuro are clearly far more comfortable set up on the back foot ready to soak up pressure on road trips rather than playing it out from defence in the face of an intense high press at home. I’ll get into tactics and the composition of the starting eleven in greater detail in the ‘Gamba Osaka’ section later on, but it really doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that if the Masanobu Matsunami / Takashi Kiyama double act is to steer the ship to safety then the midfield have to start providing their backline with a level of protection they haven’t had in recent weeks, and they must start doing it from the opening whistle this Saturday.
Tosu may not be the richest side in J1 or have the most illustrious names on their books, but that doesn’t mean they can’t outwork their opponents and to that end they lead the league in distance covered per game, averaging 9.5 km more than Gamba for every match played. The team from Saga Prefecture are having an excellent year on the field, vastly exceeding the expectations of the majority of the wider J League fan community and probably even themselves. If I had to identify one achilles heel for them, then it would be their away form. They’ve lost just twice in the league at the Ekimae Real Estate Stadium in 2021, 1-0 in the reverse fixture with Gamba and 4-0 against Marinos, which leaves them averaging 2 points per game in Saga versus only 1.25 on their travels and a glance at the first stats table just below reveals that all but one of their key performance indicators are down when it comes to away fixtures in comparison with their overall total. So, we have a team who struggle to be as effective when separated from the comforts of home taking on a side that have suffered time and again in front of their own fans this season, something has to give.
Head to Head
Takashi Usami scored Gamba’s first league goal at the fifth time of asking in the Nerazzurri’s 1-0 win at Tosu back in April. His angled drive from the edge of the box ended a 428 minute goal drought to settle a dull encounter where Gamba’s 0.29 xG For was a season low while at the same time being the best defensive performance of the year from their hosts, which I’m sure provided scant consolation to them given the final outcome.
Last year, veteran Kazuma Watanabe’s 99th and 100th J1 goals in the first half of Gamba’s visit to Saga earned his side the three points in spite of Renzo Lopez’s late, late effort for Tosu. At the other end of the career spectrum, young Ryunosuke Sagara found the back of a J1 net for the first time in the reverse fixture before Patric buried a deserved equaliser past Park Il-gyu in the second half and Shoji Toyama spurned a couple of late chances to win it for the hosts.
I have some fond memories of games between these two down the years as I took in Gamba’s final ever senior game at the old Expo 70’ Commemorative Stadium, a 3-1 victory over Tosu in an Emperor’s Cup quarter-final back in 2015, a competition the Nerazzurri, of course, went on to win. After a spell living in Kanto, I returned to Kansai in 2018 and my first J1 game at Panasonic Stadium was a 3-0 triumph for Levir Culpi’s Gamba over Sagan. A cagey affair was lit up by Shu Kurata’s spectacular effort in the 68th minute with Hwang Ui-jo and Matheus Jesus adding gloss to the scoreline late on (that turned out to be the much maligned and long forgotten Matheus Jesus’ only goal in the blue and black of Gamba).
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the Nerazzurri haven’t lost a home league game to Kyushu opposition since 2013 (2-1 vs V-Varen Nagasaki in J2). How their supporters would love a repeat of that 2018 result against Tosu to keep their run of fine form against visitors from the most westerly of the Japanese home islands going.
It was quite the finale against Urawa, right? The look on Shunya Suganuma’s face when the referee pointed to the spot, after a VAR delay spanning several minutes, screamed this is the kind of thing that happens to teams who go down. However, agony soon turned to delight when Takuya Iwanami (a man who’ll surely never have to pay for a pint in north Osaka again) decided to even things up and allow Patric the chance to bury his 9th league goal of the year and 19th in all competitions. I have a few observations and comments from that game which I’ll lay out in bullet point fashion below.
* There was far more fight in the team than in previous outings. Reds came out all guns blazing, especially in the opening quarter, but Gamba stood firm and played some decent stuff at times.
* The back 4 and Higashiguchi (especially) did what they needed to do, but were not helped out by those ahead of them. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt a tad nervous upon hearing that Sato and Suganuma had been named as the starting centre-backs, however, this was balanced out by the absence of Kasper Junker and his replacement Takahiro Akimoto’s first-half injury. When called upon the back five were generally solid, but Gamba’s midfield quartet were regularly bypassed and overrun by their Reds counterparts. Shu Kurata on the right-wing, normally very astute when it comes to protecting his full-back was pulled out of position time and time again allowing Koya Yuruki and Ryosuke Yamanaka to double team Ryu Takao. And while we’re critiquing Gamba’s midfield, have a quick look at my predicted lineups for both teams down below and see the difference in goal contributions from the respective midfields, it’s night and day.
* My penultimate point on Saturday’s game is the surprise (shock?) inclusion of Haruto Shirai in the starting eleven. Although he spent several seasons being labelled exclusively as a centre-forward in the yearly meikan, I think I watched Shirai play right wing about 15 times before ever seeing him up front and frankly, in my opinion he never showed anything with the U23s to suggest that he was a J1 level player. Yet there he was, thrown into the starting lineup on Saturday following a year out of the game because of knee surgery. It was reported he was selected ahead of Patric and Tsukamoto on merit, not due to injury, most likely for a) the element of surprise, b) his pace should have proven useful in closing down Reds defenders as they knocked the ball around at the back and c) Urawa’s ace centre-back Alexander Scholz would probably have preferred to face the more direct and physical Patric than the trickier, pacier Shirai. The experiment ended at half-time and it’ll be interesting to see if the Gamba power brokers give it another go this weekend.
* Finally, one real bright spark for the Nerazzurri on Saturday was the return of heart-throb / pretty handy footballer when he’s fit, Yuya Fukuda, after 3 months on the sidelines. Replacing Wellington Silva midway through the second period, he had me on my feet in the 84th minute when I thought his low shot had crept inside Shusaku Nishikawa’s near post, it wasn’t to be, but he was a ray of sunshine amidst the Saitama gloom. Fukuda did an interview with Yahoo News that was published on Sunday (17 October) in which he stated that the hamstring injury he picked up during the ACL group stage wasn’t too serious, but he suffers from chronic pain in his left ankle and that delayed his return. Surgery is an option down the line, however, for the time being he and the club will try and manage the situation. It was great to see him back on the field once more and let’s hope it’s onwards and upwards from here. Team News
A bit quieter in here than usual which is good news for all of a Gamba persuasion. As reported last week Genta Miura, Yuji Ono and Leandro Pereira are working through personalised training programs and it’s as yet unknown when they’ll re-join full training (pictorial evidence from training on Tuesday suggests Pereira might have re-joined already). Theoretically any, or all, of the trio could make the matchday squad on Saturday, though more likely as a substitute rather than a starter. Gen Shoji is still missing for reasons only given as ‘poor physical condition’ [that’s a translation] and reserve goalie Jun Ichimori’s year is done after undergoing hamstring surgery. Elsewhere, I’m unsure whether Tiago Alves has been injured or not, though I’m inclined to believe he had a small problem. Significantly he was spotted alongside his fellow Brazilians in training on Tuesday so he should be good to go if called upon…and that’s a wrap for an unusually brief ‘Gamba Team News’ section…phew! Predicted Lineups and Stats
Coming off a creditable 13th place finish in 2020 and without a whole lot of cash in their coffers, Tosu were widely considered to be more of a relegation candidate than an ACL contender prior to this season commencing. However, Kim Myung-hwi’s side have taken everyone by surprise, not only because of their results, but also due to the quality of play they’ve produced at times. A solid rearguard superbly marshalled for most of the year (I’m ignoring recent tomfoolery) by Park Il-gyu and Eduardo has laid the foundation for attacking talents such as Yuta Higuchi and Keiya Sento to flourish further forward. Although ostensibly a 3-5-2 team, Tosu can generally be seen in a 5-3-2 system while defending and a 4-4-2, with the left centre-back shifting to left back and right wing back dropping to right back ,when they are in possession. Their on-field success has come at a price with Daiki Matsuoka (Shimizu) and Daichi Hayashi (Sint Truidense in Belgium) departing in the summer, architect of the current project, Kim Myung-hwi, may also be gone come 2022. I don’t want to comment too much regarding the ongoing power harassment investigation at the club, however, I will say that the J League coming in to run an independent inquiry feels a little bit like when one of your defenders accidentally handles the ball in the box and the referee doesn’t give a penalty initially, but then puts his finger to his ear for a prolonged period of time before sprinting over to the VAR monitor….where am I going with this long winded monologue? Well in both instances, you kind of know what the outcome is going to be well in advance of the final, official announcement. With all that in mind and not wanting to get caught on their heels, Tosu have been one of the quickest J1 teams out of the blocks when it comes to announcing new recruits for 2022. Five university rookies, centre-back Taiga Son (Rissho University), wing-backs Shunta Araki (Komazawa U) and Kyo Sato (Ryutsu Keizai U) as well as midfielder Taichi Kikuchi (also Ryutsu Keizai U) and forward Yukihito Kajiya (Kokushikan U) will call Saga home from next season, while goalkeeper Keisuke Fukaya will arrive (surely) as a backup from Kanto League side Shinagawa CC. With Sagan’s recent record of polishing hidden gems, expect at least a couple of that bunch to develop into pretty handy top tier talents.
Bright young thing Fuchi Honda is currently sidelined with a hamstring problem and it’s uncertain if he’ll make it back onto the field again this year while the scarcely used Yosuke Yuzawa is definitely done for the season after undergoing knee surgery. Summer recruit from Kashima Antlers, Kei Koizumi has missed the past 2 matches though I haven’t seen an injury reported anywhere. Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.
The summer transfer window “slammed shut,” or closed gently as it tends to do here in Japan, last Friday (August 13), so I thought this would be a good time to have a look at the lineups we are likely to see J1 teams field from now until December.
A quick reminder that you can always check out my regularly updated J1 and J2 databases here,
Before I get into it, here is a rough guide to some of the parameters I’ve used.
* Teams are listed in the order they finished the 2020 season, ie the order you’ll find them in all the 2021 yearbooks. * The lineups below are not necessarily the ones you’ll see next week, more an amalgamation of the players expected to feature most frequently between now and the end of the season. * Where genuine competition exists for a starting spot, I’ve listed alternatives below the projected starter. * The injured / unavailable list only includes players who I feel would have a genuine chance of starting if they were fit. Regular readers will know finding information about JLeague injuries can be a thankless task, so I’ve done my best, but can’t promise it’s 100% accurate.
Finally, if you don’t already, please give @Michael_Master a follow on Twitter. The use of the word ‘Master’ in his handle is by no means an overstatement, the man is truly the oracle when it comes to Japanese transfers and this blog post wouldn’t have been possible without his updates. Thanks man!
Comments Yes Mitoma and Tanaka are gone, and yes Kashiwa have just become the first team in 40 J1 games to keep them scoreless, but take a look at the lineup below and you’ll surely agree this is still the strongest side in the division. A settled back 6 and plenty of options in attack plus rivals either losing players or being engaged in the process of rebuilding, makes me believe they’ll overcome ACL distractions to lift a fourth title in five years. Injured/Unavailable: 10 Ryota Oshima
Comments Long time readers of this blog will know the trouble I’ve had predicting Gamba starting lineups recently, though I should point out in my defence, I’m generally more accurate at it than DAZN! With Miura, Kim and Shoji fit, 3-4-2-1 seems like it’ll be the order of the day for most remaining games this season. From 2022, however, it’d be good to see 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 getting an outing, especially if Hiroto Yamami can replicate anything like the form he did against Shimizu on Friday. Injured/Unavailable: 14 Yuya Fukuda, 15 Yosuke Ideguchi, 27 Ryu Takao, 28 Wellington Silva
Comments The arrival of Polish international Jakub Świerczok is like manna from heaven for the Grampus support who have been starved of a genuine centre-forward since Jô’s acrimonious departure at the start of 2020. Captain Yuichi Maruyama is out for the year and the slight defensive wobble caused by his absence, in addition to an inability to create presentable openings for their attackers has seen Nagoya slip back from the highs of last year and the early part of this campaign. Still very much in the hunt for 3rd place, their new number 40 will have a big say in whether they equal last season’s final ranking or not. Injured/Unavailable: 3 Yuichi Maruyama, 9 Ryogo Yamasaki, 44 Mu Kanazaki
Comments The problem with a having a club legend in charge, as both Osaka clubs have found out this year, is that it’s not easy to sever ties with them when things head south. The further away Cerezo get from the defensive stability of the Lotina-era, the more vulnerable they look at the back, while at the other end of the field, a succession of niggling injuries to key personnel has set-back Culpi’s plans to revitalise their attack. The Cherry Blossoms don’t really do mid-table finishes and have only 1 win and 11 points from their last 15 league outings…they couldn’t….could they? Injured/Unavailable: 3 Ryosuke Shindo
Comments Things have generally meandered along under Naoki Soma, just as they did under predecessors Zago and Oiwa and on the back of 3 straight wins, the Ibaraki giants are firmly in the picture for 2022 ACL qualification which is really a bare minimum for a club of this size and prestige. Box-to-box midfielder Pituca seems to be a ready-made long term replacement for Leo Silva, but the Antlers faithful must have concerns over how long they can keep hold of talented youngsters like, Araki, Machida and Tsunemoto. Key forward Everaldo has incredibly only scored once in J1 this season and seems to be dropping deep and into wider areas too often, though with Tomoya Inukai raking in goals as he did against Shonan last week, it doesn’t appear to be hindering the team too much. Injured/Unavailable: 22 Rikuto Hirose
Comments A very streaky team this year, and I’ll discuss them in greater detail during my preview of their upcoming clash with Gamba, Gasmen supporters have seen their side go on both 5 game winning and losing runs in the first half of the season. Boss Kenta Hasegawa and playmaker Leandro burying the hatchet, for now, has helped make them a much more potent force going forward which has somewhat papered over the widening cracks at the back. Injured/Unavailable: 9 Diego Oliveira, 14 Takuya Uchida, 33 Akihiro Hayashi, 37 Hotaka Nakamura
Comments I’ve already gone pretty deep on the J Talk Podcast regarding my issues with the Reysol front office’s performance in recent years. That, plus the winter departure of Olunga has really set them back this campaign in my opinion. Their season stats and recent results indicate a push up the table might be on the cards during the second half of the year. A bloated squad, constant tinkering with the team’s shape and a never-ending succession of injuries suggest otherwise. Injured/Unavailable: 7 Hidekazu Otani, 11 Matheus Savio, 33 Hayato Nakama, 39 Yuta Kamiya
Comments Sanfre have reverted to the tried and trusted 3-4-2-1 after an ill-advised dabble with a back 4 at the beginning of the season. They appear to have a surplus of quality centre-backs, but there’s now a gaping Hayao Kawabe shaped hole in the middle of the park. More cutting edge is required up front, but with the new stadium project sucking in resources, they lack the funds to adequately replace Leandro Pereira and it looks like they’ll be left relying on youth team products, university graduates and promising J2 players in the coming years.
Yokohama F. Marinos
Comments 10 points from 4 games in quick-fire succession marks an excellent introduction to Japanese football for Kevin Muscat. The Australian head coach must have been delighted with Léo Ceará’s efforts in recent weeks, putting his hand up as the man to fill Ado Onaiwu’s big boots up front. They are now breathing right down the necks of Kanagawa rivals Kawasaki and we have a genuine title race on our hands. Their devastating attack is beyond reproach, but the old defensive frailties which held them back in 2018 and 2020 have been on display since returning from their summer break. Gamba and Oita, two of the weaker attacks in the division, let them off the hook, but I have a nagging doubt that they are going to give too many chances, to the wrong team, on the wrong day and that’s what’s ultimately going to cost them top spot.
Urawa Red Diamonds
Comments The plethora of new talent in the arrivals lounge has made Reds one of the most talked about J1 sides during the summer months. The shape I’ve set out below was not the one used by Ricardo Rodriguez on Saturday night, however, I feel he may lean towards it later in the year. Although Kobe seem to act as a bit of lightning rod for online criticism about big spending, dress it up any way you like, Reds summer spree is a naked attempt at fixing problems using cold, hard cash. The Saitama outfit mean business, they may not reach the summit this year, but, they’ll definitely be a team to keep your eye on in the coming years. **Please note – on August 15 Reds announced Kasper Junker had undergone surgery on a cheekbone injury, I expect to see him back wearing some Tsuneyasu Miyamoto-style facial protection in the next couple of weeks so kept him in the lineup below.**
Comments After a decent run in the top flight since 2019, it seems like the curtain is coming down on their J1 journey, for now. Trinita possess the weakest attack in the division, scoring an anaemic 0.63 goals per game, see misses in the 15th and 48th minutes of their eventual 5-1 drubbing at Marinos on Sunday for clear evidence of where the issues lie. Former Gamba assistant Tomohiro Katanosaka, now in his 6th year in charge, has recently looked at alternatives to his favoured 3-4-2-1, including starting with a back 4 vs Marinos, but I feel like he will return to type soon as the squad is built to play with 3 centre-backs. Goya and Masuyama have come in to bolster the attack, but they still lack a proven source of goals. Onaiwu, Fujimoto and Tanaka have all previously departed for brighter lights elsewhere and it costs money to replace that kind of talent, money, that sadly, Trinita just don’t have. Injured/Unavailable: 15 Yuta Koide
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Comments Petrovic’s 100mph attacking football style is locked and loaded at the Sapporo Dome and at the moment it seems to be bearing fruit. As I write this, Consadole have just seen off FC Tokyo in impressive fashion, having dispatched Urawa with even greater ease the week before. Not the richest, or flashiest of J1 outfits, but their in-depth scouting of Japan’s varsity competitions, allied with solid youth development has proven crucial in steering them in an upwards trajectory over the past few months.
Comments With severe financial difficulties, a manager who’s just returned from a 3 week suspension while an internal power harassment investigation was conducted and 2 of their brightest talents freshly headed out the door, it’s amazing how settled things still appear at Tosu. Matsuoka and Hayashi are now yesterday’s men, but replacements Shirasaki and Koizumi from Kashima are thoroughbred pros who will help steady the ship. ACL qualification may be just beyond them this year, and that’s a real shame as the vultures will surely be circling the likes of Higuchi, Yamashita, Sento and Eduardo in the winter, making a repeat of this season’s heroics all the tougher. Injured/Unavailable: 23 Fuchi Honda
Comments It’s worth remembering that Kobe have never finished higher than 7th in J1, so assuming they can get big-name summer recruits Muto and Osako integrated quickly then they’ll be well on their way to achieving a first ever ACL qualification through league performance. Bojan is a bit of an unknown quantity these days, but J1 coach of the month for July Miura has built a solid foundation and crucially has gotten, the high profile stars, the undercard, and the youngsters all pulling together in the same direction, hats off to him for that. Injured/Unavailable: 1 Daiya Maekawa, 29 Lincoln
Comments A mass recruitment process over the summer has given them a glimmer of hope, and they are now unbeaten in their last 4 games, but is it all a bit too little, too late? Getting my old EPL 40 points to avoid relegation calculator out, Yokohama FC still require 25 points from their 16 remaining fixtures to reach that mythical milestone. Yusuke Matsuo is in the side once more and a defence that was conceding at a rate of 2.32 goals per match has now kept back-to-back clean sheets thanks to the arrival of Brazilian defender Gabriel. If his compatriots, Felipe Vizeu and Saulo Mineiro, can have a similar impact at the other end of the pitch, then maybe, just maybe they could be on for the greatest of great escapes. Injured/Unavailable: 8 Kosuke Saito, 23 Yota Maejima, 30 Kohei Tezuka
Comments Their summer transfer business looks good, but I said that about their winter recruitment and it’s not really moved them very far up the standings. Similar to post-Ferguson/pre-Solskjær Manchester United, a hard-hitting critique might say that constantly flip-flopping between managers, players and playing styles is hindering the club as it seeks to move forward. Relying on goals from set-pieces and the physicality of Thiago Santana might bring some degree of success, but it feels like had they given Cklamovski this group of players, then he could have achieved much more. Injured/Unavailable: 10 Carlinhos Junior, 18 Elsinho, 20 Keita Nakamura, 22 Renato Augusto, 50 Yoshinori Suzuki
Comments Sendai are currently competing in their 12th consecutive J1 campaign, for context that’s a better run than, Gamba, Cerezo, Kobe, Nagoya, FC Tokyo or Kashiwa have had, but it appears likely that this era of relative success is drawing to a close and they may have to regroup and rebuild in J2 next year. 18 goals in 24 games while conceding double that figure tells its own story and though there have been bright sparks in the shape of university rookies Mase and Kato down the right, Foguinho in the middle and some recent substitute cameos from Oti and Felippe Cardoso, in the cold light of day, is it really inaccurate to suggest that the lineup I’ve set out below looks more like a team sitting 5th or 6th in J2 rather than one built to survive in the rarefied air of J1? Injured/Unavailable: 8 Yoshiki Matsushita
Comments After finishing bottom in 2020 with no relegation in place, Bin Ukishima deserves a bit of credit for improving things this year, making his side much more resolute and hard to beat. That said, despite gaining credible draws with the likes of Kawasaki, Marinos and Kobe as well as upsetting Reds in Saitama, they are currently on an ominous slide and it looks as though it’s between them and Tokushima, who they faced in the 2019 promotion/relegation playoff, to see who fills the uppermost spot in the drop zone. They experimented with a double-volante system against Nagoya, and that’s something we may see more of going forward, although I have them lined up in their tried and tested shape below. Sugioka looks to be a good addition, while keeping wide-man Taiga Hata fit so he can supply the bombs for Wellington may be the difference between J1 and J2 football for Bellmare next year. Injured/Unavailable: 30 Sosuke Shibata
Comments Tokushima’s victory at home to Gamba gave them the blueprint for how to attack the second half of the year. No messing around with the ball at the back, no possession for possession’s sake, quick counters culminating in dynamic running and interchanges between then front 4 topped off with more shots on goal and hopefully more points on the board. Kawasaki-loanee Taisei Miyashiro has certainly enhanced his reputation with a series of strong performances in a variety of positions along the front line, while right-back Takeru Kishimoto and number 10 Masaki Watai will draw many an admiring glance from rival teams’ scouting departments should they keep up their recent form. Keep your eyes peeled for young forward Taiyo Nishino also, he’s just starting to break into the team in his first year out of Kyoto Tachibana High School. Injured/Unavailable: Kohei Uchida
Comments An excellent start to the season has them sitting in a place of relative comfort few predicted at the beginning of the year. Goalkeeper Masaaki Murakami has won over early doubters (myself included) with a string of good performances, the abrasive Douglas Grolli has been an excellent defensive lynchpin while the quality of deliveries from Jordy Croux and, in particular, irrepressible Swede Emil Salomonsson, have been second to none. In contrast to Kyushu cousins Oita, who came into J1 with a bang and were then looted of their best talent, the average age and playing style of most of Avispa’s squad suggests that they may not have to fend off too many suitors in upcoming transfer windows. One exception is team captain Hiroyuki Mae, and it will be interesting to see how his partnership with new recruit Shun Nakamura develops. Injured/Unavailable: Bruno Mendes
Thanks again everyone for supporting my recent articles. As I posted on Twitter a few weeks back, currently other areas in my life have to take priority over my blog writing, and for 2021, at least, my Gamba match previews will need to stay on the backburner. In some ways I feel like I took them as far as I could last season and at the beginning of this year, I felt like I was rehashing old material, please let me know if you agree or disagree.
With all that out of the way, my latest post provides a rundown of all 20 J1 teams’ matchday selections for every league match so far in 2021, presented in an (hopefully) easy to understand, at a glance style. I’ve also tagged on some additional comments and basic team stats correct to 18 April 2021.
A big shout out to everyone who has gotten in touch with me recently across various mediums. Actually I never envisaged my blog would get so many comments and my Twitter notifications are not really built to handle the traffic I’ve been getting. I recently noticed some people had left me comments weeks ago and I’d missed them, I genuinely try to reply to everyone who asks clean questions, so if I haven’t responded to your question / comment, I’m truly sorry.
Comment: The juggernaut has continued steamrollering opponents just as it did last season. Surely the best side in the history of the JLeague.
Comment: How to fix a problem like Gamba? A Nagoya-esque defence, but can’t buy a goal at the other end. What’s to blame, the Covid cluster, overperforming xG last year, an overly defensive mindset they can’t shake off? Answers on a postcard to Tsuneyasu Miyamoto please.
Comment: You thought they couldn’t defend any better than last season, you thought wrong. If I were a gambler I’d have plenty on Mitch Langerak and co. to beat their clean sheet record set last year. How much will missing out on Kasper Junker to Urawa haunt them with their current paucity of centre-forward options seemingly denying us a genuine tussle for the title between Grampus and Frontale.
Comments: They’ve surprised many by performing at a similar level to 2020. With Taggart and Tiago almost ready to play and Sakamoto and Harakawa due back soon, a push for the top 4 isn’t out of the question.
Comments: Although an Antlers legend, the way Naoki Soma’s spell in charge of Machida ended up poses some serious questions about how adept he’ll be at replacing Zago in the Kashima hotseat. Goals from Everaldo and instant impacts from Pituca and Caike are badly needed.
Comments: Injuries, rumoured dressing room discontent and a series of patchy results don’t make for happy start to the campaign for the capital side. Bruno Uvini is the great hope to steady things at the back, but it should be remembered he hasn’t kicked a ball in anger in over 6 months.
Comments: They seem to have course corrected slightly with hard fought 1-0s in their past 2 games and the Brazilian cavalry is due to arrive soon. Quite how they keep their 9 overseas players happy, and what effect their second Covid cluster in under a year will have on them is yet to be seen.
Comments: Look set to hover around upper mid-table just as they did last time round. Morishima and Kawabe have started the season well, but they lack top quality support in attack. Defensively, Yuta Imazu has been a decent find, though they still need to find themselves a pair of genuine full-backs.
Comments: Haven’t lost since the opening day, but a rather kind run of fixtures since round 3 means question marks remain over whether they are genuine ACL contenders of not. Urawa Red Diamonds
Comments: Two poundings in the space of three games at the hands of Kanagawa heavyweights Frontale and Marinos threatened to scuttle the Rodriguez project before it had the chance to take off, but they’ve bounced back well. We may come to look on Reds’ 2021 the same way Marinos supporters think of Ange Postecoglou’s debut campaign in 2018.
Comments: Six defeats in a row with just a single goal scored in the process, I’m sure there’s a joke about a famous Tom Petty song here somewhere. They need to hope they’ve hit the jackpot with their two soon-to-arrive Brazilians.
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Comments: Houston, we may have a problem. Dropping points like confetti and with 4 teams going down this year they’re rapidly finding themselves being drawn into a relegation dogfight.
Comments: Prior to Sunday’s win at Grampus, some of the gloss was starting to come off their excellent start to the year with 4 failures to score in 5 outings. Kim Myung-hwi’s side are made of sterner stuff though, and while it’s likely they’ll regress a touch over the course of the season, a top ten finish remains a distinct possibility.
Comments: A genuine ACL contender based on early season form. How they mesh the returning Iniesta and newly arrived duo of Lincoln and Masika with their current high performing starters will be key.
Comments: They tick all the boxes for a side about to take the drop, poor attack, woeful defence, no idea of best lineup, symbolic change of head-coach. I’m not usually so blunt, but take this to the bank, they’ll be in J2 next season.
Comments: Some had tipped them to finish in the top half this year, but as things stand it looks like the 3-1 win at Kashima on the opening day was something of a mirage. Thiago Santana has disappointed and Lotina has run into the same problem as a number of his predecessors, a complete lack of consistency amongst the players at his disposal.
Comments: Still haven’t won a home game since 2019 and that’s a stat they’ll have to alter fast if they want to avoid a return to J2 for the first time in 12 years.
Comments: Going under the radar a touch, but considering they finished bottom last year, their performances to date in 2021 have shown marked improvement. No defeats and 4 clean sheets in a tough looking run of 5 fixtures up to last weekend suggest they mean business and could defy the odds to remain in J1 next term.
Comments: The project looks to be running under budget and ahead of schedule. New head-coach Poyatos is now in the country and working with the players face-to-face and at present they appear set for a decent year. Having, The Alan Parsons Project’s Sirius and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on their pre-match playlist makes me enjoy their games that little bit more.
Comments: The support inside the Best Denki Stadium is the thing that’s caught my eye most about Fukuoka this year. Their seems to be a genuine feel-good factor around the place which is helping to bring out performances that many, including myself, doubted they were capable of.
Thanks again to everyone who read, liked, shared and commented on my J1 and J2 Predicted Lineups posts that I put out about a month before the 2021 season started. The response to them was truly phenomenal and frankly blew me away, so much in fact, that I’ve been re-thinking how I should structure my blog (I’m always open to new ideas, so please tell me what you want!)
The J1 Predicted Lineups post is still getting a fair bit of traffic even though it is a bit out of date, so I thought I’d do some more research and update things a little. Included in this post is a short comment on teams’ performances in the opening month of the season, a list of currently unavailable players (as of 28 March 2021) and a full rundown of the lineups and formations used by each J1 side over their past 5 league fixtures.
A few qualifiers, the team comments don’t take into consideration this weekend’s Levain Cup games as personally I don’t think a whole lot can be read into them, for example if Tosu and Sapporo start to show the form they displayed yesterday in J1 matches, then I’ll revise my opinion of both sides. Secondly, regarding injuries, some of the players I’ve named as unavailable haven’t been officially confirmed as being injured. In certain instances I’ve assumed they are out due to being absent from the matchday squad for a prolonged period of time or being subbed off early in a game and missing subsequent fixtures.
Thanks again for your support and please enjoy!
Comments: Have started the season in ominous form, only dropping points at much-improved Kobe. What’s more, Oshima and Noborizato are still to return and strengthen them while João Schmidt almost doesn’t feel like a new signing, he’s bedded in so quickly. Unavailable: Kyohei Noborizato, Ryota Oshima (injured)
Comments: Only one league match played so not much to discuss. Re-scheduling six fixtures later in the year may see the return of the more defensive 4-4-2 set-up used last season and hopefully the end of the Onose at right-back experiment with Takao returning to take his rightful place. Unavailable: Jun Ichimori, Haruto Shirai, Yuji Ono (injured), Wellington Silva (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: Their defensive strength means they are Kawasaki’s closest challengers despite having no real goal-scorer. Yamasaki has done alright, but shouldn’t be starting for a title contender and Kakitani has shown nothing so far. Inagaki looks like an early MVP contender, Soma has improved, however Morishita seems to be 3rd choice right back at the moment, perhaps he’s too attack-minded for Ficcadenti, imagine how good Tosu would be if he was still there! Unavilable: Mu Kanazaki (injured)
Comments: Higher up the league than many would have expected, but the fixture list has been pretty kind to them so far. Okubo’s goals have been a Godsend in the absence of Taggart while Nishio has slotted in well alongside Seko at the back. Recent injuries to Harakawa, Sakamoto and Takagi will really test their squad depth. Unavailable: Riki Harakawa, Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, Ryuji Sawakami, Toshiyuki Takagi, Hirotaka Tameda, Koji Toriumi (injured), Adam Taggart (Visa/quarantine), Đặng Văn Lâm, Tiago (Visa/contract status unclear)
Comments: The Ibaraki side have made their traditional slow start and will be desperate to get Brazilian midfield duo, Diego Pituca and Arthur Caike on the field as soon as possible. It’s at the back where most of the problems seem to lie, the full-back berths are still up for grabs and none of the centre-backs have covered themselves in glory. Unavailable: Shoma Doi, Ryuji Izumi (injured), Arthur Caike, Diego Pituca (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: A roller-coaster start to the season from the capital club with, injuries, rotation and Covid-protocol violations preventing them from getting into any sort of groove. They’ve got points on the board early, but a chunk of them came in unimpressive home wins over last season’s bottom 2, Sendai and Shonan. They’ll need to hope Bruno Uvini is the man to shore up a rather leaky rearguard. Unavailable: Akihiro Hayashi, Kazuya Konno, Manato Shinada (injured), Bruno Uvini (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: Olunga, Olunga, where art thou Olunga? A very poor start to the season from Kashiwa and they desperately need the soon-to-arrive Brazilian quartet of, Emerson Santos, Dodi, Angelotti and Pedro Raúl to hit the ground running or the nightmares of 2018 could be lurking just around the corner. Unavailable: Yuji Takahashi, Sachiro Toshima (injured), Angelotti, Dodi, Pedro Raúl, Emerson Santos (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: A solid start, made all the more impressive by the fact they are still figuring out their new back four system and how best to set-up their attack. Junior Santos continues to cause intrigue as it appears he’s fighting young Shun Ayukawa to be Douglas Vieira’s backup rather than being the main man himself. Hayao Kawabe could partner former team-mate Sho Inagaki in the J1 Best Eleven if he keeps up his current form. Unavailable: Akira Ibayashi, Rhayner (injured)
Comments: A rather harsh take on them might say that they’ve swatted aside bottom half teams while failing to take the three points against stiffer opposition, exactly as they did in 2020. That said, from what I’ve seen there is a bit more steel about them this time round. I’m re-evaluating Daizen Maeda now that he’s finally added goals to his game and though Élber seems to lack the attacking x-factor of Erik, having more solid, hard-workers than mercurial artists may suit them better in 2021. Unavailable: Theerathon Bunmathan, Daizen Maeda (injured), Léo Ceará (Visa/quarantine)
Urawa Red Diamonds
Comments: Ricardo Rodriguez seems like a lovely bloke, so I’ll spare him any blame for now, but real questions must be getting asked about the financial situation at the club. I started to wonder when Brazilians, Mauricio and Fabricio weren’t replaced last season and now with Leonardo gone, Deng injured and Yuki Abe making a Lazarus like return from the retirement home, a sojourn to J2 next year isn’t entirely out of the reckoning. Unavailable: Thomas Deng, Yudai Fujiwara (injured)
Comments: I picked them to fill the final relegation spot in pre-season and I haven’t seen anything yet to make me completely alter my opinion. The number of changes at the back made in the off-season has definitely unsettled them and Katanosaka is still searching for the right combinations in a number of places. Unavailable: Naoki Nomura (injured), Matheus Pereira, Henrique Trevisan (Visa/quarantine)
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Comments: I’m considering starting my own Patreon account so Sapporo fans can pay me to not watch them live. Last week’s horror show at home to Kobe was their 8th defeat on the spin with me tuning in on DAZN. Second year pros Kaneko and Tanaka have been solid (Tanaka’s assist for Furuhashi last week aside) and young Ogashiwa and Nakashima have looked bright in flashes. Failure to change their slightly archaic game-plan could result in an unwelcome flirtation with the relegation trapdoor. Unavailable: Takuma Arano, Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa, Douglas Oliveira (injured), Jay Bothroyd, Gabriel Okechukwu (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: An outstanding youth system and kantoku have their fans dreaming of ACL football next year. Didn’t score in their opening 4 J1 fixtures in 2020, haven’t conceded in their first 6 games this time round, it’s been quite the reversal of fortunes. How long can they sustain it? Will their new foreign strikers propel them to even greater heights? Will the vultures descend to brutally devour this team in a similar manner to what happened to fellow Kyushu-ites Giravanz last winter? Unavailable: Ismael Dunga, Chico Ofoedu (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: I saw them referred to as ‘Galacticos’ the other day, but that’s not really what they are anymore. They have a healthy crop of youngsters, many of whom have been raised in their academy, developing alongside a few seasoned heads, most notably Hotaru Yamaguchi, who’s been in sparkling form so far this season. There seems to be a real determination to make amends for 2020’s pitiful league performance and 3rd place doesn’t look impossible judging by their early showings. Unavailable: Andrés Iniesta, Junya Tanaka (injured), Lincoln, Ayub Masika (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: Things seem to have completely fallen apart over the winter at Mitsuzawa. In my season preview I predicted goals at both ends, unfortunately that has only proven to be half correct and their veteran forwards haven’t hit it off as of yet. Talented midfielders Matsuo, Seko and Tezuka are struggling against the tide, but receiving little support and, although it’s early days, I think many already see them lining up in J2 next year. Unavailable: Calvin Jong-a-Pin, Haruki Saruta, Hideto Takahashi, Eijiro Takeda (injured)
Comments: They’ve had just the kind of solid, unspectacular start many would have expected under Lotina. After conceding an avalanche of goals over the past 2 years, letting in just 7 in 6 games must have come as welcome relief to long suffering supporters in their picturesque stadium. Lotina’s reluctance to use assist kingpin Kenta Nishizawa may have rivals sending out the feelers regarding his future availability. Unavailable: Hideki Ishige, Eiichi Katayama, Ibrahim Junior Kuribara (injured), William Matheus (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: Collectively this is one of the 4 weakest squads in the division. That doesn’t necessarily need to condemn them to relegation, but to stave off the drop, they will need to find a way to play to more than the sum of their parts. Passing the ball from their centre-backs to wing-backs, pushing the midfield forward to join the attack, then losing the ball and getting countered constantly, isn’t the way to achieve that. Unavailable: Isaac Cuenca, Kunimitsu Sekiguchi (injured), Foguinho, Emmanuel Oti, Nedeljko Stojišić (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: I was sure they’d used up their nine lives last year, but they look a bit better than 2020, at least if the early rounds are anything to go by. Impressive youngster Taiga Hata still hasn’t featured, but playing on the left-wing for Shonan seems to bring out the best in players and Ryo Takahashi has been in fantastic form down that flank. They really need Wellington and Welinton Júnior to bring their shooting boots over from Brazil as a lack of firepower would be the most likely cause of a relegation this year. Unavailable: Tarik Elyounoussi, Taiga Hata, Shun Nakamura, Tsukasa Umesaki (injured), Wellington, Welinton Júnior (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: They’ve probably done as well as could have been expected given that the squad haven’t met their new Spanish kantoku face-to-face yet and most of the players lack top tier experience. Poyatos (I assume he is choosing the team) has made a number of interesting selections with Abe, Fuke, Fujiwara and Kawakami all featuring regularly despite being out in the cold during the Rodriguez era. Unavailable: Dušan Cvetinović, Kazuki Nishiya, Koki Sugimori, Kohei Uchida (injured), Cristian Battocchio, Cacá (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: A decent start has them sitting comfortably in mid-table. Word of warning though, other newly promoted sides, namely Matsumoto and Nagasaki, have also begun top-flight campaigns reasonably well before fading away badly. Avispa need new foreign talents, Jordy Croux and, particularly, Biblically-named forward John Mary to deliver in order to maintain their top-flight status. Unavailable: Juanma Delgado, Bruno Mendes, Taro Sugimoto (injured), Douglas Grolli (1 match suspension vs Sapporo 3 April), Jordy Croux, John Mary (Visa/quarantine)
Please check out the link above to see who has been playing and who hasn’t in J1 2021. I’ll update it regularly. Data keys are below…
Also for those of you using the https://sporteria.jp/ website, here is a simple English translation of the data displayed there…
I’m sure everyone would join me in thanking @Michael_Master and @bmtps_k for their wonderful coverage of all the off-season transfer activity in Japan. The purpose of this article is to see how those winter moves affect the matchday lineups of J1 sides one month out from the start of the new campaign. I hope you enjoy!
First up, some housekeeping notices; * The lineups below are not necessarily intended to be the ones on the opening day, but more the players most likely to fill those positions on a regular basis throughout the year. * Players currently recovering from serious and long-term injuries haven’t been included. Some examples are Andres Iniesta (Kobe), Takuma Arano (Sapporo), Mu Kanazaki (Nagoya), Yuji Ono (Gamba), Akihiro Hayashi (FC Tokyo) and Sachiro Toshima and Yuji Takahashi (both Kashiwa). * As this is a Gamba blog, lineups and formations for other teams are based on a mixture of evidence and guesswork. For instance, teams who performed well in 2020, kept the same manager and the bulk of their playing staff (Kawasaki) are easier to read than those who played poorly last year, changed coaches and brought in a host of new players (Shimizu). * Ages given are correct to 27 February 2021, the opening Saturday of the J1 season, (Y) donates youth team product and teams are listed in order of 2020 league position.
Here we go…
Brief Notes: Way better than everyone else last season and with just Morita departing they’ll be the team to beat once more. Only Mitoma and Tanaka leaving in the summer and the ACL schedule getting moved around again can really threaten their dynasty.
Brief Notes: Leandro Pereira and Ju Se-jong both address areas of need and although it will be difficult to get 2nd again, this group of players shouldn’t finish lower than 5th / 6th even with ACL distractions taken into account.
Brief Notes: Morishita and Kimoto look like great buys, and I was surprised to see Manabu Saito is only 30! Will be strong defensively again, but look a genuine centre-forward short of really challenging at the top.
Brief Notes: Have made some puzzling moves over the winter, but they still have the nucleus of a very good team. How quickly they adjust to Culpi’s brand of football and whether or not Taggart has brought his shooting boots with him from Korea will go a long way to determining their fate this year.
Brief Notes: Assuming their two new Brazilian midfielders settle in well, they should be Kawasaki’s closest rivals. This may not please Gamba supporters like me, but should lead to some tasty @frontalerabbit blog posts.
Brief Notes: They will probably improve merely by not being involved in the ACL this year. That said, the squad looks very unbalanced, with loads of options in central midfield and attack, but significantly less depth further back.
Brief Notes: Shiihashi, Dodi and Kamijima will help to fix their soft underbelly, but there is still a huge Olunga shaped hole in attack. Will Angelotti or rumoured new signing from Botafogo, Pedro Raúl, be able to fill it.
Brief Notes: Junior Santos appears to be an excellent capture, but money is tight and there’s a real lack of depth. Any injury down the central spine of the team could be painful and prevent them from kicking on from last year.
Brief Notes: This year’s squad looks leaner and more settled than last time. A lot will depend on how their new Brazilian attackers do and also how much of 2020’s poor display was down to their overcrowded schedule and how much of it was teams working out how to play against them.
Urawa Red Diamonds
Brief Notes: Given time, I’ve no doubt the Rodriguez project will bear fruit in Saitama, but it may not be as quick a turnaround as the Reds faithful would like. Defence and central midfield could be issues and they appear to be overloaded with attacking midfielders. Having worked with a similar style of player in Yuki Kakita, can Rodriguez turn around Kenyu Sugimoto’s career?
Brief Notes: Should have enough to escape the relegation dog-fight and have made some intriguing signings from J2 down the flanks. Goalkeeper and central defence look like weak areas at the moment. If Shun Nagasawa’s inevitable winner against Gamba could be confined to the Levain Cup I’d greatly appreciate it.
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Brief Notes: A lot riding on the shoulders of last year’s three university rookies, Tanaka, Takamine and Kaneko. If newbies Nakano and Ogashiwa can have a similar impact they could do ok, but they are my tip to be a dark horse relegation candidate.
Brief Notes: Look better placed than at this point last year and I have no difficulty seeing them survive. Being able to keep hold of Matsuoka was a big surprise for me and I’m really interested to see how new African forwards, Chico (Nigeria) and Dunga (Kenya), get on. I know I’m in the minority here, but I genuinely dig their new kit.
Brief Notes: I think they could surprise a few people this year, not by finishing top 4 or anything, but outside of Hyogo there is almost zero expectation and their exciting youngsters may start to come to the fore a little more.
Brief Notes: Should be exciting to watch as it appears there will be plenty of goals at both ends. I don’t see them going down and if Matsuo and Seko continue to play well neither will be at the Mitsuzawa in 2022.
Brief Notes: As a fan of the league, I’d have preferred Cklamovski’s style to succeed, but more realistically Lotina’s defensive brand of football is more likely to guide them to less troubled waters. How high they go is dependent on how quickly the new parts fit together and how fast Lotina can mend their dreadful defence (139 J1 goals conceded 2019-2020).
Brief Notes: If they’re going to avoid the drop the improvement will need to come from the coaching department, with Teguramori replacing Kiyama. The squad on paper looks weaker than last season with the exception of the wide midfield areas.
Brief Notes: Ditto what I said about Sendai, they finished in the relegation slots last year and look likely to do so again. The heart has been ripped out of the team with Kaneko, Saito and Matsuda all going and their most exciting players, Tani, Tanaka and Hata are too young to carry this side on their back.
Brief Notes: Perhaps benefiting from Coronavirus, they managed to keep all of last season’s title winners and even added rising star Joel Chima Fujita. There’s a glaring lack of J1 experience and I can see things like, having 80% possession at home to Shimizu and still losing 1-0, happening a bit too often.
Brief Notes: My main concern is that a chunk of last season’s starting eleven were on loan and have now returned to their parent clubs. They have more players with top flight experience than Tokushima and have made some decent buys, but they are short on depth and haven’t replaced Serantes in goal yet.
Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu J1 2020 Round 30 Panasonic Stadium Suita Sunday 29 November 17:00
Last Time Out
Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka
Gamba slumped to their worst league result since 2012 as they were blown out of the water by a rampant Kawasaki Frontale on Wednesday night. The home side’s 5-0 triumph saw them lift the J1 title, their 3rd in 4 years, with 4 games to spare.
The Nerazzurri made just one change to their lineup from the 2-1 win at Urawa 3 days previously with Yuya Fukuda replacing the injured Kosuke Onose on the right-wing, while Hiroki Fujiharu, sporting strapping on his left leg, was surprisingly fit enough to start. Frontale began slowly, but once they got going they were simply unstoppable. Perhaps the most painful thing about the whole experience, from a Gamba perspective, was that the torturer-in-chief was one of our own, 34 year-old Akihiro Ienaga, who helped himself to a hat-trick (wonder if his name will get so much applause next time it’s read out at Panasonic Stadium?). Leandro Damiao opened the scoring just before the first half drinks break following a pinpoint cross from Kyohei Noborizato, but it was Ienaga’s double either side of half-time that killed the game off as a contest. Gamba threw on some of their youngsters late on and were picked off easily on the break with Ienega grabbing the 4th and Manabu Saito rubbing salt into the gaping wounds in the final minute of normal time.
Again, with the season Gamba have had and the injuries that have built up, it’s difficult to be overly critical. Unlike the Sendai game, here the Nerazzurri were simply up against superior opposition. Sure, a week’s rest in advance and a fully fit Ideguchi may have brought the score down to a more respectable 2 or 3 goal deficit, but the gulf in quality between these two sides, and indeed between Frontale and the rest of J1 is clear for all to see.
I wanted to finish this section by taking a minute to congratulate Kawasaki on their title win. It’s been comfortably the most dominant display I’ve seen by a J1 side since I started following Japanese football back in 2012. To dismantle your nearest rivals, Gamba (5-0), Cerezo (5-2), FC Tokyo (4-0) and Nagoya (3-0), as easily as they’ve done has just been phenomenal. Gamba didn’t lose to them on Wednesday through a lack of effort, they were totally outclassed by Frontale’s pressing, accurate passing, vision, movement and work-rate, it honestly looked like they had at least 12 players on the pitch for most of the match. Kawasaki have set a new standard for how good a JLeague side can be, the chasing pack must now pick up the baton and aim for those heights….let the chase begin.
Viewer discretion is advised for any Gamba supporters who choose to watch the ‘highlights’ below.
Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu Match Lowdown
Let’s start with the positives, despite Wednesday night’s thrashing Gamba still lie in 2nd place in the league and don’t have to play anyone higher than 14th in their remaining 4 fixtures. They currently sit 3 points clear of nearest challengers Nagoya in 3rd with both clubs having played 30 matches. City rivals Cerezo, as well as Kashima Antlers are 6 points behind, the Cherry Blossoms have a game in hand while Antlers have played an extra match. Realistically 3 wins from 4, starting with this one, would lead the Nerazzurri to their highest league finish since 2015.
Now to a bit of the ugly. Following the farce against Frontale I decided to dig up some horror results from Gamba’s recent past. The last time the men from Suita conceded 5 in a league match was actually also at Todoroki back in 2015, a 5-3 defeat which I conceded I could remember nothing about in my previous match preview. A 4-0 hiding at Hiroshima in the first post-2018 World Cup match (Levir Culpi’s penultimate game in charge) and an identical battering away at Urawa in 2016 stand out from the post treble-winning era. However, for wacky results, pride of place must go to the 2012 campaign in which Gamba endured a shock relegation to J2, finishing 17th despite 7 top 3 places in the previous 8 seasons. In that year of all years, the Nerazzurri suffered a 5-0 pasting at Kashima and a 6-2 drubbing at home to Kashiwa. There were no shortage of highlights though, with 4-0 (a) and 7-2 (h) wins over Sapporo and 5-0 routs of Nagoya and Urawa (both away)…what a crazy year that one was!
Back to a little bit of positivity now and then we’ll take a look at our visitors Sagan Tosu in just a moment. After Gamba complete this fixture, they have 7 days break before another visit to Kanto, where they’ll face Shonan Bellmare (16th) shorn of their on-loan ‘keeper and future Gamba #1 Kosei Tani. Next will come a much needed 10 day rest owing to having already played Vissel Kobe due the Hyogo-based side’s involvement in the Asian Champions League. The Nerazzurri finish the campaign with my schedule’s least favourite combination of matches, Wednesday night / Saturday afternoon, Yokohama FC (15th – away) on December 16th and Shimizu S-Pulse (18th home) on the 19th. A top 2 spot of course means elevation to the Emperor’s Cup semi-final, a quick chance to gain revenge on Kawasaki and the opportunity to lift silverware for the first time since 2015. To do all of that they have 2 remaining games at home and 2 away and Gamba are one of a surprisingly high 9 J1 sides to take more points on the road this year than in their own backyard. They are still J1’s best away side with 33 points from 15 matches, but 6 home defeats leaves them within touching distance of the 7 they’ve suffered over the preceding 2 years combined (remember that includes the Levir Culpi era!). It’s not all bad news at home though, before playing Shun Nagasawa and co. into form in their previous match at Panasonic Stadium, Gamba had gone 6 unbeaten in Suita with 5 wins and 1 draw, so they’ll be hoping to rekindle that spirit for their 2 remaining encounters at Panasonic Stadium.
Sagan Tosu enter this match in 14th spot in the standings and if you cast your eyes back to pre-season, you’ll remember many punters, including myself, had them finishing rock-bottom, so we can say it’s been a season of modest achievement for J1’s most poorly funded club. A solid rearguard has set the tone for their campaign and they’ve actually conceded 1 goal fewer than Gamba, albeit in 1 less game (Gamba shipping 10 in their last 3 not helping with that stat). Tosu have the best defensive record among all the bottom half sides, however, only Shonan (26 goals in 30 games) have a poorer attack. The Kyushu sides’ form has been very patchy throughout the year, the 1-0 home reverse to Sendai on Wednesday was preceded by a 7 match unbeaten run (2 wins and 5 draws), but that, in turn, followed a run of 7 losses in 9 games as the fixtures piled up following their August Covid cluster.
Tosu need to take 7 points from their remaining 5 games, Gamba (a), Yokohama FC (a), Kawasaki Frontale (h) (if anyone’s going to put them in their place it’ll be Tosu), Cerezo (a) and a Kyushu derby at home to Oita, to equal last season’s points total, which may be a tough ask. However, with the financial cuts they’ve made this year, by all rights they should be much worse than they are and credit must go to Kim Myung-hwi (potentially questionable pre-Covid cluster behaviour aside) for the job he’s done on a shoestring. They currently average 1.03 goals per game in 2020 compared with a meagre 0.94 last season and the improvement has been even more marked at the back as they are letting in 1.28 a game this year versus 1.56 in 2019. Brazilian Eduardo who joined from relegated Matsumoto Yamaga has been a real leader at the back and the recent addition of Yokohama F.Marinos ‘keeper Park Il-gyu on loan has also helped greatly, so Gamba will be fully aware of the tough challenge that awaits them in trying to unlock the Tosu defence on Sunday evening.
Looking ahead, Sagan’s finances will continue to be a cause for concern, though they did announce a new sponsorship deal recently which will hopefully give them a fresh injection of cash. They managed to offload high-earner Mu Kanazaki to Nagoya on loan earlier in the year, but his recent knee injury must be a worry as Tosu won’t want his contract to potentially become an albatross around their neck if they can’t find a potential suitor. Game-maker Riki Harakawa, a rare example of a Sagan player who’s in the prime of his career, has been linked with a number of J1 sides and Cerezo seem to be in pole position for his signature. Elsewhere, bright talents like Daiki Matsuoka, Ryoya Morishita, Teruki Hara and the man I bigged up on my J-Talk debut, Fuchi Honda, must be gathering admiring glances from rival teams. In Tosu’s favour is their generally excellent youth system through which they’ve already produced the likes of Matsuoka, Honda and Kaisei Ishii. Shinya Nakano is a 2nd grade high school student who performed superbly at left-back in the 2-1 win at Kashiwa last weekend, while 2 other Tosu Youth members, forwards Reoto Kodama and Ryunosuke Sagara (who made his J1 debut vs Sendai on Wednesday) will turn pro in 2021, as will Chuo University defender Daisuke Matsumoto, who is on a designated special player contract this year. With the coffers running close to empty and 4 teams to be relegated to J2 at the end of next season, Sagan will need to hope their youth system continues to churn out talents like these.
Head to Head
As seen in the table below, Tosu have lost on every occasion they’ve visited Panasonic Stadium on league business and have failed to find the back of the net on their 3 previous trips to Suita. Indeed, they’ve only ever won one league game away to Gamba in their shortish J1 history, a 3-2 victory in their first ever visit to the old Expo 70’ Memorial Stadium back in May 2012. The Nerazzurri actually haven’t lost a JLeague fixture at home to a Kyushu side since V-Varen Nagasaki’s 2-1 triumph in J2 all the way back in September 2013. I was there for the last Gamba senior team game at Expo 70’ Memorial Stadium, a 3-1 victory over Sagan in an Emperor’s Cup quarter-final in 2015 (Gamba went on to lift the trophy that year) and Tosu were also the opposition for my first ever J1 game at Panasonic Stadium in Golden Week 2018, an ultimately comfortable 3-0 home win, a rare experience during the short-lived Levir Culpi era.
Yuji Ono (knee – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) are both definitely out of this game while right-winger Kosuke Onose must be a huge doubt after leaving the field with a leg muscle injury in the first-half of last week’s 2-1 win at Urawa. Left-back Hiroki Fujiharu had his left thigh strapped up against Reds, but was fit enough to play against Frontale in midweek, it may be asking a bit too much of him to feature in this game though. Yosuke Ideguchi’s bite has been missing from midfield since he got injured in training on November 9th, there is still no word on when he’s expected to return. Club captain Genta Miura played 45 minutes as an overage player for the U23s in J3 last Sunday, but didn’t make the matchday squad for the Kawasaki game, it’s unclear whether or not he will return to the fold on Sunday.
Veteran centre-back / midfielder Hideto Takahashi (who is set to be Kazuma Watanabe’s team-mate at Yokohama FC next year) injured his elbow in the 3-0 home win over FC Tokyo on September 27th and hasn’t featured since while former Gamba Youth left-back Yuto Uchida was subbed off against Nagoya Grampus on November 3rd and is yet to return. Brazilian winger / forward Tiago Alves’ injury hit campaign continued when he damaged his foot against Kashiwa last week (November 21st). Forwards, Cho Dong-geon and Kaisei Ishii (a player bigger teams may be sniffing around) haven’t been in the matchday squad for the past 2 games with no injuries reported. Elsewhere, in the, are they injured? / have they just been dropped? category, on-loan Kashiwa defender / midfielder Park Jeong-su (a player known mostly for failing upwards) was last seen as an unused sub against S-Pulse on October 18th, Yoshiki Takahashi has made just 4 appearances (1 start) in J1 this year and last featured against Shonan (a) on October 21st, Uruguayan striker Renzo Lopez’s last sighting was as an unused sub in that same game while South Korean winger An Yong-woo was removed at half-time in the 3-0 loss at Hiroshima back on October 3rd and has been absent ever since. Promising young holding midfielder Daiki Matsuoka is set to make his 50th J1 appearance in this game and with his current career trajectory, it’s unlikely he’ll make too many more for Tosu.
Predicted Line Ups
It’s unclear whether Miyamoto will make sweeping changes to the side following Wednesday’s humiliation or if he’ll back his walking wounded one more time. I’ve assumed that Miura, Ideguchi and Onose won’t make it and Fujiharu won’t be fit enough to start, however, any of these names would likely come in to the eleven if fitness allows. Up top, I’ve perhaps over-optimistically gone for Shoji Toyama when Watanabe is more likely to partner Usami. I’ve also opted for Kohei Okuno in midfield as Yajima and Yamamoto are too similar in my opinion and Okuno is best placed to provide some of the grunt that’s been lost due to Ideguchi’s ongoing absence.
I’ve gone with the assumption that as they’ve been playing high school kids on type-2 contracts recently, Sagan can’t have too many fit options outside those who started on Wednesday night. 17 year-old Shinya Nakano has been starting ahead of Ohata and may continue to do so here, while it’s possible on-loan Kobe centre-back Daiki Miya could come in alongside Eduardo with Hara switching to right-back. Takeshi Kanamori can play on either wing or as a centre-forward while 38 year-old veteran Ryang Yong-gi is a possibility in the midfield engine room if Matsuoka is shifted elsewhere in the lineup.
This is likely to be my first live J1 game of the year and I’m in optimistic mood. Kawasaki are head and shoulders above the rest of J1 so I’m counting on Wednesday’s result having no bearing here. The home faithful, including myself, will be looking for a response and I’m backing on Gamba to provide it in the form of a 2-0 win.
Sagan Tosu vs Gamba Osaka J1 2020 Round 10 Ekimae Real Estate Stadium Wednesday 7 October 19:00 (JST)
Gamba ran out 2-0 winners in a hard fought match at home to Kashima Antlers last Saturday night. For my thoughts on that game and also the shock departure of Yasuhito Endo on loan to Jubilo Iwata please check out this week’s edition of the J-Talk Podcast (@JtalkPod) available on most podcast apps.
Gamba travel down to Kyushu to face off against Sagan Tosu in a game re-arranged after the original clash in August was postponed due to Tosu being struck down by a COVID-19 cluster. Now back in action, Sagan currently sit 14th in J1 with 18 points from 18 games while Gamba are full of confidence on the back of 4 successive victories which have taken them up to 5th in the standings, a win here would send them above Nagoya and into a potential ACL spot.
Tosu haven’t had a midweek off since returning to J1 action on September 5th following their 4 week Coronavirus induced hiatus. Having played 9 matches both before and after that break, now is a good chance to compare and contrast their form. They failed to find the back of the net in 6 of their opening 9 league fixtures including their first 5, winning just once and taking 7 points in the process. There were on average 1.7 goals per Sagan fixture prior to the break which contrasts with the 3.4 we’ve seen since. Performances have also seen an upsurge with 3 wins and 11 points being taken from the 9 matches since the resumption of their campaign.
3 of Tosu’s 4 league victories this year have come at home, and they’ve conceded just 9 times in 9 games at the Ekimae Stadium which contrasts with 17 in 9 matches on the road. Their results in Saga have a real scattergun feel to them having recorded 3 victories, Yokohama FC and FC Tokyo (3-0) plus Kashiwa Reysol (2-1), 3 draws, Hiroshima (0-0), Cerezo and Shimizu (both 1-1) and 3 defeats, Kobe (1-0), Sapporo (2-0) and Yokohama F.Marinos (3-1).
After many amateur pundits including myself tipped them to finish last, Sagan have confounded their critics with some decent displays, including home and away wins over high-flying FC Tokyo which should serve as a reminder to Gamba of how tough this game will be. Youth team products Daiki Matsuoka and Kaisei Ishii have performed well, while Daichi Hayashi and Ryoya Morishita are rookies out of university who’ve really stepped up to the plate this year and Riki Harakawa in midfield is a rare example of a Tosu player who’s in the prime of his career.
After having a relatively light schedule compared with their rivals up until this point, Gamba now find themselves in the middle of a fixture deluge. They’ll travel to Japan’s capital after this game to face FC Tokyo on Saturday (kick off 14:00 JST) before hosting Yokohama F.Marinos the following Wednesday night, they then return to Kyushu to square off against Oita Trinita a week on Sunday. These 4 games could really set the tone for the remainder of the campaign. A win in this encounter would mean Gamba had already equalled last year’s total number of wins (12) despite having played 14 fewer games. It seems that the Nerazzurri have returned to their late 2016 / early 2017 level in the final glory days of Kenta Hasegawa’s reign, so it’ll be interesting to see the next steps Tsuneyasu Miyamoto takes to develop the team further.
Head to Head
Gamba have a pretty dreadful recent record in matches away to Sagan, winning once and losing five times since earning promotion back to J1 in 2014. The sole victory came in 2017 and was actually Gamba’s final three-pointer of that season, despite the match being played in round 24. The 3-0 pasting at the beginning of Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s reign in August 2018 was particularly harrowing, although the Nerazzurri took heed from that humiliation and subsequently won their next 9 league matches. Last year’s 3-1 reverse with Ryotaro Meshino netting an injury time consolation was especially hard to take as Tosu had scored just once in their ten previous fixtures leading up to that clash.
Shinya Yajima returned from his sprained ankle as a late substitute in the win over Kashima and is in contention to start here. Yuji Ono (knee – season) misses out against his former club as does captain Genta Miura (thigh). With midweek games this Wednesday and next we should see some extra rotation in the upcoming games. Endo is obviously out of the equation which could open the door for Kohei Okuno or Ren Shibamoto to earn a call up from the U23s while left-back Keisuke Kurokawa and centre-back Riku Matsuda are others who we may see in the J1 team before much longer. Kim Young-gwon will play his 50th league game for Gamba if selected for this and Ademilson will make his 150th J1 appearance.
Tosu don’t have their injury concerns to seek, especially at the back. Brazilian defender Eduardo was last seen in the 2-1 win over Kashiwa on September 13th while Daiki Miya, an off-season capture from Vissel Kobe has been plagued by fitness issues all year. Versatile veteran Hideto Takahashi went off injured against FC Tokyo a couple of games back and is likely to miss this one. Elsewhere, fellow Takahashi, Yoshiki has only played once in J1 this year. Uruguayan forward Renzo Lopez was an unused sub in Sagan’s first match after their COVID enforced lockdown, but hasn’t been seen since and Brazilian winger Tiago Alves hasn’t made a matchday squad since being sent off for two yellow cards against S-Pulse at the end of July.
Know Your Opponent – Sagan Tosu
Kantoku: Kim Myung-hwi
GK #18 Yohei Takaoka – Former Yokohama FC product who took over between the sticks midway through last season. He initially impressed, particularly in their 2-1 win away at Cerezo last Obon, but became more erratic as the campaign wore on. Has been rotating the jersey and captaincy with the more experienced Tatsuya Morita in recent weeks.
RB #28 Ryoya Morishita – Exciting attacking full-back who’s in his first year as a pro having joined from Meiji University last winter. Likes to get forward and has scored twice in Tosu’s previous three matches. Would surely make a J1 University Rookie XI for 2020.
RCB #41 Daiki Matsuoka – Better known as a nuggety central midfielder, youth team product Matsuoka has been filling in at the back in recent weeks. He seems decidedly less confident in his new role and has been responsible for a couple of goals conceded as a result of poor passes out of defence. Standing 170cm he’s not your archetypical centre-back, but this is the reality that faces Tosu due to their poor financial situation.
LCB #2 Teruki Hara – Jack-of-all-trades this season and last, Hara’s current role is in the heart of Sagan’s defence, though he is essentially capable of playing anywhere along the back or in midfield. A contemporary of Gamba’s Takahiro Ko at Funabashi Municipal High School in Chiba, he spent 2 seasons with Niigata before heading west to Saga. Has 1 senior Japan national team cap to his name and is a contender for the Tokyo Olympics squad.
LB #6 Yuto Uchida – Gamba Youth graduate who only made a solitary League Cup appearance (in a 2-0 win away to Tosu in 2014) during his time with the senior team. Including an initial loan spell, he played close to 150 J2 games in 5 seasons with Tokushima Vortis before earning another crack at J1 with Tosu this year.
LCM #23 Fuchi Honda – Another youth team graduate who’s in his first year as a pro, I actually tipped him to star when I first guested on the J-Talk Podcast back in June. He hasn’t yet lived up to my expectations and has played off the bench mostly in recent weeks. With that said, at just 19 he still has a long future ahead of him and gaining J1 experience at such a young age will only benefit him.
RW #7 Takeshi Kanamori – Attacker or winger who turned his loan deal from Kashima into a permanent one over the winter. Picked up an injury earlier on in the campaign, but has been back firing since the one month COVID-19 layoff.
LW #22 Tomoya Koyamatsu – Started off his career with Nagoya before dropping down to J2 for a decent 3 year spell with Kyoto Sanga. 9 goals and 6 assists while forming a deadly attacking combination with Kazunari Ichimi and Keiya Sento earned him a second shot in J1 and he’s looked to be one of Tosu’s most dangerous attackers this year.
RCF #19 Cho Dong-geon – Veteran South Korean forward who’s been with the club since 2017. Probably can’t consider himself to be first choice, but due to the avalanche of fixtures this season he’s seen plenty of action as part of Sagan’s rotational policy.
LCF #33 Kaisei Ishii – Yet another Tosu Under-18 graduate, Ishii has actually been with Sagan since he was in elementary school. With 3 goals and 3 assists already in 2020, the 20 year-old sophomore pro is likely to be attracting attention from other J1 sides in the not too distant future.
Other Options – As mentioned above, goalkeepers Takaoka and Tatsuya Morita seem to be rotating the gloves, and if I’ve cracked Kim’s code then Takaoka will start this one with Morita in the bench, though there’s no guarantee I’m right. At the back, former Marinos and Reysol centre-back Park Jeong-su seems to be behind full-backs and midfielders to play his preferred position which says a lot about how much his coach rates him, left-back Ayumu Ohata is yet another Tosu Under-18 product who has looked good in brief flashes this year. Further forward, Yuta Higuchi can be found on the right flank or in the middle, I think he’ll be rested for this one, but I believe he is first choice on the wing. South Korean winger An Yong-woo will probably be on the bench here, I’ve also put top scorer Daichi Hayashi, an Osaka Taiiku University graduate, there as I think he’ll be rotated out while club legend Yohei Toyoda is seeing less and less action as the years go by.
Predicted Line Ups
Not a happy hunting ground for Gamba, but they do come into this game buoyed by a 4 game winning run while their hosts are in the midst of a fixture pile-up and have real issues covering the centre-back position. With that in mind, I’ll say Gamba will snap their poor recent record in Kyushu and take this one 2-0.