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Sagan Tosu vs Gamba Osaka 7 October 2020 Match Preview

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.

The Lowdown

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.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

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.

Sagan Tosu

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.

RCM #4 Riki Harakawa – Now in his 4th season with the club, former Kyoto and Kawasaki playmaker Harakawa is a real threat from set-pieces. A member of the 2016 Olympic squad, the guys over at J.League Regista did a great piece on him, you can check it out here… https://jleagueregista.wordpress.com/2020/09/05/blanklisted-ep03-harakawa-sagan/

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





Match Prediction

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.

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Gamba News 13/08/20

I had already written most of my match preview for Gamba’s trip to Tosu this Saturday when the news broke that there had been a cluster of COVID-19 infections within the Sagan squad that caused them to shut down operations until August 25th. I didn’t want to put my hard work to waste so I’ve decided to publish the parts of my preview that are still relevant and have added in some new features, please let me know what you think. Finally I’d like to wish a speedy recovery to all those Sagan Tosu players and staff currently infected with coronavirus. お大事に!

Last Time Out

Gamba returned to winning ways at home to Yokohama FC last weekend with a smash-and-grab victory over an extremely game away side. There were two changes to the Nerrazzuri’s starting XI with Gen Shoji fully fit and ready to make his Gamba J1 debut between Miura and Kim at the back, while Brazilian forward Ademilson also returned from a short layoff to take Watanabe’s place alongside Usami in attack. Yuji Ono was once again selected ahead of Shu Kurata and Yajima and Ideguchi swapped places again with Yajima as the base of the midfield and 15-times capped by Japan, Ideguchi on the right.

The home team made a strong start against Yokohama, who had switched to a 4-4-2 formation and brought veterans Masahiko Inoha and Calvin Jong-a-Pin into their defence in preparation for a backs to the wall effort. Yajima and Ideguchi both shot off target in the opening 10 minutes as Gamba enjoyed near total control. FC rallied a little towards the midway point of the half, but on 34 minutes the men in blue and black went ahead. Good work down the left resulted in Ono feeding the ball to Onose on the edge of the box, the ex-Yokohama FC star unleashed a right-foot shot which deflected off team-mate Ademilson, wrong-footed goalkeeper Yuta Minami and flew into his bottom left corner. 1-0 half-time.

Gamba sought to kill off their opponents at the start of the second half, but were unable to create any clear cut chances and soon energy levels dropped off, possibly a touch of complacency crept in and Yokohama FC began to take a grip on proceedings. Possibly sparked by an incident where Yusuke Matsuo had his shirt pulled by Gen Shoji in the box but didn’t go down and thus didn’t get a penalty, the Kanagawa side started to overrun a tiring Gamba midfield and created presentable chances for attackers Koki Saito and Yusuke Minagawa as well as right-winger Takuya Matsuura. They got their reward on the hour mark when Hiroki Fujiharu made a sloppy back pass that didn’t reach Higashiguchi, Minagawa was able to bundle the ball past Gamba’s number 1 towards strike partner Saito and the impressive 18-year old swept the ball by Shoji on the line. 1-1, game on.

In the final half hour, Yokohama FC looked the more likely winners. It took Gamba a full 31 minutes to register their first chance of the half with Patric shooting across Minami but his effort went well wide. At the other end, Higashiguchi pulled off a great right-footed stop from Minagawa and veteran substitute Leandro Domingues fired over which prompted Gamba’s ‘keeper to kick the post in frustration at what he was seeing in front of him. Head-coach Miyamoto clearly agreed and freshened things up by bringing on Takao and Fukuda to replace Onose and Fujiharu as well as having Watanabe come on for the tiring Usami. These changes breathed new life into the Gamba attack and additional time brought a spell of sustained pressure. Another second-half substitute, Patric, was the hero, after having an earlier attempt correctly ruled out for offside, the 189cm behemoth met Yosuke Ideguchi’s corner and bulleted his header low to Minami’s right from about 5 yards out to win the game with essentially the last play. A hugely relieved Gamba claim their 6th victory of the year, Yokohama FC will be left kicking themselves for missing the chances they did.

On Wednesday night 17 year-old striker Shoji Toyama announced himself on the big stage with a first-half double that helped a Gamba side, whose starting XI average age was just 22.4, see off Shonan Bellmare 2-1. The three points gained from this game were not enough for the Nerrazzurri to qualify for the knock-out stages, though because of this year’s chaotic league schedule I’m not sure anyone in Suita is particularly upset.

Aside from Toyama’s debut and brace, there were also first top team appearances for, Jefferson Tabinas at centre-back, Kohei Okuno and U23 assist wizard Shuhei Kawasaki (4 goals, 12 assists in 34 J3 games) in midfield as well as wide-men Haruto Shirai, Dai Tsukamoto and Tatsuya Yamaguchi from the bench. Also Shunya Suganuma returned from injury to captain the side, and must have felt like a very old man indeed.

Tactical Notes

Not a whole lot to cover regarding Gamba this week, all the first choice starters are fit so Saturday’s lineup is what Miyamoto believes to be his best formation. With that said, I have a couple of concerns, the first of which is fatigue. Yokohama FC were able to dominate for large chunks of the second half and pick passes, including several through balls which took out both Gamba’s midfield and defence in one stroke. I largely put this down to Yajima, Ideguchi and Ono running out of energy following a tough run of games. Hopefully more rotation will take place in that crucial area as the effects of fresh legs could be easily seen following the introduction of Takao, Fukuda, Kurata and Patric. Secondly, last weekend was the first time in a while we’ve come up against an opponent really determined to ‘park the bus.’ We were able to create some chances, but not many, in the first half and for the opening half hour of the second stanza, build up play generally ended around Yokohama FC’s 18-yard line. This should serve as a wake up call ahead of future encounters with the likes of Shonan, Sendai and Tosu at home.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

It’s generally a clean bill of health to report for Gamba with last week’s starting XI being the first time this year that all first choice members have been available. Gen Shoji came through the game unscathed, though his workload may need to be managed moving forward, and Jun Ichimori had an excellent game between the sticks for Gamba U23 in their 2-1 win over Azul Claro Numazu on Sunday. Brazilian forward Ademilson notched his third goal of the campaign against Yokohama FC, but did seem to lack sharpness on his return to the first team. Outside of that, centre-back Shunya Suganuma returned against Shonan in the Levain Cup in midweek, but Ryo Shinzato’s, continued absence from all competitions suggests that he is on the treatment table.

From the Scout’s Office

I decided to add this section in for this match preview. Similar to Patric it won’t feature every week, but like the big man I hope it’ll have a big impact when it is used.

In the Yokohama FC preview, I identified central midfield as an area in need of an upgrade. This week staying home due to a minor infection gave me time to trawl through the leagues in search of talent. The rough parameters I set were, primary position is central midfield, aged between 23-30, at least 30 J1 appearances, willing to initially accept a role as backup in the rotation system. This is what I found, please note that not all players meet every category.

Secondly, I’d like to take a look at a player who troubled Gamba last week, Yokohama FC’s left-sided dynamo Yusuke Matsuo. Hiroki Fujiharu will turn 33 next season, so it’s possible Gamba will be in the market for a younger upgrade. At first glance Sendai University graduate Matsuo doesn’t fit the profile of recent Gamba signings, if we sign university players we tend to do it directly rather than wait until they’ve gained experience with another pro-team. However, due to COVID-19 this year, crowds have plummeted and this will surely hit teams with historically high average attendances, like Gamba, hard financially. With this in mind, we are likely to see the traditional ‘big boys’ battle it out over young Japanese talent with J1 experience in the coming transfer windows.

Yokohama FC have used Matsuo at left wing-back when they’ve operated the exact same 3-5-2 system as Gamba. Also, as shown on Saturday he can play as an orthodox left midfielder in a 4-4-2 and he mostly turned out as a left winger in YFC’s 4-2-3-1 formation last year. Theoretically he should have the skill set to play in the advanced left-side central midfield position currently being rotated between Ono and Kurata. Shu, like Fujiharu, will be 33 next season and Matsuo seems to tick a lot of boxes for Miyamoto. The kantoku is known for his fondness for players who can adapt to different systems and competently play in a number of positions.

I’m pretty sure there’s a dossier on Yusuke Matsuo sitting in Gamba’s scouting office right now, as well as quite a few other teams, Urawa? Kobe? Cerezo? Let me know what you think, how would he do with Gamba? Are there any other players you’d like Gamba to bring in within the next 6-12 months?

Know Your Future Opponent – J2 players likely to move to J1 clubs

With no opponent this weekend, I thought it was a good chance to give a rundown of some J2 talent that I believe will soon be playing in the top tier. Before I do, a couple of selection criteria I laid out were, young Japanese talents who are not currently on loan from J1 teams (no Daigo Takahashi or Kazuma Yamaguchi) and have never been contracted to a J1 team (sorry Hiroki Ito and Shuto Machino). Most of these players are forwards, but if the DAZN team of the week can do it, why can’t I?

Shogo Asada (22 years old, Kyoto Sanga) – As it’s alphabetical, my most surprising choice is first up. Centre-back Asada caught my eye in last night’s Kyoto vs Mito thriller. Although defending was not of the highest standard in general, both midfields left their backlines rather exposed, giving Asada, who spent 2019 on loan at Kamatamare Sanuki in J3, the chance to shine with some excellent blocks and interceptions.

Akira Silvano Disaro’ (24, Giravanz Kitakyushu) – Getting a lot of attention on J-Talk Extra Time, the ‘bald eagle’ has taken to life in J2 like a duck to water (that doesn’t really work does it?). He was in the stands as Giravanz rested a host of players against Kanazawa last night, but had scored in each of his previous four appearances. Possesses a very crisp shot and has built up a great understanding with his equally talented attacking team-mates.

Shion Homma (20, Albirex Niigata) I’m not really pushing the boat out with this one as anyone who watches J2 knows about this kid’s potential. The nimble left-winger blotted his copybook somewhat by getting foolishly sent off for two yellows against Yamaguchi, but not before he’d assisted Mauro for the game’s opening goal. It’s a matter of when, not if he makes it to a higher level.

Shion Inoue (23. Tokyo Verdy) Already identified by the FC Tokyo Kai-Guys as a potential answer to their midfield issues, Verdy youngster Inoue looks set to be the latest talent off their impressive production line. He’s played all but one J2 game so far in 2020 and has been a key cog in the pretty football Verdy tend to play. Really stood out with two goals and an assist in the 4-2 dismantling of Ventforet Kofu a few weeks back.

Mutsuki Kato (23, Zweigen Kanazawa) Got his third goal in as many games after coming on to replace the injured Lucao away at Kitakyushu on Wednesday. In fact the duo generally play as a partnership and have already contributed a combined 10 goals in 11 games this year. Former Sanfrecce Youth product Kato is currently in his rookie season as a pro having joined from Chuo University last off-season.

Kota Kawano (17, Renofa Yamaguchi) A bit of an internet sensation following his well taken finish against league leaders Nagasaki last month where he became J2’s youngest ever goalscorer. That strike prompted Yamaguchi to offer the High School 2nd grader his first professional contract. Given the good relationship between Gamba and Yamaguchi, could Kawano and Shoji Toyama be the Nerrazzuri’s strike pairing of the future?

Seiya Maikuma (22, V-Varen Nagasaki) Daniel from the Nagasaki Blue & Orange Blog assures me Maikuma will be in J1 as a V-Varen player next year and given their start to the campaign, I’m not going to argue. Previously senpai to Leo Takae and Yuya Fukuda at Higashi Fukuoka High School, Maikuma chose to attend Momoyama Gakuin University in Osaka before turning pro this season. Originally listed as a striker, he’s found a home playing either as an orthodox right-back or as a right-wing back depending on the formation employed by his coach. Scored his side’s third after coming on as a substitute against Thespakusatsu Gunma last night.

Kai Matsuzaki (22, Mito HollyHock) A big favourite of J-Talk Extra Time host Jon Steele, I was really excited to see Matsuzaki in action live for the first time against Kyoto. Given that I kind of expected him to be a J2 Messi, of course I was left slightly disappointed. That said, his stats for an attack-minded Mito side in his first year as a pro are impressive with a goal and four assists in his opening ten games (five starts and five sub appearances).

Solomon Sakuragawa (19, JEF United Chiba) The towering 190cm forward will hopefully learn from the excellent strike partners he has in Chiba (Hisato Sato, Kengo Kawamata, Kleber, Keita Yamashita) rather than be sucked down by his team’s wild inconsistency. Has generally been used as a sub after being promoted from the youth team last winter, but already has two goals to his name in J2 this year.

Masaki Watai (21, Tokushima Vortis) The diminutive attacking midfielder has seemingly been wrapped in cotton wool by manager Ricardo Rodriguez at the start of 2020. He’s now fully established in the starting XI and had an impressive outing with a goal and an assist against table-topping Nagasaki last weekend before setting up Kazuki Nishiya’s winner at Machida on Wednesday night.

Arata Watanabe (25, Albirex Niigata) The oldest of this group and someone I was really impressed with following his two-goal show in the 3-3 draw at home to Kofu in round 2. He’s found goalscoring a little tougher since strike partner Fabio was ruled out due to injury, but remains a threat. The Ryutsu Keizai University graduate is now in his third season as a pro and can play either as a central striker or on the right-wing as he did last year to accommodate Leonardo.

Other Notable Mentions – I don’t want to incur the wrath of @OkinawaOzzy so I better give a shout out to FC Ryukyu attacking midfielder Yoshio Koizumi who got a fine assist for Takuma Abe’s volley against Tokushima. Elsewhere, Ehime youth product Shuma Mihara has looked dangerous in the left wing-back role and Takahiro Akimoto of Tochigi SC has gone some of the way to filling the creative void left by Kazuki Nishuya. Kanji Okunuki has been in and out of the Omiya lineup this year, but owing to his form in 2019 he deserves a mention while Keita Yamashita who joined JEF from Yamaguchi last winter is a clean striker of the ball who looks like he could play at a higher level.

That’s all for this week, I hope you enjoyed the changes, feedback is always welcomed. I’ll be back next week to preview the Urawa and Kashima games. See you soon!

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J1 Recap June 2020

With the JLeague’s return almost upon us, I thought now would be a good time to take a refresher course on what’s been happening at each club over the previous few months.

Back in February I published a 2-part J1 preview, this article is intended to be a companion to that, so I’d like to take this chance to point you in the direction of those 2 previews (my most popular articles to date) if you’re in search of more reading material.

*All clubs are listed in the order they finished the 2019 season.

Yokohama F.Marinos

2019: 1st
Kantoku: Ange Postecoglou (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Marinos averaged exactly 2 goals per game in J1 last year (68 goals in 34 games)

Recap:
Last season’s champions enjoyed a mixed start to 2020, recording impressive wins away to Jeonbuk (2-1) and home to Sydney FC (4-0) in the Asian Champions League. Domestically things weren’t so bright as they lost to Kobe in an infamously bad penalty shoot-out in the Super Cup before being beaten 2-1 on their own patch by Gamba in the first round of J1.

Squad Update:
Former captain Jun Amano (28 years old) has returned from a year-long loan at Belgian side Sporting Lokeren. Amano, with over 100 games already under his belt for Marinos will be re-united with Lokeren team-mate, former Renofa Yamaguchi and Kashiwa Reysol full-back, Ryota Koike, who has joined the champions on a permanent basis. Experienced Avispa Fukuoka centre-back Yuki Saneto has also moved east to Kanagawa to provide cover for the injured Thiago Martins. Youth team forward Takumi Tsukui has been promoted to the top team, while Kokoku High School trio, Shunsuke Hirai (DF), Ryunosuke Kabayama (MF) and Tomoki Tagawa (GK), have been registered on designated special player contracts ahead of full-time moves in 2021.
Despite ‘keeper Park Il-gyu being ruled out for the first 2 months of the re-start, the current squad looks stronger than last year and with no ACL return on the immediate horizon they should be there or thereabouts come the end of season.

Week 1:
vs Gamba Osaka (h) 1-2


FC Tokyo

2019: 2nd
Kantoku: Kenta Hasegawa (3rd year)
Quick Stat: FC Tokyo’s average attendance of 31,540 in 2019 was the highest in the club’s history.

Recap:
Kenta Hasegawa’s men kicked off their year with a 2-0 triumph over Ceres from the Philippines in torrential rain to earn a spot in the Asian Champions League group stage. They backed that up with an impressive 1-1 draw at Ulsan before edging out Perth Glory 1-0 at home. Then, the newly formed Brazilian front trio of Diego Oliveira, Leandro and Adailton all scored late on to inspire them to a 3-1 win at Shimizu S-Pulse in round 1 of J1 2020.

Squad Update:
Korean winger Na Sang-ho’s loan departure for Seongnam FC in his homeland is the biggest piece of transfer news to come out of Ajinomoto Stadium during the break. The highly-touted 23 year-old had struggled to make an impression since his move from Gwangju at the beginning of last season so this wasn’t a major shock.
The other major story to report is that the club have scrapped their J3 Under-23 side citing a lack of available stadia, this meant that their one lockdown signing, 20 year-old Thai midfielder Chayathorn Tapsuvanavon, who joined on loan from Bangkok United at the start of March, returned to Thailand in late June having seen no competitive action.

Week 1:
vs Shimizu S-Pulse (a) 3-1
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Kashima Antlers

2019: 3rd
Kantoku: Zago (new)
Quick Stat: Kashima are the most successful team in J1 history with 8 league titles.

Recap:
After losing in the final of the Emperor’s Cup to Vissel Kobe on January 1st, perennial Japanese giants Kashima then replaced outgoing coach Go Oiwa with Brazilian Zago and made a host of new signings. The bedding in period was not smooth and the men from Ibaraki found themselves surprisingly eliminated in the Asian Champions League qualifiers just 4 weeks later, losing 1-0 at home to Melbourne Victory. They followed this up with 2 more defeats, 1-0 away to Nagoya in the Levain Cup and 3-0 at Sanfrecce Hiroshima in round 1 of J1. 3 games, 3 defeats, 0 goals scored, it was a nightmare start for Zago. Everyone at the Kashima Soccer Stadium will be hoping that the enforced shutdown has given him precious time to get his message across.

Squad Update:
Perhaps unsurprisingly given that 11 of their 31 squad members are new recruits for 2020, there have been no additional signings during the lockdown. The loss of Brazilian marksman Serginho to the Chinese second division (wonder if he’s having any regrets now) was a bitter blow for Kashima and how well his countrymen, Juan Alano (Internacional) and Everaldo (Queretaro, Mexico) settle in will be of utmost importance. Defender Bueno, who I suggested could be a weak link at the back in my February preview, has been loaned to Atletico Mineiro in his homeland.
With an eye on the future, Antlers announced in this month that Meiji University duo, Tomoki Hayakawa (GK) and Keigo Tsunemoto (DF) as well as Osaka Taiiku University defender Naoki Hayashi will join the club from next year.

Week 1:
vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima (a) 0-3
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Kawasaki Frontale

2019: 4th
Kantoku: Toru Oniki (4th year)
Quick Stat: Kawasaki had the best away record in J1 last year, taking 36 points from 17 games.

Recap:
Champions in 2017 and 2018, Kawasaki endured an indifferent 2019, missing out on Asian Champions League qualification, but managing to lift the Levain Cup following a penalty shoot-out win over Sapporo. This year promises to see a changing of the guard with a more youthful looking squad attempting to regain the Kanagawa bragging rights from neighbouring Yokohama F.Marinos. They kicked off 2020 with a bang, thumping S-Pulse 5-1 at Todoroki Stadium in the League Cup, but dropped the baton the following week in their League opener, drawing 0-0 at home to a Sagan Tosu side predicted by many to finish bottom of J1.

Squad Update:
Their only transfer of the lockdown was to sell backup ‘keeper Hiroki Mawatari to Fagiano Okayama, which brings them down to a more respectable 4 senior goalkeepers in their squad, while Kento Tachibanada a midfielder from Toin Yokohama University (my old workplace) was announced as a signing for next season. Elsewhere, the break will presumably have given new university recruits, Zain Issaka (another of the Toin OB network that also includes Miki Yamane), Kaoru Mitoma (Tsukuba), Kaito Kamiya (Tokai Gakuen) and Reo Hatate (Juntendo) time to adjust to life as a pro, Frontale supporters will be hoping these guys will form the backbone of the side for the coming years.

Week 1:
vs Sagan Tosu (h) 0-0
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Cerezo Osaka

2019: 5th
Kantoku: Miguel Angel Lotina (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Cerezo had the best defensive record in J1 in 2019, conceding a mere 25 in 34 games (0.7 per game), they were also tied with Kashima for most clean sheets kept (15).

Recap:
Under the tutelage of wily head-coach Miguel Angel Lotina, Cerezo played an often quite dull but extremely effective brand of football last time out. Built on a rock-solid defence which conceded just 25 goals, they were able to achieve the 6th top 5 finish in their history. All the main protagonists in last season’s defensive masterclass are still in place and they started 2020 in strong fashion, smashing J2 side Matsumoto 4-1 at Nagai Stadium in the League Cup and following that up with a 1-0 opening day League win over Oita Trinita at the same venue.

Squad Update:
Young forward Mizuki Ando’s loan move to Machida Zelvia was their only lockdown transfer activity, he followed another young striker, Hiroto Yamada (Sendai), on the loan trail, the latter leaving in early February. Brazilian midfielder Lucas Mineiro joined on loan from Chapecoense just before the season started to replace his compatriot Souza and made 2 substitute appearances before the COVID-19 enforced break. From the winter recruits, wide-man Tatsuhiro Sakamoto (Montedio Yamagata) and Japan Under-17 star, Jun Nishikawa (Toko Gakuen High School) will have a fair bit of expectation riding on their shoulders when the campaign resumes.

Week 1:
vs Oita Trinita (h) 1-0
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Sanfrecce Hiroshima

2019: 6th
Kantoku: Hiroshi Jofuku (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Sanfrecce scored over 20% of their goals last year in just 2 games vs Vissel Kobe (6-2 home and 4-2 away)

Recap:
After a roller-coaster 2018, Sanfrecce had a much more stable campaign in 2019, finishing a comfortable 6th in J1 as well as progressing from the Asian Champions League group stages before being bettered by Kashima. They had a pretty quiet off-season, but a number of younger talents are emerging, most notably assist-king, Tsukasa Morishima, an exciting attacking-midfielder. Buoyed by the news that plans to build a new stadium in downtown Hiroshima are afoot, Sanfrecce started 2020 in dominant fashion, seeing off J1 new boys Yokohama FC away in the League Cup before dismantling the newly assembled Kashima Antlers 3-0 at Edion Stadium in round 1 of J1. They currently top the standings, albeit after only one game week.

Squad Update:
There are no new transfers to report, although since my original preview was written, Ritsumeikan University midfielder Tomoya Fujii was signed on a pre-contract for 2021 and registered as a designated special player for 2020, he was on the bench for both games so far this year, playing once against Yokohama FC. Extending the loan deals of Brazilian duo Leandro Pereira and Rhayner was probably Hiroshima’s best work last winter, their compatriot, attacking midfielder Ezequiel, also joined on loan from Botafogo, while Yuya Asano (younger brother of Takuma) came in from Mito HollyHock, though the jury is very much still out on whether he’ll bring as much to the team as his elder sibling.

Week 1:
vs Kashima Antlers (h) 3-0
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Gamba Osaka

2019: 7th
Kantoku: Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Yasuhito Endo will become the most experienced player in J1 history the next time he takes to the field. He’s currently tied on 631 appearances with legendary Nagoya ‘keeper Seigo Narazaki.

Recap:
Gamba had a nightmare start to 2019 (as they did the year before), however, owing to a change in strategy – playing with 3 centre-backs, as well a change in philosophy – disbanding the ageing group of heroes from the treble winning 2014 squad and supplementing the new young guns with returning heroes like Ideguchi and Usami, Gamba were able to haul themselves up to an ultimately respectable 7th place. This year started with a 1-0 home reverse to Kashiwa Reysol in the League Cup which was eerily similar to some games from early on in the past 2 campaigns. They were able to make it count when it really mattered this time though, and produced the performance of round 1 of J1 2020, turning over defending champions Yokohama F.Marinos 2-1 at Nissan Stadium, Kurata and Yajima helping themselves to a goal and an assist each.

Squad Update:
Vegalta Sendai backup ‘keeper Lee Yunoh was brought in on loan at the beginning of March to take the place of another loanee, Haruki Saruta (Kashiwa), in the U-23 squad after Saruta suffered a knee injury in training. Meiji University centre-back Yota Sato signed a pre-contract for 2021 and has been registered as a designated special player this year. Additionally, Japanese international centre-back, Gen Shoji, joined on a bumper deal from French side Toulouse last winter, however, due to injury he was unable to play in the 2 games prior to the shutdown. Gamba fans will look forward to seeing him work in tandem with Genta Miura and Kim Young-gwon at the back.

Week 1:
vs Yokohama F.Marinos (a) 2-1
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Vissel Kobe

2019: 8th
Kantoku: Thorsten Fink (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Kobe’s games last season produced a total of 120 goals (3.6 per game), a league high.

Recap:
The Rakuten money finally seemed to pay off for Kobe as they lifted their first ever piece of silverware, the Emperor’s Cup, after a 2-0 win over Kashima at the new National Stadium in Tokyo on New Year’s Day. Like buses, their second trophy came soon after as they saw off J1 Champions Yokohama F.Marinos in the Super Cup in February.
A team which scored plenty and conceded loads gradually became more disciplined under German coach Thorsten Fink in the second half of last year and a more slimline squad started 2020 well. Their first ever Asian Champions League campaign began with a 5-1 trouncing of Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim and continued with a hugely impressive 1-0 win away to Suwon in Korea. In J1 they had to accept a share of the spoils when they met Yokohama FC in round 1 in a game played under bizarre circumstances with supporters allowed into the stadium, but told not to cheer.

Squad Update:
No ins or outs have been recorded during the league’s enforced absence which gives us a chance to look at their business from last winter. Douglas (14 goals, 5 assists for Shimizu in 2019) may be the signing of the close season and his partnership with Furuhashi guarantees goals. At the back, only Shonan and Shimizu conceded more than Kobe’s 59 last time out and to that end centre-backs, Ryuho Kikuchi (Renofa Yamaguchi) and Tetsushi Yamakawa (Tsukuba University) were brought in, though these signings appear to be more for the long term rather than right now.

Week 1:
vs Yokohama FC (h) 1-1
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Oita Trinita

2019: 9th
Kantoku: Tomohiro Katanosaka (5th year)
Quick Stat: Now departed strikers, Noriaki Fujimoto (Kobe) and Ado Onaiwu (YFM) scored over 50% of Oita’s goals last year (18 out of 35)

Recap:
Head coach Katanosaka has masterminded a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the Kyushu side which saw them move up from J3 to J1 in the space of 3 years. Last season they started like a house on fire before inevitably hitting a bit of a slump, but they were still able to finish an excellent 9th with a squad mainly consisting of players from their 2018 J2 promotion campaign as well as sprinkling of veterans from their J3 days.
Oita had a disappointing start to 2020, going down 1-0 away from home in both of their games, at Shonan in the League Cup and Cerezo a week later in the League.

Squad Update:
Their only transfers of note during the lockdown have been the registrations of Fukuoka University midfielder Kenta Inoue and Kanoya Sports College forward Kazuki Fujimoto as designated special players for 2020. Owing to their small budget, Oita have largely had to try and replace departed stars like Ado Onaiwu and Noriaki Fujimoto with players who’ve performed well at lower levels. Retaining attacking-midfielder Kazuki Kozuka and centre-back Tomoki Iwata was a big boost for the club, though how long they can keep hold of them remains to be seen.

Week 1:
vs Cerezo Osaka (a) 0-1
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Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

2019: 10th
Kantoku: Mihailo Petrovic (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Last year was the first time since 2007 that Mihailo Petrovic has coached a team to a bottom half finish in J1.

Recap:
Improving on 2018’s incredible 4th place finish was always going to be a tall order for Sapporo, and so it proved last year, however, 10th was still a decent showing from Mihailo Petrovic’s men. Although at times a little suspect at the back, they did have strong performers throughout the side, Akito Fukumori’s deadly set-pieces earned him 8 assists, while Chanathip continued to lay on goals for his attacking partners, Jay, Musashi Suzuki and Anderson Lopes. They would have considered themselves unfortunate to lose out to Kawasaki in the lottery of a penalty shoot-out in the League Cup final last year, and this defeat preceded a rather poor end to 2019 which saw them lose 4 of their last 6 league games.
Consadole started 2020 by coasting past Sagan Tosu, 3-0 away in the League Cup, but then went down 4-2 to Kashiwa Reysol in Chiba on the opening day of J1, these results suggest there’ll be plenty of goalmouth action at both ends this campaign.

Squad Update:
The big transfer news story to emerge out of Sapporo during the league’s break was that international goalkeeper Gu Sung-yun would return to his homeland to play for Daegu FC ahead of a 2-year stint in the Korean military. Consadole have already secured the services of Hosei University’s 2M tall stopper Kojiro Nakano for 2021, and have him on a designated special player contract for this year, but whether it is he, Thai international Kawin Thamsatchanan (a recent loan arrival from Leuven in Belgium) or the experienced Takanori Sugeno that takes over the starting spot is up for debate.

Week 1:
vs Kashiwa Reysol (a) 2-4
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Vegalta Sendai

2019: 11th
Kantoku: Takashi Kiyama (new)
Quick Stat: New Kashima Antlers full-back Katsuya Nagato provided assists for 26% of Sendai’s goals in 2019.

Recap:
Sendai secured their second consecutive 11th place finish in J1 last year, perhaps even more impressive than the previous campaign due to the fact that it was achieved with what, on paper at least, looked like a weaker squad. Still, that didn’t stop head coach Susumu Watanabe from losing his job, with Yamagata manager Takashi Kiyama coming in for his first stab at J1 level. Despite J1’s leading assist maker Katsuya Nagato departing for Kashima, off season recruitment had inspired confidence. However, that feel-good factor was only short-lived when it was announced that both Isaac Cuenca and Alexandre Guedes had gone down with injuries before the campaign had even begun. Sendai were thrashed 5-2 at Urawa in the League Cup before holding Nagoya to a 1-1 draw in the League. The break in fixtures has allowed their attacking talent to return, though the loss for the next 2 months of captain Simao Mate is a huge blow, and an extended period of playing in front of no spectators may undermine their impressive home record.

Squad Update:
Exciting news for Sendai is the return of former attacker Takuma Nishimura on loan from CSKA Moscow. He hit 11 goals in 24 games before his big money move to Russia in the summer of 2018 and Vegalta fans will be looking forward with relish to the partnership he can form with Cuenca, Guedes and Shuhei Akasaki. Elsewhere defenders, Hisashi Appiah Tawiah (Ryutsu Keizai University) and Takumi Mase (Hannan University) have both been brought in on designated special player contracts ahead of turning pro next year.
In terms of departures, defender Masato Tokida who played against Urawa in the League Cup has left for Matsumoto in a loan deal and as previously mentioned, backup goalie Lee Yunoh has joined Gamba U-23 on loan, he spent 2019 farmed out to Fukushima United.

Week 1:
vs Nagoya Grampus (h) 1-1
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Shimizu S-Pulse

2019: 12th
Kantoku: Peter Cklamovski (new)
Quick Stat: Shimizu had the worst defensive record in J1 last season with 69 goals conceded in total (2.03 per game). They were also one of only two teams to do the double over champions Yokohama F.Marinos (the other was Cerezo Osaka).

Recap:
One of the biggest stories of last winter was Shimizu’s appointment of Ange Postecoglou’s assistant at Yokohama F.Marinos, Peter Cklamovski. An avid disciple of Ange’s, it’ll be interesting to see how he shapes this S-Pulse side in his image. The JLeague’s no-relegation rule will definitely help with his experimentation which is bound to encounter teething problems. Shimizu had the leakiest back line in J1 last season conceding 69 times, including an 8-0 home reverse against Sapporo. This year it took them 2 games to concede 8 goals, being hammered 5-1 at Kawasaki in the League Cup then putting up a better showing at home to FC Tokyo in the League before ultimately going down 3-1.

Squad Update:
Nothing to report on the transfer front during the lockdown, although S-Pulse did hire a new coach and recruit a number of new players in the off-season. Additionally, midfielders, Yasufumi Nishimura (Okayama) and Kota Miyamoto (FC Gifu) have returned from loan spells, while wide-man Hideki Ishige made a welcome comeback from serious injury and now appears to be seen as an option at full-back. Despite the additions of Yusuke Goto (Oita), Teerasil (Muangthong United) and Carlinhos (Sion) it’s still hard to see anyone getting close to matching Douglas’ 14 league goals scored last year.

Week 1:
vs FC Tokyo (h) 1-3
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Nagoya Grampus

2019: 13th
Kantoku: Massimo Ficcadenti (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Nagoya were second only to Sendai in terms of % of total points picked up at home (65% compared with Sendai’s nearly 76%) in 2019.

Recap:
One of the biggest spenders in the league, Nagoya have flattered to deceive since returning to J1 in 2018. They have a team full of highly talented individuals who rarely add up to the sum of their parts. Italian Massimo Ficcadenti was a surprise choice to replace the much more attack minded Yahiro Kazama midway through last year, however, he was able to steer a side which had been in freefall into a relatively safe 13th spot in the standings. Grampus started 2020 unbeaten, seeing off Kashima Antlers 1-0 at home in the League Cup before having the better of a 1-1 draw away at Sendai in round 1 of J1.

Squad Update:
Former Japan international front-man Mu Kanazaki joined on loan from cash-strapped Tosu at the end of March and he will take the place of Jo, who returned to Corinthians in Brazil (in a deal that seems to have more to it than meets the eye) having only found the net 6 times last season, compared to 24 in the previous campaign. Kanazaki, however, was recently struck down with Covid-19 and passed the virus on to Australian goalkeeper Mitch Langerak. Both players have since recovered, however, the fallout was that the rest of the squad had to endure a period of training together using Zoom while their J1 rivals were all working on the training ground.
During the break, young full-back Yukinari Sugawara turned his loan move to Dutch side AZ Alkmaar into a permanent one after impressing in his first year in the Netherlands.

Week 1:
vs Vegalta Sendai (a) 1-1
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Urawa Reds

2019: 14th
Kantoku: Tsuyoshi Otsuki (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Legendary striker Shinzo Koroki has hit double figures in his last 8 league campaigns.

Recap:
Despite reaching the final of the Asian Champions League last season, finishing 14th in J1, their worst performance since 2011 was simply unacceptable for a club of this size. Thing surely must get better, a lot better, this year if head-coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki wants to remain in his current role. Their was a surprising lack of transfer activity last winter considering the average age and performance of the squad over the previous 12 months, however, Brazilian attacker, Leonardo who joined from Albirex Niigata could well challenge Kobe’s signing of Douglas as the best coup of the transfer window. The former J3 and J2 top scorer introduced himself to the Saitama Stadium supporters with a double on his debut, a 5-2 win at home to Sendai in the League Cup. The defensive frailties that were briefly on show in that game resurfaced a week later in their League opener, a 3-2 victory over a Shonan Bellmare side who are expected to find things tough this year. It looks like Urawa games will be a pretty exciting watch over the coming months.

Squad Update:
The lack of transfer activity from Reds does seem a little surprising viewed from afar, only Ryutsu Keizai midfielder Atsuki Ito has come in on a designated special player contract. However, they may be banking on some of their younger crop of players to develop more over the coming years. Right-sided defender Daiki Hashioka appears to be the pick of the bunch, though left winger Koya Yuroki could also become a key asset if he’s given more game time. Central-midfielder Hidetoshi Takeda joined the club from the cradle of footballing talent that is Aomori Yamada High School last winter, so we can expect good things from him, while Chuo University winger Tomoaki Okubo has again been registered as a designated special player ahead of turning pro with Reds next year. Youth team ‘keeper Zion Suzuki is on a Type-2 amateur contract which allowed him to appear on the bench against both Sendai and Shonan despite still being in high school (he’s already 189cm tall!)

Week 1:
vs Shonan Bellmare (a) 3-2
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Sagan Tosu

2019: 15th
Kantoku: Kim Myung-hwi (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Tosu failed to score in 9 out of their first 10 league games in 2019.

Recap:
If you’re interested enough in Japanese football to read my blog, I’m going to assume you know something about Tosu’s appalling financial situation, so I don’t want to dwell on it too much. The lack of relegation this year would appear to help them more than any other side given that most #jpred2020 entrants had them going down. A very weak squad on paper were humbled 3-0 at home by Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in the League Cup’s first group-stage match this February before gaining a creditable 0-0 draw away to Kawasaki Frontale on the League’s opening day. Much more of that battling spirit will be required in the coming months and years, I feel.

Squad Update:
Mu Kanazaki’s departure on loan to Nagoya may be the first of quite a few in the near future as the club looks to balance it’s books. In terms of arrivals, Chuo University defender Daisuke Matsumoto is in as a designated special player while Tosu U-18 forwards Reoto Kodama and Ryunosuke Sagara as well as defender Shinya Nakano have come in on Type-2 contracts. One intriguing move just before the league started back in February was the acquisition of right-sided Chinese player Wang Jianan from Guangzhou R&F. The current squad has a very youthful feel to it, with midfielders, Fuchi Honda and Daiki Matsuoka (both 19) as well as former Meiji University full-back Ryoya Morishita (23) expected to be key players.

Week 1:
vs Kawasaki Frontale (a) 0-0
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Shonan Bellmare

2019: 16th
Kantoku: Bin Ukishima (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Shonan kept the fewest clean sheets in J1 last year (4).

Recap:
The Cho Kwi-jae power harassment scandal rocked Shonan to the core last summer, sending them into a tail-spin that they were only able to pull out of thanks to a 1-1 draw at home to Tokushima in the play-offs (again the rights and wrongs of that system have been discussed in depth elsewhere so I’ll not go any further into it.) Bin Ukishima, the man who replaced the long serving Cho has been tasked with rebuilding the side and he’s brought in 12 new faces along with 2 players who’ve returned to Bellmare from loan spells. This sort of annual upheaval is not uncommon in these parts and Shonan are likely to be another side who are assisted by the league’s no-relegation rule. Bellmare started 2020 by edging out Oita 1-0 at home in the League Cup, before losing their J1 opener 3-2 to Urawa at the same venue with new Norwegian signing Tarik missing a penalty.

Squad Update:
After a busy winter, Shonan’s lockdown work has been largely focused on the future, 5 youth team players have been registered on Type-2 Contracts, including midfielder Satoshi Tanaka who’ll turn pro next year. Additionally, 20 year-old forward Ryo Nemoto of Kanoya Sports College in Kagoshima and Sho Hiramatsu from Rissho University have joined as a designated special players. The club also announced the capture of midfielder Taiyo Hiraoka from Riseisha High School for 2021, though he hasn’t yet been registered for this campaign. Surprisingly, as far as I can tell, there has still been no announcement from the club regarding the futures of 2 Brazilians, Crislan and Leleu, who were on the books last year, I assume neither will be back, but usually JLeague teams are good at keeping the fans informed about this sort of thing.

Week 1:
vs Urawa Reds (h) 2-3
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Kashiwa Reysol

2019: 1st (J2)
Kantoku: Nelsinho (2nd year – current spell)
Quick Stat: The last time Kashiwa won J2, they went on to lift the J1 title the following year (2011). Current head coch Nelsinho was also in charge back then.

Recap:
Under legendary manager Nelsinho, Kashiwa are back in the top flight following a one-year sojourn in J2. After a few bumps and bruises in the early rounds, Reysol’s class eventually told and they were worthy champions, their season of course ending with that memorable 13-1 rout of Kyoto Sanga. They’ve kept most of last year’s championship winning side intact and added a cast of 2019 J2 all stars, how will they do in J1 this year?
They got 2020 off to the best possible start with a 1-0 win away to Gamba in the rain in February’s League Cup clash, goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu, left-back Taiyo Koga and inevitably the well-known attacking duo of Cristiano and Olunga were all in fine form. That victory was then backed up by a 4-2 triumph in a thrilling match at home to Sapporo in round 1 of J1 with both Esaka and Olunga notching doubles. They have more than enough attacking talent, but for me centre-back and centre-midfield are areas for concern. They’ll certainly be interesting to watch this year.

Squad Update:
Kashiwa’s only lockdown work has been to move youth product Keita Ide to Tochigi SC in what appears to be a full transfer, I say appears as he was only promoted to the top team last winter. There have been no ins during the break, though Reysol did recruit quite heavily in the off-season and have no doubt taken this opportunity to try and bring their ex-J2 players up to speed. I’m particularly excited by versatile 23 year-old midfielder Yuta Kamiya who spent 2019 with Ehime, on-loan from Shonan. Right-back Kengo Kitazume who joined from Yokohama FC looks a solid addition too, and I can see him taking over from Shunki Takahashi before much longer. Two other interesting coups were Hiroto Goya (Nagasaki – on loan from Gamba), who netted 22 goals in 36 J2 games last year and former youth team product Hayato Nakama (Okayama) who struck an impressive 15 times in 40 J2 matches from left midfield in 2019. These 2 undoubtedly possess the ability, but can they unseat one of the top dogs such as, Olunga, Cristiano, Esaka or Segawa, to nail down a starting berth?

Week 1:
vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo (h) 4-2
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Yokohama FC

2019: 2nd (J2)
Kantoku: Takahiro Shimotaira (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Kazuyoshi Miura made his JLeague debut on 15 May 1993, over 8 years before team-mate Koki Saito was born.

Recap:
Hear the name Yokohama FC and you probably instantly think of their famous veterans, Kazuyoshi ‘King Kazu’ Miura and Shunsuke Nakamura, then probably to a lesser extent, guys like Leandro Domingues, Ibba Laajab, Daisuke Matsui and Masahiko Inoha. However, bubbling under the surface are some of the hottest young talents in Japanese football, attacking trio, Koki Saito (18), Katsuhiro Nakayama (23) and Yusuke Matsuo (22) combined for 18 goals and 11 assists last season to help Yokohama FC achieve only the second season of top flight football in their history. Things will be tough for sure for this squad of ageing stars and up-and-comers, they started things off with a tame 2-0 loss at home to a wily Sanfrecce side in the League Cup, before holding Kobe to a respectable 1-1 draw in the League opener in Hyogo. Tatsuki Seko, another young gun who was recruited in the off-season from Meiji University netted Yokohama’s goal on his senior debut, he’s also one to look out for this year.

Squad Update:
A couple of pieces of transfer news to report from Yokohama during the lockdown, Hosei University defender Yuya Takagi was registered as a designated special player, he’ll turn pro when he’s finished with his studies next year. Full-back Yuta Fujii also made a permanent move to J2 outfit Avispa Fukuoka, he made a mere 5 appearances for Yokohama FC in 2019. Finally, a quick shout out to a name I didn’t mention above, left-back Takaaki Shichi (5 goals and 4 assists in 39 games for Mito HollyHock last year), his signing may have largely flown under the radar, but in my books it looks like a very shrewd move.

Week 1:
vs Vissel Kobe (a) 1-1
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