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Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka 26 February 2022 Match Preview

Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 2
Saturday 26 February 2022
Saitama Stadium 2022
Kick Off: 15:00 (JST)


Gamba travel to Saitama this Saturday for what will be their 1000th J. League match and this perennially feisty contest has taken on extra significance due to the sub-par starts both teams have made to their 2022 campaigns. The Nerazzurri were soundly beaten by an impressive Kashima last weekend in Suita (more on the controversy surrounding that later) before kicking off their Levain Cup group stage slate with a 3-2 home reverse against local rivals Cerezo. New Gamba kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka had talked of turning Panasonic Stadium into a fortress, but with those words looking hollow at the moment, he’ll be hoping a trip to equally under pressure Urawa could be the catalyst for a turnaround in his side’s fortunes. Reds were, and still very much are, expected to duel it out for one of the top 3 spots this season, however, since lifting the Super Cup a fortnight ago they’ve dropped points against Kansai opposition in each of their opening 2 league fixtures. After slipping on the banana skin that was newly-promoted Kyoto Sanga away in round 1 they had to settle for a share of the spoils in their re-arranged round 9 encounter with Vissel Kobe on Wednesday, an outcome made all the more painful by the fact the Hyogo side’s equaliser came courtesy of recently departed Reds legend Tomoaki Makino.

The omicron variant of Covid-19 is still posing major challenges for Japanese society and J. League clubs certainly aren’t safe from it’s tentacles. However, touch wood, at the time of writing this game is set to go ahead and that’s something of a rarity in recent seasons. I started writing match previews in late 2019 and had full draughts ready to go for, Sendai (home) 2020 and Nagoya (away) 2021, Gamba’s second scheduled league match of the year, but coronavirus struck and the next time the Ao to Kuro took the field was weeks (2021) or months (2020) later. Fingers, toes and everything else crossed that this mouthwatering bout between these two fierce rivals goes ahead without a hitch.

Tale of the Tape

What to say about Gamba vs Kashima that hasn’t already been covered? 33 shots to 8 sure as hell ain’t pretty, but while Antlers could certainly be considered heavyweights in Japanese football circles, the events of Saturday 19th February were akin to Tyson Fury starting off a fight looking sharp and taking the centre of the ring before deliberately low-blowing his opponent and smacking him a couple of times for good measure while he was on the canvas. To run with this analogy a little longer, the ref sees all of this, doesn’t disqualify Fury and the heavyweight champion of the world then proceeds to dance around the ring looking amazing for the remainder of the bout. Does that sound like something you’d purchase on pay-per-view? No? Me, neither. For the record I have nothing against Fury and would, in fact, welcome a charity contest between him and Mr. Yakuza-wannabe Suzuki, maybe it could be arranged for the end of the season? I’ll conclude this long and winding rant with a reminder that I did call out my own player Wellington Silva, for similarly embarrassing and shameful conduct away to Yokohama F. Marinos last year, and would have no problem doing it again should another Gamba player step over the line. On that sunny November afternoon in Kanagawa, however, the officials did their job, booked Silva, told him in no uncertain terms to buck up his ideas and got on with things, in my view the way a referee should take charge of a game.

Speaking of Kanagawa, there may be some of you who might feel this has gone a bit too much the way of a Frontale Rabbit Blog post (sorry, I’m not trying to steal your thunder Neil, honest!), so here are some stats which I’m sure is what you all came for. As mentioned above, before I got sidetracked, not only did Kashima defeat Gamba 3-1, they also outshot their hosts by a whopping 33-8. That figure of 33 is a full 9 shots higher than last season’s poorest Gamba performance (24 vs Urawa and Marinos (both away) – as a side note from those combined 48 shots the Nerazzurri conceded just a solitary goal, a penalty from Ataru Esaka). Kashima’s 19 shots on target also beat the figure of 14 they mustered in their 3-1 home win over the Ao to Kuro last September, a number which was also a season worst for Gamba. However, as is often the way with Antlers, they rather milked the stats, averaging a mere 0.09xG per shot (compared with Gamba’s 0.07) and I’d be very interested to find out the combined xG total of Diego Pituca’s 7 efforts. I’m more than happy to make a case for the Brazilian being the best central midfielder in the league, however, if I was coaching him, his insistence on wasting good attacking opportunities by blasting the ball high and wide from 35 yards out would have me tearing out what little hair I have left. While we’re on the subject of Kashima midfielders, as if to rub salt into blue and black wounds, Yuta Higuchi, the man who turned down Gamba in favour of a move to Ibaraki, was outstanding and looked like he’d been playing in the dark red shirt for years.

Just to quickly wrap up this section from a Gamba perspective, I’d argue that last Saturday’s game could very well have ended up 3-1 or 4-2 to Antlers even without Patric’s contentious ordering off, but the stats would likely have been much, much closer had the officials correctly utilised the VAR system they had at their disposal. It’s just one game, there’ll be 33 more and those will help us gain a better understanding of the true Gamba, after all they only played 45 minutes with 10 men in the whole of last season and that was against Yokohama FC, who of course ended up going down. Saturday’s stats could mean everything, or they could mean nothing, we’ll find out soon enough.

Reds’ key performance indicators, like Gamba’s, are skewed by a lack of data points and also because they played part of one of their two fixtures to date with only 10 players. It’s important to note that by the end of May, Urawa will have contested 23 games, 16 in J1, 6 in the ACL and the aforementioned Super Cup triumph over Kawasaki, a sequence that will require some herculean feats from the Reds to squad to come out the other side unscathed. Kantoku Ricardo Rodríguez set them up in a 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 for the ill-fated visit to Kyoto before returning to type with a 4-2-3-1 system against Kobe. I’m leaning towards the Spaniard sticking with 4-2-3-1 here, not least due to the club apparently being without the services of a number of key players (more on that below). Rodríguez is in uncharted waters managing at the sharp end of J1 and he’ll require all of his nous and guile to steer the ship through the current choppy waters. He’ll be hoping to chart the right course on Saturday, though as we’ll see below, while Gamba might appear ripe for the picking, that certainly hasn’t been the case in contests between these two at Saitama Stadium in recent years.

Head to Head


Tomohiro Katanosaka takes his troops to the Saitama Stadium in search of his first win as Gamba boss safe in the knowledge that the Nerazzurri haven’t tasted defeat away to Reds since 2016, a 4-0 pasting which also featured some Yuma Suzuki-esque play acting from everyone’s favourite pantomime villain Tomoaki Makino.

The two sides battled it out in round 32 last October with Haruto Shirai a surprise starter for Gamba and a stronger defensive structure in place thanks to the recent arrival of Takashi Kiyama as “assistant” to Masanobu Matsunami. Reds dominated from the off, but couldn’t penetrate the make-shift backline of Sato and Suganuma while “guardian deity” (I love that Google translation) Masaaki Higashiguchi was in inspired form between the sticks for Gamba. All the drama that afternoon was consigned to injury time with Urawa being awarded a controversial spot-kick for handball against Shunya Suganuma, notably Ataru Esaka, the Reds player closest to the incident, an dispatcher of the subsequent spot-kick, barely questioned the original decision and the referee didn’t look particularly confident either as he moved gingerly away from the VAR booth to overturn his call. For those karma believers among you justice was served almost immediately from the re-start as Takuya Iwanami got caught out by an awkward bounce and handballed to allow Patric the chance to slam home the equaliser from the spot.

While Kiyama got things tactically spot on in the away match, Matsunami made an absolute hash of his strategy in the home clash in May, his first game since being appointed caretaker manager in the wake of Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s firing. Gamba went all out attack and Reds, like all good counter-punchers do, bided their time and waited for the chance to strike. And strike they did, with Kasper Junker and Tatsuya Tanaka running riot to have the visitors 3-0 up at the interval. There would be no further scoring in the second half in what was a chastening start to the Matsunami reign.




Gamba Osaka


I thought I’d try something a little different this week, I’ve picked out some players and coaches and commented on each of them in turn, let me know what you think.

Tomohiro Katanosaka – What to make of Katano-soccer so far? The biggest talking point, for me, was his choice of Ryu Takao and Ko Yanagisawa as wide-centre backs against Kashima. This mirrors what he did with Tomoki Iwata and Yuto Misao at Oita, essentially using players previously thought of as full-backs or wing-backs more centrally. Where does that leave Genta Miura? It appears he’ll now be competing with Gen Shoji for the middle centre back slot and guiding some younger players along in the Levain Cup group stages.

A final point on Katanosaka, I like his blood and thunder attitude on the touchline, something that’s been missing since the departure of Kenta Hasegawa at the end of 2017. Indeed Hasegawa’s FC Tokyo (2020) and Tokushima Vortis last year are two examples that spring to mind of opposition benches out-shouting and out-influencing (is that a word? I mean putting more pressure on the officials) the Gamba dugout at Panasonic Stadium in recent seasons.

Hiroto Yamami – Came on as a second-half substitute in challenging circumstances against Antlers before starting and spurning a decent chance in the Osaka Derby on Wednesday. Some nice touches on display in both outings and he looks like someone to keep an eye out for in the coming weeks.

Ju Se-jong – A poor performance against Kashima and with Kohei Okuno fluffing his lines versus Cerezo, Gamba are in desperate need of Dawhan’s arrival and Mitsuki Saito and Yuki Yamamoto regaining full fitness. New signing Hideki Ishige finished the Osaka Derby in central midfield alongside Shu Kurata, is that something we could see more of?

Keisuke Kurokawa – Started at left wing-back, switched to left-back in the wake of Patric’s ordering off and played out the final 8 minutes at right-back following Yuya Fukuda’s entrance. I knew I’d seen him play on the right side for the U23s in J3 at some point, but had started to doubt myself and believe that it’d been some kind of optical illusion.

Shinya Yajima and Tiago Alves – Nice to see two Gamba old boys get off to a flyer in J2, I think Yajima’s issues in the top flight were more mental than physical while Alves has flattered to deceive at a number of J1 clubs so I don’t really feel any criticism is warranted over the Nerazzurri’s decision to let both leave last winter.

The Levain Cup – I know it’s not a person, but while it’s usually seen as a bit of an inconvenience, this year I think it could bring some real benefits to the club by giving Katanosaka the opportunity to try out players in different positions (Jiro Nakamura at right, then left wing-back for instance) and also build up the fitness of those struck down by Covid.

Team News

Patric, Gamba’s leading scorer last year with 13 J1 goals, will sit this one out after the J. League upheld his ban for a straight red in the much publicised game with Kashima. Judging from comments made by Katanosaka on February 22nd, both Masaaki Higashiguchi and Hiroki Fujiharu are injured and won’t play here. Club legend Higashiguchi saw his league leading run of 109 consecutive appearances, stretching back to 2018, come to an end last weekend though he did watch events unfold from the stand. His normal backup Jun Ichimori is also out as he continues his rehabilitation following hamstring surgery last year, however, Kei Ishikawa performed admirably against Antlers and Taichi Kato likewise in the Osaka Derby. It’s believed that both Wellington Silva and Yuki Yamamoto were among the 9 players who contracted Covid in pre-season, both started against Cerezo, but may be lacking the sharpness to start here. Mitsuki Saito hasn’t been seen yet this season and fellow new recruits Kwon Kyung-won and Dawhan are eagerly awaiting the Japanese border re-opening at the beginning of March, the talented duo will surely bring a lot to the side when they are finally allowed into the country.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Urawa Red Diamonds

I kind of covered a lot of the ground I wanted to here with my comments about Urawa in the ‘tale of the tape’ section above, but they are an intriguing prospect this term so let’s dig a little deeper. They brought in 12 new faces last winter, with the arrivals drawn from J1, J2, Japanese universities, Japanese high schools, and Europe (David Moberg Karlsson and potentially a new forward if rumours are to be believed), while it was only really squad players and veterans who headed for the exits. That kind of activity in addition to the steady progress they made under Ricardo Rodríguez in his first season with the club understandably has many punters, myself included, tipping them for big things in the next few years. However, the J. League can be a wild and unforgiving beast and the crazy schedule that faces Reds in the coming months really could be make or break time for the men from Saitama. As I mentioned in my most recent J-Talk podcast appearance, I find it easier to deliberate over known quantities such as Kawasaki or Kobe rather than teams who’ve undergone a pretty rapid overhaul, like Urawa have, but I guess that’s what makes this project all the more fascinating and that’s why they’re very much the talk of the town in J. League circles. Saturday’s match should be full of intrigue and I’m also fascinated to see how Reds are shaping up when they come to visit Suita Stadium in early July.

Team News

Some time left-back, some time forward Takahiro Akimoto will miss out after his red card against Vissel Kobe while Swedish winger David Moberg Karlsson, like Kwon and Dawhan above, is still awaiting clearance to enter the country. Elsewhere Danish forward Kasper Junker and wingers Yusuke Matsuo and Tomoaki Okubo are yet to feature in a matchday squad in 2022 and both Yuichi Hirano and Yuta Miyamoto were on the bench for the Super Cup clash with Kawasaki, but were absent for the Kyoto and Kobe matches. Reds did confirm corona cases a week or so ago, but I’m unsure whether any of the names above have been missing due to Covid, injury or just plain old non-selection.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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

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Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka 16 October 2021 Match Preview

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


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

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

Tale of the Tape

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

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

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



Head to Head


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

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


Gamba Osaka


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

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

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

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

Team News

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


Signed Jun Ichimori Epoch Card

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Urawa Red Diamonds


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

Team News

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

Predicted Lineups and Stats





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

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sport

Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka 22 November 2020 Match Preview

Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 28
Saitama Stadium 2002
Sunday 22 November 16:00


Last Time Out

If anyone reading this blog is new to Japanese football then Gamba’s home game with Vegalta Sendai gave you a taste of what you’re in for. Gamba started the day in 2nd place, unbeaten in their previous 12 league outings, while their visitors, who had never won in Suita in their entire history were bottom of the pile and hadn’t tasted victory for 18 matches. The final result, 4-0 to Sendai, of course.

Gamba have had a great season up until now, so I’m going to be mercifully brief with this match report and won’t dwell on their failings too much. October J1 Manager of the Month Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (good to see that curse applies everywhere) made five changes to the lineup from the game against Kobe 3 days previously. In came, Gen Shoji, Hiroki Fujiharu, Shinya Yajima, Kazuma Watanabe and Shoji Toyama (first J1 start) for Kim Young-gwon, Yuya Fukuda, Kosuke Onose, Patric and Takashi Usami. The spine of the team that has performed so well in 2020, Kim, Ideguchi and Usami were all gone and with them Gamba’s spark disappeared too, there was lots of neat passing from side-to-side, but no real penetration or urgency. Shoji made a pretty shaky return to top-team action and the defensive structure as a whole was off with Gamba never really coming to grips with the problems caused by Sendai’s front three. Nerazzurri old boy Shun Nagasawa helped himself to a hat-trick which doubled his tally for the year and on-loan FC Tokyo defender Takahiro Yanagi finished off the rout by waltzing through a non-existent defence to shoot past Masaaki Higashiguchi in the home goal.

With a double header coming up in Kanto against Urawa and Kawasaki, it felt like Gamba completely overlooked Sendai in this encounter and went in with the attitude that just turning up was enough. Maybe with Vegalta’s form to date in 2020 and, in particular, their woeful 3-0 reverse at the hands of Tosu a week earlier, this might have been an easy mistake to mate, however, the side from Miyagi needed a reaction in this game and they certainly got one. They were more determined than their hosts from the first whistle and Gamba will need to hope that they’ve vomited everything up in one go and got it out of their system ahead of the remaining 6 league fixtures. The only other positives I can take are that some youngsters got playing time (Ren Shibamoto finally made his J1 debut off the bench) and Cerezo also lost to bottom-half opponents meaning this was effectively a free-hit (I would have preferred Nagoya and Tokyo to finish 0-0, but, hey, Grampus still have to play out their final matches without a striker).

Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka Match Lowdown

One of Japan’s fiercest rivalries is back for another installment with 2nd placed Gamba travelling to Urawa, a team who currently lie in 8th position, 10 points behind the Nerazzurri with an extra game played. Owing to the uneven nature of the J1 schedule this year, it seems highly likely that Reds will overtake Yokohama F.Marinos at some point, but they are extremely vulnerable to attack from Hiroshima and Kashiwa, so this match will be of extreme importance to them.

By kick-off on Sunday, visitors Gamba will have had 8 days to contemplate their 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Sendai. They would actually do well to ask their hosts for some advice as Urawa have slammed 11 past Vegalta in their home 2 matches against them this year (1 in J1 and 1 in the Levain Cup.) This game marks the start of Gamba’s final push towards the end of this gruelling campaign with another away tie against Kawasaki following on Wednesday before they return to Suita to face Sagan Tosu on Sunday November 29th. After that, December is a pretty easy ride for the Nerazzurri with only 3 league fixtures awaiting, Shonan (a) on the 6th, followed by 10 days break before Yokohama FC (a) on the 16th and Shimizu (h) on the 19th.

Gamba’s 4-0 trouncing at the hands of Sendai is such an outlier in the context of this year that it defies analysis and I’m basically going to avoid doing so unless that level of performance becomes more of a habit. Prior to that, the 3-0 reversal at Kashiwa in September was the men from Suita’s worst result of the year, and is, in fact, their only road loss in 2020. This generally excellent sequence of scorelines sees Gamba sit 2nd in J1, 17 points off leaders Kawasaki, who can clinch the title with a win away to Oita on Saturday (they may have done so by the time you read this), Nagoya (3 points behind with an extra game played) and Cerezo (6 points back with a game less in the bank) are their only realistic challengers for second and it would take a pretty erratic set of results to see the blue and black side miss out on 2021 ACL qualification.

As alluded to earlier, Gamba’s away form has been the foundation on which they’ve built their season. Their current away points total sits at 30 which is more than the overall tally of J1’s 5 bottom clubs, bizarrely almost double that of last week’s conquerors, Sendai (18). Solid defence on the road has been key with just 12 goals conceded in 13 games, only Kawasaki (10) have let in fewer. My big stat for this week is that Gamba have trailed in just 3 of their 13 away fixtures this season, Nagoya (2-2), Sendai (4-1) and Kashiwa (0-3), incredibly they’ve only been behind for 153 out of a total 1,170 minutes playing time. Anything other than a defeat on Sunday will ensure that Gamba post their best away points total since returning to J1 in 2014. For the record those figures look like this, 2016 (30), 2014 (28), 2015 (27), 2017 (26), 2019 (20) and 2018 (14).

Now let’s take a deep dive on our opponents Urawa Red Diamonds. The Saitama-based side have had an up-and-down campaign on home soil this year, winning 5 and losing 6. Ominously for Gamba, Reds’ best home results have been in their previous 2 fixtures, Sendai (6-0) and Cerezo (3-1), however, prior to that they’d gone 5 games without a win in front of their own supporters, a run that included 4 successive losses without scoring. Following this match, Urawa have only 2 remaining home fixtures, Shonan and Sapporo, so they will definitely be confident of seeing out their schedule in Saitama without any further blemishes.

As gloated about below in the ‘Head to Head’ section, Urawa were Gamba’s closest title rival back in 2014 and that marked the midway point of a run of excellent league form where they achieved 4 top 3 finishes in 5 years. That success was largely based on excellent signings from other J1 sides, namely the likes of Nishikawa, Makino and Kashiwagi (all ex-Hiroshima), Koroki (Kashima), Aoki (Omiya) and Muto (Sendai), however, in recent seasons they seem to have lost their midas touch in the transfer market somewhat. Curacaoan winger Quenten Martinus is the team’s form player at the moment, but he has largely flattered to deceive since moving from Yokohama F.Marinos in 2018. Former Tricolore team-mate Ryosuke Yamanaka, who set up Martinus for the winner at Kobe on Wednesday, boasts good assist stats, but question marks persist over his defensive capabilities and in recent weeks he’s struggled to hold down his place ahead of every J1 referee’s best friend Tomoya Ugajin (6 yellow cards in 14 games this season). Elsewhere former Cerezo striker Kenyu Sugimoro (he’s never going to get a fair shake on a blog like this, eh) has as many league goals as yellow cards this season (and not in a Juanma Delgado sort of way where he has loads of both) and left-winger Koya Yuruki has shown flashes of what he’s capable in recent appearances, but is still searching for consistency at this level.

Head-coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki’s job is on a very shaky peg at the moment after leading one of Japan’s biggest clubs to a 14th place finish last time out and getting bogged down in mid-table this year with some particularly painful defeats thrown into the mix, Nagoya and Marinos (both 6-2 away) and Kashiwa (4-0 home). It’s been rumoured that Cho Kwi-jae (he of Shonan Bellmare power harassment scandal fame) is in line to take over for next season and this is likely to bring about a number of changes at Urawa if it goes ahead. Despite banging in 11 goals in 26 J1 games, Brazilian forward Leonardo hasn’t started any of the past 10 matches (Gamba may be in the market for a dynamic, young Brazilian forward this winter… nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and any new coach must find a way to get Shinzo Koroki and Leonardo into the same starting eleven, as to date they’ve netted 20 of Reds 41 J1 goals between them.

Next year will likely see more emphasis on youth, not generally a strong point for Reds. Midfielders Atsuki Ito (Ryutsu Keizai University) and Tomokai Okubo (Chuo University) are on designated special player contracts this year and will turn pro in 2021, as will youth team ‘keeper Zion Suzuki who already stands 189cm at the age of 18. Defenders Yudai Fujiwara (Aomori Yamada High School) and Ryuya Fukushima (Urawa Youth) are also locked in, with holding midfielder Yuta Miyamoto (Ryutsu Keizai University) to follow in 2022. If Cho potentially does take over, could we see promising Shonan midfielders Daiki Kaneko and Mitsuki Saito take the well worn path from Hiratsuka to Saitama? Urawa posted the best attendance figures in J1 in 2019 with an average of 34,184 per game, so they have been hit harder than anyone by the COVID-era restrictions, Brazilians Mauricio and Fabricio left mid-season and haven’t been replaced, it will be interesting to see if they genuinely do go down the path of rearing their own talent.

Head to Head

Urawa ran out 3-1 winners at Panasonic Stadium back in August with Gamba’s poor defending meaning they deserved nothing from the game, even if the final score rather flattered our visitors. The Nerazzurri have been victorious on their 2 previous league trips to Saitama, Yuya Fukuda’s first J1 goal on the final day last season and Kosuke Onose’s rasping half-volley which put Gamba on their way to a 7th consecutive victory back in 2018 were my personal highlights from those clashes. I’m sure all supporters of a blue and black persuasion get goosebumps thinking about the late smash-and-grab 2-0 win back in the treble-winning season of 2014, less so the 2016 edition of this contest when Ademilson was sent off for some impulsive stupidity (there’s a theme here), which wasn’t helped by Tomoaki Makino’s theatrics, and Reds eventually romped to a 4-0 victory.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Yuji Ono (knee surgery – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) are definite absentees. A cloud of uncertainty surrounds club captain Genta Miura who returned as a substitute in the Osaka Derby on November 3rd, but wasn’t in the squad for either the Kobe or Sendai games. Yosuke Ideguchi picked up an injury in training on November 9th and has missed the last 2 matches, there are conflicting reports doing the rounds about how serious his problem is. Takashi Usami and Kim Young-gwon both sat out the home shellacking from Vegalta, though I believe they were just being rested. Stand-in skipper Shu Kurata will make his 300th JLeague appearance for Gamba in this game (271 J1 and 28 in J2 to date).

I thought I’d also give a brief round-up of recent Gamba transfer news and gossip.

In: Meiji University centre-back Yota Sato is the only confirmed 2021 signing so far. Gamba have been linked with South Korean international central midfielder Ju Se-jong from FC Seoul, he, of course, turned down a move to Japan last winter. Playmaker Riki Harakawa from cash-strapped Sagan Tosu is also on the Nerazzurri’s radar, though Urawa and Cerezo have been credited with interest too. In my opinion, he’d be most likely to play at Urawa and his team-mate Daiki Matsuoka would be much more Miguel Angel Lotina’s cup of tea, I would have thought. (this was written before the news Lotina’s contract wouldn’t be renewed, maybe Hirakawa will take Hiroshi Nanami’s fancy?)

Out: Veteran forward Kazuma Watanabe looks set for a move to Yokohama FC, where at the age of 34 he’d probably be considered an up-and-coming youngster fnar fnar. Shimizu S-Pulse were also thought to have been in the running, but it seems like Watanabe will return to Kanagawa for the first time since 2011 with the on-loan Kazunari Ichimi coming back to his parent club for next season.

Urawa Red Diamonds

Versatile winger Takahiro Sekine went off injured in the away draw with Hiroshima on November 3rd and hasn’t featured since, while central midfielder Kai Shibato last appeared as a sub in the 6-0 rout of Sendai on October 18th, it’s unclear whether his absence is due to injury or non-selection. Club legend Yosuke Kashiwagi seems to be getting phased out of the top-team picture this year, mustering only 9 J1 appearances to date and he last made the matchday squad in the aforementioned Sendai game where he was an unused replacement. Centre-back Daisuke Suzuki has made just one solitary start since largely carrying the can for the 6-2 annihilation at Nagoya back on August 8th, it’s highly unlikely he has any future in Saitama beyond this current campaign. Rejuvenated winger Martinus stands to make his 100th J1 appearance in this game and much maligned striker Kenyu Sugimoto could play his 50th J1 match for Urawa. Centre-backs Tomoaki Makino and Thomas Deng, as well as central midfielders Ewerton and Kai Shibato are all walking a suspension tightrope with 3 yellow cards apiece. Dangerous forward Shinzo Koroki (9 goals in 24 games) needs just 1 more to reach double figures in J1 for the 9th successive season.

Predicted Line Ups

Gamba are likely to field a much stronger side than they did against Vegalta last week, though they will be mindful of the tough games they have coming up in the next 7 days. Alternatives to the side below would be, Suganuma in for either Kim or Shoji if they have any fitness issues. I believe Yuya Fukuda will come back in for Hiroki Fujiharu, but it’s possible that Miyamoto will stick with the veteran. In the centre of the park I’ve perhaps gone with hope over expectation by selecting Yosuke Ideguchi there, if he’s unavailable, promising youngster Kohei Okuno and Reds-old boy Shinya Yajima are contenders to take his place. On the bench, Dai Tsukamoto’s excellent strike against Hachinohe in J3 could see him promoted to the pine and I’d love to see Ren Shibamoto get another chance to shine.



Urawa’s selection has been very consistent lately, making my job of predicting their starters that bit easier. At left-back Yamanaka may very well get the nod ahead of Ugajin and Iwanami remains an option at centre-back, though after blanking Kobe in midweek, Makino and Deng is the most likely combination. Brazilian Ewerton, a scorer at Panasonic Stadium last year, may return in place of Aoki in the midfield engine-room after it was revealed that the latter is set to join FC Tokyo for next season. In attack I’ve opted for Leonardo over Muto, though Reds number 9 scored in the 3-1 win over Gamba earlier this season and generally combines well with Koroki.



Match Prediction

A tough one to call, for me Urawa haven’t looked great this year, but they can grind out good results. Gamba will be looking to bounce back from last week’s embarrassment and will come into this game safe in the knowledge that they’ve scored 3 times in each of their previous 3 visits to Saitama Stadium. I’ll opt for a reasonably entertaining 2-2 draw which won’t particularly suit either side, but won’t be a disaster.