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.
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.
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.