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Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-2 Gamba Osaka Review and Weekly Round-Up

The Match

Gamba produced what could arguably be described as their best performance of the year to see off Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-1 on Sunday night, their third win in-a-row. Lining up once more in a 4-4-2 system, the Nerazzurri made just one alteration to the starting eleven from Wednesday night’s game with Nagoya, Hiroki Fujiharu coming back in for Yuya Fukuda at left wing-back. Fukuda dropped down to the bench where Takashi Usami once again found himself in a bid to give him some much needed rest.

Despite Hiroshima starting the stronger of the two teams, forcing numerous corners and free kicks in dangerous areas during the opening exchanges, Gamba found themselves 2-0 up after just 20 minutes. Captain Shu Kurata had a big hand in both goals, first smashing home an exquisite half-volley after Hayato Araki attempted to head away Kim Young-gwon’s ball over the top…watch the Youtube highlights below if you haven’t already…my words can’t do it justice. Just 4 minutes later Kurata picked up the ball inside his own half, swivelled then dinked a delicious pass over Akira Ibayashi with the outside of his right-boot, Patric raced onto it and also used the outside of his foot to guide the ball past Takuto Hayashi at his near post, the former Sanfrecce hitman made a clear point of not celebrating against his former side, but all credit to him for giving 100% for Gamba.

From this point on the home side had a mountain to climb and after licking their wounds for a good 15 minutes they finished the half strongly. Yuya Asano was denied by Higashiguchi, making his 300th J1 appearance in this game, following an incisive run while Tsukasa Morishima and Douglas Vieira both glanced headers wide from Yoshifumi Kashiwa crosses from the left side. A minute out from the break Morishima played in Asano and Higashiguchi saved well low to his right, forcing the ball for a corner. From the resulting kick, Araki headed the ball against the outside of the post and Gamba were happy to get a 15 minute breather.

Truth be told, the second half onslaught I expected from Sanfrecce never really materialised. They enjoyed lots of possession and territory but wasted a lot of balls over the top and ran down blind alleys in the centre of the park as Gamba’s defence, superbly marshalled by Gen Shoji stood firm. The visitors had just about made it to the key milestone of the second half water break when a spanner was thrown in the works. All of the energy used up in the preceding 70 minutes took its toll and a tired looking Gamba backline allowed the impressive Kashiwa time to deliver an excellent cross and second half sub Leandro Pereira found himself with a free header which he flashed across Higashiguchi and in off the post for his 8th J1 strike of the campaign. After that Sanfrecce didn’t threaten too much, Douglas and Leandro in the same side just doesn’t seem to work for them. Gamba sending on Usami for Ademilson also helped to keep possession in the Hiroshima half, eat up the clock and even come close to bagging a third. Despite a late scare or two in an excessively long additional time period (more on that later) Gamba prevailed 2-1, their first win in Hiroshima since 2016 which eased them up to 7th in the standings with multiple games in hand over Yokohama F.Marinos (5th) and Kashima (6th).

Analysis
* There’s an old saying that form is temporary, but class is permanent and this year Shu Kurata is the living embodiment of that. It’s not that long since he lost his starting spot to Yuji Ono, yet zip forward a few weeks, throw in Genta Miura’s injury and Kurata is now captaining the side and and has produced great finishes against Sendai and Sanfrecce in addition to his wonderful assist for Patric’s goal.
* Kurata’s renaissance stands in contrast to the performances of Hiroshima’s Tsukasa Morishima. Although he had a couple of decent touches in open play, his set pieces were particularly wasteful and Rhayner immediately improved this when he came on. 23 year-old Morishima was one of J1’s leading assist makers in 2019 with 7 in 24 games, however, this year he has really struggled to get going. Fans of Japanese football in general will surely be hoping he gets back in the groove soon.
* Is it a rule in JLeague that no matter how much additional time is allocated, if it runs out when one team is attacking they get to finish their attack before the referee blows his whistle? The fourth official showed 3 minutes of additional time, Gamba made a late change, bringing on Shuhei Kawasaki for Kosuke Onose which would have added 30 seconds, yet we were still playing with Hiroshima in and around the Gamba box until nearly 95 minutes were up. Are officials worried that attacking team players will criticise them if they blow mid-attack? Surely the fallout of, say Sanfrecce equalising a full minute after the game was supposed to have finished should outweight that consideration? I’ve seen this happen in numerous other games and it’s bothered me, so this isn’t just a gripe because it happened in a Gamba match.
* I’m hopeful that Patric and Usami will be selected to start at home to Kashima next Saturday, just as they were in the away game in Ibaraki. Patric gave Akira Ibayashi, standing in for Yuki Nogami, all kinds of problems on Sunday and it was no co-incidence that both Gamba goals came down Sanfrecce’s right where in addition to Ibayashi, they had Shunki Higashi making his first appearance as a right wing-back. Ademilson didn’t do a whole lot to justify his selection, Usami will be raring to go next week and Patric brings a physical dimension unfound elsewhere in the squad, so it’s Usami and Patric for me.

Gamba MVP

By far the easiest decision I’ve had to make since I started doing these….Shu Kurata. A brilliant finish, superb assist and nice leadership, need I say more?

Gamba U23 Round-Up

Gamba U23 bouced back from a run of 4 successive defeats to stun promotion seeking Roasso Kumamoto at Panasonic Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Make no mistake, the Kyushu side had the chances to win this game comfortably, but they also spent an inordinate amount of time passing the ball about in front of a set Gamba defence which was brilliantly led by Ryo Shinzato, a man who knows how to put the ball in Row Z. Additionally, a high percentage of their shots were either blocked or from well outside the area while the much vaunted Kaito Taniguchi was shown that shooting every time you cut inside won’t be nearly as successful as he moves up through the leagues. This may be a positive function that both Gamba and Cerezo U23 can serve, as both perform more as inexperienced J1 teams rather than your standard J3 outfit.

For the game itself, Roasso struck the bar 3 times in the opening half, twice with looping headers that would have been easily saved had they dropped on target and the other time from a shot by impressive on-loan Tosu left-back Hiroto Ishikawa which cannoned back into the path of Shun Ito who somehow fired the rebound over. The opening 10 minutes after the re-start was an avalanche of Kumamoto pressure with few clear cut chances, Shinzato at centre-back was crucial in getting the ball out of the danger area which contrasted with the benched Jefferson Tabinas who has the tendency to cede possession to the opposition in Gamba’s defensive third.

Tatsuya Yamaguchi, a second half replacement for Keisuke Kurokawa sent a timely reminder of his presence to Gamba top-team kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto with a right-footed rocked that whizzed past Kei Uchiyama low to his left in the 58th minute. Haruto Shirai sealed things 5 minutes from time after a determined run by Shoji Toyama culminated with a pass to the right-winger who coolly shot across Uchiyama from 10 yards.

Gamba U23 Starting XI: GK: Jun Ichimori © (OA), RB: Kohei Okuno, RCB: Riku Matsuda, LCB: Ryo Shinzato (OA), LB: Keisuke Kurokawa, RCM: Ko Ise (Type 2), LCM: Ren Shibamoto, RW: Haruto Shirai, LW: Dai Tsukamoto, CF: Daisuke Takagi (OA) and Shoji Toyama.

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Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Gamba Osaka 27/09/2020 Match Preview

Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 19
Edion Stadium Hiroshima
Sunday 27 September 18:00 (JST)


Last Time Out

Gamba recorded an impressive 2-1 win at home to Nagoya Grampus on Wednesday night, their first home three-pointer in 5 games. Kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto retained the 4-4-2 formation used in the win at Sapporo the previous weekend, but made three personnel changes. Yuya Fukuda started at left-back for the first time in J1 in place of Hiroki Fujiharu, Gen Shoji came in for injured captain Genta Miura while Patric started alongside fellow Brazilian Ademilson in attack to give Takashi Usami a well earned breather. Both Usami and Fujiharu began proceedings on the bench.

Grampus edged a scrappy, stop-start first half and went into the interval ahead thanks to Mu Kanazaki’s 21st minute effort. A period of extremely sloppy Gamba defending resulted in a Nagoya corner on the far-side. Yuki Soma’s outswinger was flicked on at the near post by Takuji Yonemoto and Kanazaki showed great desire to barge between Shoji and Ryu Takao and steer the ball past Masaaki Higashiguchi. Later on in the half two events conspired to turn things in Gamba’s favour. First in the 36th minute a long ball put the dangerous Mateus away and Higashiguchi somehow managed to deflect the Brazilian’s shot up and on to the bar. This may have been the turning point as up to that point the game had followed a similar pattern to the 3-1 loss to Urawa, but where Reds were able to bag a second first-half goal and give Gamba a mountain to climb, Grampus couldn’t capitalise and the Nerazzurri remained very much in with a shout. Furthermore, a couple of minutes before the break ex-FC Tokyo holding midfielder Yonemoto lunged in on Ademilson, earning a yellow card and a knee injury in the process. His place was taken by Joao Schmidt, but from then on Gamba took a strong grip on the midfield battle.

Fujiharu replaced Takao at half time which meant Fukuda switched to right-back and after that Gamba didn’t take long to get back on level terms. Following Naoki Maeda’s dragged shot (similar to Yuki Muto’s goal in the aforementioned Urawa game) wide of Higashiguchi’s left hand post, Gamba broke up the other end. Ideguchi played in Onose and he was upended inside the D at the edge of the penalty area by Shinnosuke Nakatani. Yuki Yamamoto and Kim Young-gwon eyed up the resulting free-kick, the right-footed Yamamoto stepped up, the ball was then deflected downwards off a Grampus head in the wall and bounced awkwardly, beating Langerak to his right, 1-1 game on.

Gamba looked the more energetic of the two teams in the final 30 minutes, both Ademilson and Patric gave Langerak cause for concern before the men in blue and black were boosted by a triple switch with 14 minutes remaining. Usami, Watanabe and Endo entered the fray in place of Ademilson, Patric and Yamamoto and two of the subs would have a big hand in the winner. Endo rolled back the years to play a killer ball down the right flank to Onose, the ex-Yamaguchi winger advanced on Langerak and cut it back to Ideguchi who stumbled, but still directed it into Usami’s path. Gamba’s talisman took a touch, looked up and coolly belted the ball into the right-side of the net, 2-1 and 4 points from 2 games against Nagoya this year looks like an excellent haul. Quick stat to finish off, bizarrely Gamba have now scored at least twice in their past 10 league games against Grampus stretching back to 2015.

Sanfrecce were able to extract revenge over their hosts Oita, winning 2-0 in midweek after Trinita had claimed a smash-and-grab 2-1 victory at the Edion Stadium earlier in the campaign. Brazilian forward Douglas Vieira turned the game decisively in the visitors’ favour after his entrance in the 63rd minute, he set up Tsukasa Morishima for the game’s opening goal just 7 minutes later before sealing it with a neat finish 4 minutes from time.

The Lowdown

This may look like the most mid-table clash imaginable with 10th hosting 9th but as with everything this year, things are not what they appear on the surface. Gamba sit 4 points ahead of Sanfrecce and both teams have played half of their 34 league matches, however, crucially they have games in hand over everyone ahead of them in the standings with the exception of Nagoya. Kawasaki look to be waltzing away to a 3rd title in 4 years, but essentially anyone from Cerezo in 2nd down to Hiroshima in 10th could lay claim to one of the ACL berths (whether that’s a blessing or a curse in this current climate really depends on your personal opinion).

It’s interesting to note that Gamba’s 9 wins and 29 points from their opening 17 games (note they’ve played Grampus twice and are yet to face Tosu – though given out recent record in Kyushu that’s not the disadvantage it might seem) compares favourably with 5 wins, 20 points, 13th in J1 in 2019 and 4 wins, 15 points, 16th the year before. Using my rudimentary mathematics, 29 x 2 = 58 and 58 points would have placed Gamba 6th last season and 2nd in 2018! Indeed we won the title in 2014 with just 63 points!

Hiroshima, in a similar vein to Gamba, have struggled to get much of a rhythm going on their home turf this year, taking just 11 points from their 7 matches at Edion Stadium. This has included wins over Kashima (3-0), Shonan (1-0) and Shimizu (4-1), draws with FC Tokyo (3-3) and Vegalta Sendai (1-1) as well as defeats at the hands of Oita and Cerezo (both 2-1). After having the joint second best defence in the league in 2019, letting in just 0.85 goals per game and conceding more than 2 in a single game just once (3-0 at then rampant eventual champions Yokohama F.Marinos), things have been a bit more loose this year with 1.2 opposition strikes per match while FC Tokyo and Yokohama F.Marinos (3 goals each), plus Kawasaki (5) have all punished them dearly for defensive errors.

With no midweek fixture coming up for either side we can expect both to put out full-strength line-ups for this game. Gamba have started collecting injuries lately, but with their burgeoning youth system always on hand to produce another gem I’m not too worried about inexperienced players getting their shot. Sanfrecce do have a number of good youngsters in their ranks, but two of them, Tsukasa Morishima and Keisuke Osako haven’t kicked on as much as they might have hoped after enjoying breakout 2019 campaigns. The starting eleven is likely to contain 6 players aged 30 or over and 2 more who are 29. Left wing-back Yoshifumi Kashiwa missed the earlier match between these two with injury and is a key component for Sanfrecce, both Brazilian attackers Douglas Vieira and Leandro Pereira have 7 league goals for the year (together they’ve netted 54% of Hiroshima’s J1 total), Vieira in particular is enjoying a hot spell with 4 in his last 5, though kantoku Hiroshi Jofuku has struggled to find a system that can get the best out of both of them at the same time. Central midfielder Hayao Kawabe is a player who always impresses me, as is former Gamba Junior Youth centre-back Hayato Araki.

Head to Head

Gamba won a rather dull midweek clash at home to Sanfrecce back in round 6 on July 22nd. Genta Miura headed home Takashi Usami’s corner just before half-time following some uncharacteristically poor Hiroshima defending. Rhayner cleared an effort off the line in the second half and Sanfre were off target with most of their chances as the hosts earned their 4th win of the year.

Gamba’s previous two visits to Hiroshima on league business are ones they’d rather forget. The Nerazzurri were given a sound 3-0 drubbing last April which consigned them to a 4th defeat in 6 games, while 9 months earlier a 4-0 whipping in the first post-2018 World Cup J1 matchday essentially sealed Levir Culpi’s fate with the Brazilian receiving his marching orders following a 2-1 home loss to Shimizu 4 days later. This may all sound very bleak, but it’s worth remembering that prior to 2018 Gamba were on a run of 4 games unbeaten at the Edion Stadium.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Captain Genta Miura looks set for a spell on the sidelines with a thigh injury picked up against Sapporo last Saturday, the full extent of the damage is as yet unknown. Shinya Yajima should return from his sprained ankle sometime in the first half of October and Yuji Ono is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery. Elsewhere, Ryu Takao was subbed at half-time in the win over Nagoya, but I don’t believe it had anything to do with injury. Youngsters Shuhei Kawasaki and Shoji Toyama will hopefully be competing for bench spots again this weekend. Masaaki Higashiguchi will make his 300th J1 appearance in this match.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

There aren’t really any fitness issues to speak of for Hiroshima, they have a pretty small squad that they rotate reasonably well. Centre-back Kazuki Kushibiki joined last winter from Nagoya after spending the second half of 2019 on loan at Omiya, but hasn’t been spotted in a matchday squad this year, while Gamba fans favourite Kohei Shimizu has been out of contention for a while too. As neither would be regular starters, their absence may simply be down to non-selection.

Predicted Line Ups

With Miura likely to be missing I believe we’ll go 4-4-2 for the third game running. Whether Fukuda is considered a genuine full-back now after playing there against Nagoya, we’ll have to see. With 6 days before the next game at home to Kashima it’s more than likely we’ll see a full strength Gamba, I for one would like to see Usami partnered by Patric as I feel the big man would definitely be up for it against his former club.


Although they’ve rotated quite a bit in recent weeks, it’s not difficult to spot most of the first choice starters for Sanfrecce. Hayashi has been starting in goal ahead of Osaka in recent weeks, I’m not sure the logic behind dropping your up-and-coming 21 year-old for a 38 year-old veteran in this year of all years, but there you go. Nogami, Araki and Sasaki will almost certainly be the back 3 and Kawabe and Aoyama should play in central midfield. Rhayner appears to be first choice right wing-back but Chajima may start ahead of him here. In attack, as mentioned before, sticking Douglas Vieira at right-wing screams of trying to shove square pegs into round holes, but it seems that Jofuku has figured that having he and Morishima playing off Leandro Pereira is better than having Higashi, Notsuda or Ezequiel in the mix.


Match Prediction

A very close game which could be decided by a defensive or refereeing error, I’ll say Gamba will keep up their decent 2020 away form and eek out an at times seat-of-the-pants 1-1 draw.

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Sanfrecce Hiroshima Match Preview 22 July 2020

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


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

Last Time Out

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

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

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

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

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

Gamba Osaka 2-1 Oita Trinita
18 July 2020


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

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

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

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

Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-2 Cerezo Osaka
18 July 2020


Recent History

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

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

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

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

Tactical Notes

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

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

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

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

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

Team News

Gamba Osaka

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

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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

Know Your OpponentSanfrecce Hiroshima

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predicted Lineups



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Match Prediction

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

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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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