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Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Gamba Osaka 20 August 2022 Match Preview

Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 26
Saturday 20 August 2022
Edion Stadium Hiroshima
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


Obon has been and gone in Japan, and with little over 2 months of the 2022 J1 season remaining Sanfrecce Hiroshima against Gamba Osaka on Saturday night brings us a match with big implications at both ends of the table. Hosts Hiroshima lie in 5th place, but are just 2 points behind Kashima in 2nd, while at the foot of the standings, Gamba are 2nd last and only lead bottom club Júbilo on goal difference. A heart-breaking 2-0 loss at home to the Saxe Blues’ prefectural rivals Shimizu courtesy of late strikes on the counter from substitutes Benjamin Kololli and Carlinhos Junior left Gamba’s J1 hopes hanging by a thread and saw the curtain come down on the eight-month reign of Tomohiro Katanosaka. Contrastingly, Sanfrecce notched a 2nd consecutive victory away to top 6, Kanto-based opposition in their come-from-behind 3-2 triumph at Kashiwa Reysol. It was a 3-pointer that arrived hot on the heels of a 2-0 at Kashima the week before and they seem to have eased themselves out of their recent slump of just a solitary win in their 6 previous outings. Will Hiroshi Matsuda’s appointment give Gamba enough of a new boss bounce to help them upset the odds against an impressive Viola side? We’ll get our answer to that soon enough.

Tale of the Tape



Last Sunday’s 2-0 home defeat to Shimizu marked Gamba’s 2nd xG win in-a-row as well as the second time in succession that they’ve not been outshot by their opponents, you’ve got to take the small victories when they come to you, right?…right? Joking aside, in all honesty going into last weekend’s Expo game I fully expected to lose, but the performance and level of fight on display from the Gamba squad was better than I anticipated. The Nerazzurri took the game to their visitors and controlled large parts of it, though unfortunately that old, familiar foe ‘susceptibility to counter attacks’ reared it’s ugly head in conjunction with an inability to convert pressure into goals and it was that deadly duo that ultimately sunk the Nerazzurri. The Ao to Kuro have generally looked pretty decent in the middle part of the field this season, and indeed Dawhan, Kohei Okuno, Keisuke Kurokawa and Isa Sakamoto all got pass marks from me on Sunday, especially in the first-half. However, it is the lack of a clinical edge in the attacking third combined with careless errors at the back (see Gen Shoji’s in the build up to Carlinhos Junior’s clincher for S-Pulse), that have been the blue and blacks’ undoing in a season where little to nothing has gone right. Shimizu have now won 2-0 at FC Tokyo and Gamba in consecutive weeks and if you were to sit someone with limited knowledge of the J. League down and have them watch those two matches back-to-back, I’m sure they’d struggle to pick which team was 8th and which was 17th, FC Tokyo or Gamba. Alas, it’s scant consolation for the Nerazzurri and their supporters and I’m really clutching at straws in the positivity stakes this week as frankly we appear doomed with 10 fixtures remaining. Like I mentioned above, there were several bright sparks versus Shimizu, however, for each good point there was a negative to balance things out. Ryotaro Meshino was far too selfish in possession, constantly trying to be the hero, I’ve no idea why Hiroki Fujiharu is playing as a left-sided centre-back, Musashi Suzuki clearly wasn’t fit and the Ao to Kuro diminished as an attacking force when he replaced Sakamoto. Also, though it pains me to say it, it appears that Shu Kurata is only in the Gamba matchday squad these days on reputation and because he’s the club captain. Hiroshi Matsuda had just a few days of working with the players after coming in as an experienced pair of hands to help Katanosaka out last week, so it’s unclear how much of Sunday’s strategy came from each coach. What we did see was a more energetic performance than in recent outings, though understandably that was hard to maintain over 90 minutes played out in intense heat and humidity and Gamba’s subs simply didn’t match their Shimizu counterparts in terms of influence. There were a lot of long-range diagonal balls to bring high-sitting wing-backs, Kurokawa and Onose, into play, Sakamoto’s movement and drifting between the lines gave S-Pulse’s centre-backs plenty of food for thought, however, ultimately the overall team performance ended up being akin to a meal that tasted good at the time, but had little real substance inside to fill you up. Gamba have been keeping themselves in games this term, they’ve only lost by more than 2 goals once, and on that occasion they were playing 10v11 for 83 minutes (don’t worry, I’m not about to go down that rabbit hole again). They need to somehow stop the rot, keep their heads from dropping, pick up an unexpected result from somewhere and then build from that.



25 league games into their 2022 J1 campaign and there’s a remarkable synergy between Hiroshima’s xG figures and the number of actual goals they’ve scored and conceded, particularly at home (I don’t have anything to properly back this up, but anecdotally it appears J Stats’ xG model is more accurate this year compared with last season), and I feel this highlights the quietly effective way kantoku Michael Skibbe has got his side going about their business. This is the 3rd Gamba Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima match preview I’ve written this year as we’ve had one Covid-enforced postponement, I’ve been effusive in my praise for the Viola the past 2 times and nothing has really happened since then to make me alter my tune. One thing worth repeating is their impressive sprinting numbers which have increased by an average of 20.7 per game since last year, from 169.9 up to 190.6. Irrepressible wing-back Tomoya Fujii, scorer of the winner away to Kashiwa last weekend has led the charge with a J1 best 829 sprints so far in 2022, a staggering 323 more than his nearest team-mate in that metric, Makoto Mitsuta, who has 506. In spite of Nassim Ben Khalifa’s early strike against Reysol and the ageing and injury prone Douglas Vieira bagging 3 goals and an assist in just 5 sub appearances, there has been a general absence of fire-power from the centre-forward position, though thankfully attacking midfielders Tsukasa Morishima and Makoto Mitsuta have made up for that. After netting just 9 times in J1 during his first 6 seasons as a pro, Morishima has has almost doubled that tally in 2022, hitting 7, while partner-in-crime Mitsuta has 5 goals and 5 assists in a hugely impressive rookie year. New Cypriot international forward Pieros Sotiriou, signed from Bulgarian cracks Ludogorets on Monday, would appear to be the cherry on top of the cake as far as Viola fans are concerned. Midfield has probably been Sanfrecce’s area of greatest improvement compared with 2021 as Taishi Matsumoto has really started to fulfill his enormous potential alongside someone who is a candidate for comeback story of the year, Gakuto Notsuda. The Hiroshima youth product, who has been loaned out 4 times already in his career bagged assist numbers 6 and 7 versus Kashiwa and was also involved in Japan’s successful EAFF Cup campaign last month, quite the year so far for the 28 year-old and who would have predicted that when the season kicked off back in February? The Notsuda-Matsumoto partnership is the main change Skibbe has instigated at the Edion Stadium recently, evolving from a 3-5-2 to a 3-4-2-1 setup. Tsukasa Shiotani will be out for around 6 weeks which leaves Sasaki, Araki and Nogami basically untouchable in the defensive positions, Takumu Kawamura’s return from injury allows the option of rotation in any of the slots in the middle 6 and star turns Morishima and Mitsuta will surely continue to provide the thrust and guile behind the main attacker, whoever they may be, Ben Khalifa, Douglas Vieira or Pieros Sotiriou.



First Match Recap

After the originally scheduled clash set for 25 May was postponed due to a Covid outbreak in the Sanfrecce squad, the re-arranged match took place a little over a month later on 29 June and it proved to be one of the high points of Gamba’s season to date. Following a slow opening that Hiroshima slightly shaded, Gamba struck decisively with 2 goals in the space of 4 first-half minutes. First, Keisuke Kurokawa drilled home an angled drive from just inside the Hiroshima penalty area. Soon after, neat build-up play saw Mitsuki Saito’s shot cannon back off the post, and from the resulting passage of play, the Nerazzurri worked the ball into the Viola box and it broke kindly for Isa Sakamoto to net his first J1 goal from close range. It was a poacher’s effort which drew comparisons with former Ao to Kuro forward and the leading scorer in J2 history, Masashi Oguro. Hiroshima had come into the game on the back of 4 consecutive victories, while Gamba had lost their previous 4 fixtures, however, there was to be no comeback after the break and the hosts ended up seeing things out rather comfortably to prove that no result is a foregone conclusion in the J. League.



Gamba Osaka

* The Katanosaka saga – A press release on the morning of 17 August confirmed what many had been suspecting for the preceding days, and weeks, that Tomohiro Katanosaka would no longer be kantoku of Gamba Osaka and former-Nagasaki boss Hiroshi Matsuda would be his successor. As a former assistant to Akira Nishino and Kenta Hasegawa during two of the Nerazzurri’s most successful spells in their history, Katanosaka, like predecessor Tsuneyasu Miyamoto leaves the club as an unsuccessful manager, but still someone who retains a special place in the hearts of the club’s supporters. Just 5 wins in 24 league games, 8 in 33 overall and with the team precariously positioned in 17th, only above Júbilo on goal difference at the bottom of the league standings, it’s difficult to make a case for Katanosaka to stay based on results. While injuries, specifically the one sustained by talisman Takashi Usami in round 3, stung badly, it’s important to note other clubs, such as Kawasaki, who were without Jesiel for the first half of the year, performed to a decent level without one of their top players, and others such as Urawa and Shimizu showed notable improvements once their stars became available for selection, that simply never happened at Gamba. A final thing worth considering is that almost every Japanese Gamba fan I’ve seen talking about this has said that the President and front office must be held accountable too. Anyone involved in paying big money to the likes of Ju Se-jong, Leandro Pereira and Wellington Silva and then firing Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, the man who wanted to bring them to the club, only 9 league games into the 2021 campaign, needs to take a long, hard look at themselves. Furthermore, it was essentially known that Katanosaka would be taking over from last August, yet no significant moves were made to bring in / move out players suitable / unsuitable for Katano-soccer last winter. As I said above, Katanosaka’s results have been poor, but one must wonder if he was set up to fail from the start. This is a dark chapter in the club’s history, there may be darker ones to follow, but make no mistake they’ll be back. It may take a year, it may take 5, it may take 10, but Gamba will return to the summit of Japanese football, mark my words.

* The turnout for Sunday’s Expo game stood at 27,662, Gamba’s highest (non PSG) attendance of the Covid-era, a mere 46 shy of the 2019 average, which of course was the best in the club’s history. However, it was almost 10,000 less than the 37,334 that watched the Ao to Kuro square off with Júbilo Iwata back in August 2019. Interestingly there were train and Wi-Fi issues on Sunday that weren’t in evidence when I attended the PSG friendly in July. Also, from my seat in the 8th row of the back stand, I observed pre kick-off that the referee, Yuichi Nishimura, had a quiet word with Gen Shoji and Takashi Inui separately. Everything appeared very cordial, but it seemed he specifically wanted to chat with those players about something. I’ve been critical of referees in recent weeks, however, on this occasion it appeared like it was a genuine attempt by the official to reach out to the players and try and deal with any potential problems at their source rather than waiting for them to flare up later on. I wonder if I’m just late to the game in spotting this, does anyone know, is this the sort of thing that happens often, or is it quite rare?

* Moflem (or Moh-foo-reh-moo in Japanese) is the name of Gamba’s new Sesame Street-esque mascot who was officially Christened prior to kick-off on Sunday night. The name has generally gone down well with Japanese Gamba fans, and as for me, all I’ll say is, at least it makes a break with the usual ….-kun J. League mascot names. In fairness to Moflem, it put in a decent performance on debut, it didn’t mess up the ceremonial kick-in, even if the players (Kosuke Onose excluded) did look a touch embarrassed holding their Moflem cuddly toys for the team photo. Perhaps it could be the answer to the Nerazzurri’s creativity issues in attack?

* The 2022 Expo Uniforms seemed to be a hit with everyone as both the field player and goalkeeper versions turned out really well. Judging by Gamba supporters’ posts on Twitter, Dawhan seems to have quickly acquired cult hero status among the Nerazzurri faithful as his #23 uniform was a popular seller. Unfortunately, he’s only on loan and I don’t imagine he’ll stick around for J2 football. From my, admittedly, minimal research, my #32 Sakamoto jersey seems to be the only one of it’s kind, and I found myself surprisingly rewarded by seeing the soon-to-be 19 year-old from Kumamoto make only his 5th J1 start where he gave a generally good account of himself for the 60 minutes he was on the field.

* While Shimizu fans inside Panasonic Stadium on Sunday night certainly played their part in making it a great occasion with their Samba drumming routines and orange lights, their supporters on Twitter aren’t half a chippy lot, are they? In the past they’ve been more than willing to chime in with unwanted and irrelevant chatter over issues like Gamba’s new emblem and the match against PSG, now a mere 5 minutes after leaving the J1 drop zone and you’d think they’d had the recent title success of Kawasaki. Forgive me if there’s some big ‘in’ joke that I’m not party to (and believe me, I’m well aware of the steaming mess that is the 2022 Gamba Osaka season), but I’m sure there’s someone in their fan base self-conscious enough to think ‘given our recent history, isn’t there a decent chance this bravado could boomerang back and smack us square in the face?’

Team News

The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.

DF Kwon Kyung-won – Pictured in training on Saturday 13 August, but then not in the squad for the match with Shimizu 24 hours later, did he pick up a late injury, was he the Covid case from the previous week, or was he just dropped?

MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, potentially back at the end of this month or early September

MF Rihito Yamamoto – Small fracture in instep of foot, currently working through a rehab program, should be back in early September

FW Musashi Suzuki – Katanosaka stated in an interview on 13 August that Suzuki was essentially a 50/50 for the Shimizu game, as it was, he came on as a second-half sub and didn’t look fit, so I expect him to start this match on the bench too

FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season

FW Hiroto Yamami – Not in the squad for the loss to S-Pulse, it’s unclear whether he was injured, was the Covid case announced the previous week, or was possibly left out due to his bad miss late on against Kyoto

Dawhan, Shu Kurata and Kosuke Onose are all just a single yellow card away from the one game suspension threshold of 4

Predicted Lineups and Stats

**Note – This will be the first matchday squad selected by new boss Hiroshi Matsuda, so expect changes.**





Sanfrecce Hiroshima

The big news out of the Hiroshima camp this week has been the signing of Cypriot international forward Pieros Sotiriou from Ludogorets in Bulgaria for a reported €2 million. That equates to a fairly hefty price tag in Japanese footballing circles, so the pressure will definitely be on him to deliver goals quickly and regularly. With 17 strikes in 25 outings in the Bulgarian First Division last year as well as over 50 caps for his country he certainly has the pedigree to succeed. On the way out is Junior Santos who was never able to recapture the form he showed briefly at Yokohama F. Marinos back in 2020 and could only muster 9 goals in 57 J1 appearances for the Viola. He joined Botafogo in his homeland on Tuesday 16 August, it’s initially a loan contract, but a permanent deal is likely if things go well for him there. From the outside it seems like a couple of shrewd pieces of business from Sanfrecce, even if the up-front fee for Sotiriou was a tad steep. He is a current international with European experience and more importantly is an out-and-out goal-scorer, which is exactly what the Viola require right now. Hiroshima are still fighting on three fronts domestically this year and after knocking Yokohama F. Marinos out of the Levain Cup at the quarter-final stage they next face Avispa Fukuoka in a two-legged semi-final in late September. Before that they have a tough looking Emperor’s Cup last 8 tie away to Cerezo Osaka early next month to negotiate. I guess the big question is, can Skibbe keep his squad suitably fresh and rotated in order to make it through a tough looking upcoming 6 weeks or so? Hiroshima’s 9 remaining league fixtures are something of a mixed bag, and a quick scan through them suggests there’s no reason for Sanfrecce not to continue to be in the running for a top 3 or 4 spot come the end of the season. Also, as I’ve just mentioned, they may even bag a cup or two as well which would put the Skibbe project ahead of schedule as he stated in his opening press conference that this year was about establishing stability before pressing on in 2023.

Team News

The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.

DF Tsukasa Shiotani – Injured his stomach playing in the Levain Cup on August 10, expected to miss around 6 weeks of action

MF Shunki Higashi – Suffered a leg injury in the recent defeat at home to FC Tokyo which will likely cause him to miss the rest of the season

FW Shun Ayukawa – Broke his foot in March, if his rehab has been going according to plan then he should be back soon

FW Pieros Sotiriou – The club announced his signing on Monday 15 August, in theory he should be ready to play on Saturday, but whether Skibbe risks him, or not, remains to be seen

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

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Gamba Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima 29 June 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima
2022 J1 Season Round 15
Wednesday 29 June 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


**Quick Note – As this is a re-scheduled fixture after the original game slated for 25 May was postponed due to Covid, I’d like to point you in the direction of my previous match preview here which covers a lot of ground still relevant to Wednesday’s clash. This preview, and probably the ones for Urawa (2 July) and Kawasaki (9 July), will be shorter than usual as the J.League definitely don’t consult me when scheduling Wednesday / Saturday fixtures.**

There’s plenty on the line for both Gamba Osaka and Sanfrecce Hiroshima in this Wednesday night’s bout at Panasonic Stadium. Hosts Gamba are on a run of 4 consecutive defeats which has seen them slip into the relegation playoff spot, however, victory here, in their game in hand, would lift them them up to the relative safety of 12th. That’s going to be no easy task though as their visitors, Sanfrecce, are chasing a domestic treble and know that securing 3 points from this tie will move them to within touching distance of the league’s summit. Hiroshima have won 5 of their last 6 and earned 16 points in the process, kantoku Michael Skibbe will be seeking a statement performance against Gamba, while Nerazzurri boss Tomohiro Katanosaka, a former Sanfrecce player and assistant coach no less, needs a victory in this game maybe more than he’s ever needed one before. This is the J. League, neither side has a midweek off until after the round of fixtures on July 16, it will be hot and sticky, there will be personnel changes, the hosts have lost their last four, the visitors have won four-in-a-row, to partially quote F1 commentating legend Murray Walker “anything can happen in [the J.League] and it usually does.”

Tale of the Tape



Sapporo round up – There was clear evidence of Katanosaka’s promised high-press against Consadole, however, it should definitely be considered a work in progress at this stage. Gaps were left in-behind which Sapporo were able to exploit on numerous occasions, additionally a lack of time to develop fluid combinations as a result of the seemingly never ending slew of injuries and tactical tinkering was clear for all to witness, particularly in Gamba’s disjointed build up play. A further worry was the Nerazzurri registering just 0.35xG, their second lowest tally of the year, with only Hiroto Yamami really threatening to provide any sort of spark going forward. At the other end, Consadole racked up 20 shots on Higashiguchi’s goal with the veteran stopper having to be at his very best to keep the hosts at bay. Sunday’s outcome means that the Ao to Kuro have now given up at least 20 shots to opponents 5 times in their last 7 games, which is frankly appalling, this compares with only Kashima (33) topping the 20 mark in the opening 10 rounds of fixtures and they had a player advantage for 52 minutes of that encounter. These numbers outlined above bear all the hallmarks of a side destined for the drop (-0.52xG difference per game says it all) and it’s set to be a big summer transfer window ahead for the Gamba front office.

Odds and ends – Despite that rant above I did manage to find a couple of bright spots amid the gloom on Sunday afternoon. Firstly, the ‘guardian deity’ himself Masaaki Higashiguchi, who was actually Gamba’s 2nd highest individual passer during the opening 45 minutes at the Sapporo Dome which I think kind of tells it’s own story. He produced excellent stops to deny Gabriel Xavier, Ryota Aoki and Takuro Kaneko and was powerless to prevent Yoshiaki Komai’s winning header finding the back of his net following poor defensive play from both of Gamba’s central midfielders. His busy day at the office ended with 6 saves, 4 of which were from inside the area, 2 caught crosses and 33 completed passes at a 78.6% accuracy rate. In attack, once again the burden of chance creation and goal scoring fell on the shoulders of young Hiroto Yamami who, despite being starved of possession for long periods, and rather embarrassingly pirouetting the ball out of play under little-to-no pressure in the first half still found himself at the heart of everything dangerous the Nerazzurri did. His 1 shot looked to be goal-bound before being headed away by Ryota Aoki while his 2 last passes included a beauty to set Hideki Ishige through for easily the blue and blacks’ best chance of the opening stanza and also one which took out multiple Consadole defenders midway through the second half, however, unfortunately Patric, receiving on the 18 yard line failed to bring it under control and the chance went begging. Yamami has stated he loves the club and isn’t going anywhere which must come as music to the supporters ears at this tough time.



The Skibbe effect – Experienced German coach Michael Skibbe was appointed Hiroshima kantoku without too much fanfare pre-season, however, due to Japan’s extremely tight Covid-era entry restrictions, he didn’t make his way onto the bench until round 6 when Sanfrecce, then winless, defeated fellow strugglers Shonan at the Lemon Gas Stadium. Since then they’ve suffered just a solitary loss in J1, a 2-1 reversal at home to Kashima in which Kaito Mori scored two absolute peaches, though crucially the Viola did look to have punched themselves out too early in that game and were ripe for the picking come the final 10 minutes. In terms of a potential title challenge, unthinkable before the campaign began, it’s worth considering that Hiroshima have picked up 21 points from their most recent 10 fixtures, compared with table-topping Marinos (22), Kawasaki (18) and Kashima (16). In a similar vein to Hanshin Tigers in the NPB, Sanfrecce must be wishing they could go back and erase the opening few rounds of the year.

The stars of the show – First of all, man of the moment, winter recruit from Ryutsu Keizai University Makoto Mitsuta whose 3 goals and 2 assists have proven invaluable in Sanfrecce’s recent run of 5 wins and 1 draw in their last 6 J1 outings. The Hiroshima youth product tops both the club’s goals scored and assists charts as well as registering the most shots of anyone in the squad (37, 2.6 per 90 minutes), ranking 2nd for crosses delivered (45) and 4th in terms of chances created. Defensively he’s not been too shabby either, his 29 blocks is second highest at Sanfre (21st in J1), while he’s successfully recovered possession 49 times which is only 4th best among his team-mates, but still sees him listed 18th in J1. On the right-wing is Tomoya Fujii, a stat collectors dream, and like Mitsuta a serious candidate for national team honours in the upcoming EAFF Cup. Second year pro out of Ritsumeikan University Fujii leads the league in sprints (617), dribbles (86) and crosses (109). His 162 km covered in 17 games is the best among Viola players while he rates second in his team for through balls (30), chances created (21) and possession recoveries (he’s 10th in J1 for this metric) plus, despite being a wing-back, he’s had the 3rd most shots out of all Hiroshima players (19). Last, but not least is Tsukasa Morishima, another individual for whom higher honours and potentially a move to Europe await. The classy schemer’s 57 through balls is the 3rd best figure in the division while 33 chances created in 15 outings is also a top ten league-wide performance.



Head to Head

**The text below is simply a copy and paste from the original match preview.**

3 April 2021 marked Gamba’s return to the field of play following a 5 week break due to a Covid cluster in the squad, and their opponents that day were Sanfrecce Hiroshima. A largely forgettable 0-0 ensued at the Edion Stadium with chances at a premium and Sanfrecce kantoku Hiroshi Jofuku’s decision to play Junior Santos, normally a centre-forward, on the left-wing turned out to be the game’s main talking point which I think kind of tells you how uneventful things were. The return fixture took place a mere 39 days later as it was a tie originally scheduled for round 20 that had been brought forward owing to the Nerazzurri’s participation in the ACL. It will forever be remembered as Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s final game in charge of the Ao to Kuro as Hiroshima’s 2-1 triumph left Gamba with just 7 points from their opening 10 games and the powers that be at the Panasonic Stadium flicked the panic switch. Sho Sasaki put the visitors in front before a scrappy Kazunari Ichimi effort, which would probably have been put down as a Keisuke Osako own goal in most other leagues, levelled things up at the interval. Hayao Kawabe then displayed the kind of form that made Grasshoppers, and later Wolves, make moves for him with a fine finish to secure the 3 points midway through the second-half.



Gamba Osaka


Transfer round-up – My followers on Twitter (I’m trying to move away from there and more onto WordPress) will be aware that I posted on Friday regarding reserve left-back Shin Won-ho’s move to Suwon Samsung Bluewings in his home country, it was originally expected to just be a loan, but it turns out it’s a permanent deal, so good luck to him in his future endeavours. His departure does free up Ryotaro Meshino’s old #40 jersey should he opt to return home this summer. There have been no further updates regarding deals for either he, or Musashi Suzuki, since last week. Another former Gamba Youth product to unsuccessfully try his luck in Europe at an early age, Shuhei Kawasaki, looks to be on his way out at Portimonense, though I think a return to Panasonic Stadium is unlikely at this stage. Brazilian forward Leandro Pereira wasn’t in the matchday squad for the trip to Hokkaido on Sunday, this has led some to speculate his unhappy time at Gamba is nearing it’s end, could a reunion with former coach Hiroshi Jofuku at Tokyo Verdy with Emperor’s Cup hero Ryoga Sato heading in the opposite direction be on the cards? Left-back / wing-back Keisuke Kurokawa’s recent absence has also led to rumours that several European clubs are after his signature and Celtic are leading the race. It’d be a slightly surprising move for me as I feel he needs more time to develop before heading overseas, but he would be in a similar boat to Meshino, Kawasaki and Keito Nakamura in that respect. Should Kurokawa follow Shin Won-ho out the door then it’d be likely the Nerazzurri would be in the market for a new left-back, and having not signed anyone from Renofa Yamaguchi for a while, why not go for the Jon Steele approved Kento Hashimoto (and no, not the Vissel Kobe midfielder, same name though)? Finally, and I know this will never happen, but I was thinking that although I’ve no issue with stating Gen Shoji and Genta Miura are objectively far better defenders than say Yuto Misao, who opted to remain with Oita rather than move to Suita with Katanosaka last winter, I kind of get the impression that if the Nerazzurri had 2 lower profile new defenders who fitted the current kantoku’s style they could do a better job in this team than Shoji and Miura for a much lower salary. One name that popped into my head was Tokyo Verdy’s Japan Under-23 centre-back Seiya Baba. The ball-playing stopper has recently been linked with Shimizu and following his displays in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Uzbekistan he’s likely to be on a few European teams’ radars, but heck why not give Verdy a call, Baba and Sato for Pereira, sounds like a good deal to me, we can even throw in Yota Sato on loan too, how does that sound Verdy?

And finally…with the slew of negative news stories seemingly never-ending (apologies if I’ve contributed more in this preview), I thought I’d report on something a bit more heart-warming. Last Friday (24 June), Mitsuki Saito, Shota Fukuoka and Yota Sato were involved in a “Stadium Pitch Experience Event” in conjunction with Suita City council. It allows nursery and kindergarten kids playing time on the field at Panasonic Stadium (wouldn’t do any worse than the current first-team I hear you shout…chortle…chortle) supervised by the players themselves and I thought it was a pretty good initiative that deserves praise. At a time where media focus seems to be largely centred around looking for stories that paint footballers in a negative light, see the hounding of Jack Grealish on holiday in Las Vegas for evidence of this, we should also take the time to reflect on the good community work done by clubs and players away from the glare of the spotlight.

Team News

GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back in August at the earliest

DF Keisuke Kurokawa – Has missed the last 2 league games and has been linked with a move to Europe (specifically Celtic), though I’m unsure how reliable the source of the information is

DF Kwon Kyung-won – Available again after one match ban for sending off against Yokohama F. Marinos

MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, expected back in August at the earliest

MF Kosuke Onose – Not in the matchday squad versus Sapporo on Sunday, no reason yet given for his absence

MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, don’t expect him back anytime soon

FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season


Predicted Lineups and Stats






Sanfrecce Hiroshima

A team expected by many to get bogged down in mid-table instead finds itself in with a genuine shot at a first J1 crown since 2015, can Skibbe’s Gegenpressing system keep them on course over the hot summer months, that’s the million dollar question. I’d have to say at the moment, their smallish squad suggests to me that top 3 rather than champions is the most realistic outcome, though I did have them 13th in my pre-season league table, so maybe take what I have to say with a pinch of salt. In recent years they’ve had to make do with new arrivals drawn largely from their youth team and also varsity football, and to that end, excellent Toin Yokohama University (Yuki Nogami, Miki Yamane, Kento Tachibanada are all alumni) defender Shuto Nakano as well as Taichi Yamasaki from Juntendo University (Reo Hatate’s alma mater, they knocked FC Tokyo out of the Emperor’s Cup in 2021) are confirmed arrivals for next season. The acquisition of clubless Swiss international Nassim Ben Khalifa in April suggests that Skibbe has a contact or two around the globe and that may pay dividends again this summer in the shape of another left-field signing. The German kantoku originally had the Viola set up in a 3-4-2-1 system before tweaking it into a 3-5-2 with Notsuta at the base of the midfield and Morishima and Mitsuta further forward. He reverted back to 3-4-2-1 for the 3-1 win at Fukuoka last weekend with Taishi Matsumoto starting as a volante next to Notsuda, but owing to the latter’s suspension for this clash I reckon we’ll see the return of Junior Santos alongside Ben Khalifa while Matsumoto sits behind the deadly duo of Morishima and Mitsuta forming one heck of a homegrown midfield trio.

Team News

The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.

GK Takuto Hayashi – Backup ‘keeper, last involvement was as an unused sub on 7 May

MF Ezequiel – Suffered ankle injury, returned to Brazil for treatment, but now back in training, last played 2 March

MF Gakuto Notsuda – Serving a one-match suspension as a result of picking up 4 yellow cards, has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last 4 games, will be missed

FW Shun Ayukawa – Promising young forward who broke his foot earlier in the year, expected back in August

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

Categories
sport

Gamba Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima 25 May 2022 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima
2022 J1 Season Round 15
Wednesday 25 May 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

The penultimate round of J1 action before the June international break sees Gamba Osaka hosting in-form Sanfrecce Hiroshima at Panasonic Stadium. Both sides come into this bout having been on opposite ends of 3-1 scorelines at the weekend. The Nerazzurri endured a tortuous trip to prefectural neighbours Cerezo, meekly surrendering a half-time lead with a timid and tame display after the break where despite doing precious little in the way of attacking they somehow managed to concede 3 times from counter attacks. A late on-field bust-up between Gen Shoji and Leandro Pereira, in addition to trouble between players and supporters after the final whistle, proceeded to cast a cloud over the club as a whole. However, moving away from faux social media outrage and hyperbole, publicly kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka and the players have said the right things to calm the situation and it’s worth remembering there are still 7-8 first-teamers due to return in the coming weeks so it’s not all doom and gloom. Things are far brighter down Hiroshima way with early coach-of-the-season contender Michael Skibbe’s side currently on a run of just 1 defeat in their last 9 league outings which has seen them shoot up to 4th in the standings. Most recently they brushed past Kyoto Sanga at the Edion Stadium courtesy of strikes from Makoto Mitsuta (more on him later), Junior Santos and new-signing Nassim Ben Khalifa. For some amongst the Ao to Kuro support, the red-hot Three Arrows flying into town might be the last thing they wanted to see coming over the horizon, but perhaps it’s best for all those of a blue and black persuasion to see this as an opportunity to quickly put the horrors of last Saturday behind them and rally behind the seemingly forgotten 2021 battle cry, ‘Together as One.’

Tale of the Tape


I said in my Osaka Derby preview that I felt the Gods of fate had been smiling warmly on Gamba during their recent run of 3 games unbeaten with 3 clean sheets. Well, last Saturday at the Yodoko Sakura Stadium, those Gods turned their backs with wretched consequences for the Nerazzurri. The numbers in the first table below tell you everything you need to know as, with the exception of sprints, all of the key performance metrics rank amongst the poorest 3 or 4 of the year and the xG for figure of 0.23 is the lowest in my records (which I started keeping at the beginning of 2021, so currently includes 52 matches), beating the 0.29 from the 1-0 win away at Sagan Tosu last April. Of course a derby is worth 3 points just like any other league match, but a defeat in it obviously stings that bit more, add in the fact that the Nerazzurri lost after taking the lead for the first time since last July, had only a single effort on goal following Hiroto Yamami’s opener and have now tasted victory just once in their last 10 clashes with Cerezo in all competitions and you can get a gist of why the visiting players and supporters were feeling so frustrated at full-time (which absolutely does not excuse the aggressive actions of a few). However, with all that said, the Osaka Derby essentially came down to the last play where a poor free-kick from Gamba led to an excellent Cerezo counter brilliantly finished by the irrepressible Hiroaki Okuno. With my blue and black sunglasses firmly fixed, may I suggest that the match was just a quality Gamba delivery away from finishing 2-2? Of course, 3-1 Cerezo is a far more accurate representation of how things actually went, but the Nerazzurri, tired and bruised and missing the likes of, Higashiguchi, Takao, Saito, Onose, Yamamoto, Fukuda, Patric and Kurata, who are all due back soon, managed to keep themselves in the tie until almost the final kick of the ball. That’s the positive I’ll be clinging to, though as we’ll see in the next paragraph, Sanfrecce Hiroshima are not likely to be willing participants in a Gamba revival on Wednesday night.




Before joining Hiroshima, Michael Skibbe was a coach I’d heard of, but I definitely couldn’t tell you much about what he’d been up to in recent years. Additionally, Germans I follow on Twitter were almost universally sceptical about his appointment, which had me and many others predicting a mid to lower mid-table finish for the Violets in 2022. However, since arriving in Japan after entry restrictions on foreigners were lifted in March, Skibbe has overseen something of a revolution in his mere 2 months of face-to-face communication with his squad. Three points and only 3 goals scored in the first 5 league fixtures gave way to the aforementioned run of just a solitary setback in their most recent 9 J1 outings. Skibbe’s form of gegenpressing is evident in the second stats table below with all metrics, excluding distance covered, bettering 2021’s numbers. Particularly impressive, for me anyway, is the 37.2 increase in sprints per game (non-stop running from right wing-back Tomoya Fujii has been a key factor in that), plus the 0.22 xG for improvement while also achieving a 0.18 drop in xG against. I’ll get a bit more in-depth about the club and players themselves in the ‘Sanfrecce Hiroshima’ section below, but for now I think it’s safe to say that a team long-known for effective, if unexciting football are now back among the league’s headline grabbers. Sitting just 4 points behind inconsistent Yokohama F. Marinos in 3rd, a genuine push for an ACL spot, unthinkable before the season began, is beginning to look more and more like a realistic prospect.


Head to Head

3 April 2021 marked Gamba’s return to the field of play following a 5 week break due to a Covid cluster in the squad, and their opponents that day were Sanfrecce Hiroshima. A largely forgettable 0-0 ensued at the Edion Stadium with chances at a premium and Sanfrecce kantoku Hiroshi Jofuku’s decision to play Junior Santos, normally a centre-forward, on the left-wing turned out to be the game’s main talking point which I think kind of tells you how uneventful things were. The return fixture took place a mere 39 days later as it was a tie originally scheduled for round 20 that had been brought forward owing to the Nerazzurri’s participation in the ACL. It will forever be remembered as Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s final game in charge of the Ao to Kuro as Hiroshima’s 2-1 triumph left Gamba with just 7 points from their opening 10 games and the powers that be at the Panasonic Stadium flicked the panic switch. Sho Sasaki put the visitors in front before a scrappy Kazunari Ichimi effort, which would probably have been put down as a Keisuke Osako own goal in most other leagues, levelled things up at the interval. Hayao Kawabe then displayed the kind of form that made Grasshoppers, and later Wolves, make moves for him with a fine finish to secure the 3 points midway through the second-half.



Gamba Osaka

Panic on the streets of Osaka – Not really something I wanted to write about, but it would be the elephant in the room if I didn’t address it, so here we go. And, don’t worry I’m not about to go all Daily Record on you and get a former player out to lecture people on how team-mates falling out on the pitch is actually a good thing, but with that said, in the cold light of day it probably isn’t the worst thing in the world either. I’ve seen Gamba lose by scorelines such as 4 or 5-0 and not a single player has picked up a caution, at least the actions of Shoji and Pereira, heat of the moment and unruly as they may have been, showed that the players were embarrassed by what was going on and this hopefully means they’ll strive to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Also I’d like to give a quick shout out to Cerezo full-back Riku Matsuda who helped diffuse the situation along with the likes of Genta Miura. As for the stuff between the players and fans after the game, I’m not really sure exactly what happened so I’m not going to go on about it too much. What I will say is, the club have handed out suspensions and bans to supporters already this season for actions such as shouting abuse at the Cerezo team bus and verbally intimidating opposition supporters on the Panasonic Stadium concourse, so once the facts have been collated, you can expect swift and heavy handed action from Gamba, and potentially the J.League too.

Hiroto Yamami – Perhaps lost in the gloom of the post-match apocalypse, it’s easy to forget that Gamba went into the sheds a goal to the good last Saturday thanks to Hiroto Yamami’s header which just crept across Kim Jin-hyeon’s line despite his best efforts to convince everyone otherwise. It was a much needed first J1 goal of the year for Yamami, hot on the heels of his 3rd assist of the Levain Cup group stages against Kashima. You could see how much it meant to him and from a Gamba perspective, hopefully this is the first of many this season.

Minamino vs Sakamoto – Interesting to note was the absence of Isa Sakamoto from the matchday squad for the Osaka Derby having been a late replacement for Harumi Minamino in the 3-1 loss to Kashima in midweek. Sakamoto clearly wasn’t one of the recent Covid cases yet high schoolers Minamino and Kuwahara were still on the bench ahead of him at the Yodoko Sakura Stadium. Katanosaka has spoken of his admiration for the physical development of Minamino and Kuwahara, saying words to the effect of “they are ready to play against adults,” so the feeling is that Sakamoto may have been sent to the gym for some extra physical training.

* And finally…congratulations to Jiro Nakamura for his selection in the Japan U-19 squad for the Maurice Revello Tournament in France from May 29 to June 12 and also to Kwon Kyung-won who was once again chosen in the South Korea squad for their upcoming internationals.

Team News

I’ll keep the same format here as last time and I’ll also add that several of the players who had asymptomatic Covid have been training since last Friday though it’s unknown who they are. With so much uncertainty I’ve gone conservative with my team-selection, it’s equally possible that there will be a lot more changes

GK Masaaki Higashiguchi – In full training, expected back in June
DF Shota Fukuoka – Had a small injury, was training again, potential Covid case
DF Ryu Takao – Out of the squad since 17 April, suspected to have a minor injury
MF Yuya Fukuda – Dislocated left shoulder vs Kobe on 8 May, underwent surgery on 23 May
MF Ju Se-jong – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic he should be ready to play (rumoured to be heading back to South Korea in the summer so we may have seen the last of him in a blue and black uniform)
MF Shu Kurata – Calf problem, expected back in June
MF Kosuke Onose – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic he should be ready to play
MF Mitsuki Saito – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic he should be ready to play
MF Yuki Yamamoto – Injured leg on 17 April, no confirmation of injury by the club
FW Patric – Potential Covid case, if asymptomatic he should be ready to play
FW Takashi Usami – Achilles tendon rupture on 6 March, likely out for the season

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Anyone hoping for a change of pace from the Michael Skibbe love-in witnessed in the ‘Tale of the Tape’ section above is about to be disappointed as I continue to use my positivity over Sanfre’s start to the season to distract me from the issues at Gamba. A quick glance through the Three Arrows history indicates that they’ve been J1 champions on 3 occasions (2012, 2013 and 2015) as well as finishing as runner-up twice (1994 and 2018), so taken from that perspective their current ranking of 4th might not seem particularly impressive. However, since that aforementioned 2nd place in 2018 they’ve been on a steady slide which culminated in 11th spot last year and long serving coach Hiroshi Jofuku receiving his marching orders before the season was done. Step forward Michael Skibbe who, with essentially the same group of players, save for a couple of university recruits, youth team graduates recalled from loan spells in J2 and a club-less former Swiss international, has utterly transformed the team’s fortunes. A Gamba vs Sanfrecce preview wouldn’t be complete without me gushing over former Gamba Junior Youth centre-back Hayato Araki, a colossus in defence and way too handsome to be playing in that position. Midfield deserves a mention also, with Skibbe recently moving from a 3-4-2-1 to a 3-5-2 with a central triangle containing, the rejuvenated Gakuto Notsuda at the base and the two kingpins, potential J1 rookie of the year Makoto Mitsuta (4 goals, 3 assists), and possible bolter in Hajime Moriyasu’s World Cup squad Tsukasa Morishima (4 goals, 1 assist) further forward. A final mention too for flier Tomoya Fujii down the right flank, a real live-wire who looks like he has what it takes to earn international honours one day. Hiroshima play with such intensity that a 3 game match-week presents a real challenge for them in terms of keeping everyone in their relatively small squad fresh, it would be a major boost for Gamba if any of the likes of Fujii, Mitsuta or Morishima were to start this tussle riding on the pine.

Team News


GK Takuto Hayashi – reserve goalkeeper, absent for last 2 J1 games plus most recent Levain Cup tie
MF Ezequiel – long term ankle injury, last played 2 March
MF Takumu Kawamura – knee problem, expected back soon
FW Yuya Asano – not in squad last weekend, hasn’t featured much recently, unclear if his absence was down to injury or non-selection
FW Shun Ayukawa – broken foot, expected back in August

MF Gakuto Notsuda and FW Junior Santos are both 1 yellow card away from an automatic 1 match suspension.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




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

Categories
sport

J1 2022 Predicted Lineups

Happy New Year everyone! This is my first post of 2022 and following on from the previous two seasons I’ve decided to put together a J1 predicted lineups article to get the ball rolling. Hope you all enjoy the fruits of my labour.

Also a quick reminder that you can find the 2022 squad lists screenshotted below in this Excel document.

And, be sure to check out @Michael_Master on Twitter if you haven’t already, the one and only account you need to follow to keep up to date with J. League transfers.

The Guide

Teams are listed below in the order they finished the 2021 campaign and each club’s mini-section contains the following information.

Best Signing – This won’t necessarily be objectively the best player the team have signed over the winter, more the one I feel addresses the most pressing need in the squad, for example, spoiler alert, I selected Kim Min-tae over both Yuta Higuchi and Yuma Suzuki in this category at Kashima.

Biggest Loss – Basically the opposite of best signing.

One to Watch – Again it might not be the best player in the squad or the one most likely to join a European club in the summer, rather someone whose good, bad or up-and-down form will set the tone for his team’s entire campaign.

Doubtful – Players who due to either injuries carried over from 2021, immigration issues or, in the case of a certain Polish striker at Nagoya, potential doping violations, might not be available for selection in the opening months of 2022.

Notes – Me trying to work out what direction the team is heading in this year.

Predicted Lineups

A few caveats here,

* For simplicity’s sake I’ve assumed every contracted player to be fit and available for selection when choosing these best elevens.
* These are not meant to be seen as the predicted starting lineup for round 1, think of them more as the players who will feature most across the course of the year (obviously new signings will be made in the summer, but unfortunately I’m not in possession of a crystal ball to make forecasts that far in advance).
* In cases where numerous players may see significant minutes in a certain position I’ve listed alternatives below the main choice (players may appear as alternatives for more than one role, see Satoshi Tanaka or Takuro Kaneko for examples). I also hope this illustrates where certain clubs have perhaps overstocked in one area of the field while neglecting others. Where two alternatives are listed, the name on the left is the one I consider to be higher on the team’s depth chart.
* I think I said this last year, but I’ll repeat myself anyway, expect the lineups for teams that have kept the same coach and most of the same playing staff as 2021 (Kawasaki) to be more accurate than those that have seen multiple changes in management and on-field personnel (Tosu).
* I have done a great deal of research to get these lineups as accurate as I can to the best of my knowledge, but full disclosure, I’ve also acted on some hunches and taken a punt on some lesser known talents (I guess there wouldn’t be much point reading this article if I just stated the obvious). Players coming from university sides directly into professional starting elevens is one of the unique selling points of football in this part of the world versus, say Europe, and it can be immensely tricky trying to project how each year’s batch of fresh-faced graduates will do, especially when data about their positions and skill-sets is hard to come by and the little information you can find seems to show them playing in a position that doesn’t appear to exist at the club they are joining (for example a wide midfielder in a university side that plays 4-4-2 moving to a J1 team that operates a 3-4-2-1, will they be a wing-back or inside forward?). I’m guessing these are the kind of choices that might generate the greatest debate, so please cut me some slack, I like to use data, but several players below have made the grade based largely on gut instinct developed over a decade watching the J. League.

Well, with all that out the way let’s move on and take a look at each of the 2022 J1 sides one by one, shall we? Again I look forward to hearing feedback (good natured I hope) from fans of all teams, followers of the league in general or just casual passers by, you’re all welcome. While I’m confident you’ll agree with some of the points below, I’m also sure there will be many choices and opinions that people will disagree with, and that’s all fine, it’s why we love the beautiful game so much, right?

Kawasaki Frontale

Best Signing: Chanathip – Had plateaued a little up in Sapporo, but a move to the champions should work out well for him and Frontale.
Biggest Loss: Reo Hatate – Basically by default as he was the only top teamer to leave. Perhaps the most frightening thing for the rest of the league is the amount of depth Kawasaki still have in midfield despite losing Hatate, Mitoma, Morita and Tanaka in the last 12 months.
One to Watch: Leandro Damião – Imperious in 2021 and the deserved recipient of the league’s MVP award, could a slight slip back from those grandiose heights offer a glimmer of hope to the chasing pack?
Doubtful: Jesiel (injury)
Notes: It’s Toru Oniki’s 6th campaign at the helm and once again Frontale start as the team to beat. Assuming Jesiel’s injury or the ageing of the forward line doesn’t adversely affect them too much, they are extremely well placed to fight off challenges from Marinos, Kobe, Kashima and Urawa to three-peat for the first time in their history.




Yokohama F. Marinos

Best Signing: Katsuya Nagato – By no means the most glamorous transfer of the winter, but Nagato who, don’t forget, led the league for assists with Sendai back in 2019 looks like he could thrive in Marinos’ system and help their fans quickly get over the loss of Theerathon.
Biggest Loss: Daizen Maeda – Only joined Celtic on an initial six-month loan deal, I don’t really see this happening, but if things turn sour in Glasgow, a sharp return to Yokohama in the summer would do wonders for Marinos’ title aspirations.
One to Watch: Marcos Junior – Goals-wise he’s dropped year-on-year since coming into the league in 2019, but he still remains pivotal to Marinos’ hopes and how well he adapts to Muscat’s game plan will be of critical importance to the team’s chances this season.
Doubtful: Shinnosuke Hatanaka (injury)
Notes: It’s all about Muscat for me, his appointment struck me as slightly strange at the time and even more so now that I’ve had time to digest it. Was he the best person to carry on Ange-ball? No (that guy is coaching Yamagata at the moment). If a desire to carry on the Ange-ball system wasn’t a pre-requisite for getting the job was he the best available candidate? Again, probably not. Despite that, I’m open minded as to what he can achieve given the time and space to put his own mark on the team. I’d argue that this squad is slightly weaker than 12 months ago, however, there is still plenty of talent onboard and top 4 should be a minimum expectation.

Additional Note: Anderson Lopes has been heavily linked with a move to Marinos. I’m unsure about his visa status or who would win out in a duel between him and Léo Ceará to be the main centre-forward.




Vissel Kobe

Best Signing: Tomoaki Makino – Vissel need an experienced head at the back to guide Kikuchi and Kobayashi along and although I’m sure it’ll seem strange at first seeing him in a darker shade of red, he should prove valuable on and off the field in the port city.
Biggest Loss: Thomas Vermaelen – Played more than I expected him to across his 2 ½ years in the league and no doubt passed on a trick or three to his younger protégés.
One to Watch: Yoshinori Muto – Was the dominant partner as he and Yuya Osako amassed a combined 9 goals and 11 assists in 23 appearances at the back end of 2021. More of that this term and Vissel will very much be in the title conversation.
Doubtful: Bojan Krkić (injury)
Notes: Things have never looked better in Kobe, a balanced and settled squad, a competent manager and Hiroshi Mikitani largely leaving the football decisions to football people. We may see some tinkering with the midfield shape, but regardless of what system Miura adopts there’s no reason to suggest Vissel won’t be there or thereabouts at the business end of the year.




Kashima Antlers

Best Signing: Kim Min-tae – Three of last year’s back four have moved on and Kim’s star is burning brightly following an impressive spell filling in for the injured Yuichi Maruyama at Nagoya. His experience alongside the talented, but erratic, Ikuma Sekigawa will be invaluable.
Biggest Loss: Koki Machida – Perhaps not much of a shock as he’d been linked with European clubs in the previous 2-3 windows so Antlers should have planned his succession accordingly.
One to Watch: Diego Pituca – A shining light once he was finally allowed into the country last year, the box-to-box midfielder should be a genuine J1 Best Eleven contender this term.
Doubtful: Shintaro Nago (injury), Kantoku René Weiler (Visa)
Notes: New kantoku René Weiler has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in attack and must be relishing the prospect of moulding them into a cohesive unit once he eventually makes it to the land of the rising sun. At the back the situation is a little less rosy, but should the attack-minded Weiler get things to gel, the Ibaraki side are not hindered by ACL involvement like their rivals and this could set them on a course towards a first title since 2016.




Nagoya Grampus

Best Signing: Keiya Sento – Played in a role for Tosu that doesn’t really exist in the current Grampus set-up, but to me he projects as Naoki Maeda’s replacement and should prove to be a gem of a signing.
Biggest Loss: Takuji Yonemoto – One of the surprise moves of the winter in my book, he left FC Tokyo after one season of working with Kenta Hasegawa, did they have prior beef?
One to Watch: Mateus Castro – Those of a Grampus persuasion will hope that the enigmatic Brazilian has gotten over the slump in form he experienced in the second half of 2021, as well as those Kawasaki transfer rumours, and will bounce back ready to lead the charge towards an ACL place.
Doubtful: Jakub Świerczok (PED Violation)
Notes: If I was a Nagoya fan would I have wanted to wake up to the news that Kenta Hasegawa was replacing Massimo Ficcadenti? No, but I’ll add that he’s nowhere near as bad as some FC Tokyo fans might have you believe. After winning silverware in each of his first 3 years at Gamba, he took an FC Tokyo side that had only achieved a single top 6 J1 finish in the 8 years prior to his appointment to 3 consecutive top 6 placings. Granted, the wheels came off spectacularly in his final seasons at both clubs, but I still maintain he’s a reasonably safe pair of hands until the Grampus hierarchy decide which direction they want the club to take next.




Urawa Red Diamonds

Best Signing: David Moberg Karlsson – Possibly the only player in the history of football to represent both Kilmarnock and Urawa which means that everything inside me should want him to fail, but I actually think this could be quite an astute piece of business by Reds.
Biggest Loss: Tomoaki Makino – Kind of wins this by default as Urawa didn’t lose any real nailed-on 2021 starters in the off-season, only Yuruki and Tanaka ran him close for this award.
One to Watch: Kasper Junker – 7 goals in his first 6 J1 appearances and just 2 in 11 after that as injuries struck. If a full pre-season schedule gets him back up to speed then J1 look out.
Doubtful: Ayumu Ohata (injury), David Moberg Karlsson (Visa)
Notes: When I wrote my Scouting J1 and Scouting J2 articles last autumn I never envisaged that Urawa and Cerezo would be the 2 teams to sign the most players from those lists, but there you go, hats off to both clubs. Reds have added a dizzying array of stars to an already strong looking squad and if they can find a way to get everyone pulling in the same direction then they appear well set to challenge domestically and in Asia.




Sagan Tosu

Best Signing: Naoyuki Fujita – Still very much good enough to play for Cerezo, but probably rightly moved on due to the ageing issues at the club. A return to his first pro side seems a logical next step and he’ll have a big part to play assisting the development of the bountiful young talent on the books at Tosu.
Biggest Loss: Yuta Higuchi – Plenty of competition for this award, but I’m still drowning my sorrows over Higuchi rejecting Gamba for Kashima and have to nominate him here.
One to Watch: Yuki Kakita – Finished 2021 with something of a bang, netting 5 times in 8 outings for a Tokushima side that struggled to create clear-cut openings. Has his old Vortis team-mate Miyashiro with him too and looks to be the ideal replacement for Keita Yamashita.
Notes: Let’s focus on the positives, the goalkeeper, defence and wing-backs are basically unchanged from 2021 (Ayumu Ohata excluded) and in attack, if I can quote Moneyball, they’ve realised they can’t directly replace departed stars like Higuchi, Sento, Koyamatsu and Yamashita, but they can re-create them in the aggregate. If the injury-prone Yuji Ono, high school wizzkids turned pro-level letdowns Jun Nishikawa and Yuto Iwasaki or any of their 6 recruits from varsity football enjoy a standout year then a mid-table finish isn’t out of the question.




Avispa Fukuoka

Best Signing: Lukian – This deal came as something of a bolt from the blue to me and the addition of J2’s top scorer from 2021 adds real impetus to an Avispa attack that will be looking to move up through the gears this year.
Biggest Loss: Emil Salomonsson – Will be a big loss both on and off the field. He must have found it tough with basically 2/3 of his time in Japan falling during the Coronavirus pandemic so it’s hard to begrudge him a move back home.
One to Watch: Tatsuya Tanaka – Back in his native Kyushu, big things will be expected of the versatile wide-man. This was an area where Avispa needed an upgrade and it looks like they’ve found one in the former Gamba, Oita and Urawa speedster.
Notes: I like what they’ve done in the transfer window, I like it a lot. There’s not one signing they’ve made that I haven’t liked, keeping Hasebe and Mae on board is massive too. After all those niceties I will add the qualifier that although on paper this year’s squad looks stronger than last year’s by a bigger margin than last year’s did than 2020’s (still with me?), it might not necessarily translate into them finishing any higher up in the standings. Though I guess having spent so much of their recent history in J2, the Avispa faithful won’t complain about another upper mid-table placing in 2022.




FC Tokyo

Best Signing: Jakub Słowik – Most J1 transfers have some sort of doubt hanging over them, player stepping up a level, poor previous season, injury prone, might not fit the system etc…none of these apply to Słowik, a clear upgrade on what was there before and questions marks over his distribution should only form a minor concern given the quality of the rest of his game.
Biggest Loss: Joan Oumari – Despite apparently only re-signing to cover until Bruno Uvini could get into the country, the Lebanese international had a decent second year in the capital.
One to Watch: Leandro – He and Hasegawa didn’t see eye to eye, that much is clear, if he and Puig butt heads then I’m not sure he’ll have too many backers left in the FC Tokyo support. A brilliant match-winner on his day, we all know what he can be when it’s not, for FC Tokyo and the league’s sake let’s hope the former, not the latter version rocks up in 2022.
Doubtful: Kashif Bangnagande, Sodai Hasukawa, Akihiro Hayashi (injury)
Notes: Far more change off the field than on it with Mixi taking over as the majority shareholder and Albert Puig moving into the managerial hotseat following a 2-year spell with Niigata. From the outside it appears that any kind of on-field improvement will need to be driven by a kantoku who has a beautiful philosophy on how the game should be played, but never really managed to translate that into meaningful results at Albirex, save for a magical 13 game run at the start of last season. A transitional campaign, give the manager time, yikes I’m using up all the clichés I had saved for the Gamba section several entries below.




Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Best Signing: Gabriel Xavier – An unexpected, but potentially excellent ready-made replacement for Chanathip…as long as his performances don’t go on to show that Massimo Ficcadenti knows rather more about football management than all of us armchair pundits.
Biggest Loss: Chanathip – 2021 was another injury-hit campaign for the Thai superstar, though he did bow out on a high with 3 assists in his last 2 matches. Things had gone a touch stale for him in Sapporo, but he’ll surely be fondly remembered in those parts for years to come.
One to Watch: Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa – I’ll admit I’m highly sceptical of the €700,000 move to Hearts rumours, but the pacy forward has certainly caught the eye of national team coach Hajime Moriyasu and in his second year as a pro will be expected to shoulder a greater burden of Consadole’s attacking hopes.
Doubtful: Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (injury)
Notes: The winds of change haven’t been blowing too strongly up in Sapporo with minimal transfer business being conducted. GX10 (will he change his name to GX18?) and Koroki are the only 2 senior signings, but given how they’ve worked the varsity market in recent years, I wouldn’t bet against Sora Igawa (Tsukuba Univ.) and Hiromu Tanaka (Rissho Univ.) turning out to be pretty handy.




Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Best Signing: Taishi Semba – The Ryutsu Keizai University graduate says he’s looked up to Toshihiro Aoyama for a number of years and if all goes according to plan he could well be the one to take over the legendary Sanfrecce midfield maestro’s spot in the not too distant future.
Biggest Loss: Kodai Dohi – Failed to build on a promising 2020 due to a succession of injuries, but a loan spell with Mito is absolutely the right move to resuscitate his career.
One to Watch: Junior Santos – If the 2020 Yokohama F. Marinos version of Junior Santos turns up this year then it’ll be as good as a new signing for the three arrows.
Doubtful: Tsukasa Morishima, Yoichi Naganuma, Douglas Vieira (injury), Kantoku Michael Skibbe (Visa)
Notes: After pleading poverty for much of last year, the additions of Tsukasa Shiotani and Michael Skibbe following spells in the Middle East indicate that there is money available if they choose to use it. Skibbe’s delayed arrival has thrown an unwelcome spanner in the works, though he is fortunate to have a settled squad at his disposal, albeit one that largely underperformed relative to their game-by-game stats in 2021.




Cerezo Osaka

Best Signing: Jean Patric – I must admit I don’t know a whole lot about him, but he appears to have a decent pedigree and fills a spot that really needed an upgrade as a result of the person I’ll talk about below departing.
Biggest Loss: Tatsuhiro Sakamoto – A fine player who slightly lost his way in what was a disappointing 2021 campaign overall for the Cherry Blossoms. Still, as a result of his 2020 form and the performances he put in at the start of last year, he’s done more than enough to merit his move.
One to Watch: Takashi Inui – I wasn’t a big fan of his return when it was initially announced due to Cerezo having a plethora of 30-somethings already on their books, but given the way this year’s squad is shaping up I feel he’ll have a vital role to play as an impact sub and dressing room leader.
Doubtful: Takashi Inui, Hinata Kida, Adam Taggart, Đặng Văn Lâm (injury), Jean Patric (Visa)
Notes: I like their winter transfer work a whole lot more than I did last year (see what I said about them in the Urawa section above), especially the acquisition of Nagasaki’s jewel-in-the-crown Seiya Maikuma (sorry for telling everyone how good he was Daniel!) The permanent appointment of Akio Kogiku who, according to Transfermarkt, has been at the club in one capacity or another since 1998 could be a masterstroke as he’s surely amassed the clout that will allow him to tap a few shoulders and break the news to several veterans that they’re no longer the automatic choices they once were.

Additional Note: Croatian defender Matej Jonjić is rumoured to be returning in the coming days. If that move happens he’ll be the main centre-back upon his arrival in the country with Nishio and Shindo battling it out to partner him. He’d also overtake Jean Patric as my choice for ‘best signing.’




Gamba Osaka

Best Signing: Mitsuki Saito – Not a signing I really expected going into the transfer window, but a more than welcome addition to the Nerazzurri’s midfield ranks
Biggest Loss: Kim Young-gwon / Yosuke Ideguchi – Neither were at their best in 2021 (a comment which could pretty much be applied to the majority of the squad), but both will be missed dearly by the Ao to Kuro faithful.
One to Watch: Hiroto Yamami – I should probably have chosen him in the ‘best signing’ category, but thought he’d fit better here instead. Hopefully that worldy against Shimizu was just a taste of what’s to come as he’s set himself the target of scoring double digits this year.
Doubtful: Jun Ichimori, Leandro Pereira (injury), Dawhan, Kwon Kyung-won (Visa)
Notes: As close to a free-hit of a season as you’ll ever get as Gamba kantoku awaits Tomohiro Katanosaka, though that didn’t stop him heaping pressure on himself by setting 3rd as the target for this year. Gamba fans I’ve talked to say that top 8 is more realistic, especially with Kawasaki, Marinos, Kobe, Kashima and Urawa all looking particularly strong. To quote Celtic supporters, “trust the process,” Katanosaka is a man with a plan and that’s something that was sorely missing for the majority of 2021.




Shimizu S-Pulse

Best Signing: Takeru Kishimoto – A surprisingly difficult choice this one, as though regular readers will remember I picked out Kishimoto as someone to keep an eye on in my Scouting J1 article last autumn, I can’t help but feel there were more logical moves for both him and Shimizu to make. Granted the S-Pulse front office and I never appear to be on the same frequency when it comes to ideas on how to take the club forward.
Biggest Loss: Hideki Ishige – I know he was at Okayama on loan at the end of last season, but his departure sums up, for me at least, the malaise at the Nihondaira. A once mighty powerhouse born out of the cradle of Japanese football now reduced to letting long-serving youth academy graduates leave for rival clubs while the powers-that-be continue to blindly spin the roulette wheel, trying in hope, more than expectation to find the coaches and players necessary to bring back the glory days.
One to Watch: Yuito Suzuki – I’m sure you’ve all seen his wonder strike against Shonan, however, unfortunately that was one of only two goals he’s amassed in 63 J1 outings since turning pro in 2020. Imagine the heights regular contributions from him, in addition to Thiago Santana’s steady stream of goals, could take S-Pulse to.
Doubtful: Renato Augusto, Akira Ibayashi, Takumi Kato, Kenta Nishizawa (injury)
Notes: I realise I’ve been a bit harsh on S-Pulse above and it’s absolutely nothing personal as they’re an iconic and extremely likeable club, I just struggle to be overly positive when their front office keeps making baffling decisions. The Peter Cklamovski experiment was ditched in favour of the ultra-defensive Lotina brand of football and now they’ve opted for the man who came in to temporarily do a spot of firefighting at the end of both 2020 and 2021, the particularly tricky to say regardless if you go Japanese or western style, Hiroaki Hiraoka (or Hiraoka Hiroaki if you prefer). There’s loads of depth on the flanks, but any injury or departure down the central spine of the team (Gonda, Yoshinori Suzuki, Matsuoka and Thiago Santana) would sting badly.

Additional Notes: Reports out of South Korea suggest that S-Pulse have tabled a large bid for Ulsan Hyundai’s tall forward Oh Se-hun. On Paper the highly-rated 23 year old would be a quality addition, but it would also leave Shimizu with 7 foreign talents on their books. Do they never get the memo from the J. League about only being allowed 5 in your matchday squad?




Kashiwa Reysol

Best Signing: Tomoya Koyamatsu – Big shoes to fill in attack, he’s coming off the back of a decent couple of seasons with Tosu and should quickly become a fan favourite at the Hitachidai.
Biggest Loss: Cristiano – The now 35-year old club legend departs after 7 years with the Sunkings. Sure he may be past his prime, but having seen him perform in the flesh last year, he’s very much still got it and I’m certain he’ll tear up J2 with Nagasaki.
One to Watch: Douglas – With the fearsome foursome of Olunga, Cristiano, Esaka and Segawa all gone, the goalscoring burden falls on the previously prolific, but perhaps slightly over-the-hill Douglas. Is there still enough fire there for one final hurrah before he rides off into the sunset?
Notes: I believe it was Gabriele Anello who pointed out that 2021 saw the most managerial changes in J. League history, a good number of them appeared harsh when viewed from afar, but on the flip side of the coin, Kashiwa’s stubborn dedication to keeping Nelsinho in the hotseat continues to puzzle me. Of course the Brazilian is a legend in Kashiwa circles, however, he had 38 J1 games last season to work out his best eleven and formation, and never managed it. If he doesn’t know, then how am I supposed to? I’ve gone 4-2-3-1 below, but 3-4-2-1, 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 are all possible. I’m not saying it’ll actually happen, but they’ll surely be a popular pick for big team who could go down this year.




Shonan Bellmare

Best Signing: Ryota Nagaki – The return of the prodigal son was an easy choice here, he’ll bring skill and more importantly a wealth of experience to help shepherd along Bellmare’s exciting crop of youngsters.
Biggest Loss: Mitsuki Saito – I know that selecting both Ishige and Saito as the biggest loss for their respective clubs may come across as extreme Gamba bias (especially given Saito was on loan at Rubin Kazan in 2021), but hear me out, how often do Shonan come through a winter transfer window with all their prized assets still in place? Hata, Tanaka and Hiraoka are still there, leaving me with the rare predicament of struggling to find a departed player Shonan will really miss this year.
One to Watch: Satoshi Tanaka – When I saw that Takuji Yonemoto had moved to Shonan on loan and Tanaka still hadn’t been confirmed as a Bellmare player for 2022, I felt sure we were less than 24 hours away from witnessing his unveiling at the Toyota Stadium, but alas it was not to be and he’ll continue developing down on the Shonan coast, for now at least, whether that’s as a holding midfielder or centre-back remains to be seen.
Notes: This is Satoshi Yamaguchi’s first full campaign at the helm and it’ll be interesting to observe what tactical alterations, if any, he makes. As you can see below, there are a number of players of similar abilities competing for spots across the field which can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. I’ve tried my hardest to cram Tanaka, Nagaki and Yonemoto into the same lineup, Yamaguchi may have other ideas. They were the best defensive team in the bottom half last year and with the business they’ve done since should be even stronger now. My concerns are at the other end, they accrued a league high 16 draws last season and joint top scorers Wellington and Naoki Yamada only managed 5 apiece, there’s nothing to suggest they’ll be any more prolific in 2022.




Júbilo Iwata

Best Signing: Ricardo Graça – Again, hands up, I don’t know a whole lot about him, but the rest of Júbilo’s transfer business hasn’t been much to write home about and although Kentaro Oi has given the club years of good service, promotion back to J1 should very much be the signal to put him out to pasture, the capture of Graça allows the club to do just that.
Biggest Loss: Lukian – A huge blow to the side’s attack and also their collective psyche to lose such an important player to a team, in Fukuoka, that despite far out-performing Júbilo on the field in 2021, would have been viewed as a step-down for the majority of the clubs’ respective histories.
One to Watch: Yasuhito Endo – Gamba let Endo go in mid-2020 as despite his passing and vision still being top drawer, the veteran (who’s the same age as Steven Gerrard and Xavi, don’t forget) couldn’t get around the park like he used to. We’ll have an answer on how right or wrong that decision was very soon.
Doubtful: Dudu, Ricardo Graça (Visa)
Notes: An extremely impressive promotion campaign followed up by the appointment of highly-rated Kofu boss Akira Ito had things looking rather spritely for a time in Iwata. However, the club don’t really appear to have backed the new kantoku enough in the transfer market. Kenyu Sugimoto could work, but I wouldn’t bet on it, there are question marks surrounding when their 2 new marquee Brazilians can get into the country and long-standing issues related to a chronic lack of pace throughout the squad haven’t been sufficiently addressed over the winter.

Additional Note: Brazilian forward Vinícius Araújo, now a free agent after failing to agree terms on a new deal with Yamagata, is a possible addition before the season begins. He’d take over the centre-forward berth from Sugimoto should he decide to make the Yamaha Stadium his home for 2022.




Kyoto Sanga

Best Signing: Rikito Inoue – Despite the club making a number of winter signings, few of them are clearly better than the options already in place. Inoue, who’s moved east from Okayama with Dutchman Jordy Buijs travelling in the opposite direction, is the pick of the bunch for me. Readers of my Scouting J2 article will know I’m a big fan of his and with Shogo Asada still onboard, Sanga have two of the top centre-backs from J2 2021 in their ranks, albeit neither of them has a single minute of J1 action to their name.
Biggest Loss: Jordy Buijs – His departure came as something of a surprise and I’ve no doubt that he’ll continue to prove himself to be one of the best defenders in J2 with Fagiano this season.
One to Watch: Peter Utaka – 38 years young when the season kicks off, if he can keep banging them in then Kyoto could (could, not will – please remember) be this year’s Fukuoka.
Doubtful: Naoto Misawa, Tomoya Wakahara (injury), Michael Woud (injury/Visa)
Notes: Reasons to be cheerful; they’ve got a coach who knows what it takes to survive in J1 and a squad with a decent sprinkling of top tier experience, especially when compared with other recent newly promoted sides. Reasons to be fearful; the murky goalkeeping situation, a lack of J1 experience at centre-back and central midfield and a host of Hail Mary signings that could all fall flat. The rather unorthodox Genki Omae may be the most likely to deliver from a list of names which also includes Mendes, Hisashi Appiah Tawiah, Martinus, Ryogo Yamasaki and Yuta Toyokawa.




If you’ve made it this far, thank you and congratulations! I hope this guide has been useful for you, look out for plenty more posts from me throughout the year and enjoy the 2022 J1 season whoever you support!

Categories
sport

J1 Predicted Lineups Post Transfer Window Update

The summer transfer window “slammed shut,” or closed gently as it tends to do here in Japan, last Friday (August 13), so I thought this would be a good time to have a look at the lineups we are likely to see J1 teams field from now until December.

A quick reminder that you can always check out my regularly updated J1 and J2 databases here,

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1j6HTKFF38A3cAz7sqw3jfZ4f6y8soAgOjfXqKR3fNCM/

Before I get into it, here is a rough guide to some of the parameters I’ve used.

* Teams are listed in the order they finished the 2020 season, ie the order you’ll find them in all the 2021 yearbooks.
* The lineups below are not necessarily the ones you’ll see next week, more an amalgamation of the players expected to feature most frequently between now and the end of the season.
* Where genuine competition exists for a starting spot, I’ve listed alternatives below the projected starter.
* The injured / unavailable list only includes players who I feel would have a genuine chance of starting if they were fit. Regular readers will know finding information about JLeague injuries can be a thankless task, so I’ve done my best, but can’t promise it’s 100% accurate.

Finally, if you don’t already, please give @Michael_Master a follow on Twitter. The use of the word ‘Master’ in his handle is by no means an overstatement, the man is truly the oracle when it comes to Japanese transfers and this blog post wouldn’t have been possible without his updates. Thanks man!

Kawasaki Frontale

Comments
Yes Mitoma and Tanaka are gone, and yes Kashiwa have just become the first team in 40 J1 games to keep them scoreless, but take a look at the lineup below and you’ll surely agree this is still the strongest side in the division. A settled back 6 and plenty of options in attack plus rivals either losing players or being engaged in the process of rebuilding, makes me believe they’ll overcome ACL distractions to lift a fourth title in five years.
Injured/Unavailable: 10 Ryota Oshima


Gamba Osaka


Comments
Long time readers of this blog will know the trouble I’ve had predicting Gamba starting lineups recently, though I should point out in my defence, I’m generally more accurate at it than DAZN! With Miura, Kim and Shoji fit, 3-4-2-1 seems like it’ll be the order of the day for most remaining games this season. From 2022, however, it’d be good to see 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 getting an outing, especially if Hiroto Yamami can replicate anything like the form he did against Shimizu on Friday.
Injured/Unavailable: 14 Yuya Fukuda, 15 Yosuke Ideguchi, 27 Ryu Takao, 28 Wellington Silva


Nagoya Grampus

Comments
The arrival of Polish international Jakub Świerczok is like manna from heaven for the Grampus support who have been starved of a genuine centre-forward since Jô’s acrimonious departure at the start of 2020. Captain Yuichi Maruyama is out for the year and the slight defensive wobble caused by his absence, in addition to an inability to create presentable openings for their attackers has seen Nagoya slip back from the highs of last year and the early part of this campaign. Still very much in the hunt for 3rd place, their new number 40 will have a big say in whether they equal last season’s final ranking or not.
Injured/Unavailable: 3 Yuichi Maruyama, 9 Ryogo Yamasaki, 44 Mu Kanazaki


Cerezo Osaka

Comments
The problem with a having a club legend in charge, as both Osaka clubs have found out this year, is that it’s not easy to sever ties with them when things head south. The further away Cerezo get from the defensive stability of the Lotina-era, the more vulnerable they look at the back, while at the other end of the field, a succession of niggling injuries to key personnel has set-back Culpi’s plans to revitalise their attack. The Cherry Blossoms don’t really do mid-table finishes and have only 1 win and 11 points from their last 15 league outings…they couldn’t….could they?
Injured/Unavailable: 3 Ryosuke Shindo


Kashima Antlers


Comments
Things have generally meandered along under Naoki Soma, just as they did under predecessors Zago and Oiwa and on the back of 3 straight wins, the Ibaraki giants are firmly in the picture for 2022 ACL qualification which is really a bare minimum for a club of this size and prestige. Box-to-box midfielder Pituca seems to be a ready-made long term replacement for Leo Silva, but the Antlers faithful must have concerns over how long they can keep hold of talented youngsters like, Araki, Machida and Tsunemoto. Key forward Everaldo has incredibly only scored once in J1 this season and seems to be dropping deep and into wider areas too often, though with Tomoya Inukai raking in goals as he did against Shonan last week, it doesn’t appear to be hindering the team too much.
Injured/Unavailable: 22 Rikuto Hirose


FC Tokyo

Comments
A very streaky team this year, and I’ll discuss them in greater detail during my preview of their upcoming clash with Gamba, Gasmen supporters have seen their side go on both 5 game winning and losing runs in the first half of the season. Boss Kenta Hasegawa and playmaker Leandro burying the hatchet, for now, has helped make them a much more potent force going forward which has somewhat papered over the widening cracks at the back.
Injured/Unavailable: 9 Diego Oliveira, 14 Takuya Uchida, 33 Akihiro Hayashi, 37 Hotaka Nakamura


Kashiwa Reysol

Comments
I’ve already gone pretty deep on the J Talk Podcast regarding my issues with the Reysol front office’s performance in recent years. That, plus the winter departure of Olunga has really set them back this campaign in my opinion. Their season stats and recent results indicate a push up the table might be on the cards during the second half of the year. A bloated squad, constant tinkering with the team’s shape and a never-ending succession of injuries suggest otherwise.
Injured/Unavailable: 7 Hidekazu Otani, 11 Matheus Savio, 33 Hayato Nakama, 39 Yuta Kamiya


Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Comments
Sanfre have reverted to the tried and trusted 3-4-2-1 after an ill-advised dabble with a back 4 at the beginning of the season. They appear to have a surplus of quality centre-backs, but there’s now a gaping Hayao Kawabe shaped hole in the middle of the park. More cutting edge is required up front, but with the new stadium project sucking in resources, they lack the funds to adequately replace Leandro Pereira and it looks like they’ll be left relying on youth team products, university graduates and promising J2 players in the coming years.


Yokohama F. Marinos

Comments
10 points from 4 games in quick-fire succession marks an excellent introduction to Japanese football for Kevin Muscat. The Australian head coach must have been delighted with Léo Ceará’s efforts in recent weeks, putting his hand up as the man to fill Ado Onaiwu’s big boots up front. They are now breathing right down the necks of Kanagawa rivals Kawasaki and we have a genuine title race on our hands. Their devastating attack is beyond reproach, but the old defensive frailties which held them back in 2018 and 2020 have been on display since returning from their summer break. Gamba and Oita, two of the weaker attacks in the division, let them off the hook, but I have a nagging doubt that they are going to give too many chances, to the wrong team, on the wrong day and that’s what’s ultimately going to cost them top spot.


Urawa Red Diamonds


Comments
The plethora of new talent in the arrivals lounge has made Reds one of the most talked about J1 sides during the summer months. The shape I’ve set out below was not the one used by Ricardo Rodriguez on Saturday night, however, I feel he may lean towards it later in the year. Although Kobe seem to act as a bit of lightning rod for online criticism about big spending, dress it up any way you like, Reds summer spree is a naked attempt at fixing problems using cold, hard cash. The Saitama outfit mean business, they may not reach the summit this year, but, they’ll definitely be a team to keep your eye on in the coming years.
**Please note – on August 15 Reds announced Kasper Junker had undergone surgery on a cheekbone injury, I expect to see him back wearing some Tsuneyasu Miyamoto-style facial protection in the next couple of weeks so kept him in the lineup below.**


Oita Trinita

Comments
After a decent run in the top flight since 2019, it seems like the curtain is coming down on their J1 journey, for now. Trinita possess the weakest attack in the division, scoring an anaemic 0.63 goals per game, see misses in the 15th and 48th minutes of their eventual 5-1 drubbing at Marinos on Sunday for clear evidence of where the issues lie. Former Gamba assistant Tomohiro Katanosaka, now in his 6th year in charge, has recently looked at alternatives to his favoured 3-4-2-1, including starting with a back 4 vs Marinos, but I feel like he will return to type soon as the squad is built to play with 3 centre-backs. Goya and Masuyama have come in to bolster the attack, but they still lack a proven source of goals. Onaiwu, Fujimoto and Tanaka have all previously departed for brighter lights elsewhere and it costs money to replace that kind of talent, money, that sadly, Trinita just don’t have.
Injured/Unavailable: 15 Yuta Koide


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo


Comments
Petrovic’s 100mph attacking football style is locked and loaded at the Sapporo Dome and at the moment it seems to be bearing fruit. As I write this, Consadole have just seen off FC Tokyo in impressive fashion, having dispatched Urawa with even greater ease the week before. Not the richest, or flashiest of J1 outfits, but their in-depth scouting of Japan’s varsity competitions, allied with solid youth development has proven crucial in steering them in an upwards trajectory over the past few months.


Sagan Tosu

Comments
With severe financial difficulties, a manager who’s just returned from a 3 week suspension while an internal power harassment investigation was conducted and 2 of their brightest talents freshly headed out the door, it’s amazing how settled things still appear at Tosu. Matsuoka and Hayashi are now yesterday’s men, but replacements Shirasaki and Koizumi from Kashima are thoroughbred pros who will help steady the ship. ACL qualification may be just beyond them this year, and that’s a real shame as the vultures will surely be circling the likes of Higuchi, Yamashita, Sento and Eduardo in the winter, making a repeat of this season’s heroics all the tougher.
Injured/Unavailable: 23 Fuchi Honda


Vissel Kobe

Comments
It’s worth remembering that Kobe have never finished higher than 7th in J1, so assuming they can get big-name summer recruits Muto and Osako integrated quickly then they’ll be well on their way to achieving a first ever ACL qualification through league performance. Bojan is a bit of an unknown quantity these days, but J1 coach of the month for July Miura has built a solid foundation and crucially has gotten, the high profile stars, the undercard, and the youngsters all pulling together in the same direction, hats off to him for that.
Injured/Unavailable: 1 Daiya Maekawa, 29 Lincoln


Yokohama FC


Comments
A mass recruitment process over the summer has given them a glimmer of hope, and they are now unbeaten in their last 4 games, but is it all a bit too little, too late? Getting my old EPL 40 points to avoid relegation calculator out, Yokohama FC still require 25 points from their 16 remaining fixtures to reach that mythical milestone. Yusuke Matsuo is in the side once more and a defence that was conceding at a rate of 2.32 goals per match has now kept back-to-back clean sheets thanks to the arrival of Brazilian defender Gabriel. If his compatriots, Felipe Vizeu and Saulo Mineiro, can have a similar impact at the other end of the pitch, then maybe, just maybe they could be on for the greatest of great escapes.
Injured/Unavailable: 8 Kosuke Saito, 23 Yota Maejima, 30 Kohei Tezuka


Shimizu S-Pulse

Comments
Their summer transfer business looks good, but I said that about their winter recruitment and it’s not really moved them very far up the standings. Similar to post-Ferguson/pre-Solskjær Manchester United, a hard-hitting critique might say that constantly flip-flopping between managers, players and playing styles is hindering the club as it seeks to move forward. Relying on goals from set-pieces and the physicality of Thiago Santana might bring some degree of success, but it feels like had they given Cklamovski this group of players, then he could have achieved much more.
Injured/Unavailable: 10 Carlinhos Junior, 18 Elsinho, 20 Keita Nakamura, 22 Renato Augusto, 50 Yoshinori Suzuki


Vegalta Sendai


Comments
Sendai are currently competing in their 12th consecutive J1 campaign, for context that’s a better run than, Gamba, Cerezo, Kobe, Nagoya, FC Tokyo or Kashiwa have had, but it appears likely that this era of relative success is drawing to a close and they may have to regroup and rebuild in J2 next year. 18 goals in 24 games while conceding double that figure tells its own story and though there have been bright sparks in the shape of university rookies Mase and Kato down the right, Foguinho in the middle and some recent substitute cameos from Oti and Felippe Cardoso, in the cold light of day, is it really inaccurate to suggest that the lineup I’ve set out below looks more like a team sitting 5th or 6th in J2 rather than one built to survive in the rarefied air of J1?
Injured/Unavailable: 8 Yoshiki Matsushita


Shonan Bellmare

Comments
After finishing bottom in 2020 with no relegation in place, Bin Ukishima deserves a bit of credit for improving things this year, making his side much more resolute and hard to beat. That said, despite gaining credible draws with the likes of Kawasaki, Marinos and Kobe as well as upsetting Reds in Saitama, they are currently on an ominous slide and it looks as though it’s between them and Tokushima, who they faced in the 2019 promotion/relegation playoff, to see who fills the uppermost spot in the drop zone. They experimented with a double-volante system against Nagoya, and that’s something we may see more of going forward, although I have them lined up in their tried and tested shape below. Sugioka looks to be a good addition, while keeping wide-man Taiga Hata fit so he can supply the bombs for Wellington may be the difference between J1 and J2 football for Bellmare next year.
Injured/Unavailable: 30 Sosuke Shibata


Tokushima Vortis


Comments
Tokushima’s victory at home to Gamba gave them the blueprint for how to attack the second half of the year. No messing around with the ball at the back, no possession for possession’s sake, quick counters culminating in dynamic running and interchanges between then front 4 topped off with more shots on goal and hopefully more points on the board. Kawasaki-loanee Taisei Miyashiro has certainly enhanced his reputation with a series of strong performances in a variety of positions along the front line, while right-back Takeru Kishimoto and number 10 Masaki Watai will draw many an admiring glance from rival teams’ scouting departments should they keep up their recent form. Keep your eyes peeled for young forward Taiyo Nishino also, he’s just starting to break into the team in his first year out of Kyoto Tachibana High School.
Injured/Unavailable: Kohei Uchida


Avispa Fukuoka


Comments
An excellent start to the season has them sitting in a place of relative comfort few predicted at the beginning of the year. Goalkeeper Masaaki Murakami has won over early doubters (myself included) with a string of good performances, the abrasive Douglas Grolli has been an excellent defensive lynchpin while the quality of deliveries from Jordy Croux and, in particular, irrepressible Swede Emil Salomonsson, have been second to none. In contrast to Kyushu cousins Oita, who came into J1 with a bang and were then looted of their best talent, the average age and playing style of most of Avispa’s squad suggests that they may not have to fend off too many suitors in upcoming transfer windows. One exception is team captain Hiroyuki Mae, and it will be interesting to see how his partnership with new recruit Shun Nakamura develops.
Injured/Unavailable: Bruno Mendes

Categories
sport

J1 2021 Appearance Data and Statistics

Thanks again everyone for supporting my recent articles. As I posted on Twitter a few weeks back, currently other areas in my life have to take priority over my blog writing, and for 2021, at least, my Gamba match previews will need to stay on the backburner. In some ways I feel like I took them as far as I could last season and at the beginning of this year, I felt like I was rehashing old material, please let me know if you agree or disagree.

With all that out of the way, my latest post provides a rundown of all 20 J1 teams’ matchday selections for every league match so far in 2021, presented in an (hopefully) easy to understand, at a glance style. I’ve also tagged on some additional comments and basic team stats correct to 18 April 2021.

A big shout out to everyone who has gotten in touch with me recently across various mediums. Actually I never envisaged my blog would get so many comments and my Twitter notifications are not really built to handle the traffic I’ve been getting. I recently noticed some people had left me comments weeks ago and I’d missed them, I genuinely try to reply to everyone who asks clean questions, so if I haven’t responded to your question / comment, I’m truly sorry.

Finally, some people have asked where I get my data, so here are a few of the resources I use…
https://www.football-lab.jp/
https://sporteria.jp/
https://us.soccerway.com/national/japan/j1-league/2021/regular-season/r61498/
https://www.flashscore.com/
https://www.transfermarkt.com/j1-league/startseite/wettbewerb/JAP1
https://www.jleague.jp/sp/en/
And of course my trusty Soccer Digest Yearbook…
https://www.cdjapan.co.jp/product/NEOBK-2586671



Kawasaki Frontale

Comment: The juggernaut has continued steamrollering opponents just as it did last season. Surely the best side in the history of the JLeague.



Gamba Osaka

Comment: How to fix a problem like Gamba? A Nagoya-esque defence, but can’t buy a goal at the other end. What’s to blame, the Covid cluster, overperforming xG last year, an overly defensive mindset they can’t shake off? Answers on a postcard to Tsuneyasu Miyamoto please.



Nagoya Grampus

Comment: You thought they couldn’t defend any better than last season, you thought wrong. If I were a gambler I’d have plenty on Mitch Langerak and co. to beat their clean sheet record set last year. How much will missing out on Kasper Junker to Urawa haunt them with their current paucity of centre-forward options seemingly denying us a genuine tussle for the title between Grampus and Frontale.



Cerezo Osaka

Comments: They’ve surprised many by performing at a similar level to 2020. With Taggart and Tiago almost ready to play and Sakamoto and Harakawa due back soon, a push for the top 4 isn’t out of the question.



Kashima Antlers

Comments: Although an Antlers legend, the way Naoki Soma’s spell in charge of Machida ended up poses some serious questions about how adept he’ll be at replacing Zago in the Kashima hotseat. Goals from Everaldo and instant impacts from Pituca and Caike are badly needed.



FC Tokyo

Comments: Injuries, rumoured dressing room discontent and a series of patchy results don’t make for happy start to the campaign for the capital side. Bruno Uvini is the great hope to steady things at the back, but it should be remembered he hasn’t kicked a ball in anger in over 6 months.



Kashiwa Reysol

Comments: They seem to have course corrected slightly with hard fought 1-0s in their past 2 games and the Brazilian cavalry is due to arrive soon. Quite how they keep their 9 overseas players happy, and what effect their second Covid cluster in under a year will have on them is yet to be seen.



Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Comments: Look set to hover around upper mid-table just as they did last time round. Morishima and Kawabe have started the season well, but they lack top quality support in attack. Defensively, Yuta Imazu has been a decent find, though they still need to find themselves a pair of genuine full-backs.



Yokohama F.Marinos


Comments: Haven’t lost since the opening day, but a rather kind run of fixtures since round 3 means question marks remain over whether they are genuine ACL contenders of not.


Urawa Red Diamonds


Comments: Two poundings in the space of three games at the hands of Kanagawa heavyweights Frontale and Marinos threatened to scuttle the Rodriguez project before it had the chance to take off, but they’ve bounced back well. We may come to look on Reds’ 2021 the same way Marinos supporters think of Ange Postecoglou’s debut campaign in 2018.



Oita Trinita

Comments: Six defeats in a row with just a single goal scored in the process, I’m sure there’s a joke about a famous Tom Petty song here somewhere. They need to hope they’ve hit the jackpot with their two soon-to-arrive Brazilians.



Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Comments: Houston, we may have a problem. Dropping points like confetti and with 4 teams going down this year they’re rapidly finding themselves being drawn into a relegation dogfight.


Sagan Tosu

Comments: Prior to Sunday’s win at Grampus, some of the gloss was starting to come off their excellent start to the year with 4 failures to score in 5 outings. Kim Myung-hwi’s side are made of sterner stuff though, and while it’s likely they’ll regress a touch over the course of the season, a top ten finish remains a distinct possibility.



Vissel Kobe


Comments: A genuine ACL contender based on early season form. How they mesh the returning Iniesta and newly arrived duo of Lincoln and Masika with their current high performing starters will be key.



Yokohama FC

Comments: They tick all the boxes for a side about to take the drop, poor attack, woeful defence, no idea of best lineup, symbolic change of head-coach. I’m not usually so blunt, but take this to the bank, they’ll be in J2 next season.



Shimizu S-Pulse

Comments: Some had tipped them to finish in the top half this year, but as things stand it looks like the 3-1 win at Kashima on the opening day was something of a mirage. Thiago Santana has disappointed and Lotina has run into the same problem as a number of his predecessors, a complete lack of consistency amongst the players at his disposal.



Vegalta Sendai


Comments: Still haven’t won a home game since 2019 and that’s a stat they’ll have to alter fast if they want to avoid a return to J2 for the first time in 12 years.



Shonan Bellmare

Comments: Going under the radar a touch, but considering they finished bottom last year, their performances to date in 2021 have shown marked improvement. No defeats and 4 clean sheets in a tough looking run of 5 fixtures up to last weekend suggest they mean business and could defy the odds to remain in J1 next term.



Tokushima Vortis

Comments: The project looks to be running under budget and ahead of schedule. New head-coach Poyatos is now in the country and working with the players face-to-face and at present they appear set for a decent year. Having, The Alan Parsons Project’s Sirius and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on their pre-match playlist makes me enjoy their games that little bit more.



Avispa Fukuoka


Comments: The support inside the Best Denki Stadium is the thing that’s caught my eye most about Fukuoka this year. Their seems to be a genuine feel-good factor around the place which is helping to bring out performances that many, including myself, doubted they were capable of.




Categories
sport

J1 Lineups Updated Version end of round 6

Thanks again to everyone who read, liked, shared and commented on my J1 and J2 Predicted Lineups posts that I put out about a month before the 2021 season started. The response to them was truly phenomenal and frankly blew me away, so much in fact, that I’ve been re-thinking how I should structure my blog (I’m always open to new ideas, so please tell me what you want!)

The J1 Predicted Lineups post is still getting a fair bit of traffic even though it is a bit out of date, so I thought I’d do some more research and update things a little. Included in this post is a short comment on teams’ performances in the opening month of the season, a list of currently unavailable players (as of 28 March 2021) and a full rundown of the lineups and formations used by each J1 side over their past 5 league fixtures.

A few qualifiers, the team comments don’t take into consideration this weekend’s Levain Cup games as personally I don’t think a whole lot can be read into them, for example if Tosu and Sapporo start to show the form they displayed yesterday in J1 matches, then I’ll revise my opinion of both sides. Secondly, regarding injuries, some of the players I’ve named as unavailable haven’t been officially confirmed as being injured. In certain instances I’ve assumed they are out due to being absent from the matchday squad for a prolonged period of time or being subbed off early in a game and missing subsequent fixtures.

Thanks again for your support and please enjoy!

Kawasaki Frontale

Comments: Have started the season in ominous form, only dropping points at much-improved Kobe. What’s more, Oshima and Noborizato are still to return and strengthen them while João Schmidt almost doesn’t feel like a new signing, he’s bedded in so quickly.
Unavailable: Kyohei Noborizato, Ryota Oshima (injured)


Gamba Osaka

Comments: Only one league match played so not much to discuss. Re-scheduling six fixtures later in the year may see the return of the more defensive 4-4-2 set-up used last season and hopefully the end of the Onose at right-back experiment with Takao returning to take his rightful place.
Unavailable: Jun Ichimori, Haruto Shirai, Yuji Ono (injured), Wellington Silva (Visa/quarantine)


Nagoya Grampus

Comments: Their defensive strength means they are Kawasaki’s closest challengers despite having no real goal-scorer. Yamasaki has done alright, but shouldn’t be starting for a title contender and Kakitani has shown nothing so far. Inagaki looks like an early MVP contender, Soma has improved, however Morishita seems to be 3rd choice right back at the moment, perhaps he’s too attack-minded for Ficcadenti, imagine how good Tosu would be if he was still there!
Unavilable: Mu Kanazaki (injured)


Cerezo Osaka

Comments: Higher up the league than many would have expected, but the fixture list has been pretty kind to them so far. Okubo’s goals have been a Godsend in the absence of Taggart while Nishio has slotted in well alongside Seko at the back. Recent injuries to Harakawa, Sakamoto and Takagi will really test their squad depth.
Unavailable: Riki Harakawa, Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, Ryuji Sawakami, Toshiyuki Takagi, Hirotaka Tameda, Koji Toriumi (injured), Adam Taggart (Visa/quarantine), Đặng Văn Lâm, Tiago (Visa/contract status unclear)


Kashima Antlers

Comments: The Ibaraki side have made their traditional slow start and will be desperate to get Brazilian midfield duo, Diego Pituca and Arthur Caike on the field as soon as possible. It’s at the back where most of the problems seem to lie, the full-back berths are still up for grabs and none of the centre-backs have covered themselves in glory.
Unavailable: Shoma Doi, Ryuji Izumi (injured), Arthur Caike, Diego Pituca (Visa/quarantine)


FC Tokyo

Comments: A roller-coaster start to the season from the capital club with, injuries, rotation and Covid-protocol violations preventing them from getting into any sort of groove. They’ve got points on the board early, but a chunk of them came in unimpressive home wins over last season’s bottom 2, Sendai and Shonan. They’ll need to hope Bruno Uvini is the man to shore up a rather leaky rearguard.
Unavailable: Akihiro Hayashi, Kazuya Konno, Manato Shinada (injured), Bruno Uvini (Visa/quarantine)


Kashiwa Reysol

Comments: Olunga, Olunga, where art thou Olunga? A very poor start to the season from Kashiwa and they desperately need the soon-to-arrive Brazilian quartet of, Emerson Santos, Dodi, Angelotti and Pedro Raúl to hit the ground running or the nightmares of 2018 could be lurking just around the corner.
Unavailable: Yuji Takahashi, Sachiro Toshima (injured), Angelotti, Dodi, Pedro Raúl, Emerson Santos (Visa/quarantine)

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Comments: A solid start, made all the more impressive by the fact they are still figuring out their new back four system and how best to set-up their attack. Junior Santos continues to cause intrigue as it appears he’s fighting young Shun Ayukawa to be Douglas Vieira’s backup rather than being the main man himself. Hayao Kawabe could partner former team-mate Sho Inagaki in the J1 Best Eleven if he keeps up his current form.
Unavailable: Akira Ibayashi, Rhayner (injured)


Yokohama F.Marinos

Comments: A rather harsh take on them might say that they’ve swatted aside bottom half teams while failing to take the three points against stiffer opposition, exactly as they did in 2020. That said, from what I’ve seen there is a bit more steel about them this time round. I’m re-evaluating Daizen Maeda now that he’s finally added goals to his game and though Élber seems to lack the attacking x-factor of Erik, having more solid, hard-workers than mercurial artists may suit them better in 2021.
Unavailable: Theerathon Bunmathan, Daizen Maeda (injured), Léo Ceará (Visa/quarantine)


Urawa Red Diamonds

Comments: Ricardo Rodriguez seems like a lovely bloke, so I’ll spare him any blame for now, but real questions must be getting asked about the financial situation at the club. I started to wonder when Brazilians, Mauricio and Fabricio weren’t replaced last season and now with Leonardo gone, Deng injured and Yuki Abe making a Lazarus like return from the retirement home, a sojourn to J2 next year isn’t entirely out of the reckoning.
Unavailable: Thomas Deng, Yudai Fujiwara (injured)


Oita Trinita

Comments: I picked them to fill the final relegation spot in pre-season and I haven’t seen anything yet to make me completely alter my opinion. The number of changes at the back made in the off-season has definitely unsettled them and Katanosaka is still searching for the right combinations in a number of places.
Unavailable: Naoki Nomura (injured), Matheus Pereira, Henrique Trevisan (Visa/quarantine)


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Comments: I’m considering starting my own Patreon account so Sapporo fans can pay me to not watch them live. Last week’s horror show at home to Kobe was their 8th defeat on the spin with me tuning in on DAZN. Second year pros Kaneko and Tanaka have been solid (Tanaka’s assist for Furuhashi last week aside) and young Ogashiwa and Nakashima have looked bright in flashes. Failure to change their slightly archaic game-plan could result in an unwelcome flirtation with the relegation trapdoor.
Unavailable: Takuma Arano, Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa, Douglas Oliveira (injured), Jay Bothroyd, Gabriel Okechukwu (Visa/quarantine)


Sagan Tosu

Comments: An outstanding youth system and kantoku have their fans dreaming of ACL football next year. Didn’t score in their opening 4 J1 fixtures in 2020, haven’t conceded in their first 6 games this time round, it’s been quite the reversal of fortunes. How long can they sustain it? Will their new foreign strikers propel them to even greater heights? Will the vultures descend to brutally devour this team in a similar manner to what happened to fellow Kyushu-ites Giravanz last winter?
Unavailable: Ismael Dunga, Chico Ofoedu (Visa/quarantine)


Vissel Kobe

Comments: I saw them referred to as ‘Galacticos’ the other day, but that’s not really what they are anymore. They have a healthy crop of youngsters, many of whom have been raised in their academy, developing alongside a few seasoned heads, most notably Hotaru Yamaguchi, who’s been in sparkling form so far this season. There seems to be a real determination to make amends for 2020’s pitiful league performance and 3rd place doesn’t look impossible judging by their early showings.
Unavailable: Andrés Iniesta, Junya Tanaka (injured), Lincoln, Ayub Masika (Visa/quarantine)


Yokohama FC

Comments: Things seem to have completely fallen apart over the winter at Mitsuzawa. In my season preview I predicted goals at both ends, unfortunately that has only proven to be half correct and their veteran forwards haven’t hit it off as of yet. Talented midfielders Matsuo, Seko and Tezuka are struggling against the tide, but receiving little support and, although it’s early days, I think many already see them lining up in J2 next year.
Unavailable: Calvin Jong-a-Pin, Haruki Saruta, Hideto Takahashi, Eijiro Takeda (injured)


Shimizu S-Pulse

Comments: They’ve had just the kind of solid, unspectacular start many would have expected under Lotina. After conceding an avalanche of goals over the past 2 years, letting in just 7 in 6 games must have come as welcome relief to long suffering supporters in their picturesque stadium. Lotina’s reluctance to use assist kingpin Kenta Nishizawa may have rivals sending out the feelers regarding his future availability.
Unavailable: Hideki Ishige, Eiichi Katayama, Ibrahim Junior Kuribara (injured), William Matheus (Visa/quarantine)


Vegalta Sendai

Comments: Collectively this is one of the 4 weakest squads in the division. That doesn’t necessarily need to condemn them to relegation, but to stave off the drop, they will need to find a way to play to more than the sum of their parts. Passing the ball from their centre-backs to wing-backs, pushing the midfield forward to join the attack, then losing the ball and getting countered constantly, isn’t the way to achieve that.
Unavailable: Isaac Cuenca, Kunimitsu Sekiguchi (injured), Foguinho, Emmanuel Oti, Nedeljko Stojišić (Visa/quarantine)


Shonan Bellmare

Comments: I was sure they’d used up their nine lives last year, but they look a bit better than 2020, at least if the early rounds are anything to go by. Impressive youngster Taiga Hata still hasn’t featured, but playing on the left-wing for Shonan seems to bring out the best in players and Ryo Takahashi has been in fantastic form down that flank. They really need Wellington and Welinton Júnior to bring their shooting boots over from Brazil as a lack of firepower would be the most likely cause of a relegation this year.
Unavailable: Tarik Elyounoussi, Taiga Hata, Shun Nakamura, Tsukasa Umesaki (injured), Wellington, Welinton Júnior (Visa/quarantine)


Tokushima Vortis

Comments: They’ve probably done as well as could have been expected given that the squad haven’t met their new Spanish kantoku face-to-face yet and most of the players lack top tier experience. Poyatos (I assume he is choosing the team) has made a number of interesting selections with Abe, Fuke, Fujiwara and Kawakami all featuring regularly despite being out in the cold during the Rodriguez era.
Unavailable: Dušan Cvetinović, Kazuki Nishiya, Koki Sugimori, Kohei Uchida (injured), Cristian Battocchio, Cacá (Visa/quarantine)


Avispa Fukuoka

Comments: A decent start has them sitting comfortably in mid-table. Word of warning though, other newly promoted sides, namely Matsumoto and Nagasaki, have also begun top-flight campaigns reasonably well before fading away badly. Avispa need new foreign talents, Jordy Croux and, particularly, Biblically-named forward John Mary to deliver in order to maintain their top-flight status.
Unavailable: Juanma Delgado, Bruno Mendes, Taro Sugimoto (injured), Douglas Grolli (1 match suspension vs Sapporo 3 April), Jordy Croux, John Mary (Visa/quarantine)

Categories
sport

J1 2021 Predicted Lineups

**Important Update**Important Update**Important Update**

If you’re still coming here in 2020, please click this link for the 2022 version…

https://gambaosakaenglish.blog/2022/01/23/j1-2022-predicted-lineups/

Please check out the link above to see who has been playing and who hasn’t in J1 2021. I’ll update it regularly.
Data keys are below…




Also for those of you using the https://sporteria.jp/ website, here is a simple English translation of the data displayed there…




I’m sure everyone would join me in thanking @Michael_Master and @bmtps_k for their wonderful coverage of all the off-season transfer activity in Japan. The purpose of this article is to see how those winter moves affect the matchday lineups of J1 sides one month out from the start of the new campaign. I hope you enjoy!

First up, some housekeeping notices;
* The lineups below are not necessarily intended to be the ones on the opening day, but more the players most likely to fill those positions on a regular basis throughout the year.
* Players currently recovering from serious and long-term injuries haven’t been included. Some examples are Andres Iniesta (Kobe), Takuma Arano (Sapporo), Mu Kanazaki (Nagoya), Yuji Ono (Gamba), Akihiro Hayashi (FC Tokyo) and Sachiro Toshima and Yuji Takahashi (both Kashiwa).
* As this is a Gamba blog, lineups and formations for other teams are based on a mixture of evidence and guesswork. For instance, teams who performed well in 2020, kept the same manager and the bulk of their playing staff (Kawasaki) are easier to read than those who played poorly last year, changed coaches and brought in a host of new players (Shimizu).
* Ages given are correct to 27 February 2021, the opening Saturday of the J1 season, (Y) donates youth team product and teams are listed in order of 2020 league position.

Here we go…

Kawasaki Frontale

Brief Notes: Way better than everyone else last season and with just Morita departing they’ll be the team to beat once more. Only Mitoma and Tanaka leaving in the summer and the ACL schedule getting moved around again can really threaten their dynasty.


Gamba Osaka

Brief Notes: Leandro Pereira and Ju Se-jong both address areas of need and although it will be difficult to get 2nd again, this group of players shouldn’t finish lower than 5th / 6th even with ACL distractions taken into account.


Nagoya Grampus

Brief Notes: Morishita and Kimoto look like great buys, and I was surprised to see Manabu Saito is only 30! Will be strong defensively again, but look a genuine centre-forward short of really challenging at the top.


Cerezo Osaka

Brief Notes: Have made some puzzling moves over the winter, but they still have the nucleus of a very good team. How quickly they adjust to Culpi’s brand of football and whether or not Taggart has brought his shooting boots with him from Korea will go a long way to determining their fate this year.


Kashima Antlers

Brief Notes: Assuming their two new Brazilian midfielders settle in well, they should be Kawasaki’s closest rivals. This may not please Gamba supporters like me, but should lead to some tasty @frontalerabbit blog posts.


FC Tokyo

Brief Notes: They will probably improve merely by not being involved in the ACL this year. That said, the squad looks very unbalanced, with loads of options in central midfield and attack, but significantly less depth further back.


Kashiwa Reysol

Brief Notes: Shiihashi, Dodi and Kamijima will help to fix their soft underbelly, but there is still a huge Olunga shaped hole in attack. Will Angelotti or rumoured new signing from Botafogo, Pedro Raúl, be able to fill it.


Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Brief Notes: Junior Santos appears to be an excellent capture, but money is tight and there’s a real lack of depth. Any injury down the central spine of the team could be painful and prevent them from kicking on from last year.


Yokohama F.Marinos

Brief Notes: This year’s squad looks leaner and more settled than last time. A lot will depend on how their new Brazilian attackers do and also how much of 2020’s poor display was down to their overcrowded schedule and how much of it was teams working out how to play against them.


Urawa Red Diamonds

Brief Notes: Given time, I’ve no doubt the Rodriguez project will bear fruit in Saitama, but it may not be as quick a turnaround as the Reds faithful would like. Defence and central midfield could be issues and they appear to be overloaded with attacking midfielders. Having worked with a similar style of player in Yuki Kakita, can Rodriguez turn around Kenyu Sugimoto’s career?


Oita Trinita

Brief Notes: Should have enough to escape the relegation dog-fight and have made some intriguing signings from J2 down the flanks. Goalkeeper and central defence look like weak areas at the moment. If Shun Nagasawa’s inevitable winner against Gamba could be confined to the Levain Cup I’d greatly appreciate it.


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Brief Notes: A lot riding on the shoulders of last year’s three university rookies, Tanaka, Takamine and Kaneko. If newbies Nakano and Ogashiwa can have a similar impact they could do ok, but they are my tip to be a dark horse relegation candidate.


Sagan Tosu

Brief Notes: Look better placed than at this point last year and I have no difficulty seeing them survive. Being able to keep hold of Matsuoka was a big surprise for me and I’m really interested to see how new African forwards, Chico (Nigeria) and Dunga (Kenya), get on. I know I’m in the minority here, but I genuinely dig their new kit.


Vissel Kobe

Brief Notes: I think they could surprise a few people this year, not by finishing top 4 or anything, but outside of Hyogo there is almost zero expectation and their exciting youngsters may start to come to the fore a little more.


Yokohama FC

Brief Notes: Should be exciting to watch as it appears there will be plenty of goals at both ends. I don’t see them going down and if Matsuo and Seko continue to play well neither will be at the Mitsuzawa in 2022.


Shimizu S-Pulse

Brief Notes: As a fan of the league, I’d have preferred Cklamovski’s style to succeed, but more realistically Lotina’s defensive brand of football is more likely to guide them to less troubled waters. How high they go is dependent on how quickly the new parts fit together and how fast Lotina can mend their dreadful defence (139 J1 goals conceded 2019-2020).


Vegalta Sendai

Brief Notes: If they’re going to avoid the drop the improvement will need to come from the coaching department, with Teguramori replacing Kiyama. The squad on paper looks weaker than last season with the exception of the wide midfield areas.


Shonan Bellmare

Brief Notes: Ditto what I said about Sendai, they finished in the relegation slots last year and look likely to do so again. The heart has been ripped out of the team with Kaneko, Saito and Matsuda all going and their most exciting players, Tani, Tanaka and Hata are too young to carry this side on their back.


Tokushima Vortis

Brief Notes: Perhaps benefiting from Coronavirus, they managed to keep all of last season’s title winners and even added rising star Joel Chima Fujita. There’s a glaring lack of J1 experience and I can see things like, having 80% possession at home to Shimizu and still losing 1-0, happening a bit too often.


Avispa Fukuoka

Brief Notes: My main concern is that a chunk of last season’s starting eleven were on loan and have now returned to their parent clubs. They have more players with top flight experience than Tokushima and have made some decent buys, but they are short on depth and haven’t replaced Serantes in goal yet.

Categories
sport

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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sport

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.