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 4thin 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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,
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.**
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Comment: The juggernaut has continued steamrollering opponents just as it did last season. Surely the best side in the history of the JLeague.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gamba Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima J1 2020 Round 6 Panasonic Stadium Suita Wednesday 22 July 19:00 (JST)
Round 6 of J1 2020 sees the first midweek game played at Panasonic Stadium Suita this year and Sanfrecce Hiroshima are the visitors. I had the great pleasure of working with Sanfrecce supporter and blogger Tobias (better known as @ConDrei on Twitter) to put this preview together. It is the first of what I hope will be several collaborations with other English language bloggers this season. Please let me know what you think.
Last Time Out
Gamba recorded a 2-1 home victory over Oita Trinita which was ultimately more comfortable than the tight scoreline might suggest. The Nerrazzuri made just one personnel change from the previous week’s triumph at S-Pulse with Yuji Ono coming in for Shu Kurata in midfield. They did, however, revert to a back-three with Shinya Yajima playing just in front of them and Yosuke Ideguchi putting in a great shift supporting both defence and attack admirably.
The men from Suita were in control for most of the first half, displaying an attacking coherence rarely seen thus far in 2020. The high press was also very successful and they essentially out-Oitad Oita (if that makes sense?), by building pressure and forcing mistakes. Daiki Watari did give an early indication of the dangers Trinita could pose on the counter as his shot was blocked by Ryu Takao following a cross from the right. Gamba failed to heed that warning and against the run of play in the 33rd minute Oita took the lead with a goal of real quality. Ex-Gamba winger Tatsuya Tanaka fired in from the right-hand side, this time Watari was able to get the better of Takao and he bulleted a header past Higashiguchi. 1-0 to the visitors.
Gamba didn’t have to wait long to get on level terms, just three minutes in fact. A good team move ended when Kosuke Onose was clearly tripped by Oita’s Tomoki Iwata and up stepped Takashi Usami to fire home a powerful penalty that beat Shun Takagi to his left. Usami’s first goal of the year and 1-1 at the interval.
Usami turned provider for strike partner Ademilson just three minutes into the second half. He robbed Trinita defender Kento Haneda of the ball on Gamba’s right and quickly fed his Brazilian team-mate, Ade then cut inside, brought the ball onto his left foot, turned Yoshinori Suzuki and buried his shot low, past Takagi at the near post for his second goal of the campaign.
Gamba threatened to run away with the game in the ten minutes or so that followed and Trinita ‘keeper Takagi was a relieved man as he almost let an innocuous looking back pass cross his goal line but managed to clear the ball just in the nick of time. The men in blue and black then slowly released their foot from the accelerator and gradually ceded possession and territory to their visitors. Despite substitute Kazuki Fujimoto showing some nice touches on his senior debut Oita were wasteful in the final third with numerous crosses failing to find their target and Yuto Misao’s weak effort straight at Higashiguchi their best chance to take anything from this game. Full time Gamba 2-1 Oita.
Sanfrecce made it three games without a win when they slumped to a 2-1 home reverse against Cerezo Osaka. The Cherry Blossoms, of course, defeated Gamba by the same scoreline a fortnight earlier and this game had a similar pattern to the Osaka derby with Cerezo the stronger team in terms of overall play and sharpness in front of goal.
The away side had the better of the first period and took the lead after just twenty minutes. Right winger Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, who was a thorn in Hiroshima’s side all night turned every Gamba fan’s favourite Sanfrecce player Kohei Shimizu inside out before firing in a dangerous low cross in the direction of Ken Tokura. Hiroshima captain Sho Sasaki got to the ball first but was unable to control his clearance and it spun past Takuto Hayashi for an unfortunate own goal. 1-0 Cerezo at the break.
The goalscoring action in the second half was confined to the opening fifteen minutes. First, Cerezo went 2-0 up with Sanfrecce the architects of their own downfall. Following numerous chances to clear from their defensive third, the three arrows were dispossessed by Cerezo central midfielder Naoyuki Fujita about 30 metres out, his interception was picked up by Hiroshi Kiyotake who then put the onrushing Fujita through one on one and he made no mistake, slipping the ball under Hayashi for his first league goal for the club.
Sanfrecce were back in the match literally seconds later when some slack defending allowed Douglas Vieira, a half-time replacement for the ineffectual Ryo Nagai, a run on goal, and Croatian centre-back Matej Jonjic brought him down for a penalty. After a bout of Cerezo shenanigans (on an even bigger scale than prior to Ademilson’s PK in the Osaka derby) delayed the kick for a good couple of minutes, Vieira dusted himself down and put his shot slightly left of the middle to reduce the deficit to just one goal. Despite huffing and puffing, Sanfrecce were largely reduced to long range efforts at goal and Cerezo held out reasonably comfortably to take the 2-1 win.
With the games coming thick and fast these days I only have time to look back at the two matches between these two from last year.
The away clash came in round 6 in early April and it was one all supporters of a Gamba persuasion would rather forget. Goals inside the first ten minutes from Yoshifumi Kashiwa and Kosei Shibasaki sent Sanfrecce on their way and confined Gamba to their fourth league defeat in the first six games, although it was their first loss on the road following earlier wins at Kawasaki and Shimizu. Hayao Kawabe added gloss to the scoreline with a third five minutes before time. 3-0 it finished.
Gamba were an altogether different beast come the return leg at the beginning of the Obon holiday. A bumper crowd of over 30,000 witnessed young Yuya Fukuda announce himself on the big stage with a fine display of attacking prowess from the left-wing back position. The Osaka side swarmed all over their visitors right from the off, but Hiroshima remained resolute and there were few clear openings in a goalless first half.
Sanfrecce had more attacks in the second period, but Gamba were still largely in the driving seat in a game which looked destined to finish 0-0. That all changed in the 89th minute when Kosuke Onose cut inside and unleashed a powerful drive from the edge of the area, a partially unsighted Keisuke Osako spilled the ball into the path of the advancing Shu Kurata and he made no mistake to send the blue and black support into raptures. Their joy was to be short-lived as in the second minute of additional time, Leandro Pereira, then a recent loan addition from Matsumoto Yamaga, rose to head Tsukasa Morishima’s cross past Higashiguchi and claim a point for the men in purple. A frustrating night for all Gamba fans as this would be the third of five consecutive league draws, and the second of three games in which the Nerrazzuri threw away late leads.
Gamba returned to using the three centre-back system for the home game against Oita and owing to that result as well as Sanfrecce and Trinita’s similar playing styles, I believe that is the formation Miyamoto will employ for this game. As noted above, Yosuke Ideguchi covered a lot of ground playing in a double volante with Yajima when defending but then being found on the right side of Gamba’s inverted midfield triangle going forward. As a result of his heavy workload on Saturday, it’s possible he’ll sit this one out.
The high press employed by Gamba’s attackers reaped dividends last time out but I’m a touch concerned about the toll it’s taking on Usami and Ademilson. They have been subbed off in almost every game, so I wonder if we will see Patric and/or Watanabe start this clash. Hiroki Fujiharu was another who got through a mountain of work in the last match, he sat out the previous midweek game with Nagoya, and his place could once again go to Yuya Fukuda, who is yet to show his best form since returning from injury.
Hiroshima generally set up in the same 3-4-2-1 as Oita, though they did tweak their system for the visit of Cerezo, playing in an almost identical structure to Gamba with an inverted midfield triangle. The experienced Toshihiro Aoyama, another not so popular figure in Suita, sat at the base with his regular volante partner Hayao Kawabe just ahead to the right and Tsukasa Morishima, who regularly provides great service for his tall attackers from the left wing, sitting a little deeper just to the left of Kawabe. Up front Leandro Pereira was partnered by former Matsumoto team-mate Ryo Nagai and this simply didn’t work with the latter replaced by Douglas Vieira at half-time. This leads me to Sanfrecce’s attacking conundrum, Pereira and Vieira are their best forwards, but they are too similar to each other for it to really click as a partnership, in my opinion. Both do their best work in and around the penalty area, and although Vieira is better than Pereira at general link up play, if you’re going to play someone just off Pereira, then that role would surely be better suited to the likes of Shunki Higashi or Gakuto Notsuda.
Defensively, Hiroshima’s back three is pretty sound with, Yuki Nogami, ex-Gamba Junior Youth Hayato Araki and Japanese international Sho Sasaki forming a settled line up that didn’t concede more than twice in a league match last season. Down the left flank is where the issues lie, the experienced Yoshifumi Kashiwa is missing for at least another month and his absence has been keenly felt. Yuya Asano, Kohei Shimizu and young Tomoya Fujii have all been tried there with varying degrees of success and it should be noted that Cerezo’s right winger Tatsuhiro Sakamoto had great joy throughout the ninety minutes last Saturday. Additionally, Ken Tokura, who tormented Gamba in the Osaka derby caused identical problems for the Hiroshima rearguard and this is something Patric may seek to emulate when he gets his chance.
To sum up, this match will likely be similar in style to Gamba’s game with Oita. Hiroshima will be content to sit in and soak up pressure while hoping to catch Gamba on the counter. Gamba on the other hand will aim to build on the attacking fluency they showed in the first hour against Oita, they’ll attack the flanks and hope that the high press will bring them a similar reward to Cerezo who used it to score their second goal against Sanfrecce at the weekend.
There are no new injury concerns that I know of, meaning that once again Gen Shoji (ankle) is a doubt and Jun Ichimori (shoulder) is definitely out. Yuki Yamamoto got a start for the U23 side on Sunday and could feature after a few games as an unused sub. This will be Kosuke Onose’s 50th game for Gamba and also his 50th in J1, he has 11 goals to his name to date.
Influential left wing-back Yoshifumi Kashiwa (8 goals, 4 assists in 34 J1 games last year) is definitely out with a leg injury, he’s expected back sometime in August. Highly-rated young stopper Keisuke Osako has been on the bench for the past two games following his error against Oita, I’m assuming he’s fully fit and could return at any time. Defender Kazuki Kushibiki, midfielders Taishi and Hiroya Matsumoto and attacker Ezequiel have all been out of the squad in recent games, though as none are established starters I’m guessing this is simply down to non-selection as opposed to injury. Veteran Toshihiro Aoyama will make his 400th league appearance for Sanfrecce if selected, to date he’s played 363 J1 and 36 J2 games.
Know Your Opponent – Sanfrecce Hiroshima
A massive thanks to @ConDrei for his excellent in-depth look at Wednesday night’s opposition. If you haven’t already, please give him a follow on Twitter and also check out his Sanfrecce Hiroshima EN – unofficial – page @threearrowsSFC as well as his blog https://violetarrowshiroshima.wordpress.com/
It is year three of the Hiroshi “JFK” Jofuku era. The turnover came when Sanfrecce under triple champion manager Hajime Moriyasu narrowly avoided relegation at the end of 2017. The tactics of 3-4-2-1 has been connected to the club for most of the last decade, Introduced by Michael Petrovic, adapted by Hajime Moriyasu and basically used by Hiroshi Jofuku leaving almost no change to the look of Sanfrecce’s formation. The sole striker position was regularly taken up by star players up front (Douglas, Hisato Sato or Peter Utaka) but, odd as it sounds, since Sanfrecce has one of the best defenses in the league the heart of the squad recently moved from CDM to COM. It was Toshihiro Aoyama and the Morisaki twins that built up the game in 2012 and 2013, flanked by Michael Mikic and Kohei Shimizu with Hisato Sato up front, in 2020 you have some great talent in the backfield behind the striker, while the CDM looks a little old and unsettled.
Just last week the 3-4-2-1 was abandoned for a 3-1-4-2 formation. As Jofuku seems to have moved his focus onto high pressing and a more attacking style of play. I will use the formation change momentum to build up my probable Starting XI:
GK – #1 Takuto Hayashi – Remember when Nishikawa left for Urawa and the then 31y/o Hayashi was brought back to his former club? That was 6 years ago. Hayashi had his best season in 2015, when he conceded only 30 goals keeping 14 clean sheets in the process. In 2018 he came close to that mark, but just a few more goals conceded were enough to cost Sanfrecce a fourth title. After that, Hayashi lost his place between the posts to youngster Keisuke Osako in the lead up to the 2019 season. The veteran was responsible for the opening goal for Thai side Chonburi United by mishandling a ball. This was followed by an (to me) unknown injury and the chance for Osako to not only impress with a shining smile but very athletic and fast reactions on the line that Hayashi had naturally lost after all these years. With Osako looking a little less secure in his last outing, Hayashi had his chance. But basically you can expect Osako’s return in any given match day. So don’tbe surprised if the 20 year old keeper returns against Gamba.
RCB #2 Yuki Nogami – Nogami has grown more and more reliable for Sanfrecce’s three-piece defense since moving to Hiroshima in 2016. A pleasant surprise in the final matches of the 2016 season, Nogami transitioned into a trusted player when he was tasked with filling the boots of Tsukasa Shiotani, who left for UAE club Al-Ain. I would characterize him as a hard worker with some pace, who sometimes lacks a little strength in using his body.
CB #23 Hayato Araki – With Kazuhiko Chiba growing older the central defense position had to be filled by a new player. As Jofuku tends to give younger players a chance it was the time for Hayato Araki, a former Sanfrecce youth player, to show what he is capable of. While still studying at Kansai University, Araki was brought to the team in 2018 and since then he has played his boots off in one of the strongest defenses in the J.League. He is one of those highly-rated prospects that you hope will stay with your club for a couple of years. He plays cleverly despite his young age and is always willing to throw himself in front of shots.
LCB #19 Sho Sasaki – The poster boy of Sanfrecce Hiroshima is the 30 year-old veteran. Coincidentally he played under Jofuku at Ventforet Kofu but joined Sanfrecce ahead of the manager. When Hajime Moriyasu took the helm at the Samurai Blue it was Sho Sasaki who was given the chance to present himself with the National Team. Rightfully? I am not sure as Sasaki is solid but not the best of those three in my opinion. On the last matchday he deflected a crossed ball into his own goal, that brought mischief to Jofuku’s match plan. I hope that he won’t dwell on his mistake as it is crucial to have a focused defense.
RW #44 Rhayner – The Brazilian is on loan from Tombonense and returned to Japan after previously winning J1 with Kawasaki Frontale in 2017. Aside from knowing that fact, I was not aware of him as a player but his first impressions with Sanfrecce were undoubtly great. While he sometimes appears to lack a little offensive agility, I admire his efforts to defend almost anywhere in front of the three backs.
DM #6 Toshihiro Aoyama – He is one of the players that has endured everything with Sanfrecce in the last 16 years. Aoyama joined Sanfrecce in 2004 from a High school in Tsuyama, Okayama. He is one of the toughest players in the squad and apart from his defensive talent, he is able to provide a lot of crucial assists while regularly building up attacks. He is now 34 though and has lost a bit of his freshness. But, as a captain he is still a stronghold on the pitch. Especially for those younger players that Jofuku brings into the team.
OM #10 Tsukasa Morishima – One of the young players whose career has really taken off under Hiroshi Jofuku. The 23 year-old attacker had a dire season in 2017 when he was given his first chance, but in 2019 Morishima’s standing sky-rocketed in the squad, playing all but one match in the AFC Champions League and assisting 9 goals in 24 league appearances (while scoring 3 goals himself). He is definitely a player to watch if he plays on Wednesday.
OM #8 Hayao Kawabe – Long-time loanee to Jubilo Iwata, Kawabe returned to Sanfrecce in 2018 and became a regular starter in 2019. Despite only being 24 years of age, he often looks often like a more experienced player. He hasn’t yet shown the sharpness in front of goal that he had with Jubilo, but this may be due to helping out Aoyama in a more defensive lineup. Unfortunately he was responsible for the second goal, a well-worked counter attack by Cerezo, when he mishandled a high ball. But apart from minor flaws in judgement I’d say you really can see his talent. I hope he will be a key member in the rejuvenation of the squad.
LW #16 Kohei Shimizu – From a Gamba perspective probably the most infamous player on the squad. If I don’t make you aware of it now, probably you heard Mr. Alan “JSoccer” Gibson more than once rant about Shimizu’s character as he simulated a violent conduct by Gamba defender Jae-suk Oh in the J.League championship final first leg of December 2nd, 2015. Oh was sent off by the ref in the 86th minute while Sanfrecce scored twice in injury time . That deed excluded, I see Kohei Shimizu as a reliable backup for both wings who is currently deputising for Yoshifumi Kashiwa, who will miss a couple of weeks due to a calf injury. Shimizu is no regular starter and Kashiwa’s attacking talent has been heavily missed in recent Sanfrecce matches.
FW #9 Douglas Vieira – Since moving to Sanfrecce in 2019, Douglas Vieira, the former Verdy striker has yet to shine on the pitch. In most years the central forward has been essential to Sanfrecce’s results. Most goals came from those central attackers. While Patric has been a force in aerial battles (despite lacking some skills with his feet in my opinion), Douglas Vieira does not have the physical strength to nail a ball up front. His headers are also not worth mentioning. That is why Vieira was mostly used as a false 9 in recent matches as he can regularly build up some speed to catch those high ball forward passes. Overall he has been a a decent addition to the team, with the double FW formation installed Douglas Vieira has moved up front. So it is hard to say if this style of play benefits him.
FW #39 Leandro Pereira – Pereira moved to Sanfrecce from relegated Matsumoto Yamaga on loan last summer. Another oddity in Japanese transfer history, Yamaga can now see that Leandro Pereira has decisively established himself as the No.1 striker in our team. He looks much more comfortable with the ball at his feet than Patric did at Sanfrecce, yet he sometimes lacks a little patience and shoots from bad positions. Right now he is the most feared striker of the squad, but when the build-up is lacking in sharpness he rarely has the chance to score.
In hindsight you can recognise the tactical development Sanfrecce Hiroshima have undergone in the Hiroshi Jofuku era. After almost being relegated in 2017, Jofuku tried to improve the dire defensive situation which ultimately lead to the feared anti-climax Sanfrecce football in 2018 that just missed out on a fourth title in 7 years only by a second-to-none collapse at the end of their season. The defensive blackout was worsened by a missing strike force that neither Patric, Masato Kudo nor Besart Berisha could serve over a full season. In 2019 you saw a strong defense with the first improvements in the build up of the attack. Also young players were able to get on the pitch more regularly, which serves as a possible focus point to further build up a team over the next years. 2020 started well and you can see Sanfrecce more willing to adapt and vary their style of play to match their opposition. Either by more pressing tactics against a much improved Cerezo side or as a counter attacking force against Vissel Kobe. Yet, the offensive strike force is the weak point of the squad. The recipe to throw in one (or now two) Brazilians to score goals is at least uninspiring, yet, as a result of minor mistakes in the defense it’s possible that the whole team has been totally thrown off balance by a much more offensively oriented style than 2018.
Gamba come into this one on a three match unbeaten run while Hiroshima haven’t won in their previous three games….I’ve jinxed it right there, haven’t I? Needless to say this will be a tight game, most likely decided by levels of energy and rotation within each squad. Gamba haven’t kept a clean sheet this year while Hiroshima don’t concede many. I don’t see more than three goals in this encounter and I’ll actually settle on a close 1-1 draw.
With the JLeague’s return almost upon us, I thought now would be a good time to take a refresher course on what’s been happening at each club over the previous few months.
Back in February I published a 2-part J1 preview, this article is intended to be a companion to that, so I’d like to take this chance to point you in the direction of those 2 previews (my most popular articles to date) if you’re in search of more reading material.
*All clubs are listed in the order they finished the 2019 season.
2019: 1st Kantoku: Ange Postecoglou (3rd year) Quick Stat: Marinos averaged exactly 2 goals per game in J1 last year (68 goals in 34 games)
Recap: Last season’s champions enjoyed a mixed start to 2020, recording impressive wins away to Jeonbuk (2-1) and home to Sydney FC (4-0) in the Asian Champions League. Domestically things weren’t so bright as they lost to Kobe in an infamously bad penalty shoot-out in the Super Cup before being beaten 2-1 on their own patch by Gamba in the first round of J1.
Squad Update: Former captain Jun Amano (28 years old) has returned from a year-long loan at Belgian side Sporting Lokeren. Amano, with over 100 games already under his belt for Marinos will be re-united with Lokeren team-mate, former Renofa Yamaguchi and Kashiwa Reysol full-back, Ryota Koike, who has joined the champions on a permanent basis. Experienced Avispa Fukuoka centre-back Yuki Saneto has also moved east to Kanagawa to provide cover for the injured Thiago Martins. Youth team forward Takumi Tsukui has been promoted to the top team, while Kokoku High School trio, Shunsuke Hirai (DF), Ryunosuke Kabayama (MF) and Tomoki Tagawa (GK), have been registered on designated special player contracts ahead of full-time moves in 2021. Despite ‘keeper Park Il-gyu being ruled out for the first 2 months of the re-start, the current squad looks stronger than last year and with no ACL return on the immediate horizon they should be there or thereabouts come the end of season.
Week 1: vs Gamba Osaka (h) 1-2
2019: 2nd Kantoku: Kenta Hasegawa (3rd year) Quick Stat: FC Tokyo’s average attendance of 31,540 in 2019 was the highest in the club’s history.
Recap: Kenta Hasegawa’s men kicked off their year with a 2-0 triumph over Ceres from the Philippines in torrential rain to earn a spot in the Asian Champions League group stage. They backed that up with an impressive 1-1 draw at Ulsan before edging out Perth Glory 1-0 at home. Then, the newly formed Brazilian front trio of Diego Oliveira, Leandro and Adailton all scored late on to inspire them to a 3-1 win at Shimizu S-Pulse in round 1 of J1 2020.
Squad Update: Korean winger Na Sang-ho’s loan departure for Seongnam FC in his homeland is the biggest piece of transfer news to come out of Ajinomoto Stadium during the break. The highly-touted 23 year-old had struggled to make an impression since his move from Gwangju at the beginning of last season so this wasn’t a major shock. The other major story to report is that the club have scrapped their J3 Under-23 side citing a lack of available stadia, this meant that their one lockdown signing, 20 year-old Thai midfielder Chayathorn Tapsuvanavon, who joined on loan from Bangkok United at the start of March, returned to Thailand in late June having seen no competitive action.
Week 1: vs Shimizu S-Pulse (a) 3-1
2019: 3rd Kantoku: Zago (new) Quick Stat: Kashima are the most successful team in J1 history with 8 league titles.
Recap: After losing in the final of the Emperor’s Cup to Vissel Kobe on January 1st, perennial Japanese giants Kashima then replaced outgoing coach Go Oiwa with Brazilian Zago and made a host of new signings. The bedding in period was not smooth and the men from Ibaraki found themselves surprisingly eliminated in the Asian Champions League qualifiers just 4 weeks later, losing 1-0 at home to Melbourne Victory. They followed this up with 2 more defeats, 1-0 away to Nagoya in the Levain Cup and 3-0 at Sanfrecce Hiroshima in round 1 of J1. 3 games, 3 defeats, 0 goals scored, it was a nightmare start for Zago. Everyone at the Kashima Soccer Stadium will be hoping that the enforced shutdown has given him precious time to get his message across.
Squad Update: Perhaps unsurprisingly given that 11 of their 31 squad members are new recruits for 2020, there have been no additional signings during the lockdown. The loss of Brazilian marksman Serginho to the Chinese second division (wonder if he’s having any regrets now) was a bitter blow for Kashima and how well his countrymen, Juan Alano (Internacional) and Everaldo (Queretaro, Mexico) settle in will be of utmost importance. Defender Bueno, who I suggested could be a weak link at the back in my February preview, has been loaned to Atletico Mineiro in his homeland. With an eye on the future, Antlers announced in this month that Meiji University duo, Tomoki Hayakawa (GK) and Keigo Tsunemoto (DF) as well as Osaka Taiiku University defender Naoki Hayashi will join the club from next year.
Week 1: vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima (a) 0-3
2019: 4th Kantoku: Toru Oniki (4th year) Quick Stat: Kawasaki had the best away record in J1 last year, taking 36 points from 17 games.
Recap: Champions in 2017 and 2018, Kawasaki endured an indifferent 2019, missing out on Asian Champions League qualification, but managing to lift the Levain Cup following a penalty shoot-out win over Sapporo. This year promises to see a changing of the guard with a more youthful looking squad attempting to regain the Kanagawa bragging rights from neighbouring Yokohama F.Marinos. They kicked off 2020 with a bang, thumping S-Pulse 5-1 at Todoroki Stadium in the League Cup, but dropped the baton the following week in their League opener, drawing 0-0 at home to a Sagan Tosu side predicted by many to finish bottom of J1.
Squad Update: Their only transfer of the lockdown was to sell backup ‘keeper Hiroki Mawatari to Fagiano Okayama, which brings them down to a more respectable 4 senior goalkeepers in their squad, while Kento Tachibanada a midfielder from Toin Yokohama University (my old workplace) was announced as a signing for next season. Elsewhere, the break will presumably have given new university recruits, Zain Issaka (another of the Toin OB network that also includes Miki Yamane), Kaoru Mitoma (Tsukuba), Kaito Kamiya (Tokai Gakuen) and Reo Hatate (Juntendo) time to adjust to life as a pro, Frontale supporters will be hoping these guys will form the backbone of the side for the coming years.
Week 1: vs Sagan Tosu (h) 0-0
2019: 5th Kantoku: Miguel Angel Lotina (2nd year) Quick Stat: Cerezo had the best defensive record in J1 in 2019, conceding a mere 25 in 34 games (0.7 per game), they were also tied with Kashima for most clean sheets kept (15).
Recap: Under the tutelage of wily head-coach Miguel Angel Lotina, Cerezo played an often quite dull but extremely effective brand of football last time out. Built on a rock-solid defence which conceded just 25 goals, they were able to achieve the 6th top 5 finish in their history. All the main protagonists in last season’s defensive masterclass are still in place and they started 2020 in strong fashion, smashing J2 side Matsumoto 4-1 at Nagai Stadium in the League Cup and following that up with a 1-0 opening day League win over Oita Trinita at the same venue.
Squad Update: Young forward Mizuki Ando’s loan move to Machida Zelvia was their only lockdown transfer activity, he followed another young striker, Hiroto Yamada (Sendai), on the loan trail, the latter leaving in early February. Brazilian midfielder Lucas Mineiro joined on loan from Chapecoense just before the season started to replace his compatriot Souza and made 2 substitute appearances before the COVID-19 enforced break. From the winter recruits, wide-man Tatsuhiro Sakamoto (Montedio Yamagata) and Japan Under-17 star, Jun Nishikawa (Toko Gakuen High School) will have a fair bit of expectation riding on their shoulders when the campaign resumes.
Week 1: vs Oita Trinita (h) 1-0
2019: 6th Kantoku: Hiroshi Jofuku (3rd year) Quick Stat: Sanfrecce scored over 20% of their goals last year in just 2 games vs Vissel Kobe (6-2 home and 4-2 away)
Recap: After a roller-coaster 2018, Sanfrecce had a much more stable campaign in 2019, finishing a comfortable 6th in J1 as well as progressing from the Asian Champions League group stages before being bettered by Kashima. They had a pretty quiet off-season, but a number of younger talents are emerging, most notably assist-king, Tsukasa Morishima, an exciting attacking-midfielder. Buoyed by the news that plans to build a new stadium in downtown Hiroshima are afoot, Sanfrecce started 2020 in dominant fashion, seeing off J1 new boys Yokohama FC away in the League Cup before dismantling the newly assembled Kashima Antlers 3-0 at Edion Stadium in round 1 of J1. They currently top the standings, albeit after only one game week.
Squad Update: There are no new transfers to report, although since my original preview was written, Ritsumeikan University midfielder Tomoya Fujii was signed on a pre-contract for 2021 and registered as a designated special player for 2020, he was on the bench for both games so far this year, playing once against Yokohama FC. Extending the loan deals of Brazilian duo Leandro Pereira and Rhayner was probably Hiroshima’s best work last winter, their compatriot, attacking midfielder Ezequiel, also joined on loan from Botafogo, while Yuya Asano (younger brother of Takuma) came in from Mito HollyHock, though the jury is very much still out on whether he’ll bring as much to the team as his elder sibling.
Week 1: vs Kashima Antlers (h) 3-0 L
2019: 7th Kantoku: Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (3rd year) Quick Stat: Yasuhito Endo will become the most experienced player in J1 history the next time he takes to the field. He’s currently tied on 631 appearances with legendary Nagoya ‘keeper Seigo Narazaki.
Recap: Gamba had a nightmare start to 2019 (as they did the year before), however, owing to a change in strategy – playing with 3 centre-backs, as well a change in philosophy – disbanding the ageing group of heroes from the treble winning 2014 squad and supplementing the new young guns with returning heroes like Ideguchi and Usami, Gamba were able to haul themselves up to an ultimately respectable 7th place. This year started with a 1-0 home reverse to Kashiwa Reysol in the League Cup which was eerily similar to some games from early on in the past 2 campaigns. They were able to make it count when it really mattered this time though, and produced the performance of round 1 of J1 2020, turning over defending champions Yokohama F.Marinos 2-1 at Nissan Stadium, Kurata and Yajima helping themselves to a goal and an assist each.
Squad Update: Vegalta Sendai backup ‘keeper Lee Yunoh was brought in on loan at the beginning of March to take the place of another loanee, Haruki Saruta (Kashiwa), in the U-23 squad after Saruta suffered a knee injury in training. Meiji University centre-back Yota Sato signed a pre-contract for 2021 and has been registered as a designated special player this year. Additionally, Japanese international centre-back, Gen Shoji, joined on a bumper deal from French side Toulouse last winter, however, due to injury he was unable to play in the 2 games prior to the shutdown. Gamba fans will look forward to seeing him work in tandem with Genta Miura and Kim Young-gwon at the back.
Week 1: vs Yokohama F.Marinos (a) 2-1
2019: 8th Kantoku: Thorsten Fink (2nd year) Quick Stat: Kobe’s games last season produced a total of 120 goals (3.6 per game), a league high.
Recap: The Rakuten money finally seemed to pay off for Kobe as they lifted their first ever piece of silverware, the Emperor’s Cup, after a 2-0 win over Kashima at the new National Stadium in Tokyo on New Year’s Day. Like buses, their second trophy came soon after as they saw off J1 Champions Yokohama F.Marinos in the Super Cup in February. A team which scored plenty and conceded loads gradually became more disciplined under German coach Thorsten Fink in the second half of last year and a more slimline squad started 2020 well. Their first ever Asian Champions League campaign began with a 5-1 trouncing of Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim and continued with a hugely impressive 1-0 win away to Suwon in Korea. In J1 they had to accept a share of the spoils when they met Yokohama FC in round 1 in a game played under bizarre circumstances with supporters allowed into the stadium, but told not to cheer.
Squad Update: No ins or outs have been recorded during the league’s enforced absence which gives us a chance to look at their business from last winter. Douglas (14 goals, 5 assists for Shimizu in 2019) may be the signing of the close season and his partnership with Furuhashi guarantees goals. At the back, only Shonan and Shimizu conceded more than Kobe’s 59 last time out and to that end centre-backs, Ryuho Kikuchi (Renofa Yamaguchi) and Tetsushi Yamakawa (Tsukuba University) were brought in, though these signings appear to be more for the long term rather than right now.
Week 1: vs Yokohama FC (h) 1-1
2019: 9th Kantoku: Tomohiro Katanosaka (5th year) Quick Stat: Now departed strikers, Noriaki Fujimoto (Kobe) and Ado Onaiwu (YFM) scored over 50% of Oita’s goals last year (18 out of 35)
Recap: Head coach Katanosaka has masterminded a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the Kyushu side which saw them move up from J3 to J1 in the space of 3 years. Last season they started like a house on fire before inevitably hitting a bit of a slump, but they were still able to finish an excellent 9th with a squad mainly consisting of players from their 2018 J2 promotion campaign as well as sprinkling of veterans from their J3 days. Oita had a disappointing start to 2020, going down 1-0 away from home in both of their games, at Shonan in the League Cup and Cerezo a week later in the League.
Squad Update: Their only transfers of note during the lockdown have been the registrations of Fukuoka University midfielder Kenta Inoue and Kanoya Sports College forward Kazuki Fujimoto as designated special players for 2020. Owing to their small budget, Oita have largely had to try and replace departed stars like Ado Onaiwu and Noriaki Fujimoto with players who’ve performed well at lower levels. Retaining attacking-midfielder Kazuki Kozuka and centre-back Tomoki Iwata was a big boost for the club, though how long they can keep hold of them remains to be seen.
Week 1: vs Cerezo Osaka (a) 0-1
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
2019: 10th Kantoku: Mihailo Petrovic (3rd year) Quick Stat: Last year was the first time since 2007 that Mihailo Petrovic has coached a team to a bottom half finish in J1.
Recap: Improving on 2018’s incredible 4th place finish was always going to be a tall order for Sapporo, and so it proved last year, however, 10th was still a decent showing from Mihailo Petrovic’s men. Although at times a little suspect at the back, they did have strong performers throughout the side, Akito Fukumori’s deadly set-pieces earned him 8 assists, while Chanathip continued to lay on goals for his attacking partners, Jay, Musashi Suzuki and Anderson Lopes. They would have considered themselves unfortunate to lose out to Kawasaki in the lottery of a penalty shoot-out in the League Cup final last year, and this defeat preceded a rather poor end to 2019 which saw them lose 4 of their last 6 league games. Consadole started 2020 by coasting past Sagan Tosu, 3-0 away in the League Cup, but then went down 4-2 to Kashiwa Reysol in Chiba on the opening day of J1, these results suggest there’ll be plenty of goalmouth action at both ends this campaign.
Squad Update: The big transfer news story to emerge out of Sapporo during the league’s break was that international goalkeeper Gu Sung-yun would return to his homeland to play for Daegu FC ahead of a 2-year stint in the Korean military. Consadole have already secured the services of Hosei University’s 2M tall stopper Kojiro Nakano for 2021, and have him on a designated special player contract for this year, but whether it is he, Thai international Kawin Thamsatchanan (a recent loan arrival from Leuven in Belgium) or the experienced Takanori Sugeno that takes over the starting spot is up for debate.
Week 1: vs Kashiwa Reysol (a) 2-4
2019: 11th Kantoku: Takashi Kiyama (new) Quick Stat: New Kashima Antlers full-back Katsuya Nagato provided assists for 26% of Sendai’s goals in 2019.
Recap: Sendai secured their second consecutive 11th place finish in J1 last year, perhaps even more impressive than the previous campaign due to the fact that it was achieved with what, on paper at least, looked like a weaker squad. Still, that didn’t stop head coach Susumu Watanabe from losing his job, with Yamagata manager Takashi Kiyama coming in for his first stab at J1 level. Despite J1’s leading assist maker Katsuya Nagato departing for Kashima, off season recruitment had inspired confidence. However, that feel-good factor was only short-lived when it was announced that both Isaac Cuenca and Alexandre Guedes had gone down with injuries before the campaign had even begun. Sendai were thrashed 5-2 at Urawa in the League Cup before holding Nagoya to a 1-1 draw in the League. The break in fixtures has allowed their attacking talent to return, though the loss for the next 2 months of captain Simao Mate is a huge blow, and an extended period of playing in front of no spectators may undermine their impressive home record.
Squad Update: Exciting news for Sendai is the return of former attacker Takuma Nishimura on loan from CSKA Moscow. He hit 11 goals in 24 games before his big money move to Russia in the summer of 2018 and Vegalta fans will be looking forward with relish to the partnership he can form with Cuenca, Guedes and Shuhei Akasaki. Elsewhere defenders, Hisashi Appiah Tawiah (Ryutsu Keizai University) and Takumi Mase (Hannan University) have both been brought in on designated special player contracts ahead of turning pro next year. In terms of departures, defender Masato Tokida who played against Urawa in the League Cup has left for Matsumoto in a loan deal and as previously mentioned, backup goalie Lee Yunoh has joined Gamba U-23 on loan, he spent 2019 farmed out to Fukushima United.
Week 1: vs Nagoya Grampus (h) 1-1
2019: 12th Kantoku: Peter Cklamovski (new) Quick Stat: Shimizu had the worst defensive record in J1 last season with 69 goals conceded in total (2.03 per game). They were also one of only two teams to do the double over champions Yokohama F.Marinos (the other was Cerezo Osaka).
Recap: One of the biggest stories of last winter was Shimizu’s appointment of Ange Postecoglou’s assistant at Yokohama F.Marinos, Peter Cklamovski. An avid disciple of Ange’s, it’ll be interesting to see how he shapes this S-Pulse side in his image. The JLeague’s no-relegation rule will definitely help with his experimentation which is bound to encounter teething problems. Shimizu had the leakiest back line in J1 last season conceding 69 times, including an 8-0 home reverse against Sapporo. This year it took them 2 games to concede 8 goals, being hammered 5-1 at Kawasaki in the League Cup then putting up a better showing at home to FC Tokyo in the League before ultimately going down 3-1.
Squad Update: Nothing to report on the transfer front during the lockdown, although S-Pulse did hire a new coach and recruit a number of new players in the off-season. Additionally, midfielders, Yasufumi Nishimura (Okayama) and Kota Miyamoto (FC Gifu) have returned from loan spells, while wide-man Hideki Ishige made a welcome comeback from serious injury and now appears to be seen as an option at full-back. Despite the additions of Yusuke Goto (Oita), Teerasil (Muangthong United) and Carlinhos (Sion) it’s still hard to see anyone getting close to matching Douglas’ 14 league goals scored last year.
Week 1: vs FC Tokyo (h) 1-3
2019: 13th Kantoku: Massimo Ficcadenti (2nd year) Quick Stat: Nagoya were second only to Sendai in terms of % of total points picked up at home (65% compared with Sendai’s nearly 76%) in 2019.
Recap: One of the biggest spenders in the league, Nagoya have flattered to deceive since returning to J1 in 2018. They have a team full of highly talented individuals who rarely add up to the sum of their parts. Italian Massimo Ficcadenti was a surprise choice to replace the much more attack minded Yahiro Kazama midway through last year, however, he was able to steer a side which had been in freefall into a relatively safe 13th spot in the standings. Grampus started 2020 unbeaten, seeing off Kashima Antlers 1-0 at home in the League Cup before having the better of a 1-1 draw away at Sendai in round 1 of J1.
Squad Update: Former Japan international front-man Mu Kanazaki joined on loan from cash-strapped Tosu at the end of March and he will take the place of Jo, who returned to Corinthians in Brazil (in a deal that seems to have more to it than meets the eye) having only found the net 6 times last season, compared to 24 in the previous campaign. Kanazaki, however, was recently struck down with Covid-19 and passed the virus on to Australian goalkeeper Mitch Langerak. Both players have since recovered, however, the fallout was that the rest of the squad had to endure a period of training together using Zoom while their J1 rivals were all working on the training ground. During the break, young full-back Yukinari Sugawara turned his loan move to Dutch side AZ Alkmaar into a permanent one after impressing in his first year in the Netherlands.
Week 1: vs Vegalta Sendai (a) 1-1
2019: 14th Kantoku: Tsuyoshi Otsuki (2nd year) Quick Stat: Legendary striker Shinzo Koroki has hit double figures in his last 8 league campaigns.
Recap: Despite reaching the final of the Asian Champions League last season, finishing 14th in J1, their worst performance since 2011 was simply unacceptable for a club of this size. Thing surely must get better, a lot better, this year if head-coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki wants to remain in his current role. Their was a surprising lack of transfer activity last winter considering the average age and performance of the squad over the previous 12 months, however, Brazilian attacker, Leonardo who joined from Albirex Niigata could well challenge Kobe’s signing of Douglas as the best coup of the transfer window. The former J3 and J2 top scorer introduced himself to the Saitama Stadium supporters with a double on his debut, a 5-2 win at home to Sendai in the League Cup. The defensive frailties that were briefly on show in that game resurfaced a week later in their League opener, a 3-2 victory over a Shonan Bellmare side who are expected to find things tough this year. It looks like Urawa games will be a pretty exciting watch over the coming months.
Squad Update: The lack of transfer activity from Reds does seem a little surprising viewed from afar, only Ryutsu Keizai midfielder Atsuki Ito has come in on a designated special player contract. However, they may be banking on some of their younger crop of players to develop more over the coming years. Right-sided defender Daiki Hashioka appears to be the pick of the bunch, though left winger Koya Yuroki could also become a key asset if he’s given more game time. Central-midfielder Hidetoshi Takeda joined the club from the cradle of footballing talent that is Aomori Yamada High School last winter, so we can expect good things from him, while Chuo University winger Tomoaki Okubo has again been registered as a designated special player ahead of turning pro with Reds next year. Youth team ‘keeper Zion Suzuki is on a Type-2 amateur contract which allowed him to appear on the bench against both Sendai and Shonan despite still being in high school (he’s already 189cm tall!)
Week 1: vs Shonan Bellmare (a) 3-2
2019: 15th Kantoku: Kim Myung-hwi (3rd year) Quick Stat: Tosu failed to score in 9 out of their first 10 league games in 2019.
Recap: If you’re interested enough in Japanese football to read my blog, I’m going to assume you know something about Tosu’s appalling financial situation, so I don’t want to dwell on it too much. The lack of relegation this year would appear to help them more than any other side given that most #jpred2020 entrants had them going down. A very weak squad on paper were humbled 3-0 at home by Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in the League Cup’s first group-stage match this February before gaining a creditable 0-0 draw away to Kawasaki Frontale on the League’s opening day. Much more of that battling spirit will be required in the coming months and years, I feel.
Squad Update: Mu Kanazaki’s departure on loan to Nagoya may be the first of quite a few in the near future as the club looks to balance it’s books. In terms of arrivals, Chuo University defender Daisuke Matsumoto is in as a designated special player while Tosu U-18 forwards Reoto Kodama and Ryunosuke Sagara as well as defender Shinya Nakano have come in on Type-2 contracts. One intriguing move just before the league started back in February was the acquisition of right-sided Chinese player Wang Jianan from Guangzhou R&F. The current squad has a very youthful feel to it, with midfielders, Fuchi Honda and Daiki Matsuoka (both 19) as well as former Meiji University full-back Ryoya Morishita (23) expected to be key players.
Week 1: vs Kawasaki Frontale (a) 0-0
2019: 16th Kantoku: Bin Ukishima (2nd year) Quick Stat: Shonan kept the fewest clean sheets in J1 last year (4).
Recap: The Cho Kwi-jae power harassment scandal rocked Shonan to the core last summer, sending them into a tail-spin that they were only able to pull out of thanks to a 1-1 draw at home to Tokushima in the play-offs (again the rights and wrongs of that system have been discussed in depth elsewhere so I’ll not go any further into it.) Bin Ukishima, the man who replaced the long serving Cho has been tasked with rebuilding the side and he’s brought in 12 new faces along with 2 players who’ve returned to Bellmare from loan spells. This sort of annual upheaval is not uncommon in these parts and Shonan are likely to be another side who are assisted by the league’s no-relegation rule. Bellmare started 2020 by edging out Oita 1-0 at home in the League Cup, before losing their J1 opener 3-2 to Urawa at the same venue with new Norwegian signing Tarik missing a penalty.
Squad Update: After a busy winter, Shonan’s lockdown work has been largely focused on the future, 5 youth team players have been registered on Type-2 Contracts, including midfielder Satoshi Tanaka who’ll turn pro next year. Additionally, 20 year-old forward Ryo Nemoto of Kanoya Sports College in Kagoshima and Sho Hiramatsu from Rissho University have joined as a designated special players. The club also announced the capture of midfielder Taiyo Hiraoka from Riseisha High School for 2021, though he hasn’t yet been registered for this campaign. Surprisingly, as far as I can tell, there has still been no announcement from the club regarding the futures of 2 Brazilians, Crislan and Leleu, who were on the books last year, I assume neither will be back, but usually JLeague teams are good at keeping the fans informed about this sort of thing.
Week 1: vs Urawa Reds (h) 2-3
2019: 1st (J2) Kantoku: Nelsinho (2nd year – current spell) Quick Stat: The last time Kashiwa won J2, they went on to lift the J1 title the following year (2011). Current head coch Nelsinho was also in charge back then.
Recap: Under legendary manager Nelsinho, Kashiwa are back in the top flight following a one-year sojourn in J2. After a few bumps and bruises in the early rounds, Reysol’s class eventually told and they were worthy champions, their season of course ending with that memorable 13-1 rout of Kyoto Sanga. They’ve kept most of last year’s championship winning side intact and added a cast of 2019 J2 all stars, how will they do in J1 this year? They got 2020 off to the best possible start with a 1-0 win away to Gamba in the rain in February’s League Cup clash, goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu, left-back Taiyo Koga and inevitably the well-known attacking duo of Cristiano and Olunga were all in fine form. That victory was then backed up by a 4-2 triumph in a thrilling match at home to Sapporo in round 1 of J1 with both Esaka and Olunga notching doubles. They have more than enough attacking talent, but for me centre-back and centre-midfield are areas for concern. They’ll certainly be interesting to watch this year.
Squad Update: Kashiwa’s only lockdown work has been to move youth product Keita Ide to Tochigi SC in what appears to be a full transfer, I say appears as he was only promoted to the top team last winter. There have been no ins during the break, though Reysol did recruit quite heavily in the off-season and have no doubt taken this opportunity to try and bring their ex-J2 players up to speed. I’m particularly excited by versatile 23 year-old midfielder Yuta Kamiya who spent 2019 with Ehime, on-loan from Shonan. Right-back Kengo Kitazume who joined from Yokohama FC looks a solid addition too, and I can see him taking over from Shunki Takahashi before much longer. Two other interesting coups were Hiroto Goya (Nagasaki – on loan from Gamba), who netted 22 goals in 36 J2 games last year and former youth team product Hayato Nakama (Okayama) who struck an impressive 15 times in 40 J2 matches from left midfield in 2019. These 2 undoubtedly possess the ability, but can they unseat one of the top dogs such as, Olunga, Cristiano, Esaka or Segawa, to nail down a starting berth?
Week 1: vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo (h) 4-2
2019: 2nd (J2) Kantoku: Takahiro Shimotaira (2nd year) Quick Stat: Kazuyoshi Miura made his JLeague debut on 15 May 1993, over 8 years before team-mate Koki Saito was born.
Recap: Hear the name Yokohama FC and you probably instantly think of their famous veterans, Kazuyoshi ‘King Kazu’ Miura and Shunsuke Nakamura, then probably to a lesser extent, guys like Leandro Domingues, Ibba Laajab, Daisuke Matsui and Masahiko Inoha. However, bubbling under the surface are some of the hottest young talents in Japanese football, attacking trio, Koki Saito (18), Katsuhiro Nakayama (23) and Yusuke Matsuo (22) combined for 18 goals and 11 assists last season to help Yokohama FC achieve only the second season of top flight football in their history. Things will be tough for sure for this squad of ageing stars and up-and-comers, they started things off with a tame 2-0 loss at home to a wily Sanfrecce side in the League Cup, before holding Kobe to a respectable 1-1 draw in the League opener in Hyogo. Tatsuki Seko, another young gun who was recruited in the off-season from Meiji University netted Yokohama’s goal on his senior debut, he’s also one to look out for this year.
Squad Update: A couple of pieces of transfer news to report from Yokohama during the lockdown, Hosei University defender Yuya Takagi was registered as a designated special player, he’ll turn pro when he’s finished with his studies next year. Full-back Yuta Fujii also made a permanent move to J2 outfit Avispa Fukuoka, he made a mere 5 appearances for Yokohama FC in 2019. Finally, a quick shout out to a name I didn’t mention above, left-back Takaaki Shichi (5 goals and 4 assists in 39 games for Mito HollyHock last year), his signing may have largely flown under the radar, but in my books it looks like a very shrewd move.