Tokushima Vortis vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 23
Pocari Sweat Stadium, Tokushima
Monday 9 August 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
The Obon holiday is just kicking off here in Japan, but there’s no rest for J1 clubs with a full slate of action coming up this Monday. Gamba Osaka make their way to the Pocari Sweat Stadium in Tokushima for the first time since lifting the J1 title on a chilly December afternoon back in 2014. Vortis represent the final ‘cold’ opponent for the Nerazzurri during their summer blitz, having not played competitively since a 2-2 draw at home to Shimizu S-Pulse on July 11 (more on that later). Like I seem to have said about all recent fixtures, this is a vitally important match for both teams. Another 3 points on the road for Gamba would send them 9 clear of Monday’s hosts who currently occupy the uppermost relegation spot and could move out of the drop zone if they better Kashiwa’s result away to 3rd place Vissel Kobe.
While Tokushima have no doubt been busy on the training field this summer tweaking things ahead of a push for survival, Gamba have endured a hectic run of 7 J1 fixtures in the space of 20 days, the latest of which was a hugely disappointing 3-2 home loss to Yokohama F. Marinos on Friday, their 6th reverse in Suita this year. The Nerazzurri struck the post twice while Patric left his shooting boots at home and they were subsequently given a lesson in clinical attacking by their 2nd placed opponents. Despite old defensive frailties flaring up again in their first game back following their mid-season break, Marinos had no such issues at the other end with their razor sharp finishing being the difference maker. In the 7 J1 games Gamba have played since returning from the ACL, you could argue that the 12 points accrued is par for the course given the performances shown, however, Avispa Fukuoka and Vegalta Sendai might both have good reason to be a touch aggrieved by their losses to the men in blue and black, while the Nerazzurri could rightly feel deflated not taking any points from the home games against Kobe and Marinos. They say these things even themselves out over time, though if you look at the relative league placings of the 5 teams mentioned above then you may rightly point out that sides higher up in the standings are just generally that bit better at grinding out results in trying circumstances than those below them.
In amongst Patric’s rare off night and some questionable calls by referee Iemoto, a shining light for Gamba was the verve and purpose they showed in attack with flicks, back heels and penetrating forward passes aplenty wowing the home support, especially in the opening half hour. Alas the back of the Marinos net did not bulge as often as the Curva Nord faithful may have liked, though slowly, but surely the Osaka giants are starting to get back on their feet. A slight note of concern is that of the 16 J1 goals scored this season, Brazilian forwards Patric and Leandro Pereira (3 in his last 3) account for just south of 70% of that total and if you add in Takashi Usami’s three strikes then only 2 other players in the whole squad have found the target during this campaign, that is a statistic which simply must be improved going forward.
Tokushima, J2 champions in 2020, have been largely outshone by their fellow promoted side, Avispa Fukuoka, in J1 this season. The Shikoku based outfit started the year promisingly, but have since slipped and come into this fixture with just a solitary win in their past 12 matches, failing to score in half of those games. Norwegian forward Mushaga Bakenga, capped once by his country, could be set to join from Odd in his homeland, however, he most certainly won’t arrive in Japan in time for this clash. It should be noted that Tokushima, despite looking close to large cities like Osaka and Kobe on a map, is rather off the grid when it comes to national public transport infrastructure and can be a tough place to settle for foreign acquisitions, as evidenced by Cristian Battocchio’s hasty departure earlier in the summer transfer window.
Vortis require wins and points, and they need them now, Gamba’s necessity is no longer as great as it was a few weeks back, but victory here would certainly help supporters like myself breathe a little easier in the coming days and weeks. Which side will prevail?
Tale of the Tape
If football was played on a spreadsheet then Gamba would have wiped the floor with Marinos on Friday, but alas it isn’t and they went down 3-2. Still, some positives can be taken statistics wise with the team’s best xG For in 2021 smashed by almost 1 goal and Total Shots For as well as Shots For On Target both seeing season highs. Hopefully from a Gamba perspective, Tokushima bare the backlash of some of the profligacy seen against Marinos.
Vortis are known as a side who value ball retention, however, as seen in the reverse fixture between these two in May, it can often take the form of possession for possession’s sake. In that game, Tokushima trailed for just shy of an hour, but continued to knock the ball around between their centre-backs and holding midfielder Ken Iwao despite a pressing need to get it forward more quickly. Let me pat myself on the back briefly as I said about Vortis in my pre-season preview, “I can see things like, having 80% possession at home to Shimizu and still losing 1-0, happening a bit too often.” Look at the third table below and you’ll see 77% possession and a 2-2 draw in which they only shaded the xG scores….I wasn’t too far off, was I? One final key xG stat about Tokushima, they haven’t registered an xG For total of 2 or above all year (their season high is 1.83 against Gamba at Panasonic Stadium, that number includes a penalty), on the flip side of the coin, Sagan Tosu are the only team to record an xG of over 2 against the side from Shikoku in 2021, so don’t expect an abundance of goals here.
Head to Head
This will be just the 4th match between these two sides in the history of J1 and Vortis are still awaiting a maiden victory. Gamba recorded their first home 3 pointer of the year back in May with a largely forgettable 2-1 triumph. Patric coolly slotted home Kosuke Onose’s centre in a rare moment of quality during a drab first half. Tokushima levelled thanks to a Ken Iwao spot kick midway through the second period, but Takashi Usami won it for the hosts 5 minutes later following a collision between Patric and visiting ‘keeper Naoto Kamifukumoto which left Vortis’ kantoku Dani Poyatos enraged on the sidelines.
Last December, Tokushima visited Suita in the semi-finals of the Emperor’s Cup. On that occasion they dominated possession in the first half, but created few clear cut chances (something that may have influenced my pre-season comments about them quoted above) and were made to pay early in the second stanza when Kamifukumoto dropped the ball at Patric’s feet and was dearly punished for it (he must have been watching last Friday’s game enviously). Then, Yuya Fukuda broke the Vortis offside trap (their supporters may claim VAR would have shown otherwise) late on and slammed home to spark scenes of joy and wild cries of sugoi Yuya-kun from the female supporters near me in the stadium. 2-0 it finished.
The arrival of Ko Yanagisawa coupled with the return of, Hiroki Fujiharu, Yosuke Ideguchi and Yuji Ono, has given both Masanobu Matsunami and myself a welcome selection headache. I’ve gone for a much changed side from the one that fell agonisingly short against Marinos and the most challenging aspect of picking this team was deciding on the formation. 3-4-2-1 has been the only show in town for much of the Matsunami reign owing to an injury pile up in the wide areas. However, the Nerazzurri started the Marinos game 4-3-3, spent most of it in a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond featuring Yamamoto at the base, Usami at the tip and Okuno (right) and Kurata (left) on either side before finishing in a more orthodox 4-4-2, well until Gen Shoji became an auxiliary striker right at the death. With Miura resting on the pine and Kim, Onose and Yajima given the night off altogether, the 4-4-2 made sense after Wellington Silva’s early departure (more on that below), but with a bigger group to choose from for this game I’d say 3-4-2-1 or 4-3-3 would be the most likely starting formations on Monday. Regular readers may be surprised to see Tiago Alves in my predicted eleven, but just when I thought he was heading for the exit, Wellington’s enforced absence may have earned him a reprieve from the Gamba scraphead.
Several big pieces of news from the Gamba treatment room this week with Fujiharu, Ideguchi and Ono all fit enough to make the matchday squad for the Marinos game, but just when the team’s medical staff thought they might be able to relax a little, Wellington Silva injured his right groin in a seemingly innocuous collision with Takuya Wada and collapsed in a heap. He appeared to be in a good deal of distress as he left the field, but hopefully his problem is not too serious as he was just starting to build up a head of steam and I picked him out as one to watch on last week’s J Talk Podcast. Yesterday (7 August) Gamba confirmed that Ryu Takao had sustained ankle ligament damage against Sapporo on July 30, Sports Hochi’s Gamba beat reporter @hochikanagawa suggested that the injury may not actually be as serious as it sounds, something more akin to a bad sprain. The club haven’t give any timeframe for Takao’s return, and I wouldn’t hold my breath on them doing so. Elsewhere, it’s as you were with Yota Sato still unseen since the team returned from Uzbekistan last month and Dai Tsukamoto and Yuya Fukuda nursing leg muscle injuries sustained in the ACL. Additionally, Jun Ichimori, Haruto Shirai and Shin Won-ho are long-term casualties.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Spanish kantoku Dani Poyatos used the summer break to take a brief trip back to visit family in his homeland. He has since returned to Japan and will need to be on his game from the word go if Vortis are to avoid another one-and-done in J1. On-loan Kawasaki forward Taisei Miyashiro, who appears on the right-wing in the formation below, but could play as the central striker as he did in the Shimizu game, is the Shikoku side’s main danger in attack and yet another scary example of the talent produced in Frontale’s youth system. @R_by_Ryo flagged up right-back Takeru Kishimoto (recently turned 24) as one of the better younger players in the league and the Cerezo youth product is actually someone several Gamba supporters on Twitter suggested the Nerazzurri should look to bring in before the Ko Yanagisawa deal was announced. Central midfielder Ken Iwao is the heartbeat of the side in the middle of the park, centre-back Cacá generally looks the part defensively, but I question how well his abilities match Vortis’ playing out from the back at all costs philosophy and keep an eye out for young attacker Taiyo Nishino (19 on Tuesday) who made his first J1 start against S-Pulse just prior to the summer break.
Not a whole lot of Vortis related team news to report. Joel Chima Fujita was part of Japan U-24s wider training group for the Olympics and I’m unsure whether that will affect his participation here. Centre-back Kohei Uchida injured his knee in the Emperor’s Cup tie at Gamba last December and hasn’t been seen since. Backup forward Atsushi Kawata has moved to Omiya on a permanent transfer while, as alluded to above, Cristian Battocchio had his contract cancelled by mutual consent and later signed for a side in Mexico.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks again for reading and please enjoy the game whoever you’re supporting!