Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse
2022 J1 Season Round 25
Sunday 14 August 2022
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
Gamba return to league duty for the first time in a fortnight following the Covid-enforced postponement of their clash with Fukuoka last weekend. And, what a return it’s set to be as the club hold their annual Summer Expo this Sunday night and rejuvenated fellow relegation battlers Shimizu S-Pulse are the visitors to Panasonic Stadium. The Nerazzurri will take the field looking resplendent in their special black, blue, white and gold kit and they’ll need a performance to match those dazzling jerseys if they are to see off their visitors from Shizuoka. While Gamba were inactive in round 24, S-Pulse took full advantage with powerful headers from Brazilian duo Carlinhos Junior and Thiago Santana seeing them past a disappointing FC Tokyo outfit as well as some highly dubious officiating (more on which later). That win moved them out of the bottom 3 and they currently sit 1 place and 2 points above the Ao to Kuro who, of course, have a game in hand. Defeat in this bout would be disastrous for Gamba and it’s worth remembering that a 2-1 home loss to Shimizu in the summer of 2018 led to the end of Levir Culpi’s short reign as Gamba kantoku. A Koya Kitagawa penalty and a header from a Brazilian attacker followed by a late Gamba resurgence that ultimately comes up short, it’s not to hard to imagine history repeating itself in 2022, is it? Can Katanosaka and his raft of new attacking signings breathe new life into the Nerazzurri’s stuttering campaign or will this prove to be the death knell for his team’s J1 survival hopes?
Tale of the Tape
I went over a few statistical points pertaining to Gamba in my Avispa Fukuoka preview, and ultimately that game ended up being postponed a few hours after I published it. In the light of that, I don’t have too much left to say in here, so I’ll just aim for just a brief summary aided by plenty of charts below. As this match is being played at Panasonic Stadium then I guess the main takeaway should be Gamba’s home form in 2022. They’ve accrued 13 points from 12 fixtures in Suita this year which makes up just shy of 60% of their overall total and is the 4th poorest home showing in J1. Most disappointing from a blue and black perspective is the fact that the Nerazzurri have scored first in 8 of their 12 home outings this campaign, but have only converted 3 of those leads into wins. The 7 points thrown away in the 90th minute or after against Kawasaki, Urawa, Cerezo and Kyoto continue to sting badly. Indeed, in their past 3 league games on home soil, the blue and blacks have ceded equalisers in the 92nd and 97th minutes as well as throwing away a point in the 90th minute of the Osaka Derby. I’ve little doubt this recent run has caused many a sleepless night for Tomohiro Katanosaka and those closely connected to the club, and it’s a run that needs to be halted immediately. With this year’s J1 being so tightly balanced, if I’m honest there’s probably not a whole lot of difference in quality between 7th and 18th, it’s unlikely that a team can keep dropping points from winning positions at such an alarming rate and remain in the top flight. Though, with that said, I would urge those licking their lips at the prospect of Gamba and Kobe both going down to J2 to remember the procession that was the 2013 season with both Kansai giants having the automatic promotion spots sewn up long before final day. Fast forward to 2022 and for Gamba it’s all about battling nerves and a lack of confidence and holding on to a lead for once. Shonan, Kyoto and Júbilo are, for me, the 3 weakest sides overall in the division, but Gamba, Kobe and Shimizu, despite having better squads on paper, are by no means above getting things horribly wrong and ending up in the bottom 3. Though it’s still early days, S-Pulse’s summer recruitment work looks to have had a positive effect on their fortunes, meaning they come into this tie as slight favourites. For Gamba, defeat on Sunday night is unthinkable, and should they come off second best then I’d upgrade?/downgrade? their relegation status from possible to probable, that’s how pivotal a game this is.
Shimizu kicked off 2022 with a run of just 2 wins in their opening 16 games which precipitated a 4th mid-season managerial change in as many years as Brazilian Zé Ricardo replaced Hiroaki Hiroaka in the dugout in early June. Things have improved slightly in recent matches with 3 wins, 2 draws and 3 losses across their past 8 fixtures and with the attacking additions of Koya Kitagawa, Takashi Inui and the wonderfully named Yago Pikachu aligning with the return to fitness and / or form of several stalwarts there have been some real signs of a brighter future in both the recent 3-3 draw with Tosu and 2-0 triumph at FC Tokyo. With S-Pulse it is often a case of how successfully their decent attack can bail out their ropey defence. Solidity at the back has been an issue for a number of years now and their 38 goals conceded in 24 games this season is 2nd worst in the division with only Sapporo (40) letting in more. At the other end their 31 goals scored is the best of all sides currently in the bottom half of the table, and comfortably so, as it’s 5 more than their nearest rivals, who are once again Sapporo. There’s also a clear personality split when it comes to home and away fixtures. Shimizu are the division’s worst team in their home stadium, however, they are also the 5th best side in J1 away from home with 2/3 of their season’s points coming on the road. Whether this has predominately been down to luck or skill remains up for debate as they’ve out-performed their xG For total by 1.92 goals in their 12 away fixtures to date while at the same time conceding 2.04 less than would be expected based on their xG Against numbers. That 3.96 swing in their favour compares with overall totals of, a 4.08 over-performance vs xG For and a 4.8xG under-performance versus xG against. So, clearly opponents are taking their chances more clinically at the Nihondaira than they are anywhere else across the archipelago. New Brazilian kantoku Zé Ricardo has inherited a talented, but unbalanced squad. He has stuck with his predecessor’s 4-4-2 system and has compensated for a lack of genuine pace in attack by operating a strategy involving quick passing interplay among his front 6 as well as encouraging his full-backs to charge into enemy territory to supply the bullets for his centre-forwards, as they did so effectively in the 2-0 win at FC Tokyo. Kaoru Mitoma’s kōhai at the University of Tsukuba, Reon Yamahara might have been a shoo-in for J1 Rookie of the Year if it weren’t for the existence of Hiroshima’s Makoto Mitsuta. Left-back Yamahara, a Tokyo-native, delivered the cross for Thiago Santana’s clincher at Ajinomoto Stadium and that made it 1 goal and 3 assists in his last 3 league outings for the 23 year-old. Very adept at going forward, Yamahara has 6 assists in total and his 32 chances created sees him rank 14th overall in J1, quite an achievement for a full-back in a team placed 15th on the ladder. With that said, the defensive side of his game still requires some polishing as highlighted by Yoichi Naganuma of Sagan Tosu giving him a torrid time during the first half of their recent encounter at the Nihondaira. Last, and most certainly not least, I wanted to shine a light on one of the most effective attackers in J1 this season, Thiago Santana. Despite missing the opening 7 rounds of the campaign due to injury, the Brazilian hitman has bounced back to net 9 times which makes him a genuine contender for this year’s Golden Boot. Worryingly for Gamba, he’s currently in the midst of a run of 6 goals and 3 assists in his last 8 games with his hold-up play and finishing dragging his side up by the coat tails and providing them with genuine hope that they can avoid the drop.
First Match Recap
Gamba’s trip to the Nihondaira Stadium to face Shimizu back in April was a rare case of the Nerazzurri gaining points in injury time as opposed to the recent trend of throwing them away. Hosts S-Pulse were well worthy of their lead when they finally went in front midway through the second-half through debutant Oh Se-hun. However, the side from Shizuoka, with the game all but won, opted to go into their defensive shell and began sitting deeper and deeper as the final whistle approached. Hindsight is always 20-20, and, with the benefit of it, we can say that Hiroaki Hiraoka’s decision to replace pacy attacker Yuito Suzuki with centre-back Yugo Tatsuta was decisive. The loss of Suzuki deprived Shimizu of an out-ball to relieve pressure, while at the back Tatsuta essentially provided an additional pair of arms to be struck as the ball flew dangerously around the home penalty area. Mercurial Brazilian Valdo conceded a needless foul on the edge of his own box deep into additional time, Yuki Yamamoto’s resulting free kick clearly struck the hand of an S-Pulse defender inside the penalty area (not for the first time during the match), and to save the officials from making a big call, Kosuke Onose’s follow up shot squirmed beneath Shuichi Gonda’s fingertips to earn Tomohiro Katanosaka’s troops a barely deserved, but warmly welcomed point with the final kick of the game.
* It’s Expo Time – After a partial break during 2020 and 2021 when heavy crowd restrictions were in place due to Covid, Gamba’s Summer Expo returns in all it’s glory this Sunday. From 2017-2019 all supporters received a t-shirt bearing a strong resemblance to field uniform worn by the players, adorned with the number 12 on the back and front. However, in 2020 and 2021 the t-shirt handed out to the fans came with an extra ¥500 cost on top of the ticket fee and was completely different in design to the players’ uniform. Additionally Gamba wore their supposed one-off Expo shirts twice in both 2020 and 2021. This year, the ¥500 price remains, but we’re back to the fans and players wearing similar shirts and this being a one-off occasion. Images of my Expo Uniform with #32 Sakamoto on the back are below as well as my collection of shirts from 2018, 2019 and 2021, which one is your favourite?
* Mascot Mayhem – Another part of the Expo festivities will be the official naming of Gamba’s new mascot during the ‘Heat Up Time’ pre-game segment. The character, who bares a striking resemblance to something out of Sesame Street, so much so that in my head I already think of it as ‘Gamba Elmo,’ was originally unveiled to mixed reviews prior to the home clash with Sapporo (I initially typed Sesame Street here…it’s getting late!) in Golden Week, though he has certainly grown on the Gamba fanbase over time. Now, following a competition entered by more than 9,000 people, the result is finally ready to be revealed to the public.
* Transfer Round Up – It appears that barring a surprise deal going through Gamba’s summer comings and goings are over. Juan Alano (Kashima), Ryotaro Meshino (Manchester City), Musashi Suzuki (Beerschot) and Rihito Yamamoto (Tokyo Verdy) are the arrivals while, Ju Se-jong (Daejeon Citizen), Yota Sato (Vegalta Sendai) and Shin Won-ho (Suwon Samsung Bluewings) have all departed, Ju and Sato on loan, Shin permanently. Of the newcomers, Yamamoto is probably one for the future, and the potential front three of Alano, Meshino and Suzuki has enough about it to offer Nerazzurri fans something to cling onto. It’s been reported that Alano signed an 18-month contract and stated the project laid out to him by Gamba’s front office was an exciting one. Yota Sato has quickly become a starter at promotion chasing J2 side Vegalta Sendai, hopefully he can gain some valuable experience before returning to Suita in 2023 ready to challenge for regular minutes. Leandro Pereira was an unused sub against Kyoto in the Nerazzurri’s most recent fixture, but it seems that the club are having difficulty getting his large salary off the wage-bill. It appears likely that 3 more months of frustration await both Pereira and Gamba as he sees out the remainder of his contract.
* On Tuesday 9 August, Gamba announced that former Nagasaki, Kobe, Fukuoka and Tochigi SC boss Hiroshi Matsuda would be joining the coaching staff, ostensibly as an experienced pair of hands to help Katanosaka out. Matsuda and Katanosaka go back a long way having played together at Sanfrecce Hiroshima during their younger days and it’s hoped that Matsuda can have a similar impact to current Okayama kantoku Takashi Kiyama who provided invaluable assistance to Masanobu Matsunami 12 months ago. Speculation is mounting in Gamba supporter circles that Matsuda may push for 4-4-2 to be used on a regular basis, however, for now that remains to be seen. It’s also worth remembering that Matsuda’s time working with the first-team squad will be limited in the run up to this game so we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see the fruits of his labour. As per Sports Hochi reporter Kanagawa-san, the move to bring in Matsuda was instigated by the club, though it has Katanosaka’s stamp of approval. Where it leaves the former Oita boss’ long-term future in Suita, that’s anyone’s guess at the minute.
* Regular Referee Rant – I really wanted to put this issue to bed in the Fukuoka preview, but with no Gamba game to watch at the weekend I took in Cerezo vs Kobe (wanting Cerezo to win was a very weird experience for me lol) as well as FC Tokyo against Shimizu and this exposed me to some extremely questionable officiating. I don’t know how Kohei Okuno’s 7th minute yellow card against Kawasaki, which was upgraded to a red by VAR, Hirotaka Tameda’s high boot on the hour mark against Kobe and Keigo Higashi’s very similar kick just prior to half time in the FC Tokyo vs S-Pulse game, have all been categorised differently. Okuno a red, Higashi a yellow and Tameda nothing, not even after a VAR check, which at the time led me to suspect that had the referee given him a yellow then VAR would have made it a red, but that theory went out the window with the Higashi incident. However, come to think about it, the officiating team at Ajinomoto Stadium were pretty dreadful in general and also managed to miss serial taker of cheap shots against unsuspecting, defenseless opponents, Leandro, smacking Yusuke Goto in the face twice, which was frankly laughable. With all the rightful concern surrounding concussion and head injuries in sports these days, it still flummoxes me why hitting people in the face is so under-punished in football when compared with other instances of violent conduct. Anyway, I’ve gone completely off topic, to sum up, what do I (fans in general?) want from refereeing and VAR decisions? Consistency. Is there any logic to suspensions and punishments handed down by the league? Generally once you stray away from things such as DOGSO red cards and 4 yellows = a 1 match suspension, no. Plus, rarer offences (spitting, biting etc.) seem to be punished more harshly, and making deliberate contact with the head of an opponent is often under-punished, this needs to be rectified swiftly in my opinion. Just to finish off this meandering rant of pent-up frustration from a weekend of having no Gamba game, I haven’t heard too many comments lately that Cerezo were wrong to suspend, and later terminate the contract of Takashi Inui for public dissent and smashing up their shower room (allegedly). It may all be coincidental of course, but Akio Kogiku’s 3rd placed side look like they’ve gone from strength to strength since Inui got canned and there seems to be a real sense of unity, purpose and direction in the south part of Osaka these days, if only I could say the same about activities in Suita.
The club announced one Covid case on 2 August, though with the postponement of the match with Avispa Fukuoka, if that case was asymptomatic then the player involved should be good to go on Sunday. (to quote someone who shall remain anonymous, “antibodies are about the only things working well at Gamba at the moment.”)
Additionally, the following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back by the end of this month at the earliest
MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, potentially back later this month or early September
MF Rihito Yamamoto – Small fracture in instep of foot, should be back in early September
MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, returned to full training on 1 August, possibly fit enough to make the bench for this game
FW Isa Sakamoto – Sat out the friendly with PSG and then not in the squad for the match with Kyoto, presumably has a minor injury
FW Musashi Suzuki – not in the squad for the draw with Kyoto, only reason given was the extremely vague ‘poor physical condition,’ his status for this game remains unclear
FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season
Dawhan, Shu Kurata and Kosuke Onose are all just a single yellow card away from the one game suspension threshold of 4
Predicted Lineups and Stats
I mentioned earlier that as relegation began lurking menacingly on the horizon, Shimizu made a coaching change back in June with former Vasco da Gama boss Zé Ricardo taking over at the wheel. That move precipitated a busy summer of transfer activity in Shizuoka with prodigal son Koya Kitagawa returning after an underwhelming 3 year spell in Austria with Rapid Vienna, Takashi Inui coming in following a period training with Fagiano Okayama in the wake of his acrimonious departure from Cerezo Osaka and every Pokémon fan’s favourite Brazilian winger, Yago Pikachu, arriving from Fortaleza in his home country. That has left Zé Ricardo with a large and rather unbalanced squad full of attacking talent and options in wide areas, but short on quality down the central spine, especially at centre-back. Yoshinori Suzuki, one of Katanosaka’s most trusted lieutenants at Oita, is a serviceable option, however, Yugo Tatsuta, Valdo and Akira Ibayashi are average at best, and it’s noticeable that without Suzuki and Gonda, because of Covid, things rapidly fell apart at the back against Sagan Tosu. Help is on it’s way though in the shape of centre-backs, Taketo Ochiai (Hosei University) and Takumu Kemmotsu (Waseda University), who, in addition to promising attacker Sena Saito (Ryutsu Keizai University), will turn pro in 2023. All those who support this iconic club will be hoping that Ochiai, Kemmotsu and Saito are J1 players next season. Since returning to the top flight in 2017 following a year long J2 sojourn, S-Pulse have only achieved one top-half finish (8th in 2018), but they’ve always managed to keep their heads just above water. Things will be tough over the next 10 games, though the green shoots of revival have started to sprout and there’s every reason to believe that Shimizu will live to fight another day once all is said and done at the end of this campaign.
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
GK Togo Umeda – Knee injury, which curtailed his promising loan spell at Fagiano Okayama, out for the season
MF Renato Augusto – Long term knee injury
MF Yuta Kamiya – Missed last week’s trip to FC Tokyo, no reason given, potentially a Covid case?
MF Katsuhiro Nakayama – Last saw competitive action scoring twice in the 8-0 rout of Shunan Public in the Emperor’s Cup on 1 June, unsure if injured or just dropped
MF Kenta Nishizawa – Fractured kneecap, expected back near the end of the season
FW Yuito Suzuki – Not seen since the AFC U-23 Championship at the end of June, believed to be injured
Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.
Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse