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J1 2021 Appearance Data and Statistics

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

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

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

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



Kawasaki Frontale

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



Gamba Osaka

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



Nagoya Grampus

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



Cerezo Osaka

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



Kashima Antlers

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



FC Tokyo

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



Kashiwa Reysol

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



Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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



Yokohama F.Marinos


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


Urawa Red Diamonds


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



Oita Trinita

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



Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

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


Sagan Tosu

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



Vissel Kobe


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



Yokohama FC

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



Shimizu S-Pulse

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



Vegalta Sendai


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



Shonan Bellmare

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



Tokushima Vortis

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



Avispa Fukuoka


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




Categories
sport

J1 Lineups Updated Version end of round 6

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

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

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

Thanks again for your support and please enjoy!

Kawasaki Frontale

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


Gamba Osaka

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


Nagoya Grampus

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


Cerezo Osaka

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


Kashima Antlers

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


FC Tokyo

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


Kashiwa Reysol

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

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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


Yokohama F.Marinos

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


Urawa Red Diamonds

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


Oita Trinita

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


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

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


Sagan Tosu

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


Vissel Kobe

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


Yokohama FC

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


Shimizu S-Pulse

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


Vegalta Sendai

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


Shonan Bellmare

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


Tokushima Vortis

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


Avispa Fukuoka

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

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J1 2021 Predicted Lineups

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

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1j6HTKFF38A3cAz7sqw3jfZ4f6y8soAgOjfXqKR3fNCM/edit#gid=0

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




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




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

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

Here we go…

Kawasaki Frontale

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


Gamba Osaka

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


Nagoya Grampus

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


Cerezo Osaka

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


Kashima Antlers

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


FC Tokyo

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


Kashiwa Reysol

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


Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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


Yokohama F.Marinos

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


Urawa Red Diamonds

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


Oita Trinita

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


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

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


Sagan Tosu

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


Vissel Kobe

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


Yokohama FC

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


Shimizu S-Pulse

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


Vegalta Sendai

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


Shonan Bellmare

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


Tokushima Vortis

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


Avispa Fukuoka

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

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sport

Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse 19 December 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse
J1 2020 Round 34
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 19 December 14:00


やった! Well, I made it….please enjoy reading my final match preview of 2020. This year has been trying for all of us and writing my blog has given me an outlet to temporarily distract myself from the harsh realities of life while also connecting with a number of people across the globe. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who took the time, to read, share, comment on or like any of my posts, it really means a lot to me. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

Jonny.

Last Time Out

Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka

Gamba clinched runners-up spot in J1 with a game to spare as their 2-0 victory away to Yokohama FC coupled with Cerezo’s 2-1 loss at home against Sagan Tosu saw the Nerazzurri gain entry to the Emperor’s Cup semi finals and next season’s Asian Champions League.

On a chilly winter’s evening in Kanagawa, Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made just one change to the eleven that had seen off Shonan 10 days previously with Kohei Okuno replacing the suspended Yuya Fukuda. This move prompted a slight reshuffle in midfield as Shinya Yajima moved to the right flank to allow Okuno to partner Yuki Yamamoto in the centre. Kim Young-gwon returned from injury on the bench, however, there was still no place for Takashi Usami. On a more positive note, high school 2nd grader Jiro Nakamura was named as a substitute for the first time in J1, as was left-back Tatsuya ‘Omu’ Yamaguchi, a well deserved reward for 3 years of hard toil with the U23s.

Gamba literally couldn’t have got off to a better start as they led after just 25 seconds. Experienced Yokohama FC centre-back Masahiko Inoha played a casual ball out of defence which was intercepted by Shu Kurata near half-way, the subsequent attack culminated with a Shinya Yajima shot being well saved by Yuji Rokutan before cannoning off Patric into the path of the onrushing Kurata, who could barely believe his luck as he tapped in his 4th of the year. As expected Gamba then sat back ready to soak up pressure. Yokohama FC knocked the ball around with little purpose, and on several occasions they were their own worst enemies, ceding possession to the away side in dangerous areas. As the half wore on they did begin to grow in confidence and teenage prodigy Koki Saito brought out a fine stop from Masaaki Higashiguchi in additional time.

Almost unbelievably, YFC nearly gifted Gamba another goal in the first minute of the second period, as Rokutan, who otherwise put in a solid display, passed straight to Yajima just outside the box, however, the former Olympian couldn’t keep his lob down and it sailed over to spare the stopper’s blushes. At the other end, Minagawa, Takeda and Matsuura all had half chances, but Gamba kept their shape well and I was impressed by the partnership of Okuno and Yamamoto, particularly the way they preyed on the over-zealous nature of Reo Yasunaga in the opposing midfield, milking a number of fouls. Yamamoto found himself with more space to work with than usual and was able to dictate play intelligently. This brought him to the attentions of Kosuke Saito, who put in a rather nasty tackle midway through the half, luckily no lasting damage was done.

Gamba sealed their 12th away win of the year 9 minutes from the end of regulation time and it was no surprise the attacking move that created it originated from sloppy Yokohama passing near their own goal. Kohei Tezuka, on as a second half substitute, needlessly gave the ball away to Yajima and the resulting passage of play saw Kurata and Watanabe both denied by solid Rokutan saves. However, the on-loan S-Pulse ‘keeper couldn’t prevent Patric’s effort from getting past him and the despairing efforts of Yuki Kobayashi on the line to send the travelling support into raptures. It was the big Brazilian’s 9th of the year, 3rd in 3 games and his 2nd 1 goal, 1 assist game in a row. Job done!

Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse Match Lowdown

It’s the final J1 matchday of the year and neither side have anything other than pride resting on this one, so hopefully we’ll see a few fresh faces for both outfits and also a good number of goals to close the season out. It’s worth noting that a Gamba win in this fixture will see them tie their record number of wins in an 18-team J1 campaign (21 in 2011).

Gamba’s road results have been outstanding throughout 2020 and they are guaranteed to be J1’s best away side, regardless of what Kawasaki do in their final game at Kashiwa Reysol. However, the Nerazzurri’s home form has been their achilles heel, with 6 defeats in 16 matches so far and a points per game (ppg) ratio of 1.63 which falls well short of the outstanding 2.29 earned outside Suita. Interestingly, comparing this year’s performance at Panasonic Stadium with the previous 2 campaigns, in 2019 Gamba had a poorer ppg, just 1.59, but were better on both attack and defence, with an average home score of 1.56-1.06 versus the 1.19-1.31 we’ve seen in 2020. 2018 trumps 2020 on all 3 metrics, as in that year the men in blue and black took 2ppg and produced an average score of 1.41-0.76. Indeed, should Shimizu leave Suita with the 3 points on Saturday afternoon, then 7 home losses for the season would equal Gamba’s accrued total for 2018 and 2019 combined. The next step for Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is clearly to build on the solid platform that has been set defensively this year by adding an extra attacking element capable of breaking down the most resilient of defences without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Easier said than done, you may say, and you’d be right.

A quick review of the highs and lows at home this year is now in order. I’d label the best 3 wins at Panasonic Stadium as, the 2-0 over Kashima in early October, and the 2-1s against Kashiwa and Nagoya as all of them were solid top-half sides this season. As for regrets, the 4-0 Sendai debacle will unfortunately linger long in the memory, while although the 3-1 loss to Urawa definitely flattered Reds, it was a bitter pill to swallow nonetheless. The 0-1 versus Shonan was a tough watch, but it did serve as motivational fuel to power Gamba through a run of 12 games unbeaten after that humbling. Finally, the 2-1 defeat to Cerezo in the first (closed doors) match after the league’s re-start in July wasn’t pretty, but a quick glance at the league table shows Cerezo won that battle, but lost the war, so to speak.

Now for a rundown on our final opponents of 2020, Shimizu S-Pulse, a side currently sitting 18th and last, though a win here could move them up a spot with Sendai (16th) and Shonan (17th) facing off at the Yurtec Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Not only are S-Pulse the league’s weakest side, they also possess the worst away record, having gleaned a mere 10 points from 16 matches to date, their 14 goals scored and 35 conceded on the road are also the poorest in J1. They have won just twice outside the confines of Shizuoka in 2020, 3-0 at Shonan on September 19th and 3-1 against Yokohama FC on November 25th, they’ve found the net just 8 times in their other 14 games on their travels.

Shimizu, of course, started the season under the tutelage of Australian Peter Cklamovski, but the former Yokohama F.Marinos assistant was unable to make much of a positive impact and was replaced by Hiroaki Hiraoka in early November (whether Cklamovski jumped or was pushed is still up for debate). While Cklamovski’s selections often raised eyebrows for the amount of square pegs being shoved into round holes, Hiraoka has reverted to a more sedate 4-4-2 which has earned him 3 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats in his opening 8 matches in charge. Hiraoka was actually named November’s manager of the month after going 3-1-1, however S-Pulse are currently winless in December with a draw and 2 defeats.

Regarding the Cklamovski situation, fans of his may criticise Shimizu for the rather tepid way they backed his attempted tactical revolution. If they brought him in with the intention of replicating Ange Postecoglou’s success at Marinos then why did they not arm him with the weapons necessary to execute his battle plan? For example, did Cklamovski ask for a budget version of Marcos Junior and instead get handed Yusuke Goto from Oita’s bench, and surely they could have signed an actual left-back at some point? On the flip side of the coin, it could be argued that Cklamovski should have been more pragmatic with implementing his strategy as the S-Pulse project was beginning from a much lower starting point than the Marinos side Ange inherited in Yokohama. Whatever discussions went on behind the scenes before, and during his short-lived reign, I guess we’ll never know.

Regardless of how you feel about Cklamovski, Hiraoka or the S-Pulse board, the club’s slide from an excellent 8th place finish in 2018 to their present predicament is an undeniable fact. The losses of Douglas (Kobe), Koya Kitagawa (Rapid Vienna) and Ko Matsubara (St. Truidense) have really hurt and the poor recruitment alluded to above has exacerbated the situation. Breaking up the solid centre-back partnership of Hwang Seok-ho and Freire at the end of 2018 is a mistake they don’t seem to have recovered from either. After conceding just 1.41 goals per game in 2018, Shimizu were the only team to average more than 2 goals against per match last season (2.03) and already have a worse record this year, with a league high 70 goals conceded in 33 outings (2.13), this is the worst J1 performance since Tokushima let in 74 back in 2014 (2.18).

Finally, looking ahead to 2021, it’s already been announced that Junior Dutra, Neto Volpi, Mitsunari Musaka, Takashi Kanai, Kenta Ito and Jin Hiratsuka will be moving on, though, as only Dutra, Musaka and Kanai made more than 1 league appearance, it won’t make too much of a dent in the squad. More excitingly they have been linked with Japan national team ‘keeper Shuichi Gonda, currently frozen out at Portimonense, Brazilian forward Thiago Santana who is also playing in Portugal with Santa Clara, and today (Thursday) it was reported that a move for Kashima Antlers’ Yuki Kakita (now on-loan at Tokushima) is afoot. Winger / central-midfielder Daigo Takahashi will surely be recalled from his loan spell at Giravanz Kitakyushu in J2 and youth team prospect Hikaru Naruoka will turn pro after making a number of appearances on his type-2 amateur contract this season. Other youngsters such as, goalkeeper Togo Umeda and attacker Yuito Suzuki can give Shimizu fans hope of a brighter tomorrow, though that could be tempered slightly if they fail to keep hold of the likes of Kenta Nishizawa (whose 10 assists must surely have brought him to the attention of the likes of Urawa, Kashiwa and even Gamba) or Brazilian midfield anchor Renato Augusto. Nishizawa and Keita Nakamura have provided some excellent crosses this year and S-Pulse have scored a number of goals from set-pieces, however, finding defenders who can defend, as well as get on the end of these deliveries, must be a priority this off-season.

Head to Head

Gamba won away to Shimizu in round 4 back in July with Kazuma Watanabe’s 89th minute strike sealing the points in a highly competitive match. At Panasonic Stadium, I was in attendance for the final game of Levir Culpi’s reign (mentioning Culpi seems to have become something of a tradition in recent blog posts), a 2-1 defeat to S-Pulse on a sweltering evening in July 2018. Although, had Koki Yonekura stuck his header away right at the death, it would have earned Gamba a share of the spoils and potentially a short reprieve for the Brazilian. Prior to that, Shimizu’s last league win in Suita was a surprise 4-1 back in 2009 with Shinji Okazaki and future Gamba treble winner Keisuke Iwashita on the scoresheet that day.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Yuji Ono (knee) has returned to light training, but won’t be back until next season, while Osaka Police have now filed drink-driving charges against Ademilson, a move which is likely to end the Brazilian’s Gamba career. Elsewhere, with 2nd place already sewn up, we almost certainly won’t see Takashi Usami, Yosuke Ideguchi or Kosuke Onose on Saturday regardless of their injury status. Yuya Fukuda is free from suspension and Kim Young-gwon was fit enough to appear on the bench on Wednesday night. Right-back Ryu Takao will make his 50th J1 and 50th Gamba appearance should he be selected for this match.

Shinizu S-Pulse

Youngster Riyo Kawamoto had to leave the field injured just 21 minutes after coming on as a substitute at home to Shonan on November 29th and hasn’t been seen since. Versatile wide player Hideki Ishige has been plagued with fitness issues in recent seasons, he’s currently out with a hamstring problem picked up in the 5-0 hammering at Kawasaki on August 29th. Shimizu have 7 non-Japanese players in their squad (Neto Volpi, Valdo, Hwang, Elsinho, Renato Augusto, Junior Dutra, and Carlinhos) meaning 2 must miss out from any given matchday squad. 2020 top scorer Carlinhos (10 goals in 29 games) and Thai forward Teerasil have both been absent for the past 2 matches and I haven’t seen any injuries reported.

Predicted Line Ups

Honestly, with this game now a dead rubber, Saturday’s lineup is anyone’s guess. Kazuma Watanabe started on Wednesday and I can’t see him playing more than about 30 minutes here, so I’ve gone with Shoji Toyama to partner Patric, with his U23 mate Shuhei Kawasaki giving Kurata a rest and Yamamoto also putting his feet up for the first-half, at least. At centre-back, any 2 of Miura, Shoji, Kim and Suganuma could start, while I have Fukuda on the right-wing, but he could play there, right-back, left-wing or left-back depending on what takes Miyamoto’s fancy. Also, expect Dai Tsukamoto to get some serious minutes, either from the start or as a second half sub.



Shimizu lineups under Peter Cklamovski appeared to be chosen using Ben Maxwell’s random number generator and although Hiraoka has brought a bit more consistency, this is still the last game of the year so expect wild variations from what you see below. I wouldn’t be surprised if young Togo Umeda starts in goal and with no confirmation that they are actually unavailable, theoretically both Teerasil and Carlinhos could play.



Match Prediction

With their eyes now set on Emperor’s Cup glory, I could actually see Gamba dropping the ball here and coming second best in an entertaining 3-2.

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Shimizu S-Pulse Match Preview 12 July 2020

Shimizu S-Pulse vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 4
IAI Stadium Nihondaira
Sunday 12 July 18:00 (JST)


It’s round 4 of J1 2020 as Gamba travel to Shizuoka to take on Shimizu S-Pulse. It will be the first time since February that supporters, 5,000 of them, will be allowed inside the stadium. Hopefully this preview gives you all the information you’re looking for ahead of this intriguing clash.

Last Time Out

Gamba played out a scrappy 2-2 draw away at Nagoya Grampus on Wednesday night. The starting XI saw four changes from the Osaka derby, with Ryu Takao taking Shunya Suganuma’s place to give Genta Miura and Kim Young-gwon a fourth centre-back partner in four games. Veteran Yasuhito Endo was unsurprisingly rested and Shinya Yajima dropped back to the holding role with Yosuke Ideguchi and Yuji Ono lining up in more attacking positions, Ono replaced Shu Kurata, who like Endo started on the bench. The final change saw the fit-again Yuya Fukuda replace the rested Hiroki Fujiharu down the left-flank.

The result and scoring pattern followed the 2019 matchup between these two exactly. Gamba drew first blood in the sixth minute when Takashi Usami’s free-kick from the left was flicked onto his own crossbar by Yutaka Yoshida, the ball then broke loose in the penalty area, Takao attempted a shot which was blocked into the path of his captain Miura whose effort was also deflected this time over Mitch Langerak in the Grampus goal, off the underside of the bar and in.

Nagoya bounced back quickly and Miura undid a lot of his good work for the opener in the lead up to Grampus’ equaliser. A free-kick by Gabriel Xavier from a similar position to Usami’s saw Ademilson head the ball straight up in the air in his own six-yard box, it luckily broke for Miura to head away but he could only find the boot of Sho Inagaki who guided it to the tricky Mateus, he spun past Miura and fired home. Fifteen minutes later, gamba were caught cold just after the drinks break, a fine counter down the right saw Mateus centre for Mu Kanazaki whose deft back heel fed Gabriel Xavier, the wily Brazilian turned Takao and scored at the second attempt after Masaaki Higashiguchi’s fine initial save.

Grampus led 2-1 at half time and were content to sit back and soak up Gamba pressure in the second half while making occasional forays forward in the form of counter attacks. This strategy looked like it would pay dividends until the 92nd minute when Kim Young-gwon’s long diagonal ball found substitute Patric who headed down for fellow replacement Kazuma Watanabe, he took a touch on his chest before coolly placing his volley low beyond Langerak, Nagoya 2-2 Gamba.

Nagoya Grampus 2-2 Gamba Osaka
8 July 2020

Shimizu went down to their third straight loss of the year against Cerezo Osaka at Nagai Stadium in midweek. Although S-Pulse put up a decent fight the result was ultimately a quite comfortable 2-0 defeat. Yusuke Maruhashi, tormentor of Gamba in the derby, picked up his second assist of the week, as his driving run right at the heart of the Shimizu defence culminated in a pass to Hiroaki Okuno who beat the offside trap and fired the ball past young Togo Umeda in the 71st minute. It was just five minutes from full-time when the Cherry Blossoms wrapped things up, captain Hiroshi Kiyotake, who’d come on as a second half substitute played a lovely ball through to another replacement Yuta Toyokawa who arrived at the ball the same time as the onrushing Umeda, due to the slippery nature of the surface the ball squirmed out straight to the approaching Eiichi Katayama and he produced a neat finish to end the game as a contest.

Cerezo Osaka 2-0 Shimizu S-Pulse
8 July 2020


Recent History

There have been six J1 matches between these two since Shimizu won promotion back to the top flight in 2017, Gamba have won each of the past three, but S-Pulse were undefeated in the previous encounters.

2019 saw Gamba do the double over the men from Shizuoka, one of only two sides they achieved this against, the other being Shonan Bellmare. Week 2 of the season in early March was the first of the two games and Gamba ran out comfortable 4-2 winners at the Nihondaira Stadium. Keito Nakamura fired S-Pulse into an early lead which was then cancelled out by Kosuke Onose before the interval. An Ademilson strike and a Hwang Ui-jo brace all within the space of fifteen second-half minutes put Gamba on easy street meaning Yuta Taki’s very late consolation was in vain. The return match in Suita was far less eventful with Shinya Yajima’s low drive two minutes from time all that separated the sides.

One year earlier it was S-Pulse who ended the short reign of Levir Culpi as Gamba head-coach with Koya Kitagawa’s penalty and a thumping header from Douglas giving them a comfortable lead. Hwang Ui-jo gave the Nerrazzurri hope with a nice effort fifteen minutes from the end and Koki Yonekura really should have tied things up at the death but he sent his header wide and Culpi was jettisoned before the following match. A Tsuneyasu Miyamoto inspired Gamba then reversed that scoreline in game three of their incredible nine match winning run towards the end of of the 2018 campaign as Hwang’s first half double ensured the three points would head back to Kansai despite Kitagawa’s late effort giving Shimizu some hope.

Tactical Notes

In general Gamba looked better against Nagoya than versus Cerezo though a large part of that can be put down to the fact that Cerezo are a stronger unit than Grampus. Playing Shinya Yajima as opposed to Yasuhito Endo as the deepest midfielder offers better protection for the centre-backs, however this comes at the cost of losing out on Endo’s immense passing ability. Yajima and Yosuke Ideguchi combined well as a double volante when Grampus were in possession on Wednesday and the goals conceded were more a result of individual errors than team structure.

Going forward Gamba’s attack seemed a little lethargic at times, the high press and closing down was more effective than against Cerezo and this took a toll on Usami, Ademilson and Ono who were all hauled off just after the hour mark. In future games, starting with this one against S-Pulse I’d like to see a bit more invention and quick passing as opposed to what’s been seen in the previous two games where there has been an over-reliance on long passes and individual brilliance to create chances.

Shimizu are a fascinating case study, new head-coach Peter Cklamovski has set them up in exactly the same formation as his former Yokohama F.Marinos, 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 depending on your preference. The main flaw is that as yet he does not yet possess the quality of player to carry out the philosophy he’s trying to implement. Their back four is one of the weakest in the league and there are two many attacking players in the midfield for a team that is incapable of keeping possession for long periods. The only game of theirs I’ve watched in full was against Nagoya Grampus and they had particular problems down the left side of defence as Carlinhos Junior was playing as a winger but offered almost zero protection for left-back Ryo Okui and indeed both Nagoya goals came from his defensive zone. The fact that Shimizu have played three different players at left-back in three league games and none of them are naturals in that position will give Gamba a great deal of hope.

Gamba will look to press Shimizu’s shaky back line and force mistakes while also exploiting the lack of cover afforded to their wide defenders. In turn, S-Pulse will have seen the success Cerezo and Grampus have had at taking advantage of Gamba’s susceptibility to counter attacks and issues with dealing with decent balls into the box and take confidence from that.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Gen Shoji is still a doubt with an ankle problem that will need to be managed carefully while reserve goalie Jun Ichimori is out until September at the earliest. Captain Genta Miura was subbed late on against Nagoya as a precaution and could be rested for this one. Attacking midfielder Yuji Ono fractured a bone in his face in the Osaka derby but played without a mask in the Nagoya match so should be good to go. One piece of transfer news that was announced on Thursday, South Korean full-back Oh Jae-suk officially ended his eight year relationship with the club when he joined Nagoya Grampus.

Shimizu S-Pulse

S-Pulse don’t have their injury troubles to seek especially in the goalkeeping area where Brazilian first-choice Neto Volpi and the experienced Yohei Nishibe are both out while Takuo Okubo, a mid-2019 signing from Sagan Tosu is just back and has been on the bench in the previous two matches. Further forward, Hideki Ishige, a winger Cklamovski had been trying to convert to a full-back is out with a hamstring injury after knee trouble saw him miss most of 2019. Central midfielder Yosuke Kawai is another missing with a hamstring problem, I wonder if it’s got anything to do with the new training methods? The Brazilian duo of Elsinho and Renato Augusto haven’t played yet in 2020 after picking up injuries, as yet I’m unsure when either will return.

Know Your OpponentShimizu S-Pulse

Compared with Cerezo and Nagoya in the previous rounds, trying to guess who’ll start for S-Pulse on Sunday is much more of a lottery. Cklamovski is using this relegation free season to experiment with tactics and players and thus far I’ve only been able to identify four players who I believe are first choice core starters, Valdo, Takeuchi, Okazaki and Kaneko.

GK – #31 Togo Umeda – Soon-to-be 20 year-old who has been thrown in the deep end following Shimizu’s goalkeeping crisis and has done pretty well considering. At 184cm he’s a bit smaller than some of his rivals, but his continued inclusion in the starting line-up is the kind of thing Japanese football fans in general will surely be in favour of in this chaotic 2020 season.

RB – #15 Takashi Kanai – Rugged defender who can play anywhere along the back four if necessary. I’m honestly a little surprised to see him playing for S-Pulse as Ange Postecoglou deemed him surplus to requirements pretty quickly after arriving in Yokohama. Has a decent knack of scoring, with ten goals in his last two seasons, but he’s also something of a journeyman who’s now at his fifth different professional club.

CB – #5 Valdo – Brazilian centre-back who joined from Ceara last winter and has had a difficult start to life in Japan. After S-Pulse’s five goal drubbing by Kawasaki Frontale, I wondered if he was going to be another Wanderson, but he looks to have a bit more about him than last season’s flop. He is a decent threat from set pieces, though when defending he does seem to be around trouble rather often as shown in his own goal mix up with Togo Umeda against Nagoya.

CB – #3 Hwang Seok-ho – In my books he’s S-Pulse’s best centre-back and I’ve no idea why they broke up the successful partnership he had with Freire in 2018. That said, I’m not sure the ex-Hiroshima and Kashima man is really a Cklamovski type of player and I can see him heading for fresh pastures in the not too distant future.

LB – #21 Ryo Okui – Another off-season capture, this time from Omiya Ardija in J2. Former Gamba Junior Youth player Okui is more often found at right-back, but may be forced to play on the left due to injuries.

DM – #24 Makoto Okazaki – Highly rated youngster on-loan from FC Tokyo and converted into a holding midfielder by his new Australian coach. He’s performed reasonably well in trying circumstances so far. It’ll be interesting to see if he moves back to centre-back when the likes of Renato Augusto and Yosuke Kawai regain full fitness.

DM – #6 Ryo Takeuchi © – The vastly experienced Takeuchi has been a safe pair of hands in the S-Pulse midfield for a number of years now and the Shizuoka native is seen as a central figure in the Cklamovski revolution. One of the few Shimizu players who can be confident of his place at the moment.

RW – #30 Shota Kaneko – One of the S-Pulse players I enjoy watching most, he got a nice goal against Nagoya and offers more defensively than his competitors for this position. His output was considerably down last season with just one goal and five assists compared to the excellent year he had in 2018 when he produced an outstanding ten goals and seven assists.

AM – #14 Yusuke Goto – Nuggety little player brought in from Oita Trinita last winter after not really getting the amount of opportunities his talent may have warranted in Kyushu in 2019. He can either play as a central striker or just off the front and will be effective in either role even if he doesn’t bring the same goal scoring threat Douglas did last campaign.

LW – #16 Kenta Nishizawa – The great hope in this Shimizu squad, he enjoyed a breakout 2019 in his first year as a pro after joining from Tsukuba University. He contributed seven goals and three assists in just twenty three J1 games and will be thirsty for more this year in the face of stiffer competition for a starting spot.

CF – #23 Teerasil Dangda – Thai international who is yet another recent recruit, this time from Muangthong United in his homeland. He has one year of J1 experience where he netted six times in thirty two matches for Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2018, but despite scoring a fine goal against FC Tokyo in round one of this campaign he faces an uphill task to match the feats of the now departed Douglas.

Other options – If Shimizu are not happy with how Umeda is performing they do now have the option of replacing him with fit-again Takuo Okubo while in defence Yugo Tatsuta, a youngster who had a decent 2018 as a right-back but has never really done as well in his more favoured centre-back role is definitely in contention for a start. Mitsunari Musaka, more commonly a central midfielder played at left back against Cerezo and could feature again while another player to find himself in a new role this year, Keita Nakamura is a central midfield option as are two loan returnees, Kota Miyamoto and Yasufumi Nishimura. In attack a lot of players have been rotated in recent games so it’s highly possible we could see former Funabashi Municipal High School attacking midfielder Yuito Suzuki, Brazilian wingers Junior Dutra and Carlinhos Junior or even the veteran North Korean forward Chong Tese make a starting appearance.

Predicted Lineups

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Match Prediction

Gamba have failed to really spark in their two post lockdown games, but this match against what must be considered one of the four weakest teams in J1 at the moment surely offers up a great chance to get three points. As I said on the J-Talk Pod a few weeks back, playing S-Pulse early on is definitely to our advantage as they’ll surely improve under Cklamovski as the season progresses. I’ll go for a tight 2-1 Gamba win.


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J1 Recap June 2020

With the JLeague’s return almost upon us, I thought now would be a good time to take a refresher course on what’s been happening at each club over the previous few months.

Back in February I published a 2-part J1 preview, this article is intended to be a companion to that, so I’d like to take this chance to point you in the direction of those 2 previews (my most popular articles to date) if you’re in search of more reading material.

*All clubs are listed in the order they finished the 2019 season.

Yokohama F.Marinos

2019: 1st
Kantoku: Ange Postecoglou (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Marinos averaged exactly 2 goals per game in J1 last year (68 goals in 34 games)

Recap:
Last season’s champions enjoyed a mixed start to 2020, recording impressive wins away to Jeonbuk (2-1) and home to Sydney FC (4-0) in the Asian Champions League. Domestically things weren’t so bright as they lost to Kobe in an infamously bad penalty shoot-out in the Super Cup before being beaten 2-1 on their own patch by Gamba in the first round of J1.

Squad Update:
Former captain Jun Amano (28 years old) has returned from a year-long loan at Belgian side Sporting Lokeren. Amano, with over 100 games already under his belt for Marinos will be re-united with Lokeren team-mate, former Renofa Yamaguchi and Kashiwa Reysol full-back, Ryota Koike, who has joined the champions on a permanent basis. Experienced Avispa Fukuoka centre-back Yuki Saneto has also moved east to Kanagawa to provide cover for the injured Thiago Martins. Youth team forward Takumi Tsukui has been promoted to the top team, while Kokoku High School trio, Shunsuke Hirai (DF), Ryunosuke Kabayama (MF) and Tomoki Tagawa (GK), have been registered on designated special player contracts ahead of full-time moves in 2021.
Despite ‘keeper Park Il-gyu being ruled out for the first 2 months of the re-start, the current squad looks stronger than last year and with no ACL return on the immediate horizon they should be there or thereabouts come the end of season.

Week 1:
vs Gamba Osaka (h) 1-2


FC Tokyo

2019: 2nd
Kantoku: Kenta Hasegawa (3rd year)
Quick Stat: FC Tokyo’s average attendance of 31,540 in 2019 was the highest in the club’s history.

Recap:
Kenta Hasegawa’s men kicked off their year with a 2-0 triumph over Ceres from the Philippines in torrential rain to earn a spot in the Asian Champions League group stage. They backed that up with an impressive 1-1 draw at Ulsan before edging out Perth Glory 1-0 at home. Then, the newly formed Brazilian front trio of Diego Oliveira, Leandro and Adailton all scored late on to inspire them to a 3-1 win at Shimizu S-Pulse in round 1 of J1 2020.

Squad Update:
Korean winger Na Sang-ho’s loan departure for Seongnam FC in his homeland is the biggest piece of transfer news to come out of Ajinomoto Stadium during the break. The highly-touted 23 year-old had struggled to make an impression since his move from Gwangju at the beginning of last season so this wasn’t a major shock.
The other major story to report is that the club have scrapped their J3 Under-23 side citing a lack of available stadia, this meant that their one lockdown signing, 20 year-old Thai midfielder Chayathorn Tapsuvanavon, who joined on loan from Bangkok United at the start of March, returned to Thailand in late June having seen no competitive action.

Week 1:
vs Shimizu S-Pulse (a) 3-1
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Kashima Antlers

2019: 3rd
Kantoku: Zago (new)
Quick Stat: Kashima are the most successful team in J1 history with 8 league titles.

Recap:
After losing in the final of the Emperor’s Cup to Vissel Kobe on January 1st, perennial Japanese giants Kashima then replaced outgoing coach Go Oiwa with Brazilian Zago and made a host of new signings. The bedding in period was not smooth and the men from Ibaraki found themselves surprisingly eliminated in the Asian Champions League qualifiers just 4 weeks later, losing 1-0 at home to Melbourne Victory. They followed this up with 2 more defeats, 1-0 away to Nagoya in the Levain Cup and 3-0 at Sanfrecce Hiroshima in round 1 of J1. 3 games, 3 defeats, 0 goals scored, it was a nightmare start for Zago. Everyone at the Kashima Soccer Stadium will be hoping that the enforced shutdown has given him precious time to get his message across.

Squad Update:
Perhaps unsurprisingly given that 11 of their 31 squad members are new recruits for 2020, there have been no additional signings during the lockdown. The loss of Brazilian marksman Serginho to the Chinese second division (wonder if he’s having any regrets now) was a bitter blow for Kashima and how well his countrymen, Juan Alano (Internacional) and Everaldo (Queretaro, Mexico) settle in will be of utmost importance. Defender Bueno, who I suggested could be a weak link at the back in my February preview, has been loaned to Atletico Mineiro in his homeland.
With an eye on the future, Antlers announced in this month that Meiji University duo, Tomoki Hayakawa (GK) and Keigo Tsunemoto (DF) as well as Osaka Taiiku University defender Naoki Hayashi will join the club from next year.

Week 1:
vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima (a) 0-3
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Kawasaki Frontale

2019: 4th
Kantoku: Toru Oniki (4th year)
Quick Stat: Kawasaki had the best away record in J1 last year, taking 36 points from 17 games.

Recap:
Champions in 2017 and 2018, Kawasaki endured an indifferent 2019, missing out on Asian Champions League qualification, but managing to lift the Levain Cup following a penalty shoot-out win over Sapporo. This year promises to see a changing of the guard with a more youthful looking squad attempting to regain the Kanagawa bragging rights from neighbouring Yokohama F.Marinos. They kicked off 2020 with a bang, thumping S-Pulse 5-1 at Todoroki Stadium in the League Cup, but dropped the baton the following week in their League opener, drawing 0-0 at home to a Sagan Tosu side predicted by many to finish bottom of J1.

Squad Update:
Their only transfer of the lockdown was to sell backup ‘keeper Hiroki Mawatari to Fagiano Okayama, which brings them down to a more respectable 4 senior goalkeepers in their squad, while Kento Tachibanada a midfielder from Toin Yokohama University (my old workplace) was announced as a signing for next season. Elsewhere, the break will presumably have given new university recruits, Zain Issaka (another of the Toin OB network that also includes Miki Yamane), Kaoru Mitoma (Tsukuba), Kaito Kamiya (Tokai Gakuen) and Reo Hatate (Juntendo) time to adjust to life as a pro, Frontale supporters will be hoping these guys will form the backbone of the side for the coming years.

Week 1:
vs Sagan Tosu (h) 0-0
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Cerezo Osaka

2019: 5th
Kantoku: Miguel Angel Lotina (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Cerezo had the best defensive record in J1 in 2019, conceding a mere 25 in 34 games (0.7 per game), they were also tied with Kashima for most clean sheets kept (15).

Recap:
Under the tutelage of wily head-coach Miguel Angel Lotina, Cerezo played an often quite dull but extremely effective brand of football last time out. Built on a rock-solid defence which conceded just 25 goals, they were able to achieve the 6th top 5 finish in their history. All the main protagonists in last season’s defensive masterclass are still in place and they started 2020 in strong fashion, smashing J2 side Matsumoto 4-1 at Nagai Stadium in the League Cup and following that up with a 1-0 opening day League win over Oita Trinita at the same venue.

Squad Update:
Young forward Mizuki Ando’s loan move to Machida Zelvia was their only lockdown transfer activity, he followed another young striker, Hiroto Yamada (Sendai), on the loan trail, the latter leaving in early February. Brazilian midfielder Lucas Mineiro joined on loan from Chapecoense just before the season started to replace his compatriot Souza and made 2 substitute appearances before the COVID-19 enforced break. From the winter recruits, wide-man Tatsuhiro Sakamoto (Montedio Yamagata) and Japan Under-17 star, Jun Nishikawa (Toko Gakuen High School) will have a fair bit of expectation riding on their shoulders when the campaign resumes.

Week 1:
vs Oita Trinita (h) 1-0
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Sanfrecce Hiroshima

2019: 6th
Kantoku: Hiroshi Jofuku (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Sanfrecce scored over 20% of their goals last year in just 2 games vs Vissel Kobe (6-2 home and 4-2 away)

Recap:
After a roller-coaster 2018, Sanfrecce had a much more stable campaign in 2019, finishing a comfortable 6th in J1 as well as progressing from the Asian Champions League group stages before being bettered by Kashima. They had a pretty quiet off-season, but a number of younger talents are emerging, most notably assist-king, Tsukasa Morishima, an exciting attacking-midfielder. Buoyed by the news that plans to build a new stadium in downtown Hiroshima are afoot, Sanfrecce started 2020 in dominant fashion, seeing off J1 new boys Yokohama FC away in the League Cup before dismantling the newly assembled Kashima Antlers 3-0 at Edion Stadium in round 1 of J1. They currently top the standings, albeit after only one game week.

Squad Update:
There are no new transfers to report, although since my original preview was written, Ritsumeikan University midfielder Tomoya Fujii was signed on a pre-contract for 2021 and registered as a designated special player for 2020, he was on the bench for both games so far this year, playing once against Yokohama FC. Extending the loan deals of Brazilian duo Leandro Pereira and Rhayner was probably Hiroshima’s best work last winter, their compatriot, attacking midfielder Ezequiel, also joined on loan from Botafogo, while Yuya Asano (younger brother of Takuma) came in from Mito HollyHock, though the jury is very much still out on whether he’ll bring as much to the team as his elder sibling.

Week 1:
vs Kashima Antlers (h) 3-0
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Gamba Osaka

2019: 7th
Kantoku: Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Yasuhito Endo will become the most experienced player in J1 history the next time he takes to the field. He’s currently tied on 631 appearances with legendary Nagoya ‘keeper Seigo Narazaki.

Recap:
Gamba had a nightmare start to 2019 (as they did the year before), however, owing to a change in strategy – playing with 3 centre-backs, as well a change in philosophy – disbanding the ageing group of heroes from the treble winning 2014 squad and supplementing the new young guns with returning heroes like Ideguchi and Usami, Gamba were able to haul themselves up to an ultimately respectable 7th place. This year started with a 1-0 home reverse to Kashiwa Reysol in the League Cup which was eerily similar to some games from early on in the past 2 campaigns. They were able to make it count when it really mattered this time though, and produced the performance of round 1 of J1 2020, turning over defending champions Yokohama F.Marinos 2-1 at Nissan Stadium, Kurata and Yajima helping themselves to a goal and an assist each.

Squad Update:
Vegalta Sendai backup ‘keeper Lee Yunoh was brought in on loan at the beginning of March to take the place of another loanee, Haruki Saruta (Kashiwa), in the U-23 squad after Saruta suffered a knee injury in training. Meiji University centre-back Yota Sato signed a pre-contract for 2021 and has been registered as a designated special player this year. Additionally, Japanese international centre-back, Gen Shoji, joined on a bumper deal from French side Toulouse last winter, however, due to injury he was unable to play in the 2 games prior to the shutdown. Gamba fans will look forward to seeing him work in tandem with Genta Miura and Kim Young-gwon at the back.

Week 1:
vs Yokohama F.Marinos (a) 2-1
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Vissel Kobe

2019: 8th
Kantoku: Thorsten Fink (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Kobe’s games last season produced a total of 120 goals (3.6 per game), a league high.

Recap:
The Rakuten money finally seemed to pay off for Kobe as they lifted their first ever piece of silverware, the Emperor’s Cup, after a 2-0 win over Kashima at the new National Stadium in Tokyo on New Year’s Day. Like buses, their second trophy came soon after as they saw off J1 Champions Yokohama F.Marinos in the Super Cup in February.
A team which scored plenty and conceded loads gradually became more disciplined under German coach Thorsten Fink in the second half of last year and a more slimline squad started 2020 well. Their first ever Asian Champions League campaign began with a 5-1 trouncing of Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim and continued with a hugely impressive 1-0 win away to Suwon in Korea. In J1 they had to accept a share of the spoils when they met Yokohama FC in round 1 in a game played under bizarre circumstances with supporters allowed into the stadium, but told not to cheer.

Squad Update:
No ins or outs have been recorded during the league’s enforced absence which gives us a chance to look at their business from last winter. Douglas (14 goals, 5 assists for Shimizu in 2019) may be the signing of the close season and his partnership with Furuhashi guarantees goals. At the back, only Shonan and Shimizu conceded more than Kobe’s 59 last time out and to that end centre-backs, Ryuho Kikuchi (Renofa Yamaguchi) and Tetsushi Yamakawa (Tsukuba University) were brought in, though these signings appear to be more for the long term rather than right now.

Week 1:
vs Yokohama FC (h) 1-1
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Oita Trinita

2019: 9th
Kantoku: Tomohiro Katanosaka (5th year)
Quick Stat: Now departed strikers, Noriaki Fujimoto (Kobe) and Ado Onaiwu (YFM) scored over 50% of Oita’s goals last year (18 out of 35)

Recap:
Head coach Katanosaka has masterminded a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the Kyushu side which saw them move up from J3 to J1 in the space of 3 years. Last season they started like a house on fire before inevitably hitting a bit of a slump, but they were still able to finish an excellent 9th with a squad mainly consisting of players from their 2018 J2 promotion campaign as well as sprinkling of veterans from their J3 days.
Oita had a disappointing start to 2020, going down 1-0 away from home in both of their games, at Shonan in the League Cup and Cerezo a week later in the League.

Squad Update:
Their only transfers of note during the lockdown have been the registrations of Fukuoka University midfielder Kenta Inoue and Kanoya Sports College forward Kazuki Fujimoto as designated special players for 2020. Owing to their small budget, Oita have largely had to try and replace departed stars like Ado Onaiwu and Noriaki Fujimoto with players who’ve performed well at lower levels. Retaining attacking-midfielder Kazuki Kozuka and centre-back Tomoki Iwata was a big boost for the club, though how long they can keep hold of them remains to be seen.

Week 1:
vs Cerezo Osaka (a) 0-1
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Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

2019: 10th
Kantoku: Mihailo Petrovic (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Last year was the first time since 2007 that Mihailo Petrovic has coached a team to a bottom half finish in J1.

Recap:
Improving on 2018’s incredible 4th place finish was always going to be a tall order for Sapporo, and so it proved last year, however, 10th was still a decent showing from Mihailo Petrovic’s men. Although at times a little suspect at the back, they did have strong performers throughout the side, Akito Fukumori’s deadly set-pieces earned him 8 assists, while Chanathip continued to lay on goals for his attacking partners, Jay, Musashi Suzuki and Anderson Lopes. They would have considered themselves unfortunate to lose out to Kawasaki in the lottery of a penalty shoot-out in the League Cup final last year, and this defeat preceded a rather poor end to 2019 which saw them lose 4 of their last 6 league games.
Consadole started 2020 by coasting past Sagan Tosu, 3-0 away in the League Cup, but then went down 4-2 to Kashiwa Reysol in Chiba on the opening day of J1, these results suggest there’ll be plenty of goalmouth action at both ends this campaign.

Squad Update:
The big transfer news story to emerge out of Sapporo during the league’s break was that international goalkeeper Gu Sung-yun would return to his homeland to play for Daegu FC ahead of a 2-year stint in the Korean military. Consadole have already secured the services of Hosei University’s 2M tall stopper Kojiro Nakano for 2021, and have him on a designated special player contract for this year, but whether it is he, Thai international Kawin Thamsatchanan (a recent loan arrival from Leuven in Belgium) or the experienced Takanori Sugeno that takes over the starting spot is up for debate.

Week 1:
vs Kashiwa Reysol (a) 2-4
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Vegalta Sendai

2019: 11th
Kantoku: Takashi Kiyama (new)
Quick Stat: New Kashima Antlers full-back Katsuya Nagato provided assists for 26% of Sendai’s goals in 2019.

Recap:
Sendai secured their second consecutive 11th place finish in J1 last year, perhaps even more impressive than the previous campaign due to the fact that it was achieved with what, on paper at least, looked like a weaker squad. Still, that didn’t stop head coach Susumu Watanabe from losing his job, with Yamagata manager Takashi Kiyama coming in for his first stab at J1 level. Despite J1’s leading assist maker Katsuya Nagato departing for Kashima, off season recruitment had inspired confidence. However, that feel-good factor was only short-lived when it was announced that both Isaac Cuenca and Alexandre Guedes had gone down with injuries before the campaign had even begun. Sendai were thrashed 5-2 at Urawa in the League Cup before holding Nagoya to a 1-1 draw in the League. The break in fixtures has allowed their attacking talent to return, though the loss for the next 2 months of captain Simao Mate is a huge blow, and an extended period of playing in front of no spectators may undermine their impressive home record.

Squad Update:
Exciting news for Sendai is the return of former attacker Takuma Nishimura on loan from CSKA Moscow. He hit 11 goals in 24 games before his big money move to Russia in the summer of 2018 and Vegalta fans will be looking forward with relish to the partnership he can form with Cuenca, Guedes and Shuhei Akasaki. Elsewhere defenders, Hisashi Appiah Tawiah (Ryutsu Keizai University) and Takumi Mase (Hannan University) have both been brought in on designated special player contracts ahead of turning pro next year.
In terms of departures, defender Masato Tokida who played against Urawa in the League Cup has left for Matsumoto in a loan deal and as previously mentioned, backup goalie Lee Yunoh has joined Gamba U-23 on loan, he spent 2019 farmed out to Fukushima United.

Week 1:
vs Nagoya Grampus (h) 1-1
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Shimizu S-Pulse

2019: 12th
Kantoku: Peter Cklamovski (new)
Quick Stat: Shimizu had the worst defensive record in J1 last season with 69 goals conceded in total (2.03 per game). They were also one of only two teams to do the double over champions Yokohama F.Marinos (the other was Cerezo Osaka).

Recap:
One of the biggest stories of last winter was Shimizu’s appointment of Ange Postecoglou’s assistant at Yokohama F.Marinos, Peter Cklamovski. An avid disciple of Ange’s, it’ll be interesting to see how he shapes this S-Pulse side in his image. The JLeague’s no-relegation rule will definitely help with his experimentation which is bound to encounter teething problems. Shimizu had the leakiest back line in J1 last season conceding 69 times, including an 8-0 home reverse against Sapporo. This year it took them 2 games to concede 8 goals, being hammered 5-1 at Kawasaki in the League Cup then putting up a better showing at home to FC Tokyo in the League before ultimately going down 3-1.

Squad Update:
Nothing to report on the transfer front during the lockdown, although S-Pulse did hire a new coach and recruit a number of new players in the off-season. Additionally, midfielders, Yasufumi Nishimura (Okayama) and Kota Miyamoto (FC Gifu) have returned from loan spells, while wide-man Hideki Ishige made a welcome comeback from serious injury and now appears to be seen as an option at full-back. Despite the additions of Yusuke Goto (Oita), Teerasil (Muangthong United) and Carlinhos (Sion) it’s still hard to see anyone getting close to matching Douglas’ 14 league goals scored last year.

Week 1:
vs FC Tokyo (h) 1-3
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Nagoya Grampus

2019: 13th
Kantoku: Massimo Ficcadenti (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Nagoya were second only to Sendai in terms of % of total points picked up at home (65% compared with Sendai’s nearly 76%) in 2019.

Recap:
One of the biggest spenders in the league, Nagoya have flattered to deceive since returning to J1 in 2018. They have a team full of highly talented individuals who rarely add up to the sum of their parts. Italian Massimo Ficcadenti was a surprise choice to replace the much more attack minded Yahiro Kazama midway through last year, however, he was able to steer a side which had been in freefall into a relatively safe 13th spot in the standings. Grampus started 2020 unbeaten, seeing off Kashima Antlers 1-0 at home in the League Cup before having the better of a 1-1 draw away at Sendai in round 1 of J1.

Squad Update:
Former Japan international front-man Mu Kanazaki joined on loan from cash-strapped Tosu at the end of March and he will take the place of Jo, who returned to Corinthians in Brazil (in a deal that seems to have more to it than meets the eye) having only found the net 6 times last season, compared to 24 in the previous campaign. Kanazaki, however, was recently struck down with Covid-19 and passed the virus on to Australian goalkeeper Mitch Langerak. Both players have since recovered, however, the fallout was that the rest of the squad had to endure a period of training together using Zoom while their J1 rivals were all working on the training ground.
During the break, young full-back Yukinari Sugawara turned his loan move to Dutch side AZ Alkmaar into a permanent one after impressing in his first year in the Netherlands.

Week 1:
vs Vegalta Sendai (a) 1-1
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Urawa Reds

2019: 14th
Kantoku: Tsuyoshi Otsuki (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Legendary striker Shinzo Koroki has hit double figures in his last 8 league campaigns.

Recap:
Despite reaching the final of the Asian Champions League last season, finishing 14th in J1, their worst performance since 2011 was simply unacceptable for a club of this size. Thing surely must get better, a lot better, this year if head-coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki wants to remain in his current role. Their was a surprising lack of transfer activity last winter considering the average age and performance of the squad over the previous 12 months, however, Brazilian attacker, Leonardo who joined from Albirex Niigata could well challenge Kobe’s signing of Douglas as the best coup of the transfer window. The former J3 and J2 top scorer introduced himself to the Saitama Stadium supporters with a double on his debut, a 5-2 win at home to Sendai in the League Cup. The defensive frailties that were briefly on show in that game resurfaced a week later in their League opener, a 3-2 victory over a Shonan Bellmare side who are expected to find things tough this year. It looks like Urawa games will be a pretty exciting watch over the coming months.

Squad Update:
The lack of transfer activity from Reds does seem a little surprising viewed from afar, only Ryutsu Keizai midfielder Atsuki Ito has come in on a designated special player contract. However, they may be banking on some of their younger crop of players to develop more over the coming years. Right-sided defender Daiki Hashioka appears to be the pick of the bunch, though left winger Koya Yuroki could also become a key asset if he’s given more game time. Central-midfielder Hidetoshi Takeda joined the club from the cradle of footballing talent that is Aomori Yamada High School last winter, so we can expect good things from him, while Chuo University winger Tomoaki Okubo has again been registered as a designated special player ahead of turning pro with Reds next year. Youth team ‘keeper Zion Suzuki is on a Type-2 amateur contract which allowed him to appear on the bench against both Sendai and Shonan despite still being in high school (he’s already 189cm tall!)

Week 1:
vs Shonan Bellmare (a) 3-2
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Sagan Tosu

2019: 15th
Kantoku: Kim Myung-hwi (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Tosu failed to score in 9 out of their first 10 league games in 2019.

Recap:
If you’re interested enough in Japanese football to read my blog, I’m going to assume you know something about Tosu’s appalling financial situation, so I don’t want to dwell on it too much. The lack of relegation this year would appear to help them more than any other side given that most #jpred2020 entrants had them going down. A very weak squad on paper were humbled 3-0 at home by Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in the League Cup’s first group-stage match this February before gaining a creditable 0-0 draw away to Kawasaki Frontale on the League’s opening day. Much more of that battling spirit will be required in the coming months and years, I feel.

Squad Update:
Mu Kanazaki’s departure on loan to Nagoya may be the first of quite a few in the near future as the club looks to balance it’s books. In terms of arrivals, Chuo University defender Daisuke Matsumoto is in as a designated special player while Tosu U-18 forwards Reoto Kodama and Ryunosuke Sagara as well as defender Shinya Nakano have come in on Type-2 contracts. One intriguing move just before the league started back in February was the acquisition of right-sided Chinese player Wang Jianan from Guangzhou R&F. The current squad has a very youthful feel to it, with midfielders, Fuchi Honda and Daiki Matsuoka (both 19) as well as former Meiji University full-back Ryoya Morishita (23) expected to be key players.

Week 1:
vs Kawasaki Frontale (a) 0-0
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Shonan Bellmare

2019: 16th
Kantoku: Bin Ukishima (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Shonan kept the fewest clean sheets in J1 last year (4).

Recap:
The Cho Kwi-jae power harassment scandal rocked Shonan to the core last summer, sending them into a tail-spin that they were only able to pull out of thanks to a 1-1 draw at home to Tokushima in the play-offs (again the rights and wrongs of that system have been discussed in depth elsewhere so I’ll not go any further into it.) Bin Ukishima, the man who replaced the long serving Cho has been tasked with rebuilding the side and he’s brought in 12 new faces along with 2 players who’ve returned to Bellmare from loan spells. This sort of annual upheaval is not uncommon in these parts and Shonan are likely to be another side who are assisted by the league’s no-relegation rule. Bellmare started 2020 by edging out Oita 1-0 at home in the League Cup, before losing their J1 opener 3-2 to Urawa at the same venue with new Norwegian signing Tarik missing a penalty.

Squad Update:
After a busy winter, Shonan’s lockdown work has been largely focused on the future, 5 youth team players have been registered on Type-2 Contracts, including midfielder Satoshi Tanaka who’ll turn pro next year. Additionally, 20 year-old forward Ryo Nemoto of Kanoya Sports College in Kagoshima and Sho Hiramatsu from Rissho University have joined as a designated special players. The club also announced the capture of midfielder Taiyo Hiraoka from Riseisha High School for 2021, though he hasn’t yet been registered for this campaign. Surprisingly, as far as I can tell, there has still been no announcement from the club regarding the futures of 2 Brazilians, Crislan and Leleu, who were on the books last year, I assume neither will be back, but usually JLeague teams are good at keeping the fans informed about this sort of thing.

Week 1:
vs Urawa Reds (h) 2-3
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Kashiwa Reysol

2019: 1st (J2)
Kantoku: Nelsinho (2nd year – current spell)
Quick Stat: The last time Kashiwa won J2, they went on to lift the J1 title the following year (2011). Current head coch Nelsinho was also in charge back then.

Recap:
Under legendary manager Nelsinho, Kashiwa are back in the top flight following a one-year sojourn in J2. After a few bumps and bruises in the early rounds, Reysol’s class eventually told and they were worthy champions, their season of course ending with that memorable 13-1 rout of Kyoto Sanga. They’ve kept most of last year’s championship winning side intact and added a cast of 2019 J2 all stars, how will they do in J1 this year?
They got 2020 off to the best possible start with a 1-0 win away to Gamba in the rain in February’s League Cup clash, goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu, left-back Taiyo Koga and inevitably the well-known attacking duo of Cristiano and Olunga were all in fine form. That victory was then backed up by a 4-2 triumph in a thrilling match at home to Sapporo in round 1 of J1 with both Esaka and Olunga notching doubles. They have more than enough attacking talent, but for me centre-back and centre-midfield are areas for concern. They’ll certainly be interesting to watch this year.

Squad Update:
Kashiwa’s only lockdown work has been to move youth product Keita Ide to Tochigi SC in what appears to be a full transfer, I say appears as he was only promoted to the top team last winter. There have been no ins during the break, though Reysol did recruit quite heavily in the off-season and have no doubt taken this opportunity to try and bring their ex-J2 players up to speed. I’m particularly excited by versatile 23 year-old midfielder Yuta Kamiya who spent 2019 with Ehime, on-loan from Shonan. Right-back Kengo Kitazume who joined from Yokohama FC looks a solid addition too, and I can see him taking over from Shunki Takahashi before much longer. Two other interesting coups were Hiroto Goya (Nagasaki – on loan from Gamba), who netted 22 goals in 36 J2 games last year and former youth team product Hayato Nakama (Okayama) who struck an impressive 15 times in 40 J2 matches from left midfield in 2019. These 2 undoubtedly possess the ability, but can they unseat one of the top dogs such as, Olunga, Cristiano, Esaka or Segawa, to nail down a starting berth?

Week 1:
vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo (h) 4-2
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Yokohama FC

2019: 2nd (J2)
Kantoku: Takahiro Shimotaira (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Kazuyoshi Miura made his JLeague debut on 15 May 1993, over 8 years before team-mate Koki Saito was born.

Recap:
Hear the name Yokohama FC and you probably instantly think of their famous veterans, Kazuyoshi ‘King Kazu’ Miura and Shunsuke Nakamura, then probably to a lesser extent, guys like Leandro Domingues, Ibba Laajab, Daisuke Matsui and Masahiko Inoha. However, bubbling under the surface are some of the hottest young talents in Japanese football, attacking trio, Koki Saito (18), Katsuhiro Nakayama (23) and Yusuke Matsuo (22) combined for 18 goals and 11 assists last season to help Yokohama FC achieve only the second season of top flight football in their history. Things will be tough for sure for this squad of ageing stars and up-and-comers, they started things off with a tame 2-0 loss at home to a wily Sanfrecce side in the League Cup, before holding Kobe to a respectable 1-1 draw in the League opener in Hyogo. Tatsuki Seko, another young gun who was recruited in the off-season from Meiji University netted Yokohama’s goal on his senior debut, he’s also one to look out for this year.

Squad Update:
A couple of pieces of transfer news to report from Yokohama during the lockdown, Hosei University defender Yuya Takagi was registered as a designated special player, he’ll turn pro when he’s finished with his studies next year. Full-back Yuta Fujii also made a permanent move to J2 outfit Avispa Fukuoka, he made a mere 5 appearances for Yokohama FC in 2019. Finally, a quick shout out to a name I didn’t mention above, left-back Takaaki Shichi (5 goals and 4 assists in 39 games for Mito HollyHock last year), his signing may have largely flown under the radar, but in my books it looks like a very shrewd move.

Week 1:
vs Vissel Kobe (a) 1-1
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