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Gamba Osaka vs Shimizu S-Pulse 14 August 2022 Match Preview

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.



Gamba Osaka

* 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.

Team News

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





Shimizu S-Pulse

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.

Team News

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.

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Shimizu S-Pulse vs Gamba Osaka 10 April 2022 Match Preview

Shimizu S-Pulse vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 8
Sunday 10 April 2022
IAI Stadium Nihondaira
Kick Off: 13:00 (JST)


A hectic week of J1 action builds to a crescendo this Sunday with a slate of 8 fixtures, and while Shimizu vs Gamba at the picturesque Nihondaira Stadium may not initially be the most enticing match on the card, it promises to be an intriguing encounter nonetheless. Both sides drew their midweek outings 1-1 away from home, Gamba will still be ruing the chances they missed against Kyoto on Wednesday, but were ultimately fortunate to survive a late onslaught and escape back to Suita with a point. S-Pulse, on the other hand, will be far more content with their evening’s work, pegging back ACL competitors Urawa after earlier falling behind courtesy of Ataru Esaka’s first-half penalty. Atsuki Ito became the 3rd Reds player to see red in 2022 and his dismissal opened the door for a Shimizu fightback. I’ve often compared Mendes (Kyoto) and Valdo (Shimizu) due to the propensity of the pair to be dangers at both ends of the field, and while Mendes squandered his opportunity to be a hero late on against Gamba, Valdo powered home a header from Reon Yamahara’s fine cross to lift his side out of the drop zone on goal difference. The Nerazzurri are one of five teams currently sitting on 9 points, however, S-Pulse could draw level with them should they secure victory in this fixture for the first time since 2017. It promises to be a fascinating bout, be sure to tune in if you get the chance.

Tale of the Tape

Gamba are currently unbeaten on the road in J1 2022 albeit after only 3 games played. Their only clean sheet of the year came in the 1-0 away win at Urawa in February and in total they’ve only given up 2 goals (xG 3.32), granted their other opponents were the two newly promoted sides, Iwata and Kyoto. I might have my blue and black sunglasses on when I say this, but the Nerazzurri’s official xG For figures seem a touch low across their recent matches with Grampus and Sanga. Mendes’ big miss at the end put the Royals into the xG lead on Wednesday, but earlier in the tie, Kosuke Onose (twice), Gen Shoji and Hiroto Yamami had all spurned chances that I thought would register higher with the xG bean counters to balance out the fact that Dawhan’s wonder strike was quite a low percentage effort. Let’s just dwell on Dawhan’s first J1 goal, in only his second outing, for justa moment. By my reckoning that’s the Ao To Kuro’s 6th particularly impressive effort of the year, so they’re cooking along nicely in that entirely subjective metric, showing, in my eyes at least, the quality of shooting ability that exists among the playing squad. At the back, Gen Shoji had a bit of an off-day versus Kyoto, but what is of greater concern to me is the 16 shots against given up in both the win over Grampus and the draw at Sanga. Of course the Nerazzurri were 3 goals to the good with 28 minutes left plus injury time against Kenta Hasegawa’s troops on Saturday, so perhaps the late barrage in Kameoka on Wednesday is of greater concern, particularly as half of Kyoto’s efforts were registered from the 80th minute onwards. This could be an indication that a bit more rotation is required for the upcoming bout with Shimizu, or at the very least substitutions will need to be made sooner at the Nihondaira than they were at Sanga Stadium, the 109.5 km total team distance covered (a season low) might be interpreted as another arrow pointing in that direction.

While Gamba under Katanosaka have at times battled to dominate their opponents, clocking up an average of just 46.3% ball possession per game so far in 2022, Shimizu’s number for that particular metric sits at a paltry 44.1%, so it’ll be very interesting to see which side is more comfortable stepping onto the front foot on Sunday. Wracked by injuries in the opening weeks of the campaign, S-Pulse are without a win in their most recent 5 league outings (2D3L) and only Kobe (5) plus Shonan and Fukuoka (both 4) have notched up fewer than the Shizuoka side’s 6 league goals. Shimizu have registered a mediocre 6.82 xG For in their 7 J1 fixtures to date and have only exceeded an xG of 1 in a single contest twice (Iwata and Urawa, both away) this compares with the Nerazzurri’s figure of 7.13xG with 3 games containing an xG For of over 1. The absences of key Brazilian attackers, Thiago Santana and Carlinhos Junior, in addition to the late arrival of South Korean forward Oh Se-hun largely account for Shimizu’s anaemic attack as kantoku Hiroaki Hiraoka (not an easy name to get right well past the midnight hour) has been forced into utilising players more often thought of as wingers or number tens in the central attacking roles. To set the scene for his now inevitable winner on Sunday, I’ll point out that although his former boss at Oita, Tomohiro Katanosaka, is likely a fan, I’m amazed that Yusuke Goto still has a J1 contract with a record of only 4 goals in 72 appearances at this level. Finally, let’s briefly take a look at S-Pulse’s rearguard which has generally performed better than their attack, though with Valdo the only first choice to really spend any time on the sidelines I guess that’s to be expected. The Shizuoka-based outfit’s defensive numbers are extremely similar to Sunday’s opponents with 10 goals conceded in 7 outings lying one shy of the Nerazzurri’s figure, the two sides’ xG Against totals are extremely similar too, Shimizu’s tally is 10.09 while Gamba’s is 10.23, both team’s have just a solitary clean sheet to their name as well and I know I stopped doing scoreline predictions over a year ago, but a lot of what I’m writing points towards a scrappy 1-1 draw, doesn’t it?

Head to Head


Only 1 goal in the 2 fixtures between these sides in 2021 and what a goal it was. Hiroto Yamami, then a special designated player as he completed his studies at Kwansei Gakuin University, lit up a wet and windy Shizuoka night with a wonderful cut inside from the right wing followed by a sumptuous arced shot into Shuichi Gonda’s top right corner to settle a tightly contested affair played out in challenging blustery conditions. Four months earlier, in April, both Yosuke Ideguchi and Takashi Usami struck the frame of the goal at Panasonic Stadium, but after that the game petered out into a rather tame 0-0, the Nerazzurri’s fifth failure to score in their opening six fixtures, though it was their fourth clean sheet in the same time period, so I guess we can say that result was rather predictable.



Gamba Osaka

A deeper shade of blue – You may be able to tell that I’ve written this preview in a bit of a rush as the second half of my week is generally a good deal busier than the start, anyway where was I going with this, ah yes, I still haven’t really processed my thoughts on the Kyoto game, but I have a sort of aching sense of disappointment inside. Two wins, three draws and two losses is very much par for the course at this stage of the year. Against Sanga, just like in the Júbilo game, there was plenty of attacking endeavour, but a lack of a real clinical edge, and how the Nerazzurri must have wished they had someone with the prowess of Peter Utaka in their ranks. Shimizu currently sit 15th in J1, but are gradually getting players back and represent a real tough test, a win would be great, a draw would leave many questions unanswered and a defeat would represent a significant setback for sure, who knows what my mood will be come Sunday evening.

Young hearts run free – A real positive for the travelling Nerazzurri support on Wednesday night was the cameo appearances from academy graduates Isa Sakamoto and Jiro Nakamura. Kumamoto-native Sakamoto, in particular, shone during his J1 debut, almost assisting Kosuke Onose within minutes of replacing Hiroto Yamami. His work-rate, touch and composure on the ball really impressed me and hopefully we see a lot more of him in a blue and black (or white) shirt in the coming weeks and months.

Rotation, rotation, rotation revisited – Don’t worry I’m not about to quote Tim Canterbury again, but I do feel that the rotation, or more to the point, the lack of it, needs further comment. Captain Shu Kurata being replaced on the left wing by Hideki Ishige, who unfortunately flattered to deceive once more, was surprisingly the only change to Gamba’s starting eleven from the 3-1 win over Nagoya the previous weekend. As I laid out above, Kyoto finished Wednesday’s fixture much stronger than the Nerazzurri so I wonder if Katanosaka will seek to shake things up a little for Shimizu on Sunday. Full-back might be one area to get a makeover with a first start for Hiroki Fujiharu and the return of Ko Yanagisawa, if fit, potentially on the cards. In midfield, I like Kohei Okuno playing the ‘closing pitcher’ role with Ju Se-jong offering support on occasion, hopefully Saito and Dawhan start again versus S-Pulse and go flat out for the first 60-65 minutes before getting a reprieve. Finally, in attack surely Patric won’t start 3 games in the space of 8 days, but either Leandro Pereira’s hamstring remains a cause for concern or Katanosaka is not a big fan despite his 2 goals in recent weeks, plus I’ve no idea why Wellington Silva wasn’t involved on Wednesday after an all-action sub appearance at the weekend. I guess the makeup of Gamba’s starting eleven will once again be very much a case of wait-and-see for the Nerazzurri faithful.

Team News


Masaaki Higashiguchi (knee) and Takashi Usami (achilles) are the two definite absentees for Gamba having undergone surgery, Higashiguchi was spotted standing normally in one of Shota Fukuoka’s April Fool’s Day pictures and he’ll hopefully be back some time next month. Other than that, captain Shu Kurata wasn’t in the matchday squad for the short trip to Kyoto on Wednesday though it’s unknown if he was simply being rested or he’s picked up a minor knock. Ko Yanagisawa and Yuki Yamamoto have been absent for the past 2 league fixtures with no updates given on their injury status. Yamamoto, like Higashiguchi, was photographed by Fukuoka last Friday so there’s nothing to indicate he’s not training, Yanagisawa, on the other hand, may well have some kind of fitness issue. Wellington Silva’s current status is similarly shrouded in mystery as after a buccaneering cameo as a sub against Grampus on Saturday he didn’t even make the bench on Wednesday, hopefully he’s just being saved up ready to be unleashed on an unsuspecting S-Pulse on Sunday.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



Shimizu S-Pulse


It certainly hasn’t been an easy start to life as a permanent J1 kantoku for Hiroaki Hiraoka with his charges decimated by injury early on in the campaign. Still, he has managed to keep them within touching distance of the peloton despite facing a number of tough fixtures and will be looking for his side to make strides in the right direction now that some of their bigger names are returning. Hiraoka may, of course, be hindered by the chronic instability which has plagued this iconic and hugely likeable club from Japan’s footballing heartland in recent seasons. I mentioned Nagoya’s managerial merry-go-round in one of my most recent previews and S-Pulse truly define the lack of imagination that often mars J.League coaching appointments, switching from the attack-minded Peter Cklamovski to the polar opposite in Miguel Ángel Lotina before now settling on the internally appointed Hiraoka. It should be noted that Swede Jan Jönsson was the last Shimizu coach to survive a whole season at the helm, and that was back in 2018 when they finished an excellent 8th. It’s not just in the dugout where things have been hard to fathom, their transfer business has been head scratching at times too. Impressive acquisitions such as national team ‘keeper Shuichi Gonda, Katanosaka’s former captain at Oita, Yoshinori Suzuki, Tosu starlet and Paris Olympics candidate Daiki Matsuoka plus imposing forward Thiago Santana form an excellent spine to this team and show that the finances are there to build a competitive side, if, and it’s a big if, they are deployed wisely. On the flip side of the coin, this year’s squad is very unbalanced with Takeru Kishimoto coming in to compete with Teruki Hara, Eiichi Katayama and Reon Yamahara for the right-back spot (yes I know Katayama and Yamahara can play elsewhere too) meaning there are 4 excellent full-backs at the club, but to my mind only one top level centre back (the aforementioned Suzuki). Anyway, I don’t want this to meander into my usual rant against Shimizu’s front office so let’s finish by talking about a couple of bright sparks, attacker Yuito Suzuki and versatile wide-man Yamahara. Readers of my pre-season preview will know I picked out former Funabashi Municipal High School forward Suzuki as S-Pulse’s key player this term and he got off to a flier with goals in his first 2 league appearances, they’ve dried up since then, however, I remain confident that in tandem with Santana and / or Oh Se-hun he can re-discover his goalscoring touch and establish himself as one to watch. Yamahara, like Hiroto Yamami for Gamba, was a special designated player in 2021 who managed to clock up a number of J1 appearances, 5 of them to be precise, which has allowed him to hit the ground running in his official rookie season. The JFA Academy Fukushima and University of Tsukuba graduate has assists in each of his last 2 league outings and with his versatility, work-rate, touch and crossing ability all looking good early on this season he’s someone who could go on to make great strides in the game.

Team News

The treatment room at the Nihondaira has certainly been a busy place this year with kantoku Hiraoka no doubt grateful Shimizu have such a large first team squad. The Shizuoka-based side’s Brazilian contingent have been hit particularly hard, Valdo has recently made his return, but compatriots Thiago Santana (13 goals in 37 J1 games in 2021), Carlinhos Junior (missed the final 5 games of 2021) and Renato Augusto (long, long-term knee injury) have all sat out the entire campaign to date. Additionally, talented home-grown winger Kenta Nishizawa has been absent with a wrist injury, though he is expected back soon while forwards, Benjamin Kololli and Daigo Takahashi, plus versatile midfielder Ryohei Shirasaki all dropped out of the squad for the midweek trip to Saitama and whether that was due to fitness or rotation is unclear. More positively, Daiki Matsuoka was on the bench as an unused sub on Wednesday, the first time he’s been spotted this year and recent recruit from Ulsan Hyundai, Oh Se-hun made his J1 debut, playing the final half hour of the draw with Reds.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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Júbilo Iwata vs Gamba Osaka 12 March 2022 Match Preview

Júbilo Iwata vs Gamba Osaka
2022 J1 Season Round 4
Saturday 12 March 2022
Yamaha Stadium
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)


Round 4 of the 2022 J1 season sees a day many Gamba supporters hoped they’d never have to endure come to pass, Yasuhito Endo playing against the side he represented from 2001-2020. At the ripe old age of 42, Endo, who won everything there is to win in the Japanese game during his time in Suita, will no doubt dominate the build up to this clash, but when we get down to business on Saturday afternoon an intriguing battle awaits us. Both hosts Júbilo, and visitors Gamba sit level on 4 points from their opening 3 fixtures so should be relatively content with their respective starts and will be looking to move up through the gears here.

Gut-wrenching is how I’d describe the Nerazzurri’s 2-2 draw with Kawasaki last Sunday. I’d have bitten your hand off for a draw pre kick-off, but with the ball being dropped literally, and figuratively, only in the dying seconds of the game it was certainly a bitter pill to swallow for all those of a blue and black persuasion. I met up with Frontale Rabbit before and after the match and we both agreed that a share of the spoils was probably a reasonable outcome, which in fairness is a massive upgrade on what’s happened in most of the encounters between those two across the past couple of years.

Júbilo bounced back from a painful derby defeat at the hands of Shimizu in round 2 by rolling over fellow newly-promoted side Kyoto Sanga 4-1 away on Saturday. While the previous weekend they’d been on the receiving end of 2 red cards, on this occasion they were the beneficiaries of an opposing player getting his marching orders, home goalkeeper Naoto Kamifukumoto who was controversially dismissed following a lengthy VAR review just before half time.

Confidence should be high in both camps and with this being the first J1 match Júbilo have played at Yamaha Stadium since their relegation in 2019 there is likely to be quite a raucous atmosphere, well as buoyant as Covid restrictions will allow for.

Tale of the Tape

Once again I’ll preface this section by stating that with so few games played it’s difficult to jump to any meaningful conclusions so my purpose here is just to pick out a couple of (hopefully) interesting talking points for both sides and run with those.

Early doors in 2022 and Gamba seem to be getting some breaks in the attacking third that simply didn’t go their way last season, see Yuya Fukuda and Kosuke Onose’s deflected efforts from outside the box finding the back of the net in consecutive weeks for proof of that. New kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka is still searching for his best XI and formation and as such we’ve seen 3-4-2-1, 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 (with Yuki Yamamoto a surprising selection on the left wing which even caught the Panasonic Stadium big screen graphics team by surprise) utilised in the last 3 matches alone. Keeping that in mind and also the considering the incredibly tough nature of the initial trio of fixtures it’s hard to get much of a read on Gamba’s stats, but I’ll give it a go. After last season’s shot shy start with only 3 goals scored in the first 12 league outings, Nerazzurri supporters will be delighted that the opposition’s net has bulged in each of the opening 5 games of 2022 (3 J1, 2 Levain Cup). Now to look exclusively at J1, 4 goals from just 1.95xG For suggests that while the goals scored column may be looking pretty at the moment, more chance creation will be required to succeed in the long run. At the other end, 5 goals conceded from 5.56xG Against is far more on par though those tallies do include the second half of the Kashima game where the Ao to Kuro wrongly found themselves playing 10v11. Number of completed passes and possession % are currently way down on last year, but it’s far too early to jump to conclusions on those metrics as all 3 opponents Gamba have faced will likely be in the top 6 this term and, as alluded to above, the 52 minutes the blue and blacks battled for a man short versus Kashima represents almost 20% of their total playing time this season so is liable to skew any reading of the stats.

Júbilo were promoted to J1 as a result of being crowned second division champions in 2021. They achieved that under the tutelage of, the now retired, Masakazu Suzuki thanks to an excellent attack which occasionally bailed out a slightly shaky rearguard. Iwata were top scorers in J2 last time round with their final total of 75 goals for being 6 more than the second ranked team in that category Nagasaki (69), they also led the league for most shots and crosses too. Star forward Lukian (now at Fukuoka) was the main attacking weapon, but behind him plenty of others made solid contributions, and it should be noted that they netted over 50 times even if you discount the Brazilian’s tally of 22 (enough to earn him the golden boot). Shadow forward Hiroki Yamada (11) was the only other Júbilo player to make it into double figures, but Yuto Suzuki (8 – and 3 already this campaign), Yuki Otsu (6) and Kosuke Yamamoto (5) provided able support. Assists also came from a plethora of sources, Lukian (8) topped that metric too, but Masaya Matsumoto and Kotaro Omori (both 7), Kosuke Yamamoto and Yuto Suzuki (both 6) and veteran playmaker Endo (5) all did the business. At the back, first choice ‘keeper Ryuki Miura wasn’t overly exerted with Iwata recording the 3rd lowest number of saves (73 vs a divisional average of 99), but their save % only ranked 16th perhaps suggesting a vulnerability to counter attacks in addition to giving up high-quality chances.

Since returning to the top flight Júbilo have done battle with Fukuoka (a), Shimizu (h – played at the larger Ecopa Stadium) and Kyoto (a), not an easy set of fixtures by any stretch of the imagination, but would you rather start against those teams or Kashima, Urawa and Kawasaki? After accumulating an xG For total of 1.06 from their opening 2 matches they obliterated that with 3.12 against Kyoto, though as mentioned previously, Sanga were reduced to ten men with over 45 minutes still to play. Defence again appears to be the area of greatest concern with at least 1 xG Against ceded in each game so far (1.16 vs Kyoto is their best performance), and double digit shot totals being recorded by all opponents to date (both S-Pulse and Sanga had 10 on target while Iwata could only equal that from their first 2 games combined before achieving a whopping 15 vs Kyoto). Perhaps slightly surprisingly for a freshly promoted outfit, Júbilo have enjoyed over 50% possession in all 3 matches thus far, admittedly against opponents not known for dominating that facet of play (455 completed passes vs Shimizu is their lowest number while 260 is Gamba’s highest). As pointed out above, this will be the first league game of 2022 at Yamaha Stadium and Júbilo should see plenty of the ball, but the big question is, can they create enough goal-scoring opportunities while at the same time avoiding being caught out on the break by Gamba?

Head to Head

Gamba and Júbilo last encountered one another on league business in the Nerazzurri’s 2019 Summer Expo game. A stadium record crowd of 37,334 bore witness to yet more 95th minute heartbreak for Gamba. The aforementioned Lukian was ordered off as a result of 2 yellow cards inside the opening quarter, the second of which was for ill-advisedly booting the ball away in frustration and it ending up in among the Ultras in the Curva Nord behind the home goal. Kosuke Onose sent Gamba into the sheds one up as his cross evaded everyone including Iwata keeper Krzystof Kamiński and nestled in the bottom corner on the stroke of half time. The Nerazzurri, sporting their snazzy Noritake Kinashi designed uniforms, had multiple chances to kill the game off in the second period, but took none of them. Patric’s header wide from Ryu Takao’s cross in injury time proved costly as moments later Takao bundled a Júbilo attacker over in the box and up stepped Masato Nakayama to earn the visitors a share of the spoils from the penalty spot. This was the 4th in what was to be a run of 5 consecutive draws for the Nerazzurri and the second time in the space of 8 days that they’d conceded an injury time equaliser at home. Current Gamba forward Leandro Pereira (then of Hiroshima) had cancelled out Shu Kurata’s 89th minute strike the previous Saturday and the Nerazzurri were knocked out of the Emperor’s Cup by Hosei University in the midweek between those 2 fixtures so I guess we could dub that Gamba’s “summer of discontent.” The last time the two sides met in Shizuoka was on 15 June 2019, a dull 0-0 which saw the men from Suita drop to a season low 17th place though 3 wins in their following 4 outings soon steadied the ship.



Gamba Osaka

Takashi Usami’s injury enforced departure midway through the second half, as well as the now infamous last second defensive calamity cast a pall over proceedings at Panasonic Stadium in the wake of the draw with Frontale, but they couldn’t fully detract away from what had been a largely positive performance. Teams are built in the shape of their coach and Katanosaka Gamba are no different with his fire and brimstone on the touchline transmitting its way onto the field in the shape of Mitsuki Saito’s courageous showing in midfield, Shu Kurata rallying the troops in an impromptu huddle after Kosuke Onose had restored Gamba’s lead, and the general willingness to go toe-to-toe with Frontale when circumstances permitted. This might be the Gamba section, but I also wanted to give a quick shout out to Leandro Damião for his beautiful display of sportsmanship in the wake of his 95th minute equaliser, his actions were in stark contrast to those of another visiting forward who (dis)graced the Panasonic Stadium turf a fortnight prior.

* The Usami replacement conundrum – The long-term loss of Gamba’s talisman will have Katanosaka frantically playing about with his tactics board searching for a workable back-up plan. He was almost exclusively a 3-4-2-1 devotee during his time with Oita, but as I said in the ‘tale of the tape’ section we’ve seen 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 in the last 2 games. As you’ll see in my predicted lineup below, I expect Hiroto Yamami to be the next cab off the rank, however, as he’s in his rookie season following his graduation from Kwansei Gakuin University it might be a tad premature to load him with the burden of creator-in-chief quite so soon. Hideki Ishige, Jiro Nakamura and Wellington Silva will all be required to help lighten the load if the Nerazzurri are to continue the solid progress they’ve made in the early part of this campaign. Another intriguing prospect is the upcoming arrival of Dawhan (apparently in the air as this article goes to press) who could potentially form an explosive volante partnership with Mitsuki Saito which would allow Shu Kurata and Yuki Yamamoto to compete for the shadow forward and number ten roles respectively, I guess as with everything we’ll get our answers soon enough.

* The Brazilian forward quandary – Leandro Pereira is reportedly Gamba’s biggest earner, but when he’s not been out injured or working his way back to full fitness then he’s generally been sulking around the field and has contributed a meagre 7 goals in 37 outings in all competitions since his move from Matsumoto Yamaga at the start of 2021. Personally I’d trade him for Kashima’s Everaldo in a heartbeat, but I reckon there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of that move coming to fruition. Fellow Brazilian Wellington Silva has also had his share of fitness issues since arriving in Japan just under a year ago, but when on the pitch he’s displayed a real passion and desire that has endeared him to the Nerazzurri support to a far greater extent than Pereira, even with his shenanigans away to Marinos taken into account. There are currently 7 overseas players contracted to Gamba (Patric, Pereira, Silva, Dawhan, Ju Se-jong, Kwon Kyung-won and Shin Won-ho), is it possible that Pereira is headed for the exit before the winter transfer window closes at the end of the month? Also, how big a role will Silva have to play during Usami’s leave of absence?

* Speaking of which, should Katanosaka look to bring in a replacement for Usami, he’s likely to have his hands tied by 1, the limitations on foreigners I laid out above and 2, anyone who’s anyone will already be under contract elsewhere. I guess it’s possible that a Japanese player currently overseas might join in the summer, say Ryotaro Meshino, but for me Yamato Machida of Oita appears to be the most realistic acquisition at this point, even if it’s just on a loan deal with Yota Sato and Jiro Nakamura moving in the opposite direction. The baby faced assassin netted 8 times in 32 J1 games for Katanosaka’s Oita last term, he knows the boss, and the system he wants to play, so theoretically could hit the ground running in Suita. To throw out a few J2 names who are under contract, but may fit the bill of the type of player Gamba are seeking, Masaki Watai (Tokushima), Motoki Hasegawa (Kofu), Taiki Hirato (Machida), Ryoga Sato (Verdy) and someone who would make significant waves…Shion Homma (Niigata)???

Team News

As my followers on Twitter will already be aware, every Gamba fan’s worst fears were realised on Tuesday morning with the announcement that Takashi Usami had undergone surgery on a ruptured achilles tendon and will likely miss the remainder of the 2022 campaign. The Nerazzurri’s joint vice-captain and the only outfielder to feature in all 38 league fixtures last season will be sorely missed, but as Queen once sang, ‘the show must go on.’ Ryu Takao left the field of play 12 minutes early against Kawasaki on Sunday, but I believe that was just due to cramp. There’s still no word on either Masaaki Higashiguchi or Hiroki Fujiharu so at the moment I’d have to say it’s probable that both will be absent again here. Other than that, it appears that Dawhan is on his way to Japan, we’re just awaiting official confirmation and Kwon Kyung-won may join up with the squad after the World Cup qualifiers at the end of the month. It remains unclear what stage of their recovery processes Leandro Pereira and Wellington Silva are at and how much of a future they have in Suita under Katanosaka.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Júbilo Iwata


One of Japan’s most famous clubs, Júbilo Iwata first played in J1 back in 1994 and in the years since have gone on to lift 3 top flight titles, 2 league cups, 1 Emperor’s Cup and an Asian Club Championship, though their last piece of silverware (excluding J2) was the 2010 League Cup when they dispatched Hiroshima 5-3 in an epic final. The past decade or so has been tough on their loyal supporters with relegations suffered in both 2013 and 2019. As one might expect from a club based in the birthplace of Japanese football, Shizuoka Prefecture, Iwata have a decent youth academy which has produced current top team talents such as Daiki Ogawa, Rikiya Uehara, Kosuke Yamamoto and Riku Morioka. However, on the flip side of the coin, the core of the squad from that 2019 relegation season, and indeed the 2018 campaign where they stayed afloat only due to defeating Tokyo Verdy 2-0 in playoff, is still intact, supplemented by players who were contracted to big clubs in the past, but for one reason or another found themselves out of the picture with their previous employers. Yasuhito Endo, Yuto Suzuki and Kotaro Omori all have Gamba connections, while centre-backs Norimichi Yamamoto and Makito Ito plus attacker Yuki Otsu moved west from Yokohama F. Marinos. One player I’d like to focus on is the much maligned (often by me) Kenyu Sugimoto, a powerful forward with 8 international caps and 53 J1 goals who is currently on loan from Urawa after a hugely disappointing 3 ½ year stint in Saitama where he found the back of the net just 6 times in 70 league outings. Indeed, the 187cm tall striker has scored only 14 goals in 5 seasons since his annus mirabilis of 2017 when his 22 strikes propelled Cerezo to 3rd in the final standings. Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself quietly impressed with his display away to Kyoto last week as he really bullied Sanga’s centre-backs (granted I think they’ve got the wrong players in there – Mendes, in particular, had a bit of a nightmare). He hasn’t scored yet this year, but his ability to hold the ball up and bring others into the game makes him a vital cog in new kantoku Akira Ito’s set up. They’ve had a rather gentle cushioned landing upon their return to the top flight, however, in the next couple of months more challenging fixtures against the likes of Urawa, Kawasaki, Nagoya and Kashima lie in wait, should Sugimoto start adding goals to his all round decent performances then that will be a massive fillip for Júbilo.

Team News

Centre-back Norimichi Yamamoto and Colombian forward Fabián González are both available again after serving one match bans in the game against Kyoto following red-cards in the Shizuoka derby the previous week. Brazilians Ricardo Graça and Dudu are in their home country awaiting clearance to enter Japan as the country’s immigration service works through a huge backlog of visa applications. Apart from that, wing-back Ryo Takano (knee – expected to return in June) is the only other confirmed absentee.

Predicted Lineups and Stats



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

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Shimizu S-Pulse vs Gamba Osaka 13 August 2021 Match Preview

Shimizu S-Pulse vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 24
IAI Stadium Nihondaira, Shizuoka
Friday 13 August 2021
Kick Off: 19:00


No rest for the wicked as hot on the heels of bruising encounters on Monday night, both Gamba Osaka and Shimizu S-Pulse head into this Friday the 13th clash with a lot at stake.

The Nerazzurri will be smarting from their 2-1 defeat at the hands of a fired up Tokushima. Vortis outran, outfought and outplayed Gamba on their way to a deserved three points. Impressive Frontale loanee Taisei Miyashiro flicked home Ken Iwao’s free-kick for the opening goal before the excellent Kazuki Nishiya slammed in a close range volley to strike the killer blow in first-half stoppage time. Gen Shoji has since put his hand up to take responsibility for his error in the lead up to that goal, but in truth the men in blue and black had several chances to clear their lines and took none of them. Yuji Ono’s delicious through ball in additional time at the end of the game was dispatched by Tiago Alves for his first goal since his winter move from Tosu, but the ship had already sailed by that point and it ended 2-1 to the hosts. Ono’s cameo was the sole bright spot from a Gamba perspective, aside from that, the spectacular post-typhoon sky in Naruto pre kick-off and Tokushima’s beautiful summer kits were the only other positive memories I could take from this game.

Shimizu can enter Friday’s battle feeling pretty good about themselves following a hard-fought 2-2 home draw with Gamba’s conquerors in their previous match, Yokohama F. Marinos. Despite possessing the third weakest home record in the division, S-Pulse raced into an early lead when Eiichi Katayama tapped home Thiago Santana’s headed knock-down. Marinos hit back though, as Brazilian duo Marcos Junior and Élber found the back of the net, just as they had in Suita 3 days earlier, to flip the game on it’s axis. However, Kenta Nishizawa, more known for his excellent deliveries from wide areas, was the recipient on this occasion, finding himself in the right place to head Yusuke Goto’s cross low to Yohei Takaoka’s left, the Marinos number one made a rather weak effort at stopping it and the ball squirmed over the line. 2-2 the final score.

Gamba travel east one position and two points ahead of their hosts so expect a cagey affair here with neither side looking to give much away. Shimizu are only three points outside the drop-zone following victories for Tokushima and Kashiwa on Monday, Gamba are slightly better off with a five point cushion to 17th placed Shonan, but both teams will be content to win ugly here if it takes them closer to their aim of maintaining top flight status next season.

Tale of the Tape

A bit of a worrying trend for Gamba, as their summer of sweat and toil continues, is the fact that over the past 4 matches they’ve conceded a minimum of 1.67 xG per game while at the same time matching or exceeding that figure themselves only twice. It appears they are starting to receive a bit of payback for outperforming xG Against so comprehensively over the first half of the season.

Shimizu, as one might expect from a side coached by Miguel Ángel Lotina, are happy to sit back in a solid defensive shape, allowing their opponents plenty of the ball, biding their time before striking on the counter when the moment is right. It’s interesting to note that Oita (away) is the only time this year that they’ve enjoyed more ball possession than their opposition. I alluded to S-Pulse’s poor home form above, having only taken 11 points from as many games. A brief glance at the stats table below indicates that they actually perform better at the Nihondaira than away from it in almost all of the metrics shown except for, and this is the crucial part, actual goals scored and conceded. They underperform xG For by 0.27 goals per home game while conceding 0.52 more goals than their xG Against total per 90 minutes in Shizuoka. This compares with overall totals of -0.09 xG For and +0.22 xG Against. I hope I haven’t bored too many people with the maths there, the bottom line is, expect to see lots of Gamba possession on Friday, but don’t be surprised if Shimizu have the larger quantity and better quality of the chances created on the night.




Head to Head

I was able to get a ticket for the 0-0 draw between these two earlier in the year, played out on an unseasonably cold April evening and I’d have to say probably the highlight of the day was getting to see S-Pulse’s dynamic forward Akira Silvano Disaro’ (one of my favourite J2 players last year) warm up in front of me. Aside from that, Yota Sato made his senior debut at right-back, Usami and Ideguchi both struck the frame of Shuichi Gonda’s goal in the first half before the match descended into something of a snoozefest in the second period, becoming the third of Gamba’s four 0-0 draws to date in J1 2021.

The Nerazzurri have won on each of their last 3 trips to Shimizu, though they were certainly made to work hard for their victory 12 months ago. A flowing team move was finished off by Kosuke Onose to send Gamba into the sheds one up at the break. However, the men from Suita then had to withstand a 30 minute onslaught of S-Pulse pressure culminating in centre-back Yugo Tatsuta’s headed equaliser. The scores weren’t level for long though, as a Fujiharu run and cut back found Kazuma Watanabe and the veteran buried the ball past Togo Umeda in the home goal to ensure the 3 points went to Gamba.


Gamba Osaka

With players being rotated and formations chopping and changing, it’s something of a fool’s game trying to predict Gamba starting elevens these days, but I’ve given it a shot below. The Nerazzurri started in a 3-5-2 against Tokushima with Okuno (right) and Onose (left) playing as wing-backs, Ju Se-jong anchored the midfield and had Kurata (right) and Yajima (left) ahead of him while Ichimi partnered Leandro Pereira in attack. There are three main points I want to make about the tactics used on Monday.

* As mentioned previously with my ‘fish out of water’ comments re Okuno at right wing-back, it’s not his position and he was cruelly exposed by the rampaging Kazuki Nishiya of Tokushima. Right centre-back Genta Miura was often dragged out of place as a result of through balls played into the gap between him and Okuno and the whole central defence was thrown into disarray as a result. I went deep on this topic with Sam Robson on the J Talk Podcast a few months ago following a 2-0 defeat to Nagoya when Kosuke Onose was selected at right-back, so this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.

* A midfield three with one holding player and two in more advanced positions leaves Gamba’s backline more exposed than playing (to use Japanese parlance) a double-volante system. This was shown under Miyamoto in 2019 and the early part of 2020 and it was on display again on Monday night as Masaki Watai, operating in the number 10 role, had a field day running directly at Ju Se-jong and the Gamba centre-backs.

* Unfortunately it seems that the more Kazunari Ichimi plays the less likely it appears that he will be at Gamba next year. He looked to be lacking in confidence on Monday night, was ponderous and indecisive in possession, and offered little in the way of attacking prowess. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him return to Kyoto, regardless of whether they’re in J1 or J2, in 2022.

**After writing this piece, it was announced (August 11) that Ichimi would be joining Tokushima on a full deal, they obviously saw things a bit differently to me! I know I’ve been critical of the player’s performance above, but I certainly wouldn’t say the same about his attitude or efforts, and I wish him all the best for the future. As an aside, expect to see Gamba bring in another Japanese forward before the transfer window closes on Friday, Vissel Kobe appear to be overloaded in that area and Noriaki Fujimoto is a former Gamba Junior and Junior Youth player.**

Team News
The only fresh piece of team news is Yosuke Ideguchi’s absence from the squad for the Vortis game. The central midfielder has only been seen once since the team returned from the ACL in Uzbekistan, a brief cameo in the home clash with Marinos, I guess he has suffered a flare up of whatever was keeping him out of action until last Friday. No update on Wellington Silva’s groin injury yet, but it’s unlikely he’ll feature here while Ryu Takao (ankle) is definitely out, as are, Jun Ichimori, Haruto Shirai and Shin Won-ho. The silence has been deafening regarding Yota Sato’s continuous absence since the ACL and there has been nothing on Yuya Fukuda or Dai Tsukamoto’s leg muscle injuries sustained in that tournament. If any of these players are approaching full fitness then expect to see them get an outing in next Wednesday’s (August 18) Emperor’s Cup tie at home to Matsumoto Yamaga.
**Update – Gamba’s official Instagram account on Wednesday 11 August showed Yuya Fukuda back in training with the first team.**

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Shimizu S-Pulse

After a brief flirtation with 4-3-3/4-5-1 at the start of the year and a couple of dabbles with a back 3, Spanish kantoku Miguel Ángel Lotina has now settled on a rigid 4-4-2 setup. Defence was a massive issue for S-Pulse across the 2019 and 2020 seasons where they conceded 2.03 and 2.06 goals per game respectively. The former Verdy and Cerezo boss has got that figure down to a more respectable 1.39 this term thanks largely to pre-season signings such as, goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda (Portimonense), centre-back Yoshinori Suzuki (Oita) and utility men Teruki Hara (Tosu) and Eiichi Katayama (Cerezo). Issues have crept up when these players have sustained injuries and last year’s backline has been called into action, but the rearguard has now been further bolstered by the summer capture of one of Lotina’s favourite lieutenants during his time at Ajinomoto Stadium, Akira Ibayashi (latterly of Hiroshima).

Central midfield has often been fingered as an area of concern during this campaign, with veteran Ryo Takeuchi generally being paired with the less experienced Kota Miyamoto which has met with mixed results. Again, in a bid to keep their head above water, Shimizu have looked to the transfer market for upgrades. Daiki Matsuoka, a rather surprising purchase from 3rd placed Sagan Tosu, made his debut in the 2-2 draw with Marinos while Ronaldo (not that one) will soon join him in the S-Pulse engine room, coming in from Flamengo. Swiss-born, Kosovo international winger Benjamin Kololli (FC Zurich) is another intriguing summer acquisition with a pretty decent pedigree.

Four players have left the Nihondaira on loan deals during the mid-season break. Long serving wide-man Shota Kaneko, whose flame burned brightly in 2018, but has since dimmed considerably, made a slightly controversial move to prefectural rivals Júbilo Iwata. Elsewhere, youngsters Hikaru Naruoka (Sagamihara) and Ibrahim Junior Kuribara (Suzuka) will aim to get valuable experience and minutes on the field, while the injury-cursed Hideki Ishige will hope to get his career back on track at Fagiano Okayama. Rarely used centre-back Naoya Fukumori is the only permanent departure of the summer, he joined Vegalta Sendai.

Team News

The club confirmed on Tuesday (August 10) that Brazilian winger Carlinhos Junior injured his right knee in the match against Kawasaki Frontale on July 17 and would be absent for around 6 weeks. Key centre-back Yoshinori Suzuki (fractured skull) has been missing for the past 6 matches, as have Elsinho and Keita Nakamura, though I haven’t seen any injury news about them. Central midfielder Renato Augusto is a long-term absentee and is currently doing rehabilitation after undergoing knee surgery. Katsuhiro Nakayama and Akira Silvano Disaro weren’t in the matchday squad for the Marinos game, I’m not sure if that was due to physical condition or non-selection. I’m unsure if either Ronaldo or Benjamin Kololli are in contention to play here as they may be lacking sharpness after having to go through 14 day quarantine periods upon arriving in Japan. Brazilian defenders Valdo and Elsinho both currently sit on 3 yellow cards apiece meaning a 1 match suspension looms the next time they are cautioned.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





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