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Shonan Bellmare vs Gamba Osaka 6 December 2020 Match Preview

Shonan Bellmare vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 31
Shonan BMW Stadium Hiratsuka
Sunday 6 December 15:00

Last Time Out

Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu


Gamba were left to rue yet another sluggish start, and later the form of visiting goalkeeper Park Il-gyu as they let two points get away from them in a disappointing 1-1 home draw against Sagan Tosu on Sunday evening. Just 4 days after the nightmare in Kawasaki, Nerazzurri kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes. Shunya Suganuma and Shuhei Kawasaki (1st J1 start) replaced the benched Gen Shoji (possibly still not fully fit) and Yuki Yamamoto, however, the big surprise was the temporary return of the 3-5-2 formation with Yajima sitting at the base of the midfield and Kurata (right) and Kawasaki (left) playing just ahead of him.

Shorn of Yosuke Ideguchi’s ball-winning capabilities in the centre of the park, Gamba were slow out of the blocks once again and were quickly behind for the 4th contest in a row (80% of the games Ideguchi has missed!) Sagan midfield duo Riki Harakawa and Daiki Matsuoka controlled the tempo early doors and it was no surprise when they took the lead in the 11th minute. Yajima had his pocket picked by Renzo Lopez and a mix up between Takao and Higashiguchi allowed 18 year-old Ryunosuke Sagara, making his first ever J1 start, to net. Truth be told, from a Tosu perspective, they probably scored too early, as although they remained a threat on the counter in the opening stanza, taking advantage of the acres of space available in the Gamba midfield, slowly, but surely, the Nerazzurri, inspired by Usami, took a vice-like grip on proceedings. Sagan were left hanging on for half-time with Park denying both Usami and Patric, while Suganuma headed a corner off the bar, still they led 1-0 going into the interval.

Both sides made changes early in the second half, Gamba switching to a 4-4-2 with Yuki Yamamoto entering the fray, but I can’t say they really changed the flow of the game as the wind was definitely blowing very much in the home side’s favour anyway. Sagan were their own worst enemy at times, giving the ball away under pressure in their defensive third. Perhaps a lesson Gamba can learn from this is, if that kind of intensity is present from the start of a match then they might not have to claw themselves back from 1-0 down every week. Patric’s equaliser in the 77th minute came after essentially 30 minutes of sustained Gamba pressure, Kazuma Watanabe, another substitute, fed Ryu Takao down the right and his centre was expertly flicked home by the Brazilian for his 7th of the campaign (and 4th in his last 9 matches). After that, young forward Shoji Toyama (once again coming on in the right wing position) had 2 good chances to win it, while another 2nd half replacement, Tosu right-back Ryoya Morishita, may well have caught the eye of the Gamba recruitment department with an incredible run from the edge of his own penalty area which culminated in a shot just wide of Higashiguchi’s right-hand post. It ended 1-1, Gamba have steadied the ship after the 5-0 hiding at Kawasaki and still have Emperor’s Cup qualification in their own hands ahead of their 3 remaining J1 fixtures.

A glimpse into 2021

With a full 7 days between fixtures and the news that Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is set to pen a new deal, I thought I’d add in a little bonus section this week to round up potential transfer activity this off-season. Meiji University centre-back Yota Sato is already confirmed, Gamba don’t often sign players from university (especially ones outside Kansai), but when they do they are usually decent (Yamamoto, Takao, Fujiharu, Hiroyuki Abe, heck even Kim Jung-ya has been a J1 player for 9 seasons!). FC Seoul midfielder Ju Se-jong looks set to join and this should help with covering any future Ideguchi absences, Albirex Niigata wunderkind Shion Homma is also a rumoured target, though Gamba will likely face stiff competition domestically, and perhaps from abroad, for his signature. Central midfielders, Ko Ise and Ryusei Sugano, right-winger Jiro Nakamura and full-back / wing-back Keishi Murakami could be promoted to the top team for 2021 after some solid displays in J3 this year.

In terms of departures, Leo Takae (Machida), Takahiro Ko and Mizuki Hayashi (both Yamaguchi), Akito Takagi (Matsumoto), Mizuki Ichimaru (FC Ryukyu) and Yasuhito Endo (Iwata) are all currently on loan to J2 sides, Endo has been offered a contract for next season, but I could see all the others, with the possible exception of Takae, moving on permanently. Veteran forward Kazuma Watanabe’s transfer to Yokohama FC is all but confirmed with Kazunari Ichimi moving in the opposite direction after 2 years out on loan. Jubilo centre-back Ryo Shinzato will likely return to Shizuoka when his rental deal is up, while fellow loanees Jefferson Tabinas (Kawasaki) and Haruki Saruta (Kashiwa) also appear to have no future in Suita with the disbandment of the U23 side next season. Youngsters, Ren Shibamoto, Tatsuya Yamaguchi and Haruto Shirai are all in line to be loaned out, or in the case of Shirai, probably released. South Korean goalie Lee Yunoh, currently on loan from Vegalta Sendai may be offered a deal though, after overcoming a horror J3 debut to turn in some decent performances. Daisuke Takagi seems to be on his way to a J3 contract rather than a J2 one for 2021, to use a quote from the FC Tokyo Kai-Guys vernacular, he’s been unable to “hit a cow’s backside with a banjo” this year.

My suggestions for potential upgrades aside from Sato, Ju and Homma are as follows. A Brazilian forward to replace the likely to depart Ademilson (how much money is there to do this, I’m not sure), and a right-back as, at present, Ryu Takao is the only specialist for that position in the squad. Fukuda, Miura, Matsuda and Okuno can play there, but to varying degrees, they are all shoving square pegs into round holes. My picks would be either Tosu’s Ryoya Morishita (see match report above) or Nagasaki’s Seiya Maikuma (senpai of Yuya Fukuda at Higashi Fukuoka High School), with Tochigi SC speedster Hayato Kurosaki being an outside bet.

Shonan Bellare vs Gamba Osaka Match Lowdown

It’s a big game for Gamba as the battle for 2nd place looks set to go down to the wire. The Nerazzurri have Nagoya (3 points, back, same number of games played) and Cerezo (4 behind, 1 game in hand) breathing down their necks and can ill afford any more slip ups in the race to the finish. A win in this encounter will essentially seal a top 4 spot and probable qualification for the 2021 Asian Champions League, an outcome I’m sure all supporters of a blue and black persuasion would have accepted prior to the season’s commencement. Patric, MVP in the 1-1 draw with Tosu, said in his hero interview that the squad would be going all out to get 2nd spot with only fixtures at, Yokohama FC (15th) and home to Shimizu (17th) remaining after this one.

Despite battling a string of injuries, Gamba still boast an 11-3-2 record over their last 16 games while managing to blood a number of younger players (Kawasaki, Toyama, Tsukamoto, Okuno etc), so the future does look quite rosy at the moment, in that respect. In spite of the 5-0 defeat at Kawasaki in their previous match, Gamba are still J1’s best away side with 10 wins and 33 points already in the bag after 15 road trips. The squad has had a slightly patched up feel to it over the past few rounds and hopefully a break of 7 days between the Tosu clash and this game, and then a further 10 day gap until the Yokohama FC match will allow time for the likes of Ideguchi, Onose and Miura to return to full fitness in order to help get that final away points total up to 39 and earn a highest league finish since 2015.

Our hosts on Sunday afternoon, Shonan Bellmare, should approach this game in confident mood having already seen off the Nerazzurri 1-0 at Panasonic Stadium before embarking on what is currently their best run of the year. Dreadful early season form saw them win just 2 of their first 21 league fixtures, a run of results that would surely have seen kantoku Bin Ukishima canned had relegation been a possibility. The Hiratsuka-based side have stuck with their man though, and it’s begun to reap some mild rewards. Just one defeat (1-3 at Nagoya) in their past 9 games has them in 16th place in J1, exactly where they finished the 2019 campaign. I put them 15th in my pre-season predictions and it’s difficult to make an argument that they should realistically be finishing any higher than that consistently given their budget constraints and regularly having their best players plucked away by Kanto rivals.

With just 27 goals in 30 league contests to date this year, Shonan possess J1’s weakest attack. They’ve failed to hit the back of the net in 1/3 of their games (compared with 11 times last season), though they have scored at least once in their past 7 outings. Interestingly, they’ve only netted more than twice on one occasion in 2020, a surprise 3-2 win at home to Kashiwa on October 18th and at present they are the only J1 side to average less than a goal per match. At the back things have been reasonably solid for a team in their position, they have conceded an average of 1.47 times per game this year, much better than the 1.85 in 2019. They have, however, let in 3 or more in a single fixture 8 times this campaign, though the aforementioned Nagoya loss is the only occasion it’s happened in the past 14 games. Indeed, things fell apart in the second half of 2019 after the Cho power harassment scandal and took a while to improve, but there definitely seem to be some green shoots of recovery if recent form is anything to go by.

Shonan are statistically the worst away side in J1, with the 1-0 at Gamba one of only two road wins in 2020, however, at home they are unbeaten in their last 5 games, 3 wins and 2 draws which have included 2 clean sheets and just one failure to score (0-0 vs Tosu). These recent victories represent 75% of their total for the season, only Kashima (1-0 on July 22nd) were conquered in Bellmare’s first 10 home contests, but since then, Kashiwa (3-2), Yokohama FC and Yokohama F.Marinos (both 1-0) have all bitten the dust at the BMW Stadium.

What have been some of the factors behind this recent upsurge? For one, I think looking to the future and giving young, hungry players a shot has given this Shonan side a real boost. 18 year-old Taiga Hata has become a regular at left wing-back, centre-back Koki Tachi (173cm), in his first year out of Nihon University, has formed a decent understanding with partner Hirokazu Ishihara (169cm) in what is certainly not an orthodox pairing in this height obsessed football culture. Midfielders Daiki Kaneko (22) and Mitsuki Saito (21) have both been stand-outs and look set to move onwards and upwards next year. Losing talents like those at such a young age kind of highlights why Bellmare have to resort to measures like playing sub 180cm centre-backs.

Defender / midfield Satoshi Tanaka is a youth team player who’ll turn pro in 2021, but has made 13 J1 appearances on a type-2 contract this season and he’ll be joined in the arrivals lounge by midfielders, Sho Hiramatsu (Rissho University) and Taiyo Hiraoka (Rissho High School). Who knows, maybe Shonan’s partnership with Fukushima United will finally bear fruit in the form of Nigerian forward Ismaila (13 goals in 30 J3 games), it’s certainly an area that needs an upgrade. Top scorer for the year Naoki Ishihara (6 goals in 23 matches) only returned from a fractured cheekbone last week against S-Pulse and in his absence, 2 players more normally thought of as attacking midfielders, Temma Matsuda and Hiroto Nakagawa deputised. In Scotland we call this kind of formation the “Levein.” If anyone cares for an explanation, please drop me a message in the comments.

Head to Head

Shonan upset Gamba 1-0 at Panasonic Stadium back in September, the first time they’d won in Suita since their Bellmare Hiratsuka days. In Kanagawa, Gamba have a pretty strong recent record, a 1-0 reverse during the Levir Culpi era aside. Takashi Usami talked big about hitting the back of the net more frequently ahead of last year’s corresponding fixture and he lived up to those words with a double that helped sink Shonan, who at that time were still rocking from Cho Kwi-jae’s dismissal, 3-0. Gamba’s number 33 would continue that fine form for the rest of the season, bagging a further 3 goals in the final 4 league games.

Team News

Gamba Osaka


Yuji Ono (knee surgery) is out for the season, while there is still no news on the future of Brazilian forward Ademilson (club suspension) who was arrested back on October 25th. I have seen rumours that several Brazilian Serie A sides are interested in repatriating him, though his salary demands could be a stumbling block. Elsewhere, captain Genta Miura, midfield maestro Yosuke Ideguchi and right winger Kosuke Onose all watched Sunday night’s 1-1 draw with Tosu from the stands with Miyamoto dropping hints in an interview that Ideguchi and Onose won’t be back this year. In more positive news, fan favourite Patric, currently Gamba’s top scorer this season, will make his 200th J1 appearance in this match (Kawasaki 8, Kofu 16, Gamba 114, Hiroshima 61 to date).

Shonan Bellmare

Impressive on-loan ‘keeper Kosei Tani will have to sit this one out as per the terms of his loan agreement with Gamba, and the most experienced stopper in the squad, Daiki Tomii, last started in the 1-0 win in Suita back in September, he hasn’t made the bench since the away defeat to Kashima on September 23rd and I haven’t seen any injury reported. Promising left wing-back Toichi Suzuki missed all of November with tonsillitis, though prior to that he had been out of favour with his coach having only started once (against his former youth side Cerezo) since being subbed off in the first half of the 4-2 drubbing at Yokohama FC back on August 15th. Norwegian forward Tarik Elyounoussi is out for the year after sustaining an injury in the match with Yokohama F.Marinos on November 11th. The 2-0 win at Vissel Kobe on November 15th was the last time we saw, centre-back Shunta Tanaka (youth team player potentially with high school commitments), midfield anchor Daiki Kaneko (apparently off to Urawa for 2021) and Naoki Yamada (got an assist in that game), I haven’t seen any confirmation why they’ve been missing. Also in the injured/dropped? column are, on-loan Kawasaki wing-back Kazuaki Mawatari who has played just 7 J1 games this year, with his last appearance being the 3-0 home loss to Shimizu on September 19th, experienced midfielder Tsukasa Umesaki who missed rounds 2-20 with a knee injury, returned for 2 games then disappeared again after the match at Cerezo on October 14th, and left sided defender Shunya Mori who is yet to play in J1 since moving from Zweigen Kanazawa in the summer of 2019.

Predicted Line Ups

I have Gamba lining up in a 4-4-2, though it is possible we’ll see Miyamoto use 3-5-2 again (hopefully not, in my opinion). With a 10 day window until the next fixture with Yokohama FC, the only real changes I can see in personnel compared with my chosen eleven is if Miura, Shoji, Onose or Ideguchi return to full-fitness ahead of this clash. I guess I might be being too optimistic in thinking that after his double at the same venue in the Levain Cup in August, Shoji Toyama may get a run out up front?



Shonan have been lining up in a 3-5-2 formation in recent games and have been reasonably consistent with their player selection. A fully fit Daiki Kaneko would surely usurp Shibata from the holding midfield role while I’ve put Naoki Ishihara in for a first start since recovering from injury, Ibusuki or Nakagawa are alternatives.



Match Prediction

Gamba need to win this one to keep their Emperor’s Cup hopes alive, Shonan have 2021 contracts and their coach’s job to play for. I’m banking on Gamba to grind out yet another win on the road with a trademark 1-0, Patric netting the decisive goal with a header from a corner….there’s a specific prediction for you!

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Gamba Osaka 0-1 Shonan Bellmare and Weekly Round-up

The Match

Have you ever seen a movie trailer and thought, this looks like 100 other films I’ve seen? Well, think of every football match you’ve ever watched where the underdog upsets the favourite by a score of 1-0 and you’ve just imagined the Gamba vs Shonan game from last night.

Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made three changes to his starting lineup ahead of this clash with Ryu Takao, Yuya Fukuda and Kazuma Watanabe coming in for Kim Young-gwon (not in the squad – rested?), Hiroki Fujiharu and Ademilson (both on the bench). Bellmare made two alterations with Daiki Tomii replacing the ineligible Kosei Tani and Temma Matsuda, normally a midfielder, playing up top with the veteran Naoki Ishihara, in place of on-loan Japan youth international Yuto Iwasaki.

The first half began rather brightly with Shonan in surprisingly expansive mood perhaps inspired by the better atmosphere inside Panasonic Stadium now that rhythmic clapping is once again allowed. A couple of slack passes out of defence from Miura and Shoji inside the opening 10 minutes allowed Bellmare chances to break, but their shots didn’t trouble Higashiguchi while Gamba struggled for fluency in their attacks, the partnership between Usami and Watanabe certainly looks in need of fine tuning. A pretty physical first stanza did have bright sparks, generally these were provided down the Gamba flanks by Takao and Fukuda, but they were unable to find team-mates with a killer pass and we went into half-time goalless.

The second period followed a similar pattern to the first with Shonan starting sharply without ever really looking too dangerous, before Gamba slowly took over possession and territory, but found a multitude of bodies blocking their path to goal. With a Gamba dominated 0-0 looking the most likely outcome, Bellmare struck a sucker punch in the 75th minute. A neat cross from deep by Daiki Kaneko (more on him later) evaded a tired looking Gamba central defence and found Kazunari Ohno who’d advanced from the back to supply a striker’s finish that flew high into the net.

Gamba went into all out attack mode in the final 15 minutes with Patric, Ademilson, Usami and Kawasaki all on the field together. Shonan threw bodies in the way to block all the shots that came their way and the closest Gamba came was a placed effort from Usami which went just wide and when Ademilson rattled the bar from distance in additional time after a nice lay-off from young Kawasaki. It was not to be and Shonan notched their first away win of 2020 and their first ever victory in Suita under their current guise. Gamba, on the other hand, have now lost 5 of their opening 8 home games this year and after losing only once in their first 7 league fixtures have now tasted defeat 5 times in the past 8. How will Miyamoto deal with this mini-crisis?


Analysis

* Interesting to note that it was Gen Shoji, not captain Genta Miura, giving the pre-match pep-talk in the team huddle. Is Miura captain in name only with Shoji the one really pulling the strings? Is this causing friction at the back and resulting in poor performances? Have I become a tabloid journalist?
* Rotation, Rotation, Rotation – I fully understand that even though this year is crazy in many ways managers will want to finish as high up the league as possible in order to keep their jobs. However, I feel we should really be rotating a bit more than we are. Miura is clearly exhausted having started every league game and only being subbed once, Usami looks like he’s playing at 50% capacity most of the time and I’ve no idea how Ideguchi keeps going, but I’m dreading him getting injured.
* I think I watched too much JLeague yesterday, I also took in Sapporo (our next opponents) vs Urawa and the first half of Yokohama FC (no Ichimi or Matsuo!) vs Nagoya, so I ended up dreaming that Genta Miura joined Kawasaki, if that does happen I’ll consider it to be my first ever blog exclusive.
* I think ‘grounder ball’ has overtaken ‘middle shoot’ and ‘heading shoot’ as the most irritating thing the DAZN commentators say in a game. Also a shout out to the fact they seemed to be getting sponsored to say that it was Yuki Yamamoto’s third start in-a-row every time he touched the ball in the first half.
* I really enjoyed the chat I had after the game on Twitter, for the views of other English speaking Gamba fans let me point you in the direction of that…


Gamba MVP

There were shouts from some quarters for this to be given to Ryu Takao or Yuya Fukuda and I agree that they performed better than expected and are definitely worthy of future selection, however, I’m going to hand it to Kosuke Onose as I feel he was excellent. He was able to beat his opponent Hirokazu Ishihara on a number of occasions and put quality into the box, unfortunately on this day it didn’t come off, but I salute his efforts, his composure and control.

From the Scout’s Office – Daiki Kaneko


Those of you who checked out my match preview will know that I was particularly interested in watching Kaneko against Gamba. The 22 year-old Tokyo native didn’t disappoint, providing the assist for the winning goal in addition to protecting his backline, blocking shots and spraying some neat passes about.

He comes with a good pedigree having attended Funabashi Municipal High School in Chiba where he played alongside Gamba’s Takahiro Ko, future Shonan team-mate Daiki Sugioka, Tosu’s Teruki Hara and Sendai’s Takumi Mase amongst others. From there he moved to Kanagawa University in Yokohama, but unusually for a Japanese athlete, he dropped out of college after his first year to turn pro with then newly-promoted Shonan. After initially making a name for himself in Bellmare’s epic 2018 Levain Cup winning run, playing nine times and scoring twice, he became more of a regular in the league last year. This time out he missed the J1 opener with Urawa back in February, was an unused sub in the first match after the restart at home to Sendai, but since then he has been in the starting eleven for all but one league match, completing the full 90 minutes in each of his 12 starts.

With a good build, a nice range of passing, as well as the ability to snuff out danger through good positioning, Kaneko will surely be on the radar of potential suitors. Shonan’s formation is identical to Gamba’s, so he would have no issues transitioning over, though FC Tokyo, in particular, might also be interested as they currently have the more attack minded Yojiro Takahagi playing in Kaneko’s role.

U23 Round-up

Without their attacking trident of Shoji Toyama, Dai Tsukamoto and Shuhei Kawasaki, Gamba U23 went down to a battling 1-0 loss at Kataller Toyama on Saturday night. Toyama have proven to be one of the toughest nuts for Gamba to crack in their brief J3 history as this was Kataller’s 7th win in 9 encounters.

Owing to a tough work schedule I only caught the second-half of this match then watched the DAZN highlights later. For any of you confused by the TV line-up graphic and also Keishi Murakami (a wing-back/ full-back) being listed as a forward on the JLeague website (why do they do that?), Gamba’s formation was; Yu Fukumoto in goals, 3 centre-backs (right to left) Riku Matsuda, Jefferson Tabinas ©, Tatsuya Yamaguchi, an upside-down midfield triangle with each player taking turns at the base, I believe at the start Kohei Okuno was in the anchor role with Ko Ise on the right and Ren Shibamoto on the left, Keishi Murakami was right wing-back and the impressive Keisuke Kurokawa was on the left with Haruto Shirai and Ryusei Sugano in attack.

From the highlights it seemed Toyama had the better of the first half and were rewarded with an unfortunate, from a Gamba perspective, comedy own goal from Yamaguchi, though he may look to blame the bumpy playing surface. The U23s were in control for much of the second half, but looked toothless shorn of Toyama up-front, a triple-chance sparked by Ryusei Sugano’s header off the bar that was then followed up by a header cleared off the line and finally a decent stop by Kataller ‘keeper Hiroki Oka was as close as they came. They drop a place in the standings and currently sit 13th with 15 points from as many games. Next up a home clash with 11th placed Vanraure Hachinohe at Panasonic Stadium on Saturday.

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Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare 13 September 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare
J1 2020 Round 16
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Sunday 13 September 19:00 (JST)


Last Time Out

Gamba were handed a chastening 3-0 defeat by Kashiwa Reysol on Wednesday night, their worst result of the year so far and one that will give a fair bit of ammunition to critics of Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s 3-5-2 formation. The match marked the third time in the last 5 games that the Nerazzurri have conceded 3 goals and moves them down to 8th in the standings.

Buoyed by the 4-1 win at Sendai four days previously, Gamba named the same starting eleven and subs for the first time this year, however they got off to the worst possible start when Kenyan hitman Michael Olunga raced onto a long ball in the 2nd minute and buried a left foot shot across Masaaki Higashiguchi. The first 20 minutes were all Reysol with long balls for Olunga and Hiroto Goya to chase causing all sorts of trouble for Gamba’s backline, while Ataru Esaka and Sachiro Toshima floated between the defence and midfield lines and threatened the visitor’s goal seemingly at will.

Following the water break Kashiwa took their foot off the gas pedal and the rest of the first half was largely even with Gamba probing, but aside from a Shu Kurata effort that Kim Seung-gyu tipped onto the bar they rarely threatened. The tide shifted decisively in Reysol’s favour five minutes from half-time when the impressive Esaka rose highest to power home a header from 6 yards out, 2-0 and Gamba left with a mountain to climb in the second half.

The away side came out swinging for the second 45 and there were weak claims for a penalty when Onose tumbled in the box at the end of a flowing attacking move and later Fujiharu and Usami both tested Kim. However, Kashiwa struck back and Gamba’s defence was once again ruthlessly punished by the Reysol attack in the 62nd minute. With the visitors pushing for a goal to bring them back into things, and on the run of play it would probably have been deserved, Kashiwa broke upfield and Goya crossed in from the right, Olunga found himself unmarked at the near post, but fluffed his attempted header, he needn’t worry though as Esaka was behind him and made it 2 goals for the night and 5 for the season in addition to 5 assists. 3-0 it would finish, though things could have got worse as Higashiguchi saved well from Olunga and Toshima on the break while Goya’s lob hit the bar and came down on the goal-line. Injury ravaged Reysol will be delighted, Gamba on the other hand have a lot of work ahead of them to arrest their current slide.

Bottom of the pile Shonan raced into an early 2-0 lead at fellow strugglers Oita on Wedneday night. A 5th of the season from veteran Naoki Ishihara and a second strike in as many games from Kazuki Oiwa had them in dreamland after just 11 minutes. Trinita were stunned, but roused for a spirited second-half comeback with Toshio Shimakawa and Kohei Isa finding the back of the net inside the last 12 minutes. In the 4th and final minute of additional time, on-loan Gamba ‘keeper Kosei Tani could only watch as a cross from deep struck his left hand post and fortunately bounced to safety meaning both sides had to settle for a point.

Gamba vs Shonan The Lowdown

Gamba come into this game with just a solitary victory in their previous 5 outings, meaning they sit in 8th place albeit wins in their games in hand would take them above Kashima in 6th and Urawa in 7th while pulling them level with Wednesday’s tormentors Kashiwa in 5th, so perhaps things aren’t as bleak as I painted them in the match summary above. Shonan currently lie 18th and last in the standings with their fans surely thankful that relegation isn’t on the table this year. Truth be told their league position can’t be a surprise to many as they only maintained their top flight status as a result of a 1-1 draw at home to Tokushima Vortis in the promotion / relegation play-off at the end of last year.

As laid out in the Kashiwa Match Preview, the opening exchanges of this game will be crucial as Gamba are yet to lose in 2020 after scoring the opening goal and Kashima have been the only team to come back and draw with the Nerazzurri having been behind at half time. Conversely, the men from Suita have come from behind just once to win this year, against Oita in round 5.

Shonan have conceded 3 or more goals in 6 of their 14 J1 games this year, though surprisingly with that stat in mind, 5 teams have let in more, Shimizu, Yokohama FC, Sapporo, Yokohama F.Marinos and Vissel Kobe. Attack appears to be where the bulk of the issues lie, they’ve found the back of the net just 13 times in 14 games with only Tosu having a lower overall total, though they can point to having played 3 fewer league matches so far than Bellmare.

Bellmare have only won once in the league in 2020, 1-0 at home to Kashima back on July 22nd and actually their 2-2 draw at Oita on Wednesday was their first road point of the year. This leaves them bottom of the away league standings, though it is interesting to note that they score and concede substantially more goals outside of Hiratsuka, 9 of their 13 league goals have come away from home while 19 of their 26 goals against have been let in on road trips.

Gamba have been inconsistent at home with three victories against Oita, Hiroshima and Yokohama FC being outweighed by four home defeats (the same total as in the whole of 2019) at the hands of Cerezo, Kawasaki, Urawa and FC Tokyo. Recent opponents have had success by pressuring Gamba’s defenders into mistakes and Shonan will no doubt look to emulate this. Both sides will most likely line up in identical 3-5-2 formations, though owing to the tough schedule over the past week we will surely see some rotation take place with youngsters and fringe players given a chance to shine.

Head to Head

Gamba generally have an excellent record both home and away in this fixture. As the table below shows, the 1-0 reverse in Kanagawa in 2018 thanks to Shunsuke Kikuchi’s early strike is Shonan’s only recent victory over the Nerazzurri. In Suita, you have to go back to 1998 to find a Bellmare victory, though at that time they went by the moniker Bellmare Hiratsuka and they triumphed 2-1 at Expo 70’ Memorial Stadium thanks to an extra-time golden goal as that was the system employed by the JLeague in those days. In fact, combing through the record books, a 3-0 Bellmare Hiratsuka win in 1994 and a 4-2 triumph the following year are the only times they’ve won league games away to Gamba inside 90 minutes.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Left-sided attacking midfielder Yuji Ono is out for the season with knee ligament damage while Shinya Yajima has missed the past couple of games with an ankle knock, it’s still unclear how long he’ll be out for. Elsewhere everyone else is theoretically ready to play, though fatigue and recent poor form may see a number of changes to the line up for this match, Yasuhito Endo, Shunya Suganuma, Yuya Fukuda, Patric, Kazuma Watanabe and even young Shuhei Kawasaki could make their first starts for a while (or first ever in the case of Kawasaki). Kawasaki’s partner in crime with the U23s, Shoji Toyama could also make it back into the top team squad, his only previous league involvement being as an unused sub against Hiroshima in July.

Shonan Bellmare

As with all JLeague sides, information about Shonan Bellmare injuries is hard to find so as usual I’ll start with those who definitely won’t play before moving onto speculation. Goalkeeper Kosei Tani can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement, experienced midfielder Tsukasa Umesaki is also out with a muscle problem and the unlucky Yuki Ohashi has a broken collarbone. Forwards Tarik and Hiroshi Ibusuki, ex-Urawa attacking midfielder Naoki Yamada and wing-back Kazuaki Mawatari have all missed the past 2 games but it’s unclear whether that’s been down to injury or non-selection. Young left wing-back Toichi Suzuki started the season well, but was subbed early in Shonan’s 4-2 hammering at Yokohama FC and has only made one sub appearance since while another wide player Shunya Mouri hasn’t featured in the league since joining from Zweigen Kanazawa last summer. Hiroto Nakagawa, an attacking midfielder who is the younger brother of 2019 J1 MVP Teruhito is another who is out of the picture at the moment.

Know Your Opponent – Shonan Bellmare

Kantoku: Bin Ukishima Appointed: 10 October 2019, Record: P 20 W 2 D 5 L 13 F 17 A 35 Points Per Game 0.55 Failed to Score 8 Clean Sheets 3

GK #1 Daiki Tomii – Has spent most of his career as a backup, save for a 2 year spell as Gunma first-choice in 2014 and 2015. Was called into action late last season when Ukishima dropped Yota Akimoto after one mistake too many in Shonan’s horrible end-of-season run. Started 2020 between the sticks but was quickly usurped by young Kosei Tani, with the Gamba loanee unavailable he should see off Masaaki Goto to start this one.

RCB #4 Keisuke Saka – Recruited out of Juntendo University ahead of Bellmare’s return to the top flight in 2018. At 174cm he must be one of the shortest centre-backs in J1, though that hasn’t stopped him from becoming a regular for Shonan over the past 3 years.

CB #22 Kazuki Oiwa – Hugely experienced former JEF United and Vegalta Sendai defender who is in his first year with the club. Surprisingly he’s the tallest of the three centre-backs at just 182cm. Poses a threat in the opposition area and has scored in each of Bellmare’s previous two matches, two more this season and he’ll have reached his career best total.

LCB #8 Kazunari Ohno – Another very experienced player who is now in his second stint with the club. Spent the bulk of his senior career with Albirex Niigata and started his current spell with Shonan in 2018. He’s on course to make his 200th J1 appearance if he can stay fit and in form this year.

RWB #6 Takuya Okamoto © – Club captain who spent several years with Urawa after graduating from their youth setup, however he never really made an impression on their top team. Now in his 5th campaign with Shonan, though the first three of those years were on loan from Reds before he made the deal permanent ahead of the start of last season.

RCM #18 Temma Matsuda – Diminutive central midfielder who can also play in a more offensive role. Originally from Kyushu, he came through the ranks at Higashi Fukuoka High School and then Kanoya Sports College in Kagoshima before initially moving to Kanagawa on a special designated player contract in 2017. He joined Shonan permanently the following year and has been a regular ever since.

DM #2 Daiki Kaneko – Probably the Bellmare player I’ll be keeping an eye on most in this match as he seems to fit the profile of someone who could play for a club higher up the league. The holding midfielder has been a mainstay in the side this year while the personnel around him have been rotated quite a bit. The former Funabashi Municipal High School graduate surprisingly cut short his studies at Kanagawa University in 2018 to turn pro with Shonan.

LCM #16 Mitsuki Saito – Like Kaneko, 21-year old Saito is a player that some of the teams in the upper echelons of J1 may be having a look at in the near future. A graduate of Bellmare’s youth system, he’s now in his 5th year as a pro and played a key role in Shonan’s 2018 Levain Cup run. Has played twice for Japan’s U23 and is in contention for a place in the Tokyo Olympics squad.

LWB #38 Hirokazu Ishihara – Another Bellmare Youth graduate who is back in Kanagawa after a loan spell with Avispa Fukuoka in 2019. Can play on either wing or even as a wide centre-back if necessary. 169cm tall Ishihara is most comfortable on the left flank and that’s where he’ll likely be deployed for this match.

RCF #13 Naoki Ishihara – Veteran forward who is enjoying a renaissance on the Shonan coast after a disappointing end to his career in Sendai. Comfortably Bellmare’s most dangerous goal threat this year with 5 strikes already. The wily Ishihara started his career with Shonan straight out of high school in 2003 and played 6 seasons with the men from Hiratsuka before going on to turn out for Omiya, Hiroshima, Urawa and Sendai. He’s currently just 8 matches away from making his 300th J1 appearance.

LCF #20 Yuto Iwasaki – Young forward who’s currently on-loan from Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. Highly rated and capped at every level from U17 to U23 by Japan, Iwasaki, like team-mate Saito, is in line to play at the Tokyo Olympics, should they ever take place. Unfortunately, his professional club career has not gone as smoothly as his international exploits and to date he’s mustered a mere 3 goals in 86 J1 and J2 appearances for Shonan, Sapporo and Kyoto. Even at the tender age of 22, he’s seemingly running out of time to prove he has what it takes to become a J1 level forward.

Other Options – Experienced wing-back Shota Kobayashi, another player who’s had multiple spells with the club may find himself in the starting eleven for this clash, as could the right-sided Kazuaki Mawatari, a Kawasaki loanee. Further forward, experienced former Kashiwa and Omiya man Akimi Barada is a central midfield option while Hidetoshi Miyuki, an off-season signing from Yamaguchi has been criminally underused this year. Ex-Urawa attacking midfielder Naoki Yamada, Norwegian international forward Tarik Elyounoussi and the tall Hiroshi Ibusuki could all come in assuming they are fit. With an eye on the future Bellmare have given young talent a chance in recent weeks in the form of midfielder Satoshi Tanaka, a youth team player who’ll be promoted to the top team next year and two special designated players, Kanoya Sports College forward Ryo Nemoto and Rissho University midfielder Sho Hiramatsu, it’ll be interesting to see if they get game time on Sunday.

Predicted Line Ups





Match Prediction

Gamba are not in great form and I expect the pack to be reshuffled a bit for this match against, on paper, the weakest side in the division. It won’t be a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but I think Gamba will have just enough in the tank to eek out a 2-1 win.

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Gamba News 13/08/20

I had already written most of my match preview for Gamba’s trip to Tosu this Saturday when the news broke that there had been a cluster of COVID-19 infections within the Sagan squad that caused them to shut down operations until August 25th. I didn’t want to put my hard work to waste so I’ve decided to publish the parts of my preview that are still relevant and have added in some new features, please let me know what you think. Finally I’d like to wish a speedy recovery to all those Sagan Tosu players and staff currently infected with coronavirus. お大事に!

Last Time Out

Gamba returned to winning ways at home to Yokohama FC last weekend with a smash-and-grab victory over an extremely game away side. There were two changes to the Nerrazzuri’s starting XI with Gen Shoji fully fit and ready to make his Gamba J1 debut between Miura and Kim at the back, while Brazilian forward Ademilson also returned from a short layoff to take Watanabe’s place alongside Usami in attack. Yuji Ono was once again selected ahead of Shu Kurata and Yajima and Ideguchi swapped places again with Yajima as the base of the midfield and 15-times capped by Japan, Ideguchi on the right.

The home team made a strong start against Yokohama, who had switched to a 4-4-2 formation and brought veterans Masahiko Inoha and Calvin Jong-a-Pin into their defence in preparation for a backs to the wall effort. Yajima and Ideguchi both shot off target in the opening 10 minutes as Gamba enjoyed near total control. FC rallied a little towards the midway point of the half, but on 34 minutes the men in blue and black went ahead. Good work down the left resulted in Ono feeding the ball to Onose on the edge of the box, the ex-Yokohama FC star unleashed a right-foot shot which deflected off team-mate Ademilson, wrong-footed goalkeeper Yuta Minami and flew into his bottom left corner. 1-0 half-time.

Gamba sought to kill off their opponents at the start of the second half, but were unable to create any clear cut chances and soon energy levels dropped off, possibly a touch of complacency crept in and Yokohama FC began to take a grip on proceedings. Possibly sparked by an incident where Yusuke Matsuo had his shirt pulled by Gen Shoji in the box but didn’t go down and thus didn’t get a penalty, the Kanagawa side started to overrun a tiring Gamba midfield and created presentable chances for attackers Koki Saito and Yusuke Minagawa as well as right-winger Takuya Matsuura. They got their reward on the hour mark when Hiroki Fujiharu made a sloppy back pass that didn’t reach Higashiguchi, Minagawa was able to bundle the ball past Gamba’s number 1 towards strike partner Saito and the impressive 18-year old swept the ball by Shoji on the line. 1-1, game on.

In the final half hour, Yokohama FC looked the more likely winners. It took Gamba a full 31 minutes to register their first chance of the half with Patric shooting across Minami but his effort went well wide. At the other end, Higashiguchi pulled off a great right-footed stop from Minagawa and veteran substitute Leandro Domingues fired over which prompted Gamba’s ‘keeper to kick the post in frustration at what he was seeing in front of him. Head-coach Miyamoto clearly agreed and freshened things up by bringing on Takao and Fukuda to replace Onose and Fujiharu as well as having Watanabe come on for the tiring Usami. These changes breathed new life into the Gamba attack and additional time brought a spell of sustained pressure. Another second-half substitute, Patric, was the hero, after having an earlier attempt correctly ruled out for offside, the 189cm behemoth met Yosuke Ideguchi’s corner and bulleted his header low to Minami’s right from about 5 yards out to win the game with essentially the last play. A hugely relieved Gamba claim their 6th victory of the year, Yokohama FC will be left kicking themselves for missing the chances they did.

On Wednesday night 17 year-old striker Shoji Toyama announced himself on the big stage with a first-half double that helped a Gamba side, whose starting XI average age was just 22.4, see off Shonan Bellmare 2-1. The three points gained from this game were not enough for the Nerrazzurri to qualify for the knock-out stages, though because of this year’s chaotic league schedule I’m not sure anyone in Suita is particularly upset.

Aside from Toyama’s debut and brace, there were also first top team appearances for, Jefferson Tabinas at centre-back, Kohei Okuno and U23 assist wizard Shuhei Kawasaki (4 goals, 12 assists in 34 J3 games) in midfield as well as wide-men Haruto Shirai, Dai Tsukamoto and Tatsuya Yamaguchi from the bench. Also Shunya Suganuma returned from injury to captain the side, and must have felt like a very old man indeed.

Tactical Notes

Not a whole lot to cover regarding Gamba this week, all the first choice starters are fit so Saturday’s lineup is what Miyamoto believes to be his best formation. With that said, I have a couple of concerns, the first of which is fatigue. Yokohama FC were able to dominate for large chunks of the second half and pick passes, including several through balls which took out both Gamba’s midfield and defence in one stroke. I largely put this down to Yajima, Ideguchi and Ono running out of energy following a tough run of games. Hopefully more rotation will take place in that crucial area as the effects of fresh legs could be easily seen following the introduction of Takao, Fukuda, Kurata and Patric. Secondly, last weekend was the first time in a while we’ve come up against an opponent really determined to ‘park the bus.’ We were able to create some chances, but not many, in the first half and for the opening half hour of the second stanza, build up play generally ended around Yokohama FC’s 18-yard line. This should serve as a wake up call ahead of future encounters with the likes of Shonan, Sendai and Tosu at home.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

It’s generally a clean bill of health to report for Gamba with last week’s starting XI being the first time this year that all first choice members have been available. Gen Shoji came through the game unscathed, though his workload may need to be managed moving forward, and Jun Ichimori had an excellent game between the sticks for Gamba U23 in their 2-1 win over Azul Claro Numazu on Sunday. Brazilian forward Ademilson notched his third goal of the campaign against Yokohama FC, but did seem to lack sharpness on his return to the first team. Outside of that, centre-back Shunya Suganuma returned against Shonan in the Levain Cup in midweek, but Ryo Shinzato’s, continued absence from all competitions suggests that he is on the treatment table.

From the Scout’s Office

I decided to add this section in for this match preview. Similar to Patric it won’t feature every week, but like the big man I hope it’ll have a big impact when it is used.

In the Yokohama FC preview, I identified central midfield as an area in need of an upgrade. This week staying home due to a minor infection gave me time to trawl through the leagues in search of talent. The rough parameters I set were, primary position is central midfield, aged between 23-30, at least 30 J1 appearances, willing to initially accept a role as backup in the rotation system. This is what I found, please note that not all players meet every category.

Secondly, I’d like to take a look at a player who troubled Gamba last week, Yokohama FC’s left-sided dynamo Yusuke Matsuo. Hiroki Fujiharu will turn 33 next season, so it’s possible Gamba will be in the market for a younger upgrade. At first glance Sendai University graduate Matsuo doesn’t fit the profile of recent Gamba signings, if we sign university players we tend to do it directly rather than wait until they’ve gained experience with another pro-team. However, due to COVID-19 this year, crowds have plummeted and this will surely hit teams with historically high average attendances, like Gamba, hard financially. With this in mind, we are likely to see the traditional ‘big boys’ battle it out over young Japanese talent with J1 experience in the coming transfer windows.

Yokohama FC have used Matsuo at left wing-back when they’ve operated the exact same 3-5-2 system as Gamba. Also, as shown on Saturday he can play as an orthodox left midfielder in a 4-4-2 and he mostly turned out as a left winger in YFC’s 4-2-3-1 formation last year. Theoretically he should have the skill set to play in the advanced left-side central midfield position currently being rotated between Ono and Kurata. Shu, like Fujiharu, will be 33 next season and Matsuo seems to tick a lot of boxes for Miyamoto. The kantoku is known for his fondness for players who can adapt to different systems and competently play in a number of positions.

I’m pretty sure there’s a dossier on Yusuke Matsuo sitting in Gamba’s scouting office right now, as well as quite a few other teams, Urawa? Kobe? Cerezo? Let me know what you think, how would he do with Gamba? Are there any other players you’d like Gamba to bring in within the next 6-12 months?

Know Your Future Opponent – J2 players likely to move to J1 clubs

With no opponent this weekend, I thought it was a good chance to give a rundown of some J2 talent that I believe will soon be playing in the top tier. Before I do, a couple of selection criteria I laid out were, young Japanese talents who are not currently on loan from J1 teams (no Daigo Takahashi or Kazuma Yamaguchi) and have never been contracted to a J1 team (sorry Hiroki Ito and Shuto Machino). Most of these players are forwards, but if the DAZN team of the week can do it, why can’t I?

Shogo Asada (22 years old, Kyoto Sanga) – As it’s alphabetical, my most surprising choice is first up. Centre-back Asada caught my eye in last night’s Kyoto vs Mito thriller. Although defending was not of the highest standard in general, both midfields left their backlines rather exposed, giving Asada, who spent 2019 on loan at Kamatamare Sanuki in J3, the chance to shine with some excellent blocks and interceptions.

Akira Silvano Disaro’ (24, Giravanz Kitakyushu) – Getting a lot of attention on J-Talk Extra Time, the ‘bald eagle’ has taken to life in J2 like a duck to water (that doesn’t really work does it?). He was in the stands as Giravanz rested a host of players against Kanazawa last night, but had scored in each of his previous four appearances. Possesses a very crisp shot and has built up a great understanding with his equally talented attacking team-mates.

Shion Homma (20, Albirex Niigata) I’m not really pushing the boat out with this one as anyone who watches J2 knows about this kid’s potential. The nimble left-winger blotted his copybook somewhat by getting foolishly sent off for two yellows against Yamaguchi, but not before he’d assisted Mauro for the game’s opening goal. It’s a matter of when, not if he makes it to a higher level.

Shion Inoue (23. Tokyo Verdy) Already identified by the FC Tokyo Kai-Guys as a potential answer to their midfield issues, Verdy youngster Inoue looks set to be the latest talent off their impressive production line. He’s played all but one J2 game so far in 2020 and has been a key cog in the pretty football Verdy tend to play. Really stood out with two goals and an assist in the 4-2 dismantling of Ventforet Kofu a few weeks back.

Mutsuki Kato (23, Zweigen Kanazawa) Got his third goal in as many games after coming on to replace the injured Lucao away at Kitakyushu on Wednesday. In fact the duo generally play as a partnership and have already contributed a combined 10 goals in 11 games this year. Former Sanfrecce Youth product Kato is currently in his rookie season as a pro having joined from Chuo University last off-season.

Kota Kawano (17, Renofa Yamaguchi) A bit of an internet sensation following his well taken finish against league leaders Nagasaki last month where he became J2’s youngest ever goalscorer. That strike prompted Yamaguchi to offer the High School 2nd grader his first professional contract. Given the good relationship between Gamba and Yamaguchi, could Kawano and Shoji Toyama be the Nerrazzuri’s strike pairing of the future?

Seiya Maikuma (22, V-Varen Nagasaki) Daniel from the Nagasaki Blue & Orange Blog assures me Maikuma will be in J1 as a V-Varen player next year and given their start to the campaign, I’m not going to argue. Previously senpai to Leo Takae and Yuya Fukuda at Higashi Fukuoka High School, Maikuma chose to attend Momoyama Gakuin University in Osaka before turning pro this season. Originally listed as a striker, he’s found a home playing either as an orthodox right-back or as a right-wing back depending on the formation employed by his coach. Scored his side’s third after coming on as a substitute against Thespakusatsu Gunma last night.

Kai Matsuzaki (22, Mito HollyHock) A big favourite of J-Talk Extra Time host Jon Steele, I was really excited to see Matsuzaki in action live for the first time against Kyoto. Given that I kind of expected him to be a J2 Messi, of course I was left slightly disappointed. That said, his stats for an attack-minded Mito side in his first year as a pro are impressive with a goal and four assists in his opening ten games (five starts and five sub appearances).

Solomon Sakuragawa (19, JEF United Chiba) The towering 190cm forward will hopefully learn from the excellent strike partners he has in Chiba (Hisato Sato, Kengo Kawamata, Kleber, Keita Yamashita) rather than be sucked down by his team’s wild inconsistency. Has generally been used as a sub after being promoted from the youth team last winter, but already has two goals to his name in J2 this year.

Masaki Watai (21, Tokushima Vortis) The diminutive attacking midfielder has seemingly been wrapped in cotton wool by manager Ricardo Rodriguez at the start of 2020. He’s now fully established in the starting XI and had an impressive outing with a goal and an assist against table-topping Nagasaki last weekend before setting up Kazuki Nishiya’s winner at Machida on Wednesday night.

Arata Watanabe (25, Albirex Niigata) The oldest of this group and someone I was really impressed with following his two-goal show in the 3-3 draw at home to Kofu in round 2. He’s found goalscoring a little tougher since strike partner Fabio was ruled out due to injury, but remains a threat. The Ryutsu Keizai University graduate is now in his third season as a pro and can play either as a central striker or on the right-wing as he did last year to accommodate Leonardo.

Other Notable Mentions – I don’t want to incur the wrath of @OkinawaOzzy so I better give a shout out to FC Ryukyu attacking midfielder Yoshio Koizumi who got a fine assist for Takuma Abe’s volley against Tokushima. Elsewhere, Ehime youth product Shuma Mihara has looked dangerous in the left wing-back role and Takahiro Akimoto of Tochigi SC has gone some of the way to filling the creative void left by Kazuki Nishuya. Kanji Okunuki has been in and out of the Omiya lineup this year, but owing to his form in 2019 he deserves a mention while Keita Yamashita who joined JEF from Yamaguchi last winter is a clean striker of the ball who looks like he could play at a higher level.

That’s all for this week, I hope you enjoyed the changes, feedback is always welcomed. I’ll be back next week to preview the Urawa and Kashima games. See you soon!

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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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