Shonan Bellmare vs Gamba Osaka 2022 J1 Season Round 20 Wednesday 6 July 2022 Lemon Gas Stadium Hiratsuka Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
Japan is currently experiencing one of it’s worst heatwaves on record, but there’s no rest for the wicked as Gamba Osaka and Shonan Bellmare lace up their boots to do battle this Wednesday. With Gamba sitting a mere point above their hosts, who in turn are precariously perched just outside the drop-zone, it goes without saying that the outcome of this match is of vital importance to both sides. The Ao to Kuro looked bright for the first hour or so of their 1-1 draw with Urawa on Saturday, but ultimately ran out of steam owing to their taxing midweek fixture against Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Mitsuki Saito’s wonderful strike at the end of a 4 man, 14 second counter attack lit up Panasonic Stadium more brightly than the pre-match fireworks, however, Alexander Scholz’s cool spot kick in second-half additional time, after Genta Miura had clumsily felled Yusuke Matsuo, earned Ricardo Rodríguez’s troops a share of the spoils. Shonan had slightly the better of their 0-0 draw at home to Nagoya Grampus and have now kept 3 consecutive clean-sheets. However, as usual, their issues lie at the other end of the field with only Fukuoka and Nagoya scoring less in J1 this season and, at present, hot prospect Shuto Machino accounts for half of their total. Shonan have lost only once in their most recent 6 J1 outings, but their main source of goals is facing a prolonged spell on the sidelines, while Gamba have just a solitary win to show for their efforts over that time period, but appear to have unearthed a new gem in, man-of-the-moment (boy-of-the-moment?) Isa Sakamoto, and their performances are headed in the right direction. Now, it’s time to feel the heat, which team will emerge victorious at a potentially sodden Lemon Gas Stadium?
Tale of the Tape
It’s easy to say that Gamba would have beaten Urawa had they not played the previous midweek, but then again you could argue that they’d have lost to Hiroshima had the game been held on it’s originally scheduled date and, in fairness, there was a good deal of fortune behind the Nerazzurri’s win in Saitama earlier in the year, so let’s agree to call it evens. Anyway, all I’ve really learned from this ramble is that we’ll probably all be travelling around in flying cars before either Gamba or Urawa manage another home win in the National Derby. The Ao to Kuro gassed-out after what certain sections of the Japanese media labelled their ‘best half of the year.’ Gamba outshot Reds 11 to 5 in the opening period with 9 of those efforts coming during a 20 minute barrage at the beginning of the game (it was almost a complete reversal of the encounter in Saitama). After the interval, the visitors took charge of the shot count 11-3, though even with that in mind I’m still struggling to work out how Sporteria credited them with an xG total of 2.45 (1.71 excluding the PK), it feels like someone keyed in 2 instead of 1, but this is ‘Gamba Blog in English’ so I might be a touch biased. Statistical positives for Gamba came in possession, pass completion and sprinting numbers (scant consolation I know), but the work-rate and energy was certainly there with Mitsuki Saito in particular impressing, constantly harrying and harassing Reds defenders in their own defensive third which allowed the Nerazzurri to generate numerous possession turnovers, indeed his 9 possession recoveries was a matchday high across the league. In the wake of Saturday’s game both teams were probably left ruing their wastefulness from set-plays and for Gamba this has been an issue all year. The blue and blacks are yet to score directly from a corner or free kick, of course some goals such as Patric’s vs Nagoya or Dawhan’s against Kashiwa have come indirectly from such a situation, though with a series of deflections and half clearances in the middle. Considering Gamba have had 67 corners in their 19 games to date and are yet to register a single header, flick or touch that’s gone into the back of the net from one of them, this is a facet of play that Katanosaka must seek to address urgently in training, and it is something that can be improved on the training ground more easily than other issues, so I, for one, will be looking for tangible improvements in the second half of the year. Speaking of improvements, Saturday was Kohei Okuno’s 50th J1 game and probably his best in a Gamba shirt. The Reds clash marked the first time Okuno and Saito had started together in a double-volante system in J1 though you wouldn’t have known it as they got torn in about their opposite numbers Ken Iwao and Kai Shibato right from the opening whistle. There have been rumours that Gamba will move for a new central midfielder to fill the void created by Yuki Yamamoto’s injury and Ju Se-jong’s imminent departure, however, Okuno, who will surely get another chance against Shonan, this time alongside Dawhan as Saito can’t play against his parent club, certainly staked a claim for more regular starts, completing 33 of 36 attempted passes was his statistical highlight on Saturday. Last, and certainly not least, is Isa Sakamoto, who, fresh from taking Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s backline to task last Wednesday set about giving Alexander Scholz, undoubtedly one of the best centre-backs in J1, a hard night’s work on Saturday. Comparisons with former-Gamba legend Masashi Oguro are growing by the day and the way Sakamoto held off the challenge of Scholz before ‘assisting the assist’ in the Nerazzurri’s breathtaking coast-to-coast opener, showed poise beyond his years. In his 79 minutes on the field he had 3 shots, all on target and 4 last passes, I love Patric to bits, but the standard of Sakamoto’s play was a cut above what the Brazilian has produced this season. The arrival of Musashi Suzuki will surely curtail Sakamoto’s minutes to a degree, but he’s been a ray of sunshine in quite a dark period for Gamba supporters, of that there is no doubt. A quick apology to Hideki Ishige, who had his most effective game in a Gamba jersey on Saturday night, any more performances like that and he’ll definitely be featured in here.
If you don’t mind me whipping out a cliché right at the start of this mini section, Shonan are a hardworking team. While they don’t have the cash or titles to compete with their big city rivals, Satoshi Yamaguchi’s charges do try to make up for it with sheer determination and grit, and to that end they average 117.3 km run per game (1.4 km more than Gamba) and also 192.3 sprints every 90 minutes (leading the Nerazzurri by 24, though as we saw above their numbers are gradually improving). Overall they sit in 15th in J1, just one place above the promotion / relegation playoff spot, but that ranking slips a place if we only consider home fixtures. In 10 games at the wonderfully named Lemon Gas Stadium, Shonan have been outscored 15-7 by their opposition. Worryingly for Yamaguchi is the fact that they’ve outshot opponents 145-115 (essentially 3 shots per game), but accrued a smaller xG figure, 11.6 versus 12.56, suggesting that while they’re creating a sizeable number of chances in front of their own supporters, they are not of a particularly high standard. For comparison, when we look at their stats for games both home and away, in 19 outings they’ve outshot their rivals 234 to 213, but only generated 18.87xG for while giving up 22.01xG against. They are keeping the ball better than last year, averaging 300.4 completed passes a game in 2022 as opposed to 280.3 12 months ago, but they are going to need to find better ways to use that possession if they are to survive yet again in the dog-eat-dog world of the J1 relegation scrap. As alluded to previously, former Yokohama F. Marinos and Giravanz Kitakyushu forward Shuto Machino has contributed 8 of Shonan’s 16 league goals to date and he remains on course to beat Yoshiro Abe’s record of 9 strikes in the 2010 season, the most a Bellmare player has managed in a modern-era 18 team / 34 game J1 season and considering last year after 38 games Wellington was top-scorer with just 6 goals, this would be quite an achievement (Wagner Lopes netted 18 back in 1998 however this was when the club went under the Bellmare Hiratsuka moniker and the league was split into 2 stages so I’m not sure a comparison between 1998 and 2022 really stands up to much scrutiny.)
First Match Recap
Gamba slumped to a disappointing home loss to Shonan in mid-April meaning that Ryotaro Meshino’s injury-time winner all the way back in 2019 is the last time they’ve breached the Bellmare defence at Panasonic Stadium in J1. Speaking of late winners, this year it was the turn of the Seasiders’ converted centre-back Shuto Yamamoto to be the hero. The former Kashima full-back bravely beat Genta Miura to the ball to power a header past Jun Ichimori in the final minute of normal time. He was stretchered off as a precaution due to concerns over a head injury, but was soon out celebrating in front of the travelling contingent at the final whistle. The Nerazzurri largely had themselves to blame for the outcome as lots of possession and territory led nowhere and long-range Yamami and Dawhan shots from Patric knock-downs plus the burly Brazilian narrowly failing to connect with Yuya Fukuda’s tempting cross was as close as they came. On a hot day, the Ao to Kuro ran out of energy after the interval and in all honesty, Yamamoto’s late clincher was just reward for a fighting display from the visitors (who came into this match 18th and last) in the final half-hour.
Gamba confirmed the signing of Japanese international forward Musashi Suzuki last Thursday (30 June) and the player, who will wear #45, has already started training with his new team-mates though he won’t be eligible until the Osaka Derby on July 16th, what a debut that could potentially be. Ryotaro Meshino is still expected to put pen to paper in the coming days, however, Yuya Yamagishi rejected a move to Suita, and subsequently put out a nice statement where he successfully navigated the tightrope of appeasing all concerned parties. It does appear that both Suzuki and Yamagishi were blessed with the Katanosaka seal of approval whereas I’m not sure the same applies to Meshino, only time will tell if that affects the success of the deals. In terms of departures, it’s been reported that up to 14 South Korean clubs have expressed interest in re-patriating Ju Se-jong, while Wellington Silva and Leandro Pereira remain well out of the picture and will be shipped out if buyers can be found, Júbilo Iwata, Omiya Ardija and Ventforet Kofu have all been linked with Pereira and I haven’t heard anything about Silva. If I now dive into pure speculation, Tatsuki Seko of Kawasaki is potentially headed for fresh pastures this summer and Gamba may be tempted to move for him, even if it’s just on loan, and speaking of loan deals, it’s worth remembering that both Dawhan and Mitsuki Saito are only on temporary contracts with the Nerazzurri, it’ll be very interesting to see what develops in regards to that duo in the coming months. Finally, Gen Shoji has seen his place taken by Shota Fukuoka for the past 2 games, though if the former Tokushima stopper keeps dawdling on the ball like he did in the 2nd half of the Reds clash then that might not be the case for much longer. Shoji, along with Leandro Pereira, Wellington Silva and Ju Se-jong is one of the high-salary, lower than expected performance, Miyamoto-era signings that I think Katanosaka would like out of the club sharpish. I’m not saying it’ll happen this summer, but I don’t really expect him to be a Gamba player in 2023.
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
**Once again expect the unexpected as rotation will be a key factor in Gamba (and any team for that matter) successfully navigating their gruelling schedule this week.**
GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back in August at the earliest
MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, expected back in August at the earliest
MF Mitsuki Saito – Can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement
MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, don’t expect him back anytime soon
FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season
FW Hiroto Yamami – Was pictured with ice on his lower left leg after being subbed off against Hiroshima last midweek, was an unused sub in the match with Urawa on Saturday, likely just as a precaution Predicted Lineups and Stats
After a rocky start to the year with the 1-0 at Panasonic Stadium back in April being Shonan’s only triumph in their opening 13 fixtures, Satoshi Yamaguchi now has the Seasiders on the crest of a wave with 4 wins and a draw from their last 6 matches and hot-shot forward Shuto Machino going at a clip of a goal a game through that run. Yamaguchi has continued with the back 3 / wing-back system of his predecessors and generally operates a 3-5-2 formation though it can shift to a 3-4-2-1 on occasions. Surrounded by vultures in the shape of their better minted Kanto rivals it’s perhaps no surprise that Shonan kantokus, no matter who they are, have to make do with a combination of up-and-coming youngsters and fallen heroes. It was fascinating listening to Albert Puig’s English language interview with the FC Tokyo Kai-Guys where he talked about the importance of having players in the 25-30 years-old age-bracket. Well, look at my predicted starting 11 below and you’ll find injury-prone forward Yusuke Segawa is the only outfielder in that range. I’ve mentioned attacking issues above and that’s an area Shonan will really have to strengthen this summer, particularly if Machino is going to be out injured for any period of time, as losing his goals could prove fatal to Bellmare’s hopes of extending their present run of 5 consecutive years in the top flight (the only time they’ve managed more than 2 back-to-back since the millennium). Of course, bringing in genuine goalscorers is easier said than done when you have Shonan’s budget and I haven’t heard any potential targets mentioned as of yet. Looking more long-term, pictures posted on Twitter appear to indicate that former Gamba Youth defender / holding midfielder Naoya Takahashi (now of Kansai University) has been training with the club, Yamaguchi will know him from their time together in Suita when Takahashi performed admirably for Gamba U-23 in J3 back in 2019 and I had held out hopes he would return to the Ao to Kuro once he completed his studies in early 2024, we’ll have to wait and see how that situation develops over the coming months. For now, however, Shonan need some quick fixes, keeping hold of bright young things, Satoshi Tanaka and Taiga Hata will help, but where will that attacking spark to ease the goalscoring burden from Machino’s shoulders appear from? Team News
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
GK Kosei Tani – Can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement
DF Takuya Okamoto – Knee injury, last played 19 March
DF Shuto Yamamoto – Subbed off in first half of 4-0 win at Kawasaki on 25 May, hasn’t played since
FW Shuto Machino – Stretchered off after picking up an ankle injury at the end of the match with Nagoya, must be a major doubt for this game Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.
Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare 2022 J1 Season Round 9 Sunday 17 April 2022 Panasonic Stadium Suita Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)
Sandwiched between a busy run of fixtures over the past fortnight and a hectic Golden Week ahead, round 9 of the 2022 J1 season may not have quite so many eyes on it with some big names involved in the ACL, however, Gamba vs Shonan is a vitally important clash for both sides nonetheless. The Nerazzurri have been the dictionary definition of a mid-table outfit with 2 victories, 4 draws and a pair of defeats to date while winless visitors Bellmare, led by former Gamba legend Satoshi Yamaguchi, currently prop up the standings and will be desperate to pick up a result of any sort at Panasonic Stadium on Sunday. This encounter sees one of the league’s leading attacking sides in Gamba (Takashi who?) face one of the weakest in Shonan, neither defence has been particularly water-tight and we’ve witnessed late drama in Nerazzurri fixtures on numerous occasions already in 2022, so keep your eyes peeled for excitement and goals here.
Tale of the Tape
Surprisingly, given the trials and tribulations in front of goal over the course of the past 2 seasons, Gamba are currently the 3rd highest scorers in J1 with 12 (xG 8.36) from their 8 games to date. Only the current top two Kawasaki (15/xG 10.78) and Yokohama F. Marinos (17/xG 15.72) have scored more, albeit that duo have completed two additional fixtures owing to their participation in this year’s ACL. Defensively, it’s a different kettle of fish for the Nerazzurri with just Kobe (16) conceding more than Gamba’s 12, and that tally also comes with the caveat of Vissel playing an extra two games. Although 8 of the 12 goals given up have come in just 3 fixtures (Kashima, Kawasaki and Fukuoka) with only 4 let in during the other 5 matches, consistently high xG Against figures will be of concern to kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka. Going forward, the Ao to Kuro have recorded double digit shots on target numbers in each of their last 5 games, a run they achieved just once in 2021, but at the other end, only Júbilo have failed to muster at least 10 shots on Gamba’s goal and 4 instances of 10+ efforts on target being given up from just 8 games is something that must be rectified going forward. From a blue and black perspective, hopefully the blossoming double-volante partnership between Dawhan and Mitsuki Saito plus the addition of South Korean international stopper Kwon Kyung-wong can assist with that.
Just 4 goals scored (xG 6.5) in 8 J1 games so far in 2022 sees Shonan sit joint bottom of that particular metric alongside Avispa Fukuoka and additionally they’ve only exceeded 1xG For in a single fixture once, at home to 10-man Kyoto. The 11 goals conceded (xG 9.92) in that same time span is just one fewer than Gamba (xG 11.84) and while the recent Covid cluster in the first-team squad certainly hasn’t helped, it’s worth pointing out that Shonan’s fixtures to date haven’t been especially taxing so they really must buck up their ideas sharpish if they want to avoid dropping down to J2 for the first time since 2017. Finishing 16th and only narrowly avoiding the drop on the final day last season, Bellmare naturally put up some less than stellar stats. Sprints per game was their strong point, recording an average of 178.2 per 90 minutes (this has increased to 196.9 in 2022), however they were 2nd worst in the division for passes completed (280.3), 4th lowest in terms of possession % (46.1) and tied with Gamba in shots for on target (5.8) which saw them rank equal 17th in J1. Unfortunately for kantoku Satoshi Yamaguchi, while pass completion is up slightly, currently sitting at 292.0 (though bear in mind my comments about their fixtures to date when assessing that rise), they have been spending less time on the ball compared with last year (45.3%) and are still registering a meagre 5.8 shots on target per game, interestingly for comparison, Gamba, under Katanosaka, have increased their performance in that metric to 6.1.
Head to Head
After only having one goal to work with when discussing Gamba vs Shimizu’s head to heads from 2021 last week, we have a pair of 0-0 draws to look at this time round so buckle your seatbelts and get ready, no sorry, just kidding. While there wasn’t much drama on the field between the Nerazzurri and Shonan twelve months ago, there was plenty riding on both fixtures. Gamba travelled to the Lemon Gas Stadium in early June for what would be their final game before jetting out to Uzbekistan for the ACL group stage. Having steadied the ship with back-to-back home triumphs over Tokushima and Yokohama FC the previous week, the scoreless draw in Hiratsuka crucially lifted the Ao to Kuro out of the J1 drop-zone for the first time in 2021. The waters were much calmer for the blue and blacks when they hosted Satoshi Yamaguchi’s troops in their final league fixture in December, however, their visitors came into the tie knowing they had to match or better Tokushima’s result at home to mid-table Hiroshima. As a consequence, Shonan came out all guns blazing in the first half and the opening 45 minutes was essentially a microcosm of their season, lots of attacking endeavour, but no end product. Heading into the locker rooms, Bellmare were greeted with the news that Vortis were losing 3-0 to Sanfrecce and as such the second stanza was largely a procession, lit up only by Takashi Usami’s wonderful shot from 20 yards which cannoned off the underside of Daiki Tomii’s crossbar and rolled away to safety. Gamba ended the 2021 J1 season 13th, 3 places and 7 points better off than the Seasiders.
Sunday marked Gamba’s second 1-1 draw in Shizuoka this season and while they held the upper-hand for much of their bout with Júbilo, S-Pulse, on the other hand, looked the livelier side and more likely winners for the majority of last weekend’s tussle. I feel a bit hypocritical for saying this considering the amount of times I’ve called for consistency in the Gamba starting eleven, but the match with Shimizu seemed like one game too many for a number of the squad. Mitsuki Saito has spent a good chunk of the last 2 years injured and partner-in-crime Dawhan ended up playing 250 minutes in 9 days while still working his way back up to full speed following his delayed entry into Japan. As a result, Gamba were overrun in midfield and things only really improved in the wake of the belated introduction of the substitutes in the second half, Yuki Yamamoto and Leandro Pereira, in particular, impressing. Granted this was against an S-Pulse side seemingly hell-bent on pressing the self-destruct button after squandering chances to put the game to bed before then being forced into last ditch defending in the face of a late Gamba onslaught. Where the J.League giveth, the J.League also taketh away, and while I was left heartbroken by Kawasaki’s last gasp equaliser a few weeks ago, this result goes some way to balancing out that one. Having been in that situation before I can only say to Shimizu fans, I feel your pain, and I know there must have been a sickening inevitability to how the game ended. For the Nerazzurri, that’s now 6 of 12 league goals this season that have been scored after the 75th minute so Katanosaka and Gamba must start looking to get up to speed in games quicker and that ball needs to get rolling this Sunday at home to basement dwelling Shonan.
Sakamoto vs Pereira – With cameos against Kyoto and Shimizu where he’s had spells as both a second striker and right winger, it looks like Isa Sakamoto has usurped Gamba’s reported highest-earner Leandro Pereira in the attacking pecking order. His incessant running and higher work rate seem to have impressed Katanosaka more than Pereira’s, and it currently appears that the Brazilian is only being saved for occasions when the Nerazzurri urgently need a goal and the opposition are camped in their own defensive third desperately trying to prevent that from happening.
Kwon Kyung-won – I know in a World Cup year getting the core players together regularly is probably extremely important for a national team boss, but I have to question South Korea’s recent decision to select Kwon for their qualifiers with Iran and the UAE. He played a grand total of 4 minutes at the end of the 2-0 win over Iran and didn’t feature at all in the dead rubber in Dubai that he had fly around 8 hours to get to. Would it not have been in the better long-term interests of the Taeguk Warriors and Kwon for him to get proper game time in the Levain Cup rather than setting out water bottles on the training field with his national side? Granted he would have been up against Yuma Suzuki had he stayed in Japan, so who knows what kind of shenanigans he would have pulled!
Kwon did finally make his Gamba debut on Wednesday (13 April) and played the full 90 as the Nerazzurri kept only their second clean sheet of the year in a comfortable 2-0 Levain Cup win at home to Oita. However, it was the South Korean international’s fellow centre-back, Yota Sato, who stole the show with a wonderful raking cross-field ball in the lead up to Hiroki Fujiharu’s opener in the 13th minute, before netting himself 13 minutes into the second half, powering home a header from Yuki Yamamoto’s free-kick. The Ao to Kuro will still need to beat Cerezo (a) and Kashima (h) in their remaining two Group A fixtures to stand any chance of progressing to the knockout stages.
Finally in this section, a couple of pieces of content largely aimed at Sorare managers as I regularly receive a lot of questions on these topics.
Kurokawa vs Fujiharu – Hiroki Fujiharu played left-back for Gamba the first time I ever saw them live back in 2013, he’s been with the club since 2011, has won everything there is to win domestically during his time in Suita and is a club legend. In recent seasons, as he’s aged he’s become more and more injury prone so back in 2020 the Nerazzurri brought in promising Kansai University left-back Keisuke Kurokawa with the intention of grooming him to be first-choice moving forward. Kurokawa has shown potential in fits and spurts, but has also had the odd horror show along the way which puts a serious question mark over how long Gamba will stick with him, particularly if a new, shinier toy comes on the market. In all honesty before the 2022 season kicked off I expected it would be Kurokawa’s last with the Ao to Kuro as his 3-year contract (the length usually given to university graduates) should run out at the end of the year, but he has performed better than expected so will probably be kept on. To sum up, I think Fujiharu is the better player, but he’s ageing and injury prone, while Kurokawa is yet to fully live up to his initial promise so his shelf-life as first choice on the left-side of Gamba’s defence could be relatively short.
Masaaki Higashiguchi has made 354 J1 appearances, has 8 national team caps and was in the squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Domestically he’s won J1, the League Cup and Emperor’s Cup (twice) with Gamba and is the best ‘keeper in the club’s history. Prior to getting injured he showed no signs of his standards slipping, so much so that Gamba were happy for Kosei Tani to stay on loan at Shonan for another season.
Jun Ichimori had made 46 J3 and 120 J2 appearances prior to the start of 2022. He joined Gamba from Fagiano Okayama ahead of the commencement of the 2020 campaign, but suffered injuries that restricted his playing time greatly in both 2020 and 2021. During his days in J2 he built up a reputation as an excellent good shot stopper who was also relatively comfortable with the ball at his feet.
Kei Ishikawa – He is a 29 year-old career backup who since turning pro in 2011 has registered just a single season as a first choice at any level (2014 with Blaublitz Akita in J3). While he is a good shot-stopper, as one would expect from a professional goalkeeper contracted to one of the biggest sides in the country, his kicking is shoddy and he lacks the presence of Higashiguchi or Ichimori. He has never been considered anything more than 3rd choice by the club and there is a snowball’s chance in hell of him ever being selected ahead of Higashiguchi in J1 once he returns from injury. Team News
There will be no Mitsuki Saito in the Gamba engine room this Sunday as he’s currently on loan from Shonan and can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement. Masaaki Higashiguchi (knee) and Takashi Usami (achilles) definitely miss out too after undergoing surgery, other than that it’s basically a clean bill of health. Wellington Silva has been absent from the matchday squad in recent games and this may simply be down to him not having a place in Katanosaka’s plans. With 7 foreign players on the books, and 6 of them in with a genuine shout of game time, it’s possible Silva or Ju Se-jong could be headed for the Panasonic Stadium exit door in the not too distant future. Predicted Lineups and Stats
If I were to sum up Satoshi Yamaguchi’s side in one word it would be ‘obdurate,’ Shonan rarely win or lose big and have been flirting dangerously with a return to J2 over the past few seasons. In 2021 former Gamba assistant kantoku Yamaguchi rather surprisingly replaced Bin Ukishima for the final 11 games and achieved his target of keeping Bellmare in the top flight. Their 36 goals in 38 outings was 3 better than Gamba, but off-season transfer work (more on which later), although decent on paper, didn’t really address the glaring lack of strike power in their ranks. At the back things were rather more positive as their 41 goals conceded in 2021 was the best tally of any side in the bottom half and with the exception of 11th placed Hiroshima (42) it was comfortably better than everyone else. The club play in an idyllic location down on the popular Shonan coast, however, unfortunately their close proximity to the big cities in the Kanto region means any promising youngsters are sitting ducks waiting to be picked off, in fact any players moving to FC Tokyo, Yokohama F. Marinos or Kawasaki Frontale wouldn’t even need to find new accommodation. This has left the Seasiders with a squad largely consisting of up-and-comers and grizzled veterans with little or nothing in between. Central midfielder / centre-back Satoshi Tanaka is the jewel-in-the-crown and I’d expect to see him wearing the shirt of one of those aforementioned J1 rivals in the not too distant future, potentially his national team’s jersey as well in the 2024 Paris Olympics. Forward Yusuke Segawa (Kashiwa) and midfielders Takuji Yonemoto (Nagoya) and Ryota Nagaki (Kashima) were the biggest arrivals at Shonan last winter and while all three have name value, Segawa and Yonemoto have been injury prone in the past and Nagaki’s best days have firmly been and gone, not to mention that Yonemoto, Nagaki and Tanaka are all a touch too similar for my liking. Yamaguchi always sets them up with a back 3, though the shape of the central midfielders and attackers does change from time to time. With no real stars and no out-and-out Peter Utaka-esque goalscorer in their ranks, the collective is much more important than the individual at Bellmare and they’ll require a strong team effort if they’re to extend their unbeaten league streak at Panasonic Stadium to 3 matches. Team News
Just like Mitsuki Saito above, Kosei Tani will also miss this game as per his loan agreement with Gamba, however, in better news, young defender Hirokazu Ishihara is now free from suspension following his one match ban for a red card away to Nagoya. Repeat VAR victim Takuya Okamoto and fellow wing-back Taiga Hata (both knee) won’t play here, with Hata being closer to a return than Okamoto. Veteran Ryota Nagaki has missed the most recent 3 J1 fixtures and was last seen in action on 19 March while promising attacking midfielder Taiyo Hiraoka has been absent since the round 3 loss at Urawa on 6 March, I haven’t seen any official confirmation as to why the pair have been out of the matchday squad. As I alluded to earlier, Shonan had a Covid cluster in their ranks a few weeks back which caused Shuto Machino, Yusuke Segawa, Koki Tachi, Ryo Takahashi, Satoshi Tanaka and Wellington to sit some games out, however, all have now returned to the fold. Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.
Happy New Year everyone! This is my first post of 2022 and following on from the previous two seasons I’ve decided to put together a J1 predicted lineups article to get the ball rolling. Hope you all enjoy the fruits of my labour.
Also a quick reminder that you can find the 2022 squad lists screenshotted below in this Excel document.
And, be sure to check out @Michael_Master on Twitter if you haven’t already, the one and only account you need to follow to keep up to date with J. League transfers.
Teams are listed below in the order they finished the 2021 campaign and each club’s mini-section contains the following information.
Best Signing – This won’t necessarily be objectively the best player the team have signed over the winter, more the one I feel addresses the most pressing need in the squad, for example, spoiler alert, I selected Kim Min-tae over both Yuta Higuchi and Yuma Suzuki in this category at Kashima.
Biggest Loss – Basically the opposite of best signing.
One to Watch – Again it might not be the best player in the squad or the one most likely to join a European club in the summer, rather someone whose good, bad or up-and-down form will set the tone for his team’s entire campaign.
Doubtful – Players who due to either injuries carried over from 2021, immigration issues or, in the case of a certain Polish striker at Nagoya, potential doping violations, might not be available for selection in the opening months of 2022.
Notes – Me trying to work out what direction the team is heading in this year.
A few caveats here,
* For simplicity’s sake I’ve assumed every contracted player to be fit and available for selection when choosing these best elevens. * These are not meant to be seen as the predicted starting lineup for round 1, think of them more as the players who will feature most across the course of the year (obviously new signings will be made in the summer, but unfortunately I’m not in possession of a crystal ball to make forecasts that far in advance). * In cases where numerous players may see significant minutes in a certain position I’ve listed alternatives below the main choice (players may appear as alternatives for more than one role, see Satoshi Tanaka or Takuro Kaneko for examples). I also hope this illustrates where certain clubs have perhaps overstocked in one area of the field while neglecting others. Where two alternatives are listed, the name on the left is the one I consider to be higher on the team’s depth chart. * I think I said this last year, but I’ll repeat myself anyway, expect the lineups for teams that have kept the same coach and most of the same playing staff as 2021 (Kawasaki) to be more accurate than those that have seen multiple changes in management and on-field personnel (Tosu). * I have done a great deal of research to get these lineups as accurate as I can to the best of my knowledge, but full disclosure, I’ve also acted on some hunches and taken a punt on some lesser known talents (I guess there wouldn’t be much point reading this article if I just stated the obvious). Players coming from university sides directly into professional starting elevens is one of the unique selling points of football in this part of the world versus, say Europe, and it can be immensely tricky trying to project how each year’s batch of fresh-faced graduates will do, especially when data about their positions and skill-sets is hard to come by and the little information you can find seems to show them playing in a position that doesn’t appear to exist at the club they are joining (for example a wide midfielder in a university side that plays 4-4-2 moving to a J1 team that operates a 3-4-2-1, will they be a wing-back or inside forward?). I’m guessing these are the kind of choices that might generate the greatest debate, so please cut me some slack, I like to use data, but several players below have made the grade based largely on gut instinct developed over a decade watching the J. League.
Well, with all that out the way let’s move on and take a look at each of the 2022 J1 sides one by one, shall we? Again I look forward to hearing feedback (good natured I hope) from fans of all teams, followers of the league in general or just casual passers by, you’re all welcome. While I’m confident you’ll agree with some of the points below, I’m also sure there will be many choices and opinions that people will disagree with, and that’s all fine, it’s why we love the beautiful game so much, right?
Best Signing: Chanathip – Had plateaued a little up in Sapporo, but a move to the champions should work out well for him and Frontale. Biggest Loss: Reo Hatate – Basically by default as he was the only top teamer to leave. Perhaps the most frightening thing for the rest of the league is the amount of depth Kawasaki still have in midfield despite losing Hatate, Mitoma, Morita and Tanaka in the last 12 months. One to Watch: Leandro Damião – Imperious in 2021 and the deserved recipient of the league’s MVP award, could a slight slip back from those grandiose heights offer a glimmer of hope to the chasing pack? Doubtful: Jesiel (injury) Notes: It’s Toru Oniki’s 6th campaign at the helm and once again Frontale start as the team to beat. Assuming Jesiel’s injury or the ageing of the forward line doesn’t adversely affect them too much, they are extremely well placed to fight off challenges from Marinos, Kobe, Kashima and Urawa to three-peat for the first time in their history.
Yokohama F. Marinos
Best Signing: Katsuya Nagato – By no means the most glamorous transfer of the winter, but Nagato who, don’t forget, led the league for assists with Sendai back in 2019 looks like he could thrive in Marinos’ system and help their fans quickly get over the loss of Theerathon. Biggest Loss: Daizen Maeda – Only joined Celtic on an initial six-month loan deal, I don’t really see this happening, but if things turn sour in Glasgow, a sharp return to Yokohama in the summer would do wonders for Marinos’ title aspirations. One to Watch: Marcos Junior – Goals-wise he’s dropped year-on-year since coming into the league in 2019, but he still remains pivotal to Marinos’ hopes and how well he adapts to Muscat’s game plan will be of critical importance to the team’s chances this season. Doubtful: Shinnosuke Hatanaka (injury) Notes: It’s all about Muscat for me, his appointment struck me as slightly strange at the time and even more so now that I’ve had time to digest it. Was he the best person to carry on Ange-ball? No (that guy is coaching Yamagata at the moment). If a desire to carry on the Ange-ball system wasn’t a pre-requisite for getting the job was he the best available candidate? Again, probably not. Despite that, I’m open minded as to what he can achieve given the time and space to put his own mark on the team. I’d argue that this squad is slightly weaker than 12 months ago, however, there is still plenty of talent onboard and top 4 should be a minimum expectation.
Additional Note: Anderson Lopes has been heavily linked with a move to Marinos. I’m unsure about his visa status or who would win out in a duel between him and Léo Ceará to be the main centre-forward.
Best Signing: Tomoaki Makino – Vissel need an experienced head at the back to guide Kikuchi and Kobayashi along and although I’m sure it’ll seem strange at first seeing him in a darker shade of red, he should prove valuable on and off the field in the port city. Biggest Loss: Thomas Vermaelen – Played more than I expected him to across his 2 ½ years in the league and no doubt passed on a trick or three to his younger protégés. One to Watch: Yoshinori Muto – Was the dominant partner as he and Yuya Osako amassed a combined 9 goals and 11 assists in 23 appearances at the back end of 2021. More of that this term and Vissel will very much be in the title conversation. Doubtful: Bojan Krkić (injury) Notes: Things have never looked better in Kobe, a balanced and settled squad, a competent manager and Hiroshi Mikitani largely leaving the football decisions to football people. We may see some tinkering with the midfield shape, but regardless of what system Miura adopts there’s no reason to suggest Vissel won’t be there or thereabouts at the business end of the year.
Best Signing: Kim Min-tae – Three of last year’s back four have moved on and Kim’s star is burning brightly following an impressive spell filling in for the injured Yuichi Maruyama at Nagoya. His experience alongside the talented, but erratic, Ikuma Sekigawa will be invaluable. Biggest Loss: Koki Machida – Perhaps not much of a shock as he’d been linked with European clubs in the previous 2-3 windows so Antlers should have planned his succession accordingly. One to Watch: Diego Pituca – A shining light once he was finally allowed into the country last year, the box-to-box midfielder should be a genuine J1 Best Eleven contender this term. Doubtful: Shintaro Nago (injury), Kantoku René Weiler (Visa) Notes: New kantoku René Weiler has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in attack and must be relishing the prospect of moulding them into a cohesive unit once he eventually makes it to the land of the rising sun. At the back the situation is a little less rosy, but should the attack-minded Weiler get things to gel, the Ibaraki side are not hindered by ACL involvement like their rivals and this could set them on a course towards a first title since 2016.
Best Signing: Keiya Sento – Played in a role for Tosu that doesn’t really exist in the current Grampus set-up, but to me he projects as Naoki Maeda’s replacement and should prove to be a gem of a signing. Biggest Loss: Takuji Yonemoto – One of the surprise moves of the winter in my book, he left FC Tokyo after one season of working with Kenta Hasegawa, did they have prior beef? One to Watch: Mateus Castro – Those of a Grampus persuasion will hope that the enigmatic Brazilian has gotten over the slump in form he experienced in the second half of 2021, as well as those Kawasaki transfer rumours, and will bounce back ready to lead the charge towards an ACL place. Doubtful: Jakub Świerczok (PED Violation) Notes: If I was a Nagoya fan would I have wanted to wake up to the news that Kenta Hasegawa was replacing Massimo Ficcadenti? No, but I’ll add that he’s nowhere near as bad as some FC Tokyo fans might have you believe. After winning silverware in each of his first 3 years at Gamba, he took an FC Tokyo side that had only achieved a single top 6 J1 finish in the 8 years prior to his appointment to 3 consecutive top 6 placings. Granted, the wheels came off spectacularly in his final seasons at both clubs, but I still maintain he’s a reasonably safe pair of hands until the Grampus hierarchy decide which direction they want the club to take next.
Urawa Red Diamonds
Best Signing: David Moberg Karlsson – Possibly the only player in the history of football to represent both Kilmarnock and Urawa which means that everything inside me should want him to fail, but I actually think this could be quite an astute piece of business by Reds. Biggest Loss: Tomoaki Makino – Kind of wins this by default as Urawa didn’t lose any real nailed-on 2021 starters in the off-season, only Yuruki and Tanaka ran him close for this award. One to Watch: Kasper Junker – 7 goals in his first 6 J1 appearances and just 2 in 11 after that as injuries struck. If a full pre-season schedule gets him back up to speed then J1 look out. Doubtful: Ayumu Ohata (injury), David Moberg Karlsson (Visa) Notes: When I wrote my Scouting J1 and Scouting J2 articles last autumn I never envisaged that Urawa and Cerezo would be the 2 teams to sign the most players from those lists, but there you go, hats off to both clubs. Reds have added a dizzying array of stars to an already strong looking squad and if they can find a way to get everyone pulling in the same direction then they appear well set to challenge domestically and in Asia.
Best Signing: Naoyuki Fujita – Still very much good enough to play for Cerezo, but probably rightly moved on due to the ageing issues at the club. A return to his first pro side seems a logical next step and he’ll have a big part to play assisting the development of the bountiful young talent on the books at Tosu. Biggest Loss: Yuta Higuchi – Plenty of competition for this award, but I’m still drowning my sorrows over Higuchi rejecting Gamba for Kashima and have to nominate him here. One to Watch: Yuki Kakita – Finished 2021 with something of a bang, netting 5 times in 8 outings for a Tokushima side that struggled to create clear-cut openings. Has his old Vortis team-mate Miyashiro with him too and looks to be the ideal replacement for Keita Yamashita. Notes: Let’s focus on the positives, the goalkeeper, defence and wing-backs are basically unchanged from 2021 (Ayumu Ohata excluded) and in attack, if I can quote Moneyball, they’ve realised they can’t directly replace departed stars like Higuchi, Sento, Koyamatsu and Yamashita, but they can re-create them in the aggregate. If the injury-prone Yuji Ono, high school wizzkids turned pro-level letdowns Jun Nishikawa and Yuto Iwasaki or any of their 6 recruits from varsity football enjoy a standout year then a mid-table finish isn’t out of the question.
Best Signing: Lukian – This deal came as something of a bolt from the blue to me and the addition of J2’s top scorer from 2021 adds real impetus to an Avispa attack that will be looking to move up through the gears this year. Biggest Loss: Emil Salomonsson – Will be a big loss both on and off the field. He must have found it tough with basically 2/3 of his time in Japan falling during the Coronavirus pandemic so it’s hard to begrudge him a move back home. One to Watch: Tatsuya Tanaka – Back in his native Kyushu, big things will be expected of the versatile wide-man. This was an area where Avispa needed an upgrade and it looks like they’ve found one in the former Gamba, Oita and Urawa speedster. Notes: I like what they’ve done in the transfer window, I like it a lot. There’s not one signing they’ve made that I haven’t liked, keeping Hasebe and Mae on board is massive too. After all those niceties I will add the qualifier that although on paper this year’s squad looks stronger than last year’s by a bigger margin than last year’s did than 2020’s (still with me?), it might not necessarily translate into them finishing any higher up in the standings. Though I guess having spent so much of their recent history in J2, the Avispa faithful won’t complain about another upper mid-table placing in 2022.
Best Signing: Jakub Słowik – Most J1 transfers have some sort of doubt hanging over them, player stepping up a level, poor previous season, injury prone, might not fit the system etc…none of these apply to Słowik, a clear upgrade on what was there before and questions marks over his distribution should only form a minor concern given the quality of the rest of his game. Biggest Loss: Joan Oumari – Despite apparently only re-signing to cover until Bruno Uvini could get into the country, the Lebanese international had a decent second year in the capital. One to Watch: Leandro – He and Hasegawa didn’t see eye to eye, that much is clear, if he and Puig butt heads then I’m not sure he’ll have too many backers left in the FC Tokyo support. A brilliant match-winner on his day, we all know what he can be when it’s not, for FC Tokyo and the league’s sake let’s hope the former, not the latter version rocks up in 2022. Doubtful: Kashif Bangnagande, Sodai Hasukawa, Akihiro Hayashi (injury) Notes: Far more change off the field than on it with Mixi taking over as the majority shareholder and Albert Puig moving into the managerial hotseat following a 2-year spell with Niigata. From the outside it appears that any kind of on-field improvement will need to be driven by a kantoku who has a beautiful philosophy on how the game should be played, but never really managed to translate that into meaningful results at Albirex, save for a magical 13 game run at the start of last season. A transitional campaign, give the manager time, yikes I’m using up all the clichés I had saved for the Gamba section several entries below.
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Best Signing: Gabriel Xavier – An unexpected, but potentially excellent ready-made replacement for Chanathip…as long as his performances don’t go on to show that Massimo Ficcadenti knows rather more about football management than all of us armchair pundits. Biggest Loss: Chanathip – 2021 was another injury-hit campaign for the Thai superstar, though he did bow out on a high with 3 assists in his last 2 matches. Things had gone a touch stale for him in Sapporo, but he’ll surely be fondly remembered in those parts for years to come. One to Watch: Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa – I’ll admit I’m highly sceptical of the €700,000 move to Hearts rumours, but the pacy forward has certainly caught the eye of national team coach Hajime Moriyasu and in his second year as a pro will be expected to shoulder a greater burden of Consadole’s attacking hopes. Doubtful: Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (injury) Notes: The winds of change haven’t been blowing too strongly up in Sapporo with minimal transfer business being conducted. GX10 (will he change his name to GX18?) and Koroki are the only 2 senior signings, but given how they’ve worked the varsity market in recent years, I wouldn’t bet against Sora Igawa (Tsukuba Univ.) and Hiromu Tanaka (Rissho Univ.) turning out to be pretty handy.
Best Signing: Taishi Semba – The Ryutsu Keizai University graduate says he’s looked up to Toshihiro Aoyama for a number of years and if all goes according to plan he could well be the one to take over the legendary Sanfrecce midfield maestro’s spot in the not too distant future. Biggest Loss: Kodai Dohi – Failed to build on a promising 2020 due to a succession of injuries, but a loan spell with Mito is absolutely the right move to resuscitate his career. One to Watch: Junior Santos – If the 2020 Yokohama F. Marinos version of Junior Santos turns up this year then it’ll be as good as a new signing for the three arrows. Doubtful: Tsukasa Morishima, Yoichi Naganuma, Douglas Vieira (injury), Kantoku Michael Skibbe (Visa) Notes: After pleading poverty for much of last year, the additions of Tsukasa Shiotani and Michael Skibbe following spells in the Middle East indicate that there is money available if they choose to use it. Skibbe’s delayed arrival has thrown an unwelcome spanner in the works, though he is fortunate to have a settled squad at his disposal, albeit one that largely underperformed relative to their game-by-game stats in 2021.
Best Signing: Jean Patric – I must admit I don’t know a whole lot about him, but he appears to have a decent pedigree and fills a spot that really needed an upgrade as a result of the person I’ll talk about below departing. Biggest Loss: Tatsuhiro Sakamoto – A fine player who slightly lost his way in what was a disappointing 2021 campaign overall for the Cherry Blossoms. Still, as a result of his 2020 form and the performances he put in at the start of last year, he’s done more than enough to merit his move. One to Watch: Takashi Inui – I wasn’t a big fan of his return when it was initially announced due to Cerezo having a plethora of 30-somethings already on their books, but given the way this year’s squad is shaping up I feel he’ll have a vital role to play as an impact sub and dressing room leader. Doubtful: Takashi Inui, Hinata Kida, Adam Taggart, Đặng Văn Lâm (injury), Jean Patric (Visa) Notes: I like their winter transfer work a whole lot more than I did last year (see what I said about them in the Urawa section above), especially the acquisition of Nagasaki’s jewel-in-the-crown Seiya Maikuma (sorry for telling everyone how good he was Daniel!) The permanent appointment of Akio Kogiku who, according to Transfermarkt, has been at the club in one capacity or another since 1998 could be a masterstroke as he’s surely amassed the clout that will allow him to tap a few shoulders and break the news to several veterans that they’re no longer the automatic choices they once were.
Additional Note: Croatian defender Matej Jonjić is rumoured to be returning in the coming days. If that move happens he’ll be the main centre-back upon his arrival in the country with Nishio and Shindo battling it out to partner him. He’d also overtake Jean Patric as my choice for ‘best signing.’
Best Signing: Mitsuki Saito – Not a signing I really expected going into the transfer window, but a more than welcome addition to the Nerazzurri’s midfield ranks Biggest Loss: Kim Young-gwon / Yosuke Ideguchi – Neither were at their best in 2021 (a comment which could pretty much be applied to the majority of the squad), but both will be missed dearly by the Ao to Kuro faithful. One to Watch: Hiroto Yamami – I should probably have chosen him in the ‘best signing’ category, but thought he’d fit better here instead. Hopefully that worldy against Shimizu was just a taste of what’s to come as he’s set himself the target of scoring double digits this year. Doubtful: Jun Ichimori, Leandro Pereira (injury), Dawhan, Kwon Kyung-won (Visa) Notes: As close to a free-hit of a season as you’ll ever get as Gamba kantoku awaits Tomohiro Katanosaka, though that didn’t stop him heaping pressure on himself by setting 3rd as the target for this year. Gamba fans I’ve talked to say that top 8 is more realistic, especially with Kawasaki, Marinos, Kobe, Kashima and Urawa all looking particularly strong. To quote Celtic supporters, “trust the process,” Katanosaka is a man with a plan and that’s something that was sorely missing for the majority of 2021.
Best Signing: Takeru Kishimoto – A surprisingly difficult choice this one, as though regular readers will remember I picked out Kishimoto as someone to keep an eye on in my Scouting J1 article last autumn, I can’t help but feel there were more logical moves for both him and Shimizu to make. Granted the S-Pulse front office and I never appear to be on the same frequency when it comes to ideas on how to take the club forward. Biggest Loss: Hideki Ishige – I know he was at Okayama on loan at the end of last season, but his departure sums up, for me at least, the malaise at the Nihondaira. A once mighty powerhouse born out of the cradle of Japanese football now reduced to letting long-serving youth academy graduates leave for rival clubs while the powers-that-be continue to blindly spin the roulette wheel, trying in hope, more than expectation to find the coaches and players necessary to bring back the glory days. One to Watch: Yuito Suzuki – I’m sure you’ve all seen his wonder strike against Shonan, however, unfortunately that was one of only two goals he’s amassed in 63 J1 outings since turning pro in 2020. Imagine the heights regular contributions from him, in addition to Thiago Santana’s steady stream of goals, could take S-Pulse to. Doubtful: Renato Augusto, Akira Ibayashi, Takumi Kato, Kenta Nishizawa (injury) Notes: I realise I’ve been a bit harsh on S-Pulse above and it’s absolutely nothing personal as they’re an iconic and extremely likeable club, I just struggle to be overly positive when their front office keeps making baffling decisions. The Peter Cklamovski experiment was ditched in favour of the ultra-defensive Lotina brand of football and now they’ve opted for the man who came in to temporarily do a spot of firefighting at the end of both 2020 and 2021, the particularly tricky to say regardless if you go Japanese or western style, Hiroaki Hiraoka (or Hiraoka Hiroaki if you prefer). There’s loads of depth on the flanks, but any injury or departure down the central spine of the team (Gonda, Yoshinori Suzuki, Matsuoka and Thiago Santana) would sting badly.
Additional Notes: Reports out of South Korea suggest that S-Pulse have tabled a large bid for Ulsan Hyundai’s tall forward Oh Se-hun. On Paper the highly-rated 23 year old would be a quality addition, but it would also leave Shimizu with 7 foreign talents on their books. Do they never get the memo from the J. League about only being allowed 5 in your matchday squad?
Best Signing: Tomoya Koyamatsu – Big shoes to fill in attack, he’s coming off the back of a decent couple of seasons with Tosu and should quickly become a fan favourite at the Hitachidai. Biggest Loss: Cristiano – The now 35-year old club legend departs after 7 years with the Sunkings. Sure he may be past his prime, but having seen him perform in the flesh last year, he’s very much still got it and I’m certain he’ll tear up J2 with Nagasaki. One to Watch: Douglas – With the fearsome foursome of Olunga, Cristiano, Esaka and Segawa all gone, the goalscoring burden falls on the previously prolific, but perhaps slightly over-the-hill Douglas. Is there still enough fire there for one final hurrah before he rides off into the sunset? Notes: I believe it was Gabriele Anello who pointed out that 2021 saw the most managerial changes in J. League history, a good number of them appeared harsh when viewed from afar, but on the flip side of the coin, Kashiwa’s stubborn dedication to keeping Nelsinho in the hotseat continues to puzzle me. Of course the Brazilian is a legend in Kashiwa circles, however, he had 38 J1 games last season to work out his best eleven and formation, and never managed it. If he doesn’t know, then how am I supposed to? I’ve gone 4-2-3-1 below, but 3-4-2-1, 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 are all possible. I’m not saying it’ll actually happen, but they’ll surely be a popular pick for big team who could go down this year.
Best Signing: Ryota Nagaki – The return of the prodigal son was an easy choice here, he’ll bring skill and more importantly a wealth of experience to help shepherd along Bellmare’s exciting crop of youngsters. Biggest Loss: Mitsuki Saito – I know that selecting both Ishige and Saito as the biggest loss for their respective clubs may come across as extreme Gamba bias (especially given Saito was on loan at Rubin Kazan in 2021), but hear me out, how often do Shonan come through a winter transfer window with all their prized assets still in place? Hata, Tanaka and Hiraoka are still there, leaving me with the rare predicament of struggling to find a departed player Shonan will really miss this year. One to Watch: Satoshi Tanaka – When I saw that Takuji Yonemoto had moved to Shonan on loan and Tanaka still hadn’t been confirmed as a Bellmare player for 2022, I felt sure we were less than 24 hours away from witnessing his unveiling at the Toyota Stadium, but alas it was not to be and he’ll continue developing down on the Shonan coast, for now at least, whether that’s as a holding midfielder or centre-back remains to be seen. Notes: This is Satoshi Yamaguchi’s first full campaign at the helm and it’ll be interesting to observe what tactical alterations, if any, he makes. As you can see below, there are a number of players of similar abilities competing for spots across the field which can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. I’ve tried my hardest to cram Tanaka, Nagaki and Yonemoto into the same lineup, Yamaguchi may have other ideas. They were the best defensive team in the bottom half last year and with the business they’ve done since should be even stronger now. My concerns are at the other end, they accrued a league high 16 draws last season and joint top scorers Wellington and Naoki Yamada only managed 5 apiece, there’s nothing to suggest they’ll be any more prolific in 2022.
Best Signing: Ricardo Graça – Again, hands up, I don’t know a whole lot about him, but the rest of Júbilo’s transfer business hasn’t been much to write home about and although Kentaro Oi has given the club years of good service, promotion back to J1 should very much be the signal to put him out to pasture, the capture of Graça allows the club to do just that. Biggest Loss: Lukian – A huge blow to the side’s attack and also their collective psyche to lose such an important player to a team, in Fukuoka, that despite far out-performing Júbilo on the field in 2021, would have been viewed as a step-down for the majority of the clubs’ respective histories. One to Watch: Yasuhito Endo – Gamba let Endo go in mid-2020 as despite his passing and vision still being top drawer, the veteran (who’s the same age as Steven Gerrard and Xavi, don’t forget) couldn’t get around the park like he used to. We’ll have an answer on how right or wrong that decision was very soon. Doubtful: Dudu, Ricardo Graça (Visa) Notes: An extremely impressive promotion campaign followed up by the appointment of highly-rated Kofu boss Akira Ito had things looking rather spritely for a time in Iwata. However, the club don’t really appear to have backed the new kantoku enough in the transfer market. Kenyu Sugimoto could work, but I wouldn’t bet on it, there are question marks surrounding when their 2 new marquee Brazilians can get into the country and long-standing issues related to a chronic lack of pace throughout the squad haven’t been sufficiently addressed over the winter.
Additional Note: Brazilian forward Vinícius Araújo, now a free agent after failing to agree terms on a new deal with Yamagata, is a possible addition before the season begins. He’d take over the centre-forward berth from Sugimoto should he decide to make the Yamaha Stadium his home for 2022.
Best Signing: Rikito Inoue – Despite the club making a number of winter signings, few of them are clearly better than the options already in place. Inoue, who’s moved east from Okayama with Dutchman Jordy Buijs travelling in the opposite direction, is the pick of the bunch for me. Readers of my Scouting J2 article will know I’m a big fan of his and with Shogo Asada still onboard, Sanga have two of the top centre-backs from J2 2021 in their ranks, albeit neither of them has a single minute of J1 action to their name. Biggest Loss: Jordy Buijs – His departure came as something of a surprise and I’ve no doubt that he’ll continue to prove himself to be one of the best defenders in J2 with Fagiano this season. One to Watch: Peter Utaka – 38 years young when the season kicks off, if he can keep banging them in then Kyoto could (could, not will – please remember) be this year’s Fukuoka. Doubtful: Naoto Misawa, Tomoya Wakahara (injury), Michael Woud (injury/Visa) Notes: Reasons to be cheerful; they’ve got a coach who knows what it takes to survive in J1 and a squad with a decent sprinkling of top tier experience, especially when compared with other recent newly promoted sides. Reasons to be fearful; the murky goalkeeping situation, a lack of J1 experience at centre-back and central midfield and a host of Hail Mary signings that could all fall flat. The rather unorthodox Genki Omae may be the most likely to deliver from a list of names which also includes Mendes, Hisashi Appiah Tawiah, Martinus, Ryogo Yamasaki and Yuta Toyokawa.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you and congratulations! I hope this guide has been useful for you, look out for plenty more posts from me throughout the year and enjoy the 2022 J1 season whoever you support!
Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare 2021 J1 Season Round 38 Panasonic Stadium Suita Saturday 4 December 2021 Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)
It’s the end of the J1 season and spirits are in the sky…well not really in the case of Gamba or Shonan who have both endured campaigns to forget. These two meet at Panasonic Stadium on Saturday with the Nerazzurri having only pride to play for while Bellmare’s top flight survival hinges on this game as well as Hiroshima’s visit to Tokushima. As long as the the side from Kanagawa match or better their Shikoku based rivals’ result at home to Sanfrecce then they’ll be fine. However, former Gamba centre-back and assistant kantoku Satoshi Yamaguchi shouldn’t count on getting an easy ride from the Ao to Kuro.
Gamba will be keen to avoid closing the year out with 3 losses on the spin and while recent defeats to Nagoya (1-3) and Kawasaki (1-4) look poor on paper, both Grampus and Frontale were rather flattered by the final scorelines. It should be pointed out though, that in the context of the Nerazzurri’s season as a whole, with chances being ceded to opponents at an alarming rate, these kind of outcomes have to be expected from time to time. Last week Shonan fluffed their lines too, going down 1-0 at home to relegation rivals Tokushima when a draw could have all but secured their J1 status and a win would have sealed the deal. In their defence, Bellmare had to deal with the shock death of Brazilian midfielder Riuler Oliveira in the build up and that tragedy was likely a significant contributing factor in their limp display. They must now dust themselves off though as they are very much drinking at the last chance saloon and need to put in the kind of performance that would have made their fallen team-mate proud.
As this is the final match preview of the year, a couple of quick parish notices. First, I’d like to congratulate Kyoto Sanga on their promotion back to J1, having 4 Kansai teams in the top flight is great for the region and also gives me the opportunity to once again moan about the lack of professional clubs in an area with a population not far off that of Australia. It’d be great to see the likes of FC Osaka and FC TIAMO Hirakata as well as sides from Mie, Nara, Shiga and Wakayama one day compete in the J.League. Finally, thanks again to everyone for all your support this year, I really appreciate you taking the time to read, comment on, share and like my posts. Honestly, the fact that I can put up an article on WordPress and see that it’s been read by people from all the world’s inhabited continents within a matter of hours still blows my mind. At this stage I’ve no idea where 2022 will take me, but I’m always open to ideas and suggestions.
Oh…and in case anyone wondered….Yokohama FC (away) has been the most viewed match preview of 2021 to date, rather randomly.
Tale of the Tape
As I alluded to above, I felt the nature of Gamba’s last 2 defeats was a bit harsh and that’s backed up by the fact that the 7 goals the Nerazzurri conceded came from an xG Against figure of just 2.74. This wouldn’t really offer me much comfort if I was a Shonan supporter as I’d be worried that Gamba might be due a lucky break at some point in the upcoming 90 minutes. While both Kawasaki and Nagoya have extremely efficient attacks, the same can’t really be said about the men from Hiratsuka which is evidenced by their top scorers Wellington and Naoki Yamada having just 5 goals apiece.
Like Gamba, Shonan average less than a goal per game in J1 2021, 36 in 37 outings versus Gamba’s 33, with that number lying 0.12 below their xG For average. At the other end of the park, among sides in the bottom half of the standings, only Hiroshima (40) have conceded less that Bellmare’s 41. Gamba (49) rank joint third for that particular statistic which is actually just marginally worse than when they finished 2nd 12 months ago (1.32 per game in 2021 compared with 1.24 last year). It’s interesting that the name Sanfrecce crept up as I was going to mention them anyway with the two fixtures between Hiroshima and Shonan this year producing some particularly odd outcomes. First, Bellmare won 1-0 at the Edion Stadium despite recording a season low xG For of 0.18, however, things were evened out and then some in the return match at the Lemon Gas Stadium. Following Kosei Shibasaki’s early sending off for the visitors, the home side pounded Takuto Hayashi’s goal and racked up a 3.06-0.07 xG victory while also posting season best stats in the categories of Shots For/Shots For on target, Shots Against/Shots Against on target, possession % and passes completed. Unfortunately, in the real word all that added up to was an extremely frustrating 0-0 draw which combined with the farcical ending to their 4-2 home loss at the hands of Kashiwa in June and skipper Takuya Okamoto’s long running bitter battle against VAR has rather summed up the Kanagawa outfit’s season.
Shonan have drawn 15 league games to date this year, more than any other side in the division, and the 10 of those recorded at home have been particularly damaging to their hopes of progressing up the table. Away from Hiratsuka, Bellmare possess the 4th worst record in J1 with just 17 points from 18 games. Interestingly, Gamba are 4th bottom of the home standings, averaging just a solitary point per outing at Panasonic Stadium. The Nerazzurri should be keen to end a disappointing year in winning fashion in front of their home supporters and with the spotlight very much on this clash, as well as the one taking place at the Pocari Sweat Stadium, we are likely to see a strong Gamba side take the field with the majority of the starters probably still being on board come the commencement of the 2022 campaign, so don’t go expecting any mass downing of tools. If I was devising the Ao to Kuro’s strategy for Saturday I would suggest using Shonan’s desperation for points as an advantage. Gamba have been poor at home, in no small part, because of a susceptibility to the counter attack. With that in mind, the Nerazzurri should treat this like an away game and invite Bellmare onto them, keep a compact shape and aim to pick them off on the counter.
Head to Head
Shonan and Gamba played out a largely dull and uneventful 0-0 draw in Hiratsuka at the beginning of June, the Nerazzurri’s final league match before heading off to Uzbekistan for the ACL group stage. Significantly though, that hard won point moved Gamba out of the relegation zone for the first time since the opening round of the season. Both fixtures in 2020 were tight affairs also, Bellmare stunned the Nerazzurri with a 1-0 win at Panasonic Stadium, their first league triumph in Suita under their present name. Genta Miura misread Daiki Kaneko’s neatly threaded through ball (it’s been quite a surprise to see him disappear without a trace at Reds) and centre-back Kazunari Ohno fired home at the back post to seal a smash-and-grab 3 pointer. As I discussed in detail in this section last week, that result sparked Gamba into life and they’d go on to lose just 3 more times in their remaining 19 league outings to finish the year in 2nd. En route to that runners up spot they exacted revenge on Shonan, defeating them 2-1 on their own turf in early December. Yuya Fukuda’s fine strike from the edge of the area was cancelled out by Hiroto Nakagawa before Patric won the game midway through the second half. Masaaki Goto, deputising for the ineligible Kosei Tani, later pulled off a fine stop to deny the Brazilian a 2nd and the Nerazzurri had to be content with a 2-1 victory.
Being the final week of the season, this section features a bit of a hodge-podge of information so I thought bullet points was the simplest way to format it.
* Just 1 win and 7 points gleaned from the opening 12 games of the year combined with the Covid cluster to scuttle Gamba’s season before it ever got up-and-running. It’s worth noting that since then they’ve accumulated 36 points from 25 matches (1.44 points per game), a rate that would have seen them sit joint 8th with Avispa Fukuoka had it been achieved over the course of the whole year (excuses, excuses, I know!) Why do I mention this you ask? It seems that Oita kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka will be in charge next year and I felt it was right to attempt to measure where Gamba currently stand when you factor out the impact of the Covid outbreak (a factor that will hopefully be absent in 2022).
* To counter-balance what could be construed as the cherry picking of stats above, let me point out that in the 3 of the last 4 seasons Gamba have flirted with the drop zone for various lengths of time. This is a far cry from the trophy-laden glory years of Nishino and Hasegawa which all of a blue and black persuasion will hope Katanosaka can rekindle. Patience is the key, however, Rome wasn’t built in a day and it’s important for the Nerazzurri’s front office and tifosi to remember that.
* Gamba’s home kit for the 2022 campaign season will be unveiled before kick off on Saturday. This, of course, will be the first uniform to be adorned by the new club crest which I’m sure will lead to some interesting takes on Twitter. Personally, I hope to keep hearing opposition supporters going on about the new badge well into next year, as that will probably be a good indicator that Gamba are doing well on the field and the club’s detractors have to look elsewhere for things to criticise (tongue half planted in cheek while typing this, just half mind lol).
* If anyone was wondering, yes I was purring as Takashi Usami rolled back the years to slalom through the Kawasaki defence, leaving my mum’s favourite Shogo Taniguchi for dead before dinking the ball over Jung Sung-ryong in the 17th minute last Saturday. More of the same this week please!
* Usami’s strike partner Patric is currently sitting on 13 goals, joint 5th in the top scorers rankings only behind the leading marksmen from the current top 4. To put the 34 year-old’s performance in context, this is already his highest ever J1 haul in a Gamba shirt, beating the previous record of 12 set in 2015. Granted he did score 20 for Sanfrecce back in 2018, but I still think it’s apt to say he’s ageing like a fine wine.
* On the subject of Gamba’s forwards, remove the tallies of Patric, Usami and Leandro Pereira from the equation and the rest of the squad have amassed 9 goals from 37 J1 games…I’m not sure there’s a strong enough word to convey my feelings about that.
* Gen Shoji being dispossessed by a Kawasaki midfielder midway through the 2nd half of Saturday’s encounter which subsequently saw him berate team-mates for not warning him is indicative of the issues that have been plaguing Gamba throughout the year. I remember a few weeks back in the draw at Urawa, a Reds player was racing past the half-way line on a dangerous counter-attack and Shu Kurata took him out, receiving a yellow card for his troubles. At that time I thought to myself, that kind of thing should have been happening months earlier when the likes of Shoma Doi and Takuma Nishimura were allowed to canter through the Gamba defence almost unopposed before scoring. Katanosaka’s Oita sides are generally among the league’s least booked teams, so hopefully he has something up his sleeve to stop the Nerazzurri constantly finding themselves on their heels with marauding forwards bearing down on their goal and Masaaki Higashiguchi left to save the day time and time again (116 saves for the year and counting).
* Gamba sit 13th in J1 at the moment and due to having a far inferior goal difference compared with 12th placed Hiroshima (-16 vs 0) they can’t finish any higher. They hold a mere 2 point advantage over Kashiwa in 14th and the Sunkings have a winnable looking final fixture at home to Oita, so it’s definitely in Gamba’s best interests to aim for 3 points against Shonan in order to finish as far up the table as possible. Incidentally, due to playing catch up for most of the year, they’ve actually only spent one week higher than 13th in the standings, that was following their Hiroto Yamami inspired 1-0 victory at Shimizu in August.
Typical, you get to the end of the season and just about everyone is fit again! Backup goalkeeper Jun Ichimori is out as a result of undergoing hamstring surgery, while forward Leandro Pereira suffered a relapse of his hamstring injury and is currently back home in Brazil recovering (this was confirmed by the club on December 1st). There are also doubts over Kim Young-gwon and Ryu Takao. Kim went off injured in the 1-0 win over Tosu on October 23rd, and was absent from Tuesday’s (November 30th) open training session. Takao wasn’t in the squad for the Frontale loss and having been taken off at half-time in the 2 previous fixtures with Oita and Nagoya, it’s unclear if he missed out at Todoroki because of injury or non selection. Predicted Lineups and Stats
Perhaps the biggest anomaly in Shonan’s season to date was Satoshi Yamaguchi taking over from Bin Ukishima at the beginning of September after the latter had just seen off Cerezo (and Levir Culpi – he always needs a mention) 5-1 away and drawn 0-0 at home to the side they love antagonising the most, Urawa. Not exactly a turn of events that would usually precipitate a managerial switch at a yo-yo/elevator (pick your poison) team like Bellmare. With 2 wins and 10 points from the 10 games since the move, it’s turned out ok, but hasn’t exactly been a roaring success either. Regular J1 watchers may feel that Shonan are something akin to a cat whose nine lives are almost up as they narrowly avoided the drop in 2019, drawing 1-1 at home with Tokushima in the promotion/relegation playoff and then finished 18th and last during the chaotic 2020 season when relegation was off the table. This is their 4th year in a row in Japan’s top flight, their longest streak since the Bellmare Hiratsuka era of the 1990s. Indeed, the side famous for developing Hidetoshi Nakata in the J.League’s formative years is now home to a new generation of prodigious talents in the shape of Satoshi Tanaka, Taiyo Hiraoka and Taiga Hata. They potentially have a tough battle on their hands to keep that trio at the club regardless of what division they are playing in next season.
Speaking of 2022, Shonan have been busy snapping up yet more young talent to bolster their ranks. Defender Kodai Minoda (Hosei University) and forward Ryo Nemoto (Kanoya National Institute for Sport) will come on board with Nemoto having already made 3 J1 appearances across the past 2 seasons as a designated special player. Versatile duo Naoki Hara and Taisei Ishii will be promoted from Bellmare’s youth setup while defender Sere Matsumura (Teikyo Nagaoka High School), midfielder Junnosuke Suzuki (Teikyo University Kani High School) and attacker Akito Suzuki (Hannan University High School, Osaka) round out the new faces. Team News
As I’m currently running on fumes from a long, hard slog of a season I’ll be mercifully brief in here. Kosei Tani can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement and Kashima loanee Daiki Sugioka is likely to be absent too. He was last seen in the home loss to Yokohama F. Marinos on October 1st while his former Antlers team-mate Shintaro Nago hasn’t surfaced since the game at Nagoya on August 15th. The club confirmed that he had undergone surgery on December 1st to cure a foot problem picked up in training on August 17th and would be out for a further 3 months. Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.
The summer transfer window “slammed shut,” or closed gently as it tends to do here in Japan, last Friday (August 13), so I thought this would be a good time to have a look at the lineups we are likely to see J1 teams field from now until December.
A quick reminder that you can always check out my regularly updated J1 and J2 databases here,
Before I get into it, here is a rough guide to some of the parameters I’ve used.
* Teams are listed in the order they finished the 2020 season, ie the order you’ll find them in all the 2021 yearbooks. * The lineups below are not necessarily the ones you’ll see next week, more an amalgamation of the players expected to feature most frequently between now and the end of the season. * Where genuine competition exists for a starting spot, I’ve listed alternatives below the projected starter. * The injured / unavailable list only includes players who I feel would have a genuine chance of starting if they were fit. Regular readers will know finding information about JLeague injuries can be a thankless task, so I’ve done my best, but can’t promise it’s 100% accurate.
Finally, if you don’t already, please give @Michael_Master a follow on Twitter. The use of the word ‘Master’ in his handle is by no means an overstatement, the man is truly the oracle when it comes to Japanese transfers and this blog post wouldn’t have been possible without his updates. Thanks man!
Comments Yes Mitoma and Tanaka are gone, and yes Kashiwa have just become the first team in 40 J1 games to keep them scoreless, but take a look at the lineup below and you’ll surely agree this is still the strongest side in the division. A settled back 6 and plenty of options in attack plus rivals either losing players or being engaged in the process of rebuilding, makes me believe they’ll overcome ACL distractions to lift a fourth title in five years. Injured/Unavailable: 10 Ryota Oshima
Comments Long time readers of this blog will know the trouble I’ve had predicting Gamba starting lineups recently, though I should point out in my defence, I’m generally more accurate at it than DAZN! With Miura, Kim and Shoji fit, 3-4-2-1 seems like it’ll be the order of the day for most remaining games this season. From 2022, however, it’d be good to see 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 getting an outing, especially if Hiroto Yamami can replicate anything like the form he did against Shimizu on Friday. Injured/Unavailable: 14 Yuya Fukuda, 15 Yosuke Ideguchi, 27 Ryu Takao, 28 Wellington Silva
Comments The arrival of Polish international Jakub Świerczok is like manna from heaven for the Grampus support who have been starved of a genuine centre-forward since Jô’s acrimonious departure at the start of 2020. Captain Yuichi Maruyama is out for the year and the slight defensive wobble caused by his absence, in addition to an inability to create presentable openings for their attackers has seen Nagoya slip back from the highs of last year and the early part of this campaign. Still very much in the hunt for 3rd place, their new number 40 will have a big say in whether they equal last season’s final ranking or not. Injured/Unavailable: 3 Yuichi Maruyama, 9 Ryogo Yamasaki, 44 Mu Kanazaki
Comments The problem with a having a club legend in charge, as both Osaka clubs have found out this year, is that it’s not easy to sever ties with them when things head south. The further away Cerezo get from the defensive stability of the Lotina-era, the more vulnerable they look at the back, while at the other end of the field, a succession of niggling injuries to key personnel has set-back Culpi’s plans to revitalise their attack. The Cherry Blossoms don’t really do mid-table finishes and have only 1 win and 11 points from their last 15 league outings…they couldn’t….could they? Injured/Unavailable: 3 Ryosuke Shindo
Comments Things have generally meandered along under Naoki Soma, just as they did under predecessors Zago and Oiwa and on the back of 3 straight wins, the Ibaraki giants are firmly in the picture for 2022 ACL qualification which is really a bare minimum for a club of this size and prestige. Box-to-box midfielder Pituca seems to be a ready-made long term replacement for Leo Silva, but the Antlers faithful must have concerns over how long they can keep hold of talented youngsters like, Araki, Machida and Tsunemoto. Key forward Everaldo has incredibly only scored once in J1 this season and seems to be dropping deep and into wider areas too often, though with Tomoya Inukai raking in goals as he did against Shonan last week, it doesn’t appear to be hindering the team too much. Injured/Unavailable: 22 Rikuto Hirose
Comments A very streaky team this year, and I’ll discuss them in greater detail during my preview of their upcoming clash with Gamba, Gasmen supporters have seen their side go on both 5 game winning and losing runs in the first half of the season. Boss Kenta Hasegawa and playmaker Leandro burying the hatchet, for now, has helped make them a much more potent force going forward which has somewhat papered over the widening cracks at the back. Injured/Unavailable: 9 Diego Oliveira, 14 Takuya Uchida, 33 Akihiro Hayashi, 37 Hotaka Nakamura
Comments I’ve already gone pretty deep on the J Talk Podcast regarding my issues with the Reysol front office’s performance in recent years. That, plus the winter departure of Olunga has really set them back this campaign in my opinion. Their season stats and recent results indicate a push up the table might be on the cards during the second half of the year. A bloated squad, constant tinkering with the team’s shape and a never-ending succession of injuries suggest otherwise. Injured/Unavailable: 7 Hidekazu Otani, 11 Matheus Savio, 33 Hayato Nakama, 39 Yuta Kamiya
Comments Sanfre have reverted to the tried and trusted 3-4-2-1 after an ill-advised dabble with a back 4 at the beginning of the season. They appear to have a surplus of quality centre-backs, but there’s now a gaping Hayao Kawabe shaped hole in the middle of the park. More cutting edge is required up front, but with the new stadium project sucking in resources, they lack the funds to adequately replace Leandro Pereira and it looks like they’ll be left relying on youth team products, university graduates and promising J2 players in the coming years.
Yokohama F. Marinos
Comments 10 points from 4 games in quick-fire succession marks an excellent introduction to Japanese football for Kevin Muscat. The Australian head coach must have been delighted with Léo Ceará’s efforts in recent weeks, putting his hand up as the man to fill Ado Onaiwu’s big boots up front. They are now breathing right down the necks of Kanagawa rivals Kawasaki and we have a genuine title race on our hands. Their devastating attack is beyond reproach, but the old defensive frailties which held them back in 2018 and 2020 have been on display since returning from their summer break. Gamba and Oita, two of the weaker attacks in the division, let them off the hook, but I have a nagging doubt that they are going to give too many chances, to the wrong team, on the wrong day and that’s what’s ultimately going to cost them top spot.
Urawa Red Diamonds
Comments The plethora of new talent in the arrivals lounge has made Reds one of the most talked about J1 sides during the summer months. The shape I’ve set out below was not the one used by Ricardo Rodriguez on Saturday night, however, I feel he may lean towards it later in the year. Although Kobe seem to act as a bit of lightning rod for online criticism about big spending, dress it up any way you like, Reds summer spree is a naked attempt at fixing problems using cold, hard cash. The Saitama outfit mean business, they may not reach the summit this year, but, they’ll definitely be a team to keep your eye on in the coming years. **Please note – on August 15 Reds announced Kasper Junker had undergone surgery on a cheekbone injury, I expect to see him back wearing some Tsuneyasu Miyamoto-style facial protection in the next couple of weeks so kept him in the lineup below.**
Comments After a decent run in the top flight since 2019, it seems like the curtain is coming down on their J1 journey, for now. Trinita possess the weakest attack in the division, scoring an anaemic 0.63 goals per game, see misses in the 15th and 48th minutes of their eventual 5-1 drubbing at Marinos on Sunday for clear evidence of where the issues lie. Former Gamba assistant Tomohiro Katanosaka, now in his 6th year in charge, has recently looked at alternatives to his favoured 3-4-2-1, including starting with a back 4 vs Marinos, but I feel like he will return to type soon as the squad is built to play with 3 centre-backs. Goya and Masuyama have come in to bolster the attack, but they still lack a proven source of goals. Onaiwu, Fujimoto and Tanaka have all previously departed for brighter lights elsewhere and it costs money to replace that kind of talent, money, that sadly, Trinita just don’t have. Injured/Unavailable: 15 Yuta Koide
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Comments Petrovic’s 100mph attacking football style is locked and loaded at the Sapporo Dome and at the moment it seems to be bearing fruit. As I write this, Consadole have just seen off FC Tokyo in impressive fashion, having dispatched Urawa with even greater ease the week before. Not the richest, or flashiest of J1 outfits, but their in-depth scouting of Japan’s varsity competitions, allied with solid youth development has proven crucial in steering them in an upwards trajectory over the past few months.
Comments With severe financial difficulties, a manager who’s just returned from a 3 week suspension while an internal power harassment investigation was conducted and 2 of their brightest talents freshly headed out the door, it’s amazing how settled things still appear at Tosu. Matsuoka and Hayashi are now yesterday’s men, but replacements Shirasaki and Koizumi from Kashima are thoroughbred pros who will help steady the ship. ACL qualification may be just beyond them this year, and that’s a real shame as the vultures will surely be circling the likes of Higuchi, Yamashita, Sento and Eduardo in the winter, making a repeat of this season’s heroics all the tougher. Injured/Unavailable: 23 Fuchi Honda
Comments It’s worth remembering that Kobe have never finished higher than 7th in J1, so assuming they can get big-name summer recruits Muto and Osako integrated quickly then they’ll be well on their way to achieving a first ever ACL qualification through league performance. Bojan is a bit of an unknown quantity these days, but J1 coach of the month for July Miura has built a solid foundation and crucially has gotten, the high profile stars, the undercard, and the youngsters all pulling together in the same direction, hats off to him for that. Injured/Unavailable: 1 Daiya Maekawa, 29 Lincoln
Comments A mass recruitment process over the summer has given them a glimmer of hope, and they are now unbeaten in their last 4 games, but is it all a bit too little, too late? Getting my old EPL 40 points to avoid relegation calculator out, Yokohama FC still require 25 points from their 16 remaining fixtures to reach that mythical milestone. Yusuke Matsuo is in the side once more and a defence that was conceding at a rate of 2.32 goals per match has now kept back-to-back clean sheets thanks to the arrival of Brazilian defender Gabriel. If his compatriots, Felipe Vizeu and Saulo Mineiro, can have a similar impact at the other end of the pitch, then maybe, just maybe they could be on for the greatest of great escapes. Injured/Unavailable: 8 Kosuke Saito, 23 Yota Maejima, 30 Kohei Tezuka
Comments Their summer transfer business looks good, but I said that about their winter recruitment and it’s not really moved them very far up the standings. Similar to post-Ferguson/pre-Solskjær Manchester United, a hard-hitting critique might say that constantly flip-flopping between managers, players and playing styles is hindering the club as it seeks to move forward. Relying on goals from set-pieces and the physicality of Thiago Santana might bring some degree of success, but it feels like had they given Cklamovski this group of players, then he could have achieved much more. Injured/Unavailable: 10 Carlinhos Junior, 18 Elsinho, 20 Keita Nakamura, 22 Renato Augusto, 50 Yoshinori Suzuki
Comments Sendai are currently competing in their 12th consecutive J1 campaign, for context that’s a better run than, Gamba, Cerezo, Kobe, Nagoya, FC Tokyo or Kashiwa have had, but it appears likely that this era of relative success is drawing to a close and they may have to regroup and rebuild in J2 next year. 18 goals in 24 games while conceding double that figure tells its own story and though there have been bright sparks in the shape of university rookies Mase and Kato down the right, Foguinho in the middle and some recent substitute cameos from Oti and Felippe Cardoso, in the cold light of day, is it really inaccurate to suggest that the lineup I’ve set out below looks more like a team sitting 5th or 6th in J2 rather than one built to survive in the rarefied air of J1? Injured/Unavailable: 8 Yoshiki Matsushita
Comments After finishing bottom in 2020 with no relegation in place, Bin Ukishima deserves a bit of credit for improving things this year, making his side much more resolute and hard to beat. That said, despite gaining credible draws with the likes of Kawasaki, Marinos and Kobe as well as upsetting Reds in Saitama, they are currently on an ominous slide and it looks as though it’s between them and Tokushima, who they faced in the 2019 promotion/relegation playoff, to see who fills the uppermost spot in the drop zone. They experimented with a double-volante system against Nagoya, and that’s something we may see more of going forward, although I have them lined up in their tried and tested shape below. Sugioka looks to be a good addition, while keeping wide-man Taiga Hata fit so he can supply the bombs for Wellington may be the difference between J1 and J2 football for Bellmare next year. Injured/Unavailable: 30 Sosuke Shibata
Comments Tokushima’s victory at home to Gamba gave them the blueprint for how to attack the second half of the year. No messing around with the ball at the back, no possession for possession’s sake, quick counters culminating in dynamic running and interchanges between then front 4 topped off with more shots on goal and hopefully more points on the board. Kawasaki-loanee Taisei Miyashiro has certainly enhanced his reputation with a series of strong performances in a variety of positions along the front line, while right-back Takeru Kishimoto and number 10 Masaki Watai will draw many an admiring glance from rival teams’ scouting departments should they keep up their recent form. Keep your eyes peeled for young forward Taiyo Nishino also, he’s just starting to break into the team in his first year out of Kyoto Tachibana High School. Injured/Unavailable: Kohei Uchida
Comments An excellent start to the season has them sitting in a place of relative comfort few predicted at the beginning of the year. Goalkeeper Masaaki Murakami has won over early doubters (myself included) with a string of good performances, the abrasive Douglas Grolli has been an excellent defensive lynchpin while the quality of deliveries from Jordy Croux and, in particular, irrepressible Swede Emil Salomonsson, have been second to none. In contrast to Kyushu cousins Oita, who came into J1 with a bang and were then looted of their best talent, the average age and playing style of most of Avispa’s squad suggests that they may not have to fend off too many suitors in upcoming transfer windows. One exception is team captain Hiroyuki Mae, and it will be interesting to see how his partnership with new recruit Shun Nakamura develops. Injured/Unavailable: Bruno Mendes
Thanks again everyone for supporting my recent articles. As I posted on Twitter a few weeks back, currently other areas in my life have to take priority over my blog writing, and for 2021, at least, my Gamba match previews will need to stay on the backburner. In some ways I feel like I took them as far as I could last season and at the beginning of this year, I felt like I was rehashing old material, please let me know if you agree or disagree.
With all that out of the way, my latest post provides a rundown of all 20 J1 teams’ matchday selections for every league match so far in 2021, presented in an (hopefully) easy to understand, at a glance style. I’ve also tagged on some additional comments and basic team stats correct to 18 April 2021.
A big shout out to everyone who has gotten in touch with me recently across various mediums. Actually I never envisaged my blog would get so many comments and my Twitter notifications are not really built to handle the traffic I’ve been getting. I recently noticed some people had left me comments weeks ago and I’d missed them, I genuinely try to reply to everyone who asks clean questions, so if I haven’t responded to your question / comment, I’m truly sorry.
Comment: The juggernaut has continued steamrollering opponents just as it did last season. Surely the best side in the history of the JLeague.
Comment: How to fix a problem like Gamba? A Nagoya-esque defence, but can’t buy a goal at the other end. What’s to blame, the Covid cluster, overperforming xG last year, an overly defensive mindset they can’t shake off? Answers on a postcard to Tsuneyasu Miyamoto please.
Comment: You thought they couldn’t defend any better than last season, you thought wrong. If I were a gambler I’d have plenty on Mitch Langerak and co. to beat their clean sheet record set last year. How much will missing out on Kasper Junker to Urawa haunt them with their current paucity of centre-forward options seemingly denying us a genuine tussle for the title between Grampus and Frontale.
Comments: They’ve surprised many by performing at a similar level to 2020. With Taggart and Tiago almost ready to play and Sakamoto and Harakawa due back soon, a push for the top 4 isn’t out of the question.
Comments: Although an Antlers legend, the way Naoki Soma’s spell in charge of Machida ended up poses some serious questions about how adept he’ll be at replacing Zago in the Kashima hotseat. Goals from Everaldo and instant impacts from Pituca and Caike are badly needed.
Comments: Injuries, rumoured dressing room discontent and a series of patchy results don’t make for happy start to the campaign for the capital side. Bruno Uvini is the great hope to steady things at the back, but it should be remembered he hasn’t kicked a ball in anger in over 6 months.
Comments: They seem to have course corrected slightly with hard fought 1-0s in their past 2 games and the Brazilian cavalry is due to arrive soon. Quite how they keep their 9 overseas players happy, and what effect their second Covid cluster in under a year will have on them is yet to be seen.
Comments: Look set to hover around upper mid-table just as they did last time round. Morishima and Kawabe have started the season well, but they lack top quality support in attack. Defensively, Yuta Imazu has been a decent find, though they still need to find themselves a pair of genuine full-backs.
Comments: Haven’t lost since the opening day, but a rather kind run of fixtures since round 3 means question marks remain over whether they are genuine ACL contenders of not. Urawa Red Diamonds
Comments: Two poundings in the space of three games at the hands of Kanagawa heavyweights Frontale and Marinos threatened to scuttle the Rodriguez project before it had the chance to take off, but they’ve bounced back well. We may come to look on Reds’ 2021 the same way Marinos supporters think of Ange Postecoglou’s debut campaign in 2018.
Comments: Six defeats in a row with just a single goal scored in the process, I’m sure there’s a joke about a famous Tom Petty song here somewhere. They need to hope they’ve hit the jackpot with their two soon-to-arrive Brazilians.
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Comments: Houston, we may have a problem. Dropping points like confetti and with 4 teams going down this year they’re rapidly finding themselves being drawn into a relegation dogfight.
Comments: Prior to Sunday’s win at Grampus, some of the gloss was starting to come off their excellent start to the year with 4 failures to score in 5 outings. Kim Myung-hwi’s side are made of sterner stuff though, and while it’s likely they’ll regress a touch over the course of the season, a top ten finish remains a distinct possibility.
Comments: A genuine ACL contender based on early season form. How they mesh the returning Iniesta and newly arrived duo of Lincoln and Masika with their current high performing starters will be key.
Comments: They tick all the boxes for a side about to take the drop, poor attack, woeful defence, no idea of best lineup, symbolic change of head-coach. I’m not usually so blunt, but take this to the bank, they’ll be in J2 next season.
Comments: Some had tipped them to finish in the top half this year, but as things stand it looks like the 3-1 win at Kashima on the opening day was something of a mirage. Thiago Santana has disappointed and Lotina has run into the same problem as a number of his predecessors, a complete lack of consistency amongst the players at his disposal.
Comments: Still haven’t won a home game since 2019 and that’s a stat they’ll have to alter fast if they want to avoid a return to J2 for the first time in 12 years.
Comments: Going under the radar a touch, but considering they finished bottom last year, their performances to date in 2021 have shown marked improvement. No defeats and 4 clean sheets in a tough looking run of 5 fixtures up to last weekend suggest they mean business and could defy the odds to remain in J1 next term.
Comments: The project looks to be running under budget and ahead of schedule. New head-coach Poyatos is now in the country and working with the players face-to-face and at present they appear set for a decent year. Having, The Alan Parsons Project’s Sirius and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on their pre-match playlist makes me enjoy their games that little bit more.
Comments: The support inside the Best Denki Stadium is the thing that’s caught my eye most about Fukuoka this year. Their seems to be a genuine feel-good factor around the place which is helping to bring out performances that many, including myself, doubted they were capable of.
Thanks again to everyone who read, liked, shared and commented on my J1 and J2 Predicted Lineups posts that I put out about a month before the 2021 season started. The response to them was truly phenomenal and frankly blew me away, so much in fact, that I’ve been re-thinking how I should structure my blog (I’m always open to new ideas, so please tell me what you want!)
The J1 Predicted Lineups post is still getting a fair bit of traffic even though it is a bit out of date, so I thought I’d do some more research and update things a little. Included in this post is a short comment on teams’ performances in the opening month of the season, a list of currently unavailable players (as of 28 March 2021) and a full rundown of the lineups and formations used by each J1 side over their past 5 league fixtures.
A few qualifiers, the team comments don’t take into consideration this weekend’s Levain Cup games as personally I don’t think a whole lot can be read into them, for example if Tosu and Sapporo start to show the form they displayed yesterday in J1 matches, then I’ll revise my opinion of both sides. Secondly, regarding injuries, some of the players I’ve named as unavailable haven’t been officially confirmed as being injured. In certain instances I’ve assumed they are out due to being absent from the matchday squad for a prolonged period of time or being subbed off early in a game and missing subsequent fixtures.
Thanks again for your support and please enjoy!
Comments: Have started the season in ominous form, only dropping points at much-improved Kobe. What’s more, Oshima and Noborizato are still to return and strengthen them while João Schmidt almost doesn’t feel like a new signing, he’s bedded in so quickly. Unavailable: Kyohei Noborizato, Ryota Oshima (injured)
Comments: Only one league match played so not much to discuss. Re-scheduling six fixtures later in the year may see the return of the more defensive 4-4-2 set-up used last season and hopefully the end of the Onose at right-back experiment with Takao returning to take his rightful place. Unavailable: Jun Ichimori, Haruto Shirai, Yuji Ono (injured), Wellington Silva (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: Their defensive strength means they are Kawasaki’s closest challengers despite having no real goal-scorer. Yamasaki has done alright, but shouldn’t be starting for a title contender and Kakitani has shown nothing so far. Inagaki looks like an early MVP contender, Soma has improved, however Morishita seems to be 3rd choice right back at the moment, perhaps he’s too attack-minded for Ficcadenti, imagine how good Tosu would be if he was still there! Unavilable: Mu Kanazaki (injured)
Comments: Higher up the league than many would have expected, but the fixture list has been pretty kind to them so far. Okubo’s goals have been a Godsend in the absence of Taggart while Nishio has slotted in well alongside Seko at the back. Recent injuries to Harakawa, Sakamoto and Takagi will really test their squad depth. Unavailable: Riki Harakawa, Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, Ryuji Sawakami, Toshiyuki Takagi, Hirotaka Tameda, Koji Toriumi (injured), Adam Taggart (Visa/quarantine), Đặng Văn Lâm, Tiago (Visa/contract status unclear)
Comments: The Ibaraki side have made their traditional slow start and will be desperate to get Brazilian midfield duo, Diego Pituca and Arthur Caike on the field as soon as possible. It’s at the back where most of the problems seem to lie, the full-back berths are still up for grabs and none of the centre-backs have covered themselves in glory. Unavailable: Shoma Doi, Ryuji Izumi (injured), Arthur Caike, Diego Pituca (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: A roller-coaster start to the season from the capital club with, injuries, rotation and Covid-protocol violations preventing them from getting into any sort of groove. They’ve got points on the board early, but a chunk of them came in unimpressive home wins over last season’s bottom 2, Sendai and Shonan. They’ll need to hope Bruno Uvini is the man to shore up a rather leaky rearguard. Unavailable: Akihiro Hayashi, Kazuya Konno, Manato Shinada (injured), Bruno Uvini (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: Olunga, Olunga, where art thou Olunga? A very poor start to the season from Kashiwa and they desperately need the soon-to-arrive Brazilian quartet of, Emerson Santos, Dodi, Angelotti and Pedro Raúl to hit the ground running or the nightmares of 2018 could be lurking just around the corner. Unavailable: Yuji Takahashi, Sachiro Toshima (injured), Angelotti, Dodi, Pedro Raúl, Emerson Santos (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: A solid start, made all the more impressive by the fact they are still figuring out their new back four system and how best to set-up their attack. Junior Santos continues to cause intrigue as it appears he’s fighting young Shun Ayukawa to be Douglas Vieira’s backup rather than being the main man himself. Hayao Kawabe could partner former team-mate Sho Inagaki in the J1 Best Eleven if he keeps up his current form. Unavailable: Akira Ibayashi, Rhayner (injured)
Comments: A rather harsh take on them might say that they’ve swatted aside bottom half teams while failing to take the three points against stiffer opposition, exactly as they did in 2020. That said, from what I’ve seen there is a bit more steel about them this time round. I’m re-evaluating Daizen Maeda now that he’s finally added goals to his game and though Élber seems to lack the attacking x-factor of Erik, having more solid, hard-workers than mercurial artists may suit them better in 2021. Unavailable: Theerathon Bunmathan, Daizen Maeda (injured), Léo Ceará (Visa/quarantine)
Urawa Red Diamonds
Comments: Ricardo Rodriguez seems like a lovely bloke, so I’ll spare him any blame for now, but real questions must be getting asked about the financial situation at the club. I started to wonder when Brazilians, Mauricio and Fabricio weren’t replaced last season and now with Leonardo gone, Deng injured and Yuki Abe making a Lazarus like return from the retirement home, a sojourn to J2 next year isn’t entirely out of the reckoning. Unavailable: Thomas Deng, Yudai Fujiwara (injured)
Comments: I picked them to fill the final relegation spot in pre-season and I haven’t seen anything yet to make me completely alter my opinion. The number of changes at the back made in the off-season has definitely unsettled them and Katanosaka is still searching for the right combinations in a number of places. Unavailable: Naoki Nomura (injured), Matheus Pereira, Henrique Trevisan (Visa/quarantine)
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Comments: I’m considering starting my own Patreon account so Sapporo fans can pay me to not watch them live. Last week’s horror show at home to Kobe was their 8th defeat on the spin with me tuning in on DAZN. Second year pros Kaneko and Tanaka have been solid (Tanaka’s assist for Furuhashi last week aside) and young Ogashiwa and Nakashima have looked bright in flashes. Failure to change their slightly archaic game-plan could result in an unwelcome flirtation with the relegation trapdoor. Unavailable: Takuma Arano, Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa, Douglas Oliveira (injured), Jay Bothroyd, Gabriel Okechukwu (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: An outstanding youth system and kantoku have their fans dreaming of ACL football next year. Didn’t score in their opening 4 J1 fixtures in 2020, haven’t conceded in their first 6 games this time round, it’s been quite the reversal of fortunes. How long can they sustain it? Will their new foreign strikers propel them to even greater heights? Will the vultures descend to brutally devour this team in a similar manner to what happened to fellow Kyushu-ites Giravanz last winter? Unavailable: Ismael Dunga, Chico Ofoedu (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: I saw them referred to as ‘Galacticos’ the other day, but that’s not really what they are anymore. They have a healthy crop of youngsters, many of whom have been raised in their academy, developing alongside a few seasoned heads, most notably Hotaru Yamaguchi, who’s been in sparkling form so far this season. There seems to be a real determination to make amends for 2020’s pitiful league performance and 3rd place doesn’t look impossible judging by their early showings. Unavailable: Andrés Iniesta, Junya Tanaka (injured), Lincoln, Ayub Masika (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: Things seem to have completely fallen apart over the winter at Mitsuzawa. In my season preview I predicted goals at both ends, unfortunately that has only proven to be half correct and their veteran forwards haven’t hit it off as of yet. Talented midfielders Matsuo, Seko and Tezuka are struggling against the tide, but receiving little support and, although it’s early days, I think many already see them lining up in J2 next year. Unavailable: Calvin Jong-a-Pin, Haruki Saruta, Hideto Takahashi, Eijiro Takeda (injured)
Comments: They’ve had just the kind of solid, unspectacular start many would have expected under Lotina. After conceding an avalanche of goals over the past 2 years, letting in just 7 in 6 games must have come as welcome relief to long suffering supporters in their picturesque stadium. Lotina’s reluctance to use assist kingpin Kenta Nishizawa may have rivals sending out the feelers regarding his future availability. Unavailable: Hideki Ishige, Eiichi Katayama, Ibrahim Junior Kuribara (injured), William Matheus (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: Collectively this is one of the 4 weakest squads in the division. That doesn’t necessarily need to condemn them to relegation, but to stave off the drop, they will need to find a way to play to more than the sum of their parts. Passing the ball from their centre-backs to wing-backs, pushing the midfield forward to join the attack, then losing the ball and getting countered constantly, isn’t the way to achieve that. Unavailable: Isaac Cuenca, Kunimitsu Sekiguchi (injured), Foguinho, Emmanuel Oti, Nedeljko Stojišić (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: I was sure they’d used up their nine lives last year, but they look a bit better than 2020, at least if the early rounds are anything to go by. Impressive youngster Taiga Hata still hasn’t featured, but playing on the left-wing for Shonan seems to bring out the best in players and Ryo Takahashi has been in fantastic form down that flank. They really need Wellington and Welinton Júnior to bring their shooting boots over from Brazil as a lack of firepower would be the most likely cause of a relegation this year. Unavailable: Tarik Elyounoussi, Taiga Hata, Shun Nakamura, Tsukasa Umesaki (injured), Wellington, Welinton Júnior (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: They’ve probably done as well as could have been expected given that the squad haven’t met their new Spanish kantoku face-to-face yet and most of the players lack top tier experience. Poyatos (I assume he is choosing the team) has made a number of interesting selections with Abe, Fuke, Fujiwara and Kawakami all featuring regularly despite being out in the cold during the Rodriguez era. Unavailable: Dušan Cvetinović, Kazuki Nishiya, Koki Sugimori, Kohei Uchida (injured), Cristian Battocchio, Cacá (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: A decent start has them sitting comfortably in mid-table. Word of warning though, other newly promoted sides, namely Matsumoto and Nagasaki, have also begun top-flight campaigns reasonably well before fading away badly. Avispa need new foreign talents, Jordy Croux and, particularly, Biblically-named forward John Mary to deliver in order to maintain their top-flight status. Unavailable: Juanma Delgado, Bruno Mendes, Taro Sugimoto (injured), Douglas Grolli (1 match suspension vs Sapporo 3 April), Jordy Croux, John Mary (Visa/quarantine)
Please check out the link above to see who has been playing and who hasn’t in J1 2021. I’ll update it regularly. Data keys are below…
Also for those of you using the https://sporteria.jp/ website, here is a simple English translation of the data displayed there…
I’m sure everyone would join me in thanking @Michael_Master and @bmtps_k for their wonderful coverage of all the off-season transfer activity in Japan. The purpose of this article is to see how those winter moves affect the matchday lineups of J1 sides one month out from the start of the new campaign. I hope you enjoy!
First up, some housekeeping notices; * The lineups below are not necessarily intended to be the ones on the opening day, but more the players most likely to fill those positions on a regular basis throughout the year. * Players currently recovering from serious and long-term injuries haven’t been included. Some examples are Andres Iniesta (Kobe), Takuma Arano (Sapporo), Mu Kanazaki (Nagoya), Yuji Ono (Gamba), Akihiro Hayashi (FC Tokyo) and Sachiro Toshima and Yuji Takahashi (both Kashiwa). * As this is a Gamba blog, lineups and formations for other teams are based on a mixture of evidence and guesswork. For instance, teams who performed well in 2020, kept the same manager and the bulk of their playing staff (Kawasaki) are easier to read than those who played poorly last year, changed coaches and brought in a host of new players (Shimizu). * Ages given are correct to 27 February 2021, the opening Saturday of the J1 season, (Y) donates youth team product and teams are listed in order of 2020 league position.
Here we go…
Brief Notes: Way better than everyone else last season and with just Morita departing they’ll be the team to beat once more. Only Mitoma and Tanaka leaving in the summer and the ACL schedule getting moved around again can really threaten their dynasty.
Brief Notes: Leandro Pereira and Ju Se-jong both address areas of need and although it will be difficult to get 2nd again, this group of players shouldn’t finish lower than 5th / 6th even with ACL distractions taken into account.
Brief Notes: Morishita and Kimoto look like great buys, and I was surprised to see Manabu Saito is only 30! Will be strong defensively again, but look a genuine centre-forward short of really challenging at the top.
Brief Notes: Have made some puzzling moves over the winter, but they still have the nucleus of a very good team. How quickly they adjust to Culpi’s brand of football and whether or not Taggart has brought his shooting boots with him from Korea will go a long way to determining their fate this year.
Brief Notes: Assuming their two new Brazilian midfielders settle in well, they should be Kawasaki’s closest rivals. This may not please Gamba supporters like me, but should lead to some tasty @frontalerabbit blog posts.
Brief Notes: They will probably improve merely by not being involved in the ACL this year. That said, the squad looks very unbalanced, with loads of options in central midfield and attack, but significantly less depth further back.
Brief Notes: Shiihashi, Dodi and Kamijima will help to fix their soft underbelly, but there is still a huge Olunga shaped hole in attack. Will Angelotti or rumoured new signing from Botafogo, Pedro Raúl, be able to fill it.
Brief Notes: Junior Santos appears to be an excellent capture, but money is tight and there’s a real lack of depth. Any injury down the central spine of the team could be painful and prevent them from kicking on from last year.
Brief Notes: This year’s squad looks leaner and more settled than last time. A lot will depend on how their new Brazilian attackers do and also how much of 2020’s poor display was down to their overcrowded schedule and how much of it was teams working out how to play against them.
Urawa Red Diamonds
Brief Notes: Given time, I’ve no doubt the Rodriguez project will bear fruit in Saitama, but it may not be as quick a turnaround as the Reds faithful would like. Defence and central midfield could be issues and they appear to be overloaded with attacking midfielders. Having worked with a similar style of player in Yuki Kakita, can Rodriguez turn around Kenyu Sugimoto’s career?
Brief Notes: Should have enough to escape the relegation dog-fight and have made some intriguing signings from J2 down the flanks. Goalkeeper and central defence look like weak areas at the moment. If Shun Nagasawa’s inevitable winner against Gamba could be confined to the Levain Cup I’d greatly appreciate it.
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Brief Notes: A lot riding on the shoulders of last year’s three university rookies, Tanaka, Takamine and Kaneko. If newbies Nakano and Ogashiwa can have a similar impact they could do ok, but they are my tip to be a dark horse relegation candidate.
Brief Notes: Look better placed than at this point last year and I have no difficulty seeing them survive. Being able to keep hold of Matsuoka was a big surprise for me and I’m really interested to see how new African forwards, Chico (Nigeria) and Dunga (Kenya), get on. I know I’m in the minority here, but I genuinely dig their new kit.
Brief Notes: I think they could surprise a few people this year, not by finishing top 4 or anything, but outside of Hyogo there is almost zero expectation and their exciting youngsters may start to come to the fore a little more.
Brief Notes: Should be exciting to watch as it appears there will be plenty of goals at both ends. I don’t see them going down and if Matsuo and Seko continue to play well neither will be at the Mitsuzawa in 2022.
Brief Notes: As a fan of the league, I’d have preferred Cklamovski’s style to succeed, but more realistically Lotina’s defensive brand of football is more likely to guide them to less troubled waters. How high they go is dependent on how quickly the new parts fit together and how fast Lotina can mend their dreadful defence (139 J1 goals conceded 2019-2020).
Brief Notes: If they’re going to avoid the drop the improvement will need to come from the coaching department, with Teguramori replacing Kiyama. The squad on paper looks weaker than last season with the exception of the wide midfield areas.
Brief Notes: Ditto what I said about Sendai, they finished in the relegation slots last year and look likely to do so again. The heart has been ripped out of the team with Kaneko, Saito and Matsuda all going and their most exciting players, Tani, Tanaka and Hata are too young to carry this side on their back.
Brief Notes: Perhaps benefiting from Coronavirus, they managed to keep all of last season’s title winners and even added rising star Joel Chima Fujita. There’s a glaring lack of J1 experience and I can see things like, having 80% possession at home to Shimizu and still losing 1-0, happening a bit too often.
Brief Notes: My main concern is that a chunk of last season’s starting eleven were on loan and have now returned to their parent clubs. They have more players with top flight experience than Tokushima and have made some decent buys, but they are short on depth and haven’t replaced Serantes in goal yet.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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?
* 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…
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.
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.
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.