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Gamba vs Urawa Match Preview 19 Aug 2020

Gamba Osaka vs Urawa Red Diamonds
J1 2020 Round 11
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Wednesday 19 August 19:00 (JST)


It’s grudge match time as Gamba, fresh from a weekend off, following the COVID-19 enforced postponement of their match at Sagan Tosu, face rivals Urawa Red Diamonds. It will be the first game in ten days for Gamba’s top team while Reds are coming straight from a gruelling 90 minutes against Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Who will prevail in the heat and humidity of Panasonic Stadium?

Last Time Out

For analysis of Gamba’s 2-1 wins at home to Yokohama FC in J1 and away to Shonan Bellmare in the Levain Cup let me point you in the direction of my previous post, Gamba News 13/08/20, and you can find all the coverage in there. Now to our upcoming opponents Urawa who hosted Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Saturday night.

Urawa bounced back from their 6-2 pasting at Nagoya in the previous round by taking all 3 points and keeping a clean sheet against a dominant Hiroshima. The home side went ahead in just the 5th minute following their first attack of the match. Brazilian hitman Leonardo threaded a lovely through ball in the direction of left-winger Koya Yuruki which caused Sanfrecce’s right wing-back Rhayner to slide in. To me it looked like the contact was minimal but due to the rash nature of the defender’s lunge, he gave the referee a decision to make and, in fairness, his team-mates had few complaints. Reds’ top marksmen Leonardo took on the responsibility from the spot, did a Diego Oliveira-esque stuttering run up and coolly sent Keisuke Osako the wrong way to give the home side the lead.

After that early Urawa strike, the rest of the game was essentially one way traffic with Hiroshima camped in Reds half and ‘keeper Shusaku Nishikawa turning in an inspired display to keep his former side at bay. As he always seems to be when I watch Sanfre, Brazilian Leandro Pereira was the main threat for the men in purple. He forced a brilliant save from Nishikawa when he outjumped Daiki Hashioka and Thomas Deng in the seventeenth minute to get to Rhayner’s cross and powered a header across Urawa’s number one, however, the stopper was equal to the task and forced it away for a corner. Pereira executed a spectacular bicycle kick just four minutes later, but again there was no beating Nishikawa.

Into the second half and it was still a one-sided affair, Sanfrecce switched their wing backs with Tomoya Fujii and particularly Yusuke Chajima causing problems with crossed balls into the box, but still Urawa remained steadfast. The home team themselves changed things up, introducing Takuya Iwanami to form a back three alongside Deng and Tomoaki Makino which saw Reds revisit their 3-4-2-1 formation of previous years, though in reality it was more of 5-4-1. Leonardo made way for Kenyu Sugimoto and didn’t look happy about it as Hiroshima continued to press. Nishikawa saved well from Pereira who shot from a tight angle, and again from Rhayner’s header while Tsukasa Morishima fired wide and Shunki Higashi’s header suffered the same fate. Eventually Sanfrecce were reduced to attempting speculative efforts from distance as substitute Gakuto Notsuda tried his luck a couple of times. However, it was not to be their night and the Reds won by a solitary goal which moved them up to 6th in the standings, just two points shy of Gamba’s total with a game more played.

Tactical Notes

Not a whole lot to report regarding Gamba, we now know that the lineup selected for the match against Yokohama FC is what Miyamoto considers to be his strongest. In addition, with all first-choice members fit it is unlikely that we’ll see any deviation from the 3-5-2 set-up regardless of who the opposition is. I talked previously about second half fatigue and Lionel Piguet also gave a great rundown of that on the J-Talk Pod last week, coming off a ten day break since the Yokohama game, it will be no excuse against a battle-worn Urawa.

Speaking of our opponents from Saitama, they seem to have bucked the trend tactically in J1 by changing from a 3-4-2-1 formation last year to a more orthodox 4-4-2 in 2020. Reds head coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki is under pressure following a woeful 13th place finish in the league last season and heavy defeats to Kashiwa and Nagoya this time round. That said, his side currently sit in the top six so perhaps his decision to change things up has begun to bear fruit.

Having watched the Red Diamonds games at Nagoya and at home to Hiroshima it has been tough trying to work out what their attacking strategy is as, truth be told, they didn’t do a whole lot of attacking in either game. Off-season signing from Albirex Niigata, Leonardo is key for them and has scored over 50% of their league goals in 2020 (7 of 12). From what I’ve seen, the men from Saitama don’t like playing the ball out from the back like most of their J1 opponents, instead they aim to quickly move it forward and play long passes from the midfield into attack, then hope to build from there, either in the form of quick one-twos or working the ball out wide. With the ageing Yosuke Kashiwagi not seeing a lot of game time recently, creativity in midfield has been a bit of an issue as they tend to play with two holding midfielders. Takahiro Sekine is a useful outlet on either flank, but doubts persist over whether Koya Yuruki is really up to the challenge of playing for such a big club. Additionally, in attack, an injury to Shinzo Koroki, coupled with a loss of form for the likes of Kenyu Sugimoto, Yuki Muto and Martinus means that they are way too reliant on Leonardo for goals, it seems like if you can stop him, you can stop Reds.

In summary, Gamba come into this game fresh, and hotter favourites to win than they’ve been in recent seasons. It’s difficult to get a good read on Urawa as they were thrashed 6-2 two matches ago, but basically everything Nagoya touched that day turned to gold, while last week they held on for dear life for a good 85 minutes at home to Hiroshima. Gamba will surely enjoy the lions share of possession and territory with Urawa looking to clear their lines quickly and counter. The re-introduction of Tomoaki Makino alongside Thomas Deng in central defence as well as the return of Takuya Iwanami gives the Reds rearguard a more solid feel to it. They have been vulnerable against crosses into the box for years and although they defended such attacks efficiently against Sanfrecce, I’m sure Patric will be licking his lips in anticipation of grabbing a third goal in as many games.

Statistical Noise

Gamba Osaka

* Gamba haven’t beaten Urawa at home since 2016 when Takashi Usami’s early strike was enough to give them the three points. Since returning to J1 in 2014 Gamba’s home record against Urawa stands at P6 W 2 D 2 L 2 F 4 A 4, Gamba have failed to score in half of these games.
* Gamba currently sit on 19 points after 9 matches played which compares to just 7 points at the same stage last year and 2018.
* At present Gamba sit third in J1, two points behind second placed Cerezo with a game in hand, the last time they were so high in the standings was after round 19 of the 2017 season when they saw off their city rivals 3-1 at Panasonic Stadium.

Urawa Red Diamonds

* Urawa have taken nine points from their first five away games, however there appears to be a clear split in the results. Their three wins have come against sides in the bottom half, Shonan (3-2), Sendai (2-1), Yokohama FC (2-0), however, both their matches against top half sides have ended in defeat, FC Tokyo (0-2), Nagoya Grampus (2-6)
* Reds only kept one J1 clean sheet under the stewardship of Tsuyoshi Otsuki in 2019, but have already prevented the opposition from scoring on four occasions this time round, Yokohama F.Marinos, Kashima and Hiroshima at home as well as Yokohama FC away.
* Leonardo has scored 58% of Urawa’s league goals in 2020, five of his seven strikes (71%) have come on the road.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Ryo Shinzato is the only injury doubt in the Gamba squad, the on-loan Jubilo Iwata defender has failed to feature in any competition since the home Levain Cup tie with Kashiwa in February, though there has still been no official announcement by the club. Jun Ichimori has now played a couple of games for the U23s in J3, but as yet has been unable to dislodge Kei Ishikawa from his spot on the bench and also played second fiddle to the former Tosu man against Shonan last Wednesday. It appears Shunya Suganuma is raring to go again after captaining a young Gamba in the Levain Cup while Gen Shoji, Kosuke Onose and Ademilson all seem to be fit and firing.

Urawa Red Diamonds

Legendary striker Shinzo Koroki has missed Reds past three games after being substituted against Yokohama FC last month, his continued absence places a huge goalscoring burden on Leonardo. Elsewhere, due to rotation in the squad, it’s difficult to know who’s unfit and who’s just not in favour with the coaching staff. Those I believe most likely to be suffering from a knock are, Brazilian centre-back Mauricio, who had a great game in this fixture last year, he, like Koroki, hasn’t been seen since the Yokohama FC match. His compatriot Fabricio was last spotted in the 4-0 home drubbing at the hands of Kashiwa four game weeks back and ex-Yokohama F.Marinos attacker Martinus has been absent for five matches.

Know Your Opponent – Urawa Red Diamonds

Head Coach: Tsuyoshi Otsuki – Appointed 28 May 2019 – Record P31 W 9 D 10 L 12 F 36 A 49 Points Per Game 1.2 Failed to score 8 Clean Sheets 5.

GK #1 Shusaku Nishikawa © – Captain fantastic for the Reds, former Oita, Hiroshima and Japan national team stopper Nishikawa has been part of the furniture in Saitama since his move in 2014. He produced a wonderful display to thwart his former charges last Saturday and despite no longer being involved with the national team he remains an excellent J1 level ‘keeper.

RB #27 Daiki Hashioka – Urawa’s brightest young talent in my books, 182cm tall Hashioka already has 2 national team caps to his name. He was the target for a bizarre tactic of playing every long ball directly to him in last year’s match between these two, that strategy met with zero success, although Urawa did emerge victorious in the end.

RCB #20 Thomas Deng – Kenyan born, Australian international who was recruited from Melbourne Victory last off-season. He has had a tough baptism into the Reds defence owing to the high turnover of centre-back partners he’s had. If he can play regularly alongside Makino then I’d expect him to develop into a top-quality player.

LCB #5 Tomoaki Makino – Vastly experienced club legend who like Nishikawa and Kashiwagi followed former boss Mihailo Petrovic on the well worn track from Hiroshima to Saitama. Makino’s route was slightly more complex as it came via an unsuccessful loan spell with Koln in the German Bundesliga, but he has now called Urawa home since 2012. The 38 times capped defender who has made J1’s Best Eleven on three separate occasions was out of the starting lineup at the beginning of the campaign, but is now back to restore stability. A big character in the dressing room, he will probably be disappointed that Gamba fans won’t be able to jeer him due to the COVID-19 supporter regulations.

LB #3 Tomoya Ugajin – A one-club man, full-back or wing-back Ugajin initially joined Urawa as a designated special player from Ryutsu Keizai University in 2009 and after signing his first pro-contract the following year has gone onto make over 250 league appearances. He has been back up to the younger Ryosuke Yamanaka for most of the season, but his superior defensive skills saw him earn a recall against Hiroshima.

RCM #29 Kai Shibato – A solid, if unspectacular option in the middle of the park, 24 year-old Shibato comes from solid stock, having attended the excellent Funabashi Municipal High School in Chiba before completing his education at Meiji University. He joined Urawa in 2018, but initially struggled to make an impact, though since mid-2019 he has become much more of a first choice in the Reds engine room.

LCM #8 Ewerton – Currently in the second year of his loan-spell from Portuguese giants FC Porto, Gamba fans will remember Ewerton well as the man who won last year’s fixture at Panasonic Stadium with a low drive in the 87th minute. He has been in and out of the Urawa side since his arrival at the beginning of 2019, but definitely brings more of a goal threat than his rivals for this position such as Takuya Aoki.

RW #41 Takahiro Sekine – Now in his second spell at the club following a disappointing year in Europe with FC Ingolstadt 04 in Germany and the Japanese enclave that is Sint-Truidense V.V. in Belgium. A lively player who can play on either wing or even just off the main striker, as yet, in part two of his Reds career, he has struggled to match the form which got him the move to Europe in the first place.

LW #24 Koya Yuruki – Came to Saitama at the beginning of last year following some impressive displays for Montedio Yamagata in J2. Initially he struggled to find a place in the 3-4-2-1 formation, however, since Urawa started using 4-4-2 he’s been a regular on the left wing. Question marks remain over his output as he’s yet to register a single goal or assist in nine appearances to date this year, he’ll be looking to amend those stats before much longer.

RCF #45 Leonardo – Top scorer in J3 with Gainare Tottori in 2018, top scorer in J2 with Albirex Niigata in 2019, top scorer for Reds so far this season. Young Brazilian forward Leonardo also has his sights set on a potential Japan national team call up in the future and with 59 goals in his first 78 JLeague appearances across the divisions he’d surely be a welcome addition to the Samurai Blue ranks.

LCF #14 Kenyu Sugimoto – Tall, ex-Cerezo forward who like former team-mate Yoichiro Kakitani has had a career of one or two epic highs surrounded by years of average displays. Across 2016-2017 Sugimoto found the back of the net 36 times in 75 league games (2016 was spent in J2 while 2017 was in J1), remove those years from the equation and you are left with a career record of 191 league appearances and just 29 goals. Unfortunately for Urawa this is one transfer they seem to have blundered on as 2 goals in his first 30 league matches is not what they were looking for. I’m fully aware that after me having a go at his goalscoring record, he’ll no doubt net the winner on Wednesday.

Other Options – One-time Vissel Kobe defender Takuya Iwanami made a return from the bench against Hiroshima on Saturday and is a good option at centre-back. In midfield there are plenty of choices, former club captain Yosuke Kashiwagi would surely bring a creative spark if selected for this one, while ex-Omiya man Takuya Aoki is a capable holding player and the versatile Kazuki Nagasawa can play all across the centre of the park. In attack, Yuki Muto at one time formed one of the most lethal combinations in the league with Shinzo Koroki, though his star has somewhat faded in the past 18 months. I like Kosuke Taketomi as a player but he hasn’t been given much of a shout since returning from a decent loan spell with Shonan last summer. Finally, young Ryotaro Ito spent the previous two and a half years on loan with Mito and Oita and is now trying to force his way into Urawa’s top team.

Predicted Lineups





Match Prediction

I’m actually feeling in quite confident mood ahead of this one, though I will qualify that by saying that neither of these teams have played particularly attractive football so far in 2020. I’m going for a 2-0 home win, Usami to get the ball rolling in the first half before Patric finishes off a tough, physical encounter late on.

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Gamba News 13/08/20

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

Last Time Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tactical Notes

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

Team News

Gamba Osaka

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

From the Scout’s Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yokohama FC Match Preview 8/8/2020

Gamba Osaka vs Yokohama FC
J1 2020 Round 9
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 8 August 19:00 (JST)


Round 9 of J1 2020 brings us the second of a home double header for Gamba, with promoted side Yokohama FC visiting Panasonic Stadium for the very first time. The club born out of the ashes of Yokohama Flugels currently lie second bottom of the standings, though Gamba would do well not to underestimate them. As ever, feedback and opinions are welcomed, I’ve noticed 60-70% of my readership is from outside of Japan so I’d really like to know how you became interested in the JLeague.

Last Time Out

Gamba succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at home to Kawasaki Frontale in a top of the table clash last Saturday night. In addition to my match report here, please check out this week’s edition of the @JtalkPod where @frontalerabbit and I discussed the game in detail with Ben and Sam (@FrsoccerSam).
You can find it here… https://podcasts.apple.com/jp/podcast/the-j-talk-podcast/id682488425?l=en&i=1000487086000

Fresh off a full six days of rest Gamba made only one alteration to their starting lineup with the fit-again Kosuke Onose coming in for Yuya Fukuda in the right wing-back position. Ademilson appears to still be on the casualty list as he wasn’t in the 18-man squad while there was a welcome first bench appearance for off-season signing Gen Shoji, although he didn’t get on the field. In central midfield Yuji Ono kept his starting spot ahead of Shu Kurata while Shinya Yajima and Yosuke Ideguchi switched positions with Ideguchi starting at the base of the midfield and Yajima playing more advanced on the right side.

Gamba had the better of the chances in a pretty even first-half where excellent closing down and defensive structures were the dominant forces. The best opportunity fell to Onose following Yasuto Wakizaka’s suicidal pass across his own box in the 20th minute, Kawasaki ‘keeper Jung Sung-ryong was a relieved man to see the Gamba number 8’s shot rebound off his left-hand post. As the half wore on Gamba moved the ball well in attacking areas but created few clear cut chances. Frontale always looked menacing when in possession, however, the Nerrazzuri were up to the task of handling the league’s top scorers and they were reduced to blocked shots around the 18 yard-box and speculative efforts from distance.

I’m not sure what Tsuneyasu Miyamoto said to his players at half-time, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t “let’s abandon the tight defensive structure we had in the first half and leave wide gaps between the defence and midfield”, yet that’s exactly what happened. Kawasaki introduced dangerous left-winger Kaoru Mitoma for the scolded Wakizaka at the break which saw Reo Hatate switch to the right flank and Akihiro Ienaga drop deeper. The move brought almost instant reward for the men from Kanagawa. Mitoma fired a warning shot in the 47th minute following slack play by Gamba in the midfield and less than 60 seconds later Masaaki Higashiguchi was picking the ball out of his own net after a neat one-two between Ryota Oshima and Mitoma ended with the former hitting a fine drive low into the bottom left corner to give the home side a mountain to climb.

Gamba rallied for the next 10 minutes or so, but after that they began to fade away and their attacks started to lose conviction. Indeed, it was Frontale who may have felt they should have extended their lead on the break. Yu Kobayashi, who Gamba did a good job of keeping quiet, beat Hiroki Fujiharu to a header but it cannoned off the crossbar and away to safety. Full time Gamba 0-1 Kawasaki.


Yokohama FC went down 2-0 at home to Sanfrecce Hiroshima for the second time in 2020, following on from their defeat in the Levain Cup back in February. In truth it was no less than a dominant Sanfrecce deserved. I’m not sure if Hiroshima head-coach Hiroshi Jofuku is a fan of the blog but he agreed with my opinion that Douglas Vieira and Leandro Pereira shouldn’t play together and flanked Vieira with Tsukasa Morishima and Shunki Higashi. That trio plus central midfielder Hayao Kawabe gave Yokohama all kinds of problems in a one-sided first half.

Sanfrecce’s opener came just prior to the water break when Higashi, on the left wing, dinked a ball over the top into the Yokohama FC box, it found Morishima who outmuscled Kensuke Sato, Sato tried to wrestle Morishima to the ground, but on his way down, Hiroshima’s number 10 was able to poke out his right leg and guide the ball past Yuta Minami, 1-0 to the visitors.

Just 15 minutes later Sanfrecce doubled their advantage after a corner kick from the main stand side was only partially cleared and Toshihiro Aoyama floated the ball over towards the back post. Douglas Vieira was left completely unmarked and had time to chest the ball down before firing a slightly awkard looking shot across Minami for his third J1 goal of 2020.

Yokohama FC made a triple change at the break with Kazunari Ichimi, Kyowaan Hoshi and Tatsuki Seko replacing Yusuke Minagawa, Masakazu Tashiro and Kensuke Sato, this also brought about a switch in formation as the first half’s 3-5-2 became more of an orthodox 4-4-2. Sanfrecce inevitably sat back which allowed Yokohama FC to have their most dominant spell of pressure in the opening 15 minutes of the half and despite decent touches from Ichimi, left-winger Yusuke Matsuo and centre-back Yuki Kobayashi, the best they had to show for it was left-back Yutaro Hakamata’s shot straight at Keisuke Osako from the edge of the box. Meanwhile at the other end, Higashi nearly embarrassed Minami with a fine lob from inside his own half which hit the Yokohama crossbar. The final 30 minutes rather meandered and petered out leaving Sanfrecce comfortable 2-0 winners.

Tactical Notes

Gamba made a positional switch against Kawasaki with Yosuke Ideguchi starting at the base of the midfield and Shinya Yajima on the right, I’m not sure why Miyamoto made this change, but I have two theories. One, to allow Yajima to track the dangerous Ryota Oshima and two, to give Ideguchi a sort of rest from his heavy workload of high-pressing and protecting the centre-backs. I’m not sure either hypothesis stands up to scrutiny, though. First of all, midway through the first half, Yajima and the more attack-minded Yuji Ono switched sides, throwing my Oshima theory out the window, then later on after Yajima and Ono switched back, Yajima and Ideguchi reversed roles before the midfield musical chairs stopped and everyone was back to their original spot at the start of the second period. Yajima’s two poorest games this season have come in the more advanced right-side role, granted this was against, for me, the two best teams in the league, Kawasaki and Cerezo. I’d prefer to see Yajima start at the base, Ideguchi on the right and Ono and Shu Kurata to rotate on the left in future matches.

This leads me to my next point, a lack of depth in central midfield. With the summer transfer window now ajar, this is the one area I feel Gamba need to address. Yajima and Ideguchi are the only orthodox volante players we have who are in their prime, Yuki Yamamoto, Kohei Okuno and Ren Shibamoto all have potential, but possess a combined total of four J1 appearances to date, while sadly 40 year-old Yasuhito Endo’s legs have gone meaning he is only really effective in games where Gamba can be expected to dominate for long spells with little resistance from the opposition. It seems unlikely that we can break Leo Takae’s loan deal with Machida Zelvia and we have been linked with South Korean midfielder Ju Se-jong, currently in and out of a struggling FC Seoul side. Personally I’d love to see a move for someone like Ryota Nagaki of Kashima or Hidemasa Morita of Frontale, but both are very unrealistic targets for a number of reasons. How about, Yushi Hasegawa? Daiki Matsuoka? Mitsuki Saito? Yusuke Kobayashi? Rikiya Uehara? Let me know what you think.

Finally, in this tactical look at Gamba, we once again saw Onose and Usami link up as a forward pairing in the second half of last Saturday’s game. This is the first time it had been tried since it was abandoned midway through the Levain Cup encounter against Kashiwa back in February. It does engineer a way for Onose, Fujiharu and Fukuda to all play together while giving Kazuma Watanabe a well earned break and Onose is probably closer in style to Ademilson than Watanabe is. However, for me it is the third best option in attack after Usami-Ademilson and Usami-Watanabe.

Yokohama FC have discarded the 4-2-3-1 formation which saw them promoted to J1 this year and have instead opted for a 3-5-2 system (exactly the same as Gamba) since the re-start of the league in June. They’ve also largely ditched their famous gang of late 30 and early 40 somethings in favour of youngsters who they hope can develop into solid J1 players. With no relegation this year, I 100% support this way of thinking and wish them all the best with it, though obviously not in this match.

Interestingly despite starting the match with Hiroshima in their preferred 3-5-2 shape, they changed to 4-4-2 for the second half, and while it looked more effective at first glance, it should be remembered that Sanfrecce essentially had the game sewn up by half-time. Yusuke Matsuo who featured on the left-wing last year is now learning the ropes as a wing-back and along with his counterpart on the right, Maguinho, provides Yokohama FC’s main attacking threat. Matsuo had a couple of decent runs last week, though his positional discipline is questionable as he has a tendency to cut inside and even move over to the right while on attack. In central midfield, Takuya Matsuura was often found almost out on the right-wing in the first half against Hiroshima and this created space for Hayao Kawabe and Toshihiro Aoyama to dictate possession for the visitors. While, in attack, Yusuke Minagawa started but was replaced after 45 minutes by Kazunari Ichimi, who of course can’t play against his parent club. Ichimi looks to be their best striker, so his non-appearance this week is a cause for Gamba optimism. Young Koki Saito is nominally either Minagawa or Ichimi’s partner in attack, though in reality, we’re likely to see him drop off and sit just behind.

To sum up, Yokohama FC will probably adopt a similar formation to Gamba and use the same tactics of playing out from the back and pressing high up the field to try and force opposition mistakes. Unfortunately for them, I’d say along with Shimizu, Tosu, Oita, Sendai and Shonan, they form the league’s weakest teams, so hopefully Gamba will be able to bounce back from last week’s defeat.

Statistical Noise

Gamba Osaka

*Gamba have never lost to Yokohama FC, although to date there have only been 4 league games played between the two. Both J2 matches back in 2013 finished tied while Gamba won one and drew one with last-placed YFC in 2007.
*In 4 home games so far in 2020 Gamba have only had less of the ball than Sanfrecce Hiroshima and are currently averaging 51.7% possession at Panasonic Stadium.
*Currently 17 players have started league games for Gamba this season while 4 (Patric, Kurokawa, Yamamoto, Matsuda) have only made sub appearances. This total of 21 players used is the third least in the league, while 17 starters is the fourth smallest tally in J1.

Yokohama FC

*YFC have failed to score in their last 3 league outings against Hiroshima, Urawa and Yokohama F.Marinos. Their last goal was Masakazu Tashiro’s 59th minute equaliser against Kawasaki in round 5 meaning they haven’t found the back of the net for 301 minutes.
*17th place Yokohama are currently owners of the league’s worst defensive record after shipping 18 goals in 8 games (though 9 of these came vs Kawasaki and Yokohama F.Marinos). Their 7 goals scored makes them the second weakest attacking team in J1 after Sagan Tosu (Gamba’s next opponents – 5 goals – 2 scored and 2 assisted by 20-year old Kaisei Ishii – sign him up?)
*This is just Yokohama FC’s second season in J1, their last was back in 2007 when they were able to take just 16 points from 34 matches, a total that has only been worsened by Sapporo (2012), Oita (2013) and Tokushima (2014) since J1 switched to 18 teams (all three finished with 14 points).

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Generally good news for Gamba on the injury front with Gen Shoji and backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori now back in contention. Shoji played 64 minutes of the 1-1 draw at Oita in the Levain Cup in midweek while Ichimori got a run out for Gamba U23 against Nagano Parceiro last Sunday. Kosuke Onose also returned from a minor niggle in the game with Kawasaki, though doubts persist about the nature of Ademilson’s continued absence, hopefully it is just a precaution. The non-appearance of centre-backs, Shunya Suganuma and Ryo Shinzato against Oita seems to suggest that both are currently injured.

Yokohama FC

Experienced goalkeeper Yuji Rokutan is still out after receiving a nasty facial injury against Vegalta Sendai last month, while as noted above Kazunari Ichimi can’t feature as per the terms of his loan agreement. These are the only certain absences I know of, however, right-winger Katsuhiro Nakayama, an important figure last season, hasn’t featured for several weeks. Left-sided defender Takaaki Shichi and vice-captain Kosuke Saito have been out of the J1 squad for a few matchdays, but both played in the 1-0 win at Sagan Tosu in the Levain Cup on Wednesday. Additionally veterans such as Masahiko Inoha, Calvin Jong-a-Pin, Daisuke Matsui and the prolific in J2, Ibba have seemingly been frozen out of Shimotaira’s league selection plans due to the absence of relegation this year.

Know Your Opponent – Yokohama FC

Head Coach: Takahiro Shimotaira – Appointed 14 May 2019 – Record P 37 W 20 D 9 L 8 F 60 A 43 Failed to Score 8 Clean Sheets 11

GK #18 Yuta Minami – 40-year old stopper who like his head coach was once at Kashiwa Reysol. He’s regained his starting spot from the injured Rokutan and is surely enjoying what must be an unexpected J1 swansong.

RCB #29 Kyowaan Hoshi – In his first season as a pro following a winter move from Komazawa University, Hoshi is one of a number of Yokohama FC players benefiting from the freedom of no relegation this year. He’s started all but one of the post lockdown league games.

CB #4 Yuki Kobayashi – Despite only turning 20 last month, Kobayashi has the look of a far more experienced player. Currently on loan from Vissel Kobe, he appears to be exactly the type of ball playing centre-back that the men from Hyogo will be hoping to build their defence around for years to come. Kobayashi had a decent loan spell with Machida Zelvia in J2 last year and also played twice for Vissel back in 2018 when he was still a high school student.

LCB #26 Yutaro Hakamata – A bit of a bolter in this year’s Yokohama FC lineup, left-back or left-sided centre-back Hakamata only played 14 times during YFC’s promotion campaign, but is being given more game time this season. I guess his coach, in a similar way to Miyamoto, relishes his versatility as he is able to play in three separate positions competently depending on the game situation.

RWB #3 Maguinho – Right-back / wing-back who joined on loan from neighbours Kawasaki Frontale last off-season after playing just 8 J1 games in 2019. Despite that, he managed to score twice and earned plaudits for his attacking play if not so much for his defensive capabilities. He’s one of YFC’s main attacking threats this year.

RCM #7 Takuya Matsuura – Vastly experienced player with over 200 J1 games to his name, mostly with Jubilo Iwata. He missed a lot of 2019, but is now back as a key cog on the right side of Yokohama’s central midfield triangle, though he can essentially operate anywhere across the middle.

DM #8 Kensuke Sato – A one-club man, holding midfielder Sato joined from Chuo University back in 2009 and is now approaching 300 league games for Yokohama. This is his first shot at J1 football and like many of his team-mates he’s found the going tough, it’s a toss up whether it’ll be he or Tatsuki Seko who starts on Saturday.

LCM #30 Kohei Tezuka – A loan signing from Kashiwa Reysol last close season, left-sided central midfielder Tezuka had an interesting start to his pro career with Onehunga in New Zealand back in 2015. After returning to his homeland with Kashiwa Reysol the following year, he never really established himself as a regular starter across four seasons in Chiba and will be relishing the opportunity he currently has with Yokohama.

LWB #37 Yusuke Matsuo – Yokohama FC’s main attacking danger in my opinion, Matsuo helped himself to 6 goals and 5 assists in 21 J2 matches in 2019 while on a special designated player contract from Sendai University. Indeed he actually played against YFC in the Emperor’s Cup last July. This year he’s made the switch from left-wing to left wing-back and seems to be coping well.

RCF #16 Yusuke Minagawa – The man likely to replace Ichimi for this game after also playing the first 45 minutes against his former club Hiroshima last Saturday. 186 cm tall Minagawa has a mediocre scoring record in J1 and his best ever season was spent on loan at then-J2 side Roasso Kumamoto in 2018 where he found the back of the net 11 times in 41 appearances.

LCF #23 Koki Saito – The great young hope for Yokohama FC fans, Koki Saito, not to be confused with the similarly named Kosuke Saito in midfield, doesn’t turn 19 until next Monday but is already in his third season as a pro. He can play either as a central striker, just off the main forward or on the left-wing. Has been tipped for international honours in the future.

Other Options – As laid out in the team news section above, Yokohama FC’s army of veterans including defenders Masahiko Inoha and Calvin Jong-a-Pin, midfielder Daisuke Matsui and Norwegian attacker Ibba have all been left out as Shimotaira has opted to develop youth during this unique campaign. That leaves us with centre-back or defensive midfielder Masakazu Tashiro as a potential starter ahead of Hoshi or Hakamata while as mentioned earlier, former Meiji University midfielder Tatsuki Seko could take Kensuke Sato’s slot. Left-sided player Eijiro Takeda is more likely to play off the bench, but remains a possible starter while veterans Leandro Domingues, Shunsuke Nakamura and even Kazuyoshi ‘King Kazu’ Miura could see some game time. Yuki Kusano, a young forward who struck four times in eleven J2 games in 2019 after joining from Hannan University in Osaka is perhaps a more realistic alternative.

Predicted Lineups




Match Prediction

I always have slight trepidation coming into banana skin games like this. Everything says Gamba should have too much for Yokohama FC, but as we’ve seen many times before in football, anything can happen. With that said, I’m in pretty confident mood and will go for 2-0 Gamba.

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Kawasaki Frontale Match Preview 1/8/20

Gamba Osaka vs Kawasaki Frontale
J1 2020 Round 8
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 1 August 19:00 (JST)


Round 8 of J1 2020 brings us first versus second as table-topping Kawasaki Frontale visit Panasonic Stadium. It’s also another special edition of my match preview as I’m joined by Neil (@frontalerabbit on Twitter) from the excellent http://frontalerabbit.blogspot.com/ to look ahead to this mouthwatering clash. As always comments and feedback are welcomed, please let me know where you are reading this and what changes or improvements you’d like to see.

Last Time Out

Gamba earned their fourth win on the bounce with a hard-fought 2-0 victory at Vissel Kobe last Sunday. This was the third match in eight days for both sides, however, personnel changes were kept to a minimum and that contributed to a game often played at walking pace with the feel of the 5th day of a cricket test match where the two teams are happy to play for a draw.

The men from Suita made two changes to the starting eleven from the previous game against Hiroshima. Yuji Ono came in for Shu Kurata in a rotational move while Shinya Yajima replaced Yasuhito Endo at the base of the midfield after he was rested in midweek. There was still no place in the squad for either Kosuke Onose or Ademilson though it’s still unclear if they are injured or just being wrapped in cotton wool. Former U23 captain Riku Matsuda (not to be confused with Cerezo’s right-back with the same name) made his first appearance in J1 from the bench, replacing Ryu Takao in the 75th minute and picked up his first yellow card less than a minute later after flattening Andres Iniesta.

Gamba started the brighter of the two teams, finding ample space to move the ball around on a slippy surface which caused grip problems for both sides. Takashi Usami brought out a decent save from Hiroki Iikura in the 4th minute as the veteran stopper got fingertips to a shot from the edge of the area and turned it round the post. At the resulting corner Kim Young-gwon headed just wide of Iikura’s far post from an almost identical position that Genta Miura scored against Sanfrecce. However, as the half wore on Vissel, inspired by captain Iniesta in the middle of the park, dominated possession. Chances for the home side were few and far between though, Kyogo Furuhashi having their best moment, turning Takao at the corner of the box before firing in a decent effort that Masaaki Higashiguchi helped wide for a corner.

The second half started slowly and it seemed both teams would happily take 0-0, but things changed in the 62nd minute as Takao’s drilled cross-field ball caused confusion in the new-look Kobe backline. Thomas Vermaelen, making his first J1 start in 2020, played two Gamba players onside in the penalty area, however right-back So Fujitani, himself starting for only the second time, didn’t track back which allowed Yuji Ono to ghost in unnoticed. The former Tosu man scuffed his shot into the ground but it looped up and over Iikura, 1-0 Gamba and Ono’s final contribution of the match before being immediately replaced by Kurata.

A tired Kobe then proceeded to take the game to Gamba, having their best spell between the 73rd and 84th minutes. In that period, Junya Tanaka, one of only two subs used, turned on the edge of the box and fired straight at Higashiguchi, while Furuhashi was denied by a great save by Higashiguchi following nice set-up play by Iniesta, the left-winger then had his header parried by Gamba’s number 1 who was in unbeatable form.

Vissel had their failure to net an equaliser punished in the most dramatic way possible. Four minutes from the end of normal time neat build-up play down the left involving Kazuma Watanabe and Hiroki Fujiharu culminated with an inside pass from Yosuke Ideguchi to Usami, Gamba’s talisman then produced a goal of the season contender from fully 30 metres out that Iikura could only help on its way to the top corner. Usami the Kobe Killer strikes again and the Nerrazzuri took the short ride back to Osaka with all three points.

Vissel Kobe 0-2 Gamba Osaka

Kawasaki remained top after making slightly heavy weather of their 3-1 home victory over Shonan Bellmare. Frontale outshot their visitors 16 to 1 in the first half and also enjoyed 70% of the possession, but despite spending long periods camped in Bellmare’s defensive third, Yu Kobayashi’s header which was stopped by Gamba loanee Kosei Tani (possibly behind the line) was the closest they came. Goalless at the break.

Shots continued to rain down on the Shonan goal at the start of the second half with, Reo Hatate, Hidemasa Morita, Yasuto Wakizaka and Kobayashi all recording efforts. However, in classic underdog style, Bellmare sucker punched their Kanagawa neighbours with a beautiful goal. Two half-time replacements, Shota Kobayashi and Norwegian international Tarik combined with the former’s cross from the right wing scissor kicked home from the penalty spot by the latter. 1-0 Shonan, game on.

Predictably Kawasaki’s response was rapid and it owed more than a little to Bellmare’s more expansive play in the second half. Following the Hiratsuka side’s first corner of the match, Frontale were able to counter just four minutes after going behind. Ryota Oshima, who’d come on just after Tarik’s opener raced away and he played in former Bellmare defender Miki Yamane who shot past Tani for his second goal in as many games.

After that it was all one way traffic and the result rarely looked in doubt. Twelve minutes from time, right centre-back Hirokazu Ishihara miscontrolled the ball which allowed another second half change, Kaoru Mitoma to rob him. The left winger then cut inside and unleashed a fine shot low to Tani’s right meaning he, like Tarik before him, could celebrate his first goal in J1. Ten minutes later Kawasaki finished things off as yet another substitute, highly-touted midfielder Ao Tanaka won the ball aggressively, played a neat one-two with fellow second half replacement Taisei Miyashiro and then buried a shot past the unfortunate Tani. 3-1 Frontale at the finish.

Kawasaki Frontale 3-1 Shonan Bellmare

Tactical Notes

I don’t expect any big tactical changes from Gamba this week despite facing the league’s strongest team. The next two midweeks see Levain Cup action meaning that the strongest eleven will start in the league while youngsters and reserves can be deployed in the cup. This will help with energy levels which were clearly depleted against Kobe last Sunday.

Gamba can be happy that despite the absence of three first choice players, Gen Shoji, Kosuke Onose and Ademilson, in recent games, their replacements, Ryu Takao, Yuya Fukuda and Kazuma Watanabe have all stood up and provided high-quality alternatives. Additionally being able to rotate Shu Kurata and Yuji Ono in the advanced left midfield position with no drop off in performance regardless of who plays is what every manager dreams of. Patric is still doing a good job in his ‘closing pitcher’ role of holding the ball up at the end of games and indeed nearly got himself on the scoresheet at Noevir Stadium.

For this week’s visitors it has been much tougher trying to find chinks in their armour, so I’ll spend most of this tactical notes section waxing lyrical over their strengths. Head coach Toru Oniki, who usually at least starts the season in @frontalerabbit’s good books, has switched his set-up from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 partly in response to the success achieved by their Kanagawa rivals Yokohama F.Marinos last year. Players in all positions have high levels of technical ability allowing them to dictate the pace and direction of a game for long periods. Their central midfield trio takes the form of an inverted triangle in the exact same shape as Gamba and is made up of two orthodox central midfielders and one attacking midfielder / converted winger. This area of the field has seen the heaviest rotation in 2020, owing largely to the amount of quality players who can perform in the Frontale engine room.

Kawasaki’s midfield set-up is designed to get the ball into wide areas quickly, enabling them to engineer two on one situations against opposition full-backs. Once again they have a number of options for these positions on the wings, ex-Gamba prodigy Akihiro Ienaga, J1 MVP in 2018 is still pulling the strings down the right at the age of 34 while Tatsuya Hasegawa on the left flank was in great form before picking up a knock which caused him to miss the last couple of games. Youngsters Kaoru Mitoma, Reo Hatate and Taisei Miyashiro as well as the vastly experienced Manabu Saito are alternatives, however, for this top of the table bout I’d expect the first choices to start, if available.

Finally, to Frontale’s weak points, and there aren’t many. They seem to have a small teething problem with the inverted midfield triangle, one that Gamba also faced and now seem to have rectified. At points early in the first half of last week’s game, Hidemasa Morita, in the midfield anchor position was isolated from his more advanced partners, Hokuto Shimoda and Yasuto Wakizaka, this could have allowed a stronger side than Shonan to take advantage and run directly at Kawasaki’s centre backs. Gamba’s high press should hopefully be more adept than Bellmare’s at pressuring the Frontale defenders into mistakes, making interceptions and then working overlaps and two-on-one advantages.

The only other cause for optimism I could see when looking to exploit Frontale flaws was in their wide defensive areas. Shonan did have limited success in attacking left-back Kyohei Noborizato and indeed their goal was created from his defensive zone. Wakizaka in midfield and whoever plays on either wing are unlikely to provide much defensive cover, I don’t think Ienaga does defence, which can allow Gamba’s players the opportunity to get at isolated Kawasaki full-backs if they are patient and choose their passes carefully. On the right side Miki Yamane has had a flying start to the season, but I’d expect to see him do far more defending at Panasonic Stadium than he did against Shonan and it’ll be interesting to see how strongly he performs then.

Statistical Noise

I hope to expand this section more as the season progresses and we get more data points, so this week’s entry will be a little short. Please let me know what you think.

Gamba Osaka

*Gamba and good start to the season are not words often found in the same sentence, after 7 games this year the Nerrazzuri have 16 points, compared with just 6 points at the same stage in 2019 and 4 the year before.
*Gamba have now won their last four matches in-a-row, the first time they’ve achieved that since the end of 2018 when of course they went on their incredible 9 match winning streak from September 1st (2-0 at home to Kawasaki) to November 24th against V-Varen Nagasaki.
*Including last season, Gamba now have 8 wins from their last 10 J1 games with 1 draw and a solitary defeat to Cerezo. They’ve scored 21 and conceded 10 in that time.
*Improved away form has been a key factor in Gamba’s strong start to this season. They picked up just 5 wins on the road in 2019 and a mere 20 points from 17 games. 2020 has seen them win 3 out of 4 and they’ve already got halfway to matching last season’s away points total.

Kawasaki Frontale

*Frontale are the league’s top scorers with 20 strikes in 7 games, this puts them 2 ahead of Kashiwa Reysol and an incredible 8 more than joint third placed Gamba.
*Statistically the best away side in J1 last season, Kawasaki have started 2020 with a bang too, winning all 3 road games and scoring at least 3 times in each match. Their last away league defeat came against Cerezo Osaka on September 1st last year, a 2-1 reverse.
*Frontale forward Yu Kobayashi has scored 4 goals so far this campaign in just 154 on-field minutes, a goal every 38.5 minutes, Gamba better watch out on Saturday.
*Kawasaki have won just once away to Gamba since the men from Suita were promoted back to J1 in 2014, a 1-0 triumph on their first visit to Panasonic Stadium in 2016. Other than that Gamba have won twice (2014 and 2018) while there have been 3 draws.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Gen Shoji is once again a doubt and it’ll be interesting to see if he gets a run out in either of the upcoming Levain Cup games. Reserve goalie Jun Ichimori is still on the treatment table and is due back in September, while there has been no word on the status of Kosuke Onose or Ademilson after both were omitted from the squad for the Hiroshima and Kobe games, though according to Instagram, Ade is training with the first-team. Riku Matsuda’s inclusion against Vissel also raises the question of whether the more experienced Shunya Suganuma and Ryo Shinzato are injured or has Matsuda merely usurped them in the pecking order?

Kawasaki Frontale

Club legend Kengo Nakamura is back in training after injuring his knee at the end of 2019, but is unlikely to be risked yet, while @frontalerabbit reports that left-winger Tatsuya Hasegawa, who hasn’t played since leaving the field in the first half of the game against Vegalta Sendai on July 22nd, is out for a further 4 weeks. Elsewhere new Brazilian right-back Diogo Mateus hasn’t been spotted in the matchday squad since his arrival, though I’m putting that down to non-selection rather than injury.

Know Your OpponentKawasaki Frontale

Thanks again to Neil for his wonderful rundown of the likely Kawasaki starting lineup for Saturday’s game which you can read below. If you haven’t already please give him a follow on Twitter and check out his blog at http://frontalerabbit.blogspot.com/

GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
35 year old keeper who joined us in 2016 from Suwon in his native Korea. Has pretty much been first choice since then but slightly fell out of favour late on last season. Not sure why though as he’s always pretty steady and he played an important part in us plugging our leaky defence to allow us to get our two league titles.

RB 13. YAMANE Miki
Signed from Shonan this year to hopefully fill what has been a dodgy position for us since Elsinho left. Looks to enjoy attacking and made a great assist for Damiao’s goal against FC Tokyo and scored a couple of nice goals already. Perhaps prone to the occasional defensive error, but is still settling in and if he’s busting forward as he tends to, the opposition have probably got to worry more about him gong forward than we might about his defending.

DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo
Captain and mainstay at the back. Joined us straight from Tsukuba University. Big favourite of Oniki and seems to be first pick on the team sheet. Occasionally makes horrific blunders but aside from those is generally quite steady and reliable. One of our biggest threats from corners.

DF 4 . JESIEL
Joined at the start of last season after playing with a few different Brazilian clubs and had a season where he drifted in and out of the starting line up in spite of him showing that he is probably our best defender. Picked up a slight injury earlier in the season but is strong, skillful and seems to be a real cut above when he’s playing at his best. One of only three centre backs in the whole squad!

LB 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei
Osaka born but has been with us since high school. Left-sided player who can play on the left wing too and has at times filled in at right back. Always full on energy and running. Used to play further forward but now seems to be settled at left back and is currently keeping former Japan national team member Kurumaya on the bench. 

MF 25. TANAKA Ao
Only 21 but was clearly last season’s player of the year and a fan favourite as he’s a Frontale youth team product. Recently has been playing the anchor role in front of the defence but can play anywhere you ask him to in the middle. Great passer and tackler and shooter when he ventures further forward. It’s probably only a matter of time before someone tries to buy him from us. Very important player for us.

MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
Joined us from high school and pulls the strings in midfield for us. Slightly injury prone but makes a huge difference when he’s fit and in the team. Has a great shot from outside the box and is much stronger on the ball than you’d think from looking at the size of him. Passing and tackling maestro. Often targeted by the opposition who look to kick him out of the game but has enough guile to skip round attempted fouls. Makes everything tick for us.

MF 28. WAKIZAKA Yasuto
Former Frontale youth player who joined us from his university team in 2018. Started to make appearances last season but has really cemented himself as a starter this year. Perhaps the most attacking of our three midfielders and likes to run at the box and shoot. Takes set pieces too. Tends to get substituted early on in the second half. Is still developing but looks like he’ll be a great player in the future.

FW 41. IENAGA Akihiro
Came to us from Omiya but his career has taken him from Gamba Osaka Youth to us via spells in Spain and Korea. Hugely important for us going forward. Nominally plays on the right but is left footed and tends to drift where he wants. Has a great shot on him and very skillful. 34 years old now but probably playing some of his best football. Was J League MVP in 2018 and thoroughly deserved it.

FW 9. LEANDRO DAMIAO
Transferred to us last year from Santos FC in Brazil. Presumably on big money and was our marquee signing. Didn’t really get much of a chance to settle in last year as he was in and out of the team in spite of having a decent scoring record. Oniki struggled to get him and Kobayashi to play well together and seems to have now given up on that idea. Kobayashi got the nod over him more often than not last year. Seems to have been unlucky with us so far and perhaps still hasn’t got to grips with the J League. 9 goals in 23 appearances last year though and has three already this year. Totally addicted to trying to score overhead kicks.

FW 18. MITOMA Kaoru 
Another Frontale youth team product. Has appeared for the national U23 team quite a few times and looked like he might be a possible star of the 2020 Olympics but we all know how that has turned out. Seems unstoppable when on the ball recently. Drives at defenders and seems to have the ball glued to his feet somehow. Very direct and likes to shoot. Would love to see him start, but then we wouldn’t be able to use him as an always game-changing super sub.

Possibly in place of Noborizato
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
Left back who also joined us directly from Tsukuba University but is likely to start at centre back as we have hardly any centre backs in our squad for some reason. Not 100% convinced by him playing there and is much betting roving forward with the ball. Can still do a job though. 

Toss up whether it is him or LEANDRO DAMIAO
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu 
Fan favourite and one club man. League MVP in 2017. Hasn’t quite set the world alight so much since then but has started this season pretty strong, especially when coming off the bench scoring six goals so far. Often needs quite a few chances to find his range, particularly if he starts the game for some reason. Has an absolutely lovely turn on him and will do something sublimely skillful and then pass the ball to the keeper. Or absolutely bury it depending on how he’s playing. This year it seems that whichever striker starts struggles and the sub does the business which makes it a bit tricky to predict whether Damiao or Kobayashi will get the nod up front. 

Possibly in place of Mitoma
FW 30. HATATE Reo
Another young rising star with U23 team appearances and plenty of goals. Still looks a bit raw when he plays for us but another player who suits our new attacking style with his resolute desire to head for the goal whenever he has the ball. Nominally a striker but seems to be another who falls into the category of quite short attacking wide player who gets forward quite often. Feel that once he gets his first goal his confidence will bloom. For some reason got the nod over Mitoma to take Hasegawa’s place in the last starting line up, so maybe Oniki knows something we don’t. Has played as a sub on the right too though, so he has the potential to cover for a few players.

Predicted Lineups





Match Prediction

A real tough one this week with J1’s best going head to head and no midweek games to distract them. Once again I’d love to say 2-1 Gamba, but I’ll stick with my tried and tested 1-1 prediction and hope that I’m wrong again!

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Vissel Kobe Match Preview 26 July 2020

Vissel Kobe vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 7
Noevir Stadium Kobe
Sunday 26 July 19:00 (JST)


Round 7 of J1 2020 sees Gamba make the short trip west to play neighbours Vissel Kobe. Both sides come into the game unbeaten in their previous four matches so we should be in for a high-quality encounter. Hopefully this preview gives you all the information you’re looking for. Comments and feedback are always welcome and a massive thanks to those who have already contacted me.

Last Time Out

Gamba ground out a scrappy 1-0 win at home to Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Wednesday night which once again highlighted their ability to win ugly this season. In the corresponding match last year Gamba battered their visitors but ended up drawing 1-1 while this time round Sanfrecce may feel they did enough to take something from the game, but ultimately they return home winless, the fourth game in-a-row where they’ve failed to pick up three points.

Both sides reshuffled their packs for this clash as the intense summer schedule started to bite. Gamba made four changes to the starting XI with Yuya Fukuda, Yasuhito Endo, Shu Kurata and Kazuma Watanabe coming in for Kosuke Onose, Shinya Yajima, Yuji Ono and Ademilson respectively. Ono, a quiet revelation since his off-season move from Tosu, and Yajima took up spots on the bench while Onose and Ademilson were given a well earned night off. Interestingly, 17-year old forward Shoji Toyama, scorer of 11 goals in 15 games for the U23 side in J3 was on the bench for the first time, albeit as an unused sub, while Keisuke Kurokawa got his first taste of top-team action this year replacing cramp-victim Yuya Fukuda in additional time.

Sanfrecce had the better of the opening exchanges with Leandro Pereira making a nuisance of himself, his long range effort stinging the palms of Higashiguchi. Yuya Asano, recruited from Mito HollyHock last winter, also had his shot blocked by Gamba captain Genta Miura after he had robbed Fukuda in midfield. At the other end, Yasuhito Endo sent a rasping drive just past Takuto Hayashi’s left-hand post from about 25 metres out.

The game was a rather tame affair between two relatively evenly matched outfits in the first half and in the end it was decided by a goal just before the break. Takashi Usami’s corner from the main stand side found Miura, who’d escaped the attentions of his opposing captain Sho Sasaki, standing all alone just outside the six-yard box and the 183cm centre-back made no mistake, powering his header past Hayashi. 1-0 Gamba at half time.

Sanfrecce threw on Rhayner and Toshihiro Aoyama at the start of the second half, but there was no immediate change in the flow of the game. Hiroshima had the ball more in dangerous areas, but often shot off target or from distance. Gamba remained a threat when countering, their best chance coming on the hour mark with Rhayner blocking Kurata’s goal bound effort on the line. Just like in the previous game with Oita, Gamba came under late pressure. In the space of ten minutes, a Hayao Kawabe cross as well as shots from Tomoya Fujii, Ryo Nagai and of course the dangerous Leandro Pereira threatened to bring the visitors a point their general play may have merited, but it was not to be and Gamba held on to win by a solitary goal, moving themselves up to joint third on the ladder in the process.

Gamba Osaka 1-0 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
22 July 2020


Vissel Kobe played out an at times lively Kansai derby with Cerezo Osaka at Nagai Stadium in midweek, though neither defence could be breeched and the game ended scoreless. A cagey first half saw both teams happy to cede possession to the other provided it was in non-dangerous areas. Decent chances were at a premium, but the visitors created the most presentable ones. Iniesta, Furuhashi and Yamaguchi all found the gloves of Kim Jin-hyeon in the Cerezo goal with efforts from around the 18-yard line. The home side’s best opportunity fell to Ken Tokura who ran onto a long through ball, but found Vissel ‘keeper Hiroki Iikura up to the task of saving his shot.

A bit of needle crept into the game at the beginning of the second period with Kobe defender Hirofumi Watanabe guilty of giving away a few fouls and allegations and counter-allegations flew over how much contact was really involved in some of those challenges. The tie did settle down and became more even, Cerezo tended to attack more, as a home side should, but Vissel remained a danger on the break. Kobe ‘keeper Iikura tipped Yasuki Kimoto’s goal-bound header onto the bar while Hiroshi Kiyotake shot over from near the penalty spot after a great cross from Riku Matsuda. At the other end Iniesta and Sergi Samper fired in shots, but just like in the first half they were unable to create a really golden opportunity against the meanest defence in J1.

Vissel didn’t make their first replacement until the 75th minute and a string of late changes took the sting out of the game somewhat. Young Daiju Sasaki again showed some good touches and composure in midfield after replacing Sergi Samper, but the best chance to claim all three points fell to Cerezo’s Argentine midfielder Leandro Desabato. He shot inches wide of Iikura’s left hand post in the final minute of injury time ensuring that the game finished goalless.

Cerezo Osaka 0-0 Vissel Kobe
22 July 2020


Tactical Notes

Gamba once again opted for a three centre-back formation against Sanfrecce, although with the personnel involved, it could have been easily switched to 4-4-2 at any time. The four changes made to the side from the previous match affected the fluency of the build up and we saw far fewer pieces of neat interchange play in the opposition’s final third. Hopefully the re-introduction of Ademilson and Onose against Kobe will fix that. Yasuhito Endo will likely start this one on the bench after his 66 minutes on Wednesday. Truth be told he didn’t have his best game against Sanfre and although his vision, passing and leadership are second to none, due to his advancing years, Shinya Yajima’s energy and drive are a far better fit for this current Gamba strategy. Interestingly though, as this was the first game Endo had started since the Osaka Derby defeat, we could see that Miyamoto has recognised the issues that plagued the Gamba midfield in that game. When Hiroshima were in possession both Ideguchi and Kurata in the more advanced central midfield roles dropped back to form a line along with Endo just in front of the defenders which meant Sanfrecee didn’t have the room to play with that Cerezo and several teams last year enjoyed.

Vissel operate two main systems, either 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 depending on the opposition or players available. Due to the need for rotation this year, I can’t really be sure which strategy they’ll employ for this game, although I have outlined the likely starting members for each formation in the Know Your Opponent section below.

Kobe’s strength lies from the midfield forward, Andres Iniesta, who will probably sit this match out after playing 170 minutes across the previous two games, pulls the strings in the middle of the park, though Hotaru Yamaguchi and Sergi Samper are both equally adept at monopolising possession. Their wing-backs offer a clear and direct attacking threat, Japanese international Gotoku Sakai is probably the best left-back/wing-back in J1 and his counterpart on the right, Daigo Nishi, helped himself to seven assists in 2019. Both players have had a heavy workload this season and could be rested for this game which would be a major loss for Kobe.

In attack, the 184cm, 80kg frame of Douglas is the leader, in a 3-5-2 the sublime skills of Kyogo Furuhashi can be found just behind or to the left of him, however, if Kobe opt for a front three we could see either see Keijiro Ogawa, a player who seems to have been around forever, but is still only 28 or Noriaki Fujimoto play on the right wing.

Kobe’s soft underbelly definitely lies at the back. Their strategy of playing out from Hiroki Iikura in goals can leave them vulnerable to what DAZN’s commentators call a ‘short counter.’ The inability of the two or three centre-backs to form a straight defensive line is also a headache for head-coach Thorsten Fink, it allowed Cerezo several opportunities to break through in midweek, although they were unable to capatalise.

Last year, there were 120 goals in Vissel’s 34 J1 matches or 3.6 per game, a league high. This time round the men from Hyogo have scored six and conceded six in their opening six games, a massive turnaround. If you consider they scored half of their yearly total against Shimizu and conceded half against Hiroshima, then although both those games were in Kobe, like this one is, statistically we’re likely to see a low scoring clash on Sunday. For the record, I don’t believe Vissel have better defenders or worse forwards than last year, rather, they are adopting a new low-risk strategy which seems to be largely keeping the ball out of the danger area at both ends of the field.

To sum up this rather rambling tactical notes section, Kobe have a bounty of attacking weaponry that can threaten Gamba’s rearguard on Sunday night. However, they will be susceptible to the high press and also to long balls from deep, Kim Young-gwon may come in handy here, as well as quick interplay in the final third involving Usami, Ademilson and Ono.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

As per Alan Gibson on this week’s J-Talk Podcast, Gen Shoji is almost fully fit, but is being wrapped in cotton wool to prevent a re-occurrence of his ankle knock. To add my own spin, Miura and Kim have played every game so far, therefore it’s likely Shoji will come in to give one of them a rest at some point after potentially playing in the Levain Cup matches away to Oita and Shonan next month.
Backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori is the only player who is definitely out, though with this being the third match in eight days, rotation will play a big factor in team selection, I’d suggest Endo and Fujiharu will probably make the bench at best.
One man who has had his rest is Kosuke Onose, he wasn’t in the squad on Wednesday but should be back to play his 50th game for Gamba and 50th in J1 on Sunday.

Vissel Kobe

Experienced Belgian defender Thomas Vermalen hasn’t played in J1 yet this year, no injury has been reported, but I assume there must be some niggle which is stopping him from playing even once a week. Likewise, Brazilian centre-back Dankler hasn’t appeared in the previous three matches which I can only suspect is because of injury. After playing the majority of the games against Shimizu and Cerezo, I can’t see Iniesta starting here, right wing-back Daigo Nishi has also accumulated 338 minutes since J1 resumed and is another likely candidate to be rested. Centre-forward Douglas is only two away from netting fifty times in J1, Gamba will hope he doesn’t achieve that target against them.

Know Your OpponentVissel Kobe

Head Coach – Thorsten Fink (Appointed 9 June 2019) – League Record – P 26 W 12 D 6 L 8 F 44 A 41 Failed to Score 4 Clean Sheets 6.

GK – #18 Hiroki Iikura – Experienced ‘keeper who played over 200 J1 games for Yokohama F.Marinos before making the switch to Hyogo early last year. He has his critics over his sometimes erratic distribution and shot stopping, but showed in the last game against Cerezo what a decent option between the sticks he can be on his day.

CB – #17 Ryuho Kikuchi – Extremely physical graduate of Osaka University of Health & Sports Sciences (the same alma mater as Hiroki Fujiharu), 188cm tall Kikuchi joined Vissel from Renofa Yamaguchi after an impressive debut season in J2. He’s someone who I suggested Gamba ought to look at last year so I was a tad disappointed when he moved to Kobe. I was very impressed with him against Oita and Cerezo and in my opinion he’s Vissel’s best centre-back with the exception of Vermaelen.

CB – #25 Leo Osaki – Often mis-labelled as a promising youngster, Toin Yokohama University graduate Osaki will actually turn 29 early next month. His long and winding journey to J1 has taken him via the American lower leagues, Yokohama FC and Tokushima Vortis. I’ve seen him tipped for international honours before and agree that he’s a solid option, but Vissel’s defensive frailties since he’s joined them haven’t helped his reputation.

CB – #3 Hirofumi Watanabe – Now in his fourth year in Hyogo, Watanabe, who counts Kashiwa, Tochigi and Vegalta Sendai among his former clubs, is one of Vissel’s longest serving players. He only played six times in J1 in 2019, but with Vermaelen and Dankler missing and the games coming thick and fast he’s already racked up five league appearances this time round.

RWB – #44 So Fujitani – A once highly-rated full-back / wing-back, Fujitani’s career has stalled somewhat in recent years. Since Daigo Nishi arrived in early 2019 he’s only played in ten J1 matches and will hope to take advantage of the heavy squad rotation, that will surely take place, to earn more game time.

CM – #27 Yuta Goke – Promising attack-minded midfielder who joined the club directly from Aomori Yamada High School in 2018. Originally from Kyushu, Goke has now made a home for himself in Hyogo and the 21 year-old is beginning to blossom into a decent central midfielder under the tutelage of Thorsten Fink and Iniesta, two men who know a thing or two about the position.

DM – #6 Sergi Samper – The third ex-Barcelona player in the squad after Iniesta and Vermaelen, Samper took a while to settle into life in Japan but is now firmly established as first choice in the midfield anchor role. He does not have a league goal to his name in his senior career and will be content to sit in front of his defence and feed the ball to his more illustrious team-mates.

CM – #5 Hotaru Yamaguchi © – Capped 48 times by Japan, Yamaguchi made the slightly controversial move west from Cerezo last year while Naoyuki Fujita travelled in the opposite direction. Able to play at the base of the midfield triangle or slightly more advanced, the vastly experienced Yamaguchi will be a key cog in the Vissel machine wherever he finds himself selected for this game.

LWB – #24 Gotoku Sakai – An excellent mid-season addition from Hamburger SV last year, Japan international Sakai is a regular provider of ammunition for his forwards and was a huge upgrade on ex-Gamba youngster Ryo Hatsuse. With 42 Japanese caps under his belt and seven years spent playing in the German Bundesliga, Niigata native Sakai is someone Gamba will really have to watch out for on Sunday.

CF – #49 Douglas – Kobe’s biggest off-season signing, Douglas came in from Shimizu S-Pulse after contributing 25 goals and 8 assists in just 45 games across a year and a half spent in Shizuoka. He previously had a five and a half year spell in Japan from 2010-15 which produced more mixed results. His 21 goals in 33 matches fired Sanfrecce Hiroshima to the J1 title back in 2015, but prior to that his performances with both Tokushima Vortis and Kyoto Sanga in J2 were rather more patchy.

CF – #11 Kyogo Furuhashi – It’s difficult for me to add anything to the already loud chorus of praise that he receives from everyone in the JLeague English community on Twitter. I’ll do what I do best then and just quote some stats, Furuhashi has four goals and one assist in six J1 starts this season, his record extends to seven goals in nine games this calendar year if you include the ACL and Japanese Super Cup. He and Douglas have contributed all of Vissel’s J1 goals so far in 2020, Gamba must stop him if they want to take anything from Sunday’s game.

Other options – I’ve assumed two things with the above line up, one is that there will be rotation so Andres Iniesta and Daigo Nishi will be rested, and two is that Kobe will play 3-5-2, if they opt for 4-3-3 then expect Keijiro Ogawa or Noriaki Fujimoto, who has slightly underwhelmed since signing from Oita last summer, to start on the right wing. Other options in attack include ex-Sporting Lisbon forward Junya Tanaka, whose late goals sunk Gamba in the game at Panasonic Stadium last spring, or young Yutaro Oda, an academy graduate who has made a couple of sub appearances recently. Further back, two other former Kobe Under-18 players Takuya Yasui and Daiju Sasaki are options in midfield, Sasaki at the base and Yasui a little further forward. While in defence Ryo Hatsuse can play either on the left or right, but he’s yet to feature in J1 since returning from a loan spell with Avispa Fukuoka in the second half of last season.

Predicted Lineups





Match Prediction

A bit of a lottery this one as both sides come into the match tired following two tough games in the past week. I’d love to go for a 2-1 away win here, but I’ll let my cautious nature take over and say it’ll be a closely fought, at times physical 1-1 draw.


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Sanfrecce Hiroshima Match Preview 22 July 2020

Gamba Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima
J1 2020 Round 6
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Wednesday 22 July 19:00 (JST)


Round 6 of J1 2020 sees the first midweek game played at Panasonic Stadium Suita this year and Sanfrecce Hiroshima are the visitors. I had the great pleasure of working with Sanfrecce supporter and blogger Tobias (better known as @ConDrei on Twitter) to put this preview together. It is the first of what I hope will be several collaborations with other English language bloggers this season. Please let me know what you think.

Last Time Out

Gamba recorded a 2-1 home victory over Oita Trinita which was ultimately more comfortable than the tight scoreline might suggest. The Nerrazzuri made just one personnel change from the previous week’s triumph at S-Pulse with Yuji Ono coming in for Shu Kurata in midfield. They did, however, revert to a back-three with Shinya Yajima playing just in front of them and Yosuke Ideguchi putting in a great shift supporting both defence and attack admirably.

The men from Suita were in control for most of the first half, displaying an attacking coherence rarely seen thus far in 2020. The high press was also very successful and they essentially out-Oitad Oita (if that makes sense?), by building pressure and forcing mistakes. Daiki Watari did give an early indication of the dangers Trinita could pose on the counter as his shot was blocked by Ryu Takao following a cross from the right. Gamba failed to heed that warning and against the run of play in the 33rd minute Oita took the lead with a goal of real quality. Ex-Gamba winger Tatsuya Tanaka fired in from the right-hand side, this time Watari was able to get the better of Takao and he bulleted a header past Higashiguchi. 1-0 to the visitors.

Gamba didn’t have to wait long to get on level terms, just three minutes in fact. A good team move ended when Kosuke Onose was clearly tripped by Oita’s Tomoki Iwata and up stepped Takashi Usami to fire home a powerful penalty that beat Shun Takagi to his left. Usami’s first goal of the year and 1-1 at the interval.

Usami turned provider for strike partner Ademilson just three minutes into the second half. He robbed Trinita defender Kento Haneda of the ball on Gamba’s right and quickly fed his Brazilian team-mate, Ade then cut inside, brought the ball onto his left foot, turned Yoshinori Suzuki and buried his shot low, past Takagi at the near post for his second goal of the campaign.

Gamba threatened to run away with the game in the ten minutes or so that followed and Trinita ‘keeper Takagi was a relieved man as he almost let an innocuous looking back pass cross his goal line but managed to clear the ball just in the nick of time. The men in blue and black then slowly released their foot from the accelerator and gradually ceded possession and territory to their visitors. Despite substitute Kazuki Fujimoto showing some nice touches on his senior debut Oita were wasteful in the final third with numerous crosses failing to find their target and Yuto Misao’s weak effort straight at Higashiguchi their best chance to take anything from this game. Full time Gamba 2-1 Oita.

Gamba Osaka 2-1 Oita Trinita
18 July 2020


Sanfrecce made it three games without a win when they slumped to a 2-1 home reverse against Cerezo Osaka. The Cherry Blossoms, of course, defeated Gamba by the same scoreline a fortnight earlier and this game had a similar pattern to the Osaka derby with Cerezo the stronger team in terms of overall play and sharpness in front of goal.

The away side had the better of the first period and took the lead after just twenty minutes. Right winger Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, who was a thorn in Hiroshima’s side all night turned every Gamba fan’s favourite Sanfrecce player Kohei Shimizu inside out before firing in a dangerous low cross in the direction of Ken Tokura. Hiroshima captain Sho Sasaki got to the ball first but was unable to control his clearance and it spun past Takuto Hayashi for an unfortunate own goal. 1-0 Cerezo at the break.

The goalscoring action in the second half was confined to the opening fifteen minutes. First, Cerezo went 2-0 up with Sanfrecce the architects of their own downfall. Following numerous chances to clear from their defensive third, the three arrows were dispossessed by Cerezo central midfielder Naoyuki Fujita about 30 metres out, his interception was picked up by Hiroshi Kiyotake who then put the onrushing Fujita through one on one and he made no mistake, slipping the ball under Hayashi for his first league goal for the club.

Sanfrecce were back in the match literally seconds later when some slack defending allowed Douglas Vieira, a half-time replacement for the ineffectual Ryo Nagai, a run on goal, and Croatian centre-back Matej Jonjic brought him down for a penalty. After a bout of Cerezo shenanigans (on an even bigger scale than prior to Ademilson’s PK in the Osaka derby) delayed the kick for a good couple of minutes, Vieira dusted himself down and put his shot slightly left of the middle to reduce the deficit to just one goal. Despite huffing and puffing, Sanfrecce were largely reduced to long range efforts at goal and Cerezo held out reasonably comfortably to take the 2-1 win.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-2 Cerezo Osaka
18 July 2020


Recent History

With the games coming thick and fast these days I only have time to look back at the two matches between these two from last year.

The away clash came in round 6 in early April and it was one all supporters of a Gamba persuasion would rather forget. Goals inside the first ten minutes from Yoshifumi Kashiwa and Kosei Shibasaki sent Sanfrecce on their way and confined Gamba to their fourth league defeat in the first six games, although it was their first loss on the road following earlier wins at Kawasaki and Shimizu. Hayao Kawabe added gloss to the scoreline with a third five minutes before time. 3-0 it finished.

Gamba were an altogether different beast come the return leg at the beginning of the Obon holiday. A bumper crowd of over 30,000 witnessed young Yuya Fukuda announce himself on the big stage with a fine display of attacking prowess from the left-wing back position. The Osaka side swarmed all over their visitors right from the off, but Hiroshima remained resolute and there were few clear openings in a goalless first half.

Sanfrecce had more attacks in the second period, but Gamba were still largely in the driving seat in a game which looked destined to finish 0-0. That all changed in the 89th minute when Kosuke Onose cut inside and unleashed a powerful drive from the edge of the area, a partially unsighted Keisuke Osako spilled the ball into the path of the advancing Shu Kurata and he made no mistake to send the blue and black support into raptures. Their joy was to be short-lived as in the second minute of additional time, Leandro Pereira, then a recent loan addition from Matsumoto Yamaga, rose to head Tsukasa Morishima’s cross past Higashiguchi and claim a point for the men in purple. A frustrating night for all Gamba fans as this would be the third of five consecutive league draws, and the second of three games in which the Nerrazzuri threw away late leads.

Tactical Notes

Gamba returned to using the three centre-back system for the home game against Oita and owing to that result as well as Sanfrecce and Trinita’s similar playing styles, I believe that is the formation Miyamoto will employ for this game. As noted above, Yosuke Ideguchi covered a lot of ground playing in a double volante with Yajima when defending but then being found on the right side of Gamba’s inverted midfield triangle going forward. As a result of his heavy workload on Saturday, it’s possible he’ll sit this one out.

The high press employed by Gamba’s attackers reaped dividends last time out but I’m a touch concerned about the toll it’s taking on Usami and Ademilson. They have been subbed off in almost every game, so I wonder if we will see Patric and/or Watanabe start this clash. Hiroki Fujiharu was another who got through a mountain of work in the last match, he sat out the previous midweek game with Nagoya, and his place could once again go to Yuya Fukuda, who is yet to show his best form since returning from injury.

Hiroshima generally set up in the same 3-4-2-1 as Oita, though they did tweak their system for the visit of Cerezo, playing in an almost identical structure to Gamba with an inverted midfield triangle. The experienced Toshihiro Aoyama, another not so popular figure in Suita, sat at the base with his regular volante partner Hayao Kawabe just ahead to the right and Tsukasa Morishima, who regularly provides great service for his tall attackers from the left wing, sitting a little deeper just to the left of Kawabe. Up front Leandro Pereira was partnered by former Matsumoto team-mate Ryo Nagai and this simply didn’t work with the latter replaced by Douglas Vieira at half-time. This leads me to Sanfrecce’s attacking conundrum, Pereira and Vieira are their best forwards, but they are too similar to each other for it to really click as a partnership, in my opinion. Both do their best work in and around the penalty area, and although Vieira is better than Pereira at general link up play, if you’re going to play someone just off Pereira, then that role would surely be better suited to the likes of Shunki Higashi or Gakuto Notsuda.

Defensively, Hiroshima’s back three is pretty sound with, Yuki Nogami, ex-Gamba Junior Youth Hayato Araki and Japanese international Sho Sasaki forming a settled line up that didn’t concede more than twice in a league match last season. Down the left flank is where the issues lie, the experienced Yoshifumi Kashiwa is missing for at least another month and his absence has been keenly felt. Yuya Asano, Kohei Shimizu and young Tomoya Fujii have all been tried there with varying degrees of success and it should be noted that Cerezo’s right winger Tatsuhiro Sakamoto had great joy throughout the ninety minutes last Saturday. Additionally, Ken Tokura, who tormented Gamba in the Osaka derby caused identical problems for the Hiroshima rearguard and this is something Patric may seek to emulate when he gets his chance.

To sum up, this match will likely be similar in style to Gamba’s game with Oita. Hiroshima will be content to sit in and soak up pressure while hoping to catch Gamba on the counter. Gamba on the other hand will aim to build on the attacking fluency they showed in the first hour against Oita, they’ll attack the flanks and hope that the high press will bring them a similar reward to Cerezo who used it to score their second goal against Sanfrecce at the weekend.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

There are no new injury concerns that I know of, meaning that once again Gen Shoji (ankle) is a doubt and Jun Ichimori (shoulder) is definitely out. Yuki Yamamoto got a start for the U23 side on Sunday and could feature after a few games as an unused sub. This will be Kosuke Onose’s 50th game for Gamba and also his 50th in J1, he has 11 goals to his name to date.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Influential left wing-back Yoshifumi Kashiwa (8 goals, 4 assists in 34 J1 games last year) is definitely out with a leg injury, he’s expected back sometime in August. Highly-rated young stopper Keisuke Osako has been on the bench for the past two games following his error against Oita, I’m assuming he’s fully fit and could return at any time. Defender Kazuki Kushibiki, midfielders Taishi and Hiroya Matsumoto and attacker Ezequiel have all been out of the squad in recent games, though as none are established starters I’m guessing this is simply down to non-selection as opposed to injury. Veteran Toshihiro Aoyama will make his 400th league appearance for Sanfrecce if selected, to date he’s played 363 J1 and 36 J2 games.

Know Your OpponentSanfrecce Hiroshima

A massive thanks to @ConDrei for his excellent in-depth look at Wednesday night’s opposition. If you haven’t already, please give him a follow on Twitter and also check out his Sanfrecce Hiroshima EN – unofficial – page @threearrowsSFC as well as his blog https://violetarrowshiroshima.wordpress.com/

It is year three of the Hiroshi “JFK” Jofuku era. The turnover came when Sanfrecce under triple champion manager Hajime Moriyasu narrowly avoided relegation at the end of 2017. The tactics of 3-4-2-1 has been connected to the club for most of the last decade, Introduced by Michael Petrovic, adapted by Hajime Moriyasu and basically used by Hiroshi Jofuku leaving almost no change to the look of Sanfrecce’s formation. The sole striker position was regularly taken up by star players up front (Douglas,
Hisato Sato or Peter Utaka) but, odd as it sounds, since Sanfrecce has one of the best defenses in the league the heart of the squad recently moved from CDM to COM. It was Toshihiro Aoyama and the Morisaki twins that built up the game in 2012 and 2013, flanked by Michael Mikic and Kohei Shimizu with Hisato Sato up front, in 2020 you have some great talent in the backfield behind the striker, while the CDM looks a little old and unsettled.

Just last week the 3-4-2-1 was abandoned for a 3-1-4-2 formation. As Jofuku seems to have moved his focus onto high pressing and a more attacking style of play. I will use the formation change momentum to build up my probable Starting XI:

GK – #1 Takuto Hayashi – Remember when Nishikawa left for Urawa and the then 31y/o Hayashi was brought back to his former club? That was 6 years ago. Hayashi had his best season in 2015, when he conceded only 30 goals keeping 14 clean sheets in the process. In 2018 he came close to that mark, but just a few more goals conceded were enough to cost Sanfrecce a fourth title. After that, Hayashi lost his place between the posts to youngster Keisuke Osako in the lead up to the 2019 season. The veteran was responsible for the opening goal for Thai side Chonburi United by mishandling a ball. This was followed by an (to me) unknown injury and the chance for Osako to not only impress with a shining smile but very athletic and fast reactions on the line that
Hayashi had naturally lost after all these years. With Osako looking a little less secure in his last outing, Hayashi had his chance. But basically you can expect Osako’s return in any given match day. So don’tbe surprised if the 20 year old keeper returns against Gamba.

RCB #2 Yuki Nogami – Nogami has grown more and more reliable for Sanfrecce’s three-piece defense since moving to Hiroshima in 2016. A pleasant surprise in the final matches of the 2016 season, Nogami transitioned into a trusted player when he was tasked with filling the boots of Tsukasa Shiotani, who left for UAE club Al-Ain. I would characterize him as a hard worker with some pace, who sometimes lacks a little strength in using his body.

CB #23 Hayato Araki – With Kazuhiko Chiba growing older the central defense position had to be filled by a new player. As Jofuku tends to give younger players a chance it was the time for Hayato Araki, a former Sanfrecce youth player, to show what he is capable of. While still studying at Kansai University, Araki was brought to the team in 2018 and
since then he has played his boots off in one of the strongest defenses in the J.League. He is one of those highly-rated prospects that you hope will stay with your club for a couple of years. He plays cleverly despite his young age and is always willing to throw himself in front of shots.

LCB #19 Sho Sasaki – The poster boy of Sanfrecce Hiroshima is the 30 year-old veteran. Coincidentally he played under Jofuku at Ventforet Kofu but joined Sanfrecce ahead of the manager. When Hajime Moriyasu took the helm at the Samurai Blue it was Sho Sasaki who was given the chance to present himself with the National Team. Rightfully? I am not sure as Sasaki is solid but not the best of those three in my opinion. On the last matchday he deflected a crossed ball into his own goal, that brought mischief to Jofuku’s match plan. I hope that he won’t dwell on his mistake as it is crucial to have a focused defense.

RW #44 Rhayner – The Brazilian is on loan from Tombonense and returned to Japan after previously winning J1 with Kawasaki Frontale in 2017. Aside from knowing that fact, I was not aware of him as a player but his first impressions with Sanfrecce were undoubtly great. While he sometimes appears to lack a little offensive agility, I admire his efforts to defend almost anywhere in front of the three backs.

DM #6 Toshihiro Aoyama – He is one of the players that has endured everything with Sanfrecce in the last 16 years. Aoyama joined Sanfrecce in 2004 from a High school in Tsuyama, Okayama. He is one of the toughest players in the squad and apart from his defensive talent, he is able to provide a lot of crucial assists while regularly building up attacks. He is now 34 though and has lost a bit of his freshness. But, as a captain he
is still a stronghold on the pitch. Especially for those younger players that Jofuku brings into the team.

OM #10 Tsukasa Morishima – One of the young players whose career has really taken off under Hiroshi Jofuku. The 23 year-old attacker had a dire season in 2017 when he was given his first chance, but in 2019 Morishima’s standing sky-rocketed in the squad, playing all but one match in the AFC Champions League and assisting 9 goals in 24 league appearances (while scoring 3 goals himself). He is definitely a player to watch if he plays on Wednesday.

OM #8 Hayao Kawabe – Long-time loanee to Jubilo Iwata, Kawabe returned to Sanfrecce in 2018 and became a regular starter in 2019. Despite only being 24 years of age, he often looks often like a more experienced player. He hasn’t yet shown the sharpness in front of goal that he had with Jubilo, but this may be due to helping out Aoyama in a more defensive lineup. Unfortunately he was responsible for the second goal, a well-worked counter attack by Cerezo, when he mishandled a high ball. But apart from minor flaws in judgement I’d say you really can see his talent. I hope he will be a key member in the rejuvenation of the squad.

LW #16 Kohei Shimizu – From a Gamba perspective probably the most infamous player on the squad. If I don’t make you aware of it now, probably you heard Mr. Alan “JSoccer” Gibson more than once rant about Shimizu’s character as he simulated a violent conduct by Gamba defender Jae-suk Oh in the J.League championship final first leg of December 2nd, 2015. Oh was sent off by the ref in the 86th minute while Sanfrecce scored twice in injury time . That deed excluded, I see Kohei Shimizu as a reliable backup for both wings who is currently deputising for Yoshifumi Kashiwa, who will miss a couple of weeks due to a calf injury. Shimizu is no regular starter and Kashiwa’s attacking talent has been heavily missed in recent Sanfrecce matches.

FW #9 Douglas Vieira – Since moving to Sanfrecce in 2019, Douglas Vieira, the
former Verdy striker has yet to shine on the pitch. In most years the central forward has been essential to Sanfrecce’s results. Most goals came from those central attackers. While Patric has been a force in aerial battles (despite lacking some skills with his feet in my opinion), Douglas Vieira does not have the physical strength to nail a ball up front. His headers are also not worth mentioning. That is why Vieira was mostly used as a false 9 in recent matches as he can regularly build up some speed to catch those high ball forward passes.  Overall he has been a a decent addition to the team, with the double FW formation installed Douglas Vieira has moved up front. So it is hard to say if this
style of play benefits him.

FW #39 Leandro Pereira – Pereira moved to Sanfrecce from relegated Matsumoto Yamaga on loan last summer. Another oddity in Japanese transfer history, Yamaga can now see that Leandro Pereira has decisively established himself as the No.1 striker in our team. He looks much more comfortable with the ball at his feet than Patric did at
Sanfrecce, yet he sometimes lacks a little patience and shoots from bad positions. Right now he is the most feared striker of the squad, but when the build-up is lacking in sharpness he rarely has the chance to score.

In hindsight you can recognise the tactical development Sanfrecce Hiroshima have undergone in the Hiroshi Jofuku era. After almost being relegated in 2017, Jofuku tried to improve the dire defensive situation which ultimately lead to the feared anti-climax Sanfrecce football in 2018 that just missed out on a fourth title in 7 years only by a second-to-none collapse at the end of their season. The defensive blackout was worsened by a missing strike force that neither Patric, Masato Kudo nor Besart Berisha could serve over a full season. In 2019 you saw a strong defense with the first improvements in the build up of the attack. Also young players were able to get on the pitch more regularly, which serves as a possible focus point to further build up a team
over the next years. 2020 started well and you can see Sanfrecce more willing to adapt and vary their style of play to match their opposition. Either by more pressing tactics against a much improved Cerezo side or as a counter attacking force against Vissel Kobe. Yet, the offensive strike force is the weak point of the squad. The recipe to throw in one (or now two) Brazilians to score goals is at least uninspiring, yet, as a result of minor
mistakes in the defense it’s possible that the whole team has been totally thrown off balance by a much more offensively oriented style than 2018.

Predicted Lineups



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Match Prediction

Gamba come into this one on a three match unbeaten run while Hiroshima haven’t won in their previous three games….I’ve jinxed it right there, haven’t I? Needless to say this will be a tight game, most likely decided by levels of energy and rotation within each squad. Gamba haven’t kept a clean sheet this year while Hiroshima don’t concede many. I don’t see more than three goals in this encounter and I’ll actually settle on a close 1-1 draw.

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Oita Trinita Match Preview 18 July 2020

Gamba Osaka vs Oita Trinita
J1 2020 Round 5
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 18 July 19:00 (JST)


Round 5 of J1 2020 sees Gamba back in Osaka for the first of two home games in the space of five days. Oita Trinita are the visitors for the first J1 game in front of paying spectators in Suita this year. Hopefully this preview gives you all the information you’re looking for ahead of this intriguing clash.

Last Time Out

Super-sub Kazuma Watanabe was again the hero for Gamba away to Shimizu S-Pulse last Sunday as his beautiful 89th minute shot proved the difference between the two sides in a highly competitive encounter.

Head Coach Tsuneyasu Miyamoto kept personnel changes to a minimum with only the rested Hiroki Fujiharu and Shu Kurata coming back into the side for Yuya Fukuda and Yuji Ono, both of whom took up spots on the bench. However, the big alteration came tactically with Gamba reverting to a 4-4-2 system last used in April 2019 at home to Urawa.

S-Pulse put in what must be their strongest performance of the season with Carlinhos down the left, 18 year-old Yuito Suzuki through the middle and Shota Kaneko on the right caused Gamba’s defence real problems all night with their pace and movement. Shimizu got in behind a few times early doors and put fizzing crosses across Gamba’s six-yard box to no avail, they also had a few long range efforts, but nothing too damaging from a blue and black perspective.

At the other end of the field, it was Gamba who opened the scoring through a lovely team goal which was started by Kim Young-gwon inside his own half, the South Korean defender found Usami who played a lovely ball to the onrushing Fujiharu. Gamba’s left-back then attacked the box and centred for Ademilson who produced a lovely first touch pass into the path of Kosuke Onose who netted his first of the season low to Togo Umeda’s right. 1-0 Gamba at half time.

Gamba started the second half brightly, however, owing to some sloppiness in possession and strong S-Pulse forward play the Shizuoka side dominated from around the 50th-85th minutes. Their best chance came just before the hour mark when Kim Young-gwon was dispossessed following an ill-advised run out of defence, in the aftermath Carlinhos was denied by a great save from Higashiguchi, the ball then spun up for Shota Kaneko who was faced with placing his header past Ideguchi and Yajima on the line, a tough task, but somehow he managed to head the ball wide of the target.

Gamba couldn’t hold out forever and the equaliser inevitably came. A quickly taken free kick down the right by Yusuke Goto sent Keita Nakamura away and his pinpoint cross was met at the back post by the 191cm frame of Yugo Tatsuta. The centre-back bagged only the 2nd goal of his pro career with a powerful header.

At this point the momentum was all with S-Pulse and you would have banked on them going onto win the game. That’s not how things turned out as a mere four minutes later a Gamba attack down the left saw Ademilson put Fujiharu in behind the Shimizu defence, he cut the ball back for Watanabe who still had plenty to do, but the veteran ran past several defenders on the edge of the area before firing a delicious shot across Umeda and into the bottom corner. Full Time 2-1 Gamba, King Kazu the saviour once more.

Shimizu S-Pulse 1-2 Gamba Osaka
12 July 2020


My half time notes for Oita’s 1-1 home draw with Vissel Kobe read, “Kobe have the swagger of an Asian Champions League team, but they’d do well to remember they got there by winning a cup. They have no right to turn up at places like Oita against a team who got the same number of points as them last year, and just expect to win.”

This game was a real clash of styles as Vissel after getting what in boxing would be termed a flash knockdown through Kyogo Furuhashi’s superb volley inside the first twenty seconds then spent most of the remaining first 45 minutes being harassed by Oita’s high pressing system. It was therefore little surprise when the men from Kyushu drew level through Tomoki Iwata on 29 minutes. Iwata, the closest thing Trinita have to a star player, started the move by winning a duel just inside the Kobe half, deflecting the ball towards Tatsuya Tanaka whose brave header found centre-forward Kei Chinen who, with a beautifully weighted pass released Iwata past the despairing Leo Osaki, Oita’s number 29 then coolly finished low to Hiroki Iikura’s left.

In the second half Oita were largely content to soak up Kobe pressure and on the whole it worked as the men from Hyogo were unable to unlock the well organised Trinita backline, frequently being forced into hitting low percentage shots from outside the box. The final ten minutes and injury time, however, saw Vissel take advantage of a tiring Oita rearguard and youngsters, Yutaro Oda and Daiju Sasaki both had decent changes to win the game, but in the end this tactical chess match finished up a probably fair 1-1.

Oita Trinita 1-1 Vissel Kobe
11 July 2020


Recent History

Prior to last season, Gamba and Oita hadn’t met in J1 since 2009, as a result I’ll just focus this week’s history section on the two games from the 2019 campaign.

In April, Gamba earned their first home point of the year, at the fifth time of asking in a physical and somewhat scrappy game. Ado Onaiwu got a controversial opener for Trinita in the 25th minute, attacking Rei Matsumoto’s right wing cross with a high boot, his connection went straight at Gamba ‘keeper Masaaki Higashiguchi from point blank range, the ball then rebounded onto the forward’s arm and into the net. Despite Gamba protests, the goal stood and Oita took a one goal advantage into the break. After laying siege to the Trinita box for parts of the second period Gamba were finally rewarded in somewhat fortunate circumstances. 19 minutes from time some uncharacteristically poor Oita defending ended up with the ball falling to Yasuhito Endo on the edge of the box and his scuffed effort deflected off Trinita captain Yoshinori Suzuki past Shun Takagi and into the back of the net. Noriaki Fujimoto wasted a couple of injury time chances for Oita and ultimately both sides would have been reasonably happy to take a point.

The second clash of the season in round 31 last November saw Gamba come into the match in much better form than their hosts, so Oita’s 2-1 triumph may have come as a little bit of a surprise to some. The Nerrazzuri raced into an early lead through a beautifully crafted team goal started, like the opener against Shimizu last week, by Kim Young-gwon in his own half. Kim’s pass found Shinya Yajima who turned and played a lovely ball for Ademilson to run onto, the Brazilian then fed Usami who shot past Shun Takagi at his near post. Usami later hit the bar with a thunderous shot and Ademilson headed against the post when it seemed easier to score. Gamba were made to pay for their wastefulness as Trinita drew level six minutes before half time. A quickly taken free kick (there’s a theme here with comparisons to the S-Pulse game) was played to Ado Onaiwu who passed the ball wide to Tomoki Iwata storming down the right flank, his inch perfect cross was met by the toe of Kazushi Mitsuhira and the former Shonan and Kyoto man prodded the ball beyond Higashiguchi. Iwata was not finished with Gamba and 19 minutes into the second half he won the game, turning up unmarked at the back post to fire home Onaiwu’s flick on and earn three points for his side.

Tactical Notes

Due to the win against Shimizu last week I feel we’ll see Gamba once again use 4-4-2 against the more defensively minded Oita. My only concerns about the system are how well Fujiharu and Kurata (both 31) can cope with sustained opposition pressure. The duo were dynamite in days gone by, but Kurata in particular seems to have lost a yard of pace and may be better utilised in a more central, advanced role.

Yajima and Ideguchi were solid if unspectacular against S-Pulse and Miyamoto has a decision to make on whether or not to use Yasuhito Endo for this game. With the Sanfrecce encounter following so closely after it seems reasonable he’ll start one of these two to give either Yajima or Ideguchi a rest, and to me this match seems more likely. His range of passing will be needed to to thread the eye of the needle and unpick Oita’s defence, though how effective he will be against their dangerous counter attack remains to be seen.

Under the guidance of former Gamba player and assistant head-coach Tomohiro Katanosaka, now in his 5th season in charge, Oita are a well oiled machine who punch well above their weight in terms of resources. Katanosaka’s preferred formation is 3-4-2-1, though this quickly becomes 5-4-1 when the opposition are in possession. You could clearly see the benefits of continuity in management philosophy and player selection in Trinita’s game against Vissel Kobe. Each Oita player has a specific role and knows how to do it, the backline of five can be found in a straight line across the field making it hard to spring the offside trap, this contrasted with their opponents who constantly formed a staggered line across the back. Players only leave their defensive position to attack the ball in their zone and you can almost see the training drills these guys must do in order to perfect their actions on the field. Further up the park, the front three show that defence really does start from attack as they constantly harry their opposite numbers in a tactic I believe rugby aficionados call the rush defence.

I mentioned him above briefly, but Tomoki Iwata is Oita’s jewel in the crown, although officially a centre-back he can often be seen charging down the right like a wing-back while one of his central midfielders covers for him. This can bring great rewards as in the games against Kobe last week and Gamba in 2019, but it also presents a rare opportunity to get in behind Trinita’s defensive live.

In summary, this will be a tactical chess match, Gamba will probably look to win free kicks in dangerous positions and try to probe for weaknesses while Endo’s tactical passing and quick interchanges between the attackers will be crucial if they want to get shots on goal from decent areas. Oita, on the other hand, will be content to sit back and soak up pressure with the intent of countering Gamba swiftly. They will use their wide players to generate the majority of their attacks from deep while also aiming to win the ball back high up the field through applying pressure to Gamba’s defence.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Gen Shoji is once again a doubt and reserve goalkeeper Jun Ichimori will be back in a couple of months. Elsewhere there are no new injury concerns and if 4-4-2 is the formation of choice then the starting XI should look very similar to the one that lined up against S-Pulse. Kim Young-gwon will play his 100th J1 game if selected for this encounter (23 FC Tokyo, 40 Omiya Ardija and 36 games for Gamba to date).

Oita Trinita

Veteran wide-man Kaoru Takayama is out after foot surgery while Yuki Kagawa should be fit despite suffering a nasty cut to his head following a collision with So Fujitani’s boot in the game against Kobe. Elsewhere the picture is less clear, assist maker Kazuki Kozuka was one of Oita’s best players in 2019 so I’m assuming his continued absence is injury related. Off-season signing from Tokushima Vortis, Naoki Nomura as well as wide player Yuji Hoshi and central midfielder Kazuhiro Sato haven’t been seen in recent games and I’m not sure whether this is due to injury or non-selection.

Know Your Opponent Oita Trinita

Katanosaka’s Oita side has a definite formation and clear patterns in playing selection. They have two games in quick succession after this one, Nagoya at home and Shimizu away so we could see some rotation, but I’m banking on them putting out their strongest XI

GK – #1 Shun Takagi – After starting his professional career with Kawasaki Frontale, Takagi made the move to Kyushu in 2017 and has been first choice in each of the previous two campaigns, playing in every league game. He’s a solid option between the sticks and fancies himself as a bit of a sweeper keeper.

CB – #29 Tomoki Iwata – I’m a big fan of his as you can probably tell from above. The 23 year-old Oita native is a one club man so far, though how long he’ll remain at Trinita is up for debate. He made 2 appearances for an inexperienced Japan side in last year’s Copa America and if his career continues its current trajectory, he’s sure to add more caps in the coming years.

CB – #5 Yoshinori Suzuki © – Mr Oita, at 27 Suzuki is actually a bit younger than I thought he was. Incredibly he hasn’t missed a league game since 2015, although that run will surely end due to the crowded schedule this year. Trinita’s captain stayed with them through the dark days of J3 and is now reaping his rewards. Like Iwata, I’d be quite happy to see him in the blue and black of Gamba one day.

CB – #3 Yuto Misao – The older brother of Kashima’s Kento, he’s slowly re-established himself as a solid J1 player after a disappointing two-year spell with Antlers. He replaced Naoya Fukumori in the starting lineup early last year and built a strong partnership with Suzuki and Iwata. Similar to Iwata he likes to move forward a bit at times and have his central midfielders cover for him.

RWB – #7 Rei Matsumoto – Another long-term servant of the club, former Yokohama F.Marinos wide-man Matsumoto joined Oita in 2013 while they were still in J1 and has been on their roller coaster ride down the divisions and back up again. I expect him to start in the right-wing back position, but he’s equally adept on the opposite flank.

CM – #40 Yushi Hasegawa – A calm and composed figure in the middle of the park, Hasegawa is now in his second season as a professional after his move from Miyazaki Sangyo Keiei University (the same alma mater as his captain Suzuki). He impressed last year, making 19 appearances despite facing tough competition for a starting slot from Ryosuke Maeda, Thitipan and Toshio Shimakawa. This time around it seems the 23 year-old from Kagoshima has established himself as first-choice.

CM – #6 Yuki Kobayashi – Brought in midway through 2019 from Nagoya Grampus, the immensely experienced Kobayashi, who has 222 J1 appearances to his name adds solidity to the Trinita midfield. Not known for his goalscoring exploits, Kanagawa native Kobayashi who also counts Jubilo Iwata and Albirex Niigata among his former teams will be content to sit back and protect his backline.

LWB – #2 Yuki Kagawa – An off-season signing from fellow Kyushu outfit V-Varen Nagasaki, Kagawa has quickly nailed down a starting slot on the left-wing and already has two assists to his name in four J1 games. Assuming he overcomes a nasty looking cut to his head sustained against Kobe he’ll give Ryu Takao and Kosuke Onose a lot of problems on Saturday night.

AM – #16 Daiki Watari – After two goal ladden seasons with Tokushima in J2 where he netted 35 times in 83 games, Watari earned himself a move to Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2018. The goals didn’t quite flow there and he was never able to string a run of performances together. He’s looked lively since joining Oita, but is yet to contribute any goals or assists this year, that will need to change if he wants to keep his place ahead of Kazushi Mitsuhira.

AM – #11 Tatsuya Tanaka – Persona non grata in Panasonic Stadium after leaving Gamba for Oita just a few months after joining from Roasso Kumamoto last year. Life is short and a footballer’s career is even shorter so I have no grudge against him, in terms of playing minutes his move made a lot of sense. He’s currently operating just off the main striker but can also do a job on either wing, making him an ideal fit for Oita. He’s already netted twice in J1 in 2020 including a header against Tosu, not bad for a 172cm winger.

CF – #9 Kei Chinen – An exciting loan signing from Kawasaki Frontale last winter, Okinawan Chinen has a big chance to shine this season in a relatively low pressure environment. His assist for Iwata’s goal against Kobe was his first goalscoring contribution of the year, but his hold up play and lay offs are vital to the way Trinita play and Gamba’s defence will need to be on their toes to deal with the threat he poses.

Other Options – Oita have a pretty settled line-up, but as we know 2020 is unlike any other season so rotation is always likely. The three centre-backs above are clearly the first choice, but Ryosuke Tone, who played against Vissel, plus two close-season additions, Yuta Koide (Ventforet Kofu) and rookie Kento Haneda (Kansai University) can fill in where necessary. Further forward in central midfield, Toshio Shimakawa and Ryosuke Maeda are holding players who both got minutes last weekend. Kenta Inoue, currently on a designated special player contract ahead of a 2021 move from Fukuoka University, can play as a right wing-back or attacking midfielder. One player I almost picked in the starting XI but who’s definitely in contention is long-term Oita servant Kazushi Mitsuhira, he could play just off the central striker, as could ex-JEF United Chiba man, Yamato Machida, a diminutive and mercurial talent. Finally if Katanosaka opts to rest Chinen, Kohei Isa, another player who experienced the J3 campaign and recent addition Yuya Takazawa, second top scorer in J3 last year with 17 strikes for Gainare Tottori and scorer of a crucial goal against Hiroshima, could come in.

Predicted Lineups

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Match Prediction

This will be a bit of a tactical tussle and it will be interesting to see what difference, if any, the introduction of supporters has on Gamba’s home performance. Oita may not be flashy but they do the small things well, Gamba will need to be patient in attack while being vigilant defensively. I’ll say that a tight match will end in a 1-1 draw.

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Shimizu S-Pulse Match Preview 12 July 2020

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


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

Last Time Out

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

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

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

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

Nagoya Grampus 2-2 Gamba Osaka
8 July 2020

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

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


Recent History

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

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

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

Tactical Notes

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

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

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

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

Team News

Gamba Osaka

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

Shimizu S-Pulse

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

Know Your OpponentShimizu S-Pulse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predicted Lineups

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Match Prediction

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


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Nagoya Grampus Match Preview 8 July 2020

Nagoya Grampus vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 3
Toyota Stadium
Wednesday 8 July 19:30 (JST)


It’s the first midweek round of J1 2020 as Gamba make the short trip east to Aichi to face old nemesis Nagoya Grampus. Hopefully this preview gives you all the information you’re looking for ahead of this clash between two of Japan’s traditional heavyweights.

Last Time Out

Gamba succumbed to a tame 2-1 home loss in the Osaka derby against Cerezo last Saturday. The Cherry Blossoms had the better of the first 45 minutes and eventually took the lead in the 2nd minute of additional time at the end of the half as Hiroaki Okuno turned in left-back Yusuke Maruhashi’s cut back. Shooting towards the traditional home end at Panasonic Stadium, Gamba started the second period brighter, but they were stunned by Maruhashi’s thunderbolt from well outside the box and from there it was always going to be a tough ask to take anything from the game. Yasuki Kimoto’s deliberate handball gave the Nerrazzuri a glimmer of hope as it allowed a cool Ademilson to pull one goal back from the penalty spot. However, after that the game rather petered out and Gamba can’t really have any complaints about taking nothing from the clash.

Gamba Osaka 1-2 Cerezo Osaka
4 July 2020

Nagoya were also involved in a 2-1 away win, though in their case they were the beneficiaries, coming from behind to down Shimizu S-Pulse in wet and windy conditions in Shizuoka. An error in midfield by Brazilian Joao Schmidt was seized upon by Yusuke Goto, he then teed up right winger Shota Kaneko whose well executed shot gave S-Pulse an early lead. Grampus, however, were in front by half-time, Joao Schmidt brought out a wonderful double save from debutant ‘keeper Togo Umeda before Yuki Soma fired home from close range to level things up. Eight minutes later, a powerful run down the right by Naoki Maeda resulted in a cross that Brazilian centre-back Valdo turned into his own net. There were no further goals in the second half, though Nagoya did see young right-back Shumpei Naruse stretchered off with a leg injury and then winger Yuki Soma ruined his impressive display in the final minute of additional time by picking up a second yellow card.

Shimizu S-Pulse 1-2 Nagoya Grampus
4 July 2020

Recent History

These two have played each other four times in the league since Nagoya returned to J1 in 2018, the men from Aichi have won three of these clashes 3-2 with the other match ending in a 2-2 draw. It should also be noted that Gamba and Grampus have faced off in the early rounds in each of the past two campaigns (both at Panasonic Stadium), round 1 in 2018 where strikes from the Brazilian trio of Gabriel Xavier, Rocha and Jo saw Nagoya get their return to J1 off to a flier by cancelling out efforts by Yasuhito Endo and Shun Nagasawa, and in round 3 of 2019 where a late own goal by Hiroki Fujiharu saw the men in red eventually take the three points after being pegged back twice.

In games played at Toyota Stadium, Tsuneyasu Miyamoto tasted defeat for the first time as Gamba head-coach in the third match of his reign back in August 2018. A dramatic encounter started with Gamba racing into a two-goal lead thanks to an Ademilson penalty and a Jungo Fujimoto effort, but they were denied thanks to a brilliant 23 minute second-half hat-trick by Jo. Last year saw Gamba take their first point off Grampus since the latter returned from a one year sabbatical in J2, Takashi Usami netted his first goal in his third spell in Suita in the 91st minute after Naoki Maeda and Kazuya Miyahara had erased the damage done by Ademilson’s fine early effort.

Tactical Notes

Defensively Nagoya are set up exactly the same way as Cerezo with a flat back four being protected by two holding midfielders. In attack things are slightly different with three attacking midfielders supporting a lone striker. One key point is that the front four of Nagoya this season has been made up exclusively of players who’ve spent the bulk of their playing careers as wide midfielders. Loan returnees Mateus and Yuki Soma have lined up on the right and left-flanks respectively, though they can switch when necessary while Naoki Maeda has played as a centre-forward supported by ex-Gamba winger Hiroyuki Abe.

The majority of Grampus’ dangerous chances against S-Pulse were created from the wings, both of their goals were the result of crosses from the right and I’ve marked down Brazilian speedster Mateus as the man Gamba really must stop on Wednesday night. Gamba were vulnerable up the middle and against the counter attack against Cerezo, but I feel they can cope better with Nagoya’s attack if it is concentrated in wide areas. One option for the Toyota men is to bring in the tall Ryogo Yamasaki to see if he can cause the same types of problems for the Gamba rearguard that Ken Tokura did last week, though in reality I think we are more likely to see Mu Kanazaki play up top supported by Maeda, Abe and Mateus with Soma suspended.

Gamba’s inability to properly protect their centre-backs was exposed at times by Cerezo last weekend and it’ll be interesting to see what changes, if any, Miyamoto makes for this game. I’m of the mind that it’s the structure of the side rather than the personnel that is holding them back. Playing the more physical Patric ahead of Ademilson could be a tactic that is employed for this one, it’s also possible that Ideguchi and Yamamoto will form a double Volante as they did in the closing minutes of the derby with Shu Kurata playing just ahead of them. Nagoya could be vulnerable at the full-back position so we may see the fit-again Yuya Fukuda, fresh from a cameo against Cerezo U-23 in J3 play down the left side.

Team News

Gamba Osaka
Attacking midfielder Yuji Ono fractured a bone in his face against Cerezo and is out, Gen Shoji is still highly doubtful with a foot / ankle problem while backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori (dislocated shoulder) is due back in September at the earliest. As noted above, Yuya Fukuda is fully fit again and could feature, also with two away games coming up in close succession we may see some more youngsters get a chance, Keisuke Kurokawa got 45 minutes at left wing-back against Cerezo U-23 and Ren Shibamoto (highly touted by me on the J-Talk Pod a few weeks back) seems to have been promoted to the top team. There has been no word on Ryo Shinzato or Oh Jae-suk (linked with a move to FC Seoul), neither of them made the bench against Cerezo while Yasuhito Endo is unlikely to start as a result of the packed schedule.

Nagoya Grampus

The much maligned attacking midfielder Aria Jasuru Hasegawa is a long-term injury for Grampus. Shumpei Naruse hurt his leg last week and it’s unknown how long he’ll be out while fellow right-back Kazuya Miyahara, Nagoya’s first choice for the past 3 seasons hasn’t featured at all in 2020 though I’m not sure if that’s down to injury or Italian coach Massimo Ficcadenti not rating him. Dangerous wide-man Yuki Soma misses out through suspension after his red-card against S-Pulse and versatile midfielder Ryota Aoki is being eased back to full fitness after missing the entire 2019 campaign.

Know Your OpponentNagoya Grampus

GK – #1 Mitch Langerak – 8-times capped Australian stopper who has been Grampus’ first choice since joining from Levante in Spain ahead of the 2018 season. The 193cm giant overcame a bout of asymptomatic COVID-19 to take his place between the sticks against Shimizu last Saturday and put in a commanding display. He’s one of the best in J1 and judging by his appearance on the recent JLeague Interview series, he’s a thoroughly decent bloke too.

RB – #23 Yutaka Yoshida – More normally a left-back, the short but bullish Yoshida may have to play on the right in this game to cover injuries. He was given a torrid afternoon in a 3-0 Gamba win at home to Tosu back in 2018 and the Nerrazzuri may target the former Kofu and Shimizu man on Wednesday.

CB – #4 Shinnosuke Nakatani – Kashiwa Reysol youth product whose reputation has declined a bit owing to playing in a team known for the odd case of shoddy defending since he moved to Nagoya from Chiba in mid-2018. He’s scored once in 53 J1 games for Grampus.

CB – #3 Yuichi Maruyama © – Highly experienced club captain who was brought on board along with Nakatani in Grampus’ mid-2018 spending spree which saw them just avoid an immediate return to J2. The ex-FC Tokyo and twice capped Japanese international should provide a calming influence at the back.

LB – #14 Yosuke Akiyama – After spending the second half of last year loaned out to Jubilo Iwata, Akiyama seems to be back in favour again under Ficcadenti. He replaced the injured Naruse against S-Pulse and didn’t let anyone down in his 16 minutes on the field.

DM – #15 Sho Inagaki – His signing from Sanfrecce Hiroshima last winter may not have gained too many column inches, but getting in a holding midfielder who’d scored 7 times in 57 appearances playing for a much stronger team in the previous two years represents something of a coup for Nagoya. He will provide protection for his centre-backs while also being a danger with his long range efforts when given the chance.

DM – #8 Joao Schmidt – Definitely one of Grampus’ better players during a tough 2019 season, I’m still not sure how much Ficcadenti rates him and wonder if it’s he or Takuji Yonemoto who’ll win out in the battle to partner Inagaki. He had his pocket picked by Shimizu’s Yusuke Goto in the lead up to their solitary goal on Saturday, but atoned for his error by stretching S-Pulse ‘keeper Togo Umeda twice with powerful headers before Yuki Soma’s equaliser. The left-footer was later replaced by Yonemoto on the hour mark.

RW – #16 Mateus – Back in Aichi after a highly successful loan spell at Yokohama F.Marinos last year (why he was loaned out in the first place is another question), the one-time Omiya winger is full of confidence and represents Nagoya’s greatest threat in this clash. His pace is a real asset and it was his cross from the right which eventually led to Grampus’ first goal against S-Pulse

AM – #11 Hiroyuki Abe – Another winter capture, Abe is a three-time J1 winner, of course with Gamba back in 2014 and also with Kawasaki in 2017 and 2018. During his time in Osaka I never felt he was technically as good as his positional rivals Shu Kurata and Kotaro Omori, however, he does have a real knack of finding the back of the net, scoring 39 times in 187 J1 games to date.

LW – #25 Naoki Maeda – I watched him a lot when he played for Yokohama F.Marinos and always thought he offered much more in the way of style over substance. He’s certainly proved me wrong since his mid-2018 move from Matsumoto Yamaga, bagging 16 goals in 49 J1 games. He’s assumed the unfamiliar role of centre-forward due to the departure of Jo, and Kanazaki’s illness, but I’d expect him to revert to his more natural attacking midfield position from now on.

CF – #44 Mu Kanazaki – After leaving cash-strapped Tosu in a loan moved designed to get him off the wage bill back in March, former international Kanazaki found himself hospitalised with COVID-19. He now appears to have made a full recovery as evidenced by his 30 minute appearance in Shizuoka and should provide a decent alternative to Maeda up front.

Other options – Grampus have given us a good idea of who their core starters will be this year with consistent selection in all three matches to date, that said, the 2020 J1 schedule is a gruelling one and we can expect some rotation to take place. Kazuya Miyahara and Kosuke Ota are both options at right-back, though neither has featured at all this year, it’s unclear whether this is due to injury or not. Experienced former FC Tokyo defensive midfielder Takuji Yonemoto started ahead of Joao Schmidt against Kashima and Sendai in February and could come back in for this match. Further forward, mercurial Brazilian Gabriel Xavier doesn’t appear to be flavour of the month with Ficcadenti, but could be a decent bench option while the powerful Ryogo Yamasaki brings a physical presence to the attack, even if his J1 stats don’t quite match his J2 ones.

Predicted Line Ups

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Match Prediction

It’s difficult to know how much player rotation will take place in these early rounds of J1 2020 so I’ll base my prediction on recent history. Gamba have struggled for form early on in previous campaigns and have tended to catch Nagoya at the worst possible time, both teams of course being known for extreme spells of good and bad form. This year’s away game will a close fought encounter which I’m sorry to say I think will see the home side end up as 2-1 winners.

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Osaka Derby Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Cerezo Osaka
J1 2020 Round 2
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 4 July 18:00 (JST)


Gamba recommence their 2020 J1 campaign against city rivals Cerezo a full 132 days since they last took the field competitively, away to Yokohama F.Marinos. The Nerazzurri of course famously upstaged the defending champion Marinos 2-1 on that occasion with a goal and an assist each for attacking midfield duo, Shu Kurata and Shinya Yajima.

Yokohama F.Marinos 1-2 Gamba Osaka
23 February 2020


A day earlier at Nagai Stadium, Cerezo ground out a 1-0 win over a determined Oita side. It was the kind of gritty, unspectacular but ultimately successful performance that they have become known for under pragmatic Spanish head-coach Miguel Angel Lotina.

Cerezo Osaka 1-0 Oita Trinita
22 February 2020

Head-to-Head

There have been 18 league fixtures played between these sides on Gamba’s turf, both the first meeting back in 1995 and the latest last May finished 1-0 to the home side. Cerezo have an extremely poor record in away league derby matches with their last win being a 2-0 triumph way back in 2003. A lot has changed since then and at present the overall standings have Gamba way ahead with 14 wins, Cerezo have 3 and there’s been 1 draw, 2-2 back in 2012. That solitary point against a Gamba side which would go on to be relegated is the only time in the previous 9 encounters in Suita that Cerezo haven’t left empty handed.

The 2018 and 2019 clashes provide potential clues to what we will see in this game. The scoreline in both was 1-0 to Gamba, Hwang Ui-jo’s penalty kick settling things in 2018 and Shu Kurata’s fine strike at the end of a wonderful team move proving to be decisive last year.

Gamba 1-0 Cerezo
18 May 2019
Gamba 1-0 Cerezo
21 April 2018

Team News

Gamba Osaka

In the 4 month break, Kim Young-gwon went down with a dislocated shoulder and Takashi Usami suffered a relatively innocuous leg muscle injury, however, both players appear to be ready to go now. The enforced gap between matches has allowed last season’s top scorer Ademilson (10 goals, 8 assists in 32 appearances) to regain full fitness, however, winter signing from Toulouse, Gen Shoji, has a minor foot injury and seems set to miss out with an eye on the coming fixture deluge. Elsewhere, backup goalkeeper Jun Ichimori, another off-season recruit from Fagiano Okayama, also dislocated his left shoulder and is expected back in September, former Tosu stopper Kei Ishikawa should take his place on the bench.

Gamba Player To Watch

Yasuhito Endo
Mr Gamba is all set to break the J1 appearance record he currently holds with his former national team colleague, Seigo Narazaki (631 games) and where better to do it than in a derby. The now 40-year old playmaker was in imperious form as Gamba upset Yokohama F.Marinos in their own back yard in February and although the epic nature of this season’s fixture list means that veterans like Yatto are likely to play less, I’m confident he’ll start this one. How he and central midfield partner Yosuke Ideguchi fare against their more defence minded opponents will sure have a massive effect on the final scoreline.

Cerezo Osaka

Cerezo had the best defence in J1 last season, conceding a mere 25 goals in 34 games (by contrast Gamba let in 48), and they also tied with Kashima Antlers for the most clean sheets in the league (15). As such they line up in a defensively oriented 4-4-2 formation.

Goalkeeper – #21 Kim Jin-hyeon – A one club man, the 192cm South Korean stopper has been Cerezo’s first choice between the sticks almost exclusively since making his debut back in 2009. He’s definitely one of the best in J1 and will provide a formidable obstacle for Gamba to pass on Saturday night.

Right-back – #2 Riku Matsuda – Solid, but unspectacular full back who has owned his position on the right side of the defence basically unchallenged since joining from FC Tokyo in 2016. He helped Cerezo win promotion back to J1 in his first season and has since made 94 appearances in the top league.

Left-back – #14 Yusuke Maruhashi – A player who really caught my eye the first time I took in a JLeague game live (Cerezo 2-2 Urawa back in 2013), age and the more defensive approach of Coach Lotina have seen him curb his attacking instincts somewhat in recent years. With that said, Maruhashi, a fine crosser of the ball and decent penalty taker has helped himself to 9 goals and 17 assists across the past 3 years in J1.

Centre-back – #22 Matej Jonjic – The Croatian has been a colossus at the back for Cerezo since moving from Incheon United back in 2017. Please read his interview in the latest edition of JSoccer Magazine (if you haven’t already), and you’ll see that he is one of the main reasons why Cerezo have been so hard to break down in recent seasons.

Centre-back – #15 Ayumu Seko – There are high hopes for Seko around Nagai Stadium and the 20 year-old looks like he could be the latest Europe-bound player off their famous production line. After initially cutting his teeth with the U-23 side in J3 he began to play semi-regularly last year and now appears to have won the battle to partner Jonjic at the heart of the defence.

Centre-midfield – #6 Leandro Desabato – Argentine holding midfielder who is very much a Lotina type player. He featured 18 times in J1 last time out and although I’m sure neutral fans would much prefer to see the enigmatic, now-departed Souza in the Cerezo engine room, Desabato appears to tick all the boxes his Spanish coach wants.

Centre-midfield – #3 Yasuki Kimoto – Having spent most of his senior career as a centre-back, the development of Seko appears to have hastened his switch from part-time defensive midfielder into a full-time role. Honestly, Kimoto and Desabato are not my idea of a dream central-midfield partnership, but defence is a team game and having these two protecting the back four will surely be one of the main reasons why Cerezo maintain their strong defensive record this year.

Right-wing – #17 Tatsuhiro Sakamoto – The off-season capture from Montedio Yamagata is one of the players I’m most looking forward to seeing for the Cherry Blossoms this campaign (obviously I hope he does nothing in this game!) He’s taken over from Kota Mizanuma, who took his 7 goals and 2 assists with him to Yokohama F.Marinos, however Sakamoto showed last year in J2 that he knows where the back of the net is, scoring 7 times and bagging 3 assists. He’s shown up well in his couple of outings earlier this year and should be a decent option down the right flank.

Left-wing – #10 Hiroshi Kiyotake – Cerezo’s danger man, I was under the impression that recently he’d been injured more than he actually had, he made 27 appearances in J1 last year, though his output was definitely down on previous years, only 1 goal and 3 assists. Despite that, he is a highly experienced technician who knows how to unlock defences and will need to be keenly watched on Saturday night.

Centre-forward – #20 Bruno Mendes – Physical Brazilian striker who is now into the second year of a loan-spell. He clearly did enough to impress his coaching staff last year, his hold up play and physical strength are his strong points, though I’m sure he’d love to improve on his scoring stats from 2019 when he netted 6 times in 24 J1 games.

Centre-forward – #25 Hiroaki Okuno – Having previously been more of an attacking midfielder, Okuno found a home as a centre-forward after moving to Osaka from Vegalta Sendai last season. He tied with Kota Mizanuma as Cerezo’s top scorer on 7 goals and this included a beautiful volley in the one live Cerezo game I took in (1-2 vs Tosu in August). He is a tricky player who compliments his more aggressive attacking partner well.

Other Options – Cerezo have one of the biggest squads in J1 this year, though how much depth they have is up for debate. One option to change things up would be to bench Seko, drop Kimoto in alongside Jonjic and play either the experienced Naoyuki Fujita or new Brazilian signing Lucas Mineiro next to Leandro Desabato. Club legend Yoichiro Kakitani is an option on the wing or in attack, even if his 2013 scoring days are long since departed. Daisuke Takagi’s older brother Toshiyuki is another option, although Lotina doesn’t seem to fancy him much and he had a recent injury. Ken Tokura is now back after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a knee injury, and he along with ex FC Ryukyu hitman, Koji Suzuki and winter arrival from Eupen in Belgium, Yuta Toyokawa, provide decent goal-scoring options from the bench. A final mention for 18 year-old attacking midfielder Jun Nishikawa, who turned pro this year and should see a decent amount of game time as the season progresses.

Predicted Line Ups

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Match Prediction

Derbies are notoriously tough to call, and this one especially so with the COVID-19 enforced break and the absence of any supporters. To say this will be a tight and cagey affair isn’t really pushing the boat out too far, but that’s how things will likely go. I’ll back Gamba to breach the Cerezo rearguard but the points will be shared in a rather tame 1-1 draw.

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