Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare 4 December 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Shonan Bellmare
2021 J1 Season Round 38
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 4 December 2021
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)

It’s the end of the J1 season and spirits are in the sky…well not really in the case of Gamba or Shonan who have both endured campaigns to forget. These two meet at Panasonic Stadium on Saturday with the Nerazzurri having only pride to play for while Bellmare’s top flight survival hinges on this game as well as Hiroshima’s visit to Tokushima. As long as the the side from Kanagawa match or better their Shikoku based rivals’ result at home to Sanfrecce then they’ll be fine. However, former Gamba centre-back and assistant kantoku Satoshi Yamaguchi shouldn’t count on getting an easy ride from the Ao to Kuro.

Gamba will be keen to avoid closing the year out with 3 losses on the spin and while recent defeats to Nagoya (1-3) and Kawasaki (1-4) look poor on paper, both Grampus and Frontale were rather flattered by the final scorelines. It should be pointed out though, that in the context of the Nerazzurri’s season as a whole, with chances being ceded to opponents at an alarming rate, these kind of outcomes have to be expected from time to time. Last week Shonan fluffed their lines too, going down 1-0 at home to relegation rivals Tokushima when a draw could have all but secured their J1 status and a win would have sealed the deal. In their defence, Bellmare had to deal with the shock death of Brazilian midfielder Riuler Oliveira in the build up and that tragedy was likely a significant contributing factor in their limp display. They must now dust themselves off though as they are very much drinking at the last chance saloon and need to put in the kind of performance that would have made their fallen team-mate proud.

As this is the final match preview of the year, a couple of quick parish notices. First, I’d like to congratulate Kyoto Sanga on their promotion back to J1, having 4 Kansai teams in the top flight is great for the region and also gives me the opportunity to once again moan about the lack of professional clubs in an area with a population not far off that of Australia. It’d be great to see the likes of FC Osaka and FC TIAMO Hirakata as well as sides from Mie, Nara, Shiga and Wakayama one day compete in the J.League. Finally, thanks again to everyone for all your support this year, I really appreciate you taking the time to read, comment on, share and like my posts. Honestly, the fact that I can put up an article on WordPress and see that it’s been read by people from all the world’s inhabited continents within a matter of hours still blows my mind. At this stage I’ve no idea where 2022 will take me, but I’m always open to ideas and suggestions.

Oh…and in case anyone wondered….Yokohama FC (away) has been the most viewed match preview of 2021 to date, rather randomly.

Tale of the Tape

As I alluded to above, I felt the nature of Gamba’s last 2 defeats was a bit harsh and that’s backed up by the fact that the 7 goals the Nerazzurri conceded came from an xG Against figure of just 2.74. This wouldn’t really offer me much comfort if I was a Shonan supporter as I’d be worried that Gamba might be due a lucky break at some point in the upcoming 90 minutes. While both Kawasaki and Nagoya have extremely efficient attacks, the same can’t really be said about the men from Hiratsuka which is evidenced by their top scorers Wellington and Naoki Yamada having just 5 goals apiece.

Like Gamba, Shonan average less than a goal per game in J1 2021, 36 in 37 outings versus Gamba’s 33, with that number lying 0.12 below their xG For average. At the other end of the park, among sides in the bottom half of the standings, only Hiroshima (40) have conceded less that Bellmare’s 41. Gamba (49) rank joint third for that particular statistic which is actually just marginally worse than when they finished 2nd 12 months ago (1.32 per game in 2021 compared with 1.24 last year). It’s interesting that the name Sanfrecce crept up as I was going to mention them anyway with the two fixtures between Hiroshima and Shonan this year producing some particularly odd outcomes. First, Bellmare won 1-0 at the Edion Stadium despite recording a season low xG For of 0.18, however, things were evened out and then some in the return match at the Lemon Gas Stadium. Following Kosei Shibasaki’s early sending off for the visitors, the home side pounded Takuto Hayashi’s goal and racked up a 3.06-0.07 xG victory while also posting season best stats in the categories of Shots For/Shots For on target, Shots Against/Shots Against on target, possession % and passes completed. Unfortunately, in the real word all that added up to was an extremely frustrating 0-0 draw which combined with the farcical ending to their 4-2 home loss at the hands of Kashiwa in June and skipper Takuya Okamoto’s long running bitter battle against VAR has rather summed up the Kanagawa outfit’s season.

Shonan have drawn 15 league games to date this year, more than any other side in the division, and the 10 of those recorded at home have been particularly damaging to their hopes of progressing up the table. Away from Hiratsuka, Bellmare possess the 4th worst record in J1 with just 17 points from 18 games. Interestingly, Gamba are 4th bottom of the home standings, averaging just a solitary point per outing at Panasonic Stadium. The Nerazzurri should be keen to end a disappointing year in winning fashion in front of their home supporters and with the spotlight very much on this clash, as well as the one taking place at the Pocari Sweat Stadium, we are likely to see a strong Gamba side take the field with the majority of the starters probably still being on board come the commencement of the 2022 campaign, so don’t go expecting any mass downing of tools. If I was devising the Ao to Kuro’s strategy for Saturday I would suggest using Shonan’s desperation for points as an advantage. Gamba have been poor at home, in no small part, because of a susceptibility to the counter attack. With that in mind, the Nerazzurri should treat this like an away game and invite Bellmare onto them, keep a compact shape and aim to pick them off on the counter.

Head to Head

Shonan and Gamba played out a largely dull and uneventful 0-0 draw in Hiratsuka at the beginning of June, the Nerazzurri’s final league match before heading off to Uzbekistan for the ACL group stage. Significantly though, that hard won point moved Gamba out of the relegation zone for the first time since the opening round of the season. Both fixtures in 2020 were tight affairs also, Bellmare stunned the Nerazzurri with a 1-0 win at Panasonic Stadium, their first league triumph in Suita under their present name. Genta Miura misread Daiki Kaneko’s neatly threaded through ball (it’s been quite a surprise to see him disappear without a trace at Reds) and centre-back Kazunari Ohno fired home at the back post to seal a smash-and-grab 3 pointer. As I discussed in detail in this section last week, that result sparked Gamba into life and they’d go on to lose just 3 more times in their remaining 19 league outings to finish the year in 2nd. En route to that runners up spot they exacted revenge on Shonan, defeating them 2-1 on their own turf in early December. Yuya Fukuda’s fine strike from the edge of the area was cancelled out by Hiroto Nakagawa before Patric won the game midway through the second half. Masaaki Goto, deputising for the ineligible Kosei Tani, later pulled off a fine stop to deny the Brazilian a 2nd and the Nerazzurri had to be content with a 2-1 victory.

Gamba Osaka

Being the final week of the season, this section features a bit of a hodge-podge of information so I thought bullet points was the simplest way to format it.

* Just 1 win and 7 points gleaned from the opening 12 games of the year combined with the Covid cluster to scuttle Gamba’s season before it ever got up-and-running. It’s worth noting that since then they’ve accumulated 36 points from 25 matches (1.44 points per game), a rate that would have seen them sit joint 8th with Avispa Fukuoka had it been achieved over the course of the whole year (excuses, excuses, I know!) Why do I mention this you ask? It seems that Oita kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka will be in charge next year and I felt it was right to attempt to measure where Gamba currently stand when you factor out the impact of the Covid outbreak (a factor that will hopefully be absent in 2022).

* To counter-balance what could be construed as the cherry picking of stats above, let me point out that in the 3 of the last 4 seasons Gamba have flirted with the drop zone for various lengths of time. This is a far cry from the trophy-laden glory years of Nishino and Hasegawa which all of a blue and black persuasion will hope Katanosaka can rekindle. Patience is the key, however, Rome wasn’t built in a day and it’s important for the Nerazzurri’s front office and tifosi to remember that.

* Gamba’s home kit for the 2022 campaign season will be unveiled before kick off on Saturday. This, of course, will be the first uniform to be adorned by the new club crest which I’m sure will lead to some interesting takes on Twitter. Personally, I hope to keep hearing opposition supporters going on about the new badge well into next year, as that will probably be a good indicator that Gamba are doing well on the field and the club’s detractors have to look elsewhere for things to criticise (tongue half planted in cheek while typing this, just half mind lol).

* If anyone was wondering, yes I was purring as Takashi Usami rolled back the years to slalom through the Kawasaki defence, leaving my mum’s favourite Shogo Taniguchi for dead before dinking the ball over Jung Sung-ryong in the 17th minute last Saturday. More of the same this week please!

* Usami’s strike partner Patric is currently sitting on 13 goals, joint 5th in the top scorers rankings only behind the leading marksmen from the current top 4. To put the 34 year-old’s performance in context, this is already his highest ever J1 haul in a Gamba shirt, beating the previous record of 12 set in 2015. Granted he did score 20 for Sanfrecce back in 2018, but I still think it’s apt to say he’s ageing like a fine wine.

* On the subject of Gamba’s forwards, remove the tallies of Patric, Usami and Leandro Pereira from the equation and the rest of the squad have amassed 9 goals from 37 J1 games…I’m not sure there’s a strong enough word to convey my feelings about that.

* Gen Shoji being dispossessed by a Kawasaki midfielder midway through the 2nd half of Saturday’s encounter which subsequently saw him berate team-mates for not warning him is indicative of the issues that have been plaguing Gamba throughout the year. I remember a few weeks back in the draw at Urawa, a Reds player was racing past the half-way line on a dangerous counter-attack and Shu Kurata took him out, receiving a yellow card for his troubles. At that time I thought to myself, that kind of thing should have been happening months earlier when the likes of Shoma Doi and Takuma Nishimura were allowed to canter through the Gamba defence almost unopposed before scoring. Katanosaka’s Oita sides are generally among the league’s least booked teams, so hopefully he has something up his sleeve to stop the Nerazzurri constantly finding themselves on their heels with marauding forwards bearing down on their goal and Masaaki Higashiguchi left to save the day time and time again (116 saves for the year and counting).

* Gamba sit 13th in J1 at the moment and due to having a far inferior goal difference compared with 12th placed Hiroshima (-16 vs 0) they can’t finish any higher. They hold a mere 2 point advantage over Kashiwa in 14th and the Sunkings have a winnable looking final fixture at home to Oita, so it’s definitely in Gamba’s best interests to aim for 3 points against Shonan in order to finish as far up the table as possible. Incidentally, due to playing catch up for most of the year, they’ve actually only spent one week higher than 13th in the standings, that was following their Hiroto Yamami inspired 1-0 victory at Shimizu in August.

Team News

Typical, you get to the end of the season and just about everyone is fit again! Backup goalkeeper Jun Ichimori is out as a result of undergoing hamstring surgery, while forward Leandro Pereira suffered a relapse of his hamstring injury and is currently back home in Brazil recovering (this was confirmed by the club on December 1st). There are also doubts over Kim Young-gwon and Ryu Takao. Kim went off injured in the 1-0 win over Tosu on October 23rd, and was absent from Tuesday’s (November 30th) open training session. Takao wasn’t in the squad for the Frontale loss and having been taken off at half-time in the 2 previous fixtures with Oita and Nagoya, it’s unclear if he missed out at Todoroki because of injury or non selection.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Shonan Bellmare

Perhaps the biggest anomaly in Shonan’s season to date was Satoshi Yamaguchi taking over from Bin Ukishima at the beginning of September after the latter had just seen off Cerezo (and Levir Culpi – he always needs a mention) 5-1 away and drawn 0-0 at home to the side they love antagonising the most, Urawa. Not exactly a turn of events that would usually precipitate a managerial switch at a yo-yo/elevator (pick your poison) team like Bellmare. With 2 wins and 10 points from the 10 games since the move, it’s turned out ok, but hasn’t exactly been a roaring success either. Regular J1 watchers may feel that Shonan are something akin to a cat whose nine lives are almost up as they narrowly avoided the drop in 2019, drawing 1-1 at home with Tokushima in the promotion/relegation playoff and then finished 18th and last during the chaotic 2020 season when relegation was off the table. This is their 4th year in a row in Japan’s top flight, their longest streak since the Bellmare Hiratsuka era of the 1990s. Indeed, the side famous for developing Hidetoshi Nakata in the J.League’s formative years is now home to a new generation of prodigious talents in the shape of Satoshi Tanaka, Taiyo Hiraoka and Taiga Hata. They potentially have a tough battle on their hands to keep that trio at the club regardless of what division they are playing in next season.

Speaking of 2022, Shonan have been busy snapping up yet more young talent to bolster their ranks. Defender Kodai Minoda (Hosei University) and forward Ryo Nemoto (Kanoya National Institute for Sport) will come on board with Nemoto having already made 3 J1 appearances across the past 2 seasons as a designated special player. Versatile duo Naoki Hara and Taisei Ishii will be promoted from Bellmare’s youth setup while defender Sere Matsumura (Teikyo Nagaoka High School), midfielder Junnosuke Suzuki (Teikyo University Kani High School) and attacker Akito Suzuki (Hannan University High School, Osaka) round out the new faces.

Team News

As I’m currently running on fumes from a long, hard slog of a season I’ll be mercifully brief in here. Kosei Tani can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement and Kashima loanee Daiki Sugioka is likely to be absent too. He was last seen in the home loss to Yokohama F. Marinos on October 1st while his former Antlers team-mate Shintaro Nago hasn’t surfaced since the game at Nagoya on August 15th. The club confirmed that he had undergone surgery on December 1st to cure a foot problem picked up in training on August 17th and would be out for a further 3 months.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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


Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka 27 November 2021 Match Preview

Kawasaki Frontale vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 37
Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium
Saturday 27 November 2021
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)

It’s the Azzurro Nero versus the Nerazzurri as the penultimate round of the J1 season sees Gamba make the trip to Todoroki Stadium to face 2021 champions Kawasaki Frontale. Fresh from a 3-1 reverse at home to Nagoya Grampus courtesy of a combination of razor sharp counter-attacking and lax pressing (more on that later), the Nerazzurri will be out to replicate their previous visit to Kanagawa earlier this month when they ended the title dreams of Yokohama F. Marinos with an excellent backs-to-the-wall effort. That result, in conjunction with Kawasaki’s 1-1 draw with Urawa, saw the Dolphins lift a 4th J1 crown in 5 years and they subsequently followed that up with a rather hungover display in the 3-1 loss at Tosu, where like Gamba against Nagoya, they went into the sheds 3-0 down. Predictably, Toru Oniki’s side rebounded emphatically with a 4-1 rout of the Ao to Kuro’s prefectural rivals Cerezo in Osaka last weekend and those of a Gamba persuasion will be praying that Frontale take their foot off the gas on Saturday ahead of a mouth-watering final day visit to the Nissan Stadium. Depending on the result of this encounter and Marinos’ trip to Vissel Kobe, it’s possible a Kawasaki win on December 4th could potentially knock Kevin Muscat’s side down to 3rd, an outcome I’m sure @frontalerabbit and co. would relish.

Tale of the Tape

A brief look through Kawasaki’s key performance indicators in the table below shows that their 13 point gap at the top of J1 is certainly no fluke. They are the best team at home, the best team away and the best team overall. 26 goals conceded makes their defence the strongest in the division for that metric and that correlates with their xG Against performance. Although they trail Yokohama F. Marinos by 3 in the goals scored rankings (76 vs YFM’s 79), we can say they do have a more efficient attack than their great rivals, generating those goals from 1.3 fewer shots and an xG of 0.24 less per game. Like cool, calculating assassins Frontale strike their opponents quickly and decisively often putting games to bed well before the final whistle, which is likely a factor in them only recording more than 20 shots in a match on one occasion in J1 2021 (Sanfrecce at home in April). This compares with Marinos and Kashima (both 6), perhaps demonstrating the sheer importance of having someone of the calibre of Leandro Damião in your ranks while YFM have struggled to replace Ado Onaiwu, and Everaldo has been posted missing for Antlers this season.

Gamba have notched 25 of their 43 points to date on the road and still appear way more comfortable operating the counter-attacking system Tsuneyasu Miyamoto employed throughout the 2020 campaign rather than the high-press that went so horribly wrong against Grampus last Saturday. It seems likely that despite the Nerazzurri having nothing but pride left to play for that they’ll rock up at Todoroki fully intent on parking the bus. Gamba’s attack, in contrast to Kawasaki’s, is highly inefficient, though as I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions previously, it is tough making head-nor-tail of the Nerazzurri’s season statistics as a whole due to the constant rotation we saw during the summer months. The Ao to Kuro will create something against Frontale, it may not be much, but if Patric (7 goals in his last 9 J1 appearances) is on form against one of his former teams and Kiyama gets the defence set up properly then it’s definitely possible for Gamba to frustrate their hosts, nick a goal on the counter, and defy the odds.

Head to Head

During the Covid-era, Frontale have very much had the wood over Gamba. If you include the 2020 Emperor’s Cup Final and 2021 Japanese Super Cup then it’s a perfect 5 from 5 for the Kanagawa giants with 12 scored and a mere 2 conceded. You have to go back to the 2-2 draw the sides played out at Panasonic Stadium in October 2019 for the last time the Nerazzurri avoided defeat in this fixture.

Last year there was plenty of respect on show as the top two clashed in Suita on August 1st. Gamba had the better of the opening stanza, before the half-time introduction of Kaoru Mitoma changed things decisively in the visitors favour. It was he who teed up Ryota Oshima a matter of minutes after his arrival for the game’s only goal. The result, only Gamba’s 2nd loss of the year at that point sparked a poor sequence of results, proving to be the 1st in a run of 5 defeats in 9 games, though following the home reverse to Shonan on 13th September, the Ao to Kuro suffered just a solitary loss in their next 14 fixtures. I’d rather not spend too much time dwelling on the events of 25th November 2020 at the Todoroki Stadium, as Kawasaki, chastened by their 1-0 defeat at Oita days earlier brushed Gamba aside 5-0 to wrap up the J1 title with 4 games to spare. What I’d much rather say is what a truly phenomenal achievement it was to finish so far ahead of the chasing pack in such a chaotic year with a squad largely made up of university graduates, youth team products and undervalued talents from other clubs.

Perhaps with the 5-0 still fresh in his mind, then Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto adopted an extremely defensive mindset ahead of the battle between these two at Panasonic Stadium in May. That contest would prove to be Miyamoto’s penultimate game in charge of Gamba and it ended in a disappointing 2-0 defeat. The Nerazzurri contained Frontale reasonably well in the early stages, but were stung by Leandro Damião’s goal in the 41st minute following an excellent counter-attack. Kaoru Mitoma (who else?) sealed the deal in the final quarter as Yota Sato, playing out of position at right-back, proved no match for the silky winger. Patric missed a glorious late chance to bag a consolation, heading Keisuke Kurokawa’s delicious cross wide, but I’ll remember this game mostly for Ao Tanaka’s outstanding display in the middle of the park and the Nerazzurri will certainly be thankful that neither he nor Mitoma will be donning their side’s Azzurro Nero jerseys on Saturday.

Gamba Osaka

With J1 safety secured, many Gamba fans were keenly anticipating the announcement of the starting lineup for the match against Grampus last Saturday. Unfortunately, when it was released, it was a crushing disappointment, Sato out of the squad, Fukuda and Yamami on the bench, no Jiro Nakamura and a starting eleven so conservative in nature that it would even make Hajime Moriyasu blush! Perhaps worst of all was captain Genta Miura returning to re-form his partnership with Shunya Suganuma which was last seen in the 4-0 home loss against Cerezo in the Levain Cup (and will hopefully never be seen again). I’m loathe to have a go at one player in particular, however Miura stunk the joint out on Saturday, especially in the first half. Granted, the team as a whole have still to get to grips with the high press system, but he exacerbated that problem by constantly charging out of defence into central midfield leaving big gaps for the impressive Yuki Soma and Jakub Świerczok to exploit (especially, in Soma’s case, it was as if the lessons from the away game at Toyota Stadium had simply been ignored). Ryu Takao was hauled off for Ko Yanagisawa at half-time, but had Miura not been wearing the armband then he’d surely have been replaced by Gen Shoji (who I assume was still not 100%).

Despite that scathing rant, there were several bright spots on Saturday. The attacking verve showed at times in the first-half was impressive, though sadly lacking in end product. We ‘won’ the second-half, always important psychologically in these scenarios and I’d argue it should have been 2-0 instead of 1-0 as I’m not sure why Patric’s 72nd minute effort was ruled out (offside or foul? Neither option seems clear and obvious to me, why wasn’t there at least a VAR review?). The 4-1-4-1 on display at the end of the match with Usami and Wellington Silva playing just ahead of Kohei Okuno in the centre of the park was also an interesting experiment. It’s tough to get a proper read on how the substitutes truly performed given that Nagoya parked the bus in the second 45 following their first-half smash-and-grab, but I was encouraged with the purpose and intent shown by Fukuda and Yamami down the wings and the ball-winning abilities of Okuno (whose interception led to Patric’s goal), I’d really like to see more of that triumvirate in the 2 remaining fixtures.

Finally, some very brief transfer gossip. 31-year old, left-footed Dutch centre-back Dave Bulthuis will leave Ulsan Hyundai this winter ahead of the presumed arrival of Kim Young-gwon and he and FC Ryukyu’s currently injured stopper Tetsuya Chinen are the names buzzing around Gamba supporter circles at present when the topic of new signings for 2022 crops up. I will say that I think it’s quite possible that one of, Bulthuis, Chinen, Yoshinori Suzuki (Shimizu), Henrique Trevisan (Oita), Eduardo (Tosu), Shogo Asada (Kyoto) or Rikito Inoue (Okayama) will join the Nerazzurri this winter, though I wouldn’t like to bet on who. Elsewhere, Yokohama FC’s relegation to J2 has seen reports that captain Tatsuki Seko will move to Nagoya while winger Yusuke Matsuo and bustling Brazilian forward Saulo Mineiro have plenty of admirers. Much as I’d like to see Matsuo in Suita, I can’t see it happening, Mineiro, could be pricey and also has the potential to be the next Junior Santos, but he may be someone the Gamba front office is looking at.

Oh, and a quick note to say that Shoji Toyama bagged his first J2 goal at the 17th time of asking, although it wasn’t enough to stop his Ehime FC side going down 2-1 at home to Sagamihara in their relegation 6-pointer on Sunday.

Team News

Vice-captain Shu Kurata will miss this clash after picking up his 4th yellow card of the season against Nagoya. Matsunami stated that Leandro Pereira was fit again, but he wasn’t in the squad for the match with Grampus, whether he’s suffered an injury relapse or it’s a sign he won’t be at the club next season remains to be seen, he didn’t appear in any photos of Gamba’s open training session on Tuesday, and today (Wednesday) Football Tribe linked him with a return to Brazil next year. Other than that, backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori (hamstring) is done for the year, Kim Young-gwon is still missing after picking up a knock vs Tosu on October 23rd, Yuji Ono is continuing his rehabilitation work, while pictorial evidence from Tuesday (November 23rd) shows that Shinya Yajima and Dai Tsukamoto have now returned to full training.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Kawasaki Frontale

What to say about Toru Oniki and his Kawasaki side that hasn’t already been said? An unprecedented 4 J1 titles in 5 years and league records shattered all over the place. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which of their triumphs has been the best, but this season’s has to be up there, running at a clip of 2.44 points per game (exactly the same rate as in 2020), despite the winter departure of Hidemasa Morita, the mid-year losses of Ao Tanaka and Kaoru Mitoma, ACL involvement, an injury crisis and strong challenges from resurgent Marinos and Kobe teams. With star centre-back Jesiel now a long-term injury casualty, forwards Damião, Kobayashi and Ienaga ageing and consistent performers Hatate and Yamane potentially heading off to Europe, are we witnessing the end of an era? Perhaps yes, though don’t expect Frontale to fall off a cliff any time soon. Sure, Toru Oniki may be called up to replace Moriyasu in the national team hot-seat post Qatar 2022, (though still being a few years shy of his 50th birthday I’m not sure that’s an avenue he’s looking to go down at this stage of his career), but as long as the former Kashima and Kawasaki midfielder continues to pull the strings from the dugout then they’ll remain a force to be reckoned with.

Kento Tachibanada has really stood up in the midfield in the latter part of the year, while Ten Miyagi and Daiya Tono could have bigger parts to play from next season and there is still the returning Taisei Miyashiro (currently on loan at Tokushima) to consider. Additionally, behind the scenes the Azzurro Nero have been busily preparing the squad for 2022 and beyond. Think they are going to be a wounded beast next year? Think again. Japan Under-22 captain Renji Matsui (Hosei University) has already put pen to paper and would make an ideal replacement for Hatate (his older sister Airi is a Japanese talento, so I’m sure he’ll have no problems making friends with his new team-mates!!) Frontale also beat off reported interest from Gamba and Tosu to land left-back Asahi Sasaki (Ryutsu Keizai University), rated the best full-back in varsity football at the moment. Other new arrivals for 2022 will be, goalkeeper Yuki Hayasaka (Toin Yokohama University – alma mater of Yamane, Tachibanada and Zain Issaka), and forwards Takatora Einaga (Kokoku High School in Osaka – Kyogo Furuhashi and Takumi Minamino’s old stomping ground) and Taiyo Igarashi (promoted from the youth team).

Team News

As alluded to above, Jesiel, for my money the best centre-back in the league, damaged his cruciate knee ligaments against Sagan Tosu on 7th November and has now returned to his native Brazil for treatment, his season is over. Information on other absentees is a little harder to come by. João Schmidt last played in the 2-1 win at Kashima on September on 22nd September, rugged central-midfielder / centre-back Koki Tsukagawa was an unused sub in that match and has no further appearances after that, while Tatsuya Hasegawa hasn’t been selected since missing a penalty in the ACL last 16 shootout loss to Ulsan Hyundai on September 14th. According to @frontalerabbit they are all fit and there are rumours that either or both Schmidt and Hasegawa could depart in the winter, though he also added that due to the ever secretive world of J. League injuries, it’s possible the trio are all dealing with minor problems that haven’t been made public.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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


Gamba Osaka vs Nagoya Grampus 20 November 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Nagoya Grampus
2021 J1 Season Round 36
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 20 November 2021
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)

Just 3 games remain in the 2021 edition of J1 and Gamba are finally mathematically safe following their come-from-behind 3-2 victory at Oita on November 7th. The Nerazzurri have rallied after being battered 5-1 at home by Sapporo last month, responding with 10 points from 4 games to plant themselves in amongst a train of teams battling for 10th. Saturday’s visitors Nagoya dropped the baton last time out, drawing 1-1 away at basement dwelling Sendai, a result that leaves them 5th in the standings, level with Kashima, but crucially 5 points worse off than 3rd placed Vissel Kobe, occupants of the final ACL spot. However, should Grampus accrue enough points from this clash and their two remaining outings against Cerezo (a) and Reds (h), it’s possible they could end up in 4th which, combined with Kawasaki lifting the Emperor’s Cup, would see them enter the 2022 Asian Champions League in the qualifying round.

If the Aichi-based outfit are to maintain their bid for only a second ACL appearance since 2012 then they’ll be hoping that in-form Gamba drop some of the intensity displayed in recent fixtures after securing their J1 status for next year. It will be interesting to see what route the Matsunami / Kiyama managerial partnership takes over the final 3 matches of the season. Matsunami will return to his role with the club’s academy from 2022 so it’s possible the likes of Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto could get a run out, while on the other hand Takashi Kiyama is auditioning for a full-time gig elsewhere and may seek to follow the blueprint from 2018 and 2019 where the Nerazzurri went on good runs at the end of the season which largely papered over some rather big cracks in the organisation. Either way, with Nagoya desperate to bag the 3 points and Gamba perhaps letting the handbrake off a little in terms of team selection and tactics, it’s sure to be an enthralling 90 minutes.

Tale of the Tape

Expect to hear Gamba supporters chanting the Japanese equivalent of ‘can we play Kyushu teams every week?’ sometime soon having seen their side take 16 points from 6 games against Fukuoka, Oita and Tosu in 2021. Trinita are the only club the Nerazzurri have defeated in J1 this year after conceding the opening goal, a feat they achieved in both home and away encounters with Tomohiro Katanosaka’s troops. Oita, in addition to Sagan Tosu are the only teams Gamba have done the double over in 2021 and Trinita are also the only outfit the Ao to Kuro have beaten in all 4 league clashes across the past 2 seasons.

Despite having the 4th weakest attack in J1 in terms of goals scored, Gamba’s xG For total is actually the 8th highest in the league. Nagoya’s defence, 2nd only to Kawasaki in terms of goals conceded will undoubtedly be tough to breach, but Nerazzurri supporters will be praying that someone from Grampus (h), Frontale (a) and Shonan (h) in the remaining 3 fixtures bears the brunt of the xG Gods evening things out. Gamba’s form in Suita remains a concern, as with just 2 games to go at Panasonic Stadium, 18 points from 17 matches is only good enough for 17th in the home league standings. Matsunami and Kiyama will surely be keen to give the Ao to Kuro faithful something to cheer about in the upcoming contests with Nagoya and Satoshi Yamaguchi’s Shonan.

At the back, Kiyama’s clearly defined defensive game-plan and the consistent selection of Yosuke Ideguchi and Yuki Yamamoto in central midfield has led to a much more solid looking Gamba over the past month (Yamamoto has also contributed offensively with 3 assists in his last 3 outings). However, despite that, the men from Suita are still the worst team in J1 in terms of shots against per game, 2nd weakest when considering shots against on target, and additionally they have the 3rd highest xG Against figure in the division. Again, I’m sure I speak for all supporters of a blue and black persuasion when I say, come on guys, let’s see some improvements in those numbers between now and the end of the year.

Defensive solidity has undoubtedly been the bedrock for Grampus’ strong showings over the past 2 seasons, a then league record 17 clean sheets in 2020 has since been surpassed by an astounding 20 in 35 this time round, and in keeping with their goals conceded numbers, they also trail only Kawasaki in xG against and shots against on target. Their clean sheet record this year, in particular, should be considered even more impressive considering the absence of captain Yuichi Maruyama since May. At the other end of the park, much to the frustration of Grampus supporters, their xG For number has only recently crept above 1 and they sit 15th in J1 for that particular statistic as well as shots for. Efforts from outside the area, especially from J1 Best Eleven contender Sho Inagaki have provided an invaluable source of goals to make up the shortfall caused by their inability to carve out clear cut openings.

Head to Head

The original game scheduled for March 3rd at Toyota Stadium was, of course, cancelled at the last minute due to a Covid outbreak in the Gamba camp, an incident which was essentially the start of this season’s woes. 7 weeks later on April 22nd was when the tussle eventually took place and Grampus ran out comfortable 2-0 winners with Yuki Soma assuming the role of tormentor-in-chief, first setting up Ryogo Yamasaki for the opener before settling the tie with a cool run and finish 10 minutes into the second half. That result ended an incredible run of 10 league games stretching back to 2015 where Gamba had scored at least twice in every match against Nagoya. A 1-0 home defeat at the old Expo 70’ Commemorative Stadium, 1 of only 2 losses the Nerazzurri suffered in the second half of the season during their incredible march to the J1 title, was the last time Gamba had failed to bag at least two goals against the Giallorossi.

Last year the two sides drew 2-2 at Toyota Stadium shortly after the league’s re-start in July. Genta Miura gave Gamba an early lead from a corner only to see Brazilian duo Mateus and Gabriel Xavier turn the game on it’s head before half time. Gamba pressed and pressed in the second half and eventually got their reward when Kazuma Watanabe struck a fine half-volley, teed-up by a Patric knockdown, past Mitch Langerak in additional time. In September, Mu Kanazaki swept Grampus in front at Panasonic Stadium, but Yuki Yamamoto’s deflected free-kick and Takashi Usami’s late winner which came from an attack started by a sumptuous Yasuhito Endo pass sealed a valuable 3 points in the 2nd of what would turn out to be 6 successive victories that moved the Nerazzurri up from 9th to 4th in the standings.

Gamba Osaka

After starting out in the same 4-4-2 set-up they’d been using in previous games, Gamba switched to a 3-4-2-1 in the second half of the 3-2 win at Oita. From the outside it seems like Kiyama’s decision to bring on Gen Shoji at half-time to match Trinita’s formation was actually a pre-conceived plan rather than the more random personnel changes seen earlier in the year under Matsunami. With J1 survival now assured, it’ll be interesting to observe which shape the Nerazzurri adopt against the 4-2-3-1 of Massimo Ficcadenti’s Nagoya. It’s quite possible that Shunya Suganuma will start ahead of Ryu Takao which would shift the predicted lineup you see below into a 3-4-2-1.

Now, here’s a look at my personal checklist of things I’d like to see happen in the final 3 matches of 2021;

* Keep the Ideguchi and Yamamoto partnership in central midfield as they’ve generally been excellent across the last 4 games. Re-uniting last season’s partners-in-crime on a regular basis has given the team as a whole much more stability.

* Yota Sato to play the full 90 against Nagoya, Kawasaki and Shonan regardless of the fitness status of the other centre backs. He’s still raw, but has shown marked improvements next to Shunya Suganuma in Takashi Kiyama’s re-jigged defensive system. Ideally we’ll see him learn from Gen Shoji in the upcoming encounters with the ultimate goal being that the former Meiji University star develops into a bona-fide starting eleven contender for 2022.

* Kwansei Gakuin University have now sewn up the JUFA Kansai League title and if that means Gamba can get full access to Hiroto Yamami, I’ll be over the moon. After a season of agonisingly slow build-up play, I particularly enjoyed Yamami gliding past Oita’s defenders like a hot knife through butter in the lead up to Patric’s winning spot kick against Trinita and would love to see him test himself against the likes of Shinnosuke Nakatani and Shogo Taniguchi.

Finally, it seemed popular when I did it a few weeks back so I’ll have another go…Gamba transfer gossip. Just a quick disclaimer first as there are a few spam ‘in the know’ accounts springing up on Twitter these days. All of the following information is speculation at this stage, if any of it has been published in reputable outlets then I will say so.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter you’ll have seen my post regarding Kim Young-gwon. Japanese media (Yahoo News and others) are reporting that the South Korean international defender was offered a 2-year deal to remain with Gamba and a 3-year one to return home with 2020 ACL Champions Ulsan Hyundai (an interesting development considering Kim is from Jeonju, home of their great rivals Jeonbuk!) With the Qatar 2022 World Cup looming on the horizon and Kim having to quarantine every time he returns from international duty, a move to the K League could lift a weight off his and his family’s shoulders. Further tidbits from the same article, released on the evening of 7 November, were apparent confirmation that Oita kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka will almost certainly occupy the Gamba hot-seat in 2022 and hat-trick hero Patric (22 goals in 42 games in all competitions this year) will ink a new contract for next season.

Further to that original article, Sponichi Annex announced on November 14th that Kim to Ulsan was essentially a done deal as the call from South Korean legend and current Ulsan kantoku Hong Myung-bo, Kim’s coach at the 2012 London Olympics, was too much for the 85-times capped stopper to refuse. With that departure potentially opening up a spot for a left-footed foreign centre-back in next season’s squad, Gamba Twitter came up with Sagan Tosu skipper Eduardo and Oita Trinita’s Henrique Trevisan as possible replacements. Trevisan is presently playing under Katanosaka at Oita, though the fact he’s only on loan to Trinita from Estoril in Portugal could scupper any hypothetical transfer. Eduardo, a member of Ben, Sam and I’s team of the first half of the season on J-Talk Pod would be an outstanding capture from cash-strapped Tosu, though how many rival J1 clubs are also thinking the same thing? A couple of other names I’ve seen on supporters’ winter wish lists are Hokuto Shimoda and Yamato Machida from Oita, though with Ideguchi, Yamamoto and Okuno likely to stay next season, where would Shimoda fit in? Ditto Machida, who despite performing well this year doesn’t have age on his side. Former Valencia forward Vinicius Araújo of Montedio Yamagata who has 9 goals and 4 assists in 23 J2 games this season is another interesting shout from members of the Gamba fan community.

Finally, and I really do mean finally this time, a list of names headed for the Panasonic Stadium exit this winter has been doing the rounds. The source seems a little questionable, but the players on said list do largely match what the ordinary Gamba fan is thinking at the moment which is why I’ve included it here. Goalkeepers Taichi Kato (on loan from Ehime) and Mizuki Hayashi, midfielders Shinya Yajima and Yuji Ono, plus forward Tiago Alves will all join Kim Young-gwon in departing Suita this winter if you believe the local Osaka journalist who published this information. To drift slightly off topic (I know this isn’t Fagiano Okayama Blog in English), Shinya Yajima previously spent a couple of productive years with Fagiano Okayama in J2 and if, as they reportedly promised Mitch Duke upon his arrival, they will be bringing in players with the aim of gaining promotion next season then Yajima would fit the bill as a ‘statement signing.’

Team News

After the obscenely long section above, I’ll keep things mercifully brief in here. Pictorial evidence suggests that Genta Miura and Leandro Pereira are back in full-training, but whether they are match-fit or will even be risked in the remaining 3 games is questionable. Other than that, reserve ‘keeper Jun Ichimori (hamstring surgery) is done for the year, Kim Young-gwon wasn’t called up for the South Korea squad for their recent World Cup qualifiers after going off injured vs Sagan Tosu on 23rd October, Yuji Ono (hamstring) is doing rehabilitation work (he joined physical training with the rest of the squad on Tuesday, but sat out the mini game at the end), while Shinya Yajima and Dai Tsukamoto don’t appear to be training at the moment, however, no details have been released yet about either of them.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Nagoya Grampus

Personally I enjoy doing predicted starting lineups for Massimo Ficcadenti’s teams because there’s always an extremely limited pool of players he chooses from. The Italian has proven to be a somewhat polarising figure at the Toyota Stadium, on the one hand establishing a side that was on the verge of a return to J2 when he took over, as a force to be reckoned with, but on the other facing criticism for his tactics and team selections. Grampus, one of the founding members of the J.League and the sole professional men’s team in Japan’s 4th most populous prefecture are a side with big resources at their fingertips, but after their most recent J1 title win back in 2010 under the guidance of club legend Dragan ‘Piksi’ Stojković they slid down the standings and were eventually relegated in 2016. Bouncing back via the playoffs at the first time of asking, the Giallorossi sank like a stone in both the 2018 and 2019 campaigns following promising starts. When a possible return to J2 began looming ominously on the horizon, the club made an abrupt U-turn, binning the attack-minded Yahiro Kazama in favour of the Catenaccio master Ficcadenti. Fast forward to 2021 and the Italian’s game-plan is now firmly entrenched in the club’s fabric and they have a Levain Cup title to show for it. What then for 2022? In theory, they should be gearing up for a title shot with defensive lynchpin Yuichi Maruyama back from injury and Polish hit-man Jakub Świerczok fully integrated into the set-up. Throw in the possibility of 1 or 2 high-quality winter additions and you have a recipe for success, right? I guess we’ll find out in due course. Personally I have my doubts as to whether Ficcadenti is the kantoku to bring the title back to Aichi for the first time in 12 years, but with Cerezo and Nagasaki both having horror stories to tell in the wake of canning coaches who’d achieved objectively good on-field results, don’t expect to see the former Verona and Torino midfielder necessarily making a hasty departure should Nagoya fail to live up to pre-season hype. Speaking of next year, to date Grampus have confirmed that they’ll promote 3 players from their youth system ahead of the new campaign, 2024 Olympic prospect Hidemasa Koda (MF), Koki Toyoda (FW) and Haruki Yoshida (CM/CB). There are also strong rumours that Brazilian playmaker Gabriel Xavier, someone Ficcadenti has never really had much time for, will head for fresh pastures, most likely in his homeland.

Team News

Knee injuries to a trio of key players form the backbone of Grampus’ injuries worries ahead of this clash. Captain Yuichi Maruyama is definitely out for the year after undergoing surgery, while it’s unlikely we’ll see holding midfielder Takuji Yonemoto or former Gamba treble-winner Hiroyuki Abe before the end of the season (as an aside I wouldn’t be against Abe returning to Suita as a Gamba player in the near future). South Korean centre-back Kim Min-tae, who seemed to have won out in the battle with Yasuki Kimoto to be Shinnosuke Nakatani’s partner in Maruyama’s absence, missed the draw at Sendai before the international break as did veteran forward Mu Kanazaki, I don’t have any further information on either player.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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


Scouting J1

Thanks to everyone who read, commented on and liked my ‘Scouting J2’ article I put out during the international break last month. As a result of the positive feedback I received on that, and with Gamba having a weekend off, I decided to have a go with J1.

As with the aforementioned ‘Scouting J2’ article, I’ve included updated versions of J1 stats tables I’ve published previously in August and October. With just 3 matchdays to go there probably won’t be a whole lot of change in the numbers shown below and the final totals come December.

J1 Stats Tables

Once again I’m not really going to comment on these tables, I’ll just leave them here for your perusal. I’m sure @R_by_Ryo will be doing his usual outstanding statistical round up of the season so hopefully this whets your appetite for what he has in store. For the record this information has been collected from J Stats (

The Sky’s the Limit

Below you’ll find eleven players I’ve identified as ones who could be on the move in the upcoming transfer window. Before I get into the how and the why of their selection, let me point you in the direction of a 3-part series of articles titled ‘Market Week 2021’ on the always excellent J.League Regista WordPress site (@jleagueregista on Twitter) which compliments some of my work well, I feel.

While selecting J2 players that have shown enough to earn a step up to J1 for 2022 was quite simple in many ways, how have I chosen my ones-to-watch this time round? If you’re a fan of a team that have performed well this year, but maybe don’t have the financial clout to deal with the high rollers of the division, then perhaps you should look away now. Also if you’re here for a rundown on the likes of Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda, Ayase Ueda, Ryotaro Araki or others clearly on their way to the big European leagues then I’m afraid this isn’t the article for you. The eleven players I’m going to talk about have, in my opinion, stood out in a way that means attention from the likes of Kawasaki, Marinos, Kashima et al. is inevitable. I will suggest potential destinations for each player as well as focusing on their career stories to date. I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labour (and please go easy on me Tosu, Fukuoka, Shonan, Sapporo, Yokohama FC and Tokushima fans).

Here we go…

Takeru Kishimoto
Right-back / Right Wing-back (24)
Tokushima Vortis
Transfermarkt Value: €700,000

Notes: Tokushima may currently be facing an uphill battle to maintain their J1 status for 2022, but regardless of which division the Shikoku-based side find themselves playing in next year, expect their impressive full-back Takeru Kishimoto to remain in the top flight. Aside from a slightly harsh ordering off away to Nagoya, things have gone generally well for Kishimoto personally, even if this hasn’t always been the case for his team. In keeping with a number of his peers, the Nara native started out as a forward in Cerezo’s youth ranks before gradually working his way backwards. After a loan spell with Shigetoshi Hasebe’s Mito in 2018 he found himself under the tutelage of Ricardo Rodriguez at Tokushima the following year and he’s been in Naruto ever since. I feel it’s worth drawing attention to his attacking talents as he contributed 7 assists from full back and wing back in Vortis’ title winning year and has notched 3 goals and 2 assists in 33 J1 appearances this season to date, pretty decent stats for a defender from a relegation-haunted outfit.

Potential Suitors: Former club Cerezo are in need of younger blood at right-back with long-term custodian Riku Matsuda approaching the twilight of his career. I’m sure Kishimoto’s former kantoku Ricardo Rodriguez would be interested too, but with Hiroki Sakai and Daigo Nishi already on the books it’s hard to see him getting much game time in Saitama. Kashiwa are certainly a side in need of an upgrade in a number of areas, Kobe may need to build more depth ahead of an ACL campaign next season and should Shimizu survive this season then there may be something of a squad overhaul at the Nihondaira.

Ayumu Ohata
Left Centre-back / Left-back / Left Wing-back (20)
Sagan Tosu

Notes: A graduate of the much vaunted Tosu youth academy, Ohata, now in his second year as a pro has usurped kōhai Shinya Nakano for the starting berth on the left side of Sagan’s back three. Standing just 168cm tall, Ohata would no doubt be considered an option for left-back or wing-back almost anywhere else but Tosu. His versatility, the experience he’s already accrued (41 J1 appearances 5 months before his 21st birthday) as well as his involvement with the Japan U-22 squad mean he’s likely to be in demand this coming winter.

Potential Suitors: There’s a clear and obvious gap at left-back in the Urawa squad and if Ricardo Rodriguez decides Takuya Ogiwara isn’t the man to fill it upon his return from a loan spell with Kyoto, then he might very well turn to Ohata. Alternatively, Cerezo, Kashiwa or Hiroshima could be amongst a host of teams queuing up for his signature.

Taiga Hata
Right / Left Wing-back (19)
Shonan Bellmare


Notes: On a personal level, the 2021 season might seem like a bit of a letdown for young Taiga Hata. The speed demon really shone for Bellmare towards the back end of 2020 with his rampaging runs down both flanks causing no shortage of problems for opposition backlines. Hata particularly caught the eye in outings versus Gamba (h) and Reds (a) and was expected to really kick on this year by many J.League observers, myself included. Unfortunately injury struck and he was absent from the matchday squad for the opening 14 J1 games of this campaign. Since returning at the end of May he’s shown flashes of what he’s capable of, but has struggled to find the same rhythm he had last time round. Still, aged just 19 and considered a genuine prospect for the 2024 Paris Olympic squad, don’t expect to see Hata stick around on the Shonan coast for too much longer.

Potential Suitors: With Theerathon now in his 30s, Marinos will likely be in the market for a new left-back to compete with Ryotaro Tsunoda to be the Thai’s long term successor, Hata wouldn’t even need to move house should the move go through. Otherwise, if Shonan were to go down, I could see his buccaneering runs fitting in well up north in Sapporo.

Yuya Takagi
Left Wing-back / Left-back (23)
Yokohama FC

Notes: Perhaps the biggest reach among this group of players in terms of going on to much bigger and better things, or perhaps not. Gamba fans certainly need no introduction to Yuya Takagi, as the then 3rd grader helped his Hosei University side shock the Nerazzurri 2-0 in the 3rd round of the Emperor’s Cup back in 2019. Tokushima Vortis are also well aware of his talents, having been on the receiving end of his golazo a few weeks back. Signed initially as a left-back, Takagi has generally played as a wing-back in Yokohama FC’s 3-4-2-1 system. After marking his senior debut with an assist in the 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Sapporo on the opening day, Takagi has gone onto make 25 appearances in often trying circumstances which should stand him in good stead if he’s afforded to opportunity to move on in the coming months.

Potential Suitors: Interestingly, Takagi is the third left-back / wing-back in this list and it’s an area where Japan have traditionally struggled to produce outstanding talents. His current side Yokohama FC seem destined to take the plunge down to J2 and I reckon Takagi is too good for that level. I could see him moving to Japan’s Eternal City, Kyoto, to take the place of Ogiwara if he heads back to Reds at the end of his loan spell. It’s also plausible for him to replace Ohata at Tosu or Hata at Shonan should either of them move on. Wait, am I overthinking all of this?

Hiroyuki Mae
Central Midfielder (26)
Avispa Fukuoka

Notes: Mae’s rise to the top of Japanese football has followed a somewhat meandering path, only really taking off under the stewardship of current kantoku Shigetoshi Hasebe at Mito in 2018. After 2 years as his coach’s eyes and ears on the pitch, Mae followed his mentor west to Fukuoka, a side who at the time were just coming off a season in which they’d finished 16th in J2. In a recent interview with J.League Regista, popular Swede Emil Salomonsson underlined the influence Mae has on the squad, saying words to the effect that Mae’s absence due to injury in the middle part of the 2020 campaign highlighted that promotion wouldn’t have been possible without the skipper’s swift return. He’s since made the step up to J1 with aplomb, however, just like his team there’s nothing loud or particularly flashy about his playing style, he’s just a good, hard-working pro.

Potential Suitors: Urawa could seek to re-unite him with former Mito team-mate Yuichi Hirano in what would be a formidable midfield combination while Kevin Muscat doesn’t seem particularly satisfied with the options afforded to him in that area at the moment and this could give Mae the chance to succeed where older brother Takayuki failed last season.

Satoshi Tanaka
Centre-Back / Central Midfielder (19)
Shonan Bellmare

Notes: I wrote in my pre-season preview that Shonan would surely struggle to bounce back from the loss of both Daiki Kaneko and Mitsuki Saito in midfield. However, the solid performances of Satoshi Tanaka throughout the year allied with the recent emergence of Taiyo Hiraoka have gone some way to alleviating these fears. Bellmare youth team product Tanaka is comfortable either as a centre-back or the anchor in Shonan’s inverted midfield triangle and, in fact, he started making waves in J1 even before turning pro, making 17 league appearances while completing his high school studies last year. This time round, under the stewardship of first, Bin Ukishima, and now Satoshi Yamaguchi, he’s been a regular, only missing 2 games, 1 of which was caused by a suspension for an ordering off against FC Tokyo. Additionally he’s thrown in a couple if goals, the winner in the 1-0 victory at Hiroshima and the opener in a 2-1 loss at Kawasaki. Expect big things from him domestically and internationally in the coming years.

Potential Suitors: Could he follow in the footsteps of one time Shonan star Miki Yamane and make the short trek north-east to Kawasaki or is he the perfect man to provide cover for FC Tokyo’s backline. A move to either of those two sides makes sense in my book.

Tatsuki Seko
Central Midfielder / Shadow Forward / Right-back (23)
Yokohama FC

Notes: Probably one of the easiest selections in this list, Yokohama FC captain Tatsuki Seko is a talent who clearly needs a bigger stage on which to shine. Best suited to to playing central midfield in a double-volante system, he also covered at right-back several times in his debut season of 2020 and has filled in on the right-side of a front three on occasions in the latter part of this campaign. Following their heartbreaking draw at Fukuoka yesterday (November 7th) only a miracle can rescue Yokohama FC, but Seko, with 7 assists to his name (including a hat-trick in the 5-3 thriller against Tokushima) is a player we’ll definitely be seeing in J1 next year, regardless of what happens to his side.

Potential Suitors: Any club worth their salt should be throwing their hat in the ring for Seko. I suggested Cerezo in my most recent J-Talk appearance as the Cherry Blossoms are in desperate need of players approaching the peak of their career. Ditto FC Tokyo, and should their new boss (whoever that may be) manage to acquire both Tanaka and Seko, then they’d surely be onto a winner.

Yuta Higuchi
Attacking Midfielder / Central Midfielder (25)

Sagan Tosu

Notes: Another easy choice as Higuchi, for me, has been one of the standout midfielders in J1 this season and a key factor in Tosu’s remarkable rise. Two performances have really caught my eye, his stunning strike and assist in the 2-1 win at FC Tokyo and his assist hat-trick in the 3-1 triumph at home to Nagoya (the much vaunted, 20 clean sheets this season Nagoya, no less!) Most comfortable as one of the more advanced central midfielders in Tosu’s inverted triangle, he’s also filled in at the base of the midfield since Daiki Matsuoka’s summer departure for Shimizu. His versatility doesn’t end there though, and he can play in a double volante system or, like his squad number suggests, as a #10 in a 4-2-3-1. Despite his slightly lacklustre display in the 1-0 loss at Gamba a couple of weeks back I’m still a big fan and expect him to move onto fresh pastures this winter.

Potential Suitors: The player in this compilation most likely to move to Europe, I could see him linking up with former Tosu team-mate Daichi Hayashi in Belgium, while Austria or Switzerland might be alternative first steps into European football. Domestically, I’m sure both FC Tokyo and Nagoya remember the damage he did against them, though quite how well he’d operate in a Massimo Ficcadenti system is questionable. As one of his biggest admirers, I’d love to have him at Gamba, but with the current personnel we have and Katanosaka likely to continue with the 3-4-2-1 system he uses at Oita then Higuchi may not be the kind of player the Nerazzurri are looking for. However, Kashiwa, who I was surprised to see have only scored 3 more goals than Gamba this season, could view him as the replacement for the departed Ataru Esaka.

Takuro Kaneko
Shadow Forward / Right Wing-back (24)
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Notes: Back in my pre-season preview I stated that Sapporo could be a dark horse relegation candidate and would have to rely on their trio of sophomore pros, Shunta Tanaka, Tomoki Takamine and Takuro Kaneko, to guide them to safety. All three have really put their hands up this year and none more so than Kaneko, a player who has really thrived with the freedom afforded to him by Mischa Petrović’s somewhat unconventional system. Since kicking off the year with a double in the 5-1 home rout of Yokohama FC, Kaneko has continued to impress, leading Football Lab’s stats for dribbling and crossing while sitting joint 4th (alongside Marcos Junior of Marinos) in the ‘last pass’ rankings, his total of 51 is just 9 shy of team-mate Akito Fukumori, the clubhouse leader (stats correct to November 5th). I was already a fan prior to him running amok in Sapporo’s 5-1 win over Gamba last month and his expert control and finish against Shimizu on Saturday (November 6th) further cemented his status as one of the league’s most consistent performers in 2021.

Potential Suitors: I believe Petrović is already on record stating that he’s worried about vultures coming into swoop for his prized possession and Kaneko will certainly have no shortage of potential takers this winter. Coming from an attack minded system at Consadole, I believe he’d fit in well as Akihiro Ienaga’s long term replacement at perennial champions Kawasaki. He offers more defensive protection and positional discipline than the mercurial magician that is Ienega too.

Yusuke Matsuo
Shadow Forward / Left-Wing (24)
Yokohama FC

Notes: In a similar vein to Taiga Hata above, Matsuo’s reputation was largely carved out last year before undergoing something of a slump this term. The left-sided attacker first made a name for himself as a special designated player on loan from Sendai University during Yokohama FC’s promotion winning season, bagging 6 goals and 5 assists as he and fellow youngster Katsuhiro Nakayama (now Shimizu) injected much needed pace and verve into the Fulie’s ageing squad. Matsuo carried that form on into his debut season as a pro in J1 last term, netting 7 times, including a memorable double against Urawa, his hometown team who he’d spent his Junior High and High School years representing, I wonder how he felt about that? A shoulder injury ended his 2020 campaign prematurely and he subsequently failed to show anything like the same kind of form upon his return this season. However, the influx of attacking Brazilian talents at the Mitsuzawa this summer seemed to revive Matsuo and he’s looked much more like his old self, scoring impressive goals in back-to-back games against Tokushima and Shonan.

Potential Suitors: I think both Sam and I suggested Matsuo as a potential replacement for Kaoru Mitoma at Frontale on an episode of J-Talk Pod a few months back, Marinos and Nagoya could be possible future destinations too, if Olympians Daizen Maeda and Yuki Soma head to Europe. Kashima also have an impressive young talent who they may struggle to keep for much longer in the shape of Ryotaro Araki, so deepest, darkest Ibaraki might become home from next year.

Keita Yamashita
Centre-Forward (25)
Sagan Tosu

Notes: Yamashita first caught my eye playing for Renofa Yamaguchi in J2 in 2019, netting an impressive 11 times for a team that finished the season in 15th spot. A surprising marginally upward move to JEF Chiba followed last year and despite putting in many a decent shift his end of season stats stood at just 7 goals and 2 assists from 34 outings. Those numbers didn’t put off Sagan Tosu though, and the Kyushu side, always a team with an eye for a J2 bargain have reaped the rewards this term, getting 9 goals out of the big forward in his debut J1 campaign. Early season doubles in the wins over Urawa and Yokohama FC set a pace that he hasn’t been quite able to live up to over the course of the year and in fact his most recent goal came in the 2-1 defeat at the hands of Reds in Saitama on August 14th. It seems like current kantoku Kim Myung-hwi has moved away from traditional centre-forwards and has instead opted for players better known as wingers or attacking midfielders, in the attacking berths. Still Yamashita has shown he can cut it in the rarefied air of J1 and if Tosu don’t have a use for him, then I’m sure a rival team will find one.

Potential Suitors: A move slightly north to Kyushu neighbours Fukuoka would certainly set tongues wagging and he seems to have the skill-set to perform well in Avispa’s system. Cerezo’s Adam Taggart hasn’t really caught fire yet and if the pink half of Osaka lose patience with the former Suwon forward, they could turn to Yamashita as an alternative.

And that’s a wrap…hope you all enjoyed that and just a reminder/ disclaimer, the potential moves I’ve outlined above are merely me putting 2+2 together, I don’t have any inside information and what you see in this article is pure speculation.


Oita Trinita vs Gamba Osaka 7 November 2021 Match Preview

Oita Trinita vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 35
Showa Denko Dome Oita
Sunday 7 November 2021
Kick Off: 14:00 (JST)

Sunday sees the final round of J1 fixtures prior to the upcoming international break and Gamba, fresh from a 1-0 triumph at Yokohama F. Marinos on Culture Day face their second road trip of the week, a journey west to Kyushu to do battle with Oita Trinita. A hot reception surely awaits in a region known for it’s onsen, but buyer beware, Trinita are the league’s lowest goalscorers and Gamba, the joint second lowest. However, it is the J.League, so maybe the recent rumours surrounding Tomohiro Katanosaka will bring both sides out of their respective shells…3-3 anyone?

I was present at the Nissan Stadium on Wednesday to see Gamba take three valuable points thanks to Shu Kurata’s 55th minute winner (I was wearing his uniform that day, coincidence?). I’ll get into some of the key takeaways from that game later on in the ‘Gamba Osaka’ section, but for now let me point out that a win against Oita will make the Nerazzurri mathematically safe and the 10 point gap currently in place between them and the drop zone means that it would take a miracle for either Tokushima or Oita to overhaul their total of 40 points even if they lose this weekend (Sendai and Yokohama FC are already too far back to overtake Gamba).

Oita’s Kyushu neighbours Avispa Fukuoka did them no favours on Wednesday, triumphing 1-0 thanks to a goal from Cameroon international John Mary. Trinita had entered that tussle with 11 points from their previous 6 outings, during which time they only conceded twice. Former Gamba player and assistant coach Tomohiro Katanosaka’s side currently sit 4 points behind Shonan and Shimizu (15th and 16th), but have a significantly worse goal difference. After facing Gamba they still have to go head-to-head with Kashima (a), Yokohama FC (h) and Kashiwa (a) meaning that their need for points is now beyond urgent and they simply must see off the Nerazzurri on Sunday.

I’d just like to take a moment to congratulate 2021 champions Kawasaki Frontale, another phenomenal performance from Toru Oniki’s side who continue to set a pace that others can’t live with. Hopefully your party will continue for the next few weeks and Gamba can take full advantage of some lethargy when we visit Todoroki on November 27th. But, more seriously, well done to all involved!

Tale of the Tape

It’s funny how things have a way of balancing themselves out in football and Gamba’s backs-to-the-wall triumph at Marinos is a case in point. The Nerazzurri recorded season lows for shots on goal, passes completed and possession as well as equalling the 24 shots against that also occurred in their previous away tie at Urawa, yet they ran out 1-0 victors. However, cast your minds back to early August when Gamba put up an xG For number of 3.38 and had 20 shots on goal with 14 on target yet lost 3-2. Throw in the two 50/50 red cards Marinos got away with versus the Wellington Silva nonsense on Wednesday and yadayadayada…I think you can see where I’m going with this…well hopefully!

Oita’s strong suit is most definitely their home form with 23 of their 28 points to date (82%, a league high) coming at the Showa Denko Dome. Gamba, by contrast have picked up 55% of their 40 points outside of Suita, though recent matches with Urawa and Marinos probably give little indication as to what lies in store in this game. Takashi Kiyama has Gamba’s backline better drilled than Matsunami and ever did and even with backup members starting regularly in recent weeks, they’ve been able to hold their shape and clear their lines effectively in the face heavy bombardments. Despite a recent upsurge in attacking numbers, especially in their trio of fixtures with Cerezo, Sendai and Tokushima, Emperor’s Cup semi finalists Trinita lack an out-and-out goal threat and their inability to even create chances, let alone take them has been one of their biggest hinderances all year.

Head to Head

Gamba came from behind to grab a priceless three points against Oita at Panasonic Stadium in July. The home side dominated, but found themselves a goal down courtesy of Henrique Trevisan’s scrappy effort on the hour mark, however, a fine Leandro Pereira shot from the edge of the area restored parity before Takashi Usami won the game with essentially the last kick of the match. Usami broke down in tears in his ‘Hero Interview’ after the match, likely due to a combination of the 2 week quarantine period all the players underwent following their return from the ACL group stage in Uzbekistan as well as reflecting on the magnitude of his goal which took Gamba out of the drop zone. That result was followed by road wins at Sapporo and Sendai, a run which forms the backbone of the Nerazzurri’s points collection to date.

Gamba did the double over Oita in 2020 (they also achieved this against Sapporo, Hiroshima, Kobe and Yokohama FC) thanks to a 2-1 win in Suita and a nervy 1-0 at the Showa Denko Dome. Daiki Watari headed Trinita into a surprise early lead at Panasonic Stadium, but Gamba were level almost immediately thanks to Takashi Usami’s spot kick, Ademilson then produced a fine strike early in the second period to wrap up the points. Tatsuya Tanaka had something to prove against his old club in the return fixture, but somehow didn’t find himself on the scoresheet despite having a couple of glorious opportunities to break the deadlock. A Masaaki Higashiguchi save and a last ditch Ryu Takao clearance off the line after Tanaka had rounded Higashiguchi kept Gamba in it, and they went on to deliver a brutal sucker punch as Patric nodded home Usami’s corner late on to seal the deal.

Gamba Osaka

Wednesday’s win took Gamba to 10 points from their last 5 outings, a run which included 3 fixtures against teams currently in the top 7 as well as that infamous 5-1 whipping at the hands of Sapporo. Should they continue in similar form, say by taking somewhere between 7 and 9 points from their remaining fixtures (Nagoya (h), Frontale (a) and Shonan (h) follow the international break), then a quiet optimism could start to form as we enter an important off season for a side that haven’t lifted a trophy since the 2015 Emperor’s Cup.

Next, I’ve laid out in bullet point form below a few key takeaways (good, bad and ugly) from the Marinos game,

* Stalwart / living legend Masaaki Higashiguchi celebrated his 350th J1 appearance by recording the 100th clean sheet of his career. I’ve ran out of superlatives for him, so won’t attempt any more here, I’ll just leave you to marvel at the stat above (he’s the 6th J.League goalkeeper to achieve the feat).

* Yota Sato has started to show the form that saw him rated as the best centre-back in Japanese varsity football last year. I only caught highlights of the Emperor’s Cup defeat at home to Urawa and he looked a little dicey, but he’s been assured in the last 2 away league outings at Reds and Marinos. It seems that playing centre-back (his natural position) and being given clear and coherent instructions by Kiyama has brought out an improvement in him…who’d have thunk it, right?

* Yosuke Ideguchi, so often a shadow of his former self this season, rolled back the years with a monstrous effort to put the breaks on Marinos on Wednesday. It was great to see and hopefully he can maintain that form through to the end of the year.

* Not something I really wanted to write, but come on Wellington Silva, what you did at the end of the game on Wednesday isn’t what being a Gamba player is about. You clearly have a load of talent which you showed when you were on the ball against Marinos and especially when you ripped through Sapporo in our away game in Hokkaido, you also seem like a pretty fun off the field, like how you warmly applauded the travelling supporters during and after the game at Nissan Stadium. But, please, please, cut the negative stuff out of your game and focus on dribbling past defenders and combining with Usami, Yamami and Patric next year to get us back into the ACL!!

Team News

Hiroki Fujiharu left the field clutching his ribs and back during the first half of the Marinos game, he could just have been badly winded, but I’d bank on him missing out here and possibly Yuya Fukuda, but more likely Keisuke Kurokawa will fill his spot. Fukuda seemed to take a kick to his problematic ankle just prior to being subbed off on Wednesday, but I think he should be ok to play here. Elsewhere, Kim Young-gwon was left out of the South Korea squad for the upcoming internationals after being stretchered off in Gamba’s 1-0 win over Sagan Tosu. No timeframe has been given for his return, but he won’t play here. Fellow centre-backs Genta Miura and Gen Shoji are back in full training and it remains to be seen whether they are fit enough to play against Oita or whether Matsunami/Kiyama will keep faith with the Suganuma/Sato partnership. I believe Leandro Pereira and Yuji Ono should be nearing full fitness and both could conceivably be options for this match, Pereira, in particular, would come in handy with Patric putting in a full 90 minute shift on Wednesday. Other than that, backup goalie Jun Ichimori (hamstring) is the only other confirmed absentee, though I’m also led to believe that Shinya Yajima is unavailable due to an, as of yet, undisclosed problem.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Oita Trinita

2021 may come to be seen as then end of an era at Oita with longstanding boss Katanosaka set to depart for either Gamba or Hiroshima and Trinita apparently destined to drop down to J2 for the first time since 2018. Katanosaka has been dealt a tough hand this year with club captain and Mr. Oita Yoshinori Suzuki moving to Shimizu and bright young talent Tomoki Iwata heading for Yokohama F. Marinos. Brazilian loanee Henrique Trevisan has done a decent job of filling the enormous gap left behind by Suzuki’s departure, but in Iwata’s place there has basically been a revolving cast of about 4 or 5 different players trying and failing to fill his enormous boots. Throw in Tatsuya Tanaka’s goals and creativity heading to Urawa to compound the losses in previous years of Noriaki Fujimoto and Ado Onaiwu and even the surprising tally of Yamato Machida can’t make up for the lack of goalscoring contributions from Isa, Nagasawa and Goya. Last season, they could cover their weak attack, to an extent, with a solid defence, but this time round there’s been nowhere to hide. Naoki Nomura’s injury troubles haven’t helped either, neither did poor winter recruitment, with wing-backs Kenta Fukumori (Kitakyushu) and Hayato Kurosaki (Tochigi) loaned back to their previous clubs mere months after making the step up from J2. Additionally, Oita may be a beautiful part of Japan, but it’s far from the bright lights of Kanto and Kansai and therefore difficult to attract foreign talent. They’ve struck gold with Henrique, but it seems that his fellow Brazilian, Matheus Sousa Pereira was signed more as a companion for him rather than a genuine starting option. Despite not knowing which division they’ll be playing in next year, Oita have announced a couple of additions already. Two forwards, Shinya Utsemoto from Miyazaki Sangyo Keiei University (alma mater of both Yoshinori Suzuki and Yushi Hasegawa) and youth team product Yusei Yashiki, who has already made 3 J1 appearances in 2021 while on a type-2 amateur contract, will come in with the goal of bolstering their flailing attack.

Team News

Star turn Yamato Machida was missing from the side that went down 1-0 to Fukuoka and I haven’t seen any confirmation why. Long-serving wing-back Rei Matsumoto was taken off injured against Sendai on October 17th and must be a doubt for this clash. Tidy midfielder Yushi Hasegawa and ex-Kyoto centre-back Katsunori Ueebisu haven’t been seen for the last 8 matchdays and summer recruit from Vissel Kobe, Asahi Masuyama has sat out the previous 3 games, I don’t have any further information on that trio.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Thanks again for reading and enjoy the game whoever you’re supporting.


Yokohama F. Marinos vs Gamba Osaka 3 November 2021 Match Preview

Yokohama F. Marinos vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 34
Nissan Stadium
Wednesday 3 November 2021
Kick Off: 13:05 (JST)

November 3rd is Culture Day here in Japan which means a full round of Wednesday J.League action and all eyes will most definitely be set on Kanagawa as the clock strikes 1pm. The focus of this preview is of course 2nd place Yokohama F. Marinos’ home bout with my side Gamba Osaka, but taking place at the same time a mere 15 km away is the clash between Kawasaki Frontale and Urawa Red Diamonds. Frontale, 12 points ahead with 5 games remaining, are the champions elect, and should they better Marinos result on Wednesday afternoon they can uncork the champagne right there and then. A scrappy 2-1 win at home to Sapporo followed by another poor performance in the 2-1 reversal at Cerezo last week has heaped pressure on Ange Postecoglou’s hand-picked replacement, Kevin Muscat. With the title race all but over, will he be able to rouse his troops against a Gamba side who still need around 4 points from their remaining 5 fixtures to ensure J1 football for 2022?

Buoyed by Gamba’s 1-0 victory over Sagan Tosu last Saturday (October 23) which moved them 7 points clear of the drop-zone, I made the impulse decision to buy a visitor’s seat ticket for this game. I haven’t been to a Gamba away game since 2017 and this is my first time leaving Kansai for almost 2 years. I’m certainly pumped up for what will surely be an intriguing clash, and I hope this preview helps get you in the mood too.

Tale of the Tape

I won’t pull any punches here, this tie sees a title contender hosting a struggling bottom half side meaning one would be well within their rights to expect a reasonably comfortable home win and the stats laid out in the tables below certainly do nothing to contradict that point of view. If Gamba are to upset the odds, then getting themselves in front early will be crucial. Confidence seems to flow through individuals (see Usami after his goal vs Tosu) and the team as a whole when they break the deadlock before tension and nerves have any chance to take hold. To illustrate this very point, the Nerazzurri are 9-0-1 (the sole defeat coming at home to Kobe) after scoring the first goal, and by way of contrast, they have a dismal 1-2-15 record when conceding the opener (Oita being the sole opponent they’ve come from behind against).

I remember when writing my preview of Gamba’s home tie with Marinos in round 22 last season that I unearthed a large split in the Kanagawa side’s results versus bottom-half sides compared with those against top-half opposition. Clearly in 2020 their hectic schedule, as a result of ACL participation, hindered them badly, and this year they have improved markedly against what I’ll call lower-half top 10 teams (if that makes sense), but they still continue to struggle in the really big games, see losses against Kawasaki (a), Nagoya (a) and Kashima (h and a). Last week’s defeat at Cerezo bucked that trend, and was in fact more in-keeping with fierce rivals Frontale who have only lost to mid-table outfits with little to play for (Oita and Sapporo in 2020, Fukuoka in 2021) during their Covid-era rampage. Marinos may also reflect negatively on the fact that while smashing teams like Yokohama FC and Vegalta Sendai 5-0 at home might look great, it’s not half as impressive when you fail to pick up all 3 points in the reverse fixture. I could also point out that they drew 1-1 at home with Shonan, but then again I might stand accused of nit picking for the sake of it, as it should be noted that runaway leaders Kawasaki drew at home with Vegalta and away to Bellmare. So, perhaps it’s just Frontale’s relentless consistency and ability to grind out results when not playing well that has seen them achieve the results they have over the past few campaigns and as such denied a Marinos side that would surely have been good enough to win many other editions of J1.

Head to Head

The match between these two at Panasonic Stadium in early August didn’t pass without incident. Gamba put on one of their best attacking displays of the season despite it being their 7th league outing in the space of 20 days while their visitors were fresh from the Olympic break. The Nerazzurri dominated the stats, but were stunned by a fine shot from outside the area by Élber just past the half hour, and then Marcos Junior’s strike early in the second half. Their Brazilian team-mate, Thiago Martins, could count himself fortunate to remain on the field after giving away a spot kick whilst on a yellow card. Leandro Pereira dusted himself off after his compatriot’s trip and coolly converted from the spot before Patric’s shot was tipped onto the post by Yohei Takaoka’s outstretched leg. Kota Mizanuma restored the two goal advantage on 74 minutes meaning Patric’s additional time header from Usami’s cross was merely a consolation.

Then defending champions Marinos hosted Gamba in the opening weekend of J1 2020 which in fact turned out to be the only round of fixtures that year played out under ‘normal’ pre-Covid conditions. The Nerazzurri took full advantage of a sloppy opening 45 minutes from Ange Postecoglou’s men, racing into a two goal lead thanks to a goal and an assist apiece from Shu Kurata and Shinya Yajima, Marcos Junior pulled one back for Marinos deep into the second period, but it wasn’t enough and they kicked off the defence of their title with a home loss. Gamba dominated the match at Panasonic Stadium in October, but found themselves behind following an unfortunate Kim Young-gwon own goal. Takashi Usami converted a perhaps ‘soft’ penalty that he himself had won in first half stoppage time to restore parity, but there were to be no further goals and the Nerazzurri saw their six match winning run come to an end.

I had a spell living in Machida, Tokyo during 2016-2017 and found myself just six train stops away from Nissan Stadium. As a result, I was able to take in the 2-2 league draw in 2016 where Yosuke Ideguchi really announced himself as a player of enormous potential as well as the 1-1 League Cup Semi-Final draw (Gamba advanced on away goals) and the 2-1 Emperor’s Cup quarter-final loss in which Jun Amano settled the tie with a wonderful strike in injury time. 2017 saw Gamba run out 1-0 winners in J1 with Ritsu Doan finishing a flowing move involving Hiroki Fujiharu, Ademilson and the much-maligned Shun Nagasawa (who threw in a cheeky back heel assist for good measure). I’m thoroughly looking forward to heading back to my second favourite Japanese football stadium (after Panasta of course) and hoping to see another cracking game of football.

Gamba Osaka

Just a reminder that I joined Ben and Sam on the J-Talk Podcast (episode 390) last week and some of what I say below will cover similar ground to the discussion I had with them. Takashi Kiyama was brought into assist Masanobu Matsunami shortly before the 5-1 home shellacking from Sapporo and in the two week break that followed it seems like he’s put his stamp on the team somewhat, especially when it comes to defensive organisation and transitioning from defence to attack. Kiyama appears to be taking training and a friend of a friend reported that it was he who was giving the players instructions from the touchline in the game with Tosu. The slight momentum built up in the away draw with Urawa and home victory over Sagan was tempered a touch by the Emperor’s Cup loss to Reds in midweek, but it’ll still be interesting to see if Kiyama has any tricks up his sleeve to match the tactical masterclass Tsuneyasu Miyamoto put on to outfox his counterpart Ange Postecoglou in Gamba’s 2-1 triumph at the Nissan Stadium last February.

It was reported in the Nikkan Sports newspaper on 24 October that Gamba are closing in on a deal for current Oita kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka, although Hiroshi Jofuku’s removal at Hiroshima this midweek may have muddied the waters slightly. Katanosaka, of course, remains a hugely popular figure in Suita having been Kenta Hasegawa’s number two during the trophy laden 2014 and 2015 seasons. He’s been in charge at Oita since 2016 taking them from J3 to J1 and achieving mid-table top-flight finishes in both 2019 and 2020. A known advocate of the 3-4-2-1 system, it’d be interesting to see how his game-plan would work out with greater resources at Gamba, and if we play the ‘which former players would he bring along with him game’…may I suggest Yoshinori Suzuki and Noriaki Fujimoto (on loan from Kobe) at Shimizu?

Finally, a load of gossip that should probably be taken with a pinch of salt. As of yet unsubstantiated rumours claim that due to the long-term effects of an absence of big crowds at the Panasonic Stadium coupled with no ACL football next year, Gamba will be looking to slash ¥500 million off their playing staff budget for 2022 (for reference, Leandro Pereira and Kim Young-gwon leaving would account for roughly half that figure). Soccer Digest Magazine published an article on 28 October suggesting potential destinations for several soon to be out-of-contract J1 stars and that produced a slew of transfer rumours. Yosuke Ideguchi to Iwata or Kyoto? Masaaki Higashiguchi to Kobe with Kosei Tani returning from his loan spell at Shonan? Tani staying at Shonan? Tani joining Júbilo if Shonan go down? Masato Nakayama joining Gamba from Mito? It’s been a wild few days on Twitter that’s for sure and I’m highly dubious if any of these deals will end up coming to fruition, but I thought a bit of tabloid tittle-tattle might bring a bit of light relief to my regular more serious style.

Team News

Centre-back is the main area of concern at the moment with Kim Young-gwon being stretchered off against Tosu following a series of leg knocks, however, as per DAZN reporter Mariko Takeshima’s photos and comments on Twitter, both Genta Miura and Gen Shoji joined training on Saturday (30 October) and could be back in the frame for selection. Leandro Pereira and Yuji Ono, are nearing the end of their rehabilitation periods and it’s possible we could see either of them take a spot on the bench here. Shinya Yajima and Dai Tsukamoto have dropped out of the matchday squad in recent weeks, I believe Yajima has been missing from training, presumably injured, but I haven’t heard anything about Tsukamoto. Elsewhere, Yuya Fukuda was absent for the Emperor’s Cup loss against Urawa, but this may have been precautionary due to his chronic ankle problem, midfield schemer Yuki Yamamoto didn’t feature either and I’m not sure why, though he trained with the team as normal on Saturday. Reserve goalkeeper Jun Ichimori (hamstring) is out for the year and his replacement Kei Ishikawa has seen his spot on the pine taken by on-loan Ehime stopper Taichi Kato, it’s unclear whether Ishikawa has a knock of some sort or this has been done with a view to next season.

Additional Note 1 November: Kim Young-gwon was left out of the South Korea squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers which would indicate he will play no part in this match.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Yokohama F. Marinos

Kevin Muscat’s first game in charge of Marinos actually came in the 3-2 win at Panasonic Stadium back on 6 August and he initially enjoyed something of a honeymoon period, keeping the good times of the Ange Postecoglou era rolling with 5 wins and a draw from his opening 6 fixtures. Since then, however, standards have slipped a little and they’ve put up a 3-1-3 record over their most recent set of matches. Performances in the narrow round 32 win at home to Sapporo and then last week’s loss at mid-table Cerezo have turned the heat up on Muscat somewhat, not least due to some questionable selections and a very noticeable deviation from the Postecoglou battle plan. Sam Robson did a tremendous job of analysing their recent malaise on the J-Talk Pod last week, and going by the feedback I read, it’s Marinos fan approved, so please give it a listen if you haven’t already.

It will be very interesting to observe the comings and goings at the Nissan Stadium this off-season. Barring something dramatic, even by J.League standards, happening between now and the end of the year, Marinos will finish a distant, but highly creditable 2nd in the standings (only their 3rd top 3 finish since 2004) and they may have a fight on their hands to keep hold of some of their better players. Tokyo 2020 Olympian and current J1 top scorer Daizen Maeda’s flight to Europe appears booked with Celtic the most likely suitors and it probably wouldn’t surprise regular watchers of Japanese football to see Thiago Martins and Marcos Junior also head for the bright lights of Europe in the near future (also, if Muscat has no use for Élber, one of the best signings this season in my book, then I’d love to have him at Gamba). Regarding potential recruits, the extent of the City Football Group’s role in Marinos’ affairs has always been slightly ambiguous, but it appears from the outside that Postecoglou and his staff were able to make full use of access to their Brazilian scouting network to bring in smash-hit after smash-hit from the land of the Samba. Domestically, things have been far more Jekyll and Hyde with a Kenyu Sugimoto and Keiya Sento for every Daizen Maeda and Shinnosuke Hatanaka and plenty of Tomoki Iwatas and Kota Watanabes in between. However, they do possess one of the better youth academies in the country and defender Yusuke Nishida and midfielder Riku Yamane will be promoted from that program next season while former youth team graduates Kota Yamada and Kaina Yoshio may return from productive loan spells at Yamagata and Machida respectively.

Team News

Good news first for Marinos fans and that’s the return from suspension of Brazilian playmaker Marcos Junior who will surely walk straight back into the starting lineup. In the bad news column, classy centre-back Shinnosuke Hatanaka is out for the year after undergoing hamstring surgery. Elsewhere, former club captain Jun Amano missed the Cerezo defeat and utility player Takuya Wada has been absent for the past 2 games, in both cases it’s unclear whether this has been down to injury or non-selection.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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


Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu 23 October 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Sagan Tosu
2021 J1 Season Round 33
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 23 October 2021
Kick Off: 17:00 (JST)

Only six games remain in the 2021 edition of J1 and while it might be a slight stretch to call them six cup finals for Gamba, taking three points from this crucial encounter at home to Sagan Tosu could prove to be pivotal in their quest for survival. Fresh from a battling 1-1 draw away to fierce rivals Urawa, the Nerazzurri will be hoping to extend their impressive 3-1-0 record against Kyushu sides in 2021 this Saturday. Visitors Sagan Tosu currently occupy seventh spot on the ladder and remain well on course for a highest league placing since 2014 (5th) despite a recent wobble. Following a 4-0 home defeat by Yokohama F. Marinos, a scoreline quite flattering to Kevin Muscat’s men, Sagan have taken just 8 points from a pretty lenient run of 6 fixtures and from the outside, at least, it appears that perhaps the mid-season departures of Daiki Matsuoka and Daichi Hayashi, in addition to the ongoing ‘power harassment’ investigation into kantoku Kim Myung-hwi have taken their toll. It would certainly be natural if they had one eye on what will likely be an eventful off-season in one of Japan’s normally more sedate regions. Word of warning though, one might have been forgiven for saying similar things about Sapporo, the previous visitors to Panasonic Stadium, and we all saw how that game panned out.

As a result of the dramatic climax (© Yokohama F. Marinos…chortle, chortle) to the game away at Reds last Saturday, Gamba were able to preserve their six point cushion to 17th place Shonan, occupants of the uppermost spot in the drop zone. I believe I mentioned in a previous article that Satoshi Yamaguchi’s men travel to Suita on the final day of the season, and at present have a goal difference 7 better than the Ao to Kuro. Perhaps more worrying is the general upsurge in form shown by the bottom 5 in recent weeks, Yokohama FC in particular. Gamba may be left relying on those excellent showings against Kyushu-based sides I pointed out earlier as they still have to travel to Oita in round 35. However, at this stage of the year it’s always tough to compare the relative difficulty of different fixtures as, for instance, should Kawasaki wrap up the J1 title with several games to spare, then Gamba’s trip to the Todoroki Stadium in the penultimate matchday will become that bit less daunting. What is clear though is that the Nerazzurri have much more riding on this clash than their opponents and from a blue and black perspective hopefully this can bring about a 5th home league win of 2021.

Tale of the Tape

Saturday afternoon saw Gamba make it four straight games with over 20 shots faced and following his heroics to keep Urawa at bay, Masaaki Higashiguchi is averaging a league high 3.5 saves per match. Indeed, his display at the Saitama Stadium surely put to bed any lingering suspicions that Kosei Tani would return to Suita in 2022 to challenge for the number one jersey. At Panasonic Stadium, the Nerazzurri really need to bridge the gap between actual goals scored and xG For, it’s also worth noting that their last 6 league goals (home and away) have all come from set pieces, a figure that includes 3 penalties. Set plays were a weak point earlier in the year, but now that they are bearing fruit, other sources of goals have dried up. At the other end of the park, the 5-1 humbling at the hands of Sapporo brought goals conceded and xG Against much closer to equilibrium. The Ao to Kuro are clearly far more comfortable set up on the back foot ready to soak up pressure on road trips rather than playing it out from defence in the face of an intense high press at home. I’ll get into tactics and the composition of the starting eleven in greater detail in the ‘Gamba Osaka’ section later on, but it really doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that if the Masanobu Matsunami / Takashi Kiyama double act is to steer the ship to safety then the midfield have to start providing their backline with a level of protection they haven’t had in recent weeks, and they must start doing it from the opening whistle this Saturday.

Tosu may not be the richest side in J1 or have the most illustrious names on their books, but that doesn’t mean they can’t outwork their opponents and to that end they lead the league in distance covered per game, averaging 9.5 km more than Gamba for every match played. The team from Saga Prefecture are having an excellent year on the field, vastly exceeding the expectations of the majority of the wider J League fan community and probably even themselves. If I had to identify one achilles heel for them, then it would be their away form. They’ve lost just twice in the league at the Ekimae Real Estate Stadium in 2021, 1-0 in the reverse fixture with Gamba and 4-0 against Marinos, which leaves them averaging 2 points per game in Saga versus only 1.25 on their travels and a glance at the first stats table just below reveals that all but one of their key performance indicators are down when it comes to away fixtures in comparison with their overall total. So, we have a team who struggle to be as effective when separated from the comforts of home taking on a side that have suffered time and again in front of their own fans this season, something has to give.

Head to Head

Takashi Usami scored Gamba’s first league goal at the fifth time of asking in the Nerazzurri’s 1-0 win at Tosu back in April. His angled drive from the edge of the box ended a 428 minute goal drought to settle a dull encounter where Gamba’s 0.29 xG For was a season low while at the same time being the best defensive performance of the year from their hosts, which I’m sure provided scant consolation to them given the final outcome.

Last year, veteran Kazuma Watanabe’s 99th and 100th J1 goals in the first half of Gamba’s visit to Saga earned his side the three points in spite of Renzo Lopez’s late, late effort for Tosu. At the other end of the career spectrum, young Ryunosuke Sagara found the back of a J1 net for the first time in the reverse fixture before Patric buried a deserved equaliser past Park Il-gyu in the second half and Shoji Toyama spurned a couple of late chances to win it for the hosts.

I have some fond memories of games between these two down the years as I took in Gamba’s final ever senior game at the old Expo 70’ Commemorative Stadium, a 3-1 victory over Tosu in an Emperor’s Cup quarter-final back in 2015, a competition the Nerazzurri, of course, went on to win. After a spell living in Kanto, I returned to Kansai in 2018 and my first J1 game at Panasonic Stadium was a 3-0 triumph for Levir Culpi’s Gamba over Sagan. A cagey affair was lit up by Shu Kurata’s spectacular effort in the 68th minute with Hwang Ui-jo and Matheus Jesus adding gloss to the scoreline late on (that turned out to be the much maligned and long forgotten Matheus Jesus’ only goal in the blue and black of Gamba).

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the Nerazzurri haven’t lost a home league game to Kyushu opposition since 2013 (2-1 vs V-Varen Nagasaki in J2). How their supporters would love a repeat of that 2018 result against Tosu to keep their run of fine form against visitors from the most westerly of the Japanese home islands going.

Gamba Osaka

It was quite the finale against Urawa, right? The look on Shunya Suganuma’s face when the referee pointed to the spot, after a VAR delay spanning several minutes, screamed this is the kind of thing that happens to teams who go down. However, agony soon turned to delight when Takuya Iwanami (a man who’ll surely never have to pay for a pint in north Osaka again) decided to even things up and allow Patric the chance to bury his 9th league goal of the year and 19th in all competitions. I have a few observations and comments from that game which I’ll lay out in bullet point fashion below.

* There was far more fight in the team than in previous outings. Reds came out all guns blazing, especially in the opening quarter, but Gamba stood firm and played some decent stuff at times.

* The back 4 and Higashiguchi (especially) did what they needed to do, but were not helped out by those ahead of them. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt a tad nervous upon hearing that Sato and Suganuma had been named as the starting centre-backs, however, this was balanced out by the absence of Kasper Junker and his replacement Takahiro Akimoto’s first-half injury. When called upon the back five were generally solid, but Gamba’s midfield quartet were regularly bypassed and overrun by their Reds counterparts. Shu Kurata on the right-wing, normally very astute when it comes to protecting his full-back was pulled out of position time and time again allowing Koya Yuruki and Ryosuke Yamanaka to double team Ryu Takao. And while we’re critiquing Gamba’s midfield, have a quick look at my predicted lineups for both teams down below and see the difference in goal contributions from the respective midfields, it’s night and day.

* My penultimate point on Saturday’s game is the surprise (shock?) inclusion of Haruto Shirai in the starting eleven. Although he spent several seasons being labelled exclusively as a centre-forward in the yearly meikan, I think I watched Shirai play right wing about 15 times before ever seeing him up front and frankly, in my opinion he never showed anything with the U23s to suggest that he was a J1 level player. Yet there he was, thrown into the starting lineup on Saturday following a year out of the game because of knee surgery. It was reported he was selected ahead of Patric and Tsukamoto on merit, not due to injury, most likely for a) the element of surprise, b) his pace should have proven useful in closing down Reds defenders as they knocked the ball around at the back and c) Urawa’s ace centre-back Alexander Scholz would probably have preferred to face the more direct and physical Patric than the trickier, pacier Shirai. The experiment ended at half-time and it’ll be interesting to see if the Gamba power brokers give it another go this weekend.

* Finally, one real bright spark for the Nerazzurri on Saturday was the return of heart-throb / pretty handy footballer when he’s fit, Yuya Fukuda, after 3 months on the sidelines. Replacing Wellington Silva midway through the second period, he had me on my feet in the 84th minute when I thought his low shot had crept inside Shusaku Nishikawa’s near post, it wasn’t to be, but he was a ray of sunshine amidst the Saitama gloom. Fukuda did an interview with Yahoo News that was published on Sunday (17 October) in which he stated that the hamstring injury he picked up during the ACL group stage wasn’t too serious, but he suffers from chronic pain in his left ankle and that delayed his return. Surgery is an option down the line, however, for the time being he and the club will try and manage the situation. It was great to see him back on the field once more and let’s hope it’s onwards and upwards from here.

Team News

A bit quieter in here than usual which is good news for all of a Gamba persuasion. As reported last week Genta Miura, Yuji Ono and Leandro Pereira are working through personalised training programs and it’s as yet unknown when they’ll re-join full training (pictorial evidence from training on Tuesday suggests Pereira might have re-joined already). Theoretically any, or all, of the trio could make the matchday squad on Saturday, though more likely as a substitute rather than a starter. Gen Shoji is still missing for reasons only given as ‘poor physical condition’ [that’s a translation] and reserve goalie Jun Ichimori’s year is done after undergoing hamstring surgery. Elsewhere, I’m unsure whether Tiago Alves has been injured or not, though I’m inclined to believe he had a small problem. Significantly he was spotted alongside his fellow Brazilians in training on Tuesday so he should be good to go if called upon…and that’s a wrap for an unusually brief ‘Gamba Team News’ section…phew!

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Sagan Tosu

Coming off a creditable 13th place finish in 2020 and without a whole lot of cash in their coffers, Tosu were widely considered to be more of a relegation candidate than an ACL contender prior to this season commencing. However, Kim Myung-hwi’s side have taken everyone by surprise, not only because of their results, but also due to the quality of play they’ve produced at times. A solid rearguard superbly marshalled for most of the year (I’m ignoring recent tomfoolery) by Park Il-gyu and Eduardo has laid the foundation for attacking talents such as Yuta Higuchi and Keiya Sento to flourish further forward. Although ostensibly a 3-5-2 team, Tosu can generally be seen in a 5-3-2 system while defending and a 4-4-2, with the left centre-back shifting to left back and right wing back dropping to right back ,when they are in possession. Their on-field success has come at a price with Daiki Matsuoka (Shimizu) and Daichi Hayashi (Sint Truidense in Belgium) departing in the summer, architect of the current project, Kim Myung-hwi, may also be gone come 2022. I don’t want to comment too much regarding the ongoing power harassment investigation at the club, however, I will say that the J League coming in to run an independent inquiry feels a little bit like when one of your defenders accidentally handles the ball in the box and the referee doesn’t give a penalty initially, but then puts his finger to his ear for a prolonged period of time before sprinting over to the VAR monitor….where am I going with this long winded monologue? Well in both instances, you kind of know what the outcome is going to be well in advance of the final, official announcement. With all that in mind and not wanting to get caught on their heels, Tosu have been one of the quickest J1 teams out of the blocks when it comes to announcing new recruits for 2022. Five university rookies, centre-back Taiga Son (Rissho University), wing-backs Shunta Araki (Komazawa U) and Kyo Sato (Ryutsu Keizai U) as well as midfielder Taichi Kikuchi (also Ryutsu Keizai U) and forward Yukihito Kajiya (Kokushikan U) will call Saga home from next season, while goalkeeper Keisuke Fukaya will arrive (surely) as a backup from Kanto League side Shinagawa CC. With Sagan’s recent record of polishing hidden gems, expect at least a couple of that bunch to develop into pretty handy top tier talents.

Team News

Bright young thing Fuchi Honda is currently sidelined with a hamstring problem and it’s uncertain if he’ll make it back onto the field again this year while the scarcely used Yosuke Yuzawa is definitely done for the season after undergoing knee surgery. Summer recruit from Kashima Antlers, Kei Koizumi has missed the past 2 matches though I haven’t seen an injury reported anywhere.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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


Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka 16 October 2021 Match Preview

Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 32
Saitama Stadium 2002
Saturday 16 October 2021
Kick Off: 15:00 (JST)

J1 is back after the international break and we’ve got a monumental clash in store between two of the country’s biggest draws, Urawa Red Diamonds and Gamba Osaka. You’re probably aware that both of these sides lost their previous league outing 5-1….there, I said it…for the benefit of Gamba and Urawa supporters reading this article, I’ll do my best to mention it as little as is practically possible from now on. The Nerazzurri are coming off a rare two week break during which time they’ve hopefully erased the nightmare that was their 30th birthday party and been able to hatch a new, more effective game-plan. Reds, on the other hand, played a two-legged Levain Cup semi-final tie against Gamba’s prefectural rivals Cerezo, going down 2-1 on aggregate, so although Urawa are way ahead of the Ao to Kuro in the current standings, their confidence may be a little brittle at the moment too, meaning the first goal on Saturday will likely be crucial to the overall result.

Despite their setback at Kobe, Reds are still well in the hunt for a 3rd place finish in kantoku Ricardo Rodriguez’s first season at the helm, an outcome that would surely solidify his status as one of the top tacticians in the league. The Spaniard had his charges on an excellent run of 19 points from 7 matches in the run up to that clash with Vissel and will hope that was merely a minor bump in the road as he moves forward with his exciting project. Reds enter this fixture in fifth spot, three points shy of both Kobe and Nagoya, though they do have a game in hand over Grampus (this match). Gamba, by way of contrast, lie in fourteenth, six points above the drop zone and although taking anything from this bout will be a tall order, they really need to start showing some kind of form quickly if they’re to avoid being dragged deeper into the relegation battle.

Tale of the Tape

Gamba’s attack has continued to create chances at as much better rate than they were doing earlier in the season, but they remain one of the poorest teams in J1 at converting opportunities into goals. At the back, the Nerazzurri give up a divisional high 15.6 shots against per game and you have to feel that Masanobu Matsunami and new assistant Takashi Kiyama really need to put some sort of makeshift system in place to stop the bombardment Masaaki Higashiguchi faces on a weekly basis, with the former Japan international comfortably topping the ‘most saves’ charts for J1, making 100 already in 2021 (over 20 shots against in each of the last three fixtures is nothing to write home about either)!

Due to this being a season of rebuilding at Urawa, making sense out of their game-by-game stats is a thankless task. It’s taken a while for Rodriguez’s ideas to become fully embedded into the team’s psyche and if you glance down to my Reds’ predicted lineup below you’ll notice five of the starting eleven joined the club in mid-season, so with all that in mind I think 2022 might be a better time to fully assess the effectiveness of Rodriguez’s work and also the abilities of exciting new faces such as Scholz, Hirano and Junker. However, there are a couple of things I’d like to point out. Urawa’s passing and possession stats bear the unmistakable hallmarks of a Rodriguez team, but next year, if Reds are to mount a genuine title challenge, as a number of observers believe they will, then they’ll need to address regularly being outshot by opponents and I’m sure they’d love to get their xG difference number a good bit higher, it currently sits at +0.13 which isn’t all that impressive when compared with Kawasaki’s +0.8 and Marinos’ +0.66, though in the section titled ‘Urawa Red Diamonds’ later in this article, I’ll set out some reasons why I believe they’re more than capable of challenging the big 2 from Kanagawa next year.

Reds Goals For numbers include the 2 goals that league stripped from them over a player registration issue in the home match with Shonan. This was done to enable a better fit with other data such as xG, and Shots For (on target).

Head to Head

A very brief glance at the table below will tell you that away victories have been the order of the day in this fixture during recent years. The Nerazzurri saw off Reds in their first season at Panasonic Stadium, but have been unable to repeat the trick, however, since their 4-0 trouncing in a feisty battle back in 2016, they’ve remained unbeaten on league business at Saitama Stadium.

The reverse contest between these two back in mid-May was Matsunami’s first as caretaker boss with Tsuneyasu Miyamoto getting the axe following a 2-1 home reversal against Hiroshima four days prior. It turned out to be an afternoon to forget for everyone of a blue and black persuasion, though most certainly not for Reds’ Tatsuya Tanaka and Kasper Junker who ran amok to have the visitors 3-0 up at the interval, which is exactly how the match finished. Similarly, last season Reds raced out of the blocks early at Panasonic Stadium and Takahiro Sekine’s low shot, Leonardo’s penalty (he seems to be fishing for a return move to Japan **nudge nudge Gamba recruitment department**) and Yuki Muto’s fine finish following a Genta Miura misjudgement had them on easy street before Yosuke Ideguchi’s goal of the season contending volley from Takashi Usami’s corner provided Gamba with a consolation. The Nerazzurri earned a modicum of revenge with an excellent come-from-behind 2-1 win in Saitama in late November. Tomoaki Makino had fired Reds into a deserved lead, but Usami displayed the finishing instincts that have largely deserted him this year to draw Gamba level shortly after, before Ryu Takao, of all people, headed home what, to date, is the only goal of his senior career, to seal the deal. In the days following that match, Urawa announced that Tsuyoshi Otsuki would be vacating the hot-seat at the end of the year, a decision which surprised no-one.

Gamba Osaka

In the absence of any top team games for the past fortnight, this section will be a little more newsy and combative than normal, which may or may not fit in with the usual style of this blog. First to the positive, both of the Nerazzurri’s Brazilian forwards, Patric and Leandro Pereira, did interviews with media in the their home country that were published last week. Pithy information to come out of those are the news that Patric’s current contract only runs until the end of this season (though it appears both parties will be keen to extend the present arrangement) while Pereira’s deal covers next year too (it was widely believed he had only penned a 12-month contract upon signing for the Nerazzurri). Both players said they enjoyed life and soccer in Japan and would like to stay in the country for the foreseeable future. Whether Pereira does indeed see out his two-year deal in Suita or moves to fresh pastures for 2022 will be something to keep an eye on.

Secondly, and this isn’t really an issue I particularly wanted to write about, but I feel I have to say something….the mountain out of a molehill being made of Gamba’s new badge. The 5-1 loss to Sapporo coupled with a new concept design that was widely pilloried by the wider J League fan community on Twitter left me feeling like Sunday 3 October was ‘have a go at Gamba day.’ In fairness, the majority of the banter was good natured, and I also accept that realistically the badge could have looked like anything and some people would have had a dig on Twitter, such is the nature of the beast. Additionally 5-1 defeats for the traditional big teams are always amusing (it was interesting to note that Urawa and Cerezo fans were largely absent from the chorus of laughter, maybe they experienced something similar in recent weeks, I can’t remember), not sure I’d be quite so keen to jump on the bandwagon if I was a Shimizu fan though (how many goals did they score in their two games against us, might be lower than one?) Anyway, joking aside, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was something along the lines of this…in life there are some people you should listen to, and some that you shouldn’t, if someone wouldn’t give you any credit regardless of what you do, then that’s not really someone you need to listen to… With that in mind, remember that Gamba finished second in J1 last year, yet there were still people lining up up to tell us we didn’t deserve it (it’s October 2021 and I’m still waiting to hear why not, and which teams should have been ahead of us), so I’m not sure Gamba need to be overly concerned about the opinions of opposition supporters. I certainly do not speak for all Gamba fans, but I believe those of a blue and black persuasion would just like a team to be proud of, not one that gets smacked around 5-1 by opponents who’d be forgiven for having one eye on their end of season break. Sure, the club stand guilty of not consulting the fans who they’ll be expecting to shell out on merchandise adorned with the new logo, but supporter votes can come with their downsides too. My Scottish team, Ayr United, had around 4 or 5 options when they changed club crest about 5 years back and I was really attached to one of the designs which wasn’t selected in the end, but hey, a debate over the pros and cons of democracy is certainly way above the remit of this particular blog.

My aim with the above rant was not to have a go at anyone in particular, more to act as something of a counter-weight to the seemingly endless slew of ‘point and laugh at Gamba’ content I’ve seen on Twitter in recent weeks. I’m a football fan, I get it, fourteenth in the league and just off a 5-1 home hammering, we’re ripe for the picking, but as I’m about to go onto discuss, Saturday’s opponents, Urawa were 14th just two seasons back, Vissel Kobe filled that slot twelve months ago and neither of those two look in particularly bad shape at the moment. So, by all means drink it all in now, but Japanese football is a wild and mysterious beast so the boot may be on the other foot sooner rather than later, though I guess that’s why we all love it so much, right?

I was also going to call out Marcus Tulio Tanaka for his rather ‘one-sided’ take on Yasuhito Endo’s loan move to Júbilo Iwata, but I think I’ve ranted quite enough so I’m off for a lie down now.

Team News

Plenty to write about in here as always, but also lots of corroborating evidence available to back up what I say as opposed to the wild speculation I normally have to indulge in. Reserve ‘keeper Jun Ichimori has been ruled out for the rest of 2021 as he needs to undergo surgery on a hamstring injury (sorry I had been saying he had a shoulder issue, but that was actually his problem last year and I got confused).
Gamba held their first open practice session since February 2020 on Tuesday and it was revealed the Kosuke Onose and Yuya Fukuda were back in full training with the first team squad while Gen Shoji is still absent. A couple of days earlier Fukuda uploaded videos to Instagram showing he and fellow hamstring injury victim Yuji Ono doing rehab in a gym. The shirtless and profusely sweating Ono no doubt set hearts fluttering, but more importantly he does look in decent shape and his comeback might not be far away. In fact, media reports indicated that Ono, Leandro Pereira and club captain Genta Miura are currently working through individual training programs involving light running and so on, and will hopefully be ready for selection soon, though this match arrives too early for the trio. I was unable to see Tiago Alves in any of the photos on Twitter and Instagram, he has been out of the matchday squad since scoring a penalty in the 3-1 loss at Kashima on 18 September.

Signed Jun Ichimori Epoch Card

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Urawa Red Diamonds

Despite back-to-back bottom half league finishes in 2019 and 2020, the chance to restore Urawa to their former glories was always going to be an attractive proposition for any manager worth their salt. As it was, Ricardo Rodriguez, fresh from leading Tokushima to the J2 title was the man selected for the task. Rodriguez’s attractive, build from the back passing style has taken a while to bear fruit, and there were certainly some early teething troubles, but at the moment things are generally headed in an upward trajectory. Just a solitary win from their opening six league fixtures, a period which included pastings at home to Kawasaki and away to Marinos may have brought some doubts about the course Rodriguez was plotting, but the addition of Danish forward Kasper Junker in May and other sound signings in the summer have helped them to bounce back and they are currently on a run of 37 points from their last 19 games (11W4D4L) which has them firmly in the hunt for an ACL spot. Rodriguez has stated that ACL qualification is an aim this year, though if, as expected, it remains a Covid influenced shell of a competition next term then I don’t think Reds need to worry too much if they end up missing out. Instead, they should perhaps see the rest of 2021 as a reconnaissance mission with Rodriguez trying to ascertain what works and what doesn’t. Should he find the right system to bring the best out of the multitude of attacking talents on the books while simultaneously keeping things tight at the back, then J1 take cover (at present they’ve kept 12 clean sheets in their last 19 league outings, but are still searching for the correct formula in attack). It’s possible that rival sides like, Kawasaki, Marinos and Kashima, could lose talents such as Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda, Thiago Martins, Ryotaro Araki, Ayase Ueda and Koki Machida over the winter meaning that if Reds plug the gap at left-back, and they may already have the man they need on their books now in the shape of Takuya Ogiwara, currently on loan at Kyoto Sanga, then they should be aiming for top 3 minimum in 2022.

Team News

As per usual, and much to my frustration, writing this section has proven to be a far more simple task for Gamba’s opponents than the Nerazzurri. I actually don’t have any Reds players who I know to be definitely injured at the moment. Whether Australian Olympian Thomas Deng has a fitness issue or is simply not flavour of the month with the powers that be in Saitama remains to be seen. His veteran team-mates, Tomoya Ugajin, Yuki Abe and Shinzo Koroki haven’t featured in recent weeks either, but this may be down to Rodriguez bedding in the new, younger signings with an eye on next year. One such acquisition, Kosuke Kinoshita has been out of the matchday squad too, though his capture from Norwegian outfit Stabæk was something of a surprise in the first place.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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


Scouting J2

No Gamba game this week due to the international break (probably just as well for my sanity), so I thought rather than take a rest I’d do something a bit different. First, when you look below you’ll find updated versions of the J1 stats tables I put out just after the closure of the summer transfer window, once again credit must go to J Stats for the raw data. After that comes the main course. As many of you may know, I dip my toes into J2 coverage now and again with my appearances on J-Talk Extra Time, and with that in mind I’ve selected eleven J2 players I think will be playing J1 football next year and suggested possible future destinations.

Thanks again for all your support and as this blog post is slightly off the beaten path for me, I’m extremely interested to hear constructive feedback on it. Please get in touch either on Twitter or WordPress.

J1 Stats tables

Again I won’t do much analysis on this as I encourage you to check out @R_by_Ryo on Twitter if you like this kind of thing and want to see it discussed in greater detail. Briefly though, three things that jumped out at me when comparing these tables to the ones I published about 4 weeks ago.

1. Gamba’s attacking numbers have risen steadily without too much adverse effect at the other end of the field (granted the defensive stats were terrible last time too).
2. Frontale have outperformed xG For by an even greater rate than they did previously, conversely Marinos attack has gone in the opposite direction, is Ado Onaiwu being missed more than we might have thought?
3. Kashiwa, like Gamba, continue to be a bit of a basket case in terms of numbers, especially xG For. They really need a new goalscorer for Christmas.

Just one more thing…as Columbo used to say. Not included below, but discovered in the process of putting these tables together, when Tokushima complete less passes per game they win more, please someone get that memo over to Dani Poyatos if the 3-0 win over Tosu with a season low 166 completed passes didn’t do the trick already.

On the road to J1 2022

Below you’ll find the eleven ‘hot prospects’ I’ve selected based on my 2021 J2 viewing, but before that here are some ground rules I set myself.

* No Kyoto or Iwata players as those two seem destined to be in J1 next year anyway meaning promising youngsters like Sota Kawasaki, Shogo Asada and Riku Morioka will get a crack at the top flight just by remaining with their current clubs.

* No J2 players currently on loan from J1 sides. Anyone who has proven themselves during a loan spell this season will likely be playing at a higher level in 2022. This rules out the likes of Kota Yamada, Kaina Yoshio, Hidetoshi Takeda and Takumu Kawamura among others.

* No prior J1 experience. Like all the rules above this makes it far easier to limit the selection to just eleven players. Leo Takae, Yoshiaki Takagi and Jin Izumisawa are examples of the kind of player eliminated by this clause.

Right, here we go…

Kosuke Inose
Goalkeeper (20 years old)
FC Ryukyu

Notes: Initially I was going to select Blaublitz Akita’s Yudai Tanaka here, but his form has been a little patchy of late, so instead I’ve opted for someone whose star is definitely on the rise, Kosuke Inose. After starting the season as third choice behind Junto Taguchi and Dany Carvajal, Inose bided his time until injuries struck. Taguchi himself had shown fine form before damaging his hand and there would have been some trepidation from Ryukyu supporters as to what would happen when Inose took over between the sticks. They needn’t have worried as what they have seen is a string of assured performances, none more so than in the 2-0 loss at Júbilo Iwata last week where he was faultless at both goals and dealt well with the numerous crosses sent his way.

Potential Suitors: Sapporo may be looking for a new custodian with Takanori Sugeno ageing and Kojiro Nakano not yet living up to expectations,. Alternatively, Kawasaki could be in the market for a long-term replacement for Jung Sung-ryong and Inose might be the man for them.

Seiya Maikuma
Right-back / Wide midfielder (23)
V-Varen Nagasaki

Notes: To quote Harry from Home Alone, “Ever since I laid eyes on that house, I wanted it.” Replace ‘that house’ and ‘it’ with ‘Seiya Maikuma’ and ‘him’ and I think that sums up my thoughts on him coming to Gamba. Alas, the signing of Ko Yanagisawa likely means that Yuya Fukuda and Leo Takae’s former senpai at Higashi Fukuoka High School (Ryotaro Araki is another alumni from that hotbed of talent) is unlikely to be moving to Gamba in the near future. He joined Nagasaki at the start of last season as a forward, but was quickly converted to right-back where he’s excelled, notching 3 goals and 4 assists from 36 outings in his debut campaign and far exceeding those numbers in his sophomore year. His header against Kyoto on Saturday means he’s equalled last season’s total of 3 goals, but more impressively has 9 assists from 28 appearances and seems to be a shoe in for J2 team of the year. Despite mostly playing as a right-back, he can be deployed on either side of a midfield four and presumably could be re-converted to an inside-forward.

Potential Suitors: Having attended Momoyama Gakuin University in Osaka, a return to Kansai could be on the cards with Cerezo needing to reduce the average age of their squad sharpish and potentially being in the market for a long-term replacement for Riku Matsuda. Should Miki Yamane, J1’s own right-back assist machine head to Europe this winter then Maikuma might become a target for Toru Oniki’s Frontale juggernaut.

Riku Handa
Right-back (19)
Montedio Yamagata

Notes: One of several impressive right-backs in the league, the tireless Handa has really burst onto the scene this year, thriving under the tutelage of Peter Cklamovski. Perhaps more dynamic, but also more raw than Maikuma, the Japan Under-20 international, and Paris 2024 candidate will require a bit of polishing from an experienced coach, but he definitely has the potential to become a regular J1 player in the coming years.

Potential Suitors: I might be looking at things a bit too simplistically here, but with the Cklamovski – Marinos connection there’s a good chance Handa could end up plying his trade at the Nissan Stadium in the coming years. Whether he goes there directly or is signed then loaned back to Yamagata to develop more under Cklamovski remains to be seen. Ken Matsubara and Ryuta Koike are the two current incumbents of the right-back slot in Yokohama, and it’ll be interesting to see what route Kevin Muscat, a former right-back himself, opts to take with that position.

Tetsuya Chinen
Centre-back (23)
FC Ryukyu

Notes: Will the fact that he’s out for the rest of the season with a fractured leg help Ryukyu fend off potential suitors? If I use Arata Watanabe’s move from Niigata to Oita last winter as a cherry picked example, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see the impressive Chinen turning out for a J1 club in 2022. After a slow debut season following his graduation from Kindai University, Okinawa native Chinen shone for J2 surprise packages Ryukyu in the early part of this campaign. His partnership with Ryohei Okazaki solidified a previously porous rearguard and allowed the Bengara Reds to challenge at the top of the standings.

Potential Suitors: Kashiwa will probably be extremely active in the transfer market this off-season and with Taiyo Koga the only centre-back to really impress for the Sunkings this year, a move for Chinen could well work for both club and player.

Rikito Inoue
Centre-back (24)
Fagiano Okayama

Notes: Inoue has made the step-up from J3 to J2 this year in seemingly effortless fashion, quickly becoming a defensive leader for Fagiano, who despite sitting 13th on the log, have conceded a paltry 27 goals in 32 matches to date (2nd in the league, trailing Kyoto by just a single goal). Joining Gainare Tottori straight out of high school in 2015, Inoue played 6 solid seasons in J3 and earned his stripes before heading south to Okayama last winter. Having just 32 J2 appearances under his belt is the only thing I could see stopping J1 teams approaching him, some may opt to sit tight and see how he does next year in what could be a more attack minded Pheasants outfit.

Potential Suitors: Gamba and Kashiwa have both underwhelmed defensively and as a collective this season and Inoue could be a relatively cheap way to help them plug some gaps at the back. Kobe, buoyed by the outcome of their move for Ryuho Kikuchi, another centre-back from an unfashionable J2 club, might be tempted to look to Inoue as they seek to ease out the impressive, but ageing Thomas Vermaelen.

Sho Araki
Full-back / Wing-back (26)
Ventforet Kofu

Notes: He provided 2 assists in Kofu’s impressive 2-0 win over Yamagata at the weekend (if you haven’t already, check out ex-Toin Yokohama forward Yoshiki Torikai’s brilliant strike from the half-way line), but rest assured Araki was already in my thinking for this line-up long before Saturday. In fact his closest competition came in the shape of team-mate Masahiro Sekiguchi, but he only just returned against Montedio having missed the previous 6 fixtures. Araki joined Kofu from Kokushikan University in 2018, but endured a frustrating first couple of seasons in Yamanashi before finally cracking the starting line-up last year. Able to play on either flank as a wing-back in Ventforet’s 3-4-2-1 system, as well as having the ability to operate as a full-back in a 4-4-2, Araki has 12 assists in 60 games across 2020-2021 and his excellent set-piece deliveries could make him an important weapon for many a J1 side.

Potential Suitors: I know they haven’t been promoted just yet, but Júbilo Iwata use the same 3-4-2-1 set-up as Kofu making the transition from Yamanashi to Shizuoka an easy one. Urawa are currently playing with a back 4 and left-back is an area of concern, kantoku Ricardo Rodriguez has used a 3 back system in the past and having both Araki and Hiroki Sakai available to him might prompt a switch in Reds’ style of play.

Kaishu Sano
Central-midfielder (20)
Machida Zelvia

Notes: After initially breaking into the Machida top-team as a makeshift full-back in his debut campaign in 2019, Sano has gone on to become one of J2’s most dependable central midfielders, forming an excellent partnership alongside Leo Takae in the Zelvia engine room. His stamina is not in question having started 41 of 42 games during last year’s epic Covid compacted season, though he has had a couple of minor injury problems this term. He’s the steady hand in the Machida midfield who provides a protective shield for his centre-backs and picks out more skillful team-mates in attack with simple passes.

Potential Suitors: I’ve mentioned before that I thought FC Tokyo missed a trick by choosing Takuya Aoki over Daiki Matsuoka last winter, however, signing Sano, who wouldn’t even need to move house should the deal go through, would be shrewd business in my book. Hiroshima are another side in need of a central midfielder due to the departure of star turn Hayao Kawabe and the ongoing injury issues plaguing up-and-comer Kodai Dohi. Nagoya, who also fell into the FC Tokyo trap of signing ‘safe options’ when they brought in Kazuki Nagasawa could possibly be attracted to Sano, though he doesn’t really fit the MO of other recent additions to their squad.

Hikaru Nakahara
Right / Left Wing (25)
Montedio Yamagata

Notes: Like Rikito Inoue above, Nakahara has shone in his debut season at J2 level. Initially making a name for himself with hometown club Roasso Kumamoto following his graduation from Komazawa University, Nakahara was part of an impressive attacking unit that also included Kaito Taniguchi (now Niigata). However, Roasso’s backline repeatedly let them down meaning they slipped out of the automatic promotion places last year and with Nakahara being too good for another season of J3 football, forward thinking Yamagata swooped in for him. A slow start to the season received a shot in the arm upon the arrival of Peter Cklamovski, and under the Australian, Nakahara has notched an impressive 4 goals and 7 assists to date.

Potential Suitors: I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but Kashiwa have a history of dipping into J2 for transfers and Nakahara could be a good fit there as they search for a younger replacement for Cristiano. However, Nakahara’s age might put off Kashima who tend to buy younger players they can develop, while Marinos may be dissuaded by their horrible J2 recruitment campaign before the start of the 2020 campaign. Should Sapporo lose Takuro Kaneko in the winter (his display against Gamba last Saturday may have helped speed up that process), Nakahara could be the ideal man to join the Rossoneri and partner Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa in the inside-forward positions.

Tomoya Miki
Inside Forward / Winger (23)
JEF United Chiba

Notes: 8 goals and 5 assists from 32 appearances for a team that have found the back of the net just 30 times during that period aptly illustrates how Tomoya Miki has taken the JEF attack by the scruff of neck this season. This means, in my book anyway, he’s more than earned a shot at the top flight in 2022. Miki played 9 times as a designated special player on loan from Kanto Gakuin University, not really one of Japan’s varsity powerhouses, in 2019 and largely had to be content with a spot on the bench during his first season has a pro last year. However, 2021 will undoubtedly be seen as his breakthrough campaign, with it’s peak being reached between rounds 13-16 where he contributed 4 goals and 2 assists in the space of 4 matches to help his side to a valuable 8 points. Of everyone I’ve selected here, Miki is probably the one I’m most confident will definitely become a J1 player next season.

Potential Suitors: I think Sean Carroll hit the nail squarely on the head on a recent episode of JTET when he said Tosu would be the ideal destination for Miki. J1’s surprise packages this year have made a habit of picking up undervalued talent in J2 in recent years, think Nanasei Iino, Tomoya Koyamatsu, Noriyoshi Sakai and Keita Yamashita, and Miki appears to have the skill-set to adapt to Tosu’s style of play very quickly.

Shion Homma
Winger / Number 10 (21)
Albirex Niigata

Notes: Such an obvious pick for this kind of article that I was almost tempted to leave him out for a more left field choice such as Shusuke Ota or Shunsuke Mito. In truth, such has been the hype around young Homma that we can almost view 2021 as being slightly underwhelming with 5 goals and 6 assists from 31 outings and 8 of his last 14 appearances coming from the substitutes bench. I had a good discussion with Jon Steele on last week’s JTET about Niigata’s attacking strategy, or lack thereof, and how it might be hindering a fledgling talent such as Homma who perhaps needs a bit more guidance on ways to develop his natural talents. However, taking all of the above into consideration, I’m still pretty confident he’ll be playing at a higher level in 2022.

Potential Suitors: By-passing J1 and moving directly to Europe isn’t out of the question, though I’m not sure it’s the best career path for him to take at the moment. All the J1 big boys, Kawasaki, Marinos, Kashima etc. will surely be interested, especially if the likes of Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda and Ryotaro Araki are snapped up by European clubs this winter. It was also reported that Gamba watched him towards the end of 2020, though with Hiroto Yamami on his way in, I struggle to see Homma arriving at the same time.

Yoshiki Fujimoto
Centre-Forward (27)
Ehime FC

Notes: With 10 goals and 4 assists in 29 appearances for relegation haunted Ehime, Fujimoto is the oldest player on the list, but he’s contributed so much to his side’s cause this season that it will prove impossible for higher ranked sides to ignore. The Meiji University graduate’s career to date has featured several ups and downs, he endured a frustrating 2 ½ years at Okayama, never really establishing himself before being loaned to Ehime midway through 2018. The deal was made permanent over the following winter and he went on to bag a career high 9 goals in 39 games in 2019. 2020 was wrecked by injury and there were real concerns about where Ehime’s goals would come from this campaign, however, despite a leaky rearguard holding them back, Fujimoto in tandem with Hiroshima loanee Takumu Kawamura have fought bravely to maintain the Matsuyama side’s J2 status.

Potential Suitors: His age and the holes in his CV will likely deter the traditional powerhouses, but Kyushu outfits, Fukuoka and Tosu have made this kind of move before and Fujimoto would likely achieve success with either of those two sides.

That’s all for now, is there anyone you think I’ve over-rated or missed out altogether? Please let me know. Thanks again for reading and I’ll be back next week to preview a match between two teams coming off 5-1 thrashings, Urawa Reds vs Gamba Osaka.


Gamba Osaka vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 2 October 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
2021 J1 Season Round 31
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 2 October 2021
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)

Welcome to blog post #100 – thanks to everyone who’s helped me get this far!

Gamba’s 2-1 victory over Kashiwa Reysol on Sunday bought some crucial breathing space at the bottom of the table and has set them up nicely for their next fixture at home to Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. The Nerazzurri, currently sitting on 33 points, 7 clear of the drop zone, would pull to within 3 of their visitors should they manage to bag the win here. Consadole are safely ensconced in mid-table which has seemingly had an adverse effect on recent results meaning Gamba will see this as an opportunity to further cement their J1 status for 2022.

This clash will be followed by a two-week break for both these sides, and for the Nerazzurri, in particular, it could not have come at a better time with players dropping like flies as a result of the hectic summer schedule. Sapporo boss Mischa Petrović will also welcome the gap in fixtures as it gives him the chance to rally his troops for one final push towards the end of the year. Typically when these two collide we don’t see the best of Consadole and the men from Hokkaido will be keen to rectify that here, while the home side, buoyed by lightning quick starts in their previous two home outings will have the bit between their teeth as they look to give the 10,000 strong Panasonic Stadium faithful something to cheer about (this is the first time the capacity has been above 5,000 all year).

A quick reminder that Gamba will be wearing their 30th anniversary uniform in this fixture. It’s earned mixed, but mostly positive reviews on social media, check out the pictures below to see for yourself.

Tale of the Tape

Gamba avoided the indignity of losing 5 consecutive league games for the first time since 1998 and the success in the match against Kashiwa should hammer home the importance of getting off to a fast start. Contrast Sunday’s encounter with the home ties against Marinos, Kobe and Sendai earlier in the year. While the stats in the table below don’t look pretty for Gamba vs Kashiwa, in the battles with the aforementioned sides, the Nerazzurri dominated everywhere except on the scoresheet. Getting ahead makes things so much easier late on, and although Gamba still look vulnerable to quick counter attacks (Masaaki Higashiguchi leads the league in total saves made), they got the rub of the green on Sunday and were able to stay the course. The blueprint for victory has been laid out, so onwards and upwards from here with Sapporo representing the first of four remaining fixtures that should be targeted for wins, the others being, Tosu (h), Oita (a) and Shonan (h) while we’ll take what we can get from Urawa (a), Marinos (a), Nagoya (h) and Kawasaki (a).

I’ve thought for a long time that Sapporo play an extremely eye-catching, but highly inefficient brand of football. They are among the league’s best when it comes to xG for, xG difference, shots on goal, passes completed and possession, however, results on the pitch are much less impressive. I actually had them down as my dark horse surprise relegation contender for 2021 (little did I know it would be my own team who’d battle it out with Kashiwa and Cerezo for that crown – oops), but after a sluggish start, just 2 wins from their first 9 games, they steadied the ship, taking 27 points from their next 14. There’s been a bit of a wobble since then, as they followed up their disappointing 2-0 loss to the Nerazzurri in July with impressive home wins over FC Tokyo and Urawa before embarking on their present run of just 4 points from their most recent 7 outings. A J2 side for the majority of their history, Petrović, to his eternal credit, has firmly established them in Japan’s top flight, however, finances appear tight and despite decent youth development work and university recruitment it’s going to be tough for them to continue finishing so high in the league year after year.

Head to Head

Generally when I watch Consadole as a neutral I see a pretty entertaining game regardless of the opposition, however, recent battles between them and Gamba have mostly failed to catch fire. Case in point, the Nerazzurri’s 2-0 triumph on July 30 at the Atsubetsu Stadium, a venue which doesn’t suit the Rossoneri’s attacking style nearly as much as Sapporo Dome. The hosts burst out of the traps quickly, fired in numerous low percentage efforts, but were then picked off on the counter twice by Gamba with Shinya Yajima and Leandro Pereira having all the time in the world to bury their chances before the visitors shut the game down effectively for a valuable 3 points.

In 2020 it was a similar story with the Ao to Kuro winning both fixtures by just a solitary goal. Kazuma Watanabe’s late effort sealed a miserly 1-0 away win at the Atsubetsu while Gamba had to come from behind in the return match with Yosuke Ideguchi and Patric’s strikes cancelling out Douglas Oliveira’s first ever J1 goal.

Interestingly, or maybe not, 18 August 2013 was the first time I witnessed Takashi Usami score for Gamba live and in the flesh. The old Expo ‘70 Commemorative Stadium was the venue and Consadole Sapporo, prior to the addition of Hokkaido to their name, were the visitors. After a goalless first 45, two strikes in the space of four second-half minutes from Takaharu Nishino (now Sanuki) and Usami killed the game off as a contest. Brazilian Adi Rocha added gloss to the scoreline 14 minutes from time and it ended 3-0. Hiroki Fujiharu was the only other current Gamba player on duty that day, while both Hiroki Miyazawa and Takuma Arano were in the starting lineup for Sapporo.

Gamba Osaka

Due to the mounting pile of injured bodies in the Gamba treatment room (calls for a new physical coach to be brought in next year grow louder by the day), Masanobu Matsunami’s hand has almost been forced selection wise, though it is interesting to see that he and I both seem to agree on 4-2-3-1 being the way forward, for now anyway. That system, which in truth became more of a 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 after the early lead was established against Kashiwa has worked well in the last 2 matches and hopefully the Nerazzurri stick with it until the end of the season. Realistically an average of just over a point per game can be expected from the remaining 8 league matches this year and if good results are achieved over the next couple of fixtures then it’d be great to see Matsunami start to put foundations in place for his successor. With Hiroto Yamami, Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto confirmed in the arrivals lounge, plus Wellington Silva, Takashi Usami and Shu Kurata already on the books the supporting cast for Patric, or a new main striker, looks to be coming together rather nicely. As I mentioned on the J-Talk Podcast last week, I think everyone of a Gamba persuasion will be happy to put this annus horribilis to an end and start afresh in 2022.

On Tuesday (28 September) a vaguely worded club statement announced that former JEF, Ehime, Yamagata and Sendai boss Takashi Kiyama had been brought on board to assist stand-in kantoku Masanobu Matsunami for the rest of 2021. Whether this is a prelude to him potentially filling the hot seat permanently from next year is up for debate. In my opinion, getting someone in with fresh ideas can only be a good thing for the remaining two months of this tortuous campaign, but Kiyama would be a rather underwhelming full-time appointment who I struggle to envisage returning Gamba to their former glories should he be handed the reigns. For me, the club need to look for a higher profile candidate, be that a Japanese or foreign coach. I’d certainly be keen to hear the thoughts of others, am I wrong to dismiss Kiyama so quickly, what do you think?

Team News

Unfortunately, from a Gamba perspective, there is plenty of team news this week. Shu Kurata left the field against Kashiwa with a heavily strapped right thigh in just the 25th minute while Wellington Silva was carried off on a stretcher later on, but I believe this was just down to fatigue. Both players took part in the celebratory clap in front of the home fans at the end and if I were a betting man I’d say Silva will play here and Kurata will return after the international break. Sapporo’s defence will certainly be hoping there’s no Silva after the the endless headaches his penetrating runs gave them in the reverse fixture. Gen Shoji, Yuki Yamamoto and Tiago Alves have all been absent from the matchday squad for the Shonan and Kashiwa games with no official confirmation why. Matsunami mentioned Shoji’s ‘poor physical condition’ as the reason for his non-selection against Antlers and we can merely speculate that as the Nerazzurri had Takao, Kurokawa and Sato all on the bench on Sunday that Shoji, Yamamoto and Alves must have problems of some kind (alternatively Alves might have been punished for his ridiculous celebration after his consolation away to Kashima). Elsewhere, Leandro Pereira Yuya Fukuda, and Yuji Ono (all hamstring), Genta Miura (knee) and Jun Ichimori (shoulder) are likely to miss out while there’s still no word on the heavy knock Kosuke Onose took in the Emperor’s Cup tie with Shonan.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Sapporo only really have pride to play for in their final 8 league fixtures, and after this trip to Osaka they still have home dates with Fukuoka, Shonan and Kashiwa remaining in addition to away duels with Marinos, Shimizu, Tosu and Yokohama FC. Depending on motivation and fitness levels within the squad, gathering 13 points from those games isn’t entirely out of the question and that would leave them tantalisingly close to the club record of 55 points set during their 4th place run in 2018 (granted that haul came in a 34 match campaign, but reaching the half century this term would be a huge step in the right direction for the Rossoneri).

Looking ahead to next season, integrating new Slovenian signing Milan Tučić into the attack is vital considering the ageing of Jay Bothroyd and the departure of Anderson Lopes. Consadole’s only confirmed new arrival for 2022 so far is midfielder Hiromu Tanaka, older brother of Vegalta Sendai’s Wataru, he’ll join from Rissho University, and Sapporo have a pretty decent record with varsity recruits in recent seasons (Shunta Tanaka, Takamine, Kaneko, Ogashiwa). Speaking of those four, it’s quite possible that J1’s most northerly club will have to fend off suitors from further south, particularly those with a pressing need to rapidly lower the average age of their squad, Cerezo and FC Tokyo to name but two.

Team News

As usual writing this section is much easier for Gamba’s opponents than for the Nerazzurri. Key defender / set-piece mastermind Akito Fukumori (most last passes in J1 with 58, Takuro Kaneko is 4th with 48) has missed the past 4 games with a knee injury as has Thai schemer Chanathip, he has a thigh problem. No date has been given for the return of either player, as per J League norms. Central midfielder Kazuki Fukai has been absent for the last 7 fixtures while Jay Bothroyd sat out Sunday afternoon’s home defeat at the hands of Hiroshima, I don’t have any additional information on either.

Predicted Lineups and Stats

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