Gamba Osaka vs Urawa Red Diamonds 2022 J1 Season Round 19 Saturday 2 July 2022 Panasonic Stadium Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
There’s a full slate of J1 games scheduled for this Saturday night in Japan and while this national derby, which pits 12th placed Gamba against Urawa in 10th, might not immediately stand out as pick-of-the-round, there’s plenty of intrigue surrounding it nonetheless. The home side avoided suffering 5 defeats in-a-row for the first time in 24 years with an unexpectedly comfortable 2-0 victory over much-vaunted Sanfrecce Hiroshima in their rescheduled bout on Wednesday. It was the Nerazzurri’s 3rd win on home soil this year and it came courtesy of a golden 4 minute spell in the first-half when Mitsuki Saito’s low shot off Keisuke Osako’s upright was sandwiched by close range efforts from Keisuke Kurokawa and surprise starter Isa Sakamoto (his first ever J1 goal). Urawa should also be in good spirits after having 6 days off to prepare for this clash following their 1-0 victory at Vissel Kobe last Sunday. Substitute David Moberg Karlsson was the hero as his 90th minute free-kick settled the match and made it 3 games unbeaten for the Saitama side. The last home win for either team in this fixture came way back in 2016 which certainly suggests a Reds triumph is the most likely outcome here, but with both Gamba and Urawa in among a train of teams from 9th to 17th covered by just 6 points, every result is vital, so expect plenty of passion, determination and no shortage of quality on the pitch come game night.
Tale of the Tape
If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my appearances on the J-Talk Podcast and J-Talk Extra Time it’s that whenever you see a fixture that looks certain to go one way, think very carefully before proudly declaring that Team A will comfortably see off Team B. Gamba against Sanfrecce on Wednesday night very much had the air of a relatively easy away win pre-match. However, it ended up fitting in well with several other games on the round 15 card that it was originally a part of, such as Kashiwa’s 6-1 thrashing of 10-man Sapporo, the epic 4-4 draw between Kashima and Tosu, and of course 16 goals in 18 games Shonan finding the back of the net 4 times in the space of 11 second-half minutes away to defending champions Kawasaki, but I digress. One swallow doesn’t make a summer as they say, but, there was a lot to like about Gamba’s display on Wednesday. They had their backs against the wall, however, a much changed lineup came out swinging and got their rewards. This was the Nerazzurri’s first xG victory since 8 May when they saw off Vissel Kobe at Panasonic Stadium, it was also only Hiroshima’s 2nd xG loss since kantoku Michael Skibbe entered the country, and after racing into a 2-0 lead after 39 minutes, the remaining 51 minutes of the contest now make up almost 70% of the time Gamba have been ahead by at least 2 goals this season. The Ao to Kuro outran their rather disappointing visitors by 8.7 km and 23 sprints respectively on an extremely hot and sticky evening in Suita, so I guess the worry is, with Saturday’s duel against Urawa being quickly followed by Shonan (away – July 6), Kawasaki (away – July 9), Kashima (Emperor’s Cup away – July 13) and the Osaka Derby at home to Cerezo (July 16), how much will be left in the tanks of some of these players when they get to the end of that gruelling schedule? Restricting Hiroshima to just 12 shots on goal helped with Gamba’s currently dreadful season statistics, but they are still averaging 4 shots fewer per game than their opponents, that needs to change, it’s a wrong that can’t be corrected immediately, but Wednesday was certainly a start. Home ties at Panasonic Stadium have been generating an xG of 2.82 per game so far in 2022, while Urawa away fixtures currently sit at 2.19, maybe Saturday brings with it another opportunity to get the defensive numbers trending in the right direction? Lastly, a couple of comments on players who impressed against Hiroshima. Keisuke Kurokawa marked his return to the side with a goal and a strong first-half display where he dominated Tomoya Fujii, someone I’d picked out as a dangerman in my match preview, he also stated post-match that a leg injury, not a potential move to Celtic, had kept him out of the previous 2 games. Volante Dawhan, who seems to have caught the eye of a number of opposition supporters for his good play, was quietly efficient again, keeping things ticking over and completing 47 of 55 attempted passes, which compares with his more ropey display of 29 out of 35 away to Sapporo last weekend. Finally, and this time I do mean finally, but I need to keep my run of using the phrase ‘guardian deity’ going so let’s mention Masaaki Higashiguchi once more. The veteran had by far and away his quietest game between the sticks since his recent return. He only had to make 1 save and catch 2 crosses throughout the 90 minutes on Wednesday, which is night and day when set against the combined total of 11 saves, 7 of which were from shots taken inside the box, he pulled off against Yokohama F. Marinos and Sapporo.
In my preview for Gamba’s trip to Urawa back in February I stated that I was looking forward to catching up with the Saitama giants’ progress when the teams met again in July. Honestly, what I’m about to describe certainly isn’t quite what I expected to be writing, but it has been a fascinating ride nonetheless. To put it simply it’s been a tale of attack versus defence for Urawa with the backline, shorn of a number of first choice players for large parts, but superbly marshalled by centre-back Alexander Scholz and veteran ‘keeper Shusaku Nishikawa, performing to a high standard while the forwards, equally decimated by injuries, have misfired badly on numerous occasions. Throw in a few red cards, failure to get any breaks from VAR, plus some rank bad luck (see Yuya Fukuda’s deflected winner at Saitama Stadium for evidence) and you get a kind of feel for the year Reds have had to date. Coming into 2022 on the back of a strong finish to the previous campaign much was expected of Ricardo Rodríguez’s squad, however, things started badly with a 1-0 loss at newly-promoted Kyoto and, in truth, didn’t really improve until after the June international break. The men from Saitama currently boast the joint meanest defence in the league along with Fukuoka, giving up just 16 goals in 18 outings, and have a healthy +0.48xG difference in the bag too, but in attack, despite creating decent enough chances, they’ve failed to convert them time and time again. This has been especially prevalent on the road where they’ve netted just 3 goals in 9 games from an xG For total of 12.33 and remarkably they’re still waiting for their first strike from open play outside the confines of Saitama Stadium this year (1 penalty, 1 direct free kick and 1 header from an indirect free-kick). Things have only been a shade better when we look at their campaign as a whole, they’ve won just 4 times in J1 and a sizeable chunk of the reason why is because they’ve failed to kill teams off when presented with the opportunity to do so. Goals have come, but generally they’ve been in bursts, such as against Júbilo (4-1), Marinos (3-3) and Nagoya (3-0). They’ve only found the back of opponents’ nets from open play in 5 of their 18 fixtures so far and that is something that kantoku Ricardo Rodríguez simply must amend if they’re going to improve upon their current ranking of 10th. Things are beginning to tick in the right direction with 7 points garnered from their 3 most recent league games with 3 clean sheets in the bag to boot, and as I’ll discuss in the ‘Urawa Red Diamonds’ section below, it’s likely to be an interesting transfer window for Reds as they seek to spruce themselves up for the J1 run in and beyond.
First Match Recap
Gamba extended their unbeaten run at Saitama Stadium to 6 J1 matches with a 1-0 triumph in round 2 back in February. Substitute Yuya Fukuda’s deflected effort minutes after Urawa’s Ken Iwao had been shown a second yellow was enough to bring the points back to Suita. Reds had dominated possession, territory and the shot count in the opening half-hour, but were later stifled by some tactical alterations from Nerazzurri kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka and the game developed into something of an arm-wrestle prior to Fukuda’s late clincher (his 2nd strike in 4 years away to Reds).
Irresistible Isa – it defeated ‘Insatiable Isa’ and ‘Isa the Iceman’ for the title of this section, and yes, I could have fitted this into ‘tale of the tape’, but I thought it was more appropriate to give the 18 year-old from Kumamoto a bit more praise for netting his first ever J1 goal. After the lineups were announced on Wednesday there were murmurs among the Gamba support that Sakamoto’s selection was Katanosaka’s way of making sure the front office sign a striker or two in the summer transfer window. However, the youngster more than justified his inclusion, in his 75 minutes on the field he shot twice including his goal and completed 19 of 22 passes, of which 1 was a last pass. His touch and movement are good and I enjoyed his link up play with Yamami, in particular, though naturally as a first year pro out of the youth team, he needs to build up his physique a bit more and also become more ruthless in front of goal, hopefully that’ll come over time. On Wednesday there were 2 or 3 occasions when he had a good chance to shoot, however, he instead opted to try and play in a team-mate. Commendable as that is, he was operating as the sole striker so being more selfish is to be encouraged, but in fairness I am nit-picking a tad, well done Isa and here’s to many more J1 goals.
Transfer Gossip – In terms of summer additions, probably the most realistic names I’ve heard doing the rounds are Oita duo Hokuto Shimoda and Yuto Misao from Katanosaka’s former nest (another Japanese to English translation I enjoy) Oita. Central midfielder Shimoda spent 2018-2020 with Kawasaki, so has a decent pedigree and would also boost the Nerazzurri’s set-piece delivery options a fair bit. Misao, like Shimoda, would be able to fit seamlessly into Katanosaka’s system, though he did reportedly knock back Gamba in the winter, so if this story is true, why the change of heart now? J2 top scorer Koki Ogawa has also been mentioned in the same breath as Gamba recently, but with Belgian cracks St. Truidense now credited with an interest, any sort of deal looks quite a way off. An even more left-field name I saw linked was Tosu’s wing-back / shadow forward Yuto Iwasaki, however, being on loan from Sapporo to Sagan would surely complicate any hypothetical deal too much. Looking into the future, Kwansei Gakuin schemer Ken Masui, a former Nagoya Grampus U-18 player, is tipped to be the latest in a long line of talents to make their way from that particular university to Gamba. If a deal is reached, he wouldn’t be available until after graduation in 2024, so he’s definitely a long-term project.
**Update** – Sponichi Annex reported today (30 June) that Gamba will conclude deals for ex-Japan international forward Musashi Suzuki (28) and former-Gamba Youth prodigy Ryotaro Meshino (24) with the duo being available to play in the Osaka Derby on July 16, if selected. Both should be worthy additions to the squad and relieve some of the heavy burden from Yamami, Patric and co. Look out for official press releases in the coming days.
This section is pleasingly short for once!! However, as I outlined above, Gamba’s schedule over the next 2 weeks is jam-packed and the weather in Japan is currently roasting, so expect plenty of rotation.
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
GK Jun Ichimori – 2 dislocated fingers in right hand, expected back in August at the earliest
MF Yuya Fukuda – Underwent shoulder surgery in May, expected back in August at the earliest
MF Yuki Yamamoto – Knee cartilage injury, don’t expect him back anytime soon
FW Takashi Usami – Ruptured achilles tendon, likely out for the season Predicted Lineups and Stats
Urawa Red Diamonds
It’s been quite a whirlwind for kantoku Ricardo Rodríguez since he took over the Reds hot-seat prior to the commencement of the 2021 J1 season and indeed out of Urawa’s current first-team squad of 29 players, only 10 were on the books for the Spaniard’s first game in charge at home to FC Tokyo last February. After proving himself during his maiden campaign in Japan’s top-flight he was able to freshen up the dressing room by moving on veterans such as Yuki Abe, Yosuke Kashiwagi, Tomoya Ugajin and Tomoaki Makino at various points in the past 18 months and in that time he certainly hasn’t been shy about putting his own stamp on proceedings. In came 5 news faces in the summer of 2021 and with them came a strong finish to the league campaign as well as an Emperor’s Cup triumph against Katanosaka’s Oita Trinita. After that I’m not sure whether to give them the benefit of the doubt or to be quite critical over the decision to add 13 new faces over the winter, 2 from Europe, 4 from other J1 clubs, 4 from J2, 2 university rookies and 1 high school graduate, it seemed a little bit like overkill in my book and can probably be added together with the reasons I laid out in ‘tale of the tape’ above to explain their sluggish start to the year. Their main attacking weapon Kasper Junker can’t seem to stay fit, it’s unclear who the first choice front 4 are, and a lot of Reds’ hopes for the remainder of 2022 seem to rest on the shoulders of impressive recent capture from Feyenoord, Bryan Linssen. The transfer window isn’t open yet so he’s ineligible to face Gamba, but after bagging 13 goals and 8 assists in 34 Eredivisie games in 2021/2022, he certainly has the pedigree to put an end to Urawa’s goalscoring issues. Reds have been too easy to stifle by deep lying defences too often this year, ending up going side-to-side with their neat passing culminating in little penetration and this was in evidence during their Emperor’s Cup loss to Gunma last week after which there were protests from Ultras groups. However, David Moberg Karlsson’s late free-kick away to Kobe on Sunday evening helped ease the pressure on Rodríguez just a touch, 3 points again here with Linssen still waiting in the wings will be manna from heaven for the Spaniard. Team News
The following players are doubts for this fixture and / or have an important status announcement regarding their availability.
DF Tomoya Inukai – Picked up a serious knee injury at the beginning of April, expected back in October at the earliest
MF Atsuki Ito – Missed the 1-0 win over Vissel Kobe, no reason given yet
MF Yoshio Koizumi – Last played in the 0-0 draw away to Fukuoka on 28 May
FW Kasper Junker – Limped off early in the win at Kobe, can’t seem to catch a break injury wise, must be considered a huge doubt for this game
FW Alex Schalk – Missed the 1-0 win over Vissel Kobe, no reason given yet Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.
Urawa Red Diamonds vsGamba Osaka 2022 J1 Season Round 2 Saturday 26 February 2022 Saitama Stadium 2022 Kick Off: 15:00 (JST)
Gamba travel to Saitama this Saturday for what will be their 1000th J. League match and this perennially feisty contest has taken on extra significance due to the sub-par starts both teams have made to their 2022 campaigns. The Nerazzurri were soundly beaten by an impressive Kashima last weekend in Suita (more on the controversy surrounding that later) before kicking off their Levain Cup group stage slate with a 3-2 home reverse against local rivals Cerezo. New Gamba kantoku Tomohiro Katanosaka had talked of turning Panasonic Stadium into a fortress, but with those words looking hollow at the moment, he’ll be hoping a trip to equally under pressure Urawa could be the catalyst for a turnaround in his side’s fortunes. Reds were, and still very much are, expected to duel it out for one of the top 3 spots this season, however, since lifting the Super Cup a fortnight ago they’ve dropped points against Kansai opposition in each of their opening 2 league fixtures. After slipping on the banana skin that was newly-promoted Kyoto Sanga away in round 1 they had to settle for a share of the spoils in their re-arranged round 9 encounter with Vissel Kobe on Wednesday, an outcome made all the more painful by the fact the Hyogo side’s equaliser came courtesy of recently departed Reds legend Tomoaki Makino.
The omicron variant of Covid-19 is still posing major challenges for Japanese society and J. League clubs certainly aren’t safe from it’s tentacles. However, touch wood, at the time of writing this game is set to go ahead and that’s something of a rarity in recent seasons. I started writing match previews in late 2019 and had full draughts ready to go for, Sendai (home) 2020 and Nagoya (away) 2021, Gamba’s second scheduled league match of the year, but coronavirus struck and the next time the Ao to Kuro took the field was weeks (2021) or months (2020) later. Fingers, toes and everything else crossed that this mouthwatering bout between these two fierce rivals goes ahead without a hitch.
Tale of the Tape
What to say about Gamba vs Kashima that hasn’t already been covered? 33 shots to 8 sure as hell ain’t pretty, but while Antlers could certainly be considered heavyweights in Japanese football circles, the events of Saturday 19th February were akin to Tyson Fury starting off a fight looking sharp and taking the centre of the ring before deliberately low-blowing his opponent and smacking him a couple of times for good measure while he was on the canvas. To run with this analogy a little longer, the ref sees all of this, doesn’t disqualify Fury and the heavyweight champion of the world then proceeds to dance around the ring looking amazing for the remainder of the bout. Does that sound like something you’d purchase on pay-per-view? No? Me, neither. For the record I have nothing against Fury and would, in fact, welcome a charity contest between him and Mr. Yakuza-wannabe Suzuki, maybe it could be arranged for the end of the season? I’ll conclude this long and winding rant with a reminder that I did call out my own player Wellington Silva, for similarly embarrassing and shameful conduct away to Yokohama F. Marinos last year, and would have no problem doing it again should another Gamba player step over the line. On that sunny November afternoon in Kanagawa, however, the officials did their job, booked Silva, told him in no uncertain terms to buck up his ideas and got on with things, in my view the way a referee should take charge of a game.
Speaking of Kanagawa, there may be some of you who might feel this has gone a bit too much the way of a Frontale Rabbit Blog post (sorry, I’m not trying to steal your thunder Neil, honest!), so here are some stats which I’m sure is what you all came for. As mentioned above, before I got sidetracked, not only did Kashima defeat Gamba 3-1, they also outshot their hosts by a whopping 33-8. That figure of 33 is a full 9 shots higher than last season’s poorest Gamba performance (24 vs Urawa and Marinos (both away) – as a side note from those combined 48 shots the Nerazzurri conceded just a solitary goal, a penalty from Ataru Esaka). Kashima’s 19 shots on target also beat the figure of 14 they mustered in their 3-1 home win over the Ao to Kuro last September, a number which was also a season worst for Gamba. However, as is often the way with Antlers, they rather milked the stats, averaging a mere 0.09xG per shot (compared with Gamba’s 0.07) and I’d be very interested to find out the combined xG total of Diego Pituca’s 7 efforts. I’m more than happy to make a case for the Brazilian being the best central midfielder in the league, however, if I was coaching him, his insistence on wasting good attacking opportunities by blasting the ball high and wide from 35 yards out would have me tearing out what little hair I have left. While we’re on the subject of Kashima midfielders, as if to rub salt into blue and black wounds, Yuta Higuchi, the man who turned down Gamba in favour of a move to Ibaraki, was outstanding and looked like he’d been playing in the dark red shirt for years.
Just to quickly wrap up this section from a Gamba perspective, I’d argue that last Saturday’s game could very well have ended up 3-1 or 4-2 to Antlers even without Patric’s contentious ordering off, but the stats would likely have been much, much closer had the officials correctly utilised the VAR system they had at their disposal. It’s just one game, there’ll be 33 more and those will help us gain a better understanding of the true Gamba, after all they only played 45 minutes with 10 men in the whole of last season and that was against Yokohama FC, who of course ended up going down. Saturday’s stats could mean everything, or they could mean nothing, we’ll find out soon enough.
Reds’ key performance indicators, like Gamba’s, are skewed by a lack of data points and also because they played part of one of their two fixtures to date with only 10 players. It’s important to note that by the end of May, Urawa will have contested 23 games, 16 in J1, 6 in the ACL and the aforementioned Super Cup triumph over Kawasaki, a sequence that will require some herculean feats from the Reds to squad to come out the other side unscathed. Kantoku Ricardo Rodríguez set them up in a 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 for the ill-fated visit to Kyoto before returning to type with a 4-2-3-1 system against Kobe. I’m leaning towards the Spaniard sticking with 4-2-3-1 here, not least due to the club apparently being without the services of a number of key players (more on that below). Rodríguez is in uncharted waters managing at the sharp end of J1 and he’ll require all of his nous and guile to steer the ship through the current choppy waters. He’ll be hoping to chart the right course on Saturday, though as we’ll see below, while Gamba might appear ripe for the picking, that certainly hasn’t been the case in contests between these two at Saitama Stadium in recent years. Head to Head
Tomohiro Katanosaka takes his troops to the Saitama Stadium in search of his first win as Gamba boss safe in the knowledge that the Nerazzurri haven’t tasted defeat away to Reds since 2016, a 4-0 pasting which also featured some Yuma Suzuki-esque play acting from everyone’s favourite pantomime villain Tomoaki Makino.
The two sides battled it out in round 32 last October with Haruto Shirai a surprise starter for Gamba and a stronger defensive structure in place thanks to the recent arrival of Takashi Kiyama as “assistant” to Masanobu Matsunami. Reds dominated from the off, but couldn’t penetrate the make-shift backline of Sato and Suganuma while “guardian deity” (I love that Google translation) Masaaki Higashiguchi was in inspired form between the sticks for Gamba. All the drama that afternoon was consigned to injury time with Urawa being awarded a controversial spot-kick for handball against Shunya Suganuma, notably Ataru Esaka, the Reds player closest to the incident, an dispatcher of the subsequent spot-kick, barely questioned the original decision and the referee didn’t look particularly confident either as he moved gingerly away from the VAR booth to overturn his call. For those karma believers among you justice was served almost immediately from the re-start as Takuya Iwanami got caught out by an awkward bounce and handballed to allow Patric the chance to slam home the equaliser from the spot.
While Kiyama got things tactically spot on in the away match, Matsunami made an absolute hash of his strategy in the home clash in May, his first game since being appointed caretaker manager in the wake of Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s firing. Gamba went all out attack and Reds, like all good counter-punchers do, bided their time and waited for the chance to strike. And strike they did, with Kasper Junker and Tatsuya Tanaka running riot to have the visitors 3-0 up at the interval. There would be no further scoring in the second half in what was a chastening start to the Matsunami reign.
I thought I’d try something a little different this week, I’ve picked out some players and coaches and commented on each of them in turn, let me know what you think.
Tomohiro Katanosaka – What to make of Katano-soccer so far? The biggest talking point, for me, was his choice of Ryu Takao and Ko Yanagisawa as wide-centre backs against Kashima. This mirrors what he did with Tomoki Iwata and Yuto Misao at Oita, essentially using players previously thought of as full-backs or wing-backs more centrally. Where does that leave Genta Miura? It appears he’ll now be competing with Gen Shoji for the middle centre back slot and guiding some younger players along in the Levain Cup group stages.
A final point on Katanosaka, I like his blood and thunder attitude on the touchline, something that’s been missing since the departure of Kenta Hasegawa at the end of 2017. Indeed Hasegawa’s FC Tokyo (2020) and Tokushima Vortis last year are two examples that spring to mind of opposition benches out-shouting and out-influencing (is that a word? I mean putting more pressure on the officials) the Gamba dugout at Panasonic Stadium in recent seasons.
Hiroto Yamami – Came on as a second-half substitute in challenging circumstances against Antlers before starting and spurning a decent chance in the Osaka Derby on Wednesday. Some nice touches on display in both outings and he looks like someone to keep an eye out for in the coming weeks.
Ju Se-jong – A poor performance against Kashima and with Kohei Okuno fluffing his lines versus Cerezo, Gamba are in desperate need of Dawhan’s arrival and Mitsuki Saito and Yuki Yamamoto regaining full fitness. New signing Hideki Ishige finished the Osaka Derby in central midfield alongside Shu Kurata, is that something we could see more of?
Keisuke Kurokawa – Started at left wing-back, switched to left-back in the wake of Patric’s ordering off and played out the final 8 minutes at right-back following Yuya Fukuda’s entrance. I knew I’d seen him play on the right side for the U23s in J3 at some point, but had started to doubt myself and believe that it’d been some kind of optical illusion.
Shinya Yajima and Tiago Alves – Nice to see two Gamba old boys get off to a flyer in J2, I think Yajima’s issues in the top flight were more mental than physical while Alves has flattered to deceive at a number of J1 clubs so I don’t really feel any criticism is warranted over the Nerazzurri’s decision to let both leave last winter.
The Levain Cup – I know it’s not a person, but while it’s usually seen as a bit of an inconvenience, this year I think it could bring some real benefits to the club by giving Katanosaka the opportunity to try out players in different positions (Jiro Nakamura at right, then left wing-back for instance) and also build up the fitness of those struck down by Covid. Team News
Patric, Gamba’s leading scorer last year with 13 J1 goals, will sit this one out after the J. League upheld his ban for a straight red in the much publicised game with Kashima. Judging from comments made by Katanosaka on February 22nd, both Masaaki Higashiguchi and Hiroki Fujiharu are injured and won’t play here. Club legend Higashiguchi saw his league leading run of 109 consecutive appearances, stretching back to 2018, come to an end last weekend though he did watch events unfold from the stand. His normal backup Jun Ichimori is also out as he continues his rehabilitation following hamstring surgery last year, however, Kei Ishikawa performed admirably against Antlers and Taichi Kato likewise in the Osaka Derby. It’s believed that both Wellington Silva and Yuki Yamamoto were among the 9 players who contracted Covid in pre-season, both started against Cerezo, but may be lacking the sharpness to start here. Mitsuki Saito hasn’t been seen yet this season and fellow new recruits Kwon Kyung-won and Dawhan are eagerly awaiting the Japanese border re-opening at the beginning of March, the talented duo will surely bring a lot to the side when they are finally allowed into the country. Predicted Lineups and Stats
Urawa Red Diamonds
I kind of covered a lot of the ground I wanted to here with my comments about Urawa in the ‘tale of the tape’ section above, but they are an intriguing prospect this term so let’s dig a little deeper. They brought in 12 new faces last winter, with the arrivals drawn from J1, J2, Japanese universities, Japanese high schools, and Europe (David Moberg Karlsson and potentially a new forward if rumours are to be believed), while it was only really squad players and veterans who headed for the exits. That kind of activity in addition to the steady progress they made under Ricardo Rodríguez in his first season with the club understandably has many punters, myself included, tipping them for big things in the next few years. However, the J. League can be a wild and unforgiving beast and the crazy schedule that faces Reds in the coming months really could be make or break time for the men from Saitama. As I mentioned in my most recent J-Talk podcast appearance, I find it easier to deliberate over known quantities such as Kawasaki or Kobe rather than teams who’ve undergone a pretty rapid overhaul, like Urawa have, but I guess that’s what makes this project all the more fascinating and that’s why they’re very much the talk of the town in J. League circles. Saturday’s match should be full of intrigue and I’m also fascinated to see how Reds are shaping up when they come to visit Suita Stadium in early July.
Some time left-back, some time forward Takahiro Akimoto will miss out after his red card against Vissel Kobe while Swedish winger David Moberg Karlsson, like Kwon and Dawhan above, is still awaiting clearance to enter the country. Elsewhere Danish forward Kasper Junker and wingers Yusuke Matsuo and Tomoaki Okubo are yet to feature in a matchday squad in 2022 and both Yuichi Hirano and Yuta Miyamoto were on the bench for the Super Cup clash with Kawasaki, but were absent for the Kyoto and Kobe matches. Reds did confirm corona cases a week or so ago, but I’m unsure whether any of the names above have been missing due to Covid, injury or just plain old non-selection. Predicted Lineups and Stats
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game whoever you are supporting.
Happy New Year everyone! This is my first post of 2022 and following on from the previous two seasons I’ve decided to put together a J1 predicted lineups article to get the ball rolling. Hope you all enjoy the fruits of my labour.
Also a quick reminder that you can find the 2022 squad lists screenshotted below in this Excel document.
And, be sure to check out @Michael_Master on Twitter if you haven’t already, the one and only account you need to follow to keep up to date with J. League transfers.
Teams are listed below in the order they finished the 2021 campaign and each club’s mini-section contains the following information.
Best Signing – This won’t necessarily be objectively the best player the team have signed over the winter, more the one I feel addresses the most pressing need in the squad, for example, spoiler alert, I selected Kim Min-tae over both Yuta Higuchi and Yuma Suzuki in this category at Kashima.
Biggest Loss – Basically the opposite of best signing.
One to Watch – Again it might not be the best player in the squad or the one most likely to join a European club in the summer, rather someone whose good, bad or up-and-down form will set the tone for his team’s entire campaign.
Doubtful – Players who due to either injuries carried over from 2021, immigration issues or, in the case of a certain Polish striker at Nagoya, potential doping violations, might not be available for selection in the opening months of 2022.
Notes – Me trying to work out what direction the team is heading in this year.
A few caveats here,
* For simplicity’s sake I’ve assumed every contracted player to be fit and available for selection when choosing these best elevens. * These are not meant to be seen as the predicted starting lineup for round 1, think of them more as the players who will feature most across the course of the year (obviously new signings will be made in the summer, but unfortunately I’m not in possession of a crystal ball to make forecasts that far in advance). * In cases where numerous players may see significant minutes in a certain position I’ve listed alternatives below the main choice (players may appear as alternatives for more than one role, see Satoshi Tanaka or Takuro Kaneko for examples). I also hope this illustrates where certain clubs have perhaps overstocked in one area of the field while neglecting others. Where two alternatives are listed, the name on the left is the one I consider to be higher on the team’s depth chart. * I think I said this last year, but I’ll repeat myself anyway, expect the lineups for teams that have kept the same coach and most of the same playing staff as 2021 (Kawasaki) to be more accurate than those that have seen multiple changes in management and on-field personnel (Tosu). * I have done a great deal of research to get these lineups as accurate as I can to the best of my knowledge, but full disclosure, I’ve also acted on some hunches and taken a punt on some lesser known talents (I guess there wouldn’t be much point reading this article if I just stated the obvious). Players coming from university sides directly into professional starting elevens is one of the unique selling points of football in this part of the world versus, say Europe, and it can be immensely tricky trying to project how each year’s batch of fresh-faced graduates will do, especially when data about their positions and skill-sets is hard to come by and the little information you can find seems to show them playing in a position that doesn’t appear to exist at the club they are joining (for example a wide midfielder in a university side that plays 4-4-2 moving to a J1 team that operates a 3-4-2-1, will they be a wing-back or inside forward?). I’m guessing these are the kind of choices that might generate the greatest debate, so please cut me some slack, I like to use data, but several players below have made the grade based largely on gut instinct developed over a decade watching the J. League.
Well, with all that out the way let’s move on and take a look at each of the 2022 J1 sides one by one, shall we? Again I look forward to hearing feedback (good natured I hope) from fans of all teams, followers of the league in general or just casual passers by, you’re all welcome. While I’m confident you’ll agree with some of the points below, I’m also sure there will be many choices and opinions that people will disagree with, and that’s all fine, it’s why we love the beautiful game so much, right?
Best Signing: Chanathip – Had plateaued a little up in Sapporo, but a move to the champions should work out well for him and Frontale. Biggest Loss: Reo Hatate – Basically by default as he was the only top teamer to leave. Perhaps the most frightening thing for the rest of the league is the amount of depth Kawasaki still have in midfield despite losing Hatate, Mitoma, Morita and Tanaka in the last 12 months. One to Watch: Leandro Damião – Imperious in 2021 and the deserved recipient of the league’s MVP award, could a slight slip back from those grandiose heights offer a glimmer of hope to the chasing pack? Doubtful: Jesiel (injury) Notes: It’s Toru Oniki’s 6th campaign at the helm and once again Frontale start as the team to beat. Assuming Jesiel’s injury or the ageing of the forward line doesn’t adversely affect them too much, they are extremely well placed to fight off challenges from Marinos, Kobe, Kashima and Urawa to three-peat for the first time in their history.
Yokohama F. Marinos
Best Signing: Katsuya Nagato – By no means the most glamorous transfer of the winter, but Nagato who, don’t forget, led the league for assists with Sendai back in 2019 looks like he could thrive in Marinos’ system and help their fans quickly get over the loss of Theerathon. Biggest Loss: Daizen Maeda – Only joined Celtic on an initial six-month loan deal, I don’t really see this happening, but if things turn sour in Glasgow, a sharp return to Yokohama in the summer would do wonders for Marinos’ title aspirations. One to Watch: Marcos Junior – Goals-wise he’s dropped year-on-year since coming into the league in 2019, but he still remains pivotal to Marinos’ hopes and how well he adapts to Muscat’s game plan will be of critical importance to the team’s chances this season. Doubtful: Shinnosuke Hatanaka (injury) Notes: It’s all about Muscat for me, his appointment struck me as slightly strange at the time and even more so now that I’ve had time to digest it. Was he the best person to carry on Ange-ball? No (that guy is coaching Yamagata at the moment). If a desire to carry on the Ange-ball system wasn’t a pre-requisite for getting the job was he the best available candidate? Again, probably not. Despite that, I’m open minded as to what he can achieve given the time and space to put his own mark on the team. I’d argue that this squad is slightly weaker than 12 months ago, however, there is still plenty of talent onboard and top 4 should be a minimum expectation.
Additional Note: Anderson Lopes has been heavily linked with a move to Marinos. I’m unsure about his visa status or who would win out in a duel between him and Léo Ceará to be the main centre-forward.
Best Signing: Tomoaki Makino – Vissel need an experienced head at the back to guide Kikuchi and Kobayashi along and although I’m sure it’ll seem strange at first seeing him in a darker shade of red, he should prove valuable on and off the field in the port city. Biggest Loss: Thomas Vermaelen – Played more than I expected him to across his 2 ½ years in the league and no doubt passed on a trick or three to his younger protégés. One to Watch: Yoshinori Muto – Was the dominant partner as he and Yuya Osako amassed a combined 9 goals and 11 assists in 23 appearances at the back end of 2021. More of that this term and Vissel will very much be in the title conversation. Doubtful: Bojan Krkić (injury) Notes: Things have never looked better in Kobe, a balanced and settled squad, a competent manager and Hiroshi Mikitani largely leaving the football decisions to football people. We may see some tinkering with the midfield shape, but regardless of what system Miura adopts there’s no reason to suggest Vissel won’t be there or thereabouts at the business end of the year.
Best Signing: Kim Min-tae – Three of last year’s back four have moved on and Kim’s star is burning brightly following an impressive spell filling in for the injured Yuichi Maruyama at Nagoya. His experience alongside the talented, but erratic, Ikuma Sekigawa will be invaluable. Biggest Loss: Koki Machida – Perhaps not much of a shock as he’d been linked with European clubs in the previous 2-3 windows so Antlers should have planned his succession accordingly. One to Watch: Diego Pituca – A shining light once he was finally allowed into the country last year, the box-to-box midfielder should be a genuine J1 Best Eleven contender this term. Doubtful: Shintaro Nago (injury), Kantoku René Weiler (Visa) Notes: New kantoku René Weiler has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in attack and must be relishing the prospect of moulding them into a cohesive unit once he eventually makes it to the land of the rising sun. At the back the situation is a little less rosy, but should the attack-minded Weiler get things to gel, the Ibaraki side are not hindered by ACL involvement like their rivals and this could set them on a course towards a first title since 2016.
Best Signing: Keiya Sento – Played in a role for Tosu that doesn’t really exist in the current Grampus set-up, but to me he projects as Naoki Maeda’s replacement and should prove to be a gem of a signing. Biggest Loss: Takuji Yonemoto – One of the surprise moves of the winter in my book, he left FC Tokyo after one season of working with Kenta Hasegawa, did they have prior beef? One to Watch: Mateus Castro – Those of a Grampus persuasion will hope that the enigmatic Brazilian has gotten over the slump in form he experienced in the second half of 2021, as well as those Kawasaki transfer rumours, and will bounce back ready to lead the charge towards an ACL place. Doubtful: Jakub Świerczok (PED Violation) Notes: If I was a Nagoya fan would I have wanted to wake up to the news that Kenta Hasegawa was replacing Massimo Ficcadenti? No, but I’ll add that he’s nowhere near as bad as some FC Tokyo fans might have you believe. After winning silverware in each of his first 3 years at Gamba, he took an FC Tokyo side that had only achieved a single top 6 J1 finish in the 8 years prior to his appointment to 3 consecutive top 6 placings. Granted, the wheels came off spectacularly in his final seasons at both clubs, but I still maintain he’s a reasonably safe pair of hands until the Grampus hierarchy decide which direction they want the club to take next.
Urawa Red Diamonds
Best Signing: David Moberg Karlsson – Possibly the only player in the history of football to represent both Kilmarnock and Urawa which means that everything inside me should want him to fail, but I actually think this could be quite an astute piece of business by Reds. Biggest Loss: Tomoaki Makino – Kind of wins this by default as Urawa didn’t lose any real nailed-on 2021 starters in the off-season, only Yuruki and Tanaka ran him close for this award. One to Watch: Kasper Junker – 7 goals in his first 6 J1 appearances and just 2 in 11 after that as injuries struck. If a full pre-season schedule gets him back up to speed then J1 look out. Doubtful: Ayumu Ohata (injury), David Moberg Karlsson (Visa) Notes: When I wrote my Scouting J1 and Scouting J2 articles last autumn I never envisaged that Urawa and Cerezo would be the 2 teams to sign the most players from those lists, but there you go, hats off to both clubs. Reds have added a dizzying array of stars to an already strong looking squad and if they can find a way to get everyone pulling in the same direction then they appear well set to challenge domestically and in Asia.
Best Signing: Naoyuki Fujita – Still very much good enough to play for Cerezo, but probably rightly moved on due to the ageing issues at the club. A return to his first pro side seems a logical next step and he’ll have a big part to play assisting the development of the bountiful young talent on the books at Tosu. Biggest Loss: Yuta Higuchi – Plenty of competition for this award, but I’m still drowning my sorrows over Higuchi rejecting Gamba for Kashima and have to nominate him here. One to Watch: Yuki Kakita – Finished 2021 with something of a bang, netting 5 times in 8 outings for a Tokushima side that struggled to create clear-cut openings. Has his old Vortis team-mate Miyashiro with him too and looks to be the ideal replacement for Keita Yamashita. Notes: Let’s focus on the positives, the goalkeeper, defence and wing-backs are basically unchanged from 2021 (Ayumu Ohata excluded) and in attack, if I can quote Moneyball, they’ve realised they can’t directly replace departed stars like Higuchi, Sento, Koyamatsu and Yamashita, but they can re-create them in the aggregate. If the injury-prone Yuji Ono, high school wizzkids turned pro-level letdowns Jun Nishikawa and Yuto Iwasaki or any of their 6 recruits from varsity football enjoy a standout year then a mid-table finish isn’t out of the question.
Best Signing: Lukian – This deal came as something of a bolt from the blue to me and the addition of J2’s top scorer from 2021 adds real impetus to an Avispa attack that will be looking to move up through the gears this year. Biggest Loss: Emil Salomonsson – Will be a big loss both on and off the field. He must have found it tough with basically 2/3 of his time in Japan falling during the Coronavirus pandemic so it’s hard to begrudge him a move back home. One to Watch: Tatsuya Tanaka – Back in his native Kyushu, big things will be expected of the versatile wide-man. This was an area where Avispa needed an upgrade and it looks like they’ve found one in the former Gamba, Oita and Urawa speedster. Notes: I like what they’ve done in the transfer window, I like it a lot. There’s not one signing they’ve made that I haven’t liked, keeping Hasebe and Mae on board is massive too. After all those niceties I will add the qualifier that although on paper this year’s squad looks stronger than last year’s by a bigger margin than last year’s did than 2020’s (still with me?), it might not necessarily translate into them finishing any higher up in the standings. Though I guess having spent so much of their recent history in J2, the Avispa faithful won’t complain about another upper mid-table placing in 2022.
Best Signing: Jakub Słowik – Most J1 transfers have some sort of doubt hanging over them, player stepping up a level, poor previous season, injury prone, might not fit the system etc…none of these apply to Słowik, a clear upgrade on what was there before and questions marks over his distribution should only form a minor concern given the quality of the rest of his game. Biggest Loss: Joan Oumari – Despite apparently only re-signing to cover until Bruno Uvini could get into the country, the Lebanese international had a decent second year in the capital. One to Watch: Leandro – He and Hasegawa didn’t see eye to eye, that much is clear, if he and Puig butt heads then I’m not sure he’ll have too many backers left in the FC Tokyo support. A brilliant match-winner on his day, we all know what he can be when it’s not, for FC Tokyo and the league’s sake let’s hope the former, not the latter version rocks up in 2022. Doubtful: Kashif Bangnagande, Sodai Hasukawa, Akihiro Hayashi (injury) Notes: Far more change off the field than on it with Mixi taking over as the majority shareholder and Albert Puig moving into the managerial hotseat following a 2-year spell with Niigata. From the outside it appears that any kind of on-field improvement will need to be driven by a kantoku who has a beautiful philosophy on how the game should be played, but never really managed to translate that into meaningful results at Albirex, save for a magical 13 game run at the start of last season. A transitional campaign, give the manager time, yikes I’m using up all the clichés I had saved for the Gamba section several entries below.
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Best Signing: Gabriel Xavier – An unexpected, but potentially excellent ready-made replacement for Chanathip…as long as his performances don’t go on to show that Massimo Ficcadenti knows rather more about football management than all of us armchair pundits. Biggest Loss: Chanathip – 2021 was another injury-hit campaign for the Thai superstar, though he did bow out on a high with 3 assists in his last 2 matches. Things had gone a touch stale for him in Sapporo, but he’ll surely be fondly remembered in those parts for years to come. One to Watch: Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa – I’ll admit I’m highly sceptical of the €700,000 move to Hearts rumours, but the pacy forward has certainly caught the eye of national team coach Hajime Moriyasu and in his second year as a pro will be expected to shoulder a greater burden of Consadole’s attacking hopes. Doubtful: Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (injury) Notes: The winds of change haven’t been blowing too strongly up in Sapporo with minimal transfer business being conducted. GX10 (will he change his name to GX18?) and Koroki are the only 2 senior signings, but given how they’ve worked the varsity market in recent years, I wouldn’t bet against Sora Igawa (Tsukuba Univ.) and Hiromu Tanaka (Rissho Univ.) turning out to be pretty handy.
Best Signing: Taishi Semba – The Ryutsu Keizai University graduate says he’s looked up to Toshihiro Aoyama for a number of years and if all goes according to plan he could well be the one to take over the legendary Sanfrecce midfield maestro’s spot in the not too distant future. Biggest Loss: Kodai Dohi – Failed to build on a promising 2020 due to a succession of injuries, but a loan spell with Mito is absolutely the right move to resuscitate his career. One to Watch: Junior Santos – If the 2020 Yokohama F. Marinos version of Junior Santos turns up this year then it’ll be as good as a new signing for the three arrows. Doubtful: Tsukasa Morishima, Yoichi Naganuma, Douglas Vieira (injury), Kantoku Michael Skibbe (Visa) Notes: After pleading poverty for much of last year, the additions of Tsukasa Shiotani and Michael Skibbe following spells in the Middle East indicate that there is money available if they choose to use it. Skibbe’s delayed arrival has thrown an unwelcome spanner in the works, though he is fortunate to have a settled squad at his disposal, albeit one that largely underperformed relative to their game-by-game stats in 2021.
Best Signing: Jean Patric – I must admit I don’t know a whole lot about him, but he appears to have a decent pedigree and fills a spot that really needed an upgrade as a result of the person I’ll talk about below departing. Biggest Loss: Tatsuhiro Sakamoto – A fine player who slightly lost his way in what was a disappointing 2021 campaign overall for the Cherry Blossoms. Still, as a result of his 2020 form and the performances he put in at the start of last year, he’s done more than enough to merit his move. One to Watch: Takashi Inui – I wasn’t a big fan of his return when it was initially announced due to Cerezo having a plethora of 30-somethings already on their books, but given the way this year’s squad is shaping up I feel he’ll have a vital role to play as an impact sub and dressing room leader. Doubtful: Takashi Inui, Hinata Kida, Adam Taggart, Đặng Văn Lâm (injury), Jean Patric (Visa) Notes: I like their winter transfer work a whole lot more than I did last year (see what I said about them in the Urawa section above), especially the acquisition of Nagasaki’s jewel-in-the-crown Seiya Maikuma (sorry for telling everyone how good he was Daniel!) The permanent appointment of Akio Kogiku who, according to Transfermarkt, has been at the club in one capacity or another since 1998 could be a masterstroke as he’s surely amassed the clout that will allow him to tap a few shoulders and break the news to several veterans that they’re no longer the automatic choices they once were.
Additional Note: Croatian defender Matej Jonjić is rumoured to be returning in the coming days. If that move happens he’ll be the main centre-back upon his arrival in the country with Nishio and Shindo battling it out to partner him. He’d also overtake Jean Patric as my choice for ‘best signing.’
Best Signing: Mitsuki Saito – Not a signing I really expected going into the transfer window, but a more than welcome addition to the Nerazzurri’s midfield ranks Biggest Loss: Kim Young-gwon / Yosuke Ideguchi – Neither were at their best in 2021 (a comment which could pretty much be applied to the majority of the squad), but both will be missed dearly by the Ao to Kuro faithful. One to Watch: Hiroto Yamami – I should probably have chosen him in the ‘best signing’ category, but thought he’d fit better here instead. Hopefully that worldy against Shimizu was just a taste of what’s to come as he’s set himself the target of scoring double digits this year. Doubtful: Jun Ichimori, Leandro Pereira (injury), Dawhan, Kwon Kyung-won (Visa) Notes: As close to a free-hit of a season as you’ll ever get as Gamba kantoku awaits Tomohiro Katanosaka, though that didn’t stop him heaping pressure on himself by setting 3rd as the target for this year. Gamba fans I’ve talked to say that top 8 is more realistic, especially with Kawasaki, Marinos, Kobe, Kashima and Urawa all looking particularly strong. To quote Celtic supporters, “trust the process,” Katanosaka is a man with a plan and that’s something that was sorely missing for the majority of 2021.
Best Signing: Takeru Kishimoto – A surprisingly difficult choice this one, as though regular readers will remember I picked out Kishimoto as someone to keep an eye on in my Scouting J1 article last autumn, I can’t help but feel there were more logical moves for both him and Shimizu to make. Granted the S-Pulse front office and I never appear to be on the same frequency when it comes to ideas on how to take the club forward. Biggest Loss: Hideki Ishige – I know he was at Okayama on loan at the end of last season, but his departure sums up, for me at least, the malaise at the Nihondaira. A once mighty powerhouse born out of the cradle of Japanese football now reduced to letting long-serving youth academy graduates leave for rival clubs while the powers-that-be continue to blindly spin the roulette wheel, trying in hope, more than expectation to find the coaches and players necessary to bring back the glory days. One to Watch: Yuito Suzuki – I’m sure you’ve all seen his wonder strike against Shonan, however, unfortunately that was one of only two goals he’s amassed in 63 J1 outings since turning pro in 2020. Imagine the heights regular contributions from him, in addition to Thiago Santana’s steady stream of goals, could take S-Pulse to. Doubtful: Renato Augusto, Akira Ibayashi, Takumi Kato, Kenta Nishizawa (injury) Notes: I realise I’ve been a bit harsh on S-Pulse above and it’s absolutely nothing personal as they’re an iconic and extremely likeable club, I just struggle to be overly positive when their front office keeps making baffling decisions. The Peter Cklamovski experiment was ditched in favour of the ultra-defensive Lotina brand of football and now they’ve opted for the man who came in to temporarily do a spot of firefighting at the end of both 2020 and 2021, the particularly tricky to say regardless if you go Japanese or western style, Hiroaki Hiraoka (or Hiraoka Hiroaki if you prefer). There’s loads of depth on the flanks, but any injury or departure down the central spine of the team (Gonda, Yoshinori Suzuki, Matsuoka and Thiago Santana) would sting badly.
Additional Notes: Reports out of South Korea suggest that S-Pulse have tabled a large bid for Ulsan Hyundai’s tall forward Oh Se-hun. On Paper the highly-rated 23 year old would be a quality addition, but it would also leave Shimizu with 7 foreign talents on their books. Do they never get the memo from the J. League about only being allowed 5 in your matchday squad?
Best Signing: Tomoya Koyamatsu – Big shoes to fill in attack, he’s coming off the back of a decent couple of seasons with Tosu and should quickly become a fan favourite at the Hitachidai. Biggest Loss: Cristiano – The now 35-year old club legend departs after 7 years with the Sunkings. Sure he may be past his prime, but having seen him perform in the flesh last year, he’s very much still got it and I’m certain he’ll tear up J2 with Nagasaki. One to Watch: Douglas – With the fearsome foursome of Olunga, Cristiano, Esaka and Segawa all gone, the goalscoring burden falls on the previously prolific, but perhaps slightly over-the-hill Douglas. Is there still enough fire there for one final hurrah before he rides off into the sunset? Notes: I believe it was Gabriele Anello who pointed out that 2021 saw the most managerial changes in J. League history, a good number of them appeared harsh when viewed from afar, but on the flip side of the coin, Kashiwa’s stubborn dedication to keeping Nelsinho in the hotseat continues to puzzle me. Of course the Brazilian is a legend in Kashiwa circles, however, he had 38 J1 games last season to work out his best eleven and formation, and never managed it. If he doesn’t know, then how am I supposed to? I’ve gone 4-2-3-1 below, but 3-4-2-1, 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 are all possible. I’m not saying it’ll actually happen, but they’ll surely be a popular pick for big team who could go down this year.
Best Signing: Ryota Nagaki – The return of the prodigal son was an easy choice here, he’ll bring skill and more importantly a wealth of experience to help shepherd along Bellmare’s exciting crop of youngsters. Biggest Loss: Mitsuki Saito – I know that selecting both Ishige and Saito as the biggest loss for their respective clubs may come across as extreme Gamba bias (especially given Saito was on loan at Rubin Kazan in 2021), but hear me out, how often do Shonan come through a winter transfer window with all their prized assets still in place? Hata, Tanaka and Hiraoka are still there, leaving me with the rare predicament of struggling to find a departed player Shonan will really miss this year. One to Watch: Satoshi Tanaka – When I saw that Takuji Yonemoto had moved to Shonan on loan and Tanaka still hadn’t been confirmed as a Bellmare player for 2022, I felt sure we were less than 24 hours away from witnessing his unveiling at the Toyota Stadium, but alas it was not to be and he’ll continue developing down on the Shonan coast, for now at least, whether that’s as a holding midfielder or centre-back remains to be seen. Notes: This is Satoshi Yamaguchi’s first full campaign at the helm and it’ll be interesting to observe what tactical alterations, if any, he makes. As you can see below, there are a number of players of similar abilities competing for spots across the field which can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. I’ve tried my hardest to cram Tanaka, Nagaki and Yonemoto into the same lineup, Yamaguchi may have other ideas. They were the best defensive team in the bottom half last year and with the business they’ve done since should be even stronger now. My concerns are at the other end, they accrued a league high 16 draws last season and joint top scorers Wellington and Naoki Yamada only managed 5 apiece, there’s nothing to suggest they’ll be any more prolific in 2022.
Best Signing: Ricardo Graça – Again, hands up, I don’t know a whole lot about him, but the rest of Júbilo’s transfer business hasn’t been much to write home about and although Kentaro Oi has given the club years of good service, promotion back to J1 should very much be the signal to put him out to pasture, the capture of Graça allows the club to do just that. Biggest Loss: Lukian – A huge blow to the side’s attack and also their collective psyche to lose such an important player to a team, in Fukuoka, that despite far out-performing Júbilo on the field in 2021, would have been viewed as a step-down for the majority of the clubs’ respective histories. One to Watch: Yasuhito Endo – Gamba let Endo go in mid-2020 as despite his passing and vision still being top drawer, the veteran (who’s the same age as Steven Gerrard and Xavi, don’t forget) couldn’t get around the park like he used to. We’ll have an answer on how right or wrong that decision was very soon. Doubtful: Dudu, Ricardo Graça (Visa) Notes: An extremely impressive promotion campaign followed up by the appointment of highly-rated Kofu boss Akira Ito had things looking rather spritely for a time in Iwata. However, the club don’t really appear to have backed the new kantoku enough in the transfer market. Kenyu Sugimoto could work, but I wouldn’t bet on it, there are question marks surrounding when their 2 new marquee Brazilians can get into the country and long-standing issues related to a chronic lack of pace throughout the squad haven’t been sufficiently addressed over the winter.
Additional Note: Brazilian forward Vinícius Araújo, now a free agent after failing to agree terms on a new deal with Yamagata, is a possible addition before the season begins. He’d take over the centre-forward berth from Sugimoto should he decide to make the Yamaha Stadium his home for 2022.
Best Signing: Rikito Inoue – Despite the club making a number of winter signings, few of them are clearly better than the options already in place. Inoue, who’s moved east from Okayama with Dutchman Jordy Buijs travelling in the opposite direction, is the pick of the bunch for me. Readers of my Scouting J2 article will know I’m a big fan of his and with Shogo Asada still onboard, Sanga have two of the top centre-backs from J2 2021 in their ranks, albeit neither of them has a single minute of J1 action to their name. Biggest Loss: Jordy Buijs – His departure came as something of a surprise and I’ve no doubt that he’ll continue to prove himself to be one of the best defenders in J2 with Fagiano this season. One to Watch: Peter Utaka – 38 years young when the season kicks off, if he can keep banging them in then Kyoto could (could, not will – please remember) be this year’s Fukuoka. Doubtful: Naoto Misawa, Tomoya Wakahara (injury), Michael Woud (injury/Visa) Notes: Reasons to be cheerful; they’ve got a coach who knows what it takes to survive in J1 and a squad with a decent sprinkling of top tier experience, especially when compared with other recent newly promoted sides. Reasons to be fearful; the murky goalkeeping situation, a lack of J1 experience at centre-back and central midfield and a host of Hail Mary signings that could all fall flat. The rather unorthodox Genki Omae may be the most likely to deliver from a list of names which also includes Mendes, Hisashi Appiah Tawiah, Martinus, Ryogo Yamasaki and Yuta Toyokawa.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you and congratulations! I hope this guide has been useful for you, look out for plenty more posts from me throughout the year and enjoy the 2022 J1 season whoever you support!
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.
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.
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.
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.
The summer transfer window “slammed shut,” or closed gently as it tends to do here in Japan, last Friday (August 13), so I thought this would be a good time to have a look at the lineups we are likely to see J1 teams field from now until December.
A quick reminder that you can always check out my regularly updated J1 and J2 databases here,
Before I get into it, here is a rough guide to some of the parameters I’ve used.
* Teams are listed in the order they finished the 2020 season, ie the order you’ll find them in all the 2021 yearbooks. * The lineups below are not necessarily the ones you’ll see next week, more an amalgamation of the players expected to feature most frequently between now and the end of the season. * Where genuine competition exists for a starting spot, I’ve listed alternatives below the projected starter. * The injured / unavailable list only includes players who I feel would have a genuine chance of starting if they were fit. Regular readers will know finding information about JLeague injuries can be a thankless task, so I’ve done my best, but can’t promise it’s 100% accurate.
Finally, if you don’t already, please give @Michael_Master a follow on Twitter. The use of the word ‘Master’ in his handle is by no means an overstatement, the man is truly the oracle when it comes to Japanese transfers and this blog post wouldn’t have been possible without his updates. Thanks man!
Comments Yes Mitoma and Tanaka are gone, and yes Kashiwa have just become the first team in 40 J1 games to keep them scoreless, but take a look at the lineup below and you’ll surely agree this is still the strongest side in the division. A settled back 6 and plenty of options in attack plus rivals either losing players or being engaged in the process of rebuilding, makes me believe they’ll overcome ACL distractions to lift a fourth title in five years. Injured/Unavailable: 10 Ryota Oshima
Comments Long time readers of this blog will know the trouble I’ve had predicting Gamba starting lineups recently, though I should point out in my defence, I’m generally more accurate at it than DAZN! With Miura, Kim and Shoji fit, 3-4-2-1 seems like it’ll be the order of the day for most remaining games this season. From 2022, however, it’d be good to see 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 getting an outing, especially if Hiroto Yamami can replicate anything like the form he did against Shimizu on Friday. Injured/Unavailable: 14 Yuya Fukuda, 15 Yosuke Ideguchi, 27 Ryu Takao, 28 Wellington Silva
Comments The arrival of Polish international Jakub Świerczok is like manna from heaven for the Grampus support who have been starved of a genuine centre-forward since Jô’s acrimonious departure at the start of 2020. Captain Yuichi Maruyama is out for the year and the slight defensive wobble caused by his absence, in addition to an inability to create presentable openings for their attackers has seen Nagoya slip back from the highs of last year and the early part of this campaign. Still very much in the hunt for 3rd place, their new number 40 will have a big say in whether they equal last season’s final ranking or not. Injured/Unavailable: 3 Yuichi Maruyama, 9 Ryogo Yamasaki, 44 Mu Kanazaki
Comments The problem with a having a club legend in charge, as both Osaka clubs have found out this year, is that it’s not easy to sever ties with them when things head south. The further away Cerezo get from the defensive stability of the Lotina-era, the more vulnerable they look at the back, while at the other end of the field, a succession of niggling injuries to key personnel has set-back Culpi’s plans to revitalise their attack. The Cherry Blossoms don’t really do mid-table finishes and have only 1 win and 11 points from their last 15 league outings…they couldn’t….could they? Injured/Unavailable: 3 Ryosuke Shindo
Comments Things have generally meandered along under Naoki Soma, just as they did under predecessors Zago and Oiwa and on the back of 3 straight wins, the Ibaraki giants are firmly in the picture for 2022 ACL qualification which is really a bare minimum for a club of this size and prestige. Box-to-box midfielder Pituca seems to be a ready-made long term replacement for Leo Silva, but the Antlers faithful must have concerns over how long they can keep hold of talented youngsters like, Araki, Machida and Tsunemoto. Key forward Everaldo has incredibly only scored once in J1 this season and seems to be dropping deep and into wider areas too often, though with Tomoya Inukai raking in goals as he did against Shonan last week, it doesn’t appear to be hindering the team too much. Injured/Unavailable: 22 Rikuto Hirose
Comments A very streaky team this year, and I’ll discuss them in greater detail during my preview of their upcoming clash with Gamba, Gasmen supporters have seen their side go on both 5 game winning and losing runs in the first half of the season. Boss Kenta Hasegawa and playmaker Leandro burying the hatchet, for now, has helped make them a much more potent force going forward which has somewhat papered over the widening cracks at the back. Injured/Unavailable: 9 Diego Oliveira, 14 Takuya Uchida, 33 Akihiro Hayashi, 37 Hotaka Nakamura
Comments I’ve already gone pretty deep on the J Talk Podcast regarding my issues with the Reysol front office’s performance in recent years. That, plus the winter departure of Olunga has really set them back this campaign in my opinion. Their season stats and recent results indicate a push up the table might be on the cards during the second half of the year. A bloated squad, constant tinkering with the team’s shape and a never-ending succession of injuries suggest otherwise. Injured/Unavailable: 7 Hidekazu Otani, 11 Matheus Savio, 33 Hayato Nakama, 39 Yuta Kamiya
Comments Sanfre have reverted to the tried and trusted 3-4-2-1 after an ill-advised dabble with a back 4 at the beginning of the season. They appear to have a surplus of quality centre-backs, but there’s now a gaping Hayao Kawabe shaped hole in the middle of the park. More cutting edge is required up front, but with the new stadium project sucking in resources, they lack the funds to adequately replace Leandro Pereira and it looks like they’ll be left relying on youth team products, university graduates and promising J2 players in the coming years.
Yokohama F. Marinos
Comments 10 points from 4 games in quick-fire succession marks an excellent introduction to Japanese football for Kevin Muscat. The Australian head coach must have been delighted with Léo Ceará’s efforts in recent weeks, putting his hand up as the man to fill Ado Onaiwu’s big boots up front. They are now breathing right down the necks of Kanagawa rivals Kawasaki and we have a genuine title race on our hands. Their devastating attack is beyond reproach, but the old defensive frailties which held them back in 2018 and 2020 have been on display since returning from their summer break. Gamba and Oita, two of the weaker attacks in the division, let them off the hook, but I have a nagging doubt that they are going to give too many chances, to the wrong team, on the wrong day and that’s what’s ultimately going to cost them top spot.
Urawa Red Diamonds
Comments The plethora of new talent in the arrivals lounge has made Reds one of the most talked about J1 sides during the summer months. The shape I’ve set out below was not the one used by Ricardo Rodriguez on Saturday night, however, I feel he may lean towards it later in the year. Although Kobe seem to act as a bit of lightning rod for online criticism about big spending, dress it up any way you like, Reds summer spree is a naked attempt at fixing problems using cold, hard cash. The Saitama outfit mean business, they may not reach the summit this year, but, they’ll definitely be a team to keep your eye on in the coming years. **Please note – on August 15 Reds announced Kasper Junker had undergone surgery on a cheekbone injury, I expect to see him back wearing some Tsuneyasu Miyamoto-style facial protection in the next couple of weeks so kept him in the lineup below.**
Comments After a decent run in the top flight since 2019, it seems like the curtain is coming down on their J1 journey, for now. Trinita possess the weakest attack in the division, scoring an anaemic 0.63 goals per game, see misses in the 15th and 48th minutes of their eventual 5-1 drubbing at Marinos on Sunday for clear evidence of where the issues lie. Former Gamba assistant Tomohiro Katanosaka, now in his 6th year in charge, has recently looked at alternatives to his favoured 3-4-2-1, including starting with a back 4 vs Marinos, but I feel like he will return to type soon as the squad is built to play with 3 centre-backs. Goya and Masuyama have come in to bolster the attack, but they still lack a proven source of goals. Onaiwu, Fujimoto and Tanaka have all previously departed for brighter lights elsewhere and it costs money to replace that kind of talent, money, that sadly, Trinita just don’t have. Injured/Unavailable: 15 Yuta Koide
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Comments Petrovic’s 100mph attacking football style is locked and loaded at the Sapporo Dome and at the moment it seems to be bearing fruit. As I write this, Consadole have just seen off FC Tokyo in impressive fashion, having dispatched Urawa with even greater ease the week before. Not the richest, or flashiest of J1 outfits, but their in-depth scouting of Japan’s varsity competitions, allied with solid youth development has proven crucial in steering them in an upwards trajectory over the past few months.
Comments With severe financial difficulties, a manager who’s just returned from a 3 week suspension while an internal power harassment investigation was conducted and 2 of their brightest talents freshly headed out the door, it’s amazing how settled things still appear at Tosu. Matsuoka and Hayashi are now yesterday’s men, but replacements Shirasaki and Koizumi from Kashima are thoroughbred pros who will help steady the ship. ACL qualification may be just beyond them this year, and that’s a real shame as the vultures will surely be circling the likes of Higuchi, Yamashita, Sento and Eduardo in the winter, making a repeat of this season’s heroics all the tougher. Injured/Unavailable: 23 Fuchi Honda
Comments It’s worth remembering that Kobe have never finished higher than 7th in J1, so assuming they can get big-name summer recruits Muto and Osako integrated quickly then they’ll be well on their way to achieving a first ever ACL qualification through league performance. Bojan is a bit of an unknown quantity these days, but J1 coach of the month for July Miura has built a solid foundation and crucially has gotten, the high profile stars, the undercard, and the youngsters all pulling together in the same direction, hats off to him for that. Injured/Unavailable: 1 Daiya Maekawa, 29 Lincoln
Comments A mass recruitment process over the summer has given them a glimmer of hope, and they are now unbeaten in their last 4 games, but is it all a bit too little, too late? Getting my old EPL 40 points to avoid relegation calculator out, Yokohama FC still require 25 points from their 16 remaining fixtures to reach that mythical milestone. Yusuke Matsuo is in the side once more and a defence that was conceding at a rate of 2.32 goals per match has now kept back-to-back clean sheets thanks to the arrival of Brazilian defender Gabriel. If his compatriots, Felipe Vizeu and Saulo Mineiro, can have a similar impact at the other end of the pitch, then maybe, just maybe they could be on for the greatest of great escapes. Injured/Unavailable: 8 Kosuke Saito, 23 Yota Maejima, 30 Kohei Tezuka
Comments Their summer transfer business looks good, but I said that about their winter recruitment and it’s not really moved them very far up the standings. Similar to post-Ferguson/pre-Solskjær Manchester United, a hard-hitting critique might say that constantly flip-flopping between managers, players and playing styles is hindering the club as it seeks to move forward. Relying on goals from set-pieces and the physicality of Thiago Santana might bring some degree of success, but it feels like had they given Cklamovski this group of players, then he could have achieved much more. Injured/Unavailable: 10 Carlinhos Junior, 18 Elsinho, 20 Keita Nakamura, 22 Renato Augusto, 50 Yoshinori Suzuki
Comments Sendai are currently competing in their 12th consecutive J1 campaign, for context that’s a better run than, Gamba, Cerezo, Kobe, Nagoya, FC Tokyo or Kashiwa have had, but it appears likely that this era of relative success is drawing to a close and they may have to regroup and rebuild in J2 next year. 18 goals in 24 games while conceding double that figure tells its own story and though there have been bright sparks in the shape of university rookies Mase and Kato down the right, Foguinho in the middle and some recent substitute cameos from Oti and Felippe Cardoso, in the cold light of day, is it really inaccurate to suggest that the lineup I’ve set out below looks more like a team sitting 5th or 6th in J2 rather than one built to survive in the rarefied air of J1? Injured/Unavailable: 8 Yoshiki Matsushita
Comments After finishing bottom in 2020 with no relegation in place, Bin Ukishima deserves a bit of credit for improving things this year, making his side much more resolute and hard to beat. That said, despite gaining credible draws with the likes of Kawasaki, Marinos and Kobe as well as upsetting Reds in Saitama, they are currently on an ominous slide and it looks as though it’s between them and Tokushima, who they faced in the 2019 promotion/relegation playoff, to see who fills the uppermost spot in the drop zone. They experimented with a double-volante system against Nagoya, and that’s something we may see more of going forward, although I have them lined up in their tried and tested shape below. Sugioka looks to be a good addition, while keeping wide-man Taiga Hata fit so he can supply the bombs for Wellington may be the difference between J1 and J2 football for Bellmare next year. Injured/Unavailable: 30 Sosuke Shibata
Comments Tokushima’s victory at home to Gamba gave them the blueprint for how to attack the second half of the year. No messing around with the ball at the back, no possession for possession’s sake, quick counters culminating in dynamic running and interchanges between then front 4 topped off with more shots on goal and hopefully more points on the board. Kawasaki-loanee Taisei Miyashiro has certainly enhanced his reputation with a series of strong performances in a variety of positions along the front line, while right-back Takeru Kishimoto and number 10 Masaki Watai will draw many an admiring glance from rival teams’ scouting departments should they keep up their recent form. Keep your eyes peeled for young forward Taiyo Nishino also, he’s just starting to break into the team in his first year out of Kyoto Tachibana High School. Injured/Unavailable: Kohei Uchida
Comments An excellent start to the season has them sitting in a place of relative comfort few predicted at the beginning of the year. Goalkeeper Masaaki Murakami has won over early doubters (myself included) with a string of good performances, the abrasive Douglas Grolli has been an excellent defensive lynchpin while the quality of deliveries from Jordy Croux and, in particular, irrepressible Swede Emil Salomonsson, have been second to none. In contrast to Kyushu cousins Oita, who came into J1 with a bang and were then looted of their best talent, the average age and playing style of most of Avispa’s squad suggests that they may not have to fend off too many suitors in upcoming transfer windows. One exception is team captain Hiroyuki Mae, and it will be interesting to see how his partnership with new recruit Shun Nakamura develops. Injured/Unavailable: Bruno Mendes
Thanks again everyone for supporting my recent articles. As I posted on Twitter a few weeks back, currently other areas in my life have to take priority over my blog writing, and for 2021, at least, my Gamba match previews will need to stay on the backburner. In some ways I feel like I took them as far as I could last season and at the beginning of this year, I felt like I was rehashing old material, please let me know if you agree or disagree.
With all that out of the way, my latest post provides a rundown of all 20 J1 teams’ matchday selections for every league match so far in 2021, presented in an (hopefully) easy to understand, at a glance style. I’ve also tagged on some additional comments and basic team stats correct to 18 April 2021.
A big shout out to everyone who has gotten in touch with me recently across various mediums. Actually I never envisaged my blog would get so many comments and my Twitter notifications are not really built to handle the traffic I’ve been getting. I recently noticed some people had left me comments weeks ago and I’d missed them, I genuinely try to reply to everyone who asks clean questions, so if I haven’t responded to your question / comment, I’m truly sorry.
Comment: The juggernaut has continued steamrollering opponents just as it did last season. Surely the best side in the history of the JLeague.
Comment: How to fix a problem like Gamba? A Nagoya-esque defence, but can’t buy a goal at the other end. What’s to blame, the Covid cluster, overperforming xG last year, an overly defensive mindset they can’t shake off? Answers on a postcard to Tsuneyasu Miyamoto please.
Comment: You thought they couldn’t defend any better than last season, you thought wrong. If I were a gambler I’d have plenty on Mitch Langerak and co. to beat their clean sheet record set last year. How much will missing out on Kasper Junker to Urawa haunt them with their current paucity of centre-forward options seemingly denying us a genuine tussle for the title between Grampus and Frontale.
Comments: They’ve surprised many by performing at a similar level to 2020. With Taggart and Tiago almost ready to play and Sakamoto and Harakawa due back soon, a push for the top 4 isn’t out of the question.
Comments: Although an Antlers legend, the way Naoki Soma’s spell in charge of Machida ended up poses some serious questions about how adept he’ll be at replacing Zago in the Kashima hotseat. Goals from Everaldo and instant impacts from Pituca and Caike are badly needed.
Comments: Injuries, rumoured dressing room discontent and a series of patchy results don’t make for happy start to the campaign for the capital side. Bruno Uvini is the great hope to steady things at the back, but it should be remembered he hasn’t kicked a ball in anger in over 6 months.
Comments: They seem to have course corrected slightly with hard fought 1-0s in their past 2 games and the Brazilian cavalry is due to arrive soon. Quite how they keep their 9 overseas players happy, and what effect their second Covid cluster in under a year will have on them is yet to be seen.
Comments: Look set to hover around upper mid-table just as they did last time round. Morishima and Kawabe have started the season well, but they lack top quality support in attack. Defensively, Yuta Imazu has been a decent find, though they still need to find themselves a pair of genuine full-backs.
Comments: Haven’t lost since the opening day, but a rather kind run of fixtures since round 3 means question marks remain over whether they are genuine ACL contenders of not. Urawa Red Diamonds
Comments: Two poundings in the space of three games at the hands of Kanagawa heavyweights Frontale and Marinos threatened to scuttle the Rodriguez project before it had the chance to take off, but they’ve bounced back well. We may come to look on Reds’ 2021 the same way Marinos supporters think of Ange Postecoglou’s debut campaign in 2018.
Comments: Six defeats in a row with just a single goal scored in the process, I’m sure there’s a joke about a famous Tom Petty song here somewhere. They need to hope they’ve hit the jackpot with their two soon-to-arrive Brazilians.
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Comments: Houston, we may have a problem. Dropping points like confetti and with 4 teams going down this year they’re rapidly finding themselves being drawn into a relegation dogfight.
Comments: Prior to Sunday’s win at Grampus, some of the gloss was starting to come off their excellent start to the year with 4 failures to score in 5 outings. Kim Myung-hwi’s side are made of sterner stuff though, and while it’s likely they’ll regress a touch over the course of the season, a top ten finish remains a distinct possibility.
Comments: A genuine ACL contender based on early season form. How they mesh the returning Iniesta and newly arrived duo of Lincoln and Masika with their current high performing starters will be key.
Comments: They tick all the boxes for a side about to take the drop, poor attack, woeful defence, no idea of best lineup, symbolic change of head-coach. I’m not usually so blunt, but take this to the bank, they’ll be in J2 next season.
Comments: Some had tipped them to finish in the top half this year, but as things stand it looks like the 3-1 win at Kashima on the opening day was something of a mirage. Thiago Santana has disappointed and Lotina has run into the same problem as a number of his predecessors, a complete lack of consistency amongst the players at his disposal.
Comments: Still haven’t won a home game since 2019 and that’s a stat they’ll have to alter fast if they want to avoid a return to J2 for the first time in 12 years.
Comments: Going under the radar a touch, but considering they finished bottom last year, their performances to date in 2021 have shown marked improvement. No defeats and 4 clean sheets in a tough looking run of 5 fixtures up to last weekend suggest they mean business and could defy the odds to remain in J1 next term.
Comments: The project looks to be running under budget and ahead of schedule. New head-coach Poyatos is now in the country and working with the players face-to-face and at present they appear set for a decent year. Having, The Alan Parsons Project’s Sirius and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on their pre-match playlist makes me enjoy their games that little bit more.
Comments: The support inside the Best Denki Stadium is the thing that’s caught my eye most about Fukuoka this year. Their seems to be a genuine feel-good factor around the place which is helping to bring out performances that many, including myself, doubted they were capable of.
Thanks again to everyone who read, liked, shared and commented on my J1 and J2 Predicted Lineups posts that I put out about a month before the 2021 season started. The response to them was truly phenomenal and frankly blew me away, so much in fact, that I’ve been re-thinking how I should structure my blog (I’m always open to new ideas, so please tell me what you want!)
The J1 Predicted Lineups post is still getting a fair bit of traffic even though it is a bit out of date, so I thought I’d do some more research and update things a little. Included in this post is a short comment on teams’ performances in the opening month of the season, a list of currently unavailable players (as of 28 March 2021) and a full rundown of the lineups and formations used by each J1 side over their past 5 league fixtures.
A few qualifiers, the team comments don’t take into consideration this weekend’s Levain Cup games as personally I don’t think a whole lot can be read into them, for example if Tosu and Sapporo start to show the form they displayed yesterday in J1 matches, then I’ll revise my opinion of both sides. Secondly, regarding injuries, some of the players I’ve named as unavailable haven’t been officially confirmed as being injured. In certain instances I’ve assumed they are out due to being absent from the matchday squad for a prolonged period of time or being subbed off early in a game and missing subsequent fixtures.
Thanks again for your support and please enjoy!
Comments: Have started the season in ominous form, only dropping points at much-improved Kobe. What’s more, Oshima and Noborizato are still to return and strengthen them while João Schmidt almost doesn’t feel like a new signing, he’s bedded in so quickly. Unavailable: Kyohei Noborizato, Ryota Oshima (injured)
Comments: Only one league match played so not much to discuss. Re-scheduling six fixtures later in the year may see the return of the more defensive 4-4-2 set-up used last season and hopefully the end of the Onose at right-back experiment with Takao returning to take his rightful place. Unavailable: Jun Ichimori, Haruto Shirai, Yuji Ono (injured), Wellington Silva (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: Their defensive strength means they are Kawasaki’s closest challengers despite having no real goal-scorer. Yamasaki has done alright, but shouldn’t be starting for a title contender and Kakitani has shown nothing so far. Inagaki looks like an early MVP contender, Soma has improved, however Morishita seems to be 3rd choice right back at the moment, perhaps he’s too attack-minded for Ficcadenti, imagine how good Tosu would be if he was still there! Unavilable: Mu Kanazaki (injured)
Comments: Higher up the league than many would have expected, but the fixture list has been pretty kind to them so far. Okubo’s goals have been a Godsend in the absence of Taggart while Nishio has slotted in well alongside Seko at the back. Recent injuries to Harakawa, Sakamoto and Takagi will really test their squad depth. Unavailable: Riki Harakawa, Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, Ryuji Sawakami, Toshiyuki Takagi, Hirotaka Tameda, Koji Toriumi (injured), Adam Taggart (Visa/quarantine), Đặng Văn Lâm, Tiago (Visa/contract status unclear)
Comments: The Ibaraki side have made their traditional slow start and will be desperate to get Brazilian midfield duo, Diego Pituca and Arthur Caike on the field as soon as possible. It’s at the back where most of the problems seem to lie, the full-back berths are still up for grabs and none of the centre-backs have covered themselves in glory. Unavailable: Shoma Doi, Ryuji Izumi (injured), Arthur Caike, Diego Pituca (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: A roller-coaster start to the season from the capital club with, injuries, rotation and Covid-protocol violations preventing them from getting into any sort of groove. They’ve got points on the board early, but a chunk of them came in unimpressive home wins over last season’s bottom 2, Sendai and Shonan. They’ll need to hope Bruno Uvini is the man to shore up a rather leaky rearguard. Unavailable: Akihiro Hayashi, Kazuya Konno, Manato Shinada (injured), Bruno Uvini (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: Olunga, Olunga, where art thou Olunga? A very poor start to the season from Kashiwa and they desperately need the soon-to-arrive Brazilian quartet of, Emerson Santos, Dodi, Angelotti and Pedro Raúl to hit the ground running or the nightmares of 2018 could be lurking just around the corner. Unavailable: Yuji Takahashi, Sachiro Toshima (injured), Angelotti, Dodi, Pedro Raúl, Emerson Santos (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: A solid start, made all the more impressive by the fact they are still figuring out their new back four system and how best to set-up their attack. Junior Santos continues to cause intrigue as it appears he’s fighting young Shun Ayukawa to be Douglas Vieira’s backup rather than being the main man himself. Hayao Kawabe could partner former team-mate Sho Inagaki in the J1 Best Eleven if he keeps up his current form. Unavailable: Akira Ibayashi, Rhayner (injured)
Comments: A rather harsh take on them might say that they’ve swatted aside bottom half teams while failing to take the three points against stiffer opposition, exactly as they did in 2020. That said, from what I’ve seen there is a bit more steel about them this time round. I’m re-evaluating Daizen Maeda now that he’s finally added goals to his game and though Élber seems to lack the attacking x-factor of Erik, having more solid, hard-workers than mercurial artists may suit them better in 2021. Unavailable: Theerathon Bunmathan, Daizen Maeda (injured), Léo Ceará (Visa/quarantine)
Urawa Red Diamonds
Comments: Ricardo Rodriguez seems like a lovely bloke, so I’ll spare him any blame for now, but real questions must be getting asked about the financial situation at the club. I started to wonder when Brazilians, Mauricio and Fabricio weren’t replaced last season and now with Leonardo gone, Deng injured and Yuki Abe making a Lazarus like return from the retirement home, a sojourn to J2 next year isn’t entirely out of the reckoning. Unavailable: Thomas Deng, Yudai Fujiwara (injured)
Comments: I picked them to fill the final relegation spot in pre-season and I haven’t seen anything yet to make me completely alter my opinion. The number of changes at the back made in the off-season has definitely unsettled them and Katanosaka is still searching for the right combinations in a number of places. Unavailable: Naoki Nomura (injured), Matheus Pereira, Henrique Trevisan (Visa/quarantine)
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Comments: I’m considering starting my own Patreon account so Sapporo fans can pay me to not watch them live. Last week’s horror show at home to Kobe was their 8th defeat on the spin with me tuning in on DAZN. Second year pros Kaneko and Tanaka have been solid (Tanaka’s assist for Furuhashi last week aside) and young Ogashiwa and Nakashima have looked bright in flashes. Failure to change their slightly archaic game-plan could result in an unwelcome flirtation with the relegation trapdoor. Unavailable: Takuma Arano, Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa, Douglas Oliveira (injured), Jay Bothroyd, Gabriel Okechukwu (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: An outstanding youth system and kantoku have their fans dreaming of ACL football next year. Didn’t score in their opening 4 J1 fixtures in 2020, haven’t conceded in their first 6 games this time round, it’s been quite the reversal of fortunes. How long can they sustain it? Will their new foreign strikers propel them to even greater heights? Will the vultures descend to brutally devour this team in a similar manner to what happened to fellow Kyushu-ites Giravanz last winter? Unavailable: Ismael Dunga, Chico Ofoedu (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: I saw them referred to as ‘Galacticos’ the other day, but that’s not really what they are anymore. They have a healthy crop of youngsters, many of whom have been raised in their academy, developing alongside a few seasoned heads, most notably Hotaru Yamaguchi, who’s been in sparkling form so far this season. There seems to be a real determination to make amends for 2020’s pitiful league performance and 3rd place doesn’t look impossible judging by their early showings. Unavailable: Andrés Iniesta, Junya Tanaka (injured), Lincoln, Ayub Masika (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: Things seem to have completely fallen apart over the winter at Mitsuzawa. In my season preview I predicted goals at both ends, unfortunately that has only proven to be half correct and their veteran forwards haven’t hit it off as of yet. Talented midfielders Matsuo, Seko and Tezuka are struggling against the tide, but receiving little support and, although it’s early days, I think many already see them lining up in J2 next year. Unavailable: Calvin Jong-a-Pin, Haruki Saruta, Hideto Takahashi, Eijiro Takeda (injured)
Comments: They’ve had just the kind of solid, unspectacular start many would have expected under Lotina. After conceding an avalanche of goals over the past 2 years, letting in just 7 in 6 games must have come as welcome relief to long suffering supporters in their picturesque stadium. Lotina’s reluctance to use assist kingpin Kenta Nishizawa may have rivals sending out the feelers regarding his future availability. Unavailable: Hideki Ishige, Eiichi Katayama, Ibrahim Junior Kuribara (injured), William Matheus (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: Collectively this is one of the 4 weakest squads in the division. That doesn’t necessarily need to condemn them to relegation, but to stave off the drop, they will need to find a way to play to more than the sum of their parts. Passing the ball from their centre-backs to wing-backs, pushing the midfield forward to join the attack, then losing the ball and getting countered constantly, isn’t the way to achieve that. Unavailable: Isaac Cuenca, Kunimitsu Sekiguchi (injured), Foguinho, Emmanuel Oti, Nedeljko Stojišić (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: I was sure they’d used up their nine lives last year, but they look a bit better than 2020, at least if the early rounds are anything to go by. Impressive youngster Taiga Hata still hasn’t featured, but playing on the left-wing for Shonan seems to bring out the best in players and Ryo Takahashi has been in fantastic form down that flank. They really need Wellington and Welinton Júnior to bring their shooting boots over from Brazil as a lack of firepower would be the most likely cause of a relegation this year. Unavailable: Tarik Elyounoussi, Taiga Hata, Shun Nakamura, Tsukasa Umesaki (injured), Wellington, Welinton Júnior (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: They’ve probably done as well as could have been expected given that the squad haven’t met their new Spanish kantoku face-to-face yet and most of the players lack top tier experience. Poyatos (I assume he is choosing the team) has made a number of interesting selections with Abe, Fuke, Fujiwara and Kawakami all featuring regularly despite being out in the cold during the Rodriguez era. Unavailable: Dušan Cvetinović, Kazuki Nishiya, Koki Sugimori, Kohei Uchida (injured), Cristian Battocchio, Cacá (Visa/quarantine)
Comments: A decent start has them sitting comfortably in mid-table. Word of warning though, other newly promoted sides, namely Matsumoto and Nagasaki, have also begun top-flight campaigns reasonably well before fading away badly. Avispa need new foreign talents, Jordy Croux and, particularly, Biblically-named forward John Mary to deliver in order to maintain their top-flight status. Unavailable: Juanma Delgado, Bruno Mendes, Taro Sugimoto (injured), Douglas Grolli (1 match suspension vs Sapporo 3 April), Jordy Croux, John Mary (Visa/quarantine)
Please check out the link above to see who has been playing and who hasn’t in J1 2021. I’ll update it regularly. Data keys are below…
Also for those of you using the https://sporteria.jp/ website, here is a simple English translation of the data displayed there…
I’m sure everyone would join me in thanking @Michael_Master and @bmtps_k for their wonderful coverage of all the off-season transfer activity in Japan. The purpose of this article is to see how those winter moves affect the matchday lineups of J1 sides one month out from the start of the new campaign. I hope you enjoy!
First up, some housekeeping notices; * The lineups below are not necessarily intended to be the ones on the opening day, but more the players most likely to fill those positions on a regular basis throughout the year. * Players currently recovering from serious and long-term injuries haven’t been included. Some examples are Andres Iniesta (Kobe), Takuma Arano (Sapporo), Mu Kanazaki (Nagoya), Yuji Ono (Gamba), Akihiro Hayashi (FC Tokyo) and Sachiro Toshima and Yuji Takahashi (both Kashiwa). * As this is a Gamba blog, lineups and formations for other teams are based on a mixture of evidence and guesswork. For instance, teams who performed well in 2020, kept the same manager and the bulk of their playing staff (Kawasaki) are easier to read than those who played poorly last year, changed coaches and brought in a host of new players (Shimizu). * Ages given are correct to 27 February 2021, the opening Saturday of the J1 season, (Y) donates youth team product and teams are listed in order of 2020 league position.
Here we go…
Brief Notes: Way better than everyone else last season and with just Morita departing they’ll be the team to beat once more. Only Mitoma and Tanaka leaving in the summer and the ACL schedule getting moved around again can really threaten their dynasty.
Brief Notes: Leandro Pereira and Ju Se-jong both address areas of need and although it will be difficult to get 2nd again, this group of players shouldn’t finish lower than 5th / 6th even with ACL distractions taken into account.
Brief Notes: Morishita and Kimoto look like great buys, and I was surprised to see Manabu Saito is only 30! Will be strong defensively again, but look a genuine centre-forward short of really challenging at the top.
Brief Notes: Have made some puzzling moves over the winter, but they still have the nucleus of a very good team. How quickly they adjust to Culpi’s brand of football and whether or not Taggart has brought his shooting boots with him from Korea will go a long way to determining their fate this year.
Brief Notes: Assuming their two new Brazilian midfielders settle in well, they should be Kawasaki’s closest rivals. This may not please Gamba supporters like me, but should lead to some tasty @frontalerabbit blog posts.
Brief Notes: They will probably improve merely by not being involved in the ACL this year. That said, the squad looks very unbalanced, with loads of options in central midfield and attack, but significantly less depth further back.
Brief Notes: Shiihashi, Dodi and Kamijima will help to fix their soft underbelly, but there is still a huge Olunga shaped hole in attack. Will Angelotti or rumoured new signing from Botafogo, Pedro Raúl, be able to fill it.
Brief Notes: Junior Santos appears to be an excellent capture, but money is tight and there’s a real lack of depth. Any injury down the central spine of the team could be painful and prevent them from kicking on from last year.
Brief Notes: This year’s squad looks leaner and more settled than last time. A lot will depend on how their new Brazilian attackers do and also how much of 2020’s poor display was down to their overcrowded schedule and how much of it was teams working out how to play against them.
Urawa Red Diamonds
Brief Notes: Given time, I’ve no doubt the Rodriguez project will bear fruit in Saitama, but it may not be as quick a turnaround as the Reds faithful would like. Defence and central midfield could be issues and they appear to be overloaded with attacking midfielders. Having worked with a similar style of player in Yuki Kakita, can Rodriguez turn around Kenyu Sugimoto’s career?
Brief Notes: Should have enough to escape the relegation dog-fight and have made some intriguing signings from J2 down the flanks. Goalkeeper and central defence look like weak areas at the moment. If Shun Nagasawa’s inevitable winner against Gamba could be confined to the Levain Cup I’d greatly appreciate it.
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Brief Notes: A lot riding on the shoulders of last year’s three university rookies, Tanaka, Takamine and Kaneko. If newbies Nakano and Ogashiwa can have a similar impact they could do ok, but they are my tip to be a dark horse relegation candidate.
Brief Notes: Look better placed than at this point last year and I have no difficulty seeing them survive. Being able to keep hold of Matsuoka was a big surprise for me and I’m really interested to see how new African forwards, Chico (Nigeria) and Dunga (Kenya), get on. I know I’m in the minority here, but I genuinely dig their new kit.
Brief Notes: I think they could surprise a few people this year, not by finishing top 4 or anything, but outside of Hyogo there is almost zero expectation and their exciting youngsters may start to come to the fore a little more.
Brief Notes: Should be exciting to watch as it appears there will be plenty of goals at both ends. I don’t see them going down and if Matsuo and Seko continue to play well neither will be at the Mitsuzawa in 2022.
Brief Notes: As a fan of the league, I’d have preferred Cklamovski’s style to succeed, but more realistically Lotina’s defensive brand of football is more likely to guide them to less troubled waters. How high they go is dependent on how quickly the new parts fit together and how fast Lotina can mend their dreadful defence (139 J1 goals conceded 2019-2020).
Brief Notes: If they’re going to avoid the drop the improvement will need to come from the coaching department, with Teguramori replacing Kiyama. The squad on paper looks weaker than last season with the exception of the wide midfield areas.
Brief Notes: Ditto what I said about Sendai, they finished in the relegation slots last year and look likely to do so again. The heart has been ripped out of the team with Kaneko, Saito and Matsuda all going and their most exciting players, Tani, Tanaka and Hata are too young to carry this side on their back.
Brief Notes: Perhaps benefiting from Coronavirus, they managed to keep all of last season’s title winners and even added rising star Joel Chima Fujita. There’s a glaring lack of J1 experience and I can see things like, having 80% possession at home to Shimizu and still losing 1-0, happening a bit too often.
Brief Notes: My main concern is that a chunk of last season’s starting eleven were on loan and have now returned to their parent clubs. They have more players with top flight experience than Tokushima and have made some decent buys, but they are short on depth and haven’t replaced Serantes in goal yet.
Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka J1 2020 Round 28 Saitama Stadium 2002 Sunday 22 November 16:00
Last Time Out
If anyone reading this blog is new to Japanese football then Gamba’s home game with Vegalta Sendai gave you a taste of what you’re in for. Gamba started the day in 2nd place, unbeaten in their previous 12 league outings, while their visitors, who had never won in Suita in their entire history were bottom of the pile and hadn’t tasted victory for 18 matches. The final result, 4-0 to Sendai, of course.
Gamba have had a great season up until now, so I’m going to be mercifully brief with this match report and won’t dwell on their failings too much. October J1 Manager of the Month Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (good to see that curse applies everywhere) made five changes to the lineup from the game against Kobe 3 days previously. In came, Gen Shoji, Hiroki Fujiharu, Shinya Yajima, Kazuma Watanabe and Shoji Toyama (first J1 start) for Kim Young-gwon, Yuya Fukuda, Kosuke Onose, Patric and Takashi Usami. The spine of the team that has performed so well in 2020, Kim, Ideguchi and Usami were all gone and with them Gamba’s spark disappeared too, there was lots of neat passing from side-to-side, but no real penetration or urgency. Shoji made a pretty shaky return to top-team action and the defensive structure as a whole was off with Gamba never really coming to grips with the problems caused by Sendai’s front three. Nerazzurri old boy Shun Nagasawa helped himself to a hat-trick which doubled his tally for the year and on-loan FC Tokyo defender Takahiro Yanagi finished off the rout by waltzing through a non-existent defence to shoot past Masaaki Higashiguchi in the home goal.
With a double header coming up in Kanto against Urawa and Kawasaki, it felt like Gamba completely overlooked Sendai in this encounter and went in with the attitude that just turning up was enough. Maybe with Vegalta’s form to date in 2020 and, in particular, their woeful 3-0 reverse at the hands of Tosu a week earlier, this might have been an easy mistake to mate, however, the side from Miyagi needed a reaction in this game and they certainly got one. They were more determined than their hosts from the first whistle and Gamba will need to hope that they’ve vomited everything up in one go and got it out of their system ahead of the remaining 6 league fixtures. The only other positives I can take are that some youngsters got playing time (Ren Shibamoto finally made his J1 debut off the bench) and Cerezo also lost to bottom-half opponents meaning this was effectively a free-hit (I would have preferred Nagoya and Tokyo to finish 0-0, but, hey, Grampus still have to play out their final matches without a striker).
Urawa Red Diamonds vs Gamba Osaka Match Lowdown
One of Japan’s fiercest rivalries is back for another installment with 2nd placed Gamba travelling to Urawa, a team who currently lie in 8th position, 10 points behind the Nerazzurri with an extra game played. Owing to the uneven nature of the J1 schedule this year, it seems highly likely that Reds will overtake Yokohama F.Marinos at some point, but they are extremely vulnerable to attack from Hiroshima and Kashiwa, so this match will be of extreme importance to them.
By kick-off on Sunday, visitors Gamba will have had 8 days to contemplate their 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Sendai. They would actually do well to ask their hosts for some advice as Urawa have slammed 11 past Vegalta in their home 2 matches against them this year (1 in J1 and 1 in the Levain Cup.) This game marks the start of Gamba’s final push towards the end of this gruelling campaign with another away tie against Kawasaki following on Wednesday before they return to Suita to face Sagan Tosu on Sunday November 29th. After that, December is a pretty easy ride for the Nerazzurri with only 3 league fixtures awaiting, Shonan (a) on the 6th, followed by 10 days break before Yokohama FC (a) on the 16th and Shimizu (h) on the 19th.
Gamba’s 4-0 trouncing at the hands of Sendai is such an outlier in the context of this year that it defies analysis and I’m basically going to avoid doing so unless that level of performance becomes more of a habit. Prior to that, the 3-0 reversal at Kashiwa in September was the men from Suita’s worst result of the year, and is, in fact, their only road loss in 2020. This generally excellent sequence of scorelines sees Gamba sit 2nd in J1, 17 points off leaders Kawasaki, who can clinch the title with a win away to Oita on Saturday (they may have done so by the time you read this), Nagoya (3 points behind with an extra game played) and Cerezo (6 points back with a game less in the bank) are their only realistic challengers for second and it would take a pretty erratic set of results to see the blue and black side miss out on 2021 ACL qualification.
As alluded to earlier, Gamba’s away form has been the foundation on which they’ve built their season. Their current away points total sits at 30 which is more than the overall tally of J1’s 5 bottom clubs, bizarrely almost double that of last week’s conquerors, Sendai (18). Solid defence on the road has been key with just 12 goals conceded in 13 games, only Kawasaki (10) have let in fewer. My big stat for this week is that Gamba have trailed in just 3 of their 13 away fixtures this season, Nagoya (2-2), Sendai (4-1) and Kashiwa (0-3), incredibly they’ve only been behind for 153 out of a total 1,170 minutes playing time. Anything other than a defeat on Sunday will ensure that Gamba post their best away points total since returning to J1 in 2014. For the record those figures look like this, 2016 (30), 2014 (28), 2015 (27), 2017 (26), 2019 (20) and 2018 (14).
Now let’s take a deep dive on our opponents Urawa Red Diamonds. The Saitama-based side have had an up-and-down campaign on home soil this year, winning 5 and losing 6. Ominously for Gamba, Reds’ best home results have been in their previous 2 fixtures, Sendai (6-0) and Cerezo (3-1), however, prior to that they’d gone 5 games without a win in front of their own supporters, a run that included 4 successive losses without scoring. Following this match, Urawa have only 2 remaining home fixtures, Shonan and Sapporo, so they will definitely be confident of seeing out their schedule in Saitama without any further blemishes.
As gloated about below in the ‘Head to Head’ section, Urawa were Gamba’s closest title rival back in 2014 and that marked the midway point of a run of excellent league form where they achieved 4 top 3 finishes in 5 years. That success was largely based on excellent signings from other J1 sides, namely the likes of Nishikawa, Makino and Kashiwagi (all ex-Hiroshima), Koroki (Kashima), Aoki (Omiya) and Muto (Sendai), however, in recent seasons they seem to have lost their midas touch in the transfer market somewhat. Curacaoan winger Quenten Martinus is the team’s form player at the moment, but he has largely flattered to deceive since moving from Yokohama F.Marinos in 2018. Former Tricolore team-mate Ryosuke Yamanaka, who set up Martinus for the winner at Kobe on Wednesday, boasts good assist stats, but question marks persist over his defensive capabilities and in recent weeks he’s struggled to hold down his place ahead of every J1 referee’s best friend Tomoya Ugajin (6 yellow cards in 14 games this season). Elsewhere former Cerezo striker Kenyu Sugimoro (he’s never going to get a fair shake on a blog like this, eh) has as many league goals as yellow cards this season (and not in a Juanma Delgado sort of way where he has loads of both) and left-winger Koya Yuruki has shown flashes of what he’s capable in recent appearances, but is still searching for consistency at this level.
Head-coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki’s job is on a very shaky peg at the moment after leading one of Japan’s biggest clubs to a 14th place finish last time out and getting bogged down in mid-table this year with some particularly painful defeats thrown into the mix, Nagoya and Marinos (both 6-2 away) and Kashiwa (4-0 home). It’s been rumoured that Cho Kwi-jae (he of Shonan Bellmare power harassment scandal fame) is in line to take over for next season and this is likely to bring about a number of changes at Urawa if it goes ahead. Despite banging in 11 goals in 26 J1 games, Brazilian forward Leonardo hasn’t started any of the past 10 matches (Gamba may be in the market for a dynamic, young Brazilian forward this winter… nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and any new coach must find a way to get Shinzo Koroki and Leonardo into the same starting eleven, as to date they’ve netted 20 of Reds 41 J1 goals between them.
Next year will likely see more emphasis on youth, not generally a strong point for Reds. Midfielders Atsuki Ito (Ryutsu Keizai University) and Tomokai Okubo (Chuo University) are on designated special player contracts this year and will turn pro in 2021, as will youth team ‘keeper Zion Suzuki who already stands 189cm at the age of 18. Defenders Yudai Fujiwara (Aomori Yamada High School) and Ryuya Fukushima (Urawa Youth) are also locked in, with holding midfielder Yuta Miyamoto (Ryutsu Keizai University) to follow in 2022. If Cho potentially does take over, could we see promising Shonan midfielders Daiki Kaneko and Mitsuki Saito take the well worn path from Hiratsuka to Saitama? Urawa posted the best attendance figures in J1 in 2019 with an average of 34,184 per game, so they have been hit harder than anyone by the COVID-era restrictions, Brazilians Mauricio and Fabricio left mid-season and haven’t been replaced, it will be interesting to see if they genuinely do go down the path of rearing their own talent.
Head to Head
Urawa ran out 3-1 winners at Panasonic Stadium back in August with Gamba’s poor defending meaning they deserved nothing from the game, even if the final score rather flattered our visitors. The Nerazzurri have been victorious on their 2 previous league trips to Saitama, Yuya Fukuda’s first J1 goal on the final day last season and Kosuke Onose’s rasping half-volley which put Gamba on their way to a 7th consecutive victory back in 2018 were my personal highlights from those clashes. I’m sure all supporters of a blue and black persuasion get goosebumps thinking about the late smash-and-grab 2-0 win back in the treble-winning season of 2014, less so the 2016 edition of this contest when Ademilson was sent off for some impulsive stupidity (there’s a theme here), which wasn’t helped by Tomoaki Makino’s theatrics, and Reds eventually romped to a 4-0 victory.
Yuji Ono (knee surgery – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) are definite absentees. A cloud of uncertainty surrounds club captain Genta Miura who returned as a substitute in the Osaka Derby on November 3rd, but wasn’t in the squad for either the Kobe or Sendai games. Yosuke Ideguchi picked up an injury in training on November 9th and has missed the last 2 matches, there are conflicting reports doing the rounds about how serious his problem is. Takashi Usami and Kim Young-gwon both sat out the home shellacking from Vegalta, though I believe they were just being rested. Stand-in skipper Shu Kurata will make his 300th JLeague appearance for Gamba in this game (271 J1 and 28 in J2 to date).
I thought I’d also give a brief round-up of recent Gamba transfer news and gossip.
In: Meiji University centre-back Yota Sato is the only confirmed 2021 signing so far. Gamba have been linked with South Korean international central midfielder Ju Se-jong from FC Seoul, he, of course, turned down a move to Japan last winter. Playmaker Riki Harakawa from cash-strapped Sagan Tosu is also on the Nerazzurri’s radar, though Urawa and Cerezo have been credited with interest too. In my opinion, he’d be most likely to play at Urawa and his team-mate Daiki Matsuoka would be much more Miguel Angel Lotina’s cup of tea, I would have thought. (this was written before the news Lotina’s contract wouldn’t be renewed, maybe Hirakawa will take Hiroshi Nanami’s fancy?)
Out: Veteran forward Kazuma Watanabe looks set for a move to Yokohama FC, where at the age of 34 he’d probably be considered an up-and-coming youngster fnar fnar. Shimizu S-Pulse were also thought to have been in the running, but it seems like Watanabe will return to Kanagawa for the first time since 2011 with the on-loan Kazunari Ichimi coming back to his parent club for next season.
Urawa Red Diamonds
Versatile winger Takahiro Sekine went off injured in the away draw with Hiroshima on November 3rd and hasn’t featured since, while central midfielder Kai Shibato last appeared as a sub in the 6-0 rout of Sendai on October 18th, it’s unclear whether his absence is due to injury or non-selection. Club legend Yosuke Kashiwagi seems to be getting phased out of the top-team picture this year, mustering only 9 J1 appearances to date and he last made the matchday squad in the aforementioned Sendai game where he was an unused replacement. Centre-back Daisuke Suzuki has made just one solitary start since largely carrying the can for the 6-2 annihilation at Nagoya back on August 8th, it’s highly unlikely he has any future in Saitama beyond this current campaign. Rejuvenated winger Martinus stands to make his 100th J1 appearance in this game and much maligned striker Kenyu Sugimoto could play his 50th J1 match for Urawa. Centre-backs Tomoaki Makino and Thomas Deng, as well as central midfielders Ewerton and Kai Shibato are all walking a suspension tightrope with 3 yellow cards apiece. Dangerous forward Shinzo Koroki (9 goals in 24 games) needs just 1 more to reach double figures in J1 for the 9th successive season.
Predicted Line Ups
Gamba are likely to field a much stronger side than they did against Vegalta last week, though they will be mindful of the tough games they have coming up in the next 7 days. Alternatives to the side below would be, Suganuma in for either Kim or Shoji if they have any fitness issues. I believe Yuya Fukuda will come back in for Hiroki Fujiharu, but it’s possible that Miyamoto will stick with the veteran. In the centre of the park I’ve perhaps gone with hope over expectation by selecting Yosuke Ideguchi there, if he’s unavailable, promising youngster Kohei Okuno and Reds-old boy Shinya Yajima are contenders to take his place. On the bench, Dai Tsukamoto’s excellent strike against Hachinohe in J3 could see him promoted to the pine and I’d love to see Ren Shibamoto get another chance to shine.
Urawa’s selection has been very consistent lately, making my job of predicting their starters that bit easier. At left-back Yamanaka may very well get the nod ahead of Ugajin and Iwanami remains an option at centre-back, though after blanking Kobe in midweek, Makino and Deng is the most likely combination. Brazilian Ewerton, a scorer at Panasonic Stadium last year, may return in place of Aoki in the midfield engine-room after it was revealed that the latter is set to join FC Tokyo for next season. In attack I’ve opted for Leonardo over Muto, though Reds number 9 scored in the 3-1 win over Gamba earlier this season and generally combines well with Koroki.
A tough one to call, for me Urawa haven’t looked great this year, but they can grind out good results. Gamba will be looking to bounce back from last week’s embarrassment and will come into this game safe in the knowledge that they’ve scored 3 times in each of their previous 3 visits to Saitama Stadium. I’ll opt for a reasonably entertaining 2-2 draw which won’t particularly suit either side, but won’t be a disaster.
Gamba Osaka vs Urawa Red Diamonds J1 2020 Round 11 Panasonic Stadium Suita Wednesday 19 August 19:00 (JST)
It’s grudge match time as Gamba, fresh from a weekend off, following the COVID-19 enforced postponement of their match at Sagan Tosu, face rivals Urawa Red Diamonds. It will be the first game in ten days for Gamba’s top team while Reds are coming straight from a gruelling 90 minutes against Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Who will prevail in the heat and humidity of Panasonic Stadium?
Last Time Out
For analysis of Gamba’s 2-1 wins at home to Yokohama FC in J1 and away to Shonan Bellmare in the Levain Cup let me point you in the direction of my previous post, Gamba News 13/08/20, and you can find all the coverage in there. Now to our upcoming opponents Urawa who hosted Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Saturday night.
Urawa bounced back from their 6-2 pasting at Nagoya in the previous round by taking all 3 points and keeping a clean sheet against a dominant Hiroshima. The home side went ahead in just the 5th minute following their first attack of the match. Brazilian hitman Leonardo threaded a lovely through ball in the direction of left-winger Koya Yuruki which caused Sanfrecce’s right wing-back Rhayner to slide in. To me it looked like the contact was minimal but due to the rash nature of the defender’s lunge, he gave the referee a decision to make and, in fairness, his team-mates had few complaints. Reds’ top marksmen Leonardo took on the responsibility from the spot, did a Diego Oliveira-esque stuttering run up and coolly sent Keisuke Osako the wrong way to give the home side the lead.
After that early Urawa strike, the rest of the game was essentially one way traffic with Hiroshima camped in Reds half and ‘keeper Shusaku Nishikawa turning in an inspired display to keep his former side at bay. As he always seems to be when I watch Sanfre, Brazilian Leandro Pereira was the main threat for the men in purple. He forced a brilliant save from Nishikawa when he outjumped Daiki Hashioka and Thomas Deng in the seventeenth minute to get to Rhayner’s cross and powered a header across Urawa’s number one, however, the stopper was equal to the task and forced it away for a corner. Pereira executed a spectacular bicycle kick just four minutes later, but again there was no beating Nishikawa.
Into the second half and it was still a one-sided affair, Sanfrecce switched their wing backs with Tomoya Fujii and particularly Yusuke Chajima causing problems with crossed balls into the box, but still Urawa remained steadfast. The home team themselves changed things up, introducing Takuya Iwanami to form a back three alongside Deng and Tomoaki Makino which saw Reds revisit their 3-4-2-1 formation of previous years, though in reality it was more of 5-4-1. Leonardo made way for Kenyu Sugimoto and didn’t look happy about it as Hiroshima continued to press. Nishikawa saved well from Pereira who shot from a tight angle, and again from Rhayner’s header while Tsukasa Morishima fired wide and Shunki Higashi’s header suffered the same fate. Eventually Sanfrecce were reduced to attempting speculative efforts from distance as substitute Gakuto Notsuda tried his luck a couple of times. However, it was not to be their night and the Reds won by a solitary goal which moved them up to 6th in the standings, just two points shy of Gamba’s total with a game more played.
Not a whole lot to report regarding Gamba, we now know that the lineup selected for the match against Yokohama FC is what Miyamoto considers to be his strongest. In addition, with all first-choice members fit it is unlikely that we’ll see any deviation from the 3-5-2 set-up regardless of who the opposition is. I talked previously about second half fatigue and Lionel Piguet also gave a great rundown of that on the J-Talk Pod last week, coming off a ten day break since the Yokohama game, it will be no excuse against a battle-worn Urawa.
Speaking of our opponents from Saitama, they seem to have bucked the trend tactically in J1 by changing from a 3-4-2-1 formation last year to a more orthodox 4-4-2 in 2020. Reds head coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki is under pressure following a woeful 13th place finish in the league last season and heavy defeats to Kashiwa and Nagoya this time round. That said, his side currently sit in the top six so perhaps his decision to change things up has begun to bear fruit.
Having watched the Red Diamonds games at Nagoya and at home to Hiroshima it has been tough trying to work out what their attacking strategy is as, truth be told, they didn’t do a whole lot of attacking in either game. Off-season signing from Albirex Niigata, Leonardo is key for them and has scored over 50% of their league goals in 2020 (7 of 12). From what I’ve seen, the men from Saitama don’t like playing the ball out from the back like most of their J1 opponents, instead they aim to quickly move it forward and play long passes from the midfield into attack, then hope to build from there, either in the form of quick one-twos or working the ball out wide. With the ageing Yosuke Kashiwagi not seeing a lot of game time recently, creativity in midfield has been a bit of an issue as they tend to play with two holding midfielders. Takahiro Sekine is a useful outlet on either flank, but doubts persist over whether Koya Yuruki is really up to the challenge of playing for such a big club. Additionally, in attack, an injury to Shinzo Koroki, coupled with a loss of form for the likes of Kenyu Sugimoto, Yuki Muto and Martinus means that they are way too reliant on Leonardo for goals, it seems like if you can stop him, you can stop Reds.
In summary, Gamba come into this game fresh, and hotter favourites to win than they’ve been in recent seasons. It’s difficult to get a good read on Urawa as they were thrashed 6-2 two matches ago, but basically everything Nagoya touched that day turned to gold, while last week they held on for dear life for a good 85 minutes at home to Hiroshima. Gamba will surely enjoy the lions share of possession and territory with Urawa looking to clear their lines quickly and counter. The re-introduction of Tomoaki Makino alongside Thomas Deng in central defence as well as the return of Takuya Iwanami gives the Reds rearguard a more solid feel to it. They have been vulnerable against crosses into the box for years and although they defended such attacks efficiently against Sanfrecce, I’m sure Patric will be licking his lips in anticipation of grabbing a third goal in as many games.
* Gamba haven’t beaten Urawa at home since 2016 when Takashi Usami’s early strike was enough to give them the three points. Since returning to J1 in 2014 Gamba’s home record against Urawa stands at P6 W 2 D 2 L 2 F 4 A 4, Gamba have failed to score in half of these games. * Gamba currently sit on 19 points after 9 matches played which compares to just 7 points at the same stage last year and 2018. * At present Gamba sit third in J1, two points behind second placed Cerezo with a game in hand, the last time they were so high in the standings was after round 19 of the 2017 season when they saw off their city rivals 3-1 at Panasonic Stadium.
Urawa Red Diamonds
* Urawa have taken nine points from their first five away games, however there appears to be a clear split in the results. Their three wins have come against sides in the bottom half, Shonan (3-2), Sendai (2-1), Yokohama FC (2-0), however, both their matches against top half sides have ended in defeat, FC Tokyo (0-2), Nagoya Grampus (2-6) * Reds only kept one J1 clean sheet under the stewardship of Tsuyoshi Otsuki in 2019, but have already prevented the opposition from scoring on four occasions this time round, Yokohama F.Marinos, Kashima and Hiroshima at home as well as Yokohama FC away. * Leonardo has scored 58% of Urawa’s league goals in 2020, five of his seven strikes (71%) have come on the road.
Ryo Shinzato is the only injury doubt in the Gamba squad, the on-loan Jubilo Iwata defender has failed to feature in any competition since the home Levain Cup tie with Kashiwa in February, though there has still been no official announcement by the club. Jun Ichimori has now played a couple of games for the U23s in J3, but as yet has been unable to dislodge Kei Ishikawa from his spot on the bench and also played second fiddle to the former Tosu man against Shonan last Wednesday. It appears Shunya Suganuma is raring to go again after captaining a young Gamba in the Levain Cup while Gen Shoji, Kosuke Onose and Ademilson all seem to be fit and firing.
Urawa Red Diamonds
Legendary striker Shinzo Koroki has missed Reds past three games after being substituted against Yokohama FC last month, his continued absence places a huge goalscoring burden on Leonardo. Elsewhere, due to rotation in the squad, it’s difficult to know who’s unfit and who’s just not in favour with the coaching staff. Those I believe most likely to be suffering from a knock are, Brazilian centre-back Mauricio, who had a great game in this fixture last year, he, like Koroki, hasn’t been seen since the Yokohama FC match. His compatriot Fabricio was last spotted in the 4-0 home drubbing at the hands of Kashiwa four game weeks back and ex-Yokohama F.Marinos attacker Martinus has been absent for five matches.
Know Your Opponent – Urawa Red Diamonds
Head Coach: Tsuyoshi Otsuki – Appointed 28 May 2019 – Record P31 W 9 D 10 L 12 F 36 A 49 Points Per Game 1.2 Failed to score 8 Clean Sheets 5.
RB #27 Daiki Hashioka – Urawa’s brightest young talent in my books, 182cm tall Hashioka already has 2 national team caps to his name. He was the target for a bizarre tactic of playing every long ball directly to him in last year’s match between these two, that strategy met with zero success, although Urawa did emerge victorious in the end.
RCB #20 Thomas Deng – Kenyan born, Australian international who was recruited from Melbourne Victory last off-season. He has had a tough baptism into the Reds defence owing to the high turnover of centre-back partners he’s had. If he can play regularly alongside Makino then I’d expect him to develop into a top-quality player.
LCB #5 Tomoaki Makino – Vastly experienced club legend who like Nishikawa and Kashiwagi followed former boss Mihailo Petrovic on the well worn track from Hiroshima to Saitama. Makino’s route was slightly more complex as it came via an unsuccessful loan spell with Koln in the German Bundesliga, but he has now called Urawa home since 2012. The 38 times capped defender who has made J1’s Best Eleven on three separate occasions was out of the starting lineup at the beginning of the campaign, but is now back to restore stability. A big character in the dressing room, he will probably be disappointed that Gamba fans won’t be able to jeer him due to the COVID-19 supporter regulations.
LB #3 Tomoya Ugajin – A one-club man, full-back or wing-back Ugajin initially joined Urawa as a designated special player from Ryutsu Keizai University in 2009 and after signing his first pro-contract the following year has gone onto make over 250 league appearances. He has been back up to the younger Ryosuke Yamanaka for most of the season, but his superior defensive skills saw him earn a recall against Hiroshima.
RCM #29 Kai Shibato – A solid, if unspectacular option in the middle of the park, 24 year-old Shibato comes from solid stock, having attended the excellent Funabashi Municipal High School in Chiba before completing his education at Meiji University. He joined Urawa in 2018, but initially struggled to make an impact, though since mid-2019 he has become much more of a first choice in the Reds engine room.
LCM #8 Ewerton – Currently in the second year of his loan-spell from Portuguese giants FC Porto, Gamba fans will remember Ewerton well as the man who won last year’s fixture at Panasonic Stadium with a low drive in the 87th minute. He has been in and out of the Urawa side since his arrival at the beginning of 2019, but definitely brings more of a goal threat than his rivals for this position such as Takuya Aoki.
RW #41 Takahiro Sekine – Now in his second spell at the club following a disappointing year in Europe with FC Ingolstadt 04 in Germany and the Japanese enclave that is Sint-Truidense V.V. in Belgium. A lively player who can play on either wing or even just off the main striker, as yet, in part two of his Reds career, he has struggled to match the form which got him the move to Europe in the first place.
LW #24 Koya Yuruki – Came to Saitama at the beginning of last year following some impressive displays for Montedio Yamagata in J2. Initially he struggled to find a place in the 3-4-2-1 formation, however, since Urawa started using 4-4-2 he’s been a regular on the left wing. Question marks remain over his output as he’s yet to register a single goal or assist in nine appearances to date this year, he’ll be looking to amend those stats before much longer.
RCF #45 Leonardo – Top scorer in J3 with Gainare Tottori in 2018, top scorer in J2 with Albirex Niigata in 2019, top scorer for Reds so far this season. Young Brazilian forward Leonardo also has his sights set on a potential Japan national team call up in the future and with 59 goals in his first 78 JLeague appearances across the divisions he’d surely be a welcome addition to the Samurai Blue ranks.
LCF #14 Kenyu Sugimoto – Tall, ex-Cerezo forward who like former team-mate Yoichiro Kakitani has had a career of one or two epic highs surrounded by years of average displays. Across 2016-2017 Sugimoto found the back of the net 36 times in 75 league games (2016 was spent in J2 while 2017 was in J1), remove those years from the equation and you are left with a career record of 191 league appearances and just 29 goals. Unfortunately for Urawa this is one transfer they seem to have blundered on as 2 goals in his first 30 league matches is not what they were looking for. I’m fully aware that after me having a go at his goalscoring record, he’ll no doubt net the winner on Wednesday.
Other Options – One-time Vissel Kobe defender Takuya Iwanami made a return from the bench against Hiroshima on Saturday and is a good option at centre-back. In midfield there are plenty of choices, former club captain Yosuke Kashiwagi would surely bring a creative spark if selected for this one, while ex-Omiya man Takuya Aoki is a capable holding player and the versatile Kazuki Nagasawa can play all across the centre of the park. In attack, Yuki Muto at one time formed one of the most lethal combinations in the league with Shinzo Koroki, though his star has somewhat faded in the past 18 months. I like Kosuke Taketomi as a player but he hasn’t been given much of a shout since returning from a decent loan spell with Shonan last summer. Finally, young Ryotaro Ito spent the previous two and a half years on loan with Mito and Oita and is now trying to force his way into Urawa’s top team.
I’m actually feeling in quite confident mood ahead of this one, though I will qualify that by saying that neither of these teams have played particularly attractive football so far in 2020. I’m going for a 2-0 home win, Usami to get the ball rolling in the first half before Patric finishes off a tough, physical encounter late on.