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Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai 12 September 2021 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai
2021 J1 Season Round 28
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Sunday 12 September 2021
Kick Off: 18:30 (JST)


The international break is over and the Levain Cup quarter-finals are done and dusted, now it’s time for the first full slate of J1 games this month. Gamba Osaka host Vegalta Sendai in a match that could have big implications at the foot of the table. The Nerazzurri are still smarting from their harrowing trilogy with prefectural rivals Cerezo, however, crucially they’ve had a rare free midweek in the run up to this game. A Nerazzurri win here, coupled with a Tokushima loss at Nagoya on Friday night, would put a ten point buffer between them and the drop zone with only ten rounds remaining, so perhaps shards of light are beginning to emerge at the end of a very long and winding tunnel. Sunday evening’s visitors Sendai, on the other hand, currently sit eighteenth in the standings, eleven points worse off than Gamba. They’ve reached the do-or-die stage of their season, meaning a win at Panasonic Stadium is an absolute must as if results go against them they could sit bottom of the pile on Monday morning.

In truth, neither side come into this tie in particularly inspiring form. Since their re-arranged round five fixture on August 3, Gamba have won just one of their six J1 contests and most recently had fans hurling obscenities at the team bus in the aftermath of the humiliating 4-0 defeat at home to Cerezo in the second leg of their Levain Cup quarter final last Sunday. Things have been similarly grim up north in Sendai, though they have had two weeks to prepare themselves since their last league outing. The men from Miyagi, though, have no wins, a solitary goal, and a mere two points from their five matches since the 1-0 home reverse to the Nerazzurri just over a month ago. The pressure is on both Masanobu Matsunami and Makoto Teguramori ahead of this fixture, a win for Gamba and they can almost crawl across the finishing line, a loss for Sendai and a first season in J2 since 2009 starts to loom very large on the horizon. I believe this is what my fellow Scot, Sir Alex Ferguson, referred to as ‘squeaky bum time.’

Just a quick reminder to check out my Q and A post from last week, a lot of the content in it is much less time sensitive than my usual match previews, so please have a read if you haven’t already. Thanks once again to everyone who submitted a question and also to all of you who regularly read, like, comment on and share my blog posts, it means a lot to me. I’m open to suggestions for ways to improve these previews and also things you’d like to see covered in future weeks when Gamba might not be in action. Let me know in the comments either on WordPress or Twitter.

Tale of the Tape

This a battle between a team who play poorly at home versus one that struggles on the road. Levir Culpi seems to have a bit of free time on his hands now, so if he could maybe pop over and undo whatever curse he placed on the home dressing room during his time in charge at Panasonic Stadium then I’m sure both Gamba and the Samurai Blue would greatly appreciate it. Since the Brazilian’s departure midway through the 2018 campaign, the Nerazzurri have been defeated eighteen times on their own patch versus sixteen on their travels. And before anyone digs too deeply, I know the Culpi curse isn’t the real cause of Gamba’s inability to win in Suita as they’ve actually lost fourteen of thirty league games (47%) at Panasonic Stadium since the Coronavirus outbreak, how the Nerazzurri’s power brokers must be yearning for a return to normality. Vegalta, by contrast, possess the third weakest away record in the division and in the wake of their 5-0 drubbing at Yokohama F. Marinos in their previous road match, they now average 2 goals against per game outside of Miyagi with only Oita (2.23) and Yokohama FC (2.57) faring worse. Additionally, looking at combined home and away stats, Sendai have the lowest possession percentage in the league, averaging just 42.1% per match and their xG Against numbers aren’t much better, 1.6 per outing sees them rank nineteenth, a place below Gamba (1.54).

As you would have seen in my post last week, making sense of Gamba’s season stats is nigh on impossible due to all of the rotation and injuries which have resulted in nothing remotely close to the same lineup being named in consecutive games so far this year. With regular six to seven day gaps between league fixtures now upon them, we should, in theory, see things settle down a touch. Nerazzurri fans will certainly hope that consistent selection at the back and in the holding midfield roles will help to bring down the league high figure of 15 shots against per game. I mentioned the club’s shocking home form earlier, but more generally their current total of 13 league losses is only one shy of tying their 18 team J1 record of 14 set in 2012 and 2018 (I know there are 20 teams this year, but we’re only at round 28 which makes this statistic worse, if anything). Any team worth their salt has worked out that the way to play against Gamba in Suita is to sit deep, stifle their powder puff attack and then launch swift counters, Sendai did that wonderfully last year, can they repeat the trick here, or will they go the way of fellow strugglers Yokohama FC, Oita and Tokushima who have all left Panasonic Stadium empty handed? The yellow and blues have had their own issues at home and it’s interesting to note that in the aftermath of their victory over Kashiwa Reysol, their first at the Yurtec Stadium in well over a year, veteran Kunimitsu Sekiguchi admitted that after winning the coin toss they’d decided to shoot towards the opposite end than they normally do just to try and break the vicious cycle of defeat. I feel Gamba should opt for a similar approach, use the away dressing room, have the team bus take a different route to the stadium, stay in a hotel the night before, just try something, anything to end this wretched run of home defeats.





Head to Head

Gamba saw off Sendai 1-0 a little over a month ago thanks to Patric’s headed strike from Yuki Yamamoto’s first-half corner. At that time the Nerazzurri were in the midst of their summer fixture onslaught, while their hosts for the evening were just back from a near month-long break and often struggled for attacking fluency. Right-back Takumi Mase, someone I praised in the pre-match preview wasted Vegalta’s best opportunity, heading high and wide after Keisuke Kurokawa had inexplicably ducked out of the way of a dangerous looking cross. Mase went on to miss an even better chance, an event which rather summed up Sendai’s season, in the 1-0 home loss to Tosu a few weeks back, but has generally been one of the team’s better contributors in his actual position of full-back.

I gave a rundown of the 2020 head-to-head matches, Gamba’s 4-1 triumph at the Yurtec and Sendai’s 4-0 rout of the Nerazzurri at Panasta, in my preview for the reverse fixture back in August, so I won’t cover too much old ground here. I just wanted to add that Hiroto Yamada, a standout for the Miyagi side in the aforementioned 4-0 triumph, was also tormentor-in-chief for his parent club Cerezo, as they too left Suita with a four goal victory in the bag last weekend. Maybe Gamba could make moves to take him off the Cherry Blossom’s hands just to stop things like that from happening in the future? It’s just a thought.



Gamba Osaka

Gamba’s run to the semi-finals of the 2019 Levain Cup soured my image of the competition, probably irreparably, as after playing 12 games (over a third of a regular J1 season) we were eliminated on away goals with absolutely nothing to show for our endeavours. With that in mind, getting put out of this year’s edition is no water off my back, the manner of the exit is another matter entirely. If I try to spin it positively, it could serve as the kick up the backside the squad needs going into the remaining eleven league fixtures where the first choices should hog the majority of the playing minutes. As an aside, with all the intricate rules in Japanese football regarding how and when you can register players, am I the only one who found it slightly bizarre that with quarter-finals being played over two legs, Wednesday and Sunday, Cerezo were able to register Takashi Inui in between those two games? This ‘loophole’ strikes me as a bit odd, especially with all the judgements raining down from on-high regarding players having valid PCR certificates or not.

Recently I always seem to find myself using this space to talk about Gamba’s centre-backs, and this week is no exception. After playing the full 90 minutes on both Saturday and Wednesday nights, Gen Shoji was summoned by his country ahead of their World Cup qualifier against Oman at Panasonic Stadium on Thursday (September 2) as a result of Ko Itakura’s late withdrawal due to injury. Hajime Moriyasu loves calling up Sanfrecce players, and they’ve got a good defence, so why not go for the impressive Hayato Araki? Did he not want to leave them too short for their re-arranged clash with Kobe on Sunday? Urawa’s Hiroki Sakai was then released ahead of the squad’s departure for the Middle East to play China, a fair decision in my book, as it was stated he was exhausted following a punishing schedule over the summer. However, Shoji has also endured a heavy workload with both ACL and J1 games coming thick and fast in recent months, yet he gets no respite? Some of what I’ve said above is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, especially the stuff about Moriyasu’s penchant for selecting Hiroshima players, but, in all seriousness, I doubt he’s particularly endeared himself to anyone of a Gamba persuasion with some of his decisions over the past few days.

I’ll finish this section on a more positive note with my thoughts on Takashi Usami. I received a very thought-provoking question from Sam Robson for last week’s blog and I’ve been dwelling on my answer a bit in recent days. Usami’s stats are not great this year in terms of goals and assists, but think back to last Saturday’s Osaka Derby, Usami created what should have been Gamba’s equaliser with a delicious, teasing ball over the top of Cerezo’s defence, Kosuke Onose expertly met it first time and centred for Patric who tried a back-heel flick from only a few yards out, almost identical to the way he beat Park Il-gyu of Tosu last season, but he failed to make contact and the chance went begging. Similarly at 4-0 down on Sunday, Usami didn’t give up, and again floated a wonderful ball into the box which was met by Shinya Yajima, admittedly not the person you really want winning headers in the opposition box, and he forced Kim Jin-hyeon into action, tipping his effort over for a corner. Usami is still fighting, it’s time for his team-mates to step up too.

Oh, and one last thing, I loved the portmanteau 山ンバ (Yamamba) I saw on Twitter last weekend, hopefully I get to see it many more times in the years ahead.

Team News
Kim Young-gwon, Ju Se-jong and Gen Shoji should all be back in the mix after returning from international duty. Kim and Shoji’s returns, in particular, are welcome in the wake of Genta Miura getting stretchered off in last Sunday’s Levain Cup quarter-final second leg. Gamba’s skipper twisted his right knee awkwardly following a collision with Riki Matsuda and after initially trying to get back to his feet, he lay down once again for treatment and needed to be helped from the field meaning Yosuke Ideguchi had to fill in as a makeshift central defender. At the moment it’s unclear how serious the injury is, but it didn’t look great at the time. Miura’s centre-back partner for the evening Shunya Suganuma is available, but may be given a few weeks on the naughty step for his underwhelming efforts at keeping Cerezo at bay (I’m being very polite here). Some good news is that Ryu Takao is back after five weeks out with an ankle injury. However, Yuya Fukuda (hamstring), Dai Tsukamoto (thigh) and Wellington Silva (groin) are still on the treatment table with no date yet given for their returns while Jun Ichimori and Haruto Shirai continue to go through rehabilitation programs for their long-term injuries.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





Vegalta Sendai


Sendai’s summer transfer work suggests they’re running low on cash reserves, with only Cayman Togashi, a forward Teguramori knows from his time at Nagasaki, and centre-back Naoya Fukumori to be found in the arrivals lounge. Togashi started off his professional career reasonably well with Yokohama F. Marinos back in 2016, but has since developed a reputation as a hard-working forward who struggles to find the back of the net, and frankly with Shuhei Akasaki and Yusuke Minagawa already on their books, that is the last thing Vegalta needed more of. Fukumori, on the other hand, made a grand total of 19 J1 appearances across two-and-a-half seasons with Oita and Shimizu, yet he’s waltzed right into the heart of Sendai’s backline, starting all four games since coming on-board. If you contrast this with, say, Júbilo Iwata in J2, who acquired Makito Ito and Ryo Takano from Marinos, plus Shota Kaneko from S-Pulse this summer, which team do you think are playing with the bigger transfer kitty? From a Sendai perspective, perhaps the most worrying thing is that if they do go down this year, they may struggle to bounce back anytime soon.

Makoto Teguramori likes operating with a back four, generally in a 4-4-2 system, but occasionally 4-2-3-1 when necessary. However, in a similar vein to fellow strugglers, Oita and Yokohama FC, Vegalta have reached the stage of the season where plans A, B and C have failed and all available metrics point to an impending relegation, so they’ve figured they might as well throw the playbook out the window, and they could be all the more dangerous as a result. After their 5-0 shellacking at the hands of Yokohama F. Marinos in round 25, Teguramori ditched 4-4-2 in favour of 4-2-3-1 for the home loss to FC Tokyo before getting very experimental with a 3-4-2-1 in the following match versus Tosu, whether this is just akin to shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic remains to be seen. If I were to throw in my tuppence worth, they should look to get Brazilian forward Felippe Cardoso and Ghanaian winger Emmanuel Oti involved more. While that duo may not have the kind of rigid tactical discipline their coach is looking for, they might possess an x-factor their team-mates don’t and that, at the moment, appears to be the only possible salvation for Sendai.

Team News
As alluded to above, this will be Sendai’s first outing in a fortnight so it’s possible the players mentioned below could have recovered from any injuries they were suffering from. I actually don’t have any confirmed absentees, though both Chihiro Kato and Emmanuel Oti have been missing from the squad for the past three matchdays while Ryoma Kida and Foguinho were subbed at half-time against FC Tokyo on 25 August and weren’t selected for the following match at home to Sagan Tosu. Whether that decision was tactical, or down to fitness issues remains to be seen.

Predicted Lineups and Stats





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

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J1 Predicted Lineups Post Transfer Window Update

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,

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1j6HTKFF38A3cAz7sqw3jfZ4f6y8soAgOjfXqKR3fNCM/

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!

Kawasaki Frontale

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


Gamba Osaka


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


Nagoya Grampus

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


Cerezo Osaka

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


Kashima Antlers


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


FC Tokyo

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


Kashiwa Reysol

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


Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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.**


Oita Trinita

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.


Sagan Tosu

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


Vissel Kobe

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


Yokohama FC


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


Shimizu S-Pulse

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


Vegalta Sendai


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


Shonan Bellmare

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


Tokushima Vortis


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


Avispa Fukuoka


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

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Vegalta Sendai vs Gamba Osaka 3 August 2021 Mini Preview

Vegalta Sendai vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 5
Yurtec Stadium, Sendai
Tuesday 3 August
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)


Gamba Osaka, J1’s best away side in 2020, come into this tie at Vegalta Sendai looking for a fourth road win of the year in what is a crucial clash for both teams. A Nerazzurri triumph would draw them level with faltering city rivals Cerezo and perhaps more crucially put them 9 points ahead of Tuesday night’s hosts, Sendai.

A bruising 2-0 victory away to Sapporo on Friday evening came thanks to Shinya Yajima’s first league goal since the opening day of last year, fittingly on his 100th J1 outing, and a second strike in as many games from Leandro Pereira. Wellington Silva earned plaudits for his outstanding attacking endeavours in the opening stanza while captain Genta Miura was the target of some supporter ire for failing to press the referee into a VAR review following poor challenges by both Chanathip and Lucas Fernandes that only resulted in yellow cards being shown.

I mentioned in my preview of the Sapporo game that although Gamba may be tiring due to their intense summer schedule, their opposition on the other hand, would find it tough to gel instantly following a lengthy mid-season break. Sendai last played competitively on July 10th, and in the time they’ve been away, Gamba have racked up 9 points in 5 matches, which has placed Vegalta and their coach Makoto Teguramori under a huge amount of duress. Will Sendai’s fresh, but potentially disjointed troops prevail and pull themselves level with Kashiwa and Tokushima, or can Gamba, rotated and slightly weary, but crucially battle ready, gain the upper hand?

Tale of the Tape

Gamba were able to take advantage of the clear cut opportunities always afforded to Sapporo’s opponents to earn another good xG For score on Friday night. Things are ticking along nicely in that direction and it should be pointed out that despite finishing 2nd last season, they only averaged 1.35 goals for per match, so they don’t have a massive amount of distance to go to reach similar levels this year. In 2020, Patric (9), Ademilson, Usami and Kazuma Watanabe (all 6) combined for 27 league goals while this time round Patric and Pereira (both 4) and Usami (3) are the leading marksmen. The Gamba attack needs a fourth horseman to step up. Can Kazunari Ichimi be the man, or is it time for stage two of the summer recruitment plan to be unveiled?

Sendai’s Yurtec Stadium was something of a fortress in Susumu Watanabe’s final year in charge in 2019, however, the yellow and blues didn’t win a single match at home last year which saw the end of Takashi Kiyama and would have brought the curtain down on Vegalta’s 11 year run in the top flight had it not been for relegation getting scrapped due to Covid. In 2021 they have managed to see off Kashiwa and Oita on home soil and come into this game in a reasonable run of form, losing only 1 of their previous 5 matches in Miyagi, a disappointing 3-2 reverse against Shimizu. Their stats suggest that they concede a high number of good quality chances per game in general, but particularly at home and the Gamba attack, buoyed by recent displays, will be looking to take full advantage.





Head to Head

A pair of completely contrasting results between these two last year that some may label as being ‘classic JLeague.’ Gamba routed Sendai away in September, the only time they netted more than twice in J1 in 2020. Alexandre Guedes opened the scoring for the hosts early on, but Gamba quickly turned the tables thanks to Yuki Yamamoto, making his first J1 start, and Ademilson. Takuma Nishimura then had his first half penalty saved by Masaaki Higashiguchi following a harsh handball decision against Kosuke Onose, and Vegalta were made to pay late on as a result of Shu Kurata’s screamer and Yosuke Ideguchi’s coup de grâce.

Sendai got payback and more at Panasonic Stadium with their first ever league win in Suita coming courtesy of a Shun Nagasawa inspired 4-0 cakewalk. The ex-Gamba hitman, and Sam Robson’s favourite J1 striker bagged a hat-trick before Takahiro Yanagi put the final nail in Gamba’s coffin late on.


Gamba Osaka

Ryu Takao’s ankle injury has thrown the rotation system up in the air as Shoji, Kim and Onose are all due a rest, but at least 2 of the 3 will likely have to start here. As laid out above, getting 3 points from this clash is of vital importance to Gamba whereas Friday night’s home fixture with Yokohama F.Marinos might be seen as something more akin to a free swing and as such I’ve picked as strong a team as possible with rotation taken into account. Players such as Yanagisawa, Ideguchi and Sato could force their way into the eleven if they’ve regained full fitness, but I’m banking on Matsunami sticking with the tried and tested for this one. Patric or Pereira as the lone striker is essentially a 50/50 choice.

Transfer Gossip Update
In my last preview I reported that out-of-favour Kashima full-back Daiki Sugioka could be a possible target for Gamba. However, the Japanese media are now linking him with a loan move to former side Shonan. At the moment I don’t have the names of any credible transfer targets, but I’ll keep you posted if anything crops up.

One player seemingly headed for the Gamba exit door is Tiago Alves, now completely out of the picture due to poor performances and foreigner restrictions. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the upper echelons of **cough cough Kofu** J2 sometime soon.

Team News
Ryu Takao‘s horror run of injuries continued against Sapporo when a heavy challenge left him with what Gamba supporters will hope is ‘only’ a sprained ankle, it could be much worse though, and don’t expect him back for a few weeks at the very least. Yosuke Ideguchi and Yota Sato were both absent again for the Consadole game and I’m unsure whether it is injury, a general lack of fitness or Covid that is keeping them out. As mentioned last time, Hiroki Fujiharu, Yuya Fukuda, Yuji Ono and Dai Tsukamoto all have leg muscle injuries with no return date yet given. Backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori and young wing-backs Haruto Shirai and Shin Won-ho are long term casualties.

Predicted Lineups and Stats




Vegalta Sendai

It was announced on Saturday (July 31st) that Sendai and Curaçao international winger Quenten Martinus had mutually agree to terminate his contract. Truth be told it didn’t come as much of a surprise as the ex-Marinos and Urawa man has often cut a frustrated figure this year and there were strong rumours that he and kantoku Makoto Teguramori didn’t see eye to eye.

As you can see below, there aren’t exactly a host of household names in this Vegalta lineup, however, that’s not to say they have no talent in their ranks. For instance, on the right flank you’ll find Chihiro Kato (Ryutsu Keizai Univ.) and Takumi Mase (Hannan Univ.), a pair of rookies who’ve quietly impressed in tough circumstances. Jakub Słowik was my pick for J1 goalkeeper of the half season when I was on the J Talk Podcast a few weeks back and the Pole is one of the main reasons why his side have overperformed xG Against at home by almost 0.4 goals per game. Forward Takuma Nishimura has looked like a pale imitation of the player who earned a move to CSKA Moscow back in 2018, but he still poses a threat when in the mood. I’m also intrigued by the loan signing of tall Brazilian striker Felippe Cardoso from Santos, though he’s yet to deliver anything on the field since his quarantine delayed arrival.

Team News
Central midfielder Foguinho has missed the past 4 league games for Sendai though I haven’t seen any injury reported. The distinctively bearded Brazilian appeared to have steadied things in the middle of the park for Vegalta, so if fully fit, expect him to start. Despite offloading Martinus, Sendai still have 6 foreigners on their books, so if Foguinho does indeed return then expect either, backup goalie Nedeljko Stojišić (I’m not too sure on the wisdom of using up 2 foreigner spots with goalkeepers) or former captain Simão Mate, currently a shadow of his 2019 self, to make way. Elsewhere veteran winger Kunimitsu Sekiguchi went off injured in Vegalta’s previous outing, a 1-1 draw at home to Sapporo, but I have no details on how serious that knock was.

Predicted Lineup and Stats




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

Categories
sport

J1 2021 Appearance Data and Statistics

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.

Finally, some people have asked where I get my data, so here are a few of the resources I use…
https://www.football-lab.jp/
https://sporteria.jp/
https://us.soccerway.com/national/japan/j1-league/2021/regular-season/r61498/
https://www.flashscore.com/
https://www.transfermarkt.com/j1-league/startseite/wettbewerb/JAP1
https://www.jleague.jp/sp/en/
And of course my trusty Soccer Digest Yearbook…
https://www.cdjapan.co.jp/product/NEOBK-2586671



Kawasaki Frontale

Comment: The juggernaut has continued steamrollering opponents just as it did last season. Surely the best side in the history of the JLeague.



Gamba Osaka

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.



Nagoya Grampus

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.



Cerezo Osaka

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.



Kashima Antlers

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.



FC Tokyo

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.



Kashiwa Reysol

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.



Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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.



Yokohama F.Marinos


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.



Oita Trinita

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.


Sagan Tosu

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.



Vissel Kobe


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.



Yokohama FC

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.



Shimizu S-Pulse

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.



Vegalta Sendai


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.



Shonan Bellmare

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.



Tokushima Vortis

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.



Avispa Fukuoka


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.




Categories
sport

J1 Lineups Updated Version end of round 6

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!

Kawasaki Frontale

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)


Gamba Osaka

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)


Nagoya Grampus

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)


Cerezo Osaka

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)


Kashima Antlers

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)


FC Tokyo

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)


Kashiwa Reysol

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)

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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)


Yokohama F.Marinos

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)


Oita Trinita

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)


Sagan Tosu

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)


Vissel Kobe

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)


Yokohama FC

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)


Shimizu S-Pulse

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)


Vegalta Sendai

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)


Shonan Bellmare

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)


Tokushima Vortis

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)


Avispa Fukuoka

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)

Categories
sport

J1 2021 Predicted Lineups

**Important Update**Important Update**Important Update**

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1j6HTKFF38A3cAz7sqw3jfZ4f6y8soAgOjfXqKR3fNCM/edit#gid=0

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…

Kawasaki Frontale

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.


Gamba Osaka

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.


Nagoya Grampus

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.


Cerezo Osaka

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.


Kashima Antlers

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.


FC Tokyo

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.


Kashiwa Reysol

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.


Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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.


Yokohama F.Marinos

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?


Oita Trinita

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.


Sagan Tosu

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.


Vissel Kobe

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.


Yokohama FC

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.


Shimizu S-Pulse

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).


Vegalta Sendai

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.


Shonan Bellmare

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.


Tokushima Vortis

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.


Avispa Fukuoka

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.

Categories
sport

Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai 14 November 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai
J1 2020 Round 27
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 14 November 15:00

Last Time Out


Gamba weren’t at their best, but still had enough in the tank to eek out a 1-0 home win over a second-string Vissel Kobe on Wednesday night. Fresh from an 8-day gap between fixtures, Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made just one change to the side which drew at Cerezo, and it was a surprising one. Star-man Yosuke Ideguchi was missing from the matchday squad after picking up a knock in training on Monday and attempting to fill his giant boots was J1 debutant Kohei Okuno. Elsewhere, Kim Young-gwon had overcome the knee injury which forced him off the field early in the Osaka Derby and there was a return to the bench for Gen Shoji after he’d missed the previous 4 games. However, captain Genta Miura was mysteriously absent having made his comeback just last week.

Vissel had the better of the opening exchanges against a sluggish Gamba, however, they were unable to punish their sloppy hosts. Daiju Sasaki wasted two very presentable openings, the second of which prompted me to write ‘Gamba need to waken up’ in my notes. Waken up they did as a mere two minutes later Usami and Patric combined before the Brazilian’s shot was deflected off Ryuho Kikuchi and past the despairing dive of Daiya Maekawa for the game’s only goal.

The home side were much livelier in the second half, I was particularly impressed with Yuki Yamamoto who took up the mantle of the absent Ideguchi well and was ably supported by his partner for the evening, Okuno. On the hour mark Vissel introduced Iniesta, Furuhashi and Hotaru Yamaguchi which gave Gamba’s young midfield duo an excellent opportunity to test themselves against some of the best J1 has to offer. For a large part of the final 20 minutes Gamba sat in their solid defensive shape while Kobe passed from side to side without really penetrating. Another substitute, Noriaki Fujimoto wasted Vissel’s one decent chance, slicing well wide under pressure from Kim Young-gwon. There was a second J1 debut of the evening for the Nerazzurri with highly-rated young prospect Shoji Toyama replacing Patric for the final 6 minutes plus additional time. All-in-all a pleasing night’s work, Gamba have broken their home duck against Vissel and are now unbeaten in 12 J1 games heading in to Saturday’s visit from bottom side Vegalta Sendai.


Gamba Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai

Gamba come into this encounter with 18th placed Sendai looking to extend their already outstanding unbeaten run to 13 games. The Nerazzurri took their win tally to 17 against Kobe in midweek meaning they’ve equalled their total from the 2016 season and currently lie just 2 away from the 19 victories that propelled them to the J1 title back in 2014. Just as in that memorable campaign a tight rearguard has proven to be essential. Gamba boast the third stingiest defence in J1 at the moment (behind Kawasaki and Nagoya) letting in just 1.04 per game and indeed the only time they’ve conceded less than a goal a game in an 18-team top flight they were crowned champions (31 in 34 games back in 2014).

After their usual ropey start at home this year when they lost 5 of their opening 8 matches, the ship has been well and truly steadied with the Nerazzurri going on a run of 5 wins and 1 draw since the shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of Shonan back on September 13th. They currently have the 4th best home record in the division with 25 points from 14 matches and at present only Kaswasaki and Nagoya (those two again) have bettered their 8 wins on home soil. Once again we can see solid defence has laid the foundations of this improvement with only 4 goals conceded in the last 6 home ties, two clean sheets (out of a total of 3 at home this year) have been kept in that run too with no opponent able to score more than once in a single game. After Saturday’s encounter, only Tosu (16th) and Shimizu (17th) are due in Suita for league duties so Gamba will surely be optimistic about closing out their home fixtures with no further slip-ups.

The defence seems to be earning all the plaudits in this particular match preview, but Gamba will be confident of playing much of this game on the front foot, particularly after running up a season best 4-1 scoreline in the away fixture. Brazilian striker Patric enjoyed a physical tussle with Kobe’s Dankler and Ryuho Kikuchi on Wednesday and came out on top with his winning goal his 3rd strike in Gamba’s last 5 outings. The powerful forward moved level with Kazuma Watanabe and compatriot Ademilson at the top of the team’s goalscoring charts. Each player currently sits on 6 goals, Gamba’s previous lowest figure for a top scorer in an 18-team top division is the 9 scored by Ademilson and Shun Nagasawa in 2016. It will be interesting to see if any of Gamba’s attackers can go on a scoring spree in the final 7 games of the year to overtake that total.

Now to our visitors to Sendai who have found themselves in all kinds of strife this year. They currently prop up the standings having won just twice all season, they have well documented financial problems, an injury crisis, supporter unrest and recently had to fire talented winger Ryohei Michibuchi after a domestic violence incident. One small crumb of comfort for our visitors from Miyagi is the fact that both of their league wins in 2020 have come on the road, 1-0 at Shonan on July 4th and a surprise 2-1 at Vissel Kobe on August 8th. However, they have now gone over 3 months since their last victory and have failed to score in 6 of their previous 7 outings.

Vegalta had the worst away record in J1 last season with just 3 wins and 1 draw all year and the absence of home supporters for much of this campaign seems to have caused them to bring that form home with them. Kantoku Takashi Kiyama arrived from Montedio Yamagata last winter after performing well in J2, however, in my season preview back in February I warned things could go a bit Alan Curbishley at Charlton following the rather harsh dismissal of Susumu Watanabe, and it’s proven to be the case. The Tokohu side possess the 3rd worst defence in the league with only Shimizu and Kobe (both 55) conceding more (it should be noted that Kobe have let in 3 more, but played an extra 5 games). At the other end, only Shonan (22) have found the back of the net less than Vegalta (23) and Alexandre Guedes’ 5 strikes is a league low for a team’s individual top scorer.

Last week Sendai were blown away 3-0 at home by Sagan Tosu which caused some of their Ultra supporters to surround the team bus for over an hour after the game. That result was undoubtedly one of their worst this year, a recent 6-0 drubbing at Urawa, the aforementioned 4-1 battering by Gamba, 5-1 away at Kashiwa and 3-0 at home to Oita have all been tough for their supporters to take. That doesn’t tell the whole story though as 10 of their 16 losses this season have been by a single goal, indeed the home defeats at the hands of Kawasaki and Cerezo (both 2-3) and Yokohama F.Marinos (0-1) have all been gut punches, while they performed extremely well in their 1-0 reversal at champions elect Frontale.

As alluded to earlier, consistently hitting the back of the net has been an issue for Vegalta all year. They’ve only scored more than once in a single game 6 times in 26 outings, in both matches against the notoriously bad defences of Sapporo and Kobe and also more surprisingly against Kawasaki and Cerezo, the number 1 and 4 ranked backlines in J1 respectively. They’ve only scored more than once twice on their travels this year while Gamba have only conceded more than once at home three times, the last being the controversial match at home to FC Tokyo on August 29th. Can Sendai fans come into this game with any kind of optimism or will Gamba simply run away with things?

Head to Head

I actually had a ticket for this match on it’s originally scheduled date of March 1st and had written over 50% of my preview for that game when the league was halted due to COVID-19. In my research (I believe Dan Orlowitz and Lionel Piguet helped me out) I uncovered the stat that Sendai have never defeated Gamba in a league game in Osaka. Their lone “away” win came in a match played in Kanazawa back in 2003, I’m glad I finally got the opportunity to put that in my blog! Gamba have won the previous 2 home matches against Vegalta without conceding and I’ve been in attendance for both, I’m not sure why Tosu and Sendai games seem to always conveniently fall when I’m not working.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

As mentioned above, in-form midfield maestro Yosuke Ideguchi was a surprising absentee against Kobe and will definitely miss this game, it’s unclear when he will be fit enough to return. Gen Shoji is now available for selection, but a cloud of uncertainty surrounds Genta Miura who played 30 minutes of the Osaka Derby then missed out completely against Vissel. Two players definitely out are Yuji Ono (knee -season) and Ademilson (club suspension).

Vegalta Sendai

One title Vegalta could definitely lay claim to this year is J1’s longest injury list. On-loan FC Tokyo defender Takahiro Yanagi (hip), full-back Koji Hachisuka (thigh) and central midfielder Yoshiki Matsushita (hamstring) have all been missing since the 6-0 hammering at Urawa on October 18th, Matsushita, in particular, has had a rough time fitness wise this year. Club legend Shingo Tomita has missed the whole season with a cruciate knee ligament problem, veteran Shingo Hyodo (thigh) last appeared against Cerezo on September 27th, versatile former Sanfrecce player Kyohei Yoshino has been absent since September 9th with a dislocated shoulder and wide forward Ryo Germain (broken foot) was last in action against Yokohama F.Marinos on September 23rd. Attacker Takuma Nishimura was last picked against Sapporo on October 3rd, but no injury has been reported while Sendai selected 2 goalkeepers among their reserves for the 3-0 home loss to Tosu suggesting that, centre-back Hayato Teruyama, midfielder Wataru Tanaka, Cerezo-loanee Hiroto Yamada and regular backup ‘keeper Yuma Obata are struggling with fitness issues. Top scorer Alexandre Guedes left the field early last weekend and his status is unknown.

Predicted Line Ups

With a week’s rest ahead of their next J1 fixture away at Urawa, I expect a pretty strong Gamba lineup here despite the tight turnaround from the Kobe match. Shinya Yajima could start ahead of Okuno due to the youngster’s recent heavy workload and it’s also possible we’ll see Kazuma Watanabe in for either Patric or Usami. Yuya Fukuda seems to be the bona fide first choice at left-back these days, though Hiroki Fujiharu remains an option. I’ve gone for Shoji ahead of Suganuma at centre-back, though Miyamoto may opt for the latter as he doesn’t want to tinker with a winning team too much.



With all of Sendai’s injury woes, I’ve basically just gone with the players I know to be definitely fit and ready for this game. Fitness problems have hit them particularly hard in the full-back positions, central midfield and attack so basically if anyone mentioned in the ‘Team News’ section is back they stand a good chance of being selected for this match. The most likely variation to the starting eleven you see below is probably Shuhei Akasaki to partner Nagasawa in attack against one of his many former sides, though Takayoshi Ishihara’s versatility could reward him with a starting berth and I’m sure centre-back Kim Jung-ya would love game time against the side he made 70 J1 appearances for between 2011-2017.



Match Prediction

Vegalta come into this one the fresher of the two sides, but that’s the only area where they really have an edge. I was there for a comfortable 2-0 Gamba win in the sunshine at Panasonic Stadium last November and I believe history will repeat itself this Saturday afternoon, leaving Sendai still searching for a first league triumph in Suita.

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sport

Vegalta Sendai 1-4 Gamba Osaka 5 September 2020 and weekly round up

Once again a shout out to @vegalta_blog who helped me write the preview for this match. Please check out his site https://vegaltasendaienglishblog.wordpress.com/ for the Sendai take on things.

The Match

Gamba got back to winning ways with a comfortable road win at struggling Vegalta Sendai on Saturday night. The 4-1 triumph takes their away record to 14 points from 6 matches and moves them back up to 6th in J1 with games in hand over most of the teams ahead. The 3 goal margin of victory was the Nerazzurri’s biggest this year and also marked the first time they had scored more than twice in a league match in 2020.

Kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made a couple of changes to the side that went down to FC Tokyo the previous weekend. There was a first J1 start for Yuki Yamamoto at the base of the midfield while Shu Kurata came in for Ryu Takao. There was also a positional switch with Kosuke Onose moving back into Takao’s spot at right wing-back, the now peroxide-blonde Yosuke Ideguchi moved from left to right central midfield to accommodate Kurata. Shinya Yajima dropped out of the matchday squad altogether, hopefully to get some much needed rest while there was bad news regarding Yuji Ono. The off-season recruit from Tosu damaged the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in training and will require surgery that will surely rule him out of the rest of the 2020 campaign.

This game got off to a flier with 3 goals in the opening 15 minutes. Sendai, with left-winger Takuma Nishimura prominent, started stronger and forced a couple of corners in the opening passages of play. The second of the two saw them take the lead. Takuma Hamasaki swung it in and Alexandre Guedes rose unmarked to head past Higashiguchi, a rare goal conceded from a corner by Gamba and there will surely be a post-mortem at training on Monday. The away side were quickly back in control and Yuki Yamamoto made sure his first J1 start was a memorable one just four minutes after Guedes’ opener. Good play down the right involving Onose and Ideguchi saw the ball fed to Usami in the box, Gamba’s talisman was outnumbered and the ball broke off a Sendai player to the edge of the area. Kurata challenged for it and again the ball fell Gamba’s way, this time for Yamamoto who coolly turned onto his right-foot past Sendai’s stand-in skipper Kyohei Yoshino and rifled home a shot low to Jakub Slowik’s right-hand side. Game on!

Next, Ademilson struck his fourth J1 goal of the year to give Gamba the lead after just a quarter of an hour. Usami had his shot blocked and from the resulting corner he found the head of captain Genta Miura, the centre-back flicked on and Ade found himself totally unmarked to loop an awkward looking header over and across Slowik into the net. Koji Hachisuka and Keiya Shiihashi looked at each other with confusion about what had gone wrong and Vegalta, like Gamba, will need to work on defending corners a bit better going forward.

Back in front, Gamba began to sit back more and soak up some Sendai pressure, Guedes forced Higashiguchi into an excellent save low to his right in the 17th minute, but in truth the home side, while looking spritely in patches, never presented a consistent threat. They would, however, be handed a golden opportunity to level things up before half time from the penalty spot (I’ll go into the rights and wrongs of the award in the analysis section below). Again a Hamasaki corner caused problems, Onose jumped with Guedes, both players had their arms up for leverage but the ball appeared to miss both and cannoned into the helpless Ademilson behind and the referee had no hesitation but to point to the spot for handball. Nishimura stepped up and just like Leandro the previous week aimed low to Higashiguchi’s right, unfortunately for the men from Miyagi, he didn’t get it far enough into the corner and Gamba’s number 1 ensured justice was served. 2-1 Gamba half time.

The second half followed the same pattern as the end of the first with Sendai controlling possession and having the bulk of the chances, but save for Nishimura’s header over after a terrific bustling run from right-back Takahiro Yanagi, they didn’t look like getting back on level terms. After making a few changes midway through the half, Vegalta looked like they were gearing up for a late push, but instead they found themselves stunned by Gamba’s riposte. 17 minutes from time Yamamoto’s innocuous looking cross-field header was allowed to bounce by two Sendai defenders, Kurata won it, cut inside and unleashed a fine strike past Slowik from just outside the box, check-mate to Gamba. Twelve minutes later they would finish things off decisively. Ideguchi started the move and played in substitute Kazuma Watanabe in the inside left channel, the veteran forward squared for fellow replacement Patric. The Brazilian tussled with Vegalta’s returning captain Simao Mate, those of a Sendai persuasion may have a case for a foul here, but the ball broke off the falling Simao into the path of Ideguchi who made no mistake from 5 yards out.

Young Shuhei Kawasaki got the final few minutes of action and managed a couple of nice touches, an ambitious shot and a bit of pushing and shoving with ex-Gamba forward Shun Nagasawa (who stands a solid 24cm taller than him) and Kyohei Yoshino. Full-time, job done, 4-1 and on to another injury ravaged side, Kashiwa Reysol, on Wednesday.

Analysis

* Following on from my non-deliberate handball rant after the FC Tokyo game, more of the same tonight. It’s something that’s been a bug bear of mine for a long time and I’d enjoy hearing others in the JLeague English community’s views on this….should non-deliberate handballs in the box where the ball is not travelling towards goal result in a penalty? My view is no, a direct or indirect free-kick would be a more fitting punishment, what do you think?
* Yuki Yamamoto got a first start at the base of Gamba’s midfield in this game and he has definitely gone some way to addressing my concerns over a lack of depth in central midfield. Ideguchi is clearly a class above and essentially undroppable, but, in Yamamoto, it looks like we have someone who can give Yajima a break every so often, especially against, with the greatest respect to Sendai, bottom half opposition. Despite his well-taken goal, his performance was by no means perfect. I liked his range of passing, but his positioning and combination play with his fellow midfielders will understandably take time to develop.
* Continuing with the positive noises about young midfielders, it was great to see young Shuhei Kawasaki get a few minutes at the end of the game. He played with the verve and swagger of someone who didn’t have a care in the world and with Yuji Ono out for the rest of the year he is surely likely to become a regular on the bench, coming on to give the likes of Kurata and Onose a breather in the latter parts of games.
* Although the scoreline looks great on paper and energy levels were definitely higher than in previous games, I’m going to hold off on declaring Gamba being back to their best. Sendai were a step slower than most of out recent opponents and as a result we found it much easier to get the ball into dangerous areas and take advantage of sloppy play. As I’ll cover in my upcoming preview, Kashiwa, like Vegalta, don’t have their injury troubles to seek, and next Sunday we play basement dwellers Shonan at home (without their excellent on-loan ‘keeper), ask me after those games if the Nerazzurri are a force to be reckoned with.
* The final part of this analysis I promise, Masaaki Higashiguchi’s fine early block from Guedes and his later penalty save from Nishimura got me thinking….is there a more on-form ‘keeper in J1 2020 than Gamba’s stopper. FC Tokyo’s fans may point to Akihiro Hayashi, though he did lose his place for a few games, Kawasaki’s Jung Sung-ryong ‘suffers’ from the fact his team is so good and he doesn’t have much to do, I could accept an argument that overall Cerezo’s Kim Jin-hyeon is better than Higashiguchi, but he’s made a few uncharacteristic errors this year. Nagoya’s Australian Mitch Langerak has looked great when I’ve seen him and is the only rival to Masaaki for this title in my opinion, so…please tell me, what do you think?

Gamba MVP

Yosuke Ideguchi again. He was omnipresent once again, his engine and work rate are incredible. I really hope he can keep going and doesn’t break down with an injury, otherwise we’ll really struggle. I was delighted for him when he capped off a superb performance with a goal. Hamasaki and Shiihashi will be happy they don’t have to face him every week and while he’s not quite back to the form he showed before his move to Europe, he must be in Hajime Moriyasu’s thoughts for Japan’s next squad, whenever that is named.

U23 Round Up

An experienced Under 23 side featuring 4 overage players, GK Jun Ichimori, centre-backs Shunya Suganuma and Ryo Shinzato, as well as attacker Daisuke Takagi, went down to a disappointing 3-1 defeat to Fujieda MYFC. Despite taking an early lead when Kohei Okuno headed home Ren Shibamoto’s corner, the Shizuoka side were level at the break following Tsubasa Yoshihara’s 3rd goal of the season. The same player then put Fujieda in front just before the hour mark and Tsugutoshi Oishi made sure of things in additional time after young Ko Ise was dispossessed in midfield.

Categories
sport

Vegalta Sendai vs Gamba Osaka Match Preview 5 September 2020

Vegalta Sendai vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 14
Yurtec Stadium Sendai
Saturday 5 September 18:30 (JST)


Round 14 of J1 2020 sees me collaborate with another fan as @vegalta_blog – author of the excellent https://vegaltasendaienglishblog.wordpress.com/ gives us a deep insight into Vegalta Sendai, our next opponents. As always comments and feedback are welcomed, I’ve not been to Panasonic Stadium since February so I’ve really enjoyed interacting with fellow JLeague fans online recently.

The Lowdown

Neither side comes into this clash in great form, both having only won once in their previous five J1 games. Sendai, who made the Yurtec such a fortress in 2019 have failed to win in six home ties this time round, while Gamba, who only took 20 points on the road last year have four wins and a draw from their five away games thus far in 2020.

Vegalta are under new leadership this year with former Montedio Yamagata coach Takashi Kiyama taking over from the long-serving Susumu Watanabe and he’s endured a tough baptism. Long-term injuries to key players such as captain Simao Mate and left-winger Isaac Cuenca have definitely hindered the pace of the side’s development under their new coach. Additionally Kiyama has tried to move away from the rigid 4-4-2 employed by his predecessor and instead is currently operating a 4-2-1-2-1 or 4-3-3, depending on your preference. From the outside I think I can see what he’s trying to do, but similarly to Ange Postecoglou’s first year in Yokohama, as of yet he doesn’t have the right balance in the squad to play the kind of football he wants. It will surely take at least one more off-season before he can mould the team into his image.

Despite not boasting a great record away against Sendai in the past couple of years Gamba will come into this game as favourites. Vegalta’s record of 11 points from the first 12 games which has included only 2 victories (1-0 at bottom club Shonan in round 2 and a surprise 2-1 win at Jekyll and Hyde Kobe last month) means they are on paper the weakest side we’ve faced for some time. With this being the start of a three game week and fixtures away to Kashiwa (Wednesday) and home to Shonan (next Sunday) following quickly there may be a temptation to rotate the squad, but I feel in a bid to regain some momentum, Miyamoto will field a pretty strong starting eleven for this one.

Tactically, Urawa and Tokyo have shown other J1 sides the blueprint of how to play against Gamba in Suita. However, as the Nerazzurri are set up to play on the counter attack, so far it’s proven harder for teams to get the upper hand in their home clashes with the men in blue and black. In our previous away tie at Kashima, Patric was used effectively as a long ball option which meant we could clear our lines quicker, it’s possible a similar tactic could be used here. I’d also expect Kosuke Onose to move back to the right wing to provide a more attacking threat than Ryu Takao could offer last week, while it’s likely that Yuya Fukuda could come in for Hiroki Fujiharu, who has looked decent going forward, but has been plagued by uncharacteristic errors at the back in recent weeks.

Head to Head

Gamba have come out second best in their last two trips to Sendai, both by a scoreline of 2-1. Kim Young-gwon netted his only Gamba goal to date to give the Nerazzurri an early lead in round 9 last year, but Katsuya Nagato’s deflected strike in first half injury time, followed by Shun Nagasawa’s winner against his former charges in the 91st minute swung things in the home side’s favour. This was a case of déjà vu for both teams as in the same fixture in 2018 Kazuma Watanabe fired Gamba into a first half lead only for two Sendai goals in the space of four second half minutes to turn the tables. Prior to that Gamba had won three in a row at the Yurtec Stadium, scoring three times in each game. Vegalta, on the other hand, have never won a league match in Suita.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

No new injury concerns to report, Ryo Shinzato is still believed to be out, but elsewhere only fatigue seems to be an issue amongst the squad with captain Genta Miura, midfielders Shinya Yajima and Yosuke Ideguchi as well as star forward Takashi Usami surely due a rest soon. Should they be given a breather, excellent U23 attacking duo Shuhei Kawasaki and Shoji Toyama could be options to come into the squad, as could Ren Shibamoto whose return to the U23 ranks has co-incided with an upshoot in their form. At the back Riku Matsuda will be looking to come back into the top team set up and left-sided defenders Tatsuya Yamaguchi and Keisuke Kurokawa will surely be thirsty for J1 game time.

Vegalta Sendai

Vegalta certainly don’t have their injury troubles to seek coming into this one with no fewer than six first-teamers on the treatment table. Club legend Shingo Tomita is out for the year with knee trouble while captain and inspiration Simao Mate hasn’t featured since the league’s re-start in June. Further forward, off-season recruit from Tosu, Isaac Cuenca has missed the entire campaign to date with an ankle problem. Attackers Ryo Germain and Shuhei Akasaki as well as sitting midfielder Yoshiki Matsushita have all picked up knocks in recent weeks which have put them out of contention. I can’t find any confirmation on the status of special designated player Hisashi Appiah Tawiah who seemed to be struggling with a slight injury at the end of the defeat by Yokohama F.Marinos at the beginning of August or right-sided midfielder Ryohei Michibuchi, but my feeling is they are probably unavailable for selection at the moment.

Know Your Opponent – Vegalta Sendai

Kantoku: Takashi Kiyama, Appointed: 1 February 2020, Record: P 12 W 2 D 5 L 5 F 13 A 19 Points Per Game 0.92 Failed to Score 2 Clean Sheets 2

Thanks again to @vegalta_blog for his brilliant rundown on the Vegalta squad which you can read below. Please check out his blog for recent Sendai match previews and reports.

#24 Jakub SLOWIK – The Polish goalkeeper joined Vegalta Sendai after the departure of Daniel Schmidt to Belgium. He has provided trustworthy and reliable goalkeeping performances for Sendai. Unarguably, Vegalta Sendai would have gotten 4-5 points less without him between the sticks. His commanding presence is outstanding. You could hear him shouting at his teammates throughout the game.

#36 YANAGI Takahiro – 23-year-old loanee from FC Tokyo. Yanagi played under Kiyama at Montedio Yamagata last season. Kiyama brought him in as an emergency replacement for Masato Tokida, who was uncomfortable at the left full-back position. He said that Kiyama taught him the philosophy of aggressive football. He can play on both flanks, but Kiyama mostly uses him on the right and deploys Hachisuka on his opposite side. Gamba Osaka will definitely need to watch out for Yanagi’s contribution and link up play with Mase Takumi down the right.

#16 YOSHINO Kyohei – New signing from Sanfrecce Hiroshima last winter, Yoshino Kyohei is one of only two players who have started every single league game since the restart. He can play either as a center-back or holding midfielder. His interception rate is exceptional, but his weakness is one-on-one defending. A strong striker like Patric could win a duel against him often.

#13 HIRAOKA Yasuhiro – Hiraoka is a veteran center-back who retook his place after losing it early last year. His partnership with Simao Mate was arguably the most critical element that helped us avoid relegation. His aerial presence was outstanding last season, but Vegalta Sendai have struggled to score from set-pieces in 2020. If Simao came back in time for this game, the partnership would give Gamba’s defence a hard time.

#4 HACHISUKA Koji – “Always good” is how our manager Kiyama Takashi referred to Hachisuka. He has been with the club for ten years, playing as a right full-back. After the restart, Kiyama improvised and deployed him on the left instead. He looked uncomfortable at first but adjusted nicely after that. He has scored one goal, provided a few assists, and was selected as one of the best players by DAZN twice. His dedication will be necessary if Sendai are going to beat Gamba.

#26 HAMASAKI Takuma – Former FC Osaka right-back who was signed from Mito Hollyhock last winter. Most people expected him to be behind Iio and Hachisuka in the pecking-order. Still, Hamasaki defied everyone’s doubts in him and has established himself as a crucial holding-midfielder in Kiyama’s team. With an average of 12 kilometers covered per 90 minutes, it seems like Hamasaki is everywhere on the pitch. He also contributes to the attack a lot. Is it possible he will score his first goal in J1 against Gamba Osaka?

#5 SHIIHASHI Keiya – Shiihashi lost his place in the team to veteran Tomita Shingo last summer. At the start of the season, I thought he would have a hard time breaking into the first team, but the arrival of Kiyama transformed him. His partnership with Hamasaki is vital to the team. He can intercept and break down the opposition’s play effectively. Even though Shiihashi is more defensive-minded when compared to Hamasaki, his contribution should not be underestimated.

#7 SEKIGUCHI Kunimitsu – You are the heart of Sendai is the chant that we gave to Sekiguchi last autumn. Having spent 12 years in the northeast, his love for the team is less than no one. He will turn 35 this year, but is still running more than 12 kilometers per 90 minutes on average. Vegalta Sendai’s pressing usually starts from his initiation. This year, Kiyama has mostly deployed him as an attacking midfielder, but with the re-emergence of Hyodo, Sekiguchi may be used in the wide position more often.

#45 MASE Takumi – JFA Special designated player from Hannan University. Mase will officially join Vegalta Sendai from the 2021 campaign, but he has already established himself as a first-team member after four consecutive starts. He was a full-back in his university days, but Kiyama has deployed him as a right wide-forward since Germain Ryo’s injury. His combination with Yanagi is aggressive and furious. He assisted the equalizer that secured us a point against Hiroshima. His header was amazingly saved by Osako earlier in the game. Hopefully, he will score his first J1 goal against Gamba Osaka.

#15 NISHIMURA Takuma – Nishimura returned to Vegalta Sendai after 2 difficult years with CSKA Moscow. His goal scoring in 2018 was prolific, but he has not been able to replicate that level of performance in 2020. He is continually given chances by Kiyama, so I think he will start against Gamba after Ishihara Takayoshi’s sub-par performance in Hiroshima.

#20 NAGASAWA Shun – Honestly, I would like to write about Alexandre Guedes, but it seems like he took a knock during the last game. Thus, it is very likely that Nagasawa will start in place of him. The ex-Gamba striker is going through a goal drought right now; he has only scored one goal this season. Arguably, our deliveries into him have not been good enough. Nevertheless, his goal-scoring instinct has made him one of the best players we have. Facing a former club should encourage him to prove himself.

Predicted Line Ups





Match Prediction

This match could really define the direction Gamba’s season takes, a tame draw or defeat would point to another year of mid-table mediocrity while a comfortable victory would suggest that the home defeats to Urawa and Tokyo were a mere blip. I’m going for a positive outcome, Gamba haven’t scored more than twice this year and neither have Sendai, so goals may be at a premium, I’ll say 2-1 Gamba with Usami and Patric netting the decisive strikes.

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J1 Recap June 2020

With the JLeague’s return almost upon us, I thought now would be a good time to take a refresher course on what’s been happening at each club over the previous few months.

Back in February I published a 2-part J1 preview, this article is intended to be a companion to that, so I’d like to take this chance to point you in the direction of those 2 previews (my most popular articles to date) if you’re in search of more reading material.

*All clubs are listed in the order they finished the 2019 season.

Yokohama F.Marinos

2019: 1st
Kantoku: Ange Postecoglou (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Marinos averaged exactly 2 goals per game in J1 last year (68 goals in 34 games)

Recap:
Last season’s champions enjoyed a mixed start to 2020, recording impressive wins away to Jeonbuk (2-1) and home to Sydney FC (4-0) in the Asian Champions League. Domestically things weren’t so bright as they lost to Kobe in an infamously bad penalty shoot-out in the Super Cup before being beaten 2-1 on their own patch by Gamba in the first round of J1.

Squad Update:
Former captain Jun Amano (28 years old) has returned from a year-long loan at Belgian side Sporting Lokeren. Amano, with over 100 games already under his belt for Marinos will be re-united with Lokeren team-mate, former Renofa Yamaguchi and Kashiwa Reysol full-back, Ryota Koike, who has joined the champions on a permanent basis. Experienced Avispa Fukuoka centre-back Yuki Saneto has also moved east to Kanagawa to provide cover for the injured Thiago Martins. Youth team forward Takumi Tsukui has been promoted to the top team, while Kokoku High School trio, Shunsuke Hirai (DF), Ryunosuke Kabayama (MF) and Tomoki Tagawa (GK), have been registered on designated special player contracts ahead of full-time moves in 2021.
Despite ‘keeper Park Il-gyu being ruled out for the first 2 months of the re-start, the current squad looks stronger than last year and with no ACL return on the immediate horizon they should be there or thereabouts come the end of season.

Week 1:
vs Gamba Osaka (h) 1-2


FC Tokyo

2019: 2nd
Kantoku: Kenta Hasegawa (3rd year)
Quick Stat: FC Tokyo’s average attendance of 31,540 in 2019 was the highest in the club’s history.

Recap:
Kenta Hasegawa’s men kicked off their year with a 2-0 triumph over Ceres from the Philippines in torrential rain to earn a spot in the Asian Champions League group stage. They backed that up with an impressive 1-1 draw at Ulsan before edging out Perth Glory 1-0 at home. Then, the newly formed Brazilian front trio of Diego Oliveira, Leandro and Adailton all scored late on to inspire them to a 3-1 win at Shimizu S-Pulse in round 1 of J1 2020.

Squad Update:
Korean winger Na Sang-ho’s loan departure for Seongnam FC in his homeland is the biggest piece of transfer news to come out of Ajinomoto Stadium during the break. The highly-touted 23 year-old had struggled to make an impression since his move from Gwangju at the beginning of last season so this wasn’t a major shock.
The other major story to report is that the club have scrapped their J3 Under-23 side citing a lack of available stadia, this meant that their one lockdown signing, 20 year-old Thai midfielder Chayathorn Tapsuvanavon, who joined on loan from Bangkok United at the start of March, returned to Thailand in late June having seen no competitive action.

Week 1:
vs Shimizu S-Pulse (a) 3-1
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Kashima Antlers

2019: 3rd
Kantoku: Zago (new)
Quick Stat: Kashima are the most successful team in J1 history with 8 league titles.

Recap:
After losing in the final of the Emperor’s Cup to Vissel Kobe on January 1st, perennial Japanese giants Kashima then replaced outgoing coach Go Oiwa with Brazilian Zago and made a host of new signings. The bedding in period was not smooth and the men from Ibaraki found themselves surprisingly eliminated in the Asian Champions League qualifiers just 4 weeks later, losing 1-0 at home to Melbourne Victory. They followed this up with 2 more defeats, 1-0 away to Nagoya in the Levain Cup and 3-0 at Sanfrecce Hiroshima in round 1 of J1. 3 games, 3 defeats, 0 goals scored, it was a nightmare start for Zago. Everyone at the Kashima Soccer Stadium will be hoping that the enforced shutdown has given him precious time to get his message across.

Squad Update:
Perhaps unsurprisingly given that 11 of their 31 squad members are new recruits for 2020, there have been no additional signings during the lockdown. The loss of Brazilian marksman Serginho to the Chinese second division (wonder if he’s having any regrets now) was a bitter blow for Kashima and how well his countrymen, Juan Alano (Internacional) and Everaldo (Queretaro, Mexico) settle in will be of utmost importance. Defender Bueno, who I suggested could be a weak link at the back in my February preview, has been loaned to Atletico Mineiro in his homeland.
With an eye on the future, Antlers announced in this month that Meiji University duo, Tomoki Hayakawa (GK) and Keigo Tsunemoto (DF) as well as Osaka Taiiku University defender Naoki Hayashi will join the club from next year.

Week 1:
vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima (a) 0-3
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Kawasaki Frontale

2019: 4th
Kantoku: Toru Oniki (4th year)
Quick Stat: Kawasaki had the best away record in J1 last year, taking 36 points from 17 games.

Recap:
Champions in 2017 and 2018, Kawasaki endured an indifferent 2019, missing out on Asian Champions League qualification, but managing to lift the Levain Cup following a penalty shoot-out win over Sapporo. This year promises to see a changing of the guard with a more youthful looking squad attempting to regain the Kanagawa bragging rights from neighbouring Yokohama F.Marinos. They kicked off 2020 with a bang, thumping S-Pulse 5-1 at Todoroki Stadium in the League Cup, but dropped the baton the following week in their League opener, drawing 0-0 at home to a Sagan Tosu side predicted by many to finish bottom of J1.

Squad Update:
Their only transfer of the lockdown was to sell backup ‘keeper Hiroki Mawatari to Fagiano Okayama, which brings them down to a more respectable 4 senior goalkeepers in their squad, while Kento Tachibanada a midfielder from Toin Yokohama University (my old workplace) was announced as a signing for next season. Elsewhere, the break will presumably have given new university recruits, Zain Issaka (another of the Toin OB network that also includes Miki Yamane), Kaoru Mitoma (Tsukuba), Kaito Kamiya (Tokai Gakuen) and Reo Hatate (Juntendo) time to adjust to life as a pro, Frontale supporters will be hoping these guys will form the backbone of the side for the coming years.

Week 1:
vs Sagan Tosu (h) 0-0
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Cerezo Osaka

2019: 5th
Kantoku: Miguel Angel Lotina (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Cerezo had the best defensive record in J1 in 2019, conceding a mere 25 in 34 games (0.7 per game), they were also tied with Kashima for most clean sheets kept (15).

Recap:
Under the tutelage of wily head-coach Miguel Angel Lotina, Cerezo played an often quite dull but extremely effective brand of football last time out. Built on a rock-solid defence which conceded just 25 goals, they were able to achieve the 6th top 5 finish in their history. All the main protagonists in last season’s defensive masterclass are still in place and they started 2020 in strong fashion, smashing J2 side Matsumoto 4-1 at Nagai Stadium in the League Cup and following that up with a 1-0 opening day League win over Oita Trinita at the same venue.

Squad Update:
Young forward Mizuki Ando’s loan move to Machida Zelvia was their only lockdown transfer activity, he followed another young striker, Hiroto Yamada (Sendai), on the loan trail, the latter leaving in early February. Brazilian midfielder Lucas Mineiro joined on loan from Chapecoense just before the season started to replace his compatriot Souza and made 2 substitute appearances before the COVID-19 enforced break. From the winter recruits, wide-man Tatsuhiro Sakamoto (Montedio Yamagata) and Japan Under-17 star, Jun Nishikawa (Toko Gakuen High School) will have a fair bit of expectation riding on their shoulders when the campaign resumes.

Week 1:
vs Oita Trinita (h) 1-0
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Sanfrecce Hiroshima

2019: 6th
Kantoku: Hiroshi Jofuku (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Sanfrecce scored over 20% of their goals last year in just 2 games vs Vissel Kobe (6-2 home and 4-2 away)

Recap:
After a roller-coaster 2018, Sanfrecce had a much more stable campaign in 2019, finishing a comfortable 6th in J1 as well as progressing from the Asian Champions League group stages before being bettered by Kashima. They had a pretty quiet off-season, but a number of younger talents are emerging, most notably assist-king, Tsukasa Morishima, an exciting attacking-midfielder. Buoyed by the news that plans to build a new stadium in downtown Hiroshima are afoot, Sanfrecce started 2020 in dominant fashion, seeing off J1 new boys Yokohama FC away in the League Cup before dismantling the newly assembled Kashima Antlers 3-0 at Edion Stadium in round 1 of J1. They currently top the standings, albeit after only one game week.

Squad Update:
There are no new transfers to report, although since my original preview was written, Ritsumeikan University midfielder Tomoya Fujii was signed on a pre-contract for 2021 and registered as a designated special player for 2020, he was on the bench for both games so far this year, playing once against Yokohama FC. Extending the loan deals of Brazilian duo Leandro Pereira and Rhayner was probably Hiroshima’s best work last winter, their compatriot, attacking midfielder Ezequiel, also joined on loan from Botafogo, while Yuya Asano (younger brother of Takuma) came in from Mito HollyHock, though the jury is very much still out on whether he’ll bring as much to the team as his elder sibling.

Week 1:
vs Kashima Antlers (h) 3-0
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Gamba Osaka

2019: 7th
Kantoku: Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Yasuhito Endo will become the most experienced player in J1 history the next time he takes to the field. He’s currently tied on 631 appearances with legendary Nagoya ‘keeper Seigo Narazaki.

Recap:
Gamba had a nightmare start to 2019 (as they did the year before), however, owing to a change in strategy – playing with 3 centre-backs, as well a change in philosophy – disbanding the ageing group of heroes from the treble winning 2014 squad and supplementing the new young guns with returning heroes like Ideguchi and Usami, Gamba were able to haul themselves up to an ultimately respectable 7th place. This year started with a 1-0 home reverse to Kashiwa Reysol in the League Cup which was eerily similar to some games from early on in the past 2 campaigns. They were able to make it count when it really mattered this time though, and produced the performance of round 1 of J1 2020, turning over defending champions Yokohama F.Marinos 2-1 at Nissan Stadium, Kurata and Yajima helping themselves to a goal and an assist each.

Squad Update:
Vegalta Sendai backup ‘keeper Lee Yunoh was brought in on loan at the beginning of March to take the place of another loanee, Haruki Saruta (Kashiwa), in the U-23 squad after Saruta suffered a knee injury in training. Meiji University centre-back Yota Sato signed a pre-contract for 2021 and has been registered as a designated special player this year. Additionally, Japanese international centre-back, Gen Shoji, joined on a bumper deal from French side Toulouse last winter, however, due to injury he was unable to play in the 2 games prior to the shutdown. Gamba fans will look forward to seeing him work in tandem with Genta Miura and Kim Young-gwon at the back.

Week 1:
vs Yokohama F.Marinos (a) 2-1
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Vissel Kobe

2019: 8th
Kantoku: Thorsten Fink (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Kobe’s games last season produced a total of 120 goals (3.6 per game), a league high.

Recap:
The Rakuten money finally seemed to pay off for Kobe as they lifted their first ever piece of silverware, the Emperor’s Cup, after a 2-0 win over Kashima at the new National Stadium in Tokyo on New Year’s Day. Like buses, their second trophy came soon after as they saw off J1 Champions Yokohama F.Marinos in the Super Cup in February.
A team which scored plenty and conceded loads gradually became more disciplined under German coach Thorsten Fink in the second half of last year and a more slimline squad started 2020 well. Their first ever Asian Champions League campaign began with a 5-1 trouncing of Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim and continued with a hugely impressive 1-0 win away to Suwon in Korea. In J1 they had to accept a share of the spoils when they met Yokohama FC in round 1 in a game played under bizarre circumstances with supporters allowed into the stadium, but told not to cheer.

Squad Update:
No ins or outs have been recorded during the league’s enforced absence which gives us a chance to look at their business from last winter. Douglas (14 goals, 5 assists for Shimizu in 2019) may be the signing of the close season and his partnership with Furuhashi guarantees goals. At the back, only Shonan and Shimizu conceded more than Kobe’s 59 last time out and to that end centre-backs, Ryuho Kikuchi (Renofa Yamaguchi) and Tetsushi Yamakawa (Tsukuba University) were brought in, though these signings appear to be more for the long term rather than right now.

Week 1:
vs Yokohama FC (h) 1-1
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Oita Trinita

2019: 9th
Kantoku: Tomohiro Katanosaka (5th year)
Quick Stat: Now departed strikers, Noriaki Fujimoto (Kobe) and Ado Onaiwu (YFM) scored over 50% of Oita’s goals last year (18 out of 35)

Recap:
Head coach Katanosaka has masterminded a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the Kyushu side which saw them move up from J3 to J1 in the space of 3 years. Last season they started like a house on fire before inevitably hitting a bit of a slump, but they were still able to finish an excellent 9th with a squad mainly consisting of players from their 2018 J2 promotion campaign as well as sprinkling of veterans from their J3 days.
Oita had a disappointing start to 2020, going down 1-0 away from home in both of their games, at Shonan in the League Cup and Cerezo a week later in the League.

Squad Update:
Their only transfers of note during the lockdown have been the registrations of Fukuoka University midfielder Kenta Inoue and Kanoya Sports College forward Kazuki Fujimoto as designated special players for 2020. Owing to their small budget, Oita have largely had to try and replace departed stars like Ado Onaiwu and Noriaki Fujimoto with players who’ve performed well at lower levels. Retaining attacking-midfielder Kazuki Kozuka and centre-back Tomoki Iwata was a big boost for the club, though how long they can keep hold of them remains to be seen.

Week 1:
vs Cerezo Osaka (a) 0-1
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Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

2019: 10th
Kantoku: Mihailo Petrovic (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Last year was the first time since 2007 that Mihailo Petrovic has coached a team to a bottom half finish in J1.

Recap:
Improving on 2018’s incredible 4th place finish was always going to be a tall order for Sapporo, and so it proved last year, however, 10th was still a decent showing from Mihailo Petrovic’s men. Although at times a little suspect at the back, they did have strong performers throughout the side, Akito Fukumori’s deadly set-pieces earned him 8 assists, while Chanathip continued to lay on goals for his attacking partners, Jay, Musashi Suzuki and Anderson Lopes. They would have considered themselves unfortunate to lose out to Kawasaki in the lottery of a penalty shoot-out in the League Cup final last year, and this defeat preceded a rather poor end to 2019 which saw them lose 4 of their last 6 league games.
Consadole started 2020 by coasting past Sagan Tosu, 3-0 away in the League Cup, but then went down 4-2 to Kashiwa Reysol in Chiba on the opening day of J1, these results suggest there’ll be plenty of goalmouth action at both ends this campaign.

Squad Update:
The big transfer news story to emerge out of Sapporo during the league’s break was that international goalkeeper Gu Sung-yun would return to his homeland to play for Daegu FC ahead of a 2-year stint in the Korean military. Consadole have already secured the services of Hosei University’s 2M tall stopper Kojiro Nakano for 2021, and have him on a designated special player contract for this year, but whether it is he, Thai international Kawin Thamsatchanan (a recent loan arrival from Leuven in Belgium) or the experienced Takanori Sugeno that takes over the starting spot is up for debate.

Week 1:
vs Kashiwa Reysol (a) 2-4
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Vegalta Sendai

2019: 11th
Kantoku: Takashi Kiyama (new)
Quick Stat: New Kashima Antlers full-back Katsuya Nagato provided assists for 26% of Sendai’s goals in 2019.

Recap:
Sendai secured their second consecutive 11th place finish in J1 last year, perhaps even more impressive than the previous campaign due to the fact that it was achieved with what, on paper at least, looked like a weaker squad. Still, that didn’t stop head coach Susumu Watanabe from losing his job, with Yamagata manager Takashi Kiyama coming in for his first stab at J1 level. Despite J1’s leading assist maker Katsuya Nagato departing for Kashima, off season recruitment had inspired confidence. However, that feel-good factor was only short-lived when it was announced that both Isaac Cuenca and Alexandre Guedes had gone down with injuries before the campaign had even begun. Sendai were thrashed 5-2 at Urawa in the League Cup before holding Nagoya to a 1-1 draw in the League. The break in fixtures has allowed their attacking talent to return, though the loss for the next 2 months of captain Simao Mate is a huge blow, and an extended period of playing in front of no spectators may undermine their impressive home record.

Squad Update:
Exciting news for Sendai is the return of former attacker Takuma Nishimura on loan from CSKA Moscow. He hit 11 goals in 24 games before his big money move to Russia in the summer of 2018 and Vegalta fans will be looking forward with relish to the partnership he can form with Cuenca, Guedes and Shuhei Akasaki. Elsewhere defenders, Hisashi Appiah Tawiah (Ryutsu Keizai University) and Takumi Mase (Hannan University) have both been brought in on designated special player contracts ahead of turning pro next year.
In terms of departures, defender Masato Tokida who played against Urawa in the League Cup has left for Matsumoto in a loan deal and as previously mentioned, backup goalie Lee Yunoh has joined Gamba U-23 on loan, he spent 2019 farmed out to Fukushima United.

Week 1:
vs Nagoya Grampus (h) 1-1
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Shimizu S-Pulse

2019: 12th
Kantoku: Peter Cklamovski (new)
Quick Stat: Shimizu had the worst defensive record in J1 last season with 69 goals conceded in total (2.03 per game). They were also one of only two teams to do the double over champions Yokohama F.Marinos (the other was Cerezo Osaka).

Recap:
One of the biggest stories of last winter was Shimizu’s appointment of Ange Postecoglou’s assistant at Yokohama F.Marinos, Peter Cklamovski. An avid disciple of Ange’s, it’ll be interesting to see how he shapes this S-Pulse side in his image. The JLeague’s no-relegation rule will definitely help with his experimentation which is bound to encounter teething problems. Shimizu had the leakiest back line in J1 last season conceding 69 times, including an 8-0 home reverse against Sapporo. This year it took them 2 games to concede 8 goals, being hammered 5-1 at Kawasaki in the League Cup then putting up a better showing at home to FC Tokyo in the League before ultimately going down 3-1.

Squad Update:
Nothing to report on the transfer front during the lockdown, although S-Pulse did hire a new coach and recruit a number of new players in the off-season. Additionally, midfielders, Yasufumi Nishimura (Okayama) and Kota Miyamoto (FC Gifu) have returned from loan spells, while wide-man Hideki Ishige made a welcome comeback from serious injury and now appears to be seen as an option at full-back. Despite the additions of Yusuke Goto (Oita), Teerasil (Muangthong United) and Carlinhos (Sion) it’s still hard to see anyone getting close to matching Douglas’ 14 league goals scored last year.

Week 1:
vs FC Tokyo (h) 1-3
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Nagoya Grampus

2019: 13th
Kantoku: Massimo Ficcadenti (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Nagoya were second only to Sendai in terms of % of total points picked up at home (65% compared with Sendai’s nearly 76%) in 2019.

Recap:
One of the biggest spenders in the league, Nagoya have flattered to deceive since returning to J1 in 2018. They have a team full of highly talented individuals who rarely add up to the sum of their parts. Italian Massimo Ficcadenti was a surprise choice to replace the much more attack minded Yahiro Kazama midway through last year, however, he was able to steer a side which had been in freefall into a relatively safe 13th spot in the standings. Grampus started 2020 unbeaten, seeing off Kashima Antlers 1-0 at home in the League Cup before having the better of a 1-1 draw away at Sendai in round 1 of J1.

Squad Update:
Former Japan international front-man Mu Kanazaki joined on loan from cash-strapped Tosu at the end of March and he will take the place of Jo, who returned to Corinthians in Brazil (in a deal that seems to have more to it than meets the eye) having only found the net 6 times last season, compared to 24 in the previous campaign. Kanazaki, however, was recently struck down with Covid-19 and passed the virus on to Australian goalkeeper Mitch Langerak. Both players have since recovered, however, the fallout was that the rest of the squad had to endure a period of training together using Zoom while their J1 rivals were all working on the training ground.
During the break, young full-back Yukinari Sugawara turned his loan move to Dutch side AZ Alkmaar into a permanent one after impressing in his first year in the Netherlands.

Week 1:
vs Vegalta Sendai (a) 1-1
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Urawa Reds

2019: 14th
Kantoku: Tsuyoshi Otsuki (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Legendary striker Shinzo Koroki has hit double figures in his last 8 league campaigns.

Recap:
Despite reaching the final of the Asian Champions League last season, finishing 14th in J1, their worst performance since 2011 was simply unacceptable for a club of this size. Thing surely must get better, a lot better, this year if head-coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki wants to remain in his current role. Their was a surprising lack of transfer activity last winter considering the average age and performance of the squad over the previous 12 months, however, Brazilian attacker, Leonardo who joined from Albirex Niigata could well challenge Kobe’s signing of Douglas as the best coup of the transfer window. The former J3 and J2 top scorer introduced himself to the Saitama Stadium supporters with a double on his debut, a 5-2 win at home to Sendai in the League Cup. The defensive frailties that were briefly on show in that game resurfaced a week later in their League opener, a 3-2 victory over a Shonan Bellmare side who are expected to find things tough this year. It looks like Urawa games will be a pretty exciting watch over the coming months.

Squad Update:
The lack of transfer activity from Reds does seem a little surprising viewed from afar, only Ryutsu Keizai midfielder Atsuki Ito has come in on a designated special player contract. However, they may be banking on some of their younger crop of players to develop more over the coming years. Right-sided defender Daiki Hashioka appears to be the pick of the bunch, though left winger Koya Yuroki could also become a key asset if he’s given more game time. Central-midfielder Hidetoshi Takeda joined the club from the cradle of footballing talent that is Aomori Yamada High School last winter, so we can expect good things from him, while Chuo University winger Tomoaki Okubo has again been registered as a designated special player ahead of turning pro with Reds next year. Youth team ‘keeper Zion Suzuki is on a Type-2 amateur contract which allowed him to appear on the bench against both Sendai and Shonan despite still being in high school (he’s already 189cm tall!)

Week 1:
vs Shonan Bellmare (a) 3-2
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Sagan Tosu

2019: 15th
Kantoku: Kim Myung-hwi (3rd year)
Quick Stat: Tosu failed to score in 9 out of their first 10 league games in 2019.

Recap:
If you’re interested enough in Japanese football to read my blog, I’m going to assume you know something about Tosu’s appalling financial situation, so I don’t want to dwell on it too much. The lack of relegation this year would appear to help them more than any other side given that most #jpred2020 entrants had them going down. A very weak squad on paper were humbled 3-0 at home by Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in the League Cup’s first group-stage match this February before gaining a creditable 0-0 draw away to Kawasaki Frontale on the League’s opening day. Much more of that battling spirit will be required in the coming months and years, I feel.

Squad Update:
Mu Kanazaki’s departure on loan to Nagoya may be the first of quite a few in the near future as the club looks to balance it’s books. In terms of arrivals, Chuo University defender Daisuke Matsumoto is in as a designated special player while Tosu U-18 forwards Reoto Kodama and Ryunosuke Sagara as well as defender Shinya Nakano have come in on Type-2 contracts. One intriguing move just before the league started back in February was the acquisition of right-sided Chinese player Wang Jianan from Guangzhou R&F. The current squad has a very youthful feel to it, with midfielders, Fuchi Honda and Daiki Matsuoka (both 19) as well as former Meiji University full-back Ryoya Morishita (23) expected to be key players.

Week 1:
vs Kawasaki Frontale (a) 0-0
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Shonan Bellmare

2019: 16th
Kantoku: Bin Ukishima (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Shonan kept the fewest clean sheets in J1 last year (4).

Recap:
The Cho Kwi-jae power harassment scandal rocked Shonan to the core last summer, sending them into a tail-spin that they were only able to pull out of thanks to a 1-1 draw at home to Tokushima in the play-offs (again the rights and wrongs of that system have been discussed in depth elsewhere so I’ll not go any further into it.) Bin Ukishima, the man who replaced the long serving Cho has been tasked with rebuilding the side and he’s brought in 12 new faces along with 2 players who’ve returned to Bellmare from loan spells. This sort of annual upheaval is not uncommon in these parts and Shonan are likely to be another side who are assisted by the league’s no-relegation rule. Bellmare started 2020 by edging out Oita 1-0 at home in the League Cup, before losing their J1 opener 3-2 to Urawa at the same venue with new Norwegian signing Tarik missing a penalty.

Squad Update:
After a busy winter, Shonan’s lockdown work has been largely focused on the future, 5 youth team players have been registered on Type-2 Contracts, including midfielder Satoshi Tanaka who’ll turn pro next year. Additionally, 20 year-old forward Ryo Nemoto of Kanoya Sports College in Kagoshima and Sho Hiramatsu from Rissho University have joined as a designated special players. The club also announced the capture of midfielder Taiyo Hiraoka from Riseisha High School for 2021, though he hasn’t yet been registered for this campaign. Surprisingly, as far as I can tell, there has still been no announcement from the club regarding the futures of 2 Brazilians, Crislan and Leleu, who were on the books last year, I assume neither will be back, but usually JLeague teams are good at keeping the fans informed about this sort of thing.

Week 1:
vs Urawa Reds (h) 2-3
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Kashiwa Reysol

2019: 1st (J2)
Kantoku: Nelsinho (2nd year – current spell)
Quick Stat: The last time Kashiwa won J2, they went on to lift the J1 title the following year (2011). Current head coch Nelsinho was also in charge back then.

Recap:
Under legendary manager Nelsinho, Kashiwa are back in the top flight following a one-year sojourn in J2. After a few bumps and bruises in the early rounds, Reysol’s class eventually told and they were worthy champions, their season of course ending with that memorable 13-1 rout of Kyoto Sanga. They’ve kept most of last year’s championship winning side intact and added a cast of 2019 J2 all stars, how will they do in J1 this year?
They got 2020 off to the best possible start with a 1-0 win away to Gamba in the rain in February’s League Cup clash, goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu, left-back Taiyo Koga and inevitably the well-known attacking duo of Cristiano and Olunga were all in fine form. That victory was then backed up by a 4-2 triumph in a thrilling match at home to Sapporo in round 1 of J1 with both Esaka and Olunga notching doubles. They have more than enough attacking talent, but for me centre-back and centre-midfield are areas for concern. They’ll certainly be interesting to watch this year.

Squad Update:
Kashiwa’s only lockdown work has been to move youth product Keita Ide to Tochigi SC in what appears to be a full transfer, I say appears as he was only promoted to the top team last winter. There have been no ins during the break, though Reysol did recruit quite heavily in the off-season and have no doubt taken this opportunity to try and bring their ex-J2 players up to speed. I’m particularly excited by versatile 23 year-old midfielder Yuta Kamiya who spent 2019 with Ehime, on-loan from Shonan. Right-back Kengo Kitazume who joined from Yokohama FC looks a solid addition too, and I can see him taking over from Shunki Takahashi before much longer. Two other interesting coups were Hiroto Goya (Nagasaki – on loan from Gamba), who netted 22 goals in 36 J2 games last year and former youth team product Hayato Nakama (Okayama) who struck an impressive 15 times in 40 J2 matches from left midfield in 2019. These 2 undoubtedly possess the ability, but can they unseat one of the top dogs such as, Olunga, Cristiano, Esaka or Segawa, to nail down a starting berth?

Week 1:
vs Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo (h) 4-2
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Yokohama FC

2019: 2nd (J2)
Kantoku: Takahiro Shimotaira (2nd year)
Quick Stat: Kazuyoshi Miura made his JLeague debut on 15 May 1993, over 8 years before team-mate Koki Saito was born.

Recap:
Hear the name Yokohama FC and you probably instantly think of their famous veterans, Kazuyoshi ‘King Kazu’ Miura and Shunsuke Nakamura, then probably to a lesser extent, guys like Leandro Domingues, Ibba Laajab, Daisuke Matsui and Masahiko Inoha. However, bubbling under the surface are some of the hottest young talents in Japanese football, attacking trio, Koki Saito (18), Katsuhiro Nakayama (23) and Yusuke Matsuo (22) combined for 18 goals and 11 assists last season to help Yokohama FC achieve only the second season of top flight football in their history. Things will be tough for sure for this squad of ageing stars and up-and-comers, they started things off with a tame 2-0 loss at home to a wily Sanfrecce side in the League Cup, before holding Kobe to a respectable 1-1 draw in the League opener in Hyogo. Tatsuki Seko, another young gun who was recruited in the off-season from Meiji University netted Yokohama’s goal on his senior debut, he’s also one to look out for this year.

Squad Update:
A couple of pieces of transfer news to report from Yokohama during the lockdown, Hosei University defender Yuya Takagi was registered as a designated special player, he’ll turn pro when he’s finished with his studies next year. Full-back Yuta Fujii also made a permanent move to J2 outfit Avispa Fukuoka, he made a mere 5 appearances for Yokohama FC in 2019. Finally, a quick shout out to a name I didn’t mention above, left-back Takaaki Shichi (5 goals and 4 assists in 39 games for Mito HollyHock last year), his signing may have largely flown under the radar, but in my books it looks like a very shrewd move.

Week 1:
vs Vissel Kobe (a) 1-1
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