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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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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.

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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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