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Gamba Osaka vs Vissel Kobe 11 November 2020 Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Vissel Kobe
J1 2020 Round 32
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Wednesday 11 November 19:00

The Lowdown


Gamba return from a welcome 8-day break to square off against Vissel Kobe in the final Kansai Derby of the year this Wednesday night. This is a round 32 fixture which has been brought forward as a result of the Hyogo side’s participation in the Asian Champions League in Qatar at the end of the month. Vissel are yet to lose a league match at Panasonic Stadium since Gamba moved in back in 2016 and they will be sure to use that as motivation as they have yet score in any of their 3 previous matches against the two Osaka clubs in 2020.

Vissel come into this encounter sitting 11th in the standings, a full 16 points behind Gamba with 4 extra games played. It certainly has not been the campaign they would have envisaged back at the start of the year when they won their first ever piece of silverware, the Emperor’s Cup, with a 2-0 win over Kashima Antlers. Their subsequent participation in the ACL has proven to be a huge burden on their small squad. Since the end of the Obon holiday in August, Vissel have played 22 matches (21 J1 and 1 Levain Cup) compared with Gamba’s 17 (all J1) and like fellow ACL participants Yokohama F.Marinos and FC Tokyo, this ridiculous schedule has caused results to take a nosedive. Between 2017 and 2019 both Gamba and Vissel ended up within one place of each other in the standings, even finishing level on points last season, so this year’s giant gap can be seen as a testament to the negative impact ACL participation has had on Kobe’s hopes of a successful J1 campaign.

Gamba have only 4 fixtures left in Suita this year including this one, 11th placed Vissel will be followed by, Sendai (18th), Tosu (15th) and Shimizu (17th) so the Nerazzurri will be keen to improve their home stats. They currently average 1.69 points per game at Panasonic Stadium with a scoreline of 1.31-1.23 in their favour. This pales in comparison to their excellent away record where they’ve taken 2.3 points per game with an average score of 1.62-0.92. Tight games have been the order of the day and, in fact, Kobe (2-0) are one of only three teams Gamba have bettered by more than one goal this season, Kashima (2-0) and Sendai (4-1) being the others, with Antlers being the only team to leave Suita defeated by more than a single goal margin. Just 2 clean sheets have been kept at home this year out of a total of 6 (vs Hiroshima and Kashima) and there have been 2 failures to score (vs Kawasaki and Shonan) while this has only happened once on the road.

If you remove Kawasaki from the league standings (I wish) Gamba’s record looks really impressive. They currently rank 2nd in total wins and also least defeats as well as having J1’s third tightest rearguard behind Frontale and Grampus. On the flip side, only the bottom 7 teams in the standings have netted fewer than Gamba’s 38 goals, Cerezo and Urawa have identical goalscoring records, though Reds have played a game more. Interestingly, Gamba’s top scorers this year are Kazuma Watanabe and Ademilson, both with 6 goals, only Vegalta Sendai have a top scorer with fewer strikes (Alexandre Guedes 5) while Sapporo and Shonan’s top marksmen are also on 6 goals. Only 1 of Watanabe’s 6 strikes have come at home this year, while stand-in skipper Shu Kurata has netted all 4 of his total on the road. Takashi Usami, on the other hand, is more of a home-body with 4 of his 5 efforts coming at Panasonic Stadium. With these numbers in mind, we can see the importance of Yosuke Ideguchi’s recent goal burst from midfield, I probably sound like a broken record now, but he must be a strong contender for the 2020 J1 Best Eleven. Goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi will surely be in the running too as long as he doesn’t have too many more shaky performances like he did in the first half against Sapporo a couple of weeks back.

A few more quick Gamba stats before we take a look at Kobe. I know I often mention it, but it does bear repeating that the Nerazzurri hold a 16-3-0 record in games where they’ve led at any point this year. This means they’ve only dropped points from winning positions on 3 occasions compared with a whopping 12 times (7 draws and 5 defeats) in 2019. Usami still tops the J1 last pass rankings with 60 in 26 appearances, a full 27 more than Gamba’s next best ranked player, Shu Kurata (33) and 6 ahead of the league’s top assist provider, Kenta Nishizawa of Shimizu.

Now to our visitors who will be left with only 3 J1 matches to play in 2020 after this game. Next, they host Shonan and Urawa at the Noevir Stadium before jetting off to Qatar to participate in the Asian Champions League and after that they’ll return to Japan to face FC Tokyo in the capital on the final day. Vissel started the season with German Thorsten Fink in charge, however, despite helping the port side to their first ever pieces of silverware, he was shown the door in September. Former Sporting Director Atsuhiro Miura is now in the hot-seat and after a dream start with 4 wins in his first 4 games he’s begun to find life a bit tougher. Kobe have just 1 win and 4 points from their previous 7 games moving into this encounter.

There’s a degree of symmetry to Vissel’s results this year, they’ve now played 30 games, 15 at home and 15 on the road and have scored 25 and conceded 27 both home and away. Like a number of teams this season, they boast a better record on their travels than on home soil, taking 19 of their 36 league points outside of Hyogo. They’ve got the better of Sapporo, Sendai and Yokohama F.Marinos (all 3-2), Urawa (2-1) and Tosu (1-0) away as well as putting up a great fight in their 3-2 loss at runaway leaders Kawasaki.

In total, Vissel average a scoreline of 1.67-1.8 compared with Gamba’s 1.46-1.08 which is gives a pretty good indicator as to where each side’s strengths and weaknesses lie. Kobe are currently the league’s 3rd top scorers with 50, though Kashiwa (49 but with 4 fewer games played) will surely overtake them soon. At the back, only Shimizu (55) have let in more than Vissel’s 54, though it should be noted that Sendai (52 goals conceded in 26 games), Yokohama FC (51 in 27) and Sapporo (49 in 27) are all contenders to end up with worse overall defensive records.

In terms of individuals, Kyogo Furuhashi has led the way in goals scored with 12 (joint 4th in the Golden Boot race) while Andres Iniesta and Gotoku Sakai have provided a team high 6 assists each which leave them tied 6th equal in that particular ranking. Furuhashi and right-back Daigo Nishi have also chipped in with 5 assists apiece while Brazilian, Douglas, an off-season capture from S-Pulse, has weighed in with 7 J1 strikes and 5 assists. In truth, despite posting reasonable numbers, I think it’s fair to say that Kobe fans were expecting more considering he bagged 14 goals and 5 assists in a struggling outfit last year. It could be that youth is the way to go for Vissel and looking in that direction, things do seem bright. Young midfielder Tatsunori Sakurai will join next year from Maebashi Ikuei High School (U23 defender Riku Matsuda’s alma mater) while centre-back Yuki Kobayashi has been decent on loan at Yokohama FC this season. Yuta Goke has been the real bright spark for Kobe in 2020, usually playing on the right-side of the front three, though he did drop deeper in the match on Sunday, he is someone Gamba will definitely need to keep an eye out for in this game.

Head to Head

As mentioned above and as highlighted in the table below, Vissel like playing at Panasonic Stadium and are unbeaten in J1 games there since it opened in 2016. I took in the final match between these two sides at the old Expo 70’ Memorial Stadium on my birthday back in 2015. Incognito in the away end due to the home tickets selling out, I was forced to endure a stale 0-0 that only livened up in the final 10 minutes. Luckily the steak I had at Denny’s afterwards made up for it, but I digress. Shonan, FC Tokyo and Cerezo have all ended long winless runs in Suita this year while Gamba buried their 19-year away hoodoo at Tokyo too, does this mean the stage is set for a first home win over Kobe at Panasonic Stadium?

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Gamba once again have selection issues to contend with. Kim Young-gwon (left knee) had to leave the field early in last week’s Osaka Derby and is a major doubt for this game, as is defensive partner Gen Shoji who has missed the past 4 games after aggravating his ankle injury against Yokohama F.Marinos. Elsewhere, Yuji Ono (knee – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) will both definitely miss out. Kim Young-gwon (if fit) and Yuya Fukuda both currently sit just one yellow card away from suspension after being cautioned against Cerezo. Shinya Yajima will make his 50th league appearance for Gamba if chosen and former Kwansei Gakuin University team-mates, Ryu Takao and Yuki Yamamoto have celebrated birthdays in the past week, Takao is now 24 and Yamamoto 23.

Vissel Kobe

Kobe have once of the smallest squads in J1 in terms of overall numbers, though fortunately for them, they don’t have many injury problems. Belgian centre-back Thomas Vermaelen has been absent since the game at Hiroshima on October 18th, I’m not sure if that’s a fitness issues or if he’s being rested ahead of the upcoming ACL games. Kyogo Furuhashi wasn’t in the squad for the previous 2 games and no injury was reported so I’m assuming he was just being given a rest too. Spanish holding midfielder Sergi Samper will make his 50th J1 and Vissel appearance in this clash while long-serving winger Keijiro Ogawa is set for his 200th J1 game. Former Kashiwa attacker Junya Tanaka, who sunk Gamba with a late double in this fixture last March, will reach if 50 J1 goals if he can find the back of the net on Wednesday.

Predicted Line Ups

Fresh from 8 days off, it’s likely we’ll see the strongest possible eleven available to Miyamoto start this Kansai Derby. I’ve opted for Fujiharu ahead of Fukuda as a result of his superior defensive attributes, also in defence, if either Kim or Shoji are fit enough to start then I expect them to do so. Yuki Yamamoto looked a bit tired in last week’s win over Cerezo, but after the extended break he should have recharged his batteries enough to hold off the challenge from Shinya Yajima. Once again in attack, either Watanabe or Patric could partner Usami, while young guns Toyama, Kawasaki and Tsukamoto will fight it out over 2 available bench seats.



Under their new head-coach, Vissel seem to have settled on a 4-3-3 formation after previous kantoku Thorsten Fink’s constant switching between 4-3-3 and 3-5-2. With their league season all but over and the majority of their focus now on the upcoming Asian Champions League it is anyone’s guess as to what personnel will be deployed on Wednesday night. As it’s a local derby I’ve assumed Kobe will field a strong side, but I’ll list a few alternatives to the lineup below. Goalkeepers Maekawa and Iikura have been rotating lately and Wednesday seems to be Maekawa’s turn to start, though the more experienced Iikura could be called upon. Vermaelen is always an option to play centre-back while ex-Gamba full-back Ryo Hatsuse may give Daigo Nishi a break. Further forward, youngsters Takuya Yasui and Daiju Sasaki will be champing at the bit to get more game time in midfield. In attack, if Furuhashi doesn’t make it, expect Kojiro Ogawa to be given the nod in his 200th J1 game, also centre-forward Noriaki Fujimoto may be preferred to Douglas in the central role.



Match Prediction

Gamba should be fresh after their long break while Vissel are in very poor recent form in the league so one may be tempted to think this will be a comfortable home win. Not me, as this is a derby after all and Kobe have game changers all over the field. I’ll still opt for a Gamba victory, but only by their usual slim margin of 2-1.

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Vissel Kobe Match Preview 26 July 2020

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


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

Last Time Out

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

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

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

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

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

Gamba Osaka 1-0 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
22 July 2020


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

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

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

Cerezo Osaka 0-0 Vissel Kobe
22 July 2020


Tactical Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team News

Gamba Osaka

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

Vissel Kobe

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

Know Your OpponentVissel Kobe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predicted Lineups





Match Prediction

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


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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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