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Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka 16 December 2020 Match Preview

Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka
J1 2020 Round 33
Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium
Wednesday 16 December 19:00


Just a reminder that I was on last week’s J-Talk Podcast, so if you haven’t already please check out my chat with Ben and Sam regarding the Shonan match, the race for 2nd and all other things Gamba.

Last Time Out

Injury-hit Gamba earned a hard-fought 2-1 victory away at Shonan on December 6th, their 11th road win of the year. Takashi Usami and Kim Young-gwon were the latest players to make the treatment room their home, meaning that kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto was forced into changes once again. Fresh off a 7-day break, Gamba reverted to a 4-4-2 system and brought in, the fit-again Genta Miura, Gen Shoji, Yuki Yamamoto and Kazuma Watanabe for, Kim and Usami (injured) and Suganuma and Kawasaki (benched).

Gamba had something riding on this game whereas Shonan had nothing but pride to play for and the first 30 minutes of the contest really bore that out. Gamba reacted to my calls for a quicker start by racing into the lead in just the 6th minute. A slack ball out of defence by Kazunari Ohno (1 of 4 times Bellmare sloppily gifted their visitors possession in their defensive third inside the opening quarter) was intercepted on the right flank by Ryu Takao, he centred for Patric who laid it back to Yuya Fukuda and the youngster from Kokura smacked home his first of the campaign past a partially unsighted Masaaki Goto in the Shonan goal. Interestingly, Fukuda later revealed that Usami had been helping him improve his shooting in training, the results of that were here for all to see.

Bellmare lost experienced midfielder Akimi Barada to injury in the 29th minute with Mitsuki Saito’s arrival bringing about a mini-reshuffle in the home team’s engine room, the highly-rated Daiki Kaneko dropped deeper to his more favoured holding role. This seemed to wake Shonan from their slumber and within 5 minutes they were level. Impressive former Japan U-17 representative (where he was Shoji Toyama’s team-mate) Taiga Hata broke down the left and cut the ball back for Hiroto Nakagawa whose shot struck the arm of Gen Shoji leading to a rare event this season, a handball penalty that everyone agreed was actually the correct decision. The younger brother of 2019 J1 MVP Teruhito Nakagawa comfortably dispatched his spot-kick high into the goal, leaving Higashiguchi without a prayer. Gamba looked ragged as the half drew to a close and the game became a rather scrappy affair, Shoji seemed to be close to losing his cool as he tried to avenge the penalty decision while Patric shoved Shonan captain Takuya Okamoto in the chest as he was unhappy with the close attention he was receiving. Miyamoto would certainly have been happy to get his troops into the dressing room to re-group.

The Nerazzurri started the second half on the front foot before things developed into more of an arm-wrestle. The defining moment came in the 66th minute through a goal of real quality. Yajima and Watanabe combined to get Fujiharu in behind the Shonan defence and the full-back’s inch-perfect cross was headed home at the back post by Patric, the popular Brazilian bagging a goal and an assist in his 200th J1 appearance. Bellmare briefly rallied, but Sosuke Shibata and Satoshi Tanaka shot over while at the other end Goto made an excellent reflex stop to deny Patric his 2nd of the match. I was just about to write in my notes that Gamba were going to see the game out comfortably when up stepped Hata in the 90th minute to whip in a delicious cross that was met by Okamoto, however, Higashiguchi, was there with a crucial stop to earn Gamba the 3 points and probably secure his place in the J1 Best Eleven for 2020.

Yokohama FC vs Gamba Osaka Match Lowdown

The penultimate game of the 2020 J1 campaign is another crucial one for Gamba as they aim to solidify their grip on 2nd place against a Yokohama FC side who’ll still be smarting from their injury time loss in the reverse fixture between these two. Gamba currently sit on 62 points from 32 games while Nagoya are 2 points back with a better goal difference by 12, though crucially they’ve played an extra match and city rivals Cerezo are 3 behind the Nerazzurri with a better goal difference by 6 and remaining ties against Tosu (h) and Kashima (a). Hopefully Gamba’s 4-0 home defeat at the hands of Sendai doesn’t come back to haunt them in the goal difference stakes, victories here and at home to S-Pulse on Saturday will render that irrelevant. Indeed a win here guarantees 3rd spot at least and coupled with a Cerezo defeat it would leave Gamba with a dead rubber at the weekend with Emperor’s Cup qualification already in the bag.

It’s been 10 days since Gamba’s last match, their 11th 2-1 win of the season and, in fact, they have just three wins by more than a single goal to their credit in 2020 (Sendai 4-1, Kashima and Kobe both 2-0) and have incredibly only led by 2 goals or more for 168 out of a total of 2,880 minutes played. With 19 wins accrued this year, Gamba have already equalled their total from the 2014 title winning campaign and their current haul of 62 points is only 1 shy of that year’s tally, which kind of gives some context to just how good Kawasaki have been. I’ll repeat my favourite stat again (with a small update), Gamba are now 19-3-0 in league games they’ve led at any point in 2020, only Nagoya (a), Kashima (a) and Cerezo (a) have come from behind to take a point from their battle with the Nerazzurri. This looks all the better when compared to 2019 where 7 teams came back to draw and 5 sides overturned a deficit in matches with the men from Suita.

Although highlights reel defeats to Sendai and Kawasaki may be stuck in the minds of many supporters at the moment, it’s important to place those performances in the wider context of the year as a whole. In their most recent 17 games (essentially half a season), Gamba are 12-3-2, giving a total of 39 points which is a mere 8 short of last season’s 47 from 34 contests. That this has been achieved while blooding young, locally developed talent is definitely to Tsuneyasu Miyamoto and the club’s credit. Shuhei Kawasaki (14 games), Kohei Okuno and Shoji Toyama (both 5) and Dai Tsukamoto (4) have all featured more than anyone would have expected in pre-season, while ex-Kwansei Gakuin university duo, Ryu Takao and Yuki Yamamoto have really stepped up to the mark when required and Yuya Fukuda has built on the promise he showed in spurts last season.

This is Gamba’s final away game of the year which gives me one last chance to run the rule over their incredible road performances in 2020. 11 away victories is only 1 less than their win total in 2019 (12) and the 36 points earned outside Suita would see them sit 12th in the overall standings (6 points better off than Wednesday night’s opponents). The Nerazzurri boast a 9-3-4 record when comparing shots on target in away fixtures with their opponents and this correlates pretty well with their actual WDL record of 11-3-2. The fact that in total shots they are 4-0-12 and also 3-0-13 in possession kind of highlights how pointless those stats are. Looking at ball dominance, despite having the best away record in J1 (2 points more than Kawasaki, no less), Gamba average just 40.73% possession across their 16 games to date with a high of 59.1% at Nagoya in round 3 and a low of just 28.1 in the 2-1 win at Marinos on the opening day.

In this paragraph I plan to partake in a little revisionism so all non-Gamba fans may want to skip to the next one where I start discussing Yokohama FC. If you remove the 3-0 defeat at Kashiwa as well as the recent 4-0 home loss to Sendai and the 5-0 embarrassment at Kawasaki then Gamba’s record is just 28 goals against from 29 contests and a goal difference of +16, so I ask the question, which is the real Gamba, that one or the side who’ve lost 0-12 across 3 games? I’ll let you choose, but my guess is a bit of both. Against other teams currently in the top half of the table, Gamba average 1.56 points per game with a scoreline of 1.19-1.44 (1.2 against if you discount the Frontale mauling) whilst games with sides in places 10-18 have been more profitable, bringing 2.3 ppg and a score of 1.56-1.06 (0.87 if you remove the Sendai result). If anyone read that, I hope you enjoyed it, now let’s have a quick glance at our opposition.

While Gamba come into this clash needing 3 points, Yokohama FC will be able to play with the pressure off having already secured the best league finish in their club’s history. The club born out of the ashes of Yokohama Flugels took a mere 16 points from 34 games in their one previous J1 outing in 2007. However this year they have almost doubled that total and a win on Wednesday coupled with a Cerezo victory over Tosu would move them up to 14th ahead of their final match of the year, a Yokohama derby at home to Marinos on Saturday. So, there is still a little something to motivate Takahiro Shimotaira’s troops.

I tipped Yokohama FC to finish 2nd bottom this year and they have definitely exceeded my expectations and given themselves a platform to build on ahead of 2021 when relegation will once again be on the table. With 35 goals in 32 contests to date, only 4 teams (Shonan, Oita, Tosu and Sendai) have scored less than Yokohama FC, while their 57 conceded betters only Shimizu, Sendai, Sapporo and Kobe (it should be noted that both Consadole and Vissel have let in just 1 more from an extra fixture). With not a whole lot to play for recently, results have slidden a little after a mid-season high and they haven’t taken 3 points from any of their previous 5 games. Indeed, rather disappointingly for the men from Kanagawa, they have just 2 wins and 10 points from their last 13 fixtures.

Yokohama FC’s overall decent showing has largely been bolstered by home performances with 5 of their 8 triumphs this season coming on their own patch. Shonan (4-2), Nagoya (3-2), Kobe (2-1), and FC Tokyo and Kashima (both 1-0) have all been seen off at the Mitsuzawa. Their home average score is 1.27-1.93 which compares with their overall record of 1.09-1.78. They have won 3 games by 2 goals or more (the same as Gamba), the aforementioned Shonan victory as well as road wins at Kashiwa (3-1) and Urawa (2-0). On the flip side, they’ve gone down by 3 goals or more on 5 occasions though the last time was a 3-0 loss at Sapporo on October 24th, which may not have been a particularly accurate reflection of the run of play. In this encounter, top scorers for the year, Yusuke Matsuo (7) and Kazunari Ichimi (4) are both unavailable so a big question for them will be, who is going to be able to get on the end of the ammunition supplied by Takuya Matsuura (4 assists) and Kohei Tezuka (also 4)?

Briefly looking ahead to next season, Yokohama FC have been strongly linked with Gamba’s Kazuma Watanabe (34), while JEF United’s Brazilian forward Kleber (30) and Tosu midfield anchor / centre-back Hideto Takahashi (33) are also rumoured targets. In the departure lounge, veteran Daisuke Matsui has already left for Vietnam and young prodigy Koki Saito will make for Belgium at the year’s end. Yuki Kobayashi (Kobe), Kazunari Ichimi (Gamba), Kohei Tezuka (Kashiwa), Maguinho (Kawasaki), and Yuji Rokutan (Shimizu) are all regulars currently on loan from fellow J1 clubs so it’ll be interesting to monitor their future movements. I’ll also be keeping a keen eye on what happens with veterans Shunsuke Nakamura, Leandro Domingues and King Kazu, not to mention centre-back pairing, Masahiko Inoha and Calvin Jong-a-Pin. Fans at the Mitsuzawa may also be crossing fingers and toes in the hope that left-wing star Yusuke Matsuo’s shoulder problem keeps him off rival teams’ radars for at least another 6 months.

Head to Head

Gamba’s 2-1 win over Yokohama FC in August was the first J1 clash between these two since FC’s sole previous season in the top flight back in 2007. Shorn of the services of Kazunari Ichimi, Yokohama were wasteful in front of goal and were made to pay when Patric won the game for Gamba in the 94th minute. Yokohama FC are one of only 4 current J1 sides I haven’t seen play live (Nagoya, Oita and Shonan are the others) as I missed the 2 draws during Gamba’s J2 sojourn in 2013. Maybe next year, eh?

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Definitely out of this clash are Yuji Ono (knee – season) and Ademilson (club suspension) while Yuya Fukuda picked up a 4th yellow card of the year against Shonan and is therefore suspended. Takashi Usami and Kim Young-gwon both sat out the Bellmare game, but their injuries are not thought to be serious. Gamba are being coy about the fitness of Kosuke Onose and Yosuke Ideguchi, however, the general feeling seems to be that they’ll miss both remaining J1 matches. Captain Genta Miura appears to be back fit and firing after his 90 minutes in Kanagawa last week, and his return couldn’t have come at a better time as Kim and Ryu Takao are both walking a suspension tightrope with any caution against Yokohama FC ruling them out of the S-Pulse game. In better news, veteran Kazuma Watanabe will make 350th J1 appearance on Wednesday against the side he is likely to join next season.

Transfer Gossip / News Round-Up

It was announced last week that diminutive Kwansei Gakuin University forward Hiroto Yamami (currently in 3rd grade) will join Gamba from the 2022 season. Nerazzurri supporters may remember his winner in the shock 2-1 Emperor’s Cup defeat back in 2018 and he becomes the 3rd member of that side to move to Suita after Ryu Takao and Yuki Yamamoto. Elsewhere, it’s being reported that Yasuhito Endo will extend his Gamba contract next year, but remain on loan at J2 side Jubilo Iwata.
More left-field rumours include, a potential bid for Urawa’s on-loan Brazilian midfielder Ewerton, though that seems more like fan talk, while Kim Young-gwon has been linked with a move back to his homeland with Incheon United who are also said to be interested in ex-Gamba treble winner Oh Jae-suk.
Non-transfer related news is that the club are set to appoint a specialised forwards coach from next season in a bid to boost shooting performance (it’s worth noting that Gamba have a 19-1-12 record in terms of better shooting % this year). And finally…the 2021 uniforms will be officially unveiled in a ceremony prior to the final home game of 2020 against Shimizu on Saturday.

Yokohama FC

Forward Kazunari Ichimi (4 goals in 30 J1 games) can’t play as per the terms of his loan agreement with Gamba while Yusuke Matsuo has a dislocated shoulder and hasn’t featured since the draw at Sendai on October 14th. Holding midfielder Kensuke Sato, an influential figure in the reverse fixture, is currently out with a knee injury and was last seen in a matchday squad on October 18th. In the injured?/dropped? column are, utility man Eijiro Takeda who was subbed at half-time in the home loss to S-Pulse on November 25th and hasn’t been seen since, while veteran centre-back Calvin Jong-a-Pin suffered the same fate as Takeda except in the away loss at Shimizu on August 22nd, rookie central defender Kyowan Hoshi last saw action in the 3-0 drubbing at Tosu on September 5th, legend Shunsuke Nakamura has been limited to just 10 J1 appearances in 2020 and was last spotted as an unused sub against Oita on November 3rd and on-loan winger Ryuji Sugimoto, a rare starter, has been out of the squad for over a month.

Predicted Line Ups

With options thin on the ground at the moment, there aren’t too many alternatives to the players in the lineup below. Should Kim be fit enough, he could take the place of either Shoji or Miura at centre-back while the midfield has 3 potential choices in my opinion. The most likely is set out below with Takashi Usami returning from injury on the right wing with Yajima and Yamamoto in the middle and Kurata down the left. It’s also possible we could see Kurata on the right, Kawasaki down the left and the Yajima-Yamamoto partnership in the centre or Yajima on the right, Kurata on the left and Okuno and Yamamoto in the middle, we’ll need to wait and see.



With one more home game yet to come, a Yokohama derby, no-less, against Marinos on Saturday I reckon YFC will save their veterans like Shunsuke Nakamura, Leandro Domingues and King Kazu for that one. Alternatives to the lineup below would be either Hakamata or Inoha coming in at centre-back, young Nakayama playing down the right with Matsuura on the left or most likely Minagawa in for Senuma as the replacement for Ichimi.



Match Prediction

Gamba to do what they do best and grind out an ugly 2-1 away from home.

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Gamba News 13/08/20

I had already written most of my match preview for Gamba’s trip to Tosu this Saturday when the news broke that there had been a cluster of COVID-19 infections within the Sagan squad that caused them to shut down operations until August 25th. I didn’t want to put my hard work to waste so I’ve decided to publish the parts of my preview that are still relevant and have added in some new features, please let me know what you think. Finally I’d like to wish a speedy recovery to all those Sagan Tosu players and staff currently infected with coronavirus. お大事に!

Last Time Out

Gamba returned to winning ways at home to Yokohama FC last weekend with a smash-and-grab victory over an extremely game away side. There were two changes to the Nerrazzuri’s starting XI with Gen Shoji fully fit and ready to make his Gamba J1 debut between Miura and Kim at the back, while Brazilian forward Ademilson also returned from a short layoff to take Watanabe’s place alongside Usami in attack. Yuji Ono was once again selected ahead of Shu Kurata and Yajima and Ideguchi swapped places again with Yajima as the base of the midfield and 15-times capped by Japan, Ideguchi on the right.

The home team made a strong start against Yokohama, who had switched to a 4-4-2 formation and brought veterans Masahiko Inoha and Calvin Jong-a-Pin into their defence in preparation for a backs to the wall effort. Yajima and Ideguchi both shot off target in the opening 10 minutes as Gamba enjoyed near total control. FC rallied a little towards the midway point of the half, but on 34 minutes the men in blue and black went ahead. Good work down the left resulted in Ono feeding the ball to Onose on the edge of the box, the ex-Yokohama FC star unleashed a right-foot shot which deflected off team-mate Ademilson, wrong-footed goalkeeper Yuta Minami and flew into his bottom left corner. 1-0 half-time.

Gamba sought to kill off their opponents at the start of the second half, but were unable to create any clear cut chances and soon energy levels dropped off, possibly a touch of complacency crept in and Yokohama FC began to take a grip on proceedings. Possibly sparked by an incident where Yusuke Matsuo had his shirt pulled by Gen Shoji in the box but didn’t go down and thus didn’t get a penalty, the Kanagawa side started to overrun a tiring Gamba midfield and created presentable chances for attackers Koki Saito and Yusuke Minagawa as well as right-winger Takuya Matsuura. They got their reward on the hour mark when Hiroki Fujiharu made a sloppy back pass that didn’t reach Higashiguchi, Minagawa was able to bundle the ball past Gamba’s number 1 towards strike partner Saito and the impressive 18-year old swept the ball by Shoji on the line. 1-1, game on.

In the final half hour, Yokohama FC looked the more likely winners. It took Gamba a full 31 minutes to register their first chance of the half with Patric shooting across Minami but his effort went well wide. At the other end, Higashiguchi pulled off a great right-footed stop from Minagawa and veteran substitute Leandro Domingues fired over which prompted Gamba’s ‘keeper to kick the post in frustration at what he was seeing in front of him. Head-coach Miyamoto clearly agreed and freshened things up by bringing on Takao and Fukuda to replace Onose and Fujiharu as well as having Watanabe come on for the tiring Usami. These changes breathed new life into the Gamba attack and additional time brought a spell of sustained pressure. Another second-half substitute, Patric, was the hero, after having an earlier attempt correctly ruled out for offside, the 189cm behemoth met Yosuke Ideguchi’s corner and bulleted his header low to Minami’s right from about 5 yards out to win the game with essentially the last play. A hugely relieved Gamba claim their 6th victory of the year, Yokohama FC will be left kicking themselves for missing the chances they did.

On Wednesday night 17 year-old striker Shoji Toyama announced himself on the big stage with a first-half double that helped a Gamba side, whose starting XI average age was just 22.4, see off Shonan Bellmare 2-1. The three points gained from this game were not enough for the Nerrazzurri to qualify for the knock-out stages, though because of this year’s chaotic league schedule I’m not sure anyone in Suita is particularly upset.

Aside from Toyama’s debut and brace, there were also first top team appearances for, Jefferson Tabinas at centre-back, Kohei Okuno and U23 assist wizard Shuhei Kawasaki (4 goals, 12 assists in 34 J3 games) in midfield as well as wide-men Haruto Shirai, Dai Tsukamoto and Tatsuya Yamaguchi from the bench. Also Shunya Suganuma returned from injury to captain the side, and must have felt like a very old man indeed.

Tactical Notes

Not a whole lot to cover regarding Gamba this week, all the first choice starters are fit so Saturday’s lineup is what Miyamoto believes to be his best formation. With that said, I have a couple of concerns, the first of which is fatigue. Yokohama FC were able to dominate for large chunks of the second half and pick passes, including several through balls which took out both Gamba’s midfield and defence in one stroke. I largely put this down to Yajima, Ideguchi and Ono running out of energy following a tough run of games. Hopefully more rotation will take place in that crucial area as the effects of fresh legs could be easily seen following the introduction of Takao, Fukuda, Kurata and Patric. Secondly, last weekend was the first time in a while we’ve come up against an opponent really determined to ‘park the bus.’ We were able to create some chances, but not many, in the first half and for the opening half hour of the second stanza, build up play generally ended around Yokohama FC’s 18-yard line. This should serve as a wake up call ahead of future encounters with the likes of Shonan, Sendai and Tosu at home.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

It’s generally a clean bill of health to report for Gamba with last week’s starting XI being the first time this year that all first choice members have been available. Gen Shoji came through the game unscathed, though his workload may need to be managed moving forward, and Jun Ichimori had an excellent game between the sticks for Gamba U23 in their 2-1 win over Azul Claro Numazu on Sunday. Brazilian forward Ademilson notched his third goal of the campaign against Yokohama FC, but did seem to lack sharpness on his return to the first team. Outside of that, centre-back Shunya Suganuma returned against Shonan in the Levain Cup in midweek, but Ryo Shinzato’s, continued absence from all competitions suggests that he is on the treatment table.

From the Scout’s Office

I decided to add this section in for this match preview. Similar to Patric it won’t feature every week, but like the big man I hope it’ll have a big impact when it is used.

In the Yokohama FC preview, I identified central midfield as an area in need of an upgrade. This week staying home due to a minor infection gave me time to trawl through the leagues in search of talent. The rough parameters I set were, primary position is central midfield, aged between 23-30, at least 30 J1 appearances, willing to initially accept a role as backup in the rotation system. This is what I found, please note that not all players meet every category.

Secondly, I’d like to take a look at a player who troubled Gamba last week, Yokohama FC’s left-sided dynamo Yusuke Matsuo. Hiroki Fujiharu will turn 33 next season, so it’s possible Gamba will be in the market for a younger upgrade. At first glance Sendai University graduate Matsuo doesn’t fit the profile of recent Gamba signings, if we sign university players we tend to do it directly rather than wait until they’ve gained experience with another pro-team. However, due to COVID-19 this year, crowds have plummeted and this will surely hit teams with historically high average attendances, like Gamba, hard financially. With this in mind, we are likely to see the traditional ‘big boys’ battle it out over young Japanese talent with J1 experience in the coming transfer windows.

Yokohama FC have used Matsuo at left wing-back when they’ve operated the exact same 3-5-2 system as Gamba. Also, as shown on Saturday he can play as an orthodox left midfielder in a 4-4-2 and he mostly turned out as a left winger in YFC’s 4-2-3-1 formation last year. Theoretically he should have the skill set to play in the advanced left-side central midfield position currently being rotated between Ono and Kurata. Shu, like Fujiharu, will be 33 next season and Matsuo seems to tick a lot of boxes for Miyamoto. The kantoku is known for his fondness for players who can adapt to different systems and competently play in a number of positions.

I’m pretty sure there’s a dossier on Yusuke Matsuo sitting in Gamba’s scouting office right now, as well as quite a few other teams, Urawa? Kobe? Cerezo? Let me know what you think, how would he do with Gamba? Are there any other players you’d like Gamba to bring in within the next 6-12 months?

Know Your Future Opponent – J2 players likely to move to J1 clubs

With no opponent this weekend, I thought it was a good chance to give a rundown of some J2 talent that I believe will soon be playing in the top tier. Before I do, a couple of selection criteria I laid out were, young Japanese talents who are not currently on loan from J1 teams (no Daigo Takahashi or Kazuma Yamaguchi) and have never been contracted to a J1 team (sorry Hiroki Ito and Shuto Machino). Most of these players are forwards, but if the DAZN team of the week can do it, why can’t I?

Shogo Asada (22 years old, Kyoto Sanga) – As it’s alphabetical, my most surprising choice is first up. Centre-back Asada caught my eye in last night’s Kyoto vs Mito thriller. Although defending was not of the highest standard in general, both midfields left their backlines rather exposed, giving Asada, who spent 2019 on loan at Kamatamare Sanuki in J3, the chance to shine with some excellent blocks and interceptions.

Akira Silvano Disaro’ (24, Giravanz Kitakyushu) – Getting a lot of attention on J-Talk Extra Time, the ‘bald eagle’ has taken to life in J2 like a duck to water (that doesn’t really work does it?). He was in the stands as Giravanz rested a host of players against Kanazawa last night, but had scored in each of his previous four appearances. Possesses a very crisp shot and has built up a great understanding with his equally talented attacking team-mates.

Shion Homma (20, Albirex Niigata) I’m not really pushing the boat out with this one as anyone who watches J2 knows about this kid’s potential. The nimble left-winger blotted his copybook somewhat by getting foolishly sent off for two yellows against Yamaguchi, but not before he’d assisted Mauro for the game’s opening goal. It’s a matter of when, not if he makes it to a higher level.

Shion Inoue (23. Tokyo Verdy) Already identified by the FC Tokyo Kai-Guys as a potential answer to their midfield issues, Verdy youngster Inoue looks set to be the latest talent off their impressive production line. He’s played all but one J2 game so far in 2020 and has been a key cog in the pretty football Verdy tend to play. Really stood out with two goals and an assist in the 4-2 dismantling of Ventforet Kofu a few weeks back.

Mutsuki Kato (23, Zweigen Kanazawa) Got his third goal in as many games after coming on to replace the injured Lucao away at Kitakyushu on Wednesday. In fact the duo generally play as a partnership and have already contributed a combined 10 goals in 11 games this year. Former Sanfrecce Youth product Kato is currently in his rookie season as a pro having joined from Chuo University last off-season.

Kota Kawano (17, Renofa Yamaguchi) A bit of an internet sensation following his well taken finish against league leaders Nagasaki last month where he became J2’s youngest ever goalscorer. That strike prompted Yamaguchi to offer the High School 2nd grader his first professional contract. Given the good relationship between Gamba and Yamaguchi, could Kawano and Shoji Toyama be the Nerrazzuri’s strike pairing of the future?

Seiya Maikuma (22, V-Varen Nagasaki) Daniel from the Nagasaki Blue & Orange Blog assures me Maikuma will be in J1 as a V-Varen player next year and given their start to the campaign, I’m not going to argue. Previously senpai to Leo Takae and Yuya Fukuda at Higashi Fukuoka High School, Maikuma chose to attend Momoyama Gakuin University in Osaka before turning pro this season. Originally listed as a striker, he’s found a home playing either as an orthodox right-back or as a right-wing back depending on the formation employed by his coach. Scored his side’s third after coming on as a substitute against Thespakusatsu Gunma last night.

Kai Matsuzaki (22, Mito HollyHock) A big favourite of J-Talk Extra Time host Jon Steele, I was really excited to see Matsuzaki in action live for the first time against Kyoto. Given that I kind of expected him to be a J2 Messi, of course I was left slightly disappointed. That said, his stats for an attack-minded Mito side in his first year as a pro are impressive with a goal and four assists in his opening ten games (five starts and five sub appearances).

Solomon Sakuragawa (19, JEF United Chiba) The towering 190cm forward will hopefully learn from the excellent strike partners he has in Chiba (Hisato Sato, Kengo Kawamata, Kleber, Keita Yamashita) rather than be sucked down by his team’s wild inconsistency. Has generally been used as a sub after being promoted from the youth team last winter, but already has two goals to his name in J2 this year.

Masaki Watai (21, Tokushima Vortis) The diminutive attacking midfielder has seemingly been wrapped in cotton wool by manager Ricardo Rodriguez at the start of 2020. He’s now fully established in the starting XI and had an impressive outing with a goal and an assist against table-topping Nagasaki last weekend before setting up Kazuki Nishiya’s winner at Machida on Wednesday night.

Arata Watanabe (25, Albirex Niigata) The oldest of this group and someone I was really impressed with following his two-goal show in the 3-3 draw at home to Kofu in round 2. He’s found goalscoring a little tougher since strike partner Fabio was ruled out due to injury, but remains a threat. The Ryutsu Keizai University graduate is now in his third season as a pro and can play either as a central striker or on the right-wing as he did last year to accommodate Leonardo.

Other Notable Mentions – I don’t want to incur the wrath of @OkinawaOzzy so I better give a shout out to FC Ryukyu attacking midfielder Yoshio Koizumi who got a fine assist for Takuma Abe’s volley against Tokushima. Elsewhere, Ehime youth product Shuma Mihara has looked dangerous in the left wing-back role and Takahiro Akimoto of Tochigi SC has gone some of the way to filling the creative void left by Kazuki Nishuya. Kanji Okunuki has been in and out of the Omiya lineup this year, but owing to his form in 2019 he deserves a mention while Keita Yamashita who joined JEF from Yamaguchi last winter is a clean striker of the ball who looks like he could play at a higher level.

That’s all for this week, I hope you enjoyed the changes, feedback is always welcomed. I’ll be back next week to preview the Urawa and Kashima games. See you soon!

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Yokohama FC Match Preview 8/8/2020

Gamba Osaka vs Yokohama FC
J1 2020 Round 9
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Saturday 8 August 19:00 (JST)


Round 9 of J1 2020 brings us the second of a home double header for Gamba, with promoted side Yokohama FC visiting Panasonic Stadium for the very first time. The club born out of the ashes of Yokohama Flugels currently lie second bottom of the standings, though Gamba would do well not to underestimate them. As ever, feedback and opinions are welcomed, I’ve noticed 60-70% of my readership is from outside of Japan so I’d really like to know how you became interested in the JLeague.

Last Time Out

Gamba succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at home to Kawasaki Frontale in a top of the table clash last Saturday night. In addition to my match report here, please check out this week’s edition of the @JtalkPod where @frontalerabbit and I discussed the game in detail with Ben and Sam (@FrsoccerSam).
You can find it here… https://podcasts.apple.com/jp/podcast/the-j-talk-podcast/id682488425?l=en&i=1000487086000

Fresh off a full six days of rest Gamba made only one alteration to their starting lineup with the fit-again Kosuke Onose coming in for Yuya Fukuda in the right wing-back position. Ademilson appears to still be on the casualty list as he wasn’t in the 18-man squad while there was a welcome first bench appearance for off-season signing Gen Shoji, although he didn’t get on the field. In central midfield Yuji Ono kept his starting spot ahead of Shu Kurata while Shinya Yajima and Yosuke Ideguchi switched positions with Ideguchi starting at the base of the midfield and Yajima playing more advanced on the right side.

Gamba had the better of the chances in a pretty even first-half where excellent closing down and defensive structures were the dominant forces. The best opportunity fell to Onose following Yasuto Wakizaka’s suicidal pass across his own box in the 20th minute, Kawasaki ‘keeper Jung Sung-ryong was a relieved man to see the Gamba number 8’s shot rebound off his left-hand post. As the half wore on Gamba moved the ball well in attacking areas but created few clear cut chances. Frontale always looked menacing when in possession, however, the Nerrazzuri were up to the task of handling the league’s top scorers and they were reduced to blocked shots around the 18 yard-box and speculative efforts from distance.

I’m not sure what Tsuneyasu Miyamoto said to his players at half-time, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t “let’s abandon the tight defensive structure we had in the first half and leave wide gaps between the defence and midfield”, yet that’s exactly what happened. Kawasaki introduced dangerous left-winger Kaoru Mitoma for the scolded Wakizaka at the break which saw Reo Hatate switch to the right flank and Akihiro Ienaga drop deeper. The move brought almost instant reward for the men from Kanagawa. Mitoma fired a warning shot in the 47th minute following slack play by Gamba in the midfield and less than 60 seconds later Masaaki Higashiguchi was picking the ball out of his own net after a neat one-two between Ryota Oshima and Mitoma ended with the former hitting a fine drive low into the bottom left corner to give the home side a mountain to climb.

Gamba rallied for the next 10 minutes or so, but after that they began to fade away and their attacks started to lose conviction. Indeed, it was Frontale who may have felt they should have extended their lead on the break. Yu Kobayashi, who Gamba did a good job of keeping quiet, beat Hiroki Fujiharu to a header but it cannoned off the crossbar and away to safety. Full time Gamba 0-1 Kawasaki.


Yokohama FC went down 2-0 at home to Sanfrecce Hiroshima for the second time in 2020, following on from their defeat in the Levain Cup back in February. In truth it was no less than a dominant Sanfrecce deserved. I’m not sure if Hiroshima head-coach Hiroshi Jofuku is a fan of the blog but he agreed with my opinion that Douglas Vieira and Leandro Pereira shouldn’t play together and flanked Vieira with Tsukasa Morishima and Shunki Higashi. That trio plus central midfielder Hayao Kawabe gave Yokohama all kinds of problems in a one-sided first half.

Sanfrecce’s opener came just prior to the water break when Higashi, on the left wing, dinked a ball over the top into the Yokohama FC box, it found Morishima who outmuscled Kensuke Sato, Sato tried to wrestle Morishima to the ground, but on his way down, Hiroshima’s number 10 was able to poke out his right leg and guide the ball past Yuta Minami, 1-0 to the visitors.

Just 15 minutes later Sanfrecce doubled their advantage after a corner kick from the main stand side was only partially cleared and Toshihiro Aoyama floated the ball over towards the back post. Douglas Vieira was left completely unmarked and had time to chest the ball down before firing a slightly awkard looking shot across Minami for his third J1 goal of 2020.

Yokohama FC made a triple change at the break with Kazunari Ichimi, Kyowaan Hoshi and Tatsuki Seko replacing Yusuke Minagawa, Masakazu Tashiro and Kensuke Sato, this also brought about a switch in formation as the first half’s 3-5-2 became more of an orthodox 4-4-2. Sanfrecce inevitably sat back which allowed Yokohama FC to have their most dominant spell of pressure in the opening 15 minutes of the half and despite decent touches from Ichimi, left-winger Yusuke Matsuo and centre-back Yuki Kobayashi, the best they had to show for it was left-back Yutaro Hakamata’s shot straight at Keisuke Osako from the edge of the box. Meanwhile at the other end, Higashi nearly embarrassed Minami with a fine lob from inside his own half which hit the Yokohama crossbar. The final 30 minutes rather meandered and petered out leaving Sanfrecce comfortable 2-0 winners.

Tactical Notes

Gamba made a positional switch against Kawasaki with Yosuke Ideguchi starting at the base of the midfield and Shinya Yajima on the right, I’m not sure why Miyamoto made this change, but I have two theories. One, to allow Yajima to track the dangerous Ryota Oshima and two, to give Ideguchi a sort of rest from his heavy workload of high-pressing and protecting the centre-backs. I’m not sure either hypothesis stands up to scrutiny, though. First of all, midway through the first half, Yajima and the more attack-minded Yuji Ono switched sides, throwing my Oshima theory out the window, then later on after Yajima and Ono switched back, Yajima and Ideguchi reversed roles before the midfield musical chairs stopped and everyone was back to their original spot at the start of the second period. Yajima’s two poorest games this season have come in the more advanced right-side role, granted this was against, for me, the two best teams in the league, Kawasaki and Cerezo. I’d prefer to see Yajima start at the base, Ideguchi on the right and Ono and Shu Kurata to rotate on the left in future matches.

This leads me to my next point, a lack of depth in central midfield. With the summer transfer window now ajar, this is the one area I feel Gamba need to address. Yajima and Ideguchi are the only orthodox volante players we have who are in their prime, Yuki Yamamoto, Kohei Okuno and Ren Shibamoto all have potential, but possess a combined total of four J1 appearances to date, while sadly 40 year-old Yasuhito Endo’s legs have gone meaning he is only really effective in games where Gamba can be expected to dominate for long spells with little resistance from the opposition. It seems unlikely that we can break Leo Takae’s loan deal with Machida Zelvia and we have been linked with South Korean midfielder Ju Se-jong, currently in and out of a struggling FC Seoul side. Personally I’d love to see a move for someone like Ryota Nagaki of Kashima or Hidemasa Morita of Frontale, but both are very unrealistic targets for a number of reasons. How about, Yushi Hasegawa? Daiki Matsuoka? Mitsuki Saito? Yusuke Kobayashi? Rikiya Uehara? Let me know what you think.

Finally, in this tactical look at Gamba, we once again saw Onose and Usami link up as a forward pairing in the second half of last Saturday’s game. This is the first time it had been tried since it was abandoned midway through the Levain Cup encounter against Kashiwa back in February. It does engineer a way for Onose, Fujiharu and Fukuda to all play together while giving Kazuma Watanabe a well earned break and Onose is probably closer in style to Ademilson than Watanabe is. However, for me it is the third best option in attack after Usami-Ademilson and Usami-Watanabe.

Yokohama FC have discarded the 4-2-3-1 formation which saw them promoted to J1 this year and have instead opted for a 3-5-2 system (exactly the same as Gamba) since the re-start of the league in June. They’ve also largely ditched their famous gang of late 30 and early 40 somethings in favour of youngsters who they hope can develop into solid J1 players. With no relegation this year, I 100% support this way of thinking and wish them all the best with it, though obviously not in this match.

Interestingly despite starting the match with Hiroshima in their preferred 3-5-2 shape, they changed to 4-4-2 for the second half, and while it looked more effective at first glance, it should be remembered that Sanfrecce essentially had the game sewn up by half-time. Yusuke Matsuo who featured on the left-wing last year is now learning the ropes as a wing-back and along with his counterpart on the right, Maguinho, provides Yokohama FC’s main attacking threat. Matsuo had a couple of decent runs last week, though his positional discipline is questionable as he has a tendency to cut inside and even move over to the right while on attack. In central midfield, Takuya Matsuura was often found almost out on the right-wing in the first half against Hiroshima and this created space for Hayao Kawabe and Toshihiro Aoyama to dictate possession for the visitors. While, in attack, Yusuke Minagawa started but was replaced after 45 minutes by Kazunari Ichimi, who of course can’t play against his parent club. Ichimi looks to be their best striker, so his non-appearance this week is a cause for Gamba optimism. Young Koki Saito is nominally either Minagawa or Ichimi’s partner in attack, though in reality, we’re likely to see him drop off and sit just behind.

To sum up, Yokohama FC will probably adopt a similar formation to Gamba and use the same tactics of playing out from the back and pressing high up the field to try and force opposition mistakes. Unfortunately for them, I’d say along with Shimizu, Tosu, Oita, Sendai and Shonan, they form the league’s weakest teams, so hopefully Gamba will be able to bounce back from last week’s defeat.

Statistical Noise

Gamba Osaka

*Gamba have never lost to Yokohama FC, although to date there have only been 4 league games played between the two. Both J2 matches back in 2013 finished tied while Gamba won one and drew one with last-placed YFC in 2007.
*In 4 home games so far in 2020 Gamba have only had less of the ball than Sanfrecce Hiroshima and are currently averaging 51.7% possession at Panasonic Stadium.
*Currently 17 players have started league games for Gamba this season while 4 (Patric, Kurokawa, Yamamoto, Matsuda) have only made sub appearances. This total of 21 players used is the third least in the league, while 17 starters is the fourth smallest tally in J1.

Yokohama FC

*YFC have failed to score in their last 3 league outings against Hiroshima, Urawa and Yokohama F.Marinos. Their last goal was Masakazu Tashiro’s 59th minute equaliser against Kawasaki in round 5 meaning they haven’t found the back of the net for 301 minutes.
*17th place Yokohama are currently owners of the league’s worst defensive record after shipping 18 goals in 8 games (though 9 of these came vs Kawasaki and Yokohama F.Marinos). Their 7 goals scored makes them the second weakest attacking team in J1 after Sagan Tosu (Gamba’s next opponents – 5 goals – 2 scored and 2 assisted by 20-year old Kaisei Ishii – sign him up?)
*This is just Yokohama FC’s second season in J1, their last was back in 2007 when they were able to take just 16 points from 34 matches, a total that has only been worsened by Sapporo (2012), Oita (2013) and Tokushima (2014) since J1 switched to 18 teams (all three finished with 14 points).

Team News

Gamba Osaka

Generally good news for Gamba on the injury front with Gen Shoji and backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori now back in contention. Shoji played 64 minutes of the 1-1 draw at Oita in the Levain Cup in midweek while Ichimori got a run out for Gamba U23 against Nagano Parceiro last Sunday. Kosuke Onose also returned from a minor niggle in the game with Kawasaki, though doubts persist about the nature of Ademilson’s continued absence, hopefully it is just a precaution. The non-appearance of centre-backs, Shunya Suganuma and Ryo Shinzato against Oita seems to suggest that both are currently injured.

Yokohama FC

Experienced goalkeeper Yuji Rokutan is still out after receiving a nasty facial injury against Vegalta Sendai last month, while as noted above Kazunari Ichimi can’t feature as per the terms of his loan agreement. These are the only certain absences I know of, however, right-winger Katsuhiro Nakayama, an important figure last season, hasn’t featured for several weeks. Left-sided defender Takaaki Shichi and vice-captain Kosuke Saito have been out of the J1 squad for a few matchdays, but both played in the 1-0 win at Sagan Tosu in the Levain Cup on Wednesday. Additionally veterans such as Masahiko Inoha, Calvin Jong-a-Pin, Daisuke Matsui and the prolific in J2, Ibba have seemingly been frozen out of Shimotaira’s league selection plans due to the absence of relegation this year.

Know Your Opponent – Yokohama FC

Head Coach: Takahiro Shimotaira – Appointed 14 May 2019 – Record P 37 W 20 D 9 L 8 F 60 A 43 Failed to Score 8 Clean Sheets 11

GK #18 Yuta Minami – 40-year old stopper who like his head coach was once at Kashiwa Reysol. He’s regained his starting spot from the injured Rokutan and is surely enjoying what must be an unexpected J1 swansong.

RCB #29 Kyowaan Hoshi – In his first season as a pro following a winter move from Komazawa University, Hoshi is one of a number of Yokohama FC players benefiting from the freedom of no relegation this year. He’s started all but one of the post lockdown league games.

CB #4 Yuki Kobayashi – Despite only turning 20 last month, Kobayashi has the look of a far more experienced player. Currently on loan from Vissel Kobe, he appears to be exactly the type of ball playing centre-back that the men from Hyogo will be hoping to build their defence around for years to come. Kobayashi had a decent loan spell with Machida Zelvia in J2 last year and also played twice for Vissel back in 2018 when he was still a high school student.

LCB #26 Yutaro Hakamata – A bit of a bolter in this year’s Yokohama FC lineup, left-back or left-sided centre-back Hakamata only played 14 times during YFC’s promotion campaign, but is being given more game time this season. I guess his coach, in a similar way to Miyamoto, relishes his versatility as he is able to play in three separate positions competently depending on the game situation.

RWB #3 Maguinho – Right-back / wing-back who joined on loan from neighbours Kawasaki Frontale last off-season after playing just 8 J1 games in 2019. Despite that, he managed to score twice and earned plaudits for his attacking play if not so much for his defensive capabilities. He’s one of YFC’s main attacking threats this year.

RCM #7 Takuya Matsuura – Vastly experienced player with over 200 J1 games to his name, mostly with Jubilo Iwata. He missed a lot of 2019, but is now back as a key cog on the right side of Yokohama’s central midfield triangle, though he can essentially operate anywhere across the middle.

DM #8 Kensuke Sato – A one-club man, holding midfielder Sato joined from Chuo University back in 2009 and is now approaching 300 league games for Yokohama. This is his first shot at J1 football and like many of his team-mates he’s found the going tough, it’s a toss up whether it’ll be he or Tatsuki Seko who starts on Saturday.

LCM #30 Kohei Tezuka – A loan signing from Kashiwa Reysol last close season, left-sided central midfielder Tezuka had an interesting start to his pro career with Onehunga in New Zealand back in 2015. After returning to his homeland with Kashiwa Reysol the following year, he never really established himself as a regular starter across four seasons in Chiba and will be relishing the opportunity he currently has with Yokohama.

LWB #37 Yusuke Matsuo – Yokohama FC’s main attacking danger in my opinion, Matsuo helped himself to 6 goals and 5 assists in 21 J2 matches in 2019 while on a special designated player contract from Sendai University. Indeed he actually played against YFC in the Emperor’s Cup last July. This year he’s made the switch from left-wing to left wing-back and seems to be coping well.

RCF #16 Yusuke Minagawa – The man likely to replace Ichimi for this game after also playing the first 45 minutes against his former club Hiroshima last Saturday. 186 cm tall Minagawa has a mediocre scoring record in J1 and his best ever season was spent on loan at then-J2 side Roasso Kumamoto in 2018 where he found the back of the net 11 times in 41 appearances.

LCF #23 Koki Saito – The great young hope for Yokohama FC fans, Koki Saito, not to be confused with the similarly named Kosuke Saito in midfield, doesn’t turn 19 until next Monday but is already in his third season as a pro. He can play either as a central striker, just off the main forward or on the left-wing. Has been tipped for international honours in the future.

Other Options – As laid out in the team news section above, Yokohama FC’s army of veterans including defenders Masahiko Inoha and Calvin Jong-a-Pin, midfielder Daisuke Matsui and Norwegian attacker Ibba have all been left out as Shimotaira has opted to develop youth during this unique campaign. That leaves us with centre-back or defensive midfielder Masakazu Tashiro as a potential starter ahead of Hoshi or Hakamata while as mentioned earlier, former Meiji University midfielder Tatsuki Seko could take Kensuke Sato’s slot. Left-sided player Eijiro Takeda is more likely to play off the bench, but remains a possible starter while veterans Leandro Domingues, Shunsuke Nakamura and even Kazuyoshi ‘King Kazu’ Miura could see some game time. Yuki Kusano, a young forward who struck four times in eleven J2 games in 2019 after joining from Hannan University in Osaka is perhaps a more realistic alternative.

Predicted Lineups




Match Prediction

I always have slight trepidation coming into banana skin games like this. Everything says Gamba should have too much for Yokohama FC, but as we’ve seen many times before in football, anything can happen. With that said, I’m in pretty confident mood and will go for 2-0 Gamba.

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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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