A new column has started from a few weeks and we’re trying to bring forward this weekly appointment. Every weekend we’re gonna try to watch two games, one from J1 and one from J2. Maybe sometimes there will be space for J3 in the int’l breaks, but those two will be our main topic. “The Regista Diaries” reviews two games we watched throughout last weekend, so let’s start.
Gamba Osaka v. Kawasaki Frontale 0-2
The long stop due to a COVID-outbreak posed a challenge for Gamba Osaka, who were still trying to catch up the right pace for their season. On the other side, Kawasaki Frontale had probably ended the 2021 title race with a double win against Nagoya Grampus. With this advantage on the table, Toru Oniki opted to change a few faces, giving rest to some notable starters.
In fact, Mitoma started from the bench, with Hasegawa in his place. Also, Hatate was fielded again as a left-back and Kurumaya took Taniguchi’s spot as a center-back. On the other side, some strange choices by Miyamoto: up front, a trio with Usami, Ichimi and Leandro Pereira, while youngsters Kohei Okuno and Yota Sato started from the first minute. Only bench for Ju Se-jong and Shu Kurata.
The first half confirmed all the problems Gamba showed since their return on the pitch: outside of Higashiguchi, the defense wasn’t nearly as solid as last season; the midfield seriously lacked some fantasy and creativity; last but not least, Usami seemed the ghost of his best version. Put in there also the bogus choice of fielding Ichimi as a right winger and the scenario is complete.
On the other hand, Frontale kept their cool and dominated the game, despite creating only a few chances. A header by João Schmidt forced a super-save by Higashiguchi, but the guests broke the deadlock in the 41st minute: great through ball by Wakizaka and Hasegawa is free to rumble within the penalty area. After some messy control, captain Leandro Damião sealed the advantage with a lefty strike.
The fresh MVP of the Month banged his tenth goal in 14 J1 games, bringing Frontale ahead. Kawasaki, though, hadn’t too much to fear also in the second half, since they controlled the game and tried repeatedly to close it: Wakizaka hit the post at the beginning of the second half, while a deflected shot by Ao Tanaka called Higashiguchi to another solid save, in order to avoid the worse.
Despite the changes, nothing really clicked for the hosts, who saw their disadvantage doubling in the 71st minute. Kaoru Mitoma didn’t need that much to turn his engine in: a long ball from Noborizato found him on the run. Despite the young Sato saw the whole thing and tried to contain him, the winger channeled his inner Carl Lewis to burst through the defense and score the 2-0.
At that point, Gamba didn’t have the resources to do anything. Nothing literally happened until the end of the game, with Frontale administrating the advantage. After 15 matches, only Vissel Kobe and Sanfrecce Hiroshima have been able to stop them. Their numbers are just monstrous, having already scored 39 goals. Somehow, they’ve become stronger than 2020 and it seemed a tough ask.
What about Gamba, instead? Should they be worried about even a possible relegation fight? We don’t think so. Sure, scoring just two goals in nine games is terrible and that’s why they need to find a couple of answers. They lost the last five games against Frontale, but they seemed in need of something else: where’s the best Usami? Does this match between all these forwards work? Should they review their pair of center-backs?
They should also try to exploit their roster in a different way: without the U-23 team, many youngsters are not playing, especially up front. Toyama left for a loan to Ehime to find some pitch time, while Shirai and Tsukamoto are not playing. Jiro Nakamura is nowhere near the first squad. Last but not least, Ichimi is squandering his growth by staying there. They need to find a solution ALSO to this problem.
Kyoto Sanga v. Montedio Yamagata 1-0
Coming from two positive results after the change on the bench – Kiyotaka Ishimaru left to make room for Peter Cklamovski –, Montedio Yamagata were hoping to find some surprising points in Kyoto, where Sanga are right on schedule to book a spot in the Top 2. The work of Cho Kwi-jea already produced some results, turning Sanga into a credible side for the promotion fight.
In this game, the former Shonan head coach opted to leave Miyayoshi on the bench, picking Hiroto Nakagawa as a starter. At the same time, Araki was chosen as a left winger, pushing captain Temma Matsuda back to the role of midfielder, alongside Sota Kawasaki and Shohei Takeda. A game to seal their confidence, since Kyoto came from six wins in a row before the draw away at FC Ryukyu.
Nevertheless, it seemed enough to face the guests, who had notable absences on their squad. Víctor Ibáñez was on the bench, leaving again a spot to Eisuke Fujishima between the posts. Shuto Minami was fielded as a central midfielder, while Hikaru Nakahara finally booked a starting spot within the new direction. Kota Yamada kept this place behind lone striker Masamichi Hayashi (with still no signs of Vinícius Araújo coming back).
Kyoto seemed in control from the get-go, capable of breaking through the enemy lines, while Montedio are still trying to adapt to the new guidelines from their head coach. This brought the guests to lose the ball on many chances while building up the play, with Sanga capable of taking chances from this confusion. Where Fujishima and line clearances couldn’t get, Sanga found the way to get ahead.
Another loose ball went to Utaka: the Nigerian striker provided a good through-pass with a back-heel, exploiting the run of Takeda, who then assisted Araki on the weak side for the easiest of goals. The advantage was managed by Sanga, who closed the first half being ahead and then lowered their center to defend the 1-0. It was a smart move by Cho, in order to contain Yamagata and their blunt attacks.
In fact, even with Sanga stationing basically in their half, Yamagata weren’t able to put in danger Wakahara that much. The several changes didn’t impact too hard on the flow of the game, with the hosts risking the bare minimum to keep their result. And this kind of resilient and fighting spirit is the difference between the last two seasons at Sanga and what 2021 might mean in the end.
If Sanga are fighting at the best of their possibilities to book a spot back in J1 after more than a decade, the journey will be profoundly diverse for Montedio. After the dismissal of Ishimaru, the goal from this year must be to avoid relegation and give time to Cklamovski. The same time he didn’t have at S-Pulse and the one he hopes to find in Yamagata, where they might actually have the chance of waiting to have a solid project and maybe jump on the playoffs’ bandwagon in 2022.
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