With especially the last two matches being very disappointing and ending in draws (three in a row!), Gamba will head up to the most northern team in the J.League, Consadole Sapporo, to confront a young and topsy-turvy team that gave us warm memories last season. The game will be played at the spectacular Sapporo Dome at 16:00 local time.
This will be the first J2 match between the two sides despite having a healthy J1 rivalry in the years before both teams were relegated last season. Gamba can take pride in the fact that they won their last game at the Dome 4-0 when neither team were particularly brimming with confidence and the last meet between the two sides ended in a landslide victory for Gamba, with Leandro hitting a hat-trick in a 7-2 win. Gamba finished a whopping 24 points but just 1 place ahead of the eternally rooted Sapporo, who have kept only 2 clean sheets since the start of the 2012 season at home (although more than Gamba) but they have managed to win only 3 in that time along with 2 draws in 19 matches. All of Sapporo’s wins this term have come from their away games. Just like Gamba, they simply refuse to win at home. They return to the Dome after an impressive 1-0 win away to Avispa Fukuoka despite ending the match with 10 men. This is a team with 14 products of their youth system, almost half of their roster. It will be an up-and-down season for this squad. Gamba will arrive in Hokkaido looking to break their run of 3 draws and away from home seems like the place to do it.
The league history between both teams is fascinating. Despite only playing each other 10 times, thanks in no small part to Sapporo being unable to stay in J1 for too long, there has only ever been one away win – which was last year’s 4-0 win for Gamba. Traditionally, Gamba have found it tough going in Hokkaido, even against a weak Sapporo team. 3 out of 5 games in Sapporo have ended in a win for the home team. Over the ten league matches, the home team has scored 19 goals compared to 11 from the away team. Although Gamba have only ever won once in Sapporo, they’ve still scored more. Last season aside, these games were pretty low scoring.
Let’s get away from the history now and onto the teams. Starting with Consadole, they will be without central defender Nara who was sent-off last weekend for two bookings whilst Cho Song-Jin, also a defender, had to leave the pitch after only 18 minutes of play and is probably going to miss out. This will come as a blow to the team as they have conceded only 4 goals, albeit all of these coming in all of their defeats. Consadole have picked up two impressive 1-0 away wins at JEF and Fukuoka but they may struggle, again, at home. They have been playing a similar 4-2-3-1 system but have yet to score in their two matches at home. Sapporo could only name 6 substitutes against Fukuoka, so this match might be a big ask for them. You can see their line-up against Avispa Fukuoka to the side.
Gamba received some good news, in my humble opinion, with the news that Tomokazu Myojin has picked up a hamstring strain, length of injury unknown, but it can be at least 3 weeks. We might miss his experience but not his “contribution” to the team. Who cares anyway? Konno and Endo are back with the squad after their disappointing travels with the national team. Endo will return as captain but where does Konno play? Alongside the captain in midfield or back in defence? If he goes to defence, will Nishino or Iwashita partner him? With that, who plays alongside Endo – Takei or Uchida? I would prefer to see Uchida get some game time but me and Hasegawa agree on nothing, so Takei it is. Furthermore, does Ienaga come in behind Leandro or does Futagawa keep his place? And what about Hirai – not even on the bench last week but I still want to see his combination with Leandro. I am giving you the teams I would pick to the side, but Hasegawa will ignore me.
He is back from national duty so all eyes are on Yasuyuki Konno. Even though we do not yet know in which position he will play, there can only positives with his return to the squad for this game against his former team. I would prefer him to partner Nishino over Iwashita as the lad needs a helping hand but Gamba look stronger in defence with him next to Endo. If he plays there, I am sure that the game will end with a clean sheet to Gamba.
The final result prediction is 0-3 to Gamba Osaka. Having bigged-up Konno, Sapporo have been toothless at home so far against Tochigi and Matsumoto Yamaga and I expect more of the same. Even against a leaky Gamba defence, Konno’s influence (in front of Nishino and Iwashita or not) will keep us out of too much trouble. I expect Sapporo’s preference of being away, as well as Gamba’s, to continue, especially with the fresh scars of the drubbings last season. Hasegawa’s plan must click eventually and the season should start now. There have been positive signs without the performance and final product being great, so the inexperienced Sapporo side might get hurt once again. But do not listen to me, I have been right only once so far with these bloody predictions (which was an away win!)!