With 3 clean sheets in a row, 2 wins in a row, unbeaten so far and having finally won at home for the first time in 8 months, Gamba Osaka head to coast city of Toyama full of confidence and security in their performances. We will be looking to get 3 league wins in a row for the first time since 10th September 2011, after wins against Kawasaki Frontale (6-3), Kashiwa Reysol (2-0), Vissel Kobe (4-0) and Omiya Ardija (2-0) in a 4 game winning streak. This game will be held at the Toyama Athletic Stadium at 16:00 local time.
Gamba have never ventured to play Kataller Toyama before given that the side only made it into J2 in 2009. It was in that season that they have had their highest-placed finish of 13th, with last season being their worst, finishing in 19th place.
They have looked promising this season, coming into this match in 9th place with 14 points. They have won 2, drew 1 and lost 1 at home but have kept clean sheets in the games they avoided defeat. Gamba’s Kansai rivals Kyoto Sanga and Vissel Kobe have both failed to muster a goal in their visits to Toyama, so we may just have to expect the same this weekend. Nevertheless, the team has only managed to score 9 goals in 9 games so far; these stats would suggest a tight match, and given Gamba’s defensive solidity and wasteful frontline, this opinion is valid. Especially as Gamba have yet to lose on the road and dropped points only after a shocking 5 minutes in Kumamoto. The positive thing for Gamba is that they are still making chances whilst preventing the opposition from doing so.
Toyama come into this match after a tight away win against FC Gifu. They seemed to have dropped 2 points right at the end after taking a 2 goal lead to the bottom-placed team. Desmond and Nakashima thought they’d secured a point after goals in the 84th and 88th minutes for the hosts, but Funatsu recovered the lead for the away team in the 92nd minute. You can see the team that got those important 3 points to your left. You would expect them to keep the same side.
As for Gamba, injury to Paulinho and with Hirai struggling with an attitude problem (not an injury as we first thought), the strike force is looking thin. Akihiro Sato will still not be back until June, so responsibility of back-up to Leandro comes from Kawanishi and Hoshihara, even though the latter has been designated as a wing-back for the season. Akihiro Ienaga can also play that position if things really do go from bad to worse. Myojin is not far off from returning from his injury that has kept him side-lined since the JEF United match in Round 5, but this may be a bit too early for a return.
The biggest question for this match is, given that Konno believes he will make it for the match on Sunday, does he take his place back from Tatsuya Uchida, who deputised well in the win at home on Wednesday? If Konno is 100% fit, then I would expect him to be back in the starting XI, no questions asked. Either way, we have good cover for him if he does not make it.
Another thought is how to get the best out of Leandro. He has had a few really good chances that he has failed to capitalise upon, so the sooner he gets a goal the better. The team as a whole have to be a lot more accurate with their shooting – then we can have some comfortable wins. Finally, we might see Abe come in for Futagawa if the veteran magician sees this match as one too many for a week, but this is just a point more than an expectation. You can see my expected team to the right.
Hiroki Fujiharu is the man to watch this weekend. He put in the decisive ball on Wednesday that got the only goal of the game against Matsumoto and he seems to be getting back to his attacking best from left-back. He could have scored 3 goals this season from just 5 shots and has been unlucky with only having 1 assist to his name thus far. His galloping runs down the left and slow patient play when necessary is are hugely attractive qualities. His combination play is as excellent as always and I am expecting more influence from this man on the final result and away games give him more space and time to do that. So do it, Hiroki!
Even if Toyama pose many questions upon the defence and attack, I really am very confident that Gamba will get at least a 2-0 win. I am not disrespecting Toyama by any means and I expect a difficult match up there; Gamba seem too strong at the moment and the results really have not reflected that. If Leandro and Ienaga put away the abundance of chances they have been getting, it might just ease the tense strain upon the fans during the dying embers of the match. Endo will run this match quietly in the background, as always, whilst the three behind Leandro will continue to create with the support of Kaji and Fujiharu. Nishino is looking like a real gem and he should cope with whatever Toyama throw at him. I expect, and so should you, that Gamba will just be too much for Kataller. Correct the minor weaknesses in our play and the comfortable win is ours.