Having disposed of a well-drilled FC Gifu side, Gamba travel the handful of miles up the road to the Noevir Stadium Kobe for a 16:00 local time kick-off. It is not just the top-of-the-table clash that everyone is talking about, but more importantly (to some), it is derby day. With a win, we go top. With our away form and Kobe stuttering slightly, added with the “Derby Day” feeling, who knows what will happen.
Gamba come into this game having resourcefully swept FC Gifu aside after making several changes to the team that disappointingly drew to Gainare Tottori. With the confidence built from winning 5 of the last 7 and still being the only unbeaten team left in the division, we will be looking to avoid losing that streak at “unlucky #13”. Vissel Kobe, on the other hand, come into this match after seeing their lead at the top of the table cut to just 3 points after they drew 0-0 away to Avispa Fukuoka. Their last game also produced a draw but a much more dramatic one at that, with Kobe seemingly cruising at 3-0 until 3 goals by Fagiano Okayama from 84 minutes onwards tied the match. That was the first time they lost points at home this season, whilst Gamba have similarly only draw once on the road. The good thing for Gamba is that they have had some tricky-looking away games and dealt with them well whilst Kobe’s biggest test at home has seen them get caught out. Either way, form may go out the window for this one!
Historically, Gamba have had the upper hand in this fixture, winning 15 to Kobe’s 9 with 8 draws between the two. Focussing specifically on Kobe’s home patch, Gamba have won 7 out of 15 with Kobe winning 5. The last 2 meetings ended 4-0 in favour of Gamba and last season’s 1-1 draw. In total, Gamba have scored 37 goals in those 15 matches whilst Kobe have netted 23. Adding this to Gamba’s recently good away form and we are being pointed towards a win for the best team in Kansai (Gamba Osaka).
Let’s look at both teams and their choices for tomorrow, starting with the hosts, who’s only known injuries consist of the long-term one to centre-back Kitamoto and an injury to defender Soma. They have a hell of a lot of options to choose from in their ranks, ranging from stars for the future like Iwanami and Ogawa to the experienced heads of Popo and former Gamba player Hashimoto. Vissel have certainly been able to mix it up from time to time whilst keeping their results good, but they will do well to remember their only other Kansai Derby this season, which ended in a 4-1 hammering at the hands of Kyoto Sanga who played counter-attacking football. If they leave the back door open, then Gamba have the talent to take that to their advantage. The team that drew to Avispa Fukuoka on Friday is to your right.
As for our boys, Keisuke Iwashita’s injury will keep him side-lined for 2 weeks and definitely will not make it even for the Avispa Fukuoka match next week, so Nishino and Konno will resume their partnership at the back. This probably means that Tatsuya Uchida will keep his role in midfield alongside Endo, although Hasegawa could easily pick the more experienced head of Takuya Takei if needs be. The question comes with the 3 in-behind Leandro. Will Abe start again or will Futagawa come back into the team? Also, does Ienaga deserve to be in the starting XI after his last 2 performances? If it was me, I would stick to the away-winning front 3 from the Toyama match, even though Abe has been excellent, simply because those 3 (Ienaga, Kurata and Futagawa) all have more experience of this type of match and have exploited the teams at home on several occasions this season. But Abe could easily be included and this will be the most interesting part when the teams come out. My prediction can be found to the left.
After this game, Gamba will have no choice but to give Takaharu Nishino his pro-A contract because he will have played 900 minutes of J2 football (not like he hasn’t deserved it though), and with this being his first Kansai Derby, he will definitely be nervous but should relish the task. He has definitely helped to make the defence stable and with him just being 19, he has a fantastic future ahead of him. He is my player to watch tomorrow as his partnership with Konno will be hugely important in preventing Vissel from winning and helping Gamba to win. When he, Endo and Konno have played in any combination of positions, Gamba have conceded just ONE goal in SEVEN matches and overall, he has helped to keep SIX clean sheets from NINE matches, so he has been great (understatement of the century) and if he has a top game, it will go a long way to helping us beat Vissel.
No matter what, Gamba cannot afford to lose this match and fall behind Vissel Kobe even further. That probably will not stop each team from playing their normal match and trying to get goals. We will take a healthy number of away fans to the Noevir Stadium which can definitely help to slightly balance the partisan crowd. Even though a draw would suffice, I will say Gamba will win 2-1. It is going to be one of the most important matches for both teams this season and both would probably be happy with a draw but both will still play their game. Kobe have drawn 3 of their last 5 matches and Gamba should fancy themselves with their away form. Kobe have to come out and dictate the play if they do not want us to win, but that could also leave them open at the back. Leandro needs a good game but with Hirai lurking in the background, he better do the business against his former team. Either way, exciting!