The end of the first half to the season will coincide with my first ever live game at Banpaku (and of Gamba Osaka) as we welcome one of the big yo-yo teams of the division, Tokushima Vortis, to do battle in this 19:00 local time kick-off as Gamba look to put the draw against Fagiano Okayama behind them and get back on to the winning path.
The visitors come into this match on the back of a 2-1 home defeat to JEF United Chiba and find themselves in overall mid-table obscurity being 10 points clear of Gunma in 21st but 6 points behind JEF who are in 6th. The reason for this is simply that they cannot convert defeats into draws as they have only managed 2 draws in 20 matches joined with 8 victories and 10 defeats. Whilst they have one of the better attack forces in the league in 7th place, they have the joint 3rd worst defence in the league which is slightly similar to our once porous defence but electrifying attack.
Their away form is not exactly cool either as they have picked up 11 of their 26 points on the road with 7 of those points coming in their first 3 away days. They have beaten FC Gifu, Kyoto Sanga (teams have a 50% chance of doing so) and Gainare Tottori, winning each game by a margin of a solitary goal. This adds to their 2 clean sheets on the road also against Gifu and Tottori. In total, they have conceded 15 goals on their travels and have netted 11 times in 9 games.
The two sides have not met in any competitive games but have had employees swap sides, as Yohei Fukumoto was a Gamba player in 2008 but picked up just 8 appearances in the double-winning season; Akihiro Sato was part of the side that almost got Tokushima promoted in 2011 and subsequently joined us last season.
Gamba come into this game without Leandro or Akihiro Ienaga as both have been suspended for picking up their 4th yellow cards of the season against Okayama last week in what turned out to be their final game for the club as their loan deals expire on the 30th June. The good news is that Yasuhito Endo and Yasuyuki Konno were kicked-out of the Confederations’ Cup last week but they will not be used for this game as they need some serious rest, with Konno in particular stating that he is tired. FC Gifu next Wednesday looks more likely. Akihiro Sato is back in training so it is only a matter of time before we see him destroying the J2 defences (finally!) and he is the only player “injured” as Keisuke Iwashita made it on the bench last week, although I expect Nishino and Niwa to continue as a pair. But options are much greater now as we get right into the season so this is a brilliant time to have a clear injury list.
The biggest question will come in the form of the striker. Paulinho will presumably start again on the right-hand side, although he could easily be made as the striker with Abe coming in on the right. I would expect my original hypothesis though for Paulinho and then the question is “who will be the main striker?” I would expect Shoki Hirai to start up front as he has been on the bench for the past two games and has scored 3 goals from 4 shots this season. Kawanishi is the other out-and-out striker and it would not surprise me to see him start either. Kenta Hoshihara has only been on the bench a few times this season will therefore be out of my running for that. Kenta Hasegawa will probably surprise us all with his choice, but you can see my preference of the team to the side.
Vortis have a fairly large injury list with no less than 5 players supposedly missing out this weekend with defenders Mitsuru Chiyotanda, Yuya Hashiuchi and Masahiro Nasukawa, as well as midfielders Keisuke Ota and Yu Eto out. They have all started the majority of the matches they have played in, which is a low amount anyway, and none of them played in the last Vortis match. You can see the team that did start against JEF to the side.
As I believe that either Shoki Hirai or Shota Kawanishi will start as the main forward, the starter will be my man to watch. Of course, I could get caught out by Hasegawa’s unpredictability but I will take a chance on that. The starter will have to link well with Kurata who is the heartbeat of the team whilst they need to work hard themselves and find the back of the net as regularly as Leandro, if not more often. They both have the abilities to do that, especially in J2, and they need to seize the extra game that they have gained in order to shine before Adi Rocha becomes available on the 19th July. I am sure that both of them could fill the void left by Leandro and maybe do better and they will be scrutinised heavily before, during and after the match. Whichever one of you starts, do your best!
Having said all that, I can see nothing but a Gamba victory (as I have said in the previous 20 previews)! I will take a punt on a 3-0 home win as they have to do it for me and my first, in-person Gamba match. Vortis have been very poor on the road and have only taken points against a promotion-chasing side once, which was against Kyoto Sanga. Our boys will want to make a statement with Leandro and Ienaga now finished at Banpaku and edge our unbeaten record at home to a year if we eventually make it past Giravanz Kitakyushu and Vissel Kobe, as well as Vortis, unscratched at Banpaku. Tokushima are too unpredictable and could cause an upset but I am pretty sure that a defeat is the only thing any football fan would predict for the away side.
Make me happy Gamba! Please!
Photo taken from f.image.geki.jp. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.