My final Gamba game in person will be a top-of-the-table clash which sees Gamba host Vissel Kobe at Banpaku on Saturday, with a kick-off time of 18:00. The teams are on the same number of points but Gamba have a better goal difference which keeps us top. The visitors will have to win if they want to reach the summit once again. What a match it should be!
The last time these two sides met was back on match day 13 when Vissel comprehensively beat us tactically in a 2-0 victory for the hosts that saw Gamba lose a match for the first time in the season. It was a tough blow to take but we bounced back from it well and closed down a 6 point gap from Vissel and even had a 5 point lead at one point, only to be pegged back last week.
Vissel closed the gap thanks to a very late strike by Mazinho against Kataller Toyama to record a 1-0 win. That made it 4 wins out of 5 for our Kansai rivals and it was their 2nd clean sheet in a row. Added to our 2 wins, 2 draws and a defeat in our last 5 games and there is the reason why we are on equal points.
If we look at Vissel’s away record, we can see that they have won 6, drawn 3 and lost 3 this season. Their last away trip was to Okayama where they lost 1-0 thanks to a stunner by Oshitani early on. They have kept just 4 clean sheets on the road and only 2 have come in wins. But if we add Gamba’s home form into the equation, then we can see that we have won 5 and drew 6 so far at home. As we did not lose to Giravanz last week, it meant we are unbeaten in a year at Banpaku with last defeat against Yokohama F.Marinos on the 14th July 2012. Shallow consolation when we have won just 7 of 19 games at Banpaku in that time.
Onto the team line-ups now and Gamba fans will be delighted that the wait for Takashi Usami and Adi Rocha is now over. The question is will either of them start the derby match? I believe one of them will, and that one is Takashi Usami. Media reports have suggested that Kenta Hasegawa has already given Usami the green light for the match and should he start, it will be his first for Gamba since 13th July 2011 when Gamba beat Saturday’s opponents 3-2 at Banpaku. He might just be the player who can cover for the loss of Shu Kurata. As for Rocha, I think the best he will manage is a place on the bench. As for the rest of the team, questions over the centre-back positions should be raised (and quite rightly), and I would like to see Konno and Nishino team-up as they are much more stable compared to Niwa and Iwashita whilst Uchida should start in midfield, but I still see Hasegawa playing the latter pairing. Akira Kaji will return at right-back whilst Hiroyuki Abe and Kenya Okazaki might lose their spots to Futagawa and Usami. Shoki Hirai might be pushed out though as he has unperformed in the last 2 games and maybe Paulinho will shift forward as the main striker, although I would rather see Kawanishi given a shot for once. I have given you my preferred team to the side, but do not expect any of it to become a reality!
As for the visitors, they will supposedly be without 4 players, all of them defenders: Soma, Komoto, Kitamoto and Kim. Apart from that, they have a full squad to pick from and they have no shortage of talent. No matter what team they choose, it will be a strong and formidable one and we will have to be at our very best to stop them. You can see their starting eleven from their win over Kataller Toyama to the side.
I think it is an obvious choice for my player to watch. Takashi Usami is back home and will be itching to right the wrongs of the last 2 years and will hope to do it against Vissel to keep them away from our top spot. It has probably been a long month for Takashi in training but he does look happy to be back and has been very impressive during those few training sessions I have seen. He probably lost some of his confidence during his stint in Germany but being a fan favourite and being allowed to strut his stuff, he should bed right back into the fold on Saturday. And if he can produce what we all know he can, I am sure he could be an extremely important player in what should be a tough match. Welcome home, Takashi!
Predicting a result for this game is harder than usual, even though I will suck at it anyway! We only need a draw to keep Vissel off the top and I would expect us to at least achieve that. We have been struggling of late without Shu Kurata but if we want to make a statement, this is the game to do it. So, you guessed right, I am going for a 2-1 Gamba win! Yes, I am keeping the streak of me predicting a Gamba win for every match this season, but we have to be positive. Sure, I would not mind us drawing but with V-Varen Nagasaki and JEF United hot on our heels if we slip up, we cannot afford to do it. We have to go out with all guns blazing and beat Vissel like they beat us back in May. If Niwa and Iwashita play together in defence, we definitely will not keep a clean sheet but with Usami back, our spark might just come back. Vissel certainly will not make it easy and will try and get us on the counter-attack – our biggest weakness – and I expect the game to be tight. But I believe! Do you?
Photo taken from J’s Goal. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.