After finally getting a win last weekend for the first time in over a month, we head on over to Shikoku to take on play-off contenders Tokushima Vortis at the Pocari Sweat Stadium. The game kicks-off at 13:00 local-time and with plenty at stake for both teams it should be a good match for the neutral.
The hosts come into this match on the back of a 1-0 home defeat to Yokohama FC thanks to a 51st minute goal Tomoya Uchida. Vortis has the chance to level the score from the penalty spot with 7 minutes remaining but team ace Tomohiro Tsuda could only fire against the bar to ensure the visitors escaped with all 3 points. That defeat knocked Vortis down to 5th place but 6 points ahead of Consadole Sapporo in 7th, keeping them firmly in their play-off position.
Gamba travel to Shikoku having beaten Kataller Toyama 3-1 at home to claim our first win in over a month thanks to goals from Shu Kurata, Takaharu Nishino and Takashi Usami. All of the scorers are graduates from our youth team which is always great to see. The win kept us in 2nd place and still a point behind Vissel Kobe.
The match between the two sides earlier this season was my first ever in-person Gamba Osaka match as we comfortably beat Vortis 2-0 with a quick-fire double from Paulinho and Hirai giving us the first-half advantage the lasted the entire game. That was the game the Shu Kurata got himself injured in and aren’t we glad he made his return just 3 weeks ago.
Looking at the current form of Vortis shows us that they have won just 1 of their last 5 games, that being a scrappy 2-1 win against bottom-of-the-table Gainare Tottori. They have failed to score in their last 2 matches against modest opposition and have crashed at a bad time, considering they went on a 12 match unbeaten run that included 9 wins until they lost 3-2 to Vissel Kobe. Aside from V-Varen Nagasaki, they have been the surprise package in the league this season.
However, they have not beaten any of the other top 6 sides at the Pocari Sweat Stadium all season, picking up only a point thanks to a 1-1 draw against Kyoto Sanga. They have also only kept 3 clean sheets at home but have failed to find the net just 4 times when hosting. They have only conceded more than 2 goals in a match once this season, so they are sharp going forward whilst leaky to a point at the back.
They will be without suspended left-back Alex as he picked up his 4th booking of the season against Yokohama FC and is forecast to be replaced by Nasukawa in the only change from the eleven that started the last match. The hosts will also be without defender Yuya Hashiuchi after he picked up an injury against Matsumoto Yamaga FC 9 games ago. Midfielder Keisuke Ota has also not appeared since that match as has Ikki Sasaki, having managed just 14 minutes of game time all season whilst Yu Eto has not played since the 3-0 home defeat to Roasso Kumamoto back at the start of May. With only one change forecast, you can see the predicted eleven for the home side to your side.
Kenta Hasegawa would be crazy to change the starting eleven that beat Kataller Toyama with relative ease last weekend. With Myojin and Sato getting even closer to their belated returns (especially for the latter), the only competition I could possible envision would be on the bench. Takashi Usami and Yasuhito Endo both had small injuries during the week but Hasegawa has vowed to keep Endo in the forward position so that makes it sound as though he is all good and well, as is Usami. One thing that I could like to see change is cutting out of silly errors that have led to easy goals in recent times (right, Konno?). I am just hoping that the team can push on and make Vissel Kobe earn the championship if they are indeed going to win it. The sooner we wrap up promotion the better.
Takashi Usami will be my man to watch this weekend. Recently, he has had a whole heap of chances to add to his impressive goal tally since come back from Germany but he only managed 2 goal in the least 4 games when he really could have had a hat-trick in both. However, I am very happy that he is becoming the lead player in our attack and seemed to be relishing having a fluid line consisting of Omori, Endo and Kurata behind him last weekend. He has scored some excellent goals since his return but I would like him to take his chances just that more often. 11 goals in 13 league matches is not bad at all but he should be scoring more. He will be a very important player this weekend, I am sure, so I expect him to grab Vortis by the throat and slice it.
It is going to be a tough match, no questions about that. Our away record recently has been pretty poor and we have enjoyed conceding within the first 15 minutes of our away games since playing JEF back in July. Indeed, we have not kept a clean sheet on the road since beating Mito 2-0 back in June and I would like us to address that this weekend in particular. Vortis have a play-off place to fight for and I would expect them to give it a good go this weekend. We should have an open game on our hands but hopefully our defence makes no mistakes whilst the attack is clinical. What a great-looking game we have ahead of us.
Photo taken from amd.c.yimg.jp. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.