Gamba Osaka were nigh-on unbeatable at home last season, but since moving to their new stadium they have won just once as they struggle to adapt to their new surroundings… (日本語版はこちらです)
What on earth is going on in Suita?
Gamba Osaka’s long-awaited move to their new stadium was supposed to herald the next step in the club’s development, but since moving three-quarters of a mile down the road from the crumbling Banpaku Stadium to the shiny new Suita City Stadium the team has been unrecognizable.
Last year Gamba only lost once at home in the league – when eventual champions Sanfrecce beat them 2-0 at Banpaku in November – but this season they’ve only tasted victory once at their new digs, losing five of their opening seven games in Suita, including each of the last four.
That run sees them marooned in mid-table in the league – seven points adrift of first stage leaders Urawa Reds – and already eliminated from the Champions League, a competition that they made it to the semi-finals of last year and which they were desperate to win this time around.
“We’re not winning at home which means we can’t pick up any momentum,” coach Kenta Hasegawa said after the recent 1-0 loss at home to Kashiwa Reysol. “We’re creating chances but aren’t able to convert them.”
Hasegawa then went on to reveal the extent of the efforts being made to address Gamba’s poor run of form, with even the tiniest of alterations being taken into account.
“Today we cut the grass a little shorter and also halved the amount of time we had the sprinklers on the pitch, as the players had spoken about it being slippery,” he said.
“We’re trying all sorts of things to overcome the situation. Of course the players want to win in front of the fans at this fantastic stadium, but I don’t know what the problem is. At the moment the feeling being put into the games and the results aren‘t matching up.
“Only we can change that, and now we’ll work hard to refresh our bodies and minds in order to pick up a win in the next game against Suwon.”
Whatever they did in the intervening five days didn’t work, however, and the Suwon match ended in yet another defeat, and thus elimination from the competition.
The Reysol and Suwon games both followed a similar pattern, with Gamba having plenty of possession but not threatening to do much with it. The connections going forward are a particular cause for concern, with Takashi Usami, Shun Nagasawa, and Ademilson rarely on the same wavelength, and there is an overriding sense of the team just not feeling at home in their new home.
While the arena is undoubtedly impressive it lacks a little identity at the moment, and there is a feeling of it being almost like a neutral venue with visiting players and fans equally as impressed with and motivated by the stadium as those of the home side.
Teams are supposed to have the edge on their own turf and be able to take advantage of the aspects familiar to them, but the Gamba players are clearly still unfamiliar with their surroundings, both on and off the pitch.
Ahead of the 2-1 win over Omiya Ardija back in March, for instance – the club’s only victory in Suita so far – Keisuke Iwashita and Daiki Niwa were two of the players not in the squad that day to be seen lost in the bowels of the stadium trying to work out where they were supposed to watch the match from, while those who were involved in the game had to be given step by step instructions on how to get to and pass through the mixed zone post-match.
It is the issues on the pitch which provide the biggest concern, though, and it would appear that the side is struggling to adapt to the confines of the football-specific venue – which at the closest point sees the stands just seven metres away from the action.
It may just be coincidence, but their poor form from the penalty spot adds some weight to this theory, with Usami seeing both his initial kick and re-taken effort saved against Suwon and, more surprisingly, the ever-reliable Yasuhito Endo also failing to convert from 12 yards in injury time of the 2-1 reverse at the hands of Yokohama F.Marinos on April 2nd.
In both of those games opposing players were able to find the net from set-pieces – with Shunsuke Nakamura arcing home that free-kick for Marinos, and Santos coolly slotting home Suwon’s penalty – suggesting that the issue is a psychological one affecting the hosts at the moment.
Added to that, it would be difficult to suggest that the team is simply not as good this year, with Gamba picking up nine points from 12 on the road so far, including another hard-fought win in Fukuoka against Avispa on Sunday.
They’ll be hoping to build on that away form by overcoming their home hex sooner rather than later – although the wait may have to go on a little longer yet, with high-flying Frontale and Yoshito Okubo the next visitors in town.