Cerezo Osaka are an ambitious club loading up to position themselves right alongside the J.League elite in 2024. But before we look forward it's imperative to unpack the season that was in 2023.
Cerezo spent much of the summer in the fight for the top three spots and the AFC tournament berths that come with them, but things turned late in the season. The Sakura lost six of their last eight, taking them from fourth place all the way down to their finishing position in ninth.
The problem late was a disappearing attack, as the Sakura scored just once in their final eight games, putting a sour note on what was until then a very sweet campaign.
Ryosuke Yamanaka - Yamanaka had injury problems that limited his involvement in 2023 but was a dynamic, responsible, two-way full-back option with four assists on the season.
His contributions and veteran leadership will be missed on a Sakura backline that will also need to replace Matej Jonjić after the imposing Croatian central defender moved on to Incheon United of the K League in the off-season.
This was a rearguard that conceded a goal per game in 2023 and there is a bit of work that needs to be done in cultivating a cohesive and consistent defensive unit again in 2024.
Vitor Bueno - The final matches of the 2023 season demonstrated a greater need for attacking heft and that's where the Brazilian playmaker comes in.
Cerezo made a splash when they signed Léo Ceará prior to last campaign and he delivered with 12 goals and three assists, but it was clear that he needed help.
Enter his compatriot Vitor Bueno.
Bueno comes to Osaka from Athletico Paranaense, where he scored five goals and added five assists in the Brazilian top flight last season. Now the Sakura have themselves a bonafide dynamic duo who can lift an attack that needed a boost after the way last season ended.
Goal for 2024
Compete against the elite, in both league and cup competition.
Not only did Cerezo slip to ninth place last season, but they didn’t make it to the quarter-finals of either domestic cup. That’s not going to cut it on the pink side of Osaka.
The Sakura have designs on top-five finishes, having done so in three of the last five seasons. They also expect to compete for silverware, having made the J.League YBC Levain Cup final in 2021 and 2022.
If the backline reshuffles well, and Vitor Bueno is as good as Cerezo hope, they can absolutely get into the fight for the top spots and cups.
After all, they were right there last year until their late-season struggles.