2024 J.League season preview: Gamba Osaka hoping for a return to form

2024 J.League season preview: Gamba Osaka hoping for a return to form

It’s been a difficult couple of seasons for Gamba Osaka. They’ve found themselves far from the upper reaches of the table and down in the relegation fight, but 2024 presents a new opportunity to get back to their roots as a team at the top.

2023 review

Gamba went winless in their first six matches of the season, immediately dropping them into a relegation fight. A midsummer surge proved to be the key to their season as they won eight and drew one in a nine-game stretch, taking them as high as 10th in the table, but it didn’t last.

Gamba fell apart late and lost their last nine matches, putting them right back in the relegation race that they thought they’d escaped in the summer. A league-worst defense bit them time and again, but they did manage to avoid the drop by five points.

Key loss

Yuki Yamamoto - The strength of Gamba’s team was in the midfield in many ways and Yamamoto was a big reason why. He’s strong and not easily bullied, while also possessing the cleverness and passing range to give his team a big edge in transition.

Kawasaki Frontale saw Yamamoto’s quality and snapped him up this winter, leaving a gaping hole in the Gamba midfield. While the Suita side have to get better at the front and back, maintaining their quality in the middle is also crucial and losing Yamamoto makes that tougher.

Key addition

Shinnosuke Nakatani - Gamba were not blind to their defensive problems last season and they moved quickly to sort out the back line by signing Nakatani from Nagoya Grampus.

Nakatani has featured for one of the league’s best defensive teams for years. He won a trophy in Nagoya, earned his Japan debut just two years ago, and at 27 years old is right in the middle of his prime. Nakatani is exactly the type of top center back that Gamba needed.

Goal for 2024

Gamba did not stop at just signing Nakatani. They also retained Shinya Nakano on loan to aid at left back and brought Tokuma Suzuki across from rival Cerezo Osaka to be an important shield for the back line at defensive midfield. Gamba knew they had to improve their defense and they did just that. If Riku Handa can return to form after injury derailed his 2023 campaign, Gamba may have the defense they need to lay the foundation for Dani Poyatos’ system.

Gamba allowed 61 goals a year ago. If they can get that down to the low 40s, which would put them right around the middle of the league, that would solve so many of their problems and allow them to start making some serious progress in their bid to get back among the league’s best teams.

Juan Alano is a phenomenal attacking talent and there are some other promising players that could come good, but everything for Gamba starts at the back. They made the investments necessary this winter and now it’s time for Poyatos to turn that into a reliable defense.

If they can do that, Gamba fans are sure to enjoy this season much more than the last.