Gamba Osaka and Shimizu S-Pulse are embroiled in a race for survival that reaches top speed this weekend when the two teams meet at Panasonic Stadium Suita in a crucial relegation six-pointer.
Gamba are in 16th place, which would send them into a play-off against the Meiji Yasuda J2 League play-off winner, but S-Pulse are just one spot and two points ahead of them. A win by Gamba on Sunday would send them out of the drop zone, at S-Pulse’s expense, making the stakes massive.
Gamba and S-Pulse are very different teams, even if their results have been similar. Gamba are a defense-first side, led by captain Genta Miura and Japan international Gen Shoji. Their defensive record on the campaign looks more like a mid-table side than one fighting relegation, but their attack has let them down and led them into the drop zone.
Contrastingly, S-Pulse have had no problem scoring goals. Their 31 on the season ranks seventh in the league and even with Kashiwa Reysol, who sit second in the table, while striker Thiago Santana’s nine tallies put him just one spot off the top of the league’s scoring chart.
For Shimizu, it's been defensive woe that has been their downfall, allowing the second-most goals in J1 and often making costly mistakes in the back that have led to dropped points. Last week may have been a turning point for the club, though, as they notched a clean sheet in a win over F.C.Tokyo that moved them out of the drop zone.
Shimizu will need to keep that going against a Gamba side hungry for points after going winless in their last five in the league.
So, will the Shimizu defense hold strong enough to let Santana and Co. win the game up front? Will Gamba’s defense hold up against S-Pulse’s great attack? We’ll find out on Sunday in a match that could determine who is playing in the top flight next season.