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AFC Champions League

Insider's View: Gamba Osaka

10:51 AM SGT 21/2/17
Gamba Osaka v Shanghai SIPG AFC Champions League 06042016
After a disappointing 2016 ACL campaign, the 2008 winners are hoping to halt a general slide when they visit Coopers Stadium on Wednesday night

Gamba Osaka coach Kenta Hasegawa has been trialling a back three in an attempt to improve his side's defensive solidity ahead of their AFC Champions League (ACL) opener against Adelaide United.

There is a sense Hasegawa's team is on the slide, with Gamba having failed to lift a trophy and bowing out of the ACL without a win in 2016 after five trophies in two years following their return to Japan's top flight in 2014.

Adelaide, Western Sydney reveal ACL squads

While that take on Gamba's form might seem harsh, Goal's Japan-based journalist Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi doesn't consider the two-time champions to be major J.League contenders in 2017, which bodes well for Adelaide on Wednesday.

Before each ACL match involving an A-League club, Goal will provide an 'Insider's View' on the opposition team, featuring a journalist from that club's home country.

The Big Issue

Reds fans will remember Gamba well as they were the club that ended Adelaide's run in the 2008 ACL, crushing the A-League outfit 5-0 in the two-legged final.

Gamba have had a rollercoaster existence since then as they have won four Emperor's Cups, were relegated from Japan's top flight in 2012, won the second division a year later and then followed that with a domestic treble in 2014.

Hasegawa oversaw that most recent rise after being appointed coach in 2013 before winning the J.League, J.League Cup and Emperor's Cup a year later, while Gamba defended their title in the latter in 2015.

Last season Gamba scraped into fourth spot despite being equal fifth in terms of goals scored (53 in 34 matches) and ninth for goals conceded (42) and whether Hasegawa has the squad to compete in the ACL proper remains to be seen.

"Gamba has already played an ACL play-off game but it was against a Malaysian club [Johor Darul Ta'zim], which is not as strong as J.League or A-League clubs," Yamaguchi said.

"So the game against Adelaide will be their first encounter with a quality team in official competition this season."

The Danger Man

Hasegawa has two Japan internationals at his disposal, who are well-known to Australian fans, in captain Yasuhito Endo and Yasayuki Konno, while 2016 J.League Rookie of the Year Yosuke Ideguchi is also on Gamba's books.

But Yamaguchi has nominated Brazilian forward Ademilson as the man Adelaide should focus on at Coopers Stadium on Wednesday night.

"Ademilson, who often plays behind the striker, has great ball skill with impressive agility and speed, and is very dangerous near the goal," Yamaguchi said.

"He is one of the few Gamba players who can make difference by himself."

Ademilson first arrived in Japan in 2015 on loan at Yokohama F. Marinos from Sao Paulo and the former Brazil youth international was loaned to Gamba last year before signing a permanent contract with the Osaka-based club in October.

The 23-year-old notched nine goals and four assists in the J.League in 2016 - more than any other Gamba player - and also led Hasegawa's side in chances created (37).

Why could Gamba win?

Yamaguchi believes Gamba's experience in the ACL could be vital.

The 2008 winners have competed in the group stage in seven out of the last nine years and have advanced to the knockout phase five times.

ACL 2017: Round 1 Preview

Endo and reserve goalkeeper Yosuke Fujigaya started both legs of the 2008 final against Adelaide.

"They have some players with rich international experience, like Yasuhito Endo, who has the caps record for Japan's national team," Yamaguchi said.

"Endo was the key player when Gamba won the ACL trophy back in 2008.

"Yasuyuki Konno is another player who has played for Japanese national team for a long time."

But Gamba have also experienced how tough Asia's premier club competition can be as they finished bottom of Group G last year - Melbourne Victory claimed second - with just two draws to their name.

Why could Gamba lose?

Endo, Konno and Co. conceded 1.5 goals per game in last year's ACL and 1.24 per match in the J.League.

Hasegawa has brought in Brazilian centre-back Fabio Aguiar from Yokohama F. Marinos and versatile defender Genta Miura from Shimizu S-Pulse this year, while Gamba's coach is also on record stating he has tested different defensive set-ups during pre-season.

Gamba Osaka 3 JDT 0

Yamaguchi isn't completely convinced Aguiar and Miura are the answer: "They have showed their potential throughout the pre-season but are not 100 per cent reliable when it comes to official games against better teams.

"Therefore, Gamba have tried a new system with three defenders at the back in their latest pre-season match against a Korean side."

A back three could see Kim Jung-ya, Daiki Niwa or even Konno join Aguiar and Miura in central defence.

Against JDT in their ACL play-off earlier this month, Gamba played with a back four with Aguiar and Miura flanked by Hiroki Fujiharu and Oh Jae-seok.