Nagoya Grampus ended the first phase of J1 a shadow of themselves. Will the break have done them some good…?
Neither Omiya Ardija nor Urawa Reds will have been particularly happy about the fact they just had to take a six-week break. Both sides were in great form and would surely have preferred to maintain their momentum than spend a month-and-a-half treading water back in training camps.
While the interlude won’t have been greeted warmly in Saitama I imagine things were a little different down in Aichi though, with Nagoya Grampus having been desperate for a bit of time away from the stresses and strains of league action.
Grampus under Dragan Stojkovic don’t lose two games in a row. At least they didn’t for two-and-a-half years. Between October 2009 and April 2012 each time they lost Grampus took points from their next match. Consecutive losses to Urawa and Kawasaki brought that phenomenal run to an end and while there were a couple more instances of back-to-back defeats in the 2012 season it never stretched to more than two games.
Considered in that context the club’s current run is astonishing.
The 2010 champions are without a league win since April 13th and have lost their last five matches. They are only three points outside the relegation places and Stojkovic is in no doubt about the fact that he is in charge of a team in crisis.
“I cannot recognise my players,” he said after the most recent defeat to Cerezo Osaka. “I’m very disappointed like all the fans from Grampus. All I can do is apologise to the supporters for the last five games. This is shameful and we must do everything to change the situation. This is why the break is very important to us.”
What makes the recent slump all the more surprising is that the squad has not changed drastically from that which surged to the title in 2010 – the most comprehensive champions in J1 single-stage history, which wrapped things up with three games to play and eventually finished 10 points ahead of second-placed Gamba Osaka.
Their seven-game winless streak this season started with a 3-1 loss at FC Tokyo in April, after which Piksi referred to the errors his team made as being like those of “amateurs”.
Josh Kennedy agreed, and gave an insight into what may be the problem for the side.
“We made a few mistakes and everybody caught onto them. It went through the whole team. You know, a few guys make a few mistakes and then everybody catches the next one and all of a sudden nobody wants the ball.”
As well as confidence sorely lacking on the pitch there are suggestions that all is not rosy behind the scenes, with the relationship between Kennedy and his coach seemingly deteriorating.
“[We have] no determination, no player who is able to score,” Piksi said after the loss to Kashima Antlers. “Psychologically, we are not good enough. I accept all the responsibility. I accept all the criticism from the supporters. We play with the best team. But the quality is a big question mark.”
Then in the press conference after the Cerezo defeat he was even more explicit, saying, “I decided to use Tulio as a striker [after the second goal] and if I do that you know our attack is nothing, zero. But this is the reality.”
Another reality, he admitted after the Antlers game, is a relegation battle if things don’t improve quickly.
“It’s a difficult situation, you don’t need too much intelligence to understand that. We are very close to J2. This is how you go to J2: by losing every game and J2 will be waiting for you. This is the reality.
“The only positive thing is the break is coming. This is very good for us at this moment. I will talk very seriously to the players and I will hear from them what they are thinking because this is not good. We must think of our reputation and name. We don’t want to be bottom. So, this break is very good for us.”
We’ll find out this weekend just how good it proved to be. Will they come back rebooted and fully functioning as the ruthlessly efficient outfit of recent times, or did the time off just give them a bit of a break from losing games?