Soul for survival

Matsumoto Yamaga’s form has dropped off after a steady start to the season, but they have a chance for a confidence-boosting win this weekend as fellow strugglers Gamba Osaka come to town… (日本語版はこちら)

Football Channel 28th June, 2019

Ahead of this season Matsumoto Yamaga manager Yasuharu Sorimachi said his target back in the top flight was to finish in the “top 15” – not ‘survival’ but the ‘top 15’ – and that he hoped the team would make a stronger start to the 2019 campaign than they had in J2 last year, when they failed to win any of their first six games and picked up all three points just once in their first eight matches.

After recovering superbly to ultimately earn promotion as champions in 2018 they did begin this season more brightly, claiming four points from their first two games and winning three of their first eight as they beat fellow promoted side Oita Trinita and struggling big spenders Vissel Kobe and Sagan Tosu.

Things have tapered off since though, and the 1-0 smash and grab away to Nagoya on 26 May is Yamaga’s only win in their last eight games, a run during which they have scored just twice, to leave them with 16 points from as many games.

“We wanted to make it to 20 points in the first half of the season, but unfortunately that’s been difficult,” Sorimachi said after the most recent defeat, 1-0 away to Yokohama F.Marinos last Saturday.

“So far we’ve been averaging one point per game to bring us to 16, which I think is a pretty difficult level. Having come up this season our aim of finishing in the top 15 is a big one, and from now on we really have to devote ourselves to achieving that.

“I have said it many times, but even if we are lacking some things we will do all we can to creep up the table. I want us to show that ‘Matsumoto Soul’.”

While averaging a point a game would just about have been enough to avoid the drop in three of the last four seasons (33, 30, and 34 were enough in 2017, 2016, and 2015, respectively), last year the unusually high watermark of 41 points was needed to ensure Grampus, Sagan, Shonan Bellmare, and Marinos stayed up – although Jubilo did have to contest the relegation/promotion play-off with the same number as a result of their inferior goal difference.

Continuing at the same rate would likely make things too close for comfort this year then, and Hayuma Tanaka knows the team need to improve in the second half of the season if they are to do better than 2015, when they were relegated after their only previous year in the top flight.

“Of course four years ago it was the first time ever for the club to be in J1,” he said after the defeat to his former club Marinos.

Football Channel, Saturday 29th June 2019

“At that time there were hardly any players with experience playing in J1, and the same was true for the people behind the scenes at the club. Honestly speaking, perhaps it was only me who had that experience.

“Since then four years have passed, and we have been battling the whole time in order to be able to stay in J1. I think the club has really taken on board that experience from four years ago, and we are fighting this year to avoid making the same mistakes.

“It’s true we have issues to improve upon, but the overriding aim is to survive in J1 and results are everything, rather than thinking too much about tactics or the way of playing. We have to keep pushing on towards getting those results and show that in the second half of the season and the next game.”

That next game is a huge one, and sees them come up against a resurgent Gamba Osaka, who sit two places higher in the rankings but just one point ahead of Yamaga after Ryotaro Meshino’s 91st minute strike delivered a 1-0 win over Shonan last weekend to extend their unbeaten run to five matches.

“Of course it’s an important game between two teams near the bottom of the table, but we’re at home,” Paulinho said of the upcoming clash.

“Being able to play in front of our supporters who give us so much backing provides us with a real boost, and I want us to really show our feeling to make sure we win the game.”

Much is often made of the support generated at Yamaga home games, and while Alwin is truly one of the best places to watch football in Japan the atmosphere in the stands has failed to translate into many points for the team so far this season.

Thus far Yamaga have won just twice on their own patch – the aforementioned victories over Vissel’s and Sagan’s traveling stars – and Paulinho thinks it is time the players start adding a little more quality on the pitch to match that off it.

“Every game the fans create a fantastic atmosphere, but we are still lacking a little maturity,” the Brazilian midfielder conceded. “We’ve only just come back up to J1 and there remain areas we are still not quite used to. That’s not an excuse but I think it’s true, and I’m hoping we can start picking up more wins from now on.”

Three points against Gamba this weekend would certainly come as a welcome boost at the halfway point in the season, but another defeat could serve a decisive blow to the team’s confidence as they move into the crucial second half of the campaign.

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June 2019

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