Archive for April, 2021


Best foot forward

Yokohama F.Marinos have been uncharacteristically solid defensively of late, although, characteristically, that state of affairs is being enabled by an all-action front four… (日本語版)

Yokohama F.Marinos under Ange Postecoglou have always been an attack-minded side, and as the Australian himself often likes to say when they’re good they’re very good but when they’re not, well, they can be pretty bad – especially in defence.

Last week’s 5-0 demolition of Yokohama FC again showcased the best Marinos have to offer going forwards, as they rode out a tricky opening 15 minutes or so before going on to swat aside their local rivals with a dominant display that could ultimately have been won by an even bigger margin.

This game wasn’t only notable for the goals going it at one end of the pitch, however, and it also served to further highlight a newfound stringency Marinos have discovered at the back. In the entirety of the 2020 season Marinos only managed to keep six clean sheets in J1, but the shutout in the derby was their fifth of this year already – all of which have come in the last eight games, a run during which they have conceded just three goals.

“I think one ties into the other,” Postecoglou said when asked about the non-stop running of his forwards and the team’s current solidity in defence. “I think the reason we’ve been better defensively is that our front players work really hard – they’re our first line of defence.

“We work on it all the time, but it’s got to be in the players too. It’s the reason we brought these players in. If you want to play as a striker in our team you’ll get an opportunity to score a lot of goals, but you have to work hard in a defensive sense.

“I think today that was the real key for us, because we knew Yokohama [FC] weren’t going to be too expansive in terms of being too open, so our best moments might come when they lose the ball in [their] half. We wanted to try and win it back and put them under pressure again.”

When you have the likes of Daizen Maeda, Marcos Junior, Elber, and Ado Onaiwu at your disposal you certainly aren’t going to be wanting for willing runners in that sense, and once Yokohama FC’s early enthusiasm had fizzled out that quartet were a constant menace – hounding, harrying, and hassling from the front to ensure the visitors had no time at all to get comfortable in possession.

Maeda epitomised Marinos’ work-rate out of possession, and the speed with which the 23-year-old moves across the turf really is remarkable. Lining up on the left of what was essentially a front four the former Matsumoto Yamaga man was a bundle of pace, aggression, and energy from the very first whistle, and while his finishing let him down on occasion his enthusiasm never waned.

The majority of J.League teams tend to allow the opposition keeper time on the ball when it finds its way back to him, for instance, but Maeda, Onaiwu, and Elber didn’t give Yuji Rokutan a moment to relax in possession, forcing him to play out with urgency and, in turn, more often than not resulting in the ball being turned back over to the hosts.

The attackers weren’t afraid to work backwards either, with Tatsuki Seko and co. not only finding themselves closed down by the Marinos’ midfielders or defenders in front of them but also having to fend off challenges being made by one or more of the host’s returning forwards – or, quite often, both at the same time.

On one such occasion in the 52nd minute Maeda pressed back to dispossess Seko but then over-hit his pass for Elber, but neither that nor another missed opportunity to get on the scoresheet 10 minutes later caused his head to drop, and he was to get his just rewards in the 71st minute.

Despite Jun Amano misplacing his pass infield, Maeda was too flight of foot for the sluggish Maguinho and got his toe to the ball first, and after possession was recycled quickly forwards he was on hand to tuck home Marinos’ fourth from close range after Takahiro Ogihara’s ball across goal a mere 13 seconds later.

Finally finding the net didn’t cause him to let up either, and five minutes later he was tearing in behind again to latch onto a Kota Mizunuma ball over the top, although he couldn’t quite get the ball under control in what turned out to be his final contribution of the afternoon before making way for debutant Leo Ceara – who himself went on to score less than a minute after taking to the field.

“We still have a very heavy programme, so we need those players,” Postecoglou said of the wealth of options he has to choose from in attack.

“Our front players are very important to us as, as has already been mentioned, they have to work very hard, so it’d be very difficult for them to play every game. We’ve got Leo in now, which is great, so we’ve got some more depth in that front third, and hopefully [Teruhito] Nakagawa’s not too far away, a couple more weeks – we’ll need him as well.

“I think it’s not so much that there’s competition [between players], it just means that we’re able to maintain a good level every game. Because that’s what we were missing last year – we were very inconsistent. When we played well we were good, but when we played not so well we were very poor. We’ve tried to adjust that this year, and it’s good that all the strikers are scoring goals. Ado and Daizen were great today and I thought Elber was fantastic. Marcos Junior is getting to full fitness, he’s not quite there, so it’s good for us.”

Good for them it may be, but there can’t be many defences looking forward to coming up against Marinos’ front line right now, whichever players it’s comprised of.


Tosu turning it on

For several years Sagan Tosu have been seen as J1’s ‘safety first’ team, but things are changing down in Kyushu and Kim Myung-hwi’s side are currently one of the most entertaining to watch in the first division… (日本語版)

A couple of weeks ago Sagan Tosu were receiving plenty of attention for their sensational defensive form, which had seen them avoid conceding in any of their first six league games.

While they were unable to make the record they share with the 1996 vintage of Yokohama Flugels their own after a 1-0 loss to Cerezo Osaka on 2 April however, sight shouldn’t be lost of the incredibly good job Kim Myung-hwi is doing down in Kyushu.

Tosu’s solidity at the back has of course been impressive, but the manner in which they are approaching games has also been just as worthy of note, with the team eschewing it’s traditional safety-first approach and playing far more proactively – bossing possession irrespective of the opponent.

Let us take the defeat against Cerezo, for instance. Despite being away from home, according to the Football LAB website Tosu had 58 percent of the ball – including an astonishing 61 percent in the final 15 minutes despite being a man down after Hwang Seok-ho’s 77th-minute sending off – made 566 passes to Cerezo’s 373, and entered Cerezo’s penalty area 15 times (Cerezo made it into Tosu’s just four).

The players weren’t satisfied with having put up such an impressive showing though, insisting that they should have taken more from the game.

“It’s not the case that you will win games just by having the ball, you have to score goals,” Daichi Hayashi said. “Today we had more of the ball but if we had one player capable of making the most of a chance like Cerezo took theirs then we would have won the game.”

Breakout star Shinya Nakano was similarly disappointed with the final score, which followed a 0-0 in their previous league game at home to Avispa Fukuoka.

“Today the opponent dropped back and we just moved the ball around at the back,” the 17-year-old said. “We have to aim forward more, put in more crosses, take more shots. If we don’t increase the frequency of those things then we won’t score goals.”

Such comments could of course be construed as mere platitudes – almost every team in the world insists they are trying to win every game, even when the evidence clearly suggests otherwise – but Tosu’s commitment to their new positive approach was firmly driven home in their next game away to all-conquering Kawasaki Frontale.

Of late, when you play Frontale you know you are going to spend the bulk of the game on the back foot, forced to cede possession and hope you’ll get the chance to capitalise upon an error or break quickly at some point. Tosu, however, refused to follow that script.

The Football LAB stats for the first half had Tosu with more of the ball (52.3 percent), while the DAZN figures for the live broadcast showed that the visitors took six shots to Kawasaki’s five (three on target versus two), as well as making marginally more passes than Frontale (291 to 284) in the first 45 minutes.

Indeed, the individual player breakdown illustrated just how intent Tosu had been to take the game to the reigning champions and runaway league leaders, with central midfielders Daiki Matsuoka (31 passes) and Toshio Shimokawa (26) making more passes than their opposite numbers Yasuto Wakizaka (25) and Ao Tanaka (21).

There can’t be many teams who have left Frontale in the shade in that manner in recent years, and it was a theme Tosu built upon emphatically at the start of the second period when they racked up an incredible 62.7 percent of possession in the first 15 minutes of play.

Unfortunately for them they had a centre-back sent off for the second game in a row at the end of this fruitful spell, and after Masaya Tashiro was given his marching orders in the 57th minute Kawasaki were able to wrest control of proceedings from Tosu’s grasp, and got the only goal of the game through substitute Daiya Tono eight minutes later.

Tosu were the only team to avoid defeat in the league by Kawasaki last season – taking a point from both games – although the corresponding fixture on the opening day of the 2020 campaign saw them rack up just 41 percent of possession while being out-shot 24 to five and out-passed 658 to 314 on the way to a fortuitous 0-0 draw.

There were certainly signs of a shift to a slightly more adventurous style in the 1-1 towards the end of last year’s long and draining campaign, but few expected at that point that Tosu would continue to pursue such a cavalier approach. Matsuoka’s comments after the recent loss to Frontale suggests it is a process they won’t be ditching any time soon though.

“In training the coaching staff and players have all been paying real attention to and vocalising the need to be looking forward proactively (on the pitch),” he said of his team’s enterprising display at Todoroki. “For me personally, I feel that if I’m not able to make those kinds of passes then I can’t become a central midfielder that opponents fear.”

Yokohama FC certainly didn’t enjoy their afternoon against Matsuoka and co. in Tosu’s next game – with the 19-year-old amongst the assists as they found their scoring boots again in a 3-0 cruise on 11 April – and if they keep up this level of performance then Tosu will undoubtedly be one of the teams to watch as the season progresses.

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April 2021