Archive for April 13th, 2021


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