Marinos rediscovering their mojo

Yokohama F.Marinos have drifted a little after winning the 2019 J1 title, but the early signs are positive for Kevin Muscat’s men after two assured performances to start the new season… (日本語版)

There was much talk about what Yokohama F.Marinos had lost coming into the new season, but the primary takeaway after their first two matches of 2022 is what, perhaps surprisingly, still remains at the club.

Following on from the departures of Ange Postecoglou and Ado Onaiwu midway through last year Marinos were forced to part with three more of their most important players over the off-season as Daizen Maeda and Thiago Martins headed for pastures new, and while their replacements Anderson Lopes and Eduardo both arrived with pre-established reputations in the J.League few expected them or Marinos to hit the ground running.

A healthy return of four points has been collected from two tricky opening fixtures though, with the icing on the cake being that Marinos were the dominant side in each of those contests against Cerezo Osaka and, most impressively, Kawasaki Frontale – playing in a proactive style not dissimilar to that which drove them to the title under Postecoglou in 2019.

“We really played with strong Marinos values today, so from that perspective I’m very pleased,” Kevin Muscat said after the 2-2 draw with Cerezo on the opening weekend, brushing off the disappointment of conceding twice from corners, including in the 90th minute, and insisting his focus was on attacking and not defensive matters.

“We’re going to continue to select players based on how we want to play football, not on set pieces. Today we conceded from two set pieces, we will analyse that part of the game like everything else, but I’m sure that set pieces are more in the mind, more of a mental thing than height.

“There’s no doubt that we will get better. We will push the players and take them out of their comfort zone to push to get better individually and better as a group. If we’re honest, we really dominated the opponent. The two corner kicks and maybe another corner kick or free kick was the only time we had to really defend. It was as dominant a performance as I can remember.”

The statistics backed up that claim, with Marinos taking 26 shots to Cerezo’s 11, landing nine efforts on target in comparison to Cerezo’s two, racking up 64.8 percent of possession with their 748 passes, and finishing the 90 minutes with an xG of 2.98 as opposed to Cerezo’s 1.32.

The late concession to Hiroshi Kiyotake’s header could nevertheless have served as a blow to confidence with Kawasaki up next, and after a bright start the following Wednesday Marinos did indeed find themselves trailing after Akihiro Ienaga gave Frontale a 32nd-minute lead.

Muscat had promised his team would be ready though, and they maintained their composure superbly after going behind, turning the contest round in sensational style early in the second half as Elber and Teruhito Nakagawa both found the net within 67 seconds of each other to put the hosts 2-1 up.

Far from looking to sit tight after moving ahead Marinos instead worked to drive their advantage home, and it was no surprise when Elber notched his second with a speculative effort from range in the 64th minute.

With Marcos Junior scheming and – newly sprouted shock of hair aside – reminiscent of the player who set the league alight three years ago, and Takuya Kida and Tomoki Iwata controlling things impressively in the middle of the park Marinos were totally in charge of proceedings, and even when Kei Chinen pulled one back for Frontale in the 73rd minute it never looked like the points were in doubt.

And indeed they weren’t, with Nakagawa showcasing his and Marinos’ confidence five minutes later by arcing a ludicrous effort into the top corner to put the game to bed.

“We understand that the result is very important, but it’s also important to us that we understand how we get the results,” Muscat said in his post-match press conference. “I’ve always said if we perform to our capabilities and to our structure that we will always have a chance of winning football matches.”

Out-passing Kawasaki by 608 to 509 (with an 81 percent completion rate), rattling off 14 shots, and claiming 55 percent of possession against the reigning champions provided the how on this occasion, and with Frontale looking fallible and fellow pre-season favourites Urawa Reds and Vissel Kobe starting the year tentatively Marinos will be very pleased with the way they’ve eased out of the starting blocks.

Sunday’s visit to Kashiwa Reysol is followed by another pair of home games in quick succession against Vissel and Shimizu S-Pulse, and if Marinos can maintain their current form then they have every chance of establishing themselves as J1’s early pacesetters.

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