One door at a time

Yokohama F. Marinos were dealt a surprise reverse at the weekend, but the way they dominated Gamba Osaka means there’s no need for panic at Nissan Stadium… (日本語版)

That Yokohama F. Marinos were going to take all three points at home to Gamba Osaka on Saturday appeared to be a foregone conclusion.

Marinos had lost just one of their last 16 games and were in with a chance of being crowned champions, while the visitors had tasted victory just twice in 13 matches and remained embroiled in the scrap to avoid relegation. 

Instead of the encounter playing out according to the form book, however, Kevin Muscat’s men were dealt a first home defeat of the season as a dogged Gamba stood firm to win 2-0.

“You could sense that everybody in the stadium today was having the same thoughts about, ‘If we win, if this happens, if that happens’…” Muscat said after seeing his side fall victim to a smash-and-grab on their own turf.

“I think it’s our responsibility to give hope to our supporters, and for our supporters to dream. We should not stop that. But the reality is, for me, I didn’t think once about what could happen ‘if this result and that result…’ – I hadn’t thought of it once. And I won’t be thinking about it on Wednesday either (before the game against Jubilo Iwata).

“You can only open one door at a time. You can’t open the fourth door before walking through the first one.”

Marinos certainly started with real intent against Gamba, tearing out of the traps at great speed as they looked to seize the initiative. More than once in the opening exchanges Kota Mizunuma flew across looking to take a quick corner as the home side sought to take the lead that would allow them to play the game at their pace.

Instead, Gamba opened the scoring in just the eighth minute when Juan Alano headed home from close range after Dawhan had nodded a corner back into the danger zone.

That produced a situation whereby the visitors were able to pack their defensive ranks and then look to counter at pace, while Marinos bossed possession but just couldn’t find a way through the resolute massed white ranks and a defiant Masaaki Higashiguchi in the Gamba goal.

“The biggest thing today was the first goal,” Muscat said. “If we take the first goal – we had one or two good opportunities to score the first goal – it’s a completely different game. They scored the first goal off a corner, and that gave them more encouragement – they had something to hold, so they dropped deeper.”

Gamba certainly clung resolutely to their advantage, pressing eagerly in numbers to close down the space for Marinos in key areas. Dawhan was especially enthusiastic in this regard, snapping into tackles in the middle of the park and picking up a booking after 30 minutes. The Brazilian could have had another not long afterwards as he arrived late on Marcos Junior, but referee Ryo Tanimoto chose to be lenient and instead let him off with a warning.

According to the DAZN half-time stats, Marinos racked up 67 percent of possession in the opening 45 minutes, with 88 percent of the play taking place in midfield or Gamba’s defensive third of the pitch. On top of that, the hosts mustered 13 shots – nine of which were on target – and had 10 corners in the first period. Gamba, on the other hand, had two shots (one, Juan Alano’s goal, on target) and a solitary corner.

Despite dominating the ball Marinos had a little difficulty carving out clear-cut opportunities as the game progressed though, with Muscat feeling his players struggled to choose the right option for the right situation at times.

“In moments I thought today maybe we crossed the ball too early, maybe we should take more passes,” he said. “On other occasions, maybe the earlier ball could have been played. So decision making is key.

“I want to take risks,” he added when asked if he regretted replacing defensive midfielder Kota Watanabe with Leo Ceara with 14 minutes to play and Marinos 1-0 down. “That’s the way we play, that’s the way I play.

“I thought this afternoon, if I’m honest, we weren’t aggressive enough in our desperation to get behind them. We were a little bit passive. That creates a little bit of doubt in the ball-carrier, the passer of the ball. If we’re really aggressive it makes the mind up of the ball-carrier.”

Despite being disappointed with the result, the Australian insisted he saw no reason to panic ahead of the clash against another relegation-threatened opponent in midweek, instead emphasising the importance of drawing first blood – and listening to his players’ opinions about what held them back.

“Also, from their perspective, find out how they were feeling out there, because it’s important,” he observed. “I’m sitting on the sidelines, it looks easy. But they’re the guys out there, so we’ll take some feedback from them.

“We were in control from minute one, let’s be clear, it was obvious. The first goal does make a huge difference. We created some openings, we created some chances before we conceded. So firstly, be ruthless in taking those opportunities, under stress, under pressure.”

They were dealt a blow at the weekend, but the title is still very much Marinos’ to lose. If they can dominate Jubilo the same way they did Gamba, then it is hugely unlikely lighting will strike twice in a week.


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