So this year hasn’t been a complete write off. We’ve made it to a final and there’s some chance of redemption for our many Levain final failures. As I keep saying, any kind of success does paper over the big old cracks in our season, but at this stage, I’m quite happy it hasn’t all been a disaster. Although we can still lose in the final and everything I said above is off. This group of players does deserve something though. My opinion, and it seems I never tire of restating it, is that we have got talent in abundance but we’re not doing a very good job of getting the most out of it. This game gave us another glimpse of quite how close we could have been to getting our third consecutive league title. Kashima, who are now leading in the league, were pretty useless again, and I know they’ll bring up the fact that they have a lot of injuries, but even with their injuries they’ve been ploughing on and picking up points in the league. We too have had injuries (and still do have), but we’ve failed this year due to having our usual slow start and then compounding things with a rotten run in August and September. I have a horrible feeling that we are going to end up agonizingly close to the top spot. We’ve got games against some of the top teams, so our run in isn’t easy, but at the same time it does allow us to have a big influence on the title race and take points off contenders. Whether we do this or not remains to be seen, but even in this dullest of dull games, we seem to finally be playing with a bit of attacking intent again, and have regained some solidity at the back. Problem is, it’s all a little too late for the league probably. Anyway, the games are coming thick and fast so I’ll stop blathering and try to get on with this post. Here’s what we might have learned from this game.
We were poor, they were poorer -
I think I went over this a fair bit in the last post, but this was another game that could be mistaken for a relegation battle rather than a cup semi-final in terms of the quality that was on display. We totally dominated but at the same time never really looked like we were going to score. An amazing amount of our shots went straight at the keeper, who rarely had to move to stop anything we threw at him. Kashima had one shot on target in the whole game. Considering that they needed to score at least twice to progress, this was pretty woeful. There was an amazing amount of possession conceded from both teams. We were excellent at winning the ball from them in midfield, but almost always gave it back to them with the next pass. It happened over and over again. We did a great job of pressing and stifling them, but when we had the ball, could do nothing with it. The shots stat is really misleading in this game, as plenty of our shots were little more threatening than backpasses. In fact they were less threatening I guess, as the keeper could pick them up. When we weren’t dollying the ball up for their keeper we were failing to score in even worse circumstances. Kengo missed an open goal. We got into great positions but consistently failed to pull the trigger. It was pretty frustrating. But not as frustrating as the next point.
We were sneaky, but they were dirty -
Our time wasting was pretty shocking to be honest. I never like to see this in a game, but I understand that it is an inevitable part of modern football. It’s definitely a thing that you get annoyed about if its the opposition doing it, but you’re fine with your own team doing. At least normally anyway, but I think we took the piss a bit in this game. Admittedly the onus was on Kashima to score, but it would have been nice if we had not slowed down the game to a snail’s pace. The last fifteen minutes was like an avant garde visual art/absurdist comedy piece where time after time we dithered on the ball drawing a foul from Kashima and then dithered over the free kick. It didn’t make for fun viewing, but I guess it was effective in seeing out the game and infuriating the Kashima players and fans. Quite how Kashima kept eleven players on the pitch, I don’t know, as there were some really awful tackles flying in. Jung seemed determined to physically attack each of our team, with a knee in Kengo’s dodgy back and other fouls all over the place. Bueno showed that nominative determinism can sometimes work in reverse, by being an all round bad player, with bad play and a very bad attitude. He charged over and went in swinging at Ienaga and Morita (who seemed to be only watching the aggro rather than getting involved) and didn’t even get a yellow. (Tojo the ref, was pretty poor in this respect in this game I thought, and I’m sure Kashima would probably agree, but for different reasons). Leandro again was a nasty piece of work. I totally understand their frustration as we weren’t exactly playing football, but after the first leg, this was an effective, if far from easy on the eye tactic for us to employ. And employ it we did. Again and again. And again. And again. A month or so ago there was talk about Kashima doing the quadruple, but now they’re down to only two competitions and judging on this game I don’t fancy their chances against Honda FC in the next round of the Emperor’s Cup and I wouldn’t think they’d be able to hang on at the top of the league if it weren’t for the fact that all the other teams around them are suffering their own implosions on a monthly basis. I’m really torn now on how I want the league to finish. As I said above, I think we won’t win it. FC Tokyo seem to be in freefall and I can see them slipping out of the ACL places. Yokohama blow extremely hot and then extremely cold and you’ve got to think they’ve got a cold spell coming soon. And Kashima are just a bit rubbish right now. Obviously, as our big local rivals I couldn’t really ever want FC Tokyo or Yokohama F Marinos to win the league. Which left me with Kashima as potentially being my preferred champion, which went against everything I have always believed in, as I’ve always disliked them. After witnessing their shithousery up close two games in a row, I now can't even be half-heartedly in favour of them winning the league. So where does that leave me? I dunno, but I guess I’m going to be disappointed however it turns out.
(Some) players remembering how to play -
Finally, a few words on various players. Morita seems to be finally regaining some of the form he once had and showing that he will hopefully be able to come good on the promise he’s showed in flashes. Since his goal he seems transformed and this was another great game for him. Defensively all round, this was a decent display so well done to all of those players. It was a marked improvement from the Kurumaya centre back and Morita right back starting line ups Oniki has tried recently. Oshima didn’t quite have the impact in this game that he had in the last game, but even so, it’s still great to see him back on the pitch. I think Oniki might have imagined that Oshima was going to be his saviour, riding back into contention near the end of the season and propelling us to a third league title. Shame that it’s come a bit too late. Kobayashi had another shocker to be honest. Pretty much the only positive things he did were in defence at corners. Up front he was a bit of a waste of space. We all know he’s a confidence player but he’s not been able to build up any confidence. I think he’s a good guy so I reckon he must be aware that Leandro Damiao is probably playing a lot better than him but never really getting the same opportunities. This can only be increasing the pressure on Kobayashi. Kengo was a bit sloppy in this game and Abe was pretty much absent again. I have no idea why Oniki would change the front four so much after the last leg. He can only be tinkering for tinkerings sake. Quit it! One bright spark was the fact that Ienaga did ok again. He’s still not back to the heights of last season, but he’s also considerably higher up than the lows he was in earlier this season. It’s very welcome! Lastly, I don’t think I’ve mentioned Ienaga’s weird warm up routine when he comes out before the game before. He basically uses a member of staff and leans on them at various angles and gets them to push him away from them. Quite weird, but I quite enjoy watching out for it now. In this game he was joined in bizarre behavior by Shimoda who almost immediately after coming on to the pitch did a couple of forward rolls and then a couple of backwards rolls, before getting up and carrying on as normal. I have no idea what they are doing, but fully intend to incorporate these things into my everyday life somehow.
Next up, Gamba away, another one of those fixtures where we always suck, and this year against a team who could realistically be pulled into the relegation places. Not the best game to have at this stage. I guess it will either be a dead rubber for us or depending on other results, a possible start of our charge to a third consecutive title. But we do have to win all our games for that to have any possibility of happening. Also, we still need all these teams who keep slipping up (at times when we've slipped up even more), to keep slipping up. It’s not going to happen, but I guess we can still dream, can’t we? And then a week later, the Levain Cup Final, a trip back to the scene of some of our most notable recent failures, the Saitama Stadium. Fingers crossed for this time, eh?
GK 21. ARAI Shota
GK 21. ARAI Shota
DF 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei
DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo
DF 34. YAMAMURA Kazuya
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 6. MORITA Hidemasa
MF 22. SHIMODA Hokuto
MF 41. IENAGA Akihiro
MF 14. NAKAMURA KengoMF 8. ABE Hiroyuki
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
FW 9. LEANDRO DAMIAO (on for KOBAYASHI 90+1')
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota (on for SHIMODA 57')
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya (on for ABE 52')FW 20. CHINEN Kei
DF 26. MAGUINHO
MF 28. WAKIZAKA Yasuto
My Frontale Man Of The Match
As mentioned above, it certainly won’t be going to anyone at the top of the formation as we were so bad up front, I feel like scoring no goals flattered us. The defence was solid, but I’m not sure quite how much they had to deal with, and I’m going to generalize and possibly bend the truth for the purpose of this announcement, most of it was stopped by….
MORITA Hidemasa - Give a player a goal and he’ll play better. Give him a song before the next game and he’ll step it up another notch. Stood out in a fairly mediocre if effective team performance and recently seems to be making important tackles and the right decisions when he has the ball. Keep it up!