So the new season has started. Although we don’t get underway in the league until Saturday, but now we have a bit more of an idea how we might be lining up for the foreseeable future. Last night’s game against Suwon Bluewings in the ACL answered a few questions that we might have been considering over the last few weeks. However, it did throw up a few more and maybe some issues that we’ll have to sort out over the coming weeks. All in all though, I guess we have to be reasonably pleased with how things went.
Going in to the game, we suffered the dual blow of losing Elsinho to a three month injury and of having a J League ‘expert’ predict that we would finish the league in 16th position. It seemed a bit random and I can’t help think that there is some kind of agenda at play, but it annoyed me to a surprising extent. I should stop mentioning it though, otherwise maybe the fates will conspire to prove me wrong and give everybody a ‘told-you-so’ moment. So I will say no more about that. The Elsinho injury will undoubtedly prove to be more significant. We started the game with three new faces playing. Michael James (as I will call him from now on, or maybe I’ll shorten it to just Michael, but it doesn’t feel quite right somehow) started in central defence with Taniguchi, Kurumaya and Tasaka taking the full back positions. They were all in front of Sung-Ryong, who was playing against his old team for the first time. The defensive bit of the midfield was the usual Neto and Oshima and our other new boys Ienaga and Abe played either side of Kengo behind the lone striker Kobayashi. It was great to see Nara back on the bench after two long injuries. He was joined there by Itakura, Miyoshi, Morimoto, Noborizato, Arai and the other newbie Rhayner. The stadium was half full as seems to be the case on these occasions and the travelling Suwon fans were shifted round to the corner slightly. Well done to them for making the trip and supporting their team. Sadly they are another team that has a song to the tune of ‘The Entertainer’. I’m getting fed up with people singing that.
We started quite brightly. Ienaga and Abe were both looking pretty good and seemed to be playing with some confidence. It wasn’t long before the match officials started making their mark on the game. They were all from Bahrain and in my opinion gave our regular J League refs and linesmen a run for their money in their level of shitness (but maybe that’s just me thinking that!). As per last season, we are still looking to slowly build from the back, playing it out of defence with short passes and at least one in ten times giving the ball away dangerously. Suwon seemed to work this out quite quickly and were putting pressure on us. But we dealt with it fairly well in the first half. In the second half we were kicking it long a lot more frequently. This basically meant that it would go towards Kobayashi, who would gamely try to win the ball but fail due to the opposition defence being much taller. Funny that… We took the lead in slightly bizarre fashion. A through ball deflected off a Suwon defender and fell for Kengo to kind of scoop a cross to Kobayashi who put the ball into the net with his shoulder. We were doing pretty well though, making some chances. Abe was tracking back and defending well as long as providing us with a bit of thrust going forward. Ienaga looked comfortable on the ball and pretty strong. There were some nice flicks and dummies going on in the middle of the pitch. What could possibly go wrong? A calamitous own goal, that’s what. A nice passing move from Suwon resulted in a cross being cut out by Kurumaya and the ball bouncing off Taniguchi and rolling agonisingly slowly into the net. In a way, it’s probably better to concede in this kind of unfortunate way rather than our usual generous defending. Can’t really fault anyone too much. It was just unlucky. Perhaps we did let them slice through us a bit too easily though. The goal destroyed any confidence we had built up and we started flapping around a bit. Abe had a good chance to score but unfortunately he tried to find the corner a bit too much and put it wide instead. As is the case with pretty much everyone we play, the other team seemed to be a bit more physical than us. There were a lot of little fouls going on in the middle of the pitch and the ref seemed to get a little annoyed but when he tried to stamp his authority on the game he failed. I don’t know if it is a language barrier problem, but he never really seemed to have control of the game. He kept his cards his pocket for the whole game and whilst there weren’t any bad challenges in the game, there was a lot of persistent and petty fouling which I think he never really got under control. All in all, a bit of a weird first half. We looked good, scored, then conceded and looked very shaky.
The second half continued in much the same vein. Both teams were huffing and puffing and nothing much was clicking. It really did feel like the first game of the season. A bit sloppy really. Passes were being misplaced by us a lot. Suwon seemed to kick the ball off the pitch quite a bit. It seemed that neither team had enough to win the game really, but there was always the danger of someone getting a breakaway goal. The game got quite stretched towards the end and it felt like a goal was coming, but it didn’t. We made a few substitutions, the first of which seemed to be a tactical change, which was nice to see. On 72 minutes Nara came on for Abe, who I felt had done a decent job but kind of drifted out of the game in the second half. This meant us switching to three at the back and pushing Kurumaya and Tasaka on a little. In the 83rd minute Miyoshi came on for Oshima who seemed to have a bit of cramp or had picked up a slight injury. Miyoshi almost made something happen on a few occasions and I wish he had been given a little more time to be honest. The final sub came a couple of minutes afterwards and was one new boy replacing another, Rhayner on for Ienaga. Again, maybe it would have been a bit more effective a little earlier, but what do I know? We were certainly creating a few chances at this stage, but not really testing their keeper enough.
All in all, I think it was a fair result. We definitely dominated on possession and chances (fourteen to their eight apparently) and although apparently ten of our fourteen shots were on target, it didn’t really feel like we tested their keeper much. It seems like we are still a bit of a work in progress to be honest and I hope we can sort this out before Saturday at Omiya. I wonder if we will start with the same line-up. Positives and negatives. Positives first, the new players looked decent enough, Ienaga, strong and good on the ball, Abe pushing forward and also defending when he had to. Michael James had a decent game, although he almost gifted them a goal with a stray backpass at one stage (classic Frontale defender then!). Didn’t get much chance to see Rhayner, but he seemed keen to attack when he came on and looked good on the ball. It’s nice that Oniki seems to be willing to change the system through substitutions. Kazama’s subs sometimes seemed a bit haphazard. Also, we didn’t lose and the goal we conceded was unfortunate rather than due to our bad defending. Negatives, it wasn’t a particularly convincing performance. Whilst we created chances, we didn’t look particularly dangerous (well, not after we conceded anyway). It’s a bit worrying that our swagger seemed to disappear after the own goal. Kobayashi looked a bit isolated up front and Kengo seems to be starting the season slowly again (although that’s harsh to say after only one game where everyone started slowly). Few too many misplaced passes too to be honest. And we have to come up with a plan for when teams don’t let us play it out from the back and we have to kick it long from goal kicks. At the moment it’s just giving away possession and the ball's coming straight back at us.
But, still very early days. Saturday will give us more of an idea where we are as Omiya are much more familiar opponents. Ienaga will be going back to his old team, so I’d expect him to start and hopefully do well. In fact I’d expect the same eleven to be named. Hopefully we can kick off our J League campaign in a more convincing way than we started our ACL campaign (although I’m fairly satisfied so far…). Then next week we’re travelling to Hong Kong who got absolutely hammered last night by Guangzhou Evergrande. That will be my first ACL away trip so I’m looking forward to it. So, at the moment, cautiously optimistic and slightly satisfied.
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 6. TASAKA YusukeDF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo
DF 29. MICHAEL JAMES
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
MF 21. EDUARDO NETO
MF 8. ABE Hiroyuki
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu
GK 30. ARAI Shota
DF 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki (on for ABE 72')
FW 9. MORIMOTO Takayuki
MF 13. MIYOSHI Koji (on for OSHIMA 82')FW 22. RHAYNER (on for IENAGA 85')
DF 28. ITAKURA Ko
KOBAYASHI (Frontale) 11' 1-0
TANIGUCHI (Frontale) OWN GOAL 23' 1-1