And we’re back! Perhaps the international break didn’t come at the best time for us, as although we’d started the season with a glut of games, some of which we’d won, we were still struggling to find any kind of consistency or form. The slightly unconvincing win against Nagoya was a step in the right direction results-wise, but any momentum we picked up drained away in the intervening two weeks. And as is always the case with an international break, out of the few international players we have, one came back crocked, one had an unconvincing cameo appearance and one had simply taken a nice little holiday in Belgium to watch a couple of football matches. Hope he was able to enjoy some of the lovely beers whilst he was there. ‘Oshima injury’ is a common phrase for us Frontale supporters. No idea how bad it is at the moment, but it ruled him out of this game and when we went to the practice ground on Wednesday he was nowhere to be seen, so I guess it will be a while. It seemed the people of Kawasaki had been missing football as the match was pretty much a sell out, with Hiroshima bringing a decent amount of fans too. I guess this was also a top of the table clash, although I think, after last year's title success, we're reaching the stage where most of the weekend games at reasonable times approach our capacity now. Whilst it’s much better to have a stadium that gets mostly filled each week, I can’t help but wonder that we might be lacking a few seats if we continue to do well and our supporter base grows. No worries about the whole continuing to do well thing after this game though. This game was an absolute stinker, looking more like a cagey relegation tussle rather than the two top teams facing off. After the game against Nagoya which was a really exciting match, perhaps lacking in quality, this was a deadly dull 90 minutes which contained only the briefest hint of quality and provided dull drudgery in the extreme. And I haven’t even started on the officials yet. I don’t know if I imagined it, but the announcement of Tojo as the referee triggered groans around the ground. Perhaps it was just my extraordinarily large groan though, bouncing off those lovely view obscuring pillars. Damn Tojo. Strictly for my own reference, I think I’m going to start tagging the referees on these posts, so I can track of which abominations are perpetrated by who. This blog post will be light on details of the game, as there was really not much to talk about, and heavy on grumbles. Please accept my apologies in advance.
There were a couple of changes to the starting line up from the Nagoya game. Naturally Oshima had to be replaced and Moriya took his spot. Kobayashi dropped to the bench after his international exertions and his place was taken by Okubo. Oniki persisted with playing Kurumaya in the centre of defence. On the bench were Arai, Nara (!!), Kobayashi, Hasegawa, Takeoka, Chinen and Morita. It didn’t take long for the idiotic Tojo to make his presence felt, giving a few ridiculous free kicks. One thing in his favour when you consider the long line of awful officials is that he seems to give his terrible decisions equally to both teams. So maybe he does have that elusive refereeing consistency that we all yearn for. Somewhat strangely, we seemed to be kicking our goal kicks long from the start. I can’t remember if we did this against Nagoya, but it was quite noticeable in this game. Hiroshima weren’t playing a particularly high line, so I’m not sure why we decided to do this when we normally play absolutely everything out slowly from the back. Ideally I suppose, we’d use a combination of the two, but perhaps this would require a bit more tactical flexibility. We were very disjointed in the early stages, (and for most of the match really), and as soon as we managed to get the ball into their half we were given no time on the ball at all. We couldn’t deal with this, and were either losing possession or retreating backwards most of the time. They were content to absorb our lightest of light pressure and then break fast when we lost the ball. They probably had the better chances in the first half, although I don’t think either keeper was really tested. Unbelievably, the stats say the we had twice as many chances as them, but it probably speaks volumes as to the quality of those chances, that I can’t remember a single one of the four we apparently had. Perhaps it also suggests that I should get my stats from a different source. I’m sure Oniki reads this blog to see what he’s done wrong, (so far he has ignored the hints about Nara though…). He now seems to have noted what I told him about Kurumaya not being as much of a threat from corners as the other centre backs, (who are actually centre backs...) might be and his reaction to this was to leave him on the halfway line with Nobori when we have a corner. So, one less chance for us to get something from what has recently become one of our more common ways of scoring. If I had to sum up the first half in a word that is suitable for all the family, I guess it would have to be ‘poor’. There was a distinct lack of quality and chances and it was just pretty boring to watch. Oh dear.
Things could only get better. Or actually, in this case, things could also stay the same. The second half picked up exactly where the first had left off with neither team able to hang on to the ball. Okubo, who had done a reasonable job in the first half leading the line was starting to drop back into midfield and then almost to defence. It was worryingly reminiscent of one of his performances from a couple of seasons ago. It seemed that the first change, as is customary for Oniki when we are not starting with our usual line-up and are not winning, would be to bring on Kobayashi on 60 minutes (presumably for Okubo). I predicted the timing correctly, but instead it was Moriya who came off. I thought he’d done ok, but I’m starting to think that Oniki has certain senior players who he doesn’t sub unless he really has to. Or at least that there is some kind of hierarchy in the squad which drives substitutions rather than actual considerations for what is going on in the match. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-Okubo since he came back, but I imagine even he would have been surprised to have lasted the whole 90 minutes. Because of this sub, Kengo dropped back alongside Neto, Kobayashi went to the right and Ienaga into the middle. More unnecessary shuffling… but don’t worry, fans of unnecessary shuffling, there was plenty more to come! Kobayashi’s first action on the pitch was to be taken out in midair but a Hiroshima player. The fact that lots of players immediately rushed to him and stayed standing around him as he was treated for his injury suggested that he wouldn’t be able to continue, but finally he was ok. Nothing much changed with the performance. Still both teams were dawdling around the field misplacing passes and struggling as soon as they passed the halfway line. If you haven’t seen the game, let me tell you the next sub and try to guess where everyone played afterwards. Morita on for Abe. Perhaps, he went in alongside Neto as he has before. Or maybe in at right back to allow Elsinho to push forward? Or even on the right wing with Ienaga going out on the left, Okubo dropping back and Kobayashi up front? There seemed to be a little confusion actually as to where he was supposed to be playing amongst the players too. He went in at centre back with Kurumaya going to left back and Nobori pushing forward. Well done to Morita for being so versatile! He seems to be trusted to play anywhere on the pitch, which is great. What’s not so great is that he now seems to be another one in the line of players ahead of the actual centre backs in our squad to play in that position. It seems that Oniki has great faith in him and I hope he lives up to expectations. It did feel that we probably needed a more dynamic change further up the pitch though and that Oniki was just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, to probably misuse a metaphor. Seems that he wasn’t particularly happy with that tinkering though as four minutes later the substitution and positions roulette wheel was spun again and Hasegawa came on for Nobori. Now Kurumaya was back at centre back and Morita at left back. I think Morita now only has goalie, left wing and striker left before he gets the full house on positions played bingo. We were now pushing strongly down the wings with no-one in the middle to actually receive the ball or have a shot. The front four had been totally spun round and was a bit of a mess. On 85 minutes, we inevitably conceded. It came from a corner which Sung-Ryong could have caught but instead decided to punch and really made a mess off. The punch was more like a pat and it was a relatively easy finish. Oniki reacted to the goal by giving the front four another shuffle. Kobayashi was up front and Ienaga back on the right. The big talking point came on 90 minutes when we had the ball in the back of the net and the goal seemed to have been given. But then the Hiroshima players complained to the linesman, and the goal was ruled out. The decision was undeniably wrong and I’m not going to moan on about that, as these things happen. The thing that really irked me was that there was no signal from the linesman until after the discussion and that Tojo was miles away and seemed happy with the goal until the protests. Clearly the conversation between them at the side of the pitch consisted of both of them admitting they hadn’t got a clue and then maybe tossing a coin to work out which way to give it. We’d been robbed, but not really, as although the decision was horribly wrong, we’d played terribly. We got exactly what we deserved from the match, but Hiroshima probably got what they didn’t deserve. If there was some way for both teams to have lost, I think that would have been the fairest result.
I’m going to dispense with the usual positives and negatives this time. There was absolutely nothing positive above this horrible performance. As I mentioned above, we went to the training ground earlier this week. Obviously, the international players were absent, but I thought there might be something to learn from observing the line ups of the two elevens that were playing each other. Looking back after this game, the only thing I have learnt is that you shouldn’t take any notice of these line-ups. There were a few positional changes being trialled, but I never saw Morita being tried at centre back. However, Oniki thought it would be a good idea to give it a go during the game. It seems that Nara is still serving time. He’s back on the bench, but he probably had no chance of getting on the pitch. The Morita sub was one of three unnecessarily complicated tinkering changes from Oniki. Our managers never seem to be able to use substitutions properly. They always seem to be done for show rather than to actually change the game. Okubo dropped out of the game but still played the full 90 minutes. I think he’ll be a useful sub this year (as he proved against Nagoya), but I’m not sure he should be starting games. Abe had another quiet game. I’ve said it before many times, but he was scoring goals when we were playing him up front last year, and now he never gets a chance to play there. Clearly Kengo’s best position is where he usually starts, but when we are without Oshima, Oniki loves to drop Kengo back, totally wasting him. It seems that Oniki knows our best eleven from the squad but as soon as any injuries or suspensions kick in, he hasn’t got a clue. Sure, it’s still early in the season and I’m probably overreacting, but aside from the results so far, the performances have been far from convincing. In the interest of providing some evidence for my overwhelming negativity, I checked the records from the first five games last season and we have an identical record, won three, drawn one and lost one. The goal difference this year is much better though! (+5 instead of +2). So what do I know? Not much I guess, but things don’t feel very good at the moment. And we’re pretty much out of the ACL after some awful performances, unlike last year, where we were still very much in touch. Sure we had a terrible refereeing error in this game, but if that error hadn’t been made, an awful performance would again have been hidden by a mediocre result. As it is, we still have an excuse as to why we lost the game, when in reality we never did anything to actually attempt to win the game. Another papering over the cracks performance. I think no-one needs to read any more about this match and find it amazing I have been able to write so much given how dull and uninspiring it was.
Next up the almost dead rubber of the ACL away game in Shanghai. It will be interesting to see who is picked for this game as it’s a bit of a dilemma whether we should play our best team in the hope that the tiny chance we can go through comes off, or whether we should face facts and give some of the squad players a go. After that we’re away to Yokohama next Sunday. I’m sure they’d be delighted to put one over us, but we really need to get some revenge after last year’s rotten performance.
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 18. ELSINHO
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
DF 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei
MF 21. EDUARDO NETO
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro
MF 41. IENAGA Akihiro
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo (Yellow card 90+6')
MF 8. ABE Hiroyuki
FW 4. OKUBO Yoshito
GK 30. ARAI Shota
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu (on for MORIYA 60')
DF 17. TAKEOKA Yuto
FW 20. CHINEN Kei
DF 25. MORITA Hidemasa (on for ABE 74')
My Frontale Man Of The Match
No-one this week. No-one stood out. Everyone was at best average. It’s annoying as I hit the gacha gacha hard before the match so potentially could have added a picture this week. I was tempted to give it to the supporters for being so optimistic and singing the players off after such a limp performance. They’re clearly better people than I am. But I don’t think even the supporters deserved it. We should face facts that the ref’s bad performance detracted from the multitude of bad performances on the pitch and whilst I don’t believe in booing your own players, I’m not sure we should cheer them when they played like they did in this game.
PATRIC (Sanfrecce) 85’ 0-1
The Frontale youtube channel usually has longer highlights provided by DAZN, but given that a previous year's highlights got wiped when the broadcaster got changed, I'm going to stick with the official J League ones. But you can watch the longer highlights here if you want. And we have that extra footage video again at the bottom.
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