Friday 20 April 2018

Vs Ulsan Hyundai (home) 18/4/18 - ACL Group Stage Match 6

Kawasaki Frontale 2 - 2 Ulsan Hyundai

Finally, our ACL campaign is officially over. Although it was effectively over after the first three games and mathematically over before we kicked off in the fifth game, it’s good to know that we won’t be ‘distracted’ anymore by our continental exertions. The extent of this distraction is slightly debatable to be honest. We approached this season with a bigger squad so that we could apparently challenge on multiple fronts. Although as it turned out, Oniki picked pretty much the same team for the league and first few ACL games. And instead of challenging on multiple fronts it was more a case of flopping in both competitions. Personally speaking, I am much more interested in the league than the ACL. Not saying I’m pleased it’s over of course, but if it were a case of progressing in the ACL and languishing in the bottom half of the table, or doing well in the league and having a disappointing ACL campaign, I’d much rather go for the latter. As it is, we’ve gone for neither. And whilst we’re not in the bottom half yet, if we keep playing like we are at the moment, we could be soon. But anyway, enough of the league woes and let’s talk about this game, a total dead rubber with us already out and Ulsan already through. This gave us the opportunity to play a hugely changed team. And I’m pleased to say that’s exactly what Oniki did. I can’t have any complaints about his team selection for this game. There was absolutely no point in us playing anyone who would be expected to start our next league game. And we didn’t. We used this as an opportunity to give some players their debut and some who don’t often get much pitch time got a full 90 minutes. I won’t waste your time running down the line up, but will just note that this saw debuts for Shimoda and Suzuki (and Wakizaka as a sub) and first starts for Manabu and Akasaki. It also saw the return of Michael James. I think he last played in the second ACL game last year away in Hong Kong. That’s quite some break! He was apparently injured for some of that time, but as injury news is never particularly forthcoming from the club, I’m not sure for how long. Oh, and we also had a new captain for the night, Moriya!

Given that this was a match with effectively two reserve sides playing with nothing at stake, I won’t spend too long dissecting the game. Its fair to say that this was a game of two halves, at least in terms of goals, with us 2-0 up at half time and then the final score being 2-2. Both halves started with early goals. We went ahead after two minutes when a Manabu shot was parried to Suzuki on the edge of the box who slotted home nicely. These shots on target were double the total of shots on target we had in 90 minutes at Sendai. So, a bright start I guess. I’m particularly pleased for Suzuki, who looked quite sharp all night in the Kengo role. He was always keen to get forward, shoot and get involved. He’s also much taller and much younger than I thought which could be useful! Obviously as this was an unfamiliar team, there were occasional misunderstandings and losses of possession in various areas of the pitch. We didn’t look as comfortable playing the ball out from the back, but we persevered with it and over the course of the game things started to gel a little. There was a bit more directness to our play at times. I like our patient build ups but sometimes we fail to go for goal when we have a good opportunity, so it was nice to see us looking to get forward and shoot. Whether this is due to a change in tactics or personnel, I don’t know and we’ll see on Saturday whether it translates to the presumably hugely different starting line up against Kashima. Shimoda was doing a decent job next to Moriya in the Neto position and when he did occasionally lose the ball, was working hard to win it back. Apparently, we were playing with two up front, Akasaki and Suzuki, although it didn’t feel that different from our usual one up front and one behind. Hasegawa was on the right, a relatively unusual position for him. It was nice to see two wingers both willing to run at the opposition with the ball and whilst it wasn’t always effective, it did create some chances for us. We had eight shots in the first half, the majority of which were actually on target! I hope the first team was watching! It wasn’t the highest quality game, but we were doing pretty well and scored a second through Hasegawa. Akasaki played a nice ball to him on the edge of the box and although his finish was deflected past the keeper off a defender’s arm, it was still a well worked goal. Wow! Goals! Even though it was a dead rubber there were a few meaty challenges going in from Ulsan, not least from Toyoda, who bizarrely got a round of applause from the Frontale fans before the game, I guess just for being Japanese. (He probably would have been booed if he was still playing for Sagan Tosu). Toyoda totally took out Arai who was attempting to catch the ball, and was lucky to escape a booking, I thought. Thankfully, Arai could continue. They did pick up a couple of yellows though and we remained booking free. So, a fairly positive first half, with us on top and scoring and shooting. Wonders will never cease!

Actually, the wonders ceased pretty early on in the second half with us conceding after two minutes. That must have been quite a team talk from Oniki! The goal was pretty soft, with Michael James being out-jumped by an Ulsan player whose header at goal was deflected by another Ulsan player who Takeoka had lost, past Arai. Guess we can blame an unfamiliar back four for this if we’re looking for excuses, but it’s a bit worrying that they only had four players in the box and we had pretty much double but they were still able to find so much space. Three minutes later they were level and we were back to square one. This one wasn’t much better with the scorer finding himself in acres of space and the shot going it without anyone doing much to stop it. Conceding two goals so quickly could have signaled a total collapse but we steadied the ship a little, at least in the sense that we didn’t concede a third. The back line had looked a bit of a mess with loads of space for them, but after this costly wobble we started trying to play again. But it wasn’t really happening like it had been in the first half. We weren’t shooting so much and our newly rediscovered confidence had been knocked back to square one. Staying on their feet seemed to be a bit of problem for a few players, Akasaki in particular. It didn’t particularly seem to be happening for Ulsan, so I’m not sure if we’d forgot to put our studs on or something. A few potential nice opportunities were spurned due to us slipping either before of after we received the ball. With the scores level, things started to peter out a little. We probably shared the second half fairly equally for possession and chances. Sadly they took two of theirs and we took none. A familiar story! The first of our changes saw the debut of Wakisaka, who looked very out of place initially, but settled fairly quickly into playing some nice stuff. Oniki also brought on Morita (naturally…) for Shimoda, and Chinen on late in the game for Akasaki, who looked like he was suffering a little from his exertions. He’d done an alright job I felt, but probably hadn’t quite had the opportunities he might have hoped for. Unfortunately, as all our subs had been used, we didn’t get to see Ao come off the bench. I think out of the debutants, Suzuki was most impressive, but perhaps I’m just being swayed by the goal. All in all, nice to be able to watch a game, not worry too much about whether we were going to win or not and see some new faces. For some reason, I’ve had Shimoda’s song stuck in my head since the game. Not sure if this is a comment on his performance or just the quality of his song.

It’s hard to think about real positives and negatives in what was effectively a meaningless game, but all the same, I’ll give it a go. The big positive has to be the debuts. Not sure whether any of these players will get any more opportunities in the near future, but it’s nice to give them some pitch time. I think I’ve mentioned how they did above, so won’t waste your time doing it again. Out of the more regular players, I felt Takeoka had a better game in general, especially going forward, but looking at the replays, it seems he was partially involved in both goals we conceded. Not blaming him though! Hasegawa gave a decent account of himself with a goal and some nice attacking runs. Just a shame we couldn’t take advantage of these chances. Moriya was quiet but effective, and got the official man of the match award, I’m guessing because they didn’t know which one of the four goalscorers to give it to without upsetting anyone. The style of play was a bit more positive, which is nice, but perhaps this was more to do with the nature of the match and the fact that the opposition were also fielding an unfamiliar team of reserves. And credit where credit’s due, Oniki unquestionably picked the right starting line up. To move onto more negative territory, I’m not sure Oniki saw enough from anyone to make any decisive changes to the regular starting line up. The defence was a bit of a mess at times. Manabu hasn’t seemed so dangerous since his first substitute appearance against Yokohama, but I guess it’s still early days for him. And we totally threw away a good lead in the first five minutes of the second half with what looked like a total lack of organization and concentration. And not completely related to this game, but the whole ACL campaign this year has got to go down as a pretty big negative, but we’ve just got to put that behind us and get on with getting going in the league.

Next up is the crucial home game against Kashima on Saturday. They have loads of injuries at the moment and haven’t started well in the league so presumably will totally crush us… We don’t seem to do particularly well in crunch games against them, and whilst it’s still early in the season, our stuttering start probably makes this game more significant that it should be. Please let us win… and if we could put in a decent performance that would be lovely too. After that, what has to be one of the most awkward fixtures of the season, a Wednesday evening trip to Sagan Tosu. Although perhaps Sapporo away, also on a Wednesday evening later in the season could also stake a claim for that title. Fingers, toes, legs and arms crossed we can get going in these two matches and I can stop moaning the next time I have to rush out a blog post. Go Frontale!

GK 30. ARAI Shota
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro
MF 22. SHIMODA Hokuto
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya
MF 37. SAITO Manabu
FW 27. SUZUKI Yuto
FW 9. AKASAKI Shuhei

GK 24. ANDO Shunsuke 
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki
MF 6. TASAKA Yusuke
FW 20. CHINEN Kei (on for AKASAKI 84')
MF 25. MORITA Hidemasa (on for SHIMODA 81')
MF 28. WAKIZAKA Yasuto (on for SAITO 69')

My Frontale Man Of The Match

After suggesting that the official man of the match was Moriya because they didn't know which goal scorer to give it to, and in the past suggesting that people can't see past goals and that the man of the match always goes to whoever scores the most goals or the best goal, I am going to be completely hypocritical and give it to...

HASEGAWA Tatsuya & SUZUKI Yuto - They scored goals and recently that's something we're not very good at!


SUZUKI (Frontale) 2' 1-0  
HASEGAWA (Frontale) 43' 2-0
PARK (Ulsan) 47' 2-1   
LEE Y-J (Ulsan) 50' 2-2


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