Wednesday 20 June 2018

2018 Season first half : Round Up

Here is my long-awaited first part of the season review. There probably won’t be a great deal of original ideas and thoughts in here that I haven’t already expressed in my match report blog posts, but I thought it would be nice to put everything together in one easy to read whinge-fest. Not saying it has been a bad season so far. On balance it’s been OK, but there is a lingering feeling, at least for me, that it could have been a lot better. After finishing last season as Champions we had a great opportunity to push on, but it feels more like we’re treading water at the moment. Admittedly,  and perhaps as a response to us winning the league last year, this year’s J1 is dominated by teams playing the tactics we struggle the most against. Hiroshima, FC Tokyo, Cerezo and many others are having some success by sitting back with almost everyone behind the ball and then lumping it forward on the counter attack. It’s certainly not very nice to watch, and for us it’s also not very nice to play against. Under Kazama we would always play with the thought that it didn’t matter how many we conceded as we’d usually score at least one more than the opposition. Oniki has tightened things up at the back a bit and we’re certainly now less cavalier than we were before, but this has made us vulnerable to teams who take advantage of us slowly building attacks, waiting and waiting for the right opportunity and then getting hit on the break after misplacing the 100th pass of our patient build up. After this, the opposition parks the bus and we lose.

We started the season with a total stinker of a Super Cup performance and this was perhaps actually a portent of what was to come in the cup competitions this year. Our ACL campaign was over before it had really begun, with ponderous tactics in the first two losses (apparently. I missed both games, so can’t say for sure). We redeemed ourselves a little in the Melbourne home game, but still managed to seize a draw from the jaws of victory with a last minute penalty given away by Nara. The fact is though that we should have been out of sight by then against a Melbourne side who didn’t really offer much at all. The less said about the Melbourne away game the better. The truth is, for us the ACL was pretty much over at the end of the home game though. Then, we also almost contrived to lose to Sony Sendai of the Japan Football League in the Emperor’s Cup. Whilst I felt confident we’d come back from 2-0 down, it’s a bit of a worry that we got to that stage in the first place. You’ve got to ask some questions about the team selection, especially given that it was during a long World Cup break.

Our league form has been really weird. Generally speaking, when we’ve picked a good starting eleven, we’ve done pretty well, pulling off some decent victories (Kashima home, Shimizu home, maybe Sagan Tosu away as it’s always a game we struggle with). But there have also been quite a few good scorelines that hide underwhelming performances (Gamba home, Jubilo away). Also there were some games that felt like decent results at the time, but judging by the oppositions’ performances in their other games now look a bit dodgy (Nagoya away, Yokohama away). We never seem to get off to a great start, and although we won this year’s opening game apparently convincingly, the 1-1 draw in the next game at home against Shonan was a much more accurate reflection of how we were playing. The defeats against Cerezo, FC Tokyo and Hiroshima, (terrible refereeing blunder aside), show us failing to get anything from the teams who are around us in the table and could prove crucial come the end of the season. Hiroshima are way ahead of us and it would have been nice to have stopped their run a little earlier. To be honest though, we couldn’t come up with a way to play against them. We can moan about the officials denying us a definite equaliser, but this too is just papering over the cracks of another bad performance.

It will come as no surprise to hear that I find most of this lies at the feet of Oniki. Perhaps he is suffering a second season hangover or people have worked us out, but we have one of the best squads in the league and should not be struggling in so many games. Of course, blips happen and we can’t expect to win every game. And we are still third in the league. But I feel that we are too predictable and have only one way of playing. Of course predictability is fine if it means that you are imposing your style on the opposition and they can’t deal with it. It’s not so good if most of them have worked out how to play against us and we don’t have any response. When we have a go at teams we have been a lot more successful, yet when we play ‘big teams’ or local rivals, we seem to start the match with an inferiority complex and struggle to impose ourselves. Oniki’s team selections have been at times baffling. He doesn’t seem able to grasp the complex of rotation, changing huge chunks of the team whilst leaving other intact, rather the gradually moving the squad through the first team. I’m also not a fan of his man management, giving quite a few players the cold shoulder and calling some out, whilst ignoring the errors of some who are presumably his favourites. His subbing of Wakizaka felt just cruel. Let’s be honest, his substitutions are often a little baffling, seemingly unaffected by considerations of where players play best or where we are having trouble. Of course this is all just my opinion, and I am far from qualified to comment, given that I know next to nothing about football tactics. I just hope that he knows what he is doing and I am proved to be an idiot, as at times it has seemed that he was just lucky last year, and doesn’t have what it takes to be ‘lucky’ this time around.

To conclude this whinge-fest, I’d give us a B- so far this year. We’re in touch, which is the main thing, but truth be told, we’re a bit lucky to be so, and Hiroshima need to have some kind of collapse if we want to retain our title. There’s definitely room for improvement and it would be a huge disappointment if this talented collection of players were not able to achieve what they are capable of. Football goes in cycles, so we need to make sure that we are making the most of the good times and therefore have something to get nostalgic about when the bad times come. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that we can get a bit more consistency and play better so that we deserve the wins we’re getting and wipe out the soft defeats. Go Frontale!

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