We’re back! The 2019 season has (sort of) kicked off. At least as far as we’re concerned anyway. In the interests of my sanity and the sanity of my readers, I’m going to try to reform the way I write these posts into a general introduction part, some ‘what we have learned’ bullet points and then a conclusion. We’ll see how that goes, but it seems clear to me that I’ve waffled on a bit too much in the past, with some of my posts being pretty text heavy and undigestible. Your feedback is welcome and may even be taken into consideration. Whilst last year’s Fuji Xerox Super Cup ‘final’ saw us flicker into life and then immediately extinguish ourselves, this was a whole lot more of a convincing start to a year, even if the scoreline didn’t completely reflect it. We got an opportunity to see some new faces, sing some new songs and celebrate a first cup title and a welcome win at the ‘neutral’ Saitama Stadium against Urawa, whose home ground is the Saitama Stadium. Here’s ‘what we learned’:
New players means new excitement!
- There was quite a buzz about the arrival of Leandro Damiao and it seems that he’s well up for fulfilling people’s expectations. He had a great first game, full of energy, causing big problems for the Urawa defenders and keeper with his pressuring and harrying. It was genuinely quite frightening to see him running towards the opposition keeper who’s trying to get rid of the ball. His goal was a nice one, with a lovely half-volleyed finish with plenty of power behind it. Maguinho had a decent game too, but, I felt, fell victim to some bizarre decisions from the officials. His replacement midway through the second half, Mawatari looked less comfortable, but admitted afterwards that he was quite nervous. I think it showed, and things will presumably only get easier for him from here. No sign of Yamamura or Jesiel, neither even making the bench, so the jury’s obviously still out on them.
Tactical juggling and perhaps even some flexibility!
- Apparently, Oniki spent the off-season in England, watching Premier League games and visiting an Arsenal training session. Interesting… This presumably resulted in us revealing our long overdue Plan B! Although perhaps this Plan B is actually the new Plan A and there still won’t be a Plan B, but who needs a plan B if the Plan A works well? The starting line-up was announced as being 4-2-2-2, with Kobayashi and Damiao up front and Kengo and Ienaga behind them. In reality we started more like last season’s 4-2-3-1 with Damiao being up top by himself. But any thoughts about this being a solid continuation of last season’s formation were soon in tatters. I’m not great with tactics, so I’m not sure exactly what was happening, but it seemed to me that the formation was very fluid. Kobayashi was at times alongside Damiao and at times on the right. Ienaga was all over the pitch, Kengo often back with Oshima as Morita bombed forward. It seems that maybe Kengo and Ienaga have some kind of agreement that while one of them does whatever they want, the other will stay in position. The lack of width is made up for by the fact that both of the full backs were pushing very far forward with Morita, Oshima or Kengo at times dropping back. It was pretty exciting from an attacking point of view and at the same time, we seemed surprisingly solid and well-organized at the back. The only drawback of this formation is the fact that the left side attacking midfield position that we are totally over-subscribed with talent for, and that Ienaga has now nominally been moved into, doesn’t really exist anymore. Perhaps we’re more likely to see Abe, Saito and Hasegawa further in-field and a bit freer when they get a chance. This would probably suit Saito quite well and he did well when he came on. It’s probably a bit early to declare Oniki a tactical genius, but this was pretty promising. Fingers crossed it doesn’t all fall to pieces in a week’s time against FC Tokyo.
New season, same poor officiating
- The ref was Iemoto again, and he still desperately seemed to be trying to prove that he doesn’t favour us since we stupidly cheered his announcement as the ref for our away game against FC Tokyo. Thankfully we were mid-song when he was announced for this game so we weren’t able to worsen the situation. Iemoto trying to appear like he doesn’t favour us can be the only justification for some of the truly bizarre decisions that riddled this game. But of course, I would say he was terrible and didn’t give us anything, wouldn’t I? I found it astonishing that Urawa only picked up one yellow in the whole game in spite of their constant fouling and destroying tactics. Yeah, this is all a bit biased, I guess, but it certainly seemed like we were getting the rough end of most of the calls in the game. Maguinho dribbled the ball up the pitch, through foul after foul, finally being felled just outside the box and Iemoto gave a free kick against him. Can’t really have any complaints about our two disallowed goals. Was furious at the time, my view at the other end of the pitch, directly behind play with perhaps a sub-standard prescription in my glasses clearly indicated two perfectly legitimate goals cruelly chalked off. Being able to watch the highlights proved that both decisions were right, with Kobayashi and Damiao being not perfectly in tune just yet. Can’t wait till they really start clicking!
Urawa: pride of Urawa
- I recall once being greatly amused by a Boston Utd flag which instead of having the expected ‘Pride Of (insert county)’ merely went with ‘Pride of Boston’ presumably realizing that Lincoln City or Grimsby Town had more claim on being the pride of Lincolnshire. Urawa have a similar flag, but I think in this case it’s probably more a case of the rest of Saitama being embarrassed by them. Leaving their supporters legendarily dubious politics and love of hooliganism aside, neither supporters or team left the stadium with much credit. I don’t know if it was because we played well, but Urawa looked very very ordinary, managing only one shot all game. Apparently they’d only played one pre-season game before this, which if it’s true is a bit bizarre. Presumably most of their pre-season training was spent perfecting fouling and I’ve got to give them credit, they were well drilled in that respect. As for the fans, as per usual (as far as I’m concerned), they were pretty quiet. I always say the same thing, but if they want to, they can make a lot of noise, but they seem to not be bothered most of the time. Although they piped up during the national anthem, which was a bit weird but not altogether surprising. Guess they are ‘patriots’. The other bizarre thing they did, apart from booing relentlessly the same few of our players they always do, was give Kurumaya a round of applause as our team was announced. I know he rejected an offer from them in the off-season, so perhaps the whole ‘treat ‘em mean, keep em keen’ thing works for them.
So, all in all, reasons to celebrate and reasons for cautious optimism. I never like to get too excited about things as I’m afraid of jinxes, but I’m looking forward to next weekend and seeing if we can pick things up from where we left off in this game. I guess if you’re looking for some doom and gloom, I could probably say that we only scored once in a game we pretty much dominated. In the second half things perhaps weren't as exhilarating as in the first, but we did actually score and there were new partnerships and relationships being built all over the pitch. Considering how poorly we normally start the season this either means that we’re going to be totally unstoppable, or we’re reversing the normal trend and will start well and then do a Hiroshima when it comes to the crunch. We should remember that this game with its multiple subs and rustiness all over the pitch is not a real indication of how the season will start. But at the same time we should consider that one-off games or cup competitions are the things that we normally mess up the most, so perhaps that monkey is off our back now. If we’d lost we’d probably be saying it doesn’t matter, but are now giving it added significance as we won. Whichever way you want to look at it, let’s enjoy another ‘title’ if you can call it that, enjoy sending out a message to our rivals this season and enjoy the thought of Leandro Damiao charging at the opposition defences equally committed, whether he has the ball or not. Go Frontale!
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 26. MAGUINHO
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki
DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo (Yellow card 66')
DF 7 KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
MF 6. MORITA Hidemasa
MF 11. KOBAYASHI Yu
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
MF 41. IENAGA Akihiro
FW 9. LEANDRO DAMIAO (Yellow card 27')
GK 21. ARAI Shota
MF 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei (on for KURUMAYA 14')
FW 8. ABE Hiroyuki (on for KOBAYASHI 88')
DF 17. MAWATARI Kazuaki (on for MAGUINHO 70')
MF 19. SAITO Manabu (on for NAKAMURA 70')
FW 20. CHINEN Kei (on for LEANDRO DAMIAO 79')
MF 25. TANAKA Ao (on for MORITA 79')
My Frontale Man Of The Match
Yeah, it’s a glorified friendly, yeah, people are rusty and there are new faces to integrate. But I’m still going to award this. Don’t think anyone had a bad game but there was probably one stand out performer, especially if you judge these things by the sprint count, a stat that Japanese football broadcasters seem to be obsessed with. So, it goes to…
LEANDRO DAMIAO - Bossed the Urawa defence with his power and drive, constantly chasing apparently lost causes, willing to shoot and scored an absolute blaster half-volley that wouldn’t have been stopped even if there was a player in the way. Bravo! (Please don’t get injured…). 26 sprints.
LEANDRO DAMIAO (Frontale) 52' 1-0
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