Tuesday 30 April 2019

Vs Vissel Kobe (away) 28/4/19 - J League match 9

Vissel Kobe 1 - 2 Kawasaki Frontale

The first weekend of this year’s Golden Week was a fantastic weekend of football. Or rather more accurately I should say it was a great weekend for football results. Admittedly, neither of the two games I was focused on were of particularly high quality, but both produced very welcome results. My hometown team Leyton Orient played out a 0-0 draw against an already relegated team to clinch the National League title ahead of Salford City, who had endeavoured and failed to buy the league title, filling their non-league team with League One players on League One wages thanks to their Singaporean billionaire and ex-Man. Utd. player owners. And then plucky little Kawasaki Frontale triumphed over FC Rakuten, sorry, Vissel Iniesta, sorry バルサ日本, sorry the NUMBER ONE TEAM IN ASIA (which was actually up on the screen in the ground, even though I thought they’d backed away from that a bit recently), or whatever you want to call them. Yes, I fully realise that I am exaggerating a bit in both situations. Neither Orient or Frontale are completely the plucky underdog I am making them out to be, but it did feel a little like for once justice had been done in some way, and that in the pursuit of a title, big money had bought a fancy sports car to cruise to victory but forgot to put enough petrol in it. I know that schadenfreude is never a particularly gracious look, but it was a lot of fun seeing Vissel Kobe and Salford City trip up. At least I can kind of pretend there is some kind of moral high ground behind these feelings. Great! Anyway, I’ll try to focus more on Frontale for the rest of this, given that is why most people are probably reading this. Here’s what we’ve learned from this game.

Money can’t buy me wins- 
Never in the field of human football, has so much been spent to create so little. Apologies for starting here with a couple of pretty dubious plays on words. But it’s true. Iniesta’s salary is so out of whack with the rest of the J League that he was always going to struggle to justify the investment. Although perhaps he does, as clearly there are a lot of people interested in seeing him and the other foreign stars play. This was a sold out game and there were plenty of Iniesta, Villa and Podolski shirts on display so clearly they are making some of their investment back. Also, wonderful dynamic pricing and Vissel having their own ticketing system through Rakuten mean that opposition fans will be paying significantly more than usual for the privilege of seeing their team defeat the maximum number of big name foreigners and some Japanese nationality mercenaries. Sure you get some nice touches from them at times, but also you’ve got to realise that many of these players are nearing the end of their careers and aren’t actually as good as they used to be. In spite of the stated pre-match desire of some Kobe fans to show us who the real Japanese Barcelona are, Vissel Kobe were a bit of a bunch of cloggers, committing foul after foul and booting the ball wide or high of the target or just right off the side of the pitch, time after time. There was very little quality on show from them. David Villa seemed to spend most of the match on the floor complaining to the referee. Samper was pretty anonymous. Dankler looked extremely dodgy and Iniesta just didn’t really do much. There was one amazing moment in the game where Michael James tackled Iniesta, the ball ran free to Villa and then Michael James won the ball off him too. I couldn’t have imagined I would have been typing that sentence a few seasons ago! I have nothing personal against these players (if Podolski was playing, that would have been a different matter), but they’re clearly not as good as people think they are or expect them to be based on their past, and this could be a long season for Kobe if things continue as they are going right now.

Or a decent pitch -
It’s undoubtedly better than it used to be, but there was still a ridiculous amount of players slipping over. Admittedly, maybe it was mostly our players, but not exclusively so. Maybe that’s why they Kobe are playing such sloppy football.

But maybe high powered moaning can ‘buy’ a ref -
The ref in this game was Matsuo. He was atrocious. I find it hard to believe he wasn’t influenced by Mikitani’s incessant moaning about past refereeing of Kobe’s games. It was amusing that Mikitani demanded the ‘bad’ decisions in their game against Matsumoto were analysed on the DAZN ref analysis show, which they then were, and all found to have been correct. He presumably has similar complaints about this game (as tends to be the case with people who’ve spent a lot of money but don’t really understand the thing they have spent it on and find thing going contrary to how they wanted them to), but it should really be us who are upset. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Mikitani had sneaked into the referees room before the game and replaced Matsuo's yellow card with an envelope of money as it took an eternity for any Kobe player to get booked even as they were doing their best to kick us off the pitch. Of course, this is a joke. I don’t think any money has changed hands. But, as a ref, it’s got to be difficult to put the extremely rich, extremely powerful, extremely high profile and extremely moany club owner completely out of your mind. There were clear incidents where I can’t understand how Matsuo didn’t give us what seemed to be a straightforward decision or Kobe a deserved booking for diving or hacking. There were changed throw-in and corner decisions, reversed after some protest from Kobe players. And one absolutely crystal clear back pass which he let go. It’s been a while since we’ve had such a rotten refereeing performance in one of our games. And you know me, I like to have a moan about a ref more than pretty much anything else. 

Sympathy for the Vissel (fans) -
This is something that I have been feeling a little conflicted about. I imagine there are quite a few Vissel Fans who aren’t exactly 100% in favour of this transformation of their club. I also imagine that for every one of them, there are probably twice as many who want Mikitani to really get his wallet out and buy them even more high profile players and a title to go with them. Clearly, if things were going a bit better they wouldn't mind so much, but right now they are looking at a team assembled at great cost failing to deliver. Perhaps some are embarrassed by the number one team in Asia thing too. I have to say that it must be a horrible feeling to see your club morph into a rich man’s plaything and move away from what you might want it to be. So, yeah. I just wanted to say that as an Orient fan, I understand what it’s like to have a totally insane owner make decisions that the majority of fans disagree with. I don’t imagine this is where the majority of Kobe fans are at the moment, but you know, I’m just trying to show some sympathy towards anyone who does feel like that.

Oniki Toru - tactical genius -

I think it’s fair to say that this was by no means a first choice eleven and was more Oniki picking from those who were still able to stand after what must have been some brutal practice sessions, judging by how many players got crocked in them. You could argue that we had six first teamers out injured (probably, but these things rarely get confirmed with Frontale). Kengo, Abe, Morita, Ienaga, Kurumaya and Nara were all absent. And it’s not just them. Wakisaka, who was expected to start in this game, was injured in training the day before the game. Even Caio Cesar is injured! So we saw both Hasegawa and Saito start. I imagined this would be with both of them playing on the left wing with the right completely empty, but it seemed more like Hasegawa on the left with Manabu on the right but probably in fact all across the pitch. They swapped wings at stages too. I’m still not completely convinced by our 4-4-2. Not convinced it works so well, and not convinced we actually play that system when we say we are. But you can’t argue with results and now we’ve won three in a row in the league. It wasn’t exactly convincing, and we didn’t really make the most of our chances, and our goals came from a set piece and an easy finish from a rebound with no Kobe defenders getting close, but it did work. And it was great to see Mawatari (lovely free kick and decent corners too) and Kobayashi (really needed that goal to get a bit more confidence and get into some form) score. It’s probably slightly concerning for some of the players on the bench that even during an injury crisis they are not really getting a chance. Yamamura is coming on for a few minutes at the end of games to replace Chinen. Leandro Damiao is coming to presumably give moral support to whichever other Brazilian sub it is does the Vai La De Frontale if we win. But yeah, whilst results are going this way I’ll give Oniki credit for picking the team that’s getting us the points. Wish he’d do more with the subs though, but I always say that, don’t I?

So, three points that were important and a win which felt extremely satisfying mainly due to the opposition and the fact that it was a patched up team we were fielding. If some of the injured players recover, I’d be surprised if Oniki persisted with the same team, and they do now have a bit of time to recover with the next game being next Friday at home against our chums Vegalta Sendai, who are languishing at the wrong end of the table. I don’t think they will be a pushover though, but we need to keep this run going. We’re rising up the table now, three points off second and seven off FC Tokyo at the top. Hopefully they’ll start falling to pieces soon. For the time being though, we should just concentrate on keeping our good results coming rather than worrying about anyone else. Go Frontale!


GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 17. MAWATARI Kazuaki
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya
MF 19. SAITO Manabu

GK 21. ARAI Shota
MF 22. SHIMODA Hokuto (on for HASEGAWA 90+4')
DF 27. SUZUKI Yuto (on for SAITO 89')
FW 30. MIYASHIRO Tasisei
MF 34. YAMAMURA Kazuya (on for CHINEN 83')

My Frontale Man Of The Match

For once this wasn’t so easy. Like I said, it wasn't a dream performance, but in the circumstances quite a few players did pretty well. Saito had a good game and I hope he continues to get an opportunity and can start playing like the player we know he can be. Mawatari’s free kick was lovely and we seemed a lot more dangerous from corners with him taking them than we usually do. Ao put in some great tackles in the middle and looked a lot less wobbly than he has at times recently. He definitely wasn't over-awed by coming up against Iniesta. No-one had a bad game really. But just for the enjoyable symbolism of the fading old master versus the young rising star I’ve got to give it to….

OSHIMA Ryota - according to the stats, out-performed Iniesta. But aside from the stats he held us together in the middle with his tackling and passing. Keep up the good work Ryota!


MAWATARI (Frontale) 15' 0-1
KOBAYASHI (Frontale) 37' 0-2
FURUHASHI (Kobe) 82' 1-2


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