This is the first part of my end of season player round-up. Today, squad numbers 1-11. Sorry for the lack of effort this year. The Corona football schedule was so relentless that I have been a bit slack about doing these end of season posts and now I have finally got round to doing them I've rushed them out a bit. Hopefully they are still of some worth though. Fingers crossed we can have a bit more of a regular season in 2021. Although to be honest, it doesn't look like it's going to be, does it?
1. Sung-Ryong JUNG (GK)
Great season for our number one. At the end of last year it looked like Oniki had gone off him and that we might be expecting a change between the sticks but perhaps the departure of Arai sealed Sung-Ryong’s position. Apart from Sung-Ryong only Tanno has played in goal for us this year and that was only for one game. Delighted he won a spot in the J League team of the year. Disappointed for him that he wasn’t able to end up with a better defensive record than Nagoya's but when you consider the two sides playing styles it’s probably not that surprising. Made the occasional error as anyone would and was let down by his defence on a few occasions but this season will mainly be remembered for some absolutely amazing saves. Pleased he’s signed on again for next year, but think we’ll probably have to rotate a little given that hectic schedule we’ll have.
2. Kyohei NOBORIZATO (DF)
Another player selected in the J League team of the year and 2020 saw Nobori really nail down the left back position. At the start of the year I thought that Kurumaya could have felt a bit unlucky to not be playing more but you can’t say Nobori didn’t have a stormer this year. Kind of the opposite to Yamane on the other side, Nobori did everything expected of him at the back rather than going forwards. Could feel perhaps a little unfortunate to not have scored this year when almost everyone else did, but in spite of the words to his song, it never seems that likely that he will ‘get goal’ but he did weigh in with plenty of assists. Maybe his best season for ages, if ever.
4. JESIEL (DF)
Definitely one of my players of the season. Taniguchi often gets the plaudits and it seems is preferred by Oniki, but without Jesiel we would have got into a big old mess at the back. Loved his tactic of charging out of defence to stop attacks at their start. Particularly enjoyed him racing to the halfway line and fairly cleaning out Furuhashi time after time in one game against Kobe. Also had a few exciting charges forward with the ball towards the end of the season. The goals he scored were crucial and in one game rescued three points for us. Extremely important player for us and without him we’d be in a lot of trouble. Deserved member of the J League team of the year.
5. Shogo TANIGUCHI (DF)
A good year for our captain who formed a great partnership with Jesiel at the back. We finished the year with the second best defensive record and when you consider how attacking we were this is even more impressive. Scored a few goals which were important and played a hell of a lot of minutes. Still occasionally prone to the odd clanger here and there (notably the red card against Oita, I guess), but this seems to be happening a lot less frequently than it did so full credit for that. Another J League team of the year member.
6. Hidemasa MORITA (MF)
This one is a bit sad, as now he has moved on to Santa Clara in the Portuguese league. Guess it was inevitable though as this was definitely his best ever season for us. Was always in or around the starting line up but when he finally began to start games in the anchor role he really made it his own and will be difficult to replace. Strong in the challenge and good with his passing. Stopped trying the tricks that he used to do when he was in a good mood and this is all the better I think as it means he made fewer errors. Very difficult to get the ball off of and finally managed to score again towards the end of the season, after which he seemed to want to score at every opportunity. Naturally was another member of the J League team of the year. Wish him all the best with his new team and if he ever comes back to Japan would be delighted to have him back. Hope we have at least some kind of clause in his contract that will get us at least something from his progress. As this is the J League, presumably we haven’t.
7. Shintaro KURUMAYA (DF)
Difficult season for the player who was our first choice left back in recent seasons. Seems his flexibility is his downfall, as I guess Oniki liked to have him on the bench to cover both the left back and centre back spots. Saying that, he didn’t really stake a strong claim to be the first choice left back when he did have his chances. Didn’t particularly do anything wrong but Nobori was outshining him. I wonder how he feels at the end of the year? It seems Oniki clearly favours Nobori. I really like Kurumaya though so I hope he wants to stay with us and make a case for a starting spot. The fact that Hatate seemed to be ahead of him in the left back pecking order at the end of the season is a bit worrying for many reasons. Guess he could have still been slightly injured or unfit. I hope so, as otherwise I can’t imagine he’ll want to hang around. Fingers crossed he does.
8. Yasuto WAKIZAKA (MF)
Mixed season for our number 8. Didn’t have quite as much of a splash as he did in 2019 but he was surrounded by some pretty impressive midfielders. Four goals and six assists is a good return, but at the end of the season it seemed that our preferred midfield three were Morita, Oshima and Tanaka, and that Wakizaka had dropped to a supporting role. Decent set piece taker and clearly still developing as a player. Perhaps went under the radar a little in some games though and didn’t really stand out in the way that Tanaka and Morita did. Then again, the same thing could be said about Oshima and he’s a legend, so maybe I should be paying more attention. Interested to see how he does in 2021.
9. LEANDRO DAMIAO (FW)
14 goals looks pretty good. Sadly for him as a striker he’s got Mitoma and Kobayashi ahead of him in the goal scoring chart, so could perhaps be considered unlucky to find himself in a team where so many players are scoring. Think that the assists column is more significant and a part of his game that is often overlooked. Six assists is pretty good for a goal scoring front man. Also did loads of hassling and chasing down keepers and defenders and get kicked around a bit for his troubles. Started the year on an absolute bicycle kick frenzy but this later progressed to a preference for always trying for a backheel goal instead. Feel that he’s a bit unlucky sometimes with things that don’t go his way. But then that also seemed to be the case with Kobayashi when he started up front. Sad that he won’t get another opportunity to play with Diogo as I think the combination of Diogo’s crosses and Damiao’s finishing would have got us a lot of goals. Guess Oniki didn’t think the same. It’s telling though that when a decent cross was put in for him he absolutely buried it (against Gamba, I think). Ran out of steam a little at the end of the season when due to Kobayashi’s injury he wasn’t being rotated as much and probably got a bit knackered. Fingers crossed for 2021.
10. Ryota OSHIMA (MF)
Relatively quiet season for a player who always goes a bit under the radar for me somehow. If he’s playing well I don’t notice him for some reason. Our midfield spaces were hotly contested this year but I think everyone would agree that our best three were Oshima, Tanaka and Morita. Oshima didn’t make the J League team of the year which maybe suggests he had a quiet year, perhaps due to the usual absences due to injury. Still managed eight assists though (our second best assister/assistant/provider). The red card for two yellows away against Nagoya was pretty weird for him and I seem to remember that he was perhaps a touch unlucky to get it. Hopefully he can remind us how great he is next year.
11. Yu KOBAYASHI (FW)
Much like Damiao, did the business but was overshadowed a bit. Finished our top scorer and didn’t play as many games as Damiao, but an injury and the problem that our main starting striker never really seemed to score perhaps held him back a bit. My 2020 Kobayashi moment has to be his big contribution to the comeback away at Vegalta Sendai. We were a total mess in that game till he came on and did the business. He probably won’t like me suggesting it, but I feel like he could definitely do a job on the right of a front three with Damiao in the middle, but I’ve been saying that for ages and I think it only happened once this year so obviously Oniki disagrees. Seemed utterly distraught at Kengo’s farewell ceremony so perhaps the impending departure was playing on his mind a bit this year. Will be interesting to see how he starts 2021.
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