Not the best day for Frontale fans. The first Tamagawa Classico of 2017 ended with a scoreline that flattered FC Tokyo a bit, but you can’t really say we deserved anything more than a draw at best. It also, I hope, saw the majority of Frontale fans getting real about Okubo. He has gone and he doesn’t care about us anymore. I’m not sure he cared about us much previously to be honest. He’s always seemed to be more interested in himself, but his whinging, nasty foul on Kengo, massive over-celebration of what was hardly a significant goal in terms of the result of the game and then showboating afterwards left a particularly bad taste in the mouth for me. But then I guess I wasn’t particularly fond of him last year. He’s now dead to me though. There was a crushing inevitability that he’d get his first FC Tokyo goal against us, but by the time it went in, the game was already well lost, so that takes away the frustration a little bit I guess.
Our starting line-up looked fairly solid, with only the defence changed from the Guangzhou game. Sung-Ryong continued in goal, Tasaka was back at right back, Nara and Taniguchi in the middle and Kurumaya on the left. In front of them, Oshima and Neto, then Kobayashi, Nakamura and Nobori with Abe as the lone frontman again. Hasegawa kept his place on the bench, presumably after a decent substitute performance against Guangzhou. The rest of the bench was made up of the usual suspects, Arai, Moriya, Itakura, Morimoto, Miyoshi and Rhayner. The stadium was pretty full and we were in pretty good voice before the game. I don’t remember it happening last year, but when they played ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, presumably aiming for that hairs on the back of the neck moment, they did a harsh fade, which almost sounded like the backing track had just cut out. I guess the intention was that a wall of FC Tokyo fans would blast us into submission, but it seemed like maybe most people didn’t know the words or something. Their fans did seem a bit flat to be honest, considering this is a match that both teams really want to win. Most of the noise they made until they scored seemed to be booing any possession we had.
We started the game brightly (I say this every week. I wish I could say that we started brightly and continued in the same way…) and looked more like the home team for a while. We had lots of possession and were making a few chances. From a corner Tasaka had a header cleared off the line. Neto seemed to think it was over, judging by the replay, but as we were at the other end of the ground, I have no idea. As usual, we were gifting the opposition a few chances too. I wouldn’t say it was a bad tempered game, but they definitely seemed to be leaving the boot in quite often. Once again it looked like the ref had left his cards in the changing room. We need to work out how to deal with this though as it’s happening all the time. We start brightly and then get a bit of rough treatment and start to crumble. Nara was doing pretty well, possibly charged up by the fact that he was on loan at FC Tokyo a couple of seasons ago and they hardly played him. He seems to be improving every week at the moment. Long may that continue. Okubo had a couple of chances, one where he tried a ridiculous overhead that went sailing over the bar and possibly out of the stadium and one where he had the ball in the net but which was ruled out for offside. Nobori broke out of defence with the ball, ran almost the length of the pitch and had a shot saved by the keeper. I think this is the closest he has got to reproducing the lyrics of his song for a while to be honest. We were a bit sloppy playing the ball out of defence again. I think this is definitely something we need to work on. Everyone now knows we don’t really hoof it long as we are a team of midgets, so they just pressure us at the back and we give them the ball. Maybe we need to have a bit more variation. Half time, and 0-0 was about right really. Neither team looked like they wanted to win the match.
The second half started with a bit of pressure from Tokyo. The fouly nature of the game continued and the ref seemed to be handing out plenty of ‘final’ warnings. On 56 minutes, Abe, who had a pretty quite game, much like plenty of his teammates, was replaced by Rhayner. Kobayashi moved up front and Rhayner took his place on the right wing. Rhayner had a decent chance to get his first Frontale goal when he raced through on goal and was squashed in a FC Tokyo defender sandwich. Looked like a foul to me, but the ref bottled it. Rhayner must really be questioning the rules of the game in Japan. He gets smacked around every week and only seems to pick up yellow cards rather than be awarded free kicks. Shortly after Rhayner came on, FC Tokyo brought on big money feller Peter Utaka presumably to give them more physical presence up front. Okubo hadn’t really been adding anything to their game, mainly moaning in the centre circle (reminiscent of last season!), but he still seems to be unsubstitutable. On 71 minutes, Oniki subsituted Neto and brought on Hasegawa. Have no idea about this one to be honest. I think it was a good idea to bring on Hasegawa, but not sure if Neto was injured (he walked round the pitch after being taken off, so I guess not, but who knows) or this was a tactical change. If it was the latter, it was another stinker. It’s probably no coincidence that after this change FC Tokyo started scoring. They bring on their bulky physical player and we remove our best tackling defensive midfielder. Kengo seemed to drop back into the gap left by Neto and Hasegawa moved to the right wing, Rhayner switching to the left. But to be honest, the formation was a bit squishy at this stage and it was a little difficult to work out who was supposed to be where. We started resorting to hitting long balls a little, from goal kicks and out of defence. So, basically giving the ball to their defenders. We were still creating some chances though, but as usual, our finishing wasn’t up to scratch. Also, we were over-passing it. It was a relief to see Rhayner and Hasegawa actually have a shot, as we seem all too often to want to pass the ball into the net. Their first goal was another stinker to concede. A low cross deflected off Tasaka’s boot onto Sung-Ryong’s standing leg and rolled into the goal. Unlucky, but you maybe would have hoped that someone could have done a bit more to stop it to be honest. So, one down we pushed for an equaliser. Miyoshi was brought on for Nobori. But the inevitable happened and they caught us out on a quick counter attack. Their second came from a cross to Utaka who got to the ball ahead of Kurumaya. Probably shouldn’t have let them get the cross in or let Utaka get to the ball first, but it seems like we were crumbling pretty badly at this stage. We had loads of players back, but still somehow it managed to be three on three in our penalty box. Their third came from a massive hoof which was headed away by Nara, but only to Okubo, who did a quick one-two with Utaka and rounded Sung-Ryong. We were caught flat-footed again. Not sure if we were trying to play an offside trap (it was nowhere near offside…) or we were just struggling to recover from being sucker punched for the second goal. It was poor though… Okubo, celebrated wildly, as if he had just scored the winner in a crucial game, when in fact it was just another goal in a game that was already won for them. Guess he was pleased to finally get a goal, but he could have showed a bit of class. But then again, it is Okubo, so maybe class isn’t in his vocabulary. After he scored he was showboating on the ball. Like I said, classy guy. I now truly hope he has a torrid season.
So, our first defeat of the season and it was a heavy one. Although the scoreline flattered Tokyo a little, I can’t say we really deserved to get anything from the game. We had more shots than them (apparently 10 to their 7) but they had more on target than we did (we had 3 and they had 4). The number of free kicks says something. We had 30 and they had 16. It’s clear that was part of their game plan, but we couldn’t deal with it. Teams know that even if they foul us, unless it’s just outside the box, all we are going to do is play the ball short, so it becomes a no-brainer for them. Foul and disrupt our attacks and give themselves time to get back in position. We need some more variation I think as we are way too predictable at the moment. Positives and negatives. Negatives first. No-one played particularly well. Nara had a great 70 minutes but I’m sure he’ll be disappointed by the way the second and third goals went in. Our delivery from set pieces was terrible (aside from the first chance we had which was cleared off the line) and all our crosses seemed to go straight to their keeper. We created chances but never really threatened their goal. We still don’t really have an effective plan for our front four. We have an abundance of players who can make chances but no-one who wants to try to take them. Again a bit of a dodgy ref in my opinion. Their 27 should probably have been sent off for a second yellow, but I’m clutching at straws a little. The weird Neto substitution is confusing. In a way, I think I’d prefer to hear that Neto had a slight injury as if it was a tactical move, we probably have something to worry about managerially. Hopefully he’s still learning though, but we can’t afford many more of these strange decisions. Not sure anyone would have thought that Igawa would make a good right back at this stage of his career or that we would better deal with a physical forward by replacing our midfield muscle with a winger. And maybe the biggest negative of all, the fact that the whinging brat Okubo managed to score against us. He really has no class, clattering into the back of Kengo in a terrible foul, showboating and wildly celebrating. I just hope that the Frontale fans realise that he doesn’t care about us and possibly never really did. He cares only about himself and we should let it go. By all means give him a clap before the game, but we really don’t need to be fawning over him at the end of the game shouting ‘ganbare!’. Move on. Positives… hmmmm. The performance maybe wasn’t as bad as the scoreline suggested…. that’s about it. I can’t think of anything else.
Now, we have a bit of a break as it’s international time. None of our players have been selected for the national side, so maybe we can use the time to work on what we are doing wrong. It’s been a mixed start to the season with some decent results but without any decent performances really. Our next game is away at Sendai who started quite well, but have fallen off a bit recently. We really need to get back on track there. I hope Oniki can use the short break well and sort out a few of the issues we are having. Back to the drawing board maybe. Anyway, I guess we could all do with a bit of a break after this game. Go (and sort some things out hopefully) Frontale!
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 6. TASAKA YusukeDF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 21. EDUARDO NETO
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
MF 11. KOBAYASHI Yu
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
FW 8. ABE Hiroyuki
GK 30. ARAI Shota
FW 9. MORIMOTO Takayuki
MF 13. MIYOSHI Koji (on for NOBORIZATO 82')MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya (on for NETO 71')
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro
FW 22. RHAYNER (on for ABE 56')
MF 28. ITAKURA Ko
JUNG (Frontale) Own Goal 76' 1-0
UTAKA (FC Tokyo) 86' 2-0
OKUBO (FC Tokyo) 90+2' 3-0
The Frontale youtube channel has longer highlights provided by DAZN, but given that last year's highlights got wiped when the broadcaster got changed, I'm going to stick with the official J League ones. But you can watch the longer highlights here if you want.