Muangthong United 1 - 3 Kawasaki FrontaleAnother game missed by me. Can I call myself a real fan anymore? To be fair this was quite a long way away and we didn’t get much notice. Also I think I might be testing the patience of my workplace what with always asking for Tuesday off. Full credit to the few fans who did make the trip. After watching the game on TV in a bar in Shinmaruko (no photos of a TV this time though), I wish I had loads of money and no responsibilities as it would have been a great match to attend. Although I’m not sure how I would have dealt with the heat. It certainly seemed to be affecting the players and I am already struggling with Spring in Japan. Muangthong came into the game with a great home record in the competition. They had won all of their home group stage games and had challenged Kashima for the group victory right up until they lost at Kashima in the last group game. So they would definitely be tough opposition for us, especially away from home.
Recently our starting line up has started to become almost predictable. You know the whole thing about not changing a winning side? Well Oniki decided to make a few big changes. I am not sure what the thinking was behind these changes. Was he resting players for the league? Seems weird if he was, as this looked like being a tough and important game and we don’t have any league games for a little while. Sure, Oshima picked up a knock against Kashima so it was no surprise to see him out of the starting line-up and on the bench. I guess the same could maybe be said about Kobayashi. He had a lot of ice on his legs after the Kashima game, so maybe he wasn’t 100% fit. So far, so understandable, but the confusing one for me was Takeoka dropping to the bench. It has seemed recently that he has been preferred to Tasaka at right back, but after a couple of starts (both games won with clean sheets), he was back on the bench. Hasegawa starting on the bench was not so much of a shock as he has been moving in and out of the starting line up for most of the season and that has been working pretty well. And of course Edu can’t play in the ACL as he wasn’t a registered member of our ACL squad. The full starting line up was Sung-Ryong in goal, Tasaka, Taniguchi, Nara and Kurumaya in defence, Neto and Kengo in front of them. Up front we had Rhayner on the right, Ienaga in the middle and Abe on the left with Morimoto in front of them. The bench was made up of Arai, Oshima, Kobayashi, Hasegawa, Takeoka, Moriya and Kano. There had been some talk about how bad the pitch was before the game and whilst it looked ok in the middle, there were definitely some dodgy looking areas at either end. A few times early on we completely lost control of the ball, or scuffed it, or missed it, which makes me think that there were a fair few lumps on it. However we were definitely having the bulk of the early possession. We were also playing pretty sloppily, giving the ball away a bit and generally not passing very well. The ref was doing his bit to contribute to the sloppiness with the typical ACL refereeing performance of moderate incompetence that we’ve come to expect in this competition. One slightly worrying thing was his willingness to be swayed by the crowd or the players, giving decisions apparently when they were sufficiently appealed for. Muangthong seemed to be playing like the away team, sitting back and waiting for counter attacking opportunities. Our sloppy play gifted them a few of these early on, but we began to settle and make some decent chance ourselves. Sadly we couldn’t quiet get to the shooting stage. We would make a lovely move and then give the ball away when we got close to the goal. I’m not sure how much of this was poor play from us and how much was good defending from them, but I lean towards the former. Around thirty minutes we were treated to the rare sight of a water break with both teams going to the side of the pitch for rehydration and ice packs to the neck. It seemed that this was also a legitimate time for managerial input with tactics boards being brandished and tactics tweaked. Approaching the end of the first half we were doing ok. They didn’t seem to be as good as we might have been expecting but we weren’t exactly setting the world on fire. They’d had a few decent chances and forced a few good saves from Super Sung-Ryong, but neither side had particularly imposed themselves on the game. Then they scored… With plenty of defenders back and only a few forwards, we were undone by a pass, dummy, turn and long range shot. It was a nice move, but we were shockingly static. The defenders just seemed to be watching the game rather than participating. We had conceded in the 48th minute, right before half time; our first goal conceded in five games. Time for some reassessment in the changing room at half time.
The second half began with a substitution. Kobayashi came on for Morimoto who hadn’t really been able to get into the game. I think it’s probably nearing make or break time for Morimoto as he really hasn’t done much this season during his opportunities. Perhaps he’ll have a chance in the Emperor’s Cup, but he really has to start performing soon I think. I guess this substitution was promising as it suggests that Kobayashi wasn’t injured, but a little confusing why he would have been rested. I hope we didn’t underestimate the strength of the opposition. That was the accusation leveled at us away against Eastern, but to be honest in that game, the only think we underestimated was the referee’s desire to play by his own rules. We were once again beginning to get going but still when defending we were completely static, frozen in our places, apparently unable to move. It was a bit worrying to be honest, but I suppose everyone’s allowed an off day every now and again and we had Sung-Ryong to save us. On 59 minutes Oshima came on for Rhayner, who maybe wasn’t having his usual ACL man of the match performance that we’ve got used to recently. We turned things up a gear and the goals started flowing. The first came from a Ienaga cross-field ball which was headed into the area where Kengo controlled it with his chest, turned and buried the ball. The second was a beauty. Kengo and Oshima played a nice one-two, the ball was passed to the wing for Ienaga to float in a nice cross and Kobayashi finished masterfully with a spinning volley. Delighted to see him scoring again. I hope he can continue next week as that goal must have given him quite a bit of confidence! Two goals in three minutes and the game had been turned on its head. We were still a little wobbly at the back though and needed our saviour to rescue us again when Muangthong had a quick counter attack and were able to basically run through our backline unchallenged. Not long after coming on and after getting involved to help us score two goals, Oshima had to leave the pitch due to injury. He was replaced by Moriya and looked a bit uncomfortable as he left the pitch. I guess he’d done his job, but hope the injury is nothing too serious. The icing on the cake came in the 89th minute when another fast passing move resulted in Kobayashi crossing for Abe to roll the ball home, keeping his consecutive game scoring record going. Possibly the result flattered us a little as Sung-Ryong had a bit of work to do to stop them scoring more than once, but to be honest, I didn’t think they looked anywhere near as dangerous as we had been led to believe. They seem to have some good players going forward but didn’t really seem able to deal with our attacks. Three away goals has put us in a very strong position going into the next leg. Certainly stronger than Urawa and Kashima who both lost and both failed to score an away goal. I will never underestimate our ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory though so am not taking anything for granted yet. But they will have to come and attack us and that will mean that they will be leaving space at the back for us to exploit. We’ll see next week I guess!
Positives and negatives. Negatives first. Oshima’s injured again. We saw how important a player he is for us when he came on in this game. Kengo definitely plays better further forward so it feels like we are wasting him playing him next to Neto. If Oshima doesn’t recover maybe we should put Moriya in next to Neto instead and push Kengo forward. Moriya isn’t exactly suited to that position either, but I don’t think we have anyone who is at the moment. Oshima is injured, Itakura is away with the U20s. Maybe there’s someone else in the squad who can do a job there but hasn’t had a chance yet. Let’s see what Oniki comes up with. Probably the only other negative is the static defence, but let’s hope that was just a blip maybe caused by the conditions and that we’re back to our normal next match. Positives, quite a few! Great goal from Kobayashi. Three good goals, all with lovely movement. Dynamic attacking play. A huge lead going in to the second leg and a victory against a team who had previously won all their home games in the ACL. We just need to keep things under control in the second leg. Of course, another great performance from Sung-Ryong should also be mentioned as he’s playing amazingly at the moment. Certainly at his best since he joined us. And finally, I guess a big positive is the fact that we won convincingly with an average performance. Think we still have a bit more in the tank, but as long as we are winning, there’s no need to complain or feel in any way disappointed.
Next up is the return leg, Muangthong at Todoroki, next Tuesday. There’s no league game for us this weekend as it was due to be the game against Urawa and as we are both still involved in the ACL it has been postponed. I wonder if we’ll get a few more people for this game than usual. The ACL games don’t seem as appealing as the league ones to people for some reason. Possibly, the fact that they are all early weekday evening games can’t help. In any case, it should be a good game and I hope we can hold things together and progress to the next round. Go Frontale!
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 6. TASAKA Yusuke
DF 5. TANIGUCHI ShogoDF 3. NARA Tatsuki
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 21. EDUARDO NETO
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
MF 22. RHAYNERMF 8. ABE Hiroyuki
FW 9. MORIMOTO TakayukiFW 41. IENAGA Akihiro
GK 30. ARAI Shota
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota (on for RHAYNER 59')
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu (on for MORIMOTO 46')MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya
DF 17. TAKEOKA Yuto
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro (Yellow card 90+3') (on for OSHIMA 74')MF 25. KANO Kenta
My Frontale Man Of The Match
It could have been a few players and Super Sung-Ryong saved us a few times again, but as he keeps getting my man of the match award, I thought I'd give to someone different this time.
KOBAYASHI Yu - Awesome finish for the goal and seemed to really make a difference when he came on.
DANGDA (Muangthong) 48' 1-1
NAKAMURA (Frontale) 66' 1-1
KOBAYASHI (Frontale) 69' 1-2
ABE (Frontale) 88' 1-3