Saturday 16 December 2017

2017 season round up part 1

Just thought I’d add to my long stream of end of season posts with a few words on some more general stuff. It’s been a bit of an epic year for us and also for me personally. I’ve been to 45 games home and away this year, in three different countries and plenty of different Japanese prefectures. I had a weird feeling before the Levain Cup final where I felt a surge of emotion about the fact that we’d all been on this long journey this year and perhaps we were about to reach our destination. Unfortunately we broke down on a couple of miles before we arrived and were left totally deflated instead of elated. Little were we to know what was coming over the horizon.

Of course, this year will go down in Frontale history because of us taking our first title and that’s what people will remember if for. As usual though, we didn’t make things easy for ourselves. Even though we were in touch with the title race all year, we left it pretty late to take top spot, which to be honest probably made it all the sweeter. Unsurprisingly, I think we thoroughly deserved the title, and not just because we were playing much nicer football than our rivals Kashima, (at least that’s what we would say, and probably explains why there are a proportion of Frontale haters on twitter). But I think we’ve got the stats on our side this time. Firstly, we finished at the top of the table, which does show that over the course of the season we were the best team. In the end the reason for us triumphing was our superior goal difference, and to be honest, it was significantly better than anyone else, and in particular the team who finished with the same amount of points as us. We were the top scorers in the league, and only two goals and two teams off being the team who conceded the least. When you take into account that this figure included games where we conceded five goals to Jubilo and three to FC Tokyo this is more remarkable. Of course, everyone has blips over the course of the season though. I know I shouldn’t feel the need to justify our victory, but apparently I do, so it should also be noticed that we beat our closest rival comfortably home and away this season. In fact we beat most teams. I was under the impression that there were no J League teams we hadn’t beaten this year. I was wrong. We didn’t beat relegated Ventforet Kofu, who we drew with twice. Also FC Tokyo took four points off us in the league and whilst they didn’t ever look like they were going to down, ended up a lot closer to relegation than to any kind of success this year.

As has been the case in previous seasons, it seems that once again our biggest problem is dealing with teams that on paper we shouldn’t have much trouble beating. I think things were a bit better this year than last, but there were still some disappointing results early in the season against Shimizu S Pulse, FC Tokyo, Ventforet Kofu and Consadole Sapporo. Also the away game at Cerezo looked pretty bad at the time, but given where they finished, perhaps it wasn’t as bad as we might have thought. That was a game where we really didn’t turn up, as has been the case a few times this year. Early on, I guess we can put this down to Oniki learning the ropes and us having some unfortunate injuries. But there is still a bit of a feeling that we don’t really have a plan B. We play our way and if it’s not working, we just keep doing the same thing. A few teams worked us out and did a job against us, pressing us at the back and in the middle of the pitch. Normally we could pass our way out of trouble, but in a few games we resorted to kicking the ball long and just inviting them to attack us. There were some attempts at a bit of tactical variation, with us playing three at the back on occasion, but I’m not sure it worked particularly well for us.

I think many people had this year down as one of transition, being prepared to give Oniki some time to get the hang of things. Also, I think it was presumed that the Oniki way would be a bit less cavalier than we were under Kazama, with maybe a bit more strength and stability at the back. The stats half back this up but are also reveal a few surprises. Yes, we did concede less goals this year (32 vs 39) and we did lose less games (4 vs 6). Strangely though, we won exactly the same amount of points this year as we did last year. Last year it was only good enough for second overall, six behind Urawa, who of course didn’t go on to win the league due to the stupid championship system. And we scored more goals this year (71 vs 68). Good luck trying to work out the significance of all of this. There have been times when it’s looked like Oniki is a football genius with us pulling off fantastic wins against good teams, but there is perhaps a lingering suspicion that he might just be a good manager who has been a bit lucky this year. I haven’t been completely convinced by his substitutions, but compared to some of Kazama’s, I’m with Oniki. And of course, I think we’d all rather have a manager who’s learning his trade and is lucky, rather than one who has loads of experience and knowledge, but is cursed by misfortune.

But anyway, it all feels kind of ridiculous to write these kind of things, given that we have just won our first title. I don’t want to kill the buzz that many of us are still feeling. And what kind of idiot moans about the games that didn’t go their way, when they have won the league by relying on another team’s last two results. Me, I suppose! Credit to Oniki and the players for pulling it off. They certainly all know infinitely more about football than I do. We’ve had some terrible times this year, (pretty much all of the defeats were quite painful in different ways, but I guess the depths have to be the two cup defeats at the Saitama Stadium), but thankfully not too many. But there have also been some great days to be a Frontale fan, (big wins over Kobe, Urawa and Cerezo at home, the amazing comeback at Sagan Tosu, two crucial wins against Kashima). Right now, we should probably sit back and enjoy being champions, so I’ll sign off on here, (well, after one more stats post and when I publish the survey results), till we start signing some players and get some news about next season. Right now we can all take it easy. GO (and take it easy for a bit) FRONTALE!

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