The season starts here. Or at least that’s the positive spin I’m going to put on it. We never wanted to win those ACL games or that Super Cup, did we? So, back in league action and playing the team who did us a massive favour at the end of last season by preventing Kashima from scoring. Thankfully our Jubilo away game this year was at the Ecopa stadium rather than their usual Yamaha home. I skipped that game last year as the experience hadn't been the best the previous year. The view in the away stand must be one of the worst I’ve experienced in the J League and it was a horrible shuttle bus ride back to the station. But anyway, these are all grumbles that aren’t relevant for this game and there wasn’t much at all to grumble about regarding this performance. I’ll do my best to find some whinging material though, as a post on this blog just wouldn’t be the same without a little moan.
So, the Ecopa, a pretty nice stadium and really loud. Maybe it’s just been a while since I went to a game (aside from the Super Cup), but there seemed to have been some thought about acoustics during the design of the Ecopa. There were quite a few Frontale fans in attendance and perhaps we were quite near the front but the noise was pretty impressive. We were also treated to a soundtrack of rotten driving rock reminiscent of Kenny Loggins’ ‘Danger Zone’ (a not uncommon J League experience, I have to say...), a formation flyover from the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force, which in spite of myself, I found strangely exhilarating, and the strange sight of the ground staff watering the pitch and drenching a section of the cheerleaders who were in formation waiting for the entrance of the teams. I’m also pleased to report that our 2018 slogan ‘Go Sensational’ in all its English language awkwardness is actually not the worst one in the league. Jubilo’s ‘Challenge For Next!’ definitely has us beaten. I look forward to encountering more as the season progresses. The team selection brought a few surprises. Edu replaced Nara, which I felt was a little unfair on Nara, as the goals we’ve conceded so far have been due to mistakes from a huge variety of players and to blame Nara for them is a bit much I think. The front four was also shuffled again, Oniki still looking for the right combination, I guess. This time it was Chinen leading the line, which was a bit of a surprise but which I’m all in favour of. Kobayashi went to the right, Kengo stayed in the middle and Ienaga switched to the left. There was a bit of fluidity in this though with players changing positions at times. The rest of the side was pretty much as you’d imagine.
The first half started as we might have expected from recent performances. We had a lot of possession but were losing the ball in situations where we weren’t under any pressure and were consequently gifting them opportunities with a lot of time and space. Also, when we did get towards their goal, we were struggling to get our shots off. We were pretty much always second to any loose balls in the middle of the pitch and our passing was still not quite there. I’m not sure what has happened to Neto and Oshima at the start of this season. Perhaps the opposition are doing something that is giving them problems, but as far as I can see, it’s more a case of both of them still being quite sluggish after the off season break. They’d be back to their usual efficient selves for five minutes and then give the ball away in a dangerous situation with a really bad pass. Certainly things improved later in the game, but to be honest, we were lucky to not have conceded when we weren’t playing very well. We had a series of let-offs, due in part to Jubilo’s dodgy finishing, a couple of good saves from Sung-Ryong and some good defending from Taniguchi. Also, after an initial slip up, Edu found his feet and was doing a good job at the back. Probably the more interesting performances were further up the pitch though. Ienaga was doing a great job on the left and was really involved in a lot of our attacks. But the biggest difference for me was Chinen up front. He was really giving us some variation from our usual midget front four. Ok, they’re not really midgets, but they definitely lean more towards the small-skillful-player type than the big-strong-guy-causing-problems type. Chinen was constantly chasing down defenders, putting in challenges, often winning the ball. And this ability to win the ball was creating chances and opportunities for the players around him. I really think he gave Jubilo something to think about and something that they probably weren’t expecting to have to deal with. Whether this is a new regular tactic for Oniki or just something he was trying for this game, you’ve got to say it was a great selection, so well done to him! But yeah, let’s not get too carried away, as although the forward line was looking sharp, we still weren’t really hitting the target very often. Probably more often than we have been used to in the last few games though, so an improvement. But, as Jubilo were making plenty of chances, it wasn’t the most comfortable game to watch. Until we scored anyway. Our first goal came on 24 minutes and was from a lovely lofted through ball from Neto, which Kengo headed home firmly over the keeper. A nice goal, and a goal which really changed the rhythm of the game. We grew in confidence, probably as this was the first time we have scored first this year, and Jubilo withered a little. Their front line seemed to be lacking cohesion, and the goal, knocking their confidence a little more, probably didn’t help matters. Quite sensibly they seemed to be waiting for us to gift them the ball with a poor pass and then counter attack. The thing is, after the first goal, we weren’t losing the ball as much and they didn’t really seem to know what to do. So we were heading for the break a goal up and growing in confidence. Then we got a second. Once again it was a header, this time from a corner, although indirectly. Kengo’s corner was cleared back to him, he crossed the ball in for a second time and Taniguchi was able to direct the ball into the corner away from the dive of Kaminski. A great time to score. And an even greater time to score twice, as two minutes later we got another. This time it was from a free kick and this time it was Edu on the end of it. Three goals, three headers, Kengo involved in all of them. Maybe we recognised that we haven’t been shooting very well, so decided that we’d give it a go with the head instead. Really pleased for Edu, who ran to the bench and held up a t-shirt of a friend of his who passed away last year. I imagine he’s been waiting for a while for the opportunity to pay that tribute. So possibly a little fortunate to be three up at half time, but once the first one went in, we really upped our game. Unfortunate for us fans that all these goals were at the far end of the pitch, but I’m not going to complain about any Frontale goal.
The second half started in much the same way the first had finished. We were brim full of confidence and moving the ball around nicely. Any sloppy touches were glossed over by the scoreline. After a little while though, Jubilo started to creep back into the game. I guess we were taking things a bit easier and playing the game out, rather than pressing for a fourth goal. Thankfully for us, Jubilo still weren’t taking their chances. Sung-Ryong had to make a few saves and they fizzed a couple past the post or over the bar. We’d clearly taken our foot off the gas, so our chances were coming with less regularity. On 67 minutes, Morita replaced Neto, and we were given our first opportunity to see how he could cope with playing in midfield, after his previous appearances at right back. It probably says a lot that I didn’t notice him much. I guess he was just doing the defensive job he was brought on to do. I’m really pleased to see one of the youngsters getting an opportunity. I suppose that if you are a young Frontale player and want to get game time, it helps if you’re not an attacking midfielder as 90% of our squad seem to play there. In any case, Oniki clearly rates Morita, as he’s picking up the minutes early on this season. Our second change was on 78 minutes and saw Chinen, who seemed to be a spent force after all his efforts, replaced by Okubo. Well done Chinen! He’s making a very good claim for the front man position, if you ask me. Okubo did a decent job in the limited time he had. Right at the end of the match he made one particularly good chance for himself, collecting a through ball from Kobayashi, holding off the challenge of the defender and then making himself some space to shoot only to have his shot saved by a diving Kaminski. Our other substitution was Noborizato on for Kengo, who probably also deserved a sit down. This gave Ienaga five minutes to give the behind-the-striker position a try. Not really enough time to make any judgements about that, particularly as the game was pretty much over as a contest. One other notable incident from the end of the second half was a shot from Kobayashi that flew agonisingly just wide of the post. He’s making some great chances, but I think he really needs a goal to get some confidence. The penalty in the Super Cup probably doesn’t really count when you talk about him getting off the mark. Hope he can get a cracker soon. I think he played well on the right, and personally speaking I think that is his best position. It may well not be statistically accurate, but I feel like we got more goals when he was on the wing and Abe was up front, rather than vice versa. Perhaps he wants to play up front more than on the wing, but I think the wing position is best for him and for the team. All in all though, a pretty satisfying first day of the league season, which had us claiming a big win whilst not particularly playing at our best. We have the dual satisfaction of starting our title defence at the top of the table after the first game, whilst being able to look forward to hopefully some more exciting performances when things really start to click.
Positives and negatives, and I’ll start negative today. Not a great deal to moan about, but I'll nearly always find something. Our shooting is nowhere near good enough at the moment, we’re giving the ball away too easily in midfield and we’re looking sluggish in a few areas. It’s early days still, but I’d have hoped we were in a bit better shape at the start of the season. Perhaps the early season defeats in the ACL and the Super Cup might have sharpened our focus a little in this match, but things were still a bit blunt in certain other respects. Neto and Oshima were playing well below their usual standard, but maybe we’ve just grown used to them being so good, that when they have an off day it’s really evident. On to the positives. Three goals, all well taken headers from excellent deliveries. The first was maybe my pick of them as it came from a much more unlikely headed goal route. Kengo seems to be on fire at the moment, which is great. I can’t speak for how he did in the ACL games, but it seems he’s still got what it takes to be one of our most important players. Sung-Ryong also looked pretty sharp in this game. Some of the saves he had to make were fairly routine, but he did pull out a couple of great ones and he gives us some real solidity between the posts. Taniguchi and Edu both played well at the back and whilst it feels a bit unfair on Nara to be dropped for this game, it’s good to see we have three decent centre backs. Michael James remains a bit of a mystery! Ienaga had a good game on the left. He was really involved and was making things happen. It was great to see Morita come on in the Neto position. He really looks like he’s going to be used a lot this year and I think his versatility makes him a really good addition to the bench. The big positive for me though was Chinen. Sure he didn’t score, but he really put himself about up front and really gave Iwata something to think about. And although I didn’t see the ACL games, I wonder if he was the big difference between the performances. Looking forward to seeing him progress!
Next up, we have local rivals Shonan Bellmare at home on Friday night. Last year, we struggled a bit against the promoted teams, so it definitely won’t be an easy game. After that we have another home game, this time in the ACL and it’s a crucial one. It’s still the early stages but I think a home tie against Melbourne is pretty much a must win, given that we’ve lost the first two group games. Fingers crossed we can get a little run of results going!
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 18. ELSINHO
DF 23. EDUARDO (Yellow card 54')
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 21. EDUARDO NETO (Yellow card 12')
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
MF 11. KOBAYASHI Yu
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
MF 41. IENAGA AkihiroFW 20. CHINEN Kei
GK 30. ARAI Shota
DF 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei (on for NAKAMURA 85')
DF 3. NARA TatsukiFW 4. OKUBO Yoshito (on for CHINEN 78')
MF 8. ABE Hiroyuki
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya
DF 25. MORITA Hidemasa (on for NETO 67')
My Frontale Man Of The Match
This is a bit of a tricky decision for once. I really want to give it to Chinen, as I think his impact could possibly have been the difference between the previous three defeats and this win. Also Taniguchi had a great game at both ends of the pitch, and Ienaga, Edu and Sung-Ryong also deserve a mention. I think though it would be churlish to give to anyone other than...
NAKAMURA Kengo - a nice goal and two quality assists. Not bad for an old guy! (By the way, the MOTM photos will restart once I've got some of this season's gacha gacha offerings)
NAKAMURA (Frontale) 24’ 0-1
TANIGUCHI (Frontale) 43’ 0-2
EDUARDO (Frontale) 45’ 0-3
The Frontale youtube channel usually 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.