Sunday, 11 February 2018

Vs Cerezo Osaka 10/2/18 - Super Cup

Kawasaki Frontale 2 - 3 Cerezo Osaka

So once again, back to the Saitama Stadium to play Cerezo Osaka in a cup final, this time ridiculously early in both the day and the season. I am not sure of the esteem in which the Fuji Xerox Super Cup is held for the majority of J League fans, but this was at least an opportunity to get some kind of revenge on Cerezo for ruining our day back in early November. Sadly, this opportunity was spurned and instead we got another reason to either dislike Cerezo or at least consider them as our new bogey team. Last season we had two rotten games against them when we really didn’t show up and one stormer (at home in the league). We can now add another to the first column. In the end you could say the scoreline flattered us a little. They weren’t particularly good, but we were pretty rotten, lethargic and a mess all over the pitch. Bit worrying that this is the case after a fairly long break and with a starting eleven with hardly any changes from the side that won the league. Oh dear. Shanghai at home on Tuesday…

The day started, as I said above, ridiculously early, even more so for the Cerezo fans I guess. A 13:30 kick off with another whole 90 minute game before kick off, (J League U18 selection vs Japanese high school selection), meant that the gates opened at 09:30. I have no idea what time the many people ahead of us in the queue got there as we arrived around 08:40 and were quite a way back. Thankfully the weather wasn’t too bad and there was also the prospect of a huge number of J League mascots in attendance hanging around outside the ground. An early highlight of the day was getting my photo taken with Ehime’s angry orange and long time favourite Sagan Tosu’s Wintos. This early highlight actually proved to be the only highlight of the day for me. It was a fairly depressing game to watch. The only changes to last year’s first choice starting line-up were Tasaka in for Elsinho (again inured against Urawa in pre-season. Just saying, but maybe we should stop playing one of our main rivals a couple of weeks before the start of the season…), and Moriya in for Oshima who was on the bench, but still recovering from the injury he got playing for Japan. Joining him on the subs bench were Arai, Noborizato, some guy called Okubo, Hasegawa, Chinen and new signing Morita. As seems to be the way in such competitions, we were treated to a bizarre special rule for this game, this time involving substitutions. We were able to change five players, but had to do it on no more than three occasions (not including half time). The fact that the rule requires deatiled explanation says something I guess, but I suppose the thinking was, it’s almost a pre-season game so allow them to make a few more changes, but not give anyone the opportunity to use all five changes to bring the game almost to a halt, hanging on to a lead at the end of the game. 

I know there’s an element of sour grapes in this, but I’m not going to dwell too much on specific events in the game. If you saw the game, you don’t need anyone bringing back the misery. If you didn’t, consider yourself lucky. You’re better off not knowing. We didn’t start particularly well. They had us penned back in our half and were making a few chances. Admittedly the start was better than in the Levain final, but I certainly felt a bit apprehensive for the rest of the game after the first five minutes or so. Our off season seems to have left us unable to pass the ball and the midfield was pretty anonymous. Neto and Kengo were having a bit of a dodgy time of it, but really, no-one was covering themselves in glory. We were doing ok at the back, for the most part stopping their attacks but as soon as we tried to move the ball forward we lost it. Sung-Ryong took an early knock with a knee to the head from a Cerezo forward. Surprised it wasn’t a booking to be honest as it looked pretty bad. Not saying it was intentional but his boot and knee were pretty high. He was down a long time but thankfully could continue. We seemed to be doing ok passing the ball along the back line but, thanks to Cerezo pressing us, were having trouble getting out of our own half. When we did try to move the ball forward we lost it and they came back at us fast. Inevitably, sooner or later they scored and whilst it was a nice move from them, it was made all the easier by the fact that we gave them acres of space in spite of having loads of players back. No-one got anywhere near the ball or any of their players so they were effectively able to pass the ball into the back of the net. Very frustrating. The goal resulted in a change of game plan for them and it was almost like we were back in the Levain final again. Cerezo put everyone behind the ball and waited for a fast break on the counter attack. There aslo was a considerable amount of time wasting. Both of these things are annoying, but they’re legitimate tactics so we’ve got to learn how to deal with them. When we did manage to move the ball forward a little they started to look a bit rattled, but as seems to be the case against Cerezo at the Saitama Stadium, our shots were high, wide or rolled straight at the keeper. It was a pretty underwhelming first half, but the consolation was that things could only get better.

Half time saw a couple of changes. Moriya was replaced by Oshima and Kengo by Okubo. I did think that maybe Okubo might be playing in the Kengo role more this year and that is where he came on. Things did seem quite fluid though, with him apparently swapping front man position with Kobayashi quite a bit. He looked determined to get involved and from the start was at the heart of a couple of early good moves. However, we then conceded again. It was route one stuff but still featured high levels of ineptitude from us. A long goal kick was smacked up the pitch, Nara missed the first header, Neto was outmuscled for the second one and Tasaka half pulled out of the challenge on Kiyotake as he ran through on goal, presumably knowing that if he made any contact, it probably would have been a red card. Once again, loads of space and an inability from us to make a challenge. This goal didn’t seem to deter us too much though. We were back pressing again and starting to build up some momentum. And it didn’t take long for us to get one back. It was from the penalty spot and was an absolute gift from Cerezo. Their player smashed into the back of Kurumaya, who was on the edge of the box, waiting to head the ball. It seemed like a totally unnecessary challenge for them to make and was a really clumsy one. I’m not sure what they were complaining about, as the Cerezo player made no attempt to go for the ball and simply took out the player. Kobayashi put the penalty away, straight down the middle. Shortly after the goal Tasaka was replaced with Morita. Oniki has done this a few times in the past and I’m not sure I really agree with it. If someone makes a clanger of a mistake they are sometimes hauled off shortly afterwards. But it did give us our first look at Morita who slotted in at right back. He gave a decent account of himself in the rest of the game, getting forward well and looking dangerous at times. Good for him! This goal really opened the game up with Cerezo seemingly unsure as to whether to try and play football or put everyone behind the ball. Things got a bit ragged with attacks going from end to end and with lots of space. But we were clearly in the ascendency and building up a bit of speed and rhythm with Cerezo taking every opportunity to try and slow things down and waste some time. I couldn’t have imagined they’d go as far as to have two of their players run into each other though. It was a bit of a slapstick moment, but to be honest the joke was on us, as Kiyotake was down for an eternity, the stretcher being called on, then him standing up, then sitting back down and then leaving the field on the stretcher, killing two or three minutes. This killed our momentum dead and we were back to square one again. Around this time we had some more major let offs, with Cerezo going close on a few occasions and even having the ball in the back of the net only for it to be ruled out for offside. Our midfield was a bit more solid with Oshima doing a better job than Neto was doing or Moriya had done. In the second half, it was definitely the defence who went missing rather than the midfield. Both Nara and Taniguchi made shocking errors and Neto was also playing a part in the shambolics. But we had little choice than stick with the same at the back as our squad seems horribly light on defenders. Hasegawa came on for Abe and gave it a good go. Our threat was definitely coming predominately down the left, with him and Kurumaya linking up quite well. But we weren’t scoring. And once again we feel asleep at the back and conceded. A defensive clearance was, as seemed to be the case all game, collected by a Cerezo player rather than a Frontale one, headed back towards our box and they had plenty of time and space to pass the ball through the whole of our backline and finish easily. Again, we made it too easy for them. Oniki responded to this by bringing on Chinen for Ienaga. Your guess is as good as mine as to where the front four were playing. It always feels like the right thing to do to bring on a striker, but I think we were lacking a bit of organisation up front. To be honest, at this stage, I would have been quite happy if the ref had blown up ten minutes early and put us out of our misery. But as tends to happen, we were thrown a lifeline, to give us just a little hope that could later make the misery more pronounced. On the 92nd minute we pulled a goal back again and it was through Okubo. Hasegawa made a nice run up the left, but lost the ball by the goal line. Generously, they returned the ball to him and he passed the ball across the box for Okubo to prod home. A bit of a gift again, as probably all of there goals in this game were. There were still three more minutes of injury time left to play, and due to plenty of time wasting, we got a bit more than that. But there were no more goals. It wasn’t to be and we got exactly what we deserved from the game - nothing. Cerezo were just more organised than us, dealt better with the occasion and whilst they didn’t exactly set the world on fire, justifiably took home the trophy. Another silver for us. Although to be honest, this time it was second place out of a total field of two, so probably doesn’t count.

It seems ridiculous to be moaning so soon after we won the league in dramatic fashion, but I guess that’s what people have come to expect from this blog. The wins are fantastic and the defeats are tragedies. To be honest, on this occasion, it was just a case of mild disappointment and frustration. We simply didn’t turn up, but in the scheme of things, it was’t a crucial game. I think the more worrying thing is how unprepared we look for the start of the season. We’ve got a very important game on Tuesday in the ACL and if we play like this, we could be in real trouble. Two defeats in the bag before we start the season. Fingers crossed, this dodgy performance can give us a bit of a kick up the backside. Let’s tentatively do some positives and negatives. Negatives first. Rotten midfield in the first half, rotten defence in the second and a forward line that didn’t really get into the game. Worryingly few decent chances (although apparently we had the same amount of shots as they did…). Not the best performance from Oniki either. A game with five subs is a weird one, but  at the end we seemed to be just throwing on players more out of hope than anything else. Also, a bench of seven with a disturbing lack of defensive options on it. I know that’s not the way we play, but if we’d had an injury to Nara or Taniguchi we could have been in real trouble. But I don’t want to blame him too much, as the goals were all down to individual errors it seemed and there’s not much you can do about that during the game when you’re the manager. Perhaps the most worrying thing, is that again, we failed to rise to the occasion. Last year we succeeded, but it was after almost all hope was gone and we had to rely on other teams, rather than our own composure in a pressure situation. Can we really say that the chokers tag has been dispelled? Maybe not. It’s difficult to find positives in the game, but maybe you could say that the subs played alright, maybe better than the starters. Okubo seems determined to make up for lost time and I hope he’ll remain motivated for the whole season. Morita did well on his debut too. He must have made quite an impression in preseason to be given an opportunity so early. Although I suppose the Elsinho injury helps. There has been some talk about the grass being long and the pitch being dry from the players afterwards, but let’s be honest, we’ve got to have a plan B, and an ability to cope with conditions which are not the same as at our home games. To tie all this up into some kind of conclusion, I’d say that as we lost this game, we’ll say it’s an insignificant cup. If we’d won, of course we’d be saying the opposite. This was a rotten performance, but it’s early stages still and it’s stupid to read too much into one match. Perhaps if we hadn’t made so many errors in one game, we could have won it. Small things change matches, and sadly on this occasion, the small things that changed the match were for the most part us handing them goals on a plate. Onwards to Tuesday when we can either completely forget about this performance, or sink into a bigger funk of doom and gloom.

So, next up are Shanghai SIPG at home on Tuesday in the ACL. Despite then having to go through the qualification rounds, they probably are our strongest opponent in the group stages, given some of the big name players they have. Sadly, due to the really early kick off and my work, I’m probably going to miss this game. The game after is also ACL. We don’t get into action in the league till the 25th when we’re away at Jubilo. It feels a bit lacklustre to say it after this damp squib of a game, but as tradition dictates, GO FRONTALE!


GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 6. TASAKA Yusuke
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro
MF 41. IENAGA Akihiro
MF 8. ABE Hiroyuki (Yellow card 60')

GK 30. ARAI Shota
FW 4. OKUBO Yoshito (on for NAKAMURA 46')
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota (on for MORIYA 46')
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya (on for ABE 71')
FW 20. CHINEN Kei (on for IENAGA 79')
MF 25. MORITA Hidemasa (on for TASAKA 52')

My Frontale Man Of The Match

Not sure anyone really deserved it. The game was just a bit of a let down. I’ll leave it for this match but note that Okubo did a good job, and I’m surprised I’m saying that as I thought his return was not a good idea. Oshima made a difference when he came on but couldn’t do quite enough. Morita had a solid debut with his 40 mins on the pitch. Out of the starters, I guess if I had to pick one, it would be Kurumaya, but it wasn’t really anyone’s day.

YAMAGUCHI (Cerezo) 26’ 0-1
KIYOTAKE (Cerezo) 48’ 0-2
KOBAYASHI (Frontale) 51’ (PEN) 1-2
TAKAGI (Cerezo) 78’ 1-3
OKUBO (Frontale) 90+2’ 2-3     



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