This post is coming a bit late. Sorry! Due to the international break and getting back from Nagoya and having to go straight to work there hasn’t been much time to get anything done. It’s a bit of a shame, as due to the exciting nature of the game, I wasn’t able to make many notes and as the days have passed, things have started to slide out of my mind. I’ll do my best though and I’m sure many of you watched it anyway. I think I moaned a bit about this before, but the kick off time and location of the game made it impossible to get home by train. I mention the location as the match was in the Toyota stadium, in Toyota city, an extra one hour ride on the train out of Nagoya. I have mixed feelings about the location. It was a bit of a pain to get to and back from, but the stadium was pretty nice and I’m glad we were able to play out an exciting game in a good venue. Of course the first obvious bonus is the lack of a running track. Praise the lord! Also, the stands were quite steep and close to the pitch so it was a pretty nice game experience. In terms of best stadiums in I've been to in Japan, I think the Suita stadium still has the edge, but this one has got to be up there. Thankfully it didn’t rain, as our end was completely uncovered. Apparently, there is a retractable roof, but it’s a bit old (from 2001, which doesn't sound that old to me...), so they don’t want to move it in case it breaks. Perhaps they also want to give away fans a soaking whilst keeping their fans covered, which I’d say is probably fair enough. Thankfully the weather was good though. Whilst the stadium wasn’t full, particularly the upper parts, there were quite a few people there and there was a decent atmosphere. We took a good following and were pretty loud before, during, and particularly after the match. A few notable pre-game moments were the impressive Japan x Brazil display from the Nagoya fans and an appearance from former Nagoya striker Josh Kennedy. Sadly the person who had made the banner to welcome him back had missed one of the n’s out of his surname, but I’m sure he didn’t mind. At half time he made a joke about now basically being a taxi driver for his three kids and I get the impression that the joke lost something in translation and apparently surprised a few people.
So, on to the game. The line up and bench were the same as the last league game, Oniki presumably being pleased with the 2-0 against a terrible Gamba team. Still Nara is out in the cold and consequently I am still upset with Oniki. The actual game was slightly overshadowed by the master vs. apprentice storyline of Oniki taking on his former boss Kazama for the first time. Given that Oniki learnt his trade from Kazama and has only changed a few parts of our football philosophy, this was always going to be an exciting game. And it was, although it came bizarrely close to finishing 0-0. A lot has been said about Nagoya blitzing the league with high scoring and high conceding (?) one goal margin wins this year. Also there was a prediction that big money signing Jo would score 50 goals this year, (just 49 left to go after one goal in four games so far). Presumably this prediction was made before they had seen him play. I don’t know if it’s just because it’s still early days, but he looks a bit overweight, immobile and out of touch with the rest of their team. It was him who played Okubo onside for our goal by not stepping up in time. Anyway, enough about him. The game started in slightly worrying fashion for us with Nagoya really pressing our defenders and giving us no time on the ball. It was almost as if they knew how we were going to play! However, we soon settled and got a grip on the game and started to dominate possession. A lot had also been said about Xavier. And to be honest, I have a lot to say about him too. He’s an absolute toe rag! Sure he can dribble a bit and pass, but his main contribution to this match were his diving and fouling. An early dive won them a free kick which they went close from, (Sung-Ryong had it covered and knew it was going wide, ok?). He got away with two petulant shoves in the back on our players as well as countless kicks and trips. I’m not sure if it is small man syndrome or the fact that he seems to be thinning on top at the age of 24 that has made him so antsy, but he is right up there on my list of most hated opposition players now. Perhaps he’s finding out that he’s not quite as good in J1 as he was in J2. Anyway, the reason he maybe got away with so much nastiness was the fact that the ref was Iemoto. In order to make the game a really memorable experience, Iemoto had decided to bring along one of his most incompetent linesman friends to also get involved. There was one throw-in decision where the pair of them just looked at each other for about five seconds before giving it to whoever was shouting louder for it. From about half way through the first half, it looked like we were going to score bucketloads. Elsinho was ripping their left back to shreds. I don’t know why we didn’t put more pressure on him. We were attacking a lot and Nagoya’s defence looked pretty dodgy. But as has been the case recently, as soon as we got to the opposition’s box we lost all footballing ability. Kobayashi was again having a bit of a dodgy day up front. It’s a shame, as in every other aspect, he was having a decent game, but once again, his shooting wasn’t happening. He had an early chance from a corner but headed it over the bar. I think a overlooked aspect of Oniki’s new plan of playing our left back at centre back is that we have now lost a major goal threat from corners. We got plenty of goals last year from the head of Edu, Nara and Taniguchi. I don’t think Kurumaya provides the same threat at the moment. The one chance Kobayashi managed to put away in the first half was correctly ruled out for offside. Shame it wasn’t the other linesman at the end, as he surely would have got it wrong. Neto and Oshima were looking pretty good in the middle of the pitch. I’m pleased they are back on track after some early season shakiness. There was a great moment where Oshima kept the ball despite the attentions of three or four opposition players trying to simultaneously wrestle it from him. Well done Ryota! The first half wasn’t the most exciting, and in spite of them having a few good chances we seemed to be in control. At least until we got to their box.
The second half started in much the same vein. We came close with an almighty penalty box scramble with multiple blocked shots and what looked to me like a clear handball. We were starting to turn the screw a bit, but were still letting them through for the odd chance here and there. Things were picking up though, and I stopped writing notes due to the excitement. On 64 minutes Ienaga was replaced by Okubo. Felt a bit tough on Ienaga, who was clearly playing better than some of our other players. What was Oniki thinking?!?! He was clearly thinking we need a goal direct from the free kick we had and Okubo duly jogged onto the pitch sneaked round the back of the defenders and timed his run perfectly to score with his first touch. Twitter Frontale haters have been complaining it was offside and that we always get these decisions in our favour. It wasn’t. At least as far as I’m concerned. He was played onside by Jo. A nice delivery from Kengo and a nice finish from Yoshito. Exactly what we need both of them to do for the rest of the season. It was a particularly nice way to score as Xavier had given away the free kick with another nasty little foul. After the goal, we continued to play, rather than hanging on like we have recently. Nagoya were still in the game, and providing a threat, even if their touch was pretty bad throughout the game. It’s a weird observation and completely inaccurate in so many ways, but it felt quite like they were a budget Frontale, trying to play how we play but not quite being good enough to do so. Their finishing was off (so, much like ours recently…), their touch wasn’t good and they lost the ball quite a lot. I guess the main things that are wrong about this statement is that their budget is a lot higher than ours and as their manager pretty much created our way of play and assembled the spine of our team. Anyway, there were plenty of the old Frontale weaknesses on show in Nagoya's play, but we sadly weren’t able to take advantage of the cavalier defending and unnecessary losses of possession in dangerous areas. We couldn’t get a second goal, mainly due to that recent favourite of ours, poor finishing, and as the minutes ticked away, I felt that we were destined to concede a late equaliser. We ran the clock down a little in the final ten minutes with a couple more subs, Chinen on for Kengo, who gave their defence something different to deal with, and Morita on for Elsinho who had gone down injured but was replaced as more of a precaution than due to anything serious I think. There hadn’t been many stoppages in the second half but Iemoto somehow managed to find four minutes of injury time. (As an aside, he blew up on 45 minutes exactly in the first half which you don’t see very often!) As the clock ticked past 94 minutes, still Iemoto played on. I don’t know if there is anything in the rules of the game regarding this, but it does seem to be the case that refs normally allow the attack to finish before blowing up. He kindly allowed them a further two corners after the 94th minute and we came close to conceding at the last possible moment. You can see what happened on the video so all I’m going to say is that it was a great save from Sung-Ryong and I’m pleased Taniguchi was there to head the ball clear after the save. From the other end of the stadium it looked like a goal-line clearance but it seems from the replay that the ball was bouncing away from the goal. Still a necessary intervention though. And that was it, we’d won. The game ended up pretty close in every aspect of the match stats, but crucially we’d managed to actually put the ball in the back of the net. I think we deserved the win, but of course I’d say that.
Positives and negatives. Let’s start negative. Again, I don’t think this was a particularly convincing performance. It was an exciting match, but we’re still not taking our chances and are often overplaying things when we get to the opposition’s box. I still don’t think we’ve played a particularly strong team this season and have been let off several times in most of our matches. Positives. We won a match that could have been a potential banana skin and we have returned to the top of the league table. I’m complaining a bit about out performances, but we have only conceded once in the league so far and have scored a little less than two goals a game. Some people are never happy, I guess. 10 points from 12 is a more than decent return. Nice to see Okubo get a goal as he will be featuring a lot less this year than he has in previous seasons with us, so I hope these goals in cameo appearances keep him happy. As I’ve said before, he could be crucial for us, putting away these kind of goals. This also was a pretty exciting game, even if it doesn’t appear to have been from the stats. A final positive is that due to the international break we now have a couple of weeks off. The start to the season has been pretty hectic and I think we all need a rest.
Next up, not much for a little while, and then 2nd placed Sanfrecce at home on the 31st. They have started well this season so it will be interesting to see what kind of challenge it is for us. After that, we’re away to Shanghai in the ACL on the 4th. There’s still a chance I guess to get out of the group, but to be honest, I think most of us have sensibly given up already.
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 18. ELSINHO
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
DF 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei
MF 21. EDUARDO NETO
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
MF 41. IENAGA Akihiro
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
MF 8. ABE Hiroyuki
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu
GK 30. ARAI Shota
FW 4. OKUBO Yoshito (on for IENAGA 65')
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro
FW 20. CHINEN Kei (on for NAKAMURA 85')
DF 23. EDUARDODF 25. MORITA Hidemasa (on for ELSINHO 88')
My Frontale Man Of The Match
Once again, it wasn’t the most convincing of performances, but things do seem to be moving in the right direction. If it wasn’t for his finishing, Kobayashi would definitely be in with a shout. Sung-Ryong didn’t have a great deal to do, but saved 2 points with his stop deep in injury time. Neto was dominant in midfield, but I think his partner just about edged it.
OSHIMA Ryota - solid game in a solid midfield but gets over Neto it for the amazing way he kept possession on that one occasion I mentioned above.
OKUBO (Frontale) 65’ 0-1
The Frontale youtube channel usually has longer highlights provided by DAZN, but given that a previous 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.