As usual, the main highlight of a Shimizu game was the great songs they sing. I think I always mention how much I enjoy their ‘Samba rhythms’. A nice contrast to the numerous hoofball teams who unironically sing ‘The Entertainer’ and the apparently equally unaware tough-guy-posturing-to-disco-anthems of Urawa. Perhaps due to the upcoming break, we had a full house including a decent number of Shimizu fans in good voice. And the weather was nice too. Kobayashi was absent due to an injury he picked up as he was about to be announced as a member of the Japan national team World Cup squad. His bad luck continues and he misses out again. Kurumaya also misses out with our only representative being Oshima. I’m not particularly bothered about international football, but I’ll just say that Nishino seems to have swerved the opportunity to do something interesting with his nothing to lose situation and has gone for the kind of squad selection that you might expect to see in a Panini sticker album, low on surprises and most likely picked by someone in an office who watches a couple of games a season. Not particularly inspiring stuff and we’ll soon see how well that goes. Good luck to Oshima and I really hope he doesn’t get injured. Anyway, back to the team. Kobayashi’s place up front was taken by Abe, back in the position he played so well in last year, but has been mysteriously absent from this season. His spot on the left was filled by Hasegawa. The rest of the team was the same as against Kashiwa where we’d had a storming second half. I wondered before the game whether we would be able to pick things up where we left off and miraculously, we did, but I’ll come on to that soon. The bench presented some surprises. No Neto, perhaps still injured but not officially listed as such, and no Okubo or Saito. Akasaki and Suzuki were on there along with Chinen who must be getting a bit confused as to how Oniki feels about him. Anyway, as I said above, we started brightly and had a storming first half. Elsinho had a good early chance and we were well on top. Shimizu were a lot less direct than some of the teams we’ve played recently which was nice. They were still occasionally hitting long balls over the top from the halfway line but were at least attempting to attack rather than just pack the defence. Perhaps this wasn’t the best idea for them though, as we were really in charge. Whilst we weren't exactly challenging their keeper that much, we were actually giving him something to do for once, with 90% of our shots being on target! There were quite a few fouls in the game, and I was enjoying giving Jan Jonsson a bit of telepathic stick for his whinging from the sidelines. SIT DOWN!!!! Actually... GET IN THE STAND!!! Our first goal came from one of the fouls that were completely invisible to him and he was furious were given. We pretty much told them that we were going to shoot direct from the free kick by leaving Nara and Taniguchi back, but the free kick was lovely and totally fooled the keeper, dipping beautifully over the wall. This goal gave us even more confidence and we were moving the ball around beautifully after it. Much like in the second half against Kashiwa, it felt like only a matter of time before we scored again, as we were making plenty of good chances. Our second came from Abe, channeling Kobayashi with a lovely turn and shot from an Elsinho pass. It was a really dominant first half and a throwback to how we played at times last year. Kurumaya was really proving a point, getting forward dangerously and defending well. I think it was probably his best performance this year. Presumably Nishino was watching Yokohama and Gamba again though. One weird thing about our first half performance was that our formation looked at times like we were playing with either no-one up front or three or four up front depending on where you draw the line on up front starting. Ienaga was all over the pitch again, presumably being given a free role, or if not, just deciding that he wanted to run around a lot and touch the ball as often as possible. He was pretty damn good again. As he always seems to be recently. As was Kengo, who as well as scoring his goal was really involved in the game. Another season best performance and completely belying his age. So, a very enjoyable first half, going in with a two goal lead, which could have been a few more, and looking solid at the back when Shimizu did manage to get forward.
Of course, the second half didn’t quite live up to the first half, but it’s probably good that we at least now seem to be putting in at least one good half in our games. Perhaps we’d taken our foot off the gas a little at half time, or perhaps Shimizu had worked out some way to peg us back a little. Not wanting to go back to the FC Tokyo and Urawa games again, but they were two games where we didn’t manage to get going in either half. Not saying we were bad in any way in the second half of this game, but things weren't quite working out as they had in the previous 45 minutes. Passes were going a bit astray and Shimizu had a few opportunities. Thankfully, the sprightly young Kengo was on hand to nick the ball off a dallying defender and get our third. It’s bizarre that out of all of our players, it’s Kengo who seems to be the one who is pressuring and hassling the opposition defenders and getting us goals like these. Perhaps he was extra up for the game as he knew he’d be having a break soon. Nonetheless, it was a remarkably energetic performance from the oldest player in our squad. Full credit to him! It wasn’t the highest quality stuff for the remainder of the game. The three goal cushion had, barring any disasters on our part, decided the outcome of the game. Both teams traded chances but we didn't get any more goals. Oniki made a few subs which didn’t exactly help our cohesion. Takeoka for Elsinho was a straight swap, but the introduction of Suzuki for Hasegawa switched Ienaga over to a more stable left wing position, stopping his wandering which had been pretty effective, and put Suzuki on the right. Suzuki made another decent appearance and whilst he’s not knocking on the starting member door quite yet, I think he’s making a decent claim for being a regular sub with his positional flexibility, energy, enthusiasm and willingness to have a shot. Our final change saw Oshima replaced by Akasaki. Would have liked him to get a few more minutes to do something, but in any case, it was good to see him on the pitch again. Not the most sparkling of second halves from us, but we were solid at the back and even though we created around half the chances we had in the first half, the good thing was that the majority of them were again on target. A decent 90 minutes, made up of a fantastic first half and a largely unexciting second.
I can’t really find any negatives about this performance. As I mentioned above, it's been said that this World Cup break will do wonders for us and possibly knock Sanfrecce and FC Tokyo off their stride a little. The weird thing is that the results from this weekend actually make it look more like we would be the ones who would benefit from not having a break as the two teams above us both stumbled. Those stumbles and our comfortable win will possibly give both of them something to think about over the break. Hopefully any niggling little doubt will blossom into a full blown confidence collapse. I know it’s not a very sporting thing to say, but we need something like that to happen to stop the Hiroshima robots from grinding out another 19 wins and running away with the title. I think in spite of the big lead Sanfrecce have, we should be quite hopeful with our final two results and more significantly the second half performance against Kashiwa and the first half against Shimizu. The Emperor’s Cup game gives us an opportunity to give the fringe players a run out and hopefully not play anyone who’s had a lot of pitch time so far this season. Let them rest up, watch highlights of the last two games and enjoy the World Cup. If we’re looking for positives, the big one has to be evergreen Kengo’s performance. I also enjoyed the tactical weirdness when it seemed like we had no-one up front, which sounds like it could be a disaster, but actually seemed to cause Shimizu a lot of problems. Also, when we were doing well in this game, we were again throwing in some more direct play on occasions. Oshima put in some lovely balls over the top of the defenders allowing our speedy and possibly slightly lacking in height forward players to have some good shots. I’m pleased that we now seem to be noticing these kind of opportunities a bit more. So yeah, a pretty positive game and nice to watch a game at Todoroki which wasn’t totally excruciating as they have been recently.
Next up, a long break with an Emperor’s cup game thrown in near the start of June. We don’t know our opposition yet and I have no idea who will be starting for us, but I’ll be there hopefully seeing some players getting a well deserved chance. Our next league game isn’t till July 18th, giving me some time to get those sort-of-halfway-through-the-season posts up in the interim. Go (and have a nice rest) Frontale!
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 18. ELSINHO
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
MF 25. MORITA Hidemasa
MF 41. IENAGA Akihiro
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya
FW 8. ABE Hiroyuki
FW 8. ABE Hiroyuki
GK 30. ARAI Shota
DF 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei
FW 9. AKASAKI Shuhei (on for OSHIMA 88')
DF 17. TAKEOKA Yuto (on for ELSINHO 72')
DF 17. TAKEOKA Yuto (on for ELSINHO 72')
FW 20. CHINEN KeiMF 27. SUZUKI Yuto (on for HASEGAWA 73')
My Frontale Man Of The Match
Abe up front has proved again that it works, if Oniki was in any doubt about it, and in spite of him having a fairly quiet match, he still scored one and almost got a second. Morita had another decent game in the middle and Ienaga was his usual dominant self. Kurumaya was back to something approaching his best too. And of course Oshima was excellent, but as that's almost always the case I never really mention it. Sorry! But it would be mean to give it to anyone other than...
NAKAMURA Kengo - Great free kick, a second goal from being aware and agile enough to nick possession off a defender and boundless energy apparently unconnected to his age. Well done sir!
NAKAMURA (Frontale) 19' 1-0
ABE (Frontale) 33' 2-0
NAKAMURA (Frontale) 57' 3-0
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. And we have that extra footage video again at the bottom.