Yokohama FC 0 - 2 Kawasaki Frontale
The best thing about this game and the reason for my enthusiasm and excitement was the enforced changes we had to make. Oniki totally surprised me by giving Issaka Zain his first ever minutes on the pitch. And it was 90 minutes at right back in place of Yamane. Some people might have not been surprised to see Oniki choose our other right back at right back but I feel that it’s not something he ever really wants to do. In previous seasons he’s played numerous people out of position there rather than go with someone inexperienced. But perhaps on this occasion he was left with not many other options. Delighted to see Zain get a chance and after looking absolutely petrified before kick off I thought he grew into the game and did a pretty good job. Some teething problems, but on the whole, well done, and I’m delighted we now have some cover there. Add to this another debutant! Blimey. Kamiya made the bench and made the pitch for about thirty seconds. He managed to head the ball! A flawless performance. He came on for Nobori so we have a bit more cover there as well as at centre back where he also apparently can play. The new Kurumaya maybe. Nobori was captain for this game which is the first time I’ve seen that I think. Perhaps if this was the regulars playing I might say that we toiled quite a lot and the fact that we couldn’t make more breakthroughs was emblematic of us being off the pace. In this game though it seemed that I was feeling a lot more generous. Clearly this was a makeshift starting line-up, the likes of which we almost certainly wouldn’t see in normal circumstances. Therefore it was great to see people playing together for the first time and building understandings. I actually also think that YFC defended quite well. We rarely looked in danger of conceding but they did a good job of stopping our attacks too. Probably some reasons for that explained in the next section. It was really nice to see Kobayashi score a couple of goals to follow up his late winner against Kashima. He could have had a hat trick too if he hadn’t basically missed an open goal. This makes it even more important that he got his second I think as he might have needed it to get his confidence back on track. He hasn’t had that much pitch time recently and has struggled a little to make an impact. If we can get him and Damiao both firing at the same time that will be awesome as we haven’t smashed in that many goals recently. Don't think that I'm complaining about this, but it's just that we don’t seem to be scoring as many as last year and aren’t tonking people quite so often. (A bit of stats bashing shows that we’re ten goals behind last years pace after 21 games so my gut feeling was right). A few other highlights were Damiao attempting either an overhead shot from a 90 degree angle to the goal, or perhaps it was an overhead cross. Whichever you look at it, it was another overhead! Tsukagawa hit the post which was a real shame as I feel like he too has maybe felt a bit like things haven’t been going his way recently and I’d love to see him score a goal. Probably most people’s highlight of the game from an amusing point of view was Ienaga doing an insane ball stuck to the foot dribble in the box setting YFC defenders on their arses, and then just as some space opened up for a shot seeing Kurumaya do an absolutely amazing scuff of a shot causing Ienaga to have a little hissy fit. Clearly it was going to be a goal of the season contender if Kurumaya hadn’t got involved. Thankfully it didn’t turn out to be crucial. And also thankfully, Ienaga and Kurumaya seemed to be laughing about it after the game. It’s worth checking the highlights to see Ienaga’s reaction. It was quite funny.
In their pre-match entertainment YFC displayed a kind of magnet board graphic of their line up and formation. This suggested that they were going to play an unconventional 6-2-2 formation. The fact that they’d had some COVID cases in the day before the game might have limited their selection somewhat but naming six defenders to start with and having two more in the bench felt like something of a power move, flexing the fact that they had more defenders in their starters and subs (sorry, they were not called subs, they were called IMPACT MEMBERS!), than we have in our whole squad. The other way of looking at this would be that they were looking to defend defend defend and if they could, snatch a goal on the counter attack. Which is pretty much how it panned out. You could say that their tactics perfectly matched their season slogan ‘Record the blue’. Well you could say that if anyone had any idea what that was supposed to mean and if it had any relevance. It’s all a mystery to me. As slogans go, I have to say I quite like it. Certainly less annoying than some other teams. And enjoyably enigmatic in meaning. I do wonder why more teams don’t get their English slogans as least looked at by a native speaker before they go ahead with them, but at the same time, I’m very happy they don’t. In spite of them not scoring, I thought YFC did a better job in this game than the fixture at Todoroki. In that game they only seemed able to do anything after we’d totally stopped playing in the second half. In this game their defence stood pretty firm for long periods of the match. This might hint that they are a little unlucky to be at the bottom of the table. At the same time playing six defenders does certainly limit your options when it comes to scoring goals, so maybe that balance is something they are struggling to find so far. Perhaps they’ll be able to start picking up some points soon. In a way I hope so, as there are plenty of teams I’d prefer to go down. But at the same time, survival looks like quite a tall order for them.
Fresh from his nonsense VAR decision to rule out a goal for us against Shonan, Iemoto decided he fancied ruling out another one, but this time at a distance in the VAR box/booth/office/cupboard/tactics truck. To compound the cringe that the ref who can’t help but give everything against us to prove that he doesn’t favour us was on the VAR, we also had Kasahara on the pitch. A perfect duality of rotten officials to give us the fewest decisions possible. Kasahara must have been gutted to realise that Taniguchi had been called up for the Japan squad. He already had him penciled in for another red card. I don’t know if I am wildly off the mark due to my bias but it really seems like Kasahara in particular, and a lot of refs in general, just don’t give us anything when it comes to 50/50 calls. There were an absurdly large number of free kicks given against us in the first half. We were so much in the ascendancy in this respect that any challenge, irrespective of instigator was fated to end up with us conceding a free kick. We had numerous YFC players attempting to disrobe our players, with more than a handful of shirt, pulling us to the ground and still it resulted in a free kick to them. Weird. Perhaps someone had a word with him at halftime as he seemed to ease back a bit but you could guarantee that if there was anything marginal it wasn’t going to go our way, even if the margin was in our favour. He also let YFC kick off with Jesiel well out of position on the other side of the pitch having drunk some water. Perhaps he was making a point about us not wasting time but I thought he was at least supposed to check everyone was ready before restarting the game. Maybe I’m being paranoid but I can’t help but feel that some officials have an agenda against us. Us having a goal ruled out by VAR is now becoming a weekly thing. Perhaps it took a while to get it going but now they’ve tweaked it to such a degree that we can now count on one being chalked off every game. This time it was for offside and was pretty close I thought (from replays of course. From my view at the game the goal could have been ruled out for a UFO landing on the pitch and an alien jumping out and fouling one of the many YFC defenders available). It’s a shame as Hasegawa could have done with a goal. The decision again took over 2 minutes. (exciting picture of the wait below). Just lovely isn’t it? The drama of the reveal was slightly ruined by Kasahara strolling back towards the keeper away from the centre circle still doing the VAR dance move. If it wasn’t already clear that we weren’t going to get it (because we hardly ever do), this did give it away a bit.
So that’s the league fixtures over for a while. The next one will be Shimizu away on July 17th. We can just cross our fingers were allowed to go to that one. Then it’s another month till Oita away. In the meantime we have an Emperor’s Cup game against Nagano Parciero next Wednesday and then the small matter of our ACL group stage matches in Uzbekistan at the end of June and start of July. That will be pretty interesting. Fingers crossed. The Emperor’s Cup game next week will be interesting too I think. Oniki tends to go with quite a strong line up for these games I think, but he won’t be able to pick the internationals who will still be away. I suspect it'll be a similar line up to this game, but at the same time I wouldn’t mind if he gave some of the less used midfielders a start and kept the big guns on the bench in case of emergency. We’ll see I guess. Very much looking forward to that game! Go Frontale!
DF 15. ISSAKA Zain
My Frontale Man Of The Match
More accurately on this occasion, men of the match. Not sure what to do here as there were a decent amount of decent performances and some man of the match decision swaying emotional issues involved too that I am a sucker for. The danger is that I name so many players as man of the match that it basically becomes a snub for those not mentioned, so don’t take it that way and just enjoy my sentimentality. Here we go, let’s give it to…
NOBORIZATO Kyohei, ISSAKA Zain, TACHIBANADA Kenta, KOBAYASHI Yu & HASEGAWA Tatsuya - (reasons mentioned in the same order as the names) Well done on the captaincy and for a decent performance / decent debut and stepped up when he was needed with no previous experience / maybe the best game I’ve seen him play, was like a slightly more aggressive and raw Ao / scored twice, looked delighted and we all love him / unlucky to get his goal ruled out, lovely assist for Kobayashi’s second and maybe getting back towards that early 2020 form.