Thursday 2 September 2021

Vs Urawa Reds (away) 1/9/21 Levain Cup Quarter Final first leg

Urawa Reds 1 - 1 Kawasaki Frontale

Not sure where to start with this game. It was pretty insane. I said on Twitter that it was a potentially season destroying game and I stand by that. It will certainly force Oniki into some deep thinking over the course of the next few days. I’m a bit conflicted about it. I’m really pleased that it was a two leg tie as if we had to play more than 90 mins I think we would have lost even more players to injury. At the same time, the fact that it was, means that we have another game at the weekend with the chance that we can lose even more players to injury. I have opened a few beers this evening so maybe that is what is putting me in a contemplative and slightly confused mood. People coming here hoping for the usual moaning might be upset, but I’ll do my best! Going with some different topic headings today but as they broadly fit into the usual ones, I’ll put the usual ones in brackets for the sake of tradition.

Injuries and position roulette (Us) -

We came into this game with four big injuries. We left this game with six big injuries and with Sung-Ryong having saved a powerful Urawa blast with his crackers. The potentially season destroying element of the game is the fact that we now have one fit central defender (aside from the young players who Oniki doesn’t seem to want to risk), and that central defender is a midfielder. I don’t want to keep harping on about Taniguchi getting inured whilst playing in midfield so I’ll just let this sentence hang here awkwardly ………………………………………….                                                                     Jesiel left the pitch with what looked like a groin strain but sat on the bench for the second half. Whether that means his injury is not set serious, or that means that the facilities at Urawa’s second/third stadium are so bad, I don’t know. So, down to Kurumaya and Yamamura with only Tanabe on the bench to cover. Second half, Kurumaya gets injured. Not sure how, but it was from an Urawa foul. I’ll talk more about those kind of things later. So, our central defender is off injured and our left back playing as a central defender is off injured, so we were playing with our midfielder/striker central defender Yamamura and… who’s it going to be? Has to be Tanabe, right? No, Tanabe on at left back and the man mountain Nobori in central defence. If Oniki favoured Nobori in this game at centre back you’ve got to think that he’ll do the same on Sunday. Or will he? It’s all a mystery really. As are the reasons behind the fact that we signed only one player in the transfer window, although we had loads of injuries and had lost our two best players. Perhaps Marcinho can be converted to play at centre back? If Hatate weren’t injured, I have a strong feeling that Oniki would give him a go there seeing as he’s played in every other position apart from in goal (surely only a matter of time). Or maybe it will be the young players? Issaka started this game but only lasted about 35 minutes at right back. After their goal he seemed to be switched to the Mitoma role, which I can’t even pretend to have predicted. He did look pretty good there though in the polar opposite of his actual position. So Tachibanada at right back again, which we have seen Oniki change to before. Doesn’t suggest much confidence in Zain, but maybe it was because he’d been booked early (more on this later too). Given that Oniki doesn’t rate the right back to play at right back and would rather play the 168cm Nobori at centre back than our young centre back who he played in Nobori’s position, I’d imagine that we won’t be going with the young players on Sunday or in the ACL. But if we did, what an opportunity it could be for them. At the same time, if it went badly, what a bad opportunity it might be for them. It really must be the alcohol that is preventing me from tipping into complete meltdown negativity. I just feel like it’s a crappy situation we’ve ended up in, so let’s just do our best and see what happens.

We weren’t good in this game even before the injuries. We didn’t have a shot till the 41st minute. Although bizarrely we did look pretty comfortable for long periods of the game. But let’s not gloss over things, we were wobbling a bit before, but now we’re like that guy in the milk crate challenge who has clearly made one step too many and whose efforts to not smash himself into the ground is only really delaying the inevitable. The wobble is approaching terminal wobble and as it becomes harder and harder to stop the wobble getting worse, you can’t help but feel that something bad has appeared on the horizon and is approaching at a surprisingly fast speed. In the past we might gloss over slightly sloppy defending with the knowledge that we can score so many goals that it’s unlikely we’ll lose. Now, we can play 41 minutes without a shot and only score though a slightly, (ahem), dubious penalty (more on that too later). The shit or bust time has come I guess. Oniki probably has to change lots of things with an eye on the ACL. We can’t afford any more injuries. That might mean we start with a surprising line up on Sunday, but that is almost 100% in opposition to the Oniki way so I would be surprised if it happens, but it would be a very pleasant surprise. Of course, if no one recovers, there’s the chance that we could still end up with no players for the ACL even if we play the kids on Sunday. So basically Oniki is in a very tough spot and i have a lot of sympathy for him. Even if we lose on Sunday, at least if he plays some centre backs at centre back, we can go out of the competition knowing we probably did the right thing. The worst case scenario is probably to go with an insane midfielder defence, lose and then still mess up in the ACL. Bizarrely, it might even be the case that the pressure is off now, as were are so wracked with injuries that if we go out of both competitions even the arseholes on Twitter who complain about us not taking the ACL seriously can’t moan. What am I talking about? Of course they’ll moan. Whether we go out of or win any competition, they’ll moan!

Destroy Frontale! (Them) -

Urawa were pretty physical in this game I thought. That is obviously with blue and black glasses on though. I think their man of the match was their groundsman who had prepared a pitch that cut up so impressively that Vissel Kobe’s guys must have been shaking their heads in admiration and disbelief. It looked like a shocking pitch in the first half when a pass along the floor would skip and bounce a couple of times before reaching its destination but in the second half it looked like the proverbial farmer’s field. Muscle injuries suggest a bad pitch, but those injuries were only going one way, so perhaps it suggests that we have had a season of over exertion of our main players or that we have gone back to using ultimate fighting and superhuman stretching as training techniques. We were rubbish again in this game, but the fact is we had almost as many shots and equal possession as Urawa, who were at home and were basically playing the equivalent of a pub team early on a Sunday morning, the night after the captain’s birthday party, where they served some out of date kebab meat. Put the people who can stand in a position that is kind of close to where they once played when they were at junior high school. When you consider that our first choice players have been wobbling, you’ve really got to think that Urawa should have won this game against a very makeshift Frontale side. Praise the lord for Sung-Ryong and perhaps for Nishimura…
(This photo is of a similar standard to the pitch)

(I should add that I wanted to write in this section something about the new Urawa Danish defender Scholz looking like he’d inadvertently stumbled out of Christiania onto a plane to Japan only to find he’d signed for a J League team. It would have worked better if he’d played terribly, but given that we barely threatened the Urawa defence, I didn’t really notice him playing badly or well. So basically this all ends up with me saying that his long hair and beard makes him look like a hippy, which sounds like something a horrible old bigoted conservative would say. It probably wasn't worth me trying to shoehorn in this joke, but that's become most of the point of these blog posts really. The reference is so niche anyway that most people will probably just skim past this part, which in a way is why I’m trying to make it as long as possible in order to make those people think that they might have missed something important due to the length, go back and read it again, only to find that I have not only wasted my own time writing this, but have also wasted plenty of other people’s time too, just to make an oblique point that someone has long hair and a beard. You’re welcome!)
Ref (Ref) -

Oh Nishimura! It always seems like a disaster is on the horizon when Nishimura is in town and perhaps that was once again the case on this occasion. In the first half, he couldn’t get his yellow card out quick enough to book one of our players. Issaka got a yellow for clashing heads with a Urawa player. So basically it seemed that Nishimura thought Zain had fouled him with his head. Perhaps if he’d rolled around on the floor till the decision had been given like the Urawa player did he might not have been booked. An Urawa played hacked down Wakizaka as he raced into the Urawa half with their defence all over the place and he didn’t get a card. But what am I complaining about? Nishimura is always going to Nishimura. In my notes I wrote ‘Nishimura idiotic decisions coming thick and fast. But Nishimura only the former’ and whilst it’s a cheap shot, I think it is probably fair enough for a ref who fundamentally believes that we go to the stadium and watch the match to see what the ref does, rather than what the players do. I have to say, I wish I had his (misplaced) self-confidence. My comment that he is a bit thick probably stands up though when you look at our goal. Thank you VAR! It doesn’t often come to our rescue. I say rescue, but on this occasion it was more like a lottery win than a rescue, so unexpected was the result. And pretty unbelievable that Nishimura for once let the VAR guys overrule him. Perhaps he wanted the camera time, as he stood, apparently perplexed by whatever it was that was coming through his earpiece. But not as perplexed as he looked after he’d run over to the monitor (more screen time for him), had a decent look but still turned away from the screen confused, perhaps tossing a metaphorical coin in his head as to which way he was going to give the decision. To me, it didn’t look like a penalty at all on first or second viewing. But perhaps as VAR watching refs have found out, sometimes repetition muddies instead or clears the water. I thought we were pretty lucky to get given it. But the more I watched, the more I thought that if Wakizaka gets clipped in the box, it’s a penalty. But to be honest the keeper pretty much had the ball in his hands already. But does that even matter? I haven’t got a clue to be honest. All I can say is that I confidently went to the kitchen thinking there was no way we were gong to get a penalty and then with every subsequent replay and minute of delay became more convinced but equally more confused. Anyway, all I can say is it’s a good thing we got the penalty as we didn’t really trouble their keeper otherwise and now we have an away goal. Once last comment in the officials section. Every time I see a delayed offside flag, it annoys me a bit more. I thought these were only supposed to be for borderline decisions. It seems that now the linesman are giving themselves the benefit of the doubt for even pretty obvious decisions, going with the late flag in order not to make a mistake. It’s intensely annoying though and I’m sure at some stage it will result in a horrific injury to a player due to them playing on, which wouldn’t have happened if the linesman had just done their job and flagged at the time. Tell you what, with no evidence or knowledge at hand, I’m going to say that Kurumaya or Jesiel’s injury (take your pick, I’m making this up) wouldn’t have happened if the linesman had flagged when he was supposed to. So basically, all the officials are crap. And Nishimura, don’t think that I won’t mention how bad I think you are even if you give us a somewhat phantom penalty.

All in all a great game! Sorry, my mistake, all in all a crazy game. We were pretty lucky again to come away with a draw given that basically the wobble is still going. I made a few scarily accurate predictions on my recent J-Talk Podcast appearance, when I said that we were getting a serious injury pretty much every game (check, well this time perhaps two), we were still playing pretty crap even though we beat Consadole (check), that Ienaga wasn’t setting the world alight right now (check) (he did put away the penalty in a tidy fashion though, so full credit for that!), and that Kozuka would probably make some surprising appearances as I think Oniki likes him (check). I’ll definitely take the draw with an away goal with open arms but I’m not sure what’s going to happen in the next leg. It will definitely be interesting. Or maybe frustrating. Definitely interesting or frustrating. If we manage to win this tie with the meagre resources we have available at the moment it will really be something to celebrate! After Sunday’s second leg, we have Ulsan away the following Tuesday in the ACL. Really couldn’t have come at a worse time to be honest. But perhaps some unlikely players will make a name for themselves on Sunday. Fingers crossed and GO FRONTALE! 

GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 15. ISSAKA Zain (Yellow card 8')
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
FW 41. IENAGA Akihiro (Yellow card 45+2') 
FW 19. TONO Daiya

GK 27. TANNO Kenta
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu (on for TONO 46')
MF 17. KOZUKA Kazuki (Yellow card 90') (on for ISSAKA 46')
FW 24. MIYAGI Ten (on for WAKIZAKA 80')
MF 28. YAMAMURA Kazuya (on for JESIEL 31')
DF 30. TANABE Shuto (on for KURUMAYA 80')

SEKINE (Urawa) 35' 1-0
IENAGA (Frontale) 72' PEN 1-1

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