Sunday, 13 February 2022

Kawasaki Frontale U18 vs Japan High School Selection

Kawasaki Frontale U18 1 - 0 Japan High School Selection

What a fantastic way to start football in 2022. Our U18 team took on a Japanese high school selection and came away with a 1-0 win, despite losing a couple of their best players to our first team squad. It was an interesting game with both teams having good chances but we came out on top and took the headlines with a well deserved win. I know the Winter Olympics are on at the moment, but certainly all football fans were much more interested in this game than any other matches that might also have coincidentally been taking place the same day...


Ok, I suppose I can’t really continue with this hilarious joke any longer without actually having to write something about the other game that took place in the Nissan Stadium on the same day. Although I’m sure most Frontale fans won’t want to think or read about it much. The Levain Cup always has a reputation for being a competition that you care about if you win, but you write off if you don’t do well. I would say that the Super Cup is the same, but as as supporter of the losing team on this occasion, even that might be actually be overdoing it a bit. My Urawa supporter friend kept saying before the game that it’s just a glorified pre-season friendly, presumably expecting them to lose. Now that line of thinking has switched over to Frontale fans and the Urawa fans are probably giving the competition a lot more status. So yeah, just a pre-season game and ultimately meaningless blah blah... It may be telling that we last played Urawa in the Super Cup in 2019, when we were flying high and looking for a league three-peat and a successful ACL campaign. We won the Super Cup 1-0 at the Saitama Stadium and then… well nothing much went right after that and 2019 was a total disaster. Without thinking about it, I wore my 2019 shirt to this game. So maybe you can blame me. But for those who like to find patterns, perhaps we can take some consolation in the fact that we won that 2019 game and then had a bad season. Perhaps this year, the reverse will happen. To be honest though, there wasn’t much sign of that on the pitch in this match.

We started the game with a couple of notable absences. Of course Jesiel is still not available as he’s still recovering from his serious injury. Hopefully it won’t take too much longer… Once again we haven’t really signed any experienced defensive cover in the transfer window but at this stage of Oniki's reign I wasn’t really expecting anything else. Perhaps the more worrying thing is that it seems that the young defenders we sign or bring through our youth system don’t really seem to be considered as available either. In spite of numerous injuries in our defence last year, our next generation of defenders (Issaka, Kamiya, Tanabe) were only called on when absolutely necessary or when the opposition was very weak in the ACL group stages. Even when we played J3 and J2 teams in the Emperor’s Cup we went with the usual defenders. I’m not sure how they are supposed to develop as players if they never even make the bench. I will say though that we really struggled though the Emperor’s Cup games so maybe it’s a good thing we weren’t trying out the youngsters more. Now two of those three defenders have gone out on loan (Zain to YFC and Kamiya to Fujieda) so hopefully they’ll be playing some football. I’ve meandered massively off the plot here. Our other big absence was Tachibanada who was nowhere to be seen. The day before the game it was announced that we had two players who had caught COVID, and you have to think that Tachibanada might be one of them. It’s difficult to say who the other one might be, as most of the players who weren’t in the squad didn’t seem that likely to be in the squad anyway so it’s probably a waste of time speculating who it might be. Joao Schmidt came back into the Tachibanada spot. After being apparently exiled for missing a penalty in the ACL and seeming to be extremely likely to leave the club at the end of last season it was something of a surprise to see him starting yesterday. I don’t think he was treated very fairly by Oniki last season and I’m worried that he’s going to be scapegoated for this loss too and perhaps get exiled for another six months. I hope not as I don’t think he was to blame, but more on that later. Chanathip came in on the left up front and Oshima started in midfield. These were probably the only changes from last year’s peak starting line up apart from the enforced ones. Although I guess you could say Oshima in was an enforced change as someone has now left us to play under a thoroughly distasteful manager in a league which is apparently a much lower standard than the J League. So not many changes really. But this was a performance that looked like it was from a team of players who’d never met each other. We were very rusty. Our preparations for the season probably weren’t really helped by half of our back four playing international games whilst we were having our pre-season camp. I guess the World Cup is at a weird time of year this time round, but having international matches a few weeks before the start of the season probably isn’t going to help either the national team or the teams of the Japanese based selected players. On the Frontale forum it seems that no-one got away without being blamed. Everyone is past it or not good enough. Admittedly, if you based your analysis only on this game it might be easy to agree with this as I can’t really think of anyone who had anything near a good game. But I’m sure Schmidt will be blamed. He certainly was under a lot of pressure in the first half. I would have thought it might have made sense for either Oshima or Wakizaka to drop back and help him out a bit, but to be honest both of them were pretty anonymous anyway. It should come as no surprise though that Oniki didn’t really change the system. In previous years we’ve been able to get away with just sticking to the same system and the same plan, almost to the point of stubborn insanity and more often than not something works out for us. But it didn’t on this occasion and I think that was partly due to Oniki being out-thought by Rodriguez when it comes to tactics. 

Urawa came with a game plan that seemed to be go all out pressing and try to nick a goal. It paid off after only seven minutes but the writing was on the wall even before then. We had trouble getting out of our own half as we were being pressured constantly. After they got their goal they had something to hang on to and could start the time wasting, constantly repositioning goal kicks, rolling around on the floor from the slightest contact and waiting to see if they could take an opportunity if one turned up. It wasn’t nice to watch from a Frontale point of view but must have been very enjoyable for fans of other J League teams. If you have checked Twitter you could be mistaken for believing that Urawa are now the greatest football team in the world and will stroll to the title. I certainly think they will be a challenger this year, but I’d like to see what they do against teams who are happy to sit back in numbers against them. Of course I’m not going to praise Urawa, and instead will give the credit for their victory on the uselessness of our performance instead. In the past it has been too easy to slag off Urawa for the horrible racist and wannabe hooligan element of their fan base (plenty of whom left the stadium at the same time as I did, which is saying something as I really didn’t hang around once the whistle had been blown. Perhaps they didn’t realise there was silverware at stake). Now we might have to switch to disliking the team more. Ito is the prime candidate for me. I know heat maps are a popular part of football analysis recently. I’d like to see the horizontal heat map for Ito in this match. I’m pretty sure the majority of the 'heat' would be at a very low level, as he spent at least 15 minutes lying or writhing on the pitch. Seems like a bit of a wanker to me. But obviously this childishness on my part has been intensified by the rubbishness of our players on this occasion. So basically to sum up this Urawa paragraph, I’d say that they seem organized and have a plan, which might not be very nice to watch, but seems to be quite efficient. I’m hoping that this match was a freak game though. It would be nice if it were a false dawn for them and a false sunset for us, if that makes any kind of sense.

I’ll finish up with a few random observations. First a caveat. I know our last game was in the same stadium (albeit at the other end), but I don't remember the pitch being so far away last time. I know this is a problem at all stadiums with a running track, (even if they do cover it up), but it seemed particularly bad at this match. Perhaps that's because there was nothing much to watch anyway. It wasn't an engrossing or enjoyable 90 minutes in any way really. With our support being almost as lacklustre as the performance on the pitch. But you can't really blame the fans I guess. Many of them, (the newcomers I mean), are probably not used to watching us be rubbish. No fun to be had really. However, I thought it was quite amusing the way the two teams came out lead by their captains who were both holding the trophies they’d won to qualify for this game. It almost felt like the concept was that the silver be melted down, combined and forged into a new cup during the match, ready to be handed over at the end of the game. Kasahara was the ref and he was almost enough for me to wish that Iemoto would come back out of retirement. Almost… If Kasahara is the bright upcoming reffing talent in the J League we’re in for some trouble. I always think he’s rubbish but at least on this occasion he didn’t red card Taniguchi. Doubly surprising as he seemed to interpret most tackles as a foul on Urawa. Perhaps this was assisted a bit by Ito’s wonderful death scene auditions. Surely a role in a Japanese crime drama will be offered to him soon. So basically Kasahara was shit and Urawa had and executed a good game plan, but I’m not going to take the blame away from us. We didn’t deserve anything from this match and that was sadly evident pretty early on and for long periods of the game. We had four shots in 90 minutes. Only one was on target. Urawa had five, three on target and scored twice. So you can blame pretty much any of our players wherever they were on the pitch. Chanathip didn’t seem to work in the forward left position but looked a lot better in the second half when he was moved more central and a little bit backwards. Shortly after this he was subbed (insert shoulder shrug upturned palms emoji here). I’ve got no idea where anyone was playing towards the end of the game as our subs just seemed to be kind of random as they do often tend to be when we’re chasing matches recently. On this occasion though it didn’t work and our non-formation got caught out with a long ball over the top and we conceded our second. We probably should have tried the same thing a bit rather than then endless sideways and backwards passing trying to slowly edge out of our own half than made up the majority of this game. Only time will tell as to whether this is a sign of our strengths waning, or whether this was a very 'off' off-day from a rusty team. This evidently wasn’t a good result for us, but I think it could turn out to be a useful result if we pay attention to what the game taught us. We can’t just continue on as we have for the last few years without any other plan. And we can’t coast our way into a new season thinking we’re still better than everyone else. The league is probably going to be a lot more open this year with some new teams challenging. Whether that will include our first league opponents FC Chofu who we'll face at Todoroki on Friday, we’ll see. We definitely need to up our game against them even if they are a work in progress, as I think on the evidence of our performance yesterday, our U18 team would have given us a good run for our money. I thought this would be a quite short blog post as we were so lifeless there wasn’t really much to say, but instead it has meandered on. For that reason, I’ll knock it on the head here. Let’s be snooty and write this off as an unimportant pre-season game for us and use it to get up to speed for Friday when we’ll hopefully have a bit more fun and have a spring in our step again.

GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 13. YAMANE Miki
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
MF 14. WAKIZAKA Yasuto
FW 41. IENAGA Akihiro

GK 27. TANNO Kenta
MF 3. TSUKAGAWA Koki (on for OSHIMA 82')
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu (on for CHANATHIP 77')
MF 16. SEKO Tatsuki (on for WAKIZAKA 71')
FW 20. CHINEN Kei (on for LEANDRO DAMIAO 71')
MF 31. YAMAMURA Kazuya

My Frontale Man Of The Match


If you expect there to be anything in this section you clearly haven't read the post or watched the game or highlights.



ESAKA (Urawa) 7' 0-1
ESAKA (Urawa) 81' 0-2



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