Kawasaki Frontale 0 - 0 Johor DT
We’re now halfway through our 2022 ACL group of death and have five points to show from our three games. Don’t be confused and think that ‘group of death’ means it’s a group with four good teams who will all destroy each other. In this case it’s a group of death because anyone who watches all of the games will long for the sweet embrace of death, which would be far more satisfying and enjoyable than watching us trudge through ‘performance’ after ‘performance’. Sure we scored eight times with our reserves out against Guangzhou Juniors, but the fact is our first team look unlikely to ever score again unless the ball is presented to us just in front of the goal with the keeper elsewhere. This was a painful 90 minutes to watch and I’m not particularly keen to prolong the discomfort by stretching out this blog post so let’s get things over and done with quickly using the three old-favourite bullet points
Since Oniki changed our system, if you indeed believe he has done so, rather than just change the starting members and the approach slightly, we’ve looked quite solid at the back, not looking like we’re going to conceded against Kashiwa, Ulsan (their goal was a handball) and Johor. Equally we’ve looked like we’re supremely unlikely to score too. The tactical change is a big step from Oniki who at times has tried to nudge us towards a bit more of a defensive mindset and now seems to have gone the whole hog and has banned goals and excitement at either end of the pitch. Sure the change came as a response to us conceding four against Cerezo, but when you consider that three out of the four goals in that game came directly as a result of a Taniguchi cock up, you can’t help but think that maybe he’s thrown the baby out with the bath water. Or maybe drunk the bath water, promoted the baby to chief bathing executive and then had a satisfying nap in the bath tub. I’ve long moaned about Oniki being a lucky manager rather than a good one and it seems that in order to preserve his record he’s trying to squeeze the last drop of luck out of us up front whilst grimly hanging on at the back. Hopefully this match should show him that his long awaited plan B has been found out already. Or maybe not found out, maybe has just been proved ineffective almost immediately. Our double defensive midfield enabled us to win the possession game and stop Johor from scoring. It also resulted in just six shots for us in 90 minutes, none of which were on target. That’s even less than we had against Kashiwa, but at least on that occasion half of the eight were on target and we even SCORED A GOAL NOT FROM AN OPPOSITION MISTAKE! Joao Schmidt’s long passes switching the play which were an interesting new development in the Kashiwa game have now been replaced with Taniguchi aimless hoofs (hooves?… no hoofs I think) out of defence. I’m not blaming any of the players as tactically we seemed to be playing wearing handcuffs and mud filled Wellington boots. We have skillful and exciting players but you wouldn’t believe it from watching us recently. All the confidence has gone and there’s no spark and no excitement. We were sloppy all over the pitch and got what we deserved. Oniki’s response to us trudging about the pitch with the ball bouncing off us creating nothing was to make a double change on 62 minutes by bringing on Yamamura for Kurumaya and shaking up the defence, (who hadn’t really been troubled or even really tested), and bring on the perennially out of form Wakizaka. You could say though that he was trying to inject some cut and thrust into our attack by bringing on our 2022 joint top scorer in all competitions Kurumaya, who let’s not forget is a defender and has been injured for most of the season. It didn’t change anything, and the next subs didn’t come till 85 minutes and then only two more were done. The four changes made in this match perfectly matched four of the five done in the Ulsan match (which we didn't exactly shine in...), one even on exactly the same minute. If that doesn't speak volumes about a manager who doesn't have any new ideas, I don't know what does. Clearly Oniki doesn’t have much confidence in the subs and also seems to not have the skills to get his first choice players playing even half decently. Of course, I want him to turn this around but really doubt whether he'll be able to do it. We were handed a massive boost by Johor beating Ulsan and we’ve basically handed it back saying ‘no thank you’ by drawing this game, shooting once every 15 minutes on average without getting a single shot on target.
A few words on Johor. Disappointingly for us they weren’t at the level we might have expected them to be pre-tournament and they really came out of the traps in this game with a lot of energy and fight. They’ve won the Malaysian league eight seasons in a row and have some big money investment so perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise that they beat Ulsan and drew with us. To be honest though, if they’d won this game it would have been a bit of a robbery as much like us, they didn’t really create anything. If ever a game deserved to be a 0-0 it was this one. It seems slightly unfair that they get to play all of their games in the group stage in their home stadium with their fans in attendance. The atmosphere did sound quite good though and they had an impressive amount of drummers behind their goal. However, the sides of the stadium weren’t that full so perhaps they still haven’t reached the support level that their nice stadium warrants. Still a work in progress maybe when it comes to getting the general public excited and interested. But the pitch was a lot better in this stadium than then other one, so that’s a plus. Although I guess that doesn’t really matter when we could barely pass the ball anyway. One thing they seemed excellent at was rolling around on the floor feigning injury. And the ref was very accommodating when it came to allowing them to break up the play. I’m not whinging though, they did a good job of approaching a game in which they were the underdog and came away with a good result. If Oniki doesn’t sort something out they could easily do the same again in the next match. Or perhaps even go one better. I don’t want to sound like I’m being patronising though. Perhaps they felt they should have won and will be the favourites in the next leg. The way we are playing right now, I could totally understand that!
I started the game thinking that the ref must have been bunged a big wad of cash as quite how the Johor player didn’t even get a yellow for a shocking raised two footed challenge on Taniguchi in the sixth minute is mystery. The linesmen made a few dubious offside decisions too but I guess this happens and I’m not going to say I want VAR (even if it would have really helped us in the game against Ulsan). Throughout the match Johor did seem to be getting a lot more decisions going their way though. But this probably does tend to be the case when the support in the stadium is so one-sided. Jeez though, that sixth minute challenge was horrible and although he did book a couple of Johor players in the first half, there definitely seemed to be something of a hands off approach when it came to giving out cards. He was definitely not hands off when it came to blowing his whistle though! At times it felt like the stands must have been full of Kevin Muscats impersonators who’d come straight from a 90’s rave, whistles firmly lodged in the their mouths. The constant blowing of the ref’s whistle for fouls which often looked like nothing more than tackles disrupted the game and allowed neither team to build up any kind of momentum. Oh, and once again, the ref blew up early for both the first and second half. Is this a western Asia football thing? So yeah, I’m blaming Oniki and the ref for us being so shit in this match. Presumably we won’t have the same ref in the next game. Phew! Presumably though we will probably have the same tactics… damn…
What a waste of time this game was for Frontale fans. When I made a note saying the first shot on target of the game for either team came in the 38th minute, little did I know that after the final whistle we would still be waiting for our first shot on target. Maybe their keeper is a world beater. Maybe he’s useless. The fact is, he didn’t have to make a save in the whole game. I would say we toiled in this game but that probably makes it sound like we were working harder than we were. In the last quarter of the match it looked like neither our players or Oniki were thinking we could win the game and we were settling for the draw. Perhaps they forgot that we’re currently behind Johor in the group. This was a massive missed opportunity but at the same time a continuation of our horrible form this year. The Guangzhou game was clearly an outlier (because of the level of the opposition) and our normal approach this year will be to bore and underwhelm. Oniki’s determination to not lose has taken away any chance we might have of ever winning and I can see us ending up with a record of played six, won two and drawn four in this tournament. And given that due to the withdrawal of Shanghai Port, when determining the best second place finishers the results against the groups’ bottom teams will be disregarded, that would leave us with four draws. Definitely not enough. So what’s Oniki going to do about it? Probably exactly the same as in the first games against Ulsan and Johor. Clearly the new tactics aren’t working. His new tactics are a totally blunt instrument. But even that sounds like it might have some kind of heft behind it. Our tactical blunt instrument is more like a mallet made out of soft foam. We can hit that nail a million times but it’s unlikely we’ll make any progress hammering it into the wood. But I don’t have any confidence that he’ll change anything as I don’t think his innate conservatism will allow him to come up with anything new or exciting in time for the next game on Sunday night. So, Sunday night. Another game against Johor, another late kick off and presumably another crushingly dull 0-0 draw. What a perfect way to start the week! Ugggghhhh. At least the guy in the crowd at half time in the picture above will probably have a good time. I guess… Go Frontale!
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 13. YAMANE Miki
DF 31. YAMAMURA Kazuya
DF 15. SASAKI Asahi
DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo
MF 6. JOAO SCHMIDT
MF 8. TACHIBANADA Kento
MF 19. TONO DaiyaFW 20. CHINEN Kei
FW 9. LEANDRO DAMIAO
FW 23. MARCINHO
GK 27. TANNO Kenta
MF 3. TSUKAGAWA Koki
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro (Yellow card 83') (on for YAMAMURA 62')
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu (on for LEANDRO DAMIAO 85')
MF 14. WAKIZAKA Yasuto (on for TONO 62')
MF 16. SEKO Tatsuki
MF 17. KOZUKA Kazuki
FW 24. MIYAGI Ten (on for MARCINHO 85')
MF 25. MATSUI Renji
FW 26. EINAGA Takatora
Not a sausage. A shot on target would have been nice...