Kawasaki Frontale 1 - 0 Kashiwa Reysol
It’s probably a bit too early for me to claim that the return of my old ‘Go Frontale’ sign off on blog posts has caused a massive turn around in our fortunes. After all, we only have the evidence of one game to base this on. Also, if we’re being honest, this also wasn’t the greatest of performances from us. The fact that this felt a lot more encouraging than recent games highlights more quite how boring and bad we’ve been recently rather than how well we played on this occasion. However it was lovely to leave the ground and head for our favourite post-game pub with a spring in our step instead of the usual recent heads in our hands. Kashiwa came into this game in good form and near the top of the table, one point behind us with two games in hand. They’d shocked quite a lot of people who had them down as pre-season relegation contenders and had already dispatched YFM and our last two opponents. When you consider that both our and Kashiwa’s previous two games were against Cerezo Osaka and Jubilo Iwata and they’d won both, while we just about managed to come away with one point from those two games, you might think that they would be coming into the game as favourites. That would probably be true if it weren’t for the pre-season expectations people had about them. Perhaps people's opinion on our season so far is a bit skewed if they've just looked at our better results and highlights and don’t wade through the endless crappy passages of play that we’ve conjured up so far this year. I’ve said in numerous blog posts already this season that the results we’ve been getting have been not very reflective of the quality of the football we’ve been playing. We’ve got very lucky a lot more often than we could even start to claim we’ve been unlucky. In fact, even I, the ultimate one-eyed biased commentator, would struggle to find any moments this year when we felt like we’d been hard done by. Well, maybe until this game, but more on that later. There was a certain enjoyment to be taken in the fact that this game was an ‘Excite match’ sponsored by a proctology clinic. I say proctology with the caveat that it is perhaps not totally accurate but having to make do with that word as my google search for ‘what do you call an arse doctor?’ hasn’t yielded any better results. Man of the match in the stadium Marcinho was the lucky one who received a ¥50000 voucher from the clinic for his performance. I hope for his sake that it’s a voucher for somewhere else, and that he doesn’t need to hang on to it till he has some kind of bum problem. (I’m sure I don’t need to clarify this, but for those who don’t understand British English, substitute ass for arse and butt for bum). So far, quite a lot of sentences I could never have imagined I would ever type in this post. Guess I’d better get to the root of the matter. Hmmmm. Maybe that also wasn’t a great choice of words…
I’d long been moaning that changes need to be made and it seems that finally Oniki thought the same thing. Our starting formation for this match was perhaps the first change in formation we’ve seen in a starting line up for a very long time. I say perhaps as I’m not totally convinced it was that different. But according to the pre-game display we were going with two defensive midfielders. I guess most people thought so when both Tachibanada and Joao Schmidt were announced as starting. This left Tono to fill the ‘Kengo role’, in front of them, in the middle behind the strikers. Wakizaka consequently dropped to the bench. Kobayashi totally disappeared from the squad and there was again no sign of Chanathip. And once again we went with a bench made up almost entirely of midfielders, one of whom was the lesser spotted Seko! I realise this is my own little thing that I keep on saying and most people probably don’t agree, but I still have no idea why Yamane is playing, particularly when you think that we have the ACL coming up very soon and he’s been playing 90 minutes for some team or another every other day for the last 3 years. Our ‘new system’ which I think looked a lot like our old system but with Tachibanada playing a touch further forward than he normally would and Joao taking his usual spot, didn’t have the most comfortable of starts and we had a major let off just eight minutes into the game. Thankfully for our sake this was about the last thing Kashiwa did in the game and once we’d settled down it was mainly one way traffic. Admittedly the kind of one way traffic that is often turned on its head in the 94th minute when a win is turned into a draw by one of our recently all too common last minute calamitous mistakes. Thankfully for us, it didn’t happen on this occasion, but as long as the score remained at only 1-0, it was a constant worry for me. Aside from what you would normally expect from the defensive midfielder, Joao’s main instructions seemed to be to play lovely long passes forwards for people to run on to. Recently it has been weird to see us playing a pass which ends up further from our own goal than where it started. So it was lovely to see us trying to attack a bit more quickly. Against Cerezo at 4-0 down we were still doing the whole slowly slowly build up, looking like we were aiming to hold on to the -4 goal difference. Marcinho was great in this game. His pace is fantastic and the fact that he runs with the ball towards the opposition goal instead of looking backwards all the time is a real bonus. His assist for Damiao’s goal was great and it was a lovely finish too. In all of the Marcinho excitement though I think that maybe Tono’s contribution went a little under the radar. I thought he was even better. He had a few chances where he was unlucky not to score, his set pieces caused some real danger and his whole play was just exciting. Not wanting to get too positive as I know you’re not here for that, we still have a few issues. We totally dominated the game but when I checked the stats I couldn’t believe we’d only had eight shots in the whole game. Obviously, you don’t usually score if you don’t shoot, and in a game where we in total control for long periods we still couldn’t do much up front. I suppose we did have the ball in the net on a couple of other occasions but both of those ‘goals’ were ruled out by VAR and an offside flag. Not scoring has been something that has become a bit of an issue for us both this year and in the second half of last season. We used to shoot and score a lot but recently if we’re involved in a high scoring match it will be because we’ve conceded four rather than actually done anything positive. If you believe the formation was changed, and as I said, I feel like it was at most a little slip of one of the magnets on Oniki’s board rather than anything more substantial, it’s hard to know if making our midfield more defensive will lead to us scoring more goals. It doesn’t sound like it will. And we also might have the issue that there are loads of attacking midfielders in our squad and there seems to now be only one spot for them. Whether the change is a long term one or just a brief recalibration while we get back on track and regain a bit of confidence, I don’t know. Definitely we needed this win though so well done Oniki for managing to get it and at the same time making the game quite enjoyable for the first time in a while.
There’s probably not much else to say about this game… Oh! Hang on, I forgot the one person who was the centre of attention! Ikeuchi, a referee whose name didn’t have many associations with me. When I went back through previous blog posts I discovered that he is the ref who was famous for always being horrendously one sided in favour of the away team. Of course there’s nothing wrong with this if we’re not playing at Todoroki. But sadly this was a home game for us. And boy did Ikeuchi live up to his reputation! As I said above, I have no problem with him ruling out a couple of goals for us (so much so that I haven’t even gone back and checked them on DAZN). Damn he was card happy though. And horrendously inconsistent (if you’re wearing blue tinted spectacles, with blue frames and a blue glasses case and some blue contact lenses in just in case, as I was). Apparently we only committed 13 fouls in the game compared to Kashiwa’s 12 but managed to get an astonishing 5 yellow cards, mostly for completely incomprehensible reasons. Joao’s was wrong, he clearly took the ball (edit: Oops, this comment is 100% inaccurate as the tackle I thought he'd been booked for that I watched repeatedly wasn't actually what he got the yellow for. That came about 30 seconds later. I stand by the fact that the tackle before wasn't a foul though), Ienaga’s was fair enough (kicking the ball away, but that never seems to really get given recently), Yamane’s was another possibly fair tackle where he seemed to get the ball and followed Tachibanada getting crunched and not even getting a foul. It’s a shame as Yamane hardly ever tackles recently and this will perhaps discourage him from doing so in the future. Tono got booked in the same move, apparently for aggressively throwing the ball down if we are judging by the Ikeuchi's gesture, but the he missed it himself and he needed to consult on his earpiece to find out about it. Not sure who he was talking to about it but I’ve watched the replay many times now and if he did bounce the ball aggressively he must have done it very quickly and to himself as there’s only a second or so when you can’t see the ball either at his feet as he blows for the foul or in his hands as he protests the foul. And honestly, you can’t blame our players for getting a bit frustrated as the ref was just doing his own predictable Ikeuchi thing. The one that really did it for me though was Sasaki’s yellow which looked like shoulder to shoulder to me and came just nine minutes after a similar challenge on him which didn’t result in a card. Either both are a yellow or neither. This season we have refs who love cards and refs who won’t give any cards. I guess both approaches are fine as long as they are administered fairly. Ikeuchi didn’t seem to be doing that. Presumably his reputation for favouring the away team comes from him not wanting to be seen to favour the home team and overcompensating. A bit like Iemoto giving us nothing after some nutters in our fan base applauded his announcement once. A kind of ‘I’ll show how wrong you are to think I favour team A by giving everything to team B, and then you’ll know for sure I’m not unfair’. I mean, I’ve spent way too long moaning in this section, and too long looking at replays of yellow card and non yellow card challenges. All you need to know you can learn from the clip going round on Twitter of Kengo absolutely losing it at another ridiculous Ikeuchi decision in a match a few years ago. If you can make the usually cool Kengo angry, you’re clearly making a mess of things.
As I said above, this was a performance and a win that felt much better than it probably was in reality. It’s great that we dominated but we still aren’t scoring. But it definitely gave both the supporters and the players a lift. And that’s good timing as we’re now off to the ACL in Malaysia. I’m not sure what the Chinese clubs approach will be this year. Last year they sent the kids and weren’t bothered about it at all. Our group looks trickier this year compared to last. Even the ‘weaker’ team will end up being one of the few who gets a home advantage although I hope the game won’t be played in their home stadium. And of course we’ll play Ulsan again. After all, we always play Ulsan. And we usually don’t do very well against them. Last year we went into the ACL in good form, stormed the group and got a stinker of a second round draw. This year we’re a bit all over the place but at least we have the knowledge that if we get through the group we won’t have to play Ulsan. Presumably if that does happen we’ll lose to Vissel Kobe or someone like that in more unfortunate circumstances. I would have a lot more interest in the ACL if we could actually attend. But it clearly our lack of success in the competition is a monkey that we need to get off our back. And the fact that the schedule for it is so spread out this season means that even if we did get a decent run in the competition it probably wouldn’t disrupt our schedule that much. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We struggled to get a last minute equaliser against a recently promoted team from J2 on Wednesday and that game was totally dire. One last thing, it was great to meet Tokyo Fox before the game, after following and enjoying his tweets for a long time. I’d like to offer him the job of being my official photographer as in his selfie he made me look like I wasn’t about to drop dead soon, which recently seems to be really difficult. Hope to see him again some time! Oh, mustn’t forget the old sign off. Go Frontale!
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 13. YAMANE Miki (Yellow card 52')
DF 31. YAMAMURA Kazuya
DF 15. SASAKI Asahi (Yellow card 83')
DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo
MF 6. JOAO SCHMIDT (Yellow card 17')
MF 8. TACHIBANADA Kento
MF 19. TONO Daiya (Yellow card 53')FW 41. IENAGA Akihiro (Yellow card 49')
FW 9. LEANDRO DAMIAO
FW 23. MARCINHO
GK 27. TANNO Kenta
MF 3. TSUKAGAWA Koki (on for TONO 90+1')
MF 14. WAKIZAKA Yasuto
MF 16. SEKO Tatsuki
MF 17. KOZUKA Kazuki
FW 24. MIYAGI Ten (on for MARCINHO 67')
FW 20. CHINEN Kei (on for IENAGA 57')
My Frontale Man Of The MatchThe stadium award went to Marcinho and that was a good call I think, but he’s just been really good most of the time recently so with that in mind I’ll give it to…
TONO Daiya - great game in a slightly different role. If his numerous shots (he must have had half of our total) had gone slightly closer he would have sewn this up easily but as it is, his whole contributions get him the prestigious Frontale Rabbit MOTM award. A ¥500 Quo card which he can use at the local invasive medicine clinic of his choice.
LEANDRO DAMIAO (Frontale) 45+2' 1-0