Kawasaki Frontale 1 - 0 Guangzhou FC
As it’s Golden Week at the moment and I’m on a nice trip this will just be a placeholder post which I’ll update properly when I’m back home and have some time. Although to be honest, I can’t imagine I’ll really be that excited about updating anything as this was another dire game in a pretty much completely dire ACL campaign. We’re out and we almost weren’t until the last kick of the Ulsan Johor game which was an own goal. I’ll go into more detail when I write this post properly later. But all you need to know is that we didn’t deserve to go through anyway. However, it would have been nice to get a little bit of ACL luck for once. But I probably would feel pretty embarrassed if we had done. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that whilst our fate was out of our hands by this final game, we still only managed to beat Guangzhou’s youth team, whose starting line-up’s lowest shirt number was 41, 1-0. At times I thought that the other result would go our way and the we’d concede a 94th minute equaliser to shoot ourselves in the foot. Instead an Ulsan defender shot himself in the foot and simultaneously did the same to us. Ulsan may be our ACL nemesis, but you can’t help but feel that the real damage is being self-inflicted. Just a few stupid points to round this pre-post post. Our starting line up contained no defenders and had only four players playing in their preferred position. So loads of shuffling of players and positions but still no-one can get a look in in goal apart from Sung-Ryong for some reason. Not saying he should be dropped but you’ve got to wonder about the morale of the other three keepers. The second half of this game was the first time in the whole tournament that the ref didn’t blow up before the allotted injury time had expired. Which is kind of typical, as at the end of the second half we were desperately trying to shield the ball by the corner flag, hanging on against a team that conceded 24 goals in six games and didn’t score a single one. Joyous stuff! Could have done with an early whistle in the Johor Ulsan game to be honest… Oh, and maybe Chantahip’s injured. Good riddance ACL and I’m sure most people connected with the competition will probably be delighted to see the back of us too.
Next up, a defeat away at Shimizu in the league probably. At least it will probably be a nice day out. Well, apart from the actual game!
Benefit of hindsight/back at home at the computer more detailed moaning about our 2022 ACL campaign
I know it’s very easy to be wise after the fact and I have the luxury of being able to moan about things and not actually take any responsibility or make any decisions about things. But let’s be honest, this was another unmitigated disaster of an ACL campaign. As the years pass it is becoming increasingly difficult to defend ourselves from the accusation of us being ACL bottlers. There are again some mitigating circumstances this year, so we could say we have excuses for being shite, (as we always seem to have…), but I’m not going to go with that. People might moan about the team winning our group basically playing six home games, the fact that due to Shanghai’s withdrawal all the groups were basically reduced to the top three teams and probably a load more excuses if we think hard enough. But I don’t accept these excuses. We messed it up and it was pretty much all of our own making. How we could draw 0-0 with and then beat 5-0 the eventual group winners in the same stadium only days apart shows up the problem pretty clearly I think. Some might say that our second string isn’t up to the job but more often than not, it was the ‘first team’ that was making a mess of games and not the reserves. Personally, I think most of the blame has to lie with Oniki. In the past I have bemoaned him for not making changes and just going with the same players and the same system till players collapse through injury or tiredness. Oniki seems to be deeply conservative at heart. It looks like he’s terrified to lose games. I would say that the root of the recent problems lies in the Cerezo defeat and its aftermath but I think the truth is that the problems have been thriving long before that match. Of course the perennial issue of not having enough defenders and always trying to convert attacking players into defensive ones instead of actually using defenders there is one that has haunted us for years. It was particularly galling to see us start this season apparently not even having considered that Jesiel wouldn’t be available for a few months. But it’s not only at the back that we’ve been trying to smash square pegs into round holes. Oniki’s system has been so rigid that instead of playing players where they are best we have instead been playing what he considers our best eleven players wherever there is space in the ultra fixed formation. Add to this that we’ve been playing what Oniki considers to be our best eleven players regardless of their horrendous form or shocking tiredness. There really is no flexibility with Oniki. Or that should say there was no flexibility with Oniki as all that was due to change after the Cerezo whalloping. When it comes to that game, let’s not forget that at least three of the four goals were directly due to a Taniguchi mistake, (who let’s not forget has been playing constantly due to international call ups and the lack of defenders that seems to almost be our trademark now). Conceding four at home and losing our long unbeaten home record seemed to finally start to rouse Oniki from his tactical inertia, seemingly ignoring the culpability of one of his players and instead worrying about us being too attacking. Incidentally, we dominated possession in that game and almost matched Cerezo for shots but couldn’t score so I’m not sure how we were being too attacking. Not taking chances is another late 2021/all of 2022 staple for us. The following game away against Jubilo was the same story where we had to rely on a very late equaliser in a game we’d dominated but really bored in. It clearly was the last straw for Oniki who seemed to think the way to solve our problems of not being able to score would be fixed by making the midfield more defensive. The game against Kashiwa saw us reduced to just 8 shots in 90 mins and was unbelievably dull. But we didn’t concede and this perhaps caused Oniki to feel his tactical change had been vindicated. It wasn’t exactly ideal preparation for the ACL but at least we’d remembered how to win again, even if it was very hard on the eyes.
We went into the first match guessing that it would be against our toughest opponents in the group and somehow came away with a 1-1 draw thanks to a last minute howler by the Ulsan keeper. Our defensive midfield had reduced Ulsan to only three shots in the game but tellingly one of them had gone in. And our defensive midfield had blunted our attack sufficiently that we required a late gift from Ulsan to get anything from the game. I can’t remember much about the game now, but I seem to remember that it was something of a let off as we hadn’t pulled up any trees in the game. The next game against Guangzhou allowed the second string to show the first teamers how to score goals and we went with just the one defensive midfielder. I know the opponent was of a significantly different level though. In the same match day, Johor beat Ulsan which was basically another ACL gift for us that we ultimately left unwrapped in the hotel room bin. The first game against Johor we were back to the double defensive midfield and had six shots in the whole game with none of them on target. Oniki’s first sub was a defensive one in spite of Johor looking like they probably weren’t going to score. He only used four subs even though we weren’t winning and saved the final two changes till the 85th minute despite us having only three shots a half. Oniki, this one is totally on you. And looking back this was the game that effectively put us out of the tournament. The return fixture against Johor (although it was again in the same stadium) was next and Oniki put the second string in and we smashed them. Apparently they made some changes too. Some people suggested this was to preserve their best players for their final game against Ulsan which they might have been guessing they’d need a win in. I suspect it was more something to do with their manager watching our previous match and noting quite how shit we were and imaging that he could rest players and still get an easy draw. Next up we were back to the first team for the Ulsan game and in spite of the fact that I would have thought we should have been a bit more careful in this game, Oniki went back to the attacking midfield and we conceded three goals in the first 47 minutes. We pulled one back when we were 2-0 down and scraped a second consolation goal in the 92nd minute but the game was long gone by then. Again, Oniki had been undone tactically by a team that was happy to sit back and counter attack whilst we wasted opportunity after opportunity by not being able to HIT THE FUCKING TARGET! And then we had the final game where we were through to the knockout stage as our game finished but went out with the final kick of the Ulsan Johor match. Nothing more than we deserved after only being able to score once against Guangzhou’s kids.
So yeah, I know it’s retrospectively easy to moan about Oniki’s tactics but it does seem that he always reacts one game too late and then when he does, he’ll stick with the new tactic for one game too long. There’s no way we deserved to go through if we didn’t beat Johor twice. It was a weird group though, as Johor did Ulsan twice, Ulsan almost beat us twice and we seemed to have the upper hand against Johor (apart from when it came to putting the ball in the net). I don’t think Oniki has the flexibility to navigate his way through a cup competition. In the league, perhaps our never changing style will give us broadly positive results in the end (at least up till now, 2019 season aside), but in what was basically a knockout game against Ulsan we again fluffed our lines. I say fluffed our lines but it seemed more to be a case of Oniki forgetting to write the script. I can’t see how he will ever change. It has been a problem for us for the last few years and honestly, I have no idea why more teams don’t just sit back against us. Or maybe they do, but over the course of a season we get a bit more lucky. Oniki’s changes in personnel never seem exciting. He just shuffles round the same combinations basically grasping to find one that’s not awful when it comes to attacking, but never considering changing the shape of our attack much. We have Shimizu away in the league tomorrow and go into that game five points behind Kashima who have been making hay whilst we’ve been harvesting mud in Malaysia. I can’t remember ever being as pessimistic about our chances in the league, but possibly if I revisit some 2019 blog posts I would find some equally bleak moments. Perhaps with our ACL hopes smashed we can now concentrate on the league. But to be honest when we only had the league to concentrate on at the start of the season we were pretty shite too. In spite of what some readers might think, I don’t like to be too negative about Oniki, but I can’t think anything other than the fact that he’s really made a mess of this season so far. Of course we don’t have the same players at our disposal, but even during stages of 2021 when we did have all or some of those players we were still trudging along. With injuries to Noborizato, Oshima and Chanathip being recently confirmed, I can’t see Oniki changing anything much in the upcoming games. After a big run of draws Shimizu got back to wining ways in their last match. We normally do ok against them but I just can’t be at all positive. Barring a massive change in Oniki’s approach I wonder if the best we can hope for is a 1-1 draw with a 94th minute equaliser for us, like we got when we last went to Shizuoka. It will be nice to be watching a game in person again… I think. But maybe I should take a book as there might not be much I want to actually witness happening on the pitch.
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 16. SEKO Tatsuki
DF 3. TSUKAGAWA Koki
DF 31. YAMAMURA Kazuya
DF 25. MATSUI Renji
MF 17. KOZUKA Kazuki
MF 18. CHANATHIP
MF 19. TONO Daiya
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu
FW 20. CHINEN Kei
FW 24. MIYAGI Ten
GK 27. TANNO Kenta
MF 8. TACHIBANADA Kento (on for CHANATHIP 14')
DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo (on for KOZUKA 87')
FW 9. LEANDRO DAMIAO
MF 14. WAKIZAKA Yasuto (on for TONO 65')
FW 23. MARCINHO (on for MIYAGI 65')
FW 26. EINAGA Takatora
FW 28. IGARASHI Taiyo
DF 30. TANABE Shuto
FW 41. IENAGA Akihiro (on for KOBAYASHI 87')
FW 41. IENAGA Akihiro (on for KOBAYASHI 87')
CHINEN (Frontale) 14' 1-0