Aichi Grampus 1 - 1 Kawasaki Frontale
Drinking from my Frontale mug on the morning of the game no longer works. Changing my player towel when we’re not playing well no longer works. Taking an apparently random assortment of stuffed animals to every game no longer works. The lucky charms are not lucky enough when they come up against our predictably frequent lulls of absolute mediocrity that we just keep experiencing this year. Don’t get me wrong, I know that a lot of teams would be delighted to be in our position in the league, but with the talent we have and our recent record, 2022 will have to go down as a year of massive disappointment, rivaled only by 2019, the last time we were up for the three-peat. But at least that year we just about managed to come away with a Levain cup win. This year that hope is long gone with us falling short of even disappointingly mediocre performances in the cups and being bounced out of all of them very early. So what can we take from 2022? Not much. YFM are going to win the league but they’re not even that good. The problem is that we’re utterly shit when it comes to playing ‘easily winnable’ games. We’ve spent 2022 alternating between going through some completely bizarre starting elevens and then finding something that works and utterly screwing it into the ground till it is totally dead. For example, Shonan away, Nagoya away… probably a lot more but to be honest I’m enjoying the way that I’m banishing the bad memories of awful performances this year out of my head quite rapidly. Get those toxic memories out and get on with life perhaps. I’m going to divide this post into a brief description of how and why I think we were so bad, a bit about the controversy surrounding this game and some big old moans about a ref and the stadium (or more accurately its location). These kind of fit the old ‘us’, ‘them’, and ‘ref and VAR’ headings so I’m going with those for today for some kind of retro Frontale Rabbit feel. So let’s get on with it before we have to leave for the Kashiwa game.
First, why were we so bad? We were knackered again (still the absolute minimum of rotation, as predicted, in this game, I think actually no rotation at all). We’ve played too many games with the same players with not enough breaks. It’s been obvious previously when this was starting to happen but it seemed that Oniki couldn’t spot it. To be honest, I think it’s more that he has been so desperately grasping for wins this year that as soon as we get one, the team and tactics get set in stone and become unchangeable apart from in an emergency. Shonan away was a perfect demonstration of this and that was only two games ago so it’s clear that this has been a season wide problem. And I’m pretty sure that Oniki was desperately hoping we could get through this game and the fast approaching Kashiwa game with the same players and then most of them would be able to have a rest during the international break and we could continue with the same players again after that’s done. Quite why Oniki has failed to notice our tiredness all year, I don’t know. But it’s not just that we wear out the same players all the time, it’s the tactics too. We’ve always struggled against defensive teams but still have no answer. Oniki briefly experimented with a change of shape but it didn’t work. For some reason he’s never considered a change of approach. And so it continues. In recent games we play exactly the same way regardless of the score or the stage of the match. Subs make little impact as they are made as a response to us not being able to deal with the opposition’s tactics but basically just consist of putting new players into the same impossible situation. In this game we didn't even use all of our subs, and I feel that speaks volumes. We've apparently got our best players starting and the next best players on the bench based on form. But when the starting eleven don't do the job it seems that we don't even have any hope that the subs can make that much of a difference. It's just always like for like and carry on as you were. We only had six shots in this match, and only two of them were on target. Out of these six, one was the goal and three were massive misses from very good opportunities. If you only have six shots, you've got to at least put them kind of on target, but with our fragile confidence, (up one week and crashing back down in time for the start of the next game. Who knows what's happening between matches, perhaps at the training ground?), and some additional complete fatigue it's no surprise that we're not playing well. Oh, and I feel like I’ll be moaning about backward short taken free kicks for ever. We’ve got players who are good at scoring from headers but we only ever give them a chance to head the ball at corners. I know I’ve said this before but it probably bears repeating, but there’s that cliche about how the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different outcomes. Perhaps this is a big misquote from me or I’m massively misinterpreting the meaning, but I think for Frontale fans we could simplify it by saying the definition of insanity is Oniki’s tactics. The title has been gone for a while as far as I’m concerned, YFM kept us hanging on slightly, flattering us with their shiteness, but we whacked back that shiteness second serve with a magnificent shiteness return down the line and out of reach to confirm our status as the real shiteness champions! Game set and match! Bravo! So the shiteness title cup (or is it a shield?) is something we could put in our trophy cabinet this year which is a bit of luck as there’s nothing else that will be going on there. Or actually… is there?
Forget the shiteness trophy, we can proudly display ‘the moral high ground cup’! It seems a bit weird to start the section about them talking about us, but the big story going into this game was the gripes about Nagoya basically cheating the system to get this game postponed earlier this season when it wasn’t very convenient for them. Oniki wasn’t happy about it in his pre-match comments. He once again talked about us having done the right thing when it came to COVID and the effect it has had on our season. Don’t forget, aside from us, it’s probably only been Avispa who have had to play games whilst in such a terrible state. Perhaps we can also put the ‘four goalies in a match day squad shield’ in the cabinet this year. We certainly can’t put an away win against Urawa there as we played that game ridiculously depleted and haven’t really recovered since then. I’m still not totally sure if we did the right thing. Well, obviously we did the ‘right thing’ but I can’t help but feel that if we’d played within the rules but somehow used them a bit better like plenty of others clubs have, we wouldn’t be as totally out of the title race as we now are. Nagoya’s bending of the rules allowed them to postpone a match when they had some important players missing to a time when they had a fuller squad to chose from. Oniki was further angered by the fact that the game was changed from a Saturday game that more of our supporters would have been able to attend to a Wednesday night kick off which made a day trip impossible. I think the J League should take some responsibility for this to be honest, but they never seem to take supporters into account when scheduling games. The final part of Oniki’s beef was that the game was initially not supposed to be a singing game as it wasn’t allowed then but got changed into a singing game due to the new rules. The feeing was that if it had been the other way round, we would have played the game under the conditions that the initial game was supposed to be played. I think these are all legitimate moans, but at the same time, I think them leveraging the conditions as much as possible in their favour wasn’t the reason we failed to win. That was totally down to us. Seemingly to ‘apologise’ to us, they sent their whole family of mascots round before the game to do a deep bow to our supporters. I think everyone would have much rather it had been the chairman and the board but presumably they were too busy having a good laugh about how they’d screwed us over and had got away with it relatively lightly. Shittiness from the club as a whole is something that should not necessarily be carried over to the supporters and players. But on this occasion, I think elements of both of these groups were equally shitty. Nagoya’s game plan seemed to be to go for the draw from the start and they time wasted relentlessly and rolled around on the pitch infinitely. Our goal, which if you believe Twitter moaning was a massive handball, disregarding the fact that it was referred to VAR (twice I think. It got given but then their players moaned and the ref had another finger on the ear moment. Nice to see you can challenge the decision nowadays. If they’d have been drawing at the time I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them challenge it for the remainder of the game and hold on to that precious point), and wasn’t ruled out. And also the fact that the ‘incriminating’ still was so blurred that it showed a rectangular ball. I’ll moan more about their players in the ref section though. We were so dull in the second half that Nagoya could have easily won the game if they’d wanted it a bit more and at the same time hadn’t been so utterly pedestrian. I think that they were so focussed on getting the draw that they didn’t realise a better result for them actually existed. Finally in this big old moany section, a few moans about the stadium. The Toyota stadium is a great stadium to watch football in. It’s well designed and the view is good. Sadly it’s absolutely in the middle of fucking nowhere. I know it wasn’t for the reasons I’m about to suggest, but Consadole Sapporo added Hokkaido to their name and Grulla Morioka added Iwate to their name. I know these name changes were probably to give them a broader appeal in their home prefecture. At least both of those teams actually play their games in the city that is in the team’s name though. Nagoya Grampus should be renamed Aichi Grampus while they aren’t playing games in Nagoya. It’s shocking how long the train takes to get to the stadium in Toyota city from Nagoya. For you to watch Nagoya play football. And then even when you arrive you have a 20 minute walk to the stadium. I can deal with out of town stadiums. Usually they are built in areas with transport links or they lay on shuttle buses. I totally get that you can’t build a big new stadium in the middle of a city. But quite why it has to be both miles out of the city and then still miles from the station I don’t know. After the game, we left soon after (perhaps generously) applauding the players off the pitch but before the controversy started. More on that soon. After racing pretty hard for the station in the hope that we might get back to Nagoya before they closed down the public transport for the night we found that the next train was in 20 minutes. I think we’d just missed one, but honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to that stadium for an evening game as it’s just not worth the hassle. I really hope they finish the refurbishment of the Mizuho stadium soon as although the stadium wasn’t as good, it was at least in Nagoya, and was on a train line where the frequency is more than one train every half hour. A quick last bit in this section about the controversy. Earlier I said you can’t really blame the players or fans for the club acting so dishonorably. I then went on to blame the players and now it’s time to blame fans too. Some of the Aichi Grampus fans took such offence at our post game sour grapes banners about them kind of cheating the system by trying to invade our end. I’ve only seen one video and I wonder if it might have all been a bit like when those shirtless Kashima (I think) fans were so enraged that they almost burst though the extremely flimsy unsupported plastic barrier that was ‘holding them back’. It’s pretty unedifying for us to ape Urawa and put up a whingy banner at the end of the game like we did, (although I think we do have a point, albeit one which would have seemed less whingy if made before we had failed to win), but to go for the tough guy hooligan invade the away end takes things a step more arseholey. I imagine the whole incident has started a bit of a beef between the two sets of fans now though. I think and I hope that from our side it will only take the form of a bit of booing though.
Onto Araki, who never ceases to amaze when it comes to his level of ineptitude. I haven’t seen the reply of our goal which was apparently so controversial that according to Twitter some money must have changed hands. Presumably the same people had missed the relentless assault on Marcinho on the first half, which however bad the challenge was never reached the yellow card threshold. We got loads of them though, perhaps some justified (can’t remember, can’t be bothered to check), but whichever way you look at it, the rules weren’t being applied the same way to both teams. I think Araki might have inherited the ‘make sure you don’t favour Kawasaki as you’ve been accused of doing so, and in order to not do so, give the opposition everything’ style from the pleasingly now retired Iemoto. But I know it’s boring to moan about refs not giving your team anything. So instead let’s focus on the absolutely insane amount of drop balls he awards. What a hero for keeping the game flowing, eh? And how nice of him to relentlessly break up the game shortly after he should have fucking blown his fucking whistle and instead give himself the chance of chalking up another drop ball. Can you bet on how many drop balls are given in a match? If you can I strongly advise you putting some money on there being plenty in the next game he refs. I really hope he won’t be in charge of any more of our games this season. And then I hope he’ll retire at the end of the year. But getting rid of two useless refs in two seasons might be a bit too much to ask for. People always say that you don’t even notice the best refs. So it’s nice that Araki wants to demonstrate clearly how bad he is by giving so many drop balls that it’s impossible not to notice him, and therefore proves that he is very much not one of the best refs.
Next up Kashiwa away on Saturday, another loathsome club (in my opinion) but this time for the fact that they treat the away fans with so much disdain rather than by trying to break the rules to gain an advantage. At this stage I normally say that Oniki probably won’t change the team but I think he has to this time as I believe Yamane has got a ban due to excessive yellow cards. My guess is probably the same team but with Tachibanada moved to right back and Chanathip taking his place in the midfield. And my other guess is we will once again be knackered, play terribly and fail to win. Oh well!
DF 13. YAMANE Miki (Yellow card 34')
MF 6. JOAO SCHMIDT (Yellow card 70')
MF 31. YAMAMURA Kazuya
My Frontale Man Of The Match
Nothing funny to say here this week. Everyone is knackered, we never change the team, it would be like trying to pick the best Sisyphus out of 11 who all are physically incapable of competing the task, but in this case due to their boss making them do it every day for the last week and not letting them sleep. So let’s not bother with this again.