Kawasaki Frontale 1 - 2 Yokohama F Marinos
The J League is back, and personally I wouldn’t have minded it getting lost on the way. A new season means a new start and our pre-season new found interest in scoring goals actually gave me some cautious optimism. Not optimism that we would win the league, but just that we might not be quite so grindingly dull as we were for most of last season. Sagan Tosu conceding five today to Shonan might perhaps help explain how we managed to put eleven past them in a pre-season friendly. It’s kind of stupid to jump to any conclusions after one game. However, when you consider we started this game like we played most of last year, but crucially without one of our best defenders, (who is currently trying to use a big pile of cash and the prestige of playing in the elite Qatari league to cushion the blow of having to go without pork based meals), it will come as no surprise that we lost and looked a mess at the back. This was a challenging game to watch. As challenging as the slight change to Tono's song this year, where instead of keeping to the same comfortable melody we are now encouraged to instead to finish with a strangled vocal stretch to the octave above for the finale. I get the impression that this will be quite a difficult season and that it might be quite difficult for me to keep churning out such high quality blog posts. (And yes, I really did say high quality. If you want to ignore the fact that it was a joke, just go for it and have some fun). Also, it seemed on this occasion, as probably will be the case in the future too, that I really couldn't be bothered to even take many poor quality photos. You'll have to make do with just the one poor quality one. Let’s get this out of the way quickly with some ill thought out bullet points.
New season, (apparently no) new ideas -
Lots was said in the run up to this game about us playing exciting new attacking tactics with a formation that would entertain and do the business. Our off season transfer business suggested that the club didn’t think there was much wrong with our squad. I’m inclined to slightly agree, but as usual the decision to not bother thinking much about the defence was as frustrating as it was predictable. Sure we have some more defenders this year with Takai and Matsunagane joining from the youth team, but we don’t exactly have a reputation for playing the kids unless we have to. Actually even when we have to, we tend to not do so. This year the club have said that they consulted with Oniki with regards to transfers, rather than just doing the business without asking him. Perhaps the previous policy was not surprising for people who know lots about the way Japanese football clubs are run but it was a big shock for me. And regardless of the change in who makes transfer decisions, we once again seem to have made the same mistakes. And those mistakes have come home to roost immediately with Kurumaya going off injured, (according to Oniki, probably a ‘muscle’ injury), and Jesiel getting sent off. So after losing our first game to our locals rivals we now start the next game against Kashima with probably Yamamura and Ominami, a stand in centre back and someone who has just been signed. With Takai away with Japan U20's, we’ve got three times as many mascots as available centre backs at the moment! But in this game the defence looked a bit of a mess anyway, so I guess it can’t be much worse. Clearly the opposition were part of the problem but I’m not going to be too complimentary about them as they have consistently been voted as Frontale fans’ most disliked club (source - Frontale Rabbit Survey, every year since 2019!). They pressed us hard and we couldn’t deal with it. We barely got the ball out of our own half. When we did though, we did ok down the left, mainly thanks to Marcinho being good and YFM not having a fit right back. But we didn’t score. It doesn’t really matter that we had 63% possession and almost double the amount of shots as them. It’s telling that when it came to shots on target both teams were almost equal. If we had a new game plan for 2023, I couldn’t see it. At least not in the first half, where it was the same old sideways and backwards passes but this time with an added element of jeopardy down to the fact that no-one seemed to be able to pass. Both of the goals we conceded were very soft. The first was a horrible error from Sung-Ryong with a shanked attempted clearance straight to the opposition not far from goal. The second was basic incompetence from a set piece. Miyashiro hit the bar. We were denied what looked like a clear penalty to me at the end of the first half. But don’t get me wrong. We were so crap that we didn’t deserve to even be equal anyway.
New season, (maybe a) new idea (but an ineffective one) -
We looked a bit better in the second half. I think this was mainly due to Ienaga being replaced by Segawa. Ienaga was an injury worry before the game but as Oniki likes to pick his favourites regardless of form or condition, he started. Segawa looked quite lively and seems to like to cross. Sadly our other attackers apparently weren’t expecting that kind of play. Already some idiots online are saying Segawa is useless. Presumably the same people who are saying Sung-Ryong should immediately be dropped too. None of these people ever seem to notice Yamane being an absolute liability every week and Oniki making the same errors endlessly though. There was a hint of the new tactics in the second half. Well maybe. Or maybe it was just Yamane deciding that he wanted to try to play in every position on the pitch apart from any that involved defending. So more often than not, Sasaki had to hang back a bit to make up the numbers. I’m not sure if this is how our shifting formation is supposed to work. Perhaps it makes sense if the two full backs take it in turns, but Yamane didn’t seem up for that and even when Sasaki did get forward, Yamane inevitably was somewhere ahead of him. Ienaga’s free role seems to work really well sometimes, but it was quite nice to see Segawa sticking a bit more to his side and giving us some more options. Yamane’s apparent free role didn’t seem to work at all. Its only purpose seemed to be to allow Yamane to give the ball away in every sector of the pitch. It wasn’t all Yamane’s fault though. There were plenty of distinctly average performances, including the previously mentioned Sung-Ryong and the centre backs, Tachibananda, who the ball just seemed to be bouncing off and Wakizaka who looked a bit out of sorts too. Tono gets moved around from position to position so much that he probably gets confused about what he’s supposed to be doing. Well, I guess that’s assuming that there is actually a plan and instructions. It didn’t really look like it. And the best period we had in the game seemed to be right towards the end where we were down to ten men and it was just give anything a go. Perhaps at this stage Oniki was still shuffling his magnets around, trying to work out what to do and it was maybe the players just deciding themselves how to play. The one positive I have to say about Oniki is that he didn’t start this game with both Tachibanada and Joao Schmidt playing as this really made us a pretty dull defensive team. He did eventually make this happen though, bringing on Schmidt and pushing Tachibanada forward as things got desperate and Tachibanada did score, so what do I know, eh? Somehow I’ve managed to criticise Oniki even in the part where I said he did something right. That takes some dedication, doesn’t it? Whether we do actually have new and interesting ideas and tactics I don’t know. It didn’t look like it. Perhaps Oniki wanted to be a bit cautious given the opposition. If that is the case, we should probably take note that we still managed to lose, so maybe we should have tried something a bit different and a bit positive. And if we have these new tactics that are great but we’re too scared to use them against rivals, I’d suggest that maybe these aren’t the new tactics we need. On last night’s showing, I’m not sure we can consider ourselves rivals even. Unless this game, (very reminiscent of how we played last year), was a freak it’s going to be a long long year…
Bit more moaning -
But this time it’s not about ourselves. A few final words on YFM, whose fans came in numbers and sang a lot more than we did. Kind of understandable given how they were playing and how we were. I thought out support was pretty bad, with hardly any singing aside from the usual ‘ole’ thing when we start attacks. (It’s noticeable that recently this begins a lot earlier than it used to. Previously it was started as an attack went out of our own half. Now we sing it as we desperately try to retain possession in our own penalty box). I’m also guilty in the poor support respect though. I was excited to see singing back and belted out a few songs before kick off, but was understandably quite deflated when all enthusiasm and hope was extinguished four minutes into the season. YFM’s fans were so excited about singing that they couldn’t help themselves and decided to sing right up and slightly into the start of the minute’s silence. Got to love that passion, eh? Their players certainly seemed to be up for it, both goal scorers sliding on their knees towards our fans. Nishimura did it towards the family picnic area. That’ll show those damn toddlers. Elber decided to do it directly towards our main support. Mita did that a few years ago for Vissel and I’ve hated him intensely since then. Sadly on this occasion we couldn’t exact revenge. To his credit Mizunuma apologised to our supporters for Elber’s arseholery. Probably this also had something to do with the fact that he’d already tried to break one of our players’ ankles and got away with a yellow card. Who needs to refer that to VAR, eh? No blog post would be complete without a moan about the ref. Before he was announced I said to my wife, I really hope it’s not that (insert expletive here) Yamamoto, and almost immediately had my hopes dashed and my worst fears confirmed. Plenty of J League refs are useless. We’re all used to that. It’s the ones with an agenda that really annoy. Clearly Yamamoto is the top dog now. Perhaps it’s for the way he keeps the game flowing, by always dishing out one level less of punishment than is deserved. Should be a yellow card? Well let’s make it just a free kick. Should be a red? Well a yellow and a bit of a wink and joke should do. Someone boots the ball away to waste time? Well that should definitely be a yellow but let’s not waste time with that eh, and just ignore it. Oh, and keep the game flowing by not bothering to enforce the whole ‘ball shouldn’t be moving when a free kick is taken’, especially if it means that you can draw some attention to yourself by incorrectly awarding a penalty, and then increase that attention by changing your decision and giving a free kick and a red. Plenty more time on the TV screen! I guess you could argue that it might have been VAR’s job to spot the ball moving for the free kick. But they probably aren’t aware of that rule anyway. I think the only qualifications a VAR official needs are the ability to rewind and replay video footage, to be able to wear one of those singing drummer/call centre worker headsets and a inbuilt reluctance to question authority. Oh and yeah, Yamamoto, nice work bringing the play back for a late flagged offside decision against YFM as we were breaking with the ball. Hate those late flags. But please don't be confused, I also hate Yamamoto whose every action managed to irritate me in this game. Anyway, this is all just catharsis for me. We were crap, we didn’t deserve anything and that’s what we got.
Fucking hell that was a shit performance. And a shit blog post too probably. I think I’ve moaned too much about us for Frontale fans to be able to enjoy this, have been too disheartened to think of any zingers, and even YFM fans coming on here looking for things to get annoyed about will probably also be disappointed. Wonderful stuff! Pleasing absolutely no one and probably giving myself an ulcer in the process. Not sure how many awful games it will take for me to reach the ‘I don’t give a shit, let it all wash over me and just enjoy the away trips’ stage of zen acceptance this year, but if we have to keep watching this stuff, I hope it comes soon. I know moaning serves no purpose and just makes me look like an idiot really so I’d probably be better off not getting worked up. My pre-season fresh start and new optimism for Oniki and his new ideas point of view hasn’t yet reverted to angrily calling for his resignation. It’s only one game and it’s early stages. It doesn’t look good, but maybe this will give us a kick up the backside. Let’s hope that kick doesn’t take out any more of our defenders. (As an aside, I checked the make up of our squad and we have eight defenders to cover the four spots in every starting line up, six forwards to cover the front three spots and fourteen midfielders to cover those three midfield spots. Didn’t anybody notice this? At any stage over the last five years?). Next up, Kashima away, a game which we haven’t lost for a while, but which if I recall correctly has involved some pretty poor performances resulting in lucky score lines which have brightened up the horrific return bus journeys. I’d love a mind-blowingly lucky result on Saturday! It’s a fresh new season and we have Damiao and Kobayashi out injured! Oh, and Ienaga not completely fit. Oh, and Noborizato and probably Kurumaya also injured. Ah, and Jesiel banned. Probably can cover all of those spots with some midfielders though, right? Kashima beat Kyoto 2-0 today. Kyoto were tipped to go down this year by quite a few people. So who knows how good a result that is for Kashima, who were tipped to be not very good in 2023. It seems almost inevitable that Chinen will score against us for his new club. One thing in our favour though is that they’ll have no idea how we’ll line up at the back! And perhaps they will have prepared for our NEW TACTICS and will be unnerved by our OLD AND INEFFECTIVE/NO TACTICS. Will we find our shooting boots and put them on instead of wearing our lightly-roll-the-ball-to-the-opposition-keeper slippers? Will we make it the 2km to Kashima station on the bus in under an hour on the way home? Will I be excited about sneaking in a spare pet bottle lid in my bag so I can put it on when my lid is confiscated on the way in? Actually, the answer to that last point is absolutely yes. Sticking it to the man! The others I honestly haven’t got a clue about. Normally, I’d say that it will be a change as little as possible Oniki approach but we don’t really have that luxury from the point of view of starting members, I really feel that someone should super-impose Oniki’s face onto one of those memes where the cartoon dog is sitting in a burning room saying it’s all fine. After that we’ve got a week’s wait till we play Shonan at home, who beat us twice a year when they’re awful and have started the season by scoring five today. Blimey…
MF 6. JOAO SCHMIDT (Yellow card 90+5') (on for WAKIZAKA 79')
FW 20. YAMADA Shin (on for MIYASHIRO 71')