September 14, 2019

Clash of the Titans, J.League Style

As the J.League resumes play following the international break, the table seems to have sorted itself out into three fairly distinct groups. FC Tokyo set the pace early, this season, but they are beginning to lose momentum, allowing the teams behind them to close the gap. There are four to six teams which still have at least an outside chance of finishing on top, three teams in the relegation zone, and then a remarkable seven teams on either 31 or 32 points. This tight bunch will be praying that neither Sagan Tosu nor Matsumoto Yamaga finds a run of form, because there are just four points separating the entire mob from relegation territory.

The headline news was a top-of-the-table clash between FC Tokyo and Kashima Antlers, though a third/fourth-place matchup between Yokohama Marinos and Sanfrecce Hiroshima also proved to be highly entertaining. Sit back and put on a cup of coffee, and J.Soccer will fill you in on all the details 


 

   1 - 2 

Neither of the matches that took place on Friday night had any real bearing on the title race; indeed, the results have more meaning for teams seeking to avoid a relegation scrap. Cerezo was the one team still in reasonable contention for an ACL spot, next season, but their victory on Friday was only enough to move them into temporary fourth place, nine points adrift of FC Tokyo. J.League history is replete with teams that have made up larger gaps, but when you look at how the Pink Wolves have been playing, they really do not have the bearing of a title candidate. Even Consadole Sapporo and Kawasaki Frontale -- who Cerezo leapfrogged at least temporarily -- seem to be performing well enough as a team to vie for the title.

As for the hosts in Friday evening's top-billed match, well . . . . things are not at all rosy in old Da-Saitama. If the Saitama Red Army does paint the town red this year, it just might be with the blood of the management team which has driven the mighty franchise into the dust. The Reds are still in with a chance of reaching the ACL semifinals; for now, that fact seems to be holding back a dammed-up ocean of dissatisfaction in the ranks. But if Urawa should lose on home soil, Tuesday night, there seems little doubt that the fan base will be baying for the head of Tsutomu Ootsuki, the current Reds coach.

Urawa's problems go deeper than just Ootsuki, however. For years this writer has referred to the team as Japanese football's version of Blind Faith -- a fantastic wealth of individual talent that simply cannot fit comfortably together in a single band clubhouse. Over the years, Urawa has used the revenue stream generated by its legions of faithful fans to buy up seemingly every promising young player that emerges at a "less well-funded" rival team. The Reds bought half of Sanfrecce Hiroshima, yet it was the latter who won the league title in 2012, 2013 and 2015. They stripped Omiya Ardija of players like Takuya Aoki, plunging their city neighbors into the lower ranks, yet apart from an ACL title in 2017, nearly all of the Reds' silverware was earned back in the days before the big-money, high-strutting era even began.

Much of the talent acquired over the past decade is still around, though older, a bit slower and often seemingly bereft of any real "Spirit". They have enough basic talent to stand a good chance of winning a cup campaign, like the ACL (Urawa's only two domestic titles in the 201_s are cup victories, as well). However, there seems to be no real sense of team chemistry, and now even the fans are starting to walk out. Just 22,600 turned out for Friday's match against Osaka.

Neither team looked particularly impressive in the first half, and both struggled for the same reason: Far too much individual fiddling and diddling with the ball, and not nearly enough coordinated movement, on and off the ball. But of the two teams, Cerezo seemed to have the slight edge in number of genuine scoring opportunities. The Reds seemed dangerous on the counterattack, but hardly ever created anything on their own in initiative. Since Cerezo was wise to the threat of the Urawa counter, they were a bit cautious on offense. The result was a lack of real clear-cut chances. It was only after intermission that the contest opened up.

The Pink Wolfpack came out for the second half with a flurry. The first two times they won possession, they took the ball straight forward on the dribble, rather than spending time working the ball around with passes. The first foray was cut short by the Reds defense, but just a minute and a half after the restart, Yusuke Maruhashi took off up the left channel on the dribble, and continued all the way to the top of the penalty area. Spotting teammates on the opposite side, Maruhashi rolled the ball across the top of the box, and it was met at the far by Riki Matsuda, whose first-time shot caught Shusaku Nishikawa by surprise and rocketed into the low left corner.

Urawa started to battle their way back into the contest over the next ten minutes, and as the hour mark arrived, they finally managed to spring a successful counterattack. Kazuki Nagasawa burst through the middle and fired a pass to Takuya Ogiwara, wo ripped a powerful shot off the right post. The ball bounced perfectly for Shinzo Koroki, lurking at the far post, and all he had to do was tuck it into the net to level the scores.

But Cerezo had maintained the edge in control of the match throughout, and as the match moved into its final third, the insertion of attacking substitutes paid off. With just over five minutes on the clock substitute Atom Tanaka received a pass just above the top of the penalty arc. No defenders stepped out to challenge, so Tanaka simply took aim and passed the ball into the top left corner, for the winning goal

The loss marks the seventh contest in a row (in all competition) that the Reds have failed to win. Fortunately, one of those was a 3-3 draw in Shanghai, against their ACL foe, meaning that a low-scoring draw on Tuesday will be enough to take them through to the semifinals.

Failing that, however, one wonders if Wednesday morning will bring news of Coach Ootsuki's departure. The Reds are already out of the running for the league title, and will need something approaching a miracle to even qualify for ACL play next year. Attendance is down by an AVERAGE of 10,000 fans per match. Last week they were knocked out of the Levain Cup by Kashima. Although still alive in Emperor's Cup play, and due to face JFL club Honda FC in the round of 16, their quarterfinal opponent will be either the Antlers or Yokohama Marinos -- a tough draw, to be sure. Even if the club were in top form, their chances of winning any silverware this season are trickling away, and the fan base is NOT amused.

Date: 
13 August, 2019
Attendance: 
22,640
Location: 
Saitama Stadium

  1

0 1H 0
1 2H 2

2  

Shinzo Koroki (60') 

 Scoring

Riki Matsuda (47') 
Atomu Tanaka (84') 
 
Yuki Abe
Takahiro Sekine
Yuki Abe
Daisuke Suzuki
Cautions Kota Mizunuma
Yuki Abe Sent Off  

 Shusaku Nishikawa; Takuya Iwanami, Daisuke Suzuki, Tomoaki Makino; Takahiro Sekine, Yuki Abe, Takuya Aoki, Koya Yuruki, (Takuya Ogihara 55'); Kazuki Nagasawa (Kenyu Sugimoto 77'), Yuki Muto; Shinzo Koroki (Kai Shibato 83').

 Kim Jin-Hyeon; Riki Matsuda, Yasuki Kimoto, Yusuke Maruhashi, Matej Jonjic; Naoyuki Fujita, Leandro Desabato; Kota Mizunuma (Eiichi Katayama 89'), Hiroaki Okuno; Yoichiro Kakitani (Atom Tanaka 71') Bruno Mendes (Takashi Suzuki 66'),

 


 3 - 2

Shimizu S-Pulse got off to an appalling start this season, which quickly cost coach Jan Jonsson his job. The Wingheads have been through a difficult patch of late, including relegation to the J2 in 2016. This partly reflects the steady decline in support that the team has drawn since the early 2000s, but a more serious concern may be the lack of any coaching stability. Since the end of Afshin Ghotbi's reign, in 2014, the team has gon through five coaches, and only one (Shinji Kobayashi) managed to last two full seasons. Finishing second in the J2 kept him his job, but Kobayashi was canned at the end of the following year.

Jonsson was succeeded by Yamanashi homeboy and former Avispa Fukuoka midfielder Yoshiyuki Shinoda, who has been in the coaching ranks at Avispa, FC Tokyo and S-Pulse for several years, and had a brief stint as Avispa head coach in 2008. Shimizu badly needs some sort of consistency in terms of play style and personnel. So far, Shinoda seems to be doing the job, and his team claimed its fourth win on the trot, Friday Night.

Their guests, Nagoya Grampus, came out strong and actually took the early lead, on a goal by Kazuya Miyahara in the 14th minute. But ten minutes later Kenta Nishizawa restored parity with a running header, after a weak attempted clearance by the Grampus defense.

S-Pulse began to take control of the contest following the restart, and took the lead ten minutes in, thanks in part to a stroke of luck. Elsinho picked up the ball about 30 meters from goal, and when no defender stepped up, decided to fire off a shot. However, the ball clipped his teammate Yosuke Kawai as he crossed in front of Elsinho, and deflected past the keeper, putting S-Pulse in the driver's seat.

Five minutes later Nishizawa finished off a fast break, started by Shota Kaneko, curling his shot inside the right post and putting S-Pulse in a commanding 3-1 lead. Though Grampus would pull one back through Ariajasuru Hasegawa, fifteen minutes from full time, the home team hung on for the full three points, and moved to midtable, presumably safe from the risk of relegation, at last.

Date: 
13 September, 2019
Attendance: 
15,019
Location: 
Nihondaira "IAI" Stadium

  3

1 1H 1
2 2H 1

2  

Kenta Nishizawa (25')
Yosuke Kawai (54') 
Kenta Nishizawa (59') 

 Scoring

Kazuya Miyahara (14')
Ariajasuru Hasegawa (74') 
 
  Cautions  

  Takumi Okubo; Elsinho, Hwang Seok-Ho, Hiroshi Futami, Ko Matsubara; Renato Augusto, Ryo Takeuchi, Shota Kaneko (Yugo Tatsuta 89'), Kenta Nshizawa (Dutra 86'); Yosuke Kawai (Mitsunari Musaka 78'), Douglas .

 Mitch Langerak; Kazuya Miyahara, Shinnosuke Nakatani, Yuichi Maruyama, Yutaka Yoshida (Naoki Maeda 61'); Gabriel Javier, Schmidt. Eduardo Neto (Takuji Yonemoto 60'), Ryuji Izumi; Shuhei Akasaki (Ariajasuru Hasegawa 73'); Joao Alves "Jo" Silva.


 1 - 3  

Last year, Consadole Sapporo were the surprise team of the year, finishing above midtable for the first time in club history, and narrowly missing out on an ACL berth with their fourth-place finish. Coach Mihailo Petrovic has completely remodeled the team, turning it into a serious challenger after two decades of near-total pusillanimity. Petrovic has been hugely influential in Japanese football circles over his 12 seasons as a J.League coach, despite having won only a two titles -- a J2 championship in his first year at Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and a Nabisco Cup with Reds in 2016. Though that record may not be particularly impressive, every team that the Austrian Serb has coached enjoyed dramatic improvement under his tutelage. .

More importantly, Petrovic pioneered the "3-6-1 formation" which has been adopted by half the teams in the league, at one time or another. Despite his record of success, few expected Consadole to achieve much last year, in his first season at the helm. But the Snow Owls of Hokkaido surprised everyone with a storming performance over the latter half of last season, and they have maintained the pace throughout the 2019 campaign (at least up to now). Though currently six points from the final ACL berth and 13 points adrift of FC Tokyo, they still have a fair chance of claiming their first-ever ticket to Asian cup play.

The keys to Consadole's success have been excellent teamwork and the emergence of target men like Anderson Lopes, Jay Bothroyd and Musashi Suzuki as consistent goal-scorers. Together with Thai international Chanathip Songkran, this starting trio of attacking players attracts most of the spotlight, but it is the consistently reliable contributions from the less flashy, less famous Snow Owls that really accounts for the team's good results. Prior to last season, few outside of Hokkaido had heard of players like Kazuki Fukai, Akito Fukumori, Kosuke Shirai or Takuma Nakano, but all have proven themselves capable team players over the past two seasons. The counterattacking nature of the Petrovic 3-6-1 suits Consadole perfectly. Indeed, if they can land one or two top-quality defenders to shore up a somewhat leaky back line, Consadole may be a genuine title contender next year.

Their guests, on Saturday evening, Vegalta Sendai, could tell the Consadole players a few stories about outperforming expectations. In the early "teens", the Golden Eagles of Tohoku went from second-division obscurity to sudden (albeit qualified) success. For three consecutive seasons, Sendai surged out of the starting gate and took the pole position over the first half of the season. Each time, though, they faded in the latter part of the season. Vegalta's run as the League's most surprising underdogs also owed a great deal to unique strategy, solid coaching and good team chemistry. But despite a few close calls, they never managed to claim any silverware. The best finish Sendai ever recorded was second place, in 2012.

Since the departure of coach Makoto Teguramori, at the end of 2014, Vegalta has slipped back down into the lower half of the table. They remain as tough team to beat, but the advanced age of most core players and the lack of a first-class finisher has really hurt the Golden Eagles in recent years. Coming into this week's contest, Vegalta were just one point clear of the relegation zone. The two teams' relative positions was apparent in how they approached the contest -- Vegalta taking a far more aggressive tack over the opening half hour.

Vegalta's efforts would pay off in the 32nd minute, when Ramon Lopes and Shun Nagasawa exchanged some dazzling flicks and heel passes to burst through the Sapporo defense. Gu Sung-Yun made a diving reaction save to block Lopes' shot, but he had no hope of latching on to the ball. Yoshiki Matsushita was just two steps away, and he easily stroked the ball into net before Gu could scramble back to his feet.

Over the years, as opposing coaches develop strategies to counter the Petrovic 3-6-1, the one rule of thumb is that attacking in numbers very early on, taking slight risks in the name of scoring the first goal, is effective ... so long as you do not concede a goal in the process. Petrovic's system was first developed for a young group of players who had just returned from an extended J2 stint. It is defensive by nature, though various coaches have modified it to make it a bit more proactive. The 3-6-1 works best at small teams that play most of their football against stronger opposition, allowing them to focus fully on the counterattack. But as we saw when Petrovic took the system to Urawa, it tends to be less effective when a team is forced to take the initiative, and particularly when it needs to overcome an early deficit.

Vegalta's opening goal shifted the game plans of both teams, and despite a great deal of effort the hosts found it difficult to get any traction in the final 15 minutes of the half. When Consadole came back out of the locker room midfielder Kazuki Fukai had replaced defender Ryota Hayasaka, and Sapporo shifted into a four-back defense. It would seem that even Petrovic now sees the shortcomings of the Petrovic 3-6-1, since Consadole have made this sort of switch on several occasions this year.

Shortly after the break, the increased offensive pressure provided by Consadole's formation change paid off. At the end of an extended Consadole possession, a deflected pass towards the box dropped at the feet of Takuma Arano and the Consadole volante lashed it just inside the right post, restoring parity. But Vegalta responded almost immediately, this time on a set play. Defender Simao Mate rose from the pack and steered a back-header just under the crossbar, to restore Sendai's advantage.

Sapporo again pressed for the equaliser, bringing on a raft of tall players and bombarding the Sendai box with high balls. But with five minutes to play Vegalta won a free kick about 35 meters out, on the right side. Shingo Hyodo delivered a low, one-bounder into the scrum, and Ramon Lopes flicked it into the back netting with his first touch.

Date: 
14 September, 2018
Attendance: 
11,254
Location: 
Atsubetsu Stadium

  1

0 1H 1
1 2H 2

Takuma Arano (50') 

 Scoring

Yoshiki Matsushita (32')
Simao Mate (53') 
Ramon Lopes (85') 
 
Musashi Suzuki
Jay Bothroyd
Cautions Ryohei Michibuchi

Gu Sung-yun; Ryota Hayasaka (Kazuki Fukai 45'), Kim Min-Tae, Akito Fukumori; Lucas Ferenandez, Takuma Arano (Daiki Suga 80'), Yuki Miyazawa, Kosuke Shirai (Anderson Lopes 67'); Musashi Suzuki, Chanathip Songkran; Jay Bothroyd .

 Jakub Slowik; Koji Hachisuka, Simao Mate,Yasuhiro Hiraoka, Katsuya Nagato; Shingo Tomita, Yoshiki Matsushita, Ryohei Michibuchi (Shingo Hyodo 72'), Kunimitsu Sekiguchi (Takayoshi Ishihara 67'); Ramon Lopes, Shun Nagasawa (Ryo Germain 78').

 


 

2 - 1    

Oita Trinita met Shonan Bellmare on Saturday evening, and the best indication of how these two teams are doing is the fact that neither one seems to be at any real risk of relegation . Bellmare is only four points above the final relegation slot, but based on overall performance this season they seem to be safer than either Urawa or Nagoya (who are level on points). The team did face some internal problems recently, as coach Cho Kwi-Jae was accused of harassment. So far, there has been no visible impact on team results -- Bellmare has drawn its last two matches

Oita is a further five points uptable, and even that represents a drop in pace following their explosive start to the season. Unfortunately the team's most influential player this season, Noriaki Fujimoto, was not in the lineup, which certainly blunts the Trinita attack.

The contest remained defensive in nature until just before the intermission, when Trinita caught a bit of a break. Kazushi Mitsuhira received a pass at the top left intersection of penalty arc and box. Though he was closely marked, Mitsuhira immediately fired off a shot, catching both keeper and defender by surprise. The ball caromed off the defender as it left Mitsuhira's boot, sending the keeper the wrong way. The "shot" managed to trickle into the left corner, giving Oita the lead. Just moments later, as Bellmare pushed forward looking for a last-second equaliser, they were caught out by a Trinita steal and counterattack. Ado Onaiwu surged toward goal, and though his shot was parried by the keeper, Kohei Isa was able to head the rebound back on net, and extend the lead to 2-0 at intermission.

That final stumble would prove costly. Bellmare did their best to climb back into the contest, but a two-goal cushion allowed Oita all the security they needed to park the bus and wait out the clock. Ryunosuke Noda did manage to pull one goal back, seven minutes from full time, but the Oita defense was equal to the task of preserving the victory.

Date: 
14 September, 2018
Attendance: 
9,152
Location: 
Oita "Big Eye" Stadium

  2

2 1H 0
0 2H 1

1  

Kazushi Mitsuhira (42')
Kohei Isa (45+1') 

 Scoring

Ryunosuke Noda (82')   
  Cautions Daiki Kaneko

Shun Takagi; Yuto Misao, Yoshinori Suzuki, Jun Okano (Kaoru Takayama 90'); Toshio Shimakawa, Hiroki Kobayashi, Rei Matsumoto, Tatsuya Tanaka; Kohei Isa (Shintaro Shimada 45'), Kazushi Mitsuhira (Kazuki Kozuka 65'), Ado Onaiwu .

Yota Akimoto; Keisuke Okamoto, Keisuke Saka, Kazunari Ono; Shota Kobayashi (Miki Yamane 80'), Mitsuki Saito (Shunsuke Kikuchi 45'), Daiki Kaneko, Daiki Sugioka; Naoki Yamada (Ryunosuke Noda 66'), Ryogo Yamazaki, Tsukasa Umesaki .

 


 

2 - 0

The marquee match of the weekend saw first-place FC Tokyo travel across the hurricane-battered eastern suburbs of Kanto to take on second-place Kashima Antlers. Tokyo held a four-point edge over Kashima coming into the weekend, and despite a slight lull in recent performance, the Coondogs of the Capital City seem to lead a charmed existence this season. After years of mediocrity, Tokyo has finally put all the pieces together under veteran coach Kenta Hasegawa, and popular sentiment seems to be backing them as the preferred candidate for this year's league championship.

Tokyo's brisk start to the 2019 season has been welcomed enthusiastically by football fans across the country. The traditionally fickle fans of the nation's capital are jumping on board the bandwagon, while most other J1 fans probably have Tokyo down as their second-favourite team this year. This is the first time that Tokyo has ever had a genuine title candidate (Verdy's glory years took place before the team moved from Kawasaki to Tokyo). In the first half of the season, the enthusiasm was heightened by the presence of teenage sensation Takefusa Kubo, who signed with Real Madrid over the summer. So it is no surprise that Tokyo's early-season form was abetted by generous officiating and a wave of support among neutral fans(they have been awarded seven PKs this season, more than any other team) . The entire league seems to recognize the benefits that would accrue from having a title contender in the country's most populous urban center. So far, at least, the Coondogs are the popular favourite to hang on to first place.

A similar wave of positive sentiment helped carry Frontale to their first league title, two years ago. Last year's championship (2018) was thoroughly deserved, as no other team came close to playing as effectively as a team. Yet it is hard to deny that the Blue Dolphins were helped along in 2017 by the overwhelming sentiment favoring them to claim their first title ever, rather than see Kashima claim their ninth league crown in 25 seasons.

But despite the lead they currently enjoy, Tokyo still face an uphill battle. The J.League has always been tough on the league leader, and when clubs build a significant cushion early in the season, they often find that the calls which were going their way at the start of the year begin to turn against them. FC Tokyo has never been in a title chase before, so they also lack the important qualities of poise and self-control which so often make the difference between success and failure, over the stretch run. With this in mind, coach Hasegawa was keen to claim victory over their closest pursuer, in the head-to-head battle on Saturday.

Tokyo could not have timed this top-of-the-table challenge any better. Kashima not only is weakened by the recent departure of three National-Team-calibre players (Hiroki Abe, Yuma Suzuki and Koki Anzai), but they also face a critical ACL home match on Wednesday against Guangzhou Evergrande. Traditionally, the Antlers have always placed the domestic campaign ahead of ACL play, in importance, but last season they finally shifted priorities and claimed their first continental title. Back-to-back AFC titles would be unprecedented, so there were strong reasons for coach Go Oiwa to rest key players in this week's J1 contest and keep them fresh for Wednesday's showdown.

The game could not have started any better for the home team. On the first corner kick of the contest, just two minutes after kickoff, defender Bueno sent a side-header inside the far post and gave Kashima the early advantage. This opening tally would prove crucial, as it allowed the Antlers players to focus on containing Tokyo's many offensive weapons, saving their offensive efforts for the occasional counterattack. For over two decades the Antlers have been reknowned for their ability to sit on a lead and wait for the moment to land a knockout punch. There may be a lot of fresh faces on the team, these days, but their skill at exploiting a lead is as sharp as ever.

For their part, the Tokyo players did not let the early tally push them out of their game plan. While pressing for an equaliser, the visitors remained wary of the Antlers' ability to strike back suddenly and decisively. And so the dance developed over the next hour of play. Parry-jab, parry-jab, jab-parry up and down the pitch. Though the defenses of both teams were stretched and probed, there were few real clear-cut chances for either. FC Tokyo failed to even get a shot on net.

The second half began with little change in the rhythm, apart from an even further decline in Tokyo's scoring opportunities. Kento Misao did a bounty-hunter's job of locking up Kensuke Nagai and denying him any chance to use his speed., and Tomoya Inukai was almost as effective at containing Diego Oliveira. Tokyo's best chances on the day were all set play opportunities.

As the contest moved into its final third, the Antlers began to exploit their counterattacking chances more and more effectively, taking advantage of Tokyo's extended defense. Sho Ito and Leo Silva both were denied a clean run on goal only by last-ditch defensive intervention. Finally, in the 78th minute, the killer blow struck. Leo Silva and Shintaro Nago exchanged several passes in the right channel, looking for an opening, when suddenly Serginho shouted for the ball from a position just above the penalty arc. Nago's pass found him immediately, less than 30 yards out, with no immediate marker. Before anyone could block his lane, Serginho fired a rising shot that scraped paint off the inside of the left post and swished into the strings.

The Antlers victory cuts FC Tokyo's lead atop the table to just a single point. The two other teams still in close contention -- Yokohama Marinos and Kawasaki Frontale -- will be thankful to see someone rein in Tokyo, though it is arguable whether having Kashima in front of them is any relief. With eighth games remaining, Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Cerezo Osaka are not entirely out of the picture, either. Regardless of who you support, this week's results made the J1 campaign just a bit more suspenseful.

Date: 
14 September, 2019
Attendance: 
27,285
Location: 
Kashima Stadium

  2

1 1H 0
1 2H 0

0  

Bueno (02')
Serginho (78') 

 Scoring

   
Kento Misao Cautions Sei Muroya

 Kwoun Sun-Tae; Kei Koizumi, Bueno, Tomoya Inukai, Yuta Koike; Yuto Misao (Jung Seung-Hyun 81'), Leo Silva, Serginho, Ryohei Shirasaki (Shintaro Nago 45'); Shoma Doi, Sho Ito (Ayase Ueda 70').

 Akihiro Hayashi; Sei Muroya, Tsuyoshi Watanabe, Masato Morishige, Jang Hyun-soo; Kotaro Omori (Na Sang-ho 66'), Yotaro Takahagi, Keigo Higashi; Diego Oliveira (Kyosuke Tagawa 79'), Kensuke Nagai (Jael 79').

 


 

3 - 0 

Surely no one would have predicted this at the start of the season, but this week featured not only a table-top clash between first- and second-place teams, but also a head-to-head between third and fourth places. Both Marinos and Sanfrecce have slipped off the pace a bit, but even if the gap to first-place FC Tokyo looks daunting, the competition for the third-place ACL berth is enough to have made this a high-stakes matchup.

Sanfrecce look quite different from the team that won three titles in four years, but under coach Hiroshi Jofuku they have solidified their position as a perennial force to be reckoned with. Last year they raced out to an early lead, only to fall flat in the stretch and finish second. This year they have been a bit more pressed for goals, but they are still in contention for the title.

The Marinos are a bit unexpectedly in third place, but this year they appear ready to reclaim their credentials as one of the J.League's top clubs. The last time Yokohama won the league was 2004, and though they finished second in 2013, that was followed by one of the weakest runs in team history.

The performance slump seems to have finally come to the notice of the Marinos' chief investment partner, Manchester City Group. Last season they appear to have been instrumental in brokering the deal that brought Ange Postecoglou to Japan. The former Australia NT boss needed most of last season to find his bearings in Japan, figure ought which elements of his favoured strategy will and will not work against J.League opposition, and drill his entire squad in the unique, and highly entertaining style of play that he prefers. But a 12th-place finish was a very poor representation of how competitive the team had become by the close of the 2018 season.

This year, the Bay City Seagulls got off to a flying start, thrilling fans with their exuberant play while hanging around the top of the table all year. Ange's preferred strategy is a high-risk, high-reward mixture of high pressing and sudden forward balls from the back line. However, Ange obviously does have a Plan B. Against Sanfrecce -- a team that likes to sit in a defensive shell, and counterattacks as well as anyone in the league -- the Marinos largely abandoned their usual high-press tactics. Instead, they adopted a defend-and-counter stance of their own, and took turns with the Purple Archers, trying to craft a way through a tight defense.

Following a scoreless first half, the contest roared to life after Intermission. Marinos switched suddenly back to the hard press, and Sanfrecce responded with long passes down the wings. The result was a sequence of frenetic back-and-forth rushes in the opening minutes of the second half. The Marinos did their best to push the pace and take advantage of their speedy dribblers up front, while Sanfrecce clearly preferred to build up into attack carefully, settling into a comfortable rhythm and avoiding the risk of Marinos counters.

When it was clear that the run-and-gun was not going to get behind Sanfrecce's defensive block, the Marinos demonstrated that they also have the ability to slow the pace, maintain possession and use quick one-two passing exchanges to break down Sanfrecce. Over the next 15 minutes the two teams traded jabs, each trying to unlock the other's defense. Gradually but perceptibly, Yokohama took control of the game.

Then, In the 67th minute the Marinos'probing pressure finally found a crack. Theerathon Bunmathan picked up a ball on the left wing and saw Keita Endo preparing to cut behind his marker. Theerathon's pass was perfect, slicing Sanfrecce's exposed belly wide open. Endo sent his first touch across the face of goal, and Teruhito Nakagawa stabbed it past the keeper, to break the deadlock at last.

The opening goal altered the balance of play completely. As soon as Sanfrecce were forced to press men forward, and open up space at the back, the Marinos counterattack began to find open space for their pell-mell rushes. For about ten minutes the visitors made some headway in their search for an equaliser. But with so many speedy Seagulls ready to snatch up scraps, it was only a matter of time before the Sanfrecce defense was ripped to shreds.

When the insurance goal did mterialize, in the 81st minute, it came out of nowhere. A deflected ball bounded between several players at the top left corner of the penalty area, and Theerathon decided to just take a whack at it. The ball skimmed off the leg of a defender and shot unerringly through a postage-stamp-sized window at the low left post. Yet another counterattack broke out two minutes later, and though defender Yuki Nogami blocked Mateus' attempted ball across the face of goal, the ball caromed off Nogami's outstretched arm. The referee was right on the play, and he pointed immediately to the penalty spot, allowing Mateus to lower the curtain on Sanfrecce with a third goal.

Date: 
14 September, 2019
Attendance: 
12,581
Location: 
Mitsuzawa (Nippatsu) Stadium

  3

0 1H 0
3 2H 0

0  

Teruhito Nakagawa (67')
Theerathon Bunmathan (81') 
Mateus (89') 

 Scoring

   
Theerathon Bunmathan
Takuya Kida
Cautions Toshihiro Aoyama
Keisuke Osako
Yuki Nogami
 

 


 

    2 - 0

Reigning champions Kawasaki Frontale surged out of the gate in pursuit of a third straight league crown, and as the weather warmed there were plenty of hopeful fans in eastern Kanagawa cultivating hopes of making it three in a row. But the Blue Dolphins got stranded on a beach in late July and it took them a month to break out of the morass. The team went five matches without a win in August, and by the time the summer heat broke, they were slipping gradually out of the picture, even for an ACL berth.

Fortunately, this week's opponent is in even worse shape. Jubilo Iwata has earned just one point from the six matches played since the team fired Hiroshi Nanami as head coach. With 13 points between themselves and safety, it looks like the Blue Budgies will be spending next season in the J2.

Frontale put this contest into a lockbox with just a brief flash of intensity, midway through the first half. In the 21st minute, Hidemasa Morita stepped into a passing lane and snatched the ball near midfield, dribbled forward a few steps and fed the ball to Yasuto Wakizaka, at the top of the arc with his back to goal. Feeling no pressure on his back, Wakizaka spun about and fired a line drive, about a foot off the ground. The shot was so sudden that Krysztov Kaminski was caught out. With a desperate dive to his left the managed to get a finger to it, but the ball spilled underneath his gloves and the home team were on the scoreboard.

There followed a torrid spell in which Jubilo were lucky not to concede three or four times in ten minutes. At last, in the 35th minute, Mawatari launched the play that would secure victory with a looping ball over the top, towards Yu Kobayashi. The Frontale ace headed the ball down at the right post, for Kazuya Yamamura, and Yamamura lashed it just inside the post. That was all the offense Kawasaki needed to put away the J!'s last place team.

Date: 
14 September, 2019
Attendance: 
22,571
Location: 
Todoroki Stadium

  2

2 1H 0
0 2H 0

0  

Yasuto Wakizaka (21')
Kazuya Yamamura (35') 

 Scoring

   
Shogo Taniguchi Cautions Takuma Ominami
Musaev
 

 


 

 2 - 1

Report will be posted shortly

Date: 
14 September, 2018
Attendance: 
20,215
Location: 
Kobe (Noevir) Stadium

  2

1 1H 0
1 2H 1

1  

David Villa (13')
Keijiro Ogawa (80') 

 Scoring

Serginho (90+3')   
  Cautions  
 

 


 

  1 - 0   

Report will be posted shortly

Date: 
14 September, 2018
Attendance: 
23,287
Location: 
Suita (Panasonic) Stadium

  1

0 1H 0
1 2H 0

0  

Kazuma Watanabe (84') 

 Scoring

   
Kosuke Onose Cautions  
 

 


 

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