Written by Matsu


March 3, 2018

Not So Good Friday 

The J.League's introduction of Friday night matches, this season, was met with some skepticism by teams worried that they may have difficulty attracting fans to the stadium on a workday. Friday night games have become quite popular in Europe, and they will no doubt be helpful to DAZN, by spreading their broadcast schedule over a larger number of days. However, Japanese attitudes towards work and leisure are "more than slightly" different from those in Europe. Even temporary workers are usually loathe to leave work at exactly 5:00 PM, lest their colleagues start to haze them for lack of dedication. As for professionals and "salarymen", leaving work before 7:00PM on a workday is something that one does only if they have a very solid reason, such as an event or ceremony involving a family member, or some health crisis. 

This Friday Kawasaki Frontale managed to draw a reasonable crowd of 22,000 to their match against Shonan Bellmare. However, not only is Todoroki Stadium located in prime commuting distance from the major downdown areas of Kawasaki, Tokyo and Yokohama, but being a derby contest, this match drew fans from BOTH Kanagawa teams' home bases. The other two matches were poorly attended, and one wonders if this is a sign of problems to come. Cerezo's Nagai Stadium and Reysol's Hitachi Kashiwa Stadium are both relatively convenient. One has to wonder what sort of crowds will show up at venues like Toyota (Nagoya Grampus), Kashima (Antlers) or Hiroshima Big Arch (Sanfrecce), which are difficult to get to even on a weekend.

 Anyway, the three Friday night contests were all exciting, but only one team managed to claim a victory.

1 - 1

Kawasaki Frontale claimed their first victory of the new season last weekend, and many hailed it as a sign that the defending champions were primed for a title defense. If you consider league contests only, the win extended a streak of winning form that carried Frontale through the final month of the season and allowed them to overtake Kashima Antlers on the final day. But that record is a bit deceptive, since the Blue Dolphins actually lost three contests in a row in February, losing their first two ACL contests as well as the Xerox Super Cup game against Cerezo Osaka. ACL duty often has a negative impact on the early form of J.League teams involved in the continental competition, so many fans are watching with great interest to see whether Kawasaki will continue to accord secondary importance to the ACL, and focus on repeating as J.League champions.

Frontale's opponent on Friday evening was the recently promoted Shonan Bellmare. While the Beach Boys of the Shonan Shoreline are tipped as a likely relegation candidate this year, the Kanagawa Derby between these two has historically been a tough one for Frontale. Indeed, since coach Cho Kwi-jae took over as the Bellmare boss, Shonan has been a notoriously difficult opponent for even the top J1 teams to break down. Only their meagre goal production has held the team back. True to form, Bellmare administered a lot of physical pressure over the opening half of the contest, and one early challenge caused left wingback Eduardo to limp off after just 19 minutes, to be replaced by Tatsuki Nara.

As the contest progressed, Bellmare seemed to grow in confidence, and over the opening ten minutes of the second half they created a number of decent scring opportunities of ther own. But in the 56th minute Frontale struck from out of nowhere. Veteran Akihiro Ienaga was carrying the ball tentatively towards the top of the box on the left side, and there was no sign that he might be inclined to challenge the Shonan defense. Suddenly Iemoto drew back his left foot and unexpectedly fired a low line drive into the penalty area. Ienaga had spotted Yu Kobayashi making a sudden dash through the middle, taking advantage of Bellmare's temporary complacency. The cross was placed in perfect range for the Frontale captain, hanging right at head height as it curled across the six yard box . Kobayashi's sprint took him a half-step ahead of his defender and he met the cross with a powerful header that ripped into the back strings before keeper Yota Akimoto even knew what was happening.

But Bellmare responded quickly, with a surge of offensive pressure. After winning a corner kick on the left side, ten minutes later, they climbed back into the contest. Defender Andre Bahia rose high at the penalty spot and headed the ball down, right onto the boots of Riku Matsuda, standing almost on the goal line. Before the defense could react Matsuda spun about and fired a shot into the right side netting, to knot the score.

As the clock ticked down the final minutes of regular time, Shonan had a brilliant chance to claim the win as a long clearance sent three fleet-footed Bellmare players off on a dash towards goal. But Shota Arai did well to smother the shot, and keep the contest on level terms. Neither team managed to threaten in injury time, and the contest ended in a 1-1 draw.

2 March, 2018
Todoroki Stadium


0 1H 0
1 2H 1


Yu Kobayashi (66') Scoring Riku Matsuda (76')
Akihiro Ienaga Cautions Shunsuke Kikuchi
Daiki Sugioka


Shota Arai; Edilson, Shogo Taniguchi, Eduardo (Tatsuki Nara 19'), Shintaro Kurumaya; Edwardo Neto, Tyota Oshima, Kengo Nakamura (Hiroyuki Abe 83'), Akihiro Iemoto; Kei Chinen (Yoshito Okubo 69'), Yu Kobayashi .
Yota Akimoto; Yamane, Andre Bahia, Kazunari Ono; Takuya Okamoto (Mihael Mikic 57'), Shunki Ishikawa, Akino, Daiki Sugioka; Shunsuke Kikuchi, Lee Jeong-Hyeop (Ryunosuke Noda 88') ; Tenma Matsuda (Genta Omotehara 82') .

3 - 3

Cerezo started their season well, with a stirring victory over Kawasaki Frontale in the Xerox Super Cup. But that result was partly a reflection of the brilliant game plan adopted for the clash with last year's champions -- an unusually tight formation that we have not seen repeated in subsequent contestsNo doubt this reflects the excessive energy and focus required to implement such a game plan. However, since reverting to a looser formation, longer passes and more individualistic builup work, the results have not been quite as impressive.

This week, in their home opener against Consadole Sapporo, Cerezo came out with a rush of early pressure and some quick shots, but as Consadole settled into a comforatable defensive posture, the offensive pressure weakened and Sapporo began to settle into their own game plan. The most interesting feature of Consadole's play in the first two weeks of this season has been their decision NOT to adopt the three-back defensive alignment pioneered by veteran coach Mihailo Petrovic, first at Sanfrecce and then at Urawa Reds. Though the defensive midfielders do drop deep when the opposition has the ball, producing a five, or even six-back line, Sapporo's default alignment is more of a 4-5-1, with Koji Miyoshi and Chanathip Songkran playing in attack and supporting Jay Bothroyd as the lone striker.

Though Cerezo maintained a relatively loose formation overall, they did occasionally try to push large numbers of attacking players into the vicinity of the box, to create numerical mismatches. As the attacking unit carried the ball into deep Sapporo territory, a cluster of five or six players would swarm into a very small zone, equivalent to about half of the penalty area, and then exchange quick, short passes to try to dismantle the defensive structure.. This strategy finally produced results in the 27th minute, when Toshiyuki Takagi took the ball into the left corner and five teammates all swarmed into the near (left) side of the Consadole box. The lucky recipient of Takagi's low cross was Kenyu Sugimoto, who spun towards the middle to elude his defender, then cut a shot back into the low left corner of goal. Keeper Gu Sung-Young could not react quickly enough to keep it out, and the Pink Wolfpack took the early lead.

Consadole responded well to the early setback, and over the next ten minutes both Chanathip and Miyoshi demonstraetd their individual dribbling prowess, creating disruption in the Cerezo penalty area. However, they were unable to find a teammate in position to create a shot, or find a shooting lane themselves. As the intermission approached, Cerezo struck once on a lovely quick counterattack after Consadole gave the ball away in their own end. Yoichiro Kakitani snatched up the loose ball and surged through the left channel, and as the defence collapsed on him, flicked a backheel to Takagi as he crossed behind Kakitani and into the centre. Kakitani's backheel sent Takagi into wide open space directly in front of goal, and the recent acquisition from Urawa Reds was able to extend Cerezo's lead with the easiest of side-footers.

Though the home team seemed to be in comfortable position as the second half began, Consadole was not ready to call it a night. Though a set play header by Jay Bothroyd in the 55th minute was waved off for offside, as the clock reached the hour mark the Snow Owls finally found the target. A long pass from the back line was settled in the right corner by Miyoshi, just above the top of the penalty box. As the defenders reacted to cover the huge target of Bothroyd, moving for the far post, Chanathip dashed behind the Cerezo defense towards the near side of goal. . The diminutive Thai met the ball with a clancing header that skidded past the keeper and into the far side netting.

The sudden change of momentum knocked Cerezo onto their heels, and over the next few minutes Consadole had a series of opportunities. In the 69th minute Consadole won a free kick from about 35 meters, on the left sideline. The first delivery was headed clear into the right corner. However, Chanathip recycled the ball quickly, collecting it and feeding it back to Ryosuke Shindo, who delivered the ball from a position level with the original free kick, but on the opposite sideline. This time the cross found Kazuki Fukai, straight out from goal. The Consadole Youth product met the ball with a stooping header and drove it into the low left corner, pulling Consadole level.

Cerezo counterpunched immediately, and just two minutes later a long clearance by Souza sent Kakitani and Kota Mizunuma away on a two-on-two gallop. Mizunuma collected the clearance and raced upfield with the ball long enough to draw the defenders towards him. As soon as they committed their attention, he released a lead pass for Kakitani to chase, The Cerezo striker measured the stranded keeper as he romped through the open pasture, and flicked the ball over his head, restoring Cerezo's lead.

But Consadole again battled back on a set play, this time a corner kick from the right side. Akito Fukumori's cross found Ryosuke Shindo at the far post, and his bounding header snuck into the top left corner, just beyond the keeper's fingertips. The Snow Owls nearly took the lead themselves on another corner kick, just a few minutes later. But after Bothroyd's headed the ball down in front of goal, Chanathip's spinning shot was was blasted over the bar.

Over the final ten minutes the two teams battled back and forth in a furious search for the winner. The visitors seemed to have the upper hand, as they repeatedly created set plays for themselves and used them to pound the ball at the Cerezo goal. But in the end, neither one was able to land the knockout punch, and the contest ended on even terms.

2 March, 2018
Nagai "Kincho" Stadium


2 1H 0
1 2H 3


Kenyu Sugimoto (27')
Toshiyuki Takagi (43')
Yoichiro Kakitani (72')
Scoring Chanathip (61')
Kazuki Fukai (69')
Ryosuke Shindo (79')
Riku Matsuda Cautions Koji Miyoshi
Daiki Suga


Kim Jin Hyeon; Riku Matsuda, Yusuke Maruhashi, Yasuki Kimoto (Eiichi Katayama 86'), Matej Jonjic; Hotaru Yamaguchi, Kota Mizunuma, Souza; Yoichiro Kakitani (Yang Dong-Byong 84'), Kenyu Sugimoto; Toshiyuki Takagi (Kazuya Yamamura 68').
Gu Sung-Yun; Ryosuke Shindo, Kim Min-Tae, Akito Fukumori; Yoshiaki Komai (Ryota Hayasaka 84'), Hiroki Miyazawa (Shingo Hyodo 45'), Kazuki Fukai (Naoki Ishikawa 82'), Daiki Suga, Koji Miyoshi, Chanathip Songkran; Jay Bothroyd .

2 - 0  

Incoming coach Ange Postecoglou is still looking for his first win as the new man in charge of Yokohama F. Marinos, after a tense but essentially one-sided loss to Kashiwa Reysol at Kashiwa Stadium. Despite kicking off a half-hour later than the other two contests, the match drew only 10,000 to Reysol's usually packed home venue.

The Marinos adopted a four-back lineup for this contest, apparently indicating that the skills of the personnel available have convinced Ange to forego his favoured three-back system, at least for the time being. Against the potent Reysol offense, this was probably for the best. In the early stages of play, it even seemed to be creating some offensive opportunities as wingbacks Ken Matsubara and Ryosuke Yamanaka used their experience and ball skills to work their way into the corners and send in crosses. Unfortunately, though, the opposition has one of the best keepers in Japan at present, in NT prospect Kosuke Nakamura. Supported by a relatively young and athletic back four, the Reysol defensive unit had no problem clearing away all the high balls to the middle.

On a positive note, by using very straightforward tactics, the Marinos avoided exposing themselves to counterattacks, which are really the forte of this Kashiwa team. But even though the Sun-Kings were not able to attack with swift thrusts, as is their preference, the dribbling skills of Junya Ito and Cristiano were dangerous enough to keep the Marinos back line on their toes throughout the first half. Yuji Nakzawa was extremely fortunate not to be called for a foul in the box when he bowled over Ito just berfore the halftime break. Mr. Kimura apparently awarded the benefit of the doubt to the veteran, and the contest remained scoreless at intermission.

But the Marinos fortunes would not last much past the intermission. Three minutes into the second half, Junya Ito won the ball back after he had been dispossessed on one run around the right flank, and this time used a clever one-two exchange to send Kei Koizumi slanting towards the top of the area. Koizumi used another one-two with Cristiano to surge into the box, and managed to pry the ball away from Nakazawa when the veteran defender came in for the challenge. Skipping after the loose ball, Koizumi reached it just ahead of the outrushing keeper and poked it into the empty net.

This tally changed the dynamics of play in Reysol's favor, as they were now able to sit back and force the Marinos to come at them, then counterattack into space. Midway through the second half Ito pulled the Marinos defense asunder with a swerving run across the top of the box, and then fed the ball through into space as Otani dashed past the onside trap on the left side of the box. Iikura rushed off his line forcing Otani to shoot before he was fully ready, but the bounding ball hit Ken Matsubara in the heel, and up towards his chest. As the Marinos defender tried desperately to twist his body and avoid hitting it with his hand, he accidentally bundled it into his own net.

Thereafter, Kashiwa seemed to pack it in, perhaps hoping to save energy for the ACL campaign. Neither team really threatened down the stretch, and Reysol collected the home victory.

2 March, 2018
Kashiwa Stadium


0 1H 0
2 2H 0


Kei Koizumi (47')
Own goal (75')
Kei Koizumi
Ataru Esaka


Kosuke Nakamura; Koike, Kamata, Park Jeong-Su, Yun Seouk-Young; Kei Koizumi, Hajime Hosogai, Kim Bo-Kyong; Junya Ito, Ataru Esaka, Cristiano .
Hiroki Iikura; Ken Matsubara, Yuji Nakazawa, Milos Degenikj, Ryosuke Yamanaka; Takuya Kida, Kosuke Nakamachi (Sho Ito 76'), Jun Amano (David Bamunski 76'), Keita Endo (Ippei Shinozuka 70'); Hugo Vieira, Yun Il-Lok .
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