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MATCH

2020 MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE 2nd Sec - Tokyo Verdy vs FC Machida Zelvia

Match Report

Match Report

At last, weekend football has returned to our lives. J-2 has reconvened, the first of the J-League’s tournaments to do so. In the interest of preventing further spread of COVID-19, matches were rescheduled to keep travel to a minimum and as a result, Vedry’s home opener was now the season’s first leg of the TOKYO CLASSIC, putting them against rivals FC Machida Zelvia.

 

Since the Verdy training grounds had also been closed to visitors as a precaution against the virus and no information had been released to the media about injuries, the starting lineup included many surprises. The team’s new marquee signing, Yoshito Okubo, was left out of the squad due to an injury picked up after activities had resumed. Leandro was also absent, despite having recently participated in training.

 

The tail of Verdy’s formation on this day consisted of Takahiro Shibasaki in goal, along with Masashi Wakasa, Shohei Takahashi and Tomohiro Taira as a back three. Yuta Narawa also joined the back line when the team was not in possession and played farther forward when in attack, making for an overall asymmetric shape. Meanwhile, Joel Chima Fujita sat at the base of midfield with Yuhei Sato and Haruya Ide in front of him. Shion Inoue was registered as a forward and played a free role, often dropping into midfield, while Jin Hanato occupied the front line, accompanied by the team’s leading goal-scorer from the previous year, Junki Koike, on the right wing. The latter was assigned the role of providing extra width to the formation, in order to stretch the defense.

 

The match began in the worst possible way. In the 3rd minute, Hirato was allowed to face forward with the ball in the right corner of the Verdy penalty area and the defense were made to pay for a moment’s hesitation when the Machida player curled a stunning midrange shot into the top left corner to give the opposition the lead. Following the opener, Verdy would maintain possession for nearly the entire match. Moving the ball well and stretching the defense, they pushed several times into the final third and put pressure on goal by attacking from the wide areas. One might see this as a sign that the opposition were content to sit back and allow Verdy to move the ball, but on this day, the team did not merely exchange aimless passes. There was a clear intent to earn a goal and the players moved the ball in every direction as they evaded pressure and looked for opportunities to play through balls behind the defense. In the 22nd minute, Ide lifted the ball into the box for Hanato to head down at the post. Inoue then pounced on the loose ball and dribbled before hitting a midrange shot, injecting an extra air of threat to a team had previously been known for trying to pass the ball into the back of the net. While they failed to earn a goal, Verdy continually involved multiple players in the attack, moving the ball with quick touches, and creating several opportunities. The back three also did well to maintain a high defensive line, with both Takahashi and Taira frequently recovering loose balls and when the half came to a close, Verdy had earned 70% of the possession.

 

At half time, the manager made his first move, bringing on Kanya Fujimoto to make his return to the pitch for the first time since August 11th of the previous season. Koike was also taken off and replaced with Ryoya Yamashita. Both of these substitutions would have an immediate impact. In the 51st minute, Fujimoto, now wearing the captain’s armband, played an inch-perfect through pass with his left foot, creating space for Yamashita to run on the right and drill a low cross in front of goal. With the keeper unable to leave his line, the ball reached the far post and was met by an unmarked by Hanato, but the Verdy player was unable to control his shot and saw his effort fly over the bar. Verdy had now spurned a big chance, but they still controlled the pace of the match. In the 56th minute, Hanato’s post work drew a foul and earned the team a direct free kick that was taken by Sato. However, his effort could not quite get past the opposition wall and reach the goal. In the 32nd minute, Taira played a long ball from his own half to Narawa who had burst forward with acres of space on the wide left. Narawa played the ball down first time to Sato, who in turn chipped to Hanato. Hanato then played the ball with impeccable timing to the feet of Narawa. who had made a late run into the box. Narawa seemed to be trying to turn his defender by breaking to the left, but in the end, he faced a difficult angle and his shot on goal was saved by the keeper.

 

Although Verdy continued to control the play and push up from the back, they approached the 45-minute mark of the second half still down a goal. With the clock just having entered into additional time, Narawa received the ball in a deeper position and floated a tentative long ball forward. Hanato was able to receive the pass, while fighting off a defender challenging from behind, and spotted Yamashita preparing for a run to the inside. Hanato then hit a perfect heel pass through the legs of the defender and as Yamashita attempted to control the ball with his first touch, a late challenge impeded his run and gave Verdy a penalty kick in the dying minutes. It was the recovered Fujimoto who set the ball at the penalty spot. Although the timing of his run up was slightly out of synch with the referee’s whistle, his low effort still managed to beat the keeper and find the left corner of the net to earn the team a draw.

 

Today’s match came four weeks after the resumption of regular team activity and despite the hard training and injuries to several key players, the match still provided evidence of the club’s progress in achieving Manager Nagai’s goal of ‘always painting the same picture, no matter who is on the pitch’. In particular, Hanato’s performance was key, as his activity on the ball created several opportunities for shots on goal. Despite missing a big opportunity himself, it was also Hanato’s tricky pass that led to the penalty which enabled the team to earn an equalizer. Ide, who played on this day in a role similar to a false 9, also stood out, contributing with not only his passing but also his ability to maintain precise control as he ran at the defense, providing an extra dose of attacking threat. While the team had chances to earn the full three points and some frustration remains, the match was also evidence of rapid improvement in style. Now, the players must embark on a series of away matches and pile up victories before returning home.

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Post-match comments

Manager Hideki Nagai

Your thoughts on the match?
We gave up a goal in the opening minutes, which was not part of our plan, but I think the players did well to express the kind of football we want to play. They did so for the full 90 minutes. I’m glad that we were able to pick up a point, thanks to the late penalty kick, but in terms of controlling the ball and what must be done after that, we’ve been trying new things since the mid-point of last season and there is still a lot of improvement to be made on our precision and ability to break down the defense.

Can you tell us why key attacking players like Yoshito Okubo and Leandro were left out of the squad?
It was a condition problem. I don’t think either of them are in too terrible a state. We hope to have them back as soon as possible.

During the first half, you played with a back three and two holding midfielders during buildup. Shion Inoue was registered as a forward, but he was used in central midfield, while Yuhei Sato seemed to be playing as more of a shadow striker. Can you tell us your intent?
I think it might appear differently to different sets of eyes. Compared to how we usually line up, it was probably a bit more flexible of a system, at least on the left side. That mostly had to do with the fact that Machida defend in two blocks, with a strict 4-4-2, and I made slight adjustments to the way we lined up so we could have a better chance of breaking them down. As far as Shion (Inoue) and Joel (Chima Fujita) are concerned, again it will look different to different sets of eyes, but in certain situations they played as a double pivot and in others, we aimed to play Shion as a false free man, or at least an extra free man. It was a difficult task for Shion and with that in mind, I thought he performed wonderfully, especially in the first half.

How did you feel about playing in a remote match (empty stadium)?
It was a strange feeling and I had worried about how it would affect the players’ motivation, but I am happy to say that they all had a positive attitude. In terms of how it affects the work of the coaching staff, it’s a lot easier for our voices to be heard and we can issue direct instructions, which made things easier. Still, it’s the fans that make the J League what it is and I think it is best for the players when they can take the pitch in front of an audience or supporters.

Certainly, it does make it easier for your instructions to be heard, but can’t the other team hear them as well? Did you have any worries about that?
It did concern me, but I want the players to understand what I require of them and what vision I have in mind. I know they can hear me in these circumstances, so I can’t help but express myself. It’s true that the opposition will hear everything, but I always tell the players to engage the opposition in what they’re doing, anyway. At times, I even purposefully allow myself to be heard.

Kanya Fujimoto made his first official appearance since his injury last season. Can you tell us why you decided to wait until half time to bring him on, what instructions you gave him, and how you rate his ability to convert that penalty kick under pressure?
He had been injured and undergoing rehabilitation for a long period, so we want to be as careful as possible. He is one of the players on the team with a 100% understanding of the kind of football I want us to play and deserves to be a core member of the squad. I will continue to be careful with his minutes, but as long as he is on the pitch, there is no doubt that the team’s performance will improve, so we are looking forward to seeing more of him. As far as the penalty kick was concerned, he is the captain and the coaching staff don’t assign kickers, so I’m sure the players decided that he should take it. Of course, I was confident that he would convert and he did so, earning a result for the team. I’m truly happy for him. In terms of half-time instructions, I know that he is excellent at playing through passes, so I told him from what areas of the pitch I wanted him to do so, as well as when and in what fashion. In addition, just before leaving the locker room for the second half, I pulled the players in a circle and talked about how Kanya was playing his first match in 7 or 8 months, so let’s do our best to make it a positive return. The veteran players did a good job of spreading that message and I think it put us in good spirit to begin the second half.

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Post-match comments

MF 8Kanya Fujimoto

How did it feel to take that penalty near the goal where home supporters would usually have been?
There wasn’t much time left, so I was determined to get the team a point from the match.

How did it feel to be back on the pitch after so long an absence and after the recent break in league activity?
Both myself and the team as a whole had been unable to play for a long period, so I personally felt very happy when I stood on the pitch and there were several moments during the match that made me feel glad to be back. I think everyone felt that way and we were able to express the feelings that built during the lay-off on the pitch.

In the first half, the team had overwhelming dominance of possession but were unable to create many chances. Watching from the bench, what did you think of the circumstances and how did you plan to make an impact when you took the pitch?
We dominated the ball for a long period in the first half and I think we achieved about half of what we consider to be our ideal game, but we weren’t able to claim a goal and Machida scored the opener. I realized that playing well meant nothing at that point, so when I entered the match in the second half, I was determined to connect passes myself, run at the defense, and try to break them down. There were other players like Jin (Hanato) or Yuhei (Sato) on the pitch that have skills similar to myself and we stayed in communication, building combinations between two, three or four of us at a time. I had hoped that would open up the defense.

Tell us what steps you think are necessary to improve the team’s attack?
I think we need to generate more shots on goal. More shots, more direct runs and other strong actions will lead to more chances. I hope we can do that more in the next match. We have no problem dominating possession, so I hope I we can also improve our habits in defense at the beginning of matches.

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MF 20Shion Inoue

How does it feel to have finished your first match in a while?
A number of people worked hard in a number of ways to enable us to play today, so I would first like to express my gratitude to them. I also wanted to put on an energetic performance for the sake of the supporters who had been waiting for so long.

How do you feel about your own performance?
It was very humid today and while that affects the opposition as much it does us, I did feel that my energy and decision making worsened in the second half, so that’s something to work on. I have to improve my conditioning so that I can perform like I did in the first half for the full 90 minutes.

Was it difficult to play in a remote match?
It didn’t really affect our motivation. On the contrary, we could hear the manager’s instructions and the voices of other players clearly, so rather than difficulty, I think it was a plus for us in many ways.

Were you happy to get match time for the first time in a while?
I didn’t play in the season opener, so that means I’d gone almost half a year without playing and I was reminded that there’s nothing else like the feeling you get when you step on the pitch. I was very happy and I was reminded that I feel at my best in those moments.

What did you think of the supporters’ chants being played remotely in the stadium?
The volume was pretty loud, so we heard them clearly and it was like they were there with us. It was no substitute for the real thing, but it still reminded me how much the voices of our supporters help us as we play. Even when the voices are heard at random, it didn’t feel strange. It felt like they were being heard at the appropriate times and it didn’t bother me.

Should we think of your role today as that of a holding midfielder, or were you fulfilling multiple roles?
For me, I had the sense that my roles were different before and after I crossed the halfway line. Across the halfway line, I would fill the spaces left by the retreating central midfielders or push forward when the free man drifted into other parts of the pitch. The midrange shot I had was like that too. I filled the space that Haru(ya Ide) had left. It worked well on that occasion.

Given how dominant the team have been in possession, you don’t have many goals to show for it. How do you think the team’s attack can improve?
This is football and while the manager will probably describe our performance with the words “half-successful”, we want to prove the value of our positive play by earning results. That’s a pretty basic feeling we all share, so I want us to focus more on getting results in the next match.

How did you feel about being registered as a forward in today’s squad?
Honestly, I thought to myself “that’s not what I am, though”. However, my role did require me to fill that position as well and I hope that I can perform at a high level in every position on the pitch.

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DF 6Shohei Takahashi

It was a remote match, but you still had your long-awaited return to the pitch after the lay-off. How did it feel?
It was a difficult game but I think we played the way we want to some degree.

Giving up an early goal made things difficult for you.
Goals just after the opening whistle like that do hurt, but all of us were able to continue without letting it affect our mood. I think that’s what enabled us to come back.

Your opponents retreated pretty far back and let you take the game to them.
We didn’t expect them to retreat quite that far. It would have been better if we could have ended more moves with a shot or tried more one-touch passes or flicks, but we just didn’t have enough space. It was truly a difficult match. Still, we managed to open them up in the end.

You seemed to try many different approaches from the start.
We tried to play in a way that the opposition wouldn’t be able to discern if we were three at the back or four.

As a center back, what were you conscious of as you pushed that high up the pitch during build up?
We tried to make sure all three off us stayed above the halfway line and in that sense, I think we did well.

Compared to the opening match, you showed a lot of improvement in shutting down the opposition’s counter attacks.
Still, we gave up a goal in the opening minutes, so I think we have to improve our concentration in defense over all, not just when stopping the counter.

What are your feelings about coming from behind to achieve a draw in your home opener?
Obviously, I wanted to win. However, I think we can see it as a positive that we ended the match with a draw, rather than a loss.

You hadn’t played in a while. How was your physical condition or feel for the game?
As expected, match play and training are quite different. I felt in good condition, but my stamina wasn’t quite up to par yet. Still, I think we weren’t in too bad shape as a team. We’re just tired in body and mind. The football we play right now requires us to use our brains and bodies at all times, so even if we keep possession, it’s still important to be prepared for the next step. My body and mind are exhausted.

Your 300th J-League appearance took place in a remote match.
I was happy, personally, to reach my 300th appearance, but it’s important that the team win and I would be happier if we achieved that today. I didn’t approach this game differently because it was my 300th appearance. Of course, it’s a happy occasion, but the draw leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It was a match we could have and should have won.

How did you feel about playing in a remote match?
Some aspects of it were difficult, but it can’t be helped, given the situation right now. We just have to overcome the obstacles.

In the second half, you would have normally been playing in front of the home supporters behind goal and that would have given you extra energy.
It’s true that having the supporters in the stadium gives us power, but I think they’re still watching on DAZN and on TV, so we have to achieve a good result for them.

What improvements do you hope to make in the future?
We have to improve our play at the beginning of matches and after the restart. It was the same today on the goal we gave up and at the start of the second half. Those are the moments where your concentration must be at its highest. If our opponents score off one punch like that, it can immediately impact the mood on the pitch, so we have to do better.

Before the restart, you had the support of many medical workers and staff. As a professional football player, how did it feel to be on the pitch again?
The time of actually made me think about football all the more and I couldn’t wait to get back out there. There are challenges and stress involved, but we had time for group meetings and tactical sessions, which I think were used well. I am really grateful to have an environment where we can play and I would like to say thank you to everyone. However, I also know that results are demanded from us, as players, and our goal is to win playing attractive football. The point we earned today is one step forward and I hope we can connect it to victory in the future.

You have two away matches coming up. You definitely want to get a win as soon as possible for the supporters, right?
We won’t change our approach to the game and with our absolute commitment to both victory and enjoying ourselves, I hope we can come together as a team and earn some points.

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MF 7Hiroki Kawano

It was a remote match, but you still had your long-awaited return to the pitch after the lay-off. How did it feel?
We gave up a goal right after the opening whistle, but otherwise, watching from the bench, I could tell that we were playing our game. It felt a little lonely not having the voices of the supporters, but I’m glad we were able to get a point.

How did it feel to be on the pitch in those remote conditions?
We had done training matches with no audience but being at Ajinomoto Stadium without the fans just didn’t feel right. I couldn’t help feeling like we were playing in a training match to some degree. However, we could hear the instructions of the manager and staff very clearly, so it was easier in some aspects.

How do you feel about the 1-1 result?
It may have ended 1-1, but we’d had some time since our home opener and had trained well to address the areas we needed to improve. In terms of content, I think we played a good game today and everyone kept playing until the end, without giving up, so we were able to claim an equalizer in the closing minutes. I think we will get even better in the future.

You were able to maintain possession and pin your opponents back, but what needs to improve in terms of breaking down the defense?
We had chances, so the first thing is to convert them. We had more shots on goal and more balls into the box than before, so now, our finishing becomes even more important if we want to get goals. Still, Shion (Inoue) and some of the others showed a willingness to take shots and they were able to take the positions they needed to do so. I hope we can improve our precision through training in the future.

This was your first match time in a while. How was your conditioning?
I was only on the pitch a short time, but I knew there were specific things that would be demanded of me because of that and I wanted to do what I could. I didn’t get much time on the ball and personally, I wish I had been out there longer. I have to prepare better and think about what I can do with the time I’m given.

In the second half, you would have normally been playing in front of the home supporters behind goal and that would have given you extra energy.
I often come on as a substitute and play facing the home goal, so I really felt how much of a difference the supporters make today. It was sad not to hear anyone cheering when I touched the ball. Every game we do like this in an empty stadium only makes us appreciate the power we get from the fans all the more. Right now, all we can do is play attractive football that everyone will enjoy and try to earn the three points in each match.

Before the restart, you had the support of many medical workers and staff. As a professional football player, how did it feel to be on the pitch again?
I had never experienced such a long period without being able to play football. Even now, the circumstances are still rough, and I am aware of how much help and support we’ve had from so many people. When we resumed team activity, all of us felt happier than ever just to be able to play football. I feel the support of the staff every day and I know we have to express our gratitude through our play from now on.

You have two away matches coming up. You definitely want to get a win as soon as possible for the supporters, right?
We want to share the joy of victory with our supporters. Until we can do that, we must remain mutually patient, but we will do our best to at least earn the three points next match.

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FW 48Ryoya Yamashita

It was a remote match, but you still had your long-awaited return to the pitch after the lay-off. How did it feel?
As a team, we regret giving up that early goal, but we were able to dominate the ball after that and all that’s left to improve is how we end our moves. If we can improve there, I think we’ll get more goals in the future.

Individually, you were involved in a goal-scoring chance after a long ball counter attack. It seems like you were able to enter the match well?
I understand exactly what is expected of me, so I just have to express it on the pitch. I knew what I had to do, today, and I feel it went well.

Were you aiming to earn a penalty in that scene before the equalizer?
As soon as the ball reached Jin, I knew we were in position to threaten the opposition. I ran for the ball as hard as I could. Speed is my weapon, so I concentrated on making my first step before the defender.

After coming on as a substitute, you first played as a right wingback and then as wide striker on the left.
The angle at which I can see the ball is different, so the timing of my runs and the timing at which the pass is made will be different as well. I also have to adjust my play to meet the strengths of the central midfielder who is nearest me.

It ended up being a remote match, but how did it feel to play your first official match at Ajinomoto Stadium?
The supporters were absent, but I was still very happy to stand on the pitch at our home stadium.

This was your first official match time in a while. You seemed quite fresh and ready to play.
I had some injuries along the way and there were some difficult moments, but I was able to concentrate well in training and work on my first step. I think that enabled me to play without any problems today.

Since your debut in February, you’ve experienced a long lay-off and it must have been difficult day to day. As a professional football player, what was on your mind at that time?
Amid these difficult times, I feel happy to be able to resume play as a footballer. I had been unable to play for a long period, so I tried to express my happiness in my play today.

There is still some time required before you’ll be able to play in front of the supporters. What do you want to display on the pitch of Ajinomoto Stadium when you get the chance?
My greatest strength is my speed and I hope I get more chances to instill the Verdy supporters with a sense of how I play. I also think that I possess some of the qualities that have been lacking in the team’s matches and in the squad, so now that I’ve returned, I will play with the goal of earning victories for Verdy.

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