Live audiences returned to the J-League this week and Verdy's first match before the fans was on the road against Omiya Ardija. Visiting supporters were still barred from attendance, so the seats were filled with orange, meaning that the team began what will now be a packed schedule of consecutive matches amid completely hostile territory. The biggest change in Verdy's starting lineup was at goalkeeper. Matheus, who had picked up an injury soon after normal activity resumed, was now able to make his first start since completing his transfer. Meanwhile, Shohei Takahashi was facing a match ban and the retooled back line saw Masashi Wakasa and Tomohiro Taira combine at center back with Yuta Narawa and Takayuki Fukumura as attacking full backs on the right and left. Finally, Junki Koike was also given a start on the front line as the left wide striker.
As Omiya are known for their impenetrable defense, the first rule of the day was to not allow them to take the lead. In addition, Verdy had also trained hard to break down the opposition, no matter what the situation. However, that first rule would be broken in an instant’s time. It happened a mere one minute after the opening whistle - 40 seconds, in fact, by stopwatch. A low, sharp cross was drilled into the box from the right side and the defense were unable to deal with the ball as it passed the face of goal. The ball then drifted to the far side, where Watanabe was able to put it in the back of the net with a single touch and hurl Verdy into the exact situation they had wanted to avoid, one goal down. After that, their opponents did as predicted by forming a defensive block and forcing Verdy to move the ball and search for openings inside the Omiya half. Even on the front line, the Omiya defenders were patient and avoided unnecessary challenges, choosing instead to erase any and all space inside their own final third. In response, the Verdy players found themselves with wider gaps than usual in their individual positioning, leading to mistakes in their build up play and a negative cycle in which they managed to deal with counter attacks but lost the ball again quickly after regaining possession. In the 7th minute, the players managed a speedy series of passes that opened up an opportunity in front of goal, but the shot was blocked by the Omiya keeper. In the 18th minute, Sato attempted to change the pattern by firing a fierce midrange effort, only to see it fly just high and wide of the right post. A period of stagnation then followed, until Verdy's mistakes in buildup allowed Omiya to fire dangerous shots from midrange in the 40th and 45th minutes. In each case, Matheus came to the rescue with fine saves and the team were able to close the half still only one goal down.
After a first half in which they dominated the ball but lacked aggressiveness, the Verdy bench made its move at half time by taking off Koike and Shion Inoue for Haruya Ide and Joel Chima Fujita. In the second half, it would be the captain who would take charge of trying to break through the stalemate. In the 49th minute, Kanya Fujimoto took possession on the right wing and used Yamashita as a decoy before cutting inside to fire a powerful effort with his left foot. He got the desired impact on the ball and the shot looked to be on target, but it was ultimately too close to the keeper, who was able to bat it away. With the opposition playing even more conservatively then they had in the first half, Verdy would continue throwing on substitutes to try and invigorate the attack, while also using the full width of the pitch to move the ball and probe for gaps. However, they were unable to play effective balls into the final third. The biggest chance of the day would come near the finish, in the 82nd minute, when the players worked the ball through a tight space in the center of the pitch and played a direct pass to the feet of Yamashita, who had made a run deep into the penalty area on the right while holding off his defender. Yamashita then played the ball to Narawa, who had made a run in support, and the Verdy player built momentum for a first time effort with his right foot. However, the shot deflected off a defender and could not find the target. After that, Sato, Ide, and Hanato would continue using their individual skill to alter the tempo and try to create space, but the team would not get the ball into a dangerous area again and before long, the full time whistle had sounded.
Once again, Verdy dominated possession on this day and spent nearly the entire 90 minutes inside the opposition half. Although the damage from the early goal they conceded would haunt them the rest of the match, the team dominated the play and the avenues by which they can create clear chances and earn the three points are coming into view. To get the ball into more dangerous areas of the pitch will require further midrange shots and other options that will pull defenders out of position. The team will now hope to accomplish that in their next match, as they look to mark their first home game in front of live supporters this season with a victory.
Your thoughts on the match?
The way we began the match was extremely frustrating and giving up a wasteful goal like that must be our biggest regret. In terms of the play, there were problems with our spacing in the first half. In the second half, the players did a great job and I think they were 70% successful. However, I am still bitter that we could not break down Omiya’s tight 5-4 block. I do think the players gave a good effort and next match, we’ll be at home, so we will do our best to prepare and face Kofu.
I’m sure you had an image in mind of how you would break down the Omiya defense. Did you feel that things diverged from that on the pitch?
There are many factors, but I think the biggest was that we weren’t able to pull their number 2 and number 4 out of position, something which had been an area of focus. On top of that, Omiya closed down all the space between the lines, so I think we should have tried to take more midrange shots or play the ball into the channels more effectively. I’m frustrated about that as well.
Why did you decide to change from Shibasaki to Matheus at the goalkeeper position?
Matheus is a brilliant goalkeeper and he’s finally reached full condition, or at least recovered fully from his injury, so I wanted him to get a chance today. I think he performed well.
This was yet another match where the team had possession of the ball but couldn’t break down the opposition. What improvements do you hope to make for the future?
When your opponent plays with a defensive block that strong, it’s always going to be hard to break them down. That’s why we have to try more shots from midrange and reset after those to try and pull them out of position. We also have to work on breaking them down from the wings, so that we can get position within the pockets of space around the near post.