Last week, Verdy held their first home game of the season with a live audience and achieved their first win, albeit on their fifth attempt. It was a match in which they demonstrated a full command of their style by maintaining possession and bravely challenging for goals, earning four in the process. On this day, they took the pitch after only two days of rest, as part of their cruelly packed schedule, to face JEF United Chiba. Although it was a match held on enemy territory, Verdy have competed well against JEF the past few seasons, making it a good opportunity to challenge for a winning streak.
In consideration of the consecutive matches the team faced, the manager showed concern for the players’ condition and the potential for injury by making adjustments to the squad. Yuhei Sato had picked up an injury in the previous match against Kofu and started this day on the bench. On the other hand, Kanya Fujimoto had been left out of the squad previously, but now returned to the starting lineup. Lastly, Rihito Yamamoto returned to the bench for the first time since the season opener, after having picked up an injury during the layoff.
Since the restart of league play, Verdy have been consistent in their style by placing emphasis on short passing and precise positioning to maintain possession. While finishing had been an issue in several of their recent matches, the team came away from their last game against Kofu with a better grasp of how to break down their opponents and threaten the goal. In that sense, the chance to take the pitch again before they had lost the momentum from those efforts may have been a blessing granted by the packed schedule. Chiba began the match conservatively by retreating into their own half, meaning that Verdy took possession, regardless of their intent, and developed the play on the other side of the halfway line. In response to the opposition’s attempts to erase the space, the Verdy players took up clever positions and received the ball between the lines, pulling the defense out of position and exploiting the gaps to carry the ball into the final third. By probing areas of the pitch that were a bother to the opposition, they also forced the defense into committing fouls and earned several chances from set pieces. In the fifth minute, Fujimoto took a free kick from the right and played a sharp ball to the near post. Masashi Wakasa was able to get a glancing touch with his head, but his effort went just over the bar. In the 13th minute, Jin Hanato was fouled in the channel, giving the team a free kick chance from a good position. Haruya Ide and Fujimoto stood over the ball. Ide made the first run at the ball and feinted, leading the wall to jump. Fujimoto then followed with his run and drilled a low effort beneath the feet of the mid-air defenders that rattled off the left post. In defense, Tomohiro Taira used his height to dominate balls in the air, while Shohei Takahashi filled a broad area of space on the ground, enabling the team to deal perfectly with any emerging threats.
With attack and defense linking well, a chance would soon come Verdy’s way. It was the 32nd minute and Shion Inoue recovered the second ball after a corner kick, sending a cross into the box where Taira was brought down from behind for a penalty kick. Both Fujimoto and Hanato were interested in taking the kick, and Hanato won the rights after a quick game of rock-paper-scissors. In the 35th minute, Hanato duly sent the keeper the wrong way and succeeded in finding the bottom left corner of the net with his spot kick to give Verdy the lead. After the opener, Verdy continued to press high and win the ball, launching attacks by using the full width of the pitch and varying attacks from mid-range and out wide as they sought to put the game out of reach. In the 37th minute, Taira found space with the ball and took advantage of a seam opened up by his teammates to fire a mid-range shot. The effort was not on target, but it was enough to stun the Chiba supporters in the stands and symbolic of Verdy’s continuing threat.
Continuing to show concern for the player’s conditioning, the manager made two changes at half time. Junki Koike was brought off for Sato, while Yuta Narawa gave way to Takayuki Fukumura. Just as had been the case in the previous match, these substitutions would prove key to securing the result.
As they had in the first half, Verdy kept possession of the ball and pushed high enough up the pitch that the trailing Chiba were never allowed to get forward. They accomplished this by hitting passes to the front line and allowing the players there to secure it and recycle, patiently pinning their opponents back. In the 53rd minute, Verdy won a free kick from the left side of the penalty area and the substitute Sato feinted as if he would play a cross into the box before hitting a swerving effort aimed at the far post. The ball curled neatly over the head of the keeper and then, just as had happened with Fujimoto’s free kick in the first half, thumped off the cross bar with a resounding clang. Two minutes later, Fujita would serve as the focal point for a series of first-time passes that propelled the attack through the crowded center of the pitch. Sato finished the move with a through pass and Hanato made the run, but the goalkeeper was a half-step quicker to react and leave his line, arriving just in time to stifle the shot. Verdy’s intensity had not dropped from the first half, but they would soon fall into an opposition trap. In the 73rd minute, a long throw-in from the right was flicked on at the near post and met in the box with a beautiful volley. Matheus managed to react, but he was unable to secure the ball and the rebound fell to Yamashita, who tapped home and punished the team with a deflating equalizer.
The Verdy players did not panic and continued to push their opponents back with poised ball movement. There was not an abundance of time remaining, but the players were confident they could break down the defense with their style and continued probing for weaknesses. In the 76th minute, after conceding the equalizer, the team would defend an opposition corner kick and initiate the counter. Substitute Ryoya Yamashita received the ball and made a direct run into the penalty area, before hitting a backheel pass to the supporting Fujimoto. It looked to be a perfect move, but Fujimoto’s shot unfortunately flew straight into the arms of the goalkeeper. Moments later, in the 78th minute, an opening would arrive. After building up from the back, Joel Chima Fujita swung the ball to Fukumura on the left. Fukumura got his head up as he received the ball and after initially making a run into space, he heard Hanato calling his name and supplied the forward with an early pinpoint cross. Hanato got his head to the ball and produced a looping effort that lofted over the head of the goalkeeper and found the right corner of the net to give Verdy the lead once more.
At the close of the match, Verdy would be pinned back by long balls and attacks from the wide areas, forcing them to endure as they defended in their own half. On the other hand, when they did win the ball, they managed to get it to the front line quickly and create chances on the counter, keeping the threat of their attack in the back of their opponents’ minds as they saw out the match.
Looking at the score alone, it may seem like a narrow victory, but in terms of content, the difference between the teams was clear. As in the previous week, Verdy’s number of shots on goal reached the double digits and total possession ended at 60%. A mixture of long and short passes broke down the opposition’s tight defense and whenever they found an opening, the players broke through and carried their moves to the finish, constantly threatening the opposition goal. The team has now ended their first series of three matches in one week and will have a full week’s break before their next game against Yamagata. After that, however, will be another series of matches with only three days of rest. The players must first recover physically and then work to improve their quality even more, in order to entertain the home fans with another round of victorious, entertaining football.
Your thoughts on the match?
Despite truly difficult conditions, we took the pitch for this match without many changes. Even so, the players did very well and performed even better than the last match, which makes me very happy as their manager. It was a difficult match against a team with a tight defense, but the players challenged themselves several times to complete the moves we had planned. It was a great game. More than anything else, I’m glad for Jin (Hanato). He had performed brilliantly since the restart but hadn’t gotten a goal yet. It could have come at any time, but that he got two today and secured the victory for us makes me happy. I’m also happy with the players at the back, who did everything I asked, despite the circumstances. This schedule has been tough for not only the players, but for the staff and workers behind the scenes as well. Everyone has given up sleep to perform their individual tasks and I am grateful.
I think this match was a great example of the importance you place on positioning and numerical advantages.
Obtaining advantageous positions and numbers is indeed important for us and I feel that the players have understood extremely well. The quality of their play is on the rise. However, when I consider their true potential, I feel that they can do even better. I will pursue that improvement with them in the future.
Can you tell us why you decided to change two players at half time?
I wanted to place more emphasis on possession or at least raise the amount of possession we had and re-stablish control of the match.
As Tomohiro Taira seemed to pick up a cramp in the final minutes, did you plan to replace him with Rihito Yamamoto?
That was the plan at first. However, the medical staff spoke to him and were told he could go on. I respect his passion and believed that he would perform his work with 100%, so I decided to keep him on.