Last week, Verdy achieved a hard-fought 2-1 victory away over JEF united and returned home on a two-game winning streak. The schedule looks harder than ever, as a series of consecutive matches await with only three days of rest in-between, but given the team’s burgeoning confidence in their playing style, each game is a chance to further improve the quality of their attractive brand of attacking football. On this day, the squad emerged with changes from the previous match. Kanya Fujimoto started in place of Junki Koike, while Yuhei Sato returned to his spot at front central midfield.
As the match began, the Verdy back line moved the ball with poise, evading Montedio Yamagata’s high press, and gradually, the team began to carry the ball into spaces high up the pitch. Although mistakes in their link-up play led a few times to danger on the counter-attack, the Verdy players counter-pressed, preventing the opposition from setting up an opportunity to finish, and won the ball back to set up their own quick attacks as they controlled the majority of play. The first chance came in the 9th minute, when Fujimoto picked up a loose ball after an opposition mistake and played it quickly into space behind the defense on the opposite side of the pitch. Shion Inoue made the run and the ball just evaded his touch, but continuation allowed him to evade the keeper and play a ball across the face of goal. However, the pass veered off course and no one was able to get a finishing touch. After the missed opportunity, Verdy maintained their concentration and continued probing for gaps. In the 12th minute, the team won the ball high up the pitch and began a counter-attack. From inside his own half, Fujimoto played a long through-pass that once again found its way into space behind the defense on the left side. This time Inoue ‘s run allowed him to round the keeper and get off a shot, but the ball struck the left post, rebounding inside the box and heading toward the feet of Hanato, who neatly tried to tap home with his first touch, only to see the ball cleared off the line by a covering defender. In the 22nd minute, it was Verdy’s turn to be on the end of an attack. Otsuki managed to switch positions with Shohei Takahashi and break away, reaching the edge of the penalty area before firing with a low shot on goal with his left foot that Matheus did well to save with a quick leap off his line. In the 28th minute, Verdy pushed up from the back and a header won by the defense was played to the front line for the switching Hanato and Inoue to secure. With Hanato pulling away his marker, Inoue tried an effort from mid-range, but the shot went agonizingly wide of the right post. The final play of the first half saw Yamagata break down the left side of the Verdy defense and catch the back line unaware with a cross into the box that was met on the far side, unmarked, but Matheus reacted well and dove to his side to catch the ball and avert the danger.
The first half ended with Verdy on the attack but far from goal, and the team would once again take the initiative after the break. By making several direct passes through the middle, they were now able to pin the opposition back in their own final third. The combination of high pressing, ball possession and creativity proved effective, allowing Verdy to accomplish all aspects of their game plan, except for goals. Meanwhile, the opposition took a more conservative approach and sat back in their own half, stifling any clear chances as the minutes ticked away. With the players showing fatigue at the close of the match, Yamagata began to apply the pressure and threatened the Verdy goal. It was Matheus who answered the call in these difficult situations, showing excellent judgment and occasionally sacrificing his body, such as when he dove onto the ball to interrupt an attacker’s direct run. In the end, Verdy were made to pay for the chances they missed in the first half and the match ended a scoreless draw.
Today marked a frustrating start to the team’s upcoming series of consecutive matches. While there are no “what ifs” in competitive play, converting the chances they had would likely have brought the players a result that would have increased their confidence even more. Now they must use that frustration as fuel to improve the precision of their finishing and prepare for another match at home with only three days of rest.
Your thoughts on the match?
My honest reaction is that this was a frustrating result for us at home. We expected them to sit back and defend to some degree and we spent a lot of time preparing ways to break down their back five, but in terms of the getting the ball through the square zone and breaking down the finishing zone, I regret that we didn’t switch earlier to a different plan. However, if we look for positives, we created several chances and were only one step away from scoring. In addition, I think our defense, including Matheus, showed a lot of fight at the end of moves and did very well to hold them to zero and give us a point from the match. Even so, it was a very difficult result for us to accept, as the players did an excellent job and made a good start to the series of matches we have ahead.
Did you expect the opposition to press from the front as much as they did?
Yes. We had discussed ways to evade the pressure they would apply and I think we accomplished that.
Can you give us any specific improvements that were needed during the latter part of the second half, when the team ceased creating chances?
I think we put too much emphasis on trying to break into the square zone and were lacking in the movement needed to find space behind their defense once we did. That’s something I will reflect on. In the second half, I intended for us to try and play the ball behind them more often when I brought on Yamashita and Koike, but they struggled to find the right positions behind the opposition’s back five. Knowing the quality of our players, I think they could have done a bit more. I will work to improve that in the future.
Yamagata dropped further back in the first half and began aiming to intercept long passes and hit you on the counter. Did that work against you?
We always try to be aware of what the opposition are doing on the pitch and when they press from the front, that changes our plan and changes the areas on the pitch where we need to attack. On the contrary, if they sit back, we have to think about how to pull them out of shape and make incursions. If we can do that and set up the finish by changing the tip of our moves, things will go even better. We had done well to make those transitions in training, this week, so it’s frustrating for that reason, too. Either way, the players challenged themselves in a positive way, so I think that will pay off in the future.
Were the two substitutions you made, while bringing on Ryoya Yamashita, intended to get behind the opposition as they applied pressure from the front?
That’s correct. It was a difficult decision to make, but I thought we could make better use of Yamashita’s abilities if there were more space behind them. As long as they were sitting back, that made it difficult to find the right timing for the substitution.
How do you rate the team’s run of three matches without losing?
All I have to say is that the players have done a great job. Consider all the matches we’ve had where we’ve struggled to completely break teams down, we’ve continued to do the minimum necessary in competitive play, in the sense that if we can’t get three points ourselves, we’re not going to let the opposition have three points either. I think that will be very important over the course of the long season.