In the midst of their cruel mid-summer schedule of five consecutive matches, Verdy returned home after achieving two wins on the road. On this day, they took part in the fourth match of the streak with a night game against Matsumoto Yamaga.
Verdy’s starting lineup for the match included several changes. Rookie Yuan Matsuhashi, who had yet to make the squad in an official match, was given a sudden start at left wide striker. At free man, Jin Hanato was rested out of concern for fatigue and Shion Inoue was his replacement. Finally, while midfielders Yuhei Sato and Haruya Ide began on the bench, Joel Chima Fujita started at libero, along with Rihito Yamamoto and Koki Morita at central midfield. The team thus sought their third victory in a row with a midfield of three young academy graduates.
The match began with Verdy in possession and the players wasted no time pushing into opposition territory. It was Matsuhashi, making his pro debut, who would receive the first chance. Moving the ball quickly on the half counter, Inoue acted as an outlet in the channel and Morita received the ball before passing into space for Matsuhashi to react. The rookie continued his run and launched a shot from the diagonal left of the goal that unfortunately cannoned of the right post, leaving his first pro goal for another occasion. In the 18th minute, Verdy intercepted a pass and started the counter. Inoue dummied to let the ball run free and it was picked up by Morita, who dribbled and hit a fierce shot that was just kept out by the goalkeeper. As their opponents dropped back to erase the space, Verdy continued to move the ball but they also did not overlook opportunities to exploit seams in the opposition shape. In the 34th minute, Morita controlled the second ball after a free kick and played it into space on the left side of the penalty area for the running Inoue. Inoue hit a cross in front of goal, but Junki Koike was just unable to get a touch. At the end of the first half, the team once again hit Matsumoto on the counter and stretched the defense before playing a cross that just missed the feet of Inoue. The half thus ended scoreless, despite the consistency of Verdy’s attacking play.
As the second half began, the Verdy bench made an early move. It was the 55th minute and Matsuhashi was replaced with Ryoya Yamashita, while Morita was also taken off for Ide. A big chance would arrive just moments later. Fujita recovered the ball after a corner kick and drilled a strong early cross into the box. Koike made a run to get onto the ball, but it was cleared after he was just unable to meet it. Verdy now saw even more of the ball than in the first half and began controlling the play from opposition territory. The question soon became if and when Verdy would be able to raise the gear on their attack and pick up the tempo. That timing eventually arrived in the 68th minute. Fujita retrieved the ball high up the left side after a throw-in and dummied to his left before cutting back into the middle and playing it to Inoue in the final third. At almost the same moment, Yamashita made a diagonal run into the penalty area and Inoue raised the tempo by instantly playing a through pass with his right foot after his first touch. Yamashita was first to reach the ball and from a slanted position on the right of the box, he twisted his body to fire a diagonal shot that went through the legs of the covering defender and into the left corner of the net to give Verdy the lead they had been waiting for. Verdy now moved immediately to finish the match off. In the 73rd minute, Fujita’s direct pass to Takayuki Fukumura was cut out by an opponent but quickly retrieved by Inoue, who immediately played the ball to Fukumura again with his first touch. Fukumura also played a first-time pass behind the defense and after a stylish one-two return pass, Inoue was free on the left corner of the box and curled a first-time effort beyond the hands of the keeper and into the net. It was a speedy, elegant attack that left the Matsumoto defenders flat footed and out of position. Once again, the Verdy attack did not lose momentum. In the 84th minute, Inoue played a no-look through pass for the running Fukumura. With space behind the defense on the left side of the penalty area, Fukumura threw his body to the ground to hit a low cross in front of goal. Yamashita then drew two markers with a dummy at the near post and allowed to run free to the far side, where Koike met it unmarked to claim the team’s third goal of the match.
Having extended their lead, Verdy still did not concede possession and continued to control the play, knowing that the opposition could not score without the ball, a philosophy that had now given the team their third straight win.
In recent games, the Verdy players have done a brilliant job of executing the philosophy long called for by manager Nagai of observing their opponents as they play. When they determined that they wouldn’t be able to break down their opponents by maintaining the tempo of the first half, they immediately raised the pace of the play when the result was up for grabs in the second half, made and exploited space in narrow areas of the pitch, an securely claiming the goals they needed. It is no fluke that the team have now risen to the fifth in the table and there is still more they can accomplish, as well as more attractive football that they can play. After claiming eight goals in three matches, the objective now is even greater quality. That pursuit will never end – another message that has been delivered repeatedly by the manager. Without focusing too much on what lies at the end of their journey, they must make progress one step at a time. The first task will be to prepare hard for a head-to-head match with second place Giravanz Kitakyushu.
Your thoughts on the match?
It was a home game, so I spoke to the players about playing great football for the fans and supporters who had been looking forward to seeing them. The players did a brilliant job of executing our plan from the opening whistle and playing the attractive football we aim for. I feel nothing but gratitude toward them. The other reason I have to be grateful is that six squad members from the Verdy academy started the match and there were another two on the bench. This is the result of work by Verdy’s youth development team, including the junior youth, youth, and club affiliate levels, as well as on a more fundamental level that begins with scouting recruits at various schools. I think it’s truly been a collective effort by all involved with development. In the terms of the match, the first half was spent by putting our stamp on the game and I told the players that if they could push their opponents back into their own territory, they will have been half successful. They did a wonderful job of performing what I asked by getting over the halfway line, carrying the ball, and recycling possession. I believe that the next stage, when you play with our style, is always going to be how you break down the defense when they play with blocks of four or five. In the second half, our side did a brilliant job of doing that and scored excellent goals that are illustrative of nothing less than the growth of the team as a whole. The players executed what we’d worked on regularly in training, as well as what we discussed would be our game plan, and Inoue’s goal was a brilliant move that exceeded all of our imaginations. When I think about my gratitude to the players and their growth, I truly feel that we are playing good football no matter who is on the pitch and I think it was a great game for us.
Can you tell us why you decided to start Matsuhashi on his pro debut?
Matsumoto’s wingbacks take extremely high positions when they attack and I felt that Yuan (Matsuhashi) was the player who could make the best of the space between them and the back three. I’ve watched him play since I was coach of the youth team and I had no doubt that he would be the best at getting behind them in those positions, so I never had any concerns about starting him. I think he did an excellent job.
What plan did you employ in the second half, in terms of the revisions and early substitutions you made?
We have pre-determined areas where we want to draw out the defense and to do that, we have to think about where to probe with the ball and which players will aim for the gaps at the rear. I gave them a plan for how to carry out those tasks and they executed it well.
Can you tell us about the changes you made to the squad for this match?
Basically, we did a thorough analysis of Matsumoto and chose the players who could achieve what we set out to do. If you ask if I was concerned about the schedule, of course that was a factor and I had a plan in my own mind for how to deal with this match and the coming game against Kitakyushu. There were some considerations that had to be made for condition today, but the first thing is always to look at the match before us and choose the best players for the approach we want to take.
It seems like the team is able to raise their play a gear when they really need a goal. Can you tell us what you do to get them focused on scoring?
The truth is that I chewed them out a bit at half time. I told them that they absolutely had to break them down and score in the first fifteen minutes of the second half. We talked about the appropriate timing to shift gears, just as you mentioned, as well as when, who, with what pass, and what space to aim for. Once again, the players did everything I asked and more, which makes me very happy. I feel nothing but gratitude. I thought they were excellent.
Ryoya Yamashita was not developed by the Verdy youth system, but he has fit in fairly quickly. What sort of process has he gone through to adapt?
Honesty, he’s fit in from the earliest stages when he began training with us, but I think the biggest thing is that he has concentrated tremendously on understanding our style of football. He also has the ability to inspire support from those around him. Of course, we on the coaching staff give him a lot of instructions about what positions to take and how to time his runs, but I’m happy to say that he also communicates well with the players in the middle. Not only Yamashita, but all the other players who were developed outside of our system have all contributed greatly to the team. I believe we are blending well and things are starting to move in a very positive direction.