After improving their play and earning a three-match winning streak, Verdy have now reached the last of their five consecutive mid-summer matches. Their opponents on this day were Giravanz Kitakyushu, the team sitting in second place in the table and currently on a 7-match winning streak. The game took place on Kyushu soil.
With Jin Hanato absent from the team, the changes in the Verdy squad began up front, as Koki Morita started in the free role and Shion Inoue was placed at left wide striker. Meanwhile, Yuhei Sato and Haruya Ide were selected to pair in front central midfield and Yoshito Okubo returned to the bench after having been left out of the squad in the previous match.
This was a game between two teams with well-defined styles, both of whom were riding a wave of momentum. As such, the match began with each side confronting the other head on, pressing from the front and winning the ball in high positions before beginning attacks of their own. While Kitakyushu showed a tendency to play the ball quickly to their front line, Verdy responded by evading the opposition press with high-tempo pass work that enabled them to quickly carry the ball up the pitch. Either team looked poised to earn a clear chance and the match would reach its first turning point in the 10th minute when Junki Koike received the ball in space on the right side of the penalty area. Koike pulled away his marker before laying the ball off to Yuta Narawa, who spotted Inoue making a run on the far side and drilled a quick, pinpoint cross with his first touch that was met by Inoue and took a deflection past both the goalkeeper and closing defender, eventually rolling into the open net to give Verdy the lead. In the 12th minute, Sato played a pass into space from near the halfway line and Koike broke free to latch onto the ball and carry it into the box. However, his eventual shot was off target. Having failed to convert, Verdy would next be pushed back on their left side and in the 13th minute, the defense was unable to clear a cross-shot in front of goal. Matheus attempted to beat the ball away, but he could only to send it to the right side of the box where it was tapped home by an opposition player to bring the match level. Moments later, in the 16th and 20th minutes, Verdy would endure sustained attacks as Kitakyushu rode their momentum. In both cases, however, Matheus came to the rescue with fine saves and prevented the team from conceding the lead. On the opposite end, Verdy pinned their opponents back and in the 27th minute, Morita received the ball on the left of the penalty area and played a lateral pass through the box, where Sato made a run on the right side and met the ball first time, only to see his shot drift off target. In the 37th minute, Verdy repelled a chance from a set piece and then began a trademark flowing passing move that had pace and stretched the defense, creating a numerical advantage in front of goal. This time, however, Inoue’s final ball was just cleared by a defender.
With their opponents playing a direct game, Verdy had largely been forced to rely on the counter-attack and were unable to securely dominate the ball. As such, revisions were made at half time and the second half began with the team looking to establish more of their usual pace. Instead, however, the first chance of the half fell to Kitakyushu. It was the 46th minute and the opposition broke down the right side of the Verdy defense on the counter, setting up a first-time shot with a shallow pass. However, Matheus was able to protect the goal with a fine save. Afterward, Verdy finally began to evade the opposition press and connect their passes, but they were unable to get the ball into effective areas at the front of their attack. With the team lacking chances on goal, an opposition cross was played from the left to the far side of the Verdy defense in the 59th minute and met with a header that found the net and put the team behind. It was the first time in several matches that Verdy found themselves casing the lead and the players kept their poise and pushed their opponents into their own half. In the 66th minute, a feed was played from a shallow position on the right and found its way deep into space on the far side, where Inoue made a run into the box and played it down first-time for Ide, who had taken up a diagonal position in support. Ide turned and cut into the box before firing an effort that the goalkeeper did well to save. In the 61st minute, a message was sent by the entry of Okubo into the match. The forward would get involved in the 78th minute by making a run into the channel and playing the ball down for Sato to fire a thunderous mid-range shot, only to see the effort defended once again by a brilliant save from the goalkeeper. After this scene, gaps began opening between Verdy’s attack and defense, as well as the players 'individual positioning. This left them unable to break down the opposition, as Kitakyushu dropped deep and took a conservative approach. The match thus ended with Verdy’s first loss since game 1 of the recent streak of five consecutive matches.
Although Verdy found themselves overwhelmed by the opposition momentum at times, they were able to regain control with their pass work and break down the defense a number of times, as well. To the team’s frustration, there appeared to be no major gap in quality between the two squads and the result may have been caused by showing too much respect for the opposition, thus allowing too much time to slip away. Verdy will now return home prepare for their next match, as they look to address the finer details and build enough precision to overwhelm their opponents with their preferred style of play.
Your thoughts on the match?
First off, this was the last match of our streak of five consecutive games, so we were facing very severe circumstances in terms of condition. In the midst of that, I think the players did a good job. Facing Kitakyushu, who were number two in the table and on a seven-match winning streak, the big theme for us was how long we could sustain our style of play and how much we could execute our plan. I think our point of regret from this match was that we allowed ourselves to become passive for certain lengths of time. When I think of the players’ potential, I think we could have played our football for a little longer and that’s an area where everyone, including myself as manager, has to improve their quality. We were able to build good moves and break them down several times, but we still have to pursue greater precision in our final ball and the way we finish. I was very frustrated with the result, but I feel the players did truly excellent work over the course of this five-match streak. Now, we will begin preparations for the next match and work together to pursue the quality that everyone expects from Verdy.
You had just over 40% of the possession in the first half. Which do you think had a greater influence, the team’s problems trying to win the ball back or the fact that they lost the ball too easily when they had it?
Of course, there is no one reason that can be pinned down, but in terms of our spacing, an extra gap of one or two meters, or even one or two steps, in the support positions the players take results in a subtle disturbance of our overall shape, leaving us unable to get into the spots where we need to be and that prevents us from building a good cycle of possession. I think that was the biggest problem. It goes without saying that we were playing a brilliant team today, who are ahead of us in the table, and I think that mentally, we may have shown them too much respect. That’s something for me to reflect on. Looking back, I feel that we needed to play with a bit more confidence and maintain our brand of football.
The players also seemed to struggle with their opponents’ intensity.
The intensity with which they pressed us was something that we expected. We needed to do just a bit better job of resisting the first wave and then try to peel them off bit by bit. I also think that even though we were able to locate open spaces on the pitch, we could have developed more control of the play if we had done a better job of exploiting those areas.
Do you think the opposition were more skilled at making body contact and that enabled them to win the ball?
In simple terms of physical strength, I can understand how they would have an advantage. However, the style of play that we have developed is fundamentally one that doesn’t require us to be physical in order to win. That’s why our positioning is so important, as well as timing of course, and if they were making contact with us more often than usual, that is actually a sign that we weren’t in the correct spots. That’s what we have to reflect on. We’re always going to be at a disadvantage in terms of physical duels, but I think we can do a better job of dealing with that than we did today. I will work on improving that in the future.