After beginning their fall streak of five consecutive matches with a 2-0 victory over Kyoto Sanga F.C., Verdy next earned 2-2 draw on the road against Jubilo Iwata. On this day, they returned home looking to regroup as they faced Ehime FC.
The biggest changes to the starting lineup were on the back line. Masashi Wakasa began as a right-side attacker, while Shohei Takahashi returned from injury to line up at center back.
In the early minutes, Ehime pressed man to man and prevented the Verdy players from moving the ball as they like. With markers waiting at the end of every pass, the game evolved into a physical battle with Ehime winning several opportunities on the counterattack. In the 17th minute, Verdy lost the ball in a high area of the pitch and found themselves stretched in the wide areas, allowing an unmarked opposition player to hit a cross from the left that was put into the back of the net by a stylish volley to give Ehime the early lead. Verdy attempted to hit back immediately and moments later, in the 23rd minute, a long feed from Takahashi found Junki Koike in space unmarked on the right. The latter played a pass across the face of goal to the far post with his first touch and Okubo leapt to meet it with impeccable timing, but his powerful header was kept out by the goalkeeper.
Verdy began the second half looking to change the momentum and Ryoya Yamashita was brought on for Koki Morita to help break the deadlock. The substitution would have an immediate effect in the 48th minute, when Yamashita played a one-two with Yuhei Sato and pushed the defense back into their own third before hitting a mid-range shot that went just over the right post. In the 55th minute, Yamashita received a direct pass and played a one-two with Okubo, putting him in free on goal. As a defender closed him down, Yamashita then played the ball into space on the left side of the penalty area for the overlapping Takayuki Fukumura, whose placed cross was nearly met by Okubo on the far side, only to see it just escape his touch. Koike also made the run behind Okubo, but he had a tight angle for a shot and his effort went just over the bar. In the 74th minute, Koike claimed possession after a mistake in the opposition build up and carried the ball into the penalty area. His shallow cross would reach the unmarked Haruya Ide, but the latter’s first-time shot went slightly wide of the post. Just afterward, in the 75th minute, Sato’s powerful mid-range effort went mere inches over the bar. With their opponents exhausted from their intense pressing in the first half, Verdy played nearly the entire second half inside Ehime territory with only their finishing lacking. In the 83rd minute, Shion Inoue carried the ball on the counter and pushed the defense back by working the ball through Yuan Matsuhashi, whose cross back into the middle was blocked by a desperately retreating defender. In the 5th minute of additional time, Matsuhashi dummied to let a pass from Inoue through to the left side, where Fukumura was unmarked and played a cross. His near-perfect pass entered the space between the goalkeeper and back line but just missed the touch of a teammate. On the opposite side, Mizuki Arai reached the ball and played it back across the face of goal for Wakasa, only for his effort to miss the target.
In the end, Verdy were never able to make up for the momentary error that led to the first goal and suffered their first loss in five matches. While they were troubled by the opposition’s man marking in the first half, they were able to break Ehime down several times in the second and the match did not end without a show of strength. However, Verdy would suffer from the gap in finishing precision between the two teams. The closer they get to the top of the table, the more that ability to finish chances will make the difference. Verdy must now take hope from the fact that those chances were not few in number as they travel to face Fagiano Okayama in three days, hoping to make the most of their opportunities and this time bring home the full three points.
Your thoughts on the match?
Obviously, it must be said that this match was played under difficult conditions, as the team had only two days of rest, and I think the players performed well under those circumstances. As we began the game, our opponents were lined up man to man and I regret that we were unable to determine where we could create numerical advantages, where we could create space and which areas of the pitch we could bypass. Even so, we were able to play our game for some periods. You often hear me say so after matches like this, but I really believe that we must work hard to raise the quality of our finishing and the overall precision of our team play. The players have done their work today and now they must rest and shift their mindset to prepare well for the next match. We’ll work on the things that need to be addressed and I hope we can improve at the end of moves and finish with greater authority. It pains me that we were not able to deliver the joy of victory to our home supporters who came to see the match. We will put this behind us and keep working hard.
Was Ehime’s man marking something that you expected to face?
Not only Ehime, but every other team we face will have scouted the way we play and the possibility of facing man marking is always in my mind. I think that improving the way we deal with such tactics will be the gateway to reaching the next level as a team and an important part of our further evolution. In simple terms, we have to recognize when the keeper is playing high off his line like today and one way to deal with that is to aim for mid-range or long-range shots. Of course, we also have to carry the ball in on goal and force the keeper to drop back. The other thing we can do is respond to their high line by aiming for the space it leaves in their half and trying to build numerical advantages there. My regret today is that once the line did drop back and we began to play our game, we didn’t show the best aspects of our style.
In terms of stretching the opposition formation or trying to draw them forward, do you feel that today’s opponents didn’t succumb to your plans?
It’s a matter of flexibility in the way we think. Today, the opposition were so committed to closing down our central midfielders that there was no need to try and draw them forward. On the contrary, they left enough space behind them for us to use and I do not feel like we did a good job of recognizing that. It’s true that under normal circumstances, our game begins from drawing them out, but it’s wasteful if we do that when there is no need.
Despite having only two days of rest, you only made two changes to the starting lineup. How do you feel about the team’s condition overall?
It’s easy to find excuses for what happened today if we go looking for them, but it’s difficult for me, personally, to blame the loss on condition alone. It can be tough to find the right answers when you’re dealing with all these irregular circumstances, but it could also be that there are no right answers and that this is merely a challenge we have to overcome. I will continue to think about condition before the next match and will consult with our medical staff. It’s going to be difficult to create a plan that fully addresses the challenges of conditioning, but either way, I think the players are doing an excellent job.