After a cruel schedule that resulted in part from the delay that occurred after the spread of COVID-19, Verdy have now reached the season’s second half. Their final opponent of the first leg was Zweigen Kanazawa. Although it was an away match, the recent consecutive losses experienced by the team meant that a win was still needed in order to build momentum for the season’s second half.
Verdy made several changes to the squad that had played in the last several matches. The back line was formed by Masashi Wakasa, Shohei Takahashi, and Tomohiro Taira. Joel Chima Fujita and Rihito Yamamoto both lined up at what was normally defined as the libero position, while in front of them were Naoto Sawai and Haruya Ide. Finally, the front three was formed by Junki Koike at right wide striker, along with Yuan Matsuhashi on the left and Koki Morita at the free man position.
As the match began, the players needed time to build their rhythm as they adjusted to their new formation. While they were able to move the ball at their normal tempo during buildup, they were often too passive when it came to actually breaking down the opposition’s man marking and struggled to pull away defenders. On the contrary, they often lost possession after their own mistakes and suffered as they were pushed back several times on the counter. They were rescued by the opposition’s lack of finishing precision but throughout the first half, their reluctance to aggressively attack the defense stood out.
At half time, the manager fired up the team and issued instructions to each player about how they could pull away markers and put pressure on the opposition goal. As a result, the team raised their play a gear in the second half. In particular, Ide used his quickness to create opportunities and in the 57th minute, after pushing the opposition into their own third, he ran with the ball at his feet on the left side and cut inside before taking a shot. The ball deflected off the post but was still reflective of the team’s renewed intent. In the 75th minute, Ide recovered the ball after a clearance by the goalkeeper and tried a looping effort, but he did not have enough distance for the shot and the ball was caught by the goalkeeper. In the second half, the manager continually played his cards to try and strengthen the attack as Verdy controlled play in the opposition half and also defended well on the counter. However, the players were lacking in ideas to break down an opposition that retreated fully in defense and they failed to connect with the final ball, allowing the match to conclude as a scoreless draw.
Verdy’s final tally for the season’s first half was an even 7 wins, 7 draws, and 7 defeats. Amidst their cruel schedule, the ebb and flow of their form was obvious and in the final period of the first leg, they endured a difficult stretch that included their first streak of consecutive losses. Now the second leg begins in just three days. There is a tight schedule ahead and no time for the players to hang their heads. Their next match will be played at home, at Ajinomoto Field Nishigaoka, against top of the table Giravanz Kitakyushu. In their previous encounter, Verdy were defeated after failing to fully display their strengths, despite being in a good run of form. To avenge that loss, they will now need to produce a dramatic change in the momentum that has built over the previous few games.
Your thoughts on the match?
We entered this match with the theme of exploring how long we could play our football while on away turf and considering that we changed our formation a bit before the game, I think we did well in the opening minutes. However, I also felt that we were a bit too heavy at the back, so I made further changes to how we lined up. Things went well after that, but particularly in the first half, our opponents were defending with man marking and all we did was pass the ball as they watched on. Our philosophy of controlling the ball, controlling possession, and playing progressively is very much a reverse calculation based on what we need to score goals. Our control of the ball today, however, seemed to drift from that core principle. That’s what I told the players at half time. In the second half, the players showed a bit more of that awareness and we got closer to our ideal form of play, so I think we did better then. But as always, success at the end of moves depends on how we break them down. In that regard, I want us to raise our play another level before the next match. I truly think that in the final minutes, as we continued changing our formation, the players did a brilliant job of understanding the need for flexible movement and that was excellent. Our defense also did a good job of rallying around our three-man crown (back three) and showing the physical strength necessary to prevent the opposition from scoring. I think that was a sign of progress. It reminded me that we really do have a talented squad. Lastly, the players and I must now regroup and do our best to reflect on things, in the limited time we have, and discuss what needs to be improved. That will hopefully help us build and achieve even better football.
You gave some instructions to Masashi Wakasa at the end of the first half. Did you want to make changes to the way the team lined up?
I adjusted things so that they were a little closer to the way we usually play. That meant going back to our usual formation after starting with a back three. That’s what the changes were.
In the first half, your lack of pass-and-go play stood out. Were the players too focused on managing the risks of what would happen after losing the ball?
As we prepared against Kanazawa, the biggest priority in our plan was to break down their man marking by building 2 x 2 situations up front and using one-two combinations. As you said, however, the players didn’t seem to have the courage or didn’t challenge themselves enough to get into the box in the first half. I regret that. I issued some instructions about that at half time and I’m happy that the players challenged themselves a number of times in the second half.