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MATCH

2020 MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE 22nd Sec - Tokyo Verdy vs Giravanz Kitakyushu

Match Report

After ending the season’s first leg with a record of 7 wins, 7 draws and 7 losses, Verdy now plunge forward into the second leg. The venue that marked the occasion was Ajinomoto Field Nishigaoka, a stadium known for seating fans close to the pitch and one that has been friendly to the team’s record in recent years. Their opponents for this must-win encounter were Giravanz Kitakyushu, a fellow attacking side against whom Verdy had fought a much-anticipated match earlier in the year, only to be overpowered in defeat on that occasion.

 

In the previous match, Verdy created several chances in the early minutes and many of the players were left with the bitter impression that the result would have been different if they had finished their opportunities. The stage for their revenge turned out to be the first match of the second leg and with victories looking more and more out of reach in the past three fixtures, a game against the league table leaders was also a chance to generate momentum for a push up the table in the second leg.

 

After being absent from the squad last week, Takayuki Fukumura was back in the starting lineup this time, while Yuhei Sato took the place of Haruya Ide, who was suspended for the match. Sato’s partner at the front of central midfield was Rihito Yamamoto and Joel Chima Fujita played behind them at the libero position.

 

Kita Kyushu applied pressure from the front in the early minutes. As in the previous match, they followed their high press by attacking Verdy on the short counter after winning the ball.  In response, Verdy moved the ball at the back to pull the opponents’ high line forward and looked for spaces to make quick attacks and push back themselves. The first chance came in the 14th minute, after the team defended a long ball from the opposition and Sato took possession, quickly playing a through pass down the right side of the pitch. Yamashita then broke free with the ball and took a shot on goal, only to see it blocked by a defender. In the 17th minute, the opposition breached the middle of the Verdy defense and were in on goal, but Masashi Wakasa blocked the shot, deflecting it onto the post. The second ball fell loose in the box and another opposition attacker attempted to follow up, but Tomohiro Taira was first to extend his legs and just managed to get a touch on the ball to send it clear.  In the 19th minute, the opposition failed to effectively clear a corner kick from the left side and Yamamoto retrieved the second ball inside the penalty area, finding space for a left-footed shot. Although the effort was off target, it managed to find its way to Shohei Takahashi, who had made a run into the box and headed the ball into the back of the net. However, Takahashi was flagged for offside and the goal was disallowed. After the opportunity, Verdy continued to carry the ball deep inside the Kyushu half and the players’ individual positioning was outstanding, enabling them to exploit gaps and create numerical advantages as they pressured the goal. With the team gradually gaining improving their rhythm and tempo, the first turning point of the match would arrive. It was the 23rd minute and a move began at the back that moved through Matheus at goalkeeper, on to the left side, and then to the right side of the pitch, where Yamashita used his speed to carry the ball forward on a deep run. As the ball was played back to the supporting Fujita, the latter drilled a pass to the feet of Koike, who was fighting for position inside the penalty area. Koike’s first touch left his defender stranded and before the ball could be cleared, he slid onto it and sent an effort into the left corner of the net to give Verdy the lead.

 

With the goal in hand, Verdy did not let up on their attack. In the 30th minute, Yamashita got behind the defense and had a chance to shoot after receiving the ball unmarked. His effort was aimed at catching the keeper off his line, but a defender desperately tracked it down and was able to clear. In the 35th minute, a gap opened in front of the Verdy goal and a Kyushu player had an opportunity for a free effort, but Wakasa cleverly closed him down from behind and extended his leg to change the course of the shot and avert the danger. The game remained as intense as ever as the first half came to a close. In the 40th minute, Yamashita broke free on the counter and although his first attempt was blocked, Fujita retrieved the ball for a shot, only for his placed effort to go wide of the right post. Even then, Verdy did not let up. In the 42nd minute, Sato ran onto a through pass from Shion Inoue and found himself 1 v 1 with the keeper to the left of the goal. However, the keeper managed to block his placed effort and send it drifting wide right of goal.

 

Having grasped the momentum, Verdy maintained a high gear as the second half began. In the 50th minute, a beautiful Verdy move would create the clearest chance of the match. After resetting an attack that began on the right side, Taira opened the play to Sato on the left. Sato played a first-time pass forward to Koike, who returned it as the former ran in support. Sato then hit a pass into space at the front for Fukumura, whose subsequent first-time ball into the middle was in turn played by Inoue first-time into the space to the left of goal. Sato made the run onto the ball and after pulling a marker wide, the Verdy man played a lateral pass across the face of goal to the far side, where Fukumura was unmarked and had his eye on the ball. However, it was just out of reach of his foot and the chance was lost. Still, the players had moved the ball freely with organic single touches and left Kitakyushu ball watching as they were completely broken down. Another chance came moments later. In the 51st minute, Yamashita again found space down the right on the half-counter and hit an early cross toward Koike, whose run had taken him from the left side into the center of the box. Koike then tried a placed header, but the effort was kept out by a fine save from the goalkeeper. From that point, Verdy would focus on evading the opposition pressure as they looked for occasional chances to get forward. However, they gradually began losing the second ball and found themselves pinned back in their own area on more occasions. Still, the team remained patient and did not allow any easy opportunities. In the 80th minute, a Kitakyushu effort on goal would pass between the defenders, after an in-swinging cross from the right side, but Matheus responded well to knock the ball off course as it was headed for the left corner.

 

With Verdy still determined to build on their lead, the manager inserted Yoshito Okubo in the closing minutes to try and invigorate the attack and he would answer by playing inviting balls in front of goal and leading the team forward once again. The players also remained patient in defense and stood firm as the opposition threw numbers forward. In the end, they were able to defend Koike’s goal and earn their first three points in four matches.

 

After dropping points and playing in a way that did not meet their high standards over the last three matches, Verdy responded on this day by stunning their opponents with stylish attacking play and firmly making the adjustments necessary to recover confidence in their style. It was also a match in which the manager’s constant emphasis on “observing the opponent” took on clear meaning. Now the players will look to further refine their precision and immediately start piling up the points.

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Post-match comments

Manager Hideki Nagai

Your thoughts on the match?
This was our first match of the second leg and a game against a team that inflicted a bitter defeat on us just a month ago. There was still some frustration left after last time, so today was our chance for revenge and the players were all well motivated as we prepared for the match. On top of that, the players also did a brilliant job of executing our plan from the opening whistle and although I find myself thinking this after every match, I was reminded that we have a really great squad. To some degree, the way Kitakyushu moved the ball was what we planned for and our job was to think about where and how we would win possession. After that, it was about finding the right timing to start what we refer to as our contra (counter) attacks and that was something that we discussed during the short time we had for training or meetings. I think the players did very well. If I were to be greedy, then of course I would have wanted the game to be closer to our ideals, such as achieving greater possession and dominating the play for the full 90 minutes. I do feel like we could have played our game a bit longer, today, but as in the match against Kanazawa, I think it’s a sign of progress that our players pulled together around our back line and held a clean sheet. Everyone truly played as one and showed the toughness necessary to prevent them from scoring. I bow my head to the excellence of our squad and I’d like to point out what Matheus said when he received man of the match. His comments were, “I’m not in a position to receive the award, because it was really the entire defensive line that pulled together to defend the goal.” I think he’s exactly right. Our objective is for every player to participate in attack and every player to participate in defense. From now on, we will work to raise our quality in those aspects and play every game as it comes. Overall, I’m just grateful that the players showed the fight necessary to beat the table leaders, Kitakyushu. I should also note that we played today’s match on what is sacred ground for us, at Nishigaoka, and on behalf of the team, I want to say thank you to the supporters for their passion and the strength they provided us. Lastly, we will do our best to prepare well for the next match.

Were the formation and style you played with today something you prepared in advance as an option, or were they tactics prepared specifically to deal with Kitakyushu?
We know that teams are researching the way we play and it was something I had in the back of my mind, or something I knew was an option, and I think the players did brilliantly to understand what I asked for and take another step up in our development.

What was your game plan for the final 15 minutes, including the substitutions you made?
I wanted us to gain control of the ball, pin them back and aim for a second goal, but the opposition were really putting a lot of numbers forward, so inserting (Kon)do was a way of dealing with their aerial threat from set pieces. That much was part of my plan. I think the players in the middle did very well.

Can you tell us why you lined up as a 4-3-3 in defense, rather than your normal 4-4-2?
It was the result of scouting Kitakyushu. In addition, I knew that their side backs took up very high positions, so to make efficient use of the space behind them, I left our wide strikers up front. Today’s formation was both about defense and how it could lead to attack.

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Post-match comments

FW19Junki Koike

Your thoughts on the match?
They beat us when we played them in the season’s first leg, so as a revenge match, I think it was good for us to face them at a time when we had been struggling to win. Our theme for today was for all of us to go out together and get revenge.

Do you think the analysis and tactics you prepared for Kitakyushu fit well?
We want to display the work we have put in and the evolution of our football style. To do that, we need to get victories and we’re still in the midst of that process. For that reason, I’m glad that we got revenge with a win, today.

How do you feel about your overall play, today?
To be honest, we had chances to get two, three or even four goals. We have to build the strength to finish off those moves. Today, we made mistakes several times when we were one step away from scoring and if we can improve that aspect of our game and get more goals, things would have been easier for us. I want to help the players at the back as well. Our objective is to attack and defend as one.

Tell us about your goal.
A space opened up for a split second and Fujita played the ball there, so when the pass came, I already had it in mind to trap the ball with my first touch and take a shot. It’s not like I’ve practiced doing things in exactly that way, but I was determined to take a swing no matter what and my first touch went well. I’m glad I was able to score in the end.

The way your passwork created numerical advantages in the wide areas stood out. What changes did you make recently that led to the improvement?
For today’s match, we discussed building 2 x 2 or 3 x 3 matchups in lateral or vertical positions. It’s something we talked about in our pre-match meetings and our focus on one playing going forward to draw the second marker away. I think that went well. To be honest, though, I wish we would have scored more.

What do you think was the reason your counter-pressing was successful, today?
Kitakyushu’s wide players take up high positions and we knew from our analysis that the moment we won the ball, space would open around Yamashita or myself. We had a good shared understanding as a team that we could play the ball behind whenever we won it, so I really wanted us to score from those moves. I regret that we didn’t.

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MF20Shion Inoue

Your thoughts on the match?
We couldn’t play our game for the full 90 minutes, but I think the reason we won is that is that we were able to pull together around the back line when we needed to.

You lined up as a 4-4-3 in defense, rather than your normal 4-4-2. How do you feel about that?
My job was to put pressure on their anchor from my position and when the timing was right, the three of us on our front line would close down their back three all at once. It was difficult to make the right judgments, but the players at the back made their voices heard and I think we came together as a team to defend well.

What was the focus of your play as you were pinned back in the second half?
It’s difficult for us to play our football for 90 minutes and when we’re under attack, we have to endure. On top of that, when we win the ball, it’s important for us to not only attack on the counter but also build extended periods of possession.

You set up a good opportunity for Sato in the first half.
Our aim today was to win the ball and attack on the counter, so I think that went according to plan. However, Yuhei had been busy in defense before he took that shot, so I think he was tired. I told him after the match that I wanted him to score there.

What do you feel was the reason you lost to them last time? And how much do you think you’ve filled the gap between the two sides?
They were the strongest of the 21 teams we played in the first leg. In terms of the difference between the two teams, I don’t think there’s much difference between the clubs in J2. I think we won today because we were able to make the proper revisions from our play in the first match.

You contributed greatly in attack and defense, today. How do you feel about your individual play?
I’m not satisfied at all. To be honest, I think I did a bit of work in terms of putting pressure on their anchor, but when it comes to winning the ball and getting forward after that, I don’t think I did enough to get involved in front of goal. I will try to do that more in the future.

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DF6Shohei Takahashi

Your thoughts on the match?
Things didn’t go very well at the beginning of the first half, but I think it was a positive that we stayed tough and went head to head with them.

Individually, this was your first time to face Kitakyushu this season. What was your opinion of their squad?
They’re the table leaders and we lost to them before, so we were highly motivated. We would have liked to achieve more of our football, but there are always going to be some matches like that and today, we managed to win one. We endured well. Just as every player tried to win the ball and get it to the front line, the players on the front line also worked hard in defense. I really think this was a good win for us.

In defense, you seemed to learn well from the previous match against Kitakyushu and adjust your tactics.
They resemble us in a lot of ways. Not just in the way they maintain possession, but in the way they build elaborate moves to try and break teams down. Today, we changed our approach a bit, but I think it’s good that we demonstrated the ability to play in this way, as well.

In offense, you played simple balls to the front, after which players facing forward made runs behind the defense and were found with direct passes. That led to a number of threatening attacks.
It’s because the players at the front were running hard that we were able to make effective counter attacks. All that remains is our play at the end of moves. If we were on the same page more when it came to the finish, I think this is a match where we could have won by multiple goals. Still, for us at the back, I think the fact that we were able to keep a clean sheet will give us confidence for the next match.

You had chances to build on your lead in the first and second halves but were unable to finish. In the second half, you were pinned back more often, but how did things feel on the pitch?
This goes back to what I said earlier, but I think we made some compromises with our play today and I also think we achieved our football to a certain degree. I think that whether or not we can play our football next time will depend on how we prepare over the next two days. We will train hard for the next match.

Over the last two matches, the team seems to have recovered the toughness in defense that had been missing recently.
It’s thanks to the players at the front working hard in defense that we were able to keep the clean sheet. I think that when those of us at the back have the energy remaining to be physically strong and shut down their moves before the finish, it’s a sign that we’re coordinating well as a team. All of us know what we’re supposed to do, so I think we’re coming together well as a unit.

How did it feel to wear the captain’s armband and play on the pitch at Nishigaoka for the first time in recent months?
Nishigaoka is a place where I have a lot of memories. I played on this pitch several times as a youngster and when I was on the youth team, so I felt quite nostalgic. With that said, we were playing against the table leaders, so we needed to be highly motivated and play as a team. That feeling wouldn’t have changed no matter who wore the captain’s armband and I think we did well as a squad.

Individually, how do you feel about the season after ending the first leg, last week?
I dealt with injuries and other matters in the first leg, so I don’t feel like I’ve contributed enough. In the second leg, I want to play with the passion and confidence that no one can beat us. We still have a chance to reach J1 and I would like for us to grab hold of that opportunity

You have only two days rest before you take on Kofu. What are your hopes for that match?
Our tasks don’t change. We just have to play our football by attacking and defending as one. They’re above us in the table, so I want us to take the game to them.

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FW48Ryoya Yamashita

Your thoughts on the match?
They were a team that caused us a lot of frustration when we played them in the first leg and we were highly motivated as a team to pay them back. We did everything we could to get the win.

There was a lot of improvement on display today, compared to the struggles you had playing them in the first leg.
Even when things were going well, we stayed in communication as a squad and I’m happy that we continue to make a lot of improvements.

Their side backs take up high positions and you made several good runs into the space behind them.
That’s something we were aiming to do constantly, today. We were told those spaces would be open, so I was always trying to get behind them.

You had a big chance after Sato played the ball across the face of goal in the second half.
I think it was truly a difference of inches. I should have adjusted my run to meet the ball from my teammate and it was a situation where I absolutely had to score to make things easier for the team. That’s an area where I need to improve, so I will work in training to raise my quality.

You played the whole match today and seemed to make big contributions in defense, as well.
Working hard in defense is something that is an absolute must for me and something that the manager always demands from us as a team. It’s something that I am strongly focused on at all times.

Gaining a win against a team that inflicted a total defeat on you last time you played must be a source of confidence.
Getting a win against the team at the top of the table and one that we had lost to previously will really give confidence to the whole squad and motivate us even more. In that sense, the win today was worth much more than just three points.

Individually, how do you feel about the season after finishing the first leg last week? In addition, how do you think the team can improve in the second leg?
Our quality in front of goal is what we have to focus on more than anything else. That’s something we have to pursue more and more during training and I personally have to get more goals and contribute results.

What do you hope to achieve against Kofu after your two days of rest?
I don’t think our job will change. We have to face our opponents and play each match as if it’s the final of the World Cup.

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