With the second leg of the season underway, Verdy had so far compiled an undefeated record of two wins and no losses. On this day, they would look to build a winning streak as they faced Okayama on home ground at Ajinomoto Stadium.
After scoring the decisive goal in the previous match against Okayama during the season’s first leg, Ryoya Yamashita began the match at right wide striker, while Shion Inoue began on the left. The back line featured revisions from the previous week, with Masashi Wakasa playing at right wide attacker and Takayuki Fukumura playing on the left. Rounding out the back line were Shohei Takahashi and Tomohiro Taira at the crown.
In their previous encounter, Okayama quickly retreated into a defensive block but on this day, they pressed at the front from the opening minutes. Verdy attempted to evade the pressure by involving Matheus in the buildup and moving the ball, but the high tempo of their pass work led to mistakes on the front line and they were unable to develop a positive rhythm. It was the 8th minute when the momentum finally began to shift. In their urge to attack, Verdy had gradually pushed up into opposition territory while keeping a compact shape and they now sought to exploit the space behind Okayama’s back line. The key man during this period was Yamashita. In the 15th minute, Haruya Ide played a perfect through pass as Yamashita burst forward and was brought down by a defender to earn a free kick. Sato attempted to drill a ball to the near post as his teammates ran forward with full momentum, but a defender was able to get a touch at the last moment and change the flight of the ball. In the 35th minute, Yamashita received the ball from Sato and made a dash as a gap opened in the opposition’s defense. Free on goal, the Verdy forward swung his foot for a powerful shot, but the ball flew over the crossbar. In the 40th minute, Matheus and Fukumura combined to peel away the opposition’s press and Haruya Ide bought time by carrying the ball forward at his feet. Yamashita once again made a run as Ide played the ball into space, but as he came within sight of goal, he attempted to make a lateral pass to an unmarked teammate and the ball was cleared before a shot could be applied.
Having been unable to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by Yamashita’speed, Verdy would find themselves in a pinch at the start of the second half. In the 55th minute, they conceded a free kick on the right side and the ball crossed the face of goal to the opposite end, surprising the Verdy defense and leaving them unable to react as it was played back in front of goal and headed into the net by Yamamoto. Verdy would now try to push and created their biggest chance of the match in the 63rd minute, when Joel Chima Fujita made a brave direct pass from a tight area in the center of the pitch. Yamashita was then able to turn on the ball and enter the penalty area for a shot, but a desperate lunge from a defender just managed to get a touch on the ball and send it inches wide of the right post. Verdy continued to press the attack by bringing on Rihito Yamamoto, Koki Morita, and Klebinho, but the opposition displayed good concentration as they locked up space in their own half, bringing the match to an end.
While the team will be disappointed to have suffered their first loss of the second leg and dropped points, another streak of five consecutive matches is about to start and there is no time for them to let their heads down. The players must now rest their bodies and shift focus as they prepare to face Ehime FC, a team who inflicted a painful loss on them in the first leg. This will be their chance for revenge.
Your thoughts on the match?
We had more time in between matches this week and the players engaged in training in an incredibly positive way. To be honest, given how well we had trained, I was looking forward to today’s match, but instead it turned out to be a very frustrating one. That doesn’t mean that it was nothing but negatives, but I do feel that if we had done a better job of getting numbers in the finish zone at the end of moves and were on the same page more about the timing of when we pull the switch on our attack, I think we could have been more effective and I regret that somewhat. Of course, I think the players worked very hard. I will now help them to shift their feelings and mindset to the next match and prepare well. Since it was a home game today, I had been worried about the effects of the typhoon yesterday on the pitch condition today, but thanks to the stadium and club staff, the pitch was in excellent condition with no impact from the rain at all. They have my gratitude. Lastly, as is always the case, I would truly like to thank the fans and supporters for cheering us on. I always feel terrible when we fail to repay their faith with the thrill of victory, but we will prepare well so that we can do so in our next home match.
Can you tell us what the aim was in switching to a back three after the introduction of Klebinho?
It was to place more emphasis on attack and actively trying to get a goal. In terms of numbers, we lined up as a 3-4-3, but it was merely a shift to an attacking phase of our game plan. I will work with the players so that they can do that a little better.
You seemed unable to raise the tempo of your attack throughout the first half. What do you think was the reason?
Just as you say, when we began today’s match, my biggest point of emphasis was to change the tempo throughout the match. I wanted us to have a shared switch we could pull to change the tempo on the pitch and speed up our attack. I regret that we weren’t able to do that a bit better today. Of course, part of that is because Okayama were extremely tight in defense, but considering the quality of our players, I believe that they can definitely do better. As we retain possession during the match, pulling the switch on our attack and controlling the tempo will be the next step for us as a team.
Okubo played only in the first half, today. Is there a problem with his condition?
No, it was in preparation for the coming streak of five matches.
Losing on a single chance from a set piece made this a bit of a wasteful result. Can you tell us your honest feelings about that aspect?
It’s just as you say. I don’t think we were taking that situation lightly or anything, but we simply have to be more careful than usual on set pieces. Considering that, I believe that addressing this can help us grow as a team. As far as retaining possession and seeking goals, as well, I believe there will always be more that we can do, so I will work to build a shared understanding among the players. We don’t have a lot of time, but we will discuss things in our team meetings.
Do you think the players need to show greater bravery by trying direct passes or more aggressive play?
I think you’re right. Where we flip the switch on our attack and where we penetrate the defense are all determined by calculating backwards from goal. By moving the ball in the square (zone), our objective is to draw the opposition forward. As long as we play with this style, we cannot be satisfied with simply keeping hold of the ball. Everything we do is part of the process of earning goals. I will continue building that understanding among the players and work to improve the quality of our finishing.