Last week, Verdy rebounded from their loss against Fagiano Okayama with only two days rest and earned a decisive 4-1 victory on the road against Ehime FC, On this day, they took the pitch after two days rest once again to face Tochigi SC at Ajinomoto Stadium.
Changes were made from the previous match on the Verdy front line, along with front central midfield, where Yuhei Sato was paired with Joel Chima Fujita. Meanwhile Hanato was chosen to play the free role, surrounded by Ryoya Yamashita at right wide striker and Shion Inoue on the left. Mizuki Arai, who claimed a goal and an assist against Ehime, along with fellow goal scorer Junki Koike, were both saved as substitutes. The changes clearly reflected the difficulty of the team’s packed schedule.
The rain that had been falling since the previous night had yet to stop, forcing the players to begin the match on a wet and slippery pitch. Regardless, the Verdy squad used their skill with the ball at their feet to connect short passes and develop their attacking rhythm, pinning Tochigi in their own half. On the other hand, the opposition would take advantage of mistakes in the team’s buildup to periodically push deep into Verdy territory and carry the ball within range of goal. Neither team would create clear chances until the latter minutes of the first half, when Verdy would have a number of good opportunities. In the 32nd minute, Klebinho took advantage of a gap in the defense during a throw-in and tossed the ball into space for Yamashita to run onto. The latter then entered the penalty area and hit a shallow cross to Inoue, who was unmarked in front of goal. Inoue met the pass first-time, but his shot was blocked by the goalkeeper. In the 38th minute, Fujita pounced on a loose ball after a corner kick clearance and hit a powerful volley that was on target but kept out by a diving save from the keeper. The ball then fell to the feet of Shohei Takahashi, but his first-time shot went wide right of goal.
In the second half, Tochigi strengthened their pressure up top. In response, Verdy were unable to play effective balls to the front line and in the 63rd minute, the manager brought on Arai and Morita to try and invigorate the attack. In the 64th minute, Arai used his trademark dribbling skills to challenge the defense and threaten the goal with a cross to the near post, but Hanato was flagged for offside as he met the ball. Throughout the half, there were still periods when the team were pushed back by Tochigi and while the players were often able to connect passes at a good tempo and push back into the opposition half, they were still unable to grasp full control of the game. In the final minutes, Koike and Okubo were brought on to try and strengthen the attack even further. During additional time, the team advanced to the final third and broke down the wide areas of the defense, but they were unable to provide the right ball in front of goal and the match came to a close.
This was a match in which Verdy hoped to generate momentum for their campaign by earning their second win in a row, but they were ultimately made to pay for not converting the chances they had in the first half. The packed schedule now continues with another match at home in just three days. Despite the short interval, the players must fully recover and prepare to face Jubilo Iwata. A win will surely fire up the fans at Ajinomoto Stadium and also avenge the frustrating draw the team suffered against Jubilo in the season’s first leg.
Your thoughts on the match?
It was a home game, so our objective was to ride the energy provided by our fans, fully display our brand of football, and earn the three points. To be honest, it was a very disappointing match. While retaining possession and repeatedly trying to create chances, we successfully broke them down on several occasions, but we were left extremely frustrated when it came to applying the finish. In defense, the players truly worked hard to deal with Tochigi’s long balls and recover the second ball. If we had been more skilled at developing moves on the counter from there, I think we could have been even more effective in our attacking play, so I regret that. However, our plan was to keep hold of the ball after winning it and on those terms, I think the players did a very good job. I’ve said this before, but we have to raise our precision at the end of moves and our finishing. We didn’t have the best of weather today, but I’m grateful to the fans and supporters for giving us power until the final whistle. I am sorry that we weren’t able to reward them with a victory, but we have another home game coming up right away, so we will make our best preparations and work hard to reward them next time. Finally, I say this every match, but I would like to thank the club’s entire staff and all our supporters for working throughout the night to prepare for today. Thanks to them, we were able to carry out the match, despite these difficult conditions. Our next match is in just three days, but we will rely on them for good preparation once again.
While it’s true that Tochigi defended well, what do you think is the reason that they were able to slow you down so often?
There were many occasions when things didn’t go well for us and the reasons were slightly different each time. There were moments when our positioning was slightly off and the supporting players were inconsistent in the spots they found. I think we can raise the level of our play further and I believe we are capable of playing our football no matter how hard the oppositions attempt to press us from the front. If we remain constantly aware of the space behind the defense and observe our opponents as we play, I think I can work with the players to take the next step from there. Still, looking at the match as a whole, I think they did a good job, today.
Was the adjustment in formation due to the fact that you switched Yamamoto for Fujita at the libero position?
Yes. I changed the way we lined up and slightly adjusted the positions of Klebinho and Yamashita. I feel like we played well after that. Of course, I know that Tochigi maintain their shape well and slide from side to side quickly in defense, so it was hard to break them down, but we have to be better in attack than they are at protecting their goal and I think we can do more. I will work to raise the level of our quality.
In terms of runs behind the defense, it seemed like you needed at least one other player besides Yamashita. What do you think, as manager?
Our plan, today, was for Jin Hanato to make runs from the middle to the near-post zone. However, Tochigi’s center backs were quite tough and I think we needed to a better job of pulling them forward in order to get behind them. I regret that. Still, Hanato was able to drop into midfield several times and exploit the square zone by facing forward and making himself available to support his teammates. In that sense, I think he performed according to plan. In the second half, Mizuki (Arai) entered the match on the left and we were able to execute even more of our plan. In the future, I hope that we can create four lanes for runs behind the defense, in the wide areas and in the middle.
When you were pushed back and unable to get forward in the second half, what tactics did you have in mind to change the momentum?
They tightened up in the middle during the final minutes and we had no more space behind them. We tried to attack them from the wide areas in order to break them down and had strong wide players like Junki Koike and Mizuki, along with Klebinho as a weapon on the right. We were able to get from the outside into the corner and near zones but were frustrated at the finish. When we attacked from the left and played the ball across the face of goal in front of the keeper, I wanted to see more players show the courage to run onto the ball. I really think we’re only one step away.