J1 Matchday 14
Start this man for crying out loud.Photo from FC Tokyo Official Website
After the three week break it felt a bit strange rolling up to the stadium to be honest, it almost seemed like the season was starting again from scratch, but the large contingent of Tokyo supporters trusted that Mr. Popovic had used the hiatus to prepare the players thoroughly for what was sure to be a stern test against Yokohama, who were on a six match unbeaten run. More on that later.
With Naohiro Ishikawa not making the squad presumably due to injury and Naotake Hanyu still out, we were at least able to recall Kosuke Ota at left back, after he finally shook off the illness that caused him to miss the last five games (3 league, 2 A.C.L.). That saw Kenta Mukuhara switch flanks to the right, while Yuhei Tokunaga continued at centre back with the fit again Kenichi Kaga forced to cool his heels on the bench (but not for long as it turned out!).
And then the game started...only we never got started. Yokohama were all over us from the off, passing the ball at will through gaping holes in our midfield, switching the ball from side to side under far too little pressure, and creating chance after chance as we were unable to stem the tide. The final corner count was 14-3, and I reckon they must've had ten in the first half hour as they poured forward in waves, not only on the counter from our sloppy turnovers but also moving the ball out impressively from the back.
We were simply unable to build play through midfield, and Yokohama played a high line with confidence, safe in the knowledge that with Ishikawa out there was very little pace in our forward six. Lucas and Tatsuya Yazawa were dreadful on the flanks, Kazuma Watanabe was isolated up front, and Hideto Takahashi and Aria Hasegawa could find no space to play into.
The only surprise was that it took them until the 31st minute to score (although Yuji Ono backheeled the ball into the net in the 20th minute only to see the lino flag for a very lineball offside). As they had done for much of the first half hour they passed the ball through our defence with ease, and Shingo Hyodo fired home on the turn past a helpless Shuichi Gonda. Hyodo should've scored again just four minutes later, but Gonda stuck out a leg and deflected the ball out for a corner after the Marinos man was played clean through again.
Something had to change, and quick, and the manager hauled off Mukuhara in the 37th minute, perhaps a combination of Manabu Saito showing Mukuhara up on the flank but also Tokunaga flailing against a sea of Yokohama attackers in the centre. Kaga was summoned, Tokunaga moved to the right but things didn't improve at all before the break.
Ota was replaced by Hokuto Nakamura at half time, and it turns out he needs surgery on a fractured metatarsal, but once again we never got going, we couldn't keep the ball, couldn't string passes together in attacking areas and never threatened their goal. Hiroki Kawano came on for the anonymous Watanabe in the 64th minute, and at least showed some positive intent as he tried to get in behind, but the balls through to him were either cut out or had too much weight to them on the slick surface, and the wee man was unable to fashion a chance to equalize, which we frankly didn't deserve in what was by far our worst performance of the season - yes, worse than the 4-0 loss to Sendai.
We never had one clear-cut chance all game, and even though the scoreline looks respectable thats mainly down to Gonda, who kept us 'in the game' even though we were never really in it.
So, just one of those days? Well we have to hope so, but the manager made some astonishing comments after the game, and a massive amount of responsibility lies on his shoulders for how flat we were out of the gates, and indeed for the entire game. From the official website English page: "It's almost as if some of the players hadn't known the league was restarting ... still on their holidays or with the National Team." "[T]here are different ways of losing and today we were without ideas or an appropriate approach to the game. That's the thing I can understand the least."
Yokohama had clearly prepared for us - and their superb pressing game reminded me of the way we stifled Brisbane in the first Champions League game back in March - but we looked so underdone and disorganised you have to wonder what the hell went on at Kodaira during the break.
Cerezo Osaka visit Aji Sta this Saturday night, when hopefully there'll be changes to our XI, the first of which should be Kawano making his first start for the club.