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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mid-Term Report: Part 1

#We are now 18 games into the 2012 J1 Season, but this two post series is intended as a measuring stick for how FC Tokyo got on in the first half of the season only - up to and including the 3-2 home win over Gamba Osaka in Matchday 17.#

After 17 games we stood in 5th spot, so let me begin with a question: Is there anyone who wouldn't have taken that back in the first week of March? No. The answer is no. So manager Ranko Popovic and the playing group deserve enormous credit for spending all but three days of the first half of the season in the top half (we fell to 10th after not playing in Golden Week due to the A.C.L. but beat Niigata the next weekend to go back to 8th).

Part 1: Stat Attack

Factoring in the distractions we've had to deal with, most notably the Asian Champions League and our huge injury list, our league position is excellent in our return to J1, but we have perhaps been flattered by the inconsistency of the teams around and below us. Here are the stats that matter in four areas (again, to the end of Matchday 17, when Kawasaki and Shimizu were in the top half - they were replaced by Tosu and Yokohama in Matchday 18):
  • Home: W: 4 D: 1 L: 4 GF: 13 GA: 12
Four wins is of course three more than we managed at Aji Sta in the whole of 2010 (we beat Shonan at Kokuritsu), and we started off with a bang in the pulsating 3-2 triumph over Nagoya, but expectations were tempered after three straight odd-goal home reverses, all of the deciding goals coming when we were caught out on the counter-attack. Since the last of those, the shocker against 9-man Shimizu, we've righted the ship winning three of four, the only loss coming to Kashiwa at Kokuritsu.

We've still had problems breaking down teams content to sit back and soak up pressure, and have been stung on the counter far too many times, but we don't have the home phobia we did right through 2010.
  • Away: W: 5 D: 0 L: 3 GF: 8 GA: 8
There have been two diabolical results on the road - 4-0 at Sendai and 3-1 at Iwata - and our worst performance of the season - when we were dreadful in losing 1-0 to Yokohama - but otherwise we've been very professional away, and we kept clean sheets in all of our five away wins. This stat line looks great, but its skewed a little as four of these wins were against teams who finished the first half of the season in the bottom half. Against the top half... well, we haven't been so hot...

  • Against other top-half teams: W: 2 D: 1 L: 5 (Home W: 1 D: 1 L: 3)
(Again, teams in the top half at the end of Matchday 17) We lost to four of the top seven, and five of the top half, taking points only in the wins over Nagoya and Kawasaki and the draw with Urawa, and the losses have been a mixed bag, from games we could feel hard done by after at least matching the opposition (Hiroshima, Shimizu and Kashiwa), to absolute stinkers (Sendai and Iwata), but the fact remains our results against other top half teams have scuppered any chance we had of making a realistic impact in the title race.

This is a hangover from the Jofuku era, and in particular our last successful J1 season, 2009, when we finished fifth but had a horrendous record against top six teams, earning just two points from a possible 30 (W: 0 D: 2 L: 8) against Kashima, Kawasaki, Gamba, Hiroshima and Urawa. Call it an inferiority complex, a lack of mettle, whatever, but this is the big challenge Mr. Popovic faces in the second half of 2012 - turning around further the culture of the club by improving our results against top half teams.
  • Against bottom-half teams: W: 7 D: 0 L: 2 (Home W: 3 D: 0 L: 1)
(Teams in the bottom half at the end of Matchday 17) Importantly, we've beaten all of the teams in the bottom five spots at halfway, taking care of business in games we should win, something we didn't do and that contributed a massive amount to our 16th-placed finish and relegation in 2010, when we took only four points from six games (W: 0 D: 4 L: 2) against the teams that finished 14th through 17th (though we did beat 18th-and-bottom Shonan twice).

It hasn't always been convincing, especially against Omiya in the season-opener and at cellar dwellers Sapporo, but we've been mostly efficient when it matters, and have five home games left against bottom-half-at-halfway teams, so hopefully (touch wood) our good record against those clubs will continue.

In Summary (again at the end of Matchday 17!)

Going forward, our three 3-2 home wins aside, we've had trouble scoring, and have the second-lowest Goals For column in the top half, while our defence, usually such a strength but undoubtedly impacted by the departure of Yasuyuki Konno (and the injury to Kenichi Kaga), has been a mild disappointment, despite a couple of worldies from Shuichi Gonda. As a consequence we sat right in the middle of the top-half pack defensively, with the fifth best Goals Against record.

We need to do better against fellow top-half teams in the final four months of the season, and there is some cause for optimism there with Edmilson coming in on loan to bolster our front line (more on him in Part 2) and the return of several important members of our injured contingent in the next month-to-six-weeks. If results pick up in those games and we take care of business in the games we should win then a finish in our midway-point-position or better is achievable.

Up the Gas!

#Part 2 will be with you soon and will include musings on: the A.C.L. and its effects on league results; crowd numbers; our raft of injuries and personnel moves; the Olympics; 2nd half of season expectations and Mr. Popovic's overall impact on the club.#

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