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
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
- Against other top-half teams: W: 2 D: 1 L: 5 (Home W: 1 D: 1 L: 3)
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)
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.#