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Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Popo Horror Show

Kashima 5-1 FC Tokyo

J1 Matchday 28

What a disgraceful performance. If you've come here looking for a silver lining or flowery words of praise then you've come to the wrong place. If you're offended by criticism of the manager or the players, because all 'good supporters' should always support the team, even when they're dreadful, then I suggest you hit the 'X' in the top right corner of your browser now.

FC Tokyo travelled up to Kashima on Saturday afternoon and got battered, blowing a legitimate chance to move into the top six against a team with much more to play for, granted, but also under far more pressure. I'll sum up the game in a paragraph and then vent, as I feel the manager completely bollocksed it up at the selection table, exposing us in both midfield and defence.

Kashima won 5-1. Dutra scored in the 18th minute, volleying home from inside the box after Shuichi Gonda could only parry away a cross into our area. Gaku Shibasaki made it 2-0 with a neat finish 20 minutes later. In the first minute of the second half Lucas smacked a superb volley straight at the keeper, and then ten minutes later Naohiro Ishikawa spurned a good chance for us when he fired high and wide. Antlers killed the game off with two goals in two minutes, the first coming from Yasushi Endo in the 69th minute, then Dutra took a lovely pass from Yuya Osako and stroked home. Hideto Takahashi made it 4-1 with his first J1 goal with seven minutes left, but Dutra completed his hat-trick with a superb long range strike in the 87th minute. Well done Kashima, you completely outplayed us. The loss saw us drop from 8th back to 10th.

Right. I was extremely surprised when I saw our XI, which contained three changes from the team which beat Iwata at home the previous Saturday. Jang Hyun Soo, who had been impressive at centre half for the last half hour last week, was named at left back, with Kenta Mukuhara, who the manager seems to have lost confidence in, dropped. Naotake Hanyu came in for Takuji Yonemoto, which meant a reshuffle in midfield, with Aria Hasegawa and Yohei Kajiyama in the centre, Ishikawa in his usual position on the right, Roswell on the left and Lucas in the hole behind.....Kazuma Watanabe, who replaced Edmilson.

All three changes puzzled me. All season on The J-Talk Podcast my guests have been saying how important momentum is in the J.League, and they're absolutely right, and any we had after the Iwata win was almost entirely wiped away with this XI we put out. Lets start from the front and work backwards:

  • Why was Edmilson dropped?
   Sure, he'd only started three of the seven games he's appeared in since joining us, but he'd scored in two straight games and while still unfit you can see he's been making progress in that regard and lasted until the 80th minute last week.
   Kazuma, meanwhile, had made five starts all season and not scored a single goal in those games. He was impressive in his ten-minute cameo last time out of course, as he set up Nema's winner, but to throw him in for his first start in two months ahead of a player who'd scored in consecutive games appeared a very strange decision, and as it panned out Kazuma had no impact whatsoever before making way for Edgy in the 57th minute.
  • Hanyu's inclusion threw off the balance of the team.
Roswell did very well to get himself fit after four months out, but he just can't do it at this level anymore.
   He remains very popular with the supporters but sentiment should mean nothing when he offers next to nothing going forward. As it was, he had to go off injured after 35 minutes and was replaced by Yone, which saw Casual move forward into the hole, Lucas to the striker's role and Kazuma to the left of midfield.
   The main problem I had with Hanyu's selection was that it meant we played without a true holding midfielder for, I'm almost certain, the first time this season. Yone's form has been patchy at best over the past month, but in Aria and Casual we started two players in centre mid who are far better going forward and are, to put it nicely, not the best at winning the ball back. How many times had they started a game together in the centre this season? Off the top of my head I'd say none, and it certainly seemed that way as they appeared to have little idea how to play together.
   We'll come onto Jang in a moment, but if the manager wanted to start him here and didn't fancy Yone in centre mid, why not play the South Korean at centre half and return Hideto Takahashi to midfield alongside Aria? (I'd have preferred Casual, but Aria is never getting dropped no matter how poorly he plays.)
   And I haven't even brought up the fact that Roswell's inclusion means that Nemanja Vucicevic is still yet to make his first start for us despite being our best player for the previous three games...

  • Why, oh, why, play Jang at left back?
   I've no idea why Mukuhara has fallen out of favour, perhaps the manager held him accountable for the cross Yuichi Komano put in for Iwata's disallowed goal last week, but over both Yuichi Maruyama and Jang, who have both played left back recently, he offers decent delivery from wide areas, something of a goal threat (just ask Urawa), and is, most importantly, a full back by trade.
   Jang had played some right back for us earlier in the season of course, but he's a centre back and will hopefully develop into an excellent one. After his strong half hour against Iwata he would've no doubt felt a boost of confidence, but that will have been torn to shreds here, as he had no idea how to deal with the movement and pace of Yasushi Endo in particular, but also the other Kashima forwards who stretched our entire back line with intelligent runs pretty much the whole game.
  As I mentioned above, Jang would've been a good selection in the centre, but I fear for us on Saturday at Shimizu in the Cracker Cup 2nd leg if he's named at full back again.

Mr. Popovic clearly erred in my opinion in the changes he made. This late in the season there shouldn't be this need to make wholesale changes, especially after we had played so well in the previous game and a half (as annoyed as I was after the Classico loss, remember, we dominated that game).

I have no idea what XI we'll see on Saturday, but I hope the manager puts these mistakes right. Come on Tokyo, let's get back to Kokuritsu!

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