Saturday, 18 December 2010

TENTH IN '10!!: #4. The Krispy Kreme Formation

OK, time for a quick Christmas quiz. Name the people who put up these numbers in the J-League in 2010:

A. 16 goals and 7 assists
B. 11 goals and 12 assists
C. 5 goals and 14 assists
D. 6 goals
E. 3 goals
F. 0 goals
G. 9 goals and 7 assists
H. 12 goals and 11 assists

Read on for the answers!

If I were to tell you that Omiya midfielders had scored the Squirrels' very first and very last goals of the J1 season, how many other goals would you say that the midfield unit as a whole would score during the course of the year? Ten, maybe? Fifteen? How about a paltry three: out of a total of 39 J1 goals, Omiya midfield players scored only five. They assisted on fourteen, meaning that the part of the team that is involved the most with the ball were involved with fewer than half of the goals scored all season, so the answer to Question C is... all the Omiya midfielders combined.

They were even out-scored this season by defender Yuki Fukaya (the answer to Question D) and the rest of the Ardija defense, who pitched in with a league-leading 14 goals and a respectable 9 assists. So you want to know the answer to this year's struggles? To paraphrase an old American political slogan, IT'S THE MIDFIELD, STUPID!

When it comes to offense-related stats the Omiya midfield was J1's worst in many categories, including total goals scored (even the midfield at notoriously goal-shy Montedio Yamagata got seven), goals-and-assists combined (nineteen, one behind Yamagata) and the number of players who scored more than once (that's just one: Jun Kanakubo with two, one fewer than 43-year-old Kazu Miura... who is therefore the answer to Question E. Every other squad had more than a single player who put away multiple goals).

Omiya was also among the bottom in the number of assists from the midfield, leading only Montedio and Jubilo Iwata (thirteen each), Vissel Kobe (twelve) and the historically bad Shonan Bellmare (eleven, although their twelve goals scored gives them a combined score that is four better than Ardija... and also makes the Shonan midfield the answer to Question H).

There were some extenuating circumstances this season to exacerbate the problem:

1. For whatever reason, Omiya weren't getting calls this year like other teams. The last game against Yokohama F Marinos saw Ardija get one call inside scoring territory... in the 80th minute. That would have immediately nullified as a source of goals from the midfield a player like Vegalta Sendai's Ryan Yong Gi - the answer to Question B - who absolutely lived off of free kicks in dangerous positions.

2. The Squirrels were the only team not to receive a PK this year.

3. There was a plan in place early on in the season to bypass the midfield completely. Then-coach Jang Wae Ryong decided that midfielders weren't necessary to score and went with a strategy of launching long balls to lone forwards who were surrounded by defenders.

However, these excuses don't make up for the fact that this part of the Omiya team was comprised of members who were inexperienced (Kanakubo, Takuya Aoki), adjusting to a new style of play (Lee Ho), one-dimensional defensive specialists (An Yong Hak, Shin Kanazawa), or just not J1-caliber players (...).

It seems like the team is targeting the midfield this off-season, with reports of Ardija interest in Oita Trinita's Keigo Higashi, Kyoto Sanga mid/defender Daigo Watanabe and former Urawa Reds fantasista Robson Ponte (the answer to Question G), who has been replaced by the J-League's leading midfield scorer Marcio Richardes (the answer to Question A).

Really, one of the largest failures of outgoing Technical Director Haruo Yuuki was in not adequately addressing this problem over the past two years, going after pie-in-the-sky players like Junichi Inamoto instead of finding more moderately-priced but higher production guys who could fit the bill, my ideas notwithstanding (I vociferously advocated the signing of Minoru Suganuma who ended up the answer to Question F, although he did put up a goal in the Nabisco Cup game to put his team ahead late). If Omiya intends on getting up past mid-table in 2011, it's obvious that they cannot field a donut formation. The midfield has to have a pulse next year, or else it could be trouble.



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