Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Squirrel's Eye View: Postcard From Home

Sorry things have been so quiet round here lately. It's a touch ironic that going to Japan means I'm less able to keep GGOA updated regularly, although on a more positive note it does enable the more-or-less annual gathering of the GGOA Tribe to take place, if two people traipsing around tea shops and patisseries can be said to constitute a tribal activity. Anyhow, in the unlikely event that you were worrying about the site, worry no more as things should be getting back to normal over the next few days. I'm going to restart things by stealing an idea from my colleague Agent Orange and thereby reviewing all that I learned about Omiya Ardija in a rainy spell out Saitama way, via the games against Shimizu S-Pulse and Cerezo Osaka.

1. Jun Suzuki may not be a great coach, but he might be a lucky coach. Why isn't he that good? Well, Suzuki's job first and foremost has to be to extract the maximum level of performance from the players at his disposal and Suzuki is not doing that for Omiya. A couple of examples from the Shimizu game:

* the Squirrels really did not know how to attack S-Pulse from open play. They could happily get the ball 25 or 30 metres from goal but then had little idea of how to proceed because of the low number of attacking options. Omiya rarely got more than one or two players in the opposition penalty area. This dithering uncertainty has to be Jun Suzuki's fault.

* contrast this with the opening Shimizu goal, when a hardworking but wrongly deployed Rafael lost possession by playing a backheel fifteen metres from his own goal-line. The ball was instantly played into the Ardija box and in a flash Alex Brosque was one of two forwards in the goalmouth able to beat Takashi Kitano. Although it's hard to imagine Omiya scoring a goal like that because we can't get players into danger areas so quickly, the main point to be made here is that Rafael ought to be in the team to play backheels fifteen metres from the opposition goal-line. If he is tasked with supporting Kazuhiro Murakami, Rafael can't hurt the opposition with his attacking skills and - not to criticise the player - he'll be unreliable as a defender. This misuse of resources has to be Jun Suzuki's fault.

Why might he be a lucky coach? Well, ignoring the actual quality of the performances, the style of play and the use of squad members, the results he's achieving are okay - most Squirrels fans would probably love to finish the season in the team's current placing of ninth. But to have come away from Osaka with three points and a clean sheet was fortunate indeed and came about just as much because Cerezo were wasteful in front of goal (hello, Rui Komatsu) than for any other reason. Put another way, Suzuki can't really claim that Omiya won that game because of any specific measures that he took. On another day Ardija could easily have lost 3-0.

2. Takashi Kitano was very nervous playing in wet weather. The conditions in both games were appalling for all the players due to the heavy rain, but Kitano especially looked unsettled, jittery and lacking in confidence. I still can't quite believe that Cerezo failed to score against such a shaky keeper. Let's hope it was purely to do with the rain and he's okay for the derby match at the weekend because Kitano put in an unacceptable level of performance.

3. Huge credit is due to the Ardija ground staff for their work in maintaining a stunning playing surface at NACK5. Considering the amount of rain the pitch was simply superb - much better, it should be noted, than at Cerezo's Kincho a week later.

4. We're not seeing the best of Kota Ueda. For a start aside from the stunning free kick against Kashima Antlers back in March, his set pieces haven't been nearly as good as I'd hoped. But more generally I think that Ueda is a great player: he's very neat and controlled, rarely makes a mistake and is already a key performer in the middle of Omiya's midfield. Which makes it all the more frustrating to watch him because it feels like he's stuck with playing short passes that serve only to help the team maintain possession: Ueda doesn't drive Ardija attacking moves as much as I think he could, there's a caution to his play when he has the ability to dominate.

5. We're still waiting for Takuya Aoki and Daisuke Watabe to stop being promising young players and start fulfilling their potential. To take Aoki first, there's a sense that if he was a stronger and more dynamic force at the heart of the team, Ueda would actually be freed up to spend a lot more time directing attacks. Hence Aoki's ineffectiveness is reducing the number of opportunities that Ueda has to play a more offensive role. He doesn't feel truly comfortable as a member of the team, although a goal or two might settle him down if he can eventually control his appalling shooting. It feels as if the development of Aoki since he came to Omiya from school has been a disappointment, bearing in mind how long the player has been involved in the international set-up - and it certainly doesn't surprise me that he's just been dropped from the U22s while Keigo Higashi has retained his place.

Meanwhile Watabe seems to have become Suzuki's first choice at overlapping right back and as in the latter half of last season is getting a good run in the starting XI again. He's probably the best option in that position when compared with the likes of Arata Sugiyama although he can be bossed by bigger or more experienced opponents. The goal against Cerezo gave a glimpse of what Watabe can bring to the team as he floated in a beautiful long-range pass that Higashi headed on for Rafael to score, but these moments are few and far between. Rather like Aoki you get the feeling that if Watabe could score a goal - and don't forget he was a striker for Omiya Youth - he'd really believe that he belongs as a first team player. Hitting the post against S-Pulse with the score at 0-0 won't have helped.

5. I'm right about Lee Chun Soo and about Naoki Ishihara. To recap what will be a familiar story to GGOA readers: it's no surprise that Lee's early-season burst of goalscoring is beginning to look more and more like a flash in the pan. He isn't the main striker that Suzuki imagines him to be and can't connect with his team-mates when he's up front on his own. After Lee got sent off against S-Pulse it really made no difference to how Omiya were playing because he was making no contribution. If he's going to be in the team it needs to be as a basic winger with simple responsibilities that tally with his strengths. Ishihara is a different type of player, a goalscorer first and foremost but ridiculously hardworking and unselfish, always quick to assess a situation and lay the ball off to a colleague if they are in a better position. And where's he spending most of the season? On Jun Suzuki's subs' bench. Looks to me like another misuse of resources.



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