Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Kobe Preview

In May the residents of Furtho Towers decamped to Saitama for our annual visit to the mother country and this included a couple of trips to see the Squirrels in action. Leaving to one side for a moment the results and performances against Consadole Sapporo and Kawasaki Frontale, it was interesting to attend live games and so get a sense of perspective on Omiya's play that TV or the internet cannot provide.

Between those matches and the time of writing ahead of Wednesday's Nabisco Cup fixture against Vissel Kobe, Ardija have of course sacked coach Jun Suzuki. A balanced view of his two years in charge at NACK5 has already been provided on these pages by Agent Orange, but with Suzuki's departure it's only fair to acknowledge that a key influence on the Consadole and Frontale games is no longer on the scene.

I don't think it's controversial to observe that that's a good thing. Playing at home against teams who were themselves mediocre at best, it was plain to see that late Suzuki-era Omiya were a shockingly poor proposition. This underlined a comment I made in the aftermath of the defeat by Cerezo Osaka - that Ardija would go down this year unless the coach left. No-one can yet say if Zdenko Verdenik is the man to take the Squirrels forward, but for the time being the veteran Slovenian must represent a more positive option than sticking with his predecessor. 

So what were the gloomy realities exposed by those two matches in May? I think there were four main points...

1. Suzuki's "possession soccer" had no aim

The most important thing to say is that the coach's ethos had throttled the life out of Omiya as an attacking force. Ignore what's implied by match statistics about numbers of shots (an ostensibly healthy fifteen against Sapporo, thirteen against Kawasaki) and believe me when I say that Ardija were never, ever going to score from open play in either game. What goal attempts that there were occurred either from set pieces, such as Kim Young Gwon's header from a corner to make it 1-0 in the Consadole match, or improvised snap shots when opposition defenders were slow to close down on a loose ball.

In other words, throughout 180 minutes of play Suzuki's possession soccer never once led to the direct creation of a goalscoring opportunity. But given that Omiya did actually have the ball for a lot of the time, what the hell were they doing with it if not making chances? The answer is that they were passing, from side to side and back again, in what looked for all the world like an endless training ground routine. Passing, passing and more passing.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with passing and there's nothing wrong with possession. They're both good things, absolutely necessary for winning football matches. But under Suzuki Ardija seemed to have evolved into a team for which possession was the actual purpose of playing and getting the ball close to the opponent's goal was therefore the height of foolhardiness.

2. Omiya never had any width

This one was strange, but so ingrained in the Squirrels' approach that it must have come as a directive from the coach. If ever any Omiya player had the ball in a wide position they would without exception cut inside or lay the ball off to a team-mate. Suzuki's style was incredibly, absurdly compressed into the middle of the field. Any Omiya supporter looking for players like Cho Young Cheol or Daisuke Watabe to make runs down the line to send in crosses would have been very disappointed. Any time it looked like this might have happened, well... it didn't. Just passing, passing and more passing.

3. Omiya were very easy to defend against

The net result of the possession-related approach and the lack of width is that opposition defences - even those of teams as run-of-the-mill as Sapporo and Kawasaki - have a very straightforward ninety minutes when they play Ardija. Omiya's endless, directionless passing game means that even the most average back line will have an age to organise itself and reduce the amount of space in which Cho, Keigo Higashi and Rafael can operate (it's hardly surprising that the latter two players have had such disappointing seasons if they never get any chance to show what they can do).

Life was made more comfortable for visiting defenders by the fact that only Carlinhos would ever look up and try to switch play with a longer pass. This coupled with the Squirrels' refusal to use the wings as attacking outlets meant that there was an absolute predictability to their play. Consa and Frontale knew that Omiya wouldn't use an overlap and so were able to concentrate their efforts on packing the middle, which of course reduced yet further the room available to Ardija's front players. 

4. Omiya's defensive organisation is not the issue...

It will obviously be interesting to see what changes caretaker boss Takeyuki Okamoto makes for the Vissel game on Wednesday night, especially given Zdenko Verdenik's press conference remarks about improving the organisation of the defence. On the evidence of the matches in mid-May, I don't think that problems in that part of the Ardija team are organisational: we just don't have four especially good defenders, which means that teams who are not run along the lines of Suzuki's Omiya will get decent chances against us. And sometimes they'll score, which meant that most of the time, we'd lose. But Suzuki is gone now. Good luck Okamoto and welcome to Omiya, Verdenik.



  © Blogger templates Newspaper III by 2008

Back to TOP