Kawasaki Frontale arrived into Saturday’s J1 League clash with Oita Trinita in stellar form and sitting top of the league table. Toru Oniki’s side had won seven and drawn one of their opening eight league matches.
Tomohiro Katanosaka’s Trinita, on the other hand, had won just two of their opening eight league matches, drawing one and losing five.
The two could not have shared more polar starts to the season as Kawasaki Frontale sat six points clear at the top of the table and the Oita club just three points clear of Shonan Bellmare at the bottom of the pile.
The resulting 2-0 win for the Kawasaki club at the Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium will have left few surprised.
This tactical analysis will dissect the clash between the two sides and highlight key tactics which were deployed by both outfits. Analysis will then be used to explain how those tactical led to the match’s outcome.
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Oniki deployed his Kawasaki Frontale side in a 4-3-3 formation which had attacking full-backs on either side in the form of Diogo Mateus and Kyohei Noborizat, and the system placed emphasis on pressing high up the pitch. Throughout the match, Leandro Damião led the line. Mid-way through the second half, Oniki slightly altered his side’s structure as they shifted to a slightly different 4-2-3-1.
In the away dugout, Katanosaka lined his side up in a 5-4-1 starting formation. Trinita persisted with this shape throughout the full match despite going behind early in the first half. The Oita club placed emphasis on playing out from the back and through their back five, which is perhaps why their formation remained the same. Leading the line for Oita Trinita for the majority of the match was Yuya Takazawa.
High and wide full-backs
As previously mentioned, Kawasaki Frontale placed emphasis on having attacking full-backs which would position themselves as high and as wide as possible to stretch the back five of Oita Trinita. Oniki will have deployed this tactic to open up gaps for the home side to play through and early in the game this tactic paid dividends as it played a vital role in the Kawasaki club taking the lead.
As can be seen here, the two full-backs – Mateus (17) and Noborizat (2) – were often stationed much higher up the pitch than the two central defenders. As stated, this allowed the home side to stretch Oita Trinita’s backline and open up gaps – which is what they did to open the scoring early in the first half.
As can be seen in this annotation, on the near side Mateus is stretching the pitch while the left-winger on the opposite side – Kaoru Mitoma – is also stretching the back five of Trinita. This has spread the defensive line across the pitch and left big gaps to play through.
However, as can be seen in the below annotation, Trinita’s Yuta Koide has sensed possible danger and dropped too deep which opens up space for Mitoma to drift in from the left-hand side. From here, the winger is able to pick up possession and curl the ball beyond Mun Kyung-gun to open the scoring.
Trinita playing out from the back
With their 5-4-1 structure leaving the away side looking somewhat defensive and with greater numbers at the back than up top, they looked to build attacks through their defensive line and play out from the back where possible. This would often see the goalkeeper play the ball short to his central defenders from a goal-kick.
As can be seen in Oita Trinita’s passing map, their tactic of playing out from the back is clearly visible, with their strongest passing lines between the goalkeeper and the central defenders. In fact, this tactic led Trinita’s central centre-back – Yoshinori Suzuki (5) – to complete more passes than any other player on the pitch during the match with 86 completed passes.
The away side playing out from the back can be seen here and this annotation suggests that Trinita possibly had an over-reliance on playing out from the back, as they did in situations which presented danger. With Kawasaki Frontale’s front three positioned to press high, Kyung-gun persists with the playing out from the back tactic and plays the ball to the wide defender.
Kawasaki Frontale’s high press
Due to Oita Trinita deploying a tactic which saw them often attempt to play out from the back and through their defence, the home side used a high pressing tactic to win the ball back high up the pitch. This would see their front three and their midfield three quickly and intensely press the ball when the opportunity presented itself to either win the ball back or force the ball carrier into a mistake.
As can be seen in this image which is taken from just seconds after the previous annotation in which the away side looked to play out from the back, the Kawasaki club’s attacking players have sensed an opportunity. With Trinita’s defensive players in a difficult situation, Oniki’s players position themselves to put pressure to the ball and be in a position to intercept a stray pass.
A stray pass does end up being played and the ball finds its way to Leandro Damião. The Brazilian forward then remains composed and eludes one defender before coolly slotting the ball home to put Kawasaki Frontale 2-0 up.
Kawasaki Frontale’s piercing play
Having gone two goals up in the first half, the home side never looked like losing their grip on the match and the three points that a victory would bring them. However, the scoreline could have been more favourable towards Kawasaki Frontale had they taken the chances which another of their tactics had presented them; that being their through balls which found the gaps in Trinita’s defence.
As can be seen in this annotation, the home side was able to find gaps in Trinita’s defence with their through balls. These through balls were perhaps made possible, too, due to the stretched defensive line which occurred due to Oniki’s high and wide full-backs. In this instance, though, the ball found its way to Yu Kobayashi in the centre and his shot was saved by the goalkeeper.
Here is another example of Frontale’s through passes. This time, however, it was a lofted through ball. Again, in this instance the chance is spurned as Kaoru Mitoma’s sumptuous lofted through ball falls to Ryota Oshima, whose lovely flick to Ao Tanaka is then smashed onto the underside of the crossbar.
These through balls were repeated on several occasions by Kawasaki Frontale, however, it was a tactic which did not end up resulting in goal success. On a different day, though, perhaps the home side may have been able to score some of the chances which the through balls presented them with.
As could have been expected in this clash between the two sides, it was a comfortable 2-0 victory for Kawasaki Frontale in the end and the J1 League table-toppers showed their quality against a struggling Oita Trinita side.
However, the visitors did little to help themselves as their tactic of playing out from the back coupled with Frontale’s high press ended up placing Trinita under unnecessary pressure in certain circumstances.
This tactical analysis has dissected the clash between Kawasaki Frontale and Oita Trinita and highlighted key tactics which were used by both sides. Analysis has then been used to explain how those tactics influenced the match’s outcome.