2019 second-place winner FC Tokyo faced off against Cerezo Osaka, where former Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund player Shinji Kagawa used to play for. FC Tokyo, who currently seem to be struggling to find their form illustrated by their lack of consistency in their last five games, desperately needed a win against Cerezo Osaka. In contrast, Osaka is certainly enjoying their great form, as they are currently placed third in standings. 

In this tactical analysis, we will examine how FC Tokyo tried to find their rhythm by using the powerful Brazilian trio, and how Cerezo Osaka utilized their dynamic attacking structure and organized defence to their advantage. 


Cerezo Osaka in purple, manager Miguel Angel Lotina displayed a 4-4-2. The defensive line consisted of Yusuke Maruhashi, Ayumu Seko, Matej Jonic and Riku Matsuda. In front of the four-man defensive line, former Sevilla midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake, Naoyuki Fujita, Leandro Desabato and Tatsuhiro Sakamoto led the midfield line. Ahead of them, Bruno Mendes and Hiroaki Okuno acted as forwards. 

In contrast, the challenger opted for 4-1-4-1. The four-man defensive line consisted of Tsuyoshi Watanabe, Masato Morishige, Ryoya Ogawa and Sei Muroya. Ahead of the four-man defensive line, Yogiro Takahagi played as a regista. In front of the lone player, Kensuke Nagai, Arthur Silva, Shuto Abe and Leandro formed the midfield line. Ahead of the line, Diego Oliveira led the line. 

J League 2019/2020: FC Tokyo vs Cerezo Osaka - tactical analysis tactics

Dynamism in Cerezo Osaka forward’s movement

In attack, Cerezo Osaka forwards did an excellent job of creating numerical advantage against FC Tokyo backline by opting for 2-4-4 formation and continued to push back the defensive line in order to create pockets of space between the defensive and midfield line. In the example below, both wingers, Sakamoto and Kiyotake, join the forwards in order to create a four-man forward formation. As the true forward, Okuno, uses his pace to run in behind the defensive line, the forward creates pockets of space between the defensive line so Kiyotake can receive the ball in between the lines. The right-back Matsuda, fully comprehending the movement of the forwards, plays a great vertical pass in the vacant space in order for Kiyotake to receive the ball. 

Cerezo Osaka utilized these tactics quite often. However, in order to be successful in making this tactic work, the midfielders need to be exceptional to play vertical passes into the forward’s feet. The importance of vertical passes can be shown in data as well. Against FC Tokyo, Cerezo Osaka had 101 progressive passes, 87% being successful. 

The man who displayed the best quality of progressive and vertical passes for Cerezo Osaka was Fujita. Fujita had a total of 15 forward passes with 100% accuracy, and 14 progressive passes with 100% again. What is important, however, is the data for passes to forwards in the final third, where he had 14 passes with another 100% accuracy. In the image below, passing between Fujita and the high attacking-minded Murahashi shows a strong link. In addition, the passing to forwards are not as bold as other passes but illustrates that Fujita was the key player to play progressive forwards into the four-man forward line.

In the image below, Cerezo Osaka exceptionally displays both vertical passing and forward’s movement to move past opposition defensive blocks. As a centre-back, Jonic holds the ball in the midfield line, Sakamoto checks for the ball in order to create space in between the lines, where Okuno swiftly moves into to receive the ball. 

After Okuno receives the ball, he quickly plays it to right-back, Matsuda, who locates himself near the touchline to stretch the opposition backline. As Matsuda receives the ball, Sakamoto quickly makes a vertical run towards the half-space in order to receive the ball from Matsuda, successfully breaking down the opposition backline. 

J League 2019/2020: FC Tokyo vs Cerezo Osaka - tactical analysis tactics

Importance of modern attacking fullbacks 

Apart from the four-man forward structure, Cerezo Osaka utilized their fullbacks to stretch the opposition backline and create space in order for the forwards to receiving the ball. In addition, the fullbacks were capable of crossing the ball into dangerous areas if the opportunity was available. In the image below, Murahashi receives the ball near the touchline to stretch the opposition backline. Seeing that, the two central forwards, Mendes and Okuno, both make runs towards the near post in order to create space for Sakamoto to enter and receive the cross by Murahashi. By the movement of the forwards and the fullbacks, Cerezo Osaka had a great opportunity on goal, which they should have scored. 

J League 2019/2020: FC Tokyo vs Cerezo Osaka - tactical analysis tactics

Staying true to basics 

Against FC Tokyo, Cerezo Osaka were fundamental in their defence to make it difficult for Tokyo to pass the ball to their forwards. In the analysis below, Cerezo Osaka opted for 4-4-2 midblock and had perfect positioning for midfielders and forwards during defence, which made it extremely difficult to pass through. J League 2019/2020: FC Tokyo vs Cerezo Osaka - tactical analysis tactics

In addition to successfully creating mid blocks to prevent Tokyo to progress through the middle of the field, Cerezo were also successful at shifting with the ball, and preventing Tokyo to enter into halfspaces. In the example below, Cerezo eliminates space in the middle of the field, which forced Tokyo to spread the field and play on the left side.
J League 2019/2020: FC Tokyo vs Cerezo Osaka - tactical analysis tacticsAfter having possession, Tokyo tries to play in the half-space where Leandro makes a run. However, right midfielder, Sakamoto and centre back, Jonic, quickly identifies the run and eliminates the half-space by quickly swarming the isolated forward and wins possession.
J League 2019/2020: FC Tokyo vs Cerezo Osaka - tactical analysis tactics

Overdependent on the Brazilian trio 

Cerezo showcased their capabilities of clever movement and positioning can achieve ball progression into dangerous areas and have shots on target. Tokyo, however, often relied too much on the Brazilian trio, consisting of Silva, Olivera and Leandro, to progress the ball forward and shoot on target. Although the trio is certainly deadly, having over 0.30 expected goal ratio (xG) against Cerezo Osaka, and having the highest xG ratio in FC Tokyo, failed to convert any of their chances. Part of the reason why FC Tokyo struggled to find the net can be possibly be explained by the lack of support by the other midfielders during transitions. In the image below, Tokyo breaks away for a counter-attack. However, there are only three players in attack for Tokyo. 

In contrast, Cerezo has six players coming back on defence. Although this series of play resulted on a shot on goal by the individual brilliance of Leonardo, if FC Tokyo committed more numbers in the box, it could have resulted in a higher xG rate. 

J League 2019/2020: FC Tokyo vs Cerezo Osaka - tactical analysis tactics

Lack of recognition in space

Although deploying 4-4-2 block formation, Tokyo failed to quickly return to their shape during transitions as a unit. In the image below, Osaka retains possession outside the box and quickly looks at the forwards located in zone 14. In zone 14, Osaka was able to locate three forwards and receive the ball in that area due to the fact that Tokyo midfielders failed to return to their defensive line. Although two of the Tokyo midfielders are located in the right defensive area, and one of the midfielders cut off the passing lane, because of the fact that two of the Tokyo midfielders failed to return to their line, the pass was completed by aerial pass into the forward’s feet.
J League 2019/2020: FC Tokyo vs Cerezo Osaka - tactical analysis tacticsJ League 2019/2020: FC Tokyo vs Cerezo Osaka - tactical analysis tactics
One of the key differences in defence for Osaka and Tokyo was the recognition of space and danger. Tokyo, as explained above, fails to recognize space and often results letting the opposition have the ball in dangerous areas, such as zone 14. In contrast, however, Osaka quickly recognizes the vacant space and shifts well with the team. In addition, if opposition runs into dangerous areas, such as half-spaces in the final third, there are multiple players that will correspond to that situation. 


Against FC Tokyo, Cerezo Osaka showcased their ability of allocating great numbers in forward positions to create numerical superiority in the final third, checking to receive the ball in order to create space in between channels. In addition, Cerezo also showcased their right/left back’s abilities to maintain position high and near the touchline in order to stretch the opposition backline, and cross the ball into dangerous vacant areas, created by the forward’s movement. 

The scoreline of 0-0 certainly does not reflect the game, as Cerezo dominated in attack and defence. In contrast, however, FC Tokyo relied too much on their Brazilian trio and did not have the discipline to return back to their defensive shape as a unit. Going forward, it will be interesting to see whether FC Tokyo can resolve their problem of overdependence on certain players, and Cerezo Osaka continues to progress within the league, and possibly become the leading producer of Asian football talents to Europe.