Matchday 20 of the J-League season saw Ange Postecoglou’s Yokohoma FM host an in form Vissel Kobe side. With a shaky start to the season, the Marinos are climbing up the league table having won 4 of their past five matches, only drawing to Sagan Tosu earlier in the week. The visitors on the other hand are enjoying life under recently appointed manager, Atsuhiro Miura. The former Japanese midfielder has taken over after Thorsten Fink resigned to head home to Germany.
This tactical analysis will look at the tactics used by both teams as well as their strengths and weaknesses. This analysis will also shine a light on how Vissel Kobe looked to overcome their head to head form and come away with three points on the road.
On paper, the 2019 champions lined up in a 4-3-3, but as seen later in this analysis, this formation changed its structure to exploit the weaknesses of Vissel Kobe. Yuji Kajikawa started off between the sticks, with the back four consisting of Theerathon Bunmathan, Shinnosuke Hatanaka, Thiago Martins, and Ryuta Koike. Takahiro Ogihara, Takuya Wada, and Kota Watanabe formed the central midfield trio. Yokohoma weren’t leaving any striking power in the sheds, with their top two goal scorers Marcos Junior and Erik starting alongside fellow Brazilian Edigar Junio as the striker.
Vissel Kobe also stuck to a 4-3-3 but unlike the Marinos, this formation stayed consistent throughout the first half. Due to the context of the game, Miura’s men changed to a 4-4-1-1 formation in the second half, to provide more stability in defence. Daiya Maekawa started in goals with Dankler and former AS Roma defender, Thomas Vermaelen, as the two centre backs. Gotoku Sakai and Daigo Nishi provided the team with width from their positions as fullbacks. Former Barcelona teammates Sergi Samper and Andrés Iniesta partnered Hotaru Yamaguchi as the midfield three. Upfront Noriaki Fujimoto, Douglas, and Yuta Goke provided Vissel Kobe with the strike power that looked to break down the Marinos defensive line.
Yokohoma’s pressing intensity
Right from the start, Yokohoma’s defensive intention was clear. As the ball gets played back towards the keeper, the Marinos would step up aggressively and force the Vissel Kobe back line to clear the ball upfield. This was reflected in the data when we look at the average passes both teams allowed per defensive action (PPDA: the lower the number the higher the pressing intensity). This showed that Yokohoma were able to win the ball back quicker than Vissel Kobe (6.2 and 25.7 PPDA respectively). The intensity was maintained throughout the game and was most intense (2.1 PPDA) during the last 20 minutes when Vissel Kobe were looking to protect the lead and clear the danger away from their box.
To counter Vissel Kobe playing out, the front three of Yokohoma started narrowly to mark the centre backs. This left their midfielders, Wada and Watanabe, marking a man each in midfield, whilst the third Kobe midfielder was marked by one of the defenders in the back line. The player to pick up the free midfielder would be dependent on his positioning and location. If the free midfielder was wider (as seen above Watanabe) then the nearest centre back would press and Ogihara would cover.
One of the issues that the Marinos would face in this situation is if the ball was able to be shifted into a wide area quickly. If this was to happen, the Vissel Kobe fullbacks would have space to progress forward. This problem would be solved in two ways. The first would be for Yokohoma to be really aggressive and push Kioke and Bunmathan onto their fullbacks as soon as the keeper shifts the ball. This would only be the case if either Vissel Kobe fullback pushed higher which would limit the distance the Marinos wing-backs would have to cover.
If not the wing-backs risk being caught out of position. The second method would have Erick and Marcos Junior to drop back and cover if the ball went straight from keeper to fullback. You can see in the picture above, Marcos Junior already starting to anticipate the ball to Nishi as the Brazilian is the deepest out of the front three.
As seen above, moving to a 4-2-3-1 formation made it easier for both Erick and Marcos Junior to know who to cover. Rather than picking up the centre backs the moment the keeper played the ball, Junio would now press them whilst the two Brazilians were assigned to the fullbacks. This also meant that Kioke and Bunmathan could stay connected to the back line so they wouldn’t be caught out of position pressing higher up the field.
Attacking through the flanks
As discussed, on paper the Marinos lined up in a 4-3-3 formation however depending on the phase of play, the formation was flexible in its structure. When in possession, both Marcos Junior and Erick would push into wider to provide support for the midfielders when trying to progress forward in the middle third. However, when the Marinos were attacking in the opposition third, both of them positioned themselves narrow and inside the box to provide numbers for the cross.
As seen above, during the build-up phase, Erick and Marcos Junior have pushed out wider in line with both centre backs to provide the highest option. In order to remain balanced in defence in case Martins loses the ball, the number six, Ogihara drops from the midfield. As a result, Martins can drive forward and have a better chance to link up with Kioke and Erick. It also allows for the fullbacks to remain high in possession creating opportunities for them to get crosses in the box.
The above chart shows the number of opportunities created in the first half through crosses. The majority of which come from Bunmathan (number five) on the left, and Kioke (number 25) on the right.
This led the Marinos to the first goal within a matter of minutes. After winning back possession in the middle third, Erick drives forward on the right-hand side with Kioke in support out wide. Because of the lack of urgency from the Vissel Kobe fullback in the earlier phase of play, Vermaelen is forced to shift across and engage Erick. Although Vissel Kobe have the numbers behind to support, here is where Dankler gets it wrong.
As the cross gets played in, you will notice Nishi picking up Marcos Junior which means Dankler should be picking up Junio. When marking players, the general rule of thumb is to be in a position where you are able to see the ball and the player you are marking. Looking and Danklers positioning, he is able to see Kioke with the ball but Junio is positioned on his blind side. As a result, the ball travels over his head and Junio has an easy header on goal.
Minutes later, you can see a similar situation with Kioke in a position to cross the ball and Dankler marking Junio. This is much better from Dankler as he is in a position where he can see Junio and Kioke and the ball. If Junio wants to make a run to the front post, Dankler can still track his run and cut off the shot.
Can’t beat them at their own game
When a team comes up against a Postecoglou side, you know they are a team whose tactics are to score goals and dominate possession. This was evident from his time in the A-league with both Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory. Aside from first placers, Kawasaki Frontale, the Marinos have the greatest number of goals in the J-League with 46 and lead the league in possession statistics with 64.2% average possession this season. So how can Vissel Kobe break down a team who like to dominate possession and win the ball back as quick as they can? There is, however, one crack in the Marinos armour and that is their defence. This season Yokohoma have conceded a total of 38 goals, with only three other teams worse off. One attributing factor to the number of goals conceded is their high defensive line. Now, as a coach, you begin to ask yourself “how am I able to get my team to exploit this weakness?”. The next part of this analysis will highlight how Vissel Kobe did so.
In general possession, Vissel Kobe stayed true to their 4-3-3 formation that they have used frequently throughout the season. This structure also plays to the strengths of the Barcelona trio of Iniesta, Samper and Vermaelen who played in the same roles and formation with the La Liga giants. We can also see that the front three are very narrow so that they are able to pin the Yokohoma fullbacks back, which then gives Nishi and Sakai more space to receive the ball.
Whilst it appears that the Vissel Kobe fullbacks are in large amounts of space, this advantage is soon lost. Here we can see that Dankler is on the ball but because of the time given to him by Junio, and the large distance between him and Nishi, the Brazilian decides to dribble across. As he does so, this allows the Marinos defence to slide across and limit the spaces in wide areas as seen below, thus nullifying the threat. Recognising there are no safe options forward, Dankler passes back to the keeper which is the trigger for the Marinos to step up aggressively and press. The keeper is then forced into a long ball and Yokohoma win back possession.
Although Maekawa is able to hit a long ball from the goals, the distance of that pass allows the Marinos to get set early, mark and cover the space behind. So, in order to threaten the high defensive line, Vissel Kobe needed to find a player in space behind the first line of pressure.
Because of the intensity of Samper dropping and showing for the ball, this invites the nearest marker to press him. What this does is flatten out the Yokohoma line of three and leaves a large amount of space for Nishi to receive the ball behind the line of pressure. The reason Yokohoma’s two holding midfielders have not stepped up is that they are pinned back by Iniesta and Yamaguchi. Additionally, they are anticipating the long ball since the goalkeeper is under pressure. Now that Nishi has received the ball in space he can then drive forward and attack the high defensive line.
Whilst Vissel Kobe is threatening, Yokohoma should still be able to deal with the situation. But here is when the lack of communication from the backline hurt the Marinos. As Douglas makes the run in behind, the left centre back Hatanaka steps up to trigger the offside trap. However, it is the right centre back Martins who still follows Douglas allowing him to remain onside. Once the line is beaten by the ball over the top, the Brazilian striker has enough pace to outrun the backline and score one on one against the keeper.
As the game progressed, Vissel Kobe kept searching for the long ball in behind the defensive line. This was frequently done by their keeper who would play directly in behind if he could not find the fullbacks in space.
In order to bolster their defensive structure in the second half, Vissel Kobe switched to a 4-4-1-1. Off the back of a blind side tackle from Andrés Iniesta, Douglas teamed up with Furuhashi on the counter who ended up cutting in to score. From that point onwards the number of opportunities Yokohoma created increased as did the amount of possession. Finally, in the 93rd minute, Kioke narrowed the gap but by then it was too late.
This tactical analysis highlighted how dynamic the Marinos can be in both attack and defence, but once again their tactics of using the high line caused them problems. Despite this, credit does need to go to Postecoglou as he has demonstrated that despite criticism, he is unwavering in his tactics and in the way he wants his team to play.
With this win, Vissel Kobe now continues their run of form and remain four points behind fourth-place sitters Nagoya.