For all the thought that goes into setting up a team tactically, whether it is basic formation, use of substitutions, attacking mentality or anything else that goes into it, a match is ultimately decided by the players. As a comparison, Fulham’s run to this year’s Europa League final has been down to the mental toughness of the players, a squad with no real star players playing at a higher level and a 4-4-1-1 formation that values defensive solidarity over anything else. Middlesbrough’s run to the 2006 UEFA Cup final, on the other hand was put down to Steve McClaren1 throwing on a bunch of strikers and hoping it worked out, which it did in comebacks against FC Basel and Steaua Bucharest. The players going beyond tactical framework is an important theme in the 5th episode of Giant Killing.
The first tactical change of the episode is made at halftime by Tatsumi, as he takes off a defender for a midfielder to start the second half to pack the midfield and make it harder for Victory to retain possession. Personal history aside with the 3-6-12, it can be a solid formation as long as the wingers are capable of tracking back and defending well. For the most part this change works out pretty well with the substitute Miyano combining well in attack with Akasaki and Gino to create a few chances for ETU. Tsubaki is also able to track back and cutoff a few Victory attacks, though they come close another time.
The second tactical change is using his 2 remaining substitutions to take off Sera and Tamba for Sakai and Yano with 15 minutes to go. Even Tatsumi admits the match would now be out of his control, and that it would all be down to the players.
At about this point in the episode, tactics mattered less than the individual decisions made by the players. Yano believes he has to run at the defense because he thinks they should be too tired to deal with him. Another of Victory’s Japan internationals, Shironishi takes possession off him easily enough. With Victory on the counter-attack, Gino decides he is too tired to defend, which ultimately leads to a great chance for Leonardo, but his shot crashes into the crossbar.
Then with the words of Tatsumi echoing in his mind, Tsubaki tries to make up for being beaten on a 1-2 by trying to do anything to stop Mochida from scoring. Mochida gets through on goal, but chips a weak shot over Midorikawa, which should ultimately be stopped by the goalkeeper. However, Tsubaki enters the picture, collides with Midorikawa, and the ball gently rolls into the net to make it 2-1 to Victory.
The final individual decision is made by Murakoshi, with devastating effect. He stops a Victory attack, and then unusually he decides to bring the ball forward himself. He dribbles past Mochida, plays a 1-2 pass with Gino, and rather than pass, he welts the ball from distance into the top corner to make it 2-23.
While I believe that individuals have probably mattered a little too much in the matches played in the series to this point, there hasn’t been anything here that is completely unrealistic. Gino is off in his own little world where his defending does not exist. Tsubaki has little experience, so trying to do too much to make up for a mistake is realistic. Murakoshi’s run reminded me a little of this.
Other Thoughts: Murakoshi gets his captaincy back, mainly because he’s the only one on the team fit enough to have it. Tatsumi does put strict conditions on it though. The next episode looks like a combination of Tatsumi dealing with the media again, and revisiting his days in England. Should be good times, I hope.
1. McClaren had already been announced as the next England manager at this point, and record signing Massimo Maccarone could only be bothered to try in European matches after knowing he would never have to deal with McClaren again. To be fair, McClaren did just win the Dutch Eredivisie title managing FC Twente yesterday.
2. At the 1998 World Cup, United States manager Steve Sampson opted for the 3-6-1 formation, which was at the time seen as the major reason why the team finished 32nd out of 32 teams. Later it emerged that French defender David Regis was guaranteed a starting spot simply for taking American citizenship. On top of that, the captain John Harkes was dropped from the team entirely for engaging in some John Terry action with striker Eric Wynalda’s wife. And you thought that type of stuff was limited to English football.