During the 2008/09 season in the English Premier League, West Bromwich Albion were probably the most patronized team in the league in many circles. Many heralded the way Tony Mowbray’s team played football the “right way”1 even as they were heading to yet another relegation finishing bottom of the league table. Mowbray’s reputation was somehow enhanced by this whole experience and Celtic were willing to pay West Brom to have him manage their team in a Champions League campaign and what should have been an easy league title. Nine months later, Mowbray had been sacked and West Brom cruised to another easy promotion back to the Premier League.
The 8th episode of Giant Killing sees the likely conclusion of Tatsumi’s engineering of the squad and probably finding a settled lineup. It also reveals a real method to his madness in the process. However, football is a results business, and Tatsumi will eventually have to get some results out of his vision.
Kuroda and Sugie have a conversation in a park as both already know that neither will be in the match squad for the first group game of the J. League Japan Cup. Kuroda finally shows some sense of perspective when he says that he is a limited player who makes up for it with passion and intensity. Sugie tells Kuroda something Midorikawa said. Even though the defense was a little shaky in the last game because of the 2 youngsters starting in the center, Midorikawa felt that it was at least working. With Kuroda and Sugie starting, it felt like they had stopped as the rest of the team progressed.
The episode moves on to the cup match where ETU are again facing Impulse. As Kuroda and Sugie watch from the stands, the latter realizes what the problem was when they were playing. The defense sat too far back which led to more inaccurate passing and more space for the opposition in midfield. In the third game, the defense played further up the field and they were at least able to score a goal.
The actual match progresses, with Gino able to find Tsubaki with a pass, but because of his inexperience he loses possession before he can do anything. Gino walks over to him, at first trying to see if he is still thinking about the Victory game, but then is a little less friendly toward him probably because he is thinking too much. Tatsumi isn’t too worried about Tsubaki at the moment because he wants him to find his own way out there.
The real problem is with the Kobayashi and Kamei in defense, who are struggling to keep up with the pace of the game, but Tatsumi desperately wants the 2 defenders watching in the stands to get it. Sugie says they never should have freaked out like they did in the 4-0 defeat because the opening goal was a fluke. The rest of the team had changed mentality, but for them. He goes back to the last match and says he noticed something immediately, this being Midorikawa playing the ball outside his own area a couple of times.
In reality, the fact that he was actually receiving backpasses at all should have been a sign they were playing further up. It seemed like Kuroda had the defense line set along the edge of the penalty area at times, which effectively invites the opponent to attack.
On the bench, Tatsumi finally tells his coaching staff the point of the games. He says that coaches by themselves can’t change players, and their first opponent was themselves. He believes their was a culture of failure that had gripped the club and it’s players and they needed to learn how to change gears in order to last the season. Which is why he had them play the tennis games.
As the match continues, Kamei gives away a penalty. ETU’s hopes rest on Midorikawa stopping the penalty being taken by a former teammate of his. He saves the penalty, but Kamei is unable to prevent his marker from getting onto the rebound and Impulse take the lead. Kamei apologizes to Midorikawa, but the goalkeeper tells him they have to go forward and try to make up for it. Watching from the stands, Kuroda and Sugie realize they can’t shame Midorikawa2 any longer.
After the match, Kuroda and Sugie stop at a ramen shop, which the owner says he has been running for 50 years to another customer. He puts it down to positive thinking and forgetting about the mediocre ramen he made the previous day in order to do better. Upon hearing this, Kuroda and Sugie have an epiphany and rush out of the shop.
The next day at training, Kuroda and Sugie show up and comment on the cup defeat, but they are now going to show commitment to the cause. Tatsumi says that is good because he says their winning formula starts in defense, and the two of them are the most important to the club.
Immediately, the episode moves to the next group game in the cup against Sapporo. Committed to pushing up a bit more, Kuroda is called into action to stop an attack. While stressing that he wasn’t panicking, his teammates can tell that he was. Eventually, Sapporo win a corner, which they score from after Ishihama lost his marker and allowed Sapporo to get a free header on goal. Sugie and Kuroda go over and console him, as Tatsumi acknowledges that the team has developed the spirit that is needed.
Thoughts: The next episode preview was all over the place. It looks like another crisis of confidence for Tsubaki, the Skulls deciding they want to confront the players in a very Italian ultras fashion, Tatsumi discovering something in the tapes of their next opponents and a focus on some members of Sapporo’s squad. That last part actually looks the most interesting to me simply because ETU’s squad wouldn’t have the types of conflicts more realistic Japanese teams would have. Surely ETU has to win a match in the next episode or 2 though, and Tsubaki eventually has to find himself or be dropped. It seems suicidal to keep playing a young player who is low on confidence without it affecting the rest of the team.
1. The “right way” in this case relying on a short passing game with players who aren’t capable of doing so at the level required. While people may deride teams like Blackburn for playing in a way where the ball never touches the ground, it at least gets results.
2. Another question that came up internally that I already answered in further thinking. Why wasn’t Midorikawa the captain? While he does seem to show a sense of leadership and is a player looked up to by everyone in the squad, like Murakoshi used to be, it is also clear that he doesn’t command his penalty area in the way that a goalkeeper should.