Giant Killing 16 – Lone Striker

Heskey. Wide open goal. The end result is typical of his career.

This past week, Emile Heskey announced his retirement from international football with very little fanfare. Comments ranged from his being used in the wrong role for his entire career, to completely dismissing him for paltry return of 7 goals in 62 appearances for England. Teammates have praised him for his linkup career, the shift he put in as a central defender in one match kept Wigan in the Premier League and he created what is called by many the “Heskey role”. At 32, there are definitely better players at doing what he does at his club and for his country, but many within the game saw what he did was important. For everyone else, all that mattered was his goal tally.

The 16th episode of Giant Killing sees the continued struggle Sera has with his confidence. In this episode, ETU faced Yokohama in their 5th league match and the return match against Shimizu in the cup.

Continuing on with the format that seems to have developed with the Giant Killing posts, I’ve again decided to focus on 3 things I found interesting. First is an attempt to figure out the role of Sera in the team. Second, the expectation of the role Tatsumi plays in squad management with respect to Sera and Natsuki. Finally, a look at Tsubaki’s bad day at the office.

Sera gets caught offside

Sera the Lone Striker

The proliferation of single striker formations has seen most smaller central forwards disappear at the top level only to be replaced by bigger, stronger forwards who are capable of holding onto the ball. Smaller forwards have in effect been pushed out to the wings where they can link up with the bigger striker.

ETU, on the other hand, play Sera through the middle. In the 9 matches to date his contribution has been a single goal, and he has not contributed to any of ETU’s other goals. Against Nagoya, he was used as an outlet to relieve pressure, and in other matches he has simply stayed on the shoulder of the last defender and run onto through balls. However, he has squandered most of the chances that have been presented to him.

Yokohama’s manager Motoki, correctly identifies that Sera is incapable of creating his own chances because he lacks the height and the ability to do so. When Sera is replaced by Sakai, the latter comes close to scoring because he is able to get his head onto a cross. Ultimately there are 2 separate questions to be asked.

First, why does Tatsumi play with 1 striker? The simple answer is that with only 2 fit strikers it makes sense not to leave the team exposed in the case of an injury to one of the 2. Also, it is likely the only way he could fit Tsubaki in central midfield while keeping Gino and Murakoshi in the team. Second, why Sera over Sakai? The best I can guess is that the way ETU play in attack would change drastically. They would probably have to rely either on slow buildup play, which does not fit in with the counter-attacking style they play, or launch high balls up to Sakai all day, which is unlikely to work against good teams.

Natsuki is stunned that his being on the bench is part of a strategy.

Tatsumi’s Squad Management Expections

Part of the flow of the series to date has been fairly repetitious. A player has an issue, Tatsumi moves in to convince them that they are part of the team in various unconventional and unusual ways. Something peculiar seemed to strike me with Tatsumi’s relationship with Sera. Over the last several matches, Sera comes off, is simply thanked by Tatsumi for his work, while the former struggles with his continued run without a goal.

Compare that to Natsuki, who is desperate to get some match action, which Tatsumi quickly addresses by telling him why he was on the bench and comforting him by telling him he has plans for him in the near future. Various teammates try to pick him up, as well as ETU’s supporters who appreciate the effort he puts in every match, but Tatsumi is never in the picture of this particular struggle, though it is completely expected.

Tsubaki faces one-on-one time because of his performance against Yokohama

The Weight of Expectation

After his excellent performances against Nagoya and Sapporo, Tsubaki seemed to be coming to grips with the pace of the game at this level. Against Yokohama, he couldn’t trap a bag of cement. Murakoshi recognizes that Tsubaki has crossed from the struggle to prove himself to the struggle to deal with the pressure to perform. Unlike the former, Murakoshi knows that Tsubaki could have to deal with the latter for the rest of his career.

Because he is capable of pulling of special feats on the field, he comes under increased scrutiny. If he performs badly, he gets singled out for attention by Tatsumi and the media. Sera recognizes this because his own perceived bad performance is pretty well ignored.

Another Murakoshi piledriver. This series needs more of them.

Thoughts: Obviously the major story going forward is Sera’s injury and the impact it has on the team. There are a number of questions that come up as a result of the first injury suffered by an ETU player in this series. Will Tatsumi be forced to completely change their playing style by starting Sakai, or will he potentially rush Natsuki back too early? How will Sera handle being out of the lineup? Will Tsubaki be able to return to form if Natsuki is in the team?

6 thoughts on “Giant Killing 16 – Lone Striker”

  1. All good observations.

    Murakoshi’s goal was absurdly awesome. I mean, the drama of the story and the different character arcs made me forget how important and fundamental Murakoshi’s was. This goal is a reward for everyone who invested themselves in this show, reflected by the Skulls’ appreciation for their hero, Mr. ETU.

    Poor Sera.

    I love it how despite the seemingly narrow-focused character arcs become, ultimately it is a manager’s show and it’s Tatsumi’s dramatic dilemma. Giant Killing kicks ass.

    1. If it were a header at the backpost, I would have described it as a typical captain’s goal. To have it be a volley direct from the corner just makes it special. The single focus character arcs work well because they end up with the team playing better as a result. The fact that it all seems realistic as well as being entertaining is what sets the series apart in my opinion.

  2. It might be heartless with respect to Sera (who at the least has a painful injury), but Tatsumi needed to shake up his strategy at some point anyways. That is exactly the message of Gino’s neutralization. Sooner or later someone will find a way to blunt your best weapon, or find the chink in your armor.

    I think Tatsumi was using Sera intentionally. He isn’t very clear about what his plan is, as you say, but I don’t think he would keep fielding Sera as the starter if Tatsumi didn’t think that was the best way to use him. Now is it good or bad that Tatsumi doesn’t communicate with Sera about his plan? If Tatsumi really doesn’t expect Sera to score, it might be just as well that he keeps his mouth shut — I doubt that would improve Sera’s confidence.

    1. After thinking about it a bit more, it seems like Tatsumi uses Sera until they take a lead. Then he brings on Sakai and switches to a more possession-oriented approach instead of relying on quick counter-attacking moves. The lack of communication between Tatsumi and Sera is what I really find a little frustrating though.

  3. Just a comment re typical lone strikers — in Japanese football, it’s relatively common to have a short/quick forward play in a lone striker role (e.g., Hisato Sato for Hiroshima, Shinji Okazaki for the JNT). Given that the show is clearly set in the J-League (all of the teams have slightly changed names and wear the colors of their J-League equivalents), I don’t think Japanese audiences would find it that strange that Sera plays as a lone striker.

    1. I guess it just seems unusual that the manager, who essentially has an English education as a manager and who vowed to make the league exciting would choose to play in a conventionally Japanese way. I put it down to a lack of other options, but given the choice of strength or pace it makes sense to go with the latter

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