For most of the last four years, the Spanish national team has been the best national team in the world. That period has coincided with the development of a playing style known as tiki-taka which is characterized by a short passing game and most importantly, dominance of possession. Opinions vary on its true nature though. It has been described by critics as negative football disguised by beautiful passing intended to protect a weak defense. Others call it as an upgrade from Total Football. Few doubt, however, the ability of Spain (and Barcelona at club level) to dominate both the ball and the opposition playing this way.
The first episode of the match between Osaka and ETU takes place over the first 19 minutes of the first half. To the surprise of very few people, Osaka take the initiative quickly and dominate possession culminating in the opening goal at the end of the episode. Some points of interest in this episode I will be looking at are Tatsumi’s big tactical error, scale of possession and ETU’s prospects of survival.
Tatsumi’s big tactical surprise in defense was assigning Kuroda to mark Hauer despite yielding 20 cm in height to the Dutch striker rather than the taller Sugie. This decision seemed to be working out well for a few minutes as Kuroda succeeded in winding up Hauer and discovering that the Dutchman isn’t good with the ball at his feet. Under the onslaught of Osaka’s attack, those small details really stopped mattering. Hauer’s role in Osaka’s attack is two-fold. He uses his strength to hold possession enough to play simple balls to teammates running forward, and he uses his height to get onto the end of crosses. Kuroda, is decidedly at a disadvantage in both of these areas.
The decision to have Sugie mark Kubota was probably due to Sugie’s reputation as the better defender in one-on-one situations. Kubota, though, showed Sugie that he undoubtedly has too much class to be playing in this league as he found himself unable to do anything with someone so unpredictable. Against Nagoya, Kuroda described a similar humbling by a player who played unpredictably which made him much better equipped to deal with Itagaki on that occasion.
Swapping them would have been the better option in my opinion. While Kubota probably would do well against Kuroda as a marker, I doubt it would be to the extent that he has done to Sugie. While Osaka would have probably scored soon enough with their domination of possession, it probably would not have come in the same manner as a simple header to the big man.
So the game is less than 20 minutes old, yet, I can only remember an ETU player attempting one pass. Gino’s misplaced pass to Tsubaki probably would have come to nothing in the end, but it would have taken some pressure off of their beleaguered defense.
As Dulfer points out to his translator, the key to Osaka’s attack is their domination of possession. Domination to that extent almost inevitably leads to a lapse in concentration, whether it is the 19th minute of a Japanese league match or the 116th minute of a World Cup final, one of the defenders will almost inevitably make a mistake. In this case Katayama beats Kiyokawa with a feint and puts himself in position to set up Hauer’s goal.
In addition, Murakoshi being in Shimura’s back pocket makes the situation much worse. ETU’s four-man midfield should be able to get some possession against Osaka’s two-man midfield, but they aren’t able to. The match has effectively been reduced to a six-on-six clashm where five of ETU’s players are being bossed by their counterparts. Only Ishihama really gets credit for doing his job completely to this point in the match.
ETU find themselves down a goal with 20 minutes on the clock and the situation looks bleak. The key for the rest of the half will be to keep it 1-0 until halftime. Preventing Kubota from having time on the ball would be a start. However, they have to have some time on the ball first. Hopeless punts up the field will do nothing if Osaka’s defenders can get the ball to Shimura within a few seconds to start the next attack. Therefore, Gino has to impose himself here and link up with the other four players (Tsubaki, Akasaki, Sera and Natsuki) who have had no impact at all if only to keep the ball for a few minutes.
Thoughts: For a couple seconds after the goal, I was expecting it to be disallowed for a foul on Kuroda. Silly optimism I guess. As far as the rest of the story arc, and the season, I would actually like to see ETU take a demolition here to illustrate just how difficult the battle against relegation will be. Unfortunately, stretching out a 6 or 7-0 win for Osaka over a number of episodes probably won’t sit well with fans of the series. So I’m going to look for a 2-1 scoreline going into halftime in favor of Osaka, as it is something that reflects the balance of play while providing ETU with some hope for the second half.