Heading into matchday 14 of the J-League season, two of the surprise packages of the season in Tokyo and Oita Trinita faced off in a top of the table clash. Tokyo are the league leaders after 13 fixtures, the best defence in the league has been worthy of their place atop of the table. Oita Trinita are newly promoted from J2 League where they finished second behind Matsumoto Yamaga. They have exceeded expectations in their first J-League season since 2013. This tactical analysis will take a look at the top of the table clash to which Tokyo continued to raise their credentials as J-League title contenders.
Tokyo entered this contest on the back of a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Cerezo Osaka and looked to return back to winning ways. Surprisingly, manager Kenta Hasegawa named an unchanged side and system from that particular outing.
Oita Trinita also came into the match on the back of a defeat with Kawasaki Frontale handing down a 1-0 defeat. Tomohiro Katansaka made just the one change to that side Yuji Hoshi coming in for Keita Takahata. Rei Matsumoto moved from left wing back to the right with Hoshi’s inclusion in the side.
With Tokyo on the offensive in the opening 15 minutes, we get to see how Katansaka sets his team up defensively. The outlined formation of 3-4-2-1 isn’t particularly expressed without possession. However, we see what Oita Trinita’s structure is and what they do when the ball enters certain areas of the pitch.
The sequence commences on halfway with Yojiro Takahagi bringing the ball into the opposition half. Immediately we can see the 3-4-2-1 formation reverted to a 4-5-1. The left wing back in Hoshi dropping into the back four with Tomoki Iwata shifting to right back. The triangle attacking three reverts to isolation one with Ado Onaiwu atop of the formation as Noriaki Fujimoto tucks in.
As Tokyo switches the play to the far side, Oita Trinita shift to create an overload and avoid Tokyo from playing down the channel. The shape has become incoherent with the right back and right midfielder in the defensive 4-5-1 attacking the area near the ball carrier.
Further into this section of play and Tokyo have been able to retain possession without penetrating the defence. In the small inroads into enemy territory, we see a switch in the defensive system. Initially, a 4-5-1 has now become a 5-4-1 with again Onaiwu isolated up top. The midfield four is tight as they look to force Tokyo wide where they can overload that area of the pitch.
Tic Tac Toe Tokyo takes the lead
Tokyo have impressed in the opening stages of this match but have yet to crack the stubborn Oita Trinita defence. They have had their chances but just before the half-hour, Tokyo would finally break the deadlock. This part of the tactical analysis will look at the exchange between Takefusa Kubo and Sei Muroya and how the defence is caught ball watching at a pivotal moment.
Kubo has possession on the by-line and looks to attack the defence with Honoya Shoji in close proximity. The Oita Trinita defence is fixated on Kubo’s attempt to attack and their shape is all over the place. Shoji is set up towards the touchline as he looks to force Kubo out of creating an opportunity for his teammates.
As the scene progresses Kubo is able to avoid going towards the by-line but now creates a 1v2 scenario. Toshio Shimakawa comes to support Shoji which ensures that Kubo will find difficulties in penetrating the penalty area. Right back Muroya has remained unattached in this sequence and is the only option for Kubo.
Kubo hits up Muroya who is in acres of space and looks to play the ball into the area first time. As we can see from the match-up, the defence remains goal side with the exception of one match up between Kento Hashimoto and Kazuki Kozuka.
Hashimoto is able to lose the rather uncomfortable Kozuka who is caught ball watching. Kozuka misses his chance to head clear and Hashimoto takes full advantage. The attention to detail on just Kubo became detrimental for Oita Trinita as 17-year old who produced another fantastic performance.
Tokyo power press
With a comfortable lead and control of the game, you could be excused for thinking Tokyo would sit on the back foot. Yet the desire of Hasegawa’s team was on full display as they hunted Oita Trinita into coughing up possession time and again. This section of the analysis showcases a statement of intent from Tokyo.
This segment begins inside the 18-yard box for Oita Trinita with the ball played back to keeper Shun Takagi. The press comes from none other than the right back in Muroya as Tokyo look to force the error and win possession back.
Prior to the ball reaching Takagi, we can see the Tokyo players setting up for a short play with those in white spreading. When looking to play short, Matsumoto is the only real option. Even then, he isn’t even looking at the play and it would be a tricky ball to play.
Takagi’s risky ball to Matsumoto doesn’t pay off as Kubo wins back possession for Tokyo who in turn have a shot on goal. Whilst it’s more than acceptable to play from the back when teams opt to press, playing the percentages and clearing the ball from danger seemed more appropriate in this scenario.
Oita Trinita exploiting the width
Up to this point, Oita Trinita had been second best but a change in fortune from the 3-4-2-1 to a more conventional 4-2-3-1 has helped the side somewhat. In fact, the visitors have got a goal back through Onaiwu giving life into the contest. Katansaka’s side is starting to grow in confidence as they search for an equaliser. This passage of play gives us a good indicator of the defensive structure utilised by Tokyo in the final third and how Oita Trinita looked to exploit that.
We start on the fringes of the final third with Oita Trinita in attack, Iwata playing a more conventional right-back is on the ball. As outlined, Tokyo are defending the middle of the park tightly. They don’t want to allow Oita Trinita a direct route to goal. Iwata plays the ball centrally with the hope of creating holes defensively.
Tokyo have maintained their shape despite the opposition trying to open them up through the middle. With tight spacing, this allows the wide players for Oita Trinita and namely Matsumoto to be left wide open. Quick play from the two midfielders who deliver the ball to the left back in space.
The resulting cross leads to a missed opportunity by Onaiwu who heads wide. This would Oita Trinita’s last real scoring chance of the game. Their inability to break down Tokyo’s defence with any sort of purpose or intensity was telling throughout.
The result never seemed beyond doubt with Tokyo taking the assertive approach in this encounter. Hasegawa’s men looked lively going forward and showcased why they have the best defence in the league whilst Kubo showcased the hype around him is warranted. Tokyo have done everything right up until this point as extend the margin to four points to the chasing Kawasaki Frontale.
From Katansaka’s point of view, two defeats to the top two sides have seen Oita Trinita drop down to 6th. However, the glowing issue with the style of play implemented was on full display as Oita Trinita almost replicated their inability to score two weeks running. The statistics don’t make for pretty ready and it’s something that needs to be rectified going forward.