This tactical analysis covers the J-League clash between Yokohama F.Marinos and Shimizu S-Pulse. Yokohoma came into the game in a rich vein of league form. Winning their last 3 out of 4 matches in the J-league. Consequently, their manager Ange Postecouglou received the manager of the month award. S-Pulse came into the game with inconsistent form and a point to prove at home.
On the team sheet’s both teams lined up in a 4-2-3-1. As often occurs, the team sheets somewhat lie. Shimizu resembled more of a 4-4-2 in both possession and out of possession. Their number ten played next to the main striker both in and out of possession in the first half. Yokohoma’s shape was much more complicated and will be covered in detail below.
The first battle
The first battle began in the first phase of play for Yokohama. Marinos were intent on playing out the back. S-Pulse, on the other hand, were determined to press high. Marinos looked to overload and play through the middle. The Marinos lined up in an asymmetric shape. On the left side, they would have the winger high and wide, and the full-back would remain deeper. On the other side, however, the full-back would stay high and wide. The winger, therefore, would occupy the space inside.
Cat and mouse
For S-Pulse, often the left or right winger didn’t tuck inside when the ball was on the opposite wing. Potentially, however, he could have been looking to exploit the gap left by the full back. It did look to be a game of cat and mouse between S-Pulse’s winger and Marinos full back. Does he track the full back, or stay high and look to exploit the space? In general, it was a mix.
Gaps in Shimizu’s defensive structure
As a result, this created an interior space in Shimizu’s defensive structure. The space came up in numerous phases of play. Marinos struggled to access this in the first 20 minutes. In general, they failed to both occupy, recognise and play into the area.
Additionally, their winger was often too high and wide, meaning it was a long distance and pass. If they did receive in the gap, they often then lacked penetration as the winger had come short to receive. The full-back was not high enough for penetration. This meant Marinos struggled in the third phase in creating penetration.
An influential tactical shift
However, after the 26th minute things changed, albeit due to a smart tactical shift from Postecoglou.
We began to see an ever-increasing inversion of the full backs for Marinos. The tactical shift was brilliant in a number of ways. Not only did it occupy the interior space that was lacking previously, but it also then allowed the winger to stay higher for penetration. The Marinos, therefore, had extra numbers in the build-up and added security in the counter press. The full-back was not as high and wide, meaning he was closer to the opposite winger. Finally, it also forced the opposite winger to come back and further away from the vacated space left by the fullback.
Fluid and diverse
Marinos’s shape made this tactical analysis very interesting. The shape was extraordinarily fluid and diverse. They had a multitude of variations in build-up play and established play. S-Pulse struggled with the sheer complexity of the system. Marinos, therefore, played through them regularly and circulated the ball with ease. One such variation involved the inverted full backs.
The inverted full-backs would step in to create a diamond or box shape in midfield (as seen in the photo above). The first goal was a result of one of the many variations employed by Marinos. There was a clear trigger when the defensive midfielder received the ball. The inverted full back rapidly pushed into the interior space. As mentioned previously, this was open due to the positioning of the S-Pulse winger. The movement perfectly exploited the gap that had been open for the majority of the half. The inverted full back then received and laid it to the striker who finished with aplomb.
The fluid interchanging of positions created a variety of rotations in order to establish and circulate the ball. Full backs would come inside creating passing lanes to wingers. The full-backs would also under and overlap their winger. The left defensive midfield would step into the half space as seen in the asymmetrical shape at the beginning of the video.
Additionally, the wingers would alternate between staying high and also dropping into the half spaces. All the variations took intelligence from the Marinos players to recognise the situations at hand and which variation to engage in.
Shimizu’s defensive struggles
Shimizu struggled to cope in their 4-4-2 press set-up. Often, outnumbered in the middle. In particular, the front two were often played between. Both strikers struggled as the two centre backs split quite a distance. The two strikers were meant to pivot between the centre backs and whichever defensive midfielder supported them. As the distances were so large, they failed to cover all three. The issues were further compounded by their team’s reduced compactness and intensity in the press.
Half time changes
At halftime, the S-Pulse manager Jan Jönsson had a tough decision to make in regards to the wingers. The frustration for him in the first half must have been the inability of S-Pulse to recognise the space. They rarely played into the gaps left by the Marinos in wide areas.
He must also have been frustrated at not exploiting what was a vulnerable high line on occasions. Often, the Marinos backline would drop rather late, even when the ball carrier had time and space and could play a ball in behind. Occasionally the Marinos centre backs were also caught on the wrong side of their opponent. The ball into the channel from a free kick late in the first half exploited this scenario and should have happened more often.
The theory behind the change
Furthermore, the high press was bypassed on many occasions. Therefore, it made sense for them to switch to a 4-5-1, adding an extra man in midfield. In operation, this meant that the ball side attacking midfielder would jump when the ball was transferred to the centre back not marked by the striker. The change should have worked slightly better for two reasons.
Firstly, the distances were now covered by three individuals as opposed to two. Secondly, due to the approach from the two midfielders, it meant that the defensive midfielder had to work harder to avoid the cover shadow.
Fluidity within principles
S-Pulse however still struggled with the huge fluidity and movement of the Marinos. Any combination of the full-backs, wingers, central midfielders and attacking midfielder would rotate interchangeably between positions. The inverted fullbacks continued in an aggressive fashion. Whilst they were fluid, it was self-evidently within a structure. The players would alternate positions but always occupy the key spaces and gaps both defensively and offensively. I was extremely impressed by the ability of the Marinos players to recognise which gaps to fill.
More of the same
Marinos further continued their stranglehold on the game throughout the majority of play. Largely in part due to the poor defensive shape of S-Pulse. Alarmingly for Yokohama, they did concede some big chances. The number of chances wasn’t great for S-Pulse. However, when they broke through it was often extremely dangerous. The high line was functioning better and their second goal illustrated an improvement on their fourth phase.
A goal well deserved
As mentioned previously, the tactical shift of the inverted full-backs left the wingers much higher. The goal perfectly exemplified the effect of this.
The striker came to feet, dragging the centre back with him. Due to the higher winger positioning, he could exploit the space left by the centre back. A lovely pass from Marcos Junior led to the second goal of the match for the Marinos. In the first half, this type of play was what was missing: an excellent penetrative run and finish. Bizarrely amidst the celebrations, the assister for Marinos was sent off. Not only did this change the game, but proved to be the catalyst for an unbelievable comeback.
S-Pulse threw on an extra attacker, whilst Marinos prepared for pressing the self-destruction button. It must be said that Marinos mostly had control before the sending off. However, what was so good about Marinos, was ultimately their downfall. Down to ten men, they decided to stick to their principles and continue with the approach that had got them to this point.
S-Pulse learn from their mistakes
In what was a true script of the match, S-Pulse decided to see the light and were rewarded with two goals. The first one was courtesy of an incredibly high line. The S-Pulse centre back took on the press whilst the Marinos line didn’t drop in time. Finally, recognising the space with a chipped ball over the top. Koya Kitagawa raced through on goal and cutback to the oncoming Douglas.
The winner for Shimizu
As mentioned before, the battle largely took place in the wide areas between the inverted full-backs of Marinos and the wingers. Even with ten men, we saw the rotation take place. The full-back inverted and Marino’s lost the ball. As eluded to before, this left a huge gap on the wing. For what was only the second time in the game, finally, Shimizu saw the light. S-Pulse recognised the space and played into the vacated area to seal the win for the boys in Orange.
Gung-Ho or Gung-No
Marinos’s gung-ho approach to the sending off could reasonably be attributed to their loss of the three points. A fairly typical approach to a sending off would be to secure one’s lines and play defensively to see out the match. However, we have seen on many occasions how doing so can ultimately lead to an onslaught of pressure and a late goal. Is it better to stick to your approach in these scenarios or shut up shop? Paradoxically, deciding to play defensively can be as risky as progressing in your usual fashion which you are familiar with. As always, it comes down to individual circumstances, luck and many other factors. Factors which make the game of football so interesting.
It isn’t often in football that a script plays out just like this. There were many tell-tale signs foreshadowing the events that could possibly occur. The game of cat and mouse was played intriguingly throughout the match and deserved its grandstand finish.