The J League table was “slightly corrected” after this 3-0 win for Nagoya Grampus, as Vissel Kobe had been over-performing their expected goals this season. Before this match, they had been expected to score 44.64 goals whereas they had scored 53. On the other hand, Nagoya had been under-performing. They had 44.86 expected goals but had only scored 41. The following tactical analysis shows why the result was probably justified and why Vissel’s approach needs to be more pragmatic against teams that sit deep. The analysis of the tactics of both sides shows that Nagoya has been more effective in the J League when they are allowed to sit back and defend and Thorsten’s team were at fault for playing in a way that Nagoya could easily neutralise.
Nagoya and Vissel are playing a game of “guess the formation” this year. Between them, they have played 15 different formations this season. In attack, Nagoya set up in 4-2-3-1 whereas, without the ball, they were in a 5-3-1-1 shape. Vissel have played in eight different formations this season, and I think today showed they didn’t really know what shape they were playing. In defence, they almost looked like a 5-1-4 as Iniesta did not want to track back. The manager Thorsten Finks has to realise that Iniesta shouldn’t be in a midfield pair.
On a separate note, congratulations must be given to David Villa who will be hanging his boots up at the end of the season. 610 league appearances across his career and 325 goals – an impressive 0.53 goals per game. The fans salute you, Mr Villa.
From goal kicks, Nagoya’s Eduardo Neto dropped between the centre-backs to help recycle possession. Vissel Kobe pressed with Iniesta joining the front three, but the press lacked any real intensity and this gave the centre-backs time on the ball to launch long balls forward or to continue recycling possession. When this press was broken, Nagoya had acres of space to utilise, as I will discuss further on.
Nagoya’s attack was very narrow when they were not on the counter-attack but chances, when Vissel were in their mid-block, were hard to come by. This is why Nagoya have been far more effective on the counter this season than when needing to attack.
Vissel were arguably very naïve in the attack. Their loss attacking play played into the strength of Nagoyas defence. The following diagram shows the attacking losses of Vissel. 59% of these loses were in their attacking third and though they dominated possession, they didn’t do much with it, and were countered very effectively.
As I will discuss further on in this tactical analysis, the key component of Nagoya’s success was their counter-attacking and low block. There were several causes for this and most notably, the poor defensive transitions of Vissel.
As Maeda counter-attacked down the right, Vissel’s back five were not set and there was a huge gap between them and the Vissel centre-midfield pairing. Iniesta, although fantastic going forward, was not as good at getting back to help out his midfield colleague, Yamaguchi.
Nagoya’s defensive transitioning was far more effective than Vissel’s. When they lost the ball in the attacking third, rather than counter-press to win the ball back like Vissel, they immediately back-peddled and formed into their defensive shape.
Nagoya set up in a narrow 4-4-1-1 configuration in the first half, but this changed as the game went on. Nagoya played in a compact narrow low-block, but several times in the first half, Vissel, with the creative powers of Iniesta, kept finding teammates in-between the defence and midfield. This dried up as the game went on and Nagoya adapted to these issues.
When Nagoya where under significant pressure, as they were in the very beginning of the game, they moved to a back five, with left midfielder Izumi moving to left-back and the other four shuffling over. Their defensive formation was therefore a 5-3-1-1. This was not a one-off – they deployed this set-up several times to help secure the defence, and Vissel struggled with this. They found pockets of space harder to come by as the defence had more freedom to step out more to close the space.
Due to Nagoya’s low block, the back three of Vissel had a lot of time on the ball and this played wonderfully into Nagoya’s hands. The image above shows the trap. The left centre-back came forward with the ball and was tackled. The space behind Vissel’s midfield two and wing-backs was evident, and this meant that counter-attacks were a good source of opportunity creation for Nagoya.
Nagoya’s main outlet was right winger Maeda (who is very Riyad Mahrez-like). He drove the ball forward wonderfully before cutting back onto his left foot and either unleashing a rocket, like for his first goal, or would hold up the ball for joining teammates.
This is the main reason, when Nagoya formed a back 5, that Izumi was the one who dropped back to help the defence rather than Maeda as he was the most proficient player for Nagoya going forward.
Possession-hungry Vissel were caught out by a very structured and defensive Nagoya Grampus. Manager Fink Thorsten, an ex Bayern Munich player, was very naïve in his tactical setup. Nagoya had been playing with a similar philosophy all season: a deep defensive line, strong attacking transitions, and fluid defensive formations.
Thorsten should have analysed the previous results of Nagoya more closely and realised their defeats this season had mainly come against teams that sat back and had, on average, under 50% possession in games. They had lost to Vegalta Sendai, Shimizu S-Pulse and Tokyo in the last few weeks who all average under 45% possession in the league. It’s clear that if Nagoya is made to attack, rather than defend, they are a poorer team.
Ficcadenti, Nagoya’s coach didn’t need to change his team’s approach at all to win this game. Sit deep and counter and you will win would have been his message to the team.
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