Going into the match, both sides had been dominant in their domestic leagues. In particular, Sydney FC had a ten-point lead in the league, with two games in hand. Therefore it was particularly interesting to see how the two best sides in their respective leagues lined up. This tactical analysis will examine how the positional play and defensive transition of Yokohama FC were far too much for Sydney to handle in this Asian Champions League tie.
Sydney FC started in a similar vein to their league matches. Playing in 4-2-2-2, they lined up with the same eleven who appeared in the last league match against Brisbane Roar. Due to a postponed game, this would be their first match in just under 20 days.
With three games in eleven days, Yokohama FC had the polar opposite of Sydney’s schedule. However, Ange Postecoglou chose to start with the same line-up that beat Jeonbuk Motors seven days prior. New striker Ado Onaiwu would lead the line up having joined the Marinos recently.
Sydney set up a block
An analysis of the main theme of the match centred around the fluidity of Yokohama’s play and the way in which Sydney attempted to disrupt this. Sydney FC sat in a 4-4-2 medium block. Therefore the majority of play involved Yokohama’s tactics in attempting to penetrate their defensive scheme. The set up from Sydney could be described as a man-oriented zonal marking scheme. This means that they defended and shifted in a zonal formation. However, on occasion players would step up and aggressively press the man within their zone (usually vertically). As a result, we often saw the central midfielders for Sydney jump forwards onto whichever player was in their zone. Occasionally Sydney would continue following their man as seen below. This meant the Australian side could be manipulated with clever movements from Yokohama.
This was an attempt to disrupt Yokohama’s build-up and put good pressure on the ball. The resulting reality was far from what Sydney would have hoped. Inadvertently they played into Yokohama’s hands.
Yokohama FC have an extremely fluid style of play in ball possession. It seems that they are given a clear structured framework with certain spaces on the pitch needing to be occupied at most times. In addition to this, the front three are placed in order to pin the back four of the opposition. As we can see below, the front three often stretch the pitch with maximal horizontal width and vertical depth. This creates space in midfield.
From here, we see a huge plethora of rotations and interchanges. They work brilliantly as each player understands which gaps must be filled. Often, it doesn’t matter who it is, but rather that each player is in these spaces. These spaces, in particular, are the half-spaces between the midfield and defensive line of Sydney. We saw these spaces occupied by both full-backs, midfielders and wingers of Yokohama.
Sydney struggle to reduce space
Sydney lacked compactness, with often the three lines having far too much distance between them and not moving up and down in synchronicity. These spaces were exaggerated due to the lack of vertical staggering of Sydney’s formation. As they had a flat backline, midfield and front line, they only had three levels of vertical heights where the players were situated as seen below.
This differs greatly from a formation such as a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 diamond, whereby having players on different horizontal lines means there is better vertical coverage and allows better press access across the pitch. It was therefore surprising that Steve Corica didn’t look to change the shape for the Sydney side, who were clearly struggling with the movement and rotations of Yokohama.
Marco Junior plays deeper
One particular rotation that occurred regularly involved the midfielders and wing-backs. Marco Junior would drop down deeper, joining the two other midfielders in more lower positions. This enticed the central midfielders of Sydney onto them. The result would leave huge spaces in between the lines for Sydney as can be seen below. The full-backs and then occasionally wingers would fill this space.
Marcelo Bielsa is famous for having a double-digit number of methods used in order to create space between the opponent and his players (dismarking). One of these was on full show. Yokohama often used blindside movements in order to manipulate Sydney’s shape. Additionally, it creates space between their players and Sydney’s. This was best illustrated with the rotation mentioned above. When the ball was with the centre backs or a deeper defensive midfielder, the full-backs for Yokohama would often move behind the midfield line of Sydney. This would happen on the blind side of the wide midfielders for Sydney.
This combined with the eager vertical movements of Sydney’s midfielders, meant that the full-backs could receive the ball on the other side of Sydney’s midfield. The split second where they moved into the half-space involved crossing into the blind-sided vision spot of the wide midfielders of Sydney. As a result, it caused a split moment for disruption creating space. This then presented an opportunity to receive the ball.
Unlocking the winger
The more regular occurrence, however, was that the wide midfielders for Sydney would turn their heads and see the full-backs. As seen below, this meant for a split second that the wide midfielder of Sydney cannot see the winger of Yokohama.
In this instance, the right-back Ken Matsubara makes an inward movement towards the right half-space. In this first image, Sydney’s winger Anthony Caceres can initially see this movement. However as he moves in behind Caceres, he moves into a blind spot. Caceres must turn his head to see the positioning of Matsubara.
Doing so creates a split second where Caceres is unaware of the positioning of the right-winger for Yokohama. Then as seen below, the right-winger for Yokohama can drop and receive the ball in good time and space often in a 1v1 situation with the full-back. Alternatively, it can also become a 2v1 situation if the full-back underlaps.
By constantly causing this situation, it makes it hard for the wide midfielder of Sydney to block the ball into the inverted full-back and the winger. Due to the high amount of ball possession, Yokohama could repeat this scenario regularly, increasing the chances that the winger gets his positioning wrong.
When this occurs the Japanese outfit can then get either the inverted full-back in between lines with the ball, create a 1v1 situation with the winger or even a 2v1 at times. The ball wide was arguably a better situation for Yokohama. They created numerous chances by getting the ball early to the feet of their wide men. Teruhito Nakagawa and Keita Endo excelled in one on one situations, causing many headaches for Sydney. These three sequences showed the variability Yokohama had with the ball.
Inside to outside runs
These blindside movements also occurred in the form of runs from the inside to outside as seen in the previous image. If the full-back for Sydney stepped onto the winger of Yokohama it created a trigger and area to run into. The Yokohama full-backs inside positioning meant he could aggressively run in behind. Often on the blind slide of Sydney’s full-backs. This was another example of a rotation that caused huge issues for Sydney with their man-oriented defending.
Yokohama’s defensive transition
Yokohama’s defensive transition was also incredible, allowing Sydney only 2.96 passes on average per possession. Whilst it could have been a choice for the Australian side, they haven’t registered such a low number in their last twenty matches.
A large reason for this was the impressive pressing from the Japanese side. They were always looking to press high, rarely giving Sydney any time on the ball. Most remarkably, their defensive line was constantly held high, for as long as possible. Yokohama managed to catch Sydney offside four times in the match, the highest offside number for Sydney in the last ten matches.
Their high line was key to this, often holding their line-height even at times when there wasn’t pressure on the ball. Whilst this is a risky strategy, it condenses the space that the opposition has to play in. Additionally, in counter-press situations, the centre-backs were up and beyond the halfway, allowing further compaction of the pitch. This was combined with at least one of the midfielders or full backs sitting in front and in a more central area. Most importantly, the players are evenly spread and in areas which give the Japanese side excellent press access in transition.
Just before the shot goes in for the first goal, the positioning of Yokohama can be seen clearly. Each of Sydney’s furthest forward players have a Yokohama player in the direct vicinity. These players can then press the receiver if they acquire the ball in transition. Furthermore, they adopt a narrow shape. Having a narrow shape in counter-press situations can aid in forcing the opponent wide. This means the opponent has a longer distance and less direct route to goal. In effect slowing the counter-attack down of the opposition.
Backwards pressing traps
An additional factor that allowed Yokohama to press efficiently in counter-press situations was the work of the front three. Often attacking players can tend to switch off when the ball bypasses them in a press situation. However, Yokohama’s front three and attacking midfielder were ever-present in their pressure. Often they would continue their pressure even when bypassed.
By doing so, it allowed Yokohama to create pressing traps regularly. The ball carrier received pressure from all angles due to Yokohama’s ball-oriented pressing scheme. Three to four players would often swarm the ball carrier, putting them under extreme pressure. This often led to turnovers from Sydney. Sydney produced the least amount of passes into the final third in their last twenty matches. Another statistic that illustrates the dominance of Yokohama in this match.
Yokohama dominated this match from start to finish. Their defensive transition and impressive positional play with the ball was far too much for Sydney. Sydney’s defensive scheme was pulled apart with the fluid positional movement of Yokohama in possession. With more games to come in Group H, it will be interesting to see if Sydney alter their defensive set-up for their next encounter with the Marinos.