New (and improved?) Japanese National Team

Manager Halilhodžić named 31 players and 12 backups (total 43 players) for his first challenge as the manager of the Japanese National Team.

First, let’s take a look at the members:

Top Team:
Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege)
Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka)
Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds)
Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo)

Gotoku Sakai (VfB Stuttgart)
Hiroki Sakai (Hannover 96)
Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 04)
Maya Yoshida (Southampton)
Hiroki Mizumoto (Sanfrecce Hiroshima)
Gen Shoji (Kashima Antlers)
Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo)
Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Reds)
Kosuke Ota (FC Tokyo)
Hiroki Fujiharu (Gamba Osaka)
Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan)

Makoto Hasebe (Frankfurt)
Gaku Shibasaki (Kashima Antlers)
Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka)
Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima)
Hotaru Yamguchi (Cerezo Osaka)
Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund)
Hiroshi Kiyotake (Hannover 96)

Keisuke Honda (AC Milan)
Kensuke Nagai (Nagoya Grampus)
Yu Kobayashi (Kawasaki Frontale)
Shinji Okazaki (Mainz)
Yuya Osako (FC Koln)
Shinzo Koroki (Urawa Reds)
Takashi Inui (Frankfurt)
Yoshinori Muto (FC Tokyo)
Takashi Usami (Gamba Osaka)

Backup Squad:
Akihiro Hayashi (Sagan Tosu)

Tsukasa Shiotani (Sanfrecce Hiroshima)
Daisuke Suzuki (Kashiwa Reysol)
Kazuhiko Chiba (Sanfrecce Hiroshima)
Shintaro Kurumaya (Kawasaki Frontale)

Shogo Taniguchi (Kawasaki Frontale)
Takuji Yonemoto (FC Tokyo)
Kotaro Omori (Gamba Osaka)
Yojiro Takahagi (West Sydney Wanderers)

Yoichiro Kakitani (Basel)
Kengo Kawamata (Nagoya Grampus)
Yohei Toyoda (Sagan Tosu)

Players worth talking about:

  • Gen Shoji (CB, Kashima Antlers): Is strong in the air, can cover well, and also has good passing ability. For me, Shoji is similar to the late Naoki Matsuda as a defender.  However, Matsuda had a much stronger personality; after all, he was the only player who could go face-to-face with Hidetoshi Nakata.
  • Hiroki Fujiharu (LB, Gamba Osaka): With players like Gotoku Sakai, Atsuto Uchida, and Yuto Nagatomo player the outside back position, it would be hard for any other player to make the squad.  However, Fujiharu has been impressive over the past few seasons for Gamba Osaka, and this call-up is well-deserved.
  • Kosuke Ota (LB, FC Tokyo): Plays the same position as Fujiharu and Nagatomo (LB).  To me, Ota creates more scoring opportunities with his crosses than Fujiharu and Nagatomo; so, he deserves a chance in the starting line-up. Ota is also a threat from free kicks, if Keisuke Honda let’s him take them.
  • Tomoaki Makino (CB/LB, Urawa Reds): Personally, I was always a fan of Makino because of his charisma and versatility. He is not the greatest defender, but he is a good option to have on the bench.
  • Kensuke Nagai (FW, Nagoya Grampus): He has SPEED.  He is not the most technical player, but his speed creates chances.  Naturally, I would like to seem him play a poacher role because he can play on the last line of defense well, but he is also capable of playing on the wing, despite his lack of technique.
  • Shinzo Koroki (FW, Urawa Reds): A clinical striker who will take his chances.  It would be interesting to see how he performs on the international level.
  • Takashi Usami (FW, Gamba Osaka): All I can say is, “IT’S ABOUT TIME!!!” This guy should have been called up much earlier because the Japanese National Team has been lacking a player with his ability (I will explain below).

With these members, I would try the following formation:

(3.27) JNT

(Player pictures from JFA website, Usami’s picture from Gamba Osaka’s website)
5-3-2 (2 Wing Backs)
GK: Higashiguchi
CB: Morishige
CB: Yoshida
CB: Shoji
LWB: Ota
RWB: Uchida
CM: Shibasaki
CM: Honda
CM: Kagawa
FW: Muto
ST: Usami

Specific Players Roles are as follows:
5-3-2 (2 Wing Backs)
GK: Higashiguchi – Standard GK, shorter distribution
CB: Morishige – Defense, Shorter Passing
CB: Yoshida – Cover, Shorter/Direct Passing
CB: Shoji – Defense, Shorter Passing
LWB: Ota – Get Forward, Early Crosses
RWB: Uchida – Get Forward, Early Crosses
CM: Shibasaki – Regista, Shorter Passing
CM: Honda – Box-to-Box Midfielder, Get Forward, Simple Passing
CM: Kagawa – Advanced Playmaker, More Creativity
FW: Muto – False Nine, Find Channels
ST: Usami – Find Ball at Feet, Find Space Behind FW, Take on Defense

The reason for going with a 5-3-2 is because Japan needs to solidify their back line and they have good wing backs and great center midfielders. To be honest, Japan does not have quality wingers who can take on opposing defenders one-v-one and create chances.  That is why I would drop Honda and Kagawa in the center midfield. Up top, I would give Muto a False Nine role where he would find channels in the defense vertically and horizontally; so he would be like another midfielder.  Muto’s partner would be Usami because he has a sense for goal and can take defenders one-v-one, which is something Osako lacks.

As a team, I would instruct the team to keep their shape on defense, but find space quickly when getting the ball.  For example, if the team gets the ball on the right side, I expect Uchida to get himself into a position where he can find Shibasaki, Kagawa, Muto, or Usami. Shibasaki, Kagawa, and Muto would find space and Usami would make his move slightly after so he can make a dangerous run to panic the defensive line.

In other words, the 5-3-2 formation will give players more passing options in all areas of the pitch.  Japan has problems with creating chances because they cannot take on opponents one-v-one, so having more passing options will give the offense more variety and will also give players a better probability of winning small one-v-one battles, which will lead to creating clear-cut chances.

Regarding Japan’s defensive line, I would have them play a slightly higher defensive line to keep things compact. If the formation is more compact, wing backs and CMs have less ground to recover and can put pressure quickly on the ball holder.

In this way, the 5-3-2 formation will give the team more stability on defense, which is something the team lacks.

I could explain on and on about my philosophy, but I will stop here.

More to come soon!


2 responses to “New (and improved?) Japanese National Team

  1. Japan had a pretty disappointing World Cup this past year, getting destroyed by Columbia. I think they are improving and should be able to qualify again for the next World Cup in 2018.


    • Thanks for the reply, and I agree, soccer is looking up in both nations, just the USA is putting a bit of a better product out on the field right now, compared to Japan. But we can both agree, both nations have many improvements to make before the next World Cup in 2018

      Liked by 1 person

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