[2018 WC Qualifiers – Opinion Column] Thailand vs. Japan

In this post, I am going to discuss my opinion and views about the Thailand vs. Japan match.

  • Overall impressions of the match

Japan had about 65% possession the entire match, but they were not able to demonstrate their dominance on the scoreboard. The reason for this is the lack of chemistry overall, especially between the attacking midfielders. Japan’s attack has been very predictable over the past two matches. When the ball goes out to the RW or LW just past midfield, the RB or LB will be making an overlap and the ball is passed to the overlapping player. When the RW or LW is closer to goal and the side back is making a run up the field, the winger drops the ball back to the side back and they will send in an early cross. Japan does this because they have two very good side backs in Hiroki Sakai and Gotoku Sakai who fit the attacking full back role perfectly.

This attacking pattern is straightforward. If the pass to an overlapping side back is not available, the ball will be recirculated, usually through the center midfielders or center backs. However, when Japan comes up again a more physical team, like Australia, this attacking pattern will be broken up quite easily because to stop this attacking style all you have to do is quickly put a body on the winger to disrupt the flow of the attack.

So, what is the solution? Utilizing the CAM position to give the attack more versatility. Some might think that Japan is very deep in the CAM position because they have Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda, and Hiroshi Kiyotake in the squad. However, the problem does not lie within personnel; it lies within utilization of personnel. In other words, Manager Halilhodžić is not playing players in positions where they can contribute the most. I will go into more detail in the future when I write posts about particular players and positions, but here is a little preview.

  • Utilization of Players

Before the last two WC Qualifiers, I always show the 11 players I would give the green light to for each match. For both matches, I put Kiyotake in the CAM position, Kagawa in the RW position, and Honda in the CM position. First, Kiyotake has better passing and vision than Kagawa. Kiyotake also would rather create the game and then look for a chance for himself. Next, Kagawa; he likes to get in behind the defense and score goals for himself. So, in Japan’s current 4-2-3-1 system, Kagawa would be best on the wing. Lastly, Honda does not have the speed to play on the wing, but he does have the physicality and technical ability to play in a deep central position.

I will leave it here for now; wait for future posts about all three of these players.

  • Player Ratings for Japan

Notes on my rating system. I rate players on a 0-10 scale and each player starts with a 6.0, so 6.0 is an average performance.

GK: 12 Shusaku Nishikawa 6.2
RB: 19 Hiroki Sakai 7.5
CB: 22 Maya Yoshida 6.2
CB: 6 Masato Morishige 6.3
LB: 21 Gotoku Sakai 6.5
CM: 16 Hotaru Yamaguchi 6.1
CM: 17 Makoto Hasebe (Captain) 6.4
RW: 4 Keisuke Honda 6.7
CAM: 10 Shinji Kagawa 6.6
LW: 8 Genki Haraguchi 7.0
FW: 18 Takuma Asano 6.9

FW: 20 Yoshinori Muto 6.0
FW: 14 Yu Kobayashi 6.0
FW: 11 Takashi Usami 6.0

  • Center Midfield position

A problem position to say the least. Captain Makoto Hasebe is a player who looks to cover positions and spaces which were vacated by other teammates. The majority of his passes are simple passes which are do not cause trouble for the other team, but he did assist on Asano’s goal with a pass over the top. To explain Hasebe’s play in one word: safe.

The main problem is the Hasebe, but the player who will play alongside him. Last night, Hotaru Yamaguchi played at CM. The problem here is that Yamaguchi is a similar player to Hasebe. In other terms, Japan was playing with two defensive central midfielders, and this created gaps between the 2 defensive CMs and the 3 attacking midfielders. This is one reason why Japan could not create more potent attacking patterns.

Depending on Japan’s opponent, using Yamaguchi alongside Hasebe is a good idea if Japan is playing against a stronger team, for example Australia. However, Japan lacked attacking prowess last night, so Yosuke Kashiwagi in the CM would have greatly helped Japan create more chances. Kashiwagi plays like a roaming playmaker, so he will make runs back to defense which means the balance of the team will be preserved.

  • Striker/Forward

Against the UAE, starting lone striker Shinji Okazaki was a dud. In last night’s match, Manager Halilhodžić looked to the young speedstar Takuma Asano to give the team a spark. As Asano is good at, he tried to use his speed to get in behind Thailand’s defense, but because Japan’s attacking midfielders did not keep good spacing and the chemistry was lacking, Asano could not fully utilize his speed, until he scored in the second half when Thailand’s defenders were getting fatigued. Striker is also another position where Japan needs to set straight. Okazaki is definitely a goal-getter, but his tendencies work best only if the 3 attacking midfielders are in sync with him.

Q: So, who should be the go-to-man at the striker position?
A: Yuya Osako would be a good option if he were banging in goals on a regular basis at club level, but he is not. So, I think the ideal striker for Japan right now is Mike Havenaar. Last season for his club ADO Den Haag in the Dutch Eredivisie, he scored 18 goals in 32 matches to help his team reach 3rd place in the league behind league leaders Dutch powerhouses Feyenoord and PSV. So, I will write a post about Mike Havenaar in the future.

These are my ideas regarding Japan’s performance against Thailand and also my opinion on how Japan should carry on in future fixtures.

Like I previously mentioned, I will be making future in-depth posts about:

  1. Shinji Kagawa
  2. Keisuke Honda
  3. Hiroshi Kiyotake
  4. Mike Havenaar

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