J1 League 2020: Yokohama F. Marinos vs Gamba Osaka – tactical analysis
When the fixtures were released for the 2020 J1 League season, the 2019 champions, Yokohama F. Marinos, will have been one side that most would have been keen to avoid. However, it fell upon Gamba Osaka to travel to the Nissan Stadium for their opening game of the season.
Having finished 23 points behind their hosts last season while finishing seventh in the J1 League, Gamba Osaka had to deliver a David versus Goliath-esque display to claim anything, which they did.
In what was almost a statistical oddity the away side were able to deliver what was a near-perfect underdog display to claim a 2-1 victory over Yokohama F. Marinos, who remain one of the favourites to retain their league title.
For their opening game of the season, Ange Postecoglou opted for Marinos’ tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 formation, remaining unchanged from their 4-0 victory over Sydney FC in an AFC Champions League group stage game last time out. In terms of personnel changes from the tie with the Australian side, only one was made. Goalkeeper Yuji Kajikawa was replaced by the South Korean stopper, Park Iru-gyu.
In the away side’s dugout, Tsuneyasu Miyamoto proved himself to be incredibly fluid in terms of starting formation over the duration of last season. Against Marinos, he opted for a 4-1-4-1 that looked like the 5-4-1, as shown on the Wyscout graphic, when the side was out of possession. Following the 1-0 home defeat in the first J. League Cup game of the season against Kashiwa Reysol, two changes were made. Ryo Shinzato and Yuya Fukuda were dropped in favour of Oh Jae-suk and Yasuhito Endō.
Marinos building through the thirds and use of a pivot
As the firm favourites going into the tie, Marinos looked to enjoy the majority of the possession and build their play through the thirds. To aid in this, Postecoglou used a pivot role, performed by Takahiro Ogihara, which allowed then allowed the side’s full-backs to provide much more width and push on. Through their style of play, Marinos boasted a whopping 69% of possession, compared to Gamba Osaka’s 31%, and complete 642 passes, compared with the away side’s 193.
As can be seen from the pass maps of the home side’s goalkeeper, Park Iru-gyu, Marinos looked to play out from the back where possible as the stopper only attempted 11 long passes, only a handful of which left their half of the pitch. Instead, last season’s champions looked to play through the thirds, beginning with short passes from the goalkeeper, which was one area the away side took advantage of to perfection – which will be discussed later in the piece.
As can be seen in this annotation, Marinos are using the pivot role to allow the full-backs to provide greater width to their build-up play. With the ball having been passed out short by the goalkeeper, Ogihara has dropped deep to perform his role of picking up the ball from the defenders to link the defensive and midfield thirds. Ogihara performed this role incredibly effectively, completing 113 passes over the duration of the game, just 80 fewer than the entirety of Gamba Osaka’s side achieved. This, though, is the main tactic which the away side exploited to perfection.
Gamba Osaka’s selective high press
To make the most of the home side’s build-up play from defence, Gamba Osaka deployed a high and energetic press that was incredibly selective. The press relied solely on the intelligence of the player closest to the ball in a given situation, who was responsible for initiating the press. Often the away side would sit into their 5-4-1 out of possession shape to remain compact and solid – which will be discussed later – but when an opportunity was sensed, a fast and aggressive press would be launched to pin the home side in.
Here, Gamba Osaka have just had a corner inside the first five minutes of the game. The corner is dealt with and from the goal kick, Marinos attempt to play out from the back and play through the thirds instead of playing direct. With Gamba Osaka still high up the pitch having not settled back into their 5-4-1, Shinya Yajima has sensed an opportunity and visibly initiates the press, the other attackers then close in on the ball carriers’ passing options.
Then, just seconds later, the away side have Yokohama F. Marinos penned in with another attacker pushing high to create a four-man perimeter on the edge of the box to make it difficult for Marinos to play out from the back. However, with the goalkeeper’s short passing options now stifled and Yajima closing in, the attacker is able to dispossess the stopper and slide a pass across to Shu Kurata, who has a simple finish to open the scoring.
Gamba Osaka’s solid and compact defensive lines
As mentioned in the above section, the away side were masters of seizing the right opportunities and quickly creating chances. As with their second goal, a punted ball forward from the goalkeeper saw Kurata beat the offside trap and slide a pass across to Yajima to finish. However, both goals would have been little use if it were not for the away side’s intelligent defensive play while sat into their 5-4-1 defensive formation.
As can be seen in this annotation, the image appears in stark contrast to the side’s aggressive and high press. With Ogihara closing in on Gamba Osaka’s third of the pitch, there is little pressing of any form as no player breaks rank of their five-man defensive line or four-man midfield line. This was so the away side would be incredibly difficult to play through as the small caps between defending players would be difficult to pass through without the ball being intercepted.
This appears especially so in the five-man defensive line. As previously stated, this tactic required meticulous thought from the players on the pitch as to when they would choose their moment to press the ball, however, that was predominantly when Marinos were deep in their own half. Due to this structure, Gamba Osaka made an incredible 74 interceptions, compared to the home side’s 36, and also aided in 57 clearances, compared with Marinos’ 17.
However, the system did not work to complete perfection as Marinos became wise to Gamba Osaka’s defensive system. With around 15 minutes remaining, it is clear that with six attackers stationed across the away side’s backline, Marinos were attempting to stretch the compact back five with an attacker in between the gaps between defenders. Due to this and perhaps tiredness due to Marinos’ relentless attacks, of which they had 71, the midfield does not intercept a through pass and Marcos Junior is afforded too much space by the defence, from where he launches an unstoppable shot.
As previously stated in the piece, it was almost the perfect underdog performance from Gamba Osaka, who upset all of the odds by defeat last season’s champions. While tiredness and Marinos’ attacking strength spoiled what would have been a spotless afternoon for Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, he will care little after his side picked up three points.
Ange Postecoglou, though, will likely be incredibly frustrated that his side saw defeat on the opening day of the 2020 season despite enjoying by far the better of the stats. However, it is likely that it may just be an early bump in the road, as Yokohama F. Marinos remain a favourite to lift the J1 League title again.
This tactical analysis has dissected the clash between Yokohama F. Marinos and Gamba Osaka, highlighting key tactics from the two sides and using analysis to show how they led to the game’s outcome.