J1 League 2020: Yokohama F. Marinos vs Kawasaki Frontale – tactical analysis
The reigning champion vs the team which has the most probability of dethroning the champions is itself an intriguing affair. Yokohama F. Marinos might be the 2019 J1 League champion but have started poorly in this campaign. Before the weekend fixture against Kawasaki Frontale, Yokohama based club lingered in the 6th spot with 21 points from 14 games having played two more games than its direct opponents just below them.
Frontale is on course to win another J1 League with Toru Oniki. The Kawasaki based club leads the second-placed Cerezo Osaka by eight points though played one game more than its direct rival.
The weekend fixture was supposed to be a statement win for Frontale as well as to keep their lead intact. However, Frontale won it quite comprehensively after going a goal down in early minutes.
Toru Oniki started with his preferred 4-3-3 formation but made a wholesale of changes from their previous J1 League fixture as well as the J-League Cup on Wednesday. Jung Sung-Ryong started between the sticks as usual. He was well protected by Miki Yamane, Jesiel, Shogo Taniguchi, and Shintaro Kurumaya in defence. Yasuto Wakizaka, Hidemasa Morita, and Ryoto Oshima manned the midfield. Akiro Ienaga and Kaoru Mitoma positioned themselves on either side of Leandro Damião (former Real Betis player) on the wings.
Angelos Postecoglou, former Melbourne Victory gaffer, followed his compatriot in making numerous changes due to fixture congestion. The formation reads 4-4-1-1 in the above picture but it constantly varied, both in possession and out of possession owing to the way Marinos approach the game.
Thiago Martins was brought back to the line-up. Jun Amano partnered Takahiro Ogihara in the midfield. Eitaro Matsuda replaced the star of the previous J1 League fixture for the Marinos, Teruhito Nakagawa. Júnior Santos started as the lone striker instead of Erik who was shifted to the left-wing.
The Frontale press and Marinos’ use of inverted full-backs
Kawasaki Frontale approached Marinos’ build-up with a man-oriented zonal marking. In easy terms, it is a mix between man-marking as well as zonal marking. Zonal marking refers to each players covering a certain area. In a man-oriented zonal marking, the reference point is the opponent. So, each player covers a certain space as well as moves relative to the opponent in his/her zone. The other aspect of man-oriented zonal marking is that the players do not press the opposition players aggressively rather use a lot of cover shadow and mild pressing to cut off various passing lanes of the opponent.
Here, Damião acts as the left-winger, Mitoma as the striker due to the dynamics of the game. So, they cover the opposition players in their zone as well as the other Frontale players. It might look like a man-oriented pressing in the above screenshot but it is not, which you would see further in the analysis as well as it’s hard to understand from the image but Frontale players just sit in their zones relative to the opposition players or press mildly to cut the passing lanes.
To bypass Frontale’s man-oriented zonal marking, the Marinos used rotations. The common rotation was the interchange of the position of the full-backs with the midfielders to disorientate the Frontale press.
The above screenshot depicts the starting of the rotation between Theerathon Bunmathan (LB) and Amano (LCM). As you can see in the above image, the Frontale players cover each opposition player in their zones. However, since the reference point of man-oriented zonal marking is the opponent, now the players have to decide if they want to follow their opponent to a different zone or to cover the space in their own zone. The number six’s (Morita) role is the key here, as he has no opponent in his zone but decides to protect his zone to provide the compactness.
Ienaga decided to follow Bunmathan (LB) thus emptying his zone which now Amano (LCM) occupied with no opposition player in his close vicinity. Martins played an unhindered pass to Amano. In this case, Morita (number six) reacted quickly and covered the zone emptied by Ienaga, forcing Amano to pass the ball back.
Marinos’ tactics in the opposition half
Frontale followed the same man-oriented zonal marking in their own half which blends itself into various formations from 4-5-1 to 4-1-4-1 to various other formations depending upon the dynamics of the game but mostly it was 4-5-1 to the eye.
Here, Frontale sat in a staggered 4-5-1 due to the dynamics of the game. Mitoma (LW) was covering Ryota Koike (RB) in his zone but once Martins (RCB) looked like entering Mitoma’s zone, he focussed on Martins thus transferring the responsibility of marking Koike (RB) to his midfielders. You can see the four other Frontale midfielders and winger marking the players in their zone as well as shifts respective of the opponents. Carefully observe Wakizaka’s (RCM) position who has the responsibility of marking Ogihara (CDM) in his zone.
He continues marking Ogihara instead of returning to his zone, even Ienaga (RW) decides to keep marking Bunmathan (LB). This creates an imbalance in Frontale’s defence and the compactness is lost leaving a lot of space to Marcos Júnior (CAM). Marinos exploits the situation by crossing the ball to Júnior whom no one is marking and he scores an easy goal.
Apart from this mistake Frontale midfielders generally remained compact. However, it was the shrewd build-up of Marinos which troubled the away team a few times. The shrewd build-up was in the form of rotation through counter movements and numerical overloads on a certain player.
Here, you can see each Frontale player covers their opponent in their zone. Oshima marks no one as there is no opponent player in his zone as well as maintains the compactness. Morita (CDM) covers Amano (LCM) in his zone and Yamane (RB) covers Erik (LW). Erik moves wide to the flanks dragging away Yamane along with him, thus leaving space for the marauding Amano to exploit. Bunmathan plays a long ball to Amano, however, the RCB and Morita both covers the counter movement efficiently and prevents Amano from creating any chance.
Apart from the counter movements, the tactics that caused Frontale greater trouble was Marinos creating numerical overloads on a certain player through rotation and creating a diamond.
Here, you can see each midfielder marking the opposition player in their zone. Here, Ienaga decides to stick to Erik (LW) which might give an indication of him joining the backline. Amano (LCM) and Bunmathan (LB) initiates the rotation to create numerical overloads.
Ienaga (RW) decides to return back to his zone as Júnior (CAM) moved to his zone thus leaving Erik (LW) for Yamane (RB). Amano who had initiated the rotation along with Bunmathan now occupies the zone covered by Morita (CDM) thus creating a numerical overload on Morita. Oshima was unable to follow Amano as it would vitiate the defensive compactness. Ogihara (CDM) plays a pass to Bunmathan (LB) who plays a first time ball to Amano (LCM) who was left open due to Morita deciding to follow Bunmathan. Amano failed to create any straightforward chance but these kinds of overloads troubled Frontale a few times.
Marinos’ out of possession structure and Frontale exploiting it
Marinos pressed Kawasaki Frontale high in their half. The formation looked similar to 4-2-3-1 and sometimes changed to 4-1-4-1 depending upon the dynamics of the game.
The striker pressed the goalkeeper or a centre-back laterally thus cutting the lateral passing lane to one of the centre-backs or the other centre-back. The wingers positioned themselves in the half space between the full-back and the centre-back with the responsibility of marking both the players depending upon the situation created by the opponent. The CAM had the responsibility of closely following the pivot. The two midfielders had the responsibility of marking the opposition midfielders.
Here, you can see a similar 4-2-3-1 structure. Santos (CF) pressed the goalkeeper putting a cover shadow on the LCB. Júnior (CAM) marked the pivot and Erik and Matsuda positioned themselves in the half space between the full-backs and centre-backs respectively. The image also shows a dropping Frontale midfielder who is followed by Amano (LCM) (not in the image).
The entire defensive structure of the front six is shown in the image below.
To open up a passing lane for the goalkeeper, both the Frontale midfielders dropped deep. However, both the midfielders were followed closely by the Marinos midfielders. The wingers positioned themselves in between the full-backs and centre-backs as stated above.
A question arises, which is a definite one. This pressing structure can be easily exploited as the full-backs are not closely marked. However, that was not the case. In the above image, the dropping midfielder passed the ball to the right-back (Yamane) and a pressing trap was created by the Marinos. The right-back can’t pass to Jesiel (RCB) because Erik (LW) cover shadows him. He can’t pass the ball back to the midfielder as he was closely marked by the opposition midfielder. He now has the option of switching the channel which can be dangerous in this situation. The only better option is to play the ball forward to his right-winger. However, that option was also eliminated due to Bunmathan (LB) closely following the right-winger. Yamane waits for Jesiel to move from Erik’s cover shadow and played a backward pass to the Brazilian.
The main responsibility of the front four was to force the ball to the full-back and then create a pressing trap.
Here, Erik (LW) approaches Jesiel (RCB) with an in to out movement, thus protecting the ball from being played inside and forcing it to be played to Yamane (RB). When the ball was played to Yamane, Bunmathan (LB) moved up in this case and pressed him aggressively to create a pressing trap and forced him to play a miss pass.
In their own half, Marinos kept a very high line and moved with relative to the ball in a space-oriented man-marking with a 4-1-4-1 structure. It is also a mix of man-marking and zonal marking but the player presses the opposition only when the opposition enters his zone and when the opposition leaves his zone he returns to his initial position without following the opposition.
Since a player can move to press the opposition player if the opposition player intends to enter his zone, the structure may mould its shape to 4-1-3-2 or 4-4-2 in certain occasions.
A similar 4-4-2 structure is seen in the image above with Júnior pressing Jesiel as he was on the verge of entering his zone.
The space-oriented man marking has serious flaws in Marinos’ system and each opposition exploited them time and again this season. The Marinos maintain a very high line as well as moves relative to the ball. So the opposition tries to lure them to one side and then switch the play to the opposite side by isolating the winger or any other player.
Jesiel waited for the Marinos unit to move right (from Frontale’s perspective). Once it happened, he quickly played the ball to Taniguchi (LCB) who played a first time ball to Mitoma.
Kawasaki Frontale approached this strategy, especially through the left-wing due to Mitoma’s dribbling ability and pace.
Here, you can clearly see most of the balls Mitoma received were a long and diagonal one which indicates a switch in play towards his direction.
The first goal was scored due to switch in play to the isolated Mitoma’s path in the left wing.
You can see how isolated Mitoma is and leaving the skilful Mitoma with so much space is a recipe for disaster. This might have been judged as an offside but the linesman failed to spot it and the goal was awarded to Frontale.
Apart from isolating wingers, Kawasaki modelled their build-up by overloading the last line of defence, especially Koike (RB).
Here, a similar long diagonal ball can be seen from Jesiel (RCB) to Mitoma (LW). Five players positioned themselves in Marinos’ last line or in close vicinity to the last line and Mitoma (LW) and Oshima (LCM) created a numerical overload on Koike (RB). This situation created a chance for Frontale, however, they failed to affect the result from this play. However, early in the second half, Frontale scored by overloading the right-back.
Here, again, Oshima (LCM) and Mitoma (LW) overloaded Koike (RB). Taniguchi played a ball to Mitoma. He left the ball for Oshima who was in a forward motion. Koike failed to track the dummy of Mitoma and was left completely bamboozled by the left-winger. Oshima played the ball to one of the attacker (Ienaga) who was initially in the offside position thus gaining a massive advantage over the Marinos’ defenders. He had the entire goal to his sight and scored from a tap in.
Marinos do not have much problem in their attack, with them scoring 29 goals in 15 matches, only less than Kawasaki Frontale. However, their problem lie in their defensive structure which I have mentioned in the previous match analysis of Yokohama F. Marinos too. Each and every team Marinos have faced tried to exploit the high line of Marinos by overloading it but Postecoglou does not seem much bothered in rectifying it. Marinos have conceded 27 goals, only less than three other teams which is a grave concern and says everything about their defensive struggle.
With this win, Kawasaki Frontale solidify their position at the top and still leads by eight points playing a game more than the second-placed Cerezo Osaka. Yokohama F. Marinos dropped to the eighth position with this loss and the probability of them retaining the title looks bleak with each passing day.