FC Tokyo: 2020 team analysis – scout report
During the 2019 J1 League season, FC Tokyo came tantalisingly close to securing their first-ever league title. However, Kenta Hasegawa’s side just ran out of steam and Yokohama F. Marinos were able to finish with a six-point lead over the Tokyo club.
This term, an opening day 3-1 victory over last season’s 12th-placed Shimizu S-Pulse could have been a signal of intent that the side from the Ajinomoto Stadium mean business this term and intend to go one better than their second-place finish last year.
Every major stat in their opening game of the season went the way of the opposition, with less possession (36% to S-Pa’s 64%), far fewer passes (300 to 547), a lower pass accuracy (72% to 86%) and marginally fewer shots at goal than their opposition (12 to 14). However, as the adage states, it is the sign of a good side to play poorly and to win.
So, this tactical analysis will shed some light on whether FC Tokyo are just another pretender to the throne this season or if they are to be 2020’s true heir. This scout report will highlight some of Hasegawa’s key tactics and use analysis to explain their impact.
A change in formation
One of the key and most obvious changes to have been noted in Hasegawa’s side from last season to the beginning of this is a change in formation. Last term, the Tokyo side predominantly deployed a 4-4-2 formation, although also a 4-2-2-2 on occasion, however, have so far this term rolled with a 4-3-3 structure. This has led to several key patterns of play emerging in their first J1 League game of the season which have been brought on by the structure change. The majority of these are seen in how the side attack.
In this annotation, how the side looked in attack last season, with the 4-4-2 structure can be seen. This, taken from the 4-2 victory over eventual title winners Yokohama F. Marinos, shows how the two wide midfielders in the midfield four looked to get as high and as wide up the pitch as possible, making the structure like a 4-2-4 while in possession, a common theme in 4-4-2 formations. However, this season the entire structure of the attack has altered, which may, in part, be due to 18-year-old starlet and right midfielder, Takefusa Kubo, departing the club for Real Madrid last August.
Here, the annotation taken from the 3-1 victory over Shimizu S-Pulse can be seen. Two of the key features being Brazilian pair Leandro, number 20, and Adailton, number 15, who arrived at the Ajinomoto Stadium during the offseason. Leandro, on the left-wing, and Adailton, who was moved further forward when right-winger Kyosuke Tagawa was substituted off, played key roles in the front three.
The interchanging front three
What was most noticeable about the front three of Leandro – Diego Oliviera – Tagawa, which later changed to Leandro – Oliviera – Adailton, was how fluid and interchangeable they were, which was key in FC Tokyo picking up three points. As opposed to rigidly sticking to their left-wing, centre-forward and right-wing roles, the trio would interchange where appropriate which made the attackers hard for S-Pa’s defenders to mark and ultimately was crucial in the victory.
Here, we see the front three in their starting positions, Leandro on the left, Oliviera centrally and Tagawa on the right, however, as the move developed one way in which the three interchanged becomes apparent. At this stage, Oliviera has dropped deep to flick the ball on to a fellow attacker, which sets the two wingers moving, however, instead of creating width, the pair move centrally to make the attack narrow.
Now, with Leandro having latched onto the flicked-on header, Tagawa continues his run across from the right into the central area, which then drags across the defenders as marked by the orange arrows. Due to the defenders shadowing the run of Tagawa, space opens up towards the back-post area of the box, to where Oliviera runs across the path which the right-winger has run to find the free space and he is left unmarked. However, in the end, Leandro is fouled, and Hasegawa’s side is awarded a penalty.
Another strength that the introduction of the front three, as opposed to a front two, coupled with the interchanging movement of the trio, is make FC Tokyo punishing on the counterattack. At least that was the case in their victory on the opening day of the season. Again, having enjoyed just 36% of the possession, it was the potency of the front three which allowed the side to claim three points.
Here, one of FC Tokyo’s counterattacks can be seen, from which the home side bagged their second goal of the afternoon. In this case, Leandro is attacking centrally, Oliviera from the right and Adailton is coming from the left-hand side. In the annotation, we can see a similar pattern of play to when Oliviera had dropped deep to win the header, with the two attackers that are out wide making runs into central areas, again looking to increase the difficulty in marking them.
As seen previously with the run from Tagawa, Oliviera makes the run from the right-hand side across the face of goal which sees the defending players mirror the run, as marked by the orange arrows, which opens up space behind them. Adailton senses the space and makes his run from the left-hand side to the right across the path of where Oliviera has come from. The ball then finds its way into the path of Adailton, who is able to fire past Neto in S-Pa’s goal unchallenged.
Hasegawa’s introduction of a central pivot
What the switch to a 4-3-3 from a 4-4-2 has also enabled Hasegawa to do is to introduce a clear central pivot role which was key in the side’s out of possession structure and linking the defence with the midfield. While the key elements to FC Tokyo’s set-up were seen in their attack and how the 4-3-3 had influenced that, the pivot role was vital in retaining the side’s solidarity, which was key with the opposition enjoying large swathes of the ball with 64% possession.
The man charged with performing the pivot role for FC Tokyo has been 26-year-old Kento Hashimoto, who has been with the Tokyo club since 2012. As can be seen in the annotation, when the side was in possession, Hashimoto would drop much deeper than the other midfielders to provide support to the two central defenders and bridge the gap between defence and midfield. This also allowed the two full-backs to move higher and wider, almost being level with the two midfielders to create a midfield four.
In this annotation, we can see Hashimoto’s role when FC Tokyo were out of possession. When the home side was without the ball, the structure would look a lot more like a 5-3-2, which the pivot role was vital for as Hashimoto would join the defensive line while an attacker would join the midfield to keep a middle three. This was a key tactic for the home side in maintaining their solidarity and will likely be a key feature over the 2020 season.
As stated early on in the piece, what has been key for FC Tokyo so far in 2020, is their switch to a 4-3-3 from a 4-4-2 which has seen completely new patterns of play emerge in their game. As Hasegawa’s side fell just short of being champions last season, perhaps the change in structure will be the detail which turns the balance in their favour.
The two attacking patterns of play in the interchangeability of the three forwards and their potency on the counterattack due to this seem as though they will likely be ever-present features across 2020 for FC Tokyo if they stick with the 4-3-3 set-up. The introduction of the central pivot also appears as though it will likely be a key feature for Hasegawa’s side, all of which could be vital if the side is to go one better than last year.
Either way, it will certainly be an interesting one to watch unfold and to find out if the change in FC Tokyo’s structure from last season will be as decisive as it could potentially be.