Urawa Red Diamonds: 2020 team analysis – scout report
Over the 2019 J1 League season, Urawa Red Diamonds had quite the year to forget as the club finished 14th in Japan’s top flight, just a point above Shonan Bellmare who finished in the relegation play-off spot.
The season which saw Tsuyoshi Otsuki brought in part-way through was quite the comedown from the 2018 term, where the Red Devils finished fifth and recorded an Emperor’s Cup victory.
The 2019 term was even more forgettable for the Reds than at first glance as they suffered two cup final defeats, first against Kawasaki Frontale in the Japanese Super Cup and later in the AFC Champions League against Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal.
Otsuki’s side could be considered on the bigger end of the spectrum in the J1 League as they have won the title once and finished runners up five times previously, having also won the AFC Champions League twice.
So, this tactical analysis will dissect the current tactics of Urawa Red Diamonds which were on show in their opening game of the 2020 season. Analysis will also be used in the scout report to show how those tactics could return the club to former glories.
Front four in attack
In the opening game of the 2020 season, in which the Red Devils defeated Shonan Bellmare 3-2 away from home, one of the factors which allowed Otsuki’s side to be so potent was their out of possession structure. Having lined up in a 4-4-2 starting formation, the wide midfielders – Koya Yuruki and Takahiro Sekine – would look to become wingers and create a front four when in possession.
As can be seen in this annotation, when in possession, Urawa Red Diamonds would push their wide midfielders high and wide to create greater width and stretch Shonan Bellmare’s defensive line. Depending upon which side of the pitch the ball was located, the winger on the opposite side of the pitch would drift more centrally to create a narrow three. In this instance, Sekine is in possession wide on the right, so, Yuruki has drifted further infield to create another option.
Further evidence of this tactic can be seen in the Urawa club’s crossing map from the 3-2 victory. The Red Devils would often look to swing crosses into the six-yard box where the two strikers and tucked in winger would be waiting. Most of the success in this area came, evidently, in the first half.
The tactic of Urawa Red Diamonds looking to get wide with a front four and swing crosses into the six-yard box was ultimately highly effective. Having scored their first two goals with crosses into the six-yard box and scored the winner following a switch in play from the half-space on the left to the half-space on the right, it is clear that Bellmare struggled with Otsuki’s side’s width. Over 2020, this will be a key area in the Reds’ tactics to watch out for.
The balance of the single pivot
With Otsuki looking to get his wingers high and wide, a balance was provided to the team by the single-pivot role which was performed by Kai Shibato. Much like many other J1 League sides on the opening weekend of the season, despite having two central midfielders capable of performing a double pivot role, the Red Devils opted for a single pivot.
So, with the wide midfielders looking to get high and the full-backs looking to support them, Urawa Red Diamonds would transition from a 4-4-2 when out of possession to a shape that was more like a 3-3-4, with Shibato joining the defence.
A single pivot has two main roles, to link the defence with the midfield when playing through the thirds and to support the defence when possession has been lost and the side are transitioning back into their defensive shape. In this instance, Shibato can be seen drifting back to a more defensive position for the side in case possession should be lost, however, glancing back to see any potential outlets to progress the ball forward should he receive possession from Daisuke Suzuki.
As can be seen in the side’s passing map from their opening game of the season, Shibato – number 29 – and his positioning in the pivot role is evident. Shibato is clearly much deeper than his midfield partner Yosuke Kashiwagi and the strong passing links between himself and the side’s defenders which then evidently lead on to Kashiwagi.
If Otsuki persists with his 4-4-2 structure throughout the 2020 J1 League season when play resumes, the pivot role of Shibato will likely be a key one for the side as he helps to provide balance to the Reds while they are in possession and looking to attack.
Another way which the away side in the opening game of the 2020 season retained any form of defensive strength was through their longitudinal compactness in their 4-4-2 structure while out of possession. With Shonan Bellmare boasting 57% of the possession in the clash, the Reds had to spend spells under the cosh and they were able to retain solidarity by having two tight, defensive banks of four.
As can be seen here, the midfield and defensive line would drop deep when Shonan Bellmare were in possession and that would allow the away side to maintain stability. With compact lines, defensive backup is not far away if one defending player should be beaten, which made Urawa Red Diamonds difficult to play through.
This tactic led the away side to boast a whopping 57 interceptions compared to Bellmare’s 37. Again, if Otsuki sticks with his 4-4-2 structure, this seems as though it will remain a prominent feature in his tactics. Having shipped 50 goals in the J1 League last season, Otsuki will be banking on this defensive tactic in particular.
Losing laterally what they gained longitudinally
While their longitudinal compactness was pivotal in retaining their solidarity against Shonan Bellmare, the side did tend to let their lateral compactness let them down as it led to the two goals which they conceded. As mentioned, the tightness between the midfield and defensive line was strong, however, a weakness was found in the tightness between the defending players themselves.
As can be seen in this annotation taken seconds before Shonan Bellmare open the scoring, the gaps between the defending players cause Urawa Red Diamonds problems. With Takuya Iwanami unaware of the attacking player behind him and too much of a gap between himself and Suzuki, the forward run of the attacking player prompts Suzuki to track his run.
Ryosuke Yamanaka at left-back is then too concerned with the attacking player on his right shoulder, which ultimately leaves a large gap between Suzuki and Yamanaka to attack into, a pinpoint cross is then delivered into the gap and Naoki Ishihara opens the scoring.
This annotation is taken from seconds before Shonan Bellmare’s second goal of the evening and it is almost a carbon copy of the first. With Iwanami too far across and oblivious of the run behind him, Suzuki shifts across and Yamanaka is nowhere to be seen. This time, space is left for Naoki Yamada to level the scores.
As mentioned, the Reds’ longitudinal compactness was strong and incredibly beneficial to their defensive play, however, Otsuki’s side must improve in their lateral compactness and defensive awareness to prevent sides from taking advantage of the gaps in their defensive line across 2020.
As explained across this analysis, Tsuyoshi Otsuki’s Urawa Red Diamonds find their attacking potency in their front four when in possession, which is relatively typical in the tactics of a 4-4-2 formation, however, the Red Devils execute the idea perfectly and found their reward with three goals in the opening game of the season.
The use of a single pivot then allows the side to retain a good balance and is particularly effective in the side’s transition. Then, defensive stability is aided by their tactic of keeping longitudinal compactness in their two, tight banks of four in midfield and defence when out of possession.
Urawa Reds’ lack of lateral compactness, though, is an area which Otsuki should be desperate to tighten up in if the Urawa club is to return to any of their former glories as it is a key area which other J1 League sides will be looking to exploit across the season if it is not resolved.
This tactical analysis has highlighted three key tactics of Urawa Red Diamonds and one weakness to their game. The scout report has also used analysis to explain what effect these tactics will have across the 2020 season.