Saturday’s J.League title decider in Yokohama received a great deal of coverage back here in Australia with many interviews and articles exploring the emotional and philosophical traits of the immense victory.
Instead, I have done my best to reflect on of some of the notable tactical features from the match and provide an insight into how Ange Postecoglou’s team confirmed the title with a 3-0 victory over challengers FC Tokyo on the final day.
General Shape and Lineup: 1st Half
General Shape and Lineup: 2nd Half
Yokohama F. Marinos lined up in a 1-4-2-3-1 shape as their structural base. However, as we will explore, this was only a foundation for their various movements and rotations in the attacking phases with inverted fullbacks a regular feature of their play.
FC Tokyo played most of the first half in a 1-4-4-2 or 1-4-4-1-1 variation with the attack spearheaded by Kensuke Nagai. The away side switched to a 1-4-3-1-2 or 1-4-4-2 diamond variation after half time. They often attempted to play direct balls behind Yokohama’s high defensive line until later in the 2nd half when they were forced into a more controlled build up style.
BUILD UP FROM THE BACK
Early in the game, Yokohama Goalkeeper Park Il-Yu preferred direct balls to the wingers in the attacking half, specifically #28 Mateus. This may have been a result of nerves on the big stage but quickly ceased until later in the game with substitute Nakabayashi in goal and Yokohama a man down.
After a slow start Yokohama settled and began to play the first pass short. FC Tokyo pressed high in a 4-4-2 structure but due to the extremely high + wide position of Yokohama’s front three (beyond the halfway line), the distance between the defensive and midfield lines was often gaping . FC Tokyo changed to a diamond with #18 Takahagi at the point after half time which forced Yokohama’s build up through the fullbacks and prevented too much space from appearing in front of their defensive line.
A key pattern was that of right back #28 Matsubara dropping to receive from central defender #13 Thiago Martins, attracting the FC Tokyo left midfielder #45 Arthur Silva forward. This action vacated space for Yokohama central midfielder #8 Kida to rotate wide into the space on the right to receive the next pass behind the midfield line.
POSSESSION AND PENETRATION
Yokohama’s attacking play followed a perpetual cycle: movements creating space and space triggering movements. Three key traits became very clear:
– Front three as high and wide as possible to occupy and “pin” the back four
– Yokohama looking to arrive in and penetrate into “pockets” between the lines
– The use of inverted fullbacks as attacking midfielders, particularly on the left
In the passage below, as the ball is circulated in the middle third, the far-side fullback #5 Theerathon moves into a central position and then forward into the “pocket” beyond the midfield line while a few seconds later, the right back #27 Matsubara signals to his captain #8 Kida to vacate the space so that he too may occupy the centre. The central midfielder, Kida in this instance, drops alongside his central defender to form a back three to aid the build up against FC Tokyo’s front two.
While attempting to penetrate beyond FC Tokyo’s first pressing line, Yokohama central midfielder #33 Wada often came short to receive from left central defender #44 Hatanaka by “tracking the presser” – shadowing the pressing player’s movement and offering a passing lane just off his shoulder and beyond him.
This action, coupled with inverted fullbacks alongside Yokohama’s central midfielders often enticed FC Tokyo’s midfield line of four toward the ball. Paired with the high+wide front three pinning FC Tokyo’s back four, larger spaces were opened between the lines for Yokohama players to arrive and receive in.
Often it was the inverted fullbacks who pushed up into the “pockets” instead of the midfielders, a movement that was particularly difficult for FC Tokyo to track.
This type of movement eventually resulted in the first goal as #5 Theerathon (the left back) arrived late in the pocket and took a deflected strike which looped over the head of FC Tokyo goalkeeper Akihiro Hayashi.
Yokohama’s second goal was a thing of beauty. After prolonged patient build up, the decisive moment was an interchange around halfway and on the left flank. #9 Marcos Junior, Yokohama’s central attacking midfielder, dropped deep toward the left back #5 Theerathon to receive, drawing FC Tokyo CM #18 Hashimoto out of position and vacating the “pocket” between the lines. Marcos Junior returned the ball to #5 Theerathon who was drifting inside to his inverted position from left back and this attracted #18 Hashimoto, who by this stage was caught in the washing machine spin cycle, even further forward. Marcos Junior identified the new space and Theerathon quickly passed inside to Wada who played a first time forward pass into the “pocket” ahead of Marcos Junior. 10 seconds later, with FC Tokyo’s defensive line back-pedalling frantically, the ball was in the back of the net.
In the 2nd Half, FC Yokyo switched to a 4-3-1-2 shape without the ball, presumably to stop Yokohama from arriving in those “pockets” between the lines by occupying them with #45 Arthur Silva (#7 Mita after 56 mins) and half-time substitute #21 In-Soo . The team who were 2-0 down and chasing the game were now reacting to Yokohama instead of forcing the opposite. FCTokyo #8 Takahagi, now deployed as a central attacking midfielder, retreated to help ahead of the midfield line but was predominantly used as an additional outlet when FC Tokyo regained the ball after condensing the central area.
Interestingly, Theerathon continued to invert and move into central positions in controlled possession even after the red card to Goalkeeper Park Il-Kyu in the 67th minute. Ange Postecoglou’s men continued to attack with a high and wide front three after the sending off, although the attacking movements became slightly more direct and targeted toward the wide players in transition.
HIGH DEFENSIVE LINE AND SWEEPER KEEPER
Attacking and defending are very closely linked and it is difficult to command and dominate the ball without aggressively seeking to regain the ball upon losing it.
Yokohama became extremely vertically compact in defensive transition with little more than 25 metres between their deepest defender and their highest attacker. Those close to the turnover stepped forward aggressively to press the ball carrier while the defensive line snapped forward to instantly reduce any space between the lines. This aggressive defensive action was supported by Park Il-Kyu, with the goalkeeper legitimately playing as a sweeper around 10-15 metres behind the defensive line.
In the 23rd minute FC Tokyo had a golden chance as a slight detail in Yokohama’s high line went awry. Initially dropping to track the forward run of #17 Sang-Ho Na, Yokohama’s Brazilian defender Thiago Martins quickly realised where he was supposed to be and allowed the attacker to run offside as he stepped forward to rejoin his defensive partner in the high line. However, the momentary lapse and change in momentum created an opportunity for a deep run from #8 Takahagi to latch onto a ball played over the top and the midfielder ended up 1 on 1 with Yokohama’s goalkeeper. Fortunately, the opportunity was not capitalised on.
PRESSING AND PUSHING ON
Prior to the second half red card, Yokohama deployed a relatively high block in a 1-4-2-3-1 shape when trying to prevent FC Tokyo from building from the back. The home side tried to force their opponents wide and long and tried to cut central passing lanes while pressing the ball carrier. Led by striker #17 Erik, any backward passes, including those back to the FC Tokyo goalkeeper, were harassed and often resulted in uncontrolled and hurried longer balls from the visitors.
More impressively, and in true Ange fashion, Yokohama continued to press their opponents even after the sending off, only easing up slightly in the final moments once the result had been sealed.
They continued without a central attacking midfielder in a 1-4-2-3 Shape after sacrificing #9 Marcos Junior. Wingers #11 Endo and #23 Nakagawa were positioned between the opponent’s central defender and fullback, cutting off that pass and forcing the ball to be played either long or central towards the hardworking central midfield pair of #33 Wada and #8 Kida who were quick to step forward and harass.
The press continued to be spearheaded by Erik who was working 1v3 between FC Tokyo’s central defenders and goalkeeper. His pressing actions were designed to cut the central pass to #18 Hashimoto (now playing as a lone holding midfielder) while forcing longer passes and errors.
Yokohama’s 1-4-2-3 continued to be situated in a mid-high Block and still enabled them to maintain a numerical advantage (4v3) at the back to combat FC Tokyo’s increasingly direct balls toward the front two and central attacking midfielder.
As the ball moved closer to the back 3rd and began to stay there for longer periods near the game’s conclusion, Yokohama’s block got deeper. The wingers dropped alongside the central midfielders to create a 1-4-4-1 with #17 Erik dropping close to the midfield line to help protect the central areas and press from behind the ball as Yokohama’s players looked to see out the game with as many players around the ball as possible to combat their tiring legs.
PINNING FC TOKYO’S FULLBACKS AND ATTACKING WITH TEN MEN
If the quick forward pass was not possible when Yokohama regained possession, they exchanged several short passes around the ball to restore order and organisation to their attack. Throughout the entire match however, Yokohama’s front three took up high and wide positions often ahead of the half way line and beyond the defensive line of FC Tokyo, sometimes even drifting into offside positions hoping to pull the opponents’ defenders further back. This meant that whenever they regained the ball they preferred attempting to play directly to their high wide players to attack as quickly as possible. This forced FC Tokyo’s fullbacks to retreat often and caused them to refrain from joining attacking movements in the fear that they’d be exposed on the break.
This willingness to burst forward with direct balls to their wide attackers heroically continued despite having one man less for the final 30 minutes and this positive mentality resulted in the final goal which sealed the result. Following a short spell without the ball, Yokohama earned a free kick in their defensive third. Left back Theerathon played a quick free kick forward to left winger #11 Keita Endo in a moment when most teams would be stalling and running the clock down.
Endo beat his first opponent and then drove forward at full speed with no intention of slowing down, visibly encouraged by Postecoglou in the technical area, before rounding one more retreating defender (#32 Watanabe) and tucking his shot into the bottom corner. 3-0. With ten men. A fine display of of the mentality that Ange and his staff have instilled into this team and a fitting way to cap off a championship.