FC Gifu’s last four games:
- Giravanz Kitakyushu 1-0
- Ehime FC 3-0
- Mito Hollyhock 1-0
- Tokushima Vortis 3-1
At the time of writing this – Sunday April 3rd – FC Gifu sit 5th in J2. Quite how this has happened has baffled more than a few people. But I will attempt to try and explain it.
In going from such a horrific start to 5th in the league, there had to be some kind of change in tactical thinking. From the Kitakyushu game, Ramos (or others on his coaching staff) knew that having a player whose job it was just to block attacks before they hit the last line of defence would be invaluable. Since then, Gifu haven’t stopped winning. Now Ramos uses a 4-1-4-1 system which gives a lot more protection to the defence, as well as providing the midfield with a bit more reinforcement. If I was being generous, I’d liken it to how Jurgen Klopp/Thomas Tuchel set up Borussia Dortmund. Of course, Gifu don’t have Ilkay Gundogan, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Marco Reus etc to call on, but I think the idea is the same: back that your organization of the midfield and the individual ability of the attacking players are better that the opposition.
You’d think that employing a system like this would result in a significant decrease in the amount of attacking options, but it hasn’t. Why? That brings me on to point number 2….
Whether by design or by chance, Ramos has found a set of players that can implement the new system perfectly.
It starts at the back, where Tsukasa Masuyama (right back) and Shun Nogaito (left back) provide stamina, and attacking threat from the full back position.
The holding midfielder – usually Daiki Tamori if fit (although it was Naoya Okane in today’s win against Tokushima) – has one job: sit in front of the central defenders.
The central midfielders, of which Taisuke Mizuno has made himself almost indispensable, have to provide the requisite mix of energy, tracking & ball playing ability. Mizuno, Tsubasa Aoki, Leonardo Rocha, Keiji Takachi can all mix & match in there and can fill whatever roles are required of them.
Arguably the key to the attacking intent of this team are the wide players. They need to have lots of stamina, a high work rate, be able to create chances and possess the ability to help the striker and be dangerous of their own accord. Luckily for Gifu we have two players could not be any more of a perfect fit for these roles. On the left is Leo Mineiro, arguably one of the best players in the league at this point. He is so dangerous with the ball, but that is balanced by his incessant running & chasing. On the right, Koya Kazama has found his calling as an attacking right sided midfielder. This season, he just seems to have become with each game, culminating in today’s 10/10 performance. He is so busy, and one thing that has also improved this year is his final ball/set piece delivery and he poses a threat to the opposition whenever he has the ball at his feet.
When you play just one up front, that one player has to be able to defend from the front if the pressing system is to work. Ryo Takiya, the young forward straight out of university did really well in his first games and looks like he could develop into a good player. Today, Bruno Suzuki really played well in the role. He brought an element of pace and the ability to play on the shoulder of the last defender that Gifu has missed since Nazarit left. Considering it was his full debut for the club, Suzuki was excellent. He tired a bit towards the end, when he was replaced by Leonardo Rocha, but up until that point he was constantly chasing defenders and using his pace to get in down the channels. When does that, it creates a lot of space behind for the likes of Leo, Kazama, Takachi & Rocha to work in.
In what seems like a complete reversal from his first two years. Ramos is entrusting young players in the system. The aforementioned Ryo Takiya has performed well, as have Taisuke Mizuno & Tsubasa Aoki in midfield. Perhaps the most impressive youngster has been defender Masaya Tashiro, who unfortunately missed out today after breaking a bone in his cheek. He looked like a superb find in his limited playing time before the injury, and I expect him to come back in and form a good partnership with Masanori Abe or Naoya Okane. Ryutaro Karube played in defence today, and looked excellent. It seems a very “Ramos thing” to do, to put someone in defence with no prior experience but looks good on the ball (in fact, it is something that – whisper it – Pep Guardiola likes to do with his teams. Think Javier Mascherano at Barca, Javi Martinez at Bayern) but Karube showed excellent poise in difficult weather conditions and displayed his ball skills when passing out of defence. It could be a find – assuming Ramos was as impressed as I was.
It is all very well to trumpet the use of young players, but Yoshinari Takagi, Gifu’s veteran goalkeeper, has been pivotal to the recent run of form. I was taken aback when he was signed in the winter, and it is fair to say I was pretty unimpressed. But he has been the experienced head that Gifu needed after those two 0-4 results to start the season. He is laid back, relaxed and doesn’t take himself too seriously – traits that endeared himself to players and fans alike. Above that, it cut through the smoky atmosphere that was threatening to pervade the club. He has been stout and reliable when called upon and has given those in front of him a commanding/loud presence that they really needed.
All these things have come together to play a part in FC Gifu’s first four consecutive win run in seven years. We will look to make it five in a row next week against Kamatamare Sanuki. They say “confidence breeds confidence” – if that is true, FC Gifu are just getting started.