FC Gifu welcome Matsumoto Yamaga to Nagaragawa tomorrow, basking in the praise of yet another good performance last week at Nagoya Grampus.
The signs from Takeshi Oki’s first two games are highly promising, if the results aren’t that spectacular, with just two points to show from their first two games. If you’ve seen anything of Gifu this year, you’ll know that they have morphed into the “Barcelona” of the far east (my phrasing – don’t go looking that up on Twitter).
In goal, Victor is the number one. The Spaniard looked a lot more assured in the game at Toyota Stadium last week – although looking back at the opening game in which he looked a little suspect on long balls over the top of the defence, it can be argued that the swirling wind made it difficult to judge the velocity of the ball, and where it would land. Plus, he was still getting to know Henik & Tsubasa Aoki and I think as his Japanese improves, his command will too. Oki, without question, values his comfort on the ball and his willingness to make passes instead of just hoofing the ball upfield.
In defence, left back Takayuki Fukumura has been outstanding. He plays more like a winger that can defend, but offers some experience to an inexperienced back four. In the middle, Henik & Tsubasa Aoki are a work in progress, but again the name of the game is ball possession. Aoki’s ability to play the ball out from defence is more valuable than his current defensive capability. Henik was excellent against the dual threats of Ryo Nagai & Hisato Sato against Nagoya, and his body positioning and mental reading of the game seemed to get better compared to the first week against Renofa Yamaguchi.
Without question the stand out player in defence has been full back/winger hybrid Yuki Omoto. I don’t know who sourced this kid, but he is absolute dynamite. Quick enough to cover pace wingers, skilful enough to make opposition full backs nervous; It is early, but he could be the best full back I’ve seen in my time watching Gifu. My gut feeling is that Oki would prefer him to operate further forward, and given that Daiki Tamori started the season at right back, with Omoto as a right winger, it wouldn’t be a leap to imagine that. But with Omoto at right back and Paulo Tanaka on the right wing, it is a potent right sided attack that Gifu can field.
Most of the good things you will have heard from Gifu emanate from the midfield. Spanish midfielder Sisinio has been exceptional in his range of passing and his ability to keep the ball. When teamed with captain Yoshihiro Shoji, that axis has the potential to be one of the best in the league. Shoji showed a different side to his game last week against Nagoya. While it was universally acknowledged that Sisinio was the MOTM at Toyota Stadium, Shoji showed the leadership qualities that Gifu desperately needed. He wasn’t as influential in the passing game, but his workrate, tackling and cover work was off the scale. It was no surprise that he was the person who cleared the ball off the line in additional time to preserve a point last week – that is just the kind of game he had. Leading by example, not by his voice.
In front of the Shoji-Sisinio pair is Yushi Nagashima. Who? Well, yes. That is what almost everybody thought when he was brought in because the expectation was that Hideyuki Nozawa would be the third midfielder. But Nagashima has been an integral part of Gifu’s ability to pass & move. He is small and elusive, but if teams neglect him he’ll get in behind their midfield and cause havoc in the “hole”. Nagashima is one of those players that make you think “whoa – his parent team don’t need a player like that?” He’s only on loan at Gifu, so the chances are that he won’t extend beyond a year, but if he continues his hot start, he’ll become a very important player for Gifu.
Up front, Koya Kazama has been employed as Gifu’s “false 9” – the forward who isn’t a forward. He’s done ok, but he is naturally a winger and you can see him gravitate more to the side during a game. That means that there is no-one on the middle when crosses come in. Kyogo Furuhashi is seemingly comfortable on either side of an attacking three and his pace and directness, if harnessed properly, can become a weapon for the team. It has been clear that Furuhashi has been asked to stretch the field, so he has been staying on the wing which gives Shoji & Sisinio an outlet when they get the ball in the middle of the pitch.
Paulo Tanaka is becoming an increasingly important part of what Gifu are trying to do stylistically. He has been playing on the right hand side of attack, but because he is left footed he attacks inside the full back – their weak side. It can be highly effective, as most people saw from his goal against Nagoya last week. I’d be interested to see if he would as effective on his natural left side, my guess is that he would prefer to cut in on to his left foot, as opposed to going outside a full back.
I don’t anticipate too many changes for tomorrow’s game against our rivals from Matsumoto. It would be nice to get a win and we’ve traditionally been pretty decent against them. They have yet to score a goal this year and so they’ll be desperate to break their duck on Sunday. They’ll bring a lot of supporters, but Gifu are a team that plays at their own pace now, as opposed to being a reactionary team like last year. It will be an interesting afternoon by the river river tomorrow.
See you there!!