Last Sunday’s 0-1 defeat at Avispa Fukuoka marked the halfway point of the season in J2. FC Gifu find themselves in the relatively familiar position of 18th, despite initial optimism that this year could be the year where Gifu aren’t actually involved in a relegation battle. More on that later, but first some first half of the season stats.
- League position: 18th
- Highest league position:
- Goals scored: 30
- Top goalscorer: Kyogo Furuhashi & Yushi Nagashima – 5
- Most assists: Kyogo Furuhashi – 6
- Most appearances: Victor, Yoshihiro Shoji, Takayuki Fukumura – 21
- Goals conceded: 33
- Biggest win: 3-1 vs Kamatamare Sanuki
- Biggest defeat: 4-6 vs JEF United
Victor Ibanez came in in the winter and immediately took possession of the first choice goalkeeper slot. I wrote in detail about Victor in a previous post, but to summarize, he is a modern goalkeeper whose ethos fits in with what Gifu want to do. He’s comfortable on the ball, distributes it well, and is eager to set up counter attacks. His shot stopping is getting better and I expect him to get better as the season continues.
He’ll do better when he can fully communicate with those in front of him. Speaking of which….
With 33 goals conceded in 21 games, you would say there are some problems. One thing too bear in mind is that ten goals came in just two games (the 4-4 with Nagasaki, and the 4-6 against JEF, so those are slight outliers). But there are issues that are yet to be resolved. Who are the first choice CB pair? Henik & Aoki? Henik & Tamori? Abe & Aoki? So far manager Takeshi Oki has tried a number of different combos, but one thing is pretty clear: Gifu lack an absolute commander of a CB – someone like Calvin Jong-a-Pin, Masaaki Iida, Andre Bahia. I know those are some of the best defenders in the league, but that is what is missing. Gifu have much of a muchness in terms of central defenders, all roughly around the same height, same pace, same strengths & weaknesses. I’d like to see young Kentaro Kai given a chance, especially given that Masaya Tashiro was sacked after a drink-driving incident – Tashiro was marked as an important piece of Gifu’s defensive jigsaw before the season.
At left back, Takayuki Fukumura is entrenched. He gives Gifu some good attacking options (his goal against Shonan Bellmare came from him surging forward) but his attacking intents sometimes leaves his other defenders exposed, especially given that Kyogo Furuhashi (more on him later) likes to go beyond the last defender. This means that he rarely offers defensive cover, which leaves the space left by Fukumura unguarded.
At right back, on-loan Hideyuki Nozawa has recently taken on that role from Yuki Omoto. Omoto is much more useful in attack, where he can use his blistering pace to get behind defenders. Nozawa is a midfielder by trade, but Oki wants as many ball players in the team as possible and so has found himself at right back. It doesn’t look particularly natural for him, but I suppose he’s only played five times there and is still getting used to it. I’d like to see a specialist right back come in, but that seems incompatible with Oki’s wishes – ball playing and ball skills are more important than anything else.
Gifu have quite rightly won plaudits for the way they want to play possession football. Their ball possession (average 63% per game) and number of passes (average 693 per game) are the league’s best. The first choice midfield of Yoshihiro Shoji, Sisinio & Yushi Nagashima are footballers first & foremost. They want the ball, and they want to do nice things with it.
What Gifu lack in midfield is a screen. Yoshihiro Shoji is probably the closest Gifu have with regards to a “screener” skill set, but someone like Henik (for example) could simply sit in front of the back four and try and break up opposition attacks before they make it to the defensive line. But again, Oki doesn’t want to sacrifice his footballing philosophy – and I understand where that comes from. The midfield is a conduit for football, not to be used to destroy oppositions. While it may cost Gifu some games, ultimately I expect this approach to pay off, I think you can only keep good footballers down for so long and the skills that Sisinio, Nagashima & Shoji have are too good to stifle.
Yuto Ono has come in more as the season has progressed, and he is a good back up plan to have. I thought Junichi Paulo Tanaka & Koya Kazama might have had more time but I think Oki prefers pace on the wings. Paulo & especially Koya are more thoughtful, deliberate players that rarely go behind defences. When they are on form, they can both be assets for the team – witness Paulo’s goal at Nagoya – but I think they will have to wait until Omoto or Furuhashi either get injured or need a rest to get back into the side.
Kyogo Furuhashi has been excellent in his advanced role on the left. He has five goals, and could easily have had double that. If he works on his finishing, he could be a real player for Gifu. His pace is incredibly difficult to defend against, and he seems to take good running angles to take him away from defenders. He needs to gain a bit of composure when he gets into shooting/assisting positions but the potential is clearly there. As it is with Yuki Omoto. I could say exactly the same things about Yuki as I said about Furuhashi. Pace to burn, but composure is an issue. If/when he sorts them out, he is going to be an outstanding right sided forward.
I feel Gifu work better as a unit when there is a centre forward in the lineup. Hiroaki Namba is probably the best for this position, as I haven’t really seen enough of Cristian or Ryo Takiya this year to say whether they can fill the role or not. I think they need a centre froward because Gifu tend to create a lot down the wings, but there is nothing more frustrating than a great cross going in but no-one being there on the end of it. Gifu need a focal point and I think Namba is the man for that job.
What’s to come?
Hopefully a quick rise up the table. As of this moment, Gifu aren’t in any relegation danger, but they need to pick up a few wins pretty soon. Gifu’s upcoming fixture list looks like this:
There are winnable games on that slate, and with three home games from the next four it would be a good time to regain some kind of semblance of home form (Gifu haven’t won at home since the end of April).
Gifu should be looking up, as opposed to down, but supporters have been in this position enough in the past to know that