ANALYSIS: Yokohama F. Marinos’ tiki-taka a work in progress with much potential

The footage from Yokohama F. Marinos’ first goal against Shonan Bellmare in the J1 League’s ninth round spread across the internet. Even in Brazil, many fans watched the play in which all 11 players participated, exchanging 17 passes from their own area leading up to Hugo Vieira’s finish. Most reacted with surprise that a team with such a fluid attack was in 15th place.

Manager Ange Postecoglou has completely changed the ‘Tricolore way’ since his January appointment. The team has transitioned from the pragmatic but defensively solid approach of Erick Mombaerts to an audacious and offensive style based on ball retention and lots of passing, with even the goalkeeper actively taking part in the build-up as a sweeper.

While it’s pleasing to watch for neutrals, an unproductive offense and an exposed defence have led to negative results and caused the team to spend these early rounds wandering around the bottom half of the table.

According to Football LAB, F. Marinos have by far the highest ball possession average in J1 – 59.9%, nearly six percent better than second-best Kawasaki Frontale’s 54 percent. However, the team has struggled to turn this domination into scoring chances and, consequently, goals. Their average of 10.8 shots per match (after 11 rounds) is just sixth-best in the J1, and their 12 goals were good enough for just eighth-highest.

The defence, already exposed to counter-attacks, committed too many mistakes when playing out of the back. They are ranked third-worst in with 11.9 shots allowed per match and 17 goals conceded. To say they are a work in progress is no exaggeration.

Last Saturday’s 3-0 win against Kashima Antlers may have been a turning point for the Kanagawa side. It was their best match of the season so far, both aesthetically and in terms of the result. The match’s quality was way above the  usual J1 standard: a true public spectacle with a fast-paced rhythm and two attacking-minded teams. It was the sort of match the J.League needs more of to grow. Don’t be deceived by Antlers’ recent poor form; the Ibaraki side were formidable opponents despite the final score. For the first time this season, Marinos had “only” 51.6 percent possession; their previous low was 56.4 percent in their fifth-round 1-0 win against Shimizu S-Pulse.

According to Wyscout, F. Marinos took seven shots in the match, with three on target. All three were goals. Antlers shot 18 times, with seven on target. All were stopped by Hiroki Iikura, who had an excellent performance behind the posts despite a lack of accuracy in his kicks which occasionally led to dangerous situations. Mistakes in the build-up remain a problem for the Tricolore, which gifted the Antlers a couple of golden chances to score.

If we include the uncalled penalty when Tomoya Inukai bought down Teruhito Nakagawa inside the box, a 4-2 Marinos win could be considered a fair result, and the scoreline could have become even more lopsided if Hugo Vieira had been more clinical in front of the goal.

The defender who impressed the most was 18-year-old debutant Kota Yamada. Playing as a right-back, he silenced Yuma Suzuki and made dangerous runs up front. Keita Endo, another young prospect, also excelled in the right flank, scoring his first goal in his best performance of the season. Kosuke Nakamachi had his own inspired night, while Jun Amano at last resembled a true heir to Shunsuke Nakamura, demonstrating even the same body movement as his master when scoring F. Marinos’ second goal directly from a free kick.

Sho Ito remains a curious case. Starting for only the second time this season and deployed as a second forward behind Hugo Vieira, he was the player with the fewest touches among Marinos starters. Offensively, his contribution was close to zero, but without possession he helped by marking and pressuring as a third central midfielder, improving the defence as a result.

At Nissan Stadium, Postecoglou is developing beautiful football which should be celebrated and appreciated. If F. Marinos are able to keep evolving this Guardiola-like style and minimise their defensive errors, their season will become more and more exciting not only for Tricolore supporters, but also for football fans in general.