I’ve said in a few posts already that I feel the most important position for the team this season is the midfielder who sits furthest back of our middle 3 and protects the defence.
We have goals in the team, not many teams in J2 (and a few in J1) can boast a forward line which has an ex-national team striker (Sakata), players who like to dribble and shoot (Ishizu, Kanamori), a real number 9 (Hirai), a tall target (Punosevac), and a mercurial talisman (Jogo).
Iff you add to that the 4-5 goals which Nakahara and Morimura will get, the 2 substitute goals Ushinohama will get, and the 5 set-piece goals that Lee Kwang Seon will get then we don’t need to worry about scoring enough goals.
What we do need to worry about is not conceding goals (especially early goals) which will allow teams to sit back and defend all match.
Our defence was improved from the 2nd worst in the division in 2012 (only behind Gainare Tottori), with no change in players, just a new manager and more effective formation.
In this formation we usually had Nakahara as the defensive midfielder, and he generally did well, but I think he could be more effective higher up the pitch where his stamina, long shooting, and ability to pick a pass is better suited.
But who then plays the midfield anchor? What do we need from this player?
An area where I think Nakahara is less well suited for the position is his aggression and physique.
I want to see a defensive midfielder going hard into tackles and letting the opposition forwards know that they shouldn’t be spending too long on the ball.
I also want the opposition midfielders to know that if they start trying to give our quick forwards a kick then they are going to get one back twice as hard.
They will pick up yellow cards for doing so, and will get suspended at some point at the season, but Pusnik is never going to argue with a yellow card picked up for giving a key forward a bit of a reminder.
As the season goes on the midfielder will start to learn what he can get away with, and especially that if he does it in the first 3 minutes then he’ll probably get no yellow card.
2) Knowing your job.
The first step to playing as a defensive midfielder is understanding your role and accepting it. You’re there to work hard and to help everyone else, before yourself.
Not many people have performed the role of defensive midfielder better than Patrick Viera (the good one, not the one who played for Yokohama FC last year!). This is what he said on the position when asked how to play.
I think that it is very important to have someone playing the position who really wants to. It is a position which can go un-noticed for a lot of the game; you get few goals, few assists, but to the cultured eye it is the most important player in the match.
The only player I’ve seen so far who really looks like he wants to play the role is Park Gun. He has made a few mistakes, and doesn’t know his positions well enough yet, but with time I think he has the mentality to work hard for the team.
3) The conductor.
The defensive midfielder needs to be an intelligent player.
In defence he needs to see when it is time to drop back, and in attack he needs to know when he is able to step up.
As part of this he should be able to talk, and help those around him to know where they should be, or if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. The defensive midfielder is the heart of the team in this respect.
His role can take the part of a quarter-back by taking the ball from the central defenders and picking out the pass to start the play. A traditional playmaker is more of an 8 or 10, but the play is actually made first by the defensive midfielder picking him out, or more crucially winning the ball back and completing the transition by picking out a more advanced player.
4) The central defender.
This is where I believe Park or Tsutsumi can really make the position their own. We play a formation and style which asks the full-backs to push on and become supplementary wingers making 2 on 1 opportunities with opposition full-backs.
These over-laps don’t always work, and the defensive midfielder can help in this situation by covering for the full-back.
At times when the full back is ‘out of position’ up field and the ball has been won by the opposition the defensive midfielder can fall back to the defensive line and make a situation with 3 at the back.
By either providing numbers in the middle, or slowing the counter enough to allow the full-back to get back into position it allows both full backs to try and make full use of the pitch by getting forward, safe in the knowledge they have cover should something go wrong.
So who should play there?
We don’t really have a lot of options, and the options we do have don’t really fit all priteria at this time.
If you look at an overseas manager playing a not dis-similar style and formation to ours in Jose Mourinho he immediately knew how important it was to get this man into the club, looked round and couldn’t find it, so made the one big money signing of the last transfer window (Matic – 25m pounds) to bring him to the club.
Unfortunately we don’t have that luxury.
So what options do we have?
Nakahara – Very intelligent, starts the play well; but might be better used further forward and isn’t the most physical.
Park – Plays for the team, can be physically very strong, much better in attack than might be expected.
Tsutsumi – The best physically, able to pass, but I don’t know if he plays the position mentally (and is probably always needed as centre back).