J1 League: Spotlight On Oita Trinita

As you are no doubt aware, Gamba are currently in the midst of a Covid cluster with a number of players and staff testing positive for the virus. With the status of upcoming fixtures in doubt I decided to change the style of this blog post somewhat. I’ve already talked about Gamba ad nauseum in the previews of the postponed matches against Nagoya and Kashima, so I thought I’d dedicate this entire post to a team who don’t enjoy a great deal of English language coverage….Wednesday’s potential opponents Oita Trinita.

If you like what I’ve done here, please send me a comment and tell me you want more of it. Conversely, if you can’t wait for normal previews to resume and want me to revert to that style as quickly as possible, get in touch and let me know. Thanks again for reading, I really appreciate everyone’s support, enjoy the article, stay safe and take care.

Last Time Out

Two goals inside the opening 11 minutes sent Oita on their way to a first win of 2021 at Yokohama’s Mitsuzawa Stadium last Saturday. Showing no ill-effects from making 5 changes to their lineup from the previous week’s 1-1 draw with Tokushima, Trinita raced out of the blocks and put themselves in the driving seat, albeit aided by some amateurish Yokohama FC defending. First left centre-back Yuto Misao ghosted into the opposition box to place Hokuto Shimoda’s centre past a rather limp-wristed Yuji Rokutan before Kento Inoue crossed from the opposite flank and his ball evaded a wayward swipe by the embarrassed Yutaro Hakamata which allowed Seigo Kobayashi, hoping to put long-term injury problems behind him, to bag his first goal in 2 years from near the penalty spot.

After that early charge, Oita sat back / were forced back (delete as appropriate) and the home side were soon granted a lifeline. Not long after Brazilian forward Kleber’s header had bounced onto Shun Takagi’s crossbar, Kosuke Saito hit the deck on the edge of the area and earned a free-kick. Though, to say the contact between he and Kohei Isa was minimal would be being very kind. Dead ball specialist Kohei Tezuka stepped up and curled home to set up an intriguing second half.

Although they spent most of the second period on the back foot, Oita were rarely under sustained pressure and only endured a few scares. Takagi made a neat double stop from Kleber early in the half before tricky left winger Yusuke Matsuo’s shot was cleared off the line at the end of a mazy run after he’d intercepted a pass from another one of my Gamba scouting targets, Yushi Hasegawa. The real drama came right at the end when Sho Ito thought he’d earned his new side a point only for the linesmen to correctly flag him for offside. 2-1 Oita at full-time, 4 points in 2 games, granted not against the strongest opposition, represents a decent start for Tomohiro Katanosaka and his men.

Tactical Notes

Now in his 6th year in charge at the Showa Denko Dome, Takahiro Katanosaka has settled on a 3-4-2-1 system which reverts to a 5-4-1 when defending. He likes the wide centre-backs to also be able to play full-back / wing-back, though he’s had to alter this slightly following the winter departure of the jewel in the Trinita crown, Tomoki Iwata, who moved to Yokohama F.Marinos. Speedster Hatyato Kurosaki, a man I tipped as a potential Gamba signing, has joined from Tochigi SC, but may require some fine-tuning before he’s ready to step into Iwata’s boots.

In 2019 and 2020 Oita’s centre-back line up generally consisted of, Mr. Trinita Yoshinori Suzuki in the middle flanked by Iwata (right) and Yuto Misao (left), however, with Misao then only one of the trio still on the books, I noticed a few chinks in their defensive armour in the match against Yokohama FC. On several occasions the gap between the wing-backs and centre-backs was too wide leaving space for a good side to work overlaps and fire crosses into the box. Additionally, both defensive and midfield lines weren’t as straight as they were in the previous campaigns offering up opportunities for quick balls cutting out the central midfielders and exposing the backline. Finally, Katanosaka likes his wide central defenders to push up if the ball enters their zone. In theory the middle defender, Keisuke Saka for most of Saturday’s match, should essentially play a sweeper role in that situation. However once again a good side will be able to engineer space and quickly play the ball over the advancing centre-back to leave an attacker one-on-one with the sweeper. At the other end of the field, Oita generally press very well. They seem adept at winning the ball back in the opponent’s half against all teams. However, they have been known to target certain sides who are prone to overplaying in their own defensive third. Their 1-1 draw at home to Vissel Kobe last season was a great example of this, Yokohama F.Marinos should also be aware.

Going forward Oita are known as a passing side who like to build things from the back. Last year they ranked 4th in J1 both in total number of passes attempted and also in completion %. They also made the least amount of dribbles of all teams in the top division. They prefer using the pace of their wing-backs allied with the intricate skills of their two shadow players to manufacture scoring opportunities. This works well in theory, but in practice things didn’t really go according to plan last season. Trinita had the 3rd weakest attack in J1 in 2020, netting just 35 times in 34 games, they also registered the 2nd lowest number of shots. Much-maligned former Gamba beanpole Shun Nagasawa has been brought in, but as the J-Talk Podcast guys broke down on their season preview, there are genuine questions about how he will fit in with the Kyushu side’s attacking game-plan. Last year the centre-forward role was usually occupied by either Kei Chinen, a link up player, or Kohei Isa, a workhorse, Nagasawa is clearly a target man and Oita are not a side who excel at crossing. Again referencing the 2020 data we can see that although they were 6th in total crosses delivered last year, Trinita completed a mere 21.9% meaning that much work will need to be done on the training field if Sam Robson’s favourite is to become a success down in Kyushu.

Just to round this section off, I thought I’d uncover some interesting stats that I haven’t really seen discussed much elsewhere. As mentioned earlier, Oita are currently unbeaten in J1 with 4 points from 2 games against teams likely to be battling against the drop. I actually have Trinita going down in my #jpred2021, so their start to the campaign will be crucial. They have proven to be an extremely streaky side since returning to Japan’s top flight 2 years ago. Of course, they shocked everyone back in 2019 when they took 24 points from their opening 12 games despite being a popular pick to return to J2 at the first time of asking. Predictably, they couldn’t match those early highs and earned only 23 more points across their remaining 22 matches. That malaise carried over into 2020 when after a disappointing haul of 12 points from 14 fixtures was accrued, they improved markedly after that and finished the year with 31 points from their final 20 contests. Taking full advantage of their good spells of form will clearly be very important for Oita as they bid to retain their status in the rarefied atmosphere of J1.

The Squad

As always it was a busy winter down in the hot spring mecca of Oita. Eight important squad members headed for fresh pastures while a number of replacements of varying degrees of ability arrived. The main loss was top scorer (despite being a wing-back / shadow player) Tatsuya Tanaka (to Urawa), while yeoman central midfielder Toshio Shimakawa made the short journey west to link up with Tosu after 30 J1 appearances in 2020. I already talked about the massive blow dealt to the club’s defensive stability by Yoshinori Suzuki’s move to Shimizu and Japan international Tomoki Iwata linking up with Ange Postecoglou at Marinos. Kei Chinen’s loan ended and he went back to Kawasaki, where he was re-united with 2019’s leading assist maker Kazuki Kozuka. On top of that, veteran shadow / centre-forward Kazushi Mitsuhira is now in J2 with Kofu and Daiki Watari is another off-season departure who’s still plying his trade in Kyushu, in his case, Avispa Fukuoka.

Brazilian duo, centre back Henrique Trevisan (Estoril Praia, Portugal) and holding midfielder Matheus Sousa Pereira are the two most exotic winter arrivals. Neither have yet been able to enter the country due to COVID era visa restrictions and it will be interesting to see how they bed in when they eventually do make it to Japan. I wouldn’t say Oita would be as easy as say somewhere in Kanto or Kansai for Brazilians to quickly settle in, but only time will tell. Other new arrivals I haven’t mentioned above include, Arata Watanabe, an attacking player whose signing would have been heralded more had he not missed the end of the last campaign with a broken foot, Hokuto Shimoda, the team’s new set piece taker, a title winner in 2020 with Kawasaki, varsity duo Kenta Inoue, a wing-back from Fukuoka University and Kazuki Fujimoto, a shadow player who showed some nice touches against Gamba in Suita last summer, from Kanoya National Institute for Sport in Kagoshima. At the back Keisuke Saka has come in from Shonan, Bellmare supporters seemed saddened by his loss, though in truth I’ve never really seen anything to write home from him. Giravanz Kitakyushu wing-back Kenta Fukumori, yet another player I urged Gamba to look at, has already found himself a spot in the side, and young holding midfielder Masaki Yumiba has been promoted from the club’s decent youth academy.

Injury Report

No major injury dramas to report from the Showa Denko Dome so far. Shadow player Naoki Nomura, who missed the first half of 2020 following his move from Tokushima sat out last Saturday’s win at his former side Yokohama FC for, as far as I know, unspecified reasons. Right wing-back Kenta Inoue left the field with a leg muscle problem in the second half of that game and must be considered a doubt while Arata Watanabe was repeatedly going down with cramp in the final 10 minutes, but should now be good to go. Centre-back / wing-back Yuta Koide, like Nomura, also played the round 1 contest against Tokushima before sitting out the Yokohama FC clash with no reason given for his absence while Yamato Machida was an unused sub in the opening match of the season, but was nowhere to be seen in the Levain Cup defeat to Kobe or the aforementioned win in Kanagawa.

Current Starting XI

The formation is set, but due to the high turnover between rounds 1 and 2 it is as yet unclear who the preferred starters are in several areas. If fit, Nomura and Inoue would certainly feature, while Yuki Kobayashi is an alternative to Shimoda in the middle of the park, Ueebisu and Koide could potentially unseat Haneda at the back and Nagasawa or Takazawa will provide competition for Isa in attack.

Season Prediction

In my #jpred2021 I had them in 16th, the final relegation spot, largely due to their lack of firepower up front. However, I can’t really see them going any lower and realistically they could end up as high as 10th/11th if things click.


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