J1 League: Spotlight on Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo

Thanks to everyone who read my recent article on Oita Trinita, the feedback I got was extremely positive. With that in mind, and no light at the end of Gamba’s COVID tunnel at the moment, I decided to to turn my attention to the side the Nerazzurri were supposed to square off against this Saturday (March 13th), Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. There isn’t a whole lot of English content about them, but do give @IrishDosanko a follow as well as English forward @jaybothroyd if you want further insights into J1’s most northerly outfit.

Tactical Notes

I watched the whole of Sapporo’s 1-0 defeat away at Nagoya last weekend (March 6th) and a large part of this section is based on that game as well as the 6-7 times I saw them in action in 2020.

Regular followers of the JLeague will know that Consadole kantoku Mihailo ‘Mischa’ Petrovic only has one real footballing philosophy, ‘ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK.’ I could probably stop the article there, but I’m guessing that since you’ve clicked the link, you’re looking for something more thorough, so let’s take a deeper look.

The tables above showing Sapporo’s, defensive, offensive and building play from the back, set ups hopefully give you a flavour of the sort of style they operate. Their formation is generally shown as a nominal 3-4-2-1, but it is very common to see their two central midfielders as the two deepest lying players in the side while the wide centre-backs convert themselves into full-backs, or in the case of assist king Akito Fukumori (averaging 6 per year across the past 3 seasons), you will see him bombing past his left wing-back and left shadow attacker into the opposition final third. Captain and ‘Mr. Sapporo’ Hiroki Miyazawa is the heartbeat of the side and pops up everywhere. He can be thought of almost like a quarter-back, dropping deep to dictate the tempo and angle of attack, but his constant movement between the defensive and midfield lines can leave space for opponents to exploit. Although generally listed as a central midfielder, Miyazawa slots into a back 4 when the red and blacks are under pressure before rushing up with his offensive colleagues when the opportunity for a counter presents itself.

On attack, it’s common to see the wide centre-back, wing-back and shadow forward on either side position themselves in triangles around the corner of the opposition penalty area before attempting to use intricate passing moves that culminate in shots on goal or crosses into the centre-forward. Little of Consadole’s offensive play comes through the traditional central midfield area, there are lots of long cross-field diagonals and balls into channels from the deep lying, Miyazawa, Komai and Chanathip, amongst others. Generally when I’ve seen them in action, this has met with a low success rate, though it should be noted that against Nagoya, a side known for their excellent defensive core in the middle of the park, Sapporo had a degree of joy when firing quick balls into the less well guarded wider areas. Unfortunately in that match they were rather guilty of attempting one pass too many in the final third and frequently running the ball side-to-side along the 18-yard box without making any headway.

Since taking up the reins in Hokkaido ahead of the 2018 campaign, ex-Hiroshima and Urawa boss Petrovic has sought to overcome a lack of overall talent amongst his charges, at least when compared to the traditional heavyweights, by instilling a relentless work-ethic in the players, operating a high-press and attempting to overload the wide attacking areas. In essence, trying to bombard the opposition and keep them on the back foot to such an extent that they are unable to take advantage of the clear defensive frailties that come with the adoption of such a strategy. This style of football, while always pleasing on the eye to the neutral, has brought mixed results in Petrovic’s 3 years in the hot seat. It looks great when it comes off, ie the 5-1 home demolition of Yokohama FC on the opening day of this season, or when it had the element of surprise during the Austrian coach’s first year with the club, a stunning 4th place in 2018. However, it can also backfire spectacularly, see the 6-1 home loss to Kawasaki or the 4-0 drubbing at Vissel Kobe last year for evidence of that.

As we near the end of this section, I’d like to take a look at some team stats from 2020, just as I did with Oita. Sapporo were number one in J1 for attempted dribbles in 2020 and 2nd in terms of completion %, no doubt a number of these came in the wide areas of opposition territory. As alluded to above, they like to overload the wide attacking areas, so it’s no surprise to see they sent in the 3rd most crosses in the league in 2020 and their 23.4% success rate compares with a league average of 22.8%. Less impressive though was the fact that they ranked 5th in total number of shots, but had the 3rd worst on target percentage with the loss of Musashi Suzuki to Belgium early in the year really hurting them. Defensively, Consadole’s pressing and general intensity resulted in them giving away the most fouls in J1 last time round, but that work-rate didn’t seem to extend all the way towards the back of the side as they were last in number of clearances and 2nd last in blocks.

In order to try and arrest a slide in results that has seen them go from 4th to 10th to 12th over the past 3 years, Petrovic, still recovering from a fall in his homeland over the winter, has made a couple of minor tweaks while maintaining the overall aggressive strategy. Despite being the man opposition fans love to hate, Takuma Arano is actually an extremely talented footballer on his day, so his loss to a nasty looking ankle ligament tear has been keenly felt. Yoshiaki Komai, a solid performer with 4 goals and 5 assists in 33 J1 games in 2020 has shifted back from the right-shadow role he occupied for the majority of last season and is now often the only player to be seen in the central midfield. Pacy university rookie Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa has been operating in Komai’s old stomping ground and helped himself to 2 assists against Yokohama FC. Once-capped Japan international Daiki Suga has struggled to nail down a starting spot in the early part of this campaign with feisty Brazilian Lucas Fernandes switching from right to left wing-back and Takuro Kaneko, a youngster who enjoyed a bright rookie year, but bounced around a number of positions without making any his own, trying to claim the right wing-back slot. How these alterations work in the long run will be interesting to observe.

The Squad

Although you may note that Consadole play most of their games at the Sapporo Dome, a huge, modern, spaceship-like construction that they share with baseball team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, the football side are not particularly flush with cash themselves. As such, to try and breathe new life into a slightly stale looking squad they’ve turned to a selection of university, high school and youth team graduates to try and fill the void. I already mentioned that Takuro Kaneko (Nihon University) enjoyed a promising first year as a pro last season, star centre-back / holding midfielder Shunta Tanaka (Osaka Taiiku Uni.) and centre-back / centre-mid / shadow forward Tomoki Takamine (Tsukuba Uni.) also brought something to the party and it is upon that trio that a large chunk of the club’s future hopes rest.

Two metre tall goalkeeper Kojiro Nakano, well known to Gamba supporters from the Emperor’s Cup defeat to Hosei University in 2019 and the already mentioned Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (Meiji Uni.) have converted special designated player deals into permanent ones and will be desperate to make a quick impact on the top team. Another exciting addition for the future is young forward Taika Nakashima (Kunimi High School in Nagasaki – Kazuma Watanabe’s alma mater) and he netted on his top-team debut in the Levain Cup win at Fukuoka. Centre-back Daihachi Okamura, (Thespakusatsu Gunma) should be nicknamed ‘Iron Man’ as he was the only outfield player to be on the field for every minute of every game in last year’s epic J2 campaign, and I feel it’s a matter of when, not if, he unseats Kim Min-tae from the starting eleven. Elsewhere, other new arrivals seem more designed to add depth to the squad, Takahiro Yanagi (FC Tokyo – on loan to Sendai in 2020) can play as a wide centre-back or wing-back, youth team product Toya Nakamura, a centre-back, has returned from a middling year-and-a-half loan in JFL with Honda FC, veteran Shinji Ono is back in town, apparently more to raise dressing room morale than for his on-field contributions, once highly-touted prospect Ryota Aoki can play on the wing or as a shadow attacker, Koki Otani will likely be 3rd choice ‘keeper and may get the odd League Cup start and giant Nigerian centre-forwad Gabriel Okechukwu (Wydad Casablanca) is a real wild-card signing.

More positively, after the losses of Gu Sung-yun and Musashi Suzuki hit them hard early last year, not too many more followed them through the exit door during the winter break. Ryosuke Shindo went to Cerezo, but truth be told he was off-form and injured for a good chunk of last season and Tanaka is a better long-term prospect in my eyes. Other than that, Riku Danzaki in on loan at Brisbane Roar in the A-League having failed to build on early promise, veterans Naoki Ishikawa and Ryota Hayasaka retired, the versatile Kosuke Shirai joined Kyoto on loan, Thai backup keeper Kawin returned to Belgium after his loan expired, Hugo Vieira was released after his short term deal didn’t produce anything noteworthy and Yuta Iwasaki, the poster child for why you shouldn’t overrate kids with impressive age level stats before they’ve done anything as a pro has joined the J2 side most likely to be duped by said stats, JEF United, on loan.

Injury Report

Midfield maestro Takuma Arano suffered a nasty looking leg injury in the 5-1 win over Shimizu last November and is yet to return. Veteran centre-forward Jay Bothroyd endured a bout of Coronavirus during his winter break in the UK and I’m unsure if he’s made it back to Japan yet, he certainly hasn’t featured so far. Nigerian striker Gabriel Okechukwu may benefit from professional sports sides potentially getting their new acquisitions to the front of the visa line after the state of emergency ends, but for now he’s out of the country and unavailable for selection. Utility midfielder Yoshihiro Nakano has been seen yet this campaign, though he is very much a back up player anyway, while Chanathip was a late withdrawal from the side to face Hiroshima on March 10th. Yoshiaki Komai, Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa, Ryota Aoki and Douglas Oliveira were all absent from that encounter too, though I believe that may have been more of a squad rotation issue.

Current Starting XI
A fit-again Chanathip would definitely be in this lineup with probably Ogashiwa alongside him, Kaneko at right wing-back and Lucas Fernandes on the left. Takamine is also a possibility in central midfield or as a shadow attacker while Fukai is another potential partner for Miyazawa despite falling out of favour over the past 12 months.

Season Prediction

I’d have them more likely to finish in the bottom 10 than the top half. Lower middle table in a similar vein to last season seems probable, though if the wheels really come off and they carry over last season’s habit of grasping defeat from the jaws of victory/draws then a relegation scrap isn’t entirely out of the question.


One reply on “J1 League: Spotlight on Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s