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The tactics that helped Postecoglou conquer Japan

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Expert
9th December, 2019
23
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From his humble beginnings in South Melbourne to leading Yokahama F Marinos to the Japanese championship, Ange Postecoglou’s football philosophy has captivated players and fans alike.

Just like football in general, the former Socceroos manager’s attacking ethos has evolved throughout his 20-year managerial career and this Yokahama team was the culmination of many harsh defeats.

What made this job even more difficult was the fact that the 54-year-old was in a new country with a completely different view not only towards football, but life in general. He had to ensure his messages transcended languages for players that hailed from Brazil and Serbia as well as Japan.

So how did Postecoglou add the J1 League title to his CV? Here is just three of his key tactics with Yokohama.

Verticality in transition
Although Postecouglou’s side hold possession for a majority of the game – averaging 63 per cent, by far the highest in the league – they are at their most dangerous in the few seconds after winning the ball.

The Japanese champions’ transition is a thing of beauty. They turn defence into attack at rapid speed. The opposition, still hung up on their own missed opportunity, end up chasing shadows as Marinos players sprint past in numbers.

In the clip above, Marinos create this situation perfectly and reach their opponent’s box from their own in around 12 seconds. The forward missed his opportunity this time around, but the quick counter-attack caught the whole team sleeping and exemplifies the Postecoglou approach.

Where some teams looking to attain control of the game might slow down the pace as their team regains their structure, Yokahama look to attack immediately via passes aimed at getting the ball into the attacking third as quickly as possible.

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Crucially, this does not mean that players hoof the ball forward aimlessly, but that they work themselves up the pitch quickly through direct, vertical passes. Forwards come deeper to receive possession, pulling away the opposition defenders and then lay it off for the runs of midfielders who are charging their way into the newly created space.

Defending from the front
Pressing has become part of the modern game, especially for teams that prefer to attack rather than those happier sitting deep and looking to counter-attack. This usually involves the forwards charging at in-possession defenders rather than allowing them space to progress it up field.

As Johan Cruyff one said: “In my teams, the goalkeeper is the first attacker and the striker is the first defender.”

Postecoglou carried those principles with his forwards – MVP Teruhito Nakagawa and Brazilians Erik and Mateus – pressuring opponents from the front while the midfield pushed on to block easy passing lanes.

If the forwards are to press high, the rest of the team must move up field as well, meaning that the defensive line pushes up in a high block. This makes the field smaller for the opposition as they look for an option to pass to, with the only risk-averse pass being the long ball that should result in Marinos winning back possession anyway.

If that long pass ends up beating the defence, it is up to Marinos goalkeeper Park Iru-gyu to act as a sweeper keeper like Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer. It is a high-risk game, though, as we saw when Park was sent off in the final 20 minutes in the Tokyo FC match, after coming out of his box and failing to win the ball.

Pressing in this type of aggressive structure requires every player to know their role and have the energy to push forward. Postecoglou has clearly done an outstanding job in explaining to his whole squad when and where they need to be with and without the ball.

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Lateral domination
What’s fascinating about this Marinos side is how they both compress and lengthen the field at the same time. While aggressively pressing and restricting space to the opposition, they are also stretching out opponents when in possession.

A lot of this happens through Marinos’ primary playmaker Marcos Junior, who nominally plays in between the striker and the midfield, but shuttles across the field laterally to create overloads in wide spaces within the final third.

Junior is an expert at finding and creating space, and so during those overloads he likes to pick out the runs of his striker who usually shift into the channel to make a run behind the defence.

When it comes to the fullbacks, Thai international Theerathon Bunmathan on the left flank is the one that likes to storm up the pitch more often while the right back Ken Matsubara is a bit more cautious and keeps the team safe from counter-attacks.

With teams that do want to sit deep and try to withstand the relentless pressure of Marinos, taking advantage of width is key and Postecoglou has found a system to ensure that they have enough presence in the final third without making them vulnerable in transition.

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