Pressure is on in Japan’s Aussie Derby

Ange Postecoglou (Left) and Peter Cklamovski (right) Source: Getty Images

It is less than a month since Peter Cklamovski and Ange Postecoglou met in the J.League with the former’s Shimizu S-Pulse falling to a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Yokohama F. Marinos but much has changed since.

They do battle once again on Wednesday and, much more than last time, both really need a win. Forget friendship.

Neither Yokohama F.Marinos or Shimizu S-Pulse are where they want to be and results of late have taken a downturn, seriously so when it comes to last-placed Shimizu.

Just days after Postecoglou, assisted by Cklamovski, led Yokohama to a spectacular title triumph last December,  Shimizu appointed the number two as their head coach. 

Nobody was demanding a similar title challenge but there was hope that some of the same fluid football would be played at the Nihondaira Stadium and the results would, as they eventually did in Yokohama, follow at some point.

Cklamovski rightly warned at the start of his tenure, made even harder than usual due to the four-month coronavirus suspension, that it would take time. This point was reinforced by five straight defeats at the start of the season as S-Pulse tried to play a more aggressive attacking style. 

Then progress seemed to be being made as nine points were collected from the following five games as Shimizu started to climb the table.

Then came the 4-3 defeat against Yokohama in August. It may have been a thrilling spectacle, especially for fans in Australia, but it sparked a run of six defeats that has sent Shimizu back to the bottom of the J.League table. 

Defence started out as the problem and has led to issues of confidence and mentality. Shimizu have conceded 20 goals in the last six games and have kept just one clean sheet in 16 games so far this season and that was against the toothless Vegalta Sendai.

The latest loss last Saturday was an issue of, as described on Japanese television, ‘self-destruction’. Against an in-form Kashima Antlers team, Shimizu held their own and then lost possession twice in quick succession in the first half and found themselves 2-0 down. The loss of already-fragile confidence was almost visible.

Cklamovski was brought in to develop a more expansive style of play but the project is in danger of stalling as the defence is leaking goals left, right and centre. Conceding 37 in 16 not only means that the team has to score an average of three a game to win, but it also looks to be taking its toll on the players. 

With the games coming thick and fast, this may be the trickiest task of the new coach, not getting the players to adapt to a different way of playing in the long-term but maintaining confidence and belief amid the inevitable teething problems. These are the tests that can define a young coaching career.

The saving grace for the Aussie is that there is no relegation this year due to the coronavirus-affected schedule. Being bottom benefits nobody however and a win over the defending champions would be a huge result.

It is not out of the question.

Yokohama F. Marinos have lost their last three to slip into the bottom half of the table. Postecoglou has plenty of credit in the bank after last year’s title win and some excellent football performances this, the latest loss, 2-1 to Cerezo Osaka, was one of the best performances of the season according to the boss. 

However, the title defence is well and truly over. Much has been made in the Japanese media about the huge points gap between the leaders Kawasaki Frontale and the champions. After 17 games, it stands at an eye-watering 23. Postecoglou said recently that he didn’t pay much attention to such figures but, even if that is true, he is in a small minority. When the two met recently Kawasaki made Yokohama look very much second best.

While Postecoglou can look forward to the resumption of the AFC Champions League in November, Yokohama looked imperious in the competition two games played earlier this year and have a real chance of going far, a fourth straight defeat would not go down well especially against the bottom team. 

Both coaches need a win then. It should be some game.

Source SBS The World Game