The J-League midweek calender provided a fascinating mid-season tactical encounter between title hopefuls Kawasaki Frontale, and title chasing league leaders Nagoya Grampus Eight. The win important for both sides, Frontale to cut Grampus' lead to three points whilst Grampus had the opportunity to open up a five point lead over fellow title contenders, Kashima Antlers and Shimizu S-Pulse.
The first half was an engaging encounter, Grampus set out in a 4-3-3 system, three narrow central midfielders, Danilson holding Magnum and Tamada tirelessly running, way ahead of them Australian Josh Kennedy the central striker flanked by Kanazaki and Burzanovic both far wide pacing the touchline's.
Advancing, Grampus stretched the play, Magnum and Tamada assumed the roles of the old-fashion inside left and right filling in the narrow channels to help form a singled banded line of five, pacey full-back Shohei Abe regularly overlapped Kanazaki contributing high quality crosses in to the Kawasaki six yard box whilst from deep, experienced central defender, Marcus Tulio Tanaka purposely charged forward lashing attempts from distance.
Grampus monopolised early on but failed to exchange possession in to goals, the best opportunity Tamada blazing over an empty goal two yards out, the result of a perfectly weighted Kennedy headed pass from a glorious Shohei Abe cross.
Nagoya's use of maximising space whilst pressing Kawasaki high up the pitch created large pockets of unmanned areas in midfield, something Kawasaki coach, Tsutomu Takahata, clearly prepared for.
Tactically astute, Takahata rotated systems mid game, 4-5-1, 4-4-2, 4-3-3 all of which were free from the customary set lines. Frontale were compact without possession fluid with it, players in tandem with one another seamlessly rotating in and out of various positions.
Takahata's killer tactic was the ability to ensure his side exploited the unmanned pockets of space in midfield with the counter attack, a combination of style and substance mixed with pace and purpose. It produced the opening goal, pacey forward Vitor Junior finishing well to give the home side a 1-0 half time advantage.
A goal down Nagoya played their part, Kanazaki coming close, but once again Frontale capitalised deploying the counter. Darting in from the far right, consistently being hounded, Masaru Kurotsu displayed strength, awareness and intelligence cutting the ball neatly in from the goal line for Junior to bag with ease, grabbing his brace and doubling the Frontale lead.
Nagoya coach Dragan Stojkovic used his three changes to replace his complete midfield, saw his central defender, Takahiro Masukawa, dismissed for a second bookable offence and Frontale exploit further space with two late goals, Juninho and Tasaka, creating a flattering scoreline, 4-0. Stojkovic left to ponder.
Nagoya remain top, two points clear of Kashima and Shimizu, Frontale just a point further back in fourth just might start believing this year might finally be the one.