The previous post in this series introduced Ken Sasaki, a Japanese manager who has begun his career in football management. Deportes Puerto Montt are the side that have gambled on the young boss, hiring him at the end of the 2019 season in which they finished in 9th place in the Chilean Primera B. The club parted ways with Fernando Vergara, citing that ‘a new direction’ was being sought.
Sasaki joins Puerto Montt as they seek to return to the top division of Chilean football. They last appeared in the Campeonato Nacional Scotiabank back in 2007 and have floated between the second and third tiers since. The board are expecting Sasaki to lead his side to a top-half finish in 2020 and then begin to chase promotion through the playoffs from 2021 onwards. Sasaki would need to quickly evaluate his squad and make the necessary changes in order to ensure that his new club would be able to meet these expectations.
One advantage that Sasaki can rely on is his previous link to the club. He played for Puerto Montt for the final two years of his playing career before his relatively early retirement. As such, he’ll be hoping that the fans, in particular, remember him fondly and support him in his endeavours with the club.
Pre-season and transfers
Appraising the current squad, negotiating contracts and scouting for new signings took up the large majority of Ken Sasaki’s early time with the club. With many players approaching the end of their contract in December 2019, Sasaki had to decide which players were worth retaining and which could be discarded. Gonzalo Sepulveda was released by the club. He was by far the highest earner at the club, earning a huge £1.7k p/week. By comparison, the next highest earner was Diego Sepulveda at £300 p/week. This saving in the wage budget allowed Sasaki to be a bit more adventurous in the transfer market. Here is who he brought to the club.
- Alvaro Madrid
Alvaro Madrid became Ken Sasaki’s first player to be bought for dinero. Puerto Montt paid £23.5k to Everton de Vina del Mar to sign the central midfielder. He appears to be a very well-rounded player and will compete with several others for the ball-winning midfielder role that Saski will be deploying this season.
Did you expect to see a Brazilian with 76 caps rock up at the Regional de Chinquihue this season? Maicon was brought in on a free transfer and will take on the role of captain. Sasaki chose Maicon as the perfect player to help the squad transition from a side content with second-tier status to one that has ambitions to play at a far greater level.
Other notable signings included ex-Universidad Catolica youth player Marcelo Suarez, a promising goalkeeper who will play as the first-choice keeper this season, Banguele, a strong Brazilian defensive-midfielder who will compete with Madrid for the BWM role and Gonzalo Espinoza, a decent striker with history at several Chilean clubs.
Puerto Montt’s transfer dealings were complete just one game into pre-season, highlighting how well a job Sasaki has done in putting together his squad for the season ahead having only been at the club a matter of months.
If Sasaki had any doubts about his squad prior to pre-season, they will have been quashed by several good performances and results. The two opening games came against sides in the Campeonato Nacional and as such, the squad were buoyed by the results – a 1-1 draw against Coquimbo Unido and a fantastic 2-0 win against Everton de Vina del Mar. Such a good pre-season could only mean that a good domestic season was to follow, surely?
Strikers on holiday
Puerto Montt began the season horrifically. The side managed to score just three goals in the opening eight league games. Taking away the penalty scored by Oscar Hernandez, just two open-play goals signalled that a change of tactic was needed.
In fact, Sasaki had tinkered with tactics heavily in these early matches. Despite going through pre-season playing a positive brand of football, the results in the first few matches saw Sasaki move away from this approach in favour of a more cautious tactic. This resulted in a few closer matches without reward. The Valdivia game was crucial as they were the only club to have had a worse start to the season than Puerto Montt. A 2-1 defeat saw Puerto Montt hit rock bottom and take its place alongside the morale of the squad.
This results triggered another change of ideology in Ken Sasaki. The manager was firm with his pre-season idea that a positive approach was the way forward. In his playing days, he was regularly part of sides who dominated the opposition and this was what he wanted his squad to impart on the opposition. Perhaps due to the pressures of management, Sasaki departed from this ideology in favour of a more cautious approach and it backfired. Prior to the match against Cobreloa, Sasaki reverted back to a more positive mindset and adapted his teams tactics accordingly.
A flat back 4, protected by a defensive midfielder, formed the foundation for a more attacking approach. Wingers bomb forward with pace, running at defences and creating havoc in wider areas. A ball-winning midfielder in the centre puts pressure on opposition midfielders, pressing quickly and tackling hard. An advanced playmaker dictates the game, with an advanced forward leading the line. How will this change of approach affect Puerto Montt’s season going forward?
An improvement – enough to avoid the boardroom?
Winless in eight, having scored just three goals, Sasaki feared for his job. At this stage in the season he was sure that the board would be seeking a meeting to discuss his future. But the meeting didn’t come and so Puerto Montt moved forward with their positive tactic and began to try and claw their way back up the table.
The ninth and tenth games of the season came against Copiapo (A) and Barnechea (H). Against Copiapo, central defender Camilo Becerra scored in the 72nd minute to earn Puerto Montt three points. A game with few clear cut chances was decided by the solitary goal. Sasaki came home with his first win in management. The following week saw Puerto Montt secure a second consecutive victory against Barnechea. This time it was left-sided winger Nicolas Gauna with the winning goal in another 1-0 victory.
These two wins lifted the pressure on Sasaki and thoughts of a board meeting left his head. In fact, these two victories lifted the club out of the relegation zone and thoughts had now been shifted towards rising back up towards the top half.
However, a 3-2 defeat to Temuco saw the board take action and request a meeting to discuss Ken Sasaki’s future. The meeting ended with the promise of nine points from the following five league matches. A tall order, especially considering the form of the side in the first eight league matches!
The first of the five matches ended in victory. Magallanes sat below Puerto Montt in the league, a sign of a weak team indeed! Goals from Alvaro Madrid and Nicolas Gauna secured victory, despite a late scare after Magallanes netted in injury time.
Away matches are often trickier to negotiate in football, yet a comfortable 2-0 victory saw Puerto Montt take another leap to securing Sasaki’s role as manager. Leonardo Espinoza scored the opener and Maicon emphatically sealed the three points with a clinical finish from outside of the area.
Three wins on the bounce for Puerto Montt! A team who scored just three goals in eight matches have now scored 9 in their previous four. The scorers from the previous gameweek, Espinoza and Maicon, scored again to take a 2-0 lead. Diego Sepulveda added a third to take an unassailable lead. Ken Sasaki’s job is safe.
A minor victory for Sasaki – but still a lot of work to do
Three consecutive wins sees Puerto Montt rise to 11th in the table with 16 points from 15 games. The club are now halfway through the season and will take a break from league football to concentrate on the Copa Chile.
Puerto Montt are four points behind 8th placed Barnechea, the top-half target for the Puerto Montt board. With the form of the last few weeks fresh in mind, 8th place seems a realistic target. Yet Puerto Montt could still fall back into the kind of form that made the first eight matches of Sasaki’s managerial career ones to forget.
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