Japanese footballers have been plying their trade in Europe for more than a decade with some memorable names gracing the field. Takumi Minamino joins the likes of Shunsuke Nakamura, Shinji Kagawa, and Keisuke Honda. These three players are household names that have been influential members of top European sides including Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan and Celtic. Takumi Minamino represents a new wave of Japanese players trying emulating their predecessors whilst bolstering the reputation that precedes the Japanese. The centre-forward has emerged as a top player for FC Salzburg since his arrival and is becoming a well-known player across Europe.
Takumi Minamino plays for FC Salzburg in the Austrian Bundesliga. The Japanese forward was born in January 1995 in Osaka, Japan. Having risen through the ranks at Cerezo Osaka, Minamino steadily developed into a well-rounded forward. After making his debut in August 2012 against Omiya Ardija in the J-League Division 1 his inclusion in the first team was gradual before he finally became a first team regular in 2013.
Minamino made 29 appearances scoring five goals picking up the J League’s Best Young Player award in his first season. The following season was not as successful as Cerezo Osaka was relegated with Minamino only contributing two goals. This didn’t deter European clubs from expressing interest in the Japanese striker with FC Salzburg making a move in January 2015. Having joined midway through the season, he played five matches scoring three goals. Since his debut season, Minamino has scored 51 goals in 152 appearances, so clearly the striker has settled into life in Salzburg so what has made him so effective at the club?
Takumi Minamino – Focal Point
The Japanese striker has been an influential attacking presence since his move from Cerezo Osaka. Able to play as a striker or attacking midfielder, Takumi Minamino has excelled in both positions developing his creative attributes along the way. Under Marco Rose, FC Salzburg have made rapid improvements with the team reaching as high as the UEFA Europa League semi-finals last season.
Rose usually lines his side up in a fluid 4-1-2-1-2 or 4-3-1-2 formation. These aim to create narrow midfield diamond with an aim to play fluid football centrally. The centre-backs are the primary source of attacks. The fullbacks usually push forward providing width and additional support to the two strikers and attacking midfielder. The two strikers act as deep-lying forwards and poachers, constantly interchanging positions creating unpredictability for opposition defences. Takumi Minamino fits this role perfectly as a deep-lying forward linking play with the midfield.
Takumi Minamino (#18) central position makes him an integral cog to the Salzburg side. Notice the number of passes that go through Minamino. The game is played with him as the focal point. Here Enock Mwepu and Moanes Dabbur are the closest players to him. One plays behind him and the other next to him. His influence in running the ball through him is obvious. To add to this, he does engage with almost everyone on the team making him the team’s ball recycler.
Takumi Minamino has the capability to manipulate play by dropping in and playing off passes to players around him allowing him in order to control the tempo and pace of a match. His diminutive frame and low centre of gravity provides him an advantage, allowing him to run past players with ease. The attacking midfield role is one of the most important positions, especially when played in a narrow formation such as a 4-1-2-1-2. Minamino is solely responsible for making sure the attacks flow and the strikers are not starved of service whilst providing an attacking threat.
Notice the influence Takumi Minamino has with a single touch against Rheindorf Altach. As we can see here Diadie Samassékou passes the ball into Moanes Dabbur who then looks to lay it off to Minamino. The striker isn’t afraid of playing in close quarters relying on his own ability to get out of situations creating better opportunities for the team.
The Japanese striker is surrounded by four players but Dabbur understands his ability and carves open a defence with one pass. The four Altach players now attempt to close down Minamino but it’s too late with the pass already executed.
Once Dabbur lays off the pass he wants to exploit the large gap in behind the Altach defence. Minamino’s single pass carves open the defence allowing the Salzburg striker a run at goal with a free shot.
Playing as the deep-lying attacker, Takumi Minamino requires a good first touch and passing ability to break through. We’ve seen his passing capabilities on display earlier but being able to take minimal touches and move the ball forward makes him a frightening proposition in the final third.
Minamino sees the space in the left channel and asks for the ball to be played there. There are two defenders capable of closing him down and blocking his path.
Instead of waiting for the ball to played into space and get intercepted, he goes towards the incoming pass. At this point, we can see both defenders close him down. One mistake many defenders make when attempting to close down flair players is getting too close and losing out if the attacking player has quick feet.
The defenders paid the price for closing in too much, allowing the Japanese attacker to take a sublime touch around them and attempt to dribble and cross into space.
Besides being able to link up play and accurately pass in small spaces, Takumi Minamino is equally proficient at dribbling. The forward has averaged 3.73 dribbles per game this season with a 71% success rate. Clearly, Minamino excels at running towards defences and this coincides with Marco Rose’s ethos of playing through the middle. Playing him in the number 10 position allows the Japanese striker the freedom and space to carry the ball and utilise his strongest asset.
Once again against Rheindorf Altach, notice Takumi Minamino’s starting position, he has two options, one to go across the player or cut inside and attempt to take on the last two defenders.
The striker chooses to go across the defender and skips past him. At this moment, he needs to worry about the covering defender and if he successfully evades him then he has a clear opportunity on goal or at the very least creates an assist opportunity. The ease at which he around round the players and is able to go around the defence to shoot is through his own hard work.
His high dribbling success rate isn’t him finding yards of space on a counter-attack rather he is an efficient and effective dribbler in busy situations. Coupled with his dribbling is his high passing rate at 76.5%. He tends to start in the middle and passes out wide to the full-backs to cross in for the two strikers or plays it in the channels. Overloading the channels takes pressure off the full-backs with the opposition full-backs and centre-backs focused on Minamino and the two strikers allowing Andreas Ulmer and Stefan Lainer an easier time out wide.
In this match against Anderlecht, we can see Takumi Minamino in the number 10 position behind Moanes Dabbur and South Korean striker Hee Chan Hwang. Having already scored in the first minute, Minamino was terrorising the Belgian club’s defence. After dribbling past the first player, Minamino finds himself in space and senses an opportunity to thread a ball to Hee Chan Hwang. Notice all the defenders are fixated on stopping Minamino leaving the South Korean forward an easy opportunity to cross to Moanes Dabbur.
After threading a perfectly weighted pass to his teammate who now has the opportunity to cross it to Dabbur or take a shot into the bottom right corner of the net.
Defending from the front
Now that we’ve covered the attacking portion of Takumi Minamino’s game, we can now focus on his other capabilities namely his defensive skills. Surprisingly, one of the more effective parts of the Japanese strikers game is his defensive capabilities. Minamino is a busy forward who works incredibly hard off the ball and tends to put himself all over the pitch.
Even though the majority of his time is spent in the final third of the pitch, we can see he does spend time down both wings in his defensive third. This shows his willingness to track back and help his full-backs create a 2v1 or sometimes 3v1 opportunity. He has the ability to defend from the front or from the back.
Well, this scatter map shows Minamino’s challenge areas from two different matches. Against RB Leipzig, the forward made eight challenges and six of them were in his own half with a 50% success rate. The other scatter map is from the league match against Rheindorf Altach who are weaker opposition. Being inferior only means that Salzburg will hold onto more possession. We can see here that he’s challenging and winning more duels in the oppositions final third by pressing, tackling and intercepting higher up the field.
To take another example out of the Rheindorf Altach match, we can see Minamino on his toes ready to pounce on the opposition once the ball is released. Anticipating the ball would be played into the midfielder ahead of him, he quickly makes a move towards the player and perfectly timed his tackle to create a counter-attacking opportunity. This counter-pressing tactic against a weaker opponent has caught the opposition off guard and allowed the Austrian Champions a chance to double their lead.
Against Rosenborg in the UEFA Europa League, notice Minamino attempt to run back into a defensive position as the Danish team attempt to organise themselves. He understands the need to win the ball back before they settle potentially allowing them a route back into the match. Minamino slides in for a perfectly timed tackle yet again and gives Xaver Schalger time to come around and plug the gaping hole. This gives an extra man in the Salzburg defence.
The Last Samurai
The young Japanese centre-forward is only 23-years-old with a promising career ahead of him. Having won four Austrian Bundesliga and three Austrian Cup titles, Minamino has become a serial winner. The forward has all the makings of an excellent, hardworking attacker. Having analysed his play style I believe his best position lies at attacking midfield where he can influence play and support his team around him in an offensive or defensive capacity. A future move to Europe’s more prestigious leagues is not out of the question. The player himself has set his sights on a move to the German Bundesliga one day and you wouldn’t bet against him making it to one of the top four sides and making an instant impact.
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