Known as ‘the Japanese Messi’, Takefusa Kubo is a young Japanese attacking midfielder currently playing for RCD Mallorca in the Spanish second division. The 18-year-old player was in Barcelona’s youth teams since he was only ten. When he’s 14, he went back to Japan to play with FC Tokyo’s youth team. Although, it didn’t take much time to make his debut in the professional team; becoming the youngest to ever play in a J-League team, only 15 years old at the time.
But without much space in the FC Tokyo’s first team, he was loaned to Yokohama F. Marinos. After doing well in his new club, he returned to FC Tokyo to be a first-option player. Nowadays, he made a buzz after returning to Europe. Instead of mostly thought, he didn’t come back to FC Barcelona, but to their biggest rival, Real Madrid. For €2M, he signed with Los Merengues for a six-year contract. He initially went to Real Madrid Castilla, but then directly loaned to Mallorca. This scout report will provide a tactical analysis of Kubo’s style of play, looking at his strengths and weaknesses.
Kubo is a left-footed right-winger who has a very good passing and dribbling ability. He can also play on both wings. With Japan, in the last Copa América in Brazil, he played mostly in the left flank but switching the wings constantly. He was always receiving the ball in a different wing, and his best plays came from the left. Playing in Madrid, he is expected to do so, as he will be paired with another winger who can play on both flanks: Rodrygo. Both of them are expected to keep switching positions during the game, to confuse their opponents.
Furthermore, what most spotlights in his game is his good reading of the game and offensive intelligence. He’s really good at positioning himself without the ball, always attacking any gap that the opponent leaves. With the ball, he always seems to make the right decision; either to find a free teammate, to shoot, or to force a one-versus-one duel. Also, this one-versus-one ability is one of his best traits. That is proven by his incredible average of 72% of this duels won in all his career.
About Mallorca’s style of play, they usually play in a 4-4-2, with one of the strikers playing a bit behind the other. Without the ball, they actively press the opponents’ build-up phase. In their attacks, they use both flanks heavily. Because of this, Kubo has a very important role in Vincente Moreno’s tactics, as he touches the ball a lot in both flanks.
Spatial awareness and off-ball movement
For an 18-year-old player, Kubo has a superb awareness of the pitch and knows where he needs to be. He has an incredible capacity of knowing what’s happening in the game around him, and capable of finding good spaces in the opponent’s half. He does that either to receive before creating a chance or to find a better-positioned teammate. He often links up for teammates as a good passing option. He likes to play wall-pass combinations, as well as showing up to receive in both flanks.
This good perception of space can provide him good paper writing opportunities of key passes in dangerous areas for the opponent. In the image above, he attracts three markers then finds a teammate attacking behind the defensive line.
In this opportunity above, even with the central area very congested, he was able to find a free teammate on the left. Then, Kubo makes a quick sharp pass in behind the defensive line. Kubo also has a tendency to hold the ball a little more than usual. He does that to wait for movements of his teammates around him, before finding them with a well-timed pass.
As said before in this analysis, Kubo’s ability to win one-versus-one duels is a very strong character in his style of play. Across his career, Kubo has won 72% of this duels. This is a really incredible statistic.
The ‘Japanese Messi’ thing probably has to do with his way to conduce the ball. Kubo likes the ball to be very close to his left foot, which is very similar to Messi. This particular on-ball style is what makes Kubo wins the majority of his duels, as this makes he have much control of the ball. Besides, what he uses a lot too is a fast touch forward to surprise the marker. In the process, he often knocks the ball and getting away from the defender using his quick speed.
The pitch distribution of his duels shows us that he uses this as a tool in many situations, against every type of marker. We can analyse some of his stats to better understand this. Against defensive wingers, he won 71.2% of the duels, while against attacking wingers, 75.6%. Then, against centre midfielders he won 71.7% of the duels. Finally, against centre-backs, 70.5% win rate. This shows that this particular trait can be useful for him in every area of the pitch. Either in the flanks or in the centre, in his half or the opponents’ one, and surely inside the opponent’s box. So far, Kubo averages 7.55 one-versus-one dribbles per 90 minutes. Outstanding numbers.
When he wins a one-versus-one duel in the rival’s half, he usually gets his head up and look for teammates. Then, Kubo would like to play a quick one-and-two combination, try to get into the box and shoot, send a cross or make a key pass.
Kubo averages only 0.85 long passes per 90 minutes. That tell us much about his game, as he prefers to make short and fast passes. He averages 27 simple passes per 90 minutes, most of them in opponent’s half. Of his 1164 total passes, 85% were accurate. Even better, 652 of those were forward passes. This shows that his style of passing is very aggressive and sharp; always seeking to approach the opponents’ penalty box. As expected, most of his recipients are the strikers and the attacking midfielders. This is because of his tendency to make forward passes.
In this part of the analysis we’re going to look for Kubo’s potential problems and where he could improve. Kubo stands at 173 centimetres and weighs about 67 kilograms. No wonder why he has been struggling a bit in defensive and aerial duels.
Aerially, he can do well contesting players shorter than him. But if they’re on the same height or when the opponent is taller, he can’t do much. Against opponents shorter than 170 centimetres, he won 62.5% of the aerial duels. But against opponents between 170 and 175 centimetres, which is relatively similar to him, he lost 90% of those duels.
About the defensive duels in general, he just won 19.5% of them. It shows how his strength is an issue in his game. Kubo definitely needs to build more muscle if he wants to be better in today’s football, which demands a lot of physicality. Even when attacking, having a good upper-body strength is necessary to take a charge from a defender, mainly to keep on going in high speed.
To conclude, the ‘Japanese Messi’ nickname is not for nothing. The 18-year-old has an outstanding dribbling ability and spatial awareness, which allows him to stand out in Mallorca. He has been very important for his team’s tactics and can be very useful for Madrid in the upcoming seasons.
However, he’s still need to improve his physicality and defensive ability, mainly if he wants to be a more complete player. That will be much required of him in La Liga, one of the best league in the world. We are sure Kubo has a lot to evolve and can do great things in the near future.