Kacper Kozłowski 2021/22: What can Felice Mazzu and USG expect from the young Polish midfielder – scout report
Since making his debut for Pogoń Szczecin at the age of 16 years old in 2019; Kacper Kozłowski has been a mainstay in their first team. More recently, he made his international debut for Poland, becoming the youngest player of any nationality to play at the Euros at 17 years and 246 days old, breaking the record set by Jude Bellingham just days before. Now Kozłowski has finally gotten his well-deserved big move, with Brighton & Hove Albion paying just under £9 million for the youngsters’ services; with him being sent out on loan for the rest of the season to Brighton’s sister club, Royale Union-Saint Gilloise. This tactical analysis and scout report will look at what USG and their manager Felice Mazzu can expect from Kozłowski, as well as how Mazzu may look to use the young Pole in his midfield setup.
Kozłowski is very much an attacking midfielder player, with him favoring the right side, as the heat map above shows. At Pogoń, Kozłowski would line up in the right attacking midfielder position in a 4-1-4-1 formation, but would drop into deeper positions, with him very much capable playing in a box-to-box midfield role. Kozłowski is very much a modern-day midfielder, one that likes to get on the ball, but is not afraid to contribute defensively as well, which this scout report will show.
Excelling at dribbling and close control
One of Kozłowski’s most valuable skills is without a doubt his dribbling ability. Through his short career so far, Kozłowski is averaging 8 dribbles per 90 with a 55.3% success rate. This is nothing to scoff at, especially for a midfielder so young. When comparing this number to the three central midfielders that are ever-presents in Felice Mazzu’s 3-5-2 formation (Nielsen, Lapoussin, and Teuma), only Lapoussin has averaged more dribbles per 90 (10.64), but Kozłowski still betters all of them with his success rate. As the examples below will show, Kozłowski is not afraid to take defenders on with the ball at his feet; and is very good at getting by them too.
The phase of play above shows exactly the type of chances that Kozłowski can make out of nothing with his dribbling ability. Kozłowski, circled in red, is able to use a burst of acceleration to get past the defender on the outside, but is stuck between the byline and the two opposition defenders. Instead of just trying to drive in the space and look for the defender to poke the ball out for a corner; Kozłowski instead takes matters into his own hands. He is able to muscle off the first defender and then do a 360-degree spin with the ball still at his feet to get by the second defender. This allows him to get into the space and create a good chance for Pogoń.
Above is another example of these close control and dribbling capabilities. Here, Kozłowski is looking to receive the pass with his back to goal and the opposition defender is looking to close him down. Kozłowski is able to shield the ball from the defender and hold him off before making a quick turn to the outside and once again using a burst of acceleration to get past the defender. This is all done as well in one quick motion, with Kozłowski not needing an extra touch to get the ball under control first.
While some of his very good dribbling and close control results in no end product for both him and his side, some of the magic that he can produce results in goals. The above phase is one of those moments. Kozłowski plays a one-two with his teammate out wide and uses his acceleration and strength to get past the opposition defender and into the 18-yard box. On the defenders’ outside, he is able to Ronaldo chop inside past his marker before driving into the empty space. Kozłowski is able to then keep the ball close to him to avoid any tackles knocking it away before firing it into the top corner to give his side a two-goal lead.
Though one of his strongest traits, Kozłowski still does run into errors when choosing when and when not to dribble. In the phase of play above, Kozłowski is in possession with his back to goal. All of his nearby passing options are marked so he instead decides to turn and take his marker on. While he is able to dribble past, he plays a poor pass right to the opposition for them to initiate a counter-attacking opportunity.
Without a doubt, the dribbling and close control ability of Kacper Kozłowski is his strongest attribute. Also, with him still only being 18 years old, he has room to improve it even more. Kozłowski will definitely add more creativity to USG’s midfield the rest of this season, and Graham Potter will be waiting with anticipation to fit Kozłowski into his future plans for the Seagulls as well.
In Pogoń’s 4-1-4-1 formation, Kozłowski does not just sit in the right half-space waiting to receive the ball to feet. Instead, he very much acts like a box-to-box midfield player in the way that he moves while off the ball. Whether that is making late runs into the penalty box, or dropping into his own half to receive possession, Kozłowski likes to always be involved in the buildup play.
In the phase of play above, Pogoń are in possession with the winger driving towards the 18-yard box. Kozłowski drives forward from a deeper midfield position in order to find a good position inside the box. At the same time, he is able to drift away from his markers to find himself unmarked at the back post. While the cross does not end up reaching him, this example is able to show that Kozłowski not only wants to get into the box as an option, but also has the awareness and ability to make himself a viable one.
However, it is not only running from deep into the centre of the box that Kozłowski enjoys doing. He will also make runs in behind onto long balls, normally from the right half-space. Above, Kozłowski is able to make a run behind the opposition defence, which his defender notices. The ball is played long and over the top for Kozłowski, who is able to use his acceleration to run onto the ball and drive towards the byline to send a cross into the danger area.
As also mentioned, Kozłowski will also receive the ball in deeper areas, almost like a #8, and drive forward into the space in midfield. Before receiving, Kozłowski is able to position himself in a deeper midfield role, with him finding the space to receive the ball in his own defensive third. He then is able to drive forward with the ball, before being fouled near midfield. Though he likes to be involved in play more in the attacking third, and more specifically the right half-space, Kacper Kozłowski has all the makings to function as a box-to-box midfielder as he grows in stature and experience.
Good range of passing, but needs some improvement
For a player so young, Kozłowski already has over 2000 minutes of senior football under his belt. While Kozłowski has shown flashes of his potential as a clinical passer in the middle and final third of the pitch, there is definitely some room for improvement in this part of his game. Throughout his Ekstraklasa career, Kozłowski averaged 31.75 passes per 90 with a success rate of 76.5%, which is nothing to scoff at, but could definitely improve. He did, however, average 5.31 passes to the final 3rd per 90, with an impressive 69% success rate. Following are some examples of positives and negatives of Kozłowski’s passing ability.
Above is an example of the high quality passes that Kozłowski is able to execute. Operating from his favored right-sided position, Kozłowski is able to play a through ball behind the opposition defensive line to his striker running in behind. Unfortunately, the receiving player takes a bad touch, allowing a good chance to go to waste.
However, while Kozłowski is able to execute through balls and other passes in the final third well, he does sometimes struggle with his decision making in these moments. The phase of play above is a perfect example of this. Kozłowski is driving forward with the ball at his feet and decides to try and play a through ball to his forward running in behind. This option turns out to be the wrong one, with the defender completely blocking the pass which goes out for a throw. The options with blue arrows were Kozłowski’s better passing options, but he only had eyes for one passing target. This lack of vision is not a major concern, but one that could easily be improved with coaching and experience.
Above is another example of this occasional poor vision. Kozłowski is able to receive the ball in a pocket of space and is allowed to turn and drive towards goal. The whole time, he is looking straight ahead and knows from the start that he wants to play the through ball to his striker. The defender, circled in yellow, notices this and steps out to block the pass. As you can see, Kozłowski had other options that would have been better, but his lack of peripheral vision let him down in this instance.
Crossing is a relative strong suit of Kozłowski’s game, with him able to deliver pinpoint crosses into the box. In the phase of play above, Kozłowski is able to cut inside to make space from the defender and send a pinpoint cross to the head of his attacker, who is able to nod it past the goalkeeper.
While there are definitely some facets of Kozłowski’s passing that need work, he without a doubt has the capacity to be a quality passer of the ball as he gains more first-team experience.
Though normally deployed as an attacking midfielder, Kozłowski does not shy away from contributing defensively, with him constantly putting in a shift defensively when his side are attempting to win the ball back. This is an important attribute for Kozłowski to have, and one that both Felice Mazzu and Graham Potter will be keen to see continue to develop over the second half of this season.
In the phase of play above, Pogoń are looking to win back possession near their own 18-yard box. Kozłowski is one of the first players to engage the ball carrier, and is able to muscle him off the ball and win possession back for his side. Kozłowski drops into defensive midfield from his normal attacking midfielder position to be able to help his side defensively, which he succeeds with.
Another facet of Kozłowski defensively is that he is not afraid to try and win possession back after losing it. In the phase of play above, he loses possession in his own attacking third; but instead of just becoming frustrated and giving up on the play all together, he gets up quickly and tracks back to try and win possession back. While he does not succeed, this shows that he is not just a luxury attacking player, he has the capabilities to help out with defensive phases of play as well.
Brighton have pulled off quite the coup with the signing of Kacper Kozłowski. Previously linked with other Premier League sides, including Liverpool, as well as being compared to Manchester City playmaker Kevin de Bruyne, this signing shows exactly the type of future that Graham Potter and Brighton want in the Premier League. Royale Union Saint-Gilloise also benefit with his loan signing for the rest of the season. It will be very interesting to see how Felice Mazzu incorporates Kozłowski into the side and his tactics, but one thing is for sure, the Belgian leaders have a real gem on their hands for the rest of the season.